Film stars in 1912


Jan 7, 2002
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I should think when Titanic sank, most of the silent film stars of the later 19-teens were still on the Vaudville circuit.
I think Fatty Arbuckle was dicovered in 1912, though his first film wasnt until 1917- Buster Keaton made his debut the same time...
How about Charlie Chaplin? I believe he was in film as early as 1914- but what was he doing in 1912?
Miss Pickford seemed to be the largest star of the silver screen in 1912.

Was Harold Lloyd a known name? In 1912, talents such as the 3 Stooges and the Marx brothers were honing thier talents on stage, and were not yet before a camera.
One classic silent film- the 1910 version of "Frankenstein".
I would very much like to build a video/dvd library containing the silent films that would have been known by people who sailed Titanic.
When did the "Keystone Cops" debut? Wasn't fatty Arbuckle a Keystone cop?

Thanks


Tarn Stephanos
 

Bob Godfrey

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Mack Sennett's Keystone Studio was founded in 1912, while Chaplin was still playing vaudeville theatres in New York. About 18 months later he would sign up with Keystone and head for Hollywood. Roscoe Arbuckle was another early signing for Keystone and certainly made many appearances as a 'Keystone Cop', but he was something of a seasoned veteran, having appeared in several films from as early as 1909, so he could have provided laughs for some of the people who boarded Titanic. Harold Lloyd would have been unknown, as he made his first screen appearance (as an extra) in 1913. Charlie Chaplin was first seen on screen in 1914 and almost immediately established his legendary 'little tramp' character, helped by a variety of ill-fitting garments including trousers provided by none other than Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle.
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Bob Godfrey

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Tarn, if your interest extends beyond the early comedy shorts and their stars, here's a reprise of something I posted in an earlier thread:

On the subject of early cinema, had the Titanic been equipped with a projector it would have been just a little too early for any of the feature-length productions from Hollywood. The first feature made in the US was 'Oliver Twist', released in May, 1912. And the first made in the UK was ... wait for it ... 'Oliver Twist' in August, 1912. Variety was the spice of life in those days! But, had he existed, a Titanic 'kinema steward' could have shown early features made in France, like 'Les Miserables' (1909) or in Australia, like 'The Story of the Kelly Gang' (1906).
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Mar 20, 2000
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Arbuckle was first paired with Mabel Normand in Mack Sennett’s comedies in 1912. That’s when his "Fatty" nickname started. But he was in films from 1909, known as Roscoe Arbuckle, and began directing movies around 1914. He even directed several of his biggest Keystone hits with Normand. "Fatty and Mabel" were easily the biggest comedy team in films then. The Internet Movie Date Base (www.imdb.com) has an exhaustive list of his films.

As to Charlie Chaplin, he was not just in "a" film in 1914 but about 30 or so, becoming a huge hit by the time his "little beggar" or "tramp" persona became general the following year. He was with Keystone, then lured to Essanay studios.

By the end of 1912 Mary Pickford, originally known only as "Little Mary," was definitely one of the biggest female film stars but she had a number of rivals who aren’t as well remembered today. Florence Lawrence, who was the first movie star to become famous using her own name, was one of the most important pre-1914 movie actresses.

Mabel Normand, Alice Joyce, Clara Kimball Young, Pearl White and Titanic’s own Dorothy Gibson were also among the most popular women on screen in 1911-12. All but Dorothy would go on to greater fame in movies. By the way, I have added new information to Dorothy’s page at IMBD:

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0316947/

Lucy Duff Gordon later had contracts with D.W. Griffith, Essanay Films and World Pictures to design dresses for their leading ladies. Meantime "Lucile" designed independently for almost every major screen actress of the day. She wasn’t personally involved in movies in 1912 but her fashions were featured in the Pathe newsreels as early as the previous year. Lucy herself appeared in her own regular spot in the women’s-interest newsreel "Around the Town," between 1919 and 1921.

The Biograph shorts of the 1908-13 period are great to start a silent film collection with. For the Titanic buff, they will hold special interest as the company was owned by H. N. Marvin, father of Daniel, who was lost on Titanic.
 
