“The Clinging Vine” (1926) is a silent romantic comedy starring Leatrice Joy, Tom Moore and Robert Edeson. Directed by Paul Sloane, this film was produced by DeMille Pictures Corporation. The film begins with A.B., played by Leatrice Joy, as the masculine assistant to the President of a big paint company, T.M. Bancroft, played by Robert Edeson. A.B. is actually the real force behind the Bancroft Paint Company. A.B. wears a man’s tie, vest, shirt, haircut, and a skirt. Even though she had hired, wired, and fired men, she had never kissed one. When A.B.’s boss, T.M. Bancroft, has gout and work has to be done at his home instead of the office, she arrives for an overnight stay and is befriended by Grandma Bancroft, played by Toby Claude, the boss’ wife. The wise and youthful Grandma decides to give A.B. a makeover: permanent wave, feminine clothes, and plucked eyebrows. Grandma even shows A.B. how to wrap her hands across a man’s shoulder and cling to him. She also gives her tips on batting her eyelashes and only say the phrases to win a man: “Do go on!” and “Aren’t you wonderful?” Sensing that A.B. has no experience when it comes to love, Grandma hooks her up with her grandson, Jimmie, played by Tom Moore, at the weekend house party. Jimmie soon falls in love with A.B. without realizing she is the one who recently fired him by wire from his grandfather’s company.
I thought “The Clinging Vine” (1926) is a rather amusing film that might have been better if there had not been so much emphasis on the masculine side of the heroine early in the picture. Although some viewers and critics might view this film as a commentary on a gender identity crisis or women vs. men in the workplace, I saw this film as an entertaining satire. I found it amusing that the two female leads, A.B. and Grandma are the only ones with any brains at all. The company’s executives and Jimmie are portrayed as inept in business matters and overwhelmed by A.B.’s flirtations with them. I think this film suggests women could be just as efficient in the office as well as the home without giving up their femininity. One of the few surviving films of Leatrice Joy, “The Clinging Vine” is a charming silent comedy that is worth discovering.
One of the most glamorous stars to grace the silent screen was Leatrice Joy. Born on November 7, 1893 in New Orleans, Leatrice learned her craft as an extra at the major Eastern film companies and a leading lady at small, short-lived studios. She moved to Hollywood in late 1917 to advance her career. By 1921, she was a leading lady at the Goldwyn Studios and caught up in the much-publicized, tempestuous love affair with romantic idol John Gilbert. When Paramount’s premier director, Cecil B. DeMille, chose her to succeed Gloria Swanson as his leading actress, Leatrice was catapulted to stardom, appearing in such lavish productions as “Manslaughter” (1922) and “The Ten Commandments” (1923). Under DeMille’s guidance, she was transformed into an alluring, chic, contemporary woman who was as much at home in the business world as in high society. Leatrice’s favorite part, however, was a striking departure from her glamorous persona. In “Minnie” (1922), made on loan out to Marshall Neilan, she played a homely little girl. DeMille gave her free rein, encouraging her to develop her own acting style, and she was soon recognized by critics as one of the most accomplished actresses in Hollywood. In the 1926 films, “The Clinging Vine” and “For Alimony Only,” Leatrice portrays assertive, no-nonsense businesswomen, reflecting the spirit of women’s emancipation and anticipating independent heroines of the thirties like Rosalind Russell and Katharine Hepburn. It is interesting to note that Hepburn, as a budding actress, was one of Leatrice’s most devoted fans. When DeMille left Paramount to form his own company in 1925, he took Leatrice with him but their relationship was not the same. The once kindly father figure with a genuine sense of elegance and dedication to his art became to Leatrice a remote tycoon, indifferent to her career. Leatrice thought that the films she starred in for DeMille’s company from 1925 to 1928 were terrible pictures. In 1928, she left DeMille, freelancing for the next two years in late silent and early sound productions, but her career never regained its momentum. Nevertheless, Leatrice continued to act intermittently, both on the screen and in summer stock, into the 1950’s. Offscreen, in the midst of her glory days at Paramount, Leatrice attempted to reconcile her ambition for stardom with her love for John Gilbert. They were married first in 1921 in Mexico before Gilbert’s divorce from his first wife was final, and then in 1922, after the divorce came through, in a private ceremony in Hollywood. Although passionately in love, they would clash over Gilbert’s flirtations or Leatrice’s work, then for months live apart. In 1924, Leatrice had enough and finally initiated divorce proceedings. She and John Gilbert had one daughter together, actress Leatrice Joy Gilbert. Leatrice Joy died on May 13, 1985. She was 92 years old.