“You still have a thrill coming:” July 1-15, 1922

Allakariallak, aka Nanook

One hundred years ago this month, Grace Kingsley had the rare opportunity to review a respected film:

Having seen Mack Sennett’s bathing girls, Pola Negri, Charlie Chaplin’s walk, Gloria Swanson’s duds, Foolish Wives, and The Four Horsemen, you think probably that you’ve seen everything in pictures. But you haven’t. Not by a jugful. You still have a thrill coming.

That thrill, high-powered, you’ll get from Nanook of the North at the Kinema. It’s the real life story of an Esquimeaux family, with all their primitive fight for life. I must even admit there were moments when it got on my nerves. That was when Nanook, the papa Esquimeaux, killed things, and the way he did it.

To me there was vastly more thrill in the lonely Nanook, hunger-driven, tripping alone but sure-footedly from one treacherous ice-block to another in a great dreary, solitary sea, in search of food; in the titan fight with the huge walrus; the battle of the Esquimeaux family with the storm, than in the whole kit and bolling of most so-called “great moments” in the cinema drama. And there is more actual drama, more vivid, hopeless pathos in that fight for life than in all the weepy Pollyanna stuff the screen has to offer. You can fairly hear the gale howl outside when the Esquimaux family, having stripped naked in its icy igloo, crawls under the sleeping skins. The wind sweeps a great, lonely, white world. And the dogs, after a little despairing howling, settle down outside to sleep with the snow drifting over their sinewy bodies.

She wrote about it in a way it usually isn’t written about now: she thought it was entertaining, not medicinally educational. Her review was also unusual, because most of the time she got sent to watch mediocre movies and had to find new words for adequate. So this was a treat.  

Her editor, Edwin Schallert, usually went to the well-regarded films.  I suspect he missed the bus on this one because Frederick James Smith, the L.A. Times man in New York City, wrote one of the few dismissive reviews of it. He thought Nanook was merely “an interesting novelty” even if “the glimpse of the high wind steadily sweeping over the plateau of ice makes the usual movie stuff look like a mere confetti party at Coney Island.” Instead, this week Schallert saw The Storm, a now-forgotten melodrama, and wrote that “despite its obvious faults, the picture can be recommended as exceptional…You may be disappointed. But most of it is worth the watching.”*

The rest of the reviews from New York were glowing. Fritz Tidden in Moving Picture World was already calling it a screen classic. Film Daily’s review was typical:

The film is wholly unlike anything that has ever been presented and for those who are continually crying for something new in pictures, Nanook of the North fills a long felt want… You will never know how much you don’t know until you have seen Nanook of the North.

Schallert did later join almost all the other critics in the United States in putting it on his top 10 list for Film Daily Yearbook, so he must have caught up with it later (Kingsley didn’t get asked to submit her top ten list). He had plenty of time to see it: it played in Los Angeles until August 11th.

After its four week run at the Kinema, it spent two weeks at the Alhambra. 

Kingsley’s review is also interesting because it gives some perspective on the context Nanook came out in: it didn’t play in college auditoriums, it was on a bill with a jazz ensemble, Sherwood’s Band, that she thought were very good, and a Mermaid comedy with “a laugh to the second or thereabout.” It was part of an evening’s entertainment. In addition, her list of memorable thrills from the movies has stood up pretty well: silent film fans still remember and admire Chaplin and Foolish Wives.

Allakariallak

Her piece also documents that the audience did believe that everything they saw was real. She wasn’t the only one; Film Daily said “it is not merely acted for the camera. They are really going about their regular routines.” Actually, Allakariallak was reenacting scenes for Robert Flaherty’s camera, and that’s the chief criticism of the film now. However, according to Robert Sherwood who was writing in 1923, Flaherty didn’t keep it a secret that it was restaged. For instance, the walrus hunt was a recreation of an earlier practice, and he said that the younger locals were fascinated when he showed them the footage, because they’d never seen it done before. This kind of reenactment didn’t bother Sherwood at all; our standards for documentaries have changed. I like what Joel Bocko pointed out, blogging at Lost in the Movies:

The Inuit subjects were delighted to be photographed, especially after Flaherty showed them some early footage. They are enthusiastic collaborators in Flaherty’s process and the film is always at least half true, because even if the actions are pre-determined, the people are real, in their attitudes and appearances.

Even with the controversy, Nanook of the North has continued to be highly regarded.  It was among the first group of 25 films added to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 1989. Film critics ranked it as the seventh best documentary ever made in the 2014 Sight and Sound poll. Finally, it is the only movie Kingsley ever wrote about ever to be parodied on the TV show Documentary Now.

*When Kingsley announced that The Storm was playing for its third and final week, she delivered her opinion on it without actually saying her boss was wrong: “The Storm is a story of two men and a woman snowbound in the fastness of far northern mountains for four months. One of the men hates women because he has never met any. He greets the girl’s arrival with open fear. The other knows the sex from a score of affairs. He has been hidden away in the mountains to escape all women. And within a week both men, friends at the beginning of their encampment, decide this particular girl is the most desirable person in the world, and become bitter enemies.”

 

Grace Kingsley, “Flashes,” Los Angeles Times, July 17, 1922.

Grace Kingsley, “Flashes,” Los Angeles Times, August 4, 1922.

Robert Sherwood, The Best Moving Pictures of 1922-23, Boston: Small, Mayard & Company, 1923.

Frederick James Smith, “Salome Slips Cog at Preview,” Los Angeles Times, June 18, 1922.

“The Ten Best Pictures of 1922,” Film Daily Yearbook, 1923.

Fritz Tidden, “Nanook of the North,” Moving Picture World, June 24, 1922, p. 735.

“A Totally Different Picture of the North that Shouldn’t Be Missed,” Film Daily, June 18, 1922, p.2

A Flapper Film Producer: June 16-30, 1922

(Many thanks to Rebecca Eash, Camille Scaysbrook, Donna Hill, and Mary Mallory for their helpful suggestions on how to track down Ray Carroll.)

One hundred years ago this month, Grace Kingsley reported on the founding of yet another hopeful production company:

Now we’re going to have a chance to see what frail woman can really do when it comes to competing in the picture production field with great, rude men. Ray Carroll begins the first of her Ray Carroll productions, starring Helen Eddy, at the Robertson-Cole studio on Monday, and the palpitating question as to who should direct the first of these productions was laid to rest yesterday when it was settled that William A. Seiter is the man for the job.

The first series of Ray Carroll productions in which Miss Eddy will appear will be called Love Coming of Age, and it is to be photographed, edited and shot by the same organization of experts who have been associated with Mr. Selter in all his recent screen successes.

Robertson-Cole was on something of a hiring spree: in addition to Eddy and Carroll, they had signed up Ethel Clayton, Carter De Haven, Harry Carey, Doris May, and Mal St. Clair. The trade papers disagreed on how many films Carroll’s new company agreed to make for them: some said four, and others six.

It took courage, energy, and optimism to try to be an independent female film producer in the early 1920’s – there were very few women with that job, like Cathrine Curtis  and Tsianina Redfeather. Ray Carroll had all of that. However, she has been much more difficult to research than those two. She gave interviews in 1922 to publicize their film, and just like Kingsley, writers emphasized the novelty of a young woman as a film producer, but she told them different versions of her early life. Maybe some of it was true, but I haven’t been able to confirm any of it with census records or city directories, because I have no idea what her birth name was.* One article said she was born on Christmas in New York City. In another, Joan Jordan for Photoplay melodramatically wrote that she:

came from every sort of dire poverty, from intense struggle, from the clamorous, clashing birthpangs of an immigrant family transported from European countries to fight for its very existence in the promised land of America. Italian and Russian blood mingled in her veins. She had seven brothers and sisters younger than she, all needing her help and support, and her education was a precious and wonderful thing snatched in night hours, in spare moments, yet very complete and clear for that very reason. But ambition in seething floods she did have, the capacity to work and the power to dream dreams and see visions. Her spirit was indominable.

Her publicity also probably inflated Carroll’s early writing experience, even though the articles agreed that her ‘real’ name was R. Carol Capleau or Kapleau. Some said she won prizes with her work when she was in high school in San Francisco, and others said she started submitting scenarios when she was attending the University of California, as a way to support herself. A few said she sold her first scenario to D.W. Griffith. Another said her first sale was to Vitagraph, a piece named “The Call of Blood” starring Earle Williams, but no such film is on his list of credits. Still others said she worked for Triangle or Cecil B. De Mille or a large company in New York, and in 1920 Moving Picture World said “Miss Kapleau has had a number of years’ experience in writing scenarios as well as being a playwright of recognized ability. Two of her skits are now appearing on the Keith Circuit in the east.” In a short 1922 article about the exotic woman producer, Motion Picture News said she had an even more extensive resume:

 She has spent most of the twenty-four years of her life storing up the sort of experience that would fit her for her present task. In addition to newspaper writing, pageant directing, exploitation and advertising work she has been employed in practically every branch of photoplay making, from the writing of original screen stories to the cutting of the finished film.

Most of that sounds awfully unbelievable to me. I did find one independent record: on May 17, 1918 a one-act play called “Never Again” was copywritten at the Library of Congress under the name Rochelle Carol Kapleau, a pseudonym for Ray Carol Kapleau of San Francisco.

