Los Angeles Herald, Volume XLII, Number 282, 25 September 1916
Diana of the Follies
With Lillian Gish as the Vivacious Star
A dramatic right-about-face, that has tested Miss Lillian Gish’s gifts as an actress to the utmost. The little star, who has been sweet, submissive and “sobby’’ so often, has suddenly become a dashing chorus girl in this, her newest and most startling vehicle. Of course Diana does not remain a chorus girl. That is where she is found when the story opens. A great many things happen in a surprising way, when she becomes the wife of a wealthy young man. The most elaborate production yet made for the Triangle program.
As the Vivacious Star …
Interesting to women are the marvelous gowns, 67 in number, which are worn by the women in the cast. Nineteen are worn by Miss Gish herself, which makes the play a wonderful fashion show as well as a dramatic entertainment. The Jewels worn by Lillian Gish were loaned by a jeweler of Los Angeles. She adorns herself with a pearl necklace worth $30,000.00, a coronet worth $20,000.00, rings worth $7,000.00 : and bracelet worth $3,000.00. in addition to her own jewelry valued at $l5, 000. The total is $75,000.
Produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Directed by Fred Niblo The Cast:
Pauli Arndt …………..………… Lillian Gish
Carl Behrend ………………. Ralph Forbes
Bruce Gordon ………….. Ralph Emerson
Professor Arndt ……….…. Frank Currier
August Behrend ….….. George Fawcett
Mitzi Winkelmann …… Fritzi Ridgeway
Fritz Winkelmann ……… John S. Peters
Jan …………………….…………….. Karl Dane
Baruska …………….…………. Polly Moran
Kurt …………….………. Billy Kent Shaefer
“Although Miss Gish’s acting is on her own familiar lines, she has, as always, that valuable asset of restraint. Fred Niblo, who was responsible for the film version of “Ben Hur,” does not display in his direction any great imagination in the handling of the players nor in the continuity of action.” (Mordaunt Hall – NY Times)
“Lillian Gish ceases to be the ethereal goddess. She is an every-day woman who sacrifices her man, her child and finally her honor, for the necessity rather than glory of battle. As the Austrian bride of an Austrian soldier she proves that she is a really great actress. Her love scenes with Ralph Forbes are superb with genuine emotion; her sufferings as realistically tragic as though she had lived behind the German trenches.” (Photoplay – The Shadow Stage) “Beneath her frail exterior, Lillian Gish conceals an indomitable spirit and unshakable courage and willpower. Long ago, when she left D. W. Griffith’s direction, disaster was predicted. Few believed that she could stand alone, away from the man under whose guiding genius she had risen to the first rank of screen stars. But Lillian was no Trilby, to collapse when Svengali’s spell was removed. She determined to show a critical world that she had brains of her own and could use them. She made her first independent film, and to-day Lillian still ranks amongst the first-class stars.” (Picture Show Annual – 1929)
Excerpts from Picture Play Magazine March – July, 1929
Lillian In New Phase.
Lillian Gish’s career, suspended for more than a year, is to be resumed. She will be directed by Max Reinhardt, the famous European stage producer, in a picture called “The Miracle Girl.” Lillian has just returned to Hollywood after a many months’ absence. She has sojourned part of the time in New York, which she likes, and the rest in Europe, which she loves even more. As regards Hollywood, it does not occupy the leading spot in Lillian’s affections, but she confesses that it is, after all, about the best place to make pictures. And she has tried various other localities during her experience.
Lillian begins virtually a new stage of her professional life with the undertaking of “The Miracle Girl.” It will be her first film under her contract with United Artists. After many years, she will once again work on the same lot as Mary Pickford, as they did in the old Griffith Biograph days.
To … talk or not to talk?
Lillian Gish must feel a little like an animal trainer who returns from a trip to find that the gentle little lion that she reared as a cub has become a raging beast.” “But what is she going to do about it ?”
“I don’t know exactly. But you can count on it that she and Max Reinhardt working together won’t turn out one of these strange hybrids that are neither good stage technique, nor good movie. Lillian’s voice should be very interesting. She studied three or four years ago for the stage, and even before she went for vocal training, her voice had a soft, resonant quality that was touching.”
“Pictures change so fast,” I remarked, and even as I said it, I realized that we used to object strenuously, because they were always the same. Nevertheless, I am sorry the inventor of sound devices wasn’t strangled at birth. I long for the days of the good, old, silent drama, even though dialogue films have made it possible to film my pet murder stories.
