DIANE OF THE FOLLIES – 1916 (reviews)

Diane of The Follies still - D444

DIANE OF THE FOLLIES – 1916

Breaking her (Lillian Gish) even further out of the mold was Diane of the Follies, again directed by Cabanne, with a pseudonymous scenario by Griffith. And judging by the extravagant production stills, the loss of this film is particularly regrettable since they show Lillian as never before seen and never to be seen again. The producers were marketing a completely different Lillian Gish in a film that was “the final proof of her versatility, for the little star who has been sweet, submissive and sobby so often and effectively has suddenly become a dashing and temperamental chorus girl in her newest and most startling vehicle From the quickie Biograph one-reelers of just two years before, Lillian now found herself in a movie rated sumptuous even if we discount the exaggerations of press agents, who touted her nineteen costumes and $75,000 worth of precious jewelry. The film presumably featured “a full musical comedy” staged in a theatre before an audience of fifteen hundred. Its plot recalls the 1912 Oil and Water, in which Lillian had a bit part. Here, Lillian plays Diane, a showgirl who marries and then leaves husband and child to return to the stage when she tires of domesticity. Not even the entreaties of a forgiving husband and the death of her child induce her to give up the Follies. The production stills show her at turns saucy, vampish, impertinent, aloof, all in suitably outlandish regalia. Lillian relished the role: “Naturally, I was happy not to be playing another ‘Gaga-baby a term we gave to sweet-little-girl roles, which were actually difficult to do. It took more effort to play one of them and hold an audience’s interest than it did to portray ten wicked women. (Charles Affron)

Diane of The Follies - Lillian Gish
Diane of The Follies – Lillian Gish

THERE WERE NO LOVE AFFAIRS

The pictures she made at this time were important only as they were steps of development—program pictures, little remembered today. “Diane of the Follies,” in which she played a kind of vamp and wore remarkable costumes, was more memorable. “But Diane was very easy to play,” she said afterwards. “Anybody can play a character of that sort—it plays itself. It is the part of a good woman, whose colorless life has to be made interesting, that is hard.”

Her own life could hardly be said to be exciting. There were no love affairs. Plenty of opportunities, but she was always too busy for such things, or for the social life, of which there was now a good deal. “I was not gay enough for the parties; Dorothy was sought, for those. They didn’t care much about me.” And once she wrote:

“When Dorothy goes to a party, the party becomes a party: When I go to a party, I’m afraid it very often stops being a party…. She, as I once heard a girl described in a play, is like a bright flag flying in the breeze. “All music, even the worst, seems so beautiful to her. All people amuse her…. I have fun, too, but it is only the fun I get out of apparently never-ending work.” (Albert Bigelow Paine)

Diane of The Follies - Lillian Gish
Diane of The Follies – Lillian Gish

Diane of the Follies,

written by D. W. Griffith (as Granville Warwick), was Lillian’s attempt at vamping, but this cinematic journey into the private life of a Follies girl was a very guarded excursion. Even with material dealing with showgirls, Griffith was a moralist. With Lillian, his fantasies had limits … Lillian’s character was a radical departure from the “Gaga-baby” sweet little girl types. Follies girl Diane is trapped in a boring marriage to an amateur sociologist who married her to raise her level of intelligence by exposing her to what he thinks is the best of what culture has to offer. When the opportunity presents itself to return to the theatre, she leaves her husband and their daughter, Bijou. Bijou dies, and Diane announces to her husband that they can remain married, but they must never see each other again. One cannot help but comment upon the daughter’s name, Bijou. Had Diane produced twins, would she have named her other daughter Rialto? Was Bijou Griffith’s attempt at humor? Or were his frustrations at not succeeding as a playwright so overwhelming that, had he been a playwright, would his plays have been mounted at theatres named Bijou and Rialto? Was the separation that occurs between Diane and her husband parallel to Griffith’s from his wife?

Diane of The Follies - Lillian Gish
Diane of The Follies – Lillian Gish

Anita Loos offered her thoughts on Griffith’s literary ambitions: Mr. Griffith, for all of his film successes, was a frustrated playwright. He regarded himself as a playwright. The more success he had as a filmmaker, the more reluctant he was to try to return to the theatre. The theatre world was less secure than pictures. A play closes and is hopefully forgotten. Nobody makes anything from a flop. A movie can partially recoup its losses, should it play small towns for a very short time. Some money can be made, but not much. Mr. Griffith, whether he liked it or not, always thought in cinema terms: big, lots of people to fill the lens. Lillian’s theatre work at that time was very limited, but I think if Mr. Griffith were willing to take the chance, she would have returned to the theatre with him. With Lillian, Griffith or no Griffith, work always came first. It is highly likely that Griffith had attended a few performances of Florenz Ziegfeld’s Follies of 1916, which was playing in New York at the time he was working on a film for Lillian that could place her in more worldly- but still acceptable – circumstances. The Follies of 1916, with a cast that included Ina Claire, Fanny Brice, W. C. Fields, Ann Pennington, and Bert Williams, had sketches using a “Shakespearean” theme (Ina Claire as Juliet and Bert Williams as Othello). The beautiful Follies girls in period costumes in front of a Sphinx background must have convinced Griffith that filming in New York and utilizing the Follies name would appeal to a substantial metropolitan audience (as well as audiences across the United States who may never have the opportunity to see any part of a Ziegfeld show). With the inclusion of Lillian as the lead, this latest Triangle film might be a box -office bonanza. Dancer Ann Pennington, who headlined in the Follies of 1916 (and eight other Follies editions), easily remembered meeting Lillian Gish in her dressing room a few times after evening performances. Accompanying Lillian on all of the visits were her mother and Mr. Griffith. Fifty-four years later, in 1970, Pennington still remembered meeting Lillian Gish:

Diane of The Follies - Lillian Gish
Diane of The Follies – Lillian Gish

Mr. Ziegfeld told us to try and help her [Lillian] for this film about a Follies girl. She [Lillian] was as beautiful up close as she photographed on the screen. She had reddish-blonde hair and large blue eyes that the camera loved. At Fanny’s [Brice] suggestion, we took Lillian and her mother and Mr. Griffith on-stage and watched Lillian walk around a few times, then take a few turns on the runway. She had a very good figure, but she wasn’t Follies girl material. I don’t think Mr. Ziegfeld would have hired her, had she shown up for an audition. She had no … allure, and her balance was a little off. You could tell she never practiced walking to music. Mr. Griffith should have taught her how to walk, but maybe that would be later, when the actual filming started. I always thought she should have come backstage alone. Then we could have talked about our lives, and she could have picked up some simple dance steps. With Watching Mama there, we were very polite, and the conversation never really went anywhere. Lillian was very professional in what she asked and how she asked it. We couldn’t talk about men, and men were certainly a big part of our lives. Men were one of the reason pretty young girls came to New York. They wanted to be in the Follies, and they wanted to meet men. Men who met Follies girls were always wealthy, and they could show you a good time, and, if you played your cards right, you could get one of them to marry you, if you know what I mean … Lillian never became a Follies girl in that film. There was nothing inside her character. She didn’t know what a Follies girl was, or what she had to go through everyday. It isn’t just walking down a staircase, or smiling on a runway to beautiful music and wearing pretty clothes. But Lillian Gish did look wonderful, and the clothing fit very well. It would have been a better picture if Joan Crawford or Clara Bow played that part. Men fantasized about Joan Crawford and Clara Bow. Lillian Gish was only Mr. Griffith’s fantasy. He was very Victorian, and she was very prissy. Why did she always bring her mother? Her mother gave me the impression that being a Follies girl meant you were only slightly better than a chorus girl, and chorus girls were low class …. When I saw the film, I thought Lillian Gish reminded me of an eleven-year-old girl playing dress up! (Stuart Oderman)

Diane of The Follies - Lillian Gish
Diane of The Follies – Lillian Gish
  • (Miss Lillian Gish) Lillian Gish ……….. Diane
  • Sam De Grasse ………………… Phillips Christy
  • Howard Gaye ………………….. Don Livingston
  • Lillian Langdon ……………….. Marcia Christy
  • Allan Sears ….. Jimmie Darcy (as A.D. Sears)
  • Wilbur Higby ……………. Theatrical Manager
  • William De Vaull …………………………….. Butler
  • Wilhelmina Siegmann ……….… Bijou Christy
  • Adele Clifton …………………………… Follies Girl
  • Clara Morris …………………………… Follies Girl
  • Helen Wolcott ………………………… Follies Girl
  • Grace Heins ………………………….… Follies Girl
Diane_of_the_Follies_-_1916_newspaper
Diane of the Follies – 1916 newspaper advertisement

Triangle Program at Mission Theatre

“Diane of The Follies” with Lillian Gish as the Vivacious Star

Interesting to women are the marvelous gowns, 67 in number, which are worn by the women in the cast. Nineteen are worn by Miss Gish herself, which makes the play a wonderful fashion show as well as a dramatic entertainment.

The Jewels worn by Lillian Gish were loaned by a jeweler of Los  Angeles. She adorns herself with a pearl necklace worth $30,000.00, a coronet worth $20,000.00, rings worth $7,000.00; and a bracelet worth $3,000.00, in addition to her own Jewelry valued at $15,000. The total is $75,000 worth of precious stones, which every woman will want to see.

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