Forgotten Greenpointer

November 3, 2007 by
Filed under: Greenpoint Magic 

The biggest fringe benefit I get at the junk shop (aside from yelling at crass customers without fear of recrimination) is first whack at all the goodies that come in. Recently I scored borrowed this:

Who’s Who

It was heavily picked over, but within the remains I found a forgotten Greenpointer!

Winnie Lightener

Her name is Winnie Lightner and here is her story.

Lightener Bio

Intrigued to learn what happened to Ms. Lightner, I looked her up on IMDB. Follows is an excerpt from her biography:

Winnie Lightner was known as Broadway’s “Song a Minute Girl” because she could belt out a song in less than 60 seconds. Her brassy outgoing style lent itself to Warner’s Vitaphone shorts when sound came in and soon Winnie Lightner was a top Warner star. The missing “Gold Diggers of Broadway” was a triumph for Lightner in 1929, and the all-technicolor “Life of the Parry” was an even bigger hit. Despite the huge success of her first few films, Warner Brothers began to assign maudlin roles to Winnie and by 1933 she was at MGM playing second fiddle to stars like Joan Crawford.

Ms. Lightner retired from show business early and lived out the rest of her life in southern California. Her son, Thomas Del Ruth, is a cinematographer. Some of the more notable films he has worked on are:

  • Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
  • Myra Breckenridge (a big, BIG fave of Miss Heather)
  • The Outlaw Josey Wales
  • Motel Hell
  • Look Who’s Talking (YUCK —but the previous four films make up for it)
  • Stand By Me
  • And a slew of television work including Charmed, West Wing and JAG

But back to Winnie. She never became a big star (or got to play Lady MacBeth for that matter), but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t deserve recognition. She was the first movie performer to be censored for something said or in this case, sung in a talkie (once again, from IMDB):

In 1928 she made a Vitaphone short in which she sang “We Love It,” “God Help a Sailor on a Night Like This,” “That Brand New Model of Mine,” and “We’ve Got a Lot to Learn.” A censorship board in Pennsylvania held the release of the film because of the content of Lightner’s songs. According to film historian Alexander Walker, “Warners asked the censors to merely pass judgment on the visuals – the censors refused.”

The more eagled-eyed among you might have noticed IMDB has “Greenport, New York” listed as her place of birth. I suppose only Winnie (or perhaps her son) would have known/know for certain. Then again, getting censored for a singing a saucy song about sailors strikes me as being a very Greenpoint phenomenon.

Regardless of your place of origin, I salute you Winnie. Your accomplishment might have been lost to time, but it hasn’t been forgotten by yours truly. It was a pleasure making your (belated) acquaintance.

If it is any consolation, I have never gotten to play Lady MacBeth either.*

Miss Heather

*First by lack of opportunity (before going into art, I was a drama major), now by lack of desire. Life is tragic enough, no need to dwell upon it. I have long since accepted the fact I am a comedienne anyway. Even when dead serious I crack people up.

CASE IN POINT: When I wanted to take home a magazine with a Jenna Jameson interview in it from the junk shop.

Me (to my boss): Can I take this? It looks interesting. Besides, if lays around here some guy will probably take it down to the basement and jerk off to it.
Brad (coworker): It wouldn’t be the first time.
Me: Yeah, I know. Tony had to go down there and mop it up. That was back in 2002.
Boss: Sure, you can have it. But you might want to check it for “man juice” first.
Me: Already have. I realize that is an occupational hazard here. It’s clean.

My boss thought this was one of the funniest things he ever heard.

Maybe I should take my comedy cavalcade to Community Board 1? I have considered it. They need a laugh. What’s more, they could use a primer post-feminist record keeping. Per a Miss Heather mole:

I was looking through the minutes from the September CB #1 meeting and, wouldn’t you know, the male names are spelled out but the female names only use the surname. I discovered this because I remember one woman standing up and explaining the problems she and her family had experienced because of construction next door. When I looked up her name I only found Ms. Bowe, not her full name. Am I being naive here? Is it common not to include the first names of all females? Looking through the doc, I noticed all male names were spelled out at first mention and the majority of female first names were omitted. Hmmm..maybe I’m looking into things too much!

