17 August 2017

Naufragio (1916)

Italian child star Ermanno Roveri (1903-1968) played the lead in the silent melodrama Naufragio (Umberto Paradisi, 1916). Naufragio was part of a series of films based on the stories in Cuore (1886) by Edmondo De Amicis.

Ermanno Roveri in Naufragio (1916)
Italian postcard by Film Artistica Gloria, Torino (Turin), no. 3404. Printed by Uff. Rev. St. Terni, 16-5-17. Caption: He had the look of a boy who just came out of a big family misfortune.

Italian postcard by Film Artistica Floria, Torino (Turin), no. 3404. Printed by Uff. Rev. St. Terni, 16-5-17. Caption: Be cheerful, the Italian sailor cried to them, now a ballet starts!

Italian postcard by Film Artistica Floria, Torino (Turin), no. 3404. Printed by Uff. Rev. St. Terni, 16-5-17. Caption: Curled up against the vessel's mast, Mario and Giulietta stared at the sea with fixed eyes, as if senseless.

An Orphan on a Sinking Ship

Ermanno Roveri played the Sicilian orphan Mario, who is repatriated from Liverpool to Sicily. On the boat he meets Giulietta (played by Ermanno’s sister, Lavinia Roveri), who has to return to her parents in Naples.

During a tempest the boat sinks and Mario offers his seat in the lifeboat to Giulietta. Mario drowns on the sinking ship.

Naufragio was a production of Gloria, the film company in Turin that also produced the first films of diva Lyda Borelli. Gloria produced a series of films based on the stories in Cuore (1886) by Edmondo De Amicis.

Roveri acted in many of these films, including Dagli Appennini alle Ande, Naufragio, Il piccolo patriota padovano and Il piccolo scrivano fiorentino.

Ermanno Roveri thus was one of the stars of Gloria. In 1913-1914 he had become famous as Frugolino, one of the comic child actors of the Cines company in Rome.

In the 1930s and 1940s Ermanno played in a dozen Italian films. He would continue to work in the theatre and incidentally in cinema or on television till his death in 1968.

Italian postcard by Film Artistica Floria, Torino (Turin), no. 3404. Printed by Uff. Rev. St. Terni, 16-5-17. Caption: In the interior of the vessel a confusion started as well as fright, and an uproar of weeping and prayers.

Italian postcard by Film Artistica Floria, Torino (Turin), no. 3404. Printed by Uff. Rev. St. Terni, 16-5-17. Caption: They saw all around them persons frozen like statues, with eyes wide open and with blank stares, with the faces of corpses and madmen.

Italian postcard by Film Artistica Floria, Torino (Turin), no. 3404. Printed by Uff. Rev. St. Terni, 16-5-17. Caption: Goodbye, Mario!, she cried among her sobs with her arms extended towards him.

Sources: Vittorio Martinelli (Il Cinema Italiano 1916) and IMDb.

16 August 2017

Ernest Torrence

Big, burly Scottish-born character actor Ernest Torrence (1878-1933) appeared in many Hollywood films form 1916 on. A towering figure, he frequently played cold-eyed and imposing heavies, but played most of his bad guys with tongue firmly in cheek. Torrence’s films include including Tol'able David (1921) opposite Richard Barthelmess, Mantrap (1926) with Clara Bow, and Sherlock Holmes (1932) in one of his last roles as Holmes’s nemesis Professor Moriarty.

Ernest Torrence
British postcard in the Picturegoer series, London, no. 167.

Moronic, twitch-eyed thief

Ernest Thayson Torrance-Thompson was born in 1978 to Colonel Henry Torrence Thayson and Jessie (née Bryce) in Edinburgh, Scotland. His younger brother would be the actor David Torrence.

As a child, Ernest was an exceptional pianist and operatic baritone and he graduated from the Stuttgart Conservatory and Edinburgh Academy before earning a scholarship at London's Royal Academy of Music.

He toured with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company in such productions as The Emerald Isle (1901) and The Talk of the Town (1905) before disarming vocal problems set in and he was forced to abandon this career path.

Sometime prior to 1900, he changed the spelling of Torrance to Torrence and dropped the name Thomson. Both Ernest and his brother David Torrence went to America, in March 1911, directly from Scotland prior to the First World War.

Focusing instead on a purely acting career, Ernest and his brother developed into experienced players on the Broadway New York stage. Ernest received significant acclaim with Modest Suzanne in 1912, and a prominent role in The Night Boat in 1920 brought him to the attention of the early Hollywood filmmakers.

Torrence played the moronic, twitch-eyed thief Luke Hatburn in Tol'able David (Henry King, 1921) opposite Richard Barthelmess and made his mark as a cinema villain. He settled into films for the rest of his career and life.

He played Colleen Moore’s abusive husband in Broken Chains (Alan Holubar, 1922). Torrence gave a sympathetic portrayal of a grizzled old codger in the acclaimed classic Western The Covered Wagon (James Cruze, 1923) and gained attention from his role as Clopin, king of the beggars opposite Lon Chaney in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Wallace Worsley, 1923).

Ernest Torrence
British postcard in the Picturegoer series, London, no. 167a. Photo: Paramount.

Ernest Torrence
British autograph card.

One of the silent screen's finest arch villains

Ernest Torrence played an outrageous Captain Hook in Peter Pan (Herbert Brenon, 1924) opposite Betty Bronson as Peter Pan. Bob Eddwards at Find A Grave: “Walt Disney used Torrence as the model for Hook in his own 1953 animated version of Peter Pan.”

