Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Olde-Tyme Halloween!

In lieu of a post this week -- mostly because your Humble Narrator is off begging for Kit-Kats and Three Musketeers -- here's some 1920s Halloween images for all you boils and ghouls to enjoy!

I've collected these from all over -- if any are yours and you want credit, just comment and I'll fix it.

Harold Lloyd and his daughter, Gloria, Halloween 1927

Costume suggestions from Dennison's Party Book, 1927

Festive twins, circa 1920s

A typical Twenties paper decoration

Clara sends you off with a smile!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Flawed Rubye

I feel kind of bad for Rubye de Remer.

Her story starts commonly enough: she was born Ruby Burkhardt in 1892, and as a young lady joined the ranks of Ziegfeld's Midnight Frolic. Wasn't a long jump from there to film, her first being ENLIGHTEN THY DAUGHTER (1917).  Her success on both stage and screen was frequently - and almost singularly - attributed to one thing: her looks.

[image courtesy]

Everyone thought Rubye was gorgeous.  Ziegfeld called her "the most beautiful blonde since Venus".  Artist Paul Heller said she was the "ideal of American beauty".  She even posed for Harrison Fisher after winning (what else?) a beauty contest in 1916.  A typical fan magazine article about her went something like this:

The beauty of Rubye de Remer has steeped in me like tea steeping in a tea-pot.  It haunts its victim. The screen gives only half an intimation...[s]o cherubim have floated about the canvases of some of the Old Masters.
[Gordon Gassaway, "The Lady of the Big House on the Hill". Motion Picture, April 1922]

It seemed Rubye was blessed...

...but she often felt cursed by it.

She wanted to be a serious actress, but no one would take such a "pretty girl" seriously.  The Washington Post let her vent in a 1919 article appropriately titled "Beauty Often a Handicap":

"The actress that has been blessed with a fair measure of good looks," says Miss De Remer, "labors under the handicap imposed by the casting-director who insists that she play only such parts as afford her a chance to look her prettiest...I want people to say of my work 'she is more play strong character parts than she is to be dolled up in silks and satins'...[p]eople pay for seats in a theatre to see acting, not to witness a display of gowns or pulchritude."

Yet even they responded the same way, effectively erasing the whole point of the piece:

Personally we agreed with Miss de Remer's views...but did you ever see this little lady as a member of the "Midnight Frolic"?


I couldn't find anything further about Rubye, other than the same tired old fluff that exhausted her so much:

The secret of remaining young is never to wear an unbecoming hat.
["Some New Ideas About Dress", Photoplay, May 1922]

But there still was a spark in her, and she wasn't above letting it out:

[I]f I lost whatever looks with which the Almighty has seen fit to bless me, I wouldn't have a job very long.
["How I Keep in Condition", Photoplay, September 1921]

Rubye de Remer made a little over 20 films, her last being THE GORGEOUS HUSSY (1936) with Joan Crawford.  She married twice, once in 1912 (divorced 1916) and again, this time to coal/iron magnate Benjamin Throop in 1924 (he died in 1935, though I can't find if their marriage ended before that).  She passed away in 1984, aged 92.

Can anyone out there fill in the holes for me?  I'm still poking around, trying to find something, anything.  I'd feel this way about any actor/actress, but especially Rubye.  She so much wanted to be remembered as more than just a pretty face.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Fleeting Aristocracy of Constance Binney

Constance Binney fairly leapt out of the pages of Blum's A Pictorial History of the Silent Screen, with the kind of eyes that "often fire first and with deadly aim" [Film Fun, Sept 1919]. In a volume filled with lovely faces, hers was different somehow -- her gaze held depth, sparkle.  Who was the woman behind it?

Constance was born in New York City in 1896. She was sent to Paris for her education, returning to Connecticut to attend finishing school.  It was at the latter that she began performing in student productions, both acting and dancing.  By 1917 she was back in New York and appearing on Broadway in Saturday to Monday.

1918 saw her first appearance on the screen in SPORTING LIFE, along with her sister Faire.  Both young ladies had a mildly successful (if short-lived) career, with Faire's list of credits lasting only two years longer than Constance's.

Coincidentally, both Binneys made films with John Barrymore, and both in 1919:  Faire in HERE COMES THE BRIDE, a breezy comedy of the sort Jack excelled in at the time, and Constance in his first dramatic picture, THE TEST OF HONOR.  (Both films are lost as of this entry.)

[image courtesy Corbis]

The fan magazines made much of Constance's background, calling it "Massachusetts aristocracy" and playing up her ancestry as a "direct descendant of one of the ten thousand families that came over on the Mayflower" [1].  As a result, the image they paint of her is composed, noble, almost patrician:

There was none of the usual histrionic flutter in this twenty-year-old...[s]he is a lovely thing facially and the poise of breeding...[and] the saving grace of a vast underlying gund of New England common-sense. [1]

She was very small, cool...distinctively, pleasantly crisp...upon an interesting verge of flapperism.  That cool little something, poise, aplomb...prevents her from ever quite slipping over the edge. [2]

Binney had good notices for THE TEST OF HONOR; Linda "Mrs DW" Griffith herself called her "a darling little person, with...youth, beauty, personality, and a simple, unaffected, direct style of acting" ["Comments and Criticisms of a Free-Lance", Film Fun, June 1919].  Famous Players-Lasky was impressed enough to sign her to their prestigious RealArt division.

Yet, even with this stellar beginning, her career slid to a halt by 1923.  (Her sister Faire's would end by 1925.)  She did a little stage work in London in the early 1940s, and was briefly married to British war hero Leonard Cheshire.  But, unlike Faire, who did a little TV work in the 1950s, Constance slipped completely from the public eye by 1951.  At one point, she returned to the New York area, settling in Queens.  Constance Binney died on November 15, 1989.  She was 93.

[1] Julian Johnson, "Plymouth Rock Chicken". Photoplay, September 1919
[2] Kenneth Curly, "Constance: The Brute-Breaker". Motion Picture, May 1922
All images courtesy the Media History Digital Library unless otherwise noted.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Ode to the Trade Paper Introduction of Lina Basquette

"Little nine-year-old Lena Baskette"--
a fetching beauty, dark of hair and eyes,
a charming girl who loved to pirouette,
a star pupil Pavlova would have prized.
Your life would be a tempest, and your heart
would burst and knit and never be fulfilled;
despite all your hard work, one single role -
The Godless Girl - would be your lasting art,
forever known best by that one DeMille
and off-screen storms that you could not control.

Lina Basquette

My inspiration: the Motion Picture Studio Directory and Trade Annual from Oct 21 1916.
Click to enlarge.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Adults Only! -- Maniac (1934)

Oh man, I wanted to write a review for this -- I really, really did -- but all I managed to get out was "what the hell did I just watch?"  Well, that and  "HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!"

The Bad Movie Report has a brilliant review here if you want something more intelligent and cohesive.  What follows will be notes I made (after wiping the tears out of my eyes).


The plot (as if it mattered), from IMDb:

A former vaudevillian gifted at impersonation assists a mad scientist in reanimating corpses and soon goes mad himself.  (Why the hell is a vaudeville guy even working with a scientist?)

Memorable moments:

• Dr Mierschultz listening for a heartbeat on his victim.  IN THE MORGUE.

• More ham acting than a roomful of Barrymores!
 Bizarre intertitles about mental illness that pop up at random times -- with happy music!
 LSD trip double exposures!  
 Suddenly, gratutitous nudity!
 Eating of cat eyeballs!  "It is not unlike an OYSTER or a GRAPE!"
 Continuity?  What's that?  Even the cat has a bad stand-in.
• T & A ending that was mercifully tacked on for the viewers.  

and my favorite line:

"The cats eat the rats, the rats eat the cats, and I get the skins!"

HOLY CRAP this movie is off the rails.  It's made by the same folks who made Reefer Madness, so that should be no surprise.  

Best part of all?  It's available on Youtube.  GO WATCH IT.