The Arliss Women, Part One

George Arliss had several wives, girlfriends and daughters – on the stage and in movies, that is. Some of the most talented actresses of the Golden Age of Movies were featured in the Arliss films. So many in fact that one post here won’t do justice to the subject. So let’s begin with this installment.

Maureen O’Sullivan enjoyed her sabbatical from playing Tarzan’s Jane with CARDINAL RICHELIEU (1935). A later generation would think of her as Mia Farrow’s mother, and still later for her frequent appearances in Woody Allen’s films:

Bette Davis said her bags were packed and she had a train ticket back home to Massachusetts. Then George Arliss phoned her to discuss a role in his new film. Davis thought the call was prank – but it wasn’t. Here they are in the second of two films, the delightful comedy, THE WORKING MAN (1933):

This is one of my favorite photos of Mr. A, casually dressed in clothing you could buy today at Old Navy:

June Collyer was never a big star but her career spanned silent films to television. Here she portrays the historical femme fatale Mrs. Reynolds who almost destroyed the career of ALEXANDER HAMILTON (1931):

June Collyer was the sister of Bud Collyer, radio’s Superman, and TV’s game show host on “Beat the Clock” and “To Tell the Truth.”

Let’s not forget the talent across the pond. Here, a teen-aged Margaret Lockwood seems perplexed by the attentions of kindly clergyman Dr. Syn (1937), who is actually the notorious pirate Capt. Clegg, and an ardent suitor played by John Loder:

Lockwood later recalled her nervousness when she and Arliss waited to meet Queen Mary at the film’s premiere in London.

Rene Ray seems to have worked exclusively in the UK. In HIS LORDSHIP [US title MAN OF AFFAIRS] (1936), Arliss plays twin brothers and here one brother is impersonating the other, apparently not too successfully:

But what about Joan Bennett, Mary Astor, Loretta Young, Dame Gladys Cooper, and others? Stayed tuned.

Published in: on February 27, 2011 at 1:12 PM  Comments (3)  

Life Upon the Wicked Stage

By the time George Arliss made his first sound film, he had already spent an entire career on the stage, much of it in the 19th Century. Anybody who can remember when electric lighting replaced gaslight has been around for awhile. Here is a look at his crazy early years as a struggling actor, living from hand to mouth, and dealing with managers who stole the box office money and left the company stranded in some tank town.

Surviving theater programs have a way of connecting us with those days, after all, they were present at the performance. Here’s the earliest playbill in the Archives of an Arliss appearance in 1898:

Arliss met with an early success as the author of a farce, THERE AND BACK, in 1903, performed both in Britain and the U.S. The play’s royalties helped pay the rent when there were no acting jobs. The plot is similar to the later Laurel & Hardy film, SONS OF THE DESERT (1933):

Another part of the program stated that the play was staged by the author.

Arliss did not appear in the play but his wife Florence did, as Miss Florence Montgomery (on the left), her maiden name. No, this was not a costume play – the actors are wearing modern dress. Arliss later credited much of the play’s success to Charles Evans, whom Arliss regarded as his “good luck”charm and cast him in almost all his 1930s films.

The song, “Meet me in St. Louis, meet me at the Fair…” refers to this Fair in St. Louis, MO, in 1904:

Arliss played in support of super star Blanche Bates in the first role that really got him noticed. (I know what you’re thinking, but no, the swastika design had no connection with Nazis until the 1930s when the group appropriated the symbol (as they did with most other things) for themselves.

Disraeli was not Arliss’s first role as a prime minister. Here he is at center stage as Zakkuri, the Minister of War, in DARLING OF THE GODS. Here’s the same photo from the 1904 program that I digitally enhanced:

In 1926, Arliss and Bates reminisced about the early years when she was a star and he wasn’t:

By 1905, Arliss was in Mrs. Fiske famous theater company and playing more important, but still supporting roles:

I haven’t read the play but Raoul Berton, the Arliss character, seems to be a roue, if this photo is in any way suggestive:

Finally, in 1908, Arliss gets his first shot at stardom but just about everything that could go wrong did. He literally has a devil of a time:

Published in: on February 20, 2011 at 11:16 PM  Comments (2)  

Behind the Scenes

Everybody seems to enjoy production photos that take us behind the scenes on the sets during filming.  Production photos from the Arliss films are comparatively scarce so I thought it might be a good idea to collect the ones we have in one category.

The principal actors in CARDINAL RICHELIEU (1935) form an oasis of calm in the midst of the bustling crew as a shot is prepared for the “Palace Garden” scene. The lady to the left of Arliss is Maude Howell, one of the few women executives in Hollywood at the time, thanks to Arliss. The actor smoking on the right is Douglas Dumbrille who plays Baradas, the villain of the film. The gentleman wearing the plumed hat seated with his back to the camera is Edward Arnold as King Louis XIII.

THE HOUSE OF ROTHSCHILD (1934): Arliss as Nathan Rothschild arrives at the London Stock Exchange on the backlot of 20th Century Pictures. Note the microphone boom over the actor playing the coach driver. He complains to Nathan that even Rothschild’s own daughter, Miss Julie, gives him a larger tip. Nathan explains, “Miss Julie has a wealthy father, I haven’t.”

Arliss reviews his lines between takes in THE MAN WHO PLAYED GOD (1932). Note the makeup tables and mirrors located just off the set.

Another photo from THE MAN WHO PLAYED GOD with venerable actress Louise Closser Hale. The blocks under the sofa are not visible in the movie itself. Why the blocks? My guess is to make sitting down or standing up from the sofa a bit more graceful.

Arliss lights one of his specially-made gold tip cigarettes. If the star had a special chair on the set, he apparently didn’t use it.

We’ve run this before but you should click on the photo to enlarge to see all the details. Arliss is in the uniform as the camera mounted on wheels follows him over to the staircase. The man in the dark suit and light hat is director John Adolfi. Note the makeup tables and mirrors to the extreme right. THE KING’s VACATION (1933).

Another encore but this is the only photo I’ve come across (so far) of Arliss ready for a take with the clapboard man standing there. Actress Maude Leslie on the left awaits her cue to enter the scene. THE KING’S VACATION.

Finally, a stunning shot from THE KING’S VACATION (1933) shows Mr. A conferring with the wardrobe lady while the assistant director (seated back to camera) awaits the outcome:

Published in: on February 15, 2011 at 11:00 PM  Leave a Comment  

W.C. Fields & Me

For a Victorian-era gentleman, George Arliss got around. Here he is hoisting a few with W.C. Fields and Fred MacMurray:

Movie stars watch movies too. Arliss and friends about to view his ALEXANDER HAMILTON (1931) in the Warner Bros. projection room in London. The white-haired gentleman seated in back of Arliss to the right (behind the lady) is Farren Soutar, Arliss’s boyhood friend who got Arliss his first acting job in 1886. Soutar later appeared in THE IRON DUKE (1934):

Cowboy George:

“Buck Arliss Rides Again” – this was actually the newspaper caption accompanying this photo. Cowboy or not, the monocle and Saville Row suit are still part of the attire.

Published in: on February 11, 2011 at 11:13 PM  Leave a Comment  

The King’s Vacation

February 11, 2011

With the abdication of Egypt’s Mubarak, and the popularity of THE KING’S SPEECH, the George Arliss film, THE KING’S VACATION (1933), seems suddenly topical. One of three films in the Warners Archive release of its 3-disc George Arliss Collection, this film manages to be a funny, sentimental, and poignant story and truly an “adult” film in the sense that younger folks won’t “get it.”  The film was based on an original story written specifically for Arliss by Ernest Pascal. Here’s a summary:

Arliss is King Phillip, and a reluctant king at that. Dudley Digges plays the Lord Chamberlain. In real life, Digges had been Arliss’s stage manager in earlier days before he turned to acting.

An assassination attempt convinces Phillip to abdicate. That’s O.P. Heggie as his valet. Arliss and Heggie last performed together in a World War I Bond fundraising play called OUT THERE in 1917.

Phillip tells his Queen Wilhelmina (Florence Arliss) that their arranged “marriage of state” is over and he is returning to his first wife. The Queen hints that she too has a lover that she calls only Mr.X.

Phillip and and his first wife Helen (Marjorie Gateson) are reunited. He meets his grown daughter (Patricia Ellis – Dick Powell is her boyfriend) and hopes to pick up where they left off 20 years ago.

