On the Set with Ronald Colman

June 11, 1939: the British colony in Hollywood prepare to broadcast their welcome to the King and Queen of Great Britain on their first visit to the United States. From left to right are Greer Garson, Leslie Howard, George Sanders in the rear having a smoke, Vivien Leigh hiding her smoke under her script, Brian Aherne, Ronald Colman, and Basil Rathbone:
Colman 1939 Broadcast for Their Majesties_edited-Final_edited-1

It is was said that Ronald Colman’s voice was so beautiful that he could attract a crowd just by reading the phone book. Experience the “velvet voice” in this stunning radio performance from 1945:

Before sound films became popular, Ronnie was a top star of the silent screen. Here he chats with cinematographer J.C. Scrugram on the set of THE WINNING OF BARBARA WORTH (1925):
Winning Barbara Worth J G Scrugram_Final

BARBARA WORTH was not only a big hit for Ronnie, but made a star of Hungarian actress Vilma Banky in her American film debut. Not billed on this poster, the film was also a breakthrough for a lanky young actor named Gary Cooper:
The-Winning-of-Barbara-Worth 2

This is a restored image from a newspaper supplement advertising BEAU GESTE (1926), a film that took Ronald Colman from star to superstar:
Beau-Geste supplement/>

Producer Sam Goldwyn starred Ronnie and Vilma Banky in a series of romantic swashbucklers during the mid-1920s just prior to the arrival of talkies. One of their best is THE NIGHT OF LOVE (1927), here they pose for the ever-present photographer (color transfer by Jeffrey Allan):
Two Lovers on the Set

A scene from THE TWO LOVERS (1928), the fifth and final Colman-Banky teaming:
two lovers_Final_edited-2

A top silent film had its own theme song available on records and on sheet music. Here is the striking cover for THE MAGIC FLAME (1927):
Sheet Music001 Final

An unusual aspect of THE MAGIC FLAME is seeing Ronnie as a clown. Here he is unrecognizable under his makeup:
Colman_Magic Flame copy_Final

A striking image of Ronnie as he prepared to go his own way with the arrival of the talkies in 1929. Nobody could know then that his best films were ahead of him: A TALE OF TWO CITIES (1935). LOST HORIZON and THE PRISONER OF ZENDA (both 1937), RANDOM HARVEST and THE TALK OF THE TOWN (both 1942), and A DOUBLE LIFE (1948), for which Ronnie won the Best Actor Academy Award. Eventually, Ronnie focused more on radio and television where his work was always highly rated.
Colman circa 1928_Final
We chose today for this post because February 9th is Ronald Colman’s birthday (1891). His best films, both silent and sound, are readily available now on official DVD releases and much of his radio work can be heard over the Internet. We suspect that Ronnie would be pleased that he continues to have an audience in the 21st century!

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  1. I would love to get Colman’s 1928 opus, The Two Lovers which opened a major downtown picture in Melbourne/Australia that still exists as a theatre. Unfortunately, it seems to be only partly extant. Mrs Goldwyn may have a lot to answer on these matters if she was still with us.

    • Kenneth, re TWO LOVERS, that’s my understanding as well. I know that THE NIGHT OF LOVE exists complete but TWO LOVERS and MAGIC FLAME survive with missing reels. We are grateful for the silents that have been found in Australia so I’m sorry to hear that these films won’t be among them.

      • Thank you for your reply. Below is a link to the theatre where Colman opened in Two Lovers in Australia in 1929. The first owner was the father of actor Frank Thring Jr & was to die in about 6 years from cancer. Thring had just opened a radio station in a live theatre not far away that is much older and still exists.

        I knew a local fencing teacher in the 1970s(John Feathers or Fethers) who bought Colman & Flynn fencing films and modelled his looks on Colman!!!!!

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regent_Theatre,_Melbourne

        Ken

      • Ken,

        Thank you for sending along the theater info. Just by coincidence I am running the 1934 George Edwards radio serial, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, on my Lon Chaney Facebook page. I understand that Mr. Edwards was quite famous in Australia from the 1930s to his death in the 1950s. He was called, “The Man of a Thousand Voices,” a nice tie in to Chaney’s man of a Thousand Faces.

        Bob

      • Thanks for the reply Bob. When I mentioned Feathers, I meant to convey he bought 16mm films from me. People willing paid the price of around A$200 with taxes etc for these films then before VHS came to the fore.

        George Edwards was, indeed, a name here. He ran a radio stock company with his wife(Nell Stirling). They started a 10-15mins serial c1939 called Dad & Dave which went on to his death and is still in radio circulation today. Made by EMI Records, who owned it for many years, it belongs to the only survivor of radio show producers, Grace Gibson. Grace was an American woman who came here and eventually started her own company. The series has its origins 100 years ago when a writer who pen-named himself “Steele Rudd”. There were silent films(mostly lost) and then a series of films from 1932(On Our Selection, from the first Rudd book).

        The sound films starred New Zealander, Bert Bailey, who toured previously in the stage versions of the stories. The last was made in 1940 when the war stopped production at the Sydney studios of Cnesound but they continued with their newsreel dvision, all owned then by a moviehouse chain, the major opposition to the chain previously run by Frank Thring Snr for a time(Hoyts, that Fox then owned for a good many years). I have one of the films on DVD taken from a found 16mm film by a man who was involved in a film on producer/actor JP MacGowan(?) in recent times. The film has a british title to the film(The Rudd Family Come to Town) and some scenes are missing which was common with films sent to UK for use in double bills and the only way some are found today. The film has a camp floorwalker which is obvious and played by one of Cecil Kell(e)away’s brothers and Mum worked with that Kellaway in the theatre where she was a teenaged wardrobe worker/sewer.

        The same David Donaldson was also the same guy, who in the 1960s-70s) found the only copy of a 1927 local kiddie comedy feature, Kid Stakes. A type of Our Gang story, it was found in a trash bin in Sydney and I met David during that time before he settled at the South Australian Film Corporation who made a number of good Australian-themed features(Sunday Too Far Away, Blu Fin, Stork Boy, etc). Grapevine issued Kid Stakes last year, a film that was remade, in color, a few years ago as Fatty Finn(on You Tube). The boy star, Fatty Finn, was in the film because his dad was involved and was an early casualty in WW2.

        The radio show has the theme called Along the Road to Gundagai, a town over the border from my state)Victoria) in New South Wales where there is a statue of a dog sitting on a tuckerbox. I like the theme and the version recorded for the series. I met the song composer on Sun June 9 1970, the day before I had a serious factory accident in my street. Jack O’Hagan was our best known song composer from the 1920s up and sang songs on record and film shorts in the depression. He lived about 10-15mins from my home in a little house close to the sea. Like Irving Berlin, he did plagiarise other people’s works. He referred to Jerome Kern as Jerry that day(the archivist who took me there noted this familiarity) and sang robustly as he played the piano in his tiny living room. He did work for the same music publishing company I was then working for and had his own publishing name. By the time I was at the firm he was a partner in an advertising company where he wrote many of the jingles they used.

        Hard to hear Australian radio shows and many have been demanded removed off the net by our archives when BBC shows abound there. Archive CDs were few and stopped now. Older films are just as hard to get too where they exist.

        Ken

  2. Ken,

    I am a collector of 16mm films myself although Blu-ray combined with digital restoration has put most of my beloved 16mm to shame. On audio, I have three of George Edwards radio serials: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932), HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1934), and FRANKENSTEIN (1938). All on mp3 and they sound quite good. If you’d like to hear HUNCHBACK, please check my FB page, Lon Chaney – Man of 1,000 Faces.

