There has been little, if any, information on the Greenwich mansion since it was destroyed by fire in 1923. Until now.
A 16-minute film presenting a view of the opulent mansion, grounds, statuary and owners of this once-grand home.
One benefit of having two shipping locations here in the Lowcountry, Savannah, GA and Charleston, SC, is that we are located in an area that has been active in film production dating back to the early 1900's and the beginning of the film industry. One film of particular interest is an early Rudolph Valentino feature film titled, Stolen Moments. Originally planned as a vehicle to stardom for world renowned opera singer Marguerite Namara, this was burgeoning star Rudolph Valentino's last villain role before superstardom in the film to follow just months later, The Four Horseman Of The Apocalypse. Stolen Moments would be edited down from six reels to three to capitalize on Valentino's new fame. No surviving print of its full length is known to exist, though eArtFilm has acquired a rare British 3 sheet from the 1922 British release, an original press book and other memorabilia from the film. The film was edited by Gone With the Wind producer David O. Selznick in 1922.
Stolen Moments was filmed at two locations that are now on the National Registry of Historic Places, one a grand mansion now rubble after burning to the ground and the other a former grand hotel now a college residence hall. The mansion, Greenwich, and its grounds, were acquired by, and are now part of, Bonaventure Cemetery. The residence hall was formerly the Hotel Ponce de Leon, now part of Flagler College in St. Augustine, FL. We began scouting and documenting these film locations in 2009 so we could create what we think are interesting Then and Now comparisons.
Greenwich was a Savannah mansion that rivaled Biltmore House in Asheville, NC, in both size and architectural style. Though smaller than Biltmore in size, it might well have been the second largest private residence in the US at that time. On the night it burned, there were 14 servants in the house. Though it has been said that Mary Pickford and Francis X. Bushman, two major silent era stars, were in films preceding Stolen Moments shot at Greenwich, we have been unable to identify locations used for the Pickford film. This film is also unknown to the Mary Pickford Foundation. The Francis X. Bushman film, The Wall Between, is the focus of a forthcoming eArt/Film project. We're also finishing a short film on Greenwich, which will be released at a later date on our YouTube channel. A link to that channel will appear here once the film has been completed.
The City of Savannah's Department of Cemeteries website says it best: "Greenwich Plantation, with it's manicured gardens of ancient statuary, exotic plant specimens, and an elegant white marble fountain, was once considered the most magnificent, privately owned estate in the entire South."
Much of Stolen Moments was shot at Greenwich but, sadly, this magnificent mansion was destroyed by fire in 1923, just a few years after filming. However, the statuary, the fountain and the pond that appear in the film exist to this day. In fact, some of the statuary now resides in Savannah's Telfair Museum collection (see below). The elegant white marble fountain and pond serves as the backdrop for a scene with Marguerite Namara in Stolen Moments.
As we stated above, Stolen Moments, released in December 1920, was the last film in which Valentino played a villain. It was released less than three months before he would become an international celebrity with the release of Rex Ingram's The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in 1921. Production of Stolen Moments was expedited so Valentino could return to Los Angeles for filming. American Cinema Corp., which made Stolen Moments, was near bankruptcy and needed to capitalize on Valentino's new found fame so, in 1922, the film was reedited to highlight the actor. Camille, another film starring Valentino, was released three months after Stolen Moments and costarred the eccentric Alla Nazimova. It was the first film to play at Savannah's still operating Lucas Theatre, one of the first air-conditioned movie theaters in the US.
The entire Brazil sequence in Stolen Moments was shot in the main courtyard of the old Ponce De Leon Hotel, now Flagler College in St. Augustine. The former hotel is on the National Registry of Historic Places along with Bonaventure Cemetery with its annexed grounds of Greenwich.
Through the magic of cinema, Valentino's house appears next door to Vera's mansion. In reality, it is several miles away. Vera is obviously a distance runner and in a dress and heels to boot. Valentino, in a top hat in the first photo below, arriving at home. When he turns, he'll take the high step up that you can see clearly in the second picture, one of our present day photos, and in the third image, which comes from the film.
Gene Gauthier and his father stroll to the fountain in the middle of the plaza right before Gauthier’s fight with Valentino. The frogs around the outer base of the fountain are unmistakable.