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Cecil B. DeMille's Hollywood

Robert S. Birchard

Publication Year: 2009

" ""Far and away the best film book published so far this year.""--National Board of Review Cecil B. DeMille was the most successful filmmaker in early Hollywood history. Cecil B. DeMille's Hollywood is a detailed and definitive chronicle of the screen work that changed the course of film history and a fascinating look at how movies were actually made in Hollywood's Golden Age. Drawing extensively on DeMille's personal archives and other primary sources, Robert S. Birchard offers a revealing portrait of DeMille the filmmaker that goes behind studio gates and beyond DeMille's legendary persona. In his forty-five-year career DeMille's box-office record was unsurpassed, and his swaggering style established the public image for movie directors. DeMille had a profound impact on the way movies tell stories and brought greater attention to the elements of decor, lighting, and cinematography. Best remembered today for screen spectacles such as The Ten Commandments and Samson and Delilah, DeMille also created Westerns, realistic "chamber dramas," and a series of daring and highly influential social comedies. He set the standard for Hollywood filmmakers and demanded absolute devotion to his creative vision from his writers, artists, actors, and technicians.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. ix-x

In 1989 I had the honor of introducing the Silent Society's seventy-fifth anniversary screening of Cecil B. DeMille's The Squaw Man in the Lasky-DeMille Bam, home of the Hollywood Heritage Museum today and the very building from which DeMille's first film was produced. It was a special thrill for me because my relatives' citrus orchards once...

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pp. xi-xvi

In those days there were three great directors ... D.W. Griffith, Cecil B. DeMille, and Max von Mayerling." Erich von Stroheim speaks this line in Billy Wilder's film รก clef, Sunset Boulevard (Paramount, 1950). In the film Stroheim portrays the fictional von Mayerling, a once-famous filmmaker reduced to serving as butler to one of his former stars. The...

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1. The Squaw Man

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pp. 1-13

In the fall of 1913 Cecil B. DeMille faced a bleak future. He was thirtytwo years old with a wife and daughter to support, and only a mountain of debt to show for his years in the theater. DeMille's wife, actress Constance Adams, showed great patience. His creditors, on the other hand, were becoming aggressively insistent that Mr. DeMille meet his...

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2. The Virginian

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pp. 14-18

Even before The Squaw Man was completed, the Lasky Feature Play Company was moving ahead on its second production, a film version of the popular novel and play Brewster's Millions, with Edward Abeles recreating his stage role as heir to that delightful and frustrating legacy. Although Jesse Lasky and Sam Goldfish were committed to the...

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3. The Call of the North

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pp. 19-22

Although contracts were in place by May 1914, the Paramount distribution agreement was not scheduled to go into effect until August of that year. To finance production in the interim the Lasky Company printed its own money by means of an elaborate stock maneuver. "We realize that we must have Fifty Thousand Dollars more in cash in order...

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4. What' s-His-Name

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pp. 23-26

In the 1910s, as women migrated into the workforce and gained some successes in their long-fought struggle for universal suffrage, there was a knee-jerk reaction against the women's movement. Movies were quick to exploit these issues in dozens of short comedies like The Cowboys and the Bachelor Girls (G. Melies, 1910), A Suffragette in Spite of...

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5. The Man from Home

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pp. 27-29

One of the enduring themes of American literature is the tale of the innocent abroad. For a young nation with a decided inferiority complex there was great comfort to be gained from stories that revealed haughty, superior, and highly cultured European society to be corrupt...

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6. The Rose of the Rancho

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pp. 30-33

As the Lasky Feature Play Company expanded its production schedule to meet the Paramount commitment, Jesse Lasky concluded an agreement with David Belasco to buy the film rights to ten Belasco plays. For DeMille the Belasco deal was a personal and professional triumph. His career in the theater developed in Belasco's shadow. His father and...

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7. The Girl of the Golden West

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pp. 34-36

The Girl of the Golden West was a "sure-fire" theatrical property that found success as a dramatic play and was later adapted into a popular opera before Cecil B. DeMille brought it to the screen in 1915. Three film remakes followed in 1923, 1930, and 1938 before Belasco's 1905 original ran its course. DeMille's version...

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8. The Warrens of Virginia

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pp. 37-40

Cecil B. DeMille had a long association with The Warrens of Virginia before he brought it to the screen. He played a leading role in David Belasco's 1907 Broadway production of his brother William's original play, which was loosely based on their grandfather's exploits in the Civil War. Even though Belasco had produced the play, The Warrens of Virginia...

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9. The Unafraid

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pp. 41-43

Committed to making thirty feature films a year for Paramount, the Lasky Company gave Director-General DeMille the responsibility for supervising the entire output of the studio. To say that DeMille took his responsibilities seriously would be an understatement. In 1915 he wrote scripts for eighteen of the thirty Lasky pictures and directed no...

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10. The Captive

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pp. 44-46

Although Jeanie Macpherson appeared in several DeMille films beginning with The Rose of the Rancho, The Captive marked her first screenplay collaboration with the director. She quickly became his favorite screenwriter. Macpherson began her film career in 1909 acting in D.W. Griffith's Biograph stock company. By 1913 she was a triple hyphenate...

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11. The Wild Goose Chase

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pp. 47-49

The Wild Goose Chase brought stage favorite Ina Claire to the screen in a quickly and cheaply made production that the star later chose to ignore-to the point of forgetting she ever made it, according to DeMille.1 Today, no print of The Wild Goose Chase is known to exist in any archive or private collection, and it is a pity. Ina Claire was a delightful theatrical...

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12. The Arab

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pp. 50-51

In the 1920s, after Rudolph Valentino created a sensation in The Sheik (Famous Players-Lasky/Paramount, 1921), Paramount sold remake rights for The Arab to Metro Pictures as a vehicle for director Rex Ingram and his new discovery, Ramon Novarro (nee Samaniegos). There was a certain irony in this, because it was Ingram who plucked Valentino from...

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13. Chimmie Fadden

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pp. 52-53

Chimmie Fadden was created by E.W. Townsend, a writer for the New York Sun, who based his fictional character on the toughs and pugs who were a fixture on the Bowery in the 1890s. First appearing in a series of newspaper sketches, the Chimmie Fadden stories were collected and published as a book in 1895 and transformed into a stage play...

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14. Kindling

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pp. 54-56

In 1915 Cecil B. DeMille created some of his finest films. Seeing them today, it is easy to understand why critics and audiences so highly regarded the director's work. From the first shots of a skid-row street comer at night, one is aware that Kindling is a very special picture and...

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15. Maria Rosa

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pp. 57-59

When Geraldine Farrar appeared for her last performance in the current season at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City," wrote an anonymous reporter for Paramount Progress in 1915, "the audience, at the conclusion of the opera, flatly refused to leave the auditorium. The deafening applause continued without ceasing while...

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16. Carmen

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pp. 60-63

In 1915 a critic for the New York Dramatic Mirror wrote, "Geraldine Farrar has put her heart and soul and body into this picture, and without the aid of the magic of her voice, has proved herself one of the greatest actresses of all times. Her picture, Carmen, will live long after her operatic...

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17. Temptation

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pp. 64-65

The third of DeMille's films with Geraldine Farrar, Temptation was the second to be distributed-presumably to separate the release of Maria Rosa and Carmen, the two Spanish-themed films. The film is not known to exist in any archive or private collection...

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18. Chimmie Fadden Out West

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pp. 66-67

Chimmie Fadden had a better box-office reception than any of DeMille's films in the first half of 1915, so the decision was made to produce a second film featuring Victor Moore as the lovable, streetwise oaf. Chimmie Fadden Out West, an amusing, unpretentious picture, shows a flair for farce comedy that, except for Eddie Quillan's sequences...

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19. The Cheat

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pp. 68-70

When this film first appeared in France in the middle of the war [WWl], audiences were entranced and producers thunderstruck," wrote Maurice Bardeche and Robert Brasillach. "It seemed to make everything that had preceded it quite meaningless."1 Cecil B. DeMille's early...

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20. The Golden Chance

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pp. 71-75

Although he often explored similar themes in film after film, Cecil B. DeMille officially remade only three of his pictures. It is easy to see why he remade The Squaw Man twice, in 1918 and again in 1931-he had a strong personal connection to the property. His 1956 version of The Ten Commandments, containing none of the modem elements of the...

