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Thursday, October 25, 2012


Mary prepares for the Holidays...

This year's batch of devilish dollops to whet your seasonal appetite fall into the category of "Psychic Stress." More than one illustrious celebrity has rubbed elbows with a preternatural force, tangled with a daunting premonition, or had a profound supernatural revelation that left him or her a little worse for the wear. These moments of human and spiritual meeting do not consistently end in profound terror, but a brush with the dark side of existence is never easy to shake off. Curiosity may not always kill the cat, but it definitely leaves a scratch or two. Here are a few members of the Hollywood Haunted:

Mary Pickford left a lasting impression on Hollywood. In fact, so strong was her presence, that more than one witness claims that she continued to hang around her former abode-- Pickfair-- after her death. The fact that she had lengthy conversations with her deceased ex-husband, Douglas Fairbanks, while she was bedridden late in her own life makes one wonder whether she was simply losing her mind or talking to the actual ghost of her beloved. She was definitely a woman who had trouble letting go. Interested in the supernatural realm during her own life, Mary would have more than one spooky encounter with the other side. One would give her the chills. Another... had a different effect.

As a woman who always liked being "in the know," Mary (left) liked to have a plan. She always had her bases covered. Unfortunately, not all in life is spelled out for the living. You have to make it up as you go. A type-A kind of gal like Mary had problems with this. Patience was one thing; being ignorant of the unknown was far too daunting and left her vulnerable. As such, she decided to confer with fortune tellers from time to time, just to keep her abreast of what was to come, not to mention quell her loneliness. She often had her tea-leaves read. This way, she knew when something "wicked" was coming along, and she was also able to take peace in the fact that something joyous was approaching. One particular day-- June 11, 1939 to be exact-- Mary's Irish maid was asked by her miniature employer to  scrutinize the remnants of her tea cup. The maid complied and made the following revelation from the dilapidated leaves: "I see someone stretched out lifeless... He is close to you, and he is not close to you. He is either dying or dead, but I don't see you crying." The next day, the body of Owen Moore, Mary's first and ex-husband, was found lying dead as a doornail on his kitchen floor. He had been there undiscovered for two days. (Pause for Mary's gulp).

Mary may not have been too upset over Owen's demise, as the two had long since parted-- and not on glowing terms-- but she was deeply grieved by the death of her good friend Marshall Neilan (right) when he passed away in 1958 due to throat cancer. (Coincidentally, he had been staying at the Motion Picture Country House, an establishment for former stars that Mary had helped establish-- one of her many charities). Losing her long-time friends in droves, Mary seemed to be outlasting everyone. The world she had once known was quickly disappearing, and the life she currently had seemed empty without her once trusted companions to reminisce with. That's why it meant so much to her when Mickey popped up from beyond the grave to give her a reassuring "wink" of sorts. She was part of a very small pack who had been invited to attend Mickey's wake at the Knickerbocker Hotel, where an open beer waited at the end of the bar bearing the tag: "Reserved for Mickey Neilan." He was a humorist to the end... and after. See, Mary was deeply grieved and found this last wise-crack in poor taste, so she opted not to attend the wake. But, when she tried to leave the funeral and head for the cemetery instead, her car died. Mary had the sneaking suspicion that Mickey was playing one last prank and begging her to have one last drink with him. She smiled to herself, caught a cab, and hit the Knickerbocker at his request.

Bebe Daniels (left) was another silent film beauty who was directly responsible for the advancement of cinema as a reliable art form. Co-starring with such luminaries as Rudolph Valentino and Gloria Swanson, Bebe's reputation as a professional actress and generous woman made her universally adored. To fans, she was like a gift from the heavens: a star. Bebe too would receive a "gift," and it would leave her simultaneously shaken and grateful. See, Bebe had a bit of what is known as a "lead foot." In fact, she once had to serve a jail term when she was caught speeding (yet again) in Orange County. A spirited girl, somewhat reckless, it was clear that despite her jovial, good-natured demeanor, she was headed for trouble if she didn't start paying attention. Aside from her automobile inclinations, there didn't seem to be anything wrong with the girl, who was able to make everyone from Harold Lloyd to Jack Dempsey fall for her. She didn't stress; she didn't fret. Until... she had a dream. Adela Rogers St. Johns would recall the story: Bebe confided that one night, she had a strange but peaceful dream about a deceased couple that she had known. She came upon them at an unfamiliar white house, and they invited her inside. It was a good dream-- like seeing old friends. An eternal optimist, Bebe probably felt her good pals were just popping in to say "hello" from the other side. They had a different agenda. A few days later, she was racing around in her roadster, yet again, when her scarf blew into her face before a nasty curve and blocked her vision. She nearly crashed! Thankfully, she was as sharp as she was speedy, and she was able to avoid the collision. However, when she looked up, she saw the same white house that had been in her dream. Her mouth most probably hit the floor. She got the message. As she told Adela, that was the last day she sped. She spent the rest of her life focusing on more important, less dangerous things (save for her involvement in WWII, in which she became one of the most decorated women in history for her heroic efforts overseas).

Linda Darnell (right) and Natalie Wood probably never met. Their careers in Hollywood did overlap, but Linda's 15 year seniority meant that they would never have run in the same social circles. Linda too worked primarily at Fox; Natalie was less exclusive, but did a large majority of her early and most successful work at Warner Brothers. The two women had a lot in common, however. Both were incredibly young when they began their acting careers: Linda 15, Natalie 5. Both were dark-featured beauties with angelic faces, yet they were equally capable of giving meaty and gutsy performances. Both were family breadwinners even in their tender years, and both had tempestuous relationships with their mothers. More eerily, both had an astonishing sixth sense about their own deaths. Linda had held a deep fear of fire since her early youth, and had a nervous presentiment about burning to death. This did not make her scene in Anna and the King of Siam, in which she was burned at the stake, all that pleasant. She too had a close call during the big fire sequence of Forever Amber, in which she actually was physically burned, albeit not badly. Cinematographer Leon Shamroy stated that she barely escaped death when the set's roof caved in, all aflame. The fear never left her. In 1965, she would be severely burned all over her body at the home of her friend Jeanne Curtis when it caught fire and she failed to get out in time. She passed away less than 2 days later.

For her part, Natalie (left) had a pathological fear of drowning. In fact, her sister Lana once stated that Natalie's mother, Maria, had foretold her daughter that she would die in dark water. The root of Natalie's supposed phobia is often traced back to the experience she had while filming The Green Promise. During one particular sequence, she was to rush across a bridge to rescue her pet lambs. Unfortunately, she was knocked off the bridge by the raging water and nearly swept under, had she not been able to grab a hold of the collapsing bridge. To make matters worse, the director William D. Russell, urged the crew to keep filming, while Natalie clung for dear life and her mother tried to quell her own desperate hysterics. Aside from being nearly drowned, Natalie also suffered a broken wrist. The terrified look on the 10-year-old's face in the final cut is no act. Her fear continued into her adult life where she would avoid her own swimming pool for fear of being eternally submerged. Her on-again-off again husband, Robert Wagner, managed to coax her into a trip aboard his boat with pal Christopher Walken in 1981, despite her fears. Natalie would never return to shore. It is claimed that she drunkenly fell overboard while trying to reach the yacht's dinghy (after a lover's spat). To this day, mystery clouds her death, for many assert that she was far too terrified of water to ever make such a brazen attempt as rowing herself ashore alone. Foul play or cruel fate? It appears death by fire and water were in the cards for these two tragic ladies.

Montgomery Clift (right) has been known to do a little creeping around. His trumpet continues to put on a concert at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel where his restless spirit eternally continues to pace the hallway in preparation for his role as "Pvt. Prewitt" in From Here to Eternity. Craig Chester, a modern actor and writer who authored Why the Long Face?: The Adventures of a Truly Independent Actor about his battle with a congenital disorder, had a lengthy and otherworldly connection to Monty, whose ghost seemed to maintain close contact with him in order to foster his own acting career and acceptance of his homosexuality. Craig's painful ordeal and metamorphosis from a child suffering from Long Face Syndrome to a surgically salvaged, handsome man, when contrasted with Monty's converse demise from a man of beauty to facial mutilation, also seems to strengthen the bond between them. Monty was always a fascinated and fascinating man in his life, but if he had any interest in the supernatural he kept it to himself. However, the "forces that be" seemed to have a deep need to communicate with him while he walked this earthly plane. In fact, he received an early warning that his years would be abruptly cut short. When stopping at a bar at the Camden Airport with his one time secretary Arlene Cunningham and friend Ned Smith, the trio encountered a handwriting expert, who must have recognized the movie star and offered his services. Monty scrawled out a little something or other, perhaps his autograph, and the graphologist diagnosed it: "You're the most disturbed man I've ever met-- you'll die young." True to form, Monty passed away at 45 years of age.

Mae West (left) is perhaps the last person that anyone would connect to the occult. However, Mae was a much more curious and open-minded person than many realize. By 1941, she had already made her major Hollywood films, including My Little Chickadee and She Done Him Wrong, which had made her a sexual icon, early feminist, and all-around business dynamo. After all the hustle and bustle of Tinsel Town, Mae was tired and looking forward to more time spent on the stage. First and foremost, she wanted a vacation. Always close with her mother, Mae was devastated when "Tillie" passed away over a decade earlier. Sitting on top of the world, Mae couldn't help but wonder if there were more "out there" to be reckoned with and more for her to learn. Always an eager student, Mae decided to dip her toe into the tepid pool of the afterlife. Wanting to be as legit as possible (she was as skeptical as she was curious), Mae sought the guidance of Rev. Thomas Jack Kelly, a psychic who was so well-trusted that he was often used as a consultant by the police during investigations. He became a spiritual coach to Mae, teaching her how to meditate, to block out the noise and light, make her mind a blank canvas, and commune with the other side. For days, weeks, Mae tried and tried, but a busy dame like herself had trouble sitting still and opening her mind. She finally decided to give up.

Then, one morning, she was awakened by a little girl's voice. "Good morning, dear," it said. Mae was a little surprised of course, but she was not easily rattled. The voice was pleasant, and Mae wondered if perhaps it came from some sort of guardian angel. She and the Reverend referred to it from then on as Juliet. Soon, more voices came... and presences. Apparently, Mae had "the gift," and her boudoir was often crowded with noisy visitors: spirits who seemed to just want a place to come together and gab. Not to Mae, mind you. In fact, she found it quite rude that these presences were only speaking to each other and not noticing her at all. Then, things turned dark. She woke one morning to find herself surrounded by dark, cloaked figures chanting in a foreign tongue. She tried to speak to them, but they ignored her. This was too much. Mae sat up and told them "Scram!!!" She would recall a look of sadness on the faces of some of the ghosts who were told to finally leave, as if they were hurt that they could no longer share in her earthly aura, but enough was enough. It wasn't that she was scared, mind you. She was irritated! It was one thing to ignore her; it was another to make a lot of gosh-darned noise and wake her up at the break of dawn! That's just bad manners. She never saw any of the entities again, though she had often though that she would revisit the spiritual realm eventually. At the end of the day, the experience made her feel better. She knew her Mama was out there somewhere... She just wasn't going to lose her mind trying to find her! (Mae defies intimidation, right).

When recollecting the masculine idols of the Golden Studio Era, it is easy to forget the short-stacked Mickey Rooney (left). However, when you weigh the evidence, Mickey is one of the most successful actors who ever lived, boasting a career that has spanned nearly 90 years. Over 90-years-old himself, the man is still working, most lately having a cameo in The Muppets. He won America over at a young age, using his unstoppable energy to propel himself up the cinematic ladder: from "Puck" in A Midsummer Night's Dream, to Love Finds Andy Hardy, to National Velvet. He was a bona fide box-office sensation who wed and bed some of the most beautiful women of the silver screen. There's no telling what a little fortitude and charisma can do for you, and Mickey never let his short stature short-change him out of any of life's blessings. However, when his career hit the skids after his notoriety as the energetic boy-next-door wore off, Mickey found himself lost in a sea of self-doubt. He would recall this harrowing time on an episode of "Celebrity Ghost Stories": He had always been close with his mother, Nellie, particularly after his actor father, Joseph, abandoned them. Mickey had, in essence, become the family breadwinner when he and Nellie hit Hollywood. Growing up without a father is rough, and during his later bout with depression, one can only imagine the conflicted thoughts going through Mickey's head. Never having a good man stand in as a father figure, Mickey had no idea what a good man was, or if he was even close to being one. He felt like a failure-- as if the best years of his life were over...

And then, lying in bed one night, Mickey woke to the feeling of someone tugging on his toes. Half asleep, he ignored the sensation at first, but as the peskiness continued, and his consciousness became more alert, Mickey suddenly realised that something weird was going on. He opened his eyes, and there, standing at the foot of his bed, was his father. "Keep going," Joe said. "Don't stop." A series of similar phrases followed, Joe smiled, and then his image disappeared into thin air. Mickey couldn't totally wrap mind around what had happened, and he tried in vain to rationalize what had occurred. Perhaps it had all been an illusion, "an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese..." A dream!?!? Mickey pinched himself. He new that what he had just witnessed had been real. His father had come to him, finally, from beyond the grave, to do the best thing that he ever could for his son: offer the encouragement he had not given in life. MIckey did indeed pull himself together and 'go on.' He's still going. He hasn't seen his Pops again, but then, one visit was enough! (Mickey is back up to snuff, right).

Shirley ain't scared 'a no ghost.

That being said, don't let the boogey-man get you down this All Hallow's Eve. Enjoy the merriment and mirth, stick to the road, and try your best not to go down a dark hall alone! Happy Halloween!!!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


Norma Shearer and Norma Shearer star in Lady of the Night.

The world of technology continues to evolve, and visual effects in films these days grow increasingly impressive. There is, however, a consistent debate over just how progressive special effects have become. Those who grew up with Star Wars: Episodes 4-6 find Star Wars: Episodes 1-3 disastrous examples of how tech-savviness can heighten the imagination and destroy realism. Audience members were in awe of the presentation of a totally invented universe in Avatar, yet found it difficult to emotionally connect to the giant, blue protagonists. Despite the obvious kudos that the SpFx wizards deserve, there is much to be said for the efficiency and simplicity of early film, where creativity had to make due without computer assistance. Colorization was done by painting each individual frame of a printed film. The magic of "disappearance" and "reappearance" was performed with stop-motion photography. Slow motion? Just crank the camera faster. Frenetic pace of the Keystone Cops? Crank slower.

And what about double exposure? Countless actors and actresses in early film took their turns playing dual roles in motion pictures, such as Norma Shearer, Buster Keaton, and-- of course-- Mary Pickford. Turns out, it wasn't too simple of a process after all. Mary had to endure the lengthy procedure during the filming of both Stella Maris, wherein she played  both "Stella" and "Unity" (left) and Little Lord Fauntleroy, in which she played both mother "Dearest" and little "Cedric." Everything was "done by count," so Mary would have to perform a scene as one character, say her lines, then wait the appropriate number of seconds in which her other character was to respond, and then continue on. Speak, count, react, count, speak, etc. If she lost count, or if someone on the set caused a disturbance, she would have to start all over. It was excruciating! For example, DIDJA KNOW that it took a sum total of fifteen hours to film the sequence in Fauntleroy in which Mary, as both characters, had to kiss herself! Despite the arduous and irritating process, the result of splicing her two performances together was fascinating to audiences and remains very impressive to this day.

Another early innovation of the movies was not related to the filming of a picture but to the displaying of it. Peep-shows and Nickelodeons enticed viewers with the invention of photographed people in motion. Movie Theaters kicked it up a notch by using these images to draw audiences in with filmed narratives. Yet, DIDJA KNOW there was another venue that helped establish cinema not only as an amusement but as an amusement park ride? Mary Pickford would recall taking "Hale's Tours" when she was a little girl. Invented by a fireman, George C. Hale, the tour was presented as an actual train ride (see right). The converted theater was constructed of train cars, which possessed screens at both the front and back displaying various, alternating landscapes. Thus, the audience on board would feel as if they were truly traversing the beautiful or even hazardous examples of earth's geography, which were accompanied by the train's shaking and lurching about as if it were truly moving. A "conductor" completed the illusion, in addition to the typical sound effects of a moving train-- from the chugging engine to the toot of the whistle. Mary didn't take to the fake tours, falling prey to motion sickness, but others thought that it was a brilliant little gimmick, and it pressed on for quite awhile after its debut at the 1903 St. Louis Exposition. In fact, one could argue that the innovation is still in effect. Just think of the new King Kong ride at Universal Studios!

So many cinematic quotations forever merge with the national vernacular: "Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine" (Casablanca), "Why don't you come up some time and see me?" (She Done Him Wrong), or "Wax on... Wax off..!" (The Karate Kid). Often, we quote these lines without knowing or remembering where they come from. For example: "We have to stop meeting like this..." This line has been used, reused, recycled, and mocked in picture after picture and consequently in real life. But, DIDJA KNOW where the dickens it came from in the first place? The origin is said to be 1929's The Kiss, starring Greta Garbo. Ironically, this line was not spoken so much as read, since The Kiss was Greta's last silent film. The immortal words appeared in the opening title card as Conrad Nagel's "Andre" meets with his mistress, the philandering "Irene" (Garbo). He says: "Irene-- we can't go on meeting like this." Little did anyone involved know that this would soon become the token catchphrase of illicit lovers... and future romantic jokesters. In the film, Garbo took the advice, and soon began "meeting" the younger Lew Ayres to scandalous effects (left). Therefore, while The Kiss isn't the best remembered Garbo film, it certainly still found a way to make its mark on the public!

Speaking of origins, ever wonder why it was that Theda Bara and all subsequent, dangerous cinematic women in silent cinema were labeled as "Vamps?" Sure, the connection is there: vamp, vampire, blood sucker, i.e. a "woman of the night" who uses her sexual wiles to steal a man's... essence. It may seem like a common sense reaction to label these sultry femme fatales as devilish sisters of the vampire, yet one hopes that there are quite a few steps-- even long jumps-- between Nosferatu and a scandalous lady. DIDJA KNOW: The source of "vamp" is much more specific than people realize. The first lady of vampdom, Ms. Theodosia Goodman (right), made her first major appearance on film in A Fool There Was  in 1915. The film was based upon the Rudyard Kipling poem "The Vampire": 
A fool there was and he made his prayer/
(Even as you and I!)/
To a rag and a bone and a hank of hair/
(We called her the woman who did not care),/
But the fool he called her his lady fair/
(Even as you and I!). 

                              The cinematic translation followed the menacing theme of feminine deception in the poem and struck a chord with the public. Thus when Theda Bara was born, so too was her film's character-- the Vampire and Vamp-- immortalized. 

George Brent (left) is remembered as a suave, handsome, leading man of the golden studio era. He was never as big as Gable or Grant, but that's what his leading ladies loved about him. His presence in a film bolstered their own celebrity, because he wasn't quite as celebrated. Audiences came to the movies to see Bette Davis or Barbara Stanwyck, and Brent was the perfect, amiable, good-looking guy to perform as a strong, capable co-star without doing any scene stealing. Of course, a lot of this had to do with the fact that Brent, by nature, was an atypical guy. Certainly, he was a famous actor, but he was never as into the luxuries of stardom as some of his contemporaries. One of the reasons he gelled so well with Greta Garbo was because he was a fairly private person who liked his peace and quiet away from the noise of hectic, Hollywood life. Another thing that set him apart was his history. DIDJA KNOW: Orphaned at eleven years of age, the native Irishman took up with the rebellion as a mere teenager and wound up serving in the incredibly dangerous position of dispatch barrier for none other than Michael Collins!? In fact, after Collins was killed, George had to be smuggled to Canada aboard a freighter to escape the government officials who wanted him captured. He eventually landed in New York and traded in his risky, wayfaring ways to battle a more fatal foe: acting.

As Halloween is approaching, it seems appropriate to mention one of the most celebrated horror films of all time. The Phantom of the Opera could perhaps be labeled by many as the father of all horror cinema. My grandmother would love to tell me how terrified she was when Lon Chaney's mask was wrenched from his face and his "accursed ugliness" was revealed for all to see (right with Mary Philbin). Audiences today cannot even fathom the shock that moment held for 1920s audiences. My generation grew up with another family of masked and un-masked villains: Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, Leatherface... The extent of the violence in their films and the cosmetic concoctions that now haunt our dreams (I personally was terrorized by visions of Freddy Krueger that kept me awake some nights) make Lon's Phantom "Erik" seem meek and unthreatening in retrospect. But then again, he was, as always, playing a mutilated man with a broken heart more than a monster turned murderer. His influence is still felt. He remains a hero even today to those entering the field of make-up, and he changed forever the barometer of fear in theater audiences: people could be scared to death and survive? Who knew?! For this reason, and because of Lon's lasting legacy and hold on the public, DIDJA KNOW that Phantom became the first film ever played on the "Sony Jumbo Tron Screen" in Times Square? It played on October 31-- of course-- in 1993, nearly seventy years after its original premiere to shocked audiences everywhere. Boo-yah!!!

Thursday, October 11, 2012


Despite appearances, Mary Pickford was not one liable to be pushed around,
(here in Little Annie Rooney).

Mary Pickford had a duality that served her well on the silver screen. Just as she easily projected a sense of warmth and grace, she too juxtaposed these softer qualities with an innocently uncivilized, tom-boyish defiance. In many ways, this would keep Mary two steps ahead of the rest of the pack. Being a career-woman in a man's world isn't easy. Mary learned early that being both diminutive and overly feminine put her at a disadvantage. The only way to swim in a sea of sharks without becoming dinner was to bulk up her defense mechanism. Thus, even while she looked as lovely as a daffodil, her assertiveness and her smarts quickly alerted the men in her midst that she was not to be victimized: dangerous things sometimes come in small packages. D.W. Griffith (left) came to know this perhaps more than any other man Mary ever encountered. Once he hit his stride as a short filmmaker, he had started to enjoy his position of power in the tiny Biograph universe. His taste for delicate females was also one that he was able to assuage, both on screen and off. Thus, pint-sized Mary Pickford appeared to him as quite the tempting dollop. That is, until she spoke... Their working relationship was equal parts love and hate; respect and frustration. For example, when the two were shooting To Save Her Soul, Griffith once grabbed Mary and shook her violently, because she was not giving him the burst of emotion he wanted. His attempt at intimidation didn't work. Mary bit him!!! As if that weren't enough, her sister Lottie too jumped to her defense by literally jumping on Griffith's back. Suffice it to say, the Pickford clan made their point: don't mess with the Queen Bee. Fortunately for the audience, it was exactly Mary's independence and resistance that made her a perfect fit in Griffith's increasingly well-crafted films.

A much more amiable friendship and meeting was enjoyed by two other bright stars of silent cinema. Many of the tales of this era, or any era for that matter, are so steeped in rumor and hearsay that they are probably more the products of manufactured lore than historical fact. However, sometimes what isn't true, feels true, and thus becomes true-- at least in the minds of fans. Thus, the way that Douglas Fairbanks met BFF Charlie Chaplin (both right) remains a fond legend that we're just going to go ahead and accept. It goes like this: A random man loitered outside a theater that was playing the new Fairbanks feature. Another man walked up and asked Man #1 if the hot, new Doug was really any good. The first man answered, "He's the best in the business!" The second man asked, "Is he as good as Chaplin?" Man #1 responded, "Fairbanks far surpasses that outmoded Chaplin bloke!" Man #2 paused, then made his move: "I'm Chaplin." Man #1 smiled and replied, "I know. I'm Fairbanks." The laughs didn't stop there. For the length of their friendship, Doug and Charles were always trying to one-up each other on the jokes. They were both energetic men, typically being described as "always on," yet Doug had an optimism and energy that the much more serious and fretful Chaplin found relaxing. They were a great balance, and their pranks are a good representative of the fondness that they shared for each other. For example, when Doug was filming Robin Hood, he was ordered to report particularly early one morning on the castle set. Still wiping the sleep from his eyes, he was surprised to see the drawbridge lower over the moat. A yawning King stepped outside and placed two empty milk bottles beside the massive entrance before scratching his bottom and returning into his fortress. The King, of course, was Chaplin. Doug was in stitches.

Long before Mary Pickford fell in love with Doug Fairbanks, she had become enchanted by another man. This relationship was not romantic, however. Mary was already married to Owen Moore when she met and started working with director Marshall Neilan aka "Mickey" (left). His great humor and vulnerability for the bottle, an attribute all too familiar to Mary, made her immediately attracted to him. They worked well together, and Mary did some of her best work with the director, whom she also called "friend." Of course, Marshall's undependable antics and alcoholism drove the overly professional Ms. Pickford up a wall most of the time. The more the years went on, the more Mickey seemed to mysteriously disappear from the set, show up late, or not at all. Mary would wind up doing his directing for him most of the time. No matter what, she couldn't stay mad at him-- a quality many women shared, including Anna May Wong, who was deeply in love with him for some time. An example of what made Mickey so endearing is evidenced in the following story. When filming Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall, el director was nowhere to be found for the umpteenth time, and Mary was forced to once again step in and take charge. In a scene shooting at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, she guided the masses from atop a horse. No sooner had the camera started cranking, then the crew noticed a familiar face in the crowd: Marshall Neilan. He didn't seem surprised or insulted at all that Mary had taken over. In fact, he seemed to be enjoying the show, (perhaps because he was three sheets to the wind). "Say, you're doing pretty well!" he chirped, merrily. He then sauntered off and let the procession continue without him. He was more focused on finding another drink than guiding Dorothy's ship.

At one time in history, Erich von Stroheim (right) was known as "The Man You Love to Hate." This was not an exaggeration. The Austrian-born actor/director was known for portraying foreign villains on the screen, most typically those representative of the German enemy during The Great War. However, he also played random sleaze-bags and ne'er-do-wells in films like Social Secretary opposite Norma Talmadge. Add to this his reputation as an overly sumptuous director who had Carl Laemmle sweating dollar bills, and you have one disreputable, unattractive individual. The way von Stroheim locked horns with Irving Thalberg, for example, is legendary. During the shooting of one of his masterpieces, Foolish Wives, he had the entire city of Monte Carlo replicated and built at the studio, which put the film over-over-over-budget. With no way to rein himself in artistically, von Stroheim seemed to get bigger and bolder with each project, to a fault. His films Queen Kelly and Greed clocked in at approximately five and nine hours respectively, and due to their length, they clearly had trouble earning money at the box-office. Sore bottoms didn't help his reputation with the public, not to mention the fact that these films could only be shown once or twice a day at any given theater, bringing in one batch of ticket sales, whereas a regular film could be shown several times over and rake in the dough. To put it succinctly, his methods made Orson Welles look like a penny pincher. Despite this over-indulgence and disregard for economy, one couldn't argue Erich's talent. His films remain some of the most visually hypnotic and socially compelling artifacts of silent cinema. He had fans within his own time, of course, but more enemies. (The fact that he strutted around like a self-important monarch complete with a monocle didn't help his reputation with the people). Because the divide between fact and fiction was very flimsy in the early days of celebrity, the public reacted to a public figure not as who he was but as the character he played on the screen, which in Erich's case was the German enemy. As a result, he couldn't eat in public. See, every time he went to grab a bite, he got spat on by some random pedestrian. Best to stay indoors and safe from democracy.

Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle (left) was perhaps the sweetest of all the silent clowns. A large physical presence, his warm-hearted demeanor made him a lovable buffoon who was one of the top box-office draws of his day. Before the shameful and unfortunate court scandal (concerning the death of Virginia Rappe) that would ruin his career and send shock-waves through the nation, Fatty was riding high on the wave of critical and financial success in  early 1921. His baby-faced humor and surprising dexterity made any cinematic offering bearing his name a sure-fire hit. His shenanigans carried over into his private life, where he liked to push the envelope on personal pranks. Of course, a humorous scheme is not truly glorious unless one has a worthy mark. Who better than the icy, all-work-and-no-play studio-head Adolph Zukor? Yet another hard-working immigrant who had endured the harsh realities of adolescent poverty and the resulting disassociation of foreign terrain, Zukor used his personal tragedies to propel him to his hard-bitten position as a major movie power-player. Adolph was one cool customer. In fact, when Fatty would later endure the Rappe scandal, Zukor withdrew studio support and left him to the wolves: it was business, not personal.The studio had to save itself. To Fatty, it was no laughing matter. 

Buster assists Fatty in some more foolishness, while Al St. John and Alice Lake
accompany on the banjo and piano.

Yet, before the storm broke, Fatty was determined to use his own clout to poke fun at the impenetrable Zukor. As always, he used his favorite ally, Buster Keaton, to make the hysterical magic happen: Fatty invited Zukor over for dinner and had Buster pose as his butler. Friends like Syd Grauman, Viola Dana, Bebe Daniels, and Alice Lake, were invited and played along as the other guests. Buster's butler decorum was off all evening. He spilled soup all over himself, he flirted with the women, and he poured water on Fatty's lap. He also incorrectly served the men before the women, resulting in a loud reprimand from Fatty. Buster then switched the shrimp he had just placed on the men's plates with those on the women's plates, as if this solved the problem. Fatty continually took Buster into the kitchen to heatedly reprimand him (while secretly laughing) throughout the evening. Finally, Buster dropped the prize dinner turkey, brushed it off, and tried to continue serving it. Fatty grew so angry that Zukor was nervous! When he saw Fatty smash a bottle over Buster's head (a breakaway), he nearly fainted! The "waiter" fled into the night, only returning later that evening as himself, Buster Keaton. Adolph was excited to meet the comic, and proceeded to tell him all about Fatty's horrible butler... until he noticed a strange resemblance. One assumes that the crowd had a good laugh... Perhaps even Zukor.

Friday, October 5, 2012

STAR OF THE MONTH: Mary Pickford Part 2

The brightest star in the universe, Mary Pickford.

By 1915, Mary Pickford probably had trouble remembering the little girl named Gladys Smith who had grown up in Toronto. Richer beyond her wildest dreams, more famous than royalty, and the best known woman on earth, she seemed to have the world on a string. Strangers recognized her and asked her for her autograph; people read her self-help columns and Q&A articles in the paper. Her career was soaring, particularly after she made the executive decision to team up with hard-edged studio magnate and cool customer, Adolph Zukor-- yet another man who was simultaneously impressed and appalled at Mary's hard-balling business tactics. Yet, the heights of stardom were bittersweet. Mary's marriage to the mentally, and perhaps even physically, abusive Owen Moore continued to crumble, and in addition, she had to constantly keep tabs on her alcoholic and shenanigan-prone siblings, Jack and Lottie, who seemed to be tag-teaming in a game called, "Let's get in trouble and drive Mary nuts!" She loved them, of course; they loved her. The public loved her. The crews loved her. Why didn't she feel loved?

The perfect opposite to Mary's constantly fretting, ever-working, overly depressed self was the ever-smiling, hopelessly manic, caution-be-damned Douglas Fairbanks. The duo would meet at a party thrown by Elsie Janis. In typical, heroic fashion, Doug had literally swept Mary off her feet when she had clumsily tried to cross a stream when walking about the grounds at the party. Owen's indifference and irritation during this episode only enhanced the attraction Mary felt for the charismatic (holy-biceps) Mr. Fairbanks. Doug was also immediately attracted to  Mary, though his interest at least initially probably had more to do with career ambition and mutual respect than romantic adoration. Doug walked with the swagger of a winner. A youthful underdog with a complicated relationship with his under-appreciative mother, Doug made up for any lurking insecurities by being larger than life! That meant living it up, staying fit, and conquering the world of acting. As Mary was the hottest ticket in town, Doug was more than eager to make her acquaintance, pick her brain, and perhaps even use her as an asset. He didn't expect to be so taken in by her intelligence, business knowledge, warmth, and surprising beauty. On the screen she was a little girl; in life, she made him hot under the collar. Mary too found herself thinking of Doug after their initial meeting-- of his attentiveness, his genuine interest in her, and how he was absolutely un-intimidated by her fame and popularity. (It is safe to say that it actually turned him on). Her original perception of him was that he was a brash, abrasive, man-child, who needed to take a chill-pill. Later, she would change her mind, saying, "To me, he was the personification of the new world."

Mary and Doug enjoy their honeymoon in 1920.

One hiccup: Mary was married, and so was Doug. The union to Owen Moore wouldn't seem too sinful to sever, but Beth Fairbanks was a genuinely kind and supportive woman, who was also the mother of Doug's son: Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. Both marriages were passionless, and Doug's was founded on more affection than love, but despite Doug and Mary's growing feelings-- heightened during the bond tour of the Great War-- divorce remained a dirty word. The scandal could forever destroy their careers. Would their love be enough? The rightness or wrongness of the act seemed not to matter. The two were driven together by a force seemingly greater than themselves, or perhaps that is just what they wanted to believe. After Doug's mother passed away, he was emotional and distraught-- very un-Douglike. He and Mary took a late night drive in his car, and he began sobbing on the wheel. At the moment Mary moved to comfort him, the clock stopped. It was fate! Or so, Doug believed. He swore that this was an omen passed down from his mother and that she approved of their union. "By the Clock," therefore, became their secret code phrase. Soon enough, the divorces were granted-- Owen stewed, and Beth graciously bowed out and started her life elsewhere with great dignity-- and Doug and Mary were wed. They expected boos. Hisses. Stones. They received cheers, adulations, and letters of congratulations! For two of the biggest personalities in the world to get together was... stupendous! They hunkered down at a little place called "Pickfair," spent their spare time entertaining royals and dignitaries, drank milk, set up their own studio, formed United Artists with Chaplin and Griffith, and slowly but surely took over a more than welcoming world.

Mary's fame exploded. Her war propaganda film The Little American united politics and cinema as never before. Her dual performance in Stella Maris broke and warmed hearts at the same time. While Doug went on to become the swashbuckler extraordinaire, Mary continued cultivating her dependable girl-next-door with a swift left hook persona in films as varied as Little Annie Rooney, Pollyanna, and Little Lord Fauntleroy. Life was good. She and Doug, polar opposites and perfect partners, established at Pickfair a life of their own. Mary was still very connected to her family of course, who continued to annoy the bejesus out of Doug, but she was no longer as tethered as she had once been. In his castle, Doug could too rule on high with pride, produce epics of his choice, and come home to the woman of his dreams. Mary never hit it off with his BFF, Charlie Chaplin-- perhaps because they were both strong, assertive, and secretly insecure personalities in constant competition for Doug's affections-- but she accepted him because it made Doug happy, just as Doug accepted Mary and her alcoholic siblings and mother. The duo carried on, traveling to foreign countries, spending lavishly on jewels and cars, and living the American dream. True, it was an occasional nightmare. For example, Mary was nearly torn to ribbons by an "appreciative" crowd in England and saved only when Doug placed her on his shoulders and pulled her into their car. This terror was a rarity. Their mutual, determined work-ethic and impenetrable position in the business, their like-mindedness, made their marriage a match made in movie heaven. To watch cinema blend with life was, for America, like watching a dream come true.

The pint-sized Mary exerts her dominance yet again, head-butting Spec 
O'Donnell in Sparrows. Is it any wonder America lover her?

The Fairbankses ruled the roaring twenties, albeit in a less rebellious fashion. But as the decade came to a close, so too did their reign as Hollywood rulers seem to be coming to an end. The world of cinema was forever altered with the intrusion of sound in 1928. Many mistakenly believe that the fall of silent film idols is a result of their inability to translate, their lack of voice, or their lack of genuine acting talent. Erroneous. The trouble is that silent film is its own separate art. Telling a story in purely visual terms requires a certain kind of artist at the helm as director: one who was perhaps even more in touch with human psychology and how to use images in specific chronology to elicit emotion. Silent writers had to be quick and creative. They wrote 'scenarios,' not scripts; their partners in crime were the succinct, on-target 'title writers,' who summarized in title cards the dialogue that a generation of lip-readers rarely even needed. Silent actors? They had to be big. Their blend of naturalism and over-indication is misunderstood and misconstrued by the modern viewer. We worship real actors like James Dean and Gena Rowlands. Yet, if one imagines plopping either performer in a silent picture, they would struggle. Their slight insinuations, their subtle movements, would be missed-- glossed over. They would fade into the background. In this respect, silent stars were louder than their noisy followers. It was not sound alone that killed Mary Pickford's career; it was a changing world.

The romanticized, over-the-top imagination of the 1920s citizen was vastly different from a world shaken up by the great depression. The purity of Mary no longer had a place. The world turned dark. It called to gangsters' molls, prostitutes with hearts of gold (or not), deviant ladies, and good girls with a violent edge. The sound revolution certainly didn't help. Mary's voice wasn't poor, though it was clear that hubby Doug handled his dialogue much better in their first sound picture (and only co-starring film), The Taming of the Shrew, than she. Mary wasn't bad in the talkies, winning an Academy Award for Coquette (although many argued that this was more political than deserved). She had cut her long hair and was for the first time approaching mature female roles in earnest. She could still carry a film, she could still steal a scene, but her gift was not as strong with words as it was in the quiet. This is most vividly felt when one witnesses her quiet moments in her few sound pictures-- these are the only moments in which she doesn't appear to be acting. In this we see that she had to work too hard to undo the art that she had almost solely invented. After two decades of carving out a particular niche of entertainment and human interpretation, the rug was pulled out from under her, and she was forced to assimilate into a different kind of creator. It was like a oil painter trying to work with watercolors. The effect may be similar, it may be passable, but as Mary was no longer the expert in her field, her genius had diminished. She was also older. Too old to play little girls. She was still respected; her name still held sway. Yet, the era ended when the girl with golden curls was forced to speak. Some would say it was the end of cinema's brief period of, at least artistic, innocence.

A moving image of Doug and Mary on the stomping grounds of the 
Pickford-Fairbanks Studios. He was shooting The Black Pirate and 
she Sparrows. The image of their disappearing bodies 
becomes tragic in retrospect.

Doug suffered too. He and his Queen were old hat. New talent was arriving in town, and their own days were numbered. Working towards a common goal, the duo were unstoppable. Once their goal was wrenched from existence, they no longer knew how to respond to each other. They drifted. Doug dealt with the loss of his youth and the position that he had fought so hard to attain by consequently disappearing around the world on various tours and trips. Mary struggled for the first time with time itself. It was now totally free, and the woman who never knew how to do anything but work, didn't know what to do with the empty hours. She drank. She had been drinking for some time in secret to deal with her inner stresses and her chronic guilt complex, but the drinking escalated. The family disease had gotten a hold of her, and it would not let go for the rest of her life. Doug and Mary divorced, at least legally speaking, but although both wed new partners-- he Lady Sylvia Ashley and she the handsome, wholesome, and loyal Buddy Rogers-- they never truly let each other go. Mary continued on at Pickfair, often calling Buddy "Douglas" by mistake. Doug would visit Mary and ask her longingly and yearningly of their parting,"What went wrong?" When he passed away in 1939, the best of Mary went with him. He represented to her life at its fullest. She carried on for four decades, increasingly secluding herself in her room, rarely accepting visitors, and waiting for her own final fade out. Depressed and at a loss, wondering what happened to her life, she could be bitter about her past work, ashamed of it, and afraid that it didn't measure up to the bolder, modern films being made by fresh young actors. She threatened to burn all of her old prints. Praise God, she didn't!

Still rolling...

Mary Pickford died on May 29, 1979 and was buried in an extravagant tomb at Glendale Forest Lawn with her mother and siblings, all of whom had preceded her. She came, she saw, she conquered, and then... She disappeared. She had watched Hollywood transform from a land of orange groves to the terrifying mini-metropolis where Sharon Tate was brutally murdered by the Manson family. It was as if her world had slowly irised out, becoming smaller and smaller, until it had become but one of the many grains of sand decorating the landscape of our cultural history. What is big, time will always make small.  Now, the early relics of the nickelodeons, the flicker shows, or the two-reelers, remain only as unfamiliar memories or bits of national lore. It is as though they never existed at all. They are myths from a bygone age, by a people long since deceased and blowing as dust on the wind. Yet to witness them in all their majesty is to witness a phenomenon so vivid, so glorious, that it can at times take the breath away. Although the life of silent cinema was so brief, Mary was one of the few who made it so timeless, so powerful, so necessary. Who can imagine life without moving images today?

When Mary Pickford lost her livelihood, she lost herself. She could no longer escape into the one world in which she belonged, because it no longer existed. As the years pass, and more and more silent films become available to modern audiences or are re-released to younger generations, the ghost of Mary Pickford comes forth and allows us to disappear with her once again. Safe in the light of the projector, in the land she built of heart and celluloid, she maintains her hold on us, entreating us to join her on whatever shenanigan, voyage, or life lesson that she deems worthy to pass on. We always leave elated. We leave better people. Most importantly, up there on the screen, Mary has too found her peace. She is finally safe at home in a world even grander than Pickfair, because it is intangible, indestructible, eternal.

Monday, October 1, 2012

STAR OF THE MONTH: Mary Pickford Part 1

Gladys Louise Smith aka Mary Pickford

The land of silent cinema is a place of dreams. It is a land of wide open spaces, the most human of beauties, and the fragile innocence of a new found frontier. Watching silent films is like watching children learn to walk and watching our artistic selves evolve into a powerhouse of emotional honesty-- in a medium that we had no idea how much we needed. The face of this bygone, almost mythic era most often belongs to Chaplin, but that clown of clowns and interpreter of heartbreak belongs in his own category. He represents all that cinema is or could be at its best. No, the true face of silent filmdom belongs to Mary Pickford, because more than any other performer or artist who made his or her claim on the rocky terrain of the flicker shows, she alone is the representative of that historical moment: cinema's birth, its infancy, its articulation, its soul, its hold on the public, and its limitless possibilities. It was little Mary who made the biggest impression with her gumption and charm; it was the girl with golden curls who enchanted America and warmed every citizen's heart. It is also little Mary whose always palpable sadness still haunts us; who makes us ponder, when brave enough, the loss of an intangible era that we can never get back. We have forgotten it; we have forgotten her.

'Little Mary 'when she was truly little-- nine years old--
 during "Uncle Tom's Cabin," although the look in
her eyes already registers a startling maturity. 

It is strange to note that the woman who became synonymous in her lifetime with the majesty of the USA was actually  a purebred Canadian. Gladys Louise Smith was born in Toronto on April 8, 1892. Her father, John Charles, was a charming, lackadaisical, and undependable man, who left most of the family burden on the sturdy Charlotte Hennessy's able shoulders. Charlotte used her knack for sewing to keep the family afloat, and this talent came in handy when John disappeared to the local bars or disappeared period-- leaving his wife alone with three children: Gladys, followed by Lottie and Jack. The struggle for income, for survival, is a beastly thing that separates man from mouse. After John Charles died, due to a freak head injury, it was little Gladys who put on the family pants, as it were. Herein was established the incredibly close rapport  she shared with mother Charlotte. They were more than mother and daughter; they were partners, allies, friends, and a strange, obviously non-sexual pairing of husband and wife. Gladys vowed that she would get her family to a place where there was no more hunger, no more worry, no more scrambling to pay bills. As Jack was too young to understand these familial responsibilities and Lottie was too flighty and immature to carry them herself, Gladys bore them alone and too carried with her a continued guilt. Her duty was to her family, first and foremost, forever. It was a hefty burden for a six year old.

Jack and Lottie would complain that Gladys was a harsh taskmaster, calling her "the Czarina," but it was their eldest sister's fortitude that would save them from complete destruction. It turned out that Gladys, in addition to being a very lovely child, could also act. Charlotte did not begin as your run-of-the-mill stagemother. She hesitated about pushing Gladys before the foot-lights. But, the determined Gladys wanted to help. At the age of eight, due to a fortunate connection with the stage manager of the Cumming Stock Company, both Gladys and Lottie were offered small roles in "The Silver King." Charlotte, in addition, played the piano to give the audience mood music. The family never looked back. They were bona fide theater people. Slowly, Gladys earned more roles, which became increasingly larger and more emotionally demanding. Lottie and Jack participated when they could, but neither had the natural talent nor discipline that Gladys possessed. The family traveled with different troupes on various circuits, with everyone pitching into the family money pot. Mary, due to her own brief but poignant life experience, had a natural ability of empathy and translation. She easily felt the emotions of her characters and followed direction well. She liked the excuse of yelling, stomping her feet, or sobbing uncontrollably, as she usually had to keep her feelings under wraps in life. The more experience she gained, the bolder she became, and more than one director was approached by the pint-sized girl-- who never surpassed 5'--  who asked for a bigger role or a better opportunity. As such, she was soon playing "Little Eva" in "Uncle Tom's Cabin," then appearing on the Great White Way credited as "Baby Gladys." This was life and death, after all. She had mouths to feed, and shyness had long since flown the coop.

On stage in "The Warrens of Virginia" with Charlotte
Walker and Richard Storey.

Her greatest professional triumph in her youth was working with the infamous master of the stage, the ever-eccentric "Bishop of Broadway," David Belasco. The intimidating man was approached by the persistent Gladys who sat in his office and refused to leave until she was seen. The fresh innocence of her face mixed with the contrast of her fiery determination-- despite her later admitted inner nerves-- made her a tempting collaborator. Below him, looking up with big, hazel eyes was an angelic beauty with an astounding maturity and a head for business to boot. She declared that it was time for her to get serious about earning a real living, because she was "the father of [her] family." David changed her name to "Mary Pickford," and cast the fifteen-year-old young woman in "The Warrens of Virginia." Finally, she could consider herself a real actress! As with many of her future male directors and authority figures, she would butt heads with Belasco, who enjoyed indulging his God complex on many of the victims in his repertory. Mary wasn't immune, she would cry, but she would also stand up for herself and threaten to walk out if she were being mistreated, underpaid, or disrespected. Male figureheads were beguiled, irritated, and secretly enchanted by her unattainability. Yet, despite her growing resume, Mary hit a rough patch in her career when she entered her late teens. She was not yet old enough to portray a leading lady, and the roles of youth had now been outgrown. To continue working steadily, she glumly took a step down on the career ladder to enter the slap-shod, classless medium of the movies. Ironically, this venue would give her the opportunity to consistently earn a living by primarily playing little girls far below her age range.

In The New York Hat, her last short for Biograph.

The man to give her a leg up was Kentucky-bred director D.W. Griffith, whose reaction to her was much the same as Belasco's. The unknown, inexperienced teen came to Biograph looking for acting work and demanding a hefty paycheck because she was a "real actress who had worked with David Belasco." Griffith was hypnotized!  He tried ineptly to seduce her, assuming she was like all of the other desperate chickens who came tip-toeing through the Biograph door, but Mary was unaffected by his clumsy, arrogant charms. Plus, he was married. She was there to work, she declared, and that was just what she did. She was plugged in several shorts, in major and minor roles, until she grew in popularity. She was unlike the typical, demure Griffith prototype. He preferred delicate, angelic women-- infantile Southern Belles. Mary had a a feistier temper, and it was her strength and unconscious pre-feminist attitude that would so endear her to audiences. After Florence Lawrence left the studio for other ventures at IMP, the still nameless Mary, (as all performer names were kept under wraps in those days), was labeled "the Biograph girl." Fans looked for her familiar face incessantly in any new release. They loved her-- her sass, her sweetness, her hair!!! She too had fallen in love, both with the art of film acting and with constant co-star Owen Moore, a man possessing many of the attributes of her father, two of which were charm and alcohol.  Perhaps seeking escape from her dutiful daughter role and looking for a life of her own, Mary took a gamble on the man who had won her heart. The duo secretly eloped on January 7, 1911. Despite the romance of this tempestuous move, Mary, who was not yet nineteen, was immediately wracked with guilt. She returned home that evening to her oblivious mother and siblings, maintaining her dark secret, while her new husband spent his wedding night alone.

Eventually, the truth came out, Charlotte flew into hysterics, Lottie and Jack wept, and the Pickford-Moore wedding was consequently doomed. The union would putter on for nine more years, but it was basically a marriage in name only. The two spent little time together, and the times that they did were more tense than blissful. Mary's devotion remained with her kin and most specifically with her mother, who was essentially her business partner. In addition to the wedge of family between them, Owen also had to contend with Mary's growing popularity and public coronation as "America's Sweetheart." As her fame increased, so did his drinking. Mary's solution and safe ground was always her work. It was Flo Lawrence who was labeled the first movie star, but it was Mary who redefined the term. Once the name Mary Pickford was presented to the world, it seemed to be the only one worth knowing. Mary possessed a presence on the screen that people could trust. She portrayed young women who were chaste and virginal, pure of heart and darling, even if a little uncouth. She was diminutive, which rendered her non-threatening to the opposite sex, though there was a subtle sexuality underlying her performances. She was warm and vulnerable, which made her endearing to the older generation, who looked upon her as a lovable granddaughter. She too was an inspiration to women, who watched her fearlessly hold her own against various villains, hold the reins of her romantic relationships, and sometimes get mad as a hornet, kick, stomp, and even haul a shot-gun. 

Mary in 1914's Heart's Adrift, one of her first features for Famous-Players
Mary adapted the scenario from a magazine herself, as she often did in
 the early days when one wore many hats in the business.

As shorts became features, Mary further cultivated her specific place in cinematic history by performing as the back-woods Tess of the Storm Country (in 1914 & 1922) to the less fitting Madame Butterfly. She played rich girls and poor girls, sweethearts and hillbillies, but the common denominator was always her spunk and her pathos. She had life and death. A gifted comedienne, she could bulge her eyes and purse her mouth like nobody's business, but it was more than mugging. Her acting, which certainly still bore the mark of the exaggerated, silent style of interpretation, was also ahead of its time. She was natural. Her emotions rang true. Her viewers could see the world in her eyes, whether they relayed softness, anger, or despair. She had charisma, something that even a modern viewer cannot ignore. She was a "star" before the world understood what that meant. Strangely, she is often portrayed by modern scholars as being backward or anti-feminist-- a representative of the male wish of passivity, youthful beauty, and complacence. Her legendary golden locks are sometimes viewed as chains and shackles, keeping women trapped under foot, rather than a lustrous extremity and symbol of feminine beauty. Such is not so. One cannot watch her use her intelligence to save her true love's life in Romance of the Redwoods nor witness her sludge a train of children through the swamp in Sparrows, among alligators no less, and not see a hero. When Mary stood, she stood alone. If a man happened to be nearby, good for him. Love was always secondary to her independence and spirit. She could and did consistently hold her own.

Even still, it would be nice if she could find a worthy man to go toe-to-toe with her one-woman-army...