Week of December 14th, 1918

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One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley got to see an unusual show before D.W. Griffith’s new film, The Greatest Thing in Life:

The prologue is one of the most beautiful and artistic spectacles of the sort that the stage has seen. So far as its meaning is concerned, a part of its artistry lies in the fact it settles nothing for you. What do you think is the greatest thing in life? is the query which trails the showing of the beauties of life and love and comradeship and self-sacrifice.

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Motion Picture News gave a detailed description of the half-hour long show. It opened with a dark stage, which is slowly brightened. Out of the hazy background came a voice:

“The greatest thing in life – what is the greatest thing in life?”

Second voice: “I haven’t the slightest idea.”

First voice: “the greatest thing in life is-is-is (soft music) wait-wait-wait, here come the singers and dancers, they know what life is. Light hearts of the world—music, dancing, wine, women, life itself-that is the greatest thing in life.’

After a tenor solo, the first voice said “Ah, the search for love eternal—that is the greatest thing in life, ” then a couple performed a modern dance. This was followed by an “ultra” jazz number, then four soldiers representing duty and heroism, then more dancers, representing shadows from the “land of the silver sheet” as a bridge to the film itself.

Motion Picture News said the piece entitled Voices got eight minutes of applause and calls from the audience of 3000 on opening night. Now the prologue is remembered, if at all, because of one of the forty performers. Rudolpho Di Valentina did that modern dance with Clarine Seymour. MPN had reported earlier “Rudolpho Di Valentina continues the merry dance in Griffith’s prologue to The Greatest Thing in Life, and the big audience applauds him at every program.”

 

 

In 1918, Valentino was an aspiring actor who’d arrived in Hollywood the year before. He’d had a few bit parts in films but his career didn’t take off until 1921 after he streamlined his name and starred in Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. If you’re interested in his early career, you can find an extract about it from Dark lover: the life and death of Rudolph Valentino by Emily W. Leider in The Guardian. To learn more about Valentino in general, visit Donna Hill’s site, Falcon Lair.

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Gish, studying, in The Greatest Thing

After seeing the prologue, Kingsley chatted with Lillian Gish and learned that she

entertains ambitions to go on the stage. But she’s very backward about discussing it, approaching the possibility in most modest fashion. “I don’t think,” she said, “I could possibly be ready for so great an undertaking before I’m 30—so I have some years to go. But—yes—I really want to go on the stage, and I really mean to do it when I feel I’m ready. In the meantime I’m studying, studying.”

 

 

This surprised me, because Gish had been a stage actress from 1902 to 1912: it was nothing new for her. After her film career slowed down, she did go on the stage. However, it wasn’t until seven years after she turned 30, in 1930, when she appeared in her first production after becoming famous, Uncle Vanya. But it seems like her stage career wasn’t second-best to being in films – she planned it.

This week, several film executives came back to Hollywood, and each and every one of them had big plans for expansion for their businesses in 1919.

  • S.L. Rothapfel said wanted to build theaters in Paris and London that would be similar to his New York theaters, the Rialto and the Rivoli. He said “There is no doubt American films will be more popular even than before the war, and there is no doubt that the thousands of photoplays now reposing on the shelves of American producers will be eagerly welcomed by the people of the allied countries.” (bad news for writers trying to sell new material!)
  • Samuel Goldfish (still not yet Goldwyn) told her that his studio would make fewer, but better pictures, taking more time and care with each of them. He hoped to add a number of new stars to his roster.
  • Winfield Sheehan, the general manager at Fox, said “To me, the outlook is splendid. I look forward to 1919 with every feeling that it will be one of the greatest in the history of the industry. The Fox Film Corporation is laying plans for the biggest year of its career. We not only intend to improve the high standard of our pictures, but we are going to make more of them. After four years of war, people must have amusement.”
  • Cecil B. De Mille concluded “in the five years that I have been producing I have never found conditions more satisfactory, nor promising a more brilliant future for the entire industry.”

Lucky for them, their optimism was well-founded: the industry did recover. 1919 was a much better year all around, but the troubles of 1918 weren’t quite finished.

 

 

People were still coming down with the flu. Actress Ruth Roland was ill at home with it, and work on her current serial had stopped until she recovered. Happily, she did. According to O’Leary, the number of new cases in Los Angeles was declining rapidly in December with a small resurgence after holiday celebrations. The epidemic was almost over.

 

 

They weren’t done with war movies, either. Kingsley reported on the audience reaction to Me und Gott, at the Alhambra:

That it strikes a popular chord was testified to yesterday by the applause and hisses that marked its devious progress. It has some really breathless moments, particularly that in which we wait for the munitions plant to blow up.

Unfortunately, the film was trying to teach people that German-Americans weren’t the enemy. It seems like the audience didn’t get the message, they just were there for spectacle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Griffith Himself Stages Prologue for ‘Greatest Thing in Life’ in Los Angeles, Motion Picture News, February 4, 1919, p. 88.

 

(“News,” January 18, 1919, p. 410)

 

 

Pieter M. O’Leary, “The 1918-1919 Influenza Epidemic in Los Angeles,” Southern California Quarterly, v.86 no.4 (Winter 2004), pp. 397-8

 

 

A symbolic prologue dramatizes the invasion of an American home by German troops who are admitted to the house by a butler who has bound his master and abused the master’s daughter. In the main story, the American-born son of an ex-Prussian officer wants to atone for the wrongs done by people of his own blood when he realizes what America means to him.

Week of December 7th, 1918

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The boss

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley interviewed Hollywood’s newest film producer:

“Here I am—all alone in the world, without an alibi!” That’s what Mary Pickford, now a producer for the First National Exhibitor’s Circuit, said the other day, with her humorous little smile. She meant there’s nobody to lay the blame on if her pictures go wrong.

“I sued to be able to say, when I was with Artcraft, and anything went wrong, ‘Well, now if Mr. Zukor had let me do so and so—And now I haven’t a single person to blame if Daddy Long Legs and Pollyanna don’t turn out to be the successes I of course hope they will be.”

 

In this interview, Mary Pickford was no longer the girlish actress of the February 23, 1918 article; she was in control of her own films and being very well paid for it. Kingsley spoke to her while she was hiring actors for her next film, Daddy Long Legs, and she made it plain that the casting decisions were all Pickford’s, not director Marshall Neilan’s. Pickford also had final say on the screenplay being written by Agnes Johnston. She thought it was “an awful responsibility,” but didn’t mention the other side: she got the credit if it all went well, which it did.

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Forming United Artists, 1919

The man who directed her first films in 1909, D.W. Griffith, stopped by, and he reminisced:

“What do you think of our young lady now? Such a rich girl! Do you know I remember the awful time I had keeping Mary in the old Biograph days because she wanted $30 a week. ‘Thirty dollars’ exclaimed the business head of that concern, ‘Mary wants thirty dollars a week! Why I never heard of such a thing! There ain’t no picture actor in the world worth thirty dollars a week!’”

Both Pickford and the movie industry had come a long way since she quit Biograph for the first time in 1910! For the rest of her career, she managed her anxieties about responsibility, and continued to be in charge of her films through her last one, Secrets, in 1933.

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Coming attraction

Later this week, Griffith announced the film he was currently working on, based on a story from a collection called Limehouse Nights, “a story far removed from war subjects.” He changed the name to Broken Blossoms, and while it was completely different from his earlier successes, it turned out to be one of his best films. It was added to the Library of Congresses National Film Registry in 1996.

Kingsley’s favorite film this week was a comedy, but there was a melancholy tinge to it:

It’s rather an odd trick of fate which causes us to see the late Harold Lockwood for the last time in a role in which he plays the part of one returned from the dead, as he does in the capital comedy drama, Pals First, which is on view at Clune’s Broadway. And it’s a matter of congratulation with us who knew and were fond of the popular film idol that his last role was one that fitted his talents so well and that he did his very best work of his career in the part….Harold Lockwood plays delightfully the role of the nonchalant, happy-go-lucky crook of fascinating manners.

This wasn’t the last Lockwood film to be released; three more came out in 1919. Nevertheless, it sounds like the story of a tramp impersonating an aristocrat thought to be lost at sea suited him. P.S. Harrison in Motion Picture News also thought it was one of Lockwood’s best, and the film “holds one in constant suspense.” It’s presumed lost.

 

Week of November 30th, 1918

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They really missed the movies!

