The Road to Singapore (1931) and Operator 13 (1934)

Road to Singapore (7)    Operator 13 (14)

The Road to Singapore (1931) and Operator 13 (1934)


I saw this film in June, for my birthday, and my impression was that it’s really just about sex.  It’s about who is getting it, who isn’t, and from whom.  There is a jungle motif which also equals sex.  Take the pre-code Tarzan films.  Take A DANGEROUS WOMAN (1929), shown at Cinefest this past year with Clive Brook and Olga Baclanova,  PANAMA FLO (1932) with Helen Twelvetrees and Charles Bickford, RED DUST (1932) with Clark Gable and Mary Astor and BRIGHT LIGHTS (1930) with Dorothy Mackaill and a couple of songs that references the jungle including I’m Crazy for Cannibal Love—it all spells S-E-X!

It stars one of movie buffs’ favourite actors—William Powell.    This was his first film after leaving Paramount to join Warners.  In some of the research, it was wondered why they cast him in his typical early talkie “Ladies’ Man” role.  I guess, with his voice, and his acting chops, it was what they already knew he was good at and studios were known to sometimes be afraid of taking chances with their stars.  Yet, when you read the reviews in the notes I’ve provided, there are all kinds of opinions regarding Powell and the film.  For instance, it says that this is a “woman’s film”.  Maybe in its day, it was.  But for film buffs of today, it’s just one of those wonderful pre-Codes that appeal to us all.

It also stars, usually in a villain’s role, a very young Louis Calhern.  It also features the lovely Marian Marsh but the main female star is someone I wasn’t at all familiar with before this film, Doris Kenyon.  Yet Doris Kenyon had a career from 1915 until 1939 and she starred in a film I haven’t seen in years, yet loved and seen several times in the past, COUNSELLOR AT LAW (1933).  As well, Doris was married from 1926 until his death on September 15, 1930 to a favourite silent and early talkies favourite, Milton Sills.  She was in INTERFERENCE (1928), Paramount Pictures first dramatic talkie.  She was a stage actress who appeared in television shows into the mid-1960s.

There is one quite remarkable shot where we hear the drums of the natives who are celebrating a communal three-night honeymoon, see Philippa’s lust-filled eyes, travel over a gorgeously crafted jungle and onto the face of our equally hungry Hugh.  So please, enjoy the film!


January 24, 2015
Warner Bros.  Directed by Alfred E. Green.  Based on the novel by Denise Robins and play “Heat Wave” by Roland Pertwee.  Screeplay and dialogue by J. Grubb Alexander.  Cinematography by Robert Kurrle.  Film Editing by William Holmes.  Art Direction by Anton Grot.  Costume Design by Earl Luick.  Music conducted by Leo F. Forbstein, Vitaphone Orchestra.  Released:  October 10, 1931.  69 minutes.

Hugh Dawltry…………………………………………………….. William Powell
Philippa Crosby…………………………………………………… Doris Kenyon Rene……………………………………………………………….. Marian Marsh
Mrs. Wey-Smith………………………………………………. Alison Skipworth
Wey-Smith……………………………………………………….. Lumsden Hare
Dr. George March……………………………………………….. Louis Calhern
Mrs. Everard………………………………………………………. Ethel Griffies
Mr. Everard……………………………………………………… Arthur Clayton
Dr. Muir……………………………………………………………… A. E. Anson
Simpson………………………………………………………. Douglas Gerrard Duckworth…………………………………………………………. H. Reynolds
Reginald………………………………………………………… Colin Campbell
Khan…………………………………………………………… Amar N. Sharma
Ali………………………………………………………………….. Huspin Ansari Nikki…………………………………………………………………. Tyrrell Davis Ayah……………………………………………………………… Margaret Martin

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The Road to Singapore was Powell’s first picture under his new Warners contract, but it turned out to be rather perfunctory and falsely melodramatic stuff under the less-than-inspired direction of Alfred E. Green; it was based on a play by Roland Pertwee.

As if Warners knew it had a platitudinous collection of melodramatic clichés on its hands, it even threw in some badly executed songs, including such dillies as “Just a Fool in Love With You,” “Yes or No,” “Singapore Tango” and “Hand in Hand.”

This time around, Powell is a cad (of sorts) out to seduce the wife of a doctor, Louis Calhern.  The hapless wife, Doris Kenyon, finds herself even kidnapped (if that is the term) to Powell’s house on a tropical island.  Of course she doesn’t love her boorish, insensitive spouse, who has love at the bottom of his priorities, and she returns to Powell after initially escaping.  It seems that love has redeemed Powell, and he promises to be a cad no more.

The critics were not impressed by this artificial concoction, which they deemed short on fresh dramatic values and long on clichés.  “We had expected more from Mr. Powell’s shift to Warners, and we don’t understand why the studio couldn’t have come up with something more suitable to welcome his advent,” one critic said.

And from another:  “Mr. Powell does as well as he can with what the screen play and Alfred E. Green’s direction have provided, but even his sharp energies, high spirits and ability to make something out of nothing are sorely put to the test here.”

Louis Calhern, though cast as the outraged cuckold who discovers his wife’s alliance with Powell, gave a sinister twist to the doings though cast as the gentleman technically in the right; and Doris Kenyon, a  lovely blond star who had won top fame in the silent, acquitted herself well as the lady caught between opposing poles, so to speak.  But none of it did anything to advance Powell’s career.

The Complete Films of William Powell by Lawrence J. Quirk (1986)

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Powell’s professional move to Warner Bros.—made at about the same time as his marriage to Carole Lombard—came with The Road to Singapore (no relation to the Bing-Crosby-Bob Hope picture of the same name, released nine years later).  He had moved to a new studio, but was given the same type of role of which he had complained—essentially, a ladies’ man.  The film in its early stages of preparation was known as Heat Wave, the name of the Roland Pertwee play on which it was based.  At another point, the project was called Co-respondent.

It becomes clear from our first glimpse of Powell (as Hugh Dawltrey) that Warners hasn’t made radical changes in his image.  Tuxedo-clad, he is in a ship’s dining room waiting for Philippa (Doris Kenyon).  Before his appearance, we have found out that Dawltrey is persona non grata in the British community at Khota, where he is believed to have broken up a marriage.

Philippa is traveling to Khota to marry arrogant Dr. George March (Louis Calhern).  When Dawltrey and Philippa arrive, he tricks her into accepting a ride with him, and he takes her to his bungalow instead of March’s.  She avoids Hugh’s advances, marries George and is soon bored to distraction.

She invites Hugh to a birthday party for George’s sister Rene (Marian Marsh), despite Hugh’s reputation.  Rene is fascinated by Hugh, and George takes his sister with him when he must go to Colombo with a patient.  But in protecting Rene, he has left his lonely wife in Hugh’s sights.

While George is away, Hugh and Philippa have dinner together.  As native drums beat, they admit that they love each other.  When George returns, Philippa is not home.  He finds a note from Hugh, and goes to Hugh’s bungalow with a gun in his pocket.

Philippa faces her husband, tells him she is unhappy and announces she is leaving on the next boat to Singapore.  George pulls a gun when Hugh attempts to follow Philippa, but in the end the doctor cannot take Hugh’s life.

The Warner Bros. Archive at the University of Southern California, in its file on The Road to Singapore, has a copy of the play Heat Wave with handwritten comments, possibly from Warners executive and future mogul Darryl F. Zanuck:  “too wordy—dialogue fair, too long…too hokey treatment and old fashioned—needs modern slant to same situations.”  This criticism of the play is apt when discussing the film.

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It is something of a mystery why Warners put Powell in the same type of role he had publicly decried while at Paramount.  A review in the Los Angeles Evening Herald captured this viewpoint:  “After an interlude, transferring activities from Paramount to Warner Brothers, William Powell emerges once more the sophisticate in The Road to Singapore…Although Powell has trod over this same ground innumerable times before he still makes the character interesting.  But I believe his followers would welcome something different from him.”

Time magazine was scathing:  “It is possibly William Powell’s worst picture and far below the standard which Warner Bros. have announced their intention to maintain by adopting a smaller and more select production schedule…Powell, identified with less lush impersonations at Paramount, seems vapid by contrast in this picture…”

One of the more amusing bits—in a film with not very many of them—comes when Hugh is shown mending the leg of a piglet who has supposedly strayed too near a crocodile.  This rather intriguing incident is a throwaway, a bit of business while Hugh is talking to one of the few locals who will be seen with him.  Powell handles the piglet with aplomb.

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Warner Bros. sent exhibitors a tabloid-style promotional newspaper which includes advertising art and copy for the film.  A drawing of Powell, one eyebrow raised and holding a pipe, accompanies the text: “The Man Men Remembered And Women Couldn’t Forget: William Powell at his dramatic best in his first big hit for WARNER BROS…. Suave gentleman—debonair lover!  More intriguing than ever before!  See him at the height of his dramatic power!  A story of flaming love under a tropic moon!  Finest screen play of his career with DORIS KENYON, MARIAN MARSH.”

Along with the poster art is a feature story recommended for submission to Sunday newspapers—and it seems an odd way to promote an actor whom Warners had recently signed to an expensive contract.  The headline reads: “Powell Owes His Stardom to His Talkie Voice and Not To A Rather Sinister Physiognomy,” and the article begins: “The ugly mugs have the best of things in motion pictures just now and the collar-ad boys are taking back seats or playing villain roles, according to William Powell, who is starred in Warner Bros. ‘The Road to Singapore’…”

The article, though fascinating, reflects a poverty of ideas about how to promote Powell…talkies, after all, had been the norm for more than two years and only Charlie Chaplin could get away with making a silent film in 1931.

The extensive quotes attributed to Powell reflect opinions he expressed elsewhere: “But for talking pictures I would probably still be a first class ‘so-and-so’ in every silent picture in which I appeared.  I was practically doomed by my face and my screen reputation to play the menace every time… But when the public heard my voice I had another chance to be different.”

William Powell: The Life and Films by Roger Bryant (2006)

In the middle of 1931, Powell moved from Paramount to Warner Bros. and had reason to be happy in his first assignment there, The Road to Singapore (1931).  It took the seducer character Pwell had established and turned him into a hero.  [Powell] sauntered through the picture with bored, heavy-lidded detachment,” wrote critic Harriet Parsons, “yet conveying always a suggestion of fascinating danger.”  He played Dawltry, the most notorious man in Khota, a British community in the tropics.  Scorned by decent society for having broken up a marriage, he spends most of his evenings getting drunk in the local club.  Here and elsewhere, Powell had a way of picking up a highball glass as though handling a precision tool.

The Road to Singapore was a film about one thing only–a man’s effort to break up yet another marriage.  Dawltry wants Philippa (Doris Kenyon), the new wife of the town doctor, a fussy workaholic played by Louis Calhern.  Wll Hays, upon seeing the finished film, wrote a letter in protest to producer Jack Warner, which accurately summed up the film’s story and point of view, “The picture portrays the relationship and the characters who represent decent and conventional society in a most unfavorable light and clearly attempts to create sympathy and justification for an adulterous affair without any attempt to show that this is wrong or immoral.”  Certainly, there’s no husbandly wickedness to justify the wife’s behavior.  The doctor isn’t mean to his wife, just boring.  Confronted with an interesting case, he asks Philippa, a former nurse, if she’d like to work with him on it.  She answers, “I came here to be a wife, not a nurse.”  The film embraces those who loll about all day, drinking and lusting, and makes a mockery of the hardworking professional.

The maturity of the actors added to the sense of seriousness, that these were no kids involved in a flirtation.  Powell was thirty-nine, and Kenyon was thirty-four. From early in the movie, as we see her fanning herself as she reclines on a daybed, her legs spread, we understand that here in the tropics a womanly sexuality percolates.  The adult nature of the lust is emphasized by the unsuccessful attempts by Philippa’s teenage sister (Marian Marsh) {actually her sister-in-law as Marion plays the doctor’s sister–Caren} to seduce Dawltry.  He’s not interested in a kid.

The Road to Singapore suggested not only that physical attraction made its own rules but that it had a right to, that to submit to such impulsses was to be in harmony with nature.  The film’s most impressive shot begins with Philippa sitting longingly on her porch at night, listening to the tribal drums beat-beat-beat out a tribute to the goddess of love.  The camera tracks from her porch through the woods, past the trees, and through the village, finally coming to rest on Dawltry, who is also listening.  The two are of one mind, while the graceful shot suggests that the distance between their bodies can be just as easily surmounted.

Dangerous Men by Mick LaSalle (2002)

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In The Road to Singapore they whitewash a notorious individual whose chief claim to fame is his ability to drink brandy and soda in torrid Calcutta, and they give a coat of pitch to a surgeon who is wont to talk shop to his bride. This picture, which was offered for the first time last night at the Warners’ Strand, has some interesting atmosphere, but the characters often indulge in hap-less platitudes, with the result that they never seem to mean what they say.

The Road to Singapore is an adaptation of “Heat Wave,” a play by Roland Pertwee which was presented here last February. It is scarcely a wholesome affair, for while Philippa March, the surgeon’s bride, has every reason to be bored with her husband, she leaves the screen with the evident hope that she will be followed by Hugh Dawltry, the person with an unsavory reputation, but who is, even when sober, no coward. Dr. March, besides enthusing about operations, snores in his sleep, which naturally elicits sighs from his beautiful wife.

William Powell, the stellar performer, officiates as Dawltry, who if he is gallant invariably has a reason for being so. Yet he is careful, for when Rene March, Dr. March’s sister, goes to his bungalow, he adroitly avoids compromising her, in spite of her willingness to be compromised. On the other hand he writes a letter to Mrs. March asserting that it is safer to dine than breakfast together. He is an intriguing sort of individual; at least the film producers hope he is and they make him so to Mrs. March, who, believing that her husband is going to be absent for at least that night, accepts Dawltry’s invitation to dine and wine.

The patient whom Dr. March is off to attend dies before he boards the ship to leave for Bombay and when March hears of this he regrets it, but only from a scientific viewpoint. He is accompanied by his impetuous sister and they return to their home. To Dr. March’s surprise his wife is not in her room. There is Dawltry’s letter, which is found by Rene. She hides it, but afterward is impelled to read it again and, as one might surmise, in comes her brother, who snatches the missive from her hand. All is discovered and March hastens down to the philandering Dawltry’s bungalow, but even when he finds his wife there and is sneered at by Dawltry he does not choose to shoot him. This is somewhat disappointing inasmuch as he had sought his pistol so eagerly.

And the last known of these persons is that they all are in the land of the living, but how they are living is left to one’s imagination.

Mr. Powell is a bit more melodramatic than, he is suave. Louis Calhern has a difficult proposition in portraying the role of Dr. March, for one would have to travel far to find such a boor, who does not appreciate his beautiful wife, impersonated by Doris Kenyon. A. E. Anson does well with the few lines allotted to him. Then there are some of those silly haw-hawing Englishmen, who would probably arouse wide-eyed surprise in their own country. Who they are played by is of small consequence.

As Mr. Powell’s first starring vehicle for Warner Brothers, “The Road to Singapore” leaves him an opportunity to shine.

Among the short films on the program is Bobby Jones twelfth screen golf lesson. It is called “A Round of Golf.” There is another brief film dealing with Lefty Grove’s pitching ability.

The New York Times by Mordaunt Hall, October 1, 1931

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Principal interest here is that it marks the resumption of William Powell, now under the auspices of the Warner organization following a lapse of some months.  With that player’s following it spells boxoffice, more or less independent of the subject itself.

Road to Singapore provides him an out of the ordinary romantic role.  The background is the tropics and generally the picture serves its main purpose of surrounding the suave Powll with a fairly interesting story.  Picture itself out to please mildly.

Story is not especially strong but it has been neatly enough handled for a dramatic buildup to a climax typically British.  Film will probably do better with the women than with the men, especially the younger women.  There are angles to the romantic hero that may win the masculine spoof.

Technical considerations do not weigh especially here because the story provides an appropriate setting for the always elegant Powell, which is a showmanly system of handling that actor’s debut under the Warner management.

Doris Kenyon figures happily in the feminine lead, bringing to the picture a wealth of blonde beauty and a certain quiet grace of acting that is eminently satisfying.  Several torrid shots of the seductive Miss Kenyon in rather candid dishabille are notable, the same thing going for Miss Marsh, as the ingénue.  Good names and solid troupers have charge of the minor assignments and the cast appearance is attractive.

What ought to pass for sophisticated angles supply several spicy sequences.  Aim of the story is to build up the Powell role as a man who has more or less innocently gained for himself the reputation of a lady killer and is shunned by the dull members of the British colony is Bohta, vaguely somewhere in the tropics.

Newly arrived wife of the local doctor (Calhern) is warned to have nothing to do with him, and when the husband neglects her in absorption in his profession, she falls into his arms in desperate flight from boredom.  Powell, fearful of causing her social ruin, lies about his other affairs hoping to send her back to ennui and a dull husband.  And it is this situation which the dumbbell husband steps into, armed to the teeth and all set to do the proper thing in defense of his supposed outraged honor.

Wife, goaded to fury by his smug behavior, announces she is walking out on him by next morning’s boat and departs, leaving the two men together.  Husband stands ready to shoot when the debonair Powell calmly tells him that he has changed his mind, and is sailing on the same boat, walking slowly and calmly out of the bungalow and pausing to light a cigarette, framed in the doorway and a perfect mark for an outraged husband with a pointed revolver.  Of course, he backs down on the killing and that’s the fade-out.  One of those surface-calm-but-surging-drama-beneath English curtains.

Tropical settings are nicely made, including a neat theatrical touch in a love feast celebration by the natives serving as background for the romantic story thread, with throbbing tom-toms to supply a vague atmospheric motif.  Whole thing is extremely artificial and theatrical, but it is the sort of thing that fits Powell and here does him good service.

Variety by Rush, Tuesday, October 6, 1931

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An intelligent, well-educated actress, Doris Kenyon had little time for reminiscing about her career as a silent star.  In fact, she had no recollection of her work in silent films.  She was happy to look through her scrapbooks and report on what she found therein, but when it came to any personal commentary, there was little she chose to recall.  “I have put all my films to one side, and forgotten about them,” she told me in 1977.  Doris was happier remembering her first husband, Milton Sills (1882-1930), with whom she had co-starred in her first release film, The Rack, in 1915, and who became the first of her four husbands on October 12, 1926.  She recalled that when she and Sills were visiting the redwood forests of Northern California, probably during the filming of Valley of the Giants (1927), they were spotted by a group of tourists and mobbed.  Prophetically, Sills commented, “Don’t they realize that people will be coming to admire these tees long after I’m gone and forgotten.  The silent stars won’t be remembered.  Our fame is only brief.”

Despite a strong and virile presence in silent films and handful of talkies from 1914 through 1930, Milton Sills is very much forgotten today.  It was that lack of permanence in the history of popular entertainment, plus the death of their only son, Kenyon, in 1971, that most distressed Doris Kenyon.

Born in Syracuse, New York, on September 5, 1897, Doris Kenyon began her career as a chorus girl in the 1915 New York production of Victor Herbert’s Princess Pat.  She was spotted by producer William A. Brady and offered a contract with his World Film Corporation, located at Fort Lee, New Jersey.  It was the start of a film career that ended with the role of the French queen in The Man in the Iron Mask (1939) and included some 60 screen appearances.  In 1918, Doris had her own production company, DeLuxe Pictures, for which she starred in The Street of Seven Stars, The Inn of the Blue Moon, and Wild Honey.  In 1928, she made her sound debut in The Home Towners, and the following year she was the star of Paramount’s first talkie, Interference.

She was the favorite star of Alma Sophia Kappelhoff of Cincinnati, and when Alma gave birth to a daughter in 1924, she named her Doris in honor of Doris Kenyon.  Doris Kappelhoff also made a name for herself on screen—as Doris Day.

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There is one film of Doris Kenyon’s that stands out, and that is Monsieur Beaucaire from 1924.  It is generally dismissed as rather a weak vehicle for its star, Rudolph Valentino, who, unfortunately, looks more than a little effeminate in eighteenth century French garb.  Doris co-stars as Lady Mary, and the screen positively sizzles in the love scenes between her and Valentino.  They are arguably some of the most erotic moments captured on silent film—particularly with both players fully clothed.

In 1947, Doris Kenyon had married the Polish composer and conductor Bronislaw Mlynarksi (who died in 1971), and the marriage cemented her reputation at the time as one of the leaders of Los Angeles society.  She had become close to director Jean Renoir and his wife, Dido, and it was through Jean and Dido that I came to view Monsieur Beaucaire with Doris.  The actress had long refused to watch any of her films, but when Jean asked Robert Gitt and I if we would screen Monsieur Beaucaire for him on October 15, 1978—he had never seen Doris Kenyon on screen—she felt an obligation to be present at Jean’s Beverly Hills home.

Once the screening was over, the memories were rekindled.  Doris dismissed Sidney Olcott as a useless director. She admitted that Valentino was “ a little flirty” but added that nothing could go too far because his wife, Natacha Rambova, was constantly seated at the side of her set, indicating with the movement of her hands how Valentino should act out a scene.  Doris was cast for the role not because of her talent as an actress but rather because the producers wanted an English-looking beauty with blonde hair to appear opposite Bebe Daniels, as Princess Henriette, with her dark hair and complexion.

When I first met Doris, she was living in a high-rise apartment building on Wilshire Boulevard in the Westwood area of Los Angeles.  When I last saw her, she had moved to a small, and very expensive “cottage” a block south of Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills.  With her at both locations was closet-size cage of doves, and representing both her companions and her hobby.  The last visit, August 11, 1979, Dido Renoir was with me, and the three of us walked to the Beverly Hills Brown Derby for dinner.  Doris was not happy with the service, which had certainly deteriorated from the days when the restaurant was frequented by the community’s stars and socialites.  Doris Kenyon died a few weeks later, on September 1, 1979.

Silent Players: A Biographical and Autobiographical Study of 100 Silent Film Actors and Actresses by Anthony Slide (2002)

Road to Singapore (8)The Road to Singapore, wherever Powell is popular, will be a sure-fie business getter; not because it is a marvelous picture—it isn’t—but because it has Powell plus a lot of feminine interest, both in story and acting.

We expected a whole lot more from this first Warner-Powell vehicle and were disappointed when we found it just ordinary entertainment.  The title possesses “box office” appeal; the story will be satisfactory as we said before, providing they are great followers of the star, and with any sort of a worthwhile campaign to create and build up interest, there is no reason why you should not get some healthy returns at the box office.

When caught at the Strand here in New York, the Powell “strut,” or better known as his “nonchalant” walk drew a few snickers and giggles from the matinee audience. We had a tough time trying to keep a straight face ourselves, but, apparently, the director was told that this was one of Bill’s assets and he used it as often as possible.

To get back to the possibilities of this picture at your box office; we mentioned previously that it had a lot of feminine appeal.  That’s the slant that you must not lose sight of for one moment in laying out or starting your campaign off on the right foot.  Dozens of good ad lines, directed at the ladies, will command their attention and probably get them to the box office as soon as they can.  The men-folk will probably be bored at the whole proceedings, but if you’ve got a good Mickey Mouse on the same bill, they won’t kick because they came along with the ladies.

Stressing the tropical background in your lobby or marquee displays will help convey the impression that the title implies, but over-emphasizing it would be poor judgment because its entire story could have been set in any other spot on the globe.  You ought to do some nice business with The Road to Singapore despite the handicaps.

Motion Picture Herald, Passing in Review (1931)

Road to Singapore (6)Blogs written by other film enthusiasts:

Une Cinephile, by Movie Freak, January 26, 2012

Movie Magg by Mark Garish Conlan, February 6, 2012

Obscure One-Sheet by Ned Merrill, October 4, 2013

True Classics: Dedicated to Classic Film & Animation by Brandie, October 21, 2013

OPERATOR 13  (1934)

I chose this film because Marion Davies was in it and I had been wanting to watch it for quite a while.  I sometimes choose things because I have read up on it and sometimes just because of who’s in it.  So I really knew nothing about this film and was nicely surprised to see Marion play a character who disguises herself as a black person.  Her blackness may be questionable—she looked Eastern Indian, Hawaiian, and even Vampirish at certain points—in some reviews she is described as an “Octoroon.”  Since that term is no longer in use, if you don’t know, it refers to a person of one-eighth black ancestry.

In my opinion, Marion was at her most beautiful in a really unrealistic way in this film.  Yes, she was highly glamourized by makeup and lighting, but her eyes are luminous and her skin looks flawless; she looks like a porcelain doll.  When she’s white, her blonde hair doesn’t look real.  When she’s black, the biggest change is her voice, which becomes husky.  And she talks really sassy, which is a good thing.  How she doesn’t get in trouble with the men-folk of all colours is a mystery to me.  Even though this film was released just a month before the Production Code, except for Marion playing the two roles, it doesn’t really have that crazy allure that pre-Codes generally have.  The ending comes so quick and it’s so unclimactic that you wonder what they were actually aiming for.  I think, from some brief items that I read, that Hearst had his hand in the making of this film and he didn’t like the treatment and had new writers come mid-way through to revise the screenplay.  He probably micro-managed Marion’s direction which wouldn’t have been a good thing for the director.  The studio may have liked his money, but they couldn’t have been too happy with Hearst called the shots.  This also would have been the last film that Marion made at MGM.  Hearst became irate when he learned that Marion would not get the coveted role of Elizabeth Barrett in The Barretts of Wimpole Street, which would go to studio head Irving Thalberg’s wife, Norma Shearer.  As much as I like Marion and think she was a good actress, I really can’t imagine her in that role which I just saw in August in Rochester with TFS.

Except for one particular scene between Marion and Gary, I was also dismayed and disappointed that Cooper wasn’t made up to look like his beautiful young self which he still should have looked in early 1934.

But in any event, there’s still some odd and interesting moments along with Marion also dressing in drag, over-the-top dresses, fabulous painted back-scenery which you can only image what it would have looked like in colour, and a couple of wonderfully entertaining musical interlude by The Mills Brothers.  I hope you enjoy this film.


Metro-Goldwyn Mayer.  Directed by Richard Boleslawski.  From the stories by Robert W. Chambers.  Screenplay by Harvey F. Thew, Zelda Sears and Eve Greene.  Cinematography by George J. Folsey.  Costume Design by Adrian.  Art Direction by Cedric Gibbons.  Music by William Axt.  Released:  June 8, 1934.  85 minutes.

Gail Loveless…………………………………………………….. Marion Davies
Captain Jack Gailliard……………………………………………. Gary Cooper
Eleanor Shackleford………………………………………………. Jean Parker
Pauline Cushman……………………………………….. Katharine Alexander
Doctor Hitchcock…………………………………………………….. Ted Healy Littledale…………………………………………………………. Russell Hardie
John Pelham…………………………………………………. Henry Wadsworth
General Stuart………………………………………………. Douglas Dumbrille
Captain Channing………………………………………….. Willard Robertson Sweeney…………………………………………………………… Fuzzy Knight
Major Allen…………………………………………………………. Sidney Toler
Colonel Sharpe……………………………………………….. Robert McWade
Mrs. Shackleford……………………………………………. Marjorie Gateson Gaston…………………………………………………………….. Wade Boteler
Operator 55…………………………………………………………. Walter Long
The Mills Brothers

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The year 1934 had been one of stress for both of them.  Niece Pepi was having emotional problems.  She had broken with her closest friend and had fallen into a profound melancholy.  Marion wanted to get her off to Europe, and she even looked forward to taking her to the Black Forest and Bad Nauheim which she now looked upon as a cure-all.  That section of Germany had the pine-scented charm of Wyntoon with those medicinal waters that shrank down the heart and, as Marion hoped, some of the heart’s problems.

But she was having t rouble getting away.  Her film with Gary Cooper, Operator 13, was running over schedule as Hearst kept tampering with it.  Hearst was also nearing a showdown with Iriving Thalberg over The Barretts of Wimpole Street, the successful Broadway and London play, which he wanted for Marion and Thalberg said was purchased for his wife, Norma Shearer.  Bosley Crowther writes in his biography of Louis B. Mayer: “In one crisis, however, Mayer backed up Thalberg.  That was a difficult contention with Hearst as to who, Norma Shearer or Marion Davies, would be given the enviable assignment of playing the heroine in The Barretts of Wimpole Street.  The popular play had been acquired for Miss Shearer.  Then Hearst got the notion that it would be an appropriate vehicle for Miss Davies.  Why he or his blond protégé should have remotely assumed that she could play the delicate role of the invalid-poetess, Elizabeth Barrett, is hard to understand… [Italics mine.]”  Crowther perhaps had never seen Show People, The Patsy, or either of her Sidney Franklin films prior to having written his book, but not to have properly researched Marion’s acting skills seems nearly as careless as the manner in which Orson Welles later denied that the sources for Kane were anything but fictional—almost as though the damage which Welles knew had been done to Marion’s career was a trivial matter to a genius.

Operator 13 (19)

As Operator 13 reached the finishing stages, Norma Shearer and Charles Laughton were cast as daughter and father in The Barretts film and Hearst went into a rage, offended to the point of an open break with the studio.  He had been having secret conferences with Jack Warner, and Marion’s future was up in the air.

An Marion was tired.  She badly needed a vacation from film-making.  Finally, after several months of production (one of the longest shooting schedules of her career), Operator 13 was finished.  The result was satisfactory, but not brilliant.  Despite their opposing views on horses (she still hated riding), she had got on well with Cooper.  He and his wife “Rocky” had become regular guests at San Simeon.  Cooper and Marion were drinking companions, but there is no evidence that their friendship ever went beyond this.  He could hold his liquor better than she could (although drinking often put him to sleep), and Hearst had a special fondness for him perhaps because he treated Marion and her drinking rather like an indulgent older brother might.  Cooper and Hearst sometimes would go out riding over the hills together.

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There had been tension on the set, however, much of the time, and desputes usually wore out Marion.  Director Boleslawski and Hearst had not seen eye-to-eye on certain scenes and, in one instance, Hearst had stepped in and directed a scene himself.  He knew a great deal about military history, the Civil War in particular, and he saw the film as a panoramic drama covering the whole war.  It was an approach he had used earlier in Janice Meredith.

Operator 13 has an exciting opening montage of Civil War scenes, thanks to Hearst’s military preoccupation, and moves along swiftly to its climax.  Many moments in the film are handled with a documentary realism in the Griffith manner of dealing with historical events.  It was to become Hearst’s favorite of all of Marion’s films, but Marion plays the key role with a brittle weariness and the movie dramatically reveals what was happening to her career.

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Marion plays two role in Operator 13, although they are one and the same person—an actress who becomes a spy and assumes the disguise of a mulatto girl.  As the actress, Marion was given the first of a series of appallingly artificial blond wigs to wear (three others would follow in her Warner Brothers films), her makeup is harsh, her true age (thirty-seven) made all too apparent by an ineptitude in the makeup department that flaws this last film for Metro, and the effect is so much a caricature of what Marion used to be it seems almost a plot against her.  It had nothing to do with Marion’s own appearance or the inroads of her age or her dissipations since, as the brunette mulatto girl, she is very much her old self—flirtatious, with a slightly wicked humor, the same attractive, sensual kitten she was in more than a dozen films during the 1920s.  This must have resulted from the iron hand of an aging Hearst coming into open conflict with a skillful director, Boleslawski, who was only then discovering his touch for lighter things (he would direct Irene Dunne in the classic comedy,  Theodora Goes Wild, the following year).  The dominance of the blond actress was insisted upon by Hearst over the sparkling and marvelous mulatto girl.  Gary Cooper’s response to the two women is barely credible: he falls hopelessly in love with the blond actress, who seems to have ice in her veins, and he all but ignores the sensual mulatto.  The film could have been brought into balance, the romantic moments made as persuasive as the battle scenes, if Cooper had been allowed to react as any virile male would have to the coffee-skinned girl, and if Marion, as her blond self, had been given the same natural treatment from the makeup department which she had been receiving for nearly a decade at those same Metro studios.

Marion Davies by Fred Lawrence Guiles (1972)

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I’ll tell you why I liked Gary Cooper.  I would say that in American history he could be a Bowie or a Jefferson.  He was a wonderful man and very understanding, but in a way that you didn’t know half the time.

You’d think that here’s a very tall person who looks like Uncle Sam and you’d wonder: Is he?  You’d find out he was.

When you were working with him, he was very considerate.  He would always back you up.  Gary would give the star the benefit of the scene.  Only a real man does that, and Bing did that, too.  Other actors don’t.

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When we used to do scenes, the director would say, “I cannot hear your voice—kindly talk louder.”  So either my voice would have to get low, or Gary’s would have to get a little bit higher.  And Gary refused to change, and he was right.  How could he change his voice?

One day—I got mad—I said to the director, “Look, that’s your job, to get us on a level.  I can’t talk to my toes, and certainly if Mr. Cooper talk higher, they’ll say he’s a pansy.”

Gary looked so shocked at me.  “What did you-all say?” he said.

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I said, “Now don’t disturb us while we’re working.”  And they heard his voice all right after that.

But every time Boley (Richard Bolesavky) would say to Gary, “Would you mind doing that over again in a different way?” he’d do it just the same way.

He was smart, because an actor knows more than the director.  If the director knew more, he’d be an actor and get more money.  And Gary had been engaged for his style, anyway, so why should he change it?

There are so many directors who want to change your whole system of doing work, your personality.  They want you to change to something which is not yourself but might be somebody else.  So Gary always stayed his same character.  He’d say, “Yup,” and he’d still go the same way.

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I’d do anything.  If they said my voice was too high, I’d go lower.  I had no character.  I should have said, “Look—this is me.  If you don’t like it, you know what you can do.”  And one time they did.  We were on the back lot, making scenes, and they let two lions loose out there.  That’s what they thought of me.

I used to take my cook out there.  We’d all be working, maybe a hundred of us, and we’d have luncheon and beer.  I’d be watching Gary, and he would eat more than anybody in the whole cast.  He’d have the beans, and God knows he loved hot peppers, and then after luncheon he’d just throw himself down on the grass and rest until he was called.  Then he’d get right up and go, and he’d look skinnier than anybody else.

Now I would pack in the food, every bit of it, and I’d feel my costume getting tight.  When they called me on the set, I’d say “Just a minute till I let my costume out.”

The Times We Had by Marion Davies (1975)

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Cooper started the new year on loanout to MGM for a Civil War picture starring Marion Davies.  It would be one of her rare forays into straight drama, and would meet with the same fair-to-middling reaction from the American public as her past comedies had done.

Operator 13 would be her last picture at Metro before her dressing room bungalow was cut in half and transported to Warner Brothers, where William Randolph Hearst had negotiated another deal.  He was furious that Norma Shearer had been chosen as the star of The Barretts of Wimpole Street, since Marion desperately wanted the role.  The budget of the film with Cooper grew to $1 million, largely because of delays caused by Hearst’s tampering.

This was definitely the female star’s picture and Cooper caused no problems.  It couldn’t appreciably harm his career, and it might lead to a closer relationship with Hearst, one of the most powerful men of his time.

Marion Davies came to greatly admire her costar.  “When you were working with him, he was very considerate,” she wrote. “He would always back you up.  Gary would give the star the benefit of the scene.  Only a real man does that, and Bing [Crosby] did that, too.  Other actors don’t.”

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During the filming, director Richard Boleslavsky would call out, “I can’t hear your voice.  Kindly talk louder.”  Marion’s voice would get lower, while Cooper’s would get higher.  Still, the problem wasn’t resolved.

One day, Miss Davies angrily accosted the director.  “Look.  It’s your job to get a voice level on us.  I can’t talk down to my toes, and if Mr. Cooper talks higher, they’ll say he’s a pansy.”

Cooper wasn’t sure he heard correctly.  “What did you say?”

“Don’t disturb us while we’re working,” she replied to her co-star.  She’d made her point, and neither performer had trouble with the director from then on.

Her personal cook catered lunch for the cast and crew of 100 people.  The fare was hearty: beans and potato salad and tamales and beer.  “I’d be watching Gary,” she said,, “and he would eat more than anybody in the whole cast.  He’d have the beans, and God knows he loved hot peppers, and then after luncheon he’d just throw himself down on the grass and rest until we were called.  Then he’d get right up and go, and he looked skinnier than anybody else.”

The coopers were now regular guests at San Simeon.  The actor could keep up with Marion Davies drink for drink—whenever they could sneak them by the disapproving Hearst—although alcohol occasionally put him to sleep.  Over trenchermen lunches, he would discuss horses (of which his hostess was afraid) and hunting and country life (in which she had virtually no interest).  Yet, she found him “a good, wholesome person,” and Hearst emulated his mistress’ fondness for her costar.  The two men would often ride over the California hills surrounding the castle, Cooper listening to the pronouncements of Citizen Hearst and possibly understanding some of them.

Gary Cooper: An Intimate Biography by Hector Arce (1979)

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In “Operator 13,” a film conception of the late Robert W. Chambers’s romantic espionage stories of the Civil War, Marion Davies, as the central figure, appears in some scenes disguised as a mulatto. She is presumed thus to hoodwink several Southerners, including army officers, and to carry out her mission of spying with great success. Later, with fair face and golden tresses, she reappears before some of the same individuals, this time impersonating a Southern girl.

This picture, which is at the Capitol, slips from spying to the singing of the Mills Brothers in a nonchalant fashion. Miss Davies her-self contributes a song entitled “Once in a Lifetime, Love Comes Your Way.” If it is scarcely credible in most of its action, it is a well-staged production. In its own peculiar fashion it is entertaining and besides the capable work of Miss Davies there are splendid performances by Jean Parker and Gary Cooper.

Although Richard Boleslavsky’s direction is imaginative, there are moments when abrupt changes of scene cause the story to be somewhat confusing. In the early episodes Miss Davies, as Gail Loveless, dons a black wig and darkens her skin, to accomplish her secret service mission, on which she is accompanied by Pauline Cushman, an actress. Miss Davies is highly amusing as the girl who is constantly carrying laundry in baskets, but who is really Operator 13.

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Gail Loveless encounters Captain Jack Gailliard (Mr. Cooper), and he does not then suspect her of being a Northern spy. Subsequently, the lovely Gail masquerades as a Southern belle named Ann Claibourne. When Gailliard meets her this time, he falls in love with her. But both have their duty in mind and Gail does not hesitate to send forth information, even though it spells grief for those with whom she is living.

There are several thrilling scenes of fighting and years roll by before the anticipated happy ending for Gail and Gailliard is reached. After her exciting experiences one is apt to conclude that Gail deserves to spend the rest of her days with her husband in peace and quiet.

Jane Frohman is the principal attraction of the stage show. Others on this end of the program are Will Mahoney, the Three Radio Rogues, Eddie Miller, Bryant, Rains and Young, and the Chester Hale dancers.

The New York Times Review by Mordaunt Hall., June 23, 1934

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When Citizen Kane was released in 1941, it was no secret that the film was Orson Welles’s pseudobiography of newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst.  It followed, then, that the stupid, talentless singer Susan Alexander Kane (played by Dorothy Comingore) must have been Hearst’s mistress, actress Marion Davies.  That slap caused more outrage than the rest of the film, for not only was Marion Davies a considerable talent but possibly the nicest and most-loved actress in Hollywood.

Marion Davies was no unknown chorus girl when she met Hearts; she had already gained a foothold on Broadway.  She was born Marion Cecilia Douras to a large, eccentric Brooklyn family on January 3, 1997 (she later claimed 1905).  All three of her sisters (Irene, Rose, and Ethel) went on the stage but, despite their beauty, never became big stars (though Irene’s son Charles Lederer became a well-known writer).

The Douras family (soon stage-named Davies) moved to Manhattan, and little Marion began finding the theater more fascinating than school (she was never very bright, but her good heart more than made up for her lack of learning).  She certainly had the looks to succeed: Marion Davies bore an amazing resemblance to an eighteenth-century Boucher pastel.  She had gold hair, porcelain skin, china-blue eyes, and a tiny rosebud mouth.  There are very few periods in which Marion would not have been considered a beauty.  But she was no china doll- a sports-happy tomboy, she adored romping with friends and pets, swimming, playing tennis, and enjoying a good healthy meal.

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Her first engagement was in The Bluebird (1910).  She went on to appear in Chu Chin Chow, Oh, Boy!, Miss 1917, and the 1915 through 1917 Ziegfeld Follies.  It was during her run in the 1917 Follies that she caught the eye of the married, powerful newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst.  It was life-long love at first sight for the fifty-four-year old Hearst.  The innocent twenty-year old showgirl’s reaction can only be imagined, but, within a few years, she was as dedicated to him as any wife could be.  The legal Mrs. Hearst, however, steadfastly refused him a divorce.

Hearst built Marion an enormous home, San Simeon, which stands today as a museum to their love and his wealth.  There was also a huge castle-like “beach house” in Santa Monica (built in 1926), a castle at Wyntoon, and stopping places the world over.  By the early 1920s all of Hollywood knew of their relationship, and soon all but her most naïve fans did, as well.  It’s a measure of Hearst’s power that Marion was not banned by the Hays office.

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Marion had made her film debut in 1917 in Runaway, Romany.  The reviews were good, and Marion seemed well on her way to becoming another Mary Pickford or Mabel Normand.  Then Hearst stepped in to “guide” her career in earnest.  William Randolph Hearst knew a lot about newspapers but little about the entertainment business.  His taste ran to overblown period films and hearts-and-flowers romance.  Ironically, though, his mistress was a brilliant comedienne with limited dramatic skills.

In 1919 Hearst formed Cosmopolitan Pictures, a subsidiary of Paramount, through which the films were released (and, of course, reviewed favorably in the Hearst press).  In 1924 Cosmopolitan changed its affiliation to Goldwyn, and thereby to MGM when the studios merged.  These films were so expensive and visually breathtaking that many were successes without Marion having to do more than wander around looking decorative; a Marion Davies cut-out doll would have sufficed as well.  Marion was an indifferent (if sincere) dramatic actress, and audiences eventually tired of seeing her in frills (and, quite often, in military drag).  Many critics resented having Marion Davies shoved down their throats by Hearst and Metro, so even when she did turn in a clever performance, non-Hearst reviews could be brutal.

Among Marion’s more successful costume dramas were The Belle of New York (1919), When  Knighthood Was in Flower (1922), Little Old New York (1923), Yolanda (1924), Janice Meredith (1924), Lights of Old Broadway (a 1925 hit, both financially and critically), Beverly of Graustark (1926), The Red Mill (1927, directed by Marion’s friend Roscoe Arbuckle under the pseudonym William Goodrich), and Quality Street (1927).  Scattered throughout the decade, Marion also starred in a few modern-era films of varying quality.  She was put upon by spies in The Burden of Proof (1918; “Miss Davies is no dramatic actress,” said The Motion Picture News); was an heiress in Getting Mary Married (1919) was an author in April Folly (1920); and played flappers in The Restless Sex (1920), Enchantment (1921), and Adam and Eva (1922).

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Later in the decade she was finally given a few opportunities to show off her comic skills.  Paricularly good were Tillie the Toiler (as a comic stenographer) and The Fair Coed (as a college basketball star, both 1927).  As a put-upon kid sister in The Patsy (1928), she did hilarious dead-on imitation of Mae Murray, Lillian Gish, and Pola Negri; as an autograph hound in Her Cardboard Lover (1928), she did a wicked parody of costar Jetta Goudal.  Altogether, Marion appeared in thirty silent films between 1917 and 1929.

Finally, in 1928, came a suitable showcase for Marion’s talents.  She gave a goofy, endearing performance as hopeful actress Peggy Pepper (renamed “Patricia Pepoire”) in Show People.  The film boasted a witty script, high production values, and walk-ons by nearly every star on the lot (including Marion Davies, in a delightful bit of postmodernism).  She showed great comic timing and the rare ability to poke fun at both herself and her profession.  Show People is one of Hollywood’s funniest looks at itself, and happily, the film is available today on video.  It was Marion’s finest hour.  Sadly, she never thought of herself as an actress.  “All my life I wanted to have talent,” she said in later years.  “Finally I had to admit there was nothing there.”

Operator 13 (1)

But it was a hostess that Marion was best known to her friends.  Hollywood was far from shocked by her relationship with Hearst, and the Hearst/Davies costume parties were hot tickets: Stars, executives, and visiting royalty dolled up as babies, cowboys, Bavarians, circus performers, and antebellum Southerners and grinned for the cameras.  Marion frequently shanghaied friends for extended vacations (Anita Page recalls going up for a weekend and staying for five months).  Some may have been jealous about her career (especially as Marion herself didn’t seem to take it seriously), but no one could dislike her.  Her bubbly, unpretentious personality won over all but her severest critics.

Despite her slight stammer, Marion and nothing to fear from talking film technology.  It was the quality of her scripts which gave her trouble.  She did an indifferent song and dance in 1929’s Hollywood Revue, Marianne and Not so Dumb (both 1929) and Floradora Girl (1930) were downright unbearable.  Even her better films were no match for what MGM was giving its other stars: The Bachelor Father and It’s a Wise Child (both 1931) came and went without making much of an impression.

