SCREEN ACTING by Mae Marsh 1921
In her travels and through her amazing to put it mildly correspondence, the motion picture star finds that there is everywhere a great curiosity about screen acting. What does it require? What, if any, are its mysteries? What system of detail is there that permits fifty-two hundred feet of celluloid ribbon to spin smoothly past the eye to make an interesting story ?
I look upon this book as an answer to the thousands of letters I have received in the past several years asking as many thousands of questions. A motion picture star’s most intimate audience, after all, is her correspondence. There comes to her sometimes the vague realization that in a dozen different countries little children, their sisters, their brothers and their parents may be, at one moment, viewing her image upon the screen in a dozen different plays. It is all too stupendous ; too impersonal. But. though she cannot be a breathing part of these audiences she learns often what is in the hearts of many. This message comes through the mails; that is her broad point of contact with her international public.
Five years ago these letters were largely to request photographs and the star could tell something of her popularity by the number of pictures mailed out. But, as the screen has grown in importance and merit, the star’s correspondence has indicated a lively curiosity in the art of camera-acting. So much ambition ; so many questions ! I have often thought that to make a satisfactory reply to the thousands of questions. I have been asked would be to write a book, and well, I wrote it. I have tried to outline the important steps in the building of a screen career. In doing this I have evaded technical phraseology. It is not indispensable to a knowledge of screen technic and might tend to confuse. I believe that anyone desiring a career in motion pictures can profit by that which I have written out of my experience; that others can learn from it something of the work-a-day life of the screen actress. In conclusion I would take this opportunity to thank the tremendous number of children and grown-ups who have at one time or another written me. They serve always to remind me that those of us upon the screen have an influence and responsibility that go beyond a mere make-believe. (MAE MARSH)
She began her screen career more than a half dozen years ago. She was frail, and slow to absorb the lessons of the screen. Even her dearest friends never imputed to her a great natural acting talent. But this young lady was dauntless. She kept everlastingly at it. By systematically exercising she gradually built up strength and endurance. When she was given a part she read everything she had access to which would help her in the development of her character portrayal.
She over-came any tendency toward self consciousness while before the camera. She became adept in the matter of thinking up business. The fact that she did not attain stardom, in its generally accepted sense, never deterred her. Year after year she gave to the screen and to her parts the best that was in her.
Her courageousness has been rewarded. It is my opinion that in the past two years she had contributed to the photographic drama two of its most distinguished characterizations. She is a motion picture star in the true sense of the word. Her name is Lillian Gish. If I seem to be gazing on the darker side of a screen career I assure you that it is not because such is my habit. Quite the contrary. But it appears to me that since there seems to be such a universal impulse to gain fame through the medium of the moving picture drama that it is as well to consider some of its difficulties.
Trained actors and actresses from the spoken stage to their sorrow have found these difficulties. The established star finds sometimes that success has seemed merely to double her troubles.The beginner will discover, therefore, that when he or she sets his or her face toward a screen career there will come moments when it will seem much easier to give up than go on. Those who give up will be those who should never have started. They will have wasted time that could have been otherwise more profitably spent. Those who go on well, there is always hope for such.
I am always interested in and can sympathize with the young girl who yearns for acareer. It seems but yesterday that I was in short skirts and Miss Marjorie Rambeau was the most talented and beautiful actress that was ever permitted upon the face of the earth. After a matinee at the old Burbank theater in Los Angeles a young girl friend and I often followed Miss Rambeau discreetly and at what might be called a worshipful distance.
Then there was Mr. Richard Bennett. What a masterful, handsome man was he! My goodness! he was one to occupy one’s dreams; to make one wonder if somehow it might not be possible to grow up and become his leading lady. I am sure that the very paragon of modern-day leading men could not come up to my childhood estimate of Mr. Richard Bennett.
If the same make up that is used in the dramatic action is continued it becomes immediately too conspicuous. Slower action is necessary because at the distance of two feet the camera is limited in the speed of movement that it can faithfully record. In the insert we are ever reminded of the value of repression. The mere expression of the eyes may be all that is necessary to convey to the audience the emotion of the player. The truth is that the effectiveness of the close-up seems to be in inverse proportion to the amount of facial action in it.When we behold an insert in which there is much grimacing and contortion of the face we realize that there is no real depth of feeling. It is playing at feeling. On the other hand I have seen vital emotion so delicately expressed in the insert that its effect was haunting and beautiful. Observe in “Broken Blossoms” and “Way Down East” the close-ups of Lillian Gish.
Much as the good old “back spot” is popular among the fluffy bonds, so is the insert welcomed by all screen actresses. We believe that it shows us off at our best and brings us nearer, as it were, to our audiences. Yet there are some actresses favored over others by the insert. One whose features are naturally coarse, or hard, loses something when in close contact with the camera. Others, like myself, who have small features, and believe, therefore, that we are often at a disadvantage in the long and intermediate shots, are only too glad of the opportunity to prepare for an insert. Indeed, our directors sometimes make a jest of saying that we seem to want a drama of inserts. But it is never quite so bad as that.
Mae Marsh 1921