Sybil Bruncheon's "My Merry Memoirs": Chapter 23 - The Doll House...

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When I was a little girl, (and the crown Princess and Heir Apparent of the twin kingdoms Greater & Lesser Marnier and the Triple Sec Islands - but that's another story for another time!) my parents believed in all my toys providing educational and moralistic benefits as well as pure childish entertainment! A case in point is the doll house competition which they announced to the great European and American architects of the time. Among the many submissions was this one by the great illustrator, designer, and artist Alphonse Mucha. He proposed a fantastic dream-like structure that would stand 6' high and be approximately 21' square with all its grounds and gardens. Furniture, dolls, and mythical beasts and gods and goddesses would occupy it along with fiends and doll-demons in trap doors underneath, which were timed to open only at night for me to release and play with. The whole thing was overseen by our family-therapists Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung who each treated my mother and father respectively resulting in terrible fights at the dinner table over the metaphorical meaning and sexual symbolism of various foods being served by alternately frightened or furious servants!

Freud felt that the presence of naked people all over the doll-house was exactly the kind of progressive education that a child should have to be fully comfortable with sex later on "in 6th grade". He DID insist that all the figures be of extremely beauty physically because, "Vy shood un eempreshanable tchild bee exposed tu dee ugly pipple. Hoo vants to see dee old und rinkles? Dee faht und balled? Dee doll-hoz moost be a plays ob dee hahppy, not dee hiddy-ose! Yo vant for dee Sheeble tu grow to be a keeler...or a meeskite?".

Carl Jung, on the other hand, was thrilled that the whole thing was like something out of dream, albeit a bad one, but he and I, along with Mucha had many concept meetings over late night hot-chocolate martini marathons discussing the details and the negotiations with the union laborers.

At any rate, the Mucha dollhouse was finally built at an appalling cost because "Uncle" Alphonse (who adored me, and I him!) insisted on the entire thing to have both gaslights and electricity, running water, and twice the number of doll-servants originally proposed. Apparently, he was shocked that my parents would leave such a large estate (though a toy!) to so few caretakers, and stated quite angrily at my cowering mother that "Sybil should not have to wait with doll-guests for tea and butter-biscuits to be served in a timely manner. Whattya think I'm building here for her? A DUMP????".... My mother fled from the room and was confined to a sofa for two weeks with round-the-clock sessions with Dr. Freud to "calm her nerves"!!!! ....Uncle Alphonse and I rocked with laughter! ROCKED WITH LAUGHTER!!... good times, ah, good times....

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Sybil Bruncheon's Most Interesting Private Messages on Facebook...

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1) Dear Sybil, I am not able to contact too many people right now because of where I'm living. I DID notice that you have a very attractive boyish quality even though you seem to be a girl. Would you like to have a pen pal? I like to write to good-looking guys, and you'll do nicely for now, until I get out and can meet you for dinner. Would you like to be my dinner? (Jeffrey Dahmer)

2) Sybil, I live in a far off place and have not been "on the circuit" in a long, long time. That's been fine with me, although I HAVE heard through the grapevine that Franklin Roosevelt is no longer the President. Will you accept my friend request and catch me up on some things?... especially on the unisex thingie with girl's wearing men's clothes! Thanks a bunch! (Amelia Earhart)

3) Deer SheeBul, Da vay you valked vas torny, true no falt ob yair own, but as dee rrrain anters dee soyle, dah ribber ahnters dee sea, so tearse rahn to a predestneied ahnd! Air you a vere-volf? You loook like dee vere-volf or a Franhknestine! Ah vould lyke to bee yure fraind, bute you mustn't eet me! LOLOLOL! (Maria Ouspenskaya)

4) Dearest Sybil, Glub! Glub! Glub! (Captain E.J. Smith)

5) Hey, Daddy-O!! Want to cruise around in my brand-spanking-new Spyder convertible! You look like a cool gal, and I dig really your muscles... if ya know what I mean! ;-) ;-) ;-) (James Dean)

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Sybil Bruncheon's HYSTERICAL HISTORIES... "Albert Learns a Lesson"...

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Yes, Boys and Girls, even very important and nice people sometimes have a day that doesn't go quite right; like Daddy when the lady in the big office next to his gave him the pink piece of paper and a coupon to go to Howard Johnson's "with the whole family for dinner tonight", and Daddy punched her in the tummy and pushed her back into the mimeograph machine. Or when Mommie was told that her canned tomatoes exploded at the 4H Club County Fair and all the judges were barring her for life from their Jams, Jellies, and Preserves tents... for life!!! 

Yes, even nice people get bad days. Here's a photo of a very important and nice man on a sad day. His name is Mr. Albert Einstein! (We put "Mr." in front when we think they're very important... like "Mr." Mahatma Gandhi, and "Mr." Winston Churchill, and "Mr." Eleanor Roosevelt). Here is Mr. Albert Einstein hearing the news that the Universe is flat, not round or even curved... and that the only time he needs to worry about is what his Timex wrist watch tells him about his next class. He's been late three times this week, and the university board of governors is thinking of giving him a pink piece of paper... and dinner tonight at Howard Johnson's. Nice Mr. Einstein looks sad in this picture because he's Jewish, it's Friday, and he doesn't think he should eat clam strips....

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Sybil Bruncheon's Collection of the World's Most Concerning Children's Books...

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1) Sweetle-kins, the dancing llama, had never trampled a child before, not even naughty ones when they pulled his tail, or said the bad words in his ear. So why did Mrs. Lemon call the policemen with the rifles?.... ("The Happy Valley Stories" by Mike Gund - 1947)

2) Mr. Gabbins was the farmer who raised the special lettuce that my Daddy liked so much but wouldn't tell Mommy he was taking to the card game he played every Wednesday night with other Daddies. He said if I could keep a secret he'd give me a new baseball bat and glove... but I said I'd rather have a new pink hair dryer to open my kindergarten beauty salon. I hope other boys come! ("Sometimes Secrets Are Funny" by Biff Hyde-Heinie -1967)

3) The giant Clumpp was looking for a child, preferably a fat one that would make a delicious stew, but a healthy stew with green beans for vitamin C and potassium, cabbage for folic acid and calcium, and carrots for vitamins A and K, corn for all the nice B vitamins. He wasn't going to put leeks, shallots, or onions in because they made him make bad smells from both ends! ("Fairy Tales That Help Us Stay Healthy" by Dr. Morizmo Steinholtz - 1931)

4) Did you wash your hands today?
Did you wash your hands right after play?
When you touch yourself or your best friend Ray!
Did you wash your hands today?
("I Like My Body" by Hortense Thucker R.N. - 1960)

5) Once Upon A Time there was a beautiful princess who lived in a very big city... not in a castle, because she had met some bad people and had fallen on hard times. Now she worked in a nail salon and was saving up money to put some of her teeth back in... and to repair her septum... ("A Child's Wonderbook For Modern and Savvy Young People" by Chief Detective Gary Cruller of the 6th Precinct in Manhattan - 1984)

6) Have you tried yodeling? Go out in your back yard, preferably when it's dark out, when your Mommy and Daddy are asleep. Did you know that when it's dark in America, it's probably already morning for our little friends in Switzerland! Go out in your backyard and yodel as loud as you can! LOUDER! Nope! REALLY LOUD!! A nice little boy or girl in Switzerland might hear you yodel and think, "I have a nice new friend in America!". If it's too hot out, take off all your clothes. ("Let's Be Friends With the Whole Wide World!" by Hector Fecter - 1965)

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Sybil Bruncheon’s Collection of the World’s Shortest Unfinished Novels...

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1) His career descended into a slurry of endless days spent sprawling on the stained sofa, swallowing handfuls of stale potato chips from the bowls resting under his chin, and slaking his salted thirst in gallons of crème de menthe drunk straight from their cheerless little bottles. (“Mr. Sollomsby’s Mettle” by Philip Pothe – 1921)

2) Little Marguerite had never seen one so big, let alone touched one, as she was instructed to in a kindly, but firm fashion with much stuttering and blinking by old Professor Zsimkitz. (“The Bad Man Finds a Friend” by Clarentula Chafe – 1910… part of her twelve part “Dear Little Marguerite” series)

3) There are those who travel to Comely Corners for the waters, and others for the strange natural beauty of the place. Norbert was neither off these, and never would be, especially after that evening of raspberry macaroon scented candles, charades, and murder. (“Hideous Tales From Inspector Dalrymple’s Diary” by Dame Hogdenne Fusture -1916)

4) However could she explain the mirth she felt when she saw the rhubarb crumble that had meant so much in her childhood with the gypsies that kidnapped her and their donkey Ferdy-kins? (“Around the Many Lands She Traipsed” by Norris Peetch – 1931)

5) The little gold-plated pocket-watch which had seen so many misadventures, and been loved, desired, trusted, or ignored but owned by so many hands finally lay on the dresser, permanently still and asleep for the first time in its one hundred and twenty years, never to brightly tick again. (“The Little Gold-Plated Pocket-Watch” [–working title only!] by Calliope Sternhausen – 1928)

6) “Who dares to call at the Great Quay? Who dares?”, boomed the dark voice from behind the weathered oaken doors rising above the moat… followed by quacking. (“Prince Cuandor and the Appalling Netherparts of Skrotusland” by Myrtle Simmietin – 1908… with illustrations by Myrna Simmietin, her twin sister!)

