Happy Birthday, Mr. A – 153rd Anniversary and the Story of Mrs. Isabella Stewart Gardner and “Master Billy Arliss”

April 10, 1868 was a long time ago but through the magic of films we in the 21st century can watch a man who lived in the 19th century give performances in 20th century motion pictures. This year I managed to uncover some long unseen photos of George Arliss with his dog. For years I had a beautiful image of Mr. A alighting from a car carrying a little fluffy white pooch. I never knew the dog’s name until now. And thereby hangs a tail, I mean tale (no pun intended).

A recent online search in the Billy Rose Theater Collection at the New York Public Library revealed some “snapshots” of Mr. A with a small floppy-eared dog. This discovery led me to search for more info on the pooch. The photos are undated but I am guessing the time is the early 1910s. I searched further on the ‘net with the simple term “Arliss and dog” and found many references – to Old Yeller.

Images courtesy of the Billy Rose Collection, New York Public Library

Further digging revealed a newspaper story from the Sacramento Union of January 10, 1921. The story is titled, “DEAD ANIMALS NOT FORGOTTEN – Wreaths Placed on Graves of Cats and Dogs in Cemetery.” The burial ground, Pine Ridge Cemetery in Dedham, Massachusetts, is described as a “dog and cat cemetery” and among other graves notes the following: “A plain granite cube over one grave is marked; ‘In Memory of Master Billy Arliss.’ This is the last resting place of the fluffy white terrier of George Arliss, the actor. Billy died last winter while Mr. Arliss was playing In Boston, and his owner bought a lot and erected the memorial.”

Thus matching the name to a description I realized that for many years the Arliss Archives held a beautiful photo of Billy and his master. Here are two versions:

Also, the doggy in the snapshots does not appear to be the same dog in our portrait with the car. Further research led me to find a wonderful site – the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. The museum was built by its namesake who lived from 1840 to 1924. She was a devoted patron of the arts who amassed a huge collection of art from around the world, then established her museum so everybody could enjoy its treasures. Mrs. Gardner was somewhat unconventional in the very conventional city of Boston. In 1912 she made news by attending a concert of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra wearing a white headband stating, “Go Red Socks.” This sort of thing simply wasn’t done.

She also befriended George Arliss and the website offers two portraits of Mr. A, one of them with Billy, and also four letters he wrote to Mrs. Gardner dated 1913 through her final year in 1924. According to the information, Mrs. Gardner liked the Billy portrait so much that she hung it in her private study that she called the Vatichino Room where she kept her personal treasures. It’s unclear whether Mr. A’s 1913 letter is referring to the Billy photo or to a separate portrait of himself:

Here are both portraits that Mr. A sent to Mrs. Gardner:

Courtesy of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum here are the four letters from Mr. A. His 1920 letter refers to a stroke that she suffered in 1919. His February 27, 1924 letter was written some five months before her death on July 17. He would not return to the USA until September of that year.

Given George Arliss’s love of dogs we should note that for many years he was president of the National Anti-Vivisection Society. It was an activist group that opposed the live dissection of animals, purportly for “medical research.” Mr. A was convinced that claims citing the “necessity” of such procedures were unsubstantiated.

Finally, here is an unusual item I have never seen before – Mr. A’s calling card to Mrs. Gardner with his annotation:

Happy 153th Birthday Mr A!

Published in: on April 10, 2021 at 1:17 PM  Comments (1)  

Arliss Alert! VOLTAIRE on TCM Thursday, March 11 at 6AM EST

Our favorite among all the Arliss “biopics,” VOLTAIRE is an intriguing and clever film dealing with an episode in the life of the famous philosopher, author and wit, and lady’s man.

Mr. A with Doris Kenyon who plays Madame de Pompadour

Warner Bros. regarded the project as “Arliss’s film” because he had advocated the story since at least 1919 when he asked George Bernard Shaw to write a play for him. Instead two Boston newspapermen sent Mr. A their own Voltaire play and he liked it. Revising the script himself, but refusing a co-author credit, the play remained unproduced until 1933 when Darryl Zanuck at Warners “green-lighted” the production.

