Dorothy Revier — The Caviar of Poverty Row (1928)

Dorothy Revier — The Caviar of Poverty Row (1928) |

August 09, 2023

When one of the minor independent picture companies borrows a well-known player to embellish one of their productions no one takes any particular notice. These upstarts have been acting pretty fresh the last year or more, using capable casts and making better pictures, every once in a while, than some of their more pompous neighbors. But a few months ago when Fox and First National sent ambassadors over to the once-lowly Columbia factory and said, “Please may we borrow that leading woman of yours? We have a role that no one else can play” — then Hollywood sat up and took notice. The conviction has been growing on them ever since that Dorothy Revier was worth noticing.

by Helen Klumph

In case you don’t understand the snobbishness of dominant producers, let me explain that for any of them to admit that an independent company has anything they want, is rather like the lord of the manor running down to the gardener’s cottage to borrow some caviar.

Dorothy is decidedly the caviar of Poverty Row, and she does very well, thank you, when contrasted with the troupers bred in the more extravagant elegance of bigger studios.

She is very beautiful — not merely pretty in the fatuous manner of magazine-cover girls but really beautiful, with haunting gray eyes and mobile lips that droop a little sadly in repose, but are usually curled upward in amusement. She has the easy grace of a dancer; nothing flamboyant or showily dramatic about her, just a tremendously effective economy of movement. But all this you, who have seen her on the screen, know I would like to tell you what she, herself, is like, and it is no small task I am setting for myself, either.

In the first place, she completely ignored for days and days my telephoned request for an interview. That might mean any of several things: that she had developed the overworked Duse-Maude Adams complex which leads young artistes to seclude themselves from the public prints, and sit home wondering how long it will have to be kept up before some one notices how aloof they are. It might mean that she was one of the younger cinema set, with so many dates with college boys that a prying interview just couldn’t be worked in anywhere, without interfering with something more interesting. Or it might mean, prosaically enough, that being under contract to Columbia meant working sixteen or eighteen hours a day. I feared the worst, which was the first mentioned.

About the time that I despaired of ever hearing from her, the phone rang and one of those friendly, confiding, sweet voices said: “I’m awfully sorry, but I simply couldn’t attend to anything. My baby has been sick all this week. She’s all right now, so if you’re still interested, I’d like you to come over any time.”

Whew! Of course I was still interested, much more than before, as a matter of fact.

We met at the Hotel Roosevelt in Hollywood, where she lives. After learning that she would be right down, I sat in the lobby waiting so long that I was afraid one of the meticulous bell boys would come over and dust me off. But when she came. I couldn’t be annoyed with her.

“I was so tired, the time slipped by and I wasn’t dressed. I simply threw my clothes on, but I guess I kept you waiting quite a while. Not a good way to make an impression, is it?”

Obviously, she isn’t the sort of person who works at impressing people. And she did look tired, with a joyous sort of weariness as though she had won the fight against whatever harassed her.

“My baby was threatened with pneumonia; it was terrible.”

Then followed one of those baffling, enigmatic silences broken by the cursory ordering of luncheon, which neither of us wanted, by prying questions from me and casual, distracting answers from her. Then we both burst out laughing, and accepted each other as friends.

Being amused is the most highly developed talent that Dorothy has. She is no propagandist carrying aloft a torch of art, no downtrodden employee who wants to give you the real inside story of how she has been repressed and thwarted and cheated.

Self-consciousness of being a subject of public interest does not drive her to babble of the yearnings of her soul. She can avoid talking about herself even when directly questioned, and do it with an air of graciousness. But she can’t keep from being amused at some trifle or other for more than two or three minutes at a stretch. And hers is the fantastic sort of amusement of a Donald Ogden Stewart, a Robert Benchley, a Ring Lardner.

Her mind is shrewd and direct, devoid of intellectual poses. It is not an ingénue mind — one which can willingly be probed, secure in the realization that nothing more than the ga-ga philosophy of a nursery rhyme will be found there. She gives the impression of knowing a lot of things that she won’t mention.

Nor is her manner that of a gingham girl. She belongs in the gallery of sophisticates. If she played the dazzling, careless Iris March, of “The Green Hat” fame, I am sure it would be hailed as a great characterization. Erté, or any of the modernist poster artists, might draw her with profit; but it should be as illustration of wholly charming, if slightly decadent, verses, and not as a Harold Bell Wright heroine for a fireside-companion magazine.

Of her background I learned, when we went up to her apartment, and hilariously explored through a desk full of old pictures. With her little girl, a beguiling-, silent child of about six, curled up on my lap, and my feet entangled in the fringe of Spanish shawls that sprawled over chairs hiding the prosaic hotel furniture, with the very latest, model of phonograph playing the very latest of crooning blues, and a telephone ringing incessantly, I learned a little of this Dorothy Revier person.

“Nothing unusual about my childhood. They’re all pretty much alike, aren’t they, until you grow old and sentimentalize about them? I was always dancing — started taking lessons when I was younger than most. And this is where that landed me at seventeen.”

She tossed me a crude black-and-white photograph of a lithe figure, scantily clad, bent in one of those almost semicircular back bends that are the pride of cabaret performers.

“That was at Tait’s in San Francisco.”

She did not go on to tell me that Tait’s was the most exclusive of cafes, or that only the most eminent performers appeared there. One more mark in her favor.

“There was a studio at San Mateo making pictures and I was engaged to dance in one of them. Played a small role, too. Look how suddenly I grew up.”

She handed me a photograph of a girl who had just decided to be an actress and who knew how to do it right — big picture hat, eyes heavily made-up, a strained pose. But one of the most beautiful photographs I have ever seen. It looked like Barbara La Marr in her days of glory.

“I decided to come down to Hollywood to try my luck.”

The chapters that she skipped there included all the praise and brilliant prophecies that her first employers heaped on her.

“Like most girls in their teens I dressed to look older. Played vamps and wild women in the accepted manner. Finally, I got around to take a good look at myself in pictures and decided that there was entirely too much of Dorothy. So I reduced ten pounds.”

“Harry Cohn put me under contract about two and a half years ago, and in Columbia pictures he’s given me a chance to play all sorts of roles. I bleached my hair and that gives me a better chance to play heroines; softens my face.”

She was making a commendable effort to talk about herself, but her halting remarks showed lack of practice.

As I came to her latest photographs I saw that she had shed all the marks of theatricalism, and had lost the imitativeness that made her resemble popular favorites. She is now a distinct individual, and it isn’t her beauty that impresses you so much, now, as a kind of burning intensity within.

She has not, as yet, had any great opportunity on the screen. She was in “The Drop Kick” with Richard Barthelmess an engagement which made many friends for her on the First National lot and brought her many fans. She was in “Loves of Carmen,” but her role was slashed to bits — one of the breaks of the game — which often means that as a supporting player an individual is too good. She has just finished a role — also under the direction of Raoul Walsh — in “The Red Dancer of Moscow,” and is eager to see how much of that is left in.

To one who has seen many players come and go, it looks as though she had every quality of screen greatness except dogged persistence in pushing herself forward.

Most of the people who have achieved great prominence on the screen have more showmanship in their manner. But if you met Dorothy in person, you would love her more for the lack of it.

Dorothy Revier and Frank Leigh in a scene from “The Tigress”.

Dorothy Revier gives the impression of knowing a lot she won’t mention.

Dorothy can avoid talking about herself, even when directly questioned.

Photo by: Melbourne Spurr (18881964)

As she appears in “The Siren.”

Collection: Picture Play Magazine, July 1928