Today in History: July 12

Les Amours de la reine Élisabeth, an hour-long silent film from France starring Sarah Bernhardt, debuted on this date in 1912 in New York City. It is the first foreign feature-length film of note to receive attention in America. It is one of the earliest feature-length films, period.

Adolph Zukor’s film company, Famous Players, imported it. The film was enough of a success that Zukor and other producers started to view feature-length films as viable and foreign films as a worthwhile investment. (Zukor later merged his company with Jesse Lasky’s company, Feature Play, and in 1927, their company became Paramount Pictures, the name the company still employs.)

Les Amours de la reine Élisabeth tells a story that Hollywood told and subsequently re-told (Bette Davis and Errol Flynn, in one example) many times: the affair in the 1590s between Queen Elizabeth I and Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, the affair that Robert Tombs refers to as the “final tawdry drama of Elizabeth’s reign.”

The Earl was in his mid 20s when he became favorite of the Queen, who was in her 60s. Tombs wries that he kept himself in Elizabeth’s favor as “a surrogate wayward son rather than as a platonic lover,” as her previous favorites had been. His desire to keep her esteem made him reckless; when rejected from her court, his need to recapture his position made him dangerous: he launched a rebellion against her court (though not against her). He was executed for treason. The Queen never seemed to completely believe the charges against him (he intended to take her hostage) and she spent her final year or two somewhat in mourning for him: a contemporary wrote of the elderly monarch, “Her delight is to sit in the dark, and sometimes with shedding tears to bewail Essex”.

In 1912, Sarah Bernhardt was 67 and she considered films one way of achieving immortality. In real life, she was romantically involved with a young Dutch actor, Lou Tellegen, who was 31 in 1912. They acted in a few films together and even announced their engagement to marry. Appropriately enough, their second film as a team was Les Amours de la reine Élisabeth, in which she played Queen Elizabeth and Tellegen played the wayward Earl of Essex.

The film:

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D. T. Suzuki died 50 years ago today. John Chancellor died 20 years ago today.

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Henry David Thoreau was born on this date in 1817. Buckminster Fuller was born on this date in 1895. Oscar Hammerstein II was born on this date in 1895. Pablo Neruda was born on this date in 1904. Andrew Wyeth was born in 1917 on this date.

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Christine McVie is 73 today. “Everywhere”:

Ernie Anastos is 73. Richard Simmons is 68 today. Cheryl Ladd is 65. Mel Harris is 60 today. Anna Friel is 40. Brock Lesnar is 39. Topher Grace is 38. Malala Yousafzai is 19 today.

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  1. loisajay · July 12, 2016

    Mel Harris will always be thirty-something to me. Loved that show.

    Liked by 1 person

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