Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Gloria Jean, Actress (1926- )

Actress and former Scranton resident Gloria Jean (center) with Leon Errel and W.C. Fields in a publicity photo for 1941's Never Give A Sucker An Even Break. My deepest thanks to Gloria Jean's sister (and webmaster of her official site Bonnie Schoonover for giving me permission to use this photo in our blog.

Don McKeon recently emailed me again with the following:

"Gloria Jean, born in Scranton and who also lived in West Scranton. She went to Hollywood, and I remember seeing an old film in which she played opposite W.C Fields. Check it out if you can."

Gloria Jean (1926- ) is an actress from the Golden Age of Hollywood who made a successful transition from child star to adult roles in major Hollywood films. Though she was born in Buffalo, NY, she was raised in Scranton, PA and has been quoted that she has always considered Scranton her "hometown."

Jean performed in vaudeville houses, movie theaters, and radio shows throughout Scranton as a child. She was discovered by producer Joe Pasternak from Universal Pictures, then ventured to Hollywood in 1939 at the age of 13 to appear in her big-screen debut The Under-Pup, which had its premiere in Scranton. According to an article in the Scranton Weekly from 1993, Jean went on to make 39 movies, starring with such actors as Bing Crosby, W.C. Fields, Groucho Marx ("Coconuts"), the Andrew Sisters and Donald O' Connor. In addition, according to the same article, amoing Jean's classmates on the studio lot was Elizabeth Taylor. Perhaps her most famous role was as (curiously) Gloria Jean, the niece of W.C Fields in Never Give A Sucker An Even Break in 1941.In 1942 she starred with Old Forge native Allan Jones in When Johnny Comes Marching Home.

Following a small part in Jerry Lewis's The Ladies Man in 1961, Jean retired from the screen. According to the Internet Movie Database, she went to work for Redken (a cosmetics firm) shortly after, where she was employed until her retirement.

Gloria Jean's web site, whose webmaster is Gloria's sister Bonnie, contains an extensive biography on Gloria Jean and many articles from that period about her career. The site also offers DVD and VHS copies of most of Gloria Jean's films from her personal collection (many of which are not available anywhere else), as well as rare publicity stills and photographs, paper dolls and coloring books, and a 2-disc CD set of her rare recordings.

A critically acclaimed authorized biography titled Gloria Jean: A Little Bit of Heaven, written by Scott and Jan MacGillivray, was just published in October 2005. Copies of the book are available in both our library's circulating collection and in our Local History (non-circulating) Collection. To place a hold, click here.

Also available to borrow through the Lackawanna County Library System is the VHS for Never Give A Sucker An Even Break; to place a hold, click here.

In addition, there is a newspaper clippings file (AKA Local History Vertical File) for Gloria Jean in the Reference Department that includes newspaper articles on the star.

Thanks again to Don McKeon for providing me information for this entry.

Also, thank you to Bonnie Schoonover for information on the book Gloria Jean: A Little Bit of Heaven and for her permission to use the fantastic movie still in our blog.

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Ghost Breakers (1940)

Don McKeon recently emailed me the following:

"I was watching an old movie recently called The Ghost Breakers made in 1940 starring Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard. A reference was made to Scranton when both Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard come across a set of railroad tracks in a secret room of a castle. Bob Hope said that the tracks reminded him of his hotel room in Scranton."

Directed by George Marshall (Marlene Dietrich’s “comeback” film Destry Rides Again, as well as Bob Hope and Lucille Ball in the film Fancy Pants and Ball again in episodes of her TV series Here’s Lucy) this breezy, timelessly amusing comedy re-teams Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard, who two years earlier appeared together in The Cat and the Canary.

Mary Carter (Goddard) has just inherited a castle owned by her great-great grandfather off the coast of Cuba and said to be haunted. Despite warnings and death threats, she accepts the inheritence.

She is joined by radio broadcaster Larry Lawrence (Hope) who, believing he has killed a mob boss, flees New York with his butler, Alex (Willie Best). She enables him to escape by stowing him in a trunk bound for Cuba. In return, he promises to help rid her inherited castle of the ghosts and ghoulish creatures said to inhabit it. Once on the island, the three explore the eerie castle and search for the key to the castle's treasure while being haunted by the ghosts of Mary's ancestors.

Hope proves yet again that he is the master of the one-liner. The following dialogue is spoken as Mary and Larry descend a staircase into the dungeon of the castle.

Look at these railway tracks running through here.

Reminds me of my hotel room in Scranton.

The Ghost Breakers is available to borrow on VHS from The Lackawanna County Library System; to place a hold, click here. The film is also available to purchase on DVD.

Much thanks again to Don McKeon for the reference.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Miracle of The Bells (1948)

The ever-observant Michele Murphy has recently told me about a classic film that makes several references to Wilkes-Barre and Nanticoke.

The film is Russell Janney's The Miracle of the Bells. It was directed by Irving Pichel (Mr. Peabody & the Mermaid), who was born in Pittsburgh. The screenplay, based on the novel of the same name by Russell Janney (of which there are two copies circulating in the Lackawanna County Library System) is by Ben Hecht (1932’s Scarface, His Girl Friday, Hitchcock’s Notorious, as well as uncredited work on 1962’s Cleopatra and Queen Christina with Greta Garbo) and Quentin Reynolds, with additional dialogue (uncredited) by DeWitt Bodeen (Cat People, I Remember Mama and the 1950s TV series “Mr. & Mrs. North)--none of whom hail from Northeastern Pennsylvania.

The film stars Fred MacMurray (Double Indemnity; TV’s My Three Sons), (Alida) Valli (Orson Welles’s The Third Man, Les Yeux sans Visage), and recording legend and Oscar winner Frank Sinatra (From Here To Eternity).

Furthermore, location shoots for The Miracle of the Bells were done in three areas of Luzerne County--Wilkes-Barre, Plains and Glen Lyon.

The film begins at a train station in Nanticoke, PA. Determined to fulfill her final request, a Hollywood press agent (MacMurray) brings the body of an actress (Valli), who died from tuberculosis after making her first and only film, back to her hometown of Coal Town, Pennsylvania for burial. The film tells in flashbacks how fate threw Olga and Bill together, their reunion in Hollywood where Olga (originally a double for the lead actress) is herself cast in the lead role of Joan of Arc in a major Hollywood film, and her death from tuberculosis a day after filming was completed. To arouse public interest, and to get the reluctant studio head to release the film, Bill teams with a local kindhearted parish priest (Sinatra) and creates national publicity when they urge (and bribe) the priests of 5 Coal Town churches to rung their church bells nonstop for three days. The result is, indeed, a miracle.

The first reference to Wilkes-Barre occurs during a flashback on Christmas Eve in Ming Gow’s Chinese Restaurant following a chance meeting between Olga and Bill after a performance. After dinner, Olga and Bill have the following exchange:

I was born in Poland. When I was quite young, we came to America to a place in Pennsylvania called…Coal Town. Little Poland.

Near Wilkes-Barre?


In the following scene, back in present day, a shyster funeral director Nick Orloff (played by Harold Vermilyea), who is exorbitantly arranging Olga’s funeral, has the following exchange with Bill after returning from organizing the service:

Didn’t keep ya’ waiting too long, I hope?

Ya' got everything fixed?

Yessiree. I had a big talk with Father Spinsky, and he worked everything out fine. He’s gonna’ give ya’ a solid requiem mass. And I got hold of a singer from Wilkes-Barre. She just happened to be in town.

Later in a montage of newspapers headlines showing the nationwide publicity for the 3 days of ringing bells, a copy of the Wilkes-Barre Sun appears with the headline:


When the other parish priests are trying to convince Bill to hold the funeral at a larger church to accommodate the growing crowds of mourners, funeral director Nick exclaims at one point:

There’s a busload of sightseers in from Wilkes-Barre already.


In additional to the Wilkes-Barre references, there are also several references to Nanticoke, PA in Miracle of the Bells.

The railway station Bill arrives at with Olga’s body is in Nanticoke, PA. A sign also states this fact.

The Nanticoke Journal is mentioned several times as their newspaper.

Nanticoke is also mentioned twice in the following scene between Bill (MacMurray) and Father Paul (Sinatra):

Father, how much is the bus fare to Nanticoke?

Father Paul
It’s 10 cents.

Will, a dollar oughta cover it.

Father Paul
Will that be enough?

Not quite. I need another $490.99, but I may be able to pick it up in Nanticoke. See ya later.


Bill (to clerk)
Are you sure there isn’t a night letter lying around Wilkes-Barre?


The 1946 novel Miracle of the Bells by Russell Janney, which mentions Wilkes-Barre, Scranton or Nanticoke on practically every page, is also available to borrow from the Lackawanna County Library System. Click here to place a hold on the novel.

Much thanks to Michele Murphy for this reference.

UPDATE 4/7/10 I found this clip of Miracle of the Bells on YouTube. The 1:27 mark begins Valli's speech where Wilkes-Barre is first mentioned in the film ("I was born in Poland.".

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Former Mrs. Oklahoma Joyce Basch

I recently received an email from Dr. Guy McGinnis, a graduate of Scranton Central High School in 1956 (who will be attending his 50th class reunion in September). In the email, he asked me if we were limiting the blog strictly to movie references to Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, for he had a list of classmates who are working/have worked/have connections to both Scranton and the entertainment industry. Therefore, after officially altering the misleading name of the blog from "Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in the Movies" to its new title "Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in Entertainment," and under the assurance from Dr. McGinnis that I had explicit approval to include the names of some of his classmates in the blog, I've decided to incorporate seperate entries for former residents who have made an impact in the entertainment field.

The first person we will be profiling is Joyce Basch. Currently an instructor of English as a Second Language at Santa Anna College's Department of Continuing Education, Joyce appeared with Mr. McGinnis in a play at Scranton Central in the spring of 1956.

A major highlight in Joyce's career was being crowned Mrs. Oklahoma and participating in the Mrs. America pageant. According to Dr. McGinnis, Joyce has also become a rather reknowned professional magician, working at five-star resorts.

In addition, Joyce has two grandchildren who are actors in Hollywood. Her grandson has appeared in the Eddie Murphy comedy Daddy Day Care, and her granddaughter is currently working in the new ABC series What About Brian? In addition, her niece Abigail has written three screenplays.

To read more about Joyce, click here.

I would sincerely like to thank Dr. Guy McGinnis for all of the local entertainment references he has provided me, most of which I hope to post in the near future. I would also like to sincerely thank Joyce Basch who, through Dr. McGinnis, has given me permission to include an entry about her in our blog.

UPDATE (May 22nd, 2006)

Joyce has sent more information about her grandchildren to Dr. Guy McGinnis, which he passed along to me.

"If you want to see or get a picture of my grandchildren,
Shane Baumel has his own website at

And if you go to and type in his name or "Curious George" premiere, you'll see pictures of Shane (9 years old) and his sister Mikaila (5 years old) on the red carpet.

Mikaila has a recurring part in the new series "What About Brian" which has been picked up and will continue next season."

UPDATE (May 31st, 2006)

Also of note is the fact thay Joyce's father owned the first TV store in Scranton in the 1950s.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Kingpin (1996)

Though not filmed here, there are several reference to Scranton in the 1996 Farley Brothers comedy Kingpin.

The film tells the hilarious story of Roy Munson (Woody Harrelson), a champion bowler in 1979 who loses his bowling hand after a misunderstanding with a gang (and some underhandedness from his rival Ernie McCracken, played by Bill Murray).

"Scranton, Pennsylvania, 17 years later" then appears on the screen.

Now with a prosthetic hand and all of his bowling career hopes smashed, he meets Ishmael (Randy Quaid) , a talented bowler (and Amish man) whom Roy takes under his wing. (in the film, Scranton and Amish Country are just a drive away from each other).

Listed in the credits of Kingpin as Scranton Wino is actor Herbie Flynn (b. September 18, 1917; d. February 11, 2003), who played similar roles in three other Farley Brothers films---There's Something About Mary; Shallow Hal; and Me, Myself & Irene.

Kingpin is available on DVD and VHS from the Lackawanna County Library System. Click here to place a hold on the DVD; if you'd rather borrow VHS, click here.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Wanda (1971)

Those who believe that independent films made in Scranton (or any amateur film) have to be "artsy" or "pretentious" have never heard of writer-actress-director Barbara Loden or her 1971 film Wanda, a crime drama filmed entirely in Scranton and Carbondale at a budget of $110,000.

Barbara Loden (who was also married to director Elia Kazan until her death in 1980) stars as the title character, an uneducated Pennsylvania coal-country woman who divorces her husband and gives him sole custody of her two children because, as she admits, "I'm just no good." After a series of self-destructive episodes and one-night stands, she has a chance encounter with Higgins, a neurotic thief who first takes her hostage before she submits and begins working as his accomplice. When they both decide on pulling one last job before leaving the "business," tragedy forever changes their fates.

Albright Memorial Library can be seen in the distance (as is Courthouse Square and Shokey's - now Trolley's) during a drive down North Washington Avenue to the robbery location--The Third National Bank of Scranton at 100 Wyoming Avenue (which is actually spoken near the end of the film). In addition, the end credits thank both the Scranton Police Force and the Third National Bank of Scranton.

Wanda won acclaim as a "moving and insightful" character study at several film festivals, including the International Critics' Prize for Best Film at the 1970 Venice Film Festival.

Wanda was released for the first time on DVD on July 25, 2006. It is available to borrow at Albright Memorial Library. To place a hold, click here.

For more information on Wanda, check out its page on the Internet Movie Database.