This historical reprint was published in conjunction with the screening of Mare Nostrum at SFSFF 2018
I have started to write you several times during the four months I have been here with the “Mare Nostrum” company, but something has always interrupted.
Nice was a pleasant surprise. Rex and Antonio Moreno and his wife met us at the station.
Our studio is about two miles from Nice, on a slight elevation overlooking the sea. My dressing room is on the second floor of the studio villa and has a marvelous view.
We have seventeen nationalities in the company, so I have learned a few words of many languages. I shall be able to converse with anybody in Hollywood when I return!
I have been to Monte Carlo several times, as it is less than an hour by machine from Nice. My first visit to the famous Casino was quite a shock. I had expected to see a gay and well-dressed crowd throwing their money away. Instead I saw seated at the green tables mostly elderly men and women with little system books they have figured out for breaking the bank. They play very carefully. Some have been there every day for years. They win occasionally, and all hope their “systems” will make them fortunes.
Our first location trips were along the Riviera and to the pretty villages in the mountains back of Nice, towns hundreds of years old that still retain their individuality.
Our first long trip was to Italy. We sailed from Monaco on the Providence, and after a twenty-four-hour trip, landed at Naples. We passed near the island of Corsica, where Napoleon was born, and saw a number of other small islands with picturesque little villages.
I had a great thrill when I sighted Mount Vesuvius with its smoking crater. I was having luncheon when Rex called me to the deck and there, towering in front of us was the old mountain, with clouds of smoke pouring out just like what you see on postal cards. It looked like a giant threatening the city of Naples and the small towns huddled at its base.
The landing in Naples was funny. The Providence did not dock, so the passengers were taken off in row boats. You know how excitable one Italian can be. Well, you can imagine what happens when two hundred of them get together in row boats fighting for passengers. I expected to see knives thrown.
The first evening, Tony, Mrs. Moreno, and I dined at a little café on the Santa Lucia, a narrow strip of land extending several hundred feet out from the mainland. The little harbor was bright with yachts and fishing boats. The restaurants specialize in the famous Neapolitan fish dishes and spaghetti. We were serenaded by mandolin and guitar players.
The boatman sing as they row; the cab drivers and everybody else sing as they work.
We worked in the center of the old district where hundreds of families live in one building. Thousands of children play in the narrow streets. When we threw out a handful of small coins, there was such a struggle for them it took several carabinieri to quiet the riot.
After four days in Naples, we traveled by machine to Pompeii, fifty miles. For three days we lived in a little hotel a few yards from the entrance to the famous ruins of the buried city. We could hear Vesuvius rumbling day and night, like a cross old man. Every one of us felt nervous. At night the sky is lighted up by the explosions.
Some of the things that have been dug up are well preserved. It is marvelous that such things as statuary and paintings could be in such good condition. There are frying pans and other cooking utensils that were dug up, more than eighteen hundred years old. I saw an eggshell that had been found among the ruins.
Rex decided next to go to Paestum to photograph the famous temples built by the Greeks, started in 600 bc and still in good condition. It was necessary to organize a motor caravan, as it is almost a hundred miles from Pompeii over roads that are seldom traveled.
We left Pompeii at three in the morning and arrived in Paestum about nine. We were certainly a sight, for we “ate” dust all the way. One of our cameramen, who had a dark beard and mustache, looked like Santa Claus when he arrived.
The temples are wonderful, and well worth the hard trip. It is unbelievable that the early Greeks could have constructed such temples without machinery. Some of the sections of the pillars weigh tons.
Thousands of lizards swarmed over the place. I know I saw five thousand. Not one of us was anxious to remain overnight, as it was a most depressing place. According to the caretaker, even the ancient races deserted Paestum soon after the temples were constructed.
From there we went to Venice. I was never more thrilled in my life than when I stepped into a gondola. There were two gondoliers, one in front and one in back, and it was surprising how quickly we reached our hotel. On the way, we passed many beautiful gondolas belonging to private individuals, others loaded with vegetables going to market. They even have a fire department and a jail on gondolas.
The quietness impressed me—no automobiles, no street cars nor bicycles. Nothing except gondolas and an occasional motor boat.
At night Venice is indescribable. After dinner most of the people take a gondola ride, or promenade in the Piazza San Marco. On the canals, stringed orchestras play as they go. No wonder Venice is called the most romantic city in the world.
Sincerely, Alice Terry
Part of a regular series in Picture-Play, this letter addressed to magazine correspondent Myrtle Gebhart was published in its February 1926 issue.