HOLLYWOOD simply can’t become highbrow.
Every time the film colony tries to soar to empyreal aesthetic heights, a constitutional ailment develops. Then some famous visitor’s feelings are hurt, and he goes home in a huff. The latest to take his departure in haste and disgust is Max Reinhardt, the famous German stage producer. Brought over here some six months ago to make a Lillian Gish starring picture, he never so much as shot a single scene.
Difficulties over story and contract, and uncertainty about talking pictures and other problems, reputedly came to the fore while he was preparing the production, and finally an agreement to disagree was reached between him and the studio executives. He sailed for Europe a few weeks ago. Reinhardt can console himself with the fact that others who came and saw, but did not wholly conquer, included at various times Maurice Maeterlinck, Sir Gilbert Parker, Michael Aden, William J. Locke, who just recently left, not to speak of numerous lights of the New York literary and show world. It would seem oftentimes that the picture realm likes to toy with great reputations, and that’s what occasionally gives Hollywood a name closely synonymous with Boobville.
Excerpts from Hollywood High Lights (Edwin and Elza Schallert), Over The Teacups, Picture Play Magazine March – July, 1929
Picture Show – March 19th 1921 – Lillian Gish’s Real Self.
Picture Show – April 2nd 1921 – Lillian Gish to Play Marguerite
Picture Show – April 9th 1921 – Madame Petrova Comes to Town
Picture Show – April 16th 1921 – Lillian Gish Undecided
Lillian Gish’s Real Self.
EVERYONE has the idea that American film stars are the most mercenary wretches in the world. I happened to meet W. L. Sherrill last week, for whom Lillian Gish is now working. Mr. Sherill is president, of the Frohman Producing Company, and he told me something of Lillian’s character, which I think is worth repeating, although I am not sure I ought to tell it, since it was given to me more or less in confidence. Lillian is getting $3,500 a week. Her salary started August 1, but she returned her money for August, because she had a few scenes to finish for D. W. Griffith in ” Way Down East.” Then September came, and there was no story, Mr. Sherrill said he would have considered it was a wonderful thing if Lillian had offered to work on half-wages What she really did was to come to his office and refuse all of her salary until she started on her picture. ” She is the most wonderful girl in tho world,” he said. ” I have never known anyone to be -so unselfish and so unmindful of her own interests, and I have been in this business for many years.” Mary Pickford, who adores Lillian, said to me one day : ” You will be good to Lillian, won’t you ? She is so gentle and good.” I have always remembered the expression on little Mary’s face when she asked mo to be kind to her friend. There is a beautiful friendship between the two girls that fame cannot change. Lillian’s work in ” Way. , Down East” has given her the title, of America’s great film star. This may be exaggerated, but one thing is certain there has never been any screen work to excel her performance of Anna Moore.
Lillian Gish to Play Marguerite.
IT took the failure of the William Sherrill Motion Picture Company for Lillian Gish to realise just how popular she is, and how many producers are holding out tempting starring engagements on silver platters. There isn’t a company in the business that hasn’t made some sort of an offer for Miss Gish’s services. Lillian isn’t the sort of girl who boasts about any of these things, and if I hadn’t coaxed her to tell me why she didn’t announce her plans, I might never have learned the true state of affairs. All the time Lillian was shaking her pretty blonde head and saying no she was negotiating with David W. Griffith to play Marguerite in ” Faust.” I don’t believe there was – much negotiating, for Lillian has told me, time and time again, she would rather play for David Griffith for less than for any other producer for six times the amount he could pay her. At the time she signed the contract with Mr. Sherrill she did it with many misgivings, preferring to remain in the Griffith fold ; but it was David himself who persuaded her to accept the fabulous amount offered her by the Sherrill organisation. Mr. Griffith will take Goethe’s dramatic poem and Gounod’s operatic version, and combine them to get an effective screen story of ” Faust.”
Madame Petrova Comes to Town.
THE weather has been so inclement it drove Madame QIga Petrova in from her country place, and she has been spending a few weeks at the Plaza Hotel. When her husband. Dr. J. D. Stewart, was lost in a blizzard one night, and did not reach home for hours after she expected him, she decided it was high time to move where he would not have to be at the mercy of the elements in the country. By the way, Madame Petrova and Lillian Gish have developed a friendship, and have seen quite a lot of each other lately. They went to the matinee last week to see Lionel Barrymore in ” Macbeth.” I wanted so much to go with them, but having so much to do, I could not manage it.’ Lillian went to hear our famous diva, Mary Gardon, sing Marguerite in ” Faust,” this week, believing if she plays the part it is well to get as many interpretations of the character as possible.
