What's Become of Them? (1929) 🇺🇸

What's Become of Them? (1929) | www.vintoz.com

June 08, 2023

"If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your will long after they are gone,
And so hold on, when there is nothing in you
Except the will which says to them, "Hold on"!...
Yours is the earth and everything that's in it,
And, which is more, you'll be a man, my son."

 

by Samuel Richard Mook

This is a short story about several favorites of a bygone day, whom the fans haven't forgotten and who have held onto their profession through sheer will power.

New faces crowding, jostling, pushing at the doors of moviedom. New stars crashing the gates. New hits. New favorites. What's become of the old ones? Favorites of yesterday — a short, short yesterday. One, two, three, five years ago, maybe. That, in the land of the cinema, is a long, long time. People speculating, wondering, surmising. Answer Men being harassed. First-hand information wanted.

At New York's Forty-Eighth Street Theater the electrics read, "Bert Lytell, in Brothers."

My appointment was for eight. Mr. Lytell greeted me at ten after, in his dressing room. Valet hovered close by. Pale-blue eyes pierced me. "What's on your mind?" he shot out.

"We — the public and I — have been wondering what's become of you? To be frank, if you don't mind, you were riding the crest of the movie wave for a time, and then all of a sudden — eclipse. There was no gradual diminution in your appearances; suddenly one just didn't see you any more. What happened?"

"After the expiration of my last contract, I made two pictures abroad — one in Europe and one in Africa. There was some difficulty about their release, so that in addition to the time it took to film them, about eight or nine months elapsed before they were shown. After that I made a few independent pictures which were released in the smaller houses, and then I began to realize that the public was tiring of me, which was natural."

"How's that?" What kind of a star was this, who openly admitted it possible for interest in his art and personality to wane?

"Well, here's what happens. On the stage, if you're lucky, you play a season in New York and a season on the road. If you're not lucky in getting a play that will measure up to those specifications, you probably appear briefly in two or three plays in New York. In this event it is unlikely that the same people will see you in all three, as most of the theatergoing public is made up of transients who wouldn't be in town long enough to see you in three plays. Or you'd play part of a season in New York and tour for the rest of the season.

"That could go on almost indefinitely, because people would only see you three or four times in the space of a lifetime, and that would not be enough to tire them if they liked you. Now, in the movies, when you are working steadily, you make anywhere from six to eight pictures a year. Multiply that by three or four, and you'll see that you can crowd a lifetime on the stage into three or four years in the movies. When you consider how small a percentage of hits fall to the lot of any actor and take into consideration the fact that, in addition to seeing you so often, the public sees you in so many rotten pictures — well, really, I think the public is pretty patient and long-suffering.

"Going back to the question of wearing oneself out with the public — you appear in so few plays that you can give thought to their selection. If I give a reasonably good performance and put honest effort into it, it stands to reason that the people who come to see me in this play will continue to come to see me in other plays."

"And the screen?"

"To be trite, the talkies, or squawkies, or what you will, are opening up a new field to us. I hope to be able to make a couple of pictures each year, either in the summer, or here in the East while I am appearing on the stage at night."

"I no longer sigh for the vast rewards that accompany screen contracts. Right now, if I had a suite at the Ritz or the Ambassador, I should be worrying for fear the time would come when I should no longer be able to afford it. I live modestly and know that by exercising a reasonable amount of intelligence I can go on that way."

The well-modulated tones stopped and I looked at him. Don't pity Bert Lytell, and the fact that he may have passed his zenith. He has intelligence, coupled with ability, and it is extremely unlikely that you will ever read of him in a home for aged actors. You'll be seeing him, either on the stage or screen, or both, for a long time to come.

Cullen Landis.

Here is one of the strangest anomalies who has ever walked the face of the earth. Though still youthful, he has crowded a life-time of experience into the few years of his existence. A lifetime of bitterness and disillusionment.

Differing from Mr. Lytell, who admits that he wore himself out with the public, this likable chap is no longer seen on the screen for no other reason than that he dared be true to himself, and had the courage to live his life according to the dictates of his desires. Studio executives outside of business hours didn't interest him. Prizefighters, taxi drivers, men, who had seen life in the rough, did. They formed his associates. His employers resented it, felt it a slap in the face. Cullen went blithely on his way. They were paying for his talent; his talent was what they got. His companionship and his friendship were his own to give as he saw fit.

He found among the lower classes a loyalty to friends and associates and a regard for the given word, which was totally lacking in the men of affairs with whom he was associated. The promises made by these were manifold and glowing. It was a case of "Trust me, my boy, and you'll not regret it." Between promises and fulfillment lies a deep and rocky chasm. Somewhere in the depths of this is buried Cullen Landis' faith in human nature.

At the end of a year, instead of the bonus he had been promised by one company, he got the merry ha-ha. There was no swallowing the hurt and keeping going, somehow. There is no logic in him. He can't work for people he doesn't respect. His code is "Stand on your merits, if you have any. and reap the reward to which you're entitled. If you have no merits, you take the consequences, but be true to yourself at all costs."

Sensing this, there was a gradual effort on the part of his employers to wean the public away from him, so that when his contract was not renewed he wouldn't be missed.

Independents, quickies, a serial — nineteen weeks of it — then finally "Lights of New York." Another hit! Vaudeville. Sanctuary. Deafening applause as he steps on the stage. Not press agent stuff, but real. I saw him in three different cities and it was the same story each time. Through? Right now, he's sitting on top of the world, or pretty close to it. There is nothing of the actor or "ham" about him. Here is a man who rings true, clear down to the core of his being. Usually his face is masked either with a smile, or an expression of stolidity, but occasionally in an unguarded moment the mask is forgotten and you read a tragedy of hurt and disillusionment in his eyes.

