The Enchanted Cottage, a 1924 Miracle Romance

The Enchanted Cottage, 1924

The play, The Enchanted Cottage, written by Sir Arthur Pinero, which opened on Wednesday, March 1, 1922, at the Duke of York’s Theatre, in London, was promptly compared with, J. M. Barrie’s fantasy, Marie Rose (AKA: Mary Rose),[1] which had its premiere in 1920. It was also likened to, Sentimental Tommy, by Mr. Barrie, and Pinero admitted that when beginning, The Enchanted Cottage, he intended writing “something along the lines of… Sentimental Tommy.”[2] On Saturday, March 31, 1923, The Enchanted Cottage, premiered at, The Ritz Theatre, in New York; William A. Brady produced the fantasy for Broadway. The Great White Way opening starred Katharine Cornell and Noel Tearle in the leads, Gilbert Emery as their blind confidant, and featuring a supporting cast of Clara Blandick, Ethel Wright, Harry Neville, Winifred Frazer, Herbert Bunston and Seldon Bennett; The Enchanted Cottage, was under the direction of Ms. Jessie Bonstelle.[3] Ms. Bonstelle (who co-directed with Brady for Broadway) had the responsibility of handling the “dream-play” at the Providence Opera House, perfecting the staging in that out-of-town venue; the Providence run began in the latter third of September, 1922. Noel Tearle (son of Edmund Tearle[4]) who hailed from England, was the leading man of Bonstelle’s stock company for the 1922-’23 season; the romantic-fantasy also played in Detroit at the Shubert Theatre.[5]

Waco News Tribune, Waco, Texas, April 22, 1923

Waco News Tribune, Waco, Texas, April 22, 1923

Noel Tearle (playing dead), from the Broadway production of At 9:45; New York Tribune, New York, New York, August 17, 1919

Noel Tearle (playing dead), from the Broadway production of At 9:45; New York Tribune, New York, New York, August 17, 1919

 

In September of 1923, Inspiration Pictures secured the rights to, The Enchanted Cottage; they bought the property expressly as the next project for, Richard Barthelmess (as: Oliver Bashforth), and appointing John S. Robertson to direct; Josephine Lovett (wife of director Robertson) wrote the scenario from the play.[6] The first actress contemplated and favored for the role of Laura Pennington, in, The Enchanted Cottage, was Dorothy Mackail; Mackail was not available because she had decided to do, The Next Corner (starring Conway Tearle, Lon Chaney, Ricardo Cortez and Louise Dresser), for Famous Players-Lasky Corporation, in Los Angeles.[7] Around forty-five-days later, May McAvoy signed a contract with Inspiration Pictures and was immediately assigned to play opposite Barthelmess; the role was considered a feature part, not a co-starring stint.[8]

Film Daily, June 22, 1924

Film Daily, June 22, 1924

Dorothy Mackail; Photoplay, July, 1925

Dorothy Mackail; Photoplay, July, 1925

 

For the role of the sister of Oliver Bashforth (Ethel Bashforth), Florence Short was chosen; Short was not first choice, but was signed after an unfruitful casting call for a long-nosed girl, 18-years-of-age and 5” 8’ to fit the part. None were found suitable for the ideal Ethel Bashforth, so Short, who had already appeared in support of Barthelmess three times (Way Down East, The Love Flower, and, The Idol Dancer, each released in 1920), was chosen;[9] this search was ended by the third week of October of ’23. This would be the final work in film for Florence Short; Short, who had played on Broadway before and during her movie career, went back to the stage, and was seen in four Broadway productions[10] after her role in, The Enchanted Cottage.