One hundred years ago this week, the pictures finally came back to Los Angeles. Grace Kingsley’s colleague Antony Anderson got to announce it in his December 2nd article entitled “Funless Season Ends Today:”

Shout the glad tidings along the Rialto! The flu is vanquished and the theaters of Los Angeles will reopen today. Therefore, let us all make merry and go to the pictures and plays from which we have been barred for seven weeks—the longest seven weeks in the history of Los Angeles.

On Monday morning, Health Commissioner L.M. Powers went to the City Council and asked them to revoke the emergency ordinance that closed all the theaters. He wrote a letter, too:

Powers_letter

They were allowed to open right away. The rush back to them was nearly as happy as Victory Day, and the December 3rd report was called “Fiesta Spirit Pervades City:”

Only lacking the bunting and flags and music and a formal procession to be like a great fiesta—but saturated with the fiesta spirit of gaiety and good cheer—the downtown streets of Los Angeles surged yesterday with people. They were celebrating the lifting of the “flu” ban that has been in force for seven weeks and two days.

From the depression of closed theaters and other places of amusement, closed churches and assembly halls, presence of occasional face masks and frequent warning signs, the city reacted yesterday to the spirit of gladness. People who have been staying closely at home for weeks joined the throngs downtown; even the outside places sent in large numbers of folk to participate in the abolishment of the “funless” season.

Up and down Broadway, and on the other retail streets, the crowds surged each way. Stores were filled with shoppers, and the Christmas trading rush was fully on. Theaters attracted long lines of patrons, hungry for the diverstiment of motion picture and vaudeville…Some of the picture shows opened their doors early yesterday forenoon, and their patronage began at once, increasing in volume as the day proceeded…Long lines of people stood before the ticket windows at these places. The afternoon shows had crowds far above normal, and last night the theaters played to capacity houses.

Anderson and Kingsley had their work cut out for them that first night, running out to the theaters and filing their reviews in time for the morning edition. Anderson, who’d written only two articles during the whole closure (one about gramophones and one on art exhibits) really made up for lost time—the next day his opinions on a play, a vaudeville show and three movies appeared in the paper.

 

Kingsley was on the job too, reviewing the programs at the Kinema and the Superba as well as a vaudeville show. But first she captured what it was like to return to the theaters:

“Say, honest, Uncle Tom’s Cabin or Ten Nights in a Bar-room would look good to me!”

That’s what a man standing behind me last night in the long queue of eager amusement-seekers said to the girl that was with him.

That expressed it all. Crowds surged and fairly fought each other for a chance to get a peep at the romance and thrills that lay just beyond the plush curtains, and of which they had been deprived of for seven long weeks, while the music given forth by orchestras, which are now a part of every well-ordered theatrical entertainment nowadays, was like water to a thirsty land. All the matinee girls and boys in town were on the job as early as yesterday afternoon, and last night the theaters wouldn’t hold the crowds.

 

Her first movie was a war picture, Vive la France, starring Dorothy Dalton. She thought it was a singularly poignant and well produced photodrama. “War stories already sound passé to tell about, but this one you will find terrifically gripping and absorbing.” In addition, the Kinema featured “a perfect jewel of a comedy on the bill—probably the funniest burlesque of war plays that has ever been made aside from Charlie Chaplin’s Shoulder Arms.” This lost and forgotten film was Mongrels, a Fox Sunshine comedy from Henry Lehrman. There were humans like Lloyd Hamilton in it, but according to Moving Picture World (October 26, 1918) the best part was a war allegory performed by four dogs: a French poodle, an English bulldog and an American terrier who join together to chase off a dachshund in a German helmet. Kingsley added that “there is a trick duck which is alone worth the price of admission.”

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The she headed over to the Superba to see Hugon the Mighty, another “notable triumph” for Monroe Salisbury. It was the story of a French-Canadian backwoodsman who must defend his land from a crooked surveyor. It’s also a lost film.

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She also managed to attend the Orpheum Theater that night, and reported

The vaudeville hounds were out in full force yesterday at the Orpheum. And they weren’t disappointed. It wasn’t just because their appetites were whetted by a seven weeks’ famine, either, that they liked the show, but because it’s a typical, old-fashioned vaudeville show, without a headache or a highbrow on the bill.

The show included comic singer Eve Tanguay, (about whom she said, “there’s nobody like her. She’s perpetual motion, life and vivacity.”), a comic sketch called “Married Via Wireless” about the troubles of young lovers planning their wedding via radio, Eddie Foyer reciting Robert Service’s “Lady Lou,” dancer Alla Moskova and a magic act, the Florenzo Duo. It seems like Kingsley was as happy to be back to work as the audiences were to be back in the theaters.

 

Those films weren’t even her favorite this week. That was Peck’s Bad Girl, starring Mabel Normand.

Pep in the original package is Mabel Normand at all times and she’s just spicier than ever in Peck’s Bad Girl at the Rialto. Of course, Peck’s Bad Girl is all Mabel Normand. While it’s a smart and amusing little photoplay, without Mable Normand it would be like an oyster cocktail without tabasco, an eggnog that’s been denogged…Mabel is that irresistible combination, a howling beauty and a real comedienne so she gets away with the most commonplace bits of mischief in an entirely engaging and amusing way.

Other critics agreed with Kingsley; Variety (September 20, 1918) called Normand “one of the greatest of all comediennes” and said it was a “capital picture;” while Edward Weitzel in Moving Picture World (September 28, 1918) said “the laughs begin early and last to the end.” Unfortunately, it’s a lost film.

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Bessie Barriscale

With the film industry returning to life, Kingsley had news about yet another big star contract:

It’s a slow day which doesn’t show one of our hand-painted leading ladies breaking into the million-dollar star class. Now it’s Bessie Barriscale…Miss Barriscale is as well known for her versatility as for the quality of her talents, and it is said that the sixteen pictures will show almost as wide a range of expression and characterization as the pictures themselves number.

 

Barriscale had signed a contract with the Robertson-Cole Company to deliver the films by January 1, 1921. She, and her company, BB Films, made the sixteen pictures, and her roles were as varied as promised, from a society girl turned gambler in All of a Sudden Norma to a kidnapped girl sold as a slave in Her Purchase Price. However, most of them weren’t financially successful and her film career ended. She went back to the theater for a long career. She’s been almost entirely forgotten, despite being respected and well paid, probably because most of her films were lost. If you’d like more information about her, visit the Women Film Pioneers website.

 

 

Week of November 23rd, 1918

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Ted Gale had had enough of the flu closures, too. (November 23, 1918)

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley scraped the bottom of the story barrel: her main Sunday story for a second week in a row was a round up of all the improvements theaters had made during the flu closure. Plainly, this thing had gone on long enough. This time she was even more optimistic and fulsome:

Hurray! The Rialto is on tip-toe, preparing to celebrate! The footlights will soon spring into multi-colored flowering, canned romance will commence to once more unwind, and orchestras will resume again their melodious tootings, hittings and blowings!

Pretty sad looking places those closed theaters have been; but it’s a busy lot of brains behind those doors, where managers are thinking pink thoughts about how best to dazzle their patrons once the dread flu ban is raised and when the public once more in long streams is purchasing pink slips from the pretty girl with self-indicted blond hair who decorates the little glass cage in front of the theater. And as for health measures—say the theaters are so clean and hygienic that any lone germ which happens to wander into one of them will feel as lonely as a Boche at a Fourth of July celebration.

She went through a similar list of theater improvements that she did last Sunday: they were cleaning, painting, and refurbishing everything they could think of. She added the promise of coming attractions from Douglas Fairbanks, William S. Hart, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and Mack Sennett.

However, not everything would go back to the way it was (but cleaner), because the end of the war would cause big changes:

not only as regards the character of offerings, but as regards the personnel of companies, since a large number of artists will be released from service and will return to this country.

She was right. Audiences soon stopped wanting to see films about the war, and the return of servicemen caused women to lose their new jobs in film production.

There was one interesting side effect from the war. All of its disruption caused people to see new things and meet new people. As Will Wyatt, manager of the Mason vaudeville theater, put it:

…the war will affect a great mutual interchange of artists and of dramatic productions between England and this country, I am sure, which will naturally make for a fusion of ideas and a consequent raising of standards in dramatic art in both countries.

 

 

Poor Grace Kingsley couldn’t find very much else to write about this week. Mary Pickford started shooting Daddy Long-Legs. Edna Purviance, Chaplin’s co-star, was in a car accident, but she was only shaken up, not injured. The National Association of the Motion Picture Industry had a six-hour meeting in New York where they complained about “ruinous” taxes and high star salaries (businessmen wanted to keep more money for themselves—what a surprise). Happily, this was the last week of closed theaters. The re-opening wasn’t a moment too soon.

Week of November 16th, 1918

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Who could she be?

One hundred years ago this week Grace Kingsley wrote about her very odd interview of an aspiring star and her director. They refused to tell her name:

Her identity is to remain a mystery for the present, and the public is later to be asked to name her through a magazine contest…You find out by looking at her, though, that she is beautiful, statuesque, a brunette, and you speedily learn from Mr. Taylor that she was a Southern belle.

Mr. Taylor was Charles A. Taylor, an established playwright who had been writing screenplays since 1916. He was most famous for being theatrical actress Laurette Taylor’s first husband, and he declared that the mystery woman was to follow in the famous Laurette’s footsteps. He discovered her one evening at the Hollywood Hotel, and

he liked the way she smiled and carried herself, and his attention was completely engaged by the intangible something known as charm and personality, which she possessed.

So he asked her if she’d like to be in pictures, and she answered, “Ask Poppa.” Her father said yes, so Taylor “began skirmishing” for the money, wrote a story about a circus rider for her, and they made the movie.

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Mrs. Tom Sawyer and Nancy Sawyer, 1920

This, of course, was nonsense. After a bit of searching, I learned that the actress who came to be called Prudence Lyle was actually Emily Griffith Sawyer, and “Poppa” was A.B. Griffith, a cotton magnate from Texas. According to Motion Picture News, he funded the film. There never was a contest to name her; “Lyle” was her husband, Tom Sawyer’s*, middle name. They did a good job of hiding the connection between the funding and the star, but it was a vanity project. (I only figured it out by comparing a photo of Mrs. Tom Sawyer and Prudence Lyle.)

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The picture was first called The Girl and the Horses and later, Through Eyes of Men. The now-lost film was sold on a states-rights basis. The plot showed how Taylor earned his reputation as the “master of melodrama;” here’s how the AFI Catalog recounts it:

One day, while on the beach, wealthy Franklyn Allen sees circus performer Leila Leighton cavorting in the surf and immediately falls in love. Leila, fearful of the knowledge that circus owner Berkaro has of her early life, discourages the romance. Tormented, Leila takes Little Billy, a child performer in the circus for whom she is caring, places him in a convent and disappears. Franklyn traces her to the circus, where she has gone after learning that Berkaro had lured Billy from the convent. Berkaro attempts to kidnap Leila and the boy, but Franklyn chases him through the surf on horseback and, in the ensuing struggle, the circus owner is killed. His death elicits Leila’s confession that she was the only surviving member of the royal house of Hesthonia, after the rest of her family was murdered in a coup. Her terrible secret thus revealed, she is accepted by Franklyn’s family and marries the man she loves.

It didn’t play in Los Angeles until 1921 when it was on a double bill with The Daughter of Devil Dan. The paper didn’t review it.

Though Motion Picture News mentioned A.B. Griffith had plans to build a studio in Dallas, that never happened and Through the Eyes of Men was Prudence Lyle’s only film. Eventually Emily Griffith Sawyer moved back to Texas, split up with her husband and married Richard Ommo Meents, a geology professor. She had two more children, became a clerk to the Texas Senate and died in 1979. Charles Taylor became the head of the scenario department at Morosco Studio and went on to direct The Half-Breed (1922) for them. He died in 1942.

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Tally’s Broadway: no germs there!

Meanwhile, the Health Commissioner and the City Council dithered over whether they should re-open the theaters or not (the title of the article on Thursday was “Ban Off and On Again”). No one doubted that one fine day it would end, and Grace Kingsley wrote a cheerful article on the improvements the owners had made during their involuntary break:

You won’t know those familiar places, the theaters and picture houses, when you enter them again! A spring housecleaning in New England is an orgy of dirt compared to the drastic cleansing which the city’s theaters have undergone during the space of time when King Flu has been reigning on the Rialto and the theaters were merely dark holes in the wall. And as for decorations, every theater owner has apparently been doing nothing but cudgel his brains and read The Theater Beautiful Magazine.

Most of the theaters were repainted and replaced their carpets and draperies; several installed new lighting and ventilation systems. T.L. Tally of Tally’s Broadway assured the public that “germs would have no more use for his house than a mermaid would have for a buttonhook.” So they were all ready to go, just as soon as the Council gave the word.

Elsewhere in the paper, the holidays were just around the corner, and The Hub wanted to help you get ready for Thanksgiving:

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It just doesn’t have the ring of Easter bonnet. If only Irving Berlin had written about it…

 

* Yes really. Thomas Lyle Sawyer was born in 1881, five years after the book came out but three years before Huck Finn. It was just bad luck—his parents would have had no idea it would become a literary classic.

 

“Here and There,” Motion Picture News, December 11, 1920, p. 4443.

“Moving Pictures,” Variety, February 28, 1918, p.58.

“Wealthy Texan Forms New Producing Company,” Motion Picture News, March 1, 1919, p. 1330.

 

Week of November 9th, 1918

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People came downtown to read the special edition.

One hundred years ago this week, world events crowded entertainment news out of the newspaper for the most part. On Monday, November 11th at 12:10 a.m. the L.A. Times announced on its public address system that German representatives had signed the armistice. A special edition of the newspaper quickly followed. Hostilities officially ended at 11 a.m. Paris time, which was 3 a.m. Los Angeles time. Naturally, nobody bothered to go to bed that night or went to work the next day. As the Times’ November 12th article, “Bedlam is the Kaiser’s Dirge As All Los Angeles Celebrates Peace” said, “The war is over. Nothing else mattered.” It continued:

Los Angeles has had many great days. Yesterday was her greatest day. Through the dark hours when enemies sore pressed she maintained her poise and smiled through her tears…All that time her emotions were damming back a great lake of feeling, and when The Times siren roared the news to a waiting city that the war was over the dam burst and out into the glorious morning of Victory Day the people poured to give their outward expression to the joy that came with daybreak.

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Fifth and Broadway

There were no plans for an official celebration, but the mayor declared the day a holiday and prohibited all alcohol sales. The crowds were amazing:

By 8 o’clock in the morning the downtown streets were jammed and flags were being placed. Everywhere the Stars and Stripes were floating, apparently they had risen with the sun…. Gradually the crowd grew. By 9 o’clock Broadway, Spring, Hill, Seventh and the cross streets were filled.

After noon Broadway was a solid mass of color waving north and south like some sublimated ribbon counter on a spree, while at every intersection a cross current of humanity struggled against the tide, finally to be caught up in its flood and carried on whither it flowed and ebbed and flowed again.

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Sixth and Broadway

The whole police force was on duty, but crowd control was impossible. They estimated that half a million turned up (two years later, the census said that only 576,673 people lived there!)

The streets were so congested that they had to shut down the trolleys in downtown. The noise was astonishing, too. Every car horn was being honked, “tens of thousands of portable horns, rattles, pans, cans, hanging chunks of pig iron, skillets and wash basins from the kitchen pantry added to the tremendous din.”

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Workers from the Boos Brothers cafeteria celebrate

The Times report concluded:

The wonderful day was so filled with incidents that it was impossible to acquire more than a passing impression. The spectacle was en masse. It had no beginning, no middle, no end. It was unlike everything which ever was before, and its like may never be seen again.

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Cartoon by Ted Gale

There was one unfortunate consequence of the massive public celebration: it caused an uptick in flu cases, so re-opening the theaters was delayed.

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Chaplin speaking at a Liberty Bond rally

Grace Kingsley did manage to write a few columns this week. She told how one person celebrated:

This is a story of Charlie Chaplin, some hell-bent cowboys and a peace celebration, and it all happened in the wee small hours of Monday morning.

The cowboys had been celebrating peace all Sunday night by shooting up the town and, while tearing down Seventh street, one of them happened to look through the window of a little all-night restaurant. There sat Charlie Chaplin, eating chop suey and cogitating on the success of Shoulder Arms. Those cowboys yelled in chorus—“Oh, you Charlie Chaplin?” but didn’t wait for Charlie to answer. Instead they swung their trusty lassoes, with the result the noose slipped over his famous head and landed him in their midst in a jiffy.

“Well, boys?” demanded the little comedian good-naturedly.

“Speech! Speech!” yelled the boys, and rapidly hoisted Chaplin to the top of an automobile, where he made a speech that ought to rattle down through the corridors of time even if it doesn’t. A crowd speedily gathered, even at 3 a.m. and when it was all over the cowboys heaved the comedian to their shoulders and bore him home.

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Mildred Harris

Kingsley didn’t remark on one reason it might have been odd to find Chaplin alone in a Chinese restaurant in the early morning: two days earlier, news had broken that he’d secretly married seventeen-year-old actress Mildred Harris on Oct 23rd. This was a bad idea for both of them from the start. On November 13th, the Times reported she was in the hospital with a nervous breakdown and Chaplin was once again living at the Los Angeles Athletic Club. The two formally separated in autumn 1919 and divorced in 1920.

 

 

Week of November 2nd, 1918

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Cartoons by Ted Gale

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley wrote abut how people were occupying themselves in Los Angeles without any public amusements. Some activities were exactly what you would expect:

Everybody, young people included, are conspiring to swamp the Public Library and all the branch libraries. It is reported that 4000 more books were sent out from the general circulation department alone last week than were given out during the corresponding week of last year.

She reported that the most popular subjects were history and war. In addition, bookstores were doing a booming business and magazine sales were up. Bookstores were also selling a lot of a surprising item:

Many persons are buying decks of cards with the statement they want them to tell fortunes with! No wonder, either, is it, that in these hazardous days, we should want to find out what’s going to happen to us and ours.

She mentioned that “it’s the open season for self-made music” sales and rentals of pianos were strong, and “the ukulele disorder” was becoming unusually severe. There was a great run on phonographs and player pianos as well.

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Here’s how Ted Gale amused himself

She pointed out one problem I hadn’t considered:

How are the women managing to enjoy themselves, now that there are no women’s clubs, and, what with the dance halls and theaters closed, nothing really left to reform?

Oh dear! I suppose they could always go pick on the librarians (I’m glad she didn’t suggest that). Schools were closed, too, but it seems that kids weren’t suffering at all:

These schooless days are just one long, joyous picnic for the youngsters with neighborhoods resounding to high adventure. They’re playing war mostly, it seems, with a real neighborhood war breaking out over and anon because naturally nobody wants to be the Germans. And when they can be persuaded to work at all, the youngsters demand exorbitant pay of mother for jobs done around the house, with threats if she doesn’t pay up promptly they’ll go out and get the “flu” on her!

But romance youth simply must have! Our young lovers should worry that a lot of park cops have got the “flu.” Instead of holding hands in the back of a dark picture theater the park pepper trees* are now the setting for love’s young dream.

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Kingsley remembered another group that wasn’t suffering, as well:

Some people, of course, are having the time of their lives right now—those folks that have more fun gargling and snuffing and telling how they feel when they get up in the morning, and about that queer feeling in their eyelids when they go to bed.

I don’t know which of her relatives was a hypochondriac, but I suspect it was a near one.

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Kingsley’s regular columns were filled with optimistic plans for the future:

  • D.W. Griffith was working on a “governmental propaganda photodrama” that was to be as big as Birth of a Nation, documenting the current war. It was to include Congress passing the conscription bill, scenes from training camps, and scenes of American men in action. It would also introduce Griffith’s latest discovery, Carol Dempster. The end of the war didn’t deter Griffith; this became The Girl Who Stayed at Home (1919).
  • Mary Pickford bought the rights to the play Daddy Long-Legs for $40,000. It was her next film and the first made under her new First National contract.
  • Alexander Pantages intended to station shows of six acts in each of the forty towns where he had theaters, so they’d be ready to go as soon as they reopened. He also had twenty emergency acts in Chicago, ready to travel, in case any were disrupted.
  • The Theater Owners Association adopted a resolution for a “house-cleaning” of the industry. Kingsley wrote: “The scope of the house cleaning includes not only the elimination of bad stories from moral, technical and literary standpoints, but applies also to advertising methods, to the abolition of wild-cat productions, the elimination of overproduction, bad direction, etc.” This was all quickly forgotten once they got back to work.

 

sunsetblvd1900
Sunset Blvd. was lined with pepper trees in 1900

*I learned that pepper trees then are what palm trees are now to LA. I had no idea! KCET has an interesting article about them, “When Pepper Trees Shaded the Sunny Southland.