Gloria Swanson 'The Trespasser': Rare Academy Screening

Purnell Pratt Gloria Swanson Robert Ames The Trespasser
Mother love and melodrama in The Trespasser: Purnell Pratt, Gloria Swanson, and Robert Ames, who would die two years after this film was made.

Author Cari Beauchamp will talk about the convoluted personal and professional relationship between actress Gloria Swanson and producer Joseph P. Kennedy (right) in a program featuring highlights from her upcoming book, Joseph P. Kennedy Presents, on Thursday, November 1, at 7:30 p.m. at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Linwood Dunn Theater in Hollywood.

A rare screening of Edmund Goulding's The Trespasser, a 1929 melodrama produced by Kennedy (uncredited) and starring Swanson in her first talkie, will follow Beauchamp's presentation. Admission is free.

According to the Academy's press release, Joseph P. Kennedy Presents “offers the first serious look at Kennedy's years as a film mogul, [drawing] on material in his recently released personal papers. Instrumental in the conversion from silent to sound films, Kennedy is the only man ever to run three film studios (FBO, Pathé and First National) and a theater circuit simultaneously.”

Perhaps the man had too few fingers in too many pies. First National ended up being acquired by Warner Bros. in 1928, while FBO and Pathé were amalgamated – with the backing of RCA – into what would become RKO. Kennedy was also one the people – Swanson was another – behind the Queen Kelly fiasco, director Erich von Stroheim's costly exercise in megalomania that only received a few bookings – in heavily edited form – mostly in Europe and South America.

In The Trespasser, Swanson's successful follow-up to the disastrous Queen Kelly, the actress stars as a stenographer who elopes with a rich guy (Robert Ames). (I haven't seen the film, but I expect her to be the best-dressed, most heavily made-up working-class gal on the planet.) However, no matter how fashion-conscious the stenographer, the husband's father (William Holden, no connection to the William Holden) has the marriage annulled.

Now pregnant, the dejected stenographer returns to her previous job. Worse yet, when the ex-father-in-law realizes he has a grandson, he wants the boy for himself, as the child will be the heir to the family fortune.

If this sounds like Madame X (there were a zillion versions of that one) or The Sin of Madelon Claudet, it's no mere coincidence. People complain about today's filmmakers not having any imagination. For the most part, that is true. But then again, that has always been the case. In fact, The Trespasser was remade eight years later by Goulding himself. That Certain Woman, beautifully produced but in dire need of a brain, starred Bette Davis and Henry Fonda.

For her performance, which includes some singing (“Love, Your Magic Spell Is Everywhere,” with music by Goulding and lyrics by Elsie Janis), Gloria Swanson earned her second Academy Award nomination. (She was nominated for Sadie Thompson in the awards' first year. More than two decades later, she'd get her third nomination, for Sunset Blvd.)

Also in the cast of The Trespasser: D.W. Griffith veteran Henry B. Walthall, Kay Hammond (ghost wife #1 in David Lean's Blithe Spirit), the irrepressible Mary Forbes, and, in a bit part, Stuart Erwin. Laura Hope Crews, Aunt Pittypat in Gone with the Wind, helped with both the written dialogue and the actors' diction.

According to Matthew Kennedy's Edmund Goulding's Dark Victory, the Swanson-Kennedy partnership didn't have much to celebrate despite the box office success of The Trespasser “With their affair growing icier by the day, Swanson and Kennedy went back to applying band-aids to their ailing Queen Kelly. It didn't help their relationship that The Trespasser was more Swanson's baby and Queen Kelly was more Kennedy's.”

From the Academy's press release:

The Academy's Institutional Grants Committee selected Beauchamp as an Academy Film Scholar in 2004. This event will celebrate the upcoming release of Joseph P. Kennedy Presents (fall 2008). Beauchamp previously authored Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood and edited Anita Loos Rediscovered: Film Treatments and Fiction.

Established in 1999, the Academy Film Scholars program is designed to stimulate and support the creation of new and significant works of film scholarship about aesthetic, cultural, educational, historical, theoretical or scientific aspects of theatrical motion pictures. Film scholars receive $25,000 to research and produce new works of film scholarship, which can take the form of books, multimedia presentations, curatorial projects, DVDs or Internet sites.

For grant guidelines and information about the Academy Film Scholars program, visit

Admission to the Academy Film Scholars presentation is free, but tickets are required. Tickets are available by mail, at the Academy box office, or online at Doors open at 6:30 p.m. All seating is unreserved. The Linwood Dunn Theater is located at 1313 Vine Street in Hollywood. Free parking is available through the entrance on Homewood Avenue. For more information, call (310) 247-3600.

Photos: Courtesy of the Margaret Herrick Library. Joseph P. Kennedy photo by Alfredo Valente.

Gloria Swanson 'The Trespasser': Rare Academy Screening © 2004–2018 Alt Film Guide and/or author(s).
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