Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A Farewell from Adrienne, Moderator of POC in Classic Film

Hello Friends and Family,

It pains me to even type this out, but as you can see, I have made the decision to bring posting on People of Color in Classic Film to an end. I am forever grateful for your following, your love, your commentary, and everything else you’ve done to support this blog. I’ve learned so much about entertainment history from running this blog; I’ve watched some great movies, and I’ve virtually met and befriended some great people.

For the last four months, I’ve been interning at the Virginia Film Office—this internship has allowed me to stay quite busy—a fun kind of busy! I’ve met some great people in Virginia’s film industry, had the opportunity to visit movie and television sets, and probably most importantly, I’ve been able to acquire some paid and volunteer opportunities on a few movies being filmed in the state. I’ve quickly learned that whether I’m wearing my intern hat, a Production Assistant hat, or even a one-day volunteer hat, the world of film is a spontaneous one—it’s get up and go, no questions asked. This kind of working life has prevented me from doing the things I was able to do consistently when I was in college or when I was out of work. I wished and prayed for work, for opportunities to be productive, and I finally got them, so now, I have to sacrifice a few things, and sadly, People of Color in Classic Film is one of those things.

But this isn’t a total goodbye—I have another blog called “The Life of an Aige Old Soul”—this blog is currently on Blogger, as well, but I will be moving it somewhere else (please check out my website for updates). On the “new” blog, I will still be expressing my love for entertainment history (including POC in Classic Film history) through posts—the only thing is, I just won’t have scheduled segments. I will be consistent without constraining myself.

I will not delete this blog, but I will however be deleting its social media pages.

Again, thank you all for your love and your support. See you on The Life of an Aige Old Soul!


Sunday, September 27, 2015

Theresa Harris in "Tell No Tales" (1939)

In Tell No Tales, Melvyn Douglas plays the role of 'Michael Cassidy', the managing-editor of The Guardian, a small newspaper that's about to be closed by its owner. When Cassidy gets a hold of one of the one-hundred dollar bills paid in the ransom of a recent kidnapping, he takes it upon himself to trace the dollar bill back to the kidnappers. He traces the bill back to various people, including the widow of a prizefighter named Ruby--played by Theresa Harris.

Tell No Tales is one of the most gripping mysteries I've ever watched. As Michael Cassidy traces the bill back to different people, he uncovers mini-mysteries and dramas throughout--and it was extremely exciting to watch! You should check it out--it is available on YouTube.


Theresa Harris' Performance

Although the character of 'Ruby' works as a maid, her work isn't particularly relevant to Theresa Harris' brief appearance in Tell No Tales. As mentioned before, Ruby is the widow of recently killed prizefighter, Jim Alley. Tell No Tales presents to us a rare dramatic performance from Theresa Harris--and if you ask me, it was worthy of all acting awards. 

*GIF Images from the film below*

I urge you to watch Tell No Tales--and if you just want to see Harris' performance, you can watch the second part of the movie's upload and skip to 6:58.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Theresa Harris Appreciation (Movies Online)

Below is a list of links to movies (and a television episode) available online that feature our Star of the Month, the late Theresa Harris.


Theresa Harris played the role of the "Powder Room Attendant" in Merrily We Go to Hell (1932), available on YouTube.

TH with Matthew "Stymie" Beard in Free Wheeling (1932)

TH played the role of the "Maid" on the Our Gang shot, Free Wheeling (1932), available on YouTube.

TH played the role of the "Ladies Room Attendant" in Night After Night (1932), available on YouTube.

With Barbara Stanwyck in Baby Face (1933)

TH played the role of "Chico" in Baby Face (1933), arguably her most notable role. This film is available on YouTube. The ending is cut off, however.

TH played the role of "Joan's Maid" in Broadway Thru a Keyhole (1933), available on YouTube.

Our Star of the Month played the role of the "Sacrificed Girl" in Black Moon (1934), also available on YouTube

Theresa Harris singing "St. Louis Blues" in Banjo On My Knee (1936)

Theresa Harris played the role of the "Black Blues Singer" in Banjo On My Knee (1936). This film is available on both YouTube and Dailymotion.

She played the role of the "Black U.S. Team Member on the Sidelines Rooting for Jesse Owens" (phew!) in Charlie Chan at the Olympics (1937). This film is available on YouTube.

With Melvyn Douglas in Tell No Tales (1939)

TH played the role of "Ruby" in 1939's Tell No Tales, also available on YouTube in parts.

As she appeared in The Velvet Touch (1958) (not listed) - Vintage Black Glamour

TH played the role of the "Maid" in Santa Fe Trail (1940), available on YouTube.

In Strange Illusion (1945), available on both YouTube and Dailymotion. Theresa Harris played the role of (guess) the "Maid". 

In 1945's The Dolly Sisters, Theresa Harris played the role of "Ellabelle". This film is available on Dailymotion in parts.

TH played the role of the "Maid" in Three Little Girls in Blue (1946). This film is also available for viewing on Dailymotion in parts.

On the cover of a Sept. 1952 issue of Jet magazine.
(Very curious about the "Why Men Beat Their Wives" story, though...)

Theresa Harris played the role of "Esther" in The File on Thelma Jordon (1950). This was the third time she'd appeared in a film with Barbara Stanwyck. It's available on YouTube.

In "The Girl at the Station", a 1955 episode of Amos 'n' Andy, Theresa Harris played the role of "Gloretta". You can watch the episode on YouTube.

Theresa Harris on the left in The Gift of Love (1958). She played Scatman Crothers' wife in the film!

Finally, you can watch Theresa Harris in her final screen appearance as "Dora - Sam's Wife" in The Gift of Love (1958). It is available in parts on YouTube.


Ms. Harris was uncredited in all but six of these roles--Free Wheeling, Baby Face, The Toy Wife, Tell No Tales, The File on Thelma Jordan, and "The Girl at the Station" episode of Amos 'n' Andy. Of her 90+ screen appearances, she was credited in only about 25 of them.

Friday, September 18, 2015

That's OLD News! (#15) - Theresa Harris & Co-Stars

This month's installment of "That's OLD News!" contains historic news articles on our Star of the Month, Theresa Harris and fellow performers of color who appeared in some of the same films as she.


"81 Year-Old Gets Film Role"
St. Petersburg Times - Jul 7, 1954

That 81-year old was Nellie Conley, aka Madame Sul-Te-Wan--and the film the short article speaks of may have been Carmen Jones (1954). Madame Sul-Te-Wan made her screen debut in 1915 (at the age of 42). Over the span of about four decades, she appeared in over fifty movies--including the pre-code crime drama, Thunderbolt (1929) with Theresa Harris. This article above provides some additional must-read trivia about Madame Sul-Te-Wan!

*I believe that Madame Sul-Te-Wan might be the bellhop (or hat check girl?) in the beginning of the clip above.

"Blue Blowers on the Air"

Curtis Mosby and his popular jazz and blues band, the Blue Blowers accompanied singer/actors in numerous films through the late 1920s and early 1930s. They accompanied Theresa Harris as she sang "Daddy, Won't You Please Come Home" in Thunderbolt. As indicated in the article above, Curtis Mosby and his Blue Blowers "went on the air" in 1927--when the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) began broadcasting in new cities on the West Coast, the band was selected as their musical headliner.

"Flying - Rochester Learns to Pilot Plane"

In July of 1940, Eddie "Rochester" Anderson flew into New York from Detroit for an opening at a Paramount Theater. He also performed "My, My" at the opening, the song he sang with Theresa Harris in Buck Benny Rides Again (1940). 

"New Million Dollar Film to Premiere"

Gang Smashers (starring Nina Mae McKinney) was written and produced by the legendary Ralph Cooper, and also distributed by the film company he'd co-founded, Million Dollar Productions. The year before, Ralph Cooper appeared in Gangsters on the Loose with Theresa Harris. He also wrote and produced the film.

"Universal Signs Carolyn Snowden"

Carolynne Snowden (posted by The Loudest Voice - Tumblr)

Unsung stage and screen performer, Carolynne Snowden (sometimes referred to as Carolyn or Caroline) signed a contract with Universal Pictures in 1926 (for The Marriage Clause). She appeared in movies for many of the other Hollywood studios, including The Green Pastures (1936), a film that, like Snowden, Theresa Harris played an Angel in.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Theresa Harris Bio (Star of the Month, Sept. 2015)

"The Beautiful Maid", "Dainty", "sepia-toned comedienne"--most newspaper and magazine articles always made sure to reference her physical beauty before mentioning her name, Theresa Harris, People of Color in Classic Film's featured star for September 2015.

Theresa Harris was born on December 31, 1906 (some sources say 1909) to sharecroppers Isaiah and Mable in Houston, Texas. The Harris family relocated to California when Theresa was about eleven. After graduating from the infamous Jefferson High School, she attended the UCLA Conservatory of Music and Zoellner's Conservatory of Music to become a music teacher. Theresa had the voice and the talent, and she'd gained the education, but like many others, Hollywood started calling her name in the 1920s.

Theresa Harris made her film debut as a singer in the 1929 film, Thunderbolt. Over the next two (almost three) decades, she would play singers, servants, "tribal women", and random background characters in almost one hundred movies. Although she typically played their servants (and many times went uncredited), Theresa Harris is often praised for playing alongside more Hollywood starlets than any other Hollywood actor or actress--from the ladies gone too soon, like Thelma Todd (Horse Feathers), Lupe VĂ©lez (The Half Naked Truth), and Jean Harlow (Hold Your Man); to the women who lived long enough to see their impact, like Barbara Stanwyck (Baby Face, her most notable role, and Banjo on My Knee), Ginger Rogers (Professional Sweetheart), and Bette Davis (Jezebel).

(With Eddie "Rochester" Anderson in Buck Benny Rides Again, 1940)

Most of Harris' credits were from the 1930s and 1940s. As the mid-1950s rolled around, she appeared less in film (more on television) and soon, she retired from show business completely, living comfortably on the money made from her 30-year film career with her husband, Dr. John Robinson. Theresa Harris died of undisclosed causes on October 8, 1985. She was 78 years old.

These days, Theresa Harris is mostly remembered for being a "beautiful maid"--a great actress, singer, and dancer, but Ms. Harris (Robinson) should also be remembered for being a champion of her race. She boldly spoke against discrimination she'd faced in Hollywood and encouraged the Black-American community support black-owned film companies, specifically Million Dollar Productions:

"I never had the chance to rise about the role of maid in Hollywood movies. My color was against me anyway you looked at it. The fact that I was not "hot" stamped me either as uppity or relegated me to the eternal role of stooge or servant. I can sing but so can hundreds of other girls. Hollywood had no parts for me." -- a popular quote by Theresa Harris, repeated in the August 28, 1937 issue of The Afro American.

Perhaps this quote is an indicator that Theresa Harris left Hollywood at one point? Here is another quote from the same article:

"Asked if she thought the company [the black-owned Million Dollar Productions] had a future, Miss Harris said: "It has as much of a future as any other film company, if adverse publicity and an impatient public do not kill it. I believe Mr. Cooper [Ralph Cooper] is sincere in his efforts. He is certainly hard working...We have tolerated so many rotten pictures made in Hollywood by whites, I do not see why our own people cannot be tolerant in the pioneering stages of this company...".

This month, when I view and review some of Theresa Harris' work, I will do so while keeping in mind that Theresa Harris was a force. On camera, she was the maid, the "tribal woman", the spectator--but behind the camera, she was a Paul Robeson, a Fredi Washington, a Clarence Muse, a Hazel Scott--a fighter and a woman of wisdom.

Check in later for a Theresa Harris "appreciation post"!


The Afro American (Google News Archive)