Picture Show Annual – 1926
Films That Made Them Famous
By May Herschel Clarke
How Some Screen Stars of To-day First Began to Shine
SUPPOSE it’s a shocking confession to make, but not till – some years after it was first released did I see “ The Birth of a Nation.” In a way. I’m glad it was so, for thus I was enabled to compare that early Griffith masterpiece with the “ super ” productions of the present time. Somewhat, I must own, to the detriment of the latter. For if ” The Birth of a Nation ” proved one thing more than another, it was that it is acting, and not settings costing thousands upon thousands of pounds, that lifts a film a long way above its fellows. By this I do not mean to suggest that no fine screen acting is to be seen to-day. What I do mean is that, with all its lavishness and technical development, the modern photoplay rarely treats us to an exhibition of dramatic art which can truthfully be said to conform to so high a standard as that displayed in “ The Birth of a Nation.”
The Triumph of Walthall and Mae Marsh
In this amazing picture it was not a question of one outstanding performance, but of several. Think of the people who were in it ! Mae Marsh, Henry B. Walthall, Lillian Gish, Wallace Reid, Walter Long—these immediately come to mind. As the young blacksmith Reid got his first real chance, though I suppose we must say that his first great hit was made in ” Carmen,” with Geraldine Farrar. His love scenes with the great prima donna and film star are talked about to this day. Lillian Gish gave a very tender performance in ‘ The Birth of a Nation,” while the reverse of tenderness was so powerfully portrayed by Walter Long that his Gus immediately brought him into the front rank of screen villains of the deepest dye ! But the two people whose work stood out above that of everyone else were Walthall and Mae Marsh. The former’s Little Colonel at once stamped its creator as one of the greatest actors, if not the greatest, on the screen, while the heartrending pathos of Mae Marsh’s performance as the Little Sister won her universal recognition as an actress of genius.
The Gish Sisters
Most people, I suppose, consider that Lillian Gish scored her most sensational triumph in “ Broken Blossoms ”—the picture, by the way, which recorded smashing successes by Richard Barthelmess and Donald Crisp—but, of course, Lillian was already known as a remarkable actress through her work in “ The Birth of a Nation,” “ Intolerance,” and “ Hearts of the World.” Like Mary Pickford, through whose kind offices she and Dorothy obtained their introduction to the screen, Lillian has done so much marvelous work, and can trace that work back to such early Griffith times, that It Is a little difficult to put one’s finger on the exact spot where Fame marked her for its own.
The problem is much simpler in the case of Dorothy Gish, who, as most people are aware, came into her own as a comedienne in the role of “The Little Disturber“ in “Hearts of the World.” Prior to that picture, Dorothy had been jogging along as a serious actress, without much prospect of getting anywhere in particular. Griffith’s decision to give her a comedy part proved her film salvation.
A Glimpse of Genius
It Is interesting to recall that It was in ” Hearts of the World ” that Erich von Stroheim, the great actor-director, gave a glimpse of the genius which later was to dazzle the whole film world. His brilliant “ bit ” was registered in the scene in which he entered the cellar with the French refugee woman, to conduct a roll-call of those who were to be deported. His famous Teutonic bow and his equally famous look of mockery even then were in evidence. In this picture little Ben Alexander rose to fame on the strength of the scene in which he cried by his screen mother’s grave.
British Successes in American Productions
Two of the biggest hits recently made in filmdom were achieved by British players. Ronald Colman (who, unless I am much mistaken, used to be with Broadwest) became famous overnight through his splendid work as Captain Severi, in “ The White Sister ” with Lillian Gish. Dorothy Mackaill, who used to be on the stage over here, and who has done very well in America in a couple of pictures with Richard Barthelmess and in Sam Wood’s production of “ His Children’s Children,” among other films, hit the bull’s – eye with a remarkable portrayal of a drug addict in “ The Man Who Came Back,” a Fox production made by Emmett Flynn. Vera Reynolds, who made so favourable an impression as the flapper sister of Gloria Swanson in “ Prodigal Daughters,” is another young player who seems destined to go far. As for Betty Bronson, whose luck in being chosen by Sir James Barrie to portray Peter Pan—well, there seems little doubt about the film that will make her famous! (May Herschel Clarke – Picture Show Annual – 1926)