Richard Denning

Happy birthday to actor Richard Denning, born March 27, 1914 in Poughkeepsie, NY.  Denning graduated cum laude from Woodbury Business College with a masters in business administration.  Like his father, he took a job in the garment industry and worked his way up to a vice president position, but he never really liked the business world.  In his spare time, he performed with small theater groups and won a screen test at Warner Brothers on a “Do You Want to Be an Actor?” radio contest.  Warners passed on Denning, but he continued to pursue acting and eventually landed a contract with Paramount.  His first film appearance was a bit part in Hold ‘Em Navy (1937), and for the remainder of the 1930s, he continued to have small roles in over 35 films, many of them uncredited.  Finally, in 1940, Denning got top billing in The Farmer’s Daughter and his film career hit full stride.  He appeared in a dozen more films until joining the Navy and serving on a submarine during WWII.  After the war, it took over a year for his acting career to resume, during which time he and his family lived out of a mobile home.  In 1948, his career got back on track when he landed the role of George Cooper on the radio show My Favorite Husband, playing opposite Lucille Ball.  The show was a big success and eventually led to the development of the I Love Lucy TV sitcom, but without Denning, of course.  Denning primarily appeared in adventure films and westerns, but he also became a familiar face in science fiction movies of the era, including The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), Target Earth (1954), Creature with the Atom Brain (1955), Day the World Ended (1955), and The Black Scorpion (1957).  We celebrate Denning for his roles in classic noir films: The Glass Key (1942) with Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake, No Man of Her Own (1950) with Barbara Stanwyck, The Glass Web (1953) with Edward G. Robinson, and The Crooked Web (1955) with Frank Lovejoy.  From 1952 to 1954, Denning starred with Barbara Britton in the television detective series Mr. and Mrs. North.  Denning continued to appear in movies and television until he retired to Maui in 1968.  However, his retirement never got a chance to begin because that same year, he was offered the role of governor of Hawaii in the long-running Hawaii Five-O (1968-80) TV series, which he played until his eventual retirement in 1980. Denning was married to classic horror film star Evelyn Ankers until her death in 1985.  Denning died of respiratory failure in 1998 at age 84.

Sterling Hayden

Happy birthday to actor Sterling Hayden, born March 26, 1916 in Upper Montclair, NJ.  At age 16, Hayden dropped out of school and took a job as mate aboard a schooner.  After several voyages, he took jobs on fishing boats, ran a charter yacht, and worked on a steamer, sailing the world multiple times.  Hayden was awarded his first command at age 22, sailing a square rigger from Massachusetts to Tahiti.  By the late 1930s, Hayden was land-based, working as a model for magazine publications, which eventually led to Hollywood introductions, and in 1941 he was cast in his first film, Virginia.  Hayden fell in love with, and married, costar Madeleine Carroll.  After making a second film with Carroll, Bahama Passage (1941), he left Hollywood to join the Marines, where he became a decorated OSS agent, seeing action in Italy, the Balkans, and Croatia.  Hayden returned to Hollywood in 1947 and embarked on a prolific film career that spanned five decades and included over 50 films.  Westerns were his mainstay in the 1940s and 50s, but he also appeared in eight classic noirs during this period:  Manhandled (1949) with Dan Duryea, The Asphalt Jungle (1950) with Jean Hagen, Crime Wave (1953) with Gene Nelson, Suddenly (1954) with Frank Sinatra, Naked Alibi (1954) with Gloria Grahame, The Come On (1956) with Anne Baxter, The Killing (1956) with Coleen Gray, and Crime of Passion (1957) with Barbara Stanwyck.  In later years, Hayden was known for his roles in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), Hard Contract (1969), The Godfather (1972), Winter Kills (1979), and 9 to 5 (1980).  Hayden continued to sail the seas throughout his life.  Most notably in 1958, after winning custody of his children in a bitter divorce from Betty Ann de Noon, he defied a court order and took his children on a sailing trip from San Francisco to Tahiti.  Near the end of his career, Hayden would say that acting was merely a way to pay for his many sea-going adventures.  He wrote about his life and passion for sailing in his 1962 autobiography, Wanderer.  Hayden died of prostate cancer in 1986 at age 70.

