Week of July 7th, 1917

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One hundred years ago this week, Mary Pickford gave a speech before the premier of her latest movie and Grace Kingsley was there to describe it.

Last night 10,000 people swarmed Clune’s Auditorium. They jammed the entrances and overflowed around the block, and it took at least a dozen policemen to keep them in order and prevent their trampling each other…Probably there are about five other persons in the United States who could draw so big a crowd—President Woodrow Wilson, and a few others of similar note.

Ten thousand persons started out to see Mary last night, and about seven thousand accomplished their purpose at the two showings. The big auditorium was jammed to its topmost gallery with the people who wanted to see Miss Pickford and her ghost in The Little American. She made two simple and natural speeches that were received with thunderous applause.

According to Kingsley, the film did not disappoint; the story of an American girl who goes to France to visit her aunt and gets caught up in the war was “a great light illuminating the dark and bloody doings on the other side. It has a poignancy that must touch every one; its concrete incidents, its individual scenes, have a thousand counterparts in the things that are happening across the sea…The Little American is without a doubt the most poignantly vivid and significant picture of the year, and one of the greatest in the history of films.”

Other people at the time agreed completely with Kinglsey. Motography (July 21, 1927) printed a round-up of reactions and they said that exhibitors, critics and the public were unanimous in praising it, and even hot weather wasn’t preventing record-breaking business. It was also “one of the best aids to recruiting which the government has” and the Army stationed recruiting officers outside of screenings. (Motography, August 11, 1917). However, like most wartime propaganda, The Little American was of its time and hasn’t aged well. Fritzi Kramer expressed her dislike well at Movies Silently. It’s available on DVD.

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The Rough House

No other film could compete with that this week, though Roscoe Arbuckle’s “The Rough House” featured one of the funniest things she’d ever seen in a slapstick film: “the view of the rotund comedian in his nightie, setting his bed a-fire with a cigarette and then trailing nonchalantly back and forth from the kitchen with a cup of water at a time to extinguish the blaze, stopping once to drink it when exhausted.” It’s available on DVD, and my synopsis is still up on the Damfinos’ website.

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Love or Justice

Her least favorite film this week was easy to spot; Love or Justice featured Louise Glaum as a woman living in sin. Kingsley pointed out that such women in the movies “do wear such elegant clothes, and run such elegant motors, and live in such elegant flats!” She could see no reason why the man didn’t just marry her, but she knew “of course, in that case Miss Glaum couldn’t have suffered; and darn it all, if Miss Glaum can’t suffer, she just doesn’t think life worth living. She never even takes a day off if she can help it.” Poor Grace Kingsley really needed a break from melodramas. The film has been preserved at the Eastman house.

There was an update to last week’s story about Triangle falling apart with the departure of Ince and Sennett. The studio didn’t go down without a fight: this week they announced that they bought sixteen acres of land adjoining their Culver City studio, and were planning on doubling their production capacity. They also began hiring more staff, including director Jack Conway. He worked hard, making 12 films in 18 months, but they couldn’t replicate the earlier success.

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In her review of the vaudeville show at the Pantages, Kingsley wrote a line that you might want to borrow one day: “The only way to enjoy “The Beauty Orchard” is to sidestep it to the aisle as “H” flashes on the annunciator, and look at the pictures in the lobby.” The sketch involved comics Frank Sinclair and Cliff Dixon and six pretty women; the act’s original title was “Six Peaches and a Pair.” Another column called it “a musical tabloid” (I think they meant tableaux) but nobody bothered to describe it in detail.

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