Alternate Oscars – By Danny Peary – 1993

Alternate Oscars – 1993

One Critic’s Defiant Choices for Best Picture, Actor, and Actress—From 1927 to the Present

  • A Delta Book Published by Dell Publishing a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. 1540 Broadway New York, New York 10036

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was conceived in early 1927 by MGM boss Louis B. Mayer, the most powerful figure in Hollywood. He intended it to be both an elitist, self-honoring club, with members chosen by Mayer himself, and a union-busting labor organization that would ostensibly unite actors, directors, and writers with producers before those three groups formed their own guilds. (This ploy worked only temporarily.) There were thirty-six founding members, including Mayer, his two lawyers, actor Conrad Nagel, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and director Frank Lloyd. The decision to hold an annual awards ceremony to honor films and individuals was not made until a banquet was held on May 11, 1927, during which more than three hundred of the Hollywood aristocrats paid a hundred dollars to become pioneer members of the Academy. It took another year before a voting system was in place. All members—actors, directors, producers, technicians, and writers—would cast nominating votes in their particular branches. A five-person board of judges, representing each branch, yet controlled by Mayer, would tabulate the votes to determine the nominees and then choose the winners themselves.

The Wind – Poster Lillian and Lars

MGM’s The Wind – No hype received

Ironically, the best picture of the year, and a film whose greatness has not diminished, was also made at MGM. However, The Wind didn’t receive any of the hype given Broadway Melody, and America’s last silent masterpiece (Chaplin’s films had soundtracks) was completely ignored when pictures were nominated. Looking for a starring vehicle to fulfill her MGM contract, Lillian Gish wrote a four-page treatment of Dorothy Scarborough’s book The Wind, and got the go-ahead from (Irving) Thalberg to produce the film herself. She hired scriptwriter Frances Marion (who later admitted it was the last screenplay she put her heart into), Swedish director Victor Seastrom (Sjostrom in his native country), and Lars Hanson, Sweden’s most popular stage actor, to be her male lead. The four had just worked together on the impressive The Scarlet Letter.

Lillian-Gish-The-Wind-Montagu-Love-Train-arrival-scene

The Wind, which was shot in 120-degree temperatures in California’s Mojave Desert, is the  story of an unmarried, gently bred young woman from Virginia who comes to live on a ranch with her male cousin and his family in the harsh, windswept Texas dustbowl. When her cousin’s jealous wife forces her out, and the “gentleman” (Montagu Love) who has courted her turns out to be married, the penniless woman agrees to marry – a kindly neighbor, Hanson. But she is unable to give him or the hostile land a chance. She feels completely isolated and the constant, howling winds drive her toward madness. While her husband is away rounding up wild horses, hoping to make enough money to send her back to Virginia, Love rapes her. She kills him and buries him in the sand. As originally filmed, the crazed woman then walks off into the wilderness to die. But when exhibitors refused for several months to show such a depressing picture, MGM had no choice but to reshoot the ending: This time Gish declares her love for Hanson, and tells him she will stay with him because she is no longer afraid of the winds.

Lillian Gish and Edward Earle

The Wind is an ahead-of-its-time feminist drama about a woman without money or opportunities who tries to survive in a man’s world. The only chance Gish has for an “easy life” is to become the mistress of Love, but she refuses to demean herself. Most interesting is how Marion deals with the relationships Gish has with the film’s other female, her cousin’s wife, and with Hanson. We dislike the cousin’s wife because of her cold treatment of Gish and for imagining her a rival for his affections. However, though she is a bitter woman she is no villain. She dearly loves her husband and without him, in this harsh world, she has no life, no options, so she holds on to him desperately. But as much as she wants Gish out of her life, she won’t abandon her to the lecher Love. Hanson is another interesting character. He falls in love with Gish but doesn’t want to dominate her (he won’t force himself on her). Instead, he wants equality, whereby he and Gish would work together and love each other. He realizes, and Gish comes to understand at the end, only together can they tame the winds.

The Wind – Lillian Gish (Letty Mason) and Lars Hanson (Lige Hightower)

The Wind is beautifully acted by Gish and the talented, handsome Hanson. His most touching scene occurs when his new wife is disgusted by his attempt to embrace her and he assures her she need not fear his trying again. The picture is also exquisitely photographed (by John Arnold), with much emphasis on motion. Outside, the wind constantly blows (eight airplane propellers were used) as trains, wagons, and men on horseback force their way across the terrain. Seastrom creates a tremendous sense of claustrophobia with repeated shots of the sand swirling toward windows and penetrating everything within Hanson’s cabin, including Gish’s clothes and long hair. When the door opens, sand rushes inside, making it impossible for Gish to keep the cabin tidy (Hanson doesn’t expect her to), and making her feel further trapped. The increasing disorder in the house represents Gish’s deteriorating mind.

