Mabel Normand

Tillie’s Punctured Romance (1914)

Tillie's Punctured Romance 1914

When Tillie (Mabel Normand) meets Charlie (Charlie Chaplin), a good-looking stranger visiting her small town from the big city, she’s immediately smitten by him. Even though Charlie is a real womanizer, Tillie isn’t the best looking woman so he isn’t terribly interested at first. But then he finds out she comes from a very rich family and suddenly, he’s very interested. He talks her into coming with him back to the city so they can elope and she agrees. But when they get back to the city, Charlie runs into his former girlfriend Mabel (Mabel Normand). He wants to get back together with Mabel, but really wants Tillie’s money, so he conspires to get Tillie’s purse away from her.

Charlie’s big plan to get Tillie’s purse is to get her drunk at a restaurant. His plan works and he runs of with Mabel and Tillie’s money, while Tillie gets arrested. Meanwhile, Tillie’s wealthy uncle is off on a mountain climbing excursion and when an accident happens, he’s believed to be dead. Since Tillie is her uncle’s sole heir, she stands to inherit millions. News of her inheritance makes headlines and when Charlie sees the newspaper, he wants to marry Tillie.

After their wedding, Charlie and Tillie move into her uncle’s spacious mansion together, but Charlie hasn’t given up on his womanizing ways — Mabel is now working as their maid. While they’re having a big party, Tillie catches Charlie and Tillie together, she’s outraged and starts firing a gun around (not harming anyone). The party descends into madness that only gets worse when they have a surprise visitor: Tillie’s uncle, who isn’t actually dead. He wants everyone out of his house and he and chases Tillie, Charlie, and Mabel out of the house with help from the cops. When Tillie is chased off a pier and starts to drown, Mabel rescues her. Once they’re back on dry land, Mabel and Tillie both decide they can do better than Charlie and become good friends, leaving Charlie behind.

Tillie’s Punctured Romance is a classic of madcap, slapstick silent film comedy. There’s so much chaos and physical comedy, this movie is practically the definition of “slapstick.” It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you want a taste of the type of movies Mack Sennett and Keystone were known for during this era, Tillie’s Punctured Romance is a good choice. Charlie Chaplin and Mabel Normand were staple stars of this era for Mack Sennett’s Keystone studio and it’s noteworthy for being the film debut of Marie Dressler. All three stars are fantastic in it.

The character Chaplin plays is not his signature Little Tramp character; the Little Tramp was always charming and likable in some way.  The character he plays here is a rather unlikable lout, which makes the ending to the movie a very happy one indeed. In terms of Chaplin’s career, this was a hugely important movie. It was the first feature length film he made and would be the last time he would ever be directed by anyone other than himself.

Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood

Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine and Madness at the Dawn of HollywoodIn the early 1920s, Hollywood and the film industry was being rocked to its core by scandal. Between the death of actress Olive Thomas and the ongoing murder trials of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, moralists were clamoring for a way to stop Hollywood from corrupting the rest of the nation. Studio heads like Adolph Zukor and Marcus Lowe were fighting to keep their businesses running amid the scandals and to avoid censorship and government regulation. So when director William Desmond Taylor was found dead on February 1, 1922, the victim of a murder, it was yet another scandal that the film industry didn’t need.

Over 90 years later, the murder of William Desmond Taylor is still officially considered unsolved, but that doesn’t mean there was a lack of suspects. Taylor was pretty highly respected, but he was a man with a secret past and there were people who had an axe to grind with him. Mabel Normand was a dear friend of Taylor’s; a big star with a big drug problem. Taylor helped to get her cleaned up, but made himself an enemy to many of Hollywood’s top drug dealers in the process. And then there’s Mary Miles Minter, who starred in some of Taylor’s films and was madly in love with the director. Mary’s mother had a reputation for being a domineering stage mother and was afraid of how Mary’s unrelenting devotion to Taylor would impact her career. Edward Sands had been Taylor’s valet, but was fired shortly before Taylor’s death for forging checks and crashing Taylor’s car. After Taylor’s body was found, many top studio executives arrived at his apartment to collect any potentially incriminating evidence. Were they trying to hide something or could it have been someone else completely?

Author William J. Mann takes a fresh look at the William Desmond Taylor murder mystery in his new book “Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood.” Instead of approaching the book in a straightforward, “just the facts” style that one might expect, he tells it in the style of a crime novel. This made it a welcome change of pace from the books about Hollywood that I usually read. His writing is engaging and the story is a truly fascinating one. “Tinseltown” is informative and entertaining in equal measures. Before reading this book, I didn’t know very much about the William Desmond Taylor murder mystery, let alone the stories of the people involved in it, but I ended up being captivated by the whole thing.

Disclaimer: I received a review copy from the book from the publisher. This does not influence my opinion of the book in any way.

Live Post: The Debbie Reynolds Auction

Even though I’m broke and can’t afford to actually bid on anything in today’s auction, there’s so much amazing stuff up for sale today that I can’t resist trying to follow the auction as best I can.  So I figured I’d try my hand at live blogging and cover the auction the best I can as it happens.  I’m not going to cover every single item up for sale, but I’ll try to keep you updated about some of the more noteworthy items.  So stay tuned, sit back, relax, and live vicariously through other people who can afford to spend insane amounts of money on movie memorabilia.  And I’m just putting it out there right now: I would not be even remotely surprised if Hugh Hefner buys Marilyn Monroe’s white dress from The Seven Year Itch.  A million dollar absentee bid has already been placed on it, so it will definitely be sold for at least that much today.

If you want to follow along with the auction live, just go here, click on “Live Bidding”, then click the option to just watch the auction. There is a live video stream, but no audio.

Updates:

Note – The selling prices I list here don’t include the buyer’s premium.  If you see articles about Judy Garland’s Wizard of Oz test costume selling for more than a million, that source factored in the buyer’s premium.

3:12 PM – The first lot, a 1915 35mm Bell and Howell camera just sold for $32,500!

3:16 PM – Rudolph Valentino’s matador suit from Blood and Sand just went for $210,000.

3:19 PM – Mary Pickford’s headpiece from Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall went for $3,250.

3: 21 PM- Francis X. Bushman’s charioteer helmet from 1925’s Ben Hur sold for $30,000!

3:26 PM – Harold Lloyd’s suit and hat went for $4,000!

3:34 PM – Mary Pickford’s gown from The Taming of the Shrew sold for $17,000.

3:36 PM – Lots 17 and 18, both Douglas Fairbanks costumes from The Taming of the Shrew sold for $20,000 and lot 18 didn’t sell.

3:38 PM – One of Charlie Chaplin’s infamous hats went for $110,000!

3:40 PM – A Model T used by Laurel and Hardy sold for $32,500 and a pair of their suits went for $16,000.

3:42 PM – Carole Lombard’s gown from No Man of Her Own sold for $11,000.

3:47 PM – Claudette Colbert’s Cleopatra gown went for $40,000.

3:52 PM – Greta Garbo’s gown from Anna Karenina also sold for $40,000!

3:53 PM – Harpo Marx’s hat and wig went for $45,000!

4:10 PM – Lots 42, 43, and 44 are the paintings commissioned by Marion Davies and respectively went for $10,000, $11,000, and $17,000.  These really got the bidders going.

4:17  PM – W.C. Fields’ joke box sold for $35,000.

4:39 PM – Norma Shearer’s purple gown from Romeo and Juliet went for $20,000.

5:04 PM – Now we’re into stuff from The Good Earth and people went nuts for some of the furniture!  The pair of chairs went for $20,000, the opium bed for $20,000, two Paul Muni robes for $4,000 each, Luise Rainer’s shirt for $2,000, the lot of stands and other furniture for $3,500, and Luise Rainer’s jacket for $3,000.

5:13  PM – A gown worn by Norma Shearer in Marie Antoinette and Lucille Ball in Du Barry was a Lady sold for $11,000.

5:44 PM – Oh, now we’re into a busy bunch of lots!  First up was Marlene Dietrich’s outfit from “The Boys in the Backroom” number in Destry Rides Again, which went for $8,000, one of Judy Garland’s test costumes from The Wizard of Oz went for $910,000, a test pair of the ruby slippers sold for $510,000, an extra’s jacket from the Emerald City scenes of the Wizard of Oz sold for $22,500, Clark Gable’s dressing robe from the production of Gone With the Wind went for $10,000, and Basil Rathbone’s famous Sherlock Holmes caped overcoat sold for $50,000!

5:54 PM – Vivien Leigh’s suit from Waterloo Bridge sold for $16,000.

6:09 PM – Gary Cooper’s military uniform from Sergeant York went for $55,000.

6:16 PM – A couple of costumes worn by James Cagney in Yankee Doodle Dandy, the satin jockey shirt went for $27,500 and the clown outfit sold for $15,000.

6:19 PM – Not so fast, Louis!  A suit worn by Claude Rains in Casablanca sold for $55,000!

6:53 PM – Took a dinner break and missed another busy bunch of lots!  Elizabeth Taylor’s riding outfit from National Velvet went for $60,000, Judy Garland’s “Under the Bamboo Tree” dress from Meet Me in St. Louis sold for $16,000, Judy’s dress from the snowman building scene in Meet Me in St. Louis went for $10,000, Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra’s sailor suits from Anchors Aweigh went for $27,500 and $15,000 respectively.

7:00 PM – $22,500 for Joan Crawford’s waitress uniform from Mildred Pierce and $5,000 for Ann Blyth’s Mildred Pierce suit.

7:05 PM – Edmund Gwenn’s Santa suit from Miracle on 34th Street just sold for $22,500.

8:12 PM – The gold lame dress worn by Ginger Rogers in The Barkleys of Broadway went for $8,000.

8:51 PM – The chiffon robe worn by Vivien Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire sold for $18,000.  Then it went into a bunch of items from An American in Paris with Leslie Caron’s peacock dress from the fantasy ballet number for $15,000, Nina Foch’s white halter gown from a party scene for $3,000, and a showgirl costume from the Stairway to Paradise number for $1,100.

9:05 PM – We have reached the Singin’ in the Rain part of the auction.  First were the green and white checked suits worn by Donald O’Connor and Gene Kelly, $8,000 and $14,000 respectively.  Jean Hagen’s Marie Antoinette-esque dress sold for $5,500 and Gene Kelly’s period costume went for $9,000.  Debbie’s green and white leaf print dress went for $15,000, Gene Kelly’s jacket from the Broadway Melody Ballet number went for $6,500, Jean Hagen’s black and white fur coat went for $6,000, Donald O’Connor’s “Good Morning” suit didn’t sell, Cyd Charisse’s white Broadway Melody Ballet outfit for $7,000, and Debbie’s “Good Morning” dress went for $27,500.  A pink dress worn by Gwen Carter sold for $3,750, and a bunch of costumes from the “Beautiful Girl” montage brought $5,500.

9:22 PM – Now we’re getting into some of the Marilyn Monroe and Marilyn-related items.  First up is Marilyn’s red “Two Little Girls from Little Rock” dress from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which brought $1.2 million!  Then came the feathered hat worn by Jane Russell when she impersonates Loreli Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, that sold for $4,250.  Lauren Bacall’s wedding dress from How to Marry a Millionaire went for $8,000 and the car used by Marilyn and Cary Grant in Monkey Business sold for $210,000.

9:48 PM – A lot of two safari outfits worn by Grace Kelly in Mogambo sold for $47,500.  A Winchester rifle used by Clark Gable in Mogambo brought in $15,000.

10:00 PM – A couple more from Marilyn Monroe.  The gold dress from River of No Return went for $510,000 and her costume from the “Heat Wave” number in There’s No Business Like Show Business brought in $500,000!

10:52 PM – After a little break, we’re back with the dress everyone’s been waiting for — the infamous Marilyn Monroe white subway dress from The Seven Year Itch.  I fully expected bidding to be out of control for this one and I wasn’t disappointed.  It brought in an astonishing $4.6 million!

11:03 PM – Now we’ve got a couple from To Catch a Thief.  A coat worn by Cary Grant brought in $15,000 and an outfit worn by Grace Kelly earned a jaw dropping $450,000!

11:41 PM – A couple of dresses worn by Deborah Kerr in An Affair to Remember brought in $6,000 and $11,000.

12:17 AM – One of Lana Turner’s dresses from Peyton Place sold for $4,250.

12:22 AM – Lot number 407 is rather unique because it includes things worn by both Kim Novak and Rita Hayworth in Pal Joey.  It went for $6,500.

12:29 AM – Leslie Caron’s iconic plaid schoolgirl outfit from Gigi went for $65,000.

12:40 AM – Charlton Heston’s tunic and cape from Ben Hur could have been yours for the low, low price of $320,000!

1:32 AM – Marlon Brando’s naval outfit from Mutiny on the Bounty just brought in $90,000!

2:12 AM – Elizabeth Taylor’s famous headdress from Cleopatra went for $100,000 and Richard Burton’s tunic, cape, and sword brought in $85,000.

Oh, who cares what time it is anymore?  Yes, I’m still going!  Aren’t these people tired and broke yet?!  Janet Leigh’s yellow fringed dress from Bye Bye Birdie fetched $3,750 and Bette Davis’ blood stained dress from Hush, Hush…Sweet Charlotte sold for $11,000.

Another big item to watch tonight was Audrey Hepburn’s Ascot dress from My Fair Lady.  I fully expected it to exceed the $200,000-$300,000 and it sure did.  It went up to $3.7 million!

I would say that the hills are alive with the sound of music, but at this time of night, I’m pretty sure that’s a noise ordinance violation.  Julie Andrews’ guitar went for $140,000, her jumper from the “Do Re Mi” number for $550,000, her turquoise and green dress for $45,000, the peasant dress went for $42,500, and a pair of the Trapp children’s outfits sold for $35,000.

And at long last we have reached the Barbara Streisand part of the auction.  First from Funny Girl is her costume from “I’d Rather Be Blue” for $65,000, a lot of the other roller skating costumes for $2,500, the black velvet dress from “My Man” for $16,000, a bunch of stuff worn by the Ziegfeld girls in the “His Love Makes Me Beautiful” number for $7,500, Anne Francis’ silk dress for $1,800, and Kay Medford’s beaded shawl for $1,400.

A jacket worn by Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid brought $8,500 and a dress worn by Katharine Ross went for $16,000.

And back to Streisand.  The purple Hello, Dolly dress went for $55,000 and the gold dress for $100,000.  Surprised the gold dress went for that little, that’s how much it cost to make that dress back in the day.

You’ll be fascinated to know that a shirt worn in the cinematic masterpiece known as Grease 2 sold for $475.

We have finally made it to the final segment of posters/portraits!  The title cards for Blind Husbands fetched $2,000, the lot of three Gloria Swanson title/lobby cards sold for $1,200, the portrait of Gloria Swanson went for $8,500, the lot of two Mabel Normand lobby cards for $800, the pair of silent title/lobby cards for $1,600, the lobby card for Lon Chaney’s The Penalty for $1,700, and the lobby card for Chaplin’s The Idle Class for $1,600.  The portrait of Jean Harlow went for $11,000!

Now it’s high time I called it a night!  Good night everybody!

Films Rediscovered

I don’t think there is any news that thrills classic film fans more than news that a movie that was thought to be lost has been found.  With the news that an astounding 75 lost silent films have been found in New Zealand, I’m sure many fans of silents are feeling like they just won the lottery.  It’s exciting enough when just one lost film is rediscovered, but to find 75 of them is truly incredible.  Among the most noteworthy finds are: Upstream, directed by John Ford; The Woman Hater, starring Pearl White; Won in a Cupboard, directed by legendary Mack Sennett star Mabel Normand; Mary of the Movies, which is now the oldest known surviving movie produced by Columbia; and Maytime, starring the ‘it’ girl herself, Clara Bow.

It is believed that about 80% of films from the 1890s-early 1930s are now lost for good.  In some cases, virtually nothing exists anymore from some of the biggest stars of the time.  Theda Bara starred in 40 films during her career, but only three and a half currently exist.  But luckily, the films of other major stars such as Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks fared much better and very little of their careers have been lost to the ages.

There are many reasons for how films wind up being lost.  In many cases, the films just weren’t well cared for.  In the early days of film, nobody was thinking that anybody would be interested in this stuff a century later so they thought nothing of throwing away unused footage or entire movies that no longer had any commercial value.  Sometimes films would be destroyed in order to recycle the silver in the film stock.  Nitrate film stock is extremely volatile and can easily catch on fire if it is improperly stored.  Fox lost all of their pre-1935 negatives due to a vault fire.  If they didn’t burst into flames, they’d often just decay and disintegrate into a pile of dust.  A lot of times, scenes would be cut after initial screenings to make it more marketable or due to censorship.  Most famously, much of the original cut of Metropolis was lost for decades before a complete print was discovered in Argentina in 2008.  And then there’s the Judy Garland version of A Star is Born.  That one had to be drastically cut down after its premiere and is currently available in a nearly complete restored version, but a complete print is believed to exist.  And then there’s the case of 1933’s Convention City.  The entire film was intentionally destroyed because it was way too pre-code to even be censored and re-released while the Production Code Administration was in charge.

Since I love the stories about how lost films (or lost scenes) surface, here are some of my favorite rediscovery stories:

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