One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kinglsey told a cute story about one way to get out of a speeding ticket. Universal star Ruth Stonehouse was dressed for work in boys’ clothes when she got pulled over for speeding (she was doing 37 miles per hour). She had a hard time convincing the police officer that she really was a woman. The next day she ran over from work for her court appearance, again dressed as a boy, and the officer took her to the women’s court where “she created another sensation as the woman judge insisted she should go to the other court. After additional explanations…’Her Honor’ took the whole matter as a joke and dismissed the actress.”
This incident didn’t cause any problems for Ruth Stonehouse’s career. She even got to direct some shorts, and she kept acting until 1928, when she married Felix Hughes, a vocal instructor and Howard Hughes’ uncle. The Women Film Pioneers Project has an entry about her.
Now the most interesting thing about the story is that there was once a sex-segregated court in Los Angeles. Presided over by Georgia Bullock, the first female judge in California, the closed-door court “had a social worker orientation toward female defendants and expected to help rather than punish them,” according to legal historian Beverly Blair Cook. Judge Bullock thought that a wise and sympathetic woman judge could recognize a “good girl” and devise a suitable remedy. The court mostly saw women charged with vagrancy, prostitution and drug use, but also dealt with cases of men who failed to pay family support. The court ended in the early 1930’s and Bullock went on to be the first female Superior Court judge in California.*
In other feminist news, theatrical actress Viola Roache said something that would still attract a mountain of criticism in 2016. Proudly a suffrage supporter, she said:
I believe in women working – every woman. Nobody in my family except myself has ever worked, and they are rather horrified at my views, but I feel I really have much more liberty (not to mention money) than they. Even though a woman marries, she should be economically independent.
Roache lived up to her beliefs. She worked steadily throughout her life, acting in theater, film and television until her retirement in 1958. She was married to actor/director Lionel Bevans until she died in 1961 and they had a daughter in 1913, actress Phillipa Bevans.
She was in town touring with Hobson’s Choice. The play first appeared in 1915 on Broadway where she had a smaller role in the original cast, but on tour she played the lead, Maggie, who gets out from under her dictatorial father’s authority by moving out and building her own, better business.
It’s not surprising that Kingsley would chose to include this quote. She had been working since she was a teen, and she kept her economic independence throughout her life, continuing to get paid for writing until she was 83.
Kingsley’s favorite film this week was ‘Dutch’ comics Kolb and Dill’s film version of one of their stage shows, Peck o’ Pickles. She thought “they at last take their place as real winners in the screen comedy game…Dill belongs in the class with Charlie Chaplin for being able to get comedy over by means of facial expression alone.” The plot description from the AFI Catalog helps explain why the film hasn’t gone down as a classic: it’s a mishmash involving a lottery ticket, spiked cider at a temperance picnic and a drunken time-traveling-to-the-Civil War nightmare. It’s a lost film. Also, portraying German-Americans as loud bumbling oafs in ugly suits with fake accents went out of style along with all of the other dialect comedy, never to return. Clarence Kolb (the tall skinny one) went on to play many crooked politicians and businessmen in the talkies, including the mayor in His Girl Friday (1940). Max Dill (the short fat one) stayed in live theater, mostly in San Francisco.
*For more information, see Beverly Blair Cook, “Moral authority and gender differences: Georgia Bullock and the Los Angeles Women’s Court,” Judicature 77(3), p.144-155.