That’s Mrs. MISTER Heather to you, bucko!


5 Comments on Forgotten Greenpointer

  1. rexlic on Sat, 3rd Nov 2007 7:31 am
  2. Brava, Mrs. MISTER Heather! To take a junkshop “first whack” at an old Hollywood fan magazine, add in the disputed birthplace of a completely forgotten actress and spin such a blog-o-riffic piece out of all that–pure alchemy. When you mentioned Winnie Lightner’s offspring, cinematographer Thomas Del Ruth, I correctly guessed his dad to be the (almost) completely forgotten director Roy Del Ruth. IMDB has his birthplace as “Delaware, USA,” but he could have been an honorary Noo Yawker for spinning such celluloid sugar as “Gold Diggers of Broadway,” Broadway Melody of 1936,” “BM of 1938,” “Broadway Rhythm,” “Ziegfeld Follies,” “It Happened On Fifth Avenue,” and “The Babe Ruth Story” (this last on an abomination starring Hollywood’s favorite Brooklyn cliche, William Bendix, as the Sultan of Swat). Sadly, his career ended with crap like “The Alligator People,” which I only know from a compilation I read as a kid of the horror fanzine, “Famous Monsters of Filmland” (and if you get one of those in the store, hold on to it for me). Anyway, to show how too much net-surfing will eventually bring everything together/fry your brain, I recently found a site chronicling efforts to track down long-lost Vitaphone shorts and the sound discs that made them talk! and sing!, so perhaps Greenpernt gal Winnie’s bawdy ballads may still reach our ears out of the haze of history. As for the mag with the Jenna J. interview: could thing you got to it before a co-worker got “first whack” at it. Hopefully, porn’s leading lady dishes on the behind-the-scenes shenanigans of such gems as “Where The Boys Aren’t 16”–they just don’t make lesbian orgy classics like that anymore.

  3. missheather on Sat, 3rd Nov 2007 4:08 pm
  4. Thanks. I was in a pretty interesting mood when I wrote that post.

    What’s the url for the site that is tracking down Vitaphone shorts? Just curious.

  5. rexlic on Sat, 3rd Nov 2007 4:47 pm

    I think Film Forum runs some of the shorts periodically. BTW, decided after my initial post to look up the completely forgotten actress, Leila Hyams, who graced the cover of that magazine. Turns out Leila had a role in Tod Browning’s legendary “Freaks,” the horror auteur’s tribute to sideshow misfits. Saw that on a double bill with Robert Altman’s “Brewster McCloud” at the Elgin revival house at 19th and 8th (now the Joyce Theater) before seeing Neil Young at the Palladium (now NYU housing and Trader Joe’s), where he played the transcendent “Like A Hurricane” a year before its LP release, and we walked along 14th Street after the show transported (11/20/76, for those keeping score at home). (BTW, where would I (now a mournful, middle-aged lush) be without parentheses?)

  7. missheather on Sat, 3rd Nov 2007 5:06 pm
  8. Thanks!

    Freaks is an awesome movie.

    If you like Robert Altman, you’re going to be interested in tomorrow’s post. 😉

  9. rexlic on Sat, 3rd Nov 2007 5:19 pm
  10. Look forward to all your posts, Miss H (awww!). Actually not that big an Altman fan, although I admit not to truly giving his major pieces enough of a chance. Just that ever since the atrocity he committed on Raymond Carver’s work in “Short Cuts,” have never been able to muster the interest. While coming across Leila Hyams and her appearance in “Freaks,” came across an “online museum” for the half-bodied co-star, Johnny Eck, at Or as a carny might say, sneak a peak at a freak!

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