New STYLES in SCREEN GIRLS – By Harry Carr (1926)

Motion Picture Classic – 1926

New STYLES in SCREEN GIRLS – By Harry Carr

Ronald Colman and Lillian Gish in "The White Sister"
Ronald Colman and Lillian Gish in “The White Sister” (At a Portrait Exhibition)

Harry Carr says that the fashions in film heroines have changed as often as the vogue in shoes and gowns.  Mr. Carr divides the girl cycles as follows:

John Gilbert, Mae Murray and Roy D'Arcy in The Merry Widow
John Gilbert, Mae Murray and Roy D’Arcy in The Merry Widow
  1. The Mary Pickford.

  2. The Lillian Gish.

  3. The Pola Negri.

  4. The Gloria Swanson.

  5. The peppy, unrestrained type of 1926.

Lillian Gish Profile, cca 1910 – Everett

‘The next raging sensation of the screen was the Lillian Gish kind.

She didn’t really start a cult like Mary. But she started a technique. Even to this day, I very rarely see a big emotional picture that I do not trace back some of the stuff to this or that play of Lillian Gish. That futile beating of the hands on the locked door. That spasmodic clutching of the throat. That maimed twitching of the lips. Perhaps it unconscious on Miss Murray’s part; but the pitiful movement of the corners of her mouth as she lay broken hearted on the bed in “The Merry Widow” was taken directly from Lillian Gish’s death scene in “Broken Blossoms.”

John Gilbert and Mae Murray in Merry Widow - 1925
John Gilbert and Mae Murray in Merry Widow – 1925

It was so like it that I half expected to see Dick Barthelmess come in, dressed in Chinese clothes. Some girls have tried to copy Lillian’s funny of running around in circles; but nobody has ever been able to get away with that except Lillian herself; and even she doesn’t always. She says she got the idea from the fact that animals, when overjoyed, all run around in furious circles to show their joy.

Broken Blossoms
Lillian Gish and Richard Barthelmess in “Broken Blossoms” (Lucy Burrows and Cheng Huan “Chinky”)

Lillian did not start a cult because there weren’t anymore Lillians. Now that I think of it, however, I observe that three of the most popular women ever seen on the screen have had no imitators. They stand alone.

Pola Negri portrait close up
Pola Negri
Gloria Swanson from Male and Female
Gloria Swanson from Male and Female
Lillian Gish (Henriette Girard)
Lillian Gish (Henriette Girard) “Orphans of the Storm”

They are Pola Negri, Gloria Swanson and Lillian Gish.

Oddly enough, it happens that these three are devotedly admired by other actresses. The most passionate “fans” I have ever known are movie girls themselves. They follow Mary Pickford around the street and step on each other’s feet standing in the lobbies at her previews—just like other girls.


Three Stars With No Imitators


They are little Pola Negri gangs; little Swansons gangs and Gish gangs. They burn incense before one or the other of these; but they do not try to imitate them.

Pola Negri 1931
29th January 1931: Pola Negri (1897 – 1987), born in Poland ‘Appolonis Chalupek’, the Hollywood film star and actress, probably the most exotic of the personalities of the silent days she thrived on femme fatale roles.

You might as well try to imitate Yosemite Valley or a storm at sea as Pola. She is as much a thing apart as the smell of mountain sage, or the flash of sea phosphorus. She is just Pola; that’s all.

Gloria Swanson in Her Gilded Cage
Gloria Swanson in Her Gilded Cage

It is impossible for anyone to be like Gloria; because Gloria is a strange combination of the exotic with the downright practical. Just when you decide that Gloria is a cafeteria cashier stepping out, you suddenly change your mind and decide she is the Queen of Sheba come back to life. No one knows well enough where one begins and the other ends ever to make as much as an attempt to imitate the lady.

Lillian Gish in The Enemy, promotional photograph HiRes
Lillian Gish as Pauli Arndt in “The Enemy”

Just so, nobody knows what the real Lillian Gish behind the technique is like, well enough to imitate her. So none of these ever created a cult. The next cults that came along were the Norma Shearers and the Corinne Griffiths. They brought a new note. The aristocratic air. They frankly upstaged us; they ritzed us. They had a little the air of “You can look; but mustn’t touch.”

And how we loved it!

Harry Carr – 1926

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Motion Picture Classic 1926 b
Motion Picture Classic 1926
Motion Picture Classic 1926 cover
Motion Picture Classic 1926 cover

(Fay Wray recalled the following during the course of her making “The Wedding March” for Erich von Stroheim in 1926-7.) The only man on the film that I spent time with and talked to was Harry Carr who co-authored the script with von Stroheim. I didn’t even talk a lot with von Stroheim but I did have some nice discussions with Harry Carr. He was the top film critic with “The Los Angeles Times.” He stood in back of the camera and the first solo scene that I did without von Stroheim he was watching. He had a way of wiggling his nose–it was like a nervous tick. But it was increased nervousness–it ticked very hard as though he were pleased with me, you know. We got to be friends. I went to his house and visited with him and his wife. He took me subsequently to meet Lillian Gish where she lived down at the beach. I was happy to meet her because I had admired her so much in films like D. W. Griffith’s “Orphans of the Storm.” I remember she was brushing her long blonde hair as we talked. Harry Carr was crazy about her and he was crazy about Ramon Novarro, too. He wrote a beautiful piece about me for one of the movie magazines and I just was charmed by it. So he was a nice man.

  • From the interview with Fay Wray in “At the Center of the Frame: Leading Ladies of the Twenties and Thirties” by William M. Drew, Vestal Press, 1999 (Page 73):
Fay Wray as Mitzi in Erich von Stroheim's 'The Wedding March' (1928)
Fay Wray as Mitzi in Erich von Stroheim’s ‘The Wedding March’ (1928)

This new von Stroheim discovery proves . . . to have brains–a lot. She is, in fact, one of the most remarkable personalities I have ever known in the movies. Miss Wray makes me think a lot of Lillian Gish. She has the same patient tolerance–the same understanding heart–the same level, fearless intelligence; and a gentle distinction and dignity. By the time von Stroheim finishes her training, little Miss Wray will probably be a great actress; in any case she is sure to be a fine woman.

  • The article by Harry Carr on Fay Wray, “She’s Beautiful and Sweet,” was published in the February 1927 issue of “Motion Picture Magazine” and is quoted in the introduction to the interview with the actress on page 60 of “At the Center of the Frame: Leading Ladies of the Twenties and Thirties:”

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