Ways To Film Success
Ways To Film Success
It is the constant dream of many hundreds of people to achieve fame and fortune as stars in motion pictures ; as constantly the question “ How ?” is being asked. The Editors of THE WORLD FILM ENCYCLOPEDIA invited six successful players to recount the means by which they attained their positions. The narratives are diverse enough to prove that there is no royal road ; that hard work, determination, and a proportion of good luck have played parts in their achievements.
“I WAS BROKE”—by RONALD COLMAN
(United Artists' Player)
Л/f Y father gave me my first glimpse of the films. I was eleven when we went together to the old Earl’s Court Exhibition. It was a catchpenny show—bands, whirligigs, fortune-tellers, coconut shies ; all the antique dreamland of plaster and paint, noise and laughter. There was one new attraction with a sign over its cavernous entrance. It read : “ Animated Pictures/'
We went in. Dark and stuff}?’ as the interior was, I remember that it seemed doubly black and awful when I caught sight of the screen. They were showing an express train which came rushing out of the tunnel straight at us. A pianist played some bass chords, a drummer wildly rubbed together two pieces of sandpaper. I was as good as tied to the railway track. That was the first film I ever saw.
It was years later, after I had worked variously in a shipping office, in the Army during the war, and on the stage, that I first found myself before a film camera. After having been invalided out of the Army in 1916, I had to do something and the stage, in which I had always been interested as an amateur, seemed obvious.
I was playing in Damaged Goods when George Dewhurst, one of the pioneers of the British cinema, came into my dressing-room on a memorable evening. “ I am going to make a two-reel comedy,” he told me, “ and I want you for the star juvenile part. It will give you a fortnight’s work.” “ Who wrote it ? ” I asked.
“ I did,” replied George, “ and I am going to direct it, too. And I’m going to be the cameraman as well! It will be good.”
Up till then I had never had the slightest notion of such a thing as acting in a film. But I said : “ How much do I get ? ”
“ Well,” said George, “ it’s the leading part. I want to do the right thing by you. I’ll pay you a pound a day, not counting Sundays.”
The offer became a serious proposition at once. I well remember how I tried to be calm before this capitalist and to accept carelessly. Miss Phyllis Titmuss, who was so successful on the London stage, was engaged to play
opposite me. We had one vacant room in a house rigged up as a studio, and when we wanted to change some interior scene, I found I had also to play the leading part in moving the furniture around. It took a lot of moving, too, to make the room look like a different one !
I believe that film was never shown. It was just as well. If I had seen myself on the screen, I don’t think I could have withstood the shock. As for George, he was a man of iron under any conditions.
Л few weeks later, another cinema frontiersman approached me. He said :
“ Are you good in pictures ? ”
" Great! ” said I.
“ How many have you made ? ”
“ One ! ”
“ What salary do you expect ? ”
“ Thirty pounds a week.”
“ I’ll give you six.”
” Done ! ” I cried—and almost embraced him.
After this I began to play odd parts—and sometimes leading ones— fairly often, but for another three years my main interest was the stage. Then Cecil Hepworth persuaded me to give my whole time to pictures and, with him, I made A Son of David. It was in this film that I had my first look at my screen shadow. It was dreadful!
However, I persevered—though I admit I was a very bad actor in those early films. Finally, in 1920, when the unemployment problem was becoming the biggest question of the day, I decided to take what few shillings I had saved and sail to America. Several film managers had given me notes of introduction to American picture people, including D. W. Griffith and Jules Brulatour.
New York—that golden gate—proved to be effectively locked. I found all the New York studios closed, as a result of the bad slump in business. My money was soon gone; my letters of introduction could not be presented at the barred doors of the film studios and I found a return to the stage imperative. Eventually I got a part in the touring company of East is West, and that tour took us right across the United States to Los Angeles.
Would it be any easier to get a film part in California than in England and New York? I headed for the cinema studios ; I haunted Hollywood ; but I had no introductions there and I could not even get in.
I found an agent, told him what I had done, and asked him : “ Do you think there might be a chance for me in Hollywood ? ”
“ I wonder ! ” said he.
. Just that. Nothing more. And I walked out.
I had my first chance in American films because two people thought I looked like Valentino. They were Henry King, the film director, and Lillian Gish. They were planning to film The White Sister and wanted an actor who looked like an Italian—me ! So the road was open. With Miss Gish and Henry King to help me, I found The White Sister the greatest acting experience I had ever been through. Whatever doubts I had about my devotion to pictures were dispelled. This was to be my field.
“I OWE IT TO MY HUSBAND”
—by BARBARA STANWYCK
(Warner Brothers Star)
T OWE to my husband the fact that I am a film star. In these days of modern marriages and feminine independence that statement sounds to many people a little fantastic ; but that is the way it happened.
The story starts some time back when I spent my time kicking a leg for the amusement of the patrons of Texas Guinan’s famous night club in New York. The}^ called me by my real name—Ruby Stevens—in those days.
One night Frank Fay, one of Broadway’s greatest stars, walked in. I admired him from a distance, but it seemed hardly likely that we should ever meet ; and yet, before very long Ruby Stevens had become Mrs. Frank Fay. Before very much longer she had also become Barbara Stanwyck, and Frank managed to get me the job of leading lady in the play Burlesque. For a year or two we were content with the successes that both of us gained on Broadway, but then came the revolutionizing of the film industry by the introduction of talking pictures, back in 1929.
With everything in the melting-pot, Hollywood was eager for stage talent. They needed actors and actresses who knew how to put emotion, tragedy, laughter, into the spoken word. One by one, all the greatest Broadway stars were offered contracts. Of course, Frank was one of the number, and he accepted a job with Joseph Schenck.
Meanwhile we were appearing at the Club Richman in New York, and one evening I was invited over to the table of a strange young man, who told me his name was Irving Thalberg ; that he was from Hollywood ; that my work interested him ; and that he wondered if I had ever thought of working in pictures. The name Thalberg meant little or nothing to me, and I told him casually that, as Frank was due on the West. Coast quite soon, I should probably go with him. I even promised airily enough to drop around and see him at the M.G.M. Studios some time. That was all I knew of Hollywood when we eventually left for film headquarters.
While Frank was making musicial pictures like The Show of Shows, I managed to secure a part in The Locked Door with Rod la Rocque. That film was so bad it nearly locked the door of my screen future. I began to hate Hollywood. After along time Warner Bros, gave me a test. I still hated Hollywood ; was bewildered and confused by it. My test was as much a failure as my first screen effort.
It was then that Frank Fay’s hand went to the moulding of my career. [ Without telling me—and I did not find out for a long time afterwards— he went to Harry Cohn, chief of Columbia Pictures, and offered to pay my salary and the cost of dressing me if only they would give me a chance. They did give me a chance, although they refused Frank’s offer, and I ^ played with little more than medium success in an unimportant film. 11 was still unenthusiastic about Hollywood and quite ready to return to the; old happy days in New York ; but Frank was still fighting on my behalf. ‘
When he heard that another picture was being prepared by Columbia he tackled Frank Capra and fought, argued, demanded that I should be
given the leading part. He showed them bits from my previous films; he dared them to deny that I was capable of playing an emotional role. Eventually he persuaded them. And Capra cast me as lead in Ladies of Leisure.
It was that part which gave me my first taste of success and determined me to remain in Hollywood. It was that part which secured for me more and more roles and, now, a starring contract with Warner Bros. And it was my husband, Frank Fay, whom I have to thank for the chance. It is Frank to whom I owe all the success that has come my way.
“I WAS SIGHT-SEEING”
—by HAROLD HUTH
(Gainsborough and British Lion Player)
\ NYONE who, reading this, hopes to get into films by copying my example, would be well advised to make up his mind a little sooner in life than I did. I had spent eighteen years in the motor trade before I even thought of facing the camera. In fact, I didn’t think about it at all until one afternoon, when I was taken to look over the Gainsborough Studios on a sight-seeing tour.
It may seem strange to those who know me now as a stage and film actor to think that I spent all those years doing something quite different. It will seem even more strange when I tell you how closely I have always been in touch with the acting profession. I have an aunt, Miss Eva Moore, an uncle, H. V. Esmond, a cousin, Jill Esmond, and another cousin, Roland Pertwee, who are all well known in the theatre.
It was Roland, novelist and playwright, who was finally responsible for my side-step into films. He came along one day and asked if I would like to see a film studio, an invitation which I eagerly accepted. We drove out to Islington where T. Hayes Hunter was making One of the Best.
At first I was not particularly interested in the acting or the production. What fascinated my mechanical mind was all the complicated mechanism and electric paraphernalia which was used for lighting the studio. It was quite by chance, during a break in his work, that Hayes Hunter strolled across, looked me up and down, and asked if I would like to play a small part. He thought, apparently, that I looked rather military and he wanted someone to wear a uniform. I remember thinking that it was rather a joke at first but, by the end of the day, my imagination was caught by it all. I determined to let someone else carry on motor engineering for the future. My time should be given to the cinema.
As things turned out in those first years, most of my time was given to the stage and it was here that I first attained any prominence, playing with Fay Compton in Dishonoured Lady. Later I had a part in the stage production of The Outsider, when it was revived at the Apollo Theatre in 1930. It was this part that brought me back full circle into films again. Harry Lachman was to direct the screen version of the play, and I suppose he found it pretty obvious to cast me in the same part that I had so recently filled in the West End.
It was early in 1932 that Sinclair Hill put me into The First Mrs. Fraser to play opposite Joan Barry, and it is from that moment that I personally feel my successful screen career should date, for it was then that I began to feel an ease and certainty in my work. Joan is sympathetic, charming, altogether delightful, and playing opposite her made the weeks spent on The First Mrs. Fraser an uninterrupted pleasure. Since then we have been cast together several times, notably in the British Lion film Sally Bishop, and I hope that our partnership will continue far into the future.
I entered films by chance : I returned to them by hard work and study in the theatre ; and I hope to remain in them for the pleasure that the work gives me.
“I WAS AN ARTIST’S MODEL”
—by GWILI ANDRE
TTERE 1 am in Hollywood where, they tell me, I have been an immediate success. They tell me I am another Garbo. The}' tell me I am another Dietrich. They tell me I am a star.
Personally I am a little dazed. It has all been so rushed and rather like a dream, this excursion from the life I used to lead in New York into the glare and hustle of the world of films. A few months ago my life consisted of staying still for long periods. Now I seem to do nothing but move about the whole time. A few months ago I was an artist’s model; now I am a film artiste.
If there is a royal road to success on the films I suppose I have trodden it, but I am afraid it is not one along which others can follow, unless they, too, can command the colossal shares of good fortune which first put my feet on the way.
I belong by birth and upbringing to the world of art and artists. I was born in Copenhagen and lived for years with my father who is a jeweller and quite a successful painter. I cannot tell you how often he used to do portraits and sketches of me, but I grew quite used to “ sitting ” as his model during the years of my childhood. Then, a little over three years ago an aunt of mine, who lives in Florida, invited me to stay. I jumped at the invitation and, after some months of playing in the sun, my aunt took me to New York.
Quite soon I had made up my mind to remain there, and I looked for work. The one thing I knew was how to sit still, and so I was able to get jobs modelling for artists. In a short time my days were fully occupied with this work, and I suppose my face and figure have appeared on the covers of most American magazines. There is good money to be earned in this way. Not long before I came to Hollywood I was making as much as 500 dollars a week. Indeed, I suppose it was only the thirst for new adventure and new experience that made me accept the movie offer when it did come, for the rewards were not so great.
In America they have a term “ take you for a ride,” which comes from gangster slang and means that one is taken on a trip against one's will (usually with an unpleasant ending). I was “ taken for a ride”
into the talking pictures, but the ending has been more pleasant than one who knew nothing about acting or talkies had any right to expect.
I had no dreams and no ambitions to go on the films. I love New York and the life on Broadway and Fifth Avenue. One night I was at the Central Park Casino with a party. In walked a man who was well known to everyone but me as a big executive in Radio Pictures. Within a few hours he had offered me a contract to study for pictures in Hollywood. I could have been no more surprised if he had walked in and offered me the Koh-i-noor diamond.
At the end of January I signed a contract with David Selznick, and at the end of February they had cast me as leading lady to Richard Dix in The Roar of the Dragon. This was another piece of colossal good fortune, for there is a saying in Hollywood that it is lucky to play opposite Richard Dix. There is something about him which helps a novice, and Hollywood youngsters all long to be in his pictures. I know why.
Dix taught me more in the few weeks spent on making that picture than all the directors, assistant-directors, camera-men, make-up artists and other experts had instilled in me during the weeks of training. Though I cannot thank him for the fact that I ever came to Hollywood it is entirely due to his help that I shall stay here.
*‘I DID IT BY ACCIDENT”
—by RICHARD ARLEN
Г ITERALLY, I got into pictures by accident; in fact, I was carried in on a stretcher.
I had left America before she entered the fighting, to enlist as a member of the Canadian Flying Corps. I had been to France ; I had fought; and in 1919 I found myself free, white and twenty. A little too free, indeed, because even in those spacious days livings were not so easy to pick up. For a time the Texas oilfields gave me some sort of existence, but eventually I arrived in Hollywood with just twenty-two dollars and quite a lot of hope. It really is lucky that hope springs so eternally, because I was down to my last cent while making the rounds of the studios. For three weeks, indeed, I could allow myself only fourteen cents a day as living expenses.
Practically my last dish of pork and beans had gone when some kindly being gave me a job on the Paramount lot. I had been striving to break my way into films with dreams of starring parts and bright lights ; I was in films all right, but my job was in one of the film laboratories and consisted largely of delivering messages on a motor-cycle.
That machine was the indirect author of my eventual success. I was speeding down one of the “ streets ” in the Paramount Studios when I achieved a wonderful skid and ended up in a heap against the wall with a broken leg. There is a hospital on the Paramount lot, and they took me there. I don’t know what guiding star brought one of the casting directors to my bedside, but there he arrived, and I suppose it was sympathy more than anything else which prompted him to promise me a job as an extra when I recovered.
Within a few weeks I was started at the usual extra pay of a few dollars per day’s work. I was in films, but only just. There were many weary months, but eventually someone else took a look at me, failed to laugh, and there I was, with a featured role in Vengeance of the Deep; quite soon afterwards there I was again with a rather larger part in In the Name of Love ; and almost immediately afterwards Paramount gave me a contract.
They cast me as leading man in Volcano, tried me for eight days, lost their patience, and I was out.
It is thanks only to Jobyna Ralston, now my wife, that I did not quit the pictures. She blamed me for even thinking of it, until I determined to tight on and win. I fought on and began to find more and better parts. In the end they gave me that role in Wings which established me ; and incidentally the role which made it possible for me to marry Jobyna, which I did immediately after the production was finished.
I have never regretted making my career in films, and I intend staying in films for a long time. They may have carried me in on a stretcher, but they’ll have to take me out in a bathchair !
“I WON A COMPETITION”
—by MOLLY LAMONT
(British International Picture Player)
ONE—two—three—hop ; one—two—three—point the toe, so—
These words were part of my daily life only two and a half years ago. To-day, when in moments of retrospect I consider all that has passed, they seem the echoes from a past as distant as a former existence.
At seventeen I was a teacher of dancing to all the young hopefuls of Scotborougli, a suburb of Durban ; to-day I am a film star at Elstree, the Hollywood of the British Empire.
Much luck, some considerable effort, and constant hard work are responsible for my metamorphosis, which began with a competition organized by a South African newspaper to find a girl who should worthily represent the Dominion in British filmdom. Many friends prevailed upon me to submit a photograph. In order to stand some chance against the beauties for which South' Africa is famous, I posed in a dramatic attitude with dishevelled hair and terror-stricken eyes. Despite the strategy, I was the most dumbfounded female in Africa when I was declared the winner. The prize was a year’s contract with British International Pictures and all expenses from Africa to Elstree, the return fare being deposited against my failure to make good.
My arrival in England is unforgettable, particularly when contrasted with my leave-taking from Durban, amid cheering multitudes, showers of flowers, flying bunting and blaring bands. I had left home as good as a star already ; I arrived at Southampton in a freezing wind, dense fog and splendid isolation. Representatives of British International Pictures greeted me kindly, but England was blissfully unconscious of my presence.
ELISSA LAXDI at the gate of her beautiful Hollywood home.
MARIE ERESSLEE’S house with its glorious sub-tropical creepers.
COLLEEN MOORE at the swimming pool of her home.
Plate 2S pox
MARION NIXON’S home is luxuriously furnished.
There were no bands, no flowers and no cheers. My mother and sister and I clung to each other, strangers in a strange land.
As soon as I had recovered from the journey, I made my first test. It was as nerve-racking an ordeal as any ever devised by the Spanish Inquisition. I look back now on hours of elocution lessons ; on arduous days spent in training as an “ extra ” ; on long periods of total immobility while experiments were made for make-up; on anxious and sleepless nights given over to pondering possible failure, while days in the studio were spent in badgering directors to give me a chance.
There are, however, other recollections which compensate ; my first line ; my first small part as a maid; my first heroine role ; my first leading part; my first Press notice ; my first specially designed gown ; not to mention my first glance in a mirror after I had been turned from a brunette to a golden blonde at the command of Jacqueline Logan and Mary Field; directors of Strictly Business ; and then my first starring role opposite Gene Gerrard.
Still more thrilling is the- thought that a competition winner—and one from a distant country at that—has achieved an annual renewal of contract each of the three years that she has been here.
Yes. I have had a very successful start, and a very fortunate one. I can feel my feet placed more firmly on the ladder that leads to the height of film fame. Yet do not imagine that I fe'el over-confident, for there are many influences in a British film studio to counteract the swelling head. The people about one would soon tease away boastfulness; moreover, I am my own severest critic, although South Africa must run me rather close, as witness the solitary reference made in the South African Press to my small effort in Uneasy Virtue. I played as a maid, the first of my early roles, which was seen some time later at home. It was their first opportunity of discussing my film prospects, but their comments were confined to one curt phrase: “ She sneezes well.”
The world film encyclopedia, 1933
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