If your blogmeister had to name only one George Arliss film to somebody who had never seen any, unquestionably that film would be THE WORKING MAN (1933). Never before available on home video, Warners Archive just released this clever comedy on DVD and remastered the film to help make it look brand new!
THE WORKING MAN was made at the height of the Great Depression when, under the circumstances, it was popular to attack Capitalism and America’s free market economy. But this film shows how Capitalism can be fun and how the free market creates new jobs:
Mr. A plays a shoe manufacturing tycoon who sees his chance to take over a rival’s business. Complications ensue and Mr. A ends up competing with his own company.
Romance also ensues as Bette teaches Mr. A’s stuffy young nephew a few lessons in love:
The film’s back story is even better: Mr. A discovered Bette and launched her successful film career. See it all happen in THE WORKING MAN:
Your Blogmeister is pleased – make that proud – to announce the fourth volume in our George Arliss Series:
This time we reconstruct the once-acclaimed but now lost silent screen version of DISRAELI of 1921. We spent over two decades collecting photographs and other images to document this first film version of George Arliss’s most successful play. Additional materials include the complete souvenir theater program of 1912, a set of eight original lobby cards from the 1929 sound version of DISRAELI in restored color, and a discussion of Mr. A’s 1938 live radio broadcast of the play with links to enable readers to hear this radio program exactly as it was broadcast live over CBS on January 17, 1938. There is also a “bonus” appendix of George Arliss in 3-D photographs from a variety of his films.
Louise Huff plays Clarissa in the 1921 version
Among film buffs there is probably no other type of movie that captures the imagination as much as a “lost” film. That is, a film where no copies are known to exist. Perhaps the most famous lost American silent film is the Lon Chaney Sr. opus, LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT (1927). But fans of the silent screen – and thanks to DVDs and streaming video their numbers are increasing daily – can tell you of many other elusive treasures. There’s a special cachet that grips the imagination and is stoked by surviving photos of scenes from a lost film. Reading the original film reviews only makes the sense of the unobtainable that much keener.
Imagine welcoming in the New Year – in this case 1922 – with Mr. A in person!
The title card (1 of 8) in the set of lobby cards from the 1929 talkie version.
I must confess that after completing this photo reconstruction, I had a strong impression that I had actually watched the 1921 film itself. Perhaps this is a presentiment that a print of this DISRAELI will in fact be found. Some fragments are held at the Eastman House of Photography in Rochester, NY, and apparently a film archive in Moscow, Russia, holds some material as well. Until we get very lucky (if ever), this fourth volume in our George Arliss series will be the only record of this classic film.
The 1921 “Lost” DISRAELI is available in paperback (8.5×11 inches) and as a Kindle ebook. For more info, just click below:
No doubt you have wondered what the classic TV show, “Father Knows Best,” would have been like if George Arliss had played the title role instead of Robert Young? Well, wonder no more because this Friday, May 3, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) is airing Mr.A’s gem of a family comedy, A SUCCESSFUL CALAMITY at 12:15 PM eastern daylight time:
Mr. A plays Jim Wilton, international financier who has been in Europe for the past year in the service of the U.S. Government. Now back home, he is anxious to reconnect with his son and daughter but finds that their lives have moved on without him.
Mary Astor co-stars as Mr. A’s much younger wife, who in his absence, has become the protegee of a classical pianist. Hmmnnn.
How Mr. A thinks up a scheme to reclaim his wife and children is the “calamity” that he turns to success in this delightful comedy. This film is also a reminder that Mr. A excelled in more than historical biographies. Don’t miss this one!
The current interest in 3D movies has a long history dating back to the 19th century use of stereograms whereby two seemingly identical photos were placed side-by-side. When seen through a viewer, called a Stereoscope, these 2D images sprang to life by blending into one three-dimensional image that was more vivid than life itself. The secret to creating this 3D illusion was to take one of the two “identical” photos from a slightly different perspective than the other, about equal to the distance between our eyes.
