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Ricardo Cortez Q & A with Dan Van Neste on 8-26 & 8-27

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Ricardo Cortez Q & A with Dan Van Neste on 8-26 & 8-27

Postby moira finnie » August 15th, 2017, 2:47 pm

Here is the Spot to post your questions about Ricardo Cortez for our guest, Dan Van Neste. Please see the link below for more details. More about our upcoming guest and his accomplishments at the link below. All are welcome to take part in the discussion!:

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Re: Ricardo Cortez Q & A with Dan Van Neste on 8-26 & 8-27

Postby moira finnie » August 26th, 2017, 6:38 am

Welcome & my thanks to our guest, Dan Van Neste, for agreeing to visit and for your beautifully detailed biography of an actor whose versatile acting career spanned from the height of the silents to the television era. Here are a few questions to kick things off:

1.) What drew you to create the Cortez portrait and how did you go about acquiring so much information about such a private man and now rather obscure figure whose friends and acquaintances were gone?

2.) Ricardo Cortez--with his air of confidence & knowing manner--seems to have been born an adult. However, in reading your book I was touched to read of his deep concern about his role in supporting his family from a very early age. Did such worries affect him all his life? Do you think that acting was an escape from reality for him?

Thanks in advance for any insights you may share!
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Re: Ricardo Cortez Q & A with Dan Van Neste on 8-26 & 8-27

Postby DanVanNeste » August 26th, 2017, 10:07 am

Let me begin by sending my best wishes to the people of Texas and surrounding areas. Hopefully they will be safe and be able to return to their homes soon. I also want to take this opportunity to thank all of you at Silver Screen Oasis for inviting me and for the beautifully designed invitation. I’m honored and delighted to be here to answer questions! I will do my best to address each and every one.

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Re: Ricardo Cortez Q & A with Dan Van Neste on 8-26 & 8-27

Postby DanVanNeste » August 26th, 2017, 10:19 am

moira finnie wrote:Welcome & my thanks to our guest, Dan Van Neste, for agreeing to visit and for your beautifully detailed biography of an actor whose versatile acting career spanned from the height of the silents to the television era. Here are a few questions to kick things off:

1.) What drew you to create the Cortez portrait and how did you go about acquiring so much information about such a private man and now rather obscure figure whose friends and acquaintances were gone?

2.) Ricardo Cortez--with his air of confidence & knowing manner--seems to have been born an adult. However, in reading your book I was touched to read of his deep concern about his role in supporting his family from a very early age. Did such worries affect him all his life? Do you think that acting was an escape from reality for him?



1) Since I was a kid, I was interested in old movies and villainous actors always caught my eye. Someone asked me recently when I first noticed Cortez. I don’t really recall, but since I loved horror and adventure films as a kid, I’m guessing I likely first saw him in THE WALKING DEAD (Warners, 1937) which was frequently broadcast on our local television station.

Since I began writing about classis movies and vintage film stars roughly thirty years ago, people have always been curious why I choose particular subjects. It sounds kind of corny, but I have always wanted to do original work and perhaps make a minor contribution to film history at the same time. Many fine books have been written chronicling the lives and careers of the more famous actors and filmmakers of classic cinema, but most of the lesser stars (second leads, character players who made significant contributions) have been ignored. I believe their stories should also be told. For me, Ricardo Cortez was the perfect subject. He was a popular and extremely charismatic actor of the late silent and early sound eras, appeared in over 100 feature films, worked with most of legendary filmmakers of his time, yet almost nothing has had been written about his life and career.

After I began my research, I soon discovered why nothing had been written about him. He didn’t leave papers or diaries, didn’t trust the press, and gave very few interviews, and, almost all of his contemporaries were deceased. When his widow died in 2007, most of his personal belongs and memorabilia was sold to the highest bidder. This presented a huge challenge. There were quite a few times during the four years I spent working on “The Magnificent Heel,” I contemplated abandoning the project, but I somehow kept the faith. I was inspired by my subject who faced incredible adversity and never never gave up! With the help of two great research assistants, we fanned out across the country scouring the libraries, archives and various newspapers for every shred of information. I got lucky along the way to communicate with a couple of Cortez’s relatives, and locate several personal items he owned until his death. Fate was kind to me!!

