Camille 1932

Camille 1932

“April, 1932. Something has happened, or is in the process of happening. Since the conclusion of “Uncle Vanya” Lillian has given little serious consideration to theatrical matters, putting aside as unsuitable a variety of offered parts.

 

Helen Freeman as Olympe in Camille, Central City, Colorado - Laura Gilpin 1932
Helen Freeman as Olympe in Camille, Central City, Colorado – Laura Gilpin 1932

A new prospect now presents itself—one that appeals to her taste and imagination: a group of influential citizens of Denver, Colorado, headed by Mr. Delos Chappell, propose to refurbish and reopen the ancient Opera House of the little “ghost mining town” of Central City, with a week’s presentation of “Camille,” at fancy prices, for the benefit of the University of Denver.

Lewis Martin as Gaston in Camille, Central City, Colorado - Laura Gilpin 1932
Lewis Martin as Gaston in Camille, Central City, Colorado – Laura Gilpin 1932

Robert Edmond Jones is to stage and direct the production, with Lillian as Casting Director, herself in the title role. She is deeply interested—has secured Raymond Hackett for the part of Armand, the rehearsing to begin at once.

The New York Times: Denver, Col., July i6\—In an impressive ceremony, amid the merry laughter of “pioneer” belles and gay young men, and at a cost of $250,000, the famous Central City Opera House was brought to life tonight after a silence of fifty years. Men, women and children from the Atlantic Seaboard and the Pacific Coast came to this “phantom” village, once the miners’ capital. Daughters and sons, granddaughters and grandsons of pioneers who once made those same walls vibrate with their applause were there for the gala opening of the revival, in dress such as their ancestors wore at the theatre when it was new. Some of the gowns, handed down through the fifty years, were once heard to rustle down those same aisles. Every person in the audience represented some famous character of the time when Central City was the centre of Colorado’s gold mining industry. “Camille” typified to perfection the taste of the ‘8 os in the theatre.

Camille Cast with R.E. Jones and Lillian Gish in Chappel Garden by Laura Gilpin Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas 1932
Camille Cast with R.E. Jones and Lillian Gish in Chappel Garden by Laura Gilpin Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas 1932

Miss Lillian Gish, as Marguerite Gautier, takes the leading role, with Raymond Hackett playing opposite her as Armand. It was the first time “Camille” has played in the old opera house in fifty years.” Life and Lillian Gish by Albert Bigelow Paine – NY The Macmillan Co 1932

Central City had once been a miners’ capital, and it was planned to hold a grand ball in the Teller House next to the Opera House, the same ballroom where General Ulysses Grant had once been entertained. I was captivated by everything she said and agreed to go. Everything Margaret promised came true. The production was underwritten by Delos Chappell and a group of leading citizens in Colorado. Edna James—Delos’ wife—did the translation of the play.

Robert Edmond Jones, the director and producer, found in his research that the play had originally been presented in Paris at the time when Chinese art came into vogue. The first Camille was patterned after a little Ming figurine, and her appeal to men was a virginal quality that made each one feel that he was the first in her arms. We strove to attain this quality. Later, when the play was presented in New York at the Morosco Theater, an announcement in the program reminded the audience:

In viewing this presentation of Camille, the audience is asked to recall and bear in mind the fact that Dumas’ s great heroine, Marguerite Gautier, was intended by him to be a young woman. His “Camille” was based on the life of Marie Duplessis, one of the most famous of all Parisian courtesans—who died and was deeply mourned at the age of twenty-four. Dumas’s Marguerite was no middle-aged sophisticate, taking quick profit of her life. Instead she was a young girl who, governed solely by her great heart, rose at last to spiritual heights which have immortalized her.

When H. T. Parker, critic for the Boston Transcript, reviewed the play, he said that Camille was being seen as it was originally meant to be done probably for the first time in our country.

Lillian Gish (The Movies, Mr. Griffith and Me)

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