Week of August 18th, 1917

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Paradise Garden, 1917

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Virginia Rappe

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

 

 

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

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Jack and the Beanstalk

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

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

 

 

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

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Fairbanks on his peak

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

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

 

 

Week of August 11th, 1917

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

Week of August 4th, 1917

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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Myrtle Gonzalez

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

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

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

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

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

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Harold Goodwin, 1921

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

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

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

Week of July 28th, 1917

 

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on a production at Universal that was more exciting than it really needed to be. While filming a bar room shoot-out for a two-reel Western called Phantom Gold, director W.B. Pearson asked actor Clarence Hodge to fire a rifle at the film’s star, Fred Church, and instructed him

to place his shots as near as he possibly could to Church’s head without taking the grave chance of “drilling” the leading man. Hodge started to produce excitement from the very outset of the scene. The first shot bored through the edge of the bar above Church’s shoulder. The next whizzed past the place where his forehead had been a moment ago. Ping! Ping! Ping! As fast as the marksman could work the ejector the bullets clipped the edge of the bar within a few inches of Church’s stooping form, and he was showered with flying splinters. The twelve shots in the magazine of the first rifle were fired, and Hodge seized another and kept up the fusillade. The hail of lead was striking so close to the leading man that the director’s nerve gave out, though Church himself was as brave as a Frenchman in battle.

Suddenly the closest shot of all ripped away a piece of wood within two inches of Church’s head, imbedding a splinter the size of a lead pencil in the player’s neck. Right then the director threw up his hands and stopped the action. Twenty-one bullets of 30 caliber were fired, and every one of them landed within three inches of the edge of the bar, which was shattered completely. Church’s hair—which may be assumed to have been in a upright position—was matted with splinters, which also were stuck in his neck and shoulders so that he had the bristling aspect of a scared porcupine. While the handsome film idol declares he had perfect faith in Hodge’s marksmanship, still he admits to a hoping in his inmost soul there will be no retake.

And that’s why unions and workplace safety regulations are so important! From the beginning, actors usually used blanks in guns, not live ammunition. They just didn’t show the effects of bullets hitting things. Now squibs (miniature explosive devices) are used to simulate bullet impacts. Wikipedia (I know, not the best source) says they were first used in Pokolenie (A Generation), a 1955 Polish film.

Phantom Gold is so lost that there isn’t even an IMDB page for it, but it was mentioned in Motion Picture News (July 21, 1917). Clarence Hodge, who learned to shoot in the Army, gave up acting in the early 1920s and went to work for a refrigeration company. Fred Church made it through that workday and had a good long life, dying in 1983 at age 93 of congestive heart failure – not of bad decisions by a director. He mostly acted in Westerns until the mid-1930s, when he retired. Poor W. B. Pearson didn’t fare as well: he died only fifteen months later, in the influenza epidemic.

Kingsley’s favorite film this week was a circus story: ‘all innocent of fights, automobile accidents, fires and seductions as it is, yet The Sawdust Ring, at Clune’s Auditorium, holds you completely charmed.” Bessie Love starred as a girl, deserted by her father, who with a neighbor boy runs away to the big top. Kingsley didn’t catch they boy’s name, but she thought he rivaled Jack Pickford and “he is certainly some little actor!” He was Harold Goodwin, and he went on to work in film and television continuously until 1968, most memorably in Buster Keaton’s College and The Cameraman, as well as in Keaton’s TV shows. The film survives in a shortened version at the Pacific Film Archive and at the BFI.

Here’s how the newspaper used to cover salacious gossip:

The pages of Frances White’s supposedly private affairs continue to be painfully public. Eastern papers carry the story that detectives on the trail of Miss White’s husband, Frank Fay, discovered him living at a Philadelphia hotel with another woman, and in the meantime, Frank Fay, just to keep things moving, is suing Billy Rock, Miss White’s professional partner, for the alienation of Miss White’s valuable affections.