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Sybil Bruncheon's "LET'S MOVE TO CANADA!" Series on PBS. Part One...

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Hello, my fellow ex-Americans! In preparation for our migration (or should I say "exodus"?) to our oh-so-friendly neighbor to the North, I am doing a series with Ken Burns on PBS about Canadian culture and history! Twelve episodes that will help us as Americans and grateful immigrants acclimate smoothly and courteously to our new hosts and their splendid nation! Tonight's episode is "Famous Canadians In Fact & Fiction".

Seen here is the notorious, the mysterious, the provocative, the insatiable, but the always polite "Poutine Sulque, Ecdysiast Extraordinaire du Québec"! Poutine (born Gerbyline Frieberger of Powahattan City, Saskatchewan) built her career on her amazing "hour-glass figure" which drove men wild with rapturous desire during her strip-tease performances involving a string quartet (plus oboe and bassoon), an assortment of thoughtfully recited poems (usually haikus and Italian sonnets), and Monsieur LaPoot, a myna bird of indeterminate age (kept securely in his cage due to an unfortunate eye-pecking tragedy to the mayor of Vancouver.) She was hailed from coast to coast and fabulously wealthy. Her notoriety was so great and her talent and beauty such a source of pride (though modestly expressed) that she was received by His Majesty King George V and given some sort of Order or Dame-hood during a capricious weekend with various theatre and music hall persons at Kensington Palace while Queen Mary was away at a Ladies-Only spa in Baden Baden.

Poutine's career was long and extremely successful until, sadly, she made a joke about a third grade geography teacher named Winifred O'Hevlin of Winnipeg who had been in a train wreck as a teen-ager. She had lost her left leg in the tragedy, but had triumphed over her affliction with great aplomb and was an inspiration to her neighbors and war veterans coming back from the front. Unfortunately, Poutine made a meant-to-be-harmless joke during one of her “strip-teasettes” about Winnie-Peg-Leg sitting in the front row. The audience members were too kind to scream or even gasp, but management (regretfully!) informed Poutine after the third show that her services  “would no longer be required”.

Poutine was devastated and later informed the public through the newspapers in her full-page apologies, that she herself had been a young victim of a railway accident. It seems when she was an eleven-year old Canadienne Girl Guide (First Class!) she was hit by the Grand Trunk Railway express during its 3:15 run from Hescotte Heights to Consultanacusca. She was demonstrating elaborate knot-tying in front of her entire troop for her merit badge and somehow found herself on the rails during the Peril’s-Of-Pauline-Half-Hitch-Back-And-Under-Wrap-Around-Noodler! The train broke 13 of her ribs, but the doctors didn’t have to reset anything since she was already encased in 40’ of rope. It took her six months to recover, but “How do you think I got my gorgeous 17 inch waistline?”, she stated defiantly. Interestingly, after she retired from the hurly-burly of the burlesque, she created a line of luxury corsets and “ladies’ dainties”. Her big money came from the line of hernia trusses that she provided to the Canadian Men’s Rugby Association.

(This program was produced in part by generous grants from the Maple Syrup Corporation of North America, the Purline Trudeau Charitable Trust, the Gabriella and Hiram Smoot Family, and by viewers like you!.... Thank you!)

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A New Sybil's "WHO'Z DAT?"... BASIL RATHBONE (June 13, 1892 – July 21, 1967)

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         Darlings! Mummy has made a decision! After reading dozens of posts and having hundreds of conversations with well-meaning folks who just don't know about the great CHARACTER actors who gave films the depth and genius that surrounded and supported the so-called "stars", I am going to post a regular, special entry called SYBIL'S "WHO'Z DAT??"....there'll be photos and a mini-bio, and the next time you see one of those familiar, fabulous faces that you just "can't quite place".......well, maybe these posts will help. Some of these actors worked more, had longer and broader careers, and ended up happier, more loved, and even wealthier than the "stars" that the public "worships"......I think there may be a metaphor in that! What do you think???.... while you’re reflecting, I’m inviting into our hallowed hall one of my very favorite people in show biz!!! Here he is folks, Mummy decided to add a special extra helping of WHO'Z DAT Deliciousness to the schedule...BASIL RATHBONE!!! (June 13, 1892 – July 21, 1967)

        For me, this fellow is the gold...NAY!..The PLATINUM standard for Hollywood royalty! (Ironically, he was knighted by George VI, and received even further elevations from Elizabeth II). Equally known for playing both heroic and villainous roles in some of the most iconic movies of the Cinema Golden Age, Basil Rathbone epitomized suave sophistication, brains, craftiness, and class. His face alone was one of the greatest pieces of cinema sculpture, and the camera adored him....you could light those bones a thousand different ways, and all of them were art! On the rare occasion when he would laugh without a villainous glint in his eyes, you could see all sorts of warmth and charm beneath that lacquered perfection, and indeed there are many stories about Rathbone and his wife being famous party givers to crowds of friends and admirers!

         Born Philip St. John Basil Rathbone in South Africa, (June 13, 1892), he rose to prominence in England as a Shakespearean stage actor and later went on to appear in over 70 films, primarily costume dramas, swashbucklers, and, occasionally, horror films. He was twice nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, both for his role of Tybalt in "Romeo and Juliet" (1936) and for his role of King Louis XI in "If I Were King" (1938), losing out both times to Walter Brennan. His most famous role, however, was eccentrically heroic—that of Sherlock Holmes in fourteen Hollywood films made between 1939 and 1946 and in a radio series done with his great friend Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson. His later career included Broadway and television work; he received a Tony Award in 1948 as Best Actor for his performance as the unyielding Dr. Austin Sloper in the original production of THE HEIRESS, which featured Wendy Hiller as his timid, spinster daughter.                

         Rathbone was married twice; first to actress Ethel Marion Foreman in 1914. They had one son, Rodion Rathbone (1915–1996), who had a brief Hollywood career under the name John Rodion. The couple divorced in 1926. In 1924 he was involved in a brief relationship with Eva Le Gallienne. In 1927, he married writer Ouida Bergère; the couple adopted a daughter, Cynthia Rathbone (1939–1969). During Rathbone's Hollywood career, Ouida Rathbone, who was also her husband's business manager, developed a reputation for hosting elaborate expensive parties in their home, with many prominent and influential people on the guest lists. This trend inspired a joke in The Ghost Breakers (1940), a film in which Rathbone does not appear: During a tremendous thunderstorm in New York City, Bob Hope observed that "Basil Rathbone must be throwing a party". Although his later career may have vexed him on some level appearing in two spoofs of his earlier swashbuckling villains: CASANOVA’S BIG NIGHT (1954) opposite Bob Hope and THE COURT JESTER (1956) with Danny Kaye, he also appeared in major films, including the Humphrey Bogart comedy WE’RE NO ANGELS (1955) and John Ford’s political drama THE LAST HURRAH (1958). The 1950s and 60s saw Rathbone performing on radio and television in various Christmas specials, variety shows, and even on game shows where he was very popular for his wit and polish. But he also was reduced to campy horror films and pastiches like THE BLACK SLEEP (1956), THE COMEDY OF TERRORS (1964) the only film to feature the "Big Four" of American International Pictures' horror films: Price, Rathbone, Karloff and Peter Lorre, QUEEN OF BLOOD (1966), THE GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI (1966, with comic Harvey Lembeck joking, "That guy looks like Sherlock Holmes"), HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE (1967, also featuring Lon Chaney Jr. and John Carradine), and his last film, a low-budget, Mexican horror film called AUTOPSY OF A GHOST (1968).

       Although his later career began to be made up of lower budget monster movies and spoofs of his own distinctive reputation as either a mad scientist or a British detective, Rathbone's immortality as a great invention of the Hollywood imagination will never dim! Basil Rathbone has three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: one for films, at 6549 Hollywood Boulevard; one for radio, at 6300 Hollywood Boulevard; and one for television, at 6915 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood. British actress Mrs. Patrick Campbell once described Rathbone as "two profiles pasted together", and later stated in the same autobiography, that she thought of him as "a folded umbrella taking elocution lessons." Rathbone died suddenly of a heart attack in New York City in 1967 at age 75. He is interred in a crypt in the Shrine of Memories Mausoleum at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York. For his many fans around the world, he continues to be luminescent, enigmatic, iconic.... a Star!!! 

