Sneaky Paramount: Week of June 14th, 1919

 

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley inadvertently helped a major studio divert attention from a questionable business practice. She reported on Jesse L. Lasky’s (Paramount’s first vice president) announcement that they were instituting “selective booking”:

a new policy in the making and distribution of Paramount and Artcraft pictures, which promises to result in even a wider circulation of these pictures than before, and a use of even greater care in the selection of the production work itself. Motion pictures are not bits of machinery, but represent today a medium of free artistic expression…Each picture [will] stand on its own merit before the exhibitors and the public.

Selective booking was simple: exhibitors got to rent only the films they wanted to. Lasky promised that it would improve the quality of films, because exhibitors would chose the good ones and producers couldn’t sell bad ones, so they wouldn’t make them.

Kingsley didn’t quote all of his remarks, but Moving Picture World (June 28, 1919) published more of them and she wisely left off some wild over-promises. He said:

each production released under the Selective Booking Plan will have been created as a unit by itself. From now on, unlimited time, money and facilities will be accorded the producers of each film. For the first time in the history of the motion picture, genius will be given absolute and unlimited opportunity to assert itself. The directors will be working months in advance of release dates and the baneful element of haste will be eliminated.

Of course, that wasn’t true. However, unlimited time and money usually aren’t good for films or any other creative enterprise – limitations can help curb self-indulgence!

Noted exhibitor Sid Grauman though it was a terrific idea, saying to the Los Angeles Herald (June 17, 1919): “I believe Paramount-Artcraft corporation, by introducing the selective booking system, is doing more for the exhibitor, the producer and the photoplay industry at large than can at this time be realized.”

 

Paramount did a lot of publicity about their new plan, including taking out a multi-page ad in Moving Picture World explaining it. They included a list of the recent and soon to be completed films were going to be released under the plan:

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However, this wasn’t actually how Paramount was releasing most of its films. In 1918 they had begun to introduce block booking. The studio had the biggest stars under contract, and according to Richard Koszarski:

Paramount was able to insist that prospective exhibitors interested in, say, the Pickford films, acquire them in large blocks along with a quantity of less attractive titles. These block-booking arrangements typically included groups of from 13 to 52 or even 104 titles. Paramount salesmen offered a variety of different product lines, from the top-quality Artcraft releases of Pickford, Fairbanks, and Hart to the more modest Realart productions, in which stars such as Bebe Daniels were being developed. Because these films had not yet been produced, exhibitors were required to “buy blind” from a sketchy prospectus or campaign book.

Other studios followed their example and by the 1930’s it was standard operating procedure. Block booking guaranteed an outlet for everything a studio made, and exhibitors had to take the risks. They were forced to end the practice after the Supreme Court found that it violated anti-trust laws and outlawed it with their decision in the United States v. Paramount case in 1948.

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Kingsley enjoyed an unusual film this week:

A picture which I predict will prove something of a sensation before the week is out is Super-Strategy, which is likewise rather an oddity in pictures…We are so used, a lot of us, to remembering those stories of the Bible, supremely rich in drama as they are, as factors in our young Sunday-school lives, either to be avoided, or, on the feat of memorizing the same, to be rewarded with beflowered tickets. In Super-Strategy a number of these same stories have been put to amazingly vivid, dramatic, and at the same time entirely appealing human film form by the director of this unique photoplay. We had forgotten, for instance, how full of drama is the triangular story of Abraham, Sarah, his wife, and Pharaoh; and maybe we never realized how tender is the story of Joseph’s love for Mary, how tragic the incident of his finding her with child. The crucifixion, too, and the resurrection are managed without a trace of clap-trap such as too often mars attempts of this sort in the films.

She admitted, “the whole story is necessarily episodic, but each episode is tremendously absorbing and a human story in itself.”

