Searching for Phyllis Haver

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Rollo Treadway

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Searching for Phyllis Haver

PostTue Apr 03, 2012 9:26 pm

Any other fans here of this delightful and absurdly forgotten actress? Any expert advice here as to the status of her lesser known movies or her equally elusive personal life?

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Being hopelessly, unashamedly in love with Miss Haver, I decided to try a little online detective work on her films, concentrating on the last 30 titles in her filmography, from the years 1925-1930 that saw her rise from featured player to headlining star. Here's a summary of what I dug up, piecing together what info there is on IMDb and silentera.com, with some help from the Vitaphone Blogspot. Thanks to Richard M. Roberts and Brooksie for added information.

PE = Print exists
PL = Presumed lost
SSU = Survival status unknown

Rugged Water (1925) - SSU
The Golden Princess (1925) - SSU
New Brooms (1925) - SSU
A Fight to the Finish (1925) - PE
The Caveman (1926) - PE
Other Women's Husbands (1926) - PL
Hard Boiled (1926) - PE
Up in Mabel's Room (1926) - PE
Don Juan (1926) - PE
3 Bad Men (1926) - PE
Fig Leaves (1926) - PE
The Nervous Wreck (1926) - PE
What Price Glory (1926) - PE

Girl in the Rain (1927) ? (unlisted on silentera)
Nobody's Widow (1927) - SSU
No Control (1927) ? (unlisted on silentera)
The Little Adventuress (1927) - SSU
The Way of All Flesh (1927) PL
Your Wife and Mine (1927) - ? (unlisted on silentera)
The Rejuvenation of Aunt Mary (1927) ? (unlisted at silentera)
The Fighting Eagle (1927) - PE
The Wise Wife (1927) - SSU
Chicago (1927) - PE
Tenth Avenue (1928) - SSU (Trivia: Banned in Finland!)
The Battle of the Sexes (1928) - PE
Sal of Singapore (1928) - PE

The Shady Lady (1928) - SSU (trailer exists)
The Office Scandal (1929) - PE? (”A decomposing nitrate print of this film survives in the UCLA Film and Television Archives” is the rather downheartening comment on IMDb — I've no idea when that was written or what the present status of the print is.)
Thunder (1929) - PL (half a reel exists)
She Couldn't Say No (1930) - ? - PL

That's 14 out of 30 films known to exist (in some cases, perhaps "asserted to exist" is the right phrase) - a survival ratio of about 46.66%. Of those 14, I've seen 9 (all exceptA Fight to the Finish, Hard Boiled, The Caveman, Sal of Singapore and The Office Scandal). Of her earlier films, I've seen The Balloonatic with Buster Keaton (she was one of his best female foils, I think, and I'd like to have seen them do more together) and the abridged version of A Small Town Idol.

Haver is such an attractive actress — sexy, savvy and funny — that I'm mystified as to why her cult following isn't bigger than it appears to be. Even the recent DVD release of her great performance in Chicago doesn't seem to have ignited much interest.

Among the mysteries in the above filmography, not the least one is her (alleged?) last film, She Couldn't Say No. In what contemporary publicity material I could locate on this title, a vehicle for comedienne Winnie Lightner, Haver is never mentioned, so she would have a small guest appearance or gag cameo at most. According to the Vitaphone Blogspot, the film must be considered lost. (One almost certain confirmation of this is the fact that its only IMDb reviewer is none other than F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre!)

Among her lost films, The Way of All Flesh with Jennings and Thunder with Chaney would of course be among the top sought-after titles. I'd especially love to see the part-talkies Thunder and Office Scandal turn up, for the possibility of hearing what she sounded like.

In 1929, she retired from acting after marrying millionaire William Seeman. Life imitating art?
She told Cecil B. DeMille she was ending her contract with him under the "Act of God" clause. Stunned, DeMille asked, "What Act of God?" Haver replied, "If marrying a millionaire isn't an Act of God, I don't know what is." DeMille let her go.
- IMDb


The couple divorced in 1945, and 15 years later she took her own life, following at least one previous suicide attempt. A sad end, like her contemporary and fellow Sennett Bathing Beauty, Marie Prevost.

How high on the historians' radar was Haver in the sound era? Does anyone know if she was ever approached to be interviewed about her work in films, or indeed if anyone has ever undertaken any thorough biographical research on her?

Any info, thoughts or opinions on the elusive Miss Haver is highly welcome.

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This is the only post-career image of Phyllis (right) I could locate. She's accompanying fellow silent veterans Ruth Taylor (left) and Lela Rogers (centre) for Lela's premiere party for her daughter Ginger's film Lucky Partners (1940).

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Phyllis Haver and Marie Prevost, two of Mack Sennett's Bathing Beauties who would move on to bigger things in the decade to come.

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Tenth Avenue, 1928:
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Milwaukee Journal, Nov. 21 1960:
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Phyllis meets the Surrealists: Still from Chicago used in André Breton's photo-collage "Automatic Self-Portrait" (1938):
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Last edited by Rollo Treadway on Wed Apr 04, 2012 8:53 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Richard M Roberts

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Re: Searching for Phyllis Haver

PostWed Apr 04, 2012 12:50 am

LOC's print of THE CAVEMAN is quite complete and has played at several Film Festivals in the last few years. Again, don't believe everything you read in the IMDB.


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Re: Searching for Phyllis Haver

PostWed Apr 04, 2012 3:36 am

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Rollo Treadway

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Re: Searching for Phyllis Haver

PostWed Apr 04, 2012 4:21 am

Thanks for the info on The Caveman.
Richard M Roberts wrote:Again, don't believe everything you read in the IMDB.

That's for sure! Well, I've submitted a correction to them, just on the off-chance that it takes.
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Re: Searching for Phyllis Haver

PostWed Apr 04, 2012 4:27 am

Thanks for the Screenland cover, Gagman.

"A Gift From Ronald Colman"
"Bessie Love's Summer Sports Wardrobe FREE!"


... I gotta get me a copy of the magazine so I can send in the coupon to claim those prizes.
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Re: Searching for Phyllis Haver

PostWed Apr 04, 2012 5:04 am

The Rejuvenation of Aunt Mary looks like a fun film, with May Robson recreating her Broadway role from 1907. Harrison Ford and Franklin Pangborn made 5 films together. The other 4 all starred Marie Prevost.
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Re: Searching for Phyllis Haver

PostWed Apr 04, 2012 5:47 am

drednm wrote:Harrison Ford and Franklin Pangborn made 5 films together. The other 4 all starred Marie Prevost.

Harrison Ford and Marie Prevost was quite a team, appearing in 6 films together between 1926 and 1928. They were a good pairing in romantic comedies of error, fine fluffy pre-screwball where all Marie needs to do is smirk slyly at Harrison's discomfort.

More statistics:
With Phyllis Haver, Ford did 4 pictures of which I've seen The Nervous Wreck and Up In Mabel's Room, both highly entertaining. The latter film also had Haver and Prevost together, one of three 1926 films in which they co-starred after appearing together in 22 Sennett comedies between 1915 and 1924.
One day in 1927, about 1500 residents of Hamilton, Ontario opened their mailboxes to discover a key inside, attached to a tag inscribed “To the man of the house— this is the key to my room— Mabel.”

If this got the attention of some agitated housewives and their flustered husbands, well, it was all according to plan.

The keys were a publicity gimmick, dreamed up by the manager of the Rialto Theatre. The film he was running that week was Marie Prevost’s comedy Up in Mabel’s Room.

(Exhibitors Herald, March 26, 1927, pg. 39.)
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Re: Searching for Phyllis Haver

PostWed Apr 04, 2012 6:11 am

For what it's worth, try and dig up THIS IS YOUR LIFE with Mack Sennett as the honoree, circa 1955, in which Phyllis Haver makes a brief appearance among so many other former Keystone stars. A priceless artifact.
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Re: Searching for Phyllis Haver

PostWed Apr 04, 2012 8:17 am

The exclusion of her name from the opening credits of What Price Glory was a sho' 'nuff raw deal, because to me, she's the best part of that picture. However, the one I now long to see is Sal of Singapore, if it's half as hot as her dress in that ad.

My, but she looms large in that photo with average-sized (I believe) Lela Rodgers.
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Re: Searching for Phyllis Haver

PostWed Apr 04, 2012 8:23 am

Lela looks just like Ginger ended up looking..... Was there a Mr. Rogers? I know Lela appeared in a film or 2 and was part of Hollywood night life
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Re: Searching for Phyllis Haver

PostWed Apr 04, 2012 8:24 am

westegg wrote:For what it's worth, try and dig up THIS IS YOUR LIFE with Mack Sennett as the honoree, circa 1955, in which Phyllis Haver makes a brief appearance among so many other former Keystone stars. A priceless artifact.

Thanks for the tip! This sounds like something a comedy fan should check out in any case, even though a little of show host Ralph Edwards goes a very long way.

A little more online research only seems to confirm that she was more or less a recluse who shunned Hollywood reunions but kept up friendships with some of her colleagues such as Betty Compson, who was the one the This Is Your Life crew had to get to locate Haver's whereabouts.

One interesting find is this brief interview from local paper The Berkshire Eagle, dated July 16, 1960 — just four months before her death. Not exactly an in-depth interview, but at least her own voice recalling her film career.

(Courtesy of SilentComedians.com:)
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Re: Searching for Phyllis Haver

PostWed Apr 04, 2012 8:39 am

drednm wrote:Lela looks just like Ginger ended up looking..... Was there a Mr. Rogers? I know Lela appeared in a film or 2 and was part of Hollywood night life


The only appearance of Lela in any picture I've seen was The Major & the Minor, in which she looked evry bit as attractive as Ginger, I thought. Since that picture was made only a few yrs prior to the photo, it may illustrate the consequences of all that Hollywood night life.
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Re: Searching for Phyllis Haver

PostWed Apr 04, 2012 8:51 am

The newspaper comment about her "frequent trips" to see plays in NY doesn't sound like the behavior of a recluse--if true; neither does her plan for a round the world trip. But then, who's to say the reporter didn't make all this up.
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Re: Searching for Phyllis Haver

PostWed Apr 04, 2012 8:52 am

entredeuxguerres wrote:The only appearance of Lela in any picture I've seen was The Major & the Minor, in which she looked evry bit as attractive as Ginger, I thought. Since that picture was made only a few yrs prior to the photo

A minor (not Major) correction - that film was released two years after the photo above.

Perhaps both the effects of Hollywood night life and the expertise of Hollywood make-up people come into play here...!

Another Phyllis Haver connection: The same year that Lela and Ginger appeared together in The Major and the Minor, Ginger also reprised Phyllis's Chicago starring role as Roxie Hart.

Lela and Ginger - undated photo, but I would guess c. mid-1930s?
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Re: Searching for Phyllis Haver

PostWed Apr 04, 2012 10:26 am

Above photo looks a lot more realistic. Lela's make-up artist in Major deserved an AA.
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Re: Searching for Phyllis Haver

PostWed Apr 04, 2012 10:42 am

drednm wrote:Lela looks just like Ginger ended up looking..... Was there a Mr. Rogers? I know Lela appeared in a film or 2 and was part of Hollywood night life


She and Ginger turned up as characters in the recent film J. Edgar, of all things. Lela got all the lines.

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Re: Searching for Phyllis Haver

PostWed Apr 04, 2012 11:23 am

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Here she is with Jean Hersholt in D.W. Griffith's The Battle of the Sexes (1928).

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And with Margaret Livingston in The Office Scandal (1929) [Photo from Derek Boothroyd.]
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Re: Searching for Phyllis Haver

PostWed Apr 04, 2012 11:38 am

Thanks for the stills, Bruce. In Battle of the Sexes, Phyllis managed a near-impossible feat, to infuse a D.W. Griffith picture with some honest-to-goodness sex appeal!
The film has some surface similarities with Citizen Kane: Wealthy guy is mesmerised by "cheap blonde" and sets her up in an apartment for trysts, where she pleases him by playing the piano (among other things). We get a glimpse of the sheet music on her piano, one song is titled "Rose of My Bud"...

Your Office Scandal still makes me all the more eager to see it — Phyllis duking it out with Margaret Livingston!
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Re: Searching for Phyllis Haver

PostWed Apr 04, 2012 7:49 pm

Rollo Treadway wrote:Image


Ooo nice - where did this photo come from ??? By coincidence I've recently been researching Miss Gibbs' 15 minutes of fame. She won a film quest run by First National, and the prize was a free trip to Hollywood and a screen test with Cecil B. DeMille (!). DeMille actually offered her a five year contract, but the whole thing proved too overwhelming and she cancelled it and came home. She did mention befriending not only Phyllis Haver but Leatrice Joy, who was also under contract to DeMille at the time.

Back to the very worthy topic of the other Phyllis - I'm so glad you brought her up. I thought she was a knockout in 'Chicago' (gorgeous and a terrific actress) and I've been trying to search down other of her movies ever since, without much success.

Although 'Other Womens' Husbands' isn't on silentera, I have seen it on lists of lost Warner Bros films, unfortunately. On the brighter side, there's a print of `Hard Boiled' in Prague, which would be an excellent candidate for restoration, IMHO!
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Re: Searching for Phyllis Haver

PostWed Apr 04, 2012 8:50 pm

Brooksie wrote:Ooo nice - where did this photo come from ???

Found it in an issue of Photoplay while browsing through the fantastic collection of that mag on archive org. (http://archive.org/search.php?query=photoplay) Unfortunately I didn't think to note down the issue's year or number!

