The Arliss Stock Company – Part One

One of the wonders of the old studio system was its roster of veteran actors and actresses who were under long-term contract and appeared together in numerous films over several years. While George Arliss had no formal stock company, by his own admission he would have cast the same players in every film he made if there were nobody to “control” him, as he put it. Just the same, several actors turned up frequently in the Arliss films but almost always playing vastly different characters than in previous films and having significantly different relationships with Mr. A’s character. This post will focus on the contrasting characters played by some supporting cast members.

Ivan Simpson had performed on stage with Mr. A and in two silent films. With the arrival of sound films in the late 1920s, Simpson enjoyed a long and successful film career in character parts. He was immediately tapped by Mr. A when he reported to Warner Bros. in 1929 to film his stage hit, THE GREEN GODDESS (1930). Simpson repeated his stage role as Watkins, the surly cockney valet to Mr. A’s Rajah of Rukh. We learn that Watkins is a deserter from the British Army, among other faults, and the Rajah delights in ridiculing Watkins for his inherent British “superiority” over other people. Mr. S seems to hold the record at nine appearances in the Arliss films, silent and sound:
Photo from the 1923 silent film

Simpson played financier Hugh Meyers, a character modeled after Lionel Rothschild, who privately financed British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli’s purchase of the Suez Canal in 1875:
Photo from the 1929 film

Ivan Simpson’s next appearance with Mr. A is as an octogenerian crony of Old Heythorp in OLD ENGLISH (1930):

Simpson’s final film appearance with Mr. A (they later performed together on radio) seemed to admit him to the pantheon class. In THE HOUSE OF ROTHSCHILD (1934) he and Mr. A are finally brothers, Nathan and Amschel:
Offscreen, Ivan Simpson was an accomplished sculptor. Here he spends his free time productively between filming scenes for DISRAELI during the summer of 1929:

Doris Kenyon became popular in films by 1917 and was a genuine star during the 1920s. After her marriage to fellow star Milton Sills, they appeared together in many films. In 1922, Mr. A and Kenyon played father and daughter in THE RULING PASSION, now a lost film but remade by Mr. A in sound as THE MILLIONAIRE (1931):

Nine years later, Mr. A and Kenyon are husband and wife in ALEXANDER HAMILTON (1931). Kenyon’s husband, Milton Sills, died suddenly in September 1930 (ending what appeared to be a successful transition from silent to sound films) and she intended to retire. But Mr. A persuaded her to return to work:

Then Kenyon plays courtesan Madame De Pompadour to Mr. A’s elderly philospher at the Court of Louis XV in VOLTAIRE (1933):

Dudley Digges worked on the production side of the theater and functioned as Mr. A’s stage manager in the 1910s. Digges directed the stage version of ALEXANDER HAMILTON in 1917 and played a role as well. Thus bitten by the acting bug, he became an actor but retained his considerable experience in staging. Here Digges plays the corrupt Senator Roberts, based on the real-life William B. Giles, to Mr. A’s ALEXANDER HAMILTON (1931):

A dignified Dudley Digges is the Lord Chamberlain to Mr. A’s reluctant monarch in THE KING’S VACATION (1933). Digges is best remembered today for two film roles: the police inspector who tracks down THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933), and the drunken ship’s doctor in MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY (1935):

Alan Mowbray is remembered mainly as a portly and comical character actor in the 1940s and 50s, including a fair amount of television work. But in his earlier (and slimmer years) he appeared in three Arliss films. Here a heavily made-up Mowbray as George Washington towers over Mr. A:

Mowbray is the villainous Count DeSarnac who devotes himself to seeing Voltaire sent to the Bastille. Here he seems to have the upper hand as King Louis XV (Reginald Owen) expresses his anger over Voltaire’s play:

Speaking of Reginald Owen, although he appeared in only two Arliss films, his majestic Louis XV of VOLTAIRE contrasted significantly with his somewhat obsequious role in THE HOUSE OF ROTHSCHILD. Playing Herries, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Owen pleaded with Nathan Rothschild to loan more money to the Allies to battle Napoleon. Another member of the stock company here is Florence Arliss, who had a total of six appearances (she appeared in no other films except Mr. A’s). Unlike the other members of the stock company, Mrs. A unvarying role was to play Mr. A’s screen spouse in five films:

Doris Lloyd can been spotted playing maids or titled dowagers in numerous films from the 30s through THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965). But earlier, Lloyd played substantial roles in the Arliss films. Here Lloyd is Mrs. Travers, the charming spy for Russia who ingratiates herself into Disraeli’s household:

Here Lloyd is the worrisome Mrs. Lorne, a struggling novelist who has two children “under the rose” (i.e., out of wedlock) by old Heythorp’s deceased son. Their respective characters between DISRAELI and OLD ENGLISH (1930) could not have been more different:

