November 4, 2011

Seeing Double with Eva Novak

Coming attraction slide for The Smart Sex (1921)

You don't need a fine eye to spot the similarities between these slides for two different Eva Novak features, Up in Mary's Attic (1920) and The Smart Sex (1921).  While it is not uncommon to see the same portrait of a star or director reproduced in advertisements for different films (esp. D.W. Griffith and C.B DeMille), this is the first time I've come across re-use of a character in costume.  

Coming attraction slide for Up in Mary's Attic (1920)
It doesn't take a great deal of detective work to figure out that the photo in question originated from The Smart Sex.  Comparing the synopses from the two films makes differentiation a trivial affair.  In The Smart Sex, Novak plays Rose, a stranded showgirl who participates in a local amateur show and wins the prize. After the performance she meets a wealthy young man who buys her supper, gets her an accommodation on a farm adjoining his father's estate, and turns farmhand to win her love. 

Poster for Up in Mary's Attic
Meanwhile, Up in Mary's Attic, Eva plays Mary who risks losing her inheritance if she marries without the approval of her guardian and therefore must keep her marriage to athletic instructor Jack Langdon a secret. This is complicated by the presence of the couple's baby (!) whom Mary has hidden in the school attic.

Does the slide image depict Rose the showgirl, or Mary the girl with a baby and a secret marriage?   

What seems odd about all this is... well, there are a couple of things.  First, Up in Mary's Attic was released first (July 1920), and yet is advertised by a photo from a film released more than a year later (The Smart Sex premiered in April 1921).  How could an image from a 1921 film make its way backward in time to advertise a film released in 1920?  

Second, the image in question has absolutely nothing to do with the plot, the characters, or even the genre of Up in Mary's Attic.  Even if the chronology made sense, you've got to ask yourself "what were they thinking?"  

Obviously the poster is a much more suitable advertisement, though it does make me smile to think about patrons attending a show expecting showgirls and instead getting a hidden (though legitimate!) baby instead.  Imagine the disappointment!

From The Smart Sex
In the end, I think the slide manufacturer must be the one to blame for the mix-up.  It can't be the production companies or the distributors because they were different for each title.  Up in Mary's Attic was produced by Ascher Productions and distributed by Fine Arts Pictures, Inc., while The Smart Sex was produced and distributed by Universal Film Manufacturing Company.  

My theory is that Up in Mary's Attic was making a second round in distribution some time after it's initial release.  The Unique Slide Company (717 Seventh Ave, N.Y.) who manufactured the slide received an order for slides to advertise Mary's Attic, and simply re-purposed an existing design for The Smart Sex by changing the title and the names of the stars at the bottom of the slide.  What's the difference?  They're both Eva Novak pictures aren't they?

The only way to confirm this would be to find a similarly designed slide for The Smart Sex.  Who knows?  Maybe we'll turn one up some day...




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