Alice Joyce — She Acts When She Chooses (1929) 🇺🇸
It is a dangerous thing for a star to take a long vacation, and then try to regain her pinnacle. Fame, popularity, box-office appeal — call it what you will — is evanescent. A star may have it to-day, but she dare not gamble on to-morrow.
by Alma Talley
Many stars have tried, sometimes involuntarily, because of illness. Many more — women stars — after several years of marriage and domesticity, have changed their minds about retiring, and found, to their dismay, that the public had also changed its mind. A newer, younger public had grown up, with newer, younger idols. An erstwhile star, bored with inactivity, missing the adulation and the limelight to which she was once accustomed, tries to stage a comeback, and finds that her niche has not been waiting there, empty, for her return. Her successor has filled it.
Theda Bara, heavy-eyed, voluptuously curved, once set the style in sirens. She was Cleopatra 1915 model. Girls and boys, all over the country, learned about women from her. She married Charles Brabin and took a rest. And then she began to miss her career. She tried to step back into her place on the screen. "The Unchastened Woman" was to put her back on the main highway of fame, just where she left off. But it didn't. The public had changed its mind about sirens. Sirens were slim and subtle — svelte — mysterious. The public's idea of allure was ready to receive a new, modern type of siren. When Greta Garbo came along, she filled the niche once occupied by Theda.
And so it goes. Lillian Walker, once far-famed for her dimples, was forced off the screen by an illness of several years. And when she at last recovered, her public had forgotten. Dimples were out of style. Sweetness was no longer in vogue.
Such has been the history of film idols who tried to come back. Which makes it all the more amazing when there is an exception. Alice Joyce is one who has overridden all tradition, all precedent. Alice plays on the screen when the urge impels her. and then retires for months at a time, in the midst of her family, a happy wife and mother.
Ten to fifteen years ago Miss Joyce was one of the Vitagraph galaxy of stars. Anita Stewart was another. Where is Anita now? Occasionally she plays in a quickie.
Ruth Roland and Pearl White were the reigning serial queens. Francis X. Bushman and Beverly Bayne were the first co-starring team. Now, as screen idols, they are all but forgotten. Now and then a small role, or a lead in a minor picture.
Some of the stars of that period have retained their positions — Mary Pickford, Corinne Griffith, the Talmadges. But they have never left the screen. They didn't drop out for a time, and then attempt to come hack where they had left off.
Alice Joyce is almost unique in having achieved this. Some years ago she married Janus Regan and retired. She became the mother of a baby daughter. She might easily have passed into the limbo of forgotten idols. But she didn't. Suddenly her name was appearing again in casts. Alice Joyce was back on the screen, successfully. She has no contract. She works when she wants to — and whenever she wants to, hut not otherwise.
Lucky? Of course. But perhaps it's more than that. Perhaps it's because that, in addition to being beautiful, Miss Joyce is wise. She does not, like Theda Bara, try to continue in the same sort of roles with which she made her fame. Miss Joyce is willing, for example, to play the mother of grown sons and daughters — the mother of Mary Brian, in "The Little French Girl," of Clara Bow, in "Dancing Mothers," of George Lewis, in "Thirteen Washington Square," of Barthelmess, in "The Noose." Miss Joyce does not stand still and let time march by her. She marches along with time, and is not, like some of her contemporaries, left behind in the procession. Whatever role she plays. Miss Joyce invests with dignity, poise, sophistication. She has what is vulgarly known as "class." She has never "gone Hollywood."
Lunching at the Ritz, for example, where I saw her, she wore, as usual, a severely tailored suit of brown tweed. No jewelry, no ruffles and beads and fur dangling all about her person. You should see most Christmas-tree-hung stars from Hollywood!
Miss Joyce is a little difficult to know well. She talks, yes — quietly, with dignity, and easily. She has too much poise to be shyly silent. But through all her conversation she is aloof, reserved. She gives von nothing of herself, really, nothing of that self buried down underneath.
But, incongruously enough, she has the enthusiasms of a seventeen-year-old fan. Despite her sophistication, her social sureness. she is awed in the presence of the great.
She described, for example, her recent stage venture in Los Angeles, when she appeared in "The Marriage Bed." It was her first professional experience on the stage, and naturally she was somewhat timid.
"I've never been so terrified in my life," she said, "as I was one night when, at the beginning of a performance, another member of the cast came into my dressing room and said, 'Gloria Swanson is out front to-night.' That put me in a panic. 'Oh, dear,' I sighed, 'why did you have to tell me now? Why didn't you wait until the performance was over, so I shouldn't have to go on knowing Miss Swanson was there!' '
Afterward Gloria came backstage to congratulate her.
"She said very nice things," remarked Miss Joyce, "but I haven't the faintest idea what they were. I kept staring in a sort of fascination at those luminous eyes of hers. The light in the dressing room shone right across them, and they looked such an amazing blue I couldn't think of anything else."
And this from Alice Joyce! This girlish awe!
"I met Erich von Stroheim," she said, "and he made some favorable comment about my work on the stage. I wanted to make some clever answer to his praise, but I was so pleased, so flattered, I'm afraid I just stood there rather gawkily and said, 'Thank you.' Von Stroheim! Von Stroheim congratulating me!"
It doesn't seem quite credible, this girlish naiveté, after years of fame and adulation, and yet, somehow, you can't question Miss Joyce's sincerity. When she describes her thrilled delight, because John Gilbert escorted her to a party, she might be any fan of seventeen. But you can't help believing she really means it. Her quiet way of speaking, her elegance, her poise, all these qualities belie such impressionableness, but at the same time convince you she is above posing, above talking for effect.
"I never think of Alice as a movie star," a friend of hers told me. "She seems more like just a friend, another woman like myself."
And it is quite true that Miss Joyce has none of the egoism of the actor, none of the mannerisms of Hollywood.
For instance, a few months ago, she and her small daughter, Peggy, visited the convent where thirteen-year-old Alice, her other daughter, is going to school.
"Alice goes to Sacred Heart in Torresdale, just outside Philadelphia," Miss Joyce explained. "She was acting in a little play, so Peggy and I went down to see her.
"We had to change to a local train at Trenton, and there was quite a long wait there. Do you know what we did?" Miss Joyce's eyes twinkled as she talked. "We took a box of lunch — sandwiches and oranges and things — and ate them sitting in the waiting room at Trenton."
Just fancy! If you had been longing for a glimpse of your favorite star in person, and suddenly saw him — or her — placidly eating sandwiches out of a box in the station waiting room! Well, I assure you, if you missed Alice Joyce in Trenton, you probably never will see any such thing.
Most stars would feel such conduct beneath their dignity. "Eat a box lunch in the station? Suppose some one should see me?" That would be the Hollywood reaction. Fear of imperiling one's dignity which cannot afford to be imperiled.
And that's the secret of Alice Joyce. Hers can! It is only the man not sure of himself who worries about what others will think of him. Only the woman whose dignity sits on her rather precariously fears that it will fall off.
Miss Joyce doesn't need to worry. Hers is the poise, the self-assurance, which doesn't mind admitting awe in the presence of glamour; which doesn't feel her position is endangered by eating in a waiting room.
That perhaps is the secret of her continued success on the screen, despite such intermittent efforts. A role in "The Squall," recently completed; a fling at the stage; a role in The Green Goddess, her next picture. Vacation, home life, travel in between.
And always sure of her screen welcome when she wants to make a picture. No, she doesn't have to worry that some one else will fill her niche. She brings to the screen something very few have to offer; youthful maturity, in addition to beauty, and a sure, quiet elegance. The grand manner in its best sense, without pose, without affectation. The personification of that misused term — a lady. That's Alice Joyce.
Miss Joyce has not tried to revive her early successful roles, but is willing to play the mother of grown boys and girls.
Photo by: Roya
For all her poise, professionally and socially, Alice Joyce is girlishly awed by prominent people, even those in the movies. Alma Talley tells you about this in her story opposite, and explains why Miss Joyce's position is unique among the stars.
Photo by: Russell Ball (1891–1942)
Collection: Picture Play Magazine, July 1929