- Opera singer Geraldine Farrar was an international celebrity so it’s no wonder she was recruited for the cinema.
- In 1916 she appeared in Cecil B. DeMille’s Joan the Woman.
- It wasn’t only the movie stars who were celebrities; as noted along the top of the cover, the magazine also profiles film director Thomas Ince.
- Footage of Farrar as Joan was spliced into Sarah Bernhardt’s 1917 film Mothers of France. Source: Film historian Victoria Duckett’s fascinating 2015 book Seeing Sarah Bernhardt: Performance and Silent Film.
Incongruous as it may seem, there were many opera singers who appeared in feature films back when Hollywood was getting started. Yes, back in in the days of the silent silver screen. Celebrated opera singers were internationally known and many had fervent followers, so in the eyes of film producers, they were bankable commodities.
Arguably the most famous of these singers-actors was Geraldine Farrar, a popular American soprano who’d sung at the Metropolitan Opera and across Europe. Young women in particular idolized her and were known as “Gerry-flappers.” Farrar was recruited for film by producer Jesse L. Lasky and in 1915-17 she appeared in several Cecil B. DeMille movies, usually with Wallace Reid as her leading man: Maria Rosa, Carmen, Temptation, Joan the Woman, The Woman God Forgot, and The Devil Stone. Here she is on the cover of the February 1919 issue of Photoplay.
Not missing a beat, Photoplay then promptly featured Farrar’s chief rival Italian soprano Lina Cavalieri on its March 1919 cover. Cavalieri was known as the most beautiful woman in the world, a title immortalized by the 1956 film of the same name starring Gina Lollobrigida. What–you’ve never heard of that film? Well, you may be familiar with Cavalieri as she is the face featured in artist Piero Fornasetti’s work. I’ll probably showcase his work in a future post, but for now here is Cavalieri on the cover of Photoplay.
The tagline to the cover story for the Cavalieri issue: “The Real-Life Romance of Cavalieri and [Lucien] Muratore.” Muratore was Cavalieri’s tenor husband and they appeared together in the silent films Manon Lescaut (1914) and The Shadow of Her Past (1916). Solo, Cavalieri starred in 1918’s Love’s Conquest and A Woman of Impulse; and in 1919, The Two Brides.
Farrar fans may be interested in checking out my Pinterest board. I’m always on the lookout for more pins of this great singer!