Editor's note. ¾ The screen's cleverest comedienne reveals in her series of ten articles entitled “HOW TO
I. The Movies As A Career For Girls
I have always said that advice is the cheapest thing in the world, hence the most worthless.
So I propose only to chat with you and give you my views of the screen as a career for girls.
I have had so many letters -- millions it seems to me -- from girls who want me to tell them the truth about the business.
I have wanted to answer, but each time I have sat down with my secretary to dictate a nice, motherly sermon, I have felt as much at sea as the ones who ask for advice.
And let me say a word right here, girls about the letters you write me and to other stars.
We appreciate them ¾ truly we do. We are ordinary human beings, quickly touched by sincerity and appreciation. But it is terribly hard to talk to people we do not know. I think I could tell pretty well whether a girl had screen possibilities if I met her, and yet Luck ¾ that strange, capricious god -- plays such curious tricks that predictions are unsafe. A radiant beauty with loads of personality might never get a part, while an ugly duckling might slip in and make good over night.
There has been so much unconscionable stuff written as advice to screen-struck girls that I feel in the class with an oil stock promoter or a gold brick salesman in undertaking this series of articles.
In the first place, I object to that term “screen-struck.”
Ambition is never to be scoffed at whether it is ambition to be a screen actress or a good stenographer. But, of course, there is a vast difference between real ambition and just silly vanity.
And, girls, you are so liable to fool yourselves and try to see what qualities you have and what you have not.
If you are determined, in spite of handicaps, to be a screen actress, set about cultivating the qualities you need.
I am not a New Thought advocate, but I do believe a person can accomplish just about anything if the desire is sufficiently strong to breed tenacity.
In stating the qualities desirable in one who would seek work in the studios, please do not think I claim all such qualities for myself. I am as much a student now as I was when I started. Indeed, I am a great deal more studious now than I was a few years ago. I have learned that happiness in life is attained only through the work that enables us to forget life. I believe that is a line from W. L. George's “A Bed of Roses.”
Therefore prepare to enjoy your work, to desire your work, and not the fruits of it.
Anzia Yezierska, that splendid short story writer, once quoted a Hindoo proverb which says: “Work for results, but leave the results with God.”
Luxury is an illusion. Too many girls want a screen career because they believe it will give them luxury. If that is the real desire, forget the screen and stay where you are. Because if you become successful enough to have luxury you will have so much work and so much responsibility that you will have little time to enjoy it.
Desire for the work and nothing else should be considered in choosing the screen as a career.
So many people in writing about the movies as a career for girls rant about the tremendous difficulties, as though every profession -- and life itself -- were not filled with difficulties.
I believe the only difference between the screen and other businesses as regards difficulties is the attitude on the part of workers.
Girls who start out to be good school teachers go into a hard training. They go through high school and a teacher's training course of two or three or four years. Then they start in a small position at sixty or seventy dollars a month. They do not expect sudden success. They expect to devote a lifetime in the pursuit of success.
But what is the usual attitude of a girl entering upon a screen career?
She usually does not prepare herself at all. She goes to a studio and expects to make a living at once.
Most girls are unwilling to give the same time and study to the screen that they would give to another profession.
A girl may start as a saleslady or switch-board operator and make a weekly wage from the outset. It may be a small stipend, but it is something on which she can count every week.
The screen is not that way. It is a precarious business. A beginner, if lucky, may land “extra” work immediately at five dollars a day, and work every day for two or three weeks. Then she may be idle for three or four weeks or even months.
Therefore I would say, never attempt a screen career if you need steady income. If you have no money, either give up the idea of entering pictures, or else save enough money at some other work until you have enough to support you for a year.
Never start penniless for
In this series of chats with you I am not going to be pessimistic. I believe there are great opportunities for beginners in motion pictures. The screen needs new personalities constantly; it must continually change in order to keep fresh and vigorous. But no girl should undertake the first step on the road to
As for the moral phase of screen work I have little to say. It seems to me that one needs character to steer a safe course in any profession or in any city. This much I do say, that the film work offers plenty of temptations.
One of the worst temptations is that of succumbing to vanity and getting a false perspective upon oneself and upon the world.
Character is absolutely essential not only for your personal welfare off-screen, but for your work.
Character photographs, as you must know if you are a keen student of the motion picture. It is the character of Mary Pickford shining through her beauty that makes us love her. Without that spiritual illumination Mary Pickford would never have so many admirers, great actress though she is.
The great differences between the stage and the screen as I see it is this:
On the stage you may disguise your self in a characterization; on the screen you absolutely reveal your self no matter what character you play.
That may seem a striking statement, but I believe it.
A girl with a selfish, unkind disposition can never earn any great amount of success playing lovely characters. I have formed this conclusion from studying girls who, although given as much opportunity as Mary Pickford, have failed lamentably.
The real of you -- call it character, soul, personality or what you will -- must stand the photographic test, just as your features must.
Thus in cultivating yourself for the screen you are cultivating yourself for life, developing the best that is in you, perfecting yourself as a human being.
In our next chat I will describe as nearly as possible the types of girls which producers seek, the types which have the best chance for breaking into a studio and remaining there.
( Mabel Normand.)
II. Types of Girls That Producers Seek
The casting director -- that gentleman to whom you must go for employment -- divides players into two general classifications. They are “leads” or they are “character” actors.
By “leads” he means people who play leading roles -- the heroes and the heroines. Character actors are those who do the dirty work -- villains, vampires, and other “heavies” as we call them in studio parlance. They also play mother and father roles, foreigners, etc. I believe George Jean Nathan defines a character actor as one who is able to keep a trick moustache from falling off. That is an excellent definition for the movie character actor, because he is an expert in makeup. Lon Chaney is one of the finest character actors, a veritable miracle man of makeup.
Girls seeking a career on the screen generally think only of leading roles. They want to be pretty and adorable. Their goal is stardom, and few character actors ever achieve that rank, because the public idolizes only “The good, the true and the beautiful.”
Furthermore, a girl starting in motion pictures has had little or no experience (I am not supposing that you already are an actress), hence she hasn't the knowledge of intricate makeup. Yet she already may be a certain “type.” She may be the `slavey' type, such as ZaSu Pitts, or she may be a distinctly foreign type -- perhaps the Spanish type such as we sought for my latest picture, “Suzanna.”
But unless she is a decided type, she must expect to play “straight” parts or leading roles.
On the screen you must have the appearance of the character which you assume. It would be difficult to believe in Mary Pickford if she played a vampire, because there is nothing about her that suggests such a character. On the screen you are almost X-Rayed; you are held before the spectator in merciless close-ups which reveal every lineament and, I think, the underlying character.
For this reason directors seek “types” -- people who look the parts they are to play.
The girl who has the best chance of breaking into the studios is not the character type, but the pretty girl who will serve for “atmosphere” or minor roles that require no characterization; for you must know that directors require odd types only now and then. Usually they want people who have some experience.
Producers are not searching for character actresses; but are searching for girls and young men who have personality suitable for leading roles.
In one breath a producer will cry for new faces and in the next warn young people of no experience that they have little chance of getting into pictures. Producers want new personalities with years of experience. That is rather impossible. But the producer is not the most reasonable person in the world. Yet he honestly does want to make discoveries. What one would not like to find a potential Pickford, or Pola Negri, or Lillian Gish?
But it takes a discerning eye to discover such potentialities in a beginner. One may easily pick a gold brick for the real eighteen-karat stuff.
The only attributes of which a producer may be positive are the physical. He knows a pretty girl when he sees one, hence she has more in her favor than the girl who is not pretty, even though the latter may have more innate dramatic talent.
Therefore, the girl who is most in demand is the one who has qualities that may lead to her exploitation in leading roles.
She must be small, because a small woman is supposed to be more appealing and because she may play youthful roles that a large woman could not.
Five feet three is considered the average height for leading women. Some of us are not that tall, a few are taller.
She must be young. In fact, youth comes before all else in consideration. A woman of thirty should never consider the screen as a career unless she wants to play character roles and even then she hasn't great opportunities. The public demands extreme youth of its heroines. A young woman may play a wider variety of role than an older woman. She may play a child or she may, by use of makeup, appear a woman of middle age. But there are very few women of middle age who can play the part of children.
Slenderness is another requisite. Fat is anathema to the screen actress. The camera enlarges, thus a person who is just pleasantly plump in real life appears fat on screen. Miss Pickford weighs one hundred and five. Anita Stewart, who is somewhat taller, weighs one hundred and ten or thereabouts.
While a woman need not be beautiful, she cannot be absolutely homely. She must have some features to recommend her to the eye of the casting director. Consider any of the screen stars and you will find some points of beauty that are remarkable: Pola Negri's eyes and figure; Anita Stewart's eyes, hair and lovely slenderness; Bebe Daniels' eyes, figure and rich coloring.
I know a beautiful girl who has been playing “extras” for two years. Only recently she secured a small part. Most of the time she was without any sort of work, dependent entirely on the money she received from home. She has an unusually lovely face and a nice personality. Her trouble? She is plump and has thick ankles. If she is able to reduce, the ankles may be forgiven her. But you see how exacting the producer and the camera -- can be.
The pretty girl, petite and well-formed, unquestionably has the easiest start. She may not qualify but she has her chance.
Consider the beautiful girls who have started with Mack Sennett -- Gloria Swanson, Marie Prevost, Harriet Hammond and innumerable others. Their beauty gave them access to the studio, and once in they applied themselves sufficiently to become genuine actresses.
Beauty alone will not make one a tremendously popular star. There must also be individuality, but that oftentimes is developed. I will have more to say about personality in another chat.
Beauty is essential to a girl's success in pictures.
But what is beauty?
You may have it and not know it.
Or you may think you have it and be the only one to appreciate it.
There is no use being kind and sweet and coy about the subject of beauty. A girl who has a lovely face certainly has far more chance of entering motion pictures than a girl who has not. But a girl does not have to be a Venus.
In my opinion Venus would never have a look in. Oh, perhaps she might play mother roles.
We used to consider Lillian Russell and Maxine Elliot as the ideals of feminine pulchritude. They were the standards by which we measured ourselves several years ago.
The screen, however, has established a new type -- the slight, petite, small featured girl.
You may not know it, but the camera enlarges frightfully.
A woman of medium size appears large on the screen. A large woman appears gauche.
Furthermore, as I have already said, the small woman can play a variety of parts, particularly if she has youth.
Yet if we consider the beauties of all time we find that they all were celebrated for something besides regular features, nice eyes and pearly teeth. Everyone knows that the personal charm and character of Lillian Russell are what give distinction to her beauty. Without these great assets she might never have been considered the queen of the fair.
There are very few screen beauties who are perfect from the artist's standpoint, although a great many have served as artist's models.
But most of them have some distinguishing feature of beauty -- and know how to feature this feature.
There is scarcely a girl who can not be transformed by a coiffure. You must learn the style of hair dress which becomes you most and stick to it.
Study yourself with the idea of discovering your most attractive feature -- eyes, hair, nose, mouth, throat, figure. Then do the best you can to play up this gift.
With the present day accessories of the toilet and the scientific knowledge on beauty subjects, a girl should be able to improve herself fifty percent or more.
No one is tricked by makeup -- unless the makeup is so clever that it is scarcely makeup.
Expressions also should be studied. An ugly expression may destroy an otherwise beautiful effect; a beautiful expression may so illuminate an ugly face as to make it beautiful.
In studying expressions and cultivating the right sort, be careful to avoid affectations.
In my opinion affectation nullifies all claim for beauty.
Have you ever seen an affected self-conscious man? Do you think him handsome?
Do you suppose, then, that men -- or other women -- would consider you beautiful if you had affectations and plainly showed that you thought yourself incomparable?
Beauty may be developed physically, mentally and scientifically.
You may develop clear complexion, lustrous eyes, healthy condition of the hair and symmetry of physique by exercise: walking, golfing, swimming, dancing, riding horseback, playing tennis. My favorite exercise is swimming; next to that dancing. I believe that both forms of exercise are particularly good for the body. They increase flexibility, develop symmetry and grace, impart the color, the glow and the alertness that are the high notes of youth.
Above all, EXERCISE.
Some people will disagree with me and say that the mental or spiritual state is of more importance in the development of beauty. But, inasmuch as I am talking to girls, I am stressing healthy, physical exercise because I believe it stimulates healthy, clean and good-looking thoughts.
The thing we call disposition -- which is simply being agreeable and thoughtful of others -- actually plays a tremendous part in your beauty. I am not one of those philosophical old souls who chatter about Good Thoughts in embroidered motto form. I speak of Thought as a Force, and we know it is a force of incalculable power. Mind can do anything -- consider the wireless telephones. Only the other night I talked from
The camera penetrates makeup and proves incontrovertibly that Beauty is not just skin deep. And the screen has made us keener of eye in observing people. Most of us can determine rather quickly the sort of human being a person is by the play of expression on the face. If we do not like those expressions it doesn't matter much how regular the features may be or how exquisite the coloring; there is no attraction to hold the eye.
If you believe you have certain features which are of photographic value and have decided to go into pictures be sure to make the most of your appearance when you call upon the casting director. He is the court of first decision -- and sometimes last.
Don't try to vamp him. Don't try to act at all. All acting must be done before you ever see him. I mean you must have cultivated your appearance and your expression so that you need not think about yourself when you ask for a job.
Above all, don't weigh yourself with makeup. If you have a naturally beautiful complexion, leave it alone. You will be notable in comparison to the many painted-and-powdered girls whom the director sees every day. Dress in good taste and in a way that becomes you. No intelligent, observing girl of today needs to be told that simplicity is the secret of smart dress. Care as to detail is important ¾ trim shoes and stockings, a new hat of becoming lines, nails perfectly manicured and hair dressed as exquisitely as fingers can do it. Combine this care of detail with cleanliness and the sparkle of health and most any girl will have attraction if not downright beauty. If, in addition, she has the manners that betoken breeding and the smile that indicates charm and humor -- well, the chances are she will be asked her name and telephone number -- and will receive a call the next time the casting director wants “extras.”
Beauty and personality are complementary. One aids the other. Sometimes we call a girl beautiful, whereas she would be very plain were it not for the charm she radiates. Again, a beautiful face plus an amiable manner gives a girl the reputation for personality that she might not have if the beauty were absent.
After all, it is individuality rather than prettiness that establishes a person. You recognize Bebe Daniels' mouth because it is different; Gloria's uplifted tilt nose, because it is distinctive; Nazimova's eyes because they are unlike any other pair of eyes...
Because personality is the very life of beauty I consider it more important. Personality cannot be manufactured, but like beauty, it can be developed to some extent. Next week I'm going to talk about it.
IV. Developing Personality
The greatest individual asset -- or liability -- is personality.
It operates for or against your success whether you be an actress or a saleswoman. But it is particularly important to the actress.
Just what do we mean by personality?
We mean that which distinguishes or characterizes a person ¾ the quality that causes us to like or dislike a person.
It is more important than beauty. In fact, beauty without it is nothing. You may recall a number of pretty women who have not gone very far on the screen simply because they lacked distinction. They made no impression upon you. It was difficult for you to remember them.
I will go even farther and say that personality is more important than acting ability, at least so far as the screen is concerned. Personality is the most important pigment with which a screen player portrays character. The camera examining your every gesture and lineament, is sure to reveal the personality under the makeup. And such personality is a composite of so many attributes ¾ expression, movement, appearance ¾it is the very soul and body of the character which you delineate.
Furthermore, the most popular screen players are those who are loved for themselves, for their personalities. That is why you are so bitterly disappointed when you find that your favorite has faults just like the rest of humanity. You feel that an idol is made of superior stuff and has no rights to human failings. This proves that it is not his acting ability which causes you to admire him, for if that were so you would regard him more impersonally and go on admiring him no matter what his personal life might be.
The person who starts out in pictures today with the aim of becoming a public favorite must set up for himself a model. He must expect to mold not only his expression but his personality, his character, his very manner of living.
Most people believe that personality is a gift, which you either have or you have not.
Every human being has some sort of personality, otherwise a lot of us would be alike. But, while every human being has some distinguishing trait, it may not be sufficiently marked to attract either likes or dislikes. We call such a person “pale” or indefinite. He is the fellow who can be in a party a whole day and no one takes notice of him.
Perhaps such a person is suffering from what psycho-analysis call an “inferiority complex.” I believe some of these gentleman say that Shakespeare suffered from the same! Therefore there can be no reason for discouragement. All such a person needs is to cultivate enough confidence in himself to express his personality. He needs recharging, more electricity, so to speak.
Again there is the person who has manners or expressions which are annoying or disagreeable. He may not be aware of them, but he should certainly be aware that there is something wrong with him and set about finding out what it is.
A very good way of determining whether or not you have a personality that is pleasing is by noting how popular you are among your fellow students or colleagues. You've seen kids at school who were always the center of a group. Why ? Because they had personalities.
In attempting to cultivate your own personality first observe what qualities or manners you admire in others.
Or, better still, observe what you dislike in others, and then weed such characteristics out of your own system.
For instance, I abhor artificiality. A poseur to me is impossible. I could never pretend to be something that I am not because I so detest pretense in others.
You understand then, that I do not urge you to affect manners or qualities that are not naturally yours. But perhaps they are yours and you have not brought them to the surface, or perhaps they can be developed naturally.
The loveliest of all human qualities, I think is sympathy. The kind sympathetic person who always thinks first of the other person, strives to understand that person and be interested in his interests is a person who is bound to be popular. And that quality of sympathy shows on the screen. We say a person has “appeal” oftentimes when we mean that they show sympathy.
Now every human being has been endowed with some portion of sympathy. You will note that children as a rule, show marked sympathies for people, animals, and even toys. You've seen a mother pretend to cry in order to win a child to do what she wishes. And you've seen that little child's face cloud with deep concern when he thought his mother was weeping. That is innate sympathy. The trouble is that we often submerge it through selfishness, disillusionment or just because we don't think it proper to show our feelings.
We repress too much, we Americans. If more people let go of themselves and expressed the good that was in them we'd be surprised to find human beings much nicer than we thought they were.
Charm is but the expression of beautiful thoughts and feelings.
In order to have beautiful thoughts and feelings you must turn you thoughts outward ¾ out toward other people and other things. Take an interest in your friend's affairs and strive to sympathize. You will learn something about human nature, as well as develop something within yourself. Also read, read, read, read. And try always to read with sympathy. Don't say, “Oh, I love that character!” or “I hate her!” A human being is complex, with traits good and bad. Simply strive to understand a character, its motives and mental processes.
There is also a physical side to personality. The way you walk and gesture is a part of it. Therefore, as with beauty, exercise is important. Not only important in developing bodily grace, but in developing the self-confidence and assurance that the athlete invariably has. Learn to dance, skate, swim, ride horseback, drive a car, play tennis and golf. You will be required to do many of these things in pictures, so you are not wasting time by any means. Knowing how to do things is a distinct personality asset.
Personality is not just a surgery tea-table affair as many people seem to think. It is real and rugged, showing to as much advantage in one society as in another, as much at home outdoors as within. A person who cannot adapt herself to all sorts of people and surroundings cannot get very far as a picture actress, who is required to assume a different character in different surroundings every six or seven weeks.
I could write a volume about personality without helping you any more to develop it, so let's quit and next week talk about the best school in screen acting.
Many girls have written to me about schools for motion picture acting. Several have had unfortunate experiences with persons who offered to teach them “the secrets of acting.”
In the first place there are no “secrets” that I know of. And so far as I know there are no real schools for instructing in the art of screen technique.
In time, there may be such schools, but I doubt it. At present, there are none that I can recommend, and none that are endorsed by leading directors or stars of the industry. Therefore, beware of them.
If you have plenty of money, you may find it profitable to take a course at one of the reputable schools of dramatic art. There are two or three schools which have been established for a number of years and which can point to students who have gone from them to successful careers on the stage.
The same acting ability is required for the stage as for the screen except that the stage requires vocal training while the screen requires more facial expression. But both of them require the development of imagination, the ability to feel and to express in an accurate and effective manner.
Most aspirants for screen careers have not the money, however, to spend on special training courses. For the few schools of dramatic art that are worth while are expensive.
Experience is always a recommendation, and if a person can find an opening in a stock company or any other theatrical organization he should make the most of it. Work on the stage gives one poise and self-assurance. A great many successful screen stars have started on the stage -- Mary Pickford, Lillian Gish, Dorothy Gish and others.
Still there are other stars who have gone directly to the studios and gained success.
Because the screen is developing a separate and distinctive art, I believe that the best way is to start as an “extra” in a studio.
But there are several courses which you may develop for yourselves in preparing for a career.
The best textbook of screen acting is the screen itself. By studying the work of leading players you can learn a great deal. I know I can. If observing, you can learn what not to do as well as what to do.
Naturalness is the most important element in acting. To develop naturalness you must develop understanding of human nature. You must be able to determine just what a certain type of person would do in a certain situation.
In “Molly-O,” for instance, I was given the situation of a girl from the slums entering a beautiful and luxurious mansion. What would my feelings be as a washerwoman's daughter coming into a beautiful kitchen? I would be curious, of course, and very intent upon the surroundings. I must not affect curiosity, I must feel curious. Then I saw the serving man taking cakes from a box and placing them on a plate. They were very good looking cakes, and naturally I developed interest in them. I wanted one terribly. For a moment my conscience argued with my appetite. I argued the thing over to myself. Then, suddenly, my hand shot into the jar and I took one and stuffed it into my mouth as though doing it while my conscience wasn't looking. After the first cookie, the process was easier. I couldn't get enough of them. There were several emotions in conflict even in such a little scene.
The conflict of conscience and appetite, the fear of being apprehended, the delight at the first taste of a delicious cake such as I never tasted before, and the feverish haste with which I secured more of them and secreted them about myself.
It is very easy to do such things after the business has been thought out by the star and the director, but the important thing is to feel the impulses that prompt the action. You must place yourself entirely in the character's place and feel exactly what she would feel in such a situation, otherwise your expression would fall short of realism and be nothing but “mugging.” While watching an actress going through a scene on the screen, ask yourself whether or not you would do the things she does. If not, what would you do? How would you improve on her work? Wherein does her work ring false and why?
Haven't you often found a character in fiction that reminded you of someone whom you know? Perhaps through that character you understood more clearly the sort of person your friend is, the reasons she does certain things which you would not do and the effects she creates by so doing.
Psychology, of course, is one of the most profitable studies of a person who would be an interpreter of human nature. It is the key by which you enter the characters of others and experience their emotions.
A writer once said that to be an artist you must become a fluid through which other lives may be pictured. In order to do this you must lose yourself in thinking of others, in contemplating them and striving to understand them.
A selfish person could never be a great artist because his thoughts turn inward and he loses sight of the things which he must see in order to portray.
A ceaseless pursuit of information and a constant observation of all that pertains to life -- to such you must dedicate yourself if you are to become an artist.
Robert Louis Stevenson in his little book on how to write tells how he used to sit down and jot sudden impressions or descriptions of objects which struck him as unusual.
An artist ¾ Charlie Chaplin, for instance -- is constantly absorbing. He sees the elaborate electrical equipment in a modern hotel which supplies you ingeniously with all sorts of service, and suddenly he conceives a comedy built about a world that runs entirely by electricity, where your every desire is satisfied by pressing a button. The idea is good. He puts it away in a corner of his mind. Perhaps he will use it later, or perhaps it will lead to other ideas for comedy business.
To prepare for a career in motion pictures you must develop your powers of observation, sensation and understanding. The schools that I endorse are the screen -- the library -- and life.
VI. Keep A Diary!
I'm going to chat about my hobby this time, because I think it is a valuable hobby.
I'm going to urge you to do something which your mothers probably have already urged you to do ¾ keep a diary.
I suppose all of us have been presented with diaries when we were young. They are the inevitable Christmas or birthday gift. We usually start out well with them and wish that more space had been allotted to each day, as we have so much to say! Then pretty soon we wonder why so much space has been allotted when every day is just like the one preceding. And finally, along about the second month, we give it up.
Yet there must be value in diary-keeping, otherwise the darned books wouldn't have been invented and parents wouldn't be urging them upon their young.
A scenario writer of my acquaintance always was toting a diary with her. And nearly every time I met her she would jot down something in her little book.
“Now what are you writing?” I would demand.
“Oh, just jotting down what you said,” she would reply. “You pulled a good line, and I may want to use it for a sub-title or something.”
That gave me an idea. If a scenario writer can get ideas from everybody and everything, why not an actress?
Then, too, I read a great deal, and I like to remember what I read. In fact, I have a special contempt for people who can't remember what they read. It shows lack of appreciation or concentration. And you need both if you are to be an artist or an educated human being.
When I go to see one of my pictures I take notes of what gets over and what fails to get the proper effect. Like a writer who reads his own work after it is printed in order to get a clear, fresh perspective on its value, a star needs to see her picture in a theatre in order to gauge its effect.
Since the memory is the treasury of the mind you should stock it well whether you are to be a motion picture actress or a good housewife. One of the best memory aids in the world is the notebook.
In speaking of a diary I do not mean the sort that foolish high school girls keep and into which they pour their transient heart-burnings. A diary may be so impersonal that all might read it without learning anything concerning the keeper's private affairs.
It is a waste of time to keep one of those in which you say, “Went to lunch today with Sally, met Joe, got a crush, crazy about Dolly's new hat, going to copy it, etc., etc.” That's nonsense.
But it is worthwhile setting down observations of books, plays, clothes, paintings, music and incidents that furnish you with ideas. A note-book is a means of self-expression. It disciplines the mind in formulating thought into concise definite ideas.
An excellent model for a writer is Chekov's notebook, into which the great Russian writer poured random impressions, phrases that occurred to him as vivid, experiences that suggested stories or mental images.
Because it is an actress' work to portray characters realistically it is necessary for her to observe all sorts of characters and to remember how they appeared.
When in New York I often go down in the tenement district of the East Side in order to see how the people live and work and act in that strange melting pot. I note the women gossiping at the corner, their manner of dress, their walk, their gestures. I note the women selling fruit and fish from a push cart, the way she attracts attention, the way she bargains, the way she arranges her goods. Perhaps I see a character that strikes me as funny, either in deportment or way of dressing. Perhaps I can copy her costume or some of her odd gestures at a later date, when I'm working in a picture. At least they are worth remembering.
My costume for “Molly-O” is almost a duplicate of one worn by a girl I saw on the
It is very easy to originate funny clothes and manners for pictures but unless they have their counterpoint in life and seem natural they are only fit for burlesque. One may exaggerate so easily and spoil a character, for there is a very fine line between human comedy and slapstick burlesque.
You may wonder what all this has to do with breaking into the movies.
As I said in a previous chat, too few girls aim at any preparation for a career in pictures. They often decide to go into pictures because it looks easier than working! They think that all one needs to do is make pretty faces and dress fashionably. Those are the girls who drift about
I know a young man who came out here some time ago and broke in almost immediately He happened to be good-looking, but that wasn't the reason the producer preferred him to top actors of experience.
“He has breeding,” said the director. “He doesn't have to act as a gentleman; he is a gentleman.”
Old standards are rapidly giving way to new. The pretty face has been tried and found wanting. More and more is culture required, at least an education that embraces an understanding of people. Of a young girl who flashed for a moment into prominence and then disappeared, I heard a director remark:
“Yes, she is a beauty -- but what a dumbbell!”
I don't pretend to claim that an actress must know scientific and algebraic formulas or other subjects of higher education. I only say that she must have an alert, comprehending mind that can grasp the information which she requires and adapt it to her work.
Furthermore, a girl who is proficient in a number of things has alternatives in the event that she does not find herself suited to screen work.
I know a very charming young girl who appeared to have screen talent. She played a part in a Douglas Fairbanks picture, but did not photograph as well as had been expected. She might have struggled on and played more or less regularly in minor parts, but she very sensibly saw her own shortcomings and decided that her métier was not acting. She decided to write. She set about an intensive study of scenario writing and finally obtained a position at thirty dollars a week. Two years later she was receiving two hundred a week. I'm sure she derives far more satisfaction out of being a successful scenarioist than she would have derived from being a mediocre actress.
Keeping a diary is only a means of disciplining the eye and the mind.
If each night you sit down and record the most interesting observation of the day you will soon find that you are observing interesting things more closely and that you are retaining ideas and impressions more accurately.
At college a girl always carries a notebook to lectures. Why not carry a notebook, then when you are attending the school of life? I do not mean that you must go about scribbling on a pad as though you were a sanitation inspector; just keep one at home and use it as a confessional at night. You may want to make some notes about
There are so many misconceptions concerning studio conditions on the West Coast that I feel it is necessary to tell you some facts.
By far the largest part of film production is carried on in
The motion picture studios of
The great distances which separate the studios are a source of difficulty to the beginner, who must necessarily do a good deal of studio visiting.
Because the largest and most active producing units are located in
If a girl comes to
The club house is a beautiful old Southern mansion located just a block above
Of course, there is usually a waiting list of applicants for rooms at this club. Any girl can join the club and have the freedom of its living rooms. Here you will meet other girls who are beginners in some branch of business, and from them you may get valuable tips concerning work and the way to go about getting it.
In the event that you are unable to reside at the Studio Club you should be able to get a very nice room elsewhere for five or six dollars a week.
I believe that one can live as cheaply in
As I have said before, do not start for
Upon arrival in
There have been so many sensational stories written about
Nothing could be more absurd.
You will find all sorts of people in the film colony, for it has brought people from all classes and all quarters of the globe. It is up to you to pick your associates. There are teas and dances given at the Studio Club at which you will have an opportunity to meet a great many charming young girls who are serious artists. Among them you will find girls who, like yourself, are trying to break into pictures. They will be able to tell you the best way to take. There are also girls engaged in scenario writing, costume designing, magazine writing and other phases of work pertaining to the industry.
You should not miss an opportunity of meeting people connected with pictures, for through them you may find the opportunity which you seek. Make friends especially with the girls who are doing “extra” work, for you will probably have to start as they are starting and every bit of information they can give you will be of value.
I have visited the Studio Club at various times and I have found that the girls who live there are charming and refined. Many of them are college girls of splendid education and talents. They are easy to know and for the most part, I think, extremely sympathetic toward the newcomer, for they remember the time when they came as strangers without any knowledge of the business.
Let me say here that right now the conditions in the studios are not favorable toward a beginner. The business depression throughout the country has affected the theatre business to some extent and there is not as much work in the studios as there will be in a few months. I believe that the fall will find
As soon as you have become settled you should at once set about looking for work. the sooner you learn the ropes the sooner will an opportunity be presented for employment.
Don't be led astray into taking courses at any school of moving picture acting in
Because the studios are refraining from producing pictures which require a great number of people, times are hard at present for the “extra” folk, yet some are always in demand at certain studios. If you once become established you will get calls when special productions of this sort are being made. At first, however, you must expect to make the calls. Although producers say they want new faces for the screen they are not going up and down the streets looking for them. Very few new faces are “discovered” outside the studio walls, so your problem will be to get inside and attract attention.
In our next chat I will attempt to outline more fully the way of going about job-hunting, a task which requires, for the most part, individual initiative. There are, however, certain things which are worth knowing before you start the rounds.
As I said in the previous chat, your first stop in
You must know that certain pictures require only a small cast, while others have scenes that call for a large number of people. Such scenes may take only a day to shoot; then again they may run along for a week or more.
Occasionally a studio inserts a notice in the papers calling for extras. Usually, however, they can get all they want by telephoning those whom they have listed and whom they have employed before.
Unless you are exceptionally fortunate, you will have to take your place in line with those who patiently wait at the casting offices of the studios. It is impossible for me or anyone to tell you how to attract the attention of the casting director or his assistant who stands behind the little window marked “casting department.”
In a previous article I did advise you about your appearance. Dress neatly in your best suit. See that your shoes are trim and polished, your nails manicured and your hair done in its most becoming fashion. Do not attempt to attract attention by gaudy clothes or affected manner. The scenes which call for “extras” are usually ballroom scenes, cafes or social functions of some sort, and for these girls are required who appear to be ladies.
If possible make the acquaintance of someone who can introduce you to the casting director or his assistant. Even though there is no work at the moment he will be able to give you some advice and probably will tell you to register at an exchange from which “extras” are employed. This exchange is a regular employment agency for players who do “atmosphere” or “bits.”
It will be necessary for you to have photographs of yourself to leave at this exchange and at the offices of the casting directors. Before you have finished you will find that you need several dozen, for once you part with them you will see them no more. They will be placed on a file with a card giving information as to your appearance, your previous experience if any, your address and telephone number.
Decide at the outset that you have perseverance and that you will keep going the rounds until you get in. Don't feel that you are being turned down when the casting director tells you coldly that there is nothing doing. He probably speaks the truth. There are no companies needing extras at a special time. Ask him in your best manner to take your name and telephone number in the event that something turns up later. Casting directors usually are willing to register applicants.
I would try to first find someone who could introduce me or give me a note to a casting director, or to someone in a studio who would perform the introduction. Then I would make my call at once. It will be impossible, of course, to get letters to all the studios. Those where you have no introduction must be approached, as I have said, through the casting office.
Get a list of all the studios in
It's hard work, this making the rounds. You will have to spend a good many hours on the trolley going from
A great deal is said about the necessity for “pull” in getting into pictures. “Pull” means simply friendships. You will have a better chance of getting into any business and securing promotions if you have friends in that business. Personality counts off screen as well as on. An engaging, genial person soon has a lot of acquaintances, some of whom are traveling the same road as she is and others who may be somewhat ahead in the game. It isn't necessary to make a chum of everyone you meet, but it does no harm to make a friend of everyone.
You will find that there are a great many people in the film game who are not your sort, people with whom you haven't a great deal in common, but there is no harm in being friendly toward them. Every girl must cultivate tact, if she doesn't already possess it, for it will be needed in making friends and also in keeping from being drawn too intimately into associations that she does not desire. It is fine to be a good fellow ¾ the right sort of good fellow. Directors like to have players who are cheerful, who can mix fun with work and who can endure hardships without grumbling. A girl who can live up to Kipling's poem “If” should have a great future in films. But a lot of beginners imagine that being a “good fellow” means doing exactly what others do. That isn't so. People respect you for having the character to do what you want to do, provided that in so doing you do not interfere with the rights of others. You do not have to go on parties to be a good fellow. You only have to be amiable, sincere, and always on the job at the studio. A girl who stays up late at night is not going to appear at her best at nine o'clock in the morning when the studios start work. Of course, you need recreation, but be conservative. If you want to go to a dance, make it a week-end night when there is no work the next day. I have made it a habit to go to bed early every night previous to a working day. Sometimes I retire as early as eight o'clock, have my dinner served in bed and just read and relax until sleep comes. Sleep is the greatest beautifier and health-giver in the world. And you cannot have too much of beauty or of health.
I cannot tell you in advance just which studios will be needing girls for extra work, but I do advise you to pay special attention to those which make comedies -- such studios as the Mack Sennett, Christie, Hal Roach, Buster Keaton, Vitagraph and Universal. A producer of two-reel comedies is willing to take an inexperienced girl if she is pretty, because not much acting ability is required for minor parts in comedies. There are plenty who are attractive to the eye, perhaps, but not many who stand the camera test.
I consider the two-reel comedies the best primary schools of motion picture work. They make you over-act, and that is a good thing, for the trouble with most young actresses is that they cannot let go of their emotions. They seem cold. Comedy calls for quick and breezy action, which eventually relieves a girl of self-consciousness and gives her spontaneity of expression. Consult the list of popular stars today and you will find that the majority started in two-reel comedies -- Gloria Swanson, Bebe Daniels, Betty Compson, Priscilla Dean, Marie Prevost and even Pola Negri, I'm told.
IX. Inside the Studio
Since my last chat on “Getting a Job,” I've had several letters asking what I thought about popularity contests which are conducted at various times by magazines and newspapers for the purposes of discovering girls with picture possibilities.
My answer is ¾ it all depends on the sort of contest it is, the people conducting it and the promises made.
Several reputable magazines and newspapers have been conducting contests which positively guarantee that the winner will have chance to make good in pictures. They have made arrangements with some producer to engage the winner.
Several girls now in pictures have found their opportunity through such contests. I believe Virginia Faire, who appeared in Kipling's “Without Benefit of Clergy,” found entree through a beauty contest conducted by a well-known motion picture magazine. The beautiful Lucile Carlisle, who has been leading lady for Larry Semon for some time, also obtained her first position through a motion picture magazine contest. The Universal company, I believe, recently engaged several very attractive girls who won newspaper contests.
By all means, submit your pictures in these contests ¾ providing they are conducted by reliable magazines or newspapers or have the endorsement of well-known producers. But beware of any advertised contest which requests that you send money. Good magazines and papers do not take any money whatsoever from contestants.
But don't be discouraged if you do not win a contest in which you have been entered. You may have personality or beauty which the photograph fails to indicate. Besides, only a very few girls out of a great number can win these contests. And in the event that you are one of the very few, do not be too optimistic. The contest has opened the door to you; it is up to you to walk in and make yourself necessary.
I have urged you in previous chats to prepare yourself for a screen career by studying character through books and life. I have also tried to tell you how to go about getting work at the studios.
The one thing you should know before entering the studio is makeup. While there is nothing occult about the knowledge of makeup there are fine points which are worth understanding from the outset. For five dollars you can get someone to teach you how to makeup, or you may find a girl who is willing to show you without any charge. At any rate, find someone who can tell you what you should use and instruct you in the rudiments of using it. Makeup is a thing which requires long study, for each person requires a different sort. There are many little tricks for enhancing the beauty of the eyes, the lips, the contour of the face, and also of taking out lines and blemishes that are not becoming. It is better to use too little makeup than too much at the outset. Study the girls around you and note what they use. They may not be right always, but they may give you ideas. Some studios have a makeup man who reviews the “extras” before they go into a scene, but he does not apply the makeup. He only tells you if it needs changing. As soon as you are given a part, even the smallest “bit,” the director will scrutinize your makeup and make suggestions. Comply at once with what he tells you to do. He may not be right, but his advice certainly should be followed. Later, you can develop your own individual style out of the many suggestions and experiments.
Study yourself constantly. Spend as much times a necessary before the mirror trying different styles of makeup and hair dress until you strike a combination that seems effective. Just the manner of doing the hair often makes a tremendous difference.
Once inside the studio do your best to make friends with everyone, but don't be aggressive. Do not attempt to make advances to the director or leading players. They are busy and cannot give attention to the many extras around them. But be on hand to observe them and do whatever they ask of you. Among the extras you will have an opportunity of making many acquaintances of value.
Always be on the alert to learn all you can. Do not sit about gazing into space or silently chewing gum like a resident of the pastures. Too many extras do that. Keep out of other people's way, but keep your eyes on them. Instead of striving to be the observer of all who can be observed. Note the instruction which the director gives the leading players and their methods of work. Above all, note the instruction which he gives you -- you of the extras -- and comply as quickly and effectively as you can.
What causes a director to pick a player out of the mob to do a part?
First, it may be that she is the “type,” that is, she looks as the director imagines a character would look.
Second, it may be that she has shown personality, that individual spark which distinguishes her from the rest and for which the producer is always in quest.
Third, she may have displayed such intelligence in responding to direction and in assuming the expressions which were desired that the director believes she has acting ability.
Here, then, are the qualities which you must endeavor to show in order to advance: Individuality, Good Appearance, Acting Ability.
You cannot at will become any particular “type,” but you can study yourself and determine the type you really are. If you are tall, slender and have the Oriental cast of features and coloring you should carry the Oriental motif in your dress and makeup. If you are the young girl type, you should dress simply and have the unaffected manner that a young girl has. It may be difficult for you to decide the type that you are. Few people really know. Oftentimes a part may decided it for them, as the part Theda Bara played in “A Fool There Was” stamped her the vampire type.
It is possible for everyone, however, to pay attention to a director and achieve the effects which he desires. Only concentration, imagination and earnestness are needed.
You do not need to shove yourself into the foreground in order to attract a director's attention. He is more liable to be attracted to you if you have shown care in dress and makeup and alertness in understanding the points which he has sought to convey.
Above all, I repeat again, show the best that is in you to everyone all the time. Don't start smiling and being nice just when the director glances your way. Be friendly to everyone -- not flirtatious -- friendly, I say. Don't preen or pose, be natural and unassuming. Be yourself. Act toward others as you would have them act toward you. Make friends.
After all, what is the great secret of popular success? Only this -- making friends. If you cannot make friends in the studio, you cannot make friends with the public. The mean, selfish, ill-tempered star famous for her “temperament,” seldom wins the public. She may attract attention for a time if she has sufficient beauty and acting ability, but she will not gain the affection which will make her a lasting favorite.
In our final chat I'm going to talk of the most important thing of all -- Making Good.
X. Making Good.
I think the hardest time in an actress' career is when she begins to show signs of making good.
A little success is a dangerous thing, as some great writer has said.
At the first signs of it people begin to rally around the successful one. They pay complements, some merited and some fulsome. They almost rush the young “discovery” off her feet. She may be a perfectly sane young girl, but even so she cannot help but believe some of the nice things that are said. Perhaps she has shown ability and personality in a “bit.” The critics have given her attention. The director and her fellow players may have congratulated her. The boys and girls of the extra class suddenly show her more friendly attention than they did a short time previous. She moves in a rarefied ether of congratulations.
Suddenly it occurs to her that she is an actress!
Well, my dear, just as that occurs to you, check yourself up and firmly say to yourself, “Why, you poor, struggling little infant, you have just learned to lisp your A. B. C.'s without falling down.”
More of our stars should say that to themselves every day!
I promise you honestly that I say it to myself. You only may hope for yourself when you realize how little you know in comparison with greater artists.
I have seen a great many girls sniff a little of the incense of success and then quietly pass out -- too good to play “extras” and not well enough established to go on playing parts.
There's a curious idea in the film colony concerning caste.
Girls will tell you that you must never play a smaller part than the last one you played. You must never go backwards. Once a lead, always a lead -- or else a star.
Rubbish! If a private distinguishes himself in battle does he refuse to perform the menial tasks that are later required of him? Does a stenographer refuse to go on doing good typing because she has shown some promise of becoming a legal secretary by handling a difficult problem while her employer was away on his vacation?
Rewards are not always made instantly. Rudolph Valentino was not made a star immediately after he scored so beautifully in “The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse.” He has been quoted as saying that he was not even offered a job. He didn't consider himself superior to any sort of work. He accepted what was offered him, and proved over again that he had ability, that his success as Julio was not just an accident. Today he is a high-salaried star.
Never forget the ladder by which you climbed. Don't forget a single rung of it, or a single friend who helped you along. It is so easy to kick over that ladder.
Receive every step upward with gratitude and a determination to prove that the critics, the directors and your friends were not mistaken in you.
Real appreciation is the finest thing in the world. It helps the one who feels it quite as much as the one toward whom it is directed.
I know a girl who was fortunate enough to be cast in a leading role at the outset of her career. She played another leading part. After that she refused to do anything but “leads.” A famous director offered her a “bit” in his picture. She considered it an affront. Well, that girl was idle for a great many weeks. She still is idle most of the time, but she is now grateful for “bits.” She has ability, personality and beauty. I think she is a wonderful stellar bet, but she became “upstage” as we say in studio parlance, and directors would not consider her. They realized what she did not -- that she had a great deal to learn before she was worthy of becoming a genuine actress.
The worst enemies an actress has when she begins gaining fame are her well-meaning but flattering friends. They talk to her about herself and what she should and should not do until she becomes a hopelessly self-centered and egotistical young person. Oh, she doesn't realize it, unless she has a clear young head. She may never realize it until she finds herself again in that line outside the casting director's window.
When a director has praised you for the work you have given, thank him with sincerity. When a star pays attention to you and offers you advice or praise, thank him or her. When a critic calls attention to you and declares you have ability, take the trouble of expressing appreciation to him by a note. Never forget to be grateful. Remember that no one in the world ever accomplishes anything alone. There are always those who lend a helping hand, and for them you should be humbly grateful.
As I have said, character is essential in one who is to become a real favorite. And success is the most fearful test of that character.
Peruse the records of stardom and consider those who have continually progressed and those who have gone far and then sank into oblivion. You will find very few that have continued upward. Mary Pickford, yes. Lillian Gish, Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Nazimova, the Talmadges and a few others. They have not let down in the presence of wealth and fame. They have the character that keeps them working onward and upward. They have kept the faith with the public that has given them the fame and the wealth.
You may not know it, but the reputation which you gain around the studio soon creeps out and plays a big part in your public reputation. The motion picture is a collaborative work, and unless the carpenters, the prop boys, the wardrobe women, the electricians, the director and the other players are with you and for you there is a chance of your downfall.
“She's a sweet and charming girl, always willing to co-operate and always democratic.” That is what I heard someone from a studio say about Betty Compson.
What a tribute! It impressed me. I was glad to know that she was liked, because one always likes to know that an actress whom she admires is really charming. When you have your co-workers loving you, there is hope that the world without may love you. And I have observed that those who are the most beloved by their employees or co-workers are the most beloved by the fans.
After all we have said, it comes back to the old theme of character. A great and fine human being is bound to be loved whether he is an actor, a statesman or a grocer. He may not pile up a great fortune, but he earns success.
Cultivate in yourself the finest and the noblest qualities, those which your own soul you most admire. Learn to be a fine, generous woman, capable of making real friends. Be true to yourself and to others. Develop all the gifts with which you have been endowed ¾ and I assure you they are legion. Then ¾
“Give to the world the best you have
And the best will return to you.”
Your sincere and ever-grateful friend.