Chicago Tribune – Tuesday, April 7, 1925 – Page 25
Sisters Gish Make This One Night Perfect
“Romola” Fine Picture in Every Possible Way
Produced by Inspiration Pictures
Directed by Henry King
Presented at the Roosevelt theater
Romola ………………………….. Lillian Gish
Tessa …………………..……… Dorothy Gish
Tito Melema ………… William H. Powell
Carlo Bucellini ………..… Ronald Colman
Baldassarre Calvo …………. Charles Lane
Savonarola …………. Herbert Grimwood
Bardo Bardi ………. Bonaventura Ibanez
Adolfo Spini …………….……. Frank Puglia
By Mae Tinee
Good Morning! Romola – George Eliot’s “Romola” is revealing her dramatic story at the Roosevelt through the gentle characterization of Miss Lillian Gish.
This production, sponsored by Mr. Duell before his famous scrap with the fair star, is a truly artistic offering. It’s authentic as to sets and scenery, having been photographed in and around Florence, Italy, where the scenes of the story were laid. It is richly costumed and vividly acted and there is about the intangible atmosphere of romance, intrigue and bloodshed that hung heavy over Florence in the fifteenth century at the time when people drove the decadent Medici from power and established their own government.
Romola was the daughter of a rich, gentle and blind philosopher and writer. Completely devoted to her father and his works, life had flowed along peacefully enough in the house of Bardi until the mysterious stranger, Tito Melema, slid in to win the favor with the parent nad marry the daughter. Happily, the father died before he realized the treachery with which the Greek encompassed the household. But Romola lived on to go through horrible experiences, both politic and private.
Miss Gish gives a delicate and charming portrayal of Romola – more saint than human.
William H. Powell as Tito, acts a smooth and crafty villain to this department’s taste.
Dorothy Gish, as a simple country maid, also betrayed by the dexterous Tito, gives one of her funny, pathetic, adorable characterizations. Ronald Colman suits well the role of the noble and picturesque artist, Carlo, who truly loves Romola and whose devotion, you are led to believe is rewarded in the end.
Considerable footage is given to the activities of Savonarola, the advocate of freedom, whose heated speeches in the public squares incite the mobs to action – action that is at last turned toward the destruction of himself. Herbert Grimwood makes a gaunt, tense, fevered evangelist.
As to that – all the parts are well played. The photography is fine and the director handled his subject matter intelligently.
If you liked the book, chances are you’ll be fond of the picture.
Chicago Tribune – Monday, November 12, 1923 – Page 21
‘White Sister’ Photoplay of Rare Appeal
‘One of Most Exquisite Ever Screened’
“The White Sister”
Produced by Inspiration Pictures
Directed by Henry King
Presented at the Great Northern
Angela Chiaromonte ……………….. Lillian Gish
Capt. Giovanni Severi ….….…. Ronald Colman
Marchesa di Mola ………………….….. Gail Kane
Monsignor Saracinesca ……. J. Barney Sherry
Prince Chiaromonte ………………. Charles Lane
Madame Bernard ……..….. Juliette La Violette
Prof. Ugo Severi ……………………… Sig. Serena
Filmore Durand ……………….. Alfredo Bertone
Count del Ferice …………..…….. Ramon Ibanez
Alfredo del Ferice ……….… Alfredo Martinelli
Mother Superior ……………………. Carloni Talli
General Mazzini ………….….. Giovanni Viccola
Alfredo’s Tutor …………………… Antonio Barda
Solicitor to the Prince …….. Giacomo D’Attino
Solicitor to the Count ….….….. Michele Gualdi
Archbishop ………………..……. Giuseppe Pavoni
Professor Torricelli ……….. Francesco Socinus
Bedouin Chef ……………………. Sheik Mahomet
Lieutenant Rossini ………………….. James Abbe
Commander Donato …..…. Duncan Mansfield
By Mae Tinee
Good Morning! Regardless of church or creed, it seems to me that every honest person who views “The White Sister” will pronounce it one of the most exquisite photoplays ever screened. The power, the beauty, the realism, the pathos of it MUST strike home. It was adapted from the story by F. Marion Crawford from which a play was also made. The latter, I believe had a happy ending. Book and picture dare the world.
At that, in many instances, the film departs from the original tale. In essentials, however, the tragic story of little Angela, who, believing her lover dead, becomes a nun, refusing, after she has discovered he lives, to break her vows to the church, is the same.
For the first reel or so you are dubious. You have seen better photography and makeup. THEN the acting which achieves the distinction of appearing to BE NOT acting grips you. Your emotions are swept along with those so vividly pantomimed before you. By the time the twelfth reel is over you have forgotten all faults of technique, for in pictures, as in people, it is the subtle something that “gets” you or DOESN’T get you.
A high note of ecstasy runs through even the most painful moments of the film. You are never depressed, though, heaven knows, following the fated footsteps of Angela from the moment she is sent unjustly from her home till the eruption of Vesuvius, which is the final dramatic visitation, by all laws of cinemaology (new word), you should be innumerable times.
Speaking of this eruption and the storm that comes in its wake, this part of “The White Sister” is typically Griffithnonian. Who’s behind this “Inspiration Pictures” company, anyway? Henry King is a clever director, but don’t tell me that David Wark Griffith wasn’t hovering somewhere in the background during the time mentioned. I also suspect him of being much there when Angela goes through the final impressive ceremony that makes her a “White Sister.”
There is only one place when you are frankly bored, and that is during the long drawn out death scenes of the jealous half sister of Angela. Before she finally passes on a horrible fear obsesses you that she will prove to have nine lives. She certainly doesn’t stop living until she gets what she wants.
