Monday, November 30, 2009

The American Venus

This rather nifty original one-sheet poster for the 1926 silent film The American Venus is currently for sale on eBay. (The asking price is $3,750 hint, hint. "Just kidding.") Directed by Frank Tuttle for Famous Players-Lasky, The American Venus is a romantic comedy set against the Miss America contest in Atlantic City. The cast included Esther Ralston, Ford Sterling, and former San Francisco resident Lawrence Gray. The film, which is now lost, was released in January, 1926 and featured some early technicolor sequences.

In 2006, as part of its celebration of the Louise Brooks centenary, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival showed a couple of recently discovered fragments of the film. Those fragments included footage of Brooks - the film was her first credited screen role - as well as the film's nominal star, Fay Lanphier. Lanphier is the actress depicted on the one-sheet.

What's interesting to note is that in the mid-1920s Lanphier was something of a Bay Area celebrity. Lanphier was crowned Miss America in September, 1925 - the first Californian so honored - and was the subject of a good deal of ballyhoo. It was because of her title that she gained a much celebrated part in The American Venus. (How she got the role, and whether the beauty pageant itself had been fixed, was the subject of press speculation at the time.)

The American Venus proved popular throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, primarily because it contained a pretty fair amount of female pulchitrude, as they used to say. A special benefit screening of the film was held on New Year's Eve of 1925 at the American Theater in Oakland. Lanphier was to have been in attendance at the film's West Coast premiere, but instead, she appeared later New Years day in the Rose Bowl Parade after having been named the Queen of the Tournament of Roses.

The American Venus played at the California Theatre in nearby Pittsburg on January 5-6  before opening a week long run on January 9 at the Granada Theatre on Market Street in San Francisco. At the Granada, Lanphier made personal appearances before each afternoon and evening show. Large crowds turned out, according to newspaper reports of the time, as they did for the film's week-long run at the American in Oakland between January 16-22, 1926. The American Venus also screened in numerous other theatres around the Bay Area.

Despite good looks and a degree of celebrity, a film career proved elusive for Lanphier. Lanphier sued her manager, made a personal appearance tour, was married and divorced, worked as a secretary in Hollywood, and eventually settled in Orinda, California. Her only other role was a bit part in the Laurel & Hardy short, Flying Elephants (1928).

From youtube, here is one of the surviving fragments of The American Venus. In this trailer for the film, Lanphier is the seen in the first close-up.


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  2. Thanks so much for all the information.The poster is flying round the internet as "1920's silhouette". Your well researched article has shed light on its origins. Fascinating.