Lillian Gish Undecided.
SPEAKING of “Madame Petrova, there was a buzz of interested feminine voices – when the Polish actress and Lillian Gish walked into the Plaza dining-room for luncheon a few days ago. I was invited to make one of her luncheon party, and we had a merry time. There is a great bond of understanding and sympathy between these two women. ‘ They both like each other, and Madame Petrova very frankly says she considers Lillian Gish the greatest screen artist of her day. Who said there is always jealousy between two women ? On the other hand, Miss Gish, like all the rest of the world, has a tremendous admiration for Madame Petrova’s mentality and charm. Lillian has been undecided about playing ” Marguerite ” in Griffith’s production of ” Faust.”
” I want to play in Mr. Griffith’s pictures, of course,” she said, ” but I am so afraid of the costume plays. The public not over six months ago in a vote of the theatre vetoed all costume plays. Still, the success of ‘ Passion ‘ makes me believe this prejudice has been somewhat overcome.”
The bets are all on Lillian’s acceptance of Mr. Griffith’s offer, and rightly, too. Not to betray a secret or anything, she whispered to me she would in all likelihood play ” Marguerite.”
“Faust” with Lillian Gish?
The filming on Dream Street done, D. W. Griffith announced that he would undertake a version of Faust to star Lillian Gish as Marguerite. Miss Gish herself had misgivings. Faust, she discovered, had never found favor with American audiences. She confided her feelings to Harry Carr, a long – time Griffith associate, whose job it was to find ideas and stories for possible production. Carr shared her feelings: Faust would be another chance for Griffith to preach, to be sure, but what he needed was a money-maker. Miss Gish approached Mr. Griffith. So did Carr. Griffith was dissuaded. She had a counter-proposition, a play even older than Way Down East called The Two Orphans about two “adopted” sisters, one blind, who became separated in a teeming city. It had been filmed before, actually, in a short version of 1911 by Selig, and in 1915 as a vehicle for Theda Bara. Miss Bara had risen to immediate public favor playing femme fatale, “vamp” roles first in A Fool There Was, and she had wanted to try something else. (Excerpt from “Griffith – First Artist of the Movies,” by Martin Williams)
King – Profit Turned even Faust into …
The emphasis on the new “freedom” from cares and worry the director would now enjoy was a tacit acknowledgment of the difficulties that had befallen D.W. Griffith, who was increasingly burdened by the demands of sustaining his own independent film operation and struggling of late to register a popular hit. As W.C. Fields moved on to other, more straightforwardly comedic films at Famous Players ‐ in roles where he would not have to compete with the likes of Carol Dempster for his director’s, and thus the camera’s, attention ‐ Griffith began work on what would be his final and most ambitious film for Famous Players: The Sorrows of Satan , based on the bestselling 1895 novel by Marie Corelli about a struggling writer who makes a Faustian deal with the Devil.
“This comedy is no laughing matter,” admonishes Director Gish to Comedienne Gish.
Photoplay Vol. XVII March 1920 No.4
JUST before D. W. Griffith went to Cuba to film scenes for a new picture, he handed a script to Lillian Gish. “Here’s Dorothy’s new picture,” he said. “You can go ahead and direct it.” Lillian—that fair, frail persecuted child of pictures—bad never directed before. The Griffith studios at Mamaroneck were in a state of incompletion ; the props were new, and the lights were bad — sometimes work was possible only for fifteen minutes a day. But Lillian finished her first picture a five reel Dorothy Gish comedy—action from start to finish—in twenty-five days. She really directed; bossed the studio hands and the electricians; designed and arranged the sets; consulted with the cameramen and put the players through their paces. Her intensely feminine viewpoint stood her in good stead ; like Lois Weber she sees many intimate things in the direction that a man would overlook. “I felt,” she said, “just as if I were playing with dolls again. It was fun to make the puppets move the way I wanted them to.”
