The Lure of the Limelight James Abbe, Photographer of Cinema and Stage

1 December 1995 – 24 March 1996

Sponsored by The Anglo American Association of the National Portrait Gallery and Kodak, Professional & Printing Imaging

Also exhibited at the American House, Colgne, Germany, during Photokina 18-23 September 1996

Accompanying publication - Limelight: James Abbe Photographs by curator Terence Pepper (NPG, 1995)

Press Notice

James Abbe (1883-1973) was one of the leading American celebrity photographers of the 1920s and is best known for his iconic portraits of stars of the cinema and stage including Rudolph Valentino and Natasha Rambova, Dorothy and Lillian Gish, the Dolly sisters, Bessie Love and Louise Brooks.

This will be the first major retrospective of James Abbe’s work. This comprehensive exhibition starts from 1910, when he was the sole photographer documenting the first visit of the American battleship fleet to England, moves through his work in New York, Hollywood, Rome, Berlin, Paris and London when he was working in film and theatre, and finished in 1936, on his last major photographic assignment as a photo-journalist and reporter of the Spanish Civil War.

Shortly after moving to New York in 1917 James Abbe quickly established an international reputation as a stage and film photographer with his photographs being published in Vanity Fair, Vogue, and Ladies Home Journal. Abbe visited Hollywood in 1920 and 1922 where he took portraits of Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin and also directed a film for Mack Sennett.

After working for seven months on location in Italy on the Ronald Colman – Lillian Gish film, The White Sister (1923), Abbe made his base in Paris. Here he photographed French stage and revue stars such as Mistinguette, Spinelly, Maurice Chevalier and Ida Rubenstein, introducing them to a world-wide audience through his picture syndication.

During the 1920s Abbe made regular trips to England to photograph the theatre and film-making activity and a special feature in the exhibition is made of his collaboration with the director Herbert Wilcox in the filming and promotion of four films shot in England with Dorothy Gish. The most successful of these, Nell Gwyn (1926), made a major contribution to British film history and led directly to the creation of Elstree Studios.

In the late 1920s Abbe returned increasingly to photo-journalism. In 1928 he documented the Civil War in Mexico, film-making and theatre in Russia including portraits of Sergei Eisenstein and Constantin Stanislavski. His last trip to Hollywood in 1929 documented the revolution in cinema brought about by the introduction of sound. The exhibition concludes with his exclusive sitting with Stalin in the Kremlin in 1932, documentation of the rise of Fascism in Hitler’s Germany in 1933, and his final photographic work on the Spanish Civil War.

Press Extracts

‘US celebrity photographer James Abbe’s iconic portraits of Twenties stage and screen stars include Valentino, Lillian Gish, the Dolly sisters and Louise Brooks – a must for nostalgic movie buffs.’

– Nicholas Drake, ‘Lure of the Limelight’, Evening Standard, 1 December 1995

‘Abbe was a prominent celebrity photographer of the 1920s, probably best known for his formal portraits of such silver-screen greats as Valentino, Louise Brooks, and Lillian Gish. But the exhibition also includes examples of his work on the Spanish Civil War, the rise of Hitler, and his exclusive sitting with Stalin in 1932, making for a unique encapsulation of the inter-war extremes of decadence and tension.’

– ‘Arts Etcetera’, Independent on Sunday, 3 December 1995

‘Walking into the exhibition of [Abbe’s] work at the National Portrait Gallery is like visiting an aviary filled with birds of paradise.’

– Kate Kellaway, ‘A little light on the subject’, The Observer, 3 December 1995

‘We are reminded that while so many of us can never take a good picture, no matter how hard we try, there are those like Abbe who can hardly take a bad one. The best of the portraits, jobbing portraits or studio stills that they are, stand with the best of their time.’

– William Packer, ‘Potent Photographer’, Financial Times, 5 December 1995


1. Family Album: James Abbe – Life and Times 1886-1920
Modern prints

2. U.S.S. North Dakota
Two photographs of the U.S.S. North Dakota taken on Abbe’s first overseas assignment for The Washington Post accompanying the American battleship fleet on a show of strength voyage to England and France in October 1910.