    Bob

    • Thanks Bob. I too collected 16mm but have no projector now. Someone put my projector in a garden shed and vermin did their destructive job. My Eiki film to TV machine had a camera failure and this was not replaceable. Only about 11 were ever sold in Australia and I missed one offered at a record fair some years ago. I still have most of the films but sold a few to a country cinema who had a flood and one of the partners, both of whom I knew when they worked with film producer/director Fred Schepsi, died of cancer. They took my Eddie Cantor material. I actually sold a lot of films to the grandson of film producer/director Charles Chauvel. He lived in Queensland and believed only in film. He never arranged to collect them after I he fully paid for them. Chauvel filmed In the Wake of the Bounty that gave us Errol Flynn’s first film appearance in 1933. So we have this film but Warners can’t find his first appearance for them!!!! A couple of 30s Chauvel films are or were on You Tube.

      Under my desk I have a copy of Just Imagine(1930) which has never been spooled. One reel is over 2000ft. I thought the El Brendel fan on Nitrateville was going to make me an offer but he never did. I see just now that there is a 108m copy on You Tube.

      I have not responded on Nitrateville for a while because I got locked out for whatever glitch and no matter what names and e-mail addresses i used I could not get it opened to do a post so I can only view the posts. I tried contacting Mike, as I had in the past, but I got no response. I tried the Facebook page a couple of times. I got a reply to the second post there from some unknown who said Not Again when I mentioned I could not open Nitrateville in my name. I had wanted to add my experiences with The King of Jazz(1930) during posts about the restoration. I have had little trouble with Home Theater Forum although quite a longtime ago I got a note saying I was banned and that all my posts had been deleted from the files. Someone(unnamed and no copy of the post ever seen) said I broke the rules promoting Warner Archive sales. I never did such a thing and I can’t see why I would promote something that Warners will not sell me over here in Australia. I was back on and I think they replaced all or most of my posts. Seeing that people blatantly do this all the time there I am still puzzled to this day who it was and what they said.

      Late last year I ordered in advance the George Pal collection and got this private Blu Ray. I had been in contact with the original guy back a decade or so ago. I recently forgot to order Thunderbean’s Gulliver’s Travels Blu Ray on Amazon but I eventually got thru to them and I was to be notified when it was available(by Dec) and I would be able to buy the set and get the film frames. Several reminders later I have heard nothing. He lives in Ann Arbor not too far from the Detroit suburbs where I lived on and off in the 1970s with family(my 89 year old aunt, Mom’s older sister, died suddenly from a fall last Oct after we established a new phone contact). This film has early Australian TV viewing memories for me.

      I will look up the serials from Australia you mention you have there. I certainly want these in my collection. I downloaded 64mb in mp3 of dad & Dave off Archive/org this morning.

      Ken

  3. As a life-long fan, researcher and collector on the life and work of Ronald Colman, I have always been dogged by puzzlement and disbelief that his silent films produced by Sam Goldwyn have apparently suffered from such a careless, ignominious fate. At this moment, on Turner Classic Movies, they have a double bill this morning of John Barrymore’s DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE and SHERLOCK HOLMES..both films made by MGM in the early 1920s. What in Goldwyn’s name happened to the Colman films made in the mid-to-late 1920s? Are they still locked away, kept from the light of day (and from the eager eyes of fans all over the world) somewhere deep in the Goldwyn archival vault (if such a thing exists?) Sam Goldwyn Jr.
    is still around, I believeā€¦has ANYONE asked Goldwyn’s son about this? Could it be that the acrimony in the wake of the famous (or infamous) Colman-Goldwyn split wayyy back in 1933 still simmers somewhere? The Hearst family for years and years refused to print Orson Welles’ name because of their anger and displeasure over CITIZEN KANE…

    • Albert,

      I don’t believe there was a systematic effort to destroy the Goldwyn silents. Sam and his wife divorced at some point and the property settlement had them dividing up the films. She got most of the silent films, which were considered unmarketable by the 1930s so they basically languished with the exception of THE WINNING OF BARBARA WORTH (1925), a film much admired by Mrs. Goldwyn. TWO LOVERS is extant and is in the “grey Market” on dvd. BTW, the Barrymore JEKYLL/HYDE was made by Paramount not MGM, and I believe his SHERLOCK HOLMES was a Goldwyn film. MGM didn’t exist until 1924.


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