A Trip Through Wonderland: October 16-31, 1921

One hundred years ago this month, Grace Kingsley reported on yet another new arrival. For a change, she wasn’t an actress:

Ethel Sands, who has been writing a series of articles for Picture-Play Magazine, arrived in Los Angeles a day or two ago, and will be a guest of the Studio Club for the next few weeks while she gathers material in our studios for another series of “Adventures in Movieland.”

Miss Sands is not a professional writer, except by chance. She is just a fan who has worshiped the stars from afar since the early days of motion pictures. Many a motion-picture star has answered her request for an autographed photograph with a personal letter, because her letters are always so interesting and so full of genuine enthusiasm.

It was, indeed, her letters to the editor of Picture-Play that led to her present visit. They were so entertaining that he decided to have her write for his readers.

There followed many adventures for Ethel Sands. She made a test picture with Corinne Griffith; she appeared as an extra in a picture with Bert Lytell; she went shopping with Elsie Ferguson for the many wonderful gowns in Footlights; and the one and only D.W. Griffith invited her to Mamaroneck, N.Y. and showed her his studio. All these adventures she has already written of in Picture-Play, and now she has come to California to get some fresh thrills.

Ethel Sands did indeed get those fresh thrills, and her thoughts about them were published from March 1922 to March 1923 among other long-running series like “The Revelations of a Star’s Wife” and Kingsley’s own “Romances of Famous Film Folk.” * In the May 1922 issue of Picture-Play the editors said why they had commissioned it: they wanted their readers to feel that the magazine belonged to them, and Sands’ adventures were “a veritable trip through the wonderland seen as you would see it.”

Bebe Daniels’ mother accompanied her to a location shoot, and they had a pleasant chat.

However, a cynical modern person like me notices that her description of the film industry and its inner workings was incredibly wholesome and innocent at a time when the Arbuckle and William Desmond Taylor scandals were raging. The Hollywood she wrote about was a place where star’s mothers cooked cozy dinners for their quiet parties, a big day out was a trip to the beach boardwalk, and everybody worked very hard. There wasn’t one cocktail or sex pest in sight!

A wild Hollywood party with Helen Ferguson. Noted stills photographer Donald Biddle Keyes took pictures of her adventures. Mary Mallory wrote a biographical article about him for her blog. 

Ethel Sands really was an ordinary movie fan. Her parents Paul and Louise Rodriguez named her Ethel Pauline when she was born in Manhattan, New York on March 10, 1901. Her father was a steam fitter. By 1910 her father had died and she was living in Queens where her mother was a live-in housekeeper for widower Clarence Miller (he was then a railroad flag man and later a house painter) and his four children. On April 2, 1912 her mother married Miller and by 1915 they’d moved to Plainfield, New Jersey.

In her first Picture-Play article (February 1921) Sands told how she got the job:

It’s funny how things will just be going on in a drab sort of fashion, and then all of a sudden something wonderful will happen that simply changes your whole life. That was the way with me; I’d been going to school and reading library books and spending my allowance on tickets to the movies—and then right out of a clear sky came a letter from the editor of Picture-Play, saying that he’d been interested in the letters I’d written to the magazine, and that he’d decided that I was a typical fan. And he went on to say that he’d like to have me come to New York and go to different studios, meeting the stars, seeing how pictures are made—all that sort of thing—and then write down my impressions of what I saw for Picture-Play. Well, you can imagine how excited I was.

Already, some of this wasn’t true. According to the census, by early 1920 she was 19 years old, had already finished her schooling, and was working as a saleslady in a department store. Perhaps they wanted her to seem younger than she was. I also don’t know why the editors didn’t want to use her real last name (she signed the one published letter I found “Ethel Rodriguez”), but I suspect that they thought their readers were prejudiced against Spanish and Mexican people.

Before she arrived in Los Angeles she had written a multi-part series about meeting East coast based film stars that Kingsley mentioned, and according to the fan letters the magazine published it was popular. Cora May Brentner of Cairo, Illinois wrote:

 When you started running the story of Ethel Sands’ adventures in the motion-picture studios, I just thought to myself that some reporter was going to try to be funny. I had a terrible suspicion that the whole thing was a fake! But before I had read very far in her first article, I knew she was real. In fact, she was the realest writer I had ever read, because she found out just the sort of things I’d like to if I were in her place.

Betty Phillips from London, England agreed: “Miss Sands tells us just what we really want to know about the movie folk and makes them seem very real people indeed.”

She had “simple, wholesome fun” with Harold Lloyd

Sands continued to seem real, and really enthusiastic, in her reports from Hollywood. She wrote “My, but it’s exciting—meeting one famous person right after another!” That’s exactly what she did during her many adventures, which included:

  • A surprise airplane ride with Betty Compson when they were supposed to be having tea (“It was a glorious sensation—I felt like a skyrocket!”);
  • Five visits to location shoots, including Buster Keaton’s in Chatsworth Park for The Paleface and Bebe Daniels’ on the water near San Pedro for A Game Chicken (“On a location trip everyone in the company seems to feel as though they’re out on a picnic, and you can get acquainted much better than in a studio.”);
  • Looking at the star’s homes with Lila Lee and Theodore Roberts (“They seem to be fond of having everything foreign…The streets are lined with palm, pepper, and eucalyptus trees—the strange types of houses all colors of the rainbow—seem so unfamiliar we almost forget we’re in the U.S.”);
  • Having dinner at Colleen Moore’s house (“the most enthusiastic person I have ever met in or out of pictures”) with her mother and grandmother, then a trip to the circus;
  • Visiting Santa Monica and Venice Beaches with Harold Lloyd and Mildred Davis, where they bought balloons, ate hot dogs and cotton candy, and rode roller coasters, bumper cars, and flying boats. (“No one can ever tell me movie stars, no matter how famous they are, can’t enjoy simple, wholesome fun.”);
  • Attending a dinner party with Helen Ferguson at her mother’s house where they played parlor games and ate ice cream after dinner (“Parties are one of the main features of life in Hollywood, you know…It might have been any informal gathering back in my own town, except that the movie folks seem to get more fun out of things.”).
Sands had her hair done exactly like Gloria Swanson’s by Hattie Wilson, the stylist at Lasky Studio. To learn more about Wilson, visit Donna Hill’s blog

She noted every detail, down to what was in the box lunch served on the Bebe Daniels’ shoot: “a pint bottle of milk, two different kinds of meat sandwiches, a piece of cake or pastry, a bag of potato chips, some crackers, and an apple.”

She got to work as an extra in a bazaar scene of an Alice Lake film, Kisses. She appeared in a beautiful black gown with full hair and make-up, and she could even be seen in the finished film. She reported that they had to do the scenes several times and everybody but her was tired–she speculated that they were worried about their next jobs–and the director, Maxwell Karger, was yelling and tearing his hair out.

Her name was on the cover when her Valentino article appeared

However, her biggest thrill was meeting Rudolph Valentino on the set of Moran of the Lady Letty.  It was quite an experience:

He speaks in a low, deep, steady voice with just the slightest trace of an accent which makes it all the more alluring. I don’t know just what it was he said at first, because all I could do was just stare as if I was hypnotized. Then I looked at Dorothy Dalton [his co-star] to see if she was being affected that way too, but she didn’t seem a bit dazed, strange as it may seem, and was arguing about what was the hardest part of learning to ride horseback.

Then a publicist decided that Valentino should teach her how to ride. The studio’s wardrobe department loaned her riding clothes and a few days later they went to the Beverly Hills Riding Academy. The lesson didn’t go very well; he was quite patient, but she barely managed to stay on her horse. However, she was able to tell the fans exactly what they wanted to know:

When he looks at you his gaze is steady and inscrutable. In real life his eyes are more enigmatic than expressive, I think. He rarely changes his expression, it being nearly always a calm, rather somber look which keeps you puzzled and wondering just what are his real thoughts and feelings—except when he suddenly flashes a smile and coming unexpectedly as it does, you are more or less dazzled.

