Ben Hur - Tuesday, June 16, 2015

There is an argument that 1878 was the year the first motion picture was ever produced.  It's not clear cut, because it was a series of photographs shot consecutively that, when assembled together, created the impression of movement.  Since that time, the technology has improved dramatically, but new stories remain a challenge.  Remakes, sequels, reinterpretations.  These all inspire the scorn of audiences today, but they've been going on continuously.  For example, the famous William Wyler film of Ben Hur from 1959, the one starring Charlton Heston that won eleven Academy Awards, was a remake twice over.  The first version was a fifteen-minute film shot in 1907.  Today, we are going to talk about the second version.

1925's Ben Hur was directed by Fred Niblo and starred Ramon Novarro as the boyhood Jewish friend of powerful Roman Tribune Messala.  Messala becomes corrupt and sends Ben Hur off to enslavement, during which time he meets and is aided by Jesus of Nazareth.  His fortunes turn after that.  He is eventually freed, becomes an accomplished chariot racer, and does well for himself, the end.  But the movie didn't go quite as smoothly.  Production costs grew and grew until the film gained the distinction of becoming the most expensive movie ever made during the silent era, breaking the bank at $3.9 million!  Fortunately, the popularity of the film came close to justifying the expense, and its influence on modern film remains of note.  The American Treasure Tour's Music Room has a collage of photographs dedicated to the film on display.
QUESTION:  What famous family of actors made appearances in the 1925 Ben Hur in crowd scenes?
A)  The Hustons
B)  The Barrymores
C)  The Quaids
D)  The Redgraves

HARROD'S TOWN.  On this day in 1774, an American settler named James Harrod had the high honor of having a new community named after him in the future state of Kentucky (claimed at the time as part of Virginia).  Why, you may ask, is this newsworthy?  Because up to that point, no English-speaking towns existed west of the Appalachian Mountains.  This was a first at a time when it was quite a dangerous proposition.  In fact, the town had to be vacated the same year due to Indian attacks, but the settlers came back the next year and never left again.  Western settlement was as much an issue during the American Revolution, it can be argued, as was taxation without representation.  When the English Parliament said no settlers were allowed west of the mountains, it likely became an even bigger issue.

NIGHT SOAP!  Today is the 72nd birthday of Joan Van Ark, the actress who brought Valene Ewing to life on two of the most famous evening soap operas of the 1980's and '90's - Dallas and Knot's Landing.  Aside from performing in scores of other television shows and movies, she has had other professional accomplishments; however, she reprised her most enduring one during the recent revival of Dallas that aired on cable television's TNT channel two years ago.

QUOTE:  When I'm not involved in an acting job I try to run ten miles a day. - Joan Van Ark

ANSWER:  B)  The Barrymores.  Lionel and John were both in the film.