Scaramouche, Rafael Sabatini's story of the French Revolution was next on our schedule. Like The Four Horsemen and The Prisoner of Zenda, the subject was practically a motion picture scenario in book form. For six months a special research department had been gathering data. Hundreds of reproductions of the Paris of that day had been sent to us from the Musee Carnavalet, together with innumerable costume plates of the epoch. Photographs and casts of death masks and portraits cast from life by Houdon had also been obtained, these latter of inestimable value in recreating historical characters. The fact that the contour and structure of a man's face reflects his mind and personality is often ignored in producing period films. I have recently seen a couple of these, mounted in the grand manner, in which not even the general type of an historical personage had been followed. Apart from a certain moral responsibility in making portrayals of this kind as authentic as possible, it stands to reason that authenticity makes for credibility on the screen. In Scaramouche no efforts were spared in this direction, and I think, due to painstaking research and study, we succeeded with Danton, Robespierre, Marat, Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and the limp-haired lieutenant of artillery who watched the rabble overwhelm the Swiss Guard at the Tuilleries by sheer weight of numbers.
While I was rehearsing the scene where Danton entered the National Assembly a registered package was delivered on the set. I opened it on seeing the sender's name. It contained a faded tri-color rosette and the following letter:
May 26, 1923
Dear Mr. Ingram :
In reply to a telegram from your research department accepting my offer to loan you the tri-color rosette my great-grandfather, Georges Jacques Danton, give his wife before he was guillotined, I am sending you this family souvenir. Pin it on the breast of his portrayer in 'Scaramouche'. It may transmit to him something of the spirit of the Danton who wore it.
Vincent J. Danton.
Before fastening the rosette to the lapel of my pockpitted orator of the Palais Royal, I read the letter aloud.
About lunch time there was a disturbance in the gallery occupied by our Sans-Culottes.
"Who's making all that bloody noise?" I yelled up.
"It's Mary, Boss."
"Tell her to come down here."
Rotund septuagenarian Irish Mary, face as red as her dyed hair, pointed her umbrella at an extra man, like herself reputed to be touched in the head.
"That unmannerly galoot!" she screamed, "He called me a prostitute, he did!"
"If I hear of you calling her any such thing again, I'll fire you!" I shouted.
"I knew you would, sir," said Mary.
"And, Mary, if you hear him call you any such thing again—-"
"Yes, sir," beamed Mary.
"I'll fire you too."
"Pack on the set everypody at one-thirty!" trumpeted German assistant Rehfeld's megaphone.
"Write down that one of Mary's," I told the script girl.
Ramon Novarro, Lewis Stone and Alice headed the cast in Scaramouche; and a few days before I started production my old Vitagraph mentor, William Humphrey, tumed up in Hollywood. I cast him at once, and as I expected, he gave us a fine performance on and off the scene, for costume transformed him completely. I had Ramon study the way Mr.Humphrey carried himself, handled a snuff-box, staff or sword. Ramon proved an apt pupil.
In spite of its production size Scaramouche was shot on schedule to the day; but before it was over I was pretty near shot myself. Long working hours and the nervous strain of over-conscientiousness brought on an acid condition that resulted in a crop of ulcers of the duodenum. Alice called in stomach specialists. One prescribed an immediate operation, another, complete rest, a third, a milk cure. I fell back on John Haig, feeling the need of stimulant, and relied on gut-rotting bi-carbonate of soda to get the gas off my stomach; but it was by no means a dependable remedy. I got more relief from that bearded messiah of the manure heap, long haired layer-on of hands, Peter the Hermit. This guzzler of uncooked vegetables, confidant of scorpions, snakes and centipedes visited me nearly every night.
"Your aura is bad this evening, Ingram!" he would yell at me from the foot of the garden. "Dirt!" he would shout on catching sight of the bi-carbonate box. "Dirty as the money you paid for it"
The pressure of his horny fingers would be followed by a tingling sensation, and presently by complete nervous relaxation; gas-pressure would spend itself in a belch, and acids that had accumulated in my ulcered duodenum would go elsewhere about their digestive business.
"Five dirty dollars, Ingram!"
And off Peter would dance waving his staff, laughing, shouting, glorifying God with the vigor of sixty years of exuberant youth.
But when I went to New York for the opening of Scaramouche Peter remained in Hollywood and the ulcers went along with me. The jug of liquid bismuth I was obliged to swallow to render them photogenique made me violently sick. What had gone down white came up red. Again I refused to be operated on, but compromised on the milk diet and complete rest cure and booked my passage for an indefinite stay abroad.
It was understood with Marcus Loew before I sailed that later, health permitting, I would make one picture on the other side, probably in North Africa.