Dorothy Gish and James Rennie – Remodeling Her Husband
Dorothy Gish and James Rennie (2) – Remodeling Her Husband
Dorothy Gish and James Rennie (3) – Remodeling Her Husband
Dorothy Gish and James Rennie (Dorothy and Lillian Gish by Lillian Gish) – Remodeling Her Husband
Photo: LILLIAN GISH (BATTLE OF THE SEXES 1914) with Donald Crisp, Lillian Gish,Robert Harron, scenario D. W. GRIFFITH
THE BATTLE OF THE SEXES – 1914
Opened at Weber’s Theatre, New York, April 12, 1914. Based on The Single Standard by Daniel Carson Goodman. 5 reels. ;
Donald Crisp as Frank Andrews
Lillian Gish as Jane Andrews, the daughter
Robert Harron as John Andrews, the son
Mary Alden as Mrs. Frank Andrews
Owen Moore as Cleo’s lover
Fay Tincher as Cleo
W.E. Lawrence made as a “quickie” before Griffith left for California, THE BATTLE OF THE SEXES served the purpose of raising money for the new company. Even the title was good box office. The story was the old one of the straying husband, the home-wrecker and the forgiving wife. Lillian Gish played the part of a daughter who was moved by her mother’s sufferings to the point of committing murder. Griffith re-made the film in 1928. (Iris Barry)
The Battle of the Sexes was the second D. W. Griffith feature to be released to the public, following Biograph’s long-delayed release of Griffith’s first feature, Judith of Bethulia, by barely more than a month. He had already begun The Escape (1914), but production had been stopped by actress Blanche Sweet’s spell of scarlet fever, and the Reliance-Majestic Studio was already in trouble and in need of a viable Griffith property, fast. Griffith decided on a scenario entitled “The Single Standard,” written by in-house screenwriter Daniel Carson Goodman and filmed at the Reliance studio in New York City, rather than at the Hollywood studio, which was still being built. According to Lillian Gish, The Battle of the Sexes was shot in only five days.
Although the film was complete by February, its release was delayed two months more. Several reasons have been advanced for the impasse, but scholar Paul Spehr has suggested that both Reliance-Majestic and its distributor, Mutual, were having difficulty developing an effective distribution strategy for longer, multi-reel films in a market still dominated by one and two-reel subjects. The Battle of the Sexes was premiered at Weber’s Theater in New York City on April 12, 1914, and was a considerable success; the first one Griffith enjoyed with his name over the title.
Majestic Motion Picture Company production; distributed by Continental Feature Film Corporation (Mutual Film Corporation). / Scenario by D.W. Griffith, from the novel The Single Standard by Daniel Carson Goodman. Cinematography by G.W. Bitzer. Camera assistant, Karl Brown. Edited by James Smith and Rose Smith. / Premiered 12 April 1914 at Weber’s Theatre in New York, New York. Released 12 April 1914. / Standard 35mm spherical 1.33:1 format. / Working title: The Single Standard. The film was reportedly shot in four days. Rudolph Valentino is thought to have been an extra in this film. The novel was subsequently filmed as The Battle of the Sexes.
Synopsis (Moving Picture World)
Frank Andrews is a successful businessman. He has always found pride and joy in the company of his wife, son and daughter. He suddenly finds himself enthralled by the advances of a gay young woman siren, who lives in the same apartment house as he does. So marked an influence does she have over him as time progresses that at last he quite forgets his home ties, neglects his family, and goes the way of many other men who have forgotten the meaning of paternity and blood ties. The story is advanced through many scenes enacted with the accompanying notes of New York’s night life, and the denouement comes when the faithful wife discovers her husband’s infidelity. At this time the mother’s mind nearly loses balance, while Jane, the beautiful daughter, crazed by the grief of her mother, determines to take part in the tragedy. With revolver in hand she steals up to the apartment of the woman, but her frail nature is overcome by the temperamental anger of the woman and her mission fails. However, the errand is not fraught with failure for the father, coming in at this moment, finds his daughter being made love to by the sweetheart of the young woman, and realizes the road upon which he has traveled. When he confronts his daughter and says, “You, my daughter, what are you doing here?” The daughter answers, “My father, what are you doing here?” The realization is brought home to the father’s mind that the law of moral ethics that governs a woman’s life necessarily governs that of wan as well. Reformation comes in his character. He takes his daughter away with him and together they go back to their home of happiness and content. (Moving Picture World)
The Battle of the Sexes – 1928
Opened at United Artists Theatre, Los Angeles, in September 1928; opened at the Rialto, New York, October 12, 1928. 10 reels. Directed by D. W. Griffith; scenario by Gerrit Lloyd, based on the novel by Daniel Carson Goodman, The Single Standard; photographed by G. W. Bitzer and Karl Struss; synchronized music by R. Schildkret. Cast: Judson ]ean Hersholt Marie Skinner Phyllis Haver Mrs. Judson Belle Bennett “Babe” Winsor Don Alvarado Ruth Judson Sally O’Neil Billy Judson William Bakewell Friend of Judsons’ John Batten
Frankly searching for money-making schemes, Griffith decided to remake his 1913 success the battle of the SEXES. Phyllis Haver was chosen to play the gold digger and Jean Hersholt to be the middle-aged lothario, and Griffith tried to bring the old melodrama up to date by adding touches of comedy to the two characters. (Hersholt’s part came midway in his transformation from the villain—as which he had long been typecast—to the kindly old doctor roles for which he became famous.) Contemporary reviewers had been kind on the whole to DRUMS OF LOVE; for THE BATTLE OF THE SEXES Griffith received the worst of all his reviews. Most critics agreed he would have done better to reissue the original. They deplored the cheap sensationalism and the slow pace of the new version, but at least one of them found amusing the barber shop sequence in which Phyllis Haver first sees Hersholt as a man who might be worth mining.
A synchronous music track with sound effects and a theme song sung by Phyllis Haver were added to this essentially silent film, and it is as a silent film that it survives today. It was typical of this period of Griffith’s career that he had little to do with the synchronized score, and that when he heard it he didn’t like it. Still floundering, ill at ease in the new Hollywood, his attitude was frequently negative. As at Paramount, he was subject to the advice of too many superiors at Art Cinema Corporation, and he no longer had the strength to fight for his own ideas. People who knew him at the time say that he had begun to drink heavily. (Iris Barry)
Up and down thru the centuries, thru a muck of blood and self-righteous guilt, stalks that murderous specter of envy and self-love-Intolerance. Apparently inspired by hatreds—religious, political or social underneath all its sickening pretense and sham lies the desire for advancement of self and lust of power.
Age after age has written, with a finger dipped in blood: “Sorrow and death to those who think not as we do.” And advancing time but furnishes us a repetition of history, for always there be with us “certain hypocrites among the Pharisees” who thank their God that they be not as other men. Emerson has described the scourge in his immortal words:
“If we would not be marplots with our miserable interferences, the work, the society, letters, arts, science, religion of men would go on far better than now, and the heaven predicted from the beginning of the world, and still predicted from the bottom of the heart, would organize itself, as do now the rose and the air and sun.” Yet, thru all the ages. Time, endlessly rocking its cradle, brings forth the same passions, the same hates and sorrows. Such is the power of the demon-Intolerance.
Nearly two thousand years ago there lived in Babylon a certain high priest of Bel, the god of the Assyrians. And of all the citizens of the world’s most powerful state, he was second in influence only to Belshazzar himself. How it happened that certain of the citizens set up altars to other gods within the city, and the fires of Bel burned without sacrifice, and the high priest was dismayed and feared his crown of power was slipping from his grasp. The people of Babylon worshiped most at the shrines of the goddess Ishtar, and the devotion was sanctioned by Belshazzar.
Thus, day by day, the high priest grew more jealous for Bel, but most of all for himself. Then suddenly – came Cyrus the Persian, storming at the gates of the city, for with her fall the world lay at his feet. For weeks the siege went on : the people sacrificed and prayed to Ishtar, while Belshazzar and his armies hurled down their enemies from the walls. At last the wearied Persian horde withdrew, and the city was delivered. Whereat there was great rejoyicing in Babylon, and the praise of Ishtar rose higher then before, and the altars of Bel were neglected.
Then the wily Cyrus secretly sent word to the high priest that should the city be given over to him, to Bel should be the honor, and worship of no other god tolerated. So the high priest opened the gates to the Persian hosts, while Belshazzar and his nobles sat feasting. And a great cry went thruout the world: “Babylon is fallen-is fallen !” Thus a great civilization fell, and a great people were treacherously sold into slavery by the grasping intolerance of a narrow mind.
