Western movies were very BIG BUSINESS in the 1930′s. Hundreds of ”B” westerns were made each year to fill up the hundreds of small theatres throughout the country.
Hello everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers here at the chuck wagon, chewing on about those wonderful times when dozens of small production companies ground out countless hour long programmers back in the bygone era.
At these small companies it was easier for young beginners to get their foot in the door, and their faces before the camera. Today it’s commercials, or small parts in TV dramas which employ would-be stars.
But in the 1930′s it was “poverty row” studios producing cheapie westerns or mysteries.
QUESTION –Can you recognize the two women pictured in the above photos?
Both got training in “B” Westerns before they had their big break into “A” films and stardom (superstardom for one of them.) Answer tomorrow.
YESTERDAY’S PIC: OK, here we go. Are you sitting down?
The guy to the right is none other than Maurice Chevalier, who had been signed by Paramount Pictures and brought over to the U. S. in 1928. The photo we ran was a studio publicity shot of the French star being shown the American West by the veteran cowboy star, William S. Hart. It was an attempt to make the exotic Continental lover boy-crooner appear to be “just one of the boys.” Of course Chevalier only appeared in sophisticated musical comedies. He never made a western.
Hart (the”S” was for Surrey) was born in 1870, and by the time he made his first Western for producer-director Thomas H. Ince, he was already a middle-aged at 44. The westerns he created (Hart was also a writer-director) featured documentary-style realism and plausible plots. As a result, Hart became America’s first believable cowboy hero. He often played outlaws reformed and saved by the love of a good woman. At the time of his posed publicity shot with Chevalier, Hart was pushing 60, with his movie career ending.
On the other hand, Chevalier (breathing hard on 40 when the photo with Hart was taken) was just embarking on a Hollywood career after appearing in at least a dozen movies in his native France. The youngest of nine children sired by an alcoholic house painter, Chevalier was by his late teens a cafe and variety hall singer, embellishing his limited vocalizing with comedy bits of casual charm.
By 23, he was a smash hit at Les Folies Bergere, the dancer partner and offstage lover of legendary cabaret diva Mistinguett. His Hollywood career stretched from 1928 all the way to 1970, two years before he died.
To see Chevalier at his best, check out two of his early pictures opposite Jeanette MacDonald, 1929′s “The Love Parade” and 1931′s “Love Me Tonight,” both directed by Ernst Lubitsch. Classic movie fans today most readily identify Chevalier with director Vincente Minnelli’s 1958 musical “Gigi,” in which the French roue sings “Thank Heaven For Little Girls” — politically incorrect double entredre and all.