As a rule I am not greatly impressed by the work of Miss Lillian Gish. This time though, I admire her with all my heart. She is lovely throughout and does “bits” of most excellent acting. Ronald Colman as her lover is immense. J. Barney Sherry as a priest is so good at times that he threatens to run away with the piece. Juliette La Violette as Angela’s governess is an intensely human sort of person.
“The White Sister” was photographed in Italy, so its obvious that the “atmosphere” is all it should be.
And now I leave the production to your consideration – which may or may not be tender.
See you tomorrow.
Chicago Tribune – Sunday January 6, 1924 – Page 52
Dear Mae Tinee. Whenever I read one of your reviews on a Lillian Gish picture I get absolutely sick. For goodness sake, why don’t you ever give her the credit due her? You know she is the greatest actress on the screen today and has been for the last few years. Why not admit it? Also, why force your personal prejudice on the public? Anybody with half an eye knows, from reading your reviews of Lillian Gish pictures, that you have a personal dislike for her. I suspect that at some time or other when she was in Chicago she failed to call on you or ignored you in some way. Your pride thus injured, you decided to get revenge.
After reading your review of “Orphans of the Storm” I was ready for a battle. I feel the same today, for I saw “The White Sister” last night. Lillian Gish is the most exquisite being in the world and the greatest actress. She expresses so much with – O, what’s the use?
In a recent review you said “As a rule I am not greatly impressed by the work of Lillian Gish. [By the way, you have said that before.] This time though, I admire her with all my soul. She is lovely throughout and does bits of most excellent acting.”
That’s all right – but what I am kicking about is you couldn’t let the matter rest there, as you should have, but had to remove the entire effect of your merger compliment by, “J. Barney Sherry as a priest is so good that at times he threatens to run away with the piece.”
Never give a compliment with a question mark; it doesn’t mean a darn thing. M.F.
Admin note: David W. Griffith had no contribution to White Sister’s production, not even as tech advisor. Behind “Inspiration Pictures” company was Charles H. Duell, the famous lawyer-owner-lover who attacked Lillian Gish in court for breach of contract. Above article is remarkable by mentioning James Abbe (the photographer) in a small part as Lieutnant Rossini. On the other hand, the author should have been ashamed for obvious unjust criticism, (unfortunately manifested in other articles as well), not to be expected from a professional journalist.
Lillian Gish changed her director and her company and went away from America to make The White Sister, but her screen sufferings remain unabated still. Her trials and tribulations as the heroine of this movie are absolutely heartrending.
After a brief half-reel of happiness, as the petted daughter of an Italian aristocrat, her father is killed whilst hunting and the poor little soul’s sorrows begin. And they have no ending, though she finds something like peace for a while in a beautiful white hospital in a little town hard by Vesuvius.
Quite early in the film ” Angela ” is defrauded of her name and position by her malevolent half-sister, and of her soldier lover by a none too well-staged African expedition. In despair, she becomes a nun, a ” White Sister,” incidentally providing some thoroughly interesting views of the ceremonies attending the taking of her final vows.
After which the hero, who was not dead, but imprisoned in the desert, escapes, and returns home just too late. There is real drama in the unexpected meeting of the unhappy lovers in the hospital to which he has come seeking news of his brother. The message is brought to him by ” Angela ” herself, ignorant, of course of his identity. Then the poor heroine suffers further anguish when she refuses to ask for a Papal dispensation so that she can go to her lover.
At this point the spectator’s feelings are harrowed unto breaking point. and even the lava in Vesuvius rises to protest. Contrary to expectations it does not engulf everybody in its relentless flow, though it and a burst reservoir realistically destroy the village. The soldier hero dies bravely, after helping others to escape; the sinful sister also dies (but confesses first) and the film ends with an impressive open-air mass and a final glimpse of the heroine’s tear-filled eyes contemplating her lover’s bier.
It is an interesting movie, though a bit ” slow ” at times, for it was made entirely in Italy and boasts of some fine photography and scenery. There are views of Naples, and some shots of an Italian garden that is poem, with its terrace and tall cypresses; an imposing chateau, many picturesque streets, and actual pictures in colour of Vesuvius in action.
Picture Play Magazine – Volume XXIII February 1926 No. 6
The Paradoxical Mr. Colman
It isn’t possible for an actor to succeed without the tricks or traits of a Barnum, wiseacres say, but Ronald Colman has done that very thing.
By Helen Klumph
ANY old stager can tell you what it is that sets a sensationally successful actor apart from his fellows—showmanship. “It’s like this,” the seasoned veteran told me who has seen them come and go. “You get a job by the grace of good luck, and the public finds out that you’re alive. From then on, you concentrate on never letting them forget it. The more different you can be from any one else in the game, the easier you’ll be to remember. You can raise trained seals in your opalescent swimming pool, cable to the royal tailor of Afghanistan for all your costumes, or always wear a good-luck charm presented to you by the dying Khedive of Egypt. You just can’t be normal. Write lurid love poems, wear the largest black pearl in the world, or always take vour pet horse everywhere with you, but don’t ever be inconspicuous. That’s death to an actor.” As his oratorical flight died down, I asked quietly, “But what about Ronald Colman ?”
