Week of February 24th, 1917

Thomas Ince’s studio, 1915

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on some optimistic studio plans:

If those enterprising Culver City people have their way, motion pictures are due to break out in a new place, and switch the map of Alarm Clock Alley* from Hollywood to Culver City. Several of the larger companies are considering removing to that thriving locality, and special inducements are being offered to them. The New York Motion Picture Company, under the management of Thomas H. Ince, was the first to build a great and substantial plant there. The Essanay has opened a studio in another part of town, and is working several companies, while half a dozen corporations whose names are withheld for the present are dickering for sites. Already three large companies hold options on ground, with deals expected to be closed this week.

Feature Film Corporation’s planned studio (April 1, 1917). They disappeared, never to build it.

What’s astonishing about this announcement is that Culver City was only three and a half years old. Harry Culver, a real estate developer, officially opened it in October 1913, and it was incorporated in September 1917. Los Angeles was growing by leaps and bounds.

Culver City did become a motion picture center, but not the center. As Kingsley mentioned, Thomas Ince opened Triangle Studios there in 1915. Essanay took over Max Linder’s studio, but they soon went out of business for the same reason that all of the other big plans came to nothing: the economic turmoil caused by the war and influenza epidemic.

Laurel and Hardy on location in Culver City (they worked for Hal Roach)

After the war, business picked back up. In 1918 Ince/Triangle Studios became Goldwyn, which became M.G.M. and is now Sony Entertainment. In 1919 Ince opened a different studio, which became DeMille, then Pathe, then RKO/Pathe Studio, then Selznick International, then Desilu, and now it’s a rental studio run by a private investment group. Hal Roach built his studio on Washington Blvd. in 1919 and stayed in business there until 1963.

Kingsley’s favorite film this week was Her Life and His:

which crackles and sparkles with keen plot, swift action and absorbing character study…While the long arm of coincidence may be said to be yanked rather farther than usual in the scene in which the girl, just released from prison, views through the window the man who wrongfully sent her to the penitentiary, about to suicide, and enters in time to prevent him killing himself, still it’s a scene that makes you catch your breath. There are many plots and counterplots—too many to recite here, but they have novelty, and real ingenuity.

That former convict and suicidal man go on to form a partnership to improve prison conditions until a corrupt political ring tries to blackmail him. She comes to his rescue and they live happily ever after. It’s a lost film.

Florence LaBadie

The film starred Florence La Badie, whom Kinglsey thought had “brains, sincerity and a vividly expressive face, and these register even more effectively than mere beauty. Besides, she’s pretty enough for all practical purposes.” Ouch! LaBadie was Thanhouser Films’ biggest star, appearing in their major productions including their 1914-15 serial The Million Dollar Mystery and The Woman in White (1917). She died just a few months later on October 13, 1917 of septicemia two months after fracturing her pelvis in a car accident. You can find more about her at the Thanhouser site.


This week the film page featured a new and different way to make women feel inadequate. An ad for the upcoming A Daughter of the Gods gave far more information than anybody needed about Annette Kellerman’s precise dimensions, concluding that’s what was necessary to be the “perfect woman.” However, the man who declared in 1910 that she was perfectly proportioned, Dr. Dudley Allen Sargent of Harvard, wasn’t just a nut using a “scientific study” as an excuse to measure a lot of young women and pass judgment, he was also an advocate for women’s exercise and an end to tight corsets. An interview with him can be found at the Sunday Magazine blog.


Kinglsey didn’t review the film, but an anonymous Times writer praised Kellerman’s expert swimming and diving and didn’t mention what the lost film is known for now: the first nude scene by a major star.



* Alarm Clock Alley was Kingsley’s nickname for the motion picture colony, because everybody had to get up so early for work. It didn’t catch on.

Buster Keaton Blogathon 2017


This post is part of Third Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon hosted by Silent-ology. Please visit Silent-ology to see all of the other participating blogs.


One hundred years ago, Grace Kingsley got to be a Buster Keaton fan before any of us. She first mentioned him on November 21,1919 when she reported that he was getting his own company. She added “Keaton is an exceedingly clever young comedian, and here’s wishing him luck.”


Before he got to work at Buster Keaton Comedies, he took a short detour to star in a “high” comedy, The Saphead, and Kingsley admired his work:

Buster Keaton makes the most of his fine opportunities. In fact, he realizes a really high standard of mimetic art by investing the role of Bertie with scores of really fine touches of kindly satire and pathos, as well as of nicely balanced comedy…in short, Buster Keaton is about five-sixths of the picture. (December 13, 1920)

She rarely reviewed anybody’s two-reelers other than Chaplin’s. However, she mentioned that in The Paleface Keaton was “tremendously amusing” (May 22, 1922) and Day Dreams delivered “a laugh a second or so,” furthermore

Keaton is an artist. And he knows a dash of sympathy is good material even in a comedy. So he gets in just as he always does. Don’t ask me how. I don’t know, except that it is via his smileless face, his pathetic smallness, his constant failure.” (April 9, 1923)

She didn’t get to write about Three Ages: the new editor of the paper’s movie magazine got to see it early and wrote the review.(1)

However, she was happy to be back for Our Hospitality; she thought it was

perfectly delicious. It is a rollicking Romeo and Juliet….but boy oh boy, the thrills. That edge-of-the-water-falls stuff may be a delicate kidding of Griffith in Way Down East, but it surely makes your hair stand on end. Buster must have taken big chances. (December 10, 1923)

She also didn’t get to record her opinion of Sherlock Jr.,(2) but her enthusiasm for The Navigator was unequivocal:

My motto is always “Buster Keaton or Bust!” I have a record for never being absent or tardy when a Keaton comedy comes to town. And never does my typewriter leap more joyously from exclamation point to exclamation point than when descanting on the merits of a Keaton opus. The Navigator hasn’t one inch too much film in all its four or five reels, and every inch is a howl.

Buster Keaton is giving all the glad boys of comedy something to think about in this one, too. For, in that undersea stuff, he certainly darts a lap ahead. It is novel, it is thrilling, besides being the most hilariously funny stuff in the world—this big sequence in which Buster puts on a diver’s suit and goes to the ocean bottom to mend a leak in the ship. The rest of the comedy is all A-1, but this tops it all. (October 6, 1924)

Happily, Buster Keaton was appreciated in his own time, and in his hometown newspaper, too.

Thank you, Lea at Silent-ology, for organizing the Buster Keaton Blogathon!

(1) Hallet Abend saw Three Ages alone in a projection room with no music, and still laughed, so absorbed that he didn’t notice that his cigarette burned holes in his shirt. (July 18, 1923)

(2) Kenneth Taylor thought Sherlock Jr. was better than Our Hospitality and when Buster stepped into the screen it was “one of the funniest bits of business Keaton has ever offered.” (April 28, 1924)

Week of February 17th, 1917


In a discussion of the popularity of spectacle in current films, Grace Kingsley mentioned

One experiment which has been tried over and over again with bad artistic results is the blending of the spoken and visual drama. George Beban, strong and competent actor that he is, and an artist of true sensibility, while he drew our tears in the pathetic scenes of The Sign of the Rose, gave us a jerky sense of new and too sudden adjustment when he passed before our eyes from the screen and back again to the screen, when the production was shown at Clune’s Auditorium.


Also known as The Alien, Beban’s experiment debuted in Los Angeles on April 12, 1915 and toured throughout the United States. (1) Produced by Thomas Ince, it told the story of an Italian immigrant who after his daughter is killed in a car accident, gets accused of kidnapping a millionaire’s little girl. It was based on a vaudeville sketch that Beban played for five seasons, then turned into a three-act play in 1911.

Orson Meriden in The Theater called the 1915 version “half reel and half real” saying “in this was given, for the first time in the history of the stage, a serious combination of the silent and the spoken drama. Opening with nine reels of motion picture, the story was brought to a crucial point, at which there was sudden darkness in the theater, and the curtain rose, disclosing the same players standing in the same scene in the same positions as they were when the picture flashed out. The effect was startling as well as novel.” (2)

In an interview with The Theater, Beban was asked what the advantages of combining the two. He said “When the actors appear in person after having been seen on the screen, they appear to the audience in the light of old friends, and as a result there is a warm spirit of intimacy created between the players and the audience…another distinct advantage of the screen, and perhaps the principal reason why I believe it will be made much of in the drama of the future, is its true realism. The motion picture has spoiled the public by its real thrills.” He cited the daughter’s death in the film, which they were able to show, not just tell about.

Motion Picture News, May 1, 1915

Some critics liked The Alien in 1915. Peter Milne in Motion Picture News wrote, “It is truly a great production, about the best Thomas H. Ince has given us, fully deserving the prominent place in theatricals that it is receiving. It is a production that will bring tears to the eyes of the most hardened” (June 12, 1915). Kingsley didn’t write a review of it then but by 1917 she felt free to criticise the experiment.

Beban didn’t combine film and live theater again. He continued to play Italian immigrants on the screen and made an ordinary silent version of The Sign of the Rose in 1922. Both versions are lost films. He retired in 1926 after his wife died, and he died after being thrown from a horse in 1928.


Miller’s Theater made a terrible booking mistake: they ran the latest Theda Bara film alongside There’s Many a Fool, a parody of vamps that was Kingsley’s favorite film this week. Hank Mann played the fool, notable mostly for his seasickness during a voyage to Italy. Carmen Phillips starred and according to Kingsley her “burlesque of Miss Bara’s haughty manner, eye-work and cigarette smoking are capital.” Phillips’ best bit was “when her trunk, with herself seated on it, slides across the hall to the fool’s sitting room, she cries ‘Ah, you see it was fate!’”

Carmen Phillips was a former stage actress; in addition to Fox, she also worked at Universal, Vitagraph, Horsley and Paramount until 1926. Then she disappeared — even Brent Walker couldn’t find out much about her.

The Tiger Woman

Theda Bara’s “uninspired vehicle” was called The Tiger Woman; Kingsley said “its scenes have nothing new to offer…That the Fox vampire plays are about through – at least the sort they have been giving us—is proven by their own travesty on this sort of thing. It is also proven by the laughs with which the audience greets some of Miss Bara’s most vampirey scenes in The Tiger Woman. ’I wish they’d change all the ‘vamp’ plays into burlesques’ sighed the girl next to me. And a lot of us echoed ‘Amen.’”

Despite this one audience’s reaction, according to Bara’s biographer Eve Golden “The Tiger Woman was one of those films which critics hated and audiences loved: fans shrieked with delight as Theda wrought her wicked work.” That work included robbing her husband, poisoning her lover, and forcing another lover to kill his father, all in six reels. It’s a lost film. Bara’s box office appeal didn’t fail until the release of A Woman There Was in June 1919.

Like every frequent moviegoer since then, some contrivances were beginning to get on Kingsley’s last nerve this week, moving her to write:

There’s apparently just no end to the valuable information one can glean from the flickering photographs…Here are some valuable chunks of learning which I brought away with me.

  • Lady reporters always wear white gloves and keep them on all the time.
  • A doctor can tell by looking at a man’s tongue that the bullet wound he has just received will not be fatal.
  • An artist who has just painted a picture invariably sticks the wet canvas under his arm to carry it home.
  • Elevated railways were not unknown in George Washington’s time.
  • Lightning may come right into a house and kill the villain, while nobody else feels even a shock.

At least now filmmakers have come up with new and different absurdities (i.e. why did the Empire blow up their only archive planet?)


Hurry Mr. Arbuckle: you’re needed on Coney Island!

This might be the last of the Keaton countdown. Roscoe Arbuckle’s farewell banquet was held on February 16th at the Alexandria Hotel. Kingsley reported that “Adolph Zukor, Mr. Arbuckle and others made brilliant and telling speeches.” He left for New York the next morning, where he would teach Buster Keaton all about filmmaking.




  1. It was the next attraction after Birth of a Nation, and they were able to charge the same high ticket prices, according to Motion Picture News (May 1, 1915).
  1. Orson Meriden, “Silent and Spoken Drama,” The Theater, August 1915, p.62.

Week of February 10th, 1917

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported

No longer does Elizabeth McGaffey soil her dainty fingers with dusty tomes from the Lasky library while she searches through ancient literature to find whether Julius Caesar actually did have a soda fountain right in his palace, or whether Lucrezia Borgia sometimes substituted fishhooks for poison when she was sending boxes of Huyler’s (1) to he enemies. Mrs. McGaffey, in other words, is no longer research librarian for the Lasky-Famous Players Company. She has been promoted to the position of regular scenario writer on the Lasky staff.

Elizabeth Brock McGaffey founded the first studio research department in 1914. Before that, she’d been a feature writer for the Chicago Inter Ocean, a stock actress, and a play reader in New York. She moved to Los Angeles and found a job as a script reader for the Jesse Lasky Studio. Because of her wide experience and excellent memory, people got into the habit of asking her whenever they had a question. She “persuaded them to give her a dictionary, the National Geographic Magazine, and a public library card,” and she started the first research department.(2) Unfortunately, her career as a scenario writer didn’t last long (she was only credited with one story, The Honorable Friend, which she wrote before she was promoted) and she went back to the library. She became one of the “nine women” who helped Cecil B. DeMille make his films. In a 1930 article about studio researchers, her job sounded much more interesting than any librarian job I’ve ever had:

While compiling data for Dynamite, she spent hours down in a mine shaft, absorbing the atmosphere, talking with mining engineers and workers, contacting the Hercules explosive specialists, and making notes on incidents and details so casual that they might never be used. For Madame Satan, DeMille’s latest opus, she traveled about in a dirigible, recording the special phrasing of the officers’ orders and their individual slang. (3)

Elizabeth McGaffey, 1938

She worked for DeMille until he closed his production office in May 1931 (his contract with M.G.M. wasn’t renewed after two films failed so he traveled to Europe) and McGaffey found a new job as research director at RKO in August. She had that job until she died on March 13, 1944 of heart disease.

Stuart Holmes, Kittens Reichert and Mary Martin in The Scarlet Letter

Kinglsey’s favorite film this week was yet another adaptation of The Scarlet Letter (this was at least the sixth). She wrote:

It is impossible to praise too highly this latest Fox masterpiece. The adapter has wrung from the realistic tale of tortured souls every drop of dramatic value. The multifold sufferings of Hester Prynne, the covert agony of Dimmsdale, the fortuity of circumstance that drove the young minister on to the branding of himself with the hot iron and his final confession—it is all there, and all colored with the gray austerity of bleak Puritanism. Some liberty is taken with the text in the final scenes, but even this is excusable in light of the marvelous manner in which the atmosphere and character-drawing is preserved all through.

Edward Weitzel of Moving Picture World didn’t agree; the happy ending made him rant “whoever is responsible for this despoiling of a masterpiece must hold the artistic perception of the average screen patron at a very low state” (March 3 1917). The man responsible was Carl Harbaugh, who is now most famous for his gag writing for Hal Roach and Buster Keaton. He’s in my book, Buster Keaton’s Crew. The Scarlet Letter is a lost film.


The ongoing war appeared in her column this week when Kingsley reported on D.W. Griffith’s plans for his next film.

A few months ago, Griffith was approached by representatives of one of the warring nations, inviting him to come abroad for the purpose of making pictures showing said country’s side of the conflict. At that time he declined because of President Wilson’s proclamation of neutrality. He has since gathered together a company of expert photographers with a view to hastening to Europe at the earliest possible moment.

The warring nation was Great Britain, and Griffith set sail (without the photographers) for England on March 17th. In June, two months after the United States officially declared war, he started work on Hearts of the World, shooting in France and England, then finishing it up in Hollywood. Lea at Silentology wrote about Griffith’s trip and the film.

Don’t worry Miss Kingsley: some people admire her now!

On Monday Kingsley offered one argument against film preservation that I’d never seen before:

We of today say fatuously—what would we not give to know what Washington looked like! But privately we know that in his pigtail and knee-breeches he must have looked very like a footman or a character in a comic opera…Imagination is the great illuminator, the great aid to deathless fame. As a matter of fact, should not we have found Joan of Arc a big, natural peasant, unused to the gentle use of the hanky?…Won’t school boys of the year 2000 probably laugh at they way President Wilson walks and combs his hair; and who’d be in Theda Bara’s shoes on that same day? No, if you would be kind to our heroes and heroines, and if you would preserve to future generations their ideals, make a bonfire of films.

Her ignorance-is-bliss argument isn’t a strong one. Besides, I don’t think it was film preservation that changed who gets admired by school kids. That they did things differently then is one of the reasons some of us bother to study the past now.



(1) Huyler’s was once the biggest chocolate and candy company in the United States.

(2) H.G. Percey, “Problems of a Motion Picture Research Library,” Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, March 1936, p.253.

(3) Dorothea Hawley Cartwright, “Their Job is Looking Up,” Talking Screen, July 1930, p.65.

Week of February 3rd, 1917


One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley and the L.A. Times cooperated with Cecil B. De Mille on a successful publicity stunt. They held a contest to find what character Geraldine Farrar should play in her follow up to Joan the Woman, with cash prizes ($100 for first place, $25 for second, three prizes of $10 for third and four prizes of $5 for fourth) for the winners. DeMille held the contest to find out what the audience wanted to see, and he hoped to find a role as good or greater than Joan of Arc. The judges were De Mille, Grace Kingsley, screenwriter Jeanie Macpherson, insurance agent/historical photograph collector Sam Behrendt and Southwest Museum director Hector Alliot.

They got thousands of entries. The paper reported that practically every woman of history had been suggested, including Eve, Sappho, Salome, Pocahontas, Carrie Nation and Emmeline Pankhurst. Cleopatra was the woman most mentioned and Mary, Queen of Scots was a close second. One person even suggested Napoleon, but De Mille thought that Farrar was much too feminine for that. They decided that if a character with multiple entries won, the best-written letter would prevail.


They announced the winners on February 13th. De Mille revealed two of the third-place winning entries, “an Aztec character” and Queen Esther, but he didn’t want to divulge the first and second place winners because he was afraid of other companies stealing the ideas. Ruby Archer Doud won the second-place prize. The first place winner forgot to include his name on his entry, so the paper reproduced part of it and asked him to go to the theater where Joan the Woman was playing.

He came forward right away. William Cutler, a 26-year-old gas station attendant, presented the other piece of the torn notebook page that was his entry and received his check. De Mille said that “Cutler’s idea was so good and showed such deep thought that it may be possible to develop the young man into a writer of no mean ability.” That didn’t happen. Instead he enlisted in the Army in November 1917 and became a chauffeur with the 194th Aero Squadron. After his discharge in July, 1919 he started his own dried fruit business on South Hoover Street. He died in November 1959.

It looks like the idea they used was J. Arthur Evans’ third-place winner, because De Mille and Farrar’s next film was about an Aztec character. In The Woman God Forgot (1917), she played Tecza, a fictionalized version of Montezuma’s daughter Tecuichpoch Ixcaxochitzin/Dona Isabel Moctezuma. In the film, she betrayed her people for the love of a Spanish conquistador. When Kingsley reviewed it in December, she was impressed mostly by the “sumptuous settings” the “marvelous photography” and the ”gorgeousness of the costuming.” The film has been preserved at the Eastman House, New York.

This week, Kingsley declared the death of slapstick because Charlie Chaplin was “giving the world something really new in the way of comedy” with Easy Street, and a “bright” and “refreshing” comedy, Her New York, also mixed pathos with humor.

She was tremendously impressed by Chaplin’s latest:

Not in vain has labored Charlie Chaplin, our biggest and best screen comedian…Easy Street is the flower of the Chaplin apprenticeship, it is Chaplin minus the gaucherie and crudeness of many of his former efforts; without the monotony of repetition of tricks; without the obvious effort after fun which has marred some of his pictures. It is spontaneous, bubbling, rib-tickling, unctuous; and yet the story has such skillful blending of pathetic shadings as to make the thing seem at moments a startling cross section of real life.

Critics continue to agree with Kingsley. Walter Kerr in The Silent Clowns called it “an exquisite short comedy, humor encapsulated in the regular rhythms of light verse,” and Alan Vanneman in the Bright Lights Film Journal said it “ranks easily as one of the greatest comedy shorts ever made.” It’s available on DVD and on a streaming site that doesn’t help fund film preservation.

Her New York was a 1917 version of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Gladys Hulette played Phoebe Lester, a fresh-from-the country girl who finds New York is

a place where everything comes right in the last reel, the villain reforms, the waif of an infant is discovered to have been preceded by a wedding ring after all, and the young poet, destined to live for awhile by writing rhymes glorifying canned pork and beans, is able at last to unbridle his Pegasus and let him sail right up into the sky.

Kingsley thought it was “an aroma from an old-fashioned garden – despite its sordid setting.” and that Hulette was a “radiant and vivid personality.” Her New York hasn’t been preserved by an archive, but it was made by the Thanhouser Company, whose descendants have done a remarkable job of documenting their films. On their site you can find a page for Her New York and Hulette’s biography.

Kingsley reported that the future of filmmaking in Los Angeles looked extraordinarily bright. Most of the New York companies were planning to move all of their production to Hollywood including Vitagraph, Kalem and Goldwyn, and the companies already here like Fox, Famous Players-Lasky and Balboa had ambitious expansion plans.

The industry had a rough time in the next years with bankruptcies (Balboa) acquisitions (Kalem was sold to Vitagraph, which was sold to Warner Bros.) and mergers (Goldwyn merged with Metro and Louis B. Mayer Pictures). People were happier not knowing what the future was. Of course, she was partly correct: Los Angeles did become the center of film production.

In the least surprising story of the week, Kingsley found actresses dissatisfied with their weight; “the principal topic of conversation at Universal City among the actresses at the present time appears to be the subject of maintaining the proper balance of flesh.” This conversation will probably never end, but the difference is that then three women (Nellie Allen, Irene Hunt and Agnes Vernon) felt they needed to be bigger. The rest wanted to be smaller and they planned to get up at 5 AM and walk at least five miles. Now, no matter how slender, everyone would be setting her alarm clock.