Motion Picture Classic – June, 1926
Letters to “King Dodo” By Don Ryan and Frederick James Smith
In my last epistle I had the honor to comment to Your Majesty upon the bizarre practice in moviedom of altering the intention of a play in order to escape censorship. Better not make it, at all, you would think—but the producers believe they must have the play for its name. The Puritan thread which runs thru American life is evidently just as tough as it was in the days of the Salem witchcraft. There always has been, of course, plenty of opposition. But Your Majesty could never guess the quarter from which the latest anti-Puritan propaganda is coming. Lillian Gish is making “The Scarlet Letter” into a picture for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, acting on her own initiative. Her own ancestors were New England roundheads and she always wished to reproduce Hawthorne’s masterpiece as a movie.
Securely hidden, I watched the frail Lillian making a scene for the picture—the scene in which Hester Prynne meets her husband after she has been decorated with the letter of shame. I never saw so much pains being taken with any scene—and I have watched Von Stroheim at work again and again. Lillian was rehearsing her own scene apparently without any direction from Victor Seastrom, who was just sitting on the side-lines.
But the most pains were being taken with the lights. The lights were the invention of Lillian’s own camera wizard, the former Herr Professor Hendrik Sartov, of Rotterdam. This physicist, weaned from his university, but not from his long pipe and flowing tie, was putting one band of light over Lillian’s eyes while with another arrangement he was getting rid of her cheek-bones. He is undoubtedly a monumental asset.
Lillian and her friends are going to make “The Scarlet Letter” without softening the hard Puritan character, I was told. It will be a lesson for the long-hairs of today, the same lesson that Griffith attempted to convey in “Intolerance” and failed magnificently in the doing. This picture begins to look like another big success for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer ; and with such a bright young man as Joseph Hergesheimer for her press-agent, I see a bright future for Lillian.