Archive for Madame Ora

Madame Ora Was Right

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on November 5, 2019 by dcairns

Erich Von Stroheim’s introduction to THE MERRY WIDOW is the gift that keeps on giving ~

ERICH VON STROHEIM: Mae Murray, who always played under the direction of her husband, a very great man, very great, six-feet-three, and a very gentle man. I could make a comparison between a Saint Bernard dog… [laughter] …She herself, if I may say so, was very active, very agile, too active… [laughter] So this grand man and this little woman, you know very well who won the battle… [laughter] It was always Mae Murray, it was always she who won, and the big Saint Bernard did exactly as she told him to do.

But it was very different with me, since I was not married to this woman… [laughter]

No, she was very gentle, but she had ideas… [laughter] …And, as I said before, I have ideas myself. So these two ideas… [laughter] …clashed.

One time we had a terrible battle, during the embassy ball scene, and it was terrible because I had 350 extras in it who loved me very much… it was always the workers who liked me, not the producers — the workers… do you see the difference? … [laughter and applause] So this woman thought… it was after World War I… and she called me “dirty Hun”… naturally, I did not like it, since I was born in Austria, in Vienna, and since she was born in Vienna, too… [laughter] …As a matter of fact, she was born in Czechoslovakia, but, then, I did not see much difference… [laughter] …and, since my workers, the extras, understood that this meant the end, they took off their uniforms and threw them on the floor…

ERICH VON STOHEIM: I want to tell you a very, very strange story … You will permit me to sit down. [He sits on the podium.] Thank you. Because this is a very strange story… [Laughter]

…I am very superstitious, also religious, and in many cases that goes together, as you know. I had troubles with Mae Murray, as I said before, and, also, troubles with electricity, lamps, with the helpers, with everybody. And it was strange, because it had never happened that way before. So, after the duel with Mae Murray, I was discharged by the company, but really… [laughter] …But I almost forgot to tell you my story.

Since I am very superstitious and religious, I used to visit a certain voyeuse…


ERICH VON STROHEIM: …voyante… [laughter] …So, before I started working on THE MERRY WIDOW, at the time when the company approached me, I naturally went first to my friend Madame Ora… [laughter] … She was an old woman, only an EAR, so I asked her what would be the outcome, should I make the film or not? She waited a little while, just enough to give the necessary weight, and said that I should “absolutely do it,” because it will be a great feather in my hat… [laughter]… In California nobody wears a hat, and I did not have a hat — but she assured me of great success, a large feather, a beautiful plume in my hat, bon!

So I started the film. I was discharged, and I came immediately, the first thing I did, to my advisor Madame Ora. I told her that I was discharged and that the president of the company had shown me the doors himself and that, in my turn, I have given him a few words that he shall never forget, and that I am in the street now. What should I do? And you have assured me that this will be a large feather in my hat! The Madame said to me, “Monsieur Von Stroheim, I can’t change my idea. You will continue tomorrow on THE MERRY WIDOW, you will direct it tomorrow, and it will be a great success, and it will be a great feather in your hat.”

“I said, “Madame, you have not understood me correctly, I am in the street…” [laughter] … “No, Monsieur, it is you who does not understand, it is you who does not understand. You will be continuing tomorrow morning.” And this was at six o’clock in the afternoon. And she says to me that furthermore, now, at this very moment, there are four or five men in my Los Angeles home waiting to see me… regarding tomorrow’s work. I said, “But this is ridiculous, isn’t it?” And she says, “And they are in uniforms…” [laughter]

…And it was the time of prohibition in California, and I, like a good citizen, had plenty of whiskey in my house… [laughter] …and a few whiskeys in my car, just like that… [laughter] …That meant this… [laughter] …the years not in a private prison but on the island of Alcatraz…

So I hurried home, and, believe it or not, there were four men waiting and they were in uniforms. But they were not policemen but from the staff of the company, sent by the president himself to speak to me, to ask me to continue to swork on the film the next morning! That was too much… too strange. During the night, the president sent his men twice more, just to be sure that I would definitely be at work the next morning, at 8.30 — counting thirty minutes for the peace talks… Oui! Madame Ora was right.

I continued directing, it was one of the great successes of its time, and it was chosen by the critics of America as the best film of 1926. That, perhaps, is not such a great credit in itself, since, probably, the other films were very bad… [laughter]

Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, November, 1955


  1. David Lynch has also reportedly had strange troubles with electricity. Michael J. Anderson describes a generator repeatedly blowing on a night shoot for FIRE WALK WITH ME. Finally, Lynch rearranged a couple of lines of dialogue, and the generator went back to working normallt. “I thought that might have been it,” observed Lynch, mysteriously.
  2. Could this talented voyante be the same psychic who predicted Murnau’s death? It seems probably. How many psychics were there in LA in the late twenties, anyway? And how many of them were that good?

[laughter] …