Maude Adams’ name became synonymous with that of Peter Pan and the author, James M. Barrie. Like a triple braided cord, the three made such a dent in theatrical history that no one who saw the original play and its later revivals ever forgot the experience.
Maude had been a stellar talent in the American theater for some time during the first decade of the twentieth century, and she was renowned for her whimsical, feminine portrayals and realistic manner of acting. Sir James M. Barrie thought she was ideal for the main character in Peter Pan. At first, he approached her warily, fearing she would not take a fancy to playing a boy in a story that was tailored for children, but she fell in love with it. Its New York premier took the theatrical world by storm. Its success prompted Hollywood to lust for the property to a degree it had not shown for any other literary work. For years, the author resisted all offers to film it. Maude had a personal life-goal to not only film it as her first film role, but to film it in full color.
Maude came from an old, Boston family, a descendant of John Howland, one of the passengers of the Mayflower. Her first Adams ancestor, Joshua, was born in Vermont in 1780. Her great-grandfather, Barnabas Adams, migrated to Iowa and married Julia Ann Banker. They became converts to the Mormons, and joined Brigham Young on the long trek through the wild and dangerous land of what was then Mexico.
Maude’s mother was born in the wastelands of their early settlement, and she was given the name of Asenath Ann Adams. The sect quickly erected a theater in Salt Lake City that was fashioned after the Drury Lane in London and the Old Boston Theater. Barnabas Adams helped hauling huge timbers for this adobe and wood playhouse. It became the site of Annie’s fledgling forays into acting.
Brigham Young’s favorite wife, Emmeline, chose eight-year-old Annie Adams to play children’s parts in their theater, and she continued to essay juvenile roles for years. James H. Kiskadden, a young banker, often watched Annie Adams perform, and he fell in love with the beautiful young woman. He was an attractive man, said to have had a magnetic personality, and was one of Utah’s most eligible bachelors. Annie and James were married, and while on their honeymoon journey to San Francisco, they rode on the first train to cross to the Coast. On May 10, 1869, they witnessed the Southern Pacific and Northern Pacific rail engines meet at Promontory, Utah.
Their first two children were twin boys who died in infancy. Their last child was Maude, born on November 11, 1872. She was said to resemble her mother and carried her father’s character and temperament. Her father died when she was just seven years old, but Maude remembered him as a debonair and handsome young man. For years, she kept a faded photograph and a lock of his ashen brown hair as sacred relics. Mrs. Julia Adams, Maude’s grandmother, took to calling the child by the affectionate name of “Maudie.” It was by this name that she was first billed on theater programs until she dropped the “I” as a young woman.
She made her first appearance on the stage at the age of nine months. Annie Adams, a member of the local talent involved with the Salt Lake City stock company, played a small, supporting role in the company of a visiting star in a melodramatic play, The Cottage Girl. Another play on the same bill was a farce, The Lost Child, and as Annie had no part in the second play, she quietly observed the enfolding plot that was built around an infant, who was carried in and out of several scenes. The infant chose the final scene to throw a temper tantrum, wailing so loudly that he had to be carried out to the wings for fear the audience would think the noise was part of the play. The child continued to wail, and the harried theater manager was in a desperate bind. A cue for the infant’s final appearance was only minutes away, and when the manager spied Annie standing in the wings with her infant, he implored Annie to let Maudie be carried on in place of the wailing child. Maudie inadvertently saved the play when she was thrust into the arms of the actor as he made his entrance. The audience howled with laughter when they recognized the difference between nine-month-old Maudie and the previous two-month-old child. They were asked to believe that the infant in the play grown twenty pounds in five minutes, a hilarious stretch of credibility that became the auspicious debut of Maude Adams on the American stage.
Several years later after the family had moved to San Francisco, another little girl scheduled to appear with Maudie’s mother in a part in Fritz in Ireland failed to arrive as planned. Maudie was once again a last-minute replacement, and she played her lines satisfactorily. She finished the season, but returned to normal childhood. Maudie’s parents had no concrete plans for her to adopt an early career as a child actress, but when she was six years old, she appeared in The Celebrated Case with Belle Douglass. She was featured and billed in several more plays as “Miss Maudie Adams,” but when these stints completed, she was just as quickly returned to San Francisco to finish school.
