Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Screen Life In Hollywood
By Hubbard Keavy
Hollywood, April 3
When and if I write that play, the valet – if any – in it will be named Jenner. Because the only valet I know is named Jenner and he is my perfect idea of a valet.
And, apparently, George Arliss is of the same opinion. Jenner has been in the Arliss service for more than a quarter of a century. He has grown stout and grey since he joined the actor when he was playing opposite Mrs. Minnie Maddern Fiske.
Jenner, George Jenner, has been a marked figure in Hollywood since that day three years ago when he walked out into the middle of the first Arliss talking picture set, in front of the cameras and under the microphone, and announced to an astonished cast and crew that it was 4:30 – time for Mr. Arliss to go home.
Arliss smiled and went home – and he has continued to do so whenever Jenner, watch in hand, has said it was time to do so.
FIXTURE ON THE SET
Jenner has become a fixture by now and no one worries about him. It is understood that he has only the interest of the actor at heart and that, in a round-about way he has the interest of the picture at heart too.
Jenner studies each new Arliss script with all the attention of a director, actor and technician rolled into one. He pays slight attention to the dramatic thrills, the plot, the climax, the dialog or the settings.
He goes through the script with a fine toothed comb, hunting out the costume requirements, the number of changes and the wardrobe needs.
Among Jenner’s many duties is that of providing the justly famous tea and toast which Arliss has each afternoon of his well ordered life, either at home or at the studio. Jenner has brewed literally thousands of cups of tea and he is a master of the art.
Jenner was no newcomer to Hollywood when he upset the crew that day, for he was with Arliss when the latter made four or five silent pictures several years ago.
He was a stranger to that particular crew, however, and the dramatic effect of his first performance has never been forgotten.
REEL AND UNREEL
Added credence to the reports that Greta Nissen and Weldon Heyburn soon will file notice of intention to wed is seen in the visit here of Weldon’s father, Col. Wyatt G. Franks of the United States army.
Bert Wheeler, Bob Woolsey and Dorothy Lee are getting ready to take a musical show on the road, for one night stands. They may travel by airplane.
Now that Gene Markey is married, Joel McCrea has become Hollywood’s official eligible bachelor.
Rumors of his engagement to any one (or more) of the cinema’s single ladies will not be unexpected.
NEW BENNETT STORY
On the screen, Bette Davis appears to have an oval-shaped face like Constance Bennett’s.
I was pleasantly surprised, meeting her for the first time, to discover her chin is pointed and the contour of her face quite regular.
Her eyes are unusually large and blue. And, she is a natural blond. Also, Bette is slender and not very tall. But so much for her looks.
In a 15-minute conversation between camera set-ups, we discussed a variety of things and sundry people, ranging from Richard Bennett to what actresses are supposed to look like.
Bette (who, incidentally, was christened Ruth Elizabeth) was in a play for three weeks with the Bennett girls’ papa, learning plenty the exciting while.
Her favorite Bennett story is about the night the audience seemed very cold. Bennett, just before his exit, turned to his listeners and inquired: “Must I tell you a dirty story to make you laugh?”
Bette and another girl were left on the stage to carry on in the face of this handicap.
Bette still thinks her arrival in Hollywood is the least conspicuous any girl ever made.
“I thought someone would meet me. But no one did, I was here three days before the studio phoned me. Then the committee, of one, that had been sent from the studio said he didn’t recognize me because I didn’t look like an actress.
“I didn’t – and still don’t – have an ermine coat and red shoes. But I did have a dog in my arms. He should have known no one but an actress carries a dog when she travels.”
Bette, who was the love interest in Arliss’ “The Man Who Played God,” is busy doing the same thing now in “The Dark Horse,” with Warren William. In between these she was in “So Big” and “The Rich Are Always With Us.”
“And my next engagement, “ she said, “will be with the ocean. I want just one day off to go swimming.”
A certain former flyweight fighter, who will have to be just Joe to you, had a great idea.
He was hired to be one of James Cagney’s opponents in a fight picture and he trained as thoroughly for the cinematic scrap as he used to for real ones.
Joe is hoping to make a comeback and he believed that if he actually knocked Cagney out, he’d be able to trade on the publicity. (You know, of course, movie fighters are never forcibly floored, they just fall down.)
Joe’s plot somehow became known to Cagney. And Jimmie, instead of sparring, peppered Joe with real blows – blows that made Joe change his mind about a knockout.
This revelation may surprise you. It did me.
The man who adapted “Tom Sawyer” for the movies says the picture actually contained but a small percentage of Mark Twain’s story and that only nine speeches Twain wrote were used. Five of these were “yeses,” three were “noes,” and one was “Well, perhaps.”
Yet almost all who saw “Tom Sawyer” were impressed by what seemed to them a literal translation.
William Stevens McNutt, who with Grover Jones wrote “Tom Sawyer” for the screen, says their first problem was to discover the story Twain had to tell. It was simply the story of a boy and his aunt, a boy who was a boy and an aunt who was an aunt.
Then they took Twain’s characters, several of the best remembered incidents of the book – such as the whitewashing of the fence, the disappearance of the boys, and the discovery of pirate gold – and built a story around them.
WHY THEY DIFFER
In making this “confession” McNutt explained why few novels can be brought to the screen as they are. And in doing so he gave answer to somewhat frequent complaints that the movies often change stories beyond recognition.
“The story writer can and does devote page after page to character description,” said McNutt, “which is useless to a scenario.”
“A few seconds, usually, is all the time we can devote in a picture to letting you know what the character is like.
“The greater percentage of the dialogue in a novel cannot be said aloud from the screen. It is either too grandiloquent or too verbose, or both.”
The novel and the movie are two widely different mediums of expression, concluded McNutt. And there is this difference:
The novel is written to be run off on a printing press and read in three to four hours, the movie to be run off on a screen and seen and heard in an hour and 15 minutes.