Posts Tagged ‘Ramon Novarro’

June Mathis: The Woman Who Discovered Valentino

Friday, December 5th, 2014

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By Allan R. Ellenberger

June Mathis, a short, thickset, rather plain woman with frizzy hair, became one of Hollywood’s most influential women during the silent era. An accomplished screenwriter, casting director and film editor, Mathis was the only female executive at Metro Studios, and at one time the highest paid film executive in Hollywood.

Born June Beulah Hughes in Leadville, Colorado on June 30, 1889, Mathis was the only child of Phillip and Virginia Hughes. Although available biographical records usually give her year of birth as 1892, census records appear to confirm the 1889 date. Her parents divorced when she was seven and while much of her childhood is vague, at some point her mother met and married William D. Mathis, a recent widower with three children. Ultimately she would take her step-father’s name.

Mathis’ first public incarnation was as a child actor in vaudeville and on Broadway. Her stage credits include the hit play, The Fascinating Widow with the famed female impersonator, Julian Eltinge. For thirteen years Mathis toured in numerous plays and vaudeville shows. In 1914, she moved to New York and took a writing course and entered a scriptwriting contest. This brought her several offers to write scenarios until Metro Studios hired her in 1918. At Metro, she quickly worked her way up to becoming chief of the studio’s script department. Her scripts incorporated a wide range of films including An Eye for an Eye (1918), Hearts Are Trumps (1920) and Polly with a Past (1920). ..

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THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE

When Metro president Richard Rowland bought the rights to the popular war novel, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Mathis was placed in charge. It was through her influence that her friend and fledgling film director, Rex Ingram was hired as the film’s director. The film and the casting of Rudolph Valentino in the role of Julio, established both of their careers. Mathis picked Valentino for the role of Julio after seeing him in a small role in The Eyes of Youth (1919).

Until Mathis cast Valentino in The Four Horsemen, he was relegated to mostly bit parts and walk-ons. Several people have taken credit for Valentino’s success but it was this bit of casting that launched the Latin Lover’s career. At Metro, and later Paramount studios, Mathis was responsible for a string of Rudolph Valentino films including Blood and Sand (1922) and The Young Rajah (1922).

Mathis and Valentino maintained a very close relationship – some even suggested that they may have been romantically involved, but this is unlikely. In fact, actress Nita Naldi said that Mathis mothered Valentino and that they held each other in high regards. When Mathis’ version of the script for the ill-fated The Hooded Falcon failed to impress either Valentino or his wife, Natacha Rambova, Mathis ended their relationship.

BEN-HUR 

After negotiations with producers of the Ben-Hur stage play, Samuel Goldwyn bought the screen rights to General Lew Wallace’s religious novel. Mathis, who had previously been with Metro and Lasky, was now Goldwyn’s head scenarist and was given sovereign control. Not only would Mathis adapt the screenplay, she was in charge of production and her first executive decision was to make the film in Italy. After a nationwide search it was decided to go with Mathis choice for Ben-Hur, George Walsh and her pick for director, Charles Brabin. Neither choice, however, was popular with the public nor with many in the film industry, but this proved how powerful Mathis was at the time.

Once the film company arrived in Rome, the production quickly began to deteriorate. Labor disputes delayed the building of many of the sets; Italian labor was inexpensive, but slow. Not only were the sets and costumes not ready, but the actors sat around or took advantage and made small tours of Europe. To make matters worse, Mathis was told to not interfere with Brabin on the set. Originally she believed that she was to supervise the production, but quickly learned that things were changing; Brabin would only allow her to approve or reject changes to the script.

In the meantime, nothing on the set seemed to go right. The sets cost a fortune but still looked cheap. The script wasn’t completed, and a lot of time and money was being wasted. The moral of the entire company was at an all-time low, and it appeared that Ben-Hur would be the biggest fiasco that Hollywood had ever seen.

During all of this, Metro, Goldwyn, and producer Louis B. Mayer were making plans to merge their studios. The first point of order for the new studio, now known as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, was to try and save the fast-sinking Ben-Hur. Mayer, who was appointed as the head of the studio, told MGM’s president, Marcus Loew, that he would only take the job if June Mathis, Charles Brabin and George Walsh were removed. They also insisted that the script be rewritten. These demands meant that they would have to start from the beginning.

