An extraordinary photo album from the early days of Hollywood, with images of Charlie Chaplin and a wealth of other actors, will come to auction at Ewbank’s on February 24th.
Never seen in public before, it was the personal property of British silent film actor Leslie Stuart, who acted alongside Douglas Fairbanks and is photographed with Chaplin. Together the more than 200 photographs form an important record of movie history and life in Hollywood and Beverly Hills from more than a century ago up to the 1950s.
The son of a Victorian music hall composer of the same name, Leslie Stuart is also pictured with a young Gloria Swanson, with whom he appeared in the 1918 film The Secret Code.
In another image he can be seen surrounded by young women on a beach, being hugged lovingly by the young starlet Clarine Seymour, who died of medical complications in New York in April 1920 aged just 21.
An unidentified film shoot is almost certainly a production shot from the early scenes of Mr-Fixit! (1918), in which Stuart appeared alongside Douglas Fairbanks. Stuart, who appears in the image, wears an identical costume to the one he wears in the early scenes of the film.
The album has been consigned by a distant relative of a friend of Stuart. It has been in the family for decades. Ewbank’s specialist Denise Kelly believes that this is the first time many of the images will ever have seen the light of day because they are so personal.
“These are not purely promotional photographs issued by studios, but the personal images taken by and of a man who was very much at the centre of Hollywood life – both professionally and socially – from the end of the First World War onwards.
“They are packed with iconic stars like Chaplin, Swanson, Valentino and Fairbanks, but also with people who were once in the Hollywood limelight but who have since faded from view, each with a fascinating tale to tell.”
Several images show Stuart and Charlie Chaplin together at Chaplin’s Studios in Los Angeles, probably around 1919, with one photo of the two of them arm in arm, inscribed to the front by Chaplin: “To Leslie Stuart from your sincere admirer Charlie Chaplin”, which Stuart further inscribed “To Father, from Leslie”.
The sheer breadth of images and people depicted show how well-connected Stuart was.
Among the most intriguing are images of Fairbanks with boxer and actor Spike Robinson, who appeared in more than 170 films between 1910 and 1932, including Chaplin’s City Lights. Fairbanks and Robinson worked together in the film In Again, Out Again (1917), with Bull Montana, who also appears in the album.
In another photo from the same time Fairbanks sits on the shoulders of Kid McCoy, a successful boxer and later a bit-part actor in Hollywood, who also bears the weight of Spike Robinson, left, and Bull Montana. Fairbanks discovered Montana in a New York gym in 1917, casting him immediately in the film In Again, Out Again. Montana later appeared in Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, with Rudolf Valentino, and then alongside Buster Crabbe in the 1936 series Flash Gordon.
McCoy was divorced eight times and was eventually jailed for the manslaughter of his lover, Theresa Mors, having held 12 people hostage in her antique shop before shooting the first three people he met in a park, and then being caught by the police.
The two photographs almost certainly come from the period when Fairbanks was making the film The Knickerbocker Buckeroo (1919) and employed Robinson, Montana and McCoy to help him get in shape for stunts.
Another photo, taken at Famous Players-Lasky Studios – the forerunner of Paramount – shows Fairbanks with Theodore Roberts, who played Moses in Cecil B De Mille’s The Ten Commandments (1923); producer B.F. ‘Benny’ Ziedman, whose career started as a silent film actor in 1912 and ran until 1944; silent film actor W.S. Hart, a friend of legendary lawman Wyatt Earp, who joined Famous Players-Lasky in 1917 and was one of the first great stars of Westerns; Julian Eltinge, the original King of Drag and silent film star, who earned more than the President of the United States; and Mary Pickford, who joined Lasky’s Studio in 1913 and later married Fairbanks, going on to form United Artists in partnership with him and Chaplin. This photo may date to c.1919 when Pickford was filming Pollyanna at the studios.
It is possible that part of the reason Leslie Stuart Jr is now little known was that he was confused with his father, the composer of the same name. Leslie Stuart Sr (1863-1928) was best known for writing the hit show Floradora and music hall songs including The Lily of Laguna. He was played by Robert Morley in the 1941 biopic You Will Remember.
Leslie Stuart Junior (1888-1977), an almost exact contemporary of Charie Chaplin (1889-1977) had a film career that ran from c.1918 to c.1925. He is known to have been living in London in 1950, when he wrote to Chaplin proposing the use of his father’s music in a new film project (the letter is in the Charlie Chaplin Archive), but eventually returned to Los Angeles where he died.
Stuart was one of four children; his sister May Leslie Stuart was also an actress and their youngest sister, Constance (Lola), married an American banker and taught a young George H.W. Bush to play tennis.
“The personal nature of this album combined with the inclusion of so much Hollywood history makes it endlessly fascinating and of unique appeal to auction-goers,” says Denise Kelly.
The album will appear in Ewbank’s Entertainment & Memorabilia auction on February 24, with bidding available live online via www.ewbankauctions.co.uk
The estimate is £800-1,200.
All images courtesy of Ewbank’s Auctioneers
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