May 102018
 

Among those active in the Lakeside Little Theater twenty-plus years ago was Norman Schnall (1923-2003) who moved to Ajijic with his wife, Claire, in 1998.

Schnall’s professional name as a film and television actor was Norman Burton. As a stage and screen actor, Schnall appeared in more than 40 movies, including Pretty Boy Floyd (1960), Planet of the Apes (1968), Diamonds Are Forever (1971), Save the Tiger (1973), The Towering Inferno (1974) and Bloodsport (1988), as well as in dozens of TV programs.

Schnall was born in the Bronx, New York (of Russian and Austrian parents) on 5 December 1923. He was a good friend of Beat authors Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsburg, and is the basis for the character “Normie Krall” in Kerouac’s masterwork, Visions of Cody (1973).

Other Beat Era artists and authors with links to Lake Chapala include George Abend, Ernest Alexander, Clayton Eshleman, Jack Gilbert, Don Martin, Anne McKeever, Arthur Monroe, Ned Polsky, Alexander Trocchi, Stanley Twardowicz, ruth weiss, and Al Young.

Schnall studied at the Actors Studio in New York in the 1950s under Lee Strasberg and appeared in several Broadway plays including The Wedding Breakfast, Sound of Hunting and Anna Christie. He became a devotee of the method school of acting, and later taught method acting in Lakeside, California.

Norman Schnall as Felix Leiter.

Norman Schnall as Felix Leiter.

His first film role was a minor part in Fright (1956). He appeared in over 40 movies and dozens of television programs during the 1960s and 1970s. Perhaps his best known role on screen was as the villain Felix Leiter in the James Bond movie Diamonds Are Forever. Movie trivia buffs will know that Schnall played the gorilla Hunt Leader in the science fiction film Planet of the Apes.

After retiring, Schnall and his wife lived for some time in Prescott, Arizona, before moving to Ajijic.

Schnall was also reputed to be a fine artist and painter, though I have not yet seen any of his work.

In November 2003, Schnall was killed in an auto accident in the U.S. while on his way back to his home in Ajijic.

Sources

  • IMDB entry. https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0123680/ [28 April 2018]
  • Dave Moore (compiler). 2010. “Character Key to Kerouac’s Duluoz Legend.” http://www.beatbookcovers.com/kercomp/ [28 April 2018]

Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios are welcomes. Please email us or use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts.

 Posted by at 6:07 am  Tagged with:
Jan 292018
 

Roscoe (“Rocky”) Karns lived in Ajijic with his wife (Kate Karns) and family from 1971 until his death on 5 February 2000. Karns had retired from careers in acting and sales and devoted himself in Ajijic to his painting and working as producer and director on shows at the Lakeside Little Theater.

Roscoe (“Rocky”) Todd Karns Jr., was born in Hollywood, California, on 15 January 1921, to character actor and comedian Roscoe Karns and his wife Mary Fraso.

Rocky Karns as Harry Bailey

Todd Karns as Harry Bailey

Karns’ movie career was interrupted by four years service in the Army during World War II.

After the war, when Rocky was assigned to work in Los Angeles as a military recruiter, he and his wife, Kate, established their home in Hollywood and Rocky began to build his acting career even as they started a family.

Rocky’s most significant movie role was as “Harry Bailey” in the classic Christmas holiday movie It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), starring Jimmy Stewart (playing Harry’s elder brother “George Bailey”) and Donna Reed.

The movie was nominated for five Academy Awards including best picture. Though it did not do terribly well when it was released, it has gained popularity in recent years and has now made the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 best American films ever made.

Todd Karns. Moulin Rouge. (sold 2012 at Capo Auction)

Todd Karns. Moulin Rouge. (sold at Capo Auction, 2012)

Karns had minor roles on several other films, including My Foolish Heart (1949), It’s a Small World (1950, Battle Zone (1952), Invaders from Mars (1953), China Venture (1953) and The Caine Mutiny (1954).

He also worked in television, co-starring with Helen Chapman in a sitcom entitled Jackson and Jill (1949). In 1950, he also worked alongside his father, the star of a popular cop series, Rocky King, Private Detective.

Karns retired from acting in about 1954 and began a 17-year career in sales and public relations for the North American Philips Corporation, eventually becoming its West Coast manager. In 1971, Karns retired from the company and moved to Ajijic. During his “retirement”, Karns focused on his painting, and on directing local theater shows.

Todd Karns. Circus. (sold 2012 at Capo Auction)

Todd Karns. Circus. (sold at Capo Auction, 2012)

Karns directed numerous plays at the Lakeside Little Theater (LLT) , beginning in 1973 with Barefoot In The Park and The Pleasure of his Company. Other plays directed by Karns at LLT included the comedies Sauce For The Goose, Squabbles, Marriage-Go-Round, Noel Coward In Two Keys, The Gin Game and Last Of The Red Hot Lovers, as well as the fantasy A Visit To A Small Planet, the thriller Wait Until Dark, and the drama On Golden Pond.

Karns’ art career in Ajijic enjoyed similar success. Karns had begun painting shortly after the end of World War II.

Todd Karns. 1971. Street scene. Reproduced by kind permission of Katie Cantu.

Todd Karns. 1971. Street scene. Reproduced by kind permission of Katie Cantu.

