from The Talmadge Sisters
by Ellis Parker Butler
For two reasons, I am glad to write this introduction to "The Talmadge Sisters." One is, that it is always a pleasure to be even so slightly connected with those who have become famous through clean effort, and the other is, that I am glad to have my name here. I believe that the motion picture is still in its very earliest infancy and that many years hence,
a copy of this book will be among the documents thumbed over by those preparing to write a "History of the Beginnings of the Motion Picture," and that my name on this page may be the only remaining evidence that I ever existed.
The motion picture seems to me the most tremendous invention since the invention of printing. Its effect on the world and man's existence is destined to be, I believe, vastly more important than it is now. No one connected with its origin ever imagined it would have the influence that it now has. A few years ago when the motion picture was a mere toy, added to each end of vaudeville programs as a novelty, few could foresee its vast future. Today, it is the greatest amusement and informative vehicle in the world, excepting only the printed word.
There was a time when the two powerful formative influences were the pulpit and the stage. Then intelligence was limited and confined to towns and cities and the stage spoke only to a small group. Today, intelligence is widespread, and the stage, because of its limitations, cannot reach far. The motion picture is the stage enormously multiplied, just as the printed word was an enormous multiplication of the old-time, hand-inscribed book.
In another form, the motion picture is the printed word translated into action and made more effective and vital. That action is more effective than cold print, is amply shown by the haste of legislatures to enact film censorship laws. On the screen, that which in print was cold and lifeless becomes vivid and expressive. The motion picture is print that has come alive and that uses gestures, and acts out its meaning. It is the stage plus the printing press. It is a tremendous thing! But it is still an infant. It is doing some foolish things and some crazy things, and some very brilliant and wise and admirable things, like a child.
Anyone looking over the field of motion pictures will say, "But look at the trash that is filmed! You talk about the great future for the motion picture, but it is foolish to imagine that there can ever be a time when there will be no 'blood-and-thunder' trash, when every motion picture will be fine and noble and perfect." I agree! And never will there be a time when all printed books will be fine and noble and perfect. Printers will always print trash; there will always be "dime novel" literature and cheap, gaudy clothes. But I do not have to buy dime novels or wear shrieking clothes. I feel that many motion picture patrons are even now beginning to recognize that the producer who says, "Aw, pish! Pictures is pictures!" is wrong, and that the exhibitor who does not consult our tastes is a failure.
The solution is, that in the future the producer will know his audience and the exhibitor will know his. This is already coming about. There will be "dime novel" producers and theatres and there will be "high grade" producers and theatres. Then this great motion picture industry will move with giant strides and, in working to that, those who -- like the Talmadge sisters -- become known as appearing in a recognizable type of good picture, are helping the audiences, the producers and the exhibitors to find the right road.
This book about Norma, Constance and Natalie is most naive and appealing and much of its interest to me is in the picture it leaves of a fond mother telling with pride of the amazing accomplishments of her daughters, just as other entirely human mothers might do. Surely a mother who has noticed the first signs of talent and has seen that talent expand until it has won her daughters world-wide fame, must have something especially interesting to say about them. It is a rather remarkable human document; I cannot remember any other quite like it.