It was so much more polite! Of course I had to know what happened next. White, a successful vaudeville singer, got her divorce (the marriage lasted all of two months) and Fay’s suit was dismissed – White and Rock were strictly professional partners. Fay went on to have a lucrative career as a stage comedian and master of ceremonies, but his personality didn’t improve: he became a white supremacist. The title of Trav S.D.’s article about him was “The Comedian Who Inspired Hatred.” He was also Barbara Stanwyck’s first husband and their story was rumored to have been the basis for A Star is Born.

Why would someone want to withstand his charm?

Grace Kingsley was wrong about something this week in her review of a Pauline Frederick film, Her Better Self. She seemed to think that it was a problem with the picture when every young woman in the film fell in love with Thomas Meighan: “no feminine being who meets him seems able to withstand his charm, and this though he doesn’t vamp ‘em one bit.” As anyone who has seen him in The Canadian (1926) knows, this is pure realism and solidly logical. To prove my point, here are some more photos.

Week of July 21st, 1917

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Los Angeles Times, July 21, 1917

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One hundred years ago this week, the first draft lottery for the Great War was held in Washington, D.C. and Grace Kingsley reported on how the news was received in Hollywood:

On the various “lots” were gathered throughout the afternoon, little knots of actors, directors, extras, employees—all in a democracy for once, with the lines of professional caste forgotten. With stolid faces or with an air of suppressed excitement, according to the nature of the individual, crowds of actors and actresses read the draft lists in the papers.

And there was something mighty fine, something that made your proud you were an American in the attitude of those boys who had claimed no exemptions and whose names were printed in the fateful lists. No swank or swagger, no murmuring either—for the most part brave silence, with just sometimes a quick little catch in a tense throat, a slight unconscious squaring of shoulders, a quick, excited little laugh. The women were the agitated ones, grasping at the lists, eagerly questioning, turning away sometimes with quick little sighs of relief or with sparkling eyes, rallying the boys whose names appeared—but there were tenderness and pride in the rallying, too.

Every man who registered for the draft on June 5th was assigned a number between 1 and 10,500. The numbers were drawn in a lottery held at 9:30 am in the Senate Office Building, and the results were sent by telegraph to newspapers throughout the country. The men whose numbers were selected had five days to report to their local exemption board which determined if they had dependents, or if their job was more important to the war effort than being a solider. They were also examined by a doctor for physical disabilities. Kingsley was slightly inaccurate: men who claimed exemptions on their registration did get called before the board if their number came up.

Among the 15,000 men chosen from Southern California in the first group were actors Wallace Reid and Charles Ray, directors Marshal Neilan and Charles Parrott (later known as Charley Chase), and producer Hal Roach. None of them served, because they all had wives and children and were granted exemptions. Fighting was left to volunteers and unmarried men. Selective Service rules have changed; since 1973 marital status has no effect on your draft status.

Kingsley’s favorite film this week was Sudden Jim starring draft lottery ‘winner’ and “fascinating young actor” Charles Ray. She found it was both a “crackling yarn” and a “corking story:” a clothes-pin manufacturing heir whose wood supply is threatened by a crooked businessman saves his business by seizing a loaded train from the lumber camp. A thrilling chase ensues, and Ray drives the train through a mountain fire and across a burning trestle just before the bridge is dynamited. I wonder if Buster Keaton or his writing staff on The General saw this now lost movie, then added a second train for this:

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Kingsley addressed why people still went to the movies this week.

Those curious persons who are never happy unless inquiring into the whys and wherefores of things, many of whom looked upon motion pictures as a fad, are now asking why they continue popular.

She came up with four reasons:

  1. All-star casts. Every film in the theaters that week had at least two stars; one had four notable players that people wanted to see.
  2. Inferior actors could never be substituted – it was always the “original New York cast.” Plus, nobody slumped through his or her work in matinees.
  3. Picture theaters were very pleasant places to be: cool and restful, with good music playing, far away from the vexatious, humdrum affair that life generally is.
  4. No reservations were needed – you could drop in any time.

I’m a little disappointed that she didn’t include “because live theater can’t show you thrilling train chases.” Her reasons still hold up; the only surprise is that there was anybody left still calling films a fad in 1917. However, this sort of think piece hasn’t gone out of fashion, either.

