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Shawn Dwyer

Classic Movies Blog

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Mickey Rooney Dies at 93

Monday April 7, 2014

Mickey RooneyMickey Rooney, one of the most prolific and long-lasting stars from the classic era, has died at 93.

Born on September 23, 1920, Rooney began his career in a series of 78 short films as the streetwise Mickey McGuire, before transitioning to features with supporting roles opposite the likes of James Cagney and Olivia de Havilland. He earned good early notices for his interpretation of Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935) and made his first appearance with lifelong friend Judy Garland in Thoroughbreds Don't Die (1937).

But it was his supporting turn as Andy Hardy in A Family Affair (1937) that propelled Rooney into a superstar. Over the next 20-odd years, he would play the role 13 more times, mostly in the 1930s and 1940s when he reigned as the top box office earner for three years running. He also earned Academy Award nominations for his performances in Babes In Arms (1939) and The Human Comedy (1943).

While his rise to the top was fast, Rooney's decline was long and slow, lasting several decades where he suffered numerous failures and public indignities. Occasionally, he managed to resurrect himself, as he did when nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Dooley in The Bold and the Brave (1956). But by and large, Rooney suffered from one bad decision after another, especially with his quasi-racist turns as a buck-toothed Chinese man in Breakfast At Tiffany's (1961).

Through all his personal and professional travails - his serial infidelity, the murder-suicide of his fifth wife, Barbara Ann Thomason in the mid-1960s, the drug overdose of Judy Garland in 1969, and a growing problem with gambling addiction - Rooney managed to survive by continually working.

He once again sought redemption in the 1970s with his Oscar-nominated performance in The Black Stallion (1979) and later became an high-profile advocate against elder abuse, which included emotional testimony before  the U.S. Senate in 2011. In all, Rooney made some 300 films in his long career.

Rooney is survived by his eighth wife, Jan Rooney, and nine children.

For more on Mickey Rooney, check out a list of top movies here and his full profile here.

Classic Movie Stars Born in April

Saturday April 5, 2014

Marlon BrandoThis month includes some of the greatest actors of all time, including Alec Guinness, Marlon Brando, and Spencer Tracy, as well as top box office performers like Doris Day and Shirley Temple.

The Best of Bogart Collection Now Out on Blu-ray

Monday March 31, 2014

Bogart CollectionAnnounced back in November 2013, The Best of Bogart Collection is now available for purchase on Blu-ray.

The four-film set was released last week by Warner Bros. and indeed lives up to its name by featuring Bogie's greatest films.

In order of release date, the collection features The Maltese Falcon (1941), Bogart's first of five pictures with director John Huston. Next up, of course, is Casablanca (1942), co-starring Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains, and directed by Michael Curtiz.

The third film included in the set is arguably his best with Huston, The Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948). And rounding out the collection is The African Queen (1951), which co-starred Katharine Hepburn and earned Bogart the only Oscar for Best Actor of his career.

The set was released on March 25, 2014 and contains extras from previous Blu-ray releases.

Classic Movie Stars Born in March

Saturday March 1, 2014

Joan CrawfordThis month features a great diversity of stars born in March, from great comedians like Jerry Lewis and Lou Costello to great dramatic actors like Rex Harrison and Joan Crawford.

  • David Niven - Mar. 1
  • Jennifer Jones - Mar. 2
  • Jean Harlow - Mar. 3
  • Rex Harrison - Mar. 5
  • Lou Costello - Mar. 6
  • Cyd Charisse - Mar. 8
  • Raoul Walsh - Mar. 11
  • Gordon MacRae - Mar. 12
  • Michael Caine - Mar. 14
  • Jerry Lewis - Mar. 16
  • Shemp Howard - Mar. 17
  • Karl Malden - Mar. 22
  • Chico Marx - Mar. 22
  • Joan Crawford - Mar. 23
  • Steve McQueen - Mar. 24
  • David Lean - Mar. 25

Classic Movies New on Blu-Ray

Tuesday February 25, 2014

Black StallionWhile it's probably easier and cheaper these days to stream classic movies online, it's always worth pointing out new releases on Blu-ray every month.

For March, the pickings are slim, but that doesn't mean there aren't a few good movies that would make great additions to one's collector shelf.

On March 4, 20th Century Fox will release The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965), an historical drama detailing the clash of wills between Pope Julius II (Rex Harrison) and Michelangelo (Charlton Heston) over the painting of the Sistine Chapel.

