Hollywood Horizons

Ahern, Maurice L.

HOLLYWOOD HORIZONS By MAURICE L. AHERN TO AFFIRM that America became air-minded and ear-conscious at precisely the same time would scarcely be an exaggeration in the light of recent history. ...

...Chaplin sulks in his tent, apparently fearful to attempt a dialogue picture...
...Even John D. Rockefeller recently went for his first airplane ride in Florida so that the sound camera could record the epochal event...
...Sound lost no time in fortifying its position...
...Sound has changed all that...
...Others had already passed over the crest...
...the other, a remnant of the once happy horde of picture actors standing now with their backs to the brink of oblivion...
...As Robert Sherwood puts it, "It is one thing to persuade an audience to pay attention and quite another to give them something worthy of notice...
...The talkies are child's play for such as these...
...May 20, 1927, is thus doubly significant for it was on that day that Lindbergh soared from Mitchell field and the march of the microphones began...
...In the shadows and subtle silences of the "old-time" movie, "it" needed no voice other than that supplied by the imagination of the flappers and sheiks and their sisters and their cousins and their aunts...
...In its place are two serious groups...
...It" has been supplanted by personality...
...In the past the tricks of kindly cameras could successfully disguise even physical defects but no instrument on earth can change into dulcet tones voices that are as cracked reeds...
...The talkies are new...
...Lois Moran's personality has become vividly defined and given a vibrant quality through Movietone...
...no cheap hotels, no Pullman cars and no one-night stands...
...The high have suffered as sadly as the low in spite of efforts to force them on the public because of a previous box-office value built up over a period of years...
...Both classes are but strange branches temporarily grafted on a vigorous tree which is bent on producing foliage of its own although appreciative of the assistance received in its infancy...
...Hollywood must hustle as it never did before to hold its sudden gains...
...Ladies and gentlemen of the legitimate stage, they were the elect of the new medium...
...Broadway moved en masse to Hollywood and its hungry hordes waxed fat among the orange groves...
...The old studios were converted as fast as unlimited money and man power could do the trick...
...Unquestionably this new feeling I have had for months must mean I can talk...
...It is most emphatically not a photographed stage play nor is it a silent picture with dialogue added...
...It is no longer sufficient that they offer merely marvelous examples of the photographic art or the scenarist's facile pen or a pantomimist's subtleties...
...They were like strutting peacocks...
...There is a goodly group upon whom sound has had the same effect as sun and rain on spring flowers...
...The lack of almost every other desirable THE COMMONWEAL May 21, 1930 attribute could be condoned if that one intangible quality were present...
...on the other hand they cannot be herded with the clan of the legitimate stage because they never trod the boards nor faced an actual audience...
...The strolling players of Shakespeare's day must turn over in their graves at the thought of actors actually leading regular peaceful lives in common with other men and women...
...The fanciful has given way to the real...
...The silent screen has found its voice...
...Actors popped out of the ground like crocuses in April but they were actors of a breed that had rarely been seen in Hollywood before...
...It is but a little more than two years since the great sound migration westward...
...As a matter of bald fact, for a time a near-panic reigned in filmland...
...Each and every day that the Los Angeles limited pulled wearily into the Hollywood station scores of strange, keen-eyed men debouched upon the platform and, locust fashion, swarmed blithely over everything sacred in filmland...
...To this tacit or outspoken approval by the leaders has been added the acclaim of the hoi polloi...
...The clarion call went out...
...Far from being a mere gathering together of various elements it is a fusion of those elements into something totally new...
...The course of events in the past two years has shown conclusively that success has crowned their efforts...
...Joan Crawford, Edmund Lowe, Nancy Carroll, William Powell, Warner Baxter, Norma Shearer, Clive Brook and Ronald Colman are among those Hollywood fortunates who do not shudder as they face the microphone...
...They are great but few and may safely be classed as neutrals...
...Irrespective of the degree of their past prestige they are melting quietly from the public gaze and hearing largely because they cannot talk suitably...
...They have become the personal favorites of hundreds of millions as compared with a former following of a few hundred thousand...
...They are the children of the talking picture...
...Some, relegated almost to the limbo of bit players long before the age of microphone have, through the suitability of their voices, regained the eminence that once was theirs...
...Phrases such as "mike fright," "voice test," "sound man," "movietone" and "synchronous" became glibly current throughout the land...
...But with each syllable they utter a friendly fan is lost to them...
...The men behind the scenes suddenly found not that the movies had a voice but rather that the movies could use profitably a great many voices...
...And, most cogent happiness factor of all, Hollywood means filthy lucre in quantities that formerly seemed fantastic even to Broadway's best...
...The talkies have engendered, in consequence, new criteria of craftsmanship and these in turn imply new responsibilities and standards in the artistic endeavors of those who make the talkies...
...Jannings has fled back to Germany...
...They cannot be classed as picture actors in the old sense because practically all their experience has been in talkies...
...In such an emergency the production executives did exactly what any good business men would have done...
...They have not failed in the new field of endeavor...
...They are very much alive and different and they must therefore have protagonists of their own fibre...
...Milady of nineteen-thirty shadowland must not only be lovely as the dawn but must speak like tinkling bells at sunset or forever hold her peace...
...There are frequent changes of role in the "talkies" and therefore no monotony...
...No impression of what happened could be more wrong...
...Talking pictures are with us permanently for weal or woe...
...The players of the formerly silent screen openly resented the intrusion of the aliens and the issue of the struggle that ensued, brief as it was, forms an interesting interlude in the annals of the world's most popular entertainment...
...In the beginning of the sound era an obvious catch line presented itself to the eager, motion-picture publicity men and they made use of it ad nauseam...
...The success of a talkie depends ultimately and to the greatest degree upon the actors' skill in voice, posture and movement, all restrained to compensate for the exaggeration produced by the camera lens...
...Notwithstanding these exceptions it is sad but true that silent players by and large, have been most decidedly failures in the new spoken drama of the screen...
...Engineers, statisticians, sound men, architects and technicians of every ilk labored with the speed of thought and the zeal of pioneers...
...Bred in Hollywood under the tutelage of Broadway they owe allegiance to neither but to sound whose symbol is the microphone...
...The records of the three leading picture companies whose product accounts for over 60 percent of the entire yearly business of the industry show that three-quarters of the featured players under contract to them were engaged from the legitimate stage expressly for the purposes of Movietone and Vitaphone...
...In the older order of things the candidate for screen honors had virtually no chance of success unless he or she had "it...
...Frank Albertson, Sue Carol, Anita Page, John Boles, Bernice Claire, Joan Bennett, Gary Cooper, Dixie Lee, Richard Arlen, Helen Chandler, John Garrick, Charles Bickford, Mary Brian, Fay Wray, Jack Oakie, Mary Nolan, Regis Toomey and Mona Maris: these and their type will dominate the pictures of the future because they are talking picture actors bound, if at all, by only the slimmest of ties to other classifications of players...
...Some of these players it is true have appeared only at the eastern studios of these companies, but that does not alter the main fact that they are of the stage and not the movies...
...The sales managers of all big companies declare emphatically that theatre owners just won't buy silent pictures any more because their customers won't come to see them...
...There is the only fly in the ointment, for the public is fickle in such matters and what it has set up it can also very quickly cast down...
...There exists no longer a smug, carefree, strenuously sophisticated movie colony...
...In many a Hollywood hacienda the silence that was golden is mourned with sullen bitterness...
...Betty Compson, Bessie Love, Louise Dresser, Henry B. Walthall, Lila Lee, Irene Rich and Conrad Nagel are now firm believers that it is never too late to have luck...
...Yet that is precisely one of the rewards that Hollywood and the talking pictures have given to those who answered their siren call...
...In passing it might not be amiss to mention briefly a third class of actors who do not really belong to either the silent or the stage classification...
...a bungalow with a garden...
...The technique and style that would have been applauded in the silents is now frowned upon by the most illiterate fan who already regards the screen entertainment of four years ago as antique...
...They are pictorial youth with a voice...
...On the contrary they have really made good in a trying situation and to the contentment that comes with achievement has been added the realization of a dream which has smoldered in the breast of every knight of the buskin since Aeschylus's day...
...These and many others of equal prominence have seen their names that formerly only glittered before a comparatively few legitimate playhouses now blazoned forth on the gaudy marquees of 50,000 motion picture theatres at home and abroad...
...The southern California sun continues to beat down as it did then upon the picture city by the Pacific yet how different is the aspect of the multitude scurrying hatless in its warmth...
...The public can no longer be fooled and so droves of heavy lovers and impassioned ladies of the premicrophone days are drifting back to the overalls of the filling station and the apron of the cafeteria...
...one, the invaders from the Broadway stage...
...Needing voice and dramatic technique they went to the source for material to fill the sudden need...
...The response was eager...
...They are neither Hollywood fish nor Broadway fowl because they have been identified with both alternately for a long time and are thoroughly familiar with the technique of the stage and screen...
...Will Rogers, the Barrymores, Robert Edeson and others...
...Some of them were just ascending the hill of fame when the sound wave engulfed them...
...Yet Will Hays speaking for the Associated Motion Picture Producers of America makes an official report of an increase of 15,000,000 motion picture patrons during the past year...
...A twenty-acre steel and concrete plant built exclusively for sound pictures arose in ninety days...
...Mary Pickford, Norma Talmadge and Douglas Fairbanks have not found dialogue in any way helpful to stem the ebb tide of popularity...
...King George, Mussolini, Foch, Clemenceau and Hindenburg have gladly posed for them...
...It means having one's own home close to work in one of the world's beauty spots...
...The lone eagle was still flashing through the mid-Atlantic heavens when an amazed audience at the Roxy theatre in New York saw and heard his departure revivified on the sound screen...
...Who will play the parts in the talkies of the futureó silent players who have survived the present cataclysm or imported players from the legitimate stage...
...beautiful to gaze upon, terrible to hear...
...So too are its children...
...This new form of entertainment may be the result of many different factors but it has its own individuality just the same...
...In an incredibly short time the stage was set for a new act in the picture play...
...Lloyd has added nothing to his fame in his first "talkie...
...Clever and placidly pretty giving the impression that the movies woke up one fine morning and over the second cup of coffee and just before starting the second news section of the Times yawned and said "Dear me, there can be no doubt about it...
...Janet Gaynor's voice fully verifies the winsome personality we had always associated with her...
...The answer is, neither...
...Not all the mimes of other cinema days were brainless beauties with unpleasant voices...
...Many of the latter will never again hold the centre of the screen...
...The glorious Garbo seems even more so as one listens to her throaty, accented speech...
...And so, almost unnoticed, there has already grown up in Hollywood a type of actor essentially of the motion picture yet broadened and polished by contact with the histrionic experience of the veterans of the stage who have been his mentors for the past two years...
...Success in the moving picture capital means working fifty-two weeks a year in the daytime like every other human being...
...From these two facts alone the extent of the talkies' popularity may be judged...
...George Arliss, Ruth Chatterton, John McCormack, Ann Harding, Al Jolson, Beatrice Lillie, Maurice Chevalier, Lenore Ulric, Dennis King, Marilyn Miller, Lawrence Tibbett...
...George Bernard Shaw admits it...
...Yet diligent and rapid, almost frantic, search revealed precious few voices in ther own home town...
...They are a new race: a genus to themselves...

Vol. 12 • May 1930 • No. 3


 
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