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The success of movies like The Artist and Hugo recreated the wonder and magic of silent film for modern audiences, many of whom might never have experienced a movie without sound. But while the American silent movie was one of the most significant popular art forms of the modern age, it is also one that is largely lost to us, as more than eighty percent of silent films have disappeared, the victims of age, disaster, and neglect. We now know about many of these cinematic masterpieces only from the collections of still portraits and production photographs that were originally created for publicity and reference. Capturing the beauty, horror, and moodiness of silent motion pictures, these images are remarkable pieces of art in their own right. In the first history of still camera work generated by the American silent motion picture industry, David S. Shields chronicles the evolution of silent film aesthetics, glamour, and publicity, and provides unparalleled insight into this influential body of popular imagery.
Exploring the work of over sixty camera artists, Still recovers the stories of the photographers who descended on early Hollywood and the stars and starlets who sat for them between 1908 and 1928. Focusing on the most culturally influential types of photographs—the performer portrait and the scene still—Shields follows photographers such as Albert Witzel and W. F. Seely as they devised the poses that newspapers and magazines would bring to Americans, who mimicked the sultry stares and dangerous glances of silent stars. He uncovers scene shots of unprecedented splendor—visions that would ignite the popular imagination. And he details how still photographs changed the film industry, whose growing preoccupation with artistry in imagery caused directors and stars to hire celebrated stage photographers and transformed cameramen into bankable names.
Reproducing over one hundred and fifty of these gorgeous black-and-white photographs, Still brings to life an entire long-lost visual culture that a century later still has the power to enchant.
Published: University of Chicago Press an imprint of UChicagoPress on
ISBN: 9780226013435
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DAVID S. SHIELDS is the McClintock Professor of Southern Letters at the University of South Carolina and chairman of the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation. His books include Civil Tongues and Polite Letters in British America and Oracles of Empire: Poetry, Politics, and Commerce in British America, 1690–1750, the latter also published by the University of Chicago Press.

The University of Chicago Press, Chicago 60637

The University of Chicago Press, Ltd., London

© 2013 by The University of Chicago

All rights reserved. Published 2013.

Printed in Canada

22 21 20 19 18 17 16 15 14 13           1 2 3 4 5

ISBN-13: 978-0-226-01326-8 (cloth)

ISBN-13: 978-0-226-01343-5 (e-book)

Title page illustration: The Garden of Sleep and Death (detail). From John Van den Broek’s The Blue Bird (1918).

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Shields, David S.

Still : American silent motion picture photography / David S. Shields.

pages. cm.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 978-0-226-01326-8 (hardcover: alk. paper) — ISBN 978-0-226-01343-5 (e-book)

1. Stills (Motion pictures)—United States. 2. Motion picture actors and actresses—United States. 3. Photographers—United States. 4. Cinematography—United States. I. Title.

PN1995.9.S696S55 2013



This paper meets the requirements of ANSI/NISO Z39.48—1992 (Permanence of Paper).


American Silent Motion Picture Photography


The University of Chicago Press

Chicago and London


Marcus Shields





1. Photography and the Birth of Professional Beauty

2. Glamour Comes to California

3. Worlds Distilled: Motion Picture Production Photography


4. Manly Faces: Jack Freulich, Bert Longworth, Ray Jones, and the Universal Studio Aesthetic

5. The Dying Photographer and the New Woman

6. Opium Dreams: Ferdinand P. Earle and Visual Fantasy

7. Royal Photographer to the Stars: M. I. Boris and Visual Artistry


8. The Eyes of Lillian Gish

9. The Wide-Open Spaces

10. Studio Men




I began writing this book in 2003, shortly after coming to the University of South Carolina. Conversations with Scott Jacob, the collector and devotee of Melbourne Spurr’s photography, convinced me that the time had come to organize information on the early Broadway and motion picture still photographers. In 2004, I uploaded on the World Wide Web an introduction to the genres, formats, and practitioners of early Hollywood glamour imagery. Though modest, the site was the most accurate and compendious source available on the subject at the time. It attracted the attention of Ralph DeLuca, the well-known dealer in posters and entertainment memorabilia. DeLuca proposed that I come to New York City to examine the Culver Service Collection, one of the twentieth century’s major image brokerage archives in the United States. Harriet Culver was selling the vast assemblage of vintage photographs and ephemera. DeLuca wanted me to vet the collection to assay its extent, its depth, and its aesthetic importance. The immensity of its riches and the breadth of its coverage of the work of theatrical and motion picture photographers astonished me and convinced me of the importance of developing a summary understanding of this culturally influential and artistically expressive body of work. The Culver Service Collection was eventually purchased by collectibles dealer Jay Parrino, proprietor of The Mint. Both Ralph DeLuca and Jay Parrino at various times gave me electronic access to the scans they made of the collection; this proved invaluable in the early stages of preparing this book. A number of images appearing here were reproduced courtesy of Jay Parrino; acknowledgments appear in the captions to the figures in question. When Parrino began dispersing the collection via eBay, I became a regular purchaser because of the solid provenance of the material and the wealth of information written on the back of the photographs by publicists and magazine editors making use of the images.

