I’m glad to have seen this silent film at last. It stars Marion Davies as Peggy Pepper who comes to Hollywood from Savannah with her father. She meets Billy Boone (William Haines) and tells him,”My acting is the talk of Savannah.”
Billy isn’t impressed, “Aw,baloney – and you’re slicing it too thick.”
With Billy’s help,Peggy (and her father) end up in slapstick comedies at the Comet Studio, though Peggy remarks, “I came here to do drama.” Instead she does pratfalls,throws pies and gets covered in water spray. Billy reassures her, “Just think of that first big thrill you’ll get when you see yourself in the theatre.”
The Mack Sennett-like director of the comedies tells her, “You’re great on water stuff – I’m gonna get you in a lot of it.” Peggy is resigned, “Go ahead, I’ll take it on the chin.”
She and Billy go to see her first film and they just happen to meet Charlie Chaplin leaving the cinema – she doesn’t recognise him! He asks for her autograph and she says to Billy, “Who is that little guy?”
After seeing the movie, Peggy and Billy go to a restaurant and Billy orders custard pie. Peggy says no, “I’d be afraid I’d throw it at someone.”
After some success in the comedies, Peggy gets a call from High Arts Studio,along with Billy. When they arrive at the studio, they are wide-eyed when they see Elinor Glyn and Lew Cody.
The studio only want Peggy, but Billy wishes her well.
Preparing for her first drama, Peggy’s on the studio lot and sees an actress in the distance. She’s told it’s Marion Davies who waves at her!
With her new leading man,Andre, she rehearses a scene but cant muster tears. She asks the director, “Could you ask them to play ‘Hearts and Flowers’?” Finally,onions do the job,only for the director to say,”Now we’ve got her going,no film in the camera!”
Her stuffy leading man tells her, “Now that you’ve graduated from low comedy,you must forget it.” He introduces her to the elite of Hollywood and she takes on a fancier name, ‘Patricia Pepoire’.
On the outdoors set of her latest film, her maid follows her around with a stool, but when she decides to sit down, she falls flat.
Billy’s troupe just happen to be on location near Peggy’s outdoor set. Billy manages to get to speak to Peggy and says she must miss the laughs. The now haughty Peggy says, “I never miss lowness,cheapness and vulgarity.” and she insults him further, “You’ll always be the same, a cheap clown.”
(Amazingly,Billy isn’t put off her!)
At a studio lunch at the stars’ table, we see John Gilbert,Douglas Fairbanks, with Peggy sitting between Fairbanks and William .S.Hart. (I never knew this clip, which is often seen in documentaries, was from Show People.)
Peggy soon gets brought down to earth. The studio head tells her some theatre exhibitors cant make a profit from her current films. Peggy’s response is “What’s it to me if a few theatres don’t know art.” The head of the studio says, “Sit down,Bernhardt.”
Later she says to Andre,her leading man, “These producers are so disturbing – to one’s equilibrium.”
She and Andre are to be married. The lovelorn Billy pretends to be part of the caterers to get to see her. Her maid tells her, “Pardon my depravity – but that terrible comedian person is downstairs.”
Of course, Peggy and Billy end up together and comedy rules.
I’ve quoted so much of the good dialogue which of course we never hear, only lots of title cards. Another year and in 1929, it would have been a sound film.
But Show People is a delight. Marion Davies and William Haines make a great team.