James Rennie — The Master of Spanish Love (1921) 🇺🇸

James Rennie — The Master of Spanish Love (1921) | www.vintoz.com

January 19, 2024

In addition to being Dorothy Gish’s husband, James Rennie is also the handsome hero who shouts his way through “Spanish Love” at the Maxine Elliott Theater.

by Harriette Underhill

Now, if Mr. Rennie doesn’t like our description of his performance we shall admit that we never could have thought of putting it that way if it hadn’t been suggested to us by Miss Gish herself. “Have you seen my husband?” she said, “He is the one who shouts his way through Spanish Love.” It isn’t that Mr. Rennie is given to shouting — no, indeed. But Spanish Love is laid in that far-distant corner of Spain called Murcia, and there, in spite of the heat, they do things strenuously. Mr. Rennie doesn’t shout when he makes love, of course, but most of the time he is defying the whole township and refusing to let Migaio, his rival, shoot him offhand.

Our first view of Mr. Rennie was a celluloid one. He was Miss Gish’s leading man in Remodeling Her Husband. Next came Flying Pat, where Mr. Rennie appeared again as Miss Gish’s husband, and this time we could no longer resist him. As Mr. Rennie was playing in New York it wasn’t necessary to resist him. We just called up Messrs. Wagenball and Kemper, the owners of Spanish Love, and told them our story, and that night found us at the Maxine Elliott Theater getting our first view of the real James Rennie. We may as well say right at the start, and so get it off our mind, that in his Spanish costumes he was the handsomest thing we ever had gazed on, and if we were Dorothy Gish we should take him out of that show at once. Why, when he shouts and raves it is probable that every woman in the theater is trembling for fear he won’t leap off the stage, seize her in his arms, and rush off with her.

And if he did do this the rest of the people would think it was just part of the show. The actors play their parts all over the theater, and they make three entrances from the wings or out of the boxes or down the aisles, in Spanish Love. Well, anyway, after Mr. Rennie had shouted his last shout and had carried Maria del Carmen away on his horse we went backstage to ask him why, when, and where he became an actor, and whether he preferred the silent or the noisy drama.

“I became an actor nine years ago, with two years out for the war, and I became a screen actor about one year ago, when I first met Miss Gish.”

“And how did you happen to do that?” we said, avid for facts. Mr. Rennie smiled broadly, showing all of his dazzling white teeth. “I didn’t happen,” he said. “Nothing ever just happens. Mrs. Rennie and her sister Lillian Gish went to see me playing in Moonlight and Honeysuckle, with Ruth Chatterton; and Dorothy said, ‘Lillian, there is my leading man I’ve been looking for. You’ll have to direct him with me in my next picture.’ When they sent for me and asked me to sign a contract I signed without even reading it over. I wanted to be in pictures, and I wanted to support Miss Gish.”

“And now you’ve got a chance to,” we interrupted irrelevantly. “Well,” he continued, “I hadn’t been working for more than a day when I concluded that being a screen actor was a pretty pleasant sort of thing. Fancy having Dorothy and Lillian for leading woman and directress. In our first scene, Lillian, who is very serious when she works, said: ‘Ready, take her in your arms! Closer, closer, closer!’

“‘No,’ piped up Dorothy. ‘He’s crushing me now!’

“‘All right,’ said Lillian, in a businesslike tone, ‘unhug.’ And after that we all felt pretty well acquainted. And then I stayed on and made two more pictures with Dorothy, and now I’m making one with Lillian, and that’s the extent of my picture acting.”

“And did you always want to be an actor?” we asked.

“Always,” replied Mr. Rennie. “I went on the stage straight from college and played in stock until the war broke out. I was for several seasons with the stock company at Northampton, Massachusetts, and was playing there when I left to enlist in the Royal Flying Corps. You know I was born in Toronto and had a theater of my own there. I must tell you about that theater. My father was a grain merchant, and when I was thirteen I persuaded him to let me have one of his old warehouses to turn into a playhouse. We built a stage in one end and rigged up a curtain and called it the Rennie Theater, and when that was finished I wrote the play. It was adapted from Sir Walter Scott’s Lady of the Lake, and was a very pretentious production. I was also stage manager and leading man, and at that time I wasn’t quite sure whether I wanted to be an actor or a playwright. I just wanted to be noble and didn’t care how I accomplished it.”

“You sing, too, don’t you?” It was an assertion rather than a question; for we were sure that any one with such a wonderful speaking voice must surely sing.

“Well,” said Mr. Rennie, “I thought I did, but I guess I don’t. Not long ago the man with whom I had been studying voice culture said, ‘I’m giving a benefit, and I wish you could take part, but you don’t sing.’ So after that unkindest cut of all I stopped trying.”

So we found Mr. Rennie just as delightful and just as handsome behind the scenes as he is behind the footlights. He is thirty years old, tall and broad-shouldered, and he has the whitest teeth and the bluest eyes and the blackest hair! We wondered if he knew how handsome he was, so we asked him. He said no, he didn’t. And let us add right here that he also has a marvelous sense of humor, and that is why he is such a good actor. We believe that a sense of humor is manifested, not so much in what it makes a man do as what it prevents him from doing. And Mr. Rennie plays his screen comedy with delightful repression. He told us that he always wondered what would happen if, when this question is put to him in Spanish Love, “Do you swear to shoot this man on sight?” he should reply, “No, I was only joking!” But Spanish Love is serious business, and nobody says anything he doesn’t mean. So, in the daytime, Mr. Rennie has to get rid of his exuberance of spirits by playing comedy in front of the camera.

James Rennie — The Master of Spanish Love (1921) | www.vintoz.com

James Rennie in this Spanish costume is one of the most admired actors on Broadway.

Photo by: Ira D. Schwartz

James Rennie — The Master of Spanish Love (1921) | www.vintoz.com

James Rennie — The Master of Spanish Love (1921) | www.vintoz.com

Collection: Picture Play Magazine, April 1921