DCS: maria ouspenskaya

I only remember Maria Ouspenskaya from two movies — Universal’s 1941 horror classic The Wolf Man with Lon Chaney Jr. and its sort-of sequel Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man two years later. The diminutive actress played the same role in both films. She was the mysterious “Maleva,” an omniscient Gypsy woman who explains to poor “Lawrence Talbot” his unavoidable fate after being bitten by a wolf. The beast in question was the lupine incarnation of her own son “Bela,” played by actor Bela Lugosi, despite only being six years younger than Maria. I, like most movie fans, dismissively associate Maria Ouspenskaya with this character. Whenever she is referenced in pop culture, it is usually a comment regarding her “Hollywood Gypsy” persona. Curiously, The Wolf Man and Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man were the only horror films she made.

But Maria Ouspenskaya was more than just “Maleva.” She was an in-demand actress, singer and dancer in her native Russia, as well as a founding member of the First Studio, a theatre studio of the world-famous Moscow Art Theatre. where she had studied under the respected auspices of Konstantin Stanislavski, a passionate proponent of “method acting.” On a tour of the United States, she decided to stay in New York City. She actively performed on Broadway for over a decade before founding the School of Dramatic Art in 1929. One of her students was a talented teenager named Anne Baxter.

In the early 1930s, when her finances were waning, Maria reluctantly headed to Hollywood. She found a succession of film roles that took full advantage of her pronounced Russian accent. Playing all sorts of characters of undetermined ethnicity, Maria was featured in dozens of movies including Dodsworth, for which she earned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination. She appeared in supporting roles in Waterloo Bridge, Conquest, King’s Row, Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet and Love Affair, for which she received her second Academy Award nomination. She also found time to open The Maria Ouspenskaya School of Dance, where she instructed students in dance techniques she acquired in Russia. One of her students was future celebrated dancer Marge Champion.

In 1949, 73 year-old Maria fell asleep in her house while holding a lit cigarette. She suffered severe burns in the subsequent blaze. A few days after the house fire, Maria died from a massive stroke.

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inktober52: gobble

For his follow-up to the celebrated Dracula, director Tod Browning recruited a number of real-life sideshow performers for the decidedly darker Freaks. The film shocked 1932 movie audiences. It was banned in the Untied Kingdom for over thirty years and was labeled “brutal and grotesque” by Canadian critics.

However, in 1994, Freaks was added to the United States National Film Registry and deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

One of the most memorable characters in Freaks was Schlitzie Surtees, a 31-year old born with microcephaly. chlitzi performed in various circus sideshows as well as several more films. He loved the circus life and worked into the late 1960s. He spent his final days in and around MacArthur Park in Los Angeles, feeding the pigeons and performing for passers-by. He passed away in 1971 at the age of 70 and was interred at Queen of Heaven Cemetery in Rowland Heights, California.

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DCS: myrna j. darby

After making her stage debut in Pittsburgh at the age of 17, Myrna J. Darby moved to New York City. She won a beauty contest that was sponsored by a newspaper. Showbiz impresario Florenz Ziegfeld saw Myrna’s photograph and hired her to appear in his 1926 production No Foolin’ on Broadway. The following year, Myrna was featured in the famed Ziegfeld Follies. Theatre critics unanimously agreed that Myrna was the most beautiful girl to appear in the show. The blond-haired, blue-eyed Myrna was wildly popular among audiences.

Myrna’s likeness was used in a number of print advertisements for Lucky Strike cigarettes and she posed nude for photographer Alfred Cheney Johnston. Myrna also began an affair with a married pianist, with hopes of marriage herself. He eventually reconciled with his wife and Myrna was crushed. She found solace with a British millionaire who lavished her with jewelry, furs and other expensive gifts. Myrna’s heart was broken once again, when he unexpectedly married another woman.

Under constant pressure from Ziegfeld to maintain her weight, Myrna exercised obsessively. In the summer of 1929, Myrna suffered a severe sunburn that affected her physical health. A month later she was hospitalized with a serious tonsil infection. Myrna’s health continued to decline and she passed away on September 26, 1929 at the age of twenty-one. Doctors gave the cause of death as a heart inflammation brought on by excessive exercise.

Sometime after her death, it was revealed that a fan — someone Myrna only met once — paid for her extensive hospital bills.

