Recovered and Restored: 'Ramona,' Silent Movie by Chickasaw Filmmaker
The recently restored 1928 version of Ramona had its world premiere on March 29 in Los Angeles. Based on a weepy, once-popular novel by Helen Hunt Jackson, Ramona tells the story of a mixed-race (Scottish and American Indian) girl who is raised by a Mexican family and suffers racial discrimination. The 1928 film version features internationally acclaimed Mexican actress Dolores Del Rio in the title role and non-Native actor Warner Baxter as her ill-fated Indian husband Alessandro.
The lead actors may not have been racially authentic, but the man in the director’s chair was certainly well suited to the material: Edwin Carewe, a Chickasaw filmmaker who directed dozens of films in the silent era.
“Most people don’t realize that Edwin was an American Indian,” says Diane Allen, granddaughter of Carewe. Allen’s grandmother was actress Mary Aiken, who had married Carewe twice, in 1925 and 1929. “Even though he didn’t make films portraying Indians, he chose movies and cast roles that promoted the underdog, especially the female character,” Allen adds.
Ramona has been performed on stage annually since 1923 in Hemet, California — the website of the Ramona Bowl Amphitheater touts the play as both “America’s longest running drama” and the “Official California state outdoor play.” Carewe’s film was the third screen version of Jackson’s novel; the movie is silent with a running time of approximately 80 minutes.
“I think he’s underappreciated,” Allen says of her grandfather. “Really, he was a bit ahead of his time. He was obsessed with the female character and women in general.”
Carewe is known as the director who discovered actress Dolores Del Rio in Mexico and convinced her to move to Hollywood. He was hoping to transform Del Rio into a star to match the appeal of silent screen “Latin Lover” Rudolph Valentino.
“[Carewe] had a passion for women and their beauty and their talent,” Allen says by phone from her home in Los Angeles. In fact, Del Rio made at least seven pictures with the director.
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