16 February 2020

Alice White

During the late 1920s, sexy and bubbly Alice White (1904-1983) was one of Hollywood's most popular stars who received more than 30,000 fan letters a month. She was Warner Bros' blonde answer to Clara Bow, and among her film hits were Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1928) and Show Girl (1928). Tabloid reports about a violent love triangle seriously damaged her reputation and her career.

Alice White
Dutch postcard, no. 388.

Alice White
Dutch postcard, no. 389. Alice White in Showgirl in Hollywood (Mervyn LeRoy, 1930).

A bubbly, vivacious blonde


Alice White was born Alva Violet White in 1904 in Paterson, New Jersey, to French and Italian parents. Her mother was Catherine 'Kate' Alexander, a chorus girl, and her father was Audley White, a paper salesman. Audley abandoned the family when she was a baby and Catherine died in 1915. Alice was raised by her Italian grandparents in New Haven, Connecticut. Her grandfather owned a fruit business.

When Alice was a teenager they moved to California where she attended Hollywood high school. After leaving school, White started to work as a secretary, but lost several jobs for being too "sexy". She also worked as a switchboard operator at the Hollywood Writers' Club, and as a script girl for director Josef von Sternberg. After clashing with von Sternberg, White left to work for Charlie Chaplin, who decided before long to place her in front of the camera.

Elizabeth Ann at IMDb: "Her short blonde hair and big lips would become her trademark. Audiences fell in love with Alice but critics were rarely impressed with her acting. It was also rumored that her singing voice was being dubbed."

Her bubbly and vivacious persona led to comparisons with Clara Bow, and she dyed her hair blonde to stop these comparisons. In his book 'Silent Films, 1877-1996: A Critical Guide to 646 Movies', Robert K. Klepper wrote: "Some critics have said that Ms. White was a second-string Clara Bow. In actuality, Ms. White had her own type of charm, and was a delightful actress in her own, unique way. Whereas Clara Bow played the quintessential, flaming redheaded flapper, Alice White was more of a bubbly, vivacious blonde."

After playing a succession of flappers and gold diggers, she attracted the attention of director and producer Mervyn LeRoy, who saw potential in her. Her screen debut was in The Sea Tiger (John Francis Dillon, 1927) with Milton Sills. She appeared as brunette Dorothy Shaw opposite Ruth Taylor's Lorelei Lee in the silent comedy Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Mal St. Clair, 1928), co-written by Anita Loos based on her novel.

Her other early films included Show Girl (Alfred Santell, 1928), which had Vitaphone musical accompaniment but no dialogue, and its musical sequel Show Girl in Hollywood (Mervyn LeRoy, 1930), both released by Warner Brothers and both based on novels by J.P. McEvoy. In these two films, White appeared as Dixie Dugan. In October 1929, McEvoy started the comic strip Dixie Dugan with the character Dixie having a 'helmet' hairstyle and appearance similar to actress Louise Brooks.

White was featured in The Girl from Woolworth's (William Beaudine, 1929), having the role of a singing clerk in the music department of a Woolworth's store. Karen Plunkett-Powell wrote in her book 'Remembering Woolworth's: A Nostalgic History of the World's Most Famous Five-and-Dime': "First National Pictures produced this 60-minute musical as a showcase for up-and-coming actress Alice White." White was one of Hollywood's most popular actresses and according to IMDb, received more than 30,000 fan letters a month.

Alice White and Henry Wadsworth in Luxury Liner (1933)
British postcard in the Film Shots series by Film Weekly. Photo: Paramount. Alice White and Henry Wadsworth in Luxury Liner (Lothar Mendes, 1933).

Luxury Liner (Lothar Mendes, 1933) is a kind of Grand Hotel, a multi-story drama, but now on the high seas. The film, based on a 1932 novel by Gina Kaus, is an entertaining and multifaceted look into the various classes of cruise liner society with a very talented cast. Like Grand Hotel (Edmund Goulding, 1932), this pre-code drama includes birth and death, lots of sexual innuendo and a combination of comedy that drives the plot and drama that is often poignant.

Alice White in Luxury Liner (1933)
British postcard in the Film Shots series by Film Weekly. Photo: Paramount. Alice White in Luxury Liner (Lothar Mendes, 1933).

At the bottom of the cast lists


Alice White left films in 1931 to improve her acting abilities. The studio claimed that she was unhappy with her salary and had become difficult to work with. White toured the vaudeville circuit. In 1933, she returned on screen in Employees' Entrance (Roy Del Ruth, 1933) with Warren William and Loretta Young. White's supporting role garnered good reviews and sent her onto the comeback trail, but her career was hurt by a scandal. In 1933 Alice and her fiance, American screenwriter Sidney 'Sy' Bartlett were accused of arranging the beating of British actor John Warburton. Alice and Warburton had a love affair that ended when he beat her so badly she required cosmetic surgery.

Warburton told the press that Alice and Sy hired thugs to disfigure him. A grand jury in Los Angeles decided not to charge Bartlett or White; however, the bad publicity hurt Alice's career. Although White married Sidney Bartlett in 1933, her reputation was tarnished and she appeared only in supporting roles after this.

She appeared the next year in the comedy-crime film Jimmy the Gent (Michael Curtiz, 1934), starring James Cagney and Bette Davis. In one scene White was famously slapped by Cagney. Jimmy the Gent did well at the box office, and the critical response was positive as well. In 1936 she suffered a nervous breakdown and was hospitalised for two months. In 1937, she filed for divorce from Bartlett claiming he "stayed away from home" and was awarded $65 per week in alimony.

By 1938, her name was at the bottom of the cast lists. White married film writer John Roberts in 1940. They divorced in 1949 in Los Angeles. In court she said he "threw things and wasn't very nice". The following year, she sued him over unpaid alimony. White made her final film appearance in the Film Noir Flamingo Road (Michael Curtiz, 1949) starring Joan Crawford and Zachary Scott. Eventually, White resumed working as a secretary.

For many years she lived with musician William Hinshaw. She never had any children. In 1957 she fell off a ladder and landed on a pair of scissors. This freak accident left her blinded for several months. When she recovered she was offered a small role on The Ann Sothern Show. From then on,White stayed out of the spotlight but she continued to answer the fan mail she received.

In 1983, Alice White died of complications from a stroke in Los Angles at age 78. She was buried at Valhalla Memorial Park in North Hollywood. White has a star at 1511 Vine Street in the Motion Pictures section of the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Alice White
French postcard by Cinémagazine-Edition, Paris, no. 468. Photo: First National.

Alice White
Small, British collectors card in the Film Stars series by Player's Cigarettes, no. 48. Photo: Warner - First National. Text at the back side of the card: "Alice White was born in Patterson, New Jersey, on July 25th, 1907, of French and Italian parents. Her mother, a former chorus girl, died when Alice was only three years of age. After her education at Roanoke College, in Virginia, Alice White took a secretarial course at the Hollywood High School, and later obtained a job as a a script clerk in a studio. She obtained an engagement, making her film debut in The Sea Tiger. She won stardom, then for a time was not seen on the screen. She returned in Employees' Entrance, and her latest successes include Jimmy the Gent, A Very Honourable Guy and Gift of Gab."

Sources: Elizabeth Ann (IMDb), Wikipedia and IMDb.

15 February 2020

Croissant, Paris

The French editor Croissant in Paris published series of coloured postcards for pre-1910 Pathé Frères films. From circa 1905 on, Croissant also published these postcards series for the other major French pioneering studio, Gaumont. These include series for three early sound films, 'Photoscènes', directed by Alice Guy(-Blaché): Faust (1905), Carmen (1906) and Mignon (1906), all three were film adaptations of famous operas.

Au pays noir (1905)
French postcard by Croissant, Paris. Photo: Film Pathé. Publicity still for Au pays noir/Tragedy in a Coal Mine (Ferdinand Zecca or Lucien Nonguet, 1905). Caption: Dans les galeries [In the mine galleries]. This refers to the 5th scene of the film.

La Fée de l'or
French postcard by Croissant, Paris, no. 3573. Photo: Film Pathé. This is the final scene from La poule aux oeufs d'or (Gaston Velle 1905), adapted from the fable of Jean de la Fontaine. Cinematography and special effects by Segundo de Chomón.

Le petit poucet (Pathé frères 1905).
French postcard by Croissant, Paris, no. 3662. Photo: Film Pathé. Publicity still for Le petit poucet/Tom Thumb (1905). Caption: From the top of a tree he saw a small glow.

Le petit poucet (Pathé frères 1905).
French postcard by Croissant, Paris, no. 3662. Photo: Film Pathé. Publicity still for Le petit poucet/Tom Thumb (1905). Caption: He put all his family at ease. Le petit poucet/Tom Thumb was an adaptation of Charles Perrault's famous story of 1697. The film by Pathé was worldwide released, in Spanish speaking countries as Pulgarito, in the US as Hop o'my thumb. The director and actors are unknown. The Spanish film scholar Juan-Gabriel Tharrats claimed the Spanish trick film maker Segundo de Chomón (1871-1929), who worked for Pathé in those years, made Le petit poucet. French Wikipedia claims the director was Vincent Lorant-Heilbronn. The Fondation Jerôme Seydoux, keeper of the Pathé heritage, lists no director at all.

Le chemineau
French postcard by Croissant, Paris, no. 3664. Photo: Film Pathé. Publicity still for Le chemineau/The Tramp (Albert Capellani, 1905), based on the first part of Victor Hugo's novel 'Les misérables'. Unclear is who the actors are, but sets were by Hugues Laurent. The film appeared in the "Scènes dramatiques et réalistes (8ème Série)" by Pathé.

Le Chemineau (1905)
French postcard by Croissant, Paris, no. 3664. Photo: Film Pathé. Publicity still for Le chemineau/The Tramp (Albert Capellani, 1905), based on the first part of Victor Hugo's novel 'Les misérables'. Arrested at a jeweller, to whom he tries to sell his loot, the gendarmes bring the tramp back to the pastor. Despite all, the pastor wants to exonerate the miserable man's soul and tells a lie to the gendarmes: 'I gave the objects myself to him'. The thief repents.

Peau d'âne (1908)
French postcard by Croissant, Paris, no. 3666. Photo: Film Pathé. Probably publicity still for Peau d'ane/Donkey Skin (Albert Capellani, 1908). Caption: L'infante coiffée d'une peau d'âne (The princess wears a donkey skin). The film was based on a story by Charles Perrault (1697). The actors are unknown.

Le Gateau de Peau d'ane or The Cake of Donkey Skin
French postcard by Croissant, Paris, no. 3666. Photo: Film Pathé. Publicity still for Peau d'ane/Donkey Skin (Albert Capellani, 1908). Caption: Le Gateau de Peau d'ane (The Cake of Donkey Skin).

Un drame à Venise (1906)
French postcard by Croissant, Paris, no. 3672. Photo: Film Pathé. Publicity still for Un drame à Venise/Venetian Tragedy (Lucien Nonguet, 1906). Sent by mail in 1917. Caption: Au nom de l'honneur. (In the name of Honour). In this early Pathé Frères production, one of the rich palaces of Venice is the setting for a drama of smouldering love and hate. In the Middle Ages, an important lord is not loved by his wife. Despite the sumptuous wealth her husband surrounds her with, the noble dame can only think about a young and handsome Romeo. The lover is surprised by the husband, who kills him and Romeo ends in a canal. The noble lady escapes her death when her husband is stopped by her miraculous beauty... The film is partly in colour.

Les victimes de l'alcoolisme (1902)
French postcard by Croissant, Paris, no. 3678. Photo: Film Pathé. Publicity still for Les victimes de l'alcoolisme/Alcohol and Its Victims (Ferdinand Zecca, 1902). Caption: La paresse engendre la misère. (Laziness breeds misery.). Les victimes de l'alcoolisme/Alcohol and Its Victims (1902) is a four minutes short, directed and written by Ferdinand Zecca. It was based on Emile Zola's novel L'Assommoir', and the first Zola adaptation ever. Les victimes de l'alcoolisme/Alcohol and Its Victims tells a moral story on what happens to a man if he starts to drink and gamble. Bob Lipton at IMDb: "this is a very advanced film for 1902, being offered in five scenes, on elaborately painted sets. It was probably not intended solely for movie programs, but for anti-booze lectures, Chautauquas, and conferences."

Faust (Alice Guy,  Gaumont prob. 1905)
French postcard by Croissant, Paris, no. 3680. Photo: Gaumont. Publicity still for the phonoscène Faust (Alice Guy, ca. 1905). The earliest proof of a showing of the film dates from 1905, so the film dates from that year or just before. The captions refer to lines from the opera libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré for the opera 'Faust' (1859) by Charles Gounod. This card refers to no. 4, the Duet between Faust and Mephistopheles in the First Act.

Faust (Alice Guy, Gaumont prob. 1905)
French postcard by Croissant, Paris, no. 3680. Photo: Gaumont. Publicity still for the phonoscène Faust (Alice Guy, ca. 1905). This card refers to the Quartet between Faust, Marguerite, Mephistopheles, and Marthe, no. 16 of the Third Act.

Mignon (1906)
French postcard by Croissant, Paris, no. 3871. Photo: Gaumont. Publicity still for Mignon (Alice Guy, 1906). Caption: Est-ce bien Mignon que voilà? (How cute is that?)

Mignon (1906)
French postcard by Croissant, Paris, no. 3871. Photo: Gaumont. Publicity still for Mignon (Alice Guy, 1906). Caption: Adieu Mignon, courage! Ne pleure pas! (Adieu Mignon, courage! Do not Cry!) Alice Guy directed nine (or seven - the sources differ) scenes from the opera 'Mignon' for a synchronised sound film, in the Gaumont Chronophone Studio, Paris, in 1906. 'Mignon' (1966) is an opéra comique in three acts by Ambroise Thomas. The original French libretto was by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré, based on Goethe's novel 'Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre'.

Carmen, (Alice Guy, 1906)
French postcard by Croissant, Paris, no. 3890. Photo: Gaumont. Publicity still for the phonoscène Carmen (Alice Guy, 1906). The film consisted of 12 so-called phonoscènes, an early sound-on-disc system. The film is presumed lost. Unknown is who the singers are. Carmen flirts with the toreador before his fight with the bull: "Toréador, en garde, et songe en combattant. Qu'un oeil noir te regarde et que l'amour t'attend." (Toreador, on guard, and dream of fighting. Let a black eye look at you and let love await you.)

Carmen (Alice Guy, 1906)
French postcard by Croissant, Paris, no. 3890. Photo: Gaumont. Publicity still for the phonoscène Carmen (Alice Guy, 1906). The gypsy girl Carmen challenges Don José: "L'amour est enfant de Bohème, Il n'a jamais connu de loi; Si tu ne m'aimes pas, je t'aime, Si je t'aime, Prends garde à toi." (Love is Bohemian's child, He never knew any law; If you don't love me, I love you, If I love you, be careful!) Mark the half visible logo Elge behind the most right woman; it it stands for L.G., the initials of Gaumont owner and founder Léon Gaumont.

Sarah Bernhardt in La dame aux camélias (1912)
French postcard by Croissant, Paris, no. 1530/8. Photo P. Boyer. Sarah Bernhardt in La dame aux camélias (André Calmettes, Louis Mercanton, 1912). The film was produced by Le Film d'Art and distributed by Pathé Freres. Caption: Sleep in peace, Marguerite! Much will be pardoned to you, because you have loved so much!

Sources: Fondation Jerome Seydoux (French), Roberta and Simone Blaché (The Memoirs of Alice Guy Blaché), Alison McMahan (Alice Guy Blaché: Lost Visionary of the Cinema), Alison McMahan (Women Film Pioneers Project), Bob Lipton (IMDb), Kinomata: la donna nel cinema, Wikipedia (English and French) and IMDb.

14 February 2020

Valentine's Day: Melodie des Herzens (1929)

It's Valentine's Day and we have a film special for everyone who loves romances... The German early sound film Melodie des Herzens/Melody of the Heart (Hanns Schwarz, 1929) which stars the lovely Dita Parlo and ‘Sunny Boy’ Willy Fritsch, Ufa's most often kissed star. The film started the wave of the über-romantic operetta films of the 1930s. 

Dita Parlo and Willy Fritsch in Melodie des Herzens (1929)
German collectors card in the series 'Vom Werden deutscher Filmkunst - Der Tonfilm', album no. 11, picture no. 4. Photo: Ufa / Ross Verlag. Dita Parlo and Willy Fritsch in Melodie des Herzens/Melody of the Heart (Hanns Schwarz, 1929).

Dita Parlo (Calendar)
Page of Dutch calendar, ca. 1930. We bought the pages at the VerzamelaarsJaarbeurs, The International Collectors Fair in Utrecht. The calendar had been part of the film memorabilia collection of the seller's father. Dita Parlo in Melodie des Herzens/Melody of the Heart (Hanns Schwarz, 1929).

Dita Parlo
Photo of a Dutch calendar, ca. 1930. Dita Parlo in Melodie des Herzens/Melody of the Heart (Hanns Schwarz, 1929).

Earning enough money for a horse


In Melodie des Herzens/Melody of the Heart (Hanns Schwarz, 1929), Julia Balog (Dita Parlo), a young girl from the country, loses her job as a maid in pre-WWI Budapest, when she stays out too long with her beau, the soldier János Garas (Willy Fritsch), who is saving money to buy a horse to open a transport company.

After being unemployed and with rent long overdue, the landlady offers her a better job in a nightclub. Meanwhile, the János's family has decided that their son should marry the daughter of a rich farmer (Anni Mewes). When he finds out about Julia's profession, he accepts his parents' match after struggling with himself.

At the day of his engagement, Julia comes to his hometown with enough money to buy a horse, which leads to a conflict between Julia, the fiancee, her family, János himself and his parents.

Melodie des Herzens was shot in Hungary. The film was scripted by Hans Székely, cinematographed by Günther Rittau and Hans Schneeberger, and art direction was by Erich Kettelhüt. Initially the film was intended to be silent, but halfway through production its producer Erich Pommer was ordered by his superiors to convert it into a sound film

Pommer took over the production management, assisted by Max Pfeiffer, The interior shots were shot in 1928 at the Ufa studios in Neubabelsberg, today's Babelsberg studio in Potsdam, the exterior shots were taken in the country in Hungary and in Budapest. Pfeiffer also managed the recordings in Hungary. Fritz Thiery was responsible for the sound.

Melodie des Herzens was the first sound film produced by the German major studio Universum Film AG (Ufa) and the second German sound film. Willy Fritsch speaks the first words in the film: "Ich spare nämlich auf ein Pferd." (Because I'm saving on a horse.) The texts on Werner Richard Heymann's melodies come from, among others, Hans Székely, Fritz Grünbaum, Fritz Rotter, Arthur Rebner and Fritz Löhner-Beda.

The film was simultaneously shot in three more versions: in English (Melody of the Heart), French (Mélodie du cœur) and in Hungarian (Vasárnap délután). Such multiple-language versions, which had been pioneered by British International Pictures, were popular in Europe until dubbing became more widespread.

Filming of Melodie des Herzens began in June 1929 and ended in September of the same year. Melodie des Herzens had its German premiere on 16 December 1929. Not least because of its different language versions, the film became a success and a classic in Europe. Melodie des Herzens has been credited with establishing the popularity of the operetta film.

Willy Fritsch and Dita Parlo in Melodie des Herzens (1929)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 116/1. Photo: Ufa. Willy Fritsch and Dita Parlo in Melodie des Herzens (Hanns Schwarz, 1929).

Willy Fritsch in Melodie des Herzens (1929)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 116/3. Photo: Ufa. Willy Fritsch in Melodie des Herzens (Hanns Schwarz, 1929).

Willy Fritsch and Dita Parlo in Melodie des Herzens (1929)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 116/4. Photo: Ufa. Willy Fritsch and Dita Parlo in Melodie des Herzens (Hanns Schwarz, 1929).

And for my own Valentine, a big 💖!

Sources: Stephan Eichenberg (IMDb), Wikipedia (German and English) and IMDb.