Seven Women

November 29, 2010 at 3:47 am (Photo Gallery)

I kind of resent it when a vintage film star is remembered mainly for whatever tragedy may have befallen her. It’s a little voyeuristic to look past a person’s legacy and just stare at the horrible sadness that concludes her story. Admittedly, I’m as guilty of that as anyone, but not where this lady’s concerned. I’ve seen her at her luminous best in films like Fig Leaves (1926) and The Monkey Talks (1927)… so when I think of Olive Borden, I think first of that radiance.

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Gladys Brockwell re-invented herself as a character actress in the mid-1920s, and today she’s best remembered as Janet Gaynor’s cruel sister in Seventh Heaven (1927). But she’d first made her reputation as a talented actress at Fox a decade earlier, starring in a long series of romantic melodramas. We’ll never get to see much of her early work, though—  one more reason to regret the massive vault explosion that destroyed most of the Fox silents.

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Betty Bronson is well-known to fans of the silents, largely for Peter Pan (1924), her first starring role. Her success in that film led to choice projects like A Kiss for Cinderella and Not So Long Ago over the next year or so, in which she portrayed sweet innocence to perfection. But as she began outgrowing her teens, it was no longer clear what her “type” was. Paramount took the easy way out, seemingly casting her in anything that still had a female lead to fill. The results didn’t do her career any favors, but soon enough she left the screen to raise a family and (apparently) live happily ever after.

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The talkie transition years were a minefield for most actresses in Hollywood. But several young starlets of the very late 1920s sailed right into talkies without any problem, and Sue Carol was one of them. Unfortunately, her output was longer on quantity than quality, and her screen career went cold as the 1930s ushered in a whole different world.  Undefeated, she simply adapted to it by becoming one of the first female agents in Hollywood.

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Lili Damita is best remembered today for her stormy and inevitably doomed marriage to Errol Flynn. But before all that, she was a celebrated starlet of the late silent era, and Sam Goldwyn selected her to fill Vilma Banky’s slippers as Ronald Colman’s love interest in The Rescue (1929). Her exotic looks and French accent might have made her the Pola Negri of the talkies, but somehow her career never really caught fire, in spite of a few high-profile roles.

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Marguerite de la Motte, like many other actresses, was just lucky enough to land a reasonably steady career in 1920s Hollywood… but not lucky enough to get a breakthrough hit, to really get noticed and become a true star. With unforgettable eyes like those of Barbara LaMarr or Billie Dove, she certainly had the beauty. And in films like The Unknown Soldier (1926), she proved she could really act. Hollywood was a crowded field, and there would be even less room for her in the talkie era. But she’s always been a favorite of mine.

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Seen here with Victor McLaglen in Hot for Paris (1930), Fifi D’Orsay wasn’t necessarily the best-looking or most-talented woman in Hollywood. But she had a certain something, a sexy, energetic, electric quality we might as well call “it,” the same “it” that Clara Bow had before the microphone came along. When Fifi D’Orsay’s onscreen, your eyes are on her and nowhere else. A singer/dancer who hit town just as the first wave of screen musicals was underway, she got plenty of work and plenty of attention… for a while. But the musical craze came to a swift end, and Fifi was swept out right along with it. It’s too bad, just another example of Hollywood fumbling a great opportunity.

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– – – Christopher Snowden

 

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“Jackie Coogan Better Watch Out,” Says Baby Peggy

November 24, 2010 at 5:36 am (Movie Weekly)

Florence Vidor’s our cover girl this week. If the American girl is a hypocrite, I’m sure it’s someone other than Florence.

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There’s no one I’d rather share almond cakes and tea with than Irma the Ingenue, and here she is to dish the gossip.

Click on the image to enlarge.

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Seems a bit unlikely that a four-year-old would be this articulate. But never underestimate Baby Peggy. Besides, would Movie Weekly steer you wrong?

Click on the image to enlarge.

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A Whole New You

November 21, 2010 at 11:55 pm (Irresponsible Conjecture)

In 1925, hopeful starlet Lola Todd had the shape of her nose altered by Dr. William Balsinger, a famous Los Angeles surgeon of the time. This was his sixtieth procedure for Hollywood patients, and in time cosmetic surgery would become commonplace in the film colony.

Her nose looks fine to me either way, but (for the record) the “before” photo is on the right. The one on the left is how she looked after the procedure.

The new honker didn’t do much for her career. She did land the second female lead in The Bells (1926) with Lionel Barrymore and Boris Karloff, but that’s the closest she’d come to a familiar role (at least for us eighty-odd years later). Her last known credits were in 1929.

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For an odd and obscure film called Diamond Handcuffs (1928), actress Lena Malena played three different roles, each of them named “Musa.” One of those Musas was part-black. Evidently M-G-M felt that make-up wouldn’t work, and a suntan would take too long, so the actress was given a “Raytan” treatment, above.

The process began with a spray-on application followed by exposure to the rays of high-intensity lamps.

The film didn’t make much of an impression and M-G-M quickly turned her loose, but within weeks she was at FBO, playing a Polynesian for Tropic Madness (1928). I wonder if she got another Raytan treatment for that role… or maybe the original one just lasted a really long time?

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And now…

The Silent Movie Blog Rips the Veil of Secrecy from a Shocking Secret Chapter of Hollywood History

 

Greta Garbo sings for her supper.

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So much of Greta Garbo’s life is tangled with rumor, gossip and half-truth that one hesitates to take anything at face value. But with her breakout hit Flesh and the Devil still in theaters, the new star was conspicuously out of the public eye in early 1927.

There’s been conjecture that her tempestuous affair with John Gilbert may have produced a condition that was known in polite circles as a “delayed monthly cycle.” It’s rumored that the star was kept out of sight while she recovered from the then-illegal procedure that reversed the condition.

But there’s another possibility, one that seems far more likely to me.

The usually-reliable Photoplay announced that Garbo was suffering from anemia and intestinal flu at the time. In its issue for September of that year, on page 41, it was noted that her doctors had treated her with a special diet regimen.

The diet consisted of fruits, vegetables, cod liver oil, and… certain meats.

The meats included liver, kidneys, and brains.

Brains! Photoplay let slip the only information we need. (Significantly, its editors carefully omitted the species of the organs in question.) The conclusion is inescapable that Garbo had died from her illness… but her powerful, panicked studio somehow had her brought back from the dead, only to find that its glamorous star was now a lurching, bloodthirsty zombie with an insatiable hunger for human flesh.

One can easily imagine the undead Garbo shambling unsteadily toward her horrified victims, her clutching fingers outstretched, and howling in a guttural Swedish accent, “Braaaaains! I vant braaaaains!”

Concealing the hideous, semi-devoured remains of her victims would have been no problem for M-G-M’s publicity department, accustomed as it was to quietly burying its stars’ indiscretions.

The only mystery is how Garbo was trained to keep her loathsome new impulses under control. But M-G-M’s resources were formidable, and evidently no expense was spared to make her as presentable as possible. And of course even in her undead state, Garbo remained a supremely talented actress, still able to convincingly portray glamorous (if curiously sullen) characterizations. Careful lighting and liberal applications of make-up perfected the illusion.

Thus, she was able to resume her career— a career that would be noted for the star’s moodiness and occasional intractability— followed by a retirement in which she remained (or was kept) utterly isolated from the public eye.

Small wonder.

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– – – Christopher Snowden

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The Bad Movie is Doomed!

November 19, 2010 at 6:29 am (Movie Weekly)

Marie Prevost is our cover girl this week, and here are a couple of glimpses inside that same issue, dated November 17, 1923 – – –

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Edwin Carewe was a better director than prophet. His best-known films were the Dolores Del Rio vehicles Ramona (1928) and Evangeline (1929).

Click on the image to enlarge.

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Anna May Wong offers up a prediction of her own, but doesn’t hit the bulls-eye either. Her career growth would be stunted, largely by 20th-Century queasiness about white screen heroes getting too close to an Asian woman.  This interview might have soothed some of those qualms. But is she being candid here… or just canny?

Click on the image to enlarge.

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– – – Christopher Snowden

 

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Kiss Me, My Gullible Fool

November 17, 2010 at 5:36 am (One Lil' Picture)

Careful, film history buffs. This 1916 bio of Theda Bara might have a falsehood in it. Or two. Or three. Or…

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Girls Gone Goth

November 14, 2010 at 7:34 am (Photo Gallery)

Just cutting their hair was fairly startling for women in the 1920s. Adopting the short-skirted flapper look was even more daring.

But some went in a whole new direction.

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A darkly exotic look for Myrna Loy.

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Lya DePutti, shortly before she left Germany for Hollywood in 1926.

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Renee Adoree, 1928. This and the photo below were taken by M-G-M’s chief portrait photographer, Ruth Harriet Louise, for the British magazine Eve.

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Joan Crawford, as she had never been seen before (or would be again). Ruth Harriet Louise’s contract at M-G-M expired the following year and was not renewed. Her replacement, George Hurrell, would capture the gloss and glamour of the M-G-M dream factory like no one else.

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Lillian Gish in The Mothering Heart (1913).

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Halloween candy: Edna Tichenor as “Arachnida, the Human Spider,” in Tod Browning’s The Show (1927).

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– – – Christopher Snowden

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Move Over, Rudy

November 11, 2010 at 10:53 pm (Movie Weekly)

Here are a couple of selections from this issue of Movie Weekly.

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Conway Tearle, ladies? Really?

Click on the image to enlarge.

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Movie Weekly ran at least a couple of Keaton articles like this.

Click on the image to enlarge.

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The Spectator

November 10, 2010 at 5:33 am (Two Lil' Pictures)

Edward Hopper’s “Eleven A.M.”

What do you suppose she’s looking at?

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I think I know.

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A Change in Plans

November 8, 2010 at 1:40 am (General blather)

Paramount made the film, but changed the title to Special Delivery (1927).

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In late 1923, filmmakers found themselves in a bidding war for the screen rights to the popular play Merton of the Movies.

Reportedly, Buster Keaton was among them, but he lost out to Famous Players-Lasky. Nevertheless, it was announced that Keaton would embark on a similar story, initially titled The Misfit.

The main character of The Misfit would be a small-town projectionist, who goes to Hollywood and ultimately becomes a wealthy film producer. Kathryn McGuire was to be the leading lady, replacing two previous candidates: Natalie Talmadge Keaton, who had retired from the screen, and Marion Harlan, a Sennett beauty who had to drop out because of illness.

The storyline of The Misfit underwent considerable changes before the finished film was released as Sherlock Jr.

(Motion Picture, March 1924, pages 70-72.)

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Sometimes a film never got out of the starting gate.

Erich von Stroheim was slated to direct and co-star in a Constance Talmadge project called East of the Setting Sun in the fall of 1925. He set about writing a screenplay for it, but the film was never made.

(Exhibitors Herald, 8/8/25, page 38.)

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In fact, Stroheim’s intentions would be foiled throughout his career, but sometimes that may have been just as well.

He was determined to get Norman Kerry to play the lead in The Merry Widow, but had to take John Gilbert instead. He wanted Mary Philbin for The Wedding March, but had to settle for Fay Wray.

(Screen Secrets, March 1930, page 61.)

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Paramount announced New Morals for the 1926-1927 screen season, but abandoned the project. In its place, director Mal St. Clair was assigned a Richard Dix boxing drama, Knockout Reilly.

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Movie studios weren’t immune to frustrated intentions, either. M-G-M had high hopes for a science fiction/adventure project, The Mysterious Island, based on a Jules Verne novel.

Originally announced for the 1925-1926 season, the ambitious production went forward in fits and starts. After three directors and a small fortune had been thrown into it, the film finally hit the screen in the fall of 1929, complete with talking and Technicolor sequences. It was not a success.

(Exhibitors Herald, 8/8/25, page 22.)

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M-G-M’s upcoming production of The Torrent (1926) was heavily hyped to exhibitors, with full-page ads in the trade magazines and in this preview book. Intended as a breakout vehicle for Aileen Pringle, the starring role was instead given to a promising newcomer by the name of Garbo.

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Sensing potential stardom in Garbo after The Torrent, the studio cast her in Flesh and the Devil, pulling Carmel Myers out of the project. Incidentally, neither Lew Cody nor Pauline Starke would make it into Paris. Those roles ended up going to Charles Ray and Joan Crawford!

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A major studio like M-G-M had so many stars under contract, and so many projects on the production slate, that substitutions were inevitable.

At times, it could turn into a game of musical chairs. For example, the studio announced in August 1925 that Aileen Pringle would star in its upcoming comedy Dance Madness. Claire Windsor got the part instead.

It was announced that Claire Windsor would play the female lead in Bardelys the Magnificent. But the role went to Eleanor Boardman.

Meanwhile, Eleanor Boardman and Renee Adoree were announced for leads in Sally, Irene and Mary. Those roles ended up going to Constance Bennett and Joan Crawford.

(Exhibitors Herald, 8/8/25, page 22.)

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Let’s wrap up with a couple examples of films that had multiple substitutions for the same role.

It wasn’t hard for the producers of John Barrymore’s film Tempest (1928) to find a leading lady. It was harder for them to hang onto one.

Their first pick, Greta Nissen, was dropped and replaced with Vera Veronina, who was then replaced by Dorothy Sebastian.

Sebastian worked on the film for four weeks before being replaced by Camilla Horn.

(Motion Picture, March 1930, page 94.)

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Camilla Horn, wearing the expression of an actress who expects to be replaced at any moment, is seen here with John Barrymore in Tempest (1928).

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United Artists’ Exhibitor Book for the 1928-1929 season announced a new Charlie Chaplin film to be entitled City Lights, with his co-star from The Circus, Merna Kennedy, as the female lead.

But Chaplin wasn’t satisfied , and replaced her with Virginia Cherrill. After many frustrations with the inexperienced Cherrill, he canned her and brought in Georgia Hale, the female lead from his 1925 hit The Gold Rush. Fearing Cherrill would sue him if she didn’t get the role, Chaplin brought her back and dismissed Hale.

Along the way, he cast his friends Harry Crocker and Henry Clive for roles in the film, but let both of them go as well. Even the film’s storyline, which originally involved the Little Tramp and a small black newsboy, underwent a complete transformation.

Not surprisingly, production dragged on far longer than expected, but when it was finally released in 1931, City Lights emerged as one of the finest films of the silent era… and practically the last.

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– – – Christopher Snowden

 

 

 

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Facing Death with a Grizzly Bear

November 4, 2010 at 1:55 am (Movie Weekly)

Since my last post was all about Mae Murray, our first Movie Weekly update might as well be this one.

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Also in that issue:

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Click on the image to enlarge it. I’ll bet you wish I had the thrilling conclusion to this article. So do I.

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