Volume XXX · Number 1 · Autumn 1977
Mary P. Hamlin: Memoirs and Letters
EDITED BY CYRUS HOY
Mary Parmele Hamlin was born in West Bloomfield, New York, in 1871, but moved to Canandaigua with her family when she was two years old. By birth and by marriage (to George W. Hamlin, in 1902) she was related to some of the most prominent families of the region, and the memoir which she wrote in her eighty-second year contains a lively record of what she was inclined to call "village" life in the closing years of the nineteenth century. Her own life, however, was by no means confined to the village. Before her marriage she had attended Vassar, and in the years that followed, determined to be a playwright, she worked away at her craft until, in 1917, her play dealing with the career of Alexander Hamilton was produced on Broadway with George Arliss in the principal role. Mrs. Hamlin has written of how this came to pass.
Not knowing how to sell a play, I wrote Mr. Arliss and asked him if I sent him a play about Alexander Hamilton, would he read it? His [wife's] uncle, Brander Matthews of Columbia University, had been urging Mr. Arliss to get a play about Hamilton, but none had suited him. He wrote right back and said he would read it. I had written only the first act. I sent it and he wrote [back] to know how soon I could send the rest.
But now a domestic crisis threatened. Mrs. Hamlin's cook "decided she needed a month's vacation and walked out," and the playwright was "left with a family of six to cook and care for, without help." Her husband came to her aid; he installed the janitor from his bank, and the janitor's wife, in the house, and Mrs. Hamlin declares with triumph, "For the first time in my life, I had a trained butler and a good cook." And she wrote her play. Mr. Arliss wanted it, but he said it needed a "practiced hand" and to her surprise and delight, he offered to provide it himself. In his autobiography, Up the Years from Bloomsbury (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1928, p. 272), Arliss speaks affectionately of his collaboration and friendship with Mrs. Hamlin:
She was entirely unlike other untried dramatists that I had met. She never once wept over her own pathetic lines, nor did she ever refer to the play as her baby or even as her little papoose. I was very grateful to her for that. During our association in the writing of "Hamilton" her unselfish and generous attitude towards me surprised me always and left me ever her devoted friend.
Before opening in New York on 17 September 1917, Hamilton had trial engagements in Atlantic City and Washington, D.C., where photographs of Mrs. Hamlin and Mr. Arliss on the front steps of the Library of Congress ("looking," said Mr. Arliss, "as if we liked it, we would buy it") and of the two of them inside the reading room ("where," according to Mrs. Hamlin, "I was supposed to have studied and never had -- I got my background in the Boston and New York libraries") appeared on the front page of theWashington Post.
When, in 1931, Hamilton was made into a motion picture by Warner Brothers with Arliss re-creating his stage role, Mrs. Hamlin was summoned to Hollywood to help with the film script. In his second volume of autobiography, My Ten Years in the Studios (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1940, pp. 146-147), Arliss recounts the occasion:
I had always liked "Hamilton" (I played it for two seasons on the stage) but I was diffident about proposing it [as subject for a film] because I was part author (Mary Hamlin was the other part) and I know that an actor who has written a play is regarded by managers as a dangerous person to encourage; and if the actor, being a star, should suggest his own story -- well, that's going a bit too far.
However, the suggestion came from the executive; Darryl Zanuck agreed with some enthusiasm -- which of course meant that it would be done. I decided to go away while the working script was being made. If I took a hand in the making of the scenario, there was an obvious danger of too much George Arliss. So I suggested that Mary Hamlin, that model collaborator, should be brought from the bosom of her family in Canandaigua to act as adviser, and that she and Maude Howell and Julian Josephson should all work together.
The letters that Mrs. Hamlin wrote to her family from Hollywood while working on the film adaptation of Hamilton in the late Winter and spring of 1931 provide a detailed record of the frustrations and satisfactions that accompanied her work in a major motion picture studio (Warner Brothers). She rejoiced in the knowledge that no expenses were being spared in assembling a cast that would ensure that the film was well acted, and in providing sets and costumes that would ensure its visual beauty. The job of preparing a script in collaboration with two other people and the need to take into account suggestions from the producer and his right-hand man were another matter. Mrs. Hamlin's letters give affectionate but not uncritical portraits of her two co-workers, Maude Howell and Julian Josephson. Darryl Zanuck, the producer, and Lucien Hubbard, his assistant, amused her. She was pleased when Zanuck suggested adding to the film a waterfront scene, complete with fully rigged ship and hundreds of extras (Letter 4); she thinks "it will be a stunning scene," though she knows that a principal reason why the producer has suggested it is because the studio has the set left over fromMoby Dick. Hubbard's suggestions were on a more modest scale (see Letter 13, regarding the cold sore and the saddle). But behind all the Hollywood personages whom she came in touch with is always the greatly admired figure of George Arliss. Her letters bear witness to her own deep regard for him, and to the enormous prestige which, with his great reputation in the theater, he brought with him to the motion picture industry in the early years of sound films. Mrs. Hamlin obviously enjoyed her months in Hollywood, and she took a lively interest in all that she saw and did. One suspects, however, that her enjoyment was grounded in her secure realization that she did not have to earn a living there. The selection from her letters from Hollywood printed at the end of her memoirs (and which represents about half the total correspondence) reflects the unruffled good humor with which she viewed her work there and the constant sense that, for her, there was a world elsewhere.
Selections from six letters from Arliss to Mrs. Hamlin close this article. The earliest of these, written in Chicago in December 1917 during the run of Hamilton, contains an amusingly ironic account of the then avant-garde symbolist drama and the style of stage production that typically accompanied it. Arliss's remarks were prompted by four one-act plays that he had recently seen; unfortunately, the program which he enclosed in the letter to Mrs. Hamlin is lost, and he does not name them. Presumably they were in the manner of Maeterlinck or the late Strindberg, and his view of them reflects the slightly contemptuous impatience of an actor trained in a more realistic theatrical tradition. The later letters provide a poignant glimpse of Arliss, by then in his seventies, living in retirement with his wife in London during the second World War. He died in February 1946.
Mrs. Hamlin died in 1964. Her memoirs and her letters preserve the image of a sensitive, shrewd, and gifted woman who managed with remarkable ease to move among sharply contrasting worlds, but whose roots were firmly fixed in the Canandaigua world of family and close friends which clearly sustained her.
The University of Rochester Library Bulletin is grateful to the Hamlin family for permission to print the following selections from Mrs. Hamlin's memoirs and correspondence, all of which are in the family possession, and for their assistance in the preparation of this material for publication.
I remember my grandmother, Huldah Gates. I was three years old when my Grandmother died. I have a picture of myself sitting on her lap in her house in West Bloomfield. It is a white house on the Main Street as you pass through on the way to Lima, next to the white Catholic Church. The priests got their Holy Water at her well. As I remember her, she had her feet on the nickel railing of a stove in the center of the living room. Behind her stood her dignified Companion, Miss Ida Furness. My only memory of my Grandfather, her husband, Melanthon Gates, is a long dark figure, in a long black suit, in a long black box. I remember a story about him. His father had three sons: Marvin, Curtiss and himself. They were all left fortunes so that they were gentlemen of leisure, driving about, visiting relatives, never obliged to work. It was told of my Grandfather that he stopped at a blacksmith shop in East Bloomfield and remarked, as he drove away, "I suppose that man earns a dollar every day of his life and I don't believe he saves a cent." The man had nine children. It is a good thing that Melanthon's descendants have all had to earn a living, as have Marvin's. Curtiss had only one son, who left college to join the Union Army and was killed in the Battle of the Wilderness.
They were fine men, these three brothers, even if they didn't fulfill the American ideal of earning a living. I can see Uncle Curtis, now, driving his horse from North Bloomfield to West Bloomfield to the Congregational Church (red brick with a thin, graceful steeple which can still be seen for miles around). Uncle Curtiss tied his horse in the shed, limped up the aisle of the Church to the front seat, sat down and went to sleep. When the service was over, he awoke, went out, untied his horse and drove home. The only other memory I have of the West Bloomfield Church is the arrival of Mrs. Marvin Peck who dressed for church as for a reception. She bought elaborate clothes and evidently had nowhere to wear them except to church. It was an event to see her arrive. She died leaving closets full of fine dresses and eighty hats.
My father retired at the age of forty, having made a fortune and owning a large farm behind the best house in the town of West Bloomfield. The house still stands in good repair in the middle of the village, next to the red brick store, on top of what was known as Jocky Hill. He owned, also, a store which he sold, expecting, as he used to tell me, to sit the rest of his life by a cracker barrel and hash over the news. As I look back, I think the Parmele family was conservative and satisfied with modest success, but my mother, Mary Gates, the daughter of Melanthon, was built of another design. She had four children, a position of prominence in the village, a beautiful home with a fine garden and great dignity of estate, but she had, also, ambition. She wished for advantages for her children. How thankful I am to her that she was not satisfied to remain in a place where there were no good schools. My father always gave her credit for uprooting him. He used to tell me about it with pride. They exchanged their elegant home in West Bloomfield for the half of a commonplace yellow house, still standing on Main Street in Canandaigua, but there was an Academy, a good private school for the boys, and my Father was able to join with other citizens to bring to town an excellent school for girls, called the Granger Place School. It was so called because the four ladies (Miss Comstack, Miss Slocum, Mrs. Crocker and Miss Hasbrook) who brought the school to Canandaigua settled in the historic Granger Homestead, which Mrs. Gideon Granger was willing to sell after the early death of her husband. Her desire was to go back to what she called "The Cottage," a large house below the Homestead on Main Street. It was built for her as a bride. (It was later moved to Granger Street.) It was characteristic of how people felt about a widow that Mrs. Granger, a young and charming woman, retired from the world and led, with her two little girls, a completely secluded life. Widows who went out into the world, for the sake of their children or simply because they had to go on living, were not well thought of. It was expected of a widow that she should wear a long crepe veil, retire to a sofa in the back room and go nowhere except to church. This Mrs. Granger did all her life, living quietly and charitably, always escorted by her two daughters who gave up normal living to devote themselves to a mourning mother who was supposed to be in feeble health because of the death of her husband. Mrs. Granger was a sweet woman who lived, in spite of her invalidism, to a good age. I have always believed that Queen Victoria was responsible for the fact that upper-class widows made an exit from the world. Victoria did it herself, partly to revenge herself on her subjects who did not appreciate her German husband, but mostly, I believe, because she was able to lead an exciting life running her realm in constant association with its most interesting men. She was doubtless glad to be rid of tiresome ceremonies, leaving them to her son Edward who did not carry out his mother's strict moral ideas. She retired to a life of interest and variety. The women who followed her example retired to dullness. It meant tragedy for their children. Daughters were supposed to efface themselves for widowed mothers. It was a duty to give up living normal lives. Mrs. Granger's daughters were perfect examples. Antoinette was fifteen years of age when her father died. Isaphine was five years younger. I can see them now, two tall, distinguished young women, hovering on either side of their crepe-swathed mother on their way to church. Antoinette had a love affair with Philip Brooks. He came many times and begged her to marry him, but she felt she must not leave her mother, so she gave him up and neither ever married. Kate Brennon, who lived with the Grangers and at the Granger Homestead for more than fifty years, confirmed this. She knew of the great man's coming and of the decision Antoinette made. Mrs. Granger lived to a good old age, so she could not really have been an invalid. I remember the pains Miss Granger took to advise young widows to live normal lives for the sake of their children.
Now, for the Parmeles. I remember my father's father, Isaac Parmele. I used to visit him on his farm outside of West Bloomfield. His wife, Laura Leach, had died and he had a housekeeper with two daughters. Her name was Mrs. Hatch and we disliked her. In those days, life on a farm was extremely restricted because there was no getting out except when "the men folks" were free from farm work and willing to drive to town. The thing that used to make us laugh at Mrs. Hatch was her frequent saying, "I hope, sometime, I shall live where I can walk to the stores." I don't understand why we thought it funny. I no longer do so, now that I am old and would be shut in were it not for my beloved daughter Elizabeth who drives me in her car wherever I wish to go. I used to rebel against the idea of a daughter's giving up her life for her mother, but, now, at eighty-two years of age, I find I accept her unselfish devotion without hesitation. I remind myself of Job who said, "The thing that I feared has come upon me."
I come now to our life in Canandaigua, to which village we moved when I was two years old. In Canandaigua, there was, first, the double house on Main Street. This was followed by the one on Park Street next to the one now owned by Alice Chase. Her aunt Mary Antis became a kind neighbor and my particular friend. She allowed me to trot about with her and her home was mine whenever I chose to go there.
After the Park Street house, we moved to Gorham Street where Margie Quinn now lives. While we were tenants there, my Father bought from Mr. Barnes a lot on Howell Street, next to Mr. Barnes' own house, in which I went as a bride and have here lived for more than fifty years. My Father built a large house, now owned by the Ogg sisters and converted into a three-family apartment.
Back of our house were two huge apple trees, still alive from the days of the Howell orchard before Howell Street was cut through. The fruit on them was vigorous but no good though the pink blossoms were a lovely sight. The old fellow by the barn blew over many years ago but the one directly back of the house was standing and lovely in the spring of 1953. I was crossing the driveway when I saw it blow over. The Oggs were kind enough to give me the wood which I had sawed up and am now burning in my friendly fireplace. I have a sentiment about the good appletree wood and when I have a feeling of loneliness, I light a fire and get over it. I enjoy an open fire just as my Father did and perhaps because it was a pleasant part of our family life. I count on it especially when Elizabeth is away. When she is sitting quietly reading -- or just quietly -- the way she does, I do not feel lonely. She has her father's listening quality. She isn't much of a talker, but she is a supreme listener, and, as I am a talker, liking to spill out any little matter that comes to mind, she is my Great Companion.
My grandson, George Wright Hamlin IV, got me started, asking questions about my past. Actually the thing that caught his fancy was something which was only remotely connected with my life. I was telling him about my converted gas-fixtures, the lovely hand-wrought ones I found in the basement of the Congregational Church and Chapel. My husband was giving me electricity for Christmas, a great boon after using gas for many years. I went to Rochester to pick out fixtures. Mabel Adams warned me that I should use only side lights, as center lights were "out." I could find nothing simple enough to suit me, also nothing cheap enough. You could get good designs in plaster ceiling lights but everything in the side line was ornate and unsuitable for my house. I remembered the lovely old gas-fixtures which used to be in the Church. They were huge brass calla lilies, hung from each column. I had admired them for many years from my back seat and had hated to see them taken down when the church was done over on its hundredth anniversary. I thought they must still be in the basement of the Church, but had not investigated because our Organist, George Rankine, had hung himself there. It was the hanging that interested George. He wished to know why he did it. I couldn't say, knowing little about the man except that he was a fat, jolly fellow who lived in one of the old houses on Main Street and belonged to an important family. (The house is just below the High School and is owned by Mrs. Garlock.) Mr. Rankine played the organ with a kind of easygoing, natural bent but without much technique. Remembering the hanging recalled to me something that happened one Sunday morning while he was still alive. We had a new young minister, Lewis Reed. His mother was visiting him and hearing him for the first time in his new church. He preached on the Centenary of Emerson's birth. In the midst of his sermon, Mr. Walter Hubbell rose in his seat, shook his fist, shouting in a loud, harsh voice, "I rise to protest against such damnable doctrine." Rob Thompson, in the choir, called to George Rankine, "Play like hell." George knew how and did. The congregation dispersed.
Mr. Hubbell was a man who made the play, The Barretts of Wimpole Street, seem credible to me. He was just such a domestic tyrant as the father in the play. His only son, Henry, fell in love with Gertrude Milliken. Mr. Hubbell did not think the Millikens suitable to associate with the Hubbell family. Just why I do not know. In fact, most people would think the Millikens more important than the Hubbells, the latter not being eminent in any way that the present generation could see. Mr. Milliken, father of the girl in question, was the respected editor of the village paper and the members of his family accepted members of the best society. Walter Hubbell had, apparently, some exalted idea of the importance of his family, certainly an exalted idea of the obedience of a son to his father. His son was a brave fellow. He married the girl of his choice. The Milliken family took him in and loved him but his mother never spoke to him, nor did his three sisters, obeying their father's orders. It was the scandal of the Church for both families were prominent members and, as it happened, sat one behind the other, Mr. Hubbell just ahead of Mr. Milliken. I remember it was an event to see Walter Hubbell take his seat, because he had one eye that was fixed at the outside corner, so it looked to my fascinated gaze as if he were rolling it in a malignant stare at Mr. Milliken. I always waited for his entrance. Nowadays it seems there is nothing to wait for except the church service. Back before my time, there was Henry Gibson who sat in the pew I now occupy. He had a private bank in the house that used to stand directly below the Church and had beautiful gardens which stretched to Greig Street. It was a house with tall mirrors and a bisque monkey on a silk cord hanging in the drawing room, a gay old house where I used to go to dances. Mr. Gibson was the first president of the new railroad which went through Canandaigua and was then the main line of what is now the New York Central. The Minister of the Church, in Henry Gibson's time, was Dr. Daggett (he later went to New Haven and was connected with Yale). Dr. Daggett preached against the sin of Sunday travel. It was an idea accepted by Church people generally. Mr. Gibson sat in his high-backed pew, the one on the South side, with his watch open waiting for the morning train West. The railroad track, then as now, curved around close to the rear of the Church. He had given orders to the engineer to toot his whistle loud and long as he was passing the Church. The schedule of train and Church coincided and the whistle had it over the Minister. As soon as the little episode was over, Mr. Gibson snapped his watch shut, sat back and listened respectfully to Dr. Daggett's sermon. That was, of course, before my time, but the Hubbell goings-on took place when I was above ground. There were other happenings which made Walter Hubbell an interesting character. His obedient and disobedient family all died, leaving him the most solitary creature on earth. You would not expect him to have any investment wisdom, never having been in business, but he sat at home and speculated in the stock market so successfully that he left his grandson Stewart Hubbell a fortune. I believe he also made some small bequest to Elizabeth Hubbell Warner, the daughter of his disobedient son, though he never spoke to his son.
These recollections have taken my wandering mind away from the cause of George Rankine's suicide. Upon inquiry, I find that there are two theories: one drunkenness, the other a baffled love affair. Both may have been involved. It is known that he was engaged to Louise Newman, another musician. She was a sensible girl and may have decided that it was no good marrying a drunk. Anyhow, he hung himself in the basement of the Church and I went down, at last, to hunt for the fixtures. Of course I knew that his body had long been removed, but the idea was there. I could find only two of the Church fixtures, so I strolled into the cellar of the Chapel. There I found a heap of fixtures covered with dust and flyspecks. They were not what I was after. Painted blue, they had, however, some evidence of being brass at heart. At all events, I took one Church fixture in hand and one Chapel fixture and walked home where I was greeted by an alarmed husband. "You are not going to do anything with those things, are you?" I replied that I did not know. Accustomed to my vagaries, and very kind about them, he set out to help me. To my delight, we found that the electricians engaged had just installed in the house of an architect in Geneva, old gas fixtures brought by him from Italy. Harold Benham saw at once that my fixtures were hand-wrought brass and well worth adapting to my house. They were very large and I have always been grateful that Mr. Benham had the patience to cut down and put up and cut again till the proportions seemed to me correct. George got a client (he often had a client to help me with my projects). This one got off all the blue paint with paint remover and labor. I next called up the President of the Board of Trustees of the Church and asked if I might buy the old fixtures in the basement of the Church and Chapel. He laughed at the idea of anyone paying for such trash, assured me that they were just about to be carted off and told me to help myself. Something warned me not to accept. I was glad I had paid for them when his wife and other ladies of the Church saw them established in handwrought beauty in my home. I am glad to say that I disregarded Mabel's advice and did put in center lights in living, dining and kitchen rooms. I regret that I did not do so in the bedrooms. It is a matter of convenience to switch on a light for the entire room when you go in for a moment or when you play cards and need an overhead light. I speak of this because I am ashamed of the times I have bowed before what I thought was "authority" from someone else and have abandoned my own conviction.
I now go back to my life on Howell Street with my beloved Father, my Mother with her smiling wisdom, my beautiful big sister, Laura Leach, and my two big brothers, Henry Marvin and George Hiram. It seems to me that no family ever had more fun than we did. My brother Henry was impulsive and full of energy. George was retiring and had the keenest sense of humor of anyone I have ever known. Between Henry's impulse and George's sense of the ridiculous, we were kept in gales of laughter. My sister was twelve years older than I and my idol. She was a remarkable person, good to look at, and with a quality of loveliness and genuineness that made her unique. I think she had more influence on my life than any other person, although, when I think of my mother and others, it is hard to say. She loved me like a mother and I always wanted to be like her. She was an intellectual and made me want college, so unusual in my day that a prominent man from Buffalo took me aside at a dance and begged me not to go, assuring me that if I did, I would never marry, especially never marry a college man as such despised college girls. There was a little truth in it, but I took the risk and did land a Yale man. The man my sister chose for her husband was the one we all would have chosen. John Johnson was one of the finest, as well as the best-looking, men I have known. He was a true intellectual and their love and happiness kept my faith in marriage, in the possibility of success in it, when skepticism had its vogue.
I worshipped my Father. He spoiled me, as all the family did. I was "little May" and thought to deserve anything I wanted. If love can spoil, then I was the worst spoiled child in the world. We all loved one another and were unflinchingly loyal. One of the surprises of my life was to find that there were brothers and sisters, parents and children who talked about each other's faults.
We kept one house servant, with the addition of a laundress who came in -- Ellen Doran of affectionate memory. There was a man who took care of the horses which my Father always owned of a spirit that terrified my silly heart. I am afraid of horses to this day, yet going for drives was one of my keenest pleasures. I "buggyrode" with all my beaux. I suppose the joy of being pursued overcame the terror of being run away with. One devoted swain in Elmira took me for a drive with two black livery horses. He had hired them to impress the visiting girl and I knew it. I was delighted and not in the least afraid, not knowing how inexpert he was. Just after dropping me at my Aunt Delia's house, the pair ran away with him. The wreckage was large and the livery bill heavy. I understand his father was decent about it. I was once run away with down Arsenal Hill with George Hamlin at the reins, but George got control at the bottom of the hill and I wasn't really frightened. I never was scared when I was with George.
When we settled in Canandaigua, I think my Father saw that he had too much pep in himself to be satisfied with retirement. A lucky opportunity came to him. He had an older friend, Henry William Hamlin of East Bloomfield, who had a son-in-law whom he wished to get started in business. He said to my Father, "Hi, you ought to be a banker. I'd like you to start a bank in Victor with my son-in-law, William Higinbotham." Father was agreeable. He liked Mr. Higinbotham and the bank they started was a success.
Mr. Henry Hamlin had a private bank in East Bloomfield -- the start of it always appealed to me. He was a dealer in leather in a big way with his partner George Wright. They always had cash-money and the nearest bank in Canandaigua was not easy of access when the roads were muddy. People used to bring checks to Mr. Hamlin to cash. He wore a top hat and that is where the checks went. When it became overloaded, he opened a bank. When my brother, Henry Parmele, was graduated from the Academy, he took his first job in that bank under Mr. Hamlin's own son George Wright Hamlin, the youngest of his family of six, named after his partner George Wright (whose portrait hangs in our dining room). This George was Sibyll Hamlin's father. He died young and my nineteen-year-old brother had responsibility laid on his shoulders, especially as the next son-in-law, Dr. Hollister, was made President and died soon after. That left Mr. Frank Steele, husband of daughter Agnes. He died soon after being made President. He left a young son, Frank Hamlin Steele, who later went on the Board of Directors. Mr. Hamlin's own son John then took the presidency and so remained until his death when my brother, Henry Parmele, became President. When he died John Hamlin's grandson John became the head and so continues with my son Arthur Sears Hamlin on the Board. The association of the Hamlins and the Parmeles has still another link: the same Henry Hamlin, now old, but still handsome, still wearing his top hat, suggested to my Father (Hiram Parmele) that he and son Frank start a bank in Canandaigua. At that time the McKechnie family was all-powerful. They had a strong private bank beside conducting a successful brewing factory. They owned or controlled most of the business property and merchants on Main Street. They were scornful at the idea that the Parmele-Hamlin combination could compete, and boasted that they would run the new bank out of business within a year. My father had friends who believed in him and were willing to take stock in the new National Bank. Our relatives the Tuttles and Wychoff s were among them, and many members of the rich Sutherland family. Mr. Frank Hamlin became President but continued his law practice and took no active part in the management of the bank. My father ran it as Cashier. It was hard sledding with the aggressive opposition of the McKechnie bank as well as with the private Draper bank, but business came and it grew steadily. In later years, when the McKechnie bank was fading, young Fred McKechnie, grandson of Alexander McKechnie, was happy to be employed by the Parmele-Hamlin combination, the Canandaigua National Bank and Trust Company. George Hamlin, son of Frank Hamlin and grandson of Henry William, took his place in the bank at the lowest rung of the ladder. He had to face opposition as the other employees resented his having influence behind him. He took it in good part, learned the business and became President. Before that time he had married Mary Ida Parmele (that's me!) and their youngest son, Arthur Sears Hamlin II, is President, with his cousin George Higinbotham (the present Victor banker) on the Board together with Arthur's older brother Frank Harwood Hamlin who is President of the Papec Machine Company and employs his cousin George W. Hamlin II and his cousin Dick Woolley, whose mother was a Higinbotham, granddaughter of the original William Henry Hamlin.
Now, having shuffled up all the Hamlins, Parmeles, and Higinbothams, I will turn backward to my early life at Granger Place School.
I had admirers in New York, Elmira and at the home base. I had the good luck to fall in love with a boy who had long been my friend. I think, sometimes, how different my life would have been if I had not decided on George Hamlin who gave me four of the best-looking and best-behaved children ever seen, the smartest too. George was a wonderful human being, so honest that he didn't even know how to waver from truth. He was always sincere, not self-centered and a good listener. He was honestly interested in other peoples' affairs, willing to hear about them and willing to help too, as hundreds testified when he died. He had a great deal to put up with from me. I was an expensive wife for I had many illnesses, operations and trained nurses. Worst of all, I got the ridiculous idea of writing plays and did get one on Broadway and in Hollywood. I think these did not interest my husband anything like my religious plays, published by Samuel French. He was doubtless right, for the religious plays are now being produced all over the world, bringing me royalties since 1918. Hamilton, the Broadway play, was a matter of two seasons and publication by Walter Baker of Boston. The Hollywood production was once and for all. The professional experience was one which gave me, however, a most interesting time and introduced me to the discipline of professional actors. When an actor is in rehearsal, personal pleasures are set aside. As I came to know Mr. George Arliss well, I found that he devoted himself with strict discipline to the work in hand. Each day had its unfailing discipline. A reasonable breakfast, a long morning of work on the play, no luncheon, dinner at four, then bed and sleep until time to go to the theater. After the play, a light meal and bed again, allowing for no social life. It meant embarrassing refusals for a man as delightful as Mr. Arliss. He had many social demands and few acceptances.
When I went to New York for rehearsals in August, 1917, I entered, as never before in my life, into hard work, and, with four children, practically all the same age, I had known work. I stayed in a boarding house on East Thirty-eighth Street. Rehearsals were far West on Broadway. I got myself home late at night as best I could. Having always been looked after by my men-folks, as if something precious, it was an eye-opener to be left to shift for myself. It took me several days to wake up to the fact that there was no recess during rehearsal for luncheon. It was catch as catch can at a drugstore nearby when your part gave leeway. My part as author never did, so I went several days without refreshment. Later, I learned to slip out for a bite when convenience suited. When I reached my boarding house at the end of the day I crawled straight into bed and had a good sleep before dinner. It is a disciplined life, this of the theater, and no one would better go into it who doesn't "care enough" -- as the greeting card people say -- to toe the mark of work and discipline. The thing about it is that you love it. Every small possibility connected with it becomes of thrilling interest. It is a world of stern self-sacrifice and great joy. There is no explaining how you love it and long to belong to it, but if you are the wife of a banker and have brought into the world four children whom you love passionately -- both children and banker -- then it is not for you except in heavenly glimpses.
The play Hamilton was a success in a year when few plays were. It opened in Atlantic City. I had not intended to go until the Washington opening, but such a despairing telegram came from Mr. Arliss that I knew he needed me and wanted me. I had not been able to stay for the dress rehearsal in New York and was cheered by a telegram from Mr. Arliss that the worst had happened, namely that the rehearsal had gone off perfectly and the actors all liked the play. It was well known that a good final rehearsal spelled disaster. The Atlantic City telegram showed such a change of heart that I dropped everything and took myself to Atlantic City. I bought a ticket and watched the play and listened to the comments about me. I agreed that the play was no good and [it] would be a tragedy to allow it to open in New York, especially as my family intended to be in attendance. When it was over, the Business Manager, Mr. Judge, spied me and met me with eyes shining. "Isn't it wonderful!" I couldn't believe that, of all the people, the Business Manager considered it a success. He assured me that "nobody coughed," a sure sign that the play was holding the audience spellbound. I found Mr. Arliss in high spirits, having recovered from his momentary depression. The reception we had in Washington put aside all possibility of failure. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge gave it a column of praise on the front page of the Washington Post, with his own picture at the top! The Secretary of the Treasury was in a box with his wife, the daughter of the President, Mr. Wilson. They had as their guests a prominent lawyer with his beautiful wife, the daughter of Chief Justice Fuller, whom I was to know later. The theater was packed and everything looked favorable. I did not appreciate that no out-of-town success guaranteed success in New York.
We opened at the Knickerbocker Theater, considered too large for any but a great actor like George Arliss. It was on the 17th of September, 1917, the day after George's and my wedding anniversary. As it happened the Arlisses were married on the sixteenth of September also, so they invited us to dinner to drink champagne to the opening. There was one other guest, David Tearle, of the famous English family of actors. He was to prove a great convenience for he was attentive to Mrs. Arliss. She suffered, I think, from an inferiority complex, being the wife of a celebrated husband and needed the attention of a young and attractive man. It kept her occupied when Mr. Arliss and I needed to do things together without her assertive presence. In the beginning, she tried to make me feel ill-at-ease. She was suspicious of other women and tried persistently to make me uncomfortable. Ordinarily I would have been affected, but when I pushed my way into the theater, I made up my mind not to let anything stop me. I had to ignore her jibes and when she met my husband, she realized that I had what I wanted and would never try to get what belonged to her. After that I had no trouble. She accepted me as a friend, confided in me and was as agreeable as she knew how to be. She was a singularly difficult woman, demanding beyond reason. I marveled at her husband's patience, for she was rude to his friends. I was grateful to her for putting few obstructions in the way of my friendship with Mr. Arliss, a friendship which lasted as long as he lived. We wrote one another freely and often and his Private Secretary, Cecilia Crumpton, told me, after his death, that my letters were the ones, of all he received, that he valued the most. He died in London, worn out, as Celia believes, by Florence Arliss' demands. She was a dangerously self-centered woman and in the end became mentally unbalanced. I was lucky to have escaped her suspicion and for both to Mr. Arliss and me, our friendship was a lovely thing, without disappointment. It was a little hard on George for, when we were together, he had to look after Mrs. Arliss and she wasn't a bit of fun.
The New York opening was a horror to me, though a thundering success as I found later. Inexperienced as I was, I sat with my family in an orchestra seat. Directly in front of me were seated forty drama critics. I watched them instead of the play. So far as I could see, they were, one and all, bored to death. There was a party given for me, after the play, at the Biltmore Hotel at which I was expected to act gay as a conquering warrior. Inside I felt that I had disgraced my family. I dreaded to read what those bored critics would say about the play, but I had ordered the papers and knew I must face the worst. To my amazement the New York Times, the New York Herald Tribune, and indeed all the important papers (including the German) were laudatory beyond all my hope. H. T. Parker, the great Boston critic, greeted it with an enthusiasm which fairly stunned me. The man of the Brooklyn Eagle was wildly enthusiastic.
Nineteen seventeen was the year the United States entered the war. It was a new experience and one that upset normal life. Our boys were going. There was wild, romantic celebration. The first reaction was that recreation was not right. The theater suffered. I was told by the management that Hamilton was the play that saved the great firm of Klaw and Erlanger from being bankrupt.
The next year, nineteen eighteen, people had gotten over their first reaction against recreation and the theater came back to its former importance. Unfortunately for it and everybody, the terrible epidemic of flu swept the country. So many died, it became a horror. It was deemed unsafe to go into crowds and the theaters in the East began to close. Hamilton was well on its way to the Pacific Coast with engagements all the way. As long as the play could keep ahead of closing theaters, it went on victoriously. In the Middle West, the wave of closing swept ahead of it. There was nothing to do but disband, since every theater in the United States had shut its doors with the exception of one or two in New York and San Francisco. It was the end of Broadway for me but not the end of many lasting friendships and a deep interest in my life.
After the opening night in New York, I was flooded with all sorts of delightful invitations. As the author of an important play, I was asked to speak at theatrical affairs. I remember I had a stunning red velvet gown to wear at a writer's club where I was to speak. My coming out gown, when I made my bow to the audience in Washington and at the opening in New York, was a beauty. I had a friend in New York, Mrs. Jo Hunt, who moved in the most exclusive circles. Between her hospitality and my quick fame as a playwright and the Arlisses' exalted friends, I had interesting invitations. Because the play was about their ancestors, I was noticed by the Morgans and the Jays and invited to the homes of others high in social life. I loved it and did enjoy what I had of it, probably would have been completely spoiled, but my small son, Henry, became ill and I hurried home. For four long months I had no interest but the life of my son. He had typhoid fever and at that time there was no remedy. Henry passed through crisis after crisis, when all but his nurse, Alice Rochford, and I gave up hope. He didn't die and, though before that he had been a delicate child, from that time on he became a splendid specimen of health, grew to be a strong six two and remained so.
Cut off from the theater with its excitement, I knew then, and I know now, that nothing can equal the love of a husband and children, also grandchildren and that is saying a good deal, for I still adore the theater and everything connected with it. There are a few writers among women who can surmount family and make a successful business of playwriting but I don't seem to have been one of them.
I will now take a flying leap back to the time when I first tackled playwriting. I had never in my life been behind the scenes at a theater, and living at a distance from Rochester seldom attended one. Doing so meant a long ride on the trolley, waiting after the play at the dreary trolley station until the last car, stopping at each roadside station to put out the lights, and arriving home about one o'clock. Much as my husband sympathized with my interest it was hard on him to take these jaunts, hard on me too for we must both arise early the next morning. There were, so far as I could find out, no books on dramatic technique. I had had success in writing and having published magazine articles and book reviews which paid well enough so that I knew I could earn a good yearly income, but I realized that chance and occasional articles would never amount to anything. It must be a business, with uninterrupted hours at an office, with records of outgoing and incoming manuscripts and time to write. That would mean engaging a nurse to bring up my children. I thought it over, wanted the money, but not as much as I wanted to take care of my own children. I liked that, and thought it more important than writing articles, even well-paid ones. I created a demand but I wasn't willing to pay the price of meeting that demand. It may have had something to do with it that my favorite editor, Mr. Towers, had resigned when Hearst bought Good Housekeeping and had become minister to Italy. Up to that time the magazine had been a fine and exclusive trade paper for housekeepers. Hearst, of course, turned it into a magazine like every other. The playwriting bug hit me harder. The only book about it that I could find was by an eminent English drama critic, William Archer. He was the man who translated and introduced Ibsen into England. He was tops as a critic and I did not know that he had never succeeded in getting a play of his produced. His big book was the only one I could find and I believe it is still considered an authority.
With this secret desire in my mind, I had the luck to be invited to a house-party in Boston and there, as a fellow guest, was Austin Strong. He was Robert Louis Stevenson's step-grandson and a leading playwright. Seventh Heaven and Three Wise Fools are the plays I remember best, but he has had many others. I soon realized that Mr. Strong was extremely conscious of social importance. I was a small-town nobody and he was quite likely to snub me if I tried to impose. Like everyone else, I hate being snubbed but I faced the situation squarely. Did I prefer to keep my dignity and not intrude or did I care more about playwriting than I did about myself? It was the first time I had ever met a playwright. I felt it was my chance which I would not get again if I took being snubbed seriously. I took the plunge and asked him if he would let me read him a play I had written. He was unexpectedly gracious. I read for an hour and it sounded worse as I went along. At the end of an hour, his chair went down with a bang. He had been sitting tipped back. "That is bully good stuff," he said, "but it isn't a play." I was very much surprised. In a twinkling of an eye he showed me why it wasn't a play. I had had my characters talk about things that had happened offstage. He explained that everything must happen before the eyes of the audience -- nothing backstage. Later when I went to dine with the Strongs in New York, he showed me how he worked on a play. He made a miniature stage and then little figures of his characters, moving them about on the stage to avoid having anything happen backstage. Many people who start writing plays do exactly what I did, that is, have dialogue and think that makes a play, which is far from the truth. Mr. Strong assured me that I had ability and gave me the address of the man he studied with in a correspondence course. That was all I wanted.
It seems that Robert Louis Stevenson wrote plays but never got one produced, or if he did, it was a failure. He saw that it required a different technique from other writing and determined that his grandson should be taught. Mr. Price, the man Austin Strong had me write to, was wildly enthusiastic about my talent. I studied his theory and did his exercises so greatly to his satisfaction that my husband suggested it might be my prompt payment that influenced his judgment. I greatly feared this was the case when I went to his little office high up on lower Broadway and made the acquaintance of an old seedy character. He was tall and thin with a drooping grey mustache. He wore an old Prince Albert coat, green at the shoulders and a square-topped derby also green with age. He had been on Broadway all his life and was a failure, but he was a Southern gentleman and I liked him. He had come to New York as a young man with Mark Klaw who had risen to the top, a man whom he reverenced above all in the theater. I saw at once that he could be of no help in placing a play but he had taught me certain fundamentals which were invaluable. It is a curious thing that a person may have the theory and not be able to put it into practice. I became so fond of the old fellow that I was almost as interested to succeed for his sake as for my own.
Austin Strong told me that when I had gotten Mr. Price's theory, I should stop the course, that he could not be the slightest help further, that I must go it alone and that that was "hell." He told me that I should take a small part on the stage to learn the ropes, that it was the only way to learn. I did not explain to him that I had a husband and four children and that it was not exactly practical for me to do that.
I kept trying to write plays and had encouragement from producers I got to read them. I was scared of myself when I got the idea I wanted to write a play for George Arliss. It was terribly presumptuous and I kept the idea to myself. He was, at that time, the best-known actor in the United States, that in spite of the fact that he had never had a long run in New York. His fame was playing on the road. He had been playing Disraeli for five seasons. I had long been interested in Alexander Hamilton and wanted to make a play about him. He was killed in a duel with Aaron Burr when he was thirty-seven. I wished to write about his life and not about his death. The trouble was to find a plot for he had been so active in forming this government that his life was too full. It flattened out into a succession of achievements with no one thing to pull it into a three-act play, moulded upon a demonstration in geometry with Q.E.D. at the final curtain. He had too many important things. You couldn't choose one. His picture was in the Director's room in my father's bank. I had admired him and studied his works for years. I knew him well but I could not find a plot in him. Then, one night, just as I was going off to sleep and not thinking about the play at all, the three acts came to me clear and whole. Next morning, I jotted them down on my shopping list and, with all the changes, that outline was never interfered with. Writing the play was an experience of hope and despair. Mr. Arliss wanted it, but, for some reason, was scared of me. I sensed it but did not know the reason. Something told me to act off-hand as if the thing was of no particular importance. I thought he was anxious that the financial side of it might be serious, so I discredited that aspect. It was the right tack for Mrs. Arliss told me later that he wanted to suggest a collaboration with me but was afraid to. He had once attempted to work with a lady-playwright and she had wept when he suggested changes. At that time, he vowed that never, under any circumstances, would he collaborate with a woman. Then I turned up with a play he wanted. It needed, as he expressed it, a "practiced hand," some technical jerking up. He suggested that I confer with Grant Mitchell, a classmate of my husband's and the only theater person I knew. Grant introduced me to Roi Cooper Megrue, the most successful playwright of the time. He said he would rather write a play for George Arliss than any man alive but that he would never work with George Tyler again, never under any circumstances.1 It was lucky that I didn't even know who George Tyler was. I thought it was the star to whom you should sell your play. How mistaken I was! I should have known that it is the one who puts up the money who has the last word.
If I had known as much about the difficulty of play production as I do now, I certainly would have been scared off. The wind is certainly tempered to the shorn lamb. In spite of, or because of, my ignorance, the play was sold and produced. It has been much harder since that achievement to have faith that I can do it again.
It was a long story, with many a false turn, but it ended in Mr. Arliss offering to collaborate with me, he to have one-quarter of the royalties and I three-quarters. I was, of course, delighted and we had a wonderful time together. He had a shrewd sense of humor which I enjoyed and it did not occur to me to object to his suggestions for changes. Indeed, as time went on, and I realized what his long experience was doing to the structure of the play, I suggested that he should have one-half of the royalties, to which he agreed, though he insisted that he would keep to his original offer. Mrs. Arliss told me that he did a great deal more of the writing of Disraeli than he did ofHamilton and the author of the former never gave him a word of credit or a cent of pay. Disraeli was a failure in Chicago where it first tried out but Mr. Arliss' rewriting of the second act saved it and set it going. The play was a complete failure in England. Mr. Arliss did little writing of my play. He knew nothing of American politics, did not even know, at first, that Thomas Jefferson was President of the United States. I had written him a young and rough radical, calling everyone "Citizen" in eager agreement with the French Revolution. Of course he became much more conservative when he himself wished to become President, but at the time he was opposing Hamilton, he was a leader of the leftists. My long study convinced me of this but I knew it would be difficult to make an audience believe since we are used to him as he appears in his later portraits. I explained all this to Mr. Arliss and he said, "We'll show him as he was."
I noticed one thing, during rehearsals, and that was that not one of the actors wished Mr. Arliss to have credit for the play. They came to me, one by one, and said, "I know Mr. Arliss didn't write this because he doesn't know American politics," or colored people or this or that. Not one was willing to give him any credit. I had to insist that he had really helped my play. It was the same thing when it came to my friends. They said, "Of course Mr. Arliss wrote it," not wishing to give me credit. I don't think either one of us really cared who got the credit. We were far too much concerned with the success of the play. Mr. Arliss was, though, anxious that I get full credit. The management, of course, wished to publicize their star, so they printed the programs with Mr. Arliss' name first. He was indignant, showed me the program saying, "Do you see what they have done?" I knew from his tone that some mistake had been made but I couldn't find it. He showed me that his name had been put before mine as author. I assured him I didn't care, and I didn't, but he made them print a new lot. He said, "It isn't fair. It is your play and your name must come first." It was pleasant to work with a man like that. He always was fair, a very fine man in every way and a good friend to my family. He had a quick wit, a wonderful sense of humor.
A play is one of the most co-operative affairs on earth. You forget about yourself when you come to know all that are vitally concerned. There is the management which has put up a tidy fortune to produce it. I never saw hide nor hair of any one of them except George Tyler, but I was scared for fear my play would lose them money. Belonging to a family of financiers, as I do, I hate to see money lost. I have great respect for people who back an undertaking. I didn't want Klaw and Erlanger put in a hole. Then there were the members of the cast whom I came to know and like. Jeanne Eagels was a genius. Mr. Arliss and I both knew it though she had not had a chance to show it. It was her Broadway opportunity. She got it in Hamilton but she didn't have the character to stand success. She died of delirium tremens after a quick soar. David Belasco saw her possibility and came backstage the first night of Hamilton in New York. He engaged her for the next season and pushed her to stardom. There was Karl Anthony with a wife and three children daring to leave the road and take a chance to get on Broadway. If my play failed it was the end of his hope for anything better than the road. There was Dudley Digges who had taken the job as Stage Manager although, as he afterward proved, he was a fine actor. He became a good friend of mine. There were others I knew and liked and whose hopes I entered into, almost forgetting my own. John Ravold had been in politics in Chicago but his heart was in the theater and he loved my play because he said my men were real politicians which most stage statesmen were not.
As I worked on the play with George Arliss, I began to realize what a lifetime of experience amounted to. He was putting his knowledge into my play, even if I did the writing. His suggestions were invaluable but he never wanted me to agree to anything I did not understand. When I told him I was willing to accept his experience whether or not I understood it, he said firmly, "No. This is your play and nothing must go into it that you do not understand."
Funny things happened which I recall as I go back to my Broadway experience. When the contract was signed and the date of the opening settled, Mr. Arliss said to me, "This is a secret affair. It must not be spoken of to anyone until Klaw and Erlanger announce it, but if there is some one person you would like to tell, in confidence, it will be all right." I said that the one person I felt should know was Mr. Price with whom I had studied. Mr. Arliss said to take his car and go down and tell the old fellow. I think I have never in my life felt such a feeling of success as I did riding down Broadway in the Arliss' long black limousine with their uniformed chauffeur to give my old Southern gentleman my thrilling news. When I arrived at his little office, he showed the greatest delight at seeing me. I told him that I had sold a play. He showed no particular interest. Even when I said George Arliss, he did not seem impressed, but I knew I had the knock-out when I told him Mark Klaw, his god, was to do it. Still no enthusiasm. I explained that it was a play about Alexander Hamilton. He said, "Oh historical! They never succeed." My bubble burst as he said, "Now, Mrs. Hamlin, I told you about the seat I am going to build over there in the corner."
After the enforced closing in 1918, nothing happened with Hamilton, but I had made many friends, some of whom I still keep in touch and best of all I had picked up enough playwriting technique to write six religious plays which could be acted. They were published by Samuel French. There was another interesting experience for Mr. Frank Shiel, the President of the largest firm of drama publications in the world, became my friend and performed many valuable services for me. It is a great advantage to have such a firm for their publicity is world wide. After more than thirty years, the royalties on my religious plays are as much, or more, than they were in the beginning. I still receive grateful letters from people who produce them. They are in translation in several languages. I have the Chinese and Japanese copies.
I am eighty-two years of age! (I don't believe it but the figures so state!) I have spent time and money trying to learn how to write. I have written heaps of plays which have had some encouragement from Managers, but will never be produced, I know. I have attended many Writers' Conferences; I am a member of the Authors' League of America to which I have long paid high dues. It is an organization which looks after the rights of authors and is a good thing to support. It has not been any particular good to me personally but I have been glad to support it for the good it has been in protecting copyrights, etc. I used to attend dinners and meetings and it was fun meeting other writers and hearing their experiences. It was all a very interesting experience, a time of excitement in my life but I seldom think of it now. Even if I am old, I do not live in the past. I have had a good one but I like the present. I enjoy my life here and now. Indeed the interests of each day are such I did not believe I should be able to remember my past, but I did when my grandson, George the Fourth, asked me about it. Now that I have decided to remember, I find that I do. All sorts of memories pop up.
That being so, I find I can go back to my education and my life as a girl. Granger Place School was advanced for the time. We had some excellent teachers and we had, above all, a teaching of history and art which went so far beyond the usual college preparatory work that I felt at home with words and ideas which seemed to bewilder my classmates at Vassar. In history of art particularly, or rather theory of art, I knew who the Professor was talking about. He was a foreigner and had an accent which made it difficult for those not familiar with artists' names to grasp to whom he was referring. I knew, for Mrs. Crocker had made all artists household words. I had registered as a "special" at Vassar, not feeling that my father could afford to send me more than two years. I thought, mistakenly, that I could get more that way than in the regular course. What I wanted was to learn to write. From my childhood, I had dreamed of being an author. The English Department was in poor condition, at that time, at Vassar College. Of course, no one can be taught to be an author but there are certain aids which a college can give. No doubt it does give such help at Vassar now but it was not so in the days of old Professor Drennan with Miss Loomis as an assistant. Miss Perry had much to give but not the others. I did leave college my Junior year but thanks to Gertrude MacArthur and our Class President, Mary Hays, I was always included in class reunions, not usual for people who drop out, especially for "specials" who were later dropped and no one admitted who did not join a class. I have always felt grateful for being considered a member of 1896 and have enjoyed reunions covering fifty-seven years.
Before and after my marriage, formal entertaining in Canandaigua centered about the home of Nettie and Isa Granger, this in spite of the fact that Mrs. Thompson gave exclusive parties at her Sonnenberg estate when she was "in residence." The Grangers were close friends of the Hamlins, so my marriage to George increased the intimacy and delight. They lived graciously, these two lovely ladies. Their dinners were formal yet simple. That is, the food was delicious, served perfectly by two maids, but their table was not fussed up with odds and ends of little paper cups for nuts, etc. as was the fashion of the day. Their dining table was the original one from the White House in Washington, under which were stretched the legs of Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and other notables. The way this table came into the Granger family and into the Granger Homestead, where it still remains, was that Dolly Madison liked the black walnut of her day. She threw out the mahogany furniture. The Russian Ambassador bought it and when he returned to Russia, Mr. Granger bought the table from him together with quantities of beautiful French china. The Granger family had settings of rare beauty for forty people at a time and many were the important guests who were entertained by them in the time of my friends' great grandfather. There was John Quincy Adams, LaFayette, Daniel Webster, and others. It used to give me a thrill to thrust my legs under a table where so many famous legs had been. When Mr. and Mrs. Arliss came to visit me, it was the Grangers who entertained them.
Miss Isa became healed of gout which was supposed to have been inherited. It was due to a so-called "New Thought" Healer and she herself took up the ideas of health and became herself a Healer and was able to help me and my children through many an illness and moment of tense despair. She was one of the most exquisite women I have ever known. She was tall and as beautiful as a Madonna, and like her sister, always the aristocrat. Nettie was more assertive but handsome in a different way. She was stately and had a perfection of feature uncommon to most women. These lovely women influenced my life, not only because of their elegance, but by the complete purity and innocence of their lives. They were so free of evil themselves that they were sometimes swindled, but they remained untouched. They used to invite George and me to pay them a visit when they saw that I needed a rest from the children. In that way it was possible for each of us to have a vacation. George could go regularly to the Bank and I could leave the children with Katharyn McGarry who loved them devotedly and could be trusted. I was within call. Without their hospitality we could not have afforded the time and the money for a vacation. It was a perfect rest for both of us. The atmosphere of their home was full of peace.
Right here, I believe I should speak of some experiences in my life which cannot be explained by any ordinary means. I began to do automatic writing. I wrote much more rapidly than I could do it in my regular script and in a perfectly formed Spencerian hand. I wrote naturally in a somewhat angular script. The writing I did at terrific speed and not knowing what I was going to write was perfect copybook style. I filled many books. The writing purported to come from a Judge out in California whom I had never seen. There is a theory that automatic writing comes from your subconscious mind. I do not know. I only know that the advice I received for many years was of the highest spiritual tone. I should like to think my "subconscious" was full of such ideas. After a good many years of writing in this way, I came to feel that I was becoming dependent on someone else to advise and I burned the books. After that I never could write that way. My friend Margaret Hayes began to write automatically after Isa Granger died. She was rather alarmed, and though her hand told her to tell Miss Nettie she was afraid to do so, thinking Miss Nettie would resent anyone getting messages from her sister. They were so close that we all feared Miss Nettie would go to pieces when her sister was taken from her, but, like most people with character, she went on living with courage. She was greatly helped by Margaret Hayes' automatic writing. When Miss Isa kept insisting on Margaret's telling her sister, she did not dare longer delay. Miss Nettie never doubted for a moment that it was her sister dictating for she referred to a fact that no one but herself knew and also she was writing in her own, very peculiar handwriting. Margaret also wrote with great rapidity and in Miss Isa's exact script. It is a very unusual one. I have never seen anything at all like it. It was tall and triangular. Margaret, herself, wrote in a small round hand. As long as Miss Nettie lived, Margaret wrote rapidly in Isa's hand giving her messages about her life which gave her brave courage to go on living a beautiful life. When Miss Nettie, herself, died, Margaret had one message. It was in Isa's script, saying that she and her sister were together and that she would not again write. She never did and Margaret did no more automatic writing. There is one more thing connected with this experience I should like to tell. Margaret did not talk about this writing, as she did not understand it and did not wish to appear to be queer, but Miss Nettie, always wishing to share, did tell people. It was unfortunate because it did become a subject of curious gossip. We were at dinner, one night, at Bessie Shoves', when it was discussed. I had never told George anything about it, but I didn't like the way it was discussed at the dinner, so I told him about the whole thing. At the time when my son Henry was stricken with typhoid fever and was in great danger, Margaret was visiting Miss Granger and, in the evening, after they had had guests for dinner, Isa wrote to tell me by Margaret that this illness was not a disease, that it was a cleansing and that I should never give up hope of his healing, that Miss Isa was working for him, as she always had when she was alive. Especially she said that I was to hold to the thought of love as a fire, and never think of this illness as a disease. It had helped me enormously to hope when the nurses and the doctor gave up hope, indeed when he was apparently dying. Margaret had given me the paper on which she had written in Miss Isa's distinctive and well-known hand. I remember George read it and was silent a long time. Then he spoke, "I would cash a check on this signature for any amount." He then explained about forgery. He said no one could really forge another person's signature. The reason they sometimes got caught with a forgery was because the teller did not question the signature and so did not look to see if it was genuine. As soon as they looked, they could tell it was a forgery. He said that the two signatures never looked alike. It was just that the supposed check offered was endorsed by the supposed owner of the account. He was familiar with Miss Isa's handwriting and knew that no one could imitate it, especially writing page after page with great speed. The whole experience remains something beyond "our Philosophy" as Shakespeare says.
Mr. Arliss had a contract for three plays with Warner Brothers. He had agreed to do an early play of his by Molnar The Devil.2 When he read it over, he told me he was shocked at the sex in it and didn't want to do it. Warners was sympathetic but his salary was going on and did he have a play which he would like to do? He said he did not. It happened that Mr. Wilk 3 was in the conference and he said, "How about that Hamilton play of yours?" Mr. Arliss: "No, I couldn't do that. I was too old when I did it in 1917 and I am much too old to do it now." This was 1931. Mr. Zanuck 4 said, "Have you got a play about Alexander Hamilton?" Mr. Arliss said, "Yes, but I am much too old." Mr. Zanuck said, "Nonsense. We'll do it."
One day, I answered the telephone. "This is Mr. Arliss. Warner Brothers offers you twenty-five thousand dollars for Hamilton and five hundred dollars a week for you as Consultant and your expenses to and from Hollywood." Reluctant as my husband was to have me go, he felt it was too good an offer to refuse. I accepted and Margaret Morgan, always my good friend in an emergency, got Julia Epstein to keep her shop open until eleven o'clock at night and I was outfitted for California in January.
There are many changes in movie business in a year.5 In the first place the studio is out at Burbank and no longer in Hollywood itself. It took a good half hour to get there and Maude Howell6 picked me up and took me out each morning. With Old English, after each shot, we went into a room and heard it to catch any sibilants or any mistake in English. This was no longer the custom. Also there was rehearsal, two weeks of it, with pay for all concerned. This was a demand of Mr. Arliss. He knew, although the Management did not, that stage actors needed rehearsal in order to work up a part. In the silent movies this was not necessary for the director could yell directions and it was not important for the actor to know what the play was about. When our play was finished, Warner Brothers saw how little it had to be cut, no time wasted, and money saved. The order went out that all plays should have rehearsal.
They gave me a beautiful bungalow at Burbank, not to live in but to work in. It had a study, a large handsomely furnished dining room. I remember the red velvet curtains. There was a bedroom, a bath and a kitchen; also a fountain in the courtyard. I lived at the Hollywood Hotel, a conservative place with permanent guests who reminded me of Bostonians.
It is difficult for a writer, not used to the movies, to appreciate the opportunities and the limitations. It is delightful to be able to have as many scenes and as many stages as you please, but, at the time of my play, ninety minutes was all the time you had. Writing for the movies is different from writing for the stage. You have no audience except a camera and your address must be to that. We conferred day after day about the best method of getting over our stage play and there were conferences with Mr. Zanuck which annoyed me. He put forward ideas which revealed that he had not read the play carefully, ideas which were absurd, but we had to use them. When he suggested a scene which had nothing to do with our play, I said, "Let's not spend much time on it. I can write the scene easily but Mr. Arliss will throw it out." Maude and Jo7 said, "No, Mrs. Hamlin, that isn't honest. We are taking pay from Mr. Zanuck and we must try to sell his idea to Mr. Arliss, foolish as it is." So we labored on utterly useless scenes, which Mr. Zanuck forgot all about and had only suggested to show his power. That was where I made a mistake. Seeing Mr. Zanuck's vanity and his foolishness in asserting his importance, I put him down as an unimportant little man with no real ability. Mr. Arliss laughed with me at his vanity and foolish pretensions, but with his usual acumen, he saw deeper and when Darryl Zanuck left Warners and went to Twentieth Century, Mr. Arliss went with him. Mr. Zanuck served him well. He put on The House of Rothchild with taste and splendor. Mr. Zanuck has become, indeed, one of the foremost producers in the field. I am sorry that his little affectations blinded me to his real genius. It has taken me many years to realize that human nature can be both base and great all in the same person. Mr. Arliss knew how to recognize both and work with both.
Working in the movies is hard and lonely business. I arose at six in the morning in order to get myself dressed for the day and eat my breakfast. Maude stopped for me at the corner and brought me back about six. I was so tired after the day's work and excitement that I usually climbed into bed and had my dinner sent up. I loved the work but it was some time before I felt able to accept invitations.
There was a Mrs. Littlejohn who had been assigned by one of the Movie Magazines to write me up. We had mutual acquaintances and soon became friends. Her husband was a retired electrical engineer. Through her I came to know a group of engineers and their families who had no connection, nor knowledge of the movies. Also I came to know the editor of the Photo Magazine and found her to be the wife of a college professor and herself a scholar and a mother. I am always surprised when I come up with the quality of people in positions of responsibility in any area. The engineering group were people who had managed important accomplishments in many parts of the world and were congenial to my husband, when he and Frank came out to escort me home. My work and my pay were over when the filming began but we stayed on to watch it being done. I had come to know well all the people connected. There was one man I liked but thought a mistake as cast. He was Alan Mowbray, young, slender and handsome, made up for Washington whom he resembled about as much as I did. He was very good and thanks to makeup looked almost like George Washington. During rehearsals, only one of the actors read his lines as if he understood what they were about. They were all working up their characters and trying not to get "set." Mr. Arliss of course understood this but toward the last he said to Alan Mowbray, "Mr. Mowbray, I should like to see how you are going to do the scene after the farewell to the army." Mr. Mowbray said, "I'll do it all right, Mr. Arliss." "No doubt," Mr. Arliss replied, "but I should like to see you do it." Alan Mowbray, looking as impudent as could be, replied, "Don't worry. I'll do it all right." He wouldn't do it and Mr. Arliss had to leave it that way. What he suspected I think, and what occurred, was that Mr. Mowbray "stole" the scene. He was a rascal and lots of fun. I am interested now to watch him on television, stout and middle-aged, as Col. Flack, still a delightful rascal.
When I first tried writing these memoirs, I enjoyed it, especially allowing myself leeway to write as ideas came without making the "outline" that hangs heavy on the shoulders of every serious writer. It was fun, at first, to just run along without any regard to the rules. Soon, however, I became blue and depressed and hated the whole thing. It may be that going over the past, even an interesting past, made me realize that I was an old woman. The only times I remember, that is, when I am buying a hat. I think of myself as young-young but not interested in things that once interested me, like climbing hills, dancing, bowling, canoeing, and taking long walks. It isn't that I couldn't do all those things but I don't care to! I prefer bridge, samba, and reading in bed. But placing a small girlish hat on my top brings me up standing against the years. This writing did the same thing. It knocked me over because I have never lived in the past. I may be eighty-two but I love life and what is going on now. I am a great admirer of Paul, the one who said: "Forgetting those things which are behind, I press forward."
LETTERS FROM HOLLYWOOD
Unless otherwise noted, all letters are addressed to Mrs. Hamlin's husband. Letters 4 and 13 are written to her sons; Letter 9, to her daughter. All were written either from the Hollywood Hotel or from the Bungalow on the Warner Brothers-First National Studio Lot in Burbank, assigned to Mrs. Hamlin for her work.
Highland Ave. and Hollywood Blvd.,
[Undated: c. 10 February 1931]
What a day! What a day! If you could only have been with me to share it all. I can't do justice to it in a letter, but here goes for a try!
First I yellow taxied out to Burbank to the First National, a good sized city where I became lost several times. I connected with Mr. Arliss and he told me the tale. . . . It seems Mr. A. had contracted to do "The Devil" next and when he read it over he was horrified to find how full of sex interest it was, also how it creaked as a vehicle. He felt that he simply could not do it and yet all arrangements had been made to begin shooting at once. He told them frankly how reluctant he was to do it and Jake Wilk, and Mr. Zanuck (the Mighty) sat in conference, desperate for a play when suddenly, Jake Wilk said: "What about that Hamilton play?" (You remember I spoke of it to him in New York.) Mr. Arliss said he felt he was too old but Mr. Zanuck said: "What? Alexander Hamilton? Have you a play about him? Just the thing!" Mr. Zanuck is the Pope, the Emperor, the All-Highest out here. Mr. Arliss then made the deal. He asked forty thousand but finally accepted twenty-five. Maude Howell is provoked that he didn't get sixty!
Mr. Arliss had hardly finished telling me when in walked Bert Wilk. He recognized me and was most cordial. So was I! He said: "Mrs. Hamlin, we have given out pretty generally that you are the greatest living authority on this period of American history" (perfectly straight face) "and I think it would be nice if you would give a half hour talk at the Biltmore for some charity on the subject, and we'd have it radioed." I was so staggered that I was (for once) speechless, but I said, finally, that I wasn't accustomed to public speaking. Mr. Arliss said: "Think it over," so that was that! How's that for a publicity stunt?8 . . .
All this time a photographer was trailing us to take our picture with Earl Derr Biggers. He is author of the play that Mr. A. has just finished today. It is called "The Millionaire" and is taken from a Sat. Eve. Post story by Mr. Biggers about a man who retired and got sick of doing nothing and started a garage. Mr. A. did it in the silent movies, don't you remember? It seems they called Booth Tarkington in to do some of the dialogue and Mr. Biggers got his feelings hurt. They wanted a group of Mr. A. with his two authors and the photographers followed us for about two hours but I finally got into "conference" ahem! so they had to take it without me.
Maude Howell (praise be!) is to be in on it too and I am awfully happy about that. She brought me home in her Ford and she and Mr. Josephson talked hours about the re-write. I am ahead of my story. First Mr. Arliss took me through many offices and through many double doors and past many secretaries to the inner sanctum of the great Mr. Zanuck, and I can tell you when you actually have an appointment with Mr. Zanuck you already wear a decoration! I wish I could describe the stage set of the great man. Such an office! Such grandeur! So many telephones and so many calls while we talked! Or rather while he talked. He's a great man and he knows it, but his ideas emerge with something of the circumlocution of the late Tim Lynch, I fancy. Anyhow, we sat there and listened and I knew Mr. Arliss was enjoying my enjoyment. Isn't bluff side-splitting? However the man has ideas and is to be played up to. But the real person is Mr. Josephson,. . . sensitive, intelligent, smart and just as nice as he can be and he and Maude Howell and I are to do the work. The sky's the limit as to cost, costumes, sets, etc. I can have anything I want and they treat me like a Queen. It is really too nice that I am to have a man like Mr. J. and a girl like Maude Howell to work with. They don't bluff and they speak the same language I do. Maude Howell has worked a lot with Mr. J. and she told me how nice he was. . .
About the work, there is no hurry! Mr. J. believes in talking and mulling it over for days and days before writing. I think he has the problems pretty well in view. I like his grasp of the subject. Mr. Arliss leaves Thursday for about three weeks, then, when he gets back, he may have suggestions. I shall have to be here much longer than I expected if I stay for the filming. They meant six weeks for the re-writing, evidently. I am awfully happy about everything.
It is so amusing out there at the First National. Hundreds of people wandering about in costumes of every period and every nation. I saw a lot of the "Trilby" people. John Barrymore is to be Svengali.
When I was here before, I was a mere onlooker but now, I have become a personage to whom everyone defers and all the secretaries and bus-boys know my name! It is so funny! It will take a good many lickings at backgammon to keep me in my place when I get home. Funny world this is!
The Coleen Moore Bungalow
. . .I am over in my bungalow alone. Maude and Mr. Josephson are in his office dictating our last outline to a stenographer. When they get that done, enlarging it as they go along and putting in technical directions, etc., then we three will go over it again. Meantime I am writing dialogue to use in our different scenes. By Saturday, we expect to have a full outline ready with some dialogue for Mr. Zanuck to see. We are glad that he has left us alone till we got it all worked out in our own minds and could be ready with our reasons. I am enjoying the work more and more
. . . . Mr. Josephson says that writers are hired to do this sort of work but very few can stand the strain and drop out. I really don't see how anyone stands it to work the way we are doing, week in and week out. Mr. Josephson thinks this play worth working on but he says when this is finished, they'll hand him some awful idea to work on and he'll have to dig in and do it. I believe it's the hardest work anyone around the place does. They have the same hours as the stenographers and that's cruel. I keep the same hours because I hate to go back to my hotel alone and because I enjoy the ride with Maude Howell but I don't feel I have to dig in quite so hard late in the P.M....
Last night Maude and I had the nicest little supper with Evelyn Hall, the English actress I spoke of. We both feel that she thinks it a good idea to get next to us and we are a bit uncomfortable about that because she doesn't speak American and just couldn't have a part in our play. She is the most English of the English and hard to understand when you talk face to face. A movie audience in this country simply couldn't understand her. However, we like her and we did have a most amusing time. She knows all sorts of interesting people and is a very charming woman.
We don't know at all when Mr. Arliss will come but we hope soon. . . .
Bungalow, First National
Monday, March 1st
. . .I had a lovely day yesterday with interesting people. Evelyn Hall and I heard Ernest Holmes in a crowded theater and got some real stimulus and then we dined together at The Brown Derby and had good talk. John stopped for me and we walked up to Louise Closser Hale's to supper. She had two young married people who were agreeable but whose names I have forgotten. After a very delicious supper, we went to see a picture and a very funny comedy called "The Theme Song" by Sennett. It was a delightful take-off on the theme song talkies. The "feature" was a play by Kathleen Norris very well played by four experienced players -- five. It is called "The Passion Flower" -- just why I can't see. Mrs. Hale told me that Mr. and Mrs. Norris came out here on contract for Mrs. Norris to do a certain number of scenarios for M.G.M. They were to pay her $30,000 for the lot. Note please that her husband came with her! She made the scenarios and handed them in. They couldn't use any of them so they paid her the thirty thousand and gave her back her scripts. Her husband suggested that one of them would do for a short story. She wrote it. It was published and M.G.M. bought it from the magazine for twenty-five thousand! So she got double pay! This was the picture that we saw! It was pretty good, principally because of the acting but there were holes in the scenario that my Mr. Josephson would never let me get by with. I was telling him about it and he said that it was quite likely the Cutter cut out the parts that made it hold together. The power of the Cutter is something too awful. Mr. Arliss was sick about the way they cut "Old English," throwing every scene to him and cutting the ones he wasn't in. Maude and Josephson know pretty well what will be cut so we are trying to avoid trouble in advance by doing our own. I'd much rather have them do it than a stranger.
Our big scenario has been handed in this P.M. to Mr. Zanuck and we all go into "conference" tomorrow. I am wondering what it will be like. We are all pleased with our script but the great Zanuck may not be!
Saturday, March 7th
I wish I could describe the "Conference" to you. Mr. Zanuck called it for three o'clock, and by the time he came in to the "Conference Room" at four, Mr. Josephson and Miss Howell had me pretty well scared. He is a small man with tight-curled light-colored hair and prominent front teeth and a short upper lip. He isn't the least impressive to look at even behind his great desk with his six telephones beside him, but, when he gets started on an idea!! He is simply alive with vitality and vigor and some strange, thrilling enthusiasm. He paced up and down the room with his little white teeth protruding and sketched great, "tremendous" scenes that he saw and he quite swept me off my feet and filled me with enthusiasm. Even in the midst of his aura of persuasiveness, I sensed objections but I knew he didn't wish to hear them. What he wanted was to get over his ideas and then have us carry them out. He had taken our play over almost bodily but he had added a great scene that we wouldn't have dared put in on account of expense and he had changed the Reynolds scene, of course. I made up my mind I wasn't going to worry about that because, in the last issue, Mr. Arliss will decide and I know well enough he won't do it Zanuck's way. He was awfully nice to me and I confess he sold me his ideas at the time, though I have since found that many of them won't hold water. Several of his suggestions are ridiculous but we have had to write them up the best we can, knowing that he himself will see they aren't consistent. Mr. Josephson and Maude are doing that. They feel that they are on salary and that they must do their best to "sell" Zanuck's ideas to Mr. Arliss. I don't feel obligated to do that, so I am writing you while they dictate to a stenographer. . . . I do believe that it is going to be a big picture. There are some things that Warner Bros. do that I dislike, one is that they run to huge close-ups which seem very movieish and take from the feeling of the play being drama and not pageant. I know Mr. Arliss wasn't pleased at the way they cut "Old English" to big closeups of him and I believe he will insist on having this one done differently.
P.S... .The big scene that Mr. Zanuck put in. . . is one where Hamilton sees Betsy off for Europe. An entire waterfront with a full-rigged ship, hundreds of extras loading ship, etc. The reason he wants to do it is that they have the set from "Moby Dick." I only hope he doesn't insist on using the property whale which is still out at the Vitagraph, Maude tells me. I do think it will be a stunning scene. I like it, with the ship going off in the distance and Mr. Arliss standing forlorn on the dock. It will get him a little sympathy, I think.9. . . It is five o'clock Saturday afternoon and I think Maude will soon be over to take me home. I shall be glad of a vacation over Sunday. I am going to church with Evelyn Hall....
Monday at the Bungalow
[Undated; March 1931]
. . .This has been a busy and exciting day. Mr. Arliss came and he, Mr. Hubbard,10 Mr. Zanuck, Maude, Mr. Josephson and myself sat about the lordly table in the "Conference Room" and conferred. Mr. Zanuck walked up and down and Mr. Arliss walked up and down and all was as pleasant as a May day and everything was thrashed out. Mr. Arliss made some concessions and Zanuck made some and it worked out all right. We didn't get all through the play but Mr. A. wants some things that Maude and Josephson took out and that I didn't know about, but took their say-so. It was half past one when we got through and Mr. Arliss looked very tired. He went home and, I hope, to bed, and we went to lunch. At two, Maude, Josephson and I had a conference with Mr. Hubbard who is a "very high-priced man" under Zanuck. He then took up the first scene in detail and introduced some entirely new ideas of his own which had not been discussed in the morning conference and he gave us his orders to write quite a different one from what we had in mind and what we thought had been "okayed" in the conference. I felt rather confused but didn't care particularly but Maude and "Jo" were furious. They are now writing the Washington farewell to his soldiers according to Hubbard's directions. I think it's a pure waste of time because I don't think Zanuck will like it! It is so funny having so many people at work on one idea. It takes a good temper to keep steady. I can think of nothing worse than being on salary -- even a big one -- to do this sort of hack work. Josephson has ideas and imagination and he gets mad as a wet hen when dictated to by people who haven't. After Zanuck's first conference in which he ordered us to write a lot of scenes that we knew well enough Mr. Arliss wouldn't stand for (and he didn't) Josephson said he took the Zanuck directions home and put them on the floor and jumped up and down on them, but he added: "I put a piece of paper on them first." That was so characteristic. He is afraid of losing his job and yet he had to let off steam and gave himself a good time by stamping on Zanuck's ideas, carefully preserving them from harm! I do think the under-dog is a pitiful object. Josephson is so hard-working and conscientious and they wave aside all his hard work with one cuss word and he sits silent. Neither he nor Maude say anything in the conference but they boil over later. Mr. Zanuck is awfully nice to me and I feel at liberty to say anything I please, so I don't get mad at all and I like lots of Zanuck's suggestions. He has a way of cutting the knot that we have worn our fingers out trying to untie. I like his sweeping gestures and his big outlook even if he does make some pretty funny suggestions, from an historical point of view -- like having telegraph boys running in and out of Hamilton's office and showing Hamilton hastily glancing at his wrist watch! He acts it out for us. Of course he doesn't care about details. That's our business.
. . .Mr. Arliss' picture "The Millionaire" promises to be the biggest thing he has done yet as a box-office proposition. They are awfully pleased with it out here on the lot. Much excitement about the way the pre-view was received!
I see all sorts of interesting people strolling by -- H. B. Warner, Walter Huston, Robinson the gangster star, etc. The other day, Maude and I were strolling back from Josephson's office when we passed a bungalow with the door open and a man sitting inside making up his face. I instantly recognized a famous profile, but when the man looked out at us scowling, I saw that John Barrymore was a grey-haired and very middle-aged looking man. He knows enough to know he can't play young men any longer so he is Svengali in "Trilby.". . .
Wednesday at the Bungalow
[Undated; March 1931]
Mr. Josephson and Maude are over dictating our last scene. I mean the first scene in the play which we have gone over and written and re-written many times. Since Mr. Arliss appeared, things have cleared up and we all feel more like getting going. Mr. Arliss has a remarkable way of not being bumptious and yet making decisions that are final. We feel that we can now forge ahead with the actual writing, scene by scene....
Today a Mrs. Littlejohn called me up. She is having an interview with Mr. Arliss on Friday to write an article on him and on this play, I think, for the Motion Picture Magazine. She is a friend of Leila Beard (Mrs. Stuart) and Leila has sent her a letter to me. She has asked me to dinner. I want to meet her, of course, but I have been having Maude Howell coach me ever since she called to tell me what not to say about Mr. Arliss. I am so scared I'll be indiscreet and I have come to know what a trying thing publicity is. You'd be surprised the nuisances I have had thrust into my life just because my name has gotten associated with a great person. People who have no claim whatsoever on my time take it up. What his life must be, I can't imagine! The modest station for me! There's freedom in it.
. . .Everything is lovely with me. I get awfully lonely for my own people and my own home but I do like going to work every morning and I like learning about this business. Whether I shall ever use what I have learned, I doubt. It takes too much time away from home, and I'd hate not having a hand in a play of mine that was being filmed. I find you can have some influence. At least Mr. Zanuck has treated me beautifully and I say anything I please to him. I don't feel a bit snubbed.
Of course, my friendship with Mr. Arliss gives me class. It might be different if I didn't have that backing. They all look up to him and all like him. As Noah Beery said to me yesterday: "He's so damned sweet !" The men who play with him simply can't get over the fact that he isn't an egoist. I fancy some of the stars are pretty awful. . .
Thursday morning at the Bungalow
[c. 19 March 1931]
. . .Josephson and Maude stayed till ten o'clock last night working. The result is they are both so tired and muddled this morning that I doubt their work being of any value. Poor old Jo has stayed here night after night working on scenes that we none of us believed in and that both Maude and I were sure Mr. Arliss wouldn't keep in. I was all for doing the best we could without much fuss and letting it go at that, but Jo, being so honest, said that as Mr. Hubbard had ordered us to write these scenes we had to do it just as well as we possibly could in order to "sell" to Mr. Arliss. Hubbard had called us in, after a general conference, and had suggested a lot of the wildest ideas for scenes that had nothing to do with this play. I think he had in mind "What Price Glory?" and thought this a chance to show what war was like, or rather what real soldiers were like, so he insisted that we stage Washington's farewell address from an old mill! I mildly objected that the address was pretty famous and Rocky Hill well known and that his headquarters, there, were probably preserved as a museum. He said that didn't matter, we were writing a play and not teaching history! That made me sore but I kept my mouth shut and we spent a valuable afternoon, discussing where the water wheel would be and how the rooms arranged. It meant getting the "research department" to work, etc., etc. Well, I wrote the scenes of soldiers and officers -- lots of shots -- lots of footage -- then Jo and Maude re-wrote and Jo agonized over getting the scenes realistic and good and funny, knowing that they didn't belong to this play at all. He stood in great awe of Mr. Hubbard because he is such a high-salaried official and because he is "very close to Zanuck." We wasted days. It was keeping us back. I just told Mr. Arliss jokingly and he went to Hubbard and said he didn't wish any one to interfere with the continuity as agreed upon. I guess Hubbard realized that his suggestions were foolish. It all made me think of the line in the play "Once in a Lifetime" where one of the high officials in a studio in Hollywood says: "I'm going to make a rule that from now on somebody has got to read the play before it is shot." I don't think Hubbard could have read our play! That's the only bad interference we have had. It was absolute waste. We have written and re-written and re-written again some scenes that Zanuck wanted and Mr. Arliss agreed to consider but didn't like. We know they will be thrown out by Mr. Arliss but we all agreed that we must try to write them convincingly. Hubbard's suggestions were so silly I didn't want to waste any time on them. I was perfectly willing to write them as well as I could without agony, but Jo and Maude would agonize. It got them all stirred up and tired out for nothing. I guess this sort of thing goes on in all business. . . .
Dudley Digges11 has just been in making me a long and delightful call. It is quite fun having this lovely little bungalow to receive in. While he was here, the Publicity Department called up to ask me if I would see a man from Sloane's in New York, an expert on Colonial furniture, the one who furnished the American Wing in the Metropolitan. He comes for an interview with me tomorrow! He is to furnish all the furniture for the play. Isn't that pretty? You see they do know how to do things here, after all! I must now go at the outline of the play and be ready with scene by scene directions for the gentleman.
At the Bungalow
Saturday, March 21st
I have just finished my first draft of the last scene in the play. Mr. Josephson and Maude Howell are in the dining room of the bungalow struggling with cuts and revisions of the big scene in the play where Hamilton faces his enemies. I work ahead so much faster than they revise and tear down that there come times when I have to wait for our conference on what they have done. We all three agree on it before it is finally typed and sent to Mr. Arliss.
Yesterday I had a rather interesting and diverting day. Early in the morning, I wrote scenes that needed doing and then Mrs. Littlejohn appeared with a glorious young blond girl and a friend to get me to go to luncheon. Mrs. Littlejohn is writing articles on various people, not the interview kind, full of cheap personalities but she is making her own observations. She will do this when she comes to the shooting of "Hamilton," but, just now, she is watching John Barrymore in "The Genius." The girl with her, dressed in the loveliest pink tulle dress, was his lead in the play. She is Marian Marsh and a sweet young thing. She is just seventeen and came from Trinidad. We ate lunch together and she was so happy that I knew Trinidad. She said she played as a child in the lovely Governor's gardens. She was very sweet and unspoiled and is, at seventeen, a leading woman. She was Trilby in Barrymore's play of Svengali. After luncheon, I took time to go with them to watch the shooting of one scene between Barrymore and Marian Marsh. It is a German scene and Barrymore is a sort of fiend who is out to ruin the career of this innocent young dancer. She is unsuspicious and childlike. Barrymore had acting as his Secretary a very good comedy man. I saw him in a picture the other day. His name is Chamberlain and he is very funny. He never smiles but can get over an idea that makes you laugh by a twist of one side of his expressive face. Watch for his work. Marian Marsh was mighty sweet and a good actress. John Barrymore is now an elderly man. He can never play the matinee idol sort of thing and he isn't trying but he is a good actor. Both these plays will be worth seeing, I think.
I had to get let out after this one shot because I had an appointment for a man from Sloane's to come to consult me about the furniture. He came at two thirty and Mr. Sully who came to introduce him suggested that I go to the store with him in Los Angeles. Presently a large limousine drew up and we got in and were off to a very interesting experience. The man, Mr. Neville, formerly of Rochester (his family live there now on Ambassador Drive) is an expert on the Federal period of furniture. He was most interesting. Sloane's has a great store in Los Angeles. They are the authority on furniture of this period, having had made all the reproductions for the American Wing in the Metropolitan. You can imagine what fun it was for me to be escorted (in a car that had "Warner Brothers" painted on the door!) to a great store and told to pick out anything I wanted. They had there every sort of reproduction that we could use-tavern furniture, even to tankards and cupboards, French ballroom things, perfectly marvelous consoles as big as three like that one that used to be in Miss Granger's parlor, and high enough to reach to the ceiling, huge mirrors, portraits and other copies of famous paintings, furniture suitable for Jefferson's house, Hamilton's, the State House, bedrooms, etc. Here's the secret, and this mustn't be spoken of outside the family lest it get back to Warner Brothers. I said to Mr. Neville, "You don't mean that you are going to send out all these priceless things?" He said: "Anything you can use, Mrs. Hamlin." I said, "Are Warner Brothers buying it or renting it?" He said, "Neither. We are sending it absolutely free of expense. They give us credit on the screen." Then he said what mustn't be spoken of. It seems Warner Bros. approached them to handle this contract and they refused absolutely, not caring in the least for movie advertising. Mr. Neville explained that movie audiences would never go to Sloane's to buy furniture and that they were not interested in the movie actor people's taste as they did not go in for sensational nor ultra modern furniture. Sloane is especially interested in cultivating the Early American which is the Federal period when the furniture was all imported from France or England but when cabinetmakers began to copy and gradually to make some changes. This is not a type of furniture that the movie stars like. The result was that they turned Warner Brothers down and then Mr. Sully said that the picture was Mr. Arliss' and they said: "Hold." When they found that it was Mr. Arliss they offered the entire store because of personal admiration for Mr. Arliss and because they believe that the class of people who go to see his pictures do know about good furniture and so it will have value as advertising, but it is mostly because this period is their specialty and because they all admire Mr. Arliss. It is a personal matter. For this reason, they do not intend to do it for anyone else, but Warner Bros. think they will go on doing it for other pictures and Mr. Neville didn't want me to give them away. You can't imagine the fun it was to order this and that priceless piece.
They had everything, and every single piece was handmade without one start, even, of machine work. Their reproductions are made exactly as the originals were. I never saw such lovely things. I got a lot of information about period furniture. Mr. Neville knew his stuff . . . in appraisal of Chinese porcelains, etc. but he didn't know history any better than most of the people who will see the play. As we drove off from the bungalow, he said quite elegantly: "I suppose you have Lord Nelson in the play?" I have been asked this so many times that I know enough to say quite casually, "No, but we have Thomas Jefferson." He did know about Jefferson and knew all about his taste in architecture and had visited Monticello and the University of Virginia, but he knew that at this period of Jefferson's career he was featuring simplicity and suggested that we furnish his house in plain, solid stuff. I liked this for the play but had been afraid of it with Monticello and his classical taste in mind. It was all a delightful experience. We drove back through the wonderful country that lies between Burbank (where the First National is located) and Los Angeles. As it was ninety yesterday, it was rather pleasant to be motoring, and getting a little breeze. Maude said that, after I left, another large limousine drew up to take Mrs. Hamlin. It is so like Warner Brothers to send two cars to take one lady-author!
- 9 -
Monday morning, March 23rd
. . .Yesterday I had a very happy day. My English actress friend Evelyn Hall (a very cultivated woman who has worked in Greek plays under Gilbert Murray, knows Shaw and many other interesting English people and was brought over here by Arthur Hopkins to play opposite John Barrymore in "Richard Third") my friend Evelyn came for me in her car and we went to Los Angeles to hear Ernest Holmes, as we do each Sunday morning. He speaks in an immense theater and always gives you a sort of fillip. He is so-called New Thought. Then we drove back to Hollywood and had a long quiet lunch at The Brown Derby, a good restaurant where theatrical people go but where it is very quiet on Sunday. After that we took a heavenly drive through Laurel Canyon and over the mountains. It was terribly hot and so was mighty good to push up a breeze. It was ninety in the shade on the wide piazza of the Hollywood Hotel and has been ninety for days. . . After our drive we went and had afternoon tea in Gilbert Emery's garden. . . .
I had about ten minutes' rest after our tea and then I got into evening clothes and went to Whitley Terrace-high hanging off a mountain to have dinner with the Arlisses and some charming English friends. It was a nice party and now here I am back in the little bungalow with the fountain and the gold fish and nothing, really, to do. Mr. Josephson and Maude Howell are in Josephson's office going over the last three scenes of the play which I have written.
Yes, George Washington is now a character in our play12 and is to be done by a real actor, Alan Mowbray, not a stuffed shirt. The play opens with Washington making his farewell address to the soldiers at the close of the Revolution. Then Hamilton and Washington have a short scene in which they realize together that the real fight is still ahead and that is the building of a Union out of thirteen jealous states, etc. We then fade out to a room in the State House (Independence Hall) where Jefferson and other opponents with Jay and some adherents are waiting for Hamilton to come to discuss the Assumption Bill -- Government assumption of the states' debts. The states' rights people are violently opposed. Hamilton enters and there is a good political scrap in which we hope even the dumbest of Mr. Arliss' admirers will know at least that there is a fight. One woman wrote him the other day that she loved to see him act, that she always went to see every single picture of his although she never understood what they were about! Another fan wrote him asking for a picture. It was sent, of course, in an envelope which said: "After ten days return to Warner Brothers studio." After ten days the picture came back and a note from the lady to Mr. Arliss thanking him for letting her have the picture for ten days, but saying how she longed to keep it and how hard it was to give it up!
Monday [March 23rd]
. . .We have finished our last scene and Mr. Arliss will have it this afternoon when he comes over. He confided to me last night that he had put almost everything back the way it was in the play. A lot of our work writing scenes for Zanuck and Hubbard will be so much wasted time and struggle, and will never be appreciated by anyone. I think it annoyed Mr. Arliss that we should write in a lot of irrelevant stuff and we haven't done it so as to "sell" it to Mr. Arliss, so no one will be pleased. Of course I wouldn't have done it, but I was rather bound to give my consent because I was working with two wage-earners who want to keep their jobs. I should insist, if I were doing it again, that I have one scenario writer and only one, to work with and that our complete "treatment" go through without interference until read by all and sundry. We three have worked like a shot together, but there is one too many. I haven't let it get my goat very much except when I realized that we had sent in to Mr. Arliss a lot of junk for our first assignment of dialogue. The next morning (I was too tired late at night when it was finished to care) I was aghast, but fortunately I had a chance, last night, to tell him the complete story. He knows the trouble was "too many cooks" but it has made him unnecessary work -- work that we could have done if we had been allowed to follow our own convictions. In fact, Mr. Arliss will probably go back to our first treatment before Zanuck and Hubbard began to make suggestions. Mr. Arliss didn't want to tell the others what he said to me last night, but he will read us his revised treatment this afternoon. Then, after we have thrashed it out and come to a complete understanding, he will go in, single-handed, and deal with the great little Mr. Zanuck. As Mr. Z. just about worships Mr. Arliss, there will be no blood shed. Mr. Arliss is so tactful and open-minded. He never gets quarrelsome and is always ready to listen respectfully to their suggestions, being perfectly willing to believe that they may possibly be good. If, however, he does not like them, he knows it, and gets his own way -- in most cases. He is certainly a wonderful person to work with. He said he wanted me there on the job all the time to see that they don't put in any theme-songs!
. . .Today really finished our work except for the necessary changes after Mr. Arliss and Mr. Zanuck come to an agreement. I think a week will do it and we shall begin rehearsals as planned on April first. I don't see how I can tear myself away till the thing is filmed. I want to see about costumes, sets and furniture and they have consulted me and let me have my say. I think I am really going to have what I want. I find that all you know in any line is so much grist to your mill. They talk grandly about their "research department" but, believe me, you'd better "roll your own"! I have written to the Philadelphia Historical Society for certain pictures and am not going to leave it to chance.
I do believe it is going to be a good picture, but I want to be in on rehearsals and everything. My perfect freedom to say anything I wish to to Mr. Arliss gives me a chance to have some influence that, as author, I should not be able to exert. If I say my say to him and convince him, he'll get it over. I must say, though, that I have had every consideration that I could wish, except a furnished house and a car with a uniformed chauffeur! Of course I am being paid very little! Five hundred dollars a week is simply nothing for a good scenario writer, but then I wasn't one when I came out! My price would be higher next time! . . .
Later, back at the hotel
We gave Mr. Arliss our final scene this afternoon. He has decided to finish his revision and then take it up alone with Zanuck and tell him that he can't act what he insisted on our writing. Then he will go back to the play and to our original treatment and make Zanuck give his consent. . . .
[Undated; March 1931]
. . .All the big scenes are being taken bodily from the play, but cut and changed as to location. Of course, with a stage play, you have to talk about people to get over information about what has happened. In this technique, you can show it happening and that means, of course, writing many new scenes, but the old play remains, in spite of new treatment. I shall never be able to explain why it is such hard and continuous work. You will think it little changed when you see it, but back of the final script will have been many, many scenes, agreed upon, discussed, worked out at great and minute length, written, rewritten, re-consulted about, again re-written, and then taken up in conference and discarded entirely because of some new angle that someone suggests out of a clear sky. This having six minds at work on an idea is very confusing. Zanuck, Hubbard, and Mr. Arliss disagree about many points. We have to write scenes without quite knowing which idea is to be brought out. Mr. Arliss admits he is "old-fashioned," liking to have an idea "planted" before the big scene. Zanuck has a flair, now, for not planting anything. He says audiences are so wise now you don't need to, and a complete surprise is better. It is difficult to know. We write both ways.13 I do all the original writing, then Josephson and Maude go over and re-write. It is heart-breaking kind of work. They cut and change till every bit of life has gone out of what I have done. The people in my scenes become dummies just shooting ideas. It is hard to bear good-naturedly. I really don't care who writes it or what happens to any scene I write so long as something better takes its place, but when, late in the afternoon, I am asked to approve a lifeless condensation that is as dull as ditch-water, I want to throw up my hands, yet I must be tactful and reasonable. Last night we left here in the dark. It was seven o'clock and I had been on the job steadily and unremittingly since nine that morning. I get up before seven to be ready to leave the hotel at quarter to nine.
I still like and believe in Maude and "Jo" as much as ever, but the results of our work don't please me. I thought, with their technical knowledge and my ability to write quickly we could do something pretty good -- especially as we really agree splendidly, but I am not happy about the result just at present. The minute technical digging- "No, he can't sit down there because that means changing all the cameras," etc., etc. -- it kills spontaneity. It is hard to stand up against their experience but Mr. Arliss warned me definitely that he depended on me and didn't want me to "like Josephson too well." I want to be easy to get along with and have been awfully pleased at the way they feel about me, as an author, but, on the other hand, I mustn't be spineless. It is no joke and I begin to understand a little better than I did why Alison Skipworth and Louise Hale rail as they do, while drawing large salaries. I have no suggestion to make about methods but I know this is a difficult one -- three people on one script with three others to consult and consider. I certainly couldn't do it alone, nor could they. They depend on me for every bit of new dialogue. I have written tons of it. I don't mind that, but the endless discussion as to whether he does this or that unimportant thing takes all my patience, and at six thirty I find it difficult to be interested. I keep pleasant, though. . . .
It seems too funny to read about snow and drifts! Last night, I read your letter about the possibility of not getting to Rochester on account of snow while I was lying in my bed with a door and two windows open at the foot. The foot of my bed is very near the door that opens onto my balcony. I always have it wide open at night and last night I slept with a sheet and a thin cotton blanket over me. It is so hot you dodge for shade and want salads and iced tea for luncheon. . . .
. . .Yesterday morning Evelyn Hall drove me out and Mr. Arliss came over to my bungalow to see her. He was awfully sweet to her and of course offered her the part. He appreciated that it was too small for her, but of course she is very happy to be in Mr. Arliss' picture and also happy about being in my play.14 She looked just too smart and lovely for words so I was pretty proud to offer her. I heard today that the DAR. has sent in a protest against Alan Mowbray being cast as George Washington because he is English. Of course he is a fine actor as well as a good looker for Washington. It is so easy to get a stuffed shirt and, while it is a small part, Mr. Zanuck had the sense to see that a real actor should do it. It was his first enthusiastic suggestion -- to get Alan Mowbray. Don't women's organizations do the fool things?. . . I was so relieved when I knew they would take the character seriously and get quality even for a bit. It is funny, though, that almost all the cast is going to be English. Of course, Mr. Arliss thinks the English voice has so much better timbre for the talkies. He says the American voice is too rich and too full, that it hits too hard on the mechanism, as it is at present. I suppose that is his cute way of saying it is too raw and too heavy.
After Mr. Arliss had seen Evelyn and a few others, we got together to go over his revised script. He has greatly improved it, but the sad part of it was that he has had to labor hard to do what we all three wanted to do and were not allowed to because we had to write Mr. Zanuck's and Mr. Hubbard's ideas and Mr. Arliss discarded them without a flicker and read his own version to Mr. Zanuck which, apparently, Mr. Zanuck accepted, also without a flicker! I feel a little sorry for Maude and Josephson because it looks as if, after all our weeks of work, Mr. Arliss had to do it -- or, at least, a good deal of it -- a good deal that we did or could have done. Besides that, Mr. Arliss had put back the things that I disagreed with Maude and Jo about. That is, they would explain at great length why certain things had to come out from a technical point of view, etc. and I would reluctantly give my consent, believing in their experience and their authority and then Mr. Arliss would put it straight back and they wouldn't say one word. If I live long enough, or if I come back in another reincarnation, I shall start without respect for any authority under heaven. Nobody knows any better than you know yourself. For instance, look at your experience with the bank examiner! It's so characteristic of my experience. They seem to know and all their experience with technique ought to count and you are convinced of your own ignorance and then, someone like Mr. Arliss, who has learned to go on without listening to people who say he can't-when such a person sits up and makes a pronouncement, all the objections melt away and you are ashamed of your own weakness. Between being obstinate and being strong, it's a difficult road to find. I was so anxious not to be one of those difficult authors who feel every word is sacred that I went to the other extreme and accepted what I wasn't wholly convinced of. Of course, in the back of my head, all the time, was the knowledge that Mr. Arliss wouldn't lose any value out of the play. For instance, in cutting the big scene in the last act, I let Maude read their version aloud without reference to the play. I tried to listen as if it were a new scene and see if it was a good scene, but it seemed flat to me. The climax didn't seem as sharp. They pointed out to me that there was much repetition in the original and that by making the climax sudden and quick, it was much more dramatic. I was firm that I coudn't see it, but willing to let it go, knowing the play was there for Mr. Arliss to put back if he wanted it. To show me how poor our scene was and how ridiculously repetitious, Maude showed me a long speech of Mr. Arliss' that they had simply cut out entirely. Then I knew what I had missed and what, in my opinion, was needed. I told her so and she and Jo just laughed and tried to show me that it was repetition. For instance, Hamilton says to the men who have come with the accusation: you haven't come because you believe this thing but because you repent of your bargain and see a way out, etc. He was attacking them and working up to his climax where he proves that their accusation is false. Maude said, you see, that's all repetition. We have had a scene showing that Jefferson is worried and does fear what his constituents will say, etc. so Mr. Arliss saying it all over again is simply repetition. Of course Mr. Arliss put back every word and explained that it was drama and not repetition. To have Hamilton whack away at them accusing them of the very thing that the audience knows is true isn't repetition. I knew this but couldn't convince them. They just thought me long-winded.15 Of course, Mr. Arliss speaks with authority and they are convinced, or at least don't argue. I haven't felt in the least irritated but I hope I have learned to stand on my own feet and be willing to be unpopular when I really believe what I believe. . . .
This picture will do a lot to really revolutionize the talkies if it is a box-office success. Mr. Arliss considers it a very definite experiment as to whether there are enough people who really want something besides sex to warrant a serious play as a business proposition. Mr. Arliss is so beloved and so reverenced out here that he has been given a chance to try this experiment with the best of backing in the way of sets and cast and costumes. Nothing is being scamped. If it isn't a success, then that's that, but if it is, it will be the beginning of a different trend. Everybody says this quite frankly. Mr. Arliss has become such a box-office attraction that all the studios are watching him. If he succeeds with a "heavy" play, then they will all want to try that sort. It is perfectly understood out here that this play is a turning point. I seem to be in on it-whether for success or disaster -- so I really ought to learn my lesson by staying and getting all I can. I'd like to be one to prove that there are really numbers of people --box-office numbers -- who don't want to sit day after day and see Greta Garbo seduced and seducing. I should be so happy if it turned out that, in business quantities, there were people who enjoyed a good man's fight in the political situation, and in the early history of the country. I should so like to believe that sex isn't the entire interest of the common people -- that business and other aspects of life do intrigue them. I believe it but now is my chance to prove it. I have the best actor in the world and perfect backing. Here's hoping!
Easter Sunday afternoon
. . .I think the facts are as stated about the writers. I expect the quick workers are enormously paid but I don't believe Josephson was paid very much and he was hired for this play alone and is, I fear, now out of a job. Maude Howell is on salary and Mr. Arliss tells me a high one. She, however, isn't a writer. She understands stage directing and all about camera restrictions so she is a good adviser, but I don't think she did a bit of dialogue. She worked on the structure and the treatment but I wrote all the first dialogue, then she and Jo revised and cut, then Mr. Arliss re-wrote a good deal of it, afterward I re-wrote! On the screen it will read: "From a Play by Mary P. Hamlin and George Arliss. Scenario and Dialogue by Julian Josephson and Maude Howell." As most of the dialogue has been taken from the play and as Mr. Arliss and I wrote most of the new, it is rather funny! It is certainly a strange place and an interesting one. Politics play a large part. There are what is known as "Yes-Men" out here who are paid large salaries. They are friends of the great executives. Whether or not Lucien Hubbard is one I don't know. He occupies a large office, has a Secretary and always sits in on our Conferences. He is very nice, but his suggestions have been a scream. I must tell you his latest. After the "final" script had gone in, approved by Mr. Arliss, we were called to a three o'clock conference. We open in the play with Washington's farewell address to the soldiers using his actual words-parts of the real speech, cutting to the soldiers as he is talking and showing them, ragged and wounded, lame, etc. and listening eagerly to their master's voice. We also cut twice to Hamilton leaning in the doorway of headquarters and watching Washington, listening. Then we cut to a room in headquarters and Washington and Hamilton have a scene in which Washington expresses his desire for retirement to Mt. Vernon and Hamilton tells him the fight has just begun -- 13 jealous states -- a Union to be formed, etc. Mr. Zanuck said he didn't like that scene, that it was two men making speeches at one another and as it was the real start of the play it would give the keynote and should be more natural. Mr. Arliss had re-written our dialogue and made it a good deal stiffer, and I thought there was something in what Mr. Zanuck said. I thought it might be loosened up. Well, then Zanuck turned to Mr. Hubbard and said: "Just read that dialogue as you have written it, Lucien." Of course that was an unheard of proceeding, for anyone to read actual dialogue in a conference, but Lucien seemed anxious to do it and he proceeded to have Washington come in with a box of salve and do business of rubbing it on a cold sore and the dialogue centered about the cold sore! I could hardly believe I was hearing what my ears registered, and didn't dare look at Mr. Arliss. Lucien read on and on about the cold sore and when he finished with evident pride, Mr. Arliss said quietly: "I see what you mean, but don't you think it would be rather trifling to show Washington fussing about a cold sore, especially after we have seen the soldiers who have suffered great hardship. As Washington appears so short a time in the play, it seems to me we shall have to show him in a dignified way to suit people." At that Mr. Zanuck shouted: "All right, then, give Hamilton the cold sore!" I thought I should burst, I wanted to laugh so. Mr. Arliss didn't want the cold sore, but promised we would do something about making the scene more natural. Zanuck thought if we wouldn't take the cold sore (which he and Hubbard resigned with reluctance) then it would be nice to have the business center about a saddle. As we came out of the room, Mr. Arliss said: "Will you write that scene, Mrs. Hamlin?" I said I would. I worked till eleven on another scene that had to be done and then I slept on the cold sore. In the morning, I wrote a scene centered about a saddle and it was good. When Josephson and Maude read it they shouted with joy and put it right through to Mr. Arliss with scarcely a suggestion. Mr. Arliss said: "That is very ingenious. You have done a difficult thing but I think we'll go back to the original scene. It is my first appearance and I really don't want to start talking about a cold sore or a saddle." So don't be disappointed if neither Washington nor Hamilton has a cracked lip in the picture. . . . I wish I could make you know how funny it was to hear the million-dollar Zanuck shouting: "Give Hamilton the cold sore!" I figure it out that Lucien Hubbard has been sold on "Journey's End" or "What Price Glory?" and wanted to write a natural army scene. As the play isn't about the war, it seemed scarcely worth while to use up precious footage with the cold sore, but if the picture flops, Mr. Hubbard will feel that it was cutting that out that did it.
There is a certain amount of satisfaction in having the play swing back to my own ideas, as this play is doing. Maude and Julian cut out things that I argued about but they insisted on cutting. Mr. Arliss has put them all back, using just the arguments I used in the first place. Dudley Digges has been calling for scenes he misses too. Of course it is Mr. Arliss who does it, and not I, so I have no chance ever to feel "important" as you suggest. I never felt less important, but I do feel interested and happy. The paid scenario writers may be important but the original author isn't, I think, though I have been awfully well treated, owing to my friendship with Mr. Arliss and not to my skill as a playwright. . . .
[Undated; April 1931]
. . ."Hamilton," or rather "Alexander Hamilton," will be finished and done on Saturday night, the ninth of May, if the schedule goes through. That gives a little more than three weeks to the shooting. It is said to be the shortest script ever handed in which redounds to our credit as it saves much money to shoot only what is needed. It saves time too.
I hope you will get here a few days before closing so that you can go out more than once. I want to show you about the place, as well as have you see the shooting. I won't leave you stranded at the hotel. I don't have to be there, so we can go off anywhere we please. Maude Howell says the Yosemite is open the year round now and that now is the pleasantest time to go because it gets too hot in the summer. I do want to take that trip. . . .
The rehearsals are going very well indeed.16 We have some good actors. I like Doris Kenyon very much. She is blond but she can act.17 I think June Collier will work up too but she isn't so good an actress. I have been to the wardrobe place twice now with Doris Kenyon to help her decide on her four dresses. We are copying Romney and Gainsborough prints, making the dresses for the women simple and attractive. You never saw such a factory and such millions of clothes of every period. Of course all the principals will have new dresses but the "bits" or "the bit actors" will be dressed from the left-overs of "The Divine Lady" and "Sweet Kitty Bellairs." Nothing is being slighted and it ought to be one grand picture. It is such fun hearing them do the political stuff. Take Dudley Digges and Mr. Arliss together fighting one another and it's so good it brings tears to your eyes! No one else is quite so good, but Montague Love is a very handsome and impressive Jefferson. He looks too much like Washington, though. I hope the movie audience -- that is considered so dumb that you can't use English as she is spoke -- won't think all through that it is Washington.
Sunday, April 12th
. . .Rehearsals closed yesterday and they begin tomorrow filming what we call the "Conference Scene." It is a scene near the beginning of the play in a room in Independence Hall. Hamilton has called Jefferson, Monroe and Senator Roberts to a conference to plead with them to pass his Assumption Bill. They, of course, fight it and it is a very tense and interesting scene, especially when Roberts hangs back after the others have left and offers to make a deal for his vote with Hamilton. The real drama begins there and it is a dandy scene between Mr. Arliss and Dudley Digges. I suppose it will take all day, perhaps two days. Costumes are coming along well. They made entirely new dresses for Betsy and Mrs. Reynolds and are letting them use their own hair with additions instead of the wigs we didn't like.
Mr. Arliss said "Of course" you and Frank could come to see any filming you wished to. It will be great fun to have you here. I want you to meet the men in the cast. I like some of them so very much. The actors out here are so much higher class than the executives! There are tragedies in that connection. It is fun to hear of the joy of the actors in working on this play (which they really like) and which they have a chance to give their best to. As I have watched the actors come out, and grow, in their parts and have seen the different scenes grow and take shape under rehearsal, it is an amazing thing that they should ever try to film a play without rehearsals. They pay such high salaries and then don't allow the actors to give all they could. . . .
Wednesday, April 15th
. . .Everything is going beautifully as far as the shooting is concerned and, now that the Sloane furniture is on the set it is too lovely for anything. I saw some rushes of Monday's work and they were fine. Mr. Arliss looks younger than when he was in the play. They have taken fish-skin and pulled up his face holding it under his wig -- I mean holding the slack and he looks fine. He has a wonderful makeup and they do tricks with the lighting. . . .
Today, as they were filming the "mob scene" in front of Independence Hall where a man stones Hamilton because they can't get their back-pay, I sat watching. The man is arrested by soldiers and then Hamilton swings the crowd to him by making a joke and finally letting the man go. They did it several times and then I saw the man who threw the stone go away in an automobile. One of the "bit-men" came up and told me the man's wife had just died and they had brought him word. He was gone a very short time and he was back and went through the scene again. As he came down I saw he was crying and I spoke to him and expressed my sympathy. He thanked me and went away sobbing. He has three children and this is the first work he has had in some time. He couldn't stop the scene even if his wife was dead. That is trouble. There is lots of it out here.
LETTERS TO MRS. HAMLIN FROM GEORGE ARLISS
Congress Hotel, Chicago
Dec. 10, 1917
. . .How is Henry?18 I hope he continues to improve. When he gets quite well I do hope that you will see that he goes in thoroughly for the higher education, so that he may appreciate all that is best and uplifting in the drama. Oh, how I wish I had had such advantages when I was young, for now I don't believe I shall ever be able to learn it. I enclose you a programme of four plays that I went to see on Thursday afternoon -- four of them -- four in one single afternoon! What good fortune! There might only have been three -- but there were four and one quite a new one: never seen before by anyone. Oh, and I must tell you -- the stage -- the proscenium! There is already a proscenium at the theatre; but this company had another -- a smaller one built inside -- all black with gold snakes on it -- and built further back, so that they could have doors right and left outside the proscenium and down one or two steps; so that some of the actors could come on in the ordinary way and others could come on and go off through the doors R and L outside the picture -- stepping down as though they were going to walk into the audience, and then going off at these cute little doors R and L. I asked a lady near me why it was done that way, and she said 'Reinhardt invented it -- it gives such depth.' It's a lovely idea, because it never allows you to forget for a moment that you are seeing a play, and that everything is clever and unusual. And yet it's so delightfully intimate -- like those delightful Xmas party entertainments, or plays at rich summer homes, except of course that there is nothing to eat or drink and no Xmas presents to follow, and you've paid $2 for your seat. And then the plays -- oh -- you remember that solemn, awful feeling that you had when you first visited Napoleon's Tomb? Well, it's like that. These plays-four of them-all four of them, are not just the ordinary plays that any Tom, Dick or Harry can understand: they are written and produced for Us -- they are symbolical: and if you start young with the higher education in the Drama, you know just what they mean-and more. And that is why I felt so ashamed. For two mortal hours I sat and prayed for light. I knew they must be symbolical, because I knew they must mean something; and besides, so many of the men had bare legs and that always means the highest type of Art -- with women you can't be sure, but when men do it, you may be fairly certain it's a symbol of something. And I knew instinctively that it was all to do with Love and Passion and Yearnings and Conscience and Laying Bare the Soul-all of them -- all four -- as Voices from the Sky -- Angels unseen -- but speaking with the rich cadence of the Middle West, which gave great realism in one flashing moment. Do let Henry learn it: it must be wonderful to understand it as those people there that afternoon understood. . . .
1 Clifton Villas,
Maida Hill, [London] W.9,
September 28, 1934
. . .I am still working on the Wellington picture, but expect to have this off my hands within a week or two. I do not know whether I told you what my future plans are, but as you know more about the theatre and actors than anybody else, you are probably aware that I am coming back to America in December and am coming to make a Richelieu play for Twentieth Century. After that I am coming to England to make two more pictures for this British firm, Gaumont-British. As I think I may have told you before, I really know very little about pictures -- whether their work here is as good as in Hollywood. The atmosphere of the Studio is rather pleasant, because there is no hurry and rush and bustle. In the big concerns in Hollywood, I always have a feeling that the heads of departments are trying to make some personal, spectacular impression, because they seem to fear that unless they do, they might lose their job; they all seem to me to be afraid of the man higher up, and here they appear to work in greater harmony and all seem to have a feeling of security. Apart from that, I find no difference. In Hollywood, I am treated like an Emperor and can have anything I ask for and am given a good deal of kindness and attention that I do not have to ask for, so I do not want you to think that I am drawing any invidious comparisons. I am looking forward to my return with the very greatest pleasure. . . .
1 Clifton Villas,
Maida Hill, [London] W. 9,
March 26, 1944
. . .We have really been going through a bad time lately; Flo keeps her nerve fairly well, but the swish of bombs passing over one's house, and the suspense of waiting to know where they will fall, is a good test on one's endurance. People wonder why we don't leave London, but we feel that in leaving we may be going out of the frying-pan into the fire. Where is one to go to? Besides, how can we leave our house? It is impossible to get a care-taker, and to leave a house empty now is asking for trouble. The shortage of police gives boys a freehand to destroy empty-houses, and of course thieves and burglars would break in and take whatever furniture was left. So you say to yourself, "What's the use" and you hope that to-night there will be no blitz. We have had three quiet nights in succession, which seems almost a record. . . .
1 Clifton Villas,
Maida Hill, [London] W. 9,
Nov. 4, 1944
. . .Since my wife's inability to see -- about four years -- I have hardly been to the theatre at all: Flo was unable to bear it. Now I have persuaded her to turn over a new leaf and we have determined to go once a week. This opens up a new life for me. We have seen "Blithe Spirit," "Three's a Family" and next Thursday we go to "Arsenic and Old Lace." I am interested in seeing a new generation of actors and actresses, some that I have never seen before. I find them on the whole very good; although many suffer from the effort of trying to be natural, with the result that they can hardly be heard even in the third row of the stalls. The old actors in the cast were a relief because we could hear every word. One of the first things I was taught was to be sure that the boy at the back of the gallery got every word . . .
1 Clifton Villas,
Maida Hill, [London] W. 9,
Jan. 17, 1945
. . .I have seen no plays since "Arsenic and Old Lace." My wife has not been so well and the weather has been awful. Perhaps I told you in my last letter that we had such difficulty in getting home after the matinee. Cabs and taxis are so scarce here that one has to arrange with a "car hire service" (at great expense) to fetch you and bring you back. Well the car fetched us all right, but it did not turn up to bring us back after the play. It was dark and cabless; we had to wander down the Strand looking for a bus during which time Hitler took the opportunity of sending a little souvenir over our heads, which did not help matters. Eventually we got home in a bus. Well, Flo is not well enough for these adventures. I have had to hold off the theatre for a few weeks. I enjoyed the play very much; I admired the cleverness of the author in presenting a gruesome story in the guise of pure farce. My brother thinks it should have begun as a serious tragic play and been developed as a farce later on. But I do not agree. . . .
1 Clifton Villas,
Maida Hill, [London] W. 9,
Oct. 8, 1945
. . .You talk about my writing a book; I come back with the unanswerable retort: "What about yourself?" We all like to read about your family life -- and then you could tell us how you felt when you suddenly found yourself in the atmosphere of the real theatre, as a dramatist. And then your retreat into family life again and later your being unexpectedly shot into the wild wickedness of Hollywood; your fear that you would never be received back into the bosom of your nice family; your victorious return to the simple life; your discovery that in spite of all your temptations you were the most unsophisticated of the whole lot; and that the whole family came to you for counsel and advice. You can do your own type-writing -- so there you are! It's as good as done.
We have just had the exciting experience of a week-end with some old friends. It is the first time we have been away for about three years. I thought my wife would be nervous and unhappy, but she stood it well and it has done us both a power of good. . . . We have just read "Pastoral" by Neville Shute. I think you would like it. It is the story of the Pilot of a plane, with a rather charming little love story cleverly interwoven. My love to you all.
- Tyler was the representative of the theatrical producers Klaw and Erlanger, and Arliss was under their management at the time.
- Arliss had appeared in the play in New York in 1908.
- Jacob Wilk, head of the story department for Warner Brothers.
- Darryl Zanuck, Arliss's producer at Warner Brothers. When Zanuck left that studio to help form Twentieth Century Fox, Arliss accompanied him.
- Mrs. Hamlin had been in Hollywood the year before, visiting Arliss while he was making the film Old English.
- She had been Arliss's stage manager since 1920 and helped with the adaptation of all his film scripts.
- Julian Josephson; he worked with Mrs. Hamlin and Maude Howell on the film adaptation of Hamilton.
- This later came to pass. Mrs. Hamlin reports in a letter of March 13th: "I forgot to tell you that yesterday Mrs. Behrendt introduced me as a great and famous student of history -- an authority, etc. It was so characteristic of Hollywood and so hopeless that I just stood up and began to talk and didn't deny it!"
- Zanuck contributed other scenes. In an undated letter of c.5 April, Mrs. Hamlin reports: "Last night, I wrote (Zanuck's suggestion) a scene in courtyard at an Inn with stagecoach arriving with four horses, etc. That is an unnecessary expense. It is simply to show Monroe returning from reconnoitering in the South and to give importance to the idea of how much they want the Capital for the South so that Jefferson and Monroe may seem to be really fighting for something, later, when they make the bargain about the Assumption Bill. It makes it interesting to have Roberts and Jefferson waiting for the coach and Monroe stiff and weary from his journey and telling them they are "done for" politically unless they get the Capital. It is, however, a big expense to build the set. It is fun to be able to do anything you think effective."
- Lucien Hubbard, of whom in an undated letter [c. 5 April] Mrs. Hamlin wrote: "Josephson tells me he is paid more than the President of the U.S. I wonder if he really is any good. His suggestions about this play have all been terrible and have all been thrown out, but Zanuck seems to like him about, although he always throws out his suggestions when Mr. Arliss has tactfully explained why they won't do in this particular play -- excellent as they would be in some other play!"
- Digges had been in the original cast of Hamilton when it was produced in New York in 1917.
- Washington had not appeared in the original stage version of the play.
- Mrs. Hamlin wrote [c. 5 April]: "You see Mr. Arliss likes things a bit theatrical and there is a tendency on the part of Zanuck et al. to break it up and make more like real life. I can write it either way! I have -- many, many times. I don't mind in the least, but I wish I had more definite ideas myself. I get mesmerized by Zanuck and then I swing to Mr. Arliss. Endless, endless ways of doing the same scene."
- On April 7th, Mrs. Hamlin reported: "I am so happy that my friend Evelyn Hall is to be Mrs. Bingham, the society leader of Philadelphia who gives a great ball to welcome Betsy Hamilton back after her return from Europe (in the "Moby Dick" set!). It is a bit-part, but very magnificent and no one minds how small a part if she can have a scene with Mr. Arliss."
- In a letter of April 7th, Mrs. Hamlin wrote of her co-workers: "Maude Howell is a cracker-jack about stage managing and attention to minute details but she is not a writer, not a creator in that line and her work should be in staging and direction. She is lovely and smart and mis-cast in the writing game. Of course, I did not realize it. We are the best of friends and I shall always admire her. There has been no friction and I am grateful for all she has done for me, but I'd know another time that I didn't want her as a co-author. Josephson is a creator along writing lines and also knows the technique. I'd like to write a play with him and have Maude direct it."
- Mrs. Hamlin had written c. 5 April: "Mr. Arliss and Maude are now going over the revised script in the dining room of our bungalow. Stenographers are rushed over for each sheaf of script as soon as finished. Girls will work all day tomorrow [a Sunday] making sixty copies and rehearsals will begin Monday morning and they will be in our dining room here. That is an awfully nice idea because our little patio gives a chance of escape for those who aren't acting. . . . Mr. Arliss will read play aloud. Pay begins for all actors the minute they are called for rehearsal, so only principals are called. Extras and small people come later, but I think they have the entire script to read."
- In a letter of April 8th, Mrs. Hamlin had commented; "I saw some of the tests and the women's costumes didn't suit me at all and both Doris Kenyon and June Collier looked homelier in the picture than in life -- both being pretty. It does seem tough that we had to have a bleached blond for Betsy Hamilton, especially as I managed to get a description of Betsy Schuyler's brunette beauty to Mr. Zanuck when I first came. I slipped it to him -- a description of all the characters with names of portraits, artists, location, etc. and he thanked me and said he was very glad to have it. After that, they engaged a blond!"
- Mrs. Hamlin's young son, ill at the time with typhoid fever, as she recounts in her memoir.