Lile Lee — Dogging Lila’s Footsteps (1929) 🇺🇸

Lile Lee — Dogging Lila’s Footsteps (1929) |

May 11, 2024

About twenty years ago — my, how time flies — a bad, little boy pulled loose from his nurse’s hand and toddled over to the stage door of the old Orpheum Theater in Memphis, Tennessee, for a good squint at a young lady who was approaching, and who was appearing on the bill that week. As Harry Richman sings,

“The girl was she
And the boy was me!”


by Romney Scott

This young lady, in those days called “Cuddles,” was not the fair-haired ingénue usually found in girls of that age. She was a distinct vamp, with jet-black hair and lashes that curled and curled indefinitely. I gave her a reassuring smile, but the lashes were discreetly lowered.

This being a cycle of threes, I may state here that she was three and I was about seven — more than twice her age.

As she disappeared through the door, she turned and flashed me a dazzling smile, and in that instant Cuddles became “an old man’s darling.”

Even at that tender age I knew how to pick ‘em, but that’s all the good it has ever done me. I never get to first base with any of ‘em, and this affair between Cuddles and me died a-borning.

We next met about six years later — twice three, you see — at the home of a mutual friend. When I saw her, I heaved a sigh of relief, and considered myself well out of a bad mess. She still had those large, gray eyes and the black hair, but she was fat and chunky — if you know what I mean — and the hair had grown too long to curl, and was worn in thick, ugly braids.

Cuddles and a younger brother of — er — my girl — were having quite an affaire du cœur. Hot dog! What a writer I’m becoming! As both his sister and I were older than he, I was treated with something approximating awe. Cuddles left town and her swain was broken-hearted. However, there were consoling letters. When I was waiting for his sister, he used to come into the living room and show me her letters — base scoundrel — and ask advice as to the best way to conduct this amour.

Presently I left town, too — no, you little smart Aleck, I didn’t have to — and I heard no more of Cuddles for another three years.

Then, in a theater in Houston, Texas, I saw a picture called “The Cruise of the Make-Believes,” starring Lila Lee, and who do you suppose it was? That’s it! Cuddles! She didn’t seem quite so — er — chunky, and I promptly proceeded to fall in love with her a second time. Patience, children, the cycle will work out eventually.

Who wouldn’t have? Didn’t I know a real, live actress when I saw one?

This was her first appearance on the screen. She made eight starring pictures, and then disappeared from public gaze for a time. As Lila puts it, she grew fat where she shouldn’t have, and long where nobody wanted her long, and this, that, and the other.

Then she appeared for the second time on the screen as leading lady. Her worst enemy in those days could hardly have accused Lila of setting the styles — even in her pictures.

She had the reputation of being one of the frowsiest girls in Hollywood. She used to go flying around the old Lasky lot with tennis shoes on all the time, her face always in need of powder and her hair streaming around her face. She wore coat suits when she should have worn sports clothes, and sports clothes when she should have worn something else. She was about fifteen or sixteen at the time. I think it was those eves that got her by.

How many of you little brats remember her when she played with Wallace Reid, in “The Charm School,” “The Ghost Breaker,” “The Dictator,” and “Rent Free”!

Or with Thomas Meighan, in “Back Home and Broke, “The Prince Chap,” “Old Home Week,” “The Easy Road,” “Womanproof,” and in “Male and Female,” in which Gloria Swanson played opposite Meighan, supported by Bebe Daniels?

Or in “Is Matrimony a Failure?” whose cast boasted such names as Lois Wilson and Adolphe Menjou? Or in “Blood and Sand,” opposite Rudolph Valentino, and in “The Ebb Tide,” in which she played opposite James Kirkwood for the first time, and in “One Glorious Day,” one of the only two good pictures Will Rogers ever made?

How many of you knew she made a series of feature-length comedies opposite Roscoe Arbuckle when he was in his heyday? Quite an imposing list, isn’t it?

Came a day, as they used to say in the good, old silent pictures, when Lila burst upon our startled gaze, clad in white satin and a long veil, and said “I do” to the minister and “I will” to James Kirkwood, and forthwith disappeared from Hollywood.

New York knew them then for a few years. Husband Tim appeared successfully in two plays, The Fool and Ladies of the Evening. Then they appeared together in a couple of plays, Ladybird and Edgar Allan Poe — “Which we produced ourselves, God help us,” said Lila.

