Famous Utahns of Classic Hollywood, Part 2
Part 2 looks at the director behind the first epic Western, Charlie Chaplin’s most recognizable co-star, and the story behind one of the most iconic film studio logos.
Part 1 covers one of the biggest heartthrobs of the silent era, one of Hollywood’s best-forgotten directors, and the voice behind one of Disney’s classic villainious sidekicks.
Born in Salt Lake City in 1913, Loretta Young, her two sisters, and her mother moved to Los Angeles when Loretta was three. With the help of an uncle already working in the movie business, all three siblings appeared in films as child actors; however, Loretta was the only sibling who would go on to become a star. After starring opposite Lon Chaney in 1928’s Laugh, Clown, Laugh at age 15, Loretta started getting leading roles and remained a star well into the 1950s.
Young became known for playing strong-willed and independent heroines with firm principles that mirrored her own off-screen personality. She always brought her own unique style of trend-setting fashion and glamor to her roles. Leaving films in 1953 to focus on television, she became the first actress to win an Oscar and an Emmy, winning the former in 1947’s The Farmer’s Daughter and the latter for The Loretta Young Show that aired from 1953 to 1960. A lifelong devout Catholic, Loretta Young remained active in charity work up until her death in 2000.
Recommended viewing: Laugh, Clown, Laugh (1928), The Bishop’s Wife (1947), The Stranger (1947)
Even if you’ve never heard the name Fay Wray, you’ve likely heard her scream. Dubbed The Scream Queen, Wray gained cinematic immortality playing the beauty who killed the beast in the original 1933 King Kong. While she was born in 1907 in the small Mormon settlement of Cardston, Alberta, Wray largely grew up in her mother’s hometown of Salt Lake City. Moving to Hollywood in her late teens, Wray first appeared in short comedies at Hal Roach Studios in the early 1920s.
After being touted by the influential Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers as a future star in the industry in 1926, her career picked up steam, landing her first lead role in Erich von Stroheim’s 1928 silent epic The Wedding March. Following her successful transition to sound, Wray appeared in several horror and adventure films that her reputation rests on today including the early technicolor hits Doctor X and Mystery of the Wax Museum alongside RKO’s The Most Dangerous Game and King Kong. After a lengthy career in television that continued through the 1980s, Wray passed away in 2004.
Recommended viewing: The Wedding March (1928), Mystery of the Wax Museum (1932), King Kong (1933)
James Cruze’s early years are marred in mystery thanks to the outlandish, dramatized, and contradictory narratives of his life painted in early Hollywood fan magazines; however, it is certain that he was born in 1884 near Ogden, Utah. Raised by Danish Mormon immigrants, Cruze ran away from home as a teenager and wound up in a traveling stock company after taking up several odd jobs. By 1910, he entered the movies as an actor and became a popular leading man at the New York-based Thanhouser studios in the mid-1910s. After breaking his leg when a stunt went wrong, Cruze tested out his hand as a director, proving himself to be a reliable director for Paramount Studios over the next several years.
His claim to fame saw him return to Utah to shoot one of the first epic, prestige Westerns. Cruze’s 1923 The Covered Wagon is a dramatic reenactment of two wagon caravans traversing the Great Plains on their trek to Oregon. Employing numerous local Utahns and nearly a thousand Native Americans from Idaho as extras, Cruze shot this pioneering (pun intended) Western on location in Millard County on the Utah-Nevada border. The Covered Wagon became one of the biggest financial successes of the silent era and set the standard for subsequent big-budget westerns.
Cruze himself later would become the highest-paid Hollywood director in 1927. Unfortunately, due to his films’ declining quality and his turbulent personal life in the early 1930s, Cruze’s name lost prestige. When he died in 1942, he had not made a film in over four years. Despite his ignominious end, Cruze was one of the first filmmakers to showcase Utah’s natural landscape that influenced future filmmakers to shoot on location in Utah.
Recommended viewing: The Covered Wagon (1923), The Pony Express (1925), I Cover the Waterfront (1933)
Compson first got her start in show business as a teenager playing violin in Salt Lake City vaudeville theaters. Born in the small mining town of Beaver, Utah in 1897 to a maid and mining engineer, Compson found her way into Hollywood when comedy producer Al Christie signed her to a motion picture contract after seeing her vaudeville act. Breaking into serious dramas, Compson’s stock as an actress skyrocketed when she starred in the 1919 hit The Miracle Man alongside the Man of a Thousand Faces himself, Lon Chaney.
Compson became popular enough in the early 1920s to run her own independent production company and produced several of her own films. She remained popular throughout the 1920s and received a nomination for Best Actress at the second Academy Awards for her work in the 1929 early sound film The Barker. After several early talkie successes in the early 1930s, her career began to wind down as she was offered less substantial supporting roles by the 1940s. Her marriage to fellow Utahn James Cruze, an abusive partner who had sapped Compson all out of all her money, was an added strain to her already dwindling career. Retiring from the screen officially in 1948, Compson stayed active by developing her own cosmetics label and running an ashtray selling business.
Recommended viewing: The Docks of New York (1928), Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941)
Mack ‘Moroni’ Swain
Born Moroni Swain in Salt Lake City in 1876, Mack Swain ran away from home at 15 to join a touring minstrel show. A successful stage actor and comedian touring vaudeville stages across the Western United States by the time film became a national pastime, Swain became a screen sensation in the 1910s at Mack Sennett’s Keystone Studios headlining several short comedies and starring alongside the Keystone Cops. Standing at 6 feet and 2 inches and weighing over 270 pounds, Swain used his physical presence for the maximum amount of laughs. Today he’s best known for his work alongside Charlie Chaplin in various short films and the 1925 classic The Gold Rush.
Recommended viewing: A Movie Star (1916), The Pilgrim (1923), The Gold Rush (1925)
The Paramount Logo
One of the most distinctive logos in the movie industry, the star-crested mountain featured in Paramount Studios’ logo traces its roots back to Utah. William Hodkinson, a Kansas native known as The Man Who Invented Hollywood, opened his first storefront movie theater in Ogden, Utah in 1907. Building off the success of his Ogden theater, Hodkinson gradually expanded throughout the West and co-created the Paramount Picture Corporation in 1912, the first-ever nationwide film distribution company.
Legend has it that in 1914 Hodkinson doodled the Paramount logo on a napkin, using the shape of Ogden’s Ben Lomond Mountain to draw the logo’s mountain. Paramount, the second oldest still-operating film studio in the United States, uses the shape of the Ben Lomond mountain for their logo to this day, showcasing it at the beginning of their new releases and as the symbol for its brand new streaming service.