David Torrence was the first actor to play stuffy Lord Probert in the Montreal tryout for DISRAELI in 1910. Apparently, Torrence did not appear with the Arliss stock company until he resumed his role of Lord Probert in the 1929 sound film. Thereafter, he continued to play in Arliss films, adding a dignity to otherwise disagreeable characters:

How many members of the Arliss stock company can you find in this photo? While Mr. A gives advice to newcomer Margaret Lindsay, behind beards, veils and wigs are Ivan Simpson, Doris Lloyd, David Torrence, and Douglass Dumbrille (who will be discussed in Part 2):

Relatively Speaking

George Arliss had one of the longest commutes to work in history. He routinely traveled from his home in London, crossed the Atlantic by ocean liner to New York, then trained across the American continent to Los Angeles. The entire trip in those pre-jet travel days took close to two weeks. Not surprisingly, such journeys themselves became social rituals and people wore their best clothes for travel, not including formal attire for events shipboard. Here Mr. A is on the S.S. Majestic leaving New York on May 29, 1931, bound for Southampton, England. He has just completed filming ALEXANDER HAMILTON at Warner Bros. in Hollywood:

Mr. A’s best known relative was his wife, actress Florence Arliss. She accompanied him on his theatrical tours, then on his trips to make films in Hollywood. They wintered in America and returned to Britain in the spring each year. Aboard the S.S. Mauretania in September 1922, Mr. and Mrs. A arrive in New York for the start of the new theatrical season:

Mr. A’s journeys were considered newsworthy and his progress was duly reported. The caption to this news photo states, “Arliss Passes Through Chicago,” and is dated June 18, 1930:

Celebrating the end of Prohibition with British actor Leslie Banks, the Arlisses visit the Vendome Cafe in Hollywood on November 7, 1933. The photo caption states, “Mr. Arliss is seldom photographed in the night spots of the film capital but Repeal brought him out.” Mrs. A appears less willing to be photographed:

Believe it or not, George Arliss had an OLDER brother, Charlie. Here Mr. A serves as best man at his brother’s wedding to Miss Violet Moutrie on July 11, 1938. They are standing outside the Hammersmith Register Office where the marriage took place. The photo caption states that Mr. A is 70, and the former Miss Moutrie is 50, but declines to reveal Charlie’s age:

Warner Bros. colleagues of Mr. A made news with their relatives too. Here Al Jolson and his movie star wife Ruby Keeler attend a testimonial dinner for Eddie Cantor at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on October 28, 1937. The kibitzer in the middle is Joe E. Brown:
A radio broadcast of the evening’s speakers exist but neither Keeler, Jolson nor Brown performed that night.

Here are Al Jolson’s parents, the Cantor and Mrs. Jolson, in an undated photo, circa the 1920s. Al was born in Lithuania but the family emigrated to Washington, D.C. where he grew up. Cantor Jolson lived to be 95 and was active almost to the end of his life. His son frequently told humorous stories about his father on radio during the 1930s. Once the Cantor declined to attend one of Jolson’s shows because he would miss an Amos ‘n’ Andy broadcast:

Another Warners colleague, Edward G. Robinson, celebrates his son Manny turning 6 years old on March 18, 1939, with a gala cowboy party with the children of many Hollywood notables as guests. Mrs. Robinson is the cowgirl:

Relatives of Mr. Robinson attend the New York premiere of one of his films on September 19,1933. Left to right, Mr. R’s mother, Mrs. Sarah Goldberg, his brother, Oscar Goldberg, and EGR’s wife. Eddie himself was in Hollywood working on another film:

It seems that every Warners star had a relative nearby. Here Rin-Tin-Tin, Warners “bread and butter” star of the 1920s, poses with his mate, Nanette. They co-starred in several films together and Rinty sometimes had to choose between rescuing the film’s heroine or Nanette. He tended to choose the heroine but Nanette did fine fending for herself:

“I’m Ready for My Close-Up, Mr. DeMille”

Those memorable words spoken by Gloria Swanson at the climax of SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950) begs the question: how DOES one get ready for one’s close-up? Earlier, we explored the photographer’s art and the wizardry of lens and lighting. Here, we will explore the artistry of cosmetics, a subject more often associated with the ladies, but aging males were perhaps the more challenging subjects for the makeup artists.

George Arliss lived through revolutionary changes in this form of artistry from the exaggerated makeup required during the dimly-lit gaslight era of the 1880s stage to the massive light-drenched needs of Technicolor film by the 1930s. The public sees only the finished product but we’ll take a look at the “raw” material before our stars are ready for their close-up. Here is an original glass slide of Mr. A as the majestic French cardinal and his “look” seems so easy, doesn’t it?

Mr. A stated that he handled all of his own makeup chores through his first two sound films (DISRAELI and THE GREEN GODDESS) when he realized that film makeup was more complicated than for the stage. Mr. A as Old Heythorpe on the stage in OLD ENGLISH, circa 1925:

And here he is with Ivan Simpson in the motion picture version in 1930 – the differences are striking:

Having placed himself in the hands of the cosmetic experts at Warners, Mr. A initially must have had misgivings:

But soon Mr. A had a new look – although he seems to be wearing the same suit:

Mr. A on the stage in 1917 as ALEXANDER HAMILTON – he’s nearly 50 playing a 30 year old:

Here in 1931 at the age of 63, he’s asked to play Hamilton for the movies:

Mr A looks younger now than in 1917 – ALEXANDER HAMILTON (1931):

Results were sometimes achieved only through trial and error. Here’s an early makeup and costume test for CARDINAL RICHELIEU (1935):

Here’s the final result – how many changes can you find? Let’s start from the top: the eyebrows are no longer natural, the mustache has been lightened and the goatee reshaped, the cowl covers more of the neck, the shoulders are now padded, and the costume in the test was not used in the film:

Since we’re on the subject, let’s take a look at Mr. A’s colleagues at Warners. This is a relatively unadorned photo of John Barrymore circa 1928 making one of his first radio broadcasts in Los Angeles over station KFI:

The Great Profile ready for his close-up in DON JUAN (1926):

Makeup miracles were wrought on Al Jolson. This is a press photo taken during a 1935 broadcast rehearsal – not ready for his close-up:

And here is Al again in 1935 – ready for that close-up in a seamless blending of lens, lighting and makeup. GO INTO YOUR DANCE (1935):

Ever hear of a comedian who never told jokes? That’s Jack Benny and this is how he looked on radio in the mid-1930s:

And this is how Mr. Benny looked in movies in the mid-1930s:

Back to Mr. Barrymore now ten years after DON JUAN – even this retouched studio portrait of the actor as himself suggests the years have not been kind:

Ready for his close-up as Mercutio in ROMEO AND JULIET (1936):

Let’s conclude with one of the most handsome stars in all of American film history. First, this is how Tyrone Power looked when made ready for his close-up in SUEZ (1938):

A few years later, here is an unretouched news photo of Mr. Power reporting for duty to the U.S. Marines during World War II:

Not much work for a makeup artist to do, was there?

The Kings of Warners

The Arliss Archives include holdings indirectly related to George Arliss. In this post, we’ll take a look at some material highlighting Mr. A’s colleagues. When Warner Bros. signed George Arliss in the summer of 1928 to make three “talking pictures,” he joined the ranks of two other super stars of that studio – Al Jolson and John Barrymore.

No, this photo is not Mr. A arriving at Warners. I can’t place the occasion but it looks like a movie still. It was taken some time in the early to mid 1920s (judging by the automobile) but the original photo annotation suggests a candid shot. Florence Arliss was fond of little dogs, Mr. A apparently less so:

Al Jolson was the musical comedy sensation of Broadway and Warners had to pay dearly to acquire his talents. Jolson thought the Brothers were on to something with Vitaphone but they didn’t have much ready cash. Al agreed to take partial payment in studio shares of stock and became wealthy as a result:

Everybody knows that THE JAZZ SINGER (1927) was the first commercially successful sound film. Less well known is that the follow up, THE SINGING FOOL (1928), was an even bigger moneymaker:

John Barrymore had made four epic silent films for Warners in the mid 20s following his theater triumph in HAMLET, so the Brothers were eager to get him back when sound came in. In those days, it seems that no expense was spared in making a Barrymore film.

The composition of this photo from his first talkie, GENERAL CRACK (1930), seems inspired by late 18th century portraits:

Fans could even read the novel of GENERAL CRACK in movie magazines of the day, complete with an elaborately painted cover portrait of the Great Profile:

Kings usually help each other and the protocol was no different at Warners. Here Barrymore and Jolson lend their support to Mr. A’s first talkie:

Warners also acquired an upcoming dramatic star of the theater who had actually corresponded with George Arliss some 20 years earlier, then appeared in support of Mr. A on the stage in 1920. Here is an uncharacteristically dapper Edward G. Robinson:

This next photo might be called, “Kings in Exile.” Mr. A is in costume for OLD ENGLISH (1930) and the film’s director Alfred Green stands to his left. The other three gentlemen are all legendary stars of the theater: standing behind Mr. A is Otis Skinner; seated next to him is Wilton Lackaye; and the gentleman standing on the right is Winthrop Ames who produced all of the Arliss theatrical hits of the 1920s. The lady is the equally legendary Maude Howell, who was Mr. A’s stage manager, then associate director, associate producer, and contributing writer on the Arliss films:

Eventually, the Kings of Warners followed in Mr. A’s footsteps in making biopics (historical biographical films). Here Edward G. Robinson discovers the cure for syphilis in DR. EHRLICH’S MAGIC BULLET (1940) with Otto Kruger:

John Barrymore resumed wearing a powdered wig to portray King Louis XV in MARIE ANTOINETTE (1938):

Darryl Zanuck even persuaded Al Jolson to play 19th century minstrel E.P. Christy in the Technicolor SWANEE RIVER (1939) with Don Ameche and Andrea Leeds as Stephen Foster and his long-suffering wife. This is a b/w photo rendered into faux Technicolor:

And now for something completely different – these two gents could be the maternal and paternal grandfathers of the Marx Brothers (in an artistic sense, they were), but they’re actually the Broadway producer/comedy team of Joe Weber and Lew Fields. These fellows invented the dramatic parody in the 1890s that’s been a staple of American comedy ever since, right up to today’s skits on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, making them theater kings in their own right:

Beginning their act in 1877, here they are in 1940 still going strong. Arliss was a relative latecomer only beginning his career in 1887!

Out of costume, Joe and Lew looked more respectable when they moved to Hollywood in the late 1930s. There they spent many delightful evenings reminiscing about the old days with their friend, Mr. A (and it would be great to find a photo of the three of them together!):

Next week’s post will be very special in celebration of Mr. A’s birthday on April 10th. We’ll take a look at his masterwork – DISRAELI – the play, the silent film, the talkie, and the radio broadcast. With the exception of Shakespeare, I doubt there has been another dramatic work that has been adapted into so many different media as DISRAELI, and which starred the same actor.

The Arliss Women, Part Deux

As promised, here is the second installment in our review of some of the gifted actresses who appeared in the Arliss films.

Loretta Young, like Mr. A, followed producer Darryl Zanuck when he left Warner Bros. for 20th Century-Fox. Young would make some of her best films there beginning with THE HOUSE OF ROTHSCHILD (1934) where she played the role of Nathan Rothschild’s (Arliss) daughter Julie:

With Robert Young. For whatever reason, the original still reversed the image but your blogmeister corrected it.

A frame capture from the Technicolor finale of ROTHSCHILD:

Doris Kenyon was a silent screen star who was married to another silent screen star, Milton Sills. They made several films together during the 1920s and Kenyon also appeared in the Arliss silent, THE RULING PASSION (1922). When Sills died suddenly in late 1930, Kenyon planned to retire but Mr. A persuaded her otherwise.

Doris Kenyon as Betsy Hamilton in ALEXANDER HAMILTON (1931)

Kenyon joins Mr. A in his mandatory afternoon tea break on the HAMILTON set:

A detail from a HAMILTON lobby card with Dudley Digges:

Another HAMILTON lobby card with Lionel Belmore as Old Gen. Schuyler – in fact Belmore was only a year older than Mr. A!

Two year later Arliss and Kenyon played very different roles in VOLTAIRE (1933), she as Mme. Pompadour…

…mistress to King Louis XV, played by Reginald Owen:

Mary Astor was leading lady to John Barrymore and Douglas Fairbanks in the 1920s, and a memorable femme fatale to Humphrey Bogart in the 1940s. In between, Astor was married to Mr. A – onscreen of course – in A SUCCESSFUL CALAMITY (1932):

In his memoirs, Arliss thanked Gladys Cooper (later Dame Gladys Cooper, DBE [Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire]) for playing the relatively small role of Duchess d’Angoul√™me, the vengeful daughter of Marie Antoinette, in his first British film, THE IRON DUKE (1934):

It is rather obvious who is the brains here.

THE IRON DUKE casts Mr. A as the Duke of Wellington, but his real adversary is not Napoleon but a woman, Mme. d’Angoul√™me, who nearly succeeds in restoring the Bourbon monarchy to France. This film was Cooper’s first talkie. Here is the denouement where the Duke tells the Duchess: “I fight for peace – you fight for vengeance. That is why you have to go.”

We haven’t overlooked Joan Bennett, Alice Joyce, Evalyn Knapp, Doris Lloyd and others so that’s why there will be a Part Trois coming up soon.
If you missed Part One, click on the “People” category.

Published in: on March 26, 2011 at 10:28 PM  Comments (1)  
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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)  

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  

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  

Actor Ivan Simpson appeared with Arliss on the stage and in many films. He was also a skilled sculptor and spent the lulls between filming DISRAELI during the summer of 1929 working on this bust of Arliss as Disraeli. Simpson also sculpted the bronze bust of Arliss shown on our “General” page. There Simpson captures Arliss as the Rajah in THE GREEN GODDESS.

Published in: on February 3, 2011 at 11:01 PM  Leave a Comment  
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