When Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was published in 1886, it was an immediate success. Thomas Russell Sullivan, in collaboration with actor Richard Mansfield, adapted it for the stage, premiering it in Boston before opening in NYC in 1887. The play opened in London in 1888 before the first murder attributed to Jack the Ripper. The first film versions were in 1908 and 1912.
A female pioneer in the film industry, Clara Beranger, adapted the play for the 1920 film produced by Adolph Zukor and Jesse Lasky, directed by John S. Robertson and starring John Barrymore. Many film scholars consider this to be the first great American horror film. Although Barrymore had been acting in films since 1914, he had not found the same success he enjoyed on stage, until Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Dr. Jekyll, played by Barrymore, is a kind physician and scientist, who’s friend believes that everyone has two has two personalities: one good one and one evil. The good doctor sets out to prove or disprove this theory by creating a potion that turns him into a monster, and an antidote that turns him back to his normal good self. Although he’s in love with his friend’s daughter, Millicent (Martha Mansfield), Jekyll’s baser self begins to control him, leaving little time for her. As Hyde, he destroys one life after another, including Gina’s (Nita Naldi) whom he first met at a music hall.
In 1922, Barrymore’s Hamlet became the longest-running Broadway production of the play with 101 performances until John Gielgud played the role for 132 performances in 1936. Martha Mansfield was a rising young actress in 1920, however she died at the age of 24 when her large-skirted dress for the period film Warrens of Virginia caught on fire. Nita Naldi was a star in The Ziegfeld Follies in 1920, and is now most remembered for playing opposite Valentino in Blood and Sand.
Since 2011, Wayne Zimmerman has been accompanying silent classics for ELTC. He has played in a variety of venues from coast-to-coast and in Hawaii, regaling audiences with his silent-film accompani-ment and concerts. Past classics for ELTC include Wings, The Mark of Zorro, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Phantom of the Opera.