Several institutions aided my researchers substantially. As a visiting fellow at the Princeton Humanities Institute, I explored the stills collection in the Firestone Library. An award from the University of South Carolina English Department’s research professorship enabled a semester of study, during which time I explored the holdings of the Herrick Library at the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences; the Seaver Center for Western History Research at the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum; the Louis B. Mayer Film and Television Study Center of the Cinematic Arts Library at the University of Southern California; the Charles E. Young Research Library, Department of Special Collections, and the Performing Arts Special Collections at the University of California, Los Angeles; and the Western Costume Company. During fall semester of 2010, when coleading a weekly seminar at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, I spent Friday mornings working in the Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs Reading Room, or across the hall at the Motion Picture and Television Reading Room. On several occasions in the past seven years, I have visited the Billy Rose Performing Arts Collection at the New York Public Library and profited from the wisdom of Jeremy Megraw there. I regret that the Museum of Modern Art’s film stills collection was unavailable, having been closed a decade ago, during a crucial period of this study’s composition.

In addition to making use of the holdings of these institutions, I benefited from the expertise of a number of people, some of whom have become good friends. Amy Rule, head of research at the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona shared my enthusiasm for William Mortensen and Francis Bruguiere. Amy Henderson, historian, and Ann Shumard, curator of photography, at the National Portrait Gallery could not have been more enthusiastic in their support of an aesthetic revaluation of performing arts portraiture. The late Robert Cushman, curator of still photography at the Margaret Herrick Library, read an early version of this manuscript with great sympathy and offered several concrete suggestions for its improvement. Kristine Krueger of the National Film Information Service at the Herrick Library handled the great number of my queries and requests with dispatch and good humor. Mary Mallory, an avid champion of Hollywood heritage and member of the Herrick’s photographic archive, has become the greatest sort of electronic pen pal. At the George Eastman House, Ulrich Ruedel was a model of efficiency hunting down several quite obscure titles for me. Robert Montoya of Special Collections in the Charles E. Young Research Library at UCLA made my two sojourns there rich experiences. Ned Comstock unearthed Ferdinand P. Earle’s correspondence regarding his special effects work on Ben-Hur in the MGM administrative archives in the Film Collection at the University of Southern California. Barbara Nathanson of the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress helped me navigate the vast resources stored in that repository. Rob Brooks, organizer of the Mary Pickford Collection in Toronto, discussed Karl Struss and Charles Rosher, Pickford’s photographers, at length with me. Don Spiro, a current still photographer and member of IATSE Local 600, manifested great interest in the technical aspects of early still processing. Bruce Robertson provided repeated aid.

Silent film and performing arts photography historians possess a strong sense of common cause, perhaps because of the amount of work that requires doing before sense is rendered from the visual archive of early motion pictures. I engaged in correspondences with several important scholars of the era: Marc Wanamaker, Richard Koszarski, Mark Viera, and David W. Menefee proved particularly helpful. Conversations with my colleague in the English Department, Mark Cooper, have provoked quite a few new lines of inquiry. Marcella Sirhandi of Oklahoma State University revealed to me the surprising late career of Richard Gordon Matzene as portraitist of Nepalese royalty. Lloyd Bishop of Ponca, Oklahoma, also aided greatly in my research into the mysterious R. G. Matzene. General ruminations about visual culture and fashion with my friend Catherine E. Kelly of the History Department of the University of Oklahoma assisted me in understanding how fashion photography diverged from performing arts photography in the 1930s.

I have corresponded with numbers of curators and librarians over the past decade about individual photographers or productions for which I sought images. In most cases, my requests, no matter how recondite, were met with polite interest and often resulted in the discovery of useful prints or information. I wish to thank the staff of the Motion Picture Stills Archive at the Eastman House, the Lothar and Eva Just Films Stills Collection at the Harvard Film Archive, Special Collections at the University of Vermont Libraries, the Cecil B. DeMille Collection at Brigham Young University, the Performing Arts Division of the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, Special Collections at the University of Louisville Library, and the staff of the Thomas Cooper Library at the University of South Carolina.

I have supplied credit information on the sources of the photographs in the captions to the individual figures. If no provenance information appears in a caption, then the image derives from the collection of vintage prints I myself amassed to enable the writing of this book. This collection is currently housed at the Department of English at the University of South Carolina. The majority of photos reproduced here are in the public domain, or were issued under the standard copyright waiver that studios gave for publicity images mass distributed to magazines and newspapers. The exceptions are certain unique, unpublished images by M. I. Boris. I thank Ivan and Tomas Majdrakoff, Boris’s two sons, for permission to print these several rare photographs.

Finally, I thank my photographer/editor Alan Thomas for his faith in the book, and my wife Lucinda E. Shields who has tolerated for ten years the irrational obsessions of a collector. The financial support of Dean Mary Ann Fitzpatrick of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of South Carolina enabled the printing of this volume with the size and fidelity it deserves.

FIGURE 0.1 Herman Mishkin, Mishkin, New York: Elsie Ferguson, 1915, in Outcast. Duotone illustration, Theatre Magazine, March 1915, 141. One of the dozens of images that appeared in print during the winter of 1915 celebrating the glamorous appearance of Ferguson in her breakout role. Mishkin was the official photographer of the Metropolitan Opera.


In March 1915, a twenty-five-year-old chorus girl from Kansas City entered the New York studio of Underwood & Underwood believing that the key to success on Broadway would be found there. She had already done much to secure a modest place on the New York stage—the usual things—dyed her hair, changed her name, acquired a British accent, and bedded men with connections. She also did things beyond the usual—married and abandoned a manager of a provincial acting troupe, sacrificed a child to a career, and toured the country as a player with America’s foremost female impersonator, Julian Eltinge. She belonged to that multitude of restless men and women who fled the obscurity of America’s interior seeking limelight in Manhattan. Few had the ambition, intelligence, decisiveness, and intuition to pass from invisibility into the floodlight of theatrical celebrity. Jeanne Eagels did.

She had glimpsed a photograph in the January 10, 1915, edition of the New York Times and saw in it clues to future glory. Its caption read, Elsie Ferguson with Yaku in ‘Outcast’ at the Lyceum Theater. Seated pensively on a sofa, her glowing face and neck emerging from a plumy shadow, Ferguson incarnated elegance and soulfulness as Meriam the city mistress of an amoral businessman. Ferguson had won stardom with this role culminating a fourteen-year ascent from the chorus of Florodora to featured parts in Arizona and The Strange Woman, to her breakout role in The Outcast.¹ She had transformed herself from dancing girl to tragedienne, from variety to legitimacy. Not only did Ferguson’s career pattern Eagels’s ambitions, but Ferguson’s image became the appearance that Eagels knew she had to assume.

Elsie Ferguson more than any other actress of the first decades of the twentieth century, except her friend and fellow Florodora girl Evelyn Nesbit, gave herself to photographers for experiment. The young camera artists used Ferguson and Nesbit to invent a new visual language of allure, shorn of the ornament, prettiness, and staginess of traditional theatrical portraiture practiced by the established theatrical studios, White Studio, Joseph Hall, Benjamin J. Falk, and Colonel Theodore Marceau. In time this language would acquire a name—glamour.

Eagels entered Underwood & Underwood studio searching for a visual talisman, something to study and incarnate. Rifling the bin of Ferguson images, she discovered a powerful image, not the one in the newspaper, but better, more adventurous. Armed with this, she made an attack in force on two or three exclusive Fifth Avenue shops, where she purchased duplicates of everything Miss Ferguson wore in this particular photograph. The next morning she donned them all, after having her hair dressed in exact copy of Miss Ferguson’s coiffure.² She then marched to the offices of Thomas W. Ryley, the theatrical agent, who, despite having never heard of her, signed her to take Ferguson’s part in a touring company of The Outcast.

In Newport News, Atlanta, Syracuse, and other provincial outposts of theatrical culture, Eagels electrified audiences with her acting and her person. She returned to New York amid a storm of critical buzz and justified the noise in repeated triumphs as leading lady in George Arliss’s theatrical troupe. She joined the pantheon of Broadway immortals in 1924 playing Sadie Thompson, a prostitute stranded in tropical Pago-Pago, in Rain. When she died of a heroin overdose in 1929, Eagels had just created her most vivid screen performance as Leslie Crosbie in The Letter. She earned a posthumous Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.

Eagels ornamented every moment of her brief but brilliant career as a stage and screen actress with memorable portraits and still images. As a creature born of a photograph, she retained an intense regard for the medium’s power to project image and mood. She hired the best photographers of her time: Sarony Studio; Herman Mishkin; Homer Peyton of Kansas City; George Moffett of Moffett Studio, Chicago; Frank C. Bangs when she worked at Thanhouser Films in the 1910s; Charlotte Fairchild; Alfred Cheney Johnston; Mortimer Offner; and James Abbe. Abbe’s profile view of Eagels wearing a cap in Daddies was the first photographic cover used by the Saturday Evening Post. She sat repeatedly for Underwood & Underwood. The images from these many sittings with New York’s greatest performing arts photographers remain the most eloquent testimony to Eagels’s art.

FIGURE 0.2 [Ernest H. Burrow], Sarony, New York: Jeanne Eagels, 1915, in Outcast. This seated half-length profile of Eagels shows the sartorial care of her remodeled appearance. From the former Culver Service Collection.

Theatrical performances vanish from memory, living only in the recollections of an ever-dwindling band of witnesses. Silent movies have proven almost as perishable. All twenty-four of Elsie Ferguson’s silent films, including her masterworks with Maurice Tourneur, have disappeared. Ferguson’s genius as a cinematic actress survives only in stills. Because of the lackadaisical quality of Jeanne Eagels’s surviving silent motion pictures, the same may be said of her. Her vitality, her glamour, survives in portraits and production shots, and only intermittently in one of her surviving Thanhouser releases, The World and the Woman, a five-reel feature based loosely on The Outcast.³

.   .   .

The tale of Jeanne Eagels’s makeover reveals many of the powers held by photographs between 1910 and 1920, that period when silent cinema grabbed the visual allure that had been the preserve of the theater. It provides an introduction to the sorts of things Still seeks to recover about the ways still images worked. What do we learn about photographs over and above that they existed to create a desire in the public to see a particular performer or show? Several things.

The spectator of Elsie Ferguson’s photo was a woman who saw the image as a means of personal reorganization; this is not a story of the male gaze and how it dominated the pictorial aesthetics of glamour.

The photograph was first witnessed in print, in a low-grade reproduction, and had to be secured as a high-definition photographic image. Photographic images had different manifestations of varying fidelity communicated through different media. Everyone encountered low-fidelity images printed on cheap paper in halftone. Persons concerned with art and power strove to obtain high-fidelity images.

Photographs embodied style, and this style through emulation might empower onlookers.

Possession of the image might prompt the purchase of clothes, accessories, shoes and the hiring of the services of a hairdresser. The photograph stimulated commerce.

For Jeanne Eagels the photo operated as an instrument of self-consciousness, enabling her to fix her image to a model, Elsie Ferguson. Her model was personating a role rather than appearing as herself. In the world of performing arts the power of certain images could trump all other considerations of background, training, or talent—even personality.

We should also note the major historical implication of Eagels’s story—that theatrical photography created the star image before cinematic photography. We see both Ferguson and Eagels establishing themselves as stage stars before gravitating to the motion picture studios. They joined in that 1910s transit of performers, directors, art designers, and authors who refined cinematic art in the United States when World War I distracted Europe. Photographers also joined this exodus and with them the imagery of the portrait and the still pioneered in Manhattan came to Fort Lee and Hollywood. Jack Freulich, the man who took Elsie Ferguson’s portrait for Underwood & Underwood, shortly thereafter shot the most important portrait sitting of the 1910s in the estimation of motion picture publicists. In 1916, Freulich took a series of stills of Theda Bara as a female vampire that excited newspaper editors across the country. They drove the publicity campaign that transformed minor theatrical personality Theodosia Goodman into the most notorious celebrity in the entertainment world—The Wickedest Woman in the World. Theda Bara’s elevation would be the greatest demonstration of the star-making power of motion picture publicity in the 1910s.⁵ Freulich, who photographically channeled Theda Bara’s dangerous femininity, would be courted by every New York and New Jersey motion picture studio for almost three years before agreeing to become head of Universal’s portrait galleries in 1919, becoming the first salaried film studio portrait and still photographer to receive credit regularly. (Freulich’s innovative career at Universal Studios will be treated in chapter 4.)

