Week of September 15th, 1917

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One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley had a chat with Cecil B. De Mille about the immediate future of films. He had just finished shooting his last collaboration with Geraldine Farrar, The Devil’s Stone, and was beginning to think about his next project. He said:

As to the nature and subject of pictures, the suggestive film and that dealing morbidly with sex matters are dead already. Clean, cheerful, human themes will be the favorites. In any case, screen productions will divide themselves into two classes—they are beginning to do so already, in fact—viz., the flashy melodrama and the bright, clever, clean drama appealing to intelligent people.

While the whole industry didn’t follow his lead, this was fairly true for the films he was to make over the next few years, which ranged from the melodrama of a cursed Viking emerald in The Devil’s Stone to the cheerful, not morbid film about sex matters Don’t Change Your Husband (1918).

 

He was perhaps deliberately vague about the plans for his next film, saying it would not be a war film or a story of international intrigue, but it would be “imbued with a tremendous spirit of patriotism and will be entirely unique in theme.” This turned out to be far from the final result. The Whispering Chorus told the story of an indebted accountant who embezzles money from his employer, fakes his own death by changing clothes with the corpse of a homeless man, then gets arrested for the corpses’ murder and goes to the electric chair for the crime. Ooof! De Mille’s patriotic project must have been shelved. Fritzi Kramer has a review of The Whispering Chorus at Movies Silently.

De Mille’s other prediction didn’t come true as much as I ‘d like. He said that “feature” films of eight or nine reels were doomed, and the ideal length was five. “No matter how good the picture, people grow weary if required to remain a longer time than that called for by the five reeler.” Yes, exactly! If only everybody had listened to him – himself included. But the main lesson from the interview is don’t talk to journalists about your next project until it’s finished or you’ll probably be wrong.

 

Kingsley’s favorite film this week, Sirens of the Sea, was certainly different from the other pictures out at the time. A group of modern young people visit an island and in a dream sequence are transformed into sirens and Greek warriors; “the sirens long to become mortal and win love and happiness.” She thought that director Allen Holubar “has done it so skillfully, has so artfully transferred the fragile charm of youth to the screen, that the most practical among us is disarmed of prejudice against the too-fanciful, and is placed completely under the spell of the story’s absorbing charm.” She hoped that “this is merely the beginning of Holubar’s work in the realm of poetic fancy.” It’s a lost film.

 

Unfortunately for Kingsley, Holubar stayed away from fantasy for the rest of his career and mostly made serious dramas, usually featuring his wife, Dorothy Phillips (Lon Chaney’s co-star in the late teens). His next film was Fear Not, a crime drama about drug abuse. He died of pneumonia following gallstone surgery in 1923.

 

Kinglsey repeated a story from D.W. Griffith’s publicity man this week:

According to authentic reports, those two geniuses, D.W. Griffith and Bernard Shaw, have met. The momentous event occurred in London. It is related Mr. Shaw even ran right home from the dinner party where the two celebrities met, and fetched back a scenario. Mr. Griffith did not, however, so far as can be learned, purchase it. W.E. Keefe, Griffith’s press agent, volunteers the information that he knows the reason. “I’ll bet I know why Griffith didn’t buy it. It didn’t have any pep.”

It’s wise to distrust a publicist, but according to Griffith’s biographer Richard Schickel, the meeting actually did take place — just over lunch, not dinner. Griffith met with lots of famous literary men during his trip to England, including H.G. Wells, G.K. Chesterton and John Galsworthy, to ask them how he could contribute to the war effort. Schickel (quoting Griffith’s autobiography) said that Shaw was a little cranky and after trying to give Griffith a script, he began to lecture him on what was wrong with American films so the director left the luncheon early. (p.345). However, he didn’t mention pep or lack of it in the scenario.

