Lottie Pickford

I originally wrote this post on 17 March 2019, for that year’s April A to Z Challenge, but decided not to use it. Since I didn’t have an original post ready this week, let’s finally move it out of the drafts folder already.

Lottie Pickford (née Charlotte Smith) (9 June 1895–9 December 1936) was born in Toronto, the middle of John Charles Smith and Charlotte Hennessy’s three famous children. She was a daddy’s girl, and got the nickname Chuckie because her dad initially, mistakenly thought she was a boy when she was born.

Her dad died of a blood clot in 1898, and after struggling to make ends meet, the family turned to acting in 1900. They eventually moved to New York for greater opportunities, though oldest child Gladys was always the most popular.

In 1907, Gladys changed her name to Mary Pickford, and the rest of the family became Pickfords too. Mary signed a contract with Biograph Company in 1909, and got her siblings Jack and Lottie jobs there too.

Of the three Pickfords, Lottie appeared in the fewest shorts. When Biograph went to California in January 1910, to scope out a potential future studio location and film Ramona in authentic settings, only Mary and Jack went.

Lottie nevertheless continued acting in Biograph shorts.

Lottie made her first feature in 1914, The House of Bondage, which was also her first starring role. She played a prostitute, the exact opposite type of character her older sister Mary was already famous for. The film was poorly reviewed, and considered too crude and vulgar.

Her next film, The Diamond in the Sky serial, only came to her because Mary turned it down. Lottie’s pregnancy temporarily halted the production of this serial, and earned her a short blacklist. Though she was married, female stars just didn’t have babies during this era. It seriously jeopardised their careers.

The three siblings appeared in their first and only film together in 1915, Fanchon, the Cricket.

Lottie let her mother adopt her daughter Mary Pickford Rupp, born in 1915, and rename her Gwynne in 1920. In 1919, Lottie separated from her husband Alfred, and they divorced in 1920.

She took a break from acting during 1918–21. Her return to the screen, They Shall Pay, co-starred her future second husband, Allan Forrest. They married in 1922.

Lottie took another three-year acting break, and appeared in two more films before retiring—Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall (1924), in which sister Mary was the star; and Don Q, Son of Zorro (1925), in which her brother-in-law Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., was the star.

She married twice more, and died of a heart attack at age 43.

Wrapping up an era with mummified hijinks

Released 23 June 1955, A&C Meet the Mummy was the duo’s final Universal film, and penultimate film overall. By this point in their career, it’s obvious the films were more geared towards kids than their original adult fans. Newer, younger comedy teams were like Martin and Lewis had taken their place.

The boys were also getting on in years; Lou was in his late forties, and Bud was almost sixty. Not that there’s anything wrong with older comedians, but their age clearly shows. It kind of spoils the illusion of them as ageless clowns.

A big part of A&C’s act always was their less than lovey-dovey relationship, but here the backbiting seems a bit too real, like they’re getting out off-camera frustrations. Bud’s voice sounds really raspy and angry, beyond his usual screen persona.

Though Bud and Lou are respectively called Pete Patterson and Freddie Franklin in the closing credits and script, they call one another by their real names through the whole movie. Talk about phoning it in and not even trying!

Bud and Lou desperately need some cash splashed their way so they can leave Cairo and return to the U.S. Towards this end, they’re delighted to overhear Dr. Gustav Zoomer (Kurt Katch) talking about a sacred medallion on the mummy Klaris, a medallion pointing the way to Princess Ara’s treasure.

Also overhearing this conversation are Madame Rontru (Marie Windsor) and a band of Klaris followers led by Semu (Richard Deacon). They all want that medallion for different reasons.

With dollar signs swimming in their eyes (and Bud as always planning to take the lion’s share), they go to Dr. Zoomer’s house to ask if they can accompany Klaris back to the U.S. Shortly before they arrive, however, Dr. Zoomer is murdered by two of Semu’s stooges. These assailants then steal Klaris.

There are a lot of mysterious disappearances and reappearances during Bud and Lou’s investigation through the house, with the “I saw what I saw when I saw it!” schtick they did so often. Some people feel it was really tired and worn out by this point, but I personally don’t have a problem with it. It’s just one of their trademarks for Lou to find something creepy, scary, weird, or suspicious, hysterically report it to Bud, find nothing when they return together, be accused of lying or seeing things, and then find it in another place when he’s alone again. Rinse, lather, repeat.