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21. The Trail of the Lonesome Pine

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pp. 76-78

Cecil B. DeMille's production of The Trail of the Lonesome Pine was the first version of John Fox's famous story to reach the screen, but it was not the first film version made of the novel. In early 1914 the Broadway Picture Producing Company started production on The Trail of the Lonesome Pine with Dixie Compton in the lead. The film was to...

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22. The Heart of Nora Flynn

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pp. 79-81

The Heart of Nora Flynn is little more than a pleasant program picture, notable for the appearance of stage star Marie Doro and her future husband, Elliott Dexter. Doro acted with William Gillette in his stage adaptation of Sherlock Holmes and was famous for her portrayal of Oliver Twist in a play based on the Dickens novel. She was a gifted......

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23. The Dream Girl

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pp. 82-89

Cecil B. DeMille drastically cut back his production schedule in 1916. In part because of the prestige he gained with the Geraldine Farrar pictures and as a reward for his contributions to the success of the Lasky Feature Play Company, DeMille was given the opportunity to make larger-scale, special productions outside the quota of Paramount program pictures...

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24. Joan the Woman

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pp. 90-102

In 1915 D.W. Griffith's twelve-reel epic, The Birth of a Nation, took the country by storm and convinced filmmakers that audiences would pay advanced prices for big pictures in exclusive road-show engagements.1 With production costs and road-show distribution expenses, The Birth of a Nation was a risky $110,000 investment for Griffith and...

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25. A Romance of the Redwoods

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pp. 103-106

As Adolph Zukor negotiated the Famous Players-Lasky merger in mid-1916, he was also involved in negotiations to retain the services of his number one box-office star, Mary Pickford. On June 24, 1916, Zukor signed a contract with Pickford that called for Mary to receive a salary of $10,000 a week, with a $300,000 bonus for signing, 50...

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26. The Little American

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pp. 107-111

Ina nation of immigrants, popular sentiment was divided as World War I raged on the European continent. Americans were outraged by reported German atrocities in Belgium and by the sinking of the Lusitania- but the issues were not clear-cut. Reports of atrocities were often exaggerated, and suspicion lingered (later confirmed) that the passenger...

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27. The Woman God Forgot

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pp. 112-115

The relative failure of Joan the Woman put Cecil B. DeMille in an awkward position. His agreement with Jesse Lasky allowed him to make lengthy "special productions" for road-show release, but it was clear that the market for twelve-reel epics was virtually nonexistent in 1917. As plans were being firmed for Geraldine Farrar's annual summer...

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28. The Devil Stone

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pp. 116-117

The Devil Stone, based on a story by DeMille's mother and Leighton Osmun, was the last picture the director made with Geraldine Farrar. It is a story of mysticism and fate surrounding an emerald that once belonged to a Viking queen and bears a curse for subsequent owners. The Viking angle provided ample excuse for an historical flashback, but some...

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29. The Whispering Chorus

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pp. 118-120

A legend persists that Cecil B. DeMille was an artist betrayed by his audience; thus, the failure of The Whispering Chorus is said to have led him to cynically put commercialism above artistic integrity in making his pictures. It makes a good story-it is also untrue...

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30. Old Wives for New

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pp. 121-124

Costume stuff' was out in 1918, and the Famous Players-Lasky company insisted that the public pulse was quickened by "modem stuff with plenty of clothes, rich sets, and action."l As DeMille was in production on The Whispering Chorus, Jesse Lasky advised the director: "We are holding Old Wives For New which we paid $6,500 for until we get...

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31. We Can't Have Everything

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pp. 125-126

Of all the lost DeMille films, We Can't Have Everything is the most intriguing. The story was a rather mixed-up tale of star-crossed lovers who must endure a succession ofmis-matings before finally coming together with action ranging from the back lots of Hollywood to the battlefields of the Great War. Much of the action took place in a movie...

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32. Till I Come Back to You

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pp. 127-130

Till I Come Back to You is a blatant piece of wartime propaganda full of stiff-upper-lip heroics and totally improbable situations designed to buoy up spirits on the home front.
Jeanie Macpherson's perverse sense of drama is again in evidence. Yvonne, the Belgian heroine played by Florence Vidor, is married to a hateful Hun. While von Krutz is at the front, King Albert of Belgium...

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33. The Squaw Man (first remake)

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pp. 131-134

Beginning with We Can't Have Everything DeMille was elevated to equal footing with Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and William S. Hart. The words "A Cecil B. DeMille Production" were added to the main titles and his films were offered as a separate Artcraft series. This new arrangement brought him great status, but little else. Making DeMille...

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34. Don't Change Your Husband

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pp. 135-137

The Triangle Film Corporation was on shaky financial ground even before Adolph Zukor lured Griffith, Ince, Fairbanks, and Hart to Artcraft, but the loss of these talents precipitated the company's collapse. Forced to improvise, Triangle made an effort to develop new stars, and one of their discoveries was nineteen-year-old Gloria Swanson...

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35. For Better, For Worse

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pp. 138-143

After the completion of Don't Change Your Husband, DeMille offered Gloria Swanson a contract on behalf of Famous Players-Lasky. He was not above using his personal charm in the interests of the studio. Swanson was arguably naive. She almost certainly thought that DeMille was looking out for her best interests when in fact he was only concerned...

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36. Male and Female

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pp. 144-149

Adolph Zukor's stranglehold on star talent in the film industry ended almost as quickly as it began. Angry exhibitors pooled their resources to create the Associated First National Exhibitors Circuit in April 1917. Several months elapsed before First National mounted an effective...

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37. Why Change Your Wife?

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pp. 150-154

Why Change Your Wife? was never intended to be a Cecil B. DeMille production. The story was developed by William deMille, who was also supposed to direct, but circumstances led Cecil to take over the property.
His first choice for a follow-up to Male and Female was an adaptation of the novel Susan Lenox, Her Fall and Rise by David Graham...

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38. Something to Think About

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pp. 155-157

In addition to The Wanderer, Cecil B. DeMille also had his eye on Richard Walton Tully's Bird of Paradise as a future picture property. As he went into production on Why Change Your Wife?, DeMille heard that George Loane Tucker, director of The Miracle Man, was planning to make a film of Tully's play. He complained to Lasky and was told to...

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39. Forbidden Fruit

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pp. 158-161

Famous Players-Lasky was reluctant to give DeMille the green light on a big picture and anxious to break up the director's winning team of leading players. Gloria Swanson and Bebe Daniels demonstrated enough box-office appeal to be handed over to less-expensive directors, and the studio felt that the market for historical spectacles was still unpredictable. Searching for his next picture in this atmosphere, DeMille...

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40. The Affairs of Anatol

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pp. 162-164

Jesse Lasky arranged to acquire Arthur Schnitzler's play Anatol and recommended it to DeMille, suggesting that it serve as "a sort of sentimental farewell appearance of [Gloria] Swanson, [Bebe] Daniels, [Wanda] Hawley, and [Agnes] Ayres" as members of the DeMille stock company. DeMille couldn't have been happy that the studio wanted to...

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41. Fool's Paradise

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pp. 165-168

Novelist Francis Marion Crawford once said, "In art of all kinds the moral lesson is a mistake." Cecil B. DeMille would have disagreed. The filmmaker delighted in building screen stories that offered a liaison with a lesson, and he would have embraced critic George Jean Nathan's...

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42. Saturday Night

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pp. 169-171

With the recession at its height, and past budgetary indiscretions to be accounted for, DeMille was under pressure from Famous Players- Lasky to limit the cost of his next picture to $150,000. Saturday Night was designed to be produced inexpensively. There was no historic flashback or dream sequence, and the actors (with the exception of Conrad...

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43. Manslaughter

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pp. 172-174

How does one explain Manslaughter? On one hand it was an important picture for DeMille-his most expensive and one of his most successful films to date, with thematic elements that reverberated through his later work. On the other hand, the script was weak, the staging inept, and the settings lackluster. Manslaughter exhibits all of the excesses and...

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44. Adam's Rib

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pp. 175-177

DeMille returned to top form with Adam 's Rib. The picture has a rich, well-made look, and there are many fine moments. Ultimately, however, the film suffers from a reliance on creaky, melodramatic plot devices that dim its overall effect...

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45. The Ten Commandments

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pp. 178-189

A three-page ad for Paramount Pictures in the December 8, 1923, issue of Motion Picture News proclaimed:
RICHES, RICHES, RICHES-Never before in the history of Famous Players-Lasky Corporation has Paramount offered to exhibitors a greater line-up of pictures than the ten that are...

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46. Triumph

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pp. 190-193

As DeMille finished editing The Ten Commandments, Famous Players- Lasky offered him a new three-film contract. It wasn't stated in so many words, but the director was expected to tum out several relatively inexpensive pictures to compensate the studio for indulging his...

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47. Feet of Clay

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pp. 194-196

For the second picture under DeMille's new contract, Famous PlayersLasky suggested a magazine serial called "Feet of Clay." The director showed no interest in the project and suggested that Lasky purchase Sutton Vane's then-current hit play, Outward Bound, a stylized drama about a ship full of passengers who have no idea where they are going...

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48. The Golden Bed

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pp. 197-199

DeMille's last film for Paramount before he set up his own studio, The Golden Bed, is best remembered for the perhaps apocryphal story about a bit player who came to the director in later years and said, "Mr. DeMille, you probably don't remember me. I was a harlot in your Golden Bed."1...

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49. The Road to Yesterday

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pp. 200-209

'V!hile in New York pondering his future, DeMille was approached W by Henry Creange, an executive with Cheney Silks. Acting in a semiofficial capacity for the French government, Creange proposed that DeMille, and perhaps other American filmmakers, make pictures in...

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50. The Volga Boatman

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pp. 210-215

For his second personal production DeMille was urged to make a film with a Russian theme by his long-time associate, actor and ballet choreographer Theodore Kosloff. DeMille Pictures paid $9,000 for the screen rights to Konrad Bercovici's novel The Volga Boatman. But if the director was able to acquire this property at a relatively modest fee, in...

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51. The King of Kings

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pp. 216-226

In his autobiography Cecil B. DeMille chose to remember The King of Kings as the film that made his studio possible, but scant evidence exists to suggest that he actually pitched the idea of filming the life of Christ during his initial meetings with financier Jeremiah Milbank. It...

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52. The Godless Girl

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pp. 227-233

On May 11, 1927, during the early research stages of The Godless Girl, DeMille wired Charles Beahan, East Coast story editor for DeMille Pictures, that he wanted to close a deal for screen rights to the play Chicago, as he had received assurances that Will Hays and the...

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53. Dynamite

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pp. 234-240

With a string of box-office flops and pressure from his New York financiers, Cecil B. DeMille grew tired of running a studio. He sold his stock in Pathe to Joseph P. Kennedy and signed a three-picture contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer on August 2, 1928. Like DeMille Pictures, M -G-M was the product of Wall Street maneuvering, combining...

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54. Madam Satan

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pp. 241-247

In 1929 M-G-M produced The Broadway Melody for $379,000 and reaped a box-office bonanza of $1,604,000 in profits. The Hollywood Revue of 1929 cost the studio $426,000 and retumed a profit of $l,135,000. "All Talking, All Singing All Dancing" was the order of the day, and it is little wonder that Louis B. Mayer suggested Cecil B. DeMille make a...

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55. The Squaw Man (second remake)

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pp. 248-250

In the wake of a cycle of big-budget Westerns like In Old Arizona (Fox, 1929), Billy the Kid (M-G-M, 1930), The Big Trail (Fox, 1930), and Cimarron (RKO, 1931), it must have seemed a good idea for Cecil B. DeMille to undertake a sound version of The Squaw Man. In order to clear the rights, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was forced to deal with two rival...

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56. The Sign of the Cross

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pp. 251-260

At the lowest point in his film career DeMille turned to Wilson Barrett's The Sign of the CrossThe King of Kings. During his...

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57. This Day and Age

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pp. 261-266

Cecil B. DeMille believed that his return to Paramount would be shortlived. On September 22, 1932, he wrote a job seeker that he expected to make only one picture at Paramount and had no openings to offer. But the studio seemed pleased with his work on The Sign of the Cross, and on November 14, DeMille told his special publicity representative...

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58. Four Frightened People

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pp. 267-274

Four Frightened People harks back to DeMille's comedies of the late 1910s, and because it is a departure from most of his sound films, many have taken it to be a tolerably stupid adventure yarn rather than the highly amusing social satire that it is. Who but DeMille would give audiences...

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59. Cleopatra

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pp. 275-282

On February 10, 1938, after seeing a revival of Cleopatra, movie fan Hildegarde Merta of Chicago wrote Cecil B. DeMille questioning the historical accuracy of the women's costumes. It seemed to her that they looked remarkably modem. Answering for DeMille, Frank Calvin...

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60. The Crusades

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pp. 283-292

With the success of The Sign of the Cross and Cleopatra, Paramount was willing to loosen the budgetary purse strings for another historical epic, and DeMille obliged with his biggest production to date. The Crusades,/em> telescoped the seven historic Holy Land campaigns, which...

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61. The Plainsman

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pp. 293-298

In early 1936 Paramount commissioned a review of its business activities. The report was not particularly flattering regarding DeMille's track record in the past three years...

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62. The Buccaneer

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pp. 299-305

The Buccaneer had a long journey to the screen that DeMille documented to stave off a plagiarism lawsuit by Zelma B. Tiden, who claimed that the film borrowed elements from her play Captain Whatthe- Devil....

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63. Union Pacific

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pp. 306-311

Following The Buccaneer DeMille planned to make a film dealing with the history of Canada's Hudson Bay Company and, true to his earlier word to Jesse Lasky Jr., he assigned the young screenwriter to conduct research and outline a story for the film. The idea was abandoned when DeMille discovered that 20th Century-Fox had a similar...

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64. North West Mounted Police

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pp. 312-315

Although DeMille had long been interested in color effects and had included two-color Technicolor sequences in The Ten Commandments (1923) and The King of Kings (1927), North West Mounted Police was DeMille's first picture to be shot entirely in color. It set the photographic style for all of his future productions. Brightly lit, with rich...

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65. Reap the Wild Wind

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pp. 316-322

In his autobiography Cecil B. DeMille felt compelled to comment on "a subject which has added to Hollywood's merriment for many years: the DeMille chair boy." It was his custom to have a designated person follow him around the set during production with his director's chair. The legend was that DeMille never looked to see if his chair was at hand, he...

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66. The Story of Dr. Wassell

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pp. 323-328

Paramount trade ads announcing the studio's product for the 1941- 1942 season promised "3 big DeMille Productions in 2 years-In addition to Reap the Wild Wind Mr. DeMille has promised to deliver for Paramount two other equally important pictures between now and the close of the '41-'42 Season." One of the two promised pictures was...

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67. Unconquered

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pp. 329-333

On August 16, 1944, Cecil B. DeMille received a letter from the American Federation of Radio Artists (A.F.R.A.) informing him that the board of directors of the union had voted to assess its members one dollar each to fight California ballot Proposition 12-a so-called "right...

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68. Samson and Delilah

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pp. 334-340

,em>Samson and Delilah was a long-cherished project for DeMille. He first turned his attention to the story in 1932, but studio reluctance and his string of successes with pictures based on American historical themes conspired to keep Samson and Delilah from being produced...

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69. The Greatest Show on Earth

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pp. 341-350

On July 16, 1946, just days before DeMille went into production on Unconquered, Gladys Rosson informed him that J.H. Rosenberg was retiring after twenty years with the Bank of America and thirty-six years in the banking business. She wrote...

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70. The Ten Commandments

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pp. 351-364

So reads Cecil B. DeMille's on-screen credit in The Ten Commandments. In his filmed introduction he says, "Our intention was not to create a story, but to be worthy of the Divinely inspired story created three thousand years ago-the five Books of Moses." Titles proclaim the film is based on the Holy Scriptures, the Midrash, and works by Philo...

Appendix A

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pp. 365-368

Appendix B

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pp. 369-370

Appendix C

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pp. 371-372

Appendix D

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pp. 373-376


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pp. 377-404


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pp. 405-406


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pp. 407-430

E-ISBN-13: 9780813126364
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813123240

Page Count: 496
Publication Year: 2009