Friday, January 30, 2009
Screen Life in Hollywood
By Hubbard Keavy
Hollywood, March 13 – The romance that led to the marriage, in London several years ago, of Jill Esmond and Laurence Olivier, began under uncommon circumstances.
I can’t begin to tell you the story, peppered with English phrases, as well as Miss Esmond tells it, but the facts in themselves are interesting.
Love (the first sight kind) nearly went bounding out of a stage door when Olivier became Miss Esmond’s leading man in a play she had revived and had been appearing in for some time.
The piece, “Bird in Hand,” was one written by Jill’s father, the late H. B. Esmond, playwright and actor. Olivier had played in it long before Jill had.
Laurence joined Jill’s cast determined to play his scenes as he had played them before. Which he did.
“I was some upset when Larry demanded changes,” Jill recalls, “because I believed I had been doing right well.”
“I thought, during the first rehearsals, that I wouldn’t like this young nobody who was telling me, daughter of a stage family, how to play a scene.”
“But I discovered that every change he suggested made the play that much better.”
Of course, the Olivier-Esmond nuptials took place not long afterwards.
Both came to this country about a year ago to star in “Private Lives.” Both signed movie contracts with the same company at the same time.
Perhaps you saw Miss Esmond in “Once a Lady” and “Ladies of the Jury.” Olivier’s roles have been in “The Yellow Ticket” and “Friends and Lovers.”
Fame counts: Before George E. Stone made a name in pictures, he was in vaudeville at a pretty fair salary. Now, in the two and three-a-day, he gets six times as much.
There are two watering troughs for horses on Hollywood boulevard, filmdom’s chief artery.
BACK TO THE STAGE:
Ann Harding and her husband, Harry Bannister, share the opinion that most of Hollywood is dollar-goofy.
They think there is more to life than earning money and that, after one has a reasonable amount of it, he should retire.
That’s what Ann and Harry are planning to do when their film contracts expire, a year and a half hence.
By that time, Bannister estimated the other day, they will have enough movie dollars to take care of them the rest of their lives.
Neither will make any more pictures when their contracts end, they declare.
“I feel sorry for movie and stage people whose interests are limited to their work,” Bannister said. “When their popularity fades, they fade.”
“The apparent inability of picture players particularly to stop work and play and enjoy their money after they have earned fortunes is amazing. It’s the desire to make more money that keeps them in harness.”
“Miss Harding (he never calls her Ann or Mrs. Bannister) and I have never been abroad. We want to take a leisurely trip and hope to do so soon. You know, we’re on this earth a short time. We should spend some of it seeing the rest of the world.
We both, fortunately, have interests other than acting.”
A joint interest of the Bannisters is the stage and both intend to go back to it.
Bannister outlined their plan. For 20 weeks every year they will go on the “road,” in some worthwhile play starring Miss Harding.
No matter how well their play takes in New York, Bannister insisted they will not extend their run nor will they stay longer than a week or two in the other cities.
Bannister explained that their annual tour would not be fore money-making purposes.
Rather, it will be in the nature of an adventure for both and to “allow Miss Harding to express her creative impulse.”
A FILM VETERAN
Anna Quarentia Nilsson - if fate is kind, her tests satisfactory, and directors want her – will be back in pictures before long.
She has been ill for 4 years, bed-ridden part of the time. She was thrown while horseback riding, the accident breaking her hip.
She believed, after two months, that she was well enough to work again.
The bones had failed to knit, and although she was still in some pain, she completed a picture (“The Whip”). Braces, months in a hospital, operations and considerable pain were the consequences of her haste.
Completely recovered finally, Miss Nilsson went home to Sweden in celebration. She came back two months ago, 31 pounds overweight - “from too many Swedish dishes.”
Anxious to take up her career again she dieted so rigidly that her resistance was lowered. She caught cold, pneumonia developed, and another hospital term followed.
Despite these continued painful and disagreeable adversities, Miss Nilsson has retained her enthusiasm. Fortunately she is blessed with an optimistic outlook.
“I never at any time felt that I wouldn’t get well and take up where I left off,” she told me a few days ago.
“At first I missed my work and then I grew accustomed to just waiting to get better. It’s only within the last week that I made up my mind I wanted to get back in the harness.”
“I was in a studio yesterday for a test, and while I was putting on make-up I was as nervous and excited as I used to be on the first day of a picture.”
“I think there’ll be a place for me – there was for 16 years.”
Anna started in pictures 20 years ago in one and two reel comedies for the Kalem Company. She appeared in countless films, although only one now is generally remembered by the public – “Ponjola.” It was shown in 1923.
Miss Nilsson has no illusions; she expects to resume acting in small roles and not as the star she was when she was forced into retirement.
But to explain her middle name: Every day on the Swedish caledar is named, and from that on which she was born Anna’s father coined “Querentia.” It is taken from a Latin word meaning “ever-seeking.”
It is an odd coincidence that Marian Nixon is playing the wife of a prize fighter (James Cagney) in “Main Event.”
Marian’s first husband was Joe Benjamin, professional boxer.
The picture will have a happy ending, of course.
An unnecessary amount of attention has been drawn to “Scarface,” called the ultimate in gangster dramas by the failure of the Will Hays office to give it a clean bill of health and by the refusal of the New York board of censors to accept it.
Despite (or maybe because of) this double handicap, Howard Hughes, whose money paid for it and United Artists are releasing it soon and hope other censors will not emulate (as they often do) the New York board’s action and that the suppression will have and advantageous reaction.
Its reception will affirm or deny the belief prevalent in Hollywood that moviegoers want more of the brutal warfare of the underworld as entertainment.
“Scarface” is, however, entertainment. It moves so fast and so loudly, it is so expertly cast and contains so many fine directorial touches, that it cannot be classed as otherwise.
Coming as it does after the comparative absence of such films, it amounts to almost a revival.
Paul Muni, in the title role, is vindicated by his performance.
Here two years ago, Muni failed to register, mainly, I believe, because Fox was unable to find vehicles suitable to his acting.
For the first time in any gang picture, there is no sympathy for the “hero.” Muni portrays an ignorant, lusty, craftful brute who turns yellow at the end.
Victor McLaglen is an amateur surgeon. Whenver the ducks, chickens or geese on his four-acre estate become ill, Vic operates. Most of the fowls live, too. His surgery is in one end of his gymnasium.
Ramon Novarro’s sister, Sister Lenore, who has been teaching for several years in a convent in Spain, has been transferred to an orphanage in Los Angeles.
Bill Boyd, he who used to be William before the stage actor came to Hollywood, is free-lancing now after seven years with one studio – seven years during which he became the screen’s most consistent uniform-wearer.
Ann Dvorak, whom Joan Crawford may have adopted as a protégé because she very much resembles Joan, is playing opposite Doug Fairbanks, Jr. in “Love Is a Racket.” It’s more than a coincidence, however.
When Joan was trying to “promote” her, Miss Dvorak was a frequent visitor in the Fairbanks home.
Joan’s husband agreed that Ann had picture possibilities, but neither his nor Joan’s efforts in her behalf were successful.
At the first opportunity, young Doug recommended Miss Dvorak as his leading woman. She was available and he got her.
Ann, who pronounces her last name “Vor-Zhak,” is indebted to Karen Morley.
Karen, cast in “Scarface,” suggested Ann as the other girl in the picture.
Tests that impressed the director made a featured player of Ann and took her out of the extra ranks and choruses for good.
There’s nothing official about it yet, but town talk has it that Clara Bow may make her “comeback” in Tiffany Thayer’s “Call Her Savage.” (Tiffany also wrote “Thirteen Women.”)
Clara (and 40 or 50 others) turned down “Red Headed Woman,” for which Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer has tested almost everyone but Jimmy Durante and yours truly. The character is a sort of she-devil and Clara didn’t think she’d like it.
When Edward G. Robinson was abroad recently, Italy was the only country where he wasn’t recognized.
That was because Mussolini, apparently Italy’s board of censors, had refused permits for Robinson’s gangster-role pictures to play there.
“I enjoyed myself most in Italy,” said Robinson, “I guess that’s evidence that I haven’t ‘gone Hollywood.’”
The amazing speed at which small independent movie makers are working these days exceeds even that of the silent era.
The increased cost of talkie filming has made it necessary for the shoestring operators to work fast.
A recent “quickie” of nearly 300 separate scenes was shot in eight days, an unusual record.
More than half of the scenes of a picture Regis Toomey was in lately were filmed in one day. The others required five days.
The major companies average about three and a half weeks on each film.