That Royle Girl, Presumed Lost, But Not Forgotten.

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That Royle Girl premiered in Chicago, on Saturday, November 21, 1925[i], at the Balaban & Katz Uptown Theater located at Broadway and Lawrence Ave., (Uptown Theater had just opened its doors on August 18 of 1925) and had a general release on Monday, December 7 (according to Internet Movie Data Base and other sources), 1925; but this information seems a bit sketchy because the movie debuted on Tuesday, December 1, 1925 at the Regent Theater, in Norwalk[ii], Connecticut, and in Nevada, Missouri (south of Kansas City), it opened at the Star Theater on Wednesday, December 2, 1925[iii]. Setting the exact date of release may not be reasonable for Royle, as with most films of that era, small cities and towns received a print that was well worn by the time of its small-town premier. Primarily, why December 7, 1925 is so often considered the official release date of That Royle Girl, is because that is what was reported to the movie-theater trade magazines[iv]; then a staggered roll-out was used instead.

Royle was directed by D.W. Griffith, based on the Edwin Balmer novel of the same name (which appeared serialized in Cosmopolitan Magazine (1924-1925), with the screen adaptation by Paul Schofield, cinematography by Harry Fischbeck and Harold S. Sintzenich; starring Carol Dempster, W.C. Fields, James Kirkwood and Harrison Ford (no relation to Han or Indy Harrison Ford). All sources direct us to the fact that Griffith did not want to make this film and took it simply to comply with his contract. But I prefer my fantasized version better: Griffith in Chicago, at Bert Kelly’s Stables on Rush St. and he says, “I got the Jazzy Inspiration to produce ‘That Royle Girl’ while visiting Bert Kelly’s Stables, which I consider the real Chicago Nite Life Atmosphere;” wait, that’s not a fantasy, that’s a advertisement[v]!

This film is presumed lost, and when we lose a film, we have not only lost a piece of moving-art but we have also mislaid a part of photographed-history (when shot on location). What a memory activator That Royle Girl could be, a time capsule from 1925 has vanished to us the modern audience; what a shame the loss we the movie watchers experience corporately, for this film was shot in and around Chicago, in some sense a travelogue, seen through the perspective of the keen eyed Mr. Griffith; a deep-dish (get it? Chicago) slice of history has been taken from us. That Royle Girl was selected for the American Film Institute Top 10 Most Wanted Lost Film List, in 1980, along with: Frankenstein (1910), Cleopatra (1917), The Kaiser, the Beast of Berlin (1918), Little red Riding Hood (a Walt Disney production) (1922), Greed (all reels wish list) (1923), London After Midnight (partially restored) (1927), Camille (1927), The Divine Woman (1928) and Rogue Song (sound film) (1930). The last known trace that I can find of That Royle Girl, intact, was January, 27, 1932, in an article written by Louella O. Parsons[vi].

Regardless of the reasons for each film’s inclusion on the list, at least the Most Wanted Lost Film roll brought to the attention of the American audience the suspected ruin of so many early films. I know that I have made mention of lost cinema, numerous times, but the point cannot be made too often, that we are missing out on about 85% at the most, or an unknown percentage at the least[vii], or somewhere in between may be more accurate, especially when considering feature-length films[viii]; David Pierce’s work is the latest and might be the best on the subject[ix]. Any deficit of our silent-moving-pictures is too much, for thereby we lose an element of ourselves, a thread of our common history on film. I believe it is our responsibility to ensure that what films have survived, remain intact, preserving, restoring, regardless of whether the movie’s title is recognizable or popular, and then making them available to the general audience. Of course, that implies ample donations to finish the work; yet, millions of feet of film lay waiting to be resuscitated.

That Royle Girl has the perception with many of not having received good reviews; Richard Schickel in particular, in his book D.W. Griffith: An American Life[x], appears determined to represent that the cyclone finale did not persuade critics or anyone at the production company, (Famous Players-Lasky) of realism. Also, Simon Louvish wrote: That Royle Girl “was judged a failure by the critics[xi].”  Michael Corcoran and Arnie Bernstein said: “That Royle Girl did little to impress either critics or moviegoers.[xii]” But I did not find that to be true, at all, from Carl Sandberg’s short article to many newspapers across the nation, Royle, if not a darling, was at least liked of critics, who praised the cyclone scenes. That Royle Girl made appearances on two top-ten lists, which is not studio hype: Gervaise Butler, Pantagraph, Bloomington, IL and Harold D’Valpey, The Daily Item, Lynn, Mass. As well, Carol Dempster won the Photoplay Magazine Best Performance for the month March, 1926, and Royle was listed as one of the six best pictures of the month in Photoplay Magazine March, 1926.