The most surprising findings in the Eagels/Ferguson/Freulich story? That the still image rivaled the moving image in revealing personality and that it proved a more durable medium for preserving action, character, and personality than the motion picture.

We begin with a paradox: the moving image seemed more real, more sensational, more alive precisely in its difference from the arrested world of the painted image, the drawing, the still photograph. Yet by a curious irony, the silent cinema has in large measure been reduced to an array of stills.⁶ By current estimate, over 80 percent of the silent motion pictures have perished, victim of the fragility and flammability of nitrate stock, of a commercial mentality that viewed releases as consumable products that should be rented and run until prints fell apart, of the mortality of film companies whose owners trashed their titles rather than have competitors profit from them, and of prohibitions upon private ownership of prints, preventing their collection. All that survives of many releases are publicity shots, production photos, and cast portraits. Of the 18–19 percent of motion pictures that escaped loss and destruction, a discouraging proportion survive in visually degraded prints that only gesture at the visual world that excited the audiences of the 1910s and 1920s. Even landmarks of silent cinema, works hailed immediately as classics or celebrated for their artistry—Douglas Fairbanks’s Robin Hood (1922), Rudolph Valentino’s The Conquering Power (1921) and Monsieur Beaucaire (1924), Ramon Novarro’s Ben-Hur (1925)—survived in third-generation copy prints, devoid of the tinting, dodging, and carefully registered lighting effects that galvanized their initial viewers. Only heroic restoration work can recover an intimation of their original splendor. Their visual audacity for the most part survives in stills that have resiliently resisted degradation. Consequently, stills have served as icons for the films in the major studies of silent cinema—in the works of William Everson, Kevin Brownlow, Edward Wagenknecht, and John Kobal.

FIGURE 0.3 [Jack Freulich], Underwood & Underwood: Theda Bara, 1915. Publicity portrait issued in conjunction with the William Fox Vaudeville Company release of A Fool There Was, January 12, 1915. Goth glamour at its most provocative. Vinous hair straggles over the shoulders in a recollection of the entrapping strands of fin de siècle symbolist femme fatales. Courtesy of Mack Dennard.

Changes in taste have also contributed to the increasing substitution of the still image for the moving picture in popular memory. While a community of devotees (I number myself a faithful member) delights in witnessing the creation of a pantomimic language for communicating human feeling and thought in early cinema, the majority of motion picture viewers find silent movies odd. The thorniest problem has to do with motion, not muteness. (Musical soundtracks are conventionally supplied to silent rereleases.) Too often the pantomimic shorthand developed to communicate action to early film audiences exaggerates to artificiality. The large stage gestures employed by movie performers until the late 1910s seem hyperbolic particularly when the camera views them close-up. Too many silent features speak a kinetic language too elementary, too artificial, and too emphatic for the visually saturated eyes of current audiences. Even after D. W. Griffith had trained a generation of performers in a more constrained mode of expression,⁷ the conditions of filming gave rise to another difficulty. George Arliss—Jeanne Eagels first important Broadway employer and leading man, and later one of the great character actors of the silent screen—supplied a trenchant diagnosis of the problem in the summer 1923.⁸ The discontinuous nature of filming, and the disinclination of directors, except for Griffith, to rehearse scenes extensively led performers to find the gesture and the emotion of particular scenes, rather than develop coherent characters determined by a sense of the whole arc of the motion picture’s action. Lacking a character concept, actors resorted to stock gestures and generalized expressions. If the movies prior to 1920 seem exaggerated in their acting, those after 1920 often seem inauthentic. The pull of a tight plot, the splendor of the visual spectacle, and the ingenuity of editing cannot entirely compensate for the emptiness of characterization, the oddly automatic way that persons move.

Stills and portraits rarely suffer from these mimetic liabilities. An expansive gesture photographically frozen in its arc possesses a monumentality and timelessness lacking when the arm cartwheels. Scenes that seem odd in motion—Alla Nazimova’s waifish coochie dance in the Aubrey Beardsley Neverland of ancient Palestine in Salome (1922)—take on an uncanny splendor when her twisting and lurching has stopped. Photography preserved what was most vivid and splendid about silent cinema, the unprecedented visual elaboration of places and people—the beauty, the horror, the moodiness. They speak with a force little diminished by ninety years of history. We can see why in the early twentieth century the images became idols of fan worship around the world, clipped from magazines and pasted into scrapbooks, or secured by fan letter from studio publicity offices and framed for the wall or bedside table. The photos revealed the expressions, attitudes, and gestures mimicked in the mirror by the multitudes desiring to look beautiful, amusing, dangerous, and talented. They conveyed the complete visual code for desirability, manliness, womanliness, heroism, and villainy.

FIGURE 0.4 [Arthur F.] Rice: Alla Nazimova, 1923, in Salome, Nazimova Productions, released February 13, 1923. Natacha Rambova, art direction.

Fans learned the looks from portraits. Fans learned of the splendor of places from stills.

Taken during the process of cinematic filming, stills captured the scenes of action, the locales of romance and distress. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, we have become so saturated with images of locations that we can scarcely recapture the novelty that the silent cinema offered even the cosmopolitan person. The scenic world of the theater in 1900 was elaborated in most cases out of three sets. Motion pictures reveled in their variety of scenery, offering eighteen to twenty different interior and exterior locales. The exterior locales radiated an aura of reality, and producers soon grasped that all of the fascination of early news film could be borrowed by filming on location. The cost of moving a cast and crew to the lush Florida tropics or to Jamaica (locale of the first $1 million movie, The Daughter of Neptune, 1914) grew so large that one of the great studio efforts of the 1920s was creating a semivirtual exterior world to keep costs in place. Hollywood’s first artistic exhibition of still photography took place in 1921 in connection with the most radical experiment in illusionary world creation, poet-painter Ferdinand P. Earle’s The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (See chapter 6.) Employing 190 hyperrealistic paintings of medieval Persia as backgrounds, the movie was publicized in a suite of stills by America’s foremost visual chronicler of the American Indian, Edward Sheriff Curtis. In the hands of Curtis and Earle the still certified the verisimilitude of an impossible place. It became a vehicle of a higher sort of mimesis, not concerned with securing a likeness so much as composing an unprecedented location, style, or way.

In 1914, Alvin Langdon Coburn, the most eloquent of the period’s art photographers, wrote, "To speak of ‘composition’ in connection with photography seems, on first thinking of the problem, to be rather a contradiction in terms—that you ought really to say ‘isolation,’ which would perhaps come nearer to what is done in most cases; but while it is not possible to shift hills and trees about in the Hurculean [sic] manner of the painter, it is still possible to move the camera in such a way that entirely new arrangement is achieved."⁹ In motion pictures, the Herculean labors of world creation were a matter of course. That power of composition that painters, poets, sculptors, and architects possessed, and to which artistic photography aspired, was made available, by unprecedented expenditures of money in the cause of image-creation and by extraordinary applications of manpower and collaborative intelligence, to cinematographers and still photographers. Both (if they were not one and the same person) would move the camera through the composed worlds, and the latter often with the greater liberty of rearrangement.

Still photographs stopped action as well as envisioned places. Because a still arrested action in a moment, or a gesture, it evaded a second quality of silent films disturbing to twenty-first-century taste—the melodramatic morality of the plotting. Moving pictures presented stories of crime and punishment, virtue and reward, peril and rescue, loss and redemption, separation and consolidation. Theirs was a programmed sequence of cause and effect in a world dominated by the struggle between good and evil, virtue and vice. Individual stills captured tensions at work, not the working out of plot. Theatrical exhibitors kept demanding in the pages of the industry’s trade magazine, Moving Picture World, that producers send stills that tell the story.¹⁰ But the most that even telling stills could manage was to reveal turns in a plot. The public never saw the entire sequence of stills—the keybook—only solitary pictures, or a selection of half a dozen images. (Because motion picture exchanges were always attempting to rent or sell their stock of stills to exhibitors,¹¹ the numbers in the late 1910s and early 1920s were limited to the minimum needed to get featured in the local newspaper and build a creditable window display at a theater.) In theater lobbies enough appeared to highlight the conflicts in play, not enough to give the plot away. If producers were banking on drawing an audience to a familiar story or a release derived from a popular novel, the scene had to be illustrative as well as dynamic.¹²

Melodrama compelled the attention of early twentieth-century audiences. It presented the world’s dangers in terms of contemporary problems—immigration, racism, capitalist exploitation, consumerism, urban poverty, materialism, imperialism, political zealotry, religious bigotry—giving stories an intense timeliness and immediacy.¹³ The morality, on the other hand, asserted a timeless domesticity—a condition in which men of good character and women of personality despite interference mated and formed or maintained a household governed by reason, sympathy, and virtue. Commentators on early cinema have noticed that romance plots dominated early film stories. Clashes between opposing forces, such as capital and labor, Protestantism and Roman Catholicism, Old World and New World, city and country, repeatedly achieved resolution in the pairing of a man and a woman; in the last reel strife in the factory ceases when the daughter of the factory owner marries the reformist strike leader. Heterosexual attraction—complicated enough in its own right—assumed the enormous burden of social reconciliation. Harmony in the household, peace in the drawing room became the utopia that pacified society’s moral struggles. The locale of the domicile hardly mattered. The happiest of endings might be located in a jungle hut, a pastoral cottage in the American heartland, or the parlor and nursery of a townhouse in a European capital.

While the still might illustrate any point along the arc of the story, from travail to domestic bliss, the greatest visual interest lay in scenes that did not present the happy couple at home. While ads might feature the two-shot moment when hero and heroine fix one another in eye-to-eye contact, or meet in the clinch, assuring the audience that the promise of love will be fulfilled in the picture, they did not as a rule feature the normal routine of the domestic interior. Instead, the still portrayed those forces that distress the world of the would-be lovers. They pictured tension, struggle, action.

FIGURE 0.5 [Friend Baker]: Lew Cody and Louise Lovely, 1918, as Jim Douglas and Lou McTavish in Painted Lips (also named The Straw Cellar), Universal Film Manufacturing Company, February 4, 1918. Unwanted passion, feminine distress, hetero-drama at its most flagrant. Edward LeSaint, director.

The effective still conveyed the exact dynamic of the struggle by visual typing. The code operated on two levels keyed to two audiences. For the yokels in the sticks, there was a binary opposition, a clash of good and evil. For the urban audience, there was a novel gradation of styles of self-presentation. As a rough rule of thumb, the movies presented human appearance as a physiognomic register of character or personality.¹⁴ Moral fortitude in men showed in the clarity and symmetry of features. It was a Kantian world where handsomeness connoted virtue. Peculiarity of features connoted humorousness, genius, or moral deformity. Beauty in women, however, proved a much more problematic matter. Its power so dominated that it made plausible the unlikely pairings of persons from different backgrounds and persuasions that enabled social conflict to resolve into domestic bliss. Yet beauty was a dangerous power, attracting the attentions of unwanted suitors, or intoxicating its possessor with ambitions that could not be contained in a drawing room or the bonds of wedlock. Indeed the cultural agony lurking behind the romance plot lay in the haunting possibility that beauty might not betoken an inner excellence, a spiritual integrity, a personal discipline. Masculine anxiety about the possibility of falling into subjection to an immoral beauty, who consciously exploited sexual attractiveness for personal ends, or as an expression of malice against the cultural hegemony that males exercised in society, recycled in hundreds of plots peopled by femme fatales, vamps, and gold-digging showgirls from 1900 to the end of the silent era. Beauty was the trump of trumps—the quality that could change a shopgirl into a society matron, a slumgullion into a star. It was, par excellence, that quality explored in the publicity photography generated by silent cinema.

Beauty—and its later visual particularization as glamour—has been the one matter of early entertainment photography that has garnered scholarly attention. The appreciation of Hollywood photography spearheaded by John Kobal in the late 1970s discovered its artistic importance in glamour portraiture. Kobal understood glamour to have been a visual phenomenon that coalesced in the work of studio portraitists at the end of the silent era and was summarily realized in the work of George Hurrell, who became MGM’s chief portrait artist in 1929. In several landmark studies of Hollywood portraiture, Kobal argued that a uniquely memorable visualization of feminine face and form became a common language of publicity photographers of the 1930s—persons such as Whitey Schafer, Ernest Bachrach, Max Munn Autrey, Elmer Fryer, Eugene Robert Richee, and Ray Jones. At the focus of this glamour reclined a beautiful woman bruised by the world—or rather two women, the introspective beauty, the Garbo, and the vulnerable extrovert, Joan Crawford. For all its appreciative insight into the arresting work of the 1930s studio portraitists, Kobal’s histories failed to account for certain historical eventualities needful for any account of the development of photography in the entertainment industry. Two questions pose particular problems. If visual glamour was a creation of the Hollywood studios after their industrialization in the mid-1920s, then why did the word glamour emerge in common linguistic usage shortly after 1900 applied to stage performers and their photographic images? If glamour was an attribute of a certain type of woman touched—even bruised—by the world, then why did it first appear applied to the girl, that figuration of femininity that came to dominate the stage in the late 1890s?

This history, unlike Kobal’s, proceeds from a sense of the continuities between theatrical photography and early cinematic photography. It questions the myth of the new with which early film artists surrounded their labors, advancing a different view of the evolution of glamour than that argued by Kobal or by the Hollywood publicists of the 1920s. Portrait photography was intimately concerned with every phrase of this evolution, beginning with the emergence of the professional beauty in 1877—a being for whom surface beauty trumped virtue or talent. Beauty transmuted into glamour, an aura that condensed around the figure of the girl, a creature who dominated the stage after 1894. When the word glamour became popular in the 1890s, its characteristic uses emphasized the allure of places with magical atmospheres, rather than a magical quality in persons: the glamour of the footlights on stage, the twilight charm of a Newport lawn. For instance, Clinton Scollard’s poem, The Play:

When the arc lights on avenue and square

Shed their white glamour, and the gas jets glow

Adown the street, far-reaching row on row,

And one scarce knows if in the upper air

Is cloud or starshine or the moonlight fair,

Forth to the play the merry pleasurers go

To see the mimes enact, in mimic show,

Life with its passionate joy and dull despair.¹⁵

Certain persons who inhabited these places took on the atmosphere, the glow. The atmosphere was independent and, then, attached to the person. The soft-focus portraiture of performing arts photographers influenced by pictorialism captured these atmospherics and perfected a style from 1905 to 1915. The air was sugary with light, or tone, or plumy with mysterious shade. Early twentieth-century entertainment photography captured the transformation of this atmospheric style. Influenced by the increasingly potent ideal of personality, glamour began to emanate from persons rather than enveloping them. At first this radiance had the same soft-focus pearliness of pictorialist portraiture, then the light began to dissipate the mist. In the 1930s, the radiance of the light beaming from faces and bodies took on beacon clarity, giving the star image the drama and luster that Kobal celebrated. As Mark A. Viera has shown, George Hurrell, the foremost glamourist of the sound era, began his career at MGM in 1929 working in the soft-focus aesthetic, then in the early 1930s sharpened the image until the sitter became as beacon of clear luminosity emerging from dramatic shadow.¹⁶ The sharp-focus Hollywood glamour of the studio era emerged from the personality of the woman, a creature first imagined by American cinema during World War I. Still recasts the story of glamour that has dominated discussions of the visual culture of early twentieth-century cinema since the 1980s by recognizing the primacy of the visual culture of the stage in these developments and exploring the relocation of the focus of glamour from the vicinity of the face in girl glamour to the luminous body in woman glamour.

FIGURE 0.6 [Frank E. Geisler], Geisler-Andrews, New York: Francine Larrimore as Enid Vaughn in the Rida Johnson Young and Rudolf Friml musical Sometime, Shubert Theater, New York, October 4, 1918. Geisler (1867–1935) mastered the atmospherics of pictorial photography as a member of the photographic circle that formed in 1890s Albany around E. S. Sterry and Pirie MacDonald. The optical diminution of detail in soft focus caused sitter and surroundings to meld in an integral visual mood in pictorialist portraiture. Portraying soul or ideality rather than personality was the desideratum of the pictorialist likeness.

Kobal recognized certain problems with his archaeology of glamour. He knew that there was something anomalous about claiming that the late 1920s and early 1930s marked the decisive moment in the development of performing arts photo publicity. The motion picture fan magazines that generated the world of fandom and cults of personality around particular stars came into being well before this, from 1910 to 1913. Before the motion picture studio had become an industrial image production facility, the pages of Motion Picture Story and Photoplay broadcast multitudes of portraits and stills to an avid readership and stimulated the willingness of editors in national slicks and culture magazines to devote greater numbers of pages to motion picture still photography. In sum, Kobal’s story of the Hollywood genesis of glamour failed to speak to its creation and role in the global popularity of cinematic image. It claimed originality for what in truth was a late development in the evolution of the image of the alluring performer. Mine is not the first revision of Kobal’s history. A renovated understanding of the imagery of Hollywood publicity began