"A Visit to Movieland" reprinted from The Forum magazine, January 1920. This is the 3rd of 9 parts. Written by "The Forum's Correspondent."
"Raving Beauties" Not Wanted:
It was in the studio building that we heard words of wisdom concerning these "extra" girls and their male supers. The words fell from the lips of a very blase you man upon the door of whose office was the legend "Assistant Director." Cabinets of card indexes were backed up against the walls whose spaces were covered from floor to ceiling with a most astonishing gallery of photographic pulchritude. "Yeah, they're all extra girls," he said, indicating the photographs, "and in the cabinets, there, I keep the dope on them, filed." Opening one of the cabinets, he took a card.
"When a girl comes in here for a job," the assistant director explained, "the first thing I do is to size up her face. Will she photograph? We're not looking for raving beauties--we're looking for types. The really pretty girl, the girl whose facial measurements are classic, rarely makes good later as an actress. It's the distinctivetype of person that we're looking out for. The girl with somewhat heavy facial bone structure, with eyes wide apart, and breadth of face under the eyes, with flat surfaces on her face, with glossy hair, and with eyes that photograph well--she is the girl we're looking for. For example, Mary Pickford looks beautiful on the screen; off the screen she is not beautiful. Her features are rather course, yet it is that very quality that makes her photograph beautiful. The girl whose face quickly goes back, recedes, will not photograph well. She looks hatchet-faced on the screen; she has no broad surfaces to catch the light. Also, a pale complexion looks better on the screen than beautifully colored cheeks, which present a mottled effect. So, after sizing up the girl photographically, I then, if she looks all right, ask her to fill out this card." He showed me the printed form which required information as to experience, weight, height, age, what roles she thought herself suited to, did she have an evening dress, a sport suit? Could she swim, ride a horse, drive a car? "See, the girl fills that in herself," and the Assistant Director allowed himself a grin. "Then, when she has gone, I turn the card over and fill it in myself. You see, what a girl thinks she is suited to she is generally not suited to. Look at this card," and he showed me the record some girl made of herself. Opposite the item concerning roles she was best suited to the girl had written "society girl." But alas! on the back of the card the Assistant Director had decided--"French maid."
And, likewise, from the records of the male extras, was it evident that self-appraisal errs more often than not where the movies are concerned. For on one card, of a young college graduate, I saw on the back that the Cerberus of the studio had enthusiastically written "fine type for East Side gunman." So, girls and young men, if you would become movie stars, be not discouraged if you are not put to work after your first interview. A good Assistant Director is sizing you up when he is talking to you; and some day, when they need a princess of royal blood or a shoplifter, you'll get a 'phone call to come to the studio after you think they've forgotten you.