Classic Hollywood: Why is Peter Lorre about to strike Santa with a bat? ‘Hollywood Celebrates the Holidays’ knows

Classic Hollywood
Mary Doran rides off into the sunset on her Thanksgiving turkey. She was a busy bit player at MGM.
(Schiffer Publishing)

Long before she became a redhead and a TV superstar on “I Love Lucy,” a young Lucille Ball dutifully posed for a studio portrait in an Irish maid’s outfit complete with leprechaun to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

And Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet, who made nine movies together in the 1940s, including John Huston’s 1941 masterpiece, “The Maltese Falcon,” posed for perhaps one of the strangest studio Christmas photos ever, with Lorre holding up a baseball bat ready to swing at an unsuspecting Greenstreet dressed as Santa Claus.

Those photographs are featured in a lively new book, “Hollywood Celebrates the Holidays: 1920-1970" by film historian and author Karie Bible — the official tour guide of the Hollywood Forever Cemetery — and film historian and author Mary Mallory.

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The book is divided into all the major holidays as well as miscellaneous holidays, Hollywood during the war years and television stars posing for holidays, including one with Dinah Shore celebrating Easter with a creepy Plasticine white rabbit.

Posing for these photographs, said Mallory, “was all part of the publicity machine — anything they could do to get people’s names and faces in front of the public. They did all kinds of photos — swimsuit, people playing sports, cooking — that could be used in different sections of the newspaper and magazines.”

Among the earliest photos in the book is a Yuletide snapshot in the 1920s of vamp Mae Busch (“Foolish Wives”) telling fans to “Avoid the Hurly Burly and Do Your Shopping Early.”


The Hollywood studios established their stills departments in the 1920s when “they realized there were so many fan magazines and so many newspapers,” said Mallory. “They wanted to control the image [of the actors] and how things were used. The best way to do that was to do it yourself. They did candids, portraits and production stills.”

Holidays photos were also great way to publicize starlets such as Leslie Brooks, who played leads in B-movies in the 1940s, showing a bit of leg as she poses by a rather anemic Christmas tree decorated in World War II bonds and stamps, and MGM bit player Mary Doran wearing a tight-fitting one-piece outfit riding a gigantic turkey for a 1930 Thanksgiving-theme picture.

Child stars Shirley Temple and the “Our Gang” kids were used in the holiday stills, as were ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his wooden companion Charlie McCarthy. A Valentine’s Day portrait of McCarthy, imposed on a toddler’s body wearing angel wings and diapers, as Cupid “was so strange we had to include it,” Bible said.

A lot of the photos were geared toward men, Mallory said, with women “in bathing suits, lingerie and short skirts showing their legs and ample figures.”

Bible and Mallory had to dig and dig to find holiday pictures featuring actors. “I had a feeling not a lot of guys liked to pose for these pictures,” said Mallory.

Jack Haley, the Tin Man in “The Wizard of Oz,” is featured as Santa in a portrait to publicize a Christmas episode of his radio show, “Log Cabin Jamboree.”

Oscar-winning tough guy Wallace Beery (“The Champ”) and his daughter were photographed celebrating the Fourth of July setting off fireworks, and Clifton Webb looks miffed carving a turkey on the set of his 1950 film “Cheaper by the Dozen.”


Joan Crawford is featured in three photographs in the book, including one of her as Santa Claus sitting on the chimney with a doll in one hand and a rifle in the other.

“If Joan was not making movies and she was awake, she was pretty much posing for publicity photos,” said Bible. “I think more than any other star, she understood the power of publicity and how important it was in her career.”


Karie Bible and Mary Mallory

What: Book signing

When: Dec. 2

Where: Book Soup, 8818 W. Sunset Blvd, West Hollywood


What: Mallory will be appearing at the “Author’s Day Book Event”

When: Dec. 5

Where: Hollywood Heritage, 2100 N. Highland Ave, Los Angeles

When: Dec. 12

Where: The Will and Ariel Durant Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library


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