The Age of Stereograms spanned the 1880s through the 1920s and offered mainly the sights of far-away places. Celebrity 3D photos were limited to political leaders and important military officers. For whatever reason, neither Broadway nor Hollywood celebrities seemed to have posed for these pictures. However, 21st century computer software can help us render a “simulated 3D” image that suggests what our favorites of yesteryear might have looked like in the third dimension. If you have access to an old Stereoscope or perhaps to a modern version made of cardboard found in books about old stereo cards, then you’re all set to enjoy seeing Mr. A as Shylock as he appeared on the stage in 1928 in Shakespeare’s THE MERCHANT OF VENICE:
Don’t despair if you lack access to a viewer because you really don’t need one. With a bit of patience you can easily train your eyes in the knack of “free viewing,” where you can see the 3D effect without a viewer. If your Blogmeister can learn it, so can you. It helps at first if you hold your hand or a piece of cardboard in front of your face on edge so your right eye cannot see the picture on the left side and your left eye can’t see the picture on the right. Stare straight ahead as if you are are looking “through” the photos and soon you’ll notice the two photos move towards each other to become one. Try it with this image of Ivan Simpson and Mr. A from DISRAELI (1929):
I find that smaller size photos work better than larger ones. Also, experiment with moving the images closer or further away from your eyes. A distance between 10 and 12 inches or so usually works but you’ll just have to use trial and error. Once you’ve experienced the 3D effect you will know what to look for and subsequent free viewing will be easy. Here is Ivan Simpson again without his makeup for DISRAELI, but practicing his skill as a sculptor by immortalizing Mr. A as Mr. Disraeli:
You can enjoy the 3D effect right on your computer screen so there’s no need to print out the images. I’ve even managed to see the 3D effect with these photos on my iphone but I won’t recommend it for beginners. Not every photo is a candidate for 3D. This photo of Mr. A and June Collyer from ALEXANDER HAMILTON (1931) works well because it has a clearly defined foreground and background:
If you’ve gotten this far with seeing the above photos in 3D, then you’re ready for the post-graduate course. Try this exquisite portrait of Mr. A, Loretta Young, and Robert Young from THE HOUSE OF ROTHSCHILD (1934). Not only is the foreground/background clearly distinguished, but the lighting effects seem to suggest a 3D effect as well:
This photo is from the closing scene of THE HOUSE OF ROTHSCHILD that was originally photographed in color so I took my coloring cues directly from the film itself. I slightly altered the color of the carpet between the two images so you may notice a vivid quality as the colors combine. Florence Arliss, Mr. A, and Reginald Owen:
Finally, here is a genuine 3D photo that your Blogmeister just made using an ordinary digital camera. The bust was sculpted by Ivan Simpson around 1923 and captures Mr. A as the Rajah of Rukh in THE GREEN GODDESS, a hit play that he made both as a silent film and later in sound in 1929 (release in 1930). Mr. A refers to this bust in the first volume of his memoirs:
George Arliss received the Best Actor Academy Award for his 1929 film, DISRAELI, where he portrayed the legendary British prime minister of the 1870s. An early talkie, this story is surprisingly topical in that it focuses on Disraeli’s quest to purchase the Suez Canal for Britain. Opposed by other politicians and sabotaged by spies from Russia, the wily prime minister contrives to buy the Canal only to discover he lacks the money to pay for it! How’s George Arliss going to get out of this one? Tune in and see!
“Disraeli (1929)“is playing on TCM on Fri, February 01, 2013 07:30 AM est.
Doris Lloyd plays the charming socialite Mrs. Travers, who is actually a Russian spy:
Ivan Simpson plays financier Hugh Myers who promises to provide funding for the Canal purchase, but then goes bankrupt:
Ivan Simpson was also a sculptor as he proves between filming scenes:
The cover of the souvenir program from 1929:
A 19 year-old Joan Bennett with Mr. A:
Joan Bennett graciously provided your blogmeister with a few reminiscences of making DISRAELI:
Florence Arliss, wife of Mr. A, played the wife of Disraeli, known as Lady Beaconsfield:
By 1938, George Arliss had distinguished himself in three very successful careers of the performing arts: on the stage, in silent films, and in sound films winning the Best Actor Academy Award for DISRAELI. Now at the age of 70, which in 1938 was regarded as the equivalent of 80 or even 90, Mr. A decided to tackle live network radio broadcasting. In those years before television, just about everybody listened to the radio and given the effects of the Great Depression, this form of free home entertainment was most popular. Although the U.S. population was smaller then, more people tuned in to a popular broadcast than people today who watch TV. One of the most popular radio shows in the late 1930s was the Lux Radio Theater, hosted by no less a film eminence than Cecil B. DeMille. A typical Monday night broadcast of Lux was heard by 30 million to 50 million people, and that was not counting shortwave broadcasting that was beamed around the world and to all ships at sea.
Performing under these circumstances tended to be more of a nerve-wracking ordeal to younger film actors, but to thespians of Mr. A’s vintage performing before live audiences was business as usual. Even the fact that more people would hear him perform on one broadcast than ever saw him during his half-century career was a mere detail. Please click below to travel back in time to Monday, March 21, 1938, to hear C.B. DeMille, Mr. and Mrs A, Ivan Simpson, and Dolores Costello in the radio adaptation of Mr. A’s Warner Bros. hit film of 1932, THE MAN WHO PLAYED GOD:
While we’re listening, let’s check out some photos and artwork from the movie version. An unknown Bette Davis played the feminine lead, Grace, solely on Mr. A’s recommendation. It proved to be her breakout film and the public wanted to see more Bette Davis in movies:
On radio the role of Grace was played by Dolores Costello who ironically had been a big star at Warners before either Mr. A or Bette Davis arrived at the studio. Dolores was married to John Barrymore for a few years (they are shown below in WHEN A MAN LOVES from 1927) and by 1938 she was restarting her career. Today Ms. Costello is known mainly as the paternal grandmother of Drew Barrymore:
THE MAN WHO PLAYED GOD tells the story of wealthy concert pianist Montgomery Royle who, at the age of 50, is at the pinnacle of his career. Monty also has a beautiful young protege Grace, who convinces Royle to marry her in six months:
But while he is in Paris, Monty gives an impromptu recital for a visiting monarch that abruptly ends in an assassination attempt against the king. No one is injured except Royle – the bomb blast has destroyed his hearing:
Violet Heming, Bette Davis, Mr. A, Louise Closser Hale, and Andre Luguet as the king
Back in New York City, Monty learns lipreading but becomes increasingly despondent and despises the piano. His longtime servant, Battle (played by longtime Arliss player Ivan Simpson in both the movie and radio broadcast), senses that Royle may attempt to harm himself:
Monty’s sister Florence (played in the film by Louise Closser Hale) is unable to console him or deal with his increasing outbursts:
Sending Battle out of the room on a pretext, Monty attempts to leap to his death:
Monty tries out his lipreading abilities with a pair of binoculars, and “eavesdrops” on the people across the street in Central Park. He cynically observes a young man’s plight of lacking a $1,000 for a medical treatment that would save his life. Since God doesn’t seem to want to help the young man, Royle decides that he will by anonymously sending Battle down to give him the needed money. But Monty soon realizes that God may be having the last laugh because without his affliction, Monty would not have been in a position to save the man’s life.
An original color lobby card from the lost 1922 version that Mr. A made during the silent film era:
This sudden burst of cynical philanthropy soon develops into a “business” as Royle searches for new “customers” in need so that he can continue to “play God.” But one day he spys his fiance Grace in the park telling a young man that she feels duty-bound to go through with her marriage to Royle and so they must never see each other again. Monty is stunned and quietly asks himself, “I wonder what God would do in a case like this.”
The story’s resolution is both touching and believable as Royle learns that it’s not so easy to behave like God. Having abandoned performing because he can no longer enjoy the music, he decides to play again because other people can enjoy it, including The King:
Montgomery Royle rages against God – a glass slide from the 1922 silent version:
Celebrate Bastille Day this Saturday morning, July 14th, by watching (or recording) VOLTAIRE (1933), your blogmeister’s favorite biopic starring Mr. A. The time is a bit early even if you’re on the east coast – 5:45 am EDT – but that’s why dvr, tivo, etc. were invented. Turner Classic Movies (TCM) is the fortunate channel but if you’re scheduling your timer, be aware that TCM dates everything up to 6 am as the previous day so TCM lists VOLTAIRE as airing on July 13 at 5:45 am EDT even though we know it’s really July 14th at 5:45 am. We prefer to think of this as test to determine whether we’re smart enough to view a George Arliss film, but we’ll all get a passing grade!
A sure sign of a film’s popularity is when comedians start spoofing it. Jack Benny devoted many of his weekly radio broadcasts to satirizing hit films right from his earliest shows in 1932. Among the films to get the Benny treatment were I AM A FUGITIVE FROM THE CHAIN GANG, Mae West’s SHE DONE HIM WRONG, which Benny turned into “She Done Him Right,” LITTLE WOMEN recast as “Miniature Women,” and even the Charlie Chan films became “Charlie Chan in Radio City.”
One hot summer night long ago in August 1934, the Benny troupe (Mary Livingstone, announcer Don Wilson, Sam Hearn and singer Frank Parker) were broadcasting from New York City and tackled Mr. A’s hit film of the season, THE HOUSE OF ROTHSCHILD. Renamed “The House of Rawchild” for reasons never made clear, the skit is more corny than clever but Jack Benny’s trademark dry humor is well in evidence. At that time, recordings of live radio broadcasts were not usually made and this is why few shows from that era have survived. Fortunately, Jack Benny arranged with a private company to record this AM transmission off the air on to discs lasting about five minutes each. The side joins of each disc lost a bit of dialogue and static noise from the AM reception also can be heard. We have restored the sound by minimizing the surface noise from the discs as much as possible and improving the tonal quality somewhat, but allowances should be made considering that this broadcast should not even exist under the circumstances. Due to the sound quality, we have omitted Jack’s opening routine where he relates his trip to Atlantic City to cool off in those pre-air-conditioner days.
That said, just click on the arrow below and return to Friday night, August 24, 1934, just past 10:30 pm eastern time for apparently the only known spoof of a George Arliss film:
Jack Benny as he appeared at the time of this broadcast:
Jack Benny zeroed in on the family patriarch, Meyer Rothschild, for most of the humor. This is the first time that the following images have been published here on the Arliss Archives. Mr. A and Helen Westley in the film’s prologue where they raise their five sons in the Frankfurt ghetto:
Benny spoofs the “death bed” scene where Meyer instructs his sons to settle in various capitals of the world to establish their financial network:
Boris Karloff is mentioned by Benny but his character is not represented in the spoof:
Note the hat that Karloff is holding – about five years ago that hat was offered through an online auction with bidding starting at $50. The winning bid was $450 and, alas, it was not by the Arliss Archives.
THE HOUSE OF ROTHSCHILD was the new studio’s flagship production to show that after one year’s existence the company was firmly established and growing – an impressive accomplishment considering that other major studios such as Paramount had gone into bankruptcy due to the Depression’s effect on movie attendance. That’s Darryl Zanuck on the left:
A closeup of the signatures that span all the Hollywood studios of that time. Can you spot autographs by Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Clark Gable, Delores Del Rio, Cary Grant, Ann Harding, Ronald Colman, Loretta Young – hey, she was in the film!
As far as we can determine, Mr. A’s final professional appearance was in a brief radio address urging his fellow citizens in Britain to volunteer to assist the war effort near the beginning of World War II. The address was presumably broadcast over the BBC, and judging from some references by Mr. A, it was made at some point between September 1939 when hostilities between Britain and Germany were declared, and prior to May 1940 when the bombing began. This period of the Second World War has been dubbed “the twilight war” or “the phony war” because although war had been declared, there were no clashes between the two countries. This calm before the storm ended with the Battle of Britain in May 1940.
