There’s a transition period in all industries when new technology takes hold. It happened when the movies moved from silent to sound. It happened again when the entertainment industry transitioned from motion pictures to television.
Some stars, and some films were lost in those transitions.
One such star was Frank Fay, pictured above, who had been a BIG star on Broadway and in vaudeville and came to Hollywood just as the sound era began. Warners showcased him as the master of ceremonies in their all talking extravaganza Show of Shows, which was an all talking feature to introduce all their silent stars to sound films.
Fay was a comedian (and singer) whose style was very sophisticated and subtle. But his film career never took off.
He was said to be a nasty man and an alcoholic. When he came to Hollywood he’d brought along his wife, a former chorus girl, Ruby Stevens, who’d changed her name to Barbara Stanwyck. Her film career DID take off.
Their story is said to be the basis for the plot of A Star Is Born. They divorced and Fay returned to New York. He made a comeback on Broadway in the mid 1940s in the huge stage hit, Harvey. But the film role went to James Stewart.
Speaking of Stanwyck, she starred in one of those films which was lost in transition. In the early 50s television was in full flower and few people were going to the movies. The film industry was relying on gimmicks such as Cinemascope and 3D.
MGM had commitments from two big stars, Stanwyck and James Cagney, and found a neat little vehicle for them, These Wilder Years.
The film tells the story of a baron of industry (Cagney) who is childless in old age and seeks the illegitimate son he once denied who has been adopted. Stanwyck plays the administrator of the orphanage who refuses to give out the boy’s name and is determined not to let Cagney’s money and power disrupt the young man’s life.
Of course the studio knew it wasn’t the kind of plot which would fill theaters. They tried an ad campaign highlighting the illegitimate child angle.
Still the film was a big flop at the time losing over half a million dollars, real money in those (1956).
It was the first pairing of Stanwyck and Cagney, and a different kind of film for Hollywood, one with no love story. It’s a gem of a film which was lost in transition but luckily is still available for us to appreciate.