La Muette de Portici, 1915
Pavlova was already familiar with Daniel Auber’s Opera, “The Dumb Girl of Portici,” the story of a deaf-mute fisherman’s daughter, when Universal Studios approached her in 1915 to play the lead part in the re-making of the opera for film. This was an acting role, not a ballet, but Pavlova was already known for her expertise in expressing the theatrical and dramatic. And, by this time, she was well on her way to being an established international star. The movie was directed by fellow Russian emigree, Lois Weber, one of just a tiny handful of women directors in Hollywood in those early days. The film featured an enormous cast, hundreds of elaborate costumes, and huge sets. Pavlova herself was paid the unheard-of sum of $50,000.
This historic film was all but lost until recently, when a team at Milestone Films in New Jersey, working with international archivists, took on the formidable task of restoring the bits and pieces preserved at the New York Public Library, the British Film Institute, NBC/Universal, and other scattered sources. This precious archival material was combined, stabilized and re-tinted so that for the first time modern audiences can delight to this treasured piece showcasing Pavlova. A dazzling new score by composer John Sweeney was created especially for this restored masterpiece. The film was released in DVD and Blueray formats in early 2018. Bonus material never seen before is included. A new generation of Pavlova’s fans can now see Pavlova in motion once again!
La Muette, Re-Imagined
There are numerous black and white stills taken from the original film available in books and online, but it was an early color poster that captured my imagination and provided the inspiration for my own “La Muda de Porticci (spelling error notwithstanding!) The swirling movement of the dancer, the dramatic sweep of the white netting, and the bold contrasting blues and oranges are all reminiscent of the art of the great costume designer Leon Bakst, from which this piece by an unknown artist was surely inspired. I’ve created a sumptuous costume out of embroidered blue silk and coral chiffon, festooned with ruffles, pleated inserts, lace, trims, and hand-dyed silk ribbons, and I’ve posed my mannequin to try to convey some of the spirit and intensity Pavlova brought to this role.
Pavlova never actually wore a costume like this in the film. Rather, this poster was created as an advertisement, to entice viewers to see the movie. We could compare it to today’s “trailer”, deliberately selective, even possibly inaccurate, designed to create lots of buzz about a forthcoming release.
With Charlie Chaplin in Hollywood
Charlie Chaplin was fascinated with dancers, so it is no wonder that he found the slight, ethereal Pavlova absolutely enchanting. He confessed that when he saw her dance, he was in tears, over “…the tragedy of her perfection.” This photo of the two friends, she dressed not in tutu but stylish suit, and he without moustache, baggy pants and bowler, reveal an unmistakable connection not easily put into words. Perhaps it was that they both lived with the same irreconcilable condition: the reality of a sensational celebrity status and a deep, unattainable longing for a private life.
With Chaplin, Re-Imagined
Two online pattern makers for 16″ fashion dolls came to the rescue for assistance with the suits Pavlova and Chaplin are wearing. Adapting a man’s suit pattern from Designs by Jude for him and reworking a ‘20s fashion from The House of O’Brien for her, I was able to re-create the famous meeting between the two stars. A beautiful scrap of royal blue silk from Elfriede’s Fine Fabrics already embellished with sequins and beading, made the perfect turban for Pavlova and coordinating necktie for Chaplin. Reunited, the two friends radiate style and grace!
Pavlova in her Dressing Room
Though I can’t discover the exact date and location of this photograph, I’ve put it in the Hollywood Gallery because I think it expresses the behind-the-scenes look of a Hollywood star.The original glass photographic plate is in the Library of Congress’s George Grantham Bain Collection. Bain headed America’s earliest news picture agency, forerunner of Associated Press and United Press International. His collection gives us a fascinating look at early photojournalism.
This rare backstage glimpse of a casually posed Anna Pavlova shows a dressing room in a bit of disarray, with pointe shoes and stockings tossed in a basket, pots of make-up strewn across the top of the dressing table, and a vase of lilies, perhaps from an admirer. Pavlova is wearing a silk dressing gown and her favorite red strapped shoes. We see the flash bulb of the photographer reflected in the mirror, adding to the scene’s informality.
Pavlova in her Dressing Room, Re-Imagined
My good friend Marina Shadrina, who has an Ebay shop called All For Doll, found this fabulous ebony dressing table and framed mirror, which inspired me to create this backstage diorama. I based it on a series of photographs of Pavlova in a dressing room, one of which accompanies this entry. I’ve taken liberty with the color and style of her silk dressing gown, but I’ve tried to find accessories true to the original photograph. And my mannequin is wearing shoes similar to Pavlova’s favorite pair (now housed at the Museum of London). even though they don’t really coordinate with the rest of the scene.
With Mary Pickford
Mary Pickford, “America’s Sweetheart,” was the film world’s first female millionaire. She felt a great kinship with fellow superstar Anna Pavlova, and took an interest in filming her dancing. Pavlova agreed to test out this new medium during her 1925 visit to Hollywood. Pickford arranged for a film crew to record several famous dances, and a series of still photographs of Pavlova with Pickford looking on have survived. It is believed that the filming took place on the Pickford-Fairbanks studio lot, and it is possible that another United Artists luminary, Charlie Chaplin, was present and directed the historic filming.
With Mary Pickford, Re-Imagined
Pavlova wears her black and white Columbine costume, complete with giant pompoms, glittering red Swarovski crystals, and traditional tricorn hat. Pickford, though an adult, wears the gingham frock of a school girl, complete with wide sailor collar, dropped waist, and strapped Mary Janes on her feet. Coils of her famous gold-red hair tumble over her shoulders. With her tiny physique and piquant facial features, Pickford was intentionally portrayed in film as perennially childlike, but with a hint of the erotic woman underneath. This intriguing paradox made her irresistible to audiences.