Memorabilia of the Month

Memorabilia of the Month is back! And this month’s find is this lovely capture of Dorothy Gish, who played the plucky heroine Tessa in Romola, featured on a British American Tobacco card from 1926.

In 1926 Dorothy Gish was probably at the pinnacle of her silent film fame. Although she never achieved the storied heights of her sister Lillian’s legendary status, Dorothy’s output was more than respectable, and she progressed beyond her film career following the advent of the talkies into a much admired theatre actress.

References/Recommended Reading:

The Parade’s Gone By – Kevin Brownlow


Memorabilia of the Month

So for this month’s addition to the collection I’ve purchased a cigarette card of an actress who was going to be William Powell’s co-star in five silent films, starting with the next movie I’ll be looking at, Dangerous Money:

I’m not going to talk too much about Bebe Daniels here as I’ll be doing a more in-depth discussion of her life and career in a piece entitled ‘Bebe Daniels – Silent Screwball’ for Paul S‘s Addicted to Screwball Blogathon, starting on 25 May, so please check it out! 

Now as Bebe Daniels was the star of the spoof movie She’s A Sheik, with Bill Powell, I also thought it would be rather fun to get this card as it was manufactured in Egypt! 

Memorabilia of the Month

This month I’ve veered away from cigarette cards and moved onto postcards, starting with this gorgeous coloured number featuring Richard Barthelmess and Lila Lee. A romantic keepsake, don’t you agree?

I think this postcard must be from the 1929 early talkie ‘Drag’, also distributed in a silent version.

Richard Barthelmess was a resounding success in motion pictures, both as an actor and producer. As a result, once talking pictures came on the scene he started to lose interest somewhat in the business of movie making and was content to allow his star to fade. However his preservation story is a little different to that of his friends William Powell and Ronald Colman. Dick Barthelmess had been a major star since the late teens, so his back catalogue is far more extensive and therefore as you can see from the list below, far more of his movies have been retained:

Snow White (1916)

Sunshine Nan (1918)

The Girl Who Stayed At Home (1919)

Broken Blossoms (1919)

Scarlet Days (1919)

The Idol Dancer (1920)

The Love Flower (1920)

Way Down East (1920)

Tol’able David (1921)

The Enchanted Cottage (1924)

Soul Fire (1925)

Shore Leave (1925)

Just Suppose (1926)

Ranson’s Folly (1926)

The Amateur Gentleman (1926)

The White Black Sheep (1926)

The Patent Leather Kid (1927)

The Drop Kick (1927)

Scarlet Seas (1928)

So that’s not a bad little number to work my way through. Lillian Gish said that Richard Barthelmess’ “…face was the most beautiful of any man who had ever been before the camera…” and this postcard certainly provides the evidence of that.

Memorabilia of the Month

Yes it’s that time again, what have I been scratting around on eBay for this month?

Yep it’s an additional item to my cigarette card collection, from a tobacco manufacturer in Tenerife in the Canary Islands. Not a faithful likeness I think you’ll agree but a decent rendition of Ronald Colman’s wistful good looks.

This card forms part of a collection produced in the 1920s, coinciding nicely of course with Ronald Colman’s career in silent movies. As noted in my birthday tribute to Colman the other week, he got his start in the British film industry in 1917 with little success. Of the eight pictures he made in the U.K., only two reels of The Toilers from 1917 remain. 

Allied to this, of the 21 movies Colman made in America between 1921 and 1929 only 10 survive, with a further three incomplete. The films that are publicly available are:

The White Sister (1921)

Her Night of Romance (1924)

Romola (1924)

Stella Dallas (1925)

Lady Windermere’s Fan (1925)

Kiki (1926)

Beau Geste (1926)

The Winning of Barbara Worth (1926)

I’ll be covering at least two of these films, Romola and Beau Geste, in the weeks to come as they also feature William Powell. However, time permitting, I will discuss Ronald Colman’s other silent pictures. It’s a hard life! The sacrifices I have to make for the goodness of the blog!

Memorabilia of the Month

People who know me well will confirm that I’m an inveterate collector. My poor husband despairs. Our loft groans with boxes of bus and train timetables, seaside postcards, beer mats, even sugar packets.  So my new found love for William Powell led me down the rabbit warren that is eBay and I was pleasantly surprised to find plenty of old merchandise, reasonably priced to boot. 

As it happens, William Powell’s most successful years coincide with the golden age of the cigarette card, roughly the 1920s to 1939 precisely. Why 1939? Well with the start of World War 2 on 1 September 1939, the U.K. needed all the paper and other materials it could get hold of and therefore tobacco manufacturers ceased production of the little cards, which were designed to stiffen paper cigarette packets, they weren’t made from cardboard like today.

So I’ve started the collection with this little beauty, and judging by the pictures outlined on the back, probably dates from 1928, which coincides with the latter part of Bill’s silent era that I’m currently looking at:

Bill certainly looks appropriately villainous and caddish in the picture, and I was pleasantly surprised to see him described as a ‘star’ even before the talking pictures that sealed his fame. But the description at the back contains a small mystery – ‘Nevada’, ‘Senorita’ and ‘Forgetten Faces’ are all pictures I know about, but ‘Raymond Wants To Get Married’? Now that’s not in Bill’s Wikipedia filmography, it’s not mentioned in Roger Bryant’s book and I can’t find any mention of it on the internet! Very strange!

In 1927 Bill made a 5 reel short called ‘Time to Love’ with Raymond Griffith – The Silk Hat Comedian. Now as the plot does revolve around Raymond’s character wanting to marry the Countess Elvire, with hilarious consequences, I am guessing this must be the same movie. Often Hollywood films are renamed for the UK market and vice versa, so perhaps this was the case here. 

‘Time to Love’ is in the hands of a private collector, like most of the films on the back of the card – although none are available for viewing, we should be grateful that they even survived at all. Certainly the vast majority of Raymond Griffiths’s work are lost as are most of William Powell’s silent pictures and I’ll be looking into this more closely in the next week or two.

References/Recommended Reading:

William Powell: The Life and Films – Roger Bryant 

Father Christmas has been very generous this year! 

Well! Look who came down the chimney!

The autograph is written in faded fountain pen but I’ve tried my best to read Bill’s writing and have deciphered the following:

“To Doris ****man

With salutations 

William Powell”

I just couldn’t make out Doris’s full last name. I wasn’t expecting any historical notes to this picture so was very pleasantly surprised to find this bit of context on the back:

As Santa’s sack also contained some Powell related reading I can now date the photograph to around 1934 – a pivotal moment for Bill as this was the time when his Warner Bros contract was coming to a close and his career seemed at an impasse. Due to falling picture house receipts caused by the Depression, Warners were cutting the pay of their major stars and William Powell’s salary was due to decrease from $8,000 to $4,000 per week. ‘The Thin Man’ was the one non-Warners picture Bill was allowed to make a year as per his contract but this then led to a two picture deal with MGM that included ‘Manhattan Melodrama’. Powell formally left Warner Bros on 1 March 1934 and those two pictures changed his career, solidifying the William Powell light comedy persona and bringing him into contact with Myrna Loy. I had to chuckle at the Streamline film blog, who describe Bill’s characters in his early career at Paramount and Warners as villains, ‘oily cads’ and ‘mountebanks’.

The photograph was taken by Russell Ball, an interesting character as he wasn’t retained by a particular studio as he preferred to work independently and did gorgeous portraits for fan magazines such as Photoplay and Motion Picture. Strangely enough Ball tended to take pictures that emphasised movement and fluidity whereas in this photograph Powell is static, although he kind of looks like he’s either on his way to somewhere or is in a ballroom looking out on the scene before him. Regardless, Bill was definitely going places when this picture was taken, whether he realised it or not.

References/Recommended Reading:

William Powell: The Life and Films – Roger Bryant

The Star Machine – Jeanine Basinger

Mary Mallory / Hollywood Heights: Russell Ball — An Eye for Glamour