Iris Out

January 31, 2011 at 1:13 am (Goodbye)

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Well, this isn’t exactly a happy ending—  and least not for me— but the Silent Movie Blog has come to the end of the reel.

Some of you have been on board for the whole three years, while others have only just now found it, now that it’s all over. My thanks to all of you. I’m grateful for all your feedback and comments. I’m especially grateful that you’ve been so slow to take offense at the uninspired wisecracks and inappropriate content on display here. I’d rather endure another screening of Napoleon than irritate any of you (whoops, apologies to Mr. Brownlow). The blog’s readership has risen steadily throughout its existence, and is now at an all-time high, which tells me you’ve generally liked what you’ve seen, or that you’ve been hoping for more Laurel and Hardy porno comics (sorry, I only have the one).

In the future, you can find me amongst the participants of Michael Gebert’s outstanding forum Nitrateville, an indispensable resource for everyone who loves silent movies and early talkies. I hope you’ll join us, if you aren’t already there.

Thanks again!

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- – - Christopher Snowden

 

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Poison Pen

January 28, 2011 at 7:00 am (One Lil' Picture)

When I posted a few of Louise Brooks’ letters a while back, I decided against posting this one. I thought it was just too mean, too angry.

And it is. But what the hell, take a look.

The first paragraph refers to the autobiographical novel she labored over for years, before she finally destroyed it—-  and despite her expressed intentions here, she didn’t get far in re-writing it.

The furious blast of ill wind gusting through the third paragraph is directed at James Card, film archivist at the George Eastman House, who more than anyone else prompted Brooks’ rediscovery.

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A Bumpy Ride

January 26, 2011 at 5:41 am (One Lil' Picture)

The St. Louis Airport, June 1941.

Norma Shearer (center) is all smiles, and Mary Pickford (left) musters one of her own. A decade earlier, Mary’s storybook marriage to the dashing Douglas Fairbanks was hanging by a thread when he met Sylvia Ashley-Cooper, a former lingerie model who’d married her way into society. She’d discarded her husband when she met Fairbanks.

So began an affair, and in due course Mary filed for a divorce from the love of her life. He and Sylvia later married.

You’re way ahead of me.  Yep, that’s Sylvia on the right. You can imagine how Mary felt, having to share a long flight in a small plane with the last person on Earth she’d want to see.

On top of that, the press boys wanted a photo, but Mary was enough of a trouper to deliver the appropriate performance.

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- – - Christopher Snowden

 

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Leftover Popcorn

January 24, 2011 at 1:15 am (General blather)

No one but Nazimova could look so silly and so fabulous at the same time.

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Well, this blog is just about at the point in the movie where The Boy and The Girl finally embrace and kiss, as the scene fades to black. But there are still plenty of nuggets of useless information that I never got around to posting, so here’s an assortment that I hope you’ll enjoy.

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After a terrible blizzard in early 1927, the mining town of Silverton, Colorado was snowed in for a solid month. Nobody could get in or out of there, except by dogsled.

As Exhibitors Herald reported, “The mushers tried to supply the town with fresh food, but the miners favored sacrificing other things rather than motion pictures. New films were brought in almost daily.”

(Exhibitors Herald, March 26, 1927, pg. 17.)

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“I am not pretty,” Louise Fazenda declared in a 1919 interview. “Only a girl can realize what a terrible realization that is.”

She recalled her very first day’s work on a movie set, and the director telling his assistant, “Give the kid a chance… but put her in the back and keep her in the shade.”

(Motion Picture Classic, May 1919, page 34.)

Louise Fazenda comes out from under the shade, but not from behind this fan.

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About 1920, Charles Ray employed a houseboy who went on to win a Nobel Peace Prize: Ralph Bunche.

(Detroit News)

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In 1927, Ralph Ince directed Not for Publication and played the leading role.

His character’s name? “Big Dick” Wellman.

(Screenland, July 1927, page 58.)

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October 1926: Cowboy star Hoot Gibson on the Universal lot, with two of his cars. I know which one I want to drive.

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Every fan of silent movies regrets that so many early films are lost forever. In most cases, the films are gone simply because they were both highly flammable and prone to decomposition, getting stickier and stickier until they turned to goo.

A lot of films from the late 1920s onward might have survived, if a certain invention had worked out. In December 1924, Metro-Goldwyn bought an option for a large interest in it.

It was a newly patented kind of film stock. Rather than a celluloid base, this stock somehow was made with an aluminum base.

The Film Year Book 1925 said that this new base had “certain unusual qualities, such as being impervious to wear.”

However, it added that “the patent needs development before it is in readiness for practical use.” Evidently, it still does.

(Film Year Book 1925, page 57.)

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In 1922, during the long, bitter divorce proceedings between William S. Hart and his wife Winifred Westover, an allegation was made that the actor had once ordered his wife from their home.

Her attorney Milton Cohen made much of the story, prompting an angry retort from Hart.

As quoted in the Los Angeles Times, he barked, “If Cohen claims I was physically cruel to my wife, I’ll lick him so you won’t be able to recognize him. If I can’t do that, I’ll drill a hole in his stomach so big you can drive a twenty-mule-team borax wagon through it!”

(“Cohen Hurls Defi at Hart,” Los Angeles Times, September 17, 1922.)

The softer side of William S. Hart: donating a wagon to the local chapter of the ASPCA, in December 1924. The organization said this was not his first donation.

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“Here’s a secret,” Lon Chaney told an interviewer in 1922.

“Sometime I would like to try an old-fashioned slapstick comedy, just to see if I could do it.”

(“The Darkest Hour,” in Classic, September, 1922, page 97.)

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It took more than two years to make Ben-Hur, and it was finally finished in late 1925. But during its New York premiere that December, it became clear that one more task remained.

A subtitle announcing the birth of Jesus drew unexpected laughter from the audience.

It read, “And the Babe was born.”

A lot of New York Yankees fans had Babe Ruth on their minds that year. M-G-M changed the subtitle.

(Photoplay, March 1926, page 46.)

And the Babe met Harold Lloyd, who was in New York for the filming of Speedy in late 1927.

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Lillian and Dorothy Gish’s Romola was shot on location in Italy during the winter of 1923-24.

Outdoor scenes were set in summertime, but at the time of shooting, it was so cold that the actors had to hold their breath to keep it from being seen by the camera.

(Movie Weekly, March 1, 1924, page 25.)

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Erich von Stroheim created a sensation with his 1922 film Foolish Wives. His enormous outdoor set representing Monte Carlo was a full-scale replica of the real thing, and the film remains one of his most acclaimed works.

But history has forgotten that William Desmond Taylor had done much the same thing two years earlier.

For his production of The Furnace on the Paramount lot, the Hotel at Monte Carlo was reproduced in exacting detail, including its stairs, balcony, reception salon and terrace.

The plot of The Furnace involves a married woman who becomes the target of a European count, who tries to get her to run off with him. Dramatic complication ensue, but in the end, she sticks with her husband.

Did Stroheim watch it and take notes? His script for Foolish Wives tells the same basic story.

(Motion Picture, September 1920, page 106.)

Erich von Stroheim as Count Karamzin, an unscrupulous rogue who steals more than just wives.

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Charlie Chaplin appeared in a lot of films in 1914. At least two of them are lost.

One of them is the Keystone comedy Her Friend the Bandit. The other is one you’ve never heard of.

It was a reel of film taken at a meeting of San Francisco’s Screen Club that November. Chaplin, along with his fellow Keystone comics Roscoe Arbuckle and Mabel Normand, joined Mayor James Rolph in a grand march inside the Coliseum Theatre. These festivities were filmed, and the footage was screened at a club meeting the following month.

Never released to the public, the film’s whereabouts are unknown.

(Moving Picture World, January 9, 1915, page 233.)

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An advertising blooper caused some consternation for a Los Angeles lithographer in 1925.

He was printing copies of a poster that an artist had created for M-G-M’s Pretty Ladies. The film’s director was Monta Bell, but the absentminded artist had written “Monte Blue” instead.

The mistake wasn’t caught until after an entire run of gigantic 24-sheets had been printed.

(Exhibitors Herald, August 8, 1925, pg. 48)

Speaking of mistakes, somebody at First National had his mind elsewhere when he issued this still for The Strong Man (1926).

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One day in 1927, about 1500 residents of Hamilton, Ontario opened their mailboxes to discover a key inside, attached to a tag inscribed “To the man of the house— this is the key to my room— Mabel.”

If this got the attention of some agitated housewives and their flustered husbands, well, it was all according to plan.

The keys were a publicity gimmick, dreamed up by the manager of the Rialto Theatre. The film he was running that week was Marie Prevost’s comedy Up in Mabel’s Room.

(Exhibitors Herald, March 26, 1927, pg. 39.)

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Vitagraph was one of the leading American film producers for roughly two decades. In its nineteen-acre Hollywood studio (at 1708 Talmadge Street), many comedies, serials and dramas were produced on its seven stages.

