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Mathis, June

MATHIS, June



Writer. Nationality: American. Born: Leadville, Colorado, 1892. Career: 1910–16—stage and vaudeville actress; 1918—hired at Metro as writer; 1919—appointed head of script department; associated with the performers Nazimova, Valentino, and Colleen Moore, and the director Rex Ingram during the next few years; 1923—edited von Stroheim's Greed down from 18 to 10 reels. Died: In New York City, 27 July 1927.


Films as Writer:

1918

To Hell with the Kaiser (Irving); An Eye for an Eye (Capellani)

1919

Out of the Fog (Capellani); The Red Lantern (Capellani); The Brat (Blaché)

1920

Old Lady 31 (J. Ince); Hearts Are Trumps; Polly with a Past (De Cordova)

1921

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Ingram); The Conquering Power (Ingram); A Trip to Paradise (Karger); Camille (Smallwood); The Idle Rich (Karger)

1922

Turn to the Right (Ingram); Kisses (Karger); Hate (Karger); Blood and Sand (Niblo); The Young Rajah (Rosen)

1923

Three Wise Fools (K. Vidor); The Spanish Dancer (Brenon); In the Palace of the King (Flynn); Greed (von Stroheim) (re-write, re-edit)

1925

Sally (Green); The Desert Flower (Cummings); Classified (Santell); We Moderns (Dillon)

1926

Ben-Hur (Niblo); Irene (Green); The Greater Glory (Rehfeld); The Masked Woman (Balboni); The Magic Flame (H. King)



Publications


By MATHIS: book—


Greed, edited by Joel W. Finler, London, 1972.


By MATHIS: article—

"Tapping the Thought Wireless," in Moving Picture World, 21 July 1917.

On MATHIS: articles—

Photoplay (New York), October 1926.

Cinema (Beverly Hills, California), no. 35, 1976.

Slater, Thomas, in American Screenwriters, 2nd series, edited by Randall Clark, Detroit, Michigan, 1986.

McCreadie, Marsha, "Pioneers (Early Women Film Script Writers)," in Films in Review (New York), November-December 1994.

Slater, Thomas J., "June Mathis: A Woman Who Spoke Through Silents," in Griffithiana (Gemona, Italy), May 1995.

Slater, Thomas J., "June Mathis's Classified: One Woman's Response to Modernism," in Journal of Film and Video (Atlanta), Summer 1998.


* * *

June Mathis in her short but brilliant career (she died in her midthirties) was one of the most influential women in Hollywood production during the silent film era, becoming chief of Metro's script department in 1919 when she was only 27. Her family had a background in the theatre, and she had already begun to write for the theatre when she secured a job with Metro as scenario-writer in 1918. She was immediately responsible for scripting a range of films with titles such as To Hell with the Kaiser, An Eye for an Eye, Hearts Are Trumps, and Polly with a Past. This initial work culminated in her notable adaptation of the famous war novel by Vincente Blasco Ibánez, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. By this stage, she was influential enough to succeed in her insistence with Metro on the appointment of her young friend Rex Ingram (aged 29) as the film's director, though his postwar reputation rested only on the direction of a few minor features, and on the casting of Rudolph Valentino (then only a bit player) as the star, so establishing his meteoric career (like hers, to be only too short) as the embodiment of the erotic imaginings of the mass international female film-going public. Mathis went on to script and supervise a range of Valentino's subjects, including Camille, Blood and Sand, and The Young Rajah.

Mathis had by now extended her status in the studios to that of an associate producer. She assumed a similar responsibility of scripting and cutting (then often a producer's prerogative) over a considerable range of films. According to Lewis Jacobs, in his authoritative book The Rise of the American Film, she was the "most esteemed scenarist in Hollywood;" her strength lay in careful pre-preparation of the shooting script along with the director, cutting out waste in production while at the same time sharpening narrative continuity. She became in effect head, or one of the heads, of the Metro and Samuel Goldwyn units, and joined with other youthful women writers (such as Anita Loos and Bess Meredyth) in establishing the importance of the basic screenplay scenario in silent American film. It was she who was in good measure responsible for persuading Metro-Goldwyn to agree to sponsor Erich von Stroheim's celebrated film Greed. She became notorious among film devotees, who see the company she represented as "betraying" one of the greatest artists of silent cinema, and all but destroying one of its potentially greatest films. Greed, as initially shot and assembled by Stroheim, ran to 42 reels (ten hours), following every detail of Frank Norris's novel McTeague. Stroheim himself reduced this to 24 reels (six hours), hoping the film could then be screened with intermissions in two successive evenings. But Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (as the company had now become) demanded more drastic cutting. At Stroheim's request, his close friend Rex Ingram reduced it to 18 reels (4.5 hours). But Mathis was instructed to reduce the film without consultation with Stroheim to ten reels (2.5 hours), which she undertook with the aid of a routine cutter, Joseph W. Farnham, "on whose mind was nothing but a hat," as Stroheim put it. The exact nature of this drastic cutting of an overlong masterpiece of realistic, psychological cinema is detailed by Joel W. Finler in his edition of Stroheim's full-scale original script Greed.

Mathis went on to script and supervise the adaptation of the epic Ben-Hur for Goldwyn, finally after much trouble directed by Fred Niblo and starring Francis X. Bushman and Ramon Novarro. Mathis, however, was withdrawn from the film by MGM while on location in Italy, but in any case she disowned what had initially been shot by the film's first director, Charles Brabin, whom she had chosen. Her final films included Irene for Colleen Moore and The Magic Flame with Ronald Colman and Vilma Banky. She died suddenly in 1927.

—Roger Manvell

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