Mayer’s replacement for Brabin was director Fred Niblo, who felt the assembled cast was the most uninteresting and colorless he had seen and directly blamed Mathis. Walsh was replaced with Ramon Novarro and Mathis was unceremoniously fired and replaced by scenarists Bess Meredyth and Carey Wilson.

In statements to the press, Mathis held Charles Brabin responsible for the problems on Ben-Hur. She insisted that control of the picture was taken away from her by Brabin and she could no longer associate herself with the film.

During the few months that she was in Rome, Mathis met and fell in love with Sylvano Balboni, an Italian cameraman hired to work on the film. Mathis returned to Hollywood in August 1924 with Balboni in-tow, and married him the following December. Regardless of what transpired on Ben-Hur, Mathis continued to work. Shortly after returning from Rome she signed with First National where she scripted several Colleen Moore films including Sally (1925), The Desert Flower (1925) and Irene (1926). ..

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.REUNION WITH VALENTINO 

When Rudolph Valentino’s last film, The Son of the Sheik (1926) premiered in Los Angeles, Mathis was there and the two had a heartfelt reunion. It was only a few months later that Valentino died suddenly and Mathis offered her own crypt at Hollywood Cemetery as a temporary resting place for the dead film idol.

Over the following year, Mathis developed health problems, including high blood pressure and was placed on a restricted diet by her doctors. That summer, she was in New York with her grandmother, Emily Hawks. On the evening of July 26, 1927, disregarding her doctor’s orders, she had a heavy meal before taking her grandmother to the 48th Street Theatre to watch Blanche Yurka perform in The Squall. In the play’s final act, Mathis suddenly cried out, “Oh, mother, I’m dying,” and threw her arms around her grandmother while sobbing convulsively.

Attendants ran to Mathis seat and carried her outside to the theater alley alongside the playhouse and laid her on the concrete road. A physician that was in the audience examined her and announced that she was dead. Her grandmother was inconsolable, pleading with her to speak while Mathis’ body lay in the alley waiting for the medical examiner to arrive.

The following week back in Hollywood, Valentino’s body was moved to the neighboring crypt to make room for Mathis. They lay next to each other in eternity to this day. .

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THE FUTURE OF WOMEN IN FILM 

While it’s true that only hard-core film enthusiasts recognize June Mathis’ name today, she hasn’t been totally ignored. For instance, you cannot mention Rudolph Valentino, director Rex Ingram or such film classics as The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse without discussing Mathis’ and her contributions to film history?

Without a doubt there have been a number of women among Mathis’ contemporaries who yielded various levels of power. These would include writers Frances Marion, Bess Meredyth and Anita Loos and of course directors Lois Weber and Dorothy Arzner, among others.

For some reason, shortly after the advent of sound, women seemed to lose much of their influence that they achieved during the silent era. The only women that seemed to wield any power were gossip columnist Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons, who, while not directly running a studio, could definitely influence the powers-that-be.

Today it’s not unusual to see a woman in a position of authority or even running a studio. Examples over the years have included Amy Pascal, Chairman of Sony Pictures; Anne Sweeney, president of Disney-ABC Television; Gail Berman, president of Paramount Pictures; Stacey Snider, co-chairman and CEO of DreamWorks SKG; Nina Tassler, president of CBS Entertainment; Dana Walden, President of 20th Century Fox Television, and of course, there’s media mogul, Oprah Winfrey. June Mathis would be proud.

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Lloyd Wright-designed Samuel-Novarro House sells

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

CELEBRITY REAL ESTATE

Lloyd Wright-designed Samuel-Novarro House sells in Hollywood Hills

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By Lauren Beale
Los Angeles Times
December 1, 2014

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The Lloyd Wright-designed Samuel-Novarro House in Hollywood Hills has sold for $3.8 million. The Los Angeles landmark has had several celebrity owners over the years. The dramatic Art Deco-style house is named for “Ben Hur” star Ramon Novarro, who had it built in 1928 for his personal secretary, Louis Samuel. Samuel originally occupied the house. Before Novarro moved in he rehired Wright to expand the interior space. A pergola, a music room and a bedroom suite were added.

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CLICK HERE to continue reading…

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That Wonderful Mother of Mine…

Saturday, May 10th, 2014

 HOLIDAYS

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Here are the Mothers who stood behind the stars of the 1920s–the women whose love and understanding guided them to success

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Charles “Buddy” Rogers and Maude Moll Rogers

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Maude Rogers, the mother of Charles “Buddy” Rogers, was born in Olathe, Kansas. Her father was a blacksmith, treasurer of the county and hotel owner. She had one sister and two brothers. After graduation from high school, she was employed in the town post office. Later she was organist in one of the Olathe churches. Her marriage to Bert Rogers, editor of the town paper, took place on Christ Day in 1900. Mrs. Rogers died in Olathe, Kansas in 1960.

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Jean Arthur and her mother, Johana Nelson Greene

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Johana Nelson Greene, the mother of Jean Arthur, was born in Dakota Territory before it became South Dakota. She spent her early days in the midst of the adventures of the early West. Mrs. Greene always wanted to be a singer but the opportunity never came along. She lived on her father’s farm and married H. S. Greene, a photographer. His business took him to New York and various parts of the East.

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Gary Cooper and his mother, Alice Brazier Cooper

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Alice Brazier Cooper, the mother of Gary Cooper, was born in Kent, England, and went to a church school. With her three borthers and one sister, she spent much of her earlier childhood on or near the sea. After graduation, she went to Helena, Montana on a visit. She had planned to make a tour of the world but she met Judge Charles Henry Cooper and married him.

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Ramon Novarro and his mother, Leonor Gavilan Samaniego

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Leonor Gavilan Samaniego, the mother of Ramon Novarro, was born in the town of Leon, Mexico. There Ramon’s mother was educated and there she spent her childhood. When she was twenty-two years old, she married Mariano N. Samaniego, a dentist. She became the mother of twelve boys and girls, ten of whom survived. She died in Hollywood in 1949.

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William Haines and his mother, Laura Matthews Haines

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Laura Matthews Haines, the mother of William Haines, was born in Staunton, Virginia. When she was seventeen, she married George A. Haines. The newlyweds made their home in Staunton, where they remained until moving to Richmond in 1918. In 1929, they joined their son in Hollywood.

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Richard Arlen and his mother, Mary Clark Van Mattemore

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Mary Clark Van Mattemore, the mother of Richard Arlen, was born on a farm near St. Paul, Minnesota, the daughter of a road builder. In the family were two brothers and two sisters. Her marriage to James Van Mattemore took place shortly after her graduation and continued to live in St. Paul.

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Claudette Colbert and her mother, Jeanne Colbert

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Jeanne Colbert, the mother of Claudette Colbert, was born in Paris, France and was an artist before her marriage. Several years after Claudette was born, the family came to America. The Colbert’s lived in New York.

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Joan Crawford and her mother, Anna Johnson La Sueur

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Anna Johnson La Sueur, the mother of Joan Crawford, was born in Medora, Illinois. After her marriage she made her home in Kansas City. She was the mother two children, Lucille (Joan) and a son, Hal. She died in Hollywood in 1958.

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Alice Terry: The Girl from Old Vincennes–Part Three

Saturday, March 22nd, 2014

HOLLYWOOD PROFILES

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By Allan R. Ellenberger

PART THREE

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When filming of The Arab was completed, Alice returned to Hollywood, but Rex stayed to establish a studio of his own on the French Riviera, near Nice. It was far enough away from Hollywood and Louis B. Mayer for Rex to work without interference. Rex Ingram would never make another film in Hollywood.

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Rex needed time to prepare his next film, Mare Nostrum (1926), and advised Alice to return home and make a few films there. “Never would I work for anyone else…,” she once proclaimed. But Rex assured her that she would have only the best directors, and besides, the four films she would make would bring in a nice salary. The preparation on Mare Nostrum would take more than a year and during that time Alice made The Great Divide (1925) and Confessions of a Queen (1925) for the newly formed MGM. The remaining two films were on loan-out to Paramount for director Henry King called Sackcloth and Scarlet (1925) and Any Woman (1925).

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That year of separation was difficult for both Rex and Alice. It was the first time she worked for another director since The Valley of the Giants in 1919. The experience made her realize she never wanted to make another film for anyone else. She also understood how much Rex meant to her. “I would rather be Mr. Ingram’s wife than the greatest star on the screen,” she said. “When I’m working with Rex, what he says goes. His word is law to me. I neither question it nor doubt it.”

