Our West Coast representative, Danny Miller, was fortunate enough to be at the Academy’s screening of LADDIE (1935). They have restored it from one of the only 35 mm prints thought to exist. Thank heavens for this print!
Here’s Danny’s report and thoughts.
(DM) Went to the Motion Picture Academy’s special screening of “Laddie” last night and it was extraordinary. As most reviews at the time said, as well as the Academy spokesperson who was there, Virginia steals the picture as Little Sister Stanton. She is amazing in the film and got a very strong response from the audience. Shot from January to March 1935, Virginia was seven when she made “Laddie” but looks five or six and is really given the “star treatment” with billing on par with John Beal and Gloria Stuart. The story is simple but very moving and I loved the rest of the cast as well, especially Dorothy Peterson as Mrs. Stanton (who would play Ginny’s mother again the following year in “Freckles,” another film based on a Gene Stratton-Porter novel) and 14-year-old Jimmy Butler (who would die on the battlefield in France during World War II) as Ginny’s mischievous brother Leon. I thought John Beal was just great and it was fun to see Gloria Stuart, especially since I’m not sure I’ve seen any of her films prior to “Titanic” which she made at the age of 87! Donald Crisp was great as Stuart’s tortured father. I haven’t seen the other versions of “Laddie,” but director George Stevens did a fantastic job (and this film really helped his career) because it is completely devoid of the saccharine schmaltziness that a story like this could have so easily drowned in. It was very moving to know that we were the first audience in 79 years to be sitting in a theater watching a 35mm print of this film. Most of the prints and even the original negatives were destroyed by RKO when they decided to remake the film again with Joan Carroll (Agnes from “Meet Me in St. Louis”) in 1940 which is a real shame because I’m sure this is the superior version. The Academy had just one print in their vault all this time and though they did a search, were unable to find any others so they made the restoration from that. I didn’t hear anything about the issues with the Stratton-Porter estate and didn’t get a chance to talk to the Academy person but maybe now that there is this new print of the film it will eventually make its way to a DVD release or airing on TCM. With this film followed by “Freckles” and “Girl of the Ozarks,” there’s no question that Ginny was being groomed for Shirley Temple-level stardom, as we’ve discussed, and with consistently excellent reviews and a public that loved her, it remains a mystery as to why that didn’t exactly happen. I know we’ve debated this endlessly and I’m sure it’s a combination of things including the same “aging” problems that even Temple had to deal with as well as MGM’s own issues. Worth noting, however, that even last night she was referred to warmly as “the girl from ‘The Philadelphia Story’” so no matter what we want to say about MGM, they did give VW her most memorable role. The young Academy spokesperson said that she was most impressed by Ginny when she first saw this film but she did butcher her name and call her “Virginia Weelder.” I emitted a slight grown in honor of our group but I’m grateful to the Academy for screening this remarkable film.
The film was restored as part of the Academy’s “Film to Film” project, aimed at preserving important films for which there are few decent prints while the various film stocks are still available (they probably won’t be in a few years) as opposed to digital restorations (which will be the norm from here on out).
Unfortunately, I doubt that the people arranging this screening (the first part of “The Two Sides of George Stevens”) stopped to think if Virginia Weidler had any descendants around or did the research to find out who they were. When I had a brief exchange with her grandson, Jonathan Krisel (“Portlandia,” “Kroll Show”), he seemed quite proud of his grandmother’s work. If I had thought of it, I would have tried to let him know about the screening myself. There was about an hour gap between the two films and I’m afraid “A Place in the Sun” got a much bigger crowd last night. But the people who were there were very appreciative. It was held at LACMA, our art museum that now has a strong relationship with the Academy (the new Academy Museum will open next to LACMA in 2017).
There were so many publicity shots of Ginny with John Beal. They had a great rapport. I only wish we could’ve asked Gloria Stuart about the film before she died at the age of 100 in 2010. Beal died in 1997 and acted well into his 80s even though he never hit the level of stardom that it’s clear people thought he would when he started out in the early 1930s — the fan magazines were full of articles about him.
Here’s Ginny with Stuart and the wonderful Dorothy Peterson as her mother. I have to admit I was not familiar with Peterson even though she was also in films such as “I’m No Angel,” “Dark Victory,” “Sabotage,” “Saboteur,” “Mr. Skeffington,” and playing the mother of a certain other former child star in “That Hagen Girl.” On Broadway, she starred in the original 1927 version of “Dracula” opposite Bela Lugosi. She’s a natural in “Laddie” and also played the mother in the “Five Little Peppers” series with Edith Fellows and other TIG-ers.
I am so excited about this restoration and Danny’s report. I just hope they will soon make the film publicly available so we may all experience the magic of LADDIE.