Week of April 21st, 1917

awfulhats
One solution

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley continued her complaints about audiences by listing some of the ways people behaved badly in film theaters, beginning with the simple-minded ‘matinee girl’ who:

reads the sub-titles aloud very slowly, generally omitting the big words, and the 30-year old girl who has written scenarios but can’t get any accepted and comes to scoff at the work of others. And the giggling girl, hysterically desirous of attention. She always comes in twos and giggles and talks so loudly you can’t even hear the sub-titles being read by the other woman. Very often she turns out to be an extra girl employed in the picture. But the matinee hog is the worst of all. Usually this species of noisome creature is of the male sex, and has another of his kind along with him. If he’s seated when you enter, at the end of the row of seats, he never moves to give you room, nor does he rise. He sticks his elephantine feet into the aisle and lets you fall over them…In fact, he’s one big reason you hesitate a lot of times to enter a picture house at all.

So there has never been a time when audiences were well-behaved. They needed a Code of Conduct then as much as we do now.

aladdinbroadway

Kingsley’s favorite film this week was Aladdin from Broadway, “a delightful high-class screen comedy…Edith Storey indeed surprises by revealing herself as a complete mistress of comedy of a certain volatile, whimsical flavor…it is due to Miss Storey’s vibrant humor, as well as Antonio Moreno’s debonair impersonation of the happy-go-lucky America that the photoplay is sustained in a comedy key throughout, despite some scenes of thrilling adventure.” Other reviewers, like George Shorey in Motion Picture News, were so impressed by the thrilling adventure (particularly a sandstorm that was “one of the most wonderful bits of picture staging we have ever seen”) that he didn’t even mention the funny bits. However, he agreed with Kingsley that it was one of the best films Vitagraph had ever made. Sadly, it’s a lost film.

The big release of the week was She; Kingsley found it “magnificently spectacular,” yet it was a “warmed-over thrill” because despite the breath-catching episodes of burning people and naked cannibals dancing around their victim, the scenes gluing them together were dull. Nevertheless, “Valeska Suratt, as She, entirely vindicates her right to be classed as one of the screen’s big-best actresses.” It’s also a lost film.

firstnational

Kingsley reported on the founding of the First National Exhibitor’s Circuit, an association of independent theater owners that “marks the first nation-wide step taken toward open-market buying.” Film producers had been selling their complete program to theaters, but the new Exhibitor’s Circuit would allow them to choose what they showed. It became a great success, controlling over 600 theaters. In 1924 it expanded into film production, changing its name to First National Pictures, and in 1928 they were bought by Warner Bros.

Kingsley had a chat with a young actress, Eva Le Gallienne, touring with a production of The Happy Stranger. Her father Richard was a famous poet, so she answered the obvious question:

“Do I write poetry?” repeated Miss Le Gallienne. “No, I do not. I speak with authority, too. In other words, my judgment has been verified. I used to think I did, but now I know I don’t. I wrote one bit of verse which was published, and thereafter I wrote about ninety-seven poems and sent them each to about ninety-seven publications without success. No, you just ask any of those editors and he will tell you no quite positively. In acting I’ve had much better success—but I shall never cease regretting those ninety-seven poems. It’s just too discouraging writing for the waste basket.”

Le Gallienne probably recovered from her disappointment when she was busy picking up her Tony, Emmy and National Medal of the Arts, playing everything from Peter Pan to Hamlet, appearing on the cover of Time and founding the Civic Repertory Theater in New York City, which was the beginning of Off-Broadway theaters. She rarely acted in film, but she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for Resurrection in 1980.

Week of April 14th, 1917

 

lat_baseball

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley proved that she paid no attention whatsoever to the sports page. On Sunday she mentioned an upcoming charity event, a baseball game between comedians and tragedians to raise money for the Red Cross. Unfortunately, somebody was giving her old information: the game had already taken place two weeks earlier, and the Times had done its part to publicize it, promising “a ball game that has never been equaled.” The team captains revealed their strategies to the paper: Wallace Reid believed “when he pitches a ball it will burn such a hole in the air that it will be weeks before the hole fills up again,” and Charlie Chaplin said “when he pitches those hard ones, I’ll fool him. I won’t bat at them and after a while he will get weak with so much hard work and then watch me.” The Tragics team included Eugene Pallette, Jack Pickford, Lew Cody and George Beban, and the Comics included Harold Lloyd, Bobbie Dunn, Eric Campbell, Charlie Murray, Chester Conklin and Hank Mann. The Times mentioned “at present the members of the opposing teams are practicing for the big event in a way that would make your blood curdle.” All contestants were asked to report to Charlie Murray at 2:30 pm on March 31st to receive their first aid bandages.

1939program
1939 program

The Saturday afternoon game was a great success, raising nearly $8000 for the Red Cross. However, nobody bothered to report which team won the game. In the 1930’s, the Comedians vs. Leading Men baseball game became an annual charity event.

None of the other films released this week had a chance at being Kingsley’s favorite because a Chaplin film came out. She said:

The Cure – is! If you’ve got the blues, or don’t like your mother-in-law, or have a pain in your chest, don’t consult a physician or your lawyer, but go and see Charlie Chaplin at the Garrick. View Charlie disporting himself among the old ladies and gentlemen at the health resort; watch him drink the water; see him go through the evolutions superinduced by the attentions of the masseur; watch the effect of the bottles of liquor which the attendant spills into the cure-all waters; see Charlie in a bathing suit—and laugh. You will: I’ll guarantee it.

People still enjoy The Cure; the official Chaplin site calls it “perhaps the funniest of the Mutuals.” If you need a laugh, you can see it on the Internet Archive.

jewelpawn
A Jewel in Pawn: Walter Belasco, Maie and Ella Hall

Maybe exhibitors didn’t want to compete, because some particularly badly reviewed films were in the theaters this week. A Jewel in Pawn starring Ella Hall irritated Kingsley so much that she recounted the plot, with commentary:

You see Ella’s mama in this picture is very, very poor, and they live in the slums. Suddenly mama remembers she has a rich dad, and conceives the not unreasonable idea of returning to him together with daughter. But she has no money to buy her railroad ticket. Then Ella has a bright idea. Why shouldn’t mama pawn her, daughter, to get the money? The pawnbroker is an elderly widower, dwelling alone at the back of his shop, with whom she has but a slight acquaintance, and some evil-minded person sitting back of me suggested he hardly thought that a nice, loving, careful mama would pawn her beloved daughter.

So audiences then weren’t as innocent as we might believe. A Jewel in Pawn is a lost film, and between the anti-Semitic stereotype of the pawnbroker and the story’s uncomfortable nearness to pedophilia, I can see why it was never remade.

Bad as that was, the latest Olga Petrova film was worse, and Kingsley’s annoyance stretched over two days’ worth of columns. On Monday, she said The Waiting Soul was “a simple, one-stringed tale, with the sub-titles lending an air of stiltedness to the thing” (Petrova played a woman with a “purple” past that threatens her marriage). By Tuesday she was calling it an example of why some films really ought to be censored, and while they’re at it they could “make it a misdemeanor to destroy a helpless pie in the interests of comic art” and suppress some of those “sunny-curled ingénues.” So that’s one way to improve the pictures. The Waiting Soul has been preserved at the Eastman House.

 

 

Week of April 7th, 1917

 

escape
Shooting The Escape (1914). Billy Bitzer, D.W. Griffith, Henry B. Walthall

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported that opportunities in Hollywood were drying up for scenario writers:

That about 50 per cent of the ordinary present-day writers of ‘original’ scenarios are doomed to extinction by the mere process of elimination, seems to be a foregone conclusion… And nowadays the weeding-out process has begun in the scenario departments of all the big producing companies. Only such as have already gained distinction or who have shown unusual ability are retaining their jobs.

Instead of hiring people to write original stories, companies were adapting existing material. She cited Selig’s version of Rex Beach’s The Spoilers and Griffith’s “picturization” of The Escape as early successes, then Birth of a Nation from Thomas Dixon’s work proved they could be financial and artistic successes.

Of course, original stories weren’t replaced by adaptations, and somebody had to do the adapting. Instead, this was part of the industry-wide contraction that lasted until after the war concluded. Film has always been an uncertain career.

Her favorite film this week happened to be an adaptation, one based on a Robert Louis Stevenson story. She liked The Bottle Imp because it was so different from anything else she’d seen. Sessue Hayakawa starred as the imp who lived in a magic bottle, “the owner of which must not be caught dead with it, or his soul will be destroyed, but who, while he possesses it makes its imp the servant of his will.” She said “There are many spectacular scenes, such as the magic building of a palace before your eyes and the beautifying of diverse ugly people.” Julian Johnson in Photoplay agreed completely, exclaiming, “would that there were more photoplays of imagination such as The Bottle Imp!” It’s been preserved at the Eastman House.

The war was very much on everyone’s minds; Kingsley reported that during the afternoon vaudeville show at the Orpheum, “the smiling audience was looking up in expectation of Lew Dockstader’s appearance; the stage manager stepped forth in wholly untheatrical manner and stated that two army officers in the audience, naming them, were wanted at once at their barracks. That was all – but there was a hushed silence for a full half minute, while we were in the grip of the realization of war.” She also mentioned that at every vaudeville house patriotic musical numbers were played, and the crowds stood up.

If only actors knew more about film history, they could save themselves from so much misery! Jane Gail, the leading actress from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea told everyone that working underwater was no fun. She had thought it would be wonderful to see the bottom of the sea, but “I wouldn’t do it again. I’d rather fall over a cliff or out of a balloon than ever go through that experience again.” She married a writer and stopped acting in 1920. Kinglsey reviewed the film later that week and thought the dry land scenes were dry indeed, but the wet bits were gripping and dramatic.

Week of March 31st, 1917

recruitment

The coming war dominated Kingsley’s columns this week. On Monday, April 2nd President Wilson asked Congress to declare war on the German Empire, and they did it on on Friday, April 6th. Kingsley reported on how the film business was ready to assist:

  • The Federal government established a recruiting station on the Universal lot, and many actors had already volunteered.
  • The Lasky studio had formed a 125-men-strong company that drilled twice a week. Members included William and Cecil de Mille, Wallace Reid, and Donald Crisp.
  • Harry Harvey, the director of the Balboa Amusement Company, had bought two machine guns and was training men on their use.
  • The Navy selected Vitagraph’s “Womanhood, the Glory of the Nation” as a recruiting film. It told the story of a woman who raised an American army to fight a fictional war in Europe. The Navy hoped to station a recruiting officer and medical examiner at every screening.

 

Every male aged 21-30 registered – from up-and-coming comics to stars, no exceptions

timesjune6

However, the government quickly realized that the all-volunteer force wasn’t enough, so six weeks later on May 18th, Congress passed the Selective Service Act, which required all men living in the United States between the ages of 21 and 30 to register for military service.(1) So on June 5th they all went to went to an appointed place, answered some questions and signed the form. In Los Angeles they used the polling places, which was convenient because there was a municipal election the same day so men could vote and register. The Times reporter, John Lloyd, was almost poetic in his description:

Conscription aroused from its nap of fifty years yesterday, and summoned to the registry stations sixty-five thousand of the city’s warrior sons, who may be caught in the rip of the war tide and flung at the foe in France. Not a fistfight, nor brawl, nor riot disturbed the simple ceremony of the largest city in the West, calling forth the names of those selected for the greatest test…Some signed their names as if signing for their death, as figuratively it might well be, and some as though registering for a lark.

Hollywood also began to prepare for the inevitable results of war by helping the Red Cross. Lasky organized a Red Cross company; Mary Pickford, Mae Murray, and Kathlyn Williams were some of the participants. Keystone ran a successful fundraiser for the Red Cross at Levy’s Tavern. Actor/comic Charlie Murray (2) auctioned off a silver cup, netting $800. Then someone yelled “Fill it up with money!” and they collected another $428.

To dispel some of the gloom, Kingsley recommended His Father’s Son, a “sparkling little screen comedy” that starred Lionel Barrymore. While the plot lacked originality, she thought the intertitles were worth the price of admission. Barrymore played a spoiled rich boy whose father forces him to get a job. He gets hired by a detective agency to guard an emerald by impersonating a butler. He’s a fine guard but a bad butler. Kingsley thought that Barrymore’s comic ability was as good as Fairbanks’, and “no drop of comedy is wasted in this story.” It’s been preserved by Archives Du Film Du CNC (Bois d’Arcy).

Kingsley continued her vendetta against bad Theda Bara pictures with a review of Her Greatest Love. Her review for the lost film was such a hoot that I want to share it:

Banishing wives to Siberia can’t be a very common sort of sport even in Russia. Wherefore the event occurring in Her Greatest Love, Theda Bara’s vehicle at Miller’s this week, gives a new thrill to the jaded picture fan. You see, Theda’s husband in the picture is Walter Law. Walter appears as a wicked Russian nobleman with whiskers such as were never worn on land or sea. Theda was only 15 years old, and in short dresses, and she didn’t want to marry him at all, it seems, but in order to save the family name or to get into long dresses, or something, she finally consented. She loved Robert Hilliard, all sweet and gallant and clean-shaven; but in pictures you know a poor girl can’t do a single thing hardly that she wants to.

Discovering in reel no. 3 that her husband had a mistress, she went right up stairs, and in her agony changed her dress to something very neat and nifty with fox furs added, and she was going to leave him flat. But he told her he would send her to Siberia, and she said all right; that would be nice if he would fix up the plumbing in the castle and see that she had a good dressmaker. Anyway, that’s the inference, as she appears in wonderful dresses away off there in the frozen North, and the castle is a very spick and span castle, indeed. Of course, everything comes out all right, with the wicked husband dueled to death.

Poor Miss Bara – she didn’t deserve the scripts Fox was giving her. Later this year, she did get to star in the epic Cleopatra, so her career wasn’t finished yet.

(1) There were two more registration days, one on June 5, 1918 to catch the men who turned 21, and one on September 12, 1918 to register all men aged 18-45.

(2) Lea at Silentlogy wrote a post about Murray.

Week of March 24th, 1917

libertybonds
Chaplin and Fairbanks do their bit for Liberty Bonds

One hundred years ago this week, war-related news had spread to Grace Kingsley’s film business column.

In the present great national crisis a ‘mobilize the movies’ campaign was quite inevitable. Can you imagine any sort of catastrophe or adventure in which the ubiquitous motion picture would play no part? If the sacred second coming were to happen today there’d be pictures of the event on the market tomorrow! … And now it’s the impending war in this country which is being press-agented. That motion pictures may be of vast assistance in developing the country’s military resources is, of course, indisputable. The Associated Motion Picture Advertisers, Inc., are thoroughly convinced of this, and last week went so far as to institute a campaign throughout the country having preparedness as its object.

The Association, founded in 1916, was made up of the publicists from most of the producing companies. They planned to make two feature-length films and some shorts, as well as fourteen recruiting slides with slogans and patriotic appeals. They hoped that newspapers and magazines would donate advertising space.

 

AMPA had good intentions, but there’s no record of any results. The work they proposed to do, and more, was done by the Committee on Public Information, a government agency established on April 13, 1917 just days after Congress declared war. The CPI used film, advertising, posters, radio and public speeches to inform people about recruitment, rationing, war bond drives and why the war was being fought. Hollywood did its bit, especially helping to sell war bonds.

With so much worry about the coming war, its no surprise that Kingsley’s favorite film this week was optimistic and cheerful.

All of the grave maxims of the copy books, regarding the virtues and efficacy of economy and thrift, are gaily upset in Skinner’s Dress Suit…After all, the most dramatic moments of the lives of us workaday folks who make up the majority of the world’s population aren’t spent being ejected from our homes by cruel fathers, or in foiling the villain who has the ‘papers,’ or in dodging would-be seducers of our virtues. The men constituting our villains in real life are, viewed from some other man’s standpoint, pretty human sort of fellow—the really decent old gentleman for instance, who refuses to raise your wages because he thinks you aren’t worth any more than he his paying you…This is the prosaic sort of problems which are played upon with such jovial philosophy, such cheery optimism, such kindly satire and whimsical humor.

Skinners Dress Suit told the story of a young man who fails to ask for a raise at work despite his wife’s encouragement. He lies to her about it, and she makes him buy a dress suit so they can go out and celebrate. In his new outfit he’s able to meet rich people and negotiate a big deal for his firm, thereby earning a raise and promotion for real. It’s a lost film. It sold so many tickets that they made two sequels that year: Skinner’s Bubble and Skinner’s Baby.

carpenter
Horace B. Carpenter

Kinglsey reported on a mystery:

Is any western writer responsible for the authorship of A Regular Guy? If so, let him at once speak up and receive a check from Artcraft. The story was recently accepted by Douglas Fairbanks, but the author of the scenario carelessly failed to place his name, address, laundry mark, or any other means of identification on his manuscript. And it certainly does pain Artcraft to have to go ahead and stage a thousand dollar scenario without paying for it.

The author did come forward and get his credit (and presumably his check). Horace B. Carpenter was a former newspaper writer turned actor who was currently playing leads at Famous Players-Lasky. This was the first scenario that he sold, but he went on to write and direct several Westerns in the 1920s. He continued to act in sound Westerns, primarily in bit parts, until his death in 1945.

wildwoolly

The film’s title was changed to Wild and Woolley and the story suited Fairbanks to a T. (Anita Loos’ contributions to the script probably didn’t hurt, either.) Fairbanks plays an East-coast fan obsessed with Western dime novels. To cure him, his railroad president father sends him to Bitter Creek, Arizona where the townspeople want a rail line. To impress the young fan, they disguise their home as an Old West town with a fake train holdup and Indian raid. Then there’s a real raid and kidnapping. Gee, could anyone save the day? The Exhibitor’s Herald thought it was better than anything they’d done before, and Fairbanks’s biographer Tracey Goessel called it one of his best early films. In 2002 the Library of Congress selected it for National Film Registry, so it’s a “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant film.” It’s available on DVD.

marshal_neilan
Marshall Neilan

Film people in 1917 worked nonstop. Director Marshall Neilan even edited one while travelling on a train. Kingsley reported that he was about to leave for a location when the studio decided to move up the release date for the last film he’d shot, so he loaded his editing equipment and the film into a train car and did the work en route to Santa Cruz. Neilan made 9 features and one short in 1917. He’s most famous for his work with Mary Pickford; he directed Stella Maris (1918) and Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1924).

Sometimes working while you travelled could be too exciting. Kingsley wrote that when the train carrying the cast and crew of The Hidden Spring was coming back to Los Angeles from Jerome, Arizona, the train buckled on a turn on a steep grade and the last two cars became separated from the rest and slid down the mountain. Cameraman Tony Gaudio had just set up his camera on the back platform and he managed to turn the crank with one hand and hold on with the other for the whole trip. She mentioned that the camera got damaged, but the negative was fine. However, she didn’t’ report how Gaudio fared! He did go on to a long and successful career that included five Oscar nominations, one win (for Anthony Adverse (1936)) and collaborating on one of the best Technicolor films, The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). The plot description of The Hidden Spring doesn’t include a thrilling backwards train ride. Maybe the footage got used in another movie.

CORRECTION: Keaton met the camera on March 21st

datebook
Keaton’s datebook (Thanks for the image, Patty!)

Patty Tobais at the Damfinos has very kindly let me know that I’ve made a mistake. While Keaton met Lou Anger on March 19th, he didn’t actually go before the camera until March 21st. He wrote it all down in his day book.

I was relying on the story as told in Rudi Blesh’s biography, and I regret my error. Please consider it an early notice, so you can get ready for the big event on Tuesday.

Keaton met the camera today

One hundred years ago today, Buster Keaton was introduced to the moving picture camera. Considering what Keaton did with it, the day really ought to be an international holiday.

childs1917
Childs Restraunt breakfast menu, 1917. Did he get rye, corn meal, buckwheat or wheat  griddle cakes? It’s been lost to history.

Monday, March 19, 1917 started out unremarkably for him. According to biographer Rudi Blesh, he got up early, restless and worried about his solo act. Twenty-one years old, he’d never worked onstage without his family, and he’d signed a contract to appear alone in The Passing Show, the Shubert’s Broadway variety show. It was the day before rehearsals were to begin. Unsettling news of the war in Europe filled the front page of the New York Times; three American boats had been sunk by German submarines, but Russia vowed to keep fighting alongside their allies, despite their revolution. Keaton went to a Childs Restaurant (it was a chain), ordered pancakes, but he couldn’t touch them. It was a cold morning (35 degrees) but dry and he went for a walk. He ran into Lou Anger, an old friend from vaudeville who was working for Roscoe Arbuckle. He talked Keaton into coming along for a visit to the studio. Anger introduced Arbuckle, who asked him to do a bit in the next scene of The Butcher Boy but Keaton turned him down. Arbuckle invited him to stay and see how they worked, then called for a twenty-minute break. He asked what he wanted to see first. The camera, Keaton replied. So they went over to the cameraman, Frank Williams.

Frank Williams
Frank Williams

Keaton and Arbuckle must have been persuasive, because most cameramen wouldn’t let a stranger (even worse, an actor) get anywhere near their equipment. Nevertheless, Williams let him, as Blesh put it, all but climb inside the camera, inspecting the gears, sprockets, and shutter. Then Keaton looked at the lights, the cutting room, and watched some dailies. Blesh continued, “This, he saw, was for him. As the last frame of the last rush faded on the screen, he stood up in the darkness. The twenty-minute break had been nearly an hour. ‘Let’s do that scene,’ he said.” And that’s how Buster Keaton became a filmmaker.

Grace Kingsley was busy working 3,000 miles away, so she had no idea that one of her soon -to-be favorite comics was getting his start in film. On this day she reported that theaters were going to stop using the American flag in advertising to restore some dignity to it “in the present grave crisis of national affairs” (Congress declared war on Germany just three weeks later, on April 6th) and she reviewed the week’s films, including Out of the Wreak (“another of those obvious stories, patched together out of the scenario barrel”) and The Barricade (“a new and refreezing twist on the defaulting broker theme”).

Two days later she mentioned that she’d gotten a letter from Arbuckle’s publicity man, Jimmie Tynan, who’d gone “east with Roscoe Arbuckle to try and get that man a little much-needed publicity.” He didn’t mention any clever recent hires, but he told her that while New York life was very exciting, they all missed California and “Mrs. Arbuckle’s sister had never seen snow before — and she hasn’t seen anything else since, in the way of climate, anyway.” No wonder the company moved back to Los Angeles in October. Minta Durfee Arbuckle’s sister Marie was born in Los Angeles in 1893, so the story might have even been true.

Unfortunately, when The Butcher Boy was released in Los Angeles in late April, Kingsley didn’t like it very much. She called it “pretty much the old jazz stuff as regards action and plot” but she conceded that Arbuckle in girls’ clothes is always funny. She didn’t mention the guy with the bucket at all.

 

 

1924bulgad
1924 Chicago Tribune ad

[Of course I had to find out what Bulgarzoon on the Childs menu was. It was a yogurt drink like Kefir, according to Dining Chicago.]