Lulu in Hollywood By Louise Brooks (1974)

  • Lulu in Hollywood
  • By Louise Brooks
  • Copyright © 1974, 1982 by Louise Brooks

It should not come to us as a surprise that a film actress can write, but, so narrow are our expectations, it does. We are even more surprised when it turns out that the actress is one of the great beauties of all time. And we are out-and out astonished when we learn that many people think she possesses an erotic eloquence unmatched by that of any other woman ever to have appeared on the screen. It may well be that the number of beautiful, eloquently erotic film actresses who have been able to write is very, very small.

Gish and Garbo (Chapter Six)

There was a time when I had a great deal to say about the failure of the most powerful film stars to maintain the quality of uniqueness which had first made them the idols of the public. I found a great deal to condemn in their lack of judgment in accepting poor pictures. In the spring of 1958, looking at Lillian Gish in One Romantic Night (an adaptation of Molnar’s The Swan), I could not understand how she could have gone back to Hollywood in 1929 to play that ghostly part in that foolish picture made in the place from which, two years before, her spirit had gone forever—”forgotten by the place where it grew.” But now, after penetrating more deeply into the picture executives’ aims and methods, I can only wonder and rejoice at the power of personality, intellect, and will that kept Lillian Gish a star for fifteen years. I can only be endlessly grateful that she was able to make so many marvelous pictures before the producers found the trick of curbing a star and standardizing their product according to their own will and personal taste.

Conrad Nagel, Lillian Gish, Rod La Rocque, Direktor Paul L. Stein ermahnt, The Swan

Old pictures were bad pictures. Pictures were better than ever. An actor was only as good as his last picture. These three articles of faith were laid down by the producers, and business was conducted in a manner to prove them. As for the public, it was taught to sneer at old pictures. People had been accustomed to seeing the same things over and over and loving them more and more—the same minstrel shows and vaudeville acts, the same Sothern and Marlowe in The Merchant of Venice. Why not the same Lon Chaney in The Hunchback of Notre Dame? Or the same Pola Negri in Passion? But Hollywood feared and believed without question that what it said was true. Even Charlie Chaplin believed—he whose supreme success depended chiefly on the continued showing of his old pictures. Among all the creative minds of the picture business, D. W. Griffith alone knew the lie. “The public isn’t fickle about its stars,” he said in 1926. “Stars do not slip quickly, despite the theory to the contrary. You hear that So-and-So will die if he doesn’t get a good picture immediately.

Consider how many weak pictures have been made by big favorites—who are still favorites.” But who cared what Griffith said?

The year 1925 was when two things happened that finally bound the producers together in a concerted war on the star system. First, 1925 was the terrible year when the industry suddenly found itself in subjection to Wall Street. Modestly declaring a hands-off policy up to then, the bankers had been financing the producers in their effort to buy up the country’s 20,500 picture theatres and had been encouraging them to spend $250 million a year on theatre construction. But now bankers were sitting in on board meetings and giving producers orders. Bankers, having penetrated the secrets of the picture corporations’ books and discovered the studio overhead a sum of money executives added to a film budget to later split among themselves), were receiving generous shares of the once private “golden harvest” of the producers. Then, finding that it wasn’t the name of a lion roaring on a title sheet but the name of a star which drew a multi-million-dollar gross at the box office, bankers were beginning to object to the abuse of stars. Naturally, the producers did not so much as consider giving up the practice of cutting salaries and firing stars—their customary way of making up their losses and refreshing their prestige.

The solution was simply to use a subtler technique, to be confirmed by box office failure. Marked first for destruction was Lillian Gish. She was the obvious choice. Of all the detestable stars who stood between the movie moguls and the full realization of their greed and self-aggrandizement, it was Lillian Gish who most painfully imposed her picture knowledge and business acumen upon the producers. She was a timely martyr as well, being Hollywood’s radiant symbol of purity standing in the light of the new sex star.

Lillian Gish admiring Romola portrait by Nicolai Fechin cca 1925 (Oil on canvas painting) – French Press HiRes

The year 1925 was also the year when Will Hays succeeded in killing censorship in twenty-four states. Of these, New York was the only one that mattered—meaning New York City, where Mr. Hays had thoughtfully set up the National Board of Review. The Board was “opposed to legal censorship and in favor of the constructive method of selecting the better pictures,” and had already put a passing mark on the producers’ test runs of adult pictures of sexual realism: A Woman of Paris, Greed, and The Salvation Hunters. These pictures had been tolerated by the public, too. It had accepted the new hero, with the conscienceless sophistication of Adolphe Menjou and the unbridled manliness of John Gilbert—an acceptance based on the beloved proposition that practically all women are whores anyway. Everything was set for the collection of the treasure at the box office, where the producers’ hearts lay, when they were pulled up short by the realization that they had no heroine with youth, beauty, and personality enough to make free love sympathetic. To be seen as beautifully handled, a female star’s picture still had to have a tag-showing marriage. Mae Murray, fighting for her virtue against  von Stroheim’s direction in The Merry Widow, had proved the impossibility of transmuting established stars into the new gold. The worldly-woman type, given a whirl with Edna Purviance, Florence Vidor, and Aileen Pringle, was too remote and mature to interest the public. The passionate Pola Negri, after being worked over by Paramount for three years, was dead at the box office. And the producers were driving actresses out of their minds—draping Barbara LaMarr in a nun’s veil to make her sympathetic, and sticking a rose between the teeth of Hollywood’s most celebrated screen virgin, Lois Wilson, to make her sexy.

And then, in the early spring of 1925, Louis B. Mayer found her! Looking at Greta Garbo in the Swedish picture Gosta Berling, in Berlin, he knew as sure as he was alive that he had found a sexual symbol beyond his or anyone else’s imagining. Here was a face as purely beautiful as Michelangelo’s Mary of the Pietd, yet glowing with passion. The suffering of her soul was such that the American public would forgive her many affairs in The Torrent, Garbo’s first American picture. At last, marriage—the obstacle standing between sex and pleasure—could be done away with! At last, here was an answer to young actresses who wanted to play good girls!

As for the established women stars, it was only a question of a year or two before the powerful support of the studios would be withdrawn from all of them. The timely coincidence of the advent of talking pictures provided a plausible reason to give the public for the disappearance of many favorites.

But there wasn’t an actress in Hollywood who didn’t understand the true reason. Greta Garbo. From the moment The Torrent went into production, no contemporary actress was ever again to be quite happy in herself. The whole M-G-M studio, including Monta Bell, the director, watched the daily rushes with amazement as Garbo created out of the stalest, thinnest material the complex, enchanting shadow of a soul upon the screen. And it was such a gigantic shadow that people didn’t speak of it. At parties, two or three times a week, I would see Norma Shearer and Irving Thalberg, Hunt Stromberg, Paul Bern, Jack Conway, and Clarence Brown, all of whom worked at M-G-M.

Director Victor Sjostrom, cameraman and Lillian – backstage The Wind

If, by chance, one of the men was so inhumane as to speak of a Garbo picture, one of the girls would say, “Yes, isn’t she divine?” and hurry on to a subject that created less despair. A name that was never mentioned in the endless shoptalk was that of Lillian Gish. The suspicion that M-G-M had put her under contract at a spectacular salary in order methodically to destroy her might not have been forced upon me had I not seen The Wind at the Dryden Theatre in Rochester’s Eastman House one night in 1956. I had never heard of it! And I could find no clue to its history. Gish’s clothes were charmingly contrived from all periods, from no period. Her hair was either piled up in a dateless fashion on top of her head or swirling round her throat and shoulders. The Swedish director Victor Seastrom (born Sjostrom), in his direction, shared her art of escaping time and place. Seastrom and Gish were meant for each other. After the picture, I could hardly wait to ask the curator of Eastman House, James Card, when and where it was made. He said that it had been made at M-G-M, in Hollywood, in 1927. “In Hollywood, in 1927, at M-G-M?” I said. “Why, I was there then, working at Paramount! How come I never heard a word about The Wind?”

