Karl Dane - "La Boheme"
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La Boheme (1926)

After The Big Parade, it was the legendary Lillian Gish who really was the next one to truly appreciate Karl’s talents. She had seen an early screening of the The Big Parade before its official opening, and scribbled the following note in pencil to Irving Thalberg, which still is tucked neatly into a folder in the King Vidor papers at USC: “Having just seen all of ‘The Big Parade.’ Will be The Covered Wagon of 1925, I believe. There are scenes in it as fine as anything ever done. Hope to see you soon.”

Gish had just made several films on location in Europe, such as the magnificent The White Sister, shot in Italy, and was looking for the right director and co-stars for her first MGM feature in Hollywood. She selected the period piece La Boheme as the vehicle, and requested John Gilbert as her leading man, King Vidor as director, Renee Adoree in a co-starring role, and Karl for a small part as Benoit, elderly mustachioed building superintendent. Vidor initially questioned the judgment of trying to adapt an opera for the silent screen, the film is effective and lovely to look at. Karl was not given much to do in the role, but proved his versatility in playing an elderly character very different from that of Slim. Gish saw, and approved, and rewarded Karl with a much more prominent role, that of Giles the barber-surgeon, in her next MGM high-profile feature, The Scarlet Letter.

Lillian Gish is Mimi, who boards in the house of the elderly Benoit, played by Karl.
With John Gilbert as Rodolphe, a tempestuous playwright who lives next door to Mimi. His jealousy and lack of faith in her will drive them apart.
After a fight with Rodolphe when he thinks she has been unfaithful with the lascivious Count Paul, Mimi leaves so that she will not be a distraction as he works on his new play. Sadly, due to overwork, she falls ill with consumption and staggers home to the kindly arms of Benoit and his wife (Mathilde Comont).
Benoit and his wife with Mimi.
This beautiful shot is a testament to the work of the great cinematographer Hendrik Sartov, who worked on many other Gish films, and also The Big Parade.

Gish reportedly planned carefully for her death scene, refusing all liquids for three days and lining her mouth and gums with cotton so that her lips would literally curl inward, to show the ravages of the disease.

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Last modified: September 3, 2007