Following Mare Nostrum we tackled a story by Somerset Maugham, The Magician. An important episode was laid in the casino at Monte Carlo. I asked the directors of the Société des Bains de Mer, which controls everything in Monaco from comfort stations to casinos, for permission to use the salles des jeux, but in spite of the efforts of Lord Beaverbrook and Sir Basil Zaharoff to obtain it for me, it was refused. So I was obliged to reproduce a couple of these gambling salons in the studio. We found the man who had done the plaster work in the casino and, since he had the original moulds stored away, we managed to get a pretty good reproduction. When Prince Louis of Monaco heard about it he came over to see the sets, never having seen the inside of the casino,—it being a tradition of the reigning Monegasque family that none of its members shall enter the building from which they derive their chief source of income. He appeared greatly pleased with what he saw, and expressed himself as gratified that I had been unable to shoot the original. He had always been curious to see what the casino looked like inside.
Metro wanted me to make my next picture, The Garden of Allah, in Hollywood, for, even with the money we were spending on production in Nice, the French seemed unwilling to cooperate or give us a break. However, the idea of filming Hichens' novel of the Sahara in California, between the Lasky ranch and the Bakersfield sand dunes, did not appeal to me. No doubt a marketable product could have been contrapted, but faithfully reproducing the Sahara and its oases and the people who live in them, and the white racing camels of the south—the méhara, would have been taxing the reproductive genius of Hollywood beyond its capacity. Though I agreed to go back to New York and talk the matter over with Nicholas Schenck, I eventually made my interiors in Nice and my important exteriors in North Africa. I only stayed long enough in New York to get the matter settled. I found my old friend, sculptor Lee Lawrie, whom I had not seen for several years, but with whom I had kept up a fairly regular correspondence, and spent all the time I could in his company. I had often tried to persuade him to come to Europe and spend a few months with me, but he never seemed to be able to break away from his work for an extensive holiday.
While I was in New York, Marcus Loew's secretary telephoned me early one morning to come down to his office. I was on the point of leaving for Great Neck to get a couple of days' swimming before sailing, and asked if he would not wait until I got back to town. She explained that the matter was urgent. When I got there Marcus told me that a representative of Valentino's was getting out a Valentino life-story. This publicity man figured it would be a good publicity stunt if Marcus and I were pall-bearers at Rudolf's funeral, three days hence. Marcus was sold on the idea. I said I could not make it as I was sailing for Cherbourg. Marcus said that this publicity man was a live wire and had sold the Mayor the idea of getting behind the funeral in a big way, which would put over the book in a big way too; and that I should wait over and take the next boat. I said I saw no reason why I should postpone my sailing to help publicize a book by someone I did not know. Marcus explained that that was not the idea. He said I did not realize what this funeral was going to mean to all of us. Every newspaper in the country was going to carry a full page story of it with pictures.
"It's not a question of the book or Valentino," he said. "It's the wonderful tribute the public will be paying our industry."
I reminded him that the public had paid Dion O'Bannion's industry the same kind of a tribute when he was bumped-off by rival gangsters in Chicago. He made no comment on this, but insisted that it was a moral duty to the industry to stay over.
"In spite of all the trouble the fellow gave him, Zukor is going to be a pall-bearer," he said.
"Pall-bearing Rudolf is one thing," I said. "But doing—"
"You can leave him out of it," he broke in. "He had started flopping when he was taken ill. His illness revived interest in his pictures....But to realize the interest this funeral has revived in our industry you've only got to try and get a place within fifty yards of the undertaker's parlor where he is on exhibition."
Marcus said that Metro was putting out new prints of The Four Horsemen and Eugénie Grandet, and Mr. Zukor was re-issuing The Sheik and The Son of the Sheik, and would clean-up. It was a pity, he commented, that I had not used Rudolf in some more pictures. I told Marcus I would like to do him the favor, but this sort of exploitation of a dead person was distasteful to me. I thought it was indecent. And, anyway, I had no time to lose in getting back to Nice, as from there I would have to go to North Africa to pick my locations for The Garden of Allah.
He urged me to think the matter over before making up my mind. I said I needed time. He took out his watch. I said I preferred to think it over alone. He opened the door to his private toilet and told me to go on in, he was sure I would feel differently after a few minutes' reflexion. I said I needed air to think. He explained that there was a ventilator in the toilet and all I had to do was turn it on.