March 22 in the 20th Century

130 years ago today

Leonard Marx, known professionally as Chico Marx, was born today in 1887. An American comedian, musician, bandleader, actor and film star, he was a member of the Marx Brothers. His persona in the act was that of a charming, dim-witted albeit crafty con artist, seemingly of rural Italian origin, who wore shabby clothes and sported a curly-haired wig and Tyrolean hat. In virtually every film that includes the main trio of the Marx Brothers, Chico is seen working with Harpo Marx, usually as partners in crime. Leonard was the oldest of the Marx Brothers to live past early childhood (first-born Manfred Marx had died in infancy). In addition to his work as a performer, he played an important role in the management and development of the act in its early years.


As well as being a compulsive womanizer, Chico had a lifelong gambling habit. His favorite gambling pursuits were card games as well as horse racing, dog racing, and various sports betting. His addiction cost him millions of dollars by his own account. When an interviewer in the late 1930s asked him how much money he had lost from gambling, he answered, “Find out how much money Harpo’s got. That’s how much I’ve lost.”

Chico died of arteriosclerosis at age 74 on October 11, 1961, at his Hollywood home. He was the eldest brother and the first to die.

105 years ago today


American actor Karl Malden was born Mladen George Sekulovich today in 1912. He was primarily a character actor who “for more than 60 years brought an intelligent intensity and a homespun authenticity to roles in theatre, film and television”, especially in such classic films as A Streetcar Named Desire (for which he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor), On the Waterfront, and Pollyanna. Malden later played in high-profile Hollywood movies such as How the West Was Won, and Patton as well as appearing on US television as Lt. Mike Stone on the 1970s crime drama, The Streets of San Francisco. At the time of his death in July 2009, aged 97, Malden was described as “one of the great character actors of his time”who created a number of “powerhouse performances on screen”. Malden was also President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences from 1989 to 1992.

35 years ago…

…in cinema: Mephisto is a film adaptation of Klaus Mann’s novel Mephisto, starring Klaus Maria Brandauer as Hendrik Höfgen. The film was a co-production between companies in West Germany, Hungary and Austria. It became the first Hungarian film to win the award for Best Foreign Language Film, at the 54th Academy Awards.

The film adapts the story of Mephistopheles and Doctor Faustus by having the main character, Hendrik Höfgen (Brandauer), abandon his conscience, continue to act and ingratiate himself with the Nazi Party, to keep and improve his job and social position, craving centre stage. The plot’s bitter irony is that the protagonist’s fondest dream is to be Germany’s greatest actor playing Hamlet and Mephisto but to achieve this dream he sells his soul and realises too late that he is not playing the Mephisto but the Faustus role; it is the Nazi leader having a major role in the film (modeled on Hermann Göring) who is the real Mephisto.

…in Doctor Who: In Time-Flight, while investigating a vanishing Concorde at Heathrow Airport, the Fifth Doctor and his companions are thrown millions of years back in time, when a mysterious alien called Kalid is trying to control the ancient powers of the Xeraphin.


Today in Doctor Who

Colin Baker made his first full appearance as the Sixth Doctor in 1984 story The Twin Dilemma.  It was the beginning of an uneasy relationship with fans.  Baker wanted to bring drama to the role by having the Doctor struggle to overcome a very difficult regeneration, which made him more of an anti-hero.  This sort of scene did not help:


His time as the Doctor was beset by difficulties, not least BBC 1 Controller Sir Michael Grade detesting the show. As a result of Grade’s wish to cancel the series and production problems, Baker was unable to develop the character the way he wished.  He was unceremoniously sacked from the show and fans are split by feelings of good riddance and regret that he was poorly treated.


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