This Week’s Offerings From Ince and Griffith Studios
Reviewed by Neil G. Caward
Over at the Studebaker theater this week Manager Knill is offering his patrons a program of Triangle films that, as a whole, surpasses any week’s bill up to date. It includes “Aloha Oe” from the Ince studios, “The Lily and the Rose” from the Griffith forces and two Keystone side splitters entitled “A Janitor’s Wife’s Temptation” and “The Village Scandal.” The laughs begin at about the second sub-title of “A Janitor’s Wife’s Temptation” and come thick and fast from then on. Fred Mace as the janitor of an apartment house has a role that’s just to his liking, and the things he does and the way he does them beggar description. Marta Golden as the janitor’s wife has troubles of her own, and Harry Gribbon, as the artist who lives on the floor above, proves himself a clever dodger of both his landlord and his bills. The final scenes in the restaurant, when Mace is bouncing about like a rubber ball in the fountain, are guaranteed to cure the worst grouch that ever attacked a man. Del Henderson is responsible for the production.
The Lily and The Rose – Reviewed by Neil G. Caward
Lillian Gish and Rozsika Dolly are the featured personages in “The Lily and the Rose” and rightfully so, for it is about them that the story centers. Paul Powell is given credit for the direction of the piece and the story is most carefully developed from the opening scene up to the tragic climax which brings it to an end. Mary Randolph is a most innocent, and, as the boy who loves her says, “adorable” Lily, as interpreted by Lillian Gish, and one can scarcely blame Jack Van Norman, played in a dignified fashion by Wilfred Lucas, for falling in love with her.
That the Lily ever became so sophisticated as she finally grows to be seems wonderful when you behold Miss Letty Carrington and Miss Molly Carrington, her maiden aunts, who were responsible for her bringing up. Loyola O’Connor and Cora Drew each have a chance for some wonderful character “bits” in these two roles and Elmer Clifton is equally convincing as Allison Edwards, a bookworm who lives next door to the Lily. To Rozsika Dolly, recruited from the musical comedy stage, falls the interpretation of the Rose, and she plays it masterfully.
In the wonderfully tinted scenes at the seashore, where she dances on the beach for Jack, Miss Dolly was particularly good, and, while proving her ability to dance, in the theater scenes, she demonstrated also that she can get over an emotional scene by the way she acted upon discovering Jack’s suicide. Mary Randolph, raised from childhood by two maiden aunts, and loved by Allison Edwards, who lives next door, one day meets and is wooed by Jack Van Norman from the city. She later becomes his wife, only to learn that, in secret, he is paying attention to the Rose, a dancer in musical comedy. Leaving him, Mary returns to the home of her childhood, where a child is soon afterwards born to her. Jack goes to Rose, but later, in his absence from the city, the dancer entertains other men and is discovered. Jack ends his misery in suicide, and Mary, months later, finds happiness at last with Allison Edwards, who is still faithful. (Neil G. Caward – 1915)
Directed by Paul Powell
Writing Credits (in alphabetical order) D.W. Griffith…(story) (as Granville Warwick)
Cast (in credits order)
Lillian Gish Mary Randolph Wilfred Lucas Jack Van Norman Rosie Dolly Rose (as Rozsika Dolly) Loyola O’Connor Letty Carrington Cora Drew Molly Carrington Elmer Clifton Allison Edwards Mary Alden Mrs. Fairfax William Hinckley Ted Lamb Rest of cast listed alphabetically: Alberta Lee Undetermined role (uncredited) Frank Mills Undetermined role (uncredited) Starring: (Dorothy and Lillian Gish by Lillian Gish) – Lillian Gish – Mary Alden – Wilfred Lucas – Rozsika Dolly
WHETHER A GREAT PICTURE AT THE BOX OFFICE TO BE DETERMINED TRAGIC END MAY ALSO HAVE ITS EFFECT.
The White Sister
The White Sister
The White Sister
The White Sister
The White Sister
The White Sister
The White Sister
What a magnificent performance Lillian Gish gives! Sincerity and repression dominate. Ronald Colman, a new leading man, will be in demand after this. Long cast of excellent players includes J. Barney Sherry and Gail Kane.
Type of Story
Tragic, inasmuch as all important characters, excepting heroine, die at finish. Beautiful romance of young girl taking the veil when she believes her fiancee dead, only to find him alive when she cannot marry him because of her vows to the church. In the end he dies during an eruption of Vesuvius, while warning the people of their danger.