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She was wrong in her prediction: Super Strategy was more of an oddity than a sensation. During its 1918 release in New York it was called Restitution, and the critics there didn’t like it. Peter Milne in Motion Picture News wrote, “such a weird conglomeration of historical data new interpretations of Biblical records, marvelous though quite plainly mechanical scenic effects, and wildly imaginative, almost childish ideas assembled in the span of any number of reels has certainly never been seen before. What the producers have aimed to show is that his Satanic Majesty has been responsible for all the wrong in the world.” (June 15, 1918) Robert C. McElravy in Moving Picture World couldn’t pan the Bible, but he didn’t like the picture: “this subject is one of tremendous scope and many excellences, but its entertainment value is questionable.” (June 8, 1918)

 

Super-Strategy was the only production of the Mena Film Company. The company’s officers were part of the Bible Student movement, a faction of which changed its name to Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1931. In 1914 other Bible Students had produced an eight-hour film presenting their beliefs entitled The Photo-Drama of Creation, but the 1918 film was aimed at a more mainstream audience. They hired Hollywood actors and cameramen and selected Howard Gaye to direct. He was most famous for playing Christ in D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance, and he reprised the role in this. This was the only movie he directed, then he went back to acting. It’s a lost film.

 

Once again, Kingsley proved she was a pro: she turned the trivial tidbit that Roscoe Arbuckle had moved into the house on West Adams in Silverlake recently vacated by Theda Bara into a whole column that worried he might become highbrow due to the lady’s lingering influence. It was remarkably silly. She wrote:

There have been awful rumors that “Fatty” is slowly but surely sinking from the estate of a rude, two-fisted guy with a wicked wallop in his right and a preference for near beers over pink teas, into a cultured state just too darned refined for anything…No more wild, rude games of poker! Instead Caruso on the Victrola! No busting of Mrs. Miner’s [the house owner’s] best china as an outlet for joyous, man-like emotions—but a little stroll in the tiny Japanese garden.

However, all was not lost: he had installed a punching bag in the side garden. The I Am Not A Stalker blog has several recent photos of the house, and it’s gorgeous.

 

 

 

Richard Koszarski. An Evening’s Entertainment: The Age of the Silent Feature Picture, 1915-1928. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press. 1990.

 

 

 

The Rumors Were Correct: Week of June 7th, 1919

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One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley should have believed the gossip about D.W. Griffith’s plans. On Tuesday she mentioned “rumors have been rife that Mr. Griffith would return to New York to work there permanently, but no confirmation could be gained yesterday from the studio.” So as a good journalist, she went straight to the source and on Thursday she reported he said

It’s all nonsense, that rumor about my going to New York to produce pictures or building a studio there. I still think Los Angeles is the only place in which to make pictures.

He also talked about the praise critics in Boston and Chicago had heaped on Broken Blossoms, then answered her question “and now that this first one is a success, you’ll go on and make more of the sort of pictures you yourself want to make?”

“Well, yes, it gives a person courage,” smiled Mr. Griffith. However, he still owed three pictures to the First National Exhibitor’s circuit before he could produce what he wanted.

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Griffith’s studio in Mamaroneck, NY

So either Griffith changed his mind, or he wasn’t telling the truth. He left Los Angeles to make films in Mamaroneck, New York just three months later, in September. When she reported on it, she didn’t mention what he told her in June (she probably wanted to stay on his good side). The reason she was given for the move was “big business interests have long been calling him to New York.”

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Griffith’s studio, 1921

Even that wasn’t true. According to his biographer Richard Schickel, it had more to do with Griffith wanting isolation that would allow him to carry on his filmmaking in secrecy, plus the rural setting reminded him of the farm he grew up on. He bought a 28-acre estate from Standard Oil magnate Henry Flagler and converted it into a working studio. His films from Way Down East (1920) to Sally of the Sawdust (1925) were made there.

