Week of April 20th, 1918

swwr_poster

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on the Western expansion of another group dedicated to doing their part for the war effort, Stage Women’s War Relief. She interviewed actress Louise Closser Hale, the vice-president and one of the original founders of the group in New York, who was in town to help establish the new branch. Kingsley wrote:

The motion-picture people of the West are responding splendidly, according to Mrs. Hale, to their opportunities for rendering noble aid to the stage men gone to war.

One of these projects, which sounds modest enough, is the workroom now being established in the Mason Operahouse Building; and if the Los Angeles branch approximates the work of similar service rooms in New York and other cities, its work will be of tremendous importance. The service room is a very democratic institution—all varieties of stage workers from stars to scrub women labor together for the common cause. No surgical bandages are made, but sewing, knitting and crocheting are done, all according to patterns furnished by other local war reliefs and every article made is turned over to the Red Cross and other relief agencies. No workers outside the profession are permitted to work here, however, no matter what their station or calling.

“One of our first beneficiaries,” said Mrs. Hale, “was a baby born after its father—a Fox director—was called away to war. We were very excited about it, and I am sure the youngster received about three times as many clothes as it needed.”

Hale and Olive White Farnum were planning a big meeting at the Morosco Theater on Friday, April 26th to kick things off. In addition to the workroom, they wanted to launch a series of benefits and bazars, and the proceeds would go to stage and screen soldiers and their families.

The SWWR Western branch was a success. To raise money they did hold all-star benefit shows, as well as flag drives, garden fetes, and they even auctioned kisses from actresses at their show at the Hotel Alexandria. They also organized entertainment for sailors and soldiers; their first show was at the Submarine base in San Pedro on May 9th. In addition, they opened a tea room that was free for service members

The group held their last meeting where they began, at the Morosco Theater, on December 4th. There they decided to take a new name and purpose. Calling themselves the Players Welfare League, they decided to help stage people down on their luck. They immediately started planning fundraising. Unfortunately, interest in the group petered out, but in 1939 as World War 2 began, the government asked women from the New York branch to reactivate their group. They did, starting a new workroom, raising money, training speakers to sell war bonds and running Stage Door Canteens, which provided food and entertainment for service members. The group got a new name: The American Theater Wing. After the war they began giving grants to theater companies and educating people about live theater, but they’re best known for their annual awards, the Tonys and the Obies.

twenty_one

Kingsley’s favorite film this week was a “corking” comedy, Twenty-One, starring “that fascinating screen persona, Bryant Washburn.” He had a dual role: a tough prize-fighter and the mollycoddled youth who wants to be a prizefighter. As she pointed out, “naturally (in picturedom) he gets his chance.” The two change places, but the fighter likes the youth’s job so much that he refuses to change back. So the young man must not only fight in the ring, but he also has the beat up the fighter to get his own place back. She really enjoyed it: “the picture is done with sparkle and Washburn invests it with his usual delightfully unctuous humor.” It’s a lost film.

hearts_LAT

Kingsley reported on D.W. Griffith’s comeback success:

When Hearts of the World, Griffith’s latest film masterpiece, began its seventh week at Clune’s Auditorium last night, the audience numbered just twenty less than on the opening night. The film has broken all records at Clune’s Auditorium and has established new records for Griffith’s productions. The end of the run is not in sight.

The photos the New York Post Office doesn’t want you to see!

Kingsley told a story of excessive war rationing:

Again has Annette Kellerman been made to realize that a fine head of hair does not constitute a bathing suit in the eyes of the law. Photographs of Miss Kellerman in her latest Fox picture, Queen of the Sea, and nothing much else, caught the eye of the New York post office authorities, and she has been called upon to explain why she has Hooverized so painstakingly in the matter of bathing suits.

Now the lost film is remembered for being the first movie to be shot on  panchromatic negative film, not for running into trouble with censors. However, I did learn that it’s still illegal to mail what the U.S. Postal Service considers lewd or filthy matter. According to their basic standards for mailing services/domestic mail manual, “obscene, lewd, lascivious, or filthy publications or writings, or mail containing information on where, how, or from whom such matter may be obtained, and matter that is otherwise mailable but that has on its wrapper or envelope any indecent, lewd, lascivious, or obscene writing or printing, and any mail containing any filthy, vile, or indecent thing is nonmailable (18 USC 1461, 1463).”

However, I suspect they don’t think Miss Kellerman is filthy, vile or indecent any more.

 

 

Week of April 13th, 1918

salome
Salome (1918)

One hundred years ago this week, Theda Bara finished work on Salome and had a chat with Grace Kingsley. She was happy to be on her way to Arrowhead Springs for a week’s vacation with her sister. Her list of city vexations seems quaint now:

“In the city there are always so many things to do,” said Miss Bara, “but up in that wonderful mountain fastness* you simply can’t do anything if you want to. That is, you don’t make calls or see dressmakers or answer telephones, or tell the maid every morning about putting the canary out-of-doors. Yes, I think sister Loro and I may take some horseback rides up there, and we may walk a lot. We both enjoy walking away out in the country where nobody can see whether our khaki suits are dusty or not, and where we don’t have to stop and put a dull finish on our noses every few minutes.”

The star didn’t only want a change from her usual routine; she was tired of playing vamps. She said:

“The characters I have played which I have liked best are not vampires characters. I liked DuBarry and Cigarette in Under Two Flags best of anything I have done—that is outside of Salome. Salome was not naturally a vampire, it was merely circumstances made her so.”

Luckily, her studio was going to let her “turn over a professional new leaf. Miss Bara’s next picture will be called Spanish Love…In it she will play a ‘good’ girl all the way through.” The film was eventually called Under the Yoke and while some of the posters sold it as a vamp film, she played a convent-educated woman living in the Philippines during the revolution who is rescued from an evil plantation owner by a dashing American captain. Unfortunately, playing a ‘good girl’ only lasted for one picture. Her next was When A Woman Sins and her character was back to driving men to their death. In a few years, audiences got tired of vamps, too, and she retired from acting.

hunwithin

Kingsley reported on a problem director Chet Withey was having with his nearly finished current film for D.W. Griffith, The Hun Within:

The trouble is, Withey admits, he doesn’t know how to wind the darn thing up. You see the story has a German spy as its villain, and according to the scenario, the mob should hang him—already, in point of fact, the well-known villain Charlie Gerrard has been hanged. But now that the government has signified its intention of making mob rule unpopular by drastic law measures, Chet has a villain on his hands with no spectacular way to dispose of him.

The law measure Kingsley is referring to is the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill introduced into the House of Representative in January, 1918. It would have made lynching a federal felony, taking its prosecution away from state and local authorities. It didn’t pass because Southern Democrats in the Senate filibustered it. They went on to prevent every single anti-lynching bill from being passed; in 2005 the Senate formally apologized for their failure to act.

Chet Withey decided showing the spy’s arrest was sufficient. The film had enough going on, with a kidnapping and a race to prevent a bomb from blowing up a ship.

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Jewel Carmen and Charles Gorman in The Bride of Fear

Kingsley reviewed only one film this week, but she enjoyed it, writing “while a picture named The Bride of Fear might suggest its story is akin to such ‘mellers’ as The Poisoned Bathing Suit” it was actually “a clean-cut, sane, well acted and engaging little story.” The plot sounds awfully melodramatic now (a presumed dead criminal husband comes back to mar his wife’s happiness and she shoots him in self defense) but Kingsely said “the treatment is fresh and human, and there are a score of little touches in directing and ‘business’ which make the thing vivid and natural.” It was directed by Sidney Franklin, who until recently had been working on children’s movies with his brother Chester. He went on to be one of the top producers at MGM; his films included Mrs. Miniver (1942) and Random Harvest (1942).

 

 

 

*Fastness: a stronghold or fortress. Yes, I had to look it up. Furthermore, she’s quoting Wordsworth. Theda Bara was a clever woman.

 

Week of April 6th, 1918

One hundred years ago this week, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks had lunch with President Woodrow Wilson at the White House, and Charlie Murray (1) told Grace Kingsley all about it:

It was all very wonderful and very pleasant. The President asked Mary if she liked pictures and Mary said yes and did Mr. Wilson like being President. Then Douglas Fairbanks butted in and bet he could climb the side of the Capitol quicker than the President, and the President smiled and said yes, he guessed so…

Douglas declared he could leap the table quicker than the President and the President replied that he wasn’t doing much leaping—that he was standing solidly on his feet nowadays.(2)

Then the President told Mary he liked seeing her in pictures, and that she was a good little girl to buy so many Liberty Bonds.

