Silent (okay, Early Talkie) Movie Myth: “By William Shakespeare with Additional Dialogue by Sam Taylor”

I was catching up on my modern movie news and found that Disney is planning to “remake” their 1996 animated version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Part of the announcement was that the new film would be based on both the Victor Hugo novel and their cartoon version.

Being a good old movie nerd, that immediately brought to mind this infamous screen credit:

“By William Shakespeare with additional dialogue by Sam Taylor”

The problem is that the film that allegedly had this credit, The Taming of the Shrew (1929), is available as a reissue version that omits it, if it ever existed at all. That font of online truth, Wikipedia, confidently states that:

For many years it was believed that one of the credits read “Additional Dialogue by Sam Taylor”, but there is no evidence any print ever contained such a credit.”

I was willing to think this was a myth before I read the Wikipedia entry but now I decided to dive in for myself. I have tangled with Wikipedia many, many times over the years, you see, and had to clean up several messes. (Their Ivan Mosjoukine page… Bah!) So, if Wikipedia claims it is false, that’s my first hint that it might be true.

The actual phrase “additional dialogue by Sam Taylor” yields no contemporary results– I don’t consider anecdotes from the 1950s to be evidence for a picture released in 1929, but “additional dialog” does. (Typos and alternative spellings must always be factored in when performing a text search.) Further, there are plenty of references to the adaptation of Shakespeare’s play by Taylor, a great deal of them negative and sarcastic. And all from within a few weeks of the film’s October 1929 debut.

But back to the mystery at hand: was there ever an ONSCREEN CREDIT that stated some variation of “additional dialogue by Sam Taylor” and is there evidence to back it?

For onscreen credits, I have to say that there is no definitive evidence. In advertising, though, there is a decent amount.

In the November 1929 issue of Screenland:

For isn’t there a report that Mary’s and Doug’s new co-starring picture is being advertised: ” ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ by William Shakespeare, with additional dialog by Sam Taylor?” Sophisticates are already chuckling at Mr. Taylor cutting into Bill Shakespeare’s laurels like that.

And the November 7, 1929 issue of the Greeley Daily Tribune:

A gaudy harbinger of coming attractions on Broadway’s movie belt contains this sign: “Coming ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ with Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford (BOTH). By William Shakespeare with Additional Dialog by Sam Taylor. The Big Laugh Hit That New York Has Been Waiting For.”

The November 2, 1929 issue of Liberty:

Even at that, Shakespeare does not get all the credit. Director Sam Taylor is listed as aiding in the dialogue. These improvements appear to consist principally of inserting Petruchio’s comment, “What a wench!” here and there.

Now, the last item is probably the strongest evidence that an onscreen title card existed but it is ambiguous enough to also count as evidence toward a print, poster or other advertisement with the deathless credit. Still, I feel that there is enough contemporary reference material to make me list the “additional dialogue by” anecdote as a possibility instead of a myth.

It should be noted that individual theaters were highly creative, for better or worse, with their advertising and if the credit only exists in an ad, it is highly unlikely that it was an official United Artists piece of marketing material. I don’t think there’s any way on heaven or earth that Doug or Mary would allow something like that.

This is hardly a smoking gun, just a mildly smoldering one, but it is enough to keep this little story in the “maybe” box.

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16 Replies to “Silent (okay, Early Talkie) Movie Myth: “By William Shakespeare with Additional Dialogue by Sam Taylor””

  1. I’ll post the picture on Twitter, but no less an authority than Letitia Fairbanks, family historian & co-author of the recently-reissued & updated “Douglas Fairbanks: The Fourth Musketeer”, states on Page 220, “As it turned out, the biggest laugh in the picture was in its screen credits: “The Taming of the Shrew, by William Shakespeare, additional dialogue by Sam Taylor.”

    Not just because Letitia is my stepmom do I believe this, but I don’t think she & co-author Ralph Hancock would make something up that they didn’t have very good reason to believe was the case.

    Furthermore, you got me curious. I do not have time now to do the research, but I could have sworn the copy of THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, from The History of Cinema *has* Sam Taylor credited as additional dialog (but you might be trying to research if the original print had the Taylor credit.)

    Great, thought-provoking post, as always Fritzi! Thank you!

    1. My only concern is that by the time The Fourth Musketeer was written, the story had already entered Hollywood lore. It was confidently written about on a regular basis from 1935 onward and was accepted as fact, I doubt either author would have reason not to believe it, especially if there really was an advertisement claiming such a thing. And I think we can pretty definitively accept that the credit did exist in SOME form (likely that advertisement), it’s just the question of whether or not it made it onto the actual titles of the picture. And, of course, Mary’s memory might have been faulty at that point, especially considering what a bitter disappointment the picture would have been to her.

      I have never personally found anyone who has seen a copy of the film with that title intact but Mary Pickford oversaw a complete overhaul of the picture and I believe all the versions on home video are derived from it. Of course, there could very well be somebody who has seen it but I have to leave a doorway open for doubt because the title seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth and there is a reasonable explanation as to why so many people remember it. (Conflating the advertisement or perhaps even theater program with the title card.)

      If you find out anything more, let me know!

  2. I’ve read that the credit was mentioned in some early reviews, so it may have been in the print shown at the premiere. May have been changed before the film went into general release.

    Yes, Pickford had the film overhauled in 1966, adding music and sound effects, and cutting several minutes. This is the only version I’ve seen. I hope there’s a print of the original cut in a vault or archive somewhere.

    1. The issue is that the reviews I have seen are ambiguous enough to refer to either a title card, advertising material of some kind or even an article reporting on the credit. There’s no real smoking gun, from what I can see.

  3. Like everyone else here, it seems, I’ve seen only the 1966 reissue, Blackhawk print, where we are told that the reissue is “faithful to the original.” For the record, the credit there is: “adaptation and direction by Sam Taylor.”

    I understand how the “additional dialog” phrase can seem humorous. But the fact is that most films of Shakespeare tamper with the texts by leaving out lines (some of which would be incomprehensible to modern viewers), whole scenes (which may be deemed too long or digressive for moderns), & sometimes draw on simplifications of difficult lines invented by 18th and 19th century editors of Shakespeare.

    The conclusion that the famous (or infamous?) credit comes from non-filmic sources seems to me the most plausible. But the point of my comment is that poor old Sam Taylor may be getting a bad rap.

      1. You know, it might have been a gag (if actually done). I never thought of this, but to me it’s a possibility consistent with what I know about the people involved with the film & with the “temper of the times.”

      2. Yes, that seem’s as if that might be the case. Also, a word about Letitia’s research during the writing of the Fourth Musketeer: that was mostly handled by co-author Ralph Hancock, as evidenced from the research I did in his papers at Univ. of Oregon. Ralph collected newspaper clipping, after clipping. He’d write a draft, and leave spaces for Letitia to insert her personal stories.

        Letitia was very close to her father, Robert Fairbanks, who died in 1948. Rather than hearing these stories from her aunt, Mary Pickford, I’m pretty sure 80-90% of the stories came from Robert. And Robert was an engineer with a dispassionate, not-as-creative temperament as either his brother or sister-in-law. (Wild to think of Mary Pickford as your sister-in-law!) Robert would have told Letitia the story as he remembered it (but of course, no one’s memory is infallible.)

      3. Yes, I think with most silent film veterans we can enjoy their anecdotes but dig a little deeper if the topic warrants it. And in this case, I wouldn’t call it impossible, just that a smoking gun has not been discovered in modern times. We shall see what comes of it!

  4. Beware the very unreliable anecdotes that Mack Sennett and Raoul Walsh spun in their (admittedly entertaining) memoirs.

    1. I pretty much do not take anyone seriously. The problem is that there are a lot of folks who DO (Lillian Gish stans view her incredibly farfetched whoppers as gospel)

  5. I take the attitude that these people were storytellers and entertainers, and if the facts weren’t entertaining or dramatic enough, they would make up a story that was.

    Frank Capra’s account of his “discovery” of Harry Langdon, and creation of Langdon’s screen persona (apparently with no input from Langdon) is almost entirely fiction. But it’s entertaining to read! And, of course, Langdon wasn’t alive to sue when Capra’s book as published.

    1. But, alas, Capra’s bitter grudge has done quite a number on Langdon’s reputation and he has never really recovered. Some stories were harmless but a good many have done a lot of people a lot of harm.

  6. I was glad when William K. Everson took Capra to task in his book “American Silent Film” (published when Capra was still alive), noting that “a lot of scores are settled” in Capra’s book and that his treatment of Langdon was both cruel and unfair.

    In reality, Capra didn’t arrive on the Sennett lot until a year after Langdon began making two-reelers there. I’m sure that Capra (along with writer Arthur Ripley and director Harry Edwards) helped refine the Langdon character. But the basic character was there from the start. And it was created by Harry Langdon.

  7. Yes, Langdon worked until the year of his death (1944) and was never idle. I think he handled dialogue better than Chaplin, Keaton or Lloyd.

    It was Capra who gave up after a couple of flops, although he lived another 30 years after directing his last film.

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