2) Great question, Moira! Ricardo Cortez was a splendid actor! I know that from watching 70+ of his films AND because personally, he was nothing like the characters he played so well. The air of confidence he communicated so well onscreen was a mask. He was a man with great insecurities and self-doubt, a loner who early on in his life realized if he were to survive, he would have to depend on himself. He was born in a tenement apartment in a very poor neighborhood in New York City. There’s a picture of Hester Street where he was born in my book. Life was a struggle there. Cortez never forgot where he came from and was determined to never have to return to that kind of life. He idolized his mother and father and took care of his family throughout his life, including helping his two brothers to enter the film business. Was acting an escape? I think to some degree it was. In one of the extremely rare interviews in which Cortez revealed his inner feelings, he told a reporter in 1932, “On the screen, I look like the most self-possessed person in the world. But that’s a bluff too. Actually the night before I start work on a picture, I can’t sleep a wink. But the next morning, in spite of my sleepless night, when I step on the set, I become just the workman doing his job, full of confidence. . .”

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Re: Ricardo Cortez Q & A with Dan Van Neste on 8-26 & 8-27

Postby moira finnie » August 26th, 2017, 11:37 am

This carefully composed picture of Ricardo Cortez as a cherished little boy underlines the poignancy of a young Jacob Krantz so concerned about his family's tenuous finances that he almost refused to have a needed operation, as detailed in Dan's book.
Image

One aspect of Cortez's career that you described very well were his early years in film.How do you think that becoming a screen actor in the silent era shaped his approach to acting and particularly to fame?

Did his association with the Valentino craze help or hurt him? Do you think that he ever regretted changing his name and ethnic identity?
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Above: Ricardo Cortez in The Spaniard (1925).
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Re: Ricardo Cortez Q & A with Dan Van Neste on 8-26 & 8-27

Postby Moraldo Rubini » August 26th, 2017, 12:02 pm

Hi Dan,

Thank you for joining us this weekend, and thank you for bringing Ricardo Cortez into a brighter light. Did he refer to himself as "Ricardo Cortez", or did he remain as "Jacob" in his family and social circles? Did he wish to have a longer career as a leading man, or was he appreciative of the forks in the road that lead him to character roles (and Perry Mason!)? And one final question: did he ever work with his brother, the cinematographer Stanley Cortez?

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Re: Ricardo Cortez Q & A with Dan Van Neste on 8-26 & 8-27

Postby moira finnie » August 26th, 2017, 12:27 pm

Great questions, Marco! I am also hoping that Dan might tell us about Garbo and his pairing in The Torrent (1926)--the only time Greta played second fiddle to her leading man in billing! I thought they had quite a lot of chemistry, as seen in this clip.

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Re: Ricardo Cortez Q & A with Dan Van Neste on 8-26 & 8-27

Postby WarrenHymersMoll » August 26th, 2017, 12:52 pm

Hi Dan!!! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions this weekend!!

While you were researching Ricardo's life and films, were there any "EUREKA!" moments of discovery that were rewarding for you personally as his biographer? And alternately, were there any pieces of the puzzle of his life you would've loved to have found but could not?

And I know that Ricardo made quite a number of films that are unfortunately still in the "lost" category. If you could personally find and return one lost film starring Ricardo, which one would it be and why?

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Re: Ricardo Cortez Q & A with Dan Van Neste on 8-26 & 8-27

Postby DanVanNeste » August 26th, 2017, 12:58 pm

moira finnie wrote:This carefully composed picture of Ricardo Cortez as a cherished little boy underlines the poignancy of a young Jacob Krantz so concerned about his family's tenuous finances that he almost refused to have a needed operation, as detailed in Dan's book.
Image

One aspect of Cortez's career that you described very well were his early years in film.How do you think that becoming a screen actor in the silent era shaped his approach to acting and particularly to fame?

Did his association with the Valentino craze help or hurt him? Do you think that he ever regretted changing his name and ethnic identity?
Image
Above: Ricardo Cortez in The Spaniard (1925).


1. Yes, his experience in silent films definitely shaped his overall career, both his acting and his attitude toward fame. By the time the former Jacob Krantz was signed to a Paramount contract in 1923, and given a new name and a bogus biography (assigned to him by the studio), Cortez could already draw on six years of experience as an actor on the stage and in films. He had already made roughly 175 motion pictures while an aspiring bit player in Fort Lee, New Jersey and across New York before he migrated to Hollywood in 1922.

While at Paramount (which was at that time THE most prestigious studio in Hollywood), he had the opportunity to work with some of the greatest directors and filmmakers in moviemaking history -- names like DeMille, Cruze, Griffith, Dwan, Lloyd, etc. Cortez was bright enough to realize he could learn a lot from these great film pioneers. He utilized the knowlege during both the silent and sound eras- making a successful transition to sound films. One of the crucial things he learned during the silent era was the importance of acting with one’s eyes, “the proverbial windows to the soul.” The next time you see him on the screen, watch how skillfully he expresses the emotions of his character. There’s a particularly powerful scene in the drama “Symphony of Six Million” (RKO, 1932) that illustrates this. Cortez plays a brilliant surgeon who is called upon to operate on his own father. Watch his eyes, and the emotion he expresses without words as he realizes his father is dying on the operating table. Just wonderful!

His early experiences were a powerful guide to his approach to fame as well. When he landed his Paramount contract, he was on cloud nine. He had been working for years to reach this goal, but it had come with a price tag. He was forced to take on a phony identity and become a carbon copy of someone else: Rudolph Valentino. He soon realized this presented major problems. Valentino was well liked in Hollywood and his friends did not appreciate an imitator. The other major problem involved many of Cortez’s old friends and acquaintances in New York who were jealous of his fame and knew the biographies being circulated were phony. Soon some highly unflattering stories began circulating which came close to derailing Cortez’s entire career. His ability to deal effectively with these issues and his first wife’s addiction problems during the early years was a severe test. He learned to take nothing for granted in the topsy turvy world of the movies, and he also learned if he could endure all of these challenges, perhaps he could handle most anything.

2. His association with Valentino both helped and hurt him. Cortez was essentially signed to a Paramount contract because of his resemblance to the studio’s most popular star, Valentino (whom the company was having problems with). Cortez was signed in case Valentino became too hard to handle. As stated above, this presented innumerable problems for the young actor. Cortez was extremely uncomfortable with the new phony biography. He was proud of his roots, loved his parents, and was saddened he was forced to renounce his Jewish heritage, but he had worked for years to achieve this major breakthrough. He was grateful for the opportunity and cooperated, but was wise enough to realize copying someone else was not the recipe for long term success. Throughout the early years of his career, he continually strived to demonstrate his acting versatility and escape Rudy’s shadow. He eventually revealed his true heritage but that did not come until the early 1930’s.

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Re: Ricardo Cortez Q & A with Dan Van Neste on 8-26 & 8-27

Postby DanVanNeste » August 26th, 2017, 1:33 pm

Moraldo Rubini wrote:Hi Dan,

Thank you for joining us this weekend, and thank you for bringing Ricardo Cortez into a brighter light. Did he refer to himself as "Ricardo Cortez", or did he remain as "Jacob" in his family and social circles? Did he wish to have a longer career as a leading man, or was he appreciative of the forks in the road that lead him to character roles (and Perry Mason!)? And one final question: did he ever work with his brother, the cinematographer Stanley Cortez?


Thank you for the great questions, Marco! Cortez had many nicknames depending on who you spoke to. His family called him “Jack,” his first wife, Alma referred to him as “Ric.” Several of his costars called him “Riccy,” while others called him “Ricardo.” I have a jewelry tray he was presented by RKO Pictures for his birthday in 1931 which is inscribed to “Rico.” Of course, his detractors had other names for him which it’s best not to repeat! LOL

Like most actors, I believe Cortez wanted to have a longer career as a leading man, but unlike many, was realistic enough to realize when that was no longer possible. One of the most interesting things I found while doing research in the Warner Brothers Archives at U.S.C. was Cortez’s initial (1933) contract with the studio. He was signed as a “featured actor.” This is notable, because it proves by 1933, he had essentially given up his dreams of being a superstar lead actor, but wanted to continue working in the industry he loved.

Yes, Ric did work with Stanley Cortez. He was instrumental in helping Stanley get started as a cinematographer by arranging apprenticeships with all the best craftsmen in the business. They were very close throughout their lives. Stanley worked as an assistant photographer on several Cortez pictures during the early 1930’s. There’s a photo of the two of them together on the set of BAD COMPANY (RKO, 1931).

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Original caption from Dan's The Magnificent Heel...":
Director Tay Garnett gave Cortez his first opportunity to direct during the production of Bad Company (RKO, 1931). This rare candid photo, shows Cortez (with hat and pipe) helming a scene assisted by his younger brother, Stanley (far left), who was an assistant cameraman on the picture.

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Re: Ricardo Cortez Q & A with Dan Van Neste on 8-26 & 8-27

Postby DanVanNeste » August 26th, 2017, 2:10 pm

WarrenHymersMoll wrote:Hi Dan!!! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions this weekend!!

While you were researching Ricardo's life and films, were there any "EUREKA!" moments of discovery that were rewarding for you personally as his biographer? And alternately, were there any pieces of the puzzle of his life you would've loved to have found but could not?

And I know that Ricardo made quite a number of films that are unfortunately still in the "lost" category. If you could personally find and return one lost film starring Ricardo, which one would it be and why?


Thanks for coming! There were multiple “Eureka moments” and many “Maalox moments” (LOL) during the four long years I spent working on this project!! Several come to mind. One was when I finally learned the death date of Ric’s father, Morris. (I spent years looking for that!!!). Another memorable one was finding the cause of his death, and seeing his death certificate. (The City of New York does not allow strangers to see death certificates. You have to be related to have access). I finally did though!!

OMG, yes, there were many aspects of his life I wish I could have learned more about! One was the importance of his religion. He embraced his heritage, but almost never spoke about the topic in interviews. He was involved in various Jewish charities toward the end of his life, but I would like to have known more about his participation or lack of it. Another aspect was his politics. He never spoke publicly about his politics. He was quite conservative in his thinking and was notably one of the last actors to join the Screen Actor’s Guild, but he was Jewish and at that time most Jews voted for Democrats.

Regarding lost films, do you know that of the 37 silent films Cortez did, only 17 have survived at all. Of those only 14 have survived intact with all their original footage, and only six are available on DVD. There are also a handful of Cortez’s sound films that are missing. What a shame! There are many I would LOVE to see. Perhaps the most interesting of those titles is Cecil B. DeMille’s FEET OF CLAY (Paramount, 1924) about a young married couple who have severe problems when the young husband is seriously injured. They choose to commit suicide but are revived in the nick of time. I’ve seen some fascinating still photos from that picture which was filmed off Catalina Island, and would really love to see it.

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Re: Ricardo Cortez Q & A with Dan Van Neste on 8-26 & 8-27

Postby Sue Sue Applegate » August 26th, 2017, 2:17 pm

Dan, as a Texan in the midst of Harvey's outer bands, I'm grateful you thought about us down here. I'm about 22 miles outside of Houston, and roads are passable, rain has let up a bit, and there is no wind right now.

Already, there have been so many wonderful questions, and insightful responses.
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With Margaret Hamilton....
I was wondering if you found any of Ricardo's personal reflections on replacing John Barrymore in 1934's Hat, Coat and Glove? Was he intimidated at all, or happy for the opportunity? Le us know about your own thoughts on his role in this film if you can.

Thank you so much for coming to visit us here at The Silver Screen Oasis, Dan!
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Re: Ricardo Cortez Q & A with Dan Van Neste on 8-26 & 8-27

Postby DanVanNeste » August 26th, 2017, 3:20 pm

moira finnie wrote:Great questions, Marco! I am also hoping that Dan might tell us about Garbo and his pairing in The Torrent (1926)--the only time Greta played second fiddle to her leading man in billing! I thought they had quite a lot of chemistry, as seen in this clip.

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You asked about Cortez and Greta Garbo, Moira. While they had great onscreen chemistry, off screen their relationship was strained. Much of the blame was Cortez’s.

Ric’s first wife, actress Alma Rubens had been the first choice to play the female lead in TORRENT, but her growing drug dependency and erratic behavior on the set of her previous films caused MGM to have second thoughts about casting her. Cortez was signed to do TORRENT just as his wife was taken off from it. Ric had envisioned the project as a chance for he and his talented wife to work together for the first time, and was very unhappy when she was replaced by the unknown Miss Garbo. When it became clear Garbo was dominating the picture, Cortez lost his legendary cool and was rude to her. The film was an enormous success, and Cortez regretted his behavior, but his unprofessional antics may have cost him a second opportunity to work with the great Garbo. The full backstory details are in “The Magnificent Heel.”

