SILENT MOVIE STARS: POLA NEGRI & LAWRENCE GRAY [USA]
Australians have been bitten by the fan club bug, but not to the same extent as film goers in the U.S.A. Covers sent to these actors are usually quite inexpensive, and the postal markings are rarely of interest. These two covers were sent to two silent movie stars both at the Lasky Studio and they like many others did not make the transition to stardom in the talking movies.
The first cover was sent to Miss Negri, C/- Lasky Studios, Vine Street, Hollywood with USA in large red manuscript. A pair of the second watermark 1½d red KGV heads are postmarked REDCLIFFE /28 JE26/ QUEENSLAND, and there are no postal markings on the reverse. A letter of adoration was unfortunately not included (Figure 1).
Pola Negri, born Apolonia Chalupec December 31, 1895 in Lipno Poland, was the very image of a silent screen star, weeping and fainting at lover Rudolph Valentino's funeral and throwing herself on his coffin. She was descended from gypsies and was raised in a Warsaw slum. She started her professional life as a ballerina, but she changed to acting when a bout of tuberculosis cut short her dancing career. She conquered Polish cinema first and next moved on to Berlin where she achieved international stardom. Hollywood came calling in 1923, and she became the first great European actress to make it big in the United States.
She was known for her exotic presence and histrionics, which included feuding with other great stars, Gloria Swanson and Tallulah Bankhead. The latter, in a fit of pique, called her 'a lying lesbo! A Polish publicity hound!....Had a mustache and couldn't act her way out of a paper bag." No one played the role of a star with such brio. Her favorite pet was a panther she took walking on a leash, and she led her lovers in much the same way. She married a Polish Count and then a Russo-Georgian prince (of dubious royalty), and prior to seducing Valentino, she had been engaged to Charlie Chaplin.
When she returned to Germany in the late 1920's she became Hitler's favorite actress, despite the fact that she was part Jewish. Negri wisely returned to the United States after the Germans invaded France, and she became a citizen in 1951. She lived the rest of her life in seclusion, lamenting Hollywood's silent-but-golden age, and she died in San Antonio, Texas in 1987. Her filmography included 61 films over 50 years. The photo was taken from the film "Flower of Night" made by Paramount Studios in 1925 (Figure 2).
The cover sent to Mr. Lawrence Gray, c/o Lasky Studios, Vine Street, Hollywood, California, U.S.A. has a pair of the second watermark 1½d red KGV heads, with a fine GEORGE STREET NORTH/ 1 30 P 22 OC 27/ N.S.W. postmark. The top stamp has an obliquely placed white flaw in the left wattles, as indicated by the blue arrow (Figure 3 & 4).
Although Lawrence Gray had an extensive silent filmography (a total of 46, including the 2 films where he was listed as Larry Gray), he always seemed to "play second fiddle" to his well-known leading ladies, who included Gloria Swanson in 'Untamed Lady' in 1926, and Marion Davies in 'Marianne' in 1929, as well as with Joan Crawford.
He was born in Mexico in 1898 (another source quotes San Francisco as his birthplace), was married to actress Louise Figueroa, and he never made the smooth transition to the 'talkie' films, in spite of his boyish good looks (Figure 5).
He did extend his acting career into talking films, mainly because of his pleasant singing voice, but it was not enough to sustain his stardom. By 1936 he had gone into the production side of show business. He spent the rest of his career as a liaison between American and Mexican film companies. He died in Mexico City in 1970.
Los Angeles native Jesse Lasky opened a studio in Orange, New Jersey in 1912, but soon moved back to Los Angeles when he hired Cecil B. DeMille as producer. He set up his studio in a barn at the corner of Vine and Selma Avenue.
The production company of Lasky-DeMille later became the famous Paramount Pictures. This was the beginning of to-day's billion dollar film production industry in Los Angeles.