If Schickel was confining his information to publications such as the New Yorker and Variety, which trashed Royle, then his claims that people did not find the cyclone ending persuasive is backed up, but to come to that conclusion, many good reviews had to be discounted. Now, granted, some of the rave evaluating-missives were from smaller markets, maybe Schickel and other writers have dismissed the local-yokel drama-critics for the company of the early Nuevo-urban-film-critic-intelligentsia; yet, overall Royle (by my research, of which I am including excerpts and some reviews in full, more than 30) was warmly welcomed.

If the only axe to grind by many modern writers was just regarding the critical reception of Royle, that would be one thing, but the accusation is that the box-office was awful, because the film was not believable; well, the box office doesn’t lie. According to Variety, January 1926 and the Film Daily Presents the Film Year Book 1927 (drawing fine receipts nation-wide), Royle was in good health financially at the box-office. Indeed, it took in $44,500 in one week, while breaking records at the Chicago Theater, in Chicago, IL[xiii]. So popular was Royle in St. Petersburg, Florida that it had a re-run of two days beginning on January 1 of 1927[xiv]. The film received an overall value of 65 from the Motion Picture News in their box-office report [xv]; Motion Picture Magazine, reported that “D. W. Griffith’s ‘That Royle Girl,’… hit big business in Baltimore, Chicago and other [xvi]cities.” According to Richard Schickel, Royle lost about $180,000[xvii], while the cyclone scenes cost $200,000-$250,000[xviii]. That Royle Girl made money, just not enough to offset the budget-overrun.

If you have any further information regarding That Royle Girl, please contact me. 

 

David Wark Griffith

David Wark Griffith

Carol Dempster

Carol Dempster

Harrison Ford

Harrison Ford

W. C. Fields

W. C. Fields

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Stills from That Royle Girl:

That Royle GirlThat Royle Girl

By C. S. Williams


[i] The Movies Are”: Carl Sandburg’s Film Reviews and Essays: 1920-1928, edited and with historical commentary by Arnie Bernstein, Lake Claremont Press, October, 2000, page 284

[ii] Norwalk Hour, Tuesday, December 1, 1925, page 4

[iii] The Nevada Daily Mail and the evening Post, Wednesday, December 2, 1925, page 7

[iv] Exhibitor’s Trade Review, August 22, 1925, page 54

[v]

Griffith

D. W. Griffith Ad for Bert Kelly’s of Chicago; from the private collection of C. S. Williams

[vi] Milwaukee Sentinel, Wednesday, January 27, 1932, page 11

[vii] Nitrate Won’t Wait: A History of Film Preservation in the United States, By Anthony Slide, McFarland & Company, Inc., 1992, page 5

[viii] The Survival of American Silent Feature Films: 1912–1929,  by David Pierce, Council on Library and Information Resources The Library of Congress, September 2013, page 2

[ix] The Survival of American Silent Feature Films: 1912–1929,  by David Pierce, Council on Library and Information Resources The Library of Congress, September 2013

[x] D.W. Griffith: An American Life, By Richard Schickel, First Limelight Edition April 1996, by Proscenium Publishers Inc., page 517

[xi] British Film Institute Film Classics, Volume 1, edited by Rob White, Edward Buscombe, published by Fitzroy Dearborn, 2003, page 253

[xii] Hollywood on Lake Michigan: 100+ Years of Chicago and the Movies, by Michael Corcoran and Arnie Bernstein, Lake Claremont Press, 1998, page 39

[xiii] Motion Picture Magazine, February, 1926, page 78

[xiv] The Independent, St. Petersburg, Florida, Saturday, January 1, 1927, page 6

[xv] The Motion Picture News, the Weekly Edition of Exhibitors’ Box Office Reports for January 16, 1926.

[xvi] Motion Picture Magazine, April, 1926

[xvii] D.W. Griffith: An American Life, By Richard Schickel, First Limelight Edition April 1996, by Proscenium Publishers Inc., page 516

[xviii] D.W. Griffith: An American Life, By Richard Schickel, First Limelight Edition April 1996, by Proscenium Publishers Inc., page 517

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Victor McLaglen, in a Jeep or: a 4 by Ford. McLaglen, Boxer, Actor and a Squire of the Hollywood Landscape

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Born Victor Andrew de Bier Everleigh McLaglen on Friday, December 10th, 1886 in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England, Victor McLaglen (a former boxer) was an adventurer at heart, never satisfied with the norm, and in some way seeking fodder for future stories that he might relay to friends, family and acquaintances; with his muscular physique, his craggy good looks, a disarming smile and a sincere laugh, from the beginning he was destined for Silver-Screen greatness. He appeared in nearly 120 movies, over the course of 39 years, yet, it was 4 classics in 5 years, (please see our McLaglen birthday tribute) enough for a lifetime for most actors, which set the stage, so to speak, for his celluloid goodbye; ending with a career full of classic Hollywood fare. Beginning in 1948, McLaglen began a string of movies that proved to be a rugged, off-road, 4×4 vehicle that drove him forever into the hearts and minds of movies-goers, TV watchers, VHS, DVD, Blu-Ray and streaming buyers, the aficionados and casual viewers alike. It was none the less a collection of some of the finest works which director John Ford and actor John Wayne had to offer: Fort Apache, 1948; She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, 1949, Rio Grande, 1950 and The Quiet Man, 1952.

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I find McLaglen to be one of the most likable personalities in the annals of Hollywoodland; his strong-man persona and appearance belied his true acting abilities which were seldom any better used than in the four movies that we are focusing on in this post. That might be because each of the four films in question were directed by John Ford, which with The Quiet Man ended their long association that had begun in 1925 with The Fighting Heart. Their collaboration brought Mr. McLaglen 2 Academy Award nominations (The Informer, 1935 and The Quiet Man, 1952) and 1 Oscar statue (The Informer, 1935) and Ford gained a dependable actor for his “Stock Company” of players.

McLaglen was an avid sportsman, and in fact had a multi-purpose stadium built in 1935 on Riverside Drive just north of Hyperion Avenue at a cost of $40,000…

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Victor McLaglen’s Sports Cneter

… McLaglen Stadium hosted a variety of events: equestrian, polo, junior college and minor pro football games, lacrosse, midget auto and motorcycle racing, softball, rugby and for while it was the premier soccer venue in Los Angeles[i].

Victor McLaglen

Polo at Victor McLaglen’s Sports Center

Victor McLaglen's Sports Center

Lois Terry, “Blonde Venus” of softball, is pictured about to dish over one of those dazzling fastballs that continually baffle the opposition. She will hurl tonight for the Glendale Lighthorse team against an all-star aggregation at Vic McLaglen’s stadium. Photo dated: April 8, 1936. (Los Angeles Herald-Examiner Collection)

Unfortunately, in 1938, due to flooding damage it fell in to disuse.

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Much of what McLaglen did in front of the camera physically and emotionally portraying in a myriad of scenes, he had already lived out, a bigger than life, life. Boxer, wrestler, farm-hand (Canada), rancher (near Clovis, California), pearl-diver, big-game-hunter, miner[ii], and so much more was his personal experience that it provided a depth and breadth to his acting that not all actors (I know: duh, it’s called acting for a reason) have at their disposal. Many touchy-feely actors of today and of historic import may dismiss or trivialize the acumen of McLaglen’s acting, but his utilization of his experiences was really “method acting,” this prior to the Actors Studio (1947) being established and independent of the influence of Constantin Stanislavski’s system.

Victor McLaglen

Picture from Boy’s Cinema, July 1, 1922 Boys’ Cinema Famous Heroes # 18

Victor McLaglen

Victor McLaglen and Heavyweight Champion Boxer Jack Johnson, at their exhibition bout.

