Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Cecil B. DeMille's Hollywood

Cecil B. DeMille's Hollywood

Robert S. Birchard
With a foreword by Kevin Thomas
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 496
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Cecil B. DeMille's Hollywood
    Book Description:

    " ""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.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-2636-4
    Subjects: History, Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-v)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vi-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-x)
    Kevin Thomas

    In 1989 I had the honor of introducing the Silent Society’s seventy-fifth anniversary screening of Cecil B. DeMille’sThe Squaw Manin 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 began across the street from the Barn’s original location at Vine Street and Selma Avenue, extending many blocks to where the Egyptian Theater stands today. But I quickly brought Robert Birchard to the stage, knowing of his passion and knowledge of DeMille. His remarks...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. 1 The Squaw Man
    (pp. 1-13)

    In the fall of 1913 Cecil B. DeMille faced a bleak future. He was thirty-two 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 outstanding obligations.

    In a November 10, 1913, letter to theatrical entrepreneur George Pelton, DeMille complained, “The present conditions, theatrically, are the most unfavorable in the twelve years that I have been associated with them. The pieces that are absolute...

  6. 2 The Virginian
    (pp. 14-18)

    Even beforeThe Squaw Manwas completed, the Lasky Feature Play Company was moving ahead on its second production, a film version of the popular novel and playBrewster’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 project, the strain on the young company’s capital assets was tremendous. On January 23, 1914, Sam Goldfish wired DeMille: “GIVE US BY RETURN WIRE SOME IDEA HOW MUCH MONEY YOU WILL REQUIRE TO START ‘BREWSTER’S MILLIONS’ AS UNTIL ‘SQUAW MAN’ IS RELEASED WE HAVE VERY...

  7. 3 The Call of the North
    (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 to be more comfortable during the summer months,” Jesse Lasky wrote DeMille on May 26, 1914 .

    . . . There is now Thirty-five Hundred Dollars in the Treasury stock, which we are going to divide among the present stockholders by way...

  8. 4 What’s-His-Name
    (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 likeThe Cowboys and the Bachelor Girls(G. Melies, 1910),A Suffragette in Spite of Himself(Edison, 1912), andFuture Man(Rolma-Metro, 1916), which were filled with brow-beaten house-husbands, ball-busting wives with the physical dimensions of defensive tackles, and supposedly innocent sweet young things who could more than hold their own in a man’s world.

    Continuing this tradition in the...

  9. 5 The Man from Home
    (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 and morally bankrupt.The Man from Homeclearly followed in this tradition, and was all the more timely as Europe settled into the “Great War,” which most Americans of 1914 viewed as the height of European folly.

    The Man from Homewas based on a play by two of the greatest purveyors of Americana, Booth...

  10. 6 The Rose of the Rancho
    (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 brother had their greatest successes working with the silver-haired Wizard of Broadway, and Cecil acted in several Belasco productions. But beyond this long-standing family dependence, Belasco had caused Cecil a humiliating professional embarrassment.

    In 1910 he hired DeMille to write a play—The Return of...

  11. 7 The Girl of the Golden West
    (pp. 34-36)

    The Girl of the Golden Westwas 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 ofThe Girl of the Golden Westwas a frugal production, cranked out in a mere eight days, and the film must be considered one of the director’s weaker early efforts. The settings by Wilfred Buckland were solid and realistic for the time, and DeMille...

  12. 8 The Warrens of Virginia
    (pp. 37-40)

    Cecil B. DeMille had a long association withThe Warrens of Virginiabefore 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 Virginiawas not part of the ten-play Lasky-Belasco agreement. The Lasky Feature Play Company carried the play on its books as an asset at the timeThe Squaw Manwas in production, but whether Lasky paid for the rights or William deMille...

  13. 9 The Unafraid
    (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 fewer than thirteen of them himself, as well as parts of several others.

    With the Great War raging in Europe, American audiences took an interest in Serbia and other exotic, little-known principalities of eastern Europe. Part of the attraction of Eleanor Ingram’s 1913 novelThe Unafraidwas...

  14. 10 The Captive
    (pp. 44-46)

    Although Jeanie Macpherson appeared in several DeMille films beginning withThe Rose of the Rancho, The Captivemarked 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 at Universal: actress-writer-director. According to an official studio biography, Macpherson encountered Cecil DeMille several times before actually meeting him.

    She played for a few months in the musical production,Havana.Then she secured a part in the William deMille productionStrong heart,with Edgar Selwyn in the lead....

  15. 11 The Wild Goose Chase
    (pp. 47-49)

    The Wild Goose Chasebrought 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 ofThe Wild Goose Chaseis known to exist in any archive or private collection, and it is a pity. Ina Claire was a delightful theatrical personality, and from contemporary reviews it seems that DeMille was able to capture much of her stage presence on film. Claire made only two other silent films,The Puppet Crown(Lasky Feature Play...

  16. 12 The Arab
    (pp. 50-51)

    In the 1920s, after Rudolph Valentino created a sensation inThe Sheik(Famous Players-Lasky/Paramount, 1921), Paramount sold remake rights forThe Arabto 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 the ranks of bit players to star inThe Four Horsemen of the ApocalypseandThe Conquering Powerfor Metro in 1921. However, Metro failed to recognize Valentino’s appeal, and the screen’s first Latin lover was signed by Paramount. Meanwhile, DeMille used Novarro as a...

  17. 13 Chimmie Fadden
    (pp. 52-53)

    Chimmie Faddenwas created by E.W. Townsend, a writer for theNew 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 by Augustus Thomas the following year.

    Thomas fleshed out Townsend’s character pieces with a plot that has Chimmie befriended by a society woman and hired as a rather bumbling butler. Complications arise when Fadden’s brother robs the home of...

  18. 14 Kindling
    (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 thatKindlingis a very special picture and that DeMille is at last in full command of his medium.

    Kindlingis DeMille’s most claustrophobic film. All of the action is played in tightly composed shots emphasizing the oppressive nature of tenement life. In many ways the film is a polemic rather than a drama. At one point...

  19. 15 Maria Rosa
    (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 forParamount Progressin 1915, “the audience, at the conclusion of the opera, flatly refused to leave the auditorium. The deafening applause continued without ceasing while Miss Farrar came repeatedly before the curtain, bowing her thanks .... ”¹ Geraldine Farrar, one of the great stars of the Metropolitan Opera, was beloved by the American public; they were proud that this homegrown daughter of a professional baseball player was an internationally recognized celebrity in a European...

  20. 16 Carmen
    (pp. 60-63)

    In 1915 a critic for theNew York Dramatic Mirrorwrote, “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 characterization has died in the limbo of forgotten singers. Her acting in this production is one of the marvels of the stage and screen, so natural, so realistic that it is hard to believe that it is acting.” Twenty years later, in 1935, William deMille sat...

  21. 17 Temptation
    (pp. 64-65)

    The third of DeMille’s films with Geraldine Farrar,Temptationwas the second to be distributed—presumably to separate the release ofMaria RosaandCarmen,the two Spanish-themed films. The film is not known to exist in any archive or private collection.

    Temptationwas the first screenwriting effort of Hector Turnbull, former drama critic of theNew York Tribune.Turnbull, recruited to the silent drama by William deMille, went on to marry Jesse Lasky’s sister after her divorce from Sam Goldfish. Cecil DeMille’s low regard for Turnbull’s abilities as a screenwriter became a source of friction when William deMille took...

  22. 18 Chimmie Fadden Out West
    (pp. 66-67)

    Chimmie Faddenhad 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 inThe Godless Girl(1928), DeMille would never exercise again. Critical reception of the picture was excellent, and a third Moore/Fadden picture was scheduled to go into production.

    However, Jesse Lasky got cold feet when he sawChimmie Fadden Out Westat Tally’s Theater...

  23. 19 The Cheat
    (pp. 68-70)

    When this film first appeared in France in the middle of the war [WWI], 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 critical reputation is based almost entirely onThe Cheatand its French acceptance as a masterpiece. Not coincidentally, until recently it has been the only one of DeMille’s early films generally available for reappraisal.

    For all its sensationalism and box-office success,The Cheatwas not a project close to DeMille’s heart, though he was more than willing to accept...

  24. 20 The Golden Chance
    (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 remadeThe Squaw Mantwice, in 1918 and again in 1931—he had a strong personal connection to the property. His 1956 version ofThe Ten Commandments,containing none of the modern elements of the 1923 original, was barely a remake at all. Besides, DeMille’s firstTen Commandmentswas one of the biggest box-office hits of the silent era, and the remake complemented the cycle of Biblical spectacles that Hollywood found profitable in...

  25. 21 The Trail of the Lonesome Pine
    (pp. 76-78)

    Cecil B. DeMille’s production ofThe Trail of the Lonesome Pinewas 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 onThe Trail of the Lonesome Pinewith Dixie Compton in the lead. The film was to have been the second Broadway Picture release.

    That same year the California Motion Picture Corporation asked Frank Paret to negotiate for film rights to the play with theatrical managers Klaw and Erlanger, who controlled Eugene Walter’s play...

  26. 22 The Heart of Nora Flynn
    (pp. 79-81)

    The Heart of Nora Flynnis 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 ofSherlock Holmesand was famous for her portrayal of Oliver Twist in a play based on the Dickens novel. She was a gifted actress with large, sad, dark eyes. Elliott Dexter became one of DeMille’s favorite leading men. Solid, pleasant, capable—he never set the screen on fire, but he embodied the middle-class man in crisis that became the central character of...

  27. 23 The Dream Girl
    (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. During the year he concentrated his efforts on his first “big picture,”Joan the Woman,and directed only three other films. The third of his programmers for the year,The Dream Girlwas made very cheaply and cannot have been of much interest...

  28. 24 Joan the Woman
    (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 Nationwas a risky $110,000 investment for Griffith and his backers; but the film’s success attracted investment capital to the picture business, and, in the best movieland tradition of “never a leader but a follower be,” 1916 saw a number of productions designed to rival Griffith’s success: Thomas Ince producedCivilization,Vitagraph brought outThe Battle Cry...

  29. 25 A Romance of the Redwoods
    (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 percent of the profits from her pictures produced under the contract, and an additional $40,000 for a month’s layoff that resulted while she was renegotiating the terms of her employment. The contract also called for Pickford to be given her own studio in...

  30. 26 The Little American
    (pp. 107-111)

    In a 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 theLusitania—but the issues were not clear-cut. Reports of atrocities were often exaggerated, and suspicion lingered (later confirmed) that the passenger shipLusitaniawas also carrying munitions bound for Britain. A substantial segment of the population was hostile toward Britain, but most Americans looked on the war as a family squabble between blood-related monarchs and felt the world would be better off if monarchy were abolished as...

  31. 27 The Woman God Forgot
    (pp. 112-115)

    The relative failure ofJoan the Womanput 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 trek to the West Coast, DeMille received a less-than-subtle hint from the New York office. On March 10, 1917, Jesse Lasky wrote:


  32. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  33. 28 The Devil Stone
    (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 of the elements of the picture—especially the characterization of Tully Marshall as a greedy and seedy old man who marries Farrar only to gain possession of the Devil Stone—seem to anticipate the work of Erich von Stroheim.¹


  34. 29 The Whispering Chorus
    (pp. 118-120)

    A legend persists that Cecil B. DeMille was an artist betrayed by his audience; thus, the failure ofThe Whispering Chorusis 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.

    Criticized in some quarters as being overly morbid,The Whispering Chorusdid not perform as well as DeMille’s four previous star vehicles with Geraldine Farrar and Mary Pickford, but it was far from a commercial disaster. Besides,The Whispering Chorushardly represents an artistic dead end for DeMille. In fact the film develops...

  35. 30 Old Wives for New
    (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.”¹ As DeMille was in production onThe Whispering Chorus,Jesse Lasky advised the director: “We are holdingOld Wives For Newwhich we paid $6,500 for until we get some word from you as to whether or not you think you can make a picture out of it. Personally, I would like to see you become commercial to the extent of agreeing to produce this novel. It will do twice as...

  36. 31 We Can’t Have Everthing
    (pp. 125-126)

    Of all the lost DeMille films,We Can’t Have Everythingis the most intriguing. The story was a rather mixed-up tale of star-crossed lovers who must endure a succession of mis-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 studio and offered a rare behind-the-scenes look at the Famous Players-Lasky studio. DeMille even incorporated documentary footage of a fire that broke out at the studio during production.

    Tully Marshall based his characterization of the movie director on two real-life...

  37. 32 Till I Come Back to You
    (pp. 127-130)

    Till I Come Back to Youis 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 stops near the von Krutz home and sees Yvonne’s young brother, Jacques, playing soldier. The kindly king gives the boy an ivy cutting to symbolize the Belgian motto—“I die where I cling”—and asks...

  38. 33 The Squaw Man (first remake)
    (pp. 131-134)

    Beginning withWe Can’t Have EverythingDeMille 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 the “star” of his own productions meant a reduction in the budget for name acting talent, and while DeMille could suggest properties to the New York office, he had no real power to pick and choose his projects.

    DeMille wanted to followTill I...

  39. 34 Don’t Change Your Husband
    (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.

    Swanson entered pictures in 1914 with the Essanay Film Mfg. Co. in Chicago. Later she signed with Mack Sennett and co-starred in such Triangle-Keystone two-reelers asThe Danger Girl(1916) andTeddy at the Throttle(1917). Clarence Badger, her director onThe Danger Girl,remembered Gloria and recommended her...

  40. 35 For Better, For Worse
    (pp. 138-143)

    After the completion ofDon’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 with signing her at a bargain-basement salary. The agreement, dated December 30, 1918, paid Swanson the munificent sum of $150 a week for the first four months and $200 a week thereafter. With the usual options to be exercised at the discretion of...

  41. 36 Male and Female
    (pp. 144-149)

    A dolph 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 assault against the Famous Players-Lasky and Paramount/Artcraft interests, but the new cooperative venture quickly signed Charlie Chaplin and made overtures to Mary Pickford.

    As early as December 1917, Lasky wrote DeMille:

    Zukor had a talk with Pickford in California regarding new contract with which I believe you are familiar. She was to decide whether she preferred to...

  42. 37 Why Change Your Wife?
    (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 toMale and Femalewas an adaptation of the novelSusan Lenox, Her Fall and Riseby David Graham Phillips, author ofOld Wives for New.Negotiations for the novel bogged down over price, and Jesse Lasky was concerned that DeMille could not “picturize the story so that it might not stir up grat [sic] censorship agitation.”¹


  43. 38 Something to Think About
    (pp. 155-157)

    In addition toThe Wanderer,Cecil B. DeMille also had his eye on Richard Walton Tully’sBird of Paradiseas a future picture property. As he went into production onWhy Change Your Wife?,DeMille heard that George Loane Tucker, director ofThe Miracle Man,was planning to make a film of Tully’s play. He complained to Lasky and was told to “PAY NO ATTENTION TO TUCKER’S STATEMENTS YOU WILL POSITIVELY GET BIRD OF PARADISE PROVIDED WE ARE ABLE TO ACQUIRE IT.”¹

    Bird of Paradiseremained an elusive property, and plans to produceThe Wandererevaporated with Paramount’s need for...

  44. 39 Forbidden Fruit
    (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 returned to one of his earlier successes.

    WhileForbidden Fruithas many virtues, it lacks the intensity and simplicity of its predecessor,The Golden Chance.Jeanie Macpherson’s basic scenario remains intact, but there are significant alterations:...

  45. 40 The Affairs of Anatol
    (pp. 162-164)

    Jesse Lasky arranged to acquire Arthur Schnitzler’s playAnatoland 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 break up his unit, and he complained that Schnitzler’s play of revolving romances would be difficult to bring to the screen. He lost the battle. Lasky recommended that the title be changed toFive Kisses(for Anatol’s five affairs of the heart) and announced it as the next...

  46. 41 Fool’s Paradise
    (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 comment that “Great art is as irrational as great music. It is mad with its own loveliness.” While one could argue whether or notFool’s Paradiseis great art, there is no question that it is “irrational” and “mad with its own loveliness”—it is also highly entertaining.

    Wounded in the Great War, Arthur...

  47. 42 Saturday Night
    (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 Nightwas designed to be produced inexpensively. There was no historic flashback or dream sequence, and the actors (with the exception of Conrad Nagel) were selected for economy rather than star power. Jack Mower and Edith Roberts were both moderately popular players who spent the better part of their careers in Universal program pictures. Leatrice Joy was “at liberty” after an engagement with the struggling Goldwyn Company. Even...

  48. 43 Manslaughter
    (pp. 172-174)

    How does one explainManslaughter?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.Manslaughterexhibits all of the excesses and none of the virtues evident in the director’s other work.

    After completingSaturday Night,DeMille went on a European vacation accompanied by his Japanese valet, Yamabe, and art director Paul Iribe. While in Paris he contracted rheumatic fever. Although not considered fatal,...

  49. 44 Adam’s Rib
    (pp. 175-177)

    DeMille returned to top form withAdam’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.

    The premise is simple: the wild young flapper of today is not so different from the wild young cave girl of several eons ago. Deep down she has heart, soul, and a willingness to sacrifice her own happiness for the happiness of others. The plot devised by Macpherson and DeMille concerns a middle-aged couple and their daughter. Michael Ramsay is a...

  50. 45 The Ten Commandments
    (pp. 178-189)

    A three-page ad for Paramount Pictures in the December 8, 1923, issue ofMotion Picture Newsproclaimed:

    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 now coming:To the Ladies, The Call of the Canyon, Big Brother, West of the Water Tower, Don’t Call It Love, Flaming Barriers, The Humming Bird, Pied Piper Malone, Shadows of Paris, The Next Corner.

    Nearly all of these pictures have been completed, and all of them have been screened sufficiently to allow us to promise,...

  51. 46 Triumph
    (pp. 190-193)

    As DeMille finished editingThe 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 turn out several relatively inexpensive pictures to compensate the studio for indulging his whims on the biblical spectacle.

    Triumph,the first film under the new contract, was based on a short story by May Edginton and augmented with a Romeo and Juliet flashback. In 1922 DeMille suggested making a screen version of Shakespeare’s romantic tragedy with Rudolph Valentino and Leatrice Joy in the title roles. The New York office was apoplectic. “[I...

  52. 47 Feet of Clay
    (pp. 194-196)

    For the second picture under DeMille’s new contract, Famous Players-Lasky 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, only to discover that they are all dead and being transported to the “other side.” It was the director’s idea to combine elements of Vane’s play with Beulah Marie Dix’s one-act playAcross the Border(1914), which had a similar theme. Lasky made little effort...

  53. 48 The Golden Bed
    (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 yourGolden Bed.”¹

    The plot is full of the kind of “red-earth-of-Tara” stuff about doing anything and everything to save the old family homestead, represented by the infamous golden bed. Flora Lee Peake manages to maintain her exotic lifestyle for a time on money her blindly adoring husband has pilfered from...

  54. 49 The Road to Yesterday
    (pp. 200-209)

    While in New York pondering his future, DeMille was approached 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 Europe. The films would be made with an American director and star, and the rest of the cast and the production facilities would be European, allowing exploitation as European product on the Continent and American product in the States.

    But DeMille put consideration of this proposition aside when he received a report from his business manager, John Fisher, about financier Jeremiah...

  55. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  56. 50 The Volga Boatman
    (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 novelThe Volga Boatman.But if the director was able to acquire this property at a relatively modest fee, in general DeMille Pictures was finding it tough going in the literary market place. On November 7, 1925, DeMille wrote his story editor Ella K. Adams, “Deem it advisable you return [to Los Angeles from New York] immediately for conference on material . ....

  57. 51 The King of Kings
    (pp. 216-226)

    In his autobiography Cecil B. DeMille chose to rememberThe King of Kingsas 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 would be more accurate to say that the film allowed DeMille’s faltering company to continue in operation as picture after picture in the studio’s regular program failed at the box office.¹

    DeMille originally planned to makeThe Deluge,based on the Old Testament story of Noah and the Flood, as his next...

  58. 52 The Godless Girl
    (pp. 227-233)

    On May 11, 1927, during the early research stages ofThe 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 playChicago,as he had received assurances that Will Hays and the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Association would not object to bringing the story to the screen.Chicagois about a two-timing wife who kills her boyfriend and becomes a flash-in-the-pan celebrity during the ensuing “Trial of the Century.”¹

    The resulting film was controversial enough that DeMille Pictures attached a special title to...

  59. 53 Dynamite
    (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 Pathé 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 the interests of theater chain Loew’s, Inc., and Metro Pictures with those of the Goldwyn Company and Louis B. Mayer Productions. But unlike the DeMille-Metropolitan-P.D.C.-Pathé combine, M-G-M became a company that was much stronger than the sum of the rather anemic predecessor companies that had...

  60. 54 Madam Satan
    (pp. 241-247)

    In 1929 M-G-M producedThe Broadway Melodyfor $379,000 and reaped a box-office bonanza of $1,604,000 in profits.The Hollywood Revue of 1929cost the studio $426,000 and returned a profit of $1,135,000. “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 musical. The result was one of DeMille’s strangest films, a social comedy incorporating elements of operetta and avant garde ballet set aboard a captive dirigible—at least it’s captive until an electrical storm separates the airship from its mooring mast....

  61. 55 The Squaw Man (second remake)
    (pp. 248-250)

    In the wake of a cycle of big-budget Westerns likeIn Old Arizona(Fox, 1929),Billy the Kid(M-G-M, 1930),The Big Trail(Fox, 1930), andCimarron(RKO, 1931), it must have seemed a good idea for Cecil B. DeMille to undertake a sound version ofThe Squaw Man.In order to clear the rights, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was forced to deal with two rival studios: Paramount-Famous-Lasky controlled the silent motion picture rights to Edwin Milton Royle’s play; but Warner Bros. acquired the talking picture and television rights on March 12, 1930, only to turn them over to M-G-M for a quick...

  62. 56 The Sign of the Cross
    (pp. 251-260)

    At the lowest point in his film career DeMille turned to Wilson Barrett’sThe Sign of the Cross,a popular play of 1895, as the source for his next film. He saw the project as the third part of a religious trilogy that began withThe Ten CommandmentsandThe King of Kings.During his extended vacation DeMille arranged for attorney Neil McCarthy to secure the rights. A film version had been made by the Famous Players Film Company in 1914, but in the intervening years the property had been acquired by Mary Pickford, who was now on the verge...

  63. 57 This Day and Age
    (pp. 261-266)

    Cecil B. DeMille believed that his return to Paramount would be short-lived. 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 onThe Sign of the Cross,and on November 14, DeMille told his special publicity representative, John Flinn, “They are asking me to start a small picture in January.”¹ The film would be produced on a budget that was reminiscent of DeMille’s expenditures in the late 1910s, but he felt he could not reject the...

  64. 58 Four Frightened People
    (pp. 267-274)

    Four Frightened Peopleharks 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 a Pekinese-toting feminist lecturing South Sea natives on the liberating rewards of birth control? Or a character like the native Montague, the “most white man on the island” (brilliantly played by Leo Carrillo), who believes that his borrowed necktie grants him immunity from savage violence? Or Judy Cavendish, the...

  65. 59 Cleopatra
    (pp. 275-282)

    On February 10, 1938, after seeing a revival ofCleopatra,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 modern. Answering for DeMille, Frank Calvin replied on February 16:

    For your information, over six months were spent in the research work on this picture, including a very careful study of the costumes and head dresses of the period, and you can rest assured that they were correct.

    Quite often modern clothes designers copy ancient costumes, and it is for that reason that you...

  66. 60 The Crusades
    (pp. 283-292)

    With the success ofThe Sign of the CrossandCleopatra,Paramount was willing to loosen the budgetary purse strings for another historical epic, and DeMille obliged with his biggest production to date.The Crusadestelescoped the seven historic Holy Land campaigns, which occurred between 1096 and 1291 A.D., into a single narrative, although Harold Lamb, a screenwriter for the film and the author of the book that inspired the project, noted:

    It is the third Crusade with which story is concerned 1187 A.D. the year Saladin captured Jerusalem.

    The failure of this crusade was caused by the personal quarrel...

  67. 61 The Plainsman
    (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:

    Nor was the report particularly favorable toward Paramount’s dealings with DeMille.The Crusadeshad been made under a two-picture contract, with the second scheduled picture to beSamson and Delilah.DeMille had been advanced $60,000 of the $75,000 due under the contract forSamson and Delilahand had spent $142,000 in preliminary costs, exclusive of studio overhead charges, preparing the script and getting ready for production before it was decided to abandon the project....