Determined to solve the mystery of its obliteration, I went at once to the files of the magazine Photoplay. I was aware that its editor, James Quirk, had seemed to weep and rage, dance and exult, with every heartbeat of the M-G-M executives. And I found that the last kindness Photoplay showed Lillian Gish, until after she left the M-G-M studio, appeared in a caption under her photograph in the October, 1924, issue. Romola was “one of the highly promising things of the new film season.” From then on, I traced Quirk’s fascinating operations on Gish as if I were Sherlock Holmes.

News of her unprecedented contract—eight hundred thousand dollars for six pictures in two years—was belatedly tossed off on a back page in June, 1925. In September, even before the first of these pictures, La Boheme, had gone into production, Photoplay became unaccountably worked up in an editorial:

What does the future hold for Lillian Gish? Criticism has its fads and fancies and it has in the past few years become fashionable to laud her as the Duse of the screen, yet, since she left Mr. Griffith’s studios, nothing has appeared which should give her artistic preference over other actresses who have earned high places. She has always played the frail girl caught in the cruel maelstrom of life, battling helplessly for her honor or her happiness. She has a philosophy of life which she adheres to with a deliberateness that amounts almost to a religion, reminding me [Quirk] of a girlish “Whistler’s mother.” While she may not be the intellectual personality some writers are so fond of seeing in her because of her serenity,

she has a soundness of business judgment which has enabled her to capitalize her screen personality with one of the largest salaries. . . . Wouldn’t it be interesting to see Gish play a Barbara LaMarr role, for Duse was a versatile actress, if ever there was one?

With the release of La Boheme, in March, 1926, Quirk put the question to his more than two million readers in a long piece, “The Enigma of the Screen.”

Lillian Gish has never become definitely established in a place of public favor. She achieves greatness of effect through a single phase of emotion —namely hysteria. … As a regular commercial routine star grinding on schedule with whatever material is at hand, her fate at the box-office would be as tragic as it invariably is on the screen. . . . Witnesses of the playing of scenes in La Boheme felt this strongly. The acting methods of John Gilbert and Miss Gish are entirely different. He expressed the opinion that she was the great artist of the screen and that she knew more technically than anyone else. Yet plainly his work was suffering under that method.

LA BOHEME, John Gilbert, Lillian Gish, 1926

A “Brief Review” of La Boheme in the June, 1926, Photoplay read, “A simple love story wonderfully directed by King Vidor and acted with much skill by John Gilbert. Lillian Gish is also in the cast.” In October, The Scarlet Letter was reviewed, with “Lillian Gish wears the red letter of sin with her stock virginal sweetness.” The gossip pages were seeded with items like “Who is your choice for Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes? Ours is Lillian Gish.

But, failing to get Lillian, we suggest that Paramount borrow the services of Harry Langdon.”

With Gish, it was a question of how to get her to make a real stinker. Under her supervision, La Boheme and The Scarlet Letter were fine pictures. So when she was called away to bring her sick mother home from London, the studio carefully framed a picture postcard called Annie Laurie, which she returned to find all ready to shoot—sets, costumes, and the actor Norman Kerry. Back in charge, she next made The Wind, which was so loaded with sex and violence that M-G-M held up its release until the first Academy Award had been safely dealt to Janet Gaynor. And then Gish’s strength failed, and she accepted a dreary studio property, The Enemy. She could go now, M-G-M said; she needn’t make the sixth picture. At last, Quirk was able to set her up as an example and a warning to any actress who might presume beyond sex and beauty. M-G-M had let her go because she got eight thousand dollars a week!

And, without a blush, he developed the idea that all the pictures made on her say-so were box-office failures. Stigmatized at the age of thirty-one as a grasping, silly, sexless antique, the great Lillian Gish left Hollywood forever, but not a head turned to mark her departure. “A shadow’s shadow—a world of shadows.”

It seems fateful now to remember that after Gish saw a screening of Gosta Berling she said that she had faith in L. B. Mayer because he had brought over Greta Garbo. Not possibly could she have guessed that this event would make Gish roles obsolete as fast as the studio could clean up her contract. Before production on The Torrent started, the studio kept Garbo hanging around the lot making publicity stills, and she was able to observe Gish at work on La Boheme. Watching the only American star whose integrity, dedication, and will brought her work up to the standards of order and excellence that Garbo had learned in Europe, she saw that the helpless actress being churned in a clabber of expedience, irresolution, unpredictable hours, and horseplay was not necessarily the law of American film production. The May, 1926, Photoplay quoted Garbo as saying, “I vill be glad when I am a beeg star like Lillian Gish. Then I vill not need publicity and to have peectures taken shaking hands with a prize fighter.” La Boheme and The Torrent opened on Broadway the same week in February, 1926. La Boheme, a great story with a great director, King Vidor, and two great stars, Lillian Gish and John Gilbert, did average business at the Embassy Theatre. Lillian Gish got four hundred thousand dollars a year. The Torrent, a senseless story with a fair director and Ricardo Cortez, a comic Valentino-type leading man, and an unknown actress, Garbo, did top business at the Capitol Theatre. Garbo got sixteen thousand dollars a year.

Women on the Hollywood screen – Greta Garbo

After The Temptress, Garbo said, “I do not want to be a silly temptress. I cannot see any sense in getting dressed up and doing nothing but tempting men in pictures,” and Quirk was moved to write in his December editorial, “When you learn to speak English, gal, inquire how many beautiful and clever girls have been absolutely ruined by playing good women without ever a chance to show how bad they could be. Some actresses would give a year’s salary if they could once be permitted to play a hell-raising, double-crossing censor-teaser for six reels. There are exceptions, of course. Lillian Gish continues to demonstrate that virtue can be its own reward to the tune of eight thousand bucks a week.” Nevertheless, Anna Karenina, which had been announced in November as going into production with Lillian Gish, became Love with Greta Garbo. Love was Garbo’s first picture after she had signed a new M-G-M contract in May, 1927. Quirk had laid it on the line for Garbo in the April, 1927, Photoplay. “Metro is said to have told Garbo that, unless she signs, she will be deported at the end of her passport time limit, in June,” he wrote. As well as she knew her genius, knew that she was queen of all movie stars—then and forever—she knew that to leave her kingdom was to become a wandering, tarnished star like all the rest. She did not really want to go home. After a long hold-out over salary, she signed, for seventy-five hundred dollars a week. Her business triumph over the studio was her collecting, with stunning impact, on seven months of nationwide publicity. The studio had not reckoned on its defeat and the consequences. And the victory of one friendless girl in an alien land over the best brains of a great corporation rocked all Hollywood.

Compared to Quirk’s polished mauling of Lillian Gish, M-G-M’s application of the dig-your-own-grave technique was a sloppy job, and it was not to achieve a slick finish till after the death of Irving Thalberg, in 1936, when Mayer began restocking his stables with actresses closer to his heart, working on that insoluble problem of how to make a box-office star without at the same time making her unaffordable. Eased out with full approval, in the perfection of their beauty, art, and popularity, were Jeanette MacDonald, Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, and finally Garbo herself. Sixteen years passed between the public execution of Lillian Gish and the bloodless exile of Greta Garbo. Hollywood producers were left with their babes and a backwash of old-men stars, watching the lights go out in one picture house after another across the country.

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Et la femme créa Hollywood (2016) Entire Documentary

Et la femme créa Hollywood (2016)

Very few people know that Hollywood was largely dominated by women as filmmakers in the 1910s and 20s, there were more women producers and directors in powerful positions before 1920 than at any other time in the motion picture history. Their names were Lois Weber, Mary Pickford, Frances Marion, Alice Guy Blaché, Dorothy Arzner etc … Before the Big Crash women were creatively working in Hollywood at all levels. Unbelievable as it may seem, it took until 2010 for a woman – Kathryn Bigelow – to receive an Oscar for Best Director! Casting in the documentary includes the most successful women to date, Paula Wagner, producer and business partner of Tom Cruise, Robin Swicord, screenwriter and Lynda Obst, producer of, amongst others, Sleepless in Seattle, Contact and Flashdance. And Lillian Gish and Sherry Lansing (archives)

1920

American actress Lillian Gish (1893-1993) makes her only foray into directing with Remodeling Her Husband. In an “all-woman” production, Gish co-writes the screenplay with her sister Dorothy, who also stars, and recruits the American writer Dorothy Parker to write the intertitles.

In 1919 Lillian Gish was one of Hollywood’s most respected performers and D. W. Griffith’s favorite actress. That year, confident that her knowledge of the movies was equal to his own, Griffith asked her to direct a movie starring her sister Dorothy for Paramount. Convinced that women had already proven to be proficient directors, Gish happily accepted the offer. Griffith gave her a $50,000 budget and total liberty in the production. He also asked, however, that she supervise the conversion of a recently acquired Long Island estate into a studio, which was far from properly equipped for film production. It proved to be an enormous task, but she completed both it and the film successfully.

The first talkie was directed by Alice Guy, the first color film was produced by Lois Weber, who directed more than 300 films over 10 years. Frances Marion wrote screenplays for the Hollywood Star Mary Pickford and won two Oscars, Dorothy Arzner was the most powerful film director in Hollywood. And what do all of them have in common? They are all women and they have all been forgotten. Incredibly, it also took until 2010 for the first woman, Kathryn Bigelow, to win the Oscar for Best Director. Even if underrepresented women have always played a big part in Hollywood and it is this part of the film history left untold that this documentary sets out to uncover.

Cast

  •                 Sherry Lansing  
  •                 Lillian Gish          
  •                 Margaret Booth

Rest of cast listed alphabetically:

  •                 Ally Acker … Self
  •                 Dorothy Arzner … Self (archive Footage)
  •                 Cari Beauchamp … Self
  •                 Alice Guy … Self (archive Footage)
  •                 Edith Head … Self (archive Footage)
  •                 Anita Loos … Self (archive Footage)
  •                 Ida Lupino … Self (archive Footage)
  •                 Frances Marion … Self (archive Footage)
  •                 June Mathis … Self (archive Footage)
  •                 Mabel Normand … Self (archive Footage)
  •                 Lynda Obst … Self
  •                 Mary Pickford … Self (archive Footage)
  •                 Robin Swicord … Self
  •                 Virginia Van Upp … Self (archive Footage)
  •                 Paula Wagner … Self
  •                 Lois Weber … Self (archive Footage)
  •                 Mae West … Self (archive Footage)

Directed by Clara Kuperberg and Julia Kuperberg

  • Clara Kuperberg … (co-director)
  • Julia Kuperberg … (co-director)

Written by Clara Kuperberg … (writer)

  •  Clara Kuperberg … ()
  •  Julia Kuperberg … (writer)

Produced by

  • Clara Kuperberg … producer
  • Julia Kuperberg … producer
  • Susan Michals … line producer

Cinematography by Peter Krajewski and Mike Nolan

Et la femme créa Hollywood (2016) HDV 720p

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KQED – Lillian Gish – Mary Martin 1981 interview (TV Capture)

Lillian Gish – Mary Martin (Over Easy Camera, New York)

Critics, historians, and scholars are virtually unaminous in their agreement that Griffith’s greatest performer was Lillian Gish. John Barrymore compared her with Bernhardt and Duse. Critics rhapsodized over her “Dresden porcelain” beauty. She started with Griffith in 1912 at the age of sixteen and became his preeminent interpreter in such major works as The Birth of a Nation, Broken Blossoms, Way Down East, and Orphans of the Storm.

KQED – Lillian Gish – Mary Martin 1981 interview – HDV 720p TV Capture

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Lillian Gish, 1978 CBC Archives

Lillian Gish, 1978 CBC Archives – TV capture VHS quality

First lady of the screen, Miss Lillian Gish in an interview filmed in 1978, presented by CBC as an episode in their “Retro-Bites” series.

Lillian Gish, 1978 CBC Archives – TV capture VHS quality

*** Admin note: Featured photo of Lillian Gish was taken in 1978 indeed, but is a still frame from an interview at BBC Television London. The material above has a low VHS resolution (TV capture) thus any still frame will be affected by the poor footage quality. Thank you for your understanding.

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Hollywood: The Golden Era by Jack Spears (1971) PDF Download

In a series of colorful excursions into the golden era of Hollywood, Jack Spears nostalgically recaptures the romance of motion pictures from silents to Cinerama. Hollywood: The Golden Era is a collection of sprightly, intelligent, and entertaining essays on motion picture history and film personalities that will delight every fan.

“Women can be good directors,” Frances Marion said. “Ida Lupino has proved that—but there are too many factions in the studios that believe otherwise.” She regrets that Hollywood quickly forgot the competent movies made before 1920 by such women directors as Lois Weber, Alice Blache, Ida May Park, Elsie Jane Wilson, Mrs. Sidney Drew, and later by Dorothy Arzner. Lillian Gish also tried her hand at directing, and so did several other early actresses—Cleo Ridgely, Grace Cunard, Helen Holmes and Mabel Normand. “It was a wonderful era of happy-go-lucky togetherness,” Miss Marion says.

Jack Spears (1971)

Hollywood: the Golden Era – by Jack Spears (1971)

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GONE HOLLYWOOD – By Christopher Finch and Linda Rosenkrantz (1979) PDF Download

Here is a different kind of Hollywood book. Christopher Finch and Linda Rosenkrantz look behind the legends to discover what it was really like to live and work in the movie colony during the Golden Age of the studio system. Gone Hollywood is a book about moguls and mobsters, about parties and politics, barroom brawls and boardroom bargains. Never before has a book dealt so comprehensively with both the surface glitter and the often startling world that lay beneath it, a world that stretched from the stars dancing at the Mocambo to desperate extras living in shanties between jobs. Gone Hollywood looks at the way glamour was created and disseminated, how much the stars earned and how they spent it.

GONE HOLLYWOOD – By Christopher Finch and Linda Rosenkrantz – 1979

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HOLLYWOOD ROYALTY – HORS D’OEUVRES (1992) – by Gregory Speck (PDF Download)

Journalist Gregory Speck, best known for articles originally published in Interview magazine, has woven interviews with these stars into one extended conversation. Everyone from Lillian Gish, Helen Hayes, and James Cagney to Joan Fontaine and Olivia de Havilland confides memories of their peers, like Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, Marlene Dietrich, Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, Gary Cooper, Vivien Leigh, Henry Fonda, Ingrid Bergman, Spencer Tracy, and Jean Harlow. The book also includes vivid character portraits of the great directors, such as Alfred Hitchcock, William Wyler, and John Huston, and hilarious anecdotes about the making of cinematic masterpieces, such as Gone With the Wind, Casablanca, and Moby Dick.

Hollywood royalty : Hepburn, Davis, Stewart, and friends

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D.W Griffith American Film Master by Iris Barry (PDF Download)

  • D.W Griffith American Film Master by Iris Barry
  • With an annotated list of films by Eileen Bowser
  • The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Griffith had been absent from Hollywood almost two years when he returned after launching hearts of the world. His next important film was to be very different. From the large canvas he turned to an intimate photoplay based on The Chink and the Child,” a short story in Thomas Burke’s Limehouse Nights. Like most of Griffith’s films and all of his best ones, it carried a message. The earlier picture had been his contribution to war, but this fairy tale of nonresistance in opposition to violence spoke of international tolerance. The part of the London waif might have been made to measure for Lillian Gish and the choice of Richard Barthelmess as the Chinese boy was fortunate. Work went unusually smoothly and, after the customary period of rehearsal, the film was completed in eighteen days.

WAY DOWN EAST proved to be one of the most profitable pictures ever made. The master had once more turned the trick. The public was drawn to see an old favorite in a new guise and found its familiar melodramatic qualities heightened beyond expectation. While sticking faithfully to the bones of the play, Griffith had very rightly adapted it to suit the newer medium—notably at the beginning, by adding material to establish the background of the characters, and at the end to give full rein to the last-minute rescue, developed in purely visual terms and heightened through artful photography and cutting. It was a device which had seldom failed Griffith in the past and stood him in good stead now.

The first time Lillian Gish ever heard the words “film library” was when an English lady named Iris Barry asked her to use her influence to get D.W. Griffith to give her some of his films. At Lillian Gish’s suggestion, D.W. Griffith complied, and so began the film library at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

In a similar fashion, Ms. Gish convinced Mary Pickford of the importance of preserving her Biograph films, which Ms. Pickford subsequently donated to the Library of Congress collection.

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