Maude T. Howell – Mr. A’s Shadow

Maude T Howell001 copy_Final_Final
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.
March 1923
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.
Arl and Friends
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.

hamilton on Set
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.

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.

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

His Lordship 001
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.

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.

The Doctor is In – Dr. Syn!

George Arliss as action hero? Not likely but Mr. A comes close with DR. SYN (1937), a corking good pirate yarn based on a popular novel by Russell Thorndyke. The novel is a thematic blend of Robert Louis Stevenson and Sigmund Freud that was so successful Thorndyke wrote several sequels. The novels still have quite a following in the UK. The story is set in Dymchurch, a seaside village in Kent, England, in the year 1800.

Mr. A plays the saintly vicar, Dr. Syn, who looks kindly on the blossoming romance between the orphan Imogene, played by Margaret Lockwood, and Denis Crabtree, son of the village squire, played by John Loder:

Dymchurch is plagued by nighttime apparitions of ghost riders on the nearby Romney Marsh but the main business of the villagers is a little fuzzy. Turns out the leading occupation is smuggling to avoid the exorbitant excise taxes imposed by the King. The ringleader is known only as “The Scarecrow.”

Dr. Syn becomes alarmed for his parishioners when a contingent of the King’s revenue patrol arrives at Dymchurch to investigate smuggling activities. Captain Collyer suspects that the nightly ghost riders are a cover for the smugglers and that Dr. Syn knows a lot more than he cares to tell:

Collyer learns that a number of the villagers were the crew of the notorious pirate, Captain Clegg, who was hanged twenty years earlier and lies buried in the churchyard cemetery – or does he? Dr. Syn alerts the sexton to spread the alarm:

Dymchurch schoolmaster Mr. Rash has designs on Imogene and tries to blackmail her with threats to reveal that she is the daughter of Captain Clegg:

As Capt. Collyer begins to close in, Dr. Syn realizes that he must take action to protect the village. Of course, not only is he “The Scarecrow,” he is Captain Clegg….

…and Imogene is his daughter. Mr. Rash must be silenced:

The discovery of Mr. Rash’s corpse results in the convening of an inquest where Capt. Collyer cross-examines Dr. Syn and forces him to admit his true identity. Before he can be arrested, the villagers intervene to foil Collyer’s men:

With Collyer’s men in hot pursuit, Dr. Syn stops by the church long enough to marry Denis and Imogene, then rejoins his old crew on their old ship, which was kept ready and hidden in a nearby cove, where they sail away for further adventures.

DR. SYN is technically George Arliss’ final film, but we at the Arliss Archives prefer to regard it as Mr. A’s most recent film. On the set, Alan Whittaker is Mr. A’s stand-in, Maude Howell serves as associate director, and Mr. A is in his 70th year:

Queen Mary attended the film’s London premiere, and the New York Times gave DR. SYN an enthusiastic review stating that it was better than MGM’s TREASURE ISLAND (1934). The film is widely considered the best of Mr. A’s five British films and is available on home video in an acceptable (but not restored) dvd edition through various outlets including Amazon.

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