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:
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:
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:
By the mid-1920s, the rising popularity of radio was cutting into movie theater attendance. While some film producers could only complain about it, the Warner Brothers acquired their own radio station, KFWB Los Angeles, and erected twin broadcasting towers to give it a powerful signal. Among other things, Warner film stars were expected to appear to build up public interest in their films. Young stars with limited stage experience were terrified to be performing “live” with millions of people listening. But veterans of the stage such as George Arliss who had performed “live” their entire careers were not intimidated by broadcasting.
Mr. A broadcasts his opposition to movie censorship in Medford, Massachusetts on April 3, 1922. Newspapers stated that this broadcast was heard “as far west as Wisconsin and as far south as the Carolinas.” That’s Maude Howell listening in on the headphones: Arliss said, “The influences of the films were better for the young than the average methods of learning; that the conscience of boy or girl is a far better judge of right or wrong in the movies than the application of the censorship rod.”
George Arliss was President of the Episcopal Actors Guild of America from 1921 to 1938. Here he broadcasts a fundraising appeal on behalf of the unfinished Cathedral of St. John the Divine, over station WJZ in New York:
Station KWK in St. Louis, MO, was part of a national syndicated network on June 23, 1931, to broadcast another defense of Hollywood by Mr. A. The subject this time was the bad behavior of certain actors and actresses – some things never change:
Fellow Warners star John Barrymore said he “didn’t think much of this radio thing” when he first participated in a broadcast in 1928 over station KFI in Los Angeles:
By 1941, the Great Profile derived most of his income from radio, here with his brother Lionel on the right:
Warner colleague Al Jolson’s ebullient personality transmitted well and he starred in his own weekly show from 1932 on. Here he is rehearsing for an April 1935 Shell Chateau broadcast where his guests were Amelia Earhart and Babe Ruth:
Radio permitted another of Mr. A’s Warners colleagues, Edward G. Robinson, to tackle something he couldn’t do in movies – Shakespeare. Here he rehearses his role of Petruchio for an August 2, 1937 broadcast of THE TAMING OF THE SHREW: Mr. Robinson was such a hit that by the Fall 1937 he began starring in his own weekly series, a newspaper drama, THE BIG TOWN, for the next six years.
At the age of 70, Mr. A made his dramatic broadcast debut on the Lux Radio Theater, hosted by Cecil B. DeMille, on January 17, 1938 in DISRAELI. He returned on March 21, 1938, in THE MAN WHO PLAYED GOD, and again on January 23, 1939, in CARDINAL RICHELIEU: It was conservatively estimated that 30 million people heard each of Mr. A’s Lux broadcasts.
Greta Garbo was the only major film star never to perform on radio. Even Rin-Tin-Tin had his own weekly show in 1931: