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On this date: Birthdays for Theda Bara, William Powell, Clara Bow; 'White Zombie' premieres

On this date in Hollywood history -- July edition: "White Zombie," "Easy Rider" and film noir classic "Double Indemnity" premiere, Alan Arkin dies, birthdays for Theda Bara, William Powell, Clara Bow, "Phantom of the Opera" star Mary Philbin, Olivia de Havilland, Thomas Mitchell, Barbara Stanwyck, James Cagney, Ginger Rogers and John Gilbert, and more ... 

Discover what happened on days throughout July in Hollywood history, from historic film premieres and industry milestones to anniversaries of birthdays/deaths of beloved Old Hollywood figures, and more. (And explore previous months)

This story will be updated throughout the month

July 29

Theda Bara (born July 29, 1885, died April 7, 1955) was one of the most popular actresses of the silent movie era and known for her femme fatale roles. She isn’t as well known to mass modern audiences in part because so many of her films have been lost to history. 

One that survives: 1925’s “The Unchastened Woman,” her final full-length movie. 

Watch (free!) Theda Bara in the entire silent movie “The Unchastened Woman,” silent short “Mystery Madame” and the only surviving seconds of her behemoth 1917 hit “Cleopatra.”

July 29

William Powell (born July 29, 1892, died March 5, 1984) is at his most debonair and deadpan self with Carole Lombard in the 1936 screwball comedy classic “My Man Godfrey." Powell is the down-on-his-luck man “rescued” by Lombard to be the butler for her eccentric family. Powell earned a best actor Oscar nomination for his performance, and the movie was a huge box office hit.

Watch a scene from "My Man Godfrey" or check out the full movie of Powell and Irene Dunne in "Life with Father."

July 29

Celebrate Clara Bow's birthday with her star-defining role in 1927's silent comedy "It" (no, not the horror movie).

The woman who epitomized the Roaring Twenties, Clara Bow (born July 29, 1905, died September 27, 1965) plays a plucky shop girl in the silent movie with such exclamations – via title cards – as “Hot socks!” and “Sweet Santa Claus, give me him!” The concept of someone having “it” was popularized in the movie and Bow would forever be known as the “It Girl.”

July 28

The first zombie movie: “White Zombie” premiered in July 28, 1932, in New York City with Bela Lugosi as a voodoo mastermind who entrances his victims into zombies.

“White Zombie” is considered the first feature length zombie movie, and it became a model for most zombie movies to this day.

Watch the full movie "White Zombie"

July 18

Audrey Hepburn is ethereal in 1959’s often overlooked “The Nun’s Story.” Made in the middle of her remarkable run of movies, “The Nun’s Story” follows Hepburn’s Sister Luke as she tries to reconcile training to be a nun and her medical ambitions. Hepburn earned an Oscar nomination as best actress for the box office hit, which hit U.S. theaters July 18, 1959.

Watch a scene from "The Nun's Story"

July 17

The often misquoted but always electrifying ending of “White Heat” starring James Cagney (born July 17, 1899, died March 30, 1986). The 1949 film noir is considered one of the best gangster movies of all time and Cagney’s line as Cody Jarrett – “Made it, Ma! Top of the world!” – is ranked one of the most famous quotes in movie history.

Watch the entire scene

July  16

Mary Philbin (born July 16, 1902, died May 7, 1993) rose to prominence in such roles as her celebrated  Christine with Lon Chaney as the Phantom in 1925’s “The Phantom of the Opera. Philbin had a long life but a relatively short film career: she worked in some big-name movies in the 1920s and then retired from Hollywood. 

Watch (free!) the entire silent horror classic “The Phantom of the Opera” 

July 16

Barbara Stanwyck (born July 16, 1907, died January 20, 1990)sports a sultry early look, complete with dangling cigarette, in this publicity photo from Warner Bros. photographer Elmer Fryer. A series of these poses were reportedly done for Stanwyck  in 1931, but the studio later used them as part of the promotion for 1933’s pre-code crime drama “Ladies They Talk About.”

July 16

Ginger Rogers (born July 16, 1911, died April 25, 1995) without Fred in “Follow the Fleet,” her only solo tap dance in her 10 Rogers-Astaire movies – and one of my favorites of theirs. Along with the duo’s main plot and dance numbers, the 1936 box office hit features a side story with Randolph Scott, a small part for Lucille Ball early in her career, singer Harriet Hilliard of future Ozzie & Harriet fame, Irving Berlin songs and a monkey – what else do you need? 

Also, imagine telling Ginger Rogers after dancing: “That was very nice.” 

July 14

“Easy Rider” roared into movie theaters and American culture July 14, 1969. Peter Fonda (who co-wrote) and Dennis Hopper (co-writer and director) play a pair of bikers who travel cross country. “Easy Rider” is considered a pivotal moment in history: drawing a lens on the counterculture in the United States and also ushering in the 1970s “New Hollywood” style of movies. Plus, it’s just a good on-the-road adventure, with Jack Nicholson in a supporting role.

I know nothing about motorcycles, but apparently, the ones used in "Easy Rider" are famous (or infamous)! According to sources that are not me: They are riding heavily modified 1949, 1950 and 1952 Harley-Davidson bikes. See more about the convoluted history and claims of who did what in this NPR story from 2014

Music from the movie soundtrack: “Wasn’t Born to Follow” - The Byrds

July 11

The many roles of Thomas Mitchell … How many can you name?

Mitchell (born July 11, 1892, died December 17, 1962) was an in-demand co-star and character actor from the 1930s-1960s, and the first actor to win all the major acting awards: an Oscar, an Emmy and a Tony (for movies, television and Broadway).

And just as a testament to his versatility, ALL OF THESE PICTURED MOVIES WERE FROM ONE YEAR! 🤯

In 1939 alone, he was in:
  • “Stagecoach” starring John Wayne
  • “Gone with the Wind” with Vivien Leigh
  • “Only Angels Have Wings” with Jean Arthur and Cary Grant
  • “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” with Jean Arthur and James Stewart
  • “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”
Many younger audiences also recognize him as Uncle Billy from perennial favorite “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

July 10

How to flirt, no sound needed. John Gilbert woos Renée Adorée in the World War I silent movie classic “The Big Parade” – part romance, part comedy, part epic war adventure. This 1925 movie is where I first saw the charismatic Gilbert (born July 10, 1897, died January 9, 1936) and how he earned his early Hollywood nickname of "The Great Lover.”

“The Big Parade” is big fun: Almost 100 years later, it holds up. The jokes are funny, the romance is sweet and the ending battle sequences are top-notch adventure war movie.

July 6  

🕶Murder meetings at the food mart … The look on Barbra Stanwyck’s face at the end! The film noir classic “Double Indemnity” hit the screens July 6, 1944. Stanwyck is the femme fatale to Fred MacMurray’s crooked insurance salesman in director Billy Wilder’s hit, which set the template for many crime thrillers to come.

July 1

RIP, Alan Arkin, best supporting actor Oscar winner for 2006’s “Little Miss Sunshine” and familiar face to movie audiences since the 1960s. Arkin died June 29, 2023. 

The actor starred in many classic movies from the 1960s and 70s (see some below) and later appeared as a character actor in just about everything later in his life, from “Edward Scissorhands” to “Argo.”

A few of his pre-1980 movies (pictured):

  • “The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming” (1966)
  • “Wait Until Dark” (1967) with Audrey Hepburn
  • “Catch-22” (1970)
  • “The In-Laws” (1979) with Peter Falk

+ “Little Miss Sunshine” (2006) with Paul Dano and Steve Carell

See a complete list of his movies

July 1

Olivia de Havilland celebrates her birthday on the set of “Gone with the Wind” (1939) with director Victor Fleming and other cast and crew. 

De Havilland (July 1, 1916 – July 26, 2020) was 104 when she died, May we all live a full and long life as she did!

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