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My Official Wife (1914)

My Official Wife (1914) Vitagraph Co. of America; Broadway Star Features. Distributor: General Film Co.; Special Features Dept. by arrangement with Broadway Star Features Co. Director: James Young. Adaptation: Marguerite Bertsch. Camera: Robert Stuart. Cast: Clara Kimball Young, Harry T. Morey, Earle Williams, L. Roger Lytton, Rose E. Tapley, Mary Anderson, Arthur Cozine, Eulalie Jensen, Charles Wellesley, Louise Beaudet, Helen Connelly. 5 reels.

This LOST film was Clara Kimball Young's first feature, and her last film for Vitagraph, where she had made all of her short films. It was a sensational success and launched her as the most popular star that year. Its Russian setting was drawn upon by Young for many more of her features. Two short clips of the film exists in Warner Brother's 1931 Vitaphone short "The Movie Album," and have been mounted on Internet Archive and Google Video. One scene shows the meeting of Helene's terrorist cell with an extra alleged to be Leon Trostky (see the link to Silent Ladies Picture 1 below), though Kevin Brownlow shows that Trotsky was not in New York in 1914 when the film was made. The other clip appears to be when she and Lennox are visiting the Weletsky's. Sacha argues with and then kisses Eugenie, then enters the next room, where Helene casts a meaningful glance at Lennox and a flirtatious one at Sacha, who reciprocates. Picture 4 below seems to be from another part of that same sequence.

Clara in a Russian costume from the film Russian costume
clipping Unidentified clipping
Notice from Vitagraph's Exhibitors Plan Books from 1917 on the reissue of this and other Vitagraph films provided by Derek Boothroyd Clipping
Cards The two versions of this card from the Moriarty playing card sets which shows her in costume for the film

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Still Photos on Silent Ladies

Picture 1          Picture 2          Picture 3           Picture 4

Review from Variety
Reviews from Moving Picture World
Notice and review from the New York Dramatic Mirror
Review from Motion Picture News
Unidientified review of 1916 reissue
Further Readings

Review from Variety, July 17, 1914

My Official Wife

A Five Part Drama of Russia
Picturized by Marguerite Bertsch

Helene Marie (My Official Wife) Clara Kimball Young
Arthur Bainbridge Lennox Harry T. Morey
Laura, his wife Rose E. Tapley
Marguerite, their daughter Mary Anderson
Basile Weletsky, her husband Arthur Cozine
Baron Friederich, Chief of the Russian Secret Police L. Rogers Lytton
Eugenie, his spy Eulalie Jensen
Constantine Weletsky Charles Wellesley
Olga, his Wife Louise Beaudet
Sacha, their nephew Earle Williams
Sophie, their child Helen Connelly

Director, James Young

Too much of "My Official Wife" was done in the studio. Nearly five long reels dragged themselves through before Mrs. Wife and her soldier-lover got out into the open. When they did, on a boat that was blown up by a torpedo as the finale, it nearly atoned for the gross padding of the Vitagraph feature. The finish is a splendid illusion for a camera to record. When Helen Marie inveigled Sacha to smuggle her out of Russia (which he did in full uniform) they boarded a yacht that was chased by a man of war having the Chief of the Secret Police aboard. With no occasion to destroy the yacht merely to kill political prisoners when they could have been as easily captured, the torpedo boat let one of its deadliest fly toward the yacht, with the result the audience thought they say a boat explode, a conclusion afterward heightened through the two principals floating in the water, in each other's arms, presumably dead. The chances are that the Vitagraph got a picture of torpedo practice, with a dummy target of exploding from a nicely aimed shot, but it has been so well played up to and pieced in this picture one doesn't even care how the effect has been obtained, it is there so almost perfectly. That finale may be strong enough to hold up "My Official Wife" as a feature. For its many reels, the affair falls below the usual standard of Vitagraph's long film. In other interest it has but the story, acting and Russia. Russia! That country is bad enough but this film (that never dares go into the open because it was made so far away from any place even resembling the land of the Czar that the studio posing and setting becomes extraordinarily obvious) takes a couple of unnecessary flings at poor old Russ, one that Siberia flash with the troupe of Cossacks whipping exiles on their march to Siberia. The same scene or something similar is in every Russian photoplay that is dramatic. "My Official Wife" has been produced over here as a play, Richard Henry Savage wrote the piece, which tells of the leader of the Nihilists, Helen Marie, entering Russia on the passport of an American traveling alone, his entry certificate calling for a wife, who remained behind. He also fell in love with the woman, saved his "wife" from attempting murder on the Czar at a ball, and finally left without looking her up when his real wife arrived on the scene. Helen Marie meanwhile worked her wires to aid Nihilist plots, gave the anarchists her advice and kept Sacha in line until she needed him, although as the fatal moment approached when the explosion was due, Helen told Sacha it was all right, though an aristocrat, she loved him just the same. Mr. Young did extremely well with his big studio scene. The Czar's ball was capitally set, and the director left a firm impression of immenseness in the limited space. But the same director was a party to the padding in all of the five parts that could easily have been trimmed down to four at most, while "My Official Wife" is or should have been but a three-reeler. Clara Kimball Young has the leading role, Helen Marie, and fits the character physically, though addicted to a slight inclination to pose, likely through Miss Young appreciating she can obtain a Madonna-like expression when gazing Heavenward. She acted with force before the camera when occasion required, and got emotion moving when that was called for. In fact, Miss Young helps this feature as much if not more so than the final scene. Harry T. Morey was the American, a little exuberant under the circumstances. L. Rogers Lytton was the Police Chief without suggesting that sort of a Russian official is as astute as some books have made them, while Eulalie Jensen as a police spy in love with Sacha and jealous of Helen (Mrs. Lenox, the "Official Wife") did an even show that could have stood more fervid enthusiasm or hate. Earle Williams was Sacha, who looks well, if his performance was not a consistently well balanced one. "My Official Wife" will probably revive the debate of the value of the picturized play as against an original scenario with those writers who have that bug. They can deduce an excellent argument in favor of the scenario. Else that or say that the adapter for the sheet, Marguerite Bertach, threw away her opportunities.


Reviews from Moving Picture World

June 6, 1914

"My Official Wife"
A Splendid Five-Reel Vitagraph Delineation of Russian Court Life;
Produced by James Young
Reviewed by Louis Reeves Harrison

Helene Marie (the Official Wife) Clara Kimball Young
Colonel Lennox Harry T. Morey
Mrs. Lenox Rose Tapley
Sacha Earle Williams
Constantine Weletsky Charles Wellesley
Baron Friederich L. Rogers Lytton
Basile Weletsky Arthur Cozine
Eugenie Eulalie Jensen
Olga Weletsky Louise Beaudet
Marguerite Lenox Mary Anderson
Sophie Helen Connelly

Director, James Young

In his magnificent screen presentation of "My Official Wife" James Young has glorified and beautified all he has portrayed, has given dignity to melodrama through some remarkable characterizations, and has proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that the screen story can be made far more effective than that of cold print. "My Official Wife" in the original form casts its emphasis on incident and was popular because of a pervading spirit of adventure. Mr. Young has carefully preserved all the spirit of the original and given new significance, not only to events, but to the entire novel. This was made possible by some fine acting of the principals, especially that of Clara Kimball Young.

[Omitted, three photos, one of Cossacks whipping exiles, and two of Young at a formal ball]

To Miss Young's remarkable impersonation of Helene, a young Nihilist of lofty aspirations, of unconquerable will, of spirited rebellion against injustice, is due a very large proportion of the fascination of "My Official Wife." Helene is of romantic temperament, one of the types that defy domestication, yet so eternally feminine that she contains within herself all the wondrous resources of deceit, all the vacillation and mystery of her sex. Though she lures and drives men at will, she is not repellently attractive, because there seems to be hovering ever near and about her a sincerity and intensity of true passion. In pursuit of a definite purpose, Helene holds herself superior to any minor obligations of conscience. She uses every feminine weapon of artifice and cunning, yet she is pure and an exalted champion of human rights. In portraying this complicated and deeply interesting character, Clara Kimball Young has placed herself in the front rank of artistes.

Next in importance to this striking character is that of a middle-aged American, Colonel Lenox, played by Harry Morey. It is a delightfully human character and admirably impersonated. Colonel Lenox has left his real wife behind when on a visit to Russia for business purposes, and is accosted by Helene, when about to cross the border. From a combination of good nature, love of adventure and gallantry, Colonel Lenox permits Helene to travel on his passport as his wife. They are barely in Russia when his troubles begin, for the chief of police, Rogers Lytton, falls in love with the supposed Mrs. Lenox, though he is at that moment looking for the dangerous Nihilist, beautiful Helene.

The chief follows them to Saint Petersburg because of his infatuation, not in pursuit of his duties, is on hand when Lenox meets personal friends and is forced to present Helene as his wife, and contributes to the social advancement of the lovely Mrs. Lenox. There is an element of comedy in this false relation, which becomes acute when Lenox and Helene are compelled to take hotel rooms together. She makes such a charming wife at the little supper in their private apartment that Lenox, true to his sex tendencies, fluctuates between conscience and inconstancy. Still true to those tendencies, he decides in favor of inconstancy, and the scenes that follow are admirably handled. All that is amusing in the relation is brought out with no sign of indelicacy.

The adventures of Colonel Lenox, in company with a fascinating woman who is keeping up the outward appearance of being his wife, while controlling his vacillating moods in private, and his growing inclination to "take the goods that the gods provide," form the most interesting part of the story, but the serious purpose of Helene is strongly developed through a series of beautiful scenes, culminating in one of the grandest ensembles ever shown on the screen--a court ball in the presence of the Czar and Czarina.

Infinite care on the part of the director, and a full appreciation of artistic requirements on the part of the scene builder, combine to make the pictures of Russian high-life and underworld, even glimpses of barbarity to Siberian prisoners, a constant succession of interesting pictures. Mr. Young has set forth all this with a degree of skill that makes it his best product, and it justifies the most sanguine prophecies of those who have had, all along, faith in his ability.

August 29, 1914

The story is woven around a beautiful Nihilist, Helene Marie, who, in order to get by the Secret Police on the frontier of Russia, induces Lennox, an American, to introduce her as his wife, in order that she may enter on his passport. Arriving in St. Petersburg, Lennox is met by friends and is compelled to introduce Helene as his wife, also to register her as such at the hotel, where he is stopping. Helene then discloses her identity. Lennox is shocked at first, but already deeply in love with the beautiful schemer, decides to let things take their course. Helene meets her Nihilist friends and they conspire to assassinate the Czar, she being chosen as the one to commit the deed. As the official wife of Lennox, she meets a number of the Russian nobility, and learns that the Czar is to attend a fashionable ball on a certain date. She plans to be present. Lennox has arranged to leave for Paris the afternoon of the same day. Now that the consummation of her plans is so near at hand, Helene has no more use for Lennox and entices an officer of the Royal Guards to become her lover. Lennox becomes jealous of the Russian, misses his train and returns to find Helene in the arms of his rival. Helene and Lennox attend the grand ball, he learns her purpose is to assassinate the Car and drugs her. She is taken to the hotel, restored to wakefulness and retaliates by playing the same trick on him, telephones her lover and the two make their escape to a yacht, but the secret police, having discovered Helen's real identity, send a torpedo boat after the eloping pair with orders to destroy the yacht. A torpedo blows the vessel to atoms and ends forever the career of Helene Marie, the beautiful Nihilist, and her lover.

January 6, 1917

MY OFFICIAL WIFE (Five Parts--December)--The cast: Helene Marie (Clara Kimball Young) ; Sacha Weletsky (Earle Williams) ; Arthur Lenox (Harry T. Morey) ; his wife (Rose E. Tapley) ; Marguerite Lenox (Mary Anderson) ; Basile Weletsky (Arthur Cozine) ; Constantine Weletsky (Charles Wellesley) ; Olga, his wife (Louise Beauder) ; Baron Friederich (L. Roger Lyton) ; Eugenie (Eulalie Jensen) ; Directed by James Young.

The marriage of Marguerite Lenox to a wealthy Russian, and her subsequent widowhood, occasion a trip to Russia by her father, Arthur Bainbridge Lenox. He is a handsome man in the early forties. The noble Weletsky family, into whom his daughter has married, have never seen either Lenox or his wife; but desire Lenox's co-operation in the settlement of his daughter's estates. The summons comes while they are in Paris. A passport for two, man and wife, is secured. But Mrs. Lenox is of delicate health and decides to let her husband take the journey alone.

The Nihilist, "Helen Marie," is also preparing a trip to Russia. Of unknown identity, her activities are yet notorious, and the police of Russia are warned. Knowledge of the passport is brought to her by a young Nihilist girl employed in Mrs. Lenox's services. Helene Marie has a just cause against the Russian aristocracy. When hardly more than a child, she saw her family butchered in cold blood.

She carries through a ruse whereby Lenox permits her to cross the Russian frontier as his wife. Her charm begins to work upon his susceptible nature. The pair are continually brought into contact with personages and officials dangerous to Helene Marie. Finally, at the hotel in St. Petersburg she reveals her identity to Lenox and dares him to betray her secret. She charms the rich aristocratic Weletskys and Sacha Weletsky falls in love with her.

The strain on Lenox induces him to resort to a drug for sleep. He forestalls his daughter's contemplated journey to Petersburg (from the Russian provinces) and attempts to take "his official wife" back to western Europe. Her work in Russia has been completed. She would gladly go--but the Weletskys beg her to remain and attend a ball. She learns the Czar is to be in attendance. It is her one chance to become the Joan of Arc of the Nihilists.

She refuses to go back with Lenox. Lenox therefore purposely misses the train. He returns to the hotel--finds his "official wife" being wood by Sacha. But he accompanies her to the ball. During the evening his hand touches the pistol in the folds of her gown. He realizes her object is the Czar's assassination. He averts this tragedy by a sleeping potion which he gives to Helene Marie in a glass of punch. She collapses and he carries her home.

Meanwhile the secret service has sent a telegram to the real Mrs. Lenox in Paris, which brings her to Russia. Lenox's secret is, however, protected by the police, because of his saving the life of the Czar. Helene Marie induces Sacha to elope with her in his yacht, which is fired upon from the forts and Helene reveals her identity. The young man renounces rank for love of her, but his yacht is sunk by the imperial guns.

Notice and Review from the New York Dramatic Mirror

April 1, 1914

"My Official Wife" to Be Seen in Six-reel Vitagraph Production

Richard Henry Savage's novel of Russian life, My Official Wife, is to be seen in a six reel Vitagraph production soon at the Vitagraph Theater. The film version will feature Clara Kimball Young as Helen Marie, the role portrayed on the stage by Minnie Seligman, and Harry Morey as Colonel Arthur Lenox. Others in the cast are Earle Williams and Roger Lytton.

Hundreds of orthodox Russians will be seen in the production to lend realism to the spectacular scenes. The Imperial Russian Dancers appear in the Czar's ballroom scenes. The story has the activities of the Nihilists as its foundation.

July 22, 1914

Vitagraph Productions Shown at the Vitagraph Theater, "My Official Wife," Drama in Five Parts, Adapted by Marguerite Bertsch from a Play by Richard Henry Savage, Directed by James Young.

"My Official Wife"

Helene Marie (My Official Wife) Clara Kimball Young
Arthur Bainbridge Lennox Harry T. Morey
Laura Rose E. Tapley
Marguerite Mary Anderson
Basile Weletsky Arthur Cozine
Baron Friederich L. Rogers Lytton
Eugenie Eulalie Jensen
Constantine Weletsky Charles Wellesley
Olga Louise Beaudet
Sacha Earle Williams
Sophie Helen Connelly

Marguerite Bertsch, scenario editor of the Vitagraph Company, brushed the cobwebs away from Richard Henry Savage's old-time drama and dressed it up in film fashion and in the printing of the programme Mr. Savage gets the larger type of the two. He is not due to receive first credit, however, for a picture as Russian as vodka, even if it was made in America. Taking a play of this stamp and transforming it into a thoroughly dramatic screen production is virtually producing an original work; for it is the handling, not the idea, that marks the difference between an ordinary Russian melodrama and an extraordinary one. The verisimilitude of "My Official Wife," the force of the situations and the beauty of the acting, combine to make a drama that, to the American mind at least, typifies explosive Russia--on the one hand luxurious nobility, on the other the Nihilist, and a connecting chain of sizzling bombs.

