Third Time Lucky: Week of October 23rd, 1920

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley interviewed a serious filmmaker, but she didn’t ask about his important theories about Art. Since Erich von Stroheim was publicizing his upcoming release Foolish Wives, her first question was just who are those wives? He responded with some nonsense:

The foolish wife, according to the famous Universal director, is one who not only doesn’t study her own husband, but who doesn’t study masculine psychology in general, accept certain facts, and learn how to cope with them.

“You’ll smile at the suggestion,” he said, “but I believe that girls should be taught this along with domestic economy. And they should be taught male psychology…For instance, if my wife told me I couldn’t smoke in bed I would be perfectly miserable.”

Kingsley was too polite to say: so, you mean put up and shut up? An eye-roll, not a smile, seems like a better response to his suggestion. However, she was annoyed enough to point this out:

“Mr. von Stroheim, who is now a bridegroom and has been married three times, should be something of an authority on the question of wives, shouldn’t he?”

He told her about his former wives, but lots of it wasn’t particularly true (he didn’t only lie to the press about his imaginary aristocratic origins). He said his first wife died of tuberculosis. Margaret Knox did die in 1916, but they were divorced before that; the marriage lasted from 1913-1915. According to his biographer Arthur Lennig, he couldn’t find work and they fought a lot. Stroheim said he met his second wife while working as a lifeguard at Lake Tahoe. She was supposedly from a rich Oakland family and they divorced because she wanted to accept money from her family, and he didn’t. This also wasn’t true. He met Mae Jones in New York City while working on a Douglas Fairbanks film, His Picture in the Papers. Her stepfather was a salesman, and she became a dressmaker after they divorced in July 1919, so her family wasn’t rich.

Erich and Valerie von Stroheim

However, he seems to have been truthful about his current wife. He did meet Valerie Germonprez when he played a lecherous Hun in Allan Holubar’s The Heart of Humanity (1918). She had a small part as an ambulance driver. He noticed that her costume was wrong and he helped her pick the correct uniform, then

“We at once became friends. We became engaged soon after, and I owe more than I can say to her constant companionship, advice and sympathy. I feel sure ours is really the ideal marriage.”

He was quite fortunate that he’d married her; she played an important part on his film sets according to Lennig:

Sometimes Stroheim would go into an absolute rage about some detail. At this point, his wife Valerie, always with him on the sets as a sort of steadying wheel for his moods, would try to soothe his ruffled nerves. He would never work without her. The two would talk over the problem, after which he would then return, the storm over.

They parted in 1936 when he moved to France, but they never divorced. He moved in with actress Denise Vernac in 1939 but continued to send money and “effusive notes on birthdays and anniversaries and Christmas and Easter.” Lennig doesn’t know if it was guilt or love.

In an essay entitled “Blind Biographers: The Invention of Erich von Stroheim,” Ealasaid A. Haas comes to a useful conclusion about Stroheim’s stories:

Whatever his motivation for remaking himself, he was certainly skilled at it. And no wonder – he was a gifted screenwriter, and he turned that talent to constructing his past as he wished it might have been.   One can look at it as his greatest creation, for it was not edited by other hands. For once, he had complete artistic control.

Stroheim mentioned that his next project would be based on Arthur Schnitzler’s seven one-act play cycle about the loves and disappointments of a playboy in fin de siecle Vienna, Anatol. He was probably unhappily surprised when just next week, Cecil B. De Mille announced his next film was to be The Affairs of Anatol, and he’d already chosen his cast: Gloria Swanson, Wallace Reid Wanda Hawley, Bebe Daniels and Agnes Ayers. According to De Mille biographer Robert Birchard, it was a big hit. But it’s a shame von Stroheim didn’t make it anyway – the two films would have been so different!  Stroheim was so good with louche characters.

At this point, he was on his way to the U.S.

Speaking of canonical filmmakers, Kingsley reported that one of them was trying to get his most famous film made much earlier than anybody knew:

They do say that if Carl Laemmle will let him do it, Mr. Browning is hoping to filmize that novel shocker entitled Dracula by Bram Stoker.

Tod Browning could have beat Nosferatu (1922) to the theaters by two years if he’d gotten started right away. He was still thinking about it in 1921, when Lillian Gale reported in Motion Picture News that he “recently threatened” to adapt Dracula to the screen. (“Live Notes from the Studios,” May 14, 1921, p. 3069) After that, the project doesn’t appear in the Media History Digital Library until 1930, and the rest is horror movie history. Letting the idea cook for a decade probably helped make it a better film. The play version that they ended up basing the screenplay on didn’t come out until 1924. Besides, Bela Lugosi didn’t arrive in the U.S. until December 1920.

In a review of “the good old crook comedy” Officer 666, Kingsley thought that a remarkable part of the play didn’t translate well to the screen:

A lot of the chases, unaccompanied by the dialogue of the play not only were bewildering but meaningless.

We know why this stinker needed chasing

How in the world did they louse that up? Movie chases had been successfully filmed since L’Arroseur Arrosé  in 1895! Has anybody ever been confused by a Keystone Kops chase? The film is lost, so we can’t see exactly how it went wrong, but J.S. Dickerson in Motion Picture News (November 13, 1920, p. 3811) mentioned that they used lines directly from the play as intertitles, and:

The result is a picture that interests only so far as reading the script would interest and has a handicap of much running in and out by various characters and the squad of police, that will be confusing to those who do not read titles quickly or are not familiar with the stage version.

So there were too many different groups chasing and being chased. It sounds bad indeed.

Arthur Lennig, Stroheim, Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1999.

Throwback Theater: Week of October 16th, 1920

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on an experiment:

“In order to complete the renovation of the house, Walker Theater has postponed its opening date until Saturday. The first showing of the Cinema Short Story Magazine will then be given.

The Walker is one of the first theaters in America to adopt the policy of a motion-picture magazine, but it is the original unit in what is to be a chain of twenty-four theaters. Adventure, travel, news events, comedy, drama, science, art, industry, literature, natural history, scenic pictures are some of the features which the magazine is to exhibit.”

San Diego’s Cabrillo Celebration, sometime between 1918-1930

Promising “a picture show that’s different,” the first two-hour long program included “views of the Cabrillo Celebration, the football game between U.S.C and Stanford, cartoon comedies, travel pictures, and a number of other features, including Herbert Kaufman’s miniature drama, Content, a quaint oriental study with Leslie King as the star, supported by a full Chinese cast.” In addition to shorts produced by studios, the theater had equipped camera cars, to photograph local events.

This was a great idea twenty years earlier, when film programs were a collection of shorts, and it worked well again in 1929, when the first American newsreel theater was founded (they lasted until the mid-1960’s, when news on television replaced them). But it looks like 1920 was not the time for it because the Cinema Short Story Magazine format only lasted for nine days, October 23-31. The Walker went back to showing feature films, and the chain of theaters never happened. If you’d like to know about the theater’s history, visit the Los Angeles Theaters blog.

This week, Kingsley got to complain a lot about The Hope. Her review was a catalog of what seemed old-fashioned in 1920:

It’s vintage stuff, and the film spirit of 1914 has not improved with age as does another kind of spirit. The Hope has the overdue mortgage, with the folks put out on ten minutes’ notice. Later playwrights have studied law more and know that common law doesn’t permit any such things being done. Then there are the letters put into wrong envelopes; in fact, the play makes use of as many notes as President Wilson. There’s the wronged girls and the villain who intercepts letters, and other dear old bits of hokum.

It sounds like it wasn’t even trashy enough to be fun. Adapted from a Drury Lane melodrama, the plot involved an impoverished aristocrat courting a young woman only for her father’s money. After he comes into an inheritance, he jilts her. Pregnant, she runs away to Italy. There Kingsley found something novel to be appalled by:

But the picture has one great original touch. That’s the earthquake. It’s the most singularly behaving earthquake in all history. For it doesn’t quake at all. You see the volcano in the distance, and all about the actors the walls topple and fall, but there’s nary a real quake or shake. Also all sorts of things fall around the hero and heroine, and they aren’t hurt, but a puny post knocks the villain down and does for him.

Kingsley and her readers would know all about that: in June there’d been a 4.9 quake whose epicenter was in Inglewood, about 12 miles southwest of downtown L.A. Critics in New York didn’t find fault with the ridiculous natural phenomena, but they agreed with her about the movie overall. Laurence Reid in Motion Picture News (September 4, 1920) wrote:

The regulation plot, presenting the orthodox hero, the outraged heroine and the super villainous heavy, in a conflict for the love-stakes, is not the kind of material which will appeal to the patron with twentieth century ideas. . .The Hope is old stuff. It will probably appeal to those who cater to time worn melodrama.

A complete copy of this film has been preserved at the Eastman House.

 

“The Line Up,” Los Angeles Herald, October 23, 1920.

“Notes on the Theaters,” Los Angeles Herald, October 21, 1920.

One Smart Woman: Week of October 9th, 1920

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Jim Colosimo and Dale Winter

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley left out the most important detail of a story she reported:

When that great New York hit Irene comes to the Mason sometime this fall, it will have as one of its stars a highly fascinating and interesting personality, no less a person than Dale Winter, the widow of “Big Jim” Colosimo, and who was formerly of stage and cabaret fame, and has just come back to the fold in the new musical comedy hit after an absence of many months.

Dale Winter’s story reads like an O. Henry yarn. She went to Chicago six years ago as a member of a sister act which became stranded there. Having her family dependent on her, she got a job as singer in Colosimo’s Café. The owner of the café found her a great drawing card, because of her beauty and voice, and because of her beauty he found it necessary to give special instructions to his waiters to look out that no patron annoyed her with his attentions. After being divorced from his wife, Colosimo became attentive to the lovely Miss Winter, and later married her. That was last spring. He settled a fortune on her.

But within a week after the pair returned to Chicago from the honeymoon trip the café keeper was found murdered in his office. Thereupon the bride refused to keep the money settled on her, insisting on surrendering the fortune to two brothers of Colosimo whom he had not seen for many years. She kept nothing, not even the half-interest in the café, which yielded $50,000 a year. The widow dropped from sight for a while, but came to New York a month ago, took a modest apartment, and started preparing a vaudeville act.

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1917 ad

You’ve probably already guessed what’s missing from the story: “Chicago café keeper” was a euphemism for “mobster.” By walking away from the money and disappearing for a bit, Dale Winter got to live 76 more years. She was only 19 when her husband died, but smart enough not to touch the Mafia’s money.

It wasn’t only Kingsley who wouldn’t write the words “organized crime” in her column: the words simply didn’t appear together in the L.A. Times in the early 1920’s.* The word “mob” was only applied to groups of protesters, and “Mafia” didn’t appear at all.  One group’s name, the Black Hand, was used when members were in court for kidnapping, murder or extortion charges. So she wasn’t necessarily naïve or ill-informed, she might have been following the newspaper’s style guide. People were probably used to reading between the lines. It’s also possible that before the crime movies of the 1930’s or 1970’s (and T.V. shows of the 2000’s) Los Angeleans were less aware of organized crime.

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The Chicago Daily Tribune was much less reticent when they reported on the murder (May 12, 1920):

“Big Jim” Colosimo was shot to death in his café yesterday afternoon by a person who came upon him alone, sent a single bullet through his brain and then sped away unobserved. By his death Mrs. Dale Winter Colosimo, his wife for only three weeks, was widowed. Mrs. Vittoria Moresco Colosimo, divorced only a month, became the feature in a city-wide search by the police.

Chicago’s underworld was in turmoil. The Enright murder, the Coleman murder, all the crimes that have emphasized Chicago’s Camorra as a thing beyond the law, all came under police scrutiny for clues to this latest and boldest of assassinations. Only the slayer saw Jim Colosimo die.

