Week of April 28th, 1917

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley put a Hollywood spin on the upcoming war tax.

Of course, to be within the charmed circle of picture stars and picture magnates who receive salaries which soar up into the rarified atmosphere occupied by high art and the income tax is an enviable position. Nevertheless now that these poor struggling picture folk are to have their salaries submitted to further pickings on account of the war – in other words, now they are liable to have to yield up to 40 per cent of their incomes as war tax—fancy how they will suffer. They will not be able to afford more than three or four cars and chauffeurs apiece, they will have to be satisfied with old second-hand diamonds, they will be able to buy only a few hundred dollars worth of government bonds at a time, and will have to cut over last year’s ermine and make it do for another winter…However, these patriots are keeping a noble silence on the subject, so we presume they are willing to sacrifice in the cause of patriotism.

She listed some of the people who made over $100,000 who would be affected, including D.W. Griffith, Thomas Ince, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Francis X. Bushman, Roscoe Arbuckle, Mack Sennett, William S. Hart and Clara Kimball Young.

Many changes were made to the War Revenue Act of 1917 before it passed in October, and it wasn’t just wealthy people affected. In 1916, people making less than $20,000 didn’t have to bother with income tax at all; this act lowered the threshold to $2,000. However, the average annual household income was about $800 so many people still didn’t have to file. The tax was graduated starting at 4 percent, rising to 31 percent for incomes of $100,000 and 67 percent for $2,000,000 or more.

Personal income tax wasn’t the only way the country paid for the war, they also raised corporate taxes, added more tax to luxury items like cars and sold bonds. Even with these measures, they didn’t cover the whole cost of it and the national debt rose from one billion in 1915 to twenty billion in 1920.

Kinglsey’s favorite film this week was The Clock, and as usual there was only one charming actor she could compare the lead to:

Franklyn Farnum comes near stripping bare the brow of Douglas Fairbanks in this buoyantly cheerful little tale. Mr. Farnum plays the role of a happy-go-lucky young scamp with an irresistible smile and a breezy manner, by which he gets away with quite incredible but always cheerful impertinences. The story has to do, along in the third reel, with a clock left the hero by a mysterious uncle along with an inheritance of five thousand a year on the end of a codicil string, which requires the young man to go to bed at 10 and arise at six. Probably there is a moral about it somewhere, but its entirely painless.

Unfortunately it’s a lost film. Farnum was a former vaudevillian who was nearly 40 when he appeared in The Clock. He went on to a very long career primarily in Westerns with 618 credits on the IMDB.

Kinglsey’s best line of the week was in her review of The More Excellent Way: “The story is one of those which smuggles smut to the hypercritical and snuffling sisterhood.” Anita Stewart played a “spineless female” who marries a man she doesn’t love and “who maunders through five reels between divorce and broken-hearted silence.” Eventually she realizes she loves him. It’s also a lost film.

Kinglsey typed some nonsense this week, but she couldn’t keep sarcasm out of it. Under the headline “Rapid Evolution Note” she said that the “Hawaiian” actress, Miss Lehua Waipahu, of The Bottle Imp had changed her name to Margaret Loomis, and had managed to learn to speak English quite fluently. She wrote, “as a tribute to our climate, be it known her complexion has suddenly turned very fair.” Waipahu/Loomis wasn’t the least bit Hawaiian; she was born in San Francisco in 1893 to Charles (from California) and Georgia (from Iowa) Loomis, and grew up in Los Angeles. She studied dance at the Denishawn School and toured with Ruth St. Denis before she became an actress. I don’t know who suggested she be temporarily Hawaiian for the film, but by a 1920 Picture-Play Magazine interview she dropped all of the Lehua Waipahu silliness and just described The Bottle Imp as one of her “good roles.” She worked for Paramount Studios until the mid-1920s when she married and retired.

Kinglsey reported that F.H. Richardson, “one of the greatest experts on motion picture projection in America” had arrived in Los Angeles as part of his North American tour to preach “the gospel of perfect projection to the house managers.” He got a reception at Universal City, gave a lecture at the Superba Theater, and was given a banquet at a downtown café. It’s a shame we don’t have perfect projection preachers being feted by film companies now. Secondly, I’m still amazed by what’s available online: the Screening Room Services site has a biography and collection of his lectures here.




