Week of November 25th, 1916

Lillian Gish in The Children Pay

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported that a new film had struck a nerve.

This department is in receipt of several letters from various persons praising in the highest terms [writer] Frank Woods’ picture “The Children Pay” at Clune’s Broadway. The story deals with the sufferings and humiliations suffered by children whose parents are divorced. In fact, the picture seems to have had a wide appeal, not only because of its purpose, which is worked out in a natural and unforced way, but because of the fact that Lillian Gish has several fetching comedy scenes which apparently have caught the public taste.

The Children Pay told the story of Millicent (Lillian Gish) and Jean (Violet Wilky), sisters who have been separated because of their parent’s divorce. To reunite, Millicent marries her lawyer and takes custody of Jean. (Gish was 23 at the time, so it looked less like pedophilia.)

This was unusual because Kingsley rarely mentioned the response she got to her columns. She didn’t entirely disagree with the letter writers; her review said that despite the questionable legality of a minor girl being appointed guardian of her younger sister and marriage without her parents’ consent, the film was “a logical, human and appealing little story, though dragged out tiresomely in some scenes.” She agreed with the letter writers that Gish “shows herself possessed of a quaint but keen sense of fun, and it is very pleasing to view the young lady whom we have been accustomed to see weeping, playing a prankish part.” The review ran on Wednesday and she mentioned the letters on Friday, so the various persons were annoyed enough to write in right away.

Kevin Brownlow wrote that divorce had been the subject of films since Detected (1903) and while it was commercial, The Children Pay was the first film to treat it with concern and its victims with compassion (Behind the Mask of Innocence, p.34). The film has been preserved at the Danish Film Institute.

The Prince of Graustark

Kinglsey liked some of the week’s other releases more than The Children Pay. Her favorite film was a “bright, clean-cut and sparkling romantic comedy” The Prince of Graustark because it “discusses no ‘problems,’ nobody chest heaves or emotes and there is no villain. It is simply a delightfully ingenious comedy, with a smashing surprise finish!”

It’s been preserved at the Eastman House, but in case you’re not planning a trip to Rochester soon I’ll spoil the surprise: Prince Robin must save his country from bankruptcy by marrying a neighboring princess. He refuses and sails to the United States where he meets a wealth financier who agrees to give him the money with the hope that he’ll marry his daughter Maud. He meets a woman whom he thinks is Maud, they go back to Graustark, but she’s not the financier’s daughter, she’s the princess! (I bet you didn’t see that coming!) The novel it was based on is fun, too, and it’s available on the Internet Archive.


Thanksgiving was this week, but Kingsley didn’t miss a column and it barely rated a mention. Special holiday matinees were at the Morosco and Burbank Theaters, and backstage at the Majestic, where A Trip Through China was in its third week, the local Chinese community planned a Chinese Thanksgiving dinner with birds’ nest soup and chop suey for Benjamin Brodsky and his associates.

Olga Petrova

This was also the week of salary news:

  • Mae Marsh was leaving D.W. Griffith and going to work for Samuel Goldfish, who planned to pay her $2000 per week.
  • Olga Petrova left Metro for Lasky, where she was to be paid $4000 per week.
  • Douglas Fairbanks was offered $10,000 per week to star in his own company, but his current contract with Triangle prevented him for taking it.
  • The Palace Theater in New York announced that dancer Maud Allan was to get $7500 per week, the largest salary ever paid a vaudeville attraction. She was to do a series of dramatic dances. She didn’t get to keep the whole $7500; she was responsible for paying her own orchestra and company.

According to the U.S. News and World Report, in 1915 the average man made $687 per year and the average woman made half that. So it’s no wonder people were astonished by entertainers’ salaries.


Kingsley mentioned an actor’s fashion prediction. “Charles Ray, Ince star, has made the discovery that wrist-watches worn by men are not effeminate – not when you know how they originated and you wear them in the proper spirit—So there!” He pointed out that the custom started among soldiers fighting in the Boer War, who didn’t have a pocket to put them in. He continued “and believe me, the day is coming when more American men than you can count will agree that it is a convenience, not just a fad.”

Of course he was right, but it took soldiers fighting in World War 1 to really change public opinion, according to History.com. Wristwatches had been stereotyped because the first ones were pieces of jewelry worn by women (and obviously, if women do something it must be questionable).


Ray was a popular star until 1923, when the big-budget The Courtship of Miles Standish failed at the box office. He continued to act, but he filed for bankruptcy twice and ended up playing bit roles until his death in 1943.

Finally, Kingsley mentioned that inter titles had hit a new low, when one of the films playing that week included “the announcement of the fact that the heroine’s gentleness is softening the villain: ‘A softening influence has stripped the husks from the eagle’s heart.’” I haven’t been able to find out where it came from; none of the ten films playing seem an obvious candidate for this monstrosity. It’s useful to remember that people in 1916 were not fans of the purplest prose. They had standards, too.

Week of November 18th, 1916

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported that the Motion Picture Directors Association were planning to hold a ball on Thanksgiving night at the Alexandria Hotel. In addition to dancing, there would be a buffet supper and a special program of surprises. They promised that directors and movie stars would attend. Tickets were available only from MPDA members. The Los Angeles Herald (November 9, 1916) added that the event would begin with a concert at eight o’clock, and dancing would just begin at 9, without a grand march to start things off. The previous year’s ball had been a success, and they raised enough money to endow three beds at a local hospital for the use of motion picture people. The 1916 ball was equally successful, according to the Times (December 3, 1916). Directors and stars did turn out, including Lois Weber,  Mary Miles Minter, Ruth Stonehouse, Bessie Barriscale, and Herbert Rawlinson. Unfortunately, the paper didn’t tell what the special surprises were.


So Thanksgiving hasn’t always been mandatory family obligation holiday during which you eat yourself into a food coma and spend the evening on the sofa wondering why you did that. People just had a reasonable amount of turkey, fall vegetables and pie, and still had energy to go out to a dance. There were Thanksgiving football games (the first was held in Philadelphia in 1869) but not on the West Coast. The tradition of parades didn’t start until 1920, when Gimbles department store sponsored a Thanksgiving Day Parade, also in Philadelphia. In the teens, they did have one Thanksgiving activity that’s been moved to Halloween. Some kids and adults went “masking”: they dressed in costumes and strolled through the streets, asking for pennies, apples or candy, according to NPR.

Douglas Fairbanks in American Aristocracy

In her film reviews this week, Kingsley asked an excellent question:

Why aren’t we given more pungent screen comedy like American Aristocracy and fewer “mellers,” with ladies who register emotion by letting down their back hair and crawling up out of their corsets?

Aristocracy was a good-natured satire of nouveau-riche Americans written by Anita Loos who “has struck a new stride in motion picture comedy.” Star Douglas Fairbanks “is first seen as an entomologist in search of new sorts of butterflies but a girl swerves him from science, and for her sweet sake and that of the admiring public, he performs all sorts of hazardous stunts in that graceful athletic way of his. Fairbanks never misses putting over a comedy point, and in addition, has that bubbling good humor, that robustness of spirit, which is entirely irresistible.” What’s even more remarkable is that this is the fifth Fairbanks film in as many months: he was able to maintain high quality while producing so much. The film was preserved at the Eastman House and is available on the Internet Archive.

Motion Picture News (September 23, 1916)

D.W. Griffith was still chatting with reporters about Intolerance. He mentioned that he planned to kill Mae Marsh’s character because the actress was so good at dying artistically, however, so many people asked for a happy ending that he finally relented. He didn’t say how he planned to off The Dear One. Maybe she could have died from grief at all of her troubles, or been killed in a car wreck as she raced to The Boy’s rescue, but neither seem very plausible.

Kingsley reported that “for the first time in the history of motion pictures, a photoplay is to be turned into an opera.” Jesse Lasky sold the operatic rights to The Cheat to Camille Erlanger, a French composer. There was plenty of melodrama to work with: a society woman steals $10,000 from the Red Cross to invest in a company; when the company fails an Asian curio dealer offers her that amount to sleep with him. She reneges at the last minute, he brands her and she shoots him. Her husband almost takes the blame, but in the courtroom she revels the brand and confesses.

Erlanger did write the opera and it premiered posthumously in 1921 (he died in 1919) at the Opera Comique in Paris. Re-named La Forfaiture, the New York Times (February 12, 1921) reported that critics said the action was inferior to the film, but the music and interpretation were well spoken of. Kingsley was right: it was the first film adapted as an opera.

The Liebster Award


I’ve been nominated for a Liebster Award by Silentology. Thanks Lea! The award is a way for bloggers to welcome each other into the online community and it helps other people discover interesting blogs. When you receive a Liebster, you:

(a) Answer 11 questions from the blogger who nominated you;

(b) Tell your readers 11 random facts about yourself; and

(c) Nominate up to 11 other bloggers to receive the award, and give them 11 questions to answer on their blogs when they post their nominations.

Here are the 11 questions Silentology asked me:

  1. 1.What made you want to start a blog?

While writing a short biography of Grace Kingsley, I was reading a lot of what she wrote. I thought that there was a lot of forgotten history in her columns, and somebody really ought to use it. Then I decided that I was somebody. That’s what’s so great about blogs: you don’t need permission, you can just do them.

Hooray! An excuse to include a picture of Keaton!
  1. If you could travel back in time to witness one–just one–historic event, what would it be?

This is selfish, but I’d visit the Sherlock Jr. set so I could see exactly how the team (with the original writing staff) worked together. The most frustrating thing about writing Buster Keaton’s Crew is that there’s very little documentation about what their day-to-day process of filmmaking was.

  1. Who are five musicians/bands you can’t live without?

There aren’t any. I blame library school – I had no free time, so I got out of the habit of listening to music.

  1. You can make your own film and cast it with actors from any era you please. What’s it gonna be about, and who will star?

I would buy the film rights to Meljean Brooks’ Riveted, a terribly cinematic steampunk alternate history/romance set mostly in Iceland. It would have to be cast with unknowns, because there haven’t been any famous actors who look like the leads.

  1. Do you have a favorite painter or sculptor?

No, my brain doesn’t seem to have the bit that processes visual arts. I like words.

  1. What are 3 really obscure films you’d recommend?

Only 3? OK: 1. Forgotten Silver, a fake documentary about a lost silent-era filmmaker in New Zealand. 2. After Midnight, an Italian film set in the Museum of Cinema in Turin about the night watchman and a woman running away from the police. 3. Juha, a Finnish tragedy and the last silent movie of the 20th century. It’s more interesting than entertaining, but I’m glad somebody tried it.

  1. Is there an overlooked era of history that’s just dying to be mined for movie material?

Yes, the Finnish Nationalist movement of the mid to late 19th century when they were fighting for a non-Swedish, non-Russian identity and the right to use the most interesting language in the world for official business. Actually, other than Victorian England most European history of that time has been ignored by Hollywood, which is a shame.

  1. Who are your top 3 favorite actresses?

Lillian Gish, Miriam Hopkins, Joan Blondell

  1. How about top 3 favorite actors?

Buster Keaton, Charlie Bowers, Roger Livesey

  1. What is one classic film that you think could’ve been improved, and in what way?

I Know Where I’m Going could use even more Roger Livesey.

  1. What are your hopes for the future of classic films?

I hope that seeing films in theaters won’t be replaced by streaming, that people will continue to be interested in them and that huge amounts of money will become available for film preservation.

Here are my 11 random facts:

  • I’ve been a Damfino since 1993.
  • I really miss the single-serving size peppermint bark at Trader Joe’s. I know they sell it by the box, but I have a portion control problem and I can’t be trusted with it.
  • When I asked at the desk of the Hollywood Forever cemetary where to find Frank Williams’ grave, they said “it’s next to the building with Valentino’s grave.” Somehow they knew I knew where that was, and of course I did.
  • My favorite podcast is My Dad Wrote a Porno, and I’m sad they’re on hiatus.
  • The best Doctor is the 12th, because Peter Capaldi should be in everything.
  • I think that noted actress and clotheshorse of the 1910’s Valeska Surrat deserves a place beside Theda Bara, because the plots to her movies were even less sane.
  • My favorite Keaton leading lady is Kate Price, because she made the crew howl with laughter.
  • I study Finnish and I despair of ever fully understanding the partative case.
  • When we have potlucks at work, I bring chocolate chip cookies that my husband David makes. David is very popular with the library staff.
  • pip_door

Hey lady! Where’s my dinner?

  • I’m not a cat person, but when an orange kitty started hanging out in our yard we became food servants. Now his name is Pip and his meals are delivered promptly, or else.
  • Our dog Mabel is concerned that humans don’t nap enough. She works hard at setting a good example.


I’m so sorry: I’m too new to blogging to have anyone to nominate. I’ll try in a few months.

Week of November 11th, 1916

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reviewed a feature film with an impressive innovation:

If you wish to realize just how incredibly a picture is enhanced by the use of colored photography, go and see “The Sultana”…Reduced to picture terms, the photoplay is a howling melodrama. However, it’s of the thrilling sort, with stolen jewels and bandits galore, and if you like that sort of story, you’ll find this the article deluxe. There are some beautiful outdoor scenes the colored method serves to bring out remarkably. Viewing this picture, a person will believe the day not far distant when the public will demand color photography – a state of things not at all desired by photoplay producers as all color processes are expensive. The Balboa studio is to be congratulated on taking this advanced step.


The color was added to the film by a stencil process called Pathecolor. The film was shot in black and white, then shipped to the Pathe factory in France where a stencil blocking out the parts that weren’t supposed to be stained for each color was cut for every individual frame of film. Then the film went through a staining machine, one trip for every color. It was terribly labor intensive, but it could produce beautiful results. The Sultana is lost, but here’s a sample from a 1920 newsreel.

For more information about Pathecolor, visit The Bioscope.


A new Chaplin film opened this week, so it’s not surprising that it was Kingsley’s favorite film. She wrote:

Maybe Charlie Chaplin has done something funnier than Behind the Screen. If so, I have failed to see it. Behind the Screen is an uproarious revelment of things in a motion picture studio…As ‘Props’ Charlie copes comically with striking stage hands, turns chairs and tables into comedians, eats his lunch through a steel visor to avoid facing the onions devoured by his brother ‘props’, lays a bearskin rug after treating it to a shampoo – and conducts a custard pie battle, trenches, forts and all, with a rival property man, beside other feats of valor.

She tells an awful lot of what happens in the film, but luckily, it’s hard to spoil physical comedy with a description. It’s available on the Internet Archive.


Fannie Ward, 1916

Actress Fannie Ward showed what a publicity whiz she was by telling Kingsley about the drug store clerk who refused to sell her alcohol, because she was plainly under 18 and her father or mother needed to accompany her. Fannie Ward was 45 years old in 1916, and even her husband thought the clerk was joking. It did make a flattering story.

The presidential election still hadn’t been decided, and actress Ruth Stonehouse was strolling on the Universal lot with a newspaper when she ran into director Captain Leslie Peacocke. She told him there was some exciting election news, and he just looked annoyed and said “Well, Carl Laemmle’s still president, isn’t he?”  It must be nice to be able to ignore national politics!

Finally, Kingsley ran a sweet story about Broadway playwright and critic Channing Pollock and his fiancée, Anna Marble. She was vacationing in the Catskills, and one morning she got a telegram from him: “I’m coming up to marry you Saturday.” She wired back “Come and see if I care.” It turns out she did, and they stayed married until she died in 1948.

Week of November 4th, 1916


George M. Cohan and Jesse Lasky after the contract signing

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley had some big news about a Broadway star:

George M. Cohan, famous actor, playwright and producer, has at last fallen for the ‘filums.’ According to telegraphic advices received last night, he is going into the motion picture field full tilt, and will organize a company with himself as producer, player and author. Not only will he put many of his older plays into pictures, but he promises new stories as well as startling innovations in production and photographic effects.

The next day she had more details to add. The company was to be called the George M. Cohan Film Corporation and the films were to be distributed by Artcraft (the same company that released Mary Pickford’s films). He planned to film many of his stage hits, including Little Johnny JonesGeorge Washington, Jr. and The Man Who Owns Broadway. Cohan had been unobtrusively studying filmmaking at some of the New York studios.


Cohan did make three films for Artcraft. Even though he was famous for his song and dance skills, he knew the limitations of silent film so for his first film he chose a straight comedy. Broadway Jones told the story of a bored small-town chewing gum factory scion who moves to New York where he goes broke living it up. He almost marries a rich widow to fund his new lifestyle, but he inherits the factory and decides to return to his sweetheart and home.


Transferring Broadway success to the silent screen was a big challenge, but reviewers thought he pulled it off. George W. Graves in Motography said:

George M. Cohan’s first appearance on the screen is a triumph from all angles. First, the story lends itself most happily to screen restrictions and has plenty of dash and interest, second, the star’s inimitable personality registers with smashing effect without the voice, which is largely made possible by subtitles that have the spontaneity of conversational repartee and the true Cohan touch of humor…the irresistible Cohan facial expressions are brought into much more intimate view, revealing splendid subtlety necessarily lost in the distance on the legitimate stage.

Peter Milne in Motion Picture News seconded the praise, writing:

Broadway Jones scintillates with some of the best feature comedy ever shown on the screen…that Mr. Cohan is a natural comedian goes without saying…The production accorded Broadway Jones is extraordinary. When director Joe Kaufman wanted to have a cabaret scene at Murray’s, to Murray’s he went.

Edward Westant in Moving Picture World also agreed completely:

Comedian Cohan’s screen debut is all kinds of a success and patrons of the silent drama are going to like the man and his methods with the same warm admiration that characterizes the many theatergoers who are familiar with his career on the spoken stage. The creator of Broadway Jones has the snap and the brand of humor which appeal to followers of film, and the Cohanesque school of acting quickly adapts itself to the new medium of expression.

Of course it’s a lost film. He made two more silents: Seven Keys to Baldpate (1917) (the only one to survive; it’s at the Library of Congress) and Hit-the-Trail Holiday (1918). He had plenty of material, so why didn’t he make more? None of the trade papers reported on a disagreement. Cohan devoted only three paragraphs to his film career in his 1925 autobiography; he claimed that the contract was only for three pictures and while he “wouldn’t have missed the experience for worlds” he was much too busy with the theater to work in film. He did make two talkies, but according to his New York Times obituary “Mr. Cohan had little use for Hollywood.”

As an aside, if someone’s looking for a big biography subject, it’s time for another one about Cohan. There have been two, but the most recent was published in 1973.

Benjamin Brodsky

Kingsley interviewed Benjamin Brodsky, the general manager of China Cinema Company Ltd. of Hong Kong who called himself the D.W. Griffith of the Orient. He was in town to promote his documentary, A Trip Through China. He said some astonishing things about film in Asia:

Motion picture making in China, with native companies, is an exceedingly interesting occupation, and many were Brodsky’s mishaps and adventures when, ten years ago, he began his work. He established his first picture theater in Hong Kong eight years ago, showing American films. “I had to hire my audiences,” said Brodsky. “Every Chinese is from Missouri—he’s got to be shown. For several days I paid Chinese 25 cents a head to see my show. Crowds gathered outside, and it wasn’t long before we had them coming. My two companies are made up of Chinese, and the pictures filmed are all historical. The Chinese like American slap-stick, but they won’t stand for seeing a Chinaman making a fool of himself. Also, there must be realism. When we have a hanging in a picture we are forced to hire a man from prison under sentence of execution.

I have no idea how much of that was true, but Brodsky was an important part of early film in China as a film maker, producer and distributor according to an article in China DailyA Trip Through China gave American viewers their first look at Asia; according to scholar Li-Lin Tseng “Brodsky’s presentation did not altogether misrepresent the people and nation. Perhaps his travelogue should be viewed less as a false image of the country than as a coherent but ‘incomplete’ picture.” Eight reels of it are preserved at the Taipei Film Archive.



Kingsley’s favorite film this week was Less than the Dust, which was Mary Pickford’s first film under her new contract. Kingsley wrote:

she retains all the old charm and spontaneity, the elfish change of mood, alternating with rare moments when she seems pure spirit. But there is likewise a new depth, and entirely unexpected revelation of dramatic power with a deeper sincerity as its keynote…It has long been the favorite indoor sport of scenario writers, writing for Miss Pickford, to start her out as a child of nature, and wind up with a boarding school heiress finish in which Mary has fun with the finger bowls and corset strings of civilization. Hector Turnbull has done this again in Less than the Dust but it must be admitted he has made a very good job of it.

With this film, Mary Pickford proved she knew exactly how to manage her career for herself. It’s been preserved at UCLA, the Eastman House and at the Library of Congress and is available on DVD.


Hearts Adrift

That week, just one block down Broadway at the Symphony Theater you could see an earlier Pickford as the second in a double bill with a Lionel Barrymore movie. It demonstrated how quickly film changed in the 1910’s. Kingsley said Hearts Adrift was “of the vintage of 1914, the day of childishly improbable film story.” She had a point; the movie involved shipwreck, bigamy and suicide and was much more melodramatic than what Pickford was currently doing. However, in 1916 readers of Motion Picture Magazine voted to include it on a list of great photoplay classics — “screen paintings that have made a lasting place for themselves in the new and wonderful art of Motion Pictures.” The list also included some films that are still called classics, like Caberia and Birth of a Nation as well as others that have been forgotten, like A Price for Folly. The editors mentioned that the castaway drama was Pickford’s most popular film.  Hearts Adrift is now lost.