André de la Varre

André de la Varre was a long-time associate of Burton Holmes. For many years he was a cameraman and cinematographer for Holmes, and after Holmes' retirement a business partner in BHI. Like many people who built this art form, he is not well-known today. During the glory years of Burton Holmes' Travelogues, however, he was a featured contributor; and he became quite famous in his own right, with numerous film industry awards. We are fortunate to be able to present to you some biographical notes by his grandson, René de la Varre.

André de la Varre, from the 1939 brochure on Burton Holmes Travelogues

André de la Varre at work, 1930's. From the 1939 brochure on Burton Holmes Travelogues,


André de la Varre began his career in 1919, at the age of 17, when he bought a camera and went off to Europe and began making films. "I made pictures, sold them, and thought it was a good way to make money," he told his son André, Jr. He was an independent thinker, and wanted to live his own life.

Young André de la Varre

Young André de la Varre.
Courtesy of and © Patrick Montgomery

The films he made were 11 to 22 minutes long, and ran in movie theaters after the newsreels and before the main features. He used a small Leica, powered by a spring-wound motor. André was completely self-taught, crafting his technique through trial and error as he traveled the world.

As an example of his creativity, in filming the market place in Casablanca he put the camera out the window of a car and let the air out of the tires to keep the car from bouncing as he filmed the scene.

Later he went to Hawaii and joined the swim club, where his good friend Buster Crabbe (of Tarzan fame) was also a member. Waves and surfers inspired him to make a film on surf riding. He took a camera, stuck it inside a rubber wash bag, and with one end in his mouth, paddled out into the surf. As he caught a wave, he took out his camera and ran off 21 feet of film as the surfers glided past.


His goal had been to look for beauty and try to show a country at its best. He often chose the places to make films from the thousands of postcards he received from fans around the world. This became the theme of his 1942 film, "Don't Forget to Write."

He worked with Burton Holmes for over 18 years. André was partially inspired by Holmes' first film (1897, on how to make and eat spaghetti in Rome); he was a great admirer of Holmes, and even emulated him by growing the same style of goatee. He coined the term "travelogue," which was a way of getting people to pay for a lecture, although at the time they were called the "Monologues of Travel."

Portrait of Burton Holmes and André de la Varre

Portrait of Burton Holmes and André de la Varre.
Courtesy of and © Patrick Montgomery

Later, Holmes introduced André to the bigwigs in Hollywood, among them Jack Warner, the President of Warner Brothers. In the 1940's André came to Hollywood to produce short subject documentaries. He did all the production, filming and writing. Warner Brothers credits him with making over 1,000 films. Imagine his surprise when Mr. Warner asked him to do a feature. André had never made a film with a script, but he managed to crank out "Hollywood - Home of the Stars," with Douglas Fairbanks and Francis Pickford.

Jack Warner kept all the Oscars in his office. My grandfather never told us how many of these awards he was credited with; he was too modest. But we knew he won for: "America the Beautiful," (1943) and "Grandad of Races," (1949 — filmed at the Palio in Sienna).

Throughout the 1960's André continued to work closely at BHI with Thayer Soule, Bob Mallett, and Bob Hollingsworth, all of whom had also worked with Burton Holmes. Travelogues had been a big part of the motion picture industry, but somehow got drowned out by the end of the decade. André didn't lament, because he felt the world had gotten smaller and had lost a sense of the exotic. After 70 years of traveling the world, the only place he had never visited was Somaliland.

André de la Varre and his wife, with Oscar

André de la Varre, with wife and Oscar.
Courtesy of and © René de la Varre

During the last few years of his life, André and his wife lived in a big mansion on the outskirts of Vienna. He was youthful and robust, sporting a snow-white goatee, and staying in remarkably good shape. He worked closely with Austrian television, which featured him on a weekly travel show called first "Grandfather's Camera," and then later, "News From Yesterday," a retrospective of his 50 years as a producer of travelogues. He was somewhat of a celebrity, and he basked in the limelight. I was fortunate to be able to travel extensively with him, touring throughout Yugoslavia, Greece, Germany and Austria. During our travels he kept me mesmerized and entertained with fact-filled stories. For every spot we visited, he had an anecdote.


I once asked him what made his technique so different. "Always wear your hat on backwards." Why? I asked, "So you can look through the viewfinder." That was André. He died in 1987 at the age of 85.

—René de la Varre


 

René de la Varre says, "I am a certified fitness instructor and massage therapist. I live in Chapel Hill with my wife, Claire, and two daughters, Zoe (11), and Natalie (9). I am also a freelance travel/sports writer with articles featured in "The Chapel Hill News," "Runner's World," and "Running Fitness Magazine." In my spare time, I am working on a manuscript of my family history, which features my father's and grandfather's careers in film." You can also visit their website.

UPDATE:
René's book about his father is out; follow this link to see on Amazon:

You can also buy a signed copy directly from the author, either by following the link to Amazon and looking for Marketplace seller "FITTERYOU," or by writing directly to René at 701 Emory Drive, Chapel Hill, NC 27517. Cost is $23.50; you can pay by check, or use PayPal to send payment to schling58 at-sign gmail.com.

 


 

Update history: This page created 7 October 2004. Latest revision 15 January 2008