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Poor Charlie Chaplin had more health problems (just seven months ago, he’d been injured while making Easy Street). This time he’d spent ten days bedridden due to two carbuncles (clusters of boils) on his legs. They had been lanced as soon as he noticed them and the doctor ordered him to rest, but Chaplin didn’t follow his advice and the next day he was bedridden in terrible pain. Two doctors were able to prevent sepsis  (she didn’t say how) and after some undisturbed rest, he was able to go back to work. Before antibiotics, carbuncles could be dangerous: in 1916 Roscoe Arbuckle had one on his leg so severe that the doctors considered amputation.

No matter how many carrots I eat, I don’t look like this.

Keystone actress Myrtle Lind offered beauty advice this week. Since she thought that health is beauty, she’d become a vegetarian, saying “elimination of meat from the daily diet, in conjunction with outdoor exercise, is the thing for California. The idea that one has to eat a lot of meat if he leads an active life, I am sure, is wrong, for few people lead a more strenuous existence than do Keystone girls.” I think she might be missing something here: I exercise regularly and eat little meat, nevertheless, I look nothing like a Bathing Beauty. Could it be a bad idea to take advice from celebrities? (Nevertheless, at least she wasn’t selling something like they do nowadays!)

Week of July 14th, 1917

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One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported that cinematographer Billy Bitzer’s wife had gotten a cable telling her that Bitzer and his boss D.W. Griffith would be staying in Europe indefinitely. They stayed until early October, filming exteriors for Hearts of the World.

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Billy Bitzer and Nora Farrell, 1919 passport

Since I’m a cinematographer’s wife myself, I wanted to know more about the woman who stayed home. However, I ran into the usual problem when researching ladies who weren’t famous: she left almost no records. I couldn’t find anyone I was certain was her in magazines, censuses or death indexes, and only one mention and bad photo in Bitzer’s 1919 passport application.

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He did mention a bit about her in his biography, written in 1939 (reviewed at the Century Film Project). Her name was Nora Farrell, and she had blue eyes, tiny hands and feet and ginger-brown hair. Born in Ireland, her “brogue was as thick as a priest’s.” They met in 1899 when he rescued her from a burning building. He said she was ten years older than him, but the passport said it was only three. She drank more beer than he approved of. They both had tempers; Karl Brown in his autobiography remarked on one of their epic fights. She was thrifty, and liked putting money into the savings account. They lived together without benefit of marriage until at least late 1919, when they were on the ill-fated boat trip to the Bahamas that was supposed to last one day but took five (Griffith was making The Love Idol.)* Bitzer didn’t mention why they broke up, or what happened to her; he married a much younger woman in 1923.

So the moral is please leave a record of yourself, and tell your side of the story.

 

Kingsley’s favorite film this week was the “very excellent” To Honor and Obey. The story of a devoted wife who sacrifices her virtue to rescue her vain, selfish husband’s finances didn’t have “an inch of padding in the whole film” yet the plot and action were “translucent.” Gladys Brockwell played the wife; Kingsley thought that her performance had rare depths, “coupled with a never-failing sense of drama which does not let her overact a scene by a hair’s breadth.” It’s a lost film, so I’ll spoil it: the evil husband commits suicide, and everyone thinks good riddance to bad rubbish. Brockwell had a fine career, usually playing supporting roles like Nancy in Oliver Twist (1922) and the sister in Seventh Heaven (1927). She died following a car accident in 1929.

 

Feature-length films hadn’t been around for very long, but Kingsley had already had enough of dual roles. Bessie Barriscale played twin sisters this week in The Snarl, and Kingsley had some suggestions for screenwriters:

So long as we must have these double role plays, why doesn’t somebody conceive the idea of having both characters either good or bad? Say you make your story twins bad. There are varying degrees of badness, you know, and various assorted kinds of badness, so the story needn’t be monotonous, and I for one am dead sick of seeing a person talking to himself.

Even seeing a man shake hands with himself has lost its pristine thrill and as for seeing a person bullyrag his double, or even murder him, I can look on entirely unmoved. In fact, I’m rather glad of it, as then there is only one of him or her left that we are obligated to view.

So audiences in 1917 weren’t so naive and easy to impress as you might think. Frances Marion must have agreed with Kingsley; when she wrote Stella Maris for Mary Pickford the next year, both sides of the dual role were good. Stella was rich and sheltered, while Unity Blake was poor and had seen too much. Kingsley was right: it could be done.

 

Kingsley reported that Irving Cummings, star of The Whip which was currently in theaters, had been injured in an automobile accident and wasn’t expected to live. Happily, he recovered and went on to act in many films, including The Saphead with Buster Keaton. He became a director, most famously of Technicolor musicals like Down Argentine Way (1940) and The Dolly Sisters (1945).

 

*“Film Stars Missing,” Chicago Daily Tribune, December 14, 1919.

 

Week of July 7th, 1917

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One hundred years ago this week, Mary Pickford gave a speech before the premier of her latest movie and Grace Kingsley was there to describe it.

Last night 10,000 people swarmed Clune’s Auditorium. They jammed the entrances and overflowed around the block, and it took at least a dozen policemen to keep them in order and prevent their trampling each other…Probably there are about five other persons in the United States who could draw so big a crowd—President Woodrow Wilson, and a few others of similar note.

Ten thousand persons started out to see Mary last night, and about seven thousand accomplished their purpose at the two showings. The big auditorium was jammed to its topmost gallery with the people who wanted to see Miss Pickford and her ghost in The Little American. She made two simple and natural speeches that were received with thunderous applause.

According to Kingsley, the film did not disappoint; the story of an American girl who goes to France to visit her aunt and gets caught up in the war was “a great light illuminating the dark and bloody doings on the other side. It has a poignancy that must touch every one; its concrete incidents, its individual scenes, have a thousand counterparts in the things that are happening across the sea…The Little American is without a doubt the most poignantly vivid and significant picture of the year, and one of the greatest in the history of films.”

Other people at the time agreed completely with Kinglsey. Motography (July 21, 1927) printed a round-up of reactions and they said that exhibitors, critics and the public were unanimous in praising it, and even hot weather wasn’t preventing record-breaking business. It was also “one of the best aids to recruiting which the government has” and the Army stationed recruiting officers outside of screenings. (Motography, August 11, 1917). However, like most wartime propaganda, The Little American was of its time and hasn’t aged well. Fritzi Kramer expressed her dislike well at Movies Silently. It’s available on DVD.

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The Rough House

No other film could compete with that this week, though Roscoe Arbuckle’s “The Rough House” featured one of the funniest things she’d ever seen in a slapstick film: “the view of the rotund comedian in his nightie, setting his bed a-fire with a cigarette and then trailing nonchalantly back and forth from the kitchen with a cup of water at a time to extinguish the blaze, stopping once to drink it when exhausted.” It’s available on DVD, and my synopsis is still up on the Damfinos’ website.

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Love or Justice

Her least favorite film this week was easy to spot; Love or Justice featured Louise Glaum as a woman living in sin. Kingsley pointed out that such women in the movies “do wear such elegant clothes, and run such elegant motors, and live in such elegant flats!” She could see no reason why the man didn’t just marry her, but she knew “of course, in that case Miss Glaum couldn’t have suffered; and darn it all, if Miss Glaum can’t suffer, she just doesn’t think life worth living. She never even takes a day off if she can help it.” Poor Grace Kingsley really needed a break from melodramas. The film has been preserved at the Eastman house.

There was an update to last week’s story about Triangle falling apart with the departure of Ince and Sennett. The studio didn’t go down without a fight: this week they announced that they bought sixteen acres of land adjoining their Culver City studio, and were planning on doubling their production capacity. They also began hiring more staff, including director Jack Conway. He worked hard, making 12 films in 18 months, but they couldn’t replicate the earlier success.

beautyor

In her review of the vaudeville show at the Pantages, Kingsley wrote a line that you might want to borrow one day: “The only way to enjoy “The Beauty Orchard” is to sidestep it to the aisle as “H” flashes on the annunciator, and look at the pictures in the lobby.” The sketch involved comics Frank Sinclair and Cliff Dixon and six pretty women; the act’s original title was “Six Peaches and a Pair.” Another column called it “a musical tabloid” (I think they meant tableaux) but nobody bothered to describe it in detail.