It's "all about Ayres" later this month as The Silver Screen Oasis cordially welcomes another Guest Author in October!
[Please Note: The Q & A thread devoted to questions for Lesley Coffin is now open and can be found here on this site. ]
Lew Ayres did it all during his long career. From silent film to classic sit-coms; he expressed his boyish passion for Greta Garbo in her last silent The Kiss (1929); played the doomed protagonist in the shattering film All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), described as "a landmark of world cinema," did an unexpectedly brilliant, bittersweet turn in Holiday (1937); found great fame as Dr. Kildare; appeared in the outlandishly entertaining sci-fi, Donovan's Brain (1953); made a few movies that were barely "B's", and made two documentaries that reflected his lifelong search for spiritual values.
From Friday, Oct. 26th through Monday Oct. 29th we welcome the opportunity to learn more about Ayres during a visit at The Silver Screen Oasis by Lesley L. Coffin, the author of the upcoming biography, Lew Ayres: Hollywood's Conscientious Objector (University Press of Mississippi, 2012). This first full length biography of the Oscar-nominated actor was written by Ms. Coffin using previously untapped oral histories from the TCM Archives at The University of Georgia-Athens, the Hollywood Film Oral History Project at Columbia University in NYC, and the comments of friends of Mr. Ayres throughout his life. Perhaps best of all, the actor's unpublished autobiography and the memories of the actor's son, Dr. Justin Ayres, who practices medicine in Los Angeles, helped to fill in much of the story.
Often remembered best off-screen for his principled stand during World War II as a conscientious objector, Ayres had what has been described as a "quiet dignity, constantly searching for the right way to live his life and torn between the public world of Hollywood and secluded life of spiritual introspection." He was also a part of the rise and transformation of the film industry in three eras (silents, sound, and television); was married to three vital-sounding women: actresses Lola Lane, Ginger Rogers, and a lasting 32 year marriage to "civilian" Diana Hall, with whom Ayres became a father for the first time two days shy of his sixtieth birthday.
Below you can see a brief trailer from Lesley Coffin with lovely images promoting this book:
A serious biographer blessed with a sense of humor as well as a gift for research, the personable Lesley L. Coffin describes herself as "a midwesterner at heart, who happens to reside in New York City (by way of Queens). I come from the hometown of John Hughes (yes, I went to Ferris Bueller’s high school and we did have Saturday detention), went to college at Ball State University (that place David Letterman always talks about giving money to) and completed a Masters degree at New York University. I try to write books about film and Hollywood (I have one coming out and two in the works) and think both seriously and humorously about the world of film, television, and Hollywood. Even as a kid I tended to want to analyze anything and everything I watched, a character trait I still have and channel into my creative pursuits to avoid driving friends and family crazy. My taste in movies are all over the place, but I love interesting films and the film world."
Please plan on stopping by The Silver Screen Oasis from 10/26/12 to 10/30/12 to post and read the Q & A about this book. We'll be honored to share your company!
You can read more about this biography, the author, her other published writing and her future projects at her website below. Lesley can also be heard on her Classic Comedy Film Podcast at the link below.
I'm looking forward to her visit and her book, the only other famous conscientious objector that I know of in movies was James Mason but even then I knew about Lew Ayres stance long before I knew about Mason's. Such a long career in interesting films and marriages to 2 stars, I'm glad he's getting a biography and that his biographer is coming here to talk to us.
Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself - Charlie Chaplin
I am glad that people seemed intrigued by Lew Ayres. To pique our curiosity I will be posting clips and movies from Ayres' approximately 70 films here prior to Lesley Coffin's visit beginning on Friday, Oct. 26th.
To get us started, here is a barely 21 year old actor with Greta Garbo in Jacques Feyder's silent, The Kiss (1929). Lew shows up 1:57 into the clip. He had almost no training as an actor, but his natural, boyish charm and his character's fervor is evident in every gesture. Garbo, who chose Ayres for this role, never disclosed why he stood out for her.
Here's a clip of Lew Ayres in All Quiet on the Western Front (1930-Lewis Milestone), which shaped his career for many years. His character, Paul, returns to visit his classroom after his time at the front.
Since it is being shown tomorrow night on TCM, perhaps this clip might be appropriate. It is from Johnny Belinda (1948-Jean Negulesco) and shows the four leads (Jane Wyman, Lew Ayres, Charles Bickford, Agnes Moorehead) interacting beautifully:
I'm very excited to chat about Lew Ayres this month!
For me, he always comes through with quiet assurance, I don't think he ever gave a bad performance. Ayres is really an extraordinary actor, never relying on tricks or grandstand plays, but instead letting everything come slowly bubbling through him in the most simple way. It's actually amazing to me that he came up when he did, he's very different from most of his contemporaries. He's not like Cagney or Gable, relying on energy and strength, but he's not cut of the same cloth as some of the weaker college boys either, who were so popular in the late 20's and early 30's. There is something far deeper and maybe a bit more cynical to him. It's easy to love him in All Quiet on the Western Front, Johnny Belinda or Holiday, he's quite perfect in these films, intense and sweet, with a dark understanding of pain that pops through the good looks and boyish charm. In Holiday especially, he is heartbreaking, the self loathing is deeply felt but never overdone, it comes from within and is quietly underplayed. I always feel that he is revealing little parts of himself in his roles, there is a soul that shines out, no matter how shyly.
The acid test for me with Ayres was watching The Doorway to Hell, in which he plays a college boy with the smarts and mental strength to take over the Chicago underworld. I wasn't sure that Ayres would be able to convince me in this role, but somehow, he did and more so....in fact, he's excellent and now it's a favorite. I can't wait to discuss this fine actor who had the underlying strength to stand by his convictions during war, and who had some demons to deal with, despite his seemingly calm demeanor.
I am really glad that you guys seem so interested in this author's visit.
To keep us interested, here are more clips from early in Lew Ayres' career, when he was under contract to Universal and the studio was clearly unsure of how to use their contract player effectively after All Quiet on the Western Front.
This first one is from The Doorway to Hell (1930-Archie Mayo) with Lew Ayres as a young gangster expecting a visit. Many people believe that James Cagney, (before his breakthrough role in Public Enemy) almost steals every scene he appears in, but Ayres youthful ennui and lonely chagrin is quite effective too:
In this clip from Iron Man (1931-Tod Browning) features Ayres as a young fighter getting ready for a big fight. The story was by W.R. Burnett, with Robert Armstrong and a neophyte Jean Harlow in the cast as well:
This next one is from the Universal movie, Night World (1932-Hobart Henley), a fast-paced film featuring Boris Karloff as 'Happy' MacDonald, the owner of a nightclub, and starring Lew Ayres & Mae Clarke. Clarke told her biographer James Curtis that she was exhausted after Frankenstein while making this film--though you would never know it from her verve here with Ayres. The dance sequences were choreographed by Busby Berkeley and it seems that he may have influenced the camera work as well. It's only 58 minutes long, but this sequence may give you some idea of how much fun this movie had within the confines of the story:
Geez, looks like everyone was in Night World!Loved the opening sequence. Now I have to find a copy. Thanks for keeping the ball rolling, Moira! I'm going to be digging through my files for other Lew Ayres movies to get ready for the visit.
I'm also a big fan of Maisie Was a Lady, it's my favorite entry in the series thanks to deft performances by Lew and Maureen O'Sullivan.