Thursday, June 27, 2013

Thom's Sawyer

“Perhaps no picture player in the world is better known and more admired than Miss Laura Sawyer”, proclaims the April 1911 Motion Picture Story.   The very opposite is true about her today – she’s one of the most obscure of silent film stars.

 There’s not a whole lot available on her early life; indeed, all I could find was from Wikipedia, and even that was sorely lacking: her birthdate (Feb 3, 1885), her parents (Alvah Hayden and Laurette Sawyer), and that she was schooled at the Ursuline Academy in St Louis, Missouri.

She performed with the Otis Skinner theatrical troupe for four years before landing at Edison Studios, where she would remain until 1913.  Sawyer’s work there was highly regarded, and she was said to have been the favorite actress of Thomas Edison himself.

Miss Laura Sawyer, leading lady in the Edison company…commonly referred to by her intimates as “Dolly Dimples”, is as charming a young woman as she is a talented actress…” [Moving Picture World, April 26, 1913]
During her time at Edison, she headlined one of the first detective story serials:

Let it be understood that these stories will be absolutely independent of each other, each telling of an entirely separate case on which Kate Kirby, a girl detective, is detailed to work…[t]hese “Kate Kirby’s Cases” will be particularly interesting because of the mystery that will sorrund them. [“Kate Kirby’s Cases”, The Kinetogram (Edison’s own trade paper), July 15, 1913]

The Kate Kirby serials proved quite popular (matching the success of Edison’s own “What Happened to Mary?” with Mary Fuller) and got good reviews; Moving Picture World called the first installment, THE DIAMOND CROWN, “very commendable…as a one reel detective story this is unusually good”.  Future installments were just as well-received: “very good…the best regular release of the last two weeks” and “well-acted”.

Sawyer, too, was lauded for her performance…

[Sawyer’s] performances are invariably forceful and she shows remarkable powers of repression in scenes which less capable players would spoil by overacting.  [“Edison Studio Notes”, Moving Picture World, August 16, 1913]

…as well as other things:

“[A] girl with two noticeable dimples, dark ‘soulful’ eyes, a mass of chestnut hair and a debonair manner that will overlook formalities and put you at your ease”…[A]smile filled with California sunshine – a smile that radiated kindness, happiness, the joy of living and perfect health, was one of the chief attributes of his leading lady.
[“Laura Sawyer, of the Edison Company – Chats with the Players”, Motion Picture Story, August 1913]  (Anybody else think the reporter had a teensy crush on her? – JR)

 At any rate, by the end of August 1913, Sawyer had ended her tenure at Edison and moved to Famous Players, bringing Kate Kirby along with her.  The “girl detective” lasted three more installments; by 1915, after a couple of additional films, Laura Sawyer’s career was over.  Whether the choice was hers or the studios’, I cannot say.  As for her personal life, Wikipedia lists her as having married, but I have no idea if this had any say in her leaving movies or not. 

The last word on Laura comes from the ubiquitous “where are they now” section:

The author of that successful photoplay, “The Valentine Girl”, in which Marguerite Clark played the delightful lead, is none other than our old friend Laura Sawyer (Edison), who, after leaving the silent drama, has returned as a successful scenario-writer. [Lester Sweyd, “What They Are Doing Now”, Motion Picture, February 1918]

Her scenario-writing seems to have been limited to that one picture...after that, she completely vanished from the public eye.  Laura Sawyer died on September 7, 1970, at age 85.

[photo courtesy the Jonathan Silent Film Collection]

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Five Facts About: Roy D'Arcy

[image courtesy eBay]

1.  He was quite the Renaissance man:  born Roy Giusti in San Francisco, he was educated abroad, studied art in Paris, worked odd jobs in South America, traveled Germany and Switzerland with a “gypsy” band, then hit vaudeville and toured Europe and Asia.  He eventually returned to the US, where Erich von Stroheim took one look at him on stage and chose him for Prince Mirko in The Merry Widow (thus beginning his reign as a villain of the silent screen).

2.  Was known for affecting a rather creepy rictus grin; Motion Picture described him as “leering”, the Milwaukee Sentinel labeled him “the erstwhile smiling heavy of the silver sheet”, and Eve Golden called it “death’s head grinning” in John Gilbert: The Last of the Silent Film Stars.  My favorite is Louella Parsons, in a 1927 article entitled “Picture Stars Must Abandon Individuality”:

I have often wondered if Roy D’Arcy did not have his grin and forefinger how he could act.  They are props for him in every screen drama.  Mr D’Arcy made his success in The Merry Widow by affecting a leer…
[image courtesy Allposters]

3.  After he and his wife divorced, he was romantically linked to Lita Grey Chaplin for a time:

Lita and Roy D’Arcy, the dental screen villain [there it is again! – JR] admit to a serious interest in each other...[o]ne report says they will co-star on a vaudeville tour this fall at a large joint salary, another that they will marry and go for a tour to the Orient. [“Gossip of All the Studios”, Photoplay, June 1928]

Lita Grey Chaplin and her stage-door Johnny, Mr Roy D’Arcy…Roy is waiting for one of those leisurely California divorce decrees, to ask Lita to become the second Mrs D’Arcy. [“Gossip of All the Studios”, Photoplay, January 1929]

It all appears to have been for naught, however:

Roy D’Arcy has remarried his former wife, Laura…[a]nd all along we, and lots of other people, were believing that he would soon be the husband of Lita Grey Chaplin.  [“Hollywood High Lights”, Picture Play, December 1929]  (Sadly, the marriage would again be over less than six months later.)

4.  He possessed a lovely singing voice – he headlined as lead tenor in numerous theatre troupe productions, as well as in the stage show Oh Boy!  He later created a vaudeville show called The Greatest Array of Talent Ever Assembled on Any Bill in This Country, but returned to his monologist roots instead of singing.

5.  Although he did make some talkies – the most notable being the serials The Shadow of the Eagle (1932) and The Whispering Shadow (1933) for Mascot – his overwrought acting style was too old-fashioned for 30s audiences, and after a small part in 1939’s The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle, he retired from the screen.  At age 45, he reinvented himself again, starting a profitable real estate business.  Roy D’Arcy died in 1969, at the age of 75.

[image courtesy]

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Dareos, the (Somewhat) Soothsayer of Hollywood

If you were an actor in the 1920s, or just hung around with them, chances are that someone would eventually drag you along to visit a fortune teller or psychic.  Early Hollywood was a superstitious lot, and there were plenty of people willing to exploit it:

There are all kinds of soothsayers and prophets.  There are sincere ones, no doubt – and equally doubtlessly, ruthless charlatans…[the] good people of movieland, in no small degree, believe what the hocus-pocus peddlers tell them!  [1]

The most famous of the “hocus-pocus peddlers” was Dareos, about whom there is maddeningly little on the internet.  Photoplay investigates:

This Dareos’ full name, by the way, is George Dareos.  He has a rambling suite of rooms in a two-story building, over a branch bank in Ocean Park – a beach town near Hollywood.  He is listed in the phone book as “Dareos, George, psychoanalyst”, but he tells you frankly that he just senses things about his clients…
“[I] lived for a long time in the East and in Europe.  My people thought I was going to be a lawyer, but I didn’t want to.  It was in 1916 that I first took up this psychic work…[I] went into a fortune-teller’s tent, and…I had told his fortune instead of him telling me mine.” [2]

The only other background I could find is by Irving Shulman, in his book Jackie: The Exploitation of a First Lady (and you know there must be a dearth of info if I’m using Shulman):

[M]any of these stellar people were clients of George Dareos, formerly butler to a Hollywood star addicted to frequent consultation with a Pasadena medium.  After Dareos compared his earnings as a manservant with the medium’s takings, he decided to set himself up as a seer.

Which of these stories are true?  Who knows?  At any rate, Dareos’ prophetic skill was legend in and around Tinseltown; he advised Pola Negri, Charles Chaplin, Mae Murray, Mabel Normand, and a multitude of the cinema elite.

One of his more infamous clients was Valentino, as noted in Dark Lover: The Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino by Emily W Leider:

[H]e sought advice from a crystal-ball-gazing Santa Monica seer, Dareos, who told a reporter that Valentino had come to him in a confused state, confessing his undying love for Mrs Valentino [Natacha Rambova] and begging for a glimpse into the future.  Dareos foretold that the separated couple would never be reconciled… “I told him he was born to have many romances and that he should never get married.”

We’ve established his reputation, but the question remains: how was his accuracy? 

Let’s test it ourselves!  In the aforementioned Photoplay article, Dareos predicts the future for some big names.

Tom Mix:
“Tom Mix should be careful.  I predict that Tom Mix will be ruined if he’s not careful.  If he doesn’t watch out, some day a bolt will strike him like lightning out of the blue!” [3]

[photo courtesy Wikipedia]

Well, Mix wasn’t exactly ruined, but something did strike him – the aluminum suitcase he was traveling with, forever to be known as the “Suitcase of Death”:

On the day he died, Mix was driving north from Tucson in his beloved bright-yellow Cord Phaeton sports car.  He was driving so fast that he didn’t notice – or failed to heed – signs warning that one of the bridges was out on the road ahead.  The Phaeton swung into a gully and Mix was smacked in the back of the head by one of the heavy aluminum suitcases he was carrying in the convertible’s back seat.  The impact broke the actor’s neck and he died almost instantly.  ["On This Day in History" Oct 12 1940 --]

Constance Talmadge:
“Constance Talmadge – I told her she has many wonderful things yet to come – I predict a brilliant marriage for her, one that will last.” [4]

[photo courtesy The Fabulous Birthday Blog]

Notoriously unlucky in love, Dutch married four times, the last of which finally did last (for 25 years).  She had no children.

Joan Crawford:
“There’s talk that she and young Fairbanks will marry, but I don’t see that.” [5]

[photo courtesy]

Finally, Richard Dix:
A year ago, Dareos told Dix that within five years the star would marry one of the most important society women in America…[c]heck that on your calendar for 1932, fans! [6]

[photo courtesy Silents Are Golden]

Dix married San Francisco socialite Winifred Coe in October 1931.  The marriage produced a daughter, but was over by July 1933.

So our friend Dareos was about as intuitive as a Magic 8 Ball.  Didn't seem to hurt him though; he remained one of the most visible and oft-consulted psychics -- the Sidney Sheldon of his time -- well through the silent era and beyond:

Meet Rex Larbow Bell, the son and heir of Clara Bow…the unusual middle name is the suggestion of George Dareos, local astrologer, who is widely consulted by film folk, and who is a close friend of Clara and Rex [Bell].  According to Dareos, Larbow is an Indian name…[Harrison Carroll, “Behind the Scenes in Hollywood”, Rochester Evening Journal, Jan 3 1935]

Franklin D Roosevelt’s election fo the much debated “third term” is a certainty, in the opinion of George Dareos, noted Hollywood astrologer for many of moviedom’s noted…he declares he is a theosophist, the reincarnation of a great sociologist from the far distant past…[l]ooking ahead 50 years, Dareos forecasts a change of site for the Vatican from Rome to some place in Spain. [“Hollywood Astrologist Sees Roosevelt Triumph”, Valley Star-Monitor-Herald (Texas), Oct 20 1940]

Some years ago, George Dareos, world-famous psychic, told us he predicted that Hayley Mills would marry a man old enough to be her father…[a]ccording to present Hollywood whispers, George Dareos’ predictions appear to be coming true.  She has been guarding a romantic secret, one that involves a man of 57. (Mills was 22 at the time of the article). [TV and Movie Screen Magazine, June 1967]

The last mention of Dareos I could find was a prediction he made about Elvis Presley in 1969 (excerpted in Private Elvis by May Mann):

Elvis can live to be over 70 years of age if he stays away from private planes…Elvis, after his fortieth birthday…will stand a symbol of honesty and good character…[h]e will one day head a magnificent producing company, and hire other stars to appear in pictures he will produce (besides the ones he will star in), he will make a great success…

After that, the trail goes cold.  Aside from a Diane Arbus photograph (which I could not find in good enough resolution to reproduce here), nothing.  Very strange for a man who seemed such a ubiquitous part of Hollywood’s gold-plated fa├žade. It’s as if he simply vanished.  (I wonder if he foresaw it?)