Thanks for the added info. So many goodies hidden away in archives around the world. Once while looking up Ankles Preferred (1927) with Madge Bellamy, I stumbled across some website in Lithuania (I think it was) that offered a DVD - but only for domestic rental! That film, coincidentally, was directed by the same man who did Hard Boiled, John G. Blystone.

Here's a poster - Phyllis is billed just above Tony the Wonder Horse!

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Re: Searching for Phyllis Haver

PostWed Apr 04, 2012 9:25 pm

I did a search for Phyllis Haver in 2003 when we first came across Chicago. A wonderful gentleman from Butler Kansas (not far from her home town, Douglass) had been collecting newspaper clippings and sent them to me, and I put them on our web site. I just revived the link on our index page if you're curious in tracking down that biographical information, or Follow This Link.
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Re: Searching for Phyllis Haver

PostWed Apr 04, 2012 9:46 pm

Rodney wrote:I just revived the link on our index page if you're curious in tracking down that biographical information

Rodney, thank you so much for that! Certainly a mother lode of information and most helpful in fleshing out her personality and life after the movies. And I wasn't aware, for example, that she and Prevost had been friends even before starting out with Sennett, or that Jannings had personally requested her as his leading lady in The Way of All Flesh.

This also seems the perfect opportunity to congratulate you and the Mont Altos on the excellent Chicago score.
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Re: Searching for Phyllis Haver

PostWed Apr 04, 2012 10:00 pm

Aw, shucks. Well, thank the original cue sheet compiler too, we used some of his ideas.

I particularly liked the way she got hired as a movie theater pianist as a teenager.
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Re: Searching for Phyllis Haver

PostWed Apr 04, 2012 11:13 pm

:D Here's a tinted postcard some people here maybe haven't seen. It is not Colorized.


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Re: Searching for Phyllis Haver

PostThu Apr 05, 2012 12:06 am

Here's another post-career photo, taken in 1945, Haver is leaving divorce court:
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1931, shipboard bound for Honolulu:
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I posted this one quite awhile ago and I'm not sure on which thread. I think the consensus was this is from CHICAGO, although the dvd hadn't come out at that time:
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From NO CONTROL:
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Re: Searching for Phyllis Haver

PostThu Apr 05, 2012 2:52 am

Interesting material keeps coming in at such a rate that I may soon open my own Phyllis Haver blog, or even hack out a biography!

Bobfells, thanks for the pics. My opinion is that the first production still is not from Chicago. Her outfit doesn't match any of those in the film, nor can I recall any scene in a bathroom.

To counter-balance the divorce court pic, here are Phyllis and her millionaire hubby William Seeman in happier days:
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More from the archives - Phyllis the animal lover:
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Phyllis and Buster in The Balloonatic:
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Haver and Prevost's entries in "Who's Who on the Screen" (1920):
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Re: Searching for Phyllis Haver

PostThu Apr 05, 2012 7:01 am

bobfells wrote:I posted this one quite awhile ago and I'm not sure on which thread. I think the consensus was this is from CHICAGO, although the dvd hadn't come out at that time:
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I think this shot is from SAL OF SINGAPORE. Phyllis' dress matches the one she's wearing in the poster posted above from SAL OF SINGAPORE.
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Re: Searching for Phyllis Haver

PostThu Apr 05, 2012 10:32 am

Looks indeed to be the same smashing outfit. (Were there no more technicians, spectators, idlers, that might have been crowded onto that set?)

Quite by accident today, stumbled across the following Robt. Frost poem, "Provide, provide," that might be construed as possessing some superficial resemblance to Phyllis' story:

"The witch that came (the withered hag)
To wash the steps with pail and rag
Was once the beauty Abishag,

The picture pride of Hollywood.
Too many fall from great and good
For you to doubt the likelihood.
...
No memory of having starred
Atones for later disregard,
Or keeps the end from being hard.

Better to go down dignified
With boughten friendship at your side
Than none at all. Provide, provide!"

Phyllis, of course, DID (by marriage) "provide."
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Re: Searching for Phyllis Haver

PostThu Apr 05, 2012 11:00 am

What a bizarro poem by Frost ... wherever did you find it? I've never seen it before....
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Re: Searching for Phyllis Haver

PostThu Apr 05, 2012 11:29 am

Richard Finegan wrote:I think this shot is from SAL OF SINGAPORE. Phyllis' dress matches the one she's wearing in the poster posted above from SAL OF SINGAPORE.

Well spotted, sir! And this article confirms it - see upper left picture:
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As entredeuxguerres noted, she does look hot in that dress.

Until someone unleashes the film Sal upon us (hello, Flicker Alley!), there's always the photoplay edition of the novel.
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