Box Office Angle
Gorgeously mounted; magnificent in construction; a tremendous lot of money spent—one sees it—ranking this as one of the greatest pictures ever made, with Miss Gish giving an outstandingly notable performance, still you had better see this before you book it. The chief reason that you must see it is that it contains material which may provoke much discussion relative to the Catholic church; the taking of the vow and the resultant problem faced by the lovers. There are several titles and sequences, which, if not removed, will certainly provoke much discussion on this point. Exploitation Vast material is at your hand to put this one over. First, you have the name of the star who has not appeared since “Orphans of the Storm,” and who has a big fan clientele. Tell them she does the finest work of her long and meritorious career. Then you have the name of Henry King, and remind them he made “Tol’able David” and other successes. Get a trailer showing the eruption of Vesuvius; the death of the older sister by being dashed from a carriage when the horses bolt; the fox hunt—they are all fine sequences and should easily bring them back.
The White Sister
The White Sister
The White Sister
Henry King; has done a magnificent piece of work. Places him among the very leaders.
Author F. Marion Crawford
Scenario by… George V. Hobart and others
Cameraman Roy Overbaugh
Photography …. Some interior shots cloudy. Otherwise good.
Locale Italian exteriors and interiors. Both magnificent — and real.
Length About 13,000 feet; will be cut for general distribution.
Lillian Gish in The White Sister (Angela Chiaromonte)
It is difficult to realize the size of the catastrophe resulting from the sudden production of talking pictures, even of pictures with “sound effects,” as many of them were, at first. Some of them really talked—better, or worse, than others. No matter; every picture theatre in New York, and most of them on the road, were presently being “wired for sound.” All the millions (possibly billions) of dollars’ worth of silent pictures, shrunk in value at a ghastly rate. The Eastern Hemisphere, the only market for them presently, was comparatively unimportant. Hundreds of pictures were useless; picture players found themselves “out of a job.” Stars began to pale and disappear. On the other hand, ill as was the wind, it dispensed benefits. Stage players out of employment found market for their trained speech. Their feet warmed the way to Hollywood. A good many were already there. As the months passed, the screen showed more of the old familiar faces. Broadway to the rescue. Even the great succumbed. George Arliss, master of diction, joined the procession, Ruth Chatterton—eventually, Lillian.
Not willingly. She still believed in the silent film. She had objected even to the lip movement, the simulated speech insisted upon by the directors. To her, the perfect picture must be pure pantomime—with music—appropriate music, as in “Broken Blossoms.” It would never be that, now. Beautiful Evelyn Hope was dead. There is no help for such things. Tears, idle tears. Since the beginning of time, grief has never repaired a single loss. One might as profitably wail over the sunken Atlantis. She still had her contract with the United Artists, and by its terms must make at least one picture before she could cancel it. She had hoped to get out of it altogether; but while it did not mention talking pictures, she was advised to abide by the terms.
“It would involve me in a suit with the United Artists, and I had had suits enough. As it was, I barely avoided another: The company had agreed to let me do Eugene O’Neill’s ‘Strange Interlude,’ if I could get it for a reasonable sum—I could have it to take the place of the Reinhardt picture. I came East in April (1929), to see Mr. Madden, O’Neill’s agent. I could have it for $75,000. This suited Mr. Joe Schenck. It suited Mr. O’Neill. We had the papers drawn up. I was to sign them that morning, and it was only because I was protected by an angel that I didn’t do it. On that very day, a woman brought suit against O’Neill, for plagiarism. Had I signed that contract, I should have been involved in the suit. She was beaten, and had to pay costs, but the damage to O’Neill was more than that, in fees.
“Meantime, Dorothy had gone to Germany and brought Mother to London. Mother was tired of sanatoriums and hotels. She wanted a home, and I decided to have one. I joined them, and Dorothy and I went to Paris, to collect furniture for an apartment. I had most of it made, copies of old French pieces.
“I came home in August, and all through that month looked for a place to live. It was a terrible search in the heat. When I saw this apartment, with its outlook on the river, its quiet air and sunshine, I knew that it was what we wanted.
“My friend, Mr. Paul Chalfin, kindly looked after the decoration, and I started at once for California, to do the picture we had selected, ‘The Swan.’ This was during the latter part of September, 1929. The apartment would not be ready before November.”
