At Barnstaple pannier market a while ago I came across this old framed print and – after circling the stall several times – succumbed to temptation. The illustration is taken from the book In Fairyland: A Series of Pictures from the Elf World (London: Longmans, Green, Reader & Dyer, 1870) and was the work of Punch illustrator Richard Doyle (1824-83.)
The artist was of one of the seven children of political cartoonist John Doyle (1797-1868), whose artistic skill was inherited by his four sons Richard, James, Henry and Charles (father of Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.) Of the four, Richard Doyle had the most successful career, and his early talent found him a place on the staff of Punch magazine when he was only nineteen. It was he who devised the famous image of the Punch cartoon character that adorned the magazine’s front cover from January 1849 until October 1956, replacing his earlier cover (January 1844) that featured crowds of elves and fairies.
Doyle’s talent for fairy drawings was first made public in 1846 with his artwork for The Fairy Ring (a new translation of Grimm’s tales), followed in 1849 by his illustrations for Fairy Tales from All Nations and Punch editor Mark Lemon’s The Enchanted Doll. He clearly relished the subject matter, and his skill in depicting pixies, elves, fairies and other fantastical creatures attracted commissions for a series of other fantasy titles such as The Story of Jack and the Giants (1850), and John Ruskin’s The King of the Golden River (1850), which went through three editions in its first year of public.
Another publication in 1850 had important consequences for Doyle’s career, however.
On 29 September 1850 Pope Pius IX issued a papal brief Universalis Ecclesiae that restored the Catholic hierarchy to England; this was followed in early October by a somewhat triumphalist pastoral letter by Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman. The combined effect outraged many Protestants who interpreted these texts as territorial claims on British soil, and Punch magazine was at the forefront of the backlash against ‘papal aggression.’
Doyle came from a devout Irish Catholic background and found himself increasingly unable to reconcile his faith with the magazine’s trenchant anti-Catholic stance. After the above cartoon appeared in November 1850, Doyle resigned from Punch. Over the next few years he undertook book illustration work for Thackeray and Dickens, before finding a new sense of purpose when he returned to his fairy artwork in the late 1860s. This was by no means unusual at a time when fairies inhabited nearly every nook and cranny of Victorian literary and artistic culture. Their popularity raises some intriguing questions for a society that saw strident advances in industrial technology, and seemed proud of the victory of scientific progress over naive superstition. One wonders if the colourful jewel-like fairy world offered a sense of hope, an antidote, or the possibility of escape, when set against the rapid expansion of sprawling, smoking cities and the loss of rural traditions. Great artists – including Royal Academicians – recorded their fantastical visions of fairy lore on huge canvases, with the same painstaking precision and technical virtuosity applied to serious landscapes and religious subjects.
Here is just a small selection:
Richard Dadd The Fairy-Feller’s Master Stroke
The artist worked on this painting between 1855 and 1864 when he was transferred from Bethlem Hospital to Broadmoor.
John Anstler Fitzgerald, The Fairy Bower
John Anstler Fitzgerald, Fairy Hordes Attacking a Bat
Joseph Noel Paton The Reconciliation of Oberon and Titania (1847)
Joseph Noel Paton The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania (1849)
It is to this tradition of Victorian fairy painting that Richard Doyle’s In Fairyland belongs. Although dated 1870 on the title page, it was actually published in time for Christmas 1869. The folio was richly bound in green cloth, cost over 30 shillings, and has been described as one of the finest examples of Victorian book production. There are 16 colour plates – of which this my picture is the last – and 36 line drawings. Doyle was given free rein to design his own illustrations, which were later re-used in Andrew Lang’s The Princess Nobody (1884.)
Each plate was accompanied by a verse written by Irish poet William Allingham (1824-89), whose wife Helen was a skilled watercolourist and illustrator. That for Plate XVI reads:
Asleep in the moonlight. The dancing Elves have all gone to rest; the King and Queen are evidently friends again, and, let us hope, lived happily ever afterwards.
I have hung the picture on my study wall, between an oil painting of my childhood home and a line drawing of the cottage in which I now live. It seemed an apt place for the fairies to sleep.
Following on from my last post, a reader of this blog has asked me if it was Wohlbrück’s beloved Bobby who played Prinz Willibald’s Scottie in Der Stolz der 3 Kompanie (1932.) First of all, here are some frames from the film that show them together.
It’s clear from these pictures how affectionate the actor is towards the terrier, and how comfortable the dog is with its handler. Any doubt is dispelled in this railway carriage scene, where the dog is referred to as ‘Bobby’ several times.
For those unfamiliar with the film, it’s a military comedy following musketeer Gustav Diestelbeck (Heinz Rühmann) in his attempts to outwit his bullying sergeant and impress barmaid Emma. Life at the barracks is further complicated by interlocking love triangles and overlapping cases of mistaken identity, into which enters the grand-duchy’s Prinz Willibald (Wohlbrück) who is travelling by train to celebrate the troop’s centenary with them. The carriage in which he is travelling (with Bobby), gets separated from its engine, stranding him in the middle of nowhere: then along comes a car driven by local singer Vera (Trude Berliner), a local singer who also happens to be the girlfriend of Gustav’s superior, Lieutenant Gernsbach (Viktor de Kowa)….
The film was shot between 26 October and 17 November 1931 – you can see how bare the trees are in the outdoor scenes – and released at the beginning of January 1932, proving highly popular with cinema audiences. Despite its success, Bobby does not seem to have pursued his screen career much further. Shame – the death of Rin Tin Tin that year could have provided just the opening he needed.
Mary of Scotland was Kate’s tenth film, but the first in which she attempted to play the part of a mature woman. Typically, the project was her initiative: her interest in playing Queen Mary arose after she saw the Broadway hit of the 1933/34 season, Maxwell Anderson’s blank verse play Mary of Scotland. On stage, Mary Stuart had been played by Helen Hayes, who followed this up with another critically-acclaimed regal performance in Victoria Regina – but portraying famous monarchs, either on stage or screen, poses some unique challenges, and the role differed somewhat from those previously tackled by Kate. True, she had done two period films, one of which – The Little Minister (1934) – was set in 19th century Scotland: but the character of Babbie shared the same feisty spirit of many other Hepburn heroines, caring little for the solemn shackles of historical accuracy. How would she respond to this challenge?
Mary, Queen of Scots (Kate) with her future husband, the swashbuckling, roguish James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell (Fredric March.) Family legend claimed that Kate was a direct descendant of the Earl; throughout the film he is referred to as ‘Bothwell’, and never ‘Hepburn.’
Films about royalty – like the actual monarchs themselves – need to find a fine balance between public office and private personality. In Mary of Scotland the rival queens both get the balance wrong: Mary is tempted to follow her personal feelings over her state duties – ‘What’s my throne?’ she tells Bothwell, ‘I’d put a torch to it for any one of the days I’ve had with you.’ In complete contrast, as Mary tells Throckmorton, ‘Elizabeth has never taken a single step that wasn’t political.’ The film grinds home the connection between Elizabeth’s preoccupation with power and statecraft and her status as the ‘Virgin Queen.’ While Elizabeth is continually surrounded by her courtiers and cabinet, frequently seated behind a writing desk or large table, we see Mary in domestic settings, small intimate gatherings that feature music, needlework and gentle banter with her ladies-in-waiting.
Such a dichotomy between a women’s sexuality and her career fits better with the outlook of the ‘Thirties than with contemporary views on gender equality, but the film’s portrayal of the two queens was shaped by a number of factors.
Kate originally wanted the film directed by George Cukor, who enjoyed a reputation as a ‘women’s director’ due to his nuanced work with strong female leads. He worked with Hepburn on eight films, including her debut A Bill of Divorcement, and also found success with stars such as Bergman, Garbo, Crawford and Holliday. The box-office failure of cross-dressing Sylvia Scarlett (1935) meant that RKO producer Pandro Berman refused to hire Cukor, signing instead John Ford, regarded as a ‘man’s director’ – his output of 140-odd films is dominated by male stars, with only a handful of decent female roles.
Unsurprisingly, Ford placed less emphasis on the romantic aspects of the story than he did on the film’s historical pageantry and atmospheric set designs. Mary and Bothwell’s relationship develops against a backdrop of fog-shrouded castles, the courtyards of which are teeming with soldiers and animals; there are torchlit processions, massed bands of pipes and drums, plus the inevitable clashing of claymores and rearing horses.
The queen did not remain aloof from all the action, and in one scene Kate had to run down a flight of stone steps in her heavy costume before mounting her horse and galloping off. She did the stunt herself, as she would continue to do until her early seventies, despite the danger of tripping over the cumbersome dress with its flowing train.
Her costumes had once again been designed by Walter Plunkett, who excelled at recreating period dress and worked closely with Kate during her RKO years. One of these, a dress of crimson silk, decorated with gold thistle emblems, was displayed at the V&A’s Hollywood Costumes exhibition (2012-2013.) Plunkett was not the only one to take period detail seriously. Before filming began, both Ford and Hepburn spent time researching Scottish history and reading up on Mary’s life and background. Kate rehearsed in private wearing Plunkett’s costumes, practising – for example – how to turn her head naturally wearing a high ruffs collar such as this.
Nonetheless, there are numerous anachronisms – not least in the musical settings – while the historical bias in Mary’s favour overlooks a number of dark deeds and murky motives, the blame for which cannot be entirely laid elsewhere. It was impossible for a Hollywood film – even at two hours – to convey the complex religious and political turmoil of 16th century Scotland, with the kaleidoscope of shifting allegiances amongst the Scottish Lords and the web of conspiracies, plots, counter-plots and forgeries in which Mary was embroiled all her life. In consequence, her romance with Bothwell is pushed to the forefront, and that in turn required that his character be whitewashed: their possible involvement in Darnley’s murder is represented only as a wild accusation from the mouth of firebrand Protestant preacher John Knox.
Moroni Olsen, who gave a dramatic performance as Knox, was the only member of the original Broadway cast to appear in the screen adaptation.
The screenwriter Dudley Nichols – a regular collaborator with Ford – did away with Maxwell Anderson’s blank verse, but his screenplay retains much of the speechifying and dramatic monologues that betray its stage origins. Kate did her best with the stilted, over-expository dialogue, but neither Ford’s direction nor Nichols’ script really allowed her enough space to develop Mary’s character. Frustration about this led to a disagreement during filming on the 10th April, when they were due to shoot the intimate scenes between Mary and Bothwell on the ramparts of Dunbar Castle, the night before their final separation. Ford wanted to drop the scenes as an unnecessary piece of soppiness, while Kate regarded them as central to the film’s depiction of the relationship. After a heated exchange, Ford handed her the script and megaphone, walked off the set and told her to direct the scene herself if she thought it so important. She did, and the film is better for it.
Ford’s direction of Hepburn reveals the strong feelings he had for her: there are a disproportionate number of close-ups, the camera lingering upon her face with an attentiveness granted to no-one else in the cast. Few films captured Katharine’s beauty so well. The luminosity of Joe August’s cinematography, combined with the close-up editing of Jane Loring, made the footage of Kate fit perfectly with Elizabeth’s comment on Mary, in Anderson’s play, that not since Helen of Troy:
has a woman’s face Stirred such a confluence of air and waters To beat against the bastions. I’d thought you taller, But truly, since that Helen, I think there’s been No queen so fair to look on.
A miniature shown to Queen Elizabeth as an indication of her cousin’s youthful beauty. Not a bad likeness of Katharine Hepburn either.
Filming was completed on 25 April 1936 and Mary of Scotland was released on the 28 August. Three days later the New York Times praised the picture’s ‘depth, vigor and warm humanity’, but admitted dissatisfaction with Hepburn’s portrayal of Mary. The moments when the Scottish queen was ‘womanly, tender, impetuous and of high courage’ were convincing, but – while Anderson’s play showed Mary’s vengeful and ruthless side – the film script had tried to soften this and thereby introduced inconsistencies to her character.
It was only towards the end of the film, when Mary was imprisoned and put on trial, that this forcefulness began to burn through and Kate’s performance took on new vigour.
Mary’s cousin Queen Elizabeth (left) was played by March’s wife, Florence Eldridge, although the part was sought by both Ginger Rogers and Bette Davis.
The face-to-face meeting of the two queens (above) provided much-needed dramatic intensity – something that both audiences and critics found lacking elsewhere in the film. One person who did not like the scene, however, was Viscount Mersey, who found the historical inaccuracy sufficiently disturbing that he complained about the film before the House of Lords on 9 December 1936: On the night before her execution at Fotheringay Castle, Queen Elizabeth was made to go into Mary’s cell and have an altercation with her. It is common knowledge to those of your Lordships who are interested in the history of Queen Elizabeth and Mary Queen of Scots that they never met in their lives.
Lord Mersey then proposed a motion calling for ‘some form of control over the historical accuracy of films produced or shown in this country.’ After the Marquis of Dufferin pointed out that cinema’s presentation was little different from the romantic stories passed on by Shakespeare, Scott and Dumas, and that the fictitious meeting also appeared in Schiller’s Maria Stuart, Lord Mersey withdrew his motion.
Entertaining performances came from Douglas Walton (left), camping it up in lipstick and earrings as the effeminate Lord Darnley, and John Carradine as the queen’s Italian secretary Rizzio.
Debate continues – albeit less formally – about Katharine’s performance, and indeed about her casting in historical films. In the early part of her career, she appeared in a series of 19th century period dramas – The Little Minister, Little Women, A Woman Rebels (notice a theme..?) – few of which stand comparison with the witty contemporary comedies in which she played characters more similar to herself.
To suggest that her best performances are those in which her characters are closest to her own personality, is not to diminish her acting skills. The distance between Mary, Queen of Scots and Katharine – in terms of both time and personality – challenged her, demanding more effort, and it is interesting to hear Kate’s voice in Mary of Scotland display far wider range and pitch than in her later films.
Part of the problem lay with Kate’s lack of empathy for her character. In her autobiography Me she recalled: ‘I never cared for Mary. I thought she was a bit of an ass. I would have preferred to do a script on Elizabeth.’ There is certainly little doubt that Kate would have excelled as Elizabeth. Both Ginger Rogers and Bette Davis had wanted the part but had been rejected by Ford. Davis only had to wait three years before playing the queen in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, adapted from another Maxwell Anderson play.
Hepburn returned to playing royalty later in her career, winning an Oscar for her performance as Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine in The Lion in Winter, which also starred the late Peter O Toole as King Henry II. Her success here was largely due to her ability to identify keenly with Queen Eleanor as a person: ‘She was something I’ve always tried to be — completely authentic.’
Sadly, the same cannot be said of Mary Stuart, whose downfall was brought about through a series of compromises and misplaced confidences. Kate, on the other hand, was far too sure of her own identity and opinions to let herself be shaped by others. Fiercely independent in spirit, she defied whatever conventions clashed with her style, and the drama critic of The Sunday Times summed this up succinctly in his review of Mary of Scotland when he wrote ‘Her accent was not of the Highlands, the Lowlands, nor a pure French equivalent. It was pure Hepburn, and nothing else.’
British cinemagoers, familiar with Walbrook’s intense performances in films such as 49th Parallel and The Red Shoes, or the dark villainy of Gaslight, tend to forget that his prewar reputation was for musical comedies and light romances. This is reflected in promotional material from 1930s Germany, which portray AW in a range of contexts so as to widen his popular appeal: we see him as musician, action hero, suave man about town – and animal lover.
Here are a few cards from my collection, showing Anton with animals.
The actor with his two dogs, Anton – the white poodle – and Bobby, a black Scottish terrier.
This portrait of Adolf and Anton was taken by Genja Jonas (1895-1938), a highly sought-after portrait photographer in Dresden. The daughter of Jewish parents who later died in a concentration camp, she was introduced to Wohlbrück through her younger sister Erna.
A colour image of the actor with Bobby, published as No.71 in a series of tobacco cards produced by Haus Bergmann. This card also featured in the lavish 200-card album, Die bunte Welt des Films, published in 1934.
This portrait by Walther Jaeger is clearly the source of the image above. Judging by the stubbly growth on the actor’s upper lip, this was taken while he was growing his moustache for Walzerkrieg, filming of which began on 6 June 1933.
Putting the car before the horse? This portrait was the work of a Berlin photographic firm run by Alexander Bender and Lotte Jacobi (1896-1990.) Lotte was Jewish and emigrated to America in 1935 to escape the Nazis. The photograph was taken before then, for it was used by Dr Werner Holl as the frontispiece for Das Buch von Adolf Wohlbrück (Berlin, 1935.)
Another Bender & Jacobi portrait, probably from 1933.
Horses (and pigs) feature prominently in Zigeunerbaron, filmed in early 1935. As with Der Kurier des Zaren, there are some impressive feats of horse-riding and horsemanship.
A tobacco card from the Dresden cigarette makers, Salem, adapted from the Bender & Jacobi portrait below.
Although there is no doubting the charm of this image of Wohlbrück with a horse, it’s not the sort of image that one immediately associates with Christmas greetings. Nonetheless, my copy of the postcard has a Christmas message written on the back and was posted to a girl in Essen on 14 December 1934.