The Film Mystery by Arthur B. Reeve


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Page 2

"Walter," he had exclaimed, as I burst into the laboratory in
response to a hurried message, "here's where I need your help.
You know all about moving pictures, so--if you'll phone your city
editor and ask him to let you cover a case for the Star we'll
just about catch a train at One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Street."

Because the film world had fascinated me always I had made a
point of being posted on its people and their activities. I
remembered the very first appearance of Stella Lamar back in the
days of General Film, when pictures were either Licensed or
Independent, when only two companies manufactured worth-while
screen dramas, when any subject longer than a reel had to be of
rare excellence, such as the art films imported from France for
the Licensed program. In those days, Stella rose rapidly to
prominence. Her large wistful eyes had set the hearts of many of
us to beating at staccato rate.

Then came Lloyd Manton, her present manager, and the first of a
new type of business man to enter the picture field. Manton was
essentially a promoter. His predecessors had been men carried to
success by the growth of the new art. Old Pop Belman, for
instance, had been a fifth-rate oculist who rented and sold
stereopticons as a side line. With blind luck he had grasped the
possibilities of Edison's new invention. Just before the break-up
of General Film he had become many times a millionaire and it was
then that he had sent a wave of laughter over the entire country
by an actual cable to William Shakespeare, address London, asking
for all screen rights to the plays written by that gentleman.

Manton represented a secondary phase in film finance. Continent
Films, his first corporation, was a stockjobbing concern.
Grasping the immense popularity of Stella Lamar, he had coaxed
her away from the old studio out in Flatbush where all her early
successes had been photographed. With the magic of her name he
sold thousands of shares of stock to a public already fed up on
the stories of the fortunes to be made in moving pictures. When
much of the money so raised had been dissipated, when Continent's
quotation on the curb sank to an infinitesimal fraction, then it
developed that Stella's contract was with Manton personally.
Manton Pictures, Incorporated, was formed to exploit her. The
stock of this company was not offered to outside investors.

Stella's popularity had in no way suffered from the business
methods of her manager. Manton, at the least, had displayed rare
foresight in his estimation of public taste. Except for a few
attempts with established stage favorites, photographed generally
in screen versions of theatrical classics and backed by
affiliations with the producers of the legitimate stage,
Continent Films was the first concern to make the five-reel
feature. Stella, as a Continent player, was the very first
feature star. Under the banner of Manton Pictures, she had never
surrendered her position of pre-eminence.

Also, scandal somehow had failed to touch her. Those initiated to
the inner gossip of the film world, like myself, were under no
illusions. The relations between Stella and Manton were an open
secret. Yet the picture fans, in their blind worship, believed
her to be as they saw her upon the screen. To them the wide and
wistful innocence of her remarkably large eyes could not be
anything but genuine. The artlessness of the soft curves of her
mouth was proof to them of the reality of an ingenuous and very
girlish personality.

Even her divorce had helped rather than harmed her. It seemed
irony to me that she should have obtained the decree instead of
her husband, and in New York, too, where the only grounds are
unfaithfulness. The testimony in the case had been sealed so that
no one knew whom she had named as corespondent. At the time, I
wondered what pressure had been exerted upon Millard to prevent
the filing of a cross suit. Surely he should have been able to
substantiate the rumors of her association with Lloyd Manton.

Lawrence Millard, author and playwright and finally scenario
writer, had been as much responsible for the success of his wife
as Manton, and in a much less spectacular way. It was Millard who
had written her first great Continent success, who had developed
the peculiar type of story best suited for her, back in the early
days of the one reel and General Film.

It is commonly known in picture circles that an actress who
screens well, even if she is only a moderately good artist, can
be made a star with one or two or three good stories and that,
conversely, a star may be ruined by a succession of badly written
or badly produced vehicles. Those of us not blinded by an
idolatrous worship for the girl condemned her severely for
throwing her husband aside at the height of her success. The
public displayed their sympathy for her by a burst of renewed
interest. The receipts at the box office whenever her films were
shown probably delighted both Manton and Stella herself.

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Sun 15th Dec 2019, 21:13