Motion Picture News, January 12, 1918

Motion Picture News, January 12, 1918

There is a caveat to film work for Ms. Short, post 1923, she was part of a stock company of actors that signed with the Screen Actors Guild and the Dominos Club of Hollywood to work daily during the run of the California Pacific International Exposition in San Diego, California, in 1935-36. The group of actors were to perform for visitors of the Motion Picture Hall of Fame Exhibit, at the Pacific Exposition; the crowds were afforded the opportunity to see the players at work on a specially constructed sound stage. The Exposition opened on May 29, 1935 and closed in November of ’35, reopening in 1936 on February 12, and closing on September 9; Walter McGrail, Helen Mann, Warren Burke, Amron Isle, joined Florence Short in the Motion Picture Hall of Fame stock Company. Mondays were the “home movie makers” days, where aspiring film-makers (16mm and 8mm enthusiasts) could film the players of the stock company, and work alongside the professionals, including directors and lighting experts. The Motion Picture Hall of Fame exhibit housed costumes, props, cameras and sets; one of Charlie Chaplin’s burlap boots from, The Gold Rush, was on display, along with sets from, The Bride of Frankenstein, and, The Crusades. The exhibit was built to resemble a Hollywood studio and each of the Hollywoodland companies participated in the project. Aeromodelling was a fascination for actor Reginald Denny, building the scale-model planes at home, with the ability to reach heights of 2,500 feet; the miniature planes had pint-sized gasoline tanks and were capable of making perfecting landings. Denny’s home-made collection was on display at the Motion Picture Exhibit, giving fans the chance to know him just little better. [11]

Holmes Herbert was contracted to portray the blind Major Hillgrove in, The Enchanted Cottage, at the midst of November, ‘23.[12] Casting was complete for, The Enchanted Cottage (a First National release) by the middle of December, 1923, with a company in support of Richard Barthelmess and May McAvoy that included: Marion Coakley, Ida Waterman, Alfred Hickman, Rene Lorraine, the aforementioned Florence Short and Holmes E. Herbert, along with Ethel Wright.[13] Ms. Wright was given the role of Mrs. Minnett for the film (she had the role of Mrs. Corsellis on stage); Wright was the only member of the original Broadway production to appear in the movie.[14] Herbert in prepping for the role of Major Hillgrove visited the, New York Institute for the Blind; he found that the blind kept their eyes closed and thereupon decided to play Hillgrove with eyes shut. Mr. Herbert did this against the grain which in his experience found actors on stage and screen customarily playing the blind with eyes wide open.[15]

Holmes Herbert

Holmes Herbert

Exhibitors Herald, April 5, 1919

Exhibitors Herald, April 5, 1919

 

The first week of November, 1923, found Richard Barthelmess and May McAvoy being put through the paces of homeliness, experimenting with make-up and camera tests, for that suitable homely appearance.[16] According to reportage, Barthelmess had already developed the stoop-shouldered, limping characterization for Oliver Bashforth in that first week of November; this imitation of a wounded soldier accompanied the wan, hollow-cheek visage brought on by the make-up artists at Inspiration Pictures.[17]

Richard Barthelmess

May McAvoy

May McAvoy

Exhibitor's Trade Review, March 22, 1924

Exhibitor’s Trade Review, March 22, 1924

Motion Picture Magazine, March, 1924, behind the scenes

Motion Picture Magazine, March, 1924, behind the scenes

Motion Picture Magazine, June, 1924 behind the scenes: Motion Picture Magazine, June, 1924, behind the scenes: director John Robertson, Josephine Lovett, May McAvoy and Richard Barthelmess

Motion Picture Magazine, June, 1924, behind the scenes: director John Robertson, Josephine Lovett (her face seen in the mirror), May McAvoy and Richard Barthelmess

 

Expectations were such that Inspiration Pictures believed that director John Robertson would have , The Enchanted Cottage, completed by the first of 1924, but Richard Barthelmess, had to have a minor operation in New York’s Polyclinic Hospital (on Thursday, January 3, 1924, delaying the production for more than two-weeks.[18] With “Dickie’s” recovery concluded (at least one report had him looking a “trifle wan” upon his return[19]), filming resumed on January 21, and, The Enchanted Cottage, was complete by the first week of February, 1924.[20] Barthelmess also experienced some rheumatism, which he believed was brought on by the fact that an ample amount of his time before the cameras was spent with his leg twisted for the part of Oliver; of his own admission he missed one day because of the pain. This, added to the two weeks-plus of recovery from his operation, and one more lost day of filming because of a cold for Barthelmess[21] put, The Enchanted Cottage, behind schedule, and the company was unable to recover those days.

The advance reports by those who had seen, The Enchanted Cottage, said that it would “add new laurels” to Barthelmess and McAvoy.[22] One of those who saw the movie soon after completion was Sir Arthur Pinero, author of the play; what had attracted his attention was the cottage itself. The fantasy house for, The Enchanted Cottage, was built at the Fort Lee Studio, and this garnered a “stamp of approval” from the story’s author, Pinero, in a letter he addressed to the producers of the picture, Inspiration Pictures Inc.… Pinero pointed out in particular, the beauty of the cottage setting; Sir Arthur was quoted, saying, “It is a most charming picture, and is in keeping with the spirit of the play.”[23] The genius behind that Enchanted Cottage look, came from the imagination of, Livingston Platt, famed theatrical scenic designer;[24] the small house a grand mix of the English cottage with the fancy of a quiet, secluded fairy-tale home. Much of the charm of “that” cottage was the surrounding garden, of which perfectly imitated the English autumnal season, with its real flowers, shrubs, trees and grass in the studio set.[25] Professor Hugh Findlay of Columbia University attested to the realism of the, The Enchanted Cottage, garden; Findlay taught a course in landscape gardening at the New York City university.[26]

The original date of release was set for March 17, 1924, but the operation necessitated for Barthelmess, pushed the date later; a majority of communities did not see, The Enchanted Cottage, until the first week of April of ’24, and later. A special showing of, The Enchanted Cottage was held at the Crystal Room of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on Friday, April 4, 1924; the Crystal Room was a popular special event venue in New York, hosting many weddings, luncheons, conventions, grand-balls and such. The special viewing of, Cottage, at the Crystal Room was not alone, the film was seen in “Pre-Release” showings at a few select locations across the country.[27]

Exhibitor's Trade Review, February 2, 1924

Exhibitor’s Trade Review, February 2, 1924

Film Daily, March 31, 1924

Film Daily, March 31, 1924

 

Oddly enough, on Thursday, April 3, at the, Congress Theatre, in Saratoga Springs, New York, 24-hours prior to the sneak-preview at the, Ritz-Carlton, in NYC, Enchanted Cottage was previewed, and also had showings for Friday April 4, and Saturday the 5th.[28] Appleton, Wisconsin, hosted the film at the Elite Theatre, from Monday, April 7, through Wednesday, April 9. Cottage, beginning on Monday, April 7, played the week out in Pittsburgh, PA, at the Grand Theatre; Thielen’s Majestic Theatre, in Bloomington, Illinois, featured, The Enchanted Cottage, for three days starting on April 7.[29]

The Saratogian, Saratoga Springs, New York, April 1, 1924

The Saratogian, Saratoga Springs, New York, April 1, 1924

Post Crescent, Appleton, Wisconsin, April 5, 1924

Post Crescent, Appleton, Wisconsin, April 5, 1924

Pittsburgh Gazette Times, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, April 7, 1924

Pittsburgh Gazette Times, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, April 7, 1924

The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Illinois, Apr 7, 1924

The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Illinois, Apr 7, 1924

 

Yet, with the exception of a handful of remarks[30] garnered from the preview at the Crystal Room on April 4, all other reviews followed the New York, Strand theaters openings.[31] It appears that the actual nationwide release date for, The Enchanted Cottage, was Palm-Sunday, April 13, 1924;[32] publicists probably theorized that this romance, with its miracle of love, promised to do well at Easter. The flagship premiere for, The Enchanted Cottage, was in New York, opening at the Strand Theatre on Broadway and the Brooklyn Strand on, April 13.[33]

