Little Big Star

It was not easy working for Cecil B. DeMille under normal circumstances. DeMille virtually invented the caricature of the movie director as taskmaster.

Standing on some platform overlooking a cast of hundreds if not thousands dressed in jodhpurs and armed with a megaphone exhorting everyone to put themselves into the emotion of the scene and give him everything they’ve got.

If someone was not up to what he requested then lookout. DeMille had the ability to cut them down to a size with words formed from pure acid or a withering look that could shake an actor or crew member to the core of their existence. Either way the point was made: Do what I tell you. Period. End of story.

Then there was the abnormal circumstances which from time to time DeMille would put his actors through. Like laying prone on the ground while an actual lion puts a paw on your bareback and the only thing to protect you in case the lion forgets he’s on a movie set and not the jungle is the director standing off camera with a rifle aimed at Panthera leo.

No problem you say? Victor Mature didn’t think so. In DeMille’s 1949 movie Samson and Delilah, Mature as the lead character was supposed to do battle with an actual lion. Even though the beast was tamed, declawed and and defanged it still was not enough for Mature.

This and his other phobias which were on full display led DeMille to say for all to hear:” “I have met a few men in my time. Some have been afraid of heights, some have been afraid of water, some have been afraid of fire, some have been afraid of closed places. Some have even been afraid of open spaces – or themselves. But in all my thirty-five years of picture-making, Mr. Mature, I have not met a man who was 100 per cent yellow.”

That sounds pretty unfair regardless of who the actor happens to be but DeMille was probably drawing from memory. It was thirty years before that a woman who was barely five feet tall and weighed a little over one hundred pounds exhibited the kind of courage that DeMille adored. The collaboration between the two would be hugely beneficial to both parties and to the movie going public as well.

Gloria Swanson who described herself as a little shrimp had been in movies for roughly five years when she and Cecil B. DeMille met for the first time. Before then her appearances on screen were nothing to write home about. Charlie Chaplin with whom she worked with at Essanay Studios didn’t consider her leading lady material (Swanson for her part had a low opinion of what she called Chaplin’s “butt kicking” comedies.

Her relative obscurity in film would change almost overnight with DeMille’s Don’t Change Your Husband. If Chaplin didn’t think Swanson had star quality, DeMille had no such reservation. From his autobiography: “As a director in Hollywood, I saw authority, as well as beauty, in Gloria Swanson when I first noticed her, simply leaning against a door in a Mack Sennett comedy. Gloria was,of course, very young then but I saw the future that she could have in pictures if her career was properly handled”

That future burned as bright as any star in the 1920’s. Swanson joined that pantheon of actors like Chaplin, Pickford and Fairbanks where her every move made news. In Swanson’s case it went from not only what she was doing but what she was wearing. Every Gloria Swanson sighting whether on screen or off wound up triggering a fashion trend. For many movie goers this was the sole reason to see one of her movies.

Here’s Gloria Swanson years after Male and Female talking about that famous scene

During the height of her movie career, Gloria Swanson could not appear on the big screen without starting some kind of new fashion trend. Just a few examples

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