"Piccadilly" (1929)
"You're the little girl I saw dancing in the scullery a few weeks ago -- aren't you?'

Produced by British International, Elstreet Studios.
Directed by E. A. Dupont.
Script by Arnold Bennett.
Distributed in the United States bY World Wide.
Shown at the Little Carnegie Playhouse the week of July13, 1929, with sound effects and a synchronized score.
Running time 92 minutes.

Cast: Gilda Gray, Anna May Wong, Jameson Thomas, King Ho-Chang, Cyril Richard, Hannah Jones and Charles Laughton.

The story

This is a melodrama set in a cabaret in the Picadilly area of London where Mabel (Gilda Gray) and Victor (Cyril Richard) are the featured dancers. One night a patron gets a dirty dish and starts a ruckus. The owner of the cabaret, Valentine Wilmot (Jameson Thomas), goes into the scullery to find the reason for the dirty dish. He sees a young Chinese scullery maid, Shosho (Anna May Wong), entertaining her fellow kitchen workers with a dance. That same evening he fires Victor who has been annoying Mabel. Soon business suffers as a result of Mabel dancing alone.

Valentine decides to give Shosho a chance to dance in an attempt to boost business. When her act is a big hit, Mabel become jealous. She is further annoyed when Valentine becomes interested in Shosho. Further complications arise when Shosho's boyfriend becomes

Favorable Reviews

The reviews were favorable:
Photoplay, October, 1929: "Wonder of wonders - a truly fine British picture! Gilda Gray is starred, but Anna May Wong brings home the bacon."

Variety, July 24, 1929: "A good picture that in the silent days could have made the deluxe first runs over here with its Gilda Gray name. It is virtually silent despite a useless prologue. It may have been added and contains its only dialog, badly done. In present silent houses 'Piccadilly' is okay for a week or a day, this due to Miss Gray's name, the story and Anna May Wong, who outshines the star."

The New York Times, July 14, 1929: "Miss Gray seems to have been rediscovered as an actress. For a long time she has been docketed as an exponent of 'shimmy,' but in 'Piccadilly' she appears to show that acting is not above her."

Outshines the Star

Anna May Wong, after appearing in numerous feature film in supporting roles, made a big hit when chosen by Douglas Fairbanks to appear in his spectacular "Thief Of Bagdad" (1924). Although she received very favorable notices, no starring roles came her way, and realizing that an Oriental woman would never be given a leading role, Anna May Wong ran the gamut of studios from Tiffany to M-G-M, adding many fine films to her list of credits.

In 1927 she appeared in notable films such as "Mr. Wu" for M-G-M, starring Lon Chaney and with Rene Adoree made-up to look Asian. Another big hit for her was Warner Brothers' "In Old San Francisco," a melodrama which also featured Dolores Costello, Warner Oland, and the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. It was at the latter studio the next year that the ambitious Asian lady was cast in support of Myrna Loy, made to appear Chinese, in "The Crimson City." The 23-year old Chinese beauty decided to move to more tolerant Europe, and her first stop was Germany where she starred in two films directed by Richard Eichberg, "Song" (U.S.: "Wasted Love") and "Grosstadtschmetterling" (aka "The Pavement
Butterfly," aka "The City Butterfly"). In the former film, which featured talking sequences, she played a Malay girl who falls in love with a white man.

In 1929 Miss Wong journeyed to Great Britain in where she appeared in her final silent film, "Piccadilly." Directed by the German emigre E. A. Dupont, it is considered Wong's finest silent hour. Miss Wong made the most of her role, stealing the film from its star, Gilda Gray. Although only 24 years old, the veteran actress vamped leading man Jameson Thomas with a skill born of experience. E.A. Dupont's use of numerous extreme close-ups accented the magic in Wong's almond-shaped eyes with devastating effect. For the U.S. release of "Piccadily," talking and singing sequences were added in an effort to add to its appeal at a time when sound already had a firm grip on American movie audiences.

While in England, Miss Wong made her first stage appearance in a play written especially for her by impresario Basil Dean, and like many people that met her, he was quite impressed with the classy lady. He based the play, "The Circle of Chalk," on an old Chinese drama, and Miss Wong's leading man was a young thespian named
Laurence Olivier. Kevin Brownlow's study of controversy in the time of the silents, "Behind the Mask of Innocence," quotes her complaint to an interviewer about the misrepresentation of Chinese culture on the Hollywood screen: "How should we be [such villains], with a civilization that's so many times older than that of the West?"

In the fall of 1997, Bowdoin College in Maine presented the world premiere of "China Doll," a play by Elizabeth Wong (no relation to the actress). "China Doll" explores the life and career of Anna May Wong, especially the limitations imposed on her as an actress of Chinese decent. The play combines real events and people from Anna May's life with other imagined scenes and characters, creating what the playwright describes as "an exploration of the mysteries of love - the love of work, the love of artistic pursuit, the love of men, the love of movies."

Gilda Gray

Gilda Gray (1901-1959), born Marianna Michalska in Krakow, Poland, emigrated to the United States when she was eight. She and her family eventually found their way to Minnesota. Marrying as a teenager, she began singing in her father-in-law's saloon to supplement the family income. Supposedly she began shimmying because of nervousness. Her dancing was received with much applause, and she soon departed for Chicago where she did a sister act. She then went East to New York City and obtained a starring role in "The Gaieties of 1919" and eventually became an international success with The Ziegfeld Follies. The shimmying Gilda was launched when Ziegfeld arranged for a "plant" to toss a $100,000 necklace into her lap from a stage box. The man, one of Ziegfeld's employees, was supposed to be a Texas oil tycoon

Divorcing her first husband, she married her manager and went on to vaudeville where supposedly their act was earning them about $47,000 a week when they arrived on the West coast. She was noticed by Jesse Lasky, and in 1923 she made her screen debut going on to eventual stardom, and it was all due to her nervousness just a few years before in a saloon.

Jameson Thomas

Jameson Thomas (1889-1939), born in London in either 1889 or 1892) began his stage career in the early 1900's as a young boy, and his first stage appearance was in "The Squaw Man." Thomas made his film debut in 1923's "Chu Chin Chow." He was with British International for three years. With such exceptions as Hitchcock's "The Farmer's Wife" (1928), Thomas was dissatisfied with the British phase of his film career, though he remained philosophical, observing that "If one wants to live by playing in British films, it is better to be miscast than never to be cast at all." He made his American stage debut with Bebe Daniels in, "The Last Of Mrs. Cheney."

Moving to Hollywood, he made his first American film with Elissa Landi in "Body and Soul" for Fox in 1931. During the talkie era he was largely confined to minor and supporting roles. He worked for many studios including Artcraft, Columbia, Tiffany, Fox, Chesterfield and Paramount. He worked with many of the major stars and directors during the silent era including Alfred Hitchcock, Victor Saville, Josef Von Sternberg, Frank Capra, Ewald Andre Dupont, Akim Tamiroff, Richard Tucker, Jack Mulhall, Claude Rains, and C. Aubrey Smith. He can still be seen in a few of his silent films including, "The Farmer's Wife" (1928).

The Director

Ewald Andre Dupont (1891-1956), born Ewald Andre Dupont in Leitz, Germany, was involved in his country's movie industry almost before there was an industry. In 1911, Dupont was Germany's foremost film critic. He began writing scripts in 1916, and he began directing in 1917, with his first major commercial success, "The Ancient Law," coming along six years later. In 1925, Dupont directed the influential German sex-triangle melodrama "Variety," which still retains its classic status 70 years later, even in the heavily edited and severely reshaped version prepared for American release (in which, among many other alterations, the hero's mistress was transformed into his wife).

On the strength of "Variety," Dupont was signed by Hollywood's Universal studios. He made only one film for Universal film, and soon after he departed for England where he directed five films including "Piccadilly" and "Moulin-Rouge." In 1929, he directed the English/German epic film, "Atlantic," a retelling of the Titanic tragedy significant only as the first European all-talkie. Dupont returned to the States in 1933 where he was assigned a succession of "B" pictures and programmers. Unhappy with the lack of opportunities afforded him in Hollywood, he became a talent agent about 10 years later and returned to directing in the 1950's.

A few of his silents are available on video including, "Moulin Rouge" (1928), "Variety" (1925) and "The Americano" (1925).

copyright 2001 by John DeBartolo. All rights reserved.

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