In those days Lila was one of the most pathetic little objects I’ve ever come across. Those enormous eyes which made you want to take her right into your arms — an inclination I still cherish, fruitlessly, perhaps — and comfort her. She was in reality the character that ZaSu Pitts and Bessie Love used to portray on the screen. I don’t know what happened then — I’ve never asked her. But things just didn’t work out, and Lila and Mr. Kirkwood reached that poetic-sounding spot on the road of life where the trail divides. They separated and Lila went to Europe.

Another three years passed and she returned to Hollywood. But times had changed, and Hollywood didn’t exactly sit up on its hind legs when she arrived, and nothing much was heard of her for a time. Then she began working again. “Queen of the Night Clubs,” with Texas Guinan, “Honky Tonk,” with Sophie Tucker, and then Drag, with Richard Barthelmess. I didn’t see the first two, but I did see Drag. The next day I went to an oculist, got some new glasses, and went back for another eyeful. And, cheerio! What an eyeful!

You see, the old cycle was hitting on all three again. Her third entrance into pictures. Her third picture since her return and, last but not least, it was the third time a humble writer began to sit up nights dreaming about her.

As you have been told, in the old days Lila was not exactly a fashion plate. But shades of Lanvin and Lelong, see her in Drag and eat dust, buddy, eat dust. The latest bob! And the ne plus ultra in clothes! Didn’t I tell you when she was three she was a pronounced vamp? Now, after twenty years, she reaches full bloom.

Next day I hot-footed it around to the Fox lot, where she was appearing with George Jessel in “The Hurdy Gurdy Man.” We lunched together, Lila, George, and William K. Howard, the director, and I.

“I can tell you all about Miss Lee,” George volunteered. “Let’s see. The last play I appeared in before I came out here was The War Song, and before that I played in The Jazz Singer. Now, some of the critics preferred my work in one and some in the other and —”

“Enough!” said Lila. “Thanks just the same, chiseler, but I’ll manage my own interview,” and she turned those thousand-candle-power eyes full blast on me.

When I came out of the swoon, Lila was holding my head on her lap and George was pressing a bottle of smelling salts, or maybe it was something else, under my nose. I inhaled deeply of whatever it was and went into another faint. Unfortunately, all good things come to an end, and by and by Mr. Howard — or maybe I should say Bill, since we’ve lunched together, called time, and we all trooped over to the set to start work again.

To my surprise, Lila has not only changed outwardly, but inwardly as well. Instead of the resigned,

patient Griselda she used to lie, I found a smart, wise-cracking, young person, with very definite ideas about a lot of things. She even knows the name of the smelling salts George carries around with him, although she isn’t partial to smelling salts, smoking being her weakness.

“Tell me,” said I, “I’ve heard so much about Mr. Barthelmess’ temperament. What’s he like to work with ?”

“Well, I will tell you. You read a lot about jealousy among players, and all that sort of thing. I suppose this will sound sort of Pollyanna-ish, but I don’t think in all the years I’ve been in the profession, I’ve encountered any of it. The engagement in Drag was one of the pleasantest I’ve ever had. Frank Lloyd, the director, was lovely, and Dick is a thorough gentleman. You can see from the picture that he was most generous. No, I certainly found no evidence of temperament, or an ugly disposition. I found him charming.”

And then from the vantage point of her twenty-four years, twenty or twenty-one of which have been spent on the stage and screen, Lila began to reminisce.

“Do you regret the old days?” I asked.

“In a way. You naturally miss working with the people you’ve known, and it’s nice to feel at home, instead of like a stranger on a lot. But, on the other hand, my outlook on life is brighter and saner than it’s ever been. I feel surer of myself and, certainly, the future looks rosier. I’m working on my third picture since Drag, already. The other two were ‘The Sacred Flame’ and The Argyle Case, marking Thomas Meighan’s return. Isn’t it funny how these threes have followed me? Maybe this third time will be the charm and the cycle will be completed.”

“Yes,” I murmured, remembering that I was in love with her for the third time, “the cycle’s completed all right.” And I went hopefully into my third faint.

Lile Lee — Dogging Lila’s Footsteps (1929) |

Three times Lila Lee has been in and out of pictures, but now she can’t leave them any more.

Photo by: Fred R. Archer (1889–1963)

Lile Lee — Dogging Lila’s Footsteps (1929) |

It was a very different Lila who played the slavey in “Male and Female” years ago.

Poised, sophisticated, and beautifully efficient is the Lila of to-day.

Photo by: Elmer Fryer (1898–1944)

Lile Lee — Dogging Lila’s Footsteps (1929) |

Collection: Picture Play Magazine, December 1929