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The great Preston Sturges would have been 116 today; alas, he made it not much past halfway to that age, dying at 60 in 1959.

But the mark he left of cinematic comedy is indelible and undeniable. He was a much-in-demand screen writer for many years before he ever sat in the director’s chair (among the classic movies he wrote but didn’t direct: The Good Fairy, Easy Living, Remember the Night), and when he finally did began to direct, he upped his game to heights rarely, if ever, equaled.

In a perfect world, you and I could meet for a beer and go see a Sturges comedy tonight. In a theatre with an appreciative audience is the best way to experience his work (as it is, let’s face it, with all funny movies), but since that’s not going to happen, we urge you to cancel your plans and rent any of the aforementioned titles, or any of those below: Sullivan’s Travels, Christmas in July, The Lady Eve, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, Unfaithfully Yours, The Palm Beach Story…

You might also pick up his memoir, Preston Sturges by Preston Sturges. His was a life as entertaining and as unlikely as the most outlandish of his pictures, and he tells his story with characteristic panache.

Happy birthday, Mr. Sturges, wherever you may be, and thanks for the laughs.

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The world lost a wonderful gal with the passing of the great Lauren Bacall.

We always felt a certain (entirely unjustified) connection to Ms. Bacall because we were neighbors for a few months when we first moved to New York City straight out of college.

We initially got settled here after the move from Oklahoma City by subletting an apartment from a pal for the summer; it was a small office, really, that wasn’t intended (or zoned) to be a residence. One room, plus an entryway, a closet and a good-sized bathroom, but no kitchen (we ate a lot of peanut butter that summer).

But we didn’t care because it was located on 72nd Street, just east of Columbus Avenue, which anyone familiar with Manhattan knows is just down the street from the Dakota, storied digs of the rich and famous and home to Bogie’s best gal.

For the story of how we ended up with an autographed photo from Ms. Bacall, go here: http://bit.ly/bettybacall

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Robert Mitchum would have been 97 today, if he’d managed to stick around.

Was there ever a cooler movie star, with his sleepy eyes, barrel chest, and smooth way with tough-guy repartee? Mitchum was so cool he recorded calypso records on which he sang with a faux Caribbean accent. Honestly, who else could have pulled that off and kept his cachet?

It’s a damn shame Mitchum didn’t get to play Philip Marlowe at an appropriate age. His late-career stab at the role, in 1975′s FAREWELL MY LOVELY, shows that he was perfectly suited to play Raymond Chandler’s shamus. One can get a sense of how it might have gone by watching the film noir classic OUT OF THE PAST (1947), in which Mitchum plays a Marlowe-esque private eye, and at an age that was right in line with Marlowe’s.

We wrote to Mitchum in 1980 or so, asking him for an autographed photo. As we requested, we received a shot of him in the role of Marlowe, and it was inscribed, “Cheers! Bob Mitchum.” We don’t know for certain if it was signed by the man himself or by someone who did his signing for him, but we like to think that Mitchum, who didn’t brook much nonsense from anyone, wouldn’t bother to send out proxy signatures, that he’d either sign them himself or not at all.

We’ll close by recalling Mitchum’s response to a reporter’s question after serving time in 1948 for marijuana possession:

“[Prison is] like Palm Springs, without the riff-raff.”

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Happy 115th birthday to the late, great James Cagney!

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Happy 107th birthday to one of our favorite actresses, Ms. Barbara Stanwyck!

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One of our favorite aspects of the historic lore of Los Angeles is the novelty architecture that’s long been so closely associated with the city. So we were tickled to see this sequence from Stand-In (1937), starring Humphrey Bogart, Leslie Howard and Joan Blondell.

In this clip, Howard, playing a buttoned-up bean-counter from back east who’s just arrived in L.A. on a mission to oversee a struggling movie studio, is picked up at the train station by a company car. On a memorable ride through the city, he encounters an eatery shaped like a hat (the Brown Derby), a bakery shaped like a windmill (one of the stores in the once-prominent Van de Kamp’s chain), a service station shaped like an airplane, complete with spinning propellers, and several others.

There’s not an establishment in this thirty-plus-second journey that we wouldn’t eagerly patronize, if only someone would perfect a functioning time machine.

Let us know if you have memories of any of these establishments. We’d love to learn more about them.

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We came across, as perhaps you did, too, a notice or two that actress Mona Freeman had passed away at the age of 87. Hers was a relatively modest career, though she had some well-known projects among her credits.

But what we didn’t know is that Freeman was, in 1941 and at the ripe old age of 14, named NYC’s very first Miss Subways (this despite the fact that she’d never ridden the subway at the time), which meant that her photograph appeared on a poster that was seen by millions of straphangers daily….

http://bit.ly/monafreeman

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The great Hattie McDaniel was born 119 years ago today. Happy birthday, Ms. McDaniel, wherever you may be.

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We were sorry to learn of the passing on Sunday of Mickey Rooney. His performing career spanned 92 years (he first appeared onstage, in his parents’ vaudeville act, at the age 17 months); that’s a record that will likely never be broken.

And we are not ashamed to admit that we are suckers for Andy Hardy movies. Rest in peace, Mickey.