Éclair Films, Emile Chautard, Famous Players-Lasky, Frederick Warde, French Film, Jeanne Eagels, Jeanne Eagels: A Life Revealed, Josef Von Sternberg, Paramount, Silent Movies, Thanhouser, The Fires of Youth, Under False Colors, World Film Corporation
Next up in an ongoing series profiling key figures in Jeanne Eagels: A Life Revealed is Émile Chautard. One of cinema’s early pioneers, he directed more than 100 films, and acted in sixty.
Émile Pierre Chautard was born in Paris on September 7, 1864. He began his career as a stage actor at the Odéon-Théâtre de l’Europe. In 1910, he began making short films at the Éclair Films studio, playing King Louis XIV in Fouquet, l’Homme au Masque de Fer. His first film as director, Barberine, was released on April 28. Chautard became Éclair Films’ artistic director, and chief director of its theatre school. Over the next four years, he directed nearly seventy shorts, also writing and acting in many of them. Among the most prestigious were Eugénie Grandet (1910) and Cesar Birotteau (1911), both based on novels by Honore de Balzac; Le Mystère de la Chambre Jaune, or The Mystery of the Yellow Room (1913), and L’Aiglon (1914.)
With Europe now at war, Chautard decided to try his luck across the Atlantic, along with other French film pioneers, including Maurice Tourneur, Léonce Perret, and Lucien Andriot. Chautard’s first directorial credit after landing in New York was The Arrival of Perpetua (1915), for the World Film Corporation, based in Fort Lee, New Jersey, where he would spend the next four years. The film featured Vivian Martin, one of the first stage stars to sign a movie contract. This was quickly followed by The Boss, produced by William A. Brady, and starring Holbrook Blinn and Brady’s daughter, Alice. Chautard also helped to develop Camille, directed by Albert Capellani and starring Clara Kimball Young.
Chautard directed another Broadway import, Robert Warwick, in Human Driftwood (1916), and Warwick would join a young Madge Evans in Sudden Riches. Actor Montagu Love appeared in Friday the 13th, while another Warwick picture, The Heart of a Hero, is still available on DVD. In 1917, Warwick would star in The Man Who Forgot, a five-reel tale of addiction, adapted by Chautard from a novel by James Hay Jr. Moving Picture World praised Chautard’s ‘skilful’ direction.
He worked again with Alice Brady in A Hungry Heart, and directed Ethel Clayton in The Web of Desire, praised by Photoplay’s Julian Johnson ‘as one of the most carefully made and convincing World photoplays in many months.’ Actor Henry Hull appeared alongside Robert Warwick in The Family Honor, while Montagu Love worked with Chautard again in Forget-Me-Not.
Jeanne Eagels, then twenty-six, had won acclaim for her stage role in Outcast (1916), reprising the part on the screen in her first feature-length movie, The World and the Woman, produced at the Thanhouser studio in New Rochelle. Founded in 1909, Thanhouser was one of the first motion picture studios in America and had produced over a thousand silent shorts and full-length films.
On March 24, 1917, it was announced that Thanhouser had signed Jeanne to appear in two films opposite Frederick Warde. Both these pictures would be directed by Émile Chautard. In The Fires of Youth, Warde played ‘Iron-Hearted Pemberton’, a wealthy industrialist who returns to his hometown, only to discover he is loathed by his employees at a steel mill. Pemberton disguises himself and takes a job at the factory, lodging with a local family and falling in love with Rose (played by Eagels.)
The Fires of Youth was released on June 17 to good notices. The original five-reel Pathé Exchange version, lasting more than an hour, is now missing. The Imperial Film Company re-released a two-reel, thirty-one minute version, which is now available to view on the Thanhouser website.
Chautard would direct Jeanne in her second feature opposite Frederick Warde, Under False Colors. was a timely film, set in Russia prior to the March 1917 dethronement of Czar Nicholas. Warde played John Colton, a millionaire who takes in Vera (Eagels), posing as a friend’s daughter who is fleeing Poland for America. ‘Vera’ is really the Countess Olga, having assumed the Polish girl’s identity when the boat they were traveling on was torpedoed and sank.
Under False Colors was released on September 23, with promotional blurbs proclaiming Jeanne ‘The Most Charming Woman on the American Stage!” Fortunately, this was a sentiment with which critics agreed whole-heartedly, citing her alliance with Warde as one of the ‘best starring combinations ever seen on the screen.’ Sadly, Under False Colors is now considered lost.
In his next film, Magda (1917), Chautard directed Clara Kimball Young. He worked with Frederick Warde again in The Heart of Ezra Greer, and with Italian actress Lina Cavalieri in The Eternal Temptress.
As World War I came to an end, Chautard chose not to return to France, but continued working for studios including Famous Players-Lasky, founded by Jesse Lasky and a precursor of Paramount Pictures. In 1918, he again directed Clara Kimball Young in The Marionettes and The House of Glass, produced by Young’s own company; and Alice Brady in The Ordeal of Rosetta, as well as former stage actress Pauline Frederick in Lasky’s Her Final Reckoning and A Daughter of the Old South, and Elsie Ferguson in Under the Greenwood Tree.
In 1919, Chautard would direct Pauline Frederick in Out of the Shadow, Paid in Full and Eyes of the Soul, and Elsie Ferguson in His Parisian Wife and The Marriage Price. While filming The Mystery of the Yellow Room, a remake of his 1913 film which he also produced, Chautard hired Josef Von Sternberg, a native Austrian whom he had mentored at World Film, as his assistant director.
Chautard’s next film, The Black Panthers’ Club (1921), starred another Broadway actress, Florence Reed. In Living Lies (1922), he directed Edmund Lowe, who had appeared onstage with Jeanne Eagels a year previously, in In The Night Watch. Chautard would reunite with Pauline Frederick for The Glory of Clementine (1922), and direct Billie Dove in Youth to Youth. Colleen Moore, the quintessential flapper, starred in Chautard’s Forsaking All Others, while the last of his forty American films as director, Daytime Wives (1923) and Untamed Youth (1924), both starred Derelys Perdue.
In his final decade, Émile Chautard returned to acting, appearing in nearly sixty films, including a handful made in France. After making his American acting debut in Paris at Midnight (1926), he played supporting roles in Frank Borzage’s 7th Heaven (1927), and opposite Colleen Moore in Lilac Time (1928) and Marion Davies in Marianne (1929.)
Chautard’s acting career surpassed the transition to sound. He had an uncredited part in Morocco (1930), directed by his former protégée, Josef Von Sternberg, and starring Marlene Dietrich. Chautard would play bit parts in Von Sternberg and Dietrich’s subsequent movies, as Major Lenard in Shanghai Express (1932), and ‘Chautard’, a nightclub manager, in Blonde Venus (1932.) He played an uncredited role in Rasputin and the Empress (1932), and General Pelletier in The Three Musketeers (1933.) In 1934, Chautard played a train conductor in Design for Living, Ernst Lubitsch’s adaptation of a Noel Coward farce.
His last film, Viva Villa!, would be released posthumously. Émile Chautard died on April 24, 1934, aged sixty-nine. He is interred at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.