A New Sybil's "WHO'Z DAT?"... HUGH HERBERT (August 10, 1884 – March 12, 1952)…

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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???.... well, our next guest has a face that’s instantly familiar, but his voice and his laugh (“whoo-Whoo!”) are even more so! And those hands!!

It’s Hugh Herbert (August 10, 1884 – March 12, 1952) . He was a motion picture comedian who began his career in vaudeville, and additionally wrote more than 150 plays and sketches. Born in Binghamton, NY, Hugh was the middle child of John Herbert and the former Mary Gallagher who had both come over to the States from Scotland sometime before their three children were born. The family soon moved to Brooklyn where they are listed on the 1905 census. Eldest son James was two years Hugh’s senior and the youngest brother, Thomas, came three years after Hugh. (Tom later became an actor himself and actually appeared alongside Hugh in a few films.) On being the middle child, Hugh told Katherine Hartley of Photoplay, “They considered drowning me, but Pop said, ‘Ah, we might as well keep it. It might be good for laughing purposes.’” In the same 1936 interview, he added: “So you see, I just sort of slipped in between. Nobody ever paid any attention to me. That’s why I guess, as I grew older, I thought I’d like to be an actor”. One of Herbert’s first jobs was as an usher in Proctor’s Theatre in Manhattan, and Hugh was soon getting his feet wet in some very small amateur productions (Hugh claimed his first stage credit came in a bit role in Roaring Dick and Company starring Maurice Barrymore, father of Ethel, Lionel and John. Then came his often repeated story of becoming a “talker” for the silent screen. Hugh was paid $15 a week to stand behind a silent movie screen for 18-20 shows per day and give voice to the silent characters for the audience. It was while working as a "talker" that Hugh was discovered by Gordon & North who starred him in the playlet The Son of Solomon, the first of many Jewish roles Herbert played on vaudeville. “I have found it almost impossible to prove to people that I am not Hebrew,” Hugh said in 1917 and, touching upon the subject again years later in 1936, “It’s a good religion and were I born a Jew I certainly wouldn’t deny being one.” Herbert, described by the New York Clipper in 1919 as, “easily the best Jew character man in vaudeville,” always described himself as Scotch-Irish and was eventually married by a Priest--to a Jewish girl, Rose Epstein, in 1917 whom he met backstage as a visitor to one of his plays. Within a short time, she joined him onstage in his acting troupe and changed her name to Anita Pam starring along side him in the 1920s in pieces such as Mind Your Business, in which she played a stenographer, Home Comforts, described as a domestic farce, and as leading player in The Cat, a piece Hugh that wrote especially for her. 

The advent of talking pictures brought stage-trained actors from Broadway, the regional theatres, and Vaudeville circuits to Hollywood, and Hugh Herbert soon became a popular movie comedian. Hugh already knew the popular comedy pair Wheeler and Woolsey from vaudeville, and his earliest movies, like Wheeler & Woolsey’s 1930 feature HOOK, LINE, AND SINKER cast him in generic comedy roles that could have been taken by any comedian, but he developed his own unique screen personality, complete with a silly giggle. His screen character was usually absent-minded and flustered. When he appeared in 1930’s Hook, Line and Sinker and he credits 1933’s wild DIPLOMANIACS as being where his famed cry of excitement originated. He would flutter his fingers together and talk to himself, repeating the same phrases: "hoo-hoo-hoo, wonderful, wonderful, hoo hoo hoo!". The new character caught on quickly. As Hugh Herbert became a screen personality during the 1930s it’s also interesting to note the versatility shown in other roles.

He’s a toned-down version of his later self alongside Edna May Oliver in LAUGH AND GET RICH (1931) and delivers a combination of the madcap along with more reflective moments in TRAVELING HUSBANDS (1931), where Hugh's Hymie Schwartz probably also offers a hint of his earlier vaudeville work. In SHE HAD TO SAY YES (1933), a pre-Code stunner starring Loretta Young that features a somewhat atypical (sleazy) Hugh, he made another well-positioned fan in Warner Brothers head of production Darryl F. Zanuck. Warner Brothers signed Hugh to a five-year contract and it was his next role, in that same year’s GOODBYE AGAIN (1933) that established him in the public’s mind as a great supporting player. He became a regularly featured character in Warner Brothers films of the 1930s, including FOOTLIGHT PARADE (1933), BUREAU OF MISSING PERSONS (1933), FOG OVER FRISCO (1934), FASHIONS OF 1934, and GOLD DIGGERS OF 1935, WE’RE IN THE MONEY (1935), COLLEEN (1936), as well as the film adaptation of Shakespeare’s A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM (1935). Herbert continued in supporting roles at Warner Brothers until February 1938 when the company elevated him to star status. To give an idea of the distinction of this promotion, it was reported at this time that Warner Brothers had 27 star players, including Hugh, and 77 featured players under contract. Unfortunately, the first starring role for Hugh Herbert was in SH! THE OCTOPUS (1937), an enjoyable comedy-mystery featuring an exceptional unmasking of the culprit. The film was a success but couldn’t be considered a Hollywood blockbuster. Off-screen Hugh kept busy with a trio of roles around Studio City, where he lived. He was Mayor, President of the Chamber of Commerce, and Chief Columnist of the Studio City News, from which his articles were bylined, “The Mayor, Hugh Herbert, Says.”

Hugh remained very active on-screen throughout the next decade as well, first signing a five year starring contract with Universal in 1940 where, as at Warners, he played supporting roles in major films, and leading roles in minor ones. One of his best-received performances from this period is in the Olsen and Johnson comedy HELLZAPOPPIN’ (1941) in which he plays a nutty detective. He later moved to Columbia in 1944. He continued to star in short-subject comedies for the remainder of his life. He was often caricatured in Warner’s Looney Tunes shorts of the 1930s/40s, such as The Hardship of Miles Standish and Speaking of the Weather. One of the minor characters in the Terrytoons short The Talking Magpies (1946) is also a recognizably Hugh Herbertesque bird. Herbert’s onscreen persona became so vivid that he had many imitators over the years in other film comedies and at other studios. And so many imitators (including Curly Howard of The Three Stooges, Etta Candy in the Wonder Woman comic book series, and the cartoon icon Daffy Duck) copied the catchphrase as "woo woo" that Herbert himself began to use "woo woo" rather than "hoo hoo" in the 1940s. In addition to his acting, Herbert also wrote for six films, co-writing the screenplays for the films LIGHTS OF NEW YORK (1928) and SECOND WIFE (1930) and contributing to THE GREAT GABBO (1929), among others. He acted in a few films co-written by the much more prolific (but unrelated) screenwriter F. Hugh Herbert: FASHIONS OF 1934, WE’RE IN THE MONEY (1935), and COLLEEN (1936).

(Much confusion has surrounded the careers of Austrian-born writer F. Hugh Herbert and Binghamton-born actor-writer Hugh F. Herbert especially since their professional paths crossed in show business.) Herbert continued working right up until the time of his death, appearing in movies and even managing a few early television appearances, including making a surprise appearance (in drag) on a live Spike Jones show in 1951. Unfortunately most of the Hugh Herbert news during the latter part of his life centered around his mostly amicable divorce from Rose in 1949 after 31 years of marriage. Rose said that after years in Hollywood, Hugh had changed. She was quoted as saying that the light-hearted, carefree and amusing man she had married was often preoccupied and melancholy. He often drove for hours alone at night, after leaving dinner parties without even a good-night to his friends. Rose returned to her family home in Texas. Rose’s lawyer told her she could get more out of Hugh if she returned to California to file for her divorce, but she remained in Texas and was quite satisfied with being awarded $10,000 cash to buy a house and $300 a week thereafter for support. Hugh continued working. One night, after complaining that he felt ill, he called his doctor and personal friend, Dr. Victor Kovner, to his house. Kovner arrived but could not save Hugh Herbert from the heart attack that claimed his life that night, March 12, 1952. The writer, performer, and movie star was 67 years old. He willed most of his $200,000 estate to the motion picture relief fund. Rose Epstein Herbert aka Anita Pam died in 1973. They had no children. Hugh Herbert was once quoted as saying, “The best business in the world is to make people laugh. Plenty of laughter means good health. Then people are usually happy when they are laughing, and what is better than to make people happy?”. Hugh Herbert has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

A New Sybil's "WHO'Z DAT?"... HENRY JONES (August 1, 1912 – May 17, 1999)…

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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??? Well, here’s a face that no one ever forgets either in film or on television… and he was known for playing comedy and drama, even dark suspense, and then doing the nearly impossible by combining all of them in single performances.

                It’s Henry Jones (August 1, 1912 – May 17, 1999). Jones was born Henry Burk Jones in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Helen (née Burk) and John Francis Xavier Jones. He attended the Jesuit-run Saint Joseph's Preparatory School. After a start in regional theatre and on Broadway in 1931, his major Broadway debut came in 1938 in Maurice Evans’ HAMLET where he played both Reynaldo and the second gravedigger. He went on to appear in THE TIME OF YOUR LIFE (1939) and MY SISTER EILEEN (1942). Jones served in the army in World War II, and afterwards returned to Broadway in THE SOLID GOLD CADILLAC (1954), and SUNRISE AT CAMPOBELLO (1960), for which he won the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play, and the Outer Critics Circle Award for Performance in a Drama. In 1956, Jones originated the role of handyman Leroy Jessup in the premiere of THE BAD SEED (1956), a role that he then recreated in the film and was instantly famous for. After 1961, he devoted his entire career to film and television, where he made over 150 appearances on the major network shows, usually as ministers, judges, janitors, and dour businessmen. His TV credits included ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, THE ELEVENTH HOUR, NIGHT GALLERY, EMERGENCY!, THE MOD SQUAD, DANIEL BOONE, GUNSMOKE, THE TWILIGHT ZONE, ADAM 12, FATHER KNOWS BEST, THE DUKES OF HAZZARD, and THE GEORGE BURNS AND GRACIE ALLEN SHOW. He played Dr. Smith's cousin in a 1966 episode of LOST IN SPACE, "Curse Of Cousin Smith". On television, Jones' best remembered role was as the title character's father-in-law in the 1970s CBS sitcom PHYLLIS with Cloris Leachman. His movies included such well-known titles as WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER (1957), VERTIGO (1958), 3:10 TO YUMA (1957), BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (1969), 9 TO 5 (1980), THE GRIFTERS (1990), DICK TRACY (1990), ARACHNIPHOBIA (1990). Jones was married twice, and had two children. He died in Los Angeles, California at age 86, from complications from injuries suffered in a fall. To this day, he remains one of the great character actors film fans love-to-hate, and then love again! Short in stature, he was a giant of a talent and respected by all who worked with him. To this day, his lines from THE BAD SEED can be quoted verbatim with gestures and facial expressions by his legions of fans!!!

Sybil’s "Facts & Fables for First Graders… Freddy Makes A Friend!"

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Once upon a time, in a very big city not very far away, there lived a fairly nice boy named Freddy. Freddy was his nickname! Do you know what a nickname is, Boys and Girls…um…and others who haven’t made up their minds yet? A nickname is something that your parents call you because they love you and you are special to them, and because they named you something kind of different on the day you were born in the hospital, when the doctors and nurses were standing around waiting for them to think of something that could be written down quickly while your Mommy screamed very loudly and said bad words to your Daddy… and maybe threw things at him. You know sometimes doctors and nurses get cross and very impatient too because the rooms are filled with screaming Mommies throwing things at sweating Daddies, and they stamp their feet and yell, “Call him something DAMMIT”, and then your Daddy may say anything that comes to mind, and the funniest names are written down! IN INK!… so they can’t be erased, and kids grow up being all sorts of strange sounding things. Things like Ezekiel Florbert Nuggins, Cloroxina Jabumba Jefferson, Thyresis Van Clumpp, and Ferdinand Jesus Maria-Theresa Miguellito de Campasonos-Tacqueriasado… which was Freddy’s real name, but his parents hated the nickname “Ferdy” so they called him Freddy instead. 

One time, Freddy’s Daddy said that Ferdy rhymed with other words which weren’t very nice, and that no kid of his was going to be called “those bad words”! Freddy thought and thought and finally asked if his Daddy meant “purdy”, and his dad choked on his beer and pretzels and sent him to bed. 

One day, Freddy was outside on the corner of Rivington and Orchard Streets. That was his neighborhood, and lots of people from all different parts of the world lived around that area. Not necessarily in the same building or even on the same street, but close enough for them to know each other and to be polite and friendly if it wasn’t too hot and the fire hydrants had been opened. One thing they all had in common was that their names all sounded funny to each other if not to themselves, but most folks chuckled at the sound of their names, their parents’ and grandparents’ names, the towns they all came from far away, and to the strange and sometimes lovely sounds of the languages that they were quickly forgetting. 

It was a Wednesday…or maybe a Thursday that Freddy took the 78 cents he made sweeping out Meyer Shlefkitz’s Grocery store and went to Giancarlo Fabricci’s Hot Dog cart to buy a snack. GC (as the kids all called him) had the very best hot dogs anyone had ever tasted. They were “kosher” which meant that they were only beef… (or at least NOT pork) and that the animals they were made from had been killed in a very special and kind way by someone who said prayers or poems and then washed everything carefully afterwards… and maybe their hands. That’s was Xina Jefferson told Freddy that she had heard from Zekie Nuggins who heard it from Ty Van Clumpp who heard it from Officer Aloisius Macgruder while he was patrolling Delancy Street. Officer Macgruder was a big friendly policeman who all the neighborhood kids looked up to, and who saved the two little Portuguese twins on the next block from a fire that started in their kerosene heater last Winter. He was given a real medal by the Mayor because he had climbed up a fire escape that was falling off the building, and got to the window on the top floor just in time. When Freddy and his friends heard the sirens, they ran and watched, and Freddy was filled with both terror at the inferno and a strange pride in his pal Officer Macgruder when he finally came down to the sidewalk, covered with soot and sweat and carrying the smiling little babies who seemed perfectly happy with their exciting adventure. 

Anyway it was a Wednesday… or maybe a Thursday when Freddy took his 78 cents to GC’s hot dog cart, which stood that day over by the big tanks near the river. He had just finished his first hot dog with the extra spicy mustard that GC made himself from an old recipe his grandmother had gotten from a place called Calabria, and he was thinking about getting a second one when the tall boy with the golden hair sauntered up and pulled out a whole dollar to buy two of GC’s hot dogs; two at once! Freddy had seen the tall kid before with his freckles scattered over a handsome nose and cheeks under the eyes that were exactly the color of his mother’s good china; the dishes they use only for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and funerals. The blue shown, both in the dishes and in this boys eyes, especially when he smiled, which was often, and which he did as he walked up to the cart seeing Freddy. They always nodded to each other whenever they saw each other at the empty lots for dusty baseball games or on the street during the big stickball tournaments. They’d never exchanged names, but there was something between them, if only in a smile and a nod… and a shy look backward as they parted. And although Freddy couldn’t say that he thought about the golden kid everyday, he did think about him for hours after every time he did see him. It was this particular day though, a Wednesday or a Thursday, when Freddy decided to walk right up to him and introduce himself. “Hi! I’m Freddy Jesus Mari----“ and stopped himself. “Just Freddy!” he hurried to amend, and held out his hand to shake, but the golden boy already had his two hot dogs in each hand. He looked straight into Freddy’s nearly black and shining eyes and chuckled. A deep throaty, husky chuckle that was as warm and sweet as the maple syrup Freddy loved to pour on hot Sunday pancakes. “I got one for you!” said Golden Boy. “I hope you like mustard.”

Freddy looked down at the right hand reaching toward him with perhaps the loveliest gift he had ever gotten… and the gift that he would never forget and that would change his life forever. He must have been suspended in time, if only for a moment, just looking and savoring that sight; a freckled hand, a little dusty from stickball, holding out one of GC’s brilliant hot dogs in its toasty bun, shimmering with mustard the color of the Summer sun. “I’ll get you one without if you don’t.”, said Golden Boy, and Freddy caught himself and met the blue eyes quickly. “No! No!... I mean YES! I DO love mustard! Yes, thank you!” and he felt his dark eyes prick a little with something deep and true. Golden Boy asked if he was sure, and Freddy in a quiet voice, so quiet that not even GC heard said “Oh, I’m sure”. And then Golden Boy did something Freddy had only seen in movies; he “clinked” his hot dog to Freddy’s as if they were glasses of champagne and chuckled “L’Chaim!”. Freddy blinked, then smiled, then laughed… right out loud! Laughed right out loud and shouted “Salud!”. At which Golden Boy and GC both roared. And then, as if they had known each other for years, as if it had been planned forever, Freddy and his Golden Boy began strolling down the street on that Summer afternoon. 

Golden Boy’s name turned out to be Mickey… it said so on his shoe shine box; 10 cents a shine! And Mickey was short for Mikael Nahman Shlefkitz, yes, the same Shlefkitz that owned the grocery store; Meyer was Mickey’s uncle. So there they were, two smiling boys moving down Rivington Street, surrounded by the sounds of a bustling city on a weekday afternoon. Maybe a Wednesday or a Thursday, but definitely not the weekend yet... the first weekend they would spend together, playing catch and stickball and watching the great river moving by at sunset with its huge boats going off to see the world. 

They passed Officer Macgruder who smiled and nodded, and when they passed, he looked after them and smiled again. They passed Xina, Zekie, and Ty, and Freddy introduced Mickey to them, a bit proudly, and Mickey shook their hands vigorously saying it was great to meet them. And then they were heading to their homes for dinners that neither of them had much room for, but when their moms would ask why, it wouldn’t be because they secretly had eaten hot dogs. It would be for something else. Something new. And from then on, Freddy called his new friend Mickey, not by his nickname, but by the name "Golden Boy", whenever they were alone. Golden Boy... his own special nickname that only he and Mickey knew.

And over on Mott Street, little Giselle Pompanano decided it was time to give Adele Wasserstrom a hug. The first of many that they would share for the next 57 years…

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(photos courtesy of Jon Blake)

Sybil Bruncheon's "Crime Time Tales for Children"... HOWDY-DO!


The kidnapping had been planned for months. It wasn't going to be one of those failed attempts that ended in cross-country chases, false leads, haggling over ransoms, easily spotted look-outs, needless injuries or deaths, and of course apprehension, arrests, and executions, because back in that time, kidnapping was still a "capital offense". Oh yes, you could be executed for kidnapping, and if it was a child or a famous celebrity, or the "ultimate", a famous (and much beloved!) child-celebrity, you would be lucky, if caught, to even be handed over to the authorities. Because in those early years of the new fangled "television", its stars rose to international fame overnight, and the public was fierce in its loyalty and defense of their new friends that visited them in their actual home every night in the little box. Television brought everything glamorous, magical, and exciting right into your own home.... no need to go to the decaying movie theatres anymore with their enormous chandeliers, their gigantic pillars, their miles of dusty velvet draperies, and their strange murals of other times and exotic lands.... India, China, Zanzibar, Katmandu... no more sticky floors, sticky armrests, and seat cushions that leaned this way and that with the sharp little spring that poked you in the behind! Now, you could stay home and see everything and eat dinner off a little tray right there!...a dinner your Mom had made in 7 minutes......

That was why, when the news came on at 6 that terrible Tuesday night in February, that homes all across the nation erupted in fury.. Howdy Doody!... yes, HOWDY DOODY had been kidnapped from his dressing room, right in front of stage hands, technical persons, staff writers, interns, producers, co-stars, and even the studio audience. When questioned by frantic police and representatives from the Mayor's office, the only clue was that what appeared to be a nice married couple with their own little girl who had come to see the broadcast, had left before it began carrying (inexplicably!) a 1955 American Tourister suitcase; the new "Jet-Streamer Line" with the woven wicker grass-cloth sides that resisted rain and scuffing and retailed for the extravagant price of $29.95 for just the overnight size! It was a warm, honey-amber color with brown leather edging, stitching and a handle...and the two horizontal stripes woven into the fabric were a rich teal blue that matched the luxurious satin and "stain-resistant" interior with its zippered pockets.

The couple had looked ordinary enough, like any other from Levittown or Mamaroneck...or Sayville...or Ronkonkoma. But a few more observant stage hands had noticed that their little girl was odd.... they overheard her asking questions about Howdy, and Buffalo Bob...and of course, Clarabell. She even managed to engage them in a short chat.... Buffalo Bob was carrying a bottle and busy looking for a glass as he passed. He smiled at the child, patted her head which, for some reason, spun completely around. Clarabell was next but pushed by her and the adults muttering something unpleasant about an axe and kindling.... and then it was Howdy! He was accompanied only by his agent, a nice Mrs. Trefeeley, who showed him some changes in the show's script, and the fact that a giraffe and a lemur would be doing a political sketch. Howdy was pleasant, even jolly, and when he was introduced to the little girl (her name was thought to be Irene or Ilene...or was it Lulu?....whatever..) his eyes twinkled.

After all, he was only 11 and he had started to get crushes on his prettier fans.... and she was pretty indeed.... in a ....well... somewhat "society debutante" way. Her eyes had that cool, appraising look to them... the kind that go up and down you "like a searchlight"! That's what they said in the movies! Howdy had heard a lady say that about his Aunt Joan (Crawford!). But he still liked the little girl and her nice parents. They asked if they could meet him after the show for ice cream..or maybe some martinis.... Mrs. Trefeeley saw they were all getting along so nicely, that she excused herself, and went over to scold some stagehands who had pinched her bottom with their rough hands right before lunch...and she wanted to make sure they understood that meant they had to all take her out for dinner that night...to Schrafft's... not someplace cheap! When she turned back around, the married couple was gone...so was Irene/Ilene/Lulu...and Howdy!.. HOWDY!! GONE! Not in his dressing room! Not at the shoe-shine stand with Mr. Clem. Not at the snack table, or in the prop room, or in Wardrobe, or...anywhere.

People began murmuring...then calling out...and finally yelling, and even screaming while out in the studio, the waiting audience began to panic and even cry and scream themselves. ..especially the adults. Buffalo Bob was grabbed by a couple of big policemen and dragged to his dressing room. His bottle and the full glass got spilled and broken, and someone said he cried and threw up. Clarabell was found in the alleyway smoking a $2.00 cigar and talking to himself. The police didn't bother to bring him inside... they just slapped him around out there, and when he sassed them, they slapped him some more, and one of them kicked him in the ass and honked his nose. That shut him up, and he apologized to them. They made him curtsy...like a little girl!..and make donkey-sounds to make sure he got the message! But no matter what everyone was doing inside and out, no trace of Howdy was found. Finally, everyone began to put the couple with the suitcase and the strange little girl together with his disappearance....maybe they weren't from Ronkonkoma after all...

That night's broadcast was canceled while the "Special Reports" went out across the country. Two hours later a note scrawled on double-spaced lined notebook paper and in Crayola's "Eggplant Whimsy" arrived at the studio..... "We want $36,048 in ones and twos in a Donald Duck lunch box by midnight. We'll tell you where to drop it. If you don't, we'll send you Howdy's left arm ..and the hinge! Here's some proof we have him!" ... and there, tacked to the note was...oh God, no! NO!! Mrs. Treffeeley screamed and fainted. So did Buffalo Bob...and a stagehand! The detectives covered their mouths in horror... tacked to the note was a wad of...string...wadded up STRING!!!... oh God!! NO!... and that's when Clarabell, for the first time sounding concerned about his little co-star, that bright and sunny, freckle-faced kid with the big smile for everyone!..that was when Clarabell snarled to anyone listening, "This is why they still send kidnappers to the gas chamber! TO THE GAS CHAMBER!!... C'mon Sergeant! Let's go find my little buddy!" .....And out they all went...but then ...well... you remember how it all ended....

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A New Sybil's "WHO'Z DAT?"... THOMAS MITCHELL (July 11, 1892 – December 17, 1962)


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. And feel free to share them with your friends! 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, this actor qualifies absolutely as an icon of the "Character STAR" set.... bumbling, wise, a smart aleck, a doddering fool, comedies, dramas, even tragedies! His face, and voice are unforgettable and irreplaceable.... he's one of the folks that I hope is waiting to sit and have coffee ‘n’ croissants with me in a Heaven-For-Actors cafe.... He’s Thomas Mitchell (July 11, 1892 – December 17, 1962). In addition to being an actor, he was also a director, playwright, and screenwriter.

         Born Thomas John Mitchell was born to Irish immigrants in Elizabeth, New Jersey, the youngest of seven children. He came from a family of journalists and civic leaders. Both his father and brother were newspaper reporters, and his nephew, James P. Mitchell, later served as Dwight Eisenhower’s Secretary of Labor. The younger Mitchell also became a newspaper reporter after graduating from St. Patrick High School in Elizabeth. However, Mitchell soon found that he enjoyed writing comic theatrical skits much more than chasing late-breaking scoops. He became an actor in 1913, at one point touring with the Charles Coburn Shakespeare Company. Coburn provided young Mitchell with some much-needed experience in the works of William Shakespeare. In late 1916 Mitchell debuted on Broadway in the original play UNDER SENTENCE and would be a fixture on the Great White Way steadily from then to 1935, working on a total of 29 plays. Even while playing leading roles on Broadway into the 1920s Mitchell would continue to write. One of the plays he co-authored, LITTLE ACCIDENT, was eventually made into a film (three times) by Hollywood, and with CLOUDY WITH SHOWERS (1931).

          Although, Mitchell's first credited screen role was in the 1923 silent film SIX CYLINDER LOVE, his first breakthrough role was as the embezzler in Frank Capra’s film LOST HORIZON (1937). Over the next few years, Mitchell appeared in many significant films. Known for his amazing range in both comedy and drama, and even in tragedy, Thomas Mitchell was respected by directors Frank Capra, Howard Hawks, and John Ford as one of the great American character actors, whose credits read like a list of the greatest films of the 20th century. Forty-three of the fifty-nine films in which he acted, were made in the 10-year period from 1936-1946. In 1939 alone he had key roles in STAGECOACH, MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON with James Stewart, ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS with Cary Grant, THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME with Charles Laughton, and GONE WITH THE WIND with Vivien Leigh. He has the distinction of having performed in three of the Oscar nominated films of that year….an unbroken record. Having been nominated for an Oscar for his complex and very sympathetic Dr. Kersaint in THE HURRICANE (1938), and probably better remembered as Scarlett O'Hara's loving but doomed father in GONE WITH THE WIND, it was for his performance as the drunken Doc Boone in STAGECOACH, co-starring John Wayne (in Wayne's breakthrough role), that Mitchell won the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award. In his acceptance speech, he quipped, "I didn't know I was that good". Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, Mitchell acted in a wide variety of roles in productions such as 1940's SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON, 1942's MOONTIDE, 1944's THE KEYS OF THE KINGDOM, (as an atheist doctor) and HIGH NOON (1952) as the town mayor. He is probably best known to audiences today for his role as sad sack Uncle Billy in Capra's Christmas classic IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946) again with James Stewart.

         From the 1950s and into the early 1960s, Mitchell worked primarily in television, appearing in a variety of roles in some of the most well-regarded early series of the era, including PLAYHOUSE 90, DICK POWELL'S ZANE GREY THEATER (in a pilot episode that became the CBS series JOHNNY RINGO), and HALLMARK HALL OF FAME productions. In 1954, he starred in the television version of the radio program, MAYOR OF THE TOWN. And in 1955, he played Kris Kringle in THE 20TH CENTURY-FOX HOUR version of THE MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET opposite Teresa Wright and MacDonald Carey. In 1959, he starred in thirty-nine episodes of the syndicated television series, GLENCANNON, which had aired two years earlier in the United Kingdom. In the early 1960s, Mitchell originated the stage role "Columbo", later made famous on NBC and ABC television by Peter Falk. Columbo was Mitchell's last stage role. His last film role was in POCKETFUL OF MIRACLES (1961) with Bette Davis and again directed by Frank Capra.

          In 1953, Mitchell became the first man to win the "triple crown" of acting awards (Oscar, Emmy, Tony); the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for 1939's STAGECOACH, an Emmy 1952 for Best Actor for TV’s THE DOCTOR, and the following year a Tony Award for best performance by an actor, for the musical HAZEL FLAGG, based on the Carole Lombard film NOTHING SACRED (1937).

          Mitchell died at age 70 from peritoneal mesothelioma in Beverly Hills, California. He had been married twice; Rachel Hartzell (1937 to 1939) and Ann Stuart Breswer, first from 1915 to 1935, and remarried to her 1941 to 1962, by whom he had one daughter, Anne. He has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one for his work in television at 6100 Hollywood Boulevard, and a second star for his work in motion pictures at 1651 Vine Street.

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A 4th of July on Fire Island...

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..... I wish I was a better writer. I wish could describe it well enough...or better yet, I wish each and every one of you could spend a July 4th evening here on Fire Island with me and watch the sun set so grandly over the shimmering lights of a hundred towns all lined up across the Great South Bay on Long Island. And then as the sky darkens, a hundred firework displays begin one-by-one along the shore where each town celebrates in their own proud way! Every once in a while the Summer air carries a faint delayed echo of a soft boom, but for the most part the spectacles are all flash and frenzy with the soft rolling hush of the ocean behind the dunes.... I've seen this same gorgeous sight dozens of times...I watch and think of thousands of people in hundreds of little towns on beautiful Summer nights… and I think of millions of children staring and laughing with joy at their first night of a sky filled with moving colors and lights… their first fireworks...pointing and waving their little hands and smiling up into the loving faces of grown-ups who will cherish them, and love them, and protect them....and it still breaks my heart. I think it always will....

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Get Away!.... From it ALL!!!...

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YES, FRIENDS!!!....the charming little town of Stepford has created the perfect little get-away for you and your whole family! It's the Somnos Chalet Cabin Commune at Camp Conkee-Coma! For a restful Summer vacation, spend just a few days in these peaceful surroundings! Paddle a canoe in the placid Lake Big Sleep Waters, learn various crafts like candle-dipping, lanyard weaving, ceramic and clay arts, or vegetate in our vegetable gardens.... or perhaps you'd like to watch paint dry....

Better than just being happy, everyone is free of all emotions, all stresses, all cares.....Why, some of our guests even claim that after a couple of weeks with us, they can't remember how to get home...And why bother? Just look at all those smiling faces!! They all want you to be one of them....Call today for a brochure....and prepare to leave your troubles, and even yourself behind! (...Each cabin comes with it's own special "pod" to put under the bed for a really great night's sleep....and when you wake up on that first morning, you won't have a care in the world!!!...just like your new friends!!.....Thank you, The Management.

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A New Sybil's "WHO'Z DAT?"... FRIEDA INESCORT (June 29th, 1901 - February 26th, 1976)


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. And feel free to share them with your friends! 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???)… Our Birthday girl tonight has one of those faces you never forget!... and one of those voices you never, ever, ever forget!!

Frieda Inescort (June 29th, 1901 - February 26th, 1976) was born in Edinburgh, Scotland as Frieda Wrightman. She was the daughter of Scots-born journalist John "Jock" Wrightman and actress Elaine Inescort, who was of German and Polish descent. Her parents initially met when he came to review a play she was appearing in. They married in 1899 but eventually parted ways while Frieda was still young. Her impulsive mother, who had strong designs on a theater career and placed it high on her priority list, sent young Frieda off to live with other families and in boarding schools in England and Wales while she avidly pursued her dreams. Although her father divorced Elaine in 1911 charging his wife with abandonment and adultery, Frieda ended up moving to America with her mother. Again, when Elaine found occasional roles in touring shows, Frieda wound up being carted off to convents or boarding schools.

Mother and daughter eventually returned to London following World War I and the young girl, now solely on her own, managed to find employment as a personal secretary to British Member of Parliament Waldorf Astor (2nd Viscount Astor), who was then Parliamentary Secretary to British Prime Minister David Lloyd-George. She also assisted the American-born Lady (Nancy) Astor. While accompanying Lady Astor on a trip to the United States in July 1919, Frieda decided to stay in the States and terminated her position with the Astors. In New York she continued finding secretarial work that supported both her and her unemployed actress-mother. She worked at one point with the British consulate in New York.

Noticing a number of American actors cast in British parts on Broadway, Frieda was encouraged in the early 1920s to test the waters as British actresses were in short supply. By chance, she was introduced to producer/director Winthrop Ames, who gave the unseasoned hopeful a small but showy role in his Broadway comedy THE TRUTH ABOUT BLAYDS (1922) at the Booth Theatre. The play turned out to be a hit. Playwright Philip Barry caught her stage performance and offered her a starring role in his upcoming comedy production YOU AND I (1923). The show proved to be another winner and Frieda, a star on the horizon, finally saw the end of her days as part of a secretarial pool.

