Fred MacMurray is born in Kankakee, Illinois, 1908. “I was lucky enough to make four pictures with [Barbara Stanwyck],” the actor said about one of his frequent costars. “In the first I turned her in, in the second I killed her, in the third I left her for another woman and in the fourth I pushed her over a waterfall.” For the record, their first pairing was Remember the Night (1940), wherein Stanwyck played a Christmastime shoplifter prosecuted by MacMurray. The noir masterpiece Double Indemnity (1944) followed, with MacMurray giving his best screen performance as a corrupt insurance salesman who pumps his leading lady full of lead. In The Moonlighter (1953), our man plays a cattle rustler whose escapades bring him back into the orbit of former flame Stanwyck, in 3-D no less. And in director Douglas Sirk’s soapy melodrama There’s Always Tomorrow (1956), fashion designer Stanwyck temporarily pulls toy manufacturer MacMurray away from his drab family life. “The one thing all these pictures had in common,” the actor remarked, “was that I fell in love with Barbara Stanwyck—and I did, too.”
“I have played so many doctors and characters in the mainstream,” actor Keye Luke said about his 56-year film career. “Because of my appearance, or because of my personality, or whatever it may be, I was always put into good Boy Scout roles—lawyers, doctors, business executives and tycoons, the nice Chinese guy down the block.” Canton-born and Seattle-raised, the actor began his connection to Hollywood as an illustrator, painting the murals inside Grauman’s Chinese Theater and providing artwork for movie sets, press books and posters. His first acting job was for the 1934 picture The Painted Veil. The following year he would land a recurring role in the Charlie Chan and Dr. Kildare series as well as the part of Kato, the loyal chauffeur, in The Green Hornet serials. He worked steadily in movies and television until his death at age 86 in 1991.
Charlie Chan in Paris (1935)
Luke was working as an artist for Fox’s publicity department when he was selected for the role of Lee Chan, the “number one son” of detective Charlie Chan (Warner Oland). It would prove to be his most popular characterization and one he repeated in a dozen Charlie Chan pictures over the next 14 years. In this 1935 adventure, Lee helps his pop expose a bond forgery racket in the City of Lights.
The Good Earth (1937)
Luke, playing Elder Son, was one of the few Asians in the primary cast of this film, which saw main characters Wang and O-Lan played by Austrian-born Paul Muni and German-born Luise Rainer, respectively. At $2.8 million in 1937 currency, the big screen adaptation of author Pearl S. Buck’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about Chinese farmers and their hardships would be one of the more elaborately produced features of Luke’s career.
Phantom of Chinatown (1940)
A common practice in 1920s and 1930s Hollywood was to have non-Asian actors—such as Nils Asther, Myrna Loy, Peter Lorre, Paul Muni, Warner Oland, Luise Rainer and Sidney Toler—play major Asian movie characters. By the time 1940 came around, the casting of Asian actor Keye Luke as an Asian detective for Phantom of Chinatown most certainly qualified as “non-traditional casting.” Stepping into the role played in six features by Boris Karloff, Luke’s Jimmy Wong eschewed the more exotic touches Karloff brought to the role and portrayed the detective as an American gumshoe who just happened to be of Asian descent.
A shop in New York’s Chinatown run by Mr. Wing (Luke) sets the ghoulish and wickedly funny plot in motion when Wing’s grandson (John Louie) sells Rand Pelzer (Hoyt Axton) a cuddly creature for Pelzer’s son Billy (Zach Galligan). The rules for the little critter’s care and feeding are promptly broken, throwing the aggressively quaint town of Kingston Falls into turmoil. Luke would return in 1990 for the film’s sequel, Gremlins 2: The New Batch.
Woody Allen’s comic fantasy features Luke as Dr. Yang, a Chinese healer who prescribes magical treatments that help pampered Manhattan housewife Alice (Mia Farrow) reevaluate her life. This would be the final film role for the actor, who died of a stroke soon after the film’s release.
[I]t wasn’t a box office success. It cost $1.8 million, but even with television sales it’s barely going to break even. I averaged about four printed takes per shot, which meant we went over budget in raw stock and printing by $50,000. But it was important for Goldie [Hawn], because she had never played a consistently dramatic role before, and I had to print a lot of takes to get rid of all her cutesy-pie crust, and then select the most subtle ones in the cutting room. I must say that she’s totally different than she’s ever been before. I wanted to do anything possible to keep the Goldie Hawn Tinkerbell-light away from her, and in the end she really did keep all that sugarplum stuff to a minimum. I even thought that if I shot the whole picture during overcast weather, the look of the shots would play against the lightness of the script and the fluffiness of Goldie’s images. I think I was right.
There are many reasons why the film wasn’t a success, not the least of which is that the Goldie Hawn fans didn’t want to see her in that kind of movie and the non-Goldie Hawn fans weren’t willing to give her a shot in a dramatic role. Audiences fell right through the cracks. I also have a feeling that the down ending turned a lot of people off, certainly in light of things like American Graffiti and The Sting and other films that premiered months before us that were kind of lighthearted and carefree. Audiences weren’t expecting Goldie to be in a motion picture in which one of the major actors is shot and killed and the film ends on a low note. They wanted her to go off into the sunset.
Beyond that, the distribution wasn’t good. The ad campaign sold Goldie Hawn with a smile on her face and a teddy bear next to her. It looked like a romp in the woods. When the film opened in New York there was a line of kids waiting to see the picture. The movie was misrepresented more than anything else, and when it came time for the studio to back up their mistake with money, that’s when the distribution men at Universal got cold feet and said sort of sotto voce, “We’ll allow it to play out its Easter run and let it close out.” That’s exactly what happened. The film opened and closed in three weeks. It was very disappointing for me. Later Universal rereleased the film, using another tactic that I wasn’t amused with: “From the director of Jaws.” The film still didn’t do well.
Excerpt from The Great Moviemakers: The Next Generation, compiled and edited by George Stevens, Jr.
On screen, she was sweet, daffy and slightly incompetent with a high-pitched, little-girl voice that set her apart—what a lamb might sound like if lambs could talk instead of bleat. Born Thelma McQueen, she was dubbed “Butterfly” after dancing the butterfly ballet in a 1935 stage production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The moniker stuck, and Thelma, who had always disliked her first name, eventually had it legally changed. She appeared in movies primarily from 1939 to 1947, at which point she retired, weary of playing stereotypes. A series of maids, servants and other small roles defined the career. A memorable turn in a monumental film immortalized the actress.
The Women (1939)
Movie audiences saw McQueen for the first time as Lulu, a department store sales assistant, in George Cukor’s opus about the modern female. She has little to do besides trade a few lines with Joan Crawford and Virginia Grey, and Grey’s character mouths a rather unfortunate remark based on Lulu’s race.
Gone With the Wind (1939)
Of all the secondary characters in this Civil War epic, the silly, thoughtless Prissy (McQueen) might be the most often quoted, simply for the line, “I don't know nothin' 'bout birthin' babies.” Said McQueen decades after the film was released, “Now I am happy I did Gone With the Wind. I wasn't when I was 28, but it's part of black history. You have no idea how hard it is for black actors, but things change, things blossom in time.”
Flame of Barbary Coast (1945)
Montana cowboy Duke Fergus (John Wayne) uses his poker winnings to buy a San Francisco casino and woo entertainer Ann “Flaxen” Tarry (Ann Dvorak). McQueen plays Beulah, Flaxen’s maid, in the first of two such roles she performed in 1945.
Mildred Pierce (1945)
Michael Curtiz’s meaty, irresistible film noir sees the title character (Joan Crawford) climbing the ladder from waitress to restaurant owner while dealing with her spectacularly spoiled daughter Veda (Ann Blythe). As Mildred’s success grows, she hires a maid named Lottie (McQueen), a role that was nothing new to McQueen or her fans. Nevertheless, it was a class production all the way and the actress brought her usual charm to the proceedings. Outside of Gone With the Wind, this is McQueen’s most critically acclaimed picture.
The Mosquito Coast (1986)
Peter Weir directed the film version of Paul Theroux’s novel about an obsessed inventor named Allie Fox (Harrison Ford) determined to build a new life in the Central American rainforest with his wife (Helen Mirren) and son (River Phoenix). McQueen plays Ma Kennywick, an eccentric lady living on Fox’s property. It would be her final screen appearance.
Dial M for Murder begins filming, 1953. It says a lot about director Alfred Hitchcock’s body of work when a solid, satisfying thriller like Dial M for Murder is considered one of his lesser movies. Going nowhere near the psychological heights of Vertigo (1958), it nevertheless avoided the dull depths of Jamaica Inn (1939) and proved to be a popular, enduring effort. The tale—retired tennis pro Ray Milland schemes to bump off wealthy wife Grace Kelly— was shot in 3-D at a time when the fad was fading, prompting Hitchcock to later remark about the process, “It's a nine-day wonder, and I came in on the ninth day.” A limited number of screenings showed it in 3-D upon its initial release, though most theaters screened it flat.
The movie pivots on the scene in which Kelly, alone at home one night, is attacked by the killer while answering the phone. The script called for Kelly to get out of bed when the phone rang, put on her robe and go answer it. The actress balked at this, suggesting to Hitchcock that no woman, especially one that was alone in her home, would put on a robe to go and answer the phone. The director agreed, and the actress performed the scene wearing only a nightgown. It would be the first of many costume decisions Hitchcock allowed Kelly to make for their later film collaborations. An added challenge came with the shot of the scissors that Kelly grabs and plunges into the killer’s back. "This is nicely done,” the director said about the first few takes, “but there wasn't enough gleam to the scissors, and a murder without gleaming scissors is like asparagus without the hollandaise sauce—tasteless."
New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther, reflecting the sensibilities of 1950s film audiences, called the scene “an ugly, gory encounter, one of the toughest Mr. H has ever staged.”