Augusta Jane Evans Wilson is my favorite novelist and her fourth novel, ST ELMO, is my favorite novel. That’s why I made a pilgrimage, so to speak, to Mobile, Alabama, in the 1990s. I wanted to learn everything I could about this brilliant writer, whose main character, “St. Elmo,” inspired Margaret Mitchell’s “Rhett Butler.”
Although Augusta was born in Columbus, Georgia, she spent most of her life in Mobile. I visited the house in which she wrote ST ELMO, found her portrait in the Mobile Infirmary (which she helped found), and took photos of her grave. Her friend T.C. De Leon wrote her epitaph, which is still decipherable on her grave. (He also wrote a brief biography of Augusta called BIOGRAPHICAL REMINISCENCES OF AUGUSTA EVANS WILSON.)
I started this blog in part to pay homage to my favorite novel, ST. ELMO, and my favorite novelist, Augusta Evans Wilson. If it were not for ST. ELMO, I may not have discovered John Gilbert, who played the leading role in the film adaptation.
John Gilbert was a versatile actor, who could play the role of a “good guy” as easily as that of a “bad guy.” I’ve heard that he preferred playing bad guys. ST. ELMO was a vehicle for John Gilbert to display his ability to play both. He starts off as a bad guy, but for the love of a woman, turns into a good guy.
Below is an excerpt from page 40 of the ST. ELMO novel in which the maid is describing “St. Elmo‘s” character to the protagonist, Edna Earl.
“Listen to me, child, for I like your patient ways and want to give you a friendly warning . . . . Whatever else you do, be sure not to cross ‘Mass Elmo’s path. Keep out of his way, and he will keep out of yours, for he is shy enough of strangers, and would walk a mile to keep from meeting anybody; But if he finds you in his way, he will walk roughshod right over you–trample you. . . . He hates everybody and everything. . . . He is like a rattlesnake that crawls in his own track and bites everything that meddles or crosses his trail . . . Above everything child . . . don’t argue with him! If he says black is white, don’t contradict him; and if he swears water runs upstream, let him swear and don’t let him know water runs down . . . . Everybody is afraid of him, and gives way to him. . . . I would rather put my head in a wolf’s jaws than stir him up. [He is a] “sinful, swearing, raging devil.”
ST. ELMO is still in print. Filmmaker Robert Clem is in the process of filming a ST ELMO remake or docudrama. It is called THE PASSION OF MISS AUGUSTA.
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner can carry about 250 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,100 times in 2012. If it were a Dreamliner, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.
- John Gilbert played “Rudolphe” and Lillian Gish played “Mimi” in the 1926 MGM silent film, LA BOHEME. The producers at MGM were so eager to get Lillian Gish to star in the film that they allowed her to choose the cast. She picked John Gilbert, Renee Adoree, and Karl Dane because she was impressed with their performance in THE BIG PARADE (MGM, 1925).
- The film differs from the novel and Puccini’s opera in that Lillian Gish portrays “Mimi” as innocent, virginal, and selfless. The “Mimi” described in Henri Murger’s novel is quite the opposite.
- Lillian Gish took the part so seriously that she prepared herself for the death scene by going without food and water for three days. The scene was convincing enough to alarm the director, King Vidor, who had also directed THE BIG PARADE.
- The DVD is available at Warner Brothers (WarnerArchive.com).
John Gilbert plays a master of escape (like Houdini) and a master of disguise in THE PHANTOM OF PARIS (MGM, 1931). The film is based on the novel CHERI-BIBI, by Gaston Leroux, who also wrote THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. Leatrice Gilbert Fountain loaned me this photo years ago to publish when I was editing the John Gilbert Society Appreciation newsletter.
This is the dust jacket of a small copy of THE MERRY WIDOW novel, which was made into a film, starring John Gilbert and Mae Murray in 1925. The fly leaf reads “THE MERRY WIDOW; A NOVEL FOUNDED ON FRANZ LEHAR’S OPERA AS PRODUCED BY HENRY W. SAVAGE.”
The book was published by The Readers Library Publishing Company LTD. in London, England. The “Editor’s Note” includes a brief history of THE MERRY WIDOW as an on-stage musical comedy and pays homage to the 1925 film version. The novel does not include movie stills. It is old and fragile and probably dates to 1925.
However, I have a larger photoplay edition (A. L. Burt Company in New York) that’s missing a dust jacket but includes four movie stills.
I watched THE ARTIST twice and loved it. Just as silents transitioned into talkies, THE ARTIST transitions from a silent to a talkie. As much as I liked the main characters, “George Vallentin” and “Pepper Miller,” I think the dog gave the best performance. What an act! I view “Vallentin” and “Miller” as truly fictional, with a nod to John Gilbert and Douglas Fairbanks SR.
“Vallentin’s” mannerisms reminded me of Gilbert’s mannerisms. Beyond that I did not see much of a connection. Gilbert’s last silent film was DESERT NIGHTS. “Valentin’s” last silent film reminded me of DESERT NIGHTS. (John Gilbert intended to make DESSERT NIGHTS a talkie. Charlie Chaplin, who opposed talkies, convinced him not to.) According to Hollywood lore, Gilbert had difficulty transitioning from silents to talkies, but in reality, he made 11 talkies between 1929 and 1934. He would have made more, but poor health intervened. He was about to make a talkie with Marlene Dietrich when he succumbed to heart failure January 9, 1936.
I don’t know much about Fairbanks SR except that he played in a number of swashbucklers. Gilbert only made one–BARDELYS THE MAGNIFICENT. In THE ARTIST, we see a glimpse of “Valentin” on the set in swashbuckling clothes.
“Pepper Miller” did not remind me of any star in particular. I was amused when she used Garbo’s famous line: “I want to be alone.”
My daughter watched THE ARTIST with me. “Geroge Vallentin” reminded her of Gene Kelly. She also noted that in one scene “Pepper Miller” wore the same outfit that Debbie Reynolds wore in SINGING IN THE RAIN. THE ARTIST, which ends with a song and dance routine, not only pays homage to silent film stars but also to the Gene Kellys and Fred Astaires of talking pictures.
The music in the THE ARTIST complimented the story nicely, but it was the VERTIGO theme in the last third of the film that really grabbed my attention. I loved it!
THE ARTIST is one of the most entertaining “contemporary” movies that I have seen in a long time. It’s not exactly a silent film–and certainly not a talkie–but strikes me as a hats off to both.
- The Artist (review) (everything2.com)
- The Sound Effects of Silence: SFX Before There Were Talkies (psmag.com)