Enid Bennett and Rowland Lee in Her Husband’s Friend (1920)

Nevertheless, in 1920 she did appear in some film credits. In February Moving Picture World reported: “Miss R. Carol Kapleau is the latest addition to the Thomas H. Ince scenario department.” During her time there she co-wrote (with Agnes Christine Johnson) the scenario for Her Husband’s Friend starring Enid Bennett. Based on the novel The Incubus by Marjorie Benton Cooke, it told the story of a young divorcee whose cheating ex loses all his money and is promptly run over by a truck. A friend of his secretly pays her alimony, but when she learns of his deception, she takes off in her car while he clings to its side. They get hit by a train and are hospitalized, where she agrees to marry him. Ooof. But Edwin Schallert of the L.A. Times enjoyed it:

The picture is a real screen curiosity. It gets by with such a lot. A husband is killed in a manner that evokes sympathy, and yet you can take up the subsequent thread of romance without a hitch. Maybe some will cavil at the tragic episode, but I’ll confess I can’t. And the ending—it’s too good a surprise to reveal. It’s enough to say that the man proposes to the widow while both of them are confined to their beds in a hospital—in the same room, if you please, because the nurse thinks they’re husband and wife!

Oh my stars and garters! However, J.M. Snellman said in Moving Picture World, that while the two accidents were “handled with skill and have much realism,” nevertheless “the play seems to drag somewhat between the big situations and the impression is given that it is padded by the long walks taken by the principle characters, which apparently have no direct bearing on the play except to denote that time is elapsing.”

Kapleau/Carroll also wrote the story for Love with Louise Glaum during her time at Ince. Glaum played a woman who was forced by poverty to be a rich man’s mistress. After a car wreak fortuitously kills the rich man but only injures her, she reconciles with her formerly impoverished true love who has discovered a copper mine.

Maybe Kapleau contributed to other films while she was there, because in a 1921 Picture-Play Magazine round up of women working behind the screen, Celia Brynn wrote that she made thirty-seven thousand dollars in 1920. That seems unrealistically high–perhaps she was exaggerating some more. Brynn thought that “Carol Kapleau is another living example of what a girl can do if she has perseverance, combined with writing talent.” She also reported that Kapleau was currently freelancing in addition to being the business manager of her chum, actress Helen Jerome Eddy “and the one is rarely seen without the other.”

Helen Jerome Eddy

Helen Jerome Eddy was born in New York City on February 25, 1897 and her family soon moved to Los Angeles. She acted in productions at the Pasadena Playhouse, and when the Lubin Studios opened nearby, they hired her. Her first film was The Discontented Man (1915). She usually played genteel, wholesome roles and was best-known as George Beban’s leading lady in films like One in a Million (1921).

Just like everything else in the articles about their partnership, there were different versions of when and how Carroll and Eddy met. It was somewhere between “lifelong chums” and meeting in the late 1910’s in Los Angeles. Joan Jordan in Photoplay said it was the latter, and “it was one of those friendships that form at sight…They took a bungalow, a very little bungalow, and decided to stick together for a while in fighting this motion picture battle of success. There they shared the cooking, the marketing, the housework and the expenses. Whoever was working paid the bills, and the other one did the housework.”

Joan Jordan interviewed Carroll and Eddy at home after reading in the newspaper that they were going to start their own company. Their story stood out amongst the routine business of film and she wanted to know more. She said “it is the very clean, sweet, fine story of two girls who through sheer endeavor and optimism made their dreams come true.”

Then a production slump came. According to Jordan, Eddy dreamed of making “beautiful pictures, picture with a fine high thought and a theme back of them. And Ray Carroll was to write those stories for her, to produce them herself, to supervise their artistic construction.” Carroll realized the slump presented an opportunity because distributors needed more pictures. So they took their savings, deferred their salaries, and convinced Robertson-Cole to distribute their productions. Eddy said, “We can make now the kind of pictures we have always dreamed of—pictures that we hope will make people happy, more confident, more trustful…we’re going to work ourselves to death to give the people what we hope they want.”

They got to right work on the film they eventually called When Love Comes. As Eddy finished up The Flirt (1923) in mid-May, Carroll supervised the construction of several streets of a New England village. She did an interview with the L.A. Times in her brand-new office. The reporter seemed impressed by her, writing:

Bobbed-haired, girlish and intensely earnest, Ray Carroll has completed the organization of the company that will make pictures bearing her name. Helen Jerome Eddy, whose sympathetic screen characterizations will play an important part in at least the most ambitious of the productions, will star in the picture about to be filmed, a story of New England life. The worlds “Ray Carroll Productions” are already lettered on the door of the suite at the Robertson-Cole studios which serves as the executive offices of the organization.

Miss Carroll, who is well under 25, has lost none of her youthful enthusiasm in the climb that has placed her at the head of her own company. Her venture is the result of her belief that there is a constantly growing demand for a higher class of picture—a variety of production that centers around such human roles as have won for Miss Eddy a place of her own upon the screen.

Miss Carroll began the study of picture-making on the theory that the easiest way to learn the requirements of any branch of the industry was to work in that branch. And that is exactly what she has done.

“I became a producer primarily because this work offers a fascinating means of earning a livelihood,” she declared yesterday. “I am interested in every branch of picture making an expect to have great fun in my work. My unbounded confidence in the success of the present enterprise is based, to a great extent, on my faith in Miss Eddy. I believe the public is growing tired of the eternal flapper.” **

Can you imagine the paper running a picture of Samuel Goldwyn doing his grocery shopping? (Los Angeles Times, July 9, 1922)

They didn’t neglect to do publicity while the filming was under way. In July, they invited the trade press to a luncheon served on their New England street set, hosted by Eddy. After they ate, a weekly news service filmed the writers posing “more or less awkwardly” according to W.E. Keefe in Moving Picture World.

Gordon Gassaway interviewed Eddy for the January 1923 issue of Motion Picture Magazine, and he left a snapshot of life on the set. He wrote that “the whole company was working like a large family putting up fruit.” He saw her shoot a scene in which she discovers that her father has died, and he was impressed by her acting, saying, “she has taken a plain girl and made her attractive to thousands of people who wouldn’t otherwise look at a plain girl.”

They went to her dressing room for the interview, and Eddy changed his preconceived notions about her. Gassaway said, “I have discovered that the goodness is there—but not too good. She’s human, boys, she’s human!” After a bit “the door burst open and producer Ray Carroll stuck in her head. “Aren’t you folks ever coming back to the set?” she inquired. “They’re all lit up and ready to shoot.” Ray Carroll is jealous of her star’s every minute, you can see that.

“My eyes have the Ebie Gebies today,” Helen said, as we wended back to the parlor set.

“Ebie Gebie,” Miss Carroll explained, “is our word for any and everything. When the lights flicker, they have the Ebie Gebies. When the camera gets cantankerous, it, too, has the Ebie Gebies.” That is the spirit of play which you will find poking its nose into the really hard work of any thoroughly happy picture company. And the Eddy company is happy.”

They finished shooting the film and it was ready for distribution by early September. Here’s the AFI Catalog plot summary:

When his design for a new dam is rejected, Peter Jamison prepares to leave town and proposes to Jane Coleridge, but her father’s sudden death prevents Jane from meeting Peter. Five years pass, and Peter returns with his daughter and the explanation that his wife, Marie, deserted him. Peter and Jane’s love grows anew, then Marie reappears and causes trouble for Jane. Marie dies in a dam burst.

FBO didn’t skimp on the trade ads

When Love Comes was released in New York City in December, 1922. The trade press wasn’t very enthusiastic. The consensus was that it was a slow, but nevertheless Eddy was appealing and there could be an audience for it. The piece in Exhibitors’ Trade Review was typical: “This picture holds good human interest. It is a little draggy at times but should not fail to be thoroughly enjoyed if shown before an audience who does not crave a wild rush of excitement all of the time.”

Laurence Reid in Motion Picture News said that sixty minutes of it was too much, writing, “An often told story is this—which hardly calls for six reels to give it proper expression. Since it is based upon a theme of misunderstanding with an interloper brough into the plot to give it substance, it is safe to say that it will appeal to one’s sentiment if it does not excite one’s imagination.” However, he praised Eddy’s “sincere performance as the sorrowful girl,” and thought it could be “a good little attraction for the neighborhood theater.” ‘Fred.’ in Variety agreed, finding it “more or less tiresome,” nevertheless “for the regular daily change houses the picture will serve nicely.” The New York critics really had a low opinion of viewers outside of the city!

Film Daily had the worst review: “Considering the fact that apparently very little has been spent upon it and the situations are all more or less familiar, When Love Comes manages to come out pretty near the average mark.” They complained about the production standards, saying “the picture looks as though it had undergone considerable cutting, and it has not been done any too well. There are big jumps in the continuity.” They also though the special effects were cheap, noting “even the flood hasn’t been worked up into a thrill, a very poor miniature serving for the breaking of the dam.” But they couldn’t resist insulting a large part of the audience: “if you cater largely to women folks, you can probably satisfy them well enough with it.”

A ’woman folk’ did like it the more of any of them; Mary Kelly in Moving Picture World wrote:

It belongs definitely in the class of features that rely upon emotional appeal rather than material display. It is a love story, simply and effectively told and will be refreshing to those who criticize the screen for placing too much emphasis upon superficial glamour and beauty without talent. There is a particular class of patrons which will be most enthusiastic over this. The romance and disappointment of an old-fashioned girl is the theme.

She thought the story was particularly suited to Eddy, and her “charm of naturalness is the chief inspiration of the picture.”

When Love Comes didn’t open in Los Angeles until March 1923, where it was on a vaudeville bill at the Pantages. The partners worked hard to get it seen. Ray Carroll wrote and directed a playlet for Helen Jerome Eddy to star in called Case Number Twenty-Nine. They were interviewed by Kingsley’s co-worker Kenneth Taylor, and Eddy told him that the theater owner Alexander Pantages had asked her to make a personal appearance with the film. They auditioned the playlet for him, “and Miss Carroll, who witnessed the rehearsal from the wings, asserts that they went through it without a hitch, completely losing themselves in the parts. And she also asserts that she peeked out at Mr. Pantages and found the vaudeville magnate weeping copiously—not at it, but with it. So there was no question whether the act was good or not. It was signed at once.”

The Times’ unsigned review of the Pantages show thought that Eddy was terrific:

She is shining brilliantly at Pantages this week in Ray Carroll’s tense little playlet Case Number Twenty-Nine, in which she plays a young mother, whose child the law threatens to take away from her because she cannot support it. Her vividness makes you feel all the scenes she describes, her emotional powers are volcanic; her gentler moods, her tenderness, are endlessly appealing…Case Number Twenty-Nine tears your emotions more than anything I’ve seen in a long time. 

The reviewer mentioned Eddy was also on the bill in When Love Comes, “a human little picture drama,” and they admired her performance in that , too, adding “nearly all the film actresses I know ought to go to school to Helen Eddy to learn how to put thought and feeling over through the eyes.”

Taylor’s article said that Eddy was still under contract to Carroll. However, that changed the following month. On April 14th, Grace Kingsley reported that J.L. Frothingham had taken over Eddy’s contract from Carroll, and planned to manage her career, adding her to a roster that included Marguerite de la Motte and Barbara L Marr. He also planned to star her in a series of films, and they signed a 3-year contract. The films didn’t get made (his last production was in 1922), and after the initial announcement, there was nothing more in the press about it.  However, the Carroll/Eddy partnership was finished.

Eddy continued to star in wholesome movies like An Old Sweetheart of Mine (1923) and The Country Kid (1923). Between films, Eddy toured vaudeville with Carroll’s playlet, slightly retitled. Billboard had a review when it was at the B.S. Moss’ Regent Theater in New York on August 7, 1924 and they thought it was fine, if old-fashioned:

Helen Jerome Eddy and Company in Case No. 26, by Ray Carroll, did well enough for that type of sketch which is gradually becoming more or less extinct. The locale is a juvenile court, and a hardened masculine court clerk, although a woman, endeavors with all her might to have a baby taken away from its mother who must work all day and is unable to watch over the girl of six as much as is deemed necessary. Miss Eddy has a pleasing quality to her voice and works admirably.

Eddy had a long career alternating film work with stage work, often with the Pasadena Community Players. When there was an actors strike in in 1929, Eddy and her life partner Cyprian Beach opened a tea room in Pasadena called The Frog Footman, telling the Times that they needed the money to feed their five cats, one wire-haired terrier, two ducks and two monkeys. They were together until Beach died in 1951. Helen Jerome Eddy retired from acting in 1947, and had a successful real estate career in Pasadena. She died in 1990, age 92.

I’m not certain what happened to Ray Carroll next. Someone this energetic, ambitious and broke must have done something. If she was the Carol Capleaux listed in the 1925 New York State Census, then at that time she was a writer living in New York City. She married Joseph Raymond Parker in 1927. They had a son, Joseph Richard Parker on December 2, 1928 and moved to Glendale, California at some point before 1940.

Just like the other female producers I’ve written about, Ray Carroll only got this one chance and never made another movie. It wasn’t only because of misogyny: the industry was consolidating into large studios and it was getting harder for all independent producers to make films. As a final sad note, When Love Comes is lost. At least it seems like they enjoyed the planning and dreaming, and the actual work of making it.

 

*Because many immigrant families changed their names after some time in the United States, I did try all sorts of variations of Rachel Carol Kaplow, Kaplowsky, Kaplowitz, Cappelletti, and Capelli. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn someday that some of the many Kaplans I found were related to her, especially if she did have seven siblings. Then again, her chosen name may not have had any resemblance to her family name: I would have never guessed that Jackson Rose was originally Ike Savitsky, if the Ancestry.com algorithm hadn’t helped me out.

** She was quite wrong about that—the movie now known for setting off the flapper trend, Flaming Youth, didn’t even come out until November 12, 1923.

 

Celia Brynn, “Ladies Day,” Picture-Play Magazine, June 1921, p.74.

“B.S. Moss’ Regent Theater, NY,” Billboard, August 16, 1924, p. 15.

“A Fair Picture with a Thoroughly Appealing Star,” Film Daily, December 10, 1922, p. 12.

‘Fred.’ “When Love Comes,” Variety, January 5, 1923, p.43.

Gordon Gassaway, “Without Wings,” Motion Picture Magazine, January 1923, p. 63, 106.

“Girl is a Writer-Producer,” Kansas City Star, January 4, 1923.

“Girl Starts Own Film Unit,” Los Angeles Times, May 14, 1922.

“Helen Eddy Deserts,” Los Angeles Times, April 30, 1923.

“Helen Eddy Returns to Legitimate,” Los Angeles Times, March 14, 1923.

“Helen Jerome Eddy Coming ‘In Person,’” Seattle Star, December 10, 1924.

“Helen Jerome Eddy, A New Type of Star,” Motion Picture News, August 12, 1922, p. 738.

“Helen Jerome Eddy; Silent Screen Actress Played High-Class Heroines,” Los Angeles Times, January 31, 1990.

“Ince Adds to Scenario Staff,” Moving Picture World, February 21, 1920, p.1243.

Joan Jordan, “The Girl Picture Magnates,” Photoplay, August 1922, p. 23, 111.

W.E. Keefe, “News of the West Coast,” Moving Picture World, July 29, 1922, p. 371.

Mary Kelly, “When Love Comes,” Moving Picture World, December 16, 1922, p. 668.

Grace Kingsley, “Flashes: Bright Cluster,” Los Angeles Times, April 20, 1922.

Grace Kingsley, “Flashes: Finds New Star,” Los Angeles Times, April 14, 1922.

Grace Kingsley, “Flashes: Real Humaness,” Los Angeles Times, March 19, 1923.

Lannie Haynes Martin, “Frog at Door Put to Work,” Los Angeles Times, September 16, 1929.

Laurence Reid, “When Love Comes,” Motion Picture News, December 16, 1922, p. 3064.

Edwin Schallert, “Reviews: Her Husband’s Friend,” Los Angeles Times, November 2, 1920.

J.M. Snellman, “Her Husband’s Friend,” Moving Picture World, December 4, 1920, p. 643.

“Takes Over Eddy Contract,” Film Daily, April 20, 1923, p. 2.

Kenneth Taylor, “Fate Fulfills Early Dreams,” Los Angeles Times, March 18, 1923.

“This Flapper to be a Film Producer,” San Francisco Call, August 12, 1922.

“This is Positive,” Motion Picture News, September 2, 1922, p. 1121.

“When Love Comes,” Exhibitors’ Trade Review, December 16, 1922, p.151.

Tea with Mabel Normand: June 1-15, 1922

Mabel Normand, 1922

One hundred years ago this month, the L.A. Times ran an interview Grace Kingsley had done with Mabel Normand on the set of her forthcoming film, Suzanna, which had finished shooting in late April. Not one word about the scandal around William Desmond Taylor’s murder appeared in the article (Normand had been one of the last people to see Taylor before his death), and it shows what a good job she, with help from the staff at the Sennett Studio, did to keep her career going. Instead of that, as they sipped their tea, Normand did her absolute best to make her upcoming movie relevant to contemporary audiences. She said:

“I’ve learned all about the 1849 flapper from Suzanna. There were really flappers in those days, you know—always have been since the days of Eve.”

“And Suzanna was the prize flapper of her day! How she did stir up the simple village folk, to be sure. My, what scandalous goings on there were! Why, she set the whole village a-flutter when she decided to play croquet all alone with a young man!”

Mabel Normand as Suzanna

She pointed out that there were some advantages to the slower pace of life in olden times, because “what the flapper lost in speed those days, she made up in romance. Bill simply had to call. He couldn’t just alibi by talking over an unromantic telephone with a fresh telephone girl butting in on the conversation.” Furthermore, when he took you out “he didn’t hop into his racer ahead of you, cautioning you ‘Get a move on, kid!’ while he started, stepped on it, and nearly killed you 500 times in a breathless race. Instead, you went properly riding with him in one of those things found only in museums and Chamber of Commerce collections nowadays, known as buggies. And one arm was plenty enough to drive with. And when you went walking with Bill, you didn’t hike. You strolled…Oh, that little flapper of 1849 knew a thing or two!”

Suzanna tells the story of a maid to a Spanish California rancher’s daughter who falls in love with Ramon, the son of another prosperous rancher. Eventually they learn that Suzanna was switched at birth with the rancher’s daughter (Dolores), and she and Ramon live happily etc. Don’t worry about Dolores — she gets a nice toreador named Pancho.

Interviews with friendly writers like Kingsley were only part of the strategy to rescue Normand’s career from the scandal. She also took a break from the public eye and traveled. On June 7th, a reporter saw her in Chicago and in contrast to Kingsley, asked her about the Taylor murder. He or she wrote that she said “I do want to appeal to the public—once upon a time I called them ‘my’ public—and a forlorn little smile flitted across the tired looking face that was once one of the most beloved that flashed across the movie screen. “I want to ask them to give me a square deal. They were very kind to me once—when I was working hard to accomplish something worthwhile. Then when my biggest picture was released—this horrible thing came and the newspapers were full of stories about us out there—and my public believed them.”

The studio delayed releasing Suzanna until late December. The world premier was in Los Angeles, and the L.A. Times didn’t review it – possibly because there was a crush of Christmas and New Years releases. However, the weekly “what’s playing” article described it as being:

 filled with old-world charm, the loves and hates of the early Spaniards who settled in the Bear State are picturized…Spectacular and picturesque to a fine degree, and filled with comedy, pathos, adventure and romance, the production had made a sensational entry into the ranks of film masterpieces.

Suzanna played for eight weeks, so their tactic worked: the ticket buying public didn’t turn away from Mabel Normand.

After the successful run in Los Angeles, it opened in New York City in late March, and the trade paper critics were remarkably enthusiastic. Nobody mentioned the scandal—it seems like her connection to it was forgotten. Exhibitors’ Trade Review called the film “A happy mixture of comedy and romance, farcical situations and sentiment—Suzanna affords bright and snappy entertainment… Not a dull moment.”

