Maude T. Howell – Mr. A’s Shadow

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Women executives were rare at American film studios during the 1930s. One exception was Maude T. Howell who worked as a screen writer, associate director and associate producer at Warner Bros. and Twentieth Century Pictures from 1929 to 1935. She then crossed the Atlantic to work at Gaumont-British Pictures in London through 1937. Maude’s assigned motion picture productions had one thing in common: they were all George Arliss films. A graduate of Stanford University (Class of 1911), Maude worked in high school and community dramatics in Los Angeles. She became an assistant stage manager for a Detroit stock company and later was hired in a similar position for the New York production of THE GREEN GODDESS in 1921, which starred Mr. A. When the stage manager suddenly became ill, Maude took his place and thereby became the first woman stage manager in New York theater history. Mr. A in his memoirs recalled her skill and efficiency in this very demanding job. Photographs of Ms. Howell are as scarce as the proverbial hen’s teeth so following are among the rarest images in the Arliss Archives.
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This backstage photo dates from March 1923 and is likely during the run of THE GREEN GODDESS.

When Mr. A went into making “talkies” he brought Maude Howell along to be his eyes and ears in the myriad details of film-making.
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Taking a break from filming OLD ENGLISH in 1930, Maude Howell joins Mr. A and theater legends Otis Skinner (standing behind Mr. A), and Wilton Lackaye, seated next to him. The man standing on the right is Winthrop Ames who produced Mr. A’s plays from 1920 through 1928. Standing on the left is film director Alfred E. Green.

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Maude Howell also contributed to the scripts of the Arliss films, often uncredited. So did Mr. A. Here they are on the set of ALEXANDER HAMILTON (1931) with director John Adolfi.

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The production crew of CARDINAL RICHELIEU (1935) with Maude Howell seated at extreme right. To her left is Maureen O’Sullivan while Mr. A looks on approvingly at the film’s director, Rowland V. Lee.

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The main credits of RICHELIEU prominently disclose who provided the script.

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On the set of the British film, HIS LORDSHIP (1937), a comedy of foreign intrigue where Mr. A plays twin brothers. Here he is costumed as the pompous one. Director Herbert Mason is on the left.

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Queen Mary attended the London premiere of DR. SYN (1937), which turned out to be Mr. A’s final film. However, he would consider offers to play Disraeli in SUEZ (1938) and to star in THE PIED PIPER (1942), among other proposals. Alan Whittaker is dressed identically to Mr. A because he is his stand-in.

Maude Howell evidently returned to America following the completion of DR. SYN. Presumably, she resumed her career in theater production. Little more seems to be known about her except that she died in 1964 in New Orleans at the age of 77. Please contact me if you have any info about this special lady.

New on DVD! THE MAN WHO PLAYED GOD (1932) with Bette Davis

I’m a little late on this but Warner Archive recently issued the sixth official studio DVD release of Classic Arliss. This time it’s Mr. A’s blockbuster, THE MAN WHO PLAYED GOD:
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Mr. A arranged for Warner Bros. to hire a young unknown actress named Bette Davis to play the role of his fiancee in the film. This proved to be Bette’s breakthrough film:
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George Arliss plays wealthy concert pianist Montgomery Royale who seems to have it all:
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Royale is in the wrong place at the wrong time and is injured by a bomb in a terrorist attack (yes, even then). The blast destroys his hearing and he can no longer hear his own music. His life ruined, he becomes so depressed that he attempts suicide:
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Royale learns lip-reading, which turns out to be a mixed blessing. He goes from believing that God has abandoned him to the realization that he has become God’s instrument to help the less fortunate:
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But through lip-reading he learns that his fiancee loves another man. Royale asks himself, “I wonder what God would do in a case like this?” This strangely inspiring film still moves viewers over 80 years later. A true classic:
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Mr A later performed a live radio broadcast of this story that was heard around the world. To hear this historic broadcast, please click on “Radio” in the right hand column, and then click on THE MAN WHO PLAYED GOD.
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Arliss Alert! THE HOUSE OF ROTHSCHILD on TCM 9/23 @ 8 PM Eastern Time

George Arliss returns to the air in prime time. This Tuesday, September 23, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) is showing THE HOUSE OF ROTHSCHILD at 8 PM, eastern time. Better yet, the finale is being shown in its original Technicolor glory! Better not miss this one.