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Re: Ricardo Cortez Q & A with Dan Van Neste on 8-26 & 8-27

Postby DanVanNeste » August 26th, 2017, 4:11 pm

Sue Sue Applegate wrote:Dan, as a Texan in the midst of Harvey's outer bands, I'm grateful you thought about us down here. I'm about 22 miles outside of Houston, and roads are passable, rain has let up a bit, and there is no wind right now.

Already, there have been so many wonderful questions, and insightful responses.
Image
With Margaret Hamilton....
I was wondering if you found any of Ricardo's personal reflections on replacing John Barrymore in 1934's Hat, Coat and Glove? Was he intimidated at all, or happy for the opportunity? Le us know about your own thoughts on his role in this film if you can.

Thank you so much for coming to visit us here at The Silver Screen Oasis, Dan!


Thank you for inviting me! My thoughts are with you, Sue, and all the great people in Texas and Louisiana. I have several friends in the Houston area and have been worried about them. Hopefully the worst is over and the rains will not be as heavy as predicted.

Thank you for the kind words. Yes, indeed, some terrific questions! I’m so happy you brought up HAT, COAT, AND GLOVE (1934). As you know, RKO purchased the original novel on which the film was based as a vehicle for John Barrymore. Barrymore actually began work on the picture, but could not remember his lines or follow simple directions. They suspended production for a time, but things did not improve. Some other actors were suggested as replacements, but in the end, RKO decided to cast Cortez who they knew they could count on. Cortez was working as a Warner Brothers contract player at the time, so a loan agreement had to be arranged.

I don’t know if Cortez was intimidated by stepping into a part originally slated for the “Great Profile,” but I do know he admired Barrymore, was happy with the multi-dimensional role he was given, and gratified by all the positive reviews he received for his excellent performance. How do I know? During my four year quest to discover Cortez and tell his story, I came upon three scrapbooks he kept in his personal collection: one for his silent films, one for his vaudeville and stage, and one for his sound movies. In the sound film scrapbook were reviews of five of his motion pictures. One of the five was HAT, COAT, AND GLOVE. This movie is a must-see for Cortez admirers. One more thing, Cortez eventually worked with Barrymore in 1941 in the Paramount comedy, WORLD PREMIERE.

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Re: Ricardo Cortez Q & A with Dan Van Neste on 8-26 & 8-27

Postby moira finnie » August 26th, 2017, 5:56 pm

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Above: Alma Rubens (1897-1931). Ricardo Cortez was later quoted as saying that when first seen on a city street: "I saw her pale face and dark luminous eyes. I’ll admit I was overcome. I walked back and forth watching her—trying not to be too apparent in my admiration."

Ricardo Cortez's struggle to help his first wife Alma Rubens and the questionable but widespread impression of him that her posthumously published memoir left with the public may have made things more difficult for him--just when he was making a transition to sound and coming out from the Valentino shadow that his studio-chosen identity.

Did this period of his life make him more leery of personal disclosure for the rest of his life?

Do you think that that Rubens' negative, unverified assertions about Cortez contributed to the end of his days as a leading man?

_________________________________________________________________

Frankly, I enjoy the actor as a stylish pre-code heel much more than the traditional leading man characters. He is often superbly smarmy--seducing Veree Teasdale's daughter in The Firebird (1934), selling Kay Francis into white slavery in Mandalay (1934), & just being vile to Dolores del Rio in Wonder Bar (1934).

However, it occurs to me that he was probably capable of so much more light-hearted work than opportunity brought him. His quietly thoughtful dramatic portrayals in Hat, Coat & Glove and Symphony of Six Million deserve to be seen more, but they are as underrated as his comedic characterizations. Perhaps his very naughty Sam Spade in the original version of The Maltese Falcon (1931) and his turn as a Broadway denizen in Is My Face Red (1932) were more in tune with the era's wisecracking spirit, but his performances in both really were entertaining and energetic portraits of unapologetic scamps. They seemed to bring out the naturalism in his acting too. Are there other movies where you find Cortez interpreting his part in a more comic vein?

Here's a nifty glimpse of a fast-talking Cortez in Is My Face Red? (1932):
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