14 April 2021

Olga San Juan

American actress, dancer, and comedian Olga San Juan (1927-2009) was mainly active in films during the 1940s. San Juan was dubbed the 'Puerto Rican Pepperpot' or 'Beauty Siren' for singing and dancing roles alongside Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, and many others.

Olga San Juan in Blue Skies (1946)
Dutch postcard by Van Leer's Fotodrukindustrie N.V., Amsterdam. Photo: Paramount Pictures. Olga San Juan in Blue Skies (Stuart Heisler, 1946).

Olga San Juan
Dutch postcard, no. 3517. Photo: Paramount.

The first dyed-blonde Latin movie spitfire

Olga San Juan was born in Brooklyn, New York to Puerto Rican parents in 1927. When she was 3 years old, her family moved back to Puerto Rico, then moved back to the United States again a few years later. This time, they settled in 'Spanish Harlem'.

While still a toddler, Olga was enrolled in both ballet and flamenco dancing classes and was encouraged to pursue a performing arts career by her stage mother. When she was eleven years old, she and five other school girls performed the Latin dance the Fandango for President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

She went on to perform at such Latin clubs as the Copacabana in New York City. She worked as a dancer with famed jazz and mambo musician, Tito Puente, who by then had earned the title of 'The King of Latin Music'

After talent scouts found her performing her popular nightclub act, Olga San Juan and Her Rumba Band, on radio, she signed a contract with Paramount Pictures in 1943. She appeared in a musical short film called Caribbean Romance (Lester Fuller, 1943) with Eric Blore.

She possessed the same tiny frame and fervid temperament as Brazilian Carmen Miranda. Her film debut was followed by another short film called Bombalera (Noel Madison, 1945), which was nominated for an Oscar. She decided to become the first dyed-blonde Latin movie spitfire. In this, Olga was billed, appropriately enough, as 'The Cuban Cyclone'.

She was front and center in her third short, The Little Witch (George Templeton, 1945), a musical romance in which she virtually played herself as a nightclub singer. Her first role in a feature film was in the musical comedy Rainbow Island (Ralph Murphy, 1944), starring Dorothy Lamour and Eddie Bracken.

Olga San Juan
Dutch postcard, no. 3395. Photo: Paramount, 1946.

Paired up, engagingly, with another comedy scene-stealer

Olga San Juan's breakthrough came after the war with the Technicolor musical Blue Skies (Stuart Heisler, 1946) with Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, and Joan Caulfield. San Juan performed several musical numbers (including 'Heat Wave') in the film, based on a story by Irving Berlin and showcasing his songs. Olga was paired up, engagingly, with another comedy scene-stealer, Billy De Wolfe.

Next, she got a big part in the B-musical Variety Girl (George Marshall, 1947), also starring Mary Hatcher. Numerous Paramount Pictures contract players made cameos or performed songs in it, including Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.

She next co-starred with Donald O'Connor in Are You With It? (Jack Hively, 1948), a musical comedy film about a young insurance man who quits his job to join a traveling carnival.

Next, she had a supporting part in One Touch of Venus (William A. Seiter, 1948), starring Robert Walker, Ava Gardner, and Dick Haymes. This divine musical comedy was based on the Broadway musical of the same name, a book written by S. J. Perelman and Ogden Nash, with music composed by Kurt Weill.

She often played the cute and spunky antagonist to other leading ladies. That same year, she won an Oscar nomination for The Countess of Monte Cristo (Fred de Cordova, 1948) which featured Sonja Henie in her final Hollywood ice extravaganza.

The following year, San Juan could be seen in the romantic comedy The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend (Preston Sturges, 1949) starring Betty Grable. The film, Sturges' first Technicolor production, was not well received at the time it was released, and was generally conceded to be a disaster – even Betty Grable bad-mouthed it – but its reputation has improved somewhat over time.

Olga San Juan
British postcard in the Picturegoer Series, no. W 671. Photo: Universal International.

A flavorful, scene-stealing personality who delightfully mangled the English language

Olga San Juan, unfortunately, did not receive many leading lady opportunities in Hollywood, as she carried with her a heavy Latin accent despite growing up almost exclusively in America.