At an age when most girls were thinking of graduation, Maude left school for the last time. Under the guidance of her mother, she embarked on the first year of the traveling life of an American actor, a hard path bent with unfashionable lodgings and difficult agents. It was a path on which she would remain for most of her adult life.
Maude was apprenticed to a theatrical company touring the small towns of California by stagecoach. At the age of fifteen, she made her debut as a leading lady, and by her own admission, she was a complete failure. She labored to learn the acting craft, but her shy and self-conscious personality eroded her confidence. Maude was horrified when her mother arranged an interview with Charles Frohman, an important New York producer, when he arrived in San Francisco. Frohman advised her to drop the western ‘r’ from her dialect, and he encouraged her to visit him when she made her way to New York.
The Paymaster, a play that was touring with a company in route to New York, offered the chance for Maude to join the troupe, but when the play reached New York, it failed to last. An opportunity followed for her to join the company of E. H. Sothern.
“The stage was not beckoning me in those days,” Maude later recalled. “Too young for mature parts, too old for child parts, I was a strange, unattractive, unclassified creature. Mrs. Sothern, who has played child parts with me, interested her husband in me after a while.” Sothern cast Maude in Lord Chumley and The Highest Bidder. These experiences were priceless for the youthful actress, and the precise training that Sothern gave her on long tours throughout the West served to form the basic techniques that she would use for the rest of her life. Her confidence was strengthened, and when she eventually left the E. H. Sothern Company, she was engaged by Charles Hoyt for the role of Dot Bradbury in The Midnight Bell. For the first time, the public began to notice the winsome personality emerging from the young actress. She was so unusually striking that Hoyt offered her a five-year contract to play in comedies with him on the road. Her mother intervened, and the kind offer from Charles Hoyt was sidelined so that Maude could take a small part in a David Belasco play. Belasco was known as a “star-maker,” and his plays often broke new ground with their startling realism and gritty production values.
Charles Frohman found a place for Maude in a new stock company he arranged to produce Men and Women, and for two years, she played in dramas for him, but her desire was to play comedy. She earned a role with John Drew in The Masked Ball. Her reviews noted the exceedingly delicate and delightfully humorous touches she achieved, and Maude soon became the leading exponent of light comedy in America. For five years, she played with John Drew in, The Butterflies, The Bauble Shop, The Imprudent Young Couple, Christopher, Jr., The Squire of Dames, and Rosemary.
In the summer of 1887, renowned actor, Edward H. Sothern, began work on a new play in which Maude was to appear with him. At the first rehearsal, he kept a close eye on the slim, childish figure Maude presented while wearing a summer frock. She had very little to say, but watched with large eyes everything that transpired. Sothern observed her with interest, and he noticed that she had a way of speaking with her mouth pursed up and her lips barely opened. She laughed in the same fashion. Sothern directed the rehearsals, and he tried to get Maude to talk with more open lips and to laugh with wider gladness.
“My own laugh was mirthless to a degree,” Maude admitted in a quote from Sothern’s memoirs. “It was not properly a laugh at all, but a succession of short, sharp explosions; or, when I was uncontrollably merry, a wail as of some lost soul, or of some animal in pain. In ordinary social intercourse, this did not matter, but when it came to impersonating characters which should indicate merriment, joy, or humorous appreciation, here was a serious defect.”
Sothern determined to make Maude learn how to laugh. He took her aside, and then seated her with others on a bare stage for what he called a “laughing party.”
Among the other victims of this exercise was the low comedian of his company, an older actress, a soubrette, and another who had a blithe spirit. He sat them on chairs very close together in a circle, and then he said, “Now then, we will laugh.”
“At what?” Maude asked.
“At nothing,” he answered. “One, two, three, laugh!”
Those who were gathered followed his order and began to laugh, at first without any mirth at all. Then, the absurdity of the event itself began to take hold of them; the distorted face of the comedian laughing against his will, the distress of the miserable one who objected to laughter, and the old actress who was only conscious of her dignity spurred them all to become nearly hysterical with laughter.
