“MOVIE” Souvenir Playing Cards

 

Try to imagine a time when a deck of cards with movie star pictures was a novelty. It’s not easy, is it? We can hardly even imagine a time when a movie star was such a novelty that the word “movie” itself was in quotes. But here it is, courtesy of a certain Mr. M.J. Moriarty and the Movie Souvenir Card Co. of Cincinnati, Ohio.

When I got this deck of cards as an opening-night gift from the director of a show I was in, about 40 years ago, I thought it was something really rare — all 54 cards (including the Joker and the descriptor card shown at right) complete and unblemished, with even the gilded edges of the cards reasonably intact after who knew how many years. Yes, a singular rarity, I thought. I know better now. These Moriarty movie cards are collectible, but they don’t seem to be particularly rare. Collector-dealer Cliff Aliperti says these decks can sell for anywhere from $75 to $150, depending on condition, but I’ve seen more than one in dealers’ rooms with an asking price of $40 or less — which, adjusting for inflation, may not be much more than they cost when they were new (whatever that was).
 

The relative common-ness of these decks at collector shows suggests to me that they were probably treated as collectibles from day one; people bought them to keep and look at the pictures, not to face the wear and tear of their Tuesday night whist clubs. (When was the last time you saw a 90-year-old deck of cards in perfect condition?)

That may be about to change. It’s becoming common practice among dealers now to break up the decks and sell the cards individually. As I write this, one seller on eBay is offering some 74 of these cards, one at a time, at prices ranging from five to ten dollars. At that rate, a deck that Cliff Aliperti says is worth no more than $150 (and which I’ve seen much lower) can bring a dealer as much as $375 or more. (Some cards are worth more than others, like this Charlie Chaplin Joker; it brings a premium because it’s the one instance where the card and the personality are perfectly matched — and probably also because Chaplin is the one person in the deck whom pretty much everybody recognizes.) This deck-splitting makes good business sense, but it probably means that decks that survived the last 90 years in near-mint condition are going to have a tough time making it through the next ten.

These decks first appeared in 1916 — at least that’s the copyright date on the card backing. Stars came, went, and changed positions in the deck, and some people (at this site, for example) have made a study of comparing and contrasting the decks that can still be found. Certain evidence of the cards themselves suggests that that they stopped production in 1922 at the latest: Wallace Reid appears on the 4 of Spades, and Reid died in January 1923; that’s not conclusive, though, because two other actors (Nicholas Dunaew and Richard C. Travers) occupied that card at one time or another. More persuasive is the case of Mary Miles Minter, the only occupant (so far known) of the 9 of Diamonds. Minter’s career was wrecked in the backwash of the William Desmond Taylor murder in February 1922, when her indiscreet love letters to the late director (30 years her senior) shattered her virgin-pure screen image. But even if the cards were still in production in 1922 (probably unlikely), they stopped pretty early. Many of the stars most associated with the silent era — Rudolph Valentino, Clara Bow, Greta Garbo, John Gilbert, Colleen Moore, Harry Langdon, Ramon Novarro, Bebe Daniels, Bessie Love — hadn’t made their big splash yet and don’t appear in any version of the deck.

 

Others might be expected to show up but don’t. Conspicuous by their absence are the King and Queen of Hollywood (even before their marriage made it official), Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford — although their colleague in United Artists Chaplin is Clown Prince of the Deck. Dorothy Gish (5 of Clubs) appears, but not her sister Lillian, much the bigger star. And we have Mabel Normand (10 of Clubs) but not her teammate Roscoe Arbuckle, with whom she made dozens of popular Sennett comedies between 1912 and ’16. When these cards hit the market, Arbuckle’s legal troubles were still five years in the future, but he appears in no extant version of the deck, although “Fatty and Mabel” were as much a team as Laurel and Hardy would later be. 

Now a word about the card backing — “the famous painting, ‘The Chariot Race,'” as the descriptor card says. The cards show only a detail; here’s a more complete look at the painting. Contrary to what some have said, it does not reproduce a scene from Ben-Hur, and may even have been painted before Ben-Hur was published (reports vary). In any case, it depicts a race presided over by the Emperor Domitian in Rome, several decades after Judah Ben-Hur and Messala had their fateful showdown in Antioch’s Circus Maximus. The painting was indeed pretty famous around the turn of the last century, and was the work of the Hungarian Alexander von Wagner (1838-1919); it hangs today in the Manchester Art Gallery in England. 

But back to those 53 faces — “every one a favorite of yours,” according to the deck’s promo. So many of those favorites are forgotten today — victims of fickle audiences even in their own lifetimes, then victimized again by the passage of time and Hollywood’s too-little-much-too-late attitude toward film preservation. I thought it would be a fun project to take these cards one at a time and review what we can know now of the lives and careers behind those “beautiful halftone portraits.” Chaplin hardly needs it, of course, but what about House Peters, Mildred Harris, Wanda Hawley, George Larkin? I’ll be shuffling the deck from time to time, cutting the cards and seeing what comes up. Maybe we can uncover some sense of why these cards were bought, and enjoyed, and even cherished and preserved so carefully for the better part of a century.

King of Hearts – H.B. Warner

 

Here’s an easy one for starters. Every true film buff knows Henry Byron Charles Stewart Warner-Lickford, although they might have to look twice to recognize the H.B. Warner they remember in this dapper, Arrow-collared, surprisingly youthful gent-about-town. This portrait may date from Warner’s entry into movies, when he was 38; that would have made the picture a couple of years old when the deck was published, but that sort of thing is not unheard of among actors’ head shots.

So film buffs know the name, even if the face comes as a bit of a surprise — but what about those less devout moviegoers, who don’t make a practice of memorizing the name of every Thurston Hall or J. Edward Bromberg who marches across the screen? Well, I’m going to go out on a limb here: I think it just may be that H.B. Warner’s work has been seen by more people alive today than anyone else in the M.J. Moriarty deck. Yes, maybe even more than Charlie Chaplin.

Note I said “seen by,” not “familiar to.” So take another look. Try to add, oh, maybe 30 years to that face. Look especially at the eyes. Ring any bells? Well…

How about this? That’s right, H.B. Warner was old Mr. Gower, the druggist who slaps young George Bailey around the back room of his store in It’s a Wonderful Life, and who, in the world where George was never born, is the “rummy” who “spent twenty years in prison for poisonin’ a kid.” I’ll just bet that anyone who ever saw Warner’s performance in It’s a Wonderful Life has never forgotten it, even if they never took the trouble to find out the actor’s name.
 
By 1946, the year of Wonderful Life, Warner had become a steady member of Frank Capra’s informal stock company. This was the fifth of his six pictures for Capra, and those six are a major reason why I suggest H.B. Warner’s work has been seen by so many. He played the judge hearing Gary Cooper’s case in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) — “Not only are you not insane — you’re the sanest man who ever walked into this courtroom!” It’s a hallelujah moment, provided by writer Robert Riskin and delivered by H.B. Warner.
 
 

In 1937, Capra gave Warner the opportunity to deliver probably his best screen performance. The picture was Lost Horizon, from James Hilton’s utopian romance about a group of refugees from war-torn “civilization” who find themselves in the remote Himalayan paradise of  Shangri-La. Warner was Chang, their mysterious escort from the snowbound wreck of their plane to the Edenic Valley of the Blue Moon, and their host after they arrive. Endlessly cordial, welcoming and polite, he nevertheless is inscrutably vague about when and how they will ever be able to return to their homes. Warner got an Oscar nomination as best supporting actor, but he didn’t win; he lost out to Joseph Schildkraut as Alfred Dreyfus in Warner Bros.’ The Life of Emile Zola. That’s a worthy performance, but I’m not at all sure the Academy made the right call. H.B. Warner’s other pictures for Capra were You Can’t Take It with You (1938), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington  (1939, as the Senate majority leader) and Here Comes the Groom (1951).

But you don’t get your picture on a deck of cards for supporting and character roles in your twilight years, however memorable. What about his career earlier, when he appeared on the King of Hearts sometime between 1916 and 1920? Well, unfortunately, that’s something we’re going to bump up against over and over as we discuss this antique deck of cards — and for that matter, anything else about the silent era. The survival rate of movies made between 1890 and and 1920 is only a cut or two above snowball-in-hell level; for much of Warner’s career we have to piece together what information we can from secondary sources.

We know that he made his Broadway debut on November 24, 1902 at the age of 27 (billed as “Harry Warner”), in Audrey by Harriet Ford and E.F. Boddington. In 1910 he appeared in Alias Jimmy Valentine, one of the smash hits of the early 20th century stage, adapted from the O. Henry story “A Retrieved Reformation.” He must have made quite an impression in that, because in 1914, when he filmed another one of his stage successes, The Ghost Breaker, the laudatory review in Variety mentioned him as “he of ‘Jimmy Valentine’ fame.” The Ghost Breaker was his third picture in 1914, and was co-directed by Cecil B. DeMille. They would work together again, and would in fact make their last picture together — but more of that anon.

Warner was a veteran stage star by the time his movie career really got underway in the mid ‘teens, and he established himself (if we can believe his Variety reviews) as an appealing romantic lead in titles like The Raiders, Shell 43 and The Vagabond Prince (all 1916), Danger Trail (’17) and The Pagan God (’19). He continued to appear on Broadway until Silence in the winter of 1924-25 (which he also filmed in 1926); after that he was a Hollywood actor for good.

 
 
At least one of H.B. Warner’s silent movies has survived intact, and it’s a biggie: Cecil B. DeMille’s spectacularly reverent The King of Kings (1927), in which Warner played the title role. The movie was a triumph of prestige and box office for DeMille; in reviewing it, Variety’s legendary editor Sime Silverman was quite tongue-tied with awe; in 24 column inches, Silverman (normally so terse and pithy) fairly stumbles over himself groping for superlatives. The movie is a bit too earnestly pious for modern tastes, but its appeal for 1927 audiences is still understandable, and DeMille’s showmanship is at its smoothest. Most memorably, Warner’s performance, in an age when accusations of sacrilege were a very real concern, is excellent. Here’s a strikingly dramatic shot of him at the Crucifixion, seen from the viewpoint of Jesus’s mother Mary mourning at the foot of the Cross.
 
 
 
And here, just to give a flavor of the lavishness of DeMille’s picture, is a frame from one of King of Kings‘s two Technicolor sequences, showing the resurrrected Christ comforting Mary Magdalene (Jacqueline Logan) at the opening to the tomb on Easter morning. (On a curious side note: in King of Kings Judas Iscariot was played by none other than the self-same Joseph Schildkraut who ten years later would ace Warner out of that Oscar.)

 

With the coming of sound, H.B. Warner was well into his fifties, so character parts became his lot as they do for nearly all actors as they age. And it proved to be a fertile field for him; after King of Kings there were well over a hundred film appearances in the 29 years that remained to him. Here’s one that cineastes particularly cherish: Warner playing himself in 1950’s Sunset Blvd. (though unidentified until the closing credits), as one of the has-been “waxworks” playing bridge with Gloria Swanson’s mad Norma Desmond. Staring him down is, of course, Buster Keaton. (And on a cautionary note, here’s an example of what a decade of sodden alcoholism can do to you: Warner and Keaton look about the same age; actually, Keaton was twenty years younger, almost to the day.)
 
 
 
 
Warner-10-Comm02WH.B. Warner’s final screen appearance was a poignant one. He was approaching 80 and living at the Motion Picture Country Home in Woodland Hills in 1955 when the call came from his old friend Cecil B. DeMille. DeMille was planning a massive spectacle expanding the Biblical section of his 1923 hit The Ten Commandments, and he had a part for H.B. if he felt up to it. The role was identified in the script as “Amminadab,” an aging Israelite setting out on the Exodus from Egypt, even though he knows he’ll never see the Promised Land — indeed, probably won’t live out the day. The actor carrying him in this shot, Donald Curtis, remembered that Warner weighed no more than a child, and carrying him wasn’t merely in the script, it was a necessity: “It was clear H.B. couldn’t walk — could barely breathe.” He had come to the set in an ambulance and lay on a stretcher, breathing through an oxygen mask, until the cameras were ready to roll. In the script, he had a rather complex speech adapted from Psalm 22, but he couldn’t manage it, so DeMille told him to say whatever he wanted, and Curtis and Nina Foch would work with it. H.B. Warner’s last words in his 135th movie, after 53 years as an actor, were: “I am poured out like water, my strength dried up into the dust of death.” 
 
Donald Curtis believed the old boy could only have weeks to live, but he was wrong. In fact, H.B. Warner lasted three more years; he died on December 21, 1958, 56 days after his 83rd birthday.
 

