Once a Clown, Always a Clown/Chapter 5

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3892049Once a Clown, Always a Clown — Came Dawn at HollywoodDeWolf Hopper



Before any one else can say it first, let me admit that I was no earth-shaking success in the movies. If the truth must be known, I died on the silver screen; I sank majestically beneath the oily waves of the cinema sea and never was heard of again. Not so much as a life belt or a spar was picked up. The fact that a gallant company of stage celebrities perished with me made my demise less poignant personally, but not the less indisputable.

And so it may be suggested that the lavender grapes of Hollywood are sour to my palate only because I found them beyond my reach. Be that as it may, as George Monroe used to say.

I was part of the Triangle Film Corporation, the first great flourish of that prattling infant industry. That was a scant twelve years ago, yet it will entitle my posterity to membership in good standing, if not in the Mayflower Society, at least in the Colonial Dames of Hollywood, for time is relative and as picture history goes 1915 is somewhere back in the French and Indian War. Only six years earlier David W. Griffith, under the anonymous bushel of the Biograph, was turning out one one-reeler a day in a brownstone front house at Number 11 East Fourteenth Street, New York, and paying Florence Lawrence, Florence Turner, Mary Pickford, Flora Finch, Mack Sennett, David Miles and Bobbie Harron five dollars a day for their services. Pathé was just emigrating from France to make chase comedies in Weehawken, and Vitagraph was organizing in Flatbush. Actors and directors alike were nameless on the screen. Miss Pickford was identified only as the Biograph Blonde, and regularly confused with Blanche Sweet. English audiences demanded the names of their favorites, and to gratify this whim the London offices of the Biograph tagged Mr. Griffith's hired hands synthetically. Old posters still are extant in which Mabel Normand is labeled as Muriel Fortescue, Mack Sennett masquerades as Mr. Walter Terry, and Blanche Sweet as Daphne Wayne. All this in 1909.

The Triangle was such a brave and ill-fated enterprise that it justifies recounting. It took its name from the Big Three, Griffith, Thomas

Collection of Albert Davis, Brooklyn, N. Y.
From the photo. by Otto Sarony Co.

Collection of Albert Davis, Brooklyn, N. Y.

Douglas Fairbanks in "Frenzied Finance", 1905

Mary Pickford in Earlier Days

Ince and Mack Sennett. Harry E. Aitken was the promoter, and Willie Collier, Billie Burke, Raymond Hitchcock, Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, Eddie Foy, Weber and Fields, Sam Bernard, Dustin Farnum, Frank Keenan, Willard Mack, Douglas Fairbanks and myself were among the stars engaged from the speaking stage at salaries so large that they were set down as the brazen inventions of a press agent.

Griffith, Ince and Sennett went on to greater directorial glories, Aitken went down with the ship, and of this impressive array of names recruited from the theater to revolutionize the films all failed, with one exception. Fairbanks, whose salary was among the least, survived and triumphed.

W. S. Hart, it is true, was of the Triangle company and had come from the legitimate stage, but he had not been either a star or a leading man and he had played in a number of pictures for Ince before the Triangle was formed. Aitken, whose imagination conceived the idea and whose enthusiasm and organizing ability made it a reality, first appeared on the distant horizon of the movies about 1905 as a salesman for a Chicago film exchange. Moving pictures then had been exhibited for ten years or more, but only as a sort of animated magic-lantern show. The photoplay was not more than two years old. Films, which had originally been sold outright to exhibitors, now were beginning to be rented through exchanges, and the salesmen, such as Aitken, virtually were peddlers packing a suitcase of assorted reels from nickelodeon to nickelodeon.

Among young Aitken's customers was John R. Freuler, a Milwaukee real-estate operator who had been forced to take over the Theater Comique, a five-cent picture theater on Kinnikinnic Avenue, to protect an investment, and who found that he had no choice but to operate the place himself or close it up. He gave the orphan one pigeonhole in his desk and saw to it in chance moments, taking care as a business man of weight and dignity not to publish to his associates that he was the owner of an institution that had the social standing of a shooting gallery.

Presently Aitken asked Freuler to go his bond with the Lewis Exchange that Aitken might carry a larger stock of films. Freuler suggested instead that he and Aitken organize an exchange of their own. They did and called it the Western, with headquarters in Chicago and branches in other cities. When the General Film Company and its closely allied Motion Picture Patents Company began to tighten its grip on the young industry about 1911, the Western cast its lot with the independents.

The first move of the independents was a defensive union remembered as the old Sales Company. It was a loose federation, full of civil wars, and ended quickly. Whereupon Freuler and Aitken organized the Mutual Film Corporation on the model of the General, and Carl Laemmle formed the Universal. Freuler took care of the operating machinery while Aitken went to Wall Street, opened an office at Number 60, interested Crawford Livingston, an investment banker, and through him the portentous firm of Kuhn, Loeb and Company. Big money had discovered the films for the first time, and Aitken was the evangelist.

Mutual began as a program producer, making the slapbang one-reel dramas and comedies that were the staple of the business. But Aitken's vision saw further than that, and as he watched the multi-reel "Quo Vadis", imported from Europe by George Kleine, and Queen "Elizabeth", a French production with Bernhardt in the title rôle, brought over by Adolph Zukor and released in the fall of 1912, he began to reach out on his own. Through the Majestic Pictures Corporation, which was producing for Mutual distribution, Aitken hired D. W. Griffith away from Biograph. Mutual also was releasing the product of the New York Motion Picture Company, better known as the NYMPH, owned by Adam Kessel and Charles O. Baumann, ex-bookmakers at Sheepshead Bay and other New York tracks. NYMPH had both Tom Ince and Mack Sennett by this time.

Aitken, Griffith, Sennett and Ince put their heads together, and Mutual Masterpieces, the first American-made four and five reel feature pictures, were born. Aitken also put up the sixty thousand dollars that went into "The Birth of a Nation", the first great epic of the films, produced independently of Griffith's labors for the Majestic, but originally intended for Mutual release. The money was going out faster than it was coming in and the banking interests grew unhappy. Months of intrigue and dissension within the Mutual organization ensued.

Then on July 20, 1915, Ince, Sennett, Griffith and Aitken met by prearrangement in the Fred Harvey House at La Junta, Colorado, a halfway point between the two coasts, and Triangle was the result. The company was incorporated for five million dollars with Aitken as President, Baumann as vice president and Adam and Charles Kessel as secretary and auditor respectively.

Before Aitken could get back to Number 60 Wall Street, Mutual's directors had met, deposed him as president and elected Freuler in his place. Aitken's reply was to begin signing up for Triangle all the available stars of Broadway at Klondike salaries, to lease the Knickerbocker as a Broadway first-run house with Rothafel in charge, to announce a chain of picture theaters nation-wide and of unprecedented pretentiousness, and to predict a two-dollar top scale. Not even he seriously believed that any one would pay two dollars to see his pictures in a day when five and ten cents was the prevailing scale, but it was valuable ballyhoo.

I was playing in Gilbert and Sullivan repertoire at the Forty-eighth Street Theater in the late spring of 1915 when Aitken offered me a picture contract for one year at eighty-three thousand dollars. I had not taken the movies very seriously, but I took the eighty-three thousand and an early train for Hollywood. All my life I have had the merriest of dispositions, but I was unequal to laughing eighty-three thousand dollars off.

I was not, as I recall it, met at the Los Angeles station by an admiring and grateful crowd of fellow film actors and actresses who pelted me with roses. The men and women of the California film colony who had been laboring at twenty-five to one hundred and fifty dollars a week viewed this descent in force of the one thousand dollars-a-week high hats of Broadway with a jaundiced eye. They had toiled and sweated long in the vineyards and now that the grapes were ripe we fair-haired boys and girls of the legitimate were to eat the fruit; eat it patronizingly with slightly curled lips.

They had their revenge shortly, but not many of them remained to enjoy it, for the mortality rate of the screen always has been appalling. Of the great names of the film world in 1915, actors, actresses, directors, those who survive undiminished may be counted upon the fingers of a careless sawmill hand. In the short interval others have shot up from the obscurity of extras and bits to blaze briefly and fade swiftly, gone with the cross-word puzzle, mah jongg and last year's favorite fox-trot tune. The lords

Once a Clown, Always a Clown-p183.png

Collection of Albert Davis, Brooklyn, N. Y.

Chester Withey, Fay Tincher and DeWolf Hopper in "Sunshine Dad", 1915

and ladies of Hollywood of 1925, with an exception here and there, then were hangers-on on the fringes of the studios, school children or mere units in the census statistics.

Gloria Swanson was a Keystone bathing girl, recently from behind the counter of a Pittsburgh department store. Harold Lloyd was a new and nameless shadow in Hal Roach's one-reel comedies. Ramon Navarro was a Wall Street messenger. Appalonia Chalupez was dancing in a Warsaw cabaret. She is known to you as Pola Negri. There is nothing in this to any one's discredit. I cite it only to evidence the giddy romance of the institution, infinitely more glamorous, more comic, more tragic, more thrilling than the gaudy stuff that it photographs.

Producers and exhibitors were, many of them, emerging from pants factories and penny arcades. It was about this time that Marcus Loew and Joseph Schenck, both now imposing figures in the show business, were opening the Royal Theater in Brooklyn. Loew had accumulated a hundred and fifteen thousand dollars running store shows and he put all of it into the Royal, rented a picture program costing him eighty dollars a week and opened the house at ten cents. He confined his advertising, as he always had done, to posters in front of the theater. The first day the Royal played to one paid spectator. When the lone customer was leaving the theater, Loew stopped him, told him that the performance was a dress rehearsal, that the box office had taken his money by mistake, and offered to refund the dime. The second day the gross jumped to twelve dollars, the third it went to seventeen dollars, where it might have stayed had the business agent of the stage hands' union not called with an ultimation. He demanded that Loew put a crew of five union men on the stage instanter, although the house was playing pictures only. Loew, who had no more experience with unions than he had with advertising, opened his books to the business agent, even offered to sell the union a half interest and let it run the stage, but the agent was not interested in hard-luck stories and left with a warning.

Two days later a regiment of sandwich men appeared on the streets of the Borough Hall district of Brooklyn each carrying the placard:

Loew's Royal Theater
Is Unfair to Union Labor
Do Not Patronize It

Business at the box office leaped suddenly. Downtown Brooklyn, which never had heard of Loew's Royal, came around to see what all the shooting was about and Mr. Loew learned something about advertising that he never has forgotten. The Royal made a net profit of sixty-three thousand dollars that first year and carried Mr. Loew on to ownership of the most powerful string of picture and vaudeville houses in the country; to the presidency of Metro-Goldwyn, which with Famous Players-Lasky and First National forms the Big Three of pictures, all closely allied; and to a commanding position in the industry second only to that of Adolph Zukor, to whom he is closely related by ties of marriage and friendship. His son, Arthur, now titular head of the father's producing and distributing corporations, married Mr. Zukor's only daughter, and the Zukor-Loew alliance virtually dominates the business. Loew and his Metro-Goldwyn and the First National together now control nearly thirty per cent of the total seating of the country and are expanding rapidly.

The old Selig Company had discovered California as early as 1907, journeying from Chicago to finish a one-reel "Count of Monte Cristo" around Los Angeles, but Hollywood's film history was less than three years old.

Two great stars had blazed in the new firmament by 1915, Chaplin and Mary Pickford. Chaplin, who was only two years out of Fred Karno's vaudeville and obscurity, and who had not yet gotten the Cockney out of his speech, already was a world figure. He had finished with Keystone and was in the midst of his Essanay contract when I went to the Coast, and before I left he had signed that staggering six hundred and seventy thousand dollar one-year contract with Mutual for twelve pictures. Broadway jeered at the sum as stage money, but the mint never coined better, nor did a party of the second part ever make a shrewder contract. Those twelve pictures, among them "Easy Street", by and large the best Chaplin ever made, are still going strong and have returned millions.

All the green eyes were not among the legitimate profession. Miss Pickford, whose one hundred and five thousand dollar contract with Famous Players had been the record until then, showed signs of disquiet, and had to be pacified with a share in the profits of her pictures.

Sam Goldwyn, Goldfish, was making gloves at Gloversville, New York, and denouncing the Democrats and the Insurgents who had just taken the tariff off the imported product. In New York one day in 1912 or 1913 on business, the disgruntled Goldfish encountered his brother-in-law, Jesse Lasky, Cecil De Mille and Arthur Friend at lunch in Rector's. Lasky was the son of a Jewish merchant of San José, California. In the time of Queen Lil, he played cornet in the Royal Hawaiian band, the only non-native in the band. He turned up in Nome during the gold rush, tried his hand at newspaper reporting in San Francisco, drifted into vaudeville as manager of Hermann, the magician, became a vaudeville producer and made much money, most of which he lost in introducing the cabaret into America. Incredible as it seems, the cabaret is only sixteen years old on these shores. The first was the Folies Bergères, as faithful a copy of the Parisian institution as the time and locale permitted, which Lasky opened in Longacre Square in the spring of 1911. There was a $2.50 admission fee. That was more than most Broadway theaters were charging in that day, and New York could not see it.

Cecil De Mille's only claim to notice lay in the fact that he was the younger brother of William De Mille, an actor. Friend was a lawyer with some theatrical interests. Before the luncheon checks were paid, Goldfish, Lasky and Friend each had put up five thousand dollars. De Mille took the fifteen thousand dollars westward, found a stable in Vine Street in a Los Angeles suburb called Hollywood, and ground out the first of the Lasky pictures, "The Squaw Man." The afternoon of the luncheon, Lasky and Friend had looked up Dustin Farnum at the Lambs Club and signed him up for the lead in the picture. Farnum had starred in the stage production some seasons earlier. Lasky and Friend offered him a fifth interest in the new company as his pay, but Farnum demanded and received cash in hand, a decision he has had ample leisure to repent.

My first picture was "Don Quixote." As I studied Cervantes' story, which I had not read until then, I fell captive to that mad, lean knight, as have all who ever read him, and forgot all my actor's disdain for the films. No boy or girl newly raised to stardom ever began his first picture with greater zest than I. I thought I saw before me an opportunity to recreate an immortal character of fiction in a fashion impossible to my own stage. But my new enthusiasm wilted progressively, once the camera began to grind.

The actor in the films is the creature of the director. The director is an important factor in the speaking stage, more so than the spectator often realizes, but in the pictures he dwarfs the players. They are puppets dancing at the ends of strings to his piping, seldom knowing anything of the sequence of the story they are enacting and little of its sense; theirs not to reason why, theirs but to clown or cry when and as a megaphoned voice instructs them to. No more initiative is expected or desired of them than of a squad of soldiers being drilled by a top sergeant in the manual of arms.

Perhaps if "Don Quixote" had fallen under the direction of D. W. Griffith it might have been a mark to date from in pictures, but Griffith's heart and most of his time, as far as I could observe, were going into his spectacle "Intolerance", which he was producing on his own. He did write and direct "The Lamb", Douglas Fairbanks' first picture, and I have been told that when the film was finished he said to the actor, "You'd better take your monkey shines to Sennett; they're more in his line."

No film is shot in the sequence in which it is shown on the screen. All the scenes falling on one location are taken in any order that the director sees fit, until that set, or location, is disposed of. The final fifty feet of a photoplay may have been among the first to be shot.

Our first set was a stable built in the studio. For five hours of a hot California day I rolled in the straw of the stable, which I shared with every sand flea and ant in California, clowning low comedy, much of it written, not by Cervantes but by a scenarist; stopping only to swab the perspiration that drenched me and doing that only because beads of sweat on the face photographed as pockmarks, when the director announced, "Now, Mr. Hopper, we will have the death scene."

It appeared that the stable set had to be removed to make way for another and that my death throes were down in the continuity for the stable.

I protested. "I want this death to signify something more than decomposition," I said bitterly. "It is symbolical. At least let me know why I die."

Not even the director, it developed, knew that at this stage of the proceedings.

"My dear sir!" I balked. "You might just as well ask me to be nauseated now and give me the emetic three weeks later."

But die I did, then and there. Cervantes saw fit to kill his hero of brain fever, but Hollywood's he-men all die with their boots on, and it was down in the scenario that I was to be shot. So I fell mortally wounded, why or by whom I had not then the remotest idea, and contorted my face and limbs this way and that way as the megaphone told me to do, for all the world like a fat woman on her bedroom floor taking her daily dozen to the voice of a phonograph record. I did sneak in a little dying of my own, and—may I say it?—it was pretty good; also as realistic as my cinema collapse, which was to come.

We were twelve weeks on "Don Quixote." The film ran seven reels in its final form. Its only success was in Latin America, where the story was more familiar to picture audiences than in English-speaking lands. Present-day audiences would recognize the names of only three members of that company, Monte Blue, George Walsh and Fay Tincher. Blue and Walsh have risen to stardom and Miss Tincher to a considerable fame as a comedienne and character woman.

Blue, ten years ago a newcomer and an unknown, doubled for me in the extra-hazardous scenes. Having in mind Sir Loring in Conan Doyle's "The White Company", who had vowed that he would wear a blinder on one eye until he had accomplished some noble purpose, I had suggested to the director that we have Quixote pledge himself to ride backward on Rosinante as one of his fantastic vows. That, in turn, suggested having the don brushed off the back of his faithful steed by a low-hanging limb.

Blue took my place, the old hack set off at a decrepit trot for the tree, the branch performed its part perfectly and Blue turned a complete somersault and landed with an appalling thud on his back on the sun-baked California earth. A sympathetic shudder scurried up my spine. Blue lifted his head from the ground far enough to catch the eye of the director and asked artlessly, "Was that all right, Mr. Dillon, or do you want me to do it over?"

There's no keeping down a lad of this spirit. I marked him then as a young man going somewhere. The script called for George Walsh to throw himself into a mountain torrent, whence Don Quixote was to endeavor to rescue him. I am not exactly a leaping rainbow trout and shuddered at the prospect, until I learned that the invaluable Monte would double for me again. But when the available mountain torrents came to be canvassed all were found to be dry. Mr. Walsh might incur a fractured skull, but he must give up all hope of a watery grave. With traditional resourcefulness I summoned up from my exhaustless store of classic lore the demise à la Cleopatra.

"Don't fake it with the harmless and invaluable gopher snake, which happens to be protected by law," I counseled, with an artistic integrity born of the knowledge that it was Walsh who was to be the serpent's playmate, "but get a snake with a punch. California won't miss one rattler more or less."

Dillon sent off to a Los Angeles dealer for eight dollars' worth of snake and got for his money a kindly old gentleman reptile with eight rattles and a button, whose altruism had been enhanced by the lancing of his poison ducts. Emmett Rice, an extraordinary character in charge of the zoo on the lot, whose easy and utter dominance over all his charges was uncanny, appeared with the reptile wrapped around his arm, laid it on the sand, coiled it with a finger, chucked it under the chin and lifted the head in the manner of a photographer arranging a sitter.

The close-ups of the snake taken, Walsh gingerly picked it up some six inches back of its rearing head and bared his bosom. This was followed in the completed film by a flash-back showing me galloping madly on Rosinante to the rescue. In his intense distaste of the snake, Walsh unconsciously squeezed it too tightly for its comfort and it turned and struck him on the forefinger. The actor screamed and hurled the rattler at least thirty feet into the air. Rice shot out an arm and caught his pet as it descended. It coiled around his arm, he stroked its head soothingly and the snake was restored to placidity in an instant. The scene had to be retaken and Walsh was careful the second time to seize the reptile just behind the head.

After we had used up five hundred feet on the scene, some pedant from the intelligence corps sent out a memorandum to the effect that the rattlesnake was not indigenous to Spain. Walsh balked at any further association with the family Ophidia, so the rattler's castanets were painted out in the developing room and it appeared ultimately on the screen as a Spanish adder minus the alarm-clock tail.

Titles are as common as cafeterias and their linen sometimes as soiled in Hollywood these days, but not so in '15. Beerbohm Tree, I imagine, was the first knight to grace those shores. I had known him in London and the deference paid him as actor-manager of His Majesty's Theater. The British stage-door keeper tips his hat to the actor and the scene-shifter steps aside to permit one to pass. Once when I was playing in London an English actor asked me if I did not find this respect agreeable, and miss it when bowled over by the stage hands at home and greeted by the door man with an "Evenin', Cap", if at all.

"I do," I agreed. "But remember there are compensations. In America, where the door man does not tip his hat to me, I likewise do not have to tip my hat to the producer, as do you. It is a fair exchange."

Sir Herbert was anything but a snob, but I feared for his Old World sensibilities in the, at that time, rampant democracy of the movie lot. Accordingly I tried to prepare him for the reception he might expect, more particularly from the cow-punchers.

"They will have no thought of insulting you, but they will be startlingly matter of fact," I told him. "It is a fundamental doctrine of the Western American that you are no better than he is. It is understood, of course, that he is no better than you."

"Oh, I quite understand," Tree reassured me, and he did, for the riders were offering him their makin's the third day. The Los Angeles reporters met him at the station and addressed him variously as "Sir," "Your Lordship" and "Sir Tree." One of them, sensible of the confusion, said, "May I ask just how you should be addressed?"

"My dear boy, call me Oscar," Tree told him in a stage whisper.

Another young man, who had been called in hurriedly from police headquarters to catch the distinguished visitor, asked him what he did when in London, and the actor replied that he played at His Majesty's Theater.

"I never knew the King had a theater," the police reporter exclaimed.

Tree passed triumphantly through the reception, but once in the motor car which whisked him to Hollywood he turned to his daughter, and said, "If I only could capture that type for the stage, our fortune would be made." He had the police reporter in mind.

The worst ordeal of the pictures, I found, was the getting up with the working world and being on the lot in make-up by nine o'clock. Photography is all but independent of sunshine now, but it was not then. It was the high percentage of sunshine in Southern California, of course, that located the industry there to begin with. Actorlike, I had been accustomed all my adult life to going to bed with the arrival of the milkman and getting up about one o'clock in the afternoon. The workaday world returns home at five o'clock and gives the evening to recreation. The actor does not finish work until his audience is ready for bed. He then eats, and enjoys his leisure. He might, you may suggest, be in bed himself by midnight and up by eight, with the forenoon free, but leisure comes after work, not before, as all night workers know.

A lesser nuisance of picture routine is the necessity, when on location away from the studio, of appearing in public in costume and make-up. It is such a commonplace that the native does not bat an eye; would not, in fact, turn a head to see Lady Godiva ride by au naturel on her milk-white palfrey, but it gives the tourist something to write home about. I never ceased to feel like a cage of monkeys. My make-up for Quixote was a ghastly thing, suggesting a death mask. It registered naturally in the camera but I was an apparition to the eye. We were on location in Santa Barbara on one occasion and I had, as usual, made up in my room after an early breakfast. My room was on the fourth floor of the Hotel Potter. As I descended in the elevator the car stopped at the third floor to admit two elderly women, voyageurs from Prides Crossing, Massachusetts. The interior of the elevator was dim and they did not see me until they were crossing the threshold. When they did they screamed as if they had encountered the devil himself, and fled down the corridor.

Tree would have none of the Hollywood working day, and he was of a dimension in the theatrical world to enforce his own preferences. Not appearing on the lot until well after noon, he necessarily had to work far into the night. It became my habit, when homeward bound in the late evening, to drop into the studio and say good night to the company. I usually found those not working before the camera at the moment perched about on various props, munching sandwiches and sipping hot coffee.

Tree was doing Macbeth, and I would have defied Esau himself to match hair for hair with any of the company. The Seven Sutherland Sisters in the aggregate were a human billiard ball alongside the baldest and least whiskered member of his support. One day on the lot I noticed a horse Dorothy Gish was riding. The animal boasted a walrus mustache that was a close copy of the one that distinguished Mack Swayne in the Keystone Comedies. I borrowed the horse, led it around to Tree's studio and presented it to him, saying, "Here is a steed destined by Nature to play Macbeth." Tree accepted the recruit with crocodile tears in his eyes and was astride the animal on his first appearance.

As the end of "Macbeth" approached and Tree was about to return to New York to appear at the New Amsterdam Theater in Shakespearean repertoire, he was host to his many professional friends in the colony at a dinner, Douglas Fairbanks presiding. There were the usual postprandial speeches, beginning with Sir Herbert, who was in rare form. When every one had had his say, Fairbanks, in his zeal to keep the ball rolling, called on Miss Iris.

Miss Tree is a charming lady, not in the least lacking in poise, but she was not in the habit of speaking extemporaneously over her demitasse, and she had had no thought of being called upon. Her embarrassment was so acute and so overwhelming that it communicated itself to all present, and as she pushed her water glass about and shuffled the salt and pepper cellars in mute confusion, all of us fidgeted sympathetically in our chairs and grew red in the face from vicarious discomfiture. Any banquet goer knows the sensation.

Just as she was about to sink back into her chair inarticulately, she stammered out, "I wonder why Mr. Fairbanks called upon me. In all my life I never have made a speech, but I mustn't sit down without saying something to express how truly sorry we are to have to leave and how happy you have made our visit. But now that we must go it is not alone your kindness we shall remember, nor the golden orange groves nor the sun-kissed Pacific. No, I think we shall dwell with fondest memories upon the hour of 2:30 a.m. in the studio, with ham sandwiches trickling through our whiskers."

It was the best speech of the evening.

The film "Macbeth" was not a success. Possibly neither the pictures nor their audiences ever will be equal to Shakespeare unless the technic of the art should advance far beyond anything now foreseeable; certainly up to now every attempt to put him upon the screen has been a failure. Shakespeare's sorcery dwells chiefly in the magic of his words and their proper reading, both utterly lost upon the screen. Tree was like a drowning man clutching at a straw and no straw there. Reduced to pantomime, interspersed with occasional emasculated quotations as captions, the latter read haltingly and without feeling or emphasis, and with little understanding, by the spectators, "Macbeth" became a sticky tea-party salad set before a hungry harvest hand.

The camera had an inning here and there. When Macbeth looks forth from his battlements to see Birnam Wood apparently moving upon Dunsinane in fulfillment of the prophecy, and he cries out,

"Ring the alarum bell! Blow, wind! come, wrack!
At least we'll die with harness on our back,"

photography is able to show Malcolm, old Siward, Macduff and their men advancing from Birnam upon the castle of Dunsinane, each man bearing aloft the branch of a tree to prey upon the superstitious credulity of Macbeth, where the stage can only suggest it.

Ordinarily it is a safe theatrical generalization that the inflamed imagination of the spectator, set off by the author's provocative words, is far more potent than the bald and literal photograph. In Shakespeare's own time stage scenery often consisted of nothing more than a placard reading "This is the castle of Dunsinane." The spectators painted their own sets in their minds, each to his own taste, under the inspiration of the author's words. Richard Mansfield's "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" was overpowering in what it suggested, where the film's trick photography was merely grotesque. In the stage version of "Oliver Twist" the spectator does not see Bill Sykes beat Nancy to death. He sees nothing and hears only an off-stage thud and cry, but his aroused apprehension conjures up a scene that leaves him trembling. The movies insist upon showing their patrons Bill in the act of raining blows and kicks upon the cringing Nancy, and the spectator either is revolted by the brutality or is reminded that it is only make-believe.

The plot of "Macbeth" and of many of Shakespeare's plays is good enough movie stuff, but it has not been their plots that have carried them undiminished through three centuries during which our common speech has changed so greatly that Elizabethan English is intelligible only with an effort to the man in the street and the girl who reads a picture newspaper. Once familiarized with the bare bones of Shakespeare via the movies, however, the illiterate and the semi-literate may, I surmise, be prepared to enjoy the plays as their author wrote them. If that is so, Tree's "Macbeth" and other losing ventures in pictures have served a purpose.

There is this to be said in justice for the films: Their defects are, by and large, the defects of their audiences, and they are improving as rapidly as their audiences will permit them. No entertainment rises higher than its source, and its source is the money paid into the box office. Youth, from sixteen to twenty-five, forms the bulk of the chronic picture-goers and dictates the programs. It is said that a feature picture to-day must please nine million persons to turn a profit. There is explanation enough.

Tom Ince, who died two years ago, probably was the best continuous box-office director-producer in the business. He knew the public's likes and dislikes so well that he left a great fortune, five millions I have been told. Two years before his death he put his tried and proven formulas aside for a moment and made Eugene O'Neill's play, "Anna Christie", into a photo-play that won high praise from the reviewers for its sincerity.

Five months after the film's release the New York office wired Ince in pleased surprise, "Figures show we have turned the corner on Christie and are going to make some money."

Ince wired back, "I don't care a hoot whether it makes a dime or not. I didn't make that one to sell, but to show the critics that Tom Ince could do this art stuff if he wanted to."

The theater has had the same obstacle to contend with, but the theater happily is specialized. It is divided into drama, melodrama, farce, operetta, musical comedy, vaudeville, burlesque, minstrelsy, and the like, for as many varying tastes. You pay your money and take your choice. The dramatic producer does not have to concern himself with the tastes of burlesque audiences. They attract different sets of playgoers.

The picture exhibitors, on the contrary, whether in Nebraska or in Vermont, downtown or suburban, city or small town, all are shooting at the same public, because they have found by experience that it is the only large group that can be depended upon to attend day in and out. This audience may want Mae Murray in "Purple Passion" one day, Tom Mix in a Western the next and custard-pie comedy on a third, but it demands all of them in the same intellectual key and artistic pitch.

I have no more fear of the motion picture eventually displacing the stage than I have of the Japanese beetle destroying the Washington Monument or of jazz wiping out the American home. The theater is on the eve of a revival, and the movie will continue to flourish. For one cause or another it has captured a certain audience that the stage may never recover, but its bulwark is the vast new audience it has created. The throngs in the picture houses to-night are, most of them, persons who did not attend a theater once a year, if ever, and a certain proportion of these will graduate into the public of the speaking stage if the stage presents them with the opportunity.

And there's the rub. The theater really doesn't care much to-day how Memphis, Dallas, Wichita and Lexington spend their evenings. They can go to the movies or stay home and play charades, as far as the show business is concerned.

When the producer is reproached for this indifference he laments that most good actors no longer will leave Broadway and that railroad rates are prohibitive. It is true that a great many actors and actresses no longer can be pried loose from Broadway. Their homes, their clubs, their friends are there, and train whistles are just a noise to their ears. But the producer's tears are glycerin. Railroad rates are up, but so are theater tickets, and as for the actor, the producer is doing exactly what he blames the actor for.

He used to burst into the office at ten in the morning, yelling a demand to know how much the show played to last night in Little Rock, and whether Monroe, Louisiana, would not answer for that open date between Texarkana and Shreveport.

To-day he is working for a long run on Broadway, big profits or no profits. If the show fails on Broadway, scrap it and try another. When he gets a winner for a Broadway run of a year or more, he makes around a quarter of a million dollars, sends the show to Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago, then sells the movie rights, turns the play over to a broker to peddle to stock companies, and sets himself for another gamble for a quarter of a million or nothing. Little Rock, Monroe, Texarkana and Shreveport can come to New York if they want to see his shows.

The one-night-stand theater managers deserted to the movies almost in a body before the war. It looked to them like a better business, what with no stage hands and a larger share of the box-office receipts; and it was, for a time. But once the picture industry was well organized, the theater manager was at the mercy of the producer and he now pays a bonus to get a program, ties himself up to a long-time contract and pays all the traffic will bear. And to prevent any united uprising among the exhibitors, these contracts no longer expire in a body on January 1 or June 30, but are scattered over the three hundred and sixty-five days of the year. One of these days some harassed exhibitor is going to lead a procession back to the legitimate stage if Broadway gives him the slightest encouragement. Most of the fine new picture houses may be converted easily to the drama, and with their enormous seating capacity, running twelve hundred and up on the first floor, the best shows with first-rate casts can be played in them at less than the prevailing prices.

As for radio, my generation of the stage can remember when roller skating had the theater on its back for three successive years in the late eighties. The billboards were plastered with colored lithographs of bemedaled fancy skaters, and every one was dashing from the supper table to the livery stable hastily converted into a rink. I do not expect to see radio vanish as roller skates did, but I do know that the American housewife sees too much of the four walls of her home during the day to care to spend all her evenings in the living room turning dials. She wants a change of scene, she wants to see and be seen in something more than a bungalow apron. That is a constant of human nature.

One rainy afternoon in Toronto some ten years back I took refuge in a picture house. Between films a gentleman with a pronounced English accent appeared before the curtain to proclaim the bill to follow, which was to be "Carmen", an early picture of Jesse Lasky's in which Miss Geraldine Farrar starred, supported by Wally Reid as Don José and Pedro de Cordoba as Escamillo, if I recall aright; and a right good film it was too.

"Ladies and gentlemen," the announcer began, "I wish to invite your attention to a consummate work of art to be produced in this the-ah-tur, the lawst hawf of the week—'Carmen!' Need I say more? The titular role will be enacted by that superb artist, Miss—Miss——"

Unable to recall the name of the star, he cleared his throat and detoured. "This super picture, marking an epoch in the history of the cinema, is, as I scarcely need tell you, based upon the famous story of Prosper Mérimée and the even more celebrated opera by Bizet, without question the most dramatic libretto in all the vast range of the operatic stage, and when I add that the heroine is played by that exquisite and fabulously paid artist, herself a prima donna of the renowned Metropolitan Opera House of New York City, Miss—Miss——"

And again he missed. "Ah—ah, the locale of this lavish production is Spain, that land of song and story, of vivid light, of warmth, of color. In its course is shown an actual bull fight in that most famous of arenas, the Plaza de Toros of Seville, a very epitome of realism. And creating the rôle for the silver screen is the most celebrated Carmen of the operatic stage, a lady whose name is on the tip of every tongue, a household word—ah, I repeat, ladies and gentlemen, the lawst hawf of the week, Carmen, played by—played by——"

Stymied again, the speaker dropped his eyes in one frantic glance at the sheet of painstakingly memorized publicity clutched in his left hand, then finished triumphantly:

"Miss Jessie Lasky!"

The story proves nothing, but it seems to me to characterize the industry, its public blurb and its private perpetual uncertainty and distrust of itself. There is plenty to be said of the movies as an institution, an art and an influence on modern life, and plenty are saying it. I confine myself to personal grievances. First, the art does not appeal to me as an actor. The appeal of acting to those who practice it lies in the enkindling of the emotions of an audience and the reward of applause, laughter and tears then and there. This is the actor's daily bread, and the movies offer him a stone. One cheer in the hand, as far as I am concerned, is worth ten thousand in the bush. I would not swap the audible applause of the couple in the last row upstairs for all the fan mail in the post-office. So both the movies and I are satisfied.

There is another point upon which our satisfaction is not mutual. I detest the prevalent bombast, bad taste and swollen pride of the mincing, simpering, swaggering, bleating barbarians who pretty well efface the normal men and women of the business. In Oklahoma you may see chickens roosting on rosewood grand pianos in the farmyards of Osage Indians, drunk on oil royalties. Not all the Osage Indians are in Oklahoma. I am not speaking of morals, but of manners.

There is a man in one West Coast studio whose sole job is to follow a director about the lot carrying a chair to thrust under him should the director choose to sit. In five years this fine gentleman has sat wherever the spirit moved him and never looked behind him nor hesitated, secure in the knowledge that the menial was there with a chair in position. I have lived those five years in the impious hope that this shadow might some day be visited with a momentary lapse and the famous director sit unexpectedly and violently upon the floor, but at the hour of going to press this consummation so devoutly to be wished still is a wish. When this august personage wishes to communicate his royal command to any member of his court so forgetful of their station as not to be immediately under his eye, he does but whisper. At once the cry is taken up by his subjects and passed from voice to voice until it reaches the hapless churl or churless. I have seen a woman whose income is reputed to be well above one hundred thousand dollars a year arrive breathless, blushing and stammering in his presence because of half a minute's tardiness.

When he lunches in his Sybaritic private dining room on the lot, his obsequious staff of servitors are required to anticipate his every wish without putting him to the distressing necessity of voicing it. There is a subtle nuance to his frowns. One may signify more salt, another too much salt. To the coarse and casual observer both contractions of the eyebrows may seem identical, but to the apprehensive eye of the submissive figure behind the master's chair each is eloquent and ominous. The master moves from his mansion to the studio in a foreign motor. The time fixed for the journey is seventeen minutes. Either the chauffeur makes it in that or there is a new chauffeur at the wheel to-morrow. From the moment he rises from between silken sheets until he dons his scented pajamas again, this gentleman enforces the servility and gratifies the caprices of a decadent Byzantine emperor.

More often it is the star who kings or queens it in the studio. There used to be on Broadway an actor of little fame, but a good actor and the most simple and unassuming of men, best known for his beautiful devotion to his mother and sister. Entering pictures in small parts, he soon created a niche of his own, made a phenomenal success and amassed a fortune which he could not have dreamed of. So far, so good; but this sudden and princely wealth, the adulation, the slavish deference to his least whim, his individual and unchallenged supremacy on his own lot have utterly distorted his viewpoint. He now has the air of a Russian grand duke. I cannot picture Walter Hampden sauntering down Broadway in the make-up and habiliments of Cyrano de Bergerac, yet this actor parades the streets of the cities he visits in the bizarre garb of his screen character, and glories in it.

There are exceptions—many of them—for whom my respect is enormous, for the man or woman set down in that false and incense-laden air who can retain a level head and a sense of proportion possesses a character sturdier than many of us are blessed with. I am just as well satisfied that I was not put to the test.

As it is, I am able to say self-righteously with John Wesley:

"There, but for the grace of God, goes DeWolf Hopper."