Monday, May 23, 2016

Beggars of Life trivia and more

Beggars of Life is the opening night presentation at this year's San Francisco Silent Film Festival! The acclaimed 1928 film, directed by Oscar winner William Wellman and starring future Oscar winner Wallace Beery, will be shown on Thursday, June 2nd at 7:00 pm at the historic Castro Theater in San Francisco. The film will be shown with live musical accompaniment by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra. More information, including ticket availability, may be found at HERE.

This advertisement promotes sound versions of two great William Wellman films. For Beggars of Life,
the ad elicits viewers “Come hear Wallace Beery sing the theme song, ‘Beggars of Life,’ destined to be
as big a hit as ‘Ramona.’”  Buffalo, New York – September 1928
Here is some trivia about the film:

Beggars of Life (1924) is one of five autobiographical books Jim Tully (1886 – 1947) wrote which detail his transient childhood; a fictionalized memoir, it contains stories of the criminal tramp Oklahoma Red and the prostitute Nancy, who shoots and kills her abusive father. A play loosely based on these stories was woven into Outside Looking In (1925), a Broadway drama by Maxwell Anderson which starred James Cagney (as Oklahoma Red) and Charles Bickford and was produced by a group that included the Nobel Prize winning dramatist Eugene O’Neill. In 1925, Louise Brooks attended a performance of the play in the company of Charlie Chaplin.

One of my treasures: Colleen Moore's first edition copy of Beggars of Life, with her bookplate and an
inscription by the author to the actress.

— Brooks disliked Tully. “He was the most repulsive little Quilp I ever knew,” Brooks wrote years later to film historian Kevin Brownlow. “Short and fat with his belly hanging over his belt, yellow teeth to match his face and hair, full of the vanity of Vanity Fair and H.L. Mencken.” Nevertheless, Tully — who once served as Charlie Chaplin’s press agent, had his admirers, including the famed critic H.L. Mencken. Robert E. Howard, who authored the “Conan the Barbarian” stories, is oftentimes famously quoted as remarking that of all the writers living and working in his time there were only two whose work would endure — H. P. Lovecraft  and Jim Tully.

— Brooks respected director William Wellman. Her account of the making of Beggars of Life is found in her Lulu in Hollywood essay “On Location with Billy Wellman.” 

— The Wellman connection to the film didn't end  with the director. Included among the cast was Jacque Chapin, Wellman’s then 17-year old brother-in-law. Wellman’s wife served as script girl.

On location with Beggars of Life: from left to right, Jim Tully, Louise Brooks, Wallace Beery and Richard Arlen.
 — Girls will be boys: By dressing her in men’s clothing, Beggars of Life was the first film to capitalize on Brooks’ androgynous appeal. The August 1928 issue of Motion Picture Classic ran a full-page spread of Brooks in male attire, stating “Many a girl has wished – or said she wished – she were a boy. Louise Brooks goes one better and becomes one in her portrayal of one of the Beggars of Life in Jim Tully’s screen story." Motion Picture Classic approved.  The article went on to say, "Any time Louise wants a nickel for a cup of coffee, she has only to come to us. In fact, if she’d let us have one with her, we’d go as far as to wrench loose a dime.”

— Included in the cast in a supporting role is the African American actor Edgar Washington (1898 – 1970), a one-time prizefighter and noted semi-pro baseball player (in the Negro Leagues) who entered films in the late Teens. He was a pioneer among African-American actors, and was given the nickname “Blue” by friend Frank Capra. The Afro-American newspaper wrote, “In Beggars of Life, Edgar Blue Washington, race star, was signed by Paramount for what is regarded as the most important Negro screen role of the year, that of Big Mose. The part is that of a sympathetic character, hardly less important to the epic of tramp life than those of Wallace Beery, Louise Brooks and Richard Arlen, who head the cast.” Beggars of Life has a second baseball connection. Also in the film in a bit part was Michael Donlin, an outfielder whose Major League career spanned from 1899 to 1914.

Beggars of Life was especially popular throughout the American West.  
Reno, Nevada – March 1929

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