An autographed photo of Mr. A taken at about the same time as his war address, circa 1940:
Please click on the arrow below to hear George Arliss’s appeal for the war effort:
Despite the war, in May 1940 Mr. A’s second volume of autobiography was published on both sides of the Atlantic. Here is the original dust jacket with color enhancement. Notice that it was not necessary to identify the author on the cover. In the UK, this delightful volume was called GEORGE ARLISS BY HIMSELF:
Since we’re in a military frame of mind, at right below is Mr. A in military uniform for THE KING’S VACATION (1933), and at left is a recent photo of the same tunic on auction. The fate of movie costumes is one of the more neglected areas of film study:
Here are more new images that have never been posted before on the Arliss Archives. First, an original color lobby card from THE LAST GENTLEMAN (1934). Left to right are Janet Beecher, Edna May Oliver, Mr. A, and Ralph Morgan:
The following two images are original color photos (we don’t know the process used) that document Mr. A’s one-year run in London starring in THE GREEN GODDESS from September 1923 to September 1924. In this photo the lady in distress is Isobel Elsom:
The cover of a British movie magazine that novelized current films and was illustrated with photos, here from THE WORKING MAN (1933). Apparently, these novelizations were based on the shooting scripts instead of the films themselves, and sharp eyed readers can spot scenes in the novel that were cut from the finished film:
Mr. A spent the winter months in California making films throughout much of the 1930s. He returned to his native Britain in the Spring of each year. This photo, circa 1929, shows his renting a western style home. Note Mr. A’s autograph near the bottom:
On January 23, 1939, George Arliss stepped before a live audience and a live microphone to broadcast a radio adaptation of his 1935 hit film, CARDINAL RICHELIEU. This prestigious event was one of the highlights of that season’s Lux Radio Theatre, hosted by none other than Cecil B. DeMille. Co-starring with Mr. A were some of the film’s stars including Caesar Romero and Douglas Dumbrille. The ingenue role of Lenore was played by Heather Angel, who replaced Maureen O’Sullivan from the film version. The key role of King Louis XIII was played by Montagu Love who last appeared with Mr. A in the 1931 film, ALEXANDER HAMILTON, where Love played Thomas Jefferson.
Best of all, members of the Arliss stock company were reunited: Ivan Simpson played Richelieu’s confident, Father Joseph (and stepped on some of Mr. A’s lines), Charles Evans played an innkeeper, Doris Lloyd played Queen Anne, wife of Louis, and best of all Florence Arliss played the Queen Mother Marie, who is an adversary of the Cardinal. It is interesting to hear Mr. and Mrs. A exchange harsh words in character rather than the romantic dialogue usually heard in their films. This broadcast was heard coast to coast and by shortwave around the world. As Mr. A says in his curtain speech at the end, a conservatively estimated 30 million people listened in. Today, a show with 5 million viewers is considered one for the record books.
If you weren’t around in 1939, that’s no problem here at the Arliss Archives. Just click (perhaps several times) on the play button below and you will be transported back in time to hear the complete hour-long broadcast:
While you are listening, Mr. A suggested you might want to review the original set of eight lobby cards that were issued in conjunction with the film. The 11×14 inch size of each card is too large for most scanners today so we have done our best to squeeze most of the contents into the image space. This is the first card, known as the title card for obvious reasons:
King Louis (Edward Arnold) and his retinue visit Richelieu where he meets the Cardinal’s ward Lenore (Maureen O’Sullivan) and is smitten by her. The villainous Baradas (Douglass Dumbrille on the right) smugly guesses the King’s plans for poor Lenore:
As Lenore is romanced by Andre dePons (Cesar Romero), the Cardinal realizes a way to thwart the King’s lustful intentions and instructs Father Joseph to bring the couple to the chapel so he can marry them:
The King is furious with Richelieu and Baradas sees his opportunity to dethrone Louis and place his weak brother Gaston as a puppet king. But first Andre must be persuaded to turn against Richelieu and join Baradas:
Andre is initially duped and almost murders the Cardinal but Richelieu has a way of explaining things and Andre reveals Baradas’ plot to overthrow Louis in league with Spain:
Richelieu must overtake Queens Marie and Anne on their way to the Spanish border to deliver the conspirators’ secret treaty. That’s Reginald Sheffield on the right, a member of the Arliss stock company. He would become better known as the father of Johnny Sheffield, who played “Boy” in Johnny Weissmuller’s TARZAN films:
The Cardinal manages to catch up to the Queens (Katherine Alexander and Violet Kemble-Cooper) and tricks them into disclosing the treaty by using a simple ruse – he lies!
Since everyone at court believes Richelieu to be murdered by Andre, the Cardinal causes quite a stir when he shows up with the secret treaty. Baradas and his colleagues are arrested for treason, Richelieu is restored to the King’s favor, and the Cardinal suggests to his Majesty that the best way to celebrate is to give thanks to God:
A nice portrait of Mr. A in the title role, originally in b/w that we transferred into color: