One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley noticed a new trend at live theater performances: “the habit of applause on the part of the audience appears to be dying out.” She theorized about what was causing it. At the top of the list was moving pictures, because there was no need to cheer for absent actors so people had gotten out of the habit. However, the new, quieter acting style and less melodramatic plays were also part of the problem; she wrote “can you fancy loud cane-whackings on the floor as an expression of gratification at the voicing of a Shaw subtlety, or some of the finer passages of an Ibsen drama?” It had gotten so bad that some theater owners were rumored to hiring professional applauders, to make the performers feel better. Who knew that styles of applause went in and out of fashion?
Kingsley’s favorite film this week was a Pauline Frederick film Sapho,
the story of the little street gamin, the flower girl of Paris, who captured one lover after another, is done so as to be entirely convincing…The transition in the girl from the gay butterfly to the sincerely loving woman is accomplished by Miss Frederick with no hypocritical show of demureness.
Sapho was based on a novel by Alphonse Daudet that was frequently adapted, first as a short in 1908, then as a feature in 1913 and then just the year before with Theda Bara in the title role. Other critics agreed that this version was particularly good; George N. Shorey in Motion Picture News even said it “will never be more finely interpreted than in this Famous Players production.” It’s a lost film. Frederick was respected as one of the best actresses of her time; to learn more visit Greta deGroat’s site.
Kingsley took personally a bit of business in a film about political corruption called Out of the Wreck.
The author evidently had a weird idea of newspaper people. The woman in the story apparently always kissed her city editor good morning, and then perched on the arm of his chair for an hour or so!
That wasn’t her only problem with the film; despite the good directing, acting, and photography, she thought the story was “patched together out of the scenario barrel.” It’s been preserved at the Library of Congress.
Kingsley told a story that proves nobody was surprised when cameraman Billy Bitzer wasn’t able to go to France to shoot the war scenes for Hearts of the World. Griffith wired him to come to New York and from there go to England with him. Bitzer replied “Can’t, I’m German.” Griffith answered “Well, change your name and come on.” Bitzer’s retort: “Might change my name but how can I change my face?” Bitzer did eventually travel to England, but Griffith had to hire another cameraman to visit the front lines.
Kingsley told a cute story about mistaken identity this week:
Harriette Lee, in some poses, especially close up, is a dead ringer for Mabel Normand. The other night both young women were dancing and supping out at Vernon. Three persons in succession passed by Miss Lee’s table, bowing and greeting her as Miss Normand. Each one, on pausing for another look (you always look at as long at Mabel as you can, naturally) in turn apologized, saying, ‘Oh, I beg your pardon!’ Miss Normand really was present at a near-by table, and when the last visitor made his apology, she called out ‘If people don’t stop apologizing to this lady because they’ve accused her of looking like me there’s going to be trouble.’
Harriette Lee was a vaudeville performer, and Kingsley had reviewed her favorably earlier in the week, saying “female ‘nuts’ are rare on the stage, but Harriette Lee is quite the most delicious one growing on the vaudeville tree. She and her partner, Ben Ryan, kid their way through an act that must be seen to be appreciated.” The husband and wife team had originated the “Dumb Dora” act that George Burns later credited as the basis for his act with Gracie Allan. Lee later simplified her name to Harriet and was best known as a radio singer in the 1930’s.