With her classic bone-structure and deep mellifluous voice and demeanor, Frieda was most often cast as very sophisticated, wealthy, and even arrogant society doyennes.

Other Broadway credits followed quickly in succession with THE WOMAN ON THE JURY (1923), WINDOWS (1923), THE FAKE (1924), ARIADNE (1925), HAY FEVER (1925), LOVE IN A MIST (1926), MOZART (1926), TRELAWNY OF THE "WELLS" (1927), and ESCAPE (1927-1928). While working in the late 1920s as an assistant for Putnam's Publishing Company in New York, Frieda met assistant editor Ben Ray Redman. They married in 1926 and Redman later became a literary critic for the New York Herald Tribune. Frieda, in the meantime, continued to resonate on the New York and touring stage with such plays as NAPI (1931), COMPANY'S COMING (1931), SPRINGTIME FOR HENRY (1931-1932), WHEN LADIES MEET (1933), FALSE DREAMS, FAREWELL (1934), and LADY JANE (1934). Frieda's happenstance into acting and her sudden surge of success triggered deep envy and jealousy within her mother, who was unemployed. This led to a bitter and long-term estrangement between the two that never managed to heal itself.

For over a decade, Frieda had resisted the cinema, having turned down several offers in silent and early talking films. When her husband was offered a job with Universal Studios as a literary adviser and author, however, and the couple had to relocate to Hollywood, she decided to take a difference stance.

Frieda Wrightman adopted her mother's surname as her professional name. Discovered by a talent scout while performing in a Los Angeles play, Frieda was signed by The Samuel Goldwyn Company and made her debut supporting Fredric March and Merle Oberon in the dewy-eyed drama THE DARK ANGEL (1935) in which she received attractive notices and rare sympathy as blind author March's secretary. She did not stay long at Goldwyn, however, and went on to freelance for various other studios. During the course of her movie career, Frieda could be quite charming on the screen playing a wronged woman (as she did in GIVE ME YOUR HEART (1936)), but she specialized in haughtier roles and played them older and colder than she really was off-camera. She soon gained a classy reputation for both her benign and haughty sophisticates. Some of her other films include MARY OF SCOTLAND (1936) starring Katharine Hepburn and Frederick March. After Warner Bros. signed her up, she showed promise in ANOTHER DAWN (1937) with Errol Flynn, a leading role in CALL IT A DAY (1937) with Olivia de Havilland and Bonita Granville, and THE GREAT O’MALLEY (1937) with Humphrey Bogart, three films in one year. Surprisingly after such an impressive start, however, Warner Bros. lost interest in her career and loaned her out more and more to other studios. When she would be given leading roles, they were mostly in “B” pictures. But her character work continued to excel, especially in THE LETTER (1940) starring an Oscar nominated Bette Davis and Herbert Marshall,) YOU’LL NEVER GET RICH (1941), a Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth hit musical, and the iconic A PLACE IN THE SUN (1951) as Elizabeth Taylor’s mother with Montgomery Clift and Shelley Winters. One of her most famous roles was the conniving Caroline Bingley in the 1940 film version of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE with Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson. Although she continued to work in off and on in Hollywood, Inescort returned to Broadway a few more times with A SOLDIER'S WIFE (1944-1945), THE MERMAIDS SINGING (1945-1946), AND YOU NEVER CAN TELL (1948). Her last appearances in film included a few low-budget clunkers and the two horror-camp-classics THE SHE CREATURE (1956) and THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE (1959) with Lon Chaney, Jr.

 She appeared on television in at least one episode of PERRY MASON as Hope Quentin in "The Case of the Jealous Journalist" (season 5, 1961).  Inescort was one of those distinguished actresses who was valued greatly by her directors and costars and had the distinction of being surrounded by Oscar nominated and winning coworkers though never nominated herself.

On August 2nd, 1961, she and her husband since 1926, Ben Ray Redman, dined out. Redman had been despondent for some time. Returning home, he went upstairs to bed. He then called Frieda, informing her that he was depressed over the state of the world and had taken 12 sedative pills. By the time the paramedics arrived, he had died, a suicide at the age of 65. He had been working as a writer for the Saturday Review Magazine and was also involved in the translation of European classic literature into English.

Inescort herself had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in the 1930s and had suffered periodically as the years went by. Her disease accelerated after her husband's death, and she was using a wheelchair by the mid 1960s. On July 7th, 1964, her estranged mother, British actress Elaine Inescourt, died in Brighton, England, aged 87. Though unable to work in either film or onstage, Frieda Inescort worked as much as possible for the multiple sclerosis association. Often seen in the Hollywood area seated in her wheelchair, she collected donations outside supermarkets and in malls for several years. Inescort died on February 26th, 1976 at the Motion Picture Country Home at Woodland Hills, California from the disease she had battled since 1932. She was 74.

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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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