Posts Tagged ‘Rex Ingram’

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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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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Alice Terry: The Girl From Old Vincennes–Part Two

Saturday, November 23rd, 2013

HOLLYWOOD PROFILES

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By Allan R. Ellenberger

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PART TWO:

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Alice and Rex’s relationship was developing beyond friendship. One evening they were out walking, and Rex asked her if they had enough in common to get along. “I think we get along pretty well,” she said.

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“Well, I mean to get married.”

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Alice didn’t know what to say. She didn’t think that he really wanted to marry her, and she was uncertain how she felt, so one night she invited him over to her house for dinner. She relied on her mother and other friends to advise her what to cook, then made enough for an army. Upon eating the meal, Rex exclaimed, “This is marvelous. Why don’t we do this every day?” That was the end of the cooking.

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Soon, they were back to work together on The Conquering Power, also with Rudolph Valentino. Although he had been easy to work with in Four Horsemen, Valentino’s attitude had changed considerably. Arguments and disagreements broke out on the set on a daily basis. “Things were different,” Alice recalled. “He was dissatisfied with his part, discontented and unhappy. I always had the impression that I was playing with a volcano that might erupt at any minute.”

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After The Conquering Power was finished, Valentino left Metro to work at Famous Players-Lasky, where he made The Sheik. Richard Rowland, Metro’s president, then asked Ingram to direct Turn to the Right as a personal favor to him. The picture had a very nice part for Alice, so Ingram agreed. Rex and Alice were inseparable and very much in love. “I really don’t know when we fell in love,” Rex told her.

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“I’ve always had a crush on you,” she replied, smiling. “But then you know I’m a little nutty anyway.”

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Not long after, Rex  traveled to New York on business. While there he realized that he was lonely for Alice, so he decided to call and propose to her. But instead of giving him an answer, she evaded his question. “When are you coming back?” she asked.

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“Well, I’ll be on my way right now,” he responded.

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However, they did not  marry right away, but wanted to wait until their next picture was finished. That next picture was The Prisoner of Zenda. It was during this film that Alice became friends with Ramon Novarro; a friendship that would last the rest of her life. Novarro, who played Rupert of Hentzau, was picked by Ingram to groom into stardom.

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“Ramon was the best actor of all,” Alice claimed. “I think there was no picture that you could put him in that he couldn’t have reached to every scene. I could have seen him in almost any part outside of an American boy.”

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During production of The Prisoner of Zenda, Rex and Alice decided to marry. Without telling anyone, they were wed on Saturday, November 5, 1921, in South Pasadena at a little place called Adobe Flores. The ceremony that was officiated by Dr. W. E. Edmondson, State Chaplain of the American Legion. The following day they saw three films and were back to work on Monday. When the film was completed, they went to San Francisco for their honeymoon.

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Also appearing in The Prisoner of Zenda was that “Girl Who Was Too Beautiful,” Barbara La Marr. At first Barbara’s beauty made Alice a little uncomfortable and even a little jealous. The late Jimmy Bangley, a writer and film historian, befriended Alice briefly in the early 1980s, and he recalled her telling him about her initial reservations of Barbara La Marr. “She said she was kind of jealous,” Bangley said. “She also told me that she and Rex got married during the filming of The Prisoner of Zenda, and that no one was happier for them than Barbara.”

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Although Alice knew of Barbara’s reputation as a party girl, she drew the line at many of the rumors. Bangley asked her if some of the stories were true. “I don’t believe all these things they printed about her,” Alice insisted.

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According to her nephew, Robert Taafe, this reaction was typical of Alice. “Alice was one that did not like to relate anything to anyone she felt was inappropriate or that bordered on the offensive,” he recalled. “In fact, she would go out of her way to avoid issues like that.”

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Alice sat out Rex’s next film, Trifling Women, but was on hand for the following one which was shot on location in Florida and Cuba. Where the Pavement Ends was based on the novel “The Passion Vine” by John Russell and would again star Ramon Novarro with Alice. Before leaving, Rex talked with Metro president Marcus Loew in New York and was promised directorship of Ben-Hur, the epic the studio was preparing based on the bestselling novel by General Lew Wallace. However, once Rex and Alice were in Cuba filming, they received the unfortunate news that the directing reigns were given to Charles Brabin. Ramon Novarro recalled how Ingram reacted when he heard the news. “His reaction, when he lost it, was a hundred percent Irish—and you know what I mean.”

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.Ramon Novarro and Alice Terry in Where the Pavement Ends

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Alice remained supportive of her husband during the entire time to the point of taking over directorial reigns of Where the Pavement Ends while Rex went on a drinking binge. “There for a short period of time, Rex wasn’t in the mood,” said Robert Taafe. He was promised by Marcus Loew that he would be given Ben-Hur. It was probably Louis B. Mayer who turned it the other way.”

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It was well-known that Ingram and Mayer hated each other. Once when Mayer met Alice outside his office at MGM, he told the blue-eyed beauty, “Thank God I’m not married to him; you’re the one who has to put up with him.”

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Alice was more than happy to “put up” with her husband. She knew the best thing for him was work, so she encouraged him to do another film as soon as Where the Pavement Ends was completed. It would again star Ramon Novarro and was based on another Rafael Sabatini novel called Scaramouche. The film’s budget totaled more than one million dollars once production began on March 17, 1923—St. Patrick’s Day. Of course, Ingram, being a good Irishman, reportedly celebrated by getting drunk and continued celebrating for twelve days, shutting down production before it began.

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Variety said that in Scaramouche Alice Terry “looked wonderful and managed to score heavily.” Photoplay proclaimed that under her husband’s direction, she “has forged her way into the leading ranks of feminine stars.”

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Before work began on her next film, Alice accompanied Rex to London where she met his father, Reverend Frances Hitchcock. After what must have been a moving reunion, they traveled to Tunisia where filming began on The Arab, which again co-starred Ramon Novarro. During production, Rex and Alice fell in love with an Arab boy named Kada-Abd-el-Kader and adopted him. He eventually appeared in several Rex Ingram films but would later cause his adoptive parents untold headaches.

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.Novarro and Terry in The Arab, which was the first time

Alice did not wear her trademark blonde wig.

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Several years later, they brought the young lad to Hollywood where he began associating with fast women, and racing cars through the San Fernando Valley. It seemed that he had misrepresented himself and was really older than he had originally told them. “The entire family was incensed at it all,” remembered Robert Taafe. “Here I was their nephew, and they ignored me entirely.”

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Things go so out of hand with the “boy” that he was finally sent back to Morocco. The Ingrams told friends and the press that Kada was going to finish his schooling in his native land. Of course, this was not true, but they felt they had no other choice than to send him home. “They did not want to say at the time he had misrepresented himself,” Robert Taafe said. “In those days days those kind of things were kept quiet. Of course, today it would have been in all the tabloids.”

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Kada later became a tourist guide in Morocco and Algiers and would always tell the tourists that he was the adopted son of Rex Ingram and Alice Terry.

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NEXT TIME: In Part Three, Alice and Rex move to the French Riviera where they open a studio and make films without Louis B. Mayer’s constant supervision.

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Alice Terry: The Girl from Old Vincennes

Friday, November 8th, 2013

HOLLYWOOD PROFILE

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This is the first of four parts on the silent film actress, Alice Terry.

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By Allan R. Ellenberger

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Grace, style, and an icy beauty. These qualities describe Alice Terry, one of silent film’s most enchanting and underrated actresses. Even though she made only 24 films, her contribution to the film industry along with her husband, director Rex Ingram, could fill a history book.

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She was born Alice Frances Taafe on July 24, 1899, in a small house on Fifth and Shelby Streets in Vincennes, Indiana. Her father, Martin Taafe, was a farmer who had migrated to Indiana from County Kildare, Ireland. There he met and fell in love with Ella Thorn. The two were married and began a family, with Alice the youngest of three children.

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By the time Alice turned five years old, the Taafe’s had settled in Los Angeles. Not long after their arrival, Mr. Taafe was killed in a street accident, and Mrs. Taafe took her three children back to Indiana. Within the year the Taafe’s returned to Los Angeles and moved into an apartment building in the beach community of Venice.

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The years progressed, and Alice attended Santa Monica High School while her older sister Edna worked at a candy store. At the age of 14, Alice was chosen by the Chamber of Commerce to represent Venice in the “Beauties of the Beach” contest which was sponsored by the neighboring beach communities. “Miss Taafe is a typical beach maiden,” the local newspaper proclaimed. “She is an expert swimmer, diver, tennis player, and she is as swift and sure in a canoe as an Indian maiden.”

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Regardless of her fleeting fame, money was tight, and in order to help make ends meet, Alice auditioned as an extra for Thomas Ince after being encouraged by Tarzan of the Apes actress Enid Markey, who lived in the same apartment building.

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Ince took a liking to the auburn-haired teenager and paid her $12 a week. He put her in several of his films including the 1916 classic, Civilization, in which she played everything from a peasant to a German soldier. Years later, another Ince extra, Charlotte Arthur remembered working with Alice. “Alice Terry,” she recalled, “with whom we at once made friends, whose name was Taafe in those days and whom everyone called Taffy. She was very poor and very Irish and very simple and nice—and very plump—and nobody thought she had a chance. She couldn’t act. Well, Rex Ingram taught her to do that.”

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At the time, Rex Ingram was a young director working mostly at Universal. He was married to a young actress named Doris Pawn. However, the marriage was in trouble from the start, and within the year they were separated. Rex met Alice that same year when he was making a picture at the John Brunton Studios (now Paramount). “I played an extra for two or three days,” Alice recalled,” and then he left for the Royal Flying Corps. I didn’t hear from him again until the end of the war.”

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Alice Terry without her blonde wig

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In the meantime, she continued doing extra work for different studios. Alice did not have much confidence in herself or her talent and was uncomfortable working for anyone other than Thomas Ince. “Somehow I didn’t get the thrill out of working before the camera that one is supposed to experience,” she once told a friend. “Of course, as extras we did not know the story of the picture. We simply obeyed orders as they were shouted at us in a megaphone and then waited until the picture was exhibited at our favorite theater to see what it was all about.”

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Her confidence was soon strengthened when in 1916 director Charles Giblyn cast her as the younger sister opposite Bessie Barriscale in Not My Sister (1916).  “I acted all over the place,” she said, “killing people and eating up the scenery. Until I realized that I didn’t know anything about it. Then I never ‘acted’ again.”

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Regardless, with this taste of acting now in her blood, she set her sights on something more than just an extra. “I want to be a star like Miss Barriscale,” she told a reporter. “And I am going to work just as hard in the future as I have in the past, and who knows but my dream will come true.”

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Her dream eventually would come true, but not until several setbacks. After appearing in Not My Sister, Alice continued in small roles in such films as The Bottom of the Well (1917), Thin Ice (1919), and The Valley of Giants (1919). In 1917 she appeared as an extra in Alimony (1917), made at Metro Studios, along with another unknown named Rudolph Valentino. They were extras together earning $7.50 a day and were well acquainted. “I was an extra so long, never getting anywhere,” Alice remembered. “People would say, ‘its funny, Alice that you don’t get on,” but it wasn’t funny to me. I was so shy and backward, no one was willing to risk me with a part, and I grew to have that whipped feeling, you know, that awful inner discouragement, until I was sure I would never be any good.”

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Unfortunately, it was during this time that Alice’s insecurity caused her to run away from what may have been her first big opportunity. While working as an extra on The Devil’s Pass Key (1920), director Erich Von Stroheim approached her.  “I am starting my next picture soon,” he said. “I think I may be able to do something for you. Come and see me.”

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Alice promised that she would and then walked off the lot and never went back, not even for her pay check. Afraid of having her hopes aroused again, she decided to make a slight change in careers. She found a job in the cutting room at Famous Players-Lasky, but it lasted only a short time because of her adverse reaction to the glue fumes, which forced her to return to acting.

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Soon after she received a call from Rex Ingram who had returned from the war and wanted her to pose for a head he was sculpting. Again, their paths did not cross for several months until Alice was called to be an extra on Ingram’s next film, The Day She Paid (1919). However, he spoke harshly to her, and she began to cry. She walked off the set and refused to go back.

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The next day, Rex called Alice and apologized and asked her to come back. He was going to be changing studios soon, and he had a part for her. Alice told him she would consider being a script girl, but as far as acting was concerned, she was through!

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Rex Ingram and Alice Terry

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Of course, Rex was able to convince Alice to return, and he gave her a small role in his next film, Shore Acres (1920), made at Metro. During this time, Ingram was able to find the talent that lay hidden beneath her shyness and decided to cast her in an important role in Hearts Are Trumps (1920).

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It was during preparation for this film that Alice discovered her trademark. One day she was putting on make-up and saw a blond wig sitting on the table next to her and decided to try it on. Thinking that it looked too silly, she immediately took it off, but not before Ingram walked into the room and saw her in it. He insisted she wear it in the film. Alice felt ridiculous wearing the wig until she saw the rushes three days later. “When I appeared on the screen, I looked so different, and from that time on I never got rid of the wig,” she recalled. “I was stuck with it. I didn’t feel like myself, and my freckles didn’t seem to show. My skin looked whiter, and there was a different person there. If I ever had to rehearse, I always put the wig on or I couldn’t do it.”

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The relationship between Alice and Rex was developing at a rapid pace. Rex began to get possessive of Alice, and once became jealous when she played the ukulele for his assistant, Walter Mayo. Another time, during the making of Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921), a taxi driver took a liking to Alice and gave her free rides to the studio from the streetcar stop on Hollywood Boulevard. One morning, Rex overheard the taxi driver as he let her off in front of the studio on Cahuenga Avenue. “Goodbye Alice. I’ll see you in the morning,” he told the young actress. Rex was incensed. “He shouldn’t call you Alice,” Rex insisted. “You’re going to be a big star.”

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“Look,” she told Ingram, “he can call me Alice if he picks me up. I’m not going to ride on that streetcar and then walk six blocks to the studio.” The next day, Rex provided Alice with a car.

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Ingram began grooming his young protégé for stardom. First, he changed her name to Alice Terry and had her teeth fixed. He also sent her to a spa to lose weight. During this time they became good friends. They would meet at a Pasadena tea room and discuss the day’s events and each others secret ambitions. He would take her home, and the next day everyone would tell her about the other girls he saw later that night. “Well, good for him,” she would say. She liked Rex very much, but she knew that kind of behavior was not for her.

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Meanwhile, Metro Pictures’ president, Richard Rowland, bought the rights to the very popular novel The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The Vincente Blasco Ibanez novel had remained on the best seller list consistently, and Rowland felt it could be what the ailing studio needed to rescue it from the brink of bankruptcy.

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Rowland placed the undertaking into the capable hands of scenarist June Mathis. When she suggested Rex Ingram to be the director, Rowland looked at his recent work and saw how little they had cost, compared to their quality. This impressed the cost conscious mogul, and he signed Ingram for the project.

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Rudolph Valentino and Alice Terry in “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”

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Ingram and Mathis did not agree on the choice of the actor to play Julio. Mathis wanted Rudolph Valentino, who was a rising young star. Ingram recalled the young actor from his days at Universal and felt that he could not handle the role. When Mathis agreed to sign Alice Terry in the role of Marguerite, Ingram yielded and agreed to using Valentino.

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When Alice discovered that Metro had signed both her and Valentino, she couldn’t image why Rex and the studio wanted to risk everything on two virtual unknowns. However, Metro executives were betting that the book was still popular with the public, and hoped that would be enough to lure an audience. Once again, Alice’s self confidence was tested. “When I read the book I was terribly frightened,” she recalled. “I used to look at those big sets and wish I could run away; but once we started on the work I forgot to be afraid—I was fascinated.”

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A spirit of congeniality developed on the set, but the work was hard. Rex insisted that the dialogue be spoken in French. Even though it was a silent film, he wanted to impress even the lip readers in the audience. So Alice would get up at five o’clock every morning and study on the streetcar on her way to work. However, after she learned one French title, she would repeat it for every scene. “Nobody could tell the difference,” she reasoned.

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Valentino became very irritated and told her, “If you say that line one more time I’m going to…” Rex finally insisted that she learn the entire dialogue.

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When the film opened in Los Angeles, Alice was a bundle of nerves. Rex had gone to New York to attend the premiere there and called to tell her that the film was a success. As she arrived at the Mission Theater, people greeted her politely, but not with much fanfare. She felt there must be something wrong that she didn’t know. “Then at intermission these people I knew began to recognize me,” she said, “but they didn’t know I had changed my name and that I had changed so much and that I was blonde and all this, and then it was very exciting.”

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The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse was a tremendous hit and put Metro into the black. It also helped the careers of June Mathis and Rex Ingram and made a star of Valentino and Alice Terry.

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Next week, Part Two looks at Alice and Rex Ingram’s budding relationship and the films she made with Ramon Novarro.

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Beatrice Dominguez: Valentino’s “La Bella Sevilla”

Friday, May 24th, 2013

HOLLYWOOD PROFILES

Beatrice Dominguez: Valentino’s “La Bella Sevilla”

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By Allan R. Ellenberger

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She was a vamp. With Spanish mantillas and high combs, and dancing to the sounds of a strumming guitar, she endeared herself to those she entertained. She was born Beatriz Dominguez on September 6, 1896 in San Bernardino, California. Descended from an old California Spanish family, a race of dons, her lineage can be traced back to old Castile who had been Americans for generations. Like her three older sisters, Beatriz was educated at Sacred Heart Convent, and like her younger sister Inez, she appeared in a few short films, but unlike Inez, she liked the medium. Her family, however, wanted her to be a doctor or lawyer; there had been no theatrical people or dancers in their ancestry. But dancing was in her blood. Her mother Petra was born in Sevilla and never had a dancing lesson, yet she simply danced. Beatrice learned to dance from her. “You see,” Beatriz said, “Spanish dances are all symbolical.” And from her, too, she inherited the priceless mantillas, combs, jewelry and embroidered shawls that she wore.

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In 1915 and 1916, Beatriz danced her way into fame when she appeared at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Diego. Billed simply as “La Bella Sevilla,” she lent the old Castilian touch to the air of the place.  To the click of castanets and a swirl of silken skirts, through an open archway she danced to the tune of the classic La Jota, black eyes snapping as the applause of the expositions throng bought in more crowds. When Theodore Roosevelt saw her dance, he called her “California’s sweetheart—fairest dancing daughter of the dons.”  

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While performing in San Diego, she had an uncredited role in the Douglas Fairbanks film, The Americano (1916). After the exposition, Beatrice returned to dancing in vaudeville.

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“After I left San Diego,” Beatriz recalled, “and had danced at the Mission Inn in Riverside—I wished to act. I called at some of the studios and did not say that I was the premiere dancer at Balboa Park (San Diego). I simply registered as ‘La Bella Sevilla.’ Mr. O. H Davis, who was a vice-president of the Exposition, was appointed general manager of Universal. One day, when I called there, he suggested that I use my own name, because directors were rather afraid to employ a dancer because they reasoned that she could not act. I was baptized ‘Beatriz,’ but at the studios they have turned that into the American ‘Beatrice.’”

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The newly rechristened ‘Beatrice’ returned to films in 1919 in a small role in the Rex Ingram picture, The Day She Paid (1919) followed by another Ingram film, Under Crimson Skies (1920). Carl Laemmle saw her and considered her “an exceptional motion picture type” and gave her a part in The Fire Cat (1921) at Universal. Beatrice became one of the first Hispanic actresses to receive screen billing and to be mentioned in the press. Then the film that she would be remembered for today was offered to her. “Beatrice Dominguez, a Spanish dancer, has been engaged to play in the Metro production of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which Rex Ingram is directing,” the local trade papers announced. The film starred the relative newcomer, Rudolph Valentino and his dancing the Tango with Beatrice glamorized the dance and gave him instant celebrity.

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In December 1920 Beatrice appeared in the prologue to The Mark of Zorro starring Douglas Fairbanks during its seven week run at the Mission Theater. The following February she was filming The White Horseman (1921) with Art Acord when she collapsed with a ruptured appendix and was rushed to the Clara Barton Hospital at 447 South Olive Street. Doctors believed she would recover, but as with Valentino five years later, peritonitis set in; a second operation was necessary. She died from the complications of the operation on February 27, 1921. She was 24. One week later, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse opened in New York City to rave reviews and made Rudolph Valentino a star, in part because of the Tango scene with Beatrice.

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DOMINGUEZ-HOUSE

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The home of Beatrice Dominguez at 2522 Elsinore Street in Los Angeles where her funeral was held. (PLEASE NOTE: This is a private home. Please do not disturb the residents)

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Beatrice’s funeral was held at her home at 2522 Elsinore Street, where she lived with her mother and sister Inez. The funeral mass was held at the Plaza Church in old Los Angeles with burial at Calvary Cemetery.

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At the time of her death, her role in The White Horseman was not yet completed, so they had to find a way to write her out of the remainder of the film. Her purpose in the film was to find a treasure. The director brought in a stand-in, of about the same height, dressed her in Beatrice’s costume and had her walk into the scene with her back to the camera and announce that she was called back to her home. She entrusted her mission to another, who was then responsible to find the treasure. Just before her death, she was signed to play the role of a Hindu girl in an adaptation of the Rudyard Kipling story, Without Benefit of Clergy at the Brunton Studios (now Paramount).

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Cinecon 45 Wrap-up

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

FESTIVALS

Cinecon 45

 

 Cinecon 45 poster

 

Another Cinecon has passed into the California sunset

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger

 

Cinecon 45 was presented by the Society of Cinephiles this past Labor Day weekend screening nearly 50 rare silent films and early sound feature films as well as many short subjects at the historic Egyptian Theater in Hollywood. The organization is dedicated to showcasing unusual films that are rarely given public screenings.

 

The celebrity honorees who attended along with the showing of one of their films included: Denise Darcel, Flame of Calcutta (1953); Adrian Booth (aka Lorna Gray), The Last Bandit (1949) and Stella Stevens, The Silencers (1966) who were honored at Sundays banquet with the Cinecon Career Achievement Award along with composer, Richard M. Sherman, who created the music for the films Mary Poppins (1964), The Jungle Book (1967), Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) and many more.

 

Some of the films screened included: The Miracle Man (1932), Hatter’s Castle (1948), Broadway Love (1918), Nightmare (1942), Bardelys the Magnificent (1926) and The Bride Comes Home (1935).

 

Highlights of the weekend included the North American premiere of The Dawn of Tomorrow (1915), a Mary Pickford film thought to be lost when a tinted nitrate print with Swedish titles turned up in the Archival Film Collections of the Swedish Film Institute. Pickford’s costars were David Powell, Forrest Robinson and Robert Cain. The film was dedicated to Robert Cushman, photo archivist of the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences who recently passed away.

 

Turn to the Right (1922), a Rex Ingram film, was recently restored by the George Eastman House. Made following two of the director’s epics, Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921) and The Conquering Power (1921), it starred Ingram’s wife, Alice Terry and Jack Mulhall. It was during the making of Turn to the Right that Ingram made one of his greatest discoveries when he cast Ramon Samaniego, later to be known as Ramon Novarro, in his next film, The Prisoner of Zenda (1922)

 

Cinecon 45 - Robert Dix

Author Robert Dix, son of actor Richard Dix, signed his autobiography, Out of Hollywood. With Dix are Sue Guldin and his wife Mary Ellen 

 

 

Author book signings included: Miriam Nelson (My Life Dancing with the Stars); Scott O’Brien (Kay Fancis – I Can’t Wait to be Forgotten and Virginia Bruce – Under My Skin); Robert S. Birchard (Early Universal City); John Gloske (Tough Kid: The Life and Films fo Frankie Darro); Paul Picerni (Steps to Stardon: My Story); Robert Dix (Out of Hollywood) and Michael Hoey (Elvis, Sherlock & Me).

 

 

Cinecon 45- Jane Withers

Former child star, Jane Withers 

 

Celebrity guests at Sunday’s banquet included: Sybil Jason, Lisa Mitchell, Jane Withers, Miriam Nelson, Carla Laemmle, June Foray, Ann Rutherford, Johnny Whitaker, France Nuyen, William Welman, Jr., Robert Dix, and many, many more.

 

The officers of Cinecon 45, who made this weekend such a success are: Robert S. Birchard, president; Marvin Paige, vice-president; Michael Schlesinger, secretary and Stan Taffel, treasuer.

 

Cinecon 45- Stella Grace, Jonathan Chin-Davis and Sue Gulden

Cinecon volunteer coordinator, Stella Grace (left) with volunteers Jonathan Chin-Davis and Sue Guldin.

 

And the volunteer coordinator for Cinecon and my boss for the weekend is the fantastic, one-of-a-kind Rhode Islander, Stella Grace.

 

For more information on Cinecon, please visit: http://www.cinecon.org/

 

Some Cinecon moments

 

 Carla Laemmle and Marvin Paige

Carla Laemmle (left), niece of Universal founder Carl Laemmle and Cinecon officer, Marvin Paige. Miss Laemmle will celebrate her 100th birthday on October 20.

 

 

Cinecon 45- William Wellman Jr.

 William Wellman Jr., son of the famed director

 

 

 Cinecon 45- Sybil Jason

 Actress Sybil Jason and archivist Miles Krueger

 

 

Cinecon 45- Katherine Orrison and Lisa Mitchell

Author Katherine Orrison (Lionheart in Hollywood: The Autobiography of Henry Wilcoxon) and actress Lisa Mitchell (The Ten Commandments)

 

 

 Cinecon 45 - Ann Rutherford

 Gone with the Wind’s Ann Rutherford

 

 

 Cinecon 45- Frederick Hodges

 Accompanist Frederick Hodges

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