Gala Hollywood Premiere for THE HOUSE OF ROTHSCHILD – March 14, 1934

Grauman’s Chinese Theater was the place to be on the night of March 14, 1934. The occasion was the Grand Premiere of THE HOUSE OF ROTHSCHILD and the Hollywood celebrities of the day turned out. Studios moguls Darryl Zanuck, Louis B. Mayer, Sam Goldwyn, and even old Carl Laemmele of Universal Pictures were among those attending. Lots of movie stars too, some of whom I can’t quite identify but maybe you can. They are treated like royalty regardless.

Of course, the center of attention was the film’s star – George Arliss. Here is Mr. A being flanked by Darryl Zanuck on the left and Sid Grauman on the right. The color is by Moi:

rothschild-premiere_zanuck_grauman_final

The scenes you are about to see is “raw” footage and in some cases catch the same action from two different camera angles. There is no sound but you can clearly see attendees speaking into a microphone, strongly suggesting a live radio broadcast. The white-haired gentleman who seems to be the radio host is veteran actor Lawrence Grant, who was apparently “moonlighting” when he wasn’t making films. Mr. A gives him a big handshake. I have added captions to note various individuals that I could recognize. I added a music track starting with the opening music of the film itself.

arliss-sign

A conceit of your blogmeister: through the magic of Photoshop I am taking the place of Sid Grauman in the photo from above. A little bit of time travel:

rothschild-premiere-zanuck_arliss_fells-color-final-2

hollywood-sign

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:
Man god Poster

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:
image007a

George Arliss plays wealthy concert pianist Montgomery Royale who seems to have it all:
Man God1 copy_Final

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:
Man God003

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:
Man God005a_Final_edited-1

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:
Man God004a_Final

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.
Arliss God

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:
DVD Cover Front

These are screen captures of the main titles – quite a line up of talent both in front of and behind the cameras:
vlcsnap-2014-04-18-17h56m10s218

vlcsnap-2014-04-18-17h56m18s44

vlcsnap-2014-04-18-17h56m25s115

vlcsnap-2014-04-18-17h34m20s169

Filming a scene with Maureen O’Sullivan:
Rich

CARDINAL RICHELIEU plays in the Middle East:
Arab Ad001

The back cover of the DVD snap case:
DVD Cover Back

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.

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:
Arliss_Shylock 3D

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):
Arliss_Disraeli 3D

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:
Arliss_Simpson 3D

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:
Arliss_Collier in HAMILTON 3D

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:
Arliss_Rothschild_3D_edited-1

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:
Arliss_Owen_Roth 3D

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:
Arliss GG Bust 3D

Cardinal Richelieu – Radio Broadcast and Original Lobby Cards

On January 23, 1939, George Arliss stepped before a live audience and a live microphone to broadcast a radio adaptation of his 1935 hit film, CARDINAL RICHELIEU. This prestigious event was one of the highlights of that season’s Lux Radio Theatre, hosted by none other than Cecil B. DeMille. Co-starring with Mr. A were some of the film’s stars including Caesar Romero and Douglas Dumbrille. The ingenue role of Lenore was played by Heather Angel, who replaced Maureen O’Sullivan from the film version. The key role of King Louis XIII was played by Montagu Love who last appeared with Mr. A in the 1931 film, ALEXANDER HAMILTON, where Love played Thomas Jefferson.

Best of all, members of the Arliss stock company were reunited: Ivan Simpson played Richelieu’s confident, Father Joseph (and stepped on some of Mr. A’s lines), Charles Evans played an innkeeper, Doris Lloyd played Queen Anne, wife of Louis, and best of all Florence Arliss played the Queen Mother Marie, who is an adversary of the Cardinal. It is interesting to hear Mr. and Mrs. A exchange harsh words in character rather than the romantic dialogue usually heard in their films. This broadcast was heard coast to coast and by shortwave around the world. As Mr. A says in his curtain speech at the end, a conservatively estimated 30 million people listened in. Today, a show with 5 million viewers is considered one for the record books.

If you weren’t around in 1939, that’s no problem here at the Arliss Archives. Just click (perhaps several times) on the play button below and you will be transported back in time to hear the complete hour-long broadcast:

While you are listening, Mr. A suggested you might want to review the original set of eight lobby cards that were issued in conjunction with the film. The 11×14 inch size of each card is too large for most scanners today so we have done our best to squeeze most of the contents into the image space. This is the first card, known as the title card for obvious reasons:

King Louis (Edward Arnold) and his retinue visit Richelieu where he meets the Cardinal’s ward Lenore (Maureen O’Sullivan) and is smitten by her. The villainous Baradas (Douglass Dumbrille on the right) smugly guesses the King’s plans for poor Lenore:

As Lenore is romanced by Andre dePons (Cesar Romero), the Cardinal realizes a way to thwart the King’s lustful intentions and instructs Father Joseph to bring the couple to the chapel so he can marry them:

The King is furious with Richelieu and Baradas sees his opportunity to dethrone Louis and place his weak brother Gaston as a puppet king. But first Andre must be persuaded to turn against Richelieu and join Baradas:

Andre is initially duped and almost murders the Cardinal but Richelieu has a way of explaining things and Andre reveals Baradas’ plot to overthrow Louis in league with Spain:

Richelieu must overtake Queens Marie and Anne on their way to the Spanish border to deliver the conspirators’ secret treaty. That’s Reginald Sheffield on the right, a member of the Arliss stock company. He would become better known as the father of Johnny Sheffield, who played “Boy” in Johnny Weissmuller’s TARZAN films:

The Cardinal manages to catch up to the Queens (Katherine Alexander and Violet Kemble-Cooper) and tricks them into disclosing the treaty by using a simple ruse – he lies!

Since everyone at court believes Richelieu to be murdered by Andre, the Cardinal causes quite a stir when he shows up with the secret treaty. Baradas and his colleagues are arrested for treason, Richelieu is restored to the King’s favor, and the Cardinal suggests to his Majesty that the best way to celebrate is to give thanks to God:

The End

A nice portrait of Mr. A in the title role, originally in b/w that we transferred into color:

Breaking 5,000 Visits!

“Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in a toast to celebrate our surpassing 5,000 visits, or ‘hits’ as the young people prefer to call it, to the Arliss Archives.”

Published in: on August 14, 2011 at 7:04 PM  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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):

A Special Tribute for the Fourth Of July – Alexander Hamilton (1931)

The best playwrights in the United States offered new works to George Arliss after his five-year run in DISRAELI. After a few false starts, Mr. A settled on a fledgling effort written by a housewife in upstate New York named Mary Hamlin. She wrote extensively about her collaboration with Mr. A, both on the 1917 play, HAMILTON, and later the 1931 film version retitled ALEXANDER HAMILTON. This post will focus on the Warner Bros. film and Hamlin’s contemporary letters from Hollywood to her NY home, and her later memoirs.

Hamlin participated in story conferences that producer Darryl Zanuck ran roughshod over with his non-stop talk and his haywire ideas, most of which he forgot about. One idea stuck – to open the film with Gen. George Washington making his Farewell Address to his troops at the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783:

Alan Mowbray was hired to play Washington, his first of three Arliss films. Hamlin recalled that Mowbray refused to rehearse his part in front of Mr. A and performed only for filming.

The studio had planned to film Mr. A’s first starring success, THE DEVIL, from 1908. But he disliked the play by 1931 and Warners went scurrying for another vehicle. Zanuck was unaware of the HAMILTON play that Arliss had co-authored with Hamlin, but when he learned of it insisted that it be filmed. Mr. A felt he was much too old for the role but Zanuck waved aside his objection.
Here Washington tells Hamilton he wants to return to Mount Vernon to live out his days in peace, but Hamilton tells him he has other plans.

Eight years later in 1791, the temporary capital of the U.S. is located in Philadelphia; Washington is the first President and Hamilton is the first Secretary of the Treasury. He is also married to Betsy, played by silent screen star Doris Kenyon:

But Hamilton has determined political opponents in James Monroe (Morgan Wallace) and Thomas Jefferson (Montagu Love), who adamantly oppose Hamilton’s plan to establish a strong central banking system fearing it will encroach on the sovereignty of the states:
Although Monroe and Jefferson could hardly be portrayed as villains, Mr. A cleverly cast Wallace and Love, two well-known supporting actors who specialized in playing bad guys, in the roles to subliminally influence the audience’s perception of these characters.

Jefferson and Monroe need Hamilton’s support to locate the Capitol in the South, believing that he will champion his home state of New York. Senator Roberts (Dudley Digges), seated in the middle, has a personal grudge against Hamilton who refused to support his nomination for ambassador to France:

Monroe, Jefferson and Roberts confer with Hamilton about his “Assumption” bill whereby the federal government would assume the states’ obligations to pay the Revolutionary War veterans their pensions, and also about Jefferson’s “Residency” bill to establish the U.S. Capitol:

Jefferson knows that without Hamilton’s support, the Capitol will not be located in the South. They agree to a compromise – the Capitol will be located on the Potomac by northern Virginia, in return for Monroe and Jefferson’s support of Hamilton’s “Assumption” bill to create a federal banking system that will pay the veterans’ pensions:

But Sen. Roberts incites a crowd against Hamilton, saying that he won’t help them. When Hamilton appears, one man throws a rock nearly hitting him:
Charles Middleton is the tall actor on the left who was apparently slated to play Chief Justice John Jay, but appeared only in this uncredited role.

Hamilton learns that his assailant was incited by Sen. Roberts. He also learns the man is a War veteran and jokes, “You must have been a sharpshooter because you nearly got me.” He orders the man released:
Hamlin said this unidentified actor had a wife who was dying in the hospital but he needed the job to pay the bills. Once his scene with Mr. A was completed, a studio car took him directly to the hospital.

The jeering crowd now has only cheers for Hamilton:

Betsy’s father, old Gen. Schuyler, arrives with news that her sister in England is seriously ill and is calling for her. Betsy sails for England leaving her beloved husband:
Veteran screen actor Lionel Belmore plays “old” Gen. Schuyler but Belmore was only a year older than Mr. A.

Ne’er-do-well Reynolds (Ralf Harolde) was fired by Hamilton from the Treasury for dishonesty. He is buying up the veterans “worthless” pensions for pennies on the dollar in the hope that the federal government will eventually redeem them at full value. Reynolds suggests to Sen. Roberts how Hamilton’s reputation can be destroyed and his political career ended:
Hamlin noted that Dudley Digges (Sen. Roberts) had directed the 1917 stage version of HAMILTON and also played the part of Reynolds on the stage.

Late one night during Betsy’s extended absence, a young woman (June Collyer) calls on Hamilton. She claims she is the widow of a War veteran and is impoverished. She asks if she can obtain a loan from the Treasury:

Hamilton takes pity on the lonely widow and makes her a personal loan. He walks her home but then…..

A reception is given to celebrate Betsy’s return home. Reynolds turns up as an uninvited guest to blackmail Hamilton – the lonely widow is in fact Reynolds’ wife!

Sen. Roberts springs the trap to ruin Hamilton – he claims that Hamilton made secret payments to Reynolds to act as his agent to buy up the veterans’ pensions knowing that when the Assumption bill passed Hamilton would enjoy a windfall:
Hamilton can defend himself only by explaining the real reason for paying Reynolds, as blackmail to hide his affair with Reynolds’ wife.

The conflicting stories become public and Hamilton faces the ruin of his marriage and of his career. But he and Betsy become reconciled to face an uncertain future:

Jefferson, Monroe and the leaders of both political parties assemble to tell Hamilton, or so he fears, of his dismissal from the Government and the defeat of his Assumption bill:

The meeting is interrupted by the arrival of President Washington who personally assures Hamilton of his confidence in him and the news that Congress has passed his Assumption bill.
Hamilton conveys his gratitude and observes that it doesn’t matter what happens to Alexander Hamilton the man. By passing the Assumption bill, Congress has established the credit of the United States and ensured the future prosperity of the nation. The End.

Production Photos:

Even outdoor filming does not interrupt Mr. A’s 4 pm tea break:

June Collyer and Mr. A had only one scene together, part of which was filmed outdoors at night. Here they seem to be standing by waiting for nightfall to film the scene:

Enlarging this photo shows that Mr. A is wearing his famous monocle, in other words he is posing as himself and not in character.

A rare photo with John Adolfi, director of seven of the ten Arliss Warner films. Mr. A shows Doris Kenyon and Adolfi a 200 year-old watch that he wears in the film:
Mary Hamlin was an expert on early American furniture and supervised the settings used and provided by W&L Sloane Co. Hamlin asked the Sloane manager how much Warner Bros. paid for the furniture and was told that it was being lent to the studio for free in return for a screen credit. When Hamlin asked why the company agreed to this arrangement for only one film, the manager said, “Because it’s a George Arliss film.”

Another rare photo of producer Darryl Zanuck with Mr. A on the set. Hamlin learned in time to share Mr. A’s high regard for Zanuck, that despite Zanuck’s verbosity he was something of a genius:

Hamlin and Mr. A corresponded until his death in 1946, and Hamlin later wrote that he was a gentleman in every sense of the word. He insisted that she be paid 75% of the royalties on the play even though he rewrote most of it. Her letters from the studio in 1931 give a fascinating glimpse of the work environment. She was surprised that John Barrymore looked so old and assumed he would no longer be playing leading man roles. She met Noah Beery, Sr., who appeared in the Arliss film, THE MILLIONAIRE (1931). Commenting on Mr. A, Beery said, “He’s such a nice man!” Hamlin’s writings confirm that George Arliss was the prime creative force in his films, but almost never taking credit for anything but his acting.

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:

A Successful Calamity (1932)

One of the more obscure films in the Arliss Canon, A SUCCESSFUL CALAMITY is happily back in circulation from Warner Home Video as part of a three-disc dvd set, the George Arliss Signature Collection. Think of Mr. A in “Father Knows Best” and you’ll know what to expect. The film is based on a 1917 play written by Clare Kummer who specialized in feather-weight domestic comedies. The play gave a needed change of pace to William Gillette who had been playing Sherlock Holmes on the stage since 1899. Warner Bros. may have figured that if this play was good enough for “Sherlock Holmes,” it was good enough for “Disraeli.”

Mr. A plays international financier Henry Wilton who has just returned from a year abroad in the service of the President of the United States. Eager to return to his family, he arrives home a day ahead of schedule and finds only his butler, Connors, there to greet him. Wilton decides to visit his family members at their various appointments. His son Eddie (William Janney) is playing in a polo match:

Eddie is sidelined by his coach, Larry Rivers, played by Randolph Scott. The man in the derby is Grant Mitchell playing Connors:

Wilton’s daughter Peggy (Evalyn Knapp) is in love with Larry Rivers but engaged to a nerdish young man:

Emmie (Mary Astor) is Wilton’s wife by a second marriage. Earlier he observes that he was criticized by some for marrying a woman much younger than himself. He learns from Emmie that they are “patrons” of a handsome young pianist, Pietro, who is much closer in age to Emmie.

Wilton despairs of having a quiet evening at home with his family given their busy social lives. He wonders if the poor have the same problem, but Connors tells him no, because “the poor don’t get to go very often.” This gives Wilton an idea:

Wilton breaks the “news” to Emmie that they are “ruined” and must sell everything. She cancels her evening’s plans to stay home with him:

Wilton also informs Peggy and Eddie of their ruin and they likewise cancel their plans and find themselves enjoying a simple dinner with their dad and step-mother to plan their future:

Before Wilton can tell Emmie the next day that he is not ruined after all, he learns that she has packed up all her jewelry and left in a taxi with her protege Pietro. Fearing the worst, Wilton tells Larry, Peggy and Eddie that Emmie left because she was afraid to be poor:

But Emmie has not left him, she only sold her jewelry to raise money and Pietro came along because he knows a good pawnbroker. Wilton’s family reflects on their brush with poverty by wondering why they were happier spending time at home. Wilton explains they were happy because “the poor don’t get to go very often.” The End.

Warners granted Mr. A a rare concession that was not even mentioned in his contract – the studio paid the cast (but not Mr. A) an extra two weeks salary so they could rehearse prior to any filming. The script for A SUCCESSFUL CALAMITY was then performed as play from beginning to end before an audience of studio workers including the director. The script was revised based on audience reaction and only when the script was finalized would filming begin.

Yet refinements to the script continued even during filming. The story is simple enough but was filled with dangerous shoals for its characters. For example, Peggy and Eddie could easily have been played as spoiled brats but instead come across as likeable (but spoiled) youth. The same can be said of Emmie although Mary Astor brings an inherent intelligence to her character. Wilton’s claim of being ruined seems like a nasty trick and in the script he admits to his family that it was a cruel joke:

In the film Wilton never tells them it was a hoax and indeed it seems that they are better off not knowing. The hoax serves as a reality check making Eddie and Peggy realize that they have to support themselves instead of living off Dad. The viewer is left with the impression that they are better people thanks to the “cruel joke.” Thus, the ending dialogue was changed from the final script and the story is more effective as a result:

A SUCCESSFUL CALAMITY satirizes modern “futuristic” music and art deco design but is most surprising in its focus on the travails of the wealthy during the height of the Great Depression in 1932. Perhaps the public enjoyed being voyeurs among the rich while forgetting their more basic problems. In any event, the film was profitable for Warner Bros., as were all of the Arliss films, with gross revenue of $642,000 and netting a profit of $127,000, or 25 percent over costs. Not bad for a story as light as pixie dust.

%d bloggers like this: