FEATURE image: Glenn Miller Orchestra, 1940-41. Public Domain.
The 1942 music film, Orchestra Wives, from 20th-Century-Fox is one of the best dance band movies ever made. Between 1934 and 1945 Fox studios made 57 musicals and music films (see – https://www.imdb.com/list/ls565533414/.) While M-G-M is known for its musicals where characters sing and dance in place of spoken dialogue, the music film is one that usually features a bandleader – which in Orchestra Wives is Glenn Miller – and musical performers within a band orchestra – Marion Hutton with The Modernaires – as well as music-related acts such as the Nicholas Brothers. In a music film, including Orchestra Wives, characters don’t break out into song but speak in regular speech. In the music film singing and dancing are normally set pieces in a nightclub or on a stage and the music itself is presented in a realistic setting all of which perfectly describes 20th Century-Fox’s Orchestra Wives.
Fox musicals and music films from the mid1930’s to mid1940’s were extremely popular. Orchestra Wives features high production set pieces of original swing music envisioned by its music director Alfred Newman (1900-1970). The film itself was directed by Archie Mayo (1881-1968) whose decades-long career was coming to a close (Mayo retired in 1946, shortly after completing A Night in Casablanca with the Marx Brothers). Orchestra Wives features 38-year-old Glenn Miller (1904-1944) and his 22-piece Band, then at the height of popularity. It was the second of two films Miller made for Fox (the first was Sun Valley Serenade in 1941). The Miller band returned to Hollywood to film 1942’s Orchestra Wives and though contracted to do a third movie for Fox called Blind Date, Miller disbanded the band and entered the US Army. Called the Gene Morrison Band in Orchestra Wives, music includes vocal performances by Marion Hutton (1919-1987) with The Modernaires, tenor sax player Tex Beneke (1914–2000) and Lynn Bari (1919-1989). The film concludes with choreographed athletic tap dancing of the Nicholas Brothers. The film is filled with pop-song classics by the successful writing team of composer Harry Warren (1893-1981) and lyricist Mack Gordon (1904-1959). In Orchestra Wives Warren/Gordon songs included in whole or in part, That’s Sabotage, Chattanooga Choo Choo (a main set piece in Sun Valley Serenade indicating Orchestra Wives picked up right where the previous successful film left off), People Like You and Me, the love ballad At Last, the torch song Serenade in Blue (performed by sultry Lynn Bari) and Orchestra Wives’ main production number (I’ve Got a Gal in) Kalamazoo which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song (the Oscar went to White Christmas by Irving Berlin). Warren melodies are instantly recognized as simple and fresh and Gordon’s lyrics are free of cliché. The music that opens Orchestra Wives presents the film’s first set piece which is a Warren/ Gordon song, People Like You and Me. It is performed by Glenn Miller and his Orchestra with Marion Hutton and The Modernaires. All of the Warren/Gordon songs for Orchestra Wives were recorded by Glenn Miller – as well as many other musical artists in those years.
Orchestra Wives is one of the very few films to give insight into the lives of dance band musicians and their singers and spouses on tour. These singers and wives are portrayed in the Hollywood film by glamorous Ann Rutherford (1917-2012), Lynn Bari (1919-1989), Carole Landis (1919-1948), Mary Beth Hughes (1919-1995) and Virginia Gilmore (1916-1986). Each of their glamour and acting ability make dramatic scenes highly entertaining even as they advance the plot by way of bored and distasteful gossiping and rumor mongering.
The three catty spouses in Orchestra Wives are beautiful Carole Landis, Virginia Gilmore and Mary Beth Hughes (below):
Orchestra Wives is a music film with excellent swing music as a highlight and featured in regular intervals that are set on stages such as a record studio, local dance and concert halls, and in nightclubs. The film’s central drama, however, lies in the love relationships of the professional bandmembers and their wives who travel with them. It seems everyone is stressed or bored or both by the intensity of the extra work involved in cross country touring as a musician in a popular swing band. These orchestra wives – namely, Natalie (Carole Landis), Elsie (Virginia Gilmore), and Caroline (Mary Beth Hughes) – are beautiful and jaded about living conditions and unique complications as orchestra wives. When Bill Abbott, the band’s superlative trumpeter, meets Connie Ward (Ann Rutherford), it is on the road at a local dance in Dixon, Illinois. The small-town young woman – daughter of a town doctor (Grant Mitchell) – goes on a date with the local soda jerk just to see and hear Gene Morrison’s swing band. Up close to the stage, it is love at first sight for Connie when handsome trumpet player Bill Abbott (George Montgomery) steps up to perform. The next night, on the spur of the moment, Bill and Connie get married after Connie traveled by bus alone to Elgin, Illinois, for the band’s next gig.
Connie spontaneously joins the life of traveling orchestra wives and is at first innocent of its darker side. Connie learns a lot as she takes the long rides on train tours as a musician’s wife to the band’s engagements around the country and back. Those film scenes reflect accurately the lives of dance musicians of the era who had to take these long tours to far-flung places. Connie is soon at odds with the other wives who come in shapely forms of Natalie, Elsie and Caroline who are bored by the monotony of the road so that their lives get filled with backbiting gossip and being jealous of one another.
Among the many swing era musicals in this period, Orchestra Wives, while a comedy with the usual lighter fare typical for the genre, is notable for its realistic and serious plot. Though called a “musical comedy with the occasional touch of drama” (https://www.quotes.net/movies/orchestra_wives_8473) it is really more of a drama with musical comedy. The naïveté and lack of trust between lovers, namely small-town Illinois girl Connie Ward (played by “America’s sweetheart” Ann Rutherford) and Bill Abbott (played by Western cowboy George Montgomery) — whose fictional bandleader Gene Morrison (played by Glenn Miller) calls him “the best trumpet man in the business” — is raw, serious and real. Sparked by in-house rumor-mongering of band-members’ infidelities as well as other cascading gossip of bored wives on a cross- country band tour, the newlyweds Connie and Bill face their first big crisis as a couple very shortly after they are married. Upon suspecting her husband is having an affair with sultry Jaynie, the band’s lead singer, there is this confrontation between newlyweds whose misunderstanding gets mixed up in embarrassment and resentment:
CONNIE: I know there was nothing wrong between you and Jaynie (played by statuesque Lynn Bari)
BILL: That’s what I told you last night.
CONNIE: But it really wasn’t my fault. It was Natalie (Carole Landis) and Elsie (Virginia Gilmore) and Carole (Mary Beth Hughes) and their gossip started it.
BILL: From what I heard just now, you’ve been spreading a little gossip yourself.
Jaynie, the band’s singer, held a torch for Bill though their affair was over shortly before Bill met Connie and married her. Because Gene Morrison didn’t want to pay for the wives to accompany the band on an overnight gig to Iowa City, the newlyweds were apart for the first time. Natalie gossiped to Connie about other band members’ extra-marital affairs and Carole told Connie about Bill and Jaynie. Connie, apparently unafraid to take the bus alone between towns, travels that way late at night to meet Bill. In the meantime, the gossiping wives call Jaynie (with a reproduction of Whistler’s Mother on the wall behind them) to tell her that Connie is coming to town. After Jaynie and Bill shared an after-show chop suey dinner together, Jaynie propositioned Bill in her hotel room which he declined. Afterwards learning that Connie was coming to the hotel she telephoned Bill’s room and on the pretext of needing cash, Bill comes into Jaynie’s room. Connie discovered the pair together in Jaynie’s room in their pajamas and, as Jaynie planned, is scandalized. Though Bill tells Connie that nothing was going on, Connie storms out, hurt and angry, and gets on the next bus back to Des Moines. The next day, when the band returns, Connie learns that what she was told is gossip. In revenge, Connies spills the beans about spousal infidelities of the gossiping wives that Natalie told her before. Connie’s words result in three band members leaving the tour and to the cancellation of the rest of the tour by bandleader Gene Morrison.
It also leads to a serious dramatic scene between Connie and Bill that honestly explores a situation of any new spouse – not just an “orchestra wife” – who is in love with someone with a stressful job who has to travel and be on the road all the time. The work/home tension is a modern theme and universal to more than a swing band musician’s family. Released in September 1942, Orchestra Wives, was popular cinematic fare in a country that neared its first full year of being “all-in” fighting in World War II. The film has one foot in a carefree pre-war swing era and another in wartime America that brought one of its longest lists of casualties in its history and, soon, the Atomic Age. Orchestra Wives is a music film and ostensible comedy that provides serious treatment to scenes that point, if briefly and thus superficially to the post-war era’s film noir and its themes of jealousy, infidelity, innuendo, mystery, and the femme fatale. To combine music, comedy and serious drama is a highlight of the original screenplay by Karl Tunberg (1907-1992) and Darrel Ware (1906-1944) – a writing team nominated the year before for an Academy Award for screenwriting for Tall, Dark and Handsome also from 20th Century-Fox.
BILL: I married you because you were a happy kid. Gay, cute, cheerful. But you’ve gone neurotic on me. You trail me around like a house detective. And then with one flick of your tongue you bust up our band. Last night you said you weren’t an orchestra wife and you hit the nail right on the head. You aren’t and you never will be.
CONNIE: Maybe you’re right Bill but I’ve tried. I don’t know the two things just don’t seem to go together. Look, how can you be a real wife when you are trailing from one hotel to another like a lot of gypsies? When you have breakfast at lunchtime and lunch at dinnertime and dinner at midnight? Why this isn’t living. Why this isn’t even being married.
BILL: What did you expect – a banker? You married a trumpet player. You weren’t getting a suburban home with flowerpots and kiddies. At the time you seemed to think the idea was pretty glamorous.
CONNIE: Well at the time I was crazy. This life is about as glamorous as a gymnasium.
BILL: Well, I’ll give you a chance for something better. You know that marriage certificate? That little piece of paper with rosebuds on it? Well you can pack it with your things. I’m through with it.
CONNIE: So am I. And I’ll leave you half the pieces.
The climax of the film occurs when Connie walks out on Bill—and vice versa—and leaves their marriage and love hanging in the air. With band members’ tensions among their wives exploding into the open, Gene Morrison (Glenn Miller) has to break up the band. Though these breakups’ flashpoint is Connie and Bill’s open rift, can and will she now help to get the band back together and reconcile with Bill? And who will help her?
About composer Harry Warren and lyricist Mack Gordon.
Orchestra Wives provides a lot of first-class music and a dramatic film record of the dance hall scene in the swing era. (I’ve Got a Gal) in Kalamazoo was nominated for an Academy for Best Original Song. Harry Warren wrote some of the great popular songs of the 1930s and 1940s. Many of them were used in Fox musical films in their heyday. Warren had been writing music in Hollywood since 1932. When he moved from Warner Bros. to Twentieth-Century Fox he was assigned to write for Fox’s well-produced and highly popular musicals.
Harry Warren believed he saw the quality of motion pictures in Hollywood actually improve during World War II, the mid20th century’s major global crisis. Through all of it, Americans, Warren observed, expressed a general feeling of confidence that the war would ultimately be won. This excitement translated to the movies at the time.
In addition to working with lyricist Mack Gordon (1904-1959), Warren worked with Fox’s arranger-orchestrator Herbert Spencer (1905-1992). In a long career, Spencer worked with many successful composers and helped orchestrate scores in Holiday Inn (1942), Gentleman Prefer Blondes (1953), Call Me Madam (1953), Carousel (1956), Funny Girl (1968), Hello, Dolly (1969), and more, but he expressed especial enjoyment working with Warren.
Warren’s many inspired melodies, Spencer thought, were simple but logical, seemingly inevitable, and Warren’s song drafts arrived to Spencer filled with detail that helped make the orchestrator’s role more interactive. Spencer also enjoyed working personally with Warren whom the Chilean-born arranger described as “simpatico.” Warren, unlike other busy composers, was accessible to discuss and develop a musical score. With beguiling modulation, the songs rise and fall in intervals, and its notes and meter, as Herbert Spencer might have had it, follow their logical and effortless path.
Head of production at 20th Century-Fox and producer of Orchestra Wives, William LeBaronwas brought to Hollywood by Joseph P. Kennedy.
While not in the top ten films of 1942 that earned between $2.885 (M-G-M’s Somewhere I’ll Find You starring Clark Gable and Lana Turner) and $5.358 million (M-G-M’s Mrs. Miniver starring Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon), 20th Century-Fox’s Orchestra Wives produced a solid and popular music film that took in a very respectable $1.3 million at the box office.
SOURCES: The Films of 20th Century-Fox A Pictorial History, Tony Thomas and Aubrey Solomon, Secaucus NJ: Citadel Press, 1985, pp. 129-130. The Dance Bands, Brian Rust, New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House Publishers, 1974, pp. 140-142. Harry Warren and the Hollywood Musical, Tony Thomas, Foreward by Bing Crosby, Secaucus NJ: Citadel Press, 1975, pp. 184-189.
FEATURE Image: Yellow Submarine was a British cartoon feature film in 1968 starring comic strip figures of the Beatles in a colorful and surrealistic musical adventure featuring Beatles hits. Though it was a box office flop in the U.K., it was wildly successful in the U.S. The film title and concept were based on the Lennon-McCartney song of the same name and the screenplay was by Al Brodax, Jack Mendelsohn, Erich Segal (who did Love Story in 1970) and Lee Monoff. In the kingdom of Pepperland that is being attacked by the Blue Meanies, Fred, the conductor of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, escapes in a yellow submarine. He surfaces in Liverpool where he meets the Beatles and they set off together in the yellow submarine through the Seas of Time, Monsters and Holes to restore music and color to Pepperland. With 11 Beatles’ tunes and eye-popping animation in a host of styles, the De Luxe Color film from United Artists and King Features Syndicate epitomized the pop music culture of the late 1960’s. PHOTO credit: “yellow submarine” by youngdoo is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.
Paradoxically, When I’m Sixty-Four about relationships as one grows older, is probably one of the first songs Paul McCartney ever wrote. He was 13 or 14 years old when he composed it sometime in late spring 1956 although, in the mid-1960’s, it fit into the current fashion of rock music looking back to emulate pre-war English pop music hall styles (i.e., New Vaudeville Band’s “Winchester Cathedral” in 1966). In 1967 and credited to Lennon–McCartney, the song was released on the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band studio album. When I’m Sixty-Four was also included in the Beatles’ 1968 animated film and pop phenomenon, Yellow Submarine that is a landmark of the genre.
When I’m Sixty-Four, while seemingly just a cute and simple ditty, was the result of several recordings and mixing stages before it reached the album. It was recorded by the Beatles on December 6, 1966. Two days later, alone, McCartney dubbed his lead vocal onto a December 6 take. Two weeks later, the Beatles dubbed backing vocals and the sound of bells. A new mix of the song was then created by producer (and later Sir) George Martin (1926-2016). The next day, 3 session musicians overdubbed the clarinets which added a fuller and fatter focal point for the song. The magic of mixing carried forward until the end of the year when 24-year-old McCartney suggested speeding up the track, which raised the key, in an attempt to make him sound “younger” and enliven the tune. Released during the Summer of Love in 1967, this was at the height of the LSD influence around music culture so that some viewed the song’s lyric “digging the weeds” as another possible dope allusion.
The animated film, Yellow Submarine, released in the U.S. in November 1968, had already caused a stir in London that July. With its 11 Beatles’ tunes, solid script, and direction by Canadian animation producer George Dunning (1920-1979), the United Artists’ and King Features Syndicate’s production was an almost effortlessly surreal animation and music experience. The film, originally intended for a juvenile audience, was attracting instead full-grown Flower Children which shocked its marketeers who now wanted to cancel, and, ultimately, delayed, its general release. Yet, unlike in Britain where the film was a box office failure – as the UK’s homegrown pop entertainments often were (even the Beatles wanted nothing much to do with the animated film project) – it was an immediate success at its release Stateside in November 1968.
In the U.S. there were more tickets sold for Yellow Submarine that year than any other film except The Sound Of Music. Though U.S. critics were unimpressed with Yellow Submarine, the film’s core audience of American teenagers and twenty-somethings bought tickets to see it over and over again and escaped for a time some of the late 1960’s turmoil of war, riots, assassinations as well as 1968’s divisive, razor-close presidential election. Over 55 years after its initial release, Yellow Submarine remains one of cartoon history’s landmark entertainments.
SOURCES: Revolution in the Head The Beatles’ Records and the Sixties, Third Edition, Ian MacDonald, Chicago Review Press, 2007, pp. 220-221.
Can’t Buy Me Love, The Beatles, Britain, and America, Jonathan Gould, New York: Harmony Books, 2007, pp. 484-486 and 505-507.
The United Artists Story, Ronald Bergan, Crown Publishers, Inc., New York, 1986, p. 243.
FEATURE image: Douglas Fairbanks, c. 1918. Harris & Ewing, photographer. Collection Library of Congress. No known restrictions on publication. Public Domain.
By John P. Walsh.
Born in Denver in 1883, Douglas Fairbanks’ mother had been married three times before she had him, the younger of two brothers with his father, an East Coast publisher and lawyer, who had relocated his family to the West. Douglas’s father abandoned the family when he was 5 years old, and the brothers were raised by their mother in Denver. Douglas also had two older half brothers by way of his mother’s previous marriages. With Douglas’s father’s departure, his mother gave her youngest sons her first husband’s surname—Fairbanks.
Douglas Fairbanks started acting as a youth in summer stock at the historic Elitch Theatre in Denver so that by 1899 Fairbanks was touring with the acting troupe of English Shakespearean actor Frederick Warde (1851-1935). For two seasons Fairbanks was an actor and assistant stage manager with the group.1 Fairbanks moved to New York where he debuted on Broadway in Her Lord and Master in February 1902. The year before, from February 1901 to July 1901, Ethel Barrymore (1879-1959) of the legendary Barrymore acting family became a Broadway star in a new romantic comedy play, Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines, at the Garrick Theatre in New York City. Barrymore’s production ran on Broadway for 168 performances in 1901 and made the 22-year-old actress a star. The turn of 20th century was a time when the theatre was king of the arts – and where, in the new century’s first decade, the nation’s celebrities were born to be made. Her Lord and Master by Martha Morton was first produced in New York, during the spring of 1902. The play, in which Douglas Fairbanks had his first role, met with success, and ran for 69 performances at the Manhattan Theatre (demolished) at 102 W. 33rd Street in New York City.2 The opening night cast for A Case of Frenzied Finance in April 1905 included Douglas Fairbanks playing Bennie Tucker at third-billing. The play, set in the Vanbillon Hotel, ran for less than a month at the Savoy Theatre at 112 W. 34th Street. That theatre opened in 1900 and closed in 1933 and was demolished in 1952.3
Fairbanks appeared in A Gentleman from Mississippi from September 1908 to September 1909. On September 22, 1908 (datelined September 21, 1908) The New York Times wrote a blurb regarding a preview that stated: “A Gentleman from Mississippi received its initial performance to-night at the New national Theatre. The play deals with Congressional riots and social life in the National capital. Thomas A. Wise, Douglas Fairbanks, Sue Van Duser, Harriet Worthington and Lola May were in the cast. Mr Wise [1865-1928] and Harrison Rhodes [1871-1929] are the authors of the play.”
A Gentleman from Mississippi ran for 407 performances moving to the Bijou Theatre in NYC.4 In July 1907, 24-year-old Douglas Fairbanks married wealthy Anna Beth Sully (1886-1967) of Rhode Island. The couple had one son who followed his father into the acting business—Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (1909-2000).
It was in November 1912, on opening night of Hawthorne of the USA, a play by J.B. Fagan, that Fairbanks established his character type for stage and screen: the athletic all-American hero.6 With Fairbanks in the starring role as Anthony Hamilton Hawthorne, the play set in Oberon, the small capital of Borrovina, a small independent state somewhere in the mess of Southeastern Europe, ran for 72 performances at the Astor Theatre at 1537 Broadway (45th St.) in New York.7 It was made into a silent film in 1919 starring Wallace Reid (1891-1923) as the American hero.
In 1915 the Fairbanks moved to Los Angeles – Douglas Fairbanks Sr. had received a lucrative offer from the nascent film industry. It was a three-year contract for $104,000 per year (over $3 million in today’s dollars) to join Triangle films. Exorbitant sums were dangled, often over-ambitiously by producers, to coax legitimate theatre actors to work on the West Coast in film – and under sometimes multi-year contracts. The strategy usually worked but came at a high cost later to a company’s survival and the star’s future. Again, Ethel Barrymore who became a Broadway star in 1901 and national celebrity at 22 years old began to appear in major silent films starting in 1914. Her brothers John and Lionel were already making films and though absolutely devoted to the stage from her youth, Ethel made at least 14 films before returning to the stage full time in 1920. The trend to capitalize on the talents of the stage in film was already underway when Triangle company was formed in 1915 to do just that on a spectacular scale.
Harry Aitken (1877-1956) and his brother Roy Aitken (1882-1978) co-founded a film distribution business in Milwaukee in 1906. There had also been a relationship with a Chicago film distributor who established American Film Manufacturing Company production company in 1910. The Aitken brothers relocated to California in 1908 and in 1912, with others, formed the Mutual Film Corporation. One of Mutual’s many subsidiary production and auxiliary units was Keystone Studios, where 24-year-old Charlie Chaplin got his start in films in 1913 at $150 per week (Chaplin was making more than $20,000 a week 5 years later). In 1914 Harry Aitken went into partnership with D.W. Griffith (1875-1948) and, in 1914, founded Reliance-Majestic Studios at 4516 Sunset Boulevard which is today a strip mall.
Following the tremendous success of The Birth of Nation in 1915 with which Harry Aitken was involved so to reap some of its incredible profits, the Aitken brothers and various other companies, such as Reliance-Majestic Studio, departed from Mutual to form a conglomerate of Triangle Film Corporation. The company served as a distributor to other studios in California and Aitken’s plans included sweeping into the fold the best and the brightest of Broadway theatre – which included 32-year-old Douglas Fairbanks. A leading artistic objective for these Hollywood producers was to bring these stage actors’ greatest plays to the screen. Believed to be a worthwhile goal in 1915, before the end of the 1920’s such published plays and other literature while fine for the boudoir reader were problematic to simply translate to the silver screen. The movement towards self-censorship had developed in reaction to the fear the industry would be regulated or outright banned by states. In 1915 there were fewer worries about this as such theatrical artistic fare was expected to attract a better educated movie-goer as well as the Wall Street big-money-type investors who invested in Broadway plays. In one fell swoop Aitken contracted over 60 actors and actresses including Billy Burke (1884-1970), recently married to Florenz Ziegfeld; soon-to-be Western star Dustin Farnum (1874-1929); Shakespearean actor Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree (1852-1917) who played Macbeth in D.W. Griffith’s lost 1916 film of the same name; and, “Casey At the Bat” DeWolf Hopper (1858-1935).
The debut feature from Triangle starred Douglas Fairbanks in The Lamb, a film based on a 1913 stage play that was expanded to have Western cinematic elements. It premiered with two more features on September 23, 1915 at The Knickerbocker Hotel in Fairbanks’ old stomping ground of New York City. Triangle had in-house three master directors – D.W. Griffith, Mack Sennett, and Thomas Ince. D.W. Griffith had a hand in The Lamb, though its directing and screenplay credits went to 27-year-old W. Christy Cabanne (1888-1950). The Lamb was a hit with audiences, and critics praised Fairbanks’ performance marked by his celebrated physicality.8 The film had a nationwide release that November 1915. Although not yet a movie star, Fairbanks saw his weekly salary doubled. By His Picture in the Papers, a 1916 silent comedy film for Triangle that provided stunts for Fairbanks to wrap his athleticism around, Fairbanks became a popular screen idol. Fairbanks made 13 films for Triangle and when his contract expired, Harry Aitken was paying him $10,000 per week.9 Yet, excepting Douglas Fairbanks, Aitken had over bought his stable of stage stars in relation to their poor return so that in 1916 Triangle was known in the industry to be on the verge of collapse.
Douglas Fairbanks, Triangle’s star, was convinced by Paramount Pictures’ co-founder Adolph Zukor (1873-1976), believed to be “the business brains of the motion picture industry,”10 to become the independent producer of his own films. This became reality at the end of 1916 with the creation of the Douglas Fairbanks Picture Corporation. Zukor had already worked to do something similar for Mary Pickford’s films.
As Fairbanks had been lured away by a better offer, so the actor hired his team at Triangle for his own company. Director John Emerson (1874-1956) and screenwriter Anita Loos (1888-1981) – to be husband and wife in 1919 – had successfully collaborated on Fairbanks’ movie hits at Triangle and even D.W. Griffith valued the pair as among the best film editors in the business after working on Intolerance in 1916. Emerson had directed important films at Triangle in 1916 featuring Douglas Fairbanks including His Picture in the Papers, The Americano, and The Mystery of the Leaping Fish. These Emerson-directed films were followed in 1917 by In Again, Out Again, Wild and Woolly, Down to Earth, and Reaching for the Moon, all for Douglas Fairbanks Productions. In 1918 Fairbanks made 5 more romantic comedies and one melodrama called Arizona, a film now lost. Despite a film receiving perhaps a mixed review from critics or being subject to local censorship, Douglas Fairbanks’ films proved box office gold due to his star power. In 1918 and moving into 1919 Fairbanks had become a millionaire, screen idol and soon to be co-founder of his own movie studio, United Artists.
1. Goessel, Tracey. The First King of Hollywood; The Life of Douglas Fairbanks. Chicago Review Press, 2016.
8. Lombardi, Frederic (2013). Allan Dwan and the Rise and Decline of the Hollywood Studios. McFarland. pp. 53–54.
9. United Artists, Volume 1, 1919–1950: The Company Built by the Stars, Tino Balio, University of Wisconsin Press, 2009. p. 143.
10. Quoted in the May 1922 issue of Movie Picture Classic, p. 26.
11. A Short History of the Movies, Gerald Mast, Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1976, pp. 124; 127 and The Liveliest Art: A Panoramic History of The Movies, Arthur Knight, New York: MacMillan Publishing, 1978, p 107.
12. Chaplin: His Life and Art, David Robinson, New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1985, p. 267.
A Short History of The Movies, Gerald Mast, The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc. Indianapolis, 1977.
David Robinson, Chaplin: His Life and Art. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1985.
Hollywood: The Pioneers. Kevin Brownlow and John Kobal, New York: Alfred A. Knopf Inc. A Borzoi Book,1979.
History of the American Cinema, Volume 5, 1930-1939, Charles Harpole, General Editor, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1993.
The American Film Industry, ed. Tino Balio, University of Wisconsin Press, 1976.
The Hollywood Story, Joel W. Finler, New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1988.
The Liveliest Art: A Panoramic History of The Movies, Arthur Knight, New York: MacMillan Publishing, 1978
The United Artists Story, Ronald Bergan, Crown Publishers, Inc., New York, 1986.
United Artists, Volume 1, 1919–1950: The Company Built by the Stars, Tino Balio, University of Wisconsin Press, 2009
FEATURE image: Charles (Charlie) Chaplin (1889-1977), 1918, A Dog’s Life, First National. Public Domain.
Twenty-four-year-old Charlie Chaplin was “discovered” in 1913 when he was touring Stateside in an English pantomime, acrobat and clown show troupe. Chaplin signed up to work for $150 a week in Mack Sennett’s Keystone Comedies. It was a definite pay raise at about triple what he was making in vaudeville and music halls. It opened his eyes to movies’ possibilities for popularity and money making. Chaplin made 35 motion pictures in the first year. The norm of one- and two-reels was a perfect foil for Chaplin’s trademark character – “the Tramp” – and he became an overnight sensation among film-hungry audiences.
Though Sennett wanted to keep his surprising new star, Chaplin was lured away by Essanay Film Manufacturing Company of Chicago for $1,250 a week and the option to direct his own pictures. Whereas Chaplin was making 5 and 6 figures with Essanay, the company was making 7 figures with the artist. Chaplin made 14 films for Essanay and exerted a high level of control of these films before he left for Mutual Film Corporation in early 1916.
Chaplin’s new salary was $670,000 a year or $10,000 a week (equal to a staggering $300,000 plus per week in 2023 dollars) – plus bonuses that amounted to what had about been his collective total salary over two years at Essenay. By 1916 Charlie Chaplin had become the nation and world’s favorite comedian and a very marketable cultural phenomenon. In 1916 Chaplin made 12 films for Mutual which were all comic masterpieces- The Floorwalker, The Fireman, The Vagabond, One A.M., The Count, The Pawnshop, Behind the Screen and The Rink. In 1917 Chaplin made 4 more films. By the beginning of 1918 twenty-something Chaplin had become a world-renown film artist comic/auteur who found entrée to meeting with other international celebrity cultural artists.
Chaplin was a trouper who churned out the work and Mutual looked to keep Chaplin on for another series of profitable films. They presented a generous offer of $20,000 per week which is about $600,000 per week today. The studio would pick up Chaplin’s production costs as well. But, Charlie Chaplin, wanting to keep fresh as well as share in the profits of his pictures, signed with First National. Their deal included matching Mutual’s per week salary requirements as well as a signing bonus of $15,000. Though Chaplin had to pay his production costs with First National, he received the aforesaid profit-sharing for his next 8 pictures. At this point Chaplin was an independent producer with financing and artistic control over his own pictures as well as a 50% share in its box office. One next logical step would be to increase profit margin.
Chaplin’s first picture release for First National was A Dog’s Life. It was a three-reeler (33 minutes) featuring the Tramp that was released in April 1918 and for which Chaplin was its producer, writer, director, and star.
David Robinson, Chaplin: His Life and Art. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company,1985.
Tino Balio, “Stars in Business: The Founding of United Artists” in The American Film Industry, ed. Tino Balio, University of Wisconsin Press, 1976.
FEATURE image: United Artists founders in 1919, (Left to right) Douglas Fairbanks (1883-1939), Mary Pickford (1892-1979). Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977) and D.W. Griffith (1875-1948).
By John P. Walsh
It is debated whose brainchild the United Artists Corporation (UA), founded in 1919, ultimately was. Was it Mary Pickford’s and Douglas Fairbanks’ theatrical lawyer and a later UA executive who advised them to found an artist-controlled movie company or UA’s first president, a former U.S Treasury Department official, who suggested Douglas Fairbanks start a distribution company for his films or was it a publicity man for one of the majors who suggested to UA’s first general manager to create a movie studio run by artists for artists – or, finally, was it, as Charlie Chaplin claimed, by way of his elder half-brother Sydney who had hired a pretty girl to spy on another studio’s imminent potential merger and whose culled information led directly to founding their own?1 Whatever or whoever was the conduit or original source, in 1919, four of Hollywood’s legendary film artists — actors Douglas Fairbanks (1883-1939), Fairbanks’ future wife, Mary Pickford (1892-1979), Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977), and “the Father of Film Technique” director D.W. Griffith (1887-1948)- formed United Artists, one of Hollywood’s name-brand film studios.
Distinct from other movie studios, UA was especially founded by artists for artists. From His Majesty, The American in 1919 starring Douglas Fairbanks that premiered in New York City at the newly-built Capitol through to The Underdoggs scheduled for 2024, a comedy starring Snoop Dog – and many hundreds of major motion pictures in between – United Artists’ impact on the entertainment industry and culture has been highly significant in that its range of film product envisioned and presaged the artist/ producer-driven film industry that is normal today. Yet United Artists was also more as it allowed independents to make their films free of heavy-handed interference from the higher ups which was often the case at the majors. Such freedom in the marketplace could be risky and United Artists’ survival through the decades is nothing other than extraordinary.
The following artist corporate manifesto was released to the press on February 5, 1919. Over 100 years later it remains prescient for many reasons including a warning about the use of technology in filmmaking (“machine-made entertainment”) and freedom of choice for the consumer in terms of viewership (“not force[ing] upon him program films he does not desire”) – A new combination of motion picture stars and producers was formed yesterday, and we, the undersigned, in furtherance of the artistic welfare of the moving picture industry, believing we can better serve the great and growing industry of picture productions, have decided to unite our work into one association, and at the finish of existing contracts, which are now rapidly drawing to a close, to release our combined productions through our own organization. This new organization, to embrace the very best actors and producers in the motion picture business, is headed by the following well-known stars: Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, William S. Hart, Charlie Chaplin and D.W. Griffith productions, all of whom have proved their ability to make productions of value both artistically and financially. We believe this is necessary to protect the exhibitor and the industry itself, thus enabling the exhibitor to book only pictures that he wishes to play and not force upon him (when he is booking films to please his audience) other program films which he does not desire, believing that as servants of the people we can thus serve the people. We also think that this step is positively and absolutely necessary to protect the great motion picture public fromthreatening combinations and trusts that would force upon them mediocreproductions and machine-made entertainment.2
In a short 30 years, by the early 1950’s, with the demise of the studio system and the rise of broadcast television, UA would bring this visionary independent investor and producer driven film product to the world as the business template for how all films in and outside of Hollywood would be made. In 1919, United Artists was originally conceived as a prestige studio that distributed some of the industry’s best larger budget pictures. By the 1940’s it had evolved to add less expensive film products that met audience demands and kept the studio’s distribution networks humming. As capital and power tends towards concentration in a capitalist economy, the notion for a nimble, relatively low overhead movie-making patron facilitating production planning and distribution of films by independent producers proved a vital idea whose relevancy renewed itself through the years.3
In contrast to the major studios, such as MGM, Paramount, Fox, RKO, and Warner Bros., which had production, distribution and exhibition arms, United Artists focused solely on distribution. Unlike the majors, United Artists had no star stable, no studio facilities to speak of, no directors, no technicians, no chain of theaters, no house style, but, functioned as a distribution outlet for independently-made productions. In that way, UA was responsible for all phases of an independent production company’s film releases. This included the layers of market testing desired, the planning (including some financing) and booking of production releases, sundry marketing, and settlement matters following release. Distribution duties ranged from pre-production to marketing assistance as well as a bird’s-eye evaluation during production. Post-production distribution of motion pictures to the country 23,000 theatres in the 1930’s was an umbrella term for what was really a chain of complex business actions starting at the beginning of a film project to its being shown flickering on a local screen.
In the beginning: the 1920’s.
Throughout the silent era’s heyday and ultimate demise—the 1920’s—UA was clearly distributing films of its four founders which was a large reason for the company’s genesis. This soon included bankable silent film stars, such as Gloria Swanson (1889-1983). Lillian Gish (1893-1993), Buster Keaton (1895-1966) and Norma Talmadge (1894-1957). UA had no shortage of money-making hits in the roaring ‘20’s. There were melodramas such as Griffith’s Broken Blossoms (1919) to his Way Down East (1921) and comedies starring Mary Pickford, including Pollyanna (1920) and Little Annie Rooney (1925). Douglas Fairbanks starred in UA crowd-pleasers in roles that in the 1930’s sound era was played by Errol Flynn, such as The Mark of Zorro (1920), The Three Musketeers (1921), Robin Hood (1923) and The Thief of Bagdad (1924).
Gloria Swanson, born in Chicago, was, at 26 years old, considered the most bankable silent film star of the time. In a successful career in film since 1918, she signed with United Artists in 1925 with UA chairman of the board Joseph Schenck who was brought in the year before. It was a six-picture distribution deal, and her production company was advanced financial loans through United Artists’ own Art Cinema Corporation subsidiary. Swanson also agreed to invest in UA by buying $100,000 of preferred stock. These financial terms proved difficult for Swanson to repay later and required the services of financier Joseph P. Kennedy (1888-1969) who reconfigured her business portfolio to meet her obligations and produced one of her films.4 Meanwhile, her UA debut, The Love of Sunya, basically broke even. Swanson made two other UA films that were critical and financial successes –Sadie Thompson in 1927 with director Raoul Walsh (1887-1980) and The Trespasser, one of Swanson’s few sound films. The latter was directed by Edmund Goulding (1891-1959) and produced by Kennedy in 1929. For both of these films, Gloria Swanson received Academy Award nominations for Best Actress.
As its founders first looked to protect their public image and screen product, United Artists opened its doors to an array of outside suppliers expanding their business operations. In 1929 UA produced 18 pictures – a company record – and, in the next few years, was expanding to distribute films of Samuel Goldwyn, Howard Hughes, Joseph Schenck, Walt Disney, Alexander Korda, David O. Selznick, and Walter Wanger, among others. With the onset of talkies in 1927 and the Great Depression in 1929 the new pressures on the movie studios were enormous. While having built their reputation on silent film stars and watching their film output dwindle 25% in the early 1930’s, UA benefited from the management of Joseph Schenck (1876-1961) who facilitated the release of several popular money-making features by Samuel Goldwyn (Palmy Days), Howard Hughes (The Front Page – nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture), Charlie Chaplin (City Lights) and Alexander Korda (The Private Life of Henry VIII).5
In 1926, Joseph Schenck in a visionary move, set up the United Artists Theatre Circuit which selectively acquired certain first-run theatres in major markets to show their pictures. This also had the effect of the majors working more accomodatingly with an astute competitor and showed UA pictures in their venues. Yet, since United Artists, as part of its nimble, skeletal organization, did not have a portfolio of theatres like MGM, Paramount, Warner Bros., Fox, and RKO – collectively, these majors owned about 15% of the country’s total number – meant that when times were bad, such as in the Great Depression, UA was not impacted as negatively by the sudden decline in movie attendance or dipping real estate values. Moreover, UA’s low operating overhead included a smaller staff that resulted in less lay-offs in hard times. Under Joseph Schenck, UA started in the 1930’s to invest money in future productions with profit-sharing in addition to simply loaning money to producers to be paid back with interest in post-production (Gloria Swanson’s deal). After Joseph Schenck partnered with Darryl F. Zanuck (1902-1979), formerly of Warner Bros., to form Twentieth Century Pictures in 1933, they produced most of UA’s films in 1933 and 1934. When Schenck left United Artists in 1935 after being rejected for partnership6 he merged with Fox Films to form Twentieth Century-Fox and became its chairman. The situation placed United Artists in a difficult position of having to replace their leading producer. The leadership issue was, arguably, not be addressed by UA until Krim and Benjamin in the 1950’s. After-Schenck’s departure, notable filmmakers slowly fled UA, though this was also the natural condition of the movie business, especially among the independent-minded, to find greener pastures. Disney exited in 1936 and Goldwyn in 1940, both moving to RKO, and William Wanger moved in 1941 to Universal Pictures. Not until in the post-war period did Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin look to recruit vibrant new leadership for UA following the demise of the studio system in the late 1940’s and the rise of television at the same time – and would swiftly result in their own departures from the company.
Meantime, in 1935 David O. Selznick (1902-1965) joined UA and released his pictures – in 1936, Little Lord Fauntleroy and The Garden of Allah; in 1937, A Star is Born, The Prisoner of Zenda, and Nothing Sacred; in 1938, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Young at Heart; and, in 1939, Made For Each Other and Intermezzo, starring Ingrid Bergman who Selznick introduced to American film audiences. These films were jewels for UA and made a fortune for the studio. Selznick International Pictures’ Gone With The Wind should have been released through UA but part of the condition of MGM lending Clark Gable to the project was that the film would be distributed by Gable’s home movie studio. In the 1940’s Selznick released Rebecca (1940), Since You Went Away (1944), I’ll Be Seeing You (1945) and Spellbound (1945) through UA.
Other notable films from the 1930s released by UA included Walter Wanger’s Trade Winds (1938), John Ford’s Stagecoach (1939), and Samuel Goldwyn’s Wuthering Heights (1939). Before Goldwyn’s departure in 1940 under circumstances not unlike Joseph Schneck in 1935 – a star producer wanting to buy in or buy out UA- he left to form his own movie enterprise after 50 critically acclaimed and money-making films in 14 years for United Artists.
The War Years.
Seeking diversion, news information, and community camaraderie, America continued to go to the movies in record numbers before and during World War II (1939-1945). In 1938 there were 80 million tickets sold every week.7 The U.S. population in 1940 was about 130 million people and in pre-Pearl Harbor 1941 about 55 million of them (about 40% ) attended the movies each week. 8 In three years, by 1944, weekly attendance numbers nearly doubled to 100 million people – or about 75% of the U.S. population.9 By comparison, starting in the early 1970’s and through to today, the trend is very different. About 10% of the population may attend the movies each week at movie theatres. The early 1940’s was booming times for the movie industry whose contemporaneous films often extolled democracy’s virtues as well as a sentimental Homefront along with providing the outright escapist fare such as Westerns, comedies and musicals. Despite this prosperity UA’s film product was mostly undistinguished in this period and their income fell slightly from the end of the pre-war period.10 After the war, movie attendance levels dropped as people returned to start families, and go back to school and work. In response, the movie industry released less product – and the decline spiraled so that by the end of the decade of the 1940’s UA was in debt and ripe for a takeover.
Notably, at the end of the decade, beyond film noir with, as Michael F. Keaney points out, “its thematic criminal content” and “Emphasis on obsession, desperation, alienation, and paranoia” that is noted for its “dark visual style,“11 United Artists’ releases contributed to the new willingness after the war and ushering in of the Atomic Age to present serious social issues in films such as Home of The Brave (1949) exploring issues of race bigotry. Produced by Stanley Kramer, directed by Mark Robson, and written by Carl Foreman Kramer and others would continue to explore these social issues in the future.
The Post War Era: 1950’s to 1970’s. Krim and Benjamin.
In 1951, Arthur B. Krim (1910-1994) and Robert Benjamin (1909-1979), lawyers and producers, were given leadership at UA and, based on their immediate success, soon acquired the movie studio. The duo unabashedly practiced the capital-producer-driven model for making movies which has since defined the film industry business model. United Artists’ visionary low overhead approach from its inception proved prescient for film production outside the once all-encompassing major studio system. Continuance of a skeletal staff which caused independent producers, notably Samuel Goldwyn, to flee from its sometime sloppy operations and no studio space – such could be leased from Pickford and Chaplin – became the de facto method to critical and box office success. 12 When Krim and Benjamin took over United Artists, stockholders gave them three years to make a profit. They did it in six months.13 United Artists devised a strategy based on financing and distribution of independent production that quickly and sustainably transformed the company into an industry leader. The revamped 1950’s United Artists worked with producer Sam Spiegel (1901-1985) and director John Huston (1906-1987) to have two upfront hits – The African Queen in 1951 and Moulin Rouge in 1952. This was followed up by High Noon in 1952 which was nominated for 7 Academy Awards and won four. United Artists was soon working closely with Stanley Kramer, Otto Preminger, Hecht-Hill-Lancaster Productions (actor Burt Lancaster’s production company) and other free-agent actors and others wanting to produce and direct. UA’s innovative and successful business model made the movie studio run by artists for artists the envy of the film industry so that, by the 1960’s, the majors were imitating them.
Surviving Founders Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin Sell.
By 1956 both Chaplin and Pickford had divested their shares to Krim and Benjamin who came from Eagle-Lion Films. United Artists then made a motion picture, Marty in 1955, that won four Oscars, including Best Picture. In 1957, a social drama, 12 Angry Men, was Oscar-nominated multiple times. There was also The Bachelor Party, an Oscar-nominated follow-up to Marty, in 1957 and Stanley Kramer’s The Defiant Ones in 1958. UA also released some of the era’s great comedies, including Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot in 1959 and The Apartment in 1960 which won the Best Picture Oscar. In the 1960’s Wilder did some of his best work with United Artists including, all of them box office hits, One, Two, Three in 1961, Irma La Douce in 1963, Kiss Me, Stupid in 1964 and The Fortune Cookie in 1966.
In 1957 Krim and Benjamin did something the founding owners didn’t do and if they had the studio’s history, likely starting in the mid-1930’s, would be very different: they took UA public. Before the 1950’s was finished, United Artists was the envy of the Hollywood motion picture industry, very profitably producing films, television shows, and records.14 Arthur Krim and Robert Banjamin remained with UA until 1978 when, with others, they created Orion Pictures. From 1978 to 1992, Krim attempted to mirror UA’s success with a company that, since 1997, is a subsidiary of MGM.
In 1961, United Artists released West Side Story which won a record 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture. Producer-Director Stanley Kramer with whom United Artists first started working in 1958, released Judgement At Nuremburg in 1961 and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World which, in its homage to slapstick, featured a Who’s Who ensemble cast of stage and screen comedians and became a box office smash.
It was also in 1963 that United Artists backed the first film in the James Bond 007 franchise – Dr. No. Starting in 1964, they also backed The Pink Panther films directed by Blake Edwards and Bud Yorkin. Starting in 1964, Clint Eastwood was well on his way to becoming a star by way of his UA-backed spaghetti westerns. These and other films looked to satisfy the younger movie-going demographic that increasingly desired depictions of sex and violence at the cinema.
In 1964 and 1965 United Artists got on board to introduce the Beatles to U.S. film audiences with A Hard Day’s Night and Help. Both films were phenomenal money makers. In 1965 UA had the means to finance, at $20 million, the most expensive film ever made up to that time: George Stevens’ production of The Greatest Story Ever Told. Starring Max von Sydow as Jesus Christ with an ensemble cast of actor favorites, the film was critically acclaimed and received five Academy Award nominations in 1965. However, the film recouped most though not all of its historic initial investment.
LATER DEVELOPMENTS and the end of an era.
United Artists was ascendant in the 1960’s. It won 5 best Picture Oscars in the decade – more than any other single movie studio, a remarkable accomplishment. In addition to The Apartment in 1960 and West Side Story in 1961, there was Tom Jones directed by Tony Richardson in 1963, In the Heat of the Night in 1967, and Midnight Cowboy in 1969. United Artists was working with an array of directors such as Norman Jewison (In The Heat of the Night in 1967 and The Thomas Crown Affair in 1968), John Sturges (The Magnificent Seven in 1960), Robert Wise and Blake Edwards.15 In the 1960’s this diverse array of directors and actors and their films from United Artists found their audience although, as production exploded with independent projects, not every movie made its mark.16 Purchased in 1967 by Transamerica Corp. based on its film and television success, Krim and Benjamin were pushed aside for new management as UA continued to manufacture film hits such as The Graduate (Best Picture nominee) and In The Heat of the Night (Best Actor and Best Picture winner). In 1968 UA’s income reached $250 million with a $20 million in profit. Yet, in 1970, the studio lost $35 million. Krim and Benjamin were restored while staff and overhead expenses drastically cut.17
The decade of the 1960’s saw a precipitous decline in movie attendance. What began in 1960 with 44 million Americans, or 25% of the population, going to cinema each week was 15 million in 1970 – or less than 10%. Most of these numbers were concentrated in a few films while the rest languished. The movie studios’ search for the surefire blockbuster intensified. One or two misses could – and did – sink a studio’s fortunes. Though UA was no longer the Oscar leader, the 1970’s was a mostly remarkable decade for United Artists. It made hits such as Fiddler on the Roof (1971) and the James Bond series with Roger Moore and had three Best Picture films in a row – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), Rocky (1976) and Annie Hall (1977).19 Significantly, in 1977 and 1979, respectively, Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford both passed away – and, with them, some of the last vestiges of old Hollywood.
In 1978, following Chaplin’s death, Krim and Benjamin left UA to form Orion Pictures, looking to make it a worthy heir to what United Artists had been. Their exit evolved with clashes with Transamerica since the insurance giant took over the movie studio in 1967. In 1973, as United Artists took over U.S. sales and distribution of MGM films and its music publishing business, in 1981 Transamerica sold United Artists and its film library to Tracinda Corp. Since Tracinda Corp. owned MGM, these two iconic film studio brands merged to become MGM/UA Entertainment Company with a host of subsidiaries.20
Mid-1970’s – Three Best Picture Oscars in a Row.
The end of the 1970s was profitable for UA. Though Krim and Benjamin were gone, UA was headed by Andy Albeck, Krim’s longtime assistant and the studio’s investments were reaping themselves handsomely at the box office – Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979), Woody Allen’s Manhattan (1979), Bond installment Moonraker (1979) and Rocky II were all hits, Although Westerns had fallen out of favor, in 1978 UA fronted almost $8 million for Heaven’s Gate. Starting in the 1960’s the film market was gearing to younger audiences. This trend intensified so that in the late 1970s and early 1980s most films were targeted to teenagers.21 Heaven’s Gate became way over budget and then opened to devastatingly reviews. Albeck saw the train wreck that was coming. The film was released then pulled and re-released after severe editing but was a box office bomb, Albeck resigned and UA, despite its money-making releases, including For Your Eyes Only (1981), Rocky III (1982) and Yentl (1983) was sold to MGM and became MGM/UA Entertainment Corp.
Late 20th century to today.
By 1983, MGM started selling UA assets such as its New York City headquarters as part of the consolidation process while in terms of film and television production the two jointly-owned studios under Kirk Kerlorian’s Tracinda Corp. were put in direct competition with one another. In March 1985 both studios went under one studio head, Alan Ladd, Jr.22 In March 1986,Ted Turner bought MGM/UA and renamed it MGM Entertainment Co. selling back the United Artists’ assets (about one third of the deal) to Tracinda Corp. Though it shared the same or similar assets, it was, from a transactional viewpoint, the end of the original United Artists and start of a new company.23
Later in 1986 Turner sold back MGM’s production and distribution assets to United Artists, retaining ownership of film libraries. United Artists was renamed MGM/UA Communications Company.24 In the 1990s United Artists (MGM/UA) traded hands from and back to Tracinda Corp and in the 2000s MGM folded UA into Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures though certain distributorship, branding, and copyrights could bear the United Artists name. In 2005, Comcast, Sony and partner banks bought United Artists and, its parent, MGM, and folded those operations into Sony. The era of mega-consolidation was well underway.25 In 2006, in a return to its roots as an artists’ film studio, actor Tom Cruise, producer Paula Wagner and MGM Studios created United Artists Entertainment LLC. In 2011 it was revealed that MGM bought United Artists whose brand name remains though the last films made under the United Artists banner was in 2009. 26
Since the 1980’s until today, certain UA films have been geared to mature audiences -such as, François Truffaut’s The Last Metro (1981), Karel Reisz’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981), Walter Hill’s Wild Bill (1995) and other less successful ventures. But, starting with War Games (1983), the majority of feature films released in the last 40 years are geared to the youth market demographic.
1. Bergan, Ronald, The United Artists Story, Crown, 1986, p. 8.
14. Mayer, Arthur L., “UA at 40,” Variety, June 24, 1959, p. 42; Balio, Tino (March 2, 2009). United Artists: The Company that Changed the Film Industry (1st ed.). Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press. pp. 226–227.
23. Balio, Tino (March 2, 2009). United Artists, Volume 2, 1951–1978: The Company That Changed the Film Industry. Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press. p. 343.
24. Gendel, Morgan (June 7, 1986). “Turner Sells The Studio, Holds on to the Dream”. Los Angeles Times – retrieved August 8, 2023; “Turner, United Artists Close Deal”. Orlando Sentinel. United Press International. August 27, 1986 – retrieved August 8, 2023.
25. Leming, Mike Jr; Busch, Anita (September 22, 2014). “MGM Buys 55% Of Roma Downey And Mark Burnett’s Empire; Relaunches United Artists”. Deadline Hollywood; “United Artists restructuring by MGM”. CNNMoney. June 7, 1999.
26. Fritz, Ben, “MGM regains full control of United Artists”. Los Angeles Times, March 23, 2012.
A Short History of The Movies, Gerald Mast, The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc. Indianapolis, 1977.
Film Noir Guide, Michael F. Keaney, McFarland & Co., Inc. Jefferson North Carolina, 2003.
History of the American Cinema, Volume 5, 1930-1939, Charles Harpole, General Editor, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1993.
Hollywood The Glamour Years (1919-1941), Robin Langley Sommer, Gallery Books: New York, 1987.
License To Thrill: A Cultural History of the James Bond Films, James Chapman, 2009.
My Autobiography, Charlie Chaplin, Melville House Publishing, Brooklyn and London, 2012 (originally published in 1964).
The American Film Industry, ed. Tino Balio, University of Wisconsin Press, 1976.
The United Artists Story, Ronald Bergan, Crown Publishers, Inc., New York, 1986.
United Artists, Volume 1, 1919–1950: The Company Built by the Stars, Tino Balio, University of Wisconsin Press, 2009
United Artists, Volume 2, 1951–1978: The Company That Changed the Film Industry, Tino Balio, University of Wisconsin Press, 2009.
You’re Only as Good as Your Next One: 100 Great Films, 100 Good Films, and 100 for Which I Should Be Shot, Mike Medavoy and Josh Young, New York: Pocket Books, 2002.
In I Confess, a 1953 film noir by Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980) from Warner Bros., a Catholic priest, Fr. Logan (played by Montgomery Clift) hears the confession of a man who works in the rectory and just killed another man.
That killer had been dressed as a priest and, among other circumstances, points to Fr. Logan as the primary suspect for the police Inspector (Karl Malden) and prosecutor (Brian Aherne) for the murder of Villette, a prominent lawyer.
Because of the seal of confession – that is, when a person confesses his sins to a priest in Confession, the priest must maintain absolute secrecy about anything that the person confesses – Fr. Logan does not and cannot under any circumstances divulge the identity of the confessed killer though he (and the audience) knows it.
Even after Fr. Logan is arrested for the crime and put on trial for murder for it, the priest does not reveal the identity of the killer but only protests for his own innocence.
Hitchcock’s black-and-white film was shot by cinematographer Robert Burks (1909-1968) who would later shoot Hitchcock’s The Birds in 1964. It is edited by German-born Rudi Fehr (1911-1999) who in 1954 edited Hitchcock’s triumphant color feature, Dial M For Murder.
The story in I Confess was based on a 1902 play by Paul Anthelme Bourde (1851-1914), a French journalist who coined the term “decadent” for the avant-garde when he called indecipherable poets such as Symbolist Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-1898) one in the late 19th century.
The film follows the play which is about a killer who confesses to a priest knowing his crime cannot be betrayed. To complicate matters further, the killer blackmails the priest for a long-ago love affair he had with Ruth Grandfort (Anne Baxter), the wife of a leading citizen, and who still loves him. For the priest, the love affair is in the past though for Mrs. Grandfort it is not.
Clearly, for Hitchcock in I Confess, the priest in this situation is a highly curious figure. By the end of the film, it becomes clear that the seal of confession is a cross for the priest because of his priesthood – and though sins do not always deal with high crime – demonstrates the personified sacramental nature of self-sacrifice that is involved for the priest with each confession he hears. Throughout the film, Fr. Logan is a tragi-comic figure as he simply does not state the obvious of who the murderer is on behalf of social justice and his own innocence, but equally personifying the religious nature of living with and taking on another’s sin particularly when a person refuses their own responsibility and makes amends for it. In I Confess, the murderer has no intention of turning himself in and is content to let the priest under seal of confession take the rap in the courtroom of the law and public opinion.
Fr. Logan never impedes law enforcement’s investigation. He continually states his own innocence for which a jury of his peers is brought in to decide what to believe.
The sin of omission – and in I Confess it is for the gravity of murder – remains with the impenitent Otto Keller (O.E. Hasse) although his loving wife, Alma (Dolly Hass), to whom Keller confessed the crime outside confession’s seal, cannot abide by his secret.
If, despite the seal of confession, crimes can be revealed to government investigators then the sanctuary of the law of the cross is extricated to get at evil – which is not contradiction nor improvement to the confessional box (the priest may ask the penitent for a release from the sacramental seal to discuss the confession) but its obligatory public replacement. As there is often no transparency and plenty of state secrets in and around various government agencies, this becomes no less problematical than breaking down a Catholic (and Lutheran) church’s confessional door.
Although found “not guilty” for lack of evidence to convict, the presiding judge expresses his disbelief in Fr. Logan’s innocence. When Fr. Logan exits the court building, he is followed and faced by a hostile crowd – “Preach us a sermon, Logan!” The prosecutor, as he watches the ugly scene from his office above, is forced to lament his actions: ”Do you think I enjoyed it?” he says, washing his hands. After Fr. Logan is crashed into a car window in the crowd, Alma, Keller’s wife, (her name means “soul”) rushes in towards the priest to tell what she knows – and which an accompanying police guard relates to the Inspector – “She said he was innocent.”
Considered Hitchcock’s once most Catholic of films, I Confess is a tight drama with a truly despicable villain, whose murderous rampages continue. The film is ahead of its time in terms of direction – presaging some of the camera angles, editing, pacing and themes of international crime and psychological dramas that would come to fruition in the decades ahead.
The year 2022 marks the 100th anniversary of the start of The Three Stooges in show business.
The Stooges began in 1922 as part of a vaudeville act called “Ted Healy and his Stooges.” It started with two stooges originally – brothers Moe and Shemp Howard. Larry Fine joined the act in 1925 or shortly thereafter. Their first Hollywood feature (with Ted Healy) was called Soup to Nuts in 1930. The Stooges worked with Healy until 1934. In that time Shemp broke off on his own to work for Warner Bros. Vitaphone and Jerry Howard, Moe’s younger brother, joined the act as Curley.
Between 1934 and 1958 The Three Stooges made over 90 two-reel shorts featuring their ribald comedy. Starting in 1934 and until the end of the 1950s, The Three Stooges had 26 different opening credits.
Moe and Larry appeared in all of them. Curley appeared in 19; Shemp, 6; and Joe, one.
In 1934 there were 4 updates; 6 in 1935; 1 each in 1936, 1937, and 1939; 2 in 1940; 1 in 1943; and 2 in 1945. The 9th (1935), 12th (1937), and 13th (1939) versions were significant brand updates for the Stooges’ opening credits.
In 1946 there were 2 updates – Curley’s last and Shemp’s first. In the postwar years there were less updates – one each in 1947, 1950, 1952, and 1953.
Moe’s brother, Curley, died in 1952 after a long illness. Shemp died suddenly from a heart attack in 1955. Though Curley and Shemp’s comedy styles are very different from one another, they are both equally very funny. Though similar in body type to Curley, Joe Besser brought his own unique comic personality to the act from 1956 to 1958. Joe Besser passed away in 1988.
In 1959 Columbia Pictures released Three Stooges shorts for the first time on television. TV broadcasts in the 1960’s brought a new generation of fans to the Stooges. In 1970 the Stooges were scheduled for a new TV sitcom series but Larry Fine had a paralyzing stroke.
Both Larry and Moe died in 1975. Eight years later, in 1983, The Three Stooges were inducted onto the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
List of opening credits (with major brand updates in bold):
FEATURE image: Alice Terry by Melbourne Spurr, 1922. Public Domain.
Melbourne Spurr (1888-1964) arrived in Hollywood around 1917 at 28 years old. Spurr first worked at the studio of photographer Fred Hartsook (1876-1930) where he shot portraits of silent film stars.
GLAMOUR PHOTOGRAPHER MELBOURNE SPURR’S CAREER LAUNCHED BY SILENT SCREEN STAR MARY PICKFORD
After Spurr photographed Mary Pickford at the Hartsook studio, Pickford personally helped Spurr launch his career as a Hollywood portrait photographer. Regarding Mary Pickford, Spurr once said, “[she] always comes back to me, so I guess she thinks I’m not a bad photographer.”
By 1916 Mary Pickford (1892-1979) was a big star and had full authority over the films in which she appeared. She was earning a record-breaking $10,000 a week which was a staggering amount of money in the midteens (about $240,000 a week today).
MELBOURNE SPURR BECAME ONE OF THE MOST POPULAR CELEBRITY PHOTOGRAPHERS IN THE WORLD
Pickford’s special personal interest in Spurr’s career was matched or exceeded by the popularity of his photographs her distributed to the public. The film indutrsy and public’s insatiable interest in Spurr’s portraits following his published Mary Pickford shots made Spurr overnight one of the most popular celebrity portrait photographer in Hollywood. By the mid1920’s Melbourne Spurr was one of the most popular celebrity photographers in the world.
Spurr’s sitters through the roaring 20’s included, among many others, Mary Astor, Marion Davies, Pola Negri, Theda Bara, Norma and Constance Talmadge, Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, Fatty Arbuckle, John Barrymore, Lucille Ricksen—and, of course, Alice Terry.
PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPH OF ALICE TERRY, FILM ACTRESS AND DIRECTOR
Spurr’s portrait photograph of Alice Terry presents a very close-cropped close-up with piercing, radiant eyes, perfect lips, and rich toning.
Alice Terry (1900-1987) began her career as a film actress and director in the silent film era.
Between 1916 and 1933 Terry appeared in 39 films. She started in Not My Sister in 1916. That same year, Terry made the anti-war film, Civilization. In 1921 she starred as Marguerite Laurier, her most acclaimed role, in prominent Irish director Rex Ingram’s film, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Alice Terry and Rex Ingram married that same year.
In 1925, Rex Ingram (1892-1952), was a director on Ben-Hur, an extravaganza production that started in 1923 and became one of the biggest box-office hits of the decade. Working on this film in Italy gave Alice Terry and Rex Ingram the idea to relocate to Nice on the French Riviera and set up their own film studio. In the next years the expatriate actress-director and director made several films for M-G-M on-location in southern Europe and North Africa. Alice Terry made her final film in 1933 in an appearance in Baroud, a film she and Rex Ingram co-directed.
SPURR’S POPULARITY DECLINES AS STUDIO SYSTEM MANDATES IN-HOUSE PHOTOGRAPHERS
With studio consolidation and competition becoming more intense, major movie studios mandated that their stars be photographed only by studio photographers. So was inaugurated the age of motion picture inhouse operators heralding the legendary careers of glamour portrait photographers George Hurrell, Clarence Sinclair Bull, Eugene Robert Richee and others. Since Spurr chose to keep his own studio and not work for a major studio, he began to lose business. It had been for one glorious decade—the 1920’s— that Melbourne Spurr shined in Hollywood.
FEATURE image: Ethel Barrymore on the cover of The Theatre in August 1901 following the close of the successful Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines which ran on Broadway for 168 performances from February to July 1901 and made 22-year-old Ethel Barrymore a star. Public Domain.
22-year-old Ethel Barrymore on stage at the Garrick Theatre on West 35th Street in New York City in Clyde Fitch’s Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines in 1901. Dramatist Clyde Fitch (1865-1909) wrote over 60 plays in his career that ranged from comedies and farces to melodramas. Fitch was the most popular writer for the Broadway stage in his time and specialized in writing important dramatic parts for women. Fitch’s new play was a romantic comedy set in the States years after the Civil War. Ethel Barrymore played Madame Trentoni, the female lead and the play’s love interest. The 1901 Broadway production made Barrymore a star. The public domain photograph is in the archive of the Museum of the City of New York.
By John P. Walsh
Stage and screen actress Ethel Barrymore (1879-1959) was the sister to older brother Lionel (1878-1954) and younger brother John (1882-1942) Barrymore. Though Ethel Barrymore was absolutely devoted to the stage from her youth, she began to appear in major silent films starting in 1914. Much later, in the 1940’s, the veteran stage actress was nominated twice for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She won the golden statuette in 1944 for her role as Ma Mott in the film None but the Lonely Heart starring Cary Grant who used a Cockney accent for his part.
By the time Barrymore appeared in her first feature motion picture, The Nightingale, in 1914, she was a celebrated stage actress on both sides of the Atlantic. Coming from the famous American acting family of Drews and Barrymores, the just 16-year-old Ethel Barrymore made her Broadway stage debut in 1895 alongside her uncle, John Drew, Jr. (1853-1927).
Ethel Barrymore at 17 years old in 1896. In 1895, a 16-year-old Barrymore made her Broadway stage debut alongside her uncle, Jack Drew, Jr., a famous and well-liked actor.
John Drew, Jr. in 1896. A versatile actor, Drew was so highly esteemed by his fellow actors that they elected him the lifetime president of New York City’s Players’ Club. The private social club for actors founded in the 1840’s at 16 Gramercy Park remains active today.
Before she was 20 years old, Ethel appeared several times on the London stage. Her first role was that of Miss Kittridge in William Gillette’s new play, Secret Service (1895). After that show closed, she was offered and played other roles on the London circuit. By the turn of the 20th century, a vibrant and talented Ethel Barrymore gained the especial attentions of several male admirers that included dukes, actors, writers and politicians.
Winston Churchill in 1900. A public domain photograph in the Imperial War Museum.
One such admirer of Ethel Barrymore was eligible bachelor, enthusiastic theater hound, and nascent politician Winston Churchill (1874-1965). Though Ethel had many propositions and proposals in this period—she was even briefly engaged to a man until Ethel broke it off—any marriage proposal made to her by Churchill was refused. Churchill and Barrymore, however, became lifelong friends.
Poster for William Hooker Gillette’s 1895 play, Secret Service, on the London stage which featured young American actress Ethel Barrymore in its cast. The poster promotion depicts the play as a royal entertainment which attracts princes and princesses, dukes and duchesses. William Gillette (1853-1937) wrote melodramas and spy plays that were very popular with audiences. In 1899, Gillette first created the role of Sherlock Holmes for the stage, a role which he himself played for over 30 years.
Ethel Barrymore at 19 years old in 1898.
Young Ethel Barrymore. From a famous American acting family, she was was devoted to the stage at an early age.
At 20 years old Ethel Barrymore gained the attention of many male admirers, including dukes, actors, writers and politicians. Though briefly engaged around the turn of the century, Ethel broke it off. Ethel finally married in 1909. She met her husband, Russell Griswold Colt (1882–1960), at Sherry’s restaurant at 44th Street and Fifth Avenue in New York City while having lunch with her uncle, John Drew, Jr. The marriage produced three children, though it ended in divorce in 1923.
When Ethel returned to the United States, she began to appear in various stage productions. It was in 1901 when the 22-year-old actress was cast in the role of Mrs. Trentoni in Clyde Fitch’s Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines on Broadway that Ethel Barrymore became a star.
Ethel Barrymore dressed in one of the Edwardian costumes as Madame Trentoni in the 1901 Broadway play, Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines.
Clyde Fitch’s Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines introduces Robert Carrolton Jinks and his friends who form a club to boost the presidential campaign for General U.S. Grant in 1868. Calling themselves “Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines,” they think to try out their marching abilities by greeting the arrival of a steamer carrying Madame Trentoni, a famous opera singer. Though sight unseen, Jinks bets money that he can make Madame Trentoni fall in love with him. The boat is late and everyone leaves the dock except for a gaggle of reporters who wait to greet the opera singer. When Jinks returns, after he lays eyes on Madame Trentoni (played by Ethel Barrymore) he falls in love with her. After Captain Jinks sees she is having trouble at customs, he pulls out money which the customs official mistakes for a bribe and Jinks is promptly arrested.
When Jinks is released on bail he calls on Madame Trentoni who has stopped to visit her foster father. She is as much in love with him as he is with her and their courtship progresses rapidly. When Jinks tries to call off the bet he made with his friends, they refuse until he finally agrees to pay off the bet with an I.O.U.
Jinks’ friends are also smitten with Madame Trentoni but she is totally uninterested in them. This gets them angry and they decide to ruin it for Jinks. They tell Madame Trentoni’s foster father that jinks intends to marry Madame Trentoni solely for her money — and as proof pull out the signed I.O.U. that says “I.O.U. $1,000 for the bet regarding Madame Trentoni.” The foster father flies into a rage, tells Madame Trentoni about the I.O.U, and she decides to never see Jinks again.
Jinks has no idea why Madame Trentoni is so angry at him. When he finally discovers what his friends have falsely told her, he tries to gain admittance to her apartment to tell her the truth. When she learns the real facts of the matter, Madame Trentoni throws her arms around her Captain Jinks.
In that intimate position, a detective suddenly bursts into the room to arrest Jinks. In all the tumult surrounding the loss of his love interest, Jinks forgot to appear in court for his bribery case. It appeared Jinks had skipped bail. Madame Trentoni tells the detective that she and her sweetheart have had a misunderstanding and only now are having the chance to make up. Her plea and the promise that Captain Jinks will appear in court tomorrow for his case is approved by the detective, who departs. Captain Jinks and Madame Trentoni embrace, and the curtain goes down on the couple living happily ever after.
The public domain photographs above are in the archive of the Museum of the City of New York.
Color promotional poster for Captain Jinks and the Horse Marines starring Elizabeth Kennedy. After the Broadway show starring Ethel Barrymore closed in July 1901 after 168 performances, a new production and cast appeared in 1902. The theatrical poster highlights New York’s Garrick Theatre run. (Library of Congress collection)
Ethel Barrymore as Madame Trentoni in 1901.
Ethel Barrymore on the cover of The Theatre in August 1901 following the close of the successful Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines which ran on Broadway for 168 performances from February to July 1901 and made 22 year old Ethel Barrymore a star.
Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines was produced in 1901 at the Garrick Theatre. The 910-seat theatre was built in 1890 by Francis Hatch Kimball (1845-1919) and located at 67 W. 35th Street in New York City.
The Garrick opened as Harrigan’s Theatre and became the Garrick in 1895. It was sold to the Schubert brothers in 1916 and leased to Otto Kahn who renamed it the Théâtre du Vieux-Colombier in 1917.
Management reverted to the Schuberts in 1925 when the theatre featured popular burlesque until the onset of the Great Depression. The building was demolished in 1932.
Screenshot, October 2019, site of GARRICK THEATRE (1890-1932), 67 W. 35th Street, New York City. The Garrick Theatre was where Ethel Barrymore starred as Madame Trentoni in Clyde Fitch’s Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines. A smash hit, the Broadway production made Ethel Barrymore one of the 20th century’s major theatrical and film stars. In 2006 the site had a multi-level parking garage which was later replaced by a hotel devlopment. The brownstone building in the middle distance appears to have survived from the late 19th-century period.
Both photographs above, Ethel Barrymore in 1901. As a new theatrical celebrity Barrymore’s image, style, and fashion were in demand by the public.
Ethel Barrymore in 1901.
Barrymore with a fur muf and feather hat in a hairstyle à la mode. The demand by the public for images of theatrical celebrities was insatiable.
In the 20th century’s first decade, Ethel Barrymore became a theatrical celebrity. Her image was in demand in photographs and picture post cards of the time. Throughout the first third of the twentieth century, Barrymore continually appeared in popular stage productions. Following the success of Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines, Barrymore appeared in the next years in many top-rated popular Broadway productions.
A few highlights included in 1903 Barrymore appearing for 60 performances in the title role in Cousin Kate at the brand-new Hudson Theatre at 139–141 West 44th Street. In 1905 Barrymore played Norma Helmer in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll House for 23 performances at The Lyceum Theatre at 149 West 45th Street. Also in 1905 Barrymore appeared in Alice Sit-by-the-Fire at the Empire Theatre. In 1908 Barrymore played the title role in Lady Frederick for 96 performances, again at the Hudson Theatre. There were a dozen more productions Barrymore was involved in before 1910.
Another side of Ethel Barrymore, at the piano in 1903. Before she took to a career on the stage, Ethel Barrymore aspired to be a concert pianist as a youth.
Ethel Barrymore, 1904, by photographer Arnold Genthe. The actress was starring in several plays that year including in the title role of Kate Curtis in My Cousin Kate at the Empire Theatre. Barrymore would reprise the role briefly in 1907.
Ethel Barrymore in a photograph by William Morrison of Chicago in 1907. In the 1900’s Ethel Barrymore was a theatrical celebrity whose image displayed the latest fashion, make-up, and hairstyles that helped express the style of the times.
Ethel Barrymore in 1908. She was starring in the title role of Lady Frederick at the Hudson Theatre that year. The Broadway play ran for 96 performances.
With her film debut in 1914 in The Nightingale, a film written especially for her by playwright Augustus Thomas (1857-1934), Ethel Barrymore began in the new silent flickering medium of cinema in the footsteps of her brothers Lionel and John, who made their film debuts a couple of years earlier.
While Ethel made at least 14 films between 1914 and 1919 (some films are lost) she continued with her stage work and appeared in a dozen more Broadway productions throughout the 1910’s. When she decided to interrupt her film work in 1920 –and did not return to the movies until 1932 in the M-G-M film Rasputin and the Empress starring with her brothers (Ethel played Czarina Alexandra) – she appeared in a dozen more plays in the 1920’s, all in prominent Broadway theatres.
In 1922 she starred as Juliet in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet for 23 performances at the Longacre Theatre at 220 West 48th Street as well as her celebrated role as Constance Middleton in Somerset Maugham’s new comedy play, The Constant Wife, in 1927. It ran for 296 performances at Maxime Elliot’s Theatre at 109 West 39th Street (it was demolished in 1960). The play had previewed in Cleveland, Ohio, at the Ohio Theatre in early November 1926 with Ethel Barrymore in the title role. It opened on Broadway at the end of November 1926 and ran until August 1927. After the Broadway show closed, Ethel Barrymore toured the production. Maugham dedicated his play to Ethel Barrymore and later said her performance was by far the best of any he had seen given for any of his plays.
Barrymore’s extensive stage work in this period also included, in 1928, appearing in the role of Sister Gracia in The Kingdom of God. The play was selected by Ethel Barrymore herself as the premier production in the Schubert Theatre chain’s newly-built 1,058-seat venue at 243 W. 47th Street in New York City. The new Broadway venue was named the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. Since its opening on December 20, 1928, the Ethel Barrymore Theatre has, without exception, presented legitimate Broadway productions continuously from that time to the present day.
The Ethel Barrymore Theatre on West 47th street in New York City is named for the legendary stage actress. Opened on December 20, 1928, the 1,058 seat theatre has been in continuous operation as a legitimate theatre since Barrymore first starred there in The Kingdom of God, a play she selected for the theatre’s first production. (Photo Credit: “Barrymore Theatre” by ensign_beedrill is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).
Three famous actors, Philadelphia-born, in 1904. They were the third generation of the Royal Family of the American stage. From left: John (1882–1942), Ethel (1879–1959), and Lionel (1878–1954) BARRYMORE, performed on stage, screen, and radio. Their grandparents, the Drews, managed the Arch St. Theatre in Philadelphia.