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Coincidentally, Kingsley’s favorite film this week was produced by Griffith, I’ll Get Him Yet. However, before she reviewed it, she noted an unhappy shortage:

Dear me, the cinema these days is so full of sad comedies and funny tragedies that it’s like a 1920 drink of champagne to find a comedy which is a real rib-tickler, one which sends the folks into gales of laughter so spontaneous that the veriest little undertaker’s delight of ‘em just has to join in.

Luckily, Dorothy Gish was there to save the day (Kingsley wrote “there are just about five really funny comediennes on the screen—and sometimes I think Dorothy is nearly all of them”). She played a rich and peppy young lady in pursuit of a young newspaperman who disdains her wealth, played by Richard Barthelmass. There’s a plot, of sorts, about her trying to keep secret that she owns a railroad, but that “perhaps doesn’t convey to you the bright sparkle of the whimsically clever comedy with its breezy subtitles and capital acting. You must see it to appreciate it.” Unfortunately, we can’t, because it’s a lost film.

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Kingsley mentioned another film that was a huge hit:

The fifth and positively last week of The Shepherd of the Hills opened yesterday at Quinn’s Rialto to record crowds…The Shepherd of the Hills has broken all house records for Quinn’s Rialto during its stay here, as well as set a new standard of production in motion pictures. Taking the book page by page, Harold Bell Wright, the author, transferred his novel to the screen exactly as he told it in story form, and the result is a production that is a rare treat to those who have read the book.

It took ten reels to reproduce the 1907 novel about a kindly old man who gives good advice to the people of Mutton Hollow in the Ozarks. Later versions didn’t claim to be a precise adaptation, but they weren’t any shorter: the 1928 version was 9 reels, 1941 version was 10, and the 1964 version was 11. It’s still a popular story, and a live outdoor production is done annually in Branson, Missouri.

 

 

Richard Schickel. D.W. Griffith: An American Life. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984.

Mermaid Clothes: Week of May 31st, 1919

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from the National Woman Suffrage Publishing Company

One hundred years ago this week, Congress finally passed the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution which would eventually allow all American women to vote. It still needed to be ratified by 36 states. Since state legislations weren’t in session year round, it took over a year but the 36th state, Tennessee, approved it on August 18, 1920 and it was signed into law on August 26th, in time for the presidential election

Grace Kingsley, who’s been able to vote since 1911, didn’t mention the big news for she was too busy on an assignment from her editor: getting Annette Kellerman, the Australian Mermaid, on record about clothing, since she was so famous for not wearing much of it. The two career women did as well as could be expected. Grace Kingsley had some jokes about how with a packed rehearsal schedule it was difficult to find Kellerman in street clothes. Kellerman politely answered her questions, but not without saying “doesn’t it seem a bit ridiculous to ask a mermaid about clothes?” She told her that she mostly wore tailored frocks, because that’s what her husband liked. Her advice to other women was “in general, women should dress to suit their personalities. But some people have awfully funny ideas of what their personalities are!” Happily, she included men in that, too.

Oh well, if entertainment journalists cut out all of the ridiculousness they wouldn’t have much to write about.

This week, Kingsley finally found one profession that doesn’t want to be in the movies. While shooting The Speed Maniac on location in San Francisco, Tom Mix and his director Edward Le Saint needed someone to play the part of a pickpocket, and they decided they wanted realistic casting. So Mix went to his friend, the captain of police Dan O’Brien. They looked in the holding cell and chose a likely candidate, However, when they asked him to be in their film, the pickpocket said “Where do you get that stuff? Mug me, would ye, so that I would been seen by all the coppers in the world. Ruin me in me profession! I should say not! Besides, picking pockets is a good enough job for me. I don’t want to be a picture actor. Picture actor! Hunh!” None of the other crooks wanted the job, so they made the second cameraman, Walter Williams, do the dirty work.

Kingsley mentioned that “the wife of Chaplin’s cameraman, Jack Wilson, on May 28, gave birth to a daughter at the Wilson home on Crenshaw Blvd.” Some months later, both Edith Wilsons got to meet the boss on the set of The Kid:

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An excuse for a cute photo!

 

Anticipating Prohibition: Week of May 24th, 1919

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LA Times’ front page, July 1, 1919

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley wrote about one possible side effect of Prohibition:

Now we learn what is to become of all the erstwhile liquor men after July 1! * They’re going to turn into picture exhibitors! And I suppose the bar-keepers will be ticket-takers. At least so it would appear from the reports from every part of the country. This would seem to be a good occupation for the liquor men to fall into, inasmuch as they are following their customers, who have been deserting the saloons for pictures anyhow.

Theater owners were full of optimism at that time. Kingsley noted “the tendency all over the country is toward enlarging the picture exhibiting fields, whether due to prohibition or not.” Trade papers published articles collecting the opinions of people about the future of the film business, and they were looking forward to a windfall because potential customers would have lots of money that they weren’t spending on alcohol.

It looks like the idea of saloonkeepers going in to film exhibition came from Carl Laemmle in Moving Picture Weekly. He told them that ten years earlier when he wanted to expand his film exchange in Illinois, the state prohibited alcohol sales so he convinced 200 bar owners to make over their establishments into theaters and both sides prospered. Of course, it was much easier to turn a bar into a nickelodeon than it would have been to convert one into the sort of posh theater that filmgoers were becoming accustomed to by 1919. In the same article, S.L. Rothapfel, manager of several New York theaters, agreed with him, saying “many people who are in the liquor business are getting out of it and going into the movies instead. The liquor business is absolutely dead.” So perhaps some of them did become exhibitors.

Both men were absolutely certain about what would happen next. Laemmle said “there is no question that the closing of the saloons will increase patronage at moving picture theaters. Men seek amusement when the day’s work is done. Many now find it in the saloon and in the companionship which they find in the saloon. When the saloons close on July 1 they will naturally go to the Movies.” Rothapfel was equally optimistic: “the big future of the motion picture is being made all the bigger by prohibition…It is plainly true that wherever other places of entertainment are closed the motion picture theater profits; and this is especially the case in the matter of the saloon.”

Wid’s Year Book for 1919 included a round up of opinions, and many film producers were similarly looking forward to increased profits. Isidore Bernstein said, “there is no question in my mind that fifty per cent of the money spent on booze will find its way into the box office of the moving picture theater.” Samuel Goldwyn contributed “regardless of what attitude one may have towards prohibition, it is certain that an impartial observation of the fact must show that the immense amount formerly spent in liquor will be in large proportion hereafter go to amusement enterprises.” However, D.W. Griffith had a warning: “effects of prohibition fine at present, but would not chortle too soon as reformers released from that job will be busy with other alleged reforms that may include a censorship on motion pictures.”

Despite their hopes, Prohibition didn’t cause massive movie profits according to historian Michael Lerner on Ken Burns’ Prohibition site. Other expected results that didn’t happen included big increases in clothing, household goods, chewing gum, grape juice and soft drink sales, nor did real estate values near the closed saloons go up.

It’s kind of sweet: people in the film business had so much faith in law-abiding citizens as well as law enforcement that they didn’t predict the illicit trade in alcohol and the rise in organized crime.

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Sid Grauman

Optimism in the future of the film business affected one local theater owner who was increasing his empire:

Sid Grauman yesterday [May 28th] made known the fact that he is about to build a theater in Hollywood. The new picture house will be a palatial affair costing more than $200,000 and will seat 2200…Every possible convenience and comfort will be provided to patrons in the new theater, work on which will be begun within a short time.

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Construction of the new theater took longer than he’d probably thought it would, but the Egyptian was finally ready in 1922 and Grauman had a huge gala opening on October 18th. The first film shown was Douglas Fairbanks’ Robin Hood. It was an impressive event, with speeches delivered by everyone from the mayor to Charlie Chaplin as well as an elaborate prologue featuring over 200 performers in costumes borrowed from the Fairbanks Studio on a duplicate of the Nottingham Castle set.

Edwin Schallert, then the LA Times film critic, attended, and he remembered to mention the new theater in his glowing and florid review of the film (which was “the great picture of the year”):

There is nothing of garishness about the interior. There is naught to distract the eye from the shadowy stage which is the playhouse raison d’etre. Lights and decorations all contribute to the spell of reserved grandeur. The sphinxes that adorn the proscenium imply that silence which is the tribute of appreciation for the visual drama. The Egyptian inscription, perhaps, suggests that mystic incantation of light which gives life to the shadowed surface of the silver sheet. Over all hangs a glorious jeweled sunburst that heralds perhaps the new dawn of the fluent art of the film.

The Egyptian Theater is still there, and has been the home of the American Cinematheque since 1998. The building is staying current with the times: as of April 2019 Netflix is in negotiations to buy it.

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Dorothy Gish

This week Kingsley gave us an idea of just how popular Dorothy Gish was — teenaged girls were imitating her:

You have heard of the Gibson girl stride, of the Laurette Taylor slouch, and now we have the Gish gambol. All the girls are doing it! It’s a combination of a new form of physical exercise and a social accomplishment—like dancing that way. So when you observe a cutie dancing about like a kitten on a hot griddle, expressing nothing except youth and pep, she isn’t really troubled with any nervous disorder, she’s merely gishing, in her artless, girlish way.

In particular, they were imitating her “Little Disturber” character in Hearts of the World. There were age restrictions (between 16 and 20) and there was a uniform too: bobbed hair covered by a tam-o-shanter, a plain skirt and a shapeless little sweater. But the main attribute was “you never, on any account, stand still for a minute.” I feel tired just reading the description. However, if you’d like to try gishing, you can find a pattern for the proper hat at Movies Silently.

Kingsley included a snapshot of how they made films then this week. At the Goldwyn studio:

Geraldine Farrar and Mabel Normand are both acting in the same glass studio. Miss Farrar, at one end of the stage, is playing tragedy to the music of a moaning cello, ever and anon slipping over the organ which is always a part of a Farrar set, and sitting down to play snatches of grand opera. On the other end of the stage Mabel Normand is playing comedy with a jazz band accompaniment. So far no casualties are reported.

Hollywood was able to mix all sorts of art together.

 

*While the Eighteenth Amendment to the constitution prohibiting alcohol sales went into effect on January 17, 1920, the temporary Wartime Prohibition Act banning the sale of beverages with more than 1.28% alcohol went into effect on June 30, 1919, even though the war was over. So Prohibition effectively started then.

 

“Prohibition Coming—We Should Worry!” Moving Picture Weekly, February 1, 1919.

“What of Prohibition?” Wid’s Year Book, 1919.

Edwin Schallert, “Robin Hood a Superb Film,” Los Angeles Times, October 19, 1922.

“New Theater Policies are Announced,” Los Angeles Times, October 8, 1922.

“Workmen are Busy,” Los Angeles Times, September 28, 1922.

Three-dollar film tickets!?!: Week of May 17th, 1919

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One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on the latest in inflation:

It has arrived at last—the day of the $3 picture. And D.W. Griffith’s Broken Blossoms, now being exhibited in New York at the Cohan Theater, is the picture that has done it. A telegram received yesterday at the Griffith studio announced the glad news that henceforth all desirable seats in the theater will be $3, and now all the other directors in town are sending hot telegrams to their New York offices.

From other than a financial standpoint the fact is interesting, as Mr. Griffith himself considers the picture his best work. Also, he was not sure of its success, since it is a tragedy, and the public, we are told, demands happy endings.

The distributors had used the strategy of charging $2 for during the early days of release for Griffith’s epics Birth of a Nation and Intolerance, but Broken Blossoms was an intimate film that only took 18 days to shoot. However, it worked: Blossoms was Griffith’s all-time third most profitable film after Birth of a Nation and Way Down East according to Richard Schickel. The reviews were just that good.

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To get an idea of how remarkable a $3 ticket was, average admission price in 1919 ranged from 10 cents in smaller theaters (300 seats) to 25 cents in larger theaters (1,100 seats and over) according to Richard Koszarski. Oddly enough, in 1915, the price theater owners paid for a chair itself was only $2.75!

The new record didn’t affect admission prices for most films (Griffith’s next release, True Heart Susie, was shown at ordinary prices) but occasionally big films like The Ten Commandments (1923) or Ben-Hur (1925) had a “roadshow release” following this model.

The audience didn’t just get a movie for their $3. At the premier, incense wafted over the audience and the theater was decorated in blossoms. There was a live prologue set in “a Chinese joss house filled with characters representative of the story and half concealed, half disclosed by nebulous mists of light save for a rich golden shaft that poured over a white girl lying on a divan,” plus an orchestra playing original compositions by Louis F. Gottschalk and D.W. Griffith to accompany the film, according to The Sun newspaper.

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A leghorn hat

Lillian Gish was also at the premier, but earlier she’d told Kingsley that before she hadn’t had the courage “to face a New York opening—that she never had been present at one of those fateful affairs.” But for this one, she managed to tough it out, with the help of a “great big leghorn hat” and a seat in the back of a box. She was glad she did, telling Kingsley that “after it was over, she confessed the occasion gave her the thrill of her life.”

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Broken Blossoms eventually came to Los Angeles in September, but they got the prologue and three orchestras for only $1.50. Kingsley got to attend and thought it was the “latest marvel of the master picture maker.”

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This week, audiences in L.A. were paying 15-25 cents for matinees and 25-35 cents for evening shows to see two of Hollywood’s biggest stars. They, and Kingsley, enjoyed both of their films very much. At the Kinema, Mary Pickford managed to surprise her with her skills:

you’ve never known Mary Pickford or Daddy Long-Legs either, until you’ve seen them in the marvelous picture brew which that amazingly clever young star has given us. Daddy Long-Legs was delicious as a story, delightful as a play, and is entrancing as a picture. A crowded house went fairly into raptures yesterday, and applause, even at that cold 12:45 performance, punctuated the picture…In short, Mary does as she pleases with us in this—and proves herself, incidentally, a surprisingly versatile actress.

Fritzi Kramer at Movies Silently says it’s still an excellent film.

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Kingsley had even more fun at Grauman’s:

Dashing Doug appears in a rip-roaringly funny and zip-zipplingly thrilly comedy at Grauman’s this week entitled The Knickerbocker Buckaroo, in which the hero leaps over all the obstacles which come in his path from New York all the way to Mexico. The story involves lost treasure….But what’s the use of trying to describe a Douglas Fairbanks comedy? Just take my word for it The Knickerbocker Buckaroo is one of the best and go see it.

Unfortunately, you can’t because it’s a lost film.

Elsewhere in her review Kingsley made a point about appreciating simple pleasures in movies:

Some of us may rave about the high-brows—but we’ll sneak away from the most soulful moment in any of their plays to see Bill Hart punch the nose of the villain who is rough-housing the heroine, while there are moods in which we are just crazy about the subjective drama of Galsworthy and Ibsen, aren’t we always not only willing, but anxious, to view the spectacle of Bill Farnum beating the tar out of the crook who has stolen the money from the poor old man?

Audiences now are the same as they were then, they’re just accustomed to more CGI in their fights.

 

 

 

 

“Broken Blossoms is Blend of Greek, Chinese, London and American Effects,” Sun, May 14, 1919.

“Broken Blossoms” Strong Griffith Drama at Cohan’s Theater,” Evening World, May 14, 1919.

Richard Koszarski, An Evening’s Entertainment, Berkeley: UC Press, 1990.

Richard Schickel. D.W. Griffith: An American Life. NY: Simon and Schuster, 1984.

