Monta Bell

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Monta Bell
Monta Bell - Jun 1925 EH.jpg
From a 1925 magazine
Louis Monta Bell

(1891-02-05)February 5, 1891
DiedFebruary 4, 1958(1958-02-04) (aged 66)
Years active1925 - 1942
Spouse Betty Lawford (1931-1937)

Louis Monta Bell (February 5, 1891 – February 4, 1958) was an American film director, producer, and screenwriter.



“Completely forgotten today, Monta Bell was once seen as a major stylist working in the Lubitsch tradition, although the sly misanthropy of his best work, like Man, Woman and Sin (1927) or Downstairs (1932), is far more suggestive of Charles Chaplin’s darker moments— Film historian Richard Koszarski in Hollywood on the Hudson (2008). [1]

Monta Bell first appeared in theatrical venues with Washington D.C. stock companies and then took up journalism and publishing in New York. [2] While in New York, filmmaker Charlie Chaplin enlisted the 32-year-old Bell to ghost-write his 1922 memoir My Trip Abroad. Bell, along a number of other apprentices including Harry d'Abbadie d'Arrast and Mal St. Clair, became film editors and assistant directors. Here Bell was “exposed to Chaplin’s meticulous style of comedy construction and a complete immersion in all aspects of filmmaking.” [3] [4]

In 1924, Paramount manager Walter Wanger engaged a number of “promising young men without significant directing experience”, among them Bell, to direct pictures at their Astoria Studios, Queens, New York. One of Bell’s early achievements as director is The King on Main Street (1925). [5] Bell developed into a major cinematic stylist, directing sophisticated film essays on “contemporary sexual mores.” Bell is notable for directing the 1926 Torrent , Greta Garbo's first American film. [6]

In 1928, with the advent of sound films, Bell was transferred Paramount Pictures’ east coast operations, serving as head of production at the Astoria Studios. [7] There Bell directed a number of high comedies and low melodramas and later moved to producing films, [8] [9]

Like his mentor Charles Chaplin, Bell championed the superiority of silent cinema as an art form and a method of conveying a story. [10] [11]

Bell was married for six years to actress Betty Lawford, cousin of actor Peter Lawford. Monta directed 20 films from 1924 to 1945. In addition, he produced 20 films and wrote 9 screenplays.

He died on February 4, 1958, at the Motion Picture Country House and Hospital, one day before his 67th birthday. [12] He is interred in Section 8 Garden of Legends in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Hollywood, California.


“At the time I came East [to Astoria Studios] I did not like talking pictures. I do not like them today. This, however, is personal taste. I do not know whether the public likes them or not. I do not believe any one can tell that, because the public is just being fed talking pictures and as long as that is their enforced diet, they are going to take it.
If one [film] company had the courage - perhaps it would have taken a very rash courage - to hold aloof from the hysteria that [introduced talking films] so rapidly, to produce only silent films that year... they might have found considerable market for these same silent films. However, that is past. Talking pictures are here and here to stay.” —Monta Bell in Theatre Arts Monthly , September, 1929. [13]




  1. Koszarski, 2008 p. 181
  2. Koszarski, 1976 p. 227: “...drifted into publishing” in D.C. and New York.
  3. Koszarski, 1976 p. 227
  4. Koszarski, 2008 p. 181: “...Bell had been one of Chaplin’s assistants on that of the comedian’s inner circle after ghostwriting [Chaplin’s] 1922 memoir My Trip Abroad.”
  5. Koszarski, 2008 p. 48
  6. Koszarski, 2008 p. 181: See here for info on Garbo and John Gilbert films. Quotation taken from same page.
  7. Koszarski, 1976 p. 227: Bell assigned to Paramount’s “east coast operation when sound arrived, a position no doubt intended to take advantage of his experience” in stage productions in that region.
  8. Koszarski, 2008 p. 219: “After being kicked upstairs [to executive status] Monta Bell continued at Astoria Studios as a producer and occasional director.”
  9. Koszarski, 1976 p. 227: “Bell prefers a trashy, but highly stylized melodrama like Alibi (1929) to a more respectable, literate, and ultimately static photoplay such as Madame X (1929).”
  10. Koszarski, 1976 p. 227: Bell’s “preference for the silent film, attitude shared by his mentor, Charles Chaplin.”
  11. Koszarski, 2008 p. 181: See here for Bell’s displeasure with sound films, compared to silent.
  12. "Monta Bell Dies. Ex-Film Director. Sound Movies. Was 66. Newsman and Actor". New York Times . February 5, 1958. Retrieved March 9, 2010. Monta Bell, former film writer, director and producer, died today at the Motion Picture Country House and Hospital. He would have been 67 years old ...
  13. Koszarski, 1976 p. 228: Koszarski appears to reprint the entire Bell essay here. pp. 227-233. Also see Koszarski, 2008 p. 181 for portion of same quote from TAM article.


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