“Silents Please” – the Legendary 1960 TV Series – BLOOD AND SAND (1922) starring Rudolph Valentino and Nita Naldi

In 1960, the baby boomer generation got a real treat when Paul Killiam produced his legendary television series, “Silents Please.” After decades of ridicule and jokes by Hollywood itself, Mr. Killiam showed the younger generation what silent films were really like and the series became a surprise hit! Long-forgotten stars, some of whom were still living in 1960, suddenly became familiar names to the boomers: Mary Pickford, Buster Keaton, Lillian Gish, Gloria Swanson, and others found themselves in demand to discuss their silent film work.

silents-please-screen-cap

The image quality of these films back in the day can’t compare to the clarity and sharpness of their 21st century Blu-ray editions – not to mention the addition of color tints and stereo scores absent from 1960s TV broadcasts. But seeing one of these episodes again today recalls the excitement of discovering these films for the first time over a half century ago.

Here is Paul Killiam’s expertly edited and narrated (by himself) edition of the 1922 blockbuster, BLOOD AND SAND, starring Rudolph Valentino, Nita Naldi, and Lila Lee. In 26 minutes Killiam wisely lets the images speak for themselves and limits his commentary to just the essentials. The story is a faithful adaptation of the best-selling novel by Vicente Blasco Ibanez. The Spanish title is translated as BLOOD IN THE ARENA. I added a color tint just for fun:

blood-and-sand-26ebbc50

Behind the scenes with director Fred Niblo:

Valentino B&S Final_Final-1_edited-1.jpg

Rudy’s costume as it exists today:

rudy-costume

Great Poster Art:

val-blood-sand

 

Silent Screen Stars on Radio

We’re celebrating the publication of our new book, OLD HOLLYWOOD IN COLOR 3: WHEN SILENT STARS SPOKE, so this seems like a good time to devote a post to this particular topic. There’s a lot of Hollywood mythology surrounding the fate of silent movie stars when they made talkies, and even such hit films such as SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (1952) only served to reinforce those myths. The fact is that most silent screen stars did just fine in talkies and the ones who stand out because they didn’t do well are a distinct minority. You can read more about it in the book (a shameless plug) but here let’s actually listen to the silent stars themselves when they broadcast on radio.

Let’s take a look at, well, really listen to, three silent stars who never made any talkies: Theda Bara, William S. Hart, and Rudolph Valentino. Strange to say, as talkies supplanted the silents beginning in 1928 and finishing the job by 1929, some stars just walked away from their fame and fortune. Some like Constance Talmadge had become independently wealthy while others married into money or went into business, especially southern California real estate. Perhaps the most famous of early screen stars – we’re referring to the 1910s – was Theda Bara, the movies’ first sex goddess or “Vampire” as they were called then:

Theda’s name is supposedly an anagram for “Arab Death” but I have no idea of its significance. Her real name was Theodosia Goodman and by all accounts, she was nobody’s fool. Here’s an effective study of light and shadow:

By now you’re probably wondering how Bara came by her reputation, at least based on these two photos. OK, here’s one of the most iconic photos of Theda Bara from the lost film, CLEOPATRA (1917):

Now that we’ve been properly introduced, just click below to hear Theda Bara on the November 9, 1939 broadcast of Texaco Star Theater. You’ll hear host Ken Murray, comedian Irene Ryan (who later played Granny on TV’s “Beverly Hillbillies”), and singer Kenny Baker who asks Theda a very good question:

William S. Hart was film’s iconic cowboy star in the 1910s into the early 20s. A New York stage-trained actor – he played Messala in BEN-HUR in 1899 – he transferred his genuine love of the West into a lucrative movie career as a star, writer, producer and director:

Bill Hart retired before talkies came in but he recorded a beautifully spoken prologue to his last film, TUMBLEWEEDS (1926) when he reissued it in 1939.

But Hart occasionally made an appearance on radio in the 1930s to recite his own poem, “Pinto Ben.” Here is Rudy Vallee introducing him on the December 13, 1934 broadcast of the Fleischmann’s Hour:

Rudolph Valentino was the super star of such silents as THE SHEIK (1921), BLOOD AND SAND (1922), and MONSIEUR BEAUCAIRE (1924) among many other hits.

Sadly, Rudy didn’t live to make a talkie but he was broadcasting in 1923, long before most of his movie star colleagues were.

None of Rudy’s broadcasts were recorded but he did make two commercial recordings in 1923, thus preserving his singing voice.

At any rate, he carries a nice tune and the timbre of his voice at least suggests that Rudy had a good chance of success in the talkies:

Mae Murray was a Ziegfeld Follies dancer who enjoyed a successful film career from the mid-1910s through the 1920s:

Mae can be easiest described as a successor to Theda Bara although instead of having an exotic sort of mystique like Bara, Mae was a straightforward American gal with a frank sex appeal:

By now you probably want to see one of Mae Murray’s iconic photos to understand her appeal of nearly a century ago:

Unike Theda Bara, Mae did make a few talkies but not successfully. So her appearance on the December 6, 1939 Texaco Star Theater is noteworthy. Host Ken Murray gets in some laughs by the fact that he and Mae have the same last name:

Mary Astor was still in her teens when she played leading lady opposite such celebrities as John Barrymore and Douglas Fairbanks Sr. She is all of 17 here in BEAU BRUMMEL (1924):

By the 1940s it seemed that Mary Astor had been around forever although she was still a relatively young woman. She transitioned superbly to sound films, so much so that many people would forget that once she was a silent film star. She ably added radio broadcasting to her list of accomplishments:

We’re in luck because next we have a complete performance by Mary in the popular half-hour suspense show called, well, “Suspense” that was broadcast live on February 16, 1943:

Lillian Gish’s career in silent films preceded everyone else listed here, having made her first films in 1912 working for director D.W. Griffith. And she was still starring in films through 1987 with THE WHALES OF AUGUST.

