The $18 Silent Movie Casting Challenge

Hey, let’s have some fun! We’ve all talked about silent film casting wish lists and this is taking things to a whole new level.

You are a Hollywood mogul about to make a film. You have $18 to spend and you must spend exactly that, no more and no less. What kind of cast, writer and director can you buy with your $18?

The Rules:

  • You have only $18 to spend, and you must spend exactly this amount.
  • You must choose one person only from each category.
  • If you have a couple of bucks left over after making your initial selections, you can choose one person from any category for a cameo role. The person you choose must exactly match the dollar value that you have left.
  • If you’re feeling extra creative, come up with a genre and short plot synopsis for your film!

Many apologies for leaving out so many favorites. I tried to select and price by the performer’s value in the actual silent era. (So, for example, Louise Brooks would not fetch $5 as her reputation grew after the silent era.) I also opted to leave out the famous comedians because the comic side of Hollywood had a very different set of personnel.


Cecil B. DeMille ($5)
Lois Weber ($4)
Maurice Tourneur ($3)
Fred Niblo ($2)
Dorothy Davenport ($1)


Frances Marion ($5)
Anita Loos ($4)
Elinor Glyn ($3)
Jeanie Macpherson ($2)
Tay Garnett ($1)

Lead Actor:

Lon Chaney ($5)
Rudolph Valentino ($4)
John Barrymore ($3)
Milton Sills ($2)
William Boyd ($1)

Lead Actress:

Mary Pickford ($5)
Clara Bow ($4)
Norma Talmadge ($3)
Renee Adoree ($2)
Phyllis Haver ($1)

Supporting Actor:

Conrad Veidt ($5)
Wallace Beery ($4)
Ernest Torrence ($3)
Hobart Bosworth ($2)
Clyde Cook ($1)

Supporting Actress:

Marie Dressler ($5)
ZaSu Pitts ($4)
Lilyan Tashman ($3)
Margaret Livingston ($2)
Louise Dresser ($1)

Here is what I came up with:

Director: Maurice Tourneur ($3)
Writer: Jeanie Macpherson ($3)
Lead Actress: Phyllis Haver ($1)
Lead Actor: Milton Sills ($2)
Supporting Actor: Conrad Veidt ($5)
Supporting Actress: Louise Dresser ($1)
Cameo: Elinor Glyn ($3)

Total: $18

I am seeing a goofy, glitzy society marital comedy with lots of sparkling sets and a cameo by Glyn to help explain to Phyllis how to land Milton. Conrad can be the suave rival, Louise can be Phyllis’s social-climbing mom.

I can’t wait to see your answers!

(I originally saw the $15 Casting Challenge: All-Classic Edition over at The Motion Pictures so do check it out!)


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13 Replies to “The $18 Silent Movie Casting Challenge”

  1. D-Fred Niblo $2
    W-Frances Marion $5
    Actor-William Boyd $1
    Actress-Renee Adoree $2
    Sup Actor- Wallace Beery $5
    Sup Actress- Margaret Livingston $2

    Going all in for my writer, anyone whose career went from silents to Hopalong is steady, Adoree is just too cute, Beery for my villain, Livingston as the misunderstood almost other woman. And it’s a big movie—but not a Western. Maybe a Revolutionary War thing. That would be a good look for Boyd.

  2. Dorothy Davenport ($1)
    Frances Marion ($5)
    Lon Chaney ($5)
    Phyllis Haver ($1)
    Ernest Torrence ($3)
    Louise Dresser ($1)

    Davenport was good at dramatizing social issues. Lon Chaney stars as an investigative reporter gone undercover to expose grim sweatshop conditions. Ernest Torrance as the brutal head of the sweatshop who uses nasty tactics to control workers from unionizing and Chaney has a double role as his scarred henchman. Phyllis Haver as a courageous assembly line seamstress fighting the boss, and Louise Dresser as the tragic older worker who loses her life in a factory fire.

  3. Lois Weber-Director-4
    Jeannie MacPherson-writer-2
    John Barrymore-Lead Actor-3
    Renee Adoree-Lead Actress-2
    Conrad Veidt-Supporting Actor-5
    Margaret Livingston-Supporting Actress-2

    Lois Weber can make something out of nothing as long as she has Conrad Veidt in her film. Since she is haunted by the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, she decides to make a film about how horrible the women are treated as employees and are often abused physically and sexually. She has to Star John Barrymore in the film and he agrees but she makes him the villain. Renee is hired as a young girl from France who comes to New York ending up working at a factory. She is enamoured by Barrymore’s good looks and charming smile, not to mention his profile and doesn’t see a good man working nearby, played by Conrad Veidt. Margaret plays a co-worker who was used and thrown away like many women and a woman who tries to tell Renee who Barrymore really is. Soon enough, Renee starts fighting for the women with Margaret right beside her but they have no idea whom They are dealing with. Veidt outshines Barrymore as a man who helps the women and Barrymore relishes playing the villain and one who could relate to the skirt chaser.

  4. How about a quasi-serious pirate picture directed by Fred Niblo ($2), written by Tay Garnett ($1), and starring Milton Sills ($2) and Phyllis Haver ($1). As well as the talents of Sills and Haver jazzing up the swashing and buckling, counting a lot on the skills, both serious and comedic, of the supporting players: Zazu Pitts ($4) and Ernest Torrence ($3), perhaps as uncle and niece. The movie features a surprise cameo by Marie Dressler ($5) as a shady lady with her cap set for Torrence.

      1. Thanks! I’m (not so secretly) hoping to give Tay Garnett his big pre-1926 screenwriting break with this one. Just know that, given a real opportunity, he can hit this feature out of the park…as he did so many others later 😉

  5. Director: Maurice Tourneur ($3)
    Writer: Tay Garnet ($1)
    Lead Actress: Phyllis Haver ($1)
    Lead Actor: Lon Chaney ($5)
    Supporting Actor: Wallace Beery ($4)
    Supporting Actress: ZaSu Pitts ($4)

    I’m seeing sort of a “Cat and the Canary”-style horror/mystery spoof with lots of cool silhouettes and shadows. Lon Chaney uses innovative makeup techniques to appear as a man whose physical deformities disguise a sensitive soul. Phyllis Haver is his flapper niece who stands to inherit a spooky old mansion, if she can stand to stay the night in the same house with him. Wallace Beery wears an ape suit. ZaSu Pitts is the wise-cracking, scene-stealing maid.

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