Rudolph Valentino: His Box-Office Appeal During 1922 (and Beyond) Illustrated in One Theater’s Billheads

One hundred years ago in December Rudolph Valentino was ending his “breakout year” as he rose to full film stardom. By the time “Sheik Week” was declared by Paramount starting on November 20, 1921, Valentino’s next film, Moran of the Lady Letty, was completing production; it would be released on February 12, 1922. Beyond the Rocks with Gloria Swanson was filmed during December 1921-January 1922 and would premiere on May 7, 1922; by March, Blood and Sand, which would be Valentino’s first film in which he carried the “starring role,” was in full production; filming was completed by mid-May and set for a September 10, 1922 release. The Young Rajah (with Valentino’s first name still not settled…he was still billed as “Rodolfo”) was filming by June; it was completed some time during August and had a November 12, 1922 release. (A companion post “Rudolph Valentino Joins Paramount’s Gallery of Stars” is also available on Youtube.) Link to the video version of this post on Youtube.

Rudolph Valentino’s Film Releases During 1922

  • Moran of the Lady Letty 2/12/1922
  • Beyond the Rocks 5/7/1922
  • Blood and Sand 8/10/1922 (8/6/1922, New York open)
  • The Young Rajah 11/12/1922 (11/5/1922, New York open)

Keep in mind that as Valentino’s star rose many of his earlier films were booked again to capitalize on his popularity and played around the country even as his new films were premiering during 1922. Among these were A Wonderful Chance, Delicious Little Devil, Frivolous Wives (a 1921 version of the 1918 The Married Virgin, re-cut to enhance Valentino’s role), The Conquering Power, and The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. And, of course, The Sheik played on…along with a succession of knock-off films, parodies, and songs in 1922.

For example, here is a 1922 ad for Frivolous Wives from my collection. This ad appeared in The Everett Daily Herald, Everett, Washington on Wednesday, September 13, 1922 (Page 6). I’ve only showed part of the full page but it’s quite obvious that the ad for Valentino’s old film took up a great deal of that page!

Ad for Frivolous Wives, September 13, 1922

A Typical Small-Town Theater: The Palace Theatre, Antigo, Wisconsin

The glittering premieres held in cities like New York and Los Angeles attracted important reviewers and big box office numbers but theaters in smaller cities and even smaller towns were where the ultimate success of a film was determined. Audiences who went to the movies for an afternoon matinee or a night out were the people who kept a star’s light blazing.

The Palace Theatre in the small community of Antigo, Wisconsin was typical of many venues around the United States and Canada. The Palace Theatre still exists. Today The Palace Twin Theatre has two screens with a total of 1000 seats. Here’s a brief history provided by the Langlade Historical Society as related in a thread on the Cinema Treasures site.

Harvey Hanson, prominent theater owner, was born in Appleton, WI in 1883; he came to Antigo around 1908 and started in the theater business. In 1909 the Hanson building was built on 5th Ave.  (still stands today,the name Hanson is still on the building) and during this time Harvey Hanson showed silent movies to the people of Antigo, thus started the beginning of the Palace Theater. Then in 1915, Harvey leased the building to a well known five and ten cent store F.W. Woolworth, and across the street the “New” Palace Theater was going to be built. In 1916, the new Palace Theater (capacity 1180 seats and at that time the only fireproof theater in central Wisconsin) opened and it was a successful venture and generations of movie goers attended the show house to be enthralled by Hollywood movies. On the stage were occasional vaudeville and talent shows.
The Antigo Theatre, Date Unknown
Photo Credit Langlade Historical Society

The Antigo Theatre, Date Unknown
Photo Credit Langlade Historical Society

Antigo, Wisconsin in 1922. The Palace Theatre is visible just behind the “Lunch” sign on the right.

This image is most likely from the Langlade Historical Society collection but was posted by Mark Zelinski on his family site named The Lena Web which is dedicated to a special family member.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse actually had a scheduling mix-up before it was back at a The Palace Theatre in the Fall of 1922. There were mix-ups in scheduling dates for other films as well, but the letter below shows a particular misunderstanding on the part of the theater’s management as to which entity actually controlled the picture. It seems that the issue was resolved in a letter written to Mr. H. E. Hanson on May 29, 1922 and dates for a four-day booking were set for September 25-28, 1922. More than a year from the original March 1921 release, this film continued to attract a large audience. (See my post on the premiere here.) Unfortunately, there was no discussion about the rental fee but figures at the lower left of the page suggest that the fee may have been $75.00 a day, with a deduction for some reason of one day’s fee, resulting in a total fee of $225.00. This fee would have been equal to what was charged for Beyond the Rocks in December 1922.

From my collection (See NOTES below)

The Theater “Billhead”

A billhead is “a letterhead used for statements of charges” as defined in Collins online dictionary. The billhead pictured below is from my collection and is titled “Notice of Exhibition Dates.” It shows the rental fees the Palace Theatre owed to Paramount Pictures/Famous Players-Lasky Productions.

Information on this type of theater billhead included the name of the film, the shipping date, the number of the print shipped to the theater and the scheduled exhibition dates/days for the months involved. This billhead covers shipping dates during the period between October 30-December 25, 1922. Looking down the list of films, only eight films had three-day runs during this two month period, with a check mark marking the last day of the run which would be a Saturday. Of those films, three were Valentino pictures.

Note: In the discussion below I will often refer to a “possible second run” at the theater. Without all the billheads for this theater, it is impossible to know exactly when first runs of some of these films took place. Some pictures were distributed more quickly to the country’s heartland than others; with the “big” films I have speculated in some cases that enough time may have passed since an initial release to allow for a second booking during the time frame of the billhead.

Paramount Pictures/Famous Players-Lasky Billhead

Rental Fees Paid by The Palace Theatre: How Other Films Stacked Up Against Rudolph Valentino’s Releases

1. The Sheik…Shipping date November 7, 1922. Run dates scheduled for Thursday-Saturday, November 9-11. Rental fee: $70

Audiences in Antigo were still going to see The Sheik a year after its release. The film had had it’s “pre-release” in Los Angeles on October 30, 1921 followed by the New York City premiere in two theaters on November 6. It’s very likely that The Sheik already had a first run in Antigo because “Sheik Week” which began September 27, 1921 marked the full distribution of the film across the nation and within weeks it was in places like Illinois and Mississippi (see my earlier post about “Sheik Week” and the reviews, links above). The Sheik was shown at The Palace starting on Thursday, November 9th, 1922. During the first two weeks November 1922, of the seven movies shown, the Antigo Theatre paid the most for The Sheik ($70.00) which illustrates the staying power of this film.

The Affairs of Anatol (released September 21, 1921), was also still popular. It actually held the box office record in New York City for opening day until The Sheik arrived. The Affairs of Anatol apparently enjoyed another run from November 16-18, 1922 at the Palace with a rental fee of $35.00. Directed by Cecile B. DeMille, it had finished a successful run in Los Angeles immediately prior to the “pre-release” of The Sheik. Agnes Ayres, who starred in The Sheik, appeared in The Affairs of Anatol, but the lead roles were played by the very popular heart throb Wallace Reid and top female star Gloria Swanson. In addition to Swanson, cast members Wanda Hawley, Bebe Daniels and Ruth Miller had already played in a Valentino film or would play in one in the future.

An interesting story surrounds Don’t Tell Everything which was booked for three days for November 2-4, 1922 for a rental fee of $40.00 just before The Sheik played its 3-day run the next weekend. This film originated from out takes/extra footage from The Affairs of Anatol which would be shown only a couple of weeks later. One note of interest: on November 15, a British short titled Loves’s Boomerang was booked for a $10.00 rental fee. The title director for this film was a man named Alfred Hitchcock.

2. Moran of the Lady Letty…Shipping date November 28, 1922. Run dates scheduled for Thursday-Saturday (November 30-December 2). Rental fee: $50.00

Moran of the Lady Letty, with leading lady Dorothy Dalton, had its initial rollout beginning February 12, 1922 and was most likely having another run at this time and was sandwiched between two more DeMille productions. The week before there was a three-day run of Saturday Night, a DeMille film that had been released on January 29, 1922, so it also may have been returning for another showing at the Antigo. With the same $50.00 rental cost as Moran of the Lady Letty, it’s clear that Saturday Night continued to have audience appeal. (Click here for my series on Moran of the Lady Letty.)

The weekend after the run of Moran of the Lady Letty the feature was Fool’s Paradise which ran from December 7-9, 1922. This film commanded a rental fee of $70.00 which matched the fee that had been paid for The Sheik a month earlier. Fool’s Paradise was another Cecile B. DeMille production which starred Dorothy Dalton. It had been released one year earlier on December 9, 1921 and drew critical praise as well as excellent reviews for Dalton. Exhibitors Herald considered Dalton’s performance as the best she had done to that point and found her “piquant and charming” in the role of cantina dancer Poll Patchouli (Exhibitors Herald, December 24, 1921. Page 141, available at Archive.org). Its popularity is obvious as a year later its rental fee matched the fee charged for The Sheik.

3. Beyond the Rocks…Shipping date December 19, 1922. Run dates scheduled for Thursday/Friday (December 21/23). Rental fee: $75.00

Beyond the Rocks with Gloria Swanson as star had been released in May 1922 so it is possible this was another run at the Antigo Theatre; it carried a $75.00 rental fee–$5.00 more than the fee for The Sheik. The pairing of Swanson, Paramount’s top star (see prior post) with the newly popular Valentino warranted this higher rental fee.

But the week before a film called Forever carried a $50.00 fee which matched the rental fee of the newer release, Moran of the Lady Letty. Forever is another film with an interesting backstory. It was released on October 16, 1921 under the title Peter Ibbetson and went into nationwide release in early March 1922. Under this title it was playing in New York City when The Sheik premiered on November 6, 1921. In fact, both films appeared in a “joint ad” the day after The Sheik premiered. You can see this ad by clicking here, which will take you to an earlier post on this site. It starred Wallace Reid and Elsie Ferguson and was directed by George Fitzmaurice. Fitzmaurice was a director Valentino had wanted to work with from early in his time at Paramount. His chance to have Fitzmaurice direct him would come only at the very end of his career when Fitzmaurice directed The Son of the Sheik.

Tucked in the middle of the the schedule was a Wednesday, December 20 showing of The Ordeal which had been released on May 21, 1922. It was a melodrama co-written by Somerset Maugham and was only 50 minutes long. Agnes Ayres, who had been the “lead” in The Sheik only six months before, and Conrad Nagel, a popular actor, apparently couldn’t bolster its appeal, so six months later the rental fee was only $10.00.

One film that is notable for its very low $15.00 rental fee is Beauty’s Worth which was booked after Christmas for one day on Wednesday, December 27. This film starred Marion Davies and it definitely was not a “short.” According to Wikipedia, “The centerpiece of the film is a stunning ‘tableaux vivants’ in which Davies recreates her dancing doll routine from the 1916 edition of the Ziegfeld Follies.” Exhibitors Herald in its April 15, 1922 edition gave a full review (Page 63) along with a “digest” (Page 62); the digest noted the “thin” story, but thought the film would have good audience appeal because of the excellent production.

Exhibitors Herald, April 15, 1922. Page 62.

from Digest of Pictures of the Week

Was the low fee due to the possibility that business would be slow during this period in addition to industry-wide financial issues? I can only observe that by 1924 Marion Davies would be the number one box office female attraction…but this was 1922 and she hadn’t reached her peak popularity. The low rental fee late in the year of release could simply illustrate how a film’s appeal could taper off dramatically.

The 1922 Valentino Releases Missing from the Billhead

The two 1922 Valentino releases that are missing from this billhead are Blood and Sand and The Young Rajah. Blood and Sand had its New York premiere on Sunday, August 6 at the Rivoli according to an ad the prior day, so it most likely had a first run before the start date of this billhead (October 30, 1922). The Young Rajah had a November 12 release, so the Palace Theatre would have had its first booking sometime in early 1923; this timing was evident in many ads which appeared in newspapers from around the country and away from the big cities which I saw during my research.

According to news reports, Blood and Sand on its first Monday “drew 500 more than went to see him the first Monday he appeared in ‘The Sheik’ when he set a new Monday attendance record at the theater” (The Nashville Tennessean, Sunday, August 20, 1922. Page 2.) A couple of months later, The Young Rajah broke the opening day record set by Blood and Sand when it opened at the Rivoli on November 5 (Daily News, New York, Tuesday, November 7, 1922. Page 17). Each new release seemed to draw a bigger audience than the prior film did at least at the New York openings.

In 1923…No New Productions for Valentino

So what happened when each film returned to the Palace Theatre about a year later?

8/30/23 Blood & Sand booked for 9/20-21/23
(ignore typo 1921)
10/31/23 The Young Rajah booked for 11/12/23

As discussed above, The Sheik still commanded a fee of $70.00 for year after its release, while Beyond the Rocks was still at a peak of $75.00 six months after its premiere. I do not have a record of the initial rental fees for Blood and Sand or The Young Rajah, but there seemed to be a big drop off a year later for these two films. The billheads above don’t indicate the length of the runs. Blood and Sand had a rental fee of $50.00 for a September 1923 showing. This is a bit surprising since the film was one of the highest grossing films of 1922, had given Valentino his first “star” billing and had received generally positive reviews. Surely the initial rental fee must have been in the range of the already aging Beyond the Rocks and The Sheik. The fee for The Young Rajah is even more surprising–$25.00 for its November showing. The early showings in 1922 had drawn strong audiences but a year later the waning appeal of this “big” film had dropped the rental fee to the level of some of the “program” pictures on the billhead that were running at The Palace Theatre in 1922.

Why? In the case of The Young Rajah the reviews had not been very enthusiastic. But that was not the case for Blood and Sand. Perhaps the problem was that by November 1923 Valentino had been off the screen for a year after going “on strike.” The tumult had gone public by August 1922 and the long legal battle continued until moves began in mid-1923 to end the impasse with the studio. In spite of Valentino’s efforts to stay in the public’s eye–the Mineralava dance tour with Natacha Rambova; his poetry book; his body-building publicity–being off-screen without new films would have been a big issue for any film career’s momentum. Naturally, the studio actively promoted other actors during this time, notably casting Antonio Moreno opposite Gloria Swanson. As early as September 1922, just a month after Blood and Sand‘s triumphant premiere and rave reviews for Valentino’s performance and well before before The Young Rajah opened in mid-November, the reports were out about the Moreno-Swanson pairing in My American Wife (considered lost), which would be directed by Sam Wood, who had directed Beyond the Rocks (Daily News, New York, Wednesday, September 27, 1922. Page 17).

At the same time, Ramon Navarro, who had been an extra in The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, was being championed by Rex Ingram and appeared in his first good supporting role in The Prisoner of Zenda, released a matter of weeks before Blood and Sand. It was still playing on Broadway at the Astor Theater when Blood and Sand opened. (There were large, head-to-head ads for both films when Blood and Sand debuted.) In 1923 Navarro had his first starring role in Scaramouche (released in September), which despite the cost, did make money and would break box office records in Paris and London. Also in the public eye was Douglas Fairbanks, then known as “The King of Hollywood,” who released Robin Hood on October 18, 1922. This film was not only a great hit, but its premiere one hundred years ago is now cited as the first modern movie premiere and red carpet event. (See NOTES below for more information.)

The first half of 1922 had brought Valentino to true “star” status; but by the end of the year his momentum as an actor stalled. Although he did attend the premiere of The Young Rajah in New York while carrying on his legal fight with the studio, his energies in 1923 would be aimed at earning money using his celebrity rather through his film career…and while he was off-screen there were missed opportunities that may have helped erase the memory of the disappointing reception of The Young Rajah. Valentino’s next film, The Spanish Cavalier, which had already begun pre-production when he went on strike, was completely reworked to have a female lead. The Spanish Dancer would star Pola Negri playing against Antonio Moreno and would be released in November 1923, only a couple of months before Valentino would finally return to work.

Then in 1924…

Valentino’s first effort when he returned was Monsieur Beaucaire, which started filming in early 1924 in New York. Interestingly, Douglas Fairbanks had purchased the property in 1922, thinking he would make his version after completing Robin Hood.

“Doug” Buys “Monsieur Beaucaire”

Film Daily, Wednesday, April 26, 1922. Page 4.

Eventually, Fairbanks would sell his rights to the story. Valentino’s opulent, much-anticipated version–his comeback film–was released during August 1924, drawing large crowds in bigger cities in the U.S. and in Europe, but losing audience in smaller cities and towns across the country such as Antigo, Wisconsin.

11/29/24 Monsieur Beaucaire booked for 12/30-31/1924

I do not know if the December 30-31 booking was a first showing or a return booking at The Palace Theatre. Regardless, the rental fee for this extravagant “comeback” film was only $45.00–higher than the $25.00 fee for Valentino’s last film The Young Rajah a year before, but below the $50.00 fee for Blood and Sand one year after its release and less than for a first run of Moran of the Lady Letty…and only two-thirds the booking fee for Beyond the Rocks and a repeat run of The Sheik.

The reception of Monsieur Beaucaire would illustrate how the all-important audiences away from the sophisticated large cities would be instrumental to the level of success of Rudolph Valentino’s comeback. Publicity and reviews could launch a film, but the general public still needed to be willing to buy tickets…and Rudolph Valentino’s comeback was off to an uneven start.

NOTES

ACKNOWLEDGMENT–The billhead in my collection was purchased from EBay seller “mrbuysalot” who graciously permitted me to use images of the other billheads that are pictured in this post. His store features, among other things, items from a huge trove of documents retrieved from The Palace Theatre. UPDATE–these items are now part of my collection!

1. The Metro Pictures Corporation letterhead prominently displays a “logo” reading “Distributors of NAZIMOVA Productions.” Various timelines report that she signed a five-year contract with Metro in 1917 and that the contract was cancelled after Camille, the picture that brought Valentino and Rambova together. Nazimova did create her own production company but the company simply let her contract expire. Metro had announced her signing in the July 28, 1917 issue of Motion Picture World (direct link here at Archive.org), but I’ve seen comments that she actually signed in early May 1917. Regardless, by the time this letter was written on May 29, 1922 her contract had most likely already ended.

2. For more about the first modern movie premiere which was held for the premiere of Douglas Fairbanks’ Robin Hood, see “Everybody From Starland Was There”: The Hollywood Red Carpet Movie Premiere Turns 100. The Hollywood Reporter, October 18, 2022.

3. Many of the films listed on The Palace Theatre’s billhead that have survived are available on Youtube and Archive.org.

SOURCES

Newspapers and trade publications as cited in the text.

American Film Institute

Archive.org

Antigo, Wisconsin: A Short History

Cinema Treasures.org, Palace Twin Theatre, Antigo, Wisconsin

IMDb, Internet Movie Database

Langlade County Historical Society, Antigo, Wisconsin

Leider, Emily W. Dark Lover, The Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino. New York: Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2003.

Wikipedia entries for various film titles

Walker, Alexander. Rudolph Valentino. Briarcliff Manor, New York: Stein and Day, 1976.

Rudolph Valentino Joins Paramount’s Gallery of Stars–1922

Link to Youtube video version is here.

As 1922 began it was clear that Rudolph Valentino’s popularity was quickly on the rise. After the smashing success of The Sheik following the the full release of the film in November 1921, the floodgates had opened, largely due to the intense reaction of female moviegoers. Moran of the Lady Letty was completed by November 1921 and was an attempt to broaden his appeal to attract more men; it would be his first release in 1922 with a February premiere (See my four-part series on this film; links below.). Then the studio paired their top female star, Gloria Swanson, with Valentino in Beyond the Rocks which filmed during December 1921 into January 1922 for a May release. Although they wouldn’t be release until later in the year, Blood and Sand was filming from March through mid-May and The Young Rajah was in production in June. In preparation for 1923 Valentino then moved into pre-production for The Spanish Cavalier, which ultimately was never made, although there would be a re-working of the film…a very interesting story in itself…

By June, Valentino was near the top of the hierarchy of Paramount stars and his new status was clearly shown in this advertising spread from The Saturday Evening Post, June 17, 1922.

DIRECTORS

R to L, top row: Cecille B. DeMille, George Fitzmaurice*, Penrhyn Stanlaws, Sam Wood*, John S. Robertson, Fred Niblo*

Continued on 2nd Page, top row: Joseph Henabery*

R to L, bottom row: William deMille, George Melford*, Irvin V. Willat, Alfred E. Green, James Cruze

Continued to 2nd Page, bottom row: Philip E. Rosen*, Ernest Lubitsch, Paul Powell*

*Indicates directors who had already directed or who would direct Valentino in the future.

ACTORS/ACTRESSES

Top: Gloria Swanson*

R to L, 2nd and 3rd: Thomas Meighan, Rudolph Valentino

R to L, 4th row: Elise Ferguson, Bebe Daniels*, Betty Compton, Wallace Reid

R to L, 5th row: May McAvoy, Jack Holt, Dorothy Dalton*Agnes Ayres*

R to L, 6th row: Wanda Hawley*, Mary Miles Minter, Lila Lee*, Pola Negri

Bottom: Alice Brady

*Indicates actresses who appeared with Valentino.

NOTE: May McAvoy had been announced to play Carmen in Blood and Sand in the industry press then in a publicity notice entitled “New Paramount Productions” published in The Houston Post, Houston, Texas dated Sunday, February 12, 1922 (Page 35). However, she was dropped from the cast and was replaced by Lila Lee in the film. This notice is pictured in Part 3 of my series on Moran of the Lady Letty. Bebe Daniels had been announced for the role of Dona Sol but was replaced by Nita Naldi.

Below is a closer look at the “top three…”

Gloria Swanson

Thomas Meighan

Rodolph Valentino

The Saturday Evening Post, which traced its roots back to Benjamin Franklin, was a dying publication in 1897 (circulation 2,231) when it was bought for $1,000.00 (downpayment, $100.00) by Cyrus Curtis who published Ladies Home Journal. He poured his profits from this successful publication into The Saturday Evening Post and “public demand for it became so great that the presses could scarcely turn out copies fast enough.” By 1922, it had an average circulation of 2,187,024 and ads like the one pictured here help give it advertising revenue of over $28 million dollars a year. (Peterson, Theodore. Magazines in the Twentieth Century, Page 12.) The magazine was a prime advertising vehicle for the movie industry, along with newspapers and fan magazines such as Photoplay.

At this time of year the studios would present a preview of upcoming releases for the next “season” which in 1922 ran from August to January 1923. So, about a month after the ad was published in The Saturday Evening Post, Paramount released its list in newspapers like The Wichita Eagle, Wichita, Kansas (Sunday, July 30, 1922, Page 32).

To top this off, Paramount actually made a promotional film that highlighted its company of directors and actors. This ad appeared along with the list in The Wichita Eagle.

The list was in alphabetical order, so the name “Rodolf Valentino” appeared last on the list of “Stars.”

By contrast, note the second column which listed “Players.”

The Wichita Eagle, Wichita, Kansas. Sunday, July 30, 1922. Page 32.

You can actually see this humorous 10-minute film on Youtube, thanks to the Historic Hollywood channel. The film starts with a sequence featuring Dorothy Dalton in snippets of her various roles, beginning with Moran of the Lady Letty. It shows how charming she was and why she was such a popular player. The segment featuring Valentino on the set of Blood and Sand as he “trains” to fight a bull starts at approximately Minute 4:40 and also includes the other stars in the film–Nita Naldi, Walter Long, and Lila Lee.


Unfortunately, as Rudolph Valentino was finally coming into his own as a true “star” versus being a “player,” the path to a reversal of the early momentum of the first part of 1922 was already in place. Tumult was on the way and he would end the year without film plans for 1923. Paramount released its schedule of releases from February 1, 1923 to August 1,1923–the “Super 39”– at the beginning of 1923 (for example, as published in The Orlando Sentinel, Orlando, Florida. January 21, 1923. Page 17).

The name “Rudolph Valentino” was nowhere to be seen.

NOTES

1. Links to all the blog posts and video links for the 4-part series on Moran of the Lady Letty can be found in Part 4. Click here.

2. The Saturday Evening Post 2-page advertising spread is from my personal collection.

3. Theodore Kosloff, listed as one of Paramount’s “Players,” had been involved with Natacha Rambova before she and Rudolph Valentino met.

4. The image of The Orlando Sentinel story about Paramount’s “Super 39” was very poor, so it was not included in this post. I’m providing the headline for reference.

SOURCES

Newspaper sources as noted in the text.

A Trip to Paramountown video as posted on the Historic Hollywood channel on Youtube.

Peterson, Theodore. Magazines in the Twentieth Century. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1956. Link to the PDF download at https://modjourn.org/.

“Beyond the Rocks.” American Film Institute, AFI Catalog. Link to entry.

“Blood and Sand.” American Film Institute, AFI Catalog. Link to entry.

“Moran of the Lady Letty.” American Film Institute, AFI Catalog. Link to entry.

“The Young Rajah.” American Film Institute, AFI Catalog. Link to entry.

Moran of the Lady Letty: Part 4–Hair and “Hoakum”: Mixed Reviews from The Press…and from Rudolph Valentino

Links to blog posts Parts 1, 2 and 3. Youtube video summaries Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4.

All the glowing studio publicity pumped out for Moran of the Lady Letty as illustrated in the ad below had to meet the test when the reviewers saw the film. The reactions were mixed and theater owners reported much different levels of audience interest depending on where the film was shown.

The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, Fort Wayne, Indiana. Sunday, March 26, 1922. Section 4, Page 6. (This ad was part of a an entire page of stories and photos devoted to the film. See the full page in the NOTES below.)

Reviewers emphasized different aspects of the film such as the action and the appearance of the cast, with some being unimpressed and others being very favorable. Although most wrote straightforward reviews, there were some harsh, even caustic and sneering opinions aimed at the two leads.

Here are two examples of the first reviews after the premiere in New York City on February 5, 1922.