Week of April 21st, 1917

One solution

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley continued her complaints about audiences by listing some of the ways people behaved badly in film theaters, beginning with the simple-minded ‘matinee girl’ who:

reads the sub-titles aloud very slowly, generally omitting the big words, and the 30-year old girl who has written scenarios but can’t get any accepted and comes to scoff at the work of others. And the giggling girl, hysterically desirous of attention. She always comes in twos and giggles and talks so loudly you can’t even hear the sub-titles being read by the other woman. Very often she turns out to be an extra girl employed in the picture. But the matinee hog is the worst of all. Usually this species of noisome creature is of the male sex, and has another of his kind along with him. If he’s seated when you enter, at the end of the row of seats, he never moves to give you room, nor does he rise. He sticks his elephantine feet into the aisle and lets you fall over them…In fact, he’s one big reason you hesitate a lot of times to enter a picture house at all.

So there has never been a time when audiences were well-behaved. They needed a Code of Conduct then as much as we do now.


Kingsley’s favorite film this week was Aladdin from Broadway, “a delightful high-class screen comedy…Edith Storey indeed surprises by revealing herself as a complete mistress of comedy of a certain volatile, whimsical flavor…it is due to Miss Storey’s vibrant humor, as well as Antonio Moreno’s debonair impersonation of the happy-go-lucky America that the photoplay is sustained in a comedy key throughout, despite some scenes of thrilling adventure.” Other reviewers, like George Shorey in Motion Picture News, were so impressed by the thrilling adventure (particularly a sandstorm that was “one of the most wonderful bits of picture staging we have ever seen”) that he didn’t even mention the funny bits. However, he agreed with Kingsley that it was one of the best films Vitagraph had ever made. Sadly, it’s a lost film.

The big release of the week was She; Kingsley found it “magnificently spectacular,” yet it was a “warmed-over thrill” because despite the breath-catching episodes of burning people and naked cannibals dancing around their victim, the scenes gluing them together were dull. Nevertheless, “Valeska Suratt, as She, entirely vindicates her right to be classed as one of the screen’s big-best actresses.” It’s also a lost film.


Kingsley reported on the founding of the First National Exhibitor’s Circuit, an association of independent theater owners that “marks the first nation-wide step taken toward open-market buying.” Film producers had been selling their complete program to theaters, but the new Exhibitor’s Circuit would allow them to choose what they showed. It became a great success, controlling over 600 theaters. In 1924 it expanded into film production, changing its name to First National Pictures, and in 1928 they were bought by Warner Bros.

Kingsley had a chat with a young actress, Eva Le Gallienne, touring with a production of The Happy Stranger. Her father Richard was a famous poet, so she answered the obvious question:

“Do I write poetry?” repeated Miss Le Gallienne. “No, I do not. I speak with authority, too. In other words, my judgment has been verified. I used to think I did, but now I know I don’t. I wrote one bit of verse which was published, and thereafter I wrote about ninety-seven poems and sent them each to about ninety-seven publications without success. No, you just ask any of those editors and he will tell you no quite positively. In acting I’ve had much better success—but I shall never cease regretting those ninety-seven poems. It’s just too discouraging writing for the waste basket.”

Le Gallienne probably recovered from her disappointment when she was busy picking up her Tony, Emmy and National Medal of the Arts, playing everything from Peter Pan to Hamlet, appearing on the cover of Time and founding the Civic Repertory Theater in New York City, which was the beginning of Off-Broadway theaters. She rarely acted in film, but she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for Resurrection in 1980.

Week of April 14th, 1917



One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley proved that she paid no attention whatsoever to the sports page. On Sunday she mentioned an upcoming charity event, a baseball game between comedians and tragedians to raise money for the Red Cross. Unfortunately, somebody was giving her old information: the game had already taken place two weeks earlier, and the Times had done its part to publicize it, promising “a ball game that has never been equaled.” The team captains revealed their strategies to the paper: Wallace Reid believed “when he pitches a ball it will burn such a hole in the air that it will be weeks before the hole fills up again,” and Charlie Chaplin said “when he pitches those hard ones, I’ll fool him. I won’t bat at them and after a while he will get weak with so much hard work and then watch me.” The Tragics team included Eugene Pallette, Jack Pickford, Lew Cody and George Beban, and the Comics included Harold Lloyd, Bobbie Dunn, Eric Campbell, Charlie Murray, Chester Conklin and Hank Mann. The Times mentioned “at present the members of the opposing teams are practicing for the big event in a way that would make your blood curdle.” All contestants were asked to report to Charlie Murray at 2:30 pm on March 31st to receive their first aid bandages.

1939 program

The Saturday afternoon game was a great success, raising nearly $8000 for the Red Cross. However, nobody bothered to report which team won the game. In the 1930’s, the Comedians vs. Leading Men baseball game became an annual charity event.

None of the other films released this week had a chance at being Kingsley’s favorite because a Chaplin film came out. She said:

The Cure – is! If you’ve got the blues, or don’t like your mother-in-law, or have a pain in your chest, don’t consult a physician or your lawyer, but go and see Charlie Chaplin at the Garrick. View Charlie disporting himself among the old ladies and gentlemen at the health resort; watch him drink the water; see him go through the evolutions superinduced by the attentions of the masseur; watch the effect of the bottles of liquor which the attendant spills into the cure-all waters; see Charlie in a bathing suit—and laugh. You will: I’ll guarantee it.

People still enjoy The Cure; the official Chaplin site calls it “perhaps the funniest of the Mutuals.” If you need a laugh, you can see it on the Internet Archive.

A Jewel in Pawn: Walter Belasco, Maie and Ella Hall

Maybe exhibitors didn’t want to compete, because some particularly badly reviewed films were in the theaters this week. A Jewel in Pawn starring Ella Hall irritated Kingsley so much that she recounted the plot, with commentary:

You see Ella’s mama in this picture is very, very poor, and they live in the slums. Suddenly mama remembers she has a rich dad, and conceives the not unreasonable idea of returning to him together with daughter. But she has no money to buy her railroad ticket. Then Ella has a bright idea. Why shouldn’t mama pawn her, daughter, to get the money? The pawnbroker is an elderly widower, dwelling alone at the back of his shop, with whom she has but a slight acquaintance, and some evil-minded person sitting back of me suggested he hardly thought that a nice, loving, careful mama would pawn her beloved daughter.

So audiences then weren’t as innocent as we might believe. A Jewel in Pawn is a lost film, and between the anti-Semitic stereotype of the pawnbroker and the story’s uncomfortable nearness to pedophilia, I can see why it was never remade.

Bad as that was, the latest Olga Petrova film was worse, and Kingsley’s annoyance stretched over two days’ worth of columns. On Monday, she said The Waiting Soul was “a simple, one-stringed tale, with the sub-titles lending an air of stiltedness to the thing” (Petrova played a woman with a “purple” past that threatens her marriage). By Tuesday she was calling it an example of why some films really ought to be censored, and while they’re at it they could “make it a misdemeanor to destroy a helpless pie in the interests of comic art” and suppress some of those “sunny-curled ingénues.” So that’s one way to improve the pictures. The Waiting Soul has been preserved at the Eastman House.



Week of April 7th, 1917


Shooting The Escape (1914). Billy Bitzer, D.W. Griffith, Henry B. Walthall

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported that opportunities in Hollywood were drying up for scenario writers:

That about 50 per cent of the ordinary present-day writers of ‘original’ scenarios are doomed to extinction by the mere process of elimination, seems to be a foregone conclusion… And nowadays the weeding-out process has begun in the scenario departments of all the big producing companies. Only such as have already gained distinction or who have shown unusual ability are retaining their jobs.

Instead of hiring people to write original stories, companies were adapting existing material. She cited Selig’s version of Rex Beach’s The Spoilers and Griffith’s “picturization” of The Escape as early successes, then Birth of a Nation from Thomas Dixon’s work proved they could be financial and artistic successes.

Of course, original stories weren’t replaced by adaptations, and somebody had to do the adapting. Instead, this was part of the industry-wide contraction that lasted until after the war concluded. Film has always been an uncertain career.

Her favorite film this week happened to be an adaptation, one based on a Robert Louis Stevenson story. She liked The Bottle Imp because it was so different from anything else she’d seen. Sessue Hayakawa starred as the imp who lived in a magic bottle, “the owner of which must not be caught dead with it, or his soul will be destroyed, but who, while he possesses it makes its imp the servant of his will.” She said “There are many spectacular scenes, such as the magic building of a palace before your eyes and the beautifying of diverse ugly people.” Julian Johnson in Photoplay agreed completely, exclaiming, “would that there were more photoplays of imagination such as The Bottle Imp!” It’s been preserved at the Eastman House.

The war was very much on everyone’s minds; Kingsley reported that during the afternoon vaudeville show at the Orpheum, “the smiling audience was looking up in expectation of Lew Dockstader’s appearance; the stage manager stepped forth in wholly untheatrical manner and stated that two army officers in the audience, naming them, were wanted at once at their barracks. That was all – but there was a hushed silence for a full half minute, while we were in the grip of the realization of war.” She also mentioned that at every vaudeville house patriotic musical numbers were played, and the crowds stood up.

If only actors knew more about film history, they could save themselves from so much misery! Jane Gail, the leading actress from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea told everyone that working underwater was no fun. She had thought it would be wonderful to see the bottom of the sea, but “I wouldn’t do it again. I’d rather fall over a cliff or out of a balloon than ever go through that experience again.” She married a writer and stopped acting in 1920. Kinglsey reviewed the film later that week and thought the dry land scenes were dry indeed, but the wet bits were gripping and dramatic.