If Shaw shared his thoughts on Intolerance, it’s no wonder Griffith dined and dashed. In a May 14, 1917 letter to Judge Henry Neil, he wrote “it was the most damnable entertainment and the wickedest waste of money within my experience. It was like turning over the leaves of a badly illustrated Bible (in monthly parts) for three hours that were like three years.” So did he ask for a refund? Their conversation could be the basis for a two-actor play.

Shaw’s plays weren’t adapted to silent films, even though he was offered lots of money for the rights. The first was an experimental talkie made in 1927: an eleven-minute scene from Saint Joan performed by Sybil Thorndike. He went on to adapt two of his plays into a couple of the best British films ever made, Pygmalion (1938) and Major Barbara (1941).

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Kingsley enjoyed “the amusing little comedy” A Stormy Knight, but she noted “a fault in the photoplay is that it has too many automobile chases—so many, in fact, that it might well be suspected a real estate agent and an automobile man had something to do with the staging!” (What would she say about a Fast and the Furious movie?) Franklyn Farnum starred in this now-lost film as a young man whose father wanted him to marry, so the father stages a fake kidnapping, because naturally his son would fall in love with a damsel in distress.

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I don’t want to think about how much the land behind the Kops costs now.

I can understand the car salesmen profiting, but I’d never thought about realtors. But of course, in 1917 the chases would go past many houses and vacant lots waiting to be sold and potential buyers throughout the country could see them. Hollywood films really would have been a real estate selling tool.

 

Week of September 8th, 1917

 

 

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley wrote the “very touching little story” of how Ruby Lafayette got her break in Hollywood at age 73 with the film Mother o’ Mine. Miss Lafayette had a fifty-year long career as a respected stage actress who toured the Midwest with her own company, performing plays like Pygmalion and Galatea* and Damon and Pythias. She and her husband, fellow actor John T. Curran, retired to a ranch in Lampasas, Texas. Kingsley picked up the story from there:

But she lost her husband and things went wrong on the ranch. Not long ago, without giving anybody any inkling of what she intended to do, she packed up and came West, making her appearance early one morning at Universal City. Rupert Julian had long wanted to put the Kipling poem into celluloid drama. He chanced to be passing through the office. He saw the little old lady, turned and took another look, and began to talk with her. She told him of her experience, her eagerness to work. Julian wanted to put Mother o’ Mine right on, but the powers-that-be wouldn’t let him at that time. So Miss Lafayette went back to the Texas farm. Then one day when things were looking the darkest for the brave little old soul, who was trying to make things go all alone and having a hard time of it, she got a letter from Mr. Julian. Mother o’ Mine was to be filmed after all, an nobody would do for the part except Miss Lafayette! So out she came again, and everybody who saw the tender, appealing, delightful characterization which she gave at the Garrick a couple of weeks ago, will rejoice that she is to appear on the screen in other pictures.

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Kingsley didn’t know how right she was: Lafayette appeared in at least 30 films over the next 15 years (her Motion Picture Herald obituary estimated it was 200). She billed herself as “the oldest actress on the screen” and she played lots of grandmothers. She died in 1935 when she was 90, after a great third act.

Funnily enough, the same Sunday column opened with observations on how leading ladies were becoming younger and younger. Kingsley wrote “sixteen years old seems to be the popular age, just now,” then she recounted the story of a 22 year old actress “who was told, when she asked for a certain part: “Why my dear, you can’t have that part. You’re older than Methuselah!”

 

Kingsley’s favorite film this week was Polly of the Circus, which was “a huge success. Never in its palmist stage days did the play achieve the brilliant triumph which its film twin promises, with Mae Marsh in the leading role…And what a wonderful little girl Polly was! We never knew just how wonderful until we saw Mae Marsh play the role…what a creature of imaginativeness, of sensibility, of sturdy loyalty and affectionateness Miss Marsh has made her!”

