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June Mathis: The Woman Who Discovered Valentino

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Dec 5th, 2014
2014
Dec 5

HOLLYWOOD PIONEERS

JUNE MATHIS; the woman who discovered Valentino

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By Allan R. Ellenberger

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June Mathis, a short, thickset, rather plain woman with frizzy hair, became one of Hollywood’s most influential women during the silent era. An accomplished screenwriter, casting director and film editor, Mathis was the only female executive at Metro Studios, and at one time the highest paid film executive in Hollywood.

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Born June Beulah Hughes in Leadville, Colorado on June 30, 1889, Mathis was the only child of Phillip and Virginia Hughes. Although available biographical records usually give her year of birth as 1892, census records appear to confirm the 1889 date. Her parents divorced when she was seven and while much of her childhood is vague, at some point her mother met and married William D. Mathis, a recent widower with three children. Ultimately she would take her step-father’s name.

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Mathis’ first public incarnation was as a child actor in vaudeville and on Broadway. Her stage credits include the hit play, The Fascinating Widow with the famed female impersonator, Julian Eltinge. For thirteen years Mathis toured in numerous plays and vaudeville shows. In 1914, she moved to New York and took a writing course and entered a scriptwriting contest. This brought her several offers to write scenarios until Metro Studios hired her in 1918. At Metro, she quickly worked her way up to becoming chief of the studio’s script department. Her scripts incorporated a wide range of films including An Eye for an Eye (1918), Hearts Are Trumps (1920) and Polly with a Past (1920).

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THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE

When Metro president Richard Rowland bought the rights to the popular war novel, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Mathis was placed in charge. It was through her influence that her friend and fledgling film director, Rex Ingram was hired as the film’s director. The film and the casting of Rudolph Valentino in the role of Julio, established both of their careers. Mathis picked Valentino for the role of Julio after seeing him in a small role in The Eyes of Youth (1919).

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Until Mathis cast Valentino in The Four Horsemen, he was relegated to mostly bit parts and walk-ons. Several people have taken credit for Valentino’s success but it was this bit of casting that launched the Latin Lover’s career. At Metro, and later Paramount studios, Mathis was responsible for a string of Rudolph Valentino films including Blood and Sand (1922) and The Young Rajah (1922).

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Mathis and Valentino maintained a very close relationship – some even suggested that they may have been romantically involved, but this is unlikely. In fact, actress Nita Naldi said that Mathis mothered Valentino and that they held each other in high regards. When Mathis’ version of the script for the ill-fated The Hooded Falcon failed to impress either Valentino or his wife, Natacha Rambova, Mathis ended their relationship.

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BEN-HUR

After negotiations with producers of the Ben-Hur stage play, Samuel Goldwyn bought the screen rights to General Lew Wallace’s religious novel. Mathis, who had previously been with Metro and Lasky, was now Goldwyn’s head scenarist and was given sovereign control. Not only would Mathis adapt the screenplay, she was in charge of production and her first executive decision was to make the film in Italy. After a nationwide search it was decided to go with Mathis choice for Ben-Hur, George Walsh and her pick for director, Charles Brabin. Neither choice, however, was popular with the public nor with many in the film industry, but this proved how powerful Mathis was at the time.

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Once the film company arrived in Rome, the production quickly began to deteriorate. Labor disputes delayed the building of many of the sets; Italian labor was inexpensive, but slow. Not only were the sets and costumes not ready, but the actors sat around or took advantage and made small tours of Europe. To make matters worse, Mathis was told to not interfere with Brabin on the set. Originally she believed that she was to supervise the production, but quickly learned that things were changing; Brabin would only allow her to approve or reject changes to the script.

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In the meantime, nothing on the set seemed to go right. The sets cost a fortune but still looked cheap. The script wasn’t completed, and a lot of time and money was being wasted. The moral of the entire company was at an all-time low, and it appeared that Ben-Hur would be the biggest fiasco that Hollywood had ever seen.

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During all of this, Metro, Goldwyn, and producer Louis B. Mayer were making plans to merge their studios. The first point of order for the new studio, now known as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, was to try and save the fast-sinking Ben-Hur. Mayer, who was appointed as the head of the studio, told MGM’s president, Marcus Loew, that he would only take the job if June Mathis, Charles Brabin and George Walsh were removed. They also insisted that the script be rewritten. These demands meant that they would have to start from the beginning.

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Mayer’s replacement for Brabin was director Fred Niblo, who felt the assembled cast was the most uninteresting and colorless he had seen and directly blamed Mathis. Walsh was replaced with Ramon Novarro and Mathis was unceremoniously fired and replaced by scenarists Bess Meredyth and Carey Wilson.

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In statements to the press, Mathis held Charles Brabin responsible for the problems on Ben-Hur. She insisted that control of the picture was taken away from her by Brabin and she could no longer associate herself with the film.

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During the few months that she was in Rome, Mathis met and fell in love with Sylvano Balboni, an Italian cameraman hired to work on the film. Mathis returned to Hollywood in August 1924 with Balboni in-tow, and married him the following December. Regardless of what transpired on Ben-Hur, Mathis continued to work. Shortly after returning from Rome she signed with First National where she scripted several Colleen Moore films including Sally (1925), The Desert Flower (1925) and Irene (1926).

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REUNION WITH VALENTINO

When Rudolph Valentino’s last film, The Son of the Sheik (1926) premiered in Los Angeles, Mathis was there and the two had a heartfelt reunion. It was only a few months later that Valentino died suddenly and Mathis offered her own crypt at Hollywood Cemetery as a temporary resting place for the dead film idol.

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Over the following year, Mathis developed health problems, including high blood pressure and was placed on a restricted diet by her doctors. That summer, she was in New York with her grandmother, Emily Hawks. On the evening of July 26, 1927, disregarding her doctor’s orders, she had a heavy meal before taking her grandmother to the 48th Street Theatre to watch Blanche Yurka perform in The Squall. In the play’s final act, Mathis suddenly cried out, “Oh, mother, I’m dying,” and threw her arms around her grandmother while sobbing convulsively.

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Attendants ran to Mathis seat and carried her outside to the theater alley alongside the playhouse and laid her on the concrete road. A physician that was in the audience examined her and announced that she was dead. Her grandmother was inconsolable, pleading with her to speak while Mathis’ body lay in the alley waiting for the medical examiner to arrive.

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The following week back in Hollywood, Valentino’s body was moved to the neighboring crypt to make room for Mathis. They lay next to each other in eternity to this day.

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THE FUTURE OF WOMEN IN FILM

While it’s true that only hard-core film enthusiasts recognize June Mathis’ name today, she hasn’t been totally ignored. For instance, you cannot mention Rudolph Valentino, director Rex Ingram or such film classics as The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse without discussing Mathis’ and her contributions to film history?

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Without a doubt there have been a number of women among Mathis’ contemporaries who yielded various levels of power. These would include writers Frances Marion, Bess Meredyth and Anita Loos and of course directors Lois Weber and Dorothy Arzner, among others.

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For some reason, shortly after the advent of sound, women seemed to lose much of their influence that they achieved during the silent era. The only women that seemed to wield any power were gossip columnist Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons, who, while not directly running a studio, could definitely influence the powers-that-be.

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Today it’s not unusual to see a woman in a position of authority or even running a studio. Examples over the years have included Amy Pascal, Chairman of Sony Pictures; Anne Sweeney, president of Disney-ABC Television; Gail Berman, president of Paramount Pictures; Stacey Snider, co-chairman and CEO of DreamWorks SKG; Nina Tassler, president of CBS Entertainment; Dana Walden, President of 20th Century Fox Television, and of course, there’s media mogul, Oprah Winfrey. June Mathis would be proud.

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Lloyd Wright-designed Samuel-Novarro House sells

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Dec 3rd, 2014
2014
Dec 3

CELEBRITY REAL ESTATE

Lloyd Wright-designed Samuel-Novarro House sells in Hollywood Hills

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By Lauren Beale
Los Angeles Times
December 1, 2014

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The Lloyd Wright-designed Samuel-Novarro House in Hollywood Hills has sold for $3.8 million. The Los Angeles landmark has had several celebrity owners over the years. The dramatic Art Deco-style house is named for “Ben Hur” star Ramon Novarro, who had it built in 1928 for his personal secretary, Louis Samuel. Samuel originally occupied the house. Before Novarro moved in he rehired Wright to expand the interior space. A pergola, a music room and a bedroom suite were added.

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CLICK HERE to continue reading…

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Guess the Mystery Celebrities…

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Nov 30th, 2014
2014
Nov 30

MYSTERY CELEBRITIES

Can you guess the mystery couple??

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This should be easy, but…

…here are some clues to help:

  1. They appeared in more than a dozen films together throughout the 1920s and early 1930s.
  2. One of them won an Academy Award.
  3. There were rumors that they were lovers.
  4. There were also rumors that both were gay.
  5. Both were married to people in show business.
  6. One of them became the mayor of a California city.

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WHO ARE THEY? REPLY IN COMMENTS

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Robert Montgomery in the 1930 Census

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Nov 28th, 2014
2014
Nov 28

1930 CENSUS

Robert Montgomery in the 1930 Census

 

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2815 North Beachwood Drive, Hollywood, California

HOLLYWOODLAND

Above with Montgomery standing in the doorway in 1930 and below as it looks today

(NOTE: The tree to the left in the picture above can be seen in the photo below)

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HOUSEHOLD RESIDENTS:*

  • Robert Montgomery (head), 25. Born in New York / Profession is an Actor in Motion Pictures.
  • Elizabeth A. Montgomery, 25. Born in Kentucky / Housewife.
  • Angela E. Banfield (servant), 50. Born in Canada (arrived in US, 1907) / Servant for a Private Family.

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* Information includes relationship to head of household, age / place of birth (year of arrival in this country, if applicable) / occupation / industry.

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The preceding text is taken from my book, Celebrities in the 1930 Census (McFarland & Co., Inc., 2008). This directory provides an extensive listing of household information collected for over 2,265 famous or notorious individuals who were alive during the 1930 United States Census. Please note: The above photographs do not appear in the book.

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Gloria Swanson Fan Magazine Cover

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Nov 3rd, 2014
2014
Nov 3

FAN MAGAZINE COVER

GLORIA SWANSON

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The Costume of Silent Drama: Little Annie Rooney

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Oct 29th, 2014
2014
Oct 29

ACADEMY SHOWINGS

The Costume of Silent Drama: Little Annie Rooney

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Hollywood Forever Cemetery presents Dia de los Muertos

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Oct 28th, 2014
2014
Oct 28

HOLLYWOOD FOREVER CEMETERY

Hollywood Forever Cemetery presents Dia de los Muertos

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Robert Nudelman and Marvin Paige markers at Hollywood Forever

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Oct 18th, 2014
2014
Oct 18

HOLLYWOOD FOREVER CEMETERY

The graves of preservationist Robert Nudelman, and casting agent, Marvin Paige now marked at Hollywood Forever Cemetery

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Recently, within the last few weeks, the graves of two of Hollywood’s behind-the-scenes people have been marked.

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First, Robert Nudelman, a leading preservationist who helped spearhead Hollywood’s rebirth as he campaigned over three decades to save and restore such landmarks as the El Capitan Theatre and the Cinerama Dome, now has a marker after six years. He was 52 years old when he died in 2008.

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“There probably isn’t a single historic building or development project in Hollywood that Mr. Nudelman didn’t have a part in,” Fran Offenhauser, vice president of Hollywood Heritage said at the time. He was “the conscience of Hollywood,” Offenhauser added. “He really made the village happen in Hollywood, and it’s going to take a village to fill the gap he left. . . . He was really the lightning rod who woke up an area.”

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Marvin Paige, who cast movies including Star Trek: The Motion Picture, two Woody Allen films and shows including General Hospital, worked as a celebrity handler and owned an extensive Hollywood archive, died of injuries sustained in a car crash in Laurel Canyon in October 2013. He was in his 80s.

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Paige spent several decades as a casting director, then reinvented himself in later years as a keeper of Hollywood history who could always find the right person to appear at a tribute or showbiz celebration, such as the annual Cinecon events. “He was essential in targeting the right celebrities for the right event,” said publicist Edward Lozzi.

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Roger Sinclair Obituary

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Oct 18th, 2014
2014
Oct 18

OBITUARY

Roger Sinclair, Hollywood’s “Godfather of Graving” dies at 83

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(Facebook/Roger Sinclair)

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By Allan R. Ellenberger

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Roger Sinclair, known in grave hunting circles as the “Godfather of Graving,” died this morning it was announced by his close friend Kimberly Eazell: “It’s with heavy, heavy heart this morning that I got the phone call we all dread. My good friend and buddy Roger B. Sinclair and our ‘Godfather of Graving’ has passed peacefully at 6:50 am this morning.”

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Sinclair, who had a wealth of knowledge of celebrity graves and the cemeteries where they resided, had practiced his hobby since the late 1960s. After going to what was then called Hollywood Memorial Park Cemetery (now Hollywood Forever), he used the free map they handed out at the flower shop and visited all the celebrities that were marked on it until a friend told him that there were many more that were not listed. From then on, he went back every weekend and walked the cemetery grounds, grave-by-grave, finding obscure and unknown people that were involved in the movie industry and began making his own list. What resulted was multiple binders that he filled with photographs and brief biographies that he would share with anyone who needed to know where some famous star was buried.

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In addition, he attended celebrity funerals whenever possible, including the services for such stars as Rita Hayworth, Bonita Granville and John Carradine.

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A memorial service for Roger Sinclair will be held in January 2015 at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale in the Great Mausoleum.

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Miriam Hopkins Birthday

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Oct 18th, 2014
2014
Oct 18

MIRIAM HOPKINS

Happy Birthday Miriam Hopkins!!

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Today, October 18, 2014 would be the 112th birthday of stage, screen and television actress, Miriam Hopkins. To celebrate, the above photo shows Miriam being introduced to actress Lee Remick. What event are they attending and what is it they have in common at this event and in film history?

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If you think you know the answer, click the CONTINUE READING tab to find out.

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