Victor McLaglen

McLaglen in boxing pose

Victor McLaglen

Another Victor boxing pose

McLaglen’s work in the aforementioned 4 films is outstanding, leaving little behind and bringing all he had to the dinner-table of film. Bravo Mr. McLaglen for bringing such definable character to roles that could have been nothing more than brash, harsh, Irish-stereotypes. Instead these men were brought to life, given heart and eliciting laughter along the way. Thank you so much Victor McLaglen for your classic portrayals in Fort Apache, as Sgt. Festus Mulcahy, 1948;  as Top Sgt. Quincannon in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, 1949; in Rio Grande as Sgt. Maj. Timothy Quincannon, 1950 and as Squire ‘Red’ Will Danaher in The Quiet Man, 1952. Wonderful memories, rousing adventures, unabashed, unapologetic manliness is available wherever (home or theater) and whenever (day or night) a Victor McLaglen movie plays. Enjoy, I know you will.

Victor McLaglen with friends, family and more:

Victor McLaglen

A party hosted by Victor McLaglen at his estate in honor of Binnie Barnes. From left to right we see: Herbert Mundin, Wendy Barrie, McLaglen, Barnes and Don Alvarado. July, 1936

Victor McLaglen

Andrew and Sheila McLaglen jogging with their dad

Victor McLaglen

Sheila watches as her brother Andrew and their “pop” Victor McLaglen enjoy some boxing

Victor McLaglen

Victor McLaglen accepting his Oscar for best Actor for The Informer, 1935.

Victor McLaglen

Victor McLaglen doing some gardening

Victor McLaglen

Ronald Colman and Neil Hamilton sitting on the shoulders of strongman Victor McLaglen during filming of the 1926 action-movie Beau Geste

By C. S. Williams


[ii] Express to Hollywood by Victor McLaglen, Jerrolds, London, 1934;  Victor McLaglen, the British Empire, and the Hollywood Raj: Myth, Film, and Reality by Richard A. Voeltz, Journal of Historical Biography 8 (Autumn 2010), University of the Fraser Valley, 2010

Marjorie Main, Happy Birthday! Born February 24th; 1890-1975

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Funny lady, Marjorie Main, born Mary Tomlinson, in Acton, Indiana, on Monday, February 24th, 1890, made her feature film debut in 1931 with  A House Divided; she had 88 film credits and was nominated for 1 Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, as Phoebe ‘Ma’ Kettle in The Egg and I, 1947. She also gained a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her work in Friendly Persuasion, 1956 as The Widow Hudspeth. She made her mark in Tinsel-Town history by playing the sharp-tongued, gruff matriarch (the aforementioned Phoebe ‘Ma’ Kettle) of the Ma and Pa Kettle films (spawned from The Egg and I) co-starring with and sparring nicely with Percy Kilbride as Pa Kettle (together they were the best of that film series).

Besides her award nominated performances and the Kettle series, Main had turns in several Hollywood classics: Stella Dallas and Dead End, 1937; The Women, 1939; Heaven Can Wait, 1943 and Meet Me in St. Louis, 1944. Along the way she was blessed to be directed by Hollywood master craftsmen… William Wyler, King Vidor, Ernst Lubitsch, Vincente Minnelli, Henry Hathaway and George Cukor. Roaming through Main’s resume, one comes away with the idea of pigeon-holing her as a “one note actress”, that title may be correct for her; ah but what a note she played! Like Pachelbel’s Canon and the repetitive strains of the cello, for some of us Marjorie Main was a classic (Hollywood), pleasing to the ear, hers was a singular talent, and the likes of which have not been seen or heard since; each movie she appeared in was like a waiting game, filling us with anticipation for her scenes, to hear once more that unmistakable Main voice.

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By C. S. Williams

Disney Animation, Happy Anniversary, Twice Over!

Saturday, February 23rd, 1935, saw the blustery opening of Disney’s animated short-film, The Band Concert; the first Mickey Mouse cartoon in color.

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The first Disney cartoon in color was released on July 30th, 1932, “Flowers and Trees;”  hmm, I wonder if Tolkien saw Flowers and Trees? Ent, Ent. Uh (insert in your mind an elongated pause here), I mean, hint, hint.