In 1951, she starred on Broadway in the Lerner and Loewe musical, 'Paint Your Wagon'. She won the Donaldson Award for her work in 'Paint Your Wagon'. However, the show was a flop, running just eight months. Olga had left the cast before the run ended, after becoming pregnant with her second child.

Years before she had met actor Edmond O'Brien at a publicity luncheon for Fox studios, and they were married in 1948. A devout Catholic, San Juan retired to raise their three children: the actors Brendan O'Brien, Maria O'Brien, and television producer Bridget O'Brien, who is married to Barry Adelman, executive producer of the Golden Globe Awards.

In 1954, she returned to the screen with a bit part in the successful drama The Barefoot Contessa (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1954), starring Humphrey Bogart, Ava Gardner, and Edmond O'Brien. For his performance, O'Brien won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and the corresponding Golden Globe. She also played a small part in O'Brien's film The 3rd Voice (Hubert Cornfield, 1960).

O'Brien and San Juan were married 28 years, until their divorce in 1976. San Juan's health began to fail after a stroke in the 1970s, but she lived to enjoy her family for decades to come. At age 81, Olga San Juan died in 2009, of kidney failure stemming from a long-term illness at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center, in Burbank, California. She was buried at San Fernando Mission Cemetery in Mission Hills, Los Angeles, California.

She was honoured with the Screen Actors Guild Latino Legacy Award for her work. Gary Brumburgh at IMDb: "for most her career, Puerto Rican singer/dancer Olga San Juan was a welcome distraction by American audiences. A flavorful, scene-stealing personality who delightfully mangled the English language, she decorated a number of war-era and post-war musicals and comedy escapism with her special brand of comedy."

Olga San Juan in Blue Skies (1946)
Dutch postcard, no. 3499. Photo: Paramount. Olga San Juan in Blue Skies (Stuart Heisler, 1946).

Sources: Tamara Warta (Love to know), Gary Brumburgh (IMDb), Wikipedia, and IMDb.

13 April 2021

Franz Sala

Franz Sala, aka Francesco Sala (1886-1952) was a prolific actor of the Italian silent cinema, mostly playing the evil antagonist, such as the devil Barbariccia in Maciste all’inferno (Guido Brigone, 1926). In the 1930s he was active as a make-up artist.

Franz Sala in Maciste all'inferno
Italian postcard by Ed. A. Traldi, Milano. Franz Sala in Maciste all’inferno (Guido Brigone, 1926).

Almost always as the antagonist and often as evil characters

Francesco "Franz" Sala was born in Alessandria, in 1886. After 11 years at a seminary, he emigrated to South America in 1906, where he had various jobs such as journalist, teacher, salesman, and stage actor.

In 1912 he returned to Italy and debuted in the Ambrosio production Sigfrido/Siegfried (Mario Caserini, 1912) with Mario Voller-Buzzi in the title role.

Later on, Sala worked at Milano Films, in films such as La maschera dell’onestà (1914) and L’ereditiera (1914), both with Hesperia and Livio Pavanelli and directed by Baldassarre Negroni.

When Italy joined the Allies in the First World War, Sala was called to arms and became infantry lieutenant. In 1916 he lost his hearing during a battle at the front lines and was dismissed from the world war conflict.

He retook his work as a film actor, working for various film companies such as Medusa Film (La signorina Ciclone, 1916, with Suzanne Armelle), Milano (Primavera, 1916, with Elettra Raggio), Ambrosio (Lucciola, 1917, with Fernanda Negri-Pouget and Helena Makowska), Tiber-Film (Mademoiselle Pas-chic, 1918, with Diomira Jacobini).

During the 1910s, Franz Sala performed in countless films, almost always as the antagonist and often as evil characters, for which he was well-known and praised.

Franz Sala
British postcard by T.L.C. Signed 1917.

