Thursday, February 2, 2012


“Menace Branded Mythical”

Native Players Well to the Fore in Hollywood Talkie Studios

By Chester B. Bahn
May 8, 1932

Just how serious, anyway, is this menace that Representative Samuel Dickstein sees enveloping Hollywood?

Mr. Dickstein, as you may know, is the native of Russia who would have congress place foreign actors under the labor clause of the Federal immigration laws. The congressional measure, now pending, bears his name.

Thus far, editorial writers and cinema specialists discussing the restrictive legislation have dealt almost exclusively with the imposing list of first-line players, stars and featured artists, who have Continental antecedents.

That is all very well, but it seems to me that a much fairer and saner estimate of the “menace’s” importance is to be found in The Herald’s own survey of studio star material.

Mr. Dickstein, I believe, has urged that his measure is necessary if the American actor and actress are to have an opportunity in Hollywood. He feels that major studios are inclined to ignore home talent and give the breaks to imported artists, not those of exceptional ability but the obscure troupers who may be built, cheaply and profitably, into new Garbos, Colmans, Dietrichs, Chevaliers and Dresslers.

The Herald’s survey establishes just how groundless Mr. Dickstein’s fears really are. Refreshing your recollection, briefly, it showed that six major studios had a total of 63 players regarded as potential “names.”

Carrying the canvas one step farther today to include United Artists, and adding as well five other players with stellar possibilities, the aggregate stands at 69. Of this number, only 19 are actors and actresses of foreign origin. Not much of a “menace” there, I submit.

The imported troupers, by studios, are:

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer – Nora Gregor, Maureen O’Sullivan, Diana Wynyard and Heather Thatcher (the latter two are my own additions to the studio list.)

Paramount – Sari Maritza, Cary Grant and Adrianne Allen (I have added Miss Allen to the studio list)

Fox – Elissa Landi

Universal – Tala Birell and Margaret Lindsay

Warners-First National – George Brent

Radio – Gurli Andre, Zita Johann, Phyllis Clare, Laurence Olivier, Gregory Ratoff, Ricardo Cortez and Jill Esmond

United Artists – Anna Sten

The misses O’Sullivan and Landi by this time are old friends, as is Mr. Cortez.

The misses Gregor and Thatcher received attention in this department a couple of Sundays ago when they made their screen debut in “But the Flesh Is Week;” and Mr. Brent, Miss Esmond and Mr. Olivier similarly have enjoyed the spotlight recently.

Miss Johann is presented in “The Struggle.”

“The Roadhouse Murder” serves to introduce Miss Clare who was born in London, received her schooling at exclusive private schools there and on the Continent. Then the lure of the theater won her and she obtained a place in the chorus with a London musical show.

It wasn’t long until she was playing leads on both sides of the Atlantic. Her first New York part was in “Artists and Models.” “The Charlot Review” followed. Then came more roles in London. She returned to New York to do a featured role in “The Band Wagon,” a Broadway hit.

RKO-Radio scouts were impressed by the golden haired beauty and a screen test was arranged. It resulted in a long-term contract and a trip to Hollywood.

Margaret Lindsay, too, is a native of London, although she is the daughter of American parents. Like Miss Clare, she upset their plans by determining on a stage career. After a fair measure of success in London, Miss Lindsay came to the United States on speculation rather than on contract, attracted Carl Laemmle’s attention, had a test made and then signed on the dotted line with Universal.

Tala Birell, Universal’s other foreign actress, is a native of Rumania, but rates as a Viennese. Stardom for her is already assured. More about Tala another Sunday.

If you will believe Hollywood whispers, Diana Wynyard is M-G-M’s “ace in the hole” if La Garbo sails homeward next month. The studio, of course, is discretely silent on the subject.

The actress was imported from London to appear on Broadway in Benn Levy’s “The Devil Passes;” she created a distinct stir in New York, her beauty and ability “bringing out the better critical adjectives” as one critic phrased it.

Adrianne Allen, blonde, blue-eyed, was another London beauty to find quick success on Broadway. She arrived last fall a comparative unknown. She was cast in the role of a tragic, love-seeking working girl in “Cynara,” one of the outstanding hits.

Her husband, Raymond Massey, an actor-director, was grabbed up by Universal. Paramount signed Miss Allen and she left her show to rush to the coast for the leading role in “Merrily We Go to Hell,” with Fredric March and Sylvia Sidney, themselves likely to be rated stars during the 1932-33 film year.

Miss Allen has been interested in acting since she was a child. She is the daughter of a Manchester banker with investments in theaters. Through him she learned backstage happenings in London and acquired an ambition to act. After being educated in England, France and Germany, she enrolled in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, founded by Sir Beerbohm Tree.

During a performance of her graduation play she attracted the attention of Noel Coward, who later offered her a role in his play, “Easy Virtue.” She scored a success and after the production closed mailed her photograph and press clippings to 30 London producers. One of them, Raymond Massey, replied and put her to work in another Coward play, “The Rat Trap.”

Massey, a brother of the premier of Canada, soon asked Miss Allen to become Mrs. Massey. She said “yes,” but the marriage did not prevent her playing in “Private Lives,” “An American Tragedy” and “The Stag,” on the London stage, and the British cinema’s “Loose Ends,” “The Woman Between” and others.

Sari Maritza, who will be introduced to American fandom in Paramount’s “Forgotten Commandments,” drama of present-day Russia, is late of Berlin and London. Blue-eyed, brown-haired and only one inch more than five feet in height, her tabloid biography reads:

Born in China, where her father was in the import and export business, she was taken back to Berlin at 12 for an education. She finished her schooling in Berlin and Paris, and showing prowess in ice skating, then went to Switzerland where she took some prizes at St. Moritz. She speaks three languages fluently and is a precocious athlete.

Her first appearance as an English-speaking actress came two years ago when she appeared in a British picture, “Greek Street.” Londoners seemed to like her and she got three other pictures thereafter, winding up with “Two-Way Street.”

Of Hungarian ancestry, Sari was working on a picture in Budapest when she attracted the attention of Miss Vivian Gaye, a young actress, who became her manager, and came along to America.

Cary Grant’s ability as an electrician resulted in his becoming an actor.

At the age of 12 he conceived a new theatrical lighting effect which so interested the manager of the Princess Theater in Bristol, England, his home town, that he was allowed to install the machine and operate it for a show.

This brought the boy into contact with stage people. He developed an ambition to act and soon ran away from school to act in Bob Pender's Acrobats. His father went after the boy and brought him home, but at 15 he ran away to join the same troupe. This time his father let him go. Blood was telling, you see, for Cary's grandfather was Percival Leach, famed British actor.

For a year Grant appeared with the “knock-about” comedians, as England knows them. The company then came to New York to appear at the Hippodrome and remained two years in America. Grant then returned to England and spent two years in stock where he developed his rich baritone voice.

He met Reginald Hammerstein who brought him back to New York and put him in “Golden Dawn,” Thereafter he appeared in “Polly” and “Boom Boom.” Back in New York after a three-month vacation at home he had leads in “Wonderful Night” and “Street Singer.”

Last summer, the brown-eyed, dark-haired Grant joined the St. Louis Repertoire Company, singing the lead in 12 operettas. In the fall he returned to Broadway for “Nikki,” playing the part which Richard Barthelmess had in the screen version, “The Last Flight.”

With the close of this show he set forth on an automobile trip which brought him to Hollywood. There he met Paramount executives, took a screen test and was given a part in “This Is the Night,” recently seen.

Gregory Ratoff was seen last week in “Symphony of Six Million.” He came to the United States from Representative Dickstein's native Russia, where he had been associated with the Moscow Art Theater as producer and actor.

His first real American hit was “The Kibitzer,” which he produced and directed and in which he starred. His wife is Eugenie Leontovitch, a factor in the success of “Grand Hotel” in New York.

That, I believe, leaves us two newcomers for consideration. Anna Sten, also a product of the Russian stage, will make her American screen debut opposite Ronald Colman in “Way of a Lancer.”

She was on the Russian screen as well as stage, and has had a successful career in Germany. Her last picture there saw her co-starred with Emil Jannings; the vehicle was “The Tempest.”

Radio will introduce Gurli Andre in Richard Dix's “Roar of the Dragon,” and Don Eddy assures me that Denmark's contribution to the roster of foreign beauties is headed for stardom. Strangely, Gurli was in Hollywood three years ago, but failed to attract attention.

Originally, her beauty caught the eyes of John Leroy Johnston while scouring the country for film prospects on behalf of M-G-M. He made tests and Gurli was to have gone immediately to Hollywood, but her mother's illness caused her to leave for Denmark instead.

On the liner returning to America, Miss Andre, whose real name is Guila Andressen, met Joseph M. Schenck of United Artists, who was so struck by her beauty and poise that he asked her to see him when she came to Hollywood.

When Schenck returned to the coast, however, he found Hollywood trembling in its boots before the talkie revolution. Gurli went, saw Schenck, met socially many of Hollywood's most influential people, and waited.

Perhaps because she had an accent, perhaps because the producers were all mad for stage talent, she waited practically unnoticed, and eventually departed for New York to model again. She was working there when Radio scouts “discovered” her again recently.


VP81955 said...

Just gave a shout-out to your site's revival:

GAH1965 said...

Very thankful for that VP. And of course I'm always keeping my eyes open for Lombard mentions to include.