Week of October 13th, 1917

fanfan
Fan Fan (1918)

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley visited the set of the latest Franklin Brothers film, Fan-Fan, an all-kid version of The Mikado. She reported on the “three-ring circus in progress,” and had a chat with the directors about the — the polite word is challenges – of their job:

‘Going over the top’ in the making of “kid” comedies is the accomplishment of the Franklins, and according to these gentlemen, directing in a trench smash hasn’t much on squeezing out the nectar-like juice of genius out of 500 wriggling, restless, contrary kid actors. Nevertheless, it can be done, and the Franklins know all the ways there are to make a naturally fractious small boy or a prissy little miss ‘show off’—which, after all, is all there is to acting.

“The louder I shout, the louder the children shout,” said Sid Franklin the other day, “and the louder they shout the better acting they do.”

For the production they built a Japanese street at the Fox studio and hired Japanese people for the background, but the stars were the Franklins’ regular stock company, Francis Carpenter (Naki-Poo), Virginia Corbin (Yum-Yum) and Violet Radcliffe (Pooh-Bah). The kids had a school teacher on the set and Kingsley reported that “the children are well cared for during the making of pictures.”

The plot of The Mikado doesn’t seem like an obvious choice for a children’s film, with coerced marriages and the threats of execution, but Kingsley reassured readers that “this adroit Gilbert and Sullivan satire has been made into a picture play which rather emphasizes the refreshing comedy of the story than reflects any of its satiric vein.” Unfortunately we can’t see how they managed that, because it’s a lost film.

 

 

Chester and Sidney Franklin got their start in film in 1915 when they independently wrote and directed a short, The Baby. It led to them being hired by Majestic Motion Picture Co. to make more comedy shorts starring kids. In 1917 they were hired by Fox to direct features with children. They made five, including Jack and the Beanstalk, which Kingsley had enjoyed a great deal. Despite their cheerful words about working with youngsters, Fan Fan was their last of their children’s features for Fox; they both moved on to separately direct adult actors.

 

 

Chester called the shots on over 50 films; his most famous was the 2-strip Technicolor Toll of the Sea (1922). Sidney had an even more successful career. He made films like The Hoodlum (1919) with Mary Pickford and Smilin’ Through (1922) with Norma Talmadge, then in 1926 he was hired by M.G.M. where he became Irving Thalberg’s protégé. He got to direct big-budget literary films like Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934) and The Good Earth (1937). After Thalberg’s death he became a producer at the studio; he worked on Ninotchka (1939), Random Harvest (1942) and The Yearling (1946) among others.

 

 

Kingsley visited another studio this week and reported that nobody could find Mary Pickford on the set of her latest film Stella Maris, but there was

a funny looking feminine creature in an old ragged dress, her hair ‘skinned’ back away from her face, and a big basket over her arm….By and by, over the face of the funny little girl spread a whimsical smile—Mary Pickford’s own particularly droll little grin.

“Don’t you think I’m brave to live with this face?” inquired Mary, strolling out of the scene as she waited for the property men to fix up the canvas light reflectors. “You know, my mother could safely leave me out all night any time in this make-up and nobody would steal me. Even with a string of pearls I don’t believe they’d touch me.” Marshall Neilan, her own director, couldn’t find her under her funny make-up the other day.

This wasn’t just hype: as you can see in the photos, her character did look radically different from Pickford, and it was very effective acting and make up. They kept the plot to the film secret from Kingsley, so she thought that Pickford was poor in the first two reels, then became pretty when her fortunes improved. Actually it was a dual role, with Pickford playing both the mistreated orphan servant Unity Blake and the paralyzed, wealthy Stella Maris. The film is available on DVD. Fritzi Kramer called it “one of the finest silent features of the 1910’s and is essential viewing for fans of the era;” you can read her full review at Movies Silently.

 

 

Kingsley’s favorite film this week was an adaptation of Edward Everett Hale’s short story The Man Without A Country. In 1863 Hale wrote it to promote enlistment in the Union Army during the Civil War. It told the fictional story of Phillip Nolan, who had been convicted of treason and was sentenced to exile on the sea, forbidden from hearing anything about the United States. In this version, the man is a pacifist “for no particular reason,” even after his Red Cross nurse sweetheart is presumed dead when her ship is torpedoed. He refuses to enlist until he’s given Hale’s story, then after he reads it he sees the error of his ways and joins the army. Kingsley felt it should be compulsory viewing for all pacifists.

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Florence LaBadie

Her review ended on a melancholy note: the leading lady, Florence LaBadie had died on October 13, 1917 of septicemia after an automobile accident, and Kingsley felt in was uncanny to see her still alive on the screen, yet “it seems like a marvelous trick of fate that the last role she played in the films was one embodying such patriotic idealism as this one.” Movies were so young then that this was unusual. The film survives at the Library of Congress and a preview is on the Internet Archive. Cornell University has made the original short story available online.

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Lasky stars do their bit for the war effort.

Kingsley’s best line this week was equally patriotic: a Liberty Loan film playing with Norma Talmadge’s disappointing The Moth was “of such a fascinating nature it would make you steal money to buy bonds.” This enthralling short comedy was called The Great Liberty Bond Hold-Up and it featured Mary Pickford, William S. Hart, Julian Eltinge, Douglas Fairbanks and Theodore Roberts. It was part of the series All-Star Production of Patriotic Episodes for the Second Liberty Loan. Be careful looking at the photo, you don’t know what crimes it might inspire you to commit!

 

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