Casting The Four Horsemen was a pretty tough job. I pinned a sign on my office door: WANTED: A GIGOLO. Most of the young men in Hollywood applied, but they looked far too respectable to be gigolos. Among the known players, a Latin lover...who? The New York office wanted a name. Antonio Moreno? Tied up, and in any case not sleek enough. Not enough of the lounge lizard about him. Latin lover, yes, but too rugged. Photos were sent in by all the agents in California. From a New York agent came two of a young legitimate actor, and the agent's assertion that he was a trouper.
Rod La Roque was his name. He appeared to be, up to then, the one possibility. He could dance a tango, too, said the agent's letter. This was important, as I figured on making a splurge with the scenes in the Boca.
"We'll have to get a professional dancer," I said to Joe Engle and June, "—and I know the guy. But I can't remember his name. It's some thing like Gugliano. He is South American or Italian."
I went out to Universal City to see Holubar. He was not there, but I found one of his assistants.
"Who was the guy that was working for Holubar who wanted to buy my pants?" I said.
"His name is Rudolf Valentino," said the assistant.
"Want to get hold of him right away," I said. "He gave me a photo with his address on it, but I've mislaid it."
"His address is in Mr. Holubar's casting book," he said.
"How is he to work with?" I said.
"If he don't have to take any falls, he is okay," said the assistant. "He photographs fine. Why don't you run that last Holubar picture he made?"
There was not a copy of it to be had in town, but on the cutting room shelves at the U Holubar found me a couple of bobbins of n.g. Scenes with Rudolf and Dorothy Phillips. Rudolf was Julio all right.
"Can I take a chance on him, Allan?" I said. "A lot depends on how this part is put over."
"You can," Holubar said. "You'll have to take your time with him. But he'll get it in the end. You see how he screens. Can't beat that."
I took one of the bobbins back with me to Metro, also Mr. Valentino's last address. I got a print, too, of a Clara Kimball Young picture he had played a small part in.
We located Rudolf through a friend of mine in New York who knew Mrs. Maurice Gest. She had his address.
My next job was to find a Marguerite. Again someone who could tango was needed.
"Alice Terry," I said.
"No," said Joe Engle. "Too young."
"No," said June. "Hasn't enough sex appeal."
"If you mean by that she don't look like Bayard Veiller," I said, "let me tell you—"
"Not enough dramatic experience," said June.
"Well, she got her stuff as quick as anyone else on the last picture," I said.
Seeing that our leading man was unknown, both June and Joe thought we should have a name for the role of Marguerite. She suggested Miss May Allison, then a Metro star. But in the Drury Lane picture Alice had played well and screened exceptionally well. She worked with a quiet dignity that was all her own, and without any effort. I had to rehearse her less than anyone in the cast. She knew Mr. Rodolfo Guglielmi Valentino quite well, she told me, and thought he would make a fine Julio. After Mexican Manuel Reachi, she considered him the best tangoist she had ever danced with. Following a long talk with Johnnie Seitz I definitely decided to cast Miss Alice Taaffe Terry in the rôle of Marguerite. When we started work her salary was raised to $100.
My next problem was to find Madariaga, that promiscuous Centaur of the pampas who had no need to look further than his progeny to keep his vast cattle ranges supplied with gauchos; Madariaga the cattle king, the millionaire as lavish with his gold as with his affections—these, the ambition of every China past the age of puberty; for the Centaur's amorous attentions conferred upon their objects a sort of pampasian noblesse.
"She has lain with the Patron—the Centaur! She has born him a child!"
Was not this dowry enough? And the Centaur never failed to augment it materially. Such was the man I sought. But what did he look like? In vain I searched the text of the novel for a clue to his appearance. Was he tall or short, stout or scrawny—cleanshaved, bearded or moustached?
I made a drawing of Madariaga as he had appeared to my mind's eye while I read of him, and mailed it express to the Villa Fontana Rosa in Mediterannean Menton. 'Is this Madariaga?' I wrote under it, R.S.V.P. by cable.
Back came the reply from Ibañez: PERFECTO.
In Raoul Walsh's picture, The Honor System, the striking screen personality of a deputy sheriff had impressed me. I got the picture and ran it. The actor was Pomeroy Cannon. He was also Madariaga.
Later, in 1924 when I visited Ibañez at Menton, the first thing I saw when I drove into his garage was a Four Horsemen poster representing Madariaga. But another director's name was on it. I drew his attention to this.
"This poster was for the French picture," he said. (The Four Horsemen had already been made in France.)
"But it's my Madariaga!" I said.
It was. And my Madariaga was Vicente Blasco Ibañez himself. Bigger, robuster, longer whiskered, but Ibañez. From the text, the French metteur-en-scene and I had visualized the same Centaur.
Desnoyers, the itinerant French cabinet maker who married half Madariaga's fortune, and with some of it bought a château back home which the invading Germans looted for him, was played by German Joe Swickard, Maurice Costello, my first choice, being tied up, and his German brother-in-law, by Allan Hale, whose three sons out-goosestepped the goose-stepping geese in grandfather Madariaga's backyard before they grew up into Jean Hersholt, Stuart Holmes and another equally effective nordic—whose name I forget. Wallace Beery was the ravishing (of concierges' daughters) colonel, ably valeted by his orderly, a natural born comedian from the extra ranks, English Jones, until château concierge Edward Connelly let daylight into the colonel in four different places for having deflowered the daughter of his old age. Nigel de Brulier made a more conventional Russian mystic than Ibañez had created. And Boca-queen Beatrice Dominguez shared the honors of my dance hall sequence with Rudolf, a sequence which did more to put him over than anything else in the pieture. Lifted bodily set and action, this episode, from a Bowery picture I had made at the U, The Pulse of life. Set bigger, this time, signs in Spanish, the only changes. Miles more than manners divide Boca from Bovery.
The Four Horsemen gave bit-players many opportunities: the German wife of the French soldier,—from the scene of her suicide rode the Apocalyptic Horsemen across the skies of Europe; the ravished child of the concierge; the French boy facing the German firing squad with the cry of Vive la France!
Rudolf reached Hollywood with a Norman Kerry moustache and a new wardrobe. He presented me with the bill, $1500., which after some argument was charged to the picture. The clothes were better cut than they would have been had they been made on the coast, and the part had to be dressed. A delay had been avoided too. I told him to shave off the waxed moustache, though he protested that it was an exact replica of Norman Kerry's.
Before starting the picture I talked to him of the responsibility of casting an unknown player in such an important rôle. He said he was not unknown as he had already played important parts with Holubar, and had appeared in an Eddie Polo serial. I explained to him at length that his whole future now depended upon how conscientiously he worked, and carelessness, such as forgetting costumes on location—as I had heard he did on the last Holubar picture—meant loss of time, and once production overhead started delays would be disastrous. What I said sank in. He was usually the first on the set. He devoted hours to his makeup, in fact, the study of his appearance and personality and their effect on women occupied his time and thoughts to the exclusion of everything else. He looked well in civies or in uniform, and when it came to having these made I could trust him to see that the seat of his pants was not pendant, that his collars hugged the neck, and his breeches hugged the knees,— he saw to it, too, that they buttoned on the inside.
Before I was half way through the picture I had to reorganize my unit. Hollywood was convinced, and Metro feared that we had a white elephant on our hands. I engaged Colonel Steritt Ford and a German, Kurt Rehfeld, as special assistants for the war scenes, with the result that shooting time was cut down on all these exteriors. But more capital was needed to carry on the way we had started. The delegation from the New York office decided after lengthy and nerve-wracking conferences and long distance calls that the rushes justified it.
An early release date had obliged us to start shooting with an only partially finished script, which meant night work for June, my cutter, Grant Whytock, and myself. Grant cut each sequence as soon as the film came through the laboratory, and my takes had been picked. Ten cameras were grinding on the war scenes, so it was often midnight before we left the studio. John Seitz would go straight from the set to the laboratory. I believe there were nights he slept there. But it was those three days the New York delegates took to decide whether or not to carry on that came pretty near to breaking our morale. While they were still hesitating, June and I had a rather desperate conference. John Seitz was with us. He suggested that a favorable decision might be reached if the delegates thought we had someone else lined up to take over the picture in case they were afraid to go on with it.
"But we haven't anyone" cried June helplessly.
"There's the man who wanted to finance me on those Jack London stories," I said. "I'm going to wire him."
"Wire him URGENT," June said.
Within three hours I got his answer. It gave us the moral support we needed and, though we did not use it, our arguments a note of conviction they might otherwise have lacked.
It read: INTERESTED. PHONE ME IMMEDIATELY. CARRY ON was the decision.
The first person I met coming out of the theatre the night the picture opened in New York was William Fox. He took me in his arms and kissed me on both cheeks.
"My boy, I'm proud of you!" he said.
His was one of the tributes that touched me most. In a way I was sorry that it had not been for him I had made the picture.
Alice was so happy and so surprised that the critics had not panned her that she kissed me without coercion and of her own free will when I got back to the coast. She had already begun to receive fan mail from New York.
Rudolf beamed on the world. Letters were pouring in from women whose ideal up to that time had been Frank X. Lyendecker's aloof young man in an Arrow collar; or on the Saturday Evening Post covers in college football armor. The American woman had discovered the Gigolo. With heart and other organs she responded to his call. In the depths of her being the Latin Lover had awakened desires long latent, lulled into apathy by the deference of the American Lover, who had placed her on an altar in lieu of laying her on a couch.