He revealed that he didn’t really like his role in Moran, and she mentioned that he smoked a great deal. He drove her back to the Studio Club and told her “it was a great pleasure.” She said she remained dazed for days after.

She finished up her series with an article called “What My Movie Adventures Taught Me.” She felt that her trip was a “post-graduate course,” and summed up her new knowledge:

I had an idea that life in Hollywood must be exactly like a Cecil De Mille picture…Perhaps it’s because his pictures overflow with riches and extravagance, and to the uninitiated the film business seems to be one of wealth and extravagance galore with its million-dollar productions and thousand-dollar-a-week salaries…It’s so hard to realize that film players are just regular human beings. The screen gives them such and illusive quality that they seem a people apart, just as most of Mr. De Mille’s characters, for example, are so different from any people we know. But my first ride through Hollywood dispelled my preconceived ideas about it. It looks like such a nice, new, little town you’d wonder how you could have ever thought such wild things about it.

She hadn’t realized how much people worried about the success of their pictures, but she wasn’t disillusioned about the industry: “to know the truth about the movies helps you to a clearer understanding of the business, to appreciate the best in pictures and players, to discriminate and lavish your admiration on that which is worthy.”

Ethel Sands seems like a nice young lady with plenty of enthusiasm. I think her articles presented what people wanted to believe the movie industry was like, and I’m glad that she had the opportunity to see and do so much. I’m sure it was a change from the department store.

Valentino in 1924

She returned to the pages of Picture-Play a few more times with articles from a fan’s point of view. In the June 1924 issue she reported on her visit to the set of Valentino’s Monsieur Beauclaire on Long Island to find out if he had changed. She wrote, “he seems older and not so boyishly handsome as he was two years ago but his smile has the same dazzeling effect.” Nevertheless, he was “the same unassuming and fascinating young man that he was before.” In August 1925 they published her interviews with up-and-coming actresses Mary Brian and Esther Ralston. Her final article appeared in the December 1925 issue. Entitled “A Fan Returns to Movieland,” she visited the set of A Kiss for Cinderella at the Lasky Studio in New York and she was still thrilled to be reporting on movie making.

In early 1926 Sands married Andrew John Krog, who was a public health inspector for Plainfield, New Jersey. In 1930 she was working as a trimmer in a hat factory. She had a daughter, Sandra Joan, in the mid-1930s. Ethel Krog died in Houston, Texas on January 3, 1977, where she had moved to in 1973 to be near her daughter and two grandsons. Her obituary mentioned that she “had been a writer for Picture-Play magazine and had met and interviewed many famous stars of the silent period.”

Charlie Chaplin’s house in 1921

Sands didn’t get to meet all of the famous people: she only got to see the outside of the house belonging to the star of Kingsley’s most glowing review this month. Charlie Chaplin lived in:

the most fascinating little place, at the summit of a hill all by itself, with little turrets and towers—it looks just right for the king of the movies to live in. To me it seems for all the world like a little castle in Spain.

Kingsley loved The Idle Class, and so did the audience:

It’s quite impossible on seeing Chaplin in his latest picture not to make the old rubber-stamp remark. “There’s only one Charlie Chaplin!” His comicality impresses you afresh, his sure touch of humor is clean-cut as ever, the deft, crisp way of landing comedy points so that they never miss fire tickle your ribs just the same as though seen for the first time. Its sparkling spontaneity never could happen in a comedian’s first picture; its clean-cut humor wasn’t born of a brain groping its way in an initial venture. In other words, it’s a work of art.

Crowds who roared with joy greeted the picture yesterday, the Kinema echoing with laughter at Chaplin.

Surprisingly, The Idle Class played for only two weeks when Harold Lloyd’s Never Weaken ran for seven at a rival theater. During its first week the main feature sounds like it wouldn’t have hurt ticket sales; Kingsley enjoyed Bing Bang Boom with David Butler, a “Charles Ray type.” It told the story of a young man who buys a run-down hotel, then makes a fortune by converting it to a weight-loss spa –“which tale sounds commonplace, but is delightfully told with just a strong enough thread of suspense to hold you, and with a score of fresh twists in the unfolding.” However, during the second week the added feature was The Seranade, a melodrama of the mission days that “had been pieced together from the good old dramatic hokum barrel, and I think they used up all the hokum there was, too.” Nevertheless, Kingsley reminded her readers that even though The Idle Class didn’t have the drawing power of Shoulder Arms or The Kid, “from any other comedian it would be considered a knockout.” Chaplin would make only two more shorts, Payday (1922) and The Pilgrim (1923), before he switched permanently to features.

 

* Kingsley wasn’t the only one moonlighting, her boss Edwin Schallert worked there too and he later became the editor.

 

Unfortunately, the March, October, and November 1922 issues of Picture-Play aren’t yet in the Media Digital History Database. Among the missing adventures are a trip to Wallace Reid’s house and interviews with the Talmadge sisters.

“Mrs. Ethel Sands Krog,” Courier-News, January 15, 1977, p.5.

Ethel Sands, “A Fan Returns to Movieland,” Picture-Play, December 1925, pp.50-53, 98.

Ethel Sands, “Has Valentino Changed?” Picture-Play, June 1924, pp.21-23, 114.

Ethel Sands, “Representing the Younger Set,” Picture-Play, August 1925, pp.24, 100, 109.

“To Whom Does a Magazine Belong?” Picture-Play, May 1922, p.6.

“What the Fans Think,” Picture-Play, July 1921, p.72.

“What the Fans Think,” Picture-Play, September 1921, p.72.

 

Twinkling Briefly: October 1-15, 1921

Miss Du Pont

One hundred years ago this month, Grace Kingsley was confronted with finding something to write about yet another up-and-coming starlet who wasn’t much of an actress, yet she found a fairly polite way to say that (she waited for her film review to be more direct). She interviewed model-turned-Hollywood-discovery Miss Du Pont, then made a general observation:

Ofttimes the young lady herself is as much astonished at finding that she had “powerful latent dramatic ability” as she would be if somebody discovered a wart on her neck that she didn’t know of. Maybe she’s going along quite happily in some humdrum but quietly pleasant calling, when blooey! Somebody out Columbusing finds she’s a genius. Then her troubles begin. She didn’t know when she was first taken that way or what to do about it, but from that time on her life is made a burden to her until she’s launched into a career.

That’s how it appears to have been with that very pretty, well bred, tastefully gowned young lady known to the screen as Miss Du Pont, Universal star, who makes her debut as a film luminary at Tally’s Broadway this week in The Rage of Paris.

It was while she was a model in an exclusive shop in this city that a technical director, looking for clothes, saw her and asked if she wanted to go into pictures. Finally, he persuaded her.

Miss Du Pont had actually been discovered a few years earlier and had small parts in movies since 1919. In 1924, she told Kingsley a slightly different story of how she broke into the film business. She was working for an expensive clothes shop, when:

“I was sent to a studio with a consignment of gowns and stayed on the set to see that they were properly draped on several girls who appeared as models in Lombardi Ltd. I was offered a job as one of the extras, and I accepted. And here I am,” she concluded.

Foolish Wives (1922)

However, Universal wanted her to seem fresh and new, while they capitalized on her starring role in the upcoming Foolish Wives. So the studio put her in a lower-budget movie and sent her out on interviews. Kingsley seemed to like her well enough:

You’d think indeed when you met Miss Du Pont, that she perhaps was a nice little school teacher—one of the pretty ones that doesn’t remain long in the business on account of marrying.

When asked if she was pleased with her good luck, she said “Why, yes, of course I am, but I guess I never make much fuss about anything. I knew so many beautiful girls who had started in pictures but who had never been able to succeed, that I didn’t think I could possibly do anything in that way.”

All her emotionalism, however, she takes out in her acting. She lays her emotions away with her make-up, parks her mutability with her mascara, and cheerfully and sensibly goes her way. She’s immensely practical, too. I think, for instance, that if she were to go work in a milliner shop tomorrow she’d probably own that milliner shop inside of a year or two—and nobody would know quite how it had happened.