The following week, on March 11, Warner Bros. plans to release a pair of Western classics. First up is Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), which starred Burt Lancaster as Wyatt Earp and Kirk Douglas as consumptive gunslinger Doc Holliday. Their second release that day is El Dorado (1966), a rehash of Rio Bravo (1958) directed by Howard Hawks and starring John Wayne

Finally, MGM Home Entertainment plans to release The Black Stallion (1979) on March 18. The heartfelt drama starred Mickey Rooney as a down-and-out horse trainer who coaches a young boy and his rebellious new horse.

And in case you missed it, here are the top Blu-ray releases for February.

Child Star Shirley Temple Black Dies at 85

Tuesday February 11, 2014

Shirley TempleShirley Temple Black, the famed curly-cued  darling who sang and danced her way into the hearts of movie audiences in the 1930s, has died of natural causes at her home in Woodside, CA. She was 85.

Born on April 23, 1928 in Santa Monica, CA, Temple showed talent and charm at an early age, which led her mother, Gertrude, to enroll her for dance lessons when she was three years old. Temple was soon spotted by an agent who picked her to appear in the notorious Baby Burlesks, a series of often sexually suggestive short parodies that featured children dressed in racy adult costumes.

Temple later described the Burlesks in her 1988 autobiography as "a cynical exploitation of our childish innocence," but also said they were "the best things I ever did."

After a series of more appropriate films, Temple sang and tapped her way through "Baby Take a Bow" in 1934's Stand Up and Cheer, which led to a seven year contract with 20th Century Fox. Temple made eight movies in 1934, but none were as popular and long-lasting as Bright Eyes, which featured her signature song, "On the Good Ship Lollipop."

From 1935-38, Temple was the top box office draw in America, besting the likes of Clark Gable, Bing Crosby, Mickey Rooney, and Spencer Tracy. But as she grew older, Temple found that her popularity was beginning to wane and she retired from the screen at just 22 years old. She went on to raised a family with California businessman, Charles Alden Black, while becoming active in Republican politics, serving as the U.S. Ambassador to Ghana from 1974-76 and Czechoslovakia in 1989.

Temple Black died surrounded by family. They released a statement that said in part: "We salute her for a life of remarkable achievements as an actor, as a diplomat, and most importantly as our beloved mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and adored wife for fifty-five years of the late and much missed Charles Alden Black."

Classic Movie Stars Born in February

Saturday February 1, 2014

Elizabeth TaylorThis month's birthday list features a number of great movie stars like Clark Gable, James Dean, Lana Turner, and Elizabeth Taylor, as well as some of Hollywood's all time great directors.

  • Clark Gable - Feb. 1
  • John Ford - Feb. 1
  • Joey Bishop - Feb. 3
  • George A. Romero - Feb. 4
  • Ida Lupino - Feb. 4
  • Red Buttons - Feb. 5
  • James Dean - Feb. 8
  • Lana Turner - Feb. 8
  • Jack Lemmon - Feb. 8
  • Lon Chaney, Jr. - Feb. 10
  • Jimmy Durante - Feb. 10
  • Joseph L. Mankiewicz - Feb. 11
  • John Barrymore - Feb. 15
  • Hal Holbrook - Feb. 17
  • George Kennedy - Feb. 18
  • Jack Palance - Feb. 18
  • Lee Marvin - Feb. 19
  • Robert Altman - Feb. 20
  • Sam Peckinpah - Feb. 21
  • John Mills - Feb. 2
  • Peter Fonda - Feb. 23
  • Victor Fleming - Feb. 23
  • Abe Vigoda - Feb. 24
  • Zeppo Marx - Feb. 25
  • Elizabeth Taylor - Feb. 27
  • Charles Durning - Feb. 28
  • William Wellman - Feb. 29

Classic Movie Stars Born in January

Friday January 3, 2014

Ernest Borgnine MartyIt's the beginning of the month once again and that means it's time to look back at all the classic movie stars and directors born in the month of January. A few are still with us, but all should be remembered for their contributions to film and for how deeply they touched our lives. Happy New Year!

  • Ray Miland - Jan. 3
  • Jane Wyman - Jan. 4
  • Loretta Young - Jan. 6
  • Sal Mineo - Jan. 10
  • Luise Rainer - Jan. 12
  • Andy Rooney - Jan. 14
  • William Bendix - Jan. 14
  • Lloyd Bridges - Jan. 15
  • Danny Kaye - Jan. 18
  • Cary Grant - Jan. 18
  • Oliver Hardy - Jan. 18
  • Tippi Hedren - Jan. 19
  • D.W. Griffith - Jan. 22
  • Ernest Borgnine - Jan. 24
  • Paul Newman - Jan. 26
  • Katharine Ross - Jan. 29
  • Victor Mature - Jan. 29
  • Ernst Lubitsch - Jan. 29

Legandary Actress Joan Fontaine Dies at 96

Monday December 16, 2013

Joan Fontaine  SuspicionJoan Fontaine, the legendary actress who won the Oscar for Best Actress for her leading role in Alfred Hitchcock's Suspicion (1941), has died. She was 96.

