This still from The Fox movie Destruction
(1915), based on the Emile Zola novel Labor
, has been reproduced many times and crediting the actress playing Ferdinande, Theda Bara, but never mentioning who played the man, or explaining what was going on.
The image has even graced the cover of a compact album, subset of the first album of the Brazilian rock band Paralamas do Sucesso in 1983 titled Cinema Mudo
Vinícius Rosa Frahm, a fan of the group, was curious to know who the man is. So, I looked into it and, at first (without reading the plot lines carefully) believed the actor was J. Herbert Frank in his role as Dave Walker from Destruction
. My flawed logic went as follows:
1. He is a adult male.
2. He is not the only male cast member I do know: Warner Oland, who played Mr. Deleveau.
3. The presumably adult males in the cast beside Warner Oland are Arthur Morrison (Lang), Frank Evans (a mill foreman), Carleton Macy (John Froment Jr.), Johnnie Walker (unknown part), J. Herbert Frank (Dave Walker), James A. Furey (John Froment Sr.), Gaston Bell (John Froment III).
4. The imdb plot summary is: Fernande (played by Theda Bara) marries a man and schemes to get his wealth when his expected death occurs. But he dies before he can change his will. She next tries to kill the son who inherits, but he outfoxes her.
5. The AFI plot summary is: When John Froment III, a college student known as "Jack," learns that his father, a wealthy mill owner, has married the temptress Ferdinande Martin, he warns his father, but Ferdinande claims that she earlier refused Jack's proposal, and Froment disregards the warning. After Froment complains about Ferdinande's extravagances, she convinces his manager, Deleveau, who desires her, to reduce the workers' wages. A strike is called, which to Ferdinande's delight, worsens Froment's serious heart condition. After Dave Walker, a worker who abuses his wife Josine, is wounded during a riot, Jack befriends Josine and urges his father to settle. When Ferdinande accuses Jack of trying to ravish her, Froment orders Jack out, and decides to change his will to favor Ferdinande, but Froment's invalid grandfather sees Ferdinande try to poison Froment, and warns him. After Froment sees Ferdinande embracing Deleveau, he locks the original will away, and dies. Later, Ferdinande convinces Walker that Jack is involved with Josine. Walker then rapes Ferdinande and attacks Jack. After escaping to the Froment mansion, he dies with Ferdinande as it burns. Jack marries Josine, and the community thrives.
6. The man's age indicates he is not John Froment, Sr.
7. Johnnie Walker is in a bit part: most likely not in a major scene with Theda Bara.
8. Arthur Morrison is just given a character named Lang. This is most likely a bit part and thus not in a major scene with Theda Bara.
9. Then there is Frank Evans, a mill foreman. As he is not a named character, he is most likely not in a major scene with Theda Bara.
10. The man's age, physique and clothing...and his action... suggests he is the Dave Walker character (played by J. Herbert Frank) in the process of raping Ferdinande!
Is it really J. Herbert Frank? Well, if you follow his filmography, he tended to be cast into "heavy" roles. Certainly this qualifies. Here is J. Herbert Frank from his role as Don Rodrigues in the 1918 Goldwyn comedy Dodging A Million
. Don Rodrigues (J. Herbert Frank), spies on Jack Forsythe (Tom Moore) and Arabella Flynn (Mabel Normand) from Dodging A Million (1918).
J. Herbert Frank led a tragic life. He was never a star, always a supporting cast member. Besides Destruction
(1915) and Dodging a Million
(1918), he was in 51 other films from 1914 to 1924. His most productive and recognized period started with his appearance in the Theda Bara film and lasted through around 1918.
After World War I he became less employable as a silent film actor. He appeared in only 11 films during that period, often under different aliases such as Bert Frank or Burt Frank. Toward the end of his life he got into trouble with the law a great deal and was arrested for bootlegging and drug dealing. Police were suspicious of him as a possible narcotics supplier to actor Wallace Reid after Reid died in 1922 (from health conditions related to his morphine addiction).
In 1926, Frank commited suicide by flooding his Los Angeles apartment with natural gas. He was scheduled to appear in court on a disturbance charge. He was only 40 years old when he died.
However, the picture of J. Herbert Frank really did not look like the character seen in Destruction
. The face was more gaunt and, as Vinícius pointed out, his hairline was different.
I then re-read the plot summaries and realized I totally dismissed one of the most prominent roles in the movie, that of Froment III, "Jack." While the clothing and physique was more of a worker, the plot line (especially from IMDB) would indicate that there was a scene with Jack fighting Ferdinande...thus the picture.
What clinches it, really, is this picture of the actor playing Jack, Gaston Bell:
As a result, I believe that the scene from Destruction
is that of Jack Froment (Gaston Bell) fighting Ferdinande (Theda Bara).
Unlike Herbert, Bell had not hitched his life and career on Hollywood and the films. He was better known as a stage actor and most likely never came out west as the movie business moved to California. Bell's final film, the one after Destruction
, was in 1919 when he played a Soviet secret agent in The Heart of a Gypsy
. Bell died at the age of 86 in Woodstock, New York.