Cheerful practicality was exactly what this young lady needed, because when Kingsley saw the film, she quickly realized that Miss D didn’t have acting talent. But she began her review by mentioning that the publicity had worked:

The appearance of a new star, so labeled, is always a matter of interest and curiosity. So there was a goodly gathering at Tally’s yesterday to take a peep at Miss Du Pont, Universal’s newest star, in The Rage of Paris.

If Paris was crazy over the heroine, why, Paris must have been crazy, that’s all. Miss Du Pont is a very lovely girl, but she needs some two or three years of hard work before the camera before she is announced as a star. She didn’t seem to know what the play was all about. And she hadn’t very much on the audience at that. The story, except for its opening scenes between husband and wife, is unbelievable, trite, and about as true to life as a tin minnow.

Miss Du Pont showed no emotion other than what might have been expected from a case of acute indigestion and has not yet developed screen personality. She remains a little girl on the midway of life.

Foolish Wives, 1922

Ouch! The Rage of Paris is lost, so we’ll have to take Kingsley’s word for how bad it was. But we can still see Miss Du Pont in Foolish Wives, although now she’s rarely singled out for praise or criticism – Erich von Stroheim takes up most of the space. When the film debuted in Los Angeles on February 15, 1922, she fared a bit better in Edwin Schallert’s review. However, he did remember what Kingsley had said:

Miss Du Pont as the wife deserves a high rating. While she may disappoint as a star in her own productions, there is no question about her being suited to her role, nor her efficiency in portraying it. She is without any great background of character, but she is very attractive.

Miss Du Pont tried to keep her real names secret, but newspapers soon figured them out. She was born Patricia Herrick in Frankfort, Kentucky on April 28, 1894. She married a businessman in Chicago, Joseph P. Hannan, but he deserted her in 1918 (their divorce decree was finalized on April 9, 1922). She was briefly a clothes model for a department store in San Francisco (her co-workers later recognized her in the movies), then she moved to Los Angeles to pursue the same work, where she was hired to be an extra.

Card issued by the American Carmel Company, 1921

Universal really did try to make Pattie Hannan a star. She went on to be the leading lady in such films as The Golden Gallows (1922) and A Wonderful Wife (1922), then the studio moved her to supporting roles in movies like One Night in Rome (1924) and Raffles: The Amateur Cracksman (1925). By 1927 she was on a list in Variety of other pretty young women who “twinkled briefly and were forgotten.”

Sylvanus and Pattie Stokes, January 7, 1928

As Kingsley predicted, Miss Du Pont was just fine after she quit acting, but she didn’t end up in a hat shop. She married a millionaire socialite who was mostly known for his yachting ability, Sylvanus Stokes. He had come to Los Angeles after divorcing his first wife in 1927, where he got hired for bit parts in a few films (he even played a yachtsman in No Place To Go (1927)). When Grace Kingsley asked him how he liked working in pictures, he said, “Sure! I’ve earned $160 in films already. That’s the first money I ever made.”

They got married at the Los Angeles Superior Courthouse on January 7, 1928 and Erich and Valerie Von Stroheim were their witnesses. The Stokes both quit film and moved to a farm in Maryland, and later to Palm Beach, Florida, when they weren’t traveling the world. Stokes died in 1949 of cirrhosis of the liver in Cannes, France. Pattie Stokes returned to Palm Beach where she survived him for many years; she died in 1973.

Paramount Studios trade ad, 1926

Miss Du Pont’s unusual gimmick of having no first name didn’t get repeated. Kingsley said that the idea came from Irving Thalberg, who “for some reason of his own” decided to call her that. In a 1927 Photoplay article about has-been stars, Agnes Smith even blamed her lack of success on it:

 A little blonde girl, Miss Du Pont, never lived down the dreadful name that the producers picked for her. Du Pont is a good name on ammunitions, but it is no monicker for a star. And the lack of a first name was fatal, because the public likes to get intimate with their favorites and the name Miss Du Pont was too ritzy a label. Miss Du Pont had her little fling in Foolish Wives but made a quick fade-out when she tried to be a star.

Agnes Smith’s theories about why stars fade put the blame squarely on the actors themselves, not the fickle public. She didn’t even entertain the notion that sometimes popularity is inexplicable, and the loss of it is equally so. She called her theories “seven gates to oblivion” and wrote “there is no certain way of getting into pictures, but there are plenty of sure-fire ways of getting out of them.” Here’s her list:

  1. Get yourself mixed up, even remotely, in a scandal involving a serious crime or a breach of morals (Roscoe Arbuckle, Mary Miles Minter).
  2. Work up to a hotsy-totsy temperament and overrate you own importance (Alla Nazimova).
  3. If you are a woman, marry a man who is antagonistic to your career or who is a tactless manager (Mae Marsh, Agnes Ayers).
  4. Overplay your type (Theda Bara, William S. Hart).
  5. Allow yourself to be starred before your abilities warrant the promotion (Katherine MacDonald, Lila Lee, Miss Du Pont).
  6. Take too much time off between pictures and allow the public to forget you (Pearl White, J. Warren Kerrigan).
  7. Make a string of plain bad pictures. Most producers can help you in this way (Clara Kimball Young, Anita Stewart).

She concluded with an eighth exit: “sometimes film people actually discover that there are other things in the world besides movies.” She sounded impressed by people who knew when to quit, like Carter de Haven who went into real estate and Ruth Roland who made lots more money from her investments than she did from the movies.

In early October 1921 Kingsley also reviewed a film with a star who hasn’t faded:

That boy Harold Lloyd has excelsiored right to the peak as a film comedian. He’s been there quite a while? Yes, no doubt. But I think maybe he’s found a spot that’s just a little bit farther into rarefied air in Never Weaken.

Never Weaken is at the Symphony this week. And it doesn’t. But you do, with laughter and excitement. Attempting to tell about the picture solemnly is like giving a resume of the comic supplement.

It’s when Harold decides on suicide, because he thinks he’s lost his girl, that the 3000 horsepower hilarity commences. There’s the poison which he doesn’t like the taste of, so he puts sugar in it, numerous other duds, and finally the chair on which he is switched of onto the swinging girder between heaven and earth.

Lloyd is an acrobat, and he does some of the most breathtaking stunts of his career on that steel framework of a skyscraper. I challenge you not to gasp when he slips a couple of floors and catches on that girder! By all means, don’t weaken until you’ve seen Never Weaken.

Lots of people took her advice: it played for seven weeks at the Symphony. Kingsley is still correct about the film, and you can go see it right now if you have the Criterion Channel.

Still packing them in!

“Extra Becomes a Leading Man,” Los Angeles Times, January 8, 1928.

“Film Luminary Gets Divorce,” Los Angeles Times, April 10, 1922.

Grace Kingsley, “Flashes,” June 21, 1924.

Grace Kingsley, “M’Cormicks Prolong Absence,” Los Angeles Times, July 28, 1927.

Agnes Smith, “EXIT—This Way Out,” Photoplay, August 1927, pp.30-31, 116.

“Star Clothes Model?” Norfolk Post, October 21, 1921.

“Tough for Has-Beens,” Variety, June 8, 1926, pp.1-2.

What Does Hollywood Think of Herself?: September 29, 1924 (National Silent Movie Day)

Very little is left of The Legend of Hollywood

This is part of the National Silent Movie Day Blogathon. Be sure to visit the other entries!

To celebrate National Silent Movie Day, I want to remember a lost film. The Library of Congress estimates that 75% of all American silent films are gone. Some are mourned because they were an important part of film history, like Tod Browning’s London After Midnight (1927) and F.W. Murnau’s Four Devils (1928), but most are utterly forgotten, even ones that provided “excellent entertainment.” All we have left of the filmmakers’ hard work are reviews, ads, and still photos.

On this day in 1924, Los Angeles Times film journalist Grace Kingsley noticed how much film people already liked to make movies about themselves in her review of The Legend of Hollywood:

Hollywood is getting to be the greatest heroine of them all! I wonder what she thinks as she sits on her seven or eleven hills and looks at herself in the movies!

She is the heroine again in The Legend of Hollywood, which is the attraction at the California, and which provides excellent entertainment whether you feel that Hollywood is done entire justice to or not.

Everyone having been funny about the town—or melodramatic—Frank Condon, who knows his Hollywood, took it into his head to show up the other side of the pattern that fate weaves about the ambitious screen folk. So he takes a whack at the soul drama.

And what types he gives us! The heroine (ZaSu Pitts) is a perfectly hopeless girl from a small Middle West town, who has about as much chance of making good in pictures as Emily Fitzroy would as a trapeze performer, or as Mildred Harris would have in writing a dictionary.* She is homely, without the slightest sex appeal, with no dramatic gifts and she ends by being a waitress in an actors’ boarding house. The hero (Percy Marmont) is an author, who believes in himself, but who can’t get any producers to put on his stories. Not much of a hero or heroine—just folks, but as such full of the great commonplace drama of the world.

If you expect to see breast-beatings and eye-rollings, don’t go to the California. If you do want to see a bit of plaintive life unrolled, you will like the picture.

Well before Argo (2012) or even Sunset Blvd. (1950), Hollywood has found itself to be fascinating.

Legend was based on an article written by newspaperman-turned-magazine writer Frank Condon, from the March 1924 issue of the fan magazine Photoplay. Film production moved fast then: the movie was funded, written, staffed, shot, edited, and in theaters just five months later!


Another movie based on a Condon story, Hollywood, had been a success a year earlier. It’s presumed lost, too, but because it was directed by James Cruze and has 30 cameos from some of the biggest stars of the time, it’s on “most wanted” lost films lists.

Condon’s article recounted some gossip he’d heard in a drug store on Hollywood Blvd. and again at a party at Adolph Menjou’s house. A failing scriptwriter’s landlady threatened to evict him in a week, and in desperation, he filled seven glasses with wine, put poison in one of them and shuffled them. He drank one a day. On the seventh day, he drank his final glass. Just as he was certain to die, he received a check for an accepted story. Then he learned that the boarding house maid, who loved him, had replaced the glass. He married her and they presumably lived happily ever after. Condon tried to track down the screenwriter but hadn’t been about to find him. So Photoplay offered a thousand-dollar reward to the man, if he’d let them publish his name and photograph.

By August 1924, nobody had come forward to claim the reward and the mystery hadn’t been solved. It was probably just an urban legend; after all, playing Russian roulette with wine is an excessively strange way to die by suicide. In her review Kingsley pointed out another big problem with the story: Hollywood aspirants didn’t live in boarding houses, “they live in apartments and single rooms, the poor ones cooking and washing for themselves.”

Kingsley wasn’t the only reviewer who appreciated The Legend of Hollywood. Wid Gunning in the trade magazine Film Daily admired it, but he recommended:

Don’t herald this as greatest of the year, but you can sell it pretty hard as exceptionally human and appealing story of real life in Hollywood. Properly exploited it should get good business because of the interesting life of studio workers. It is slender and really is characterization study centered on two players. There is one great idea and some corking suspense developed up to one good climax which makes it much more effective than many yarns that have twenty times as much material with none of it carrying a wallop.

As it is you will have to sell your gang on the fact that this is an exceptionally human, real story of the real struggles of folks who try to get into pictures in Hollywood.

Selling a quiet character study that aspires to art has always been a problem. Variety saw the same difficulty: “The Legend of Hollywood has more substance to it than the average picture for the neighborhood theaters, but it has been spread too thinly over too much territory.”

Legend did not fare well in those smaller theaters. Even in 1924 there was a big disparity between what critics liked and what audiences wanted.  Exhibitors’ Herald published notes from theater managers about what the audiences thought of the movies they ran, and their reactions to Legend were blunt and nasty:

  • “The Pathe slow motion pictures have nothing on this. It is the slowest dragged-out picture we have ever run. Poor business.” (Crescent Theater, Newark NY, November 29, 1924)
  • “Rotten, in fact so rotten that we have had to dodge some of our patrons for the past two weeks. One patron asked for money back—another said he’d have gone mad if it would have lasted 15 minutes longer.” (Kreighbaum Bros. Char-Bell Theater, Rochester IN, March 7, 1925)
  • “Absolutely the worst picture I ever played. I can see no excuse for any company issuing such a film as this and also having the crust to charge the price they do. Take my advice, brother exhibitors, and stay clear of this and, if you have it booked, tell them to keep it even if you have to pay for it.” (W.A. Doerschlag, Stand Theater, Ransom KS, April 25, 1925)

Despite this, the people involved with Legend had much better luck in Hollywood than John Smith and Mary Brown. Percy Marmont went on to a long career on stage and screen, including co-starring with Clara Bow in Mantrap (1926) and playing David Livingstone in a 1936 biopic. Zasu Pitts’ career was equally varied. She was mostly known for comedy (particularly for a series of 17 shorts she made with Thelma Todd for Hal Roach in the early 1930’s) but she was also Erich von Stroheim’s favorite dramatic actress, and her work in Greed (1924) was especially memorable. Director Renaud Hoffman continued to direct and produce low-budget films throughout the 1920’s, then he became a screenwriter.

But the most successful crew member was the cinematographer, Karl Struss. He went on to shoot Ben-Hur (1925), Sparrows (1926) and The Great Dictator (1940). He won the first Best Cinematography Oscar, along with Charles Rosher, for Sunrise (1927) and he got nominated three more times, for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), The Sign of the Cross (1934) and Aloma of the South Seas (1941).

To answer Kingsley’s question about what does Hollywood think of herself, The Legend of Hollywood’s version of the story was that aspiring to make movies is awfully unglamorous, difficult, and often in vain. So let’s preserve what we can of what did get made.

Happy National Silent Movie Day!

*Emily Fitzroy was a theatrical and film actress who often played society women and mothers, and being a trapeze performer probably never crossed her mind. However, Kingsley’s remark about Mildred Harris was unkind. She had been a child actress, so her education might have been inadequate for dictionary writing, but people only thought she was stupid because her ex-husband said she was. When she was 16 years old, 29-year-old Charlie Chaplin married her, and when they separated the following year, he told people she wasn’t his “intellectual equal.” The poor woman had enough trouble without nasty remarks from Kingsley!

Frank Condon, “The Legend of Hollywood,” Photoplay, March 1924, p. 34-36, 114-117.

The Legend of Hollywood,” Variety, December 3, 1924, p. 31.

The Legend of Hollywood on the Screen,” Photoplay, August 1924, p. 34.

David Pierce, “The Survival of American Silent Feature Films: 1912-1929.” September 2013.

“Simple But Effective Little Story of a Writer’s Struggles,” Film Daily, December 25, 1924, p. 82.

“What the Picture Did for Me,” Exhibitors Herald, November 29, 1924, p.75.

“What the Picture Did for Me,” Exhibitors Herald, March 7, 1925, p. 80.

“What the Picture Did for Me,” Exhibitors Herald, April 25, 1925, p. 70.

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With Friends Like These: Week of September 24th, 1921

Exhibitors’ Herald, April 9, 1921

One hundred years ago, Grace Kingsley had yet another slow news week. The most interesting story she wrote was about a surprise wedding:

Climaxing a romance which resulted from their close association during the filming of The Affairs of Anatole, showing at Grauman’s Rialto at present, William Boyd and Ruth Miller, Famous Players-Lasky players, are on their honeymoon trip today. They were married Saturday night at the home of Sylvia Ashton. Though a good-natured prank, the wedding ceremony was performed a day ahead of the scheduled time.

Telling the bride that he wished them to pose for a picture, a friend of the pair induced Miss Miller to array herself in her wedding finery and stand at Boyd’s side for the photograph. The electric lights were switched off, then on again, and there stood a minister behind the couple, waiting to perform the ceremony, to which both the principles consented.

Kingsley concluded: “They did not announce to friends the destination of their honeymoon trip.” With friends like theirs, I’d keep it secret too! Who knows what they’d arrange for them, wherever they went.

Ruth Miller (and Gloria Swanson’s foot), The Affairs of Anatole (1921)

Ruth Miller and William Boyd both had uncredited roles in Anatole: Miller played a lady’s maid and Boyd a party guest. Their marriage lasted until 1924. Ruth Miller got married once more, in 1927 to cinematographer Blake Wagner, and stopped acting after the birth of their son. Wagner went on to become a make-up artist, which is an unusual career progression.

William Boyd

William Boyd’s life and career was even more eventful. He continued to work with Cecil B. De Mille, and in the mid-1920’s he became a leading man. Unfortunately, in 1931 a newspaper mistook him for another actor named William Boyd who was arrested, and his studio ended his contract. In 1935, broke and unemployed, he got the part of Hopalong Cassidy, and the films were a hit. More than sixty-five “Hoppy” movies were made. In 1948 he and his fifth wife bought the television rights to those movies and resold them to the new medium, making him one of the first national TV stars. The films’ popularity inspired a radio show, comic strip, and a big demand for product endorsements. In 1953 he sold all his interests in William Boyd Enterprises for 8 million dollars and retired to Palm Dessert.

Nevertheless, I’ve been noticing that Grace Kingsley has been sidelined more and more at work. As this is the least dull story I can find from this week, I think I need to change my blog schedule. Starting in October, I’m going to switch to posting twice a month so I’ll have more material to choose from. When Kingsley gets some interesting writing assignments, it’ll go back to weekly.

 

“William Boyd Dies at 77,” Los Angeles Times, September 14, 1972.

A Melodramatic Love Life: Week of September 17th, 1921

Ruth Renick and Edward Hearn in The Fire Bride (1922). Hearn played a first mate, not a captain, but close enough

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley told a cute story about an actress who went on to have an even more eventful love life:

Going down to the South Sea Islands doesn’t seem to have taken a bit of pep out of Ruth Renick, who plays the leading feminine role in the Far East Production’s feature, The Lagoon of Desire, which is being made in Tahiti. Here’s an excerpt from her diary, which she sent me in lieu of a letter:

First day out: Sea rough, but am not seasick.

Second day: Gave the first-class passengers the once over and found them rather uninteresting.

Third day: Met the captain and found him exceedingly interesting.

Fourth day: Walked with the captain on the promenade deck. He wanted to kiss me, but nothing doing.

Fifth day: The captain swore that he would sink the ship if I refused to kiss him.

Sixth day: Saved a thousand lives.

What a brave act of self-sacrifice! I’m sure her fellow passengers were grateful.

Renick and the film crew had left for Tahiti in August, and they returned to Los Angeles in November. Their movie’s title was changed to The Fire Bride, and it told the story of American treasure hunters looking for gold on a South Sea island. When it came out in 1922, C.S. Sewell in Moving Picture World thought that the tropical scenery was striking and beautiful, but the story wasn’t always convincing, and the cast was merely satisfactory. It’s a lost film.

Ruth Renick

Even though the film wasn’t a big hit, Ruth Renick continued to work in both film and on stage. Born Ruth Griffith in Colorado City, Texas in 1893, she got her start as an actress in stock companies in the 1910’s. She became a film actress in 1919; her most remembered role was as Douglas Fairbanks’ leading lady in The Mollycoddle (1920).

Douglas Fairbanks and Ruth Renick, The Mollycoddle (1920)

She returned to the stage at the Fulton Theater in Oakland, and that’s where her personal life again got featured in the newspapers. In early 1924, her family got a telegram that she’d married one Wellington L. Belford. As the Newspaper Enterprise Association Service (January 15, 1922) reported,

He was a brilliant conversationalist, was clever with magic tricks and claimed to possess hypnotic powers. The romance was short and snappy. Marriage followed quickly. In fact, it happened so mysteriously that relatives of Miss Renick investigated.

It turned out that the wedding was mysterious because it wasn’t real. An Associated Press story (January 13, 1922) told what happened next:

Wellington L. Belford was arrested today in the honeymoon suite of a fashionable Oakland hotel as a result of information furnished by J.C. Walden, brother-in-law of Miss Ruth Renick, screen and vaudeville actress, who claims to be Belford’s bride. Belford, who is charged with impersonating an army officer, is quoted as saying he was not married.

Perth Amboy Evening News, February 4, 1924.

I thought that fake marriages only happened in fiction! Apparently, that wasn’t as much of a problem as impersonating an Army major. When a judge asked him why he was wearing an officer’s uniform, Belford said “It pleases my vanity.” He told the police that he was a screenwriter. He paid $500 bail and promptly disappeared, last seen “on the seat of a baggage truck which was taking his belongings from an expensive suite at the Hotel Oakland.” He had a good reason to leave: the police soon got a telegram from authorities in Detroit where he was wanted on a charge of embezzling $15,000. Then detectives in New York chimed in, with news that he was implicated in a bank swindle at New Rochelle.

The cops finally tracked him down in 1925, and they tricked him into crossing the Canadian border near Seattle where they promptly arrested him and sent him back to Detroit. There were no more newspaper stories about what happened next (except for one in 1928 that said the impersonating an officer charges were dismissed), but if the papers were correct and his name really was Martin Livingston Belfort, then by 1930 he was still in Detroit and working as a sales manager for a car company. In 1933 he married Anna Mae Pulver, a public school teacher, and they divorced in 1939. In 1940 he remained in Detroit, but he’d opened his own insurance agency. He died on September 26, 1968.

Newspapers mentioned that Renick tried to annul the marriage, but the courts told her they couldn’t annul something that didn’t happen. Renick got through the public embarrassment and continued to act on stage and in film. She married James F. Lee Jr., a newspaper reporter for the Los Angeles Examiner, on June 25, 1936 and she died on May 7, 1984 in Los Angeles, where she’s buried in the Hollywood Forever cemetary.

“Belford May Be Wanted in Detroit; Girl’s Mother Comes,” Santa Cruz Evening News, January 14, 1924.

The Fire Bride,” Moving Picture World, March 25, 1922, p.404.

“Hypnotism—Or Wedding?” Perth Amboy Evening News, February 4, 1924.

“’Love Pirate’ Gets Case Dismissed,” San Francisco Examiner, September 16, 1928.

“Maj. Bedford Arrested in Oakland, Cal.” Marshall Evening Chronicle, January 15, 1924.

“’Major’ Belford is Wanted in Swindle,” Los Angeles Daily News, January 15, 1924.

“Number Seek Bogus Major,” San Bernardino Sun, January 16, 1924.

“Police Intrude on Unlicensed Honeymoon and ‘Groom’ Jailed,” Humboldt Times, January 13, 1924.

‘A Jitney Jury:’ Week of September 10th, 1921

Virginia Rappe

One hundred years ago this week, a tragedy occurred that still has writers like James Reidel and Popegrutch trying to figure out exactly what happened. Grace Kingsley didn’t offer her opinion about what went on, but she was there to describe some of what people in Hollywood had to say about it:

The Los Angeles motion-picture colony is stirred as never before in its somewhat lively history by the sensational Arbuckle-Rappe case and the indictment of Roscoe Arbuckle on the charge of manslaughter. There’s a jitney jury on every studio set, sitting out the death watch. Groups of picture players gather about at every pause in the film work to discuss developments in the case. Opinions and sympathies are as diverse as the four quarters of the earth regarding the truth of the charges made against Arbuckle and concerning the outcome of his probably trial.

Some paint Arbuckle as a behalo’d saint. Others are busy all day hacking his monogram.

Buster Keaton

Gloom so thick you can cut it with a knife has gathered over most of the picture folk, especially in studios where Arbuckle is intimately known. Buster Keaton’s studio suspended work for two days following the arrest of the comedian. Mr. Keaton was one of Arbuckle’s comedians before he branched out as a star on his own.

“We just couldn’t work,” said Buster with a real choke in his voice and tears in his eyes. To those who know Buster this rare show of feeling reveals how deep his emotions in this matter really are.

At the Lasky studio, where Arbuckle was so well known and so well liked, and at the Realart studio, the crepe stuff is simply gumming up the breezes. Comedians are playing their scenes with the muffler on; leading ladies in sob stories find it very easy to weep. Every edition of the papers is brought to the studios, and a running fire of explosive comment accompanies the reading of each fresh page, along with the murmured obbligato of independent conjecture and gossip.

Wallace Reid — his death due to morphine addiction in 1923 caused another scandal

Not everybody wanted to be part of that jitney jury: some just wanted the subject to go away. At a party at Wallace Reid’s house, they tried to chat and play billiards, “but there was an indefinable sadness over everybody. Somebody said something about how dreadful it all was, and Mr. Reid turned quickly. ‘We aren’t talking about that,’ he remonstrated sharply.”

Like Kingsley, I don’t have a useful opinion to add to the enormous pile of stuff already written about the case. Gilbert King wrote an even-handed summary of it for the Smithsonian Magazine, if you want an overview. 

April 15, 1922

However, I did learn how eager some filmgoers were to forgive Arbuckle after he was acquitted at his third trial on Wednesday, April 12, 1922. His movie Gasoline Gus had been withdrawn from the Million Dollar Theater on the same day that the first newspaper reports appeared that linked Arbuckle to Rappe’s death (September 10, 1921), and the film was returned to the screen nearly as quickly after the acquittal. It opened at the New Garrick Theater on April 15th, 1922 and Kingsley’s report and review appeared on the 17th. She mentioned that he was back in Los Angeles, then said:

Fatty’s celluloid double came back in Gasoline Gus, too, at the Garrick, and was greeted by crowds, who cheered and applauded him, both Saturday and yesterday.

If the comedian had arranged a professional come-back himself, he couldn’t have stage-managed the job as Fate did it for him. For the audiences weren’t professional audiences who greeted him, but the fans who have waited all this time for another booming laugh, such as only Fatty and a few others can give them. And they cheered his first appearance on the screen and applauded when the picture was finished and laughed in between.

Gasoline Gus is perhaps the best picture which Fatty Arbuckle ever made. In it he has returned to his old jazz comedy, the comedy of whimsical gags, of funny falls and of his own peculiar style of romping through the picture. Yet there is pathos, too, and there is a lot of thrilling suspense and action. It was showing at Grauman’s and was taken off when Arbuckle was arrested.

April 16, 1922

So it seemed like audiences were ready to go to his movies. On April 17th, the Times reported that Paramount studio president Adolph Zukor had wired the West Coast studio that they would immediately release three pictures that Arbuckle had already finished for them, Gasoline Gus, Freight Prepaid and Leap Year.  Zukor said, “We are confident the American public is eminently fair and realize by this time that Arbuckle has been the victim of unfortunate circumstances.”

However, on April 18th, Will Hays, in his first act as the head of the brand-new Motion Picture Producers and Distributors organization, officially banned Arbuckle from appearing on the screen. Bert Lennon, the publicity director at the New Garrick Theater, told the Times that they would abide by his decision. They replaced Gasoline Gus with a Cecil B. De Mille comedy, Saturday Night, which had run earlier that year. Hays changed his mind eight months later, but by then it was too late, and Arbuckle never had the same success as a film actor. Needing work, he returned to touring in vaudeville and directing films.

“Arbuckle Film Withdrawn,” Los Angeles Times, September 12, 1921.

“Ban Put on Arbuckle,” Los Angeles Times, April 19, 1922.

“Fatty Has Three Releases,” Los Angeles Times, April 17, 1922.

“Mystery Death Takes Actress,” Los Angeles Times, September 10, 1921.

Edwin Schallert, “Reviews,” Los Angeles Times, September 6, 1921.

A Cheerful Home: Week of September 3rd, 1921

The Hollywood Studio Club on Carlos Ave.

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley told readers that young aspiring actresses weren’t always victims of leering studio bosses, if they lived at the Hollywood Studio Club:

“Oh, what a beautiful, big, cheerful home,” I had exclaimed an hour earlier, as we rounded a corner of Carlos Street, out in Hollywood, when there burst on my view a big colonial house, its windows all alight, while the sound of cheerful voices floated out to me from all the windows.

The club is for all the world like a college girls’ sorority.

Fundraising for the HSC

The article’s purpose wasn’t only to reassure the public that women in Hollywood could live in a clean, affordable, and chaperoned place, they were also starting a fundraising drive to build another dormitory to house “young girls who came in crowds to the city, seeking work in pictures.” Kingsley thought it was a worthwhile project, and said:

Let those who rail against the motion-picture business take a peep at this home. Then let them stop howling for a moment, while they dig down in their jeans to help the cause, focusing their minds carefully, meanwhile, on the hardships and trials of these girls, with their earnest ambitions, their struggles, their determination to keep their lives wholesome and straight at any cost.

At least the industry acknowledged that there was a problem of skeevy men preying on vulnerable women, and they helped fund the Club. The Hollywood Studio Club was founded in 1916 by a librarian, Eleanor Jones, who had noticed aspiring actresses forming a play-reading club at the Hollywood Branch library. She was worried about their safety, so she asked the YWCA to help start a place for them to gather. She went on to get donations from studios and businesses, and they rented that house on Carlos Avenue with enough space for 20 women to live.

The fundraising efforts that Kingsley wrote about took awhile, but in 1926, they built a larger building on Lodi Place, designed by architect Julia Morgan. It could house 88 women. Open to any woman who was looking for a career in motion pictures, they offered two meals a day, performing arts classes, job bulletin boards and rehearsal rooms. Residents were limited to living there for 3 years.

The second Hollywood Studio Club

The HSC provided a home for thousands of women over the decades, but by the mid-1960’s ideas about women being able to look after themselves had changed and it began to lose money. It closed in 1975. Since 2018 it’s been crisis housing for women, run by the city of Los Angeles.

A few of the women who lived there did succeed in the movie business, including ZaSu Pitts, Janet Gaynor, Linda Darnell, Marilyn Monroe, and Rita Moreno, but most did not, including the woman Kingsley chose as a sample resident, Ethel Kaye. Here’s her story:

One day she sat looking about her apartment. It wasn’t a bit of trouble to see it all from where she sat. And from that vantage point she saw also that her cupboard resembled Old Mother Hubbard’s in the painful particular in the childish classic. She shook her purse, and no cheerful jingle proceeded therefrom. Just then (even at the risk of having this sound like a melodrama, I’ve got to tell the truth), in came the landlady with the usual conversation about the rent. So she’d have to leave. And she didn’t have money enough to buy her dinner!

But at that very moment, the telephone rang, knocking in the head the usual take-your-trunk-and-get-out business.

“Come on over to the Studio Club, dearie!” came a voice over the wire. “We’ve got a room for you now!” Never was message so sweet to a girl’s ears. The girl went over to the Hollywood Studio clubhouse and was met at the door by Miss [Marion] Hunter.

“Do—do I have to pay in advance?” she asked in trembling tones.

“Come in, my dear! Of course not! You may wait until you get work.”

That really happened, and the girls was a picture actress who is well on her way to fame now. Her name is Ethel Kaye. She has just been engaged to play the lead in the Goldwyn feature, Hungry Hearts.

“And I could never have held on,” explained Miss Kaye to me, “if it hadn’t been for the Studio Club.”

Kingsley didn’t know it, but Ethel Kaye was an excellent example, because like so many women who lived at the Studio Club, she didn’t become a star. After small roles in The New Moon (1919) and a serial called Trailed By Three (1920) in New York, she came to California where she had another small part in Heroes and Husbands (1922). Then she had that big break Kingsley mentioned, which she had announced a few days earlier:

Another young genius has been discovered by Samuel Goldwyn, who is doing a vast lot of Columbusing these days. She is Ethel Kaye, a very beautiful young girl, a Russian, and she is to play the leading role in Anzia Yezierska’s Hungry Hearts, when that picture goes into production soon…Singularly enough Miss Kaye has undergone some of the difficulties, hardships and some of the spectacular adventures as well, which she will portray on the screen, and which the author herself suffered.

The stuff about her adventures and being from Russian herself was probably nonsense; she told the 1930 census taker she was born in New York to parents from New York and Connecticut. Sadly, just as she thought her career was turning around, she got sick and was replaced as the lead in Hungry Hearts by Helen Ferguson. Kaye didn’t appear in any more movie credits after that. The following year she decided to give up and return to New York, where she married a dentist, James Henegan. Nevertheless, the Hollywood Studio Club did exactly what it was supposed to do for her: gave her a safe place to live until she realized her dreams of stardom weren’t going to happen. She didn’t become a cautionary tale for other young women.

Hungry Hearts with Helen Ferguson and Bryant Washburn

Ironically, the Studio Club article appeared in the paper during the same Labor Day weekend that Virginia Rappe went to a party in Roscoe Arbuckle’s hotel room in San Francisco, and people are still discussing what happened there. Kingsley’s stories about that will start next week.

If you’d like to learn more about the Hollywood Studio Club, Mary Mallory has blogged about it and Cari Beauchamp wrote an article for Vanity Fair.

“Ethel Kay to Flit,” Los Angeles Times, October 18, 1922.

“Goldwyn Studio Activities,” Motion Picture News, October 22, 1921, p.2179.

In just a few weeks, it will be National Silent Movie Day! If you’d like to contribute a blog post, visit Silent-ology or In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood for more information.

Not Enough Tiger Bites: Week of August 6th, 1921


Now all that’s left are the posters. You can find reprints for sale online

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley had some unrealistic expectations when she visited a theater:

The Symphony is still jungling but if you go down there expecting to see in Miracles of the Jungle anything of the miracles of natural history, you’ll be disappointed. There’s darned little nature, except as revealed in naked forms, and no history natural or otherwise. The miracles are like unto the ancient serial ones, disclosed in The Perils of Pauline, the Cuttings of Kathleen, and such-like film literature of ancient vintage.

In short, it’s all pretty much like the naïve blood-and-thunder stuff that Penrod used to write, out in the old barn. There are buryings alive, poisoned bathing suits, and such-like cheerful carryings on, with the hero and heroine always escaping just in time to kick old man Death in the eye. The king-pin miracle man is the death-proof Zeda, who is another Maciste in his ability to break down doors and smash chains.

They’re a funny lot, those characters in serials, aren’t they? They never seem to learn anything. They may be gagged and bound and carried off and dropped down wells a hundred times, and the next time anybody whistles down an alley, there they are all ready and fresh for a new adventure. I suppose they’d think it was awfully dull if they weren’t nearly drowned or burned or hanged several times each day.

In the present Book of Jungle Miracles, the chief aim and ambition of everybody seems to be to get the lions and tigers to bite somebody. But they never do it. Even when the animals have the best chance in the world, they don’t do it. I guess maybe the play didn’t fool them either.

Grace Kingsley had had enough! She really shouldn’t have expected a documentary: the ads made it clear that it wasn’t educational. The L.A. Times rarely reviewed shorter films, but the Symphony was showing six to eight reels each week of the thirty-reel serial as a feature. Maybe serials are better in smaller doses, and eight reels at one sitting are just too much.

She didn’t bother to catch the actors’ names, but that was just as well, because she didn’t think much of them:

There’s a fat, musical comedy king, and there’s a vamp in modish jungle attire, viz, a couple of tiger skins torn in all the becoming places, there’s giant Zeda, who wears only an inadequate little curtain and a heroine in khaki. There’s also a mad prince. I should think he would be mad, the way people leave him in the lurch and lose themselves in jungles.

Well, one thing you can say for the Miracles, there are no dull moments. Either Zeda is chewing up a tree, the tiger is taking a peek at the human menu, or the heroine is finding something new to fall off of or into.

No dull moments—what else do you want from a movie in the middle of August? I bet her negative review sold some tickets. Other reviewers who went in expecting a serial hated it much less than she did. C.S. Sewell in Moving Picture World wrote, “Judging from the first three episodes, the thrills are of such quality and quantity as to satisfy the most exacting serial fans… the action deals with two secret service men who are sent from America to find a man in Africa who is suspected of murder.” Exhibitors’ Herald had equally realistic expectations, and said: “the first three episodes of this serial indicate that it stands out above the usual wild animal serial. The story is more or less plausible, and the thrills are very well directed.”

The man responsible for directing it well was Edgar Allen Martin. A former stage actor, he began in the film industry as a writer for Selig in 1911, and he became a director there in 1913, beginning with one-reel dramas like Her Stepmother (1913). In 1914 he started mostly specializing in shorts that featured animals, like The Lion Hunter (1914) and Perils of the Jungle (1915). In 1920 he made his first serial The Lost City, and they made Miracles of the Jungle to capitalize on its success. Unfortunately, it was his last film. In October, Selig announced plans to make another jungle serial, but it never got made. After working with William Selig for his whole movie career, in December 1921 Martin took him to court to recover $18,950 he said he was owed. There was no further news about it in paper, so they might have settled. Martin died in 1926.

You probably won’t be shocked to learn that they lied in some of the publicity material. Miracles was shot in darkest Edendale, not Africa, and it was a showcase for the animals of the Selig Zoo. Mary Mallory has written about its history; they tried to make it a theme park but that didn’t work out.

Grace Kingsley’s vacation didn’t come a moment too soon. She took the next few weeks off, and so will the blog. Enjoy your August!

 

“Jungle Film’s Second Book at Symphony,” Los Angeles Times, August 7, 1921.

“New Selig Animal Jungle Serial,” Motion Picture News, October 8, 1921, p. 1893.

“Open Trial of Suit Against Producer,” Los Angeles Herald, December 1, 1921.

“Reviews,” Exhibitors’ Herald, April 30, 1921, p. 64.

C.S. Sewell, “Miracles of the Jungle,” Moving Picture World, April 23, 1921, p. 881.

“Some Unusual Jungle Heroes at Symphony,” Los Angeles Times, August 21, 1921.

Getting Ahead of a Problem: Week of July 30th, 1921

Editing Foolsih Wives

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on a film executive who did his best to anticipate trouble:

It is estimated at Universal City that Foolish Wives, the $1,000,000 super-feature, will be released early in October. Erich von Stroheim, who directed it, is now making the first screen cut. It will be ready for its preview on the 15th when censors will arrive at Universal City from all over the country to view the production, and confer with Irving G. Thalberg, general manager, at Universal, as to whether Foolish Wives needs the scissors in spots, or whether it may be shown just as it stands.

Irving Thalberg

Irving Thalberg was good at his job. Only 22 years old, it’s no wonder he’d been promoted so quickly at Universal. There was plenty in his studio’s million-dollar investment to horrify censors; von Stroheim’s story of a con artist who seduces and swindles rich women in Monte Carlo featured lechery, adultery, gambling, murder, arson, suicide, plus abuse of a mentally disabled girl. Von Stroheim made sure that his villain was utterly villainous! So Thalberg planned a week-long junket to flatter a collection of censors. The Los Angeles Times reported on his program:

Members of the official censor boards of Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland and of the cities of Detroit and Kansas City, assembled in Chicago as guests of Carl Laemmle of the Universal Film Company, will leave today for Los Angeles.

The party will arrive in Los Angeles at 2:40 p.m. Sunday, August 14, over the Santa Fe. Harry M. Berman, general sales manager of Universal, will be in charge of the delegation.

After a brief reception at the station at which Mr. Thalberg will welcome the members of the commission to Southern California on behalf of Carl Laemmle, the party will be motored to the Beverly Hills Hotel, where Stanley Anderson, managing director of the hostelry, will participate in entertaining them. Following a dinner at the hotel, the censors will receive Los Angeles newspaper writers, representatives of the motion-picture trade publications and correspondents of news services.

Festivities during the first day of the censors’ stay include a luncheon at the studio, a tour of Universal City, a trip to Santa Monica, sea bathing and a barbecue. In the evening the members will be the guests of the Emanuel Presbyterian Brotherhood at a meeting of particular interest to those concerned in censorship.

Tuesday will be devoted to a personally conducted tour of other picture studios, where the censors may see for themselves just how things are done, and to a luncheon at Beverly Hills Hotel, followed by a motor trip through Pasadena.

As by this time the censors should be in high, good humor, they are to experience the “great moment” of their visit. They’re going to be allowed to take a peek at Eric von Stroheim’s Foolish Wives.

Wednesday will be a gala day. The guests will be conveyed to Universal city early in the morning for an animal circus at the Universal City arena. A.C. Stecker, chief animal trainer, will put on a thrilling animal act. On the same day the censors will meet such celebrities as Priscilla Dean, Harry Carey, Gladys Walton, Frank Mayo, Eddie Polo, Marie Prevost, Art Acord, Eileen Sedgwick, Lee Moran, Bert Roach and the battalion of noted Universal directors.

This event will lead up logically to the entertainment at Sunset Inn of the noted guests, with no less seductive a person than Priscilla Dean as hostess. And just as if this weren’t enough merriment for one week, the censors will be the guests next day of Harry Carey at his western ranch.

Once more Foolish Wives will be shown the censors, this event happening on Thursday evening, when the guests will be asked to comment on the picture. Eric von Stroheim will be present, too, and will make a little talk.

If there is anything in the picture’ the censors don’t like, it is likely to be forgotten next day, when they will be taken on a trip to Catalina Island, where they will be the guests of William Wrigley, Jr., and Sunday will be devoted to religious services according to the preference of the visitors.

They kept them busy! Thalberg’s wining and dining of the censors worked, at first (no wonder people called him the Boy Genius). According to Motion Picture News, by the end of their trip the censors gave Foolish Wives their official approval; after seeing a 24-reel version of it they

were sincere in their praise and but a few minor changes were suggested. “The consensus of our opinion,” said Harry Knapp, who acted as chairman of the censors in their convention, and who is also chairman of the Pennsylvania State Board of Censors, “is that the picture will prove a highly interesting entertainment when it is finally shipped into the more contracted shape required for public exhibition.

What happened next was beyond Thalberg’s control. Over the following weekend the events leading to the Roscoe Arbuckle scandal happened, and he was arrested on September 17th. Public opinion turned against the perceived corrupting influence of Hollywood. Thalberg responded by ordering extensive editing of Foolish Wives, which delayed its release.

By the end of November, Exhibitors Herald reported that von Stroheim was off the project. They thought that it was at his own request: “After having attempted for several months to get the world’s most expensive motion picture production cut down to exhibition length, Eric von Stroheim has given up the task. Either that of General Manager Irving Thalberg of Universal has taken it away from von Stroheim—probably the former.”

Foolish Wives premiered in New York in January 1922, and the controversy didn’t hurt it a bit. On January 14th, Kingsley reported:

Now that von Stroheim’s great feature picture, Foolish Wives, has made a sensational hit in New York, as—according to a telegram received yesterday by Irving G. Thalberg, from President Carl Laemmle—it has, Universal officials are drawing a long breath, and are preparing for the biggest invasion of the field of picture are which Universal has ever known.

However, the New York State Censorship Board demanded more cuts even after it opened. According to von Stroheim’s biographer, Richard Koszarski, another 3500 feet were eliminated; “audiences attending New York’s Central Theater during January 1922 could watch the film wasting away, literally day by day, until it had lost a full hour.”

It opened in Los Angeles in that ten-reel version a month later on February 15th. Kingsley’s boss Edwin Schallert reviewed it, and had a mixed reaction: “There is much, nay a tremendous lot, to admire in settings, acting and photography. There is a great deal, on the other hand, to find fault with in the matter of continuity, drama, and theme. This much is certain, however, that Foolish Wives is utterly different from anything that has come to the silver screen. There is nothing commonplace or trite about its manner or its method.”

It stayed at the Mission Theater until the end of March; they estimated over 100,000 people saw it at that one theater alone.

Now it’s a considered a classic. In 2008, it was added to the Library of Congress’ Film Registry. People still write about it, and it has a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes!

 

Jay Balfour, “Von Stroheim Gives Up Task of Cutting Special,” Exhibitors Herald, November 26, 1921, p.36.

Harry Hammond Beall, “Personality of Film Folks has Conquered Censors,” Exhibitors Herald, September 3, 1921, p. 32.

“Censors Approve of Foolish Wives,” Motion Picture News, September 3, 1921, p.1195.

“Censors Enjoy Varied Views of Studioland,” Los Angeles Times, August 18, 1921.

“Censors Pleased with Foolish Wives; Few Suggestions of Eliminations Made. Moving Picture World, September 3, 1921, p. 52.

“Censors Show Their Talents in Acting,” Los Angeles Times, August 19, 1921.

“Film Censors Coming Here,” Los Angeles Times, August 10, 1921.

“Foolish Wives is to Close Tuesday,” Los Angeles Times, March 26, 1921.

Grace Kingsley,” Flashes,” Los Angeles Times, January 14, 1921.

Richard Kosazrski, Von: The Life and Films of Erich von Stroheim, New York: Limelight, 2004.

Edwin Schallert, “Foolish Wives Haut Realism,” Los Angeles Times, February 16, 1921.

Summer Doldrums: Week of July 23rd, 1921

One hundred years ago this week, movie news was stuck in the late July doldrums and Grace Kingsley was at her desk, reporting on other people’s plans to get out of town. Actress Ruth Renick was off to Montecito and Virginia Valli was touring Southern California in her car. Among the directors, Frank Lloyd was sailing to Hawaii for a month, and Rex Ingram was mapping out of tour of Europe, where he planned to make movies.

Yikes! If Ingram hadn’t gone to Europe, we might not have I Know Where I’m Going — director Michael Powell had his first film experience on the set of Ingram’s Mare Nostrum (1926) in Nice, France

Kingsley didn’t just have to write about other people’s fun, the movies she had to review weren’t particularly good. Little Italy was “a sort of jitney Romeo and Juliet with two American-born young Italians of rival families.” However, the film begins with their wedding, and she thought there wasn’t a good reason for the feud to continue. Eventually a baby solves everything. Kingsley observed “how many a suffering scenario writer, up a stump as to finishing a story, has been found with child, and all was sweetness and light!”

She also sat through Raoul Walsh’s The Oath, which to her was “another fine superstructure built on sand. Built so that it topples at a comic and absurd angle, just when it should be most compelling.” This one was about a Jewish girl who marries a gentile boy, but it descended into melodrama when the boy is suspected of murdering his father and the girl “goes around tearing her hair and beating her breast for no reason whatever, except to spin the yarn out to five reels, and at the end she goes and stands on a rock like a bathing beauty, waiting to suicide.”

The stills from The Fighting Lover that Moving Picture World ran are a little dark.

Finally, she endured The Fighting Lover, a mystery involving diamond theft starring Frank Mayo that had a real problem: “The scenes are always so very dark that you haven’t an idea of what is happening.”

Matters were so dire, that she was reduced to complaining about the stuff publicists were pitching her:

Whatever would the poor publicity men do nowadays without the stories concerning—

* The faithful old gate man who didn’t know the picture producer on his own lot, and tried to put him off, but was so much appreciated that he got promoted to being inside doorman?

* The joke about “stills” and prohibition?

* The heroine rescuing the heavy man from a watery grave?

* The crowd not knowing it was a picture being taken, etc., etc.

* The father that found his long lost when he sighted her working as an extra in a picture?

* Not to mention the young ladies who get lost and wander away into the brush?

Luckily, Kingsley had only two more weeks until her vacation began.

I hope your summer is more fun than hers was!