One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley had heard news about D.W. Griffith’s upcoming release:
The name of the big feature film which David Griffith has had in course of production for over a year, which he has called The Mother and the Law, is said to have been changed to Intolerance. The picture is nearly ready for public showing. Nothing has so far been made public regarding the feature. Huge mystery has surrounded its making. If an attaché of the Griffith studio was asked anything about it, he would look hurriedly to right and left and say “Oh, you mustn’t say anything about that.” A worker caught developing some film the other day turned pale, and hurriedly shooed everybody from the room.
Griffith and his staff had done a remarkably good job of keeping a lid on all information about the film, judging by the articles available on Lantern. In 1915 there were reports that some prison scenes were actually filmed at San Quentin, and on January 1st, 1916 Motion Picture News ran a story about the “interesting rumors…regarding a series of huge special masterpieces which may issue from the Triangle Studio.” Not everything they heard ended up in Intolerance; one film was to be about the life and death of Sardanapalus, a profligate Assyrian monarch. However, they’d also heard that there was a prolog depicting the fall of Babylon, which was a major episode in the final film.
Kinglsey didn’t get to review it for the Times when it opened in Los Angeles on October 16th, but Harry Carr did and said “David Wark Griffith has made his place secure as one of the towering geniuses of the world.” The rest of his review was equally rapturous, with words like tremendous, gripping, and amazing. Kingsley interviewed Griffith as few days later, and he did his best to say it wasn’t at all high brow, it was mostly a love story (he wanted to sell tickets, after all).
Her favorite film of the week was Masque of Life. It loomed
like a beacon above the commonplaceness which fill our screens week after week. And this in spite of many crudities of staging and directing. Even Mack Sennett will have to look to his laurels when it comes to that throat-gripping, hair-raising scene where the circus girl climbs the brick smokestack many hundred feet above the highest buildings, and rescues the squirming, kicking baby which a baboon has placed on the very top edge of the smokestack…And the story. Real human drama, with the action growing, as all real human drama does from out the men and women themselves, with no resort to petty superficial makeshifts of plot.
At least it did until the end, which she thought was improbably happy. Masque of Life was an edited-for-American-audiences version of an Italian film, Il Circo della Morte, which still exists at the Cineteca Nazionale in Rome. That she barely mentioned where the film came from shows how easily films could cross borders.
It was a slow week for films otherwise. She did think that the acting in Lois Weber’s Shoes was good, but the character motivation were improbable (an impoverished girl turns to prostitution to get a pair of shoes) She didn’t like Douglas Fairbanks’ Good Bad Man but it was partially redeemed by his grin. And Chaplin’s The Vagabond, held over for a second week, was beginning to grow on her. She found it a relief after slogging through the melodrama of The Greater Will, in which a girl is hypnotized and tricked into marriage.
Kingsley wrote that John Emerson had left Triangle to direct Mary Pickford at Famous Player/Lasky, with the hope that he’ll find better stories for her. She was reportedly unhappy at Lasky because she was given inferior ones. He did direct her next film, Less Than the Dust, which was about an abandoned English girl raised in India who returns to England. When it came out in November Kingsley praised the “all-around excellence of the photoplay.” Emerson, with his wife Anita Loos, went on to write comedies for Pickford’s future husband, Douglas Fairbanks.
Kingsley got to talk to Lillian Gish, who, after only four years in movies, was already tired of the way she’d been pigeonholed.
Lillian Gish is appearing in Diane of the Follies at Fine Arts studio, under the direction of Christy Cabanne. Miss Gish plays the title role, that of a chorus girl. She declares it is entirely different from any she has ever assumed. “I hold the record as champion deserted wife in the films,” said Miss Gish. “I counted up the other day and find I’ve been deserted fifteen times. In this play, I’m delighted to say, I leave my husband flat. And there’s no villain to pursue me either., which, of course, will make it rather lonely at first, but I shall get used to it in time.
Unfortunately, critics weren’t as happy. Thomas C. Kennedy in Motography thought that Gish’s acting was fine, but the story was terrible, and Peter Milne in Motion Picture News agreed, writing “just why the Fine Arts scenario department unearthed the story presented in Diane of the Follies is not exactly clear, judging from the ultimate effect created by the picture.” The film was written by D.W. Griffith under a pseudonym, and comedy really wasn’t his strong suit. It’s a lost film, so we can’t see for ourselves.
Kingsley reported one story that wouldn’t happen in 2016. Peggy Custer, actress at Universal and Gen. George Custer’s great-niece, was sent a gift by an admirer: a cow and her calf. Luckily she was living on a ranch at Lankershim with her aunt, actress Lule Warrenton, and she was able to send them there. Peggy Custer married cinematographer Jack MacKenzie in May 1917 and quit acting.