Familiar Faces #9: Stooges, Chorus Lines, and Ethelreda Leopold!

She may not have been as prolific as Hollywood’s “Queen of the Extras” Bess Flowers, but once you’ve discovered Ethelreda Leopold, you’ll find the blonde beauty popping up everywhere, mainly in uncredited roles. Three Stooges fans certainly know of her work, as she appeared in eleven of their Columbia shorts, but there’s a whole lot more Ethelreda out there in classic film land!

Ethelreda (3rd from right) in 1934’s “Dames”

The girl with the unique name (‘Ethelreda’ is from Olde English, meaning ‘of noble strength’) was born in Chicago on July 7, 1914. She was working as a teenage model, and doing very well, when she was discovered by a Warner Brothers talent scout and brought out to Hollywood. Ethelreda made her debut as one of the chorus girls in Busby Berkeley’s 1934 extravaganza DAMES, and became one of Busby’s busiest girls. She can be seen in the chorus in GOLD DIGGERS OF 1935, STAGE STRUCK, VARSITY SHOW, HOLLYWOOD HOTEL, SWEETHEARTS, and GOLD DIGGERS OF PARIS.

The Busby Berkeley Girls in “Gold Diggers of 1935”

The latter film found Ethelreda voted “Most Popular” Berkeley Girl (out of 109!), and the studio sent her on a promotional tour that included a stop in New York, where the writer H. Allen Smith made a nervous attempt to take her measurements (it’s a funny story and can be found by following this link!).

Grooming the Cowardly Lion in “The Wizard of Oz” (1939)

Ethelreda can be spotted in many classic films of the day, mostly uncredited: MY MAN GODFREY, MARKED WOMAN, THE WIZARD OF OZ (helping groom   Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion!), DANCING CO-ED, THE RAGE OF PARIS, CITY FOR CONQUEST, HE STAYED FOR BREAKFAST, ANGELS OVER BROADWAY, BALL OF FIRE, SABOTEUR , WORDS AND MUSIC, ALL ABOUT EVE, and many more. She had a bigger role (billed as ‘Ethel’ Leopold) in the 1938 exploitation film RACE SUICIDE, dealing with an illegal abortion racket and produced by Willis Kent, who made a bunch of these type of things (THE PACE THAT KILLS, THE ROAD TO RUIN, SMASHING THE VICE TRUST, CONFESSIONS OF A VICE BARON, and the immortal COCAINE FIENDS!).

Taking dictation in Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” (1940)

Besides choruses and background beauty, Ethelreda made her mark in comedy, working with all the great comedians, including Abbott & Costello Charlie Chaplin (THE GREAT DICTATOR), Andy Clyde, W.C. Fields (YOU CAN’T CHEAT AN HONEST MAN), Bob Hope , Harry Langdon, Laurel & Hardy The Marx Brothers (A NIGHT IN CASABLANCA), Olsen & Johnson (HELLZAPOPPIN’, CRAZY HOUSE), and The Ritz Brothers . But it’s her work with The Three Stooges she’s fondly remembered for by Knuckleheads everywhere! Her first was 1936’s A PAIN IN THE PULLMAN, where she’s one of the chorus girls on a train kept awake by The Stooges’ madcap antics.

With Curly Howard in “Wee Wee Monsieur” (1938)

In HALF SHOT SHOOTERS (’36) she’s just a (pretty) face in the crowd, and  GOOFS AND SADDLES (1937) finds Ethelreda as a saloon girl out West, encountering Wild Bill Hiccup (Moe), Just Plain Bill (Larry), and Buffalo Billious (Curly). In BACK TO THE WOODS (’37) she’s a Colonial maiden, WEE WEE MONSIEUR (1938) casts her as a harem girl, CALLING ALL CURS (1939) a nurse to the boy’s wacky veterinarians, NUTTY BUT NICE (1940) as a waitress, ALL THE WORLD’S A STOOGE (1941) a party guest (with the boys hired to dress and act like children – not a stretch!), MATRI-PHONY (1942) she’s Miss Syracuse in Ancient Rome.

Let the pies fly! “In the Sweet Pie and Pie” (1941)

Her two biggest Stooge appearences are among the team’s best shorts. IN THE SWEET PIE AND PIE (1941) has Ethereda as Baska, who along with her sisters Tiska (Dorothy Appleby) and Taska (Mary Ainslee) get married to three condemned convicts in order to claim an inheritance. The plan backfires when the boys are pardoned, and the girls do whatever it takes to get divorced – namely insisting they become high society gentlemen! The craziness culminates in a wild pie fight (The Stooges’ first!) and Ethelreda here was more than willing to take one for the team – a pie, that is! G.I. WANNA HOME (1946) finds The Stooges returning from WWII to their sweeties Bessie (Doris Houck), Tessie (Judy Malcolm), and Jessie (Ethelreda) and attempting to build a home for them all to live in, with the expected disastrous results!

A more mature but still beautiful Ethelreda Leopold

After a 1953 appearance on TV’s THE ABBOTT & COSTELLO SHOW, Ethelreda disappeared from screens both large and small. She seems to have slipped into a life a domesticity with husband Joseph Pine, a hotel executive, and son Victor. It wasn’t until ten years later that she returned to acting – with a vengeance! Ethelreda’s list of TV credits reads like a Television Hall of Fame: HAZEL, BONANZA, BATMAN , THE MONKEES , THAT GIRL, THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW , IT TAKES A THIEF, BEWITCHED, MARY TYLER MOORE , THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY (4 episodes), RHODA, THE A-TEAM, HART TO HART, DYNASTY (6 episodes). Older but still attractive, Ethelreda graced many a film during this time as well: THE KILLERS (Ronald Reagan’s last movie), TWO ON A GUILLOTINE , HARUM SCARUM, MARRIAGE ON THE ROCKS, THE OSCAR, I LOVE YOU ALICE B. TOKLAS, HELLFIGHTERS, MYRA BRECKINRIDGE, THE MEPHISTO WALTZ, YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN . Wherever there was a need for a sophisticated older woman, Ethelreda was there!

Ethelreda meets Al & Peg Bundy on “Married With Children”

Her last acting credit was an episode of MARRIED WITH CHILDREN in 1989, with Al Bundy and his lowbrow brood having a night out at a swanky restaurant! A year later, Ethelreda made a personal appearance as guest of honor at a Three Stooges Convention in Philadelphia, where she was a big hit with fandom and treated like a star. She died of pneumonia in 1998, but her legacy lives on; just watch any classic movie or TV show, and there’s a good chance Ethelreda Leopold will pop up! I don’t even think IMDB has all her complete credits listed, so keep a sharp eye out for that beautiful young blonde or elegant older woman in the background. Now that you know about Ethelreda, happy hunting!

From 1940’s “Angels Over Broadway”

 

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Familiar Faces #8: In Search of Angelique Pettyjohn

I first became aware of the gorgeous Angelique Pettyjohn, like most fans, through her appearance as Shahna in the STAR TREK episode “The Gamesters of Triskelion”. The statuesque, green-haired beauty fascinated me as much as she did Captain Kirk, churning my then-adolescent hormones into a frenzy! Since then, I’ve been obsessed with the lovely Miss Pettyjohn, and have made it my mission to discover All Things Angelique!

Angelique Pettyjohn was not her given name, of course, nor was it her only screen name. She was born Dorothy Lee Perrins in the City of Angels on March 11, 1943, and studied dance as a young girl. According to IMDB, her first film appearance was the “Blonde in U.S. sex insert” in Argentine director Armando Bo’s PUT OUT OR SHUT UP in 1959, which would’ve made her 16 years old at the time. She’s also credited as a juror in 1961’s THE PHANTOM PLANET, a low-budget sci-fi film notable for featuring former silent star Francis X. Bushman as an alien and the debuting Richard Kiel as a monster. Having never seen these two films, I can’t confirm if that’s indeed Angelique in them.

The cleverly disguised Agent Charlie Watkins on “Get Smart” (with star Don Adams)

Angelique’s first break came in the spy-spoof sitcom GET SMART, starring comedian Don Adams as the inept Maxwell Smart, CONTROL Agent 86. Angelique makes two appearances as Agent Charlie Watkins, a male master of disguise who’s really good  – so good that he looks like the beautiful Angelique! The actress has the part of Charlie in two episodes, “Smart Fit the Battle of Jericho” (disguised as a cigarette girl) and “Pussycats Galore” (as a waitress at the Pussycat Club). Though the parts are brief, they got Angelique noticed, yet stardom still eluded her.

Playing in Elvis’s band in 1967’s “Clambake”

Bit parts and uncredited roles followed: big films like HOTEL, A GUIDE FOR THE MARRIED MAN, ROUGH NIGHT IN JERICHO, WHERE WERE YOU WHEN THE LIGHTS WENT OUT?, and THE ODD COUPLE, smaller ones such as THE COOL ONES and FOR SINGLES ONLY. She’s seen to good advantage in the Elvis Presley musical CLAMBAKE, but around this time, Angelique also began taking jobs in softcore porn: Michael Findley’s THE TOUCH OF HER FLESH, Joseph Sarno’s THE LOVE REBELLION, William Rose’s PROFESSOR LUST.

Angelique as Shahna and William Shatner as Capt. Kirk in the STAR TREK episode “The Gamesters of Triskelion”

Angelique guested in episodes of THE GREEN HORNET, MR. TERRIFIC, THE FELONY SQUAD, BATMAN , and THE GIRL FROM UNCLE before landing the part that would gain her sci-fi immortality: Shahna the Thrall in the STAR TREK Season 2 episode, “The Gamesters of Triskelion”. Captain Kirk (William Shatner ), Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), and Ensign Chekov (Walter Koenig) are hijacked by alien gamblers who spend their time betting on to-the-death gladiator matches. Forced to wear “collars of obedience”, each is assigned a trainer to prepare them for combat, and Kirk is assigned to the green-haired Shahna, who naturally falls for him (because all women do!). This was Angelique’s biggest part to date, and would be her claim to fame in the future.

In AIP’s bike-sploitation epic “Hell’s Belles”

She lost the part of Nova in 1968’s PLANET OF THE APES to Linda Hamilton, but next up for Angelique were co-starring roles in two drive-in classics. 1969’s MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND found her in a Filipino-lensed horror thriller opposite ‘Beach Party’ alum John Ashley being terrorized by a green-skinned monster, and she plays a biker chick in HELLS’ BELLES alongside bike-sploitation vets Jeremy Slate (THE MINI-SKIRT MOB, HELL’S ANGELS ’69) and Adam Roarke (THE SAVAGE SEVEN, HELL’S ANGELS ON WHEELS). That same year saw the release of CONFESSIONS OF TOM HARRIS, codirected by John Derek and David Nelson (Ozzie & Harriet’s son) in a story about an alcoholic ex-serviceman who breaks arms for the mob before coming to Jesus and helping drunks. Don Murray, Linda Evans (Derek’s then-wife), and former Warner Bros star David Brian are also in the film, which has gained a bit of a cult status.

Angelique in her days performing at Las Vegas’s Silver Slipper

But nothing came of these, and she was back to bits (HEAVEN WITH A GUN, THE LOVE GOD?) and dreck like THE CURIOUS FEMALE, UP YOUR TEDDY BEAR, and WIT’S END (also known as G.I. EXECUTIONER, and directed by Joel M. Reed of BLOODSUCKING FREAKS infamy). In the early 70’s, Angelique moved to Las Vegas and became a stripper and showgirl, dancing at The Silver Slipper and The Aladdin. She’d developed a problem with drugs and alcohol, and by the early 80’s was performing in Triple X fare like TITILLATION, BODY TALK, and STALAG 69 under the pseudonyms Heaven St. John and Angel St. John.

The “family friendly” version of her popular poster

What saved Angelique from a life of porn, drugs, and obscurity was the STAR TREK revival that burst forth after the release of 1979’s STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE and its sequels. Trekkies and their conventions were everywhere, and anyone remotely connected to the original series was automatically embraced by fandom. Angelique began making appearances at these conventions, where she was welcomed with open arms – a star at last, at least in Trekkies’ eyes! She sold photos of herself dressed as Shahna in two versions, one of which was in the nude, and fanboys ate them up like Tribbles gobbling quadrotriticle grain!

As the whip-crackin’ Whiplash in 1984’s “The Lost Empire”

Angelique returned to films mostly made by former fans who knew of her work on STAR TREK and the exploitation field. She’s in Alex Cox’s REPO MAN, Jim Wynorski’s THE LOST EMPIRE (as the leather-clad Whiplash!), Fred Olen Ray’s BIOHAZARD, Mike Jittlov’s THE WIZARD OF SPEED AND TIME, and her last film, SORORITY GIRLS AND THE CREATURE FROM HELL (under the name Ashley St. John). Returning to the Vegas stage as a burlesque queen in 1989, Angelique was a popular attraction until her diagnosis with cervical cancer, which took her in 1992. There’s a rumor circulating around the Internet that Angelique bore a child by Elvis while working on BLUE HAWAII (one Philip Stanic, now known as Elvis Presley, Jr. and working as an Elvis impersonator), and was paid off to give him up for adoption. But since Angelique isn’t even in BLUE HAWAII (at least according to IMDB), it’s probably a bunch of baloney. Best we forget stuff like this and fondly remember Angelique Pettyjohn for what she was, a Hollywood hopeful whose one brief, shining moment as STAR TREK’s Shahna made her a star in the hearts of Trekkies everywhere:

 

 

Familiar Faces #7: Gordon Jones, Working Class Hero

Brawny actor Gordon Jones (1911-1963) was never a big star, but an actor the big  stars could depend on to give a good performance. Stars like John Wayne, Roy Rogers, and Abbott & Costello knew Gordon could deliver the goods in support, and he spent over thirty years as a working class actor. Not bad for a small town kid from Alden, Iowa!