For a moment he was baffled, but the old stager can explain anything. “Either that boy’s smart, or he’s a fool for luck,” he assured me. “He probably knows that the most surprising thing in the world is an actor who isn’t surprising. He’s got everybody interested by not doing any of the fool things other actors have done.” That’s his explanation, but I prefer my own. Ronald Colman has never indulged in any of the tricks of a Barnum to bring himself before the public because such a course would never occur to him. He happens to have been born a gentleman. That his appearances on the screen have developed a huge fan following, made up in part of highly sentimental women, is an accident that he himself does not seem to understand. Other actors have put up an argument when talking to me. They have told me that the whole machinery of public life was distasteful to them, but necessary. They must feel a little hagrined to see Ronald Colman rising to almost unparalleled success on the screen without ever having departed from his quiet mode of life. He isn’t a star athlete—he doesn’t implore the public to give him their sympathy and understanding on the plea that it is the very breath of life to him—he doesn’t even give out interviews telling about his ideal woman or the psychology of love.
“Haven’t you ever suffered for your art?” I asked him, knowing well that the question would make him squirm. I had finally cornered him f or an interview after some two years of trying.
“I’m suffering now,” he told me, with entire conviction. “You’re trying so hard to make this a businesslike interview when I had looked forward to a pleasant luncheon.” Don’t think that my two years of effort were wasted on broken appointments and futile seeking. I had met Mr. Colman many times, for he is courteous and punctilious about anything connected with his work—or with anything else I dare say. I just hadn’t been able to drive him into any admissions about himself. And so, I am going to foreet for the moment that Ronaid Colman is an actor who should have some burning message to give to the public. I want to tell you about the Ronald Colman I know—a charming, companionable young man who seems wholeheartedly interested in life and amused by it. The first time I met him was just after he had made “The White Sister” in Italy with Lillian Gish.
Ronald Colman and Lillian Gish in “The White Sister” (At a Portrait Exhibition)
The White Sister
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He confided to me then that if he had a lot of money he would get a little house in Italy and live there pleasantly and indolently. “Life is so beautiful and complete there,” he said, “that it never occurs to yon that you should be useful. Italy is perfect—you can’t add anything to it.” The next time was in Hollywood where he had acquired something of the insouciant, playtime air of the studio. When some fifty or more clubwomen visited the studio, eager for a glimpse of the romantic and intense young actor who had entranced not a few of them, he busied himself with the lights and was passed by as just one more electrician. Asked by one of them where she could find Mr. Colman, he looked bewildered and assured her he had never heard of him. Little things do not disturb his poise. When Florence Vidor and I developed a passion for riding on scenic railways, he went with us and endured our hilarious shrieks as we alternately soared and plunged. He even seemed to enjoy it. Later, in a nickel dance hall at an amusement park, we kidded him about his dignity until he vowed that he would make the bouncer throw him out. But the most obstreperous dance steps he could invent failed to attract that individual’s attention. Recognizing the screen star, he merely became a little more pompous, as though impressed with the swell trade his establishment had attracted. It was after he had made “Stella Dallas” and “Mrs. Windermere’s Fan”—just at the time when “The Dark Angel” was drawing enthusiastic crowds to a Broadway theater—that he came to New York for a brief holiday and I saw him again. He chatted pleasantly about Henrv King and George Fitzmaurice and Ernst Lubitsch, his most recent directors. He is an actor without a grievance. He likes the people he has worked for and always wants to go back to work for them again.
“Mr. Goldwyn thinks I’m crazy,” he observed. “I went and asked him for the part of Perlmutter in the new ‘Potash and Perlmutter’ picture. He took me seriously. “When he put the clause in Lois Moran’s contract that she should remain ‘unmodernized and unsophisticated,’ I demanded that he put in mine that I could remain in his employ only so long as I remained modern and sophisticated.” But to my plea that he explain just what his sophistication consists of, he was deaf. So I decided on an old trick, one that rarely fails to make an actor talk about himself.
“Who is that woman over there? She has been staring at you ever since you came in,” I remarked.
“She thinks I’m Jack Gilbert,” he assured me guilelessly, switching the conversation a moment later to Shaw’s plays, his screen idol Felix the Cat, and the beautiful photography of “The Dark Angel.” Now that he is an idol, Ronald Colman finds that he likes being one—that is, he likes the generous salary and the comfort his position brings. But he did not become an actor or go into the movies by choice. He was literally shot in. Invalided home to England after the Battle of Ypres, he urged an uncle who was connected with the British Foreign Office to get him an appointment in the Orient. While waiting for this, he was offered an engagement in vaudeville in a sketch with Lena Ashwell. Before the war, he had had some success in amateur theatricals, so he took the engagement as a lark. Miss Ashwell was so delighted with his work that she introduced him to all the managers she knew and was influential in getting him some excellent stage offers. The diplomatic service moves slowly, so Colman was well established on the stage by the time his appointment to the Orient was secured. In London, he played the same role in “Damaged Goods” that Richard Bennett played in this country, and he was a great success. His interest in diplomacy faded. “The first success goes to your head terribly,” Ronald told me reminiscently. “That’s why the second goes only to your pocketbook. You realize how ephemeral and meaningless other success is.”
At the height of his success, he came to the United States to try his fortune and had four failures, one right after another. The plays never even reached Broadway. So after a long period of waiting for another opportunity, he went on the road with Fay Bainter in an old Broadway success and played for nearly a year. When the troupe got to Hollywood, he tried to break into motion pictures. A test was made of him, but nothing ever came of it. That was in 1920, the year of the great slump in motion pictures, and no one was looking for new talent. They were too busy finding engagements for the actors already under contract. He was playing in “La Tendresse” with Henry Miller and Ruth Chatterton when the opportunity came to make “The White Sister” with Lillian Gish. Colman was not in the least interested. He thought the movies a crazy, unstable business, judging from what he had seen of the 1920 slump. But his manager persuaded him to make the one picture, and after that, Colman’s love for the stage dwindled. After his second picture, the astute Sam Goldwyn offered him a contract that guaranteed him the best stories and best directors that could be had. He recognized, just as the public did. that a new idol—a brand new type of idol—had come to the screen. Ronald Colman is too much interested in his work, however, to insist upon posing before the public only as a handsome hero. An instance of this was his acceptance of the part he played in “Stella Dallas.” For a voung man just become popular as a romantic lover, it was not a particularly pleasant part, this role of a matter-of-fact father who was beginning to gray at the temples. But Colman’s willingness to play it, or anything else that may offer, proves him to be a real actor, and one who will find .a much more permanent place in the movies than if he refused to take anything but the most attractive roles.