As we parted he said, "I wish, if you could, you would tell those fans who still remember me, how very, very deeply I appreciate their interest and regard. It's one of the things I've not been able to do for myself. I have no way of letting them know."

Kenneth Harlan.

He has a breadth and girth of stature belied by his appearance on the screen. His voice is a light baritone, with a curious huskiness to it.

Kenneth Harlan, too, has found sanctuary in vaudeville. "I'll never go back to the screen without a contract in my pocket," he declared. "Free lancing is too heartbreaking."

"What happened after your contract with Constance Talmadge? You were going pretty well then?"

He grinned. "We were both going pretty well then. Too damned well, in fact, to keep us together. After that I started free lancing. No, wait a minute. I had one — no, two — more contracts, and then I began free lancing. I made pictures here and there and everywhere — all over the place. None of them were particularly outstanding. Marie and I made a picture together, 'The Beautiful and Damned.' Say, did you read those love-life confessions of hers?

"I left Hollywood last August. They weren't doing anything out there then. Few talkies, because they weren't equipped for them, and not many silent pictures, because they didn't know how they'd be received. I came to New York, vacationed a while, started out in this sketch the first of October and have been playing it ever since. Booked until next August. I'll play Los Angeles in about eight weeks and we'll see what happens then. If nothing happens I'll continue in this, or a play. I prefer a comedy.

He talked reluctantly of himself, or rather of anything at all. And yet his reticence is not the reticence of taciturnity, but rather that of groping for a common ground. There is no great depth to his nature, but this is offset by his sincerity and his indifference to what people think of him.

Charles Ray.

Lights outside the theater — vaudeville again — displayed the information that Charles Ray, in person, not a movie, was appearing there. I went inside. Before he ever appeared on the stage, when merely his name was flashed on the announcers at the sides of the stage, there was applause any star might have been proud of. When he actually appeared, he received such an ovation as I have never before witnessed in a theater. Cheers, whistles, huzzas. And yet, when he left the stage scarcely fifteen minutes later, there was merely a desultory ripple of applause. His act falls flat. With every chance to come back in a really big way, he misses fire just as surely as a ten-cent cigarette lighter.

If memory serves correctly, it was his ambition to be the whole show — star, producer, and director — which wrecked him. It is the same story in vaudeville. He cannot resist the temptation to display what he considers his amazing versatility, by singing songs of his own composition. It is a toss-up which is worse. His voice is singularly toneless and usually more or less off key. He has been described as "an apostle of futility," and I can think of no more apt description.

He talks glibly — too glibly. You have the feeling that it has all been written out and learned long ago. Charles Ray speaks volubly of his contributions to the screen. He gave a very definite characterization to the public, although it "peeves" and "irks" him to have that character referred to as a "hick," or a "rube." When that wore out and the public no longer cared about seeing him play rustics, he began to wonder what it was all about, he says.

He refers proudly to the fact that he made the first and almost only movie without subtitles, "The Old Swimmin' Hole," though I am still not certain just why that should support a claim to greatness. He links his name not infrequently with that of Douglas Fairbanks and I surmise that the word "genius" is the cream in his coffee.

Herbert Howe once wrote that "doing the right thing is a fetish with Charles Ray." I do not believe it is so much a question of doing the right thing as it is of doing what he believes the public will consider the correct thing. Where Cullen Landis and Bert Lytell display native intelligence in expressing more or less original ideas, Charles Ray's talk rambles along disconnectedly in an effort to impress his listener with his cleverness.

The Story of Philosophy and Israfel occupy an ostentatious position on his dressing table, and he naively confesses that he carries the former and a couple of volumes of Shakespeare about with him. He also confides that he takes singing lessons and "a language or two" when he has time. A couple of scouts are looking for a play for him, either comedy or musical comedy, and if these fail to materialize there is always— Heaven help us! — the concert stage. Music has always been very near and dear to him, he says, and in this I believe he is sincere.

When you recall his marvelous characterization in The Girl I Loved, and going back further, his appealing acting in "The Clodhopper," you lose all patience with the smug poseur of "The Garden of Eden" and "Vanity."

For the real Charles Ray there is still a large public and an enviable place on the screen, but for the merely capable actor who overestimates his ability to the extent of confusing talent with genius, there is only oblivion.

I know of no one of whom I would enjoy writing pleasantly more than Charles Ray, for he has contributed some of the finest acting the screen has ever known, but Charles Ray as he is to-day leaves me cold.

Here, then, are four prime favorites of a few years ago. Somehow I have a feeling that one of these days you will see Cullen Landis back on the screen in a bigger way than ever. With a sympathetic director and good stories, there is no limit to what he could do. Bert Lytell is too clever a showman ever to permit himself to drop entirely from sight. His appearances on the screen will be intermittent, but you'll see him. Kenneth Harlan comes from a stage family and, with his peculiar voice, it seems more likely that he will be seen henceforth on the stage more than on the screen. Charles Ray is too well known ever to drop entirely from the minds of producers. It is probable that he will appear from time to time as suitable roles are found, but as he has learned little from his experiences and has already let pass many chances to come back, it is improbable he will have another big chance.

Drop the curtain, fans! For some of our favorites the play is over but, for others there will be a second and third act still to come.

Kenneth Harlan, who is now in vaudeville, says he will never return to the screen without a long contract.

Photo by: Melbourne Spurr (18881964)

As a singing star in vaudeville, Charles Ray is irked by mention of his "hick" roles on the screen.

Photo by: Melbourne Spurr (18881964)

Bert Lytell is a success as a stage star

Photo by: Melbourne Spurr (18881964)

Though a hit in vaudeville, Cullen Landis asks to be remembered to his movie fans.

Photo by: Melbourne Spurr (18881964)

Collection: Picture Play Magazine, July 1929