Madonna of the Streets (1924)

QUESTION:  A remake of Madonna of the Streets was made only six years after the original, starring Robert Ames and Evelyn Brent in the rolls originally played by Milton Sills and Alla Nazimova. What was the biggest different between the two versions, besides the actors?
A)  The remake was done in color
B)  The remake was British, not American made
C)  The remake added sound
D)  The remake was a musical

Alla Nazimova.  Milton Sills.  Two American actors.  Neither of them have a large fan base today but, in the 1920's, they were both considered high celebrities for either their professional or private lives. They starred together in the film Madonna of the Streets in 1924.  Based on the William Babington Maxwell book The Ragged Messenger, it is the story of Reverend John Morton (Milton Sills), who aspires to follow the teachings of Jesus.  Shortly after inheriting a fortune from a deceased uncle, he meets and marries Mary Carlson (Alla Nazimova). Things do not go well between the two, in no small part because it was revealed that Mary had been having an affair with John's uncle when he died. Feeling she deserved the money from his uncle, Mary seduced Morton.  Having none of it, John sends Mary away and spends the money on charitable causes. One of those causes is a home for fallen women. When he spots Mary as one of the patients, he expresses his remorse for his harsh treatment of her, and the two are reunited.

Sadly, Madonna of the Streets is one of the thousands of films of the silent era considered lost today. In 1909, a U.S. Copyright law was passed that required one copy of every film ever made be sent to the Library of Congress. Unfortunately, the law did not stipulate that the Library was required to keep the print sent to them, and they often returned them to the studio that produced them. From there, they were often misplaced, forgotten, or destroyed.  Often, the destruction was intentional on the part of the studios, which saw no historic value in retaining the movies in the limited space of their vaults.  Now, it is believed, less than half the films produced between 1927 and 1950 survive today, with even worse odds of survival for films made before 1927 (up to ninety percent for some years!). Fortunately, a movement has begun to preserve those films that survive.  Let us treasure these wonderful movies that depict a world we can barely comprehend today - a world from before the invention of the first video games!

ANSWER:  C)  The remake added sound. The original was silent; however, the technology to incorporate sound had been patented in the interim. 

Alla Nazimova

QUESTION:  During the silent film era, Alla Nazimova helped establish the careers of Jean Acker and Natacha Rambova.  Both women were married (at separate times) to what famous actor?
A)  Charles Boyer
B)  Rudolph Valentino
C)  Douglass Fairbanks
D)  Orson Welles

The American Treasure Tour has more stories throughout its amazing collection than can possibly be told in one blog.  But we try.  Today, we would like to discuss a woman who was at one time enormously popular on the stage and in theater, but who is all but forgotten today. Born Adelaida Yakovlevna Leventon in Yalta, part of the Russian Empire (prior to becoming a part of the Soviet Union) in 1879, she abbreviated her first name to Alla, and took on as her last name that of a fictional character from a Russian novel. Nazimova emigrated to the United States when she was 26, having become a famous actor across much of Europe by 1905.  She continued her success on Broadway for many years, then made her film debut in 1916.  This led to bigger and better things until the bigger and better became smaller and not quite so good. By 1925 her film career was over, aside from a few cameo appearances in films of the 1940's.

What makes Nazimova fascinating to students of Hollywood today is actually her private life. She was a married woman when she left Russia. And she was still married when she became involved in what is called a "lavender marriage," which is to say one or both participants are homosexual and hiding that from public scrutiny. Nazimova was outed, which caused a scandal and played a large part in her retirement from film in 1925. She is also accredited with coining the phrase "sewing circle" to discreetly describe lesbian or bisexual actresses. Her reputation for hosting wild parties at her Sunset Boulevard home was quite possibly accurate, and she was definitely entrenched in Hollywood culture. One of her friends, Edith Luckett, asked her to be godmother to her daughter.  Her name was Nancy Davis, who would marry Ronald Reagan and become First Lady of the United States.

ANSWER:  B)  Rudolph Valentino