In this same eventful year the Lasky Company engaged another actress whose name is now familiar to the motion picture population of the world. The Ziegfeld Follies of 1915 contained for the first time a screen episode introduced for presentation of an auto race. From the moment when I saw Miss Murray romp across this incidental screen I saw her possibilities. When I got in touch with her, however, I discovered that several other producers had been inspired by the same belief. That our organization was the lucky competitor was due to a very advantageous connection which the Lasky Company had formed sometime previously. The chief concern of both Mr. Zukor and the organization was to get big stories, big plays and to this end Mr. Zukor and I engaged in a memorable skirmish over David Belasco. It is apparent of course, at first glance why the production of this most eminent producer of the spoken drama should have assumed such importance in our eyes. Both of us felt that if we could only have the screen rights to the Belasco pays we should be placed in an invulnerable position. In our rival efforts Mr. Zukor had the first advantage, for he had earlier formed a connection with Daniel Frohman, and through this alliance he was enabled to get into direct touch with Mr. Belasco. I, on the other contrary, made all overtures through the great producers business manager. In spite of Mr. Zukor’s lead, the result hung in the balance for many days. At last, when I was beginning to despair, Mr.Belasco announced that he would see me. How well I remember that day with a beating heart I sat in the producers office awaiting the decisions so vital to my organization. It seemed an eternity that I listened for the opening of a door, and when at last I heard it. Mr. Belasco’s entrance was as dramatic as that of a hero in one of his own plays. The majestic head with its mop of white hair sunk a trifle forward, the one hand carried inside of his coat I can see now this picture of him as slowly, without a word, he descended the stair to greet me. After I had gathered together my courage I began to talk to him about DeMille and Lasky and our organization, and he seemed impressed from the first by my enthusiasm. I think he liked the fact that we were all such young men. Indeed, he said so, and it was this, I am sure, which influenced his decision. He made it that very day, and when I went out of his door my head was swimming with my triumph. Mr. Belasco had promised the Lasky Company the “screen rights to all his plays. For these rights, I may mention, we promised him $25,000 advance against 50 percent of the profits. I saw my esteemed but defeated rival at lunch on this very same day and when I told him the news his face grew white. It was, indeed, a terrific blow. But a reversed decision would have meant even more to me. For such plays as “The Girl of the Golden West” and “Rose of the Rancho” merely helped to offset our leading competitors tremendous advantage in the possession of such stars as Mary Pickford and Marguerite Clark. The promise of the Belasco plays influenced many a screen actor of the time, and it was, in fact, my assurance to Mae Murray that she should play “Sweet Kitty Belair” which weighed against more dazzling offers from other studios. Before Mae departed for California she came to me with trouble clouding her brown. “I can’t do it” she said. “Can’t do what?” I enquired apprehensively. “Why, this contract you’ve made with me”. It says that I get $100 a week and the company buys my clothes. Now I can’t trust anybody to pick out what I wear. Clothes are part of my personality and I’d much rather have more salary and have the privilege of buying my own wardrobe”. I yielded the point and allowed her an extra $100 per week to cover this expenditure. Incidentally, I may remark that Mae could not have saved many nickels from her allowance. There is a tradition that one evening at the Hollywood Hotel the charming little actress changed her evening wrap four times. I cannot verify this legend, but I can say that Mae never changes from bad to worse. She is regarded as one of the most beautifully dressed women of the screen. The clothes-cloud was dispelled from Mae’s horizon. Unfortunately, however, more severe storms awaited her in California. First of all, she was rented by the commands of a director whose conception of her talents had nothing in common with Mae’s own. “Be dignified, remember you are a lady, not a hoyden”. This was the spirit if not the substance of guidance. At some such suggestion Mae would protest angrily. “But I am a dancer that’s the reason I was engaged. And now you want to turn me into something different. I tell you I’ll be an utter failure if you go on like this. Mae’s anger was, of course, perfectly justifiable. Her subsequent successes have verified this fact. Without the infectious mad-cap gaiety which she herself appraised so correctly from the first we should have never have had George Fitzmaurice’s great success, “On With the Dance” or “Peacock Alley”. Miss Murray found another obstacle to overcome during those first days. Fresh with a different medium she knew nothing of the workings of the camera. This knowledge so important in assuming the pose most beneficial to oneself, was gradually imparted by a young chap in the cast of her play. “Say”, said he, “that guy’s giving you the raw deal. He’s trying to get his friend on the set right and you can take what’s left of the camera”. “But what shall I do? Asked she helplessly. “I don’t know how to stand or look”? “You watch me”, rejoined the good Samaritan. “I’ll put you wise”. Right then and there he arranged a code by which to defeat the operations of a cameraman who according to report, did not administer his lens with impartial fervor. If he put his finger to his left cheek it meant “turn to the left” to the right and the gesture was equally logical. From the point onward the system progressed to all the most minute provisions for securing some of the coveted attention. How to engross the most of the camera! I regret to say that here on the roof that ambition has been wrecked many a lofty nature. The public does not realize as it watches the beautiful feminine star look up at the handsome male star over the moonlit stile the warfare that may possibly have occurred as to which should get the more advantageous focusing. Nor does it interpret the moving subtitle “Promise me you’ll leave me a little of the camera”. I have known sweethearts strangely impervious to the higher point of view when it came to this test. And I shall tell presently of a husband who skirmished fiercely with his famous wife on this particular point. Mae’s case was far from indicative of such unappeasable appetite. Her struggle was only for a just share of the camera. Indeed, she has too much respect for a good story ever to offend by insistence on an individual prominence, which often destroys the story. She did insist on another director and on claiming my promise of “Sweet Kitty Bellairs”. Both wishes were gratified. But perhaps, in spite of her avowed admiration for the workmanship of Jimmie Young, no director ever really took with her until she met Bobby Leonard. “Girls, girls” she cried on the evening of the day after she had first worked under Bobby. “I’ve got a great director at last”. She was radiant. She tripped across the lot to her dressing room her blue eyes danced exactly like those of the little girl who has finally drawn the gold ring at the merry-go-round. I have told of Mae’s early struggles with objective light-heartedness. She herself recounts them today with a full appreciation of their humor. But there is another more vital approach to the subject. You must consider that every picture is tremendously significant to the screen actor involved. If it succeeds well and good. If it is a “flop” the proportionate damage to the actor’s reputation is infinitely greater. I think I am safe in saying that if even such emphatic successes such as Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, or DW Griffith were to make two or three successive failures they would find the coming back somewhat difficult. In fact, I have often heard Mr. Griffith remark “I simply cannot afford to make a failure”. In the light of such knowledge the heartaches of Mae’s first weeks on the Lasky Lot are instantly apparent. Here she was, fully conscious of what that first picture meant in her career. And here at every step she was met by circumstances pointing to failure. And such heartaches, such beating of wings against barriers of prejudice and misunderstanding and actual hostility those palpitate through many of the disputes recorded in this volume.
Posts Tagged With: Mae Murray
Mae Murray, silent film actress, caused a minor sensation in Justice Aaron Steuer’s part of Manhattan Supreme Court this afternoon when she struck an attorney opposing her in the trial of her $300,000 suit against Tiffany Productions INC. The action had been dismissed and Justice Steur had just left the bench when the lawyer, Bertram Mayers, whispered to her: “Now you’ve got justice”. Tears streaming down her face Miss Murray slapped Mayers on the jaw and screamed “God will attend to you. You’ll get yours”. Her attorney, Harry Sitomer, sprang between them and quieted her as the crowd in the courtroom was dispersed. “I did not get justice. I never got justice in my life” the tearful actress told reporters. “I advise all my brothers and sisters in the profession to beware of percentage contracts and be content with salaries”. In dismissing the action, Justice Steur held that she failed to prove the Motion Picture Company had defrauded her. Miss Murray testified that in 1920 she contracted to make her eight pictures in return for 25 % of the earnings. In 1924, after the pictures had been completed, she said the company gave her $12,500 and induced her to sign a release. It was not until 1930, she added, that she learned the pictures had netted $2,000,000. Herbert Crowenweath, President of Tiffany Productions, testified that the first two pictures, “Fascination and Peacock Alley” made money but that no profit was realized on the other pictures.
Mae Murray, film start of the silent pictures and best known for the “Merry Widow”, will take over the leading feminine role in “The Milky Way” at the Cort Theater on Monday evening, 11 Jun. Her role will be that of Ane, originally performed by Gladys George and now in the hands of Mildred West. Mae Murray originally a Follies girl and then the dancing partner of Clifton Webb for a time has not appeared on the legitimate stage in more than a decade. She is entertaining the cast of “The Milky Way” with the idea of beginning a stage career as a straight non-singing or dancing comedy actress.
Mae Murray, film star of the silent pictures and best known for the “Merry Widow”, will take over the leading feminine role in “The Milky Way” at the Cort Theater on Monday evening, 11 Jun. Her role will be that of Ane, originally performed by Gladys George and now in the hands of Mildred West. Mae Murray originally a Follies girl and then the dancing partner of Clifton Webb for a time has not appeared on the legitimate stage in more than a decade. She is entertaining the cast “The Milky Way” with the idea of beginning a stage career as a straight non-singing or dancing comedy actress.
We have to remember that the legacy of the Motion Picture and Television Fund originates in a time where those most famous cared for those most not. Different times, to be sure. The contentious battle to keep the doors of the Long-Term Care facility open often overshadows the honesty, compassion and caring that characterized these early years.
Mae Murray became a star of the club circuit in both the United States and Europe, performing with Clifton Webb, Rudolph Valentino and John Gilbert as some of her many dance partners. She made many films, her most famous role probably opposite John Gilbert in the Erich von Stroheim-directed film “The Merry Widow” (1925). However, when silent movies gave way to talkies, Murray’s voice proved not to be compatible with the new sound and her career began to fade. At the height of her career in the early 1920s, Murray — along with such other notable Hollywood personalities as Cecil B. DeMille (who later became her neighbor in Playa Del Rey), Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and Irving Thalberg — was a member of the board of trustees at the Motion Picture & Television Fund. The MPTF is a charitable organization that offers assistance and care to those in the motion picture and television industries without financial resources. Murray made many career mistakes, but somehow managed to eke out a living for many years. As great an actress as Murray was, her voice was better suited for silent films. Her lilting, soft voice was no match for the blossoming audio technology that favored a personality and voice bigger than life. Murray’s career had peaked. She had built an enormous mansion on the sand at 64th Avenue and Ocean Front Walk, across the street from the Del Rey Lagoon and a few yards from Ballona Creek, where she was quite the hostess. She became notorious for her beachfront parties, attended by a virtual Who’s Who in Hollywood and lasting days at a time. Apparently she owned stock in some of the oil wells that were located in her own back yard. As if following a modern-day script that is so familiar, her rise to fame was seconded only by her fall into poverty. By 1933, Murray was broke and ordered by the court to sell her opulent Playa Del Rey estate to pay a judgment against her. Her life was never the same after that. The lawsuit that resulted in the judgment was entered by Rosemary Stack, mother of future actor Robert Stack.
Moving to New York to find work, Murray was arrested for vagrancy after being found sleeping on a park bench. When she returned to California, she often was seen wandering the streets of Playa Del Rey and sitting on the beach near her former home. In 1964, living off charity and devoted friends, the poor deluded Murray continually traveled by transcontinental bus from coast to coast on a self-promoted publicity tour, hoping for a comeback in movies. On the last of these excursions, she lost herself during a stopover in Kansas City, Mo., and wandered to St. Louis. The Salvation Army found her on the streets and sent her back to Los Angeles. She rented a small Hollywood apartment near the Chinese Theatre, paid for by actor George Hamilton. Mae Murray passed away in 1965, at the Motion Picture House in Woodland Hills, Calif. — the very place she had helped to found. Funny how the entertainment industry was able to “pay it forward” during a time of world social upheaval and economic uncertainties. The ’60s was no place for an amateur. Mae’s final home, the Motion Picture Home, was a culmination of her career in entertainment and a fitting end to her life. According to Mae’s obituary in the Los Angeles Times, published March 28, 1965, she maintained to the end: “You don’t have to keep making movies to remain a star. Once you become a star, you are always a star.” Among her peers, Mae was a star at the Motion Picture Home, even when that star dimmed and all she had left was the commitment bestowed upon her by the motion picture industry.
During a recent trip to Paris, Rudolph Valentino went to the city’s newest cabaret titled Florida and danced the tango. One hour later, Rudolph Valentino traveled to yet at another well-known cabaret named Mitchells located in the Montmartre District. Frisco le Nègre welcomed Rudolph Valentino, and accompanying him was Laura Gould, former wife of George Gould, Jr. They seated themselves and before long the assembly became notably more convivial. Mr. Valentino was reported in dispatches to have achieved a state of mind in which it occurred to him to quaff a new favorite drink which was a mixture of champagne and beer. “A Turkish debutante,” one Mile. Nina Matar, performed what she termed “La Charleston Constantinopolitaine” Captain Ernest Ingram, famed divorced husband of the widow of Enrico Caruso, dashed out upon the floor and gave vent to a “Scotch Highland Charleston.” Finally Black Frisco persuaded Georges Carpentier and Rudolph Valentino to a dance contest. The winners were Rudolph and Laura who did his newest and favorite dance a mixture of the Tango and Charleston. While they cavorted, an onlooker expressed surprise that famed cinema actress Mae Murray had not arrived from Berlin coincidentally with Valentino. M. Carpentier took up the cry: “Are you engaged to Mae Murray, Rudolph?” For his answer, Mr. Valentino walked over to Mrs. Gould “with a firm and dignified step,” and spun her out upon the floor in a Brazilian maxixe. As dawn broke, Frisco awarded him first prize in the Charleston contest.