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Death By Sound: The Tragic Tale of Karl Dane

Hollywood, like crocodiles, sometimes eats its own. Take, for example, the tragic story of actor and comic Karl Dane.

Dane, who was born Rasmus Karl Therkelsen Gottlieb in Copenhagen in 1886, boarded a steamer headed for Ellis Island 30 years later with $25 in his pocket.

Despite limited English, Dane soon landed a part playing a German chancellor in a film made in New York called My Four Years in Germany. The anti-German propaganda film was the first major hit for fledgling producers Warner Bros. and led to more parts for Dane on the East Coast.

He later moved west, settling in Van Nuys in 1921, where he married and started a new career as a farmer. Two years later his wife and newborn baby daughter died in childbirth, and Dane returned to films.

In 1924, Dane appeared in the silent blockbuster The Big Parade, which starred John Gilbert and Renee Adoree. The success of the film led to more work for the Danish immigrant alongside Rudolph Valentino in Son of the Sheik.

While most of his previous silent film roles were as “heavies,” Dane was teamed up with Scotsman George K. Arthur in 1927 as part of the comic duo Dane & Arthur. The series of comedy shorts they created proved popular, and MGM rewarded Dane with a long-term contract.

And then came sound.

With the arrival of “talkies,” Dane’s heavily-accented voice didn’t translate well to audiences, and he was soon cut by MGM.

The Dane & Arthur team disbanded after a lengthy vaudeville tour, with Dane later trying his hand at a variety of jobs before returning to the stage in an unsuccessful bid to make it as a solo performer.

By the end of 1933, Dane found himself in the humiliating position of running a hot dog stand outside of the MGM gates; the studio where he had been a star a short time earlier. Former friends at the studio, perhaps to save him embarrassment, avoided his establishment, which failed a short time later.

During this week in April 1934, Dane was robbed of his last $18. Afterwards, he went back to his Hollywood apartment and killed himself with a revolver where he was later found by a friend.

For a time his body lay unclaimed until Danish actor Jean Hersholt convinced MGM to pay for Dane’s burial at what is today Hollywood Forever Cemetery, the same burial ground where his old co-star Rudolph Valentino was interred a few years earlier.

Drawn Together

Joseph Barbera, who was born 100 years ago today, and Ub Iwerks, who would be turning 110, shared a common birthday, the same profession (animation), and both became half of partnerships which forever changed the history of animated entertainment.

Barbera (pronounced Bar-Bear-Ah) was half of the enormously successful Hanna-Barbera Productions team that in 30 years brought over 3000 half-hour episodes of animated programming to television. Their roster of shows included The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Yogi Bear, The Huckleberry Hound Show, and Scooby-Doo.

Born on this date in 1911 in Manhattan to Sicilian immigrants, Barbera discovered a penchant for drawing early in life, and for many years worked for animators in New York. In 1937, he was lured to California by MGM where he sat next to a young Californian animator named William Hanna.

The two would develop the Tom and Jerry franchise in 1940, and would oversee the production of 114 shorts featuring the cat and mouse team over the next 17 years. Along the way, the animated duo would be nominated for 14 Academy Awards, winning seven, and appear in some noted live-action films, like Anchors Aweigh with Gene Kelly.

After the MGM brass abruptly closed down their animation division in 1957, Hanna and Barbera created their own company, with Hanna getting top billing by winning a coin toss.

The two men had quite different personalities. Hanna was a homebody, but Barbera liked the nightlife, and included several celebrities among his roster of friends. But together they formed the rarest creature in business: the perfect partnership. It was said that in all the decades they worked side by side, that hardly a cross word ever passed between the two men.

The name Ub Iwerks isn’t well known outside of animation circles, but it should be, as he is largely responsible for the creation of a character you may have heard of named Mickey Mouse.

Ub, a child of German immigrants, was born in Kansas City ten years to the day prior to Barbera, and like his younger colleague, would later form a partnership with another young animator that would alter popular culture.

The animator in question was, of course, Walt Disney, who worked with Iwerks at the same commercial art firm in Kansas City. In 1920, the two formed a partnership called Iwerks-Disney Commercial Artists, which, had it succeeded, may have made Iwerks a household name.

Instead, the firm dissolved and Walt migrated west to create animation, eventually bringing Ub out to work at Disney Brothers Productions, of which Iwerks received a 20% share of the partnership.

Walt and Ub formed a successful animation team, with the visionary Disney creating stories, and the machine-like Iwerks bringing Walt’s vision to life by creating as many as 600 drawings a day!

The men first struck gold, or at least thought they did, with the character Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. But after Oswald was lost in an ownership dispute with Universal, the two men collaborated on a new character named Mickey Mouse, born of a combination of Walt’s vision and Ub’s steady hand.

Disney and Iwerks, like Hanna and Barbera, had very different personalities, with charismatic Walt contrasting sharply with Ub, who had a serious disposition and was shy around women.

The success of Mickey brought an end to the Disney-Iwerks collaboration, as Ub – chafing under the workload and lack of credit he felt he was getting from Walt – left to form his own animation studio, which folded a few years later.

Iwerks would eventually return to Disney, but as a worker, not a partner, having sold his 20% share of the Disney empire back to Walt, thereby costing his heirs billions in future equity.

Joseph Barbera and Ub Iwerks, through talent, hard work, and (at least for a time in Ub’s case) successful partnerships, created some of the world’s most beloved animated characters, leaving behind legacies of laughter.

Thanks, guys and “Happy Birthday” to you both.


Film’s Forgotten Four-footers

(Today’s post is by Deadwrite’s Dailies guest writer, Steve Goldstein.)

Back in July, 2007, I had the unique experience of being the featured guest on California’s Gold with Huell Howser. It turned out that Huell was a fan of my Beneath Los Angeles website and wanted to do a show about animal actors. Dead animal actors.

Huell asked me to lead him on a tour of the graves of these deceased four-footers, especially the ones who aren’t in cemeteries, since many were buried in backyards and studio lots that are now paved over and lost to history.

I met Huell and his cameraman, Cameron Tucker (yes, Cameron the cameraman) at 8:30 in the morning in Hollywood. Huell, who has been on the air for about 25 years, used to have a cameraman named Louie who he would frequently speak to on camera, saying things like “Louie, get a shot of this,” or “Louie, zoom in on that.” Throughout the day passersby wanted to know if Cameron was the famous Louie, which annoyed the cameraman. At one point he said to me, “Louie has been gone five years now. You’d think people would have figured that out by now.”

Huell began the show at Hollywood Forever Cemetery talking about how people come from near and far to visit celebrity graves. He then explained the twist of how we would be finding the graves of animal stars that day. After that he introduced me, and led into the segment with his catchphrase, “Our adventure begins … right now!”

Huell likes to shoot the show in sequence, even if it means crisscrossing the city many times.

Our first stop was the bank parking lot in Glendale where the Western studio town of Mixville once stood back in 1914. It was here that cowboy star Tom Mix made many of his early films with his trusted horse, Old Blue. When Old Blue died, he was buried on the studio lot. Years later the entire set was leveled and a shopping center was put up in its place. A branch of East-West Bank stands at the south end of the former property and today the bank’s parking lot rests right over the grave of the horse.   

Then it was on to Studio City to find the grave of Terry, the dog who played Toto in 1939’s family classic The Wizard of Oz. The site of Terry’s grave was formerly the ranch of his trainer, Carl Spitz. This property is also now a parking lot and apartment complex resting adjacent to the Ventura Freeway. Every day, thousands of commuters drive over the grave of Toto, who is buried under the freeway.

Our next stop was Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, near Burbank. Forest Lawn is historically cagey with celebrity seekers, and not surprisingly, they wouldn’t allow us to film there. Instead, we stood across the street and talked about Frank Inn, the animal actor trainer who is buried in the cemetery along with the ashes of three of his most famous actors, Benji, Arnold the Pig, and Tramp, the dog from My Three Sons.

We ended our day at the LA Pet Memorial Park in Calabasas, where we could see the actual graves of some celebrity animals. Unlike Forest Lawn, this place was very cooperative (as was Hollywood Forever), and very happy to have Huell Howser on the premises. Here, we filmed the graves of Kabar Valentino (faithful pet Doberman of Rudolph), Topper (Hopalong Cassidy’s horse), Petey (the Our Gang dog), and Tawney, the lion who roars at the start of all MGM Films.

The show we filmed that day is called Pet Cemetery and is replayed three or four times a year, so set your TiVo’s and DVR’s! 

Huell, by the way, was a hoot during the entire day. He truly loves doing what he does.

Steve Goldstein is the author of LA’s Graveside Companion: Where the V.I.P.s R.I.P. Schiffer Books, 2009.