Movie Playing Cards: 9 of Diamonds – Mary Miles Minter

This one’s too dramatically juicy to ignore. Poor Mary Miles Minter — was there ever a Hollywood life more pathetic, or more completely ignored by posterity? She once seemed to be the heiress apparent to Mary Pickford, yet Pickford is still a household name nearly 80 years after her last movie, while Minter… I suppose it doesn’t help that only six of Minter’s 54 movies are said to survive. But Minter’s obscurity isn’t merely a function of poor film preservation. It was her off-screen life that doomed her to an addled oblivion and a lonely death at the age of 82 — and her off-screen life was something she never had a moment’s control over. Poor Mary Miles Minter. 
 
 As I said before, Minter is the only person to appear at the 9 of Diamonds in any extant version of the M.J. Moriarty deck of cards, so presumably the happily smiling lass we see on the card is Mary as she looked in 1916, when she was only 14 years old. She looks more mature in the undated photo at right, less inclined to adolescent baby fat, though surely no more than 18 or 19. More melancholy, too — or is it just historical hindsight that makes me want to see a sadder-but-wiser girl? 
 
Poses like that are easy to find of Minter — wide-eyed, pensive, gazing soulfully to one side or the other of the camera, as if listening intently for something. Or to someone. It was a popular attitude for virginal waifs in those days, but in Mary’s case it might have had another motive: to make her look older. People look younger when they smile. For an illustration by contrast, here’s a postcard of Mary (probably from late 1922 or early ’23, near the end of her career) in which her smile looks quite open and unforced. There’s a certain dressing-up-in-Mama’s-clothes quality about this picture, isn’t there?
 
That may not be too far from the truth. Minter’s mother was a real piece of work, a frustrated actress in the mold of stage mothers from time immemorial, who live out their own thwarted ambitions through their daughters — once they realize that that’s where the real talent in the family is.

Mary Miles Minter was born Juliet Reilly on April Fool’s Day 1902 in Shreveport, Louisiana, the younger of two daughters of J. Homer and Lily Pearl Miles Reilly. By 1907 Homer was out of the picture, sent packing by Lily Pearl, who went gallivanting off to New York to be an actress, adopting the name Charlotte Shelby. Nobody knows why she chose that name; Sidney D. Kirkpatrick, in his book A Cast of Killers (more about that later), relays the speculation that a politician named Shelby might have helped Lily Pearl get her first big break. For whatever reason.

Charlotte had left Juliet and her sister Margaret with their grandmother, but she soon sent for them to join her in New York, where little six-year-old Juliet caught the eye of Charles Frohman, producer of the play Charlotte was appearing in. Kirkpatrick says Frohman cast the tot in Cameo Kirby and A Fool There Was — but neither play was produced by Frohman, and Juliet Shelby doesn’t appear in either cast on the Internet Broadway Database. Well, whatever the exact names or titles involved, Charlotte realized in short order that little Juliet was the meal ticket.

Juliet Shelby made at least one picture under that name in 1912, for Universal in New York: The Nurse (now lost, of course). Not long after that she caught the baleful eye of the Gerry Society, watchdogs over the exploitation of child labor and the bane of any show business troupe with underage players. Charlotte handled the matter creatively; she rushed back to Louisiana and borrowed the birth certificate — and name — of her sister’s daughter, who had died in 1905 at the age of eight. And hey presto! — eleven-year-old Juliet Shelby became sixteen-year-old Mary Miles Minter, old enough to satisfy the Gerry Society but looking young enough (because she was) to play the sort of roles for which she was in demand. By the time she made a hit on Broadway in Edward Peple’s The Littlest Rebel, she was Mary for good.

This, in case you’re keeping track, makes the fourth name our girl had by the time she was eleven. Born Juliet Reilly, then Juliet Miles while she lived with her grandmother, then Juliet Shelby after joining her mother in New York, and finally Mary Miles Minter, a name and identity borrowed — stolen, really — from a dead cousin she never knew, yanking her once and for all out of any chance at a normal childhood. I leave the psychiatrists to speculate on what a history like that can do to a girl’s self-image.

By the time she returned to pictures in 1915, this time on the West Coast for a succession of studios, she was an established stage name (although in true Hollywood fashion, her biggest hit, The Littlest Rebel, was filmed with somebody else, one Mimi Yvonne). “Of Littlest Rebel fame” followed her everywhere she went. 

And so did Charlotte. Somebody made up a nursery ryme: 
 
Mary was a little lamb.
Her heart was white as snow.
And everywhere that Mary went,
Her mother had to go.
 
Actress Florence Vidor, as quoted by Sidney Kirkpatrick, remembered: “She and her mother were at each other’s throats from the day I met them. They fought about everything. But her mother always won. Mary was like Charlotte’s cute little puppet. I don’t think she ever cared about acting too much, really, but Charlotte wanted her to be a star, so Mary did what she was told.” Journalist Adela Rogers St. Johns said that Charlotte’s only career was “managing” Mary’s — at a 30 percent commission. She hired lawyers to find loopholes in whatever contracts she signed for Mary so she could shop for better deals at other studios. 
 
And she kept Mary hopping: Six pictures at Metro in 1915 and ’16, then ten at Mutual in ’16 and ’17, one more at Metro, then back to Mutual for nine more through July 1918, when Mary was still only 16. Then to Pathe for seven pictures in one year, topped off by Charlotte’s coup de grace in 1919: a million-dollar-plus contract with Paramount just as America’s Sweetheart Pickford was bailing on her Paramount contract for a sweeter deal with First National and, later, her own United Artists.
 
Thirty-three pictures in 49 months; that’s a long resume for someone who “didn’t ever care about acting too much, really.” Maybe Mary’s heart wasn’t in the acting at that, but what else could she do? What else had she ever been allowed to do? She had to support the family in a style to which Charlotte was enjoying becoming accustomed. Charlotte and sister Margaret were actresses after a fashion, but the only parts they ever got were supporting roles in Mary’s pictures, suggesting that talent wasn’t a major factor in their casting.

Besides, there’s evidence that the critics, at least, were beginning to view this Mary as something of a Pickford manque. Reviewing The Intrusion of Isabel in 1919, Variety said, “Miss Minter as the years advance still has much to learn now that she [is] becoming past the age of being a child wonder … She seems to be always bounding and jumping around, throwing her arms about someone.”  Later, on Anne of Green Gables, the paper said she “revealed nothing approaching the Pickford standard.” 


Green Gables was nevertheless a success, and credit for it accrued to the director, William Desmond Taylor. In all, Taylor directed Minter in four pictures, and seems to have had a good effect on her acting; of their next one, Judy of Rogues’ Harbor, Variety said, “Miss Minter shows improvement with each new production, and her work in the present feature is by far the best she has done yet.”

What effect further work with Taylor might have had we’ll never know, for after the release of Jenny Be Good in April 1920 they never worked together again. But there’s reason to believe — at least judging from Variety’s reviews — that he had a pivotal influence on her acting in those four pictures, all made in the year between her seventeenth and eighteenth birthdays. 

He may have had other effects on her as well, and that possibility came to light only after the evening of Wednesday, February 1, 1922. On that night, sometime after 7:45 p.m., in the living room of this bungalow at 404B Alvarado Street in Los Angeles, somebody stood behind William Desmond Taylor and shot him dead with a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver.

The murder came right smack in between Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle’s second and third trials, up in San Francisco, in the death of Virginia Rappe after a Labor Day party in Arbuckle’s suite at the St. Francis Hotel. And the press pounced on Taylor as they had on Arbuckle; here was more proof — as if any was needed — of the moral turpitude of Hollywood. Lurid stories circulated in the press as the investigation progressed. Most of them weren’t reflected in the official police files or those of a succession of Los Angeles district attorneys, but they were enough to ruin two careers.
 
Not all of the stories weren’t true. For one thing, it developed that William Desmond Taylor wasn’t his real name. He was born William Cunningham Deane-Tanner in 1867, not 1877 as widely believed while he was alive. He had abandoned a wife and daughter in New York in 1908; his wife had divorced him in absentia, but she spotted him in one of his pictures as an actor, leading his daughter Daisy to seek to contact him. They had finally met in July 1921, and Tanner/Taylor promised to see her again; as things turned out, he never did. There was enough mystery in Taylor’s real life to feed plenty of rumors after his death.
 
The first career ruined by the Taylor scandal belonged to Mabel Normand. Already “tainted” in the public mind by her long on-screen association with Arbuckle, she had the incredibly bad luck to be the last person (besides the killer) to see Taylor alive. She had visited him that night, leaving a little after 7:30; Taylor walked her out to her car on Alvarado, then returned to his house for the last time. Rumors were repeated in the press: that she was a cocaine addict (true); that she was back at Taylor’s the morning his body was discovered, ransacking the place in search of compromising letters (false). She was closely questioned, investigated and exonerated. But it didn’t help; the rumors — and her drug problem — persisted, and fed each other in a spiraling decline. By the time she died in 1930, of tuberculosis no doubt aggravated by her addiction, she hadn’t worked in three years. She was only 37. As she lay dying, she mused, “I wonder who killed poor Bill Taylor.”
 
The other ruined career, of course, was Mary Miles Minter’s, and looking at her face in this picture she (or, more likely, Mama Charlotte) signed for the 1923 edition of Blue Book of the Screen, it’s impossible not to believe she knew the end was nigh. In the flurry of publicity after Taylor’s murder, all of her publicity was bad. Love letters surfaced, some in a kind of schoolgirl code, that she had written to Taylor — they look girlishly innocuous to modern eyes, but in 1922 they were scandalous, and not in keeping with the sugar-and-spice-and-everything-nice image Charlotte and her studios had so carefully cultivated. In Taylor’s bedroom dresser was found a sheer pink nightie embroidered with “MMM;” it was passed around police headquarters for a while, for laughs, before vanishing altogether.
 
Were Minter and Taylor — 15 and 50, respectively, when they met in 1917 — lovers? Only two people ever knew the answer to that one, and they both died without saying. Florence Vidor, for one, didn’t believe Minter was sexually active with Taylor or anyone else. When would she have the chance, with Charlotte never letting her out of her sight? Some friends of Taylor’s believed Minter was infatuated with the director, badgering him with pleas for his affection when he regarded her as no more than a dear little child; other acquaintances believed that, well, Taylor had no interest in women of any age. 
 
Whatever the case, the damage was done. Even before the murder, the Hollywood establishment had begun to suspect that Mary Miles Minter’s time had all but passed; afterward, studios and the public at large regarded her almost as a has-been who wouldn’t go away. Reviews of her last picture, The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (released on April 15, 1923) were downright cruel. The New York Times: “The chubby Mary Miles Minter, who apparently does not often take as much exercise as in this production…” Variety wasn’t as unchivalrous as all that, but reviewer “Fred” dismissed her as “colorless.” Ten days later, Paramount bought out her contract for $350,000 and released her. She had just turned 21. 
 
The murder of William Desmond Taylor was never officially solved, and it hung over Mary Miles Minter and her mother like a curse from beyond the grave. Eventually the two were driven to a public statement: the L.A. district attorney should put up or shut up; publish any evidence against them and charge them, or absolve them once and for all. The D.A.’s office replied that they had nothing, and absolved them. Over the years there’s been no shortage of theories. He was shot by a burglar. Or by Normand. Or one of her ex-lovers. Or a bootlegger to whom Taylor owed money. Or drug dealers, angered by his efforts to help Normand kick her habit and to have them driven out of town. Or a secretary who had disappeared after robbing Taylor and forging his signature to cash checks. Or, no kidding, the butler (one Henry Peavey) did it. 
 
In 1967, 73-year-old director King Vidor, who had been a contemporary and acquaintance of Taylor’s, launched a personal investigation for a screenplay he hoped to write and direct. Many Hollywood old-timers were still alive then, and nearly all of them had their own take on the mystery. His efforts took him far and wide, visiting friends and former colleagues — including Mary Miles Minter herself. She was now living quietly in Santa Monica and answering only to Mrs. Brandon O’Hildebrandt, the name of the man she married in 1957, after Charlotte Shelby finally died. Her husband had died in 1965, leaving little Juliet Reilly a final name to fold herself into.
 
Or perhaps there was one more. Vidor was appalled to find an obese, demented wreck of the beauty he had known, looking far older than her 65 years and clearly mentally unstable. She said she was writing a lot these days, poetry of her own. When Vidor glanced at the stack of poems she had, he noticed they were all signed “by Charlotte Shelby.”
 