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A New Sybil's "WHO'Z DAT?"... FRANK MORGAN (June 1, 1890 – September 18, 1949)

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Darlings! Mummy has made a decision! After reading dozens of posts and having hundreds of conversations with well-meaning folks who just don't know about the great CHARACTER actors who gave films the depth and genius that surrounded and supported the so-called "stars", I am going to post a weekly, special entry called SYBIL'S "WHO'Z DAT??"....there'll be photos and a mini-bio, and the next time you see one of those familiar, fabulous faces that you just "can't quite place".......well, maybe these posts will help. Some of these actors worked more, had longer and broader careers, and ended up happier, more loved, and even wealthier than the "stars" that the public "worships"......I think there may be a metaphor in that! What do you think???.... while you’re reflecting, I’m inviting into our hallowed hall one of my very favorite people in show biz!!! Mr. Frank Morgan (June 1, 1890 – September 18, 1949).

Morgan was born Francis Phillip Wuppermann in New York City, the youngest of eleven children (six boys and five girls) born to Josephine Wright (née Hancox) and George Diogracia Wuppermann. His father was born in Venezuela, of German and Spanish descent, and was raised in Hamburg, Germany. His mother was born in the U.S. of English descent. The family earned its wealth distributing the famous Angostura bitters, permitting Frank to attend Cornell University. He then followed his older brother Ralph Morgan into show business, first on the Broadway stage and then into motion pictures. Of all his siblings, Frank was closest to brother Carlos Domaso Siegert Wuppermann (aka Carlyle Morgan) (1887-1919) whose death while serving in the U.S. Army's Corps of Intelligence Police in Germany was initially deemed a suicide. It was later learned he was murdered by a fellow soldier. Carlyle was a writer, poet, playwright and actor. Frank appeared in his deceased brother's play THE TRIUMPH OF X in 1921 on Broadway. Frank’s first film was a silent, THE SUSPECT in 1916. In 1917 he provided support to his friend John Barrymore in RAFFLES, THE AMATEUR CRACKSMAN, an independent film produced in and about New York City. Morgan continued making silent films, but because of his distinctive voice and line deliveries, his career expanded when talkies began and he moved to Hollywood, where his most stereotypical role would be that of a befuddled but good hearted middle-aged man. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1934's THE AFFAIRS OF CELLINI where he played the cuckolded Duke of Florence and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1942's TORTILLA FLAT, where he played a simple Hispanic man. Other movies of note include HALLELUJAH, I’M A BUM (1933), THE GREAT ZIEGFELD (1936), SARATOGA (1937), THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER (1940), THE HUMAN COMEDY (1943), THE MORTAL STORM (1940), and THE WHITE CLIFFS OF DOVER (1944).

So memorable in comedies, folks often forgot that Morgan was extremely good in dramatic roles and even as unsympathetic ones as well. He also recorded a number of children's records, including the popular Gossamer Wump, released in 1949 by Capitol Records. Appearing in over a hundred films, Morgan's most famous performance was in THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939), in which he played the carnival huckster "Professor Marvel", the gatekeeper of the Emerald City, the driver of the carriage drawn by "The Horse of a Different Color", the armed guard leading to the Wizard's hall, the apparition of the Wizard as a monstrous disembodied Head, and the Wizard himself. Like Margaret Hamilton’s Wicked Witch of the West, his six characters appear on screen for only a few minutes in total, but they are iconically memorable. He was so popular in everything he did that MGM gave him a lifetime contract. Morgan was cast for the role on September 22, 1938. W. C. Fields was originally chosen for the role of the Wizard, but the studio ran out of patience after protracted haggling over his fee. 

In the 1940s, Morgan co-starred with Fanny Brice in one version (of several different series) of the radio program Maxwell House Coffee Time, aka The Frank Morgan-Fanny Brice Show. During the first half of the show Morgan would tell increasingly outlandish tall tales about his life adventures, much to the dismay of his fellow cast members. After the Morgan segment there was a song, followed by Brice as 'Baby Snooks' for the last half of the show. When Brice left in 1944 to have her own program, Morgan continued in a similar vein for a year with The Frank Morgan Show. One of his last film roles was as Barney Wile in THE STRATTON STORY (1949), a true story about a baseball player (played by James Stewart) who makes a comeback after having his leg amputated due to a hunting accident.

