Mae Murray in Kodak Color

As much as I simply adore silent film sirens, I have never liked Mae Murray. To be brutally honest, the woman scares me. There have been nightmares. Oh yes, there have been nightmares.

Mae Murray in Valencia (1926)

Forget Joan Crawford or Gloria Swanson. Mae Murray is the dame I would NOT want to be left alone with in a dark room. Ever since reading an article profiling her in an old Photoplay magazine she struck me as somewhat, shall we say… c-r-a-z-y. We’re talking Norma Desmond meets Baby Jane crazy. A party-crashing Miss Haversham who, to quote Sunset Blvd, was still proudly waving long after the parade had passed her by. (The most excellent blog Claroscureaux gives a fair and accurate sketch of ‘The Girl With the Bee-Stung Lips and is a definite must read.)

Murray is, to me, is the case-study of the kind of short-wired absurdity that can come of unchecked, narcissistic excess.

But then…

I came across these absolutely stunning screen tests from Kodak and I was duly rendered speechless. Miss Murray? For these few, flickering moments you succeeded in positively captivating me. This is two-strip technology at its most delicate and painterly (regular Pictorial readers  know exactly how much we love 2-strip color around here)…  so dreamy are those soft colors that even Mae Murray, my personal harbinger of nighttime horror,  emanates an ethereal quality that is simply impossible to achieve today.

From the Kodak 1000 Words blog:

“In these newly preserved tests, made in 1922 at the Paragon Studios in Fort Lee, New Jersey, actress Mae Murray appears almost translucent, her flesh a pale white that is reminiscent of perfectly sculpted marble, enhanced with touches of color to her lips, eyes, and hair. She is joined by actress Hope Hampton modeling costumes from The Light in the Dark (1922), which contained the first commercial use of Two-Color Kodachrome in a feature film. Ziegfeld Follies actress Mary Eaton and an unidentified woman and child also appear.”

watch the entire clip and prepare to be thoroughly enchanted:

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Gen Y reject and wage slave extraordinaire.

11 thoughts on “Mae Murray in Kodak Color

  1. Kitty, I’ve always agreed with your first impression of her. I have photos of her at MGM in 1925-26, including some unflattering images not shot for publicity, that made me wonder how she could ever have become such a diva. She had neither the figure nor the face to be considered attractive, and her style of acting was already becoming out of style. One of her close-up shots was definitely scary. The Kodak images, in soft focus, do seem to flatter her though.

  2. She was a little looney; but that’s why I love her. I wouldn’t be alone in a dark room with sharp objects with her; but I’d totally have a drink with her :p.

    Those color tests are just…stunning!

  3. What’s wrong with you people?. Mae Murray looks stunning in the film test. Some absurd joke linking a photo of aged Murray. I bet your all quite the frigging hags. I hope she haunts you till you breathe your last breath. Ha Ha Ha

  4. Most of what is known of Mae Murray today is the some old, tired and mostly false shit that was bandied about after her film career was over and she spent more time in court in various legal battles than she did on Broadway (to which she had returned, successfully, I might add, in 1933). Right now, she is best “remembered” as a fading/faded ex-star who hung on by her claws to long-gone stardom, ala “Norma Desmond.” She could have been one (of many) of a composite that made up the Desmond character, (although many feel Norma Talmadge was a better fit). In reality her film career ended in nearly the same manner as the following (still highly regarded) silent stars: Lillian Gish, Mary Pickford and Blanche Sweet,(there are many more and many sadder stories, but this is too long already). All attempted, with limited success, to stay in film when sound supplanted silent film. All left Hollywood after about three films (Pickford being the most successful with a 1929 Oscar for Coquette, although her follow up films were better, but did less financially). No one, including me, rates Mae Murray in the same league as an actor with Pickford, Gish and Sweet, who easily make up 3 of the top half-dozen most important contributors to the development of film acting. But in other respects, she takes a back-seat to nobody. She was Broadway star by 1909, a near-household name by 1915 and a major star in film by 1917 (research the media of the time–and not just the New York papers either–if you doubt),and formed her own production company with husband/director Robert Z. Leonard in 1922, releasing their films first through Metro Pictures, then MGM. She divorced Leonard, remarried a phony Count, and walked out on her contract with MGM. She was essentially blacklisted, and understandably, by the major studios, none of whom wanted legal tangles with Mayer. She made three forgettable “talkies” then found some success again on Broadway, but never seemed able to accept her reduced stature (and reduced finances), much like many former stars of the silent (or ANY) era. There is not much doubt that mental illness played a major role in later life, as it does with many of us if we live long enough. Anyone who has had to deal with depression or dementia knows that there’s not a whole lot of fun in taking care of an elderly (or not so elderly) person with mental illness. Ironically, Mae Murray was one of the founders of the Hollywood Motion Picture Relief Fund, which came to her assistance in her last few years.

    Comparing Mae Murray to her contemporaries (say, the first 35 years of the 20th century), is revealing. Of all her contemporaries, she was the first Broadway musical star to reach Hollywood movie star status. Others followed, some more important than her, Fred Astaire for example. But she did it with SILENT film. In 1917. Imagine that. A Broadway musical-dance star making the leap to silent film stardom.
    Putting Mae Murray into perspective for modern audiences, the closest comparison we have today is Madonna. Both dreamed of being dancers, both left home very young to seek success in New York, both found stardom, but ultimately in a different way than planned: Madonna as a singer, Mae Murray as a film star. She deserves to be better known; she deserves to be understood with fact, not bullshit. It seems appropriate that a silent technicolor film 90 years old has ignited some new interest in this not unknown, but poorly known figure; someone whose life and career and place in our culture merit closer examination.

  5. Enjoy your website. Just to add that the B/W photo at top of the page is not from Merry Widow, it’s from “Valencia,” MGM-1926. It was the last film she shot for MGM (she was pregnant with 1st and only child during the production), and the next to last of her films with MGM to be released.

    1. My goodness, what a wonderfully well-written response! I thank you sincerely for the much welcome nsight and will adjust the film credit asap.

      1. Thanks. I was practicing my intro to a future Mae Murray biography [insert laugh track here]. While on the subject of both MM and two-strip Technicolor, she made four films from 1921 to 1922 each of which had a “Prizma color” sequence. (This info is from an essay in “Films in Review,” Dec. 1975, by DeWitt Bodeen, with MM filmography.) The films are “The Gilded Lily”(1921), “Peacock Alley”(1922) “Facination” (1922), and “Broadway Rose”(1922). “Lily” was a Famous Players-Lasky/Paramount production, while the remaining three were produced by Tiffany (the Mae Murray/Robt. Z. Leonard production company) and released thru Metro Pictures. All were directed by Leonard. I’ve not seen any of them, and don’t know if any copies exist. It is interesting that the Kodak tests including Mae Murray are from this period, although the film mentioned in connection with the tests as “the first commercial use of Two-Color Kodachrome in a feature film, is not a Mae Murray production. Also, the film usually cited as the first two-color Technicolor feature, is “Toll of the Sea” (1922). Is “Two-Color Kodachrome” a different film technology than two color Technicolor? If so, it might explain why Eastman Kodak cites a different film as their “first.” And what the heck is “Prizma color?”

  6. Enjoyed the Mae Murray background, her character in the Kodak short seems oddly contemporary in a 80’s kind of way. She must have been quite a character.

    Mary Eaton looked hot in that Kodak film, oh my God. She would have been a knock out in any era. Shame she had such a tough time post 1930. Why was she shut out of future work?, which then apparently led her to a serious drinking problem.

    1. Mae Murray’s public persona–the outlandish costumes and poses–seem strikingly modern to me (although not much in evidence from these Kodak test shots with the actors posing in “period” costumes). Anyone who watched or saw photos from the MTV awards, in particular Lady Gaga or Cher would notice the similarities. Our popular culture is and has always been much more conservative (puritannical sometimes) than most people realize. But from time-to-time this changes just enough to allow the emergence of something more radical–in fashion, music, dance, film–if only for a short period. Mae Murray’s “jazz age” persona only lasted from about 1920 to 1927 before the prevailing tastes changed once again.

      I don’t know much about Mary Eaton and what happened with her career. However, in many cases that I’m aware of it was often the alcohol or substance abuse that precipitated the slide, rather than the other way around. However, the public doesnt see the result this way. They see the broken tragic figure and assume that the individual drank or took the drugs to kill the pain of a lost career. Now, of course, with the advent of 24/7 celebrity news coverage, we get blow/by/blow (no pun intended) coverage before, during and after the fall.

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