Post Script: I hope at the least that my attempt at “talking and walking tree” humor brought a smile to your face, and was not completely lost or misunderstood, nor my post script with further explanation becoming overkill, or taken as insult if you did not get my joke at all. If any of the aforementioned (beginning with Ent, Ent.) is true, please accept my apology now, and forgive me, please. Thank you, this post is not over, it continues below…

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Friday, February 23rd, 1940,  had the distinction to premier Walt Disney’s Pinocchio, a full-length feature film, in Multiplane Technicolor. Oscar winner for Best Song (When You Wish Upon A Star) and Best Music Original Score. By the way, Pinocchio was the first animated movie to win an Oscar in a competitive category,  Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs won an honorary Academy Award in 1937.

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By C. S. Williams

The Magnificent Ambersons, the Second Welles’ Masterpiece

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Prologue: The Devil is in the details. It all began with the signing of the new contract by Orson Welles with RKO. With Kane came unprecedented freedoms and choices for Welles, the new agreement gave cast and script approval along with the final cut to RKO for The Magnificent Ambersons. In return Welles would receive the opportunity to regain his unique and unheard of contractual stipulations, for any future projects, if Ambersons and Journey into Fear (for the last half of The Magnificent Ambersons shooting schedule, Welles was directing Ambersons by day performing in Journey into Fear, by night) were financially successful.[i]  According to Ross Hastings (RKO legal counsel) in his missive[ii] to RKO President George Schaefer dated March 19th, 1942, once Ambersons was out of the first preview the film went to the control of the studio.

On to the film! Friday, July 10th, 1942 was a special day, the day that Orson Welles’ second film was released. Even though The Magnificent Ambersons was drastically truncated by RKO, yet it is regarded as a top-notch film, some saying as good as Citizen Kane, a few have said it is better than Kane, with a long catalog of critics listing the movie as one of the best ever made. For me, Ambersons is so close to being as good as Kane and in some areas better than Kane, that it becomes a simple matter of film-preference.

This is a beautiful movie, every component of production working harmoniously bringing about a powerful, bleak view of human effort and progress. The Magnificent Ambersons is story of what all of us goes through, yearning for the past, a tale of loss, of what could have been; a stark reminder of how quickly time, can pass us by and leave us in the lurch. This other masterpiece by Welles is a dark, foreboding, nearly hopeless cautionary narrative…

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And now to the crux of the matter. But the question must be asked, how can we anoint Ambersons as one of the greatest films in moving-picture history, while it is not the final vision of its director, being nowhere close to what Orson Wells had in his mind? His film came in at over 130 minutes the final RKO version at 88. The ending reshot, the editing completed with him out of the country, how can we give accolades to such a project? Because regardless of how or who finished The Magnificent Ambersons, it is a fantastic effort on all fronts! And has all of the traits and trappings we know as Wellesian. In this short post I intend to make the argument that Ambersons is magnificent because it was edited.

October 28th, 1941 through January 22nd, 1942, saw Welles and crew working hard and furious at RKO’s Gower Street studios in Los Angeles, California. Joseph Cotton had the role of Eugene Morgan, Dolores Costello appeared as Isabel Amberson-Minafer, Anne Baxter took the part of Lucy Morgan, Tim Holt as Georgie, Agnes Moorehead as Fanny Amberson, Richard Bennett as the patriarch Major Amberson with Ray Collins as Jack Amberson and let us not forget the familiar and eloquent voice of Orson Welles as our narrator. Stanley Cortez was Amberson’s photographer, Albert S. D’Agostino took care of the production and art design, Darrell Silvera set decoration, Bernard Herrmann (uncredited by his own wish) composed the music and also Roy Webb contributed about 6 minutes of the film’s score.  Robert Wise performed the duties of editor as he had on Kane, along with his trusty assistant Mark Robson.

In my humble opinion (and please pardon the forthcoming pun) Wise made some wise choices in editing and indeed (although my estimation is un-provable) may have made Ambersons better still than what Orson Welles’ preparations had initially intended. I have always felt an outsider with this point of view about Ambersons but a small bit of vindication came my way with the script restoration by Robert L. Carringer;[iii] so, now my view-point is no longer “out on the limb” nor unique in any way, just another opinion open for derision or plaudit, as the reader sees fit.

