Old Hollywood in 3D Color

This site was established almost two years ago and dedicated to transforming old b/w photos of Old Hollywood into color by using modern software. Now we’re ready to take the next step by adding computer-generated 3D to our color transfers. Last month we inaugurated this process on our sister site, ArlissArchives.com by unveiling the first-ever 3D images of George Arliss. Similar to the extremely limited use of color photography in Old Hollywood, unfortunately the studios of that era also did not participate in the popularity of 3D or stereoscopic photography. That task is bequeathed to us in the 21st century. Today there are several different 3D processes but here we are using an original low-tech version that dates back to the 19th century. It is based on an optical illusion to trick our brain into believing it is seeing an object from two slightly different perspectives, hence the illusion of depth perception. Let’s start off with a very chic Myrna Loy circa 1935:
Myrna Loy New 3D_edited-1

If you see only two identical images of Myrna and no 3D effect, then you either need to use a viewer device or learn the simple knack of “free viewing.” The easiest way to obtain a viewer is to find one of the many books on old stereoscopic slides because these volumes include a simple fold-up plastic or cardboard viewer. Check your public library. Your blogmeister dispenses with using viewers (the “training wheels” of 3D) and relies on the technique of free viewing using only, pardon the expression, my naked eyes. Let’s give the 3D treatment to Rudolph Valentino in MONSIEUR BEAUCAIRE (1924):
Rudy Beaucaire 2 New 3D_edited-1

To try free viewing, you need to guide each eye to focus on only one of the two images: the right eye on the right image, the left eye on the left image. At first your eyes won’t cooperate so by using the edge of your hand extended from your forehead to the tip of your nose, your hand will block the right eye from seeing the left image and vice versa with the left eye. A piece of cardboard or a business envelope will work as well as your hand. The next step is to relax and look “through” the images and you will notice (with a little patience) that the images start moving together to form one image. Once they fully merge you’re in 3D. Try it with Myrna and Rudy (each should line up easily) or give Strongheart and Lady Julie below (circa 1925) a try:
Strongheart_Lady Julie New 3D_edited-1

You’ll want to experiment with moving the images, i.e., the screen, anywhere from 9 to 13 inches from your eyes until the images start moving together. Also, smaller image size works easier than larger sizes so you if the images are not fully merging together, adjust your screen to make the images smaller. After a little trial and error, you’ll find a size and a focal length that works for you. Here is a photo that begged for 3D – Lon Chaney Sr. as Quasimodo in THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1923):
Chaney Hunchback 3D in PSE Free transform_edited-1

Once you’ve experienced the 3D effect of free viewing, you’ll know what to look for and subsequent 3D images will come through faster. Here, the Russian Revolution is about the break out in TEMPEST (1928) but Louis Wolheim (top) and John Barrymore find time to horse around in this photo that seems designed for 3D:
Barrymore Wolheim New 3D_edited-1

This photo has a lovely scenic perspective that enhances a 3D view – June Collyer and George Arliss on the set of ALEXANDER HAMILTON (1931) wait for nightfall to film an outdoor scene:
Arliss Hamilton 2 New 3D_edited-1

Since today (April 1st) is Lon Chaney’s birthday (1883), here he is again with Norma Shearer in HE WHO GETS SLAPPED (1924), the very first film produced by the then-newly organized Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Shearer and Chaney remained top stars at MGM, Norma until her retirement in 1942, and Lon until his death in 1930:
Shearer Chaney New 3D_edited-1

It may be unkind to note that W.C. Fields’ nose always seemed to be in 3D even in 2D photos. At any rate, here’s an unusual portrait of Mr. Fields sporting a middle eastern look:
W C Fields New 3D_edited-1

Gloria Swanson and her co-star Rudolph Valentino pause in filming a scene for BEYOND THE ROCKS (1922). This film represents the only pairing of these two iconic stars and was considered a “lost” work for decades until a nearly-complete print turned up in the Netherlands just a few years ago and is now on DVD. Ironically, this scene below was among the missing footage in the rediscovered print:
Swanson_Valention Rocks New 3D

This striking portrait of Lon Chaney in character for OUTSIDE THE LAW (1921) seems to anticipate 3D:
Chaney Shadows 3D_edited-1

Clara Bow personified the “Roaring Twenties” perhaps more than anyone else. She was dubbed the “It Girl” and everybody under 90 knew what that referred to, and maybe people over 90 too. Some of her films were considered risque but her studio, Paramount, cancelled her contract in 1931 – even after her successful transition to talkies – when her private life was found to be racier than her films:
Clara Bow New 3D

Finally, before Hepburn & Tracy, Lombard & Gable, or Rogers & Astaire, there was Garbo & Gilbert, that is Greta Garbo and John Gilbert. They ignited the screen in films such as FLESH AND THE DEVIL, LOVE (both 1927), A WOMAN OF AFFAIRS (1928), and the talkie QUEEN CHRISTINA (1933). Not surprisingly, they were lovers in real life, at least for a time in the late 1920s. Here is an iconic image of them from FLESH AND THE DEVIL given both the color and the 3D treatment:
Garbo_Gilbert New 3D

Future posts here will continue to be in color (the raison d’etre for this site) but we’ll be more sparing in using 3D. The stereographic effect is more welcome as a novelty from time to time than as a constant component of photos, or movies for that matter. Perhaps those folks back in Old Hollywood knew this all along.