Max Reinhardt mit Lillian Gish im Hotel Esplanade in Berlin 1928
Max Reinhardt mit Lillian Gish – Leopoldskron Salzburg 1928
Max Reinhardt mit Lillian Gish im Hotel Esplanade in Berlin 1928
Max Reinhardt mit Lillian Gish – Leopoldskron, Salzburg
In California, Lillian lived with Madame de Grésac, at Beverly Hills. There was just then a good deal of talk about kidnapping, and she was advised against living alone. Josephine, her Austrian maid, had remained in Los Angeles, but met her at the station, with flowers and tears. Careful preparation for “The Swan” began. Lillian was admirably suited to the rôle, that of the fair Princess Alexandra, her voice quality and diction needed only slight adjustment. Melville Baker had written the script for “The Swan,” adapting it from his translation of the original play by Ferenc Molnar. She thought very well of it, and hoped for the best. She wrote Reinhardt of her decision, and received a gracious reply. Both artistically and from the business point of view, it (“The Swan”) ought to be a success, he said, and added:
In spite of all those rather disagreeable experiences I had to go through in Hollywood, I have kept the time I spent there in most agreeable remembrance. To have been together with you, your undeviable artistic spirit, blossoming there like a rare lonely flower, and the pureness of your conviction, made me happy and will remain for me an unlosable experience for all time to come….
Making a picture now was a different matter from those very recent old days. Then, a set where action was in progress, was about the noisiest place on the lot. Stagehands and various bosses shouting to one another, the director shouting at the players—noise, noise, no end to it. Now, all was silence. Every sound, even the feeblest rustling, was recorded by the microphone. Except for the actors, their laughter, their breathing, the accessory beat of rain, or hail, the stillness was perfect. The sound stage was a padded cell.
“With the preparation and all,” Lillian said, “I worked about three months on ‘One Romantic Night,’ as they called the picture later. Mary Pickford has a bungalow on the lot, and lent it to me. I used it as a dressing-room, sometimes I slept there, when I had to be on the lot very early. I had Georgie, my dog, and Josephine. It would have been well enough, but they were building soundstages all about, which made a great deal of noise, all night long. It was a complete little house. Josephine cooked for me when we stayed there.
“I arrived in New York Christmas morning, with a wild turkey, which I got in Arizona. It had been brought to the train by some friends of a little girl who had done my hair out there. They had often sent turkeys to me, to California. It was all dressed, and all the way across the continent, cooks on the diners kept it in their refrigerators. They were very much interested.
“We had dinner in our new apartment, our first real home. Mother was delighted with it, and has seemed better and more contented ever since. Her pleasure in it makes us all so happy.”
“One Romantic Night” was a photographically beautiful picture, with a distinguished cast. Lillian, as Princess Alexandra; Rod La Roque, as the Prince (sent, against his will, to woo her); Marie Dressler, as her designing mother; Conrad Nagel, as a tutor, in love with Alexandra; O. P. Heggie—altogether a fine company. Yet it has been called a poor picture, and Lillian today is not proud of her part in it. It was by no means a failure. Never had she looked more lovely. No longer a victim of tyranny, brutality and betrayal, but a Princess, as rare as any out of a fairy tale, with a palace and a rose garden and suitors, with a lilting, perfectly-timed voice, Lillian appeared to have come into her own.
Her acting and beauty furnished no surprise, but her voice and laugh did; she had been silent, and sad, so many years. The audience followed her through a presentation, in itself seldom more than mildly exciting, and not always that. The tutor’s astronomy at times wearied, not only the Prince, but, unhappily, the audience. Marie Dressler’s broad comedy was highly amusing, but there were moments when one got the impression that the play was not only very light comedy, as apparently it was meant to be, but a good farce gone wrong.
Only, that fairy princess in the rose garden—on a terrace under the stars, or leaning from a balcony to her Prince, was not quite farce material. And the ending helped: the Prince and Princess, in a properly ordered elopement, in quite a royal car, swinging under the castle walls, out of the picture, into the night, to the notes of a marvelously musical klaxon, added a touch that brought the story back to the realm of pure romance, leaving a lovely impression.
Albert Bigelow Paine – Life and Lillian Gish 1932
1930 black and white rotogravure of Rod La Rocque and Lillian Gish in The Swan.
