One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley told a story about a newsreel cameraman, B.F. Reynolds, who filmed a mountaintop explosion at a rock quarry:
Hobnobbing with earthquakes, fires and other disasters is just second nature to a pictorial news gatherer…Reynolds placed his camera at a point which the superintendent of the quarry said was dangerously near. “Oh, I guess I’ll take the chance,” answered Reynolds. “I’m used to this sort of thing. We have all kinds of explosions in our pictures, you know, and I’ve even been on intimate terms with a cyclone. I feel pretty safe here. Let her go.” Reynolds remained where he was, and when the explosion occurred the rock fell all around him, but fate lent a kind hand and he escaped injury.
This fearlessness would serve him well in over next decade, when he was Erich von Stroheim’s director of photography. Benjamin Franklin Reynolds was born on July 21, 1890 in Woodville, Michigan, and when Kingsley was writing about him, he was working for the Los Angeles Times-Universal Animated Weekly Newsreel. In 1917 he moved from nonfiction to fiction and went to work for another division at Universal, Bison Motion Pictures. His first movie was The Scrapper (1917), a Western short written, directed, and staring John Ford. He worked with Ford for a year and a half, then he got assigned to work with first-time director Erich von Stroheim on Blind Husbands (1919). He collaborated with von Stroheim on all of his features, including the infamously difficult Greed (1924). They spent 37 summer days filming the final sequence in Death Valley, the hottest place in North America. You can see them hauling their equipment by mule in this short newsreel.
After Greed, he married stenographer Adelaide Bader and they took a long honeymoon in Europe. They came back to Los Angeles in late 1924 and he went back to work. In between von Stroheim films, he was under contract at M.G.M. and Universal, so he shot comedies like The Waning Sex (1926, with Norma Shearer) and dramas like Freedom of the Press (1928, with Lewis Stone), but his career was still tied to the director. When the von Stroheim got fired from Queen Kelly (1929), Reynolds’ career suffered too. He shot some early sound shorts for Warner Bros., then he got a contract at the less-prestigious (at the time) Paramount Studios where he worked on Westerns and comedies, including W.C. Field’s The Old Fashioned Way (1934). His final film was It’s A Great Life (1935), an Eddie Cline-directed comedy about working for the Civilian Conservation Corps.
In July 1935 his story turned tawdry. A 21-year old bit player, Julia Graham, with whom he was having an affair, committed suicide in his house. The County Coroner cleared him of any blame, but the story was picked up in the newspapers and it ended his film career. Adelaide Reynolds didn’t leave him but they did move to a new house. He got a job as a gas station attendant, and she went to work in a studio script department.
The American Society of Cinematographers also didn’t abandon him. He’d been a member since 1917 when they were still called the Static Club, and their magazine continued to mention him in their “A.S.C. on Parade” column. His final appearance was in 1941, when he reminisced about shooting in Death Valley after Greed had a revival screening at the Academy. He died on February 14, 1948, age 57. Adelaide Reynolds remarried and moved to Anaheim, California where she died on November 1, 1991.
Kingsley’s most enjoyable trip to the movies this week was to a double bill of Anita Loos films. The short Laundry Liz was “the very best little gloom-chaser…a delicious travesty on the silent ‘drawma’ and the methods of its producers, and it mercilessly reveals and satirizes the weakness and faults of the business.” The feature was a tragedy, The Little Liar, about a slum girl (Mae Marsh) who uses fiction to help her cope with her grim life. Kingsley thought that Marsh did “some of the best work of her career.” They are both lost films.
It wasn’t difficult to program an Anita Loos double feature in 1916, because she had at least 18 films to her credit that year (including the intertitles for Intolerance). Now best known for the novel Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, she wrote over 100 screenplays including San Francisco (1936) and The Women (1939).
Kingsley gave “the blue ribbon for the suppression of mashers” to screen vampire Louise Glaum this week. Glaum, who was second only to Theda Bara for her exotic temptress roles, was working on the boardwalk near Venice Beach, and between scenes
a dandy of the jellyfish type approached, apparently hoping that Miss Glaum would think him a suitable subject for vamping. Miss Glaum does not, however, believe in carrying professionalism into private life. The man began to talk to her, and she thought for a moment of leading him to the police station. But it was a warm day and the police station was some distance away.
Suddenly she hit upon a new plan. She pretended she was deaf and dumb, and began to talk on her fingers. But the man persisted. Soon Miss Glaum observed Charles Ray, Howard Hickman and some of the other men from the studio standing in a group. She lead the masher directly into the crowd, and suddenly exclaimed, as though bored to death:
“Boys will you please rid me of this thing? It’s been following me for ten minutes!”
The thing turned and fled.
This happened while they were shooting The Wolf Woman, which told “the pitiful story of a siren’s fall, a fall that carried her far into the depths of depravity—but not until she had been robbed, by a cruel trick of fate, of her one potent weapon, beauty” according to Motography (August 5, 1916). Kingsley reviewed the film a week later, and said that Glaum was an entirely convincing vamp in her “spider-web gown, the most insidiously naughty gown that’s been seen on the Rialto this season,” unlike the “dames on the screen whom we know couldn’t get a rise out of a half blind and one-legged rag-and-bottle man.” It’s a lost film.
Glaum was a former stage actress who got her start in films as a comedian with Nestor Studios in 1912. She became a vamp when she signed with the Ince Company in 1915. Her film career lasted until the early 20’s and she returned to live theater.
Note: There’s a blog post about Julia Graham at The Unsung Joe, however, some of the information in it about Ben Reynolds is inaccurate so I can’t vouch for the rest of it.