Thursday, June 22, 2017

Greta Garbo and...Lionel Barrymore? Their films

On perusing my FB page, I noticed a freebie Kindle available of collected silent star essays/ bios from old movie magazines. They are available online if one wants to trudge through the PDFs, but the author, Shane Brown, has collated them handily, so I was able to read several easily.

And imagine my surprise! One article on Greta Garbo, from Photoplay in 1928 marked "The Story of Greta Garbo As Told to Ruth Biery", tells me a little more about her working relationship with that most busy of character stars, Mr. Lionel Barrymore. No, Garbo has no comments about his work in the article, but she notes something intriguing: she was tapped to play in Women Love Diamonds (1927) and turned it down. Lionel Barrymore played in that film with Pauline Starke, Owen Moore, and Cissy Fitzgerald.

It made me wonder just HOW many films they had appeared in together, and it appears thusly:

1: In 1926, Mr B and Garbo appeared together for the first time in THE TEMPTRESS, directed by Fred Niblo. Lionel Barrymore played the French former soldier Canterac. He writes in his biography We Barrymores that he had asked his brother John, supposedly a ladies' man of the world, how he might approach Miss Garbo--John's answer was revealing to Lionel, at least.

(almost) 2: In 1927, Garbo and Ricardo Cortez started filming LOVE, an adaptation of Anna Karenina, with Lionel Barrymore in a dapper role (as Karenin):

From a Garbo biography, pics from The Temptress and the LB-featuring Love

 However, Garbo balked at Cortez' work (per a 1928 Photoplay article) and also fell ill, and eventually MGM replaced him with John Gilbert and cut out Barrymore's part completely. I have read that he was showing up Cortez and the nervous, frustrated Garbo was not able to give her best, seemingly overwhelmed.(h/t Sheila Terry of Silent Films Today for finding the initial error here!)

3: MATA HARI, 1931, was a spectacle featuring Garbo, a miscast Ramon Novarro, and Lionel Barrymore as General Shubin, Mata Hari's lover and facilitator of her spying. It's all over the place as a film!

4: GRAND HOTEL, 1932, was the first real epic Hollywood studio star-studded film. Garbo and Lionel Barrymore did not have scenes together, but his brother John certainly did (with Garbo and Lionel). Lionel plays the dying clerk Otto Kringelein, who finally gives his brutish boss a comeuppance. Some really good scenes for Mr. B in this one.

Set shots of Cedric Gibbons' work and Garbo and Jack
John, Lionel, and Lewis Stone
Top-down shot between scenes--this collection of people does not appear in the film!
Lionel, Wally Beery, and Jean Hersholt between scenes on set
Lionel and then wife Irene Fenwick at the premiere (tho rumor had it he snuck in a side door)

5: CAMILLE in which LB plays Msr. Duval and had a small but pivotal scene with Garbo. 


Serious eyebrow makeup!

In 1919, Lionel and Ethel played a scene from Camille for charity

 So overall, Lionel Barrymore and Greta Garbo worked together in five films, four of which were released between 1926 and 1934. Now, John Gilbert and Greta Garbo appeared together in FLESH AND THE DEVIL, the redone LOVE, A WOMAN OF AFFAIRS, and finally the talkie QUEEN CHRISTINA, between 1926 and 1933.

5 with Lionel Barrymore--and interestingly, Garbo and Barrymore played lovers once in MATA HARI, and his character in THE TEMPTRESS wanted to be her lover and actually kissed her right before another jealous would-be lover bursts in and there is an epic fight. 

So how did it all end?

John Gilbert's early death is well-known, generally. He died in 1936 at only 38, a victim of changing tastes in films--his voice was pleasant enough, his lines not so pleasant, and the audiences for the new talking pictures did not take to his romantic swashbuckling in sound.  Gilbert's career crash is the basis for the Don Lockwood character's experience in SINGING IN THE RAIN. Interestingly, Lionel Barrymore directed Gilbert's first talkie, HIS GLORIOUS NIGHT, 1929. Mr. B has been accused of sabotaging the film under direction from LB Mayer, but it appears that's likely false--especially as contemporary critics lauded the direction and found Gilbert's voice adequate to speaking the foolish lines. (I might also add that the clip of His Glorious Night I've seen has Gilbert forcing a Brit-like sound into his voice, and it is unnatural compared to the 1929 Hollywood Revue voice he has. So perhaps he was trying too hard in HGN?)

Greta Garbo was already a legend in the 1920s, but left films after 1941's TWO-FACED WOMAN. She is far better remembered than her male costars here, and died at 84 in 1990.

Lionel Barrymore would go on to enduring success in film, as both actor and director initially (he directed Ricardo Cortez and others in TEN CENTS A DANCE, 1931, and directed John Gilbert, as mentioned, in HIS GLORIOUS NIGHT,  having just starred with Gilbert in Tod Browning's THE SHOW, 1927). He was outlived by Garbo, but long outlived John Gilbert and proved the most enduring performer of the three stars mentioned here. (Ricardo Cortez fell out of favor with major studio audiences and dropped into B-films in the late 1930s, dying in 1977 after having lasted into TV; he apparently was much more appealing to the ladies in silents and seems to have played heavies and detective or mobster roles in many talkies.)

Mr. B commented he did not necessarily find Garbo cold or aloof, but shy, rather. He did not venture too many words on the subject, but he did think her aloofness stemmed more from being naturally shy than from any overdeveloped sense of self, he says in We Barrymores. I'd like to think that's true. In any case, her amor fou with John Gilbert seemed destined to end poorly--in the end, she did not want to marry and Gilbert had already been twice divorced (and would marry again).

Given that Lionel was on the second of his two long marriages, and that he was in awe of her and not interested in an affair (seemingly, he was simply nuts about Irene Fenwick), there was little chance of any affair there, and I'm sure as they worked together, they formed a decent relationship and respected each other's work.  We know she really admired Jack Barrymore, as he did her.

But wow-- who knew Garbo and Lionel Barrymore co-starred in 5 films together, with four of thoae released, and Garbo could have made a sixth one--with Lionel. Heh!

**For the record--Great Garbo's most frequent co-star was: Lewis Stone.

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