Mr. A as Meyer Rothschild in the film’s prologue:
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Boris Karloff as the antisemitic Prussian Count Ledranz:
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Loretta Young as Julie and Mr. A as her father, Nathan Rothschild:
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A Technicolor frame capture with Loretta Young and Robert Young:
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Another frame cap from the Technicolor finale, Florence Arliss and Mr. A:
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THE DEVIL (1920) Returns!

THE DEVIL has the distinction of being two “Firsts” for George Arliss. In 1908, it became his first starring play, then twelve years later the story was his first motion picture. Mr. A’s six silent films collectively serve as a “dress rehearsal” for his later sound film successes but, alas, only two of the silents appeared to have survived: THE GREEN GODDESS (1923) and TWENTY DOLLARS A WEEK (1924). Then a sole 35mm print of THE DEVIL was found in Canada by a gentleman named Larry Smith, who generously donated the film to the Library of Congress (LOC) where it has been copied and preserved. Recently, Larry uploaded THE DEVIL to Youtube and thus returned this long-lost Arliss feature to general circulation for the first time in over 90 years!
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These images are screen caps from the Youtube upload of THE DEVIL, and as a result are low resolution. Your blogmeister has viewed a 35mm copy at the LOC and can assure you that the image quality is excellent.
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Mr. A as the “helpful” Dr. Muller adroitly plants all sorts of carnal temptations in the thoughts of his friends.
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A young Edmund Lowe seem skeptical of the good doctor’s advice. Lowe would become a popular silent screen star during the 1920s and successfully transitioned to talkies in the 1930s.
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Florence Arliss (Mrs. A) also played a role as the aunt of the heroine.
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Lucy Cotton and Edmund Lowe as the lovers
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Dr. Muller has his own plans for the lady and they’re not honorable.
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As powerful as the Devil is, there’s Someone who is stronger.
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The Devil goes to Hell-literally.
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Hopefully, by now you’d like to see THE DEVIL so here’s the Youtube link. Enjoy!

CARDINAL RICHELIEU (1935) – First Time on DVD!

Twentieth Century-Fox has just released on DVD the classic George Arliss costume film, CARDINAL RICHELIEU. This makes the fifth Arliss film to receive an official studio home video release:
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These are screen captures of the main titles – quite a line up of talent both in front of and behind the cameras:
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Filming a scene with Maureen O’Sullivan:
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CARDINAL RICHELIEU plays in the Middle East:
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The back cover of the DVD snap case:
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For more photos, info, and to hear the radio version of this terrific film, please click on the CARDINAL RICHELIEU link on the right-hand column.

Arliss Alert! DISRAELI is Back!!! TCM on Sunday Feb 16 @ 4:00 AM ET

It’s the start of Academy Award Season so naturally Mr. A’s 1929 Oscar winner is one of the first films honored by Turner Classic Movies (TCM). DISRAELI is not yet available on DVD so be sure to set your tivo, vcr, or whatever you use for time-shifting so you don’t miss it. See George Arliss and the famous Arliss Stock Company including 19th century players such as Florence Arliss, Ivan Simpson, David Torrence, and Charles Evans. Youngsters include a 19 year old Joan Bennett.
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Actor-sculptor Ivan Simpson puts the finishing touches on his bust of Mr. A as Disraeli. Mr. Simpson plays the financier Hugh Myers in the movie:
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New Arliss Film on DVD! THE WORKING MAN with Bette Davis

If your blogmeister had to name only one George Arliss film to somebody who had never seen any, unquestionably that film would be THE WORKING MAN (1933). Never before available on home video, Warners Archive just released this clever comedy on DVD and remastered the film to help make it look brand new!
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THE WORKING MAN was made at the height of the Great Depression when, under the circumstances, it was popular to attack Capitalism and America’s free market economy. But this film shows how Capitalism can be fun and how the free market creates new jobs:
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Mr. A plays a shoe manufacturing tycoon who sees his chance to take over a rival’s business. Complications ensue and Mr. A ends up competing with his own company.
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Romance also ensues as Bette teaches Mr. A’s stuffy young nephew a few lessons in love:
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The film’s back story is even better: Mr. A discovered Bette and launched her successful film career. See it all happen in THE WORKING MAN:
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Check out THE WORKING MAN at http://www.wbshop.com

George Arliss in 3D

The current interest in 3D movies has a long history dating back to the 19th century use of stereograms whereby two seemingly identical photos were placed side-by-side. When seen through a viewer, called a Stereoscope, these 2D images sprang to life by blending into one three-dimensional image that was more vivid than life itself. The secret to creating this 3D illusion was to take one of the two “identical” photos from a slightly different perspective than the other, about equal to the distance between our eyes.