Some half-century later there was a marriage in Cana of Judea, and a certain poor guest, a Nazarene, made a miracle, turning jugs of water into wine. Then some among the Pharisees, who were hypocrites, began to fear Him. They said that they held Him in contempt because He consorted with publicans and sinners, and yet they feared Him, and therefore persecuted Him. He went His way, preaching a doctrine of love and peace; so they said to one another : “Behold ! this man is threatening our power; his words shame us before the multitudes, for we cannot answer them. Let us set him from our path.” So they circulated lying tales of Him, and angered the people against Him so that later they took Him to a certain hill, and there He was crucified, for His thoughts were not their thoughts. Did it matter that. angry lightnings played about the cross? Did it matter that Calvary was shaken by an ominous thunder, or that future generations should rain condemnations on their act? The cry of the centuries rose from the throats of the groaning multitude : “Sorrow and death to those who think not as we!”
Yet again, in a later age, when that church which He died to hand down to posterity was divided within itself-when France, under Charles IX, was a hotbed of internal intrigue-that serpent of Florence, Catherine de Medici, used that same religion, founded on tenets of love and peace, as a cloak for the vilest, bloodiest wholesale murder that the world has ever known. The Huguenots were becoming too powerful as a political factor. Catherine and her aids hectored the half-crazed king until he signed an order for their massacre. On St. Bartholomew’s Eve the great bell of St. Germain tolled out the death-knell of the thousands of innocent Huguenots in Paris. Men, women and children were butchered in their beds.
Those who fled to the streets fell only on the pikes and swords of their ruthless assailants. The gutters ran with blood, and high above the screams and clamor came the solemn tolling of the great bell. The Due de Guise rode to the house of Coligny, and, standing up in his stirrups, cried: “Fling down the carrion ! I would see whether he be truly dead !” And all that was left of the great leader fell upon the upturned weapons of the mercenaries. He had wished to live in peace with his fellow men, but-he thought not as they.
INTOLERANCE MODERN STORY
INTOLERANCE MODERN STORY
INTOLERANCE MODERN STORY
Mae Marsh – Modern Story
And now we see this same spirit in our own age–the age of the intolerance of wealth for poverty. Here we have a certain group of women who seek, under the pretense of social uplift and moral reform, prominence for themselves at the expense of the happiness of others. Organizing a powerful charitable foundation, they proceed to clean up a modern city, entering environments and dealing with conditions, altho they possess neither the mentality nor the experience to cope with them, and forcibly inflicting their opinions on a class which adjusts itself to its problems far better without their aid. Still, they get personal advertisement and prominence, which is really the desired result. Envious, self-seeking, narrow-minded, and only too eager to see evil in others, in spite of his disguise of civilization we see in them the latest phase of the blighting specter – Intolerance.
We have become an alarmingly endangered species, those of us who enjoyed silent films throughout the 1920s. We know that we are not alone in admiring the best of the surviving predialogue movies, but understandably, some misconceptions have crept into histories of the early period, written by those who were not around to see first-run prints of the acknowledged masterpieces, or could not have visited the resplendent palaces or the cozy neighborhood houses of more than half a century ago.
As there are today, there were those who took the existence of cinema very much for granted, saw only an occasional film because it was being discussed. And there were even a few (I never met one) who hated pictures. But there were some of us with an addiction, with fierce passion for the medium. We were militant and protective and we didn’t want it to change in any way. We loved its silence. We were devoted to the aspect ratio of the frame. As collectors, we were even enchanted by the unique scent of nitrate of cellulose. There are even fewer of us left who not only had this almost insane, passionate affection for film, but became involved in hands-on work with motion pictures, shooting, editing and screening as well as simply watching. When dialogue arrived and the silent film almost vanished, some of us were so infuriated that we actually refused, for many months, to even look at a talkie.
Douglas Fairbanks -The Black Pirate 1926
Lillian Gish – Steichen – Vanity Fair November 1924
Ronald Colman – Vanity Fair 1927
Renee Adoree – La Boheme – Musette
Lillian Gish – The Rebellion of Kitty Belle (1914)
The Mender of Nets 1912 still frame
An Art Declasse
Silent movies? Before sound films nobody called motion pictures “silent movies.” In those days the term “talkies” was already in use, but it referred only to plays on the stage to differentiate them from photoplays. As Lillian Gish never tired of pointing out, the “silent” film was never silent. Even in the primitive period, there was a pianist or an organist putting music to the film. The big downtown theatres usually began continuous showings at 10:00 a.m. Until the two evening performances, the film would be accompanied by a skillful organist seated at the mighty Wurlitzer. The evening shows boasted full orchestral accompaniment. The musicians were fine, well-paid professionals led by experts who knew very much what they were about. The top Cleveland movie orchestra was conducted by Maurice Spitalny in gleaming full dress, his exquisitely prepared profile turned toward the audience and bathed in his own special spotlight as his orchestra played the overture before the film began. Maurice was one of three Russian-born Spitalnys, all musicians. Brother Phillip conducted a famous all-girl orchestra in Manhattan. He went to Cleveland often to see his brother, whose greeting to Phillip became a local catchphrase: “Hallo, Pheel! How you fill?”