Alan Mowbray as the villain De Sarnac is confronted by Voltaire

The Warners publicity department didn’t know how to advertise the film because costume films were considered box office “poison” so VOLTAIRE posters suggested some sort of modern dress romantic comedy. The studio shouldn’t have worried because the film made a healthy profit of 65% once it made back its production costs. George Arliss’s final film for Warner Bros. also proved to be one of his most successful.

A souvenir coin to promote the film

Don’t miss this one!

Published in: on March 5, 2021 at 2:08 PM  Comments (6)  
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Celebrate the Centennial Premiere of THE DEVIL (1921), the first George Arliss Film.

Today, January 16, we are holding an online re-premiere for the Centennial of THE DEVIL, the first film starring George Arliss. The original premiere took place on January 16, 1921 in New York City at the Mark Strand Theater. We have been working on this project for well over a year. Thanks are due to Larry Smith of the Library of Congress and to Lewis Schoenbrun who volunteered his professional services to restore the images. We also gave the video a 4K scan and added the music. It can be viewed in HD at https://youtu.be/okiNSuhLB38

Welcome the New Year with the Official George Arliss Wall Calendar for 2021

If you’d like a copy, that’s easy to do. Simply click on the calendar and then Print.

This year of 2021 marks the Centennial of Mr. A’s very first film. Look for the “re-premiere” of THE DEVIL (1921) in the next few weeks. We have arranged a 4K scan of the material plus other upgrades.

Published in: on December 31, 2020 at 6:18 PM  Comments (2)  
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Seasons Greetings to One and All!

Published in: on December 21, 2020 at 9:37 PM  Comments (3)  

Arliss Alert! Friday, November 20, 2020 TCM is showing A SUCCESSFUL CALAMITY (1932) at 3:15 PM Eastern Time

Tomorrow afternoon, Friday, Nov. 20, TCM is showing A SUCCESSFUL CALAMITY (1932) at 3:15 PM (ET). This delightful “Father Knows Best” type of family comedy stars George Arliss and Mary Astor, and a pre-star Randolph Scott. Long before Mary teamed up with Humphrey Bogart, she was “married” to Mr. A in this film. Their May-December marriage may surprise you.

Published in: on November 19, 2020 at 1:39 PM  Comments (2)  

Mr. Arliss Comes to Flip Books!

What will they think of next! (He said in jest). Those ingenious little movie flip books are fondly remembered for their low-tech way of providing a brief movie clip by printing the frames of motion picture film, one frame per page at a time, then “animated” by simply using your thumb to flip the little pages. And voila! – you’ve got yourself a movie. But until now there has never been a George Arliss Flip Book.Arliss Devil Flip book

Since the 100th anniversary of Mr. A’s very first film, THE DEVIL, is coming this January 2021, I thought it was most appropriate to create an Arliss flip book. I decided on using the final moments of this film where Mr. A’s character is consumed by flames and sent back to the netherworld. I’ve never made a flip book in my life – next week I turn 70 – but there’s no time like the present to try. So I taxed my ingenuity to copy almost a hundred frame grabs from the video I have of the film. At 24 frames per second I had my choice of material so I decided to copy one frame per half second or so.

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Next I had to size the frames to measure about 2.5 x 4.5 inches in order to fit on each page of the flip book. The most time consuming part of the project after printing out the frames was to cut out each frame and paste it on a page of the flip book – strictly in chronological order. This was tedious – but worth the effort.

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Finally, the time came to flip the pages and it worked perfectly. Of course, I wanted to share this creation with all Arlissians. So I decided to make a video of the flip book in operation and let it loop so could all enjoy the show. A simple thing but one that has fascinated many generations. Without further ado, here is a unique addition (truly one of a kind) to film history lore: a George Arliss Moving Picture Flip Book. Enjoy!

Published in: on September 19, 2020 at 8:54 PM  Comments (7)  
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Mr. A Sails the High Seas

Back before the age of jet liners linked America and Europe in a matter of hours, transatlantic travel meant spending several days at sea and, hopefully, in good weather. Mere acquaintances on land would form onboard friendships during the voyage, though most of these tended to fizzle out once they were back on terra firma.

