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Sam Goldwyn entered show business as Sam Goldfish.

In 1916 he formed a production company with Edgar Selwyn, and the two combined their names to form Gold-Wyn Pictures.

Critics pointed out that the alternative would have been “Selfish Pictures.”

The Comic Tragedian

Robert Coates (1772-1848) achieved his dream of becoming a famous actor. Unfortunately, he was famous for being bad — like William McGonagall, Coates was so transcendently, world-bestridingly awful at his chosen craft that he attracted throngs of jeering onlookers.

In one performance of Romeo and Juliet, when he gave his exit line, “O, let us hence; I stand on sudden haste,” his diamond-spangled costume dropped a buckle and he began to hunt for it on hands and knees. “Come off, come off!” hissed the stage manager. “I will as soon as I have found my buckle,” he replied.

And that was a good night. He regularly improvised his lines; he took snuff during Juliet’s speeches and shared it with the audience; he tried to break into the Capulet tomb with a crowbar; he was pelted with carrots and oranges; he dragged Juliet from the tomb “like a sack of potatoes”; and he died on request, several times a night, always first sweeping the stage with his handkerchief. (“You may laugh,” he told one audience, “but I do not intend to soil my nice new velvet dress upon these dirty boards.”)

Once, having been killed in a stage duel, he overheard one woman wonder whether his diamonds were real. He sat up, bowed to her, said, “I can assure you, madam, on my word and honor they are,” and died again.

Tophats and Mandibles

The Strand Magazine ran an alarming feature in 1910: “If Insects Were Bigger.” The editors inserted photographs of ordinary English insects into contemporary Edwardian street scenes, with pretty terrifying results. “What a terrible calamity, what a stupefying circumstance, if mosquitoes were the size of camels, and a herd of wild slugs the size of elephants invaded our gardens and had to be shot with rifles!”

“Panic Caused by a Mosquito in Piccadilly Circus.”

“Terrible Attack by a Larva of the Puss-Moth at Covent Garden.”

“The Araneus Diadema Spider Descends Upon Trafalgar Square.”

“Fierce Onslaught by an Earwig in St. James’s Street.”

“A Dragon-Fly Captures an Unsuspecting Four-Wheeler in Liverpool.”

“Exploits of a House-Fly at the Bank of England.”

“A Leviathan Grasshopper’s Arrival in Princes Street, Edinburgh.”

“A Lacewing Fly Spreads Consternation in Wellington Street.”

Author J.H. Kerner-Greenwood wrote: “It is true we are still molested by hordes of wild animals of bloodthirsty propensities. These wild animals only lack the single quality–namely, that of size–to render them all-powerful and all-desolating, and this quality they have not been able to attain owing to the lack of favouring conditions.” Mothra turned up 51 years later.


Carl Voss was a born leader — when he left the Army after World War I, he went on to command Maori warriors, Roman footsoldiers, and revolutionary Americans.

Voss was leader of the “Military Picture Players,” a group of up to 2,112 former servicemen who fought one another in Hollywood battle scenes. He drilled his soldiers as infantry, cavalry, and artillerymen and ensured that their appearance was authentic whether they were playing Germans, Hessians, Chinese, Senegalese, Czechs, or Crusaders. And he was good at it: Between The Big Parade (1925) and Four Sons (1940), Voss’s troops clashed in 232 engagements without a serious casualty.

So it was ironic that red tape finally killed them. The Screen Actors Guild ruled that Voss was essentially an extra and could not direct its members — a curious judgment, as by that time he’d become arguably one of the most versatile commanders in screen history.

Trouble Along the Way

In September 1955, James Dean met Alec Guinness outside an Italian restaurant in Hollywood. He introduced himself and showed Guinness his brand-new Porsche 550 Spyder. “The sports car looked sinister to me,” Guinness wrote in his autobiography:

Exhausted, hungry, feeling a little ill-tempered in spite of Dean’s kindness, I heard myself saying in a voice I could hardly recognize as my own, ‘Please, never get in it.’ I looked at my watch. ‘It is now ten o’clock, Friday the 23rd of September, 1955. If you get in that car you will be found dead in it by this time next week.’

Dean laughed. One week later he collided head-on with a Ford coupe outside Cholame, Calif. He was pronounced dead 6 days and 20 hours after Guinness’ prediction.

Feature Set

Short film titles, from Patrick Robertson’s Film Facts (2001):

  • A (Japanese, 1999)
  • E (British, 1993)
  • F (Japanese, 1998)
  • G (British/German, 1974)
  • H (Spanish, 1997)
  • I (Swedish, 1966)
  • K (Hungarian, 1989)
  • M (German, 1931)
  • Q (French/Italian/Belgian, 1974)
  • W (Filipino, 1985)
  • X (Korean, 1982)
  • Y (Colombian, 1992)
  • Z (French/Italian, 1968)
  • $ (U.S., 1972)

Darren Aronofsky’s 1998 film π concerns a mathematician who seeks patterns in strings of numbers.

Its running time is 1:23:45.

Big Love

This is the first screen kiss, shared in 1896 by May Irwin and John C. Rice in a scene from the play The Widow Jones.

Accustomed to stage dramas, many viewers were shocked at the closeup. “Neither participant is physically attractive,” wrote reviewer John Sloan, “and the spectacle of their prolonged pasturing on each other’s lips was hard to bear. When only life-size it was pronounced beastly. But that was nothing to the present sight. Magnified to Gargantuan proportions and repeated three times over it is absolutely disgusting.”

Only 30 years later, John Barrymore would bestow 127 kisses on Mary Astor and Estelle Taylor in Don Juan.