Thursday, February 27, 2020


A team that worked as one: Jesse Forrester Knight III (February 28, 1946 - December 6, 2008) and Dollie Carol Smith (née Landenberger 30 July 1938 – 18 October 2019)

Today is the birth anniversary of Jesse Knight, and this year is the seventieth after the death of Rafael Sabatini. Rafael Sabatini had not tried to ensure that he would be remembered as a person; for him it sufficed that his books were read, his name being on the title page as author. His obituary notices were, in effect, the last that readers heard of the man Rafael Sabatini.

Only one reader made up his mind that he would set out in search of Sabatini. That was Jesse Knight. When Jesse, with Michael Ward's support, first went online about Rafael Sabatini, the generality of readers around the world had fragmentary knowledge of Rafael Sabatini. An entry here, a mention there, a rare article focused on him, were all the resource that successive generations of readers had, and these often carried errors, or purveyed misconceptions. Even Sabatini’s books were a jumble dumped into a section marked 'swashbucklers' subtitled 'period' or 'romance', read at random by those who liked them; and dismissed by critics as outdated work by a justly forgotten writer.

Jesse spent years, effort, and money in his search, which took him across the United States from East Coast to West Coast, across the Atlantic to Europe, seeking through Portugal, Switzerland, and Italy, and across the Channel to England where, in London and in Liverpool, at Brockweir House, at the grave in Horsham, and at Clock Mill, Jesse went seeking Rafael Sabatini.

[River Wye, down from Brockweir House]

With Jesse went his muse, as he called her, Dollie the invaluable partner, energetic, adventurous, shrewd observer, and always ready to help, who took photographs and ... but let her speak of Jesse’s Sabatini work, of their travels in this project, and express her views on related matters:
  • That Rafael does have you enthralled as he did Jesse. And, I with Jesse.
  • ... the tremendous work and energy during the thirty years that Jesse spent searching for information on Sabatini's life and promoting appreciation for his work.
  • He struggled many years to get what he had because there were no records. And the Bank and Whoever else wouldn't release access.
  • Jesse knows that he kept Sabatini alive for readers. He was very grateful to be able to do all that he did.
  • I have Clock Mill photos. I actually took them. Not very good. We visited Viscount Portman and his wife for an hour. They were very formal. We walked around the grounds, etc. I cannot recall exactly what photos I may have. I did take some of Christine's sculptures. I don't know which one Rafael may have used in a novel. Back then, I did not think about the future use of photos. Also, I ... did not have a camera that was easy to use like the ones today. [Jesse] had everything in his files which were not well organized. So, I will have to search for them - and some may even be slides. ... I didn't have the right equipment or know how. We went there in the 80's [July 1985]. I had an old camera. I did not know anything about setting up a photo for the available light, etc.
  • When we visited Sabatini's first wife's relatives in England, Jesse was able to get some photos. An uncle [it was a nephew] had photo albums and he let Jesse take some of the photos and have them copied. I dare say that they may have died by now. That was in 1986 [1985].
  • I want you to know how totally thrilled I was on the trip to England with Jesse to visit Sabatini relatives [in November 1985]. They were all so kind and treated us beautifully.  I even went to a "men's club" in Liverpool for lunch. Prior to meeting Viscount Portman, I didn't know what a Viscount was. We did hang back and were very careful not to be intrusive. They too were very nice. Our visit was like a little break from their daily routine. They enjoyed discussing the information Jesse had. They were aware of the tragedy of Lanty's plane crashing.
  • We went to Jesi twice. The first time we did not find out much of anything - in the early '80's. The second time is when he participated in the conference [2001]. We were kept quite busy - the locals wanted us to see everything else, but didn't really have a handle on Sabatini. I think Jesse knew more than they did. The Sabatini festival was paid for by monies from the European Union for "Cultural" events. It was all very interesting and fairly comical. There was some in-fighting amongst the various factions of educational institutions. Everyone wanted to be in charge. If the money hadn't been there, they couldn’t have cared less.
  • While in Adelboden [August or September 1986] I took photos of the bedroom in which RS died. It is really a very plain room.
  • Jesse was so fortunate that I took care of all the stuff involved with day in and out living.
  • Rafael's penmanship was so difficult to decipher. Jesse would stare at it through a magnifying glass and then would ask, "What do you think this word is?" How frustrating for the reader. Sometimes I wonder if the people for whom he inscribed books could read what he wrote.
  • During the Sabatini Symposium in Jesi, Italy, in 2001, it was debated whether or not Sabatini should be recognized as an historian. With a great deal of Italian deliberation, it was the "Novelist" writer who won out, albeit, "Historical Novelist".

Dollie herself had comments about Sabatini’s novels that are worthwhile:
  • So much is there and woven in so intelligently that most readers don't spot it. Inasmuch as Sabatini researched the background for his writing in great detail, I would wonder if he had read about such a person, or maybe several persons rolled into one, that he incorporated in the story. I always thought that his characters bore some resemblance to someone in real life (except maybe for the women with the heaving chests that he perhaps got from his daily life).
And on the subject of unrest, indecisiveness, and unwise decisions on the part of citizens facing choices she made a comment that could have come out of Sabatini’s two SCARAMOUCHE novels:
  • History and Knowledge are what good decisions are all about.
while remarking on the subject of war’s cost in soldiers’ lives:
  • How wonderful it would be if the commanders all fought each other instead.
It was Jesse Knight who first beat a path to the gates, and laid out the flagstones which made that path easy to tread. Without him Rafael Sabatini would have, by this time, been lost irretrievably in that outer darkness to which critics and scholars had consigned him. All readers with any interest in Rafael Sabatini the man should be grateful to Jesse and to his invaluable partner, Dollie.

Ruth Heredia is the originator and holds the copyright to all material on this blog unless credited to some source. Please do not use it or pass it off as your own work. That is theft. If you wish to link it, quote it, or reprint in whole or in part, please be courteous enough to seek my permission.

Saturday, November 30, 2019




“... although I appreciate the artistry and skill of the producer and the actor concerned, I feel that Ramon Novarro was not quite happy in the leading le.  Whether due to some unsuitability of his own temperament or to the method of attack adopted, it seemed to me that he played too straight and too seriously, thereby failing to suggest the irresponsible rascal who was ‘born with a gift for laughter and a sense that the world was mad.’ [sic] 

~ Adapted From the Novel, Strand Magazine, November 1925


In this passage about Scaramouche, the 1923 film directed by Rex Ingram, there are three things that struck me.

*  To take the least first, the phrase “method of attack”, which reflects Rafael’s experience of hearing his parents teach vocal technique, and his experience of learning to fence.

*  The second is Rafael’s use of the words “happy” and “irresponsible rascal”.  This point will be enlarged upon.

*  The phrase “irresponsible rascal”, now in the context of its application to the character Scaramouche, (the stage role of André-Louis Moreau), as he appears in a pair of linked novels by Rafael.


Rafael’s formal writing in English sometimes raises the question of whether he is using a word as would an Englishman born, educated in a public school and at Oxford.  As we know, he was none of these things.  “Happy” carries other connotations, of which his writings show awareness: “well suited for a purpose”, “fortunate”, and “apt” being some.  Disconcertingly, Rafael would on occasion slip easily out of his adopted ‘English’ persona into the European, chiefly French, that was his foundation.  The novel Scaramouche itself provides a notable example: “The police will do your affair for you”, threatens the Marquis de La Tour d'Azyr.  About “irresponsible” there is no ambiguity, about “rascal” there is.  If used with serious intent, it means “knave”, “scoundrel”, and so on.  But the English in particular use it with humorous, affectionate intent, as they do “imp” and “impish”, and even “rogue” and “roguishly”.

Now to the crux of the problem: the character created across two novels, partly through the evidence of his actions, partly through authorial interventions.  In the course of these two novels we see André-Louis Moreau develop, as life forces on him more and more complex questions, from his youthful self very confident in his knowledge of philosophy, logic, and law, not foreseeing what choices he will have to make, often in life-or-death matters, into the proverbial ‘sadder but wiser man’.  Is André the Scaramouche of the commedia dell’arte?  On the evidence of the novels Rafael did not intend it to be so.  André does not make mischief, merely for the pleasure it gives him, nor run away laughing from the imbroglio that he has brought about.  (To charge him with being in fact a Scaramouche because on two occasions he runs away to save his life is not just.)  Why, then, did Rafael make such a response to the question posed to him in 1925?  What follows is my understanding of the matter.

Though as time passed Rafael wrote of protagonists who were not heroic or exemplary, (King in Prussia, The Gamester) and a single out-of-character novel, The Minion, Rafael Sabatini is always either loved or criticised for the idealism that, in spite of all, survives even in late work.  In 1919, Rafael had no reason to make a hero/ protagonist of such a character as the commedia Scaramouche, in fact it went against the grain of his fiction.  (The Minion is an exception since it is an interpretation of an episode in history.)

Was this the reason for the destruction of his first manuscript, 50,000 words long?  He never explained, or even hinted at a reason, but he may have found his “method of attack” untrue to his instincts.  Yet, the ghost of a work destroyed of choice can linger.  Did something of the ur-Scaramouche, something beyond his name (compelling attention in a title, as Esther Forbes recorded) – a name which itself influences many readers’ judgement of André – remain in Rafael’s mind, causing him to put into many other characters’ mouths that very accusation of which he clears André by his authorial interventions, and by the witness of André’s actions?  It would seem that Rafael the novelist, partly mindful of his readers’ expectations, partly inclined (at that time) to the hero rather than the anti-hero, thus found a way to combine the commedia character - as an appellation misapplied to the hero of the novels, and used by André himself in irony or self-deprecation – with the actual character in his novels.

It is to be doubted that the novelist himself was able to translate the complexity of his character from the first novel into either version of his own dramatisation for the stage.  Reviews suggest (implicitly) that the role offered no scope to even a competent actor under the direct influence of Rafael to make of it both a hero and an irresponsible rascal.  This being so, how could it be expected of the film’s André to succeed even had its screenplay come from Rafael’s pen?

Was this truly Rafael’s reason for his unfavourable comment on Rex Ingram’s film?

Every viewer will have an opinion not necessarily the same as mine.  Within the limitations of a silent film, Ramon Novarro’s realisation was true enough to the novel, whose André is not an irresponsible rascal.  Could there be another reason, maybe two, for Rafael’s judgement?

 We need only recall the indignant letter in The Bookman of January 1925 (quoted in Seeking Sabatini) to find one cause for grievance.  Among the film posters I found online there was none in French – such as he would have seen in Paris.  There were a couple of posters in English (one clearly an advertisement for a film to be made), and one in Spanish which justified his ire.

But a poster in German and several in English, possibly made in response to a protest by his U.S. publisher conveying the novelist’s anger, advertise the film as “from the famous novel by Rafael Sabatini”.  Yet even the failure to give him credit, of the first announcements and posters, is not entirely as represented by Rafael.

No matter how popular Rex Ingram’s previous films might have been, we need not doubt that it was the succès fou of the novel which had the western world agog at the news of a film being made of it, and by such a director, with his customary lead actors, Ramon Novarro and Alice Terry.  Periodicals such as Motion Picture News, and Exhibitors Trade Review, gave this fact prominence in their excited reports of progress in the film’s making.  The latter even mentions Rafael’s play, due to open in New York at the same time as the film’s premiere.

Ah, the play!  We have seen that it was not only Rafael’s solo work; his guidance had been sought by producer and lead actor – coming to London themselves.  In terms of number of performances it was modestly successful, given sixty-one times over two months.  But it was not a succès d’estime.  What fault/s had the critics found?  These have been seen in an earlier section.  Among them was the choice of lead actor, as also described.  How galling, then, to find in Ramon Novarro an actor better suited to his role, although this was denied by Rafael on a charge I find specious.

The 1925 letter in The Bookman describes the novelist’s feelings about the consequence of Metro’s initial posters that did not give him credit for the novel.  In 1924 came the film of his novel, Captain Blood, another novel with resounding success.  The contrast between the deference accorded him by Albert Smith, and the failure of Rex Ingram to consult Rafael, was surely galling.  To me all this adds up to make a singular case ... the Case of Rafael Sabatini’s attitude to Scaramouche, both as character in his novels and as interpreted on screen.

First, my apologies for the strange way that BLOGGER has altered the format of my text part of the way.  There is no way I have ever found - being untutored in the use of a computer - to control & correct what has been done to my blogs ever since I started in 2006.
This is the concluding section of ADDENDA to ROMANTIC PRINCE: SEEKING SABATINI.
Together with the much revised & enlarged edition of the 2 vols. of ROMANTIC PRINCE, it is available to download free as a PDF file.  [Refer my earlier blog - ]
Apply through 'Comment' here, or if you know me apply through e-mail.

Ruth Heredia is the originator and holds the copyright to all material on this blog unless credited to some source. Please do not use it or pass it off as your own work. That is theft. If you wish to link it, quote it, or reprint in whole or in part, please be courteous enough to seek my permission.

Friday, November 08, 2019



Dance, my friend, never tiring, no fear of pain,
In your hands lighted candles, ever brightly burning:
Humour, joie de vivre, pluck in every grain;
Large of heart, much joy you took in giving,
Own problems set aside, others to sustain -
The list I must shorten, lest you be wearying!
Patient, clear of vision when all hope was vain,
Jesse’s muse, dance with him, amid stars smiling.

© 2019 Ruth Heredia

Ruth Heredia is the originator and holds the copyright to all material on this blog unless credited to some source. Please do not use it or pass it off as your own work. That is theft. If you wish to link it, quote it, or reprint in whole or in part, please be courteous enough to seek my permission.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Prayer for Holy Week

Prayer of St Philip Howard

O Christ, my Lord, which for my sins didst hang upon a tree,
grant that thy grace in me, poor wretch, may still ingrafted be.

Grant that thy naked hanging there may kill in me all pride
and care of wealth, sith thou didst then in such poor state abide.

Grant that thy crown of pricking thorns, which thou for me didst wear,
may make me willing for thy sake all shame and pain to bear.

Grant that those scorns and taunts which thou didst on the cross endure
may humble me and in my heart all patience still procure.

Grant that thy praying for thy foes may plant within my breast
such charity as from my heart I malice may detest.

Grant that thy pierced hands, which did of nothing all things frame,
may move me to lift up my hand and ever praise thy name.

Grant that thy wounded feet, whose steps were perfect evermore,
may learn my feet to tread those paths which thou hast gone before.

Grant that those drops of blood which ran out from thy heart amain
may meek my heart into salt tears to see thy grievous pain.

Grant that thy blessed grave, wherein thy body lay awhile,
may bury all such vain delights as may my mind defile.

Grant that thy going down to them which did thy sight desire
may keep my soul, when I am dead, clean from the purging fire.

Grant that thy rising up from death may raise my thoughts from sin;
grant that thy parting from this earth from earth my heart may win.

Grant, Lord, that they ascending then may lift my mind to thee
that there my heart and joy may rest, though here in flesh I be. Amen.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Necessary to reflect upon...

A long time ago, Cecil Day-Lewis wrote a poem with the title Moral, and quoted A.N. Whitehead in an epigraph:
“Moral education is impossible apart from the habitual vision of greatness.”

Envy, wrote the poet, downgrades the envious one, not the one who is envied.  “The vision that keeps burning from/ Saintly trust, heroic deed,” is one that is necessary even though saints and heroes have not been perfect women and men.  The poet concludes:
Accept the flawed self, but aspire
To flights beyond it: wiser far
Lifting our eyes unto the hills
Than lowering them to sift the mire.

Sadly, in the world today, the way to catch attention, become the star of a movement, possibly gain material benefits, is by attacking some respected name from the past, a person who, being dead, cannot defend herself or himself.  The sorry condition of humankind at present, the constantly boiling cauldron of anger, hatred, violence even to the point of taking lives, is partly attributable to individuals having no steadfast commitment to an ideal, no goal to seek other than in the mire.

Ruth Heredia is the originator and holds the copyright to all material on this blog unless credited to some source. Please do not use it or pass it off as your own work. That is theft. If you wish to link it, quote it, or reprint in whole or in part, please be courteous enough to seek my permission.

Sunday, September 09, 2018


Rafael Sabatini ... will in future adapt his own stories to the screen, writing the scenarios and supervising their production.  The pictures are to be made by the Hardy Film Company Limited, which was recently formed, with Mr. Sabatini as a director.
It is Mr. Sabatini’s decided opinion that the future of the cinema lies mainly with the author.  “Hitherto the author has been a negligible quantity in film production,” he says.  “I doubt whether at any period in the history of the theatre the dramatist has been ignored to this extent by those who staged and acted his plays.”
~ The World’s News, Sydney; 17 December 1921, page 5

With a dramatic flourish, Rafael Sabatini announced a new venture for him: the Hardy Film Company co-founded by himself and Sam Hardy, the studio manager of Stoll Films. 
“A feature of the company's policy which is stated to have proved eminently successful is that Mr. Sabatini is writing his own screen plays, and that thereby author and producer are able to keep in much closer touch than is possible in the ordinary way where the producer is working on a scenario prepared by a third party and the actual author of the story is rarely seen in the studio.  The programme for the coming year will include a number of other works by Mr. Sabatini.  The company's studios are situated at Isleworth."~ The Times, 21 February 1922.

Another newspaper reproduced what may have been a brief article or press-release titled “Plain Speaking” in which Rafael Sabatini stated:
“Before any established and self-respecting author will consent to write for the screen he must not only be made as free of the studio as the dramatist is free of the theatre, but he must enjoy there the same authority which the dramatist enjoys...

