Week of October 12th, 1918

 

From Photoplay (January 1919), by R.F. James

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on a major announcement from a film studio: because of the influenza epidemic, they would be shutting down production for a month. Frank Garbutt, vice president and West Coast manager of Lasky and Morosco Studios, wrote in a letter to her:

All of the leading producers of the country have agreed to shut down for the month, and those stars who are now finishing will take their month’s lay-off on completion of their present pictures, for the reason that to shut down in the middle of a picture would entail enormous and unnecessary loss. Our stars at Lasky and Morosco Studios will take four weeks lay-off, which in the case of those now working will commence on the completion of the pictures upon which they are engaged. In this way we will avoid the necessity of completely closing our studios, as the shut-downs will not come at all the same time, and this will enable us to keep many of the smaller people at work.

Influenza had a huge effect on the film industry. After the epidemic was over, Alfred A. Cohn in the fan magazine Photoplay (January 1919) described it:

To the stars, four weeks of idleness came as a relief. To the majority of the lesser lights it was more or less a hardship. Although the impression prevailed throughout the country that the manufacture of films had become extinct because of he ravages of the epidemic, actual figures indicate that the decrease in production was not more than forty percent.

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Arbuckle kept working

A forty percent decrease is still a lot! Cohn said the shut-down happened because with theater closures, profits had been cut by two-thirds and all the banks were “using their spare change to help out the Liberty Loan drive,” so borrowing wasn’t possible. The studios simply had to stop spending money. The stars accepted a four-week vacation without pay, with the lost time tacked on to the end of their contracts. Lasky, Universal, Fox, Vitagraph, American, and World all followed the plan. Metro and Goldwyn were busy moving West, so they weren’t making films anyway. A few companies did not stop, including Sennett and Ince, while Roscoe Arbuckle kept shooting Camping Out on location at Catalina Island.

Photoplay summed up the epidemic’s effects in a box:

photoplay_summary

The IMDB has a more complete list of flu casualties from the film industry here.

Kingsley wrote about how much people missed the pictures:

Romance, comedy and thrills are all locked away in a little tin box, and all because that unpleasant autocrat, Spanish Flu, stalks the Rialto. Dear me, we never realized before how much of our romance was measured by the foot!

In 1918, most people had lived in a world without regular trips to the cinema, and they knew how to otherwise occupy themselves. But they’d gotten used to them. It’s a little like if the Internet was shut off for two months: most of us remember getting along without it but we really wouldn’t want to. Bloggers would have to go back to writing ‘zines (I think I can remember how to operate a mimeograph machine).

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Seattle, 1918

Live theater had also been banned, and Kingsley reported on how they were dealing with the uncertainty of how long it would last:

And then there are the playhouses and vaudeville shows. For the first time in twenty-five years there was no Monday show at the Orpheum yesterday. Nevertheless, all the new acts not already here will arrive this morning, in order to be in readiness in case the closing order should be rescinded this week; and in any case all acts on the Orpheum, also on the Pantages circuit, have been ordered to touch base in the town in which they are billed, whether they actually play there or not.

Unfortunately, theater actors were about to get an involuntary vacation too.

 

Kingsley knew that one day they’d go back to making movies, so on Sunday she wrote about trends in popular actresses, declaring the end of girlish heroines and beginning of roles for more robust women.

Dear, dear! How styles in girls do come and go! No girl can really feel sure of her popularity for a minute! I don’t mean, of course, the ordinary or lay girl, whose popularity isn’t measured by the pound. I mean the picture girl, the heroine of fillums. For now, it’s the Big Girl, the Gibson Girl, who has come back—who is to have her innings…Probably it’s the war that has done it, through some subtle subconscious workings in our national psychology. We like to think of the mothers of soldiers as husky ladies with deep chests and sturdy shoulders.

How we used to rave, didn’t we, over the curly-haired cuties—try to do our hair like theirs and everything. Why, the number of five-foot-eight girls with Mary Pickford curls was alone appalling. How excruciatingly cute we thought the pink-gingham ingénue when she biffed the villain over the head with a doughnut, and oh, was there ever anything so side-splittingly funny as the sun-bonneted cutie trying to milk a cow! But if she was ragged as well as cute—well, we just laid down and let her walk all over us.

She thought that some smaller women were going to stay popular because they were artists, like Mary Pickford, Mae Marsh, and Dorothy Gish, but the rest were fading. However, Kingsley’s crystal ball was faulty. They weren’t replaced by big girls or even adult women — the jaunty flapper was coming soon. Some, like Colleen Moore, were former curly-haired cuties. Popular taste is unpredictable.

 

 

 

Alfred A. Cohn, “The Spanish Invasion,” Photoplay, January 1919, p. 76, 97.

Week of October 5th, 1918

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The virus
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F. Woodman

One hundred years ago this week, Los Angeles city officials began to take the influenza epidemic very seriously. Following the recommendation of the newly-formed Medical Advisory Board, Mayor Frederick Woodman closed all schools, churches, theaters, and any other places of amusement starting at 6 p.m. on October 11th. He also banned all public gatherings, like Liberty Loan drives. Violators could be fined up to $500.00 or imprisoned for up to six months. Trying not to panic the public, he said that the restrictions might be lifted in a week. That wasn’t how it worked out — they lasted until December 2nd.

It all happened suddenly. Here are the theater ads from Thursday, October 10th:

 

And here’s the only ad from the 11th:

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In hindsight, Mayor Woodman made the right decision: this disease was utterly devastating. In fourteen months, about 500 million people or one-third of the world’s population became infected with this virus. It was estimated to have killed 50 million people (675,000 of them in the United States), according to the Centers for Disease Control, far more than the 15 million men killed on battlefields in World War 1,

Cinematographer Karl Brown, then serving in the army at Camp Kearny, wrote about his experience in his autobiography:

Then came one fateful evening after retreat, when it was quite dark, and when Captain Thompson came to my squad tent, which I shared with seven others. Somebody caught the glint of those two silver bars and barked “’Ten-shun!”

We all sprang to our feet, including me, even though I had been feeling horribly bad for the past two days. The trouble was that I couldn’t keep my feet under me and that I swayed forward and fell into the arms of Captain Thompson, who eased me to the floor of the tent. He felt my forehead briefly and then commanded, “Get an ambulance for this man. On the double!”

I must have fallen into a deep sleep, because I kept dreaming that I was hearing the Chopin Funeral March being played over and over again. Then, when I finally managed to achieve some semblance of awareness, I discovered that I was in a hospital bed along with ranks and ranks of other men, all in bed and all on a very long screened-in porch facing a roadway. It was daylight, and I was at least partially awake, because the Funeral March was being played by a military brass band as it moved slowly along the road, followed by a caisson carrying a flag-draped coffin.

It was hardly out of sight before another cortege came hard on the heels of the first, groaning out the same funeral march. And then another. And another. And this was to go on day after day for the unknowingly long time I was destined to stay in the base hospital.

It was the flu, of course, killing without mercy and much more efficiently than the armies on the fighting front.

Between the war and the epidemic, this was a very dark time for everybody. So they did their best to keep busy. Most people still went to work, including Grace Kingsley. This week, she had the story of the Goldwyn Company moving to Los Angeles, observing:

Count the day lost whose low descending sun sees no picture company trekking to the land of the setting sun.

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Photoplay noticed that everyone was moving West, too (cartoon by R. F. James, November 1918)

Goldwyn stars like Mae Marsh, Geraldine Farrar, Pauline Fredericks and Mabel Normand were making their travel plans, according to studio president Samuel Goldfish (the name change hadn’t happened yet). He tried telling her that moving West and giving up their Ft. Lee studio was a sacrifice to conserve coal to aid the government. She wasn’t buying it, and gently mocked him for his “a perfect halo of pure patriotism” which is much more polite than calling him out.

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Kingsley wrote two last movie reviews on Monday. Luckily she enjoyed them both. The first was one of John Ford’s early films, and she identified a recurring problem with his female characters.

There’s a capital Wild West story with a fairly Bret Harte-ish flavor at the Symphony this week, in which the three r’s of Wild West drama, viz, riding, romping and rowing (accent on the “ow”) are all played up strong. The Three Mounted Men is its name…Harry Carter is as horrid a villain as ever wore a checked suit and shaved his neck, while Neva Gerber is one of those lovely ragdoll heroines who had nothing to do but see to it that she’s not torn apart when they drag her on and off horses. While the story is about bandits, it is fresh and unhackneyed in treatment, with the whole company behaving like human beings.

 

Her second review was a sort of preview of things to come for the film industry. During the epidemic, most studios stopped production for a month so distributers re-issued older films to the theaters that hadn’t been closed. However, some companies were already doing that. The two she saw were made in 1914 and 1916, but audiences still enjoyed them:

Dear, dear, how we do love to take a peek once in a while at those old fillums of Mary Pickford’s and Charlie Chaplin’s! The Eagle’s Mate with little Mary as the heroine—she was just as long on hair, but shorter on art than in these days—and Charlie Chaplin in One A.M. are at the Garrick this week, and are drawing crowds, too, despite their ancient vintage. The Eagle’s Mate belongs to the film day when they carried maidens off to a mountain fastness and chased off sheriffs just as easy!—and the heroine always married the rough diamond hero despite stylish relatives and his table manners. Yet there’s a naïve charm and freshness about it—a zest in the doing which arouses our enjoyment and leaves us cold to the modern dramas with their boudoir hounds.

Without film and vaudeville reviews, her columns did shrink a bit, but she still presented news from interviews and press releases. And things would get better: the end of the war was only a month away.

 

 

“May Soon Lift Closing Order,” Los Angeles Times, October 11, 1918.

“To Wage War on Influenza,” Los Angeles Times, October 10, 1918.

 

Week of September 28th, 1918

 

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley announced:

Douglas Fairbanks is to stage a spectacular athletic and wild west show on the grounds at his house next Sunday to promote the sale of Liberty Bonds…Admission to the Fairbanks estate at Beverly Hills next Sunday [October 6th] will be absolutely free, but you must prove yourself 100 percent American by purchasing another Liberty Bond from the fifty salesmen who will be on hand to handle the crowds.

The event included an air show by fliers from the U.S. Army Air Service, boxing, jiu-jitsu, acrobatic and wresting demonstrations followed by a wild west show with 100 “real cowboys” and bucking broncho riding, all to benefit the Fourth Liberty Loan Drive.

It also offered people the opportunity to see Fairbanks’ estate, where he had shot part of his film that was currently playing at Grauman’s Theater, He Comes Up Smiling. The Los Angeles Herald had a description of the place:

Mr. Fairbanks is the owner of one of the most beautiful homes and attractively laid-out ground in Southern California. It is situated in Beverly Hills, on top of a knoll that overlooks all Los Angeles and affords a fine view of the Pacific. The Fairbanks estate includes 15 acres of grounds, tennis lawn, outdoor swimming pool, war garden, sanitary stables for horses and an immense dog house for Rex, Mr. Fairbanks’ Alaskan malamute.

Unfortunately, we can’t see it now because only two reels of Smiling have survived, and they aren’t the part set at his house.

While everyone was invited, this was an event for rich people only, a forerunner to $10,000-a-plate fundraising dinners for political candidates. Admission was pricy: a Liberty Bond cost $50.00. It was a fine investment, but at a time when the average annual household income about $800, many people couldn’t afford it even though you didn’t need to plunk down the whole fifty dollars—just the initial payment of 10 percent. In those more trusting days, if you wanted to pay by check or money order, you made it out to “Douglas Fairbanks.”

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Los Angeles streetcar map, 1910s

Furthermore, it was hard to get to Beverly Hills then: the streetcars didn’t go anywhere near it. Unless you were a very good walker who liked to climb hills, you needed an automobile.