Film Daily, April 11, 1924

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Brooklyn, New York, April 13, 1924

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Brooklyn, New York, April 13, 1924

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Brooklyn, New York, April 13, 1924

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Brooklyn, New York, April 13, 1924

 

Advertising for the movie took on a “cottage industry” approach, with locally produced artwork, cottage edifices, trellises, flowers and poster works from the film framed within recreated gardens; these cottage environs were reproduced in lobbies or acted as the façade of the box-office. Many suggestions were provided by the distributor, First National, for advertising tie-ins, both for the exhibitor and the local business proprietor; pianos, furniture, insurance, mattresses, radios and vacuums were among the recommended cross-promotions.

Exhibitor's Trade Review, June 7, 1924

Exhibitor’s Trade Review, June 7, 1924

Exhibitor's Trade Review, June 21, 1924, Becham Theatre

Exhibitor’s Trade Review, June 21, 1924, Becham Theatre

Exhibitor's Trade Review, July 26, 1924

Exhibitor’s Trade Review, July 26, 1924

 

Missing from the Cottage:

Little Howard Merrill (under contract to First National) went uncredited for his turn in, The Enchanted Cottage, and has went unlisted for the romance as well;[34] Merrill had appeared with Barthelmess in, Twenty-One, playing the child-age Julian McCullough to “Dickie’s” adult interpretation of the lead character of the film.[35] Merrill would also act with Barthelmess in, Classmates, released for Thanksgiving of 1924; young Mr. Merrill played the juvenile “double” for Richard Barthelmess in at least three films.[36] In addition to Cottage and Classmates, Merrill appeared in, Cytherea, directed by George Fitzmaurice, starring Irene Rich and Lewis Stone.[37] The youngster had a part in, The Jazz Singer, in 1927; for the Al Jolson musical Howard Merrill had a scene on location on one of New York’s busiest “ghetto” streets, playing with Warner Oland. Oland was jumped, when appearing to abuse the eleven-year-old, by an onlooker who determined to save the youth;[38] so much for realism. Beginning in 1950, Merrill started a successful career as a writer for television; turning out scripts for Ensign O’Toole, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Make Room for Daddy and F Troop. In between silent movies and TV, Merrill made a living performing on radio, starting on the airwaves circa 1928.[39] In early 1930, little Merrill, played, Penrod, on NBC, on Sunday nights; the series was based on Booth Tarkington’s story of the same name.[40] Merrill was part of the cast of, Mountainville True Life Sketches, on CBS Radio, later in ’30,[41] and his name could be found in radio related announcements over the next twenty years. His career was varied, besides his acting, he wrote for Esquire Magazine; as teen he had a syndicated newspaper column, by the title of: This Minute. In 1958 he produced (along with the Theatre Corporation of America) the Broadway show, Oh Captain, which starred Tony Randal; the musical-comedy had 192 performances at the Alvin Theatre. [42]

Exhibitor's Trade Review, June 7, 1924

Exhibitor’s Trade Review, June 7, 1924

 

The Enchanted Cottage is available to view online for free on YouTube, yet, this version is truly silent, with no musical accompaniment. If you are in search of a full, Enchanted Cottage, experience then DVD-R you must obtain, which may be found at Grapevine Video. The music for this version of, Cottage, was scored by veteran silent-film music-accompanist and composer, David Knudtson; Knudtson is the co-founder of the Red River Chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society and often plays and composes for film series at the Weld Auditorium of Moorhead State University Moorhead.[43]

 

By C. S. Williams

 

Exhibitors Herald, April 5, 1924

Exhibitors Herald, April 5, 1924

Exhibitors Herald, March 29, 1924

Exhibitors Herald, March 29, 1924

Photoplay, May, 1924

Photoplay, May, 1924

Motion Picture Magazine, June, 1924

Motion Picture Magazine, June, 1924

Photoplay, April, 1924

Photoplay, April, 1924

Photoplay, June, 1924

Photoplay, June, 1924

Exhibitor's Trade Review, June 7, 1924, Home Fires

Exhibitor’s Trade Review, June 7, 1924

The Enchanted Cottage

 

[1] New York Times (New York, New York) March 2, 1922

[2] Journal News (Hamilton, Ohio) March 8, 1924

[3] Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) March 25, 1923

Wall Street Journal (New York, New York) April 3, 1923

[4] New York Times (New York, New York) February 6, 1913

[5] Variety, September 29; October 6, 1922

[6] Film Daily, October 5, 1923

Motion Picture Magazine, June, 1924

[7] Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) October 30, 1923

[8] Davenport Democrat and Leader (Davenport, Iowa) October 14, 1923

[9] Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) October 28; November 11, 1923

Davenport Democrat and Leader (Davenport, Iowa) November 16, 1923

Exhibitor’s Trade Review, December 1, 1923

[10] Starlight, 1925; To-Night at 12, 1928; Abraham Lincoln, 1929; Uncle Tom’s Cabin, 1933;

Source: Internet Broadway Data Base

[11] Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) May 28, 1935

American Cinematographer, June 1935

Nassau Daily Review (Long Island, New York) July 23, 1935

[12] Film Daily, November 18, 1923

Davenport Democrat and Leader (Davenport, Iowa) November 25, 1923

[13] Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) December 16, 1923

[14] Scranton Republican (Scranton, Pennsylvania) December 15, 1923; January 30, 1924

Variety, April 5, 1923

[15] Davenport Democrat and Leader (Davenport, Iowa) January 20, 1924

[16] Houston Post (Houston, Texas) November 1, 1923

[17] Decatur Daily Review (Decatur, Illinois) November 11, 1923

[18] Exhibitors Herald, December 15, 1923

Houston Post (Houston, Texas) January 4, 1924

[19] Harrisburg Telegraph (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) January 28, 1924

[20] Film Daily, January 21, 1924

Davenport Democrat and Leader (Davenport, Iowa) February 10, 1924

[21] Times Recorder (Zanesville, Ohio) January 6, 1924

[22] Davenport Democrat and Leader (Davenport, Iowa) February 10, 1924

[23] Houston Post (Houston, Texas) February 5, 1924

[24] Motion Picture Classic, December, 1923

[25] Davenport Democrat and Leader (Davenport, Iowa) December 30, 1923

[26] Daily Argus (Mount Vernon, New York) May 10, 1924

[27] Film Daily, January 17; March 31, 1924

[28] The Saratogian (Saratoga Springs, New York) April 4, 1924

[29] Pittsburgh Gazette Times (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) April 7; 10, 1920

The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Illinois) April 7, 1924

[30] However, Comma—, columnist, Maurice J. Henle was in attendance at the pre-release at the Ritz Carlton on

April 4, 1924, and those statements appeared in his column on April 8, 1924: Niagara Falls Gazette

(Niagara Falls, New York) April 8, 1924

[31] Film Daily, April 14; 16; 20, 1924

New York Evening Post (New York, New York) April 14, 1924

Exhibitor’s Trade Review, April 19, 1924

Christian Science Monitor (Boston, Massachusetts) April 23, 1924

[32] Film Daily, April 11, 1924

Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) April 13, 1924

[33] Film Daily, March 31; April 11; 14, 1924

New York Evening Post (New York, New York) April 14, 1924

[34] Exhibitors Trade Review, June 7, 1924

[35] Exhibitors Trade Review, March 8, 1924

[36] Film Daily, August 31, 1924

[37] Film Daily, January 9, 1924

[38] Film Daily, July 8, 1927

[39] Variety, October 31, 1928

[40] What’s On the Air, May, 1930

[41] What’s On the Air, May, 1930

[42] Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California) October 5, 1994

Internet Broadway Data Base

[43] INFORUM, July 20, 2015

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