The Wind – Lillian Gish (Letty Mason)

The eerie scene in which her mind wanders with distorted, mad, hallucinatory images caused by the mobile camera that follows her through the dark, shadowy cabin, and a fantasized image of a white horse charging through the skies outside, reminds one of Seastrom’s Swedish horror classic, The Phantom Carriage. The reshot finale may seem a little hokey (she recovers awfully quickly from her mad spell once Hanson enters the cabin), but Seastrom’s last shot is a gem: The couple stands in the open doorway of their home, arms wrapped around each other, looking out into the wilderness without fear. Not only have the winds been conquered by love, but the wild (nature) and the domestic (the house), and this woman and this man, are as one.

Lillian Gish and Lars Hanson, publicity photo for The Wind (Letty Mason and Lige Hightower)
Director Victor Sjostrom (left), cameraman John Arnold and Lillian – behind the scenes – “The Wind”
Alternate Oscars : one critic’s defiant choices for best picture – cover

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FLASHBACK – A Brief History of Film – “The Scarlet Letter” Louis Giannetti/Scott Eyman 1986

  • FLASHBACK – A Brief History of Film – “The Scarlet Letter”
  • LOUIS GIANNETTI (Case Western Reserve University)
  • SCOTT EYMAN
  • © 1996, 1991, 1986 by Prentice-Hall. Inc. Simon & Schuster / A Viacom Company Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey 07632

If the standard truism about america being a nation of immigrants is even close to the truth, it was never more so than in the years before World War I. In Europe, royalty was living out the last moments of what social historian Frederic Morton called “A Nervous Splendor.” In America, the upper and middle classes alike were enjoying what Mark Twain had rightly called “The Gilded Age.” Under a succession of presidents frankly power brokered by kingmakers like Marcus Hanna, American industry and its gospel of the dollar began to spread across the world, even as the country fell into an aesthetic trough. The theater was moribund, subsisting on threadbare melodramas as vacuous as they were popular, marking time until Eugene O’Neill’s poetically morbid meditations on human frailty made later writers like Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, and Edward Albee possible.

Lillian Gish and Lars Hanson in The Scarlet Letter 1972

The Scarlet Letter (VS.A., 1926), with Lillian Gish and Henry B. Walthall, directed by Victor Seastrom. By the time she made “The Scarlet Letter” time and tide were both running against Lillian Gish, for it was the era of the flapper, of the carefree Clara Bow. At Gish’s own studio, the exotic Greta Garbo was the new sensation. At the age of thirty-two, Lillian Gish was about to be fobbed off as a prissy antique, in spite of the tact that she was doing some of her finest work. Gish insisted on the Swedish emigre Seastrom as director because she believed his Scandinavian temperament was aptly suited to Hawthorne’s powerful morality tale of Puritan repression. Gish proved to be as astute a production executive as she was an actress. (Metro Goldwyn Mayer) ***

A genius of innuendo, a crafty careerist, Lubitsch immediately assumed the role he instinctively felt Americans expected of a European, the naughty sophisticate. In a series of social comedies for Warner Brothers, most of which took their blase attitude from C’haplin’s A Woman of Paris, Lubitsch satirized sex, fidelity, and bad faith in intimate relations. Mostly, Lubitsch appreciated elegant manners.

The Swedish cinema was very nearly decimated by the departure of art director Sven Gade, directors Victor Seastrom (1879-1960) and Mauritz Stiller (1883-1928), and leading man Lars Hanson (1887-1965). When Stiller set sail for America, he was accompanied by his protegee and leading lady, a tall, somewhat horsy young actress who photographed like a goddess from Olympus—Greta Garbo, nee Gustafson. Stiller’s protegee did better than he did. Driven, high-strung, he was fired by MGM after ten days’ shooting on his first picture. He went over to Paramount and made the intense Hotel Imperial (1927) with Pola Negri. Stiller made one more film in the town that he felt had betrayed him. Then, a sick, defeated man, he went back to Sweden to die.

THE SCARLET LETTER, Lillian Gish (hands clasped front left), Victor Sjostrom (aka Victor Seastrom) (hand in pocket front right) with the crew on-set, 1926

Of the Swedish enclave, it was Seastrom who seemed to acclimate himself most comfortably, successfully directing stars as varied as Lon Chaney, Garbo, and Lillian Gish. Seastrom’s films were notable for their unrelenting psychological intensity and painstaking character development that never became mere clinical observation (3—12). This avuncular, well-liked man appears to have been one of those lucky people who could achieve success at whatever they turned their hand to. Shortly before his death, Seastrom starred in Wild Strawberries (1957) for his friend and idolater Ingmar Bergman. The undemonstrative but palpable humanity that Seastrom achieved in his directing was revealed to be a function of his own personality, as he provided the vital spark for one of the normally dour Bergman’s warmest works.

Director Victor Sjostrom, cameraman John Arnold and Lillian – backstage The Wind

*** Admin Note: By October 1927, with The Wind finished but the studio postponing its release, Gish was writing that “I hardly think that I will continue with Metro. Theirs is such a large organization that I feel they haven’t the room or the time for me.” Shortly afterward, MGM let the greatest film actress of her generation go—not because her films didn’t make money, but because they didn’t make enough. Gish was “difficult” and single-minded about her work, which was more important to her than the MGM method. (Scott Eyman)

THE SCARLET LETTER, Lars Hanson, Lillian Gish, 1926

Lillian Gish never truly became a major box office star for Metro, but she added greatly to its prestige. And there was one more all-out battle for a Gish kiss. This time she was filming the American classic “The Scarlet Letter” which gave her the type of long-suffering scenes she did  best. Of course the film had to graphically show how Gish, as Hester, became pregnant and was forever forced to wear the adulteress’ A. She pleaded, she trekked to Mayer’s office three times, she offered her own versions of the script, and, grasping at straws, suggested that it be explained in the titles that ran before the scenes in the still silent movies. “No, absolutely not,” Mayer told Thalberg, who was now overseeing the Gish vehicles. “Irving, the way Lillian is working her way through these love scenes, the audience is going to think that the ‘scarlet letter A’ stands for abstinence.” (Peter Harry Brown & Pamela Ann Brown)

Mr. Goldfish /Goldwyn forgot his birth, “his” MGM built on “Birth of a Nation”. Ruling his empire as only a dictator would for years, as long as “his stars” did as Mayer wished, their own road was paved with the yellow bricks Judy Garland would sing about later. Then, when the good roles began going to other actresses, Mayer humiliated them by reminding them how often MGM had come to their “rescue.” Even big stars, some of them with immortal names, were subject to this form of creative blackmail. To enforce his domination, he had servants with sharp plumes ready to smear and tarnish any star reputation. Thus, Lillian Gish returned to her first love, the theater, and the cinema lost her for the better part of a decade. She never left the footlights, even when she returned on filming sets again. Her impressive stageography can be studied, accessing the link below:

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A Short History of the Movies (III) By Gerald Mast – University of Chicago (1971)

  • A short history of the movies
  • Gerald Mast, deceased
  • Formerly of the University of Chicago
  • © 1971, 1976, and 1981 by the Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc.;
  • FIFTH EDITION REVISED BY Bruce F. Kawin
  • University of Colorado at Boulder
  • 1992 Macmillan Publishing Company New York
  • Maxwell Macmillan Canada Toronto

Photo Gallery – “The Scarlet Letter”

As a producer reporting to, but given a free hand by, (Irving) Thalberg at MGM, Lillian Gish took on the challenge of filming Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, a project that had been opposed by every women’s club in the country because its plot concerns adultery with a capital A, not to mention with a clergyman. (When MGM told her “it wasn’t allowed,” she said, “What do you mean it’s not allowed? It’s an American classic, and I’m an American and I want to make it!”) When Gish visited the women’s clubs and told them she would be in charge of the project, their respect for her good taste and judgment led them to drop all opposition. To direct The Scarlet Letter (1926), she brought Victor Sjostrom (who signed his American pictures Seastrom) to Hollywood from Sweden.

Photo Gallery – “La Boheme”

The picture was a great success—as were Gish’s other productions, including the 1926 La Boheme, a silent version of Puccini’s opera. But her greatest production, and the second film Sjostrom directed for her, was The Wind (1928), based closely on the 1925 novel by Dorothy Scarborough and shot in the Mojave Desert. In this film Gish gives one of her very finest performances—her best since Way Down East and until The Night of the Hunter (1955)—as a woman driven mad by the relentless, demonic, almost sexually charged wind that drives the sand across the Texas plains and through every crack in the shack she shares with her husband. Originally ending with the same powerful scene as the novel, in which the heroine—after killing and burying the man who assaulted her—walks into the oblivion of madness and blowing sand, The Wind was given a happy ending (in which she and her husband stand together at the open door, powerfully facing the wind) at the insistence of exhibitors.

Photo Gallery – “The Wind”

One of the greatest films of the 1950s was a study of values, a literary adaptation, and a compelling story realized in purely cinematic terms: The Night of the Hunter (1955). Scripted by James Agee from the novel by Davis Grubb, it was the only movie ever directed by actor Charles Laughton. This hauntingly photographed, lyrically evocative film tells of two children, on the run from a killer (Robert Mitchum), who find sanctuary in the home of a tough, practical, loving woman (Lillian Gish in her best sound-film performance). In place of money and horror, the film finds value in the enduring power of love, and it does so without the least trace of sentimentality.

Photo Gallery – “The Night of the Hunter”

Note: Illustrations used are not part of Mr. Mast’s book.

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Louis B. Mayer, Merchant of Dreams – by Charles Higham (1993)

Merchant of Dreams

Louis B. Mayer, M.G.M., and the Secret Hollywood

BY CHARLES HIGHAM

  • Copyright © 1993 by Charles Higham
  • DONALD I. FINE, INC. New York

1914 – 1917

Mayer had discovered that his fellow Mason, D. W. Griffith, had created a masterpiece in his new motion picture The Birth of a Nation. He was determined to be its sole distributor in New England. The film portrayed the Ku Klux Klan as avenging angels, treated blacks patronizingly and exhibited a simpleminded view of the issues of the Civil War. But it was a triumph of cinematic construction and execution, and it promised to make colossal sums of money. Just seven days after Metro was formed, the trade papers reviewed the picture in terms which could only be encouraging to any exhibitor.

Mayer contacted the film’s backers and made an across-the-board deal for regional distribution. With the lawyer David Stoneman, his old friend the rug merchant Colman Levin, jewelers and paper-bag manufacturers, and even his secretary, who gave her life savings of $1,000, he scraped up part of the money by selling (he told Lillian Gish years later) or pawning everything he owned, including Margaret’s jewelry, cleaning out his savings and borrowing from his brothers and sister. He made a down payment of $20,000 on a $50,000 guarantee against a remittance of ten percent of the net profits received from local bookings. It took chutzpah to embark on this venture; there were threats of demonstrations against the picture in New England, but Mayer knew that this controversy would further enhance people’s desire to see it. He was busy dealing with the NAACP, headed in Boston by Moorfield Storey, which was bombarding virtually every home and office in the city with pamphlets condemning the picture. He traveled restlessly between his home in Brookline, his new offices at 60 Church Street in Boston, his apartment at Riverside Drive and his offices on Times Square, trying to deal with a hundred matters at once.

Mayer made at least $500,000 on the film. By late summer of 1915, several stars were under contract to Metro, most notably Quality Pictures’ Francis X. Bushman, who had begun his career as a sculptor’s model. In March 1912, Motion Picture Story magazine had named Bushman, then twenty-eight, the most popular screen actor in America. Vain, extravagant, this Adonis rejoiced in driving hand-tooled touring cars with gold door handles, his monogram inscribed in gold plates on the doors. He owned Bush Manor, a thirty-room mansion on 115 acres of gardens in Maryland. He had racing stables, kennels and a large collection of birds.

1924 – 1925

April 14 was a day of celebration. Twenty-eight-year-old Lillian Gish, arguably the greatest screen actress of her day, was given a lavish welcome at the studio. Mayer arranged for her to be greeted with flags and multicolored bunting; he and the other executives, Thalberg, Harry Rapf, Eddie Mannix and a new addition, thirty-year-old supervisor Hunt Stromberg, personally welcomed her. Her contract called for a total of $800,000 to be paid to her. She would have the right to select directors, stories and script writers; if she disapproved of costumes, she was permitted to reject them.

Irving G. Thalberg, Lillian Gish, Louis B. Mayer 1925

Such an arrangement was unique in Louis B. Mayer’s career, but, quite apart from Lillian Gish’s enormous power at the box office, he had never forgotten the fact that The Birth of a Nation, in which she had so admirably starred, had been the foundation of his personal fortune. Indeed, when she had visited Los Angeles the previous winter for the West Coast premiere of her film Romola, Mayer greeted her at the station with a reminder that she had played a crucial role in putting him on the motion picture map.

Lillian Gish and her lawyer Max Steuer – the Duell trial in 1925

She was much troubled at the time; an unscrupulous lawyer, Charles H. Duell, was suing her, claiming he had an exclusive contract for her services. On April 2, Judge Julian W. Mack of the Superior Court of New York had dismissed Duell’s claims following a harrowing court hearing, and had him arrested on a charge of perjury. The next few months would be marked by further hearings, which would seriously affect Miss Gish’s sense of well-being. But, made of finest steel under her delicate Victorian surface, Miss Gish, at last, would triumph.

John Gilbert, Lillian Gish and director King Vidor on set for La Boheme

Shortly before Miss Garbo arrived in Hollywood, Lillian Gish was hard at work on King Vidor’s next picture, La Boheme, based more on the stories by Henri Murger than on Puccini’s popular opera. There was trouble from the beginning. Miss Gish, who had selected Vidor as her director after seeing The Big Parade, insisted on principles of work that were quite foreign to the director. When she announced that she expected to rehearse the film in full, Vidor, puzzled, since he was not directing a stage play, mocked up some scenery with Cedric Gibbons for her to act against. She looked at it aghast and announced that she would only rehearse out of doors, on the studio lawn. With tourists, actors and personnel watching in astonishment, she mimed her way through the scenes, playing to invisible props, including a dressing table, a truckle bed, a window and a wall. Vidor was bewildered; he couldn’t understand what she was doing. Finally, he talked her into working indoors.

King Vidor Lillian Gish and filming team La Boheme

Mayer and Thalberg backed him in this. They also supported him when he argued with her about the sort of portrait lighting she wanted, with long, static close-ups. Miss Gish also demanded the use of panchromatic film, which had never been handled by the studio before. She objected to Erte’s calico dresses for the impoverished heroine Mimi, insisting on using old, worn silk and running up the clothes herself at home. She clashed with Cedric Gibbons, demanding a sordid attic in place of the lavish house he had wanted for Mimi. The worst problem was John Gilbert, cast as Mimi’s lover in the picture. He began writing her love letters; he tried to kiss her behind the scenes, when she declined to allow kissing sequences in the film. Mayer overrode her decision; he added kissing scenes later. Locked in her court struggle with Duell, who was claiming, to be her fiance, Miss Gish did not want a scandal and refused to date Gilbert. To make matters more complicated, King Vidor also tried to seduce her, but she was unattainable always. Mayer was fascinated by Miss Gish’s devotion to her work. She made no complaint when, in one sequence, actors playing Paris street revelers tossed her over their heads like a rag doll. In order to give complete realism to her death scene, she starved herself for three days. She stuffed cotton in her mouth to give the impression of puffy, unhealthy cheeks; when she passed away, she seemed already to be a ghost. Mayer, who never applauded at a preview, wept and clapped and embraced Miss Gish when he saw the finished film in the screening room. Until the advent of Marie Dressier, she was his favorite actress: the embodiment of his dream of innocent, ideal womanhood.

LA BOHEME, Renee Adoree, Lillian Gish, 1926 – the last scene

Miss Gish was among the stars present on October 1, 1925, to see the long-delayed shooting of the Ben-Hur chariot race. For days before, J. J. Cohn and Eddie Mannix had tested the course by driving their own chariots around, almost turning them over as they negotiated the curves. Not only did virtually every player on the M.G.M. lot dress up in Roman costume to join the throng on the Cedric Gibbons set, but Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Mrs. Fred Niblo (Enid Bennett) and John and Lionel Barrymore were there.

1925 – 1926

Mayer was in many ways still a young boy at heart, for all his ruthless capacity to weed out weak sisters from the studio operation, and his temperamental inability to deal with unreliability, bad temper and bad manners. Because his emotions were open and untrammeled he could reach out to the hearts of his performers, and they could reach out to him. Actors like John Gilbert and Mae Murray were the prodigal children. Lillian Gish, of course, satisfied him, though she had less rapport with him than with Irving Thalberg, because of his well-lettered sensibility and middle-brow intellect. Following La Boheme, she had wanted to start immediately with a version of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s controversial novel The Scarlet Letter, the story of a minister who commits adultery with a beautiful woman. Mayer informed her that the book was blacklisted by members of organizations protective of public decency.

THE SCARLET LETTER, Lillian Gish (hands clasped front left), Victor Sjostrom (aka Victor Seastrom) (hand in pocket front right) with the crew on-set, 1926

Miss Gish, with her customary boldness, wrote to each and every organization he named, insisting that this classic work should be brought to the screen. They responded immediately, telling Miss Gish that they trusted her to handle the material. Mayer at once agreed, and allowed Miss Gish to import from Sweden Lars Hanson, who had costarred with Garbo in The Saga of Gosta Bjerling, for the leading role opposite her. Mayer agreed with Miss Gish that Victor Sjostrom should direct the film.

Lillian Gish, Mrs. Robinson (Gish) and Dorothy after Mother had a stroke – press photo taken on the roof top of their apartment in NY

Just before the picture ended, Miss Gish’s mother suffered a stroke in London. Mayer was moved to tears, remembering his mother’s final illness and the desperate rush he had had to get to Canada in time. He agreed that Miss Gish should go, and the picture was completed in seventy-two hours of nonstop shooting. So tight was the schedule that Miss Gish had to catch the train, after an all-night shoot, still dressed as Hester Prynne. It is typical of Mayer’s extraordinary consideration for this great star that he insisted on seeing her off, with Thalberg and Harry Rapf, at the Pasadena station. Her mother recovered, and Miss Gish returned. Her protracted lawsuit with Charles Duell continued; Duell blackmailed Miss Gish and threatened her life, but she still managed to do pickup shots. When The Scarlet Letter opened in August, it was an immediate success, one of the finest pictures M.G.M. ever made.