On the Set with Rudolph Valentino

This August 23rd marks the 85th anniversary of the passing of Rudolph Valentino at the age of 31, an event that has been commemorated without fail each year since 1926. Extremely popular during his brief lifetime, Rudy became even more of an icon following his death. He was the first movie star to maintain a fascinating hold on the public long after his passing and he has since been joined by Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and Elvis Presley, among other others, whose early deaths became part of their legend.

Rudolph Valentino immigrated to America in 1913 and began appearing in films by 1918. Many of his early roles were thankless parts such as this uncredited bit from THE CHEATER (1920):

Rudy’s breakthrough role came in 1921 when he played the ill-fated tango dancer, Julio Desnoyers, in THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE. Here director Rex Ingram, who was handsome enough to be a leading man himself, discusses the script with the cast. Rudy is seated just to the right in this photo with his ever-present cigarette. The woman seated on the floor below him is screenwriter June Mathis, who was the first woman film executive in Hollywood and basically discovered Valentino, promoting him out of small roles. When Rudy died in August 1926, Mathis provided the crypt for his entombment. Ironically, Mathis died the following year and was placed in the crypt next to Valentino:
A detail from the same photo. June Mathis would write the screenplays for the next few Valentino films and eventually for the monumental BEN-HUR (1925):

Almost single-handed, Rudy started the national craze for the Tango as a result of his sultry rendition in THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE:

Rudy’s first leading role came next in 1921 with the legendary film, THE SHEIK. More than just a big moneymaker, this film transformed Valentino into an iconic figure whose image defined the era. Here Rudy poses with his leading lady Agnes Ayres on location:

The Lost Ending: Early screenings of THE SHEIK had a final scene between Rudy and Ayres that was deleted and remains lost today. Why? Perhaps because it made certain that the Sheik (garbed in western clothing for the first time) and Diana would marry, thus upsetting the sensibilities of some people at the time:

Despite his growing popularity, the studios were reluctant to headline a Latino (actually he was Italian). But Paramount finally gave Rudy star-billing in BLOOD AND SAND (1922), the story of the rise and fall of a bullfighter. Like FOUR HORSEMEN, this story was based on a best seller by Vicente Blasco Ibanez. Here Rudy poses with director Fred Niblo, who pretends to be filming. At the lower right, note the camera box with the cinematographer’s name on the top, Alvin Wyckoff:

A wonderful production shot from BEYOND THE ROCKS (1922), with the unrepeatable teaming of Gloria Swanson (extreme left) and Rudy (to her right checking his makeup). At the time, she was a well-established super star compared to Valentino’s newcomer status. Notice the anxious glances of the crew at La Swanson suggesting that all is not well. The lady violinist in the lower right provides mood music during filming. BEYOND THE ROCKS was considered a lost film for decades but was rediscovered just a few years ago and is now available on dvd:

A detail from the same photo. In those days, actors typically applied their own makeup. Within a few years, makeup artists would assist and then take over this activity:

A nice character study from BEYOND THE ROCKS scanned directly from a negative:

Another lost film (partially recovered and on dvd) is THE YOUNG RAJAH (1922), which featured Rudy in some stunning but controversial costumes designed by his wife:

Rudy on Radio – when Valentino went on “strike” from Paramount to protest the types of films he was given, he made a number of broadcasts during his 1923 tour for Mineralava. Alas, these were the early days of broadcasting when nobody thought to make recordings:

Rudy was a camera enthusiast and made his own home movies on the set of his films. Here Valentino appears to be filming with his 35mm Debrie camera during outdoor work on A SAINTED DEVIL (1924), a lost film:

Rudy is just part of the crew as he cranks his Debrie on the SAINTED DEVIL set. The lone umbrella seems just large enough to cover director Joseph Henabery (seated with megaphone) and the cameras, evidently the most important assets on the set:

A Detail from the same photo:

An unglamorous photo of the Paramount backlot again during production of A SAINTED DEVIL. This production was not filmed in Hollywood but in Paramount’s New York facility in Astoria, Long Island. This photo seems to have been taken on the same day as the previous one but this time Rudy is using his still camera to create a portrait of his frequent co-star Nita Naldi:

A detail from the same photo:

A nice production photo from A SAINTED DEVIL scanned from a negative. What’s going on here? Perhaps the best way to find out today is by reading Rex Beach’s short story, “Rope’s End,” upon which this film was based:

Rudy gets a camera-level view during outdoor filming on THE EAGLE (1925) for his new studio, United Artists. He plays a Russian-style Robin Hood in a witty yarn adopted from a Pushkin short story. To the left of Valentino is Clarence Brown who became one of MGM’s top directors during the 1930s, guiding Greta Garbo’s successful transition to sound films. Could he have done the same for Rudy?

Rudy’s second film for United Artists turned out to be his last, SON OF THE SHEIK (1926). Here he poses with leading lady Vilma Banky and director George Fitzmaurice, who is holding the gun Rudy carries in the film:

Rudy applies eyebrow liner to the world heavyweight boxing champ Gene Tunney on the SON OF THE SHEIK set. Tunney was making his own film at the time, the lost serial, THE FIGHTING MARINE. A Chicago newspaper had recently called Rudy “a pink powder puff,” a remark that genuinely offended him. Perhaps this photo was meant as an ironic rebuttal – NOBODY was going to call Tunney, who was also an ex-Marine veteran of World War I, a pink powder puff!

A fanciful photo of Rudy as he might have looked in his 60s as he plays his own father in SON OF THE SHEIK:

Finally, Rudolph Valentino as he is remembered in legend:
(Photo Courtesy of Paul Seiler)
A wonderful blog filled with rare Valentino collectibles can be found at http://rudolph-valentino.blogspot.com. Highly Recommended!

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