Helen yearns for the palaces she never had and wants a tiara for her birthday gift from Phillip.

We interrupt this story to bring you a production shot. Arliss confers with the wardrobe mistress while an assistant director (seated back to camera) awaits the outcome:

On a shopping trip to the city, Phillip runs into his ex-Queen Wilhelmina. She invites him to tea.

Phillip and Helen come to realize that life has changed them in different ways and they are not the same people they were 20 years ago.

Another production shot. Actress Maude Leslie as the maid stands at left for her cue:

So how is this impasse resolved? Even author Ernest Pascal couldn’t figure that out. Here’s the conclusion of his story outline:

A lot of help he was –  but Arliss figured out the ending and it’s a good one.

Finally, a bit of newspaper publicity never hurt a movie:

Published in: on February 9, 2011 at 11:03 PM  Leave a Comment  

The House of Rothschild

The House of Rothschild was the first important film made by the then-newly formed 20th Century Pictures in late 1933. The studio acquired Fox Pictures in 1935 and is still known today as 20th Century-Fox.   George Arliss was the studio’s first major star and producer Darryl Zanuck bet that ROTHSCHILD would be hit. It was.

This film was nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award in 1934 – a banner year for superb films. It was no disgrace that IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT picked up the Award. ROTHSCHILD was also one of the very few films ever made dealing with anti-Semitism.  Arliss wrote 14 pages of script suggestions urging the official screenwriters to enlarge the anti-Semitism theme. Here is a particularly fine study of Arliss as Meyer Rothschild in the film’s prologue:

The rise of anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany by 1933 made the film especially timely. In a master stroke of casting, Boris Karloff played the anti-Semitic Prussian Ambassador, Count Ledrantz. I believe the character was fictional but served as a composite for a number of real-life Prussians during the Napoleonic Wars:

The film reunited Arliss with fellow British actor C. Aubrey Smith – they played together on the London stage in 1903. Smith as the Duke of Wellington nearly stole the show from Arliss. Florence Arliss played Hannah Rothschild to George’s Nathan Rothschild (son of Meyer). One wit remarked that this film was so big, George Arliss had to play two parts!

In the above photo, note the wedding ring worn by Arliss. He wore it in almost all his films, even when his character was unmarried.

The supporting cast was impressive. Here is Loretta Young playing Julie, Nathan’s daughter

Reginald Owen as Herries, the real-life Chancellor of the Exchequer circa 1815. He and Count Ledrantz don’t see eye-to-eye:

Film History is Made – Arliss Meets Karloff:

Time magazine felt the film important enough to grace its cover:

The Astor Theater in New York City gave ROTHSCHILD the deluxe treatment:

Even a British fan magazine had to acknowledge it:

The film’s artistic and financial success made celebrating the studio’s first anniversary a joyous occasion:

[Click on this image to view “hidden” screen captures from the film itself]

Published in: on February 7, 2011 at 8:50 PM  Comments (1)  

The Devil

I restored these photos from Mr. A’s first starring role in (and as) THE DEVIL in 1908. Each century-old photo is a beautiful 11×14 inches but had faded or turned almost entirely brown by the time the Arliss Archives received it. Isn’t technology wonderful?

Mr. A gives two performances – first where he “helps” the star-crossed lovers…

…then taking the audience into his confidence as to his real motives.

Eventually, of course, the poor souls realize who is their “friend.”

Published in: on February 3, 2011 at 11:46 PM  Leave a Comment  

A lobby card from the 1922 silent version of THE MAN WHO PLAYED GOD. Another lost film.

Published in: on February 3, 2011 at 11:40 PM  Leave a Comment  

An august group at the DeMille Studio in late 1926 during the filming of THE KING OF KINGS (1927). From left to right Cecil B. DeMille, George Arliss, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Harold Lloyd.


Published in: on February 3, 2011 at 11:35 PM  Leave a Comment  

George Arliss pays a call on fellow Englishman Reginald Denny at Universal, circa 1926. He was likely touring in Los Angeles with the hit play, OLD ENGLISH, by John Galsworthy.

Published in: on February 3, 2011 at 11:26 PM  Leave a Comment  
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