Week of October 28th, 1916

 

One hundred years ago this week, on Thursday Grace Kingsley reported that Sid Grauman was planning an “added attraction” on election night at his theater, the Majestic: the presidential election returns (gathered from a private telegraph wire) would be displayed during the musical production, A Night at the World’s Fair. The next day, the Mason Operahouse announced that they would also have a direct wire, and patrons would be able to enjoy orchestra music from seven to midnight while the returns flashed on the screen. By Sunday, all of the theaters announced they would include election news in their programs.

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The crowd at the L.A. Times building, election night, 1916

In 1916 there weren’t many ways to hear the results of the presidential election. People who lived close enough to New York could have heard the first radio broadcast of election results from Dr. Lee De Forest’s lab. But in Los Angeles, besides the theaters and a few restaurants with telegraph lines, people could go to the L.A. Times Building at First and Broadway or to the branch office on Spring Street to see the results projected on screens, or they could telephone the newspaper office for them. The next day the paper reported immense crowds of nearly seven thousand people at each location had gathered to read the bulletins. They also put out multiple editions of the paper throughout the night. Their rival, the Evening Herald, also had a stereopticon bulletin board in front of their office as well as extra night newspapers.

However, this year all of the election watchers were disappointed: it was a very close race between the incumbent Woodrow Wilson and Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes, and nobody knew the final results until the following Wednesday, November 15th. In the November 8th 5 AM edition of the Times, they reported that Hughes had apparently been elected, but they warned that people should wait until more of the returns had been counted. This turned out to be good advice, because the election wasn’t decided until California finished counting ballots. When they did, Wilson won by the state by 3800 votes so he got the state’s 13 electoral votes and won the election.

Kingsley herself wasn’t allowed to vote. California women got the right to vote in local and state elections in 1911, but federal female suffrage didn’t come until 1920.

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J. Warren Kerrigan

Kingsley reported that star J. Warren Kerrigan quit in the middle of filming Lois Weber’s  The Mysterious Mrs. Musselwhite when his contract with Universal expired. They hadn’t come to an agreement about a new contract because Kerrigan wanted more money than they were offering. Universal said that there was “an understanding” that he’d complete the film but Kerrigan said that he’d given twenty days notice and he warned them that they probably wouldn’t finish it in time. According to Variety, Universal sued Kerrigan for $8,000 for breach of verbal agreement, but they never reported on the outcome. The suit was probably dropped.

Kerrigan’s hardball negotiation paid off: he left Universal and got his own production company with Paralta Plays. While his new studio was being built in early 1917, he went on a four month long tour of the United States to keep his name before the public. That’s when he made a comment that damaged his career. In Denver, a reporter asked if he was going to serve in the military and Kerrigan said no, because first “the great mass of men who aren’t good for anything else” should go, not artists like himself. He did continue to make films until 1924 (and he wasn’t drafted), but it hurt his popularity. He had invested in real estate and annuities, so he was able to live comfortably with his partner, James Vincent.

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The Mysterious Mrs. M. with Harrison Ford and Mary MacLaren

Lois Weber recast her film with up-and-coming actor Harrison Ford and re-shot all of Kerrigan’s scenes. It was re-named The Mysterious Mrs. M; Motion Picture News thought it was “a delightful business builder” when it opened in February 1917. The first two reels survive at the Library of Congress.

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Enid Markey

Kingsley’s favorite film this week was War’s Women, (aka The Despoiler or The Awakening) which was a melodrama about the horrors war inflicts on women that was “simple and elemental in its appeal and told with luminous clearness.” Enid Markey starred as a girl who sacrifices herself for the safety of the other women in her community, and Kingsley thought she “raises herself to the topmost rank of screen actresses.”

Markey didn’t get to be at the top rank of actresses, but she did have an exceptionally long career, from originating the role of the Jane in Tarzan of the Apes (1918) to playing Gomer Pyle’s grandmother in television. War’s Women is a lost film.

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Stuart Holmes

Kingsley’s funniest review this week was for Love and Hate, a melodrama about a homewrecker:

Stuart Holmes, the villain de lux of the films, has the proud distinction of being hated and knocked about by more fascinating screen ladies than any other film villain…By the by, Mr. Holmes now wears a toupee, probably the result of always loving the heroine, who, while a sweet woman in other ways, invariably spurns his affection. He’s a good-looking fellow, too, with lots of brains. If he could just keep from falling in love with the heroine, who is usually some other man’s wife, and get a girl of his own, he’d not always have to die in the last reel.

Coincidentally, Mary Murillo wrote Love and Hate and just a few weeks ago she’d written Kingsley favorite film of the week, which shows that a screenwriter can’t win ‘em all. It’s a lost film.

Like Markey, Stuart Holmes also had an exceptionally long career. He played villains through the silent era then moved into bit parts in talkies and television, appearing in over 500 films. He was also a sculptor and his work was on display at the Masquer’s Club and at the Oceanside, Bell and Claremont post offices.

 

Week of October 21st, 1916

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D.W. Griffith (from a 14-page long article in Photoplay about Intolerance)

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley interviewed D.W. Griffith and he did his best to sell his current release:

David Griffith, producer of Intolerance, which is hailed as the greatest motion picture ever made, wants it distinctly understood that Intolerance isn’t ‘high-brow,’ in spite of all its historical atmosphere and embodying of historical fact. Mr. Griffith smiled his quizzical, enigmatic little smile, the other night, as he explained that he himself had some horrible doubts that it might be ‘high-brow’ until he found that ‘Kid’ Broad and ‘Spike’ Robinson, honorable prize fighters both*, to use their own phrase ‘just ate it up’. ‘Really, the main interest is the love story,’ said Mr. Griffith.

Kingsley pointed out how shrewd he was calling it Intolerance, so nobody would dare to attack it for fear of being labeled intolerant, and Griffith laughed and answered “Well you said that. I didn’t.”

He complained that the film wasn’t getting enough publicity because corporation-owned magazines were making excuses not to write about it and only three publications were printing stories. This simply wasn’t true, but Kingsley was too polite to say so.

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Anita King and Thomas Meighan

Kinglsey’s favorite film this week was The Heir to the Hoorah (the Hoorah was a mine). She wrote “if you want to see a picture thoroughly human, charming and natural, yet holding enough of the unusual in plot to add a stimulating sauce piquant, you must view The Heir to the Hoorah.…Miss King, as the young girl whose society mother goes husband hunting for her, reveals a depth of sincerity and an understanding of dramatic values which she has had no opportunity heretofore to display. There are no false notes…Thomas Meighan is strong and effective as ever in the role of the rough young millionaire mine owner who marries for love.”

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Anita King

Several of the people who worked on Heir went on to successful careers: its director William C. de Mille made some fine dramas in the 1920’s including Miss Lulu Bett (1921); its cinematographer Charles Rosher shot Mary Pickford’s best films as well as Sunrise (1927), then he became an expert in Technicolor and shot many films for M.G.M including The Yearling (1946) and Show Boat (1951); and Thomas Meighan was a major leading man of the 20’s. But the least well-known of the people involved also had an interesting life. Anita King was a former racecar driver. In 1915 she had become the first woman to drive alone cross-country from Hollywood to New York City; the publicity stunt for Paramount Pictures took 49 days. She quit acting in 1919, married twice and became a thoroughbred racehorse owner.

An incomplete version of Heir is preserved at the Library of Congress.

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An early sign of Chaplin’s seriousness about his filmmaking appeared on the 27th:

“Charlie Chaplin, whose contract with Mutual expires in January, has been offered a renewal on the old terms. But Chaplin, it is said, is holding to the idea of being given more time for the production of his pictures, claiming he cannot do his best work under the present time limit.”

Chaplin did get what he wanted from Mutual: he kept the old financial terms of his contract (they were paying him $10,00 a week, making him one of the highest paid people in the world) but instead of producing one two-reel film every four weeks, he made only four films before the contract ended in October. However, they were four of his best films: Easy Street, The Cure, The Immigrant and The Adventurer.

Kingsley gave an update from The Spirit of ’76 production (discussed in my September 16th blog post):

A Harvard professor who happened to the in the mountains of Northern California when Mr. Robert Goldstein was there with his company making exteriors for his historical pageant “The Spirit of ’76,” was much interested in the work and especially in the title of the play. Mr. Goldstein told him that it was a historical picture and gave him the script to look over. Meeting him the next day he asked what he thought of it. ‘Well’, said the professor, ‘I feel as Mark Twain did when he saw Adam’s tomb in Palestine. He said he guessed it was all right, as nobody was there to deny it.

Poor Mr. Goldstein didn’t seem to recognize the professor’s joke. The Harvard man was wise not to comment on or expect historical accuracy in film – it hasn’t been there since the beginning.

Goldstein also lied to Kingsley, claiming that novelist Jack London was helping them with their production. That’s impossible because at that time London was dying a painful death from kidney failure, and he only had a month to live.

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Finally, a film company asked for submissions from the public.

The Oliver Morosco Film Company announces it want strong, dramatic stories for its stars…The company offers to pay $1500 each for complete stories adapted to its needs, or upon which a complete photoplay may be founded. This story may be either in synopsis form, 500 to 2000 words each, or may be in the form of a book or story. The company especially desires modern society dramas with comedy relief, with carefully worked-out and logical plots, happy surprises, small casts and good acting parts, rather than the general run of ‘mechanical dramas’.

They might have regretted this announcement after they saw what arrived in the mail. In 1914 Kingsley had written a story, “How’s Your Scenario,” where she described how every barber, milliner, bank president, and travelling salesman had a script in his or her back pocket. Then she told the strange stories of some of the amateurs that scenario departments had to discourage, like the man who said he was qualified to write thrilling pictures because he’d actually been in a cyclone and a car wreak (they advised him to get an accident insurance policy instead of a writing career). Some things about the film industry haven’t changed a bit.

 

* Former prize fighters is a more accurate description: by 1916 they were both actors. William M. Thomas (aka Kid Broad) went on to play boxers in a few films and Walter Charles Robinson had been working with Griffith since 1910.

Week of October 14th, 1916

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From the Los Angeles Herald (the Times didn’t print photographs in 1916)

One hundred years ago this week, Intolerance finally opened in Los Angeles. Grace Kinsley reported on the opening night crowd, which included Douglas Fairbanks, Constance Talmadge, Lillian and Dorothy Gish, Mae Marsh, Thomas Meighan, Mabel Normand, Myrtle Gonzales, Mae Marsh and “scores of other stage and screen people.” Actors who were working that night on stage like Trixie Friganza, Charles Ruggles and Douglas MacLean went to matinees in the following days. It was the biggest film event of the year.

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They New York reviews had been extraordinary when it premiered on September 5th (Photoplay called them “ardent typewriter rhapsodies”) and the Los Angeles reviews equaled them:

Harry Carr, L.A. Times: “With Intolerance, David Wark Griffith has made his place secure as one of the towering geniuses of the world. As a medium for expressing art, moving pictures may not stand the test of time, but Intolerance is greater than any medium. It is one of the mile posts on the long road of art, where painting and sculpture and literature and music go jostling eagerly along together.”

Guy Price, L.A. Herald: “Nobody had dreamed that Intolerance would be so stupendous, so wonderful, so inspiring, so thrilling and so vitriolic, yet so true, an indictment against the universe’ most cherished weaknesses—deceit and bigotry… It was more than the eye anticipated, more than it could understand and digest at a moment when the brain was befuddled from the joyous shock.”

Otheman Stevens, L.A. Examiner: “It is a picture of Life that Mr. Griffith has drawn from the rays of the sun and from the effulgence of his own brain.”

Maitland Davies, L.A.Tribune: “The audience was simply swept off its feet…. It is a great, big, throbbing drama bringing yesterday and today before one in a manner no other man has succeeded in doing.”

George St. George, L.A. Express: “It is worthy of a place among the classics and it stamps Mr. Griffith as an unquestioned genius. …No branch of the theater has ever brought forth anything that is comparable to Intolerance.”

The praise really helped sell tickets at first: Kingsley later reported that 500 people were turned away from the Saturday night screening. But the strong box office didn’t last and the film lost money. By November there was already a critical backlash too. For example, Film Fun ran an unsigned editorial that acknowledged Griffith’s “genius” and the film’s “remarkable spectacular production,” but pointed out “there is too much of it. It is complex rather than finished. Intolerance is bewildering—it is magnificent—but it is patchwork.” Not everyone wants to put themselves through three hours of high art, and this sort of review gave them a reason to skip it.

Karl Brown, who was the camera assistant on the film, had another theory in his autobiography about the film’s box-office failure: “Intolerance was nothing more or less than a good old-fashioned pulpit-pounding hell-fire sermon preaching peace on earth…Griffith had succeeded, not only well but brilliantly so. But he had succeeded with the wrong thing at the wrong time, for the world had changed. People who had been singing about not wanting their boy to be a soldier were now hot for war.”

There’s another measure of how seriously Intolerance was being taken: only men got to write the reviews, even thought there were many female film writers at the time, according to The Complete History of American Film Criticism. Kingsley’s opinion of the film went unrecorded.

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Puppets

She did get to write about the competition; this week it included The Return of Draw Egan, “an extremely brisk picture play” starring William S. Hart as a reformed bandit turned marshal; The Iron Woman, a “sincere human drama” that featured Nance O’Neil as a long-suffering mother; and The Ragged Princess, “a make-believe world, where things happen just as we should like them to,” in which June Caprice played an orphan who is almost swindled out of an inheritance. But the most unusual film Kingsley saw this week was Puppets, a two-reeler directed by Tod Browning, who “has given us something new in screenland, viz., a rare whimsy in form of a pantomime photoplay, done amid exquisite settings of the futuristic order, and with all of the characters dressed like Pantaloon, Pierrot, Pierrette, Columbine, Clown, etc.” French pantomime didn’t often turn up in American movies. It’s a lost film. Browning had been directing for only a little over a year, but he went on to direct several Lon Chaney films as well as Dracula (1931) and Freaks (1932).

 

 

 

Week of October 7th, 1916

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Douglas Fairbanks

One hundred years ago this week, summer vacations were over and actors were telling Grace Kingsley about their time off. Douglas Fairbanks chatted with her and she wrote:

Fairbanks really is the Fairbanks of Manhattan Madness, that is, he prefers a wild horseback trip through the mountains of Wyoming to a wild night on New York’s Broadway. Just before coming to California he made a trip on horseback through Wyoming and Colorado. Also he took a New Yorker with him. ‘I purposely chose an anemic Broadwayite who had never been West, not only because I thought it would do him good, but because I thought it would be fun for me. The first day he surprised me by riding thirty-five miles. Well, I thought, tonight we’ll see some fun. But, bless you, it never fazed him and I didn’t dare tell him I was a bit stiff and sore. Next day I had to take it easy, but that pale-faced tenderfoot just jogged right along. So it was all the way. I guess he had as much fun as I did, maybe a little more.’

This is a very well-crafted story to give to a reporter. He isn’t bragging that he rode 35 miles in a day, instead he gets to be amazed that the tenderfoot kept up. His self-deprecation (admitting he was wrong about the New York man’s toughness) made him even more appealing. Douglas Fairbanks was really good at being a movie star.

I haven’t been able to find out who the anemic Broadwayite was; Tracey Goessel doesn’t mention the trip in her recent biography, and in the interview Fairbanks did with Kitty Kelly in the Chicago Daily Tribune (September 19, 1916) on his way to Wyoming, he’s only called “a city man.”

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Myrtle Gonzales

Myrtle Gonzales tried to take a restful vacation In San Diego but so many old friends kept her socializing night and day that she was grateful to come back to Universal City for a little peace and quiet at work. Gonzalez usually played hardy, outdoorsy heroines in her 78 films; sadly she died just two years later in the flu epidemic.

This week Kingsley’s favorite film was one that was much better than its “cheaply sensational” title would suggest. The War Bride’s Secret “deals with a girl, who, having secretly married her lover on the eve of his leaving for the war, finds that she is to become a mother, and hearing of her husband’s death, consents to wed a fine broth of a Scotsman who long admired her. It is when the supposedly dead husband returns, Enoch Arden like, two years later, after she has learned to deeply respect and honor her second husband, that the real inner drama begins.”Kingsley thought it was “vividly realistic…one of the few really inspired picture plays.” Other critics admired it too; G. Graves in Motography thought the filmmakers’ skill made “the picture thoroughly engrossing and worthwhile.” Of course it’s a lost film.

The screenwriter was Mary Murillo, who often wrote about women with moral dilemmas. She would have been forgotten if it were not for Luke McKernan, who in 2009 wrote an inspirational blog post on how and why obscure people should be researched, “Searching for Mary Murillo.” Of course he couldn’t let the subject go, and he wrote a follow-up in 2015, “Gaston, Maurice and Mary.”

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The Dawn of Love

Kingsley’s best line this week was in her review of The Dawn of Love: “When Messers Rennold Wolf and Channing Pollock wrote this picture play, they evidently decided not to leave out a single exciting thing they had ever heard was done in a picture.” Ouch. The excitement was mostly a cliff top fight that ended with the villain falling to his death, but there was also smuggling and police brutality. All of the writers survived this review just fine: Wolf and Pollack were successful Broadway playwrights (Ziegfeld Follies, My Best Girl) who wrote a few film stories on the side, and the woman who adapted their story into a scenario, June Mathis, went on to write Greed (1925), Ben-Hur (1925), and Rudolph Valentino’s best films.

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Finally, Kingsley recorded exactly what Charlie Chaplin ate at the Alexandria Grill after attending a vaudeville show at Clune’s Auditorium: a sardine sandwich and a glass of buttermilk. Tastes in nighttime snacking have changed a lot since 1916.