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THE GIRL WAS A SCREENWRITER, SO WHY SHOULDN'T SHE CRIB FROM VOLTAIRE?

When I interviewed Anita Loos in 1977 for a New York Times article celebrating the 50th anniversary of the talkies, she made it clear that she had written her screenplays because she wanted to make a buck. And, to her delight, she got what she wanted. --GUY FLATLEY

 

Anita Loos, unceasingly vivacious, takes a moment in her memento-stuffed apartment opposite Carnegie Hall and recalls a screenwriting career that included the titles for "Intolerance" and the dialogue for "San Francisco" and "Red Headed Woman."

"I was a stage child out in San Diego, and one day I went to the movies. Afterward, I climbed up in the projection room, got the address of D. W. Griffith's company in New York from a can of film and sent him a scenario. It was accepted at once. I got $25 and I said, 'This is where I quit acting.'

"My first film was 'The New York Hat' (starring Mary Pickford, at right), when I was 14, and I continued writing for Griffith for the next two years. Then, when he brought his company out to California, he sent to San Diego for me. I must say, he was surprised by my age. I was sort of like Tatum O'Neal, I guess, just a smart cookie, and I kept on writing for him. For 'Intolerance,' I cribbed from Voltaire-- 'When sex gives women up, they turn to religion.'

"By the time talkies came along, I had already written 200 films, and I had become pretty highbrow. When I heard the dialogue in 'The Jazz Singer,' I said, 'This will never last.' But it did last, and all those who were incapable of talking were soon weeded out. It was a good joke to some of us, how those voices came out on the screen. Lillian Gish told me, though, that Louis B. Mayer did Jack Gilbert in on purpose. Jack was getting so much money that they were looking for a way to break his contract with M-G-M. So Mayer told the sound technicians to manipulate things so that Jack's voice would come out funny.

"I knew the Talmadge sisters very well. Constance was too disinterested to ever attempt sound; all she wanted to do was get out of movies. Norma got a coach, but as soon as she tackled sound, she realized she'd come a cropper. When she made her second sound picture, Time magazine said, 'In her first picture, she sounded like an elocution pupil. Now she has advanced to sounding like an elocution teacher.' But Norma had made over $5 million in silents, and she was married to Joe Schenck, a multimillionaire. So it was no tragedy.

" To tell the truth, I myself never took movies seriously, silent or sound. I was too busy doing other things."

 

To read Guy Flatley's "The Sound That Shook Hollywood" in its entirety--including interviews with Frank Capra, Myrna Loy, Raoul Walsh, Allan Dwan, Clarence Brown, King Vidor and Buddy Rogers--click here.