In one area Griffith did seem to be ahead of his contemporaries: by either good luck or superior perception, he was able to recruit a cadre of fantastic players. With his theatre orientation, he had confidence in even the actresses who had been professionals from childhood, so that Mary Pickford, the Gish sisters and Blanche Sweet became Biograph stars. Experience in the theatre was cachet sufficient for Griffith to hire Lionel Barrymore, Tom Ince and Mack Sennett, all of whom graduated from Biograph to major film careers that endured for many years.
American Biograph Company 11 East 14th Street NY
the Biograph Bronx Studio
the Biograph Bronx Studio 2
There were indeed some truly impressive Biographs. As early as 1909 Griffith had Pickford, Owen Moore and James Kirkwood acting in The Restoration, an involved psychological drama concerned with memory Loss.
Along with The Birth of a Nation and Intolerance, Broken Blossoms of 1919 is one of Griffith’s major efforts on which much of his fame rests. The original release print of the film was elaborately colored with the use of variously tinted base stock. The Museum of Modern Art Film Library people arranged to undertake the demanding and expensive project of copying the film and restoring the delicately colored version to something very much like the original.
In a significant departure from routine filmmaking, Griffith rehearsed the cast for weeks before the camera ever turned. His aim was to create a film that he thought would be as fine and important as a great play on the stage—his first love. However well intentioned his plan, his theatrical orientation lured him into a major aesthetic error that militates against one’s acceptance of the film today as a great work. Richard Barthelmess, cast as a Chinese in London’s Limehouse district, is made up as a stereotyped stage Chinaman, eyes narrowed to tiny slits, hands tucked into his sleeves and made to walk hunched over with teetering steps. All perfectly acceptable as a nineteenth-century theatrical cliche. But Griffith made the mistake of surrounding Barthelmess with real Chinese, none of whom looked anything like the chief protagonist.
In The Birth of a Nation, Griffith was betrayed by this stagecraft into the same aesthetic error. His principal players cast as blacks are white actors and actresses, their faces smeared not too carefully with blackface makeup. Neither of his villains, George Siegmann and Walter Long, have negroid features. Well and good had he been producing a minstrel show, but again, extras in the film are real blacks bearing no resemblance to Tom Wilson, George Siegmann or Walter Long. The unfortunate effect for Broken Blossoms is that the film is neither realistic drama nor effective theatre make-believe. The famous performance of Lillian Gish’s almost rescues the film from being a grotesquerie rather than simply a very much dated melodrama with Donald Crisp as the savage child beater, shown in enormous close-ups, grimacing in a way to rival King Kong himself. Griffith considered himself to be a poet, a dramatist and, only some what reluctantly, a film director. For this project he also became a composer and is credited as the author of the love theme of the film, a piece he titled “White Blossom.” Composing the music for the other portions of the film was entrusted to none other than Louis Gottschalk. As a music composer, Griffith thus placed himself in prestigious company. Lillian Gish’s performance as the slow-witted, much abused Limehouse district waif is one of the most praised in all her career. It was also the most parodied. ZaSu Pitts made a whole career imitating the uncertain, desperate gestures that were so touching as Lillian Gish had done them.
Lillian Gish in Broken Blossoms – The Closet Scene
Lillian Gish in Broken Blossoms – The Closet Scene
Lillian Gish in Broken Blossoms – The Closet Scene
Lillian Gish in Broken Blossoms – The Closet Scene
Lillian Gish in Broken Blossoms – The Closet Scene
Lillian Gish in Broken Blossoms – The Closet Scene
Her Last Smile (Broken Blossoms)
The Festivals of Film Artists
The 1957 festival marked his first return to Rochester and the theatre he had known so well twenty-eight years before. Mamoulian’s wife came with him. She was a gorgeous, glamorous Hollywood type, and although the Mamoulians were only to stay overnight, she brought so much ponderous luggage that it couldn’t all be squeezed into the spartan room they were assigned in the Rochester Treadway Inn. Mrs. Mamoulian ordered an immediate transfer to a more commodious hotel. Other celebrity arrivals were also not without their own problems.
At Eastman House for the second Festival of Film Artists, in 1957: James Card, Lillian Gish, Janet Gaynor and Mary Pickford
In 1957 there were direct flights from Los Angeles to Rochester. It was in the good old days before hub airports. I was at the Rochester airport to meet a plane that carried more than any usual share of VIPs. On that flight were the director Frank Borzage, Ramon Novarro and Maurice Chevalier, who traveled with an entourage of no fewer than three comely female attendants. The plane arrived at 1:30 a.m., Rochester time. When I greeted the group, Chevalier let out a whoop and pumped Novarro’s hand. Ramon was astonished. “I’ve been wanting to meet you for years—ever since Ben-Hur.” Chevalier exulted. The two great stars not only had never met before, but had flown all the way from Los Angeles without recognizing each other. Also, they all let me know, they had had nothing to eat since before boarding the plane in California. First bit of business was to get them to food. Rochester is not known to be a swinging town after midnight. But there was a restaurant right on East Avenue, not far from the theatre itself, run by an ambitious restaurateur who thought of himself and his establishment as several cuts above the small-town reputation of Rochester. His boite he called the Five O’Clock Club, and its marquee boasted that it was “Just like New York.” I parked the car with its illustrious guests and rushed in to see if they had any food left. The owner was sitting with some friends at a booth near the door. I knew who he was—he was big in self-advertising. It was obvious at once that he didn’t know me. “We’re closed, Mac,” he snarled at me. “Can’t we just get a quick sandwich or something?” “I told you we’re closed. The chef’s gone.”
“Look, Leo, can’t you have a waiter go into the kitchen and fix three or four simple sandwiches? I have Maurice Chevalier and Ramon Novarro out here in the car. They haven’t had a thing to eat all day, and every place but yours is closed.”
The proprietor turned to his friends. “After all that trouble we had with that guy tonight, here’s another one—this one has Maurice Chevalier out in his car!”
I went back to our guests. Across the street was a White Tower hamburger place (forerunner of the MacDonald’s and Burger Kings to come). It was there that I had to take Borzage, Novarro and that noted French bon vivant and gourmet Maurice Chevalier for hamburgers. I noted that Maurice disguised his burger with a complete dousing of mustard. Without much shame, I confess to elation when, only a few months later, the Five O’Clock Club that was “Just like New York” went out of business.
Our cast on the stage of the Eastman Theatre almost made the event look like a rerun of 1955, for there, again, were Lillian Gish, Harold Lloyd, Mary Pickford, Frank Borzage, Dick Barthelmess and Charles Rosher, but with the added attractions of Gloria Swanson, Josef von Sternberg, Janet Gaynor, Ramon Novarro and Maurice Chevalier, who, of course, stole the show. Chevalier’s onstage technique was unforgettable. Offstage, standing or sitting surrounded by his personal entourage, he looked almost asleep, gloomy and brooding. But in the instant before he stepped on the stage, his face would light up as though he’d turned on a set of bulbs. His whole body seemed to have been electrified; his face was flushed with energy and breezy enthusiasm. When he stepped off the stage, the appearance of somnolence fell over him like a curtain. Chevalier’s off-and-on act reminded me of Buster Keaton at the first festival. Offstage, of course, he smiled—and often. He was a cheerful, friendly charmer. And everywhere he went, both amateur photographers and newspaper cameramen would try to ambush one of those smiles. But Buster teased them with an almost supernatural sense of timing: he could sense just the instant they were about to fire their cameras, the smile would snap off his face, and the trademark, solemn Keaton look would be all they’d catch.
The second Festival of Film Artists was the last. Before we could do another, General Solbert died. As of this writing, every other actor, actress and director who won awards in those festivals has also departed. General Oscar Solbert was an exceptional individual. He exasperated me to the point ofmy resigning three times. Three times he tore up my letter of resignation. I miss him the way I miss my own father. Subsequent directors of Eastman House have tried to have festivals of film artists. But they miss the salient point of the two originals—that the artists chosen for the Georges were chosen entirely by their fellow film people. The later, spurious awards have been given to celebrities chosen by Rochester socialites.
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