From Picture Show, October 30, 1920, p. 15+,
EXCLUSIVE TO THE "PICTURE SHOW."
For the first time the romantic life story of Norma, Natalie, and Constance Talmadge has been written and will appear exclusively in the "Picture Show." The early struggles of these girls, before they were stars, make most fascinating reading, especially as they have recently visited Great Britain.
Read this first.
A wee little mite gave a rendering of "Sunshine in Paradise Alley" one afternoon at a seaside hotel. The singing was out of tune, but nevertheless, sweet. This was the debut in public of Norma Talmadge.
Years after, when she and her two sisters, Natalie and Constance, were schoolchildren, the three girls gave a performance for their mother, Peg, and some friends, of a small play. Norma's acting was so remarkable that her audience predicted a brilliant future for her. And they were not far wrong!
When Norma was nearly fifteen she applied at the Vitagraph Studio, and was taken on as an "extra."
After a year at the studio, in which she got very disheartened, Norma was given a chance. She gave a wonderful rehearsal of her part before her sister Constance.
Norma makes good.After the bedroom rehearsal with Constance as her only audience, Norma slept well. The next morning she went to the studio as usual. She was feeling nervous and yet hopeful.
Young as she was, she had the true artist's secret confidence in her own powers. Deep down in her heart, she felt that, given her chance, she could make good.
And now her chance had come. She had a real part.
But there was always the risk of failure. Something might go wrong. A thousand and one things might happen to prevent her from making just the impression she wanted to make, and which she knew she could make if all went well.
So she was anxious and conscious of a certain mental strain as she entered the studio.
She was quite at home there now, and had many friends, but she was still looked upon as a beginner, just one in the crowd.
To-day she conversed little with her associates, but stood apart, pre-occupied with her own thoughts.
She had to wait some time, for the big scene of the play was being taken first, and in this she does not appear. The scene gave some trouble. For some reason or other, the lady who took the leading part was in a bad humour and nothing went right. The scene was taken over and over again, and the producer was almost driven to despair.
"Now, Miss Talmadge!"
Norma was startled by the sudden mention of her name. Mr. Wilmore's voice was unusually sharp.
The morning had been a trying one to him, and he was irritated.
The studio hands were already busy arranging the stage properties for the next episode.
"You understand what you've got to do, my child?" said Mr. Wilmore, a little wearily. "You sit on that seat. You have just discovered that your lover is unworthy. You are despondent and miserable. Please don't smile. Do try to look miserable. Then your lover appears. Now this is important. When you first see him you are not to be joyful and you are not to be angry. That comes later. At first you are simply agitated. That gives him time to make love. You don't resist him--not at first--you just endure it. Then he produces the ring. That's you cue. You fire up and turn him down. The part is a bit mature for you, but do your best."
Owing probably to the fact that he was tired there was a dreary note of hopelessness in his voice. Clearly he did not expect much of the little actress. if she did just well enough to pass, and did not make the scene absolutely ridiculous, it was a much as he hoped for.
Norma flushed. She was stung by the note in the speaker's voice, and if she needed any further stimulant to do her best she had it now.
With an effort of will she forgot everything but the part she was to play. The glare of the calcium light, the commonplace surroundings of the studio simply ceased to be as far as she was concerned.
She became the young girl in the play thinking of the man who had been weighed in the balance and found wanting. The man who had won her love and then proved unworthy.
She sat on the garden seat, painted to look like marble, and waited. With mournful, yearning eyes she gazed at the camera. Utter misery was depicted on her beautiful expressive face.
Then suddenly her expression changed, and she gave a quick turn of her head. The unworthy lover was approaching.
Then he appeared. He was a clever actor, though his name is now forgotten, and he played his part well. He had to represent a man with a double personality. In the grim fight for dollars he was hard, cruel, and relentless; but when he turned his back on his office he was gay, irresponsible, and light-hearted, the ideal hero of a simple country maiden.
It was in this second personality that he now appeared.
When she saw him Norma's first impulse was to welcome him, as of old. For a moment she was carried away by the charm of the man who had won her heart, and she almost forgot that other man she had seen in the office.
All this the little actress contrived to convey.
Then the man made love, and the girl seemed more and more unable to resist the fascination of his personality.
At last the moment came when the man took her hand and produced the ring.
For a moment Norma stared at it, then she looked away and gazed at the camera. But it was not the camera she saw. The thing she saw was a face distorted by greed and cruelty.
With a cry she snatched her hand away, and staggered back, and into her wonderful face came that look of horror, loathing, and disgust.
It was so marvelously realistic and betrayed so truthfully the deepest emotions of the woman's soul, that someone looking on gave a gasping cry of astonishment.
Then came Mr. Wilmore's voice no longer languid and weary, but tense with excitement.
"Good! Hold it!"
Then the whirr of the camera ceased and Norma knew that the scene was over.
She awoke as from a dream, and looked about her, wondering if she had failed.
The first thing she realized was that someone was shaking her hand with extraordinary heartiness.
"My dear child, that was great. If you go on like this, you will be the Sarah Bernhardt of the screen!" he exclaimed enthusiastically.
Norma's eyes shone with happiness.
"You--you think I shall be able to take real parts?" she asked eagerly.
The producer laughed.
"I think, my child, in a very little while you will be choosing your own parts, and if you don't make one of the biggest successes in the business, then all my experience goes for nothing."
From that day Norma Talmadge never looked back.
The Commencement of Constance's Career.
"Say, Norma, may I come to the studio with you to-day?"
Little Constance asked the question with assumed carelessness, but her bright eyes betrayed her eagerness as she looked up at her brilliant sister.
The three Talmadge girls were always devoted to one another from their earliest days, and the bond of affection has never been loosened, but in Constance's attitude towards Norma there is also something of reverence, something of hero-worship.
This remains to the present day. If you go to interview Constance she talks about Norma.
"Isn't she wonderful?" she will exclaim with her pretty face aglow.
In early days, of course, this attitude was even more marked. Norma had achieved, if not fame, an assured position and a handsome salary before Constance left school.
She was talked about; she received scores of letters from unknown admirers, and even exhibitors in far-away England began to be clamorous for more of her pictures.
This seemed very wonderful indeed to Connie, and filled her with awe.
Thus, in spite of her self-confidence and that delightful cheekiness which has always been her chief characteristic, she was secretly a little nervous when she asked permission to accompany her sister to the studio.
Norma, however, replied with a hearty assent.
"Sure! Why not?"
"You don't think they'll mind me butting in?"
"Not a bit. They let me do as I like now."
This was true. By this time, Norma was a very privileged young person indeed at the Vitagraph studios.
So the two sisters went together, and Constance was so delighted by the experience that she made a habit of going whenever she had the chance.
Perhaps even then deep down in her heart she nourished the ambition of following in Norma's footsteps, but she certainly never dreamed of the dramatic leap to fame she was destined to make.
One day she came home very excited and dropped five dollars into her mother's lap.
Mrs. Talmadge opened her eyes.
"Who gave you this, child?" she demanded.
Constance drew herself up to her full height, and replied with a careless flourish of her hand: "I earned it!"
She had, in fact, been given a small "bit" in one of the productions, and the five dollars was her reward.
From this time Constance attended the studio regularly, and she was frequently given occasional "bits" to play.
The opportunities for distinguishing herself were not great, and the remuneration was decidedly small, but Constance was of a sanguine disposition, and now that she had made a start she was quite sure that nothing would be able to prevent her from mounting the other rungs of the ladder leading to fame and fortune.
And indeed a certain measure of success came to her quickly. Before long she was taken on as a member of the regular Vitagraph Stock Company.
She was only given very minor parts, however, and at times she wondered a little anxiously if the day would ever come when she would be given a chance in something big.
Meanwhile, Norma was becoming a star. In those days, before the war, the Vitagraph was one of the best sellers abroad. It was said at the time that the European sales paid all the studio expenses and other incidentals, so that the American output was clear profit. For this reason, the Vitagraph people were more interested in the European opinion than was the case with many of their rivals.
One day as Norma was leaving the studio she was stopped by the business manager.
"Excuse me, Miss Talmadge," he asked, "but you have a pretty big mail, haven't you?"
The young actress nodded, smiling.
"Yes, I can't find time to answer half my letters, and it seems such a shame when people are so kind as to write to me. And they say such nice things"
"How many letters have you had this week?"
"One hundred and forty-two."
"Any from abroad?"
"More than half of them are British."
"That's interesting. We are getting known, Miss Talmadge. There's no doubt the Britishers like the Vitagraph stories."
"I think they like me a little," said Norma, smiling.
To-day Norma Talmadge receives an average of 2,000 letters a week from her unknown admirers in all parts of the world.
A large proportion of these are from young women who have been fascinated by her personality, and by her skill in portraying the emotional soul of youth upon the screen.
She confesses they are a great joy to her and an incentive to do her best.
"I get real happiness and inspiration from the letters which girls write to me," she said recently. "For the actress on the speaking stage there are curtain calls and sustained applause to encourage her and let her know when her work is at its best, but in the studio there is no applause. These letters from unknown admirers take the place of that."
It was shortly after this that an event happened that caused something like a sensation in the film world of America. Incidentally it was destined to influence very powerfully the lives of the Talmadges.
A firm called the Triangle, with the now famous D.W. Griffith at its head, was organised. A number of prominent stars were engaged at salaries which were then considered enormous.
Mr. Griffith was one of the first to realise that personality counts for even more on the screen than it does on the stage, and he was ready to pay a high figure to any artist possessed of that priceless gift.
One day he strolled into a picture house in New York and saw Norma Talmadge on the screen. The title of the picture was "A Neighboring Princess," and judged by modern standards, it was not a particularly brilliant production. Mr. Griffith, however, sat it through, and he was interested.
That night he wrote a letter, and the next day that letter fell like a bombshell in the home of the Talmadges.
Norma read it and then stared at it incredulously for a good half minute. Finally she took it to her mother.
"Peg," she said, "what do you think of that?"
Mrs. Talmadge took the letter and read it through twice. It was a brief note, containing an offer to Miss Talmadge to join the Triangle and naming a salary which was so big that it didn't look real.
Mrs. Talmadge put down the letter, rose to her feet, and proceeded to hurry from the room.
"Where are you going, Peg?" asked Norma in surprise.
"Why, to see about packing, of course, my dear. It's a long journey, and we shall want a lot of things."
"Then you think it's all right?"
"Of course it's all right."
You don't think there's any mistake in the figures? It's--it's an awful lot of money."
Mrs. Talmadge surveyed her handsome daughter with a look of motherly pride.
"Not more than you are worth, my darling. This simply means that they have found you out. Poor Constance will have to give up her work. But never mind. Maybe she will get another start out West--you never know."
"If I accept the offer it will only be on condition that they consent to give Connie a trial too," said Norma loyally.
[webmaster's note: The family was already in California when Norma sought work at Triangle. They had come West when she was signed to make Captivating Mary Carstairs, but was left unemployed when the production company folded. Griffith probably had little to do with her employment there--he admitted later that she was one of the stars whose potential he didn't spot--and she never worked any film for which he is credited as director.]
The one member of the Talmadge family who left Brooklyn with regret was Natalie.
Natalie is often spoken of as the youngest of the Talmadge girls, but this is not so. As a matter of fact she is a year older than Constance.
This seems an appropriate place to give the actual birthdays of the three sisters. Norma was born at Niagara Falls on May 2, 1897, and is therefore now in her 24th year.
Natalie was born at Brooklyn on April 29, 1899, and is thus in her 22nd year.
Constance was also born at Brooklyn, and her birthday is also in April--the 19th, and the year 1900. She is thus in her 21st year.
Natalie was always very proud of her pretty sisters, but for a long time she felt no desire to follow in their footsteps. At her mother's suggestion she went to the Vitagraph Studios, and on rare occasions she was given "bits" to play, but the work did not appeal to her.
"It's no use, Peg," she said one day. "it is not my line. Two movie actresses in the family are enough. I'm not pretty and I'm not clever--"
"Nonsense!" interposed Mrs. Talmadge, "you are the cleverest of all my daughters. You could learn anything you wanted to learn. But if the screen does not appeal to you, then you had better leave it alone. The great thing is to be interested in your work whatever it is. But you must take up something and make yourself self-supporting. You won't be happy otherwise."
Natalie acted promptly on her mother's suggestion, and began to study book-keeping, shorthand, and typewriting.
She soon became proficient, and she was doing quite well in a modest way when the family had to leave Brooklyn and journey West.
She wondered what the new life held for her, and she was not very hopeful. She was a thoughtful, serious-minded little girl, fond of study, and perhaps she was just a little afraid of life. She loved her brilliant sisters, and gloried in their successes, but she knew that Nature had not provided her with the gifts which had been so bountifully bestowed upon them, and her own very real and solid gifts she was too modest to value at their true worth.
As it turned out the journey proved a great event, a great step forward, in the lives of all the girls.
To Norma it meant the beginning of fame. She was already a film favorite with an assured position, but now she became a star.
To Constance it meant that she was to get her first great chance and the opportunity of making a great personal hit in one of the finest productions that has ever been filmed.
And to Natalie it meant a fuller and more interesting life with plenty of work, which it was a delight to do and which brought her a crowd of new and congenial friends.
With this chapter we come to the end of the first phase of the wonderful careers of the Talmadges.
Next week we enter upon the second phase, which is one long record of dazzling success.
Continued next week.
From Picture Show, November 6, 1920, p. 18+,
Read this first.
Norma Talmadge was not fifteen when she applied at the Vitagraph Studio, and was taken on as an "extra." After a year she was given a small part, which was her chance, and she made a wonderful success of it.
Norma's Successful Mixture.
The cinema is now far and away the most popular form of public entertainment. Moreover, it has reached this position of preeminence in an amazingly short space of time. A dozen years ago it was just an occasional music-hall turn, not greatly favoured by anyone and very trying to the eyes. It was a novelty, a little tiresome, destined soon to pass away and be forgotten. Hat is what we all thought--at least, that is what most of us thought. A few shrewd observers doubtless even in those early days saw both the money-making and the artistic possibilities of the new thing.
The rapidity with which the cinema has achieved its success has caused a good deal of mental confusion in various quarters, and is responsible for all sorts of erroneous ideas with regard to the business.
A superior critic recently declared in all seriousness that a pretty face is all that is necessary for success on the screen, and, if you inquire, you will find that this opinion largely prevails among patrons of the picture house.
No greater mistake could be made. A screen actress should be pretty, put she must be able to act, otherwise certainly she will never achieve supreme success.
Most film favourites were actresses on the speaking stage before they took to the screen--most of them, but not all. Norma Talmadge, now universally acknowledged to be a great emotional actress, had no stage experience whatever.
All she knows of acting she learned in the studio. One of her producers was asked how he explained the rapidity of her success. His replay was brief and significant:
"Miss Talmadge has brains. She mixes them with everything she does."
When she joined the Triangle she was given star parts, and she at once made good. She appeared in a film called "The Crown Prince's Double," which was a great success.
Then just a year before the war broke out a very fine picture was put on, called "The Battle Cry of Peace," and Norma was chosen to play the American beauty.
Her success in this part was sensational; she began to be talked about. Exhibitors and critics were enthusiastic, and predicted a wonderful future for her.
According to Mrs. Talmadge, this picture was really the beginning of Norma's important work. From that date she was universally accepted as a coming star of the first magnitude.
She was always a worker and always a student. If you go to see a Norma Talmadge film--especially the later ones--you will notice that it is correct in every detail, and that immense care has been taken in every little trifle connected with the production.
Quite early in her career she realized the truth of the famous artiste's assertion that trifles make perfection.
Endowed as she is with a most fascinating personality, she does not rely upon that alone. The background has to be right.
She takes immense pains to select the right kind of story, and then in the production she studies every item with the utmost care.
Now that she has her own studio, and, with the assistance of her husband, produces her own pictures, she is able to exercise control over every detail. She is always ready to take advice and to accept suggestions from people who know, but the final decision is her own.
As an example of the conscientious and serious attitude she adopts towards her profession, it may be mentioned that she has recently established at her studios a permanent research department.
A large staff of workers has been engaged, and their business is to provide the producer with all he requires, in order to give an accurate setting to the story which he is filming.
It takes five to seven weeks to make a picture. During this time the director has about all he can do to concentrate on the story and interpretation of the various parts.
It is an enormous help to him to have someone at his side who can spend hours and hours, if necessary, at the library, looking up the correct cut of a courtier's silken knickerbockers in 1599, the particular way women dressed their hair in China in one of the small villages at some period B.C., the wedding ceremonies of the Umqua Indians, the particular minuet danced at the court of Louis XIV, and so forth.
The research department has to know about the costumes of all periods and all countries, as well as the etiquette and social customs of many peoples of many lands. What it does not now about these things it must be able to quickly find out.
A Real Artist.
Too often these little matters have been slurred over or "faked" in an otherwise careful production.
"We can't spend time and money on such trifles," says the ordinary producer. "The plays the thing. If we get a good story, accuracy doesn't matter. The public won't know the difference."
"But the public does know the difference," declares Norma Talmadge. "Are producers blind? Can't you see how conditions have changed in the last few years, and are still changing? The day has gone by when you can thrust any old thing on the public with a handful of thrills and a bit of knockabout comedy. The silly, insincere old stories won't do any more; nor will the cheap, slapdash production. The picture business is now an art. People demand real stories, with clever plots. That is why some of the best-known names in the literary world are now associated with the business. In the same way, picture audiences are now growing more and more discerning about the production of the pictures.
"They watch very carefully nowadays the furniture in your sets, the clothes you wear, the million and one things which give or take away 'tone' from a picture."
"But surely people who go to the pictures go for the story and for the star?" objected someone who was discussing the subject with Miss Talmadge.
"Yes, and if you go to dine at a restaurant, you go for the dinner. That is the chief thing. But you like it properly served, don't you?" replied the actress quickly. "Audiences of to-day have been educated up to better standards than in the old days, and well-educated people go to the movies now who once considered them vulgar. I want to make my pictures attractive to all classes--to the high-school teacher as well as to the day labourer. And if the high-school teacher knows more about the architecture of the 12th century than the little girl who sews on buttons, who happens to occupy the next seat to hers, then it is up to me to have the 12th century architecture of the door or windows against which I am screened accurate enough to please the teacher and perhaps to give the factory girl a sense of the beautiful and of the fitness of things which she could not have got from some faked style of architecture which we hoped would pass."
If Norma Talmadge was a one-part actress, the work of her research department would be easier; but her note is versatility. She can take any kind of part, so long as it has in it the element of human interest.
There is, perhaps, no screen actress who can portray the development of a character so skillfully as Norma Talmadge. In this connection a story may be told.
A well-known actor of the speaking stage, who was wont to speak contemptuously of the films, was induced to visit a picture house. He saw Norma Talmadge, and he was converted--so much so that for a time he could talk of nothing else.
His friends chaffed him, and one of them said: "She's pretty isn't she?"
"Oh, yes, I suppose so!" was the reply. "But that isn't it, my boy. She's an artist."
"What did you see her in.?"
"I don't remember the name of the thing. She takes the part of a slum kiddy known as Puck."
"Oh, the old stuff."
"Wait a bit; that's only the beginning. When you see her first, she is just a dainty little sprite of the cheap music-halls--short skirts, hair down, half-child, half-woman. She is the child-wife of the stage strong man, a chap called Vulcan. He is a brute and knocks her about."
"All this seems somewhat familiar," objected the friend.
"Quite, but listen. I want to make you understand what an artist that little woman is. This is now the story goes. In spite of her husband's cruelty, she forces her way up till she becomes the most popular toe-dancer in London. She has a scene where, dressed as a dragon-fly, with great gaudy wings attached to her little shoulders, she pirouettes and smiles to her audiences. A gay, mischievous sprite she looks, though her heart is breaking under the tinsel. In that scene, she is fine, and a thought to myself, 'A clever little character actress.'
"But presently the story took a turn. A fire breaks out in the theatre and the girl is saved by a Captain Merryon, or some such name. He is a British officer who has risen from the ranks. He is another lonely soul like herself. Vulcan, the brute of a husband, is believed to have perished in the fire. Merryon asks the girl to marry him. The frightened child gazes at him and says, 'You are sure you won't beat me?'
"They are married. After this the actress gets her chance and the way she rose to it I confess astounded me. The gradual transition from the frightened child to the awakened woman passionately in love with her husband, who in order to advance his interests in India, matches her wits with those of experienced men and women of the world, is marvelously well done. I should never have believed that it could be done on the films. It only shows what a real artist can do, no matter in what medium he or she is working."
[webmaster's note: The film referred to is The Safety Curtain (1918). In the available video copy there is no indication that she is particularly renowned as a toe dancer, and her dancing scenes are very brief.]
"You are a star now, Norma. That's splendid of course, and I'm awfully glad and proud and all that but--"
Constance paused, and from the depths of a comfortable cane chair looked up whimsically at her famous sister. They were all now in California, and just beginning to get accustomed to the new life.
Constance was always something of a tomboy, with a quaint and humorous way of expressing herself.
She adored Norma, but could rarely refrain for a whole day from chaffing her.
"What do you mean by 'but'?" said Norma, smiling.
Constance assumed a very solemn expression.
"You are a star, and for the rest of our lives we shall worship you--with folded hands and eyes dazzled by your splendour we shall sit and gaze at you while you go from triumph to triumph. Won't it be nice?"
"Silly kid," she said affectionately. "You will soon be doing big things yourself."
"No, no!" interposed Connie, in mock despair. "Seek not to rouse vain hopes within my young bosom. My career is nipped in the bud. At the Vitagraph I had a chance--just a wee little chance--but here--"
"Mr. Griffith was asking about you to-day," said Norma casually.
Constance was on her feet, all her languor gone, and a very eager light in her bright eyes.
"Fact! He wants to see you to-morrow. He is bringing out a new thing--an enormous production. The biggest thing that has ever been done. It is called 'Intolerance.' He thinks there is a part in it for you."
Yes, he has seen you on the screen. There isn't much he doesn't see. And he fancies you are just what he wants for the part."
"Oh!" cried Constance, clasping her hands. "What a man! What intelligence! I always said he was great. But," she added, suddenly breaking off, "is it a real part?"
"I believe so; something really good. But you will hear all about it to-morrow."
Connie gave her sister a suspicious look.
"Norma, you--you deceiver, you have done this! You have talked him round."
Norma shook her head, laughing.
"Not at all," she declared. "I have told him all along that he must give you a chance, of course; but he has selected you for this part entirely on his own judgement. He is quite enthusiastic. He says he has been struck by your pretty face, your slim figure, and your gallant bearing."
"Oh my!" gasped Constance, with a comical grimace. "Anyway, it is glorious news. Excuse me, old girl, I must go and tell Peg."
The next day she saw Mr. Griffith, and was chosen by him to play the Mountain Girl in "Intolerance."
In the section of that wonderful production devoted to the Babylonian period she took the lead. It was a splendid chance for so young an actress, and how splendidly she took advantage of it all the world knows.
But Constance did not achieve this success without hard work.
In one section of the film she had to do hard chariot riding, and the rehearsals for this were both strenuous and exciting. It took her some time to acquire the art of standing properly in the rocking and swaying chariot as it was dragged by wildly racing horses round the arena, and for weeks she came with her knees black and blue.
But she stuck to it gamely, and at length acquired a perfect balance, with the result that when she is seen on the screen in this part the ease and grace of her slim, girlish figure are a delight to behold.
With this picture Constance Talmadge leaped into fame at a single bound, and from that day she has been an acknowledged star.
"Scandal," "The Honeymoon," "A Pair of Blue [i.e. Silk] Stockings," Mrs. Leffingwell's Boots," "Romance and Arabella," "Two Weeks," "In Search of a Sinner," "The Perfect Woman," are but a few of her films which will be remembered by all lovers of bright, wholesome comedy.
When Constance made her first sensational success it was believed that the third member of the family would at last be tempted to try her fortune on the screen.
But Natalie was still obdurate. She rejoiced in the success of her two sisters, but still persisted that she had neither talent nor taste for the business.
At the same time she refused to be idle, and soon after the family arrived at Los Angeles she became private secretary to Roscoe Arbuckle. She enjoyed this work, and proved very skilful in business matters; but both Norma and Constance never ceased to try to persuade her to become a screen actress.
"Sooner or later you will join us," said Norma one day. "You have real talent if you would only let yourself go. I am sure of it."
Natalie laughed and shook her head.
"Never!" she declared. "The only part of the pictures business which appeals to me is the awful amount of money you make out of it. And you know very well, Norma, that an artist is not made that way. You and Con have succeeded because you both love the work. It interests you. It does not interest me."
"Well, we shall see. Wait till I have a studio of my own," said Norma. "I will have a part written specifically for you, and if you don't take it I will get Peg to bully you until you do."
And, as a matter of fact, it was just in this way that Natalie finally succumbed and entered upon the path which her two brilliant sisters had trodden on so successfully.
She appeared with sister Norma in "The Isle of Conquest," and with sister Constance in a more recent film, and to-day she is steadily making good as a film actress.
It was while she was associated with her sisters in their own studios that her prejudice against film work gradually broke down.
She saw the possibilities of artistic expression in the work, and being a very intelligent little lady when once she had decided to take it up she did so with utmost enthusiasm.
So now all three of the Talmadge sisters are to be seen on the screen, and although at present only two of them are famous no one can say what the future holds.
"I am the ugly duckling," declared Natalie, on one occasion.
"Well," replied the irrepressible Constance, "you know what became of the ugly duckling in the end. She surpassed all the others."
Continued next week.
From Picture Show, November 13, 1920, p. 19+,
Both Norma and Constance Talmadge now have their own studios and their own pictures, and the amount of money each earns in a month is about equal to the annual income of a Prime Minister.
In spite of this they remain just two simple, natural, unaffected girls. When you meet them in private life the first thing that strikes you is that they do not belong to the actress type. They dress well but not conspicuously. Norma is short, but perfectly proportioned. Constance is tall and slim. Both are very pretty--prettier than on the screen--but there is nothing of the professional beauty about either of them.
They are young and eager, and in love with life. They delight in having a good time, but their work is never long absent from their minds, and thus they escape that boredom which often comes to young people who have too much money to spend.
They have recently been on holiday in Europe, and they have enjoyed themselves immensely. They liked Paris, were impressed by Rome, and they adored Venice.
In talking to Constance you get the idea that to her life is a great and glorious joke.
She has been called Tomboy Talmadge, and the apellation fits her tolerably well. She is just the healthy type of young American girl bubbling over with life and high spirits. She has a habit of saying the first thing that comes into her mind, with the result that after every other remark she makes she will add "Don't print that!" accompanying the warning with a look of comical dismay.
Everyone who knows her loves her, and her great screen rival Dorothy Gish is her bosom friend in private life.
Constance is fond of her work, but she confesses that she has a secret ambition to appear on the speaking stage in a good comedy part.
"I should love to be face to face with my audience," she admits.
She might easily gratify this ambition if she chose, for many managers have made her flattering offers to appear on the regular stage. But her popularity on the screen is so enormous and so world-wide that for some time, at any rate, the cinema is likely to retain its hold upon her services.
She takes a girlish delight in relating some of her queer experiences as a film actress.
A little while back D.W. Griffith--for whom, by the way, she has an enormous admiration--reconstructed the Babylonian story of "Intolerance," A number of new scenes were added, for which Miss Talmadge again donned her mountain girl garb.
"It was good fun," she says, "resuming the famous character which gave me my start, but I discovered that I had grown considerably thinner, and where these new scenes are spliced in among the old ones, if you look closer you can see that I gain or lose ten or fifteen pounds in a second without any apparent discomfort. But seeing the revised story did relieve my mind. I had been afraid I was getting old. But my wrinkles don't register on the celluloid yet!"
When one is twenty even if you are a film star you can afford to just at getting old!
Apart from their screen work, the two sisters devote a good deal of time the acquirement of new accomplishments, and latterly they have taken up classic and Russian dancing.
"You should see me doing the classic stuff," says Constance with a delightful gurgle. "Adolf Bolm, who is teaching us, just looks at me, rolls his eyes in anguish, and keeps saying the same word in Russian over and over. Norma says it means 'No, no, NO!' but I suspect it is something a good deal stronger.
Constance laughingly denies all reports and rumours of her various marriages.
"I have been married to everybody on the coast. Of course there isn't a word of truth in any of the stories. I am not in love with anybody. I like men--they're nice to have around; but I'm not going to get married for years and years and years. There's something to be said for marriage--quite a lot--but, oh! I do love independence!"
But though so light-hearted and even tomboyish, Constance Talmadge is a very conscientious and serious young artiste in everything that pertains to her work. She takes a great deal of trouble in selecting her stories, and this indeed is one of the most difficult of her tasks. Every one knows and enjoys a Constance Talmadge comedy. It has a flavour of its own, but it is difficult to say off-hand wherein lies its peculiar charm.
"Although some sixty manuscripts are submitted to me every week," said Miss Talmadge recently, "it is exceedingly difficult to get exactly the kind of comedy I want. I want comedies of manners, comedies that are funny because they delight one's sense of what is ridiculously human in the way of little every-day common-place foibles and frailties--subtle comedies, not comedies of the knock-about variety.
A Question of Art.
"I want comedies," she went on to say, "chiefly because I enjoy making people laugh; secondly, because this type of work comes easiest and most naturally to me. I am not a highly emotional type. Norma could cry real tears over two sofa cushions stuffed into a long dress and white lace cap to look like a dead baby, and she would do it so convincingly that nine hundred people out of a thousand in front would weep with her. That is real art. I couldn't do it, but my kind of talent would lead me to bounce that padded baby up and down on my knee with absurd grimaces that would make the same nine hundred people roar with laughter.
"Oh yes," Miss Constance admitted in reply to a question," in my way I take my work quite as seriously as my sister does hers. I would be just as much in earnest about making the baby seem ridiculous as she would about making it seem real. That I think is the secret of being funny of the speaking stage as well as on the screen. If you want to be really funny, you must take yourself seriously.
"Would I like to take an emotional part? Sometimes I think I would. There comes over me a yearning to emote! And yet I don't know. I am not fitted, I fancy, to be a vampire. There is nothing alluring or exotic or neurotic about me. Perhaps I'll stick to comedy. At any rate until the dear public begins to grow tired of it."
Nevertheless, she is quite capable of appreciating other and more serious forms of art.
On her recent visit to London she went to all the best plays and enjoyed most her evening at the Haymarket Theatre, where Sir J. M. Barrie's "Mary Rose" is being performed. That poetical and mystical fancy she declared to be the most beautiful play she had ever seen.
Norma Talmadge, though equally charming in another way, is a more responsible and dignified young lady than her lively sister.
The first impression one gets of Norma is of bigness, of womanly sympathy and understanding, and, above all, of human quality. She knows no professional jealousy, nor has she lost her head by reaching the pinnacle of success while still in her very early twenties.
Next to her generosity and impulsiveness, ambition is perhaps her most dominant characteristic. She goes from triumph to triumph, but still is not satisfied.
Besides working on the pictures early and late, she studies singing and dancing. She also keeps up her swimming and riding, partly for healthy exercise and partly to perfect herself in these accomplishments for her screen work.
She dislikes anything "faked" in pictures and is opposed to the use of a "double" in any of her productions. In "By Right of Conquest," one of her most popular films, the story has to do with a fire on a ship at sea, and she is supposed to swim in the perilous ocean to a desert island. [webmaster's note: the film title is The Isle of Conquest.]
|Norma as a girl of fifteen
It was suggested that a professional swimmer could be used in this scene, and with her cap pulled down over her eyes, and only the head bobbing up and down at intervals in the splashing surf, no one would know that another person had been substituted for Miss Talmadge. But Norma would not have it so; she insisted upon doing her own swimming, and took a whole company to Florida for three or four days to take the scenes.
This conscientiousness is one of the chief elements of her success. She is always thinking how she may make her pictures better, and everything she sees or hears at once becomes possible material for her work.
She is a great student of the fashions in women's dress as well as the costumes of many periods.
She is one of the very best dressed women in the pictures, and she has achieved this reputation by constant study. It is only a detail of her work, but with her every detail is important where her profession is concerned.
Among the thousands of letters she receives every week from admirers all over the world many are from women who want to know where she gets her dresses.
But, as she says, it is the personal elements that counts in dress. You must have a very clear idea in your own mind of the effect you want. Then you can go to the professional dress designer and in consultation get the costume which suits both you and the occasion for which you require it.
Recently she discussed the subject at length.
"Why are certain things the fashion at one period?" she asked. "Why do styles recur at certain intervals? Where do fashions have their origin?
"If you want to be a well-dressed woman--and every normal woman does--you should learn the answers to these questions. I had to find out the answers for myself when I was studying style from the standpoint of the screen. It is not every girl who can afford to engage the services of a great stylist to dress her. I certainly could not during the first years I was in motion picture work. A great number of my dresses during that period I made myself.
"To-day is, above all others, the day of the individual, the time when every discerning woman knows she can draw on any period of style to enhance her good looks.
Why is it that nowadays we are breaking away from uniformity in style and seeking to take the best from history and tradition that we may apply it to modern uses? I think the War has something to do with it. Most of the nations fighting against Germany sent representatives to France, and the French dress experts, who are wonderfully quick in picking up ideas, borrowed inspiration from the national dress of the people who fought shoulder to shoulder with their men. Jean Paton, great soldier as he is a great stylist, came back to Paris from the trenches and brought with him the Algerian inspiration. The bright coloured embroideries of last season, the deep sashes and harem skirts we saw everywhere, were the result of Paton's genius. But after all, novelty is not the most important thing. Good dressing is chiefly a matter of line, a matter of studying one's own figure, learning the good and bad points, and then finding out the styles that make the most of the good points and minimise the bad ones.
"For example, if your arms are thin, you should wear long sleeves that are rather full. If you heart is set on short sleeves, you should have them cut so as to reach at least an inch below the elbow.
"By the way," says Miss Talmadge, "I do hope Englishwomen will not judge my taste in dress by some of the pictures you see of me in your English picture houses. I am charmed with wonderful London, but I am really distressed to see old, out-of-date pictures in your picture shows. Some in which I am shown were made three and four years ago, when I was making good. They are silly and out of date in theme and dress. I really wonder what the women in the audience think of my four-year-old frocks!"
However, the evil to which Miss Talmadge thus draws attention is likely soon to be remedied. The British patrons of the pictures are beginning to get restive, and the time is possibly not far off when only the latest and best American films will be accepted in this country.
One interesting fact is that the Talmadge sisters, like some other leading American film stars, intend to return to this country next year and make pictures here.
They also intend to take steps to insure their latest films being exhibited promptly in England.
The art of the cinema is developing so rapidly that a film is very soon out of date, And although all the work of the Talmadges is interesting, an artiste naturally likes to be judged by her best work.
It is one of the penalties of fame that as soon as a cinema actress becomes a great popular favourite, all her early and immature work is dragged into light and offered to the public ostensibly as a fair sample of her work.
However, both Norma and Constance Talmadge are too firmly established in popular favour to have much to fear from this practice. Their new films excellent in every way, are being widely exhibited, and it is by these films that the gifted young artistes will be judged by their countless British admirers.
In the next year or two there is likely to be a great fight between British and American film producers, and we have little doubt that as a result of that fight, rubbishy American films will be driven out of British picture houses. The public are already demanding something better, and they will get it.
How soon a change for the better comes, will, of course, depend largely on the public.
A famous American producer visiting England has put the case very tersely:
"The people of this country," he said, "are being imposed upon by the exhibition of so much trash. It is partly due to their own fault in tolerating so much fourth-rate stuff, and partly to the system we Americans have introduced here. Our producers are able to offer you about ten times as many pictures as you need. The British people, instead of taking advantage of this over-production by selecting only the very best, have calmly allowed their exhibitors to force them to take good and bad alike in blocks.
"Great Britain has chosen cheapness instead of quality. If the public in England will make a stand against the rubbish which has been poured over here, and demand the best we have to give, they will soon get the best."
This is, no Doubt, true. But whatever the future holds, lovers of the pictures in this country will always be grateful to the many clever Americans who have contributed to their delight, and certainly in that list a very high place will always be held by the beautiful and gifted sisters, Norma, Natalie and Constance Talmadge.
Many thanks to Gabby Talmadge for supplying this article
Last revised, June 28, 2002