Ambersonian minutia. With principal filming accomplished and director Welles already in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for his next project, Wise and Robson worked around the clock, editing, transposing and replacing scene after scene, trying to make Ambersons a concise picture and more easily understood.[iv]  Throughout the preview and editing process Wise communicated with Welles, updating him to specific and overall audience response. A reconstruction of script, of directions for editing from Welles to Wise, comment cards from the preview audience may serve to whet our appetites for the Wellesian adaptation of Booth Tarkington’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, but unfortunately that information will never bring Mr. Welles original dream to us, unless the copy of Ambersons that was sent to Welles in Brazil shows (much like Metropolis did) up unexpectedly.

Orson Welles’ ideal closing for Ambersons (according to all available sources) was a somber, melancholy affair, unlike Booth Tarkington’s novel which finished with hopeful reconciliation achieved in one sentence. The finale for Ambersons was reshot using the heart of Tarkington’s description, with Mr. Morgan at the hospital visiting Georgie (excepting that his recitation of his call on Gerogie is spoken to Fanny), it plays just as the novel. Whereas, Welles’ wanted to finish with Morgan’s recounting of his time with Georgie, to Fanny at the boarding-house. This is Orson Welles’ largest complaint with regards to the editing, the cutting out his ending and re-shooting a new one. Even taking in to account Peter Bogdanovich’s interview with Welles that Welles’ inspiration for the scene came from his visit with Richard Bennett on Catalina Island, prior to filming, (his visit with the aged actor was in a boarding-house)[v], yet, If you look at the final script[vi] for Ambersons on pages 164-165, no such scene with Eugene and Fanny was written and in fact no story-board was prepared for the scene. Granted the new final scenes are easily distinguishable from the direction of Orson Welles, but I do not feel that they detract from the quality of the story being told.

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Still from Welles deleted ending

Welles had hired Robert Wise as editor; Wise was more than good enough for Kane, was he not good enough for Ambersons? The obvious answer is yes. Welles left Wise to take care of the editing. Contemporaneously and for years to come Welles had an acrimonious relationship with Wise, I understand that, he making numerous derogatory comments about Mr. Wise’s involvement in the cutting of his film, yet in Welles’ conversations with Peter Bogdanovich, Welles said of Wise “That was his beginning, wasn’t it? That’s when he got off the pad.”[vii] It appears through time (old adage: time heals all wounds) that Orson Welles began to entertain different ideas about Ambersons from his first embittered feelings regarding RKO’s editing of Ambersons, to it being the launching-pad for the editor and soon to be director Robert Wise.

The Magnificent decision of legacy belongs to you and me. Maybe your mind is already made-up; it could be that another viewing will not make the slightest bit of difference in your approbation (or dislike) of The Magnificent Ambersons, but maybe it is time for us all to take one more appreciative look at Orson Welles’ second movie through a new lens of revelation. I have made my case for the better Ambersons being the edited Ambersons, now the question remains what is your stance?

Suggested reading and surfing. There is nothing quite like reading the source material, therefore I submit “The Magnificent Ambersons” by Booth Tarkington, which is available online for free (if you do not wish to make an investment). An invaluable tool are the words from the man himself This is Orson Welles is a must read, and if time allows take a look at Robert L. Carringer’s aforementioned book The Magnificent Ambersons: A Reconstruction and or Orson Welles: The Rise and Fall of an American Genius by Charles Higham. Also there are a few of good online resources:  the Alt blog on Alt Screen, the magnificent Ambersons by Jim Emerson 10/25/2011;  Ambersons.com and Wellesnet.com

I have also included three reviews of The Magnificent Ambersons, from 1942: Thomas M. Pryor for the New York Times; Manny Farber with New Republic and Variety

Lobby cards, stills and such:

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By C. S. Williams


[i] This is Orson Welles, by Orson Welles, Da Capo Press, 1998, page 115

[ii] Ross Hastings to George Schaefer: March 19, 1942

You asked me concerning our rights in connection with the cutting of THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS.

Orson Welles has the right to make the first rough cut of the picture or to cut the picture in the form of the first sneak preview if it is to be previewed. Thereafter he agrees to cut the picture as directed by us.

I am not really informed as to the facts, but I know that the picture has been previewed, and assume that this preview was in the form in which he cut the picture, or at least in the form as to which he controlled the cutting. In view of the fact that from this point on he is obligated to cut as directed by us, and in view of the further fact that his now not available for cutting, it is my opinion that we have the right to cut the picture.

[iii] The Magnificent Ambersons: A Reconstruction by Robert L. Carringer, University of California Press, April 29th, 1993

[iv] Orson Welles: The Rise and Fall of an American Genius by  By Charles Higham, page 197

[v] This is Orson Welles, by Orson Welles, Da Capo Press, 1998, page 128

[vi] 158                                  CLOSEUP of Eugene as he writes. We hear only the scratching of his pen, and on the sound track his voice.

EUGENE’S VOICE

 (on sound track)

Dearest Isabel – – your boy was

hurt in a street accident today

–run down by an automobile.

I thought at first I wouldn’t

go to see him at the hospital,

but of course I did. I thought

It would be hard not to be

bitter but I found it was easy

–he looked so much like you,

dearest one. As I came in, he

lifted his hand in a queer

gesture, half-forbidding, half-

imploring, then let his arm

fall back on the covers. (cont’d)

EUGENE’S VOICE (cont’d)

(on sound track)

He said “you must have thought

My mother wanted you to come

So that I could ask you – –

to forgive me.” Lucy was

beside him and she shook her

Head “No,” she said, “just

to take his hand – gently.”

She was radient… But for me

another radiance filled the

room – and I knew I’d been

true at last to my true love

and that through me you had

brought your boy under shelter

again ….

FADE OUT

THE END

[vii] This is Orson Welles, by Orson Welles, Da Capo Press, 1998, page 122

Merle Oberon, Happy Birthday! Born February 19th; 1911-1979

merle-oberon-1936-everett

Born Estelle Merle O’Brien Thompson on February 19, 1911, in Bombay (Mumbai), India and she passed away on November 23, 1979. Although Tasmania, Australia laid claim to her birth as well, this was to cover her true origins (more on this later).[1] As the story goes (according to Michael Korda), Alexander Korda and Ms. Thompson met on the production of, The Private Life of Henry VIII, and changed her name to Merle Oberon and then married her in 1939.[2]

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As many actors have Ms. Oberon began her film career with uncredited roles, she having 9 non-designated appearances from 1929 through 1932.[3] Then in late 1932 Merle Oberon had a clutch of 4 films, 2 with credits and 2 without,[4] but it was with her characterization of Anne Boleyn in The Private Life of Henry VIII., which premiered on August 17th, 1933, that set her on the road of Success.

Quickly, other memorable roles followed: The Private Life of Don Juan, Vagabond Violinist, The Scarlet Pimpernel, all released in 1934. Then in 1935 she received her only Academy Award nomination, which was for Best Actress for her interpretation of Kitty Vane in The Dark Angel. These Three, 1936, saw her more improved than in her Oscar nominated role from the year before and 1938 was another boon year for Oberon, with turns in The Divorce of Lady X and The Cowboy and the Lady. But it was with Wuthering Heights, 1939, alongside Laurence Olivier and in the hands of director William Wyler that she achieved her greatest film performance, her most memorable scenes and her acting legacy all wrapped up in about 9,360 feet of celluloid.

It seems that Wyler as director worked well with Merle Oberon, providing her an environment destined for immense accomplishment, clearly, her best work came in These Three and Wuthering Heights.[5] This not to say that she was not effective in subsequent roles, only that Wuthering Heights was her acting pinnacle, with These Three close behind. The 1940’s had Ms. Oberon in some good solid movies, such as ‘Til We Meet Again, 1940; That Uncertain Feeling with director Ernst Lubitsch and Affectionately Yours, 1941; Dark Waters, 1944, directed by André De Toth;  A Song to Remember, 1945; Night Song, 1947 and Berlin Express, 1948. In the 1950’s Oberon took work in television and had few film roles, but Désirée and Deep in My Heart, 1954 and The Price of Fear, 1956 were highlights for that decade.

In 1937 Oberon was involved in a near fatal car-wreck which left her with some facial scaring, leaving cinematographers to come up with ideas to obscure her scars. During filming of The Lodger, 1944, cinematographer Lucien Ballard (married Oberon in 1945, 3 weeks after her divorce from Alexander Korda) developed a special spotlight to help conceal the scaring of Ms. Oberon, the spotlight is known today as the “obie”.

