‘Serial Land is a funny old place:’ March 16-31, 1923

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley had some affectionate fun with movie serials:

A season of the black-and-blue drama, otherwise known as serials, seems to be setting in with unusual severity. They are high-browing up some of the serials to be sure, by giving them a shot of history here and there, but in the main the good old stand-by thrillers are still with us. Some folks dote on serials. These are such as love blood with their gore, and just can’t bear a picture that hasn’t at least half a dozen fights and one or two murders in it.

The cartoon they illustrated her article with was meaner than she was, calling them impoverished and old-fashioned

Kingsley remarked that “serial land is a funny old place,” and at the moment most prevalent plot was about the poor old inventor (who “makes Marconi and Edison look like a sick snail”), his beautiful daughter (always motherless), the tall, strong hero (“his sole occupation in life seems to be looking out for the heroine”), and the masked gang (called something like “The Order of the Itching Palm”) that is trying to steal the inventor’s work. She snarked:

 True, just what his invention is, is always rather nebulous. It is spoken of in hushed subtitles as ‘that which would destroy the earth’s life in twenty seconds,’ or is a marvelous machine that can do anything from recording thought to doing the family wash….The gang is always trying to steal the invention, though why, it’s hard to tell. They spend far more money, trouble, time, and effort on the darned thing than it can possible be worth.

The plot she’s describing had a lot in common with The Radio King (1922), a ten-part Universal serial. Here’s Roy Stewart as the master criminal

Naturally, the masked gang had a leader, and

the master crook is the fellow that runs the subterranean hotels with the trapdoors, torture chambers, etc. If we were to believe the serials, our fair country is full of the underground devils, our land is honeycombed with caves full of villains, torture chambers, secret doors, dear little devices to chop off your head, cisterns to drown you in, and other cheerful things for the villain to play with.

Louise Lorraine played the trusting heroine in The Radio King

The heroine is always trusting:

no matter how often she gets kidnapped….She always forgets all about the last time she was kidnapped and nearly drowned in the cellar before the hero came along and found the combination to the plumbing, or that time she was nearly beheaded by the neat little device in the Chinese den. Not that she would have greatly missed her head probably. It never seemed to do her any good. No, she certainly didn’t inherit her pap’s brains.

Gee, that plot has been pretty durable over the years! Kingsley considered continuing her rant, but since it was “time for the fifty-ninth chapter of The Poisoned Bathing-Suit,” she had to leave for the theater–she just couldn’t miss it.

Serial plots that lacked originality were easy to poke fun at; this was a film writer’s evergreen topic for the whole life of their popularity, from the 1910s-1950s. Their sameness was the point: people wanted to see the familiar stories.

Her article was a sign of how the film business had settled down by 1923. Kingsley needed to write a trend piece about something for the Sunday paper, and this was the best she could do. It ran on the front page of the stage and screen section, right beside an interview with director William de Mille, who was mostly complaining about the “sapheads” in the New York offices killing any original ideas (what a perennial!), and an article by editor Edwin Schallert in which he complained about actresses wearing too many riding habits in movies—he thought that few could pull off such “mannish garb.” What a wonderful time it was, when these were the film world’s biggest troubles!

Right before the screen swallowed him: March 1-15, 1923

One hundred years ago this month, just after she complained about actors like Bert Lytell being swallowed up by the movies, Grace Kingsley praised a durable vaudeville act:

Do you remember Harry Langdon and his trick automobile? He is with us again, this time kidding in his own entirely inimitable way through a comedy golf act, after which he trots out the old tin Lizzie. Langdon is awfully funny, with his simp map and talk.

Kingsley didn’t know it at the time, but this was Harry Langdon’s farewell vaudeville tour: he was about to sign a film contract. After a few false starts, he would become one of the top four comedians of the silent era, joining Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and Harold Lloyd.

The main attraction on the Orpheum bill was a thoroughly grim playlet starring Bert Lytell called The Valiant, which was a prison story about a man about to be executed for murder. Possibly because no act wanted to follow that, there was an after piece to it called A Fun Riot, in which Langdon “remained the life of the party” according to Kingsley.

Langdon’s act was called After the Ball, and his co-stars were his wife, Rose, and her sister Cecilia Musolff. ‘Fred.’ in Variety described it when it debuted in 1921:

The first scene is on a golf course with Rose and Cecil clad in striking golf costumes, doing more gabbing than golfing, and Harry caddying along behind them. There are chances here that will work out. The second scene, in full stage, at the front of the club house will build up to be as funny as the front of the road house in time. As it stands now it has a lot of laughs, but they are not of the “wow” quality.

Finally the auto bit is used for the closing scene. It is different from the old car stuff. This time it is a smart looking roadster with the girls in the front seat and Harry riding in the rear. Some of the copper stuff is used and still gets laughs. The prop tin cans in the hood and the blow torch backfire bit from the old act is still present and lands with the usual effect.

The three scenes make pretty stage pictures and the two girls show to advantage in the smartly cut golf clothes with knickers and hose. Harry is the same boob character as of yore and quite as funny in his inimitable way.

Publicity photo for On the Boulevard, 1910.

By the time Kingsley saw it, they had apparently improved on the less-than “wow” bits. Harry Langdon had been on the stage for decades at this point. Born in Council Bluffs, Iowa on June 15, 1884, he’d been working in show business since he was a teen-ager, first in traveling medicine shows, circuses and stock companies, then after he married fellow performer Rose Frances Musolff in 1903 they moved into vaudeville. Over the years they put together a trick-car act called A Night on the Boulevard, and in 1914 Billboard saw it at the Alhambra in New York City. They said that the Langdons: “found the going just made to suit their gait. Harry Langdon is a first-rate comedian of the quiet type and Rose Langdon an excellent feeder. The dialogue in and out of the automobile got laugh after laugh. Twenty minutes, full stage, two bows.”

Rose Langdon

The Langdons were a big success. By 1916 they’d added Harry’s younger brother James to the act and renamed it Johnny’s New Car, and after seeing it at the top venue in New York City, the Palace, Billboard was even more impressed, calling it “one of the funniest acts in present-day vaudeville. The Langdons have a piece of property that is bound to add to their long list of successes. Harry Langdon does the comedy and knows the art well. The trick automobile, together with the beautiful boulevard set, came in for much applause. The Langdons will find little trouble in securing booking for their excellent comedy. Nineteen minutes in four; four curtains.”

In 1918 they headlined at the Pantages in Los Angeles with the same act, but James had been replaced by Cecilia. The Los Angeles Times unsigned review said they were still very funny and called it “their ninety-mile-an-hour comedy playlet, Johnny’s New Car which realistically portrays the difficulties and humiliations that arise from being a proud filver owner.”

Rose Langdon in The Road to Mandalay (1926)

When it came time to freshen up the act in 1921, they didn’t throw out all of their well-tested material, they just added jokes from the new craze, golf. They could have continued touring for many years, but at the end of the same month Kingsley was seeing them in 1923, Harry Langdon signed a contract with Sol Lesser’s Principal Pictures Corporation to make movies as soon as he finished his current tour. This of course broke up the act; Cecilia Musolff quit show business and married Oscar Boese, a theater stage manager in Milwaukee. Rose briefly tried acting in film: she had a small part in Tod Browning’s The Road to Mandalay (1926). She divorced Harry in 1928, charging him with cruelty by “showing attentions to another girl with whom Langdon has often been seen in public” according to Variety. She married again in 1929 and she died in 1965.

After he finished his 1923 Orpheum tour, Langdon returned to Los Angeles and began his film career. In July 1923, the Times reported that his comedy short, The Aerial Mail, was in the cutting room. It was also called The New Mail Man and The Skyscraper in the press, but I couldn’t find a record of a film with any of those names being released. Lesser’s company was having financial trouble at the time, so perhaps they didn’t have the money to finish it. Mack Sennett took the opportunity to make a two-reeler with Langdon called Look Pleasant (later released as Smile Please) and Sennett approved of the results, telling the Times that he “is even funnier on the screen than on stage, and you know what a riot he was at the Orpheum a few months ago.” He signed Langdon to a two-year contract in November 1923. After about a year, they discovered the slower-paced comedy style that suited him, and they began to make the sort of films he’s remembered for like Saturday Afternoon (1925) and The Strong Man (1926). If you’d like to learn more about his film career, visit Lea Stans’ article at Classic Movie Hub.

His car gags were still funny in Saturday Afternoon (1925)

Reading his stage reviews, you only wonder why he didn’t go into the movies sooner. Perhaps it was because he was such a big success in vaudeville, he didn’t see the need to leave.

“Alhambra, New York,” The Billboard, October 24, 1914, p.10.

Fred. “New Acts This Week,” Variety, November 25, 1921, p. 21.

Grace Kingsley, “Sumurun Still Leads,” Los Angeles Times, March 28, 1916.

“Langdons Divorced,” Variety, May 2, 1928, p. 9.

“Mack Sennett Ties Up Harry Langdon,” Los Angeles Times, November 10, 1923.

“The Palace,” The Billboard, July 22, 1916, p. 7.

“Reviews,” Los Angeles Times, March 6, 1918.

“Rose Langdon Too,” Variety, May 12, 1926, p. 22.

“Vaudeville,” New York Clipper, December 13, 1916, p.8.

“Vaudeville Star Signed to Make Film Comedies,” Los Angeles Times, March 31, 1923.

“What’s Going On at West Coast Studios,” Los Angeles Times, July 18, 1923.

Some Ladies Prefer Ben Turpin: February 16-28, 1923

One hundred years ago this month, Grace Kingsley was still annoyed that The Sheik (1921) wasn’t dirty enough, but she was happy to see one of her favorite actors spoof it in the latest Mack Sennett feature, The Shriek of Araby:

I used to wonder why The Sheik, all denatured, was ever put on the screen. Now I know. It was so Ben Turpin could make a burlesque of it! Ben Turpin is an artist. When I say that, I can just see Ben’s pathetic eyes reproaching me.  But I mean nothing highbrow. Ben, I just mean you have a huge sense of comedy, and know how to make every move, every look count in putting it over. Your comedy goes a lot deeper than just your erratic eyes.

Kathryn McGuire and Ben Turpin

There’s a good deal more action in The Shriek than there was in The Sheik. And yet, good as it all is, the subtitles add another 100 percent to the fun…In short, if you want to laugh and forget your troubles, be sure and see The Shriek of Araby.

Plenty of action!

Kingsley always did appreciate a good laugh (and a good comic). Not too many other reviewers wrote about the film, but Exhibitors’ Herald called it “a delightfully funny farce comedy and while it has been some time since we’ve seen Ben Turpin, he’s just as amusing as ever…There are bathing girls and swimming pools and everything a Sennett comedy usually has and the action is fast and furious.” However, now it isn’t well-regarded; Sennett historian Brent Walker wrote “The Shriek of Araby is not particularly noteworthy as a comedy feature.” However, he probably hadn’t been seeing a bunch of desert movies in desperate need of deflating recently.

The original had been a huge hit, making it ripe for imitators

For Kingsley, she wasn’t only happy to laugh at Turpin, she got to laugh at tropes that had begun to irritate her. She had aired out her grievances with Sahara melodramas in August 1922 after “quite a crowd of these bush-league sheiks have been showing up in the movies lately.” Kingsley questioned how romantic life in the desert would be, because it would involve a lack of soap and toothbrushes and too many mosquitos and (especially) fleas. She also objected to the difference between ‘real’ and ‘movie’ sheiks: “In real life, the sheik is probably a pretty fresh fellow. But in the pictures he is a cross between a Sunday-school superintendent and a minor poet. When he starts making love to the girl, but finds her refractory, he merely wipes away a tear and goes forth nobly, conquering his baser self.”

The knock-offs pretty much used the same plot as The Sheik. The young woman tries to escape, he finds her and:

“then suddenly—she knows! For no reason whatever he now looks good to her. But love is as hectic as a midsummer magazine cover. She carefully conceals her love—so as to make the picture last five reels—until one day somebody comes to rescue her. The sheik looks into her eyes and then it is his turn to know.”

At that point the censor-ordered minster turns up, and “they put five dots after the subtitle.” And then, “next time you see the pair, there is a little stranger running about the hot sands.”

In Sherlock, Jr., Buster Keaton wondered how that happened, too

So Kingsley was all ready to see Ben Turpin romp around the sands. Nevertheless, before the countless bush-league sheiks, film writers liked The Sheik well enough. As usual, Kingsley didn’t get to review such a major film when it debuted in Los Angeles on October 30, 1921. Her editor Edwin Schallert went, and he thought the attack on the walled city at the climax was “the best stuff of its kind that has been seen on the screen in some time.” He liked the rest of the movie less: “you wait, however, an interminable length for the action of the climax to get there. For compensation you are allowed to watch the stupid love affair between an English girl and a desert chieftain. I suppose that this love affair was intended to be a superheated affair, but as actually viewed on the screen it is as tame as a school child’s romance.” He didn’t blame the star for the dull bits, saying “Rudolph Valentino appears as the chieftain and plays the part with probably as much conviction as the part allows.”

Rudolph Valentino: not a bush-league sheik

The trade reviews praised the action scenes and the way the film looked over the love scenes, too. Lillian R. Gale in Motion Picture News, “As a spectacle, The Sheik is delightful, the photography exceptional. Indeed, it is unquestionably picturesque…Rather than a love tale, the picture is one of adventure, romance playing second in interest.” Exhibitors’ Trade Review agreed that there were plenty of thrills, saying “there is enough combat stuff, hair-breadth escapes and gallant rescues to please the most ardent lover of fervid melodrama.”

According to Smithsonian Magazine, the famous backlash against Valentino and his movies came a bit later.  At this moment, Ben Turpin was only having some silly fun, not making some kind of statement about supposed threats to American masculinity.

Lillian R. Gale, “The Sheik,” Motion Picture News, October 29, 1921, p. 2343.

“Good Production But Not The Sheik as E.M. Hull Wrote It,” Film Daily, November 13, 1921, p. 5.

Grace Kingsley, “Arabian Togs Have a Charm,” Los Angeles Times, November 13, 1922.

Grace Kingsley, “De-Fleaing the Sheiks,” Los Angeles Times, August 27, 1922.

Charles Larkin, “The Shreik of Araby,” Motion Picture News, March 2, 1923, p. 1056.

“Reviews,” Exhibitors’ Herald, March 24, 1923, p. 45.

Edwin Schallert, “Reviews,” Los Angeles Times, October 31, 1921.

“The Screen,” New York Times, November 7, 1921.

The Sheik,Exhibitors’ Herald, November 12, 1921, p. 54.

The Sheik,” Exhibitors’ Trade Review, November 19, 1921, p. 1763.

Brent Walker, Mack Sennett’s Fun Factory, Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2010.

Edward Weitzel, “The Sheik,” November 19, 1921, Moving Picture World, p. 336.

‘A Most Interesting Figure’: February 1-15, 1923

Before she was a princess, in 1906

Once hundred years ago this month, Grace Kingsley had a chat with yet another person with big Hollywood ambitions, Princess Margarita Orlova. She said she was in town to study filmmaking, and she knew exactly the sort of stories she wanted to tell:

…the long-forgotten ones whom she will bring to life are the people who lived in the ancient Mexican civilizations whose relics now being exhumed in Mexico are making the world gasp with their revelations of art, science, and big human drama. These people are to come to life on the screen!

With the enterprise, backed by Mexican and American capital, even the lost city of Atlantis may come to life. Stirring stories of the Aztecs, the Toltecs, and last, but more important and vivid, stories of that mysterious civilization which built itself pyramids and cities and temples at Yucatan and other places, which now are being unearthed down there, are to live on the screen.

Orlova had a point: there are still an awful lot of stories not set in Europe or the U.S. that could make great films. The Princess wasn’t wrong when she said, “Modern stories are pale beside the rich drama portrayed in the pictures and prehistoric writings found in these temples and pyramids. And you in the United States really have no idea what is being done down there in Mexico in the way of research work.”

Kingsley knew her readers, and she mentioned what they really cared about: “Princess Orlova is to engage her technical staff and most of her actors in this city.” However, she did warn that Orlova merely expected to “affiliate with one of the big companies soon.” Most of her audience would have known that ideas are nothing–if you don’t have the money, you don’t have a film production.

You won’t be surprised to learn that the Princess was a fraud. Kingsley, while staying polite, hinted that she didn’t take her seriously. She mentioned that Her Highness had no Russian accent, she was a “firm believer in reincarnation,” and the article opened with the silly line “And the princess waved her fairy wand and they all came back to life!”

Happily, while Orlova was a great big liar, she was charming and fairly harmless. Unlike what she told Kingsley, she wasn’t born in Paris, her parents were not Scottish and French or named Marhanno. She did have a lot of different names in her 84 years. She started out as Clara May Russell and she was born in San Francisco, California on May 14, 1877. Her parents were William Henry and Nora Bowen Russell. Her father was born in Houlton, Maine (and lived in Carleton, New Brunswick, Canada) and her mother in St. John, New Brunswick. Clara had a younger brother, Hugh, and a younger sister, Gertrude. By 1900, they were all living in Oakland, California, and William Russell was working as a master mechanic for the Southern Pacific Railroad.

She married James H. Barry Fitzpatrick probably in late 1902 (the records haven’t been digitized yet). He was a theatrical manager. That same year she launched her career as dramatic reader, under the name Margaret Barry. She toured the United States, reading passages from works like Hugo’s Les Miserables, Materlick’s Monna Vanna, and Ibsen’s  A Doll’s House, as well as selections from Shakespeare. They had a son, Russell Barry Fitzpatrick, on June 25, 1904 when they were in Hagerstown, Maryland. She told reporters that she’d been educated at UC Berkeley and did advanced work in Rome, Paris, and London, but I couldn’t find records to back any of that up. However, she did travel by ship from London to New York in 1909, so she might have actually done the series of readings in London reported on in the San Francisco Call in 1909. They said she won “many friends by her personal charm and ability.”

In 1910 she divorced Fitzpatrick. There were signs that it was acrimonious in the newspapers, but there was probably more to the story than got printed. In June of that year, after she’d been granted the divorce and custody of Russell, Fitzpatrick brought a suit to reopen the divorce proceedings, claiming she’d gotten the divorce and custody of their son through fraud, and one Charles A. Carver had been involved. Fitzpatrick hadn’t known the divorce had been granted (for cruelty and non-support) until he went to Buena Vista, Colorado, in order to “punish” the two.

In 1911 things got uglier. In May he accused her of threatening him with a gun if he didn’t return some letters. She then told the newspaper that she did visit but without a gun, to ask him to stop writing harassing letters to her father. She also claimed that Charles Carver was her stepbrother, and Fitzpatrick’s insinuations about their relationship were untrue.

After that, the story disappeared from the papers, and so did J.H.B Fitzpatrick. According to their son’s 1919 passport application, he died in Ithaca, New York. Russell Fitzpatrick became a magazine writer. He married Dorothy Cavanaugh in 1932, and he served as a Warrant Officer in World War 2. He died in Sacramento on June 23, 1982.

This photo of Barry in front of the Sphinx was published in the Star (Washington, D.C) on December 16, 1917, when she was in the news for her relief work in Russia.]

Fitzpatrick had been right about her relationship with Carver, and she married him. Charles Andrews Carver was born on August 30, 1876 in Chicago. He’d been a noted athlete when he attended Yale. He was a Far Eastern agent for the Pearson Engineering Corporation, and the two travelled extensively. When they weren’t on the road, they lived in Manhattan.

Margaret Barry and George Walcker in The Death of Eve]

Barry continued her career in the theater. In 1910 she added ‘dancer’ to her resume when she played the title role in The Death of Eve by William Vaughn Moody in Alameda, California. The dance told Eve’s story after she decided to return to Paradise. She finds her son Cain who’d been banished to the desert and they travel to the tree of knowledge, where she dies. According to the San Francisco Call, “Mme. Barry’s art is that of a symbolic dancer, and her poetic readings add a touch that the emotional dancers fail to give.”

She toured with this piece, and In January 1911 Johannes Reimer reviewed her recital. He said,

Margaret Barry’s performance yesterday at noon at the Stockton was one of finished art. Her tremendous personality spoke through it. It takes art to walk out on a bare platform without staging and costume and yet in her rendering of the first and last scene of The Death of Eve carry you far from time and place back into the very beginning of human tradition into the vitality of the pastoral days of humanity, among the fields and the herds of our most distant ancestry. For not this alone, but to awaken in you a feeling of the magnitude of the fundamental mother-love and its loveliness and the death of the one whom we in our fancy have depicted as the mother of all mothers.

She got to perform it in London in December 1913, at a recital at the Little Theater. The New York Clipper said, “her fine voice and artistic posing were much admired.”

In 1915, she danced in The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam with Mrs. John J. Spreckles Jr. in San Francisco

Although I haven’t found any travel records for them, she and Carver reportedly lived in Petrograd (now St. Petersburg) for a time. In August 1917 Barry was in Los Angeles, lecturing on war conditions in Russia and raising money for refugee children and the Russian War Relief Fund. Two months later she appeared in several strange news stories spread by leaders of a Russian civilian relief organization that said she was to meet the deposed czar’s daughter Tatiana when her boat docked in San Francisco and escort her on her visit to the United States where she would either assist with relief efforts, look after her father’s investments or do a lecture tour (newspaper stories differed). They said Tatiana had escaped captivity via a sham marriage to a chamberlain’s son, which was supposed to have given her more freedom of movement around Russia. They claimed she took the opportunity to escape to Harbin in Manchuria, then to Japan, and she was on a steamship to the Pacific Coast. However, reporters asked steamship agents about the story, and they had no record of such a passenger. Furthermore, the Russian embassy knew nothing about it. Two days later Barry told reporters that she didn’t dare chaperone Miss Romanoff, because German spies were after her. With that, the story left the newspapers. It was all nonsense: at this time, the real Tatiana Romanoff was being held by Communist revolutionaries and she was executed along with the rest of her family in July 1918.

She played a character called only “Cynthia’s mother” in The Moonshine Trail (1919).

Barry was living on West 78th Street in Manhattan in 1918, according to Carver’s draft registration. Her next world to conquer was the movies. In 1919 J. Stuart Blackton hired her to play Sylvia Breamer’s mother in The Moonshine Trail (1919), a melodrama about the evils of alcohol. In the May 17th announcement in Moving Picture World, she was called a Russian actress, because despite being born in California, she’d done most of her work there. They also mentioned that she’d appeared in some filmed legends for Pathe Freres in London. She went on to play small parts in other Blackton melodramas like Dawn (1919) and Respectable by Proxy (1920), but she didn’t get noticed by the critics.

By the January 10, 1920 Census she was living alone in Manhattan on East 57th Street, so apparently her second marriage had ended. She told the census taker she was widowed, but Carver was far from dead. He went on to marry a third time and move to Los Angeles where in 1940 he gave his profession as a “physical culturist.” He died in 1953.

Later that year, she went on a trip around the world. On November 30th, she arrived in London from Port Said with a brand-new name: Margarite Orlova. According to the steamship record, she traveled with Vladimir and Nina Orlova, and she told the company that she was Russian, too. The Orlovas had a son named Nicholas who wasn’t on the boat; Margarite would later claim that he was a prince and she’d married him, then they moved to Vera Cruz, Mexico. I couldn’t find any records of that, but the visiting Mexico part wasn’t outlandishly impossible, unlike the rest of her story.

She next turned up in New York City in 1922 under her new name. She became a theatrical actress and had a role in a Broadway production, Drifting, from January to February. She told Kingsley that the writer, John Coulton, had written the part especially for her.

Then one hundred years ago this month she had her interview with Kingsley. It’s no surprise that nothing came of her Mexican film ambitions. Her story helped fill up a column, then it was forgotten and life went on. Kingsley did include this snapshot of her in 1923:

“She is a most interesting figure, is the Princess. A statuesque brunette, she has the most brilliant, yet the most kindly black eyes in the world. Her hair is bobbed, even if she does boast a grown son by a former marriage.”

This ad ran in the Eagle Rock Sentinel on December 27, 1923.

Later that year she tried to launch the Orlova School of Drama in Los Angeles, but it wasn’t a success. In September, she ran a bazaar in downtown Los Angeles selling Russian embroidery, posters, and paintings to benefit refugee Russian artists. She was also active with the Los Angeles Opera Club.

So she was keeping herself busy until September 1924 when L.A. Times writer Charles Sloan investigated, and her lies were laid bare. He opened his article with:

The most remarkable masquerade in the social annals of Southern California, possibly of anywhere, came to an end yesterday with the declaration by “Princess” Margarita Orlova, long a feted favorite of local society, that she isn’t really a princess at all and that the amazing history of her life, as told over the teacups to endow her with the glamoring romance of old-world royalty, is largely fictitious.

Slone had decided to look into her background because she was mixed up in a scandal with the Los Angeles Opera Club involving “superhoaxer” Robert Walter Douglas (real name: Robert Andrews). She was a club trustee (a position that was planned to pay $5000 per year—annual club dues were from $25 to $1000) and had been the guest of honor at some of their club programs. Douglas was also the director of a home building company and he was arrested for embezzlement from that on August 8th, 1924.

It looks like the stories she was telling at social events were much wilder than what had gotten into the newspapers before. Slone wrote:

Into the career of Mme. Orlova as it was gathered by those with whom she came in contact was woven all the glamor of Occident and Orient. She was labeled as a beauty who once had turned the heads of half the great men of Europe, as an actress whose artistry was internationally renowned, as a secret agent whose success was chronicled in many a diplomatic coup. But principally she has been famed as the wife of Prince Nicholas Orloff of Russia, as an intimate and protégé of the Czarina, as the heroine of thrilling exploits and sensational melodrama in the perilous days of Kerenskian revolution and the later advent of the internationalists. 

She opens a studio; according to her own account she conceives and attempts to carry out a plan to restore the Russian throne to Grand Duke Nicholas. She tells thrilling stories of Dictaphones and secret service men and diplomatic escapades. Of intrigue after intrigue and scheme after scheme.

And always grew the tale of her romantic past; growing into a veritable maze of drama, comedy, pathos and tragedy. In this the “Princess” seems to have perhaps unconsciously assisted. She spoke of famous personages to her intimates; she told them little personal anecdotes of them, and in these anecdotes she was always present. She did not deny the things she now says are untrue; she met them with silence and little piquant shrugs. Always a wonderful actress, she made wherever she might be a stage and played herself the stellar role: to her always the spotlight…the story of her achievements with which Los Angeles society has been regaled was greatly exaggerated and distorted into something it was not.

At least she was an entertaining party guest! Slone interviewed her in a little white-washed cabin in Laguna Beach, where she was working on a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for a small outdoor theater. She said that “she has never personally claimed to be a princess, and that never until now has she had an opportunity to publicly deny the romantic stories which have made her an international figure.”

Slone then revealed what he’d learned from the City Prosecutor’s office about her real story. Some details are backed up by other records, like her birth in San Francisco and her two marriages.  Others, like her being a protégé of Lord Kitchener and her nursing career at the hospital set up in the Winter Palace in Petrograd, there’s no other evidence for.

Slone also followed up by gathering quotes from people who knew her, like the author of her Broadway play, John Coulton, who summed her up well, saying, “a charming woman, possessing great personality and love of intrigue—but born to be a stormy petrel in this whirl of life!”

Orlova was never indicted in the Douglas case, so I don’t think she was a criminal. I suspect he took advantage of her ego, and she was as fooled by him as everybody else was. Slone concluded his article with a quote from her:

“All that I ask in the future is a chance to earn my own living by my own ability and to have granted me the same kindness, the same chivalry, the same friendly and helping hand that Americans give one another in their daily life.”

In 1944, she tried opening another school, this one in San Francisco (J: The Jewish News of Northern California, December 8, 1944).

That’s pretty much what she got — there’s no evidence that Slone’s expose ruined her life. Over the years, according to the social columns, she told wonderful stories about the royalty she knew, but she demoted herself to Countess if she claimed a title at all. She went on to have a pleasant and varied life with plenty of travel, still calling herself Margarita Orlova. She made her living by as an actress and public speaker. She appeared on Broadway again in 1926 in Coulton’s The Shanghai Gesture and was part of its touring company. The Billboard called it “an outright box-office play dealing with wholesale harlotry in an Oriental seaport.” She gave corporate speeches at banquets, and in 1930, spoke in Los Angeles schools on the history and psychology of make-up. In 1937, the list of her lecture topics was “Crashing Worlds,” “Wither Mankind,” “Sepulchers,” and “What Price America,” and she toured the United States with them.

In 1958 she visited Palm Springs with (right to left) Alice Littig Siems and Lady Phyllis Churchill St. Leger. The Desert Sun said they really enjoyed their trip.

She died on July 15, 1963 in Los Angeles. Grace Kingsley was right: she was a most interesting figure.

“Bazaar’s Proceeds to Refugee Artists,” Los Angeles Times, September 23, 1923.

“Blackton Signs Mme. Margaret Barry,” Moving Picture World, May 17, 1919, p.1038.

“California Woman Praised Abroad,” San Francisco Call, July 1, 1909.

“Club’s History Uncovered,” Los Angeles Times, August 7, 1924.

“Comes to get Coin for Czar,” Riverside Daily Press, November 27, 1917.

“Czar’s Daughter is Mystery-Shrouded,” Los Angeles Herald, November 28, 1917.

“Dancers to Stage The Death of Eve,” San Francisco Call, November 7, 1910.

“Dental Women’s Club of Chicago,” Chicago Dental Society Official Bulletin, January 21, 1927, p.4.

“Douglas and Aide Seized on Embezzling Charges,” Los Angeles Times, August 9, 1924.

“Fitzpatrick Accuses His Wife,” Press Democrat (Santa Rosa), June 11, 1910.

“Fitzpatrick Asks to Open Case Again,” San Francisco Call, June 14, 1910.

“Former S.F. Dancer, Now Russ Princess, Visiting Here,” San Francisco Call, December 15, 1922.

Gamble, Mrs. Leo, “Face Value,” Los Angeles School Journal, February 18, 1930, p. 20.

Les Miserables Tomorrow Evening,” Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, CA), January 21, 1906.

“Madame Barry to Star in Classical Readings,” San Francisco Call, September 18, 1907.

“Madame Margaret Barry Tells Another Story,” Stockton Independent, May 19, 1911.

“Margaret Barry to Make Debut in Hugo Drama,” San Francisco Call, June 28, 1905.

“Mme. Margaret Barry,” San Francisco Call and Post, January 4, 1915.

“Mme. Orlova is Visitor in the Capital,” Washington Times, October 21, 1937.

The Moonshine Trail,” Motion Picture News, November 3, 1919, p.3346.

“The New Plays on Broadway,” The Billboard, February 13, 1926, p.42.

“Our London Letter,” New York Clipper, December 13, 1913.

“Pal of Kings’ Confesses Hoax to Win Art Entrée,” Los Angeles Times, August 7, 1924.

Reimers, Johannes, “Sunday Afternoon with Mme. Barry,” Stockton Daily Independent, January 24, 1911.

Sloan, Charles, “Royal Mask Taken Off,” Los Angeles Times, September 7, 1924.

“’Spies After Me; I’ll Not Chaperone Daughter of Czar!’ Mrs. Carver,” San Francisco Call, November 28, 1917.

“Tatiana Escapes,” Los Angeles Times, November 26, 1917.

“Theatrical,” The Billboard, August 15, 1903, p.2.

“Volunteers for Slav’s Relief Sought Here,” Los Angeles Evening Herald, August 10, 1917.

Mary Pickford’s Abandoned Project: January 16-31, 1923

Mary Pickford

One hundred years ago this month, Grace Kingsley got to visit one of her favorite stars, Mary Pickford, at her studio and reported on the progress she was making on her latest project, Faust. Kingsley began her article by pointing out what a departure it would be for her:

If you expect to see the childhood of Marguerite, with Mary doing tricks with soapsuds on the front porch or kicking the mean old man who comes to collect the rent, why, you are going to be disappointed. Marguerite is beloved of the world and of the ages. Mary Pickford is beloved of the world, and is going to be beloved of the ages, or at least as many ages as her films will last…It was hard to imagine her, just for the moment, the broken-hearted Marguerite. However, I remembered what she did to us all in Stella Maris, and knew she was quite equal to the big artistic task before her.

People knew she could act, but could she be accepted as a grown-up? (Stella Maris, 1918)

Kingsley was pointing out the problem Pickford would have in transitioning to adult roles. Marguerite was to be in her first feature in which she played only an adult (not a dual part like when she played Little Lord Fauntleroy and his mother) and she’d hired a German director known for his sophistication, Ernst Lubitsch. During her visit, Kingsley saw him and the scenario writer, Edward Knoblock, by the gate, “walking along, consulting and gesticulating.” Pickford told her:

They always do that when they come to a knotty point in the story. You see I’m not really in the story yet. I’m to come in for consultation when it’s all over. He has been dreaming Faust all his life, and I can see nobody else making the picture. He seems a little perturbed over the fact that I have had so much to do with my own direction. ‘Will she get mad from me?’ he asked Doug the other day.

Ernst Lubitsch

Of course, that was precisely one of the reasons things eventually didn’t work out, but at this point, she was working harmoniously with Lubitsch. Before giving Kingsley her quite definite ideas about the character, she said it was all up to her director’s judgement. Nevertheless:

“I think of Marguerite as just a sweet, innocent young girl of about 17 or 18. But I’m going to play her absolutely without any ‘cutes.’”

“Well, I hope you won’t forget to be Mary Pickford,” I exclaimed.

“Oh, I mean to forget everything I have done and learned,” said Mary quickly. “And oh, what an opportunity for emotional acting! I have never quite trusted myself in this sort of work, because though I am emotional inwardly, I am not so outwardly. As a child I played many emotional scenes. I loved to make people cry. I used to open one eye to see people cry when I died. I was rather a morbid child.”

Pedro Américo, Faust and Gretchen (1875-80)

That wasn’t quite how the Faust story was usually told. There had been countless adaptations of the German legend in novels, plays, paintings, poems, operas, and films. Faust was a necromancer who sold his soul to the devil (Mephistopheles) in exchange for knowledge and power. In the early versions, he was always damned for his ambition. Tales about him were first collected in Faustbuch (1587). The most famous version was a play by Goethe published in two parts in 1808 and 1832.  He was the first to introduce the character of Margarete, nicknamed Gretchen, a pious young woman who is seduced by Faust, gets pregnant without benefit of clergy and kills the newborn baby. She is convicted of murder and is executed. Penitent, she’s forgiven, and she’s admitted to Heaven where she successfully seeks Faust’s salvation.

Pickford and her director were in agreement that their version would end the same way. She said: “Another problem is the matter of the ending of the story. Mr. Lubitsch desires the more or less ‘happy’ ending, in which Marguerite at last saves Faust’s soul.”

They hadn’t yet cast Faust (Conrad Nagle had been mentioned) or Mephistopheles, though her husband Douglas Fairbanks was rumored to want to play him. Pickford thought that would be a bad idea, because he’d make to role too attractive. Kingsley closed her article by saying, “a million dollars probably will be spent on Faust.”

They did spend quite a bit on developing the project, but it was never completed. The collaboration between Pickford and Lubitsch was first reported in the November 17th Film Daily, which said he was in negotiations with her to direct Dorothy Vernon, a story about love and political intrigue set in the Elizabethan era, even though he was under contract with Famous Players-Lasky. They also opined, “The working combination of Pickford and Lubitsch should result in a really great picture.”

The L.A. Times added more details on November 29th when they spoke to Pickford and Fairbanks when their train arrived in Los Angeles. They said that Lubitsch was going to direct one film each for Fairbanks and Pickford. The Fairbanks film was to be “a swashbuckling romance of pirate days, the theme of which he himself is not positive,” and Pickford still planned to make Dorothy Vernon.

When Lubitsch and his wife, Leni Krause Lubitsch, arrived at the same station in late December, the Times article was called “Film Colony Prestige Increased.” When he got off the train, he told the reporter “I have come to America to learn American ways and to become American, not only in motion pictures, but in everything.” About his work, he only said it was “very possible and probable” that he was to be loaned by Famous Players-Lasky to Pickford for her next picture. A week later, Fairbanks clarified matters for the Times, saying that Lubitsch wasn’t under contract with Pickford, he was being borrowed and they still planned to make Dorothy Vernon. The article mentioned there had been rumors of opposition to Lubitsch among war veterans, but when the reporter interviewed ex-servicemen, including the national commander of the American Legion, he or she couldn’t find anybody opposing it.

She did make it later, without Lubitsch

In early January, Pickford announced a change of plans. She was deferring Dorothy Vernon until later that year and would make Faust. She said,

“I have cherished the idea of playing the role of Marguerite for many years but I have never had the courage to consider doing it until the present. It so happens that now Faust turns out to also be a life-long dream of Ernst Lubitsch, that he has been studying the various legends for many years with a view of someday directing the picture and that he never has had the opportunity to do so. That was what decided me to undertake the picture now.”

That’s how things stood when Kingsley made her visit to the studio.* But only a few weeks later, on February 4th, the Times reported that “intimate friends of the star” told them that “in spite of the fact that immense sums of money have already been spent on preparatory work” Pickford had decided not to make the film. The reason given was “difficulties in the preparation of the script have been met, and it was found that Marguerite could not be made the star of the production without doing violence to the plot.” (that was a good point—both Faust and Mephistopheles were much more interesting and complex characters.) The Times writer speculated that Dorothy Vernon would be next, but it wasn’t certain, and Lubitsch would probably leave Pickford and go direct a film for Famous Players-Lasky, but nothing official had been announced.

Later that month, Pickford did an interview with an occasional Times film contributor, Hallett Abend,** and she gave a different reason for the cancellation. She said, “I’m not an actress. I’m just a personality—a sort of an institution. That’s all the public will let me be.”

The Faust script, as Mr. Lubitsch and Edward Knoblock worked it out, was “wonderful, simple, and moving and strong,” she said with a wistful look in her face. “But Marguerite is too different from the kind of parts I’ve been doing for so long. The break from the girlish roles must come gradually just as Douglas has broken away from his old lighter, modern roles, only by degrees.” Abend also mentioned the speculation that was circulating at the time: “gossip has been to the effect that Lubitsch, with his decisive ways and his habit of making stars rather than meeting halfway the wishes of stars already renowned, had found Mary Pickford too unyielding, or had himself not been yielding enough to suit her wishes.” She denied that, quashing the rumors that Lubitsch was leaving.

The story got picked up by the trades, naturally, and they had slightly different versions of why Faust wouldn’t be her next movie. On February 21th, Film Daily said, “It is understood that a number of protests were registered from exhibitors and that these bore some weight in the final decision.” Exhibitors’ Trade Review said on March 17th that it was just delayed. They blamed the distributors for the wait, and quoted Pickford: “As a matter of fact, I have decided to merely postpone Faust. Each star, as you know, has her own special following and it seems best after careful analysis based on correspondence from those who are interested in my photoplays, as well as upon a survey made through our various exchange offices, not to step suddenly out of the type of story the public has been accustomed to associating me with into anything quite so dramatic as Faust.” By then, they were able to report that her next project would be Rosita, with Lubitsch directing, followed by Dorothy Vernon, with another director so Lubitsch could finish postproduction work.

Charlotte and Mary Pickford

Years later, Mary Pickford told Kevin Brownlow why she abandoned Faust. It was that she was told she couldn’t change her persona so quickly, but it wasn’t the public, the exhibitors, or the distributors that stopped her:  it was her mother, Charlotte Pickford. Mary Pickford said:

We were going to do Faust with Lubitsch supervising. But Mother didn’t know the story of Faust, so Lubitsch told her. “Ja,” he said, “she has a baby, and she’s not married, so she strangles the baby.” Mother said, “What? What was that?” “Well, Marguerite is not married, she has a baby, so she strangles the baby…”
“Not my daughter!” said my mother, “no sir!”

So I didn’t make Faust.

And that was that. Decades later, Kino Lorber released the test footage they shot. Called Marguerite and Faust: the lost 1923 footage, it’s part of their DVD of another version of Faust that did get made in 1926 in Germany by F.W. Murnau. His version wasn’t a financial success at the time, but it’s gotten more critical acclaim over the years. It was his last German film before he came to the United States and made Sunrise.

Lubitsch directing Pickford on Rosita

Pickford and Lubitsch did make her next film together, Rosita, a story about a poor singer in Seville who catches the eye of the king. You can find more about their sometimes acrimonious work together on the Pickford Foundation’s site. Mary Mallory has also written a detailed article about the film’s production and reception.

Back to playing girls

Pickford didn’t quite abandon the idea of making Faust; after she finished filming Rosita and Dorothy Vernon, she talked about her next project with Kingsley and said she was divided between making Romeo and Juliet and Faust. However, she admitted it was likely it would be neither, saying, “I was much interested in Faust, but Marguerite is by no means the central character, indeed she comes third in interest.” She was right: her next film wasn’t either, it was Little Annie Rooney (1925). She went back to playing girls, because her two ‘adult’ films didn’t make as much money as her movies usually did. Little Annie Rooney was one of the highest-grossing films of 1925. She was correct when she told Hallett Abend that the public only wanted to see her as a girl.

Of course, things turned out just fine for Ernst Lubitsch in Hollywood. After the one film he made with Pickford, he only returned to Germany for visits. Film fans can’t be mad that she invited him here so he could go on to make The Marriage Circle (1924), and Trouble in Paradise (1932). Thank you, Mary Pickford!

This month, Kingsley also reported on Pickford’s husband’s proposed next project. Douglas Fairbanks planned to make a movie set in ancient Greece:

Whether you feel, at first blush, that you can imagine Doug Fairbanks as a classic Greek or not, the fact remains that you are going to see him that way. We are going back further and further for our costume play themes. The latest announcement is that Fairbanks is to do a story, written by himself and Edward Knoblock, set in the times of Pericles. “The ancient Greek days offer a wonderful background for a picture,” declared Fairbanks, “and I am tremendously interested in appearing in a story of that period. Mr. Knoblock and I have outlined a story which I feel will be of interest to the public.”

Iraq, not Greece

However, they didn’t get very far in working out this idea. His next film, which was co-written by Knoblock, was The Thief of Bagdad (1924). This was another example of Fairbanks chatting with a journalist much too soon about his plans.

What they saw at the Orpheum

Fairbanks and Pickford were such big stars at the time that Kingsley straight-up spied on them when she was supposed to be reviewing the vaudeville show at the Orpheum this month. Her article began:

 The best part of the Orpheum show yesterday wasn’t on the bill. Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Edward Knoblock, Mrs. Charlotte Pickford and Ted Reed formed a party down in the third row at whom everyone was looking. Mary was a good little scout and applauded everything on sight, and Doug grinned all the time to show there was no hard feeling. Doug did pan once in a while though, making a noise like a regular critic, and Mary would turn right in and be what George Ade used to call a coffin-trimmer: “Well, I don’t care, Doug, she has a nice voice and pretty arms!

So that’s what an evening out with Hollywood royalty was like in 1923.

“Abandons Faust,” Film Daily, February 21, 1923, p.1.

Hallett Abend, “Mary Pickford in Rosita,” Los Angeles Times, September 5, 1923.

Hallett Abend, “Won’t Permit Mary to Act,” Los Angeles Times, February 18, 1923.

Kevin Brownlow, The Parade’s Gone By, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1968, p. 134.

“Film Colony Prestige Increased,” Los Angeles Times, December 24, 1922.

Grace Kingsley, “Flashes: Trip in Sight Again,” Los Angeles Times, October 27, 1923.

“Lubitsch-Pickford,” Film Daily, November 17, 1922, pp.1-2

“Lubitsch to Direct Doug,” Los Angeles Times, November 29, 1922.

“Mary Pickford Not to Produce Faust,” Motion Picture News, March 10, 1923, p. 1158.

“Mary Pickford Ready for New Work,” Exhibitors’ Trade Review, March 17, 1923, p. 791.

“Mary Pickford to Grow Up,” Los Angeles Times, January 5, 1923.

“Mary Pickford to Begin New Picture,” Moving Picture World, March 17, 1923, p. 358.

“Mary to Begin Work on Faust,” Exhibitors’ Trade Review, January 27, 1923, p. 443.

“Pickford’s Faust a Challenge,” Los Angeles Times, January 9, 1923.

Frederick James Smith, “Want Hamlet on the Screen,” Los Angeles Times, November 26, 1922.

“Wonders If Earle Uses Any Actors,” Los Angeles Times, January 14, 1923.

Ferdinand Pinney Earle 

*Yet another version of Faust was in the planning stages in early 1923 by Ferdinand Earle, who was mostly known as an art director who in 1920 had directed one film that didn’t get released until 1925, A Lover’s Oath. He and Pickford had a little fight in the press about their respective versions.  He said, “Mary Pickford’s challenge will afford the public opportunity to compare the best in old and new screen art. No more interesting experiment possible.”

Pickford responded in the L.A. Times: “Ferdinand Pinney Earle says, that in making Faust he ‘represents the new art’ while I ‘represent the old art,” said Mary indignantly. “How does he figure that out? I have Svend Gard, who put Johannes Kreisler on in New York, and who is an international reputation as an artist, and I have Irvin Martin to superintend the art end of the production. You know,” Mary smiled, just a wee bit sarcastically,” “I should think Mr. Earle would need actors as well as art in the making of Faust! I think Mr. Earle is a fine artist, and I admire his work, but I don’t understand his attitude. There is nothing either new or old in art.”

Earle never did make Faust either, and he went back to being an art director. He worked on Ben Hur (1925).

**Abend went on the become the Times city editor, and later the New York Times Far East correspondent. He was most famous for his books on China. In his early career he wrote film titles and read scenarios in Hollywood.

Rupert Hughes’ Hollywood: January 1-15, 1923

One hundred years ago this month, Grace Kingsley visited the Souls for Sale movie set. Based on his recent novel about Hollywood, the film’s director Rupert Hughes promised a lot:

“When a person gets through looking at this picture, he will be qualified to do anything around a studio from being an actor to being a laboratory worker!” Rupert Hughes was kidding about his newest picture, Souls for Sale, and what he really meant was that the picture revealed the real studio life of the picture people.

Souls for Sale will be a sort of two-ring circus. You who have been dying for a peep into a studio will have your chance, in addition to which you will get portraits of picture players as the actually are in real life, and also you will get a capital story.

The day she visited, they were busy shooting a King Arthur film-within-the-film. The leading man Frank Mayo gave her a bit of insider insight: he was wearing heavy armor, and he told her “It takes four men to hoist me onto a horse. When I want to alight, I just fall off.”

Rupert Hughes

Between scenes she interviewed Hughes. The writer/director was happy to state his agenda: actors are just like other folks, or even a bit superior in terms of kindness, charity, and co-operation. He wanted to correct the public’s idea that Hollywood was a den of inequity, so reformers really had no need to fix it. He mentioned, “Lew Cody is the only really wicked person in the story—and he isn’t a picture actor in the tale!” He added:

A lot of incidents in this picture really have happened either to my company or to that of other directors. For instance, take the accident with the wind-propeller which happens in this story. That really happened to Patsy Ruth Miller in Remembrance, when the night scenes were being taken at 4:30 in the morning when everybody was dead tired and shivering with cold, and somebody had moved the wind machine slightly, so that Miss Miller was within two feet of being struck by the thing, which would have inevitably killed her had she taken two steps more in the dark. Four people have lately been killed by those things, by the way, in the making of pictures. The dangers to the picture actor have never been exaggerated in fiction—in fact, they have never been really told.

Gee, maybe the director could have taken responsibility for keeping the cast and crew safe?

Rupert Hughes was doing his bit to help defend Hollywood in the wake of the many recent scandals, such as the Arbuckle trial, the murder of William Desmond Taylor, and Wallace Reid’s drug addiction and death. Just like film fan turned reporter Ethel Sands, he loved the movies as they were. In the Los Angeles Times review of his 1922 novel which he was adapting to film, their critic vividly described just how much:

 “Rupert Hughes is an author, who, to use his own impressive description, ‘rifles his dictionary and guts his thesaurus.’ He is extravagant, bombastic, unrestrained. He has more energy than he knows what to do with. He tears a passion to tatters and then paints the tatters. He hurls himself and his theses at his readers in an unending series on onslaughts.”

The trouble with Mr. Hughes is that he is an evangelist. He cannot allow the world to remain longer outside the true faith—the Hughes faith. In this instance, it is the wonder and marvel, the magnificence and the munificence of the movies that is his theme. Those who dwell in outer darkness and find little beauty and or inspiration in the cinema are to him ignorant bigots, shutting their eyes to beauty and their souls to truth.

But with all his faults we love him still. He writes with a glow, an energy, a fervor, an impassioned belief in his own solution of life and life’s problems, that whirl the reader along and compel him to recognize the pure gold that lies buried beneath much dross.

The reviewer took the book on its own terms: she or he didn’t complain that it wasn’t important literature, they appreciated it for the lively trash it was.

Grace Kingsley got to review Souls for Sale when it opened in early April, and she thought that Hughes managed to keep that same energy with his adaptation: “there is a snap and a dash and a power and a go about that world that is like nothing else on earth, I guess.” She also thought he succeeded with his aim to make the film business seem pretty wholesome:

Everybody in the world apparently hungers and thirsts to know how the movies are made, and how the movie actors really look off-stage. Rupert Hughes let us have a private peep at some thirty-five stars in off-stage moments, lets us see the wheels go round in the films…Best of all it is done, this Souls for Sale, with the maximum of humanness, of humor, or romance, of thrill. Don’t imagine for a minute that the revelation of trade secrets is obvious stuff. It is all done as part of the story, and it is utterly engaging.

She summed up the plot: Eleanor Boardman played “the kissless bride of a villain who haunts her afterwards. She hops from the train on the desert to get away from him, and is picked up by a movie hero playing an Arab after the sub-title stating that ‘the usual sheik crosses the usual desert with the usual caravan…’ It is while the heroine is trying to get into the movies that the audience gets a peek at Charlie Chaplin and Von Stroheim directing, at various movie stars at work and at play.” She particularly admired those scenes: “It is a great big smashing bit of realism; it thrills you with romance; it makes you feel as if you actually knew all those stars.”

Nevertheless, she recognized that the plot about Lew Cody as the serial killer husband that Boardman escapes from was outlandish: “There is a good deal of the dear old hokum in the story, and one wonders, the story being so melodramatic, it the thing isn’t half a satire on the whole movie game. Anyhow, you’ll get a great kick out of this picture.”

The trade papers agreed with her about the creakiness of the plot, but they were unanimous: they all thought it would be a great big hit. Exhibitors’ Herald said, “here is a picture which promises to be one of the big money makers of the season.” Charles Sewall addressed exhibitors directly in Moving Picture World: “Here is a picture, Mr. Exhibitor, that will please and enthuse your patrons and cause you to smile broadly when you count up the receipts…Souls for Sale is an audience picture and a showman’s picture if there ever was one.” Screen Opinions was sure it would be a crowd-pleaser, even though it was “more or less a hodge podge of incidents connected with the making of moving pictures in and about Hollywood.”

And they were correct. Souls for Sale was a huge box office success, one of the top earners of the 1922-23 season, along with Grandma’s Boy, Robin Hood and Blood and Sand. Just like everybody predicted, audiences did enjoy seeing behind the scenes. It was also helped by an impressive publicity campaign — Kingsley’s visit to the set was only a small part of it. No detail was neglected: they even collaborated with drug and department stores to advertise the film in shop windows:

There was one person the publicity didn’t work on: critic Robert Sherwood. In his collection of essays on the best films of the year, he said, “Souls for Sale was a highly dramatic story, designed to show what the frightful risks that movie stars must make for the sake of their art. It was all deadly serious, and it reeked with propaganda.” He thought it was much inferior to the other film about filmmaking that year, James Cruze’s Hollywood, which came out in August. Unfortunately, we can’t compare them: Hollywood is lost. However, Souls for Sale isn’t. It was restored in 2005 and it’s available on the Internet Archive.

Fritzi Kramer’s modern opinion of the restored version is closer to Sherwood’s than Kingsley’s; you can read her review on Movies Silently.

She was alarmed by how far the civilization of comedies might go, saying, “But I’ll tell you right now—when Ham Hamilton plays Hamlet, I’m going to quit.” Hamilton did try making a feature called His Darker Self in 1924, but it was a flop so he went back to two-reelers

This month, Kingsley also had thoughts about a new trend in comedies in an article subtitled “Day by Day Our Comedies Are Growing Sadder.” She missed the good old gag-filled days, even though the new trend had produced some very good films like Chaplin’s The Kid. She wrote:

Day by day, in every way, our comedians are getting gentler and gentler. Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd indeed are becoming regular tear chasers…Mack Sennett’s bathing girls are now bathing in tears! Phyllis Haver, Marie Prevost, Mary Thurman, all the lovely, joyous throng, have dry-cleaned their bathing suits and offered them to the poor.

How times have changed, indeed! The custard pies have retired from the garbage pail of art, one might say, to their rightful, dignified place in the pantry, and the last siphon bottle I heard of was taken to the museum along with the slap stick.

Chaplin at work in 1918

One of the best things about Kingsley’s writing is the respect she had for gags and the people who wrote them. She didn’t subscribe to the notion that drama was better than comedy, or that slapstick was vulgar. She reminded readers of one of her earlier trips to a studio:

One morning in the dim long ago of 1918 I went out to the Chaplin studio to find Charlie raging up and down the stage, teeth clenched and tears in his eyes as he wrinkled over a new gag that was just aborning. Nowadays he smiles as he tells you how, pretty soon, he is going to play the tragic Pagliacci!

We suspect now that Charlie is going to park his pants and his cane permanently and come out in his next picture wearing trousers and a fedora. Probably he won’t fall down once. We may as well face it. No more will Charlie stoop to pick up an imaginary fluid dollar. No more will his nether integuments cause him comic worry; no more will the suspense of his comedy depend partly on his suspenders.

Chaplin at work in 1922

She had a point: at that time Chaplin was directing A Woman of Paris, a romantic drama starring his former leading lady Edna Purviance. However, when it failed at the box office he went back to comedy (including some slapstick) with The Gold Rush (1925).

She had two theories why this was happening. Firstly, as Roscoe Arbuckle had told her in 1920, it’s easier to make a five-reel comedy-drama than two-reels of nonstop gags. Her other theory was that “the war is over now, and nobody has anything national to feel sad about.” That could have been part of it, but it also could have just been that audiences get bored and want to see new things. Plus she was right about all of the big stars moving into features, but producers like Hal Roach were still making two-reel gag-filled comedies.

“Billy Sunday of the Movies,” Los Angeles Times, April 30, 1922.

“Fate of a Pretty Girl Who Can’t Act: Hollywood,” Los Angeles Times, July 25, 1923.

“Film Race is Run for High Stake,” Los Angeles Times, March 27, 1923.

Rupert Hughes, “Souls for Sale,” Exhibitors’ Herald, March 31, 1923, p. 32.

Grace Kingsley, “Flashes: Iliad of Movies,” Los Angeles Times, April 2, 1923.

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

Charles S. Sewall, “Souls for Sale,” Moving Picture World, April 7, 1923, p. 67.

“Souls for Sale,” Exhibitors’ Herald, April 14, 1923, p. 55.

“Souls for Sale,” Exhibitors’ Trade Review, May 5, 1923, p. 1151

“Souls for Sale,” Screen Opinion, May 15-31, 1923, p. 53-54.

A Baby Brother that Wasn’t: December 16-31, 1922

Alberto Guglielmi and Rudolph Valentino

One hundred years ago this month, Grace Kingsley had another announcement about an aspiring star:

Now it is Rudolph Valentino’s younger brother who is breaking into films. He responds to the picturesque name of Tito Valentino, and is said to be singularly like his famous brother.

Tito Valentino will make his film debut in a Leslie T. Peacocke production called The Midnight Flower, an adaptation of a magazine story by Florence Herrington, well-known children’s welfare worker. The Peacocke production is being financed and presented by J. Price, Alaskan capitalist, and Gaston Glass and Vola Vale are playing the leading roles.

Tito Valentino did appear in Peacocke’s film, playing Juan Tarranza who is the actual robber, not Myra, a dancer known as The Midnight Flower, who is accused of his crime. While she’s in prison she gets reformed by a missionary and marries him. It’s a lost film.

Valentino was not pleased! (Son of the Sheik (1926)

The only thing wrong with this bit of publicity was that Rudolph Valentino only had one brother, Alberto Guglielmi, and in 1922 he was a physician in Italy (they also had a younger sister). Valentino was quite angry about it, and his denial came quickly. Newspapers reported how he delt with it in early January:

A pretender to the Valentino throne is worrying the screen star, according to the New York Morning Telegram. The annoyance is of sufficient consequence to cause him to appeal to his lawyer, Arthur Butler Graham, 25 West Forty-third Street, to have it stopped.

Antonio Muzii, residing on West One Hundred and Twelfth Street, is the cause of this additional trouble. He is 19 years old, a native of Italy, and claims to be the brother of Valentino.

Valentino is more than displeased. He went to the studios of the International Film Corporation, accompanied by his lawyer, to see Muzii, or Valentino as he was known to Mike Conley, casting director of Cosmopolitan Films, and from whom he obtained engagements in the films Adam and Eva and Enemies of Women.

Muzii was questioned by Mr. Graham in the office of Mr. Conley. Mr. Conley held the attention of Mr. Valentino as the conversation progressed. Valentino registered deep displeasure, which intensified when he was informed that Muzii claimed relationship.

It resulted in Muzii losing his position, minor in character, also in the issuance of the following, signed ‘Rudolf Valentino:’

‘I am informed that one Antonio Muzii of 500 West One Hundred and Twelfth Street, New York City, has been representing and holding himself out to be my brother. I write this letter to inform you that said Muzii is in no way related to me. You are requested to take no advertising given to you by any one in which the said Antonio Muzii is exploited under the name Valentino’

This notice was sent to various publications.

The statement was printed by several trade papers, including Exhibitors’ Herald, Film Daily, and Motion Picture News. It did the job—none of the ads for The Midnight Flower included Tito Valentino’s name, he was only in one cast list printed in the August 1924 Exhibitor’s Herald. They didn’t want to risk the star’s anger. However Valentino and his lawyer weren’t on firm legal ground: they could have tried suing people, but it probably wouldn’t have been worth the effort, since it’s not illegal to use another name professionally and actors lie about all sorts of things in their publicity.

I so wanted to learn more about Antoinio Muzii, but I had no luck in searching the census and voter list databases using a variety of spellings, as well as his street address. Everyone who was even close to this name was much too old, and the only Anthony at 500 112th Street was a married 24-year-old paper company executive, Anthony Gaccione.

The 1924 Los Angeles City Directory. Don’t worry about crazy fans bothering the star at home: while he still owned the house on Wedgewood Place, he’d moved to a different place by 1924.

I found a scrap of evidence that Muzii (or whatever his name was) didn’t stop trying. In the 1924 Los Angeles City Directory, there were three “photoplayers” listed under the Valentino name. It looks like it didn’t help his career–he wasn’t in any cast lists–and if Rudolph Valentino was annoyed about him again, it didn’t get into the press. Neither John nor Tito were in the next edition of the directory. I wish I could find out what happened to him next. He was young and had plenty of time for another career. Maybe he adopted another name and continued to try to break into film!

Rudolph Valentino was spending a lot of time with his lawyer in late 1922, dealing with a contract dispute with his studio, Famous-Players-Lasky. During that legal fight, he wasn’t allowed to appear in films so he was about to leave for an exhibition dance tour, which you can read about on Donna Hill’s Falcon’s Lair site.

Film writers wouldn’t have automatically discounted a story about a star’s siblings trying to get into the movies, because there were so many real ones, from Sydney Chaplin to Lottie Pickford. There were even other fake brothers — Valentino wasn’t the only one to be afflicted.

Buster Keaton’s real brother Harry

Buster Keaton had a younger brother, Harry, and an imposter brother, Harry Keatan, who replaced the second A with an O when the confusion was helpful to his career, first as a comedian and later as the proprietor of dubious “film schools.” There’s no evidence that the Keaton family did anything but ignore him.

In 1919 he appeared in some shorts with the L-KO Kompany. The next year he had parts in more short comedies distributed by Universal. In 1923 Camera! reported that he had a part in a Bull Montana two-reeler Rob ‘em Good and that he had his own comedy unit at Century Studio. Camera’s last mention of him was in August 1923, when he was directing and starring in Circumstantial Evidence for Harry Keaton Productions.

Unfortunately, Keaton Productions wasn’t what it seemed. Just a few days later he was arrested for battery. He was running a film make-up school that promised students jobs when they completed the course. One jobless pupil asked for his money back and got a punch in the nose instead. The L.A. Times said that he used the similarity of his name to Buster’s to lead people to believe he was affiliated with him. Once he got out of jail, he disappeared for several weeks and the State Labor Department couldn’t find him to press charges of operating an employment agency without a license.

He continued to be involved with sketchy film school ventures; in the 20’s he was arrested several times but after 1930 he stayed on the right side of the law. He ran a small studio where he gave acting lessons, and he appeared in a few low-budget films in the 1950’s, spelling his name “Keatan” in the credits. Mystery Science Theater 3000 fans might remember him as Jaffe from The Sinister Urge, part of Ed Wood’s distinctive body of work. He died on June 18, 1966, of a heart attack following a stroke.


Antoinio Muzii:

“New Pictures,” Exhibitors’ Herald, August 2, 1924, p. 227.

“The Screen,” Indianapolis Star, January 6, 1923, p. 8.

“Valentino Warns Against Alleged Imposter,” Motion Picture News, January 13, 1923, p. 173.

“Warns Against ‘Brother’” Film Daily, January 2, 1923, p. 4.

“The Week in News,” Exhibitors’ Herald, January 13, 1923, p. 38.


Harry Keatan:

“Love and Gasoline,” Moving Picture World, September 15, 1920, p. 25.

“Seek Film School. Head,” Los Angeles Times, August 28, 1923.

“Wanted Job But Says He Got A Punch,” Los Angeles Times, August 7, 1923.

“Where to find the people you know,” Camera, April 13, 1919, p. 6.

“Where to find the people you know,” Camera, December 23, 1922, p. 6.

“Who’s Who and What’s What in Filmland,” Camera, August 25, 1923, p. 14.

Yet Another Aspiring Star: December 1-15, 1922

Diane Pascale

One hundred years ago this month, Grace Kingsley included a brief paragraph about a now-forgotten woman among her usual reports of film industry comings and goings:

Diane Pascale, picture actress, has just returned from New York where, in addition to working on a picture, she contracted for the writing of a number of serials for popular magazines. One of these serials deals with life in the Hollywood picture colony.

One of her trade ads in the Standard Casting Directory. I haven’t found any other mentions of Desert Revenge in the Media History database.

There’s a good reason you’ve never heard of her: Pascale had at most bit parts in movies. Nevertheless, her story is full of unexpected turns. You never know what might be hiding behind one of Kingsley’s short items!

Lots of people were in Queen of Sheba (1921)

While her film career wasn’t remarkable, Diane Pascale was awfully good at self-promotion. She’d been in the L.A. Times before, in May 1921. They ran her photograph and a short interview with her before Queen of Sheba opened in Los Angeles, and she told them all about her adventurous past:

With life in European courts as the background of her youth, as well as stage training in the Conservatoire and at theaters in Paris, and later experience as spy in the service of France during the late war, Mme. Diane Pascale is proving one of the most interesting figures seen in the production of The Queen of Sheba, soon to show at Philharmonic Auditorium.

She said she was reared and educated in Paris and St. Petersburg, attended the Sorbonne, then worked as an interpreter and spy for France during the World War. She first saw American film studios when she was working on an important case for them in Los Angeles. She mentioned she’d had small roles in Enid Bennett, Louise Glaum and Nazimova films. It was much more publicity than might be expected for a role that didn’t appear in any cast listing.

From the L.A. Times, January 28, 1923

A month after Kingsley’s mention of her in December 1922, Pascale’s photo accompanied this terrific example of the promotional arts:

Diane Pascale was recently chosen by a group of artists and oriental-art connoisseurs in New York as representing an unusually fine type of Far Eastern beauty. Miss Pascale posed for more than a hundred photographs, many of which will be used on magazine covers. She is well known in the Hollywood film colony both as an actress and writer. Several of her stories are in current numbers of popular magazines. Miss Pascale is of French parentage.

Un-hunh, Asian art experts had nothing better to do with their time. The editors at the Times really needed a lot of stuff to fill up the paper! Nevertheless, in June 1923, Kingsley interviewed her when Pascale announced a new film venture. She filled in many more details of her colorful life.

Diane Pascale is the latest entry into the realm of picture stars drafted from the ranks of cultured women—college bred, a writer accomplished in many lines of artistic endeavor including acting, dancing, and music. Miss Pascale has just signed a contract with Fred Caldwell to play leading roles in five feature pictures which he is about to produce.

At this time, John Frederick Caldwell had recently sold a film he’d directed the year before. He and Pascale seem to have been acquaintances at least: according to Camera magazine, they were both on the short guest list at a party given by Gerjes Bey, a ‘Turkish notable,’ in late May 1923.

With a brilliant background of professional training and cultured contact, with experience in life as a war worker, as a young society woman of this city, as a young wife and mother, the announcement of Miss Pascale’s film ventures will doubtless come as something of a sensation to those who know her merely socially.

Pascale said her French mother was a fine musician and a pupil of Franz Liszt. She decided to be an actress when she was a child living in Weisbaden where she visited backstage with the players. She and her mother moved to Switzerland where she was befriended by the Empress of Austria and a list of other nobles. Her American businessman father insisted that she go to college in the United States, so she was sent to Bryn Mawr. After that, “being young and romantic, she married, but ran away to go on the stage.” Then she “listened to the siren voice of a picture producer” and decided to come to Los Angeles. She had a bit part in a Fred Niblo picture, followed by several others, but she thought “I wasn’t progressing fast enough to suit me.” So she took the trip to New York that was mentioned the previous December. Kingsley added:

Miss Pascale is a striking brunette, well-fitted to dramatic roles. She has a marvelously beautiful figure and has from time-to-time written articles for Physical Culture regarding the proper exercises, as well as the proper sports for women. “Don’t eat too much and don’t wear too many clothes; exercise and keep your mind alert!” This is the new star’s advice to women.

Another ad from the Standard Casting Directory

That isn’t the worst advice from an actress I’ve seen. Alas, the interview was the high point in her Hollywood career. Fred Caldwell never did produce five films featuring her; instead he was soon hired to direct short comedies that featured Alice Howell and Chester Conklin.  Pascale has only one credit in the IMDB, a “minor role” in Rose of Paris (1924).

Physical Culture magazine featured her January 1923 article in their New York Times ad.

However, her writing did appear in magazines. One piece had a Hollywood connection: her piece on screenwriter June Mathis was published in Metropolitan Magazine in November 1923. Her article in Vitality magazine about the horrors of eating in cafeterias, cabarets, and lunch counters was quoted at length in the L.A. Times that same month. She complained about noise and poor table manners of her fellow diners and blames them for dyspepsia and even “the deterioration of the American stage, the triviality of the American screen, the most asinine other kinds of amusements created and devised to relieve this poor tired business man of mental stress.” Nobody else saw that link! Her career as a magazine writer seems to have dried up soon after that, but she didn’t stop trying new things. In 1929 she copywrote an unpublished one-act play, The Passion of Salome, and in 1931, she copywrote a song, “Bayou gal, lovin’ me’s her specialty.” After that, she seems to have disappeared, yet another person thwarted in her artistic ambitions.

Her trade ad in the 1921 Wid’s Film Yearbook.

Lucky for me, she used her actual home address in her trade ads so I could find out that aspiring actress Diane Pascale was really named Elsie Amelia Wallace Moore, and she was the wife of a cement magnate, Aman Moore.* It’s remarkable how hard she worked to escape being ordinary and tried to make her acting aspirations come true.

She cherry-picked her own biography for the story of Diane Pascale. Elsie Wallace was born March 22, 1885 in New York City** to Jacob and Henriette Calm Wallace. Unlike what she told reporters, while her mother had a French first name, she was born in New York City too (her parents, John and Hannah Calm, were Bavarian immigrants). The Wallaces had two more children, William (1886) and Adrienne (1890). Jacob Wallace took the whole family along on a business trip and vacation to Europe in 1896, according to their passport applications, so at least she’d visited some of the places that she later claimed to be raised in. Then her family moved to Denver, Colorado where he was the vice president and general manager of Union Oil.

Aman Moore

Elsie Wallace did attend Bryn Mawr and was in the class of 1907. Shortly after graduating, she married Aman Perry Moore in New York City. He had discovered a mountain of limestone, a key component of cement, near Croyden, Utah in 1904 and he was working for a cement company in Oregon. The couple moved West, and in 1909 he became the plant supervisor of the Oregon Portland Cement Company. They had a daughter, Elsa Adrienne, in 1912.

Elsie Wallace Moore became a writer. Her 1909 article “The Suffrage Question in the Far West” in The Arena is a good summation of the state of women’s voting rights at the time. She wrote an unpublished three-act play that she copywrote in 1912 called The Devil’s Slide, named after the small company town that sprung up by where her husband had discovered limestone.


Aman Moore died in 1935 following a heart attack in New York City. Later that year Elsie Moore had the contents of their house sold at auction, and she traveled the world. Unfortunately, in 1942 she was in the wrong place at the wrong time: she was one of the nearly 4000 civilians interned by the Japanese in Santo Tomas University in Manila, Philippines Islands, from 1942 to 1945. After she was released, she continued to travel; on an arriving airplane passenger list from Amsterdam to New York in 1950 she gave her occupation as “writer.” She died on September 6, 1965 in Manhatten.

*Pascale also helpfully mentioned that her brother was named William K. Wallace, and he was working as a diplomat in Rome. His passport application agrees.

**She was 36 when Kingsley interviewed her. That’s younger than springtime, of course, but an advanced age to break into acting.

Harry Ellington Brook, “Care of the Body,” Los Angeles Times, November 11, 1923.

“Chosen as Ideal Far Eastern Type,” Los Angeles Times, January 28, 1923.

“Death of Mrs. Jacob Wallace in Denver,” The Landmark (Statesville, North Carolina), February 28, 1902.

Jeffrey Frank Jones, Japanese War Crimes and Related Topics: A Guide to Records at the National Archives.

Grace Kingsley, “Exit Dolls; Enter Adults,” Los Angeles Times, June 3, 1923.

“Parisian Star has Role in The Queen of Sheba,” Los Angeles Times, May 22, 1921.

“Turkish Notable Give Turkish Party,” Camera, June 2, 1923, p. 9.

Elsie Wallace Moore, “The Suffrage Question in the Far West,” The Arena, July 1909, pp. 414-424.

Checking In With Earlier Stories: November 16-30, 1922

Colleen Moore

One hundred years ago this month, entertainment news was slowing down a bit before the holidays. The most interesting things that Grace Kingsley wrote about were updates of stories she’d reported on before. She had been writing the same item about one popular leading lady since 1916, so it’s no wonder she sounded a little tired of it:

Once more is Colleen Moore discovered. She is the most discovered young lady in motion pictures. First D.W. Griffith discovered her and then Micky Neilan discovered that she was exactly the actress he wanted; later along came Rupert Hughes and did some discovering, featuring her in three big pictures. Then Ward Lascalle found Miss Moore was an excellent comedian, and starred her in Mary Roberts Rinehart’s Affinities, which goes on at the Symphony Sunday.

Colleen Moore, 1917

Since 1916, Moore had been a busy working actress – she was featured in six films in 1922 alone – but she wasn’t a huge star. Affinities didn’t make her one either. She played a wife neglected by her golfing husband, so she went on a picnic with a group of fellow sufferers. She and a golf widower are accidentally left on an island and wackiness ensues as they try to get home before anybody finds out and assumes the worst. Exhibitors’ Herald described it as “a comedy drama of the program type, pleasing in a mild way by virtue of its fast-moving propensities and various humorous incidents from time to time.” While it wasn’t a star-making vehicle, Exhibitors’ Trade Review did mention that “Colleen Moore displays her usual grace and charm.”

Lightning struck for her the following year with Flaming Youth. Helen Klumph, an L.A. Times reporter writing from New York, summed up her good fortune in December 1923:

’She who flaps last flaps best,’ is the verdict of exhibitors in the East who are watching Colleen Moore in Flaming Youth coin money for them. The success of the picture is phenomenal, inasmuch as it followed a long, long trail of mediocre and tawdry productions detailing the sins of us wild young people…Who would have prophesized just that sort of glory for out little Colleen? I would as soon have nominated elfish Baby Peggy to step into Gloria Swanson’s shoes.

Moore went on to make several hit films, including Ella Cinders (1926) and Her Wild Oat (1927). Kingsley was probably glad she didn’t have to announce the discovery of Colleen Moore ever again.

This month, Kingsley also had a short interview with Mary Pickford on the occasion of her new version of Tess of Storm Country running simultaneously at both the California and Miller’s Theater, because there was such a demand for tickets. The theaters claimed it was the first time that had ever happened. Pickford’s big announcement to Kingsley was that once again, her husband Douglas Fairbanks was thinking about retirement. She said:

Doug wants us to make a few more pictures, and then go and live abroad. In fact, he wants that we shall spend many years in travel. He wants for one thing, that we shall go to Africa and hunt big game. Can you see me hunting lions? I’ll tell you what I shall do. I shall wear a little cage, with just my legs and feet sticking out, so I can draw into it if I see a lion coming! Seriously, Douglas wishes us to spend several years in doing nothing but traveling, hunting, and seeing all the out-of-the-way nooks of the world. Of course I shall love that. In the meantime, however, we shall continue to make pictures.

They did take vacations between films.

Even big stars love to dream about quitting. Pickford had told Kingsley about her own retirement plans back in 1919. Neither Fairbanks not Pickford abandoned their career for many years. When Fairbanks eventually retired in 1934, he did travel the world, exactly as he’d planned, but Pickford wasn’t there: they had separated in 1933 and divorced in 1936.

Kingsley also featured what we now know was a tragic update: Famous Players-Lasky had extended Wallace Reid’s vacation. His wife, Dorothy Davenport said:

Wallace began feeling so much better, due to his exercises and outdoor travels, that he overdid somewhat on the punching bag, bicycling and horseback riding.

After the Thanksgiving holiday, she said she planned to take him to Palm Springs to recuperate. Unfortunately, at that point he wasn’t anywhere close to being able to travel and exercise. He had been badly hurt in a train accident while shooting Valley of the Giants (1919), and Davenport and the studio worked hard to keep the full extent of Reid’s injuries and subsequent morphine addiction out of the papers. He died just a few weeks later in a sanitorium, on January 18, 1923.

“Affinities,” Exhibitors’ Herald, October 7, 1922, p. 58.

“Affinities,” Exhibitors’ Trade Review, August 19, 1922, p. 817.

Grace Kingsley, “Flashes: Lascalle Busy,” Los Angeles Times, May 17, 1922.

Helen Klumph, “Colleen’s Flapper Queen,” Los Angeles Times, December 12, 1923.

North to Alaska: November 1-15, 1922

One hundred years ago this month, Grace Kingsley spoke to an adventurous and ambitious director:

Training right along with our best little traveling motion-picture companies, Norman Dawn, well-known picture director, yesterday announced his intention of taking a company to Alaska early next spring to make two pictures.

Mr. Dawn’s company will travel as far north as possible, leaving early in March, when the ice begins to break in the Bering Sea. He expects, indeed, to be able to reach Point Barrow, 200 miles north of Nome. He and his company will also visit the Probilof Islands and the Aleutians.

The company will travel in a chartered power launch, which will tow a schooner to be used in a spectacular wreck scene in the north. As an added feature, Mr. Dawn will make use of the Esquimoux and Indians of the north in many of the scenes where such natives are required.

The director will take the principals of his cast to the number of about eighteen. He says he wants no molly-coddles, however, as the work will be hard and may even be very dangerous.

Amazingly, he did quite a bit what he told her—it just took two trips instead of one.

Norman Dawn, 1906

Norman Omar Dawn’s early records are incomplete. Luckily, film scholar Raymond Fielding interviewed him in 1962 for a SMPTE article, and he rcorded some of the details. Dawn was born in a railroad camp tent in Humahuaca Canyon, Bolivia, where his father, also named  Norman, was helping to design and build Bolivia’s early railroad (Fielding said it was in 1886, but Dawn’s other vital records say May 25, 1884). His American parents took him to Salta, Argentina where his birth was recorded, and when he was three months old, he was taken to Monterey, California.* He lived there until his father died when he was ten, and then his aunt in Alhambra, California took him in.

His father had been an amateur photographer, which inspired the younger Norman’s interest in trick photography. In 1905 he became a still photographer for the Thorpe Engraving Company in Los Angeles. The following year he traveled to Paris to study art. He bought a Debrie camera and he returned to California in 1907. There he made his first film, Missions of California, using matte photography to fill in missing structures and make the crumbling buildings look whole. He sold his one-reel film to Gaumont, then he spent the next three years selling travel films like Gorges of the Yangtze and The Great Barrier Reef to Pathe, Keystone, and Universal as well as Gaumont. He began making fiction films in 1911 when he made a two-reel drama called Story of the Andes in Bolivia, which Gaumont bought. He returned to Los Angeles in 1911 and he became a special effects cameraman for Selig.

The Drifter is utterly lost: all that remains of it seems to be Dawn’s records

In 1913 he bought a half-completed negative called The Drifter that featured Bob Koffman, Valencia Martin and Eagle Eye. He took over producing and directing it and finished the two-reel film. He sold it on a states rights basis, and began alternating independent production work with special effects cinematography work for studios. He was hired as a director for Universal in 1919 and made several features there with Edith Roberts. He also patented his composite photography process in 1918, but he lost the case when he tried to sue other inventors for infringement in 1922.

Dawn at work with Edith Roberts

He married Katherine V. Madden on February 1, 1921 in Oakland. She was a member of the scenario department at Universal and they met when he was directing The Fire Cat (1921). She went on to appear in several of his films.

Sessue Hayakawa and Bessie Love in The Vermillion Pencil (1922)

In 1921 he finished his contract at Universal and moved to Robertson-Cole, where he made two features with Sessue Hayakawa as well as The Son of the Wolf, based on a Jack London story. It was set in Alaska but probably shot in the Sierra Nevada mountains and Yosemite (though in one article Dawn claimed he was leaving for in Northern Canada), and the results were pretty good. Film Daily praised the beautiful locations and photography, then summed it up: “because the picture is so good to look at folks are sure to overlook a somewhat weak story in this instance.”

By the time he was speaking to Kingsley in 1922 he had decided to return to independent production. Perhaps because Nanook of the North was proving to be so popular, he wanted to make a film set in the North but with more authenticity than his earlier movie. So in 1923 Norman Dawn, his wife, and the rest of the company set off for Alaska. He didn’t neglect his advance publicity, writing to Kingsley in late 1923 from Cantwell, Alaska. He said he was using a herd of 10,00 reindeer and over 200 dog teams. Because the days were short, they began shooting at ten and finished at two, when the sun went down, then they rehearsed after dark. At night the temperature dropped below zero, but they got to see the aurora borealis. They lived in log cabins buried in the snow. They didn’t travel as much as he’d originally planned, and experience wasn’t quite as bad as he’d anticipated in 1922.

He was back in Los Angeles by February 1924 and Kingsley reported he was previewing The Trail of Broken Hearts for exhibitors. He did sell it on a states’ rights basis. Re-titled The Lure of the Yukon, it wasn’t widely reviewed (when it played in Los Angeles in late December 1924, it was only mentioned as a coming attraction), however, George T. Pardy in Exhibitors’ Trade Review thought it was a good buy, especially for summer months when it would contrast with the “torrid dog days.” Pardy wrote, “it is well directed, crammed full of spectacular thrills and goes top-speed from start to finish.” Even if the plot about the Yukon gold rush “follows a pretty familiar course detailing the adventures of an unsuspicious old father, pretty daughter, married villain who tries to carry off the latter, a dashing hero who always turns up in the nick of time to foil the ruffian’s plans, and the hardships of the long frozen trail vividly outlined,” it was ”a fast-moving melodrama screened amid genuine Alaskan surroundings, a hummer of thrills and romantic urge, without a dull moment in it.” Lure of the Yukon is a lost film.

As soon as he sold Lure, Dawn mentioned to Kingsley that he planned to return to Alaska and shoot another one. He did wait until after Katherine Dawn gave birth to their son Forest Emerson Dawn on March 16, 1924, but just six weeks later the whole family, plus the cast and crew, were on the boat North.

Their second shoot was more difficult than the first one. Dawn wrote to Kingsley from Alaska in the summer of 1924, and told her “we have been to the ice fields beyond Nome, and made some thrilling scenes with polar bears and dog teams in the great cracks of ice.” Then they visited a volcanic area—a valley with seven volcanoes, “truly the greatest natural wonder of the world.” Even though the scenery was spectacular, “We were seven weeks in the volcanoes and glad to get out, for we had many thrilling and narrow escapes.”

They came back to Los Angeles in early October 1924. A few months later, Kingsley interviewed the film’s star, Arthur Jasmine, and he filled in more details about the arduous shoot for an article called “Arctic Rigors Endured.” The work was as hard and dangerous as Dawn had anticipated in his 1922 interview. Jasmine said that to get to the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, they had to hike over thirty miles over pumice and volcanic ash with their 3200 pounds of provisions. It took three weeks. The 19-member group included all three Dawns and a nurse–they even brought the baby along for that part of the trip. Jasmine said:

We got into the valley on the Fourth of July, and it was pouring rain. There were great columns of steam issuing from the ground. The wind from the Bering Sea was so cold you couldn’t stand up in it, yet the ground was so hot you couldn’t lie on it.

He listed some of the other hardships: the mosquitos were ravenous, on rainy days when they couldn’t shoot they had no books to read because they were too heavy to bring along, and he stayed in the same clothes for seven weeks. Furthermore: “that midnight sun certainly did get on our nerves. Some of the people went a bit looney.” (Gee but I’m glad I don’t have either filmmaking or camping ambitions—that’s a whole lot of misery!)

Arthur Jasmine tried to find acting work after Justice of the Far North, but he was unsuccessful. He became a costumer and worked for Ted Thall United Costumes. He died in 1954.

Eventually the film was called Justice of the Far North. It was also sold on a states’ rights basis, and the few reviews that appeared were similar to the ones for Lure. Exhibitors’ Herald said, “It may do very well as a scenic because many sequences are beautiful for their ice and snow, their mountains and river falls, their volcanic eruptions and their lava flows.” However, “the action is slow; the acting is spotty; the story is ‘get -revenge-because-she was-unfaithful’ type; and many inconsistencies appear in the continuity.” At least this one isn’t completely lost: there’s a fragment at the British Film Institute.

Showgirl’s Luck (1931) starring Katherine Dawn.

After that second trip to the north, Norman Dawn (very sensibly) planned to make some films on tropical islands. Once again, he carried through with his intentions, making The Adorable Outcast (1927) on Fiji. He continued to travel around the world and make movies. In 1929 he went to Australia and made his, and the county’s, first sound film Show-Girl’s Luck, a musical. His final film was an independent production called Wild Women (1951).

During the war he went to work for Boeing Aircraft to make training and public information films.

Norman Dawn had an amazing career. He was an important pioneer in special effects photography; as Raymond Fielding wrote:

Because of the difficulties involved in determining technological precedence, Dawn has never claimed to have been the first to employ the processes which he developed independently for his own work. The dates on which he first employed them are sufficiently early, however, to establish him as one of the first and most active in this field.

Dawn was able to make exactly the sort of films he wanted to make, and travel the world while he did it.  George E. Turner in American Cinematographer called him “the most independent filmmaker in the industry’s history.” He died on February 2, 1975 in Los Angeles. His wife survived him for many years; Katherine Dawn died in July 1984 in Santa Monica.

While many of his films are lost, his papers are preserved at the University of Texas at Austin and they are remarkable. He made cards that resemble scrapbooks for many of his films, and the University has digitized them and made them available online. So if you want to be remembered, be sure to keep and organize your records and give them to a reputable library!

*Dawn doesn’t seem to have mentioned his mother to Fielding. There’s a story buried in the vital records that is the stuff of novels. Dawn’s mother, Olga De Mojean, left his father and South America fairly soon after his birth. She went to Jackson, Missouri where she married George Cundiff on January 25, 1886 (another reason I’m certain Dawn’s birth year was 1884). They had three children. By 1910 she was a divorced roomer living in El Paso, Texas but by 1914 she had moved to Los Angeles. She seems to have kept in touch with her eldest son because they shared a house in Venice, California (on the Grand Canal, no less!), and she had small parts in four of his Universal films. She later reconciled with George Cundiff: they were together in Santa Monica in the 1950’s. She died there in 1957.

“Beautiful Backgrounds and Northern Atmosphere that Interests,” Film Daily, May 15, 1921, p. 15.

“C.B.C. Buys Big Alaska Feature,” Exhibitors’ Trade Review, March 21, 1925, p.38.

“Coast Brevities,” Film Daily, November 9, 1924, p. 6.

Raymond E. Fielding, “Norman O. Dawn, Pioneer Worker in Special Effects Cinematography,” SMPTE, v.72 #1, p.15-23.

Grace Kingsley, “Arctic Rigors Endured,” Los Angeles Times, December 14, 1924.

Grace Kingsley, “Flashes: Dawn Heard From,” Los Angeles Times, August 20, 1924.

Grace Kingsley, “Flashes: Has Alaska Locale,” Los Angeles Times, February 9, 1924.

Grace Kingsley, “Flashes: Made in North,” Los Angeles Times, December 13, 1923.

Grace Kingsley, “Flashes: Producers Home,” Los Angeles Times, February 5, 1925.

Grace Kingsley, “Flashes: Shoots in Alaska,” Los Angeles Times, April 19, 1924.

Grace Kingsley, “Flashes: Tom Moore to Wed,” Los Angeles Times, February 3, 1921.

Motion Picture Studio Directory, 1921, p. 261.

“Produces Line-Up,” Los Angeles Times, August 17, 1922.

Earl Theisen, “In the Realm of Tricks and Illusions,” International Photographer, June 1934, p. 8.

“T.O. Service,” Exhibitors’ Herald, August 22, 1925, p. 53.

“Three New Stage Attractions Open,” Los Angeles Times, December 21, 1924.