very early hollywood -- 2/3/23

Today's selection -- from Hollywood: The Oral History by Jeanine Basinger and Sam Wasson. The actors in the earliest days of Hollywood:
"HAL MOHR: We were all paying attention to each other's work, but those of us making the pictures behind the scenes didn't think too much about the actors. We had our job to do. They had theirs. It was the directors who had to deal with them, not us, but Mary Pickford and Doug Fairbanks got married, and oh, boy. Nobody could talk about anything else, and when they went overseas on a trip, millions turned out to have a look at them. We were all just working away each day and we were only starting to learn that for people who went to the movies, the actors -- the so-called movie stars -- were the thing.

"RAOUL WALSH: Actors' names weren't on the credits in the earliest days, but as things moved forward, all of a sudden, there were stars! Some were easy to work with, some were not. Some could act. Some couldn't. People just picked the ones they liked and kinda worshipped them.

"LILLIAN GISH: I never realized the power of film -- and what it meant to act in pictures -- until one time Mother fell ill in London and I got on the train in Pasadena to go to her, still in costume and makeup from the set. Every station we passed was crowded with people, and all the people on and off the train were wishing me well. I thought, This isn't about me, really. This is film. This is power. That's when it first struck me -- the power of film, of being in the movies. There's nothing like it.
"HOOT GIBSON: Everybody liked cowboys. Right away, people liked cow­boys ridin' and ropin' and tearin' around. The original five of the big west­ern stars of the picture business in the early teens was Harry Carey, Tom Mix, Buck Jones, William S. Hart, and myself. And my boyhood friend I was raised with and rode with, Art Acord. I always had real cowboys under contract to me, too. There was ten of them. I always kept all of them on salary because I knew that when we got into scenes, we'd have some real riding -- that's what people wanted -- plus some great stories. Cowboy stars and exciting stories were what people wanted back then. And you needed some real cowboys for that.

Chaney during the production of The Miracle Man (1919)

"MINTA DURFEE: Some people got to be more popular than others, and they became what they call stars. Lots of comics! Roscoe, my husband, was a star because he was so funny. The Kops. And Mabel, of course. Ma­bel Normand.

"Mabel Normand was the greatest comic of them all. And she was a real person .... She always gave me a nickname. Instead of Minta, she'd call me 'Mintwa,' 'Mintwitty,' 'Mintoola.' She never had any sense of propriety. If she was passing your house and she wanted to come in, she would come in. It might be one o'clock in the morning or something. You see, we all lived in such close proximity. We were all pals at Mack Sennett's.
"GERTRUDE ASTOR: You know, you just worked. You were in a stock com­pany, so, you know, you worked as an extra one day and the next day you're the queen or something else, but pretty soon, you find out whether the people buying the tickets want to see you again or not. When that hap­pened, the people making the movies were happy to pay you more money. You were bringing in money, so you got more money. I did all right. I got along financially very well and sort of got into good money, don't you know.
"RAOUL WALSH: All of a sudden, there were these publicity men. A public­ity man in those days would come down to interview you, and you had no time to sit and talk, so he'd write whatever the hell he wanted. And you'd read that stuff and what the hell, was this guy drunk? But nobody cared. It sold the pictures, and it sold the stars. And everybody was living a bit wild anyway. There was all this money out of nowhere. Everybody was talking about their money.
"GERTRUDE ASTOR: I remember Lon Chaney. He was just learning to do those faces and all those heads and things, or wanted to or was trying to and everything, and he was so mad because he wasn't getting up in the money, and I was. And he got $75 a week and I got up to $125 a week, which, out there, was great! Oh, that was great in those early days. He'd say, 'I don't know how you can get $125 when I'm doing this and I'm do­ing that and I only get $75.' He'd say, 'I'm going to get out of this place. I'm going to leave this place!' Every day of my life I heard about that. 'A hundred and a quarter a week, and I'm getting seventy-five, and I do this and I do this and all.' He was a great guy, really, but very plain.

"HENRY HATHAWAY: To show you how loose the studio was when it came to production and job definitions in those days, I can cite one person: Lon Chaney. Lon Chaney used to come work (and I know 'cause I was a propman then) at six thirty or seven o'clock in the morning. If there was a stage where they had a cabaret with a couple of girls or something, he would choreograph the whole thing himself. He would show 'em the steps and put on a whole little number. He was under contract only as an actor, and he wasn't paid as much as some of the others, but he would do everybody's makeup. If somebody needed a beard, he would put it on him. He just loved it, loved to work. He was marvelous with drapes, and if they needed a plush home with fancy drapes, he'd get up on a ladder and go and fix the drapes. He used to come by every morning and say, 'What can we do for you?' He had his hand in everything, especially makeup. He loved the choreography, too. It shows how our jobs were so loose that they intermingled, and it was easy to be recognized by somebody if you were willing to work to get a better job. He was getting paid less and wanted to move ahead, but he loved to work, too. He became a real star."



Jeanine Basinger and Sam Wasson


Hollywood: The Oral History


HarperCollins Publishers


Copyright 2022 by Jeanine Basinger and Sam Wasson


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