The Golden Age of Hollywood Blog #1

Clara Bow’s first movie was Beyond the Rainbow. Filmed in New York in 1921, when Clara was sixteen, the movie went on public release on February 19, 1922. A 16mm print of the film still survives.

The plot is a decent one: guests arrive at a party and are passed a mysterious note saying, ‘Consult your conscience. Your secret is common gossip.’  All the guests have something to hide, so panic and murder ensue.

The note was written by Clara’s character, Virginia Gardener, as a mischievous joke. It’s ironic that in her first movie Clara was the instigator of chaos because, in her own iconic way, that set the tone for her career.

Clara appeared in five scenes in Beyond the Rainbow, but strangely those scenes were cut from the final print, only to be restored when she became a star. Her billing also moved up from ninth to third when she achieved stardom.

📸 A still from Beyond the Rainbow featuring Helen Ware, George Fawcett and Clara Bow.

Diana Lynn on the cover of Picturegoer, January 7, 1950. A child prodigy, Diana Lynn was playing piano with the Los Angeles Junior Symphony Orchestra at the age of twelve. She featured in movies as a pianist, then developed as an actress. During her career she appeared in movies with Ginger Rogers, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster and Walter Matthau.

Alice Guy-Blaché, 1 July 1873 – 24 March 1968, was one of the first filmmakers to make a narrative fiction film. She was the first woman to direct a film and from 1896 to 1906 the only female filmmaker in the world. She experimented with sync-sound, colour-tinting and special effects.

Photoplay, September 1930

“Probably the most highly praised young actress of the past few months – Barbara Stanwyck, who shot to emotional stardom on the strength of her unforgettably beautiful and moving performance in ‘Ladies of Leisure ’. This office is bombarded with letters praising her beauty and acting power. We all expect big things of you, Barbara!”

Mitchell Leisen (director): “Charlie Chaplin and myself went up there (Pickfair, pictured, home of Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford) almost every night for dinner. Mary would go to bed and we’d run a picture. Pickfair had a Turkish bath and a pool with a three-hundred-pound cake of ice in it. We had to go in every night and take a sauna and then dive into the ice bath. We’d go to bed, and climb into the Rolls Royce the next morning and go to the studio.”

Her greatest role was as the Blind Flower Girl in Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights, but who was Virginia Cherrill? Through her genealogy, movie career, and public records I intend to find out and shed some light on the person who, in the opinion of film critic James Agee, delivered with Chaplin, “The greatest single piece of acting ever committed to celluloid.”

Virginia Cherrill was born on 12 April 1908 in Illinois to James Edward Cherrill, a dealer in livestock, and Blanche Wilcox. The couple married because Blanche was pregnant. She gave birth to a daughter, Sydney Rose, who sadly died in 1908, a month before Virginia was born. James was a womaniser and, in due course, Blanche obtained a divorce.

During her childhood, Virginia was known as Dolly. She lived with her mother, and with uncles and grandparents. At school, she befriended Evelyn Lederer, who changed her name to Sue Carol when she became an actress. Later, Sue became an agent and married Alan Ladd.

When she was seventeen, Virginia caught the eye of a handsome young lawyer, Irving Adler. Irving invited her to dances and the theatre. From a high-society Chicago family and with good prospects, Irving had a lot going for him. He proposed marriage, repeatedly, and eventually Virginia said, “yes”.

In the summer of 1926 Virginia and Irving married in secret, often a portent of things to come. Sheltered by an over-protective mother, Virginia’s wedding night came as a shock to her, and the events of that night set the tone for her marriage. 

Irving was often away on business. Lonely, and after seventeen months of marriage, Virginia admitted her mistake. She sought a divorce and on 25 November 1927 made her way west, to friends in Hollywood. 

More next week.

Out of the Past, 1947

Kathie: “Oh, Jeff, you ought to have killed me for what I did a minute ago.”

Jeff: “There’s still time.”

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