Welcome to page 4 of the "Questions & Answers" section. Please feel free to submit any question you have concerning the first 70 years of the motion picture industry, and we will do our best to find the answer. Your comments concerning our answers are also welcome.
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NOTE: We will try to email an answer to every question concerning the history of motion pictures from 1890 to 1960 that we receive, and if we decide that the question is of general interest we will also publish the answer in this section. However, we will not answer questions that we suspect are actually school assignments, classroom quizzes, or part of a trivia contest.
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Q #16: Dear Picture Show Man:
When did the first movie about the mob come out?
A: By "mob" we assume you mean an organized group of urban gangsters rather than an outlaw gang in the Old West or a loosely formed group of ruffians. We also assume that by "mob" you aren't referring specifically to the Mafia. Films about the mob, or "gangster films", have become a specific genre over time, and it is generally accepted that the first gangster film was "The Musketeers of Pig Alley" directed by D.W. Griffith in 1912. Griffith's film was made in the wake of a scandal about corrupt city officials, and its gun–battle in a beer–barrel–strewn alley signaled the importance Prohibition (already in force in some areas) would come to have.
The 1931 movie "Little Caesar", starring Edward G. Robinson, is generally acknowledged as having spawned the modern gangster movie. Although another gangster film, "The Doorway to Hell", was released the year before, "Little Caesar" was the film that started a brief craze for the genre in the early 1930s. In it's opening weekend at the Warner Bros.' Strand Theater in New York, "Little Caesar" broke the theater's all–time attendance record, grossing $50,000 in eleven performances.
If you'd like to learn more about the history of gangster films, get a copy of "The Overlook Film Encyclopedia: The Gangster Film" edited by Phil Hardy. This fabulous reference book contains over 650 photos, and information on over 1,500 films.
Q #17: Dear Picture Show Man:
Who was the first woman to appear naked in a feature film?
A: The sensation caused in the 1930s by Hedy Lamarr's ten–minute nude bathing scene in the Czechoslovakian movie "Ekstase" (1933) has given wide currency to the mistaken idea that Miss Lamarr was the first actress to appear nude on screen in a feature film. Actually, she was not even the first nude in a Czech movie, a distinction earned by Ira Rina in Gustav Muchaty's "Eroticon" (1929).
The first woman to appear naked in a feature film was Margaret Edwards in Lois Weber's movie "Hypocrites". Although she was not a main character, Margaret appeared nude throughout the film as a semi–transparent, diaphanous apparition portraying 'The Naked Truth'. Despite being passed by The National Board of Censors and deemed acceptable in most parts of the country, when the movie was initially released on January 20, 1915, it created a nationwide debate over its propriety. Even though it established the concept of 'Artistically Justifiable Nudity', when Weber's film was re–issued in 1916 it was condemned and/or banned in a number of locations.
The first leading lady to appear nude on screen in a feature film was Audrey Munson in George Foster Platt's "Inspiration", a Thanhouser production released by the Mutual Film Corporation on November 18, 1915. It related the story of an inexperienced country girl who becomes a "life model" for a sculptor with whom she falls in love. As you might expect the film was at first controversial, but eventually it was judged to be artistic and "educational" by the censors.
Audrey Munson was a well–known artist's model in real life who was once called, "The most perfect, most versatile, most famous of American models, whose face and figure have inspired thousands of modern masterpieces of sculpture and painting." She performed in just a few other films: "Purity" (1916), in which she was also seen naked; "The Girl O'Dreams" (1916); and "Heedless Moths" (1921), a drama in which she played herself and again appeared nude. After a media spectacle linking her with a murder case her career faltered and ultimately doomed her, at the age of 39, to a life of seclusion in a psychiatric institution. She lived there largely unacknowledged by her family until the astonishing age of 105.
There were a number of other movie nude scenes filmed around this time. One the most famous was done by the Australian swimming champion, Annette Kellerman, who appeared nude in the 1916 production "A Daughter of the Gods", Hollywood's first million dollar production. (A photo of Ms. Kellerman from that movie can be seen in our answer to Question #13.)
Q #18: Dear Picture Show Man:
Who was the first actor to be paid $1 million for being in a single film?
A: That's a surprisingly difficult question to answer. Until the mid–1940s most Hollywood actors were under contract to a studio and paid an annual salary, rather than per film. These salaries, especially during the silent–film era, were often astronomical. For instance, in 1914 Mary Pickford renewed her lucrative contract with Famous Players and received half the profits from her films, with a $10,000 per week minimum, plus a $300,000 single payment bonus, plus $150,000 per year to her mother for "goodwill", plus $40,000 for examining scenarios prior to signing. (And remember, in 1914 the top Income Tax rate was only 7%, and the average annual income for a worker in the United States was between $2,000–$5,000!)
In 1919 Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle became the first star to receive a guaranteed minimum of $1 million per year. No other star of the silent–film era matched Arbuckle's annual salary, although stars like Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and Charlie Chaplin earned much more overall because they controlled, and received profits from both their films (they owned their own studios) and from the distribution of their films through their company United Artists.
To complicate matters, by the 1940s some stars began making pictures for production companies they founded and controlled, thereby allowing them to earn much more than their salaries would indicate. Plus, as early as 1911 there seemed to always be some top star who was paid (often secretly) both a salary and a percentage of the profits from their films. Although these percentage deals became quite rare during the Studio Era of the 1930s and 1940s, by the 1950s a number of stars began receiving a percentage of a movie's profits in addition to their salary. Quite a few respected references have noted that Tyrone Power's percentage deal with Universal Pictures eventually earned him $1 million for the 1953 movie "The Mississippi Gambler".
Other sources indicate that William Holden was the first actor to earn $1 million for playing a role in a single picture. But, like Tyrone Power, he wasn't just handed a seven–figure check. Holden was paid $300,000 up front plus 10% of the profits for appearing in "The Bridge on the River Kwai" (1957). His percentage of the profits was to be paid at the rate of $50,000 per year, but when the movie became a major hit and the interest from his unpaid profits grew larger than his payments, Holden finally settled for a lump sum payment that increased his total paycheck to over $1 million.
When the 1946 British film "Caesar and Cleopatra" was released the production company's publicity department loudly proclaimed that the film's star, Claude Rains, had received $1 million for appearing in the movie. While this ballyhoo was not precisely true, the facts relating to his salary were complicated. Rains signed on for a flat $50,000 for 12 weeks, with up to an additional $50,000 payable if the production were extended for any length of time, for any reason. As an American citizen on a British work permit, Rains was subject to incredibly high income taxes should he still be working in England even a day beyond the allotted six months. The delays and frustrations associated with the war; the vagaries of the English climate during the fall, winter, and spring; and the subsequent move of the company to Egypt kept him under contract --- and thus liable for those taxes --- for nine months. Fortunately for Rains, his contractual terms obligated the J. Arthur Rank organization to pay his taxes (around $1.3 million), but his taxes were paid directly to the British government. Only the $100,000 in stipulated fees was ever paid to Rains. So while ‘on paper’ Claude Rains was paid over $1 million for being in the movie, in reality he was paid only the $100,000 specified in his contract.
If we are speaking about an actor actually signing a contract for a minimum salary of $1 million or more for appearing in a single picture, that would be Elizabeth Taylor for starring in the 1963 movie "Cleopatra". Her complicated contract gave her, among other things, 10% of the gross profits in addition to a million dollar salary which increased if she was required to work more than a certain number of weeks. She would ultimately receive $7 million for being in the movie.
Q #19: Dear Picture Show Man:
How much did it cost to see a movie during the 1920s?
A: During the 1920s, and throughout Hollywood's "Golden Age", movie ticket prices varied depending on the size of the city or town in which the theater was located, the theater's location within the city or town, the size of the theater, whether it was for a matinee or an evening screening, and whether it was for a child or an adult. For example, a movie palace in the downtown section of a large metropolitan area would charge more for a ticket than a small theater in a rural area of the country. Here are the price ranges for the year 1922 (taken from "Motion Picture News", 2 December 1922, page 2772):
MOVIE ADMISSION CHARGES - 1922
10¢ – 24¢
25¢ – 49¢
50¢ – 99¢
During the 1920s, and into the 1930s, evening adult admissions to a movie palace in the downtown section of a large city, where a lavish live show and concert were part of the entertainment, could rang from $2.00 to as high as $10.00. But even at these movie palaces ticket prices in the $2.00–$10.00 range were the exception and usually reserved for premieres of a major movie.
According to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the average movie ticket price in 1924 was $.25, and by 1929 this average price had risen to $.35. But during The Great Depression ticket prices came back down and by 1935 they had dropped to an average of $.24. It wasn't until 1965 that the average movie ticket price rose above $1.00.
Issues of the "Film Daily Year Book" and the "Motion Picture Almanac" for that period give a range for "average" admission prices to account for various types of theaters in different areas of the country. In 1926 the average movie theater ticket price ranged from $.28 – $.35; in 1928 from $.40 – $.50; and in 1929 (when many theaters were installing equipment to show the new "Talkies") from $.35 – $.55. Their figures confirm that The Great Depression stopped the upward momentum in prices, and by 1933 the average admission price dropped to $.23, rising to $.24 in 1935, but sinking again to $.23 in 1937. The Great Depression also created a sharp decline in the number of movie theaters. In 1929 there were 23,000 movie theaters in the United States, but by 1932 this number had dropped to 12,480.
Q #20: Dear Picture Show Man:
How many movie directors have filmed the same story more than once?
A: From the very beginning movie makers felt that if a story made money once, it would probably make even more money if they filmed it again. Thomas Edison's Film Company, for instance, shot one of its most famous films, "The Kiss", in both 1896 and 1900. Tennyson's poem "Enoch Arden" was filmed by D.W. Griffith as a one–reeler in 1908 (titled "After Many Years"), and filmed again by Griffith only two years later as a two–part film. Griffith then supervised another version of the story in 1915, this time as a 4–reel feature film, and this version was re–issued in 1922 as a 5–reeler. The 1940 movie "The Shop Around the Corner" was re–filmed as a musical in 1949 and released as "In the Good Old Summertime". In 1998 "The Shop Around the Corner" was re–filmed again and called "You've Got Mail". The list of movie re–makes goes on and on, beginning at the dawn of motion picture history and continuing to this day.
However, it's fairly rare for studios to ask the same director to film the same story more than once despite early precedents. In fact, if you just count Hollywood directors, the number who made feature films of the same story more than once before 1960 is less than a dozen. Among this select few, three Hollywood directors have defied the odds and actually accomplished this rare feat more than once.
The following Hollywood directors made the same story more than once into a feature film (we list only those directors who made the first film before 1960):
Browning directed "London After Midnight" in 1927, and re–filmed it as "Mark of the Vampire" in 1935. He also directed "Outside the Law" in 1920, and re–filmed it under the same title in 1930.
Capra directed "Lady For A Day" in 1933, and directed it again under the title "Pocketful of Miracles" in 1961. He also directed "Broadway Bill" in 1934, and filmed it again in 1950 as "Riding High".
Cecil B. DeMille:
DeMille outdid them all by directing "The Squaw Man" three times, in 1914, 1918, and 1931. He also directed "The Ten Commandments" in both 1923 and 1956.
Farrow directed the same survival adventure story twice: in 1939 as "Five Came Back" and in 1956 as "Back From Eternity".
Hawks joined this select group by directing "Ball of Fire" in 1941, and directing it again as "A Song Is Born" in 1948.
Hitchcock directed "The Man Who Knew Too Much" in both 1934 and 1956.
Marshall made "Destry Rides Again" in 1939, and re–filmed it as "Destry" in 1954.
McCarey directed the romantic tear–jerker "Love Affair" in 1939, and re–made it as "An Affair to Remember" in 1957.
William A. O'Connor:
O'Connor was used to direct "The Pace That Kills" in both 1928 and 1935.
"High Sierra" was filmed by Walsh in 1941, and then he directed it again in 1949 as a western called "Colorado Territory".
Wyler was asked to direct "These Three" in 1936, and asked to direct it again in 1961 when it was re–titled "The Children's Hour".
Although there have been some notable foreign directors who have filmed the same story twice (Yasujiro Ozu is an example), and a few who have done it for Hollywood since our arbitrary cutoff date of 1960, the number of directors who could be included in this impressive list remains quite small.
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