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Mathis, June (1892–1927)

Mathis, June (1892–1927)

American actress, screenwriter, and scenarist . Born in Leadville, Colorado, in 1892; died in 1927 in Hollywood, California.

Selected filmography:

The Legion of Death (1918); An Eye for an Eye (1918); To Hell with the Kaiser (1918); The Divorcee (1919); Satan Junior (1919); Polly with a Past (1920); Hearts Are Trumps (1920); The Willow Tree (1920); The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921); The Idle Rich (1921); The Conquering Power (1921); Camille (1921); The Sheik (1921); Hate (1922); Blood and Sand (1922); Turn to the Right (1922); Kisses (1922); Salome (1922); The Young Rajah (1922); The Spanish Dancer (1923); (reedited and rewrote) Greed (1923); In the Palace of the King (1923); Three Wise Fools (1923); Sally (1925); We Moderns (1925); The Desert Flower (1925); Ben-Hur (1926); Irene (1926); The Greater Glory (1926); The Masked Woman (1927); The Magic Flame (1927).

June Mathis was born in Leadville, Colorado, in 1892. Following the death of her father in the mid-1910s, she played in vaudeville shows and appeared as an actress to support her family. Although she was a success on stage, she yearned to become a writer, and despite a total lack of experience began writing short stories which soon attracted the attention of studio owner Samuel Goldwyn. In 1918, Mathis was hired as a scenarist (someone who adapted theatrical and literary works for depiction in silent movies) at Goldwyn's Metro studios. The following year, she became head of the script department and began lobbying to adapt Vicente Blasco Ibáñez's 1916 novel The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse for the screen. Many major Hollywood studios had considered filming this novel, which concerned the effects of World War I, but all had decided that it would be impossible. Mathis persisted in her efforts, however, and Metro bought the rights to the novel for $20,000 and began production. She also insisted that the picture star Rudolph Valentino, then an unknown actor, whom she had seen in only one film. Released in 1921, the film proved a resounding success, turning Valentino into a celebrity and securing Mathis a position among the top scenarists of the era.

Despite her professional success at Metro, Mathis came into conflict with management and in 1921 transferred to the Famous Players Studio (later Paramount). While at Famous Players, she adapted The Sheik, starring Valentino, and wrote the script for Blood and Sand (1922), the bullfight scenes of which were edited by Dorothy Arzner and the movie that turned Valentino into a coast-to-coast sensation. Within a year, Mathis moved once again, this time to head the story division of the Goldwyn Studio. Shortly after, Metro and Goldwyn merged to form Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer; despite her past difficulties with Metro, Mathis played a critical role in the merger.

One of her first projects at the new studio was collaborating with the legendary Alla Nazimova to create the screen version of Salome, which was released in 1922. (They had earlier worked together on Camille, based on the story of Alphonsine Plessis , and other projects.) Mathis was then assigned to rewrite, re-edit, and reduce director Eric von Stroheim's epic film Greed from 24 reels to 10, a task which was completed in 1923. By 1925, Mathis had become so indispensable to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer that Samuel Goldwyn insured her life for $1,000,000, and she was assigned to write the script and scenarios for the studio's new epic, Ben-Hur. Her adaptation of the novel proved so successful that the film is universally viewed as a classic of the silent screen. Mathis went on to write scripts and scenes for four more movies before her unexpected death in 1927. Although her career was brief, June Mathis occupies a leading role in American film history through her work on some of the most highly regarded films of the silent era.

sources:

Acker, Ally. Reel Women: Pioneers of the Cinema 1896 to the Present. NY: Continuum, 1991.

Francke, Lizzie. Script Girls: Women Screenwriters in Hollywood. London: BFI Publishing, 1994.

Katz, Ephraim. The Film Encyclopedia. NY: Harper-Perennial, 1994.

Grant Eldridge , freelance writer, Pontiac, Michigan

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