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The Social Secretary (1916)

The Social Secretary (1916) Fine Arts/Triangle. Directed by John Emerson. Scenario by Anita Loos, John Emerson, and Alfred Huger Moses, Jr. Cast: Norma Talmadge, Kate Lester, Helen Weir, Gladden James, Herbert French, Eric von Stroheim, Nathaniel Sack. 5 reels. Copies located at Library of Congress (incomplete 35 mm.), George Eastman House (tinted 35mm restoration), National Film and Television Museum London (160 ft., 9.5 mm.), Cinemateca do Museo de Arte Moderna in Rio de Janeiro (16 mm.,), UCLA Film and Television Archive (16 mm. and videocassette viewing copy), The Blackhawk film collection. This film has been shown on television and is available on video.

See also the Video Review for this film

Still Photo from Silent Ladies

For a picture of a paper doll of Norma wearing the frilly party dress from this film (as well as the charming cross-laced shoes), click here

Review from Variety
Review from the New York Dramatic Mirror
Reviews from the Moving Picture World

Review from Variety, September 15, 1916


Mayme Norma Talmadge
Mrs. Van Puyster Kate Lester
Elsie Von Puyster [sic] Helen Wair [i.e. Weir]
Jimmie Von Puyster [sic] Gladden James
The Count Herbert Frank
The Bussard [i.e. the Buzzard] Eric von Stroheim

Norma Talmadge is the star of this Triangle-Fine Arts five-reel feature scheduled for release Sept. 17. "The Social Secretary" is a comedy drama that gives Miss Talmadge a role she can play to perfection and the feature is one that will hold any audience from start to finish. Its plot is based on the fact that no girl who is at all attractive can expect to hold a position in New York without the "boss" trying to occupy her time after office hours, and that unless she is wiling to permit the advance of her employer she is pretty sure to be fired. The stories that Maybe (Norma Talmadge) relates to her companions at her boarding house carry a decidedly humorous touch. She has lost a half a dozen jobs and is looking for another when she notes the ad. of Mrs. Van Puyster (Kate Lester), a wealthy woman, who wants a social secretary, and insists that she must have one that is unattractive to men. Mayme disguises her charms and secures the berth. Naturally, it is only a question of time before she has Jimmie Van Puyster (Gladden James) in love with her; saves the good name of the family by rescuing the daughter from the hands of a villainous Count (Herbert Frank) and then finally is accepted by Mommer Van Peyster as being eligible as a daughter-in-law. The picture was produced under the direction of John Emerson, who turned out a feature distinctly worth while. There are several slight touches of detail here and there that should have been looked after more closely, but the story as a whole is so good these can be easily overlooked. .


Review from the New York Dramatic Mirror, September 9, 1916

The Social Secretary

Mayme, the Social Secretary Norma Talmadge
Mrs. Van Puyster Kate Lester
Elsie Von Puyster Helen Wair
Jimmie Von Puyster Gladden James
The Count Herbert Frank
The Bussard Eric von Stroheim

"The Social Secretary," deft touches of humor and the able direction of John Emerson has developed a purely conventional story into a highly pleasing and entertaining picture. After the first few scenes the story narrows down to the timeworn theme of the working girl who is handicapped by beauty. In this case the poor working girl is beset by lovers and she loses one position after another until she hides her beauty and becomes a social secretary. In this capacity she saves the son from ruin and at the risk of her own reputation, prevents the daughter from marrying a scheming count. Then, according to the usual screen story, she marries the wealthy son and lives happily ever after.

The characters are drawn in a manner which is life-like, yet not entirely serious, since the titular part is quite full of humor. In fact, its the first light part in which we have seen Norma Talmadge, and she proves that she is fully as effective and pleasing a comedienne as a heavy. All the little tricks of brightness and humor seem to be at her finger's end, and it is hard to realized that she is the same girl whom we have continuously seen in the heaviest parts. Helen Weir is typically the little society fluff and Gladden James, both in acting and appearance, is just what we would expect for a society boy by the name of Jimmie. Eric von Stroheim is a villainous reporter, and Herbert French is good as the scheming count. Kate Lester is ideal for the haughty dowager.

The titles are in places quite humorous as well as effective. The settings are excellent and the camera work maintains the Triangle standard.


Reviews from Moving Picture World, September 16, 1916

P. 1821

"The Social Secretary"
Bright and Attractive Five-Reel Comedy, featuring Norma Talmage (sic), Released by Fine Arts
Reviewed by Louis Reeves Harrison.

A GENUINE high comedy, admirably constructed and handled with skill, "The Social Secretary" is among those plays hardest to write and easiest to criticize in a fault-finding mood, but it escapes censure through plausibility, through charm of presentation and through the remarkable interpretation of Norma Talmadge and a support of unusual intelligence. It gets over with a "zip" in spite of the fact that some of the material, the country girl's adventures in the city as a typist, is far from new. It is new in method and it fairly sparkles at times with that spirit of vivacious entertainment sadly lacking in most screen stories. It is kept within comedy lines by plausibility, never straining for melodramatic effect, yet there is an element of suspense and no little amount of adventurous incident.

Miss Talmadge rises high in her interpretation of a pretty girl who is obliged to "uglify" herself in order to hold a situation in New York as a typist. We know that she will change this guise toward the end, but she gives an artistic demonstration of the value of clothes and makeup as a setting for beauty. Now that she has done so well, one feels that no better type could have been chosen for the role. In every scene where she appears, her characterization is so vivid that the story gradually becomes her. She has probably never given a better character interpretation, attractive, intelligent and fascinating from the beginning of the story to its happy conclusion. Most fortunately, all the other parts are in harmony, making a complete and satisfactory performance.

P. 1889

Triangle Film Corp.

THE SOCIAL SECRETARY. (Fine Arts-Sept. 17). The cast: Mayme (Norma Talmadge), Mrs. Von Puyster (Kate Lester, Elsie Von Puyster (Helen Wier); Jimmie Von Puyster (Gladden James); the Count (Herbert French); the buzzard (Eric Von Stroheim).

Mayme is a beautiful young woman who is forced to earn her own living. Her beauty proves a serious handicap in that it attracts the attention of every man who is forced to come in contact with her, the result being that she is forced to resign from place to place in order to escape from their attentions. Finally, in desperation, she sees an advertisement for a social secretary and answers it. Before doing so she disguises her comeliness as much as possible. She is accepted for the position by the society matron who has inserted the advertisement.

In the household there is a young son, who is a most estimable young man with but one fault--drink. There is also a daughter--a foolish young thing, who believes her cup of happiness would be filled to overflowing were she able to announce her marriage to a titled person. One night, the son coming home late after a spree, climbs into the window and comes unexpectedly on the social secretary, who believing herself safe from prying eyes, in satisfying a natural feminine desire to make herself look as pretty as possible. The son is astounded, and attempts to embrace her. The young woman escapes, however.

The following morning the social secretary announces that she is going to resign, but the son, seeing her alone, begs her to remain, and promises that he will never offend again. She does so, and shortly afterwards meets a count who is paying court to the young daughter of the household. The secretary recognizes him as one of the men with whom she had an ugly experience in former years, but realizes that her word would not be taken at that time, as against the count's, who has completely won the girl. The secretary determines to thwart the count, however, and permits him to flirt with her again. He makes an appointment to meet her in the garden, and she keeps it, first making certain that they will be discovered by the family. They are, and the engagement is broken by the girl's mother. The count is persistent, however, and telephones the girl to meet him at his apartment. The secretary overhears the telephone conversation by "listening in" on another wire and determines to prevent the meeting, or at least to protect the girl.

A reporter who has observed the meetings of the count, the girl and the secretary and the young son of the family, anxious to secure a story for his paper, takes to following the various members of the family, and in this manner trails the girl to the count's apartment. The secretary also having anonymously warned the girl's mother of the meeting, hurries off to the apartment and climbs the fire escape to effect an entrance unobserved. When the girl has been in the apartment but a few minutes, her mother and the reporter seek admittance. The girl, in a panic, is thrust in a rear room by the count. The secretary is on the fire escape outside this room, and when she is certain the girl is alone, opens the window and urges her to flee by means of the fire escape. The girl does so, and the secretary takes her place in the room, but as the enraged mother, her son, and the reporter rush into the room, the astonishment of the count is as real as that of the others in the room when he sees who is really there.

The mother is naturally indignant that a person who would be found in so compromising a position would dare enter her home. The son is the soul of loyalty, however, and sticks to the girl whom he wants to marry, even in the face of the incriminating circumstances. When it seems certain that the girl must stand convicted of whatever people choose to think of her, the young daughter comes to her rescue and confesses that she was in the room, and that she had been able to escape only through the generosity of the social secretary. Vindicated, the social secretary rewards the young man for his loyalty by accepting his love and giving him her promise to be his wife.

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Last revised, October 13, 2005