The audience in Los Angeles were big fans of Miss Marsh, too; “all day and all evening huge crowds waited outside the theater.” Kingsley also appreciated the script that transferred the “quaint charm” of the play to the screen, the photography, and the orchestra and lighting effects. It told the story of a young circus horseback rider who is injured in an accident and stays with a minster while she recovers. Polly was the first film produced by Goldwyn Pictures, and it was the first appearance of the Goldwyn lion mascot that later became the MGM lion. The film was once considered lost, but it was one of the films found in the permafrost of Dawson City, Yukon in 1978.

 

Kingsley reported that Thomas Ince tried to buy the rights to make Peter Pan from Sir James Barrie. Even though he offered “a fortune,” Barrie refused because he’d had a bad experience with a British production company and he decided to never allow one of his plays or stories to be filmed again. Luckily he changed his mind in the early 1920’s; the 1924 film starring Betty Bronson has become a favorite of silent film fans and was added to the Library of Congress’ Film Registry in 2000. It’s available on DVD.

 

Kingsley repeated claims that William Desmond Taylor and his Tom Sawyer cast and crew managed to sneak into St. Petersburg, Missouri, film several scenes and leave before anybody knew they were filming. Townspeople thought that the equipment belonged to government engineers surveying the area, and the hotel proprietor said that the company was so quiet that he couldn’t have known they were film folk. She reported that locals were irritated because they missed the chance to see Hollywood in action.

 

*Pygmalion and Galatea was written by W.S. Gilbert. It debuted in 1871, just before his first collaboration with Arthur Sullivan. It was a big hit, and it inspired other authors to do their version of the myth, including George Bernard Shaw in 1913.

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Elizabeth McGaffey (1922 passport photo)

Note: My profile of Elizabeth McGaffey is up at the Women Film Pioneers site. She was the first studio librarian. I learned about her when I wrote my February 10, 1917 blog post, and of course I needed to know more. Since she was on the WFP “unhistoricized” list, I wrote up what I found and they accepted it. However, now they have new rules: you must apply and submit your CV before you write for them. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.

 

 

Week of September 1st, 1917

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Entertaining the troops

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on impressive plans to bring entertainment to the troops. “The Young Men’s Christian Association in the United States has made provision for the presentation of 8,000,000 feet of film per week. In 343 cantonments, camps and posts, 1126 programmes will be rendered weekly.”

A film brokerage organization, the Community Motion Picture Bureau, planned to supply the films. Its president, Warren Dunham Foster, said he had a pretty good idea of what kind of pictures to send:

The men don’t want sob stuff. They do not want pictures of home, mother and heaven. At the same time they do not like pictures depicting the soldier as being especially heroic or patriotic. On the other hand, they like romances. Little Mary Pickford is just as popular with the men in the camps as she is with the millions of fans. The men like real war pictures. They also like farces.

Foster didn’t mention what he based his opinions on; his most recent job had been seven years of editing The Youth’s Companion, a weekly illustrated family magazine, so he didn’t have expertise in soldiers or films.

 

Nevertheless, the scheme worked out just as they’d planned. According to a history of the Bureau,* Foster and his mother, Edith Dunham Foster, “coaxed and cajoled and possibly browbeat theatrical producers, industrialists, and many others who made motion pictures, into donating prints for great war service.” Then Mrs. Foster censored the footage, “cutting out all the pretty ladies, drinking scenes, naughty titles and similar slips which might demoralize the soldiers in the trenches.”** Then the YMCA’s War Work Council distributed them to the camps and posts. The Bureau also supplied films to the Army and the Navy when they went to France. While there’s no record of if the films were precisely what the soldiers wanted, they were probably pretty happy to have anything to take their minds off of their work for a bit.

This wasn’t a new idea. The YMCA in Great Britain had been doing the same thing for their troops since the beginning of the war in 1914, according to Emma Hanna in the International Encyclopedia of the First World War.

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The Community Motion Picture Bureau tried to continue after the war, supplying educational films to churches, clubs and the Y, but their ads stopped appearing after 1920. Warren Dunham Foster went on to be a patent lawyer, an inventor of film projection equipment and the author of a book, Heroines of Modern Progress (1922).

 

Just like the soldiers, Kingsley enjoyed Mary Pickford’s films, and her latest was the best film of the week: Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. Though it seems like Kingsley thought every new film was “the best thing Mary Pickford has done” (she was thoroughly impressed by The Little American), she was also a big fan of the source material, both the novel and the stage version, which she’d seen three times. She thought that the film was something special:

In some instances, the screen version very far improves upon the stage version of the story. For instance, one of the most delicious bits of the screen story is the showing of the circus which Rebecca managed and in which she was also principal bareback rider. Bits of the poetry for which Rebecca is so famous are retained subtitles.

According to Pickford biographer Eileen Whitfield, the film still holds up: “this unpretentious movie lingers in the mind with surprising freshness; its anecdotes attain the depth of life remembered.” It’s available on DVD and from the Internet Archive.

 

The advertising worked!

Playing opposite Rebecca was the new film by Pickford’s future husband. Kingsley pointed out that “picture fans never can get enough of Douglas Fairbanks, apparently.” They were lined up a hundred deep in front of Down to Earth, in which he “cures” a group of hypochondriacs by taking them to a fake desert island. She called it “a picture that will bear viewing more than once.” It’s available on DVD.

 

Then the big star was Dorothy Phillips.

Also opening this week was a film with Lon Chaney, and Kingsley wrote a line that critics could have re-used for the next decade or so: “In Pay Me, Lon Chaney, who, when it comes to assuming different characters, has the famous old Merlin looking like a rank amateur.” He played a “flinty-hearted and villainous dance hall keeper.” The plot defies brief description, but there’s an orphan, revenge, a gunfight and a tragic death. It’s a lost film.

 

 

*Arthur Edwin Krows, “Motion Pictures—Not for Theaters,” The Educational Screen, March 1939, p. 85-87.

**Pretty ladies are demoralizing? This is the first time I’ve heard that! This can’t possibly be accurate.

Week of August 25th, 1917

 

The future of film, 1917: Jack and the Beanstalk and Sirens of the Sea

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley wrote an essay about trends in Hollywood films, entitled “Fashions Change”:

Photoplay fashions come and go just like fashions in hosiery and hats. And the photoplay you like this week, next week may look as funny to you as Aunt Maria’s lace mitts in the old family album…

Vampires are passé. They may burn oriental incense in their boudoirs until the poor creatures put themselves out with the fumes, and we remain unmoved; they bewitch us not with their weird gowns; their most seductive squirms elicit only laughter from us; we don’t believe that men fall for the cigarette advertisement siren, and even if they do we’re sick of seeing her. No, sir, in order to be a big time vamp nowadays, a woman must show she has brains, also a sense of humor…

Then take the wild west drama. William S. Hart is the only man that can get away with it outside the 5-cent houses. He is just in his zenith, but that’s because there is something to Hart and his art besides a pair of chaps and a sombrero…

The ponderous mythical war play is no more, thanks be! No more are we forced to sit through long hours of hypothetical battles in which we have no interest whatever, and in which anemic saints from another and better land inject themselves into worldly affairs…

What is the outlook? In answer let me point to the Pied Piper of Picturedom, Jack and the Beanstalk and Sirens of the Sea, and to the other fanciful film plays that are being done these days. These lift our spirits above the war-soiled world into the realms of pure fantasy.

She was right about the coming and going part: none of the things she complained about stayed gone. Vampires became exotic temptresses like Pola Negri and Greta Garbo. The death of the Western has been announced regularly since then but it keeps getting revived. Those mythical war movies of the 1910s have nothing on the ponderous battles we get in comic book movies now. The trick seems to be knowing which bits of the past are ready to be recycled.

The difference between her essay on the future of film and the ones that are being posted online right this minute is her optimism. She thought that movies would only get better and better!

 

 

Kingsley’s favorite film this week was Jury of Fate, directed by Tod Browning. Not at all like the Lon Chaney films that made Browning famous later, his third film had “really fresh charm and ingenuity and quaint quality of the story.” Mabel Taliaferro starred in a dual role of twins Jacques and Jeanne; the father loved the boy and ignored the girl so when Jacques drowns his sister impersonates him. (It must have been impressive: just a few weeks ago, she had complained about too many double roles.) More melodrama ensued, but according the Kingsley, Browning “is to be congratulated on having pared down the story of all the superfluities in the way of action, and yet has given a clear and intriguing yarn.” It’s a lost film.

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What, no Chaplin?

 

She reported on a dissatisfied customer at the Garrick Theater:

“Down the aisle with his dad wandered a 4-year-old youngster, but despite his youth he possessed a pair of lungs like a bellows.

“Charlie Chaplin here?” he shrieked.

“No dear, but—“

“Want to see Charlie Chaplin!” roared the boy.

“Well you can’t today, but some day—“

“Well, why ain’t he here?” blubbered the youngster, and he howled all the way down the aisle. “Cos (boo hoo!) – you know very well I wouldn’ ‘a come only I wanted to see Char—“

“If you don‘t quit I’ll spank you!”

“Well if you do, I’ll never bring you here to see him again! So there!”

The young man had a point: why does anyone bother going to the movies if there’s no Chaplin on the bill?

Week of August 18th, 1917

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Paradise Garden, 1917

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley rewrote an effective press release:

“Have you a little vampire in your home?” This was almost a general call sent out a few weeks ago by producer Fred J. Balshofer and Harold Lockwood, Yorke-Metro star, when they were practically stumped in finding a beautiful and youthful vampire for a leading role in Paradise Garden….

“It can’t be done,” said the casting directors at the studios to which Balshofer and Lockwood applied. But someone had to be found to play the Marcia Van Wyck of the story. This girl is a beautiful young thing of the top rungs of society, who knows a lot about a number of things that grandma never dreamed of. Marcia is quite some girl and her vamping is of an entirely new and original variety.

And at last she was found—but, just for fun, the prodigy’s name is not to be disclosed until the picture is released. Then maybe—oh boy!—you’ll say the search was worth while.

The “baby vampire” who got the big build-up was Virginia Rappe, who is sadly now remembered more for the circumstances of her death than for her life. In 1921, she died a few days after attending a party in Roscoe Arbuckle’s hotel room, which lead to Arbuckle being accused of manslaughter and undergoing three trials. There’s been an awful lot written about it, but if you’d like to see a version that doesn’t demonize Rappe, look at this interview with Joan Myers.

 

 

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Virginia Rappe

It’s melancholy to see the promising launch of Rappe’s career. Marion Howard, writing about Paradise Garden in Moving Picture World said, “watch Virginia Rappe, for she has a great future as vampire or heroine.” (November 3, 1917, p. 689) Unfortunately we can’t, it’s a lost film. Rappe did go on to star in shorts for Henry Lehrman Comedies.

 

 

Kingsley’s favorite film this week was Jack and the Beanstalk. She wrote: “Don’t miss it! Your being grown up won’t matter a bit. Even if you’ve grown crabbed and dull, this picture play, reviving the old fairy tale, will tap the dry rock of your imagination and turn loose the floods of youthful dreams. This picture play marks the beginning of a new era in the picturization of fairy tales…here we have splendid romance, thrilling adventure, spine-prickling excitement, rib-tickling humor.”

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Jack and the Beanstalk

She reported that the audience loved it too: Miller’s Theater was jam-packed with children and “I’ve never in my life seen little ones sit quietly as they did through two hours and fifteen minutes of entertainment. I didn’t think it could be done.” The special effects particularly impressed her, and so did the performances of the child actors. She concluded, “it is quite impossible to convey on paper the wonderful charm and delightful thrill of the production.”

Other critics agreed with Kingsley. George W. Graves in Motography called it “one of the biggest film events of the year,” and he also thought that adults would like it as much as the children did. It was a big hit. The following week the theater manager told Kingsley that despite the long running time, it was almost impossible to get some of the children to leave the theater: they stayed for a second viewing. Fox soon released another kids’ film with the same stars and directors, Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp. An abridged version of Jack is at the George Eastman House Archive and sixteen minutes of its ten reels are on the Internet Archive.

 

 

Playing opposite Jack was a movie she liked so much less that she felt she needed to advise the protagonist: “if there a half-dozen people following you with guns, dynamite and other high explosives, who are always subjecting you to the uncomfortable process of being lassoed or thrown over a cliff or dropped down a well, wouldn’t you after a while suspect they somehow disliked you?” Apparently poor H.B. Warner playing John Howland in The Danger Trail took a long time to figure it out, but the scenic Canadian wilds were nice to look at. It’s a lost film.

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Fairbanks on his peak

Kingsley reported that Douglas Fairbanks received a great honor: an official at Yosemite named a peak for him. He was shooting Down to Earth in the park at the time, and they held a short ceremony. Then “the energetic Douglas, overcome with emotion, not only thanked the official for the honor, but, looking upon the same as a sort of a challenge, proceeded to prove his appreciation thereof by executing a handstand plump on the edge of a dizzy precipice of the mountain.”

Thanks to Kathleen Kosiec and the Wisconsin Historical Society, we know it’s true. The spectacular photo above is part of their collection. However, she discovered that park officials didn’t formally name it, so it isn’t called Douglas Fairbanks Peak today. Sic transit gloria mundi. If you’d like to read Kosiec’s essay on Fairbanks, visit “Douglas Fairbanks: No Stuntman Required.

 

 

Week of August 11th, 1917

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One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley told the story of a daring rescue by the biggest star in Hollywood.

Charlie Chaplin became a real hero yesterday when he saved little Mildred Morrison from a watery grave…It was down on the beach fronting Topanga Canyon, about 4 o’clock yesterday, that Charlie marked one up for himself in hero’s hall. The little girl whom Charlie saved is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Morrison of New Rochelle, NY. Mr. Morrison being a well-known New York banker and stock broker. Mrs. Morrison and her daughter are spending the summer at Santa Monica. They had gone with a party to spend the day at the beach near Topanga, and the little girl had wandered out onto the rocks at low tide, becoming marooned as the tide grew high.

Charlie’s company was trying to launch a boat, but the big waves were constantly capsizing it, and so the comedian sat on the beach watching. Suddenly he saw something moving, out on the rocks about thirty yards from shore. Next moment he realized it was a little girl frantically waving her tiny hands, and in a second more a huge wave had washed her from the rock. Charlie didn’t wait to take off his funny shoes or anything. He didn’t even think to discard his cane until he got into the water. He just took a big plunge into the high-rolling waves and in two minutes was at the little girl’s side. She grasped at him frantically, succeeding in clasping him tight around the neck, but her weight was nothing to the athletic Chaplin, and in a moment he had her under one arm while he struck out for shore.

The little girl was quickly revived, and when she looked up and beheld her rescuer—well, you can imaging what happened!

‘Really and truly Charlie Chaplin?’ she cried. And then—yes, it’s true—Charlie did just what any hero always does in such cases. He kissed the heroine!

This is an adorable story; unfortunately I suspect it isn’t true. The main strike against it is that I can find no record of a Mildred Morrison of New Rochelle, born around 1910 and the daughter of a banker named Joseph, anywhere in Ancestry.com. There were several Mildred Morrisons in the 1920 Census close to the right age; if the publicist got the name right and nothing else, then the most likely candidates were

• Mildred F. Morrison of Los Angeles, father Wylie, a tree cutter for the telephone company. Born August 3, 1908.

• Mildred Priscilla Morrison of Santa Monica, father Val. T., a wholesale drug supplier. Born May 25, 1912.

• Mildred Sue Morrison of Pasadena, father Thomas V. the owner of a motor supply company. Born April 19, 1911.

However, there’s another problem with the story. Chaplin was shooting The Adventurer at the time, so he was wearing a prisoner’s outfit, not the Little Tramp’s.

 

The story got picked up by other newspapers, and later ran in film magazines. There were fewer details in the later pieces – maybe they thought it sounded fishy, too. It’s even been blogged about at Discovering Chaplin. Now there’s only one way to find out what really happened: crank up the time machine!

Nevertheless, even if it’s fiction the story isn’t worthless. Film historian John Bengtson (with David Sameth’s help) used Kingsley’s story to track down the location of the film shoot for his book Silent Traces. He notes that Kingsley’s report bore “the signs of a publicist’s handiwork.” (I would also add, and the nice journalist’s need to fill up a Saturday column in the dog days of August.) You can find photos of the sight and more information at his web site. You’ll see that one aspect of the story was true: there are lots of rocks on that beach.

What’s even more important is that the movie is still around. You can find it on the Internet Archive.

 

 

Kingsley’s favorite film this week was the “high-voltage thriller” Durand of the Bad Lands. Dustin Farnum starred as a highwayman who’s “so busy rescuing deserted kids and distressed maidens there’s quite an impediment in his banditing. But it’s all extremely picturesque and thrilling.” She appreciated the “melodrama played in quick comedy tempo,” the scene when he uses his outlaw skills to “borrow” a cow to feed the kids, and the western judge who uses his six-shooters to keep order in the court. She found the film “as delightful, amusing and refreshing as if there had not been a million frontier picture plays before” which is high praise indeed. It’s a lost film; it was remade in 1925 and that’s lost too.

 

Kingsley’s best lines this week were in her review of The Long Trail. “Lou Tellegen holds a regular convention of troubles…Every little trouble that didn’t know where else to go just stopped and made its home with Mr. Tellegen, the French-Canadian trapper.” It was some consolation that she thought he looked very good in his Artic costume, particularly his becoming cap. The bulk of his troubles involved a shotgun marriage. It’s a lost film.

 

Respected theater actress Julia Arthur was in town this week with her patriotic vaudeville act Liberty Aflame, and Kingsley reported on some of her adventures. Arthur visited William S. Hart on his set and told her about the old days when she played Juliet to his Romeo. Kingsley wrote “as long as Julia Arthur remains in town, Bill Hart won’t need any press agent.” Arthur enthused “oh, if the public only knew Mr. Hart as we of the company knew him. He never played a role on stage or screen—this is the truth—that was any nobler or cleaner or finer than he actually is…And as for his acting, he was always splendid.”

 

Another old friend, vaudeville comic Trixie Friganza, gave Arthur a new experience: she took her out to a birthday lunch at a cafeteria. Arthur was unclear on the concept when she entered. She asked “How do you play this game? Is it a game of chance and do you draw lots and bet? How do you get food, anyway?” Friganza suggested “You might brain the attendant with your tray. Still, this isn’t usually done. I’d suggest you help yourself.” When they got to the meat station, Arthur asked her to distract the man with the big butcher knife in his hand while she got some cold roast beef for herself. Eventually they arrived safely at their table with their food, and she delivered a line worthy of a dowager countess: ‘Do they make you wash your own dishes here, too?”

Maybe it’s hard to believe a working actress had never been to a cafeteria, but Julia Arthur was married to B.P. Cheney, an industrialist and a director of the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe railroad. But the main thing I learned was that Trixie Friganza could really tell a story.

Week of August 4th, 1917

 

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on a frightening film set accident:

The sprightly and athletic Doris Pawn, who plays opposite Willard Louis in the latter’s first comedy for William Fox, under the direction of Charles Parrott, had a miraculous escape from suffering severe injuries or death while on location. Miss Pawn, who is a dare-devil horsewoman, was mounted on a spirited horse, and was told to ride down an embankment full speed onto a road in front of a camera.

