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:
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.
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:
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:
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:
George Arliss plays wealthy concert pianist Montgomery Royale who seems to have it all:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
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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In the image above, Dudley Digges, who was Mr. A’s stage manger in earlier days, plays the Royal Chamberlain to King Phillip (who else but Mr. A?) in the comedy, THE KING’S VACATION (1933)
Ordering your own Official 2014 George Arliss Wall Calendar is easy – just download and print. This artwork is really the Arliss Archives’ Christmas Gift to the world – you need only provide the printing.
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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:
A sure sign of a film’s popularity is when comedians start spoofing it. Jack Benny devoted many of his weekly radio broadcasts to satirizing hit films right from his earliest shows in 1932. Among the films to get the Benny treatment were I AM A FUGITIVE FROM THE CHAIN GANG, Mae West’s SHE DONE HIM WRONG, which Benny turned into “She Done Him Right,” LITTLE WOMEN recast as “Miniature Women,” and even the Charlie Chan films became “Charlie Chan in Radio City.”
One hot summer night long ago in August 1934, the Benny troupe (Mary Livingstone, announcer Don Wilson, Sam Hearn and singer Frank Parker) were broadcasting from New York City and tackled Mr. A’s hit film of the season, THE HOUSE OF ROTHSCHILD. Renamed “The House of Rawchild” for reasons never made clear, the skit is more corny than clever but Jack Benny’s trademark dry humor is well in evidence. At that time, recordings of live radio broadcasts were not usually made and this is why few shows from that era have survived. Fortunately, Jack Benny arranged with a private company to record this AM transmission off the air on to discs lasting about five minutes each. The side joins of each disc lost a bit of dialogue and static noise from the AM reception also can be heard. We have restored the sound by minimizing the surface noise from the discs as much as possible and improving the tonal quality somewhat, but allowances should be made considering that this broadcast should not even exist under the circumstances. Due to the sound quality, we have omitted Jack’s opening routine where he relates his trip to Atlantic City to cool off in those pre-air-conditioner days.
That said, just click on the arrow below and return to Friday night, August 24, 1934, just past 10:30 pm eastern time for apparently the only known spoof of a George Arliss film:
Jack Benny as he appeared at the time of this broadcast:
Jack Benny zeroed in on the family patriarch, Meyer Rothschild, for most of the humor. This is the first time that the following images have been published here on the Arliss Archives. Mr. A and Helen Westley in the film’s prologue where they raise their five sons in the Frankfurt ghetto:
Benny spoofs the “death bed” scene where Meyer instructs his sons to settle in various capitals of the world to establish their financial network:
Boris Karloff is mentioned by Benny but his character is not represented in the spoof:
Note the hat that Karloff is holding – about five years ago that hat was offered through an online auction with bidding starting at $50. The winning bid was $450 and, alas, it was not by the Arliss Archives.
THE HOUSE OF ROTHSCHILD was the new studio’s flagship production to show that after one year’s existence the company was firmly established and growing – an impressive accomplishment considering that other major studios such as Paramount had gone into bankruptcy due to the Depression’s effect on movie attendance. That’s Darryl Zanuck on the left:
A closeup of the signatures that span all the Hollywood studios of that time. Can you spot autographs by Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Clark Gable, Delores Del Rio, Cary Grant, Ann Harding, Ronald Colman, Loretta Young – hey, she was in the film!
As far as we can determine, Mr. A’s final professional appearance was in a brief radio address urging his fellow citizens in Britain to volunteer to assist the war effort near the beginning of World War II. The address was presumably broadcast over the BBC, and judging from some references by Mr. A, it was made at some point between September 1939 when hostilities between Britain and Germany were declared, and prior to May 1940 when the bombing began. This period of the Second World War has been dubbed “the twilight war” or “the phony war” because although war had been declared, there were no clashes between the two countries. This calm before the storm ended with the Battle of Britain in May 1940.
An autographed photo of Mr. A taken at about the same time as his war address, circa 1940:
Please click on the arrow below to hear George Arliss’s appeal for the war effort:
Despite the war, in May 1940 Mr. A’s second volume of autobiography was published on both sides of the Atlantic. Here is the original dust jacket with color enhancement. Notice that it was not necessary to identify the author on the cover. In the UK, this delightful volume was called GEORGE ARLISS BY HIMSELF:
Since we’re in a military frame of mind, at right below is Mr. A in military uniform for THE KING’S VACATION (1933), and at left is a recent photo of the same tunic on auction. The fate of movie costumes is one of the more neglected areas of film study:
Here are more new images that have never been posted before on the Arliss Archives. First, an original color lobby card from THE LAST GENTLEMAN (1934). Left to right are Janet Beecher, Edna May Oliver, Mr. A, and Ralph Morgan:
The following two images are original color photos (we don’t know the process used) that document Mr. A’s one-year run in London starring in THE GREEN GODDESS from September 1923 to September 1924. In this photo the lady in distress is Isobel Elsom:
The cover of a British movie magazine that novelized current films and was illustrated with photos, here from THE WORKING MAN (1933). Apparently, these novelizations were based on the shooting scripts instead of the films themselves, and sharp eyed readers can spot scenes in the novel that were cut from the finished film:
Mr. A spent the winter months in California making films throughout much of the 1930s. He returned to his native Britain in the Spring of each year. This photo, circa 1929, shows his renting a western style home. Note Mr. A’s autograph near the bottom:
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:
A nice portrait of Mr. A in the title role, originally in b/w that we transferred into color: