One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported some very good news for film workers who are always looking for their next job: Samuel Goldfish, chairman of Famous Players-Lasky, intended to move production to Hollywood. He had been visiting Los Angeles for four weeks, and just before he left for New York he issued a press release:
…we are convinced that Los Angeles is the ideal motion picture producing center. Heretofore most of the Famous Players pictures have been made in New York; in the future the majority of the Famous Players-Lasky pictures will be produced here. …We shall practically have to double our force of employees at the Lasky studio to handle the increase in producing directors. As soon as possible we will erect new office buildings and stages. The increased output will practically triple our expenditures.
Unfortunately for all of those cameramen and production managers, this didn’t happen the way he planned. When Goldfish returned to New York, his boss Jesse Lasky asked him to resign (another executive, Adolf Zucker, had engineered his removal), so he did, effective September 14th. Goldfish quickly got back into the business; he announced the incorporation of his new company in early December. He joined Edgar Selwyn to form the Goldwyn Company, changed his last name to match the company and went on to the sort of career that 510 page (plus notes) biographies are written about. He did move his production headquarters to Los Angeles in 1918.
Kingsley was impressed by the novelty of The Honorable Friend this week. Unusual because it featured only Japanese characters (the one Caucasian actor was in yellow face), it was “frankly melodramatic, but melodrama beautifully and naturally done. The Japanese atmosphere and tradition are so cunningly intermingled that it seems a very great drama.” It seems that unfamiliarly raised the film’s quality for her, because she wasn’t kidding about the melodrama: the story involves a handsome gardener, an innocent young woman, an unscrupulous rich man, kidnapping, murder, revenge and self-sacrificing false confessions. It’s a lost film, which is a shame because it was one of the few American films in which Sessue Hayakawa got to play an ordinary man and a hero, not a villain or exotic, forbidden lover.
Kingsley admired the actors; Hayakawa was “subtle and admirable” and Tsuru Aoki “played the decorous but fiery-hearted little Japanese woman to perfection.” Hayakawa went on to a very long career in America, Europe and Japan that included an Oscar nomination for his part in The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957). His wife Aoki often co-stared with him until 1924 when she retired from acting to raise their three children.
Kingsley was fairly appalled by the hackneyed themes of another release this week, The Unwelcome Mother, but she noted the “rare and distinctive beauty” of its “new and fascinating screen personality,” Valkyrien. It was her first film for Fox, and she was being heavily promoted. Photoplay went completely nuts with their description of her:
Behold a Danish girl, Valkyrien, whose yellow, gold-tipped hair reaches to her knees; her eyes are the deep blue of the Norse sea; her skin is like the young ivory faint-flushed with rose-petal pink…Her age is nineteen; in stature she is a mean between Psyche and Venus; she has the solid, rounded outline of limb and figure of the Ancients, combined with natural grace and nimbleness.
The author (wisely) didn’t sign this piffle. All of this promotion came to nothing; she had been promised top billing for The Unwelcome Mother but she didn’t get it so she sued Fox, which for the most part ended her career. Her Women Film Pioneers Project biography does a good job of debunking the nonsense written about her, but she’d still make an interesting biopic subject.