Above the din, Sothern finally shouted, “We will make various sounds! We will laugh Ho, ho! Ha, ha! Hi, hi! He, he! Hu hu. Again! Keep it up!”
The martyrs obeyed, and one by one, they learned to laugh in a manner that seemed realistic to an audience. The routine also served to finally bring Maude out of her shell. It was a cathartic moment for her.
For two years, she played parts with E. H. Sothern, attracting the notice of competing producers. She became renowned as a great indefatigable worker with a consuming ambition to do great things in the theater.
It was about this same time when she first met author James M. Barrie. Trembling at the idea of greeting this great man, she took a seat in the living room of his home to wait. Barrie came into the room leading an enormous dog by a leash. He took one look at the diminutive woman and asked, “Would you care to see us wrestle?” Before Maude could answer, he slipped on a protective cap and fell into a wrestling match with the dog, the two rolling around the floor to Maude’s complete astonishment. Barrie complete disarmed the nervous actress. They formed a lasting friendship, and in 1897, she scored a personal triumph as Lady Abbie in Barrie’s The Little Minister. She ultimately gave more than one thousand performances in this role. This amazing record was more than taxing for the actress. Once, while on a long tour, a conductor on the Long Island Railroad asked her if playing a part for such an extremely long time wearied her.
“It is tiresome,” the star admitted. The conductor reflected on her comment, and then blurted out, “Miss Adams, why don’t you try to get another job!” Maude often repeated the story with merriment, caught as she was in the trials associated with newfound success.
Maude’s interest in the theater also took other forms. “Stage lighting had always fascinated me,” she recalled. “Once, my mother and I found ourselves in a small military post in the far Northwest. A tiny dining room became the theatre; some tables formed a stage; several sheets did service as a curtain, and the footlights were kerosene lamps. From this primitive beginning, I had seen lighting evolve. Before I was sixteen, with electric lamps came a different method of acting. With only kerosene lamps, it was difficult to see, and the expression of the face had to be exaggerated. Incandescent lamps came with their intense power, and a more subtle use of the face became necessary, and a more subdued method of acting. All the old ideas for making up the face gave way to new ideas. There was more simplicity, and perhaps more sincerity.”
Her early experimentation with incandescent lamps on the stage had broken ground in the development of theatrical illumination. The engineers at General Electric laboratories in Schenectady looked upon her as an expert. She spent many months in their labs creating new lamps that she planned to use with dimmers in the orchestra pit in front of her stages.
On October 22, 1900, Maude opened in the English adaptation of Sarah Bernhardt’s great success, L’Aiglon, and this success was followed in November 1901 with Quality Street. After several more years of plays such as “Op o’ Me Thumb” and others, author James M. Barrie sent the following letter to Maude:
“My Dear Maudie, I have written a play for children, which I don’t suppose would be much use in America. She is rather a dear of a girl with ever so many children long before her hair is up and the boy is Peter Pan in a new world. I should like you to play the boy . . . .”
Maude was Barrie’s inspiration for Peter Pan, but it was not her favorite. She conceded, “Of all the plays that were trusted to my care, I loved Chantecler best, and then came Peter Pan. It was not only that Peter was the most delightful of all the plays, but it opened a new world to me, the beautiful world of children.”
After five seasons, Maude had played Peter more than 1,500 times, including performances in the ruins of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire.
Peter Pan was revived several times in the following years and in 1919 while she was in another Barrie play, A Kiss for Cinderella, there was an epidemic outbreak of influenza. The virus caught up with Maude in Nashville, Tennessee. While she was recuperating, a friend showed her the workings of a motion-picture machine. Her interest roused, and she conceived the desire to experiment with color motion picture photography.
In Maude Adams: An Intimate Portrait, author Phyllis Robbins quoted Maude Adams reflecting on this early experimentation: “At the end of 1921, I was drifting out of a long illness, confronted with the necessity of finding some sort of work that would give a fresh point of view, a new interest. As all my life had been in the theater, it was natural to turn to something akin, something not too remote from my former profession. Some friends who were interested in motion pictures tried to interest me in them, with no success whatever. But that was before I was shown in Pinehurst the workings of a motion-picture machine; the fact that it was something new that had to do with lights was a great thing, and for several years I returned to my early enthusiasm, electric lights. For two years, I lived in Schenectady, and waited about for developments. At that time, photography in color was thought to be a hopeless idea. There was no incandescent lamp of sufficient power to take colored photographs at the speed necessary for motion pictures. But it seemed probable that one could be made.”
On March 7, 1921, she again wrote: “A week from tomorrow, Monday, I am to go to Schenectady and work on my moving picture lamps and experiments in the General Electric Company’s laboratory. They are going to make all the preliminary experiments and let me work with them using their equipment and trying some new lamps which they are now finishing. I cannot tell you how happy I am and proud!”
After the design for the new lamps was completed, she had to wait fifteen months for their construction. At last, the first lamps appeared, and then she finally felt ready to go forward with putting Peter Pan on film. She was counting on her special lamps to increase the amount of light needed to expose the action to the use of color photography. She wrote to the author, James M. Barrie: “I have not liked being a dog-in-the-manger about the moving pictures for Peter Pan, especially during my illness it has seemed dreadful to me that you should be deprived of the large sums that Peter would bring you. For several months I have interested myself in a process which would make it possible to do pictures in color, which, of course, would give beauty and take away the monotony of black and white . . . I have had some moving-pictures taken of myself and they are not quite so bad as you might think, but before the end of this month I hope to have some pictures done in color, then, I shall know exactly what I can do.”
It took so long for Maude to develop the proper equipment to realize her dream that the Famous Players Company, which had contracted with the author to film his plays, began to grumble that the part of Peter should not be reserved for Maude or held back with further delays. In October 1920, Maude again wrote to Sir James M. Barrie: “As I wrote you I am very keen about pictures in color, but if nothing satisfactory should come in color I am quite willing to try one or two scenes in black and white to see what can be done with me. I should prefer to try at first in Peter’s own scenery, but if that should not be right, we could do some of the snow scenes this winter and wait for the other scenes until spring or summer. If the color schemes come to anything then I am sure the play will be better in its own theatre clothes or some customised polo shirts, and so far as I personally am concerned, the sooner it can be done the better for me. I don’t look so much older, but I am older. It would be the making of the play if you would come and direct it. I doubt very much that the Famous Players Company would care to do the play in colors because of the necessity of a different sort of projecting machine. The only pictures I have seen in black and white have been rather a cheap, sensationalism or a cheap sentimentalism. Without color and sound there is little to appeal to the emotions and the repeated attempts to create sensations become rather monotonous.”
Maude’s ambition to make her film debut in the timeless role of the boy who refused to grow up was noble, but it was doomed. Her experiments with lamps cost her incredible amounts of money, strength, and patience, and served up the greatest disappointment of her life. She failed to secure a patent on her lamps, and as soon as the powers at General Electric discovered her work was unprotected, they promptly took the lamp designs for their own profit. After all the years of research, she was unable to get Peter Pan made in color, and during the long delays, she, like Wendy in the story, became too old. The production moved into the hands of others.
Those who knew Maude intimately often thought she exhibited two distinct personalities. There was the Maude Adams of the stage, a whimsical, radiant sprite, and the recluse that Maude was in private life. Few had the good fortune to know the private woman, for she chose to live a life of solitude, one that was without austerity, but nevertheless the lonely existence of a scholar who had known past glories and no longer wanted to be in the spotlight of public attention. Her voluntary withdrawal from the public was a necessity to her nature, a characteristic that was visible in the melancholy set of her pensive face. Once, when a party of New Yorkers drove across her farm hoping to catch sight of the famous actress, Maude was said to have hid behind a tree until the disappointed revelers drove away. “It is because the public loves you that it wants to see and know more of you,” she was said to have lamented. “If it really loved me, it would leave me alone,” she pointed out.
In 1923, the motion picture industry was approaching a climax. The public was demanding bigger pictures, and the producers responded with many productions of large-scale proportions. For a while, it seemed to be a case of the survival of the biggest. Players were getting salaries escalating higher than any ever known, and it was rare they would take a chance with a newcomer. The established stars were earning astronomical amounts. Many were engaged by their fame, a position that in many instances was fictional. Throughout the silent era, virtually every renowned stage star had defected to films at one time or another. Among Maude’s early stage co-stars, even E. H. Sothern, had appeared in films, but John Drew had not. He and Maude were among the very few that held back.
Peter Pan’s journey from the stage to film gained speed when pioneering film producer, Jesse Lasky, returned from celebrating his fortieth birthday and a Budapest vacation with a parcel of new film acquisitions that he had gleaned during his travels. His suitcase brimmed with titles from a litany of literary sources, and they included some very choice James M. Barrie plays. He had purchased them in a block of ten for $100,000 plus half the profits. Of the plays, which included A Kiss for Cinderella, What Every Woman Knows, Sentimental Tommy, Alice-Sit-by-the-Fire, and The Admirable Crichton, the rights to Peter Pan were his. Director Cecil DeMille immediately seized The Admirable Crichton as a vehicle for Gloria Swanson, whom he was already building into the screen’s first real glamour queen. Fearing that the public would confuse it as a naval picture, he planned to release it under the title, Male and Female. Lasky reserved Peter Pan for director Herbert Brennon, and they never even considered aging Maude Adams for a role in the production.
Maude had also given up on ever appearing in a motion picture of Peter Pan. Instead, she remained undaunted in her determination to bring color photography into motion pictures. In 1921, she was experimenting in the laboratories of the General Electric Company in Schenectady with a new process for colored photography. She aspired to direct her first motion picture, and she wanted to apply the new process to the story of Aladdin. She was not planning to appear in the picture, and she initially worked outside the industry quietly writing a scenario for Aladdin.
Meanwhile, the hunt for an actress to play the coveted role of Peter was one of the biggest seen in Hollywood at that time. Many actresses tried for the part and were rejected, including “America’s Sweetheart”, Mary Pickford, Gloria Swanson, and Lillian Gish.
Gloria Swanson remembered in her autobiography, Swanson on Swanson, that Mary Pickford was angry with the executives at Paramount because they had not given her Peter Pan. “I gasped,” Gloria recalled, “and said I had hinted as broadly as I could to Mr. Lasky that I had wanted Peter Pan, and that he had never even discussed it with me. Mary said I should consider myself lucky; Mr. Zukor had told her she could only have it if she agreed to do two other pictures for Paramount. But she said with a wicked little smile; . . . you know, of course, who was absolutely sure it was hers, don’t you?”
“No,” I said. “Who?”
“Lillian Gish. Everyone says there was not a doubt in her mind.”
Miss Gish had a particularly strong desire to play Peter. She remembered in her autobiography, The Movies, Mr. Griffith, and Me, when Maude Adams was casting for the original play of Peter Pan. “I was taken to the dressing room at the Empire Theater for an interview. Miss Adams was such a little woman that it was decided to use a shorter child. Interestingly enough, years later when the play was to be filmed, I was Sir James Barrie’s choice for Peter. She did everything she could to try to influence his choice, even going to the length of filming an all-out screen test.”
James M. Barrie insisted that the actress chosen be an unknown whom he alone would select. He viewed all the screen tests personally, and he finally selected a New Jersey teenager with little acting experience but extensive training with the Ballet Russes choreographer, Michel Fokine.
How Betty Bronson came to the film was a classic “star is born” scenario. She and her family packed up all their things and moved to Hollywood where she pursued her dream of a career in films. She had done some bit parts at the Long Island Paramount Studio, but otherwise, she had no experience. In an interview in Moving Picture Stories, Betty was asked what she thought of her filmed test. She replied, “I tried not to think about it, at all. I was afraid to. Of course, I knew I couldn’t hope to be chosen, and yet way back in my mind I did hope it. I think it’s a good idea to hope things, don’t you? Even if they don’t happen, the hoping is sort of nice.”
Jesse Lasky recalled in his memoirs, “. . . we followed the unbroken stage tradition and looked for a petite actress who could convincingly disguise her sex. We had decided on a pert kid named Mary Brian, when along came another unknown, even better suited to the part. Betty Bronson was given the lead and Mary Brian shifted to the role of “Wendy.”
Peter Pan is such a well-known story that most people in 1924 knew it by heart. The story had also been widely circulated in a novelized version called Peter and Wendy, which had sold millions of copies and was a favorite bedside read in the homes of children around the world. When Paramount Pictures released this big-budget Peter Pan in December, 1924, all of the necessary elements were there: the flying Peter Pan, the Darling children, Tinker Bell, the pirates and Indians, Hook, the crocodile, even Nana the nursemaid dog, and it all came together admirably. Betty Bronson turned in a charming performance as Peter, holding her own in cinematic history against other Pans including those that were later interpreted by Mary Martin, Jean Arthur, Mia Farrow, Cathy Rigby, and Jeremy Sumpter. The film’s cinematography by James Wong Howe was outstanding, and the film came off well. It radiated with a glow and a spirit that rebuked any cynical expectations.
The first film of Peter Pan ran 102 minutes, and it opened during the 1924 Christmas week. Mordant Hall reviewed the film in the New York Times, December 29, 1924: “That wonderful, ecstatic laughter, tinkling and beautiful, just the laughter that Barrie loves to hear, greeted Herbert Brenon’s picturized version of Peter Pan yesterday afternoon in the Rivoli. Again and again the silence of the audience was snapped by the ringing laugh of a single boy, which was quickly followed by an outburst from dozens of others, some of who shook in their seats in sheer joy at what they saw upon the screen. It was laughter that reminded one of the days of long ago when one believed in a sort of “Never Never Land”, when the smiling sun on an early morning made one dance with joy over the dew-covered grass, when the fragrant Spring flowers sent a thrill through one’s youthful soul, when one gazed at a real fish in a shallow rippling stream and expected to hook it with a bent pin, when one thought that after all it might be possible to fly. Obviously inspired by his discussions with Sir James Barrie, Mr. Brenon has fashioned a brilliant and entrancing production of this fantasy, one which is a great credit to the Famous Players-Lasky Corporation and also to the whole motion picture industry. It is not a movie, but a pictorial masterpiece, which we venture to say, will meet the approval of the author. While he has introduced some ideas, which were not possible on the stage, Mr. Brenon has not strayed from the theme of the whimsical story. In the Never Never Land mermaids are seen by the sun-lit sea and when the redoubtable Captain Hook has captured the children, these mermaids swim forth to find the crocodile that causes the pirate to quake with terror. The scene of the mermaids is effective and beautiful. Betty Bronson is a graceful, vivacious and alert Peter Pan. She is youth and joy, and one appreciates that she revels in the role. Her large eyes are wide with wonder when she first greets Wendy and she is lithe, erect and straight of limb when she fearlessly fights the horrible Captain Hook on his pirate craft. Captain Hook is impersonated by Ernest Torrence, who is as effective as he can be as a gruff pirate whose voice is not heard. One sees Tinker Bell as a light and also as a tiny, tiny fairy, which is cleverly pictured through double exposure.”
After its great success, Peter Pan vanished into its own Never Land. Paramount was shortsighted about the future of films and viewed them as disposable product, like a daily newspaper. They often disposed of their films after an original release ran its course. For years, no known print of the 1924 Peter Pan could be found at any of the major archives around the world or with hording collectors. It was considered one of the top “lost films.” Everyone who saw it in 1924 had vivid memories of the wonderful experience, and fans nostalgia over the film heated with each new version of it that was produced. Then finally, one original nitrate film copy surfaced, a beautifully tinted and toned print, the best anyone could have dreamed. It was fully restored and had a gala re-premiere at the Podernone, Italy Silent Film Festival with a new orchestra score by Philip Carli.
In the later years of Maude Adams’ life, she again dabbled in the possibilities of film production. She harbored a long-standing aspiration to make a motion picture of Kim, but nothing ever came of this intriguing idea just as nothing ever came of her proposed color film of Aladdin.
In 1930, three decades after she had first achieved great success as a Broadway actress, the A. L. Erlanger Amusement Enterprise announced that fifty-eight-year-old Maude was to make a comeback, bringing her ineffable personal charm and mystery to a modern romantic comedy, but plans for her return faded, and she remained off stage. Then, in 1938, producer David O. Selznick invited Maude to come to Hollywood to test for a part in The Young in Heart. Her test was successful, but she ultimately rejected the opportunity.
“She consented to a test,” Hedda Hopper recounted in her memoirs, “but after looking at herself on the screen, realized that, although she was young in heart, she was no longer young in body, and turned it down.”
While in Los Angeles, she explored the Selznick Studio and marveled at their use of her incandescent lamps in the making of motion pictures. She surprised electricians by speaking knowledgably about the inner workings of the apparatus she had spent so much time and effort creating. Maude did appear on NBC radio twice in an abridged version of Peter Pan, and she also appeared on radio in selected scenes from The Little Minister. She also made one public appearance on the West Coast, appearing before an audience at the Philharmonic Auditorium. She fairly floated onto the stage in a cloud of gray chiffon. The audience rose to greet the little old lady who responded with a melodious voice when speaking of her first meeting with James Barrie and how he disarmed her by wrestling with a huge dog.
In her later years, she taught dramatics to classes of young girls at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri. “Youth is shy, too. They were more afraid of me than I was of them. Being shy together, we lost it with each other.”
Maude went to Yucca Loma Ranch near Victorville where she ultimately found peace far away from the stage and audiences. There, she fell in love with the desert. She got up before every sunrise and watched each sunset until the last vestige of color left the sky.
“I never felt so close to God before. There, you could see the hand of God at work,” she said, making a simple gesture with her small hand. In 1953, Maude died.
Linda Arvidson Griffith, the wife of pioneering film director D. W. Griffith, was one of those who helped form the motion picture from the little split-reel melodramas of 1908 to the splendid super-productions of the 1920’s. She recalled in her autobiography, “Whoever might have had a dream that the degraded little movie would blossom into magnificence, now was beginning to see that dream come true. The two-dollar movie was launched; tickets were obtainable at the box office for what future dates one pleased. But little we then dreamed that today’s picture world was to be like an Arabian Night’s tale! Kings and Queens and Presidents interested! A University proposed for the study of the motion picture alone! James M. Barrie consenting to Peter Pan in the movies and selecting the Peter himself! Anyone who had made such suggestions then would have been put where he could have harmed no one!”
Peter Pan has been produced in several film versions, television musicals, and many stage productions. Ever since the original production with Maude, a woman has traditionally played the role of Peter, partly because they have been easier to lift on stage in the flying harnesses, and partly because their androgynous characterizations proved more palatable to children. In 2003, a new motion picture version starring Jeremy Sumpter finally broke the mold.
No motion picture with Maude Adams was ever completed. The color film tests of her as Peter Pan have been lost. A few minutes of test footage taken by David O. Selznick for The Young at Heart show a photogenic, well-spoken Maude Adams, who would have been a delight in motion pictures.
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White, Carol. “Eight Years a Leading Woman but Never a Star.” Motion Picture Classic M.P. Publishing Company, November, 1919. Pages 24, 25, 73.
David W. Menefee is the author of Sarah Bernhardt in the Theater of Films and Sound Recordings (Mcfarland 2003,) The First Female Stars: Women of the Silent Era (Greenwood/Praeger 2004), The First Male Stars: Men of the Silent Era (BearManor Media 2007), Richard Barthelmess: A Life in Pictures (BearManor Media 2009), and George O’Brien: A Man’s Man in Hollywood (BearManor Media 2010). David also works as an editor for several publishers, and he is currently collaborating on “Otay!” The Billy “Buckwheat” Thomas Story with William Thomas, Jr. David lives in Dallas, Texas, USA.