< Return to Adherents.com's Guide to Movies
< Return to Famous Episcopalians
The Religious Affiliation of Director
Cecil B. DeMille
From: Charles Higham, Cecil B. DeMille: A Biography of the Most Successful Film Maker of Them All, Charles Scribner's Sons: New York (1973), page 2-3:
It was intensely characteristic of Cecil B. CeMille that he would put himself to the utmost test of courage: directing a gigantic epic--Union Pacific--after an operation, in a condition in which most men would have been content to lie motionless and admire a pretty nurse. Life, for him, was an immense test of Christian test of patience and endurance, which he sustained with true heroism. The public saw him as a consistently successful, entertainingly egotistical film tycoon; the critics as a shrewd and arrogant vulgarian.
Higham, page 3:
Both images had a degree of truth, of coruse; but the central reality of DeMille, known to his family and dearest friends, was a more complex one. He was stubborn, decent, loyal, unswerving, as well as ruthles, desperate, and at his worst an unmitigated bully. His ruthlessness, desperation, and cruelty were confined to the film set; at home, for the most part, he was a model of kindness and compassion. He worshiped his wife, the adorable Constance Adams, and remained with her for almost sixty years of marriage. He was a stern but loving father, who did his utmost to blend his one daughter, Cecilia, with three adopted children: John, Katherine, and Richard. To his servants, he was th emost generous and warm-hearted of men. In the studio, only the picture mattered: and many men and women suffered to that end.
Like most great film makers, he began as an artist, and was gradually overwhelmed by the need to prove himself as a businessman. He was not only harassed by the need to marry God and Moloch in his work; he was harassed by th need to marry them in himself. His life struggle until he gave up as a personal artist was not only against the men who held the purse strings of the industry in New York; it was between his body and his soul.
Higham, pages 4-5:
Sturdy dutch stock, courageous, dashing, and fierce-spirited, formed the very root of Cecil B. DeMille's character.
Henry DeMille [Cecil B. DeMille's father] was a strong and stoical boy who at fourteen was already deeply religious, determined despite severe odds to obtain an education for himself. He talked his paternal grandfather into helping finance his education at the Adelphi Academy in Brooklyn and later at Columbia College.
Higham, pages 7-8:
Henry DeMille had been fascinated by theater from the beginning of his life; but his family aboslutely opposed him in that desire. While he dreamed, at first futilely, of life on the stage, he attendd performances of the Philokalia Musical and Literary Association of Brooklyn and joined the Association's entertainment committee in 1872. There he fell in love with a pretty young actress, Tillie Samuel. After he took his Bachelor of Arts degree, setting out on a career as a teacher... and already determining on a career as a lay preacher, he seriously began to press his attentions on Tillie. She accepted, since her aims in life were similar to his: a dedication to propriety and rectitude, a devotion to good works. On July 1, 1876, they were married at St. Luke's Church in Brooklyn.
Both [Cecil B.] DeMille's parents taught at John Lockwood's School in Brooklyn, and lived in cheap rented rooms nearby. In 1878, their eldest son William was born, and Henry DeMille accepted a psot ast Columbia Grammar School. It was at this time that Henry fell under the influence of the late British poet, Charles Kingsley, author of the celebrated children's book The Water Babies. Deeply influenced by Kingsley, Henry invariably based his lay sermons at St. Stephen's Church in Brooklyn on Kingsley's original works. He was so profoundly impressed by Kingsley that he even thought of following him into the Episcopal Church as a minister. Although he was never actually ordained, he took extensive courses in theology and remained devout to the day of his death.
In order to eke out his meager living as a teacher, Henry began a career as a writer on the side. He published a serial in Leslie's Weekly and wrote a play, Robert Aclen, which did not achieve production but instead earned him a position as a play reader for the Madison Square Theatre.
Cecil was born on August 12, 1881, in the small town of Ashfield, Massachusetts, where his parents were spending their summer vacation in rented rooms... The two boys [Cecil and his brother] were constantly aware of religion from their earliest days, the walls of their bedroom lined with sacred texts and prints of scenes from the Bible, their life explicitly dedicated by their parents to near-poverty, chastity, and obedience.
Each day, Henry DeMille used to read the boys one chapter of the Old Testament, one from the New. With his superb speaking voice, he held the brothers spellbound. And after the Bible reading, he would read romantic novels, dwelling with particular ripeness on the details of balls, parties, lavish coronations, and funerals.
By the age of ten, Cecil's character had already begun to form... He was absolutely devoted to the Bible and regarded its words as entirely beyond question. He admired courage above all things; he was a ruthless competitor in class and on the sporting field... He was a sweet-natured and devoted brother and son, and he adored his parents. He loved the classics, and the works of Gustave Dore: the most fingered bok at Pompton Lake was the Dore Bible Gallery, a collection of illustrated sacred texts published by Belford-Clarke in 1891. Cecil loved to pore over pictures like "Ruth and Boaz," "The Judgment of Solomon," "The Sermon on the Mount" and "The Prodigal Son." From these the whole visual inspiration of his great religious films sprang.
Higham, page 9:
Henry DeMille's vivid readings from the Bible continued to impress the young boy. But one overpowering experience affected his religious development more than anything else. A visiting minister at Pompton announced he would preach on every day of Passion Week at eight o'clock in the morning. On the Monday, DeVille made his way to Pompton Christ Church on foot through icy rain. When he arrived he was astonished to discover that nobody else had choen to go to church that day. He saw down in a pew at the back and waited quietly. At the appointed moment the minister, red-bearded and bushy-eyebrowed, stepped up to the pulpit and smiled gently at the young boy sitting alone below him. DeMille gave the responses at the reading lesson, and listened with deep attentiveness to the brief sermon. At the offering, the minister stepped down and put th silver collection plate on the alter railing. Cecil walked up and solemnly placed a single worn nickel in the plate. In reply, the minster put his hand on the boy's head. In walking back to his seat that day, Cecil knew this man's God to be a real God, and that his faith was God-like in its monumental simplicity. It left a lump in his throat, and to the end of his life he could not think of it without emotion.
On January 8, 1983, Henry DeMille delivered Charles Kingsley's beautiful sermon "The Light" at Pompton Christ Church. It was the last sermon he ever gave. After delivering a lecture in New York, he fell seriously ill. The sickness was diagnosed as typhus. On February 10, 1893, he died, leaving William, Cecil, and their younger sister Agnes... in the care of the bereaved mother.
After Henry DeMille died, Beatrice's character seemed to strengthen and develop... She had begun a school at a small grocery tore; she immediately removed this to Pamlico itself and, with the support of clerics, she opened the Henry C. DeMille School in April 1893.
When he was fifteen, Mrs. DeMille sent Cecil to boarding school for the first time... the Pennsylvania Military College under the directorship of Colonel Charles E. Hyatt. Hyatt, like Henry DeMille, was an unswerving fundamentalist, and Cecil in the formative years of his adolescence again learned and re-learned the truths of the Old and New Testament. DeMille loved the endless dawn drills, the cold baths, the stern reminders of the dangers of falling from a high level of manly virtue.
Higham, page 10:
[Cecil's] friendship with Constance [whom he met in an acting troupe he joined after graduation] developed into a romance, and on the last day of 1900, sitting in a bleak wind on the steps of a Boston boardinghouse, Cecil proposed, and was accepted. Her father, Judge Adams of the Supreme Court of Massachusetts, opposed the match; he had set his sights higher than a struggling young actor. But Cecil obtained a flow of work in Frohman productions, and his powers of persuasion, developed in debates at Pennsylvania Military College, were considerable. On August 16, 1902, at the Adams family home at Orange, New Jersey, the couple were married in the Episcopal faith.
Higham, pages 23-24:
DeMille fell in love with Los Angeles at once [once he moved there]... Once he had finished work on the studio, DeMille and Oscar Apfel left on an extensive search for locations and shot some scenes. They traveled two thousand miles, to the Uintah country in eastern Utah and up the Green River to Ah Say, Wyoming, looking for ideal shots.
Higham, page 47:
Constance [Cecil B. DeMille's wife] ran the household at Laughlin Park with meticulous skill and flair. Refusing him access to her own bed, she bore DeMille's romantic liaisons with absolutely saintly tolerance... Though neither she nor DeMille attended church, they preserved a severely Christian household in which DeMille ruled like a benign despot.
Cecil B. DeMille was polygamous. Here is some information about one of his more important long-term mistresses, Julie Faye, who was essentially a wife to him, although not in the legal sense of the word. Higham, pages 67-68:
Still more importantly, DeMille featured in The Woman God Forgot a lovely, gentle young girl called Julia Faye, who played Geraldine Farrar's lady-in-waiting. Julie Faye, introduced to DeMille by Wallace Reid at a party earlier that year, fell in love with him at once, and he with her. Constance [DeMille's wife] endured the sitation with her usual saintly tolerance. Though she left Laughlin Park briefly that fall, saying she would come back when Miss Faye was no longer heard from, she decided against that move and returned humbly. Jeanie Macpherson was furious at Julia Faye's appearance on the scene, however. She and Julia quarreled constantly; at one stage Miss Macpherson threw an inkwell at her rival and it shattered into pieces on the wall of DeMille's office. Later, he put the entire scene into his film Why Change Your Wife?
Higham, page 82:
Julia Faye was born in Richmond, Virginia, in 1894; she was raised in Chicago, and educated at the University of Illinois. She broke into movies in her teens, with no experience whatsoever; she succeeded in impressing D. W. Griffith at a casual screen test... she was drawn to [foot fetishist] DeMille's attention by a magazine article which unequivocally stated, "Miss Faye has the prettiest feet and ankles in America." Aside from her feet, she was not a beauty; but her Southern drawl, easy sophisticated manner, and great charm captivated DeMille, and from the moment he saw her feet, he was absolutely enslaved.
She had the utmost skill in soothing his savage breast in the years to come. Her wit, grace, and sheer style fascinated him, and she bore with great distinction the role of back street mistress, of awitty, beloved, companion who must always be unable to obtain the blessing of the church on her relationship. DeMille, presumably, squred his conscience by telling himself that it would have been far crueller, as well as distinctly unwise, to divorce Constance; fo some quarter of a century, Julia was in fact his spiritual as well as his physical wife, although almost no detail of their intimate relationship survives.
[Cecil B. DeMille's] team was ideally organized to meet the public's needs... Jeanie Macpherson [one of his mistresses] was the most important of all: with her prim air and clock-spring curls, her flaring temper, she was a furiously obsessed presence at these meetings. She constantly rewrote script pages... Often, she differed with her lover and master, and their language became vividly purple. Over his protests, she absolutely refused to change a line once he had finally approved a script. She tolerated Julia Faye's [another of DeMille's mistresses] presence as "studio reader" at these meetings, but she wasn't entirely happy about it even after an agreement to a truce had been reached. The other members of the team could only observe the curiouis menage a trois with amazement, constantly fascinated by its tensions and its surprising essential unity.
Higham, pages 83-84:
In 1920 also, DeMille made his first picture with a religious theme. Still a fundamentalist so far as the Bible was concerned, yet convinced that God was not an individual being but a force for good, he decided to infiltrate religious ideas into the rich productions he planned or the new decade. He made the carefully titled Something To Think About in 1920, starring Elliott Dexter and Gloria Swanson, in which a wealthy cripple falls in love with the blacksmith's daughter he has helped to educate. She reneges on her promise to marry him, and runs away instead with a city worker, who is killed in a subway train crash. The cripple agrees to marry her platonically; she falls in love with him; and she is aided by the religious faith of a housekeeper, played by Claire McDowell. DeMille's showmanship saved the film from becoming unendurably maudlin, but critics emphatically dismissed it. Even the normally sympathetic Variety called it "confused and foggy," and DeMille was sufficiently aggravated to send a lengthy memorandum of reproach tot he editor.
Higham, page 90:
In Rome, [Cecil B.] DeMille and [Paul] Iribe were invited to see Pope Benedict XV at a private audience. When they arrived at the Vatican they were coldly received and virtually asked to leave. They looked at each other in astonishment: they had dressed precisely according to the dictates of protocol, and were scrupulously punctual. But they had overlooked one detail: the Pope had died that day.
Higham, pages 91-92:
When he recovered from his illness, DeMille suffered a severe shock. He was told that while he was in Europe William Desmond Taylor, a distinguished director of Famous Players and a pleasing acquaintance, had been shot dead under mysterious circumstances in his apartment. Both Mabel Normand and Mary Miles Minter, Lasky contract players, lay under grave suspicion, and there was talk that Miss Minter's mother, Mrs. Shelby, had committed the murder dressed as a man. In addition, the Fatty Arbuckle [child rape-murder] case dragged on, following the plump comedian's arrest on a manslaughter charge over the death of the Hotel St. Francis in San Francisco of a girl called Virginia Rappe. In his travail, DeMille felt the anguish of the truth: the character of Hollywood he and many friends had sought to conceal--desperately evil, cruel, and degenerate--had at last slipped out, and no one would ever be able to hide the truth again. When DeMille was firmly on the mend, he met for the first time with the Postermaster-General, Will Hays, whom he and other industry leaders unhesitantly supported as a guardian of the industry's morals and of its public image by appointing him President of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America.
Higham, pages 109-110:
DeMille recovered slowly from the debacle of the captain's arrest. He enjoyed appearing in a bit role in [acclaimed Mormon film director] James Cruze's Hollywood, a gentle satire of the film colony in which nearly every significant figure in the industry played a scene. He [DeMille] was shown in his office, signing stars to a contract in the presence of Jeanie Mcpherson and Lasky players.. He also organized a stunt in which a bathtub was stolen from the home of Virginia Valli and various clues--including a solid silver faucet--were left scattered across the city to keep the police busy. The tub was finally found lying in the main entrance of the Lasky building. But not beore DeMille had arraned a meeting of the Chamber of Commerce in the Hollywood Bowl to discuss the existence of a "Bathtub Ring."
Higham, pages 111-114:
DeMille left much of the writing of [his original version] of The Ten Commandments to Jeanie that February and early March. It was an unusual problem for her. At first, she tried to develop the story by covering a number of epochs. She wrote in an article in the Chicago Tribune published two years later (May 9, 1925): "I worked for several weeks on these lines with growing dissatisfaction. Something was wrong. In episodic form the story didn't have the right 'feel.' It was bumpy. It started and stopepd, ran and limped. The thread or theme of it seemed subtly broken every time we commenced a new episode. It became evident that the usual failure of episodic drama would be the fate of The Ten Commandments unless we changed our plan."
She told DeMille on March 9 that she had thrown out the entire sotry and was starting again. She would, she said, only pick up one theme from her original draft. This was the story of two brothers, one of whom mocks the Ten Commandments and the other defends them. She decided to add a new character: the boy's mother. She wrote in The Tribune: "What (might) the mother of two such boys be like?--An old lady I had known all my life came to mind. A thoroughly good and honest woman, who believed everybody should believe as she believed, or else they were all wrong. A woman who kept the Ten Commandments, it is true, but who kept them in the wrong way. A woman who was so busy interpreting the letter of the Bible she had forgotten its spirit."
She conceived of the woman as a bigot, hammering religion home; this had the effect of driving her son into the professinog of atheism. "The love motive," Jeanie wrote in 1925, "comes into the story in the shape of a modern girl who doesn't know what the Ten Commandments are all about. She neither believes nor disbelieves them; she is just as ignorant of their meaning and considers Elinor Glyn a great deal more interesting . . . once these four totally dissimilar people, all represented by individuals I had met o rknown of at various times, come from the weaving of their actions and reactions upon each other... DeMille was delighted when she suggested to him the idea of the Book of Exodus, as a source of the prologue. She wrote in a memorandum to him...: "As the sins of Pharaoh and his horde of horsemen are avenged by the down-crashing waves of the Red Sea, which parted to let the Children of Israel, with their clear faith, pass throgh, so does the emotional Red Sea engulf our modern Dan McTavish, who has attempted to raise his puny voice against immutable laws."
[To prepare his studio to film The Ten Commandments:] He [Cecil B. DeMille] sent a copy of the Bible to evey single person on the Lasky payroll, with the words, "As I intend to film practically the entire book of Exodus . . . the Bible should never be away from you. Place it on your desk, and when you travel, stick in your briefcase. Make reading it a daily habit." Comment from the press was irreverent: a writer for the magazine Screen Classics suggested DeMille now film the telephone directory, the Seven Deadly Sins, the canned soup classics, the Congressional Record, Blackstone, and the Queensberry Rules...
About the filming of DeMille's The Ten Commandments (1923), from: Higham, pages 117-119:
By mid-April, the picture at last was ready to begin shooting. Zukor was terrified by the costs involved, particularly after the failure of Adam's Rib, and after reading the final draft of the screenplay, he told his subordinates he wished he had never approved the commencement of the project. He sent Lasky to Hollywood to check on the expenses, and on April 17 heard from Lasky that a budget in excess of seven hundred eighty thousand dollar had been prepared. On April 19 he cabled Lasky: I NOTE COST RUNS FAR OVER SEVEN HUNDRED THOUSAND / THIS IS A BIG SUM TO UNDERTAKE TO PUT INTO A PICTURE WITHOUT BEING ABSOLUTELY SURE IN ADVANCE THAT IT WILL BE A SUCCESS / NO BIG STORY TO MY WAY OF THINKING CAN EVER BE A SUCCESS WITHOUT HAVING PLENTY OF LOVE AND ROMANCE / I AM SURE THAT WITH ALL OF THE THRILLS THAT THERE ARE IN COVERED WAGON* IF IT DID NOT HAVE LOVE AND ROMANCE IT WOULD NOT HAVE THE APPEAL / CECILS PRODUCTION WILL IN ALL LIKELIHOOD HAVE AN EGYPTIAN AND PALESTINE ATMOSPHERE / IT WILL HAVE TO HAVE A TREMENDOUS LOVE INTEREST IN ORDER TO OVERCOME THE HANDICAPS OF ATMOSPHERE. Lasky handed DeMille the telegram; DeMille took three weeks to reply. He cabled Zukor on May 10: I CAN ASSURE YOU TO THE BEST OF MY BELIEF THE PICTURE WILL HAVE THOSE QUALITIES OF LOVE ROMANCE AND BEAUTY WHICH YOU RIGHTLY SUGGEST ARE NECESSARY TO ANY PICTURE.
* The Covered Wagon [about Latter-day Saint (i.e., Mormon) pioneers], directed by [Mormon filmmaker] James Cruze, was the studio's greatest current success.
The mess tents sat fifteen hundred people each, one for men and one for women. An immense projection room was built onto the men's tent with a projector which showed each day's rushes to the director's personal circle. There was a separate tent which served only Kosher cookery to two hundred twenty-four orthodox Russian, Polish, and Palestinian Jews working on the production.
Higham, pages 146, 151:
The moral life of the camp was rigorously prim and proper. A large police and police matron corps patrolled the separate camps, no man being permitted into the female section and vice versa (wives or husbands of married camp members had been left firmly at home). Prohibition laws were rigorously observed and bootleggers and professional gamblers driven out by DeMille's special police.
DeMille missed nothing. An extra giggling or chewing gum would be thunderously denoucned from on high. When the Exodus started, it had barely taken six steps when he called a halt, signaled by a special fanfare on the trumpets composed by Hugo Risenfeld. He had seen through his field glasses one little girl with red hair. He descended, talked to her, and ordered a close-up made of her. Now the Exodus could proceed. But then a curiouis thing took place which not even DeMille or the entire corps of the Hollywood publicity departments sould have foreseen. Completely unrehearsed, the Jewish extras began singing in Hebrew the ancient Hebraic chants "Father of Mercy" and "Hear O Israel the Lord Our God, the Lord is One." DeMille burst into tears.
DeMille was attracted to The Road to Yesterday because it involved the theme of reincarnation, then enjoying a vogue as extreme as the fashion for spiritualism which had inspired [DeMille's film] Feet of Clay. His use of scenes present and past, interwoven into the narrative, had, if truth be told, always reflected a deep private interest in the subject. What was implied woudl now be clearly stated. The picture of past life would not simply be triggered off by any ingenious Macpherson plot device. It would be part of the warp and woof of the drama.
Higham, pages 160-161:
The story concerned Kenneth Paulton (Joseph Schildkraut) whose lovely wife, Malena (Jetta goudal), rejects him sexually. She is obsessed with the idea that in a previous incarnation he had injured her physically and spiritually. With two friends... the unhappy couple take of fon a train journey through the West. They are involved in a disastrous train wreck, which makes them revert to their former lives in England in the Middle Ages: we see Paulton as a gallant knight and Malena as a gypsy whose death he causes at the stake. Reverting to today, the characters are able to see the errors of their ways.
Most of the new plans were severly attacked by Murdock and others, and Milbank felt constant pressure to dislodge DeMille. Finally, he made it clear that DeMille must avoid his express promise no more; he must gird his loins, rescure his reputation, and at once make The King of Kings, despite the fact that Murdock was opposed to a religious subject.
Note that Charles Higham's 335-page biography of Cecil B. DeMille features extensive details about the production of DeMille's numerous Biblical epic films, including The King of Kings (about the life of Jesus Christ) and two versions of The Ten Commandments. Only a few representative excerpted have been included on this page.
In mid-June 1926, DeMille summoned Jeanie to his office and told her gravely that he was about to give her the most important asignment of her life. He handed her a text: the small, worn family Bible, dated 1874, which his father had used as a lay reader at the Episcopal Church in New Jersey, and instructed her to follow the great drama to the letter, impatiently dismissing her suggestion that she should use a modern story as a counterbalance.
As at the time of The Ten Commandments he sent copies of the Bible to every member of his staff, ordering them to memorize every word of the Gospels, and called them in every day for a Bible lesson. At weekends on board the Seaward, Jeanie was forced to be gracious to Julia as the two women [who were both DeMille's mistresses, or polygamous wives, depending on how one labels the arrangement] worked with DeMille's researcher Mrs. Elizabeth McGaffey on the basic preparation. When a wind blew pages of notes in the ocean, DeMille, fit and bronzed in a swimming costume, dove overboard and fetched them back. At night, Jeanie fumed in her cabin while Julia was entertained in the captain's cabin. Day after day this curious menage worked on the most ambitious film of the silent period.
When the story was finally licked--it had to be cut and recut to meet the requirement of two hours of film--DeMille returned to Hollywood and began supervising Mrs. McGaffey and her research staff of twelve in two months of brutally hard work. His team explored twenty-five hundred volumes and fifty thousand feet of documentary film, boiling down to some ten packed, typed volumes for Jeanie and her own assistants to examine.
A typical note to DeMille from Mrs. McGaffey (July 27, 1926) reads: "According to the Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 4 and Kitto's Encyclopedia Volume 1 the Crown of Thorns was a branch of the bush Zizyphus Spina Christi which is noted for its long thorns. Mr. Wright, the florist, obtained two branches which I am not giving to you. He obtained it from a bush growing on a vacant lot on the corner of Broadway and Sapphire Street, Redondo Beach . . . Would suggest that we go down and steal this bush at once."
DeMille spent weeks running films to make a selection of the cast. For every horse-mounted soldier in the picture, he chose an experienced cowboy, and he had every horse's hoof covered in rubber. He chose three thousand extras and fifteen hundred assorted animals and reptiles himself. No sooner was this task completed than he had to supervise, with the aid of linguists, the foreign version of the script, with titles in twenty-seven languages. After that, he arranged for the installation of a ten-stop organ to be installed in the studio, to provide inspiration music for the cast.
DeMille instructed the cameraman Peverell Marley to study hundreds of biblical paintings, examining precisely with what effects of light the old masters achieved their work. Two hundred and ninety eight paintings were fully reproduced in the film. Marley used seventy-five lenses as against his usual four, and seven different kinds of film stock, as well as special stock for the Technicolor sequences. For the crucifixion scene, based partly on DeMille's beloved Gustave Dore, partly on Rubens, he emmployed the most powerful sun arcs used up to that time, and two hundred fifty special lights set up around the hill of Calvary, fixed by a team of one hundred seventy-seven specialists, and giving out a strength of twenty-seven thousand amperes.
His biggest problem was in lighting the Crucifixion scene. After the death of Jesus, DeMille planned a tremendous earthquake, dust swirled high by fierce winds and the atmosphere impregnated with dust... [Much more.]
More about the filming of The King of Kings, from: Higham, pages 166-168:
While the great sets were being constructed, DeMille engaged technical advisers: the Rev. Dr. George Reid Andrews, Chairman of the Film and Drama Committee of the Federated Churches of Christ in America, and Bruce Barton, author of the life of Jesus The Man Nobody Knows. In addition, Father Daniel A. Lord of the Society of Jesus lent a hand. DeMille seldom agreed with Lord on points of detail, and on one occasion told the learned Jesuit to "go to Hell." "I'm afraid that won't be possible," Father Lord replied politely. "I already have a reservation elsewhere."
About Cecil B. DeMille's film The King of Kings, from: Higham, pages 179-182:
[page 167] ...On the second day of shooting, DeMille assembled a throng of religious figures, led by members of every denomination in America. He insisted on unraveling for seven hours the entire story of the Four Gospels to distinguished clerics who were scarcely unfamiliar with it. He even forced them to stand in semi-circles while he addressed them from a pulpit on the meaning of the New Testament, and chose unhappily the set of Mary Magdalene's prostitute's palace to do it in. After the sixth hour, a faint cry was heart. "Who was that?" DeMille cried out through his megaphone. "It is I," said Judas Iscariot, [actor] Joseph Schildkraut. "Can't I let Jesus sit down? I've been propping him up for the past hour." [He was referring to actor H. B. Warner, who had been cast as Jesus.]
...The Virgin Mary also presented some problems. DeMille's contract with Dorothy Cumming specified that she should bind herself absolutely to him to "regulate her personal life that no possible blemish of character may eventuate." She was not to attract scandal, not even to divorce her husband, a fact that became crucial when she defied him by beginning divorce proceedings against her husband Frank Elliott Dakin...
The press exploited such scandals, much to DeMille's chagrin and much to the delight of his enemies led by J. J. Murdock in New York. A characteristically satirical Brooklyn Eagle reporter visited the set one day and wrote: "Verily there was light and a thousand 'extras' did flock to the scene as a thousand moths eager to singe their wings upon the flames of the Klieg lamps. And there arose before them the graven images of DeMille and they bowed down their heads to him and there was heard in Hollywood a terrible din."
Other visitors saw something resembling a circus: a man training one hundred white doves to fly across the stage in formation, Mary Magdalene's leopard pacing about a golden cage, a brilliantly plumaged Bird of Paradise sunning itself behind a wire netting under a giant arc light. Scenes by the Sea of Galilee were held in Catalina, where Father Lord conducted a Field Mass to mark commencement of shooting. In order to shoot on the island, DeMille had to ship seventy-five tons of props in fifteen trucks to the docks at San Pedro, where an entire passenger steamer waitd to take cast, staff, and props across the water.
Despite an extremely mixed press--many critics found the film the aesthetic equivalent of the Bible in pictures--The King of Kings enjoyed an excellent public reception, particularly in Europe in foreign versions, where in some countries it ran for more than two years. Although DeMille's heart rejoiced at the gradually accelerating, then engulfing, wave of public acclaim, he was still deeply troubled during the spring and summer of 1927.
Higham, pages 188-189:
His chief worry was local censorhip. A number of states insisted on specific sequences being removed, particularly those implying a more than tentative personal relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Jewish organizations, led by the B'Nai B'rith, specifically requested their members not to see the film, claiming that it treated Jewish authorities of the time of Christ with hatred and contempt. The film narrowly escaped being bnned in England, where several cities (including London) had special ordinances forbidding the display of Christ's face in public. It was only through the most urgent intercession of Neil McCarthy, who had powerful legal contacts in London, that this disaster was avoided...
Grauman's stunts were endless: on September 7, he began exhibiting a pin with the Lord's Prayer engraved on the top by Charles Barker, a former official of the United States Bureau of Engraving in Washington. Chrity groups and even invalids were shunted in, clergymen flown from New York, incense sprinkled all over the theater...
Then came a bombshell. On September 8, Valeska Suratt, a screen vamp who had retired to become a nurse in 1925, filed a one million dollar suit in the County Clerk's office in New York against Cecil B. DeMille, Jeanie Macpherson, and Producers' Distributing Corporation, Keith-Albee vaudeville exchange, and Cecil B. DeMille Picture Corporation charging plagiarism. She said that she was the sole owner of a scenario entitled Mary Magdalen, written by Mirza Ahmad Schrab, that in 1925 she had submitted it to Will Hays, who had referred her to DeMille. She claimed that DeMille had entered into a contract with her, using "essential features and portions" of the material without payment. Only two weeks before, a Mrs. Joan Armstrong Alquist charged that in May 1924 she had submitted her book The Wooing of Mary of Magdalene to DeMille, and that it had been plagiarized. The sum of money demanded by Mrs. Alquist was a million dollars also. Ignoring Mrs. Alquist's claim, which was subsequently dropped, DeMille issued a statement to the press on Miss Suratt, which read, "I have always been under the impression that Matthew, Mark, Like and John were the first to write the story of Jesus Christ," he said. "If Mirza Ahmad Schrab was its author, and pre-dates them, the record will have to be changed." The case was thrown out of court...
Meanwhile, that summer, DeMille had begun plans for a picture which would be the precise antithesis of The King of Kings: entitled Atheist, then The Fiery Furnace, it was to be the story of a girl in a reform school who absolutely rejected God. This change of pace was a certain way of attracting national publicity and a sure way also of exciting new interest in the director's moral views. To DeMille's great delight, the American Association for the Advancement of Atheism wired him a lengthy cable of potest to his plans; Barrett Keisling immediately released the cable to every wire service in the world. In October, DeMille was exciting more publicity by indicating that the entire cast would consist of "persons of high-school age."
[page 182] ...Shooting of the film, finally entitled The Godless Girl in Jeanie's script, began on November 21... [Much more about DeMille's Atheism-themed feature film.]
In the midst of making the picture [The Godless Girl], the already shaky company began to break apart. Pathe, that constant thorn in DeMille's side, was on the edge of bankruptcy, even Milbank began cutting his investment, and the Capital Corporation was restive. Despite its success, the two-million-dollar King of Kings was still very far from netting anything like a substantial profit. Even while he was working on the biggest scenes in The Godless Girl, DeMille saw his dream of an independent studio disintegrate: the prominent [Mormon] director James Cruze left him suddenly, Donald Crisp followed, Phyllis Haver was loaned to D. W. Griffith for The Battle of the Sexes, Paul Sloane walked out, and Rod La Rocque, Victor Varconi, Rupert Julian, Vera Reynolds, and other stalwarts either drifted away completely or were sent for indefinite periods to other studios.
About filming DeMille's film The Godless Girl, from: Higham, page 191:
Sounds of fire were suggested by rumpled paper. He [DeMille] had a serious problem with Lina Basquette [the star of the movie], who had never "talked" before [because movies had before then been silent; this was DeMille's first "talkie"]. Trapped in the fire, this atheist is supposed to recite the Lord's Prayer in her state of terror. Unfortunately, she quite forgot her lines; it was impossible for her, despite several takes, to remmeber the prayer or to speak it with the slightest degree of conviction. Finally, Felt slapped her hard across the face; she burst into tears, remmebering the prayer, and spoke it, convincengly afraid, through her sobbing.
Higham, pages 237-238:
1934... That May a son was born to Cecilia [Cecil B. DeMille's daughter] and to Francis Calvin. In September John [Cecil B. DeMille's son], who had now, after a shaky career which never seemed to settle, joined the Bank of America, married Louise Antoinette Denker. The wedding was a lavish affair, held at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills [a Catholic church], and Katherine made a lovely bridesmaid...
About DeMille's historical epic Union Pacific, which was partially filmed in Utah and also partially set in Utah (at the Golden Spike ceremony that completed the transcontinental railroad. From: Higham, pages 257-259:
Also that year, DeMille reconsolidated his happy platonic relationship with Constance [his legal wife] and seldom saw Julia Faye [his mistress/spiritual wife], who had drifted away and in fact had become an annoyance because of constant requests for money in letters sometimes written under an assumed name. Jeanie [DeMille's other main mistress] was, of course, in constant attendance, although shee, too, had proved recklessly spendthrift, causing him constant heartache with her requests for cash. She had grown hard and dry with the years; it is doubtful whether, after the collapse of their sexual relationship in the late teens of the century, any other man had entered her boudoir. She burned a sacred flame which was never extinguished until her death.
For a while, during 1938, DeMille contemplated doing an epic on flying... Then, at the suggestion of Martin Quigley, he settled on a story about trains, tossing a gold coin to decide whether he should handle the story of the Santa Fe Railroad or the Union Pacific...
Higham, pages 278-279:
[page 258] In Utah, DeMille supervised the construction of a complete reproduction of Cheyenne, Wyoming, furnished it inside and out, and people it with local citizens disguised as Westerners of the mid-nineteenth century...
[page 259] For a reproduction of the episode in which a golden spike was driven home on May 10, 1869 [at Promotory Summit, Utah] to celebrate the completion of the Union Pacific Continental Railroad, Dr. Ray Lyman Wilbur, president of Stanford University, loaned the spike itself. It was removed in great secrecy from a vault at a branch of the Wells Fargo Bank in San Francisco and transported by train to Hollywood. DeMille re-created the scene superbly: two period trains, correct to the last detail, their engines running under their own power as their cowcatchers met; a troop of blue-clad infantry and a brass band striking up; Irish and Chinese track workers flinging their caps in the air; Indian onlookers silent and depressed, aware of what this decimation of their territory meant in terms of human suffering; horses rearing in the dust; political figures proud and somber in their gray suitings. [Historically, many of these were Latter-day Saints, leaders of the state of Utah and the Church whose members helped complete the railroad.] The whole sequence was shot at Canoga Park, near Hollywood, while a second unit in Utah prepared many background shots with which the scene could be properly matched.
Unfortunately, someone was present to tell the press that the original drilling of the spike was not as colorful as DeMille made it seem. Robert V. Grewe II, who was the only survivor of that day in 1869, informed the reporters that there was only one train and a handful of people--not a vst crowd as DeMille characteristically showed.
Because of his illness, DeMille was compelled to have two other directors handle portions of the film: Arthur Rosson directed location scenes in Utah, and James Hogan action scenes shot in California. Anne Bauchens had a tremendous task cutting the sequences so that the different directorial styles did not collide.
It was later in 1945, with the war at an end in Europe, that DeMille and the DeMille Foundation became involved in the widespread flushing out of communist elements in the United States. A characteristic speech, never released for publication, was given in New Orleans on December 19, 1945, before a selected group of citizens. These phrases were typical of his attitude: "The infiltrating of Communism int the ranks of union labor has created a new force in this land--Red Fascism--something that may be worrying the top labor leaders as much as it worries management, government, and the rest of us. DeMille also named--one of the first to do so--a future member of the Hollywood Ten, the writer John Howard Lawson, as a leader of communist infiltration in California. He added: "Here in America the Communists know they cannot bid for the major elective offices--yet. But they are bidding for school board elections which control your children's education and which a well-organized minority can swing."
About The Ten Commandments (1956), a remake of his earlier version, from: Higham, pages 308-309:
DeMille's urgent pursuit of the anti-communist witch hunts of the immediate post-war period was a natural outcome of his attack on lack of freedom in unions. He began to associate union impositions with a dangerous subversive Red Front, and the idea grew to an obsession by 1947. HIs early devotion to all-Americanism, to health, strength, courage, and manly virtue had already begun to topple over into a fanatical patriotism that contained the seeds of the very thing he hated and despised more than anything else: fascism.
Perhaps fortunately, DeMille in 1945 recommenced work in an area in which he was far more competent to act, making motion pictures.
The voice of God was a difficult selection; spiteful journalists suggested that DeMille had chosen his own--a grievous insult to so devout a man. Finally, Donald Hayne was plumped for: his rounded, mellifluous vowels and stentorian delivery were ideally apt...
An anecdote from the filming of The Ten Commandments (1956), from: Higham, page 307:
[page 309] The film was, in its complete form, not far removed from a "first cut," the first edited version with which Anne Bauchens delighted him. He did feel that the Exodus was overlong, reaching this decision after the film had been scored in its entirety by the brilliant young Elmer Bernstein. In order not to destroy the music, when Anne re-edited it she had to cut the individual sprocket holes so as not to destroy the flow of the music. It was an extraordinary achievement--with only one assistant and one apprentice.
The Ten Commandments was successfully previewed in Salt Lake City [to an enthusiastic, predominantly Latter-day Saint audience], and DeMille made an extensive promotional tour, meeting with church leaders and civic dignitaries in many American cities.
The opening at the Criterion Theatre in New York on November 8, 1956, was an extraordinary triumph, the film opened at the Stanley Warner Theatre in Los Angeles, with equal success.
DeMille made a rush trip to Europe and had the pleasure of being received in audience by Pope Pius XII. President Theodor Heuss and Chancellor Konrad Adenauer received him in Germany, as well as the Mayor of Berlin, Willy Brandt. In Pris he was awarded the Legion d'Honneur, and in London an aged and fragile Sir Winston Churchill received him at his home in Hyde Park Gate.
After attending a Royal Command Film Performance, at which he was presented to Queen Elizabeth, DeMille flew back to Hollywood in good spirits on Nobember 8, 1957.
Unlike the first Exodus [in DeMille's 1923 version of The Ten Commandments], the new one went off without a hitch. Then, one day, DeMille had a horrifying experience. In order to check a faulty camera, he climbed with Henry Wilcoxon to the very top of one of the one-hundred-three-foot gates, up an almost perpendicular ladder--an extraordinary feat for a manof his years. As he reached the top and looked down through the brilliant sunlight on the immense multitude he felt an almost overwhelming sense of pride. But a terrible pain suddenly shot through the very center of his heart. He staggered and his face turned green. He began to bend over; the pain was more intense than anything he had felt in his life. For a moment, he was unable to breathe. The intense light shimmered over the thousands of people below, blotting out his vision. Henry Wilcoxon came to his aid, but he impatiently brushed his [sic] aside. When Wilcoxon told him on no account must he attempt to descend the ladder he snapped, "How am I going to get down? Fly?" Mustering his extraordinary will power, praying deeply and from the essence of his being to God, he made the descent, then sank miserably to a sitting position. He rallied again, and with Cecilia and Berenice Mosk made his way, ashen-faced to a chair. Fortunately, his doctor, Max Jacobson, was present, and, under protest, he was taken in the car to his penthouse for a rest. Jacobson told him bluntly he must abandon the direction of the picture, but he, supported by [his daughter] Cecilia, absolutely refused to do anything of the kind.
Higham, page 315:
That night, DeMille went into his bedroom and prayed as he had never prayed before in his life. We will never know what he asked God to provide, but it may be imagined that he called upon all the strength that lay within his being, that he sought to draw up power from the very wellsprings of life itself. As dawn broke--the acrid, flatly-lit dawn of Egypt--he stood up in his rom and cried out. When he took Cecilia's hands in his own later that morning, he knew that he had been spared: his will, just as it had triumphed over rheumatic fever and exhaustion in 1921, had triumphed again.
DeMille also had a number of films researched and partially or wholly scripted which were never actually filmed. Among these were The Story of Esther (Mackinlay Kanter), Samson (an earlier version of Samson and Delilah) (Harold Lamb), The Hudson's Bay Company (Jeanie Macpherson, Jesse Lasky, Jr.), Queen of Queens (Jeanie Macpherson, William C. DeMille, William Cowan), For Whom the Bell Tolls (Jeanie Macpherson), Rurales or The Flame (Jeanie Macpherson), Thou Art the Man: The Story of David (Jeanie Macpherson), Helen of Troy (Jack Gariss), and On My Honor, based on the life of Lord Baden-Powell, being scripted by Jesse Lasky, Jr., Henry Wilcoxon, and Sidney Box at the time of Mr. DeMille's death.
About Cecil B. DeMille's last days, from: Higham, pages 312-313:
He was uncomfortable, prayed a little, and found difficulty in reading or making notes. On January 8 , he dropped in briefly to the studio, but he was insufficiently well to attend properly to any work. On the night of January 20, two miserable bedridden weeks of pain and restlessness later, he was visited, as so often in those last days, by [his daughter] Cecilia and her husband Joseph Harper...
From: Axel Madsen, John Huston: A Biography, Doubleday and Company: Garden City, New York (1978), page 212:
Following her departure, he was alone with a nurse. He began to scribble some notes on a piece of paper. They read: "The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed by the name of the Lord. It can only be a short time . . . until those words, the first in the Episcopal funeral services are spoken over me. . . . After hose words are spoken, what am I? I am only what I have accomplished. How much good have I spread? How much evil have I spread? For whatever I am a moment after death--a spirit, a soul, a bodiless mind--I shall have to look back and forward, for I have to take with me both."
At five A.M. the next morning he had a final heart seizure which he did not survive. Constance, who had become somewhat senile and had invariably not recognized him in the previous weeks, was not informed of his death. He was seventy-seven years old.
The funeral was held on January 23 at St. Stephens Episcopal Church, 6126 Yucca Street, the Rev. Harry E. Owens officiating. Adolph Zukor shouldered his former enemy's mortal remains together with Samuel Goldwyn, Neil McCarthy, Russel Treacy, Donald Hayne, Henry Wilcoxon, and Henry Noerdlinger. The grand showman was interred alongside his brother William at the Hollywood Cemetary.
The New York Times editorial read: "Mr. DeMille combined the flair for showmanship of a Barnum with the cinematic inventiveness of a Griffith. With the driving energy that characterized his entire life, Mr. DeMille imparted his personal stamp of bigness and flamboyance that came to typify American films throughout the world for more than four decades. His mere name symbolized the raw energy, unlimited abundance and florid romance of a make-believe world that multitudes of many tongues thirsted for." It was a summing up which could not possibly have been improved upon.
Just a week before, DeMille had shown that the old, strong spirit was as witty as ever. A visitor to Laughlin Park had asked him casually, what his future plans were. His eyes had twinkled sharply. "Another picture, I imagine," he said. He smiled wryly. "Or, perhaps, another world."
Huston's irreverence [while filming and discussing his movie The Bible] led to questions about his own faith. On several occasions, he was disarmingly forthright. "Every day I'm being asked if I am a believer and I answer I have nothing in common with Cecil B. DeMille. Actually, I find it foolishly impudent to speculate on the existence of any kind of God..."
Webpage created 19 July 2005. Last modified 21 September 2005.
We are always striving to increase the accuracy and usefulness of our website. We are happy to hear from you. Please submit questions, suggestions, comments, corrections, etc. to: firstname.lastname@example.org.