Friday Facts

Rudolph Valentino 1

Hello all and welcome to Friday Facts! This week I’m after finding an article about Rudolph Valentino from 1951, which was written by Harold Queen for a publication called Coronet. This article was titled The Perfect Lover and I will reproduce it here over the coming weeks. What is interesting with this article is how much it reminds us that before the boyband mania, and before the Beatles and Elvis mania, before them all – there was Rudolph:

Rudolph Valentino 2Some of the crowd at Rudolph Valentino’s Funeral

“In the little theaters that feature old-time films, Rodolpho Alfonzo Raffaelo Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina d’Antonguolla still plays to packed houses. Thousands of aging matrons remember him as the beau ideal of the 1920s – the decade of the Charleston and Al Capone. Some 35 women named their children after him, and three others committed suicide on his account. Indeed, few figures of modern times (early 1950s) have inspired the mass hysteria that swirled about the life, loves, and final curtain call, at 31, of Rudolph Valentino, ‘The Perfect Lover’.”

Rudolph Valentino 3Rudolph Valentino in Blood and Sands

“The supple, olive-skinned son of an Italian veterinarian was both the expression of his era and in a sense its part-creator. He gave the language a new word – “sheik” – to describe the great brotherhood of street-corner musketeers who pomaded their hair and grew long sideburns in imitation of their hero.”

Rudolph Valentino 4Rudolph Valentino: The Sheik

“When he first flashed across the screen in flowing white burnoose, women everywhere rushed to purchase Sheik hats and frocks, Sheik cosmetics and handbags. He gave the tango its greatest lease on life in America, and few survivors of that dim age fail to remember the hand-wound phonographs grinding out The Sheik of Araby.”

Rudolph Valentino 5Valentino the Man

“The Valentino cult frequently took more exuberant turns. The platinum slave bracelet he wore on his wrist, his reported communications with the other world, and his extravagances fed a steady stream of material into the newspapers and magazines of the day. In his public appearances, admirers often stripped him of hat, tie, pocket handkerchief, even his cuff links.”

Natacha with RudolphNatacha with Rudolph

“When his second wife, Natacha Rambova, left New York during an enforced separation until his divorce became final, reporters on the train intercepted his telegrams and rushed them into headlines before she had seen them. When the couple later appeared together in a nationwide dance tour, thousands gathered at sidings to catch a glimpse of them in their special railway car.”

Rudolph Valentino 6Rudolph Valentino Performing

The Sheik‘s acting rated high by standards of the silent screen, and it is likely that he would have done equally well in talking pictures. His pantherish grace, exotic features, and sturdy physique contributed to the actual tremors many women experienced when seeing him on the screen. The young Italian had the added faculty of completely absorbing the personality of his screen characters. In preparing for Blood and Sand, he studied the art of bullfighting with a retired toreador, spoke nothing but Spanish, grew sideburns, and learned to walk and swagger like a true hero of the ring.”

Rudolph Valentino 8Do what I tell you woman, for I am The Sheik!

“The prime reason for his extraordinary appeal, however, lay in the fact that, to millions of moviegoers, the name Valentino spelled romance. In the workaday world of Harding and Coolidge, he was the high lama of escape. For the small price of a ticket, he secured for his devotees temporary admission to a dream world of daring gallantry and erotic suggestiveness. This talent lifted the dark-eyed tango partner from the dance hall to a Hollywood manor, a stable of exotic foreign cars, and the title of ‘The Screen’s Greatest Lover’.”

Rudolph Valentino 9Look into my eyes; now look very deeply!

“The man to whom these honours came was born in southern Italy in 1895. In 1913, his family packed him off to the New World, where, according to legend, he landed a job as a bus boy and dancing partner, with meals thrown in. This was the age of Irene and Vernon Castle, and the dance craze was sweeping America. So Guglielmi turned professional, making the vaudeville circuits of the period.”

Rudolph Valentino 10Well, I can’t sing and I can’t dance …, but I look okay, I suppose!

“In 1915, when Italy entered the war, Rodolpho applied for the Italian Air Force but was turned down because of poor eyesight. A try at the British Royal Flying Corps brought similar results. Finally he joined a musical company making ts way to California, but when he landed in San Francisco, both job and income ended. It was at this point that a friendly screen actor, Norman Kerry, thought the young Italian had film possibilities and staked him to an apartment near Hollywood.”

Rex Directing RudolphRex Ingram directing Rudolph Valentino

Well. that’s the first section of the article The Perfect Lover by Harold Queen from 1951. I hope you’re enjoying learning about the history of this legendary silent-film star, who took the silent era by storm with his dark, exotic looks and his handsome, mysterious features. Women loved and wanted him, men envied and idolized him, and Rex Ingram made him; find out how next week!

Cover of "The Sheik / The Son of the Shei...

Cover via Amazon

Posted by Michael ‘Charlie’ McGee

Constance Talmadge, silent film actress with R...

Constance Talmadge, silent film actress with Rudolf Valentino (Photo credit: scismgenie)

Valentino - The Sheik

Valentino – The Sheik (Photo credit: DonnaGrayson)

Cover of "Blood and Sand: Silent Classic&...

Cover of Blood and Sand: Silent Classic

Rudolph Valentino and Natacha Rambova

Rudolph Valentino and Natacha Rambova (Photo credit: The Loudest Voice)

promotional image of screen writer June Mathis...

promotional image of screen writer June Mathis on the set of Blood and Sand with star Rudolph Valentino (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Advertisements

Friday Facts

New York Times (1914)New York Times (1914)

And Friday Facts is upon us once again. This week I’m going to reproduce an article I have found in The New York Times from May 26th 1914. The article may amuse you as it was written to introduce the readers to a new verb – The Verb – ‘To Film’:

Ye Olde DictionaryYe Olde Dictionary

“The verb ‘to film‘ having gained currency, it must be graciously admitted to the language. It will soon be in the ‘advanced‘ dictionaries and it must be recognized. The old idea of protecting the English language from invasion is extinct. To ‘film‘ means to make a picture for a ‘movie‘ show. ‘Movie‘ is a tolerably new word, too, but all the élite use it. The moving pictures are doing much more than revolutionize the language. They are broadening the public knowledge, making globe trotters of the stay-at-homes, showing us the wonders of the growth of plants and the development of animal life. As for their influence on the drama, they have none in any true sense. Moving pictures, even when they are accompanied by talking machines of the best quality, must always  be a feeble substitute for histrionism. The actor’s art is not to suffer. Whenever it is manifested it will get its reward.”

Shakespeare's Anthony and CleopatraShakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra

“But the theatrical stage has long survived without much real histrionism to brag of and the moving pictures outdo its best shows. They give you real ocean with towering waves instead of painted canvas, they present the story in motion, and sometimes in color, with such a variety of a changing scene as to satisfy the eye. Dr. Johnson would doubtless have found that moving pictures interested him more than Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra on account of their frequent changes of scene. When the villain throws the heroine off a cliff into a boiling torrent there is a real cliff and the torrent is authentic. No doubt, the present enormous popularity of the moving picture will abate in time, but some of the current picture shows are really marvels of selection, patience, and skill, and they will always survive as illustrations of travel, as aids to the understanding of natural history. As a substitute for the theatre they will do well enough until there is a revival of real histrionism, until great actors come again to exercise their ‘sway o’er hearts’. Meanwhile, whether 16,000,000 persons daily attend the moving pictures in this country, according to the evidence placed before the House Committee on Education at Washington, or only 6,000,000, which seems a more reasonable number, the vogue of the moving picture is surely at its height.”

The ArtistThe Artist

And so there you have it. The New York Times were convinced that the idea of motion pictures was just a passing fad, which in 1914 (99 years ago), was at its height. Who knew – eh? The verb ‘to film‘ has certainly entered the dictionary and there it will remain for a long time to come. Hope you enjoyed today’s edition of Friday Facts. I’ll be back next week with some more. And that’s a wrap!

Posted by Michael ‘Charlie’ McGee

Friday Facts

Hollywood Sign

Back again with the second part of the article Hollywood: The Blessed and the Cursed. As you may recall from last week this article by Robert E. Sherwood is about how it all came about. How did the American film industry decide to find it’s way to find it’s home in California? This week we start in the Mojave Desert:

Mojave DesertMojave Desert

“So the highway across the Mojave Desert were clogged with immigrants, following with pathetic confidence the path of the blistering sun, seeking the ‘thing (whatever it was) that had been gained with apparent ease by such bewildering beings as Gloria Swanson, Richard Barthelmess, Clara Bow and Jackie Coogan. Some few of the hundreds of thousands of unsolicited immigrants had been provident enough to bring with them funds sufficient for their support for a week or so in California; others were positive that they had only to knock once upon the studio portals to achieve the miracle of recognition.”

the Motion Picture Relief Fundthe Motion Picture Relief Fund

“The enormous increase in population thus promoted in the Los Angeles district was naturally gratifying to the Chamber of Commerce boosters, but it imposed a terrific strain upon the local charitable organizations. The swarms of candidates for fame and fortune became public charges and consequently damned nuisances. The employees of the Young Men’s and Young Women’s Christian and Hebrew Associations, the Salvation Army, the Motion Picture Relief Fund, etc., were constantly having to listen to the same tale: “I’ve come all the way from New Bedford (or Quito, or Maida Vale, or Eisenach) and they told me at the studios ‘No Casting Today’ but if you can only help me out until tomorrow I know I’ll get a break!”

Begging at American IdolBegging for that One Chance is just as Big Today

“The break always came, but it was usually in the form of a compound fracture of the illusions. Probably no more than one-fifth of one per cent of those who have journeyed to Hollywood in quest of employment have ever managed to earn a bare living out of the movies.”

Will H. HaysWill H. Hays

“It must be said for the regular inhabitants of Hollywood that they have all done all they could to correct the appallingly false impression of their adopted home town. They were embarrassed and horrified by the stories of fancy vice that were being circulated by gossipy journalists. They believed (erroneously) that this sort of notoriety would hurt their business. Through the offices of the film czar, Will H. Hays, and that impressively named organization, the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences, propaganda was spread to persuade mankind that Hollywood was neither Xanadu nor Mecca, but, in reality, a reputable community of church-going, God-fearing, temperate, and commendably sexless Puritans.”

And that's a WrapCUT!

And that’s a Wrap and so it was. Not the greatest of endings for an article, but the experiences that Robert E. Sherwood have shared about life during the pioneering days of Hollywood were well relayed. And, well, I hope this article has helped you learn plenty about the Great Era of early Silent Film, but I’ll be back again next week, with some more facts about the Silent Era, which, yet again, will be taken directly from the pens of the people who lived those pioneering days. Till next week then!

Friday Facts

The Squaw ManThe Squaw Man Poster

I’ve come across another article from way back in the 1930’s and this one is by Mr. Robert E. Sherwood. This one was published in a publication called America As Americans See It back in 1932 and the title of the article was Hollywood: The Blessed and the Cursed! Over the next couple of weeks or so I’m going to reproduce this article and at the same time learn some more about life during the pioneering days of the Silent Film Era! This is another edition of Friday Facts:

HollywoodEarly Hollywood

“The Discovery of Hollywood, like most epoch-making discoveries, was accidental. It happened that, in 1912, Jesse L. Lasky, a vaudeville magnate, joined with his brother-in-law, Samuel Goldfisch, a glove salesman, in the formation of a motion picture producing company. Their first offering (and, they assured themselves, probably their last) was to be “The Squaw Man“. They engaged Cecil B. DeMille as director and Dustin Farnum as star, and sent them to Flagstaff, Arizona, to make the picture. Flagstaff was selected because it sounded as though it would provide suitable backgrounds for the enactment of a vigorous Western melodrama, but when DeMille and Farnum arrived there, and took one look at the prospect from the station platform, they stepped back on the train and continued on to the Pacific Coast. A chance acquaintance happened to mention to them a hamlet called Hollywood, a sleepy suburb of Los Angeles, which is itself the largest suburb on Earth, and they made that their objective. They rented a barn on Vine Street, and there produced “The Squaw Man“, the first feature picture to be born beneath the California sun.”

Early HollywoodProgressing Hollywood

“(I do not know whether there was actually any holly in Hollywood when the first adventurers arrived there, or whether that Christmassy, Dickensian name emerged from the imagination of some pioneer realtor. There is no holly in Hollywood now, nor any green thing that grows by the will of God as opposed to the artifice of man. The water which irrigates the gaudy gardens about the villas of the stars is imported from far distant sources, just as is the supply of talent, ingenuity and sex appeal which animates the cameras.)”

Mary PickfordMary Pickford in ‘Tess of the Storm Country’

“After “The Squaw Man“, came the first of the immortal Keystone comedies, produced by Mack Sennett, with Ford Sterling, Chester Conklin, Mabel Normand, Fatty Arbuckle, Marie Dressler and eventually, Charlie Chaplin; then Adolph Zukor moved his Famous Players organization to Los Angeles to make “Tess of the Storm Country“, starring little Mary Pickford, and David Wark Griffith arrived with his company of Biograph players to produce the first of the epics, “The Birth of a Nation“. In the year 1915, the second gold rush to California assumed colossal proportions.”

CleopatraCleopatra

“As vast prosperity came to Hollywood, so did scandal, and with it, fame unbounded. The sensational stories, printed in the less scrupulous newspapers and magazines, of Byzantine orgies in the film colony – stories of immorality on the grand scale – conveyed to the avid public the assurance that life in Hollywood was a veritable bed of orchids to be shared with the most desirable, the most god-like representatives of the opposite sex. As a direct result of this misconception, Hollywood became the goal toward which traveled the hopes and dreams of all the frustrated morons: it was recognized as the fountainhead of romance, wherein the frailest, pimpliest ribbon clerk could be converted into a devastating Don Juan and the sorriest slavey into a voluptuous Cleopatra.”

Flagstaff 1882Flagstaff Picture from Back in the Day (1882)

Well that’s that for this week. I hope you have enjoyed this week’s article and sure I’ll have the second part of it for you next week. It’s amazing though how fate led the film industry to Hollywood, but now you know how it happened and why, and I’m sure you’ll agree that Flagstaff doesn’t exactly have the same ring to it.

 

Posted by Michael “Charlie” McGee

Friday Facts

The Birth of a Nation PosterPoster for The Birth of a Nation

Hello, and you are very welcome to the third part of the article ‘The Birth of  Era’ by the Great Silent Film actor Lillian Gish. I’m nearly a week late with it, but study called for a couple of Post-Grad Exams earlier this week and sure I’m back on top of things now. Anyway, this article has been a wonderful insight into the life of an actor, and indeed the crew, of one of the great silent film classics during the pioneering days of Hollywood. From little acorns like this grew the vast forest that is Hollywood and the film industry of the 21st century. I hope you enjoy this third part of this wonderful article. If you haven’t read the first two sections you can find them in the category ‘Friday Facts‘, which is on this WordPress website.

Billy BitzerBilly Bitzer

“The cameraman for The Birth of a Nation was Billy Bitzer, who, together with Mr. Griffith, was the inventor of the various new devices employed in the photography of the picture – devices never used before, and innovations in the art of motion-picture photography. Among us actors he was famous for his accurate eye, and he left his mark on everything his lens faced by bringing to accurate vision on the screen many things the eye itself could not discern. This was wonderful for battlefields, but most trying on faces. We used to beg for our close-ups to be taken just after dawn or before sunset, as the soft yellow glow was much easier to work in than the hard, overhead sun of midday.”

Henry B. WalthalHenry B. Walthall, or Wally, as he was affectionately called, came from Alabama, and was everything in life that his character of the Little Colonel was on the screen: patient, dear, and lovable, but with little idea of time. Consequently all during the filming of the picture there was a man hired for the sole purpose of getting him into make-up and to work on time, which in those days was around seven in the morning (that meant getting up at five and working steadily, sometimes without lunch, until sundown).”

The Birth of a Nation SceneThe Birth of a Nation Scene

“Sometimes, while Griffith was making scenes we were not in, he would send us to practice walking, first with comedy, then with drama, with pathos, or with tragedy. When he was satisfied with that, we would have to learn to run in these different manners. Then we would have to do it with subtlety, for when the camera would be close to us, then broader, for when the camera would be in the distance (which would necessitate acrobatics); all this with complete body control and balance, as it might have to be done on a sea wall or on a mountain top. You had to know how to dance and handle horses, or if you didn’t, these had to be learned outside of studio hours.”

The Wind machine is on overdriveThe Wind Machine on Overdrive

“It is very strange in those old pictures to watch the wind blowing through the rooms, when the property man had forgotten to tack down curtains, tablecloths, and such tell-tale properties.”

The Birth of a Nation ExtrasSome of The Birth of a Nation extras dressed up as Ghosts

“In The Birth of a Nation we used as many as six hundred people, and the complete cost of the picture was ninety-one thousand dollars. It was the first motion picture to run for two hours, and to be shown in a legitimate theatre twice a day at theatre prices. Its first run in New York was for forty-seven consecutive weeks at the Liberty Theatre. When it was shown in Boston it caused race riots and the firemen had to be called out in assisting the police in dispersing the mob.”

President WilsonPresident Wilson

Mr. Griffith had his reward, however, when President Wilson saw it at the White House and said: ‘It is like writing history with lightning, and my only regret is that it is all so terribly true.’ When this news flashed through the country, and it was learned that a mere motion picture had the power to stir feelings so deeply, The Birth of a Nation‘s reputation was made, and motion pictures took their place as an important part of daily life.”

The end credits

And so, that’s that for another edition of Friday Facts. It’s quite a number of days late, but I’ll be back soon with another post of Friday Facts and you’ll never know what I could dig up. This has been a hugely interesting article by Lillian Gish, which was originally published back in 1937 in an old magazine called the State Magazine. I’ve learned an awful lot of what was life like on the early sets of Hollywood through this article and I hope to have some more interesting facts for you for next week. Also if you have any facts from the Silent Era you want to share with us, please drop us a line by filling out our Contact Us form, or just leave a message in the Comment field below. Bye for now  …   and that’s a Wrap!

Posted by Michael ‘Charlie’ McGee

Friday Facts

The Birth of a NationThe Birth of a Nation Title

Hello and welcome back to Friday Facts. I’m currently looking through an article that was written by Lillian Gish in 1937, so here are some more extracts from the article The Birth of a Era by Lillian Gish from the State Magazine. The focus of this article was, if you remember based around the production of The Birth of a Nation and the experiences Lillian Gish had on the set with D. W. Griffith, amongst others.

Margaret Cameron in The Birth of a NaationMargaret Cameron in The Birth of a Nation

There was a standard call for rehearsal whenever there was rain or the sun disappeared, as at such times all cameras stopped, since it was before the days of artificial lights. During the rainy season there would be weeks of rehearsals, with Mr. Griffith outlining stories to be filmed far into the future. Some of them, including Faust and Joan of Arc, never reached the screen. We were rarely assigned parts, and the younger members of the company always rehearsed for the older members when the story was being developed, as all the ‘writing’ was done by Griffith as he moved groups of characters around a room.”

The Birth of a Nation Scene 1The Birth of a Nation Scene 1

When the story was ready to go before the camera, the older players who were to play the parts on the screen came forward and acted the parts they had been watching us rehearse for them. This method gave them the advantage of not being over-rehearsed, and also of watching the story quietly unfold before their eyes, giving them ideas that might have escaped had they not been kept fresh for the actual creation. It also taught the more inexperienced members what eventually would be expected of them.”

The Birth of a Nation Scene 2The Birth of a Nation Scene 2

At first I was not cast to play in The Clansman. My sister and I had been the last to join the company, and we naturally supposed, this being a big picture, that the main assignments would go to the older members. But one day while we were rehearsing the scene where the colored man picks up the northern girl gorilla-fashion, my hair, which was very blond, fell far below my waist, and Griffith, seeing the contrast in the two figures, assigned me to play Elsie Stoneman (who was to have been Mae Marsh). My sister, a child at the time, was to have played the girl of twelve, little sister to the Colonel.”

The Birth of a Nation Scene 3The Birth of a Nation Scene 3

Very often we would play episodes without knowing the complete story, or in which film Griffith was going to use them, as he shrouded his ideas in great secrecy for fear another studio would hear of them and get them on the screen first. Only Griffith knew the continuity of The Birth of a Nation in its final form. There was much anxiety, and many tears shed, over the assignment of parts, as we all wanted to prove our worth before it was too late, and with photography in its undeveloped state we knew we would be paseé by the time we reached eighteen.”

The Birth of a Nation Scene 4The Birth of a Nation Scene 4

And that’s all for this week’s Friday Facts. Thank you for reading and don’t forget to check in next week for the concluding part of the article The Birth of an Era by Lillian Gish. But also, please, if you have any facts from the silent-era you want to pass onto us, let us know by contacting us on our Contacts page. Good-luck for now then!

Friday Facts

Gillian GishLillian Gish

In 1937, Lillian Gish wrote an account in the Stage Magazine about her experiences when filming The Birth of a Nation, and her time under D. W. Griffith. These are some of the extracts from that article:

Birth of a NationScene from The Birth of a Nation

As I look back upon the making of the picture, the chief difficulty seems to have been finding the money to go with the ideas Mr. Griffith had in his head – or perhaps I should say in his heart, as he was from Kentucky, the son of Roaring Jake Griffith, a colonel in the Confederate Army. He firmly believed that the truth of the Civil War had never been told, and he was quite willing to dip into his heart’s blood to tell, through this new medium of the silent screen (in many ways his own invention), the story he believed in above all else in the world. I am sure it seemed more real to him than the World War, which was then taking place.”

The Birth of a Nation 2Ku Klux Klan Racist Scene from The Birth of a Nation

As nothing like a twelve-reel film had ever been attempted before, he naturally met with opposition on all sides. When the so-called business men of the picture industry, believing him to be an impractical dreamer, refused him financial aid, he went begging to the merchants of Los Angeles for a thousand dollars here, five thousand dollars there, another two thousand from someone else.”

The Birth of a Nation 3Abe Lincoln Scene in The Birth of a Nation

I remember my mother, having saved three hundred dollars, implored Mr. Griffith to use the money for the picture, but as it was all we had in the world he refused to take it. As we had been working without salaries for weeks, he couldn’t say when pay-checks would start coming in again. The picture actually took nine weeks to make, but there were many days during this time when work stopped and Mr. Griffith would be out trying to raise the money to continue.

The Birth of a Nation 4Battle Scene from The Birth of a Nation

At first we were told that we were going to do a moving-picture version of the play and novel by Thomas Dixon called The Clansman, but anyone who has ever read either of these and has seen the picture, The Birth of a Nation, will know how far afield from the originals we went.

The Birth of a Nation 5 The Birth of a Nation Scene

As actors, our picture schooling had been similar to that which Mr. Stanislavsky so graphically describes in Elizabeth Reynolds Hapgood’s fine translation of An Actor Prepares. There was never anything written for us and no scenario (any more than there were designs for sets; Mr. Griffith would explain to the head carpenter what he wanted and he would build them).

 Lillian Gish with another extraLillian Gish with an Unknown Extra

That’s all for this weeks version of Friday Facts, but if you enjoyed today’s post, please tune in next week where, I’ll re-produce more extracts from the article The Birth of a Nation by Lillian Gish from the Stage Magazine.

Posted by Michael ‘Charlie’ McGee