He played an Army General who escapes into the circus world and becomes a clown in The Side Show of Life (Herbert Brenon, 1924). In an offbeat bit of casting he paired up with Clara Bow in Mantrap (Victor Fleming, 1926), unusually as a gentle, bear-like backwoodsman in search of a wife.

He appeared in other silent film classics such as the epic The King of Kings (Cecil B. DeMille 1927) as Peter, and Steamboat Bill Jr. (Charles Reisner, 1928) as Buster Keaton's steamboat captain father.

During the course of his twelve-year film career, Ernest Torrence made 49 films, both silent and sound films. Torrence made the transition into sound films very well, starring in the Western Fighting Caravans (Otto Brower, David Burton, 1931) with Gary Cooper and Lily Damita.

He was able to play a notable nemesis, Dr. Moriarty, to Clive Brook's Sherlock in Sherlock Holmes (William K. Howard, 1932) in one of his last roles. Filming for I Cover the Waterfront (James Cruze, 1933), in which he starred as a New York smuggler opposite Ben Lyon and Claudette Colbert, had just been completed when he died suddenly on 15 May 1933.

He was only 54. While en route to Europe by ship, Torrence suffered an acute attack of gall stones and was rushed back to a New York hospital. He died of complications following surgery. Ernest Torrence was married to Elsie Reamer Bedbrook and he had one child, Ian Torrence.

Gary Brumburgh at IMDb: “He was the man you loved to hiss. This towering (6' 4"), highly imposing character star with cold, hollow, beady eyes and a huge, protruding snout would go on to become one of the silent screen's finest arch villains.”

Scene with Torrence and Clara Bow in Mantrap (Victor Fleming, 1926). Source: Jeff Alanson (YouTube).

Scene from Steamboat Bill Jr. (Charles Reisner, 1928). Source: Movies and Videos (YouTube).

Sources: Gary Brumburgh (IMDb), Bobb Edwards (Find A Grave), Hal Erickson (AllMovie), Silent, Wikipedia and IMDb.

15 August 2017

Christine Norden

Blonde, green-eyed bombshell Christine Norden (1924-1988) was Britain’s first post-war screen sex goddess. The ex-dancer, actress and singer won in the late 1940s and early 1950s two prestigious film awards, but she was best known for her 39 inch breasts and her racy image.

Christine Norden
British postcard, no. 262.

Seven-year Contract

Christine Norden was born Mary Lydia Thornton in Sunderland, Great Britain on Christmas day in 1924. She was the daughter of Charles Hunter; a bus driver, and Catherine (McAloon) Thornton.

Christine performed as a dancer and a singer since her teens. She made her London stage debut as Molly Thornton in Tell the World in 1942. She became the first entertainer to land on Normandy beaches in 1944 to perform for Allied troops after D-Day.

The story goes that she was ‘discovered’ in 1947 by agents of the distinguished film mogul Sir Alexander Korda while waiting outside a theatre ticket line. Korda promptly signed her to a seven-year contract, and Christine also became his mistress.

She made her film debut in the melodrama Night Beat (Harold Huth, 1947) as an alluring temptress. She was known for her 39 inch breasts which made her a prime pin-up attraction.

Korda placed her in stark, dark-edged films as fetching, sometimes singing femmes, appearing in a surprising number of quality films including Mine Own Executioner (Anthony Kimmins, 1947) opposite Burgess Meredith and An Ideal Husband (Alexander Korda, 1948) starring Paulette Goddard.

She won a Venice Festival award for most promising actress in 1947, and the British National Film Award in 1949 for her performance in Saints and Sinners (Leslie Arliss, 1949).

Christine Norden
Italian postcard by Rotalfoto, Milano (Milan), no. 2. Photo: London Films. Publicity still for Saints and Sinners (1949).

Topless on Broadway

By the early 1950s the film career of Christine Norden was over. Her last British film was the thriller The Black Widow (Vernon Sewell, 1951), and the following year she went to New York.

Her Broadway debut was in the musical Tenderloin in 1960 and later she appeared in such productions as Marat/Sade. She was the first actress to appear topless on Broadway in Scuba Duba (1967).

Although she became an American citizen, she returned to London in 1979 and acted in plays, films and television shows during the 1980s, including the musical Little Shop of Horrors (Frank Oz, 1988) and in an episode of the popular TV series Inspector Morse (1987).

Christine Norden admitted to many affairs (both men and women) over the years, and she is reported to have had affairs with Richard Burton and Ava Gardner, along with Prince Philip.

She was married five times (including with director Jack Clayton). One of the craters of the planet Venus has been named after her as a tribute to her being a ‘forerunner of the modern sex symbol.’ Her last husband, George Heselden, a retired mathematician, developed and named a mathematical formula in her honour.

After a bypass surgery, she died of pneumonia in 1988, in Isleworth, England. She was 63, and had one child, Michael Glenn, from her first marriage. Her memoirs were discovered after she died, but were considered too racy to be published at the time. Her friend, and royal biographer, Michael Thornton, to whom they were left, has now made parts of the story public.

Christine Norden
British postcard, no. F.S. 55.

Christine Norden
British autograph card.

Sources: Gary Brumburgh (IMDb), Sandra Brennan (AllMovie), The New York Times, Film Reference, Wikipedia and IMDb.