Modern print (above), vintage print (below)

3. 1916 College Team Captain, Lynchburg
Vintage print, 1914

4. Pictoral Study – Lynchburg Nude
Vintage print, 1916

5. Randolph-Macon College Girls’ Sports Teams
In 1911 Abbe moved his family to Rivermount Avenue, Lynchburg, Virginia opposite the Randolph-Macon College and for the following six years took photographs for the college year books.
Vintage prints, 1914, 1916

6. Family Album: James Abbe – Life and Times 1923-1945
Modern prints

7. Fancy Dress Group
Flash photograph taken by ‘Ben the lift boy’ in Abbe’s 15th West 67th Street, New York studio prior to departure for the Beaux Arts Ball. The group includes Abbe as Oliver Twist next to Miriam Collins (Miss Muffet), Richard Barthelmess as Edgar Allan Poe, escorting Fritzy Binney as Little Bo Peep. In the front row stand Abbe’s receptionist-secretary, Mildred Brown, Agatha Debussy and Frank Gould, art editor of Metropolitan Magazine.

James Abbe and the Cinema
Abbe’s images were disseminated in a wide variety of formats and include here popular postcards and cigarette cards of Dorothy Gish in Madame Pompadour and London, and Lillian Gish in The White Sister. One of Abbe’s photographs of Norma Talmadge formed the basis of Earl Christy’s painting for the cover of Photoplay, with the microphone renumbered from 5 to 13.

Photogravure reproductions, vintage cards and modern prints.

8. Jeanne Eagles 1894-1929
Stage and film actress and celebrated beauty, became famous in the role of Sadie Thompson in Rain, later filmed as The Letter (1929). Abbe photographed her in the leading part of Daddies, a David Belasco production on Broadway. She died of a heroin overdose and her life story was recorded in the 1957 film starring Kim Novak, Jeanne Eagles.
Vintage print, 1919

9. Irene Castle (Mrs Vernon Castle) 1893-1969
Exhibition ballroom dancer. She married Vernon Castle in 1911 and they successfully toured Europe and America until Vernon’s death in a plane crash in 1918. Their life story, The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle was filmed by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in 1939. Abbe’s photograph appeared exclusively in The Tatler to announce her contract with Famous Players film studio.
Vintage print, 1920

10. Leonore Ulric 1892-1970
First appeared in films as a fiery femme fatale before being taken on as a protégée of stage producer David Belasco who presented her at the Lyceum Theatre on Broadway in the leading role of William Mack’s play Tiger Rose. A variant pose of this photograph appeared as Abbe’s first portrait to be published in Vogue (October 1917 issue).
Vintage print, 1917

11. Amelita Galli-Curci 1882-1963
Italian-born, self-taught soprano, first appeared in opera in 1906, moved to America in 1916 to join Chicago Opera Company. Entered Metropolitan Opera Company in New York in 1919 and toured throughout the world. While in New York she lived close to Abbe’s West 67th Street studio. His portrait of her was his first to appear full page in Vanity Fair.
Vintage print, 1918

12. Fanny Brice 1891-1951
Comedienne and singer. First appeared in the Ziegfeld Follies in 1910 and subsequently starred in all but two productions up to 1923. Her life story was dramatised for the Broadway musical and the Barbra Streisand film Funny Girl (1968). Variant pose publishing in Vanity Fair in 1921
Vintage print, 1921

13. Mae West 1892-1980
An entertainer from the age of five, appeared in vaudeville on Broadway 1907-18 and was the first to introduce the shimmy on stage. Her film career began in 1932 and included She Done Him Wrong (1933) based on her play Diamond Lil’, My Little Chickadee (1940) and Sexette (1978). She was famous for her witticisms and was a mistress of the ‘double entendre’.
Vintage print, 1919

14. Billie Burke 1885-1970
Born in Washington DC, brought up in England from the age of 8. Made her London stage debut in 1903 and enjoyed 4 years of success before moving to New York to star opposite John Drew. Married producer Florenz Ziegfeld in 1913. Appeared in numerous films 1916-60 including Wizard of Oz (1939) as Glinda the Good Fairy.
Vintage print, 1919

15. Jane Cowl 1887-1950
Boston-born celebrated Hollywood film actress and stage star. Abbe was commissioned by Archie Selwyn, the play’s producer, to photograph Cowl in the pre-Broadway try-out of Smilin’ Through in Detroit. Cowl co-authored this play which was later a huge success and adapted for the screen in 1932 and 1941.
Vintage print, 1919