ANNIE LAURIE, Norman Kerry (links), Lillian Gish (Mitte), Direktor John S. Robertson, am Set, 1927

There was also yet another argument involving Lillian Gish, who demanded that Norman Kerry should act opposite her in her new film, Annie Laurie. Mayer wanted an unknown youth called Peter Norris, just out of the University of Southern California, to play the role. Miss Gish was adamant that she would accept no one but Kerry, and she complained about the script, despite the fact that she herself had approved it. Finally, she won her point, and Kerry was cast. But the film was a failure, and she would never discuss it afterward.

1927 – 1928

There were setbacks during the shooting of Victor Sjostrom’s The Wind in 120 degrees of heat in the Mojave Desert. Mayer was unable to visit the site; he sent Irving Thalberg in his place. Playing a pioneer woman, the star, Lillian Gish, was shown with the force of nine airplane propellers driving sand in her face and hair; Thalberg cruelly added sawdust. He insisted on smoke pots, the cinders of which burned off Miss Gish’s eyelashes and scarred her hands. Herself a perfectionist, the actress put up with everything. Mayer did not like the movie when he saw the daily rushes, predicting doom for it and for the star. He turned out to be correct commercially, because the movie was too depressing, but he was shortsighted artistically, because The Wind turned out to be one of the masterpieces of the screen.

Director Victor Sjostrom, cameraman and Lillian – backstage The Wind
Merchant of dreams

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The War, the West, and the Wilderness – By Kevin Brownlow – 1979 (The Wind)

  • The War, The West and the Wilderness
  • By Kevin Brownlow – 1979
  • Alfred A. Knopf – New York
  • Manufactured in the United States of America – First Edition

THE WIND

The wretched conditions of sand, wind, and drought that characterized the Sundown location were brilliantly evoked in bleak, Scandinavian style by Victor Seastrom in MGM’s The Wind (1927, released 1928). Although more of a psychological than a realistic study, and more impressionistic than documentary in its treatment, The Wind is filled with remarkably expressive detail. For an utterly unromantic view of life on the desert, this film is unequaled.

The Wind – Lillian Gish (Letty Mason)

Lillian Gish plays a delicate Virginia girl who comes to live with her cousin and finds the life intolerable. The wind howls symbolically around the tiny shack, until nerve ends are stretched to the breaking point. Even the children, usually a sentimental high point of a silent film, are treated abrasively; Lillian Gish makes a friendly, playful gesture to her cousin s small child, and receives a slap across the face. The cowboys are equally unromantic, and expectorate on the floor Lillian struggles to keep clean. She braces herself to finding sand in the bread, sand in the water, sand in her bed. She eventually has to wash the dishes with sand. The carcass of a steer hangs in the center of the room, and her cousin’s wife, already jealous of Lillian’s presence, slices unmentionable sections of its interior while Lillian holds back her repulsion.

Dorothy Cynmings and Lillian Gish

Her affection for her cousin causes an outburst from the wife, and Lillian is faced with an ultimatum. Two men have asked her hand in marriage: choose one. With breathtaking economy, Seastrom bridges the next shattering events in her life with a series of dissolves: close-up of the ring being placed on her finger … a bowl piled with unwashed crockery … a heap of food waiting to be prepared . and a stunned Lillian, in her wedding outfit. The performance of Lillian Gish is beyond praise, and only the ending prevents The Wind from being a totally satisfying masterpiece. The picture originally ended with Lillian Gish wandering into the desert, insane, after killing a rancher. Eight exhibitors, reported Irving Thalberg, refused to run the picture with that ending, and a new sequence had to be shot showing her acceptance of her life. “It broke our hearts,” said Lillian Gish.

The Wind – Lillian Gish (Letty Mason) digging the grave for Wirt Roddy (Montagu Love)

Though the interiors were shot at the MGM studios, Seastrom took the company to the Mojave Desert for exteriors. Katherine Albert, reporting for Motion Picture Magazine, followed them out there, and quickly regretted it. She had to drive one hundred fifteen miles to the town of Mojave, where the company made their headquarters at the country hotel. “To reach the location, one had to drive over awful dirt roads into the sweltering heat-the thermometer was never lower than one hundred and fifteen degrees all the time the company was on location-into the blinding sun, the bleak, barren waste that is the Mojave Desert. That anyone could be active in that scorching heat is almost inconceivable. Yet there were cameras, generators and other studio equipment planted in the broad expanse of wasteland. . . . There were the usual number of workers, all wearing high boots in case they encountered rattlesnakes, and most of them had whitish looking stuff smeared over their faces to keep off sunburn. Goggles, making them look like men from Mars, were worn to protect their eyes from sand.

Lillian Gish wearing pilot goggles and bandana to protect herself against the sand – The Wind

But there was Lillian Gish in little, low-heeled slippers, hatless and without any protection for her eyes. As I drove up, I heard a frightful noise and in a second the scene was clouded by enormous drifts of sand. The noise came from the giant machines used to create wind. The nine propellers seemed to lift the desert and blow it before the cameras.

It is, without doubt, the most unpleasant picture I have ever made,’ said Lillian Gish. I mean by that, the most uncomfortable to do. I don’t mind the heat so much, but working before the wind machines all the time is nerve-wracking. You see, it blows the sand, and we’ve put sawdust down too, because that is light and sails along in the air, and then there are smoke-pots to make it all look even more dusty. I ve been fortunate. The flying cinders haven’t gotten into my eyes, although a few have burned my hands.’  

The Wind – Lillian Gish (Letty Mason) digging the grave for Wirt Roddy (Montagu Love)

“I Ieft Miss Gish burying the man she had murdered’ in the sand. I have never been happier to leave anywhere.”***

*** I left Miss Gish burying the man she had “murdered” in the sand. The wind kept blowing the sand away. She covered him over again and again. I have never been happier to leave anywhere. (A Picture That Was No Picnic – Motion Picture Magazine, 1927 – Lillian Gish has something to say about the location tortures accompanying the filming of “The Wind” by Katherine Albert from Motion Picture Magazine, October, 1927)

The Wind – Behind the scenes

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“The Wind” By Mae Tinee (Chicago Tribune 1929)

Chicago Tribune – Monday, February 4, 1929 – Page 35

Desert Wind Blows Drama Into This Movie

Gives Lillian Gish New Laurels, Too.

“The Wind”

  • Produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
  • Directed by Victor Seastrom
  • Presented at the Rialto theater

The Cast:

  • Letty ……………..…………… Lillian Gish
  • Lige ………………….……… Lars Hanson
  • Roddy ………………… Montague Love
  • Cora ……………… Dorothy Cummings
  • Beverly …………….…….. Edward Earle
  • Sourdough .….… William Orlamond

The Wind – Photo Gallery

By Mae Tinee

Good Morning!

I don’t just see what “The Wind” is doing in a burlesque theater!

It’s a compelling thing and Lillian Gish never has done a finer piece of work than her portrayal of the flower-like southern girl who goes into the west to face brutality, terror, love – and the desert wind that blows and blows and never stops, but only gets wilder with the days, lashing itself into tornadoes and the occasional dread “norther” that makes strong men grave and brave women mad.

The story is a strange and thrilling one of the southwest of the early days. It is grim and full of incident, mostly gray and gritty as the blinding, blowing sands. It is one of those pictures that would be just too much to bear unless it had a happy ending.

Well – It has.

Miss Gish is supported by an able cast doing magnificent work. The direction is masterly. Photography – immense. The wind is so real it tears into your nerves.

“Choc’lit bars! ‘Sorted nuts ‘n’ raisins! Sundae with spoon service — !”

However DID “The Wind” get into a burlesque theater.”

See you tomorrow.

Behind the scenes – Photo Gallery

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“The Cobweb” Tug of War Among Women (Chicago Tribune 1955)

Chicago Tribune – Wednesday, September 28, 1955 – Page 35

Tug of War Among Women

Theme for a Psychiatry Film

“The Cobweb”

Produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, in color and Cinemascope, directed by Vincente Minnelli, from the novel by William Gibson, and presented at McVickers theater.

The Cast:

  • Dr. Stuart McIver …….…. Richard Widmark
  • Meg Faversen Rinehart …….. Lauren Bacall
  • Dr. Douglas N. Devanal …….. Charles Boyer
  • Karen McIver …………….….. Gloria Grahame
  • Victoria Inch ………….……………. Lillian Gish
  • Steven W. Holte ………..…………… John Kerr
  • Sue Brett …………..….……… Susan Strasberg
  • Mr. Capp ………….……..……….. Oscar Levant
  • Mark ………………………….……. Tommy Rettig
  • Dr. Otto Wolff ……………..……. Paul Stewart
  • Lois Y. Demuth ………..………… Jarma Lewis
  • Miss Cobb ………………..…….. Adele Jergens
  • Mr. Holcomb …………..…………. Edgar Stehll
  • Rosemary …………….……….. Sandra Descher

By Mae Tinee

This handsomely produced film spins an interesting tale of a major crisis precipitated by a minor matter in a psychiatric clinic. An excellent cast demonstrates what can happen when three women disagree about selection of draperies for one room in a lavish establishment for the mental ill. The story reveals that many healers are almost as tortured and unhappy as their patients.

Richard Widmark is effective as a physician with a sullen wife, who takes it upon herself to select an elaborately flowered material for the windows. She gets her way by surreptitious meetings with Charles Boyer, nominal head of the institution, a playboy and a secret drinker.

Lauren Bacall is a recreational director, who wants the hangings to be prints of some designs made by a talented patient.

Lillian Gish wants another pattern dictated by her stinginess and possessiveness. The women’s tug of war creates havoc among personnel and patients. John Kerr gives an arresting performance as a psychotic young man an Susan Strasberg is appealing as a frightened girl.

Nothing much is resolved in the finale, in spite of the fact that the film runs more than two hours. All of the acting is skillful, the story is nicely paced, and the settings will interest anyone with an eye for striking interior decoration.

Cobweb – Photo Gallery

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An Enchanting Annie Laurie in a Black Velvet Dress (Chicago Tribune 1926)

Chicago Tribune – July, Sunday 18, 1926 – Page 57

Too Much for the Dog

Many and lively were the goings-on of a recent afternoon on the “Annie Laurie” set at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s. Lillian Gish and Norman Kerry were enacting a scene in the huge hall of the castle of Glencoe wherein Lillian as Annie Laurie comes to warn Norman Kerry as Ferguson that he must sign the treaty of the clans or Scotland will be lost. It was a serious moment, Ferguson in love with Annie, but nettled with her, and she trying to talk above the din of the bagpipes. A large Scottish stag hound raised in America was lying at Kerry’s side, and the pipers proved much too much for him. The stag hound lifted his muzzle and told high heaven what he thought of the pipers. Lillian giggled, Kerry grinned, and the hound finally had to be led out and calmed.

Scotch jokes seemed to be in the order of the day. Holbrook Blinn, a Scotchman himself, who is playing the laird of Glencoe, was recounting several. One that raised a general laugh was that of the two Scotchmen, one of whom complained of a large sliver in his tongue. “Mon,” said Angus, “how come ye to get a sliver in the tongue?” “Weel,” said Sandy, “Ah was joost aboot to take a drink when Ah dropped the bottle.” “Wood alcohol,” remarked a bystander.

Lillian Gish was an enchanting picture as Annie Laurie in a black velvet dress with tiny fitted bodice and huge hoop skirts and white lace collar. A cape, long, with tiny shoulder capes bound in mink was accompanied by a bonnet of brown, shaped much like a sunbonnet, with loose hanging cloth to protect the curls of the wearer against the inclement weather of the highlands. Many long blonde curls were bunched on each side of her face, which increased the fragile ethereal look of her in the old fashioned garments.

Norman Kerry, wearing bobbed hair and with his six feet something clad in the swaying plaited kilt, was no less striking. He proudly displayed some antique Scottish cutlery he was wearing in the form of a long horn knife case trimmed with silver, jeweled and engraved. The case carried the short sword which served as a weapon and also a knife, and the fork and spoon, each with a large jewel in the end of the handle, that made a perfect camper’s kit for a highlander of wealth in those days. In castle or on the heath each man had his own cutlery, which helped make up for lack of tooth brushes in those times.

Up From the Keys

Patricia Avery, the stenographer who pounded her keys unnoticed in two offices of the studio for several years and who was selected to go higher and become a film actress recently, is playing Lillian Gish’s sister, Enid. She, too, had her hair dressed in the short curls worn at that time, but when she went to the wardrobe to have another dress selected for her she pulled her curls back straight from her face and said laughingly, “There, pull my hair back tight. I’m going to give Lillian all the breaks.”

A few minutes later Norman Kerry came up to admire the large and extremely thick wedding ring she was wearing as the wife of James Striker, in the picture. “My gosh, you are married with that ring aren’t you?” asked Kerry. “O, that’s not a wedding ring,” she came back, “that’s the band off a peanut butter jar.”

Something New.

Incidentally, Hollywood dope says Anita Loos had Lillian Gish in mind when she wrote “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” getting an unholy kick out of the thought of Lillian speaking the lines of the heroine. Peg Talmadge, mother of Constance and Norma, is also supposed to be represented as the Dorothy in the book. Miss Loos once took a sea trip with Peg – who is a most interesting character, and used a lot of the lines Peg spoke in the real life.

At a recent party of girls in Hollywood which included some women writers and picture actresses the conversation began to drift towards slightly naughty stories. Lillian Gish is said to have been present and when the party had begun to get interesting Lillian said, “O, let’s talk about birds; I just adore wild life!”

Annie Laurie – Behind the Scenes – Photo Gallery

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