Thoughts On: “Why Change Your Wife?” (1920)

This post was written especially for the Classic Movie Blog Association’s spring event, the Hidden Classics Blogathon! Silent-ology is proud to take part alongside so many excellent film blogs, and on such a good topic, too. Please follow the link above to read my fellow writers’ contributions! And don’t forget to leave comments–we bloggers love comments like Keystone Kops loved pratfalls.

When I say “Cecil B. DeMille,” you probably picture Biblical films with men in robes giving solemn speeches and loads of colorful spectacle. Would you be surprised to know that in the 1910s most audiences heard “DeMille” and probably pictured ballgowns and romantic triangles?

Why Change Your Wife? (1920) - Rotten Tomatoes
Not to mention sleek lobby cards?

He may be known for epics like The Ten Commandments (1956) today, but from the late 1910s to the early 1920s DeMille was associated with fluffy “society” comedy-dramas. Yes, the same man that Kevin Brownlow described thusly: “Commanding absolute loyalty from his staff, he directed as though chosen by God for this one task.” These dramas tended to have the aforementioned lavish gowns (often on the “extreme fashion” end of the spectrum) and exquisitely-tailored tuxes. Scenery might include raucous parties or impractically huge sunken baths. DeMille delighted in adding various “rich people” toys like fancy Victrolas or plush couches with hidden bars in the armrests. Gloria Swanson couldn’t just walk over and answer the phone–she would have to be sitting at a pretty carved wooden desk and take the phone out of a little cupboard on top.

Why Change Your Wife? - Wikiwand
There are also negligees that involve furs. Yes, furs.

While many of these trinket-cluttered fantasies were considered superficial even back then, they’ve aged into delightfulness today. The “edgy” fashions seem charmingly bizarre, and characters contend with various social annoyances that are sometimes endearingly quaint. There’s usually more of that universal human nature than meets the eye, too, even if it was livened up by an inexplicable Babylonian fantasy sequence or two. I wholeheartedly champion every frame of these films, from scenes of Bebe Daniels perfuming her lips or Wallace Reid destroying a drawing room in righteous anger right down to the last shot of a checkered, bead-bedecked bathing suit. At least, I think that was a bathing suit. Or was it a negligee…?

…Bathing suit.

It’s a tough call, but my favorite early DeMille is probably Why Change Your Wife? (1920), one of my go-to silents for those nights when I just need to kick back with some cheesy popcorn and relax. Starring a young Gloria Swanson, the squeaky-clean matinee idol Thomas Meighan, and a flirty Bebe Daniels, its tale of marital distress is handled with plenty of light, cheeky humor (especially in the title cards).

Why Change Your Wife? – Cecil B. DeMille

Swanson plays the prudish Beth, who nags her husband Robert about becoming more cultured and “improving his mind.” Robert himself (played by Meighan) can’t understand why Beth insists on dressing so frumpily and longs for her to be a carefree “sweetheart” again. Hoping to add some pizazz to their relationship, he goes to a fancy lingerie store to buy her a new negligee. There he meets Sally, the store’s va-va-voom lingerie model, who recognizes him as an old acquaintance she once had a crush on.

Why Change Your Wife? (1920)

When Robert’s present of a tissue-thin, elaborately-beaded negligee (complete with a headdress!) is rejected by the horrified Beth, he decides to secretly go on a date with the fun-loving Sally. Sally is all too happy to pursue him, leading to matters going too far and Robert having regrets. Unfortunately for him, Beth finds out about the affair and divorce quickly follows. But matters don’t end there–Beth overhears gossip about her failed marriage, insinuating that her prudishness and frumpy clothes were the problem. Incensed, she decides that if an “indecent” flirt is what people want to see, then by golly she’d get a new wardrobe and show them all! And perhaps she can win Robert back in the process…

Gloria Swanson, "Why Change Your Wife?", 1920 | Laura Loveday | Flickr
Becoming more va-va-voom.

Parts of the plot haven’t aged quite like a fine wine, but I bid you to consider that the remainder of the film involves lots of “extreme” fashion, an unfortunate slip on a banana peel, a catfight, and a deeply serious artiste in the world’s most ridiculous male bathing suit. In other words, it’s a film I’d say has far more plusses than minuses, my friends.

Why Change Your Wife?, lobbycard, from left: Thomas Meighan, Gloria... News  Photo - Getty Images
Even Getty Images can’t spoil the myriad of plusses in this image.

Adolph Zukor once said, “DeMille didn’t make pictures for himself, or for critics, he made them for the public. He chose stories if he thought the public might like them. He was a showman to his smallest finger.” Indeed, DeMille’s films of this period were sometimes criticized as superficial, or just plain silly. But he released hit after hit, filling his dramas with scandalous intrigues and sunken bathtubs to his heart’s content.

Digital Collections | Bebe daniels, Movie photo, Silent movie
And the occasional catfight.

I have to say, at the end of a tough day there’s certain old films that always hit the spot. Keaton films. Chaplin shorts. Anything by Keystone. And Why Change Your Wife? is on that list. Great performers, great costumes, drama, humor, escapism, and plenty of cheese–those late Edwardian DeMilles had a bit of it all.

And perhaps I’ll end with this generous observation by David O. Selznick: “You cannot judge DeMille by regular standards…As a commercial film maker, he made a great contribution to our industry.”

Why Change Your Wife? (1920) Thomas Meighan, Gloria Swanson, Bebe Daniels | Your  wife, Silent movie, You changed

Behind The Scenes Of “The General”

Howdy everyone! It’s been longer than usual since my last post, but for happy reasons–I’m moving soon, and thus any spare time has been devoted to sorting/cleaning/preliminary packing. So you might say that a sabbatical was in order. I’ll admit that the rest of this spring might have to be lighter on posts too, but a new theme month’s in the works for this summer and a possible blogger event is coming this September. So keep Silent-ology on your “pop in now and then” list, my friends!

The General (1927) - Turner Classic Movies

One of the best-loved films from the 1920s is certainly Buster Keaton’s masterwork The General (1926). Fans are very familiar with the stories behind it–how it was filmed up in sleepy little Cottage Grove, Oregon, how the risky train stunts were pulled off, how the famous train crash into the river was orchestrated, and so on.

While researching an upcoming column on The General for Classic Movie Hub (a slight plug, but it is relevant), I had the happy opportunity to look through some behind-the-scenes photos. I knew a bunch were in circulation, but the more I searched the more kept popping up. There were even a few I swear I hadn’t seen before, chilling on Pinterest as if they were just any other photos or something. Many were on my friend Sara Zittel’s board–credit where credit is due!

A sneak preview (isn’t this cool?).

So I thought we’d look at a few of them today, to get a fuller picture of what it was like to film The General back in that summer of 1926. It was a much more public event than we might realize!

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A Whole Zoo Of Performers–Animal Stars Of The Silent Era

The silent era boasted an incredible number of stars, from sweet ingenue types to “grotesque” comedians to dashing heroes. But not all stars were fashionable flappers or svelte sheiks–some were more on the…hairy side. Or even came on four legs. Yes, I’m talking about the animal stars–could you tell?–and there was a virtual zoo of them back in the day.


Luke the Dog in The Cook (1918).

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Many Thanks And High Fives All Around!

Because Roscoe and Al always supported their good friend Buster–and I’m sure they appreciate these blogathons too!

Well my friends, another successful blogathon has come to a close! We had a beautifully curated selection of posts this year, and I extend both an official high five and a hearty THANK YOU to each of you fine bloggers who participated! Your time and efforts are so appreciated.

Buster keaton GIF - Find on GIFER
Buster’s ecstatic!

High fives go out to all the readers who stopped by, too! And if you’re new here, feel free to visit again–I cover everything about the silent era from soup to nuts!

According to hallowed tradition, I held my Very Official Cloche Hat Drawing for this year’s blogathon participants. This year the prize is the essential book Buster Keaton: Interviews, a must for any Buster fan’s personal library. (I praise it from personal experience!)

Here’s the hat waiting patiently for me to draw a name:

And that name is:

Congratulations, Once Upon A Screen, we’ll be in touch! If you see this post before hearing from me, feel free to contact me on my “About Silent-ology” page so we can email each other.

And that’s a wrap! See you at next year’s ‘thon, folks–year 8!

Incredible…

Buster Keaton Posters and Prints | Posterlounge.com

“The Best Summers Of My Life”–Buster Keaton’s Boyhood In Muskegon

This is my own post for the Seventh Buster Keaton Blogathon. Enjoy, and please check out all the other wonderful posts, too!

When you love a performer from classic Hollywood, it’s not uncommon to make little “pilgrimages” to the places where they used to live and work: studios, filming locations, former homes, gravesites, and, of course, their hometowns. Seeing where your favorite star grew up can give you insight into what shaped them and their future career. And, of course, it’s just plain fun–some towns are tourist destinations simply by for being the hometown of a beloved performer.

But what of a performer like Buster Keaton? Since he was the child of travelling medicine show performers, his birthplace was a matter of happenstance. Joe and Myra Keaton were travelling through the tiny town of Piqua, Kansas (today its population hovers a little above 100) when Buster arrived. Their stay was necessarily short, so while tiny Piqua had the honor of being Buster’s birthplace it would be a stretch to call it his hometown. (Fun fact: in the 1960s Buster and his wife Eleanor did stop there briefly while they were on his State Fair tour!)

1093 Birthplace of BUSTER KEATON Piqua Kansas - Jordan The Lion Daily  Travel Vlog (8/4/19) - YouTube
Another fun fact: Piqua’s also home to a tiny Buster museum.

But despite an upbringing spent travelling from theater to theater, there was a spot on earth that Buster considered his true hometown: Muskegon, Michigan. A mid-sized town with the vast waters of Lake Michigan along one side and sparkling Lake Muskegon along another, the Keatons chose it for their summer home in the 1900s. It turned out to be a match made in heaven. In his biography on Buster, written not long before Buster passed away, Rudi Blesh wrote: “Those long-ago summers must have been, in a special way, one of the wonders of his life. Whenever he speaks of them he seems to be turning on the lights of a faraway stage.”

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The Seventh Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon

UPDATE: Day 2 of the blogathon has begun! More posts will be trickling in today, so make sure to check back and see what’s new!

Well that was a long 12 months, wasn’t it? But happily, in spite of everything, we’ve made it back to:

Our excellent Buster Keaton Blogathon has made it to year 7! Once again we will be celebrating the life and brilliant legacy of one of cinema’s most beloved comedians–the guy whose work is the gift that keeps on giving.

BusterLove on Twitter: "Austrian poster for "Spite Marriage", 1929. # BusterKeaton #DorothySebastian #BusterArt #posterart #movieposter  #BusterLove🍀… https://t.co/wAgUnucuJ8"

Bloggers: Please send me the link to your post whenever it’s ready today or tomorrow (and thanks to those of you who sent me a link early!). I’ll be updating periodically throughout the blogathon. Don’t forget that I’ll be holding a drawing for the participants, as a little “thank you”! The winner will receive a copy of one of my favorite Buster books, Buster Keaton: Interviews. The drawing will be held on Wednesday, March 24th, barring any wacky unforeseen difficulties. (After 2020, you just…never know anymore.) I’ll be in touch with the winner!

Readers: Please drop by often today and tomorrow to check out the latest posts–and don’t forget that we bloggers live for comments!

vintage Russian poster - The General Buster Keaton 1929

Wondering what the previous ‘thons were like? Here are the links to the First, SecondThird, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Annual Buster Blogathons–whew! I guess you could say if you’re looking for anything Buster-related, we’ve probably got it. 😀

Let the binge-reading begin!

The Roster:

Silent-ology | Buster’s boyhood summers in Muskegon, Michigan

Once Upon A Screen | The High Sign (1919) and Hard Luck (1921)

The Thoughts of One Truly Loved | Free and Easy (1930)

MovieMovieBlogBlog | Cops (1922)

Big V Riot Squad | Buster’s 1920-21 Silent Shorts

Cinematica | Steamboat Bill Jr (1928)

Century Film Project | The Goat (1921)

Taking Up Room | The General (1927)

Critica Retro | The 1954 TV episode “The Awakening”

Interview With Ben Model And Steve Massa, Creators Of The Silent Comedy Watch Party

Throughout 2020, numerous theaters and film festivals have faced unprecedented shutdowns and cancellations thanks to COVID-19. With so many film lovers stuck in their homes, many hardy souls have devoted time and resources to offering streaming films and online shows. In my opinion, one of the best shows has been the delightful weekly Silent Comedy Watch Party, hosted by historians Ben Model and Steve Massa. They’ve been streaming live every Sunday at 2 p.m. for the past 12 months!

The Silent Comedy Watch Party – Ben ModelLogo by the talented Marlene Weisman.

Each Watch Party showcases 2-4 silent comedy shorts, some starring famous names like Chaplin and Lloyd and others featuring some of the countless obscure performers from the 1900s-1920s. Model and Massa discuss each short beforehand, giving backgrounds on the performers, historical contexts and other insights, and Model accompanies every film live with piano. Model’s wife Mana and Massa’s wife Susan work behind the scenes to ensure everything’s running smoothly–it’s a real team effort. All episodes are available on the Model’s YouTube page (definitely go and subscribe!), which means there’s a virtual smorgasbord of classics and rarities for comedy fans to binge their way through.

For many people, the Watch Party’s become a bright spot in their week, and they’ve been happily tuning in each Sunday to laugh and relieve a bit of stress–which is no small service nowadays. In celebration of the one year anniversary of the Watch Party on March 21st–which also happens to be their 50th episode!–Silent-ology’s conducting a little interview with the two masterminds behind it. I hope you enjoy!

The Silent Comedy Watch Party – Ben ModelImage from Model’s site.

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12 Days Until Buster Blogathon 7!

Well well–it’s a little under two weeks until the Buster Keaton Blogathon returns for a seventh year in a row!

If you’re a participant, know that I’m really looking forward to seeing your posts! Every year our blogathon has such an excellent selection of thoughtful writing and really stellar research. I know year 7 will be awesome as well.

If you haven’t signed up and are interested in joining, go right ahead! I’ll even accept new participants on the days of the blogathon, because why not. The more the merrier!

Seven Chances 1925 poster Buster Keaton | Old film posters, Buster keaton  movies, Cinema posters
Here come all the bloggers!

Important update: Every year I hold a little drawing for blogathon participants. This year I’ve decided to give away a copy of Kino’s lovely DVD of Our Hospitality (1923), one of Buster’s classic features. Don’t you love that cover?

Our Hospitality
I’ll try not to keep it for myself.

12 days to go, everyone–happy blogging!!

The Roster:

Silent-ology | Buster’s childhood summers In Muskegon, Michigan

The Thoughts of One Truly Loved | Free and Easy (1930)

Big V Riot Squad | Buster’s silent short comedies

Cinematica | Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928)

Once Upon A Screen | The High Sign (1919) and Hard Luck (1921)

Taking Up Room | The General (1927)

Critica Retro | TV episode “The Awakening” (1954)

Whimsically Classic | The General (1927)

Century Film Project The Goat (1921)

MovieMovieBlogBlogII | Cops (1922)

Acting Funny | Article on American vaudeville in young Buster’s time

Thoughts On: “Orphans Of The Storm” (1921)

By the time the Roaring Twenties dawned, D.W. Griffith was well-established as a Filmmaker of Renown. Rising to acclaim with his Biograph shorts and becoming an industry giant with his epics The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Intolerance (1916), he reached new heights of artistry with Broken Blossoms (1919) and even managed to transform an old-fashioned stage melodrama into the mega-hit Way Down East (1920). With a new decade before him and the ever-changing film industry gaining new directors and stars every day, he must’ve wondered how to keep up the pace. What should his next big project be? Could he keep that level of acclaim high?

Reportedly at Lillian Gish’s suggestion, Griffith decided to adapt another old-fashioned stage melodrama to the big screen: The Two Orphans, about the plight of two sisters who are separated in 18th century Paris. In keeping with his love for the Epic and Emotional, he shifted the setting to the violent heart of the French Revolution.

Was it a success? It was respectably well-recieved at the time, but doesn’t seem to have made much of a splash. Watching it today with Griffith’s other Epic Emotional films in mind, I think I can see why. And yet…I find myself popping it into my Blu-ray player at least once a year.

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How Silent Films Help You Understand History (Better, Much Better)

A couple stories circulating in the media recently had levels of ridiculousness so high (admittedly an easy bar to reach nowadays) that they inspired me to explore a topic near and dear to my heart: how silent films can help us understand history. Better. Much better, since it helps to, you know, see history, at least from the 1880s onwards. And I want to show how a deeper understanding of history isn’t just some neat perk to help add more trivia nuggets to your noggin, but something that can have huge real-word ramifications–especially today.

Image result for 1920s newspaper reading
“Yup, those are high levels of ridiculousness alright.”

Now, I like discussing overall societal trends in this blog in a generalized fashion, but I usually avoid specific news stories. Partly because the blog doesn’t need to get super dated (my blog topic’s already dated, thank yew very much), and mainly because I really don’t feel like bringing the soul-sucking, fang-dripping, grinning, oozing specter of politics into my teensy corner of the blogosphere. That denizen of the Hellmouth can stay in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer universe, okay–and besides, it’s infesting everything enough as it is. So while the following two stories are easy to discuss in a polarizing political fashion, they’re also very much related to general societal trends. I’ll allow it!

First up: the viral Cracker Barrel infographic-of-sorts–my apologies for the smattering of uncouth vernacular therein:

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