Mr. A was no exception to this social ritual as many candid photographs attest. Here’s a collection of moments from long ago voyages during the 1920s and 30s when Mr. and Mrs. A shuttled between Southampton, England, and New York City, then cross-country by train to Los Angeles.

Here the caption informs us that Florence and George have arrived in New York onboard the S.S. Mauretania in September 1922 after a visit home to England :

George Arliss is considered a “notable” onboard the S.S. Berengaria as he returns to New York after a two month vacation in Europe on November 22, 1924:

The Arlisses leave New York on the S.S.Leviathan on May 21,1927. The ship had been converted from a luxury liner to a troop ship during World War I and was then transformed back to a liner. The “slug” or photo caption adds some details:

The slug states that Mr. and Mrs. A are leaving New York on the S.S. Majestic on May 29, 1931, for a combined vacation and search for new film material. Color by Moi:

Mr. A chats with a fellow passenger in this undated photo, circa mid-1930s:

Another undated photo but Mr. A’s stiff collar suggests the late 20s or early 30s. By the mid-1930s, Florence’s eyesight had worsened and she rarely appeared on deck:

Mr. A seems happy to share the attentions of the paparazzi with a fellow thespian, Edith Evans, or so I believe. The back of this news photo indicates that it was taken onboard the R.M.S. Majestic in Southampton in 1934:

Having just completed CARDINAL RICHELIEU (1935) in Hollywood, Mr. A has his stateroom invaded as he and Flo leave from New York aboard the S.S. Olympic, sister ship of Titanic, on what I believe is the ship’s final voyage before it was retired:

After an absence of two years while making films in Britain, Mr. A returns to New York on November 9, 1937 via the S.S. Aquitania. He seems to be waiting to go through customs:

Another photo of Mr. A still waiting to go through customs on Nov. 9, 1937. He seems to be saying to the photographer,”Haven’t you taken enough?”

A familiar shipboard pose on the ship S.S. Aquitania as it arrives in Southampton from New York on April 26, 1938:

Finally, a view from the other side of the cameras aboard the S.S. Aquitania on Mr. A’s return to America on Nov.9, 1937:

 

A 152nd Birthday Greeting to George Arliss!


Today, April 10, is Good Friday. It was also Good Friday back in 1868 on that day when Mr. A was born in London. He came from a family of publishers going back to the 18th century and founded by his grandfather, John Arliss. His family lived and worked in the Bloomsbury district, which, of course, has long been celebrated as the literary center of the city.

As we all know too well, no matter where you live today this is a tense time in our lives with conditions not seen since the Second World War. Celebrities have been stepping up to boost our morale so I think it’s fitting on this particular Arliss birthday observance to recall his own efforts in speaking to the British people during WWII while he and Florence remained in London throughout the long war.

Mr. A talks to the crowd at Market House in 1942:

We know in letters that Mr. A wrote to friends during the war that he spoke to the public on several occasions. It was typical of him to question his effectiveness and he hoped he was not too boring. But even in his 70s, he apparently answered the call every time he was asked to give a morale-boosting talk.

Mr. A seems to attract some attention at Waterloo Station:

We are fortunate to have preserved an address he gave over the BBC at some point between the fall 1939 and the spring 1940. I believe his words are just as meaningful in dealing with today’s crisis as they were back then. His message is simple and direct: do something. Everybody can contribute in some way or other to the gigantic effort that is required of all of us to get through this crisis, whether a war or a pandemic. Here he is:

Happy Birthday, Mr. A. Your words continue to inspire!

Published in: on April 10, 2020 at 2:05 PM  Leave a Comment  

Arliss ALERT! Double Feature: THE GREEN GODDESS and DISRAELI – Tuesday, February 18 at 6 AM EST

TCM aka Turner Classic Movies – is showing Mr. A’s first two talkies this Tuesday, February 18th, starting at 6 AM eastern time (THE GREEN GODDESS) and then at 7:15 AM his Academy Award winning performance in DISRAELI (1929).
Not to be missed!

Published in: on February 16, 2020 at 5:14 PM  Comments (4)  
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