After graduating from the Mack Sennett school of two-reelers in the late 1920s, what did Carole Lombard envision as her next step? Based on the three talking features she made for Pathe ("High Voltage," "Big News" and "The Racketeer"), a continuation of comedy apparently wasn't part of the equation.
But at roughly the same time that Lombard was beginning her short-lived tenure at Pathe, a notable star of her era was continuing her string of comedy hits. And for the second time in recent years, a feature of hers feared lost has been rediscovered, enabling us to enjoy her artistry.
The star: Colleen Moore.
The film: "Why Be Good?", her final silent, released in February 1929.
"Why Be Good?" will make its U.S. restoration premiere at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 6 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's Bing Theater at 5905 Wilshire Boulevard, following in the footsteps of the rediscovered 1927 Moore vehicle "Her Wild Oat." This is the culmination of a project that spanned more than a quarter-century.
It began when film historian Joseph Yranski (a good friend of my Facebook friend Lara Gabrielle Fowler) interviewed Moore prior to her death in 1988; she told him that a copy of "Why Be Good?" survived in an Italian film archive. While the movie was a silent, there was a Vitaphone soundtrack featuring some of the top jazz talent of the time such as Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang and a young Jimmy Dorsey. The Vitaphone Project's Ron Hutchinson found the 16-inch discs used for the soundtrack, and Cineteca Italiana di Milano, who graciously allowed access to the 35mm nitrate dupe negative for the restoration.
According to LACMA, Moore, shown with leading man Neil Hamilton, "plays a wild flapper with a dubious reputation, who, after a vivacious night of dancing, finds herself romantically linked to her boss's son." Sounds like a delicious premise for a late '20s romantic comedy, something Moore was expert at.
And just as "Her Wild Oat" unveiled a glimpse of the future in 14-year-old Loretta Young, so does "Why Be Good?" show an actress destined for bigger and better things in Jean Harlow, not yet 18 and appearing as a dress extra.
I have no idea if Colleen and Carole ever met, though one would think they crossed paths at one time or another, or if Lombard was a fan of Moore's movies. (I tend to think she would've been.)
"Why Be Good" is part of the Academy@LACMA series, and tickets are available to the general public for a mere $5. To purchase or learn more, visit http://www.lacma.org/event/why-be-good. (I've already ordered mine.)
Moore not only was vivacious, but had her own brand of sex appeal -- here, it's obvious that Colleen already knew how to jazz up her lingerie:
This discovery leads to hope that someday, Moore's breakout film, "Flaming Youth," will be unearthed.