Fontaine was born Joan de Havilland on Oct. 22, 1917 in Tokyo, Japan and followed her eldest sister, Olivia de Havilland, into acting. She make her stage debut in 1935 and was soon signed to a contract by RKO, which led to small roles in No More Ladies (1935), A Million to One (1937), and Quality Street (1937).

Her career was almost over before it began following the flop A Damsel in Distress (1937) and a small part in George Cukor's The Women (1939), after which RKO declined to renew her contract. But a fortuitous meeting with powerhouse producer David O. Selznick changed the course of Fontaine's life.

Selznick brought her to the attention of Alfred Hitchcock, who was making his American debut with the gothic thriller, Rebecca (1940). Starring opposite Lawrence Olivier, Fontaine earned an Academy Award nomination for her role as a new bride haunted by the past of her husband's first wife.

The following year, Fontaine won for Best Actress when she played a reclusive wealthy woman who impulsively marries a charming rogue (Cary Grant), only to learn that he's out to kill her for his money, in Suspicion. It was the only Oscar an actor ever won while working with Hitchcock. Fontaine famously snubbed her sister Olivia on her way to the podium, exacerbating a bitter lifelong feud that lasted for the rest of their lives.

From there, Fontaine enjoyed more critical success throughout the decade with her third Oscar nomination for The Constant Nymph (1943) and an underrated performance as the titular Jane Eyre (1944), widely seen as one of the best of her career.

She essayed roles in Ivy (1947) and Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), only to see her career slip in the 1950s. Fontaine was memorable as part of a large all-star cast in Ivanhoe (1952) and was integral to the plot of Fritz Lang's courtroom classic Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956).

But by this point, Fontaine's film career had waned and the actress began to segue into television. Her last film role was in the British horror film, The Witches (1966) and appeared on Broadway in the comedy Forty Carats. She returned to the small screen in the mid-1970s and earned an Emmy nomination for a guest arc on Ryan's Hope. Fontaine made her last screen appearance in the made-for-TV movie Good King Wenceslas (1994).

Throughout the years, her rivalry with de Havilland intensified and the two refused to speak to one another for decades, the reasons for which stemmed from a childhood wrought with animosity and made permanent by the death of their mother in 1975. Their feud was apparently sustained until Fontaine's death on Dec. 15, 2013 from natural causes.

Check out a full biography on Fontaine's life here and a list of her best films here.

Joan Fontaine in Alfred Hitchcock's Suspicion (1941)/Turner Home Entertainment

Peter O'Toole Dies at 81

Sunday December 15, 2013

Peter O'Toole Lawrence of ArabiaPeter O'Toole, the legendary actor who rose to fame on his iconic debut performance in Lawrence of Arabia (1962), has died after a long battle with poor health. He was 81.

O'Toole's career was practically unequaled, spanning nearly six decades and counting seven Academy Award nominations, included five for Best Actor. O'Toole was born on Aug. 2, 1932 in Connemara, County Galway, Ireland, and received his training at the famed Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in England.

He quickly established himself as a gifted Shakespearean player at the Old Bristol Vic, playing roles in King Lear, Othello, and Hamlet, before making his film debut in an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped (1960). Two years later, O'Toole was cast by David Lean as T.E. Lawrence in the director's masterful epic and became an international star.

Gifted and charismatic onscreen, O'Toole developed a reputation as a notorious hellraiser off camera and became well known for his hard-drinking, brawling escapades with fellow actors Richard Burton, Richard Harris, and Oliver Reed.

But he continued putting in high-quality performances, and earned Oscar nominations for Becket (1964) and The Lion in Winter (1968). He did likewise with career-defining turns in Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969) and The Ruling Class (1972), which helped cement his status as a legend.

Of course, O'Toole brushed against infamy with role as Tiberius in the pseudo-pornographic Caligula (1979), one of the more notorious films ever made. In his later years, he became something of an elder statesman with supporting turns on television and in movies, and earned his final Academy Award nomination for playing an elderly man who falls for a twentysomething woman (Jodie Whittaker) in Venus (2006).

In 2012, O'Toole surprised all when he announced his retirement from acting. He spent his final days battling declining health and died on Dec. 14, 2013 in London, England.

Peter O'Toole as T.E. Lawrence in 'Lawrence of Arabia' (1962)/Columbia Pictures

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