After the situation had been explained to her by the director, Miss Pawn guided her horse to the top of the mound, and at the given word started down the hill. When she should have made her appearance a few seconds later, there was no sign of her. Parrott ran into the pathway and there found Miss Pawn lying on the ground, the horse having stumbled and fallen in such a manner Miss Pawn’s legs were pinioned beneath him. A call brought several of the assistants, who lifted the horse, releasing the girl. A hurried examination by a physician, who was summoned, disclosed the fact that Miss Pawn had sustained severe bruises on her hip and thighs and she owed her escape from broken bones to the fact that when the horse stumbled she fell on soft earth. After several days of attendance by a physician, Miss Pawn was again able to continue her part of the picture.

There’s no record of the film’s title; maybe it was never finished or released. There’s a hole in Charles Parrott’s (aka Charley Chase) filmography  from August 1917 to April 1918, and his biography only mentions his work with Hank Mann and Heine Conklin when he was at Fox. Miss Pawn got all of those bruises for nothing.

 

Doris Pawn was just one of so many people, now forgotten, who went to a lot of trouble to make films that have been lost. It’s really very depressing. However, Pawn picked herself up and had a long and perfectly good life. She’d learned her horse-riding skills growing up on her grandfather’s farm in Norfolk, Nebraska and she started out in films as an extra in 1914. She soon became a leading lady; later her most famous role was opposite Lon Chaney in The Penalty (1920). She retired from acting in 1923. She married three times; first to director Rex Ingram in 1917, second to insurance salesman Paul Reiners in 1928 and finally to drugstore owner Samuel Dunway in 1937. She died in La Jolla, California in 1988.

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Kingsley’s favorite film this week, The Show Down, involved that durable plot, “civilized” people shipwrecked on a desert island (it was good enough for Gilligan!). This was also a comedy and she thought it was very funny; it “merrily rings the bells at every shot.” Stranded after a German submarine sank their ocean liner, the group included the bestselling author of Back to the Primitive who longs for “the trackless ways of the jungle,” a philanthropist who wants to save the world, a bored society man and a spoiled young beauty. Of course the author complains about the food and refuses to go hunting, the philanthropist tried to “sell out” the group to the enemy, and the young people bestir themselves to get to another island and save the day. Kingsley wrote “the story is adroitly and snappily told, and is one of the best features, from every standpoint, that Bluebird has turned out.” It’s a lost film.

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Myrtle Gonzalez

Myrtle Gonzalez played the young woman and this was her last film; she got married and retired. Sadly, she died the next year in influenza epidemic.

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Robert Edeson, Rhea Mitchell, William S. Hart in On the Night Stage (1915)

An “old” film was re-released at the Garrick Theater this week, On the Night Stage. Kingsley observed,

the showing of this picture brings to light an odd little twist in the swift and fateful happenings of the ever changing element known as the film world. Two years ago, when the picture was made, it was supposed to star Robert Edeson, the well-known actor, but when the picture was shown, lo and behold! It was discovered a hitherto fairly obscure actor, William S. Hart, had walked right off with the big honors! While the preacher character played by Edeson was supposed to be the big part, the projection machine reveled the supremacy of Hart.

Hart played a bandit and the preacher’s rival for the love of the local dance hall queen. The film survives in several archives, including UCLA and Eastman House. Edeson went on to have a fine career. He wasn’t a big star like Hart, but worked continuously on screen and stage until his death at age 62 in 1931.

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Harold Goodwin, 1921

Kingsley gave an update on Harold Goodwin, who’d made a good impression in her favorite film last week:

Harold is the youth who hit the bullseye with his small boy role in The Sawdust Ring at Clune’s Auditorium last week. Now the story comes out that, when he had finished in that picture he wasn’t thought to have done much, and Triangle let him go. He silently gave up his actor hopes, and accepted a position in a shoe store. Last Saturday night he quit his shoe house job, with no less than four offers from film companies in his pocket.

He also went on to a long career in film and television.