George Arliss – One for the Teenagers by Clive Beautyman

George Arliss – One for the Teenagers

In his one-man show at the Royal Festival Hall in 1966 Tony Hancock performs a stand-up routine which has changed little since the 1950s. In one section he does some impressions: Robert Newton as Long John Silver (from the 1950 film), Charles Laughton in Mutiny on the Bounty (1935). “Now then – here’s a cracker – one for the teenagers – George Arliss” says Hancock. He purses his lips and forms a monocle with thumb and forefinger. The audience laugh but Hancock looks puzzled, “What do you mean never heard of him ? He’s only been dead forty years !”


Asked to name British actors who had won an Oscar George Arliss (1868-1946) would feature in few replies and yet he was the very first British Oscar winner as well as the earliest-born actor ever to win the award. Already a star of the Broadway stage in the 1910s he became one of the few actors to successfully transition from silent films in the 1920s to talkies in the 1930s. This year marks the centenary of his first film “The Devil” (1921). As a Hollywood producer at Warner Brothers he is credited with discovering and promoting such talent as Bette Davis, James Cagney, Randolph Scott and Dick Powell. He deserves to be remembered.


Augustus George Andrews was born in London the third son of a printer and publisher. Fascinated by stories of the theatrical life by 18 he was playing small parts in melodramas at the Elephant and Castle Theatre. After a decade of provincial touring he returned to London and joined Mrs Patrick Campbell’s company. She took the troupe to America in 1901 and Arliss was an immediate hit on Broadway playing opposite her in Pinero’s “The Second Mrs. Tanqueray”. Despite planning only a six month stay in America he was largely based there for the rest of his working life whilst also maintaining homes in England.


At the height of his Broadway fame in 1911 Louis Parker wrote a play on the life of Disraeli specifically for him. It proved a gold mine – he played it for five years on stage, made a silent film of it in 1921 and a sound film in 1929. It was this latter film which brought him his Best Actor Oscar. Playing opposite him was his wife Florence who he had married in 1899.


In 1912 Arliss spent six months in Boston with “Disraeli” where he was befriended by the local socialite and arts patron Isabella Stewart Gardner (then 72). In his autobiography he later gave his light-hearted views in praise of Bostonian older women: “When you are there should you be seeking companionship – female companionship – don’t go to the dance halls amongst the flappers, but pick out some lady, – almost any lady, over seventy, and if she takes to you, you will have the time of your life. But don’t be put off by some immature substitute in the fifties or sixties; be sure that she has reached the allotted span of life. At seventy the Boston lady says to herself, ‘I have done my duty as a wife and mother … now I am going to have a good time.’ But before you attach yourself to the lady, you must be sure that you are in good physical condition; you will need all your strength”.


In 1917 he appeared as the American founding father Alexander Hamilton in the self-penned play “Hamilton”, a somewhat different piece to the recent hit musical of the same name, with the aim of conveying that the founding fathers were, “real people, and not merely a procession of nice grey-headed old gentlemen”. The Hamilton tour closed prematurely in Boston in 1918 due to the unrest of World War I and venue closures caused by the Spanish flu pandemic.


Ever keen to recycle good material Arliss filmed “Hamilton” in 1931 as an early sound film. His experience as a stage actor meant that, in his 60s, Arliss was perfectly placed to exploit this new medium of “talking pictures”. A contract from Warner Brothers gave him a large amount of artistic control and led to string of successes, often remakes of his previous stage or silent film hits such as “The Green Goddess” and “The Man Who Played God”. The latter gave Bette Davis her first leading role.

The production team Arliss assembled made ten films before Warners’ production chief Darryl F. Zanuck resigned and Arliss followed him to his new 20th Century Pictures company. The hits continued and in 1934 he was voted British film-goers favourite male star and gushing newspaper adverts at the time referred to him (pace Tony Hancock) as “The inimitable George Arliss” who “holds his audiences spellbound for reel after reel”.


As an actor his distinguished patrician style made him perfect for portraying powerful historical figures. “An actor from whose Atheneum manner I sometimes derive a rather humble pleasure” Graham Greene noted. Among his greatest successes in addition to Disraeli were Wellington, Rothschild, and Richelieu. Surprisingly he only once played in Shakespeare, as Shylock. After retirement he said the only character he regretted never having been able to play on screen was the Vicar of Wakefield.

Having previously said he would only retire “when they cut my salary. A sure indication that an actor’s sun is setting.” In 1937 he retired from the screen because his wife “my beloved Flo” was going blind. “She needs a companion, and I have applied for the post” he explained.


They again revived “Disraeli”, this time as a radio production for Cecil B. DeMille. They returned to their London house in Maida Hill in 1939 and despite a film offer from Darryl F. Zanuck they saw out the war in England and never returned to America. Their London property survived the Blitz but a holiday home they owned in St. Margaret’s Bay in Kent was destroyed in 1942 by a shell from the German battleship Gneisenau when she was dashing up the English Channel with the Scharnhorst. A favourite location, Arliss had spent many summers there between theatrical seasons and had seen Blériot land on the nearby cliffs in 1909 and Zeppelins attacked by British fighter planes during World War I.


Modest and self-effacing, Arliss (“Uncle Gus” to his relatives) had survived the excesses and monstrous egos of early Hollywood unscathed. Unhurried and leisure loving – though walking four miles each day – he was as dignified and poised as many of the characters he played. He was a campaigning anti-vivisectionist and a strict vegan saying “I eat nothing I can pat.”


This Grand Old Man of the screen died of pneumonia at home in 1946 at the age of 77 having been seen out for the last time two weeks before walking near Marble Arch “monocled, gloved and spatted, looking frail and tired, but still the picture of a perfect gentleman”. As a measure of his success he left an estate valued at around £6 million in today’s money. A substantial portion of that went eventually, via his wife Florence who died four years later, to the Council of Justice to Animals and the RSPCA. George Arliss has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles and a gravestone in All Saints’ Churchyard, Harrow Weald.

Reprinted by the courtesy of Best of Britain magazine, May 2021.

Published in: on September 26, 2022 at 9:43 PM  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , ,

A Novelization of THE HOUSE OF ROTHSCHILD printed in October 1934 in the Isling Holloway Press

Back in the day many new film releases had tie-in novels to publicize the movie. But book sales suffered during the Great Depression, so instead the studios used film fan magazines and newspapers to build interest in the plot. This weekly British newspaper, The Isling-Holloway Press, had been published since 1872 and was keeping up with the times by printing this concise story of THE HOUSE OF ROTHSCHILD with dialogue taken directly from the script. The story appeared in two parts in the October 13 and 20, 1934 editions, respectively. One photo from the film accompanied the first part (see below) and I have added a few more to give a sense of the action.

Frame grab from the ROTHSCHILD Technicolor finale

Happy Birthday, Mr. A – April 10, 2022, marks his 154th Birthday!

Actor, author, playwright, and filmmaker George Arliss was born in the Bloomsbury section of London on Good Friday, April 10, 1868. He made his professional stage debut in 1887, a time when theaters were lit by gaslight. Crossing the Atlantic in 1901 as a member of the Mrs. Patrick Campbell Company, George and his wife Florence eventually established themselves in the U.S. theater world. What was planned as six months stay turned into 20 years. Turning 60 in 1928, retirement seemed to be calling Mr. A, but so were talking pictures. Thus, he suddenly embarked on ten years in the studios (a phrase he used for the title of his second volume of memoirs) winning the Academy Award for Best Actor in the process. Today, at least seven of his films can be viewed on DVD and streaming video.

Published in: on April 9, 2022 at 8:10 PM  Comments (3)  
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Happy New Year and Here’s Your Choice of 2022 George Arliss Calendars and Bookmarks

This year we offer you a choice of TWO souvenir wall calendars with George Arliss adorning them in one form or another. For the literal-minded, we have a rare candid photograph of Mr. A visiting the Universal studios in Hollywood circa 1927 and chatting with comedy star Reginald Denny. Like Mr. A, Denny was a British actor who found success in America. He played in support of Mr. A in the 1921 silent film version of DISRAELI, which is now apparently lost.

I should mention that the term “Silent Films Today” at the top of the calendar refers to my Facebook group by that name. Lots of things to see there including more vintage calendars like this one. That group is private, but you can simply ask to join to be admitted.

Our second official 2022 George Arliss Calendar is more figurative in that it offers two engraved images of Mr. A in the character of Voltaire. At the top is a cameo that was made by a doctor as one of his hobbies. He sent this cameo to Mr. A and I’d say the Arliss Archives is lucky to have acquired it. Below the cameo is a souvenir coin issued by Warner Bros. to promote Mr. A’s 1933 film, VOLTAIRE. Similar to the cameo, the coin provides a beautifully detailed rendering of Mr. A.

Since we’re on the subject of the cameo, here is Mr. A’s Thank You letter to Dr. Osher for his efforts and expense to create the cameo. The letter was written In January 1935 when Mr. A was filming CARDINAL RICHELIEU at the Twentieth Century Pictures studios in Hollywood. As you can tell, the letter was water-damaged at some point – after all it did go through WWII – and I’ve done my best to make it legible.

The photo referred to by Mr. A was taken while he and Florence were filming THE KING’S VACATION in 1933. The Archives has an excellent original of this portrait that was autographed by both Mr. and Mrs. A. Here is the actual photo that Mr. A sent to Dr. Osher, which is also jointly autographed:

You may wonder how to obtain a copy of either or both of these calendars. I don’t sell them but instead I encourage people to print them out, preferably on glossy photo paper. At full size they make neat looking wall calendars. Printed in smaller sizes they also make stylish (and unique) bookmarks.

Finally, let me share with you two authentic 3-D stereoscopic photographs that I made of the Voltaire cameo and also of the bronze bust from THE GREEN GODDESS that actor Ivan Simpson made for Mr. A:

Again, let me wish you the very best in this New Year of 2022!

Mr. A Sails the High Seas

Back before the age of jet liners linked America and Europe in a matter of hours, transatlantic travel meant spending several days at sea and, hopefully, in good weather. Mere acquaintances on land would form onboard friendships during the voyage, though most of these tended to fizzle out once they were back on terra firma.

Mr. A was no exception to this social ritual as many candid photographs attest. Here’s a collection of moments from long ago voyages during the 1920s and 30s when Mr. and Mrs. A shuttled between Southampton, England, and New York City, then cross-country by train to Los Angeles.

Here the caption informs us that Florence and George have arrived in New York onboard the S.S. Mauretania in September 1922 after a visit home to England :

George Arliss is considered a “notable” onboard the S.S. Berengaria as he returns to New York after a two month vacation in Europe on November 22, 1924:

The Arlisses leave New York on the S.S.Leviathan on May 21,1927. The ship had been converted from a luxury liner to a troop ship during World War I and was then transformed back to a liner. The “slug” or photo caption adds some details:

The slug states that Mr. and Mrs. A are leaving New York on the S.S. Majestic on May 29, 1931, for a combined vacation and search for new film material. Color by Moi:

Mr. A chats with a fellow passenger in this undated photo, circa mid-1930s:

Another undated photo but Mr. A’s stiff collar suggests the late 20s or early 30s. By the mid-1930s, Florence’s eyesight had worsened and she rarely appeared on deck:

Mr. A seems happy to share the attentions of the paparazzi with a fellow thespian, Edith Evans, or so I believe. The back of this news photo indicates that it was taken onboard the R.M.S. Majestic in Southampton in 1934:

Having just completed CARDINAL RICHELIEU (1935) in Hollywood, Mr. A has his stateroom invaded as he and Flo leave from New York aboard the S.S. Olympic, sister ship of Titanic, on what I believe is the ship’s final voyage before it was retired:

After an absence of two years while making films in Britain, Mr. A returns to New York on November 9, 1937 via the S.S. Aquitania. He seems to be waiting to go through customs:

Another photo of Mr. A still waiting to go through customs on Nov. 9, 1937. He seems to be saying to the photographer,”Haven’t you taken enough?”

A familiar shipboard pose on the ship S.S. Aquitania as it arrives in Southampton from New York on April 26, 1938:

Finally, a view from the other side of the cameras aboard the S.S. Aquitania on Mr. A’s return to America on Nov.9, 1937:

 

The Official 2020 George Arliss Calendar

Here it is – our official 2020 George Arliss Calendar. This year we offer Mr. A with a distinctly “cowboy” look. The colorization is, as usual, by myself. Get your calendar today, and that’s easy. Just print it out. Looks great in 8×10!

A Brief “Morphing” Video with Mr. A as Disraeli from the 1921 Silent Film

Here’s a short “morphing” video I just created using a portrait of Mr. A as Benjamin Disraeli from the 1921 silent version of DISRAELI, a film that is now apparently lost. The musical accompaniment I added is especially complimentary (I think):

Published in: on December 15, 2019 at 6:52 PM  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

A Video Tour of the Original Souvenir Program from DISRAELI (1929) with original color lobby cards


Souvenir programs from vintage films are highly collectible and one in mint condition can be quite expensive to acquire. Let’s take a video tour of this 1929 DISRAELI program from my collection. I’ve interspersed the set of color lobby cards released by the studio to enhance the tour.

Here we have a complete copy of another Arliss-DISRAELI souvenir program. But this one is from the stage version and dates from 1912!

THE RULING PASSION – A Review of Mr. A’s 1922 Silent Film Comedy

Typically listed as a “lost” film, Mr. A’s 1922 silent film comedy, THE RULING PASSION, may exist after all. Hope is kindled by news that one or more foreign film archives may own a print. These include the Russian Gosfilmofond, the Cinémathèque Française, and the Belgian CINEMATEK. Also on your blogmeister’s “hopeful list” is the Dutch EYE Film Institute that has led the way by posting so many of its vintage holdings online.

THE RULING PASSION was based on a short story by Earl Derr Biggers, who later became famous as the creator of the “Charlie Chan” novels. Mr. A plays John Alden, an automobile tycoon who is forced into retirement by his doctor’s orders. Bored, he decides to invest in a business deal – a gas station – in partnership with a young man, Bill Merrick. Of course, Alden uses an alias so his young partner doesn’t know his colleague is practically Henry Ford. Alden and Merrick are swindled in the sale by the seller, Peterson, who competes against them with his new gas station.

Complications develop when Alden’s daughter, Angie, drives in and discovers her father pumping gas. She and Merrick meet and romance blossoms. Angie agrees to keep her Dad’s secret life from her mother but Mrs. Alden eventually stops by for a fill-up and discovers the truth. Alden and Merrick plan a successful marketing campaign, taking so much business away from their rival that Peterson offers to buy them out at a huge profit on their original purchase.

Bill asks Angie to marry him and he goes to her home seeking her father’s permission, unaware that his partner is Angie’s father. The ruse is happily revealed and Alden’s doctor has to admit that the adventure was healthful for Alden who can now return to work again.

The film had its New York City premiere on January 22, 1922, and received mostly excellent reviews. Released through United Artists, THE RULING PASSION was independently produced through a company, Distinctive Pictures, that was formed specifically to make George Arliss films. PASSION became the third Arliss film, following THE DEVIL (1920) and DISRAELI (1921). The success of the earlier two led to making the third, which in turn led to three more films being made.

A trade press story of the day:

Another story for the exhibitors:

Box Office tells the tale:

Doris Kenyon plays the role of Mr. A’s daughter, Angie. A popular screen actress she would play Mr. A’s wife nine years later in ALEXANDER HAMILTON (1931):

While THE RULING PASSION is still considered among the missing Arliss films, we are fortunate that he decided to remake the story as a talkie in 1931 renamed THE MILLIONAIRE. However, lettering on studio photos indicate that the talkie version’s working title continued to be THE RULING PASSION.

An original color half-sheet (22×28 inches) for THE RULING PASSION:

A Costume from THE HOUSE OF ROTHSCHILD (1934)

The Arliss Archives recently acquired a unique item: one of the costumes worn by Mr. A as Nathan Rothschild in his blockbuster, THE HOUSE OF ROTHSCHILD (1934). The ensemble consists of trousers and a vest. Alas, the jacket is missing but the acquisition is exciting nevertheless.

Arliss Rothschild Costume 1_edited-1This is how the costume was displayed by the auction house. Based on the length of the trousers or breeches it confirms that Mr. A seems to have been about 5’8″.

Arliss Rothschild Costume 2The costume company tag in the lining of the trousers.

Arliss Rothschild Costume 3A rear view that moviegoers would have never seen.

Rothschild Costume SetThe Costume arrives at the Arliss Archives

Rothschild pants_edited-1The waistline is enlarged to accommodate the padding that Mr. A wore to suggest the historical Nathan’s corpulence.

Rothschild Vest_edited-1The vest was likewise let out around the waist to suggest Nathan’s girth. The small diamond pattern led me to search our collection of 8×10 ROTHSCHILD photos to match the scene(s) the costume was worn in.

Arliss Rothschild Cut Scene

By enlarging the stills to see the pattern on the vests I became aware of how many costume changes that Mr. A had in the various scenes. I found vests with large diamond patterns but I almost despaired of finding an exact match until I found this photo showing a scene that was cut from the film.

Arliss Rothschild Cut Sc001 vest

This enlargement of the photo above provides an exact match with our vest. This level of detail is impressive considering that none of these design patterns would have been visible to audiences even when watching on the “big screen” in 35mm.

Arliss Rothschild Cut Sc001 ed

A close-up of the ensemble including the now-missing jacket.

Costume from ROTHSCHILD 1

Happily, I found a photo from the climatic scene where Rothschild receives news of the Battle of Waterloo. Our costume is beautifully viewed here.

Costume from ROTHSCHILD CU

Our vest in close-up!

Arliss Star on Walk of Fame LA

Mr. A’s Star on the Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame.

 

%d bloggers like this: