Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Garden of Allah on Stage and Screen

A sensation when first published in 1904, Robert Hichens' The Garden of Allah is a romantic tale of adventure set in the Algerian desert where a British woman traveling alone has an affair with a fallen Trappist monk.
It was adapted for the stage in 1911 by Hichens and Mary Anderson de Navarro (uncredited), making its debut at the Century Theatre in New York. Elaborately produced by Liebler & Co. the play was a smash hit. 

J. Parker Read, Jr., "a maker of scenic motion pictures", tried to acquire the rights for a film version in 1912.
Moving Picture World, June 8, 1912:
"Because of the beautiful scenic effects of the stage production, Mr. Read proposed to Liebler & Co. that he be allowed to make a picture version of the play but the price asked by the owners was prohibitive, so he decided to make a picture of the Garden itself."
Setting out from Paris by automobile, Read filmed a three-reel travelogue entitled A Motor Trip to the Garden  of Allah, produced through the co-operation of George Tyler, from the Liebler Company.
A Motor Trip to the Garden  of Allah

The first of three screen versions of The Garden of Allah was a Christmas release by the Selig Polyscope Company in 1916, with the Mojave Desert standing in for the Sahara.
The Garden of Allah at the Colonial Theatre in Chicago

Excerpts from Motography, September 1, 1917:
"A camel driven by an Arab attracted a crowd before the theater in Randolph Street and the young lady ushers were garbed after the mysterious manner of the Orient."
"Before the performance a dozen or more Arabs appeared and while one sang a song of the desert others bowed towards the east. The lights were dimmed on the desert set and the song died out and the film drama began."

The Garden of Allah was the opening attraction at Quinn's Rialto in Los Angeles
Excerpts from Moving Picture World, June 23, 1917:
"Selig's multiple reel feature The Garden of Allah has drawn capacity audiences from the first day of opening."
"Through Irving Lesser of the All Star Feature Disbributors, Mr. Quinn bought the entire rights for Los Angeles for The Garden of Allah."

Another silent version was released in 1927 directed by Rex Ingram and starring Alice Terry. Selznick International Pictures made the Garden of Allah as a talkie in 1936, the second film to be photographed in three-strip Technicolor. Star Marlene Dietrich described it as "trash." Other viewers were less harsh especially if one was able to "embrace the silliness."

The Garden of Allah aired on Campbell Playhouse, November 19, 1939 with Orson Wells and Madeline Carroll.

Photo Credits:
1) Postcard part of the Theatre Talks Collection
2) Moving Picture World, June 8, 1912
3) Motography, September 1, 1917
4) Moving Picture World, June 23, 1917

Cezar Del Valle is available for theatre walks and talks in 2013. 
He is the author of the Brooklyn Theatre Index, chosen 2010 Best Book of the Year by the Theatre Historical Society.

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