The murder is still officially unsolved, but a 1987 Chicago Tribune article had some theories:

Some say Al Capone did it; others, New York gunman Frankie Yale…The most popular theory is that Big Jim’s nephew, Johnny Torrio, thinking his liaison with Winter made his uncle “go soft” and that a “reformed” Colosimo would be unable to hold the city’s crime syndicate together, ordered the assassination.

After Winter lay low for a few months, she was overheard practicing for her act in New York and got hired for a touring company of the hit musical Irene. It opened in Springfield, Massachusetts on September 29, 1920 and didn’t make its way to Los Angeles until June 1921. Times critic Edwin Schallert thought it was outstanding: “No mistake, Irene must have come from a paradise of musical shows.” He was also impressed by the leading lady:

Dale Winter’s Irish eyes were smiling most alluringly last night…You’ll like her every minute that she sings and when she talks for she starts the show all wound up like an eight-day clock.

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Dale Winter, Henry Duffy

The article about the show before it opened still thought the most interesting thing about her was her murdered husband, retelling her refusal to accept any inheritance (including fifteen barrels of fine old whisky) without referring to the mob. Eventually articles stopped mentioning her first husband, particularly after she married actor and stock company owner Henry Duffy in 1924. They went on to own nine theaters on the West Coast and Winter often appeared in plays ranging from The Patsy to Michael and Mary at the El Capitan in Los Angeles. They had a son and a daughter. Their company went bankrupt in 1941 and they divorced in 1945. She married twice more and died in San Bernardino in 1985.

If you’d like to know more about the case, visit the Mob Museum’ blog.

*They printed the phrase “organized crime” once between 1920 and 1921, in a short article imagining how terrible it would be if criminals were as organized as the I.W.W. labor union (the Times was rabidly anti-union at the time). Ironic, hunh?

“Colosimo Slain: Seek Ex-Wife Just Returned,” Chicago Daily Tribune, May 12, 1920.

“Henry Duffy, Producer of 2,000 Plays, Dies,” Los Angeles Times, November 21, 1961.

“Is Heiress To Whisky By Barrels” Los Angeles Times, June 6, 1920.

June Sawyers, “Way We Were,” Chicago Tribune, July 26, 1987.

Delayed comings and goings: Week of October 2nd, 1920

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His travels were more comfortable than this (The Immigrant 1917)

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley had news about the world’s most famous film star’s plans. On Wednesday she had a report from New York City that:

Charlie Chaplin will make a trip to Europe before coming home and may remain there to produce pictures several months, at least. The comedian is anxious to lease his studio here, but, it is said, wants $1250 a week for it, which is considered a rather exorbitant price by those desiring studio space.

By Friday he’d already had a taker:

That Charlie Chaplin does not intend to return to Los Angeles for at least a year is evidenced from the fact that yesterday, through his brother Sydney Chaplin, he closed negotiations with Ben. H. Cohen, manager of the Carter De Haven Productions, for the lease of the Chaplin studio for one year. The lease takes effect today and the rental to be paid is $1250 per week.

According to word of friends yesterday, Chaplin will go abroad as soon as his affairs are straightened out in regard to his latest picture, The Kid, and after some manner of settlement is arranged with Mildred Harris Chaplin.

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Chaplin in London, 1921

He’d been uncharacteristically absent from her column for the last few months, busy with both finishing his feature-length film The Kid and his divorce negotiations. However, by Saturday he’d already changed his mind about going to Europe. He still had a contract with First National to make three more shorts. He did get his European vacation, but not until September 1921.

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Chaplin quit the negotiations after he “heard disquieting rumors coming from the camp of his wife’s lawyers,” so she proceeded with the divorce in Los Angeles. It was granted on November 12th. Chaplin didn’t attend. He went back to work on January 18, 1921, taking his studio back from Carter De Haven, who had finished shooting The Girl in the Taxi, and only needed a place to edit it. He planned to make all three shorts that he owed First National in the next five months, but only The Idle Class got finished. De Haven went on to work with Chaplin as the assistant director on Modern Times (1936) and the assistant producer on The Great Dictator (1940).

Astonishingly, the lease is available online through the Chaplin Archive. That man saved everything! Somebody misinformed Kingsley: the rent was $650 per week.

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D.W. Griffith

She also had an update on another United Artist:

That D.W. Griffith is returning to the West to produce was learned yesterday from authoritative sources. The famous director will arrive for the premier of Way Down East at Clune’s Auditorium October 18. The exact date of his arrival is not announced, but it will be several days before the premier of the picture which the critics have universally declared to be a masterpiece, is surmised.

Just where Mr. Griffith will set up his camera is not yet known, but it is reasonable to suppose that he will work at the old studio on Sunset Boulevard made famous for the workshop in which were filmed The Birth of a Nation, Intolerance and Broken Blossoms. With Mr. Griffith, or soon after, will come members of his company, including Carol Dempster, Richard Barthelmess and other players, together with William Bitzer, his cameraman, and others. Announcement of his picture plans will be made later.

Those authoritative sources turned out not to be so: Griffith didn’t even come out for the premier of Way Down East, let alone return to filmmaking here. He stayed at his Mamaroneck, New York studio until 1925. She was always so hopeful he’d be back!

waydowneast

Griffith didn’t need to come to the premier to help publicize it: the film was a huge hit, “breaking all paid admission records in the history of motion pictures” according to Moving Picture World (October 30, 1920). They even changed which theater it was shown in, from Clune’s to the Philharmonic. As usual, Kingsley didn’t get to go. Her boss Edwin Schallert did, and he couldn’t have praised it more highly:

Making the forces of nature subject to the all-embracing eye of the camera, D.W. Griffith, with a general’s power of organization, has marshalled a new wealth of pictorial beauty to shine before the bedazzled eyes of the beholder in Way Down East, which had its first presentation last night at the Philharmonic Auditorium. The feature represents his annual tour de force in the drama of the cinema, and it again marks a triumphant phase of the director’s genius as an innovator.

“Chaplin to Return Here and Get Busy,” Los Angeles Times, October 10, 1920.

“Mildred Harris Chaplin Gets Divorce and Cash,” Los Angeles Times, November 13, 1920.

Grace Kingsley, “Charlie Chaplin Resumes,” Los Angeles Times, January 19, 1921.

Cruel Satires?: Week of September 25th 1920

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported that an actress took great offense at a musical revue called Satires of 1920:

At last the awful gulf between stage and screen has been bridged, and those cruel satires on motion pictures which Fanchon and Marco use in their revue at the Mason are going to be toned down, if Carmel Myers has anything to say about it. In fact, so hurt was the young Universal star last Monday night when she saw the awful things Fanchon and Marco have done to her pet artistic medium, that Miss Myers invited the two artists over to Universal to see for themselves if picture players don’t sometimes express great things and all that. The satirists went, had their pictures taken with Miss Myers, promised, cross their hearts and hope to die, they’d cut some of the venom out of their satires.

I suspect that they didn’t change much: their two-week run in Los Angeles was ending on Saturday, so it only had a few days to continue to offend Miss Myers. The show went on to tour all over the United States, from towns like North Platte, Nebraska to cities like New York.

aintwegot
Now Satires is mostly remembered because it introduced the song “Ain’t We Got Fun.”

The show didn’t bother other people in Hollywood. When Kingsley reviewed it, she said “the first half of the show is devoted to a burlesque of motion picture activities, which was greatly enjoyed by the big number of professionals in the house.” Overall, she thought it was “full of pep and spice and everything nice” even if some of the lines were so old that “surely some of those jokes have long been household words in the best phonograph parlors.” She blamed the man who wrote the show’s book, veteran vaudeville write Jean Havez, who was also writing gags for Buster Keaton at the time.

Carmel Myers’ annoyance didn’t hurt them: Fanchon and Marco went on to a long career in the film industry. Mary Mallory wrote a detailed biography of them. The Wolff siblings went on to stage live prologs to films for the Pacific Coast Theater chain, and in 1928 they were hired by the Fox Studios to make shorts. Fanchon Wolff Simon also choreographed musical numbers in films until the 1950’s. Her son, William Simon Jr., maintains a website about them.

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Kingsley’s favorite film this week was The Penalty starring Lon Chaney. She’d been tremendously impressed by Chaney since The Price of Silence (1916) and his work in this film was even better. It was:

one of the finest characterizations the screen has ever seen, viz.: Lon Chaney’s portraying of Blizzard in Gouverneur Morris’s The Penalty at the California. I cannot indeed imagine any actor of either stage or screen interpreting the legless and contradictory-natured Blizzard with a finer artistry, discrimination and intelligence than does Chaney. His acting, in fact, heresy though it may sound, in my estimation ranks with Barrymore’s in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Morris’s Blizzard was the embodiment of a terrible vitality, mesmerizing power, love of art, imagination, and sardonic humor, blended with sensuality, brutality, and fiendish ingenuity. Yet men and women who came under his sway loved him. The portrayal of that nature and its acts was Chaney’s big task, and he accomplished it. Nay, more. Even more than Morris made you believe it in his written story, Chaney makes you believe it on the screen.

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Now The Penalty “is considered by many critics to be one of Chaney’s finest performance and certainly one of his best films,” according to Chaney expert Jon Mirsalis (it’s available in DVD and Blu-Ray). Current film historian Fritzi Kramer likes it as much as Kingsley did, but she noticed part of his technique that Kingsley missed:

Blizzard is a complex character. He is intelligent, witty and has a shred of sentimentality still clinging around the edges of his personality. Chaney captures all this and, due to his extreme ability to control his own body, makes the audience truly believe that he is an amputee. Blizzard’s lair is full of ropes and ladders and poles, devices designed for a man shortened by the loss of his legs and with his arms built up through constant use. Chaney uses these devices casually, as if he has been living with them for years. They are not props, they are part of his world. (So many actors have attempted this sort of characterization and failed that I hardly need to emphasize how impressive this is.) This ability to utterly inhabit his characters and pour himself into their physicality is, I think, Chaney’s single greatest asset.

She concluded that it’s not only one of her favorite Chaney films, it’s one of her all-time favorite silent films.

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She became less demure (Rodeo)

In other dance news, Kingsley visited Theodore Kosloff’s dance school once again, but this time she saw the girls’ classes where “miniature Mary Pickfords are turning into split-pint Pavlovas.” Among notes on Altah Behrend from the Booth Tarkington ‘Edgar’ shorts and the currently-at-Sennett Madelaine Parker, she mentioned that “Agnes and Margaret De Mille are two pretty, demure and clever little girls, daughters of William De Mille, who are going to walk off with class honors if the others don’t watch out.”

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She even got her own stamp in 2004!

That’s exactly what happened, at least for Agnes. She became a Broadway choreographer and she was credited with being the first to integrate story and dance in Oklahoma! (1943). Her other work included Carousel (1945), Brigadoon (1947) and Paint Your Wagon (1951). According to her autobiography Dance to the Piper, things didn’t begin so well. When she was 13, she auditioned for Kosloff and “he said my knees were weak, my spine curved, that I was heavy for my age and had ‘no juice’ meaning not limber. But he took me on.” Unlike Kingsley’s report, De Mille said “the plain truth is I was the worst pupil in the class.” Nevertheless, by the time she was 14 she felt that she’d found her life’s work so she kept going.

 

‘An Epidemic of Epidermis’: Week of September 18th, 1920

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One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley noticed another trend that would make the 1920’s so different from the staid Edwardian times: the new ‘cloth famine’ in the movies:

Heigho, summer is gone and the bumper crop of Godiva photodramas is about ready to harvest! Didn’t I behold a scene in a Priscilla Dean picture, the other day out at Universal, in which a man posed as a statue wearing only a simple coating of bronze and a shield, and a woman on the same set, also posing as a statue, didn’t wear any shield at all, not even a dress shield?

She was able to trace the regression of clothing from the stage to the movies:

How it crept upon us, this undress drama! We are crediting naughty old Paris with it, but it really sneaked in via the species of Follies known as morality plays. Vide Experience, The Wanderer, Everywoman and others. Next we showed our ladies nude, but kept ‘em in their own bathrooms. After that the wide, wide ocean became their playground, as in Capt. Peacock’s Neptune’s Bride.

