Helene D'Algy - Luso World Cinema Blogathon

Helene D'Algy in the Ziegfeld Follies
(NYPL Billy Rose Theater Collection)
This is my contribution to the Luso World Cinema Blogathon hosted by Spellbound by Movies.

For Valentino fans Helene (or Helena) D'Algy is remembered as being his leading lady in the lost film from 1924 A Sainted Devil.  The film is lost but for the tiniest fragment of about 10 seconds. Her career is but a blip on the whole of cinema history.  She has been and remains a bit of a mystery woman to many, including me. 

She was born Antonia Lozano Guedes Infante on June 18, 1906.  The first mystery is nailing down where she was born.  It is argued her birth was in either Lisbon, Portugal or Madrid, Spain.  According to her brother Tony D'Algy they were born of a Spanish mother and Portuguese father. Beyond that, nothing absolute has been published that I have seen.  Of course, my research time here has not exactly been long or deep.  Nor have I been searching via Spanish or Portuguese sources.  I'm interested enough to start more digging on her, but, not in time to meet the deadline for this blogathon. Forgive me!



How she came to the United States is another mystery.  Various stories (Broadway and studio publicity) mention that she came off success in the opera in Buenos Aires, or more generally somewhere in South America.  I have done a quick search in some online databases trying to see where she might have performed and the results have been scant.  I do find some mentions as early as 1921 in the Mexican movie magazine Cinemundial which indicates she was performing in Santiago, Chile in the operetta The Last Waltz.  Deeper research needs to be done to confirm more performances.  Back in the day it was more rare to tell the truth about one's self than have a very fictionalized biography.  What exactly brought her to New York and when, alas, still a mystery.

However she got to New York, Helena soon came to some measure of fame in New York in 1923.  She appeared in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1923 Summer Edition as a singer.  This ran for 96 performances from June 25th to September 15, 2923. Eddie Cantor was the star of this edition.  She also appeared in the regular edition in the fall opening at the New Amsterdam Theatre on October 20, 1923 and it ran for 233 performance.  Among the others performing in this edition of the Follies were Fanny Brice, Paulette Duval and Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra.

Lou Tellegen and Helena D'Algy
from the Photoplay edition book
Image from Greta de Groat's unsung Divas website.
It was after the Follies that the movies came calling.  Contrary to popular belief, she did not make her debut in A Sainted Devil, but in Let Not Man Put Asunder produced by J. Stuart Blackton of Vitagraph Studios.  Blackton saw her in the Follies and signed her for the film.  The review in Photoplay Magazine was pretty scathing.

Probably one of the worst pictures that was ever put together--even though it does bring Pauline Frederick and Lou Tellegen back to the screen. Poor direction, over-acting and an inexcusably bad story. Marriages and divorces follow each other in rapid succession, and even double deaths do not disconcert the continuity writer. When this comes to your local theater spend the evening at home with the radio and the kiddies.


It is almost surprising that she overcame this dog of a movie and was cast in Lend Me Your Husband which starred Doris Kenyon.  Independently produced, it would appear the J. Stuart Blackton did not retain her under an exclusive contract.  Next Helena was reduced to a bit part on a potboiler called It is the Law.  Being cast in a leading role opposite Rudolph Valentino was quite a jump for her.  A Sainted Devil was shot at the Paramount Studios in Astoria, N.Y.  co-starring Valentino regular Nita Naldi and set in Spain this would be a natural for her.  There is little doubt Valentino made her feel quite at home speaking Spanish while filming.  The film was not a success and did not result in a contract with Paramount. 

She was signed to a contract with MGM studios in 1925.  Her brother also received a contract.  Her next film was Confessions of a Queen which starred Alice Terry and Lewis Stone in a Ruritanian romance.  Helena plays Sephora and below is a snippet of her in the film with Lewis Stone (not sure of the source of this clip, the cameramen are edited in).  Directed by Victor Sjostrom this is a movie I'd love to see!  The entire film does exist, so there is hope.


Her roles at MGM were not leads and within a year she was seen in the Fox film The Silver Treasure starring a pre-Sunrise George O'Brien. Whether she was loaned out or her contract was allowed to lapse I have not yet concluded.  Again, a lot to dig up on her and her brief career in Hollywood. Her next film appearance was in a bit part in Warner Brothers 1926 blockbuster Don Juan. This gives me an excuse to watch it again to see if I can spot her.

Raza de hidalgos was her next credit in 1927 in which she co-starred with her brother Tony who also directed. 

After talkies came in she worked in the Spanish unit at Paramount from 1930-1933. Among the films she had a small role in the 1933 Paramount Film starring legendary tango composer and singer Carlos Gardel Melodia de Arrabal.  There is a heavily watermarked trailer on youtube in which she can be briefly glimpsed. After that her cinema credits stop. 

Her last known appearance was in a Spanish television series Imagenes Perdidas on the Spanish film industry. There were 9 episodes and in the one below she can be seen about 4 minutes in handling stills from A Sainted Devil and talking about Valentino. Pretty cool.  This documentary was from 1991, she looks beautiful and rather well to do here.  No idea when she was interviewed it could be footage from around 1979 according to some online sources.



The last big mystery is when exactly Helena D'Algy passed away.  Her brother Tony died in 1977.  It is obvious she was known in Spain given the above clip in the documentary.  Where did she go, what did she do?  Did she retire?  Did she marry?  When did she return to Spain or Portugal?  Again, deeper research needs to be done to see if 40+ years of her life can be revealed.  In any case, I find her to be a fascinating subject and as a Valentino fan, heartwarming to know she remembered him and thought so well of him all those decades later.




Comments

I had no idea there was so much mystery about Helene D'Algy! I enjoyed reading what you uncovered. Thank you for participating in the blogathon!
said…
It's crazy how someone's entire life can disappear if there is not enough documentation or if the sources diverge. Anyway, I'm glad Valentino treated Helene well and gace a lasting impression. I hope you have more time to dig deeper and find out more about Helene.
Thanks for being part of the blogathon!

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