Gordon as The Green Hornet with Keye Luke as Kato

Jones originally came to California on a football scholarship, playing guard for UCLA. Like his fellow Iowan John Wayne , Gordon began his film career in uncredited parts, and soon moved up in casts lists with films like RED SALUTE (1935), STRIKE ME PINK (1936), and THERE GOES MY GIRL (1937). Gordon’s big lug persona made him ideal for second leads as the hero’s pal, though he did get some leading roles in Poverty Row vehicles like THE LONG SHOT (1938), opposite Marsha Hunt. His big break came in the title role of THE GREEN HORNET, a 1940 serial based on the popular radio program, with Charlie Chan’s #1 Son Keye Luke playing his aide Kato.

‘The Wreck’ menaces Richard Quine as Janet Blair & Rosalind Russell look on in “My Sister Eileen”

Gordon displayed a flair for comedy, and one of his best parts was in 1941’s MY SISTER EILEEN as “The Ramblin’ Wreck from Georgia Tech”, neighbor to sisters Rosalind Russell and Janet Blair. He made his first film with The Duke in 1943’s FLYING TIGERS as Alabama, a member of Wayne’s volunteer squadron fighting the Japanese in China before the onset of Pearl Harbor. Like many actors of the era, Jones served in WWII, and returned to the screen with 1947’s THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY, starring Danny Kaye as James Thurber’s notorious daydreamer.

Gordon as Mike the Cop on “The Abbott & Costello Show”

Also in 1947, Jones made his first appearance with Abbott & Costello in THE WISTFUL WIDOW OF WAGON GAP, with Marjorie Main co-starring. Gordon’s the comic villain of the piece, and his work here led to his being cast as antagonist Mike the Cop in the team’s TV series. He makes the perfect foil for Costello’s zany antics, becoming more frustrated and exasperated every time Costello does something stupid… which is always! Jones was one of two cast members retained after A&C revamped the show in its second season, along with vaudeville vet Sidney Fields, a sure sign the boys appreciated his talents.

Lobby card from 1950’s “Sunset in the West”

Along came Roy Rogers, who employed Gordon as a comic sidekick in six of his cowboy movies. Jones played the character ‘Splinters’ McGonigle in TRIGGER JR, SUNSET IN THE WEST, NORTH OF THE GREAT DIVIDE, TRAIL OF ROBIN HOOD (all from 1950), SPOILERS OF THE PLAINS, and HEART OF THE ROCKIES (1951). TRIGGER JR. is considered by many sagebrush aficionados to be Roy’s best, while TRAIL OF ROBIN HOOD is an All-Star ‘B’ Western featuring veteran cowboys Rex Allen, Ray “Crash” Corrigan, George Chesebro, William Farnum, Monte Hale, Jack Holt, Tom Keene, Kermit Maynard, and Tom Tyler all playing themselves, as Roy and Gordon help save Holt’s Christmas Tree farm from poachers!

The 1950’s found Gordon again supporting John Wayne in the anti-Communist film BIG JIM MCLAIN (1952) and William Wellman’s plane crash drama ISLAND IN THE SKY (1953), but most of his work was now on television. Besides the Abbott & Costello show, Gordon had recurring roles in three other sitcoms: MEET MR. MCNULTEY (also known as THE RAY MILLAND SHOW) cast him as a friend of Ray’s all-girls-college professor; SO THIS IS HOLLYWOOD found him as the stuntman boyfriend of Hollywood hopeful Mitzi Green; and he was one of a succession of neighbors to OZZIE AND HARRIET. Of course, there were plenty of guest shots, too: THE GENE AUTRY SHOW, MY LITTLE MARGIE, WYATT EARP, LARAMIE, HAWAIIAN EYE, SURFSIDE-6, PERRY MASON, THE RIFLEMAN, THE REAL MCCOYS, MAVERICK, etc, etc.

Gordon and Strother Martin in 1963’s “McLintock!”