However, not all kinds of films got to participate:

All the big directors are Mack Sennetting now-a-days. Only, of course, when it’s comedy, they have to put something on the girls, but when it’s serious drama with a moral, it’s perfectly al right to have all their ladies trotting about as the naked truth.

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So if they’re wearing clothes, it’s a comedy

The new, more permissive standards didn’t particularly bother Miss Kingsley, but that didn’t stop her from letting some of the air out of pretension:

Curious, by the way, how many things a nude woman can illustrate, according to the directors. With a few carefully placed bead and some thing-um-bobs the dancer can illustrate anything from the legend that truth always wins out in the end to an argument that you shouldn’t eat pie for breakfast.

It’s really nice of the directors, though, because we do get the moral better that way.

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Wallace Beery in Last of the Mohicans

Un-hunh. I bet that’s exactly what the teenaged boys in the audience thought. Nevertheless, at least the new standards were equal opportunity. She wrote: “Why, they’re even undressing the men these days!” after learning of 500 scantily clad young men in the upcoming The Last of the Mohicans, and the male extras “clothed with smiles and a few well-chose beads” in a Jacques Jaccard South Sea Island story. Fair is fair!

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Otis Skinner, Elinor Fair in Kismet

Kingsley didn’t forget to mention the ones who had to suffer for the directors’ art—the poor performers:

They do really get cold sometimes. I heard an assistant director say to a girl on the Kismet set one cool morning:

“Look here, kid, we can’t give you no close-up: you got gooseflesh! Quit shivering, can’t you? This ain’t no shimmy-shaking contest, this ain’t!”

Actresses were also suffering from a new plot point: heroines’ new terrible compulsion to hop into water outdoors. As soon as they saw water, there was

nothing to do but she must take off her clothes and get into that brook. And it wasn’t Saturday night, either. Of course the hero comes along. No matter how many pictures that girl sees in which the hero happens along when the heroine is bathing in the pool, she never seems to learn the lesson.

The hero couldn’t possibly fall in love if he didn’t see her in the altogether, it seems. Kingsley asked an expert about what this kind of scene was like:

Does the actress like that bathing-pool business? She does not. I asked Ruth Roland the other day about it, and she exclaimed: “Like it? Heaven forbid! It may look all nice; but I give you my word it is always dirty; there is green scum on the top, and the place is full of wiggly pollywogs! Ugh! No girl that wasn’t a congenital idiot ever would go into that pool if she didn’t have to!”

Aren’t you glad you’re not a dramatic actress in the 1920’s?

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This article was such a hit that Kingsley was able to expand it and sell it to Picture Play Magazine, where it ran in February 1921 as “The Naughty Nude New Year.” However, the editor felt the need to dump cold water all over it. Just a few pages later “The Observer” column said:

Looking at it from a serious point of view, we do not believe that the new year is going to be quite as nude as predications would have it…the successful producer wants his pictures to be shown in the best theaters, and those are the theaters that want the steady patronage of clean Americans. Indecent pictures play in dirty theaters, and the producers are few and far between who set out to make pictures for that sort of place.

He’s going to be in for a shock as the decade goes on!

 

 

Early Edutainment: Week of September 11th, 1920

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One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley saw a documentary that was extraordinarily entertaining:

“Once in a while real life outstrips the movies. One of the most remarkable features that was ever filmed is being shown at the Palace. Shipwrecked Among Cannibals is the title, and for a real thriller this picture is 100 per cent entertainment. The picture was taken among the Kia Kia head hunters of Dutch New Guinea, by two American motion-picture men who were shipwrecked on the shores of cannibal land. Their introduction to the natives, the manner in which they were received, the cannibals bearing down upon them along the shore, a surprise attack, the cannibal slaughter ceremony, the head dance, the Kia Kia children with human skulls as their playthings and every type of savage warrior are shown in this remarkable film, with which the two men returned to civilization.”

Alas, the thrilling bits weren’t true: the shipwreck was fiction, and the ‘cannibal’ attack was scripted, according to Leonard Maltin’s Classic Film Guide. Furthermore, indigenous people in New Guinea had abandoned cannibalism in the previous century. Nevertheless, the rest of the hour-long film showed American audiences parts of the world they otherwise would have never gotten to see, including Javanese volcanoes, a tiger hunt in Thailand, and tribal customs of Borneo.

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The two motion-picture men were William Alder of the Southern California Academy of Sciences and Edward Laemmle of the Universal Film Company (its president, Carl Laemmle, was his uncle). They left on a 13-month expedition from Universal City on April 17, 1919 and they also visited Japan, China, Indonesia, Australia and the South Sea Islands. It was often hard going even without a shipwreck, for instance, when they sailed up the Baram River in Borneo:

This trip entailed many hardships, for after reaching the head of navigation, they embarked in native boats, practically cutting their way through the jungle, and walking the last forty miles through swamps and dense undergrowth.  (“Expedition in Fruitful,” Los Angeles Times, June 6, 1920)

After they returned to Los Angeles on May 22, 1920, they quickly got their film ready for its New York premier in early July. The critics there were just as enthusiastic as Kingsley was; The New York Evening Sun said,

“For realism, it outstrips the wildest scenario ever drafted. It is one of the most thrilling films ever displayed here.”

So it looks like it wasn’t widely known that it was part-scripted (but honestly, who stops to film when you’re being chased by angry locals?) Shipwrecked is lost, so we can’t see how plausible it was, or how much it would make modern documentarians and anthropologists cringe. Of course, we’re no better now: some people believe ‘reality’ television is true.

The ad campaign made sure that nobody thought it was a dull educational travelogue:

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Or did the chief say “On no, not more anthropologists! Go study yourselves!”

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Happily, this ad was wrong. Indigenous people in Papua-New Guinea have been able to keep their traditions alive.

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The ads really worked: according the Universal, Shipwrecked Among Cannibals was their first film to make a million dollars.

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The trip wasn’t a total loss for recording something about indigenous people’s customs. William Alder wrote two books based on his travels, The Isle of Vanishing Men (1922) and Men of the Inner Jungle (1924). Alder had a life of great variety. Born in Oil City, Pennsylvania on July 28, 1886, after high school in Chicago he spent three seasons touring in vaudeville as a magician. Then he settled down in Cleveland where he helped install theater equipment. By 1910 he’d become a portrait photographer in Rock Island, Illinois before he moved to Los Angeles and switched to moving pictures. He worked for several production companies, including Sterling, Fred Balshofer, Kennedy, Quality Pictures and Triangle-Ince.

After the expedition he also wrote a novel, The Lagoon of Desire, which he adapted and filmed in Tahiti as Fire Bride (1922). Then he became an inventor, patenting devices that increased heat transfer and measured sound, as well as a camera attachment that simulated 3-D in moving pictures with the use of revolving mirrors. Cinematographer Gregg Toland shot tests using it in 1935 and he wrote in the New York Times that the images were “startlingly clear,” but the method didn’t take off. Alder retired in Aptos, California (near Santa Cruz) and wrote a book of art criticism, Peril on Parnassus (1954) (he disliked Modernism and Picasso intensely). He died on January 9, 1956 in Ventura, California.

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This week, we learned that actress Louise Fazenda could really keep a secret. Kingsley reported:

Louise Fazenda, who has just returned from making personal appearances in San Francisco speaking in connection with the presentation of Mack Sennett’s Married Life, is rumored to be about to find out all about what she is talking about. If you get me.

Fazenda was already married, but Miss Kingsley (and her readers) had no idea. Her husband was Sennett director Noel M. Smith and they’d been wed since 1919. Fazenda biographer Lea Stans  doesn’t know why it was secret, and the two separated in 1923 and divorced in 1926.

 

 

 

Taking Movies Seriously: Week of September 4th, 1920

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George Bernard Shaw

One hundred years ago this week, George Bernard Shaw made some surprising appearances in Grace Kingsley’s columns. To introduce her interview with Cecil B. DeMille, she wrote:

I might call him the George Bernard Shaw of the films. But that’s too absurdly unfair to him. When a man molds a new element to new art forms, he deserves to have a fresh niche all to himself, not be crowded in behind some other fellow in his little old niche.

Now, DeMille’s work would never be compared to Shaw, even though some of his early films like Male and Female (1919) deal with class differences, and they both made social satires. But DeMille’s Biblical epics have crowded out his early films in most people’s memories.

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She described DeMille as “a picturesque figure, in his khaki-colored trousers, puttees and cream-colored silk shirt (it positively wouldn’t be Cecil DeMille without that sort of sartorial scenery).

However, that Kingsley would compare him to the preeminent playwright of his time shows how movies were being taken more seriously than before. Some directors were regarded as artists, with their every pronouncement attended to.

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And pay attention to him she did, when she visited the set where he was busy directing his latest film about ‘the marriage problem,’ Forbidden Fruit. Before getting an earful about the bad old prudish days when granny wouldn’t speak of nightgowns, she asked him about the themes of his films, and he said he wanted to be widely appealing:

“People ask me why I make so many plays with sex themes. I do it, I tell them, because sex is universal—it’s the one thing that everybody has. Marriage is therefore the best theme for a play, because it’s a relation involving sex, a relation which everybody has had, has, is going to have, or wants to have. So those in it are interested, and those outside are interested in finding out about it.”

That does sound better than saying he wants to sell lots of tickets, I suppose. Forbidden Fruit was more serious than his recent hits like Why Change Your Husband? While Kingsley promised, “it has enough comedy to be classed in with his former bright satires,” the story of a seamstress married to a wastrel gambler-turned-blackmailer really wasn’t funny and it wasn’t as successful.

Bernard Shaw himself made an appearance in Kingsley’s column later this week. Jesse Lasky had announced director Donald Crisp’s departure for London on Wednesday, and on Friday Kingsley reported on their production plans:

Now watch out for something good! Donald Crisp, Famous Players-Lasky director is going to direct a film version of Bernard Shaw’s Cashel Bryon’s Profession over in London, and Shaw is going to be right there to supervise. Oh well, Crisp went all through the Boer War!

This project never happened, and Shaw waited for sound before any of his works were filmed. Cashel Bryon’s Profession was the story of a boxer ashamed of his job. Written in 1882-3 but not published until 1886, it was Shaw’s second to last novel. In 1884, he quit novel writing and was hired to be a book and music (and later, theater) critic while he worked on his playwriting skills. His first success came in 1894 with Arms and the Man.

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He did direct and appear in Buster Keaton’s The Navigator 

There’s no evidence that Donald Crisp ever even met Shaw, however, there’s quite enough evidence that he was nowhere near South Africa in 1899-1902. Crisp told lots of lies, and digging them all up was some of the most fun I had when I wrote Buster Keaton’s Crew. During the Boer War he was living with his parents in his birthplace, the Bow neighborhood of London, and working as a carman (the driver of a vehicle to transport goods). He later made up stories about his time at Lasky’s in London. In 1942 he claimed to have spied on the Bolsheviks in Russia for British Intelligence then, flying in and out of Russia twice a week. How he managed that on top of making eight films he didn’t explain.

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But his very best lie came later, after he’d gone back to acting full-time: that he was from Scotland, born in Aberfeldy in Perth. He didn’t become Scottish until the late 1930’s. The first mention I’ve found of Crisp’s Northern origins was in Hedda Hopper’s column in March 1938. While praising his acting in the film Jezebel, she wrote “his Scotch heather got a bit into the Southern dialect, but that added zest to me.” He seems to have take up his new nationality with a vengeance; later that year, L.A. Times columnist E.V. Durling wrote “Donald’s a Scot and as the party nears its close insists on reciting such gems as “Wee Laddie’s First Soiree,” “Kirsty Lindsay’s Goose,” “A Flae in the Lug,” “Tibble and the Minister,” and “The Goal Keeper’s Ghost.”

