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Arthur “Dooley” Wilson

Arthur Wilson was born in Tyler, Smith County, Texas. There is some question about his actual date of birth, but it is often shown as being April 3, 1886 with his mother’s maiden name being Lamkin and his father’s name being Wilson. In some accounts he is shown as being younger, but in the 1900 federal census, he is listed as being fifteen, living south of downtown Tyler with his mother Manda Wilson and brother George. Accounts of his early life often state that by age twelve, Arthur was performing in minstrel shows and that his nickname was adopted in the 1920s from his performances singing an Irish tune “Mr. Dooley.”

Wilson is known to have widely performed on Broadway and in other venues before beginning to be cast in feature films in the late 1930s. He is likely best known for his depiction of the character Sam in the 1942 film “Casablanca” in which he sings the familiar “As Time Goes By” in Rick’s Cafe Americain, run by the character played by Humphrey Bogart.

The story of “Casablanca” itself is interesting. According to Aljean Harmetz’s book “Round Up The Usual Suspects: The Making of ‘Casablanca'” the Warner Brothers film was originally to have starred Ronald Reagan, Ann Sheridan and Dennis Morgan. Reagan was unavailable, having been scheduled to join the Army. At the time, actors were under contract to various studios but to fill their casts, studios would negotiate with each other to allow actors to participate in the projects of their competitors. The actors would be paid by the studio with which they had signed and that studio would be compensated by the studio that used the actor. By the time the “Casablanca” actors had been signed, the lead roles were to to be performed by Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman with a wonderful supporting cast that included Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Wilson and many others. The film was also to refer to the plight of refugees from World War II countries, and according to all sources, many extras in the film were indeed actual refugees. Concerning Wilson, according to the Harmetz book, producer Hal Wallis was not entirely happy with Wilson at one point, having some unknown objection. However, the casting of Wilson as Sam turned out to be an inspired choice, since Wilson’s acting (however brief) and his singing became one of the more memorable parts of the film.

(Image credit: Embassy Pictures/Getty Images)

By the time he was cast as Sam, Wilson was already a well known musician. Though he was portrayed in the film as a singer and keyboard player, he had actually been a vocalist and drummer in various other venues, and was not well versed on piano. In “Casablanca” (his sixth film) the scenes were reportedly filmed with Wilson singing as he copied the hand movements of an offstage pianist, Elliot Carpenter. Carpenter is said to have been the only other African American in the company. He and Wilson became friends, along with their wives. Studio musician Jean Vincent Plummer dubbed Wilson’s keyboard part for the film.

In “Casablanca,” Wilson performs at least six songs, or portions of them, including what became the signature song for the film, “As Time Goes By,” composed by Herman Hupfield. Portions of the melody are also woven into the Max Steiner soundtrack. “As Time Goes By” had been written by Hupfield for a 1931 musical named “Everybody’s Welcome.” Wilson was unable to make a commercial recording of it after the film’s release due to a musician’s strike, and an early version was released using a 1931 recording of Rudy Vallee which became a number one hit.

Wilson went on to appear in at least a dozen more films, including one more with Bogart named “Knock on Any Door” released by Columbia Pictures. He was initially uncredited, but in it he again plays a musician in a club or bar in a wide shot with the other actors being positioned on either side of a wide shot to focus on Wilson singing and playing the piano.

Wilson had a long and successful career including many appearances in Harlem venues in Manhattan, New York. He was highly billed alongside noted entertainers such as Ethyl Waters in such works as “Cabin In the Sky.” Wilson was always appreciative of the support he received from theatrical audiences and was quoted as saying that without approval from them, “I would have never made the grade.”

Wilson died of natural causes in 1953 and was survived by his wife, the former Estelle Froman Williams. Wilson is buried at Angelus Rosedale Cemetery in Los Angeles, California.

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Posted by on October 29, 2020 in biography, black history, entertainers, films

 

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Ginger Rogers

The actress known as Ginger Rogers (Virginia Katherine McMath) was born July 16, 1911 to William Eddins McMath and the former Lela Emogene Owens in Independence, Missouri.  Her birth father was an electrical engineer and her mother was a reporter, scriptwriter and movie producer.  Her parents separated soon after she was born and Ginger was raised by her mother and maternal grandparents in Kansas City.  When she was nine years old, Lela married John Logan Rogers.  Ginger took her stepfather’s last name, although she was likely never formally adopted.  Her mother wrote for a local newspaper in Fort Worth, Texas covering entertainment, exposing Ginger to the field and the life of entertainment.  Ginger won a Charleston dance contest when she was fourteen years old and is known to have begun appearing in vaudeville shows after that.

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Posted by on October 1, 2020 in biography, entertainers, films

 

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Greer Garson

On August 6, 1939, the Harlingen, Texas Valley Morning Star read “Donat Stars In New Film” followed by the sub heading ‘Goodbye Mr. Chips” in Mercedes, Texas.  The article went on to describe the latest film of popular leading man Robert Donat.  Based on the James Hilton novel of the same name, the film tells the story of the life and teaching career of Charles Edward Chipping, a Latin teacher at a British boys’ school.  Donat’s character falls for and marries a beautiful and flashy young woman named Katherine, played by actress Greer Garson in her debut performance.  Revealed in a series of flashbacks, the film portrays the events in Chipping’s life and the individuals who were part of it.  Donat would go on to win an Oscar for Best Actor.  The film was the first major role in the long and successful career of Garson.  She was also nominated for an Oscar that year, but the award went instead to Vivian Leigh for her performance in “Gone With The Wind.”

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Posted by on July 16, 2020 in entertainers, films, schools

 

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Edna Gladney

Edna Browning Kahly was born on January 22, 1886 to Maurice (or Morris) and Minnie Nell Jones Kahly in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Nothing is easily found about her father, but by 1900, Minnie Nell, her mother, Edna and her sister were living with Minnie’s mother in Milwaukee.  Around 1903 Edna was sent to Texas to live with relatives in Fort Worth and about three years later in 1906, she married Samuel William Gladney.  Sam was born in 1877 in Commanche County to Thomas Lacy and Joyce Cathron Bowdon Gladney in 1882.  Tom was a rancher there in West Texas.  By 1900, Sam was 22 and living with the family in Gainesville, Cooke County, Texas.

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Posted by on May 28, 2020 in biography, films, texas women, Uncategorized

 

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Giant (1956)

Giant was the 1956 film adaptation of Edna Ferber’s epic novel of the same name.  Ferber’s 1952 best seller was about an enterprise reportedly modeled after the legendary King Ranch of south Texas.  The film tells the story of a ranching family (the Benedicts) in Texas, along with their romances and conflicts, set in the early to the mid 1900s.  The project was bankrolled by Warner Brothers with George Stevens as director.  The script was adapted by Fred Guiol who had worked with Stephens before. Original music was composed by Dimitri Tiomkin, who already had amassed a lengthy and impressive resume even by 1955.

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Posted by on May 24, 2018 in films

 

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