  68. 62 The Buccaneer
    (pp. 299-305)

    The Buccaneerhad 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 playCaptain What-the-Devil.

    As early as 1918 DeMille was interested in making a pirate story based on the life of Henry Morgan. Famous Players-Lasky rejected the notion based on exhibitor aversion to costume pictures, but DeMille returned to the idea several times through the years. In 1924 writer Hugh Wiley proposed a story calledThe Republic of Texasthat among other things promised: “Pirates: Galveston Gang, Jean Lafitte, terror...

  69. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  70. 63 Union Pacific
    (pp. 306-311)

    FollowingThe BuccaneerDeMille 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 project in preparation.¹

    Industry trade magazine publisher Martin Quigley suggested a film based on the building of the transcontinental railroad, and DeMille was not dissuaded when he learned that Warner Bros. had already registered the titleUnion Pacificwith the Motion Picture Producers and...

  71. 64 North West Mounted Police
    (pp. 312-315)

    Although DeMille had long been interested in color effects and had included two-color Technicolor sequences inThe Ten Commandments(1923) andThe King of Kings(1927),North West Mounted Policewas 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, saturated hues, the film has a story-book quality that is vivid and pleasing to the eye, but also rather stylized and theatrical.

    The decision to shoot in color was no casual option in 1940. The only viable full-spectrum color process was Technicolor’s three-strip system, first...

  72. 65 Reap the Wild Wind
    (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 merely sat—and the chair had better be there! DeMille’s chair boy became a symbol of Hollywood’s vainglorious obsessions, and virtually every parody on filmmaking sported a young character holding a chair in lockstep behind a tyrannical director...

  73. 66 The Story of Dr. Wassell
    (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 toReap the Wild WindMr. 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 wasRurales(sometimes calledThe Flame), a film with a Mexican theme that was to be shot in black and white. Although Arthur Rosson actually shot some second-unit location footage, the picture was shelved in favor of a Technicolor production of Ernest Hemingway’sFor...

  74. 67 Unconquered
    (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 to work” initiative that would have abolished the closed shop in California. The assessment was due and payable by September 1,1944; members not paying the assessment were subject to suspension from the union.

    DeMille favored Proposition 12, and he believed A.F.R.A. “was demanding, in a word, that I cancel my vote with my dollar....

  75. 68 Samson and Delilah
    (pp. 334-340)

    Samson and Delilahwas 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 keepSamson and Delilahfrom being produced.

    Studio executives in 1947 were no more eager to makeSamson and Delilahthan their long-departed predecessors had been in 1935, but DeMille dazzled them with conceptual art by Dan Sayre Groesbeck showing a muscular Samson and a scantily clad Delilah and opening their eyes to the box-office possibilities. DeMille had all the instincts of a carnival...

  76. 69 The Greatest Show on Earth
    (pp. 341-350)

    On July 16, 1946, just days before DeMille went into production onUnconquered,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:

    He is familiar with the labor situation and can’t see how you derive satisfaction from working as you do against budgets that you cannot control, and with labor demands mounting, and the responsibility of spending 3 to 4 million dollars that have to earn 5½ to 6 millions before there is a profit. He says the labor situation may put Disney...

  77. 70 The Ten Commandments
    (pp. 351-364)

    So reads Cecil B. DeMille’s on-screen credit inThe 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, Josephus, and Eusebius, historians who, DeMille tells the audience, “had access to documents long since destroyed—or perhaps lost—like the Dead Sea Scrolls.”¹ But more recent works were consulted as well:Prince of Egypt(1949) by Dorothy Clark Wilson,...

  78. Appendices

    • Appendix A DeMille Pictures, Inc., Costs and Grosses
      (pp. 365-368)
    • Appendix B Other Cecil B. DeMille Film Credits
      (pp. 369-370)
    • Appendix C Unrealized Projects
      (pp. 371-372)
    • Appendix D Film Appearances by Cecil B. DeMille
      (pp. 373-376)
  79. Notes
    (pp. 377-404)
  80. Bibliography
    (pp. 405-406)
  81. Index
    (pp. 407-431)