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There was another unusual aspect to the event’s publicity: nobody gave the address. An LA Times article breezily said “all roads lead to Doug Fairbanks’ famous house in Beverly Hills this afternoon” as if everybody just knew where he lived. Perhaps they did. The 1918 City Directory was no help; it had an old address on Hollywood Boulevard for him. I had to look up his draft registration to find it, 1015 Laurel Way.

Of course the event was a great big success, just like his rodeo for the Red Cross in January, netting over $106,650 in Liberty Bonds sales plus an additional $2000 for the Boyle Heights Orphanage from the sale of flowers, refreshments and parking fees. Fairbanks stayed in that house until 1920, when he married Mary Pickford and bought Pickfair at 1143 Summit Drive.

avoid_flu_readingThis was to be one of the last large public gatherings for nearly two months, because the influenza pandemic had spread to Los Angeles. It started on army bases, then the first civilian case in Los Angeles was reported on October 1st. On Friday, October 11th the Mayor declared an emergency and closed all schools, theaters, churches, dance halls, pool rooms and other public meeting places as of 6 p.m. that day. Even public funerals weren’t allowed. Though officials promised it would only be temporary, the ban lasted until December 2nd. I’ll have more about it in the coming weeks (theater owners were not happy).

 

 

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Gee, bran cereal doesn’t advertise “flu prevention” as one of its benefits now.

Flu disrupted daily life, but it won’t disrupt this blog. Kingsley managed to avoid getting sick — at 45 she was a little bit old for it, because this strain of influenza mostly affected people between 20 and 40. Plus, the ban on public gatherings did help keep the infection rate in Los Angeles lower than in other places. She soldiered on throughout the epidemic, not missing a day of work. She did her best to keep her column filled with cheerful news and gossip, since there was no film or vaudeville to review.

 

“Film Star Uses Own Home for New Film,” Los Angeles Herald, October 1, 1918.

“Liberty Bond Show Plans Completed,” Los Angeles Herald, October 4, 1918.

N. Pieter M. O’Leary, “The 1918-1919 Influenza Epidemic in Los Angeles,” Southern California Quarterly, v.86 no.4 (Winter 2004), pp. 391-403.

“Rodeo Proceeds Reach Large Sum,” Los Angeles Times, October 7, 1918.

Truman B. Handy, “Fairbanks Bond Show,” Los Angeles Times, October 6, 1918.

 

 

 

Week of September 21st, 1918

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One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley used her Sunday column (usually devoted to an interview) to write an appreciation of Roscoe Arbuckle in The Sheriff:

Up the street gallops Fatty’s steed with the whooping cowboys close at his heels. They’re gaining on him, and he wants to escape, so he does exactly what you’d never expect a man built like Fatty to do. He makes a flying leap right up the side of a church and bounces onto the roof. After which you realize that Fatty isn’t really fat at all—that he’s made of India rubber. He bounces to the belfry and hangs on to the church spire.

Then you laugh until you weep, probably. For the spire suddenly bends in his grasp, then sways this way and that under Fatty’s weight, while the chubby comedian dodges the bullets from the guns of his pursuers.

And right there is where you “get” Fatty, and realize there are other ways to Boswell a man besides using long words to write about him. For in The Sheriff, Fatty admittedly give us a perfectly delicious and at the same time the most kindly and gentle of satires on the world’s most famous athletic comedian. In fact, Arbuckle takes the ‘ire’ out of ‘satire.’ And to Roscoe Arbuckle’s genius must go a huge share of praise for his radiant and cheerful comedies, in which he provides the warm glow of humor around which humanity eagerly hovers in these stressful days.

Unfortunately, this cheerful comedy can’t help our current stressful days: it’s a lost film. So Kingsley’s description of his impressive stunt work, as well as the publicity and other materials written about the film, are all we have left. It seems that Arbuckle’s sheriff was a Douglas Fairbanks super-fan who must rescue his kidnapped sweetheart. I’m sorry we don’t get to see that!

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Arbuckle and Betty Compson

Kingsley had a point about what makes Arbuckle films so enjoyable: they aren’t mean, the way some slapstick comedies can be (I’m not sure I’ve recovered from a Ham and Bud short I saw a few years ago that involved gassing a houseful of people). I’m glad that Kingsley called the character he played Fatty, but the filmmaker was Roscoe, which was exactly what he wanted.

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After months of anticipation, Kingsley got to see a preview of Charlie Chaplin’s new film:

I have no hesitancy in saying the world is going to pronounce it is the greatest picture comedy that has ever been made. And the preview was perfectly ‘dry’, too! If one were disposed to go into a high-brow analysis of it, one would say that Chaplin has succeeded by his artistry in fairly creating a new art form. For, despite the fact that Shoulder Arms has a ripple of laughter running all through it, which rises to the happy crescendo of laugher in its boisterous moments, it has all the time a resonant undertone of war’s rumblings and war’s mighty pathos.

Chaplin was clever to let her see it early – he thought she was important, even if her editors didn’t let her review the big films. Kingsley was one of the first critics to call Shoulder Arms great, but other film writers at the time admired it nearly as much. Peter Milne in Picture-Play Magazine said it was “proof conclusive that Charles Spencer Chaplin is the king of all comedians” (February 1919) while Film Daily gave it the highest praise possible from a trade paper: “if you don’t clean up with this Chaplin, you should get out of show business.” (November 17, 1918)

 

Kingsley’s favorite film in the theaters this week was yet another re-release. The intervening three years had turned it into an unusual film for its leading lady:

My goodness, how we used to sob over the sorrows of those lovely and hapless virgins, The Two Orphans, in the good old days of beer-barrel thunder and paper snowstorms! But there was something vital and fascinating in the old drama, else it never would have played all through the years. And now screen magic has touched it, as it touches so many of the beautiful old stories, and has turned it into quite a fresh new play by reason of the showing of the scenes that heretofore we’ve been obliged merely to conjure up in our imaginations, due to the limitations of the stage. The Two Orphans is on view at Miller’s this week, with no less a persona than Theda Bara in he leading role. The story is beautifully played—even if it is hard to imagine Miss Bara an orphan after the opulent orgies of Salome.

Orphans was made a few months after Bara made such an impression as a vamp in A Fool There Was in 1915, but before her studio typecast her. This lost film was based on the same play as Griffith’s Orphans of the Storm (1921); Bara played Henriette, the sighted orphan who gets kidnapped. The blind orphan, Louise, was played by Jean Sothern, who’d already quit acting in films by 1918. Bara’s popularity in 1918 must have been immense, because the film hadn’t done well at the box office when it was originally released, so it’s a little surprising they’d try it again. Maybe wartime austerity was another reason Fox mined their back catalog. Bara’s next picture in 1915 was a return to bad women with Sin, which was a great big hit and sealed her fate as a vamp.

Kingsley mentioned an unusual contribution to the war effort:

That athletic hero, Douglas Fairbanks, set a wartime example of abstemiousness by disposing of his automobile, and will be the first star in Los Angeles to go riding in his own handsome carriage. He has a fast trotting and racing pony, which will draw his equipage down Broadway.

It’s a shame that they didn’t print a picture of him and his carriage, navigating the streets of downtown Los Angeles. But here’s a nice one of Fairbanks in 1918 with the car he wasn’t using instead.

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Week of September 14th, 1918

arizona poster

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley left a little mystery in her column:

Albert Parker, who directed Douglas Fairbanks in Sic ‘em Sam, the propaganda picture made by Fairbanks for the fourth Liberty Loan campaign, has been selected to direct the athletic actor in the elaborate picturization of Augustus Thomas’s play, Arizona. Parker succeeds Allan Dwan, whose contract with Fairbanks terminated last week.

A contract is “terminated” in the middle of a shoot with no explanation? Dwan had directed Fairbanks in his recent hit films, A Modern Musketeer and Headin’ South. I bet Kingsley’s original readers wondered why he left, too.

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Allan Dwan

Unfortunately, it’s still a mystery! Dwan’s biographer Frederic Lombardi speculated that it was the “frantic pace of work” that was making him unhappy, which in turn put a strain on Dwan’s marriage (he divorced Pauline Bush in 1919). Lombardi examined business records from the Douglas Fairbanks Film Corporation and found that Dwan’s contract was supposed to have lasted until October 15, but in September he signed an agreement to terminate it immediately by mutual consent. So whatever caused it, they ended things in an orderly way—nobody stormed off in a snit.

Fairbanks’ biographer Tracey Goessel went a bit further in assigning blame:

Something—likely we shall never know what—was also bothering director Dwan. In the middle of production he quit—or was fired….Just what was making Dwan unhappy is not clear. But his unhappiness must have been acute to cause such a break…One suspects that the offender in this dispute was Fairbanks. Dwan was of an easygoing nature, patient with his rambunctious, effervescent, practical joker boss. But patience, even that of Dwan, is not infinite, and Fairbanks was not of a temperament to back down in the face of a quarrel.

There was no credited director for Arizona in the reviews or posters. No one is certain how much Dwan did before he left, but the AFI Catalog says that Parker directed it. The film sold lots of tickets, based on Fairbanks’ appeal, but the reviews weren’t good. Lombardi wrote that “Arizona was quickly forgotten,” and it’s a lost film. Goessel mentioned that around this time, Fairbanks began to rethink his films. In a few years he moved from comedies to adventure movies. So if this is how we got Thief of Bagdad, I’d like to thank Arizona.

However, this didn’t end their working relationship. As Goessel points out, “Dwan and Fairbanks would heal the breach within a few years—each needed the other more than he needed his pride.” Dwan went on to direct Fairbank’s huge hit, Robin Hood (1922), as well as The Iron Mask (1929). He went on to a long career, working until 1961. The IMDB says he directed 407 films, but his New York Times obituary quotes him estimating it was 1850. Whichever was closer to the truth, it was a lot.

Kingsley’s favorite film this week sounds like lots of fun. George Walsh appeared:

in the most brilliant burlesque on the old type of melodrama which we have ever had, entitled The Kid is Clever…The young hero is sent to South America, as otherwise the money in a certain mysterious will will revert to the nearest villain. Of course there is a lovely young woman—Violet Ray—and they are kidnaped by Jazzbando Bullion, the villain, and taken ashore, where the hero beats the whole army. Sailors from a man-of-war get word and come to the rescue. They are constantly flashed on the screen a few hundred yards from shore, but it takes ‘em all day to arrive…The subtitles are corking, and—oh well, why aren’t all the picture melodramas turned into satires of themselves? It would be a happier world.

Kingsley certainly preferred comedies to the dramas of the time. Like so many other Fox productions, it’s a lost film.

At another theater, Kingsley got to enjoy a golden oldie entitled Her Fighting Chance (from the ad you can see why she thought it was called Lady Lou of the Yukon):

Every once in a while some exchange or exhibitor will pull down an old film from his shelf, brush it off, change some of the subtitles, and show it as a new picture. Usually such a film really is a classic, deserving of living, and such a one is Lady Lou of the Yukon at the Palace this week…So clean-cut is the direction, so splendidly does the plot march, that Lady Lou of the Yukon is well deserving of resurrection. Besides which, it has all the virility which marked those earlier western dramas, and which never perhaps will be equaled.

By ‘earlier’ she meant 1917: things changed quickly then! (nobody is talking about the good old days of 2017 now.) Her Fighting Chance was made by a small production company, A.H. Jacobs Photoplays, and distributed on a state’s rights basis so it isn’t odd that it took a while to appear in Los Angeles. It told the story of a murder investigation by a corrupt Northwest Mounted Policeman, and ended in a big chase. It’s a lost film, so we can’t find out if it was a classic.

 

 

 

 

Tracey Goessel, The First King of Hollywood: The Life of Douglas Fairbanks. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2016.

 

Frederic Lombardi, Allan Dwan and the Rise and Decline of the Hollywood Studios. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2013.

Week of September 7th, 1918

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Moving Picture World, June 14, 1919

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley mentioned a man that might be the first Korean-American actor in Hollywood:

A Chinese imitator of Charlie Chaplin is the latest thing in Filmland. His name is Chai Hong and he works for the L-Ko Company. His impersonation occurs in a scene of Playing Movies, a comedy directed by Jim Davis, wherein Hong, seeing a picture company at work, decides he can be Charlie Chaplin.

CHarrival

It’s not Kingsley’s fault that she thought he was Chinese: that’s how they sold him. Chai Young Hong was part of the first wave of Korean immigrants to the U.S. who came to work on the Hawaiian sugar plantations.* By 1918 he was in Los Angeles, possibly working as a bellhop at the Alexandria Hotel,** then he went to work for L-Ko Komedies. His first part was a bit as “The Chinese Man” in The Blind Pig, but he was already the lead in his third film. Moving Picture World announced:

A genuine Oriental makes a bid for popularity in the comedy field in the L-Ko comedy, A Clean Sweep. His name is Chai Hong, and according to Julius Stern, head of the L-Ko aggregation, he is due to make a decided impression on photoplay fans. Chai Hong has a style peculiarly his own…The L-Ko’s new comedian enacts the role of a Celestial laundry magnate, who helps to run smoothly the course of true love as it exists between the daughter of a neighboring ‘lady barber’ and the son of a nearby butcher. (July 27, 1918)

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Later in the same issue they reviewed it and said it was “full of funny tricks and amusing slapstick situations and winds up with a hilarious chase, in which the family washing is carried through the streets between two autos.”

The film Kingsley mentioned became A Movie Riot. Moving Picture Weekly (Universal’s trade paper) gave a disjointed plot summary:

School is out because the village schoolmaster has had his digestion spoiled by the children continually making him sick with their antics. So the two worst culprits, Hoptoad Hal and Tadpole Ted, went to work on the farm. What should arrive but the Fillibuster Film Company to stage a few scenes of their great drama, The Romance of a Young Butcher?

Right here Charlie from the Orient makes his presence felt and Lady Vere de Voop simply cannot escape the tender advances of the young but worldly-wise butcher. Of course, the kids get continually in the way as they always do when love scenes threaten. Then movies begin to riot all over the place and even ‘the child’ and the storm—just like Way Down East. But just before you begin to cry the happy ending comes. (April 5, 1919)

That doesn’t make very much sense, but Moving Picture World reviewed the short and said “there is not much plot, but several good features. The burlesque melodrama is funny, and the rescue of the baby from the miniature train by a dog makes an exciting close.” (May 17, 1919)

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He’s in the 1920 Census and the 1920 LA City Directory

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Hong wasn’t a Chaplin imitator dressed in baggy pants like Billy West, it just looks like they were implying that he was as funny as Chaplin. He worked for L-Ko until it went out of business in 1919, then he moved to another comedy company distributed by Universal Films, Rainbow Comedies, until 1920. Unfortunately, few of his film survive. According to the IMDB, over the next two years he had three small parts for independent companies. After that, he disappeared. There are Chai/Charles/CY Hongs in Ancestry.com, but their birth years don’t match his. I hope he had a happy life.

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He got to make a personal appearance in Los Angeles on July 15, 1919.

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Kingsley’s favorite this week was Theda Bara’s last big film:

Score another one—high up, this time—for Theda Bara, J. Gordon Edwards, William Fox. All for Salome, which without a doubt is the greatest Biblical spectacle so far made in the history of films. And one of the greatest photodramas ever made…the spectacle is so interwoven with the human drama of it as to amount to a triumph. There is the miracle wrought by John the Baptist when the thunderbolt blasts its way into the king’s palace, there is the majesty of John and his rabble followers in the wilderness; there is the mad dance of the seven veils; there is the execution of John and the pitiful bloody head held aloft; there is the devastating tornado which tears the palace twain, and last there is the death of Salome on the spears of the soldiers.

And for me—and, probably for thousands of others—Salome, the alluring, the cruel, will always be the colorful, intricate characterization of Theda Bara. The house was packed from pit to dome with a brilliant and enthusiastic audience.

There was no way anybody could predict that Bara’s popularity would be ending just next year.

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Miller’s Theater revived an older comedy two-reeler this week, and Kingsley wasn’t happy about it:

Fatty Arbuckle’s picture, Fatty and the Studio Stars, is a Keystone of the vintage of 1915, and serves principally to illustrate by mental comparison what a lot Mack Sennett and Fatty Arbuckle have learned since than.

That’s undoubtedly true, and it’s a good reminder of how rapidly filmmaking developed then. However, now people like it much more. Known as Fatty and the Broadway Star, Brent Walker in Mack Sennett’s Fun Factory says it “offers a glimpse of the Keystone lot circa Fall, 1915. Arbuckle plays a hapless sweeper who manages to disrupt a series of shoots on the lot, with every major Keystone star appearing as themselves (with a special emphasis on the Broadway performers, naturally). In an interesting dream sub-plot, crooked stage manager Al St. John ties up Sennett in his office while his cohorts set fire to the building.” I’d like a glimpse of that!

 

 

 

*The National Association of Korean Americans has more information on their website.

**Jenny Cho, Chinese in Hollywood, Mt. Pleasant, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2013, p.18. She didn’t cite a source, but it’s certainly plausible that he was a bellhop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Week of August 31st, 1918

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One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported that:

America’s Answer, the second official United States war film, now being released by the division of films, has been booked for long-time showings in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Kansas City, Denver, San Francisco and Los Angeles. In this city it will be exhibited at the Alhambra Theater, where the first of the government’s official films, Pershing’s Crusaders, was shown with such marked success.

L.A. only had to wait a week to see it, and Kingsley’s review pointed out why it would be a marked success too.

By all means don’t miss America’s Answer, the government film on view at the Alhambra this week, and which surely is the most vivid, the most gripping, the most logically arranged, the best photographed of any war film we have ever had. Tremendous crowds all day yesterday stamped and applauded and howled themselves hoarse over it.

So that you, whose son or brother or sweetheart or husband is in the midst of it, need not wait to conjure up pictures of his experiences with imaginings pieced together from his letters. In America’s Answer you may journey with him from the time he embarks on the transport for France until he rejoices in victory or is borne in to some hospital. You may even see him in the trenches and in battle.

She didn’t need to mention a soldiers’ other possible fate – the list of the dead was just a few pages away, and people were all too conscious of it. Audiences were hungry for information, and film could immerse them in the sights in a way that letters and newspaper couldn’t.*

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The New York Times (and New York audiences) agreed: “Not a man and not a woman in the crowd that filled the seats failed to feel the pull of the war, the urging of its influence, the sense of participation in it.” The film allowed people to be “seriously and intelligently informed of what the war in all of its departments is really like.”**

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America’s Answer was made by the Committee on Public Information, a government agency established on April 13, 1917 just days after Congress declared war. The CPI used film, advertising, posters, radio and public speeches to inform people about recruitment, rationing, war bond drives and why the war was being fought. They made one more documentary, Under Four Flags.

Now America’s Answer is only interesting if you’re a student of World War One (there are a lot of shots of men and goods being taken to Europe). It has been preserved at the National Archives, and is available on You Tube.

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Pickford’s first film for First National

It was a sparse week for news because of the Labor Day holiday. Syd Chaplin announced that he was planning to appear in his own films again (he didn’t until 1921) and First National offered Mary Pickford a contract that was the “largest salary ever paid anybody for anything in the world” ($675,000 plus half of the profits for three pictures–she took it) and that was about it. Kingsley took two days off to enjoy the end of the summer. I hope you enjoy a long weekend, too!

 

 

prussiancur*The other film she reviewed that day, The Prussian Cur, fared badly in comparison. Though “an absorbing story thread runs throughout…with those who like their war news sugar-coated with fiction this picture is bound to make a smashing hit.” So ‘those’ weren’t tough enough for real news?

 

 

 

** “America’s Answer Stirs War Spirit,” July 30, 1918, p. 9.