An interview with Alice Joyce of the Kalem Company. The Fifth of a Series of Exhaustive Articles on the Motion Picture. The Sixth Article will be Published on July 9.
By FREDERICK JAMES SMITH
"Important action now takes place close to the camera, in order that all expressions may register."
"One picture may make a person world famous, as the audience is not limited."
"For the best results it is necessary that the actress wear soft colors."
"The picture player is a specialist in a more marked degree than the actors and actresses of the stage."
"The best asset is a wholesome manner of living. One may deceive an audience through capital make-up, but the motion picture knows no deception."
[Omitted, photo of Joyce in a high-waisted gown].
ALICE JOYCE is the single screen player of stellar importance who has developed exclusively in motion pictures. Having gained her entire experience in the photo-drama, she is eminently fitted to discuss the progress and future of motion pictures from the standpoint of the player.
Miss Joyce is a young woman of striking and distinguished beauty. Indeed, she was famed in the studios of the foremost American artists before she entered the picture world. She posed for C.D. Williams, Harrison Fisher and other masters of the pen and brush, and she still poses for some of the notable artists and leading art photographers. It was not only Miss Joyce's striking beauty but her adaptability, her quick comprehension of the artist's needs and her grace in assuming the required pose which brought her the title of the best model in New York.
A lucky turn of fate brought Miss Joyce into the pictures. Several years ago one of the Kalem directors was at work upon a production which required, as one of its characters, an unusually pretty girl. By chance, Miss Joyce was suggested by a camera operator who knew of the young woman's fame in the studios.
"My first picture was called The Engineer's Sweetheart," said Miss Joyce in relating the incident to me, "and during several of the scenes I had to ride a horse along a railroad track. I was not an expert rider then and I had several bad falls. It was a strenuous experience, and, although I had determined to win out as a screen actress, I about made up my mind to give up when the picture should be completed. The director, however, started another photoplay before we finished the first one. So I kept on and gradually succeeded." Later she became leading woman of the Kalem California company at the Glendale studio. Miss Joyce's appearance in rugged mountaineer dramas and plays of the primitive pioneers at once attracted attention. He natural grace and beauty gave a distinct appeal to her playing.
One year ago Miss Joyce came East to appear in special Kalem productions and she has since remained at the New York studio, where she is featured each week in a drama of modern life. The film star has had wide opportunities to study the changing methods in pictures in both the Eastern and Pacific coast studios.
"Naturally I am most familiar with the conditions which have prevailed in the one company with which I have been associated." she said. "There seems to be much more attention paid to detail nowadays. The little things which were overlooked in the early productions are now given very serious consideration. The studio settings are much more elaborate, too. I have noticed that the Kalem Company never uses the same settings and furniture twice. in the matter of acting, of course, you have observed that important action now takes place close to the camera, in order that all expressions may register. This means that the director must rehearse his people more thoroughly than of old. The limited space of the studio within range of the camera is one of the director's problems. For example, it is no easy matter for several ladies to handle their evening gowns within the space before the camera.?
"What personal qualifications," I asked, "do you think bring success upon the screen?"
"That is difficult to answer," she replied, "as so much depends upon the individual. The picture player is a specialist to a more marked degree than the actors and actresses of the stage. Every motion picture stock company much have a number of people who represent distinct types. They must really possess those characteristic which can be assumed by an actor in the drama through skill at make-up. Often times the eccentricities of one's personality peculiarly adapts him for a desirable type. This is particularly true in picture comedies. I do not mean that there are no opportunities for versatility in the pictures, but, generally speaking, a person is engaged in our profession because of his individuality."
I asked Miss Joyce if her greatest progress had been made through her study of method and result or through the suggestion and guidance of the director.
"I would say that both individual study and skilled direction are responsible for the progress I have made," she answered. It has always been my policy not to limit my study to the particular character I am to portray. I have appeared in plays of many different periods and I have always endeavored to investigate the conditions prevailing in the time which is to be portrayed. This has enabled me to grasp the director's ideas readily. Many people possess splendid ideas but are unable to impart them to others. I attribute much of my success to the producers who have made their wishes so clear that there has been little opportunity to do things wrong."
Miss Joyce is assuredly a rather serious minded young woman. She is unassuming, remarkable for a player whose beauty is famed in every city ad town of America, from one end of Europe to the other and even in Japan and China. Miss Joyce isn't easily interviewed, in fact this chat is one of the only three interviews she has ever granted. "They are fearful things to me," she shyly confessed. "They make me feel that I can only say 'yes' and 'no' when I hear a question. So the exhaustive answers which my questions received were a notably gracious concession.
I inquired if actual dialogue in the script would be an aid to the picture actor in portraying the emotions of a character or if the present method of having the director extemporize the lines was satisfactory.
"It should be remembered that the picture play is essentially a story of action," responded Miss Joyce. "Your question seems to apply more to the director than to a player, as the director always decides upon the conversation to be used. In the scenarios which I have studied I notice that the author oft-times conveys an idea for a situation quite convincingly by indicating a few words to be spoken. This is rally a great help, but the author who depends too much on dialogue will meet with little success in preparing scenarios. In acting before the camera, dialogue is absolutely necessary and the conversation must be entirely consistent with the action. In the early days of pictures the players were permitted to 'ad lib' a scene. You will find that one of the greatest improvements in the quality of he picture play has been the careful attention to conversations that take place. Quite often the spectator is able to understand the exact words used. Again, if I am to tell some one that a friend is dying, only words consistent with the situation will enable me to fittingly portray the emotion. It would never do at all to say something which does not have a direct bearing upon the situation.
The subject of costuming a role and of the choice of colors was discussed.
"Perhaps I can only speak for myself because of the enjoyment I derive from preparing my wardrobe," Miss Joyce stated. "I spend a great deal of time in designing my costumes. Of late I have been appearing in modern society dramas altogether and it is therefore imperative that I keep in intimate touch with the varying fashions. For the best results it is necessary that the actress wear soft colors that offer a pleasing contrast and I have to keep in mind the photographic qualities. Reds and some shades of yellow photograph black."
Miss Joyce spends her spare time sewing. At the time of our chat, in fact, she was working between scenes upon a fascinating creation--a mere masculine interviewer could not describe it otherwise. "The waits are fearfully tiresome and sewing is the one protection a picture actress has from becoming a nervous wreck or a lazy 'dowdy.'"
Swinging the talk back to the interview, I asked the actress if she believes that the future picture players will develop exclusively in the film field.
[Omitted, photograph of Joyce in costume from The Artist's sacrifice, sitting with a telephone--this picture appears in the 1913 Cosmopolitan article]
"That will also depend upon the individual," answered Miss Joyce. "While it is a splendid thing to have stage training under skilful directors and in association with artists, the picture work calls upon elements that are not brought out in the regular drama. Thus it has been necessary for many who have been successful on the stage to learn things anew when they have entered the picture field. I would say that the best asset is a wholesome manner of living. One may deceive an audience through capital make-up, but the moving picture camera knows no deception. Late hours and intemperate habits soon leave traces which no make-up can efface in the pictures. The work is very arduous and I have only been able to meet the requirements by following the old adage, 'Early to bed and early to rise.'
"The odds are greatly against a beginner in pictures, as they are in theatricals," Miss Joyce continued, replying to another question. "But when one has ability and is given an opportunity, recognition is almost instantaneous. It is a noteworthy fact that one picture may make a person world famous, as the audience is not limited. Your audience embraces very civilized and many semi-civilized sections of the globe.
"Outdoor acting calls upon more capabilities than studio work and is therefore more taxing." Miss Joyce said when I suggested a comparison of studio and outdoor acting requirements in experience and ability. "One is obliged to swim, ride, and take part in all manner of athletics. At different times I have run a locomotive, handled the wheel of a tug, and steered a schooner. These things are all part of the day's occupation, and one must keep in good physical condition to be prepared when called upon for unusual tasks," Miss Joyce is herself an expert horsewoman and swimmer.
Then it was that Miss Joyce expressed her ideas upon motion picture criticism--rather severe ideas, too. "Thus far the picture players had had no opportunity to gauge the value of judicious criticism" she declared. "None has been offered us. Genuine criticism should be constructive. Oftentimes in looking over the present style of reviews I think I am about to receive a helpful suggestion, only to be confronted by statements which are not only unconvincing, but frequently ridiculous. Whatever benefit I might have derived has been entirely lost by some of the absurdities of an inefficient critic. The reviewers have said many nice things about me and I certainly bear them no ill will, but I hope to see the day when the magazines which publish reviews will give the matter serious consideration. It means as much to the maker of the play as to the actors and actresses who appear in them.
"I can make my point clear," she continued, "by referring to reviews which have been given certain Kalem productions with which I am familiar. Some time ago one of our companies produced a play in which an army officer was seen in his tent, with an American flag over his table. The reviewer mentioned this incident, stating that it was unprecedented and impossible. It happened that an exhibitor who read this review sent in a photograph of General Grant at field headquarters, and, behold, the flag draped the table in the manner portrayed in the play.
"At another time the reviewer dwelt upon the fact that a certain Kalem play had been produced in Great South Bay, when, as a matter of fact, it was made on the St. Johns River in Florida, and many of the scenes were strikingly tropical.
"I also have in mind a Kalem play in which a certain type of vessel was introduced. The director's assistant spent three weeks in locating the proper kind of boat. Later the reviewer maintained that it was a modern boat and introduced a jarring note. I know that the producer secured authentic advices that the vessel was built seven years before the date portrayed in the play.
Miss Joyce cited a criticism of her ability as a milk maid. "If there is one thing I know, it's how to milk a cow," she said, "so that notice did really hurt my feelings." [See the review of "The Country Fair"]
"These things are trivial, but they are the very things which make the reviews unconvincing. Undoubtedly players connected with other companies have the same experience and the result is that we have not looked to the present style of reviews for helpful suggestions. If criticism is to be beneficial to the artists it must be prepared by a person qualified to point out the faults and presented in a serious, constructive manner. This naturally means that the reviewer cannot afford to take liberties with subjects with which he is not familiar."
This "constructive" criticism of the picture critics proves that Miss Joyce has pretty firm ideas about the making of pictures. For instance, she does not believe in "stage kisses." I think those long kisses to be seen so often in the pictures are positively repulsive. A little slight one--well, that might be tolerated. However, during all my screen experience I have never been kissed--"
Then Miss Joyce laughed and added:
"--in the pictures."