Ann Savage

Happy birthday to actress Ann Savage, born February 19, 1921 in Columbia, SC.  After her father died when she was four years old, Savage and her mother settled in Los Angeles.  While in high school, Savage screen tested at MGM but was annsavagerejected, prompting her to take acting lessons at the Max Reinhardt workshop, which eventually led to a contract at Columbia.  She made her screen debut in One Dangerous Night (1943) and would appear in 16 more, mostly low-budget, features throughout 1943-44, including What a Woman! (1943) with Rosalind Russell, Passport to Suez (1943) with Eric Blore, and three films with Tom Neal: Klondike Kate (1943), Two Man Submarine (1944), and The Unwritten Code (1944).  The following year, Savage entered film noir territory with roles in The Spider (1945) with Richard Conte, Apology for Murder (1945) with Hugh Beaumont, and Detour (1945) with Tom Neal.  She made a handful of largely forgettable films for the remainder of the 1940s and early 50s, including guest appearances in various television dramas, before retiring in the mid-1950s.  However Savage’s popularity among film noir fans was about to explode in the following decades.  Because it fell into the public domain early, Detour became widely syndicated on television and eventually available on cheap VHS releases, all of which helped the film acquire a substantial cult following and immortalized Savage as one of the iconic femme fatales of classic film noir.  This newfound appreciation resulted in frequent invitations for Savage to appear at film noir conventions and festivals, as she enjoyed a resurgence of popularity and admiration from younger generations of film fans.  She made her final film appearance, after decades of retirement, in My Winnipeg (2007).  Savage died of complications from multiple strokes in 2008 at age 87.

Lana Turner

Happy birthday to actress Lana Turner, lanaturnerborn February 8, 1921 in Wallace, ID.  When Turner was 10 years old, she and her mother moved to Los Angeles after spending several years in San Francisco, where a year earlier, her father was murdered.  Turner and her mother lived a meager life of poverty until their lives were suddenly turned around on a fateful afternoon in 1937.  On that day, a 16-year-old Turner snuck out of high school to smoke a cigarette and ended up at a nearby soda fountain where William R. Wilkerson, publisher of the Hollywood Reporter, happened to be sitting at the counter.  Struck by Turner’s dazzling beauty, he asked her, “How would you like to be in the movies?”  Turner said she needed to check with her mother and took Wilkerson’s card.  After confirming Wilkerson was indeed a major Hollywood heavyweight, they contacted him and Turner’s ascent to film stardom was instantly set in motion.  Wilkerson introduced Turner to agent Zeppo Marx, who signed her and took her to Warner Bros. where director Mervyn LeRoy immediately cast her in They Won’t Forget (1937).  After a series of youth-oriented films in the late 1930s, Turner started getting serious roles and quickly developed into a star.  Some of her notable films include: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941) with Spencer Tracy and Ingrid Bergman, Slightly Dangerous (1943) with Robert Young, Green Dolphin Street (1947) with Van Heflin and Donna Reed, The Three Musketeers (1948) with Gene Kelly and June Allyson, The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) with Kirk Douglas, Peyton Place (1957) with Lee Philips, for which Turner received a Best Actress Oscar nomination, and Imitation of Life (1959) with Sandra Dee.  Turner appeared in two classic noir films: Johnny Eager (1942) with Robert Taylor and The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) with John Garfield, which became one of her best remembered roles.  Throughout her career, Turner’s dating escapades and eight marriages provided fodder for a never-ending stream of sensational Hollywood headlines.  Among her husbands were bandleader Artie Shaw and actor Lex Barker.  In 1957, Turner dated Johnny Stompanato, who had strong organized crime ties.  Their tempestuous and often abusive relationship came to a horrifying end when Turner’s 14-year-old daughter, fearing for her mother’s life, stabbed and killed Stompanato in their Beverly Hills home in 1958.  After a highly publicized trial, the death was ruled a justifiable homicide.  By the early 1960s, Turner’s career had slowed considerably, and her last starring film role was in Madame X (1966).  In 1969, she starred in the TV series The Survivors, which was cancelled before the first season ended.  Turner continued to make occasional television appearances throughout the 1970s and 80s, highlighted by a guest starring role on Falcon Crest in the early 1980s, but by 1986, had retired from the screen.  Turner died of throat cancer in 1992 at age 74.

