Feature

Sep 2006

Scottish Stars of the Big Screen

The Golden Oldies

Eric Campbell was an early Scottish trailblazer in silent movies and one of the all-time great Hollywood screen villains. Born in Dunoon he starred as the towering baddie in eleven Charlie Chaplin films.

Campbell sailed to New York City in 1914, following in the footsteps of Chaplin and Stan Laurel, who had gone there a year earlier. Laurel had previously, made his very first stage appearance in front of a vociferous, boisterous Glasgow audience at the Panopticon Theatre in Glasgow.

In 1915, Chaplin was in New York to sign a contract with Mutual which made him the highest paid entertainer ever. He spotted Campbell acting in a play on Broadway and invited him to Hollywood to hook up with his cast of actors in a new batch of films Chaplin had been contracted to make. Campbell became the villain and comic foil to the "Little Tramp's" high jinks and was also the inspiration behind the greatest comedy double act in cinema history. Chaplins style spawned countless imitators, including his old friend Stan Laurel. It was almost inevitable that Campbell, who was a key part of Chaplins phenomenal early success, would also have copycats. The most famous of these was the lofty, heavy-set Oliver Hardy, who teamed up with Laurel to form Laurel and Hardy.

Campbells death in a car accident in 1917 robbed the silver screen of one of the great presences of the silent film era. Campbell was cremated, but his ashes remained unclaimed for over thirty years, until they were finally laid to rest. The big mans final resting place was unknown and he would have been banished to the dusty annals of time were it not for the memorial plaque installed in 1996 in Castle Gardens, Dunoon.

Fellow Scot Kevin MacDonald, whose feature-film debut made a splash at the 2006 London Film Festival and who picked up an Oscar for his 2003 drama documentary Touching the Void, made a film about Campbell in 1996 called .

Doh!

Jimmy Finlayson was another outstanding Scottish comic screen actor who was Laurel and Hardys fall guy in more than 30 films, including the classic (1937). Bald with an enormous fake moustache, Finlayson was famous for his outrageous rolling eyes and double-take reaction to Laurel and Hardys bumbling ineptitude.

Don Castallaneta, who provides the voice of Homer Simpson in , based Homers famous catchphrase Doh! on a similar utterance by Finlayson in many Laurel and Hardy films.

Another famous Scot from the early days of Hollywood was Donald Crisp. This grand old man of cinema was born in Aberfeldy in 1880 and after Eton and Oxford and serving in the Boer War he headed for America to be an actor. DW Griffith cast him in several of his most memorable films including and Intolerance.

After apparently working as a British spy during the First World War, Crisp then embarked on part two of his epic career in the 1920s, as an enthusiastic director of stars such as Douglas Fairbanks and Buster Keaton. When sound arrived he grew weary of directing and reverted to acting, racking up an impressive array of roles before retiring at the age of 83.

Glasgow-born Frank Lloyd started out as an actor but went on to direct an incredible 107 films in Hollywood and three Oscar winners including 1935. He was also one of the 36 founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

The Lady Thrillers

It wasnt just the Scots who were getting in on the act, as one Helensburgh-born lass who went on to become a great screen beauty, proved. The story goes that the turning point of Deborah Kerrs career came when she was surprisingly cast as the yearning wife in 1953s From Here to Eternity after Joan Crawford pulled out. The film included one of the most iconic scenes in cinema with Kerr and Burt Lancaster in a romantic clinch on the beach as a torrent of waves rolls over them.

She went on to star in a number of classic Hollywood movies including and The Night of the Iguana. In 1994 she was awarded an honorary Oscar after six failed nominations over the years.

Tinseltowns best kept secret, however, is the mysteriously-named Lorna Moon. Unless youre an aficionado of early Hollywood cinema the chances are youve never heard of the obscure Mrs Moon, but her life story reads like a Catherine Cookson novel.

