No Director in Hollywood obtained a surer foundation for future accomplishments in the school of rough-and-ready experience than John M. Stahl.
Director of “Parnell”
By the time he had reached his sixteenth birthday, he was sure that he did not want to follow in the footsteps of his father, who was a civil engineer. In fact, he didn’t want to go into anything tinted with a serious, academic, professional background. He had only seen three or four plays, but the theatre was in his veins.
In short, he wanted to be an actor. His family, as all families will do under such circumstances, worked for months to dissuade him. He was promised gold watches and bicycles if he kept on with his studies. But pleas, promises and cajolements all proved futile. Haunting the stage doors and downtown casting offices, young John Stahl had the good luck to obtain a letter of introduction to Mrs. Leslie Carter, then at the pinnacle of her fame, and was given a small bit-in her new play, DuBarry. The bit, to be soberly statistical, consisted of one speaking line.
Half a loaf is better than none, however, and one line an immeasurable improvement over a walk-on. So the would-be actor graduated to character juveniles in New York stock, acted and collaborated on the writing of several vaudeville sketches, and followed this with a season in George Barbier’s Philadelphia stock company.
His first important Broadway role was in Brandon Tynan’s production of Robert Emmet at the Fourteenth Street Theatre, which gave him considerable prestige in Gotham theatrical circles.
Stahl’s initial movie venture was “The Boy and the Law,” made in the studio at Peekskill, N. Y. It was an independent seven-reeler, dealing with juvenile delinquency, and a tremendous commercial success.
His success here led to his selection by Benjamin Chapin to direct “The Lincoln Cycle,” a nine-reel feature dealing with the Great Emancipator, which was subsequently made into six two-reel pictures. Four Florence Reed starring pictures (including “Woman Under Oath,” and “Wives of Men”) and three Mollie King pictures, found Stahl well on his way as a director and producer. In 1918 he went to Hollywood to join Louis B. Mayer at the Mission Avenue studios. Among his picture for Mayer were “The Woman in His House,” with Mildred Harris; “Saving the Wind,” with Anita Stewart; The Dangerous Age, “Why Men Leave Home,” “Husbands and Lovers,” “The Child Thou Gavest Me,” “Fashions for Men,” “One Clear Call,” with Milton Sills; “Lovers,” with Ramon Novarro and Alice Terry; “In Old Kentucky”, and “Memory Lane.”
In 1927 Stahl became vice-president in charge of all production at the industry’s largest independent studios, Tiffany-Stahl, and made 60 pictures within the next 30 months. After disposing of his interests in Tiffany-Stahl in 1929, Stahl joined Universal as a producing director in June 1930. His Universal pictures were “A Lady Surrenders,” introducing Genevieve Tobin and Rose Hobart; “Seed,” bringing back Lois Wilson; Strictly Dishonorable, with Paul Lukas, Lewis Stone and Sidney Fox; Back Street, with Irene Dunne and John Boles; “Only Yesterday,” which introduced Margaret Sullavan; Imitation of Life, with Claudette Colbert, and “The Magnificent Obsession” with Irene Dunne and Robert Taylor.
In January, 1936, Stahl rejoined Louis B. Mayer at the Culver City studios of M-G-M, directing Parnell, co-starring chic Myrna Loy and Clark Gable. This is an adaptation of the Broadway stage hit dealing with the career and the great romance of Ireland’s famous nineteenth century leader.
Stahl shares with Roy Del Ruth, director of “Broadway Melody” and “On the Avenue,” the distinction of being one of Hollywood’s mildest-mannered directors. He never raises his voice, resorts to cutting epithets, or even publicly criticizes a player. Through the use of tactful encouragement and subtle suggestion, however, he obtains striking results.
Collection: Motion Picture Magazine, November 1937