Wednesday 30 September 2015

The Never Films: Jealousy (1929)

This is the first in what I hope will be several posts on lost and, now, forgotten films of the Pre-code era. For more information on lost films and film preservation go to the National Film Preservation Foundation
 Publicly known as Jeanne Eagle’s 'obituary', Jealousy (1929) became one of the most significant insignificant films of the year. It was directed by Frenchman Jean de Limur whose only other talking film credit was also Eagles speaking debut in The Letter (1929). The first film Eagles and de Limur made together proved to be a commercial and critical success. Eagle’s talents as a screen actress as well as a stage actress were cemented as she was also nominated for Academy Award for Best Picture for the controversial film about adultery and murder without punishment. In 1929, Eagles was at the height of her Hollywood success. During that year Paramount announced Eagles would star in another melodrama:

"Jeanne Eagles, star of Paramount's all-talking picture The Letter, has begun 'Jealousy' her second film at the studio in Astoria. The picture will be directed by Jean de Limur - who directed The Letter - and the production will be under the general charge of Monta Bell, production executive of the studio. Alfred Gilks is cameraman."

Nothing much is written about the production which commenced on March 1929 except for the change of the leading man from British actor Anthony Bushell to Fredric March at Eagles insistence. The decision was made after all Bushell's scenes were completed, so extensive reshoots were ordered. Another tragedy plagued the set with co-star, British actress Hilda Moore, dying on May 18 before production was completed. She was just 43. It was believed she caught a streptococcal infection from her 5-year-old son and died after being ill for six days. An autopsy gave the official cause of death as blood poisoning. The final cut was completed with a length of just 66 minutes.

Before the film’s release date, trade and fan magazines wrote glowing accounts of the performances of the actors as well as the behind-the-scenes crew while others called it a disappointment compared to The Letter:
"Jealousy said to be a greater production than The Letter with Jeanne Eagles in the starring role, will be featured at the Fox-U O Theatre in the near future according to the announcement of the management. In this all-talking picture is the brief drama of a woman who loved and lost through jealousy. It portrays how the lives of three persons were changed by one spoken word. The screen version of the stage play has been elaborated in settings and augmented in cast. Characters originally only referred to by two players now appear in the persons of Halliwell Hobbes, former lover of the woman; Blanch Le Chair, his mistress; and Henry Daniell, her lover. Miss Eagles' leading man is Fredric March. "
"After The Letter any appearance of Jeanne Eagles is important for she is always arresting, intelligent, provocative, individual. She is all these in Jealousy, but the picture doesn't coalesce into a strong attraction, and certainly not one strong enough for Miss Eagles. One of the reasons lies in the fact that the play was written for two characters only - Yvonne, the mistress of a rich old man, and Pierre, the poor young artist whom she marries…The result is a somewhat rambling narrative lacking distinction or marked sympathy for any of the characters. But it is worth seeing for the sake of Miss Eagles who makes Yvonne a fascinating figure far from the conventional heroine with a "past"."

After the film premiered, Eagles underwent eye surgery in New York City as well as treatment for breathing issues and neuritis. Her health had never fully recovered after she began using heroin and abusing alcohol in the mid-1920s. On October 3, she suffered a collapse when visiting her doctor. She began convulsing and died. Her death was officially attributed as to an overdose of sedative 'chloral hydrate'; however, autopsy and toxicology reports also found Eagles had alcohol and heroin in her organs at the time of her death. She was buried in Calvary Cemetery, Kansas City on October 7.

Advertising and reviews of the film altered after her death. In one article it describes the marquees as reading,
"Outside - bright lights, life and movement. Inside - last respects to a great actress. It is more than merely a picture you watch at the Enright this week. It is a swan song of a woman, dead now for months, who climbed from tent shows to Broadway heights to the vivid, living climax of a career that has embraced everything from poverty to fame and fortune" 
Another review wrote:
"Jealousy is Jeanne Eagles obituary. It is a worthwhile epitaph for a worthwhile career."

It is this 'swan song' that will probably never be enjoyed by modern audiences. Although reviews weren't as favourable as the more popular and successful The Letter, Jealousy was still a part of Pre-code history as well as being the last film for both Jeanne Eagles and Hilda Moore.

Sunday 20 September 2015

The Life and Death of Marjorie White

Like most Pre-code starlets not much is known about their lives before and after stardom. The tiny star, Marjorie White, was no different. She breezed into Hollywood in 1929 when motion picture audiences demanded high energy all dancing, all singing films and tragically passed away just five years later. She came to the public's attention after scoring a major role in Sunnyside Up (1929) and continued her success in futuristic film Just Imagine (1930). However, the blonde fire cracker never received the level of stardom her talent deserved perhaps due to her early death aged just 31.
The first born of a grain merchant, Marjorie Ann Guthrie was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada on July 22 1904. Showing an early interest in performing, White capitalised on the huge success of vaudeville by joining the Winnipeg Kiddies troupe aged about 10. The group toured around Canada and the United States during the war years, with White reportedly being one of the standout singers and dancers of the troupe.

When she reached 16, White went to San Francisco and met Thelma Wolpa who would later become her vaudeville partner. After touring for a time, they pair changed their last names to White and became a successful duo act named, "The White Sisters". Thelma also went onto to have film successes most notably as Mae in the exploitation drama Reefer Madness (1935). Coincidently, after both Thelma and Marjorie become actresses, fan magazine claimed both were biological sisters.

Happy Days
In mid-1924, White aged 20 married Eddie Tierney and begin appearing in musicals on Broadway. With the coming of sound, White and Tierney moved to Hollywood where White was recruited to Fox studios. She didn't change much from her vaudevillian persona for Hollywood, except for her age which was bumped down to 21 instead of her real age of 25. She received a starring role as Margie in musical Happy Days (1929).

White hit the big time in her following film, co-starring with Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell in Sunnyside Up (1929). Gaynor was just coming off an Oscar win for her collective work in 7th Heaven (1927), Street Angel (1928) and Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927) and was a major global icon. Not to be outdone by the more popular star, critics and audiences alike commended White’s performance. She was described by fan magazines as a "sensational find" as well as a "rare comedienne, with a dynamic personality that marks her as a real actress". Another continued:
One of the most promising of the younger talent, Marjorie White, who made a snappy Bee in Sunnyside Up, and brought in her basket full of chortles in Happy Days. Marjorie prefers to do comedy parts and apparently has no hankering after drama.
Her star on the rise, White scored major roles as Vera Fontaine in New Movietone Follies of 1930 (1930) and as D-6 in the quirky futuristic comedy/ musical Just Imagine (1930).
More Happy Days
Just Imagine
However, like so many talented starlets, her true potential was never realised. In her four remaining years, White appeared in small parts in both A and B films. She appeared as Sadie in one of the cult Charlie Chan films, Charlie Chan Carries On (1931) and followed this with small roles in Broadminded (1931) and alongside Clark Gable and Joan Crawford in drama Possessed (1931). She managed to complete a cameo appearance in all-star short Hollywood Halfbacks (1931), before being involved in a car accident on December 17, 1931. An omen of events to come, she and Tierney were seriously injured when a taxi in which she was riding collided with another car. According to Tierney, White was appearing at a Philadelphia theatre and was going from the theatre to a radio station when the crash happened. She suffered three broken ribs and bruising.
After the accident, White took a short break from films, breaking her hiatus with an appearance in the racy Wheeler and Woolsey comedy, Diplomaniacs (1933). She appeared on screen two more times - once in Three Stooges Woman Haters (1934) - before another car accident ended her life.
White and the Stooges
On August 20, 1935, in Santa Monica, White was a passenger in a car driven by Marlow Lovell that sideswiped a couple, Mr and Mrs Charles Marchesi, who had been married only an hour before. The car overturned and White was the only person seriously injured. Doctors initially thought she was not in danger, however, her condition worsened rapidly and she died of internal haemorrhaging the next day at a Hollywood hospital. She was buried at Hollywood Memorial Cemetery. It was found that Lovell's reckless driving was to blame for the accident. Her husband, her parents Robert and Nettie, and siblings Orville, Morley, Stewart, and Belva survived her. Another example of a beautiful, talented actress that never received the credit or stardom due to them.