The New York Herald, New York, New York. Monday, February 6, 1922. Page 6.
Daily News, New York, New York. Wednesday, February 8, 1922. Page 17.

The reviewer from The New York Herald remarked that the plot line “strained credulity a bit when it came to a girl remaining alive all night ” after the ship’s fire that “killed strapping men.” But the critic thought Dorothy Dalton generally gave “a forceful characterization of the girl who wanted to be a man except when her hair gets into her performance.” This critic was fixated on the actors’ hair and overall appearance! “To bob or not to bob was evidently the burning question that faced Miss Dorothy Dalton in girding herself up for this picture.” The critic regretted that she “trimmed her hair to the length standardized for horses” and “it seems to hang in strings of licorice around her face. The ordinarily enchanting countenance of Miss Dalton becomes as broad beamed as a ship, and her charming smile turns into a hatchway.”

Valentino got off relatively easy with the comments that “as evidence that his rough experience before the mast works a transformation of character, he no longer wears the patent leather haircomb of his San Francisco trifling,” and how “one feels that even when…he is sloshing water from a bucket, …that he could change instantly into his best party manner and slosh tea from a cup.”

By contrast, the Daily News reviewer McElliot heralded Valentino as a much-needed new hero and considered the release of Moran of the Lady Letty as “real news.” He valued the film at about “98 per cent” and remarked that “This man Valentino has a pair of fists with him, my dears!” But Dalton came up short again as she looked “oddly boyish and perhaps a trifle grotesque, at moments, in seaman’s clothes…and the straight bobbed locks made famous by one Buster Brown.” (See NOTES below for more information about Buster Brown and my own Buster Brown haircut and shoes!)

“strings of licorice around her face”–New York Herald review

“…bobbed locks made famous by one Buster Brown”–McElliot

A couple of days before the Los Angeles premiere (February 12, 1922) a syndicated review by James W. Dean, datelined New York, began appearing in newspapers. It started off with a dig at Valentino:

"It had to happen sooner or later, Francis X. Bushman used to get away with it with considerable regularity. Wally Reid has been guilty of it several times.  Yessir, Rudolph Rodolf Rudolpho Rodolfo Whathis name Valentino just had to peel of his shirt off and get out in front of the Kliegl lights sooner or later in his sleeveless undershirt so the flappers might gaze upon his manly muscle."
New Castle Herald, New Castle, Pennsylvania.
Friday, February 10, 1922. Page 14.
Rock Island Argus, Rock Island, Illinois.
Saturday, February 11, 1922. Page 10.
Valentino peeled down to his sleeveless undershirt as noted by critic James W. Dean

Then Dean moved onto Dorothy Dalton and her hair “shorn to within eight inches of her scalp” but finished his summary by praising director George Melford for not dressing Dorothy “up in evening low-cuts” and allowing her “to go right through the fade-out in her raggedy outfit without a wave or a ribbon in her hair. ” Ultimately, Dean praised both Valentino and Dalton for their work–in his opinion, Dalton’s “best film in months” and Valentino’s “better work in it than he has in any picture since ‘The Four Horsemen.'”

A couple of weeks later, a review in The St. Louis Dispatch (Monday, February 27, 1922, Page 17) had the exact opposite reaction to the actors’ work:

…Valentino and Miss Dalton have been seen to better advantage in other offerings.”

The St. Louis Dispatch, St. Louis, Missouri. Monday, February 27, 1922. Page 17.

As the film rolled out , reviews swung between either praising, disliking or ignoring Dalton and her hair and, with regard to Valentino, comparing him to his recent roles or praising him for his fighting skills.

The critic for The New York Herald had questioned the believability of the plotline because Dalton’s character survived a fire when “strapping men” did not (see review above) and The Baltimore Sun review also found fault with the story, failing to find the film a “convincing piece of drama.” But while The New York Herald critic at least credited Dalton with a “forceful characterization,” The Baltimore Sun showed no mercy toward Dalton calling her “well-nigh hopeless ” while passing off Valentino’s performance as “lacking.”

“…she fails to breathe a real soul into the role of the captain’s tomboy daughter….Rudolph Valentino, perhaps, does the best he can with six reels of fighting a viperous sea smuggler, but his performance, too, is lacking, save for the “grand finishing fight” amidst the top-most rigging.”

The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore, Maryland.

Tuesday, February 21, 1922. Page 5.

This idea that the plot was not up to par was often mentioned. A paper in Tacoma, Washington called the film “a fanciful story that pleases those who like Valentino’s style and Dorothy Dalton’s masculinity” (The News Tribune, Tacoma Washington, Monday, May 8, 1922. Page 8).

The April 1922 edition of Photoplay went so far as to call the picture “more or less pure hoakum that you’re almost ashamed of yourself for enjoying (Page 62). Whether it was because of “two sparklers such as Valentino and Dorothy Dalton…or the original power of the Frank Norris novel,” the writer could not really pinpoint what made the film enjoyable.

…but it’s good strong entertainment. Sea stuff; fights; love. Rodolph as usual; Dorothy with bobbed hair–yum yum! You’re bound to like it.”

Photoplay, April 1922. Page 62

Photoplay wasn’t the only publication that viewed the pairing of Dalton and Valentino in a positive light. A paper in Delaware described the pairing as “well nigh unbeatable in screen circles. The cream of beauty to both the feminine and masculine sense and the best screen ability are found in the two” (Every Evening, Wilmington Daily Commercial , Wilmington, Delaware, Saturday, April 15, 1922. Page 11). It’s interesting to note that the term “beauty” was already being applied to Valentino.

The Leader-Post in Regina, Saskachewan, Canada further elevated both Dorothy Dalton and Valentino.

…She brings to the part a conscientious forcefulness and withal betrays that womanly sweetness which cannot be disguised by either her manlike dress or her strength of character. Her portrayal is a revelation of art…

Rudolph Valentino…as a petted society favorite…proves that beneath his lavender kid exterior he is a real man and in the end he conquers even the intrepid Moran….This is a role in which all the robust qualities possessed by Mr. Valentino are brought to the front with splendid effect. His portrayal will not be soon forgotten.

The Leader-Post, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. Saturday, May 13, 1922. Page 19.

Earlier in the film’s run Dorothy Dalton and Valentino received some kind words in The News-Post in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada (Friday, March 17, 1922, Page 12). They describe how Dalton was “excellent’ in her role” while “Mr. Valentino gave a powerful portrayal as Ramon.” In this particular piece, the rest of the cast also received a nod: “The support generally as of the best.”

That “support” was mentioned in passing in many theater announcements and reviews. Walter Long wasn’t named specifically but his acting was mentioned in joint praise along with Valentino, when both were described as “great actors” in The Central New Jersey Home News, New Brunswick, New Jersey.

The Central New Jersey Home News,
New Brunswick, New Jersey
.

Friday, March 3, 1922. Page 4.

And, in what was an overall favorable review, Exhibitors Herald made a point of praising Walter Long right from the start: “Rudolf Valentino and Walter Long press the star (Dorothy Dalton) for honors.” The preview for the film’s opening at the Majestic Theatre in Shreveport, Louisiana quoted another publication, Exhibitor’s Trade Review, and also noted the performance of Walter Long. (Note: This publication should not be confused with Exhibitors Herald; unfortunately, the issue of Exhibitor’s Trade Review from February 1922, which would have included the review, is missing from the collection available at Archive.org).

Exhibitor’s Herald, February 18, 1922. Page 53,
The Shreveport Journal, Shreveport, Louisiana. Wednesday May 3, 1922. Page 16.

The review in the Exhibitors Herald concluded that “Valentino’s popularity ought to be greatly boosted by his part in that [the fight scene with Kitchell]. He can fight.”

The review in the trade publication Variety called Dalton “a new type of heroine”–“The sinuous frocks are gone. So are the vampish headresses….It’s an astonishing transfiguration from the typical Dalton roles.” But the reviewer also stated that “whether the fans will accept Miss Dalton in an ingenue part of this kind is an interesting consideration” because the character of Moran was rather a “colorless person” in translation to the screen.” The review went on to say that the real star of the picture was Valentino and noted that, like Dalton’s changed image, the change in the Valentino persona as a “fighter” was also a big shift in style and maybe even “a shock.”

As a rough-and-tumble fighting hero Valentino is a revelation…Physically he looks the part, but it comes as something of a shock, probably because he has so long been identified with roles of a daintier kind.

Variety, Friday, February 10, 1922. Page 34.

Exhibitor’s Herald featured a section called “Voice of the Box Office” which presented reports from the field about how pictures fared in various cities. These reports gave details on how a film was performing in terms of drawing an audience, other parts of the program, and the type of publicity the theater may or may not have used, such as billboards, lobby displays, newspapers, etc. Below is a sampling of reports from theater managers on how the film was being received. During the run of Moran of the Lady Letty, Valentino’s earlier films were still in circulation including his hit films, The Sheik and The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, so it is interesting to see how they were still pulling in audiences even as Moran of the Lady Letty was playing during it’s initial run.

March 11, 1922 Edition.
Note: Grauman’s Rialto was located in Los Angeles, California
April 1, 1922 Edition. Kansas City, Kansas.
April 1, 1922 Edition. St. Louis, Missouri.
April 1, 1922. Seattle, Washington.

A comment in an Ohio newspaper revealed a potential problem with Exhibitor’s Herald‘s conclusion that Valentino’s ability to fight would boost his popularity. While commenting that Valentino “proves he can ride the bounding main as gracefully as he does the camel,” the public was warned that they wouldn’t be seeing a sheik.

“Anybody who expects to see Rudolph Valentino syndicate the Sheik in ‘Moran of the Lady Letty,’…is doomed to heart-breaking disappointment. There is not a tent, a turban or a turbulent lover visible, even in the silhouette.”

The News-Journal, Mansfield, Ohio. Monday, March 6, 1922. Page 6.

And, apparently, some of the women fans, were not enthralled by what Variety had called the “shock” of the physical change in Valentino and the disappearance of the sheik character. Below is an interesting juxtaposition between the interest in Valentino’s sea-faring film playing in Omaha, Nebraska compared to that of the The Sheik, which was playing in Evanston, Illinois as the same time. While The Sheik had been re-booked for a third run in Evanston, Illinois and was turning away crowds, the theater management in Omaha, Nebraska reported that Moran of the Lady Letty started off well enough during the first half of the week, but Valentino as Ramon Laredo was missing the mark with the female audience!

Exhibitor’s Herald, April 29, 1922.

Moran of the Lady Letty….”Rudolph Valentino in this role does not appeal to the ladies.” –Rialto Theatre, Omaha, Nebraska.

The Sheik…”Rebook it, men; it’s there. You won’t lose.”—Hoyburn Theatre, Evanston, Illinois.


Columnist Harry Carr, in his column “From a Carr Window” which appeared in the Los Angeles Times on Sunday, March 12, 1922 (Page 33), reviewed Moran of the Lady Letty within the broader context of the state of the movie industry, specifically noting the “tragic famine in stories.” In particular, he was exasperated by the proliferation of “business stories”–stories which centered on young wives neglected as their husbands focused on work. Calling these themes “absolutely unnatural,” Carr recites all the activities a wife would be involved in with “plenty to occupy her mind without waiting for her husband’s footsteps on the front stairs.” Ironically, in his opinion, most of this “sentimental slush” was churned out mostly by “women writers who know better.”

“Honestly, I couldn’t stand another one.”–Harry Carr

Los Angeles Times, Sunday, March 12, 1922. Page 33.

Carr wasn’t any happier about Moran of the Lady Letty, which he thought missed the mark in terms of direction and story. He pointed out that the audience had to get over “the sea atmosphere” to get to the story, but “the director did not get over the atmosphere.” And, overall, the character of the girl raised on a boat was not believable, a problem which was picked up by other critics as cited earlier in this piece.

“You never really believed that girl was living on a boat. There were no intimate little touches that made you feel it was really her home. Furthermore, you never believed that she knew how to steer or sail the ship.”

“…When she went to the wheel she spun the spokes around a lot, but you never believed for an instant she was really controlling the ship.”

“These points lacking–the big thrill that she got out of the battle with the cruel, relentless old ocean–you couldn’t get much interest or sympathy out of her reluctance to give up her sea-dog life to become the wife of a man.”

Los Angeles Times, Sunday, March 12, 1922. Page 33.

Carr concluded that “The point of the story seemed to me absolutely to depend upon getting over to the audience the idea that her ship absolutely filled this girl’s life.” And Carr obviously felt the film failed in conveying this key element.

“But,” he said yesterday, adjusting his gorgeous bullfighter costume. “You can always find consolation in everything. That picture gave me at least an opportunity, after so many lounge lizard parts, to show that I could be a fighting athlete.”–Rudolph Valentino

Los Angeles Times, Sunday, March 12, 1922. Page 33.

Carr apparently met Valentino on the set of Blood and Sand, which was already in production when Carr’s piece came out in March. And, according to his report, Valentino was not thrilled with Moran of the Lady Letty, either. Carr described Valentino as being a “weary traveler who has at last arrived at an oasis” by being given the lead role in what looked like a “good one in “Blood and Sand.” After telling Carr that he hated “The Sheik” Valentino found some consolation in his role in Moran of the Lady Letty because he wasn’t a lounge lizard and he could look like a “fighting athlete.”


For all the mixed reviews and the back and forth over which actor was the star of the film, there is no question that the momentum with the public was with Rudolph Valentino as Moran of the Lady Letty was released. In fact, even BEFORE the official premieres of the film in New York (February 5, 1922) and Los Angeles (February 12, 1922), movie goers in Stockton, California had an early opportunity to see the film and the publicity was skewed toward featuring Valentino. In fact, in the “review” touting “Valentino’s Magic,” the person responsible for using the studio publicity in The Stockton Evening and Sunday Record seemed to think that the film was already “bringing in crowds from all over Stockton, and the country as well” even before it went into wide release!

Wednesday, February 1, 1922. Page 12.
Thursday, February 2, 1922. Page 15.

Friday, February 3, 1922. Page 13.

After the film opened in New York on Sunday, February 5, Variety reported in its February 10th edition what was obvious–Valentino was the draw on Broadway and Dorothy Dalton hadn’t even been mentioned in the advance billing.

Variety, Friday, February 10, 1922. Page 36.

Of course, Dalton would get her due in many venues as the film rolled out around the country because she was a popular player, but without a doubt Rudolph Valentino was definitely starting off his busy year of 1922 in “stellar fashion”….


NOTES

1. Full pages were often devoted to the showing of the film as it opened around the country. The large ad at the top of this post is taken from the full-page publicity push in The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, Fort Wayne, Indiana. Sunday, March 26, 1922. Section 4, Page 6.

2. Buster Brown–The Buster Brown comic strip originated in 1902 and in 1904, the character became licensed to the Brown Shoe Company. Buster Brown, whose name was inspired by the young vaudeville performer Buster Keaton, was a child of wealthy parents who was a prankster… as described at TVTropes.org, Buster Brown was essentially an Edwardian “Dennis the Menace” whose dog Tige, believed to be the first talking pet in a comic, would warn his master of the trouble he would create, but his warnings were usually unheeded and Buster would be spanked although it wasn’t clear if he really repented for actions. For more information, this piece at NPR is includes audio, a photo gallery, and links to many sources. One interesting bit of information details the use of midgets and small boys circa 1908 to dress up as Buster Brown to promote the sale of Buster Brown shoes.

1956

Years later I would love my Buster Brow saddle shoes!

(Left) On a personal note, here is a picture of me with my Buster Brown shoes from 1956! (Below) My full-blown Buster Brown hairdo in 1954.

1954

3. Exhibitors Herald originated in 1915 as a regional trade paper for exhibitors of films. Through mergers, it developed into a national publication for the film industry. Source: Wikiwand, “Motion Picture Herald” entry.

SOURCES

Newspapers and periodicals as cited in the text

NPR (National Public Radio). Present at the Creation: Buster Brown. Includes links to the Buster Brown series of silent movies made by Thomas Edison and other material at the Library of Congress. Direct link to the Buster Brown materials at the Library of Congress.

TVTropes.org. Comic strip/Buster Brown entry.

SOURCES as

Moran of the Lady Letty: Part 3–Production Details Used for Publicity…And Just Who DID Rudolph Valentino Push Off the Ship’s Rigging?

Rudolph Valentino and Walter Long in the rigging...

Click for Part 1 and Part 2 of this series. (Video version of Part 1 on Youtube); (Video version of Part 2 on Youtube)

Link to the video version of this post on Youtube.

Adventure films were popular during the silent film era and seafaring yarns produced in the 1920’s were some of the more popular offerings to the the film-going public. If one looks at this list at Wikipedia, for example, you can see that for a couple of years seafaring stories seemed to have more production than usual. But, as noted in the entry, this list is not complete and probably never will be because so many films from the era have been lost.

Before we discuss the production of Moran of the Lady Letty, there are a few interesting side notes I’d like to point out. First, this was not the first sea tale for director George Melford–he had already directed The Sea Wolf in 1920, with Walter Long playing a “mate.” Second, two of Rudolph Valentino’s leading ladies either made it onto a ship before he did or were back on board after the release of Moran of the Lady Letty! And finally, the male leads in these films were actors who had been briefly considered to play the lead in The Sheik! (See NOTES below for more details about these films.)

Starred Noah Beery, Sr. and Walter Long played a “mate.” Released 5/16/1920. LOST.
Starred Thomas Meighan and Agnes Ayres. Released August 21, 1921. FRAGMENT exists.
Starred Dorothy Dalton and Jack Holt. Released September 17, 1922. Status unknown, most likely LOST.

During the filming of Moran of the Lady Letty and then as the film was released, there were a number of short “reports” in the newspapers about how the film was made. As the distribution of the film rolled out nationwide, write-ups appeared in papers across the country, some as locally produced commentary which most likely included studio press information and others that were clearly directly picked up verbatim from studio publicity.

The Sheik premiered with a “pre-release” on October 30, 1921, and even before the “official” premiere a week later in New York City on November 6, 1921, publicity for Moran of the Lady Letty was being placed. For example, this little squib appeared on November 1:

Arkansas Democrat, Little Rock, Arkansas
Sunday, November 1, 1921, Page 6.

Although the above publicity drop reports that all sea scenes were made in San Francisco, apparently some scenes were filmed on a boat built to rock on the studio set along with sets for the cabin scenes. The studio boat seems to have been used during the coal fire sequence. Although hard to discern, from approximately minute 24:24 to minute 25:34 the film (Youtube version here), one can see lighting fixtures, a piece of clothing hanging of a bunk to the left swaying slightly, and a following scene where a white door is moving back and forth in the background. This door could have been moved by an off-screen stagehand, however. There is quite a bit of cutting between scenes filmed on what seems to be the studio boat to scenes filmed on the actual ships at sea. (The inter-cut scenes showing the crew scrambling to get off the ship don’t seem to show any wave action at all–perhaps a calm interlude on the rough seas described in press stories which appeared during filming.)

See the NOTES below for intriguing information about what techniques were used in the above mentioned Dalton film On the High Scenes which was in production in June 1922. In the six months since the filming of Moran of the Lady Letty, were the techniques that much improved? Or, were some already in use during the filming of Moran of the Lady Letty? At this point, I haven’t found any specific information on this possibility…but the possibility might still exist.

Another example of early publicity for Moran of the Lady Letty comes from Buffalo, New York. It appeared a week into the run of The Sheik in New York and even before the start of “Sheik Week” which began the week of November 27, 1921.

Buffalo Morning Express and Illustrated Buffalo Express, Buffalo, New York. Sunday, November 13, 1921, Section 7. Page 2.

“Rudolph Valentino will get a sample of his own medicine–doled out to Agnes Ayres in The Sheik–when he does his new picture.”

In early December 1921 seasickness during filming was already part of the publicity campaign:

Salt Lake Telegraph, Salt Lake City, Utah

Sunday, December 4, 1921. Page 22.

Dorothy Dalton–“I was so sick scores of times when we were out at sea that I didn’t care whether we ever finished the picture or not.”

The full campaign was in full swing by January 1922. This picture of Dorothy Dalton, George Melford and Rudolph Valentino appeared in Exhibitors Herald on page 88 of the January 28, 1922 edition.

Director George Melford was praised for his ability to save money during production. Money concerns for many studios at this juncture were top of mind and had played a role in Valentino winning the lead in The Sheik. Now, with Valentino’s next film, Melford was singled out for his “economy in the use of film.” He rehearsed scenes so that he would need very few retakes.

Wichita Beacon, Wichita, Kansas. Sunday, January 29, 1922. Page 19.

“Mindful of the necessity for economy in these times…

…In making ‘The Sheik’ he used up 28,000 feet of film, which was boiled down to 7,800 feet in the final picture.

He bettered this record in Moran of the Lady Letty, using only 22,000 feet of film which was boiled down to 6,800 feet finished.”

Once the film premiered on February 5, 1922 in New York City with the Los Angeles “world premiere” following on February 12, the nationwide distribution rolled out in full force. Here are a few examples of obvious studio publicity, pure studio hype at its best.

“Once again has George Melford produced for Paramount a picture with every claim to superiority….The situations are highly dramatic and appealing….

Dorothy Dalton, popular Paramount star, …Her portrayal in a revelation of art.

Rudolph Valentino…This is a role in which all the robust qualities possessed by Mr. Valentino are brought to the front in splendid effect.”

The Ogden Standard Examiner, Ogden, Utah.

Tuesday, February 14, 1922. Page 7.

As we will discover in Part 4 of this series, publicity material was not always accurately used by the outlets who chose to use it. For example, One piece provided theater management with suggestions if they desired to “exploit the big Paramount picture” by using any of the material provided “in any way you may deem wise.” The material provided an easy way to create a publicity blurb; apparently, the people running the Orpheus in Nova Scotia, Canada just added their theater’s name to what was included in a press packet…instructions not meant for public view. The ad for the showtimes and this publicity information actually ran side by side in the local paper.

The Evening Standard, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

May 19, 1922. Page 16.

Around the same time, an ad for the film was accompanied on the same page by a list picked up by theater management which gave five reasons to see the film.

The (Morning) Leader,

Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.

Thursday, May 11, 1922. Page 11.

The idea that Moran of the Lady Letty was a “special or big production” was one that was repeated in other advertising as well. Below is one example:

Reading Times, Reading, Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, May 14, 1921. Page 7.

These publicity pieces pale, however, when compared to a spread that appeared in The Coffeyville Daily Journal, published in Coffeyville, Kansas, on April 7, 1922, Page 12. (See Notes below.)The “Brilliant Players in ‘Moran of the Lady Letty'” section was an expanded version of the “Queries and Replies” ad that appeared in May in Nova Scotia (pictured above) that added fuller details and two more players to the list of stars (Charles Brindley and Emil Jorgenson). Note, again, that the film was described as a “Big Paramount Super Play,” A Stupendous Production” and provided an unusually detailed synopsis of the story. However, the copywriter made an error when picking up the names of key cast members: in the column to the far left, the writer names “the popular Rodolf Valentino as the star of an unusual supporting cast including Dorothy Dalton, Walter Miller….” Of course, the correct name was Walter LONG! And, the writer seems to imply that everyone is in a “supporting cast” (?)…did the write mean to say an “ensemble” cast? Obviously, publicity material from the studio sometimes didn’t make it into a publication intact or accurately.

The Coffeyville Daily Journal, Coffeyville, Kansas. April 7, 1922. Page 12.

There were different approaches to what was emphasized in the publicity that was delivered to the public. I’ve organized some of the more frequently used publicity themes I’ve found to make it easier to get the gist of how interest was built for the film.

SHANGHAIED!

One of the publicity angles that was used frequently in local papers involved the shanghaiing of Valentino/Ramon Laredo at the start of the film.

The tea and ball scenes were often noted for their glamour and style. A couple of columns over from this piece, there was a squib which gave more details:

“Fifty of the prettiest girls in film circles and an equal number of the best looking men, appear in the grand ball scene….”

The Selma Times-Journal, Selma, Alabama. Sunday, April 9, 1922. Page 6.

Great pains were taken to “educate” the public about what it meant to be shanghaied since this event set the stage for the rest of the story. The “teasers” below are from March and April 1922.

Here’s the definition that was presented repeatedly and essentially verbatim in the newspapers: “Shanghaied” is the forcible abduction of an unaware citizen who wakens from a stupor to find himself on the high seas at the mercy of a brutal buck mate or master.” (Once in a while, an editor would tack on a small grammatical change such as “Shanghaied is a term that means the forcible abduction….”) And note the incorrect name of “Mark Melford” in the article on the left.

The Ottawa Citizen, Ottawa, Canada. Saturday, March 11, 1922. Page 20.

The Miami Herald, Miami, Florida. Sunday, March 19, 1922. Page 10.

Along with the concept of being shanghaied, the publicity revealed Valentino’s feelings about his part…and his career, in general, to this point. Although Valentino proclaimed that he “liked it” some writers “commented” that “Rudolph Gets His,” a reference to the rough handling of his leading lady in The Sheik which was still playing around the country.

“Such a trifle as being ‘shanghaied,'” observed Valentino during the screening of the picture, “means nothing in my life. I’ve been abused continually since I’ve been in pictures–shot and beaten up and generally mishandled. But I like it!”

The Evening News, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Thursday, April 27, 1922. Page 18.
The Bristol Herald Courier, Bristol, Tennessee. Sunday, April 23, 1922. Page 16.
The Salina Evening Journal, Salina, Kansas. Saturday, April 19, 1922. Page 12.

Bobbed Hair…

Dorothy Dalton received her fair share of attention, notably about her appearance and specifically about her hair. Her role as Moran was dubbed as one of “the most wholesome roles that she has ever played (Dayton Daily Ness, Dayton, Ohio, Thursday, March 2, 1922, Page 32) and focused on her particular issues with seasickness. The standard “report” about her hair stated that “Miss Dalton had to cut a couple of inches off her hair, which had already been bobbed to some extent, so that she could make up for the role–the mate on her father’s ship–in many scenes, and the role is a primitive one, full of rough and tumble fighting and thrills.” (Part 4 reveals the brutal references to Dalton’s hair in the reviews after the film’s release.)

The Caldwell Tribune, Caldwell, Idaho. Tuesday, April 18, 1922. Page 5.
The Ottawa Citizen, Ottawa, Canada. Saturday, March 1, 1922. Page 20.

“MANY OBSTACLES” AT SEA…

The “mean ocean” which caused the constant seasickness endured by Dorothy Dalton was a recurring publicity story. The piece above describes how with the “continuous run of heavy ground swells, the consequent conduct of the boat was too severe a test for the stomach of a good sailor, the actress contended, and preparedness was her motto….” To that end, “Lemons, chewing gum and lemon drops, in large quantities, were on the shopping menu…when she was making preparations for days work on exterior scenes taken at sea on a sailing vessel near San Francisco.”

More details about the conditions encountered are presented in the two examples below…some of the copy is the same, but additional information included varied depending on who was putting together the publicity materials and some was also a revamping of some of the material found in the above “Mean Ocean” piece.

Los Angeles Evening Express, Los Angeles, California. Saturday, February 25, 1922. Page 22.
The Washington Herald, Washington, D.C.
Sunday, April 2, 1922. Page 18.

In one “Hollywood hometown” paper in Los Angeles (above), there was quite a bit of commiseration for the difficulties involved in the filming as it delivered the lament that “The motion picture art sometimes makes strenuous demands on its players and in ways not so that the public…would ever be aware of the difficulties surmounted” and went on to say that each actor “was called upon to reveal the utmost sang froid in the midst of a storm and a resolute and unembarrassed digestive apparatus no matter how high the billows swelled about their craft in midocean” (Los Angeles Evening Express, Los Angeles, California. Saturday, February 25, 1922. Page 22.).

A couple of months later, a paper in Washington, D.C. (above) detailed what was going on with the ships and how a shoot that was supposed to take three weeks in San Francisco filming exteriors wound up taking five weeks. Three- and four-masted ships had to be towed in and out of port every day, a process which took four to five hours a day.

"In the morning, when the vessel was being towed out, the tide was coming in and in the evening, when the company turned the nose of the ship homeward, the tide was ebbing out to sea.  Thus, it was necessary to 'buck' the tide both going and coming, which accounts for the time to and from the outer-sea location."
Then when the location was reached, if Dorothy Dalton or William Marshall, the cameraman weren't seasick, a few of the highly dramatic scenes of the picture were made." --The Washington Herald, Washington, D.C. Sunday, April 2, 1922. Page 18.

In the end, after the four to five hours of towing, only about four to five hours of actual shooting time was available every day!

Hungry Horses…

While there were difficulties filming the ship scenes, things didn’t always go smoothly on land, either. An entire Mexican village was built at Paradise Cove on the San Francisco shore for the scenes depicting the Magdalena Bay of the novel. Under the direction of Rudolph Blyek, technical director of George Melford Productions, twenty buildings with thatched roofs were constructed by thirty carpenters over the span of two weeks. But–a bit of sleuthing revealed that the expensive project was destroyed by hungry horses!

The Huntsville Times, Huntsville, Alabama.
Sunday, March 12, 1922. Page 11.
Los Angeles Evening Express, Los Angeles, California. Saturday, February 25, 1922. Page 22.

“In the future George Melford will permit no horses or mules in the vicinity of thatched roofs if he uses them in any of his productions….”

The Selma Times-Journal, Selma, Alabama. Sumday, April 9, 1922. Page 6.

Extras…

The San Francisco shoot had more interesting details revealed through the press. For example, this small article described some of the extras who played crew members:

“…in two of the city’s largest hotel groups of bearded, rough-looking characters, … lounged the lobbies every morning and evening.”

Asbury Park Press, Asbury Park, New Jersey.

Tuesday, September 12, 1922. Page 5.

The Chinese extras also gained attention, but in a way that mirrored the racist attitudes of the times. References to “yellow men” would also appear in some of the bigger ads. (See my previous post which details the source novel’s overt racism.)

“The Orientals were employed as extras, forming the motley followers of Captain Kitchell, an Eurasian villain and captain of a smuggling ship…

…the Chinese types took part most realistically.

After the scenes were ‘shot,’ Miss Dalton was conducted through the mysterious and dark by-ways of the sleep city by one of the admiring yellow men who had played in the picture.”

The Ottawa Citizen, Ottawa, Canada.

Saturday, March 11, 1922. Page 20.

A School Holiday…

The shoot even impacted some of the local school children. I found a couple of reports in papers like The Caldwell Tribune in Caldwell, Idaho and in a paper in Oklahoma (below). When a few students saw the film company at the waterfront, the news spread and a few students were missing from school. The next day, about one hundred fifty children were waiting to see the crew. According to the story, “Hookey on a large scale was the order of the day. When the teachers learned the facts, they joined the pupils, called a holiday, and there was general rejoicing. A good time was had by all.”

The Tonkawa News, Tonkawa, Oklahoma.
Thursday, October 26, 1922. Page 3.

THE FIGHT IN THE SHIP’S RIGGING–WHO FELL INTO THE SEA?

Of course, the climax of the film featured the fight in the rigging between Ramon Laredo and the villainous Captain Kitchell. In a build-up for an extended run in Washington, D.C., this sequence was described as being “one of the most gripping and powerful climaxes ever brought to the silver sheet” (Washington Herald, Washington, D.C. April 2, 1922 — full article found above in the section entitled “Many Obstacles” At Sea).

Many publicity pieces included a joint comment from Valentino and Walter Long and detailed how the rigging scenes were filmed:

"Fighting on the fore top of schooner with the vessel rolling and pitching and the mast swaying, is no pleasant job, according to Rudolph Valentino, playing the male lead role and Walter Long...
"The fight scenes were filmed aboard the ship in San Francisco Bay.  The two men were at least 60 feet above deck.  The fight started on deck and continued on up the rigging until they reached the fore top.  From there they fought on out to the end of a spar.  After a final struggle, the villain drops into the ocean. For this latter shot, a camera was lashed to another spar, and thus a close-up view of the knock-out punch and the fall obtained." -- "Adventure Story Draws to Columbia"-- The Victoria Daily Times, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Tuesday, June 6, 1922. Page 10.  

Doubles started the fight but the publicity revealed that Valentino and Long “wanted a real as well as a reel fight…”

“Doubles were produced and began the fight with Rudolph and Walter standing in the wings watching. The audience (consisting of the two men) nudged each other, smiled, then look disgusted, and after the fight between the doubles, advanced and asked permission to do it themselves…”

The Houston Post, Houston, Texas.

Sunday, February 12, 1922. Page 30.

So, was that actually Walter Long as the evil Kitchell losing the battle and finally dropping off the rigging into the sea and to his death? The answer is NO!

The double who fell into the sea was an athlete and actor named George O’Brien. According to the Hollywood Star Walk project provided by The Los Angeles Times, O’Brien was:

"Born in San Francisco, where his father was chief of police, O'Brien became the Navy's Pacific Fleet light-heavyweight boxing champion during World War I. After his discharge he was introduced to cowboy star Tom Mix who helped him find work as an assistant cameraman, extra and stuntman.

One of his early film tricks involved Rudolph Valentino knocking O'Brien from the rigging of a ship into the sea."
George O’Brien, 1899-1985
George O’Brien falls into the sea

O’Brien would go on to appear in one of the greatest of all silent films Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927) with Janet Gaynor and appeared in approximately seventy-five films over the course of his long career. He was known as “The Torso” because of his physique and worked with top stars such as Mary Astor, Wallace Beery, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and William Powell and Myrna Loy. After the 1930’s he worked mostly in Westerns and had a long connection to director John Ford. O’Brien’s last film was in 1964, and after his retirement from the screen, he directed and produced stage plays in Europe and the United States and then became a script writer for TV and movies. For a wonderful piece about George O’Brien, visit Strictly Vintage Hollywood which includes a photo of George O’Brien and Dorothy Dalton chatting on set.


The Image Issue…

So, while George O’Brien settled into a career in rough and tumble pictures, Rudolph Valentino would struggle with his image. After his triumphant performance in The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse and his elegance in Camille, The Sheik finally triggered the full-scale swooning of female fans–but questions about his screen persona were starting as he had been teased in reviews for his “Theda Bara wide eyes” and over which turban was more attractive. (See previous post November 27, 1921: The Start of “Sheik Week” Follows The Precedent-Setting New York Premiere and Nationwide Release of “The Sheik”.) As Emily Leider wrote in her book Dark Lover:

"A theater manager in Alabama reported, 'The lady trade makes up for the men that stay at home.' The more girls and women lost their heads and hearts to Valentino, the more their dates, husbands, and fathers seethed with resentment at the hypnotic actor showing them up." -- Leider, Page 189. 

Aware of the problem, the studio cast Valentino in Moran of the Lady Letty to boost his appeal to the male audience by presenting him as an “action star” rather than simply a female heart throb. But, compared to the All-American Douglas Fairbanks, who had already delivered The Mark of Zorro in 1920, The Three Muskateers in 1921 and who was producing Robin Hood in 1922, Valentino’s efforts in Moran of the Lady Letty, such as throwing some punches and climbing around rigging, certainly didn’t turn him into a full-fledged action type. Reviews of the film, as you will see in the next post in these series will show, certainly didn’t herald Valentino as the next action hero.

Ironically, behind the scenes, while filming this role, Valentino was being photographed in his off time in poses that would further confuse his image–the “faun pictures” taken under the guidance of girlfriend Natacha Rambova, who turned up in San Francisco after she had gotten wind of his after-work escapades.

One of these pictures (not shown here), showed Valentino curled up at Rambova’s feet, and would be introduced during the Jean Acker-Valentino divorce proceedings in December 1921 which ultimately resulted in an interlocutory judgment entered in January 1922, just before the premiere of Moran of the Lady Letty.

The Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles, California. Thursday, December 1, 1921. Part II, Page 1.
The Los Angeles Evening Express, Los Angeles, California. Saturday, February 11, 1922. Page 11.

To add to the irony, a publicity spread in a Los Angeles paper presented a picture of Valentino next to one of Grace Darmond. Jean Acker, who had been involved in a tense love triangle with Darmond and Alla Nazimova, fled to Grace Darmond, her real love, after realizing she had made a mistake marrying Valentino in November 1919. Grace Darmond testified during the divorce proceedings about “the bathroom incident” during which Valentino reportedly hit his wife. Darmond and Acker would stay together until 1925. (Ankerich, Pages 89-91.)


As Moran of the Lady Letty opened around the country, publicity started to surface about Valentino’s next film. On the same day Moran of the Lady Letty premiered in Los Angeles on February 12, 1922 an example of the early publicity for Beyond the Rocks, which started production in late 1921 and continued during January 1922, appeared in a Houston paper as the publicity cycle revved up toward its May 7 release date.

“The period of Louis XV and the Garden of Versailles as a background form a combination for one of the special scenes in “Beyond the Rocks”…This scene was made on the newly covered big stage at Lasky studio…”

The Houston Post, Houston, Texas. Sunday, February 12, 1922. Page 35.

In the same column Valentino’s next film, Blood and Sand, which was already in production in February 1922, was announced. Note the incorrect name of the leading lady…May McAvoy.

The Houston Post, Houston, Texas. Sunday, February 12, 1922. Page 35.

After all the publicity hype and film’s release, the reviews came in. In the next post of this series (Part 4), we’ll explore what the critics, theaters managers and Valentino himself thought of Moran of the Lady Letty….

NOTES

1. The Sea Wolf. Considered lost. Artcraft Pictures Corporation was created in 1916 to distribute Mary Pickford Film Corporation productions. It was purchased in 1917 by Famous Players-Lasky Productions and by January 1918 was designated as a distribution brand name for Paramount Pictures Corporation. Source: Silent Era, Progressive Silent Film List. Jack London’s 1904 novel story had already been filmed as a short in 1913, again in 1926 (also lost) and many times after the 1920’s. Aside from the director George Melford, another “carry over” from this film to Moran of the Lady Letty was Walter Long, who played “Black” Harris, a Mate. Sources: Wikipedia, The Sea-Wolf (novel) entry and Wikipedia, The Sea Wolf (1920 film) entry.

2. Cappy Ricks. An 18-minute fragment of this film is held in the UCLA Library Film and Television Archive/Silent Fragments. Author Peter B. Kyne wrote four novels featuring the title character Cappy Ricks and would adapt three to the screen. The first in the series, Cappy Ricks: The Subjugation of Matt Peasley was produced first as a Broadway play in 1919. Kyne then adapted the novel into the 1921 film Cappy Ricks. The star, Thomas Meighan, was at one point considered for the lead in The Sheik. In addition to Agnes Ayres, who played the leading lady in The Sheik, another actor with a connection to Rudolph Valentino appeared in the film–John St. Polis, who played the blinded Etienne Laurier, husband of Marguerite Laurier, in The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse (released in 1921). Lois Wilson, who played Queen Marie of France in Valentino’s Monsieur Beaucaire, appeared in the 1935 Cappy Ricks Returns. In 1937 the series entry entitled The Affairs of Cappy Ricks starred Walter Brennan. (Sources: Silent Era, Progressive Silent Film List, IMDb and Wikipedia, Cappy Ricks entry.

3. On the High Seas. Survival status unknown, probably lost. Dorothy Dalton starred with Jack Holt, another actor who had been considered to play the lead in The Sheik. William Boyd, who became famous later in life as Hopalong Cassidy, also played in the film. Shorts made in 1914 and 1915 with same title, each had different plot lines from each other and the 1922 film. (Sources: Silent Era, Progressive Silent Film List, IMDb and Wikipedia, On the High Seas entry.

On the High Seas with Dorothy Dalton and Jack Holt

4. In what was labeled an “-Avd.” (Advertisement), a theater showing On the High Seas offered a detailed description of how the stormy sea scenes in the film were created. From The Meriden Morning Record (Meriden, Connecticut), Wednesday, November 8, 1922:

The Meriden Morning Record, Meriden, Connecticut.
Wednesday, November 8, 1922. Page 5.

5. The big spread in the Coffeyville Daily shown above was not unique to the films of Rudolph Valentino. During the same period, similar items appeared for top actors such as Wallace Reid.

SOURCES

Ankerich, Michael G. Dangerous Curves Atop Hollywood Heels: The Lives, Careers, and Misfortunes of 14 Hard-Luck Girls of the Silent Screen. Albany, Georgia: BearManor Media, 2015.

IMDb, Internet Movie Database.

Leider, Emily W. Dark Lover: The Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2003.

Newspapers and other sources as cited in the text.

February 12, 1922–“Moran of the Lady Letty” with Rudolph Valentino and Dorothy Dalton Premieres in Los Angeles (New York Premiere, February 5) (Part 1)

Video version of Part 1 on Youtube…

UPDATE: Link to Part 2 blog post (includes link to video version)

One hundred years ago Moran of the Lady Letty, a seafaring tale based on a story by Frank Norris, had its “World Premiere” on Sunday, February 12, 1922–even though the film had already opened in New York City the previous week on February 5.

Los Angeles Evening Express, Saturday, February 11, 1922 (Page 12)
Announcing the “World” Premiere Begin. Sunday”

A short description of the film appeared with the above ad:

Los Angeles Evening Express, Saturday, February 11, 1922

Although the ad in the Los Angeles paper presents Rudolph Valentino ahead of co-star Dorothy Dalton, this would not be the case in all the advertising that appeared in newspapers as the film arrived in different venues across the country. For example, below is an ad from The Miami Herald, Miami, Florida which appeared on Sunday, March 19, 1922 (Page 10):

The same graphics in ads would be adapted to different programs in different cities as well. Below on the left is an ad from a paper in El Paso, Texas from February 1922, which is part of my collection. On the right, the ad is changed for local publicity in a Bristol, Tennessee paper for an April showing of the film. In one ad, Valentino is given the top/equal billing, in the other, he is listed as being part of a “Great Supporting Cast.”

From my collection: Clipping from an unknown El Paso, Texas newspaper, February 1922.

The Bristol Herald Courier, Bristol, Tennessee, Sunday, April 1, 1922. Page 16

This film began production during the last week of September 1921 with the finishing interior work still going on into early November (Arkansas Democrat, Little Rock, Sunday, November 1, 1921. Page 6). The Sheik would be pre-released in Los Angeles on October 30, with the New York premiere on November 6 and nationwide release on November 20. While The Sheik may be the film that is most closely tied to Valentino’s legacy, Moran of the Lady Letty represents an attempt to modify a persona that was already a topic of discussion as shown in the last sentence of the small publicity piece which accompanied the ad for the Los Angeles premiere. I’ll be delving into more details about the story (which is very different than what is presented in the film), the stars, the reviews and production details in posts which will be coming soon…

SOURCES

IMDb (Internet Movie Database)

Leider, Emily W. Dark Lover: The Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2003.

Newspaper ad/report sources as cited in the text

Norris, Frank. Moran of the Lady Letty; a story of adventure off the California coast. New York, Doubleday & McClure Co., 1898.

Moran of the Lady Letty by Frank Norris is available at Archive.org.

The film is also available on Youtube.