To ensure and accomplish this state of things it is necessary that the script of a film should be as full and complete as the script of a play. It must lay out the essentials of every scene-plot; it must prescribe every movement, every gesture, every expression, and every look of the actors; it must define the range of every camera-shot in all the intervening stages between Full Scene and Close Up; where necessary it must indicate the particularities of the lighting; and, if possible, - with a view to preserving correct proportion, so that each part may bear a proper relationship to the whole – it should indicate the speed at which each scene should be taken.

That, in brief – very much in brief – is the ideal script. It is, as will be seen, not a film scenario at all, but a Screen Play.” ~ The Australian, 7 April 1922, p 3

The Times news report quoted from began by saying, “Three films, BluffThe Recoil, and The Scourge, have already been completed under the direction of Mr. Geoffrey H. Malins, O.B.E.”  More on this further down.

Now we come to a mystery that will never be resolved, because both films (black & white, silent) are lost: The Blackmailer and Bluff.  The Blackmailer (March 1916) was a two-reel film directed by Rupert Julian, starring himself and Elsie Jane Wilson in the lead, produced by The Universal Film Manufacturing Company, with a scenario by Calder Johnstone “from a [?] short story [?] by Rafael Sabatini” (as reported in  The cited keywords include “attempted murder” – which points to the short story The Blackmailer (1911), and “Maids” which is alien to either this story or the long retelling of it as The Valet Mystery (1914).  In the earlier story there is a fiancée who is not named and does not appear.  About Bluff (1921), the Teesdale Mercury of 7 November 1921 reported some interesting details from a pre-viewing before release that take forward our exploration of Rafael as film-maker and of Bluff.
“This is a six-reel film, running to 6,240 feet, and is controlled by the Gaumont Company, which holds world’s rights.  For “Bluff” Mr. Sabatini set to work to learn such technique of the screen as was necessary with a view to writing the scenario of a film adaptation of his own novel [sic].  The result of Mr. Sabatini’s efforts will shortly be seen.  Briefly, the story and the handling of it are the features of an excellent production.  ...  Mr. Sabatini does not start off with a dramatic climax in the first reel.  He begins by carefully building up his characters and his plot in such a way that the picture “grips” from the very commencement.  Then he goes on, gradually working up more and more dramatic suspense until he arrives at the moment – the right moment – for his surprise climax.”

Forward, true, but already there are complications.  The earlier film was two-reels – no length cited – and the Hardy film was six reels long.  The description given of it accords more nearly with The Valet Mystery than with The Blackmailer.  Yet 
The British Film Catalogue: Volume 1: Denis Gifford: 3rd Edition says this: A former embezzler bluffs a blackmailer into thinking that he can be murdered without detection.  Such a description fits The Blackmailer (story) but not The Valet Mystery.  Moving on to the credits, Geoffrey H. Malins was the director, and these were roles of the top five cast: Courtney Boscawen (played by Lewis Willoughby), Dorothy Channing (played by Marjorie Hume), James Lake, Geoffrey Channing, Lord Landassyl, and Everard Wade.  The actor Lawrence Anderson had played Kenneth Stewart in The Tavern Knight, plays the villain in The Recoil (of which more below), and acts as James Lake, but that may or may not mean that Lake is the blackmailer in this film.  The short story, The Blackmailer, has Boscawen (no first name), Isidore Loane the blackmailer, a valet (Smith) and a porter.  The Valet Mystery has Basil Carnforth in place of Boscawen, the fiancée and her father (named Tollemache although the Channing pair would seem to represent them), a most upright honourable rival (named Harry Bristow), a valet (named Roberts), and the blackmailer (named Edward Jackson).  This being so, did Rafael mix details from his later version of the story into the earlier version, arriving at a scenario that avoids the psychological elements entailed in the actual killing of the blackmailer and its aftermath, these being difficult to communicate within the limited means then available?  He would have the freedom to do this which the scenario-writer for the earlier film was unlikely to be given.  We will never know.  What we do have is a fairly descriptive review, favourable too, in The Times of 20 February 1922:
“It contains a complicated plot, which is perfectly coherent and quite convincing – a rare achievement.  It tells of a rising young man, the whole of whose future threatens to be ruined by a blackmailer, who knows that he had once been in prison.  At last he decides to meet the blackmailer with his own weapons.  He decoys him to his house, and there meets him and there meets him disguised as a manservant.  He reveals himself, and announces that unless the blackmailer hands over his proofs he will murder him at once.  To the objection that he will be discovered and hanged, the hero explains in detail the steps that he has taken to prevent this.  He tells how he has made the servant as whom he is disguised well known in the district, and that, if murder is done, the blame will fall on the servant.  Step by step he goes through his explanation, and eventually the blackmailer is convinced, and hands over to him the proofs of his guilty past.  Of course, the explanation has merely been “bluff,” and the villain departs in great dudgeon.  The whole story is clearly and cleverly told, and the interest does not flag for a moment.”

This description does not entirely tally with either of Rafael’s source stories, but the praise of his film makes it a pity that no copy survives.

What may have led Rafael Sabatini into the unknown territory of film-making?  Without any statement from him, we cannot know.  The previous year, 1920, Stoll Films had released The Tavern Knight, made from his early novel.  In an interview published by the Strand Magazine in November 1925, Rafael expressed his approval of it, and in particular of Eille Norwood in the title role.  All the same, in his statements to the Press the following year, Rafael makes it clear that he felt better qualified to adapt his own novels/ stories to the screen.  After all, he may have thought, did he not have experience as a writer for the stage?  And was not his a markedly visual imagination?  However it was, Rafael’s next attempt at film-making was more ambitious.

He wrote the scenario in 1921 from a long story of his, The Scourge, for a film made in 1922.  It was directed by Geoffrey Malins, and beyond that there is very little of any use by way of data.  (Except for the surely nonsensical synopsis, “
The Duke of Buckingham abducts an actress then nurses her through the plague in 1665.” ~ BFI)  Before proceeding with what little remains to be said of this film, it is necessary to pass in review the context in which it was made so far as that concerns Rafael Sabatini.

The years 1921 to 1923 were a turning point in his career as writer, and proved to be the start of a crucial phase in his personal life.  In a way no one could have foreseen, Scaramouche rocketed right across the English-speaking world, and quickly into other languages.  It was a dizzying experience and as often happens in life, it brought with it huge pressures from outside (by way of demands and expectations) and from within himself, as ambitions, ideas and plans fought for space with routine matters of living – as father, and as husband to a difficult woman.  He was working on the stories of a Captain Peter Blood, doctor and pirate, soon to be rewritten as another immensely popular novel bringing in more pressures.  He was transforming the long story, The Scourge, into a novel to be titled Fortune’s Fool.  And this is only to mention the major works that occupied his mind and his time.

The only newspaper reference to The Scourge found so far comes from The Gleaner of 26 November 1926.  By this time Rafael had expanded his story into the novel Fortune’s Fool.  The Hardy Film Company was defunct two years after it was launched, and The Scourge was re-titled Fortune’s Fool before being rented to someone who was then charged with breach of contract reportedly for non-payment of dues.  It was in this regard that the matter came before an English judge.  Since one assumes that the film was released in 1922 in the U.K. after “the British Board of Film Censors passed it subject to certain deletions,” I cannot understand why it should now come again within their purview unless, perhaps, the film-renter had restored those deletions.  However it may have been, Justice McCardle was given a private viewing of the film to decide on whether the banquet scene, a very necessary part of the plot and unlikely to have been filmed as an orgy, was deleterious to public morals.  Elaborate arrangements were made in the court-room to ensure that no innocents other than the judge could be affected by the pernicious scene and other such indecencies in the film.  Alas, his judgement is not reported, or any remarks he made.  It might have been well for Rafael’s reputation had the film been condemned altogether and all copies destroyed!  Some colleagues of David March, film presenter and cataloguer for the Library of Congress warned him that The Scourge/ Fortune’s Fool, like all three Hardy Films, was “bloody awful.”  After seeing it, David March declared that it was “tedious in structure, plotting and characterisation, and miscast as well as misdirected.”  How it was concluded that all three Hardy films alike were very bad I do not know, since no copies survive of the other two.

In the same issue of 
The Times that published Rafael Sabatini’s announcement of a new venture for himself and Sam Hardy, this advertisement was also published:

The third of the completed productions was The Recoil, and we are fortunate to have a review from The Times of 3 April 1922.  The reviewer thought it “a great advantage” that the film was adapted by the writer himself, from his story, The Dream.  Rafael, he declared, had “done very much better than the professional adapter of novels ... [he had made] out of his story a better film play than novel.”

From the British Film Institute we know the cast, and from the review we can identify the characters, since some names are changed from the story:
Francis (Major Francis Orpington) is played by Eille Norwood; his erstwhile ward Adelaide Wallace (Burton in the story) by Phyllis Titmuss; the evil hypnotist Digby Raikes (Stanley Bickershaw in the story) by Lawrence Anderson; the uncle of both men, Anthony Orpington, by Dawson Millward.  There is no mention of Dr Roger Galliphant in the cast list or the review but the list includes Annie Esmond as Miss Orpington, an addition to the story, whose role is not mentioned in the review.

It would appear that the story is simplified in the film, although how that is managed is not explained, which is unsurprising because the conclusion of
The Dream relies on a casuistry: that the man who shoots dead the villain is not his killer, the villain’s killer being himself (unintentional suicide) because he had hypnotized the man to kill someone else and at the last moment his hypnotism failed of its purpose so that the man shot the villain instead – but is not guilty (says Galliphant) because he was acting under the influence of a hypnotic trance.  The reviewer found the love interest “charmingly played” and impartially distributed his encomiums for “this successful film” among “the author as scenario writer,” the actors “who all play exceedingly well,” and Geoffrey Malins, the producer (actually he was the director, Sam Hardy being the producer).  Even the sub-titles and letterpress are praised for being “in excellent English and impeccable taste.”  Although the reviewer thought Bluff a better film, The Recoil, he said, was “a good deal above the average and should be very popular.”

A point of interest for me is that having used the second of his two Roger Galliphant stories to make a film, Rafael did not seem to plan the use of the first one, The Avenger.  He had already entered into a contract with Charles Frohman for a dramatisation by himself and Henry Hamilton.  Either it was not completed or the script perished with Frohman when the Lusitania was sunk.  But some notes surely remained with Rafael, a rough draft perhaps, material on which to work again?

Sadly for Rafael Sabatini, that was the end of his foray into the field of film-making.  The scheduled films optimistically announced were never made.  However, this was not yet the end of Rafael’s association with other people’s films made from his novels – and in one case an original, then unpublished, story.

The first major film dramatisation of a story by Rafael Sabatini was Scaramouche (1923) directed by Rex Ingram.  Why this film made Rafael indignant is partly touched upon in Seeking Sabatini, and will be the main subject of the next section here.  In 1924, two more such films were released, first The Sea-Hawk in mid-1924 and, later that year, Captain Blood.  Rafael selected details to praise in the former, produced and directed by Frank Lloyd.  The latter earned the highest praise, and with reason when one becomes aware of how much Rafael himself had to do with its making.  Discovering the connection came about through two clues and an explanation, the whole a pleasing experience not unlike finding treasure!

The first clue was finding a photograph in an Australian newspaper of a smiling Rafael posing in his library with a model of a ship, the Arabella.  The next clue was having my attention drawn to a photograph online of Rafael, smiling broadly as he shakes hands with Albert E. Smith in the Vitagraph office.  Smith was the producer of Captain Blood, brother of David Smith, its director, and stepping briefly into David’s shoes when he was taken ill.

The clinching evidence was a page in the programme leaflet available at the film’s premiere.  It states that Albert Smith “conferred at length with Rafael Sabatini, author of the celebrated novel, respecting details of the production.”  Rafael is stated to have made the final decision on who should fill the title role.  He was shown photographs and clips of many possible choices in costume, and picked J. Warren Kerrigan.  Rafael is described as “author of a number of monographs which [were] used as works of reference,” along with “old prints, paintings and historical data” in preparing the costumes. (It would be interesting to find such monographs!)

It is easy to see why this film was special to Rafael, in whom one must never forget the conflicting emotions from widely different experiences at this time, of which I single out that of the failure of the Hardy Film Company and the spectacular success of his novel, Scaramouche, closely followed by the equally resounding success of his novel, Captain Blood.  Consider, therefore, in this context, the difference to him between his treatment by Albert Smith, and the manner in which Rex Ingram’s film was advertised – which is part of the subject of the next section.

Other films of his stories were made or planned during Rafael’s life.  Lists of these are available elsewhere, and as he had little to do with any of them are of no interest here.  I restrict myself to those films to which reference came my way by chance and which are not generally listed or mentioned.  The film rights to The Strolling Saint were bought by Metro-Goldwyn, as reported by the Sunday Times of Perth, Australia in February 1926.  In November 1936 the film company, now Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, was reported to be almost certain to cast Robert Taylor as the hero of the proposed film.  The report first appeared in the U.S. papers (Detroit Free Press, Oakland Tribune, among them) and was repeated by Melbourne’s Table Talk in April 1937, all agog.  That was the last heard of it, mercifully, if Robert Taylor was the choice to play that role.  The Kinematograph Yearbook 1950 (Odhams, London) carried an advertisement for “a super production” of Venetian Masque placed by Omnia Films, London.  A complete mystery.

Even more strikingly mysterious is the following in George Locke’s collection of Sabatini documents (dated by Locke as 30 January 1940 without indication of where he found the date): “Original mimeographed screenplay of the film [The Sea-Hawk], ‘2nd Rev. Final’, ... A number of leaves are blue ‘revise’ sheets dated 23 March 1940 and 18 March 1940.  Script for the film starring Errol Flynn.”  Locke states that aside from the word “Screenplay” pencilled on the front cover there is no annotation by Rafael Sabatini.  This is strange since it is well known that the only connection between this film and Rafael is the use of a jungle sequence set in the Isthmus of Panama.  My reaction when I saw it was that it was probably left over unused from the 1935 Captain Blood
Given Rafael’s comments on the Rex Ingram film, it is odd that he is not reported as having said anything about this film, or about two others that totally misrepresented his novels, The Marriage/ Prisoner of Corbal, and The Black Swan.  Nor have I yet found any comment by him on a film whose scenario he was paid to write, but finding it unused, adapted it successfully to write a novel – a reversal of the usual sequence.

In Locke’s collection there is more than one document which has to do with the commission to write a scenario for a film on Christopher Columbus.  He was not asked for a script, only a scenario, but being Rafael he could not resist shifting from narrative into dialogue every now and again.  (It is sad to think of all this material known to exist yet out of reach of any researcher.)  As for the scenario, although Sydney and Muriel Box rejected it, it served Rafael as the foundation for his novel, Columbus, and – mysteriously – bits of dialogue and other material turn up in the deadly dull film made by the Boxes.

Rafael loved mysteries, and enjoyed being mysterious.  Does he enjoy reserving something of himself hidden from us who have so diligently sought him?

Ruth Heredia is the originator and holds the copyright to all material on this blog unless credited to some source. Please do not use it or pass it off as your own work. That is theft. If you wish to link it, quote it, or reprint in whole or in part, please be courteous enough to seek my permission.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

RAFAEL SABATINI: Copies of his books inscribed by him

The rather formidable task of a researcher into a writer of whom few traces remain, and those widely scattered, a seeker confined to a desk at home with only a personal computer and the internet for tools, is made easier by the many persons who volunteer data to which they have access.

One of the means by which these helpers share data both important and trivial – though interesting – is by photographing/ scanning inscribed books and letters that they have most fortunately acquired.

After receiving recently, a quantity of such images from the ever helpful Ernest Romano, it seemed time to put in chronological order all the data gleaned from images of twenty-two books shared directly or uploaded providentially by sellers.

(From N.J.C. Smith):
1904 The Tavern Knight (Grant Richards), on the dedication page:
“To Robert MacSymon Esq./ with the author’s regard/ Raf. Sabatini/ Nov. 1904”
   Signature and handwriting: Although Rafael Sabatini’s handwriting was often praised, I see no reason why.  He surely had to use the English Round Hand when working for the mercantile firm of E.A. da Costa?  A hint of it may be discerned in the flourishes and ‘decoration’ with dots and bars that are found in his 1896 notebooks and his earliest inscriptions – as this one.

His signature grew less elaborate with passing years and evolved into what is more readily recognisable.  However, I have not found his letters or notes easy to read, and by the end they are nearly impossible to decipher.  Nearly, yet not entirely.  But that’s another story...
Robert MacSymon was no mere grocer in Greenock, Scotland.  His was a large, flourishing business, importing and exporting goods: Messrs Robert MacSymon & Co with an “Italian warehouse” in Greenock (whatever that means), and “a large West-End (in Greenock, not London!) trade”.  This offers a clue to how he might come to be known to Rafael, and to be held in “regard”.  The date, 1904, strengthens this guess.  The connection has an added element of the intriguing because Greenock is going to turn up again later in this compilation.

(From Ernest Romano):
1906 Bardelys the Magnificent (Eveleigh Nash) on the dedication page, under “Ai Miei Genitori” (to my parents):
“Con affetuosi saluti/ di/ Rafael” (in this context: With love from Rafael)
It is true that Rafael left behind many very personal belongings when he walked out of the Pont Street flat, and his then wife did not give them to him after the divorce.  However, I doubt that this copy was among those belongings, because she left them all to her nephew who, when Jesse Knight met him and was shown many precious relics, said nothing about having sold any of his ‘treasure’.  It was probably among all Rafael’s books that he moved to Clock Mill after it was ready.  Christine Sabatini called in evaluators for his library, but his own author copies were probably not sold then.  It is more likely that they were scattered as I describe in Seeking Sabatini (Ed. 2) pages 429-433.  Perhaps this copy, coming back to him with his widowed mother, was cast upon the world to finally find a safe home where it is now!

(From an online advertisement):
1912 (January) The Life of Cesare Borgia (Stanley Paul) on the reverse of the title page:
“To/ Herbert Jarman/ from/ Rafael Sabatini/ London 17 January 1912”
Hot off the press!  A copy of Bardelys would have been more suitable for Jarman, who played Louis XIII in the first production (Birmingham) of the dramatisation and co-produced the London production in February 1911.  However, after so long there may not have been any author copies left of that novel, yet why not The Lion’s Skin, published that same February?  We will never know.

(From Ernest Romano):
1912 (January) The Life of Cesare Borgia (Stanley Paul) untidily at the top of the reverse of the title page:
“To/ Billy S-M/ from/ Rafael Sabatini/ London 1912”
Billy S-M – whom we will meet later, more formally addressed – filled the rest of this page with a pencilled note strongly disagreeing with Rafael’s arguments.  Ingrate!

(From an online advertisement):
1912 (30 April) The Justice of the Duke (Stanley Paul): “on the page prior to the first page of text” (sic):
“To/ F.R. Pryor/ from/ Rafael Sabatini/ May 1912”
The letter with it tells us this is even hotter off the press.  It is more friendly in tone – but letters are for another occasion.

(From an online advertisement without image):
1915 The Sea-Hawk (Martin Secker) on the title page:
“To Ernest Oracott from Rafael Sabatini, February 1915” (sic)
If one could only find out who Ernest Oracott was, one might learn or guess why he was presented with this copy also just published that month ...

(All the rest from Ernest Romano):
1915 (October) The Banner of the Bull (Martin Secker) on the half-title page:
“My dear Driver/ You have bought so many of my books that I think it is high time I asked you to accept a copy of one as a trivial token of my esteem of you as a friend and my appreciation of you as a book-buyer, not to say a customer/ Ever yours sincerely/ Rafael Sabatini/ Oct. 1915
This is charming.  Without initials or a first name it is not possible to even begin searching for the person, but no matter.  The sincere expression of feeling from Rafael is sufficient.

1917 (March) The Snare (Martin Secker) on the title page:
“To E.O. Hoppé/ From Rafael Sabatini March 1917”
In this year, Hoppé took a portrait photograph (three-quarter face) of Rafael with a cigarette between his lips, looking out warily from under a hat tilted low over his brow.  (I don’t know what was intended, but I find this posed portrait amusing!)  It is not as ubiquitous as the Wills cigarette card or the Houghton Mifflin publicity photographs of 1921 and 1923/24, but used to be seen often enough.  The copy printed in St. John Adcock’s book reveals some panelling behind the sitter.  Observe how more light in the reproduction alters the expression of the subject.  Puzzlingly, when the photograph was online under the CORBIS label, it was labelled “1917, Italy”, an unlikely combination of date and country.  There is no indication that Rafael was in Milan in 1917, during World War I, and what would Hoppé be doing there at the time – hardly suited to the taking of portrait photographs?  Hoppé may have taken two posed photographs, because there is another that appears on the jackets of The Gates of Doom (HM 1926), and The Stalking Horse (HM) (and is now only visible on a Russian website), where Rafael similarly attired, without a cigarette but still three-quarter face, is looking more directly at the viewer.  How mysteries gather around Rafael Sabatini!



 -   The only other with a cigarette between the lips that I’ve seen, this one scanned from the jacket of my 1st edition of The Birth of Mischief (HM), is almost sinister!
1917 (December) The Historical Nights’ Entertainment (Martin Secker) on title page:
“To W.D. Scott-Moncrieff/ from his friend/ Rafael Sabatini/ London Dec. 1917”
This is Billy, therefore William, Scott-Moncrieff, an adviser, possibly the one who drew Rafael into Freemasonry – he was certainly a Freemason.  That is almost all we can be certain of, alas.  He was alive in March 1939, requesting that Rafael entertain some persons who wished to visit him.  But who was he?  Did the ‘D’ stand for Dundas?  Was he a candidate for a seat in Parliament, contesting a bye-election in Greenock in 1878?  Unlikely, but if so, was it as a Liberal or as an Independent?  I have a source for each choice!  Was he an expert on “Sanitary Science”, frequently writing and speaking on the subject?  The dates can’t be made to fit.  Was he the poet and dramatist whose play on Mary, Queen of Scots was published in 1872, with 1916 as the latest date found for a published book of poems?  Maybe.

1917 (December) The Historical Nights’ Entertainment (Martin Secker) on title page:
“To Theo Sheard/ from his friend/ Rafael Sabatini/ London Dec. 1917”
Another mystery.  He is most likely to have been “Theo the nipper” in the misadventure off Bangor on the River Dee about which Rafael wrote a comic account in doggerel verse, The Vintage Ale.  On board Harold Lee’s house-boat were two other men and “Theo the nipper”.  I found a Sheard family at 125 Canning Street, Liverpool, in 1895 (when Rafael lived at No. 19).  However, if a Roland Theodore Sheard from that family, born in 1896 or 1897, was “the nipper,” then he would have been eleven or twelve in 1908, the latest date for the mishap (The Vintage Ale was written in January 1909), and therefore a nipper, but surely too young for a night of bridge and beer topped off with Dewar at dawn?  Either a different person also called Theo(dore) and also a friend, or else Rafael was exaggerating for comic effect a simple accident (Lee falling overboard) into the tale he narrates.  It would not be out of character!

1922 Scaramouche (Houghton Mifflin) on title page:
“To John Ansell/ Rafael Sabatini/ 11.iv.’22”
A gift with a rather laconic inscription.  John Ansell did not write the music for any of Rafael’s plays/ collaborations, but he was very much a part of the London theatre scene at the time.  He, too, lived beside the Thames, but quite far from Laleham.
A Houghton Mifflin copy rather than one of Hutchinson’s is a surprise, but both would have given Rafael a handful of copies as was the custom, and he may have run out of copies of the U.K. edition by April 1922.

1923 Captain Blood (Houghton Mifflin) on title page:
“Inscribed to/ John J. Conron(?)/ by/ Rafael Sabatini/ London March 1923”
Was Conron (if it is Conron) a visitor from the U.S. who asked for his copy to be signed?

1931 Captain Blood Returns (Houghton Mifflin) on title page:
“To Alfred C. Garrett/ from/ Rafael Sabatini/ Methuen/ 18 Oct. 1931”
Mr. Garrett was an educationist, lecturer (Anglo-Saxon; English; Bible Studies), and writer.  He may have presented Rafael with a book of his own, or offered him hospitality in some form, for which reason he received this gift.

1931 Scaramouche the King-Maker (Houghton Mifflin) on title page:
“Inscribed to/ Mr. and Mrs Prouty/ by/ Rafael Sabatini/ Milton 26 Oct. 1931”
On the fly-leaf, Lewis J. Prouty added “Inscribed at/ dinner at Roger Scaife’s.”  This is a copy of interest.  Mrs Prouty is that Olive Prouty who wrote Now, Voyager and Stella Dallas, besides many other novels; not only a writer but many other things which would be a distraction here from our subject.  Her husband’s signing his full name enabled the identification.  Milton was where Roger Scaife lived and lies buried.  He had an illustrious career in the book-world; at this time a shareholder in Houghton Mifflin, he divided the editorial responsibilities in that firm with Rafael’s close friend, Ferris Greenslet.  Scaife handled advertising and format, while Greenslet negotiated contracts and supervised editing.

1931 Scaramouche the King-Maker (McClelland & Stewart) on title page:
“Inscribed to/ George Nelson/by/ Rafael Sabatini/ 5 Nov. 1931”
Unlikely to be the famous George Nelson, US industrial designer who – at twenty-three - might have been a romantic, and a reader who came from Yale to Toronto to buy a copy and have it signed, but that is, I repeat, unlikely.

1931 Stories of Love/ Intrigue and Battle (Houghton Mifflin) on title page:
“Inscribed to Nancy Rogers/ by/ Rafael Sabatini/ 21.xi ‘31”
First of all, this oddly titled collection contained Captain Blood (battle?), The Urbinian and The Perugian (certainly intrigue) and Scaramouche (love? – revenge would be more appropriate).  On 21 November Rafael was in Minneapolis, where Mabel Ulrich M.D. had a role in organising his activities.  She had many irons in the fire, one of which was ownership of a bookstore.  Was there a book-signing arranged there?

1933 The Stalking-Horse (Hutchinson) on title page:
“To/ my good friends/ the Martin-Harveys/ affectionately/ Rafael Sabatini/ Clock Mill/ 6.v.1933”
These are Sir John and his actress wife whose stage name was Nina da Silva.  A friendship of long standing.

1933 The Stalking-Horse (Hutchinson) on title page:
“To/ J.E. Harold Terry/ affectionately/ Rafael Sabatini/ Clock Mill/ 6.v.1933”
That “affectionately” is rare; here used twice on the same day.  In 1933, Rafael alone at Clock Mill, not yet re-married, may have felt sufficiently sentimental to express himself thus.  Jesse Knight reported finding an inscription to Baroness Orczy in which the word “love” was used, but he did not specify the title or date, nor did he quote the inscription verbatim.  A pity.  Rafael was a man of feeling yet, like many people both intelligent and sensitive, guarded his expression of feelings.  In his younger days he was more forthcoming in his printed dedications: “affectionately” is found in The Justice of the Duke (where it is apt for Lancelot but hardly so for Martha Dixon), and in The Banner of the Bull.  “My affection” appears in early editions of St. Martin’s Summer.

1934 Venetian Masque (Houghton Mifflin) on title page:
“To Victor MacClure in friendship/ Rafael Sabatini/ Clock Mill 22.ix.’34”
Rather brief, and squeezed in above the title as for Hoppé.  In organised book-signings one is not surprised by a certain hastiness, even untidiness.  In gift copies I find an erratic inscription strange.

1938 Historical Nights’ Entertainment/ Third Series (Hutchinson) on title page:
“To/ Harold Terry/ affectionately/ Raffles/ April 1938”
Neatly written, the inscription unusual in its use of the nickname by which Rafael’s friends addressed him.  Since he seldom used it in this way, Rafael had no ‘signature’ for it, yet the inscription is authentic – by this time the quirks of Rafael’s handwriting are familiar to me.

(presented 11 years after publication)
1937 The Lost King (Houghton Mifflin) on title page:
“À/ Marcel Pleis/ souvenir d’Adelboden/ 1948/ Rafael Sabatini”
According to the date of the covering letter to M. Pleis’ daughter (in England) requesting her to convey the book to her father (in Ghent), this was inscribed on or just before 17 March 1948.  An account of the fruitful friendship of Rafael and M. Pleis, and the former’s promise to send the latter a copy of the novel, will be found in Seeking Sabatini (Chapter XII), and in Reading Rafael (Expansions: Plotting The Lost King).  The collection of Pleis-Sabatini documents is a priceless treasure.

1949 The Gamester (Hutchinson) on title page:
“To/ C. Nixon Groves/ with good wishes/ Rafael Sabatini/ March 1949”
This may have been Dr C. Nixon Groves C.B.E. who, in 1934, was elected an officer of the Harveian Society of London.  His name figures more than once in issues of The Lancet.  There is a letter (advertised online for sale) from Rafael to Mrs Le Brasseur, dated 13 May 1949, in which (the seller states) there is reference to “the health and recent operation of his wife, Christine.”  Dr Nixon Groves may have been her doctor or even her surgeon – although a surgeon would be ‘Mr’.

Ruth Heredia is the originator and holds the copyright to all material on this blog unless credited to some source. Please do not use it or pass it off as your own work. That is theft. If you wish to link it, quote it, or reprint in whole or in part, please be courteous enough to seek my permission.