Jones made his Disney debut in 1959’s THE SHAGGY DOG as a police captain, and followed it with THE ABSENT MINDED PROFESSOR (1961) and it’s sequel SON OF FLUBBER (1963), playing the football coach in both. His last role was again with The Duke, as the smarmy land agent Douglas in 1963’s MCLINTOCK. This comedy Western features another All-Star cast (Maureen O’Hara, Stefanie Powers, Chill Wills, Jerry Van Dyke, Yvonne DeCarlo, Edgar Buchanan), and Gordon’s right in the thick of things. Unfortunately, Gordon Jones was felled by a heart attack five months before the film’s premiere, passing away at age 52.

Gordon Jones may not have been a big star, but his contributions to film and television did not go unnoticed: That’s right, he has his own star on the fabled Hollywood Walk of Fame! Like I said earlier, not bad for small town kid from Alden, Iowa!

Familiar Faces #6: Jack Norton, Hollywood’s Favorite Souse

For fifteen years, whenever Hollywood producers needed a drunk, they called Jack Norton. The perpetually inebriated man with the funny moustache made a career out of playing drunken barflies, mostly in uncredited bit parts. Everyone knew they were in for a good laugh when Jack, the ultimate Familiar Face, staggered onscreen. In real life, Jack Norton was a teatottler who never touched the stuff, and learned to “play drunk” by following tipsy people around and copying their mannerisms. Now that’s dedication to your craft!

Jack in 1934’s “A Duke for a Day”

Jack Norton was born in Brooklyn in 1882, and began his show biz career in vaudeville. He soon moved to Broadway, starring in Earl Carroll’s Vanities. Coming to Hollywood in 1934, Jack played his first lush in FINISHING SCHOOL, an early effort for Frances Dee and Ginger Rogers. After that, his specialty would be in constant demand, though he did do other, non-alcoholic roles, such as reporters in films like ALIBI IKE , PAGE MISS GLORY, and AFTER THE THIN MAN.

with William Demarest in Preston Sturges’ “The Palm Beach Story” (1942)

Comical drunks became his bread and butter though, and Jack had a long and prosperous career reeling his way across the screen. He worked with all the comedy greats of the era, including the Ritz Brothers (KENTUCKY MOONSHINE), Bob Hope (GHOST BREAKERS, LOUISIANA PURCHASE, MY FAVORITE SPY), Olsen & Johnson (CRAZY HOUSE, GHOST CATCHERS), The Great Gildersleeve (GILDERSLEEVE ON BROADWAY, GILDERSLEEVE’S GHOST ), Laurel & Hardy (THE BIG NOISE), Jack Benny (THE HORN BLOWS AT MIDNIGHT), Abbott & Costello (THE NAUGHTY NINETIES), and Danny Kaye (THE KID FROM BROOKLYN). Jack was featured in the first Three Stooges Columbia short WOMEN HATERS, and again in RHYTHM AND WEEP and MALACE IN THE PALACE.

Jack (in pith helmet) as director A. Pismo Clam in “The Bank Dick” (1940)

Classic comedy fans cherish best his turn as drunken movie director A. Pismo Clam in W.C. Fields’ THE BANK DICK , so bombed the producers hire Fields (as Egbert Souse’, not exactly the model of sobriety himself!) to replace him! Jack was also a favorite of Preston Sturges, who used him as part of his stock company in THE PALM BEACH STORY, MIRACLE OF MORGAN’S CREEK, HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO, and THE SIN OF HAROLD DIDDLEBOCK (Harold Lloyd’s failed comeback attempt).

Jack with Billy DeWolfe in 1946’s “Blue Skies”

Jack pops up in movies both classic and no-so classic, adding his particular talent to RUGGLES OF RED GAP, SHE GETS HER MAN, GOLDDIGGERS OF 1937, PICK A STAR, THE GREAT GARRICK, JEZEBEL, THE LONE WOLF SPY HUNT, THE ROARING TWENTIES , THE VILLAIN STILL PURSUED HER, COVER GIRL … the list, like a barfly’s story, goes on and on. Illness forced him to slow down after 1949; he made just a handful of TV appearences before passing away in 1958. Jack Norton was never a major star, but his crocked cameos in so many films are one of the reasons we all love watching classic movies so much. Our eyes light up when he pops up three sheets to the wind, and we smile and say, “Hey, there’s THAT GUY again!”. A Familiar Face indeed, and one of those unsung working actors we all know and love!

