A rich man was staying at the Hollywood Hotel. He was from the east and had made a fortune during the war. He was a picture fan and had often come out on my set while I was shooting the Elmo Lincoln picture. He felt he had mistaken his vocation and should have been a deep-sea sailor. Remote ancestors of his had probably manned Carthaginian galleys in the Punic Wars.
Together we went to the opening of Under Crimson Skies.
"Get another sea story," he said, "and I'll put up the dough. I know Carl Laemmlae. We'll fix up a release."
The same night I met an Englishman at the Hollywood Hotel. He had a bottle of pre-war whisky in his room and we became friends after the second round, pals after the third and cronies after the fourth. His name was Frank Brokliss. He owned the rights to three Jack London stories, one of them was The Mutiny of the Elsinore. I sounded him out about selling them.
"No," he said, "that is to say, I'm not in a position to dispose of them. I've made a deal with Dick Rowland for Metro to produce them."
"You think he'd let me have The Mutiny?" I asked. "I've a backer willing to pay."
"I'll put you in touch with him," said Frank, "but I doubt if he'd even consider it."
I met bald baby-faced genial Dick Rowland. He said he had not thought of selling, but he told me to have a talk with Max Karger, who was then in charge of production at Metro. Dick said if Max wanted to let me have one of the London stories it was okay with him, and promised to speak to Max....
Maxwell Karger was sitting in a swivel chair, a gouty foot swathed in bandages resting on his desk. He was not in a very gracious mood, and before I had time to say what I wanted started talking as if I was looking for a job. He knew all my faults apparently, among them, that I was hard to handle. I let him go for a while and then said if personal remarks were in order I could tell him a few things about himself.
"I came here to make you an offer for The Mutiny of the Elsinore. Didn't Rowland say anything to you?" I said.
"Oh," he said. "No he didn't. I thought you was after a job."
"So I gathered," I said.
"He didn't say a word," said Max, pushing a humidor at me. "Have a cigar."
I ignored the gesture.
"Not for sale, The Mutiny ," he said. "But if you want to make it for Metro we can talk turkey. I saw that sea picture you made with Elmo Lincoln."
"We'd hit it off like a couple of tomcats," I said.
"You got me wrong," he said.
"I have the backing to make a picture," I said. "If you want to sell me the story, fine. If not, I can find something else."
"Sorry," he said, "can't let you have it."
We parted more amicably. I accepted a cigar.
Joe Strauss, Metro's studio manager, lived at the Hollywood Hotel, too. We had dinner together one night with Herbert Blaché of the old Solax Company.
"Come over tomorrow afternoon," said Joe Strauss. "Max wants to talk to you about The Mutiny of the Elsinore."
I went over. Miss May Allison was in Karger's office. When she had left us together, Max said:
"I've been thinking over what we said the other day. How about making The Mutiny for us?"
"If I'm the one that's to make it," I said.
"What you mean?" asked Max.
"Just this," I said. "If I direct The Mutiny of the Elsinore, I am the one that's going to direct and supervise the production."
"Why go into all that?" said Max in a tired voice.
"If everything's understood first it makes things much simpler," I said. "You want me to direct it. Fine. That means you believe I can make a good picture of it?"
"All on my own. You have the story rights. You're putting up the dough. When I've completed the scenario to your satisfaction you put your O.K. on it. The rest is up to me. On the set, in the cutting room, I'm the boss. When the picture's finished you fire me if you don't like it, you raise the ante if you do—eh?"
"You're tough all right."
"When you've dough back of you, you can afford to be tough. This guy I have is lousy with it," I said.
"How much salary you want?" said Max.
"Six hundred," I said (doubling my U salary).
"Come off it," said Max. "Four hundred, and we make the deal."
"Nothing doing," I said....
I saw Joe Strauss again at dinner time.
"Can you come over in the morning?" said Joe.
What for?" I asked.
"Max wants to see you," he said.
"I saw him this afternoon," I said.
"Wants to see you again," said Joe.
I went over. Same story.
"Talk to Joe," said Max.
"Five hundred," said Joe, in his office.
"No, Joe," I said. "Six or nothing."
When Joe came back he was grinning.
"Six," he said.
I had drawn a week's salary and done nothing. Max Karger said that the title to the three London stories was not clear. Metro's lawyer was working on it. Would I make another picture first? I said I would if he had a subject I liked.
"How about Shore Acres," he said, " James A. Hearne. Every director on the lot has turned it down. I think it's the real stuff."
He gave me a synopsis and told me to let him know how I liked it as soon as I read it. I asked if he had a copy of the play. He said I could get one from his scenario editor, June Mathis. Her office was down the hall.
Miss Mathis was not in, but Miss Hinds, her Scotch secretary, gave me the play. The synopsis was nil. The play, good old time stuff like Way Down East....
"How about it?" asked Max.
"Fine," I said, "and Uncle Nat just bought me a drink at the lunch counter."
"Uncle Nat who?" he asked.
"Put it there," said Max. "Ed Connelly is the one guy to put over that James A. Hearne part. He played in the original production and understudied James A."
I went ahead with the scenario. Max approved it. One slight but effective change he suggested.
"I've cast Lionel Belmore for Michael," he said.
"I've cast Frank Brownlee," I said.
That's wrong with Belmore?" he said. "He's a fine actor."
"He is," I said, "and he's a friend of mine. But he's not the raw boned New England lighthouse-keeper I see as Michael."
"Well," said Max, "that's all there is to it, Lionel is cast."
"Well," I said, "all you got to do is look for another director. I'm not making Shore Acres unless Frank Brownlee plays Michael."
"Who do you think you are, anyway?" said Max. "Are you running Metro?"
"Not Metro," I said, "but Shore Acres, if I'm going to make it. If you want to make it yourself, that's another matter. I cast my pictures myself."
Eighteen hundred dollars I had touched already in salary, and had not turned a crank. That weighed with Max. Frank Brownlee played Michael. I gave in to Max on the rôle of Michael's wife, and Miss McQuade was cast instead of Miss Claire MacDowell.
My big problem was to find a cameraman. I ran several pictures. One, only, pleased me from the standpoint of photography. The photographer was John F. Seitz. We sent for him. He was apparently used to studio dickerings, and when he said what he wanted and I said it was okay with me, he seemed a little nonplussed.
"When do we start?" he asked.
"This week," I said. "Okay?"
"Well...well," he said. "Could I have some time to think it over ?"
"How long do you want?" I asked. "We got to make some tests before we start in."
"Well...well," he said, "would half an hour be too much?"
I took him by the arm.
"John Seitz," I said, "take as much time as you want. You're making this picture with me and it's not going to be the last."
"Well...well," he said, "seeing that's the way you feel about it, I accept."
Johnnie's star was hitched to my own. Of the success that came to me his due was more, perhaps, than he got credit for. Though through no fault of mine. Where I believe credit is due I give it, and making motion pictures is not a one-man job. D.W. had his Billy Bitzer.
Halfway through Shore Acres, Sol Wurtzel, Max Karger and a few others congregated in an apartment in the Hollywood Hotel. I cannot remember whose apartment it was, but I have an idea Viola Dana or Shirley Mason lived in it.
"Fox is the scavenger of the industry," stated Max tactfully.
Sol Wurtzel flushed but said nothing then. Before everyone went home he called me aside.
"Listen," he said. "This mug Karger thinks he's the big noise. He ain't turned out a picture yet outside the Nazimova films. You got his goat. He says to me now: 'This Ingram guy, I ought to fire him. He won't let me on the set, and he locks the projection room when he runs his rushes. I have to watch them from the booth. He pays no attention to the script, but the stuff looks so good I don't know what to do. We need good pictures'."
"Thanks, Sol," I said.
"That's all right," said Sol, "I'm just telling you. Keep it up. You got his goat....The Scavenger of the Industry—W.F., you got that?"
Mrs. Taaffe's daughter was permitted to work in Shore Acres, that is to say, in the interiors, for she was not allowed to come with us to San Francisco when we went to make the storm scenes on board a schooner in the bay. On this account I could not give her a part, but I kept her working as much as possible for the pleasure of looking at her.
"If you don't stop looking at me that way," she said a couple of times, "I won't come back any more."
I was sorry I did not have her in the lead. It was a rôle made to order for her. The capable little actress who played it was too sophisticated, but she was one of Metro's featured players. Small good it did her, though. Old Eddie Connelly walked away with the picture, as James A. Hearne had done with the show.