Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Al Christie – Girls

Why Wild Men Go Wild (US 1919), D: William Beaudine, C: Vera Steadman, Bobby Vernon, photo: The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Please click to enlarge the images.
With the megaphone Al Christie, behind the wheel Vera Steadman, photo: Photofest.

Christie Girls
Le Giornate del Cinema Muto: Al Christie.
A cura di Steve Massa.
All notes by Steve Massa.
Teatro Verdi, Pordenone, e-subtitles in English and Italian by Sub-Ti, grand piano: Neil Brand, 5 Oct 2016.

Steve Massa (GCM catalog and website): "Mack Sennett’s Bathing Beauties are a well-remembered silent comedy staple, but before them Al Christie was specializing in leading ladies who became known as “Christie Girls”. Many of them were discovered in musical comedy or cabaret shows (the first, in 1912, was Victoria Forde, later Mrs. Tom Mix), but his most popular ladies of the 1910s were Billie Rhodes and Betty Compson."

Billie Rhodes. Photo: The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Billie Rhodes
WALTZING AROUND (Kind, jij kunt dansen!) (US 1918). D: Scott Sidney. C: Billie Rhodes, Cullen Landis, Billy Bevan. PC: Strand Comedies/Caulfield Photoplay Co. rel: 5.3.1918 (1 rl.). dist: Mutual. 35 mm, 702 ft, 10' (18 fps); titles: NLD. Source: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam.
    "Billie Rhodes was born Levita Axelrod in San Francisco in 1894, and started singing there on the Orpheum Circuit when she was only 11 years old. After some time spent in stock companies and the West Coast run of the Victor Herbert operetta Babes in Toyland, she made her film debut in 1913 for Kalem, who kepther busy in action and Western pictures. Still singing in nightclubs, she was seen by Al Christie and hired for his ensemble at Nestor Comedies. Starting with A Maid by Proxy (1915 ) , Billie was always the young ingénue and heroine, and although she had a resemblance to Mabel Normand – being small with dark hair and eyes – Billie was quick to point out that ”the kind of comedy I did was light comedy, not the knockabout comedy that Sennett did.”
    "When Christie set up his own studio in 1916 Billie came along, and appeared in films for his then - new Christie brand, as well as his later Cub and Strand Comedies, such as Her Rustic Romeo and Waltzing Around (both 1918). Billie later remembered that the Christies had numerous financial problems and often couldn’t pay everyone’s salaries, so she ended up working for (and marrying) comedian and producer William“ Smiling Bill” Parsons, who moved her into starring features that included The Girl of My Dreams (1918), Hoopla, and The Blue Bonnet (both 1919)."
    "Parson’s death in 1919 ended the trajectory of Billie’s career, and after a few independent features for the State’s Rights market, in addition to supporting comic Joe Rock in shorts like Little Red Robin Hood (1922) and Laughing Gas (1923), she left the screen in 1925, returning tonight clubs. She had wisely saved her money, and kept busy doing what she liked until her death at age 93 in 1988.

AA: Hubby is eager to learn to dance to catch up with wife who has "dancitis". Her best girlfriend secretly teaches him to dance although he "has two left feet". A chain of misunderstandings inevitably follows. Incomplete. Print ok to good.

Inoculating Hubby (US 1916). The mother-in-law, the wife (Betty Compson), and the hubby. D: Al Christie, photo:Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation, Culpeper, VA.

Betty Compson
INOCULATING HUBBY (US 1916). D+SC: Al Christie. Pres: Horace Davey. C: Betty Compson, Neal Burns, David Morris, Stella Adams, George B. French, Harry Rattenberry. PC: Cub Comedies, Christie Film Co. Rel: 13.10.1916 (1 rl.). Dist: Mutual. Copy: 35 mm, 945 ft, 14' (18 fps); titles: ENG. Source: Library of Congress Packard Center for Audio Visual Conservation, Culpeper, VA (printed 1979).
    "Betty Compson’s career began thanks to her talent on the violin. At first accompanying silent films on the bill in vaudeville houses, one day when one of the acts went on a binge she was put on stage, barefoot and with raggedy clothes, as a violin-playing street urchin. After touring all over California, she eventually hit Hollywood, and after an introduction to Al Christie (who said her real name of Eleanor Luicime sounded like a vegetable) the re-named Betty was told to report to Universal City. Like Billie Rhodes, much of her early screen time was spent with Eddie Lyons and Lee Moran. Her first film was Wanted: A Leading Lady (1915), which she said was a fictionalized version of her coming to the studio. Making an extremely positive impression, she was set, and was soon busy making shorts. She later told the New York Sunday Mirror Magazine Section:"
    "“Up at six, work at seven, so the director might use all the sunshine. The sets had no roof for we depended entirely on the sun... I was young, had plenty of fun and ambition in me, had lots of hard experiences and didn’t mind the aching work. Those Christie comedy roles demanded plenty of trick falls, punchings, slappings, rough-houses, in which they hurled bric-a-brac. Sometimes they worked in the rain, soaked to the skin. For some reason directors always chose the coldest winter days for making scenes in which we had to fall into swimming pools, tanks or the ocean.”"
    "Again like Billie Rhodes, Betty came along when Christie went independent, and two production units were set up for each of them to headline. Betty was paired with Neal Burns in many of the Cub Comedies that the producer released through Mutual, which included titles like Inoculating Hubby, Those Primitive Days (both 1916), Love and Locksmiths (1917), and Betty’s Adventure (1918), but in late 1918 she left the company. Many reasons have been given for the split – one version has the producer firing her for refusing to make a personal appearance , another cites Christie’s perennial money problems; Betty herself said she wanted to do more than slapstick. On her own she moved around – doing other shorts, Western serials, and features – but what really set her feature career on course and made her a star was George Loane Tucker’s The Miracle Man (1919), with Lon Chaney. For a while she had her own production company, for items such as Ladies Must Live (1921) and The Little Minister (1922), and was very busy in the 1920s. She even went to England and made features such as The Royal Oak, Woman to Woman (both 1923), and the recently rediscovered The White Shadow (1924). Her best-remembered films are Paths to Paradise, The Pony Express (both 1925), The Docks of New York, and The Barker (both 1928). Although she made a smooth transition to talking pictures the bulk of her starring sound films were routine, and by the mid-1930s she was playing supporting roles. She retired in 1948, and made a few stage appearances, ran a cosmetics business, and started Ashtrays Unlimited, a company that supplied personalized ashtrays to hotels and restaurants, which kept her busy until her death in 1974.

AA: Betty Compson had a long and fascinating career. For me she is above all the star of Josef von Sternberg's The Docks of New York. She was one of Sternberg's great leading ladies. This comedy would have been perfect for Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi's "Oh! Mother-in-Law" compilation programme four years ago. In this film mother-in-law takes command immediately upon arrival. Hubby is then no longer seen at home before bedtime. Professor Pill's advice: "this medicine will turn hubby into a tame housecat". Hubby gets wind of the ruse, pretends to take the pill and overdoes the impact outrageously. He meows, jumps onto the kitchen table, laps up milk and carries kittens between his teeth. The mother-in-law starts quickly packing her bags. From a jumpy, scratched and duped source, yet watchable.

Al Christie, Vera Steadman, Dorothy Devore. Photo: The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Vera Steadman
WHY WILD MEN GO WILD (US 1919). D: William Beaudine. SC: W. Scott Darling. Cinematography: E. G. Ulman. C: Bobby Vernon, Vera Steadman, Jimmie Harrison, George B. French, Gus Leonard. PC: Christie Film Co. DCP (from 16 mm, 381 ft), 12' (transferred at 21 fps); titles: ENG. Source: Undercrank Productions / Ben Model, New York.
    "Many of the “beach girls” in silent comedies were basically decorative, and outtakes even exist of the Sennett girls complaining about going into water that was too cold, but Vera Steadman was a record-holding diver and swimmer from the Los Angeles Athletic Club. Born in Monterey in 1900, she had no previous experience on stage or screen when she joined Keystone in 1915 – it was her devotion to water sports and her good looks that brought her to Sennett’s attention. In films such as Those College Girls (1915), The Surf Girl (1916), and Her Native Dance (1917), she alternated showing off her swimming prowess with being “eye candy,” and by 1918 she graduated to leading ingénue in Her Blighted Love and The Summer Girls. Other offers came her way, and she spent time making the rounds of the various comedy units, such as Universal and Fox Sunshine Comedies, and became an elegant leading lady for madcap Larry Semon in Traps and Tangles and Scamps and Scandals (both 1919). Her first appearance for Christie was in A Rustic Romeo (1919), and outside her roles in the features Scrap Iron (1921) and Meet the Prince (1924), the Christie studio would be her screen home until 1931."
    "Through the 1920s she made more than 70 comedies, and supported every male comic on the lot – Bobby Vernon, Jimmie Adams, Neal Burns, and especially “goofy gob” Billy Dooley. A few of her other shorts include Back from the Front (1920), Exit Quietly (19 21) , Fool Proof (19 2 3 ) , Getting Gertie’s Goat(1924), Run Tin Can (1926), A Moony Mariner (1927), and Sappy Service (1929), not to mention the Christie features 813 (1920), Stop Flirting (1925), and The Nervous Wreck (1926)."
    "Playing multiple variations on the basic comic sweetheart , from time to time the opportunity arose to have her poolside or at the beach. Having continued her competitive swimming in the 1920s and racking up more records , often no narrative logic had her in the water, as you’ll see at the very end of Why Wild Men Go Wild (1919). The arrival of sound saw her career drop off. After a couple of 1931 talking shorts for Christie, the rest of her screen work consisted of uncredited bits in features, such as Morning Glory (1933), A Star Is Born (1937), and Meet John Doe (1941). Her film appearances came to an abrupt end when she was hit by a car in 1941, and was told that she would never walk again. But in keeping with the spirit of her competitive swimming, within two years she did indeed walk again, and although she left the movie business she was on hand for many of the Sennett studio reunions, before her death in 1966.

AA: Vera Steadman was one of the real "Bathing Beauties" first with Mack Sennett, then with Al Christie. I saw this film but failed to take notes, so I quote Bob Lipton (New York City, 28 Jan 2014, IMDb): "A Bit Tame. James Harrison takes Bobby Vernon home to meet his sister, Vera Steadman. Bobby is on his best behavior, but Vera prefers wild men, so when a wild man is reported stealing chicken, James disguises himself as the thief and has Bobby drive him off ... until the real one shows up in this decent but unremarkable Christie Comedy from 1919."

Helen Darling

Helen Darling
NO PARKING (Theo zoekt een woning) (US 1921). D: Scott Sidney. SC: Frank Roland Conklin. C: Neal Burns, Helen Darling, Jane Hart. PC: Christie Film Co. rel:25.12.1921 (2 rl.). dist: Educational Pictures. DCP (from 35 mm, 1588 ft), 26'; titles: NLD. Source: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam.
    "Helen Darling was one of the many “Christie Girls,” along with Viora Daniel, Gayle Lloyd, Josephine Hill, Ann Christy, and Doris Dawson, whose main job was to be “straight women” for the studio’s male comics, and were charming and attractive as they provided love interest for their leading men. Darling was born Helen Mitchell MacCorquodale in Oregon , and was a café dancer when she was brought to films by Christie in 1919. Between 1919 and 1922 she supported Bobby Vernon, Earle Rodney, Eddie Barry, and Neal Burns in numerous shorts, on the order of Love in a Hurry (1919), A Bashful Bigamist (1920), Falling for Fanny, No Parking (both 1921), and The Son of a Sheik (1922). She also found the time to appear in shorts like Single and Double and Twin Husbands (both 1921) for Universal, as well as some Arrow Broadway Comedies produced by Morris Schlank featuring Harry Gribbon and Eddie Barry, before leaving the screen in 1922. Her last known credit is for the story of the Universal Western short Hearts of the West (1926)."

AA: A disaster comedy with affinities with Buster Keaton's One Week made the year before. This is an even more Sisyphean epic about a family's effort to establish a home. As soon as they have the do-it-yourself home standing it turns out that baby is under the floor and the whole thing needs to be torn down. They move the home on wheels with many risky turns during the odyssey. When the home finally collapses beyond repair the baby is nearby playing in the mud, and it turns out they have hit oil. Funny.

Dorothy Devore

Dorothy Devore
SAVING SISTER SUSIE (US 1921). D: Scott Sidney. SC: Walter Graham. C: Dorothy Devore, Earle Rodney, Katherine Lewis, Eugenie Forde. prod:Christie Film Co. Rel: 13.11.1921. dist: Educational Pictures. DCP, 22'; titles: ENG. Source: Lobster Films, Paris.
    "The most popular of Christie’s star comediennes was Dorothy Devore, who spent five extremely fruitful years with the producer. Born Alma Inez Williams, in Fort Worth, Texas, after moving to Los Angeles as a child she sang and danced in amateur revues and L.A. nightclubs. She made her film debut in the late 1910s in the Universal one -reelers of Eddie Lyons and Lee Moran, usually playing Lyons’ young wife or girlfriend in shorts like House Cleaning Horrors (1918) and Marry My Wife (1919). From there she settled on the Christie lot, and was soon headlined as a plucky girl who always gets into hot water and has to go to great lengths to get herself out of it . In 1972 she told Anthony Slide in The Silent Picture:"
    "“Al Christie was wonderful. There were two brothers, Charles and Al. Charles handled all the business; he was in the background more or less. And Al, of course, was producing and directing; he directed many of my films. The studios were small, and, well, it was like a family, and you knew everyone. Of course, naturally, daily or at least yearly, it grew and grew and grew. But when I first started in 1919, it was just very small; it was on the corner of Gower and Sunset Boulevard, Paramount was on the other side, adjoining on Vine and Sunset.”"
    "Her screen adventures in Saving Sister Susie (1922), Kidding Kate, Navy Blues (both 1923), Stay Single, and Getting Gertie’s Goat (both 1924) made her a comedy star, and her years with Christie culminated in the feature Hold Your Breath (1924), where she staked her claim on Harold Lloyd territory by climbing and dangling off a tall building. All this popularity led her to move out and star in all types of features, such as crime dramas like Money to Burn (1925) or the society story Mountains of Manhattan (1927). At the end of the 1920s she returned to two -reelers, for Jack White Comedies like Up in Arms (1927), Cutie (1928), and Auntie’s Mistake (1929), which took her to the end of the silent era, when she retired after only a couple of appearances in talkies. In her later years she became a resident of the Motion Picture Country Home, where she died in 1976.

AA: Dorothy Devore has to pose as a child while getting acquainted with "a rich catch". The "catch" wishes Dorothy were ten years older. When he soon meets her in her grown-up dress he proposes immediately. The priest refuses to wed "an under-aged". Before the happy end the police interferes in the farce.

Babe London

Babe London
A HULA HONEYMOON (US 1923). D: Al Christie. SC: Walter Graham. C: Babe London, Henry Murdock, Dorothy Vernon, William Irving. PC: Christie Film Co. Rel: 18.02.1923 (2 rl.). Dist: Educational Pictures. DCP, 20' (transferred at 24 fps); titles: ENG. Source: Lobster Films, Paris.
    "A silent comedy character fixture who was typecast as the funny fat girl because she was more than plump at 250+ pounds was Babe London. Determined to get into movies at a young age, she talked her family into moving from Oakland in Northern California to Los Angeles so she’d be near the studios. Like Dorothy Devore, she got her foot in the cinematic door in comedies with Eddie Lyons and Lee Moran at Universal . She was only 18 when she made her debut in 1919, and that same year she got a career boost with a good role in Charlie Chaplin’s A Day’s Pleasure. Soon she was working with the likes of Joe Rock and Earle Montgomery, George Bunny, and Stan Laurel, in addition to appearing in features such as When the Clouds Roll By (1919), Merely Mary Ann (1920), and When Romance Rides (1922). In 1923 she became important support in Christie Comedies: “ I was there for a long time as a featured comedienne. I worked in practically every picture Al Christie directed while I was there. He seemed to like me. He got a kick out of me as a bum Mary Pickford. He put a Mary Pickford wig on me, you know, with curls and all that.” (Interview with Anthony Slide, The Silent Picture, no .15, Summer 1972)"
    "She supported everyone on the Christie lot – she was an annoying little girl who thought Bobby Vernon in disguise as a child was a great playmate in Second Childhood (1923), had a yen for Jimmie Adams in Done in Oil (1923) as a lunch-counter cook, and in Kidding Kate (1923) she’s Dorothy Devore’s fat older sister who is having a beau she’s never met before come to visit, so Babe and mom make Dorothy pretend to be a little girl so she’ll be no competition for Babe. Christie did star her in one comedy, A Hula Honeymoon (1923), where she and country sweetheart Henry Murdock win a contest for a honeymoon in Hawaii. While there Henry starts a flirtation with a Hawaiian girl, so Babe learns how to hula tow in him back. A unique angle for this picture is that it was actually shot on location in Honolulu and on board ship going over."
    "When her Christie contract ran out, Babe segued to Educational and Jack White Comedies, where she supported Lloyd Hamilton, Al St. John, Lige Conley, and even starred in some one-reel Cameo Comedies, such as Scrambled Eggs (1925). Features like Go West (1925), The Fortune Hunter, All Aboard (both 1927), and Tillie’s Punctured Romance (1928) also kept her busy. Af ter 1929 her screen appearances became more sporadic, although in 1931 she returned for one of the best roles of her career playing Oliver Hardy’s chubby fiancée Dulcy in Laurel & Hardy’s Our Wife. After spending most of the 1930s on the East Coast, she returned to Hollywood in the early 1940s and did all kinds of uncredited bits in features, such as Six Lessons from Madame La Zonga (1941), Jackass Mail (1942), The Paleface (1948), and The Good Humor Man (1950). Like her old co-star Dorothy Devore, Babe London took up residence at the Motion Picture Country Home, and spent her last years painting portraits of stars and locations from the silent era, before her death in 1980.
" (All notes in italics by Steve Massa, GCM catalog and website).

AA: This one starts with a wedding. The honeymoon trip to Honolulu takes place on an ocean liner. They move aboard in a ramshackle car. There is a mess with ship tickets, and hubby has to work in the kitchen. In Hawaii there are jokes with hula hula and greeting via rubbing noses. Hubby is about to get married with a Hawaiian princess. There is a wild chase and a last minute escape aboard the ocean liner, but it turns out that it is going towards China. The Hawaiian blues ends with the couple in a rowboat headed for America. Print quality: from a duped, low contrast source.

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