Today is the birthday of Josef Von Sternberg (1894-1969).
In light of the current book I’m hawking with all its incipient Chaplin-mania, we have the perfect angle on Von Sternberg to talk about today. A little known fact is that in 1926, before his famous collaborations with Marlene Dietrich, Von Sternberg was hired by Charlie Chaplin to direct Edna Purviance in a follow-up vehicle to A Woman of Paris. Chaplin produced the film, which has variously been called A Woman of the Sea, Sea Gulls or The Sea Gull. The usual Chaplin lore has it that that Purviance’s performance was so weak that Chaplin had it destroyed out of embarrassment. But the truth may be more complex. I read now that it was “not commercially viable”, which may also reflect on Von Sternberg, whose previous films had been experimental. And that Chaplin burned the prints in the 1930s for tax reasons so the film would no longer show up as an asset. Now that’s some cold accounting for a man who once loved this woman! At any rate, this was Chaplin’s last effort to float Purviance as a star. After this, she remained on his payroll, and occasionally played some walk-ons in his pictures.
At any rate, there’s a new book about the topic, featuring 50 recently discoevered production stills. I think I may have to get this book. You can buy it here: http://www.ednapurviance.org/seagull/womanofthesea.html
For more on early film history please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc