Week of January 19th, 1918

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Grace Kingsley at work, by Ted Gale

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley got to visit Charlie Chaplin’s brand new studio. It was a “little bit of a quint old English street amidst the pampas plumes and tiny orchards of Hollywood.” She went on:

The camouflage is very deceptive. Inside the building which looks like a church, for instance, there is a mean old commercial time clock, like a conscience, where the workmen ring in, and where dwell—shades of St. John the Scribe—the Chaplin Boswells, the publicity department. Also, just as you fancy there will step from one of the half-timbered Elizabethan doors a clanking knight of old, instead there emerges an overalled Pete Props. ‘”Say,” he says, “whada you thing the boss wants now? A crowd o’ tarantulas! I ain’t no tarantula hound, and I don’t know no tarantulas. Can you beat it?”

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Chaplin himself showed her and LA Times cartoonist Edmund “Ted” Gale around, “making amusing little comments:”

“I think I could like this place if I didn’t work here…See, here’s a lemon orchard back of the stage…No, I’m not going to live in the studio—Brother Sid and Mrs. Sid [Minnie Gilbert Chaplin] are going to try it, but none of the put-out-the-dog-and-let-in-the-cat-and-lock-the-cellar-door stuff for me at my workshop. But you see I’ve got a beautiful apartment”—it’s a large corner room, where there are bay windows and odd little dormer windows—“this is to be a combination office and reception-room, and there’s a door I can dodge out of and climb a tree in the lemon orchard if I want to get away from anybody…Yes, there’s a nice big swimming pool and there’s a tennis court, both to be used for business and pleasure.”

There was also a film lab, a screening room, dressing rooms, a garage, a film vault and stables. She observed that “so far as the studio is concerned, Charlie is like a kid with a new toy.”

 

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Chaplin Studio today

The lemon orchard soon became the back lot, where they built open-air sets. Chaplin kept the studio until the end of his film career. He made his most famous films there, including The Kid (1921), The Gold Rush (1925), City Lights (1931), Modern Times (1936), and The Great Dictator (1940). After he shot Limelight (1952) there and moved to Switzerland in 1953, he sold it to a real estate development firm who leased it to a television production company. Over the years it was owned by Red Skelton, CBS, A&M Records and most recently, the Jim Henson Company. It’s still a studio.

If you’d like to see what Kingsley saw, here’s Chaplin’s documentary about his studio called How to Make Movies (1918):

John Bengtson has a photo-filled chapter about the studio in his book about Chaplin, Silent Traces. He also blogged about his visit to the studio at Silent Locations.

 

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Kingsley reported that advance sales for Cleopatra at Clune’s Auditorium were brisk, and she repeated a story from Theda Bara’s secretary:

A lady interviewer called at the studio to see Miss Bara, who was dressing, and who sent out word. ‘I cannot possibly see you now. I have nothing on at all.’

The lady interviewer wrote on a card, and sent it in, ‘My dear Miss Bara, Shouldn’t recognize you if you did.’

The journalist was sent right in. Theda Bara had a fine sense of humor.

 

Because a new film critic had started last week, Kingsley was devoting more of her column space to vaudeville. She mentioned that despite wartime transportation problems, the Orpheum was still sending big acts, like Gertrude Hoffman and her fifty-person dance troupe and Joseph E. Howard and his song and dance company of forty. I had no idea that touring vaudeville acts could be so large.

Week of January 12th, 1918

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Les Miserables (1917)

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley interviewed Frank Lloyd, the director of the latest version of Les Miserables, which would be opening in Los Angeles in a few weeks. He told some behind-the-scenes stories from the nine-week shoot took place at the Fox studio in Ft. Lee, New Jersey:

In the making of the battle scenes a brigade of United States Army soldiers stationed in New York was used, and this made the work much easier, as they drilled the handful of extras whom we used, went right to work, and knew exactly what to do. They were husky fellows and took to the game like a duck to water. ‘Hi there!’ they’d yell, ‘we’re fighting for democracy!’ laughing and full of pep, they’d go at it like demons. One boy got stuck in the face with a bayonet, but refused to go to the hospital. ‘This is nothing!’ he exclaimed in scorn as we bound up his wound. We really had an awful time stopping those Sammies from fighting.

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The recruits pose with the film’s star, William Farnum (center)

Of course there was lots of research. All directors emphasized their films’ historical accuracy then, perhaps to make film going seem educational. Lloyd said:

I read Victor Hugo’s novel six times and I consulted every print and painting I could find. The research work alone took several weeks, and indeed was not completed until the picture was finished. For instance, even the paper cartridges in use at the time of the French revolution—the kind that are bitten off by the man who is loading his gun—were used in the battle scenes. Of course, they had to be specially made.

 

franklloydFrank Lloyd had a long and impressive career that included five Oscar nominations for best director and two wins, for The Divine Lady (1929) and Cavalcade (1933). Now his most remembered films are Oliver Twist (1922) The Sea Hawk (1924) Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) and Under Two Flags (1936).

 

We’ll never know what Kingsley thought of the finished product, because the LA Times had a new film reviewer starting on January 14th. His name was Antony Anderson, and he’d been the art critic for the paper since 1906. He continued to write his In the Realm of Art column in addition to film reviews.

There’s no record of why the change was made, but it was done without any fuss. Anderson’s Films column just started running, and movie reviews disappeared from Kingsley’s daily column for a while. She still wrote vaudeville reviews. His reviews were a bit more stuffy and pretentions than hers were; he didn’t tell jokes and seemed to worry more about being taken seriously. His film writing ended in August 1921 and he retired from full-time writing in 1926.

Anderson thought Les Mis was a “notable production” and Hugo’s masterpiece had been given “a noble pictorial setting by Fox, one in accord with the spirit of the novel.”

Jessie Lasky, vice-president of Famous Players/Lasky, told Kingsley about a new way the war was affecting the film industry, fuel shortages:

We have been forced to shut down our New Jersey studios entirely. We cannot get either coal or light. We have rented every available studio in New York City, and even in many of these we cannot get the results we demand. Wallace Reid, who went East to make a production, will probably return to California to finish it. We are also making arrangements to have Elsie Ferguson and Billie Burke come to California and make their productions at one of our studios.

It was just one more step towards making Los Angeles the film capitol. He mentioned that coal shortages were also prompting theaters to help:

Many poor people not able to afford coal and confronted with the possibility of freezing in their own homes, now go to the motion picture theaters, which have been thrown open to them by the managers. Here in the picture houses, they sleep in the boxes and in the aisles. It is nothing unusual to see people enter the theater at night laden down with blankets and pillows.

The crisis was so bad that on January 16th, the Fuel Administrator Harry Garfield ordered all manufacturers (including war industries) east of the Mississippi to close for five days, followed by ten weeks of Monday “holidays” for all factories, saloons, stores (except for grocers), places of amusement and nearly all office buildings.* According to the International Encyclopedia of the First World War, the shortage was caused by a railroad distribution logjam, not a supply problem–Garfield had increased the number of mines operating. The reduced demand did allow the trains to catch up on their deliveries and by 1919 there was an oversupply. I knew that 1918 was a really difficult year for everybody, but I hadn’t known about this problem.

Kingsley told the story of “an interesting new member” of Charlie Chaplin’s company, Zasu Pitts:

The story of Miss Pitt’s success reads like a Cinderella tale. It was two years ago that she came to Mary O’Connor, then head of the scenario department of the Triangle…with a letter from friends in Santa Cruz. She has a very expressive face, and Miss O’Connor at once took an interest in the girl, who had absolutely no experience up to that time. The youngster was taught even how to make up, and given small bits and extra parts to play. But she drifted away, after registering merely the fact that she was possessed of the potent but elusive something called personality.

Not long ago she made her appearance at the Lasky studio. She was playing an extra in one of the pictures, and Marshal Neilan caught sight of her as she leaned in a weary and woebegone attitude against a set. He had been trying to find someone to play the pathetic and comical little slavey in The Little Princess. ‘The very girl,’ he exclaimed, and she was engaged at once, registering so great a hit that her services have since been in great demand. Charlie Chaplin saw her, and now she is playing character parts in his pictures.

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Zasu Pitts and Thelma Todd

Although she was reportedly under contract to Chaplin, she didn’t appear in his next films, A Dog’s Life and Shoulder Arms. Nevertheless, she went on to a long and varied career that included silent and sound films, radio, Broadway and television. She was mostly known for comedy (particularly for a series of 17 shorts she made with Thelma Todd for Hal Roach in the early 1930’s) but she was also Erich von Stroheim’s favorite dramatic actress, and her work in Greed (1924) was especially memorable.

 

 

*”Factories Must Close to Save Fuel,” Los Angeles Times, January 17, 1918, p. I1.

Week of January 5th, 1918

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Joan the Woman (1917), courtesy of Fritzi Kramer, Movies Silently 

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley unknowingly reported a lie from Cecil B. De Mille:

Just as if it weren’t enough to be known as one of the world’s major motion picture directors, now Mr. De Mille has gone and invented a color photography process, on which he has already taken out patents. Maybe you have noted some special tinting in some of the De Mille films—take the flames which surround Farrar in Joan the Woman for instance—these are all the result of Mr. De Mille’s invention.

They were the result of a new invention, but De Mille wasn’t the inventor, Alvin Wyckoff and Max Handschiegl were. Why he felt the need to claim credit I don’t understand. The inventors both worked at De Mille’s studio, Lasky, so maybe he was taking a page from Thomas Edison’s book and claiming credit for his employees’ work.

Wyckoff had been the chief photographer at Lasky since its founding in 1914. He also invented “numerous appliances to aid motion picture photography, as well as a number of inventions used in connection with the laboratory,” according to Motion Picture News.* Handschiegl was a lithographer and engraver who realized that similar techniques could be used on film to print color on selected portions of black and white stock. Their patents for the process were granted on May 13, 1919.

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Phantom of the Opera (1925): the improved process

De Mille’s claim was quickly forgotten and the process came to be known as the Handschiegl Process. Handschiegl soon left Lasky and signed a contract with Sanborn Laboratories to do color work. He went on to improve his process (and receive more patents) until his death in 1928. Wyckoff continued to shoot films at Laksy until 1926 when he was blacklisted from the industry for helping to co-found the cameraman’s union, IATSE 659. In 1929 he appeared in advertising for another process, Multicolor Films, but it wasn’t a success. He worked on some low budget films in the 1930’s He died in 1957.

Allowing such an incorrect statement into the newspaper is partly Kingsley’s fault for being too credulous, but she didn’t have Google Patents to check and entertainment writers still rarely do adversarial interviews. You can learn more about color processes at Movies Silently and at the Timeline of Historical Film Colors.

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Mr. Goring was starved for Technicolor, not distracted by it.

De Mille got to be wrong about another thing that day when he said:

I have come to the conclusion that color photography, in the sense of absolutely faithful reproduction of natural colors, or any other method of coloring where the tints used are of the glaring variety, can never be used universally, as the eye of the spectator would be put to too great a strain, and the variety of color would distract from the story values.

Lucky for him, by the 1930s when Technicolor beat the other color processes to become the standard, everyone had forgotten he said that.

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Kingsley’s favorite film this week featured William Farnum, who

looks his darn handsomest when wearing Wild West scenery…The Heart of the Lion is a clean-cut, well-directed drama, and besides is so stirring that even the critic, hardened with three-days-a-week viewing of fire, flood, abductions and sudden death involved in motion picture plots, gets a real thrill.

This lost film told the story of a doctor who, betrayed by his younger brother, goes off to work in a Northwest timber camp to forget. In repentance, the brother becomes a preacher and he gets assigned to the same Northwest town. The doctor ends up defending the brother against the lumber camp toughs. Poor Mr. Farnum: there’s just no escape for older siblings!

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He sat down sometimes.

Kingsley recorded D.W. Griffith’s daily schedule when he was finishing up Hearts of the World:

  • Leave the Alexandria Hotel at 7 a.m. and drive to the studio.
  • Review studio business with his manager and plan the day until 8 a.m.
  • Start production work: conceiving the scenes, ordering sets, selecting locations on the lot, supervising rehearsals, shooting.
  • A short lunch, then work continues until dark.
  • Edit the film exposed during the day, and “meanwhile, he has been interrupted many times meeting visitors and settling important matters with subordinates.”
  • Have a rapid dinner, then more production work until 11 or later
  • Return to his office and handle any “matters at hand.”
  • Back to his hotel, where “he can apply himself to creative work.”