The Age of Stereograms spanned the 1880s through the 1920s and offered mainly the sights of far-away places. Celebrity 3D photos were limited to political leaders and important military officers. For whatever reason, neither Broadway nor Hollywood celebrities seemed to have posed for these pictures. However, 21st century computer software can help us render a “simulated 3D” image that suggests what our favorites of yesteryear might have looked like in the third dimension. If you have access to an old Stereoscope or perhaps to a modern version made of cardboard found in books about old stereo cards, then you’re all set to enjoy seeing Mr. A as Shylock as he appeared on the stage in 1928 in Shakespeare’s THE MERCHANT OF VENICE:
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Don’t despair if you lack access to a viewer because you really don’t need one. With a bit of patience you can easily train your eyes in the knack of “free viewing,” where you can see the 3D effect without a viewer. If your Blogmeister can learn it, so can you. It helps at first if you hold your hand or a piece of cardboard in front of your face on edge so your right eye cannot see the picture on the left side and your left eye can’t see the picture on the right. Stare straight ahead as if you are are looking “through” the photos and soon you’ll notice the two photos move towards each other to become one. Try it with this image of Ivan Simpson and Mr. A from DISRAELI (1929):
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I find that smaller size photos work better than larger ones. Also, experiment with moving the images closer or further away from your eyes. A distance between 10 and 12 inches or so usually works but you’ll just have to use trial and error. Once you’ve experienced the 3D effect you will know what to look for and subsequent free viewing will be easy. Here is Ivan Simpson again without his makeup for DISRAELI, but practicing his skill as a sculptor by immortalizing Mr. A as Mr. Disraeli:
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You can enjoy the 3D effect right on your computer screen so there’s no need to print out the images. I’ve even managed to see the 3D effect with these photos on my iphone but I won’t recommend it for beginners. Not every photo is a candidate for 3D. This photo of Mr. A and June Collyer from ALEXANDER HAMILTON (1931) works well because it has a clearly defined foreground and background:
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If you’ve gotten this far with seeing the above photos in 3D, then you’re ready for the post-graduate course. Try this exquisite portrait of Mr. A, Loretta Young, and Robert Young from THE HOUSE OF ROTHSCHILD (1934). Not only is the foreground/background clearly distinguished, but the lighting effects seem to suggest a 3D effect as well:
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This photo is from the closing scene of THE HOUSE OF ROTHSCHILD that was originally photographed in color so I took my coloring cues directly from the film itself. I slightly altered the color of the carpet between the two images so you may notice a vivid quality as the colors combine. Florence Arliss, Mr. A, and Reginald Owen:
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Finally, here is a genuine 3D photo that your Blogmeister just made using an ordinary digital camera. The bust was sculpted by Ivan Simpson around 1923 and captures Mr. A as the Rajah of Rukh in THE GREEN GODDESS, a hit play that he made both as a silent film and later in sound in 1929 (release in 1930). Mr. A refers to this bust in the first volume of his memoirs:
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ARLISS ALERT! Mr. A’s Academy Award Winner DISRAELI on TCM on Friday, Feb. 1st at 7:30 AM Eastern Time

George Arliss received the Best Actor Academy Award for his 1929 film, DISRAELI, where he portrayed the legendary British prime minister of the 1870s. An early talkie, this story is surprisingly topical in that it focuses on Disraeli’s quest to purchase the Suez Canal for Britain. Opposed by other politicians and sabotaged by spies from Russia, the wily prime minister contrives to buy the Canal only to discover he lacks the money to pay for it! How’s George Arliss going to get out of this one? Tune in and see!

Disraeli (1929)“is playing on TCM on Fri, February 01, 2013 07:30 AM est.

Doris Lloyd plays the charming socialite Mrs. Travers, who is actually a Russian spy:
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Ivan Simpson plays financier Hugh Myers who promises to provide funding for the Canal purchase, but then goes bankrupt:
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Ivan Simpson was also a sculptor as he proves between filming scenes:
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The cover of the souvenir program from 1929:
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A 19 year-old Joan Bennett with Mr. A:
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Joan Bennett graciously provided your blogmeister with a few reminiscences of making DISRAELI:
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Florence Arliss, wife of Mr. A, played the wife of Disraeli, known as Lady Beaconsfield:
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A 1929 flyer containing memorable scenes:
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Mr. A on the Air Live in THE MAN WHO PLAYED GOD

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:

Poster art for the 1932 talkie version:

A night out at the local movie house:

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