Even better for her career, they just loved Normand. W.E. Keefe in Moving Picture World said, “Mabel Normand never before appeared so beautiful nor gave us such splendid dramatic work. Her work probably surpasses everything she has ever done.”

Robert E. Sherwood in the New York Herald agreed, and his only complaint was that the world needed more films from her: “Mabel Normand’s appearances on the screen are regrettably infrequent. Once a year, perhaps, she steps forth to remind us that she is still the first comedienne of the silent drama—but this annual visit isn’t nearly enough.”

Screenland magazine even named it their picture of the month for March 1923.

The New York audiences were just as ready to forgive or ignore what they’d heard a year earlier: it played to a capacity crowd at the Capitol Theater.

So Mabel Normand’s career was far from over with after the Taylor murder. Too many short biographies about her say scandals ended it. She, and the team at Sennett, did a good job of keeping it going. Her next film, The Extra Girl, also got great reviews and did well at the box office. Her later films were less successful, plus her health problems kept her from working. She died of tuberculosis on February 22, 1930.

Mildred Harris

This month, it also appeared that Mildred Harris was a better person than her former husband. Kingsley reported:

Comments by Mildred in an interview on matrimony published in New York a day or two ago, particularly her reference to Chaplin, are causing considerable wonderment, according to work just received from that center of art and culture. The remarks were occasioned by the recent report that she was engaged to wed an eastern actor.

“When I finish this vaudeville tour,” said Miss Harris, “and you know it is to carry me to the Coast and back—there is a stellar role in a play on Broadway awaiting me. Why should a girl with such prospects marry? I was the wife of one of the most wonderful men on earth. I learned a great deal from him. Charlie has a splendid, a brilliant mind. He is the ideal mental companion.”  

Chaplin had a very bad habit of saying in interviews that Harris wasn’t his “intellectual equal.” He really could have learned from her about not badmouthing an ex in the press!

“Begs for a Square Deal,” Los Angeles Times, June 8, 1922.

W.E. Keefe, “Suzanna,” Moving Picture World, March 3, 1923, p.69.

Grace Kingsley, “Flashes,” Los Angeles Times, April 25, 1922.

“New Years Opens with Six Films,” Los Angeles Times, December 31, 1922.

“Picture of the Month,” Screenland, March 1923, p. 85.

“The Screen,” New York Times, March 26, 1923.

Suzanna,” Exhibitors’ Herald, April 14, 1923, p. 54.

Suzanna,” Exhibitor’s Trade Review, March 31, 1923, p. 917.

Suzanna Makes a Hit at the Capitol,” Moving Picture World, April 7, 1923, p. 664.

Home Entertainment: May 16-31, 1922

Louise Lorraine

One hundred years ago this month, a new medium entered Grace Kingsley’s columns: radio. Commercial radio was just getting started in Los Angeles. She wrote about one little change it was causing:

The radio is going to increase some lucky newspaper’s circulation by at least one, take it from no less an authority than Louise Lorraine, who has installed apparatus in her apartment in Hollywood.

“I’m becoming a regular news hound,” explained Miss Lorraine, “whereas before I had this radio machine I never read a newspaper. Now, since listening in on this radio broadcasting arrangement, I’ve decided to take two newspapers instead of only one, and what’s more I just can’t wait nowadays to find out all about Russia, and I’m getting an awful kick out of the Irish situation, too.”

Lorraine was about to star in The Radio King, a ten-part serial about the earlier use of the airways, two-way communication.

Louise Lorraine was an actress who appeared in many Universal serials. For her, being able to hear news over the radio was not a threat to newspapers’ well-being. However, other negative effects of the new technology were being proposed; the following day Kingsley blamed it for triple-decker novels’ decline in popularity. In her review of The Count of Monte Cristo she pointed out that the story was “from a time when they wrote novels, they wrote volumes, which people with no telephones or radios had time to read.” Nevertheless, she thought the movie was a delight.

Using radio for something other than communicating with ships or as a replacement for telegraphy had been going on for quite a while: amateur operators had been playing music over the airways since 1906, according to the American Experience site. But the United States government had only recently begun to issue licenses for commercial stations. The first went to KDKA in Pittsburgh. They got their license from the Department of Commerce in October 1920. Their first scheduled broadcast was on November 2, 1920, and their first transmission of a professional baseball game was on August 5, 1921.

From Radio Receiving for Beginners, by Rhey T. Snodgrass and Victor F. Camp, 1922.

By early 1922, there were four small stations in Southern California: one at Hamburger’s Department Store (operated by the Meyberg Company), one in the Kinema Theater Building (Western Radio Electric Company), one in Hollywood at the Electric Light and Supply Company and one in Pasadena run by J.J. Dunn at his car battery service store. You could even see the one at Hamburger’s in action. Installed next to the boy’s department in August 1921, they broadcast live concerts several times a week. For example, on December 5th the program included songs like “Sweetheart,” “Say It with Music,” and a saxophone solo called “Saxophobia.”

April 12, 1922

Then a big company entered the market: the Los Angeles Times. A station with the call letters KHJ was installed at their downtown building, and on April 11th they broadcast a fifteen-minute test at 12:15 p.m. The program featured Cyrena Van Gordon of the Chicago Grand Opera singing Azucena’s aria from “Il Trovatore” and “Lift Up Thine Eyes” with piano accompaniment. The Times article still called the technology a “wireless telephone.” The test went well and the following day the station was formally dedicated and opened. The newspaper reported:

The Times was host last night to the great Southwest! Its radio broadcasting station was the throbbing heart of an area bounded by hundreds of miles. It is estimated that more than 200,000 Southland dwellers listened in. By the fireside, in mountain fastness, at public places the pealing notes of grand opera singers were heard and applauded by a history-making audience.

While the station couldn’t charge listeners, the equipment to listen was really expensive. Dean Farran, the engineer who installed the Times’ station, said that a set for family service would cost $125 (roughly $1,750 today), but the ideal set would cost $400. Even with the high price, the Times reported a shortage of equipment: “Realizing the great future possibility of regular entertainment in the homes, residents of the Southland have flooded the market with demands for apparatus, yet to be manufactured and delivered.” Prices did drop in the following years; according to encyclopedia.com, by the middle of the decade the price for a decent set was $35.00.

New stations were opening daily. In March 1922 the Radio Service Bulletin listed 67 professional stations, but by June 1922 it had jumped to 378 stations. You can find all kinds of information about the early days at Thomas H. White’s Early Radio History website

In the early 1920’s very few people were concerned that radio would take audiences away from live music, sports, or theater. I found only one article from 1921 about the musicians’ union opposing it, because they were worried about unemployment among their members. In the beginning, people were optimistic about the wonders of the new medium. Edwin Schallert, the Times’ entertainment editor, gave a speech over the airways on April 25th, and he proclaimed, “the destiny of music is now linked definitely with the radiophone.” He thought it would democratize music because:

there was a day when music was reserved for the narrow confines of princely palace…Now music travels on the wings of electric energy, now it reaches into each separate household and makes it a princely domain.

It’s hard to pin down exactly what effect radio had on live events and print media. There was some speculation, but no hard evidence. For example, radio (and later television) pioneer David Sarnoff, who at the time was the general manager of the Radio Corp of America (RCA), said in an address at the Sphinx Club in New York City in early 1925 that while many worried it would shrink attendance at the theaters and the concert halls and would even hurt newspaper circulation, he thought such fears were “groundless.” Talking Machine World reported he said:

“The broadcast of musical events has had the effect of increasing attendance at the theater. As proof of this he cited the case of a New York theater which regularly broadcasts its Sunday night musical programs, with the result that the attractions play to a packed house all week.”

Sarnoff thought that “radio will prove to be one of the greatest accelerants, both from the standpoint of circulation and advertising, that newspapers and magazines have even known…radio gives but the headlines and the listeners must read the papers to get the necessary details.” Just like Miss Lorraine was inspired to learn more about the news after she got her radio. It seems that people had enough free time to listen to the radio, on top of everything else they were doing.

John S. Daggett, “Times Radio Station Dedicated Tomorrow,” Los Angeles Times, April 12, 1922.

“David Sarnoff Discusses Radio Relationships,” Talking Machine World, February 15, 1925, p.86.

“Great Throng Hears Radio,” Los Angeles Times, April 15, 1922.

“Radio Brings Music Home,” Los Angeles Times, April 25, 1922.

“Radio Grand Opera Today,” Los Angeles Times, April 11, 1922.

“Radiophone Concert is Heard Far Away,” Los Angeles Times, December 6, 1921.

“The Times Dedicates Radio Telephone Broadcasting Station,” Los Angeles Times, April 14, 1922.

“Times Radio Service Near,” Los Angeles Times, March 12, 1922.

“Times Radio Club Growing,” Los Angeles Times, April 2, 1922.

“Unions Protest the Use of Radio Music,” Los Angeles Times, March 19, 1921.

E.M. Wickes, “Melody Mart,” Billboard, March 18, 1922, p.54.

An Unusual Critical Favorite: May 1-15, 1922

And Women Must Weep

One hundred years ago this month, there were plenty of comedy shorts in the theaters, but only one tragedy short. Playing with a feature-length comedy called The Ruling Passion, Grace Kingsley was impressed by the now lost And Women Must Weep:

“You may, in fact, both laugh and weep this week at the California. For there’s tragedy on the bill as well—a perfect gem of a two-reeler illustrating Charles Kingsley’s poem, “Three Fishers,” and “The Fisher’s Widow.”

She got two details wrong: it was just one reel, and the second poem was by Arthur Symons. But director Robert C. Bruce packed a lot into ten minutes. His film got excellent reviews everywhere it played. The anonymous film writer in the New York Times admired it so much that he or she had little to say about the feature, a Revolutionary War melodrama called Cardigan, and devoted most of the review of what was playing at the Capitol Theater that week to And Women Must Weep:

It is an emphatic success. There is scenery in the picture, magnificent inspiring views of the sea and the seaside, and also a tense dramatic episode which, it would seem, must break through the most artificial human crust and touch responsive heart-chords. It is the simple story of three fishermen’s wives and their husbands who do not come back. It is especially the story of the youngest wife, who searches in vain for the body of her man, all the time hoping, you may be sure, that she will not find it, so that she may cling to her hope that he will come back alive. But when the other two women, who found the bodies of their men, have at least the solace of taking flowers to their graves, the young wife has to stand at the cemetery gate watching them forlornly, without even the comfort of a headstone and a mound on which to kneel.

It is a sincere, true little tragedy, effectively photographed, staged with convincing simplicity and humanly acted.

Sumner Smith in Moving Picture World was equally impressed, writing that it was:

without qualification a wonder. Bruce has caught the spirit of the poem and carried it out in every scene. The views of the sea and the shore, shot from many angles, are marvelously beautiful…There are no broad gestures here, no suggestion of hysterical melodrama when the fishermen put out to sea and when their bodies are discovered after the storm, but the poignancy of Kingsley’s poem is intensely conveyed.

The highest praise came from the National Board of Reviews in their publication Exceptional Photoplays. Motion Picture News pointed out that they had never before reviewed a one-reeler. The Board thought it was opening up new possibilities for the medium of film:

 And Women Must Weep may be called an attempt to transfer the images and the emotion of a poem to the motion picture screen. In this attempt this little one reel film is at moments decidedly successful…It presents one of the few instances where the actual transfers of written poetry has been made to screen in terms of movement in pictures. This is the shot from the top of the cliff, where one looks down at a long shadowy line of swells moving slowly in to shore, and experiences the exact sensations to be received from reading the lines “And the harbor bar be moaning…”

But that one image of the moaning bar, with its movement like sound, is tremendously suggestive of what may yet be done in literal and spiritual rendering of written poetry on the screen.

Movies could be Art! That notion was just beginning in the early 1920’s. The National Board of Reviews went on to include And Women Must Weep on their year-end list of the forty best pictures of the year, along with better remembered films like Nanook of the North, Grandma’s Boy, and Blood and Sand.

According to the distributor it wasn’t just the critics that enjoyed it; Moving Picture World reported that after the New York City screenings they said “prolonged applause from the audience marked the final fadeout every time the picture was shown during the week.” Now it’s hard to imagine a popular movie based on a poem — audiences just aren’t familiar with poetry any more.

Mayo Methot

One of the actors was noticed by critics. The New York Times thought all of the acting was fine, especially “the unnamed young woman who plays the part of the desolate wife.” Moving Picture World also singled her out for “special mention” and identified her: Mayo Methot. At the time she was working for the Baker Stock Company in Portland, Oregon, but she soon married the cameraman on Weep, Jack LaMond, and they moved to New York City where she became a noted Broadway actress. They divorced in 1927, and in 1930 she moved to Hollywood and found work in film. She has the misfortune of being remembered now mostly because she and her third husband had a terrible marriage. They both drank too much and fought, then he cheated and dumped her for a much younger woman. But her marriage to Humphrey Bogart was many years away.

And Women Must Weep was the first of a ten film series made by Robert C. Bruce called Wilderness Tales. They were released one per month. The others weren’t based on poems, and they didn’t get quite as much praise (it would have been hard to beat) but they were admired. Film Daily wrote:

Bruce has achieved in this new series a classical form of pictorial entertainment…This latest Bruce series is certainly the very best that he has done. It offers a classical entertainment that can be used in high class programs and safely shown to discriminating audiences.

In their jokey “Ain’t It Grand” column, Film Daily pointed out how useful good shorts could be. Headed “Man, man; make some more” they said about Weep:

An’ whatta picshure! Get it. It’ll help. An’ if th’ feature ain’t so awful good, it may steal the show. Sea stuff. Great photography. Bully all th’ way. 

Thank goodness this style of writing has died out! The distributor, Educational Films, sold the series not only with advertising in the trade papers but also with a sixteen-page rotogravure brochure. It contained mostly photographs, plus the positive reviews they got. According to Exhibitors’ Trade Review:

the idea of the brochure now being prepared is not to present advertising arguments for the pictures, but to provide a pamphlet so beautiful that most exhibitors and others who receive it will want to preserve it for the sheer beauty of the work and of the pictures reproduced.

This was really unusual for movie advertising then:

There will be very little reading matter in the brochure. What little there is will be superimposed on beautiful scenic pictures, and will be incidental to the photographic art.

Unfortunately, it looks like exhibitors didn’t preserve it — I checked WorldCat and Ebay and didn’t find any copies.

The series was a financial success, too. The Capitol contracted for the whole series, and so did other large first-run houses in Newark, Brooklyn, Boston and Chicago, according to Moving Picture World.

A surviving Wilderness Tale called Flowers of Hate is on the Internet Archive.

“Ain’t It Grand?” Film Daily, February 14, 1922, p. 4.

And Women Must Weep,” Exceptional Photoplays, January-February 1922, p. 6.

And Women Must Weep Has Premier at Capitol,” Moving Picture World, March 11, 1922, p. 164.

“Capitol and Other First Runs Taking Entire New Bruce Series,” Moving Picture World, March 25, 1922, p. 364.

“Educational Films to Issue Brochure,” Exhibitors’ Trade Review, March 18, 1922, p.1111.

“Scenic Tale Still Making a Hit,” Moving Picture World, September 8, 1923, p. 192.

“Short Reels,” Film Daily, February 12, 1922, p. 20.

Sumner Smith, “And Women Must Weep,” Moving Picture World, February 11, 1922, p. 662.

“Wilderness Tales Approved,” Motion Picture News, July 8, 1922, p. 193.

Failure Proof: April 16-30, 1922

One hundred years ago this month, Grace Kingsley and the audience had pretty good time at the movies, even if she had some reservations:

Valentino’s vogue, Elinor’s Eros, Gloria’s gowns—that’s the blessed triumvirate which seems to be entirely failure proof. They’re on again at Grauman’s Rialto. Valentino and Gloria are appearing in Elinor Glyn’s Beyond the Rocks, which opened yesterday to tremendous business.

Beyond the Rocks will not, I fear, be beyond the rhetorical rocks of the critics. The story is commonplace, and might have been written by any Trotty Two-Shoes of the scenario department.

On the other hand, it is without the special Glyn tang; it’s a de-nogged egg-nogg. Rudy Valentino kisses with the meter on. In short, it’s quite entirely censor-proof, and any girl may safely take her mother to see it.

The story is as romantic as a Bertha M. Clay* yarn. It concerns the eternal triangle. A beautiful young girl marries an old millionaire. Then she meets Rudy, and it’s all off with Josiah. But they battle nobly against their love, and the most Rudy accomplishes is a chaste kiss on his lady’s fingertips.

Much too chaste!

Kingsley was very clear on what she wanted from a Valentino movie. Her point that the film wasn’t dirty enough was unique among the critics, who, just as she predicted, had plenty of other complaints. The unsigned review in the New York Times was particularly scathing:

Gloria Swanson can wear clothes. So can Rodolph Valentino. And the talents of each are given full play in the Elinor Glyn story, Beyond the Rocks, as it has been screened and brought to the Rivoli this week…the leading characters do little else but wear clothes, and if, also, much of the action takes place on apparently artificial mountains and before what seem to be painted backdrops, can the result be called an interesting photoplay? Not by those who want a little character and a little truth in their entertainment, anyway. (May 8, 1922)

One of the beautiful gowns.

The costumes were certainly part of why audiences enjoyed the movie; Kingsley mentioned “Gloria Swanson does good work and suffers in about 500 beautiful gowns.” However, underlying most of the commentary was the usual contempt for the people the movie was designed to appeal to: female movie fans. Film Daily thought it was a “first-rate production” despite  its “very obvious plot, one in which you can see the ending the minute you meet all the characters and you aren’t disappointed in your conjectures,” but then the writer condescendingly quoted observations from women in the audience: “Miss Swanson’s close fitting gowns were harshly judged and an audible preference for a soft coiffure was expressed, while they didn’t seem to think Valentino photographed as well in this one. He still insists on making his black hair shine.”

His hair did shine.

The writer failed to say what was wrong with chatting about that. People take their fun from seeing movies in all kinds of ways. Kingsley wasn’t immune from this sort of distain; she called the story “an opus in servant-girl literature” and quoted the final title card as an example: “Then only thing eternal and divine in this old world is the love that beautifies.” OK, it wasn’t Shakespeare. Nevertheless, she didn’t look down on audiences who enjoy a melodrama involving two attractive actors. Different people bring a variety of perspectives, and that’s why we need diverse film critics.

One point the critics agreed on was that Beyond the Rocks was going to be a great big hit. Film Daily described standing room only crowds in New York. Exhibitor’s Herald managed to be a bit nasty even with that expectation, saying it “will undoubtably prove one of the season’s most successful attractions. At least with feminine fans.” They were correct about the ticket sales. According to Variety, it set a record at the Rivoli in New York City, grossing $28,750 in its first week. Nobody minded taking feminine fans’ money!

In the “Alps”

Now Beyond the Rocks is also remembered in histories of special effects because it included travelling matte shots in the scenes in which Valentino rescues Swanson in the Swiss Alps. This was the earliest notable use of the process invented by Frank Williams. While keeping his day job as a cameraman, he had been working on his traveling matte idea since 1912, usually in the bathroom of wherever he was living.  Stationary mattes had been used in filmmaking since the earliest days; it was a technique borrowed from still photography.  Actors were filmed with part of the negative blocked and left unexposed, then the film was re-wound and another image was shot on the unexposed area.  The two images formed a composite.  However, actors had to stay within a set portion of the image.  With the Williams Process, the whole background could be replaced, and the actors could move freely.

