City of Stars 2

7 Jun

The Herald gave the new City of Stars exhibition a great show in the news pages …. It’s at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall for the rest of the year.





James Stewart, Kincardineshire, 1959

20 May
James Stewart

James Stewart, Kincardineshire, Wednesday October 28, 1959 (c) Herald & Times Group

It’s a miracle this photograph of James Stewart exists, given that he came to Scotland for five days in the autumn of 1959 with no fanfare or fuss – only a passing mention in the Daily Record at the start of that week. Accompanied by a picture of him with his wife Gloria in London, the item quoted the 51-year-old star of such all-time-great movies as It’s a Wonderful Life as saying: “I don’t know anybody in Scotland. I’ll be staying in Stonehaven, Kincardineshire, just relaxing and shooting.”

At the time of his visit, Stewart had most recently been seen on Scottish screens in the masterful psychological thriller Vertigo, the last in a run of films he made with Alfred Hitchcock in the 1950s. His latest film was Anatomy of a Murder, the Otto Preminger-directed courtroom drama which had been causing an unprecedented amount of controversy back home in the States, since it dealt quite explicitly with the subject of rape.

Like the character he played in Anatomy of a Murder, Stewart was very much the outdoors type who liked to escape to the countryside to relax. It’s probable that his Scottish sejour was the antidote to the media hoopla that followed the new film as it opened around the world through the second half of 1959.

The Bulletin caption for this photo simply reported that Stewart had thoroughly enjoyed a day’s pheasant shooting on the moors of Kincardineshire. Later he said: “We bagged three or four. I confess we saw plenty which are still flying.”

(c) Alison Kerr (2013). This photo, along with 15 others, can currently be seen in the Stars in Scotland exhibition at the Dunoon Film Festival.

Stars in Scotland @ the Dunoon Film Festival

15 May

Dunoon Film Festival launch - programme & fizzI’m absolutely thrilled about the fact that the very first exhibition of Stars in Scotland (featuring photos of movie stars in locations all over the country) is now up and running  in the town of Dunoon, in its lovely Burgh Hall.

The exhibition was commissioned to tie in with the inaugural Dunoon Film Festival, which will run from June 14-16. The launch of its terrific programme, last Thursday evening, also marked the opening of the exhibition which will run through to the end of the festival weekend.

The cast of stars who have sailed “doon the watter” to Dunoon includes some photos which have not been seen for over half a century. Film buffs might be tickled by the fact that we”ve got three Hitchcock movies’ worth of stars in the shape of James Stewart, Cary Grant, Grace Kelly and James Mason.

Not only do we have the trio of stars from The Philadelphia Story (Stewart, Grant plus Katharine Hepburn) but we also have the stars of its musical remake, High Society (Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby & Grace Kelly). You can also see two great Hollywood couples – Elizabeth Taylor & Richard Burton and Elsa Lanchester & Charles Laughton. Among the other stars featured are Judy Garland, Mae West, Sophia Loren and Deborah Kerr. All snapped in Scotland, by photographers from the sister papers the Evening Times, the Bulletin and The Herald.

Here are some photos taken at the opening. Stars in Scotland @ Dunoon - gallery

Stars in Scotland @ Dunoon - Hepburn, Burton

Stars in Scotland @ Dunoon  - James Mason

Stars in Scotland @ Dunoon launch - Bing visibleAll photos (c) Jean Donaldson, Powan Media.

Marlene Dietrich, Glasgow, 1966

4 Apr
City of Stars 1 - Marlene Dietrich with child

Marlene Dietrich, Glasgow Airport, Monday November 7 1966 (c) Herald & Times Group

Little did Marlene Dietrich know, when she stepped off the plane for her first visit to the city of stars, that by the end of her stay she would be stepping on to the top of her limo and proclaiming “I belong to Glasgow!”.

She was met at Glasgow Airport by dozens of reporters who tried to solve the mystery of her age. Asked why she looked so terribly young, the witty 65-year-old superstar simply said: “But I’m not so terribly old.”

Also waiting for Dietrich on the tarmac was seven-year-old Iain Robertson, the son of John Robertson, assistant manager at the Alhambra Theatre where the star was appearing in her one-woman show that night. She was delighted with the tartan doll given to her by the youngster, but dismissed the suggestion that she might include some Scots songs in her programme. “The Scots sing their own songs much better than I,” she smiled.

Dietrich clearly didn’t need to resort to trading on the tartan in order to win over her audience that night. She swept onstage in white fur and simply seduced the 2000-strong Alhambra crowd with her charisma and presence – and the beguiling way she sang the 22 songs that made up the 90-minute show.

The Evening Times reviewer said: “She needs no props, no artifice. She looks round the theatre with almost savage disdain as if to say ‘I’m Dietrich, who are you?’.” Accompanied by a 20-piece London orchestra, she sang many familiar, signature, songs from her long career – among them Lili Marlene, See What the Boys in the Back Room Will Have and Falling in Love Again. Her performance of the folk song Where Have All the Flowers Gone hushed the spellbound audience.

By the end, she had earned a standing ovation and the stage was strewn with red roses thrown from the audience. At the stage door, more than 100 people waited in pouring rain to catch a glimpse of the star, and she made a point of signing autographs before climbing on top of the car and declaring her love for Glasgow – and Scotland. Cops tried to break up the ever-growing crowd, but Dietrich refused to budge and chatted on to her fans, triggering cheers from Post Office workers assembled on the roof of their building.

(c) Alison Kerr, 2012. To purchase this photo, visit

Sammy Davis Jr, Glasgow, 1963

27 Mar
City of Stars 1 - Sammy Davis Jr

Sammy Davis Jr, Central Hotel, Glasgow, Wednesday May 15, 1963 (c) Herald & Times Group

Relaxing with a drink after two sensational shows earlier in the evening at the Odeon, a euphoric Sammy Davis Jr held court in the Central Hotel into the wee small hours of the morning. He had earned his bourbon and coke on the rocks, having missed his train from Leeds earlier in the day – which meant that he only arrived at his own gig 20 minutes after the first house had started.

The main subject of his late-night, post-show discussion was the wildly enthusiastic reaction he had just received for his Glasgow debut. “Quite frankly,” he said, “and it’s not show biz hogwash, I’ve never seen such a warm audience.”

Davis had delighted the capacity Odeon crowd with a mixture of singing, dancing, gags and impersonations (notably one, using a white handkerchief, of Louis Armstrong). Hailed as more than a mere showman in the next day’s papers, he had brought the house down with his performance of I Belong to Glasgow – complete with a tartan tammy. He told reporters he had learned the song three years earlier from the British actor Al Burnett (with whom he had appeared in the Royal Variety Show). “I sing it sometimes over in the States and they sure love it,” he said.

He also had plenty to say about the Civil Rights movement – Martin Luther King had recently been arrested and jailed during anti-segregation protests in Birmingham, Alabama. “The negro is on the move. He is tired of putting up a submissive attitude. Martin Luther King is one of my dearest friends. I am not down there in Alabama being beaten or jailed but just as it is his fate, so it is my fate. It’s time for the negro to receive human dignity. And it will be won some day. We cannot exist any other way.”

(c) Alison Kerr, 2012.

To purchase this photograph, visit

Sir Harry Lauder, Mary Gordon & Irving Berlin, Glasgow, 1946

12 Mar
City of Stars - Irving Berlin etc

Sir Harry Lauder, Mary Gordon & Irving Berlin, Green’s Playhouse, 126 Renfield Street, Monday September 9, 1946 (c) Herald & Times Group

Irving Berlin, arguably the popular – and certainly the most prolific – of all the American songwriters, came to Glasgow in September 1946 to attend the “trade show” of Blue Skies, a lavish musical featuring a string of his songs and starring Fred Astaire.

The visit by 54-year-old composer and lyricist – whose career stretched back to before the First World War and whose hits included White Christmas, Alexander’s Ragtime Band, Cheek to Cheek, Puttin’ On the Ritz, God Bless America and How Deep is the Ocean – didn’t attract the amount of press attention one might have expected.

Instead, the Glasgow papers focused on the return to the city, after 27 years, of Bridgeton-born Mary Gordon, the Hollywood character actress who was best known as the housekeeper Mrs Hudson in the popular Sherlock Holmes movies (which starred Basil Rathbone) and Mrs M’Guinness in the Bowery Boys films.

Irving Berlin and Mary Gordon were joined by Gordon’s old chum, Sir Harry Lauder, for the the prestigious screening of Blue Skies at Green’s Playhouse and the reception which was held afterwards at the Central Hotel, where Berlin was staying for his one-night visit.

(c) Alison Kerr, 2012. To purchase this photograph, visit

Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis, Glasgow, 1953

12 Mar
City of Stars - Martin & Lewis image

Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis, Empire Theatre, 31-35 Sauchiehall Street, Monday June 15, 1953 (c) Herald & Times Group

Crooner Dean Martin and comedian Jerry Lewis – stars of radio and such Hollywood hits as The Caddy – were the highest-paid act in show business when they made their European debut in Glasgow, in 1953. But they were in a serious frame of mind when they were photographed just before their big opening night.

Why? Because, having turned up 35 minutes late for their appointment at the City Chambers with Glasgow’s Lord Provost, Mr TA Kerr, they had been turned away – and council officials had branded their behaviour “a grave discourtesy”.

Martin later explained this near-international incident to the Evening Times: “We were just about to leave our hotel room for our appointment when a phone call we had been expecting from our studio in California came through. The call concerned details of our next picture but we tried to rush it through as quickly as possible. Even so, we were half an hour behind time at the City Chambers.

“Jerry and I are both disappointed we let the Lord Provost down and we are writing him a letter expressing our sincere regret at the incident.”

The Evening Times report pointed out that Mr Kerr “last year cancelled an appointment with the Iowa Girls Pipe Band when they visited the city and turned up an hour late”.

Still, Kerr’s loss was the Martin-Lewis fans’ gain – scores of autographs were signed outside the City Chambers for screaming “bobby-soxers”, many of whom had spent the previous evening chanting “We want Dean and Jerry” outside the Central Hotel where the duo had crashed out after a day’s golfing at Turnberry.

Their opening night was a sensation, with reviewers raving about the laughs provided by squeaky-voiced, crew-cutted Lewis and the songs coolly sung by his laid-back straight-man Martin.

(c) Alison Kerr, 2012. To purchase this photograph, visit

Eartha Kitt, Glasgow,1960

12 Mar
City of Stars - Eartha Kitt image

Eartha Kitt, George Square, Friday December 23, 1960 (c) Herald & Times Group

In 1960, slinky songstress Eartha Kitt awaited her “Santa Baby” in Glasgow where she was the main attraction in the lavish festive revue being staged at the Empire Theatre. The show opened on Christmas Eve, and on December 23, Kitt took in the sights of the city centre, stopping in George Square to admire the Christmas lights.

Unsurprisingly, 33-year-old Kitt was a sensation in Stars in Your Eyes, the line-up of which was otherwise made up of now-forgotten names. She shimmied onstage in a glittering sheath of a gown and a £6000 leopard coat and sang for the final half-hour of the show.

The Evening Times reviewer said: “Like many others, I had my doubts about Eartha as a fitting climax to a Christmas show, but as she glided silkily from one brilliantly arranged song to another, displaying a vocal power I didn’t know she possessed, my appreciation developed from a grudging little grin at some innuendo, to uninhibited appreciation of a polished performer.”

Among the songs she sang were I Wanna Be Evil, Apres Moi and – of course – her big hit, Santa Baby.

While she was here, Kitt didn’t have much to do with the press – though she revealed to one reporter that her favourite drink was tea, and she was photographed playing bowls at the new bowling alley in East Kilbride towards the end of the three-week run of the Empire show.

(c) Alison Kerr, 2012. To purchase this photograph, visit


Houdini, Glasgow, 1920

12 Mar
City of Stars - Houdini image

Houdini, Pavilion Theatre, Thursday June 3, 1920 (c) Herald & Times Group

One of the earliest international stars to be photographed during a visit to Glasgow was the legendary Harry Houdini, pictured here about to embark on his famous “Water Torture Cell” escape.

The daring escapologist (or “self-liberator”, as the publicity described him) and master showman was known to audiences the world over thanks to his extensive touring and to the films he had begun making to showcase his exploits. Glasgow had played host to Houdini several times from 1904; his 1920 visit was part of his “Farewell Visit to Scotland”.

A brilliant self-publicist, Houdini had developed a unique form of advertising his shows:  he would accept challenges issued by local businesses while he was in town. Among the challenges issued to the 46-year-old in 1920, was this one, published in the Evening Times.


We, the undersigned shipwrights, employees of Lithgow, Ltd, Glen Yard, Port-Glasgow, having heard that the authorities have refused permission to permit yourself to be nailed in a box which is to be weighted and thrown into the Clyde River, naturally, you not being super-human, must admit that the box is of your own construction, and we HEREBY CHALLENGE you to escape from a heavy wooden packing case which we will specially construct for the challenge.
We will send it to the Pavilion Theatre for examination, but before you enter, we will thoroughly renail each board to prevent you having manipulated same.
If you accept our challenge, it is understood you must not demolish it in your efforts to escape.
If you are afraid to try this in public, will you try it privately?

The letter was signed by five men and below it ran the statement: “Houdini accepts above challenge. Test to take place at the second performance tonight, June 2nd, 1920, under the condition that the box must not be airtight.”

Houdini escaped death for another six years – but never returned to Glasgow.

(c) Alison Kerr, 2012. Photograph available to purchase from

City of Stars Auction

11 Mar

City of Stars 2 001Last February, the first manifestation of my research into the stars’ visits to Scotland appeared – in the form of an exhibition at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall.

Featuring 24 photos from the archive of The Herald & Times Group, City of Stars highlighted Glasgow’s status as a major stop-off point for major stars from the worlds of music, movies and showbusiness during the decades from the 1920s on.

Indeed, during the late 1940s and 1950s especially there was an incredible amount of traffic from Hollywood in particular; so much so that some of the visits were only given a tiny amount of coverage. Often the photographs taken didn’t even make it into the papers.

The cast of stars in the exhibition included Gene Kelly (above), Elizabeth Taylor, Cary Grant, Judy Garland, Katharine Hepburn, Mae West, Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr, Marlene Dietrich, Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis, Louis Armstrong and Danny Kaye. The texts that accompanied some of these pictures will appear on this website in due course.

The exhibition was due to end in September. It has proved so popular, however, that it is still up – and a second exhibition is due to open next week. In the meantime, the framed photographs from City of Stars (1) are being auctioned off. If you live in or near Glasgow and fancy taking a star home with you, please visit the exhibition and fill out a form to place your silent bid ..

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