Born Nora Low in the Buchan village of Strichen in 1886, the daughter of a labourer, she defied all expectations for a woman of her time. A tempestuous, artistically gifted child she escaped the confines of her rural Scottish background by marrying a Yorkshire watchmaker at 19 and running away with him to Alberta, Canada.

But the vast emptiness of the Canadian prairie may have reminded her too much of home and she fled again, this time into the arms of another Englishman named Walter Moon. In 1913 in her new home of Winnipeg she found a job on the local newspaper and so began a remarkable career as a writer.

The turning point of her life came when she reviewed Cecil B de Milles film , an adaptation of Scotsman JM Barries play The Admiral Crichton. She took such exception to the film that she fired off a strongly worded letter of protest to de Mille himself. This confident, feisty woman so intrigued de Mille that he said if she thought she could do better then she should get to Hollywood fast. Within weeks she left her new husband and a young child behind and set off for the Hollywood hills. The rest, as they say, is history.

She married Cecils brother William and set to work writing sequences for silent film legends such as Greta Garbo and Gloria Swanson and wrote for man-of-a-thousand faces Lon Chaney. Chaney was famous for his ghoulish characters that terrified crowds in the 1920s. His son, Lon Chaney Jnr was to follow in his footsteps and become the Wolfman in Universals classic monster flik.

Before Lorna Moons premature death in Albuquerque from Tuberculosis in 1929 she had penned a host of Hollywood hits and the best-selling novel . The girl who had run away all her life finally came full circle when her ashes were taken home and scattered on Mormon Hill above Strichen.

The one and only 007

It would be hard to argue with Sean Connerys title of the most famous living Scot. When it comes to Hollywood success the former milkman from Edinburgh deserves a category of his own. He is virtually synonymous with the role of the suave super spy James Bond and was recently crowned the best screen Bond of all time. Connery was indeed the quintessential 007 but he has excelled in a host of other roles in a remarkable 50-year acting career.

In Sidney Lumets (1965) and the Anderson Tapes (1972), John Hustons (1975) and the medieval detective story The Name of the Rose (1986) he has grown into a versatile movie star, an old-fashioned man who commands the love of the public.

He won his only Oscar for the role of veteran Chicago cop Jimmy Malone in Brian di Palmas 1987 film . Connery was knighted in a ceremony at Edinburghs Holyrood Palace on Hogmanay 1999.

Dundonian Brian Cox moved to Tinseltown in the mid-1990s after notably being the first actor to play the grisly Hannibal Lector in Michael Manns 1986 film . In a spooky-but-true story of parallel lives, while Cox was in production on Manhunter, Anthony Hopkins was appearing on stage as King Lear at the National Theatre. Five years later, during the making of , with Hopkins now playing the famous fictional serial killer with the penchant for human flesh, it was Cox who was starring as King Lear at the National Theatre!

Cox has gone on to keep the Saltire flying over the Hollywood Hills playing a string of memorable villains in the likes of Troy and the Bourne films and uses his earnings from blockbusters to subsidise stage work and appearances in smaller British and Irish films.

The Young Pretender

Sir Sean may be Hollywoods most famous Scot but Crieff-born Ewan McGregor has picked up the Scottish baton from Sir Sean Connery and run with it successfully from the world of indie and art-house cinema into mainstream movie fame in Hollywood. His first leading role came in Danny Boyles 1994 film and he had his international breakthrough two years later playing cocky heroin addict Mark Renton in Boyles era-defining adaptation of Irvine Welshs Trainspotting, set in Edinburgh.

Since then hes featured as the male romantic lead opposite such A-list femme fatales as Nicole Kidman in and Renee Zellwegger in Down With Love.

But the role that guaranteed McGregor a place in the annals of Hollywood is that of the younger Obi Wan Kenobi in the prequel trilogy. It was a daunting prospect stepping into the shoes of the great Sir Alec Guinness who brought a classical actors authority to the part of the enigmatic Jedi master.

McGregor was conscious too of not wanting to upset hardcore fans of George Lucas sci fi saga by hitting a wrong note with his portrayal of the iconic Kenobi. So, he went to great lengths to ensure that Obi Wans mannerisms, speech patterns and accent were as close as possible to those of Sir Alecs Obi Wan.

Its Not All Acting

Scottish director Michael Caton-Jones enjoyed box-office success in the 1990s with , This Boys Life and .

Royal Academy of Music graduate Craig Armstrong won critical acclaim for his work on the Baz Luhrman films and Moulin Rouge, the latter of which won him a Golden Globe. His most recent film scores are for the Academy Award-winning Taylor Hackford bio-pic , for which the Scottish composer won a Grammy, and Oliver Stones 2006 World Trade Center.

Not to be outdone in the music stakes, another Scot, Patrick Doyle is famed for his many film scores. His Hollywood credits include , Donnie Brasco, and Ang Lees 1996 Sense & Sensibility which earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Original Dramatic Score.

But youd need to stay in your seat in the cinema for a bit longer after the credits start rolling to spot the name of the most successful Hollywood Scot of them all. His name is Iain Neil. Iain who? Well hes bagged an amazing 11 Academy Awards which is the world record for individual Oscars. As if that wasnt enough Neil is also famous in Hollywood for his groundbreaking camera techniques. He moved from Milngavie to the US nearly 20 years ago and has become one of the best in the business at designing lenses used in top Hollywood movies. The 46-year-old famously designed the Primo Macro Zoom Lens. It was used with amazing effect in the Tom Cruise smash . Shots in the movie where the camera pans out from a human eye to take in an entire panoramic scene were only achievable with the revolutionary camera.

The Perfect Location

Glasgows grand Victorian red and honey sandstone buildings contrasted with a real-life urban grittiness has proved especially popular in recent times as a location for high-profile movies. The so-called No Mean City provided the look of early 20th century New York for Terence Davies 2000 adaptation of . The City Chambers, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and the Theatre Royal were all used in the big screen version of Edith Whartons unbearably tragic novel of polite Manhattan society starring Gillian Anderson.

Ken Loach has shot a host of his hard-hitting, gritty dramas in Scotlands second city. , about a love blossoming across the religious divide, used locations dotted across the south and west of the city, including Pollokshields and Kelvingrove Park. Carlas Song and had scenes set in Glasgow while Peter Mullans recovering alcoholic slopes about Partick and Ruchill in My Name is Joe.

Lynne Ramsays debut film drew on her own childhood in Glasgow and was shot around the Govan area of the city. And Small Faces, Gillies McKinnons tale of rival gangs in 1960s Glasgow, owed its authentic look to real Glasgow locations.

Despite being set in Edinburgh, Danny Boyles deliciously dark comedy-thriller had a plethora of key scenes filmed in well-known Glasgow locations. Ewan McGregors supercilious journalist worked at the old Evening Times offices in Albion Street while filming for the country dancing scenes took place in the now defunct Townhouse Hotel on West George Street.

Many uninitiated cinema-goers would have assumed that Boyles follow-up , was shot on location in the drug-addled Edinburgh of Irvine Welshs original novel. But to those in the know there were many giveaways that the movie was filmed mostly in Glasgow. Feisty jailbait Diane gives Renton a mouthful of attitude outside the now-demolished Volcano disco at Partick Cross as a distinctive orange Glasgow bus coasts past in the background.

Legends of the Future

For those following in Lorna Moons footsteps, there is a screen writing course starting soon at Screen Academy Scotland. Last September, Napier University and Edinburgh College of Art came together, in a unique collaboration to create Scotland’s only specialist film education centre.

Glasgow University runs a prestigious Film and Television course which develops both critical and creative skills and was founded in 1978. And there are an amazing 94 other film courses in Scotland alone.

So, theres no need to do a Lorna Moon and run away to the Hollywood hills at least not just yet!

Angus Bickerton

Top 20 Scottish films

Eric Campbell

The Panopticon in Glasgow

The Life of Lon Chaney

Sean Connery

Interview with Iain Neil

Screen Academy Scotland

Creative Scotland