1930s, 1940s

Nina Mae McKinney

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Nina Mae McKinney (June 13, 1912 – May 3, 1967) was an American actress who worked internationally during the 1930s and in the postwar period in theatre, film and television, after getting her start on Broadway and in Hollywood. Dubbed “The Black Garbo” in Europe because of her striking beauty,[1] McKinney was one of the first African-American film stars in the United States, as well as one of the first African Americans to appear on British television.

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1940s, Adaptation, Drama, Uncategorized

The Heiress.

The Heiress is a 1949 American drama film directed by William Wyler and starring Olivia de Havilland as Catherine Sloper, Montgomery Clift as Morris Townsend, and Ralph Richardson as Dr. Sloper. Written by Ruth and Augustus Goetz, adapted from their 1947 play The Heiress. The play was suggested by the 1880 novel Washington Square by Henry James. The film is about a young naive woman who falls in love with a handsome young man, despite the objections of her emotionally abusive father who suspects the man of being a fortune hunter.

Catherine’s father believes Morris is courting Catherine only to get her inheritance and threatens to disinherit her if she marries him. Catherine does not care, and plans to elope with Morris but not before telling him about her father’s decision. On the night they are to elope, Catherine eagerly waits at home for Morris to come and take her away, but he never arrives.

Catherine is heartbroken. A day or so later, she has a bitter argument with her father, who reveals he is dying. She tells her father she still loves Morris and challenges him to change his will if he is afraid of how she will spend his money after he dies. He does not and dies a short time later, leaving her his entire estate.

A few years later, Morris returns from California, having made nothing of himself and eyeing the Slopers’ luxurious house with more obvious eagerness. Again he professes his love for Catherine, claiming that he left her behind because he could not bear to see her destitute. Catherine pretends to forgive him and tells him she still wants to elope as they originally planned. He promises to come back that night for her, and she tells him she will start packing her bags.

When Morris returns, Catherine takes her revenge. Her aunt asks her how she can be so cruel, and she responds, “I have been taught by masters.” She calmly orders the maid to bolt the door, leaving Morris locked outside, shouting her name. The film fades out with Catherine silently ascending the stairs while Morris’ despairing cries echo unanswered through the darkness.

The Heiress received universal critical acclaim and won four Academy Awards. In his review in the New York Times, Bosley Crowther said the film “crackles with allusive life and fire in its tender and agonized telling of an extraordinarily characterful tale” and added, “Mr. Wyler . . . has given this somewhat austere drama an absorbing intimacy and a warming illusion of nearness that it did not have on the stage. He has brought the full-bodied people very closely and vividly to view, while maintaining the clarity and sharpness of their personalities, their emotions and their styles . . . The Heiress is one of the handsome, intense and adult dramas of the year.”

TV Guide rates the film five out of a possible five stars and adds, “This powerful and compelling drama . . . owes its triumph to the deft hand of director William Wyler and a remarkable lead performance by Olivia de Havilland.

Time Out London calls the film “typically plush, painstaking and cold. . . . highly professional and heartless.”

Channel 4 says of the performances, “de Havilland’s portrayal . . . is spine-chilling . . . Clift brings a subtle ambiguity to one of his least interesting roles, and Richardson is also excellent.”

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1900s, 1910s, Silent Era

Florence La Badie.

While her film career is well documented, her early life is somewhat clouded in mystery, including who her real parents were and what her birth name was. She was the adopted daughter of the La Badie family. Joseph E. La Badie, was believed to have been born in Montreal, Quebec, and is said to have been a prominent attorney there at one time. His wife, the former Amanda Victor, is said to have been born in Europe, possibly Paris. Her adoptive uncle, Oddiehon LaBadie, maintained an estate in nearby St. Lambert. Other sources have claimed that she was born in Austin, Texas and adopted by the La Badie family. One source states plainly that she was born in Montreal, another that she was born Florence Russ in Manhattan on April 27, 1888. Florence was educated in New York City schools and at the Convent of Notre Dame in Montreal.

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The Internet Movie Database (IMDb), lists her birthplace as New York City, with the birth name of Florence Russ. While there is much evidence of her having been raised in Montreal, in an alleged sworn deposition on October 8, 1917, a New York woman named Marie C. Russ had claimed to be Florence’s biological mother and referred to a Russ family burial plot in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery, with lot number 17187 being reserved for Florence Russ, aka Florence La Badie. This supposed legal deposition was dated five days before Florence’s death. There was evidence to support that she was the granddaughter of a Louisa Russ, who had purchased the family plot in Green-Wood.

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Having completed her studies, she was offered work as a fashion model in New York City. Once there, in early 1908 she obtained a small part in a stage play. Following this, she signed to tour with one of the road companies and for the next two years appeared on stage in various places in the eastern part of the United States. During this period she met a fellow Canadian, the young actress Mary Pickford, who in 1909 invited Florence to watch the making of a motion picture at the Biographies studio in Manhattan. Given an impromptu bit part, Florence was invited back to Biograph’s studios to participate in another film later that year. She would go on to make several films under the renowned D. W. Griffith, with her first credited film being in the 1909 filmThe Politician’s Love Story, starring Mack Sennett and Kathlyn Williams.

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When World War I broke out in Europe in 1914, Canada immediately joined the war, and as a result, several of Florence La Badie’s young male friends and relatives back home in Montreal were immediately shipped overseas. She had many movie fans in Canada and according to one New York newspaper, in 1915 a young soldier fighting in the trenches at the Front in Northern France wrote to her, sending dozens of photographs that graphically depicted the horrors of the war. Deeply affected, La Badie became a vigorous advocate for peace, traveling the United States with a stereopticon slide show of the soldier’s photographs, warning about the terrible dangers of going to war.

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In August 1917, La Badie was at the height of her motion picture success. She had appeared in 185 films since 1909, 32 fewer than Mary Pickford’s 217 films during the same period. Her film The Woman in White  had just been released in July 1917. Her latest two films, The Man Without a Country, a film adaptation of Edward Everett Hale’s The Man Without a Country, and War and the Woman, would also soon be released, both on September 9, 1917. Although the Thanhouser Corporation had been struggling since the 1914 automobile accident death of Charles J. Hite, her career was thriving and had been their saving grace. Less than a month earlier, she had announced that she was leaving Thanhouser, and she had several other film corporations willing to pick her up on contract immediately.

On August 28, 1917, while driving near Ossining, New York in the company of her fiance, Daniel Carson Goodman, the brakes on La Badie’s car failed and the vehicle plunged down a hill, overturning at the bottom. While Goodman escaped with only a broken leg, La Badie was thrown from the vehicle and suffered serious injuries, including a compound fracture of the pelvis. Hospitalized, she clung to life for more than six weeks and seemed to be improving, but suddenly died on October 13, from septicemia. She thus became the first major female film star to die while her career was at its peak, and the movie-going public mourned her death. After a large funeral, she was interred in an unmarked grave in the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York, the same cemetery included by Marie C. Russ in her legal proceedings days before her death, with Marie Russ claiming to have been her actual birth mother in sworn deposition. Obituary notices stated La Badie was survived by her mother, Amanda La Badie, with no mention of her having been adopted. This omission would have been customary at the time. Due to her death, it is unknown what her prolonged impact in films would have been. Although little-remembered now, she was once a top-billed star. Under New York laws, the property of her estate was divided between Mr. and Mrs. Joseph La Badie.

In 2014, Ned Thanhouser, the grandson of Edwin Thanhouser, raised money for a proper headstone for La Badie, which was installed on April 27 of that year, on what would have been her 126th birthday.

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