Don't forget to refer to my Contents page for a more convenient reference to past articles.

For More L.A. La Land, visit my writing/art/film appreciation site on Facebook at Quoth the Maven and follow me on Twitter @ Blahlaland. :)

Thursday, August 22, 2013


Be Natural: the work in progress documentary about one of our
forgotten pioneers.

Anyone who visits this page and gives it more than a cursory glance is, like myself, a true lover of cinema. Our appreciation and utmost respect for it transcends the general, universal desire for plain entertainment. We believe in it. We see it for all its magic. We are moved by its ability to portray the best, worst, most honest, and most hoped for facets and illusions of ourselves. Movies are moving. They penetrate the mind, the heart, the soul, and therefore are the only reminder that many of us have in a world gone haywire that we in fact have these things. Films inspire, bolster, and feed our inner Scarecrows, Tin Men, and Cowardly Lions. 

You visit L.A. La Land, most likely, because film is your favorite artistic medium. It means more to you than can be expressed. It enchants you and takes you places both personal and foreign, the same way some worship opera, others dance. You are also here because your fascination for the flickering majesty you witness on the silver screen, your television, your laptop, or your iPad, goes beyond what you merely see. You are drawn not only to the messages film gives but to the people who made it possible. Those who gave it its genesis and have given of themselves to both birth it and keep it alive for well over a hundred years. You want to pull back the curtain and ask: Who are they? How did they exist? How did they know how to puncture a hole in the universe and pull out a totally new medium, bring it to life, and then use it to take our breath away?

Alice Guy-Blache

This page has tried and is still trying to showcase the people on the screen behind the scenes-- those fortunate and unfortunate souls who were slaves to their passion, the studio system, the uncertainties of celebrity, and the great fall that comes in a land where ,"you're only as good as your last movie." Our need to know more about the people, who somehow seemed to know so much about us, demands satiation. Therefore, to cleanse your pallet, I offer you a new name to add to your list of cinematic idols: Alice Guy-Blache

This name was vaguely familiar to me when it was said/read a few days ago, but still it was foreign. Now, I am so, so ashamed that I knew so little about Alice. A woman who holds the title of being cinema's first narrative director, and a female at that, has somehow been buried beneath the more behemoth names of industry innovators like Lumiere, Melies, Griffith, and Sennett. Why is this? Why has a woman so ahead of her time been lost between the pages of it-- her brilliant story untold and unseen as if she had not so clearly and publicly written it in celluloid?

This is a question that the film Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blache attempts to both answer and correct. When watching the trailer and promotional video for this still-in-production documentary, I was brought to tears, and I'm not ashamed. Alice is truly one of the most powerful and influential voices in the history of film and one of the pioneers who viscerally helped to bring the movies to life. She is a very important stepping stone among all the others that has lead to the industry we have today-- which sadly so often seems to have lost the style, wit, foresight, and integrity that made Alice's work so compelling in her time, as it remains today. Modern filmmakers should study this woman.

Alice's Falling Leaves (1912)

Please, please, pretty please, contribute to the Kickstarter campaign filmmakers that Pamela Green and Jarik van Sluijs are waging to finance and bring their documentary to completion. Let's prove our deep love and gratitude to Alice and give her back her place in the continually growing and ever-intricate puzzle that makes up our cinematic history. It is a worthy cause for a worthy art that continues to struggle against adversity, superficiality, and short-sightedness in order to give us a richer portrait of our world and ourselves. Take part in the war on "blah, blah, blah," and with your contribution earn your own place as one of moviedom's fierce warriors.

Find out more about the project hereONLY FOUR DAYS LEFT!!!!
Follow Be Natural on Facebook
Follow Be Natural on Twitter @BeNaturalMovie.

Pam and Jarik, you have all my love, sincere appreciation, and warmest wishes.

Monday, August 19, 2013

MENTAL MONTAGE: The Direct-ators Part II

Lily Garland (Carole Lombard) gives her director/ex-lover Oscar Jaffe
(John Barrymore) a kick  in the pants in Twentieth Century.

You hear the name Audrey Hepburn and you think, "greedy little diva," am I right? Umm, not so much, (see adorableness, left). Audrey was pretty much the most cooperative and amiable actress in Hollywood, at work and in life. Though a serious actress who was hard on herself and stuck to her guns when it counted, it could hardly be said that she instigated egotistical wars on the sets of her films. One would be hard pressed to find a director who had anything but nice things to say about her. Billy Wilder would once joke that he was lucky that his wife's name was also Audrey, as he often called her name in his sleep! From the beginning of her career, Audrey seemed to enchant people. A hopeful dancer, she worked her way up from early theater work to her eventual experimentation with the movies. Audrey had very few films under her belt when she started working on the film Young Wives' Tale for Associated British Pictures Corporation-- the other ABC-- in London. She had previously been discovered by Robert Lennard, who had scooped her from the cabaret show she performed in at Ciro's. She had performed but two bit parts in Laughter in Paradise and One Wild Oat  by 1951, but she was already making an impression on industry players.

Certainly, Audrey assumed that the romantic comedy Young Wives' Tale (right) would be the standard-hit-your-mark-and-smile gig, particularly since she had a very small role as a typist. The focus of the film would be on lead performers Helen Cherry and Nigel Patrick. Nonetheless, somehow, some way, Audrey managed to earn director Henry Cass's antipathy-- perhaps because he was the sort of director who needed one person to pick on. (Orson Welles once admitted that he liked to fire someone at the beginning of every film, just to make it clear who was in charge). Perhaps with her soft personality and fragile appearance, Cass assumed that Audrey would be an easy mark for his ego game. Audrey was tough enough to behave professionally and take all of his unnecessary hits, but the consistent diatribes and verbal abuse she suffered under Cass's harassment often left her in tears. In later years, she would openly admit that Wives' was "the only unhappy picture [she] ever made." Still, she had her victory. Cass should have known to look out for the quiet ones. His film was panned and the only positive notice it received was generally due to underdog Audrey. Cass probably felt like an ass having wasted a golden opportunity to work with a rising star. He probably felt even worse when she made Roman Holiday and hit it big, never looking back or submitting to undue tyranny again!

Another classy lady forced to put up her dukes was Ingrid Bergman (left). This ambitious actress had the air of an angel and the fire of a warrior. Put these things together, and you get quite the combustible artistic passion! Ingrid's work was her everything. She hurled herself into her roles with a violence that few of her contemporaries, predecessors, or followers could match. Yet, her kittenish and amiable nature kept the drama where it belonged-- "in the can." On set, she was the perfect soldier, totally cooperative and only vehemently outspoken when she had something particular to add to her characterizations or the project as a whole. She didn't make waves, because the work came first. As such, she was basically a director's ideal. One would think that this made her a shoe-in for the rapidly-moving, no nonsense W.S. Van Dyke. Such was not the case. "Woody" had a habit for wrapping a scene in one take-- thus the genesis of his nickname "One Take Woody." Additionally, he had the personality of a crotchety corporal. He was able to make some allies in the industry, his most notable partnership being with William Powell and Myrna Loy in the Thin Man series, but his sharp-shooting and unsympathetic methods could rub some people the wrong way. If you were a pro, hit your marks, and gave him no lip, all was well, but woe betide anyone who went against his current.

Ingrid was very frustrated with master Van Dyke (right) when they began filming Rage in Heaven. A sensitive actress interested in doing deep, developmental, emotional work, Ingrid was thrown for a loop when her hyperactive and irritable director began running manic circles around her. It was fairly clear to all involved that this movie was destined to be a clunker, and equally that Woody wasn't wasting his time putting any fine spit and polish on what he deemed another, shoddy melodrama. He wanted to get the job done quickly-- in and out. Ingrid's hopes for doing her best with the material were thus not supported by her director. Robbed of extra takes and the opportunity to perfect her performance, Ingrid was irked. She also disliked the way Van Dyke was barking orders at the rest of the cast-- including Robert Montgomery and George Sanders-- and crew. One day, while watching Woody run back and forth slinging insults, she decided to unleash her inner Hell cat. She really let him have it too! Out came a fierce little speech about his dispassion for performance art, general inconsiderateness, and lazy, ignorant mode of direction. Then Ingrid nailed him with, "Why don't you put on roller skates so you can go quicker from one place to another!" Well, Woody went wooden! He mumbled something about her being "fired," but later he slipped into her dressing room-- hat in hand, you could say-- and apologized for his behavior, promising to be a good boy. He was, and for the remainder of the shoot, Ingrid was worshipped by all for her bold tongue thrashing W.S. Van Hush.

But of all the bad asses of film, Robert Mitchum (left) probably delivered the best back hands. He could easily be managed by women, but when it came to men, look out! The harder people tried to rein him in, the more he just wanted to rebel. To begin with, he hated all the pretension that came with show business, and he could take the majority of the self-important people he worked with just as easily as he could leave 'em. Just so long as the director, cast, and crew knew what they were doing and left him alone to do his job, Bob was fine. At worst, when annoyed with someone or something, he would just take off fishing for days to make his point-- he'd rather be fishing anyway. Sometimes, there were a few dudes that got him worked up, and when that came, the foe would either find himself on the wrong end of one of Bob's furious and unexpected punches and beat downs, or worse-- the mark of his latest practical joke.

John Farrow was one of the first to learn this the hard way. An impossible alcoholic and "mean, ruthless son of a bitch," Farrow wasn't making a lot of friends on the set of Where Danger Lives-- a film co-starring Howard Hughes' infamous protégé Faith Domergue (right). Now, on a personal level, Bob was kind of simpatico with John-- who was then married to Maureen O'Sullivan and later father to Mia. The two men were both lovers of liquor and were hard-asses overdosing on machismo. Yet, where John was cruel bordering on sadistic, Bob was generally putting on a farce to cover his more sentimental side. He was entertained by Farrow's rudeness and vitriol, but he was quickly angered when it became directed at him. For example, his character was to tumble down three flights of stairs in Danger. Naturally, it was suggested that an experienced stuntman be used, but Farrow would have none of it. To wield his power and bolster his own ego, he demanded that Bob perform the stunt himself. Well, Bob knew this was a game. He could either say "no" and be insulted for being a sissy, or he could take the plunge and probably break his neck. As was his way, he opted for the latter. Despite protest from the rest of the cast, Bob tossed himself down the stairs. One take was enough; Bob stood up a success but dizzy and worse for the wear. Still, Farrow demonically told Bob to do the stunt again. Now, Bob was stubborn, but not crazy. He calmly told Farrow to go f*ck himself. After all, he'd proved his point, and Farrow knew he wouldn't make it one round opposite Bob in the ring, so the scene was indeed wrapped.

This battling duo was re-teamed on the follow-up project, the odd but delightful noir His Kind of Woman-- which would be a triumph in Bob's career as well as in his buddy and co-star Jane Russell's (right). Farrow was on better behavior to Bob and the rest of the major players this time, including Vincent Price and Raymond Burr, but he was still mean as a viper to the lower rungs on the cinema ladder. He knew that Bob couldn't be intimidated, and as Jane could hold her own and was equally under Bob's protection, filming went rather smoothly. The trick was to give the vindictive director as good as he got. If you couldn't match his venom or at least take his jabs as a joke, you would become the prey to his always ravenous predator. Well, Bob hadn't forgotten his treatment during Where Danger Lives, and he could certainly notice the way Farrow was mistreating people. This, according to Bob's surprising moral code, was unacceptable. He also noticed that John liked to drink from one particular bottle of Scotch in his trailer every day. Hmm... Now, it can't be proven just who did it, nor who instigated it, but one day a group of daring men snuck into Farrow's trailer, poured out half of the rare, pricey Scotch he so loved, and took turns... refilling it with a little help from their bladders. From that moment on, Farrow may have maintained his unashamed onslaughts, but no one seemed to mind. At least, not as soon as he took an ignorant sip of his specially made cocktail.

Another hard-liner was Otto Preminger, with whom Bob would work on Angel Face and River of No Return. Clearly, Otto had a little insecurity issue when it came to women, particularly beautiful women. He had a habit of sadistically terrorizing a majority of the actresses he worked with, behaving quite tyrannical and merciless in his criticism of them. Bob, who again had a soft spot for the ladies, didn't take too well to these tirades during Angel Face. Jean Simmons was the chosen victim on the film. Despite the strong-willed English beauty's incredible talent, she still managed to run afoul of the Austro-Hungarian Otto, who was a true genius at his craft but a living Hell to work with. His attacks in this particular case were further fueled at the insistence of Howard Hughes, who had been unable to get the defiant actress into bed. Otto's resulting attacks on Jean were unrelenting. "He absolutely, totally destroyed me," she would recall. When it came to a scene wherein Bob was to slap Jean, he naturally was able to feign the hit so it looked believable. Still-- just to be a creeper-- Otto insisted he do it again. For real. Jean was tough, so she told her co-star to go ahead. Bob adhered but yet again held back his full force, only grazing Jean's cheek. Otto demanded that he do it again, again, again, each time insisting that  the slap didn't look real in the close-up shot. Jean's cheek was growing red, and Bob was growing more and more nervous that he was truly hurting her, so when Otto howled out "Vunce more," once more, Bob lost it. "Once more?!" he yelled. With that, Bob slapped Otto clean across his stunned mug. Otto turned red and was soon on the phone demanding that Mitchum be replaced! No dice. Bob was there to stay. Somehow, the film was finished with no blood being spilled.

Bob was understandably unenthusiastic about Otto's following harassment of Marilyn Monroe during River of No Return, but at least in this case, Otto had already learned his lesson and knew that going too far would mean a punch in the jaw. Thus, through the intimidation of his pure presence, Bob was able to keep Otto in line. In fact, Otto even asked Bob to act as the go-between when director and actress stopped speaking. It could be said that Bob behaved as Marilyn's private director during filming, as he was able to get a performance out of her despite Otto's attempts at terrorizing the sensitive actress. He was even able to counteract the interfering instructions of Marilyn's then acting coach, Natasha Lytess, whose instruction of Marilyn's over-enunciation and exaggerated eye and lip movements did less to perfect her acting abilities than paint her as a sexual cartoon. He encouraged Marilyn to ignore Natasha and that they just perform a given scene "like human beings." While the humbled Otto sat behind the camera, Bob and Marilyn completed the project unscathed. Marilyn was eternally grateful to substitute brother Bob, whom she would describe as, "one of the most interesting, fascinating men I have ever known."

While I have painted some of Hollywood's best filmmakers in very bad lighting, it should be said that sometimes a little authority goes a long way. Directing a film is not an easy job. There are a lot of balls to juggle, including forming a coherent and visually compelling storyline, staying on schedule, and dealing with unpredictable diva temper tantrums. A master of the perfect blend of work and play was Howard Hawks-- with whom Bob worked in El Dorado. John Wayne was the star of the film, and he had come a long way from his days of being John Ford's whipping boy, and was now one of the biggest stars in the world. Things were much easier on a Hawks set. Whose policy was, as someone once said, "to make good pictures while having a good time." There was a definite feeling of camaraderie, and Bob and Duke got along like peas and carrots and had a mutual love and respect for their skilled ,yet laid back, director. Of course, despite being chums, Howard knew when he had to step up and play the father figure from time to time, just to keep his boys from acting up or getting into trouble.

One particular evening, the cast and crew had wrapped another long night, but besides Hawks-- who liked to get his rest before the next day's shooting-- the wild boys' club was just getting revved up for the night. The typical late-night bro-fest included alcohol, cards, and Bob occasionally holding someone in a headlock-- the usual. Well, this time things got a little carried away, with everyone was making way too much noise! Ed Asner, who was also a member of the gang, started getting worried that this little shindig was getting out of control. If they woke up Howard, there was going to be Hell to pay! They were hushed by neighbors several times, they would cool down, be quiet as mice, but inevitably they would start getting obnoxious again-- boys will be boys, as they say. While Ed started the sweat and Bob laughed a cussed, there came the loud thundering of three Bangs! outside. One of the stunned fellas opened the front door to take a peek at the source of the ruckus. There, standing in his PJs and pointing the gun he had just fired into the air at their heads, was Howard Hawks-- clearly grumpy that his bedtime had been interrupted. "Goddamn it," he said. "If I see anybody not in their bed in five minutes, they're on the goddamn plane outta here!" The white-faced boys scrambled out of that room like their britches were on fire and hopped right into bed. Now that is how you run a picture!

Duke and Bob in El Dorado-- two drunks caught-red handed and
reprimanded by director Howard Hawks.

Monday, August 5, 2013

MENTAL MONTAGE: The Direct-ators Part I

Joan Crawford unleashes a little pent up frustration on Lucy Marlow
in Queen Bee. When you push an actor too far, sh*t happens.

The diva temper tantrum is not an unfamiliar phenomenon. Nay, it is generally expected. As we gawk at the super-celestial stars above, we make apologies for their erratic behavior, irrational demands, social faux pas, because we find their eccentricities just as-- if not more- entertaining than their films, albums, etc. When Prince demands that his hotel room at the Roosevelt Hotel be carpeted entirely in purple (this happened, I was an employee at the time), it is so absurdly ridiculous that we find the trivia delicious. As such, it feels like a press release present when Reese Witherspoon-- who is supposed to be the Southern debutante of moviedom-- utters the immortal words "Do you know who I AM?!" to the cop who has just pulled her and her husband over for a DUI. It's nice to know, I suppose, that while these people may be richer than we, they are also abysmally, stupidly, embarrassingly superficial. As such, it boosts the confidence when our "stars" reveal themselves for what the majority of them actually are: burning balls of gas.

However, they're not all bad eggs. In fact, a lesser discussed evil is that of the maniacal director. Safe behind the camera, where he can force the sad, dancing monkeys of the acting profession to perform his most sadistic desires, many of these filmmaking artistes get drunk with the power that comes with the director's chair/throne. The man holding the megaphone is God on the set, and those underlings who question his authority will be destroyed. Or shamed. Or whatever it takes to get his rocks off and make him feel like he is invincible (and not the little boy who used to get pushed into his locker in high school because he liked Star Trek.) Fortunately, just as the misbehaving movie stars endured humiliatingly public slaps on the wrist for their misdirected naughtiness, the Dictator-style directors of Hollywood past have also occasionally gotten their comeuppance, and often from the very object of their attempted subjugation. Here are some of my favorite stories of badass bitch slaps and hot shot throw downs:

One of cinema's all time favorite heroes and tough guys is the incomparable John Wayne (right).  The mythology of the Western seems almost to have been created for him, around him, from him, because of him... His effect on the public remains fascinating. An odd duck with a distinctive, staggered delivery and super saucy walk, "the Duke" matured through his films from a young buck, with an innocent face and a reluctant penchant for honor, to a hardened cynic, who didn't take no sh*t off nobody but whose stone heart could sometimes be melted by the "Mattie Ross" types. When this guy was in the saddle, America was the safest place on earth. Ironically, such was not the case off camera. A fairly bashful man when operating without the social lubrication and liquid courage of alcohol, John was a fairly easy guy to push around. Due to his severed relationship with his mother, he always preferred the company of men and consequently looked up to the men who directed him as father figures. He worshiped no one more than John Ford. Unfortunately, as with many directors, Ford had the habit of counteracting his incredible talent for visual storytelling with almost consistent, semi-A-hole behavior. 

John Wayne seeks shelter behind Robert Montgomery during
They Were Expendable.

While Ford and Duke would forge a strong relationship that would span several films over several years, the director often took advantage of the actor's unwavering allegiance and surprising timidity. Their first meeting set the bar for the rest of their relationship (see here), but despite the hard knocks, Duke determinedly took on the Sisyphean task of staying in Ford's favor. On one occasion, he would have a little help from Robert Montgomery (left). During the filming of They Were Expendable, Ford was being particularly nasty and critical of Duke, his chosen whipping boy on the shoot-- Ford always had one. Duke could do nothing right in the clearly frustrated and unhappy director's eyes, and Ford insulted him constantly, calling him a 'clumsy bastard' and 'big oaf,' and mocking everything from his line readings to his salutes. Finally, the uber-professional and ever-focused Montgomery, who had a very low tolerance for BS, became over-irritated by the incessant immaturity and bullying. Thus, the normally introverted and pensive actor rose to his feet, walked right up to Ford, and hovered menacingly over his Director's chair with an icy glare: "Don't ever talk like that to Duke again. You should be ashamed of yourself." You could have heard a pin drop. No one, but NO ONE, talked to Ford that way. Yet, instead of getting fired up, Ford slumped guiltily in his chair like a school child who had just been reprimanded by his favorite teacher. There were rumors that, after filming wrapped for the day, Ford actually cried. Duke, on the other hand, probably slept like a baby.

Carroll Baker (right) also had a run-in with John Ford, with whom she filmed both How the West Was Won and Cheyenne Autumn. However, perhaps due to her talent and toughness, Ford took a liking to her and never set out to undermine her confidence. In fact, he seemed impressed with her work, and she eventually forged enough of a bond with him to started calling him "Pappy." Carroll was a smart cookie who realized that if she wanted to earn a place in "the boys' club," she had to play by their rules. Observation taught her that she needed to adhere to the Fordian principles of honor, duty, and utter obedience to the task at hand if she wanted to stay on his good side. She adhered. However, life has a habit of throwing curve balls, so despite her preparation, Carroll hit a snag during Cheyenne Autumn. When driving her wagon across a river for one tough scene, the current proved to be too strong. Carroll could feel herself losing control, and as she had two small children on board (who could not swim btw), she determined to steer out of the line and proceed with the current before she and the kids were totally capsized. Unfortunately, two stuntmen dressed as Indians tried to straighten her out to save the shot-- as per Ford's instructions. Carroll, feeling the wagon about to turn over, tried to call to them and tell them to stop, but they couldn't hear her over the sound of the rushing water. So, she did what her maternal instinct told her, stood up, and started lashing them with her whip! Needless to say, it ruined the shot.

'Pappy' (left), who had been filming from atop a mountain to capture what was supposed to be the amazing, panoramic shot, drove  all the way down from Olympus with his eye patch and unlit cigar in place. He approached Carroll, clearly miffed at losing the shot-- which had taken ages to set up-- and said, "Well, that's great! So in keeping with this film. I have a marvelous shot of two Indians being horsewhipped by a Quaker girl." (Quakers, in case you don't know, are a very nonviolent sect of people). As Ford glared at Carroll, she knew that he was reading her. She also knew that if she ratted the stuntmen out, Ford would judge her for being a "bad sport." She opted to stay mum and take the blame. Judging from the penetrating but knowing look in Ford's good eye, she also determined that he understood exactly what had happened and was testing her. Her silence proved to be golden, which maintained her membership in his boys' club. After the stuntmen stepped up and admitted their error, Carroll garnered further validation. "Well, I guess we have a heroine on our hands," Ford said with a twinkle in his eye. And that was the end of that. Well played, Carroll. Well played.

Barbara Stanwyck (right) was another tough cookie when it came to her profession. The true Panther Woman of Hollywood, due to her fabulously cultivated, in-control strut, Babs played her cards close to her chest until the call to "Action" came. At that point, her co-stars were just lucky if they could keep up with the intensity levels of her acting. Nearly every director she ever worked with became a salivating puppy at her feet due to her almost masochistic dedication to her craft. Cecil B. DeMille-- not an easy man to please-- was floored by her, and Frank Capra fell head-over-heels in love with her. Babs was not just a "broad" with brawn, however. She had an incredibly loyal streak, and as a woman who had worked her way up from poverty the hard way, she always had a soft spot for underdogs and those who were not lucky enough to have landed in her fortunate position of luxury. She often stuck up for other actors on the set, particularly the unknown, struggling ones. She was equally known to throw a punch or two for the big timers. 

Robert Cummings (left) would never achieve the stature of leading men like Cary Grant or James Cagney. He was an able, attractive actor, but he lacked the edge and hint of danger that would have made him as intriguing as his peers. Sadly, he was hopelessly wholesome. His place in film history is generally thought of as a reliable supporting male lead opposite the likes of Deanna Durbin, however, his distinctive resume illustrates his impressive career. He worked with the big guns likes Alfred Hitchcock in both Saboteur and Dial M for Murder, not to mention Babs Stanwyck in The Bride Wore Boots. The latter collaboration was a definite plus, but it wasn't all gravy. Apparently, filming the dismally generic and hack-job comedy was no laughing matter, and Barbara in particular was not at all impressed with director Irving Pichel, who seemed to be purposely making a bad situation worse. Boots turned out to be one of her least pleasurable career experiences (and also her last comedy). However, as a professional, she stuck out her chin and did her job. Yet, when she saw Pichel torturing her co-star with repeated and unnecessary takes of a very dangerous stunt atop a horse-- over, and over, and over again-- she finally took the gloves off, telling the director from Hell that if he forced poor Bob to perform the potentially neck-cracking feat one more time, he wouldn't get another scene out of her. As everyone at the studio and on set was utterly loyal to Queen Stanwyck, the message was received, they moved on, and the film was quickly "in the can." 

Clara Bow (right) was hardly the testy femme fatale. She lit up life onscreen and off with her vibrant and loving personality and supercharged sex appeal. A woman insecure about her lack of education and haunted by her tragic, impoverished past, Clara preferred to "kill 'em with kindness." Sadly, the favor would rarely be returned. Despite all the odds, which predetermined her as "Least Likely to Succeed" in the graduating class of life, her genuine nature and jaw-dropping talent got her all the way to Hollywood and soon placed her atop the superstar totem. Her struggles to this position were not easy. Talked down to and brushed aside as just another pretty face, trashy dimwit, and struggling actress wannabe, it was hard for her to make her mark and even harder to make it stick. The scenes from her first film, Beyond the Rainbow, all hit the cutting room floor. 

Luck started turning her way after her work in Grit earned her a plethora of kudos, and she was immediately handed a ticket to L.A. Unfortunately, when she arrived at Preferred Pictures to sign with B.P. Schulberg, the West Coast partner of the studio and her soon-to-be biz-nemesis, he took one look a her, turned to her agent, and asked, "Is this a joke?" He decided to torture Clara and put her through her paces, essentially humiliating her by demanding that she prove herself to him before he agreed to sign her. Dressed shoddily and deemed overweight, Clara was obviously slighted by BP's rebuff, but before she could even react, he was barking out orders and playing director: "Be happy! Be angry! Now cry!!!" Clara could have caved under the emotional duress, but she played his self-masturbatory mind game and won. A born actress who knew there was no other job for her on earth, she gave the goods-- her face would light up with exuberance, her brows would furrow in fury. The ace up her sleeve was her instantaneous access to tears. She could turn them on and off at will, and her sobering emotion at BP's cry of "cry!" left him stunned. Thus, Clara put the top dog in his place with no backtalk or sass. BP nearly wet his pants, then handed her the pen.

The director Lon Chaney is most associated with is Tod Browning-- a filmmaker with a penchant toward the odd and the macabre who understood the actor's genius and used his own adept creativity to develop a story that let the ravenous Chaney animal out of its cage. Naturally, as friends and frequent collaborators, the two bull-headed men had their share of disagreements. There were countless times when they would get into arguments on the set, mostly with regard to a certain scene and how it was to be played. The third parties-- assistant directors, cinematographers, etc-- would often try to intervene just to get the camera rolling again, but such was a mistake. In the middle of their yelling matches, Tod and Lon would simply turn to the intruder and tell him to "mind his own business" or, more forcefully, "Oh, f*ck off!" At the end of the day, they respected each other and their individual visions, so after the temper tantrums had been exorcised, they got down to business and put their latest genesis of genius on the silver screen. It's hard to find a shared piece of work between the two that isn't fascinating, if not utterly compelling and wonderfully disturbing. (Tod, Marceline Day, and Lon on the set of London After Midnight).

Strangely, the film for which Lon is most often remembered is one that he did not make with Browning. His great love child was The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which he made with Wallace Worsley, but it is The Phantom of the Opera that boasts the face that launched a thousand future fans for the "Man of a Thousand Faces!" A dedicated actor and true artist who molded his many movie mugs with nothing but plaster and vivid imagination, Lon needed a director who understood and trusted the gifts he brought to the table, which included his lifetime experience of both acting and directing. He was not to obtain such synchronicity from Rupert Julian, the director he had once worked with in his early, struggling years in The Kaiser, the Beast of Berlin. Lon found the tyrannical, self-important, trumpet-tooting actor/filmmaker had lost none of his pomposity when shooting on Phantom began. Julian had become something of a von Stroheim wannabe, wearing absurd boots and walking around the set like the Prince of Persia-- or some equally ridiculous, self-important monarch (see left). It was this pretentious indulgence in egomania that Lon the everyman found... distasteful to say the least. 

As Lon took his work seriously and was committed to embodying his characters honestly, and Julian was more interested in flash, their all-out brawls on the set could be heard from Hollywood to Holland. It grew to a point that the two wouldn't even speak to each other and would need the same third party substitutes to deliver various messages between them. Cameraman Charles van Enger was often stuck with the job. He would walk over to Lon and deliver Rupert's "direction" for the forthcoming scene; Lon would listen patiently, then deliver his response: "Tell him to go to Hell." (Ha. Hahaha). Lon won in the long run. In addition to helping direct his co-stars, who trusted him far more than Julian, he also communicated his aesthetic ideas to those on the production side, thereby secretly directing the film himself. Today, people still remember the Phantom's face and are touched by his private, internal Hell. No one, except for perhaps the most steadfast of silent film junkies, even know who the heck Rupert Julian was. (Nor do they care).

Lon makes history as Erik the Phantom. Burn Rupert!

To Be Continued...