Italia Almirante Manzini, Alfonso Cassini and Franz Sala in Zingari (1920)
Italian postcard. Photo: Fert. Italia Almirante Manzini, Alfonso Cassini and Franz Sala in Zingari (Mario Almirante, 1920). Caption: Jammadar forces Vielka to marry Gudlo.

A second job as a full-time professional makeup artist

In the 1920s Franz Sala worked often for Stefano Pitaluga’s company Fert Films.

In the early 1920s he appeared for Fert in a whole series of dramas with Italia Almirante Manzini such as L'innamorata (Gennaro Righelli, 1920), Zingari (Mario Almirante, 1920), Marthú che ha visto il diavolo (Almirante 1922), and La chiromante/La maschera del male (1922).

From about 1923 he acted in several adventure films with Domenico Gambino aka Saetta, and from 1924 with Bartolomeo Pagano better known as Maciste in such films as Maciste imperatore (1924), Maciste all’inferno (1926), Maciste contro lo sceicco (1926), Maciste nella gabbia dei leoni (1926), almost all at Fert.

In the late 1920s, Sala continued to act in the films produced by Pittaluga despite the dwindling down of Italian film production, e.g. in the historical productions Beatrice Cenci (1926) and Frate Francesco (1927).

With the advent of sound cinema, Franz Sala stopped acting after a few minor parts in 1930-1931. He became a full-time professional makeup artist. In the 1930s he started to call himself Francesco Sala. His last performance was in 1939 in the film Abuna Messias.

He continued his second job as a makeup artist until 1952. Franz Sala died in Rome in November 1952.

Italia Almirante and Franz Sala in La chiromante
Italian postcard, no. 41. Photo: Fert. Italia Almirante Manzini and Franz Sala in La chiromante aka La maschera del male (Mario Almirante, 1922), starring Italia Almirante Manzini, Lido Manetti and Oreste Bilancia. Caption: The evil man and his stepdaughter.

Gli ultimi zar (1928)
Italian postcard, no. 442. Photo: S.A. Stefano Pittaluga. Elena Lunda, Franz Sala (the corpse on the ground), and Amilcare Taglienti in the Italian late silent film Gli ultimi zar (Baldassarre Negroni, 1928), starring Bartolomeo Pagano aka Maciste.

Sources: Aldo Bernardini/Vittorio Martinelli (Il cinema muto italiano, 1905-1930), Wikipedia (Italian), and IMDb.

12 April 2021

Jeanne Aubert

Jeanne Aubert a.k.a. Jane Aubert (1900-1988) was a French singer and actress, who was successful in Paris but also on Broadway and the West End.

Jeanne Aubert
French postcard by A.N. (A. Noyer), Paris, no. 444. Photo: Aubert Franco Film. Jane Aubert in La Possession/The ownership (Léonce Perret, 1929).

Jeanne Aubert
French postcard by Editions O.P., Paris, no. 960. Photo: Teddy Piaz.

Jeanne Aubert
French postcard by Erpé, no. 519. Photo: Studio Harcourt.

The moral of this story is, never marry an actress

Jeanne Aubert was born Jeanne Perrinot in 1900 in Paris, France, to a single mother, Augustine Marguerite Perrinot. According to IMDb, her father was a French aristocrat.

Preceding her birth, four generations of Aubert's had made and sold artificial flowers, but Augustine pushed her daughter into a career in show business. At age five, she began performing on stage at the Théâtre du Châtelet. As a teenager, she studied voice and music.

At age eighteen, Jeanne appeared in an elaborate Mistinguett revue at the Casino de Paris. She sang in the chorus at the Apollo theater in Paris and had bit parts in revues at the Théâtre Édouard VII.

She gained prominence when, as an understudy, she replaced the lead actress in 'Le Bon Juge' (the good judge). The song 'Si tu vois ma tante' (If you see my aunt) made her a "grande Chanteuse" in Paris.

After that, she was signed for a featured role in a production in London and went on to perform in Belgium, Italy, and Switzerland. In 1926, she went to the United States to perform in 'Gay Paree' at the Winter Garden Theatre. After 175 performances, she returned to Paris to appear at the Moulin-Rouge in the revue 'Paris aux Étoiles' in 1927.

In 1928, she helped to organise the first female branch of the Jeunesse Ouvrière Chrétienne (JOC), a Roman Catholic apostolic organisation for young people. Aubert served as the first president of the JOCF of France.

Using the stage name Jane Aubert, she appeared in the silent film, La Possession/The ownership (Léonce Perret, 1929) starring Francesca Bertini and Pierre de Guingand. Wikipedia calls it her film debut, but actually, Aubert's first film was Être aimé pour soi même/To be loved for oneself (Robert Péguy, 1920).

La Possession was seen (reportedly 52 times) by Nelson Swift Morris, son of a Chicago multi-millionaire. His family had made their fortune in corned beef and at the time, Morris was overseeing a meatpacking operation in France. He used his connections to get to meet Aubert and the two became involved.

Eventually, they moved to the United States and married. Morris opposed Aubert's acting so much that he got out warrants forbidding her to appear in European shows. Obviously, the marriage failed and they were divorced in 1933. Morris, who also survived the Hindenburg disaster in 1937, later commented: "The moral of this story is, never marry an actress."

Jeanne Aubert
French postcard, no. 590. Photo: ACE.

Jeanne Aubert
French postcard, no. 590.

Madame Aubert never lost her elegance, charisma, and shine

In 1931, Jeanne Aubert was a guest star on a radio broadcast on WJZ, singing selections from the show 'America's Sweetheart' in which she appeared on Broadway. Her other Broadway credits included 'Princess Charming' (1930), 'The Laugh Parade' (1931), 'Ballyhoo of 1932' (1932) with Bob Hope, and 'Melody' (1933) with Gypsy Rose Lee.

Following her divorce, Aubert began working in Broadway musical comedies and appeared in the short films The Mysterious Kiss (Roy Mack, 1934) and The Gem of the Ocean (Roy Mack, 1934).

In 1935, she returned to France where she acted in several films during the ensuing two years. These included Les époux scandaleux/The scandalous spouses (Georges Lacombe, 1935) with Suzy Vernon and René Lefèvre, Passé à vendre/Past for sale (René Pujol, 1936) with Pierre Brasseur, and La souris bleue/The blue mouse (Pierre-Jean Ducis, 1936) with Henri Garat.

In 1937, she returned to the stage, performing in musical varieties with the celebrated songstress Fréhel at the ABC Theatre in Paris. She was part of a number of other shows in London and other cities throughout Europe including the original London production of the musical 'Anything Goes' by Cole Porter, in which she played the lead role of Reno Sweeney.

During WWII, she appeared 630 times in 'La Veuve joyeuse' (The Merry Widow) at the Mogador Theatre and also in two other theatres. Although never a headline star, for the next decades her career was busy with numerous recordings, film and stage performances, and eventually roles on television.

Her later film include the comedy Les croulants se portent bien/The crumblers are doing well (Jean Boyer, 1961) starring Fernand Gravey, the drama Les ennemis/A Touch of Treason (Edouard Molinaro, 1962) as the mother of Roger Hanin, and her last film, Un monde nouveau/A New World (Vittorio De Sica, 1966) with Nino Castelnuovo.

In 1965, she returned to the stage in Arthur Miller's 'Après la chute' (After the Fall), directed by Luchino Visconti at the Théâtre du Gymnase.

Rudi Polt at IMDb: "Madame Aubert never lost her elegance, charisma, and shine." Later in life, she was the companion of Olympe-Charles Hériot whose family created and owned the Paris department store Les Grands Magazins du Louvre.

Jeanne Aubert passed away in 1988, aged 88, in a retirement home in Coubert, Seine-et-Marne, France, and was interred in the Cimetière Parisien de Pantin in Pantin.

Jeanne Aubert
French postcard by S.E.R.P., no. 34. Photo: Studio Harcourt.

Jeanne Aubert
French postcard by EPC (Editions et Publications Cinématographiques), no. 167. Photo: Star.

Sources: Rudi Polt (IMDb), Du Temps des Cerises aux Feuilles mortes (French), Wikipedia, and IMDb.