Finally, things began looking up, at the behest of Hearst (whom even Louis B. Mayer couldn’t afford to ignore).  Five and Ten (1932) was an agreeable soap opera co-starring Leslie Howard; Marion was teamed with an up-and-coming Clark Gable (as a Salvation Army man, of all things) in the silly but amusing Polly of the Circus that same year.  She was a showgirl opposite Robert Montgomery in Blondie of the Follies (1933, and costar Billie Dove’s swan song).  Other leading men included Bing Crosby (in the charming musical Going Hollywood, 1933) and Gary Cooper (in Operator 13, a terrible 1934 spy drama).  Hollywood gossips later hinted that Marion had affairs with some or all of these leading men—but it’s unclear how much truth and how much anti-Hearst venom there is in these statements.

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Marion Davies had the best of both worlds: She was a film queen who also lived the life of actual royalty.  “I used to go to Europe for three months every summer [bringing twelve to twenty-two guests], then I’d come back and do about three pictures a year.”  Marion was also smart enough not to make waves at her studios: “I had a really good time at MGM,” she said later.  “And we had no quarrels much, except once in a while, I’d go up to the front office and say I thought I should be doing something big, like washing elephants.”

Hearst, however, did fall out with Mayer; and, in 1934, Marion, Hearst, and Cosmopolitan moved bag and baggage to Warner Brothers.  That studio dolled her up in stiff platinum-blonde wigs and starred her in four films: as a starlet in the terrible Page Miss Glory (1935), as a Napoleonic sweetheart in Hearts Divided (1936), as a singing star in Cain and Mabel with Clark Gable, also 1936), and finally, as a put-upon stenographer in Ever Since Eve (1937).  None of the films was a success, and only Cain and Mabel really had any merit.

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Marion had enough and at the age of forty, she retired once and for all.  “I wanted to take life easy,” she said, “and once you get used to the lazy way of living, you find out that you rather enjoy it.”  She spent the next fourteen years as Hearst’s wife in all but name.  She and Hearst continued throwing parties and traveling the world, moving from castle to castle to castle.  By this time, Marion was a full-fledged alcoholic, despite Hearst’s constant efforts to keep her away from liquor.  Her looks and health began to fade, but not her charm.

After Hearst’s death in 1951, Marion was unceremoniously chucked out on the sidewalk by his family, who had never accepted their relationship.  But Marion had her memories: “I liked to think that W.R. was at his happiest when he was with me,” she later said.  “Companionship and love.  That was our pact.”  She quickly wed old friend Captain Horace Brown, more for companionship than for love.  The marriage was a stormy one, but it endured.  Marion threw herself into charity (endowing a children’s hospital) and politics (she was a good friend of the Kennedys and did all she could to aid in John’s 1960 election).  After suffering from jaw cancer for three years, Marion succumbed on September 22, 1961.

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Marion Davies was much better treated by posterity than she probably expected.  With the dreaded Hearst gone, it was Marion’s niceness that was remembered.  The two books published on her since her death are superb: Fred Lawrence Guiles’s 1972 biograph is respectful and well researched; Marion’s own highly imaginative notes were published in 1975 under the title The Times We Had.  Both are well worth the read.  It’s a shame that more of her silent films are not available to the viewing public; still, Marion Davies can hardly be viewed as a tragic figure.  A few years before her death, she said, “I can’t say I was ever unhappy, not at all.  It was a big, gay party, every bit of it.”

It’s not often the story of a long-dead film star has a sequel, but Marion’s does.  Her beloved and pampered “niece,” Patricia van Cleve Lake, died in her early seventies on October 3, 1993, in California.  Shortly thereafter, her son Arthur Lake, Jr. (son of the late actor Arthur Lake), announced that his mother was the daughter of Marion Davies and William Randolph Hearst, born in Paris sometimes in the early 1920s.  Officially the daughter of Marion’s sister Rose, Patricia was told of her true parentage when she was a teenager, and she later told her own family, swearing them to secrecy.  She was buried near her mother and asked that her post-mortem announcement be kept “discreet.”

Golden Images: 41 Essays on Silent Film Stars by Eve Golden (2001)

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From both an entertainment and showmanship viewpoint, this show has the elements necessary in story, cast, production and author values.  It’s not an out and out war picture.  While there is martial color, justifying topical exploitation on that line, the show is more a dramatic romance with featurs for all classes.  There is the excitement of danger and adventure to interest the men, and heart interest for feminine attention.  At the same time, there is musical quality, in which Miss Davies, and the Four Mill Brothers actively participate and which is accentuated by the score, that should be exploited.

Essentially a dramatic historical romance, the love story of Operator 13 is told against the panorama of the Civil War.  In the role of a Federal spy, Gail Loveless is thrown into hateful conflict and tender love with a young Confederate officer, Captain Lawless.  Disguised as an octoroon maid, Gail, at a colorful military ball, learns and relays secrets to the Union forces, devastating to the Confederate cause.  A thrilling spy hunt on, Gailliard is ordered to capture or kill the octoroon Gail, with whom, as Anne, he is in love.  However, her identity established, Gailliard, torn between love and duty, takes up the chase.  Finally capturing her, he himself is in danger of both capture and death as Federal forces approach the lover’s hiding place, only to have Gail save him.  They part, to wait until peace comes to restore their romance.

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So many diversified ticket selling angles are available in exploitating this show that picking the most effective seems a difficult task.  The story on which the picture is based was written by Robert W. Chambers, one of the most popular of current authors.  The cast, headed by a star whose box office power is well established, is composed entirely of well-known names.  The title, in relation to the function of the star and the story theme, has an intriguing tone.  The appeal of love interest is counterbalanced by menacing danger as well as exciting action.  Touches of natural, easing comedy crop up continually and the introduction of the Mills Brothers provides for novel variety in the musical features.

Exploitation might tie up the historical significance of the picture via exhibits of Civil War relics, while specialized tieups would accentuate the basic dramatic romantic tone of the picture.

Motion Picture Herald: Showmen’s Review by McCarthy, Hollywood, June 16, 1934

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Gary Cooper and Sandra Shaw are still very much in the honeymoon stage.  Sandra visits Gary practically every day at the M-G-M studio, where he is making Operator 13 with Marion Davies, and lunches with him.

The other noontime Mrs. Cooper was late and Gary waited so long for her to show up the company was called for work before he had had his lunch.  But everything was okay when Sandra arrived with homemade sandwiches, which Gary ate on the set between scenes.

Modern Screen, What Every Fan Should Know, December 1933-October 1934

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Blogs written by other film enthusiasts:

Apocalypse Later Film by Hal C.F. Astell, August 9, 2009

Signal Bleed by Josh, June 13, 2012

Joining me for the evening was Susan, Betsy, Jillian and David.


1 thought on “The Road to Singapore (1931) and Operator 13 (1934)

  1. Pingback: The Road to Singapore (1931) - Toronto Film Society

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