I did wonder why he wanted to be Scottish instead of English. One reason he might have done it was to change his image as he grew older, so he could continue to get work. If so, it was a terrific success. After he proclaimed his Scottishness, he got lots of crusty yet warmhearted patriarchal roles, including the one that brought him an Academy Award: Gwilym Morgan, the Welsh father in How Green Was My Valley. He had similar roles in several Lassie movies throughout the 1940’s, and National Velvet. Or maybe he just liked spinning stories and seeing what he could get away with.

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1942 acting Oscars: Gary Cooper, Joan Fontaine, Mary Astor and Donald Crisp

He’s still getting away with it, sometimes. His IMDB page is a mixture of correct birth information and wild stories about his ‘military service.’ He actually only served in the United States Army Reserves during World War II. He toured the country, selling war bonds with Sergeant Gale Sondergaard. He wore his uniform when he picked up his Oscar.

 

 

 

 

 

Seven months to wait! Week of August 28th, 1920

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One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley gave some remarkably early publicity to a big-budget film that wouldn’t even have its Los Angeles premier until March 9, 1921. She began by pointing out one of the problems the advertising needed to overcome:

There are a lot of film fans who aren’t going to become excited over the title, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Maybe the soda jerker and the truck driver and the waiter never heard of the Ibanez novel and don’t know a thing about it. As Fatty Arbuckle remarked the other day, “Those guys will probably think the four horsemen mean Tom Mix, Bill Russell, Bill Hart and Harry Carey.”

But when those worthies see the picture—ah, then, I’ll vouch for it, they’ll one and all pronounce it a knockout.

It hadn’t occurred to me before, but the title really isn’t a strong selling point. Now silent film fans know that Four Horsemen was one of the biggest hits of the 1920’s, but at the time, the studio had reasons to worry about it. The biggest problem was that people were sick of war films. Even Mack Sennett joked about it in his ads:

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Kingsley explained that this film was different from the rest:

The regenerating influence of the war really is the motif of the story. So that when you hear the name The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, you need not throw up your hands and cry “Another war picture!” Metro isn’t going to do it that way. While the story is a story of the war, it’s not, for the most part, about the war, if you recognize the distinction. Rather, it’s a record of the reaction of the war on a group of intensely human and interesting characters.

Kingsley got to interview the film’s director, Rex Ingram, and the scriptwriter, June Mathis. Even though they promised it wasn’t an ordinary war picture, they said they battle scenes would be historically accurate; former army officers had been hired to make sure it was all correct.

“There are experts for everything. And all the experts disagree, declares Ingram, tearing his hair. “If war is hell,” said Ingram, “making war pictures is purgatory. I had Rudolph Valentino in Seventy-fifth Infantry uniform and one of the war experts came to me and told me there was no such regiment as the Seventy-fifth French Infantry. We were about to yank Rudy out of his clothes, when along came another expert and told me that there was such a regiment, just as I had thought. We investigated and found he was right, so Rudy didn’t have to change his clothes after all.”

“Of course, a lot of them were in the war,” said Miss Mathis, “ but most of ‘em were too excited to know what it was all about.”

All of that trouble paid off. As usual, Kingsley didn’t get to go to the premier of an important film, but her boss Edwin Schallert did and the realism is what impressed him the most:

In the realism of its characters and the quality of its atmosphere, the Four Horsemen reflects superlative credit on its makers. An interest that would otherwise be remote is pertinent simply through an accuracy of delineation, that causes you to fall under the spell of actuality. The feature bears the stamp of authority which grows out of the fact that it represents expert work, not the experting of one or a few, but of many.

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Kingsley was right that the non-novel reading public would buy lots of tickets for the film. It played to capacity houses from March 9 to May 3 at the 900-seat Mission Theater.

In other publicity news, Kingsley reported that former film and current theatrical star Olga Petrova was making sure that she would have press coverage, even when she was on vacation.

Mme. Olga Petrova doesn’t believe in taking so important a step as going to Europe, where just anything may happen, without having a personal representative and a special writer along. She has chosen a famous one, viz. Louella Parsons, formerly film editor of the New York Telegraph. The two left for Europe last week and will remain abroad several months.

Publicity during a trip to Europe had recently worked out awfully well for Pickford and Fairbanks, but Petrova didn’t get the publicity boost she hoped for. Parson’s biographer Samantha Barbas explained, “A cold, formal and often temperamental woman originally from Britain, Petrova began to irritate Louella, and Louella, the quintessential tacky tourist (she constantly snapped photos and was “everything you have ever read about the typical American abroad,” she admitted), soon annoyed her friend. After a fight, the two parted in London.”

Oh well. Petrova’s career managed quite well without a writer along.

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George McDaniel

Finally, Kingsley discovered a new use for homemade beer:

The greatest inventions after all are usually the simplest, says George McDaniel, picture star. Take home brew, for instance. It recently made a record for itself as a burglar alarm in the home of Mr. McDaniel. Burglars broke into the McDaniel residence in Glendale last Saturday night, and just as they were loading the family silver into a gunny sack, one bottle of home brew exploded like a pistol shot, causing the burglars to leave hurriedly just as McDaniel appeared on the scene.

Strictly speaking, home brewing was illegal during Prohibition, but Kingsley wasn’t the least bit worried about letting the police or the public know an actor had an illicit substance in his house. From the beginning, nobody respected the Volstead act.

 

 

Samantha Barbas, First Lady of Hollywood, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005.

“Notable Success of The Four Horsemen” Los Angeles Times, April 21, 1921.

Edwin Schallert, “Reviews,” Los Angeles Times, March 10, 1921.

 

The pictures didn’t get one of them: Week of August 21st, 1920

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The Creole Fashion Plate

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley told of yet another performer lured to Hollywood:

Just wait long enough and the pictures will get ‘em all. From the king to the ashman, they fall for the movies. Now it’s the Creole Fashion Plate, which has been creating a furor at the Orpheum during the past fortnight, and whose name has been discovered to be George Peduzzi.

The company for service in which Mr. Peduzzi will park his remarkably beautiful voice is that of Morris R. Schlanck, who has the comedian, Hank Mann, under contract. Schlanck and Mann attended the Orpheum performance one day last week, and at once saw in Peduzzi a good picture prospect. A 400-foot screen test was taken of him at the Hank Mann studios in Hollywood, and he was at once engaged under a two-year contract…At the expiration of his present season he will return here to work. A five-reel story is even now being prepared.

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Unfortunately, it was not to be. On May 2, 1921 Kingsley reported:

George Peduzzi, remembered here as the sensation of the Orpheum bill during two weeks of last summer, when styled “The Creole Fashion Plate.” who won by personal charm as well as by a remarkably beautiful voice, is not to go into pictures after all. According to word received here by his friends, Mr. Peduzzi is to spend a season in London, appearing there in music halls.

The CFP never did make a movie, which is a shame, because he might be less forgotten now if he had. George Francis Peduzzi was born in Baltimore on June 13, 1897. When he was 16 he joined a minstrel show and became a touring vaudevillian. Three years later, he debuted his solo act, Creole Fashion Plate. He sang and wore beautiful costumes made by his mother, Mary D. Hoffman Peduzzi, who traveled with him as his assistant. He changed his name to Karyl Norman in 1922, taking his deceased father’s first name, Norman, as his surname. He wrote many of his own lyrics and also appeared in musical comedies, including That’s My Boy and The Tuneful Song Shop.

His act impressed the critics; an unsigned L.A. Times review in 1925 said:

“Karyl Norman is today probably the greatest female impersonator on the international stage. His ability to create the illusion of femininity is almost uncanny. He has youth and slenderness, which are merely incidental to his mastery of the gesture, poise and physical features of the deadlier species. And his remarkable double voice, which varies from the lucid heights of a soprano to the husky strength of a baritone, distinguishes him from all other impersonators, past or present.”

It’s interesting how mainstream female impersonators were in 1920’s vaudeville – Julian Eltinge and Bothwell Browne were also big stars. Perhaps to make straight audiences more comfortable with sexual ambiguity, Norman paid lip service to traditional ideas of masculinity in a 1922 interview with the L.A. Times:

“I am a regular fellow and I do most strenuously object to any suggestion that because a man impersonates women, there must be something feminine about him,” and he illustrated the negative of this with a clenched fist hit roundly upon the make-up table in his dressing room. George, or Karyl, is an enthusiastic fight fan, a great rooter at football games, and ardent baseball patron and an amateur player of no mean ability.

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Karyl Norman, from a Finocchio’s Club program

It sounds excessive now, but he knew what his audience wanted to hear. Karyl Norman continued to tour into the 1930’s, but as vaudeville declined he became a nightclub entertainer. His mother died in 1938. During the 1940 Census he was living in Detroit, and gave his occupation as Master of Ceremonies in a nightclub. His World War 2 draft registration said he was working at Club Frontenac in Detroit. In 1946 he toured Australia as part of the cast of Make it a Party. His last appearance was at the Ha Ha Club in Hollywood, Florida. He died of heart disease in that town on July 23, 1947.

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Eugene Gaudio

Kingsley had a story that showed how financially precarious working in film could be. Respected cinematographer Eugene Gaudio died following an operation for appendicitis, and his family had money trouble. So:

Many celebrities of the film world have made requests of Mme. Nazimova for tickets to the benefit-preview of Mme. Peacock, which she is giving Saturday evening at the Irish Theater in Hollywood as a tribute to the late Gene Gaudio, once her cameraman.

The suddenness of Gaudio’s death left his affairs in an unsettled state, thus the star conceived the idea of showing her latest picture as a benefit for the family and as a testimonial of her high regard for the man who served her during the making of five pictures.

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Jennie Gaudio’s 1923 passport photo for a trip to Italy

His family did sort out their money problems and go on to a comfortable life. Jennie Gaudio and their son Joseph (b.1911) and daughter Mary (b. 1912) lived in a nice Mid-City area of Los Angeles on North Ogden Street and the kids attended Fairfax High.

Another of Kingsley’s stories highlighted the physical precariousness of filmmaking. One film director had a really bad idea:

In The Sage Hen, which Edgar Lewis is making for Pathe, and work on which was begun yesterday with Gladys Brockwell in the leading role, there will be attempted by the hero or his double, for the first time in picturedom or out of it, for that matter, the daring feat of going over the Yosemite Falls in a boat. The drop is about 128 feet, but the depth and width of the basin below makes the feat possible for an accomplished swimmer, according to Mr. Lewis and his assistant, Clifford Saum.

Mr. Saum recently made the trip to the valley and after careful calculation has decided the thing can be done. Already twenty expert swimmers have volunteered to perform the feat, despite the difficulty.

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Yosemite Falls. Nobody should go over this, for any reason.

I’m guessing that Mr. Saum saw the falls during their peak flow in May, but by September they’re much drier so fortunately they didn’t do it. In the Motion Picture News review of the film, Matthew A. Taylor mentioned what they replaced it with: “There is a shot of a man going through the rapids of a river in a canoe which is a wonder.” I imagine that was dangerous enough. The story of an unwed mother who gives up her son and is saved by him twenty years later is a lost film.

Finally, this week Kingsley indulged in a little self-promotion:

That catchy record of the doings of picture folks, the Picture Play Magazine, is branching out these days with an entirely new departure in the way of stories. These are of broader interest than the ordinary fan story…A series of articles telling of the romances of great film stars is shortly to be published.

She didn’t feel the need to mention she was writing those great romances. Here’s the first one:

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“Impersonates Woman But is Real Live Chap,” Los Angeles Times, October 29, 1922.

“Karyl Norman,” Variety, July 30, 1947, p.50.

“Orpheum Star at Heights as Impersonator,” Los Angeles Times, July 19, 1925.

The Sage Hen, “ Motion Picture News, January 22, 1921, p.921.