Morgan died suddenly of a heart attack on September 18, 1949, while filming ANNIE GET YOUR GUN! (replaced by Louis Calhern). His last completed film, KEY TO THE CITY (1950) was released posthumously, in which he starred with Clark Gable and Loretta Young. His death came before the 1956 premiere televised broadcast on CBS of THE WIZARD OF OZ which would make him the only major cast member from the film who would not live to see the film's revived popularity and become an annual American television institution. He was buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn; his tombstone carried his real name on the front, while noting his appearance as the Wizard on the back. Morgan has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for film and for radio. Margaret Hamilton said that whenever she saw the scene in the film where Frank Morgan as the Wizard is giving Dorothy's friends gifts from his "black bag" (a diploma for the Scarecrow, a ticking heart for the Tin Man, and a medal for the Cowardly Lion), she got teary eyed, because "Frank Morgan was just like that in real life - very generous". Morgan was a member of Hollywood’s famous hard-drinking "Irish mafia"--even though he wasn't Irish--which also included fellow film actors James Cagney, Spencer Tracy, Frank McHugh, and Pat O'Brien. He was widely known to have had a drinking problem, according to several who worked with him, and he sometimes carried a black briefcase to work fully equipped with a small mini-bar. Honorary pallbearers at his funeral included Clark Gable and Pat O'Brien. Irish tenor Dennis Day sang. He was survived by his wife Alma of 35 years and his only son, George. Morgan has two stars dedicated to him on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: one for motion pictures at 1708 Vine Street and one for his work in radio at 6700 Hollywood Blvd. Both were dedicated on February 8, 1960.

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A New Sybil's "WHO'Z DAT?"... FRANK McHUGH (May 23, 1898 - September 11, 1981)

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Darlings! Mummy has made a decision! After reading dozens of posts and having hundreds of conversations with well-meaning folks who just don't know about the great CHARACTER actors who gave films the depth and genius that surrounded and supported the so-called "stars", I am going to post a weekly, special entry called SYBIL'S "WHO'Z DAT??"....there'll be photos and a mini-bio, and the next time you see one of those familiar, fabulous faces that you just "can't quite place".......well, maybe these posts will help. Some of these actors worked more, had longer and broader careers, and ended up happier, more loved, and even wealthier than the "stars" that the public "worships"......I think there may be a metaphor in that! What do you think???.... well, while you’re reflecting on it, here’s a Dairlin’ man, as the Irish say… and wouldn’t you know him by his charmin’ laughter in every role he ever played, God bless’m. He’s Frank McHugh (May 23rd 1898 – September 11, 1981).

Born Francis Curray McHugh in Homestead, Pennsylvania of Irish descent, McHugh came from a theatrical family. McHugh made his debut in blackface at the age of 6 in FOR HER CHILDREN'S SAKE as a member of the McHugh Stock Company in Braddock, Pa., founded by his parents, Edward A. and Catherine McHugh. Performing onstage in Vaudeville with his older brother Matt and sister Kitty, he was a local star at ten years of age. Another brother, Ed, went on to become a stage manager and agent in New York. McHugh went to school in Pittsburgh and at the age of 17 left the family troupe and joined the Marguerite Bryant Players, of which Guy Kibbee was also a member, and became juvenile lead and stage manager at the Empire Theater in Pittsburgh. He graduated and went barnstorming through the Middle West and New England and playing on the Keith and Orpheum circuits. McHugh made his Broadway debut in THE FALL GUY, written by George Abbott and James Gleason in 1925 and featuring Ernest Truex. The following year he went to London with James Gleason and Robert Armstrong to appear in the prize-fight comedy IS ZAT SO? In 1928 he married Dorothy Spencer, an actress, and returned to Broadway in FOG, which was soon followed by his first real Broadway success as a reformed pickpocket in TENTH AVENUE. The following year he appeared in EXCESS BAGGAGE, which he considered his ''best New York role.'', (but it was his last Broadway appearance until 1963 when he appeared as Senex, the henpecked husband in A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM.)

When his family quit the stage in 1930, First National Pictures hired him as a contract player. But very soon after, he was picked up by Warner Brothers where he performed in over 150 pictures. Even in horror films, he could be counted on for his signature smart-alecky, wise guy, Brooklynese humor as in THE MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM (1933) costarring fellow smart-aleck Glenda Farrell, Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray. Though McHugh got a few star parts, more often he supported stars James Cagney and Pat O’Brien. He was immensely popular with his fellow actors. Irish-Americans McHugh, Cagney, O’Brien and Spencer Tracy were close friends and the core members of a group known as, “The Irish Mafia,” known for its drinking and carousing prowess which also included Allen Jenkins, Ralph Bellamy, Lynne Overman, and Frank Morgan.  Over the course of his extraordinary career he quickly became one of Warner Brothers’ most reliable supporting players. His diminutive stature, sunny face, comic timing, appealing manner, and signature “Hah, Hah, Hah” sing-song laugh made him a beloved character actor, very popular in his day. McHugh’s films include THE FRONT PAGE (1931), GOLD DIGGERS OF 1935 (1935), A MIDSUMMER’S NIGHT DREAM (1935), FOUR DAUGHTERS (1938), THE ROARING TWENTIES (1939), GOING MY WAY (1944), MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949), and THE LAST HURRAH (1958). He had the distinction of being cast repeatedly in Oscar nominated and winning films.

Although McHugh played everything from lead actor to sidekick, he was most often remembered for providing comedy relief. He worked with almost every major star at Warner Brothers, was a close life-long friend of James Cagney, and appeared in more Cagney movies than any other actor, notably in eleven films between 1932 and 1953 including crime dramas and even musicals. Their friendship lasted until McHugh's death. Like many of his fellow stars, he was a keen supporter in the 1940s of the war effort. In 1942, just a few months after Pearl Harbor, McHugh was a core member of the Hollywood Victory Caravan. At the request of the War Activities Committee, a crew of 21 stars traveled across the US by train, performing in several cities over the course of three weeks to raise money for the Army and Navy Relief Fund. The dazzling line-up of stars, headed by Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Cary Grant featured the talents of some of Hollywood’s biggest names. McHugh and his Irish Mafia pals James Cagney and Pat O’Brien were on board, along with Charles Boyer, Claudette Colbert, Joan Blondell, Joan Bennett, Merle Oberon, Rise Stevens, Eleanor Powell, Laurel and Hardy, Bert Lahr, Charlotte Greenwood, Olivia de Havilland, Desi Arnaz, and Groucho Marx. The show they performed was a musical revue, put together by Mark Sandrich (a director known for the Astaire/Rogers musicals) and Alfred Newman (20th Century Fox’s house musical director and composer) with contributions from several top screen and songwriters. Everywhere the Caravan went, it was greeted by cheering crowds, and its stop in Washington D.C. included a trip to the White House, where the stars were greeted and thanked by first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. After the tour, photographer Gene Lester compiled a booklet of 30 photographs from the tour for the participants. McHugh’s copy is archived in the New York Public Library’s Hollywood collection. This amazing resource is a mix of posed publicity shots and candids of the stars hanging out backstage, at meals or on the train. Many of the stars including McHugh recalled the Hollywood Victory Caravan as one of the most incredible, memorable, and rewarding experiences of their lives. After the tour ended, McHugh’s dedication to helping the war effort was not over. He went back out on tour again in England in August and September of 1942, appearing in the American Variety Show with Al Jolson, Patricia Morrison, Allen Jenkins, and again with Merle Oberon.

Two years later, McHugh came back to Europe with his own show. He designed and starred in “McHugh’s Revue” which toured France, Holland, Belgium and Germany in November and December of 1944. The show was actually in Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge. This USO show featured McHugh, four beautiful girls (actresses Mary Brian, June Clyde, Charlotte Greer and Nina Nova) and a piano-player (Eddie Eisman), touring the front line, meeting, and entertaining the troops. The McHugh Papers include many accounts of the tour. 

Here is McHugh’s own account of traveling to Europe in the company of servicemen:"Getting acquainted with my companions was something that I looked forward to with great apprehension. They were all so many years my junior that I suddenly felt very old and very far away from them. But I was mistaken — I have never met a bunch of young fellows that were so good humored, agreeable and easy to get along with. I’ll always remember them and wonder what their individual careers were in the army.”

The November 4, 1944 editions of the Special Service Publication, Trans Quips, described meeting up with McHugh for an interview:

“I found him and June Clyde talking to a bunch of G.I.s, looking at the pictures of their girls, cracking jokes and signing autographs. He talked to the men about their hometowns, and Frank really knows the hometown of almost everybody on board… He did shows in all the big towns and cities in the States.” 

Frank McHugh’s career and war effort activities were preserved in his personal papers including a trove of interesting letters, photographs, and publicity materials on all the USO tours he participated in during World War II. They are currently held in the Billy Rose Theatre Division of the New York Public Library.

In 1944, he was memorably cast as Father Timothy O'Dowd in the Bing Crosby film, GOING MY WAY. which won several Oscars including Best Film and Best Actor for Crosby. (Interestingly, McHugh later played William Jennings Depew in the 1962 episode "Keep an Eye on Santa Claus" in the ABC television series, GOING MY WAY starring Gene Kelly, and loosely based on the earlier film.) The remainder of the 1940s were a good time for his film career, but like a lot of Hollywood actors in the 50’s when film roles started getting scarce Frank moved to radio and television. From 1954 to 1956, Frank appeared in the radio serial “Hotel for Pets” where he played a former mail carrier who ran an animal shelter. The series was sponsored by Puss ‘n Boots cat food. He made sporadic appearances in various television cameos through the 1950s.

