Cinema: DeMille's 60th

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Everything in a first-rate DeMille picture is on a grand scale. He was the first director to realize that, since seeing is believing, anything is possible in the cinema. In the DeMillennium of the cinema industry before talkies, DeMille seldom made a picture that cost less than $1,000,000 or one that contained a cast of less than 10,000. By widening the dramatic scope of the cinema, talkies have made spectacles, as such, less satisfying. Youngsters who were in diapers when DeMille was at the peak of his power may sit spellbound before Cleopatra but oldsters who remember his great works with mass in motion will probably feel that, by his own standards, he has foisted off on them a "cheater"—the industry's word for a picture intended to look much more costly than it is.

The DeMille technique is as peculiar as his ideology. He is almost the only director in Hollywood who still uses a megaphone. Bald, ruddy-faced, he wears riding breeches and puttees made especially for directing. On a silver chain he carries his "finder," a glass similar to the lens of the camera. Visitors are welcome on a DeMille set. He enjoys giving tirades for their benefit. During Cleopatra, he noticed an extra wearing a belt that was historically incorrect. Standing in front of his microphone, he bawled to his secretary: "Take a confidential memo to the production department," and proceeded to give that department a thoroughgoing tongue-lashing in public. When he found that his British discovery, Henry Wilcoxon, was losing 4 lb. a day carrying his 110 lb. of armor, he made him drink two quarts of milk daily at lunch. DeMille offered his adopted daughter Katherine a part in the picture. She refused. He imported his niece Agnes from England to dance on the bull. Even more frightened of her uncle than of the bull, she walked out.

In his office DeMille has a bearskin rug. Its purpose, he says, is to trip visitors so that he can test their poise. In his mansionesque Paradise Ranch, he has an immense Wurlitzer organ which he cannot play. He collects jade, says, "The greatest luxury I have is the ability to dress in clean clothes complete from the skin out every day." His favorite pastime is sitting on the bottom of the ocean. To this end his 106-ft. schooner Seaward carries a special 80-lb. helmet and metal shoes. Says DeMille: "It's a great way to keep in condition. ... I always return to the surface completely refreshed. . . ."

To say that Cecil Blount DeMille survived most brilliantly the earthquake of the talkies is not to imply that he is still, as he was in 1924, the cinema's No. 1 director. Although it is true that most of his confrères inject into their work as little individuality as the day crew of an automobile assembly line, DeMille is not the only one who has a method of his own. Any directory of directors should include Frank Borzage (Seventh Heaven, Farewell to Arms), Frank Lloyd (Cavalcade, Berkeley Square). Lewis Milestone (All Quiet on the Western Front), Ernst Lubitsch who is currently making The Merry Widow. There are at least a dozen or so others whose pictures have, constantly or intermittently, been distinctive if not distinguished, whose names on a marquee are likely to mean more than their actors'.*

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