One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley attended a private screening of Arctic explorer and documentary filmmaker Frank E. Kleinschmidt’s war films. She wrote:
Of all the movies taken of the great war, these are the most extraordinary thus far shown. The spectator sees soldiers fighting in the trenches; sees them crumple up and die. You see wounded men living with sick glazed eyes in the trenches waiting for the ambulance corps to pick them up. Battlefields with hundreds of dead men appear on the screen. Some of the most remarkable views are of aeroplanes. In one case you see scores of shells bursting around an Austrian airship that is sailing over Venice and is the target for hundreds of Italian guns.
Stephen Bush in Moving Picture World (April 1, 1916) agreed completely, writing, “the horrible and yet sublime tragedy of war is brought fearfully close to us by means of these films.” Kleinschmidt got such amazing footage because he’d been given permission to shoot by the Archduke Field Marshall Fredrick, the highest commanding officer – of Austria. That’s what doomed the commercial value of the films. Lewis Selznick bought the rights to distribute a six-reel version called War on Three Fronts. It was released in April 1917, the same month that the United States declared war. On April 21st Moving Picture World disavowed their earlier support and on April 28th Motography wrote “it is undeniable that these pictures are against the sentiment of our country, and it seems that the exhibitor might do well to think twice before he books them.”
However, that wasn’t the last of the film. According to American Cinematographers in the Great War, D.W. Griffith was given a print when he was working on Hearts of the World, and he used a few shots from it. In a letter, Kleinschmidt said he was disappointed that more wasn’t used. The book’s authors have more information about War on Three Fronts at First World War on Film.
Kleinschmidt went back to exploring the Arctic and he made another film in Alaska, Primitive Love (1927).
Kingsley’s favorite film of the week was The Bugle Call. She was impressed by the fourteen-year-old who was making his film debut, saying “if Willie Collier Jr. keeps on he’ll be the best motion picture actor in the world some day.” She continued “we have something new to the screen in this photoplay – a real, human, breathing boy, as real and fascinating as any boy of action.” Collier played Billy Andrews, who lives on a Western army outpost with his father and new stepmother, whom he doesn’t like. Billy saves the outpost and his stepmother from an attack by sounding his bugle, according to the AFI Catalog. The film was re-made by Edward Sedgewick in 1927 with Jackie Coogan in Collier’s role. Both films are lost.
While William “Buster” Collier didn’t become the best actor in the world, he had a long career in entertainment. He acted until 1933, making the transition from child actor to romantic lead as well as from silent films to sound, appearing in over 80 films. Then he became a film and television producer.
Chaplin’s One A.M. continued to draw crowds, but the new accompanying feature The House of Mirrors had a “melodramatic, absurd and machine-made story.”
Kingsley heard a heroic story about a young actress, Molly Malone, from her director, George Cochrane. On location at Crater Canyon, he, cameraman Bob Walters and Miss Malone had just climbed over a big boulder when she gave a startled cry. “The next instant he heard the crash of a rock and turning, saw a writing snake. Miss Malone had thrown the rock, and her aim had been so accurate that it had broken the back of the reptile, which had been about to strike Cochrane. Miss Malone has the eight rattles and the button of the snake as a souvenir of her bravery.”
Molly Malone appeared in Westerns and comedies until 1929. Her most famous film is Backstage with Roscoe Arbuckle and Buster Keaton; you can see it at the Internet Archive.
Kingsley reported that while Hal Roach was in New York, Rolin studio manager Dwight Whiting took over and directed a Lonesome Luke film with Harold Lloyd and Bebe Daniels. Unlike many other people, it didn’t inspire him to stick with it. Two years later, he abandoned the entertainment business entirely and went to work for Union Oil where he was a director for 36 years. In 1934, he helped found the Santa Anita Racetrack. So there is life after Hollywood.
It seems that some fans have always been odd. Kingsley reported “Eddie Lowe was separated from an ingrowing toenail the other day. And right in the class with the ladies who carry flowers to murderers in jail, was the feminine admirer who wrote and begged the popular young actor to give her the subtracted toenail as a souvenir.” One hundred years later, that’s still horrifying.
At this point in his career, Edmund Lowe was primarily a stage actor, but he went on to a long career in film and television, starring in What Price Glory (1926) and Dinner at Eight (1933).