Picture-Players I Know

Elsie Ferguson 1914
Elsie Ferguson 1914

Some Reminiscences of Albert Kaufman, Studio Manager told to May Herschell Clarke.

Recently I had the pleasure of meeting Albert A. Kaufman, brother-in-law of Mr. Adolph Zukor, and co-worker with that great pioneer of filmdom. Mr. Kaufman has been associated with the motion picture from its earliest infancy in the days of the penny arcade, when, as series of jerky, crude photographs in a “twirl-box”, it first came into being.

Later, when Mr. Zukor, having seen and developed the possibilities of these penny arcades, converted them into the exhibitors end of the business, where he remained for five years.

Then, when the Famous Players Film Co. was formed – the Lasky was added later – Mr. Kaufman became, in 1913, manager of its studio, his connection with that organisation remaining unbroken since that time, except for two years which he spent in the U.S. army.

Memories of Mary Pickford

But it was of some of the famous picture stars who have come under his management from time to time, rather than of himself, that Mr. Kaufman chatted during the very enjoyable afternoon I spent  in his company, and what more natural than that he should commence with Mary Pickford?

“She was the first  big star who came to our company,” he said. “Speaking of her reminds me of one of her most popular pictures, ‘Rags,’ in which we encountered the only difficulty we have ever been unable to meet, and in this instance we were baffled by a dog.

“You remenber the canine actor in ‘Rags’? Well, he was a cur, and came from a lost dogs’ home in California, where we rescued him from the lethal chamber to play opposite’ Mary. He became quite a studio pet, and made his picture debut in ‘Rags’ successfully. At last we had got to the part where Mary leaves her country home to visit relatives accompanied by her dog. This scene was shot and then the dog developed hydrophobia and died! For the first time in our experience we, who hitherto had always been able to find a substitute for an actor could find no duplicate of this four-footed one, and so you saw the little heroine arrivong at her destination minus her pet, while an extra sub-title had to be inserted in which the great Mary Pickford was forced to own ‘On my way here my dog died.’ ”

Stars of the Stage

From the “World’s Sweetheart” it was an easy step to Marguerite Clark, and Mr. Kaufman related the history of her entrance into her film kingdom.

“Miss Clark had been a tremendous success on the legitimate stage, and it took us six months to persuade her that fame awaited her in pictures. In the end she consented to sign a contract to work but ten weeks a year for three years, so that she might devote her main time to the theatre, because she felt sure she would never be a success in pictures. She has been in them five years now, and has never been on the stage since that day!

“Elsie Ferguson was just as hard to convince as Marguerite Clark. When we forst approached her she was receiving a very high stage salary, was very popular, and was known as the best gowned woman on the American boards. She, likewise, never thought she would succeed in pictures, but eventually she was persuaded to sign a contract. She scored and instant success both in America and over here, but when she first saw herself on the film she almost broke down. Even then she felt sure she had no chance of success: she could not work nearly as naturally before the camera as on the stage, she said. Nevertheless, she remained in pictures, and look where she is to-day. And she, like Miss Clark, has never appeared on the legitimate stage since her film début.

These two instances I have quoted will show you how big artistes sometimes underrate themselves, being unable to foresee the public favour awaiting them.

“We are expecting Miss Ferguson over here soon, and she will then appear in the film version of Pinero’s play, ‘His House in Order.’ She is a very lovely girl, and still sets the fashions in America.

(to be continued)

A volte ritornano… il cinema muto


Looney Lens Series – Pas de deux (1924), al pianoforte Donald Sosin, dal canale di pearlinyouroyster

«E’ bellissimo, non potete immaginare come sia bello, non me lo aspettavo così!»

Con questa, e frasi simili a questa, i finora miscredenti cinefili spagnoli hanno applaudito su Twitter la proiezione di The Artist al 59° Festival de Cine di San Sebastian. Il cinema muto “ritorna”, il web si riempe (ancora di più) di omaggi a Chaplin, Keaton, Fairbanks, Pickford, Swanson “e compagnia bella”, come direbbe un famoso storico del cinema, che sfortunatamente non può essere qui per godersi lo spettacolo.

Come dicevo l’altro giorno ad un amico, la colonia internazionale del cinema silenzioso ha un debito con il signore Michel Hazanavicius.

In mezzo a questo rinascimento, crescono ogni anno le manifestazioni interamente dedicate a celebrare il cinema muto. Ultimo arrivato, per me che ho appreso la notizia grazie a Nitrateville, il Denver Silent Film Festival, dal 23 al 25 settembre 2011.

Nato nel settembre 2010, organizzato dall’Università of Colorado – College of Arts & Media, si propone “sensibilizzazione la comunità, intrattenere ed educare il pubblico circa la brillantezza culturale ed artistica del cinema muto” attraverso un mix vivace di film educativi e d’intrattenimento. Bravi! Per la serata inaugurale, all’insegna del motto Silents are Golden, non hanno badato a spese, leggete qui, non manca niente dalla trasformazione del locale ai cocktail d’epoca.

Aprono i fuochi sullo schermo il trio Charles Chaplin Edna Purviance, Jackie Coogan: The Immigrant e The Kid, musica dal vivo a carico di The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.

Dopo le emozioni della commedia, il brivido del horror con Nosferatu di Murnau, accompagnamento musicale di Donald Sosin coadiuvato dagli studenti del Denver College of Arts & Media. Tre ore dopo, è il turno di Cyrano de Bergerac di Augusto Genina, scelto personalmente da David Shepard come esempio del suo lavoro: il restauro dei film, pianoforte dal vivo di Hank Troy.

Non mancano i New Silent Films, a carico degli studenti del Colorado College of Arts & Media. Gli stessi studenti hanno composto le musiche, sotto il coordinamento di Donald Sosin. Segue una sessione di Slapsticks: Charley Chase, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Bebe Daniels, Charlie Chaplin, musicati da The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.

Gran finale con Underworld di Josef von Sternberg, accompagnamento di Donald Sosin.

Aspettando le prossime edizioni, magari posso segnalare l’evento qualche giorno prima, ricevete tutti gli incoraggiamenti, ringraziamenti (anche per aver dedicato uno spazio nei vostri schermi al muto europeo), e felicitazioni per l’iniziativa.

Un saluto da questa remota, antica città di larga tradizione cinematografica, dove le sale di cinema chiudono una dopo l’altra, e gli eventi dedicati al cinema muto nel 2011 si possono contare sulle dita di una mano (per lo più sono stati organizzati in perfetto stile “underwold-piratesco”). La verità è che di cinema, come di tante altre cose legate alla cultura, tutti ne parlano ma nessuno ci crede, tranne che per passare alla cassa e riscuotere le sovvenzioni.