One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley rewrote an effective press release:
“Have you a little vampire in your home?” This was almost a general call sent out a few weeks ago by producer Fred J. Balshofer and Harold Lockwood, Yorke-Metro star, when they were practically stumped in finding a beautiful and youthful vampire for a leading role in Paradise Garden….
“It can’t be done,” said the casting directors at the studios to which Balshofer and Lockwood applied. But someone had to be found to play the Marcia Van Wyck of the story. This girl is a beautiful young thing of the top rungs of society, who knows a lot about a number of things that grandma never dreamed of. Marcia is quite some girl and her vamping is of an entirely new and original variety.
And at last she was found—but, just for fun, the prodigy’s name is not to be disclosed until the picture is released. Then maybe—oh boy!—you’ll say the search was worth while.
The “baby vampire” who got the big build-up was Virginia Rappe, who is sadly now remembered more for the circumstances of her death than for her life. In 1921, she died a few days after attending a party in Roscoe Arbuckle’s hotel room, which lead to Arbuckle being accused of manslaughter and undergoing three trials. There’s been an awful lot written about it, but if you’d like to see a version that doesn’t demonize Rappe, look at this interview with Joan Myers.
It’s melancholy to see the promising launch of Rappe’s career. Marion Howard, writing about Paradise Garden in Moving Picture World said, “watch Virginia Rappe, for she has a great future as vampire or heroine.” (November 3, 1917, p. 689) Unfortunately we can’t, it’s a lost film. Rappe did go on to star in shorts for Henry Lehrman Comedies.
Kingsley’s favorite film this week was Jack and the Beanstalk. She wrote: “Don’t miss it! Your being grown up won’t matter a bit. Even if you’ve grown crabbed and dull, this picture play, reviving the old fairy tale, will tap the dry rock of your imagination and turn loose the floods of youthful dreams. This picture play marks the beginning of a new era in the picturization of fairy tales…here we have splendid romance, thrilling adventure, spine-prickling excitement, rib-tickling humor.”
She reported that the audience loved it too: Miller’s Theater was jam-packed with children and “I’ve never in my life seen little ones sit quietly as they did through two hours and fifteen minutes of entertainment. I didn’t think it could be done.” The special effects particularly impressed her, and so did the performances of the child actors. She concluded, “it is quite impossible to convey on paper the wonderful charm and delightful thrill of the production.”
Other critics agreed with Kingsley. George W. Graves in Motography called it “one of the biggest film events of the year,” and he also thought that adults would like it as much as the children did. It was a big hit. The following week the theater manager told Kingsley that despite the long running time, it was almost impossible to get some of the children to leave the theater: they stayed for a second viewing. Fox soon released another kids’ film with the same stars and directors, Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp. An abridged version of Jack is at the George Eastman House Archive and sixteen minutes of its ten reels are on the Internet Archive.
Playing opposite Jack was a movie she liked so much less that she felt she needed to advise the protagonist: “if there a half-dozen people following you with guns, dynamite and other high explosives, who are always subjecting you to the uncomfortable process of being lassoed or thrown over a cliff or dropped down a well, wouldn’t you after a while suspect they somehow disliked you?” Apparently poor H.B. Warner playing John Howland in The Danger Trail took a long time to figure it out, but the scenic Canadian wilds were nice to look at. It’s a lost film.
Kingsley reported that Douglas Fairbanks received a great honor: an official at Yosemite named a peak for him. He was shooting Down to Earth in the park at the time, and they held a short ceremony. Then “the energetic Douglas, overcome with emotion, not only thanked the official for the honor, but, looking upon the same as a sort of a challenge, proceeded to prove his appreciation thereof by executing a handstand plump on the edge of a dizzy precipice of the mountain.”
Thanks to Kathleen Kosiec and the Wisconsin Historical Society, we know it’s true. The spectacular photo above is part of their collection. However, she discovered that park officials didn’t formally name it, so it isn’t called Douglas Fairbanks Peak today. Sic transit gloria mundi. If you’d like to read Kosiec’s essay on Fairbanks, visit “Douglas Fairbanks: No Stuntman Required.”