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The Young in Heart tests – Maude Adams and Laurette Taylor

00:00 Introduction by Caroline Yeager, Assistant Curator, Moving Image Department, George Eastman Museum
15:48 Maude Adams’s test
18:31 Laurette Taylor’s test

[The Young in Heart – Maude Adams & Janet Gaynor Test] (US 1938)
Director: Richard Wallace
Cinematographer: Leon Shamroy
Cast: Maude Adams (Miss Fortune), Janet Gaynor (George-Anne Carleton)
Production Company: Selznick International Pictures

Production date: 2 May 1938
Sound: sound
Color: b/w
Length (in feet): 1,109 ft.
Length (in reels): 2
Running time: 13 min.
Frame rate: 24 fps

[The Young in Heart – Laurette Taylor Test; No. 3] (US 1938)
Director: Richard Wallace
Cinematographer: George Webber
Sound engineer: Walter Hicks
Cast: Laurette Taylor (Miss Fortune)
Production Company: Selznick International Pictures

Production date: May 1938
Sound: sound
Color: b/w
Length (in feet): 365 ft.
Length (in reels): 1
Running time: 4 min.
Frame rate: 24 fps

Preservation funded by the New York Women in Film Preservation Fund and the Louis B. Mayer Foundation

For anyone interested in acting, film, or theatre history, these screen tests present a unique opportunity to experience the work of two legendary leading ladies of the American stage: Maude Adams (1872–1953) and Laurette Taylor (1884–1946). Their combined careers totaled an astonishing 98 years, and thousands of their stage performances were seen by audiences across the United States. They originated two of the most iconic roles in American theatre: Adams as the title character in the first American production of Peter Pan; or, the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up (1905), and Taylor as the faded but determined southern belle Amanda Wingfield in the original Broadway cast of Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie (1945). Adams and Taylor never worked together on stage. But for one brief moment, both of these remarkable actresses found themselves auditioning for the same role, that of Miss Fortune in David O. Selznick’s 1938 feature film The Young in Heart. Neither was cast, nor were some of the other prominent actresses considered for the role—among them Mary Pickford and Dorothy Gish.

Adams never appeared in motion pictures, declining the many offers she received after her retirement from the stage in 1918. “It would certainly be a feather in Selznick’s cap if he could induce the shyest actress in the world,” wrote Louella Parsons. Some sources claim that Adams “declined to appear in the film, finding the role unsuitable.” According to others, “she was reported to have asked more for a movie debut than the studio was willing to pay.” However, Selznick was so impressed by her test for this supporting role that he decided to cast Adams “in a picture given over entirely to her.” That film was never made. Her test for The Young in Heart consists of five takes of the same scene. This provides a rare chance to witness the spadework of a great actress: following the instructions received from director Richard Wallace between the takes, Adams adjusts her phrasing and gestures to the new requirements, each time moving further away from her initial vision of the character.

Taylor had something of a film career. She played herself in a 1914 episode of the weekly film serial Our Mutual Girl and starred in three feature films, all of which were based on her stage successes and all of which still survive at archives in the United States and abroad: Peg O’ My Heart (1922), Happiness (1924; preserved at the George Eastman Museum) and One Night in Rome (1924). Yet, she never made a sound film—unfortunately for Hollywood, as her screen test for The Young in Heart clearly demonstrates. “We do not think that you are the right type for the part,” Selznick’s talent scout Kay Brown informed her.

The role of Miss Fortune went to the lesser known Minnie Dupree, suggested to Selznick by Adams. But the screen tests survive in the David O. Selznick collection at the George Eastman Museum. They are Maude Adams’s only screen appearance and Laurette Taylor’s only sound footage known to exist. To watch these two magnificent performers play so effortlessly, and yet ultimately without success, is truly poignant.