Wednesday 19 September 2012

1931: The Best Year of the WAMPAS

Although, 1926 is often considered the best year of the WAMPAS Baby Stars in the silent era, with future stars, Mary Astor, Joan Crawford, Dolores Del Rio and Janet Gaynor chosen, it is clear that as the Precode era is concerned, 1931 is the WAMPAS standout.  But before I go into the year and the hopeful starlets selected, I will give a little overview of the awards and its history.

What is a WAMPAS?

The WAMPAS girls of 1928
WAMPAS is an acronym that stands for Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers and was actually an advertising campaign aimed at promoting films and the film industry. Each year thirteen – and in 1932 fourteen – hopeful starlets are chosen who are predicted to be the next big star. The awards were given from 1922 to 1934, but not in 1930 or 1933 due to the economic depression and the collapse of Wall Street. The lucky actresses where honoured at a special award ceremony called ‘The Frolic’ that introduced them to Hollywood and movie lovers across America. Due to arguments between studios and advertisers over money and the actresses chosen, the awards ended in 1934. However, in 1956, Ginger Rogers, together with other past WAMPAS winners, attempted to bring the concept back choosing another group of young actress, including the future Barbara Eden, however the idea was never continued.  

Why 1931?

The WAMPAS stars of 1931, see if you can pick them all out

The WAMPAS year 1931 is a clear favourite of mine as most of the actresses honoured became major, independent stars of the Precode era. The thirteen picked were: Joan Blondell, Constance Cummings, Frances Dade, Frances Dee, Sidney Fox, Rochelle Hudson, Anita Louise, Joan Marsh, Marian Marsh, Karen Morley, Marion Shilling, Barbara Weeks, Judith Wood (alias Helen Johnson). Most of you will recognise Joan Blondell and perhaps Marian Marsh from my feature on her a few months ago, but several of the other actresses aren’t widely known today. For a great introduction to these actresses watch the film I found on YouTube officially celebrating the 1931 WAMPAS stars:

For more information I have done a short piece on each of the 13 ladies.

Joan Blondell (August 30, 1906 – December 25, 1979)
Known For: Her hard-hitting Precode depression films, her long string of supporting roles in 1940s/50s movies and her cameo in ‘Grease’
Precode Recommendations: ‘Gold Diggers of 1933’ (1933), ‘Blondie Johnson’ (1932), ‘Three on a Match’ (1932)

Constance Cummings (May 15, 1910 – November 23, 2005)
Known for: Several roles in B-grade Precodes as well as her deep dislike for Hollywood and her move to England where she is more well-known and respected.
Precode Recommendations: ‘Movie Crazy’ (1932) with Harold Lloyd, ‘American Madness’ (1932)

Frances Dade (February 14, 1910 —January 21, 1968)
Known for: Her role as Lucy Weston in ‘Dracula’ (1931)
Precode Recommendations:  ‘Dracula’ (1931), ‘Grumpy’ (1930)

Frances Dee (November 26, 1909 – March 6, 2004)
Known for: Her varying dramatic Precode films, some supporting post-code films and fairytale marriage to actor Joel McCrea
Precode Recommendations: ‘Blood Money’ (1933), ‘Little Women’ (1933)

Sydney Fox (December 10, 1907 – November 14, 1942)
Known for: Her role as the main female character in ‘Murders in the Rue Morgue and premature death in 1942 of a drug overdose at age 34
Precode Recommendations: ‘Mouthpiece’ (1932), ‘Murders in the Rue Morgue’ (1932)

Rochelle Hudson (March 6, 1916 — January 17, 1972)
Known for: Her small role in Mae West’s film ‘She Done Him Wrong’ (1933) and playing Natalie Wood’s mother in ‘Rebel Without a Cause’ (1955)
Precode Recommendations: ‘She Done Him Wrong’ (1933), ‘Wild Boys of the Road’ (1933)

Anita Louise (January 9, 1915 - April 25, 1970)
Known for: Being a popular and successful Hollywood hostess and a fashion icon as well as her roles in ‘Madame Du Barry’ (1934) and ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ (1935)
Precode Recommendations: ‘Millie’ (1931), ‘Madame Du Barry’ (1934)

Joan Marsh (July 10, 1913 – August 10, 2000)
Known for: A number of popular child roles in ‘Daddy Long Legs’ and ‘Pollyanna’ and her lovely singing voice
Precode Recommendations: ‘King of Jazz’ (1930), ‘You’re Telling Me!’ (1934)

Marian Marsh (October 17, 1913 – November 9, 2006
Known for: Her role as Trilby in the film ‘Svengali’ (1931) and her many environmental activities
Precode Recommendations: ‘Svengali’ (1931), ‘Under 18’ (1931)

Karen Morley (December 12, 1909 – March 8, 2003)
Known for: Several performances in classic Precodes, being blacklisted in Hollywood in 1947 after refusing to give an answer over her alleged connection with the Communist Party. Also, was unsuccessful in running for the Lieutenant Governor of New York in 1954.   
Precode Recommendations: ‘Scarface’ (1932), ‘Arsene Lupin’ (1932)

Marion Shilling (December 3, 1910 — November 6, 2004
Known for: Her roles in many B-grade westerns and appearance in serial ‘The Red Rider’ beginning in 1934
Precode Recommendations:  ‘The Common Law’ (1931), ‘The Red Rider’ (1934)

Barbara Weeks  (July 4, 1913 – June 24, 2003)
Known for: an early Ziegfeld Folly, several performances in B-Grade serials and westerns
Precode Recommendations: ‘Forbidden Trail’ (1932), ‘Palmy Days’ (1931)

Judith Wood (August 1, 1906 — April 6, 2002)
Known for: many good Precode performances under the name Helen Johnson and her last performance in an early Marilyn Monroe film ‘Asphalt Jungle’ (1950)
Precode Recommendations: ‘It Pays to Advertise’ (1931), ‘Road to Reno’ (1931)

Another shot of the 1931 actresses, with names and pictures

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