 From 1964-65, he played Willie Walters, a live-in handyman in the 27-episode ABC sitcom The Bing Crosby Show, which reunited him once again onscreen with Bing Crosby. The show also co-starred Beverly Garland. McHugh's last feature film role was as a comical "sea captain" in the 1967 Elvis Presley caper film EASY COME, EASY GO. He returned to Broadway again in 1967 to star in a revival of  FINIAN'S RAINBOW by the New York City Light Opera Company.

McHugh's last television appearance was as handyman Charlie Wingate in "The Fix-It Man", an episode of CBS’ LANCER western series, which starred Andrew Duggan. He finally retired from show business in 1969. McHugh died at his home in Greenwich, Connecticut on September 11, 1981 at the age of 83. He was survived by his wife Dorothy Spencer, three children, and two grandchildren. His brother Matt McHugh and sister Kitty McHugh whom he had first appeared with in Vaudeville were also actors in many films. Summing up his style and appeal, McHugh once said, “I never act in the movies. All I ever do in a picture is to be myself and let the cameras grind on.'' 

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Sybil's "Strange Tales From Around The World"... Flora...

FLORA Giuseppe Arcimboldo 1589 (1364).jpg

 "Flora", the shortened name for Principessa FloraBella Gladioliisima (1535?-1629) who lived in Venice and numbered dozens of prominent politicians and artists among her lovers (including the young painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo). Fabulously wealthy from her merchant family's importing and trading ventures starting with Marco Polo, Flora spent her days learning new languages, improving her musical skills on seventeen different instruments, studying foreign cuisine, raising an enormous menagerie of beloved animals, and tending to her window box gardens which covered her palace on the corner of the Calle dell Forno and the Fondamenta Zorzi.

Since Venice is and always has been a "water city" with very little dry land to waste on open fields, municipal parks, or even private gardens, Flora early on discovered that she could spend days and days raising the most extraordinary plants from around the world just outside her windows, and the spectacular beauty of her home architecturally was only surpassed by what grew in the boxes and trailed down from them to the admiring crowds below. As she grew older though and her passions for the handsome lovers of all ages and origins that she had burned so brightly for began to mellow, she devoted more and more time to her “journeys of the mind” as she called them.

Towards the end of her life, she was able to converse, write poetry, and improvise naughty limericks in over forty-two languages. She had accompanied several of the Bachs on her seventeen instruments and composed a special Cantata for Two Harpsichords which she played herself simultaneously much to the wonderment of European royalty who honored and celebrated her with special gifts of jewels, titles, and land. Her animals were loved generously and housed in the greatest comfort alongside her extraordinary window gardens. Although not reclusive in the least, Bella’s great age began to confine her travels outside her walls more and more, and she was finally only able to drift from one window to another with her faithful and adoring servants who tended to the heavier chores of maintaining the plantings under her wise direction. It was never mentioned…never even whispered about in polite company, but, as the years passed, it was rumored later that the great FloraBella Gladioliisima, Principessa of Venice, had begun to become her flowers. Literally to become her flowers. Wherever she passed, there was said to be the most exotic and mysterious scents from faraway places …and that they would change from day to day….. and even more wonderfully, with those fragrances there would follow the deep feeling of peace and contentment that comes sitting alone in a garden... contemplating an opening blossom in the light of a setting sun… That special light and color that has been stored from a radiant day and is now blazing bright as night approaches….

[postscript: Flora lived to be quite old, especially by 16th century standards, but the greatest mystery of her life was actually her death… you see, she made fewer and fewer appearances even at her own banquets and costume balls held in her very own palace. Her loyal servants would make more and more excuses, quite believable, why the great and much beloved lady could not come down from her separate wing of the house. As the public counted the years and began to prepare for a great state funeral for Flora once she had passed, it was finally revealed that Flora had continued her metamorphosis into the very plants and flowers she loved so much… one servant after another related various stories of how a parlor maid had "found a beautiful little nosegay sitting at Flora's writing desk", that an elderly housekeeper had "discovered a gather of dried yarrows glowing bright yellow and wrapped in a gilded ribbon on a settee in the tea room", or that the under-butler while bringing her breakfast tray had come upon "a single sprig of verdant mint on her monogramed pillow, still fragrant and sparkling with morning dew"…. You see, she had indeed loved her gardens so dearly, even only as flower boxes hanging over the great city of Venice, that she had joined them….forever….] (for George Sweet)

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