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As Bob points out, "features" were not yet common in America but they do pre-date 1912. The three-reel "A Tale of Two Cities" was produced by Vitagraph studios in February 1911. Short by later standards, it was considered a feature at the time. So was Éclair’s debut American production, the two-reel "Hands Across the Sea," starring Dorothy Gibson and produced in November 1911. The huge popularity of these productions, both of them historical or period pieces, solidified the marketability of longer films, which started appearing with regularity in 1912.
 

Bob Godfrey

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Hallo, Randy. When referring to 'feature length' I had in mind the standard archival definition of a minimum of 4,000 feet of film. That was a significant figure because it took the running time to one hour or more, and would be at least a four-reeler. Only two such films were made in the US in 1912, and none before that. I shouldn't have gone on to refer simply to 'features', as that term on its own does, as you correctly said, allow for a much more flexible interpretation! :)

The largest output of feature-length films in 1912 came from Hungary, in 1913 from Germany, then from 1914 the record passed back and forth between the US and Japan right up until 1970, since when 'Bollywood' has taken over (in quantity if not in quality!)
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Right, Bob, the feature as well as the serial was a purely European innovation. The French were especially pioneering in many aspects of film technique and format. Only the "star" system appears to have been uniquely American. Even so, the biggest star to appear in a film pre-1913 was not American but French - Sarah Bernhardt herself. Although nearly 70 years of age and fitted with a wooden leg, Bernhardt was still the biggest drawing card in the world!
 

Bob Godfrey

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The 'star system' emerged in both Hollywood and Europe at the same time - around 1910 - and it initially blossomed even faster on this side of the Pond. In 1912, when Hollywoods's brightest star was Florence Lawrence (try saying that quickly!) with earnings of around $10,000, Denmark's Asta Nielsen signed a contract for $80,000. But Hollywood soon caught up. Four years later Mary Pickford, who had made around $8,000 in 1912, was the brightest star in the firmament and well on the way to a million a year. She was certainly the highest paid woman on the planet, earning about the same as the highest paid man, Charlie Chaplin.

Florence Lawrence had been the first of the Hollywood stars, promoted by IMP (Independent Moving Pictures) as 'The Imp Girl'. Traditionally, the lead actors didn't even get a mention on the film poster. The Studios preferred to keep their contract players anonymous rather than have to pay them at celebrity rates! Actors who had earned their reputation 'on the boards' looked down on film as a vulgar entertainment and a downward career move. Those who, like Sarah Bernhardt, had appeared in a select few films at around the turn of the century generally did so as a one-off venture and did not make any permanent transition to the new medium. Thus in 1910 Miss Lawrence pioneered a new trend - not only was her name on the posters, but it was printed bigger even than the name of the film. The ball was rolling and it wasn't going to stop.

One of the first, if not the first uses of the term 'star' in this context appeared in the pages of the New York Times in 1909, is a letter under the heading Moving Picture 'Stars'. It provides an interesting view of the transition from a notion of players 'posing' for moving pictures to the modern concept of them performing as actors:

The art of posing for moving pictures has in some cases reached a state of development where individual recognition should be given because intelligence, industry, and ability are evident in the acting of those who pose for the pictures, With regard to some, at least, as to facial expression, gesture, and grace of carriage, it might be said that that their work is of exceptional merit, and comparable to the work of many dramatic 'stars'.
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Jan 7, 2002
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Thank you, Bob and Randy, for taking the time to write detailed information about the early stars of cinema.

What were Laurel and Hardey doing in 1912?

Were they still a stage act at that point?

I can't help but notice the similarities between the Laurel & Hardey, and Arbuckle & Keaton -

(each duo had a rotund member and thin member,both were kutzes and got into all sorts of shananagans)......

This formula was used in the 50s on the "Honeymooners"(Ralph & Norton), in the 60s on "The Flinstones" (ala Fred and Barney), and in recent years with the Chris Farley/David Spade pairings...


Its interesting to notice how some of the early film comedians would borrow-or steal ideas from one anothers...
The famous 'dancing rolls' scene at the dinner table people attribute to Charlie Chaplin was actually originated by Fatty Arbuckle.

And in one Arbuckle/Keaton film, Keaton was trying to escape a police man, and he walked directly in front of Arbuckle, at the same pace, and was thus blocked from the policeman's view.
Keaton was without pants, and when they passed by a clothing store, Arbuckle lifted up Keaton, who slid into a new pair of pants..

Years later both bits were later copied by the Three Stooges and the Marx Brothers...

I wonder if any of Harold Lloyd's bits were copied by other comic actors?
How about Laurel and Hardy?

Regards


Tarn Stephanos
 

Bob Godfrey

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Ah, Laurel and Hardy! Now you're talking. But in 1912 they had yet to meet. Like Charlie Chaplin, Laurel was a member of 'Fred Karno's army', a well-known English music hall (vaudeville) troupe, and he first came to New York with the troupe in 1910 but they were back home in England in 1912. Eventually he moved permanently to the US and first appeared on film in 1917. He played characters of all kinds, including a close copy of Chaplin's 'little tramp', He had been Chaplin's understudy when both worked with the Fred Karno troupe.

Meanwhile Hardy, whose parents also were British, had been a movie actor since 1913 but his first taste of the business was in movie theatre management, and that's what he was doing in 1912. The two first appeared on screen together in 1926, but not as a team. That came a year later with Putting Pants on Philip, not quite the classic Stan & Ollie pairing but that was the film that started them on the road to stardom. Of their on-screen characters, Hardy once explained that they were both chumps, but his character was the bigger chump because he thought he was smart! In reality, Laurel was the creative force and comic genius, while Hardy was a very good actor, an accomplished singer and a total professional who was prepared to follow where his partner led. But maybe the core of their success as a team was mutual respect. They really were the best of friends, and remained so for the rest of their lives.

As to copying and repetition, not much was entirely new in early film comedy. Many of the slapstick routines were traditions of the English music hall and pantomime, where repetition of 'old favourites' was not only acceptable but expected. The typical Laurel and Hardy plot was a vehicle designed to provide the audience with yet more of the standard Stan & Ollie routines of which the audience never tired, though Laurel sometimes did - he hated the 'baby crying' routine for which he was best known and which producers insisted must be included at every opportunity. Repetition included even the recycling of a complete plot, like re-making a silent hit as a talkie with only minor changes. Towards the end of their film career, the magic was gone but the classic early output retained its appeal. As a kid in the '50s, my idea of heaven was a bag of crisps, a bottle of Tizer and a Laurel & Hardy film on the telly!
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Jim Hathaway

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Whenever I think of Laurel and Hardy, I think of my favorite film (and, I believe Stan Laurel's) "Sons Of The Desert".
Interestingly, it also involves a sinking ship;-)
 

Susan Alby

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What about the Gish sisters, Lilian and Dorothy? D.W. Grifith put them in their first picture together in 1912 'An Unseen Enemy' when Dorothy was only 14 years old.
 
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Hi, Susan:

Lillian and Dorothy Gish did start with Biograph films in 1912, appearing together first in "An Unseen Enemy." But I think Lillian was closer to 19 years of age. Have you seen that movie? It’s a 15 minute short available on the Kino Video compilation, "The Masterworks of D.W. Griffith." It’s the first silent movie I ever saw. I must say it is crudely filmed and the story a little silly compared to others, so other than its being the Gishes’ first movie, it seemed unremarkable.

In my opinion, Lillian Gish’s acting in silent movies sometimes tended to be overwrought and therefore not as appealing or convincing as Mary Pickford’s more natural, restrained style. There are of course notable exceptions in her extraordinary body of work — Lillian’s role in "Broken Blossoms" (1919) as the impoverished little waif abused by her father but loved by a young Chinese man is one of the most moving performances in silent cinema. Also, in "Way Down East" (1920), her portrayal of an innocent country girl who tries to rebuild her life after a sham marriage to a wealthy playboy and the death of her illegitimate baby is very poignant. Even people not familiar with silent film may recall the famous finale of "Way Down East," in which Lillian, collapsed on a sheet of ice in a rough river, is miraculously saved just before going over a waterfall.

As pioneering as she was as an actor and as serenely lovely as she was in her youth, I have always preferred Lillian Gish in her later roles in sound films. I think she was incredibly effective as the long-suffering rancher’s wife in "Duel in the Sun" (1946) and as the tough but lovable old spinster in "The Night of the Hunter" (1955). My personal favorite among her movies is her last one, "The Whales of August" (1987). She and Bette Davis, though ravaged with age, were amazingly touching in their roles as sisters reunited at their family’s seaside cottage in Maine. Lillian was all of 93 in this movie but the grace and almost spiritual presence she brought to the best of her earlier parts wasn’t diminished in this final bow to her public.

One of my treasured possessions is a 1990 letter from Lillian Gish, replying to my questions about her costumes for "Way Down East" and other films. I knew Lucile had designed the dresses for the supporting cast and extras in the party scenes in "Way Down East" and wanted to know why she chose not to wear them herself. Lillian wrote me that her clothes were not by Lucile because she wanted the character she was playing to be independent of fashion and unspoiled by it. She also said something to the effect that she wasn’t keen on having everyone know "at a glance" which designer she was wearing. From her comments about clothes and people, it was refreshing to find she wasn’t the fashion snob that most Hollywood stars were and ARE!

Susan — and anybody — if you’ve never seen a silent drama before let "Broken Blossoms" be the first. It is heartbreakingly beautiful and you will come away knowing just how powerful the silent screen can be. But if you get a chance to see "The Whales of August" you will be in for as great a treat!

Randy
 
Jan 7, 2002
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Very interesting Randy!
Do you know anyting about the actresss who recently passed on, who starred in the classic "King Kong"?
Also, in her youth, was Gloria Stewart a character actor, or did she have any roles worth mentioning?

And on the subject of early film comedy, nothing will ever match the "Three Stooges".
They are timeless.
Some say a person is either a "Marx Brothers" fan, or a "Three Stooges" fan- as each seemed to be from the opposite extreme in thier style...

The "Marx Brothers" were more cerebral, driven by Groucho's subtle insults. The way he would tear down poor Margaret Dumont, without her even realizing it, was priceless.
Harpo was more visual gag humor, Chico a bit dated in his parody of immigrant, and Zeppo the amazingly underrated straight man.

The "Three Stooges" were raw slapstick-and many of thier film bits were long established routines from thier Vaudville days.
The Horowitz (aka Howard) brothers, Moe, Jerome(Curly) and Shemp were all natural comics,and friend Larry Fine added to the formula perfectly...
I always thought Larry Fine was the 'straight man' of the "Three Stooges", but once he broke out the violin, he was as strange as the other two...
And after they left the clutches of the contolling Ted Healy, the "Three stooges" showed us what true comedy is all about.

I believe the 1930 "Soup To Nuts" was the first Stooge film...

Plus being filmed and set during the Great Depression, they gave Americans a chance to laugh....

Are the Three Stooges popular in England?

Its interesting Shemp was the original 3rd stooge, left to act in other films, and was replaced by brother Jerry (Curly).
I recall watching some non descipt film, then I noticed the bartender- my God- it was Shemp!!

And when Curly had a stroke in the mid 40s, Shemp returned to the act and replaced him.

The odd thing is they recycled some old bits, scene for scene....Both Curly and Shemp did the skit where they were very bad plumbers, and the cellar of a house was a tangle of misdirected pipes...

There is one "Three Stooges" short, done not long after Curley's stroke, where Moe, larry and Shemp, on a train, walked past a snoring Curly seated nearby. That cameo was Curleys's last appearance with the "Three Stooges".

Its a moving moment for the Stoogians amongst us....

Soon thereafter Shemp died...And enter Joe Besser, who refused to be hit or struck with pies, and in Moe's words, 'was never a real Stooge'.
Joe De Rita was "Curly-Joe', the 'Jar-Jar Binks' of the Stooge lineup, meaning the least popular.

Its amazing the longevity of thier art.

As good as Arbuckle & Keaton; Charlie Chaplin, Harold lloyd, Laurel& Hardey , The Marx Brothers, and Abbot and Costello were, all seem rather dated- wheras the Three stooges are timeless...
And when Titanic sank, the Stooges were in NYC methinks, working on thier stage act...

any other Stoogians here?


Regards


Tarn Stephanos
 

Bob Godfrey

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"Are the Three Stooges popular in England?" The short answer would have to be no. Compared with, for instance, the Marx Brothers and Laurel & Hardy, they have never been well known and their films were rarely shown on British TV and never in prime time. Perhaps their humour didn't 'travel well' beyond American shores. Or maybe they were an acquired taste and we didn't see enough of them to get the flavour. Sacrilege, I know, Tarn, but you did ask!
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Susan Alby

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Hi Randy- so pleased to hear from you (as always)
Maybe another reason why Lillian didn't wear a Lucile creation was that she wanted to be noticed for her talent, not for her designer clothes. That is admirable for a woman who could have worn any lable. Yes, Lillian was about 19 and her younger sister, Dorothy was 14 in 1912. Have to see "Broken Blossoms".
Thanks,
Susan
 
Jan 7, 2002
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One comedy act of the 1930s I never cared for were "The little Rascals" in 'Our Gang'.
I just found them rather boring...
To each thier own I suppose....

Another Great Depression era comic, W.C Fields, was an interesting chap, and very funny, despite being a total alchoholic and having an almost pathalogical hatred of children...

And why on earth did the Basil Rathbone's "Sherlock Holmes" films turn comedic at times?

Holmes should be humorless and somewaht mad, like Jeremy Brett.

My vote for the 3 all time greatest comedy groups-


(1)The Three stooges
(2)The Marx Brothers
(3)Monty Python's Flying Circus



regards


tarn Stephanos
 
May 27, 2007
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Bob said>> Mack Sennett's Keystone Studio was founded in 1912.

Mack Sennett started out at Biograph under D.W. Griffith. Mack Sennett met Mabel Normand at Biograph.

When Mack Sennett started Keystone in 1912 he offered Normand a contract. Mabel Normand was quit a comedienne in her day. The original funny girl. Roscoe (Fatty) Arbuckle and Normand made some hilarious films. Sadly Mabel Normand got caught up in the William Desmond Taylor murder scandal in 1922. It ended her career. Supposedly she was trying to kick a cocaine habit and Taylor was trying to help her when he was killed. Normand, I think had nothing to do with his murder but when the yellow press got a hold of the fact of her drug use and that she was a suspect, her career was over. Of course she might not of had a drug problem but at the time it was believed that she was a drug addict which unfortunately was just as bad.
 
May 27, 2007
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Randy>> I knew Lucile had designed the dresses for the supporting cast and extras in the party scenes in "Way Down East" and wanted to know why she chose not to wear them herself. Lillian wrote me that her clothes were not by Lucile because she wanted the character she was playing to be independent of fashion and unspoiled by it.<<

Funny you should mention that Randy. In 1927 when Lillian Gish made The Wind for MGM she did the same thing in regard to fashion. Louise Brooks noticed this when she wrote an essay on Gish. I think to Lillian Gish, clothes and Fashion were important when only they related to the character or told a story about the background of the character she was playing. She was very modern I think in that regard.
 

Jim Hathaway

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>>Supposedly she was trying to kick a cocaine habit and Taylor was trying to help her when he was killed. Normand, I think had nothing to do with his murder but when the yellow press got a hold of the fact of her drug use and that she was a suspect, her career was over. Of course she might not of had a drug problem but at the time it was believed that she was a drug addict which unfortunately was just as bad.<<

Just think, today, something like that would be considered a "Resume Enhancement"-
 

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