Like millions around the world, we here at Krasker Film/Video Services are shocked and saddened at the untimely death of comic genius and accomplished dramatic actor Robin Williams. Williams was a good friend to Boston University and we are honored at BU to house many artifacts from his professional career in the Gotlieb Archive’s Robin Williams Collection. He has gifted every one of us, however, with a dazzling treasure of film, TV and taped standup appearances. Robin Williams will endure on our screens and in our hearts.
Who would you say is Hollywood’s most prolific actress? Who would you guess has appeared in the most motion pictures over the course of their career? A Golden Age star such as Bette Davis or Joan Crawford? One of the young talents who seem to be in almost every new film coming out? The answer may surprise you … but to get to that answer, we have to go back — far, far back. Let’s start at 1919, although our journey will go further back still.
1919 saw the founding of Columbia Pictures in Hollywood, which was originally called Cohn-Brandt-Cohn Film Sales after its founders, brothers Harry and Jack Cohn and their partner Joe Brandt. The name never really stuck with the public and in 1924 the Cohns changed the name to Columbia Studios, after the female personification of the United States of America (seen at left in this World War I poster). Early Americans were familiar with this image of “Lady America” as she was represented in many paintings and newspaper editorial cartoons. She was eventually supplanted as the image of America in the 1920s with the growing popularity and appeal of the Statue of Liberty. The Cohn brothers wanted that same instant recognition for their films and had the studio artists design “their” Columbia with Lady Liberty’s torch (seen below in their 1934 logo).
Here’s where it gets sticky. In 1939, the logo was revised into the image we are all familiar with today. Many actresses have claimed to be the models for the early Torch Lady logo, among them Claudia Dell, Evelyn Venable, Dorothy Revier, Viola Dana and Amelia Batchelor (both Venable and Batchelor are listed as models in their IMDB credits). I favor the argument for Venable – although the studio never publicly acknowledged her as the model, the comparison photos in this article are pretty convincing proof: http://magazine.uc.edu/issues/0912/Venable.html
This logo was used up to 1976, when it went through a number of variations, due to a number of different corporations (including Coca-Cola) becoming partners with the studio. For a while the Torch Lady was gone entirely, to be replaced by just the expanding rays from her torch. That all changed in 1992, when the studio (which was now a subsidiary of Sony Pictures Entertainment) decided to go back to the classic logo, but reinvented for the new era. They chose New Orleans artist Michael Deas to create an image for the ages and the one that is still known today.
When Deas got the assignment, he interviewed a number of models for the new face of Columbia, but could not find exactly what he wanted. A friend at the local newspaper told him he had just the woman for the job, a graphic artist named Jenny Joseph. Deas met with her and agreed instantly – this was his Columbia. Jenny had never done any modeling, but was willing to give it a go. The entire session was done over her lunch hour, with Deas draping her in a sheet and having her hold a desk lamp from the office. The result was history. For more on their meeting and to see Jenny today, take a look at this recent news clip from 2012: http://www.wwltv.com/news/10pm-Hoss-Columbia-Pictures-Logo-Artist-176043361.html
So there is your answer … neither Bette Davis nor Joan Crawford nor any of today’s starlets – the hardest-working actress in Hollywood is no actress at all, just a graphic artist who decided to pose as a lark over her lunch hour. The next time you go to the movies and see the Columbia logo appear, do what I do: quietly smile and wave to her and whisper, “Hi, Jenny!”
Walter von Bosau, Krasker Film/Video Services
Cliff Robertson was truly one of the last great leading men of the Studio Contract Era. One of his most notable early roles was playing a pre-White House John F. Kennedy in the wartime biopic PT 109 (pictured above). Often playing the prototypical rugged “man’s man,” Robertson broke type in 1968′s Charly. An adaptation of Daniel Keyes’ novella Flowers for Algernon, Charly tells the story of a mentally-challenged factory worker who is given the chance to become a genius by participating in a medical experiment. His sensitive and at times haunting portrayal of Charly earned Robertson an Academy Award for Best Actor. Robertson enjoyed a prolific career on television as well as in movies, and in recent years gained a new generation of fans as Uncle Ben Parker in the latest Spider-Man film franchise
Dame Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor, DBE
February 27, 1932 – March 23, 2011
Film legend Vivien Leigh was born Vivian Mary Hartley on November 5th, 1913 in Darjeeling, India, where her father served as a British Officer in the Indian Cavalry. Soon Vivian, who would later change the spelling of her name to Vivien with an “e” on the advice that it looked more feminine, found herself in her English homeland. At the tender age of six, her parents sent her alone to the UK to attend the Convent of the Sacred Heart boarding school in Roehampton. The subsequent culture shock and homesickness were understandably rough at first but it was during her years at Roehampton that her desire to be an actress became set in stone.
Later she attended the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, though for awhile it looked as though her acting ambitions would be eclipsed (and her RADA studies were suspended) by her marriage at 19 to barrister Leigh Holman (the source of her stage name “Leigh”) and the birth of a daughter, Suzanne. But the newly-christened Vivien Leigh was bound and determined to be a star and threw herself into building a successful career. Early stage victories like her sensation-producing turn in the 1935 production The Mask of Virtue caught the attention of theatre star Laurence Olivier and the rest as they say was history. Her fiery affair with Olivier and later marriage captured the imagination of audiences–they are still considered to be one of the great couples of all time–and not too long after their meeting, Leigh conquered America and the silver screen by snatching perhaps the most-coveted female role in film history: Scarlett O’Hara in 1939′s Gone with the Wind).
She would go on to give several well-received performances in film and on stage, winning Academy Awards for Gone with the Wind and her riveting performance as Blanche Dubois in the 1951 screen adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ play A Streetcar Named Desire.
Sadly, throughout her life, Leigh was plagued by both recurring tuberculosis (the disease that eventually took her life at the age of 54) and severe manic depression. In addition, her marriage to Olivier was a rocky one, and the couple divorced in 1960. In her final years, she did not make many screen appearances but her last role is an acting triumph: Mary Treadwell in 1965′s Ship of Fools.
She died on July 7th, 1967 in her home in England, due to complications from a tuberculosis relapse she suffered that spring while rehearsing for a West End production of the play A Delicate Balance. Considered one of the most beautiful actresses to ever grace stage or screen, Leigh’s skills as an actress were never quite given their due during her lifetime–despite the two Oscar wins–but since her death, it is happy to note, her talents as a performer have drawn greater recognition and praise. Dear Vivien, who left us all too soon, will always be remembered fondly in our hearts.
~By Mary Bowen, Krasker Film/Video Services