Of all the various romantic entanglements that the Pre-Raphaelite artists found themselves in, the tale of 17-year-old Euphemia Gray marrying the respected John Ruskin and eventually falling in love and marrying the handsome young artist John Everett Millais has proven to be the most attractive to writers and dramatists in recent years, resulting in several stage plays, radio plays, operas and two BBC TV series – including the 2014 film Effie.
Interestingly, the first telling of the Ruskin-Effie-Millais story on film came in 1912, from the Vitagraph Studios in New York. They produced a silent, single-reel film (about 15 minutes long) entitled The Love of John Ruskin - now sadly lost. It starred Leo Delaney as Ruskin, Earle Williams as Millais and Helen Gardner as Effie. In this early telling, Ruskin “surrenders his wife to a friend”, even acting as best man at the wedding. As the magazine Motion Picture World put it, “Congratulating them and bidding them a fond farewell, he remained a friend to them always, retiring to his home lonely and sad.” Reviews of the day seemed to focus as much on the morality of the story as the movie itself: “It is unfortunate that the Vitagraph has at least suggested, if it has not actually portrayed, the brazen libertine and his equally heartless paramour in their shameless assignations,” the review says, “flaunted almost in the face of the trustful, unsuspecting husband.”
Left: Helen Gardner, the first film “Effie”, star of the 1912 film The Love of John Ruskin
Right: Leo Delaney, who played the role of Ruskin
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