 

 

Another Aspiring Star: Week of May 10th, 1919

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Lady Diana Manners

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley had a story that proved even the most privileged people wanted to try their luck in Hollywood. However, this one faced an obstacle that nobody else did:

No more shall the bulging eye of the commoner be permitted to feast itself upon the fair forms of the nobility in the films. At least that’s what a dispatch from London states, no less a person than Queen Mary herself having issued the edict prohibiting members of the English nobility from appearing in the pictures.

It all came about through the fact that Lady Diana Manners, who played a bit in a propaganda picture at the request of D.W. Griffith, apparently became bitten by the picture bug. She was about to sign up a contract with an American film corporation—supposedly the Griffith organization, as it is known that a representative of Griffith went to London for the purpose of trying to get her to affix her name to a contract.

Lady Diana, it seems, was willing to sign the contract, but the Duke of Rutland, her noble dad, flatly refused, whereupon Queen Mary informed the young woman that if she made the picture appearances she would never be received at court again. Lady Diana is one of the best known of the younger set of the English nobility. She was an ardent war worker and is gifted dramatically, but fate, it seems, has conspired to kill her chances of winning fame and a nice big salary in pictures.

Everybody wanted to be a movie star! Lady Diana didn’t come to Hollywood, and she was soon busy getting married to Duff Cooper the following month. She didn’t abandon her film ambitions, however: a few years later she had a leading role in two British films, The Glorious Adventure (1922) (the first British color feature, it was about the Great Fire of London) and The Virgin Queen (1923) (she got to play the title role, Queen Elizabeth). Queen Mary apparently didn’t object to either of those, and her impecunious husband was happy about her salary.

Lady Diana Cooper had an interesting life that rarely involved irritating the Queen. The Australian Financial Review, of all places, has an amusing biography of her, but the highlights are that she was known as the most beautiful woman in England. She was a celebrity, often appearing in newspapers and magazines. Her parents were disappointed with her marriage, because they thought she had a chance at the Prince of Wales (he was later Edward VIII until he abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson—Lady Diana definitely got the better end of that bargain). Duff Cooper was elected to Parliament in 1924; she supported him as a society hostess and she was very good at her job. Best of all, both Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh based characters on her. Later in life, she had enough stories to fill three volumes of memoires. She died in 1986, aged 93.

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Kingsley’s favorite film this week featured William Desmond in a role that was a change from his usual ‘indestructible Irishman’ character. In The Prodigal Liar he played a young man who impersonates an outlaw to impress Betty Compson, an Easterner visiting the West who’s disappointed that it’s no longer wild. Complications ensue when the real outlaw escapes from prison for some thrilling chases, all adding up to the “freshest, sparkleingest, most whimsical comedy” shown at Ray’s Garden in a long while. William Desmond went on to make many straight Westerns in his long acting career that continued until just before his death in 1949.

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Zasu Pitts, 1920

Kingsley learned about one way to cope with unemployment when she interviewed an up-and-coming star this week, Zasu Pitts. She told her that when she couldn’t find much acting work, she “used to get awfully blue,” and on wet days to amuse herself she rode up and down in the elevators in the tall buildings. It’s a good thing it doesn’t rain very often in Los Angeles! Happily, she was able to regularly find work for the rest of her life, so she didn’t need to resort to elevator riding.

 

 

 

Pickford’s Dream House: Week of May 3rd, 1919

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Her plans included a library (still from The Hoodlum)

One hundred years ago this week, while visiting Mary Pickford on the set of The Hoodlum, Grace Kingsley got an earful about a house building project:

“That’s one thing I’ve always wanted—my own room—and now I’m going to have it. I guess the first thing people always think of when they’re building a house is a nice big fireplace, so we’re going to have a whole flock of ‘em, including one in my room…I’m going to have a pretty room, all done in dark-colored enamel furniture, relieved with bright colors.”

