vp19 (vp19) wrote in carole_and_co,

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A film truly in black and white

Just over a week ago, Turner Classic Movies in the U.S. ran five Jean Harlow films. It included one that I had never seen before, "Hold Your Man" (1933):

jean harlow hold your man 00

It's not quite a classic -- it drags in places -- but overall, it is pretty solid entertainment, with Harlow and Clark Gable showing that wonderful romantic, quasi-erotic chemistry they had. It's well worth a viewing.

But what threw me for a loop was TCM host Robert Osborne's remarks after the film.

If you're familiar with movie history, you probably are aware that in order to placate white southern audiences during the era of segregation, many scenes featuring black performers were removed from footage for films shown in the south. The great Lena Horne, who's now in her nineties, has often bitterly noted that many of her appearances in 1940s films were cut in versions shown to southern whites. (As such, Horne's scenes were often set up so their removal would cause minimal damage to the plot.)

Okay, here's where this intersects with Osborne. To paraphrase, he noted that "Hold Your Man" took the concept one step further.

I suppose it's not a spoiler to say that Clark and Jean's characters get married near the end of the film -- you'd expect a happy ending involving these two -- but the marriage ceremony is clandestinely conducted by a black minister at the reformatory where Jean has been sentenced; he's there to visit his daughter, who like Jean is serving time there. (She already has a license to marry Clark, so all she needs is a ceremony to make it valid.)

It's really rather charming, but MGM doubted white audiences in the south would accept two white people brought together in matrimony by a black man. So an alternate version was shot, one where Harlow and Gable are married by a white minister. (TCM showed the general version, not the southern one; I have no idea whether the alternate footage exists.)

Pretty fascinating -- I am not aware of any other film of that era which substituted cast members for racial reasons to create two different versions. There's an added angle when you examine the respective actors who portrayed the white and black ministers.

First, the black pastor. He was portrayed by an actor named George Reed (1866-1952), who was born in Macon. Ga. (likely to newly-freed slaves), and, aside from one film in 1913, didn't regularly act in films until he was in his early fifties. Most of the time Reed played stereotyped roles such as porters or butlers, and more often than not his work went uncredited, but he nevertheless got plenty of work -- during the 1930s, he appeared in 62 films. (And yes, one was with Carole Lombard; in "Twentieth Century," he portrays an actor playing an Uncle Remus figure in a play whom we see rehearse with Lombard's Lily Garland under the watchful eye of John Barrymore's Oscar Jaffe.)

In "Hold Your Man," Reed conducts himself with a great deal of dignity, as one would expect from both a man of the cloth and a man in his mid-sixties. (Reed would also appear in Harlow's final film, "Saratoga.")

jean harlow hold your man black minister larger

Photos of the white minister from the southern version of the film are fairly easy to find, especially from two decades before, when he was one of silent film's biggest stars, with a lead in its biggest movie.

jean harlow hold your man white minister

I am speaking of Henry B. Walthall:

That's Walthall as Ben Cameron, "The Little Colonel," in D.W. Griffith's 1915 epic "The Birth Of A Nation," a film that advanced cinematic storytelling techniques while at the same time setting back race relations with its sympathetic portrayal of the Ku Klux Klan and vicious stereotypes of black characters (most of whom were played by whites). However, Walthall played all sorts of roles during his career, and was highly regarded for his range. He later said he regretted being remembered for only one film.

Born in 1878, Walthall grew up on an Alabama plantation, moved to New York to work in the theatre, then found his calling in movies. A major star for much of the teens, Walthall fell out of favor in the 1920s, but made a bit of a comeback as a character actor in the 1930s. You can find him in the Fox film "Judge Priest," where he nearly upstages its star, Will Rogers. Here's Walthall from another film he made with Gable, the doctor drama "Men In White":

Trivia note: One of the Three Stooges' early two-reelers at Columbia was set in a hospital and called "Men In Black." And no, it had nothing to do with Will Smith or Tommy Lee Jones. ("Calling Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard...")

Walthall died in June 1936.

It's fascinating to note that MGM felt compelled to make alternate footage of "Hold Your Man" because southern audiences wouldn't accept a black man in an authority position. Three-quarters of a century later, we are but two days away from having a black man ascend to the ultimate authority role...


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