One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley scored an interview with Charlie Chaplin on the set of his new film, The Count. She rarely wrote up stand-alone interviews; instead she would incorporate them in her regular news column. But Chaplin was already such an important figure in film–only two years after his debut–that she made an exception.
She found a melancholy man who “takes life and himself seriously, and wants you to take them seriously, too.” She told of his impoverished beginnings, his working methods and the inspiration for his walk. She also demonstrated how well he could tell a story; one night he was gloomy, so he and Thomas Meighan went slumming at a saloon in San Pedro. The proprietor became suspicious of the two, and
…he openly voiced the opinion that we weren’t there for any good. Finally our evidence of overwhelming wealth – we had spent six bits by that time—caused him to decide that such reckless spenders must be from Alaska. After a while, though, he began to look at me closely. A look of amazement stole over his face. “You ain’t – it can’t be Charlie Chaplin,” he cried. “Pshaw,” I answered, “of course not, I’m a travelling man.” “I’ll bet you are Charlie Chaplin” he insisted. But when I coyly admitted I was indeed that very person –
“Aww, no you ain’t,” he veered around. “No man that made $670,000 a year would come to a dump like this!” And no amount of persuasion or proof could convince him.
The whole article was reprinted in Charlie Chaplin Interviews and the editor, Kevin Hayes, credits her with figuring out how to have a good interview with him: make it seem like a conversation, not an interview.
Kingsley’s favorite film this week was A Woman’s Way. She wrote:
it is perhaps the best high comedy of its class which the local screen has seen…That shades of dramatic feeling, that delicate finesse of the mind’s workings, that adroit play of wit on wit may be shown on the screen, is proven in this clever story of how a woman, about to lose her husband to a vampire, sets her wits to work and wins the battle.
It stared Ethel Clayton (“a through mistress of her art”) and Carlyle Blackwell (“the artist as always, and a handsome and magnetic one”). Clayton had the depressingly typical actress’s career: she was a leading lady until the mid-1920s, then she played mothers, then she took bit parts. Blackwell continued to get leading men parts until sound ended his film career.
Margaret I. MacDonald at Moving Picture World disagreed with Kingsley; she found it only “moderately entertaining…will no doubt please the average audience.” It’s not a lost film, and has been preserved at the Amsterdam Filmmuseum.
The most successful person involved with the film was its writer, Frances Marion. Adapted from a stage play, A Woman’s Way was one of her 20 (!) film credits for 1916. She was best know for her work with Mary Pickford (see the book Without Lying Down), as well as Stella Dallas and Son of the Sheik. Marion also won an Oscar for The Champ.
Marion’s soon-to-be collaborator made some news this week:
Mary Pickford will head her own company hereafter, producing big features which will be released independent of any programme. It was formally announced yesterday that the Mary Pickford Film Corporation had been organized and offices opened in the Godfrey Building in New York. Miss Pickford personally is to direct and supervise every detail of her productions. It is announced that she will surround herself with the best brains and skill the motion picture field will yield.
Pickford was still working for Famous Players-Laksy, but she had signed a contract that her biographer Scott Eyman called “a small masterpiece of employee demand and employer humiliation.” Running for two years, in addition to full approval of directors and actors and independence from block booking, she got 50 percent of her films’ net profits and a private studio. She really did surround herself with the best brains and skill, hiring directors like Maurice Tourneur, Cecil B. DeMille and Marshall Neilan, cinematographer Charles Rosher, and of course Frances Marion.
D.W. Griffith’s publicity man earned his pay this week, keeping his boss’s not-yet released film in the news. Kingsley quoted W.E. Keefe, who had so successfully used fights with censors to publicize Birth of a Nation:
Intolerance seems to be just prejudice proof. Here I expected a nice, juicy lot of opposition from most everybody, and all the different sects come up and shake Griffith’s hand and tell him it’s fine. Today my last hope died. I got a message from the Mayor saying he’d like to see me privately. ‘Ha! Says I, ‘here’s where we start something!’ But all he wanted was that Mr. Griffith, Sir [Herbert Beerbohm] Tree and De Wolf Hopper should be guests of the city and go and look at the Greek Theater. What’s the use?
Intolerance was subjected to censorship in some markets (particularly the shots of seminude woman) but it was nothing compared to Birth. Russell Merrith found that “many of the censor brawls have the whiff of staged publicity stunts meant to draw attention both to the movie and to the naked women.” Keefe tried his best to drum up interest, but the film sold far fewer tickets than Birth. William Earl “Bill” Keefe was a former newspaper writer. He became a production manager at Griffith’s studio, and later worked for an advertising agency.
Kingsley delivered two pretty good one-liners this week. When describing Leah Herz’s dance act at the Orpheum, she wrote “it is a great novelty, and for those of us whose imaginations find it difficult to understand and interpret the gyrations of the ballet, and don’t know that two kicks this way means ‘I love you’ and that draping yourself over the fountain means ‘don’t bring your mother-in-law home for dinner,’ such an act is a godsend.” Who knew that going to vaudeville could be so much intellectual work!
She also mentioned that the California historical romance Daughter of the Don “continues to attract big crowds of loyal Angelinos, some of whom had been here all of a month.” Kingsley herself was a non-native – she didn’t arrive until 1879, when she was six.