Monday, September 1, 2014


One of my favorite articles to write for my blog is the “Born On This Day” stories.  I not only get to celebrate some of the great stars of classic Hollywood, but I also get the opportunity to revisit some of the stars that I have forgotten. One such star was Richard Arlen, who was born on this day on September 1, 1899.  Born Sylvanus Richard Van Mattimore in St. Paul, Minnesota, he attended the University of Pennsylvania. He served in Canada as a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps during World War I. His first job after the war was with St. Paul's Athletic Club. Then he went to the oilfields of Texas and Oklahoma and found work as a tool boy. He was thereafter a messenger and sporting editor of a newspaper before going to Los Angeles to star in films, but no producer wanted him. He was a delivery boy for a film laboratory when the motorcycle which he was riding landed him a broken leg outside the Paramount Pictures lot.

Impressed by his good looks, executives also gave him a contract after he had recovered. Starting as an extra in 1925, Arlen soon rose to credited roles, but the quality of his work left much to be desired. However, this was the silent era, which was more about looks than substance, and he continued on. His big break came when William A. Wellman cast him as a pilot in the silent film Wings (1927) with Charles 'Buddy' Rogers and Clara Bow. The story of fighter aces would win the Oscar for Best Picture and Arlen would continue to play the tough, cynical hero throughout his career. Arlen appeared in three more pictures directed by Wellman, Beggars of Life (1928), Ladies of the Mob (1928) and The Man I Love (1929). In Wings he had a scene with a young actor named Gary Cooper. In 1929, he again worked with Cooper in the western The Virginian (1929), only this time Cooper was the star and Arlen was the supporting actor. While Arlen moved easily into sound, his career just bumped along.

At the age of 34, he was cast as a college student in the Bing Crosby musical College Humor (1933). The film did nothing to further Arlen’s career, but it was Bing’s second movie, and it made him a star. By 1935 he was working in such "B" pictures as Three Live Ghosts (1936). It was in 1935 that he became a freelance actor and his freelance career soon waned. In 1939, he signed with Universal and began working in its action films. In 1941 he moved to the Pine-Thomas unit at Paramount, where he appeared in adventure films. With the war on, most of his earlier films included war scenarios. By the end of the 1940s Arlen was becoming deaf and this seemed to signal the end of his career. However, he had an operation in 1949 that restored his hearing and he went on making a handful of adventures and westerns through the 1950s and working more in the 1960s. He made 15 westerns for producer A.C. Lyles, who worked with the old western stars.

Besides movies, Arlen also appeared on television and in commercials. After leaving the business in the late 1960s, he was coaxed back to the screen for three small roles in films that were released the same year that he died. Married three times, Arlen only had a son who also appeared in movies. Richard Arlen died on March 28, 1976 of emphysema in Hollywood… 

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