29 October 2020

La Collectionneuse: Alice Guy

In September our friend Marlene Pilaete informed us that the French website l’Encinémathèque doesn’t exist anymore. Webmaster Christian Grenier had decided to close l’encinémathèque down for personal reasons. It’s sad. We offered Marlene to host her sublime blog La Collectionneuse at EFSP from now on, and happily, she accepted! We will mix her old posts (from now on in English) with new posts. You can search all her posts at EFSP under La Colectionneuse in the cross-column above. We start with her last post at l’Encinémathèque on French director and film pioneer Alice Guy. Welcome, Marlene!

The documentary Be Natural: L’histoire cachée d’Alice Guy-Blaché (Be Natural: The Hidden Story of Alice Guy-Blaché) was released in French cinemas last June. This is an opportunity to pay a small tribute to this pioneer of the cinema, unjustly forgotten for several decades, through eight old postcards of actresses who worked under her direction.

Alice Guy (1873-1968)

Born in 1873, Alice Guy became a director at Gaumont in 1896 and, until 1907, she made a number of short films there. The performers were, most of the time, anonymous, except when she was filming music-hall celebrities of the time, like Polin, Mayol, or Saharet.

In 1910, she was in the United States, where she notably founded the Solax company, and from there, we can finally identify the stars of her films.

So, let us discover Blanche Cornwall, Marian Swayne, and Claire Whitney, three actresses under contract with Solax, and directed several times by Alice Guy.

Also at Solax, Sally Crute made her very first film under Alice's direction, before moving on to other horizons.

She was the famous director who also guided Olga Petrova's first steps on the screen by directing her in five consecutive films and who, together with her husband Herbert Blaché, helped to launch Catherine Calvert into the world of movie stars.

As for Bessie Love and Dolores Cassinelli, they were the last two actresses to work under Alice Guy, the first in The Great Adventure (1918) and the second in Tarnished Reputations (1920).

Blanche Cornwall (1868? 1885? - 1918? 1977?)

Blanche Cornwall
American postcard. Photo: Solax Stock Co. Collection: Marlene Pilaete.

Blanche Cornwall made her film debut in 1911 at the Solax Studios, where she became one of the main female stars.

The co-founder of the company, the French Alice Guy directed the actress on numerous occasions, notably in The Violin Maker of Nuremberg (1911), Mrs. Cranston's Jewels (1912), A Terrible Lesson (1912), Blighted Lives (1912), Child of the Tenements (1912), The Reformation of Mary (1912), The Wooing of Alice (1912), Souls in the Shadow (1912), The Girl in the Arm-Chair (1912), Burstup Homes (1913), …

We can also mention the anticipatory comedy In the Year 2000 (1912), which evokes a world ruled by women at the beginning of the 21st century, and The Pit and the Pendulum (1913), based on the work of Edgar Allan Poe.

She disappeared from the screen in 1914.

Marian Swayne (1891-1973)

Marian Swayne
American postcard by Kraus Mfg. Company, N.Y. Collection: Marlene Pilaete.

Marian Swayne (born in Philadelphia, USA) made her film debut at the Solax Company, where, from 1911 to 1913, she was the protagonist of, among others, The Interrupted Elopement (1911), Husbands Wanted (1911), Mignon (1912), Lend Me Your Wife (1912), A Question of Hair (1912), Where Love Dwells (1913), A House Divided (1913), The Hopes of Belinda (1913), The Heavenly Widow (1913), ...

During her early years of stardom, she had the opportunity to be directed several times by Alice Guy.

She then continued her career at other studios and made such films as A Discolored Romance (1914), The Adventures of Kitty Cobb (1914), The Red Cross Nurse (1914), The Winning Loser (1915), The Road Between (1915), The Turning Point (1915), The Carriage of Death (1916), Paying the Price (1916), The Adventurer (1917), with Alice Guy behind the cameras, The Deemster (1917), and The Little Samaritan (1917).

After The Transgressor (1918), a social drama produced by the Catholic Art Association and directed by Joseph Levering, her husband from 1914 until the mid-1930s, she stayed away from the film sets for some time.

From 1921 to 1924, she was still the performer of some films produced by secondary studios.

Claire Whitney (1890-1969)

Claire Whitney
American postcard by Valentine Souvenir Co., no. 30596. Collection: Marlene Pilaete.

Claire Whitney (born in New York, USA) made her screen debut in 1912 at the Solax Studios and quickly became one of their stars.

Until 1914, she filmed, among others, The Paralytic (1912), The Star of India (1913), Shadows of the Moulin Rouge (1913), Beneath the Czar (1914), The Dream Woman (1914), The Woman of Mystery (1914), …

During her time at Solax, she had the opportunity to be directed, several times, by Alice Guy.