Vidor never made that movie, or any other feature, though there was an unrelated documentary short in 1980. Solomon and Sheba in 1959 proved to be his final outing as a director. The fruits of his investigation were locked away in a strongbox in his garage, where they were discovered after Vidor’s death by his biographer Sidney D. Kirkpatrick. Kirkpatrick published the material in 1986, along with Vidor’s conclusions about the crime, as A Cast of Killers. I won’t mention Vidor’s solution to the mystery, because I happen to believe it’s the correct one. Kirkpatrick’s book, despite some minor inaccuracies and the annoying lack of an index for such a complicated tale, is a good read, and I wouldn’t care to spoil it. 
 
Juliet Reilly/Miles/Shelby/Mary Miles Minter/Mrs. Brandon O’Hildebrandt outlived King Vidor by nearly two years. Mentally fragile as she may have been, she was reasonably well-fixed thanks to real estate investments during the glory days. But her Santa Monica neighborhood grew perilous, and she was robbed more than once. During one robbery in 1981 she was bound, gagged, beaten and left for dead; she survived, and an ex-servant was charged with the crime. She died on August 4, 1984, age 82; any thoughts she had after that 1967 visit from King Vidor she most likely took with her. Mary Miles Minter has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1724 Vine St., a little over five miles from the spot where William Desmond Taylor died. 
 
POSTSCRIPT: In preparing this post, I went looking for a copy of A Cast of Killers, my first one having slipped out of my hands some twenty years ago. I found a copy at a used-book store, and snapped it up. When I got it home, I learned to my surprise that I had bought an autographed copy. On the title page, above his signature, Sidney D. Kirkpatrick had cautioned a previous owner: “Don’t let this story haunt you. It’s only Hollywood.”
 
 

Movie Playing Cards: 5 of Spades – George Walsh

 



 

 

George Walsh’s chief claim to fame is the movie he didn’t make. He’s one of three actors known to have been the 5 of Spades in the Moriarty deck, and probably not the first. Of the other two, the first was probably Harold A. Lockwood. I say “probably” because Lockwood didn’t have long to join the deck, so he must have done it early; he died in the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, age 31. Before that he had appeared in 131 pictures since 1911, with three more released posthumously. In 23 of those pictures, all between 1915 and ’17, he was half of a romantic team with May Allison (5 of Diamonds in my deck, Queen of Hearts in others). The other 5 of Spades was Charles Kent, already 64 years old by the time the cards were introduced in 1916. Kent’s first known picture was in 1908 — Macbeth for Vitagraph (and he played old King Duncan in that). Unlike Lockwood, he would outlive the production of the cards, dying in 1923 at 70. My guess is that Lockwood was the first face on the 5 of Spades, Kent the second, followed by George Walsh, who didn’t make his first picture until the others had made 94 and 81, respectively.

 
 
 
This is as good a time as any to talk about those numbers of pictures I keep throwing around. Ninety-four and 81 pictures in less than ten years? Why, Dustin Hoffman and Jack Nicholson (to take two random, veteran examples) haven’t made 80 pictures apiece in their entire careers. Of course, we’re not talking about full 90-to-100-minute features here, although such things weren’t unheard of even as early as 1915. By the late ‘teens, the average feature was about five reels — between an hour and 75 minutes, depending on the speed of individual hand-cranked projectors used in those days. Before 1915 or so, most pictures were probably two or three reels — the rough equivalent of an episode of a TV series. That’s how Harold Lockwood and May Allison could make 23 pictures together in two years, but it’s still a pretty breakneck pace. Mutual, Vitagraph, Biograph, Edison and Famous Players-Lasky kept their actors and crews busy, grinding out material for the burgeoning number of movie houses, where a picture would seldom play more than three or four days.  
 

But back to George Walsh. Born in 1889, he followed his older brother Raoul into pictures in the mid-1910s, having originally planned to be an attorney (he attended, however briefly, Fordham and Georgetown). He also attended New York’s High School of Commerce, where he graduated in 1911, and where he was a versatile athlete: baseball, track, cross country, swimming, rowing. This experience would stand him in good stead, at least in the Hollywood short run — certainly better than whatever he learned about commerce or pre-law.

I don’t know what drew George to pictures in the first place, but it’s easy to imagine him being lured by the stories his brother told. Raoul had backed into pictures after working as a cowboy; his horsemanship had landed him a stage job, riding a galloping horse on a treadmill for a touring company of The Clansman. From that he got the acting bug, forgetting all about cowpunching. He wound up in New York making westerns (mostly) for Pathe, then followed D.W. Griffith to California. He loved the freewheeling fun of making pictures in those days, and he surely must have painted an enticing picture for George — “With your looks and athletic ability, you’re a natural for this stuff.” Hal Erickson at AllMovie.com says that George joined Raoul at Reliance-Mutual in 1914, but according to the IMDB, George’s first picture was an indeterminate bit in The Birth of a Nation for D.W. Griffith. Or more likely a series of bits; Griffith was economical in his use of extras, and George may well have been one of those who saw himself on screen fighting on both sides of a battle. Raoul played John Wilkes Booth in Birth, but was already on his way to a director’s career (it would extend to 1964; Raoul Walsh remains a favorite director among critics and historians).

George did get his first breaks in Reliance-Mutual pictures directed by Raoul and others, moving up the cast list till he was top-billed, and first drawing the eye of Variety’s reviewer in Raoul’s Blue Blood and Red (1916): “The kid is clever…a fine, manly looking chap, full of athletic stunts…” By this time, both Raoul and George were working for William Fox, and soon George worked again for D.W. Griffith. Here he is as the Bridegroom of Cana in the Judean Story section of Intolerance, receiving the bad news that the wine supply has run out. With him are 17-year-old Bessie Love (still several years from her own stardom) as the Bride of Cana and William Brown as the father of the bride.
 
That same year, George married Seena Owen (nee Signe Auen of Spokane, Wash.). They probably met on the set of Intolerance, where Seena played Princess Beloved in the Fall of Babylon story. The union, the only marriage for either of them, would end in divorce in 1924. (UPDATE 6/22/13: It turns out this was not in fact George Walsh’s only marriage. See the comment below from “Anonymous”, who married George’s eldest son Tom in 1982.)
 
George Walsh’s career flourished as William Fox’s slightly younger answer to Douglas Fairbanks. By this I mean the early Fairbanks, before The Mark of Zorro, Robin Hood, The Thief of Bagdad, etc. landed him permanently in costume swashbucklers. Before Zorro, the typical Fairbanks hero was a boyish, high-spirited American naif, triumphing over adversity in effortless leaps and bounds, always with a beaming, irresistible smile. 
 
And so it was with George Walsh. His pictures from 1916 to 1920 are probably all irretrievably lost, but reviews in Variety document their pleasures, and Walsh’s appeal: The Mediator (’16), “Walsh proves himself as good a rough and tumble man as ever got into focus;” Melting Millions (’17), “his athletic ability stands him in good stead for this particular line of work;” Brave and Bold (’18), “Mr. Walsh does some athletics, jumping over everybody in his path, runs an auto or motorcycle, whichever is the handiest when needed, and climbs up the front of the Ft. Pitt hotel at Pittsburgh to keep an appointment with a French prince;” On the Jump (’18), “…the whole thing is built around Mr. Walsh, apparently with the idea of giving him opportunities to perform unusual stunts;” Luck and Pluck (’19), “Walsh is in his glory scaling walls, climbing trees, foiling cops, etc. There are a couple of corking fights where he handles anywhere from a dozen to twenty opponents at a time;” From Now On (’20), “What may be held up for approval is the hard work which George Walsh invests in it.” The image conjured up from these reviews is a series of lightweight adventures distinguished by George’s prowess; as brother Raoul, who directed From Now On, said years later, “Well, anything with him wouldn’t be too heavy.”
 
George’s career did get a little heavier as the 1920s dawned. In 1922 he played explorer Henry Morton Stanley in With Stanley in Africa; neither the film nor any reviews seem to have survived, but it appears a more serious departure from his vehicles to date. So was Vanity Fair the next year, in which he played the dashing wastrel Rawdon Crawley, though the picture was not well received. It’s an open question how well Thackeray’s huge novel could be adapted into an 80-minute silent movie, but writer-director Hugo Ballin seems not to have risen to the occasion; Variety carped that most of the picture was frittered away on closeups of Ballin’s wife Mabel, who played Becky Sharp. In any case, Walsh didn’t make much of an impression. He had better luck with Rosita, playing the love interest for Mary Pickford under the direction of German emigre Ernst Lubitsch making his first American picture; Walsh basked in the reflected glory showered on Lubitsch and Pickford by the movie’s artistic and commercial success.

Then came what looked like the break of a lifetime: George Walsh was chosen by June Mathis to play the title role in Metro’s screen adaptation of Ben-Hur, to be shot on location in Rome. This was the role that every actor in movies coveted. The most popular choice, Rudolph Valentino, was out of play because of a contract dispute with Famous Players-Lasky; until they settled their differences, the studio wasn’t about to let him work for anyone else. Mathis ordered tests, dozens of them, and Walsh won out. In his recounting of the Ben-Hur production in The Parade’s Gone By, Kevin Brownlow tells us that there was little enthusiasm in Hollywood for the choice; George was a fine physical specimen, they said, but not that strong an actor.

To Walsh, this was surely the gravy train to glory, and he grabbed on with both hands. He gladly agreed to a salary cut when offered the role, and even swallowed his umbrage when, as the company sailed for Italy in the spring of 1924, he found himself relegated to second-class accommodations. Arriving in Rome, he worked out every day with his co-star Francis X. Bushman (playing Messala) and posed for a few publicity stills like this one. Otherwise he was ignored.

Things didn’t go well for Ben-Hur in Italy. Sets weren’t ready, equipment wasn’t available. Matters began in a state of disorganization and degenerated into hopeless chaos. June Mathis, ostensibly the production supervisor as well as scriptwriter, was barred from the set by director Charles Brabin — not that there was much set to bar her from. While construction dawdled along, the company adjourned to Anzio to shoot the sea battle; Brabin sat around drinking wine and regaling the crew with longwinded stories while underlings haggled with local bureaucrats, and hundreds of extras idled sweltering on the beach. When cameras finally rolled, everything went wrong.

Well, I needn’t go on; you can get the whole story from Brownlow. By autumn of 1924, the newly-formed MGM had inherited this mess, and L.B. Mayer and Irving Thalberg took drastic measures. Brabin was fired because his footage was awful. June Mathis was fired because she had been the supposed supervisor of this fiasco, and had insisted on shooting in Rome in the first place. And George Walsh was fired because Mathis had hired him — besides, MGM wanted to build up their rising star Ramon Novarro. Walsh and Bushman (one of the few survivors of the purge) read about the changes in the newspapers.

It was a bitter pill for George. “You know, Frank,” he told Bushman, “I felt this was going to happen. But to leave me over here for so long, to let me die in pictures — and then to change me!” Because MGM, in damage control mode, kept mum about the state of the production and the reasons for such sweeping changes, the impression was left that George simply couldn’t cut it — just as everyone expected.

Could he have cut it? Maybe, maybe not. June Mathis shrugged off her own dismissal, saying her chief regret was for Walsh: “I had complete faith in his ability to play Ben-Hur,” she told Photoplay. “I realize many other people did not believe in him, but the same thing occurred when I selected Rudolph Valentino for the role of Julio in The Four Horsemen. Valentino justified himself, and I am confident that Mr. Walsh would have done the same thing. Actually, he was given no opportunity to succeed or fail. He was withdrawn without a chance. Indeed, Mr. Novarro was in Rome for three days before Mr. Walsh was notified that he had been succeeded in the leading role.” Nevertheless, in Hollywood — then as now — image was everything. George slunk home a “failure,” even though he had not faced the cameras for so much as a frame of film.

He didn’t exactly “die in pictures,” but in an age where a star was expected to appear in a new picture several times a year — even every few weeks — George Walsh was off the screen from December 1923 to October ’25. He had lost momentum, and he never really got it back. His vehicles continued as they had before, with titles like American Pluck, The Kick-Off, Striving for Fortune and His Rise to Fame, but the scripts were more formulaic than ever, the productions cheaper and more slapdash, the companies increasingly fly-by-night. The kid was looking less clever than he once had; more important, he was no longer a kid. His last starring vehicle was the inaptly named Inspiration (1928), which Variety termed “for second run houses in not too particular neighborhoods.”

After the coming of sound Walsh made a few movies, but was never again top-billed. Supporting roles (often in brother Raoul’s pictures like Me and My Gal, The Bowery and Under Pressure) slid into bits — like this one in Cecil B. DeMille’s Cleopatra (1934), as a courier bringing Antony (Henry Wilcoxon) and Cleopatra (Claudette Colbert) the bad news that Octavian is on the march. After Raoul’s Klondike Annie and a couple of Poverty Row westerns in 1936, George decided to call it a day in pictures, and retired from the screen to work as a racehorse trainer for the Hollywood horsey set.

