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 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.