Williams shot some of Chaplin’s earliest films

In 1917, Adolf Zuckor of Paramount Studios gave him space in his lab to work on it, but he couldn’t overcome the problems of inaccurate cameras and printers and crude film stocks.  But then he had a breakthrough: he built his own printer, accurate to one ten-thousandth of an inch, used a motor-cranked camera and a better grade of film, and it worked. He was granted a patent on the process and he opened his own film lab, becoming one of the first businesses dedicated to special effects.

Apparently the technique wasn’t a complete success yet — the New York Times critic thought the scenes looked artificial in this film. However, Williams was able to improve his process and provided spectacular scenes in The Lost World (1925) of dinosaurs roaming London.  The destruction of Pontius Pilate’s palace in Ben Hur (1925) was also Williams’ work, as were the battle scenes in The Big Parade (1925). 

Beyond the Rocks was thought to have been lost until it was found in 2003 in a private collection. It was restored by the Nederlands Film Museum and the Hagheflim Conservation and is now available on DVD.

*Bertha M. Clay was the pen name of Charlotte M. Brame (1836-1884), a tremendously popular romance writer. She was best known for Dora Thorne, which most reviewers on Good Reads gave four or five stars.

“Beyond the Rocks,” Exhibitors’ Herald, May 27, 1922, p.47.

“Beyond the Rocks,” New York Times, May 8, 1922.

“First Joint Appearance of Swanson and Valentino Looks Like a Box Office Bet,” Film Daily, May 14, 1922, p. 3.

“Glyn Story with Valentino Pulls Record for Rivoli,” Variety, May 19, 1922, p.44.

Curran D. Swint, “Beyond the Rocks is California Magnet,” San Francisco Call and Post, May 8, 1922.

One Last Spectacular Contribution: April 1-15, 1922

One hundred years ago this month, Grace Kingsley announced a highly anticipated film opening in Los Angeles:

Orphans of the Storm will have its local premier next Wednesday at the Mission Theater. This elaborate film, having as its background the French revolution, is D.W. Griffith’s latest spectacular contribution to screen drama.

This was all she got to say about the film; more and more she was being relegated to reviewing movies that weren’t considered serious. However, she never let any annoyance show. I think she still loved her job.

The early trade ad didn’t even mention the story or the stars–Griffith’s reputation was enough

People in Los Angeles had been hearing about Orphans of the Storm for quite a while. It opened in Boston on December 28, 1921 and in New York City on January 3, 1922, where the L.A. Times’ New York correspondent, Frederick James Smith, saw it. He was fairly impressed:

For half its length it has no compelling force and it is not until the second half that the tragedy of the two orphans—separated and alone in hunger-torn Paris—accumulates a compelling strength. Here the Griffith genius—and I may add the Lillian Gish genius—flashes…We doubt if Orphans of the Storm will ever make the money attracted to the box office of Way Down East, but in even perfection of workmanship it stands some planes ahead of most Griffith efforts, but several below Broken Blossoms. Yet there was a wild reception for Mr. Griffith and Lillian Gish who were called upon for speeches. Reports from Boston indicate that Orphans of the Storm is doing a land-office business there. You never can tell.

Lillian Gish in Orphans of the Storm

Other reviewers were much more glowing; John S. Spargo in Exhibitors’ Herald set expectations almost impossibly high:

To say that Orphans of the Storm is a great picture—or even a great Griffith picture—is giving but mild praise to this wonderful photoplay. It is a living, moving, almost breathing triumph of pictorial perfection, and it gives to posterity a new historical viewpoint from which to study one of the most turbulent and trying times in the world’s history—the French Reign of Terror. As a photoplay it is a masterpiece; as a box-office attraction it has few limitations.

When Los Angeles Times film editor Edwin Schallert saw it in April, he was nearly as impressed:

He has done daring and outrageous things with history, but he has made a magnificent picture. He has visioned France from his own perspective, but he has made his visioning beautiful. He has given you familiar tricks and subterfuges, but he has told you a story that touches the heart strings and makes them vibrate to the more thrilling harmonics of conflict and struggle and life. Therefore, Orphans of the Storm, D.W. Griffith’s romance of the French revolution, peals forth a revelation of his comprehension and his genius.

Now we know that Orphans was Griffith’s last wildly successful film, both artistically and at the box office. The following week, the Times reported that it was an overnight sensation, “playing to capacity houses at the Mission Theater.” However, even at the time people realized that nothing lasts forever. Schallert’s review predicted what happened next:

The question of Griffith’s prestige has within the past year or so become a matter of some doubt, especially here. The picture business is far from being a one-man affair any more. Yet the respect for the Griffith skill and flair still persist. He is still reckoned the greatest, although the race is on.

The poster didn’t try to fool people into thinking it was an art film

Some of that respect for Griffith did last for the rest of the decade, even when a critic didn’t like the film he was writing about. Frederick James Smith reported from New York that Griffith’s next film, One Exciting Night, was:

a mere potboiler—a fair average program picture. One Exciting Night is highly disappointing coming from the workroom of Mr. Griffith. You see, we expect so much…We see the film as merely another dire Dream Street.

Mae Marsh and Neil Hamilton

The White Rose fared somewhat better. In May 1923, a different New York correspondent, Helen Klumph, reported that the general opinion from preview audiences was that “Griffith is still our most effective director,” even if she thought the film was to long. Edwin Schallert concurred in his review:

The beauty of the natural settings and the work of the principals under the Griffith guidance are what make the picture—this and a story simply told…There is, to be sure, a certain endlessness to the manner in which the story is told. In fact, there is not enough story really for so long a play.

None of those films were the sort of big-budget epics the Griffith was best known for. The real test came in 1924, when America opened. Its Los Angeles premiere was at a brand-new theater, the Forum, which despite its location away from the downtown theater district, Schallert called “a dazzling, glittering blazing focal point of interest.” It was as star-studded as the opening of Intolerance in 1916:

I have been to a dozen theater openings and premieres in the past year, but with the possible exception of one or two right in the downtown district, this was the most exciting. The people literally rushed the doors of the theater and crowded around the approaching automobiles to obtain a glimpse of Norma Talmadge, Corinne Griffith, Pola Negri, Charles Chaplin, or any other of the celebrities who attended the premiere.

Even though he got to see it surrounded by famous people, Schallert managed to recognize the limitations of the film:

America is really far from being D.W. Griffith at his best in certain points, but it is certain of a big appeal because of its theme. The fact that you get to see Washington, Hancock, Adams and other characters struggles for that break which was eventually to mean a great free nation—greater than any other indeed—stirs something in the heart that cannot be repressed…There was a time, of course, when Griffith was regarded as the great pioneer, but America, from a technical standpoint, discloses none of his customary innovations or advances. In some respects his manner of the treating of the story is even antiquated.

Neil Hamilton and Carol Dempster

Griffith’s time at United Artists was coming to an end. On July 20, 1924 Schallert reported that he was working on his last feature for them, called The Dawn (it got re-named Isn’t Life Wonderful). Schallert felt that he had only two outstanding productions in the last five years, Way Down East and Orphans of the Storm, plus The White Rose was as interesting as those two. However, he said that Dream Street, One Exciting Night and America “are a pretty sad lot.”

Nevertheless, just because Griffith’s contributions were no longer spectacular or critically acclaimed doesn’t mean they were worthless. His biographer Richard Schickel wrote:

 Maybe Griffith’s films of this decade, even the best of them, do not compare with the works of men like Eisenstein, Gance, Murnau, Vidor, Lubitsch, all of whom, in their best films, worked at levels of technical and intellectual sophistication that were to Griffith’s new work what Intolerance had been to his competitors. But for the ordinary filmgoer his films were generally more than acceptable. And when even films as weak as One Exciting Night did reasonably well at the box office, and when his more imposing works grossed as well as Pickford’s and Fairbanks’ big films (which by and large they did), then one must argue that Griffith’s problems generally lay on the cost side of the ledger, not on the receipts side. (p.475)

D.W. Griffith

Kingsley continued to cover news about Griffith, who didn’t give up. In 1936, after she’d retired from full-time writing for the Times, she interviewed him and he was still full of plans for the future. He intended to make movies either in Hollywood or England, and said he’d turned down an offer to re-make Birth of a Nation as a sound film, because he couldn’t replace Mae Marsh and Henry Walthall. He didn’t get to direct again (his last film was The Struggle, made in 1931), and he died in 1948.

Instead of going to glitzy premiers of serious films, Kingsley had to sit through movies that sound much worse than the films Griffith made in the 1920’s, like The Night Rose. Despite the good work of its two stars, Lon Chaney and Leatrice Joy, Kingsley was tired of tales about the criminal underworld:

From the moment the really good girl is turned out of her home without a hearing by a hitherto loving mother, because she has been arrested in a café raid, through a wearisome succession of scenes in which Lon Chaney keeps her a prisoner in order to use her lover as a stool pigeon, up to the time Chaney is shot by the adventuress, you don’t believe a minute of it nor care an hang about it.

However, there were bright spots in her work day. The Night Rose played with an Al St. John short called The Studio Rube, which brought “the sunshine back” for her and the audience:

He has many wild adventures, at which the audience laughs, until the wildest one of all. When he unwittingly enters a house that’s to be blown up (for a scene, I mean), locks the door and throws away the key. He then learns what his fate is to be, tries to break through a boarded-up window, and, by some odd stroke of fate, is left standing there by the window when the rest of the house is blown to kingdom come. Then he crawls out of the window. That’s when the audience yells.

