The first location I picked in Algeria for The Garden of Allah was the last we filmed there: the Trappist Monastery of Staoueli. But the sanctuary of La Trappe had already passed from the brothers' hands. It had been confiscated by the State and rented out as a vineyard to one of the big Algerian vintners who were already beginning to cause the winegrowers of France quite a little concern.
The new occupants—the director's family lived on the premises and the great vats the monks had installed in the wine cellars were again in use—had changed nothing. The monastery stood as the brothers had left it, even to the statue of The Virgin and Child in the niche above the main entrance.
While we were rehearsing the parting scenes of Domini, the heroine of the story, and her Trappist husband, Androvsky, I noticed two men standing behind me. They had not been there when I started work. One of them had white hair. He was Robert Hichens, come with a friend to visit the place where he had conceived the story that made his name and his fortune. When he saw the company at work he had not at first realized that it was this story we were filming. But when he heard Domini's reply to Androvsky's query as to her strength to face life alone:
"In the darkness there will be light, in the silence a voice...to comfort me," he knew.
After the scene he went over to Alice and Petrovich, who were playing the parts of Domini and her husband monk. Neither of them had met him before; but he said he needed no introduction to them as they were the children of his imagination.
After a tour of the monastery and a visit to the little cemetery in the cypress grove behind it, where so many of the monks of La Trappe had found the resting place they had awaited with such resignation, we drove back together to Algiers.
The New York office decided that the production of The Garden of Allah had cost too much—somewhat under $400,000.—and advised me that they had decided that my next picture, Jacob Wasserman's novel, The World's Illusion, would be made in California. I replied that the subject needed European settings. Then Nicholas Schenck wrote me urging me to come back, and reminding me that my contract called for $125,000. in cash, for direction, plus 25 percent of the receipts—nothing to be sniffed at. I would have liked to have pleased Nick, who had been my staunchest friend at Metro; but I knew I could do more with the production in Europe than in California. I had also heard, from friends at the Culver City studios that more than one treatment of the book had already been made and shelved; and tipped-off that the coast producers figured the company had better get me back if they were going to get a picture out of Wasserman's story, which was marked on the red side of their balance-sheets at $40,000.
The next comnunique I had was a dry one, from the legal department, notifying me that, under the terms of my contract, the company, not I, had the privilege of deciding where my next picture would be made. And if I did not accept their decision I would be obliged to remain idle for one year.
In reply, I notified the legal department that nothing would please me better.
Alice agreed with me that it was about time I took a rest.
For a year I did my best to forget about the cinema. I am sure I would have succeeded completely had I not already rented my stages in advance to some French producers. As a result of this I kept bumping into people in makeup all the time, my villa being situated on the studio grounds.
But when I had fixed myself up a sculptor's studio where the garage had been, I got down to work. I have never worked harder or with greater satisfaction than I did during the next few montks. I kept two or three jobs going at the same time which kept my interest in any one of them from flagging. After that, excepting some stone-cutting jobs, I kept the fondeurs in Paris, Rudier and Valsuain, busy for another six months casting my models in bronze.
Henri Matisse often came out to see me. The last time it was to borrow my plaster-caster. Henri had turned sculptor and wanted a very conscientious casting job done on his first sculptural opus.
One time he was showing me a picture he had just painted, but I could not understand very well what it was about. So he explained to me that the art of painting should in no way be dependant upon the art of literature. Benton had tried to explain this to me in 1913, and I was not convinced then, and when Matisse got through explaining I was no more convinced than before. So I said:
"Why is it more commendable to paint a picture that needs three or four pages of writing to explain—and at that cannot always be explained clearly—than to paint one that may happen to have some literary significance?"
Matisse changed the subject.
When he had his exposition in Paris at the Galeries Georges Petit, I went the day after the opening. If you go to an opening you only see the people who make a point of going to openings and go to be seen and see each other and see their names in the papers the next day, and you can only see the pictures that are hung higher than their hats. I made a point of going early. Only a few people were there when I arrived. Matisse was surrounded by American admirers who wanted the catalogue autographed. In a side galiery, the art critic of an American daily was at work. He had found two chairs and a small table at which a pretty typist was tapping a Remington. I think she was French, for, though she spoke English fluently with an American accent, she lapsed into French without any accent when she got excited. They were set up before what appeared to be a landscape. The art critic treated it as such, anyway, and this is about what I overheard:
"Art-critic, dictating: "In the treatment of the background and the intermediary planes we feel the influence of Cezanne. The Matisse design predominates, however. This is particularly noticeable in the placement of the cactus in the foreground—"
Typist, taxing dictation: "What cactus? I see no cactus."
