The Year Was 1938 – May 29th

Bob Hope in 1938
  • Bob Hope turned 35 on this day. The vaudeville, radio and screen star was then finishing his latest film at Paramount ‘Give Me a Sailor’ with Martha Raye and Betty Grable. [Hope would be teaming with Grable’s husband Jackie Coogan for a tour of live appearances over the summer. He would be back at Paramount for ‘Thanks for the Memory’ to finish out 1938 (four films total on the year). The comedian has three pictures ahead for 1939, including ‘The Cat and the Canary.’ The year after he finally gets teamed with his friend Bing Crosby for the first of the Road pictures – ‘Road to Singapore’].
  • Witty comedienne Beatrice Lillie shares a birthday with Hope and crosses over to 44. She was also in a film from Paramount this year supporting Bing Crosby – ‘Doctor Rhythm,’ a comedy musical, based on an O Henry story. [This was one of the few films she was in. She was the toast of the stage on both sides of the Atlantic, and the darling of the likes of Noel Coward and Cole Porter. The year 1939 finds her back on Broadway in a musical review put together by Coward].
  • Genius director Joseph von Sternberg also turned 44 on this day. He would be called back to the US in the fall by MGM to complete ‘The Great Waltz’ then shooting under the direction of Julien Duvivier. To entice him they offered a one picture deal. [After he turned his nose up at a project attached to Hedy Lamarr, he would direct ‘Sergeant Madden’ with Wallace Beery in a story about crime and cops and family, his only offering for 1939. In fact from here on out his works were rather sporadic].
  • Cinematographer Gregg Toland passed the 34 year mark this day. His most recent film had just opened and was playing at Grauman’s Chinese – 20th Century Fox’s ‘Kidnapped’ based on the Robert Louis Stevenson novel. [Next for his exacting eye – ‘The Cowboy and the Lady’ for Goldwyn, starring Gary Cooper and Merle Oberon. Toland photographed four films in 1939, and the first to kick off the year was ‘Wuthering Heights’ for which he won the Oscar for cinematography].

The Year Was 1938 – May 22nd

Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights
  • Laurence Olivier turned 31 today. He was hard at work on the stage in England. He had made a couple of films in Hollywood, beginning at RKO in 1931, and again in 1933 for ‘Queen Christina’ opposite Greta Garbo. On that film he was replaced after two weeks when he was judged unsuitable for the role. Now, Sam Goldwyn was about to tempt him away from the stage and England with the promise of $50,000 and the role of Heathcliff in his production of ‘Wuthering Heights.’ One of the big films of 1939.
  • MGM had the Marx Brothers and 20th Century Fox the Ritz Brothers. Harry Ritz, one third of the Ritz Brothers comedy act, also turned 31 today – just two days after the release of their film ‘Kentucky Moonshine’ from 20th Century Fox. He would be in front of the cameras soon in a Damon Runyon story ‘Straight, Place, and Show.’ The year 1939 would be up and down for them – on a high, comedy relief in the Don Ameche version of  ‘The Three Musketeers’ – and a low in ‘The Gorilla’ with Bela Lugosi. [Peter Lorre refused to play the Lugosi part; and the Ritz Brothers objected also but could not refuse to play without facing a law suit].
  • Also sharing a birthday with these two was Alla Navimova (see May 19th), who was born in Yalta (Crimea, then a part of the Russian Empire). She was just turning 59. The year 1938 found her back in LA after an illness cut short her return to the stage in NY. She took up residence in Villa 24 at The Garden of Allah. Ironically she had owned this former property once called Hayvenhurst. After she acquired it in 1919 with the profits from her successful silent film career, she named it after herself, calling it the Garden of Alla. When hard times came along she built 25 villas on its 2.5 acre plot and ran it as a hotel beginning in 1927. Over the years there were many famous celebrities that called it home – F Scott Fitzgerald, Greta Garbo, Ronald Reagan, Humphrey Bogart, Errol Flynn, Frank Sinatra, Benny Goodman, to name a few.