All in all, George Walsh didn’t have such a bad run; his pictures were breezy, undemanding fun in their day and he had a definite following. Getting canned from Ben-Hur was a blow, no doubt, but how much of his subsequent career slide was due to his two years out of circulation, and how much was simply because his day was done, is something I guess we’ll never know. Like any other star, he arrived, he blazed, and he waned, then (unlike some) lived to a ripe old age: George Walsh was 92 when he passed away in Pomona, Calif. in 1981.

 

Movie Playing Cards: 3 of Hearts – Geraldine Farrar

 

 

Geraldine Farrar is the only Metropolitan Opera star in the M.J. Moriarty deck. Other great singers would make the transition from Met to movies, but not until the sound era; and while some (Lawrence Tibbett, Grace Moore, Lily Pons) would be more successful than others (Luciano Pavarotti), only Geraldine Farrar managed to become a movie star without ever once depending upon her voice to get her there.

No wonder. She was a natural actress without a trace of self-consciousness, and the camera loved loved loved her. The picture on the card isn’t the most flattering, with that hairstyle like a leather aviator’s helmet, but you can see what I mean, especially with those enormous, all-seeing eyes — they make you want to glance over your right shoulder to see what she finds so fascinating and amusing; not even that huge corsage can pull your attention away from her eyes for very long. 

Here’s another look at those eyes, this time smoldering and looking straight into your own. The portrait is by the German painter Friedrich August von Kaulbach (1850-1920), and is now part of the Geraldine Farrar Collection in the Music Division of the Library of Congress. It was probably painted in late 1901 or early ’02, about the time the 19-year-old Geraldine created a sensation as Marguerite in Gounod’s Faust and became the toast of Berlin.
 
That Berlin triumph was the culmination of a course of study that had taken her from her birth in 1882 in Melrose, Massachusetts — where she determined at an early age to become an opera star — through voice study in Boston, New York, Paris, and finally Berlin, where her big splash in Faust brought her under the tutelage of the great soprano Lilli Lehmann. She remained with Berlin’s Royal Court Opera for several seasons and became a favorite of the Kaiser and his family; there were scandalous rumors of an affair with Crown Prince Wilhelm which Farrar’s family and friends (protesting too much?) were at great pains to deny. Berlin was the springboard to a brilliant European career — Monte Carlo, Stockholm, Paris, Munich, Warsaw — that brought her home to America and the Metropolitan Opera in 1906. 
 
Geraldine Farrar was perhaps the world’s first multimedia star — if only because for the first time in history, a performer could have more than one medium to be a star in. Besides her dazzling success on the opera stage and recital circuit, she made over 200 recordings for the Victor Talking Machine Company; you can still hear plenty of them on YouTube.
 

And then, in 1915, yet another medium; the movies came calling, in the form of Cecil B. DeMille and the Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company. Lasky and DeMille had been making a go of their moving picture venture out in sleepy Hollywood, shooting in a converted barn at the corner of Vine and Selma Streets. I don’t know what prompted them to approach Farrar; perhaps they read the interview where she described herself not as a singer but “an actress who happens to be appearing in opera” and figured an actress in any other vehicle… Whatever the impetus, it was a masterstroke. Farrar agreed to work eight weeks during the Met’s off season, making three pictures for a fee of $35,000. The news, and the announcement that the diva’s first picture would be a silent version of her Met success Carmen, electrified the industry. The William Fox Co. was inspired to do a quickie knockoff with their house vamp Theda Bara (Fox’s picture went into release the day after DeMille’s Carmen but doesn’t seem to have cut very deeply into its business).

 

The DeMille-Lasky Carmen wasn’t planned as an adaptation of the opera; the work was still under copyright, and the proprietors wanted too much for the movie rights. Instead, DeMille and his scriptwriter brother William turned to Prosper Merimee’s original story, now in the public domain, which had a story much changed in the opera. Still, the opera was too familiar to ignore completely, so a musical score was commissioned adapting Bizet’s themes (Lasky could afford that much).

Before shooting on their big-money title, though, DeMille made a canny decision: he would shoot Farrar’s other two pictures (Temptation and Maria Rosa) first, just in case his leading lady needed a little experience to put her at ease in front of the camera. This was probably prudent, but it proved to be unnecessary; Geraldine Farrar took to movies like a duck to water. Here she is in Carmen’s classic pose — a cliche by now, but at that time you could hardly get away with leaving it out — the rose clenched in her teeth, lasciviously eying the unfortunate Don Jose (Wallace Reid), whom she intends to seduce to help her smuggler cohorts.

And here she is again, assuring her gypsy confederate (Horace B. Carpenter) that the trap is ready to be sprung. As DeMille biographer Scott Eyman observes, Farrar wasn’t exactly beautiful, but she was alluring. Her Carmen moves like a cat, lithely self-assured and radiating a confident, even aggressive sexuality. (Apparently in real life, too; Crown Prince Wilhelm wasn’t the only name linked romantically with hers. While at the Met she carried on a torrid six-year affair with conductor Arturo Toscanini that ended only when she gave him an ultimatum: leave your wife or else. The maestro abruptly resigned from the Met and beat a hasty retreat back to Italy, wife and family in tow.)

Carmen was a big hit for the Lasky Co., in both money and prestige. Not since the aging Sarah Bernardt hobbled around on her wooden leg in Queen Elizabeth had a star of such international magnitude graced a movie screen. And it must be said, whatever the Great Sarah’s power on stage, she had hardly a tenth of Farrar’s instinctive understanding of movie acting. By the time the picture was released — on October 31, 1915 — Farrar had returned to the Met; the other pictures she had shot that summer were spaced out for release the rest of the season, Temptation at the end of December and Maria Rosa at the beginning of May 1916.

Farrar enjoyed her eight week stint in Hollywood, where every man and woman in the Lasky Co. was completely won over by her professionalism and her down-to-earth personal charm; people used to gather outside the window of her dressing room and listen to her sing as she prepared to go on the set. Between pictures she met the handsome actor Lou Tellegen, whom she married in February 1916. That following summer, with the Met again going dark, she was back at the Lasky Studio, again working for DeMille. 
 
This time the subject was even bigger than Carmen: Farrar would play Joan of Arc in Joan the Woman. Joan had not yet been elevated to sainthood, but it was only a matter of time; she had been beatified in 1909 (sainthood would finally come in 1920). As the title suggests, Farrar’s allure was not to be entirely subsumed into the religious fervor of the Maid of Orleans; DeMille and writer Jeanie Macpherson defied history by giving Joan a chaste romance with an English soldier, teaming Farrar again with Wallace Reid. (In the movie it plays better than it probably sounds.) 
 
Joan the Woman was the first example of the kind of movie most people think of when they think of Cecil B. DeMille today: a sweeping historical epic with semi-florid acting and none-too-subtle religious overtones. A second historical epic followed: The Woman God Forgot, with Farrar bizarrely cast as an Aztec princess, daughter of Montezuma, whose intervention on behalf of her Spanish lover brings about the downfall of her father’s empire. (Both Variety and the New York Times commented that Miss Farrar was noticeably more pale-skinned than the rest of her Aztec family.) 
 
 
The Woman God Forgot wasn’t released until 1917; the big money picture for ’16 was Joan the Woman. DeMille and Macpherson drew a direct parallel between the Hundred Years War and the war then raging in Europe, telling the story of Joan’s battle for France within a framing story of an English officer in the trenches of the Great War (also played by Wallace Reid) who takes heart from Joan’s devotion (and attains a similar shall-not-have-died-in-vain martyrdom under the barbed wire). This publicity still was presumably approved for release by DeMille and Lasky, but unfortunately it isn’t terribly becoming to Ms. Farrar; granted, she was some years over-age (and some pounds overweight) for the role, but in the finished picture she never looks quite as tomboy-silly as she does here.
 

In fact, it was in working on Joan the Woman that Farrar demonstrated the quality that DeMille, throughout his career, would especially prize among his actors: absolute fearlessness. Well, not absolute; she was actually afraid of horses and had to be doubled in many of her riding scenes. But fearless nevertheless; you can see it in the battle scenes, as she strides resolutely in full armor (only without that dear little pleated skirt) among the flailing swords, maces and pikestaffs.

 

 

You can particularly see it in the scene of Joan’s execution at the stake, one of the most horrific scenes of the silent era, all the more effective for the stencil-tinting process that colored the flames of her pyre. Looking at a single frame, this closeup might look easy to fake, and it probably would be, but believe me, the flames in action look a lot closer and more dangerous than they do here. But if this shot of Joan appealing to her saints at the moment of death doesn’t convince you Geraldine Farrar was a real game ‘un…

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
…then how about this?…

 

 

…or this?

As Scott Eyman says, “How Farrar managed to survive without third degree burns or, at the very least, smoke inhalation remains a mystery.”

Alas, the honeymoon with Lasky and DeMille did not last, chiefly because of the honeymoon with Lou Tellegen. The Dutch-born Tellegen had come to America in 1910 at 29, as leading man (and offstage consort) to Sarah Bernhardt. After marrying Farrar in 1916, when she returned to Hollywood he began throwing his weight around and interfering in her films. To keep him out of their hair (and hers), DeMille and Lasky allowed him to direct a picture, What Money Can’t Buy. When they judged that one to be a dog — along with another, The Things We Love — Tellegen got his nose bent out of shape, and Farrar (out of what she later ruefully called “wifely loyalty”) sided with him. Both of them left the Lasky Co. and signed with Samuel Goldwyn.

Working her customary off-season shifts, Farrar made six pictures for Goldwyn (three co-starring Tellegen). When Goldwyn complained that her pictures were not doing well, she suggested (with no hard feelings) that they cancel the remaining two years of her contract. She left movies for good in 1920 (by that time she’d been replaced by Cleo Madison in the M.J. Moriarty deck) and returned to the Metropolitan Opera, where she retired amid great fanfare in 1922 at the age of 40.

The marriage to Lou Tellegen (her only one, the second of four for him) suffered from his chronic infidelities and succumbed to divorce in 1923. Tellegen himself came to a sorry end in 1934, a month short of his 53rd birthday. By then he had lost his looks (to a combination of age and facial injuries in a fire) and his career. He was ailing (it was cancer, but he wasn’t told). In 1931 he had published an autobiography, Women Have Been Kind, essentially a long boast about his sexual conquests that made him widely despised as a kiss-and-tell cad. (That year, the old Vanity Fair magazine had spotlighted him in their monthly “Nominated for Oblivion” feature, referring to his memoir as Women Have Been Kind [of Dumb].) Now, three years later, he elected himself to the oblivion Vanity Fair had nominated him for: while visiting friends in Hollywood, he locked himself in the bathroom, stood naked before the mirror, stabbed himself seven times with a pair of sewing scissors, and bled to death over an array of his clippings he had strewn on the floor. Approached by a reporter for a comment, Geraldine Farrar said, “Why should that interest me?”                   

Now that’s a bitter divorce. 
 
What might have been if Geraldine Farrar had not joined in Lou Tellegen’s falling-out with Cecil B. DeMille is a tantalizing question mark. Even more tantalizing is the thought of how her career might have gone if she’d been born 20 years later, if she had made that hit in Berlin in 1921 instead of 1901. Then, when Hollywood went ransacking New York for musical talent during the sound revolution, she would have been about the age she is here, when she appeared in the article “The Muses of Movie-Land” in the June 1918 issue of Motion Picture Magazine, as Euterpe, Muse of Music. Jeanette MacDonald and Irene Dunne, among others, may have had reason to be grateful that they never had to deal with the competition.
 
As it is, Geraldine Farrar is doubly unique in the Moriarty deck: the only opera star, and the star with the shortest movie career — where others made dozens, even hundreds of pictures, she made only 14 features (plus one Liberty Bonds short to aid the war effort in 1918) during five years in Hollywood. In her autobiography, she wrote of her movie experiences: “I had greatly enjoyed them, and only regret that my own era was too early for the combination of the present acting and talking features.”
 
 
 
 
The determination, hard work and self-confidence of a little girl who decided before age 10 that she would be a great opera star served Geraldine Farrar well through a long and healthy life. After retiring from the Met, she continued on the concert stage until 1931, and appeared in a 1926 Franz Lehar operetta, Romany Love, that closed after one performance. From there she made occasional appearances on the radio, published her autobiography (Such Sweet Compulsion) in 1938, and served as a Red Cross Volunteer during World War II. She lived in comfortable retirement in Ridgefield, Connecticut as the well-loved Dowager Queen of American Opera until her death on March 11, 1967. She was 85.