Getting paid to write about sunny two-reel comedies isn’t such a bad job! The Studio Rube has been preserved at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. If you’d like to know more about it, Steve Massa and Ben Model showed it at their Cruel and Unusual Comedy festival in 2013, and they wrote program notes for it.

Grace Kingsley, “D.W. Griffith Tells Plans Which Include Picture Making,” Los Angeles Times, March 14, 1936.

Helen Klumph, “D.W. Renews Claim to Fame,” Los Angeles Times, May 13, 1923.

Edwin Schallert, “Forum’s Opening Brilliant,” Los Angeles Times, May 16, 1924.

Edwin Schallert, “Orphans of the Storm,” Los Angeles Times, April 6, 1922.

Edwin Schallert, “The White Rose,” Los Angeles Times, September 4, 1923.

Edwin Schallert, “Will Griffith Regain Sway?” Los Angeles Times, July 20, 1924.

Frederick James Smith, “Exciting, But Mostly in Name,” Los Angeles Times, October 29, 1922.

Frederick James Smith, “Gotham Sees Griffith Epic,” Los Angeles Times, January 8, 1922.

“Griffith Production Playing to Capacity,” Los Angeles Times, April 11, 1922.

“Orphans Reshows at the Alhambra,” Los Angeles Times, July 12, 1922.

Richard Schickel, D.W.Griffith: An American Life, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985.

The most daring girl in the world: March 16-31, 1922

Andrée Peyre in Ruth of the Range (1923)

One hundred years ago this month, Grace Kingsley reported on another aspiring actress coming to Hollywood – but this one had a unique skill:

The latest athletic lady to enter the film players’ ranks is Mlle. Andrée Peyre, French aviatrix and stunt flier, who is practically a refugee from her own country because the Paris police compelled her to quit her dangerous exploits in the air, and who has arrived in Los Angeles to play an important role in the Ruth Roland serial, The Riddle of the Range, which will go into production at United studios April 3.

In addition to being an accomplished air pilot, Mlle. Peyre is an actress of considerable ability. Before she came to this country her screen engagements included six productions made at the Pathe studios at Vincennes, France. Her work before the camera, however, has so far been confined to purely dramatic efforts that did not include her abilities as a flier. The forthcoming serial will mark her debut as actress and aviatrix combined. She has been cast for the role of the heavy in the production and has been allotted a part that is intensely dramatic.

Mlle. Peyre is 22 years old and is a graduate of La Dame Blanche College in Paris, a fashionable private school for girls. Toward the end of the war, after three of her four brothers had been killed in action while serving with the French air forces, she took up flying with Capt. Poulet, the French ace, as her instructor. She is licensed as an air pilot in both France and this country. She was engaged for the serial by President Paul Brunet of Pathé, which company will release the production.

Some of that might have even been true! It was certainly part of what other newspapers mentioned when they wrote about her, when they called her “the most daring girl in the world.” Andrée Suzanne Elisabeth Peyre was born November 19, 1899 in Calviac, France. According to her October 1919 immigration papers, she’d been hired by the Fox Film Corporation as an actress and she was going to New York City. She didn’t appear in any cast lists then, but in 1921 newspapers started to write about her aerial stunts; in April she was over Paterson, New Jersey, doing things like climbing from the lower to the upper wing of a plane in flight (New York Tribune, April 17, 1921). In late 1921, she reportedly signed a contract to be in The Leather Pushers serial, however she’s not in the credits for it.

So the opportunity to come to Los Angeles was a big movie career advance for Peyre. She did get to play a villain named Judith in the re-named Ruth of the Range, a fifteen-part serial that debuted October 14, 1923-24. It’s a lost film in which Ruth Roland played a young woman who rescues her coal substitute inventor father from kidnappers.

Ruth of the Range, episode 4

 It was Roland’s last serial for Pathé; she moved on to making feature films. Film Daily called it a “good, fast-moving serial” that “should easily satisfy a serial-loving audience. It has all the usual thrills, rescues and mysteries.” (“Short Subjects,” Film Daily, September 16, 1923).

Meanwhile, Peyre worked to keep her name in the paper and her career going. In March 1923 she distributed fliers from the air to help the Studio Club raise money for their building fund and in April 1923 she performed stunts at the dedication of Clover Field in Santa Monica. On May 27, 1923 she set a new women’s altitude record of 15,000 feet over Rogers Airport in Los Angeles,* breaking  Amelia Earhart’s record of 14,000 feet.** She was in the air for one hour and ten minutes.

She hadn’t abandoned her screen ambitions; in June 1923 she had an interview with Tod Browning about being in his upcoming film The Day of Faith. The interview wasn’t a success: she’s not in the cast list. However, the newspaper reported that she was accompanied by her fiancé, Cyril Turner and that was much more sucessful.

Andrée Peyre and Cyril Turner

Cyril Charles Teesdale Turner was first to use skywriting in advertising. He was baptized on November 25, 1897 in Haringey, England and he’d served in the Royal Flying Corps as an officer during the war. On November 28, 1922 Turner introduced sky advertising in New York City with the words “Hello USA” over City Hall Park. He worked for the Skywriting Corporation of America. In July 1923 the couple went to Seattle where he spent two weeks demonstrating skywriting with 12 performances. He got paid $1,000 per performance. In the first he wrote “Lucky Strike” for the American Tobacco Company.

Peyre at Mitchel Field, 1924

They got married on September 22, 1923 in Los Angeles. They stayed in the United States for a while; in July 1924 she was performing stunts at Mitchel Field, on Long Island. However, by November 6, 1926 she gave her profession as housewife on a ship’s manifest and he was listed as an author. When he died in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, England in  September 1967 he was the chairman of the Irving Air Chute company, which designed and made parachutes. She stayed in Hitchin, where she died on July 20, 1994.

*Rogers Airport was at Wilshire and Fairfax – now it’s hard to imagine that as an open field!

** Peyre’s altitude record was broken by Bertha Horchem on July 5, 1923 when she reached 16,399 feet.

“Aviatrix May Become Motion Picture Star,” Los Angeles Times, June 22, 1923.

“Aviatrix Sets New Altitude Record,” Los Angeles Times, May 28, 1923.

“Defies Death in Acrobatic Antics,” Bridgeport Times, May 2, 1921.

“Famous French Flier,” Evening Star (Washington D.C.), April 2, 1922.

“Fliers to Chat Over City Today,” Los Angeles Times, March 9, 1923.

“Kansas Aviatrix Breaks Women’s Altitude Record,” Los Angeles Times, July 6, 1923.

“Nation Accepts Airplane Field,” Los Angeles Times, April 16, 1923.

“New Ad-Type is Mile Long,” Los Angeles Times, November 29, 1922.

“Obituaries,” Xenia Daily Gazette, September 26, 1967.

“Skywriter is in Seattle,” Seattle Star, July 3, 1923.

Von Kettler, Wanda. “Skywriter to Scribble on Seattle’s Horizon,” Seattle Star, July 4, 1923.

“Which is More Daring?” Bismarck Tribune, September 19, 1921.

Glittering, Fascinating Junk: March 1-15, 1922

John Davidson and Mildred Harris in Fool’s Paradise

One hundred years ago this month, Grace Kingsley wrote a scathing review of a film by Cecil B. DeMille, a director whom she usually admired. Nevertheless, she thought Fool’s Paradise was so bad that even she had to pan it. She began her piece by explaining her admiration of the original source, Leonard Merrick’s short story “Laurels and the Lady:”

There’s no situation more pitiful in all of literature, it seems to me, than that of those two exiles, the befooled poet lover, a failure in his art, living in his fool’s paradise with the woman of the streets whom he believes to be the great singer of grand opera.

As long as the movie stuck to that story she thought it was fine, but:

Beyond that point it is mere glittering junk. Fascinating junk, to be sure, but paste as compared to the gem of purest ray serene* beside which it is set.

The blind lover, instead of dreaming to the end of his days the pitiful but merciful dream that the cook book is really his book of poems, accepted and published, has his sight restored, and pursues a lady, who has been changed by DeMille’s writers from a grand opera singer to a French dancer. His characters chase over the face of the earth in an unreal sequence, arriving at a spot designated with the convenient generality as “the ends of the earth” but which looks a little like the pictures of Burma we see in the travelogues [it was supposed to be Thailand].

There the dancer is studying the sacred dances of Buddha. Here we plainly see the writers pause with a hand on brow, up a stump. What next? “Ah, I know,” says one. “Crocodiles! Crocodiles have never been used! We can throw both the dancer’s lovers into the pit with them!”

DeMille directing Conrad Nagel and some crocodiles

She had a point: large reptiles are usually found in serials, not serious drama.  Then she wrote a bit that must have really hurt: she compared it unfavorably to DeMille’s brother’s recent film:

Do you remember the subject of Miss Lulu Bett, and what William de Mille did with it? Why could not Leonard Merrick’s story have been treated in the same intensive human way? It has a more striking central situation and just as much action. Ah, but then they couldn’t have put in all those glittering scenes, all those exotic dancers, all the beautiful emptiness! And I don’t suppose it would have run the six weeks which Fool’s Paradise is certain to.

Kingsley was nearly right: it played for four weeks in Los Angeles. Plainly her review didn’t keep anyone away. According to the Cecil B. DeMille website, it cost $291,367.56 and grossed $906,937.79. It’s interesting that she didn’t seem to be worried that he would get mad at her, and she’d lose access to him.

Her opinion wasn’t unusual. For example, Laurence Reid in Motion Picture News (December 24, 1921) wrote about the film’s move to the Far East, “these scenes are lavish in the extreme, but they serve no purpose in advancing the story. They merely dazzle the eye. The simple structure of the earlier sequence is lost in a maze of Oriental trappings.” However, he also recognized that the scenes had “box office value.”

Fool’s Paradise has been preserved at the Library of Congress, and DeMille biographer Robert Birchard called it “highly entertaining.” It recently played in Pordenone.

John Davidson

Kingsley had done her part to help publicize the movie. On its opening day, her interview with actor John Davidson, who played the dancer’s royal lover, appeared in the Times. He told her all about the crocodile scene: when DeMille offered him the part, he warned him about it, and said he’d have to be courageous. But he wasn’t completely prepared for how frightening it would be:

But, as they had been starved for some time they were fairly snappy, and the longest moments of my life were those I spent in the pit with the slimy creatures surrounding me, while I pretended to be unconscious and had my eyes closed. We had to do the scene three or four times, too, before Mr. DeMille got what he wanted.

Since he was playing a foreign king, she also asked him “why the women are all going crazy over you dashing, dark devils.” His reply wasn’t bad. He said they were more graceful and natural lovers, and more expressive:

Actors of the American school grit their teeth and clench their fists and that goes for everything, Women like more than one expression in their heroes. Then there is the mystery about foreign men, too—and women are proverbially curious. But the American woman’s common sense usually saves her. But don’t worry about the American woman’s worship of the foreign actor. Her good sense, as well as her sense of humor, will keep her straight. But I think he’s in for a long vogue.

He got that right: Valentino and similar actors were popular for the next few years. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to take advantage of it. John Davidson was born in Petrograd, Russia on December 25, 1886 and by the time he signed up for the 1917 draft, he’d become a naturalized American citizen. He told Kingsley that theatrical producer Charles Frohman was a family friend, and that he told him to attend the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. He said he studied there for two years, then he was hired for a bit part in Lady Frederick with Ethel Barrymore. He got promoted to the juvenile role and toured with the production. He then went on to tour in several Frohman productions (I didn’t find any independent confirmation of any of this). He made his Broadway debut in 1911 in the comedy Excuse Me!, and in 1915 he made his film debut in The Alien, a George Beban film, and he went on to work in both movies and on the stage.

When Kingsley interviewed him in 1922 it was the high point of his film career. DeMille told reporters that he was going to train him to be a director, and he was in DeMille’s next film, Saturday Night, but they didn’t work together after that. He continued to work for Paramount Studios in both Los Angeles and New York, and in December 1923 he was back on Broadway, appearing in The Business Widow. He was a working actor for the next five decades. In the early 1930’s, Kingsley often mentioned seeing the handsome John Davidson at the Hollywood parties she reported on. He went to work for Republic Studios, playing villains in their Charlie Chan, Dick Tracey and Captain Marvel serials.  His career lasted so long that he worked in television, too. He retired in 1963 and died of heart failure on January 16, 1968.

*This is from “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” by Thomas Gray. In 1922 she could assume movie review readers knew that!

Knowing When to Quit: February 16-28, 1922

Helen Ferguson

One hundred years ago this month, Grace Kingsley interviewed actress Helen Ferguson, ”a beautiful young woman with brains and a sense of humor that never misses a tick,” and learned all about shooting Westerns in out-of-the-way places in California. Ferguson let fans know that it really wasn’t glamorous:

When Miss Ferguson went recently to Big Bear to make a picture with William Russell, she was ill at the time with tonsillitis. “They kidded me into working,” she said. “I had to do some horseback stunts. Bill had to chase me around a tree on a horse. We had an awful time getting those scenes, because Bill’s horse was wild. Either I wouldn’t run around the right tree or Bill’s horse wouldn’t. I thought I should never get through those scenes.

Horses had caused her trouble for quite a while. She had learned to ride one on the first movie she made with Russell, Shod with Fire, in 1920. After her initial ride, of course she was sore. Her co-workers told her to walk five miles from the location to cure it, but that didn’t help. So Russell told her to come to a dance that evening, and she managed to dance a little with another limping actor, but she hurt more than ever. She told Kingsley, “The company said, ”Well, if you ride again tonight, you won’t be stiff.” That was the last straw. “When won’t I be stiff?” I demanded sarcastically.”

Of course, filmmaking wasn’t all working when you didn’t feel well. The crew sometimes made their own fun on horseback, but her story also showed why civilians should never let anyone film in their town:

Up at Pleasanton, where Miss Ferguson went with ‘Buck’ Jones, the company got started on a wild game of “Follow the Leader,” went right through the theater and onto the stage where a picture was showing. But the natives were good-natured, and received them with applause, made the players do stunts, and then ‘Buck’ treated everybody, audience and all, to ice cream cones.

She didn’t report what the theater owner had to say about the horses inside his theater. She also told Kingsley about another drawback to location shoots: if there was only one girl in the company, the men won’t pay any attention to her.

“For fear,” explains Miss Ferguson, “that the other men will think he is trying to steal her away from the others. So it’s not nearly as much fun as it sounds, being the only girl in the company. There’s a sort of sense of chivalry which binds the men together to protect the girl, but not to pay her too much attention.”

Helen Ferguson, 1917

Now she’s nearly forgotten, but Helen Ferguson had a pretty good career. She was born July 23, 1901, in Decatur, Illinois. * In her first interview in 1917 with Motography she told how she left high school and broke into films in 1915:

I visited the Essanay studio every day it was open for four months. They wouldn’t even give me a chance until one day, in a court-room scene, they had one vacant chair. They had pressed into service stage hands and everyone else obtainable to fill other seats and finally, in desperation, the director grabbed me for the last chair. That was the beginning. I made good as a court-room spectator, so I got extra work from time to time until finally I was a regular.

Her first credited role was as a pretty girl that Max Linder winks at in Max Wants a Divorce, a short comedy released in March 1917. She had a leading part in the feature Fools for Luck with Taylor Holmes which was released in October 1917, however Essanay soon closed their Chicago studio, so she first tried her luck on the East Coast, then moved to Los Angeles where she signed a contract with Fox. She was speaking to Kingsley because she’d gotten a new contract with Goldwyn in 1921. Her career was about to take off. She replaced the poor hopeful Ethel Kay in Hungry Hearts, and her good reviews for that helped her get the lead in dramas like The Flaming Hour (1922) and comedies like Racing Luck (1924).

William Russell and Helen Ferguson

She married her former co-star William Russell in 1925, but he died of pneumonia in 1929. She then married Richard L. Hargreaves, president of the Beverly Hills First National Bank, in 1930. She left film and became a stage actress, then retired from that in 1933. After Hargreaves died in 1941, she went on to a truly impressive second act: she became one of the top publicity agents in Hollywood, working with clients that included Henry Fonda, Barbara Stanwyek, Loretta Young, Pat O’Brien, Robert Taylor and Jeanette MacDonald. She retired from that in 1967 and died on March 14, 1977 in Clearwater, Florida.

Magda Lane

This month, Kingsley ran into someone who got out of acting even earlier in her career, and she also enjoyed her new line of work:

Some people aren’t worrying a bit about the fate of pictures, even if they did formerly work in them. Take Magda Lane, for instance, who used to play leads. Miss Lane has no wolves at her door these days. She has accepted a position as private secretary to a stock broker, and is not only doing that work but is also selling stock and taking in nice little commissions now and then. Yesterday when I met her on the street she showed me a check for $200 which she had just earned as commission.

“And I’m just as happy as I can be—wouldn’t go back into pictures for anything,” said Miss Lane. “No, I’m not a bit worried about people saying that I’ve gone into trade.”

I’m always impressed by people who know when to quit and try something new. Magdalene Baur was born on May 22, 1896 in Zurich, Switzerland to Sebastian and Marie Mangold Baur.** She immigrated to the United States on November 12, 1913 and went to her sister, Suzanne Linderman, in New York City. According to a studio publicity article, she was discovered by Carl Laemmle at the home of a mutual friend. She went to work for Universal in 1918 and she appeared in over 25 short Westerns there. Her biggest role was as The Mystery Woman in an Eddie Polo serial, Do or Die (1920). Better parts didn’t follow, so she got out of acting while the getting was good. A few months after she ran into Kingsley, the L.A. Times had another article about her post-Hollywood work. They wrote that after taking a course at a Los Angeles business college, she had:

forsaken a motion picture career for plain, honest-to-goodness, brass tacks business…Yesterday it was learned that the erstwhile star of the screen has accepted a position with the Motor Service Corporation. She is the Hollywood representative of that concern with offices at 6408 Hollywood Boulevard and has five—count ‘em, five—sales people working under her direction.

Baur married fellow car salesperson Percival Edward Chamberlin on June 13, 1924 in Detroit. He continued to work in the auto industry. By 1941 she was a housewife and they were living in Millersville, Maryland, near Baltimore, when she filed her naturalization papers. In 1944 he was working in the piston ring division of the Koppers Company. He died on May 3, 1946. She survived him for several decades, and died in Santa Barbara, California on August 6, 1984.

*Helen Ferguson was 8 years old when the 1910 census was taken, so I think that other online sources that give her birth year anywhere between 1892 and 1901 aren’t accurate.

Here’s Magda Lane’s passport photo from 1920. Even pretty actresses take bad ones!

**Other online sources have been led astray by Miss Lane’s hastily filed 1920 passport application.  On December 6, 1920 she was about to travel from New Orleans to Cuba to work on Do or Die, and she quickly needed a passport. It must have been more difficult for a foreign national to do the proper paperwork, so she signed an application that said she was born in San Francisco, and they got an assistant hotel manager as well as the company’s young stuntman, Jean E. Perkins, to attest that she and her parents were American citizens. I think the naturalization papers she filed in November 1941 are correct. They’re backed up by her 1924 marriage record and a 1913 passenger list.

“New Chicago Charmer,” Motography, October 6, 1917, p. 743.

“Quits Films for Business,” Los Angeles Times, May 24, 1922.

“Universal Favorite in New Polo Serial,” Moving Picture Weekly, May 21, 1921, p. 29.