Lillian made her best-remembered films during the 1920s such as WAY DOWN EAST (1920), ORPHANS OF THE STORM (1921), both directed by D.W. Griffith, THE WHITE SISTER (1923), LA BOHEME (1926), THE SCARLET LETTER (1926), and THE WIND (1928), among many others.

Gish made her first talkie in 1930, ONE ROMANTIC NIGHT, but didn’t care for the new medium. She moved to New York where she continued her career in the theater, on radio, and occasionally, in films such as DUEL IN THE SUN (1946), and eventually on television. Among her more unusual broadcast appearances are as a guest panelist on the popular quiz show, “Information Please.” No, Lillian wasn’t slumming because only the brightest and best of celebrities were permitted to appear on the show. Here is Lillian Gish on the October 11, 1938 live broadcast of “Information Please”:

We have barely scratched the surface of exploring silent stars on radio. Perhaps in a future post we can hear from Gloria Swanson, Norma Talmadge, Richard Barthelmess, John Barrymore, Conrad Veidt, and even D.W. Griffith. Do you have any requests?

Tyrone Power & Annabella in BLOOD AND SAND – 1941 Live!

We will be visiting the Twentieth Century-Fox studios in our next post for a promised Hollywood party. But leading up to it, let’s check out one of the most beautiful films this studio produced during the Golden Age.

BLOOD AND SAND, or Sangue y Arena to use its original Spanish title, was an international best selling novel by Vicente Blasco Ibanez in 1908. Your blogmeister read this book recently (as a free ebook) and found this century-old tale quite contemporary. In effect, the matadors of yesteryear were the rock stars of their day. The story of the rise and fall of a young matador was a natural vehicle for Rudolph Valentino in 1922, following on the heels of his breakthrough film, THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE (1921), which was also based on an Ibanez novel. A generation later, this story of the bullring was refurbished for Tyrone Power and given the Technicolor treatment. Here is an original poster for its Spanish release:

This morality tale was as big a hit with audiences in 1941 as the Valentino version had been two decades earlier. Within only a few months of its premiere, Tyrone Power and his actress wife, Annabella, reported to the Lux Radio Theater to perform an adaptation for millions of listeners worldwide. Just click on the arrow below to hear the complete hour-long live broadcast of October 20, 1941:

Tyrone Power had successfully starred in the remake of Doug Fairbanks’ 1920 hit, MARK OF ZORRO, the year before in 1940. So playing Juan Gallardo, the ill-fated matador of BLOOD AND SAND, seemed a no-brainer – and it was:

Annabella played the role that Linda Darnell had in the film, the sweet but long-suffering Carmen, wife of the unfaithful Juan. Here she is in a boyish role for SUEZ (1938):

Annabella met Tyrone Power during the making of SUEZ and they married shortly afterwards. Here they are with Loretta Young on the right in SUEZ:

Young Gallardo is flush with his new-found success and is easily infatuated by femme fatale Dona Sol, played by Rita Hayworth:

Success in the bullring brings other distractions, especially when Juan’s Friend, Manolo, played by Anthony Quinn, becomes his rival:

Hayworth’s role as the seductress was her big break and thereafter she seemed to play a variation of Dona Sol in most of her subsequent films through the 1950s:

Ernest Hemingway memorably called the sport of bullfighting “death in the afternoon,” usually death for the bull, sometimes death for the matador, sometimes for both:

Carmen decides to visit Dona Sol to ask if there’s any truth to the gossip about her relationship with Juan. Alas, Carmen finds him living with her:

Things begin to turn ugly as he hears gossip:

The 1941 BLOOD AND SAND is available on dvd and is easily one of the best Technicolor films you will ever see. Rudolph Valentino’s 1922 version is also available on dvd and holds up very well against its talkie remake. The Valentino charisma helps enormously:

Rudy with director Fred Niblo on the set. Check out Rudy’s costume:

Does this look familiar? Yes, it’s Rudy’s costume as it exists today. Your blogmeister only guessed at the color when I colorized the photo above sometime ago but we came fairly close:

BONUS: Rudolph Valentino Sings! Rudy died in 1926 just before sound films arrived so how well he would have fared in talkies will always be one of the great “ifs” of film history. However, Rudy did leave us two sound recordings that he made in May 1923. He sings in both so we still don’t really know how well his speaking voice sounded or, indeed, how well he spoke English. At any rate, this is one of them:

Valentino as Juan Gallardo enjoying his fleeting success:

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!

%d bloggers like this: