Week of January 27, 1917

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley described a quiet work day for Balboa Studios actress, Jackie Saunders:

  • Up at 6 o’clock
  • Practices on piano until 7 o’clock, then has breakfast and conference with maids and cook.
  • Drives to studio.
  • Makes up and drives to location.
  • Is shot in eight or ten scenes, then back to luncheon at 1 o’clock.
  • Drives to Los Angeles, twenty-five miles.
  • An hour at the hairdresser’s.
  • An hour at the dressmaker’s.
  • An hour at the photographer’s.
  • A hasty dinner.
  • Drives back to the studio (It is now 9 o’clock.)
  •  Works until 11 o’clock in indoor studio, and is home by midnight.
  • Up at 6 o’clock again.

And that’s why unions are so important. Jackie Saunders was married to the studio’s secretary/treasurer, so this schedule probably wasn’t worse than most. She was a theatrical actress who got her start in films in 1911 with small parts at D.W. Griffith’s Biograph Studio, then she moved West to work for Nestor. Balboa hired her in 1914, and she became one of their biggest stars. In her earlier films, she played waifs in need of rescue, but starting in 1917 she moved on to playing either spoiled rich girls or tomboys who got tamed by marriage in the last reel. After Balboa closed in 1918 she worked for Fox, Metro, and Selznick, then retired from acting in 1925.

In her reviews this week, Kingsley exclaimed “Oh, for more picture plays like We Are French…Here indeed is film footage worth viewing.” Also known as The Bugler of Algiers she found it a “swift-moving, clean-cut, thrilling drama” and knew of “no film tapestry on view for lo these many moons which is threaded with such colorful incident as this one.” The film was about Anatole and Pierre, two former soldiers searching for Gabrielle, Anatole’s sister and Pierre’s sweetheart, who vanished after her village was ransacked. The film helped make up for another of the week’s releases, The Devil’s Pay Day, a story of a rich man who marries a poor woman and quickly tires of her; Kingsley called it “futile” “improbable” and “claptrap” – “of such we are weary.” Both films are lost.

Jeanie MacPherson, 1919

Kingsley got some practical screenwriting advice from a credible source.

There are more good dramas in the pages of the average newspaper than in anything else I know of,” remarked Jeanie MacPherson, author of Joan, the Woman. “A drama is only a reproduction of human emotions and their reactions, and in no place are the emotions more clearly set forth or at least suggested to the imaginative mind than in their terse phrases of the press. Really I got my first thought for writing Joan the Woman from a story I saw in the newspaper. This story told of the French solders seeing visions of the famous Maid of Orleans over their trenches, inspiring them to deeds of bravery…Dramatists may weave productions out of their own imaginations, but stories of actual life which the newspapers contain every day I believe have a far greater appeal and are far more human.”

Jeanie MacPherson had only been writing scripts since 1913, but she went on to collaborate with Cecil B. DeMille until 1930, co-writing hits like Male and Female (1919) and The Ten Commandments (1923). He particularly valued the ideas she brought, according to a 1957 interview cited on her Women Film Pioneer page.


James Van Trees, Sr., 1935 (a photo he shared with his friends at American Cinematographer)

Kingsley mentioned that James Van Trees Jr., five-year-old son of the cinematographer, offered to trade his family’s new baby for a pair of roller skates. There were no takers. This expert problem-solver went on to become an assistant cameraman. His dad had a remarkable career, lasting from 1915 until 1966 when he shot an episode of My Mother the Car.

Kingsley heard from the Universal lot that there’d been a rash of films being renamed by the New York office, for example, Mary, Keep Your Feet Still became Her Soul’s Inspiration (it was the story of a girl who loved to dance). So Rex Ingram complained that his next picture, The Flower of Doom would be transformed into The Poisoned Bathing Suit. The story of kidnapping and an opium den kept its title and came out on April 16, 1917.

Moving Picture World, March 2, 1918

The Buster Keaton countdown continues. On February 1st, Kingsley reported:

To be personally conducted to New York is the honor in store for Roscoe Arbuckle, lately engaged by Joe Schenck as one of his star picture players. For this purpose, avowedly, no less a person than Lou Anger will see that Arbuckle is not kidnapped by any rival firm between here and New York; also that he does not spend all his substance in poker on the train so he has to draw ahead on Mr. Schenck for his salary when he arrives.

If Anger hadn’t gone, there would have been no one to run into Keaton on the street and take him back to Arbuckle’s studio. Most likely, Keaton would have made his way to films eventually, but who knows how long it would have taken.




Week of January 20th, 1917

Motion Picture News 1917

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley saw a promising young actor:

Great Expectations never was one of Dickens’s favorites with his public. It is too somber, too uncanny, too much lacking in the saving humors, the droll character portrayals which make most of his books so brilliant and attractive. Jack Pickford has achieved a real victory in characterization in his playing of Pip—a characterization appealing, sincere, but from the very nature of the role so unobtrusive that its excellence may be easily overlooked, and probably will be by lovers of the obvious type of chest-heaving, swashbuckling hero. His great moment is when, full of vain revulsion against fate, bitterness, humiliation, outraged pride, he discovers the old convict to have been his benefactor. Pickford rises to the occasion in a bit of flawless acting.*

Pickford had been appearing in small parts since 1909; Pip was his second major role and it was his big break. He specialized in all-American boy next-door roles and his next film, Tom Sawyer, was such a hit that they made a sequel, Tom and Huck. Unfortunately like Pip, things didn’t turn out very well for him. His career was hampered by scandals and he died of multiple neuritis caused by alcoholism in 1933. Last century film histories portrayed him as a wastrel who never lived up to his potential but this century there have been spirited defenses of him. Steve Vaught wrote a series of three blog posts titled “You Don’t Know Jack,” and Shane Brown wrote another for the Bright Lights Film Journal.

Now it’s odd to think of Great Expectation as less-popular Dickens: it was Number 1 on Publisher’s Weekly’s Top 10 Dickens. Tastes have changed, even in Victorian novels.

This version of Great Expectations is a lost film, according to the Film Survival Database.

This week, Kingsley noticed increasing consolidation and vertical integration in the film industry:

Closer and closer is the relationship developing between the picture exhibitor, the picture exchanges and the producing companies. This has always been the case with Universal; the Triangle producing organization is composed of a class of men who brought about a union of effort; the Paramount has lately been purchased by the Lasky-Famous Players-Morosco organization, and is now extending its activities to control the output of certain outside stars, the latest of whom is Roscoe Arbuckle.

Here’s the beginnings of classical Hollywood cinema and the studio system in 1917, just like the film history textbooks say. Newspapers really do write the first draft of history! Vertical integration didn’t end until 1948, when the Supreme Court ruled that production had to be separate from distribution and exhibition.


Kingsley gave her readers the “real beginnings” of Charlie Chaplin’s genius. Back on the Keystone lot when he was a “humble knock-about comedian” it wasn’t recognized. Furthermore:

As a matter of fact, he was scolded by the stars whenever they wanted anybody to vent their temperament on, and looked upon without faith by the directors. One who knew him well in those days declares that all the directors, one after another, tried to bend Charlie to their ways. Because he wouldn’t respond, they all gave him up as a bad job one day, and said in sheer desperation: “Aw, let’s leave the idiot to his own devices!” They did. And out of the ashes of dead hopes (Charlie shared them, it is said!) rose the Phoenix of Fun—the unique figure in world dramatic history – the greatest laugh-getter in the world, Charlie Chaplin.

Without realizing it, Kingsley pointed out a weakness in the coming studio system: nobody would be able to afford to just leave some idiot to his own devices any more.

*She didn’t worry about spoilers for a 56-year-old novel.

Week of January 13th, 1917




One hundred years ago this week, the biggest film event was the West Coast premier of Cecil De Mille’s (no B. yet) latest film, Joan the Woman, a biopic about Joan of Arc starring Geraldine Farrar. When she wrote about it, Grace Kingsley avoided stating her opinion of the film by joking about the “fickle public’s” demand for realism:

Truly, as for realism, it’s quite impossible to hide anything from these experts. They detect in a moment whether a lady of the Louis Quinze period is wearing the right sort of hats or not, and you can’t fool them by coiffing your Roman ladies with the wrong sort of hair-dos…Did Cleopatra have a mole in her shell-like ear? It is correctly recorded in the deathless celluloid. What sort of hemlock was it Socrates ordered up as a last fatal potation? The tireless trekker of truth connected with the motion-picture studio will tell you.

I suspect that both realism-pedants and this film bored her silly. Of course she couldn’t say so, because De Mille was already considered, as she mentioned, one of “the world’s greatest motion picture directors.” He’d been directing films for only three years; before that he worked in the theater.

That fickle public attended this movie in droves, and the picture stayed for eight weeks at the Majestic Theater according to Robert Birchard’s biography, Cecil B. De Mille’s Hollywood* The film is available on DVD.

Women weren’t only war heroes on Los Angeles screens this week. The other movies had a wide variety of roles for them. Mary Pickford got to be the chief of her Scottish clan in The Pride of the Clan, Blanche Sweet played a physician who deals with sexism in The Evil Eye and Emmy Wehlen was a model turned detective in Vanity. A week with so many strong movie characters for women is unimaginable in 2017.


There was a flashing warning light that the film business was getting overheated on Saturday when Kingsley wrote:

What’s going to happen? That greatest of indoor sports, the formation of motion picture companies, has been sadly neglected during the past week. Which state of things makes folk possessed of tender sensibilities, like actors and press agents and real estate dealers, feel a trifle sad. With the exception of the Hill organization, no new company has come along to muss up the Hollywood scenery and disturb the classic shadows of the Carnegie Library with the sounds of mimic joy and grief. It’s a dull week indeed when no groups of theatrical men or tailors or book-keepers or others who thoroughly understand the picture business foregather to form film companies.

The Hill organization that she mentioned was the Corona Cinema Company, which made one film, The Curse of Eve (1917), before it folded.

This week two more companies were announced, Charles Frohman’s Empire All-Star Corporation and the Nat Goodwin Film Company. Frohman had been a very successful theatrical producer whose hits included Peter Pan; his company continued after his death on the Lusitania in 1915. Empire made 10 films between 1917 and 1918. Nat Goodwin was an actor who got money from a mine owner in Milwaukee to open a studio in San Jacinto but it never happened.

The industry-wide slowdown started later in 1917; by January 1918 the cameraman’s club was writing to their New York branch, warning them that there was little work on the West coast.**

Teddy at the Throttle, with Teddy, Bobby Vernon and Gloria Swanson

Teddy the dog made his first appearance in her column this week:

The business files in Mack Sennett’s office contain contracts with Raymond Hitchcock, Eddie Foy, Sam Bernard and other celebrities, but not until last week was a contract ever made with a dog. Teddy, the Great Dane dog who is featured in Nick of Time Baby has been advanced from an extra to a regular actor with a contract. Teddy is all but human.

Teddy was the first dog star, and he had a good career, appearing in Sennett comedies like Teddy at the Throttle (1917) and Those Athletic Girls (1918) as well as dramas like Stella Maris (1918). Mary Mallory wrote his biography, which she illustrated with a Kingsley story about him from Photoplay. Film history is a small world.


*I didn’t realize until this minute that I stole my blog name from him. Theft is the sincerest form of admiration, I hope.

**Static Club Minutes, January 31, 1918.



Week of January 6, 1917

Lois Weber and her husband/studio manager Philip Smalley

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kinglsey observed that any movie star worthy of the name had gotten her own company. However:

the last word in screen progress is said, when the announcement is made that a motion-picture director is to be installed in a separate studio, in order to work out individual ideals and ideas. Lois Weber, the world’s best-known woman motion-picture director, sets the pace. On the 1st of February or thereabouts, she will take possession of her own studio in Hollywood, where it is said she is to have full swing in the development of many original ideas which she has in mind. She will be backed by eastern capital, some of it rumored to be connected with Universal.

Weber had been directing films since 1911. Her work included the first American feature directed by a woman, The Merchant of Venice (1914) as well as several films about controversial social issues like capital punishment, drug abuse, poverty and contraception. In 1916, she became the first (and for a long time, only) woman elected to the Motion Picture Directors Association.

Trade ad, 1921

Weber’s new venture was a success for several years. Her films about marriage and domestic life were popular until tastes changed in the early 1920’s and audiences wanted films a about flappers and fun, not social justice. If you want to know more about Weber, film historian Shelley Stamp has written a lot about her including an entry at the Women Film Pioneers Project.

Kingsley had an unusual favorite film this week: a one-reel travelogue. She wrote:

Tally’s Broadway is featuring one this week that is based on an entirely new idea. Its views are those of the far northwest in winter, and these alone are sufficient to hold the enchanted attention of the lovers of travel pictures and of nature. But the subtle new feature is the introduction of a man and a dog. You don’t know anything about them: therefore they are full of interest, and you make up your own story about them. Whence do they come, and whither are they bound? What is their lonely mission in this ice-locked land? It’s very fascinating, indeed, and appeals to the imagination not deadened by the too obvious picture plots.

The man’s name was Robert C. Bruce and his dog was a Great Dane named Love. Land of Silence was his first film. He told Motion Picture Magazine in 1919 that he was a former lumber man and failed ranch owner from Washington state who studied how scenic pictures were made at his local movie theater. He hired a crew and they filmed his (and his dog’s) hike around Mount Adams. Pathe bought his film and his new career was launched.

Bruce (1926)

Other critics admired it, too. Margaret I. MacDonald in Motion Picture World (March 31, 1917) said “it is unusually beautiful in subject and photography, and pictures a man and his dog wandering off into a land of mountains and snow, of mirror lakes and silence and peace…the picture is truly delightful.” Maitland Davies in the Los Angeles Tribune (January 9, 1917) was even more impressed, writing “in daily visits to the movie palaces during the last few years I have never found anything so impressively beautiful as The Land of Silence.”

Bruce went on to make almost 150 short travelogues between 1916 and 1934 for his own production company, distributed by Educational Films. Because they were shorts, they haven’t been included in the Film Survival Database so I don’t know how much of his work is still around. Land of Silence was such a success that he made two sequels, Me and My Dog (1917) and Hound of the Hills (1918). He also worked for Paramount where he shot documentary shorts. You have heard his son, Robert C. Bruce, Jr.: he was a voice actor and the narrator on many Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons.


When she saw The Price of Silence this week, a relative newcomer caught her eye, Lon Chaney:

The day of the beautiful motion-picture hero, with the long dreamy eyelashes, the marcelled hair and the be-dimpled chin, is past. It’s the virile one who gets away with the honors now-a-days. Not that Lon Chaney isn’t good-looking enough, but after all it’s his strength of personality, his conveying a sense of power that will get him the praise he deserves for his fine work in this picture.

Kingsley’s predication that beautiful actors were on the way out still hasn’t come true, but she was right about Chaney’s acting skills. The official Lon Chaney website says that his first critical acclaim wasn’t until 1919 for The Miracle Man, but Kingsley noticed him much sooner. It’s also an unusual review, because later critics usually praised his versatility and technical skills, not his virility. The Price of Silence has been preserved in France at the Archives du Film du CNC.


This week, Kingsley did something she rarely did: she wrote about a film she absolutely hated. Redeeming Love was “a cheaply sensational, unreal bit of dramatic piffle.” Kathlyn Williams, in her first film for the Morosco studio, played a wronged girl involved in a thoroughly predictable plot “we knew that, following her sumptuous life in the gambling hell, she would don her misery cloak and make her way to a place beneath the inevitable stained-glass window, where her beloved held forth of a Sunday morning.” That beloved, played by Thomas Holding, “is a whining, white-livered nincompoop with as much blood as your leather pocketbook…the only merciful thing about that picture is that we couldn’t hear the sermons.” This film has been preserved at the Library of Congress.

Coming soon!

The Keaton countdown continues. On the 10th, Kingsley reported that Roscoe Arbuckle would be leaving the Keystone Company on February 1st to go to New York and start a new company with his partner Joe Schenck. Buster’s film debut is only a few months away.