Madge Bellamy and the Stranger Inside

Madge Bellamy told me that she had spent her life trying to understand the stranger inside of herself.  During our conversations, the subject was never far from her thoughts.

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In Madge Bellamy: A Friendship Cut Short, Madge talked about her childhood and how she got into show business. In this concluding installment, Madge talks about Hollywood, the Hollywood she remembered. Note: Madge’s quotes are in italics.

Madge's Barbara La Marr pose

Madge’s Barbara La Marr pose

Your first film was The Riddle: Woman with Geraldine Farrar.

She was my idol, but she ignored me completely. I remember her gestures. I remember her great happiness when Lou Tellegen (her husband) would come on the set.

 

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You started working in films in New York.

I was appearing on the stage in New York and I would take the train to Fort Lee to be in this movie because filming in those days started very early in the morning. I’d get the train, and when I’d get home, I’d have to be in a matinee or evening performance of the play. I remember I was always so tired. I think,  for success, what you need more than anything is energy. If I had had more energy, I’m sure I would have been better, but I was always so tired.

Did you plan for a motion picture career or was it supposed to be a one picture deal?

After I came out here, I got ambitious to get better pictures. I had very little success. I didn’t have control over the picture I was to be in. I would cry. I think now, to become a big success, you have to be a smart business woman and know how to make your own pictures or at least have a say so in it.

How did you get to Hollywood?

Thomas Ince sent a man to New York to find actresses for him. They took actresses from all the different plays and a few from the Ziegfeld Follies. They made about 12 tests, and I was notified that I was selected. Mr. (Daniel) Frohman said, ”I’ll never see you again.”

First impressions of Hollywood?

I was frightfully disappointed. I had it built up in my mind that it was as large as New York.  You can imagine coming from those tall buildings to a street of one-story buildings.

Madge Bellamy

Madge Bellamy

You got over your disappointment.

Yes, but the lifestyle was very bizarre and wild. I remember thinking nothing of having liquor all around. We all learned to smoke. No one told us it was bad for us. We had parties that would last from morning through night and then we’d go on to another house and end up in a house with somebody we didn’t even know. Yet, in a way, it was an innocent time. 

With Douglas MacLean in Passing Thru (1921)

With Douglas MacLean in Passing Thru (1921)

Your first day on the set in Hollywood. You walked out of Douglas MacLean’s office and almost off the lot.

I can’t imagine what I was going to do. That impluse I had to walk out has followed me through my life. It practically ruined me. Instead of staying and fighting over something, I would walk out. I would say, “I won’t have it,” and then just shut it off. That’s very wrong. I should have stayed and argued. I have that impulse now.  I don’t know what that is. I have sometimes thought that it goes back to my lack of energy.

I’ve always said that the trouble with most Texans is that they think things can be solved with a gun. Nothing can be solved with gun!

What was the trouble with Douglas MacLean.

We didn’t personally synch with one another. He would stand by the camera and say, “Don’t make her look too pretty. It detracts from the comedy.”

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You were with fellow Texan Florence Vidor in Hail the Woman.

I looked up to her. I admired her. She was a very elegant person. Although she was from Texas, you would have thought she was from the finest finishing schools in Europe. She had an innate sense of elegance about her.

Her husband, King Vidor, directed you in Love Never Dies.

King Vidor was a very quiet man on the set. He would come over and whisper instructions. He was so different from those directors who had megaphones and would shout at you.

You were with Jack Pickford in Garrison’s Finish.

Jack was very sweet to me. I had always been in love with Mary Pickford. I just adored her. I remember a strange thing after the picture was finished. Mary sent her chauffeur over to my house to get a pair of gloves I had worn in the movie. I will never forget how strange I thought that was.

With Jack Pickford

With Jack Pickford

You say you were selected for a role in Ben Hur, but that you refused the part.

I think I was just ignorant. I can’t imagine why I was so rude. I remember saying at the time that I didn’t want to be in the picture became there would be a lot of horses.

Do you have regrets about Ben Hur?

I don’t think it would have helped me very much. They went to Europe and it took about a half a year to make it. It didn’t do May McAvoy much good. 

Talk a bit about The Iron Horse.

It was filmed on location in a prairie . Lots of pictures were made on the back lot of Universal. The old man, Carl Laemmle, used to say. ”A rock is a rock and a tree is a tree.”

Madge in the Iron Horse

Madge in the Iron Horse

A coach car was given to me. I lived in great style back there. I thought it was wonderful of Jack Ford (the film’s director)  to sleep in an upper berth with the extras. It shows what a unusual guy he was.  George O’ Brien was also an adorable person.

How did you like John Ford as a director?

He saw the picture as a whole, instead of a series of static pictures, which was like most directors directed. He brought a movement, a narrative form to the picture. He was really a genius.

Madge and Thomas Ince

Madge and Thomas Ince

Were you still under contact to Thomas Ince when he died?

I think my contract was up with Mr. Ince when he died. It was very shortly that I got a call from Fox telling me they wanted me. Ince was having a hard time financially when he died. He was going to star me in First National pictures, but that didn’t come off because of his financial difficulty. At Ince’s studio, nobody seemed to take charge. He was so busy with the money side of it.

Ince’s death was rather mysterious at the time. Did you ever get the inside scoop?

I have never been able to find out. I have heard so many different versions of what happened. I knew Mickey Neilan and he said that nobody shot nobody. He had a stomach ache and they took him off the ship and he died. It may have been no mystery at all.

What about the rumors that you were hard to work with?

If I had that been hard to get along with, all these directors would not have wanted me. I made seven pictures a year and I only had trouble with one or two. I was late one morning for Lorna Doone, but that wasn’t my fault. My chauffeur didn’t show up. I was kind of bossy when I was with Ince, but when I got to Fox, they said, ‘You can’t select your picture and you can’t select your director, but you can select your leading man.’ I never had any trouble with anyone there.

Madge in Lorna Doone

Madge in Lorna Doone

You bobbed your hair for your role in Sandy (1926).

Yes, and I never knew what to do with it after that.  I had rather pretty hair. It was dark in the shadows and gold in the sunlight. When they made me cut it off and dye it blonde, I think it detracted from me.

Madge bobs her hair

Madge bobs her hair

Was your mother the stage mother she was rumored to be?

When I came out here, mothers were in disrepute. Everybody said that mothers came on the set and bossed everybody. My mother never came on the set. In fact, she was not particularly interested in my career. She never either complimented or criticized me.

Did you experience any rivalry with any of the other leading ladies at Fox?

I didn’t feel any. I know that Maurice Tourneur (the director) wanted Barbara Bedford for Lorna Doone because she was his sweetheart. You can’t blame him for perferring her.  I didn’t feel any rivalry with her.

What was the atmosphere like at Fox with the advent of talkies?

Everybody was very excited and I was so excited.

You have been listed among the actresses who failed to make a transition to the new medium.

They still say that. I just read a book that said it was too bad that Madge Bellamy’s voice didn’t come over, but I think it did.  They made a test at Fox to see which star would make the first talking picture at Fox. After the tests, who did they choose?  Me! I had notices that I had a very fine voice. Arthur Hopkins, a famous New York producer, said that even my whisper carried. So it was a shock to read that I couldn’t talk. 

It didn’t help your career when you turned down a second Fox contract that would have paid you $25,000 more a year.  Why did you refuse the offer?

I have tried to figure that out for many years. I can only say that it was a streak of insanity. I don’t know why. I didn’t care for Mr. Sheehan very much. I know that that was the end of my career. I did the same at MGM. They called me and I said I’d make a picrture for them, but that I didn’t want any businessman on the set.  You can’t talk like that.

At Fox, I didn’t want to do The Lady from Hell with an actor that was going to be the director. I refused to do it. I said I was quitting. The bosses told me to go away and think about it. I said I was going to quit. I don’t know why I did it or what I was thinking. I think maybe the fire had gone out of me. I wish you could solve it for me becaue I’m still trying to figure it out.

You lost your home, career, and belongings in 1929. How did you get through it?

It was an almost unbearable experience for me. I think the secret of my survival is that I have always been interested in the rest of the world. How can you cry about yourself when you’re worried about Guatamala? I have always been interested in what’s happening in Germany or in England. I could take these troubles because I was worried about world conditions as much as I was about myself.

Also, if I had a book in front of me that I was intereseted in, I didn’t care where I was or what was happening to me. 

"The Cedars," Madge's home

“The Cedars,” Madge’s Hollywood home

You returned to films in 1932.  Why?

I suppose it was to make some money.

White Zombie, now a cult classic, was your comeback film.

I was very fond of the two young men (Victor and Edward Halperin, the director and producer) that made the picture. Of course, Bela Lugosi was quite a gentleman. I think he was a fine actor. I wish they wouldn’t show it so often on TV. If they show it one more time, I’m going to scream.

Madge in White Zombie

Madge in White Zombie

In the film, you are transformed into a zombie by an evil voodoo master.

I think it’s a good story. They say it was a true story. In those days, they doped up the workers and worked them until they died.

Madge with Bela Lugosi and Robert Frazer in White Zombie

Madge with Bela Lugosi and Robert Frazer in White Zombie

Is it true that you tested for the part of Belle Watling in Gone with the Wind.

They called me in to do a test, but when they saw tme, they said I looked too young for the part. It didn’t turn out to be much of a part anyway.

A Darling of the Twenties stops after 1945.  What happened?

That’s the part of my life I don’t want to talk about. The publisher wants me to do an epilogue and I have written one, but they don’t know whether to use it or not. They said all they wanted was just to let the readers know that I’m well and happy, but I don’t know how to write a well and happy epilogue.

Madge at home in the 1980s

Madge at home in the 1980s

Louise Brooks called the movie business the roughest, toughest, most humilatting and degrading job in the world. Do you agree?

I don’t think it is. I didn’t find it that way. It was humiliating there at the end of my career when I wasn’t offered fine parts or any good parts at all. That happens to nearly everybody in life.

The cover of Madge's memoir.

The cover of Madge’s memoir.

Would you be an actress again if you could turn back the clock?

I think I would have become a libriaian, because then I would have lived my life with books. I guess books have been my great love in life. It’s a strange thing about books. I love words. It’s the use of words that I am interested in. The words that I put together in an interesting way are what interest me.

What did you learn about yourself in writing your memoirs?

I’ve learned that subconscious memories flair up in you and cause you behavior that is unexplainable. What it is, I don’t know. I don’t think even a great psychiatrist would know what makes a person what they are.

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What do you want readers to learn from your book?

I want them to learn to conserve their energies, take care of their bodies and their minds, and believe in life and believe in never giving up on the progress of the human being. It’s hopeless when you give that up. I want heaven on earth, as we all do.

What are you proud of?

I’m not proud of anything. I’m kind of proud of my ambition, although it gave out too soon. I lost my ambition, but I’m proud that I had it. I had great expectations, but they gave out before my years gave out. That’s too bad, isn’t it?

Madge (L) with Gloria Stuart

Madge (L) with Gloria Stuart

Do you feel that your true talent and potential were ever realized in Hollywood?

No, not at all. I don’t think that I ever had a part that suited me or ever had an expression of what I felt or wanted to express.

Do you keep in touch with any friends from the old days?

Dorothy Revier is a friend. I can almost say that she was the prettiest woman I ever saw. She was really gorgeous.

Dorothy Revier

Dorothy Revier

The last time I saw her was at a party for the Whatever Became Of? books. We laughed and laughed because we both had the same singing teacher, Howard Hughes’ uncle. He was deaf as a post. The more we studied with him, the worse our singing voices became.

What do you think about the rerelease of the films you and your contemporaries made.

I think it’s wonderful. Through this, people’s imaginations will be fired again. What you see on the screen now kills the imagination. Everything is solved with a pistol shot or a car chase instead of by imagination or vision.

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Have you read A Darling of the Twenties?  If not, get it!  Read it! Let me know what you think.

Madge with

Madge with Charles Morton in Colleen

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The Intrigue of Frances Teague

By Michael G. Ankerich

Did you see her?  Did you get a look at Frances Teague in the passing parade?

You had to look fast, but she was there, one of the stunning beauties of the silent screen.

Frances Teague, Photoplay magazine, 1925.

I came across her portrait about a month ago while looking through a 1925 Photoplay magazine. I almost passed it by, but her eyes caught my eye. The mysterious and mesmerizing Frances Teague.

Who was she anyway?  She did she come from?  What was the extent of her film career in Hollywood?  What became of Frances Teague?

She came from Oakland, California, born April 12, 1905, to Walter E. and Margaret Teague.  The name Teague was well known in the Bay area. Frances’s great-grandfather furnished the teams for grading the old Central Pacific Railroad, the final link in the transcontinental railway. Her father was the manager of the Operating Department of the Southern Pacific Company.

Early publicity suggests that Frances had dramatics and dancing as her childhood ambitions. Her daughter, Patricia (Pat) Hillsinger, speaking in an interview with this author in August 2012, said she was not aware of her mother’s interest in the arts. Nevertheless, she stood out in Oakland as a beauty among beauties. The Oakland Tribune followed her development over the years.

After she entered films, the newspaper featured her on the front page, showing her progression through the years.

The Evolution of Frances Teague

According to press reports, Frances spent six years studying aesthetic dancing. She specialized in dramatics at Miss Hamlin’s exclusive girl’s school in San Francisco.

Newspaper accounts of Frances’s entry into motion pictures are contradictory. One account involves director Eric von Stroheim. While on location in San Francisco with Greed, Von Stroheim secured the cooperation of Southern Pacific officals for some location settings. When the director paid a visit to Walter Teague’s office at Southern Pacific, he took one look at Frances’s photograph on her father’s desk and asked to make some screen tests. He promised her a part an upcoming production, but the offer never materialized.

The other account has Frances being discovered  shortly after her arrival in Hollywood.  When she graduated from Miss Hamlin’s, Frances and her parents moved to Los Angeles. Her early publicity suggests the family moved to allow Frances to pursue her acting ambitions.

Frances’s daughter, however, says the reason they ventured south was at the request of a railroad official in Los Angeles who asked Walter Teague to start a produce terminal in Los Angeles.  In addition, Frances’s older brother, Earle, after attending agriculture school, was working in the farming industry in the Los Angeles area.

The Teagues settled into a house in fashionable Whitley Heights next door to Rudolph Valentino. Frances’s daughter remembers her mother speaking fondly of the Latin heartthrob over the years. “She thought he was a very nice man,” Pat Hillsinger said. Plus, they shared a common bond: they were both dog lovers.

“My mother told me that tour buses would come up to Whitley Heights from Hollywood and stop in front of Valentino’s house,” Pat said. Fans clamored for a glimpse of Rudy. A man, dressed in workman’s clothes, frequently worked on a car out front and would wave to the fans as the bus passed. The fans thought they were waving to one of Rudy’s hired hands, never realizing the man covered in motor oil was Valentino himself.

Rudolph Valentino, with his car and canine friend, in front of his Whitley Heights home.

After a short time in Hollywood, Frances was signed to contract at Fox Studios. Press reports at the time stated that John Ford had hired her for the feminine lead in The Iron Horse (1924), which centers on the building of the transcontinental railroad. Madge Bellamy, however, played the lead opposite George O’Brien. Frances appeared as Polka Dot, the dance hall girl.

The publicity machine pitched in to promote Frances’s career. The story was that Lloyd’s of London had insured her curls into the six figures.

Frances then had small parts in John Ford’s Hearts of Oak (1924) and Her Husband’s Secret (1925).

Oakland was proud of its hometown girl and all the stars of filmdom who hailed from their city. Frances, along with Natalie Kingston, Lloyd Hamilton, and Monte Blue returned to their hometown in March 1926 and were honored by Mayor John L. Davis.

Frances, sitting between Monte Blue and Lloyd Hamilton, was honored by Oakland, her hometown.

In Wild Justice (1925), Frances plays Polly Ann Hadley. Polly Ann’s uncle is murdered by a brutal thug. The ruffian takes over the uncle’s cabin and his dog, Arno (Peter the Great). When Polly Ann comes to visit, the bandit attempts to force himself on her, but Arno comes to her aid until the kindly doctor (George Sherwood) arrives on the scene and rescues her.

Frances and Jack Daugherty thrilled audiences in the 10-chapter serial, The Trail of the Tiger, for Universal in 1927 and ’28.

Then, Frances Teague vanished from the screen. Her trail ended with The Trail of the Tiger.

What became of Frances Teague? Her daughter, Pat Hillsinger, filled in the details.

It’s not exactly clear why Frances left films.  She certainly didn’t leave Hollywood.  After they settled in the city, the Teagues built a house in the Hollywood Hills at 2760 Hollyridge Drive.

Frances Teague’s home in the Hollywood Hills.

In April 1931, Frances married Charles L. Tilley, the general manager of the Outer Harbor Dock and Wharf Company in San Pedro. Their daughter, Patricia Ann, was born in January 1932.  A son, Walter, came along in 1935.

Pat said her mother never talked about being an actress, so she couldn’t say exactly why her career came to an abrupt end in the late 1920s. In fact, no one in Pat’s family ever talked about Frances having been an actress.

“My father’s parents didn’t think much of picture people,” Frances’s daughter said. “Some of them didn’t have good reputations. There were some who thought of people in the movies as gypsies.”

When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, Charles Tilley, because of his waterfront business, was asked to move down to San Pedro. In case of an invasion of the harbor, he could be on the scene in minutes.

“My mother didn’t want to move from Hollywood,” Pat said. “She thought San Pedro was at the end of the world. ”

Over time, however, the couple built a home in nearby Palo Verdes and Frances fell in love with the area. The former actress was “extremely active” over the years, her daughter said.  She started a Girl Scout troop, volunteered for the Red Cross, and supervised a group who made socks for men in the Army and Navy. She was active in the Assistance League of Long Beach for years. After the war, she devoted herself to a number of charities and remained socially active.

Frances Teague retained her beauty throughout much of her life.

“When I was a kid,” Pat said, “I would hear people say, ‘Your mother is so beautiful.'”

In the late 1960s, Frances was stricken with cancer.  She died on July 29, 1969, at age 64.

Frances Teague was one of the many actresses who passed by quickly in the parade of Hollywood hopefuls.

I’m grateful to Frances’s daughter for telling me the story of her mother’s life. After a month of digging around in the past, I am still intrigued by the portrait I found of Frances in an old Photoplay.  I have it on my desk as I write these words.  I think I’ll keep it around a little while longer.

My desk