There were tears and cheers for “Orphans of the Storm” at the Fort Armstrong yesterday. Both the afternoon and evening audiences were demonstrative to a degree rarely witnessed at a picture presentation, proving alike the effectiveness of the producing genius of D.W. Griffith and the acting of the Gish sisters and the principals of the company supporting them. “The Two Orphans,” the play from which the film adaptation was made, for many years had a firm hold on the American theatergoing public because of its heart appeal and Mr. Griffith has not sacrificed this tender element in the building of the screened version, although he has introduced numerous thrills and swashbuckling veneering in order to give the production the punch that causes it to stand out as one of the big things of the season. Griffith pulled us all out of our seats with his scenes in “The Birth of a Nation,” he tugged at our heart-strings and caused us to wring our hands with “Way Down East,” and he has introduced in the “Orphans” some of the artistry employed in both of those former plays, with the result that this latest starring vehicle of the Gish girls must be conceded a position along with the finest offerings thus far of the moving picture workshop. Aside from the pathos of the story, there is a sweetness abounding in the heart affairs of the Gish girls, together with devotion shown by the one for her blind sister, that grips you between the climaxes.
The story, as you doubtless know, concerns a period of French revolutionary days, when the masses arose against the aristocracy, and justice and love were substituted for hate and tyranny in government. The Gish girls, to be sure, have much suffering to endure, but they triumph in the end, although one of them almost has her wedding spoiled by the high executioner. Her neck is already on the block and the knife is raised ready to be dropped, when the hero, on a fiery steed, arrives with the pardon. You can even hear the click of the horse’s hoofs on the pavements as the hero nears the guillotine – it’s a thriller, you’ll have to admit – and yesterday evening some folks actually stood and waved their arms and cheered when the execution was halted, for it certainly would have been terrible to see a sweet young thing like Lillian Gish lose her curly little head on a chopping block.
Manager Cummings has gone to great lengths in his efforts to conform to the original Griffith presentation, and has received effective assistance from Director Arthur White and his concert orchestra, the full house instrumentation being given in connection with each showing of the picture. A feature originated by Manager Cummings is presented as a prologue to the picture.
This consists of a storm scene, in which a real tree is employed, the branches swaying in the wind, and with the musical and electric embellishments, affords a most impressive feature to the main attraction, serving in the nature of a preparatory thrill. Director White has dug deep in the musical archives in securing airs suited to the time of the story, and some of these are of the kind that stirs one’s blood, affording we of the present generation opportunity to appreciate the chivalry and daring of the men of France of those early days. Further realism is had in the use of real water in the rainstorm, the clicking of the hoofs during the dash of the army horses, and the reports of the cannon during the battles, these latter stage effects being exceptionally well presented – a treat that is not usually experienced in connection with a picture.
Owing to the length of the pictures – it occupies almost three hours, with an intermission of 10 minutes – there will be only two performances of the “Orphans” at the Fort Armstrong during the week’s engagement. Manager Cummings says that the picture could be cut, but he would not risk doing this for the sake of squeezing in an additional performance. He wants his patrons to get the picture as it was originally presented under Griffith’s direction, and with that end in view he has been careful not to neglect any of the atmospheric details. While the Gish girls stand out as the featured players, there are several excellent characters in the “Orphans.” Mr. Griffith again having proven his keen sense of values in screen effectiveness in selecting types for certain difficult roles.
Lillian Gish and Dorothy Gish (Promo for Orphans of The Storm)
Orphans of the Storm – Henriette and Chevalier de Vaudrey
Orphans of the Storm
Orphans of the Storm – the trial
Orphans of the Storm – Filming team on the set
Dorothy and Lillian Gish in Orphans of the Storm (United Artists, 1921). Autographed Photo
The vamps get the publicity, but the Good Little Girls almost always get the nice contracts.
Read on—and learn about women from them
A SIREN, as any child or censor knows, is a lady with sex appeal. And sex appeal, according to the same authorities, is a quality made manifest by mascara-ed lashes, jet black hair, spangled gowns, rouged lips and a gift for holding in the clinches. Hence a legend of the screen : That all little girls born with black hair and snapping black eyes are little devils. And, conversely, that all little girls born with light hair and blue eyes are little angels. The Latins are the lovers; the Nordics the angels. And so if we were foolish enough to take a vote to find the most dangerous woman on the screen, the Pola Negris, the Nita Naldis, the Lya de Puttis and the Dagmar Godowskys would get all the ballots. For several years Barbara La Marr summed up in the public mind all that was most sirenic in femininity. Poor Barbara, who loved ’em and left ’em! Poor Barbara, who paid her own way in the world and paid so dearly! And, if we were even more foolish and started a national election to vote for the noblest specimens of womanhood on the screen, the Lillian Gishes, the Lois Wilsons and the Irene Riches would come out on top.
Lillian, undoubtedly, would poll the biggest vote as the actress who, above all others, stands for all that is spiritual, all that is ethereal and all that is removed from the mundane. Isn’t it well-known that directors must beg Lillian to allow herself to be kissed? Isn’t it true that Lillian lives for Art, and Art alone? Has anyone ever caught Lillian in a night-club? Or doing the Charleston? Or getting herself married and unmarried?
Nell Dorr (1893-1988); [Lillian Gish seated at dressing table]; nitrate negative; Amon Carter Museum of American Art; Fort Worth TX; P1990.47.3507
Nell Dorr (1893-1988); [Lillian Gish standing and brushing her hair]; nitrate negative; Amon Carter Museum of American Art; Fort Worth TX; P1990.47.3506
Nell Dorr (1893-1988); [Lillian Gish wearing tight long dress]; nitrate negative; Amon Carter Museum of American Art; Fort Worth TX; P1990.47.3511
Nell Dorr (1893-1988); [Lillian Gish seated on arm of chair]; nitrate negative; Amon Carter Museum of American Art; Fort Worth TX; P1990.47.3531
Nell Dorr (1893-1988); [Lillian Gish, beads in hair, standing in library with hands on hips]; nitrate negative; Amon Carter Museum of American Art; Fort Worth TX; P1990.47.3510
Lillian with sex appeal? Well, hardly. Lillian is a straight-up-and-down girl, inclined to be skinny. She wears long skirts and dresses cut high in the neck. Her wispy blonde hair is unbobbed and worn in a knot at the back of her neck. Her features are negative. Her eyes are light. There are none of the outward signs of lure about Lillian. And yet the two men who were, to all outward appearances, responsible for Lillian’s rise in the screen world are today flat broke. D. W. Griffith, who gave Lillian her first lessons in acting, who placed Lillian in the leading roles of his great pictures when Lillian’s name meant nothing, is, according to the words of Lillian herself, “As poor as a church mouse; as poor, in fact, as on the day when he started producing.”
Charles Duell, Lillian’s second producer, who pushed her into even further prominence when her drawing power was still doubtful, is also broke. And not only is he broke, but he is threatened with disbarment from the practice of law and no longer connected with the film business. His contract with Lillian caused the trouble.
But Lillian, the spiritual, the ethereal and the unmundane, is getting a salary of $5,ooo a week. Griffith, still again quoting the words of Miss Gish, is “making pot-boilers for the mob.” Lillian is selecting her own stories, her own casts, her own directors. Duell isn’t making any pictures at all. But Lillian is making specials for what she calls her “two dollar public.”
No sex appeal? If not, then, to paraphrase Anita Loos, the title of Lillian’s little history should be ” Stronger Than Sex.” No star on the screen has a story so picturesque as that of Lillian. In a business that demands superlatives, Lillian has forged ahead to the foremost rank without great beauty or radiant personality. Great Art? Perhaps—and why not? Lillian has worked only for the greatest directors; first Griffith, then Henry King, then King Vidor, now John Robertson. All her scripts have been tailored to suit her. The best cameramen have photographed her.
Lillian Gish, 1916, I.V.
An Innocent Magdalene 1916 Lillian Gish
Diane of The Follies – Lillian Gish
Lillian Gish 1916
Lillian Gish – Hoover Art Studios, Los Angeles
And all the little actresses who try to do their best in routine productions, uncongenial roles and scrambled and hurried program films, admit that Lillian is the greatest of them all. They admire her and envy her and sometimes wonder just why she is called the “Duse of the screen.” It couldn’t, of course, be sex appeal. Sex appeal is only a crude quality possessed by flappers and vamps. Nevertheless, of all the promising young actresses who started under the direction of Griffith, Lillian was the one who got the biggest roles in the biggest pictures and the biggest chance to shine. There was something about the aloof, the elusive and the child- Lillian that appealed to the imagination of the greatest director of them all.
Lillian was wax to mold and marble to retain. Sister Dorothy was a pretty little clown. Mae Marsh was a sharp-tongued Irish girl. Blanche Sweet was a temperamental romantic. Miriam Cooper was a sentimentalist. Lillian said nothing foolish. She said nothing at all. She did nothing foolish. She did nothing at all.
At an early age, Lillian learned that Art is Imagination. And it happens also that Sex – Appeal is much the same thing. The Griffith connection came to an end and Lillian, for the first time, was forced to face a cold, commercial business. She might have signed up at a fairly large salary to appear in program pictures but she had picked up the idea of her “two dollar public.” Lillian was in no hurry to rush into competition with other stars. She was out to create a safe and distant place of her own.
At the time that Lillian “went on her own,” a young, fairly good-looking and ambitious lawyer was entering the film field. He had a lot of money back of him—he was financed by Averill Harriman—and his company had just made a phenomenally successful picture, “Tol’able David.” And he was looking for new stars.
Richard Barthelmess suggested Lillian Gish. Of course, Lillian’s drawing power at the box office was doubtful. Nevertheless, she could act and, if properly managed, she could be turned into a winner. Charles Duell listened, met Miss Gish and signed her up. When Duell met Lillian he had been married less than a year—to another Lillian. He was ambitious, financially, socially and politically. He had known Roosevelt and had been active in the Republican party. He was a Yale man and a member of many prominent clubs. Mr. and Mrs. Duell were summering at Newport. They invited their new star to visit them. If Lillian made no great impressions at the Rhode Island Ice Plant, she at least broke on the front page of the newspapers. A movie star at Newport! It sounded nice, anyway.
At that time, Inspiration Pictures was making program films with Barthelmess. But no program films for Lillian. Miss Gish was sent to Italy to make “The White Sister” — a costly expedition consuming many months time and nearly all of Mr. Duell’s attention. But it was all in the interest of Art and Art is cruel. Most of the story of Mr. Duell’s various pilgrimages for Art has been told in court. For at the completion of “The White Sister” and “Romola”—both expensive films—Mr. Duell tried to hold Lillian to a contract with him at over $2,000 a week. Meanwhile there was an $8,ooo a week contract for Lillian waiting elsewhere. Mrs. Duell—that is, the other Lillian—was lost in the shuffle. The Duells separated after one of Charles’ trips to Italy. It was hinted in Court that Duell—rightly or wrongly believing himself engaged to marry Lillian—had selfishly built her up as a star, hoping to be her husband. But hopes or no hopes, “The White Sister” and “Romola” did help Lillian, although they did ruin Duell.
Not only did Duell lose his suit but he was held for perjury and when the perjury trial came up, the jury disagreed. Lillian was not called as a witness. Listen to what that able lawyer, Nathan Burkan, had to say at the close of the second trial: “Why was not Lillian Gish produced at the start? It is an insult to your intelligence. The only person who could prove the guilt of Duell was Lillian Gish and she was right here in New York City.” Burkan also declared that it was Duell and Duell’s money that made a star of Miss Gish, declaring “all she was getting before she came under Mr. Duell’s management was Si.ooo a week. Remember, if you (the jury) find him guilty, it will not only mean his imprisonment but his disbarment as an attorney and his disgrace.”
After the unfavorable publicity of the first trial, Lillian needed someone to set her right. She found the man in George Jean Nathan, a brilliant and difficult-to-please critic. Nathan was seen constantly in her company—so constantly that he was rumored as a possible husband. George Jean wrote pretty articles in her honor, acclaiming her as the only great actress on the screen. He had no great amount of money but he had a collection of wonderful adjectives. Lillian got all his best superlatives. Movie audiences always shed a tear for a frail little blonde alone in the world. The “vamps” know men and their ways. They can protect themselves. Barbara La Marr could protect herself so well that she kept a bookful of checks already signed to pass out as “loans” for anyone who could tell a hard luck tale. So let us all shed a tear for the helpless ingenue!
Photoplay (Sep 1926) Real Sirens
Photoplay (Sep 1926) Real Sirens 2
For more details of Duell saga, kindly follow the link below:
“FRANCE has been considerably agitated by our films recently. They banned the German- made “Passion” as “misrepresenting the characters of historical personages.” Du Barry’s little “ladies’ entrance” to the king’s chamber upset Paris a bit. “Passion,” although it was banned, didn’t create half the discussion that Griffith’s “Orphans of the Storm” did when it was released in Paris as “The Two Orphans.” There was an actual royalist riot and all sorts of things were hurled at the screen. The police reserves had to be called.
The French critics seethed with anger over the way “D. W.” had changed the period from the reign of Louis XV to the end of Louis XVI’s time in order to make “an American holiday,” as they expressed it. One critic nearly collapsed over the fact that one of the actors carried a modern umbrella and another over the way one of the orphans sings a piece from “Mignon,” written seventy years after the Revolution.
Orphans of the Storm – the trial
Orphans of the Storm
Orphans of the Storm – Filming team on the set
Orphans of the Storm – Lillian Gish and Monte Blue
Orphans of the Storm – La Guillotine …
Orphans of the Storm – Jacques Forget Not and Henriette
L’Action Francaise, the royalist publication, said:
“Griffith considers the Revolution as something sublime and childish, with complications. Liberty, justice, sovereignty, Bastille, guillotine, convention all ring in his head like a lot of nuts in an empty sack. He mixes up and confounds things to such an extent that a cow could not find her heifer in the confusion. He shows the revolutionary tribunal as a group of old fatheads sitting on long wooden benches. The 14th of July had a miraculous effect on them, since he shows them on the 13th as a group of apoplectic skeletons and on the 14th as fat numskulls.
” Griffith’s artistic procedure is as primitive as his ideas. To him no celebration at a chateau is complete without a cluster of poor men hung at the castle’s gate. And this is repeated with a fastidious monotony. “What right has a stranger to come and claim that our ancestors were brutes, idiots and savages? “Would Harding’s government let a film be shown in the states which showed Washington as a vicious and sadistic being, Jefferson as a filthy man, and that made sinister bandits of all the heroes of the war of independence? “
THE NICKELODEONS, as the first movie theatres were called, in no way resembled the luxurious picture palaces of today, but what an aura of magic and mystery, of laughter and tears clung to them! There, to the sounds of a tinkling and appropriately emotional piano, Pearl White faced her perils, Francis X. Bushman caused fluttering hearts, Theda Bara wrecked homes, Chaplin and Arbuckle and Mack Sennett set zany standards, never to be excelled, and a host of beautiful ladies smiled and wept and were alluring. It was a realm of fantastic and childish make-believe situated in a never-never land called Hollywood, but gradually the whole world came to treasure its heroes and heroines and clowns.
Whatever role the silent screen has played in our social history—and I believe it was an important one—no one can underestimate the enormous pleasure the films of this era gave to audiences everywhere. It has been my thought in compiling this book to recall the varied and fascinating personalities and photoplays of the years from the earliest films to the advent of the sound screen, when stars were really stars, when the fashions and activities of the Hollywood greats echoed around the world and 100,000 people could gather in London and even in Moscow to greet Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks on their triumphal tour of Europe. Here was an art peculiarly American and yet universal. Its essence was entertainment; its success, financial and otherwise, was stupendous. Perhaps today, in a more troubled age, we can look back on these people and their films not only with nostalgia but also with a sincere desire to learn what made glamor so glamorous and laughter so hearty, and the world a happier place to live in. It was a memorable age, and I hope I have captured some of its quality to preserve in this book.
1913 – Meanwhile companies were exploiting and contracting stars. Vitagraph, where Lillian Walker and Earle Williams were favorites, signed Clara Kimball Young, a stock company actress, and her husband, James Young. Her first film was “Anne Boleyn.” Mary Pickford, a big box office draw, had returned to Biograph bringing with her two young actress friends, Lillian and Dorothy Gish, who had appeared with her in road companies. Their first important film appearance was in “The Unseen Enemy.” Alice Joyce and Carlyle Blackwell were Kalem’s top stars. Kathlyn Williams and Tom Mix headed Selig’s stars, while J. Warren Kerrigan was America’s best bet. King Baggot was Imp’s attraction. Florence Lawrence, still popular, had left Lubin for the newly formed Victor Company. Edison released “What Happened to Mary?” starring favorite Mary Fuller. It was a series of pictures and a forerunner of the serial. Each of the series was independent and complete, and one was released each month. G. M. Anderson and his Broncho Billy pictures were gaining in popularity and so was Francis X. Bushman at Essanay. Beverly Bayne, a Minneapolis society girl, became Bushman’s leading lady and soon they were the most popular team in films. Essanay also starred “Baby Parsons,” little daughter of Louella O. Parsons, who later as Harriet Parsons became the top woman producer in the industry.
1915 – The outstanding event of the year was D. W. Griffith’s “The Birth of A Nation,” probably the world’s greatest silent motion picture, if greatness is measured by fame. The story was taken from a four act play “The Clansman” which ran for 51 performances on the stage of the Liberty Theatre, New York, in 1906, and which the Rev. Thomas Dixon had fashioned from his own novel of the same name. It had its world premiere at Clune’s Auditorium in Los Angeles, February 8, 1915, under the title of “The Clansman,” but Thomas Dixon, the author, thought the title was too tame, and at his suggestion, it opened at the same Liberty Theatre, New York, where it had been performed as a play, on March 3, 1915, as “The Birth of A Nation.” In twelve reels it was released by the Epoch Film Corporation, an outfit newly formed by Mr. Griffith himself to exploit it independently as a road show. Following its New York success, twelve road showings of the film swept the country at two-dollar top prices and broke all theatre records, not only in the United States, but in all the world capitals where it was eventually shown. The cast, with names that were to become world famous, included Lillian Gish, Henry B. Walthall, Mae Marsh, Wallace Reid, Miriam Cooper, Robert Harron, Mary Alden, Elmer Clifton, Ralph Lewis, Donald Crisp, Josephine Crowell, Spottiswoode Aiken, Walter Long, George Seigmann, Jennie Lee, J. A. Beringer, John French, Joseph Henabery, Howard Gave and Raoul Walsh, who later became a well-known director.
1916 – The price of two dollars a seat for a motion picture, which Triangle had inaugurated, was now becoming an established price for films that were shown in legitimate theatres about the country. “Intolerance,” “Ramona,” “Civilization,” “The Fall of A Nation” and “A Daughter of The Gods” were all in this category. “Intolerance,” which was D. W. Griffith’s second large-scale production, was not a worthy successor to his “Birth of A Nation.” It opened at the same Liberty Theatre, New York, on September 6, 1916, and its critical reception was decidedly mixed. The cast included Lillian Gish, Robert Harron, Mae Marsh, Elmer Clifton, Seena Owen (then known as Signe Auen), Constance Talmadge, Alfred Paget, Sam de Gross, George Siegmann, Bessie Love, Ralph Lewis, Tully Marshall, Joseph Hennaberry, George Walsh and Eric Von Stroheim. Among the bit players who later achieved prominence were Goleen Moore, Elmo Lincoln, Alma Rubens, Monte Blue, Carmel Myers, Pauline Starke, Mildred Harris, Carol Dempster, Jewel Carmen, Winifred Westover and Natalie Talmadge. Constance Talmadge had her first success as the Mountain Girl and Von Stroheim, who had been acting as stunt man and bit player in other Griffith films, played the second Pharisee. The film took twenty months to make and ran three and one-half hours on the screen.
1918 – “Mothers of France,” a French ” propaganda film starring Sarah Bernhardt, had been circulating in the United States in 1917 when we entered World War I, but it was nearly a year later before our entry into the war was reflected in our films. The country became flooded with such propaganda films as “To Hell With The Kaiser,” “The Kaiser’s Finish,” “Lafayette, We Come,” “The Woman The Germans Shot” (later changed to “The Cavell Case”), “The Beast of Berlin,” and a parody of it called “The Geezer of Berlin.” Germany was our enemy. Margarita Fischer dropped the “c” from her name, Alfred Vosburgh changed his to Alfred Whitman, and Norman Kaiser became Norman Kerry. The U. S. Government also made propaganda pictures. The Treasury Department asked the stars to help sell Liberty Loans. Such major screen personalities as Pickford, Hart and Fairbanks became active salesmen for Uncle Sam. Clara Kimball Young and Pearl White gave their time for recruiting purposes. Film actors who had “joined up” included Bobert Warwick, Bert Lytell, Tom Forman, Bichard Travers, S. Bankin Drew, Kenneth Harlan, Norman Kerry, Earle Metcalf, Bex Ingram and others. D. W. Griffith went abroad during the war and in France filmed “Hearts of the World,” a tale of a village behind the lines. While the industry was contributing patriotism and propaganda, it was also providing the populace with entertainment. Metro proudly announced it had signed “The Great Nazimova.” Edith Storey, the Dolly Sisters, and Bert Lvtell became Metro stars.
1919 – D. W. Griffith’s productions included “The Girl Who Stayed At Home,” “Scarlet Days,” “Trueheart Susie” and one of his most famous, “Broken Blossoms.” In this Lillian Gish had great success, and it put Richard Barthelmess on the road to fame and fortune. Glarine Seymour, another Griffith discovery, who scored a great success in “The Girl Who Stayed At Home,” was on that same road when she died a year later during an emergency operation. Carol Dempster and Ralph Graves were two other Griffith discoveries of the year. Alice Joyce, Earle Williams and Corinne Griffith continued as top Vitagraph stars. Marie Doro was making successful films in England and Italy.
1920 Among the preeminent attractions were D. W. Griffith’s film “Way Down East” and a foreign importation, “Passion,” which brought Pola Negri, a Polish actress, and Ernst Lubitsch, a German director, to the attention of the American public. Doris Keane and Otis Skinner filmed their great stage successes, “Romance” and “Kismet” respectively. Florence Lawrence, after an absence of five years, made an unsuccessful return to the screen in “The Enfoldment,” an independently produced film.
The man who eventually undertook this task had been engaged in making movies for five years when Howells wrote his article. In the autumn of 1907, the celebrated matinee-idol, James K. Hackett,· ventured into theatrical production, bringing to the Columbia Theater in Washington a new play: A Fool and a Girl. Fanny Ward, was returning to the stage after an interval of absence. The author of this romantic drama of the California hop-fields was an actor; the kind of actor who found his engagements only with touring companies, never on Broadway. For professional purposes he had adopted the name Lawrence Griffith.
A Kentuckian, proud, sentimental, idealistic and very ambitious, he was determined not to become known by his real name, David Wark Griffith, until he had won fame. But, not withstanding the prestige of its producer and its star, audiences in the capital were cool to A Fool and a Girl, and after a fortnight’s run Hackett prudently closed it. It had earned neither money nor fame for its author. Disgruntled, very nearly broke, he went up to New York to look for work. Griffith was thirty-two years old, and had cherished the dream of becoming a successful, famous playwright from the age of eighteen. He was tall and lean, and he carried himself with a lordly air; not because he was an actor, but because he considered himself an aristocrat and believed himself to be a genius. People usually remembered this effect of assurance, somehow emphasized by his large head, big aquiline nose, wide mottth and long chin. Some of them thought him a man consumed by restless energy, full of ideas, always occupied in trying to work them out. Others thought him rather aloof from the bustling, everyday world, as if his real life was. carried on in some interior sphere of calm. Both of these contradictory impressions were true. His father had been a colonel in the Confederate Army; the family, originally people of means, were ruined by the war. A sensitive, bookish child, Griffith’s mind was nourished on tales of the Old South; a land of columned mansions, delicate brave women, gallant gentlemen; a land of chivalrous actions and noble manners; a land of romance. As a boy, he read widely in Victorian poetry and fiction. At the age. of sixteen, he went to Louisville to find work; he ran an elevator, did some reporting for a newspaper, clerked in a drygoods store, took a job in a bookshop. He saw his first Broadway play, brought to Louisville by a touring company: Appropriately, it was a dramatization of George Eliot’s novel, Romola; the heroine’s role was played by Julia Marlowe, a talented and beautiful young actress, soon to become one of the great stars of the American stage. This experience fired Griffith’s lifelong ambition to write for the theater. He immediately set to work on a play; he was to continue working on it, at intervals, for nearly a half century. But when a friend assured him that all great playwrights had learned their craft as actors, he left his job in the bookstore to join a traveling stock company. For the next ten years, he barnstormed with various touring companies, writing constantly during his free time, infrequently selling a poem or short story to some magazine. On one of these tours, he was stranded in California. He found work as a hop-picker and, characteristically, began at once to write a play based on this experience. When the play was accepted by Hackett, Griffith knew that he had reached a decisive turning point in his career. His intuition proved to be correct. But his subsequent course was one that he had not foreseen, nor would he have chosen to follow it if he had. In New York, after the failure of his play, Griffith saw one of the early story films. Being in urgent need of money, he decided to try and sell a story idea to the Edison Company. All the film-makers were pirating plots, so Griffith wrote a brief synopsis of Sardou’s famous melodrama, La Tosca. Opera goers, that winter, were thronging the Metropolitan to hear Puccini’s setting of it interpreted by Emma Eames, Enrico Caruso and Antonio Scotti. At the Edison Company, Griffith saw Edwin S. Porter, who refused his script but offered him a job acting for the camera. To be seen in pictures, as Griffith realized, was to aclmowledge that he wasn’t good enough for the stage; actors who worked in the movies when “at leisure” tried to conceal their disgraceful employment. But, since he was stone broke, Griffith had no choice. He went to work for Porter. After some months, he. learned that the Biograph Company was paying its actors five dollars a day, and often paid as much as fifteen dollars for story suggestions. He applied for a job, and was hired. By this time he had married, and presently his wife, Linda Arvidson, was also taken on as an actrcis. In addition to turning out picture plots and acting, Griffith continued to write; his poems and short stories began appearing in several major magazines; he carefully kept secret the source of his livelihood.
After a year, Biograph offered to promote him to directing pictures. He discovered how to show two or more courses of action occurring in different places, whether simultaneously or not, and keep all threads of a story constantly before his audience. The collective effect of Griffith’s many innovations was to extend both the range, and dramatic intensity, of motion pictures. This had an important social result. Within a few years, it multiplied the audience many times. In so doing, it completely changed the character of the public that attended the movies. Griffith not only created the modern movie, but helped to make it a universal entertainment. He did not foresee this achievement, or deliberately plan it.
It was one of the unpredictable consequences of a conflict that always raged within him. He believed that he was a genius, or wanted to believe it. He was proud of the social superiority that his forebears had taken for granted. Yet he saw himself trapped by poverty in an occupation unworthy of an artist, and inadmissible by a gentleman. He was working only for money enough to buy his freedom from detested drudgery. But the more money he made, the more he seemed to need; he squandered it recklessly, perhaps because he could never take it seriously as an end in itself. Since money was the public measure of success, his vanity was nourished by setting a low value on it. Meanwhile, self-reproach kept pace with his mounting success. He scorned himself for not quitting the movies, for being unable to quit them. For what had he surrendered his integrity? Why had he compromised his ideals, abandoned the only aim he genuinely cherished? He had no plausible answers; the questions continued to torment him, sometimes embittering his triumphs. He never completely overcame his contempt for his professioμ., or the feeling that, for him, success in it was a kind of failure. But the restlessness induced by his conflicting emotions found an outlet in continuous experiment. To shatter the stereotyped formulas that every other maker of pictures accepted as binding; to undertake fearlessly what nobody had ever attempted before: this gave Griffith a perverse satisfaction.
It enabled him to give rein to his exorbitant ambition. However obliquely, it expressed his contempt by demonstrating his refusal to be bound by established practice. In a sense, it appeased his uneasy conscience. Each of his experiments was more revolutionary and hazardous than its predecessors, and in time they became more and more costly. So they met with increasing opposition, not only from the technicians who had to execute them, but from the businessmen who were footing the bills. But opposition merely strengthened Griffith’s determination to carry them through. He had no respect for the medium in which he was working, but his temperament compelled him to treat it as if it were an art. The result was that he made it one. Yet even world acclaim could not persuade him to believe, whole heart that this was true. From the very outset, Griffith’s methods proved disconcerting to his associates. His first assignment was a sentimental story of kidnapping, The Adventures of Dolly; it was shown at Keith and Proctor’s Union Square Theater in New York City on July 14th, 1908, and was liked by audiences throughout the country. Needing a leading man, and not satisfied by any of the actors employed by Biograph, Griffith saw his desired hero in a passer-by on the street, promptly accosted the stranger and hired him.
The unknown, Arthur Johnson, soon became one of the earliest of America’s anonymous screen idols. The completed film ran to approximately the length of Porter’s The Great Train Robbery; about two-thirds of a reel. When Griffith had it projected, his cameraman objected that it was too long. Thirty years later the cameraman, G. W. (“Billy”) Bitzer, then long famous in the industry because of his subsequent association with Griffith, truefully recalled this early criticism. “In the light of a completed scenario today,” he remarked, “I can readily say that Griffith was years ahead of us.” The incident was typical of the opposition provoked by every innovation that he ventured. Almost immediately, Griffith came into conflict with his superiors on the issue of the kind of story being offered to the public.
Simple, obvious melodramas involving a “chase” were the principal staple; Griffith considered them absurd, felt certain that the nickelodeon public would accept something better, but was condemned to grind out several hundred of these naive yams. In the process, however, he developed methods of increasing their suspense. Delighted by this victory over conservatism, Griffith immediately embarked upon a far more dangerous project. This was a two-reel “psychological study” of the Darwinian theory of evolution. The cautious businessmen who controlled Biograph were horrified. Was this appropriate entertainment for the illiterate masses? But they could not afford to dispense with the maverick director who, by breaking all established precedents, seemed to be doubling and trebling their profits. They were not pleased when Griffith’s sober, philosophical picture-dramatizing the eternal conflict between intelligence and brute force-proved to be a sensational success. Man’s Ascent aroused enthusiasm everywhere.
“The audience, mechanical Americans fond of crawling on their stomachs to tinker with their automobiles, are eager over the evolution of the first weapon from a stick to a hammer,” the poet Vachel Lindsay reported some years later. “They are as full of curiosity as they could well be over the history of Langley or the Wright Brothers.” But among the magnates of Biograph-the most respectable and wealthy group in the industry–curiosity took an anxious tone. Where was all this nonsense going to lead? Pictures were made and sold by the foot. The business was a mass production industry, and the product could be made most cheaply if it was standardized. The trust could make the public accept whatever it chose to give them. Griffith’s insistence upon “better films” didn’t fit into this scheme of operation. It promised to raise expenses, and who would pay the price? Motion pictures were-and were bound to remain-a show for the poor and ignorant. This fact Griffith seemed obstinately determined to ignore.
He ignored all sound, businesslike procedures. Rapidity of output was essential, and other directors, taking the brief scripts prepared for them by writers, went before the camera without wasting time on any preparation. Not so Griffith. He wouldn’t use a script, in any case. He never had anything written down, never had a word on paper for any of his pictures; he developed his stories as he went along. Sometimes, after rehearsing a story all day, he would chuck it as no good, and begin another. For, uniquely, he insisted on rehearsing in sequence the scenes of every picture until each scene dovetailed smoothly into the next, and the acting satisfied him perfectly. He worked out his story by using his actors as if they were chessmen; that was how his wife described it. He always knew precisely what he wanted, and the camera never began to grind until every little detail had been perfected to a degree that satisfied him. But in spite of these idiosyncrasies, his output was enormous; exhibitors clamored for Biograph pictures; and mail began coming into the company from the movie public. praising thase which Griffith had directed a new and surprising phenomenon. At the Biograph factory, housed in an old brownstone mansion on Fourteenth Street east of Fifth Avenue, the executives didn’t know whether to rejoice in having Griffith under contract, or look forward apprehensively to what might come of it. If only he could be relied on to leave well enough alone!
This was precisely what Griffith couldn’t do. Things as they were never suited him. Thus, for example, he was always looking about for new actors and actresses. The kind of acting practised on the Broadway stage he considered all wrong for the films. On the screen, the human figure was magnified many times; exaggerated postures and gestures, which the vast distances of a theater made necessary, became ludicrous when enlarged by the projector. Griffith wanted naturalness in acting. For the hard, implacable eye of the camera, he wanted youth and freshness. He began to search for these qualities among the ill-paid youngsters who toured, as he had, with traveling stock companies. He thought they might also prove versatile. For they knew the harsh necessity of playing all kinds of parts perstiasively and with conviction; they had to please their unsophisticated audiences, or starve. One spring morning in 1909. Mrs. Griffith came into the front hall of the factory and noticed a little girl sitting, patiently waiting to see Griffith. She looked to be no more than fourteen. “She wore a plain navy-blue serge suit, a blue-and-white striped lawn shirtwaist, a rolled brim Tuscan straw sailor hat with a dark-blue ribbon bow. About her face, so fresh, so pretty and so gentle, bobbed a dozen or more golden curls – such perfect little curls as I had never seen.”
Anita Loos continued writing for the films; many years later, her satirical novel, Gentlemen Prefer ·Blondes, delighted readers the world over. Another early Pickford picture, The Little Teacher, brought twenty or more letters daily to the Biograph Company. The writers, enchanted by the child actress, asked for the name of “Little Mary” or “the girl with the long curls.” These letters went into the waste-basket unanswered; Biograph refused to reveal the names of its actors and actresses. The term “fan mail” hadn’t yet been invented, but the business executives at Biograph took a dim view of this novel corresponqence; public recognition might inspire the young actress to demand more money, and would certainly inflate her self-esteem. Having seen some of the pictures made in California by the fugitive independents, Griffith was seized by a desire to exploit its picturesque backgrounds. In the winter of 1910, he took a company of Biograph players-including Mary Pickford-to Los Angeles, and set up a temporary studio on the outskirts of the city. To feature Mary Pickford, he devised a story, The Thread of Destiny, which used the San Gabriel Mission as a romantic setting. He also featured her in Ramona, which Biograph advertised as the most costly picture ever made-a claim partly warranted by the fact that Griffith had paid the unprecedented fee of one hundred dollars to film Helen Hunt Jackson’s novel. These pictures established the young actress-still anonymous to her public-as the most popular of all players with motion-picture audiences. The other pictures which Griffith made in California were principally based on historical subjects. He had become eager to interpret, for twentieth-century Americans, an American past of which many of them were either ignorant or forgetful. But the contemporary social scene also fascinated him. Oil had recently been discovered; a migration to the new California fields had begun. In two films, Griffith attempted to record the surge of pioneers, from all parts of the country, to this latest frontier – Eldorado.
Five years after he began making pictures, Griffith’s prestige in the booming industry was unrivaled. By 1913, he was acknowledged to be the mast original and successful maker of pictures in environment that had shaped them. Conceiving his picture on an epic scale-it was to fill twelve reels, more than any picture had ever used-Griffith quietly proceeded without any script, building it experimentally as he went along. Six weeks of continuous, careful rehearsal preceded the camera’s first shot. Griffith taught his cast how to act, move and walk for the camera; told them, with respect to every scene, precisely how many feet of film they could use to secure the needed dramatic effect. In this period, too, he substituted an actress for the one originally chosen to play the heroine’s role; the change in large part accounted for the picture’s eventual success. Hundreds of “extras” were required, arrangements had to be made for their housing and food. Horses had to be procured, and vast quantities of cotton goods to cloak the Klansmen; both were difficult to obtain because of the war in Europe, which was draining away all types of commodities. An enormous acreage had to be rented to stage the great rides and battle scenes. All the responsibilities of management fell on Griffith, and so did the burden of raising money.
The movie companies considered his project crazy, and none would finance it. He had estimated the cost of his super-picture at approximately one hundred thousand dollars, enough to pay for ten “feature” pictures. Even after production was actually under way, the need for money became so urgent that all work was stopped while Griffith went to Los Angeles to secure it-from personal friends, local tradesmen, lawyers, anyone whom he could persuade to grant him a loan. Yet despite all difficulties, Griffith-according to “Billy” Bitzer, his cameraman remained calm; and long afterwards his leading woman remembered that “everythjng was always under control because he always was.” Six months passed before the picture was finally completed. But not a single scene had ever been re-taken; a permanent and unique record in picture-making. The leading actors in the picture had all worked for Griffith at Biograph. Their names, previously unknown to audiences, were announced on the film of The Birth of a Nation, and most of them were soon elevated to stardom. But a peculiar glory suddenly invested the players to whom Griffith assigned the roles of hero and heroine; nothing like it had ever before occurred, on so wide a scale, in the United States. Requests for autographs and.photographs poured in on them by the thousands. Unknowingly, they established new patterns of appearance, fashion and behavior.
Young men imitated the haircut, the style of collar, the suits and neckties shown in portraits of the “Little Colonel”; they tried to adopt the gentle but superbly gallant manner which, on the screen, made him universally appealing to women. And American girls quickly cultivated a new look. Plumpness, previously in vogue, ceased to be fashionable. For “Elsie Stoneman” was petite, slim, fragile; her golden hair cascaded below her waist; she was demure, wistful, but magnificently courageous. All over the land, young women strained for slenderness; patiently tried to behave like clinging vines, but also suggest a pure white fire of passion; dressed demurely, and practised shaking down their hair for the beguiling, perilous moment yet to come. The players who aroused this idolatry later found that it exacted its own strange penalty. So far as the public could exercise its compulsion, they were required to perpetuate the ideal images that had captivated the American imagination.
The new king of hearts, Henry B. Walthall, was never to escape this stem necessity; when he was supplanted by another type of hero, he disappeared abruptly from the screen, and returned only after many years to play minor roles. He was born in Alabama, of impoverished parents, and was put to work as a child in the cotton fields. The books loaned him by a clergyman uncle took the place of formal schooling, but later he managed to spend six months at Howard College. He served in the Spanish-American War and, after being discharged from the army, went to New York to seek work as an actor. By 1909, when a friend took him to the Biograph Company, Walthall had acquired considerable experience.
Griffith hired him at once. Small, slender, with a very expressive face, he proved to be a skillful pantomimist, and Griffith was soon using him for romantic roles–most notably in Ramona, with Mary Pickford, and thereafter in a long series of films. The heroine of The Birth of a Nation was to have a far more distinguished and spectacular career than Walthall. The Gish sisters-Lillian and Dorothy-were brought to Griffith in 1912 by their long-time friend, Mary Pickford. Like her, they had been on the stage almost from infancy. Like her, they had had no real childhood. They received their early education in the stuffy dressing rooms of cheap provincial theaters, in jolting day coaches and the rooms of third-class hotels patronized by the touring melodrama companies in which they acted children’s roles. They were constantly haunted by fears of the Gerry Society, a philanthropic organization whose commendable object was to prevent the exploiting of children.
“Before I could understand what it was all about,” Lillian Gish noted long afterwards, “I knew of subterfuges and evasions and tremendous plottings to keep myself and my sister acting, so that the very necessary money might be earned.” Their obscurity kept them safe, and they remained obscure for a simple reason: “When we were ambitious and went into better productions, the plays seemed to fail.” But Lillian Gish graduated from a role in Her First False Step-which brought audiences “the awe-inspiring rescue of a child from a den of savage African lions”-to the part of a child dancer in the company of Madame Sarah Bernhardt, who in 1905 was making her usual farewell tour of the United States. Some years of formal schooling followed. When Mary Pickford brought the Gish Sisters to Griffith, motion pictures were eliminating the melodrama road companies, and they were glad to accept his offer to take them on as extras. Gradually they worked into leading roles; Dorothy in comedy, Lillian in romantic and dramatic parts. Long after both sisters became celebrated stars, Griffith recorded his early impressions of them: “Dorothy was more apt at getting the director’s idea than Lillian, quicker to follow it, more easily satisfied with the result. Lillian conceived an ideal and patiently sought to realize it. Genius is like that: the ideal becomes real to it.” During a rehearsal for The Birth of a Nation, Lillian Gish was “standing in” for the actress assigned to the heroine’s role. Seeing that she perfectly embodied his conception of the part, Griffith impulsively substituted her for the other actress. Her performance of the role more than justified this hasty decision.
Lillian Gish as Elsie Stoneman (Birth of A Nation)
Lillian Gish – Birth of a Nation
Night before the Boston opening, Negro clergymen, teachers and lawyers in Massachusetts violently denounced the film. Public emotion soon reached the boiling point, and on the film’s first night a disturbance broke out in front of the theater. It rapidly assumed the proportions of a large-scale race riot; the police were incapable of restoring order, and the Boston fire department was hastily summoned to help disperse the rioters. On the following morning, this outbreak of violence made headlines in the press throughout the United States. The immediate result was to provoke a demand for the picture from all parts of the country; the Boston riot was frequently duplicated elsewhere; and the American people flocked to box-offices, eagerly paying regular stage prices for the privilege of seeing a film capable of inciting such widespread disorder.
Meanwhile, indignation at the social implications of The Birth of a Nation developed quickly. President Emeritus Charles W. Eliot of Harvard University condemned it as having “a tendency to perversion of white ideals.” From Hull House, in Chicago, Miss Jane Addams announced that she was “painfully exercised over the exhibition.” And in the columns of The Nation Oswald Garrison Villard-grandson of William Lloyd Garrison, the first Abolitionist-forthrightly denounced it as “a deliberate attempt to humiliate ten million American citizens.” More significantly, the Boston branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People published, and widely circulated, a pamphlet entitled Fighting a Vicious Film; A Record of Protest Against “The Birth of a Nation.” The Association was headed by Moorfield Storey, a Boston patrician and an eminent attorney; seventy-one years old, and long honored both as a reformer and leader of the American bar, Storey exercised a powerful influence in mobilizing Northern sentiment against the picture. Yet Storey was soon to demonstrate that N orthem humanitarians were no less capable of ironical inconsistency than Southerners like Griffith and Senator Watson. For despite his vigorous championship of the cause of the Negro, Storey one year later furnished leadership to the forces which bitterly opposed the appointment of Louis D. Brandeis to the Supreme Court-both because Brandeis was a “reformer” and because he was a Jew-and, as the historian Henry Steele Commager pointed out long afterwards, Storey likewise opposed the admission of Jews to Harvard University. Specifically replying to Storey’s attack, Griffith issued a pamphlet provocatively entitled The Rise and Fall of Free Speech in America. In this, he argued heatedly for “the freedom of the screen” and “the fundamental rights of expression.” Presently, an acrimonious and passionate controversy over these novel issues was being carried on in American newspapers and magazines. Griffith himself, according to Miss Lillian Gish, was deeply hurt by the antagonism that his picture had aroused, and resented the objections urged by its opponents. Privately, he protested that the film portrayed “bad white people as well as bad Negroes,” showing that the Negroes were “bad only because the white people made them so.” That his picture had inflicted an irreparable damage on ten million citizens, in addition to humiliating them; that it had inflamed and sanctioned vicious prejudices; that it had been capable of so doing only by virtue of its immense power as dramathese facts Griffith could not bring himself to acknowledge. The critics and journalists who acclaimed it as a great work of art were in a scarcely less equivocal position. For the most part they were Americans of sensitive conscience, advocates of civic morality, presumably eager to see a “better life” for all made possible under democratic institutions. Was socially evil influence compatible with high esthetic significance? The complex social and ethical problems which The Birth of a Nation projected were to affiict educators, social theorists, the clergy, lawmakers, and motionpicture-executives until the middle of the century. The controversy which his picture has exploded confirmed Griffith’s earlier intuition that the American public was ready to accept films undertaking the serious discussion of major social issues. His literary tum of mind predisposed him to seek significant themes, and he perceived that many of the conflicts occurring in an industrial society provided them; but only a genius for the particular medium in which he was working could have suggested reinforcement of the contemporary illustration by parallels from earlier epochs in human history.
The Birth of a Nation (1915) Directed by D.W. Griffith Shown: Mae Marsh
LILLIAN, GISH, through her. contract with Charles H. Duell, Jr., becomes an ‘exclusive Metro-Goldwyn star, according to the announcement by Nicholas M. .Schenck, vice-president of Metro-Goldwyn. The deal is one of the most important that has occurred in the film business this year. It not only marks the first independent production of Charles H. Duell, Jr., but it sets at rest endless rumors regarding the future affiliations -of Miss Gish.
As the popular’ star of “The White Sister” and of “Romola,” shortly to be released by Metro-Goldwyn, she has been spoken of for several ‘famous roles, and her services have been sought after by every American company and .several foreign producers. “Romola,” made by Inspiration Pictures, is a Henry King production and was directed by him in Italy.. By the terms of the Duell contract, Miss Gish will appear exclusively in a series of special productions for Metro-Goldwyn, it was stated by Mr. Schenck. Metro-Goldwyn regards the new Lillian Gish series as among the most important it has ever handled. Mr. Schenck stated: “Our arrangement with Charles H. Duell, Jr., for the new series of Lillian Gish specials is particularly gratifying to us, as it will enable us to give exhibitors absolutely one of the most popular box-office stars before the public. Mr. Duell’s name connected with a picture has always been a guarantee of splendid artistic quality as well as assured box-office values. ‘ The White Sister” and “Romola” prove that. We anticipate immense success for Miss Gish’s new series, and are happy to continue our association begun with ‘The White Sister.’”
Moving Picture World (Dec 13 1924) Romola Poster 1
Moving Picture World (Dec 13 1924) Romola Poster 2
The new arrangement follows almost directly on the deal closed several weeks ago between Mr. Duell for Inspiration Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn for the distribution of Romola, a Henry King production over a year in the making at Florence, Italy. Dorothy Gish is featured in “Romola” with Lillian, who is starred. This is George Eliot’s famous novel. No announcement has yet been made by Mr. Duell regarding the producing organization that will surround Miss Gish. Several stories are under . consideration for the first picture under the new contract. When this decision is made, preliminary work will be started at once. In all likelihood the first production will be filmed in the East, which has been the headquarters of Mr. Duell’s picture activities.
“Romola” Editing Completed
Gish Girls Picture Hailed One of Greatest Films Ever Produced Lillian Gish, star of Henry King’s “Romola,” and Dorothy Gish, featured player, are ready to be seen by the public in their newest and greatest roles. The editing and titling has been completed and the production was reviewed in its final form by Metro-Goldwyn executives last week. Metro-Goldwyn will distribute the big Inspiration Picture special, which was over a year in production at Florence, Italy. The verdict of those who saw “Romola” as it will be presented to the public is that Henry King’s production is unquestionably one of the greatest screen achievements brought to the films. It is claimed that the spectacular scenes in the film have never been surpassed. The story is of the time ‘of Columbus’s discovery of America and is laid in Florence. Lillian Gish is seen as a Florentine maid and Dorothy Gish as a peasant girl lessa. William Powell and Ronald Colman have important roles.
December 13, 1924 MOVING PICTURE WORLD
Lillian Gish Starred in Pictorially Beautiful Adaptation of George Eliot’s Classic Novel
Reviewed by C. S. Sewell
George Eliot’s classic novel, “Romola,” with its story laid in Florence, Italy, in the fifteenth century, has reached the screen as a Henry King production for Inspiration Pictures, Inc., with Lillian Gish as the star and Dorothy Gish featured, and is being distributed through Metro-Goldwyn. The most striking feature of this production is its magnificence and wonderful pictorial beauty. Filmed on the actual locations called for in the story, so finely has it been handled, with such painstaking attention to accuracy of detail, that it is a vivid presentation of the life of that period, and the spectator is made to feel as if he has been actually transported’ back to Florence in the days of the de Medici. “Romola” is certainly a masterpiece of beauty and splendor, with wonderful shots of the city of Florence, its palaces, streets, market-places and cathedrals, with striking interior scenes, gorgeous costumes and wellhandled mobs. We doubt if there has ever been a picture that can excel it in these respects.
As to the story, while there are scenes that are dramatically and emotionally effective, they occur mostly in the latter part of the picture. Narrative in form, it is lacking in love interest, and concerns mostly the rise to fame of the rascally adventurer, Tito, and his marriage to Romola, who does not love him, while her love for Carlo is only suggested and he is provided with no opportunities of a romantic nature. As presented at the Cohan Theatre in New York, this picture is in thirteen reels, and particularly in the first half there is a noticeable slowness of movement due to the elaborate attention to details and the holding of some of the scenes too long. The tempo quickens in the second half and there is no lack of real action in the climax. These sequences have been effectively handled, and the scene where Savonarola is fastened to a pole and a fire built under him is undeniably impressive, but it is unpleasant and, although rain puts out the fire, he apparently meets death as a martyr, by hanging. The scene where Tito is choked and held under water by the foster-father he has disowned, until he drowns, is decidedly gruesome. The performance of the players is uniformly excellent.
Lillian Gish is not only strikingly beautiful as Romola, with an ideal spiritual type of beauty, but her acting is remarkably effective. Dorothy Gish as the little peasant girl shows to advantage and contributes excellent comedy and human interest touches. W. H. Powell as Tito has the lion’s share of the action and is not only a remarkably good type for the role but makes a distinctly fine impression and gives a wonderful performance. Charles Lane does excellent work as Baldassarro, and Bonaventura Ibanez likewise as the blind father of Romola. The portrayal of Savonarola by Herbert Grimwood is remarkably effective and he bears a marvelous likeness to the pictures of the Florentine ecclesiastic painted by the Italian masters. Personally, while we felt its pictorial charm, the story did not get a strong hold on our emotions and the interest was weakened by the maze of detail and incident, and we doubt whether the magnificence, splendor and beauty of this picture, plus the excellent work of the cast, will outweigh these other considerations in the minds of the average patron. In a word, its box office reaction will rest largely on its pictorial appeal.
Romola ……………………………. Lillian Gish
Tessa …………………………….. Dorothy Gish
Tito Melena ………….. William H. Powell
Carlo ………………………….. Ronald Colman
Baldassaro …………………….. Charles Lane
Savonarola …………. Herbert Grimwood
llarilo Bardi ………. llonaventura Ibanez
Adolfo Spini …………………… Frank Puglia
Brigida ……………… Amelia Summerville
Nello …………………………….. Fduilio Mucei
Based on novel by George Eliot.
Directed by Henry King.
Length, 12,S>74 feet.
A boat approaching Italy is set upon by pirates and Baldassaro, a noted scholar, gives his adopted son Tito a ring that will be a passport with all men of learning. Tito escapes but Baldassaro is captured. Tito reaches Florence at the time that the people incited by the priest, Savonarola, has risen and cast out their ruler, Piero de Medici. Accidentally he aids Bardi, a blind man and noted scholar and is received with honors, finally winning consent to his marriage to his daughter Romola who loves Carlo, an artist. Through the aid of Spini, an adventurer who has become the real power behind the government, Tito rises to the post of chief magistrate. In the meantime he flirts with Tessa a peasant girl, going through a mock marriage during a carnival, which is very real to Tessa, so he installs her in a house and a child is born to them. Tito shows his real nature when he sells the priceless books of Bardi, and Romola leaves him. He issues a decree that means death to Savonarola but his ambition overleaps itself and he is chased by the mob. Jumping into the river he meets death by drowning at the hands of Baldassaro, whom he has refused to recognize. Romola meets Tessa and befriends her, and finally finds happiness with Carlo who has remained faithful to her.