Dan Duryea

Happy birthday to actor Dan Duryea, born Jan. 23, 1907 in White Plains, NY.  Duryea graduated from Cornell University in 1928, where he studied English and drama, and was president of the drama society.  Although he loved acting, he decided to pursue a more practical line of work and took a job as an advertising executive.  danduryea2But after six years, the stressful pace of the business world caused Duryea to have a mild heart attack, so he quit his job and devoted himself to acting.  He made his Broadway debut in 1935 as a bit player and quickly progressed to playing lead roles, culminating with a national tour in The Little Foxes.  When MGM produced the film version in 1940, Duryea reprised his stage role on film and never looked back.  In Hollywood, he became a popular character actor and also had some lead roles.  Duryea developed a unique screen persona that was ideally suited for playing snide, slick-haired, mean-spirited, wise-cracking villains – characters that audiences loved to hate.  He was a consistent fixture in classic film noir, appearing in more than 15 noir films: Ministry of Fear (1944), The Woman in the Window (1944), The Great Flamarion (1945), Scarlet Street (1945), Black Angel (1946), Larceny (1948), Criss Cross (1949), Manhandled (1949), Too Late for Tears (1949), Johnny Stool Pigeon (1949), The Underworld Story (1950), One Way Street (1950), World for Ransom (1954), Storm Fear (1955), Slaughter on Tenth Avenue (1957), and The Burglar (1957).  Duryea also appeared in many westerns, among them: Winchester 73 (1950), Silver Lode (1954), Ride Clear of Diablo (1954), and The Marauders (1955).  In 1952, Duryea starred in the television series China Smith (1952-56) and The New Adventures of China Smith (1953-54).  Duryea appeared in many television shows in the early 1960s, including Rawhide, Route 66, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and The Twilight Zone.  He continued working in film and television up until his death in 1968 of cancer.  He was 61.

 

Jeanne Crain

Happy birthday to actress JeanneCrainJeanne Crain, born May 25, 1925 in Barstow, CA.  Crain’s family moved to Los Angeles when she was 9 years old, where as a young teen, she took an interest in acting and eventually studied drama at UCLA.  In 1943 she landed a small uncredited part in the film, The Gang’s All Here.  Her first substantial role was in Home in Indiana (1944), which led to star billing in In the Meantime, Darling (1944).  Unfortunately, the latter was a flop and critics panned Crain’s performance.  However, later that year she managed to recover with a strong showing in Winged Victory (1944).  The following year, Crain starred in the musical State Fair (1945), which would be the first of several Hollywood musicals to feature her.  Crain primarily appeared in comedies and romances, but her dramatic turn in Pinky (1949) earned her a Best Actress Oscar nomination.  Other notable films include: Cheaper by the Dozen (1950) with Myrna Loy, People Will Talk (1951) with Cary Grant, and The Joker is Wild (1957) with Frank Sinatra.  Crain also ventured into film noir territory four times:  Leave Her to Heaven (1945-color) with Gene Tierney, Dangerous Crossing (1953) with Michael Rennie, Vicki (1953) with Jean Peters, and The Tattered Dress (1957) with Jeff Chandler.  In the 1960s, Crain appeared in fewer than ten films, and was seen only sporadically on television.  Her final film role was in Skyjacked (1972).  Crain died of a heart attack in 2003 at age 78.

