KING OF EUROPE'S "MOVIES"
and HIS $70,000 a YEAR FACE
Marvelous Max Linder, Induced for the First Time to Break the Golden Silence, Gives This Magazine an, Intimate Insight Into the Ideas and Methods Which Have Gained This Unique Artist-Impresario a Larger and More Enthusiastic Following Than Some Crowned Monarchs Can Boast – Bull Fighting in Madrid and Driving an Auto to a Smash-Up in the Heart of Paris Are All in the Day's Work – Then Gaby Deslys Drops In.
Max Linder, engrossed in the New York World at his villa near Paris, and
engaged in the unusual occupation of taking his ease.
"SPEECH is silver, silence in golden," is the adage quoted by Max Linder, the world-famous "King of the Movies," as he settles down in his armchair for a chat with the correspondent of this magazine. And in his case it is literally true, for he earns a bigger salary by his "silence" than any other human being on the globe.
The scene was the drawing-room of Max Linder's villa on the banks of the River Marne in the picturesque village of Varennes, about ten miles out of Paris. The King of the Movies had consented to break silence for once and tell the story of his life in his crisp, incisive way and in his native tongue. For Max's knowledge of English is confined to "yes," "no," and "shocking;" beyond this his vocabulary again relapses into silence.
"When I was a little boy," he said, "my dramatic instincts were first awakened by a Punch and Judy show. I think I was four years old at the time. (I am now twenty-nine – and a bachelor.) The same evening, dressed in my night shirt, I went through the scene with my sister, aged three. She was Judy, of course, and didn't play up; but from that time my career was fixed. I thought and dreamed of nothing else but to become an actor.
"As a schoolboy at Bordeaux I gained first prize with honors for declamation; at Biarritz some years later I fell in with Charles Le Bargy, at that time secretary of the Comedie Francaise.
"What do you know about acting?" he asked, half amused at my request to win the blue ribbon of the stage by enrolling myself in the most famous theatrical company in the world. I offered to give him a few lessons. He liked my retort, and we became friends.
"But I was not destined for the Comedie Francaise. "Samuel Magnifique of the Theatre des Varietes was my next patron. All I could obtain from him was a walking part with occasional dumb show. The final blow came one evening when the tenor of the company, a man I hated, opened a letter addressed to him from Pathe Brothers and then passed it on to me. It ran:
"Sir, I heard you sing last night, and you have $20,000 in your voice; we offer you the same to sing in our phonographs." "I could have cried with rage! But wait to hear the finish. On the following day, during rehearsal, a note was brought me on a salver; it bore the same signature as the one the tenor had received, and ran: "Sir, I saw your dumb show last night, and you have $20,000 in the twist of your eye; we offer you double that sum for your exclusive services for our films."'PATHE BROS.'*
"Decidedly the proverb that 'silence is golden' is capable of practical demonstration.
"Now I turn to the commercial side of my profession and shall tell you a little about my earnings. It's the first time I have made them public, and the newspaper reports you have seen are pure guesswork.
"My contract with Pathe is for a fixed annual salary of 350,000 francs ($70,000). This contract has still eight months to run. I have refused to renew it because I can do much better.
"So much for what my silence brings me in.
"As you know; I also appear on the regular stage. My salary on my last trip to Russia was 3,000 francs ($600) a day for the two months; this year I go abroad for 80,000 francs ($16,000) a month. My next Russian trip brings me in 120,000 francs ($24,000) for a single month.
"These are all firm contracts. I don't speak of innumerable offers elsewhere which I have been unable to accept.
"Now, as to the business itself. I not only think out all the films myself, but train my company of players and supernumerary people. In this sense I am actor-manager, impresario and scenic artist all rolled into one. Don't think it's an easy life. On the contrary, I'm all run down and have a chill through jumping into the river from that high bridge you see over there, not to speak of a severe bite on the calf of the leg received from police dogs."
Mr. Linder pulled up his trousers and displayed an ugly-looking scar punctuated with tooth marks.
"But," the interviewer asked, "when you make so much with the purely artistic side of your work, why risk your life for mere farce business?"
"Ah," replied Max, "that's precisely the point. I can't afford to neglect the commercial side. I play to two distinct groups of spectators – the one that cares only for facial expression, the other that loves the knock-about. And here my temperament comes to my aid. I have no fear.
"I carry my life in my hands at every so-called dangerous experiment. But I am a fatalist, and know that what's to be will be. I learned to drive a hydroplane in two days. I had never been on horseback before when I took a big jump on a thoroughbred. At Madrid I entered the bull ring and killed a bull – which certainly came near killing me. Next week I leap from an automobile into the river; you see what the height is from here. Some time after the war I am going to have a motor smash (right in the center of Paris) in the Place de l'Opera. I must smash a car and risk my life. I am prepared to take the consequences."
He laughed without a suspicion of cynicism, and we sauntered out into the garden, where he had obligingly consented to be photographed.
As the sitting terminated, a small crowd at the entrance of the drive denoted a visitor of some importance. From a white and gold automobile stepped a young and brilliantly costumed woman, followed by a huge dog. The fair caller was Gaby Deslys.
"Yes, I love America," Gaby said. "Tell them I'm going back again, soon."
To the suggestion of being photographed Mlle. Deslys at first opposed a stern refusal. But Max Linder's persuasive powers came to the rescue, and as she seated herself on the lawn by his side she remarked: "Well, Max and I together, that's something quite new; I wonder who it will be next?"
Gaby Deslys, Max Linder and Harry Pilcer, snapshotted during a visit of
Gaby's to the Movie King's villa.
(Pittsburgh Press, Aug. 30, 1914)
* René Jeanne [Max Linder et le théâtre, 1965] dismissed these claims, which Linder already made in July 1913 in an article for the COURRIER CINEMATOGRAPHIQUE, as an attempt in creating a myth, because: «n'aurait jamais dit à un jeune acteur inconnu qu'il avait "100000 francs dans l'oeil" (no one would have told a young unknown actor: "you have $20,000 in the twist of your eye")», and in no way would he have been offered the double amount. But providing the offer of 200,000 francs was for a three-year-contract (the subsequent contract was also for a three years run) and the event didn't take place in 1905, like Jeanne assumed, but rather in early 1909, the story could have happened. It seems Pathé was eager to sign a contract with Max again. The precondition, that their star comedian André Deed was going to «Itala», for giving Max his own series, is probably not the main reason. It seems his films in 1908 were very successful: «he is a splendid pantomimist» writes Variety on Apr. 4, 1908 about the film «L'obsession de l'equilibre» and the New York Dramatic Mirror (Jul. 25, 1908) remarked «the excellent acting» in the film «Un tic nerveux contagieux». That his absence from the screens, since mid-1908 was noticed by the public, becomes clear with his reappearance in 1909: «his return will be warmly welcomed» The New York Dramatic Mirror rejoiced on Oct. 9, 1909. The same paper (July 30, 1910) also mentioned that Linder had been reengaged with a "very high salary".
This article also was adapted to several other languages e.g. German: "Des Kinokönigs erstes und letztes Interview", Dutch: "Het eerste en laatste interview van den Kino-koning.", Danish: "Max Linder", Swedish: "Max Linder." and Finnish: "Max Linder.".