Art-critic: "This is particularly noticeable in the handling of the cactus in the foreground—lower right hand corner."
Typist: "It's not a cactus, that's not a cactus."
Art-critic: "Why is it not a cactus?"
Typist: "Takes a look at it. Did you ever see a cactus like that? No one ever saw cactus like that."
Art-critic: "What is it, then?...Kindly take my dictation."
Typist: “Excuse me. Mais, cela n'est pas un cactus."
Art-critic: "This is particularly noticeable in the handling of the CACTUS in the foreground...."
I went to find Matisse and rescued him from the autograph hunters. I pulled him aside and said:
"There's an important question to be decided—in the gallery on the left as you come in."
"Ah, oui?" he said raising his brows.
"Botanical," I said, "come on...." And when we got there: "Cette machine là—this object in the right foreground—what does it represent?"
I pointed to the cactus. He looked at the picture for a while, then he shrugged.
"Oh, n'importe quoi—anything," he said. "It is to tie up the fond with the premier plan."
As I said, Matisse often came to the studios. The cinema interested him. He also used to come to my workshop where I sculptured when I had the time. Though he seldom made comments I knew that if he looked at anything for a long time he was interested. But it was always a job to find out why. If I asked, he always commenced with: "C'est dommage..." One day he saw a head I had made, called 'Madonne d'Afrique'. He turned the stand it was on around several times without saying anything. When I asked him what was the matter with it he said: "C'est dommage..." After a long time I gathered that if the neck had been the same on both sides the composition would have been better. "C'est dommage," he said, and I said it was that way on purpose, because, if the neck was the same on both sides there would be no movement, and he said it would be better static, and I said the head itself was static but I wanted movement in the neck, so I swung it to the right and he said: "C'est dommage...."
When he needed models he used to row a boat down to the pavilion on the promenade des Anglais, known as La Grande Bleue, to find me. There I would introduce him to any girl that looked in her bathing suit as though she might have nude possibilities. He spotted one once and she was sixteen and her mother was with her. The girl was a commercial art school student and drew well enough to make a little money designing fashion plates. Matisse was very patient and polite with the mother and with the girl, and the mother, who was scrawny and unattractive, said to him: "Monsieur, I would have you understand that my daughter is everything that a jeune fille should be, and has never posed in the nude before and would no more dream of posing in the nude than I would myself."
And Matisse said:
"Madame, whether your daughter is everything that a jeune fille should be or not does not interest me in the least. Nor does it interest me whether or not she has posed in the nude before, or whether you intend to pose in the nude yourself. I do not need a model of your genre....But if your daughter will pose for me I will pay her ten francs an hour."
He raised his hat when he had said that, and said to me: "I will wait for you on the terrasse," and went up the stairs that led from the plage to the pavilion.
And then the mother and her daughter and her second daughter said:
"But, but who is this vieux?"
"He's a painter," I said.
And they said:
"Oh, il y en a tant—there are so many!"
"He is very famous," I said.
"What's his name?" they all said at once.
"Matisse," I said.
And the mother asked the daughter if she had ever heard of him. And the daughter asked the mother if she had ever heard of him. And everyone said no. And then they said to me:
"Il est serieux?"
And I said he was, if anything, too serious. In fact, the most serious person I had ever met. That seemed to satisfy them, and the mother wanted to know when Matisse wished to start work. I said I would ask him. So I went to find Matisse and he said the mother was agassante. I said it was all fixed, and when did he want the girl. He said he wanted her the next day. And so it was arranged.
After that I did not see him for a week, but I saw the girl and asked her if she was still posing.
She said; "I should say not."
"Why not?" I said.
She started to laugh.
"I wish you could have seen what he did," she said. "And he tries so hard, too! He got one of my legs twice as big as the other and an ear growing out of my chin; and when I showed him what was wrong, being an artist myself, he got very angry and said he had engaged me as a model. So I told him I preferred not to waste any more of his time or my own, and the best thing he could do would be to go to the art school in the rue de L'Escarene and get some drawing lessons."
The next time I saw Matisse at the Grand Bleue I asked him how the model turned out. He got red in the face and took off his glasses. I said;
"You know, of course, she never posed in the nude before."
"And never will again-~-for me," he said. "She actually presumed...enfin, she had the culot to criticise my work!"
Apart from those who have a motion picture career in mind, motion picture studios have a fascination for people who have never been obliged to work in one. Mine being the only one in Nice that operated all the year round, visiting it became one of the popular outdoor sports on the French Riviera. The daughter of S.M. The Khalife of Islam, Abdul-Mejid II and his niece, had married, respectively, the heir apparent of the Nizam of Hyderabad, and the heir apparent's younger brother. His son and nephew-in-law were staying with the Khalife at Nice, where he was in exile. While there, they came to the studio several times, arriving in state with civil and military escorts. On one of these occasions they found me filming some shots that were to be inserted in a battle scene made in the Atlas Mountains. We had reproduced the wall of a Moroccan Kasbah on the studio lot and, as they were picked off, some of the defenders dropped from the fifty-foot battlements into nets a few feet from the ground. One of the princes asked me why I used nets. He thought the falls would look more effective without them. I said I might need those who did the falls later on.
"If you would care to have someone fall all the way," he said, "I will be glad to loan you one of my financial secretaries. I really don't need two."
When Bernard Shaw was staying at Cap d'Antibes, someone from the studio, taking a sunbath on the raft at the Hotel du Cap, saw his head sticking out of the water and recognized it. On hearing he was there, I thought it might be a good idea to invite him over to the studio and see if he had any ideas for the cinema.
When he came, he wanted to know if what someone had told him was true—that I had never read any of his books or plays. I said it was a lie, I had read some of them.
"I was told that you said the only thing you knew about me was I had written The Chocolate Soldier, which I emphatically did not; and that you liked the music," he said.
I said that The Chocolate Soldier was one of my favorite operettas.
"I've been trying to live it down for years," he said. "But, to get back to what I was saying: I didn't believe it when I heard you'd never read anything else of mine. What else have you read?"
I said I had read Blanco Posnet and a lot of Man and Superman. And, recently, the article he had written for The Times about T.E. Lawrence. Also, something by him in The Encyclopedia Britannica.
"When I read the Lawrence article I thought it would be nice to have you come over," I said. "Outside of Lowell Thomas and Feisal and Allenby and some Bedouins, you seem to be the only person who knows him."
"The person who came to invite me to lunch with you said you were interested in filming Arms and the Man," he said. "Presuming you had read it, I came over."
"To be quite frank, I didn't read it, but I saw the play," I said.
"Where did you see it?" he inquired skeptically.
"In Hew Haven, in 1913. Poli's niece did a fair job with the song hits."
Shaw put down his knife and fork.
"Arms and the Man is not an operetta," he said. "It happens to be classical comedy!"
"I was talking about The Chocolate Soldier, which is the same thing—only they sing it," I explained.
"I just told you that I've been trying to live down The Chocolate Soldier for years!" he said.
"I thought you just meant the music," I said.
"I meant everything connected with it," he said.
Seeing he had such strong feelings on the subject, I changed it. :
"Tell us about T.E. lawrence," I said.
"When I heard that Lawrence had tied a carrot to the seat of his motorcycle and ridden in front of the General Staff's automobile, I realized he was a person of some discernment," he said.
After he said that Shaw got back to the subject of himself. He told us about the sound-news-reel he had made of his private life, and got up from the table and went through the action of it again for us, making noises like the birds and his feet on the gravel. He explained that he had been obliged to direct himself too, as the news-reel director had wanted him to act naturally, like other people, and he could see no sense in doing that.
Before he went back to Antibes Alice asked him if the report that he was Irish was on the level. He said it was. But from the tolerant way he talked about the English I gathered that he had quit Ireland before they had had a chance to 'wrong' him.