16. John Barrymore 1882-1942 and Lionel Barrymore 1878-1954
John Barrymore first established his career as a popular matinee idol and light comedian before becoming a serious actor in 1916 in Galsworthy’s Justice. His triumph in The Jest (seen here), at the Plymouth Theatre, New York, followed the earlier success he received appearing with his brother, Lionel in Peter Ibbotson.
Vintage print 1919

17. Florence Eldridge 1901-88
Stage and film actress (3rd from right) with the cast from the first New York production, at the Princess Theatre, in Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author, including Margaret Wycherley, Moffat Johnston, Dwight Frye, Ashley Bucks and Constance Lusby. Eldridge often appeared in films with her husband Frederic March and enjoyed a long Broadway career.
Vintage print, October 1922

18. Dolores Wilkinson
British-born fashion model discovered and groomed by Lady Duff-Gordon (Lucile) and taken to New York where Florenz Ziegfeld recruited her for the Follies, in which she caused a sensation. Later married the wealthy Tudor Wilkinson and settled in Paris where Abbe photographed her once again in the 1920s. Seen here in costume for Ziegfeld’s Midnight Frolic.
Modern print, 1918

19. Fred Astaire 1899-1987 and Adele Astaire 1898-1981
Fred Astaire toured in vaudeville with his sister from the age of 7. They had major successes on Broadway in The Passing Show of 1918 and in London. After Adele’s marriage in 1932 to Lord Charles Cavendish, Fred began a long dance partnership with Ginger Rogers in Hollywood musicals such as Flying Down to Rio (1933).
Vintage print, 1918

20. Marguerite Clark 1883-1940
Abbe’s first portrait of a silent film star, taken at her home in New Rochelle. Clark enjoyed a meteoric film career as one of the best-loved and highest paid Hollywood stars, from her first film, Allan Dwan’s Wildflower (1914), until her retirement in 1921. She rivalled Mary Pickford in popularity.
Modern print, 1917

21. Lillian Gish 1893-1993
Gish appeared in this costume, designed by Henri Bendel, in the prologue of Way Down East. The film was based upon a play first produced in 1896 that had enjoyed 25 years of continued success. Its most remarkable scene is one in which Gish drifts helplessly in an ice flow towards a crashing waterfall.
Vintage print, 1920

22. Lillian Gish 1893-1993, Richard Barthelmess 1853-1963, Dorothy Gish 1898-1968
Three of D.W. Griffith’s most famous stars who acted in pairs but never all together in one film. Lillian appeared with Barthelmess in Broken Blossoms (1919) and Way Down East (1920) while Dorothy appeared opposite him in Fury (1923) and The Bright Shawl (1923).
Vintage print, 1920

23. Lillian Gish 1893-1993
In costume for her role in Broken Blossoms, photographed on the completion of the film in Abbe’s New York studio. The film took only 18 days to make with no retakes and is considered one of Griffith’s and Gish’s greatest collaborations.
Modern print, 1919

24. Lillian Gish 1893-1993
In costume for Broken Blossoms. Gish starred opposite Richard Barthelmess in this adaptation of one of Thomas Burke’s Limehouse Nights short stories, directed by D.W. Griffith.
Vintage print

25. Lillian Gish 1893-1993
Seen here as Henriette in Orphans of the Storm. In this film, set during the French Revolution, with 18th Century Paris faithfully recreated in Griffith’s Mamaroneck studio, Dorothy Gish played Lillian’s blind sister.
Vintage print, 1922

26. D.W. Griffith 1874-1948
Father of film. David Wark Griffith was the most important, innovative, and influential film director and producer of the early years of cinema. Griffith created a constellation of stars and classic films that furthered the art of cinema. Abbe’s portraits and stills helped publicise many of these in the years between 1919-1922.
Vintage print, 1920s

27. Richard Barthelmess 1895-1963 and Gladys Hulette 1896-1991
After starring in D.W. Griffith’s Broken Blossoms, The Idol Dancer and Way Down East, Barthelmess left Griffith to set up his own film company, Inspiration, with the director Henry King. Their first project, Tol’able David, in which Barthelmess is seen here playing a country lad, is considered his best.
Modern print

28. Gladys Hulette 1896-1991
Silent film actress who made her debut in the film Princess Nicotine (1909). Seen here on the set of Tol’able David which was filmed in the Virginian mountain locations in which Joseph Hergesheimer’s autobiographical novel was set. Hulette confessed that her check dress ‘was taken off from the back of a local girl’.
Vintage print, 1921

29. Dream Street Stills Proof Sheet
A rare example of a set of stills taken by Abbe and selectively ticked as approved for re-ordering publicity material
Vintage print, 1921

30. Tyrone Power Snr 1869-1931 and Carol Dempster 1902-1991
British-born Power was sent to America at the age of 17 and gravitated into acting, becoming a Broadway matinee idol before entering films in 1914. Seen here with Dempster in another Griffith film, Dream Street, based on one of Thomas Burke’s Limehouse Nights stories, filmed as his Mamaroneck studios.
Vintage print, 1921

31. Carol Dempster 1902-91 and Edward Peil
In a scene from Dream Street. Talent-spotted by Hendrik Sartov, Griffith’s stills photographer and later cinematographer, Dempster replaced Lillian Gish as his leading female star. Although Griffith was in love with her, she broke her contract in 1926 and married an investment banker.
Vintage print, 1921

32. Gloria Swanson 1897-1983
Under Cecil B. DeMille’s guidance, Swanson’s film career made her one of the top stars of the 1920s. Particularly noted for her fashion sense, this portrait was one of an 8 photograph spread showing her in a selection of dresses that she had obtained from the Paris collections.
Modern print, 1922

33. Rudolph Valentino 1895-1926 and Natasha Rambova 1897-1969
Abbe’s iconic portrait of the Valentinos was taken to resemble the effect of a double relief on a Roman coin as acknowledging the colossal fame the couple enjoyed. He had also photographed Dorothy Gish and her husband James Rennie in a similar pose.
Modern print, 1922

34. Rudolph Valentino 1895-1926 and Natasha Rambova 1897-1969
Abbe photographed Valentino in his Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921) costume in which he danced a remarkable tango in the film and subsequently wore at the Equity Arts Ball in New York (1922). Seen here with his second wife, the actress and set designer, Natasha Rambova (nèe Winifred Shaunessy).
Modern print, 1922

35. Theda Bara 1890-1955
Theda Bara (nèe Theodosia Goodman) became an immediate success as a ruthless femme fatale in A Fool There Was (1915), based on Kipling’s poem, The Vampire. She appeared in more than 40 films before turning to the Broadway stage in 1919. Photographed by Abbe in New York for her Broadway play The Eternal Flame.
Modern print, 1920

36. Bebe Daniels 1901-71
Daughter of a Scottish-born father and a Spanish-born mother, she appeared regularly in her father’s theatrical company from the age of 4. She made her screen debut in 1910 and signed with Paramount in 1919, becoming their most popular female star of the silent period. Married Ben Lyon in 1930 and had success in England with their 1950 radio show, Life with the Lyons.
Vintage print, 1922

37. Jean Acker 1893-1978
Rudolph Valentino’s first wife, who left him on their honeymoon night (4 November 1919) in favour of her lesbian lover, Grace Diamond. Acker used the Valentino name to bolster a lacklustre career. A divorce was granted in January 1922 to take effect in March 1923 but Valentino’s remarriage in May 1921 to Rambova in Mexico lead to charges of bigamy and a short term in jail.
Vintage print, 1922

38. Herbert Brenon 1880-1958
Dublin-born son of a London editor, emigrated to America in 1898. Entered films in 1909 and directed his first film in 1912. Notable silent films include Peter Pan (1924) with Betty Bronson. Photographed here in Norma Talmadge’s New York studio at the time of The Passion Flower (1921)
Modern print, 1921

39. Cecil B. De Mille 1881-1959
Seen gazing at a small ivory figurine, this portrait was one of De Mille’s favourite poses taken by Abbe on his visit to his studio and offices in Hollywood.
Vintage print, 1922

40. Cecil B. De Mille 1881-1959
Director, producer and screenwriter of over 70 films. One of the most important personalities in the development of Hollywood and the epic film. Developed the careers of many stars including Bette Davis and Bebe Daniels. Photographed here in his own studio on the Paramount lot in Hollywood.
Vintage print, 1922

41. Betty Compson 1897-1974
One of Hollywood’s top stars of the 1920s. Began by appearing in many Al Christie comedy shorts. Her first dramatic role was opposite Lon Chaney in The Miracle Man (1919). She later had memorable roles in Tod Browning’s The Big City (1928) and Von Sternberg’s The Docks of New York (1928).
Four vintage prints, 1920

42. Colleen Moore 1902-88
Popular star of Hollywood silent films and early talkies with her bobbed hair and exuberant ‘flapper’ image. Moore was a strong influence and role model for fashion followers of the jazz-age, roaring twenties.
Vintage print, 1921

43. Mabel Normand 1894-1930
Described as ‘the most talented comic star of the silent screen’, her 7 year personal and professional relationship with Mack Sennett was always on the verge of marriage. Later became involved in various Hollywood scandals and died prematurely. A 1974 Broadway musical, revived in London in 1995 as Mack and Mabel, provided the music for one of Torvill and Dean’s famous routines.
Vintage print, 1920

44. James Abbe 1893-1973 (left), Erle Kenton 1896-1980 (centre), Raymond Griffith
In front of the set for Home Talent, the film Abbe directed for Mack Sennett in April 1920. Abbe is seen with a Bell and Howell 2709 camera. Kenton began working for Sennett in 1914 and directed many of his films including Married Love. Griffith was chief gag and scriptwriter for Sennett.
Vintage print, 1920

45. Home Talent
This now lost film was actually directed by Abbe who was employed on a contract of $500 a week to ‘direct, set up, instruct, manufacture and produce a motion picture’. The cast seen here included Phyllis Haver, Harriet Hammond and strong-man Killer Pasha. Abbe described the moment as follows: ‘The Bathing Beauties were trying hard to look like actresses when still apprentices, they were supposed to be registering FEAR and the three eunuchs were preparing to resist and attack by the cohorts of a covetous Roman Senator’.
Vintage print, 1920

46. Ben Turpin 1874-1940 and Phyllis Haver 1899-1960
First appearing in films in 1907, Turpin became a major comedy star in 1917 when he joined Mack Sennett. His eyes were insured with Lloyds of London against uncrossing. As one of Sennett’s bathing beauties, Haver, who had formerly worked as a silent film pianist, became one of Hollywood’s most popular sex queens.
Modern print, 1920

47. Four Mack Sennett Bathing Beauties: Kathryn McGuire, Virginia Fox, Grace Lynor and Gladys Whitfield
Photographed on a beach at Santa Monica. Abbe’s original caption noted that traffic on Santa Monica road was disrupted all afternoon as the photo-shoot progressed and that the Sennett girls almost froze to death.
Vintage print, 1920

48. James Finlayson 1887-1953, Thelma Hill and Virginia Fox
The Edinburgh-born Finlayson appeared in many Sennett movies before going on to work with Laurel and Hardy in the later 1920s. Virginia Fox later married the studio executive, Darryl F. Zanuck. Photographed on the set of the Erle C. Kenton directed film, Married Life, made for Mack Sennett’s company.
Vintage print, 1920

49. Mary Pickford 1893-1979
Born Gladys Smith, she was renamed Mary Pickford by David Belasco who gave her a starring role at the age of 14 in the play The Warrens of Virginia. Began her film career at 16 with D.W. Griffith at Biograph. Here photographed in Hollywood on her birthday, April 8, 1920, in a dream sequence from the film Suds, based on Maude Adams’ play Op O’ Me Thumb.
Modern print, 1920

50. Mary Pickford 1893-1979
As ‘America’s Sweetheart’, Pickford enjoyed a career as the most popular star in screen history. On Abbe’s second visit to Hollywood, where he also photographed Pickford’s husband’s, Douglas Fairbanks Snr’s, production of Robin Hood, this study is an archetypal portrait of the Pickford curls on the set of her remake of Tess of the Storm Country.
Vintage print, 1922

51. Jackie Coogan 1914-84
On the set of Chaplin’s first feature length film The Kid (1921). Abbe’s classic photograph was one of many taken of Coogan during the production of the film in Hollywood in 1920. The film made Coogan the most famous child actor in the world. Abbe also took portraits of him in Oliver Twist (1922)
Vintage print, 1920

52. Claire Windsor 1897-1972
Windsor (nèe Clara Viola Cronk) was discovered by director Lois Weber who starred her in 5 films between 1920-21 including To Please One Woman, Too Wise Wives and What Do Men Want? In a rare outdoor study, here photographed with her son, on Abbe’s 1922 visit to Hollywood on commission for Photoplay.
Vintage print, 1922

53. Jackie Coogan 1914-84 and his mother
Taken during the filming of The Kid which made Coogan one of Hollywood’s highest paid stars. As a child he received $6.25 weekly allowance with his $4 million due to him in 1935. His father was killed in a car crash in 1920 and his mother withheld his assets. A court case ensued and the fortune disappeared with led to the California’s Child Actor’s Bill known as the Coogan Act.
Vintage print, 1920

54. Norma Talmadge 1893-1957
The eldest of 3 Brooklyn sisters driven to screen stardom by their determined mother. Talmadge, who married the producer Joseph Schenck, had her own New York film studio. She was Abbe’s first New York film subject and he photographed her and her sister over a number of years. Publicity-portrait for the Frank Lloyd directed costume film The Eternal Flame.
Vintage print, 1922

55. Marion Davies 1897-1961
First photographed by Abbe on stage in New York in the Ziegfeld Follies. In 1919 William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper magnate, took an interest in her career and formed Cosmopolitan Pictures for the sole purpose of producing films starring her. Photographed in Hollywood on the set designed by Joseph Urban for her Tudor-period film When Knighthood was in Flower (1922).
Vintage print, 1922

56. Harold Lloyd 1893-1971
Another of the numerous photographs which Abbe took of Lloyd, whose films often outdrew at the box office those of his rivals Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. Abbe also photographed Lloyd with his leading lady Mildred Davis in 1922, the year before they married.
Vintage print, 1922

57. Harold Lloyd 1893-1971
One of the greatest comedians of the American silent screen, first came to notice with Mack Sennett’s Keystone Company. Seen wearing his trade-marked, oversized, black, horn-rimmed glasses in the role he assumed of an average young man. Photographed in Hollywood.
Vintage print, 1922

58. Charlie Chaplin 1889-1977
Actor, director, producer, screen writer and composer. This photograph was taken on the set of The Pilgrim. Abbe recorded his photo-session with Chaplin in the following account, ‘A creature of moods, Charlie had probably been in a new mood the night he got into his off-beat clerical ‘Pilgrim’ garb and make-up he left every pose to me. He responded so rapidly I used up the 24 8x10 films of my 24 film holders within 45 minutes. A record for me on an important job and a record Charlie told me later, in his posing for stills’.
Modern print, 1922

59. The White Sister: Picture Show Art Supplement
Each issue of this British weekly film periodical had an art supplement devoted to an important film release. Abbe’s tills encapsulated the film’s plot in nine images.
Tear sheet, June 21, 1924

60. The White Sister
The filming of The White Sister, in Italy and North Africa, took over 6 months and during this time Abbe produced almost 500 different publicity stills. A selection of 9 of these illustrate key moments in the story: Colman’s courtship of Gish; his farewell to her to fight overseas in Africa; his capture and escape from Arab soldiers; Gish’s decision to take the veil, becoming a bride of Christ, when she is wrongly informed of his death; his return to Italy and his rescue of Gish from the tidal wave caused by the exploding Vesuvius and the thanks given to the townspeople on a mountain after their escape from the eruption.
Nine vintage prints, 1923

61. The White Sister
Film poster based on James Abbe’s photograph of Lillian Gish and Ronald Colman
Modern print, 1923

62. Lillian Gish 1893-1992 and Ronald Colman 1891-1958
As Angela Chiamonte and Captain Giobanni Severi, in a romantic tryst in a scene which does not appear in the actual film.
Vintage print, 1923

63. The White Sister
Camel Train scene, shot in Lybia.
Vintage print, 1923

64. Henry King 1888-1982
Film Director with his assistant cinematographer Roy Overbaugh directing and filming a scene from The White Sister. Mount Vesuvius rumbles in the background as passions in the story similarly smoulder.
Vintage print, 1923

65. Lillian Gish 1893-1993 and Ronald Colman 1891-1958
Abbe’s classic photograph of the young British actor Ronald Colman chastely kissing Gish’s finger-tip was to form the basis of the film’s poster design.
Vintage print, 1923

66. Andrée Spinelly
According to The Tatler’s caption she was ‘The most famous and best-loved of all Parisian Revue actresses’. Popularly known by her fans as Spinelly or ‘Spi’, C.B. Cochran encouraged her to appear in England on a number of occasions. Seen here in a costume for La Club de Lonfogues by Amont de Gerbidon at the Théâtre de la Madeleine, Paris.
Modern print, 1927

67. Mistinguett 1875-1956
Born Jeanne Bourgeois, her father was a mattress maker and her mother a seamstress who dressed feathers. She first performed on stage at 18 in 1893 and made her last performance in 1850 at age 75. Her name derived from the combination of her angular nose and features resembling the caricature of an English girl, hence ‘Miss’, while her habit of waiting outside theatres labelled her a ‘ginguette’. The two words combined and produced Mistinguett.
Modern print, 1925

68. Mlles Gerard and Coty (Les Femmes et lest Pantins)
One of the supporting acts devised by Jacques Charles for La Revue Mistinguett at the Moulin Rouge. Published in French Vogue, February 1926.
Modern print, 1928

69. Vera Compton and Eileen Grady
Two Tiller girls, part of a troupe of 8 of John Tiller British dancers who appeared in the 1924-5 revue at the Folies-Bergere in a specialty act accompanying Norac in the number Les Poneys D’Orlandino.
Modern print, 1924

70. The Dolly Sisters
The toast of New York, London and Paris, the Hungarian-born Dolly Sisters (Yansci and Rosika, later anglicised to Jenny and Rosie) had first appeared in films before devising their elaborately costumed song and dance acts in their revue Paris Sans Voiles.
Modern print, 1923

71. Jackie Coogan 1914-84
The American film star, aged 10, seen in profile against the Paris cityscape including the Place de la Concorde and Tombe Napoleon, with James Abbe’s Graflex camera. Photographed in the Hotel Crillon during his adventurous European publicity tour.
Vintage print, 1924

72. The Dolly Sisters
Dressed in sombreros and photographed against a fashionable stretched twenties shawl, the Dollies attracted wealthy admiration from men such as Gordon Selfridge and Sit Thomas Lipton and managed to amass and spend a fortune at the casinos in Deauville and Monte Carlo.
Vintage print, 1924

73. The Dolly Sisters
Seen here in fashions by Jean Patou, frocks in white satin, trimmed with camellia and jade green feather fans. The film The Dolly Sisters, based on their life story and starring Betty Grable and June Haver, was released in 1945.
Vintage print, 1924

74. The Dolly Sisters
Twin daughters of a Budapest tailor, Jenny and Rosie grew up on New York’s Lower East Side. Identically dressed, Jenny was a gay, reckless pleasure-seeker, gambling and amassing jewels while Rosie spent her money on the homeless in Hungary. Dressed by Jean Patou, in frocks trimmed by Marguerites.
Vintage print, 1924

75. The Dolly Sisters
Jenny and Rosie, wearing fur collars designed by Marthe Regnier, light up Paris
Modern print, 1924

76. Mistinguett 1875-1956
Abbe captioned this photograph of the star backstage at the Moulin Rouge in between acts of La Revue Mistinguett as showing her ‘in a costume in which the hat of ostrich plumes plays the principal part’.
Vintage print, 1925

77. Mistinguett 1875-1956
As a ‘Poule de Luxe’ (a high-class gold-digger who haunted the Avenue de Champs Elysses) of the 1850s period in her Moulin Rouge revue C’est Paris.
Vintage print, 1926

78. Mistinguett 1875-1956 and her ten Sparks
The Sparks dance troupe consisted of the first German girls allowed to appear on the Paris stage after the hostilities of World War I. Whereas the average age of the Sparks was 18, ‘Miss’ was 50 at the time of this photograph.
Vintage print, 1925

79. Mistinguett 1875-1956
As a circus master in her revue at the Moulin Rouge.
Vintage print, 1925

80. Mistinguett 1875-1956 and her maid Blanc-Blanc
One of a series of photographs that accompanied one of Abbe’s early reportage stories in London magazine documenting behind-the-scenes life and how ‘Miss’ looked after her company.
Vintage print, 1925

81. Mistinguett 1875-1956
Of all the stars of French music hall and variety. Abbe took the greatest number of Mistinguett and her many productions, particularly specialising in backstage scenes with her exotic pets and this not quite real dog.
Vintage print, 1925

82. Mistinguett 1875-1956
As ‘Maimaine’, the collector of sticks and wood from one of the most popular scenes in La Revue Mistinguett in which a forest fire was created on stage at the Moulin Rouge. The print is inscribed ‘Toute mon admiration au grande artiste Abbe, Mistinguett 1925’.
Vintage print, 1925

83. Maurice Chevalier 1888-1972
Entertainer, singer, actor. At the age of 21 in 1909 he was selected as Mistinguett’s dancing partner at the Folies-Bergère and they began an onstage and off-stage relationship that lasted on and off for 10 more years. Photographed on stage at the Casino de Paris, 3 years before he first went to Hollywood, where he began a long screen career.
Modern print, 1926

84. Sacha Guitry 1885-1957 and Yvonne Printemps 1895-1977
Actor and author of over 100 plays with the second of his 5 wives. Seen here in costume for his play Deburau, based on Jean Gaspard Deburau (1796-1846) the French pantomimist, creator of the pale, lovesick Pierrot.
Vintage print, 1923

85. Yvonne Printemps 1895-1977
The French actress and singer first appeared in the Paris revue in 1908. She joined Sacha Guitry’s company in 1916, marrying him in 1919. Seen here in costume for the title role of Mozart, later her first appearance in New York in 1926.
Vintage print, 1923

86. Ida Rubinstein 1885-1960
Russian actress and dancer who first appeared in Diaghilev’s company (1909-11) before setting up her own and commissioning works from d’Annunzio and Debussy. Photographed here in the garden of her Paris home.
Modern print, 1927

87. Ida Rubenstein 1885-1960
As Phaedre in a play by Gabriele d’Annunzio, produced at the Opéra, Paris. Costumes and sets by Leon Bakst.
Vintage print, 1923

88. Ida Rubenstein 1885-1960
In a costume designed by Alexandre Benois for the 1880s, in which period Nozière and Bienstock’s adaptation, for the film, of Dostoyevsky’s novel L’Idiot was set.
Vintage print, 1925

89. Dora Duby
The San Franciscan-born dancer and actress enjoyed considerable success in London at Ciro’s Night-Club and appeared with Maurice Chevalier and the Dolly Sisters at the Casino de Paris. Seen here dressed for her dance as a French sailor at Le Perroqiet cabaret club.
Vintage print, 1925

90. Bessie Love 1898-1986
Love (nee Juanita Horton) entered films in 1915 while still at Los Angeles High School. She was featured in Griffith’s Intolerance (1916) and introduced the Charleston to the screen in The King on Main Street (1925). Seen here in Paris, on holiday, posing in Abbe’s studio.
Modern print, 1925

91. Bessie Love 1898-1986
Posing in the iron stove in Abbe’s rue du Val de Grace studio in between costume changes for a Vogue fashion shoot modelling Jean Patou ensembles.
Modern print, 1925

92. The Dolly Sisters
Seen here in their costumes for their revue Paris-New York at the Casino de Paris.
Modern print, 1927

93. The Brox Sisters
Vintage print, 1925

94. Tillie Losch 1907-75
Photographed in Paris when she was première danseuse of the Vienna Opera Ballet. Losch later settled in England marrying first (1931-4) the surrealist patron Edward James and secondly (1939-47) the 6th Earl of Carnarvon. Abbe’s elder daughter by his 4th wife is named after Losch.
Vintage print, 1923

95. Little Tich 1868-1928
Music-hall comedian, Harry Relph, first appeared as ‘Little Tichborne’ after the claimant in the 1870s court case. The diminution to ‘Tich’ entered the English language. Parts of this act, including his cane and baggy trousers were adopted by Chaplin for his tramp character.
Vintage print, 1925

96. Madame Lumilla Piteoff 1896-1951 and her children
With her husband, Georges Piteoff, these Russian spouses exerted considerable influence on French theatre by introducing the work of foreign dramatists (Shaw, Shakespeare and Pirandello) as well as the plays of innovators (Claudel, Cocteau, Anouilh) to France. Despite such activity she still managed to raise 7 children.
Vintage print, 1927

97. Louise Brooks 1906-85
With her boyish hair-cut Brooks appeared in American films from 1925 cast as a routine flapper. Her current cult reputation rests on the 2 outstanding performances she gave in Germany in the G.W. Pabst films Pandora’s Box (1929)