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no. 357

Saturday, 17 July 2004

Masks and Faces, 1916/17,
an 'all-star' British film by the Ideal Film Co in cooperation with
The Academy of Dramatic Art, London, for the benefit of its Building Fund

Masks and Faces

Some characters in the British film, Masks and Faces, 1916/17.

top, left to right: Viola Tree; Lillah McCarthy as Kitty Clive; Gertrude Elliott as an actress;
Weedon Grossmith as a fiddler; Fred Paul, the film's producer (director);

centre, left to right: Irene Vanburgh as Peg Woffington; Stella Patrick Campbell;
Ben Webster as Sir Charles Pomander; Dennis Neilson Terry as Ernest Vane;

bottom, left to right: C.M. Lowne as Quinn (in the character of Sergeant Kite); Lyall Swete as Soper;
Irene Vanburgh as Peg Woffington disguised as Mrs Bracegirdle; and Dion Boucicault as Colley Cibber.

(from an original drawing by Frank R. Grey, 1916;
Pictures and the Picturegoer, London, week ending Saturday, 30 December 1916, p.295)


The Ideal's Record Production.

'All the world's stage – yes; and all the film will be all the stage in the picture version of Masks and Faces which the Ideal Film Company are producing in co-operation with the Academy of Dramatic Art.
'As the Idealetter itself says: - In consequence of the complete annexation of the "stars" by the "Ideal," the sky is no longer known as the firmament, but the film-ament! Here is the reason:
'The Academy of Dramatic Art are seeking to realise a building fund.
'Sir James Barrie, the famous playwright, in order to forward that object hit upon the idea of making a picture in which leading actors would play, and in the proceeds of which the Academy should share. The suggestion was taken up by Sir Squire Bancroft (President of the Academy), Sir John Hare, Sir Arthur Pinero, Sir George Alexander, and Irene Vanbrugh, all members of the Council of the Academy; and on the proposal of Sir Johnstone Forbes-Robertson and Cyril Maude the Ideal Company undertook the production.
'The centre figure in Masks and Faces is a famous English actress, Peg Woffington, who, once an orange-girl, came to be a brilliant stage-player and the darling of theatre audiences.
'Around her fascinating personality, and the love it attracted, is woven a drama, for though Peg had a merry heart she had also a merciful one, which, in the end, yielded her admirer back to his lawful spouse. Many are the dramatic situations, moving the human appeals, splendid the opportunities for acting, which the story presents.
'The coming picture is the most ambitious effort ever undertaken in the field of film drama. Just fancy! The whole English stage to be seen for sixpence – beg pardon, sevenpence! All the leaders of the stage have rallied to the enterprise, and even the supers form a remarkable collection of stage celebrities.


peg Waffington, Irene Vanbrugh; Ernest Vane, Owen Nares [replaced by Denis Neilson-Terry]; Mabel Vane, Gladys Cooper; Sir Charles Pomander, Allan Aynesworth [replaced by Ben Webster]; Triplet, Sir Johnstone Forbes-Robertson; Rich, C.M. Lowne [replaced by Nigel Playfair]; Kitty Clive, Lillah McCarthy; Colley Cibber, Dion Boucicault; Burdock (Ernest Vane's servant), Sir George Alexander [replaced by Henry Vibart]; Hunsdon (Pomander's servant), Gerald Du Maurier; Mrs Triplet, Winifred Emery; Colander, H.B. Irving; Snarl, J. Fisher White; Soaper, Lyall Swete; Mrs Vane's Maid [Dame Best], Helen Haye; Mrs Vane's Postillion, Doris Keane; Peg's Coachman, Matheson Lang; Lysimachus (Triplet's son), Renee Mayer; Fiddler at Covent Garden Theatre, Weedon Grossmith; Members of Rich's Company, Gertrude Elliott, Lilian Braithwaite, Lottie Venne, Ellaline Terriss, Stella [Patrick] Campbell, Charles Hawtrey.'
(Pictures and The Picturegoer, London, Saturday, 25 November 1916, p.176b)

'Among the Stars.
'A day or two ago I was one of the privileged few who "saw stars" in the Ideal Film Studio at Elstree. The green-room scene for Masks and Faces was being rehearsed and taken by Fred Paul, who – lucky man! – is producing the mammoth picture-play which I have told you about in previous issues. I am sure that no cinema studio in the world ever held so many stage stars at one time as did the Ideal building on this day in question. Irene Vanbrugh, a very roguish Peg Woffington was chief character in the scene which I watched, and among others of this fascinating crowd I picked out Lady Forbes Robertson, Stella Patrick Campbell, Lillah McCarthy, Lottie Venne, Weedon Grossmith, Viola Tree, Ben Webster, Lyall Swete, Dion Boucicault, Nigel Playfair, and Gladys Cooper. I must wait for more space to refer again to this dazzling production.'
(F.D. [Fred Dangerfield], Pictures and The Picturegoer, London, Saturday, 16 December 1916, p.268b)

'Stage Stars to Dazzle the Screen.
'It is a long time yet – May 14th of next year [1917] to be exact – before the public will be allowed to see the screen version of Masks and Faces now being made; but so great is the production, so amazing the cast – unprecedented in the annals of motion-picture work – of stage stars engaged in it, that too much cannot be said or written concerting the play, even at this early date.
'A few weeks ago we told you how our leading stage-players had come forward to assist the Building Fund for the Academy of Dramatic Art by appearing in a picture version of Masks and Faces, and that the Ideal Film Company were co-operating with them by undertaking to produce the film.
'A fortnight ago we told you have we had the good fortune to visit the Ideal Studio during the making of one of the scenes in Masks and Faces, when more stage stars stood in front of the camera at one time then we believe has ever been the case in any film studio in the world. On that occasion, too, our artist accompanied us, and on another page [see above] we reproduce some "made on the spot" sketches of a few of the stars.
'In the coming picture the part of Peg Woffington is played by the famous actress Irene Vanburgh…
(Pictures and The Picturergoer, London, Saturday, 30 December 1916, p.294)

* * * * * * * *

'The première of the film [at Drury Lane Theatre] was the first ever attended by royalty for Princess Beatrice honoured us by her presence.
'I saw this funny old film a few months ago – rather dilapidated but, I am told, the only copy existing. I could not but admire it, just as one would admire an old-fashioned dress, or anything else. The photography is blurred, the lighting inadequate, the out-door scenes obviously canvas and boards in many cases, but there is something in the acting which is natural and unhampered by the overwhelming mechanism of today, and personalities hold their own – dare I say? – even more on account of this.
'Winifred Emery's personality is registered here with all the sweetness and delicacy that I remember so well adoring when I saw her as Sophia in The Road to Ruin and in many other charming portrayals. [Gladys Cooper's daughter] Little Joan Buckmaster's childish, bored look and swinging, impatient legs under the table as she waits for her helping of the pie are deliciously natural. Little Renée Mayer's sad eyes and disconsolate back as she turns away from Nigel Playfair with her father's play under her arm are things untaught and appealing. The close-up of Dion Boucicault as Colly Cibber and Lillah McCarthy as Kitty Clive are full of real characterization and acting. Perhaps one day this film will be shown at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and be treated with reverence and still hold its value. It was of course a silent film.'
(Irene Vanbrugh, To Tell My Story, Hutchinson & Co (Publishers) Ltd, London, 1948, p.117)

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Gladys Cooper

Gladys Cooper as she appeared in Havana,
Gaiety Theatre, London, 1908

(photo: Bassano, London, 1908)

A sample of John Culme's hand made greetings cards,
currently available at the National Portrait Gallery, London.

The above greetings card and others like it have been made to celebrate Terence Pepper's current exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, London, devoted to Bassano's early 20th Century photographs of theatrical celebrities. Images of Gabrielle Ray and Gladys Cooper are featured in the exhibition as are some of their contemporaries on the London stage, including Gertie Millar, Moya Mannering, Gaby Deslys, Olive May and Gina Palerme. The exhibition runs until 31 August.

A special CD entitled Gaiety Girls has been produced to coincide with the exhibition, available at the National Portrait Gallery bookshop and also direct from Tony Barker. With masterly transfers by Dominic Combe from rare original recordings, and twelve pages of sleeve notes by Patrick O'Connor, the CD comprises the following tracks:
Alice Delysia - I Know What I Want (1933)
Jessie Matthews and Sonnie Hale - Hold My Hand (1932)
Cicely Courtneidge and Harold French - A tiny flat in Soho Square (1927)
Dorothy Brown and Roy Royston - When I Waltz With You (1926)
José Collins and Kingsley Lark - The Last Waltz (1922)
Mamie Watson and Roy Royston - Japanese Duet (1920)
Marjorie Gordon - Tickle Toe (1918)
Ada Reeve - Is It Nothing To You? (1915)
Moya Mannering and Leslie Henson - Meet Me Around The Corner (1915)
Haidee de Rance and George Grossmith Jnr - They Didn't Believe Me (1915)
Connie Ediss - I Like To Have A Little Bit On (1911)
Olive May - The Lass With A Lasso (1911)
Gaby Deslys - Tout En Rose (1910)
Denise Orme and Arthur Grover - Swing Song (1906)
Delia Mason and Maurice Farkoa - My Portuguese Princess (1905)
Evie Greene - Try Again, Johnny (1902)
Ellaline Terriss - Gaiety Medley (1903).
The disc also includes the following unique recordings of broadcasts from the 1930s: Gertie Millar - Keep Off The Grass; Phyllis Dare and W. H. Berry - Let Me Introduce You To My Father; Ethel Levey - Ragtime Medley; and Evelyn Laye - The Call Of Life.

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© John Culme, 2004