- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 4, 2006

Let’s have a rousing cheer for Rita Hayworth, John Wayne, Betty Grable, Buster Crabbe, the Nicholas Brothers, Ginger Rogers, Xavier Cugat, Johnny Weismueller, Maureen O’Sullivan, Cheetah, of course, and maybe Asta, the wire-haired terrier.

Hurray, yee-cats, yippee, hubba-hubba.

Now let’s have hubbub over Una Merkel, Warner Oland, Ina Rae Hutton, Dick Powell, Bela Lugosi, Alistair Sim, Zasu Pitts, Maria Ouspenskaya and certainly Charlie Gemora, whom we will get to shortly.

Yes, huzzah for all the star-spangled celebrities of yore, beloved among those who gazed in wonder at the silver screen or thumbed through movie magazines to discover that, yes, “Miss Grable uses Lux Flakes” or “Cheetah and his lovely wife Vera are at home after summering in Bar Harbor.”

Yes, of course. Cheetah and Vera. Imagine. Cheetah put all his children through graduate school by alerting Tarzan to certain jungle peril in 1932.

Which brings us to Charlie Gemora.

Does his name sound familiar? Mr. Gemora perhaps leads the list of top Hollywood character actors, stuntmen and comics who might seem lost to a) the mists of time or b) the march of progress.

The slight, good-natured Mr. Gemora specialized in playing fake apes.

That’s right. He was the man inside the gorilla suit in all the Laurel and Hardy and Three Stooges short features, plus such vintage hair-raisers as “Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “I Married a Monster From Outer Space,” which was made in 1958 for all of you following along in your companion workbooks.

Born in the Philippines in 1903, Mr. Gemora designed his own costumes, makeup and stunts. He was an ace primatologist and even ventured outside his genre by playing the creepy three-eyed alien that eventually oozed from his spaceship and collapsed of a cold in the original “War of the Worlds” in 1953.

Mr. Gemora died 45 years ago but is not forgotten by many who herald him as a pioneering makeup artist and Asian-American actor. He is not lost to time or progress, thankfully. So here at the Silver Screen Applause Desk, we offer a huge hurrah and a well-timed simian snort for Charlie Gemora.

It is refreshing that few of the celebrated are being forgotten these days. Relative obscurity has become, well, a relatively obscure term in the age of the Internet, which allows fans to set up affectionate, often touching online shrines for the stars of their choice. This is splendid.

Why, even Asta has one (www.iloveasta.com), which notes with much academic gravitas: “Asta’s birth name was Skippy, but it was changed to Asta after the first ‘Thin Man’ film was released. Some fans feel strongly that Skippy is the ‘real’ name, and therefore the proper name to use.”

Want to read of Larry Storch, Mr. Ed, Robert Donat, Gail Sondergaard or Helen Kane? They are but a Google away.

In the meantime, we’ll ignore catty observations that monumental old stars of yesteryear had more charisma and stature than their counterparts today — who admittedly seem drawn to ratty clothes and misbehavior at some sushi bar. Yes, well. We won’t go there, as the argument is well-trodden and mean-spirited.

To be fair, today’s stars get shabby treatment. They are stalked by shameless paparazzi and given invasive, cruel treatment by a news media that would not dream of calling them, say, “Miss Witherspoon” or “Mr. Giamatti.”

On the other hand, some of our celebrities forget they are performers rather than geopolitical experts or defense analysts and feel called upon to blame America for global woes — which would have been anathema to the patriotic likes of John Wayne or the starlets who handed out doughnuts at USO canteens around 1943.

Celebrity political rants have inspired numerous Web sites of the unflattering kind that track the antics of, say, Tim Robbins or Sean Penn on a particularly outspoken day.

Oddly enough, dead celebrities have their own cachet these days. Forbes magazine publishes an annual list of the “top-earning” famous deceased — Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, et al. — who collectively earned $186 million last year through sales of their music, art, movies and assorted bric-a-brac bearing their images.

All of it is carefully trademarked by survivors, lawyers, agents — yes, agents. Indiana-based CMG Worldwide, for example, represents James Dean, Marilyn and 250 other clients who have gone to that great mezzanine in the sky.

“Death isn’t the end. These deceased celebrities are brands,” spokesman Mark Roesler told Forbes.

Entertainment mogul Robert Sillerman, meanwhile, bought 85 percent of the Elvis Presley estate in 2004 for $100 million and plans an Elvis-themed resort in Las Vegas. “Our view is that the world is under-Elvised,” a spokesman noted.

Hmm. Well, that may be. But a Vegas resort themed after Charlie Gemora might not be a bad idea, either. Our view is that the world may be under-Charlied as well.

Jennifer Harper covers media, politics and monkey suits for The Washington Times’ national desk. Reach her at 202/636-3085 or jharper@washington times.com.

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