After moving to Ajijic, Karns soon began to exhibit and sell his art at local shows. In December 1974, for example, one of his paintings was auctioned in a charity fund-raiser organized at the San Antonio Tlayacapan home of Frank and Rowene Kirkpatrick, alongside works by Rowene Kirkpatrick, Sidney Schwartzman and Antonio Santibañez.

In March the following year Karns joined Gail Michaels and Synnove Shaffer (Pettersen) for a three-person show at the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala.

Karns was an active participant in the Clique Ajijic, a group of eight artists who formed a loosely-organized collective for three or four years in the mid-1970s. The other members of Clique Ajijic were Sidney Schwartzman, Adolfo Riestra, Gail Michaels, Hubert Harmon, Synnove (Shaffer) Pettersen, Tom Faloon and John K. Peterson (the only member of Clique Ajijic who had been a member of the earlier Grupo 68).

In 1989, Karns was accorded the honor of a solo show by Sidney Schwartzman, owner of the Schwartzman Galería in Ajijic. Karns was quite a prolific artist and his works, with their charming naiveté, do occasionally turn up in online auctions.

This is an outline profile. Contact us if you would like to learn more about this particular artist or have information to share.

Sources:

  • El Ojo del Lago: March 1985; January 1989.
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 4 January 1975; 15 March 1975; 28 February 1976.
  • anta Cruz Sentinel. “Local Theatre Attractions”, Santa Cruz Sentinel (California), 9 March 1941, p 10.
  • Vincent Terrace. 2011. Encyclopedia of Television Shows, 1925 through 2010. McFarland & Company.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Sep 182017
 

Roland Vargo, the only Dutch actor to play in films alongside Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo and Katherine Hepburn, left Hollywood behind on retirement and settled in Chapala Haciendas, overlooking Lake Chapala.

Roland Vargo was his self-chosen stage name. He was born Jacob Frederik Vuerhard in Utrecht on 15 March 1908. He grew up on Java, returned to the Netherlands as a teenager and worked, among things, as an illustrator at Het Vaderland.

He then moved to Berlin, determined to try his luck with the blossoming film industry in Germany. His first film part seems to have been in Jugendtragödie (“Tragedy of Youth”, 1929).

Roland Varno, Publicity shot for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1931-2

Roland Varno, Publicity shot for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1931-2

Roland Varno’s best-known film role came in the German classic Der Blaue Engel (“The Blue Angel”, 1930), which starred German sensation Marlene Dietrich and Emil Jannings. He also had a part in Der Mann, the seinen Mörder sucht (“The Man in Search of his Murderer”, 1931).

While in Berlin he was discovered by a talent scout of the Hollywood studio MGM and invited to travel to the U.S. to play the lead role in All Quiet on the Western Front (1930). Unfortunately his ship across the Atlantic was delayed and the part was given instead to Lew Ayres. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, the two men became best friends.

In 1932 Varno married Elizabeth (“Betty”) Tyree. The couple had two children, a boy and a girl, but later divorced.

While Varno was never an A-list Hollywood superstar, this dependable, handsome, character actor, just under six foot tall, who spoke several languages, found work on dozens of films in the 1930s and 1940s.

He also made two movies in the Netherlands, both released in 1934: Malle Gevallen and the successful soldier comedy Het meisje met de blauwe hoed (“The girl with the blue hat”).

Greta Garbo and Roland Varno in "As You Desire Me" (1932)

Greta Garbo and Roland Varno in “As You Desire Me” (1932)

His best known scene in Hollywood was a dance with Greta Garbo in As You Desire Me (1932). He also appeared with Katherine Hepburn in Quality Street (1937), and in Gunga Din (1939), Three Faces West (1940), Women in Bondage (1943), The Return of the Vampire (1943), My Name is Julia Ross (1945), Three’s a Crowd (1945), Flight to Nowhere (1946) and Scared to Death (1947).

Roland Varno in My Name is Julia Ross (1945)

Roland Varno in My Name is Julia Ross (1945)

During World War II, Varno worked in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and had parts (ranging from a spy to a freedom fighter) in propaganda films  including one entitled Hitler’s Children. He also added Japanese to the list of languages he spoke either fluently or semi-fluently.

After the war he played in radio and television series in the U.S., including Space Patrol (1950), The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok (1951-1958) and 77 Sunset Strip. He also worked as a truck driver, carpenter, encyclopedia salesman and broker.

Varno made his last movie appearance in Istanbul (1957) but continued to do occasional TV work, among which was some on the set of the miniseries War and Remembrance (1988-9), based on the novel by Herman Wouk.

After his retirement in the early 1970s, Varno moved to Chapala, where he directed two plays for the English-language Lakeside Little Theater: The Bad Seed in November 1976 and Harvey in November 1979. The actors in The Bad Seed included Norma Miller, the 11-year-old daughter of photographer Bert Miller. Another photographer, Toni Beatty, a family friend of Varno from his time in California, visited him in Ajijic and stayed in the village for several months with her husband Larry Walsh in a casita owned by acclaimed American photographer Sylvia Salmi.

Roland Varno died in Lancaster, California on 24 May 1996 at the age of 88.

Family links:

  • Varno’s sister, Anneke, was the Netherlands’ “Dear Abby” for many years.
  • Varno’s son, Martin Varno, wrote the script for Night of the Blood Beast (1958).
  • Varno’s daughter, Jill Taggart, is a sound engineer with numerous credits to her name.

Sources:

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

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