Familiar Faces #5: The Law and Mr. Hinds

I first became aware of actor Samuel S. Hinds watching those old Universal pictures that played frequently on my local channels. What I didn’t know about the stately, distinguished thespian is he had a secret past: Hinds was a successful, practicing attorney for over 30 years before the stock market crash of 1929 wiped him out, and he decided at age 54 to pursue his second love, acting. Hinds, born in Brooklyn in 1875, was a Harvard educated lawyer who had a long interest in amateur acting. When he made the decision to turn pro, he wrangled film parts large and small, credited and uncredited. His first talking picture was 1932’s all-star comedy drama IF I HAD A MILLION, in which he played…. you guessed it, a lawyer! (Hinds previously had a small role in the silent 1926 THE AMATEUR GENTLEMAN starring Richard Barthelmess).

Hinds had a small role as a dinner guest in 1933’s MURDERS IN THE ZOO, a Pre-Code horror starring Lionel Atwill , but it wasn’t until 1935 he came into his own in scary movies. THE RAVEN cast him as Judge Thatcher, father of beautiful Jean (Irene Ware), with Bela Lugosi’s mad, Poe obsessed Dr. Richard Vollin determined to posses her – or else! Vollin, driven insane by Jean’s rejection, straps the Judge to a slab and lowers a PIT AND THE PENDULUM-inspired blade designed to slice the jurist in two! Boris Karloff lends strong support as Bela’s reluctant henchman Bateman in one of the Demonic Duo’s best efforts, and Hinds adds a touch of sanity to the demented proceedings.

Sam returned to horror with 1941’s MAN MADE MONSTER, which introduced Lon Chaney Jr. to genre fans. Hinds is well cast as kindly Dr. Lawrence, whose attempt to help Chaney’s ‘Dynamo’ Dan McCormick is thwarted by his evil assistant Dr. Rigas (Atwill again). THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. RX (1942)  typecast him as a lawyer in a spooky murder mystery with Atwill a red herring. Hinds and Chaney reteamed for Robert Siodmak’s SON OF DRACULA (1943), with Lon as the undead Count and Sam in the small role as yet another judge. Hinds closed out his Universal Monster career with a bit as a coroner in 1944’s JUNGLE WOMAN, the second entry in the Paula Dupree/Ape Woman series.

Hinds was also kept busy on the Universal lot supporting the studio’s comedy kings Abbott & Costello. The team scored big with 1941’s BUCK PRIVATES , and Sam was right in the thick of things as the base commander. RIDE EM COWBOY (1942), one of my favorite A&C flicks, has him as the owner of a dude ranch, and father of lovely Anne Gwynne. PARDON MY SARONG (1942) has the dignified actor as a native chieftain on a South Seas island, once again encountering Lionel Atwill. 1943’s IT AIN’T HAY, his last with the comedians, finds him as owner of champion race horse Tea Biscuit.

The actor appeared in his share of classics, as well. The screwball YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU (1938) saw Sam as Jean Arthur’s dad. 1939’s DESTRY RIDES AGAIN cast him as the crooked mayor of wild west town Bottleneck. Both films starred James Stewart, who figured prominently in what’s perhaps Hinds’ best known role: Pa Bailey in the 1947 Christmas classic IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. Hinds is also known for playing Lew Ayres’ dad in six of the Doctor Kildare films.

From film noir ( SCARLET STREET, CALL NORTHSIDE 777) to Westerns (SHEPHERD OF THE HILLS, BADLANDS OF DAKOTA) to comedies (HELLZAPOPPIN’, THE EGG AND I), Samuel S. Hinds lent his easy-going, dignified presence to over 200 movies of the 30’s and 40’s. His last, 1949’s THE BRIBE , was released posthumously; the actor passed away October 13, 1948 at age 73. He worked right up to the end, a real trouper, and I for one am glad he gave up the dramatics of the courtroom for the dramatics of the screen. Hollywood was all the better for it!

 

 

Familiar Faces #4: She’s Like A Rainbeaux!

I’ve got a confession to make: I’ve had an insane crush on 70’s exploitation queen Cheryl “Rainbeaux” Smith ever since I first saw her brighten the screen in Jack Hill’s 1974 THE SWINGING CHEERLEADERS. Never a big star by any stretch of the imagination, the delightful, delectable blonde graced us with her presence throughout the 70’s and 80’s, making even the tiniest of parts memorable. This girl was just soooo damn cute!

Cheryl Lynn Smith was born on June 6, 1955. A typical California girl with blonde hair and freckles, Cheryl used to hang out on the Sunset Strip, a fixture at all the rock clubs: The Whiskey A-Go-Go, The Roxy, The Rainbow. She allegedly got the nickname “Rainbeaux” from the owner of these venues, the legendary rock impresario Mario Maglieri. Cheryl was well-known in the LA rock scene, and later in life played drums in an incarnation of The Runaways featuring Joan Jett.

Cheryl’s first claim to fame came with the 1973 cult classic LEMORA: A CHILD’S TALE OF THE SUPERNATURAL, in which the 18-year-old plays 13-year-old Lila Lee, daughter of a Deep South gangster who’s taken in by the church and dubbed “The Singin’ Angel” (she gets to warble “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” and “Rock of Ages”). This grim fairy tale is filled with bizarre imagery and sound (those creepy kids laughter!), as Lila’s Christian values are pitted against evil vampiress Lemora (Lesley Gilb). The low-budget work of writer/director Richard Blackburn (who went on to cowrite another cult hit, 1983’s EATING RAOUL) is claustrophobic and disturbing, and a must-see for horror buffs. LEMORA turns up occasionally on “TCM Underground”, and is available on YouTube (where I recently viewed it). It serves as a fine showcase for young Cheryl’s acting abilities.

Most of her other films focus more on Cheryl’s other attributes rather than her thespic talents. 1974 was a banner year for the actress, now being billed as Rainbeaux Smith. CAGED HEAT, Jonathan Demme’s directorial debut, casts her as convicted murderess Lavelle in one of the “women in prison” genre’s best efforts, with a cast that includes Erica Gavin (BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS) and horror icon Barbara Steele . The aforementioned THE SWINGING CHEERLEADERS finds her as virginal Andrea, and VIDEO VIXENS has Rainbeaux in a commercial parody as “The Twinkle Twat Girl” (yes, really!).

There was more exploitation to come: In 1976’s THE POM POM GIRLS, Rainbeaux is once again a cheerleader, one of “class stud” Keith Carradine’s conquests. That same year’s REVENGE OF THE CHEERLEADERS was a milestone of sorts for her; she had become pregnant by her musician boyfriend, and appears in the end credits holding her baby boy, Justin. Another cult classic, MASSACRE AT CENTRAL HIGH, finds our Cheryl in peril being threatened by bullying rapists. SLUMBER PARTY ’57 takes Rainbeaux back to the past in a film notable only as Debra Winger’s debut.

Rainbeaux got the opportunity to headline once again in 1977’s CINDERELLA, a softcore musical sex farce with heavy emphasis on the SEX! Rainbeaux (back to being billed as Cheryl here) gives a charming performance as the poor stepsister who goes to the ball thanks to her “fairy godmother” (who’s actually a gay brother!), and is given a magical “snapping pussy” that takes the prince to kingdom come! Produced by the infamous Charles Band and directed by actor Michael Pataki, it’s loads of good dirty fun, with a catchy disco-flavored soundtrack allowing Cheryl to sing once again, showing off her wonderful vocal talents (as well as the rest of her ample charms!). CINDERELLA, from the Golden Age of Erotic Cinema,  is my favorite Rainbeaux Smith role, and despite all the lewdness is well worth watching. They just don’t make ’em like this anymore!

FANTASM COMES AGAIN (1977) returned her to softcore porn territory, along with genre stalwarts Rick Cassidy, Uschi Digart, and Serena. LASERBLAST (1978) was another Charles Band classic, with Cheryl the girlfriend of alien possessed Kim Milford. She also managed to score small parts in more mainstream films of the era: FAREWELL MY LOVELY, DRUM (the sequel to MANDINGO, as Warren Oates’ horny daughter!), THE CHOIRBOYS, MELVIN AND HOWARD, and two with her old Sunset Strip buds Cheech & Chong, UP IN SMOKE and NICE DREAMS. But by the early eighties her film opportunities were drying up.

Cheryl had developed a heroin habit with her musician boyfriend, and after bits in VICE SQUAD (1982), DEAD MEN DON’T WEAR PLAID (doubling for Veronica Lake), and INDEPENDENCE DAY (1983) disappeared from the screen altogether. Her addiction led to losing custody of Justin, homelessness, prostitution, and two bids in prison. She was in and out of recovery until finally getting clean with the help of methadone maintenance, but it was too late. The ravages of heroin addiction had taken their toll, and Cheryl died of liver failure brought on by untreated Hep C on October 25, 2002. She was just 47 years old.

Cheryl “Rainbeaux” Smith never became a big star. Her films were mostly in the world of low-budget exploitation, and mainstream success eluded her. She’s fondly remembered by fans for her girl next door looks and giving her all in whatever she appeared in. She lit up the screen with her presence, and when given a chance to act (LEMORA, CAGED HEAT, CINDERELLA) proved she could’ve been bigger. Her downfall into heroin addiction is just another Hollywood cautionary tale; the movies she left behind, and her son Justin, are Rainbeaux’s brightest legacies.