Director Young did wonders in getting settings and costumes with enough atmosphere about them to make even the Czar feel at home. The court ballroom scene, the big interior effect of the film, is a truly massive piece of staging. Everything about it looks substantial, and it has depth in which to accommodate all of the Czar's friends, not to mention his very pretty, dangerously clever and quite implacable enemy, Helene Marie. The Czar never had a closer call than on the night of that particular ball, but he lived to die another day.

Clara Kimball Young, the Helene Marie of the story, gets very much the largest type on the programme, and she earns every letter of it. There is a temptation to say that Miss Young never created a character so intense, convincing and fascinating. But that may be an exaggeration. Anyway, this bewitching Nihilist is Miss Young at her artistic best. Her quick changes of mood and expression, her suggestion of a woman that would gladly pass through Hades if by doing so she might gain her end, lend a tone of passionate recklessness to the character that no Nihilist should be without. Harry T. Morey, as Lennox, the American called to Russia to settle his daughter's estate, makes a good foil for the woman, and a third member of the company, who looks and acts like just what he is supposed to be, is L. Rogers Lytton as Baron Friederich, chief of the Russian secret police.

The first scene of the picture seems more like the conclusion of a love story, for it shows a happy couple standing beneath a floral wedding bell. Lennox's daughter has just been married to a Russian. He dies. Lennox must visit Russia; therefore, he gets two passports, one for himself and one for his wife, and thereby hangs the tale. Helene Marie, awaiting an opportunity to return to her native land, learns that Lennox's wife is not going to accompany him. There will be an extra passport, and it must secure her passage into Russia. She plays her cards so well that she enters the country as the American's "official wife" in the eyes of the law, and visions of being sent to Siberia prevent his exposing the fraud.

Even the Chief of Police, who is on the lookout for Helene Marie, is fooled into believing that the Nihilist is Mrs. Lennox. Sacha, a young aristocrat, falls head over heels in love with the dark-eyed Russian, and finally, after every thrill has been squeezed out of a productive plot, he elopes with her, still believing that she is Mrs. Lennox. When told the truth his love stands the test; but while Helene and Sacha are clasped in each other's arms, the audience sees a torpedo launched in the direction of the yacht that carries them It cuts through the water, blows the yacht into splinters, and the scene darkens on the two lifeless bodies bobbing up and down on the waves.

Review from the New York Times, July 14, 1914

"My Official Wife," a Russian drama written by Richard Henry Savage, has Clara Kimball Young in the leading picture role of Helene Marie, the young nihilist who succeeds in entering St. Petersburg despite the fact that the Russian police are after her. In that city she plots to kill the Czar, but her plans fail because of the jealousy of an American whom she has tricked.

The picture is splendidly done and is interesting from start to finish.

Review from Motion Picture News, December 16, 1916

MY OFFICIAL WIFE (Vitagraph, 1914)
The wisdom of re-issuing such a box-office attraction as this combination of stars and play represent can not be questioned. Miss Young has not had a greater opportunity to show all her charms than in this very play which was so largely responsible for her rise to fame. In the impersonation of a Russian nihilist, so clever that she would have accomplished the assassination of the czar himself had she not overplayed her hand, Miss Young carries her audience with her in full sympathy even to the glorification of murder itself. How she thrills at her sinister task! How she scorns the accommodating American gentleman who is like putty in her facile hands! How instantly she changes her expression from fear, aversion, horror, and contempt to the brilliant smile of the alluring woman who fascinates all men and makes them do her bidding.

Without Clara Kimball Young, the story might not be so impressive--and without so good a story Miss Young might not show such fascinating character. Be that as it may, the happy combination, in its new "de luxe" edition, will be seen in every first class city, and most of the smaller towns of our country once again, and will draw more business wherever shown than on its first appearance. This is bound to be the case. And the important thing is, the audience will not be disappointed, judging the play by the best present-day standards.

The story concerns the visit to Russia of the Nihilist Helene Marie (Miss Young), who succeeds in inveigling an easy dispositioned American, Arthur Lenox, to pass her by the Russian sentries as his "official wife." Lenox (Harry T. Morey) has a real wife, but he thinks the fascinating woman who pleads that he save her from great inconvenience is the wife of a college chum, and presumes of course that once across the border he will receive the thanks of his old friend for his kindness. Helene Marie, however, without disclosing her identity, frightens Lenox with the threat of Siberia if his act be known; forces him to continue the deception and even finally accompanies him to the Grand Ball where she plans to assassinate the Czar. Lenos's American manhood here asserts itself, and he drugs his "official wife" and carries her back to the hotel.

Sacha Weletsky (Earle Williams), who is fascinated by Helene, follows and the final climax is attained by the elopement of these two, ad the confession of Lenox to the chief of the secret service that he saved the honor of the secret service by preventing the Czar's assassination, proves his salvation from Siberia.

L. Rogers Lytton as Baron Friederich, Rose E. Tapley as Mrs. Lenox and Mary Anderson as Marguerite Lenox are included in the cast of well known favorites in support of Miss Young. Without these stars this would be an exceptional production. With them, it has a box-office and artistic value both.

--George N. Shorey

Unidientified review of 1916 reissue

Five-Part Drama by Richard Henry Savage, Produced by Vitagraph. Under Direction of James Young. Released by Vitagraph Dec. 11

Helene Marie Clara Kimball Young
Sacha Weltsky [sic] Earle Williams
Arthur Lennox Harry T. Morey
His Wife Rose E. Tapley
Marguerite Lenox Mary Anderson
Basile Weletsky Arthur Cozine
Constantine Weletsky Charles Wellesley
Olga, his wife Louise Beaudet
Baron Friederich L. Rogers Lytton
Eugenie Eulalie Jensen

This is a reissue of an excellent picture. While Clara Kimball Young, Earle Williams, Harry T. Morey and Eulalie Jensen have the bulk of the emotional work and acting to do, the rest of the cast might be termed almost all-star on the strength of what they do. It is a gorgeous production with such personages appearing as the Czar, Czarina, Grand Dukes, Duchesses and lesser lights of offical and society circles of Petrograd, togged up in expensive cosumes liberally sprinkled with orders and gems, and well adorned with rare furs.

As to the story, it is one of intrigue, nihilists, secret police and people of high and low degree. Briefly it recounts the adventures of a middle aged, but distinguished looking American, who is lured by a siren-like nihilist to spirit her into Russia as his wife. Many complications occur, and the end comes with a bang--literally. A yacht is blown up by a torpedo and the beautiful Russian nihilist and her lover are seen at the last with the smile of their late romance frozen on their faces as they drift with the tide.

"My Official Wife" is a story that has attracted a good deal of attention, and is bound to increase its following with the course of time. It is true to the Russia and its autocratic system of before the great war. Ever and anon, a scene is run showing the horrors of a pilgrimage to the barren wastes of Siberia. It gives the sense of contrast that adds aa pleasure to the scenes of luxury in and about the court. There are many moments of suspense. Several times it looks as if the pretty nihilist and the American would be caught in the toils, but they escape. A thriller comes with the entrance of the Czar when all the court does obeisance. A fitting climax is the escape of the young noble with the nihilist. Quite dramatic is her expression of hatred for him as one of the aristocracy and his overcoming of her scruples by renuniation of wealth and rank.

Taken by and large, the director has produced an artistic masterwork as well as a thrilling drama. He has chosen wisely his cast, fitted each to his task and furnished exquisite settings both interior and exterior. The photography is up to the high standard of the picture.

Further Readings

More information on this film can be found in the following source:

Brownlow, Kevin, Behind the Mask of Innocence. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990, p. 356-357.

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Last revised Septembere 28, 2011