[1--6] Harry Lang, "Exposing the Occult: Hocus-Pocus in Hollywood", Photoplay, December 1928

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Jobyna Ralston and the Fickle Finger of Fame

One thing that’s both wonderful and painful about having so many issues of Photoplay at one’s fingertips is tracing the fleeting career arc of a star.  We see the excitement of his/her discovery, the popular period when every other article seems to be about him/her…then, the mentions get fewer and further between, until finally his/her name is all but forgotten by the once-adoring public.  

(All images are courtesy my favorite place on the internet, the Media History Digital Library.)

Jobyna Ralston was born on November 21, 1899. She first appeared on stage at age nine; by 1915 she was attending acting school, and eventually made her Broadway debut in Two Little Girls in Blue at age 21.  Max Linder was in the audience and insisted she come to Hollywood -- she performed in many of his films, as well as the Marx Brothers' lost Humor Risk and Hal Roach shorts.  First mention of her I could find was in 1922, in a blurb about Mildred Davis retiring as Harold Lloyd’s leading lady:

 Just who is to follow Mildred…hasn’t been decided…[A] little extra girl named Jobyna – yes, truly – is being most seriously considered.  Well, whoever follows Bebe Daniels and Mildred Davis, will be lucky, it would appear. [“Plays and Players”, Photoplay, September 1922]

With that, suddenly, in 1923, she was noticed: 

 [Photoplay, July 1923]

The prestige of being named a WAMPAS star, along with well-received performances in Why Worry? and Girl Shy put her on the map.  She was profiled by Adela Rogers St Johns:

But oh, sang I, to be eighteen and just fresh from Tennessee, and pretty.  Jobyna is so Southern...[t]rying to alter her speech would be just about as foolish as extracting the perfume from a rose.  I don’t know whether she’s got a brain in her head, but brains are just excess baggage to girls like Jobyna. [I guess that’s supposed to be positive?  Yeesh.  –JR] I don’t know what to call it – but whatever it is, Jobyna’s got it.  [“Betty & Jobyna”, Photoplay, November 1923]

She posed for fluff [a bob clause?  Really?!]:

 [“News and Gossip East and West”, Photoplay, July 1924]

She was officially presented to the public:

A man with an eye like [Harold Lloyd]’s doesn’t need any glass in his horn rims.  I have never seen a more sensitive face.  Expressions flutter over it, one after another, like ripples in a pond.  A whimsical, engaging bit of fluff that’s liable to be wafted far.  [Herbert Howe, “The Discovery of Jobyna Ralston”, Photoplay, August 1924]

And the portraits!  Hardly a month went by without one:

[Photoplay, February 1924]

[Photoplay, August 1925]

[Photoplay, April 1926]

But then…one issue went by without Jobyna.

She was still working, both with Lloyd (she appeared in six of his pictures) and in other films, including the first Academy Award winning Best Picture, Wings, yet she didn't seem to garner attention.  More issues went by with nary a word about her.

Her marriage to Richard Arlen, whom she met on the set of Wings, did gain a notice:

[Photoplay, July 1927]

Nothing else until four years later, when her prowess at dinner parties is discussed:

When Jobyna Ralston married Richard Arlen, she gave up a promising screen career to settle down and become merely “Dick Arlen’s wife”.  [OUCH. – JR]  Since then, Joby has turned her talents into housewifely channels…[Carolyn Van Wyck, “Jobyna and Dick Give a Party for Six”, Photoplay, May 1931]

She made three movies after sound came in, but talkies exposed one problem that even her sweet Tennessee drawl couldn't fix: a lisp.  Due to this and her first child on the way, she retired permanently from the screen.

[Photoplay, August 1933]

Movies are mercurial by nature.  It’s almost unfathomable to process how much films changed from the 20s to the 30s.  It’s no wonder, then, that just ten short years after her discovery, Jobyna is part of a “where are they now” nostalgia article:

It’s easy to account for many former big stars who have found the answer in Hollywood marriages and screen retirement…Jobyna Ralston is satisfied with being just Mrs Richard Arlen. [Kirtley Baskette, “They, Too, Were Stars”, Photoplay, March 1934]

Sadly, the satisfaction didn't last forever; she and Arlen were divorced in 1945.  In later years, her health declined dramatically, and she suffered from rheumatism and a series of strokes.  

Jobyna Ralston succumbed to pneumonia on January 22, 1967.  She was only 67.