As we saw in the previous post, in 1915 Ouida quit her acting career (which doesn’t seem to have been going too well as we have no record so far of her appearing on stage or screen after 1912), and became a screenwriter. Her first full length film was directed by the George Fitzmaurice who at some point became her second or possibly third husband. Thereafter she seems to have written mainly for his projects, though she did do a few films for other directors too.
And yet it’s only two years after this – 1917 – we find her (thanks to Anna’s digging) embarking on yet another new venture and launching a rather weird-sounding “agency” apparently designed to put Ouida at the center of Hollywood as the arbiter of casting, screenwriting, directing et al:
“Ouida Bergere Expands Work” screamed a very strange advertizement/article from Dec 22 that year. “Organization Enlarged for Benefit of the Motion Picture Industry.”
The text continued in a similarly vainglorious style (You can read the whole thing by clicking on the image on the left.)
“…The motion picture industry…will be interested in learning that Ouida Bergere has perfected plans for a complete and independent organization along the lines of the most advanced efficiency….These affiliations will give an international significance to Miss Bergere’s manifold operations…Directors who are free for new affiliations [evidently the word of the day] can place their business affairs with Miss Bergere, who will project their past pictures upon the screen in her private projection room…”
It’s that mixture of self-importance and mystifying incoherence that really catches your attention. No believer in hiding her light under a bushel, she virtually portrays herself in this 1917 ad as the rescuer of the entire motion picture industry, and seems to assume everyone in the business is going to cheer because she is galloping over the hill at full charge to save them with her “manifold operations” and incredible efficiency. And yet she doesn’t even say in any real detail what her agency is actually supposed to do. Or who works for it. Or who her clients are. All she basically says is ‘Ouida is here and she’s gonna fix everything, and she has three sets of offices to do it from, so – everyone form an orderly line and she’ll get to you as soon as possible.’
We have to wonder what happened to this industry-changing, amazingly efficient “manifoldy operating” agency? Did she manage to persuade anyone to put their “business affairs” in her eager little hands? And if so, how long did it take her to blow it all on hats or rugs or 4,000 square feet of empty office space on Fifth? If the agency ever existed at all it had apparently gone out of business just nine years later when she declared bankruptcy, as her “assets” by then were $150 worth of “wearing apparel” and if she’d had a hugely successful international agency with three sets of offices and a “private projection room” then she probably would have been able to pay her phone bill.
So, did the whole thing never really exist outside her fevered and wayward mind? or did it crash and burn as her acting career seemingly had and as her screenwriting career was to do in just a few more years?
I’m kind of wondering what all this tells us about the Second Mrs Rathbone – and maybe even about the man who became her third (or fourth) husband. It’s pretty easy to see her reasons for marrying him. He was younger, prettier, more famous and above all solvent. But why did he marry her? And why did he stay with her, through the financial ruin she brought him, to the day he died?
“What Ouida saw in me then I don’t know” he told a journalist in 1938, talking about the day he met her. It just brings on one of those “wait a minute” moments.
You don’t know what she saw in you?
You don’t know what she saw in…you?
Did he mean it? Was he really so deluded? This is the man who’d taken Broadway by storm in THE SWAN, and had Eva Le Gallienne as a lover and ardent admirer. Did he honestly believe the unemployed screenwriter of ordinary looks and with $9000 worth of unpaid debts was doing him some kind of favor?