Maude T. Howell – Mr. A’s Shadow

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Women executives were rare at American film studios during the 1930s. One exception was Maude T. Howell who worked as a screen writer, associate director and associate producer at Warner Bros. and Twentieth Century Pictures from 1929 to 1935. She then crossed the Atlantic to work at Gaumont-British Pictures in London through 1937. Maude’s assigned motion picture productions had one thing in common: they were all George Arliss films. A graduate of Stanford University (Class of 1911), Maude worked in high school and community dramatics in Los Angeles. She became an assistant stage manager for a Detroit stock company and later was hired in a similar position for the New York production of THE GREEN GODDESS in 1921, which starred Mr. A. When the stage manager suddenly became ill, Maude took his place and thereby became the first woman stage manager in New York theater history. Mr. A in his memoirs recalled her skill and efficiency in this very demanding job. Photographs of Ms. Howell are as scarce as the proverbial hen’s teeth so following are among the rarest images in the Arliss Archives.
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This backstage photo dates from March 1923 and is likely during the run of THE GREEN GODDESS.

When Mr. A went into making “talkies” he brought Maude Howell along to be his eyes and ears in the myriad details of film-making.
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Taking a break from filming OLD ENGLISH in 1930, Maude Howell joins Mr. A and theater legends Otis Skinner (standing behind Mr. A), and Wilton Lackaye, seated next to him. The man standing on the right is Winthrop Ames who produced Mr. A’s plays from 1920 through 1928. Standing on the left is film director Alfred E. Green.

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Maude Howell also contributed to the scripts of the Arliss films, often uncredited. So did Mr. A. Here they are on the set of ALEXANDER HAMILTON (1931) with director John Adolfi.

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The production crew of CARDINAL RICHELIEU (1935) with Maude Howell seated at extreme right. To her left is Maureen O’Sullivan while Mr. A looks on approvingly at the film’s director, Rowland V. Lee.

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The main credits of RICHELIEU prominently disclose who provided the script.

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On the set of the British film, HIS LORDSHIP (1937), a comedy of foreign intrigue where Mr. A plays twin brothers. Here he is costumed as the pompous one. Director Herbert Mason is on the left.

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Queen Mary attended the London premiere of DR. SYN (1937), which turned out to be Mr. A’s final film. However, he would consider offers to play Disraeli in SUEZ (1938) and to star in THE PIED PIPER (1942), among other proposals. Alan Whittaker is dressed identically to Mr. A because he is his stand-in.

Maude Howell evidently returned to America following the completion of DR. SYN. Presumably, she resumed her career in theater production. Little more seems to be known about her except that she died in 1964 in New Orleans at the age of 77. Please contact me if you have any info about this special lady.

The Legendary Arliss-Zanuck Contract for 20th Century Pictures

Recently, the Arliss Archives acquired a rare item: an original copy of the April 1933 contract between Darryl Zanuck and George Arliss. This copy contains original signatures, and initials where terms were changed. Mr. A’s Warner Bros. contract had just expired with the completion of VOLTAIRE (1933). With Warners production chief Zanuck quitting and moving to the newly formed 20th Century Pictures (later 20th Century-Fox), Mr. A decided to follow him, hence this contract. Even today, it is uncommon to see the written agreements between film artists and the studios so this contract gives us a rare behind-the-scenes look. Here is a page-by-page review of this historic document.

Page One – Dated April 27, 1933, the contract calls for two films, which turned out to be THE HOUSE OF ROTHSCHILD and THE LAST GENTLEMAN, both released in 1934. Mr. A was to be compensated at the rate of $80,000 per film, which in 1933 was equal to over $1.4 million in today’s money:
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Page Two – Mr. A would receive $10,000 when filming begins on each of the two films, and the remaining $70,000 upon completion of each film or upon the expiration of seven weeks since filming began. This means that the filming schedule was intended to last seven weeks, a fairly fast time frame for a major motion picture even today. Mr. A is permitted to work for other studios upon the completion of the second film but no picture made by another studio may be exhibited to the public until after the expiration of six months following the completion of the second film:
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Page Three – The fabled “rehearsal clause” that was the envy of every star and director. Mr. A was permitted to rehearse the cast for each film for twelve days prior to filming. In fact, the cast would enact the entire script as if it were a play before a select audience of studio executives and staff. Audience reaction would uncover dull stretches and poorly-written scenes that would be revised and rewritten prior to filming. The reference to an assistant is Maude T. Howell, who was one of the very few women behind the cameras in Hollywood during the 1930s. She worked on all of Mr. A’s films. Another provision that would have inspired envy is the limited hours of the workday – 9:30 AM to 4:30 PM. This meant that when Mr. A went home so did everybody else on the picture:
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Page Four – Mr. A is given story approval and may select the character he wants to play in the story. He may refuse to enact any character aspects that he feels are unsuitable to his reputation.
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Page Five – The language crossed out and initialed by Mssrs. A and Z seemed to have been designed by studio lawyers to protect the producer. Apparently, Zanuck was willing to forgo these protections based on his longtime working relationship with Mr. A. The clauses requiring a stuntman to “double” for the actor, and for the actor to furnish his own wardrobe for modern dress films, were standard:
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Page Six – This clause proves that Mr. A never required that he be billed as “Mr.” George Arliss. Neither this agreement nor his earlier Warner Bros. contract mandated that the “Mr.” appellation be used:
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Page Seven – Standard clauses permitting the studio to use the actor’s image and voice recordings to publicize the films. Also clarifies that the actor has no ownership interest in the films:
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Page Eight – Paragraph 15 beginning on the previous page contains standard contingencies in the event of the actor’s illness or injury preventing his working on the film. After five weeks of the disability, the studio may cancel the agreement but the actor isn’t required to return any compensation paid to that point:
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Page Nine – Paragraph 17 beginning on the previous page contains the standard “Force Majeure” clause stating that performance may be excused when an event beyond the control of either party disrupts the performance of the contract. It is interesting that the typical reference to an “act of God” has been crossed out. Should additional weeks of filming be required beyond the seven weeks provided, then Mr. A would receive additional compensation on a pro-rata basis of $11,428.57 per week. The cap of an additional four weeks maximum is meant to protect the actor:
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Page Ten – The studio agrees to pay travel expenses between New York and Los Angeles for Mr. A and “one other person,” i.e., his wife Florence, and also to pay $2,000 for their round-trip voyage between New York and London, where Mr. A resided. While living in Los Angeles during the production of the two films, and during the time between the first and second films, Mr. A’s living expenses would be paid by the studio in the amount of $350 per week:
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Page Eleven – The studio would pay the traveling expenses between New York and Los Angeles of Mr. A’s dresser, i.e., his valet Jenner, and compensate such dresser at the rate of $40.00 per week during the production of the two films. A “suitable automobile” and chauffeur will be provided for Mr. A’s exclusive use during the production of the films. The studio agrees to indemnify Mr. A against any claims of copyright infringement, which may be a reference to the copyright difficulties that Mr. A encountered at Warners during the production of ALEXANDER HAMILTON in 1931:
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Page Twelve – Paragraph 23 beginning on the previous page contains standard provisions for the selection of a judicial forum (California) and for arbitration procedures in the event of a dispute between the parties:
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Page Thirteen – The final paragraph in the contract, numbered 24, is unusual. The agreement is in the nature of a personal contract between Mssrs. A and Z, and that Zanuck has the right to assign it to a corporation yet to be formed, but likely to be called “Twentieth Century Pictures” or something similar. For all practical purposes, Mr. A signed this contract with a film producer who was not affiliated with any movie studio, but to whom Mr. A gave the right to assign to a studio that, at the moment, did not exist. Such was the level of trust between Mssrs. A and Z that eventually resulted in the creation of two classic films. While not apparent from this document itself, a third film was eventually agreed upon, CARDINAL RICHELIEU (1935):
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Darryl Zanuck and George Arliss review the signatures of celebrity well-wishers for their first collaboration, THE HOUSE OF ROTHSCHILD (1934):
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Published in: on February 3, 2015 at 8:14 PM  Comments (1)  

New on DVD! THE MAN WHO PLAYED GOD (1932) with Bette Davis

I’m a little late on this but Warner Archive recently issued the sixth official studio DVD release of Classic Arliss. This time it’s Mr. A’s blockbuster, THE MAN WHO PLAYED GOD:
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Mr. A arranged for Warner Bros. to hire a young unknown actress named Bette Davis to play the role of his fiancee in the film. This proved to be Bette’s breakthrough film:
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George Arliss plays wealthy concert pianist Montgomery Royale who seems to have it all:
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Royale is in the wrong place at the wrong time and is injured by a bomb in a terrorist attack (yes, even then). The blast destroys his hearing and he can no longer hear his own music. His life ruined, he becomes so depressed that he attempts suicide:
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Royale learns lip-reading, which turns out to be a mixed blessing. He goes from believing that God has abandoned him to the realization that he has become God’s instrument to help the less fortunate:
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But through lip-reading he learns that his fiancee loves another man. Royale asks himself, “I wonder what God would do in a case like this?” This strangely inspiring film still moves viewers over 80 years later. A true classic:
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Mr A later performed a live radio broadcast of this story that was heard around the world. To hear this historic broadcast, please click on “Radio” in the right hand column, and then click on THE MAN WHO PLAYED GOD.
Arliss God

2015 Official George Arliss Wall Calendar

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Published in: on January 1, 2015 at 3:04 PM  Comments (1)  

Merry Christmas and Best Wishes for 2015!

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Color Transfer by Des Riordan

Published in: on December 21, 2014 at 4:06 PM  Comments (1)  
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Arliss Alert! THE KING’S VACATION (1933) on TCM Fri 11/14 @ 6:00 AM EST

Turner Classic Movies (TCM) will show The King’s Vacation on Friday, November 14 at 6:00 AM EST. The cast includes Dick Powell, Patricia Ellis, and Florence Arliss (Mrs. George Arliss). The film was based on an original story written specifically for Mr. A by Ernest Pascal. See the listings on the right to locate our special post on this film.

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Arl Digges2-Super Final

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Published in: on November 8, 2014 at 8:12 PM  Leave a Comment  

Arliss Alert! THE HOUSE OF ROTHSCHILD on TCM 9/23 @ 8 PM Eastern Time

George Arliss returns to the air in prime time. This Tuesday, September 23, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) is showing THE HOUSE OF ROTHSCHILD at 8 PM, eastern time. Better yet, the finale is being shown in its original Technicolor glory! Better not miss this one.

Mr. A as Meyer Rothschild in the film’s prologue:
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Boris Karloff as the antisemitic Prussian Count Ledranz:
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Loretta Young as Julie and Mr. A as her father, Nathan Rothschild:
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A Technicolor frame capture with Loretta Young and Robert Young:
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Another frame cap from the Technicolor finale, Florence Arliss and Mr. A:
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Happy 4th of July from George Arliss (as Alexander Hamilton) and Alan Mowbray (as George Washington)!

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Pastiche compliments of Yours Truly.

Published in: on July 2, 2014 at 10:06 PM  Leave a Comment  

THE DEVIL (1920) Returns!

THE DEVIL has the distinction of being two “Firsts” for George Arliss. In 1908, it became his first starring play, then twelve years later the story was his first motion picture. Mr. A’s six silent films collectively serve as a “dress rehearsal” for his later sound film successes but, alas, only two of the silents appeared to have survived: THE GREEN GODDESS (1923) and TWENTY DOLLARS A WEEK (1924). Then a sole 35mm print of THE DEVIL was found in Canada by a gentleman named Larry Smith, who generously donated the film to the Library of Congress (LOC) where it has been copied and preserved. Recently, Larry uploaded THE DEVIL to Youtube and thus returned this long-lost Arliss feature to general circulation for the first time in over 90 years!
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These images are screen caps from the Youtube upload of THE DEVIL, and as a result are low resolution. Your blogmeister has viewed a 35mm copy at the LOC and can assure you that the image quality is excellent.
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Mr. A as the “helpful” Dr. Muller adroitly plants all sorts of carnal temptations in the thoughts of his friends.
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A young Edmund Lowe seem skeptical of the good doctor’s advice. Lowe would become a popular silent screen star during the 1920s and successfully transitioned to talkies in the 1930s.
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Florence Arliss (Mrs. A) also played a role as the aunt of the heroine.
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Lucy Cotton and Edmund Lowe as the lovers
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Dr. Muller has his own plans for the lady and they’re not honorable.
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As powerful as the Devil is, there’s Someone who is stronger.
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The Devil goes to Hell-literally.
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Hopefully, by now you’d like to see THE DEVIL so here’s the Youtube link. Enjoy!

CARDINAL RICHELIEU (1935) – First Time on DVD!

Twentieth Century-Fox has just released on DVD the classic George Arliss costume film, CARDINAL RICHELIEU. This makes the fifth Arliss film to receive an official studio home video release:
DVD Cover Front

These are screen captures of the main titles – quite a line up of talent both in front of and behind the cameras:
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Filming a scene with Maureen O’Sullivan:
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CARDINAL RICHELIEU plays in the Middle East:
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The back cover of the DVD snap case:
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For more photos, info, and to hear the radio version of this terrific film, please click on the CARDINAL RICHELIEU link on the right-hand column.

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