Film Directors with their Shirts Off #56749 Cecil Blount DeMille


Cecil B. DeMille is such a figure of dignity! Always Dignity! that I despaired of ever finding a shirtless image of the Great Man for my occasional series on cineastes sans chemise. And yet, in Robert S. Birchard’s estimable volume Cecil B. DeMille’s Hollywood, we find not one but two such images. The first shows the entire unit of FEET OF CLAY (1924) basking in the sun. Cecil wears what is either a one-piece bathing suit or a very tight dark vest and shorts. Probably the former. He still has his pipe in though.

But the above image really does it — FLESH is what the public screams for, and Cecil is not one to disoblige a screaming public. He’s chatting to Herbert Marshall and Claudette Colbert on the set of FOUR FRIGHTENED PEOPLE (1934), effortlessly maintaining his sang-froid and keeping his smoking materials lit at the same time, proving that true dignity can be maintained in any circumstance, even while exposing one’s moobs.

DeMille may be showing solidarity with his leading lady, who goes nude in the film. Bathing under a waterfall, Claudette is filmed in extreme longshot so that we will have to wait for the Blu-ray to get busy with a magnifying glass and see if it really is her bottom. My theory is that DeMille here is disrobing just as Paul Verhoeven did on STARSHIP TROOPERS when some of his young actors were reluctant to strip for a communal shower scene. (While one applauds the Dutchman’s nerve, it isn’t really the same thing — his ass wasn’t going to be put on film and projected at millions of people.)

I guess the DeMilles I should be checking out are MANSLAUGHTER, THE WHISPERING CHORUS and other of his more sophisticated dramas, but somehow I always just want to watch the last half of MADAME SATAN and let my eyeballs rejoice at the costumes of Mitchell Leisen.

7 Responses to “Film Directors with their Shirts Off #56749 Cecil Blount DeMille”

  1. I met Robert Birchard at the Huntington Library in 1986 when I was researching JCK LONDON: THE MOVIES. He was very helpful and actually copied some stills from glass negatives for me.

  2. Randy Cook Says:

    Mr. Birchard and I have been friends since UCLA. In 1971 we walked across Sunset Blvd together, knocked unbidden upon John Ford’s front door, and wound up having a 45 minute audience with the Grand Old Man. Bob knows a hell of a lot about the movies, early silents especially, and I welcome the opportunity to mention that Bob’s one of the really good guys.

  3. It’s a terrific book — marvelously researched. He evidently didn’t know about DeMille being pipped to the post as America’s first feature director by Hobart Bosworth, but on the subject of CB’s career he’s highly informative and entertaining.

  4. I very much affirm what Randy has said about Bob from my meeting with him at the Huntington Library. He also generously drove me around parts of Hollywood where the old De Mille and other studios were. The problem about THE SEA WOLF (1913) is that all we have are a few surviving stills but we do know it was premiered at New York’s Strand Theater. But the state’s rights method of distribution hindered it progress, the negative was destroyed in the 1915 Lubin fire, and the last known copy was circulating in Australia around 1926.

  5. I’ve loved all the De Milles from the Teens that I’ve seen, and THE GODLESS GIRL is quite a thing too. You’ve probably already seen THE SIGN OF THE CROSS, eh?

  6. Yes. Loved The Godless Girl, the shrewdest bit of Christian propaganda DeMille ever made.

    My observation so far: 1914 DeMille = primitive, stodgy, 1915 DeMille = slick, exciting. There must be crossover movies I haven’t seen, but I have to admit the guy learned fast.

  7. […] Shadowplay features a still from this movie with a shirtless Cecil B. DeMille. […]

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