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Merle Oberon, an often overlooked actress when the best of Hollywood are mentioned, was a very talented, albeit fearful individual, afraid of her mixed-heritage (her father Welsh, her mother half-Indian from Cylon [now Sri Lanka] India), going to extremes to keep her partial Indian-parentage a secret. Many are highly offended by her actions and that is understandable but I believe we should show some kindness toward her memory for it was an era when a lot of people had their prejudice in the open, their bigotry taking form in laws and customs, which at its worst could lead to the death of people of color, devastation of the lives of women and men of color and at its least it could prevent persons of color from their chosen professions, their homes of choice and frequently enough kept from their education of choice. Often our early impressions and experiences guide the rest of our life-decisions. While still in India Ms. Oberon had her relationship with former actor Colonel Ben Finney end once he realized she was of mixed-race.[6] That is quite a lot for anyone to handle then deal with, let alone a young woman of 18 years to overcome. So today, February 19th, let us remember a gifted woman, of uncommon beauty: Merle Oberon.

 

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By C. S. Williams


[1] Who’s Who in Australia, 1938

[2] Charmed Lives, by Michael Korda, Published by Random House, Inc., 1979

New York Times Book Review (New York, New York) November 4, 1979

[3] The Three Passions, 1929  / The W Plan, 1930 / Alf’s Button, 1930 / A Warm Corner, 1930 / Fascination, 1931 / Never Trouble Trouble, 1931  Reserved for Ladies, 1932 / Ebb Tide, 1932 / Aren’t We All?, 1932

[4] Wedding Rehearsal and Men of Tomorrow, with credit for her performances, both released on, October 1st, 1932 / For the Love of Mike, December 1932 / Strange Evidence, January of 1933

[5] William Wyler began as director for The Cowboy and the Lady, 1938 but left the film early on for creative differences with producer Samuel Goldwyn; of course we will never know if The Cowboy and the Lady would have been a better comedy-romance if Wyler had remained at the helm for the duration, but it is an interesting speculation none the less.

[6] Princess Merle: The Romantic Life of Merle Oberon by Charles Higham and Roy Moseley, published by Coward  Mc Cann, 1983, pages 28-29.

 

Nancy Drew … Reporter, Happy Anniversary! Premiered February 18th, 1939

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Nancy Drew Reporter was the second of 4 films produced and distributed by Warner Brothers, starring the vivacious Bonita Granville as the plucky teenage detective, John Litel as Carson Drew her clueless, loving father and Frankie Thomas appeared as her sidekick, Ted Nickerson. Kenneth Gamet wrote the Reporter screenplay based on the Nancy Drew stories, using the novels as source materials, likewise for the other 3 Drews; Mr. Gamet and director William Clemens worked each of the Drew films. Bryan Foy had the responsibilities as producer for the first entry (Nancy Drew Detective, November 19th, 1938), but for “Reporter” Mr. Foy moved to associate producer, while Hal B. Wallis and Jack L. Warner came on board as executive producers; WB released the 4 movies Nancy Drew: Detective, Reporter, Trouble Shooter, The Hidden Staircase) in 294 days, 11/19/1938 to 9/9/1939. The films were a smash hit but in 1939 Granville moved from Warner Brothers to MGM, shelving any further projects, her onscreen persona being so entrenched with the character of Nancy Drew.

Bonita Granville

Bonita Granville

John Litel

John Litel

Frankie Thomas

Frankie Thomas

The idea for the Nancy Drew books was developed by Edward Stratemeyer (founder, creator of the Stratemeyer Syndicate, publishers of children’s stories communicated by series), and he gave the character outline to Mildred Wirt Benson (staff writer for the Syndicate); writing under the pen name of Carolyn Keene, Ms. Benson began the Nancy Drew series, on April 28th, 1930 with the release of the 3 volume breeder set which included: The Secret of the Old Clock, The Hidden Staircase, and The Bungalow Mystery.

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It is a great day to celebrate the mystery, the comedy, the thrills and the frills of Nancy Drew, so brightly brought to life by Bonita Granville and the rest of the Drew-crew. The Original Nancy Drew Movies are available on DVD.

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By C. S. Williams