 

Raymond Burr

Happy birthday to actor RaymondBurrRaymond Burr, born May 21, 1917 in New Westminster, BC, Canada.  With broad shoulders, heavy eyebrows, and a commanding voice, Raymond Burr became known to legions of fans for his enduring television characters of attorney Perry Mason and detective Robert Ironside.  However, many years of stage and film experience preceded those roles, and fortunately for us, much of it lay in the realm of film noir.  In 1923, Burr’s mother divorced and moved Burr and his siblings to Vallejo, CA.  Burr did some acting as a teenager and starting in 1934, joined several repertory theater groups that toured Canada, Australia, England, and India.  In 1940, Burr made his debut on Broadway and later got his first starring role with the Pasadena Playhouse.  Burr continued appearing on stage both with the Pasadena Playhouse and on Broadway for several years until his first film role for RKO, an uncredited part in Without Reservations (1946), which marked the beginning of a prolific film career.  From 1946 to 1957, Burr appeared in over 50 films, mostly as a supporting actor, and usually as a villain or heavy.  During this period, he was cast in nearly 20 classic noir films: Desperate (1947), I Love Trouble (1948), Sleep, My Love (1948), Ruthless (1948), Raw Deal (1948), Pitfall (1948), Walk a Crooked Mile (1948), Red Light (1949), Abandoned (1949), M (1951), A Place in the Sun (1951), His Kind of Woman (1951), The Whip Hand (1951), FBI Girl (1951), The Blue Gardenia (1953), Rear Window (1954-color), Please Murder Me (1956), A Cry in the Night (1956), and Affair in Havana (1957).  Burr is also remembered for his role as reporter Steven Martin in Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956), a character he reprised in two subsequent Godzilla films: Godzilla (1977) and Godzilla 1985 (1984).  During the 1940s and 50s, Burr could also be heard on radio, making guest appearances on shows like Pat Novak for Hire, Dragnet, Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, and starring in Fort Laramie.  In 1956, Burr was cast in the title role of the television series, Perry Mason (1957-1966).  He had originally auditioned for the part of District Attorney Hamilton Burger, but Gail Patrick Jackson, author of the Perry Mason novels, felt Burr was the ideal choice to play Mason.  The show was a tremendous success, earning Burr two Emmys and making him a household name.  After Perry Mason was cancelled, he continued his television success as the wheelchair-bound detective in Ironside (1967-1975).  Burr made several attempts to launch new series in the late 1970s and early 80s without success, but in 1985, he starred in the television reunion movie Perry Mason Returns, which led to 25 more Perry Mason TV movies from 1986 to 1993.  He also appeared in The Return of Ironside (1993).  Burr was known to be very generous with his money, donating to charities, helping out friends, and sponsoring over 25 foster children.  He also made multiple tours of Korea and Vietnam with the USO during war years.  Burr died of liver cancer in 1993 at age 76.

 

Charles McGraw

Happy birthday to CharlesMcGrawactor Charles McGraw, born May 10, 1914 in Des Moines, IA.  With his unmistakable gravelly voice and jagged features, Charles McGraw had a long and prolific career in film and television that spanned four decades.  His gruff demeanor was ideally suited to roles as thugs, military men, and cops, of which he played many.  He began his film career in the early 1940s with parts in several war films, but it was his portrayal of a hit man in the classic noir film The Killers (1946) that got audiences to notice and made him a mainstay of film noir.  McGraw went on to appear in more than a dozen more classic noir films:  The Long Night (1947), Brute Force (1947) uncredited, The Gangster (1947), T-Men (1947), The Hunted (1948), Berlin Express (1948) uncredited, Border Incident (1949), The Threat (1949), Side Street (1949), Armored Car Robbery (1950), His Kind of Woman (1951), Roadblock (1951), The Narrow Margin (1952), Loophole (1954), Slaughter on Tenth Avenue (1957), and The Man in the Net (1959).  McGraw played a gladiator trainer in Spartacus (1960), and later in his career, appeared in The Birds (1963), It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), Hang ‘Em High (1968), In Cold Blood (1967), and A Boy and His Dog (1975).  On television, McGraw starred in the Adventures of the Falcon (1954-55) and made appearances in dozens of shows throughout the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, including: Wagon Train, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, 77 Sunset Strip, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Wild Wild West, Bonanza, and Gunsmoke.  McGraw died in a freak accident when he slipped and fell through a glass shower door in 1980.  He was 66.

 

Anne Baxter

Happy birthday to actress Anne Baxter, born May 7, 1923 in Michigan City, IN.  Baxter is the granddaughter of architect Frank Lloyd Wright.  AnneBaxterWhen she was 6, her family moved to New York, where she took an interest in acting.  Baxter first appeared on Broadway at age 13 and studied acting with Maria Ouspenskaya before heading to Hollywood in the late 1930s.  She eventually signed with 20th Century Fox and went on to appear in 40 films during the 1940s and 50s, including The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) with Joseph Cotten, Angel on my Shoulder (1946) with Paul Muni, The Razor’s Edge (1946) with Tyrone Power, All About Eve (1950) with Bette Davis, and The Ten Commandments (1956) with Charlton Heston.  Baxter won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role in The Razor’s Edge and received a Best Actress nomination for All About Eve.  During this period she appeared in a handful of classic noir films: Guest in the House (1944) with Ralph Bellamy, I Confess (1953) with Montgomery Clift, The Blue Gardenia (1946) with Richard Conte and Ann Sothern, and The Come On (1956) with Sterling Hayden.  Baxter also appeared on television throughout the 1950s, and by the mid-1960s her career had transitioned to television almost exclusively.  She played two villains on Batman (1966-68), Zelda the Great and Olga, Queen of the Cossacks, and made appearances on many shows throughout the 1960s and 70s.  She also returned to Broadway in Applause, a musical version of All About Eve, but this time playing the Bette Davis part.  In 1983, Baxter replaced Bette Davis as the star of the television series Hotel, after Davis was forced to quit due to illness.  Baxter was married three times.  Her first husband was actor John Hodiak, who also starred in several noir films himself.  They were married from 1946-1953.  Baxter died of a brain aneurysm in 1985 at age 62.

Carolyn Jones

Happy birthday to actress Carolyn Jones, born Apr 28, 1930 in Amarillo, TX.  Many of us know her only as Morticia from The Addams Family TV series (1964-66), CarolynJonesbut long before her famous sitcom role, Carolyn Jones had a successful movie and television career that included a healthy dose of film noir.  Growing up in Texas, Jones moved to California when she was 15 to enroll in the Pasadena Playhouse, where she was eventually discovered by a Paramount talent scout.  Throughout the 1950s, Jones worked consistently in both film and television, starting with her first screen appearance in a small uncredited part in the classic noir film The Turning Point (1952) with William Holden.  She went on to play supporting roles in several notable films: House of Wax (1953) with Vincent Price, The Seven Year Itch (1955) with Marilyn Monroe, The Tender Trap (1955) with Frank Sinatra, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) with Kevin McCarthy, The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) with Jimmy Stewart, The Bachelor Party (1957) with E.G. Marshall, Career (1959) with Dean Martin and Shirley MacLaine, and How the West Was Won (1962) with Jimmy Stewart.  For her role as The Existentialist in The Bachelor Party, Jones received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination.  We appreciate Jones for her film noir performances in: The Big Heat (1953) with Glenn Ford, Make Haste to Live (1954) with Dorothy McGuire, Shield for Murder (1954) with Edmond O’Brien, Baby Face Nelson (1957) with Mickey Rooney, and The Man in the Net (1959) with Alan Ladd.  In the latter two films, Jones was a top-billed co-star.  In 1964, she got the part of Morticia Addams on The Addams Family series, which brought her worldwide fame, but also created such a strong on-screen identity, that she found it challenging to get work after the show was cancelled.  Some of her post-Addams Family roles include: Batman (1966-67) as Marsha, Queen of Diamonds, Roots (1977) as Mrs. Moore, and Wonder Woman (1976-77) as Queen Hippolyta.  In 1982, Jones was cast in a new soap opera, Capitol, but shortly after the show launched, she was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer.  Insisting on continuing to work even while undergoing chemotherapy, Jones completed the first season, often appearing in a wheelchair.  Jones succumbed to the cancer in 1983 at age 53.