Monday, March 20, 2017

Theda Bara: First Sex Symbol of the Silver Screen

My hometown of Cincinnati is the hometown of some very famous screen legends including mega-director Steven Spielberg, actress/singer Doris Day and actress/dancer Vera-Ellen. Another famous legend who hailed from these parts is Theda Bara, the silver screen's first sex symbol.

As a sex symbol, Theda's real life didn't exactly fit that mold. She experienced no scandals, had no substance abuse problems, and she was only married once, and happily at that. And although she retired from the screen while still in her prime before the advent of talking pictures, when she passed away decades later in 1955 at the age of sixty-nine, she died wealthy.

Here's more about this unconventional sex symbol from Wikipedia:

Bara was one of the most popular actresses of the silent era, and her femme fatale roles earned her the nickname The Vamp (short for vampire). Bara made more than 40 films between 1914 and 1926, but most were lost in the 1937 Fox vault fire. After her marriage to Charles Brabin in 1921, she made two more feature films and retired from acting in 1926.


She was born Theodosia Burr Goodman in Cincinnati, Ohio. Her father was Bernard Goodman (1853–1936), a prosperous Jewish tailor born in Poland. Her mother, Pauline Louise Françoise (née de Coppett; 1861–1957), was born in Switzerland.

The origin of Bara's stage name is disputed; The Guinness Book of Movie Facts and Feats says it came from director Frank Powell, who learned Theda had a relative named Barranger, and that "Theda" was a childhood nickname. In promoting the 1917 film Cleopatra, Fox Studio publicists noted that the name was an anagram of Arab death, and her press agents claimed inaccurately that she was "the daughter of an Arab sheik and a French woman, born in the Sahara."

At the height of her fame, Bara earned $4,000 per week. She was one of the most popular movie stars, ranking behind only Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford. Bara's best-known roles were as the "vamp", although she attempted to avoid typecasting by playing wholesome heroines in films such as Under Two Flags and Her Double Life. She also appeared as Juliet in a version of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Although Bara took her craft seriously, she was too successful as an exotic "wanton woman" to develop a more versatile career.

To read more about Theda Bara, click here.

Are you familiar with Theda Bara? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Charles Thomas: Inspiration to Integrating Pro-Ball

Baseball season is just around the corner, so today I'm republishing a post about Charles Thomas, the man who inspired Branch Rickey to integrate professional baseball.

Below is information compiled from the American Dental Association News. Not only was Thomas an extraordinary athlete, he went on to become a dentist.

Charles Thomas was born in West Virginia in 1881, but his family moved to Zanesville, Ohio, when he was 3 years old. In high school, Thomas was a star athlete in baseball, football and track.  In 1903 he began college at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio where he played fullback on the football team. 

While at Ohio Wesleyan, he met Branch Rickey, the future Brooklyn Dodgers' executive, who was also a two-sport college athlete. When Rickey's playing days ended, he became Ohio Wesleyan's baseball coach and recruited Thomas to replace him as the team's catcher.

At the time, Thomas was Ohio Wesleyan University's only black ballplayer. Several times, Thomas-led teams were refused admission onto their opponents' field because of his skin color.

It's said that Branch Rickey's vision of integrating America's pastime stemmed from his time at Ohio Wesleyan in the early 1900s, and several accounts reveal that Thomas had a lasting impact on him.

During a 1903 road trip, the Ohio Wesleyan baseball team traveled to South Bend, Indiana. When Thomas was refused lodging at a hotel, Rickey asked that Thomas be allowed to sleep on a cot in his room.

Later that evening, Rickey found Thomas upset and crying. According to Rickey, Thomas said, "It's my skin. If I could just tear it off, I'd be like everybody else. It's my skin..."

Years later, Rickey told the Brooklyn Dodgers broadcaster Red Barber about Thomas. Barber recounted this story in "Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns."

"For 41 years, I have heard that young man crying," Mr. Rickey told Mr. Barber. "Now, I am going to do something about it." 

To read more about Charles Thomas and Branch Rickey, check out Black Pioneers of College Baseball.

Had you ever heard of Charles Thomas? And by the way, are you looking forward to baseball season? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Originally published 3/3/14.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Good 'n Easy Beef 'n Gravy


There's nothing like a hearty plate of comfort food, and when it's easy to prepare, that's icing on the cake! With that said, a recipe can't get more simple than this one from one of my favorite crock pot cookbooks, Fix-It and Forget-It. Enjoy!

Good 'n Easy Beef 'n Gravy

3 lbs. beef roast, cubed
1 envelope dry onion soup mix
1/2 cup beef broth
10 3/4-oz. can cream of mushroom or cream of celery soup
4-oz. can sliced mushrooms, drained

Combine all ingredients in slow cooker. Cover and cook on LOW 10-12 hours.

What's your favorite comfort food?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Pinky

Racial passing is a subject matter that interests me and Pinky, a film from 1949, deals with this issue. I have never seen it, but plan to watch it this week for research purposes. Pinky is a race drama about a light-skinned black woman passing as white. For more about the film and the plot, click here

One of the controversies regarding the film was the casting of white actress Jeanne Crane to play the title role. Black actress Lena Horne had wanted the part, but having a white actress as Pinky with audience appeal and monetary pull led to the casting of Miss Crane. (In my opinion, since the actress had to be white, I would have chosen Jennifer Jones. She could have more realistically passed for black, again, just my opinion.)

Anyway, here's another interesting fact about the movie from Turner Classic Movies:

[A] major change in the production of Pinky was the director. [Director] John Ford left the film after only a week of shooting that was so traumatic [black co-star] Ethel Waters described it as a "shock treatment", with Ford's abrasive personality making her "almost have a stroke". [Producer] Zanuck was unhappy with the rushes he saw. 
Jeanne Crane
"Ford's Negroes were like Aunt Jemima caricatures. I thought we're going to get into trouble. Jack said, 'I think you'd better put someone else on it." Ford was replaced with Elia Kazan, who had made Gentleman's Agreement (1947), another racially-themed film for the studio, and earning it an Academy Award in the process. The official reason for John Ford's departure was listed as a bad case of the shingles, which Kazan later admitted was a lie. 
Lena Horne
"He pretended to have shingles. Some years later I said to Zanuck, 'Jack Ford never had shingles, did he?' And he said, 'Oh, hell, no. He just wanted to get out of it; he hated Ethel Waters and she sure as hell hated him.' Jack scared her to death and he knew she didn't want to work with him. I also think maybe he didn't like the whole project. Anyway, Zanuck wired me and asked if I'd come out. I wired back, 'I'll do it as a favor.' Firstly, I threw away whatever Ford had shot. It was poor. It showed a lack of interest and involvement. So, all the footage was mine. The only things that were not mine, which are a hell of a lot, were the script and the cast. It was the last time I ever allowed that. Jeanne Crain was a sweet girl, but she was like a Sunday school teacher. I did my best with her but she didn't have any fire. The only good thing about her face was that it went so far in the direction of no temperament that you felt Pinky was floating through all of her experiences without reacting to them, which is part of what 'passing' is." 
Jennifer Jones
Have you ever seen Pinky? If so, what did you think?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Ira Aldridge

I recently learned about a black Shakespearean actor named Ira Aldrige who lived back in the 1800's. His life was news to me! Here's more about him from Wikipedia:
Ira Aldridge was born in New York City to Reverend Daniel and Luranah Aldridge on July 24, 1807. At age 13, Aldridge went to the African Free School in New York City, established by the New York Manumission Society for the children of free black people and slaves. They were given a classical education, with the study of 
His early exposure to theater included viewing plays from the high balcony of the Park Theatre, New York's leading theater of the time, and seeing productions of Shakespeare's plays at the African Grove Theatre.
Aldridge's first professional acting experience was in the early 1820s with the African Company. In 1821, the group built the African Grove Theatre, the first resident African-American theatre in the United States.
Aldridge made his acting debut as Rolla, a Peruvian character in Richard Brinsley Sheridan's Pizarro. He may have also played the male lead in Romeo and Juliet, as reported later in an 1860 memoir by his schoolfellow, Dr. James McCune Smith.
Confronted with the persistent discrimination which black actors had to endure in the United States, Aldridge emigrated to Liverpool, England, in 1824 with actor James Wallack. During this time the Industrial Revolution had begun, bringing about radical economic change that helped expand the development of theatres. The British Parliament had already outlawed the slave trade and was moving toward abolishing slavery in the British colonies, which increased the prospect of black actors being able to perform.

Ira Aldridge as Mungo in The Padlock
Having limited onstage experience and lacking name recognition, Aldridge concocted a story of his African lineage, claiming to have descended from the Fulani princely line. By 1831 he had taken the name of Keene, a homonym for the then popular British actor, Edmund Kean. Aldridge observed a common theatrical practice of assuming an identical or similar nomenclature to that of a celebrity in order to garner attention.
On October 10, 1825, Aldridge made his European debut at London's Royal Coburg Theatre, the first African-American actor to establish himself professionally in a foreign country. He played the lead role of Oroonoko in The Revolt of Surinam.
An innovation Aldridge introduced early in his career was a direct address to the audience on the closing night of his engagement at a given theatre. Especially in the years leading up to the emancipation of all slaves in the British colonies in 1832, he would speak of the injustice of slavery and the passionate desire for freedom of those held in bondage.
To read more, click here.
Had you ever heard of Ira Aldridge? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!