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Alice was not alone in her feelings. Rex also felt alone when Alice was away. “I want her to stay with me,” he told a friend. “It is the only way that I find a chance to be near her. If she were to go to another company, it would mean we would see practically nothing of one another.” Even though there would be periods when they were apart, and one more picture with another director, the remainder of her career would be with Rex.

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Mare Nostrum was now ready, and Alice sailed back to Nice to begin filming. The film was based on Vincente Blasco Ibanez’s novel of espionage during World War I. The role of Ulysses went to Antonio Moreno, another Latin heart-throb of the day. The Ingram’s adopted son, Kada-Abdel-Kadar, played Ulysses as a child.

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Even though it was a hard shoot, with many technical problems, Alice rose to the challenge. In one scene, she had to make love to Antonio Moreno in front of an aquarium containing an octopus. The thought of trying to be amorous with a big fish by the side of her head unnerved her. “You’d better get rid of me now because I’m not going to be able to do that aquarium scene,” she told Rex.

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When it came time to film it, Alice expected countless retakes, but surprisingly Rex said, “That’s it” on the first shot.  “I will never get another part like that,” she said about Mare Nostrum. “I will never like a part better, and I will never have the luck I had on that.”

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Mare Nostrum was a box office and critical success. Picturegoer magazine declared the film “exquisite and the acting brilliant…” Even thought Photoplay disliked the film and called it a “great dramatic disappointment,” they selected Alice Terry’s performance as one of the six best of the year.

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The Ingram’s were now residents of Nice. Rex refused to make more pictures in Hollywood with Louis B. Mayer breathing down his neck. Fortunately Rex had an ally of Nicholas Schenck, president of MGM, who arranged to have the Victorine Studios modernized and eventually it became the property of Rex Ingram.

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Rex Ingram’s Victorine Studios in France

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During their stay in France, Rex and Alice moved from one hotel to another. Because Rex was so busy preparing their next film, The Magician (1926), Alice was on her own. Rex, however, spent most of his time at the studio residence which he proudly named “Villa Rex.”

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During preparations of The Garden of Allah (1927), Alice returned to Hollywood to appear in Lovers? (1927) with her old friend, Ramon Novarro. Both stars played together with so much ease, that Louis B. Mayer remarked how Ingram was not only “ruining his own career but that of his lovely wife.”

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Lovers? would be Alice and Ramon’s fifth and final film together but not the end of their friendship. They remained close until his death in 1968 at the hands of two hustlers. Novarro’s death affected her deeply. “She couldn’t believe it,” Robert Taafe said. “It was hard for her to accept.” It’s probable that Alice knew of Novarro’s sexual preference, and if she did, it would not have mattered. She was very open-minded. “The only thing she disliked in anyone was someone who may have lied to her or was telling tales behind her back,” said Taafe. “But, she was also a very forgiving person.”

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In 1928, Alice Terry played the final role of her career in a film called The Three Passions (1929) which was, of course, written and directed by Rex. In an ironic twist, Alice took off her wig and dyed her hair blonde for this, her last film.  Alice had made a conscious decision to retire from films. Talking pictures were becoming popular, and she did not like the demands that sound made on an actor. Besides, she was tired of the constant need to control her weight. Liam O’Leary, in his biography of Rex Ingram (Rex Ingram: Master of the Silent Cinema, BFI Publishing, 1980) said about her decision to retire:

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“So without any heartbreak she decided to make her exit. It was certainly not due to the lack of an expressive voice, for the one she had was most pleasant to hear. Had she continued to play in films, she might have developed as a comedienne. It remains regrettable that she never appeared in sound film.”

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Rex Ingram would make one more film before he too would retire. Ironically, he cast himself as the male lead in Baroud (1932), a talking picture which Alice co-directed. It was a dismal failure at the box office. Many times over the years, Rex would announce the making of several films, but they never materialized.

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NEXT TIME, in the fourth and final installment, the story of Alice Terry’s life after her retirement from films.

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Ramon Novarro’s 115th Birthday

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

HAPPY BIRTHDAY

RAMON NOVARRO

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Ramon Novarro was born on February 6, 1899 in Durango, Mexico

and died on October 30, 1968 at his home in Studio City,California

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