From 1915 to 1917, she was employed by Fox, where she was one of the protagonists of, among others, The Girl I Left Behind Me (1915), Blindness of Devotion (1915), The Ruling Passion (1916), A Wife's Sacrifice (1916), Heart and Soul (1917), When False Tongues Speak (1917), ...

Subsequently, she continued her career with films such as Kaiser's Finish (1918), The Man Who Stayed at Home (1919), Mothers of Men (1920), The Chamber Mystery (1920), A Common Level (1920), ...

After The Leech (1921), she was absent from the screens for a few years, before making a brief comeback in The Great Gatsby (1926), in which she played Catherine, the sister-in-law of George Wilson, the character played by William Powell.

From 1929 to 1949, she still appeared in some sixty productions, in small roles, sometimes uncredited.

Sally Crute (1896-1971)

Sally Crute
American postcard by Kraus Mfg. Company, N.Y. Photo: E. Crute. Collection: Marlene Pilaete.

Sally Crute (born in Chattanooga, United States) made her film debut with the Solax company in The Woman Behind the Man (1912), directed by Alice Guy. She embodied a wife whose luxury tastes lead her marriage to ruin.

The famous director would not have the opportunity to direct the actress again, who soon signed a contract with Edison Studios. Becoming one of their main stars, she was then, until 1916, the interpreter of, among others, The Price of Human Lives (1913), A Pious Undertaking (1913), A Treacherous Rival (1914), An American King (1914), The Song of Solomon (1914), The Letter That Never came Out (1914), The Voice of Conscience (1915), Seen Through the Make-Up (1915), The Widow's Breezy Suit (1915), The Matchmakers (1915), A Mix-Up in Black (1916), Helen of the Chorus (1916), …

Subsequently, she worked for various studios. She still got a few leading female roles, for example in The Avenging Trail (1917) and Perjury (1921) alongside, respectively, Harold Lockwood and William Farnum.

But, most of the time, she now instead played secondary characters in films starring artists more in vogue then such as Mabel Taliaferro, Norma Talmadge, Shirley Mason, Viola Dana, Alla Nazimova, Beverly Bayne, Sylvia Breamer, Corinne Griffith, Bebe Daniels, Doris Kenyon or Gladys Walton.

She disappeared from the screens in 1926.

Olga Petrova (1884-1977)

Olga Petrova
British postcard by Rotary, no. S 71-6. Photo: Moody, N.Y. Collection: Marlene Pilaete.

After making a name for herself on stage in her native country, Olga Petrova (born in Great Britain) moved to the United States in the early 1910s and quickly conquered American audiences.

For her career, she decided to embellish her past and to transform herself into an exotic character. While her real name was Muriel Harding, she called herself Madame Olga Petrova, made up her Slavic origins, and spoke with an accent appropriate to her new identity.

She performed in music halls with monologues, songs, and imitations. In 1914, she tried out classical theatre by playing ‘Panthea’ on Broadway. Such a personality soon became interesting for the world of the Seventh Art. She made her screen debut in 1914, directly as a star.

Alice Guy directed Petrova’s first five films: The Tigress (1914), The Heart of a Painted Woman (1915), The Vampire (1915), My Madonna (1915), and What Will People Say? (1916). Subsequently, she appeared in, among others, The Scarlet Woman (1916), Extravagance (1916), The Secret of Eve (1917), and The Soul of a Magdalen (1917). She was also directed by Maurice Tourneur in The Undying Flame (1917), The Law of the Land (1917), and Exile (1917).

At the end of her cinematographic career, a production firm in her name was created, the ‘Petrova Picture Company’, for which she was the star of Daughter of Destiny (1917), The Light Within (1918), The Life Mask (1918), Tempered Steel (1918) and The Panther Woman (1918). This concluded her filmography.

Note that IMDb adds two Russian titles, in 1912 and 1928, but ‘Petrova’ being a very common surname in Russia, this is a case of disambiguation. After leaving the world of film sets, she returned to the stage. She was then the author and performer of three Broadway plays: ‘The White Peacock’ (1921-1922), ‘Hurricane’ (1923-1924), and ‘What Do We Know?’ (1927-1928). She retired at the end of the 1920s.

Catherine Calvert (1890-1971)

Catherine Calvert
Vintage Artura postcard, no. 121. Collection: Marlene Pilaete.

Catherine Calvert (born in Baltimore, United States) began her career as an actress on stage.

In the early 1910s, she was known as the Broadway performer of ‘The Deep Purple’ and ‘The Escape’, two plays by author Paul Armstrong, whom she married in 1913.

After the death of her husband in 1915, she decided to turn to the cinema and thus appeared in her first film, Partners (1916). It was nevertheless the couple Alice Guy and Herbert Blaché who made her a star of the Seventh Art. They first directed her in House of Cards (1917) and Behind the Mask (1917) and then in The Peddler (1917) and Think It Over (1917).

Other titles in her filmography include The Uphill Path (1918), Out of the Night (1918), Marriage for Convenience (1919), The Career of Katherine Bush (1919), Dead Men Tell No Tales (1920), The Heart of Maryland (1921), and That Woman (1922). She was also the protagonist of The Green Caravan (1922), The Indian Love Lyrics (1923) and Out to Win (1923) in England.

She disappeared from the screens in 1924 and in 1925 she married Canadian millionaire George A. Carruthers.

Bessie Love (1898-1986)

Bessie Love
Scandinavian postcard by Eneret B.C. & A.H, no. 246. Photo: Vitagraph. Collection: Marlene Pilaete.

Bessie Love (born in Midland, USA) made her film debut in the mid-1910s. She became known opposite William S. Hart in The Aryan (1916) and Douglas Fairbanks in The Good Bad Man (1916), Reggie Mixes In (1916), and The Mystery of the Leaping Fish (1916).

She quickly elevated to the rank of star and, for fifteen years, she remained so. From time to time, she experienced dips in her career but she did not hesitate to work for second-rate companies or to accept to play more secondary characters, which allowed her to stay active and to be able to bounce back when new opportunities arose to relaunch her career.

Among her films, notable are Hell-to-Pay Austin (1916), A Sister of Six (1916), The Heiress at Coffee Dan’s (1916), Nina, the Flower Girl (1917), A Daughter of the Poor (1917), Wee Lady Betty (1917), Polly Ann (1917), The Great Adventure (1918), directed by Alice Guy, How Could You, Caroline? (1918), A Little Sister of Everybody (1918), The Enchanted Barn (1919), Carolyn of the Corners (1919), A Yankee Princess (1919), A Fighting Colleen (1919), Bonnie May (1920), The Midlanders (1920), Penny of Top Hill Trail (1921), Forget Me Not (1922), Deserted at the Altar (1922), Gentle Julia (1923), Torment (1924), The Lost World (1925), Soul-Fire (1925), New Brooms (1925), The Song and Dance Man (1926), Lovey Mary (1926), Young April (1926), Dress Parade (1927), The Matinee Idol (1928), Anybody Here Seen Kelly? (1928), Sally of the Scandals (1928), …

According to numerous sources, she was the first actress to dance the Charleston on screen in The King on Main Street (1925).

With the advent of sound film, she was chosen to be one of the protagonists of the musical Broadway Melody (1929), which was a triumph and earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. She was later seen in, The Girl in the Show (1929), Chasing Rainbows (1930), They Learned About Women (1930), Good News (1930), See America Thirst (1930), ... Unfortunately, her come-back did not last and the Hollywood future of Bessie Love looked very uncertain. After filming Morals for Women (1931) for Tiffany, a Poverty Row studio, she was absent from the cinemas for some time.

In the mid-1930s, she moved to Britain, where she was last featured in I Live Again (1936). From 1941 to 1983, she still played secondary and small roles in some thirty productions. These include, for example, The Barefoot Contessa (1954), The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961), Isadora (1968), Sunday, Bloody Sunday (1971), The Ritz (1976), Reds (1981), and The Hunger (1983). She was also active on stage and television.

Dolores Cassinelli (1888-1984)

Dolores Cassinelli
American postcard. Photo: Essanay. Collection: Marlene Pilaete.

Dolores Cassinelli (born in Chicago, USA) made her film debut in 1911 at Essanay, where she became one of the leading female stars.

She was the leading lady of, among others, Two Men and a Girl (1911), Winning an Heiress (1911), Do Dreams Come True? (1912), Napatia, the Greek Singer (1912), The Laurel Wrath of Fame (1912), When Soul Meets Soul (1913), The Girl at the Brook (1913), The Girl in the Case (1913), A Wolf Among Lambs (1913), and A Successful Failure (1913).

After leaving Essanay, she made The Wolf and the City (1913) and Too Late (1914) for Selig and in 1916 she played Mrs. Jerry Simpson, wife of one of the two heroes of the comedy series Tom and Jerry, produced by Emerald Pictures.

She starred in Lafayette, We Come (1918), Unknown Love (1919), and Tarnished Reputations (1920), directed by Alice Guy, the only three titles from the short-lived company created by Léonce Perret.

Albert Capellani, another Frenchman who was based in the United States at the time and who also founded a production unit there, hired her for The Virtuous Model (1919) and The Right to Love (1919). Other notable titles of her filmography are The Web of Deceit (1920), Anne of Little Smoky (1921), The Challenge (1922), and Christopher Columbus (1923).

She ended her film career with a few supporting roles in 1924 and 1925, alongside Doris Kenyon, Bebe Daniels, and Lila Lee, younger and more popular actresses.

Text: Marlene Pilaete. Check out other EFSP posts by Marlene here.

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