Europe Praises “Romola”
“Such a work of art merits every success,” was the statement by Georges Clemenceau, former premier of France, after witnessing Lillian Gish in Henry King’s Inspiration production of “Romola,” a Metro-Goldwyn picture, with Dorothy Gish in a featured role. Numerous other European celebrities have expressed their enthusiasm over “Romola,” including Giavonni Poggi, resident director of the Uffizi Gallery, Florence, and curator of all the royal galleries of Tuscany; P. Bonnard, one of the greatest living French painters; Leonce Benedite, director of the Luxembourg Museum and the Rodin Museum in Paris; Santiago Alba, former Minister of Fine Arts in Spain; Dr. Guido Biagi; and Firmin Gemier, director of the Odeon National Theatre, Paris.
“Romola’s” Great Beauty Fascinated N. Y. Critics
BEFORE a distinguished audience Lillian Gish’s long-awaited appearance in Henry King’s Inspiration production of “Romola,” with Dorothy Gish, occurred on December 1st at the George M. Cohan Theatre in New York. “Romola” is a Metro-Goldwyn picture, based on George Eliot’s greatest novdl, and it was acclaimed by metropolitan critics. There was a large delegation of film stars. Marcus Loew, Adolph Zukor, Joseph M. Schenck, Edward Mi Bowes, William E. Atkinson, Jesse L. Lasky, Harry Rapf, Hiram Abrams, Nicholas M. Schenck, David L. Loew, Leopold Friedman, Charles K. Stern, Arthur M. Loew, David B. Bernstein, J. Robert Rubin, Charles C. Moskowitz and Messmore Kendall were among the prominent executives in the industry who were present. After the opening night it was reported that the remainder of the week was then practically sold out. “Personally, I like ‘Romola’ better than ‘The White Sister,’ ” said Louella Parsons in the New York American the morning after the premiere. As the story was filmed on the actual locale at Florence, Italy, the unrivaled beauty of the settings received marked comment from the press, Miss Parsons said, “The scenery in ‘Romola’ will please the most fastidious and act as a tonic for those who believe films the lowest form of art.” “It seems a perfect product,” was the praise of Harriette Underhill in the New York Herald Tribune, adding that, “it reppresents the art of the cinema in its highest form.” Mordaunt Hall in the New York Times wrote: “This is a film to be remembered, and the gorgeous scenes will never be forgotten.” “To the end the charm of the Gishes hold one,” wrote the reviewer of the New York Morning World, calling it “amazingly wondrous to behold,” adding that “the mob scenes are excellently done,” and stating that “the aesthetic pleasure of admiring the profile of Lillian is almost enough for one picture.” “An ambitious picture,” was Mildred Spain’s endorsement in the New York Daily News, adding that the picture “boasts the rich tale by George Eliot, superb photography, able direction, noteworthy backgrounds.” “Henry King has produced a lovely work of art,” said the New York Evening Post, adding that many shots are “lovelier than words can describe.”
Grauman Books Lillian Gish in “Romola” for Hollywood
ONE week after its world premiere at the George M. Cohan Theatre in New York, the Lillian and Dorothy Gish special, “Romola,” will go into Sid Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre, Hollywood, for a long run starting December 8.
Sid Grauman plans to give Henry King’s new Inspiration production, distributed by Metro-Goldwyn, the most elaborate prologue he has staged in the Egyptian Theatre. As the Egyptian prologues are famous for their lavish beauty, Mr. Grauman’s intention in regard to “Romola” indicates that the production is expected to achieve a record run there. With “Romola” playing at both ends of the country at the same time, the publicity from these two engagements is expected to “cover” the entire United States territory in which the picture will afterward play. “Romola” has an immense audience waiting for it, as the George Eliot novel on which the picture is based is one of the most famous standard books, and the reunion of Lillian and Dorothy Gish in the picture is counted on to prove a big draw. Dorothy has a featured role in the production in which Lillian is the star.
“Romola” was filmed in Florence, Italy, more than a year being required for the massive production, which abounds in spectacular features.
Lillian Gish – Romola (detail)
Lillian Gish – Romola (mid)
Lillian Gish – Romola
Moving Picture World (Dec 13 1924) Romola Cover
Moving Picture World (Dec 13 1924) Romola Poster 1
Moving Picture World (Dec 13 1924) Romola Poster 2
It was a notable day in Los Angeles when the flu ban was lifted. Music entered the cafes, motion pictures held sway everywhere, all the theaters were redecorated, fumigated and had expanded their orchestras, and the studios showed awakening from the Rip Van Winkle sleep of nearly two months. We noticed Monroe Salisbury coming out after the first show of “Hugon the Mighty,” which was a firstnighter at the Superba. He looked mighty handsome in a costly velour bonnet and wide, floppy brown coat, belted loosely, and his tall figure swayed over slightly as he got down to the level of a five-foot blonde who was vivaciously asking questions about his picture.
Right next door, Dorothy Gish’s “Battling Jane” filled the house, and while the character was overdrawn; nevertheless, peals of laughter showed the approval of the audience, and their delight at seeing a motion picture comedy once more. By the way, Dorothy has. been in a sanitarium for weeks and, as she had to sleep six hours daily, besides putting in all night on the hay, she certainly made up for the enforced rest-cure by devilling the life out of everybody during the other waking hours. Her friends smuggled chocolates onto her window-sill, because she was restricted to about three articles of diet and balked rebelliously. When friend nurse turned her back, Dorothy hopped out like a brisk little bird, scooped up the candy-boxes and hid ’em till she got a chance to eat. In spite of all this, she recovered. Her trouble was not serious, just a little nervous breakdown from over work and society doin’s. It was hard to imagine this disciple of perpetuum mobile lying on her back for 18 hours daily.
MaryPickford has her studio on the old Griffith lot, so these friends of early Biograph days are nearby and can hobnob at studio luncheons. Blanche Sweet has been working there also, but just ran off for a little New York trip. Anyway, the whole collection of blondes for once was united.
Lillian Gish and Donald Crisp in Broken Blossoms
Lillian Gish and Donald Crisp in Broken Blossoms
Lillian Gish and Donald Crisp in “Broken Blossoms”
Snooping around the enclosed stages, we found Lillian Gish dying to the tune of Chopin’s Funeral March, played on a wheezy accordeon. She’s doing a Chinese play in which Dick Barthelmess plays male lead and Donald Crisp does the heavy. The latter broke a couple of small bones in his one foot during a scene, but as his active scenes had all been shot, he’s not compelled to walk during the others which follow and can go onwith the work. By the time healing is complete they will need him for the shaking of the tootsies in a grand finishing skirmish.
Dorothy Gish persists in annoying mother and Lillian with her strange comb noises which are music to her ears
In my short, but varied career, I have spent many a pleasant day, but never one like the time I called on the two Triangle favorites, Dorothy Gish and Mae Marsh. Without a doubt they are two of the sweetest, most unsophisticated girls it has ever been my good fortune to meet. They just bubble over with girlishness. And jealousy? The farthest thing from their minds: Mae insists that Dorothy is the greatest little actress on the screen, and “Dot” vice versa. And that is something new in the film world-I know, I’ve been acting and producing for a good many years. Hearing that these two charming children-for that’s what they are-were in New York, and remembering how they used to be the life of the Biograph Company in the good, old days-I phoned, making an appointment with them. Unfortunately Miss Marsh was sick in bed-only a cold, fortunately, but Dorothy, who was acting as her nurse, promised to overlook a point, and arranged that I should see her. What other actress would do a thing like that? Nine out of ten-yes, ninety-nine out of a hundred would tearfully tell a sad tale of Miss Marsh’s illness, and then corner me and tell me the wonderful story of their ‘own lives. Not so, Miss Gish. She tucked in sick little Mae nice and “comfy” and then led me into her room. Of all the pretty pictures I have ever seen that was the prettiest, just her cute little head peeking from under the covers. After the usual greetings-remember I hadn’t seen either of these girls for over a year-I started my cross-examination.
Miss Marsh was the first one questioned; yes, it was the details of the “where-and-when” of her arrival on this wicked old world of ours.
“I was born in Madrid–”
I looked at her in surprise, “Why, I thought you were one of the original ‘Maids of America’!”
She smiled, “Oh, I mean Madrid, New Mexico. And that was nineteen years ago. Yes, that is my right age. Reading through the photoplay magazines I find that I am anything from thirteen to thirty, but nineteen is my right age-really.”
“Really,” !; echoed Miss Gish from the other side of the room.
“Now, Dorothy,” continued Mae, tell the kind man where and when this same wonderful event happened in the Gish family.”
The girl demurred, “Oh, you won’t believe me when I tell you!” ,
I crossed my heart and promised that I would. “It was in 1898, March 11th to be exact, that the stork passed over the Gish home and dropped me in. That was–”
I interrupted her, “I always thought that the Spanish-American War wasn’t the only important happening of ’98; now I know it.”
She smiled, and continued, “That was in Dayton, Ohio, and–”
Another chance for an honest compliment came to me, and I made the most of it, making some gallant remark about the great people from Dayton, such as the Wright brothers and the Gish sisters. Dorothy blushed, and made me stop. I asked her when she first realized that she was beautiful and would make a success as an actress. Of course she denied her good looks-what famous beauty doesn’t? But Mae promptly came to her rescue and let me know just how beautiful Dorothy is. She didn’t have to tell me – I have eyes. For that matter, little Miss Marsh isn’t in the background. When the question of the beauty of the members of the “flicker world” comes in discussion you’ll always hear Mae’s name mentioned, and way-up near the top, too. “Well, if you must know,” blushed Dorothy, and when she blushes she’s adorable, “I’ll tell you, I was four years old at the time.” She laughed in triumph. “I certainly didn’t know then whether I was a scarecrow or an object of admiration. At that time I played ‘Little Willie’ in ‘East Lynne.’ Oh yes, I was in that awful melodrama, but my next play was even worse. Sister Lillian and I both were in that horrid show, ‘Her First False Step’!”
“Br-r-r,” I shivered, “Give me the papers or the che-i-i-Id!”
“Now, you stop or I’ll get real mad,” she pouted. I was properly reprimanded and promised to be good.
“Oh, Mr. Rex,” Mae eagerly broke in, “I was having a terribly exciting time then. Tell him about it, Dorothy,”
“Why, you know it better than I do,” complained little Miss Gish.
“But you must remember I am a sick girl,” begged Mae. “Be good and tell him.”
Dorothy promised to be good and tell me. “You see, it was like this: Mae and all the rest of the little Marshes, including Mamma Marsh, were living in San Francisco when they had the awful earthquake”-she shuddered-“and before you could count ten the whole family was homeless. Wasn’t that awful?” I nodded agreement,
“But brave Mrs. Marsh didn’t even get frightened. She gathered up everyone of her halfa-dozen children, and got them to a place of safety, Just think, they lived in a tent for over a month!
Wasn’t that awfully exciting?” Again I nodded.
“Oh, and it was so hard for poor Mrs. Marsh to find food to fill all the hungry little mouths. One day she went to the supply tent, and told one of the soldiers what she wanted. He wouldn’t believe that she was the mother of so many children, and didn’t want to give her the food, But she persuaded him that she was telling the truth, and the sentry was kind enough to turn his back so that she could get what she wanted, Wasn’t he kind, and oh, wasn’t Mrs. Marsh plucky?”
Still a third time I nodded.
“And all the time poor Mae was having this bad luck I was playing in those horrid melodramas. Why couldn’t I have been out on the Coast helping her?”
“Why?” I agreed, never asking how she, who was only a baby, could have helped.
“How long did you play in ‘those horrid melodramas’?” I asked.
“Oh, not for long. You know Lillian and I soon left the stage and went to boarding school in Wheeling, West Virginia-the Allegheny Collegiate Institute. None of the girls there knew I was an actress-not even my room-mate! Wasn’t that funny?”
“Of course, you were a good girl in school?”
She looked at me in pained surprise. “Of course! Only, once I had to stay in after classes, and when I thought I had been there long enough, I started kicking away at the door, and the nasty old teacher just doubled my time. Now, wasn’t that mean?”
“Mean is no name for it,” I agreed.
She smiled approval of my remark, and then Miss Marsh spoke up. “When I was in school-the Convent of the Sacred Heart in California, I was always getting into trouble like that. Really, I was always innocent.” And she rolled her childish eyes.
“Be frank,” I insisted.
“Well, really I never did anything. Of course I was leader of the ‘gang,’ and put chewing gum in the teacher’s books, and threw black-board erasers at her, and forgot to study, and-oh, a lot of other things I’ve forgotten, but really I never did anything I shouldn’t!”
Miss Gish and I looked at each other and smiled.
“Oh, but that isn’t about moving pictures,” complained Dorothy, “tell him what you are doing now,”
“That doesn’t interest Mr. Rex,” was the reply, “does it?”
I said it did.
“Well, I’ve just finished playing in ‘The Mother and the Law’ under the direction of Mr. Griffith, and I’m taking a little vacation now. Just as soon as I go back to the Triangle Coast Studios, I will start rehearsals in a picture under Mr. Ingraham’s direction. I understand, though, that the actual production of the picture will be staged in New York. Now, Dorothy, you tell what you are doing now.”
Thus ordered, the pretty little actress could do naught but reply. “At present I am playing opposite Owen Moore in ‘Betsy, the Joyous.’ That’s the working title of the film, but I don’t know what the real name will, be. Mr. Dwan is producing the picture, which is for the Triangle programme, as is ‘Jordan Is a Hard Road,’ which I just finished on the Coast.”
“Now for ancient history,” I laughed. “What was your first picture, and how did you get in it?”
“Oh, ,do you want that old story!”-and she sighed. “Three and a half years ago I went to visit Mary Pickford at the Biograph Studio. You know Mrs. Pickford, and Mary and Lottie and Jack, Mother and Lillian and I lived together for a short time when we were very small children. I had heard of Mary’s great screen success and called to see a picture in the making. Lillian was with me. Mary introduced us to Mr. Griffith, and soon after he signed us up. We’ve both been with him ever since. The first picture I remember playing in for him was ‘An Unseen Enemy’ with Lillian. Bobby Harron had the male lead. Mae’s first big success was ‘The Sands 0′ Dee,’ and Bobby played lead in that, too,”
“Quite a boy, Bobby,” I remarked.
Instantly they both agreed. Lucky fellow, he, to have two such lovely girls to sing his praises. Why can’t we all be born so fortunate?
Both insist that Harron is one of our greatest actors, and I agree with them. In fact, all three of us have nearly the same opinion of the screen stars of today. Of course, modesty forbids my saying which actor they think is the greatest (?). Both girls are very fond of the work of Walthall and William S. Hart, while Mary Pickford, Blanche Sweet, Lillian Gish, the Talmadge girls, Bessie Barriscale attd Anita Stewart head the list of the actresses. Of the stage stars, both are of the opinion that no one can surpass Forbes, Robertson, and Jane Cowl and Mrs. Fiske came in for a lot of praise.
Going back to the Studio question, I asked Miss Marsh how she entered the film world.
“About four years ago my sister Lovey was playing for Mr. Griffith and after persuading Lovey for a long time she took me to the Studio one day. I was awfully lonesome and sat ‘way in the corner. Mr. Griffith must have wanted a woe-begone creature in one of his pictures for he soon gave me a job as extra, and then put me in stock. When he left Biograph to go with Majestic, I went with him. I played in hundreds of pictures, and love the work-especially my part in ‘The Birth of a Nation’,”
The conversation turned, and I asked the girls what their favorite hobbies were. Mae loves to sew, and read, and go driving in her big Chandler Six with Sister Lovey as chauffeur. Miss Gish told me that this car of Mae’s was a trick one. One day, she informed me, they were both coming from Mae’s house, when 10 and behold! the car started down the street, gracefully turned a corner, and then turned turtle in a vacant lot. Sounded to me almost like a Ford joke.
pictureplay magazine Dorothy Gish driving her car
Dorothy spends most her spare time in the photoplay theatres, although she gambles a great dealplaying solitaire against herself. She, too, will soon be spinning around the roads in her machine, as she is about ready to buy a roadster. (Note to automobile salesmen: Miss Gish will let you know when she wants a car. You can’t persuade her to buy one till then!) It’s a wonder the girl isn’t afraid of the “gasoline buggies.” One of them injured her severely last Thanksgiving, and because of the accident one of her cute little toes has gone to the happy hunting grounds.
Changing the subject, we spoke of pets. “Mae has the’ cutest cat,” said Miss Dorothy, “and she has honored me by naming it after me. Oh, before. I forget it – she has a little pond in her back yard with gold fish swimming around. One day I saw Bobby Harron fishing in it, and–“
“Oh, Dorothy,” objected Miss Marsh, “you did not.
Don’t you believe her,” But Dorothy insisted, and as I cannot doubt the word of either girl I will leave it to you readers. A prize of a ticket to any movie show in town to the first person who will prove that Mr. Harron did or did not go goldfishing in Mae Marsh’s back yard, and why. Address this office and put sufficient postage on your letters.
Miss Gish’s pets are a cat, “Tippy,” and a canary, “Tippy, Jr.” Although the names are so similar, there is no family connection, although the cat would have it that way if possible. From accounts I hear of them, they are the real rulers of the pretty Gish home in Los Angeles, which place, incidentally, was formerly the residence of Ruth St. Denis, the dancer. Oh, yes, and I mustn’t forget that both these charming girls have bull-dogs of the same breed and the same name. I hate to tell you the name, it’s so much like mine! Just before I was leaving, Mrs. Marsh and Mrs. Gish came in. If I hadn’t met Mrs. Gish before I certainly would have taken her for a sister of Dorothy’s and Lillian’s, and Mrs. Marsh I did mistake for Mae’s older sister until I was introduced. Truly these are wonderful families, both the house of Marsh and of Gish.