Thursday, December 23, 2010


Drive For Recruits Is Pressed

Producers Also Move to Train Newcomers for Stellar Honors

By Chester B. Bahn
May 1, 1932

Caught between the devil and the deep blue sea – that is to say, between the Dickstein bill which would ban further importation of other than exceptional foreign players, and demands by established stars for increased salaries and the right to dictate vehicles – Hollywood’s major studios today are engaged in an unprecedented talent recruiting drive.

Coupled with it, and perhaps of even greater importance, is the almost universal decision by producers to train the more promising of the newcomers for future stardom.

A telegraphic survey by The Herald resulted in the disclosure that there are no less than 63 actors and actresses regarded by the six major film companies as star material. Here they are:


Virginia Bruce, Mary Carlisle, Madge Evans, Nora Gregor, Joan Marsh, Karen Morley, Maureen O’Sullivan, Margaret Perry, Robert Young, William Bakewell and Kane Richmond.


Carole Lombard, Sylvia Sidney, Miriam Hopkins, Sari Maritza, Fredric March, Randolph Scott, Adrienne Ames, Frances Dee, Claire Dodd, Kent Taylor, Cary Grant and Florine McKinney.


Warner Baxter, Sally Eilers, Peggy Shannon, Marion Nixon, Elissa Landi, Joan Bennett, Charles Farrell, John Boles, George O’Brien, James Dunn, Ralph Bellamy and Spencer Tracy.


Andy Devine, June Clyde, Russell Hopton, Tom Brown, Arletta Duncan, Gloria Stuart, William Daly, Onslow Stevens, Diane Duval and Margaret Lindsay.


Joan Blondell, George Brent, Loretta Young, Warren William, Betty Gillette, Gloria Shea, and Sheila Terry.


Ricardo Cortez, Irene Dunne, Eric Linden, Joel McCrea, Jill Esmond, Laurence Olivier, Arline Judge, Gregory Ratoff, Bruce Cabot, Gwili Andre and Phyllis Clair.

Of course, many of those whose names are accorded the dignity of stellar candidates are familiar to fandom; the Fox list especially runs to well-known players, while the others all include some actors and actresses who have made distinct progress during the last year.

Universal has the largest percentage of so-called “unknowns,” with Paramount probably rating second in this respect. These two studios, incidentally, are leaders in the present movement to develop stars, not merely by means of ballyhoo, but through the medium of careful schooling.

The concept of a “stardom school,” to be sure, is not exactly new. Paramount in the comparatively long ago conducted an “academy” for beginners; it lasted a single “semester” and its graduation class had Charles “Buddy” Rogers as valedictorian.

A year or so ago, Warners adopted the plan, but with some changes, and appointed George Jenner, I believe, as coach. Fox, too, took a fling at it in a more modest way, assigning Minna Gombel to “polish” some of its younger “rough diamonds.”

Radio, while not exactly conducting a school, does have a new course of sprouts for worthy candidates as a preliminary to camera tests. Albert Lovejoy, dramatic coach, gives the youngsters intensive training in diction, reading, and poise. Ern Westmore, head of the make-up department, studies their facial contours to arrive at the best make-up possible, then Lynn Shores, director, and head of the new talent department, takes them in hand for instructive dramatic training.

Universal’s present idea is a “junior stock company” rather than a school, whereas Paramount prefers the latter format, but it will differ widely from the original model. Experienced players rather than verdant newcomers will receive a “P.G.” course, as ‘twere, under “Prof.” Stuart Walker, stage and screen director. His assignment is to see that they earn diplomas as full-fledged stars.

Not all of Paramount’s potential luminaries will receive individual coaching from Walker; Carole Lombard, Sylvia Sidney, Miriam Hopkins and Fredric March are considered beyond the need of such tutoring. This leaves Walker with the Misses Ames, Dee, Dodd, McKinney and Maritza and the Messrs. Scott, Taylor and Grant.

“I haven’t yet worked out a definite plan as to just how I will handle these youngsters,” Walker writes. “In fact, judging from past experience, there isn’t any definite plan that would prove suitable. Each individual requires training of a special nature. I intend to give each one such coaching as I believe will be the most beneficial.

“Of course, all will continue their work in pictures. Occasionally I may be able to help them develop their characterizations. And whenever any of them have sufficient time between pictures I will attempt to secure suitable roles for them in Los Angeles stage plays.”

Failure to develop adequate stellar material has been a fundamental weakness of the Fourth Industry in the past. Ballyhoo rather than painstaking training has been depended upon to establish players as outstanding “names;” there are notable exceptions, of course, but that statement generally holds true, I believe.

For that matter, the selection of stellar candidates itself has been haphazard; directorial “hunches,” likes and dislikes frequently have been ruling factors in determining players’ fates. Establishment of cinematic/astronomical observatories on every “lot,” large and small, really deserves serious consideration in home offices.

Of the M-G-M stellar candidates, six are essentially newcomers. Virginia Bruce is the lovely blonde whose beauty first attracted the expert eye of Florenz Ziegfeld, the producer of the Ziegfeld Follies.

After a time glorifying the American girl on the stage, Miss Bruce went to Hollywood where her success has been as consistent and steady as it was in front of the footlights. She was loaned to Paramount for “Sky Bride.”

Mary Carlisle, one of the youngest players in the ingĂ©nue class, brings a new type of charm to the screen. She fairly bubbles with youth and animation, being a dancer of fine talent in spite of her extreme youth. Miss Carlisle, who comes from Boston, has been loaned out lately for short subjects but has found time enough to appear in bits in some recent productions, among them, “Grand Hotel,” in which even Garbo commented on her youthful charm.

Nora Gregor, who came to America originally to play in foreign versions but wound up, finally, as leading lady to Robert Montgomery in “- But the Flesh is Weak,” is one of the few foreign players now at the Culver City studio. Miss Gregor is Viennese with brown eyes and blonde hair, an unusual type of beauty.

One of the most surprising things about that outstanding picture, “The Sin of Madelon Claudet,” was the fine acting of Robert Young in the part of the doctor. Overnight people were talking about him and if he keeps up with the splendid performances he gave in “The Wet Parade” and “New Morals for Old,” he certainly is on the road to stardom.

In Ramon Novarro’s latest picture, “Huddle,” a story of the gridiron, Kane Richmond makes his debut to the screen. He is tall, dark and handsome in a rugged fashion and a football picture is believed to be ideally suited to his talents.

Margaret Perry played the same role on stage that she does on the screen in “New Morals for Old,” the picture from the play, “After All.” So fine was her acting in the play that she was immediately drafted to Hollywood. You’ll see her in Radio’s “The Most Dangerous Game; that studio’s borrowing her from M-G-M.

I shall tell you something about the other newcomers among the 63 another Sunday.


Actor’s Early Screen Tests Failed to Attract Attention

Out at Burbank, Calif., not so long ago, they took a test of one George Brent, Irish, young, tall and handsome. Ruth Chatterton, newly a Warner star, viewed the test film, was amazed, gasped the Chattertonian equivalent of “Where has that actor been all my screen life?” and waved her stellar wand.

And Brent becomes her leading man in “The Rich Are Always With Us” – but only after he did similar honors opposite Barbara Stanwyck in the current “So Big.” Now there’s an auspicious beginning for a new leading man in pictures. Playing opposite two such stars as Barbara Stanwyck and Ruth Chatterton almost guarantees attention from fans.

But this same George Brent, a year or so ago, was at Fox, an inconspicuous contract player, brought from the stage for a trial. If he did any camera work it was too little for general notice. He was soon released.

Several months ago he was at Universal. He had the brief part of the police chief’s son in “The Homicide Squad” – a character murdered in the first reel. Another lapse of time, another test at another studio, and presto! George Brent is “a new sensation.”

Brent’s case is typical of many that emphasize how frequently the process known as the screen test fails to reveal what the talent seekers crave even when it is there. Greta Granstedt, the little “May Jones” of “Street Scene,” knocked around Hollywood as a bit-player and extra, little more, for two or three years before this part brought her conspicuously to the fore.

Frances Dee, the extra, had had an unsuccessful screen test before a second started her career auspiciously. Clark Gable had tests, too, during his extra days and was told to quit trying. Elda Vokel had a bit in “The Vagabond King,” but it took a test at Fox to win her a contract and new opportunities. But Sylvia Sidney actually played a part there without result, and left Hollywood – permanently, the thought.

Barbara Stanwyck failed at one studio before being “rediscovered.” And Greta Garbo was poorly regarded, even laughed at, at M-G-M for months before it was startlingly apparent that this “little Swede” was going to mean a flood of gold for them.

Yes, there are tests, and there are tests – and no wonder players are superstitious.


The Herald Dramatic Editor Answers the Questions of Curious Fans

Vera Axtman – Johnny Weissmuller is married; his wife is Bobbe Arnst, dancer.

Harry Thomas – June Knight was born Rose Vallihette

James R. Martin – Phillips Holmes’ middle initial is “R.”

Western Fan – George O’Brien was born in San Francisco, Cal., during the month of April, 1900. He is 6 feet ½ tall.

H. K. B., Liverpool – Tom Brown, who will be seen in “Tom Brown of Culver,” has been an actor since he was 2 years old. He is the son of professionals.

Maryann – Joel McCrea was born in Los Angeles, Nov. 5, 1905

Inquisitive – Ricardo Cortez was born in Vienna. He is 6 feet 1 inch tall; has black hair and brown eyes; weighs 175 pounds. His hobbies are beach and gymnasium sports, horseback riding and polo. Mr. Cortez began his career as a contract player with Paramount.

Dora Peterson – Leon Janney was born in Ogden, Utah.


By Chester B. Bahn
May 1 –

You safely may add a Russian story cycle to those enumerated in the Herald a few Sundays ago.

Paramount, with “The World and the Flesh” completed, during the week announced a successor in “Forgotten Commandments.” The former, as you know, serves George Bancroft as a starring picture; Miriam Hopkins is the feminine lead. The latter will introduce Sari Maritza to American talkies; Irving Pichel and Gene Raymond will have the principal male roles.

M-G-M, already having spent $100,000 upon the preparation of an untitled Soviet story, will start production within two months, George Hill directing. Wallace Beery and Clark Gable are slated to team, with the feminine lead yet to be chosen. The frequently revised script is now being completed by Boris Ingster and John Monk Saunders.

United Artists will picturize “Way of a Lancer,” starring Ronald Colman. Opposite him will be Anna Sten, Russian star. It is a vivid story of a Polish cavalry regiment that fought for Russia in the World War.

Universal has two stories with a Russian background – “Moscow,” by Elynore Dolkart, and “The Red Terror” by Allen Rivkin and P. J. Wolfson.

Fox has “Red Dancer,” but reports in this case conflict. One affirms it is to be a talkie version of the silent film of that title; the other says that it will be an adaptation of a German play by Victor Keleman.

If Broadway and Main Street are a million or so miles apart in their amusement tastes, as leaders of the Fourth Industry affirm, why are quotations from the New York critics stressed in trade journal advertisements designed to “sell” to hinterland exhibitors?

If you have been moved to the verge of tears as you contemplated the cinematic exile of Colleen Moore, Norma Talmadge and Clara Bow, it may interest you to know that the young women are not exactly candidates for the bread line.

I base that on their pick-and-choose attitude, as expressed when film contracts are tendered.

Miss Moore, who retired from the screen at the expiration of her $12,500 per week First National contract three years ago, is cold to a reported offer by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to substitute her for Jean Harlow in “The Red Headed Woman,” and this despite the fact Chester Morris will be the male lead.

Miss Talmadge, who faded as a United Artists star in 1930, is not adverse to another screen try via an independent studio, but insists that she rule the production with an iron hand; even to re-takes. The studio has conceded supervisory rights on a story, director, cast and cameraman.

Miss Bow, who departed from Paramount studio after a spectacular career, refused to consider “The Red Headed Woman” as a Metro vehicle, and she has been deaf to several other offers. She may sign with Fox, but is said to be insistent that the studio also hand her husband, Rex Bell, a contract.

There is, it seems to me, at least a chuckle in the fact that the picture chosen by Warner Brothers to replace “The Mouthpiece” last week was another with a hero obviously derived from real life.

Presentation last week of “It’s Tough to be Famous,” starring Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., serves to direct attention to anew to Hollywood’s growing practice of blending newsreel footage with the studio variety. Obviously, the welcome parade shots, highly important to the story, were gleaned from the newsreel libraries.

There can be, of course, no objection to that. Re-staging such scenes for a picture would be exceedingly difficult, if not wholly impossible, and the cost would be almost prohibitive.

If expertly done, I favor this fusion of real and synthetic drama; it seems to me that there is a neat gain in authenticity.

Incidentally, if Hollywood gossip can really be relied upon, Douglas Faribanks Sr. in much the same fashion will introduce Guatemalan footage in his South Seas picture. There is more than a suspicion, too that he was not above embroidering his “Around the World in 80 Minutes” with library footage.

Use of stock scenes, for that matter, is as old as the Fourth Industry itself. In the past, however, the practice has been more or less restricted to the smaller studios.


Amanda said...

Great post! It's fun to see who the new talkie stars were going to be.

diane said...

I watch a lot of early 30s
movies and it was very interesting
to see who succeeded from the
"stars of tomorrow". The
commentary put Paramount on
the bottom of future success
rate - but I think the only
star that didn't make it
from their roster was Florinne
McKinney. She had a very
emotional part in "Beauty For
Sale" and was Lil Emily in
"David Copperfield" but nothing
else of note.
About the pthers - Margaret Perry
- I have seen down the bottom of
casts, Nora Gregor had a small
part in "Sally", Kane Richmond
became a star of programmers,
Gloria Shea, the same - Phyllis
Clair, Diane Duval, William Daly
and Betty Gillette - I have not
heard of.

diane said...

No offense to Colleen Moore but
my goodness, thank heaven that
casting switch didn't eventuate.
Jean Harlow made "Red Headed Woman"

diane said...

I just looked up Diane Duval
and she changed her name to
Jacqueline Wells and then Julie
Bishop. So she did have a
reasonable career.

GAH1965 said...

I totally agree with you about Colleen Moore. I love watching her 1920s flapper roles, but take her our of that milieu and it's hard to accept her as anything othat than a product of that time. Case in point: her portrayal of Hester Prynn in The Scarlet Letter in 1934. Talk about miscast. Especially when compared against the amazing performance by Lillian Gish. I think maybe Clara Bow could have been interesting in Red Headed Woman, but I'm still glad it went to Harlow.

Margaret Perry, daughter of Antoinette (Tony award) Perry, went onto fame on the stage.

Odd thing about Florine McKinney, Betty Gillette and Phyllis Clare - they hadn't even really appeared in any film roles of note (or at all) as of May 1, 1932. Their inclusion on the lists must have solely to do with the fact that they had just signed contracts, I'm guessing.

Interesting to see Julie Bishop as Diane Duval on this list, since she appears to only have used that name for a very brief moment. She had been Jacqueline Wells as early as 1923, and then would go back to that name up through 1940, with only one "Diane Duval" credit in a film released in June '32.