by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Today’s entry in the That’s a Wrap series features a trio of snapshots from the 1926 film The Beautiful Cheat, issued by Universal Pictures.
The film was directed by Edward Sloman (1883-1972), a native of England, who began his career in British theater and vaudeville. He went to Hollywood in 1915 and signed with the new Universal studio. He did some acting and scenario writing before being hired as a director by Lubin Studios and went on to do independent work. He returned to Universal in 1925 and secured a 5-year contract to direct, making several critically successful films. With sound film coming to the fore, however, Sloman was not able to make the transition and turned to radio work.
The Beautiful Cheat‘s star was Laura LaPlante, best known for the 1927 hit The Cat and the Canary, a film redone by comedian Bob Hope a decade later. In The Beautiful Cheat, which was adapted by Olga Printzlau, Nina Wilcox Putnam, and Andrew P. Younger, LaPlante plays a shopgirl, Mary Callahan, who was remade as Maritza Callahanska as part of a scheme by Abe Meyer, played by Alexander Carr, to run a movie studio on the cheap. Trying to turn the Goldringer Studio around, Meyer createed the Callahansky persona and the movie revolved around the deception.
Printzlau was a veteran scenario and screen writer, who worked between 1914 and 1933, while Putnam, wife of a grandson of the founder of the G.P. Putnam & Sons publishing house, was first an accountant who also wrote novels and drew comic strips. Younger was another longtime writer in film who worked from 1919 to 1931., when he shot and killed himself in what was reported initially as an accident, but which was ruled a suicide as he’d lost his contract with MGM and been arrested on a alcohol violation [it was still Prohibition] charge.
Notably, author Anthony Slide’s book Silent Players included in its entry on LaPlante a recollection of the film by director Sloman. First, he recalled that the star was late to the first day’s shooting, at which the director berated LaPlante, who then burst into tears. After that, Sloman stated, “we were good friends” and referred to her as “the nicest, the loveliest, the sweetest girl I’ve ever worked with.”
Regarding the quality of The Beautiful Cheat, Sloman was blunt:
It was one of those stories that I had to make up as I went along. It wasn’t very good I can assure you. I’d write at night for what I was going to shoot the next day.
As for the male lead, Alexander Carr (1878-1946), the Russian-born actor and son of a rabbi worked as a circus lecturer, theater property man and singer before landing some acting roles in the theater with some success in the first years of the 20th century. He later turned to film and continued work until not long before his death.
When it came to one actor’s performance in The Beautiful Cheat, though, Sloman did not mince words:
There was a young boy in it that they put opposite Laura, a very good looking chap, but he couldn’t act for sour apples. He was terrible. It wasn’t a good picture. It was a bad picture.
Slide’s book indicated that the actor criticized by Sloman was Carr, but one of the photos shown here includes a younger actor (probably Sloman’s “young boy”) identified as Jack Daughty” with LaPlante. Clearly it is Jack Dougherty (1895-1938) that Sloman discusses in his remarks. Dougherty acted in a number of Universal films in the 20s and then continued in minor roles during the early sound era. In his IMDB entry, though, there is no mention of The Beautiful Cheat as one of his films. Yet, the image of him above with his name misspelled in an original inscription on the back seems to match other photos of him.
In any case, married briefly to tragic leading lady Barbara LaMarr, whose drug and alcohol use complicated by tuberculousis led to her death in 1926 while still married to Doughtery, the actor committed suicide a dozen years later by carbon monoxide poisoning when he left his car running while he remained inside. A note stated he’d been passing bad checks because his career had ended.
A bit player in the film was Janet Gaynor, who went on to great success in such late 20s films as 7th Heaven, Sunrise and Street Angel and Gaynor won the first Academy Award for Best Actress in 1929. She was also a rare example of an actor who successfully transitioned to sound and was nominated for a best actress Oscar for 1937’s A Star is Born.
The photographs shown here are from the Homestead collection and are snapshots of scenes filmed for The Beautiful Cheat showing Carr as Goldringer and his studio shoot of LaPlante as the false Russian actress. Given Sloman’s dismissal of the film’s artistic merits, it is perhaps just as well that the movie is “lost” with no known prints surviving the ravages of time!