by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Among the many artifacts that can amply illustrate (literally) the incredible growth of the film industry in its first two decades or so in “Hollywood,” which, of course, means several sections of Los Angeles and environs, including Culver City and Studio City, as two prominent examples, are fan magazines.
The featured object from the Museum’s holdings for this installment of the “That’s a Wrap” series of posts on The Homestead Blog is the June 1928 issue of Picture Play, published by Street and Smith of New York (which specialized in so-called pulp fiction, comic books and popular magazines) for about a quarter-century from the mid-Teens until the very early Forties.
The issue is filled with interesting content and advertisements and, despite ten missing pages, even this lengthy post leaves out a good deal. In the “What the Fans Think” section, there is an introductory page, in which Grace Laura Shaver (full address provided for reasons unclear), eating in the Paramount Studios restaurant, writes of seeing such stars as Wallace Beery, Richard Dix, John Gilbert, Douglas Fairbanks and pays most attention to their appearance.
She offered such information as that Beery was “usually clowning, and is pleasant and friendly,” while William Powell had a “sinister appearance” due to his eyes, though he had “a ready laugh and a sociable, fun-loving nature.” Richard Dix was “very think and shaky after a siege of ‘flu’,” but Shaver offered an anecdote of having lunch with the actor after a friend sent him a drawing of the star and he joined them, though Shaver added that her friend’s over-enthusiastic praise of Dix led him to quickly decamp as “the poor chap had visions of another madwoman camping on his doorstep and making a pest of himself.”
Shaver went on to aver that many movie players did not look in the flesh as they did on the silver screen, noting that William Boyd had gray, not blond, hair, as one would suppose. She added that Gilbert and Fairbanks were among those who were shorter in real life than in pictures and opined that Lewis Stone “looked like a tired, old bookkeeper in evening clothes” and that, while she liked his work, “I wish he would not play the lover.”
Gilbert Roland, however, was as advertised, but Shaver dismissed him as “only a trick eyebrow, a pair of side burns, and a hairy neck,” which she added she would love to shave. Heartthrob Ramón Novarro did not look in person as on film and she felt “if you met him on the street” he would not be recognized. She noted he was handsome, but not as captured by the camera, though “he seems to be a very quiet and studious boy, and gives the impression of being a clean-minded, sweet-souled young man.”
Norma Shearer’s “beauty is largely in make-up, careful lighting, and good photography” and “her eyes are her worst feature,” with Shaver writing that “when she works before the camera she shadows them with bright green.” On the other hand, “the most beautiful woman I have seen in Hollywood is Billie Dove,” whose appearance was better in person and who “has exquisite coloring.” It was added that Bebe Daniels, Gloria Swanson, and Alice Joyce were dark-skinned and the first “looks Spanish,” while Bessie Love “is very small and cute, but she is not a cutie,” though the writer only concluded “there is a difference, you know,” and did not elaborate.
Letter writer “M.M.” of San Francisco dished on going to parties with “the younger movie set,” such as Joan Crawford, Alice White and Virginia Lee Corbin, at such popular places as the Cocoanut Grove, Biltmore Hotel and the Café Montmartre, where “they are friendly, full of fun, and slangy.” As for more established stars, like Claire Windsor, Dove or Dolores del Rio, the writer spent time with them and found “they are a lovable set, natural, good sports, and superb humorists—at once childlike and sophisticated.” Along with other examples, the correspondent concluded, “I wish I knew them better” and gushed “no wonder Hollywood is the magnet of eyes and ears [thanks to the recent onset of talking pictures] the world over.”
Rose Festival (hmmm . . . a nom-de-plume, perhaps?] of Seattle weighed in on some screen stars as she encountered them personally. She observed that Mae Murray (age 43, it might be added) was “disillusioning” because “her once piquant face is now a perfect sphere” and “her beautiful body thickened almost to the point of top-heaviness.” Gilbert Roland passed muster with his “wonderful eyes, a close second to those famed [John] Gilbert orbs.” Bebe Daniels was appraised with “What style! What charm!” and “superlatives fail me in regard to Bebe.”
Thomas Meighan was deemed “very unassuming” and “looks much younger in person,” though “there is nothing distinctive about him,” while Francis X. Bushman was “the most charming man-of-the-world type I have encountered” and “He is fascinating!” He was more handsome in the flesh and “exceedingly virile.” As to Rod La Rocque, Festival exclaimed, “Again superlatives fail me,” as his heights, stylish dress and flashing eyes” were such that “my allegiance to Ronald Colman almost deserted me when I first saw Rod in person” and “oh, how I envied Vilma [Banky, La Rocque’s famous actor spouse.]”
Other writers offered their fan-views on Rudolph Valentino (never to be forgotten, declared Conrad Arnold of St. Paul, Minnesota); Lionel Barrymore (“who has never given a mediocre performance,” insisted Anne); Joan Crawford (“I predict that before long we shall see her acclaimed—and rightfully— as the greatest emotional artist ever known,” wrote S. Bowden of Stockport, England, outside of Manchester (the address is real—we checked!); and a couple touting the talents of William Haines, among many others.
As to features, “Behind Locked Doors” by Myrtle Gebhart concerned Mary Philbin, deemed “still as innocent as a child” and always under the watchful eye of “her gallant guardian,” Universal Studios official Paul Kohner—naturally, the magazine did not discuss their romantic relationship, which dated back several years, but did not lead to marriage because he was Jewish and she was a devout Catholic.”
Philbin was quoted as saying that “other girls aren’t protected as I am,” though she was described as full of “a new nervous tension” and her comments came across as flighty, while Kohner asserted, “Mary will be the screen’s greatest character actress,” though only two years later, Philbin, best known for starring with Lon Chaney in 1925’s The Phantom of the Opera, left movies and rarely appeared in public before her death in 1993 (she lived unobtrusively in Huntington Beach at the time.)
Speaking of La Rocque, a feature by Alma Talley titled “All for the Love of Vilma” went into great detail about the deep love between the two actors. La Rocque was quoted as saying “there were thousands of movies, but only one Vilma” and it was reported that, after their lavish, industry-filled 1927 marriage and their plans to visit her family in Budapest were thwarted by his packed filming schedule, she had to go alone.
At this, he said, “I looked at her eyes, at her hair. And I thought, ‘I won’t see her again for six weeks,” and they both dissolved into sobbing fits. Lest anyone think this was studio publicity machine fodder, it turned out that La Rocque and Banky, who had no children, remained married for over four decades, until his death in 1969 and she survived him by more than twenty years, dying in 1991.
“The Bystander” was the byline for the scribe of “Over the Teacups,” with gossip aplenty from the Gainsborough Beauty Shop, owned by Edna Flugrath Shaw, the sister of actor Viola Dana and a former film actor. The piece went into depth about the hairstyles, makeup and other treatments accorded to such performers as Dove, Nancy Carroll, Lupe Vélez (“with all her fire and dash”) and many more, while it noted, for example, that impresario Cecil B. DeMille “always demands perfection in every detail” for his female actors. In the fashion arena, “A Young Girl’s Fancy” shows images of ten fashionably-dressed screen stars, from Marceline Day to Ruth Taylor to Loretta Young to Anna May Wong, the only Asian woman actor to achieve renown in film at the time.
Malcolm H. Oettinger, “The Kid Herself,” highlighted 23-year old mega-star Clara Bow, whose 1927 blockbuster It cemented her status as a marquee headliner of the highest order, and the piece began with
Young American figures Clara Bow is the little girl who will lead it out of the wilderness to freedom. Clara is freedom itself, from her rolled stockings to rolling her own cigarettes. She is the State of Liberty doing a Black Bottom [a popular dance of the era]. She’s a hard-chewing, fast-talking little redhead, who response to the directorial cry of “Come on, baby, let’s see your stuff!”
Oettinger, referring to Bow as “a baby cyclone” also adjudged her “a freak star, offering little in the way of beauty, less in the way of talent, who is soaring to the heavens of popularity on the wings of personal magnetism.” This assessment can certainly be questioned, as Bow’s mannerisms and vivaciousness leap off the screen, not just in It, but another 1927 classic, Wings, the World War I epic with Charles “Buddy” Rogers and Richard Arlen.
The author went on to observe the “Clara is a startling combination of brazen success and bored indifference. She is juvenile and pert and satisfied” and added “she lacks poise, but she is cultivating a grand manner that is calculate to set you on your ear.” Not discussing her hardscrabble origins in a gritty part of Brooklyn, with readers certainly not aware of her mother’s mental illness, other than to write that “background she has none,” Oettinger went on to say that Bow smoothed out some of the rough edges of her personality as stardom would, apparently, dictate.
He continued to assess her popular culture influence, stating “the young set the county over copy [copies] Clara’s every fad. She is the jazz goddess of the flappers and flippers . . . She is a national sensation.” Perhaps the tenor of the piece was due to the fact that Bow didn’t appear particularly enthused to take part in the interview and went off to see a friend during the sit-down, leading Oettinger to observe “conversation languished. Leads led nowhere” as she responded to statements he made about her popularity with bland “Yeahs?”
When it was time for Bow to return to the set, though, it was concluded,
As she came under the arc lights she seemed to become a totally different person. The indifferent girl metamorphosed into a dynamic personality. The schoolgirl became the starlet. Her eyes sparkled, her manner grew sportive. Clara was snapping into it. Bow was playing the kid herself. Here was the little girl every one was giving such a great big hand . . .
Another spotlight was on Richard Dix with Margaret Reid, unlike Oettinger, discussing the 35-year-old actor’s background in the Twin Cities region of Minnesota, including his father’s desire that Dix (born Ernst Brimmer) become a surgeon, though the combination of seeing his doctor brother perform operations, with his nerves not suited for witnessing these, and his growing interest in stage work, led him to take to the theater.
After struggling for some time, the actor moved to Los Angeles and worked in the Morosco stock company and then worked in New York before returning to the Angel City. While it was said that Charlie Chaplin felt that Dix would not test well, he was signed by First National and then Goldwyn before working with Paramount and finding success in film.
Reid wrote that Dix was known for his even temperament, his professionalism and his solid relationship with coworkers. Known to enjoy parties and other amusements, such as golf and sailing, he was reported to also be very close to his mother and sister, while his investments in real estate were said to be shrewd. As to marriage, it was said he was serious about it, but any spouse would have to be “a paragon of virtues and graces” if she was to accept a ring from “so unworthy a person as him.” Dix was married and divorced twice and had four children, but also battled alcoholism and died at age 56 in 1949 of a heart attack on a train crossing the country.
Edwin Schallert has been frequently mentioned here as a drama and film critic for the Los Angeles Times, but his wife Elza Baumgarten was a frequent contributor to that paper and other publications and the couple penned the “Hollywood High Lights” column in Photo Play, as well (their son William became well-known for his television work as the father in The Patty Duke Show and as Admiral Hargrave in Get Smart). In this edition they wrote of how “straight lines are out” and “curves are in” for women actors, so that “the new ‘finds’ of the scree are plump,” though that latter word has to be defined in terms of Hollywood standard, “and he established favorites are aiming toward roundness.”
Also highlighted was that Dolores del Rio, the star of the recent release, Ramona, “captured the silver trophy at the Wampas ball,” this referring to the “WAMPAS Baby” competitions that were a major event at the time—WAMPAS stood for Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers. Del Rio’s rival for the honor was Janet Gaynor, whose 1927 film 7th Heaven was one of her best-known movies of the time. Others recognized for 1928 were Ruth Taylor, Lupe Velez, Sue Carol and Lina Basquette, the latter “won the most applause” at the affair held at the Ambassador Hotel.
Colleen Moore, a major star of the time, was highlighted with her upcoming Lilac Time viewed as important as it would mean that Moore “submerges her comedy and gives a very sympathetic portrayal” in the wartime picture. Corinne Griffith, another popular performer, was featured as she was building a Beverly Hills Spanish Colonial Revival home of twenty rooms that was “rivaling the beautiful Harold Lloyd manse.” Also mentioned was the actor’s upcoming The Divine Lady, released in March 1929 and which earned Griffith an Academy Award nomination.
The Schallerts also mentioned that the estate of the late Valentino was settled and that there was about $300,000 left in it. As for a frequent co-star and purported lover at the time of his death, whose fainting spells at his funeral were widely derided as a publicity stunt, Pola Negri told the columnists that she planned to make one film a year for United Artists in the United States and another in Europe—she was a native of Poland—, though she also announced her retirement after leaving Paramount, where she worked for five years. Negri’s 1927 marriage to a European prince so soon after Valentino’s death in September 1926 is said to have affected her career, though she worked on and off in the talkie era, including a last role in a Disney film in 1963.
Helen Louise Walker provided a feature on Colleen Moore and her jump to serious roles in Lilac Time, while A.L. Wooldridge profiled Lane Chandler, co-starring with Bow in the recent release Red Hair and Reid put the spotlight on Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., who was under the shadow of his legendary father (and was also the first husband of emerging star Joan Crawford). The origins of stars like Georgia Hale, Laura La Plante, Blanche Sweet, Alice Joyce, La Rocque, Hobard Bosworth, and Harrison Ford (no relation to the modern superstar) were also detailed in a piece.
Reviews of current films like Tenderloin, Two Lovers, The Showdown, and Dressed to Kill, none recognizable now and a raft of other releases that have been long forgotten are also provided, though “A Confidential Guide to Current Releases” includes, in the “What Every Fan Should See” some older classic films like Ben-Hur, Beau Geste, The Circus, The Gaucho, Sadie Thompson, Seventh Heaven, Sunrise and The Way of All Flesh, going back as far as 1925.
Another notable feature by Madeline Glass was on Lupe Vélez, who starred with the elder Fairbanks in The Gaucho and whose latest work was Stand and Deliver, with La Rocque and released in February. Vélez was quoted as saying, relative to her success, “All time I am so happy. I cannot believe all these wanderful success have come to me. I wake in the night and ask myself if it is true. It is like miracle. I am so happy!” Because of her accent, the Mexican-born actor, was then given the “Eengleth” treatment:
I hate to go to bed and I hate to get up. My grandmother do not like my dresses, or the way I do. She say she were different w’en [why was the silent “h” taken out?] she were a girl. So I ask her about her first kees. Then she start to tell me. For two hours she talk—all about hees hacienda, an hees horses, and hees peoples. Then, after two hours, she tell about the kees. I think it very foney—her lover like Eskimo! He navair do for movies!
Another interesting feature concerns painted portraits of well-known women actors like Gaynor, Moore, Claire Windsor and Marion Davies, whose painting (paid for, no doubt, by her lover, the powerful media titan, William Randolph Hearst). Wooldridge, in his “They Cracked Their Shell,” wrote about how Cecil B. DeMille offered the advice to aspiring actors that, “it’s worth three years of any young man or young woman’s life to find if he or she has talent for pictures,” otherwise, if “the spark has no been developed” and no progress made, “it’s better that the movies are dropped and some other vocation followed.” Examples of the efforts of Swanson, Daniels, Meighan, William Boyd, Phyllis Haver and Leatrice Joy, among others, were cited.
Finally, Lulu Case Russell interpreted the “slanguage” of Hollywood with such terms as: “Twist it” for turning the crank of the camera; “Broads” and “Spots” for diffused and undiffused lighting; “Give us more spaghetti!” to get more cable; “Gag man” for humorist; “rushes” for the prints of the day’s shooting; and “Poverty Row” denoting a street in Tinseltown where smaller studios, whose productions paid actors less and whose releases were “about what a ten-cent store purchase amounts to compared to a gift from Tiffany’s.”
Plenty of photographs, advertisements and other material are also of note, as well as the cover painting of Phyllis Haver by Modest Stein (1871-1958, his surname was Aronstam), a Lithuanian-born Jewish illustrator who came to the United States at seventeen, was an anarchist with Emma Goldman and purportedly was to take a direct part in the plotted assassination of industrialist Henry Clay Frick. These youthful associations put aside, Stein developed a career as an illustrator for pulp magazines including for a variety of Street and Smith publications, and worked steadily until his death.
There are more film fan magazines in the Museum’s holdings, so we’ll continue to feature them in future “That’s a Wrap” posts, so please keep an eye out for those.