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DCS: gallagher

Leo Gallagher Jr, better known by his single stage name “Gallagher,” died this past week at the age of 76. At the height of his popularity in the early 1980’s, Gallagher was arguably one of the hottest comedians in show business. He pioneered the stand-up comedy cable TV special, producing more than a dozen of them for Showtime and MTV. As a touring act, he performed over 3500 live shows, sometimes opening for acts like Kenny Rogers. He popularized the concept of renting a venue and selling tickets himself, as opposed to waiting to be booked. This practice made Gallagher a very rich man. (Later, as his career declined, he claimed that poor investments rendered him broke. His then-manager quipped: “Yeah, we should all be as broke as Gallagher.”)

Then there was the other Gallagher. Ron Gallagher, who was also a comedian. And he was Leo Gallagher’s younger brother. Ron went out to try to make people laugh too. With his brother’s blessing, Ron delivered his brother’s material — including word-for-word lifts of his observational humor, as well as his signature watermelon-smashing Sledge-o-Matic schtick — to audiences at venues much smaller than those his brother filled. Leo was okay with Ron’s act, provided that Ron let audiences know who they were seeing. He stipulated that advertising be very clear that this was Ron Gallagher and not the Gallagher.

Ron complied… for a while.

He began calling himself “Gallagher Too” or sometimes “Gallagher Two.” He wore his brother’s trademark beret and striped shirt for performances. He grew a moustache like his brother and copied his hairstyle. He began promoting his shows with ambiguous advertising, making it unclear which Gallagher audiences would be seeing. Coupled with Ron’s unsavory off-stage antics, Leo Gallagher felt his brand and reputation was being compromised. First, Leo asked Ron to eliminate the “Sledge-o-Matic” portion from his act. When he refused, Leo sued Ron for copyright infringement and false advertising. A trial resulted in a win for Leo, and granted an injunction prohibiting Ron from performing any act that impersonated his brother. This injunction also prohibited Ron from intentionally bearing likeness to his brother.

Eventually, Ron and his act faded from stages. At the time of Leo’s death, the brothers had not spoken to each other in years.

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DCS: angela lansbury

In a career that spanned an unprecedented nine decades, Angela Lansbury did it all. She sang. She danced. She played dramatic roles. She played comedic roles. She lit up movie screens with her delightful characters in family classics like Bedknobs & Broomsticks and Mary Poppins Returns. She chilled audiences with her sinister turn in The Manchurian Candidate. She garnered a whopping six Tony Awards and lent her voice to the beloved “Mrs. Potts” in the animated Beauty and the Beast. She portrayed Elizabeth Taylor‘s sister and Elvis Presley‘s mother… though not in the same film.

At almost 60, she took on the role of amateur sleuth “Jessica Fletcher” (originally offered to —and turned down by — Doris Day) kicking off a 12-season run on the TV series Murder She Wrote.

At 84, she returned to Broadway and earned another Tony.

In 2022, she filmed what would be her final screen role, a cameo in the movie Glass Onion, a sequel to the popular mystery Knives Out.

Angela passed away in early October 2022. She was 96.

She conquered movies, television and stage… and was great in everything.

 

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DCS: luana anders

Actors like Luana Anders were the foundation on which Hollywood was built. Unassuming, nondescript and modestly attractive, Luana, like her mentor Jeff Corey, was a versatile, reliable actor — able to handle any type of role that came her way. She became early friends with up-and-coming directors and was only happy to help out their fledgling productions while furthering her own career. Under director Roger Corman, Luana played Vincent Price‘s sister in The Pit and the Pendulum. She worked with future Oscar-winner Francis Ford Coppola on his directorial debut, the horror film Dementia 13. At the same time, she took small roles in episodic television, appearing in The Rifleman, Dragnet and The Andy Griffith Show.

Luana made friends with counterculture filmmaker Dennis Hopper and his friend Jack Nicholson, both of whom were protégés of Roger Corman. Luana was cast in Hopper’s Easy Rider and went on to appear in five Jack Nicholson features. Showing her versatility, she landed small parts in the films Shampoo and Personal Best… all while continuing to take guest spots on television, including a recurring role on the soap opera Santa Barbara.

In the 90s, she tried her hand at screenwriting. Under the pseudonym “Margo Blue,” Luana penned the screenplay for the film Fire on the Amazon, an early entry on Sandra Bullock resume. She also co-wrote the Nancy Allen comedy Limit Up and even managed a cameo in the film.

Her part of a Buddhist disciple in 1973’s The Last Detail reflected her real life convictions. Luana was a lifelong Buddhist and a longtime supporter of the American chapter of Soka Gakkai International.

Luana passed away from breast cancer at the age of 58. Her final film was released posthumously.

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