During their investigation, they of course stumble into finding that missing medallion, and now Semu’s band and Madame Rontru are in hot pursuit of them. 

The boys think they’re being helpful by taking photographs of Dr. Zoomer’s body and giving them to the newspaper, but thanks to the wrong images being used and the discovery of a joke tough guy recording Lou made with Dr. Zoomer’s tape recorder, authorities believe Bud is the murderer.

While they’re trying to evade discovery, we see the first of a running gag with Lou and snakes. Every time he plays the flute, a snake comes out of a basket behind him. Predictably, he freaks out and changes location, only for the same thing to happen all over again.

Madame Rontru offers $100 for the medallion, but Bud ups the asking price to $5,000, suspecting it’s worth far more. The deal is accepted, and Bud excitedly starts making plans for what they’re going to do with their newfound riches. Once again, he plans to give the most to himself and leave poor Lou with peanuts.

While they’re waiting for Madame Rontru at the Cairo Café, they discover the medallion is cursed. Both frantically try to pawn it off on the other, hiding it in a hamburger and switching their plates back and forth constantly.

Lou thinks he’s finally hoodwinked Bud into accepting the cursed burger, but the tables are turned, and Lou ends up eating it. Though we hear a lot of crunching, the medallion shows up in one piece in his stomach when he’s put under a fluoroscope.

Madame Rontru can’t read the hieroglyphics until Semu shows up, pretending to be an archaeologist and offering to lead the way to the treasure-laden tomb. Unbeknownst to any of the other parties, Semu’s followers have reanimated Klaris.

Now the scene is set for a murderous, mummified confrontation, which includes downright stupid scenes of Lou being chased by a bat and giant iguana, more “I saw what I saw when I saw it!,” and the fun “Take your pick” routine, hearkening back to “Who’s on First?”

Grisly grave-robbing in Edinburgh

Released 25 May 1945, The Body Snatcher was based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1884 short story of the same name. It was the first of three films Boris Karloff did with RKO Radio Pictures after leaving Universal, and the final film in which he co-starred with Béla Lugosi.

Though Karloff continued doing horror pictures, he felt the Frankenstein’s Monster franchise had run out of steam, and didn’t want to be involved with it in any capacity any longer, even though he no longer played the Monster in these films. He lauded RKO producer Val Lewton as “the man who rescued him from the living dead and restored, so to speak, his soul.”

In 1831 Edinburgh, cabman John Gray (Karloff) drops Mrs. Marsh (Rita Corday) and her young daughter Georgina (Sharyn Moffett, now 84 years old) off at the home of the esteemed Dr. Wolfe “Toddy” MacFarlane (Henry Daniell). Little Georgina was paralysed after a carriage rolled on top of her, an accident which took the life of her father. She seemed to be recovering at first, but then her condition worsened.

Mrs. Marsh says all the other doctors recommended Dr. MacFarlane very highly, and feels he’s their final hope. The consultation doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere, since Georgina can’t even tell him where exactly it hurts, but everything changes when Dr. MacFarlane’s student Donald Fettes (Russell Wade) comes in.

Georgina immediately warms to him, and lets him pick her up and put her on a table in another room. Without even trying, Fettes gets all the preliminary information needed. He calls Dr. MacFarlane in to take a look at the bony tumour at the base of Georgina’s spine, and surgery is suggested.

Dr. MacFarlane bears no ill will towards the Marshes, but begs off performing surgery. He’s far too busy with his teaching duties, and isn’t sure if he’s still as good of a physician as he is a med school teacher. If he operated on all the desperate people who come to him, he’d have no time to teach.

After the Marshes leave, Fettes announces he’s quitting med school because he hasn’t enough funds. Dr. MacFarlane, loath to lose one of his best students, offers him a paid position as a lab assistant for a very important research project.

At night, Gray arrives with a fresh corpse for Dr. MacFarlane’s anatomy class, and tells Fettes to unlock a desk where the money is kept. His fee for this service is £10. Fettes doesn’t think too much of it until he discovers just where this body came from.

Fettes is horrified to discover the body was the victim of grave robbery, and that the young man’s loyal little dog was murdered while standing watch over his lost master. He understands the importance of human vivisection for teaching med students, but doesn’t feel it’s right to obtain the bodies by robbing graves.

Mrs. Marsh returns to beg Fettes for Dr. MacFarlane to operate on Georgina. Initially Dr. MacFarlane agrees, but soon walks back to his fear of no longer being a good enough surgeon and better-suited to the classroom.

Gray and Fettes manage to convince Dr. MacFarlane to do the operation. Fettes appeals to his humanitarian side, while Gray reminds him there’s a dark secret in his past. It would be a shame if that secret were revealed.

Not realizing what kind of trouble he’s about to wade into, Fettes asks Gray to get another body for anatomy class. He assumes Gray will dig up a grave, but instead is delivered the fresh corpse of someone who was alive and healthy just that night.

When Fettes shares his suspicions with Dr. MacFarlane, he’s told he might be arrested as an accomplice to murder if he reports Gray to the cops.

Georgina’s operation appears to be a success, but she doesn’t think she can stand up and walk. Dr. MacFarlane did everything right, but Georgina insists it’s impossible. As someone who couldn’t walk for eleven months following my car accident, I know all too well that powerful mind-body connection.

Dr. MacFarlane goes to the local tavern to drink away his disappointment, and Gray once again taunts him about that dark secret from his past.

Then Dr. MacFarlane’s servant Joseph (Lugosi) pays a visit to Gray and attempts to blackmail him, which sets in motion a thick and fast parade of horrors.

 

A desperate search for a marauding ape and a cure for polio

Released 30 September 1940, The Ape was Boris Karloff’s final film in his six-picture contract with Poverty Row studio Monogram. Despite the studio’s low-budget profile, this film was one of their “top bracket productions” for the 1940–41 cinematic year.

The Ape was based on Adam Hull Shirk’s play of the same name, which débuted in 1924 in Hollywood. The play earned high praise, and was compared to horror film classics The Bat and The Cat and the Canary, Ralph Spence’s play The Gorilla (which was made into several films), and Rudyard Kipling’s short story “The Mark of the Beast.”

In the source material, there’s a prologue in India, depicting a Hindu priest putting a curse on an Englishman who killed a sacred ape. Thirty years later, the Englishman is sent to L.A. to be taken care of by his family, since he’s such a hot mess.

Monogram filmed the play as House of Mystery in 1934, then remade it in 1940 with barely any similarities.

The Los Angeles Times praised the film as engrossing, and Karloff as “the skilled player of slightly eerie but really kindly character roles for which he is famous.”

In a 2015 essay for the British Film Institute, curator Vic Pratt named The Ape as one of Karloff’s ten essential films.

The circus is coming to the small, insular town of Red Creek, which greatly excites four boys who can’t stay away from trouble. After they watch a circus poster going up and excitedly talk about the coming wonders, they decide to go swimming.

On the way there, they pass Dr. Bernard Adrian’s house and begin throwing rocks at his windows. They succeed in breaking some, which greatly upsets Dr. Adrian when he arrives home on his bike.

Almost no one in town likes or trusts Dr. Adrian, who came there ten years ago during a polio epidemic and now spends his time doing unorthodox experiments. He lost his wife and daughter to the dreaded disease, and has made it his life’s mission to find a cure.

Dr. Adrian’s sole patient is Francis Clifford (Maris Wrixon), a young woman who was stricken by polio during the epidemic and now lives in a wheelchair. He feels a special connection to Frances because he lost his own daughter to polio, and doesn’t want anyone in the world to ever suffer such a dreaded disease again.

Though Francis and her mother have faith in Dr. Adrian’s promises of walking again, Francis’s beau Danny is very suspicious. He outright admits he doesn’t like or trust what he doesn’t understand.

That evening, Francis and Danny go to the circus. Though Francis wants Dr. Adrian to come too, he begs off and says his experiments to find a cure are too important to ignore.

Francis is captivated by a female aerialist, and dreams of someday being that mobile and coordinated.

After the circus adjourns, ape Nabu (an obvious person in a gorilla suit) turns on his cruel trainer, whose brother he killed prior. One of the other circus employees rightly points out to the indignant trainer that apes, or any animals, only become so vicious in response to repeated abuse. He wouldn’t act like that if he were treated kindly.

Nabu breaks out of his cage and attacks the trainer when they’re alone, and starts a fire with the trainer’s cigar. During the ensuing panic and commotion, Nabu flees.

The injured trainer is taken to Dr. Adrian, who’s unable to save him. However, the trainer proves very useful to Dr. Adrian’s experiments. Never before has he had spinal fluid from a human subject, something he believes is the key to curing polio.

Dr. Adrian begins giving Francis the injections the very next day, and they seem to have immediate effect. Though Francis has great pains in her legs and finds them like lead weights, this is huge progress. For someone who had no feeling in her legs for ten years, any sensation is positive.

That night, Nabu breaks into Dr. Adrian’s house and attacks him, and here the plot thickens. As the search for Nabu continues, suspicions begin piling up that he’s near Dr. Adrian’s house. More spinal serum is also desperately needed after Nabu destroyed the originals, and another tube accidentally rolled onto the floor and broke.

But no matter what happens, Dr. Adrian is bound and determined to fully cure Francis, both mind and body.

A horrific commingling of bats and aftershave

Released 13 December 1940, The Devil Bat was the very first horror film made by then-new Poverty Row studio Producers Releasing Corporation (which went on to make many quality films which earned high praise). This film was also part of Béla Lugosi’s comeback after his career had gone into decline (due to new Universal management and the U.K.’s ban on horror films).

Dr. Paul Carruthers (Lugosi) of Heathville is a beloved citizen and respected research scientist for Heath-Morton Cosmetics, Ltd. Little do the villagers know what dark, twisted secrets are lurking in his hidden lab overlooking Martin Heath’s impressive estate.

Dr. Carruthers is keeping a bat whom he greatly increased in size, and training it to attack anyone wearing his Oriental aftershave.

Dr. Carruthers is invited to a party at the Heath estate, but begs off attending because he’s working so hard on a new formula. Everyone is disappointed he’s a no-show, since they planned to surprise him with a $5,000 bonus check.

Roy Heath visits him to deliver the check in person, and is talked into trying out the new aftershave. Dr. Carruthers tells him goodbye instead of goodnight when he takes his leave.

Instead of seeing that check as a generous gift, Dr. Carruthers feels insulted. He’s worked so hard for that company and helped to make them rich, while they expect him to be grateful with peanuts in return. Enraged, he sends his bat into the night.

The bat swoops from the sky to attack Roy when he arrives home, as his sister Mary (Suzanne Kaaren) and her friend Don Morton (the co-founder’s son) look on in horror. Dr. Carruthers is called to the scene and pronounces it a hopeless case.

The local newspaper immediately jumps on this mysterious unsolved murder, with young reporter Johnny Layton (Dave O’Brien) and cameraman One Shot McGuire (Donald Kerr) leading the investigation. Despite their boss Joe’s natural skepticism, they believe Dr. Carruthers’s theory that the culprit was a bat.

Tommy Heath tests the aftershave next, and once again Dr. Carruthers tells him goodbye instead of goodnight before releasing the giant bat. In full view of a horrified Mary, Johnny, and McGuire, Tommy is attacked and killed.

All of Heathville now lives in terror of the Devil Bat. This fear increases when the bat attacks a third victim, Don Morton.

All three victims had the same aftershave, leading to suspicions that a disgruntled factory employee is the one offing people in the Heath and Morton families.

Johnny and McGuire are fired when it comes out the Devil Bat they photographed was made in Japan, but that doesn’t deter them in the least. They continue the investigation on their own.

Dr. Carruthers cordially cooperates with the police chief and Johnny when they question him about the ingredients of his aftershave and why the three victims were wearing it. The chief begs off trying the aftershave, for fear his wife would suspect another woman, but Johnny takes a sample to use later. Yet again, Dr. Carruthers says goodbye instead of goodnight.

While Johnny and McGuire are waiting for the bat that night, their big chance arrives. They shoot it dead, a  development which is immediately the subject of many news stories.

Not one to be deterred easily, Dr. Carruthers gets another bat. His next victim, co-founder Henry Morton, takes more convincing than the others to put the aftershave on his face then and there instead of waiting till morning.

Dr. Carruthers is enraged when Henry reminds him he sold his first formula for only $10,000 and gave up his partnership stake, while the company has made over a million dollars. He once more says goodbye instead of goodnight.

With the second Devil Bat on the loose, Heathville once again lives in terror. Now Johnny, who’s been rehired, makes his move to prove once and for all who’s really behind these attacks.