The Art of Leatrice Joy (1925) 🇬🇧

February 17, 2024

There are two Leatrice Joys. No, I am wrong; there is one Leatrice, and then there is her image.

by E. R. Thompson

The one lives, the other moves and speaks and breathes and plays her part, and her name — Leatrice’s own name — gleams in big electrics over the picture house door.

The first Leatrice is an actress; the second Leatrice is a star.

The first Leatrice has an art as individual and shattering as that of any screen actress in America to-day; the second Leatrice has charm and good looks and a competent technique, and is not asked to have anything else.

On the day when Leatrice Joy became a star the kinema should have gone into mourning.

Once upon a time there came out of the Goldwyn studios a new and quite original little actress. She drew towards her, by her work, all the most discriminating eyes in the motion picture industry.

She was young, quite young, but without the precocity and mannerism of the girl who has acted her way through professional childhood. She had a fresh, uncrumpled way about her; she was like clean spring. I can remember her now as I first saw her, playing the restaurant scene in The Night Rose; something tentative about her, something mischievous and shy, like a wild creature, something truthful and aflame.

The youth and freshness, the frank first look, that wins us in Norma Shearer to-day, was all in the face of Leatrice of The Night Rose, but she had not, and never will have, Norma’s faint chill. Where Norma is young ice, Leatrice is all young fire. But the youth, in something deeper than years, is their common heritage.

Leatrice worked, was sought after, made good. She was featured. She was starred. Cecil De Mille [Cecil B. DeMille] wove his spectacles around her. She wore beautiful clothes beautifully. She never, in all the multitude of pictures in her record, played a part incompetently. Her technique polished itself, crystallised, became flawless.

But the real Leatrice, the actress of The Night Rose days, stood by and laughed. She was on holiday.

Holiday… not far away. She likes to watch her image deputising, so competently and heartlessly, for herself. She likes to see its efficient little movements, its charm, its easy mastery. But sometimes indignation blazes out in Leatrice, and, pushing aside her image, she steps herself into the empty part and sets it aflame with life.

Then the film trembles. Artificialities of story and production go down in the fire. The other actors are forgotten. The thing is sincere and sympathetic, according to Leatrice’s tenantry, for a minute or an hour or an afternoon. She played such a trick with Java Head. She played it with much of Saturday Night. She played it, here, there and again, with The Ten Commandments. She never came near Manslaughter nor Triumph. What will she do in the films to come?

“The answer is with the type of part chosen for her. To a homespun, simple, unaffected heroine; to a strong, dignified heroine like the woman of The Ace of Hearts, whom she so beautifully drew; to a pathetic heroine, a Butterfly, Nedda, heroine; the real Leatrice will respond.

But the fast-set heroine of Manslaughter, with her gowns and her motors, will demand no more than Leatrice’s image. Indeed, the real Leatrice could not, more than would not, play the part. The real Leatrice would tear it to shreds, with the first touch of her honest art. She is too vivid, too very much alive. She cannot follow in the tiny slipper-steps of Gloria. Her image can, and does.

But it is a soulless image. The real Leatrice Joy is like a constant flame in an alabaster vase.

Her art is the art of to-morrow; her movement, her poise, her plastic grace, of yesterday and all the yesterdays before it. Herself entirely sincere, she calls out the sincerity in the spirit of the audience, speaking to them directly, with her eager eyes and her whimsical mouth and the set of her small head, speaking of true things and young things, and half-forgotten things of laughter and sweet pain.

She is one of the few actresses on the screen who seem to carry about with them the atmosphere of a happy childhood. All the best things in our own childhood seem to look down at us with Leatrice’s eyes.

She is what she is, we feel, because she was what she was; because, further, she was what we were.

She is happiness.

She is sincerity,

She is life.

The Art of Leatrice Joy (1925) |

Leatrice Joy, whose screen work is marked by faultless technique.

Collection: Picturegoer Magazine, July 1925


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