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.
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.
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: