Cinema 1934: You Must Remember This…..Events, Trends, Movies, Stars

Research in Progress: May 16, 2021

Cineliteracy: What You Need to Know about 1934 as a Movie and Pop Culture Year?

Does anyone remember Grace Moore today?

How Shirley Temple saved the Fox studio from bankruptcy?

Which film won the Best Picture Oscar?

Who were the most popular and bankable movie stars?

Claudette Colbert’s career?

Bette Davis Oscar scandal?

Events

January 26 –

Samuel Goldwyn (formerly of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) purchases the film rights to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz from the L. Frank Baum estate for $40,000.

April 19 –

Fox Studios releases Stand Up and Cheer!, with five-year-old Shirley Temple in a minor role. Shirley steals the film and Fox, which had been near bankruptcy, finds its savior

May 18 –

Paramount releases Little Miss Marker, with Shirley Temple, on loan from Fox, in the title role.

June 13 –

An amendment to Production Code establishes the Production Code Administration, and requires all films to obtain a certificate of approval before being released.

July 28 –

Canadian-born actress Marie Dressler, best known for starring in Min and Bill and Emma, dies from cancer in Santa Barbara, California at the age of 65. For her performance in Min and Bill, Dressler received the Academy Award for Best Actress.

October 12 –

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers star in The Gay Divorcee, which grossed $1.8 million to add to the $1.5 million, earned by Flying Down to Rio released at the end of 1933

November 12 –

The musical Babes in Toyland debuts, starring Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy as comic relief.

December 11 –

Fox releases the Sol M. Wurtzel production of Bright Eyes, starring Shirley Temple. Shirley sings “On the Good Ship Lollipop,” and wins the first Oscar ever given to a child, for her endearing portrayal of Shirley Blake.

Stars:

Will Rogers, America’s homespun philosopher, is named top box-office star.

Gloria Swanson, the great silent star, announces retirement after several of her talkies bombed at the box-office. She would enjoy a major comeback in Billy Wilder’s classic noir of 1950, “Sunset Boulveard,” for which she would earn Best Actress Oscar nomination.

Movies:

William Powell and Myrna Loy star as chic sleuths as Nick and Nora Charles in MGM’s “The Thin Man,” a huge box-office hit launching a long, successful film series.

Fashion impact:

Clark Gable takes off his shirt, revealing a bare chest in It Happened One Night, and the undershirt sales plummet 50 percent.

Pop Culture and Politics

In Chicago, FBI agents shoot gangster John Dillinger outside the Biography Theater, after he had seen the movie Manhattan Melodrama, starring Clark Gable.

Note:

If you want to know more about these issues, please read my book:

 

Popular Movie Stars (rank-ordered)

Will Rogers

Clark Gable

Janet Gaynor

Wallace Beery

Mae West

Joan Crawford

Bing Crosby

Shirley Temple

Marie Dressler

Norma Shearer

 

OSCAR 1934: Best Picture Nominees

The 7th Academy Awards was held on February 27, 1935, at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, hosted by Irvin S. Cobb.

For the first time, the Academy standardized the norm that the award eligibility period for films would be the preceding calendar year (Jan 1-Dec 31).

Most nominations: One Night of Love (Columbia Pictures): 6

The Barretts of Wimpole Street

Cleopatra

Flirtation Walk

The Gay Divorcee

Here Comes the Navy

The House of Rothchild

Imitation of Life

It Happened One Night (Best Picture Winner)

One Night of Love

The Thin Man

Viva Villa!

The White Parade

 

Top-Grossing Films

1. Cleopatra, Paramount Pictures $1,929,000

2. One Night of Love, Columbia Pictures $1,700,000

3. Broadway Bill $1,400,000

4. Forsaking All Others, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer $1,399,000

5. It Happened One Night, Columbia Pictures $1,366,000 (Oscar winner)

6. Chained, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer $1,301,000

7. Belle of the Nineties Paramount Pictures $1,300,000

8. Wonder Bar Warner Bros. $1,264,000

9. The Barretts of Wimpole Street, MGM, $1,258,000

10. Here Comes the Navy, Warner Bros. $1,183,000

 

Scandals

One of the biggest scandals in Oscar 1934 was the Academy’s failure to nominate Bette Davis for her powerful performance as the sluttish, cruel waitress in the first screen version of Somerset Maugham’s “Of Human Bondage.”

Under contract at Warner, Davis begged studio head Jack Warner to loan her out to RKO, where John Cromwell, a melodrama expert, was making “Of Human Bondage” as a star vehicle for Oscar-winner Leslie Howard, then at his prime.

As Mildred, the slatternly Cockney waitress who torments Howard’s crippled intellectual, the reviewers thought that Davis gave a strong dramatic turn, establishing herself as one of Hollywood’s best actresses. Hence, Life magazine wrote that Davis gave “the best performance ever recorded on the screen by an American actress.” Jumping on the bandwagon, the usually reserved British author Maugham also praised Davis’ work in publicly. But despite good reviews, the film was a commercial flop.

When the nominations were announced, Davis and entourage were shocked to realize that she had been snubbed. In fact, the trade magazine The Holly Reporter demanded so see the distribution of the votes in the Best Actress category. As a result, columns and editorials were written and the Academy was bombarded by telegrams from various artists demanding a write-in final ballot to give Davis a fair chance at the contest.

Rather Unprecedently, two weeks after the nominations were made public, the Academy’s president, writer Howard Estabrook, issued a statement: “Despite the fact that the criticism fails to take into consideration that the nominations have been made by the unrestricted votes of each branch, the awards committee has decided upon a change in the rules to permit unrestricted selection of any voter, who may write on the ballot his personal choice for the winner.”

Unfazed, Davis announced she would attend the ceremonies. Years later, she observed in her autobiography: “The air was thick with rumors. It seemed inevitable that I would receive the coveted award. The press, the public and the members of the Academy who did the voting were sure I would win! Surer than I!”

As is known, the Best Actress winner in 1934 was Claudette Colbert for the screwball comedy, It Happened One Night, which swept most of the important Oscars, including Picture, Director for Frank Capra, Actor for Clark Gable, and Adapted Writing for Robert Riskin.

Davis would win the Oscar the following year, for the melodrama Dangerous, in which she gave a lesser performance in a lesser film.

 Significant Foreign Films

L’Atalante (France, Jean Vigo)