Camille (La Dame aux Camelias) opened in New York on November 1, 1932. Brooks Atkinson of The New York Times reviewed the production:
“The Camille in which Lillian Gish is acting has a strange, quaint sort of magic …. If it is not Camille, it is Lillian Gish who remains one of the unworldly mysteries …. Miss Gish moves delicately and quietly through the part. She is frail and her features are exquisitely modeled. Her voice is as innocent as a star of the evening. In the death scene her voice is pathetically childish. Her gestures are limp. Throughout her performance her miniature chaste little Camille seems quite unaware of a courtesan’s perquisites, duties, and prerogatives. She is as detached from worldly turmoils as a vagrant wisp of cloud. And yet when you have noticed all of these aspects of Camille you still have the idealized spirit of Miss Gish to contend with. Even in the part to which she is unsuited, she can still silence a first night audience. Her company is of no great assistance. Some of them overact to the point of burlesque. Some of the make-ups are bad. Camille has a sort of distant charm…. And Miss Gish has reminded us that the tenuous quality of her acting is not to be imprisoned in a midnight review.”
Brooks Atkinson – New York Times (1932)
“The critics weren’t as ecstatic as they had been in Colorado, but those Colorado people were also praising the restoration of the theatre to its former days of glory in the 1860s when they had some touring company pass through. The Colorado engagement was a double package: the restoration of the theatre, and then the play. Lillian’s Camille was a real “ticket printer” as they used to call a success. A real “ticket printer.” I don’t think anybody would consider the play in the same league as a Eugene O’Neill evening. That would be impossible. The pre-New York reviews contained words we had anticipated: oldfashioned, which it was; melodrama, which it was; creaky, it was; and the phrase that spelled doom – showing its age. The older reviewers called it solid theatre. Everyone praised Lillian’s performance. What New York audiences were going to see was grand old theatre, the kind of theatre our grandparents saw. Of course, by modern standards, it wasn’t sophisticated. Dumas, like any writer, was writing for the audiences of his generation. That the play survived his generation, and spoke to generations afterward was the reason the play became a classic. Nothing becomes a classic if it only has limited appeal.”
Amongst the supporting cast she had auditioned and chosen was Raymond Hackett, as Armand Duval, Marguerite’s lover. Hackett was the husband of Lillian’s long-time friend, actress Blanche Sweet, who reminisced about the production in Colorado:
“Robert Edmond Jones, an important set designer, found enough standing of the Central City Opera House, built in 1860, to want to restore it, thinking it would be a nice place to present plays and develop a regular theatregoing audience, as well as a tourist trade. He presented his idea to some sort of council, and they went for it. Immediately all of the citizens in the area went digging in their cellars and attics, looking for anything they could contribute, when they heard the first production was going to star Lillian Gish. Everybody knew Camille. It was a very popular melodrama. Sarah Bernhardt had toured in it for years. She also filmed it. That theatre was loaded with things people were glad to get rid of: furniture, rugs, lamps, little insignificant things like old antimacassars that must have covered the arms of their grandmother’s sofa. What was finally chosen for the sets became a matter oflocal pride. It certainly brought in people who must have attended just to see their furniture come to life on that stage. That sofa Miss Gish is sitting on belonged to our aunt, sort of thing.
By the dress rehearsal, when everything had been assembled, we didn’t believe that anything had been recreated. What we saw on that stage had simply been maintained and dusted before they rang up the curtain. That’s how authentic it looked. You only had to look at that set and you yourself were back in 1860, and it was the current day! People came from miles away to attend the opening: on horseback, in haywagons, stagecoaches. And they were dressed in the clothing of the day! Even with all of the help, we were told the cost of the restoration was over $200,000. A hefty sum for those days.
What better choice for a Marguerite Gautier than Lillian Gish? Who could be better? Lillian certainly knew how to play a death scene. Everybody always said Broken Blossoms after her name was announced. That’s how she had fixed herself in everyone’s mind out there. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house, that opening night – or during any of the performances that followed. Even the ushers wept. You saw them at the beginning of the play, and then they came back for the last minutes, just to watch that death scene. Marguerite was a role Lillian was born to play. I wish I had the handkerchief concession!”
Lillian Gish – A Life on Stage and Screen
By STUART ODERMAN
Central City Opera House Reopening on July 16, 1932
Five-Part Triangle-Fine Arts Offering – Features Lillian Gish.
Reviewed by George W. Graves
“A House Built Upon the Sand”
Using the metaphor in title above, it would seem to us that; the producers of this picture had decidedly built a house “upon the sand” when they constructed this photodrama on the flimsy story material they had in hand. The story of this picture doesn’t convince one of very much, in fact, it doesn’t give him any sensation one way or the other. The story is practically lacking in unity of plot and action. The best thing it does is keep Lillian Gish before the camera a large part of the time — which thing is very fortunate, for Miss Gish is always good and offer a few bits of comedy.
Evelyn Dare, a spoiled society girl, recently married, is forced by her husband to live in a cheap house and wear plain clothes. David, the husband, is interested in sociology, and has made his home among the factory people, although he is really a man of means. It takes Evelyn some time to get over her peevishness, but when she is about to forgive him her mind is poisoned against her husband by a man who wishes to avenge himself, so husband and wife are again at odds. But David rescues his enemy from a burning building and so causes the enemy to change into a friend. The latter then goes to Evelyn, tells her what a deceiver he has been, and a reconciliation of man and wife follows.
The picture is very well acted, both Roy Stuart and William H. Brown, the two most prominent in Miss Gish’s support, being as convincing as they are splendid types. One “stunt” fell to the director, Edward Morrisey, that of staging the rescue from the burning house. There was a medium-sized thrill to this. Although “A House Built Upon the Sand” may please some of the less particular people because of its good characterizations and some bits of humor, the picture certainly does not rank with the kind of films we are used to seeing under the Fine Arts banner.
The House Built Upon Sand (1916)
1917 – according to Dorothy and Lillian Gish
Director: Edward Morrissey
Writer: Mary H. O’Connor (story)
Stars: Lillian Gish, Roy Stewart, William H. Brown
To question the dramatic talent of Lillian Gish would be akin to questioning the beauty of Caruso’s voice. Among performers on the screen she is truly set apart — always the artist — a star that reaches greatness with a gesture, tragedy with an enigmatic smile.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer features her because she is great. One would be hard put to it to name a player who has glorified more outstanding successes or one who more rightly deserves the title ot “first lady of the screen.”
From “The Birth of a Nation” to “Annie Laurie,” Miss Gish has ever graced the boards as an attraction ot high quality and an entertainment name worthy of double or treble the customary admission charge.
The first M-G-M production starring Miss Gish in 1927-1928 is “Annie Laurie,” a gay, colorful photoplay that ranges all moods and emotions. It is—confidentialy -a rather different type ot Lillian Gish vehicle. For one thing it is pitched in a key of merriment, and while it ranges to a strong, rugged climax, it might well be classified as a story that touches the sunny, rather than the seamy, side ot life.
Lillian Gish has adopted a course of training as strenuous as a professional pugilist in order to get into the best possible condition for her “rough house” work in the Triangle-Fine Arts production. “Diane of the Follies.”
Miss Gish has several free-for-all fights in the picture, including one at her husband’s house and another on the stage of the opera house in which several chorus girls mix in.
In the theater scene one of the chorus girls emerged with a black eye as the result of coming in too close contact with demure Miss Gish. Miss Gish’s portrayal of the temperamental actress in “Diane of the Follies’ is expected to make other celebrated temperamental ladies of the screen look to their laurels to preserve their reputations as “Champion Temperamentalists of the World.”
Reports from “The White Sister” showed that it was going to make record runs—that returns from it would be very large. Catholics and Protestants alike approved it. Father Duffy, of the Fighting Irish 69th Regiment, of New York, wrote:
I wish to nominate “The White Sister” for a high place on the White List of dramatic performances…. It is religion struggling with human passions, as in real life, and gaining its victory after storm and stress. Chicago society deserted the opera on the opening night of “The White Sister,” and similar reports came from elsewhere. Lillian’s personal tribute—her “fan” mail—assumed mountainous proportions: offers of engagements, protection, marriage, requests for loans… what not?
Meantime, one must get on with the next picture. King was already in Italy, making a pirate ship scene. Lillian finished cutting down “The White Sister,” for road use, an arduous, delicate work, and with Mrs. Kratsch, sailed in November. Dorothy was to be in “Romola,” and with her mother had sailed a little earlier. To Genoa, then Florence, where they put up at the Grand Hotel on the Arno, with an outlook on the Ponte Vecchio, all that the heart could desire, if the weather had only been a little more encouraging. It began to rain, and it continued to rain—“about nineteen days out of twenty,” Dorothy said. Dorothy thought the rain not very wet rain—not at all like English and American rain—not so solid—light, like ether. But one evening, the rain stopped, and when they woke in the night, there was a strange silence. In the morning, there was another sound—also strange—strangely familiar. Dorothy looked over at Lillian.
“If we were in America, I should say they were shoveling snow.” They hopped out of bed, and to the window. It was shoveling, and it was snow. “Very unusual,” they were assured later. But then, winters in Southern Europe quite often are unusual. Even sunshiny ones. The picture of “Romola” follows the main incidents of George Eliot’s novel. Lillian, of course, had the part of Romola, Dorothy that of Tessa, Ronald Colman that of Carlo Bucelline. To William H. Powell was assigned the part of Tito; Herbert Grimwood was given the part of Savonarola, and looked so much like him that when he walked along the streets of Florence, children would point him out. Altogether, the cast was a fine one. They had expected to use a number of real scenes in Florence—the Duomo, the Piazza Signoria, etc., but found that modern innovations—telegraph wires and poles, street car tracks, and the like—made this impracticable. On their big lot in the outskirts of the city, they built an ancient Florence, a very beautiful Florence, of the days of Savonarola. They did use the Ponte Vecchio, the ancient bridge, though a second story had been added a generation later than the period of their picture.
And they used the Arno in several scenes. Rain or no rain, their lot became a busy place. They brought the “White Sister” equipment from Rome, and a small army of artisans and laborers began to work wonders. In a brief time, a quaint old street sprang up—along it shops of every sort, just as they might have been four hundred years before … real shops, in which were made every variety of paraphernalia required for the picture: costumes, harness, basketry, hats, footwear, furniture—everything needed to restore the semblance of a dead generation. They even set up a little restaurant, and ate their luncheons there. Animals—dogs and cats—walked about, or slept in the sun. Flocks of pigeons were in the air, or on the house-tops. During the brief visit of the year before, they had asked that these be raised on the lot. It was all realistic, and lovely. Wood-carvers were at work on the rich interiors, some of them more beautiful, even, than those of “The White Sister”: a great church interior, and a banquet hall, for Romola’s wedding. At one side of the lot were small buildings, where the distinguished artist, Robert Haas, with his staff, worked at the drawings. For the great wedding feast, they could not get period glasses in Florence, so sent a man to Venice, and had them specially blown. Lillian remembers the banquet hall as very rich, exquisite in detail—the scene as a whole, one of peculiar distinction.
“We had for it a lot of titled people of Florence, who were eager to be in the picture. We had very little trouble to get anything we needed in the way of extras. In some of the scenes, we had hundreds of them. “One thing we did not get so easily: For the wedding, we needed 15th Century priest robes. We heard of some up in the hills, but we could get them only on condition that we engage four detectives to guard them, two by day, two by night. “We had to guard ourselves, for that matter. Florence has many Americans, and they have not much to do. If we had let in all who called, we should have had a perpetual sequence of social events, with very little work. We had many invitations, but could not accept them. I think we went out just once, for dinner. When we had a little time in the afternoon, we liked to go to Doni’s, for tea, or to shop a little, for linens and laces. Whatever of such things we have now, Mother bought that winter In Florence.
“Every night we literally prayed that the next day would dawn clear and bright, so that we might make up our lost time. But no! Maybe, as Dorothy said, the Italian ‘dispenser of weather,’ didn’t understand English.
“One cannot too highly praise the Italian workmen. Over and over, ours would work on a set that it might be the exact replica of a 15th Century design. Italian workmen are willing to be told, and possess an astonishing ambition to do a thing exactly as it should be done.”
They began “shooting” the scenes. They had no regular scenario. They worked, as it were, inspirationally. They did not know very exactly what they were going to do when they began a scene, and they were not quite sure what they had done when they finished it. The element of accident sometimes produces happy results, but it is unsafe to count on it. “Romola” developed into a kind of panorama—a succession of lovely pictures, without very definite climaxes. They worked hard. For one thing, they were experimenting with a new film, the panchromatic, which had never been used for an entire picture, and they did their own developing. One of the chief beauties of “Romola” is the richness of its photography. What with the weather and all, the making of “Romola” was hardly what the French call “gai.” There were lighter moments: In the scene where Dorothy is supposed to drown in the Arno, she tried for an hour to sink in that greasy, unclean river. She couldn’t swim, so it had to be done in shallow water. She didn’t like to pop her head under, either, but they told her if she would fill her lungs with air and hold her breath, there would be no danger. She was plump, and her bones were small. Being filled with air made her still more buoyant. Also, she had on a little silk skirt that got air under it and ballooned on top of the water. Dorothy simply couldn’t drown. When she popped her head under, the little skirt stuck up in a point like the tail of a diving duck. Such an effect would never do for a picture like “Romola.” From their window in the Grand Hotel, Mrs. Gish and Lillian, watching through a glass, laughed hysterically at Dorothy’s efforts to drown. Dorothy finally struck: she could stand no more of the Arno water. The scene was finished one chilly day in America—in Long Island Sound. Dorothy had a cold at the time, and they thought she would contract pneumonia. But that was a poor guess. When she came out of the water, the cold was gone. Clean, salt water, Dorothy said. In the picture, Dorothy, as Tessa, has a baby.
They borrowed the cook’s baby, the youngest of nine, a fat, robust bambino, strapped to a board, Italian fashion; easy enough to carry, properly held, but not handy for cuddling. Juliana was her name, and as lovely as one of Raphael’s cherubs—lovely, even among Italian children, all of whom have little madonna faces, because for generations expectant mothers have knelt ardently before altars and wayside shrines. Lillian and Dorothy became fond of Juliana, took walks with her, carrying her, board and all—a burden which increased daily as Juliana got fatter and fatter. They wished Juliana would not grow quite so fast; there were scenes where they had to run with her. Italian babies are seldom warm, in winter. One day, Juliana broke out with a rash, which at first they thought was measles, but was only the result of the studio heat, heat from the great Klieg lights. Lillian had a maid named Anna, a large, lovely soul, but a menace. If one got an ache or a pain, Anna came running with an enormous Italian pill, the size of those on the Medici coat-of-arms. After a day at the studio, in the strained “Romola” poses, Lillian once mentioned having a back ache.
1924: Lillian Gish (1893 – 1993) plays the title role in the film ‘Romola’, adapted from a novel by George Eliot and directed by Henry King for MGM.
Lillian Gish – Romola (detail)
Lillian Gish – Romola (mid)
Anna commanded her to undress and lie down. A very little later she came bringing a bath towel, and a flat-iron, the latter quite definitely warm. Then, turning the world’s darling face down, she spread the towel on her back and proceeded to iron her. It was drastic, but beneficial. The ironings became a part of the daily program. Anna decided that her mistress needed blood, and cooked for her apples in red wine. They were delicious. “Romola” was finished near the end of May. The last scene was the burning of Savonarola, terribly realistic. Lillian got so near the fire that she was scorched. A few days later they saw the rushes and she was ready to go. The great Italian episode was over. It was unique, and remains so. Big companies do not go on foreign locations any more. They build Italy or any part of the universe on their lots in Hollywood. Lillian in America found that she had been chosen by Sir James Barrie for the picture version of “Peter Pan.” No one could have been better suited to the part, and it greatly appealed to her. But there were complications. Regretfully she put it aside. Pleasant things happened: Dimitri Dirujinski and Boris Lorski modeled busts of her; Nicolai Fechin did her portrait, as Romola. The last was given a special exhibition in the Grand Central Art Galleries, with a reception to Lillian and the artist under the patronage of Cecelia Beaux and New York’s social leaders. It was bought by the Chicago Art Institute and today hangs in the Goodman Theatre of that city.
“Romola,” released through the Metro-Goldwyn Company, had two great premières: at the George M. Cohan Theatre, New York, on Monday, December 1st, 1924, and at the Sid Grauman Theatre, Hollywood, on the following Saturday. Lillian and Dorothy, with their mother, managed to attend both. The Los Angeles opening was so much more a part of the “picture” world that we shall skip to it, forthwith.
