Friday, July 2, 2010

On Second Thought, I Don't Know Lilian Bond

As I was reviewing The Old Dark House, James Whale's story of things that go bump in the night, the name Lilian Bond kept buzzing around in my head—she played Charles Laughton's mistress, as you may recall—and I had this vague feeling I was supposed to know who she was. But as it turns out, no, I'd never heard of her, and moreover, further research reveals that there was no reason I should have heard of her.

Maybe I was thinking of Lillian Roth or Beulah Bondi or somebody like that. Ward Bond, maybe. I don't know. Just not Lilian Bond as it turns out. Because not to put too fine a point on it, Lilian Bond was nobody. Harsh, but essentially true, at least as far as movie history goes.

But let's talk about her anyway.

Born in London in 1908, Lilian Bond began working in the theater at the age of fourteen in the pantomime Dick Whittington and His Cat, a traditional story first performed on the English stage in 1605. Later she danced in the chorus of the Piccadilly Revels. In 1926 Bond won a beauty contest and moved to America where she performed in the Ziegfeld Follies.

She made her first movie, No More Children, in 1929, and in 1932 was named a "WAMPAS Baby Star" along with Ginger Rogers, Gloria Stuart and eleven other actresses. WAMPAS, in case you didn't know, was the Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers and from 1922 to 1934, it selected a dozen or so young actresses as rising stars. Sometimes they got it right—Clara Bow (1924), Mary Astor (1926), Joan Crawford (1926), Jean Arthur (1929), Joan Blondell (1931)—but mostly they got it woefully wrong, and sometimes it looks like they just picked actresses based on who they thought would show up for the annual "WAMPAS Frolic," one of those gruesome little shindigs where fat guys in cheap suits make fools of themselves trying to impress beautiful girls half their age.

But I digress.

Appearing in forty-eight movies between 1929 and 1955, Bond played mostly supporting parts, with occasional starring roles in B-movies. Her best known roles are as Gladys Perkins (where she was credited as "Lillian" Bond) in the aforementioned The Old Dark House and as Lily Langtry in The Westerner, which starred Gary Cooper and scored an Oscar for Walter Brennan (who played Judge Roy Bean).

I've seen both movies, posted three pictures of her, and read everything about her I could find. Yet even now I doubt I could pick her out of a lineup, and that may be the problem with her career in a nutshell.

She married three times—twice until the death of her husbands did them part—and died herself of a heart attack in 1991.

And now before we leave the subject of Lilian Bond behind forever, here's a clip of her from The Old Dark House. She's playing across from the great Melvyn Douglas, who had only just broken into the movie business himself the year before. But more about him later.


Who Am Us Anyway? said...

Ha! From the dept. of future puns.

But I will say this. These are some of my very favorite among the many great Myth features, the discovery and retelling of the for-some-reason fascinating-to-me stories of the nobodies who were, like most of us, nonetheless trying their damnedest to make something of themselves. A great post.

Mythical Monkey said...

Thanks, Who. In a way, I find these stories more interesting than the long posts about Ernst Lubitsch and the like. After all, it's the Lilian Bonds of the world I have more in common with. Sort of a reminder to enjoy what I'm doing without worrying about whether I make a sack full of money doing it. You know?

Mythical Monkey said...

Well, I say it's the Lilian Bonds of the world I have more in common with. Then I looked at those photos of her again and realized I have nothing in common with Lilian Bond. But she's interesting nonetheless.

mister muleboy said...

You can say she was nobody, but when I look at some of those pictures, I by Gahd think that she was some body. . . .