Swanson on Swanson

Source: Gloria Swanson, Swanson on Swanson (London: Michael Joseph, 1980), p. 25

Text: She asked us if we had ever seen any motion pictures in Puerto Rico. We said yes, and they were terrible. Most of them were made in Sweden or Denmark. They flashed them on a white sheet in the hot little movie house that used to be a store. First you saw a picture of a polar bear on a globe. Then you could see people moving around waving their arms, and then some words printed in Swedish, and then more people making faces. In ten minutes it was all over. Once you’d see how it worked, you never needed to waste another nickel to see it again.

“Well, you haven’t seen Quo Vadis?, then,” Aunt Inga said, grandly exhaling a thin stream of smoke.

“What’s that?” my mother asked, through a mouthful of pins.

It was a new Italian motion picture, Aunt Inga said, and she had positively loved it. They were showing it in the opera house and it cost a dollar to get in. The music alone was worth the price of admission. A live symphony orchestra played all through the picture. There were chariot races and slave galleys and an arena full of lions and you felt as if you were right there. She said Quo Vadis? had proved to her that motion pictures could be very educational. That was why she was ready to take George Spoor up on his invitation and see if Americans were doing anything nearly as good as the Italians.

Comment: Gloria Swanson (1899-1983) was one of the leading American film stars of the silent era. She spent part of her childhood in Puerto Rico. Her visit to George Spoor’s Essanay studios in Chicago in 1914 led to work as a film extra, and subsequently film stardom. Nordisk Films of Denmark had the polar bear logo. Why such films would be available in Puerto Rico with the intertitles not being translated is, if true, unclear. Quo Vadis? (Italy 1913) was directed by Enrico Guazzoni.

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