At the time, was it rare for film actors to visit the White House but according to Wilson biographer A. Scott Berg, the President was a big fan of moving pictures. He’d hosted the first film screening at the White House, Birth of a Nation, in 1915, and private showings had become routine. (3) Movies and movie stars were becoming respectable.

However, less than a week later, a scandal involving Pickford and Fairbanks erupted in the papers that could have damaged that new respectability and ruined their careers. For reasons that their biographers could only speculate about, it didn’t. It began when Beth Fairbanks, angry because her husband called stories of their separation German propaganda designed to thwart his work for Liberty Bonds, went to the press and said she’d had enough. He needed to admit he was in love with another woman and that was what was causing their estrangement. The reporter said she named names, but the LA Times didn’t until the next day when Pickford’s husband Owen Moore made a statement from his new home at the Los Angeles Athletic Club: he’d been the last to hear the rumors and the last to believe them about Pickford and Fairbanks’ relationship, furthermore, in his opinion Fairbanks had been the aggressor and Pickford had been the victim.

After the initial flurry of articles, attention died down. Both actors returned to Los Angeles and went back to work, avoiding publicity for a bit. Fairbanks’ biographer Tracey Goessel theorized, “it is possible that Doug and Mary’s critical importance to the war’s fundraising activities resulted in subtle pressure on the part of the government to avoid the topic. That, or Charlotte Pickford’s abilities with a well-place bribe were underrated. Whatever the reason, the storm passed and Fairbanks was, evidently, as popular as ever.”

Pickford and Fairbanks arrive in England

Both stars got divorced, then married each other on March 28, 1920. Pickford’s biographer Eileen Whitfield said their fans high opinion saved them: “There was a rightness to Little Mary’s union with the magical Fairbanks.” Wherever they went, crowds gathered and cheered and they caused near-riots on their European honeymoon. They did a good job of managing the crisis.

menwhomade

Kingsley reviewed a notorious film this week, Men Who Have Made Love To Me:

Really now, isn’t it pathetic that a brilliant lady like Mary MacLane, who had always given us to understand that she was terribly intellectual and all that, should have stooped to so obvious an art as posing for a picture melodrama.

Based on a newspaper article MacLane had written a few years earlier, the film consisted of re-enactments of her six unhappy love affairs with all sorts of men, from a callow youth to a prize fighter (“the sort that almost any dame would have kept dark instead of putting in a picture”). Kingsley continued, “she says those love affairs were ‘damnably serious.’ To whom?” Between the stories MacLane smoked and chatted with her maid about the meaning of love. The film had been banned “in censor-ridden states like Ohio,” according to Kevin Brownlow. (8)

Unlike the censors, Kingsley didn’t care about Miss MacLane’s morals, she objected to her pretentiousness and self-centeredness – “the lady whose ‘I’s’ go by like telegraph poles in her essays.” The Women Film Pioneers Project has a biography of her; it opens with “Mary MacLane lived to shock her public.” It’s a lost film.

thosewhopay

Kingsley offered an unusual suggestion in another review:

If you want to thoroughly enjoy what is in many respects the best picture the Rialto has had in many days, drop in about the beginning of the second reel and guess the first part. It will be easy to do so and you won’t be bored by some rather old and mawkish stuff.

Those Who Pay was the story of a love triangle, and Kingsley found it “very up-to-the-minute from a sociological standpoint,” because when the wife finds out what her husband had been up to, instead of getting into a fight, she meets with the young lady and they decide what to do. Unfortunately, they both don’t kick him to the curb — the wife keeps him. It’s a lost film.

 

 

 

 

(1) Charlie Murray was an actor working for Mack Sennett in 1918. He also did a lot of fundraising for Liberty Loans with Pickford and Fairbanks; that’s probably why he knew the story. A biography is on Silentology.

(2) This was eighteen months before Wilson’s massive stroke — Fairbanks wasn’t insulting a disabled man.

(3) A. Scott Berg, Wilson, NY: Putnam’s, 2013.

(4) “Not Fair, Says Mrs. Fairbanks,” Los Angeles Times, April 13, 1918.

(5) ”Owen Moore Say’s He’ll Act in his Own Protection,” Los Angeles Times, April 14, 1918.

(6) Tracey Goessel, The First King of Hollywood, Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2016, p. 190.

(7) Eileen Whitfield, Pickford: The Woman Who Made Hollywood, Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press, 1997, p. 200.

(8) Kevin Brownlow, Behind the Mask Of Innocence, NY: Knopf, 1990, p. 32.

Week of March 30th, 1918

melba
Nellie Melba

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported that the great soprano Nellie Melba had gone missing:

For three whole days Mme. Melba was lost. For three whole days frantic committees ran about Pasadena, where the singer was supposed to have alighted last Sunday, searching for her. There were committees on music, committees on entertainment, committees on flowers, and just committees in general, also there were fond mammas of prodigies who were willing to let the great Melba hear their little ones warble, and there were song writers with new ditties who were willing to hear Mme. Melba sing their songs—and none of them could find her.

On Tuesday Melba was found. Of course, she permitted herself to be found. She really hadn’t been making incognito trips into Bohemia for the sake of excitement, she hadn’t been kidnaped and held as ransom, she hadn’t been made away with by German spies. Melba was merely resting in a Pasadena sanatorium, like the nice, gentle lady she is—a modest and retiring sanatorium, where song writers cease from troubling and the press agents are at rest. For she was there incognito.

So celebrity hangers-on were equally annoying then. Kingsley wrote that Melba tried her best to find some symptoms, but she couldn’t find one. After she saw some of the treatments patients were receiving, she decided to leave – even press agents weren’t that bad.

Nellie Melba, 1910

Nellie Melba’s story lacks the mystery and melodrama of the disappearances of Aimee Semple McPherson and Agatha Christie, so nobody has made a movie about it. But it might be a pretty good comedy/biopic. By 1918, Melba had been singing professionally for over thirty years and was one of the most famous opera singers in the world. She performed her first farewell appearance in 1926, but her actual last concert was in 1930.

 

chaplinsick

Kingsley told another story about illness, but it was the reverse of Dame Melba’s situation. The night before he was going leave for a Liberty Loan tour, Charlie Chaplin got sick. A doctor was called, and

once within Charlie’s apartment at the Athletic Club, the physician decided that Charlie had something very important and expensive the matter with him, and commanded the comedian to take to his bed and remain there, giving up his trip East. Ill as he was, he declared he couldn’t give up his trip.

The physician remained adamant. Then he gave orders to Charles Lapworth, one of Charlie’s aides-de-camp, to lock the door and remain outside if need be. Lapworth complied. But everybody forgot, apparently, that Charlie is an athlete, and this morning when they unlocked the door, too late, as they thought, for the comedian to get ready, bless you, he was gone! A few moments later Charlie’s Athletic Club friends were greeted over the telephone with a message to the effect Charlie was at Brother Sid’s and that he had collected a sufficient wardrobe with which to depart on his journey. Charlie had descended the fire escape, called a taxi, beat it out to Sid’s house and had been so well taken care of out there he was able to go on his journey.

chaplinwallst
Chaplin on Wall St.

Chaplin did get to New York safely, and gave a speech at a bond rally on Wall Street on April 8th, just before Douglas Fairbanks. He spent the rest of April touring the South and he returned to Los Angeles on May 12th. According to the LA Times, he sold $50,000,000 worth of bonds and he covered as many as four or five towns a day, making a speech in each.*

LATapril1
Los Angeles Times, April 1, 1918

Kingsley mentioned that Los Angeles was going dry. Alcohol wasn’t completely banned under the Gandier ordinance, but only wine or beer could be served with a restaurant meal before 9 pm. It still made a big change for the film industry, because on Saturday, March 30th it closed every single bar in town. The LA Times reported on that last night:

In a blaze of reckless conviviality the 208 saloons of Los Angeles closed their doors at midnight last night forever…Early in the afternoon saloon patrons began to gather for the farewell visits at the drink emporiums. As the hours went by, the crowds increased, and every saloon was filled with men, while the bartenders were swamped with business. There was much hilarity, and some minor disturbances, but they were promptly squelched.**

A police officer was stationed at each saloon, but there were “amazingly few arrests” — only 13 (the previous Saturday night there were 26). Liquor vendors planned to appeal the ordinance all the way to the Supreme Court, but they weren’t successful. Country-wide Prohibition came along on January 17, 1920 and lasted until December 5, 1933. So the saloons weren’t closed forever, but it was an awfully long time.

 

*”C.Chaplin is Home,” Los Angeles Times, May 13, 1918.

**”City Drinks Toast to the Late J. Barleycorn,” Los Angeles Times, March 31, 1918.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Week of March 23rd, 1918

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley visited the West Coast branch of Vitagraph, and left a record of just how busy the studio was:

‘Whoop! Look out! This pony’s a wild one!’

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Nell Shipman

It was William Duncan that called out to us, as he came tearing down a Wild West street at the Vitagraph studio, and around the corner came Nell Shipman, clad in khaki, with five fierce Malamute dogs pulling at the leash on which she held them. ‘Yes, they bite,’ she warned us.

But just then up drove Earle Williams in his nifty 1918 model sky-blue enameled Packard, while Grace Darmond, dolled up in the evening clothes of society with the morning sunshine flashing on her diamonds, stepped daintily into the tiny Japanese garden, where came director Tom Mills barking through his megaphone to Pete Props to ‘turn the hose on the Japanese lake!’

All of which is typical of the fact that Vitagraph isn’t just a romping kid any more, but is all grown up, civilized and dressed in long pants. As a matter of fact, Vitagraph was 21 years old on St. Patrick’s Day.

vitagraphbuildings
Vitagraph’s West Coast studio

She was there to look at their plans to expand their West Coast studio. One year earlier, they had one company working there; by 1918 they had seven. They were getting ready to build a new glass studio and “luxurious dressing rooms” with heat and running water. They were gradually moving all their productions from the East coast.

vitagraphlogo

Founded in 1897 by Albert E. Smith and J. Stuart Blackman, Vitagraph was unique in its longevity. Kingsley concluded, “other companies may come and go, but Vitagraph goes on forever.”

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The studio now

Of course, nothing lasts forever but they had a respectable run. It was sold to Warner Bros. in 1925. The studio property is currently called Prospect Studios and is owned by the Walt Disney Company; many A.B.C. television shows have been made there. Tim Lussier wrote a short history of Vitagraph available on Silents Are Golden.

guiltsilence

Kingsley reported that on Saturday, nearly one hundred actors and crew members were working on the now-lost The Guilt of Silence in the High Sierras for Universal, when:

came a more-or-less expected telegram for cameraman Virgil Miller from a physician in Los Angeles, informing Mr. Miller that he was a dad, that Mrs. Miller was the mother of a twelve-pound boy, but that she was not expected to live, and urging Mr. Miller’s return to the city.

Then it was that Universal and Elmer Clifton, director, proved themselves regular guys. Notwithstanding the fact that delay in the taking of the picture meant a money loss as well as loss of time, Clifton, without a moment’s hesitation, provided Miller with a fast dog team and sled, and the trip over the snow to Truckee in a blinding snowstorm was made in record time, while action was halted on the picture. To the delight of members of the company, the happy dad returned yesterday [Tuesday] with the glad tidings that mother and child were doing well.

Clifton telegraphed Henry MacRae, Universal’s West Coast manager, telling him what he had done.

‘Right-o,’ MacRae telegraphed back, ‘ask Miller to have a drink on me.’

myrtlemiller1935
Myrtle Bowers Miller, 1935

Myrtle Bowers Miller and Harlan continued to do well, but now it seems astonishing how little was expected of fathers in 1918. She was very pregnant and looking after four year old Joaquin and two year old Wendell, and her husband seems to have thought nothing of heading off for a job in a remote location. Even after this experience, she did it twice more: Loren was born in 1919 and Donald was born in 1921. She divorced Miller after the children were grown and married Edward Fowler; she died in 1970 aged 79.

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Lee Miller as Sgt. Brice in Perry Mason

Harlan Leroy Miller became an actor, Lee Miller. His most notable part was a recurring role on Perry Mason, Sgt. Brice. He died in 2002, aged 84.

Since Myrtle Miller took care of their home so well, Virgil Miller had plenty of time to build an interesting and varied career. In 1913 he was teaching physics and electrical engineering at Kansas State University when, on a visit to Los Angeles, he heard that Universal Studios wanted someone to supervise the introduction of electrical lighting for their films. He got the job. He was the head of their electrical department until 1915 when they transferred him to the camera department. When Elmer Clifton needed a substitute for an ill cameraman in 1917, he got the job. Clifton liked his work so much that he became his regular DP. He didn’t work on “important” films, but he shot over 100 features, and he spent eight years as the head of Paramount’s camera department (1929-1936). He finished up his career by shooting 113 episodes of You Bet Your Life, Groucho Marx’s show. He died in 1974, aged 86.

splintersHe wrote an autobiography, Splinters from Hollywood Tripods, in 1964, but he didn’t include the story of racing through a snowstorm in a dog sled to see his feared-dying wife. That had to have been memorable. In fact the only mention of her and his five sons was in a story about some actresses who demanded a married cameraman to shoot a semi-nude scene. Maybe the divorce was so awful, that he didn’t want to mention her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Week of March 16th, 1918

griffith_desk

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley interviewed D.W. Griffith in his office at the Fine Arts studio. He described what women were doing for the war effort in England, and he had some surprising ideas, for someone known for his girlish Victorian characters:

Maybe it sounds strange to you; but, you see, women are taking the places of men wherever possible, even right behind the firing line…I cannot tell you how much the men appreciate it and respect them for their cheerful unselfishness. They are even serving as officers’ chauffeurs, both in France and in England. I rode behind one, and she beat the mechanic at his own game in an emergency. A fine spirit of camaraderie is growing out of it all—a spirit I feel sure will be a source of permanent understanding between men and women.

Women are becoming economically independent at a great rate. What will the men do when they get back home? Are they going to be content to keep on letting women run things? Well, mark you this, I heard a British Tommy say one day ‘Bless the bloomin’ women, they’re doin’ all right! Let ‘em keep on, I say. What do we care, so the work’s done right.

The brightest outlook for women due to this war is—that they will understand. That’s been the real handicap and the unhappiness of women—they haven’t known life as it really is. The war is teaching it to them. The daughters of this war will understand.

womenmechanics
Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps mechanics at work on a car engine at Abbeville, France

Kingsley was too polite to question his idea that only fighting, pain and suffering is ‘real life.’ The war did temporarily open up new job opportunities for women, but Griffith was too optimistic: after the men came home, they were dismissed from their jobs. There wasn’t much change in assumptions about gender roles, either, according to history professor Susan Grayzel, who wrote “New forms of social interaction between the sexes and across class lines became possible, but expectations about family and domestic life as the main concern of women remained unaltered.”

 

fairbarbarian
The Fair Barbarian

Kingsley’s favorite film this week was The Fair Barbarian. This “highly diverting and amusing comedy” told:

“how a sleepy town in England called Slowbridge—‘where the only thing that travels fast is gossip’—was jolted into the knowledge it is alive, and speeded into high by an American girl…To be sure this apostle of pep from Bloody Gulch, Montana, does a few things not usually done in good society, such as breaking a memorial window in a spirit of girlish glee still she’s so adorably pretty and elfish you’d forgive he if she drank all the communion wine when it is passed!”

The film’s press book helpfully pointed out that it was based on the work of Frances Hodgson Burnett, just like Mary Pickford’s recent success, The Little Princess. Its star, Vivian Martin, usually played parts that were similar to Mary Pickford’s. When films about spunky girls became less popular, she returned to her earlier job: Broadway actress. She later married Arthur Samuels, the editor of Harpers Bazaar. The film has survived at the Cinematheque Francais.

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No need to hurry! (The Bell Boy, 1918)

Buster Keaton once told interviewer George Pratt in that “as a rule, Schenck never knew when I was shooting or what I was shooting. He just went to a preview.” But Kingsley reported that he wasn’t a completely laissez-faire producer:

One of the subjects for which Joe Schenck came West, it develops, is to ascertain whether Fatty Arbuckle may not be speeded up in his work. Mr. Arbuckle, it appears, has been making only eight or ten pictures a year, and Mr. Schenk has discovered that he could easily dispose of Arbuckle comedies one every two of three weeks, that in fact, the public is clamoring for them.

“The makers of comedy are in luck,” said Mr. Schenck yesterday. “So far from the war having damaged the sale of really good comedies, the demand for them has increased. Naturally this is so, when the world is looking for something cheerful to take its mind off the world war, its excitements and depressions.”

Whether Mr. Arbuckle can be persuaded that art can be speeded up, remains to be seen.

She was right to be skeptical: Arbuckle released 6 shorts in 1918 and 7 in 1919. But they’re still being enjoyed by audiences, so they were good value for money!

 

 

 

 

 

Week of March 9th, 1918

heartsposter

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley announced an upcoming film premier:

When D. W. Griffith’s tremendous war masterpiece, Hearts of the World, is presented for the first time tomorrow at Clune’s Auditorium, it will be witnessed by one of the most brilliant audiences which has ever been assembled in this city. A fascinatingly heterogeneous audience it promises to be, also; for mingling with the famous picture stars and directors and well-known society folk will be military officers and soldiers and many civil authorities, including Mayor Woodman. The military people will be there to study the applied technique of war, the stars and picture directors the technique of picture-making.

Those who have been privileged to see the film, the battle scenes of which were actual occurrences photographed at the French battle front, declare it is stupendous from this standpoint, yet Hearts of the World remains intrinsically human—a fabric of multicolored human passion.

bitzer_griffth
Billy Bitzer and D.W. Griffith inspect the negative (Los Angeles Herald)

The article was called “It’s Now Here” since nobody needed to be told what ‘it’ was. Kingsley had been following the film’s progress for over a year; nothing else got so much attention. She wrote about Griffith’s initial plans to go to France, a report that he’d be staying there indefinitely, his meeting with George Bernard Shaw when he was in London and his daily schedule as he finished up the film. Everyone had been anticipating it for a long time. However, she didn’t get to write about the finished film; Antony Anderson got that assignment. He was suitably impressed:

heartsLATThe modern epic—the tremendous story of love and war—was swiftly flashed, last night, before a vast assembly of men and women thrilled and exalted by the gripping power, the overwhelming beauty and poignant pathos of David Wark Griffith’s masterpiece in photoplay, Hearts of the World.

For the story is big, beautiful, tragic and terrible. The wanderings of Ulysses, ever straining his weary eyes toward home and Penelope, hold no keener woes than those of the Boy in the trenches who loved and longed for the Girl in the village of France. But, like Ulysses, the Boy came back to his beloved at last—oh, he came back!—or the tale of his sufferings and hers would have been too heartbreaking, we could not have endured it.

How nice, he’d read the classics. He also reported on the audience reaction:

Clune’s Auditorium was packed as full as it could hold—packed full and overflowing. Everybody was there who could possible beg, borrow or buy a ticket of admission—the great man and the small, the plutocrat and the proletariat, women of fashion, stars of the screen—everybody. For all seemed to know, through some subtle prescience, that Hearts of the World is a play for everybody, a great story of universal appeal.

But on the whole it was not a sad nor somber assemblage. Having determined to grace this first night with their presence, women of wealth and fashion resolved also to make it a brilliant, happy event, and to show by their cheerful attitude of dress and countenance that they fully appreciated Mr. Griffith’s patriotic effort in placing this remarkable play before the American people, now waiting to be instructed in the realities of the war under which the world staggers…The enthusiasm throughout was intense, and the play swayed the vast audience from smiles to tears, and back again.

Audiences at the New York premier on April 4th were just as enthusiastic, according to Arthur Lenning in Film History.* He wrote that at the end, “pandemonium broke out. Spectators stood and cheered and shouted for Griffith. Finally, he appeared on the stage, and moved by the wonderful reception, he said he had no speech to make.” He tried to ask for prayers and support for the men still fighting, but his voice broke and he couldn’t finish.

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Hearts made a decent profit, despite the influenza epidemic and the armistice (people don’t want to see war movies right after a war). Lennig found a March 1919 financial report in Griffith’s files that reported the film’s cost, plus prints and exploitation expenses, was $555,715 and the net receipts were $952,788 for a total profit of $397,073. So it was not as successful as Birth of a Nation (he was still earning money from that in 1917) but much better than Intolerance.

It’s still an important film. You can find modern reviews at Silentology and at Nitrate Diva .

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Grace Kingsley took two days in a row off this week! This was the first time she’d done that in the almost two years I’ve been using her work as the basis for this blog. There wasn’t much else going on in her columns this week: she interviewed the principle singers of the Boston English Opera Company for the Sunday paper (they performed English-language translations to try to make opera attendance painless), reviewed Julian Eltinge’s charming and delightful new film The Widow’s Might (she especially liked his excuse for dressing as a woman—he’s disguised and on the lam after trying to steal some evidence) and mentioned that Joseph Schenck was in town to help Roscoe Arbuckle select a new site for his studio. I hope she enjoyed her time off!

 

 

*Arthur Lennig, “Hearts of the World,” Film History, v. 23 issue 4 (2011), p.428-458.