It was unique. Manager Grauman had stirred up all Los Angeles and Hollywood over the return of the Gish girls with a new picture. They had anticipated no reception at the train. King was already in Los Angeles; he might be there … a few friends, maybe, not more. But when the train drew in, they noticed a great assembly of expectant people, most of them wearing badges—a rally of some sort, a convention. Lillian and Dorothy stepped to the train platform, and were greeted with a shower of rose-buds, thrown by gay little girls who had baskets of them; a vigorous and competent band struck up; a siren began to blow; everybody shouted and pushed forward; all those badges had on them the word GISH; all the battery of cameras that began to grind was turned on them; the rally was their rally—a welcome—welcome home to Los Angeles. Producers and directors were there. Irving Thalberg, handsome, youthful-looking, pressed forward. Mrs. Gish, thinking him from the hotel, handed him her checks, and a moment later was apologizing. But he said it was all right—he was always being taken for his own office boy. John Gilbert was there, and Norma Shearer, and Eleanor Boardman, and ever so many more. A crowd of students from the Military Academy rallied around; also, a swarm of “bathing beauties” from the Ambassador, and a fire engine came clanging up, for the Fire and Police Departments had been called out. A news notice says:
A squad of motorcycle policemen and fast cars of the Fire Department, made an escort for the automobile provided for Lillian Gish, Dorothy and their mother, through the downtown district. Sirens and bells added to the noise of welcome. Not much like the old days, when with Uncle High Herrick, they had landed with “Her First False Step” at a one-night stand. They drove to the Ambassador Hotel. Mary Pickford had not been at the train, but they found her standing in the middle of their “flower embowered drawing-room”—never more beautiful in all her life, Lillian thought. By and by, Mary, Lillian and Dorothy, motored out to the old Fine Arts Studio, where “The Birth of a Nation” and so many of Griffith’s other pictures, had been made. They found the old place hidden behind a brick building. “Intolerance” had been made there, and “Broken Blossoms.”
Douglas Fairbanks and many others had begun, there, their film careers. They recalled these things as they looked about a little sadly, at what had once been their film home.
Manager Sid Grauman had gone to all the expense and trouble he could think of to make this a record occasion. “Romola” was following Douglas Fairbanks’ “Thief of Bagdad.” It must not fall short.
“A première without a parallel. A night of all nights. The most gala festivity Hollywood has ever known. An opening beside which other far-famed Egyptian premières will pale into insignificance.” These are a few bits of Manager Grauman’s rhetoric, and he added: “Every star, director and producer, will be there to pay homage to Lillian and Dorothy Gish.” They were there. The broad entrance to the Egyptian was a blaze of light and gala dress parade. The crowds massed on both sides to see the greatest of filmland pass. Doug and Mary (who had already run “Romola” in their home theatre), Charlie, Jackie … never mind the list, they were all there. High above, the name of LILLIAN GISH blazed out in tall letters. When she arrived, and Dorothy, and their mother, their cars were fairly mobbed. Cameras were going, everybody had to pause a moment at the entrance for something special in that line.
Manager Grauman was photographed between the two stars of the evening, properly set off and by no means obliterated, small man though he was, by the resplendent gowns. After which, came the performance. Manager Grauman had fairly laid himself out on an introductory feature. There were ten numbers of it, each more astonishing than the preceding:
“Italian Tarantella,” “Harlequin and Columbine,” “The Eighteen Dance Wonders,” but why go on? It was a gorgeous show all in itself. After which, the beautiful processional effects of Romola’s story. There was no lack of enthusiasm in the audience. When the picture ended and the lights went on, and Lillian and Dorothy appeared before the curtain, the applause swelled to very great heights indeed. And when a speech was demanded, Lillian, in her quiet, casual way, said:
“Dear ladies and gentlemen, both Dorothy and I do so hope you have liked ‘Romola.’ If you have, then, dear, kind friends, you have made us very happy, very happy indeed … and you have made Mr. King, who directed ‘Romola,’ very happy, too.”
From the applause that followed, it was clear that there was no question as to the importance of the occasion—all the more so, had they known that, for Hollywood, at least, it was the last public appearance of these two together. The critics did not know what to make of “Romola”—did not quite dare to say what they thought they felt. To William Powell, as Tito, nearly all gave praise; some regretted that Ronald Colman did not have a better part. Dorothy, as Tessa, had given a good account of herself, they said, and Charles Lane, as Baldassare. Of Lillian’s spirituality and acting there was no question, but there were those who thought the part of Romola unequal to her gifts. As to the picture, one ventured to call it “top-heavy,” whatever he meant by that. One had courage enough to think it “a bit dull.” Another declared that it contained all the atmosphere and beauty of the Florence of Lorenzo de Medici. “Romola” was, in fact, exquisite tapestry, and the dramatic interest of tapestry is a mild one.