Gilded Age at the Movies

Mar 28, 2002
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I bet Thomson Beattie, Thomas McCaffry, Mark Fortune and John Hugo Ross had a better time in Venice in 1912 than I did in 1994. I stopped off whilst hitch-hiking when I ran out of money and waited three days for my mate to wire some through. In the meantime, I slept on the platform at Venice station using my shoes as a pillow, got chucked out of there and then on the steps of a creepy old church. During both nights sleeping rough I was crapped on by rats and the only food I had, bread, became infested with ants. I wouldn't go back there again if you paid me. I was glad to get on the train to Zagreb.

Cheers,

Boz
 
Apr 11, 2001
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Meet Me in St. Louis with Judy Garland was under my tree this year for Christmas. Set in 1907- there are some great scenery and costume references of interest to us- and some unforgettable musical numbers of course. Am now investigating this St. Louis Exposition and Fair! On another subject- The Gangs of New York with our boy Leo is out and is the right time period.
 
May 12, 2005
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Shell,

I love that one! Another great Garland film is "Easter Parade," of course with Fred Astaire, and it's set in 1912. Another great 1912 datelined movie is one everybody's familiar with (or should be) - "The Music Man."

Boz,

Your ghastly visit to Venice is definitely an instruction on how NOT to travel. I fully intend to get there someday but will bypass as best I can the rat turds and ant-infested bread! But you can at least say you had an adventure!
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Randy
 
Apr 11, 2001
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Life With Father is another great 1890's film. Based on a long-running Broadway play in 1939- it was a hot property for film rights in 1947. Both Paramount and Warner Bros. went after it with Warners winning the day. Lillian Gish had declared the role of darling Lavinia should go to Mary Pickford but the studios felt nobody would remember her after 13 years out of the spotlight. Bette Davis had first refusal in those days but was totally wrong for the part. Irene Dunne who had just wowed crowds in Anna and the King was coaxed into the part opposite William Powell and movie magic was made. I recognized a young Martin Milner (Route 66) as one of the Day children. The make-up consultant declared that genetically 2 red-headed parents would have red-headed offspring so all the kids in the film had to have their hair dyed. The water was shut off on the lot that day- and the frantic make-up and hair people had to grab a vat of cold cream to neutralize the hairdye before the cast turned orange! The costumes, interiors and view of Gilded Age family life is wonderful to see- it is a little keyhole into the Past and worth a look!
 

Kyrila Scully

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Apr 15, 2001
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Shelley, I just got "Meet Me In St. Louis" this week in the mail after borrowing it from a friend to watch over the holidays.

Still waiting to buy the video of "Earnest."

Kyrila
 

Pat Cook

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Apr 27, 2000
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Ah, now THIS is my kind of confab.

By the way, you should know there is a connection between "Meet Me In St. Louis" and "Life With Father". A movie Mogul (can't place his name just now - may have been Mayer) very much wanted to make "Life With Father" but failed to get the movie rights. So he vowed (the way I get the story) to make his OWN "Life With Father" and took up the Sally Benson stories (I believe that was the name on the series). Yup, you guessed it, his company made "Meet Me In St. Louis", casting the wonderful Leon Ames as the father - the same actor who originated the role of 'Father' in the Broadway version of "Life With Father".

Now I want to watch BOTH these movies again!

Best regards all around,
Cook
 
Apr 11, 2001
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In the same genre, Cheaper by the Dozen deals with the trials and tribulations of a large family and stars Titanic's own Clifton Webb. My favorite scene is when one of the girls decides to roll her stockings and bob her hair- Myrna Loy is the female lead- lots of fun. The sequel which picks up after the Father character has died is rather depressing -and is set well out of our time span for Gilded Age.
 
Jan 22, 2001
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Those who have seen "Gangs of New York" might enjoy this - Big Onion Tours of New York offers walking tours in connection with the film that help sort out the facts from fiction in the story. They are at www.bigonion.com/main.htm

For another look at the dark side of life in the Gilded Age, two books "Low Life" by Luc Sante and "Gilded City" by M. H. Dunlop are great reading.
 

Jim Kalafus

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Dec 3, 2000
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Odd to think, isn't it, that more time has elapsed beween the making of Meet Me in St. Louis(1944) and now, than between the year in which the it was filmed and the year in which it was set(1904).

Here's kind of a neat trivial aside: Margaret O'Brien won her 'special Oscar' for that film, only to have it stolen by a member of the household staff a few years later. It was reported to the police, of course, the proper paperwork was filed, but nothing came of it. DECADES later it was found by a memorabilia collector in a flea market (ca 1990) who spied a potential goldmine since it was an Oscar awarded before the recipients were forbidden to sell their statues to anyone except for the Academy and therefore could be resold. However, the paperwork filed by Margaret o'Brien's parents back in the 1940s was still in existence and established, flawlessly, the provenance of the statue as being a stolen object, so after 50+ years she finally got it back.

Another aside- Judy Garland, according to coworkers and what friends she may have had, did not particularly care for Meet Me In St. Louis. She thought the script was weak.

And finally- there is a lame Meet Me In St. Louis clone, Centennial Summer, which you might want to watch ONCE just to see how bad a big budget "feel good" film can make one feel. It was set during the summer of 1876 and the 1876 Phildelphia Exposition and was pretty much the same film- only with a weaker cast, unmemorable songs, and considerably less charm. It may also ahv been done by MGM.
 
Nov 9, 2002
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Hey,
I dont know if this was covered but was the movies for lower classes or for higher classes usually or just a place for the younger crowd.

Thanks
Sahand
 
May 12, 2005
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Sahand,

I assume you mean the movies of 1912.

In that case, yes, for the most part the medium was one that appealed to the lower classes because it was "cheap" entertainment, i.e. the "nickelodeon."

But things were changing by 1912. The industry was growing and salaries for actors were rising so stars of the legitimate stage were slowly being wooed to appear in films. The trend I think must have spread from France, where so much of the pioneering work in the development of the genre had begun. Actresses like Cecile Sorel of the Comedie Francaise and even the legendary Sarah Bernhardt were lured into moviemaking in 1911. The presence of such notables on the screen naturally drew a higher class audience. When Bernhardt's film "Queen Elizabeth" premiered in London in 1912, even the King and Queen attended. So the years just before WWI were a period of great transition in the appeal of motion pictures.

Though forgotten now, Dorothy Gibson had a certain reclame as a young actress in the burgeoning medium and would have likely realized longer-lasting fame as a star had she chosen to continue in her career after the huge success of "Saved from the Titanic."

Eclair Studios was a promising company and had a solid reputation for turning out fine pictures. French-based, Eclair was able to hire some of the best of the up-n-coming directors on the Continent, which was then in the artistic vanguard of film-making, and Dorothy, being the studio's first American star, had a special built-in cachet. But Dorothy's ambitions lay outside the profession of acting and so she never achieved the prominence in the field which she might have won had she applied herself to her career (instead of to merely marrying well).

Randy
 

Jim Kalafus

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Sarah Bernhardt's reaction to her appearance on film was priceless, and probably toned down for general consumption. By 1911 her famed looks were all but gone and, I believe, she was wearing a wooden leg when Queen Elizabeth was filmed-without the benefit of her legendary voice and elocution skills, the film, was, even by the standards of the day awful and she was the first to admit it. As was Duse, who also hated her screen debut. In an effort to bring "cachet" to films there was a program attempted post-1912 'Famous Players in Famous Plays' in which many of the biggest Broadway stars 'consented' to appear on film. The result was, for the most part, a series of dismal fiascos and the whole thing was quietly phased out. Few stage stars could get past the hurdle of not being able to use their voices to convey emotions, and most came across onscreen as either cardboard or, worse, pure ham as the histrionics were notched up to compensate for the lost vocals.
 

Kris Muhvic

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Sep 26, 2008
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And....Action!

First off: "To the Lighthouse"...was that mentioned? If not, there it is. Virginia Woolf (now of "The Hours" fame) at her best. The writer, that is...

Just saw "Nijinsky"...but I didn't like it much. I was excited when I picked it out, but after I thought "when is it going to get good?", and it did nothing of the kind...well, I can say it was an interesting venture. Maybe there's another Ballet Russes film out there....Oh, who am I kidding!

Whiplash change of theme: was there ever an animated version of Beatrix Potter's work? I remember those little gray books and wonder if the watercolor illustrations were ever made to come to life? They did it for Ludwig B's "Madeline" (no, she wasn't Edwardian...but she's Madeline!) so maybe...

Cut!
Kris
 

Jim Kalafus

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Dec 3, 2000
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There was a horrible Beatrix Potter animation released straight to video in the mid 1980s, which was probably not licensed and which ended up in the "take one of these for free with another paid rental" section of the video store I managed at the time. The sort of video which one finds for sale at$1.99 in convenience stores. The artwork, to stretch a point and call it that, was shoddy and bore no resemblance to that in the books.
 
May 12, 2005
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Jim,

How true about what crashing flops so many of the big stage stars were in their films, of which there were mercifully very few. I believe Lillian Russell and Lillie Langtry, as far past their best as the Divine Sarah, followed her hallowed lead to make their own rather pathetic attempts on the screen. But in Bernhardt's case, as awful as she was in "Queen Elizabeth," audiences went wild for her and the US release of that movie was a huge success. I haven't seen the full run - only clips - but I have to say, having read so much about her, that I was mesmerized watching her flail around in those scenes. She surely looked amazing for a woman of about 70!

Some Broadway stars who did make it big in their films were Billie Burke, Fannie Ward, Irene Castle, and to a lesser extent Ann Murdock and Elsie Ferguson. Ferguson's debut in 1917's "Barbary Sheep," after the famous Hitchens novel, was hailed as one of the best performances of the year. The film is believed lost but there was talk that segments survive in a Russian film archive.

By the way, how has your research been going into Rita Jolivet's movie career? How many of her films survive? Has "Lest We Forget," which related her Lusitania exprience, ever been traced?

Randy
 

Jim Kalafus

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Dec 3, 2000
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A portion of Lest We Forget survives. The twin concepts of "intellectual property rights" and "NYAH! I HAVE IT AND YOU DON'T" make the search for lost silents hell, but there is one reel- not pertaining to the Lusitania- in private hands. "Intellectual property rights" means that if you buy a battered old copy of, say, King Kong, it is yours to do what you will with within the limits of copyright laws, but if the copy turns out to be an original print with lost footage in it, the rights to the lost footage, including the right of possession, belong exclusively to the copyright holder being that the lost scene is their 'intellectual property.' SO, when 'lost films' still covered by copyright (that is to say most of them since 1923) resurface in many cases it is kept silent if the film has commercial value. In the case of Lest We Forget, I think that there is no longer any copyright restriction and that the "NYAH!" factor is why the owner is keeping it under wraps.
 

Bob Godfrey

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Nov 22, 2002
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There are recommendations in the archive for 'The Importance of being Earnest' but I think these all refer to the most recent effort. Don't neglect the classic version directed by Anthony Asquith in 1952. Not widescreen, but glorious early Techicolor and every performance spot-on, especially Dame Edith Evans with her definitive Lady Bracknell. If Oscar Wilde were still around, this is the one you'd find in HIS dvd collection!
 

Bob Godfrey

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Nov 22, 2002
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For trivia collectors: The authenticity of the 1952 production of 'Earnest' owed much to the director Anthony Asquith, whose own upbringing was rooted in both the period (almost) and the social class represented in the film. His father was Herbert Asquith, Prime Minister of Britain at the time of the Titanic disaster.
 

Kyrila Scully

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Apr 15, 2001
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The problem with going from stage actor to film star in the infancy of motion pictures was due to the fact that the actors did not understand the camera or lighting as they do today. The stage required broad, exaggerated movements, vocals and expressions, as well as make-up and costume. The camera required complete subtlety and honesty. If one could not make the transition with the camera, one looked very foolish onscreen. Typically, when talkies came out, many actors' careers were ruined by their own voices.

Kyrila