Her mother Charlotte wanted a lot of bay windows and window seats, but Pickford made a good point about them: “I just can’t see ‘em myself, but mother has overruled me. So bay windows and window seats there will be. Window seats look so cosy—and aren’t. Nobody ever uses ‘em. They are something you just look at and say to yourself, ‘Well, I’ll start sitting on those things next week.’”

Pickford had been talking about buying a mountain and building a house on it for awhile, and she said she’d found one overlooking Santa Monica Bay. She told Kingsley she’d made plans on paper, and it would be “somewhat in the old English style, with thatched-roof effect. It is to be in gray and white with a green roof, and it is to have twelve rooms and four baths.” Those rooms would include suite for her niece (bedroom, playroom and bath) right next to next to a bedroom for her sister, Lottie Pickford Rupp.

Mary Pickford and her family never did live in a house overlooking the bay. According to the 1920 Census (taken January 4th, 1920) they and their six servants were all living in a very nice rented house at 141 Westmoreland Place in West Addams, near Hollywood. Paradise Leased has a post about the neighborhood.

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This was her next house

So why did she go to the trouble of telling Kingsley this story? I think it’s an example of how good she was at controlling her own publicity. She needed to repair her reputation, because a year earlier she’d been in the news for having an affair with Douglas Fairbanks when they were both married to other people. Here she’s a good girl, planning a home for herself, her mother and sister while her then-current husband, Owen Moore, is never mentioned. She divorced him on March 2, 1920 and married Fairbanks on March 28, 1920. This story is another piece in the puzzle of how she survived what might have been a career-ending scandal.

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Kingsley’s favorite film this week was For Better, For Worse, the new Cecil De Mille movie that she thought was “one of the smashing picture hits of the year.”

How well Mr. De Mille ‘puts over’ his stories, as they say in vaudeville! We’re freshly impressed with the fact with every picture of his. In this one, there’s not an iota of dramatic value that is lost, there’s not a second of poignant situation from which every drop of effectiveness is not wrung. All gained by a cunning holding of suspense by a hundred telling touches, by flawless acting on the part of a cast picked each for faithfulness to character, and lastly, by faultless photography.

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Swanson’s outfits were fabulous in this one, too

It starred Gloria Swanson, but this one hasn’t been as fondly remembered as their other collaborations like Don’t Change Your Husband (1920), probably because the melodrama seems thick, not poignant now (she marries a soldier leaving for war instead of her true love, a doctor who does more good at home; she realizes her mistake after she injures a child in an accident and he successfully treats her; her disfigured husband does come home but he wants to leave her for his own true love so everybody ends up with the proper person – it’s a lot). It’s been preserved at the Eastman House.

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With friends like these…

On Wednesday Kingsley reported that Buster Keaton was back in town after serving in France, and by Friday she already had a story about a prank on the Arbuckle lot:

The rotund comedian had been working over at the Sennett in a very noisy comedy, next to another equally noisy Sennett comedy. When he came back to his own quiet studio, he complained his ears hurt him a bit, and he was afraid he was losing his hearing. That started it.

As soon as his company began working, he told them he couldn’t hear them—that he wished they’d speak a little louder. His leading woman came over and told him she was speaking as loud as she could and what was the matter with him anyhow? He looked around, troubled. “Louder!” he exclaimed. The whole company went through motions as though yelling at the top of their lungs. Just then a fire engine went by with a clang, and Fatty was on.

Dealing with co-workers like that was an occupational hazard for silent comics! Kingsley didn’t say who thought up the prank, however, Keaton had sadly lost some of his hearing while serving. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d used his own problem as inspiration.

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In her review of Pitfalls of a Big City, Kingsley gave a plaintive wail:

Why doesn’t somebody invent a new crook play? Why does the girl or guy always decide to ‘go straight,’ and then ‘go back to the old life,’ for fear ‘me pal will squeal on me and me little innocent kid sister will find out about me?’

I’m sure she wasn’t holding her breath for new plots any time soon.