And she said he did this seven days a week! I feel tired just reading about it. Nevertheless:

through it all he has a world of fun. To see him directing a melodramatic scene is to have a rare treat. The actors become perplexed in their business, so he jumps up and demonstrates for them. As he portrays the throes and throbs of the scene, he keeps up a continuous patter such as, ‘if Al Woods could see me now, he’d say: “I’ll save you from oblivion: fetch a contract” and then I’d be a regular actor on a regular stage’ all to the accompaniment of delicious burlesque action.

Kingsley mentioned an experiment in comedy:

For the first time in the history of the film industry a comedy will be seen which makes use of no subtitles.

The film was called was called The Slave and it starred Chaplin imitator Billy West. Of course, it wasn’t really the first: the earliest comedies didn’t have intertitles either. Now the lost film is remembered, if at all, as the first film Oliver Hardy made in Hollywood. He’d been working for the King Bee Company in Bayonne, New Jersey and they had moved to Los Angeles in October.

 

 

*”Creators of Lasky Photography,” Motion Picture News, October 21, 1916, p. 173.

Week of December 29th, 1917

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One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley announced a retirement, quoting a statement from William S. Hart:

On August 29, 1917, Fritz made his last appearance before the camera in the closing scene of The Narrow Trail, my first Thomas H. Ince production for Artcraft. Hereafter he will live in retirement with all the comforts of horse life.

I have ridden Fritz constantly for more than two years, and he has served me so faithfully, and has been so steadfast and courageous whenever called to perform a hazardous feat, that I feel all who have been so kind to us in our work upon the screen will know and understand my motives. I love the old fellow dearly, and cannot, after all his loyalty, subject him further to a chance of injury.

I wish to tell all who like the little Pinto that he will go right with me wherever I may go—until the boss ranger comes along and summons one or both of us across the big divide.

There had been an accident on the set. Fritz and Hart were crossing a gorge on a log bridge, and it lurched, sending the two seventeen feet down to the bottom. Neither was badly injured, but Hart said he didn’t want Fritz to take ay more chances.

 

 

The Narrow Trail was playing that week and Kingsley attended their personal appearance at the Kinema Theater. She reported that

a double line, a block long last night waited to greet Mr. Hart and the equine actor, Fritz, outside the portals, and once inside they fairly raised the roof, not only three-cheering these two, who appeared on the stage in person, but the thrilling episodes of the picture itself.

She admired Fritz’s performance, saying “no horse ever performed as does Hart’s pinto pony,” particularly in “the most breathless horse race you ever beheld on the screen, with Hart making a flying leap from the grand stand to his horse’s back, grabbing the girl and making a getaway all in one mad rush.” The Narrow Trail has survived, and it’s available on DVD.

 

 

Fritz only stayed retired for Hart’s next fifteen films. Since they made so many then, that was about two years. Fritz hadn’t stopped working to sleep and eat grass, it was part of Hart’s contract negotiation with Thomas Ince: he wanted a higher salary, according to Hollywood Hoofbeats by Mitchum and Paiva. Once that was settled, Fritz returned in Sand (1919).

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Naturally, Hart didn’t mention money when in 1922 he ghostwrote Fritz’ side of the story in an autobiography, Told Under a White Oak. After the fall down the gorge:

I was a mess. My left side (my falling side) was all cut up with sharp rocks. Gee! I was cut all over; and Bill said “Pardner, whether you like it or not, you’re going to eat grass for the rest of your days. No more pictures or work for you.” That’s the real inside dope of how I come to lay idle for two years. That’s the real how of why the Boss had to ride them other dogies for fifteen pictures. But the Great American Public, and some of the Great European ones, too, had something to say about that, and just wouldn’t have it. They kept writing to me and Bill all the time a-saying Bill was jealous of me and that’s why he put me out of the game. Oh! They said all kinds of things just to show they meant it. Of course, I don’t know if Bill was really jealous of me or not, but he wouldn’t stand the gaff and brought me back.

If you’d like to read more of Fritz’ book, its available on Google Books. I need to warn you, however: it includes some thoroughly racist language – commonplace then, but shocking now.

The early retirement was a ploy, but the love was real. Hart did take good care of him his whole life. After they both left the screen, Fritz in 1924 and Hart in 1925, they lived at Hart’s ranch in Newhall, California, which is now a museum. Fritz died there in 1938, age 31.

