Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Underdog Series Part 6

(All Pictures courtesy of Doctor Macro)

In honor of it being Melvyn Douglas' 108th birthday today, I figured I would do the Underdog Series blog post today. I thought it would be great to do Melvyn Douglas, not only was he charmingly funny but the man could act. He never got the attention he most certainly deserved and that's why I've chosen him as a candidate for the Underdog Series. Every film of his, I find entertaining just because he's in it. He's a riot to watch and is always so classy in his films, no matter how nutty the roles got for him.

Melvyn Douglas was born Melvyn Edouard Hesselberg on April 5th 1901 in Macon Georgia to a Russian Jewish Immigrant father and a mother with Scottish heritage. His father supported his family by teaching music at conservatories.

While still in high school, Melvyn dropped out to pursue his dream of becoming an actor. He first started his career on Broadway. At the age of 27, he made his Broadway debut in "A Free Soul". In the Broadway play, he played the gangster that would later be played Clark Gable in the motion picture film. "A Free Soul" was moderately successful, doing 100 performances. After the moderate success of "A Free Soul'', Melvyn's other plays didn't fare out so well.

After the failure of being in a few plays, Melvyn's luck changed for the better. He was cast in a Broadway play that change his life forever. The play was titled "Tonight or Never" which opened on November 18th 1930 and Melvyn received rave reviews. The play ran for an astounding 232 performances and during the run, Melvyn met the woman of his dreams, his costar from the play Helen Gahagan.

On April 5th 1931, on Melvyn's 30th birthday married his Broadway costar Helen Gahagan. The couple would remain married until her death in 1980. The couple had two children named Peter(born 1933) and Mary Helen(born 1938). Melvyn was previously to a woman named Rosalind Hightower and the couple had two children named Gregory(born 1920) and Melvyn Jr.(born 1921).

As the Hollywood began a new era of films, Melvyn's career in Hollywood began to blossom. His first major role was "Tonight or Never", the Broadway play in which he starred in. He starred alongside silent screen queen Gloria Swanson.

Each film role brought a new challenge for Melvyn and he continued to be popular in his movies throughout the 1930's and 1940's. In the late 1930's, Melvyn tested for the part of Ashley Wilkes but it was believed that he looked to old for the part. Instead a much older Leslie Howard played the role of Ashley Wilkes.

Though loosing out for the role of Ashley Wilkes, Melvyn did snatch a grand role by playing opposite Greta Garbo in hilarious comedy "Ninotchka". Melvyn and Greta received excellent reviews for the film but when they teamed up again for the lackluster comedy "Two Faced Woman", the pair would never work together again as it was Greta's last motion picture film. She would never return to the screen again.

Melvyn rebounded fairly easily from the blunder and continued to make more films. In the late 1940's, Melvyn had been graylisted which means he wasn't offered as much work because of his political beliefs. Melvyn was a liberal democrat and many of his fellow democrats were being either graylisted of blacklisted from Hollywood.

During the 50's, Melvyn made more appearances on television than he did in the movies. Melvyn's success came when he starred alongside Paul Newman, Patricia Neal, and Brandon De Wilde in the film "Hud". Melvyn did such an amazing job in the film, he won best supporting actor for his performance as the father of Paul Newman. In 1979, Melvyn won his second best supporting actor Oscar, for his role in "Being There'' starring opposite Peter Sellers and Shirley Maclaine.

Melvyn continued to work both on the big screen and on television and in 1980 he starred opposite Fred Astaire, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, and John Houseman in the horror flick "Ghost Story".

In the 1970's, his wife ran up against Richard Nixon for U.S. Senate and his wife was criticized for being "soft" for communism which was completely false. She lost but she did give Richard Nixon a new nickname which was "Tricky Dick".

On June 28th 1980, the love of Melvyn's life passed away. A year later on August 4th 1981, Melvyn passed away to be with his wife.

Best Films-

"Being There"
"I Never Sang for My Father"
"Too Many Husbands"

I think I'll do Janet Gaynor next for The Underdog Series and make sure you vote for the poll. Have a great Sunday everyone!


Kate Gabrielle said...

I adore Melvyn Douglas-- what a great post!! I think I'll finally do my painting of him tomorrow (my mom's favorite actor, so she's been begging me to do one for a while!) I'll just link to your post instead of just re-iterating everything you just wrote :)

I can't wait to read your Janet Gaynor post-- have you see The Young in Heart? That's my favorite of her films.

Sebina said...

He is one of my favorite actors...I loved this post... Loved :)

Lolita said...

Great post, really! I didn't know much of Melvyn Douglas, so I'm delighted! Thank you. And I'll put "Too Many Husbands" on my to-see-list!

Caitlin said...

This was a wonderful post. I think Melvyn Douglas is one of the best actors of all time. He was incredible in all if not a majority of his films. Thanks again for the post!

Nicole said...

Ohh I can't wait to see your painting of Melvyn Douglas. Haha okay that's fine by me. Yes I have seen it, it was such a cute movie.

Thanks Sebina!

Ohh no problem Lolita, glad I could introduce you someone new.

No problem at all I'm really glad you liked it!