Phyllis Haver — A Credit to Kansas (1927) 🇺🇸

Phyllis Haver — A Credit to Kansas (1927) |

November 21, 2023

Every time I see Phyllis Haver I have a fatuous inclination to quote poetry. A particular passage from Scott’s “The Lady of the Lake” comes to mind whenever I see her flit through her scenes.

by Madeline Glass

A foot more light, a step more true,
Ne’er from the heath flower dash’d the dew.

For Phyllis is as light and graceful as a fawn. It was not so long ago that her small feet, smartly shod in bathing slippers, disturbed the sands of California beaches in pursuit of her histrionic career. As you undoubtedly know, Miss Haver won her initial fame as one of the young ladies who made Mack Sennett’s pictures of dry swimming so popular.

Strangely enough, those preposterous slapstick comedies have turned out some of our finest actresses — Gloria Swanson, Marie Prevost and Phyllis Haver being three striking examples.

In her early screen days it was not uncommon for Phyllis to be the film sweetheart of Ben Turpin, or some equally incredible Romeo, with Gloria or Marie as a formidable rival. On one such occasion Phyllis returned Ben’s engagement ring — she had found Marie’s picture in his pocket, I believe — and Ben decided to bring her to terms by faking suicide. Phyllis rushed in, repentant, just in time to prevent the “tragedy.”

“It’s all right,” said Ben soothingly. “The gun isn’t loaded. See!”

He pulled the trigger. The gun fired.

“Ye gods, what a narrow escape!” he exclaimed.

In the midst of this merry atmosphere, Phyllis decided to try her talents in drama. Accordingly, she accepted the emotional role of Polly Love in Richard Dix’s The Christian. It was a severe test, but Phyllis, till then famous only for her beautiful face and figure, carried off the part with honors.

Shortly after that she wisely retired from slapstick comedies. Since then she has worked constantly, playing a wide variety of roles with signal success. So extensive has her training been and so increasingly good her performances that people are beginning to mention her as a suitable candidate for the great role of Sadie Thompson in Rain, if that play is ever permitted to reach the screen.

We often hear of people being delightfully natural, but Phyllis Haver is the only person I have ever met who is delightfully artificial. Her manner is the acme of exuberant graciousness. Though one immediately recognizes the superficial quality of her extreme friendliness, one finds it infinitely agreeable. She would not be so charming if shorn of her endearing artifices.

“Will you ever forgive me for making you wait so long?” she inquired, her treble tones seeming to indicate deep concern. “I didn’t know the appointment was for to-day, and I had to get my costumes fitted so Mr. DeMille could see them.”

She led me to the outer edge of the set on which she was working — the film being The Little Adventuress. Behind us a small studio orchestra was playing a waltz. A few feet away, William de Mille, a quiet man with a forceful personality, was directing Vera Reynolds, Victor Varconi, and Robert Ober in a scene for the film. Theodore Kosloff was a mildly interested spectator.

It seemed that Phyllis was again, for some incredible reason, playing a neglected lady. I expressed disapproval of such casting.

“Well, you see, dear,” said Phyllis, “this girl I am supposed to be is too good to her husband. She is such an extremist that she becomes almost as annoying as the kind of woman who enjoys poor health. So, he elopes with another girl.”

I still felt a bit dubious. As she sat there, a marvel of perfection, exquisitely tailored and groomed, and as sparklingly lovely as crystal, I wondered if any man in his right mind could grow weary of her wifely solicitude.

Presently Mr. DeMille asked her to come and watch the scene he was directing. When it was over Phyllis started back toward me, pulling her chair behind her. She had taken but three steps when several men rushed to her aid.

“Ask me anything you like, dear,” said she, seating herself beside me again.

I soon learned that Phyllis had been born in Kansas. Whereupon I promptly confessed to being a native of Oklahoma. After that Phyllis took me right into her confidence.

It transpired that she came to California when a child, and now lives with her mother and two Persian kittens. The family name is O’Haver — which explains many things.

Twice Miss Haver very nearly committed matrimony. She offered no explanation for the shattering of her plans, so I didn’t ask. But I’ll wager it was not because of neglect on the part of the men involved!

Regarding her ambitions, Phyllis has her blue eyes set on the heroine of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

“Much as I respect your ability,” I said, “I don’t believe you could act as dumb as Lorelei Lee in ten years.”

“Now isn’t that sweet of you!” exclaimed Phyllis. “Looking at the matter in that light,” she added, hesitantly, “playing the part successfully would be a real demonstration of ability, wouldn’t it?

“I didn’t go to see Don Juan,” she continued, “for I knew I wouldn’t like myself in that picture. They made me wear an unbecoming wig — neither blond nor brunet — and my part was so silly. I hear that although Rain has been banned as screen material, there is some talk of making a picture from the life story of Sadie Thompson. I should love to play that part. It would be the opportunity of a lifetime.”

There has long been a rumor afloat, I believe, to the effect that Phyllis is a half-sister of Marie Prevost. But, as Mark Twain said about a premature announcement of his death, the report is greatly exaggerated.

“I wish she were my sister,” said Phyllis, “but she isn’t. We have been the best of friends since childhood, playing together and working together. She is so happily married that she often says to me, ‘Why don’t you marry and be happy, too?’”

Phyllis laughed her lilting laugh, an expression of elfin mischief playing over her lovely features.

“Do you know, I am the poorest letter writer in the world. About once a year I write to my relatives back in Kansas, and then all I can think of to say is” — scribbling on her left palm with her right index finger — “How are you? I am well. The weather is fine. I am working in a new picture. Hoping you are the same, Phyllis.’ So last Christmas they sent me the largest box of stationery I ever saw!”

The thought of that little joke provoked her to another tinkling laugh.

“Seven or eight of my fans have been writing to me ever since the old Sennett days. Two boys in Japan are very faithful. One sent me a beautiful scarf. So about once a year I write each of these loyal fans a little letter.”

One might expect a girl of Miss Haver’s type to make fluttering remarks about her hopes for stardom, but the truth is that she is wisely avoiding any such thing. She has no desire to shoulder the risks and responsibilities of stardom. The jungles of Hollywood are littered with the histrionic bones of ambitious young men and women who chose to see their names in big letters prematurely. Facing oblivion, after knowing the exhilaration of ephemeral success, must be a bitter experience. Some stars refuse to admit it until the last possible moment.

In the case of Phyllis Haver, it is safe to assume that she will make no mistakes. She has a shrewd mind underneath her flaxen bob. Art — a technical word meaning apple sauce — is to her a matter to be taken seriously but impersonally. She has the ability and the sound, fundamental training necessary to a real star. I predict that another spring will find Mrs. O’Haver’s little girl near the head of the cinematic class.

Phyllis Haver — A Credit to Kansas (1927) |

There are many delightfully natural stars, but few, if any, says the author, so delightfully artificial as Phyllis Haver.

Photo by: Walter Fredrick Seely (1886–1959)

Mr. Sennett’s swimming school never boasted a fairer mermaid than Phyllis.

© Mack Sennett Comedies

Phyllis Haver — A Credit to Kansas (1927) |

Collection: Picture Play Magazine, June 1927