 

 

 

As much as she enjoyed the Hart film, Kingsley’s favorite picture this week was a different kind of action movie:

The most vivid, crackling, smashing story of the present world war, which has so far reached the screen, is on view at the Sennett this week, and is entitled The Zepplin’s Last Raid. Here are vividly crystalized for any who wishes to see the mad clash of battle, the fear-frenzied madness of helpless women and children, as well as many other things which cannot fail to live with the spectator.

In addition to the spectacle, the most interesting part was “the showing of what is said to be an exact reproduction of the working and official paraphernalia of a Zep.” The film told the story of a conscious-stricken commander who choses to stop bombing civilians and blow up his own Zeppelin. It’s a lost film.

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Frank E. Woods

Kingsley ran an interview with Frank Woods, the supervising director of Lasky-Famous Players-Artcraft Studio, and he said he preferred to adapt existing stories rather than produce original photoplays. Moreover, contributors to major magazines like Harpers, the Saturday Evening Post and Scribners were besieging him, and

the motion picture scenario has been admitted into the best society, it is not now referred to in a sneering whisper by the intellectually elite, it is no longer taboo, but a recognized branch of the dignified profession of writing. And this, by the very men and women who, a couple of years ago, when they deigned to notice the existence of such a thing as a scenario, did it with as much mud-flinging as their aristocratic sensibilities would permit.

Now it doesn’t seem surprising that writers wanted work. Nevertheless, it was another step in making films respectable, and it happened much earlier than I’d thought it did.

 

 

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Many of the downtown picture theaters planned special New Years Eve screenings starting at 11 p.m., so theater-goers would be let out just in time “to join the glad throngs on the street, and take part in the noise with which it is traditionally customary to usher in the new year.” They deserved to have some fun: the next year was a rough one. Here’s hoping that 2018 won’t be as bad, and I hope you have fun while you wait for midnight, too!

The photo is from the San Diego History Center.

Week of December 22nd, 1917

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One hundred years ago this week Grace Kingsley told her readers exactly what happened when a car, driven on railroad tracks by Herbert Rawlinson, got hit by a locomotive (just in case anybody was wondering):

The rear wheels of the auto were picked up by the cow catcher of the big Mogul, and the car bumped along down the ties for a hundred yards on its front wheels, Rawlinson deftly holding it on the track and preventing it from turning sideways to the locomotive. The body of the auto was caved in and the windshield shattered by the shock, but otherwise the car was uninjured.

No one knew what would follow the collision…The element of uncertainty made the scene extremely hazardous to attempt.

No kidding! They did have safety precautions: both Rawlinson and co-star Millard Wilson “were prepared to leap from the car if serious consequences threatened.”

Of course this was all in service to a film, originally titled The Love Claim, and re-named Smashing Through (for once, the new title is a big improvement). Film reviewer Peter Milne called it “a miniature serial, in that it contains thrill after thrill of a most sensational variety.”*

This wasn’t the only incident on the shoot; the next day Kingsley mentioned that when they were filming at the bottom of a mineshaft, a flare exploded and nearly asphyxiated the whole crew. It never ceases to amaze me, the risks early filmmakers took. Even worse, it’s a lost film.

 

 

Miraculously, Herbert Rawlinson didn’t die from taking an absurd risk for a film. He lived until 1953 when he died of lung cancer after a long acting career, first as a leading man in silents, then character parts in sound films, and even some work in television.

 

 

Film people didn’t just take chances with trains then, they also risked their lives with animals. For the Sennett short The Kitchen Lady, Glen Cavender was “required to flirt with a bear” while director William S. Campbell observed:

The bear thought Glen was intended for his dinner and started rapidly toward him. There is still a question as to whether Campbell or Cavender won the 100-yard dash that followed. Louise Fazenda was the heroine of the occasion as well as of the picture. She literally tempted Bruin from his contemplated meal and saved the actor and director.

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No bite marks on him!

Brave Miss Fazenda! Eddie Cline was credited as the director of the film, but maybe Campbell was helping out – he was another Sennett director, and he was known for his skills with directing animals and children.

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The Little Princess

Kingsley didn’t completely ignore the holiday season (though she did have to turn in an article on Christmas Day). Her favorite film this week was Mary Pickford’s The Little Princess, and she wrote:

if you want to realize it’s the glad Christmas time, despite the war and the high cost of living, just pass into the Kinema Theater, and let the silver sheet’s door open to disclose the land of enchantment.

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Whistling Dick’s Christmas Stocking

The film was recently reviewed on Century Film Project.

The bill also included a short, Whistling Dick’s Christmas Stocking, based on an O. Henry story that wasn’t “The Gift of the Magi.” It told the story of a homeless man who is rewarded with a Christmas dinner for warning a family about an imminent robbery, but he refuses their offer of a job, preferring to be homeless. I can see why it didn’t become the evergreen that “Magi” did.

I hope you can find a good movie to take you to a land of enchantment this holiday season!

 

 

 

*Peter Milne, “Smashing Through,” Motion Picture News, June 22, 1918, p.3744.

Week of December 15th, 1917

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One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley attended the star-studded opening of a new movie palace in downtown Los Angeles, the Kinema Theater:

Everybody—and his sisters and his cousins and his aunts, even his best girl and his prospective mother-in-law—was present at the opening of the Kinema Theater last Saturday night. The line of motors, the tall hats and low gowns, and the jewels, with the beautiful and brilliantly-lighted new picture house as a background, made the occasion fairly resemble a cursory view at a Metropolitan grand opera opening…The big theater holds 2500 people, and yet its seats are so well arranged, and so artfully has the house been shaped and its vistas camouflaged, that the effect of coziness is one of the most striking characteristics of the theater. The colors of the great tapestry effects which adorn the walls are in pastel shades, so while there is a warmth too often lacking in picture houses, there is no glare nor do the decorations detract from the picture shown on the screen, and the lighting effects are beautiful but unobstructive.

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The opening night film was The Woman God Forgot, and its director, Cecil B. De Mille, gave a short speech, “principally of appreciation of the beautiful theater and of welcome to the audience.” His audience included ”stars whose names and faces are known the world around:” Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin, Lillian and Dorothy Gish, Roscoe Arbuckle, and “a hundred others.”

Moving Picture World’s report gave more details about the theater.* Build for the Kehrlein Brothers exhibition company, it possessed “a majestic aspect in its pure Italian Renaissance style“ with a grand staircase up to the mezzanine floor. The pastel shades on the walls were taupe and rose, and the carpet and curtains were royal purple.

Unfortunately, the original owners couldn’t make a profit and it was sold to the Talley theater company in 1919. In 1923 it was redecorated and renamed the Criterion Theater; Chaplin’s A Woman of Paris was the feature at the grand re-opening. In 1927 Warner Bros. leased it and held The Jazz Singer premier there. Fox bought it in 1928 and ran their films there until it was torn down in 1941 and replaced by an office building.

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This week, Clune’s Auditorium, a 3000 seat downtown theater, decided to compete with the brand-new theater by running a revival of a foreign film, and Les Miserables was Kingsley’s favorite of the week.

Though the film version was made four years ago (ancient history in the film game) yet it stands up with the greatest of recent film dramas. It is doubtful if this version of Les Miserables ever will be equaled.

One reason for the supreme effectiveness and convincingness of this picture is that it was made with the same spirit of devotion and understanding of underlying national emotion and motive that shines like a soul through Griffith’s Birth of a Nation. The physical features of Les Miserables, too, give credence to its effect of authenticity: it was made amid the very surroundings in which Jean Valjean lived. There is the ancient and horrible prison from which Valjean escaped; there are the veritable sewers of Paris through which he carried Marius; there are the wondrous old gardens, the time-stained walls, the quaint old streets… In short, Les Miserables is a master production, a classic among films.

It’s remarkable that a film made in 1912 (released in the U.S. in 1913) still looked good to someone in 1917. However, director Albert Capellani’s work has continued to impress recent audiences at the Cinema Ritrovato and Giornate del Cinema Muto film festivals, and a new biography about him was published in 2015. In its forward, Kevin Brownlow called him “one of the shining lights of early cinema.”

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Los Angeles Times, January 12, 1918

Douglas Fairbanks was already busy publicizing his upcoming Red Cross benefit rodeo, to be held on January 12th at Washington Park. So many Westerns were being made then that they had no shortage of cowboys, livestock and wild west paraphernalia. Over thirty “real, honest-to-goodness wild west cowpunching headliners” were lined up to participate. He had already picked out his bucking bronco to ride, and the park was going to be turned into “a typical days-of-’49 corral.” He hoped to earn ten thousand dollars for the organization.

He managed to exceed his own goal. The Times reported on January 13th that the rodeo made over $15,000 from the 20,000 spectators. He had quite a day:

Our own ‘Doug’ was here there and everywhere at once. He straddled charging mounts, shot with the intrepid accuracy of the storied ‘two-gun’ man, announced the stunts from the back of his scampering pony Thor, posed for the legion cameramen, rescued the brass band from a mad steer and otherwise made himself busy and popular.

He had one thing to say to the reporter: “Gee, I’m happy!” I said it before, but Douglas Fairbanks was really good at being a star.

 

 

*G.P. Harleman, “News of Los Angeles,” Moving Picture World, November 17, 1917, p.1022.

 

Week of December 8th, 1917

 

 

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley interviewed George Melford, who had just returned from directing the first feature film shot in Hawaii, Hidden Pearls.* Some of the stories he told her wouldn’t encourage others to try it:

On the island of Maui, where we took many scenes, we lived in native huts, which have only the ground for a floor. Here naturally we were pestered with the uncannily big centipedes and spiders, whose bite is not dangerous, and by swarms and swarms of mosquitos which nearly ate us up.

Film people were a hardy bunch. For one “sensational” scene, actress Margaret Loomis was set adrift in a canoe among a swarm of sharks, which she did “without a tremor.” Nevertheless, one of his stories strained credibility:

Members of the company took big chances when they descended with their native guides a goodly distance into the crater of the volcano of Mauna Loa, where on a ledge only twelve feet above the boiling lava a number of scenes were taken. “And hardly had we left the place,” said Melford, “when that ledge tumbled into the boiling mass below.”

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Mauna Loa

Lava’s temperature is between 1,292 to 2,192 degrees Fahrenheit. While film crews often have little regard for their own safety, they and their equipment couldn’t have survived being that close. Furthermore, Mauna Loa is one of the world’s largest volcanoes and it was difficult to get there. People have very odd ideas about volcanoes, but Kingsley might have known better: her widowed sister with whom she was living had been married to a Hawaiian, and had lived there for several years.

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Of course, there were compensations. They were able to shoot beautiful scenes that weren’t “beaten by anything ever shown on the screen.” Local people were hired as extras, and Melford said “never have I found such marvelous natural actors.” The company was royally entertained at several festivals, and they found the feasts and hula “lively.” It was an adventure.

The Hidden Pearls survives at the CNC French Film Archives. Now it’s mostly interesting as a document of what Hawaii looked like then.

Melford went on to have a solid career. He directed many films over the next twenty years, including The Sheik (1921) and the Spanish-language version of Dracula (1931). When he retired from directing, he became a character actor, and was part of Preston Sturges’ stock company.

fanatics
Fanatics

Kingsley’s favorite film this week also featured a red-hot spectacle

A film story of unusual power and depth (despite its dime-novel title) is The Lure of Wanton Eyes…The plot has a number of threads, but all deftly woven into a most clear, colorful and entertaining plot pattern…A fanatical anarchist is a big figure of the story, and furnishes a highly dramatic moment when in a frenzy of one of his speeches to the millworkers, hurls himself to a spectacular death in the red-molten iron.

The studio changed this lost film’s name to Fanatics (somebody at Triangle must have agreed with her about the title). The story involved an unfaithful husband, murder and revenge.

 

 

It seems like December was a time when weaker films were released. Kingsley’s best line this week summed up one of them: “All the five reels of trouble between husband and wife in Alimony at Tally’s Broadway could have been explained away in about three words.” Unfortunately, the big misunderstanding trope is still alive and well. Second place for best line went to her description of Her Hour: “a story characterized by many sorrows and much wardrobe.” Back in the good old days, people knew the difference between a count noun and a mass noun!

 

She also reported on a new hit song:

Twenty thousand dollars seems a lot of money for one song, but it was the amount received by George M. Cohan for “Over There.” This lively composition is played as an accompaniment to the picture Over There at Tally’s this week.

This was just the beginning of earnings from that song for Mr. Cohan, which has stayed popular for much longer than the film (another recruitment tool about a young man learning the error of his pacifist ways). “Over There” was so significant that when it turned 100 years old, NPR did a story.

 

 

 

*Hawaii’s Film Office mentions some shorts that were filmed there earlier. You can find their list here.

Here’s another photo of Mauna Loa (see the comments):

usgs

The United States Geological Service has a FAQ page, if you’d like more fun facts.