"The Tiger's Coat" (1920)

Produced by The Dial Film Co.
Distributed by W.W. Hodkinson Corp.
Directed by Roy Clements
Scenario by Jack Cunningham
Based on the novel "The Tiger's Coat" by Elizabeth Dejeans (Indianapolis, 1917)
Released November 1920.

The novel was serialized in The Pictorial Review between November, 1916, and February, 1917. The film was shot at the Robert Brunton Studio in Los Angeles.

Cast Lawson Butt, Tina Modotti, Myrtle Stedman, Miles McCarthy, Frank Weed, J. Jiquel Lanoe, Nola Luxford, Charles Spere, and Helene Sullivan.


The film begins in the southern California home of Alexander MacAllister (Lawson Butt) where he is confronting Andrew Hyde (Miles McCarthy) who is accused of crooked dealings. Alexander threatens to expose Hyde, and Hyde defies him to do his worst. A banker friend tells MacAllister, "Why don't you get married?" They are interrupted by an unexpected caller on that rainy evening, a young lady, Jean Ogilvie, the daughter of a Scotsman family friend from Mexico. He puts her up and later remarks that she has dark skin for a Scottish lass. "Mexican sun," she explains. "I expected to find an old man," Jean remarks to herself.

The next morning Alexander becomes smitten when Jean comes down in a Mexican dress, and he wonders what the neighbors will say. Not wanting Jean to stay at his home without a chaperone, he visits a neighbor and asks them to take her in.

At breakfast the following morning, the neighbor, a painter stares at Jean and makes a sarcastic remark that he once painted a native girl in Mexico that looked like her. Jean goes shopping at the Hyde store, and after she is introduced to Hyde, he looks at her suspiciously and later asks Joan's chauffeur what part of Scotland she is from. "She came from Mexico," he answers.

About a month later, Alexander asks Jean to marry him, and Hyde, wanting to hurt Alexander, begins looking into Jean's past. He sends his secretary to Mexico, and, in a small Mexican town, he talks to the local doctor.

Alexander throws a large party to announce his engagement to Jean, and, at that time, Hyde's secretary returns from Mexico and gives Hyde the information he was seeking.
On the eve of the marriage, Hyde visits Alexander, and he informs him that Jean is actually "a low-born greaser, peon girl."

Alexander seeks out Jean and tells her that he had given his love to someone that he assumed had pure blood instead of the blood of a low-born peon -- one of a race of loathed and despised people. Jean attempts to tell Alexander the circumstances leading her to her arrival at his home, but he tells her "his love for her is dead."

After she leaves, Alexander attempts to find her, and he is told that she is giving a performance in an opera house. When he attempts to see her, she rebuffs him.

Robert Brunton Studios

The movie was filmed at the Robert Brunton Studios located in Hollywood. It was one of the major rental studios in the late teens. It consisted of seven covered stages, 300,000 props, and 30 acres of land for exterior scenes. Twenty production companies could operate at one time. It was formerly the home of Paralta Studios which became United Studios in the early 20's and eventually became home of Paramount Pictures.

W.W. Hodkinson

W.W. Hodkinon (1881-1971) was among the first film distributors to begin showing early films in a theater rather than in run-down nickelodeons, thereby helping to make cinema (which heretofore had a reputation as appealing only to the most vulgar audiences) a respectable pasttime for the upper-classes. Hodkinson first worked as a telegrapher for the railroad and then sold correspondence-school courses. In 1907, he opened his very first movie theater in Ogden, Utah. It was a success, and soon he began operating a regional film exchange and encouraging other exhibitors to follow his lead and open their own theaters. Hodkinson's influence spread fast, and soon he was one of the biggest film distributors in the West. In 1914, he began doing the same on the East Coast. It was a rapid rise to power for Hodkinson, and at the end of the year he opened a new company, Paramount, to distribute the films from Adolph Zukor's Famous Players company. Eventually, Famous Players merged with Lasky, and they, in turn, merged with Paramount to become the Paramount Picture Corporation. Hodkinson continued to be a major film distributor through 1929 when he retired from the industry and began manufacturing airplanes. In 1936 he founded Central American airline.

Lawson Butt

Lawson Butt (1883-1956) born on the Isle of Jersey, UK, was a tall, dark-haired actor from Great Britain. Butt starred in such Broadway productions as "The Wanderer" and "The Merry Wives of Windsor" prior to entering films with the pioneering Kalem company in 1914. Long under contract to Metro and Goldwyn, Butt played Tybalt in "Romeo and Juliet" (1916) and later essayed a series of exotic roles, mostly villainous. He returned to Great Britain during the changeover to sound and later even directed a film or two. He appeared in approximately 40 feature films and can be seen in "Male and Female" (1919), "Old San Francisco" (1927), "The Beloved Rogue" (1927) and "The Ten Commandments" (1923)

Myrtle Stedman

After pursuing a singing career in her native Chicago, Myrtle Stedman (1888-1938) entered films in the early 1900's as a leading lady at the Selig Studios and became popular after appearing in a few films based on the works of the popular novelist Jack London. During this period she married actor/director Marshall Stedman, a popular screen attraction in his own right. She was seen in matronly roles throughout the 1920s and in bit parts in talkies until her death in 1938. Although she appeared in almost 70 feature films during her long career, none of her other silent feature films seems to be available.

Nola Luxford

Nola Luxford (1885-1994) was born in New Zeal and began her screen career at Hollywood's Universal Studios. She appeared in a few feature films and can be seen in Harold Lloyd's "Girl Shy" (1924) and "Ben Hur" (1926). In 1932 she persuaded a Los Angeles radio station to let her broadcast the sports news about the Olympic games, and in 1936 she joined the NBC studio in New York City. During WWII she broadcast short wave radio messages to the families of soldiers in New Zealand and founded a servicemen's club in New York City for Australian and New Zealand soldiers in the New York City area. She was given awards for her work during the war with citations from King George VI and from President Truman.

After the war, she worked as a fashion consultant for the prestigious New York Pierre Hotel, and, upon returning to New Zealand, she published several children's books. She appeared in about 15 feature films during her brief screen career, and only "The Prince of Pep" (1925) and "Twinkletoes" (1926), in addition to "The Tiger's Coat," seem to be available for viewing today.

Tina Modotti

Assunta Adelaide Luigia (Tina) Modotti was born to a poverty-stricken family on August 16, 1896, in the northern Italian province of Udine. In 1913, Tina, her mother and her siblings left Italy and emigrated to New York and were reunited with her father who had come to the United States earlier. After a brief stay, they moved to San Francisco, and Tina went to work in a textile factory. The very poor working conditions left an indelible impression on her.
She left the textile factory to start a career in dressmaking, and, at the same time, she was taking part in local Italian theatrical productions.

Tina Modotti, the young woman quickly began living an exuberantly bohemian life style. In 1915 she met an artist named Roubaix de L'Abrie Richey, and they married approximately two years later. They relocated to Los Angeles where Tina entered the glitzy world of Hollywood and got parts in several silent films. The American Film Institute Catalog lists only two feature films, and "The Tiger's Coat" seems to be the only feature film that has survived.

Her home was a gathering place for many bohemian artists which included Edward Weston, the famous photographer, and they began a passionate affair despite the fact that they were both married. In December of 1921, Tina's husband left for Mexico to explore the artistic world, and Tina was to join him later on. Weston, inspired by the beauty of Tina, took many photos of her, including some of her nude.

An Accomplished Photographer, Communist Party Member

On February 9, 1922, Tina's husband died of smallpox in Mexico, and later that same year, Tina and Edward traveled to Mexico to set up a home. Mexico was emerging from its ten bloody years of revolution, and it had become a haven for all sorts of political and revolutionary parties. Edward taught Tina photography, and she became an established photographer and in addition, she was accepted by the bohemian world, which included Diego Rivera, the famous Mexican muralist.

In 1926, Weston left Tina to rejoin his family in California, and, by then, Tina was an accomplished photographer and decided to remain in Mexico. Under the mentor of a new lover, the Mexican muralist, Xavier Guerrero, she became an active member of the Mexican Communist Party. The Mexican Communist Party included many Mexican artists and intellectuals, including Diego Rivera, who took a rather festive attitude towards revolutions. Guerrero was a dedicated member of the Communist party, and under his guidance she endeavored to make her photography heroic and revolutionary.

Tina then began an affair with Julio Antonio Mella, a poet and an exiled Cuban communist revolutionary, and some sources indicate that they eventually got married. He became an admirer of Leon Trotsky's opposition to the Stalinists, and in late 1928 he was removed from the Central Committee of the Mexican Communist Party for political differences. He then stopped collaborating with the party. Avowed Communist Party member Vittorio Vidali shouted at him in public, "Don't you ever forget that there are two ways to leave the (Communist)International --thrown out or dead."

A Murder and Bad Publicity

On the evening of January 10, 1929, two gunshots were fired at Mella while he was walking with Tina to their apartment shortly before midnight. Tina was untouched by the bullets, but Mella was critically wounded.

A police chief questioned Mella at the hospital and took notes on every word he said. The same police chief questioned Tina. When asked her name, she replied, "Rose Smith Saltarini." The police chief was instantly suspicious because of the conflicting stories. He asked her age, and Tina replied saying she had been married but was now widowed and was a native of San Francisco, California. She went on to say that she was an English teacher and lived at 21 Lucerna Street.

The attempt to save Julio Mella failed, and Tina was brought to police headquarters right after he died. In the van on the way there, the police chief asked Tina why she had given a different name from the one Julio gave them. She then confessed that she lied about her identity because she was a professional photographer and did not want her reputation destroyed by having her name appear in the papers connected to such a scandal. She gave the police her real name and address.

Tina ended up giving the police two different stories about how Mella was shot, which left everyone suspicious. The Mexican newspapers began pouring out articles about how she was involved in the crime and withholding important information. They gave her the title "The fierce and bloody Tina Modotti."

After Mella's death, Tina became deeply involved in the Stalinist thuggery and justified her actions and behavior according to the Stalinist credo "The PARTY is always right."

Diego Rivera and other friends had come to her defense after the Mella incident, and when Rivera started leaning towards Trotskyism and was expelled from the Communist Party, she broke off contact with him and never spoke to him again.

The assassin was never found because the case got too complicated with everyone telling different stories. No one will ever know how involved Tina was in the crime.

On Sunday February 5, 1929, six shots were fired at the president of Mexico, and he was not killed, but Tina was arrested on the suspicion for having been part of the attempt and was deported to Italy. It was rumored that she was actually part of a group of Communists planning the assassination.

Italy, Germany, Russia

Tina wasn't pleased with the political climate of the Fascist government run by the dictator Mussolini and went to Germany where Adolph Hitler was consolidating his hold on the country.

In Berlin she worked exclusively for the Communist Party, and again she was suspected of being a spy for Stalin. In 1931 she went to Russia and settled in Moscow with Vittorio Vidali, the Italian revolutionary, who was also known as Carlos Contreras, supposedly an assassin for the Communist Party.

A few years later in Spain during the civil war, Vidali was one of the Soviet Union's most important and infamous military commanders.

Working for the Communist Party in Moscow, Tina ferried encoded messages and false passports to all parts of Europe, and she supposedly worked on building the Moscow subway. She gave up photography in Russia, and when asked why, she replied, "I cannot solve the problems of life by losing myself in the problems of art."

She was transferred to Spain during the civil war supposedly as a relief worker with Moscow's International Red Aid that was a coverup up for the Comintern. In fact, she was a secret agent and worked tirelessly for the Republican cause while also was keeping an eye open for suspected dissidents.

Her lover, Vittorio Vidali, headed the anti-Trotsky section of the International Brigade fighting the Franco forces. He was responsible for the deaths of many comrades who strayed from the Communist Party credo. It is definitely known that Tina was directly responsible for the death of Brazilian Communist Alberto Bezouchet who had expressed sympathy towards Trotsky's leanings. Through Vidali, she had a message relayed from the Brazilian Communist Party to the Spanish Communist Party informing them that a member of the Brazilian Party, 'had passed on to Trotskyism." Alberto Bezouchet was subsequently executed.

Tina witnessed and was horrified at the massacre of the Republican forces at Almeria. With the triumph of Franco's forces, she and Vidali went over the Pyrenees to France and left Europe on the Queen Mary at Cherbourg.

A Mysterious Death

When Tina and Vidali were refused asylum in the United States, they went to Mexico under assumed names. A few months later while returning home in a taxi from a gathering with friends, she died at the age of 45 under mysterious circumstances.

It was rumored that she been poisoned by her lover, Vidali, who supposedly was an assassin for Stalin's GPU and that she was in the process of breaking off with the policies of the Stalinist. Other sources say that Tina was a GPU agent and was connected with the plot to assassinate Leon Trotsky.

It was also rumored that Tina had refused to renew her membership in the Mexican Communist Party, and, in fact, others said she had dropped out of most political activity. Due to so many conflicting stories, it is almost impossible to get an idea of what she was involved in, and, after all these years, she is recognized as a ground-breaking woman photographer of the mid-20th century whose intimate, politically charged images of life in Mexico provide valuable insight on the times and the subjects. In her hard-bitten, harsh, stark photographs can be seen the suffering of the Mexican peasants whom the revolution had passed by. Many of her photographs can be seen in photograph exhibits, while her career as an activist has been forgotten.

The American Film Institute Catalog
The World Film Encyclopedia
by Winchester
The American Film Industry by Anthony Slide,

copyright 2003 by John DeBartolo. All rights reserved.

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