Annie Laurie (1927)

Director: John S. Robertson

Writers: Marian Ainslee (titles) Ruth Cummings (titles)

Silent film directed by John S. Robertson, released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and starring Lillian Gish and Norman Kerry. This was the third film of Lillian Gish at MGM.

John Wayne makes an early film appearance as a crowd extra. The finale, 304 feet in length, was filmed in 2-strip Technicolor.

The Cast:

  • Lillian Gish as Annie Laurie
  • Norman Kerry as Ian Macdonald
  • Creighton Hale as Donald
  • Joseph Striker as Alastair
  • Hobart Bosworth as The MacDonald Chieftain
  • Patricia Avery as Enid
  • Russell Simpson as Sandy
  • Brandon Hurst as The Campbell Chieftain
  • David Torrence as Sir Robert Laurie
  • Frank Currier as Cameron of Lochiel
  • Richard Alexander as One of the MacDonalds (uncredited)
  • Mary Gordon as First Midwife (uncredited)
  • Carmencita Johnson as Baby (uncredited)
  • Henry Kolker as King’s Representative (uncredited)
  • Margaret Mann as Second Midwife (uncredited)
  • Carl ‘Major’ Roup as Extra (uncredited)
  • John Wayne as Extra (uncredited)

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During Lillian’s absence in England, a scenario for a new picture had been prepared for her, based on the song of “Annie Laurie,” believed to have a wide human appeal. All the sets were ready, the costumes had only to be fitted. The day of her arrival, Lillian went to the studio, and next day began on the scenes. Lillian and Miss Moir agree that it was a fearfully hot summer, and that the velvet costumes for Annie weighed fifteen pounds each. Lillian did not care much for the story, and cared for it a good deal less when she learned that Bonnie Annie Laurie, for whom someone had been ready to lie down and die, had, in her later years, turned into an old gossip. Of course, in the picture, her lover is a member of another clan, and there is the usual treachery, with a great deal of confused fighting, and struggling through artificial snow which, in that deadly heat, just about blistered your fingers when you touched it. But Lillian was faithful, and did her sweltering best.

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One Sunday, Miss Moir, thinking how much it would be appreciated by the company, “on location,” drove out there with several gallons of ice-cream. Unfortunately, that day, rehearsal broke up early. She met Lillian on the road, but two girls couldn’t eat all those gallons of cream, and for some reason the rest of the company failed to materialize. They tried to give the surplus away, to passersby, but when several had haughtily refused, they dropped the rest into a ditch.

“Annie Laurie,” first given at the Embassy Theatre, New York, May 10, 1927, appears to have been well received. As usual, the notices spoke of Lillian as “lovely,” and “winning,” and “charming,” but they lacked the enthusiasm of those written of Hester and Mimi, and they were doubtful of the picture itself.

The reason is clear enough: the tame, or partially tame, Scot of today, has commendable points; he knows about engines, and Greek, and often plays a fair game of gowf. But the range species of some centuries ago, was a good deal different—an unprepossessing, evil-smelling, hairy type, who had clans and feuds and delighted in running off his enemy’s cattle, or cannily luring him into a cave and smoking him to death, or, as in this instance, into a castle, to murder him in cold blood. That earlier Scot was hardly the thing to offer to a delicately-nurtured picture audience. Even Norman Kerry as Ian MacDonald, even Lillian as Annie Laurie, could not make him palatable.

Lillian, however, was riding on the top wave. An English company offered her the lead in “The Constant Nymph”; a great German company offered the part of Juliet: “Cannot tell you how delighted we should be, if the remotest possibility”; de la Falaise offered her the part of Joan of Arc, in a picture for which Pierre Champion, the great French authority on Joan, had prepared the scenario. To the last named, she replied that she had long been considering the part of Joan, and put the matter aside with real regret. And many wanted to write of her. Whatever she did, or was about to do, was news. A magazine, Liberty, sent a gifted young man, Sidney Sutherland, all the way to the Coast to see her. He had expected to do one, possibly two, articles, but his editors asked for more, and under the general title of “Lillian the Incomparable” continued his chapters —”reels” as he not inaptly termed them—through nine weekly instalments! On any excuse, and with no excuse at all, other than what it presented, and stood for, periodicals carried her picture. Vanity Fair published a full front-page portrait, by Steichen, nominating her “The First Lady of the Screen.”

Miss Moir says that she was always being approached by lovesick young men, anxious to find out all they possibly could about the object of their affections. They wanted to know what she ate, what she read, what she did after studio hours, what she talked about. I did the best I tactfully could to gratify their curiosity, but I well remember the look of pained surprise which came over the face of one admirer when I told him that Lillian took a cold plunge every morning, exercised vigorously and did a really spirited Charleston. I suppose this was all contrary to his idea of what such a fragile, ethereal being  should do. Flowers were always arriving, enough to start a florist’s shop. And permanent gifts—anonymous ones, some of them, and of great value: a large, magnificent fire opal set with diamonds; an exquisite point lace shawl, so perfectly suited to her personality that the donor must have had taste as well as an opulent purse.

Photographers were always besieging her to pose for them, and painters. The latter rarely caught her personality. It was such an elusive thing. The quick camera was better at it. Frequently, too, she was caricatured, andit is only fair to say that most of the caricatures were among the best of the results—strikingly like her: “more like me than I was like myself,” she  said.

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Annie Laurie 1927 - Lillian Gish and Patricia Avery

Lillian Gish and Patricia Avery
Lillian Gish and Patricia Avery

She shared her success with those less fortunate—gave freely, money, advice to young aspirants, help to sisterplayers and would-be players—provided jobs for them. One day a girl with a face a good deal like her own, and the fairy name of Una Merkel, came to see her. Screen fans know Una Merkel very well today, but perhaps not many know that she is a poet. One Christmas, in appreciation of what Lillian had done for her, she wrote and had beautifully printed on a card of greeting, some verses, two of which follow:

 

To Lillian Gish

 

If I could breathe on canvas white my dreams,

I’d dip my fancy into tubes which held

Life’s colors—pure, of sheerest loveliness,

Then—I’d paint—you.

 

I’d borrow of the Lily its perfume,

Of day—the misty beauty of its dawn;

Then of the world I’d take a tear—a smile,

And I’d have—you.

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ANNIE LAURIE, Norman Kerry, Lillian Gish, 1927

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