Familiar Faces #3: Esther Howard, Grand Dame of Film Noir

Esther Howard (1892-1965) graced the screen in over 100 appearances, but it’s her work in the shadowy world of film noir for which she’s best remembered. A deft comedienne, Esther was also a member in good standing of Preston Sturges’ stock company, cast in seven of his films. Her matronly looks and acting talent allowed her to play a rich, haughty dowager or drunken old floozy with equal aplomb. Esther may not have been a big star, but her presence gave a lift to any movie she was in, big or small.

Esther in 1931’s “The Vice Squad” (w/Judith Wood)

She was already an established stage actress when she entered movies in 1930. Talkies were all the rage, and Esther began her screen career appearing in Vitaphone shorts opposite the likes of Franklin Pangborn. Her first feature was 1931’s THE VICE SQUAD, a Pre-Code drama starring Kay Francis and Paul Lukas, with Esther billed sixth. More movies found her down in the cast lists, or sometimes unbilled: MERRILY WE GO TO HELL (1932), THE FARMER TAKES A WIFE (’35), DEAD END (’37), and REBECCA OF SUNNYBROOK FARM (’38) were among her many credits.

Esther’s got her eyes on Ollie in 1944’s “The Big Noise”

Esther’s flair for comedy found her supporting many classic comics of the era. Wheeler & Woolsey’s COCKEYED CAVALIERS (’34) places her square among the team’s medieval mirth. The short THE MISSES STOOGES (’35) has Esther hosting a swanky society party ruined by Thelma Todd & Patsy Kelly. The bawdy KLONDIKE ANNIE (’36) pairs her with the inimitable Mae West. 1939’s THE GRACIE ALLEN MURDER CASE sees her briefly as a florist. In MY FAVORITE BLONDE (’40), she’s involved with Bob Hope’s zany shenanigans. Laurel & Hardy’s THE BIG NOISE (’44) has Esther on the make for Ollie. She has a bit in the Three Stooges short IDLE ROOMERS (’44), and played Andy Clyde’s wife in seven of his Columbia shorts.

As Miz Zeffie in Preston Sturges’ “Sullivan’s Travels” (1941)

Her association with writer/director Preston Sturges began with his first in the director’s chair, 1940’s THE GREAT MCGINTY. From there, Esther went to  appear in six more Sturges classics. SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS   (’41) casts her as a man-hungry farm widow setting her sights on Joel McCrea. THE PALM BEACH STORY (’42) finds Esther married to the wealthy “Wienie King”. She had three Sturges films released in 1944: MIRACLE OF MORGAN’S CREEK has Esther embroiled in the saga of Trudy Kockenlocker (Betty Hutton), she serves as a dentist’s guinea pig in THE GREAT MOMENT, and plays Mayor Raymond Walburn’s wife in HAIL THE CONQUORING HERO. Her last with Preston Sturges was also his last American-made film, 1949’s THE BEAUTIFUL BLONDE FROM BASHFUL BEND.

As boozy Mrs. Kraft in 1947’s “Born to Kill”

Despite all this, it is her roles in film noir for which Esther Howard is most closely associated. In 1944’s MURDER, MY SWEET , she plays a key role as the duplicitous drunk Jessie Florian, who tries to throw Philip Marlowe (Dick Powell) off Velma’s trail. Her part as the waitress in Edgar G. Ulmer’s DETOUR (1945) is small, but her presence adds much to this low-budget masterpiece. In DICK TRACY VS CUEBALL (’46), she has a meaty role as Filthy Flora, proprietor of the Dripping Dagger. My favorite Esther Howard noir is Robert Wise’s BORN TO KILL , where she plays nosy boarding house owner Mrs. Kraft, menaced by Lawrence Tierney and his sneaky sycophant Elisha Cook Jr. She closed out her film noir career with a pair of 1949 films: Mark Robson’s CHAMPION (as boxer Kirk Douglas’s mother) and THE CROOKED WAY (a bit as a hotel proprietor).

Mrs. Florian (Esther) is wary of Philip Marlowe (Dick Powell) in 1944’s “Murder, My Sweet”

Esther Howard closed out her film career completely by returning to comedy as Joe Besser’s aunt in the 1952 short CAUGHT ON THE BOUNCE. She’s still remembered today for both the dark worlds of film noir and classic comedy. Actresses like Esther Howard are part of what makes watching these films so special, their small but memorable contributions enhancing our viewing experience. All hail Esther Howard!