“Just as long as they will have me. I shall go on making pictures,” he says. “And all I ask is that some day I’ll have another part as strong and sympathetic as the one in ‘The Dark Angel.” I even liked that duffer myself.” No need to tell you that he is handsome and magnetic and gracious—his every appearance on the screen shows that. But it is remarkable that, in spite of all that, men like him whole-heartedly. Those girls who live in Hackensack or Walla Walla can take what comfort they can from the fact that they know Ronald Colman almost as well as his fellow players do; he reveals himself much more completely and more intensely in pictures than he does in person. And the sentimental yearnings of those in the audience are shared by many a girl in Hollywood. Don’t I know! Just because I sat next to him at some dinner parties in Hollywood, several well-known screen ingenues have assured me of their undying enmity. There are actors who can make me forget momentarily that I am watching a performance in a theater; there are actors who can flatter me into thinking for the moment that my opinions are of importance to them; but there is onlv one actor who impresses me as always being entirely sincere and never acting when he is away from the camera. That is Ronald Colman. On or off the screen. I like him the best of any actor I know.
The Terribly Honest Mr. Colman.
By Dorothy Manners
Ronald Colman said he felt sorry for me. He said he felt sorry for any one who interviewed him, because he “never said anything.” “I’ll not be a bit of help to you,” he apologized. “Now, if I had met you at dinner, or tea, or a dance I could think of all sorts of things to say.” But unfortunately, the occasion was not a tea, a dinner, nor yet a dance. A press agent, Mr. Colman and I met in Henry King’s office of the Samuel Goldwyn production building. We had come to dedicate a portion of the morning to discussing the movies, and particularly Mr. Colman’s relation to them. I have a vague hunch Mr. Colman had requested the presence of the press agent in case he ran out of small talk. Maybe he hadn’t. But I think he had. He lived to regret it. Not that that particular p. a. isn’t one of the finest and so on, but—We will take that up in more detail in a few paragraphs.
He is of medium height and darkish, this Mr. Colman. Undeniably he has a way with the ladies. I like him immensely, and I don’t like all actors. They are always nice and, for the most part, complimentary to lady interviewers, but in nine cases out of ten, the compliments don’t ring true. Having been said too often, they are like a much-thumbed book—a little frayed at the edges. Mr. Colman didn’t once tell me that he thought it was perfectly splendid I was self-expressing myself. Yet without the aid of stilted phrases, he managed to convey deference, courtesy, and flattering attention. Oh, very undeniably, he has a way with the ladies. We dallied around with the weather without getting anywhere with it, when somehow or other Valentino came into the conversation. Mr. Colman said he was a splendid actor.
I said he was in a precarious position. Then the p. a. said he attributed Valentino’s slip to the fact that men didn’t particularly care for him. “Now,” he went on, with a proud papa inclination of the head toward Mr. Colman, “Mr. Colman here has a very large following among men.” Mr. Colman squirmed uncomfortably in Henry King’s swivel chair. Right there is where I think he wished the p. a. had been called to the phone. “Yes,” went on the p. a., “he a lot of mail from men and boys. The swivel chair squeaked nervously. “Do you get more letters from men than women?” I asked. “No, I don’t,” said Mr. Colman, completely wrecking that man-from-the-open-spaces effect, for which I liked him all the better.
Later it came out that in his latest picture, “Stella Dallas,” he had played the father of a sixteen-year-old girl. Most actors tell me they live for characterizations. I asked him if that had been his favorite role. He said, “Not by a long way. I liked playing in ‘The Dark Angel’ and ‘The White Sister’ much better.” I could have cheered at this. Instead, I gave him another hurdle. I asked him if he didn’t get tired of the monotony of pictures—if he didn’t often long to be back on the stage. The terribly honest Mr. Colman smiled. “No, I don’t,” he answered; “not with everything’ so rosy in pictures.” Now there is no getting away from it : a press agent can’t do anything with a man like that, but I could have decorated him. May he cross my path often.
Lillian Gish, away from the guiding hand of Griffith, proves to be as moving as ever. In an emotional race with Vesuvius in eruption she captures all the honors. In her support she has a tragic but uplifting story, real Italian scenery, and a charming new leading man named Ronald Colman.
Excerpts from – The White Sister – Picture-Play Magazine (Sep 1923-Feb 1924)
Some Souvenir Postal Cards.
Agnes Smith (Known MGM – professional hired – hater)
Lillian Gish went to Italy to make “The White Sister,” and the result is some beautiful scenes showing native life and some shots of that great dramatic star, Mount Vesuvius. Miss Gish’s error was, not in going to Italy, but in taking a scenario of F. Marion Crawford’s novel with her. Of all the aggravating and annoying plots in the world, “The White Sister” is the worst, except maybe a few by Hall Caine. Mr. Crawford lived in an age when it was popular to pump up artificial sentiment by playing strongly on religious young ladies and by making a lot of fuss about the difference between worldly and spiritual love. And then he turned on the soft music of Italian scenery to ease the story over on the public.
Why any one in this period of the world’s history wants to film a religious story is more than I can figure out. Unless you handle it with care, the Catholics are apt to be offended while, on the other hand, a great many non-Catholics can get none too excited over the girl who takes the veil. I am not trying to imply that “The White Sister” will stir up feeling, I am only saying that there are certain rational aspects of the public mind that demand consideration from producers. Most fans are apt to look at “The White Sister” merely as florid and romantic melodrama. The postal card views of Italy have a certain charm and the unreal story works itself up into a good thrill climax. Dear old Vesuvius jumps into action and obligingly kills off some of the characters. However, the hero, in the midst of the eruption, for some strange reason goes and gets drowned. A dambursts and floods the city. It seemed an unnecessary trick to bring in the flood and a nasty crack at the destructive talents of Vesuvius besides. The incident was as foolish as though I should get mixed up in an earthquake and die of hay fever.
Miss Gish gives Vesuvius and the flood a winning race for the honors. The girl has a habit of breaking my heart. Once she gets that heart-broken, woebegone look on her face, I am simply overcome by emotion. Miss Gish has a perfect technique, combined with the face of an angel. She deserves more reliable material than “The White Sister.” Her new leading man, Ronald Colman, breaks all records by playing an Italian role without imitating Valentino. He gives a splendid, sincere and truly convincing performance, even though he is called upon to do all sorts of ridiculous things. A recruit from the stage, he is an addition to the screen. And he has such a way with him in love scenes that I suppose he’ll have to engage a secretary to answer his fan mail.
THE production of “The White Sister” on which Lillian Gish worked for seven months in and near Rome, will not be released until fall. So, for consolation, Picture-Play offers in the meantime, this exquisite photograph of her in the role.
This glimpse of one of the early scenes in “The White Sister,” Lillian Gish’s first picture for the Inspiration company, holds rare promise of beauty, for it seems to haye caught in its very backgrounds her ephemeral charm.
Only in Italy could be found such exquisite and time-worn walls as those which provide settings for some of the scenes in ”The White Sister.” Of all her portraits, the one above is Lillian Gish’s favorite. In this famous old Italian garden which has been visited hy scores of Americans traveling abroad, “The White Sister” meditates upon the spiritual life and seeks to crowd out of her consciousness the tragedy that sent her to seek the solace of the convent.
Ever since the first announcement almost a year ago that Lillian Gish was going to play this widely known heroine of F. Marion Crawford’s there has been keen interest in this production. For such quiet power and spiritual beauty as hers suits the character of the little romantic girl who enters a convent when her sweetheart disappears. In ‘ the scene shown above, the three nuns are played by three old and famous character actresses of the Italian stage.
Concerning “The White Sister.”
The most interesting feature of your magazine to me is the review department by Agnes Smith. I always read the reviews first and usually find that I not only agree with Miss Smith, but wish that I might have thought of expressing my judgment in her delightful way. Naturally, I was eager to see her review of “The White Sister,” for Lillian Gish, it seems to me, is by far the most important person on the screen. Miss Smith’s flippant and disparaging remarks were a distinct shock. I cannot understand her point of view when she says “Most fans are apt to look on ‘The White Sister’ merely as florid and romantic melodrama.”
I do not know on what Miss Smith bases her opinion on what the fans are going to think. I only know that both times I saw the picture the strangers all about me were sincerely and deeply moved. Two women, sitting near me, who looked as though they could ill afford the price of the tickets, murmured several times during the course of the picture that they had never seen anything so exquisitely beautiful.’ The people were so real that they forgot it was a plot and not life that they were watching. Now, if you will permit me the space, I would like to comment on a few points that Miss Smith raised. She says, “Mr. Crawford lived in an age when it was popular to pump up artificial sentiment by playing strongly on religious young ladies.”
Mr. Crawford may have shown poor taste and been artificial sometimes in his writings, but I am not so sure that the sentiment he aroused was artificial. I think that it was sincere just as the sentiment aroused by George Cohan’s flag-waving and other bits of hokum is sincere. “The difference between worldly and spiritual love” will, I believe, continue to be one of the most engrossing themes in all literature in spite of Miss Smith’s disapproval.’
“Why any one in this period of the world’s history wants to film a religious story is more than I can figure out,” she continues. When the world ceases to be interested in faith, it has ceased to be interested in the most vital and important factor in human life. The faith of “The White Sister” may not be mifaith ; in fact, I was enraged by her insistence that her vows to her church were more binding than her promise to the man she loved. But, any sincere and convincing presentation of another person’s beliefs commands my respect, at least. It was reassuring to find that even though she was thoroughly out of sympathy with the story, Miss Smith was deeply moved by the work of the star and Ronald Colman, the gifted and magnetic young leading man. I do wish, though, that her review, which is sure to influence many people, had not shown such a strong personal bias. – Joice Marie Sidman – Ansonia Hotel, New York City.
Picture Play Magazine Volume XXII July, 1925 No. 5
An Illustrious Sister Act
An appraisal of the art of Lillian Gish, who is about to begin a new phase of her long career, with a few words about her sister Dorothy.
By Malcolm H. Oettinger
IF you or some other curious person were to stop me some summer morning and ask point blank: “Who is the best actress unrolling her talents on celluloid?” I- should, -without quibbling, cast my two or three votes—for such is the system in Pennsylvania — in favor of Lillian Gish. When serious thinkers and cynical souls of all sexes begin to crown the baby art with wild raspberries it is always possible to exact a temporary reprieve for the films by mentioning Lillian Gish. Such reluctant optimists as George Jean Nathan and Joseph Hergesheimer have dedicated psalms to Lillian; aloof fellows, they have abandoned their usual frapped poise to compose veritable paeans of praise in her honor. No one can doubt the sincerity of these testimonials; no one can question the worthiness of the recipient.
Her work in “Broken Blossoms” alone is sufficient evidence. Those who refuse to consider one count as final are referred to “The White Sister,” in which the Gish sincerity made one forget the glucose sentimentality: “Way Down East,” in which her poignant characterization gleamed like a diamond in a popcorn ball; “The Birth of a Nation,” in which Griffith blended her gifts with a moving symphony of tremendous power.
Lillian Gish could wring my heart even if she played Little Eva or Nellie, the Beautiful Cloak Model; she has the steadily glowing spark of genius. Her great performances are not occasional, they are consistent. Nor is hers an art that must, like virtue, be, to some extent, its own reward. Unfortunate contractual agreements have handicapped her, but that her box-office value has remained intact was shown by the line-up of producers who, glowering at each other, stormed the lobby of her hotel upon the recent announcement that a Federal judge had declared her free from all claims of her late impresario, and open to new offers. As you probably know, she decided, after weighing all offers, to sign with Metro-Goldwyn.
Ordinarily it is simple to write of the ladies of the screen. They are bound to be beautiful, in varying degree ; they are likely to be engaging, if only as a concession to their great public ; occasionally they turn out to be clever. Writing of Lillian Gish is more difficult. Standing head and shoulders above her sister players, she is to be pointed out as the one artiste of the silver so-called sheet. Nazimova was mentioned in the same breath until she began to look upon picture making as a Ford owner looks upon a one-man top. Now it is Lillian Gish alone. (The Negri of “Passion” flashed across the horizon and disappeared, never, apparently, to return.
The rest of the ladies—Swanson, Pickford, Talmadge—hold no claim to greatness save as tremendously popular favorites.) There is no hocus pocus to encounter and overcome before gaining an audience with Lillian Gish. Granted a reasonably good phone connection, a taxi, and an elevator, and you stand at her door without further ado. And very likely she will open it.
She is delicately beautiful, with haunting eyes set far apart, dainty nose verging on the retrousse, and lips that a more pyrotechnical phrasemaker would term rosebud. They are small and curved and shy. But in describing her you are certain to come back to her eyes—soulful, wistful, fine eyes that seem to say, “I am a little disillusioned, a little weary, a trifle sad, but tomorrow may be brighter.” Her manner is reserved, almost timid. Her poise extends to the point of placidity. She is balanced and calm and thoughtful In her opinions. Her conversation further reveals her underlying tolerance regarding all things. When we discussed the theater—and she had seen everything from “The Miracle” to “Abie’s Irish Rose”—she was kindly in her judgments, speaking well of most plays and performers, maintaining a significant silence to indicate disapproval. “How fine it would be,” she remarked, “if the Theater Guild were to create a sister organization that would function through motion pictures ! The Guild has done so many splendid things. The screen could well afford such a group of artistic producers.” She spoke of the cruel necessity for condensing pictures to meet standard theater requirements. “After we’ve put months and months into the planning and making and careful cutting of a picture play,” she said, “it hurts terribly to see it slashed mercilessly until it is inside the two-hour limit. Jumps appear, continuity ceases … what have you? … I always feel a personal loss when a scene is hacked away, a scene that may have represented days of careful work. . . . Yet I realize the practical necessity for reducing a feature picture to regular running time.” She sighed, and a helpless little frown appeared. “That is. where we are so handicapped.
We must always bow to practical demands. The sculptor does not. The author does not. No one dictates to the poet or the sincere playwright. Yet the artist working in the medium of films is permanently hobbled by certain restrictions and fetishes and unwritten laws.” When she talks it is quietly, briefly. The quotations you are reading did not flow forth. They are a series of observations gathered, assorted, and bound together. I had seen Lillian Gish at Mamaroneck in 1921 when she was engaged in making “Orphans of the Storm.” Seeing her again reminded me how little she had changed. To my notion, the remarkable thing is her utter lack of affectation, her absolute sincerity, her genuine simplicity and naturalness. After all, when you pause to consider that here is the great actress of the screen, worthy of being ranked among the great stage figures of her time, the absence of pomp and importance is a bit amazing. She has nothing of that charming artificiality or artificial charm, if you will, characteristic of so many actresses. She has charm alone. Midway during my visit Dorothy Gish joined us. Were one to search the seven seas one could find no contrast more complete than the sisters Gish. Together they form the last word in opposite temperaments. Dorothy Gish is the modernist, fresh from shopping on Fifth Avenue, luncheon at Pierre’s, and Dorothy Gish is the the latest in shingles ; Lillian – is the classic-modernist, impetuos, observant, thoughtful, reserved. Dorothy is impetuous, fleeting, impulsive, flip; Lillian pensive, deliberate, calculating”, practical.
The little disturber is typical of the young American; Lillian, Old World, aristocratic. Dorothy spoke glowingly of the Duncan sisters, “The Firebrand,” Heifetz, Nurmi, Robert Edmond Jones, and the weather ; Lillian listened, smiling. (“I’ve seen ‘Rain’ nine times,” Dorothy exclaimed. “Whenever it comes near New York I see it over and over. Jeanne Eagles, grows better every time I see her. She’s marvelous, wonderful, superb!”) Dorothy is an opportunist, reckless perhaps, but gay, and ever on the go.
Lillian is the planner, cautious, even reluctant in taking decisive steps. Well she may be. From a purely commercial viewpoint hers has been a heart-breaking career. Time after time fortune has hovered above her head, only to fade into thin air before becoming a reality. Griffith never was able to pay huge salaries because of the reckless manner in which he mounts his pictures and the leisure with which he completes them. The Frohman Corporation signed her as a high-salaried star, then promptly dissolved. And latterly Inspiration Films had proven inspired only in so far as acting has been concerned. Both Dick Barthelmess and Henry King had legal difficulties over the trying matter of remuneration, and then Miss Gish was obliged to resort to courts for adjustment of her affairs with them. Her last picture with Inspiration was “Romola,” in which Dorothy shares honors.
“We spent six months in Italy on ‘Romola,’ ” said Lillian. “We were completely absorbed in it. A beautiful story. I had always had my heart set upon doing it. “We worked night and day. While light permitted we would And locations and take exteriors. At night at the hotel we would rewrite the script, adjusting it in many instances to local conditions.” The fact that Lillian Gish has directed pictures and is fully conversant with the technical side of the studio increased her cares tenfold. There were huge dynamos to he imported from Rome, trucks to be located, currents to be converted, licenses to be obtained.
“There were a hundred and one difficulties to overcome.” Her slender white hands fluttered in a descriptive gesture. “The places for backgrounds that were in reach of lighting equipment. Extras. Dependable technical assistants. The authorities were most kind, but there were so many obstacles.
“I loved Florence, though,” said Dorothy. “So did Ronald Colman and Henry King.” “We saw them in Hollywood recently,” Lillian interposed. “We went out for the opening of ‘Romola.’ They said they wanted more Florence and less Hollywood. . . . How that little town has changed. I hadn’t seen it for years and years. . . . Since ‘Intolerance.’ It was a nice little country town then. Make-shift. Delightful. Now it’s … it’s so grown-up !” Dorothy was reminded of Michael Aden,, a favorite of the moment. Lillian expressed her admiration for the new Burke autobiography, “The Wind and the Rain.” Both of the blond sisters had enjoyed Milne’s inimitable “When We Were Very Young.” They were curious regarding the Sinclair Lewis novel, “Arrowsmith.”
Although you would never learn such things from Lillian herself, it is true that she- has made tremendous sacrifices for her various successes. In “Way Down East” she played in a raging blizzard until she collapsed before the camera. Her hands were frozen. During the making of “Broken Blossoms” she lost thirteen pounds in ten days as a result of the high emotional tension under which she was laboring. For “The White Sister” she worked night and day all of the final week to complete it on time. Despite all this she looks youthful and fresh, twenty-five perhaps, pink and white, ethereal. There is nothing of the theater about her even though she has devoted something over fifteen years to stage and screen.
“The trying part of picture making,!’ she confessed gently, “is the combining art and business. You are expected to create just as one creates a painting or a symphony, yet you must submit to efficiency men, time clocks, schedules, and manufacturers’ methods. It strikes me as incongruous. . . . Yet I can see perfectly why it is so. But until things undergo a distinct change it will remain an herculean task to lift pictures above the machine-like standards of “program features.'” By the time these lines appear, Lillian Gish should he in Los Angeles, at work on “The Outsider.” But wherever her present—and I trust, more gratifying—contract may take her, Lillian Gish still will remain the great actress of the screen.
Lillian Gish – Vanity Fair April 1925 detail
Lillian Gish Master for Way Down East cover, here in ROMOLA (photo 1925) detail
Lillian Gish Inspiration Pictures Romola High Resolution Promotional
William Powell lends a much-needed note of humanness and charm to those abused screen characters.
By Nadeyne Fergus
WHEN I had five stage failures in one year I decided it was about time to think of making a decent living again.” Thus did William Powell concisely and eloquently explain the question of how it all happened. I had met this fascinating screen intriguer in a studio in Fort Lee, New Jersey, than which there seems no place more outlandishly isolated to the New Yorker. And after we started talking and Mr. Powell began to radiate something that must be the “It” Elinor Glyn talks about, I forgot that I had planned to stay only long enough to collect a few facts and rush back to civilization. What cared I if I were two hours late for dinner? You don’t meet “It” every day. But, you are probably thinking, if William Powell is so charming as all that, why such a disastrous stage record? Alas, it isn’t only being a good actor or an attractive personality that matters nowadays. As a matter of fact William Powell was a clever, capable actor with ten years’ stage training in all kinds of parts. But his experience is typical of a curious situation that now exists on the stage. Plays open in New York constantly and with much trumpeting. Plays die out in New ‘ York almost as constantly, but without the trumpeting. And when they die in New York,- that is the end of them. “There is practically no road any more,” said Mr. Powell. “Whether it’s the movies, or the radio, that has killed it, is hard to say. But the stage actor to-day can depend really only upon the New York runs, and there are so many miserable plays that open only to flop that even that is becoming more hazardous all the time. Why, I know any number of clever, responsible actors who are hanging around the Lambs Club and other places, without jobs, pretty nearly broke.
“So when I realized that the stage wasn’t what it used to be and that I would have to do something to insure a livable income, I thought of the movies. Luckily, white I was still on the stage, I had played a small part in “Sherlock Holmes” with John Barrymore, who had seen me in “Spanish Love” and asked me to appear in the picture. That served as an introduction, and I have been on the screen now for over two years.” In talking with him you become conscious that he is just the sort of person to play characters with a dash of devilment. Not that he is devilish, but in his rather strange blue eyes there is a potentiality of adventure, a promise of impetuous romance, that is very effective in arousing feminine interest and that seems particularly suited to such parts. He has just the thing we need to make our so-called villains more like the human and all-too-likable persons such characters very often are in real life. His performance of Tito in “Romola” brought forth much praise from the critics and caused considerable wonderment within the industry as to how it managed to slide through the cutter’s fingers.
Many persons who saw the production when it first appeared criticized Lillian Gish for making a picture in which she was almost a negligible figure, and in which the villain—of all persons—had the best acting part and most of the spotlight. But Mr. Powell explained that neither Miss Gish nor the director, Henry King, really wanted to go ahead with the picture. It was the choice of Charles Duell, president of the company, who, apparently, had power to overule every one else. Struggle as they would with the scenario, they could not fix it so that Miss Gish would have the chief interest, as a star naturally should. So it became a case of trying to save what story there was, let the interest fall where it would. Which is how it happened that William Powell was permitted to offer such a perfectly charming and magnetic sketch of an unscrupulous character that he snatched most of the sympathy and interest from a very fine and well-known cast. Usually, such things never get past the cutting room. When I saw him Mr. Powell was playing a hero—for the first time in pictures—in a film called “White Mice,” taken from the Richard Harding Davis adventure. His tall figure was clothed in a modern Palm Beach suit, which seemed rather a pity, for he is one of those rare actors who has a genuine flair for wearing costumes. And, even worse, the debonair mustache which seems so much a part of his personality, had been shaved off at the request of the company. They were afraid, perhaps, that the audience might not recognize him as the hero.
“Do you find much difference between playing heroes and villains?” I asked him. “No difference at all,” he answered promptly. You know, that’s the important thing about screen acting. You have to be careful not to grow type-conscious, and to have a certain set of tricks for a heavy role and another set for a hero. No matter what kind of a part I play, I just try to act like that particular human being and let the story explain whether I’m good or bad.”
This is rather a novel attitude for a film actor. And as has been said before, the secret of everything is in the attitude. That, probably, is what makes William Powell such a refreshing addition to any picture. You can always be sure that there will be a gleam of magnetism, a note of difference, in anything he does. Like Erich von Stroheim and Lew Cody he can play unscrupulous and even despicable characters so charmingly that you are anxious to forgive him and start all over again. Which, I have always thought, is the great test of screen personality. Later, after all our talk of acting, he suddenly surprised me by saying, “The more I see of picture making, the more I think that it is nine-tenths direction. The actor seldom has the chance he should to get really inside his part. I so often have a sense of bewilderment, a feeling that I haven’t really been able to grasp a scene, and I think that if I could have had a little more time to absorb it beforehand I would do so much better.
“You see, one of the hardest things about movie acting is keeping up with the new ideas the director gets overnight. You go to the studio in the morning, and discover that a scene you never heard of is going to be shot. You must jump right in and act it without any preliminary thought or preparation, and with only a sketchy outline from the director. You can see that an actor can’t get much satisfaction out of that system. “But it’s a fascinating game just the same. Even though there are a lot of things you wish were different, you keep right on. And then there is the credit side of the situation. On the stage you don’t have the variety of parts or contracts, the interesting side diversion. Neither do you have long trips to Italy, in which you can manage to see a good part of Europe in between times.’ And of course, with all that, you have a very nice salary.” William Powell so far has confined his screen activities to New York.
“I’ve been thinking a lot of going to the Coast,” he told me, “but” — with a rather wistful smile—”I hate to think of going so far away from the stage. You know,” he added more lightly, “we actors are always hoping that the great play will come along and that we will get the great part. And how terrible it would be to be in Hollywood if that happened!”
“Romola” came to New York about the same time that “Greed” opened. It is Lillian Gish’s latest picture but it is Miss Gish’s picture in name only. The movies are a foolish business and “Romola” proves it. Here we have a girl who is rightly considered one of the greatest actresses on the screen. Instead of choosing a story that gives her an opportunity for all of us to enjoy her great gifts, her advisers drag out a slice of insomnia by George Eliot which gives Miss Gish nothing to do but dress in a fifteenth century Florentine gown and lug great big heavy books around a handsome set. It seems plain foolishness to me and all the more incredible because it must have been consummated with the consent of Miss Gish herself.
As George Jean Nathan has told the world, Miss Gish is hot stuff at suggesting emotions rather than acting them out. The trouble with “Romola” is that she has no emotions to suggest. She has a few scenes of great acting but most of these scenes are done without the aid of any close-ups. It is great art but it is awfully rough on literal-minded audiences. They feel cheated, baffled, and enraged. “Romola” is the story of a girl of a noble Florentine house who is married by her father to a handsome young adventurer who has wormed his way into the blind man’s affections. The father dies and the husband becomes involved in Florentine politics, which were as shady then as they are now. The girl is neglected and the husband sets up a left-hand household with a pretty little half-wit.
The little half-wit is played by Dorothy Gish, who gives a performance that is sometimes excellent and occasionally perfectly trite. The main glory of the acting goes to William Powell, who has the only real part in the picture. Mr. Powell plays the role of the unscrupulous scoundrel but he plays it so lightly, so easily, and so zestfully that he runs away with all your interest and most of your sympathy. Ronald Colman is the hero who has nothing to do but sit in a corner and wait for Fate to kill off the villain. Mr. Colman grew a lovely head of bobbed hair for the part, while Mr. Powell wears a very obvious wig.
Nevertheless, Mr. Colman doesn’t even ‘get a chance to wave his hair in the breezes, so Mr. Powell romps off with the glory, wig or no wig. The direction by Henry King has moments of being great but the story is clumsily told and the characters rather muddled. However, much of this can be blamed on the difficulties of making pictures in Italy and on the hash that was wrought in this country when the right place.