Thursday, April 27, 2017

Edwige Feuillère - La Grande Actrice Française

On November 13, 1998, the day that Edwige Feuillère died, France mourned. A beloved icon of the silver screen and the grand dame of the Paris theater had passed on and the wave of tributes that poured in befitted a political head of state. 

"Many actresses have been called La Divine, but none deserved it as much as Edwige Feuillère," wrote James Kirkup. Indeed, her talent was world-renowned and some critics, after seeing her perform live, considered her the greatest actress of the 20th century. She was Katharine Cornell, Greer Garson, Anne Baxter, Googie Withers, and Ann Sothern all rolled into one...and yet she was completely, and uniquely, Feuillère...with long slender hands, a beautiful smile, mesmerizing eyes, and a commanding film presence. 

The New York Times wrote for her obituary, "Stunningly beautiful in her youth, gracefully elegant in old age, Ms. Feuillère was remembered as much for her powerful well-modulated voice as for her expressive eyes and magnetic presence". 

Edwige Feuillère ( pronounced Edweej Foolyair ) had an impressive career which spanned over 60 years. During that time she starred in several notable plays which will be forever associated with her name : "La Dame aux Camelias" ( Camille ), "L'Aigle a deux Tetes" ( The Eagle with Two Heads ), and "La Folle de Chaillot" ( The Madwoman of Challiot ).

Feuillère was born Edwige Louise Caroline Cunati in Vesoul, France in 1907. Her mother was Alsace-born but her father was an Italian, and since he was drafted by the Italian army during World War I, Edwige spent much of her childhood in Italy. After the war, her family moved to Dijon, France, where Edwige performed in school plays and later studied acting at the Dijon Conservatoire. She met her husband Pierre Feuillère, a fellow acting student, while studying at the Paris Conservatoire in 1928. Two years later they married, but Pierre was a suicidal drug addict and the union lasted only two years. She never remarried and instead devoted herself to acting. 

Feuillère did not become an overnight success on stage or in films, even though she was made a member of the prestigious Comédie Française as early as 1931. It was her success in Edouard Bourdet's "La Prisonniere" at the Theatre Heberthot in 1935 that really gained her recognition as an actress. That same year she scandalized the public by appearing nude in the film version of the historical drama Lucrèce Borgia ( Lucrezia Borgia ). 

Feuillère's regal presence lent a classical stature to modern plays, which were often modeled on Greek themes, and playwrights such as Jean Giraudoux and Jean Cocteau continually pursued her to act in their latest works. Edwige had many roles that she would perform again and again on stage. She brought out a special quality in the characters she took on, making them uniquely her own. After having performed a part once, she would become known for that character. 

Her greatest stage triumph was as a femme fatale in Paul Claudel's "Partage de Midi". It was a lengthy and immensely difficult part which had long been admired for its dramatic poetry but was often considered unperformable. Director Jean-Louis Berrault transformed Claudel's metaphysical text into one of the most memorable coups de theatre of the century, and Feuillère's performance was never replicated. 

In 1939 she played Margeurite Gautier in Alexandre Dumas' "La Dame aux Camelias" in Paris. This would become her most recognized role which she would perform throughout the next twenty years. The play's director, Jacques Hebertot, accurately predicted, "You will carry this role throughout your life, a slave to the success it will bring you." Feuillere was also considered the "definitive Phaedre" and performed scenes from this Racine classic as well as many other of his works throughout her career. 

In film, she portrayed a charming spy opposite Erich von Stronheim in 1937's Marthe Richard au Service de la France ( Marthe Richard ), an elegant traveler in La Damme de Malacca ( Woman of Malacca ), and an adventuress in J'étais une Aventurière ( 1938 ). In Max Ophuls' 1940 melodrama Sans Ledemain ( Without Tomorrow ) she gave an excellent performance of a jaded woman abandoned with a load of debts by her shady husband.

Woman of Malacca ( 1937 )
Feuillère kept herself busy throughout the 1940s, averaging two films per year while starring in numerous stage productions both in France and England, notably in L'Aigle a deux Tetes, which she appeared in over 200 performances. In this production she played a queen who falls in love with her would-be assassin, a young man that resembles her late husband. It was a role that Jean Cocteau had created for her. She reprised her performance in Cocteau's 1947 film adaptation starring opposite the handsome Jean Marais, who became a dear personal friend. 

Other notable film productions of the 1940s included De Mayerling a Sarajevo ( Mayerling to Sarajevo ) where she portrayed Countess Sophie Choteck, wife of Archduke Franz Ferdinand; the screen adaptation of La Duchesse de Langeais ( 1942 ); and L'Honorable Catherine ( 1942 ). 

L'Aigle a deux tetes ( 1947 )
During World War II, Parisian society had such a watchful eye on Edwige the First ( a nickname the French critics gave their number one actress ) that when she wore an evening gown in public for the first time after abstaining from formal wear throughout the war years, all Paris "smiled again". Fashion houses throughout the city stocked up on scarce fabrics, anticipating an after-war boom in sales now that Edwige signaled that evening wear was once again appropriate. 

"I wish American producers would bring their plays here," Edwige stated in a 1946 Collier's magazine article. "I have met so few American actors. I would like to meet more." The New York play Arsenic and Old Lace was playing to standing-room only audiences in Paris at the time. Intellectual Parisians, like Edwige, were thoroughly familiar with American writers. She was able to quote passages from the works of Hemingway, Steinbeck, and Faulkner and was intensely interested in American novels, plays, and actors. 

She also desired to visit America, especially Hollywood, but wanted to remain in France until the war years were over. This reason made her decline the 7-year contract offered by Louis B. Mayer, head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios. It proved to be a rather foolish career move as Mayer would have surely seen to it that only the best scripts would be used in quality productions to showcase her acting ability ( and knowing Mayer, they would have been based on literary classics as well ). Instead, many of her films were mediocre and beneath her ability. 

As Mlle. Julie in "Olivia"
But Feuillère was not particular about the film roles offered to her, and in her freedom she tackled anything from comedies ( the delightful Les Fruits de l'été ), crime films ( Quand la femme s'en meme ), and capers ( OSS 117 ) to classical historical dramas ( Le Duchess de Langeau ). A true thespian, she loved acting for the sake of acting and the more challenging, or different, the part was the more it thrilled her. She gladly accepted roles that other actresses would have refused for fear of their careers being endangered. 

This desire to broaden her range led her to star in the 1951 screen adaptation of Dorothy Strachey's sensational book Olivia which centered on a schoolgirl's crush for her teacher, the charismatic Mlle. Julie. This role earned her accolades ( including a BAFTA nomination for Best Actress ) and she followed it up with an even more daring performance as an older women who introduces an adolescent to love in Le Blé en Herbe ( 1953 ). Feuillère was brilliant in the role and deftly suggested prurience sans impropriety. 

Le Blé en Herbe ( 1954 )
Off-screen, Edwige had little interest in the glamorous lifestyle often associated with movie stars and her 1977 autobiography "Les Feux de la Memoire" revealed her to be humorous and modest about her talent. She concentrated on stage work throughout the 1960s, appearing once again in "Partage de Midi" in London, touring with Jean Marais on stage, and starring in Giraudoux's "La Folle de Chaillot" which she later reprised for television. Edwige embraced television and often appeared in mini-series during the 1970s and 1980s, notably Les Dames de la Cote and later Edwige Feuillère en Scene ( 1993 ) a television movie based upon her popular stage show in which she replayed scenes from her most famous roles. 

Edwige retired from the stage in 1992, but continued to be recognized for her contributions to the French stage being awarded the Legion d'honneur, the Molière prize, an honorary César, and was named Commandeur des Arts et Lettres. 

Upon hearing of the death of her good friend Jean Marais, Edwige suffered a heart attack from which she never recovered and she passed on five days later, at the age of 91. 

Fortunately, many of her films are available for viewing on Youtube, and even without an understanding of French one can appreciate her acting style. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

From the Archives: Joan Fontaine in Suspicion ( 1941 )

Joan Fontaine posing for a quick costume shot during the making of Alfred Hitchcock's Suspicion. Joan always knew how to wear high collars and top-heavy hats like a queen. 

From the Archives is our latest series of posts where we share photos from the Silverbanks Pictures collection. Some of these may have been sold in the past, and others may still be available for purchase at our eBay store :

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Sir Percy - A Ripping Good Scoundrel

If I had to list the most praiseworthy and lovable scoundrel of all the dastardly villains that ever dared show their face on the silver screen, Sir Percival Ware-Armitage of Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines ( 1965 ) would rank high on the list. 

Like Jack Lemmon's marvelous portrayal of Professor Fate in that equally entertaining race classic The Great Race ( 1965 ), Terry-Thomas made the part of Sir Percy completely his own. It could never be replicated by another actor, for even the name Sir Percy tends to conjures up images of Terry-Thomas' gap-toothed grin. 

Speakeasy, Shadows and Satin, and Silver Screenings are co-hosting the 4th annual Great Villain Blogathon which gives me the opportunity to gush about what makes Sir Percy such a stupendous bounder. But before I go into this let me just give you a brief account of the setting of Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines

The year is 1910 and Lord Rawnsley, a wealthy newspaper publisher, sets out to prove that Britain rules the air as well as the sea by sponsoring an International Air Race from London to Paris. Flyers from all around the world are invited to take part in the race. These magnificent men include an Italian count ( Alberto Sordi ), an amiable Texan ( Stuart Whitman ), an intrepid German ( Gert Forbe ), a Japanese man ( Yujiro Ishihara ), a womanizing Frenchman ( Jean-Pierre Cassel ) and Britain's very own hero the dashing Richard Mays ( James Fox ). Where there is a hero you will often find a wrongdoer as well, and in this case it is none other than Sir Percival Ware-Armitage, whose skulduggery endangers all the flyers. Naturally....

The ultimate test of any disrespectable villain is his ability to maintain the lowest of standards. Now Sir Percy is not an forthright evil man, and you'll never catch him directly murdering a fellow ( he may arrange to get him smashed to pieces in an accident instead ), molesting children ( does sticking a lollipop in their hair count? ), or stalking someone ( that's what his stooge is paid to do ), but nevertheless he embodies certain qualities and lives up to a code that I believe all villains should strive for : 

1. An Untrustworthy Appearance 

Anyone should be able to recognize a villain by his appearance. Shifty eyes are a given, but added to that must be some thoroughly unsavory facial expressions such as sneering, muttering to oneself, and biting one's lip. Sir Percy nails these traits. A handlebar mustache and a dangling cigar only add to his charm. Since he is an English "gentleman", too, he dresses to the tee in all occasions. Pip-pip, old bean!

2. Ingenuity

Sabotage isn't easy and it takes a great deal of creative thought to devise schemes on the fly. Sir Percy had to tax his ingenuity to the limit for the International Air Race from cutting the wires on his opponent's planes to spiking their drinks with poison. 

3. Perseverance

When the going gets really tough and you find all your brilliant plans of sabotage lying to waste on the wayside - Hard cheese! - that's the time you need perseverance. Sir Percy desperately wanted to win the air race so he never let set-backs get him down. After stomping his foot and pouting a bit he would grit his teeth and start to work on a new tactic. 

4. The Ability to Hiss

It's taken for granted that all villains hiss, but in reality few can be proven as having done so. Sir Percy is a bonafide hisser....with Terry-Thomas portraying him he was bound to be one! Gapped teeth are a rare commodity in the acting world and so Terry-Thomas made the most of his natural born gift and whistles whenever possible. 

5. Knowing How to Lose Like a Villain

If you find yourself thoroughly beaten at the end of the day and quite knackered, then there is no reason to play noble. Here is your opportunity to shake your fist at your opponent, curse him, or throw yourself on the floor and cry ( kicking up your legs as you do so ). If Sir Percy had the German flyer's blunderbuss on hand when he was defeated he surely would have used it on the winner of the race. 

This post is our contribution to The Great Villain Blogathon being hosted by Speakeasy, Silver Screenings, and Shadows and Satin. Be sure to head on over to any of their blogs to read posts about some rattling good villains of the silver screen.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Book Review - Hollywood in Kodachrome

Over 35 years ago John Kobal assembled a number of excellent coffee table books featuring stunning photography from Hollywood's golden era. Among these books was "Hollywood Color Portraits", which presented a beautiful collection of Kodachromes of some of Hollywood's biggest stars of the 1930s-1950s. Since the publication of this book there have been very few books offered to film fans that re-published the gorgeous color portrait photos of Hollywood's stars. 

That is, until 2013, when David Wills assembled "Hollywood in Kodachrome", a hefty collection of stunning color glamour photographs from 1940-1949, many of which were originally published on the covers of ( and as inserts in ) Motion Picture, Photoplay, Modern Screen, Movie Stars Parade, and Movie Story magazines. This five-pound 352-page hardcover book was beautifully printed by It Books, showcasing the images the way they were originally meant to be seen. 

Glamour icons such as Veronica Lake, Rita Hayworth, Lana Turner, Betty Grable, Jane Russell, and Hedy Lamarr are all given ample coverage, but unfortunately many of the biggest actors of the time have few photographs. There were numerous color images made of Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney and yet few appear in this collection. Robert Taylor, William Powell, Ronald Colman are not even present in the book...nor are actresses such as Alice Faye, Ann Sothern, or Vivien Leigh. 

While "Hollywood in Kodachrome" does not offer the best selection of box-office stars of the 1940s, David Wills does give readers a background history of these color photographs and intersperses the images with some black-and-white behind-the-scenes shots showing the photographer and his subject in action. Small images of the printed covers of the magazines the photos appeared on also compliment the text. 

Hollywood in Kodachrome by David Wills and Stephen Schmidt is available for purchased for $24.86 through Amazon.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Classic Bible and Religious Films

With Easter and Passover here I thought it would be nice to put together a list of some famous ( and rarer ) classic religious films. I have such fond memories of watching these movies, especially David and Bathsheba and Ben-Hur

When I was a youngster, my family would often go to Our Lady of Lourdes prior to Easter. This is a religious site located outside of Cleveland that houses a shrine, chapel and refractory as well as walking paths with stations of the cross along the way. There is a spring of water in a grotto that passes over a stone, and many make pilgrimages here to get this holy water, for this stone was where the Virgin Mary stood upon when she made her appearance to Bernadette in Lourdes, France. Many miracles have occurred here. It was then that I would watch these great films, many times during homeschool. Such happy memories! 


The Ten Commandments ( 1956 ) - I always look forward to ABC's yearly airing of this film. Knowing every line that the actors are going to say does not lessen the enjoyment of the movie. Charlton Heston is wonderful as Moses. He certainly made it difficult for future actors to portray this character with as much passion. And one of my favorite actresses, Martha Scott, plays his Hebrew mother. Three years later Charlton and her would team up again as mother and son in Ben-Hur. Cecil B. DeMille probably knew he had a great film in the making but I doubt he knew it would become this legendary ..... or maybe he did.

Samson and Delilah ( 1949 ) - It is a shame that Hedy Lamarr's acting ability was downplayed by critics, for this film ( as well as H.M Pulham Esq ) give evidence to how well she can indeed act. Victor Mature stars as the famous long-haired Samson, with other roles going to Angela Lansbury ( a different part for her ), George Sanders, and a young Russ Tamblyn. 
The Story of Ruth ( 1960 ) - How can they make a movie over two hours in length on one of the shortest books of the Bible? By elaborating on the story, of course....which they did very well here. Rather than have Naomi's husband and children killed from disease, the film has these characters die in the hands of Moabite soldiers who are against them for trying to preach their Judian God to their high priestess Ruth ( Elena Eden ), who worships a stone idol. I doubt this was taken from historical records, but the film was enjoyable nonetheless and it visually conveyed the theme of kinsmanship so predominant in that book. 

David and Bathsheba ( 1951 ) - A wonderful screen telling of one of the most famous Biblical figures, King David. The film has a focus on his adulteress relationship with the beautiful Bathsheba ( alas, adultery is great for the box-office ), but it covers his childhood in flashback as well. Gregory Peck is always good to see, and Susan Hayward reached her beauteous peak at this time. James Robertson Justice plays his right-hand man Abishai, and Jayne Meadows plays David's wife, Michal.

Solomon and Sheba ( 1959 ) - Yul Brynner stars as David's son, the mighty Solomon who becomes king in place of his brother, the hot-headed Adonijah ( George Sanders ). Gina Lollobrigida plays a voluptuous the Queen of Sheba. Not only is the film about a king, but it was filmed by one too...King Vidor.
Esther and the King ( 1960 ) - If you can imagine Joan Collins playing Esther, then you'll like this movie...otherwise it's a far stretch from the beautiful Bible story. Richard Egan costars as the King who chooses her among all the others in his harem to be his wife. 

Other Old testament films: A Story of David ( 1961 ) starring Jeff Chandler, and The Story of Joseph and his Brethren ( 1961 ).


The Prodigal ( 1955 )- Based on the parable of the prodigal son, this film stars Lana Turner, Louis Calhern, and Edmund Purdom as the titular wayward one. Edmund Purdom played in several biblical films as well as in The Egyptian which told the story of an architect of Pharaoh's tomb. In 1997 he hosted a religious documentary called The Seven Signs of Christ's Return. The Prodigal was engrossing, but Lana Turner was miscast as she fits better in more contemporary settings. 

Barabbas ( 1962 ) - There's something about this movie I really liked, but I'm not entirely sure what it is. Anthony Quinn plays the pardoned criminal Barabbas whom the crowds chose over Jesus Christ. The film fantasizes on his conversion to Christianity and his turn as a gladiator. Very entertaining. 

The Big Fisherman ( 1959 ) - This was an independent production starring Howard Keel as the disciple Simon Peter, also with Susan Kohner, Martha Hyer and Herbert Lom. Oddly enough, the movie was distributed through Disney's own Buena Vista company, but it certainly did not have a Disney flair to it. In spite of its wonderful cast, the film fails to make an impression. 

The King of Kings ( 1961 ) - Jeffrey Hunter stars in this film retelling of the life of Christ. Hunter always gives his all in any performance and this one is no exception. Unfortunately, it's so true-to-life that the brutality of the events are difficult to watch. Filmed in Super-Technirama and costarring Robert Ryan, Siobhan McKenna and Hurd Hatfield. 

Some other major productions : 

Ben-Hur ( 1959 ) - The life of one Judah Ben-Hur, a prince in Jerusalum, who gets sent to work as a galley slave aboard a Roman flagship, and his conversion to Christianity. The most famous scene is undoubtedly the chariot race between Judah and Messala, but my favorite part is at the end, where Judah's mother and sister come forth from the leprosy cave and are cured by the rain. The music is particularly poignant at this scene. This movie deserved all the Oscars it got, it is such a masterpiece. 
The Robe ( 1953 ) - A cinema classic about one of Christ's executioners who later repents and dies for being a Christian. The very first film made in Cinemascope, the movie has a beautiful score by Alfred Newman, gorgeous Technicolor, excellent actors, and is based on the famous Lloyd C. Douglas bestseller. Can't get much better than that! 

Demetrius and the Gladiators ( 1954 ) - This sequel to The Robe has the former slave Demetrius spiraling into a web of sin after he believes God permitted his lover ( Debra Paget ) to die needlessly. Victor Mature reprises his former role, Susan Hayward plays a woman who has her eye on Demetrius, and Richard Egan costars. 

Quo Vadis ( 1951 ) - A splendid epic about a Roman soldier who dies along with the Christian girl he loves. Peter Ustinov gives a wonderful performance as the mad Nero, thoroughly enjoying the feast for the lions. The movie is very similar to The Sign of the Cross but this was much more entertaining. 


The Song of Bernadette ( 1943 ) - The story of the French girl ( Jennifer Jones ) who saw the apparition of " a beautiful lady" the Virgin Mary in a city dump in 1858. Charles Bickford costars. 

Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima ( 1952 ) - This film tells the true story of three Portuguese children who saw the Virgin Mary in a field. The acting is simple but all concerned paint a compelling picture. 

The Miracle ( 1959 ) - Carroll Baker plays a nun who breaks her vows to follow a soldier, none other than Roger Moore ( at least she had the decency to pick a Saint ). 

Francis of Assisi ( 1961 ) - A lovely film depicting the life of the famous saint who renounced the world to begin a life of austerity. Dolores Hart co-stars. Hart would later renounce the glamour of Hollywood to become a nun herself. 


A Man Called Peter ( 1955 ) - The life of Washington D.C's chaplain Peter Marshall as portrayed by Richard Todd. A beautiful Alfred Newman score highlights this film. 

I'd Climb the Highest Mountain ( 1951 ) - The trails and tribulations of a Methodist minister ( William Lundigan ) and his wife ( Susan Hayward ). It's very similar to One Foot in Heaven ( 1941 ) starring Fredric March. 

One Man's Way
( 1964 ) - The story of a crime reporter who becomes a priest. Sound familiar? It's the life of Norman Vincent Peale ( played by Don Murray ) 

Martin Luther ( 1953 ) - The life of Martin Luther, the first Protestant. This film was actually made by Lutheran Church Productions...a rare one, indeed. 


Come to the Stable ( 1949 ) - A touching and equally amusing tale of two French nuns ( Loretta Young and Celeste Holm ) in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and their quest to raise funds to build a hospital. Fine performances from a great cast make this a memorable classic. 

Black Narcissus ( 1947 ) - Emeric Pressburger and Michael Powell's masterpiece about nuns in a remote Tibetan convent has Kathleen Byron struggling with sexual passion, Deborah Kerr facing morale difficulties, and Jean Simmons playing a young native girl. 

A Nun's Story ( 1959 )- Audrey Hepburn plays a newly entered nun, who gets sent to the Congo, where she begins to realize this probably wasn't her calling. African heat has the most unexpected effects on a person. 

Heaven Knows Mr. Allison ( 1957 ) - Deborah Kerr once again dons the habit, this time as a nun stranded on a secluded Pacific Island with Robert Mitchum during WWII. 

Conspiracy of Hearts ( 1960 ) - A sweet, but nail-biting, film about a group of nuns who risk their life to rescue Jewish children from Nazi soldiers. Lilli Palmer gives a wonderful performance, as does the rest of the cast. 

The Trouble with Angels ( 1966 )- Hayley Mills and June Harding play two girls making trouble at a private Catholic school. Fun and touching at the same time...and, believe it or not, Rosalind Russell does a very convincing portrayal of a Mother Superior.


The Inn of the Sixth Happiness
( 1958 ) - The biography of Gladys Aylward , a missionary in China, portrayed by Ingrid Bergman. It is a long film but entertaining nonetheless. This also marked the last performance of the great English actor Robert Donat. 
Hawaii ( 1966 ) - A ( rather boring ) epic about a missionary in Hawaii during the early 1800s. Max Von Sydow and Julie Andrews star. 

Keys of the Kingdom ( 1944 ) - A young Gregory Peck stars in this film about a Scottish priest in China and the dilemmas he faces. The large supporting cast and great cinematography support this classic.

A Few extra titles to explore... The Greatest Story Ever Told, The Bible, Going My Way, The Bells of St.Marys, God is my Co-Pilot, Miracle of the Bells, and The Left Hand of God

Do you have any particular Easter favorites? Share them with us!

Have a blessed Easter!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game

All aboard! Is it the Hogwarts Express pulling out of the station? No, not quite. Time seems to stand still at this train station and the passengers have no complaints about waiting for the train to depart. 

As always, if you are not familiar with the rules to The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie game or the prize, click here!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Binnie Barnes Shares Stories of Her Past

Into a cold, gray London factory, on a foggy morning, tramped a cheerless girl in a shabby hat and a rag of a dress. Under her arm she carried a lunch box, nothing more than an old pasteboard shoe box which was turned to everyday use. Going to her place at a grimy iron stamping machine, she opened the box and took from it a small picture cut from a magazine. This she fixed to her incongruous treadmill where she could see it for the long day ahead. "My eye!" remarked the girl next to her. "Don't tell me it's the Princess of Wyles?" 

"No, it's Lillian Russell. She was called The American Beauty, and I'd rather be like her than any other woman in the world." 

Into a warm, bright Hollywood room on a sunny morning breezed a joyous creature trim and smart in sky-blue pajamas. A soft hat rakishly perched upon her gold-shot hair set off her refreshing charm. She held out a friendly hand in greeting. Then she drew forth a platinum-framed photograph which she placed admiringly upon the table. "I simply can't quite make myself believe I've somehow lived to be her in the film 'Diamond Jim,' " marveled the one-time London factory girl, Binnie Barnes.

"Has it been so great a change?" 

"Look at me !" she challenged — and that wasn't hard. "Nothing could possibly be greater than changing from what I was to Lillian Russell." 

Binnie Barnes certainly had a colorful background and I couldn't help wondering why an English actress had been chosen to play an American beauty. 

"You can't be more surprised than I was," she said. "It knocked me right off my pins. You see, they cabled me to come over and play Miss Russell's chum, Edna McCauley, the fashionable dressmaker. But when I got here, they were in a jam and they grabbed me to get them out of it. They'd tested about a thousand girls for the Lillian Russell part, but although they got beauty galore, they couldn't get just what they were after. They wanted someone sympathetic." 

Binnie and Cesar Romero in "Diamond Jim" ( 1935 )

"Miss Russell was." I recalled. 

"Then you knew her!" exclaimed Binnie, wide-eyed. Explaining that I'd known Miss Russell in her Casino and Weber and Fields days, I assumed that the slender Binnie embodied the "Beauteous One" of an earlier date. 

"Yes," she replied, "when Miss Russell was at Tony Pastor's and just entering her Broadway career. She was twenty-eight." 

"And you're?" (Courage, man!) 


Singing with the angels, Lillian Russell, who had a way of keeping her youth out of Father Time's hands, must have raised a note of thanks. "One thing that encouraged me was a yellowed program of the bill at Tony Pastor's announcing, 'Lillian Russell in English Ballads.' As I'd sung them I felt we had something in common. And when it came to playing her I wasn't afraid of my English accent. It isn't very noticeable, is it? You know, I've been taken for an American girl ever since I went on the stage. In fact, I was billed as 'Texas Binnie Barnes' in the first thing I did, a rope-twirling act with Tex McLeod in South Africa. Nobody knew I was English, and the funny part of it was, that I myself didn't know I had a Southern accent. I'd picked it up from Tex, and thought that all Americans talked as he did. When I went back to London I couldn't get a job as an English girl. I played gangster molls in 'Innocents of Chicago' and other sweet, tender little things in which you couldn't call your life your own. And was I tough!" 

"You don't look it." 

"Thank you kindly, sir," she laughed. "But those were my bad days. I once tried an Irish accent in 'The Silver Tassie' with Charles Laughton on the London stage. It seemed odd to be with him again in 'Henry the Eighth' on the screen. But I started my movie work with Ida Lupino's father, Stanley, in short comedies. He threw pies, and had to have a girl who could take 'em. The first one that came along knocked me flat on my fanny. Far from a beauty," she pensively added, "I was called 'Pie-Face'." 

Charles Laughton and Binnie in "The Private Life of Henry VIII" ( 1933 )

"You seem to have had a varied career," I sympathetically remarked. 

"A bit of this, that and the other," she lightly replied. "I was in slapstick for years. I didn't mind, just taking my luck as it came. I'd probably never got on the stage at all if Tex McLeod hadn't happened to come into a London dance hall where I was working. It's all been surprising. But it amazed me to be given the part of Lillian Russell, for London producers had always associated me with tough parts. And I certainly never was known as a beauty. In England we have no great beauties. Of course, there was Lily Langtry in her time, but even she couldn't hold a candle to Lillian Russell. Today we have personalities, to my mind, far more important than beauty, especially on the screen." 

"Whom do you consider the most beautiful screen actress?" 

"A fine lot of trouble I'd be piling up for myself answering that!" 

"Nonsense, go ahead." 

"W-well," she hesitated, "I will say that Claudette Colbert is charming. But beauty's no good if you've no personality. English girls are much quieter than American girls, who have more push and are more sexy, but do not have more charm. But an English girl can be very dull. She is kept down by chaperons and God knows what! Life is more of a routine in England. Just as in all old countries, it goes on and on without change ; customs and habits remaining the same. Here, there is more freedom. This makes it easier for an American girl to marry. She learns an awful lot. Then there's the climate, with more opportunity for sports, which develop the body and must do the mind some good. Everything here is action. Before an Englishman does anything he thinks twice — particularly about marrying. So what can the poor girl do?" 

"But you managed it?" 

"Once — and never again. Now that I've got a husband I'm going to hang on to him. That's my main job, and I'm going back to it after making one more picture here. But I'll return to America. I never want to stay in any one place a long while. After a bit I like to pop off somewhere else. I've had a lot of experiences in different parts of the world, and they've all been swell, even when I've been out of dough. I grumble once in a while, but I'm never discontented. My one idea, ever since I was a kid, has been to keep working." 

"You mentioned driving a milk cart." 

"We had no money, so I had to do some- thing. Dad was a London policeman, and when he died he left mother and me on a tiny farm. So we went into the milk business. The hardest part of it was getting up at four in the morning. That's not gay, even for a fourteen-year-old girl. But I loved driving the horse. Snowy we called him. He got so he knew every house on the route and would stop without my saying a word or pulling a line. And that, mind you, meant sixty houses. Then there was a little coffee shop where I'd get a cup for myself and lumps of sugar for Snowy. That turned out to be our hard luck place. I was coming out of it one morning when Snowy, scared by a passing tram, started to run away. I just managed to swing myself up on the wagon, but I couldn't stop him. He tore along till he got jammed in between two trams and was so badly hurt he had to be shot." 

"Were you hurt, too?" 

For answer she pulled off her hat. Her forehead showed a white scar. 

Leslie Howard and Barnes in "The Lady is Willing' ( 1934 )

"That runaway put us out of the milk business. But as soon as I was able 'to be about again I got a job in a factory, where I tested electric light bulbs and became a first-class solderer — sealed the tin casings, you know". Next I worked in a paper bag factory. Then I pressed veins on artificial leaves — sounds silly, doesn't it? From there I went to a tobacconist's. I never did office work; for one thing, I wasn't intelligent enough." 

No? With all due respect, you can't believe her. 

"When I left a place I always got a better one," was her most intelligent reply. "I liked 'em all while I stayed. "Work was good for me," she insisted. "If I'd been brought up in cottonwool, I'd never have done anything. And it was fun having a go at one thing and another. I got to know all kinds of people. Lord, the different ones that poked their heads out of doors when I was delivering milk! That was the time, early in the morning, to see them as they really were without any frills. The things they wore and the things they said! I'll never forget one old crone who wore diamond earrings — probably slept in 'em — and a second-hand lady with the airs of a duchess. Oh, well, I dare say I thought myself pretty grand when I got that job in a dance hall! I'd wait for a customer to do a twirl with me, then slither out on the floor like Lady Vere de Vere herself." 

"After all your other jobs, what do you think of movie work?" 

"This," said the practical Binnie, "is a sissy job." 

- Written by Charles Darnton 

This article ( edited in certain places ) originally appeared in the December 1935 issue of Modern Screen magazine. 

Movie Magazine Articles, another one of our ongoing series, feature articles like this reprinted for our reader's entertainment. Links to the original sources are available within the body of the text. In the future, simply search "Movie Magazine Articles" to find more posts in this series or click on the tag below. Enjoy! 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

From the Archives : Enter Arsene Lupin ( 1944 )

Charles Kovin and Ella Raines are receiving some dialogue direction from script girl Mildred Vallee. Korvin was making his film debut as the famous French thief in Universal Pictures' Enter Arsene Lupin ( 1944 ). 

From the Archives is our latest series of posts where we share photos from the Silverbanks Pictures collection. Some of these may have been sold in the past, and others may still be available for purchase at our eBay store :