restricted access 5. “The Real Punches”: Lois Weber, Cecil B. DeMille, and the End of the Uplift Movement
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chapter five “The Real Punches” Lois Weber, Cecil B. DeMille, and the End of the Uplift Movement W hen Cecil B. DeMille came to Hollywood in 1913 to become director-general of the Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company, heworeamantleofculturallegitimacysimilartoLoisWeber’s. DeMille was a well-known Broadway name, as Cecil B.’s father, Henry C. DeMille, a former minister, wrote the self-consciously respectable society plays that made theatergoing a regular activity among the urban middle class and upper middle class in the late nineteenth century. The young DeMille’s brother William continued in their father’s footsteps and was by 1913 also a well-known playwright. Cecil B. DeMille represented precisely the sort of theatrical pedigree the film industry desired at that time. After his father died when Cecil was an adolescent, his mother, Beatrice, parlayed her late husband’s plays into a highly successful career as a theatrical agent, and Cecil B. gained the rights to film plays by his father’s former collaborator, the esteemed Broadway producer David Belasco. Belasco himself would have fit the uplift movement in the American cinema, as he was known as the “apostle of art” and wore a clerical collar on a regular basis. Cecil B. DeMille absorbed Belasco’s sense of mission, stating, for example, that “to be afraid to develop a message in a story is to miss a great possibility.”1 In this he sounded very much like Weber. Weber’s career, however, was about to go into decline , whereas DeMille’s was just beginning. The change that ultimately made Weber and an earlier definition of uplift passé began, ironically, when the film industry faced another censorship crisis. In 1915 a bill to create a federal censorship bureau began working its way through Congress, and the Supreme Court struck down the claim that moving pictures were protected under the First Amendment. Rather than bolstering the project to make movies serve the desires of middle-class reformers, these developments destroyed the uplift movement as it was known between 1909 and 1916. In an era before film ratings systematically deniedentrytoyoungeraudiences,theagendaofcinematicreformers,which included juvenile delinquency, birth control, white slavery, and a host of other controversial issues, was deemed too dangerous for mixed audiences, and the idea that films were protected speech was no longer a plausible line of defense. Although the threat of federal censorship was averted for the time being, leadership within the industry began to turn away from social problem pictures and to advocate, instead, simple entertainment as the best use for the Hollywood movie. But even as the social problem genre faded, gendered questions remained. Did successful film directors need “manly” authority, or did directing require a “woman’s touch”? Did the movies require the masculine “punch” of a man, or did women’s “heart interest” pack the theaters?2 <= The uplift movement reached a crescendo in 1914–15. By 1914 trade magazines already lauded Lois Weber as an uplifter, and in 1915 she released Hypocrites. As we have seen, Weber, like many other social problem filmmakers , legitimized her controversial films by inviting prominent Progressivereformerstoscreeningsandthensolicitingtheirsupport .Thatsameyear, D. W. Griffith released Birth of a Nation. Although the racist film proved immediately controversial, it fulfilled the fondest wishes of the uplift movement when it received the blessing of President Woodrow Wilson himself (thefilmliberallyquotedfromWilson’sHistoryoftheAmericanPeople[1902]). After Wilson, a southerner, saw the film at a White House screening, he was alleged to proclaim, “It is like writing history with lightning, and my only regret is that it is all so terribly true!” The lesser-known Cecil B. DeMille, as we have seen, contributed to the uplift movement by adapting Belasco plays for the screen. His contribution to the uplift movement took a giant leap in 1915 when he adaptedCarmen, securing the services of the celebrated Metropolitan Opera soprano Geraldine Farrar to play the title role. Lasky arranged for“theBrahminelite”toattendthepremiereofCarmenatBoston’sSymphony Hall, where a full orchestra accompanied the film. Even the Opera Magazine took interest, predicting long lines of well-heeled customers.3 DeMille, who claimed to believe in films with a message, also believed that “to preach is to invite disaster,” and he increasingly emphasized middle-class modes of 136 “A Business Pure &Simple” entertainment rather than middle-class modes of reform.4 This emphasis would serve him well as the film industry shifted strategies. We can ascertain the difference between a Weber product and a DeMille product even at this earlypointbycomparingtwofilms:LoisWeber’sShoes (Universal, 1915) and DeMille’s The Golden Chance (Lasky, 1915). In the first frames of Shoes the face of the film’s heroine, Eva Meyer, dissolves into the cover of a 1914 book entitled A New Conscience and an Ancient Evil, a treatise on prostitution written by esteemed reformer Jane Addams. The next few frames set up the context of the film by allowing the audience to glimpse a few pages. They reveal the story of a working girl who “sold herself for a new pair of shoes.” This device not only validates the film as sociologically accurate but suggests that this specific story is true. The character of Eva Meyer is an upstanding daughter of a hardworking mother and an apparently shiftless father, and she is the eldest of four siblings. She stands for long hours as a clerk in a five-and-dime store and must give all of her meager pay to her mother to keep the family going. Suffering in her dilapidated shoes, Meyer desires a new pair of boots she spies in a store window, but her mother cannot part with the money needed to allow her daughter to buy necessities. Eva tries to make her shoes last, but her cardboard soles prove inadequate in a rainstorm, and her wet feet bring on a cold. Eva does know of a way to get her boots, and more. Her coworker Lil flashes jewelry given to her by male friends, clearly in exchange for sexual favors, and encourages Eva to accept an invitation from a male flirt, Charlie. Eva modestly refuses the attentions of Charlie, but her desire grows as she spies fine boots on a well-dressed girl during a lunch break and feels compelled to hide her own in shame. Although some middle-class viewers might view a poor girl spending earmarked family funds to emulate her betters as selfish, Eva has been thoroughly identified as a modest and hardworking victim of an indolent father. Ultimately, Eva goes to a cabaret with Charlie and returns home in ruin and shame with her new boots, only to find that her father has finally found work.5 The publicity surrounding Shoes contextualized Weber and the making of the film within the guise of social work. Shelley Stamp notes that when Weber chose the actress who played Eva (Mary MacLaren) from the list of hopefuls standing in line at Universal, she allegedly used the voice of a reformer, asking, “Are you looking for work?” rather than “Are you an actress ?”; the latter would have reflected her needs as a director. Although the story itself was inspired by Jane Addams, Weber claimed that Eva’s characterization was drawn from her own early missionary work “in the slums Weber, DeMille, and the End of Uplift 137 of New York and on Blackwell’s Island.”6 The publicity of Shoes presented the film within the thus-far highly successful context of a Lois Weber social problem film, which firmly grounded its claim for middle-class legitimacy on Weber’s own image as a maternalist reformer. DeMille’s The Golden Chance also concerns a poor woman who desires things and who is also constrained by an indolent male provider—her alcoholic husband. Mary Denby (Cleo Ridgley), the heroine of the film, is introduced as a judge’s daughter who regretfully eloped with an urban “gentleman ” and is now an unlikely tenant in a slum. When her lout of a husband, Steve, tells her that just because she was well bred doesn’t mean she cannot work, she pulls herself together and finds a job as a seamstress in a wealthy home. Her eyes linger on the beautiful furnishings as she is led to the seamstress ’s workroom. In a twist of fate a young woman, described by her employer as “the prettiest girl in the world,” is unable to show up for a date that has been arranged for a millionaire businessman, Roger (Wallace Reid), who is dining at their home to seal a business relationship. Her employer remembers that Mary is still in the house and convinces the seamstress to don a formal gown and pose as the intended date. Mary agrees, dresses in the finery she admired only a short time ago, and charms the millionaire. As Mary changes back into her own clothes at the end of the evening, DeMille emphasizes her desire with a medium shot of Mary comparing the fancy slipper she was wearing with her own ragged shoe. When Mary is asked to repeat her performance as “the prettiest girl,” she and Roger fall in love, but Mary has qualms about her husband. After a series of twists, Roger discovers Mary’s true identity, and her husband, Steve, is accidentally killed. Although the film ends with Roger telling Mary that her husband is dead, and Mary ambiguously looking away, the path is now clear for Mary to become Roger’s wife. Although Steve Denby is the quintessential alcoholic husband portrayed by the temperance movement, there is little moral uplift in this Cinderella fantasy. It became even more like the fairy tale when DeMille remade the film as Forbidden Fruit (Famous Players–Lasky, 1921). The qualms disappeared, Mary was assisted in her transformation by a retinue of maids and boxes of dresses delivered from a chic shop, and the millionaire hero ends the film by placing a slipper on her foot.7 By mediating his message with a greater focus on entertainment, DeMille distanced himself from overt social problem films and thus placed himself in the vanguard of a strategic shift within the industry. According to Lee Grieveson the American cinema reached a turning point in 1915. The waffling of the National Board of Censorship over whether it should 138 “A Business Pure &Simple” approve white slavery films revealed an irreconcilable fissure between the progressive social reform adherents, who tended to support the films based on their educational value, and those who wanted to eliminate controversial films and redefine movies as “harmless entertainment.”8 As the white slavery cycle controversy raged, the bill to censor moving pictures at the federal level was introduced into the Senate and the House. Arguments for the bill focused on the ineffectiveness of the National Board of Censorship, which was in any case too closely allied with the producers it was supposed to police . (The Women’s Municipal League resigned from the board in 1911 for this reason.)9 In defending itself, the National Board of Censorship argued that federal censorship of moving pictures would violate freedom of speech. But the Supreme Court struck down that argument. In its ruling, concerning the banning of D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation in Ohio, the Supreme Court defined moving pictures as “a business pure and simple, organized and conducted for profit” and thus not protected by the first amendment.10 The decision noted that mixed audiences viewed films and, significantly, that the exploitative films that “pretended” to be serious social problem films (for example, white slavery films) were particularly reprehensible. Films, therefore , could not be protected under the first amendment because of “their potential to do evil.”11 By validating the right of the Ohio censorship board to deny the film’s entrance into the state, the Supreme Court mandated other state and local censorship boards and thus further eroded any power still remaining within the National Board of Censorship. Grieveson argues that the 1915 Mutual decision drew a line in the sand. The decision, which mandated increased state regulation, encouraged the film industry to reject the model of uplift based on middle-class reform, which led to mature and often controversial themes, and instead conceive of moving pictures as “harmless and culturally affirmative.”12 This change was not immediate, but the ground began to shift in a manner unfavorable to the ideal of the reformer-filmmaker. The reception of Lois Weber’s post-1916 films demonstrates this trend. A year after the success of Where Are My Children? Weber tackled the birthcontrol issue again, this time in a film based on the trial of Margaret Sanger. Although the film never actually mentioned her name, it was clear that the heroine of The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (Universal, 1917) was indeed Sanger. Weber starred as Mrs. Broome, who is converted to the cause when she observes the plight of impoverished, sickly mothers. Soon Mrs. Broome is arrested for spreading birth-control propaganda in violation of state laws, but she is pardoned by the governor. The film ends without resolution, Weber, DeMille, and the End of Uplift 139 since the state laws against distributing information on birth control were still in place. In contrast to Where Are My Children? the reviews of The Hand That Rocks the Cradle were mixed. In particular, they began to question the political use of the screen. Edward Weitzel of Moving Picture World generally praised The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, arguing that Weber used “such goodjudgement”that“thereisnonecessityofanyonetoreceivetheslightest shock.” But he questioned whether the “family photoplay theater” was the properplaceforsuchafilm.13 ThecriticfortheDramaticMirroradmittedthat Weber “has presented a powerful appeal for the legalization of birth control in a film play of compelling sincerity,” but he, too, questioned whether the moving picture theater was the proper place for politics and called the film “avowedly and entirely propaganda.”14 Variety found no redeeming qualities: “This is a weak effort to shoot over a feature that will get some quick money because of a condition [the Sanger case], rather than as a picture.”15 Part of this reaction may have been due to the fact that Margaret Sanger made her own semiautobiographical film, Birth Control, which was shown to reviewers just weeks before Weber’s film was released. Sanger’s film, in which she starred, was lauded by the critics but never made it to wide releasebecauseofquickeffortstocensorit .Ironically,Sanger’spointinmaking the film was to soften her image and thereby help her cause.16 But Sanger’s notoriety was enough to cause problems even before the film was shown. The day before its premiere at New York’s Park Theatre, the commissioner of licenses suppressed its release. While the Message Feature Film Corporation began suit for $10,000 in damages, Sanger hastily arranged a private showing for some two hundred of New York’s most notable citizens.17 This private showing was a great success, and Birth Control was hailed by film critics as a triumph. Eventually, the film won its release, but it was too late.18 Theaters were afraid to book the film.19 As Kay Sloan suggests, Weber and Sanger did not receive equal treatment at the censorship board.20 Sanger’s past affiliations with socialists and the Industrial Workers of the World, her short-lived publication The Woman Rebel, and her time in jail for violating the Comstock law branded her a dangerous woman.21 In contrast, Lois Weber’s impeccable middle-class credentials allowed her to use full-frontal nudity in Hypocrites and even suggest the subject of abortion onscreen. In 1917 Carl Laemmle rewarded Weber by financing her own studio, located several miles from Universal City. Lois Weber Productions was a quasi-independent company; while Weber enjoyed a great deal of creative freedom, she still had the safety net of a contract with Universal that allegedly made her the highest paid director in Hollywood.22 It appeared at 140 “A Business Pure &Simple” first that Weber would continue making the sorts of films that she did best: the middle-class social problem film. Weber told Arthur Denison of Moving Picture World that her pictures would highlight “the difference between sentimentality and true sentiment,” adding that “after nine years of making motion pictures if I see anything clearly, it is that the frothy, unreal picture is doomed.” Weber planned to “make constructive pictures of real ideas which shall have some intimate bearing on the lives of the people who see them.” She wanted “flesh-and-blood” characters rather than the hero who “can do no wrong,” and she hinted (and would later admit) that she was tired of unrealistic happy endings.23 Even Weber’s idealized collaborative marriage with Smalley began to show signs of wear. There was an increased focus on Weber as the dominant filmmaker after 1916. Shelley Stamp alludes to a cartoon in the Los Angeles Times in which a diminished Smalley stands in the shadows of Weber, who is described as “Lois Weber, Wonderful Lois, her note book always filled with clever ideas.”24 Weber wrote nearly all the scripts in addition to directing , and after 1917 critics and journalists focused increasingly on Weber at the expense of Smalley in acknowledgment of her power behind the camera. This is partly because Weber herself began taking more of the credit. Anthony Slide observes “in hindsight, some credits to Smalley seem extraordinary , indefensible, and perhaps evidence of a bias on the part of contemporary commentators.”25 As late as 1917, when Motion Picture Stories published “Turning Out Masterpieces,” it was a photo of Smalley in his “study,” poring over a script, that led the article. Weber’s photo, a similar shot of her laboring in her “workroom,” followed on the next page.26 It seems likely, however , that Weber herself, who held traditional notions of marriage despite her own achievements, may have given Smalley more credit than he was due.27 In 1917 and 1918 Lois Weber Productions released a series of films starring Mildred Harris, the current Mrs. Charles Chaplin. About this time an undated “Lois Weber Bulletin,” created to promote her company’s product , claimed that Weber would avoid “propaganda or preachment” but not moralizing: “a story can be entertaining and carry with it a sound idea without obviously pointing a moral.” The first Mildred Harris vehicle was The Price of a Good Time (November 1917). The title suggested a moralizing yet titillating story, precisely the blend that made Weber famous. The story was a cross-class melodrama concerning an attempt by the rich son of a department store owner, unhappy with the girl his parents want him to marry, to help one of his father’s poor female salesclerks. With his parents Weber, DeMille, and the End of Uplift 141 out of town, he spends six evenings in whatever manner she wishes. She enjoys his company, going for drives in his car, eating meals at restaurants, and visiting the theater, but she cannot forgive herself when the rich son’s brother discovers them and tells the family that they have been disgraced. The salesclerk throws herself in front of her benefactor’s car and is killed. A reviewer for the New York Dramatic Mirror wondered why the ending had to be so tragic, “for the world is sad enough without one’s writing photoplays to make it sadder.”28 One month earlier, when The Price of a Good Time would have been near completion, Weber told Elizabeth Peltret of Photoplay that she did not intend to make any more “propaganda pictures.” Her reason: the war. “The war is the world’s jumping toothache,” she explained, “and I want to help the world forget about it for a while.”29 This was not a matter of choice. In the summer of 1917 the National Association of the Motion Picture Industry made it clear that producers were to cooperate with the goals of the wartime Committee on Public Information. Social problem films depicting the weaknesses and iniquities of American society were to be replaced by films celebrating the wholesomeness and cheerfulness of American life. Lois Weber , the industry’s preeminent producer of the social problem film, now had to rely on other genres in which she was far less successful.30 On the other hand, she did not leave behind the idea that the screen was her pulpit. The resulting hybrid was less than inspired. Her next film, The Doctor and the Woman, released in the spring of 1918, concerned star-crossed lovers who end up in each other’s arms, and the vindication of a doctor accused of malpractice. This film with a happy ending earned tepid reviews, but interestingly, a Variety reviewer suggested that Universal’s “popular-priced” distribution practices held Weber back from really “worth while” productions.31 This was untrue, as Universal sold Lois Weber Productions on a states’ rights basis: the highest bidder could place them in first-run theaters. It is true, however, that these films did not measure up to her earlier work. The next two Harris films, For Husbands Only (1918) and Borrowed Clothes (1918), were lackluster marital farces. The same Variety reviewer wondered why “so capable a developer of ideas as Lois Weber ” managed to miss her mark regarding the former film and claimed the latter, another cross-class romance (this time with a happy ending), was “designed to appeal to the flathead picturegoers that Universal caters to.”32 Weber then tried her hand at a western, When a Girl Loves (1919), and two rural dramas, Home (1919) and Forbidden (1919). None were great successes. 142 “A Business Pure &Simple” Weber left Universal by the end of 1918. Still considered a top-flight director , she signed a contract with Louis B. Mayer, who was handling the independent productions of star Anita Stewart for her company, Anita Stewart Productions. One headline drew attention to Weber’s “enormous salary” of $3,500 a week. The same story printed Weber’s telegram to Mayer asking for his opinion of leading man and story, along with Mayer’s reply that he had full confidence in her as a “great director” to make such decisions and tellinghertosparenoexpense.33 Anotherarticleclaimedthattherewere“numerous messages of congratulations to the Louis Mayer forces” for securing Weber’sservices.34 ThefirstAnitaStewartfilm,AMidnightRomance(1919), a “mystery romance” that echoed the serial queen genre (she saves the hero from blackmailers before he can discover her identity) was given splendid reviews, and Weber herself received much of the credit.35 The second, Mary Regan (1919), was based on a serialized magazine story. Anita Stewart’s acting was uninspired. One reviewer quipped that the film reviewed itself in an intertitle that said, “It’s too late to argue now, what we need is action . . .” Weber’s attempt to be modern was construed as gratuitous “dirtying up” of intertitles, including one in which a honeymooning wife states, “I’m so tired from the trip, let us have luncheon before we (long pause) unpack.” Critics again accused Weber of failing “to get the real punches of the story over on the screen.”36 Despitethesemixedreviews,Weberreceivedavoteofconfidencein1920 fromthemostpowerfulcompanyinHollywood,FamousPlayers–Lasky,who offered her a contract stipulating $50,000 per picture and a percentage of the profits—a hefty but not astronomical salary for a famous Hollywood director .37 Under this contract Weber was able to make just the kinds of films she wanted under her own Lois Weber Productions brand name. Furthermore, she was guaranteed first-run bookings by Paramount, the distribution arm of the rapidly growing Famous Players–Lasky empire. With all obstacles removed, Weber selected a company of talented actors, taking for her starin -training the “blue-eyed, slim, chaste, soulful” Claire Windsor.38 Armed with a significant budget and apparently complete creative freedom , Weber acted on her long-delayed desire to return to the social problem genre, or at least to serious drama. Like other postwar filmmakers, Weber turned her attentions toward marriage and domestic life. Her first film for Famous Players–Lasky was To Please One Woman (1920), a seven-reel “vamp” drama depicting the selfishly philandering wife of a Wall Street broker . Playing the part of the wife was an actress who called herself Mona Weber, DeMille, and the End of Uplift 143 Lisa, described by one critic as a “black-eyed, vamp-lashed, voluptuous” woman “with a big symmetry of figure.”39 Playing opposite her as “the sweetest girl in Seagirt,” the town in which the action took place, was the delicate, blonde Windsor. The good/bad, light/dark contrast between the virtuous girl and the vamp was hardly subtle, and To Please One Woman was not an auspicious debut. According to the critic for the New York Times: The picture might be subtitled “In Imitation of Griffith.” Mr. Griffith can take such trite, homiletic stories of small-town virtue and corrupting vampires and by the magic of cinematography sometimes give them life, but Lois Weber, who wrote and directed “To Please One Woman,” evidently has not his talent or knack. Occasionally her picture shows flashes of inspiration, which may be evidence that with more responsive material she could make a sufficient number of dramatic moving pictures to compose an exceptional photoplay, and this seems the more likely because of similar evidence in some of her earlier works. So, perhaps the production that fulfills the promises made for each of Miss Weber’s pictures is to come.40 But even Griffith found himself in disfavor among postwar critics and crowds, who appeared to prefer lavish pictures with few morals to teach.41 Moving Picture World’s section “Selling the Picture to the Public” ignored Weber’s role as director of To Please One Woman—Weber’s name was previously a selling point—and even ignored the film’s serious subject and tone, suggesting that exhibitors use humorous cartoons showing “various things men would do to please one woman.” “Make ’em Laugh,” advised Moving Picture World. “It’s the Best Way to Sell.”42 <= Lois Weber now worked for the same studio as Cecil B. DeMille, who by 1920 had fully (if somewhat reluctantly) embraced his role as the director of popular, trend-setting Jazz Age films portraying sumptuous clothing, furnishing, and loose morals. It was Jesse Lasky, now in the studio’s New York office and keeping an eye on the bottom line, who convinced DeMille to make “modern” films. DeMille preferred historical dramas and made his first with Geraldine Farrar as Joan of Arc in the critically acclaimed Joan the Woman (1916). The film did not do well at the box office despite the praise of critics and its inherently uplifting theme. As a pro-French film it was well poised on the eve of the United States’ entry into World War I, but its 144 “A Business Pure &Simple” portrayal of cruel Catholic clergymen, ultimately sacrificing the heroic Joan, displeased Catholic audiences. Sumiko Higashi argues that this signaled rebellion from “an increasingly pluralistic urban audience, fragmented by class and ethnic differences . . . to accept public history validated by the genteel middle class,” but I would posit that it was the Catholic middle class that made the difference here, ushering in a new brand of interest-group pressure on the movies and foreshadowing the future role of the Church in regulating Hollywood.43 In any case, after Joan the Woman Lasky urged DeMille to film a novel of “modern” marriage: Old Wives for New. In his ghostwritten autobiography DeMille bids “a last good-by to integrity and art” as he embarks on the series of films that made him one of the top postwar directors in Hollywood.44 Old Wives for New (1918) concerns the breakup of a middle-aged married couple. The fashion-conscious, fastidious husband, disgusted by his overweight , slovenly wife, suggests a divorce, to which his wife agrees. After the divorce the man falls in love with a younger woman, and his former wife remakes herself with the help of fashionable gowns and modern cosmetics , eventually finding her own upscale beau. The former husband and wife both remarry. The film inspired angry letters from wives, resulting in a sequel, Don’t Change Your Husband (1919). In this film the wife (played by Gloria Swanson) is the fastidious one. She runs off with a flirt at a party after she can no longer stand her husband’s bad habits. Now the husband undergoes a makeover, donning fashionable clothes, and wins back his wife. The final film in the trilogy was Why Change Your Wife? (1920), which DeMille once again made under the duress of Lasky’s office. An unknown Gloria Swanson plays Beth, a woman of conservative taste and reformist tendencies , who represents the middle-class reformer, now considered boring and unfashionable. Her husband, Robert, wants her to listen to his fox-trot records and wear a negligee he bought for her after an attractive gold digger, Sally, modeled it for him in a store. When Beth protests against the negligee and all it represents (resisting commodification), her husband rejects her. Beth goes to her aunt and declares that she is going to “give her life to charity,” but when she overhears gossiping women remark that it was her dowdiness that drove her husband away, she decides to make herself over with fashionable clothes, accessories, and makeup. While on honeymoon withSally,Beth’sformerhusbandspiesanattractivewomaninafashionable bathing suit, and he is shocked to see that it is his former wife. In a series of plot twists Sally’s vindictive ways are revealed, and Robert wins back Beth, who now listens to his fox-trot records and wears negligees.45 Weber, DeMille, and the End of Uplift 145 Film-as-fashion-show was not new; serials had served as fashion shows before the war. But the idea that one must commodify oneself to win and keep love in modern society was different and quite “modern.” (As one critic said of Old Wives for New, “beauty parlors couldn’t have a better ad than this.”)46 And it was not just the fashions; it was the décor as well. Moving pictures now self-consciously illustrated the latest Parisian fashions and interior design for the benefit of the well-heeled classes who might be able to imitate the trends but also for the working class who were now privy to the latest elite styles. Kathy Peiss has argued that working-class street style and behavior influenced the middle classes at the turn of the century, and now luxurious fashions were promoted by Hollywood for the visual consumption of the masses.47 Thus the moving pictures, particularly DeMille’s Jazz Age cycle, contributed to the homogenization of American taste in the 1920s. Certainly fantasy played a role in the appeal of these films evenforthemiddleclass,astheuniformedservants,jewels,modernfurnishing , and architecture (particularly the famed bathrooms with luxurious tubs and double sinks) were out of reach for all but the wealthiest Americans. Weber’s films were not bereft of high fashions or loose morals, but such excesses were illicit. Gowns and jewels signified the immoral vamp; modesty signified the pure heart. The heretofore desired spectatorial position of the Victorian middle class, the core of the uplift movement, was now dismissed by the postwar generation that desired luxury goods without guilt. What of the censors? How could the divorce-ridden, spouse-swapping postwar DeMille films represent the “harmless entertainment” desired by the film industry in the wake of the 1914–15 censorship crisis? As we saw in the previous chapter, a third censorship crisis (following 1908–9 and 1914–15) arose in the immediate postwar years, just as DeMille’s Jazz Age cycle began. Why would Lasky wish to steer DeMille toward a genre so rife with sexually risqué material? The answer, it would seem, was that it sold. It appears that Lasky gambled, hoping that by playing into consumerist desires , DeMille’s films would make large profits despite the threat of censorship . He was right. Allegedly Adolph Zukor of FPL/Paramount hesitated to release Old Wives for New. Earlier Zukor had asserted that Paramount’s 1919 product would concern “wholesome dramas, uplifting in character” and films “dealing with the more cheerful aspects of life.”48 The film itself was subject to in-house censorship, detailed in a memo sent to Lasky, which warned, for example, that average wives might be offended by the theme of the slovenly wife.49 Old Wives for New was not trimmed enough (and could not be) 146 “A Business Pure &Simple” to avoid controversy on its release. Wid’s Daily, which declared the film “classy,” also warned that “most of the good folks in your community who haveto‘remembertheirpositioninsociety’willprobablycomplainandfuss.” The reviewer claimed that “a sequence of café and bed room incidents” was “handled with finesse as far as class and true to life details were concerned but oh boy!—it was rough!” Under the heading “character of story” (following “interiors,” “exteriors,” “detail,” etc.) Wid’s asserts it “Will shock family trade.” Interestingly, in the critic’s “box office analysis to the exhibitor” he added that “Cecil de Mille’s name won’t get you any money but mentioning that this is made by the producer of Joan the Woman will help,” thus revealing that DeMille had not yet made his reputation and that referring to an earlier and more traditionally highbrow film would help to legitimate the film.50 Other critics also found the themes problematic but were impressed by the “artistic” images on the screen. DeMille scholar Sumiko Higashi finds the memo sent to Lasky evidence that FPL/Paramount now aimed for broad appeal rather than just upscale audiences.51 But could appealing to “modern” (and urban) sensibilities be enough to overcome a censorship movement based in an older, but now fragmenting, middle-class sense of respectability? As we have seen, this sensibility rested on gendered definitions fostered in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In 1920, the year that women gained the vote, the ideology of separate spheres began to unravel. Women were no longer above politics, and although the idea that women were morally superior had some resonance throughout the rest of the century , the idea that women, as a group, took a moralistic view of life disappeared at the same time as the threat of a woman’s voting bloc. Women were as politically diverse as men, and a newer generation of women was interested in personal freedoms. Furthermore, the consumerist culture that emerged with the department store, commercial amusements, and the expansion of ever-more effective advertising exploded in the 1920s. The idea that one could remake oneself through the purchase of the correct clothes and cosmetics was again not a new phenomenon, even on the screen, but the combination of postwar politics and the expansion of the U.S. economy, particularly into foreign markets, created a celebration of the American’s ability—and right—to consume goods and enjoy personal freedoms. The complaint that women traded their traditional claim to cultural and political power for self-commodification, as evidenced by Beth’s initial resistance to wearing the negligee, was overwhelmed by the promise of abundance and freedom, personified not only by DeMille’s women but by a string of Weber, DeMille, and the End of Uplift 147 popular onscreen flappers to come. With regard to the DeMille cycle, tie-ins to fashionable stores helped to deflect attention away from the themes of extramarital sexuality and toward the transformative power of consumerism. And box-office returns muted censorship claims. Don’t Change Your Husband was another commercial success, breaking attendance records at several theaters.52 Interestingly, DeMille’s no-star strategy began to work for him following the success of Old Wives for New. Advice to exhibitors of Don’t Change Your Husband,releasedlessthanayearafter OldWivesforNew,said,“Hereisacase whereitisuptoyoutoadvertisethedirector.There is no star’s name to work with, so give Cecil B. DeMille just as much prominence as you customarily would give a favorite player,” adding, “Fans are coming to recognize the importance of the director.”53 <= The name Lois Weber had already reached name-brand status well before 1919, but it represented increasingly outdated values that no artistic sense could overrule. She made two more films at Paramount before she was released from her contract: What’s Worth While (1921) and Too Wise Wives (1921). Both pitted the vampish Mona Lisa against the virtuous Windsor, and although both films were beautifully staged, photographed, and enacted , they were also dismissed as trite and old-fashioned, indeed, beyond the reach of a new censorship flurry aimed at crime serials and low comedy. In her lavish sets and costumes, and her focus on modern marriage and infidelity , Weber was clearly aiming for a film in the same vein as DeMille. She did not succeed. Too Wise Wives deliberately portrayed a young wife too eager to please her husband, suffocating his attempts to relax at home. The film encourages the viewer to sympathize with the husband’s wandering eye and then to view the resulting companionate marriage as the ideal. This was Weber’s attempt to be “modern,” but it was too contrived and still tried too hard to sell a moral.54 According to one reviewer the secret to DeMille’s postwar success was his very shallowness. His style was not “suited to stories of real people and serious import,” and that was just as it should be. A DeMille film was “a magnificent puppet show, legitimately and logically excessive in every way.” It was pure entertainment.55 With Weber’s box-office appeal clearly in decline, FPL/Paramount ended its contract with her. She sold two more films, apparently made while still under contract to Famous Players–Lasky, to an independent distributor. The first, The Blot (1921), proved to be an outstanding critical 148 “A Business Pure &Simple” success, which must have given Weber some satisfaction. The Blot was an unapologetic social problem film, depicting the sinful underpayment of those who “clothe the mind,” college professors, librarians, and clergymen. According to one reviewer The Blot was free of “offensive preaching” and should “clean up a tidy sum of money.” Unfortunately, it did not.56 The last release under Lois Weber Productions, What Do Men Want? depicted a story of a philandering husband and a virtuous wife. It garnered better reviews than her first films for Paramount, but it drove one critic to despair. Why, he asked, does Weber devote “the really worth while time of herself and her staff to those simplified sermons . . . Why don’t all these sufficiently competent people concern themselves with telling a good, straightforward story and let whatever moral it has take care of itself?” One reviewer cracked wise that Weber’s version of a “good woman” would lose her husband “simply because the poor fellow is bored to death.”57 Weber, whose morally upright films bored modern audiences, stood outside the postwar industry. Her views were quaint, her crusading unwanted. She tried to keep up with the times and even tried to portray her relationship with her husband as a modern companionate marriage (referring to him as her “chum”) but to no avail.58 The very tradition and sincerity that made her the ideal filmmaker before the war contained and diminished her afterward , as both the film industry and society took a different tack. Although shemadeafewmorefilms,Weber’scareerasaHollywooddirectorwasover. Her personal life began to fall apart as well. Shortly after her release from FPL/Paramount, Weber’s marriage ended, and she experienced what she later referred to as a nervous breakdown.59 <= There was one corner of the industry where traditional notions of gender could still make female filmmakers desirable. When the postwar Hollywood scandals broke, once again the assumption of female moral superiority rendered the presence of women as filmmakers politically useful. In articles that smacked of publicity from the Hays Office, women filmmakers were suddenly lauded in the early 1920s as if they had just sprang upon the scene and had not yet had time to cleanse the industry. Moving Picture World, which knew better, claimed that Mrs. A. B. Maescher’s Night Life in Hollywood (1922), which tells the story of a young man who travels to Los Angeles in search of a “perpetual party” only to find the proverbial girl next door, marked the “New Feminine Influence in Picture-Making.”60 In 1923 E. Leslie Gilliams of Illustrated World also claimed (incorrectly) Weber, DeMille, and the End of Uplift 149 that women were just beginning to enter the film industry. After noting the “new” participation of women behind the camera, Gilliams wondered if they would bring about the reforms needed to save Hollywood, adding, “That is everybody’s hope.”61 Only one woman reaped the limited benefits of this small crack in a closing door: Dorothy Davenport Reid. Dorothy Davenport was a leading actress at Universal when she married Wallace Reid (then a “director and actor of note”) in 1913.62 For several years she was known as Dorothy Davenport Reid, but in 1921, after returning from an acting hiatus, she changed her billing to Mrs. Wallace Reid. A newspaper account noted that it “will be a great shock to the women who are new-fashioned enough to think that every member of the feminine sex should carve her career under her own name—especially when she has one as well known as Dorothy Davenport.” The writer surmises it was a move to quash any rumors that the couple was on the verge of a split.63 It seems quite likely that Wallace Reid was, by that time, succumbing to the morphine habit that would kill him in 1923. In March 1922 Wallace Reid was committed to the Banksia Place Sanitarium for an addiction to morphine, which was blamed at various times on a back injury he had suffered while making a film, spinal injuries from a train accident , or the influence of someone trying to help him cope with exhaustion.64 Wallace Reid was by then a top star, having appeared in several Cecil B. DeMille films (The Golden Chance, Joan the Woman, The Affairs of Anatol). Reid died in January 1923 at the age of thirty-one, the same month that Will Hays was appointed film czar. Reid’s death was one of the largest of the Hollywood scandals, especially after Dorothy Davenport Reid gave the police the names of “Bohemians” who were responsible for introducing her husband to drugs, thus exposing drug trafficking in the movie colony .65 Shortly afterward, Davenport Reid attended a conference on narcotics held in Washington, DC, with Hearst newspaper reporter Adela Rogers St. Johns. When she returned to Hollywood, she set about producing an antidrug moving picture. Davenport Reid told interviewers that after her husband’s death she had just wanted to be left alone, but others persuaded her to “do something.” Thus assuming a reluctant stance and armed with moral purpose and “special dispensation” from Will Hays, Reid began work on Human Wreckage with coproducer and financier Thomas Ince.66 (Interestingly , only six months later, Elinor Kershaw Ince, his wife, asked for and received a salary of $250 a week from Ince’s board of directors in acknowledgment for her film editing and story selection services, which she had apparently been doing for free.)67 150 “A Business Pure &Simple” According to a copy of the continuity script, Human Wreckage began with scenes of dope peddling from street corner to pool hall to school grounds, where pushers are depicted giving “dope” cigarettes to children. Then “Mrs. Wallace Reid” begins speaking in a medium shot: “I wish to deliver a message to every man and woman of our present day civilization; a warning against a great and growing danger.” After a close-up another intertitle from Mrs. Reid states: “I have chosen the medium of the screen because it reaches the four corners of the earth.” After directly asking the audience to help her “fight,” the story begins. Human Wreckage depicts the story of an upscale and exhausted lawyer, Alan McFarland, whose doctor introduces him to morphine at their club. Eventually he finds a new supply from street peddlers, and soon he is blackmailed into representing pushers at a trial. Other addicts aregraphicallydepicted,includingayoungwidowwhoappliesamorphinelaced breast salve before nursing her baby. “The baby must have inherited the ‘craving’ from me,” she woefully explains; “it’s the only thing that will quiet him.” The climax includes a train crash that kills the chief pusher. Mrs. Reid, who played the lawyer’s wife, appears once again as “Mrs. Wallace Reid” at the end of the film, sympathizing with the addicts, whose “sole sensuality was not to be in pain,” and proclaiming the “dope peddler” to be the real enemy. In a close-up at the end of the film she looks directly into the camera and asks “Won’t you help?”68 Given Lois Weber’s postwar failure, it might seem surprising to learn that Human Wreckage did extremely well at the box office. Of course, Wallace Reid’s shocking death and rumors of continuing addiction among Hollywood stars fueled curiosity. How would a Hollywood insider, particularly the widow of Wally Reid, depict the dope scourge? But there was another reason for the film’s box-office success. As Kevin Brownlow argues, Dorothy Reid was a “showman” at heart, willing to inch toward sensationalism and exploitation.69 Shocking visions of a smuggler offering spiked chocolate to a girl, a middle-class lawyer shooting up, and a young mother drugging her baby were enhanced by garishly tinted expressionistic settings depicting a bad drug trip.70 As the reviewer for Variety noted, “The young can see here things they should not know.”71 Interpreted by Photoplay as “a powerful sermon for increased governmental activity in the suppression of the narcotic trade,” Human Wreckage was really one of the first exploitation films. Although aspects of the genre had been employed since the earliest films, the combination of “forbidden topic,” deliberate scare tactics, and direct audience address (“Won’t you help?”) became common tropes of the B-movie genre. Ironically, coproducer Thomas Ince died a year later under Weber, DeMille, and the End of Uplift 151 mysterious circumstances. After suddenly falling ill on William Randolph Hearst’s yacht, he died within hours. There were initial reports of a gunshot, but the official cause of death was a fatal case of indigestion.72 Using the money made from Human Wreckage to finance her own production company (and to set up the Wallace Reid Foundation sanitarium for addicts), Reid quickly made Broken Laws (1924) at Ince’s studio, a simplistic film about juvenile delinquency and parental responsibility. Broken Laws did not do nearly as well at the box office as did Human Wreckage. Of course it did not have an authentic Hollywood scandal to publicize it.73 Reid then made The Red Kimono (1926), another in the exploitation genre. The Red Kimono told a true but outdated white slavery tale of a rural innocent urged to marry her city suitor, only to find herself enslaved as a prostitute. After seeing her erstwhile husband buying a wedding ring for another, she shoots him but is acquitted of the crime. Reid, who appeared at the beginning and end of the film, looked directly at the camera and claimed it was women’s duty to help “countless women” like her protagonist. What is interesting about The Red Kimono is the manner in which the film vilifies the middle-class social reformer, once the idealized movie patron. “Mrs. Beverley Fontaine” takes the acquitted Gabrielle home because rescuing a former white slave is fashionable (the story takes place in 1917) and fascinating. She throws a tea to impress her friends with her catch and her own largesse, and to Gabrielle’s horror one of the female guests corners her and asks her for sex tips. Becoming bored with her pet project, Mrs. Fontaine disappears on a journey and blithely leaves Gabrielle a note telling her she must find some other place to live. Ultimately, Gabrielle marries Mrs. Fontaine’s kind chauffeur and begins life anew.74 Human Wreckage marked the height of Reid’s critical acclaim as a producer . Broken Laws received lukewarm reviews, and critics panned The Red Kimono mercilessly. Worst of all, Adela Rogers St. Johns, who wrote the screenplay for The Red Kimono based on a story she covered years earlier as a crime reporter, had not bothered to change the name of the woman in question . Now happily remarried, the woman sued Reid for all she was worth.75 Yet Dorothy Davenport Reid was one of the very few women whose filmmaking career continued into the sound era. After The Earth Woman (1926) received the same critical treatment as The Red Kimono, she returned to acting for a time, but she became producer once again in the late 1920s and 1930s, working for small “poverty row” companies that existed on the margins of the studio system.76 152 “A Business Pure &Simple” <= The end of the uplift movement in the years just after 1915 meant that the maternalist reformer was no longer an ideal filmmaker. This, of course, hurt Lois Weber the most, because she had built her reputation on those gendered grounds. Ironically, even as the mainstream industry deemed the feminist version of uplift too dangerous to continue, the postwar industry was robust enough to risk tempting censors in the form of “modern” sex films of the kind made famous by Cecil B. DeMille. It was a marketing decision, and a correct one as far as the bottom line was concerned. The feminized middleclass respectability that informed nineteenth- and early twentieth-century American culture was rapidly dissipating as the Jazz Age commenced. Both inside and outside the film industry, the middle-class matron lost her positionasthearbiteroftasteforthemasses .ForLoisWeberthisshiftspelledthe end of an illustrious career. For feature stars, however, whose power derived from audience demand, the expansion of the industry after 1916 once again afforded the opportunity to take the leap into independent production, this time on a scale that dwarfed the earlier generation of star-producers. Weber, DeMille, and the End of Uplift 153 ...


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