But by 1924, the company had hit hard times, and the studio was barely active. One magazine called it “the easiest studio in Hollywood for a sight-seer to enter. Seldom is there a watchman at the gateway.”

In fact, according to the article, “as a rule it is quite possible for a carload of uninvited visitors to wander thru the archway and roam about to their hearts’ content.”

(Motion Picture, July 1924, page 37.)

Come on in! The Vitagraph studio, as it looked in the early 1920s. The main entrance is down in the lower right corner of the photo.

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M-G-M held its own company-wide golf tournament in June 1927. The entrants came from the ranks of the studio’s actors, directors, executives, writers and other staffers: seventy-two of them in all.

Top honors went to Hunt Stromberg of the executive division, whose average score after three rounds of golf was 58.

The unlikely winner of the actors’ division scored an average of 70. He was Jackie Coogan… then only twelve years old.

As part of the tournament, a putting contest was also held. The winner… Jackie Coogan.

(Exhibitors Herald, June 18, 1927, page 10.)

Looks like Tiger Woods wasn’t the first notable golfer to get in trouble.

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- – - Christopher Snowden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About 1920, Charles Ray employed a houseboy whose name was also Charles. That houseboy went on to win a Nobel Peace Prize— Charles Bunche. 

(Detroit News)

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Betty Bronson Knows How to Sell a Movie

January 20, 2011 at 6:03 am (One Lil' Picture)

If you’d sent a fan letter to Betty Bronson in 1926-27, you got a little photo in return, along with this letter.

Bad news, spanking enthusiasts: Ritzy is a lost film.

Worse news, Betty Bronson fans: the other two films are lost as well.

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(letter from the Rob McKay collection)

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The Reviews Are In

January 18, 2011 at 12:47 am (General blather)

You’ve seen examples of fan magazines from the silent era. But there were also trade magazines, for theater owners and managers, with a focus on the business end of things. The leading trade papers in the 1920s were Exhibitors Herald and Moving Picture World, and while they’re short on glamour, they’re fascinating to read.

My favorite section is the exhibitor reviews. Theater men would send in reports describing how well their audiences liked the films that were presented, and the trade papers would print dozens of these reports in each issue. We might guess, with a bit of cynicism, that the trades would be inclined to keep bad reviews to a minimum, lest powerful advertisers be offended. But this wasn’t the case, as you’ll see below.

Now, one of the most acclaimed and beloved of all silent films is Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush (1925). We’ve heard that the film was a hit, another in a long line of triumphs for one of the era’s greatest filmmakers. Interestingly, a whole lot of exhibitors had a different perspective.

Below are a year’s worth of collected reports for the film, as compiled in Exhibitor Weekly‘s annual roundup of film reviews, the issue dated April 10, 1926. (Sorry about the weird shading in this image… the reviews were printed in three columns across two pages. I haven’t edited anything out.)

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Charlie and Mack Swain are confronted by an angry exhibitor.

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The exhibitor reviews for other films can be eye-openers as well. Apparently, small-town audiences in the American heartland didn’t much care for stars like Raymond Griffith, Pola Negri and Adolphe Menjou. Opinions were very divided on W. C. Fields and Rudolph Valentino.

Lest you get the impression that the theater men were just chronically hard to please, here are the compiled reviews for a relatively forgotten comedy. It just happened to star Charlie Chaplin’s brother.

Syd Chaplin had recently released Charley’s Aunt, which (in spite of the indifferent shrug it’s received from film historians) was a big hit at the time, so expectations were probably pretty high for The Man on the Box (1925):

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So, then… apart from a little grumbling about the high cost of renting the print (a complaint they also hit The Gold Rush for), the exhibitors reported great success with Syd Chaplin, more so than with Charlie.

I’m not sure what conclusions should be drawn from all of this. I’m just throwing it out there. As with every other area of history, film history has its surprises.

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- – - Christopher Snowden

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“You Use Too Much Rouge!” Says Lillian Gish

January 14, 2011 at 6:12 am (Movie Weekly)

Marie Prevost kicks off our final plunge into the pages of Movie Weekly with a spectacular cover —  beautiful, sexy and elegant all at the same time.

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From November 24, 1923. Barbara La Marr dishes the details of a romantic honeymoon. She’d waste away to an early grave only three years later… but for now, the only surprise is her bobbed hair.

Click on the image to enlarge.

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From December 15, 1923. The fingerprints of Movie Weekly‘s health-obsessed publisher Bernarr Macfadden might be all over this article. On the other hand, maybe Mae Murray really did take a brisk walk down Vine Street every evening.

Click on the image to enlarge.

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From August 18, 1923. It’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind, and Viola would eventually do so… twice.

Click on the image to enlarge.

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From July 14, 1923. The Ku Klux Klan condemns both Pola Negri and Charlie Chaplin. Imagine! Rabid reactionaries denouncing Charlie… what are the chances of that ever happening again?

Click on the image to enlarge.

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Shirley Mason’s wearing a knockout of an outfit, but not a hint of rouge, so chances are she gets Lillian Gish’s stamp of approval. She’s definitely got mine.

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Ladies and gentlemen (and shameless, painted Jezebels), may I present… the quintessential Movie Weekly article.

Click on the image to enlarge.

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- – - Christopher Snowden

 

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Moon Shot

January 12, 2011 at 8:12 am (One Lil' Picture)

I had the idea of taking iconic film stills (or historical photographs), and Keatonizing them just for fun. After all, it’s Buster’s world… we just live in it.

Anyway, I thought this one turned out pretty well.

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- – - Christopher Snowden

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Greatest Hits

January 10, 2011 at 2:18 am (Of No Redeeming Value)

This month marks the third anniversary of the Silent Movie Blog. You’ll notice that only six or seven months’ worth of posts are still online, as I customarily tore down the oldies after a few months to keep things fresh around here.

As promised, the blog will be closing down soon. (Very soon.) But a lot of you missed out on its early days, so I thought I’d dig through the ol’ archive and bring back some memorable images from posts gone by.

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Just another idyllic day in small-town America, 1915. The umpire is actually a film actress by profession. Bessie Love is the name. And the town is Hollywood. In the distance, a movie set is under construction; it’s going to be a Babylonian temple for a film the world will know as Intolerance (1916).

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Seemingly at a loss for words, Mary Pickford is greeted at the St. Louis Airport by the world’s tallest man, Robert Wadlow. October 1938.

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Laurel and Hardy swing out with Orson Welles and his hot sax. Orson’s between scenes for Jane Eyre (1944), and The Boys are shooting Jitterbugs (1943) elsewhere on the Twentieth Century-Fox lot.

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It’s the Hollywood premiere of The Wizard of Oz, and while Harold Lloyd is thrilled to meet a Munchkin, this doesn’t seem to be the highlight of Harold Jr.’s evening. August 15, 1939.

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Cougar attack! Former silent star Hope Hampton lunges for the gyrating hips of Teddy Randazzo in Hey, Let’s Twist! (1961).

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This lobby card wasn’t especially popular with blog readers, but I love it, so here it is again. All hell’s breaking loose in Chapter 3 of The House of Terror (1928).

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Nothing got the page view numbers soaring like a girl getting spanked. Here, the veteran Sennett director Roy Del Ruth coaches Gordon MacRae on the finer points of spanking Doris Day between takes for On Moonlight Bay (1951).

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Director King Vidor decries the shocking state of the men’s rooms at Dodger Stadium.

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Rudolph Valentino returns to the Blood and Sand look for this costume party. Manuel Reachi (Agnes Ayres’ husband) and Pola Negri stand next to him. Rudy, is that a lance in your pants, or are you just happy to see us? March 1, 1926.

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Nothing in the history of the Silent Movie Blog horrified readers more than this excerpt from a 1930s “Tijuana bible.” Trust me, it was worse before I censored it.

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My friend Gerald Smith discovered the filming location for the final shot of Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936), and I snapped this photo for John Bengtson’s incredible book Silent Traces.

There endeth the silent era.

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- – - Christopher Snowden

 

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Charlie Chaplin’s Fatal Powers of Fascination

January 8, 2011 at 5:10 am (Movie Weekly)

Ann Pennington graces our latest Movie Weekly cover.

Just why does Mae Murray love money? Probably for the same reasons the rest of us do.

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It wasn’t unheard-of for prominent film folk to be impersonated by shifty characters. A few years earlier, someone claiming to be D. W. Griffith had been “fleecing guests in poker games at Eastern resorts,” according to Photo-Play Journal (October 1920). It still seems unlikely that Warner Bros. would be finger-printing its stars, as this article claims, but here’s a copy of Marie Prevost’s ID card to prove it. I wonder if it’s still sitting in a musty file cabinet right now.

Click on the image to enlarge.

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A month later, Movie Weekly ran an interview with Claire Windsor (“Male Vamps I Have Known,” July 28, 1923) in which she elaborated on Chaplin’s appeal.

“Oh, he is the most insidious of all! He is the most dangerous he-vamp in the world! There is no deep feeling under it all. Any little thing can change him toward you in a moment! But he can seem so thoroughly in love for the time being!”

Click on the image to enlarge.

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