In theater, if a cast member dies, every actor or actress has an understudy who can substitute in the next night. In the early years of the movie business, though, a new concern emerged: what if a cast member dies in the middle of filming?
That exact situation happened for the 1922 movie Foolish Wives, when star Rudolph Christians died mid-production. Filming had already cost roughly $750,000 (about $11.9 million in 2021 dollars).
And so the country-wide search began for an actor who looked like Christians and who also could act like him — like that shadow of a man which had imprinted a personality indelibly upon a cool $750,000 worth of film. The agencies of New York and Los Angeles went to work. Pictures of the deceased actor were sent far and near. Established actors came scurrying to find a resemblance, since the prevailing inactivity of the regular producing companies made the opportunity of treble importance.
Many of them did look like Christians. But those that looked like him did not act like him, and those that acted like him did not look like him. And the camera is the one eye that strips off disguises. Yet they found a duplicate at last — in Robert Edeson. Not only do his features resemble Christians’s, more or less, feature for feature, but he was able to copy the dead actor’s mannerisms. With trick lighting to mask the camera’s eye, even close-ups have proven successful. The three-quarters of a million dollars is saved that for months hung in the balance.
Apparently, Edeson didn’t look similar enough, since in the final cut he ended up playing all of his scenes with his back to the camera.
With modern-day CGI, they wouldn’t have needed to cast a lookalike. In the past few years, photo-realistic facial reconstruction visual effects have been essentially perfected, even recreating deceased actor Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin in 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
Mortal Actors and Immortal Film Faces
Published: Sunday, May 22, 1921