Week of December 29th, 1917

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One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley announced a retirement, quoting a statement from William S. Hart:

On August 29, 1917, Fritz made his last appearance before the camera in the closing scene of The Narrow Trail, my first Thomas H. Ince production for Artcraft. Hereafter he will live in retirement with all the comforts of horse life.

I have ridden Fritz constantly for more than two years, and he has served me so faithfully, and has been so steadfast and courageous whenever called to perform a hazardous feat, that I feel all who have been so kind to us in our work upon the screen will know and understand my motives. I love the old fellow dearly, and cannot, after all his loyalty, subject him further to a chance of injury.

I wish to tell all who like the little Pinto that he will go right with me wherever I may go—until the boss ranger comes along and summons one or both of us across the big divide.

There had been an accident on the set. Fritz and Hart were crossing a gorge on a log bridge, and it lurched, sending the two seventeen feet down to the bottom. Neither was badly injured, but Hart said he didn’t want Fritz to take ay more chances.

 

 

The Narrow Trail was playing that week and Kingsley attended their personal appearance at the Kinema Theater. She reported that

a double line, a block long last night waited to greet Mr. Hart and the equine actor, Fritz, outside the portals, and once inside they fairly raised the roof, not only three-cheering these two, who appeared on the stage in person, but the thrilling episodes of the picture itself.

She admired Fritz’s performance, saying “no horse ever performed as does Hart’s pinto pony,” particularly in “the most breathless horse race you ever beheld on the screen, with Hart making a flying leap from the grand stand to his horse’s back, grabbing the girl and making a getaway all in one mad rush.” The Narrow Trail has survived, and it’s available on DVD.

 

 

Fritz only stayed retired for Hart’s next fifteen films. Since they made so many then, that was about two years. Fritz hadn’t stopped working to sleep and eat grass, it was part of Hart’s contract negotiation with Thomas Ince: he wanted a higher salary, according to Hollywood Hoofbeats by Mitchum and Paiva. Once that was settled, Fritz returned in Sand (1919).

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Naturally, Hart didn’t mention money when in 1922 he ghostwrote Fritz’ side of the story in an autobiography, Told Under a White Oak. After the fall down the gorge:

I was a mess. My left side (my falling side) was all cut up with sharp rocks. Gee! I was cut all over; and Bill said “Pardner, whether you like it or not, you’re going to eat grass for the rest of your days. No more pictures or work for you.” That’s the real inside dope of how I come to lay idle for two years. That’s the real how of why the Boss had to ride them other dogies for fifteen pictures. But the Great American Public, and some of the Great European ones, too, had something to say about that, and just wouldn’t have it. They kept writing to me and Bill all the time a-saying Bill was jealous of me and that’s why he put me out of the game. Oh! They said all kinds of things just to show they meant it. Of course, I don’t know if Bill was really jealous of me or not, but he wouldn’t stand the gaff and brought me back.

If you’d like to read more of Fritz’ book, its available on Google Books. I need to warn you, however: it includes some thoroughly racist language – commonplace then, but shocking now.

The early retirement was a ploy, but the love was real. Hart did take good care of him his whole life. After they both left the screen, Fritz in 1924 and Hart in 1925, they lived at Hart’s ranch in Newhall, California, which is now a museum. Fritz died there in 1938, age 31.

 

 

 

As much as she enjoyed the Hart film, Kingsley’s favorite picture this week was a different kind of action movie:

The most vivid, crackling, smashing story of the present world war, which has so far reached the screen, is on view at the Sennett this week, and is entitled The Zepplin’s Last Raid. Here are vividly crystalized for any who wishes to see the mad clash of battle, the fear-frenzied madness of helpless women and children, as well as many other things which cannot fail to live with the spectator.

In addition to the spectacle, the most interesting part was “the showing of what is said to be an exact reproduction of the working and official paraphernalia of a Zep.” The film told the story of a conscious-stricken commander who choses to stop bombing civilians and blow up his own Zeppelin. It’s a lost film.

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Frank E. Woods

Kingsley ran an interview with Frank Woods, the supervising director of Lasky-Famous Players-Artcraft Studio, and he said he preferred to adapt existing stories rather than produce original photoplays. Moreover, contributors to major magazines like Harpers, the Saturday Evening Post and Scribners were besieging him, and

the motion picture scenario has been admitted into the best society, it is not now referred to in a sneering whisper by the intellectually elite, it is no longer taboo, but a recognized branch of the dignified profession of writing. And this, by the very men and women who, a couple of years ago, when they deigned to notice the existence of such a thing as a scenario, did it with as much mud-flinging as their aristocratic sensibilities would permit.

Now it doesn’t seem surprising that writers wanted work. Nevertheless, it was another step in making films respectable, and it happened much earlier than I’d thought it did.

 

 

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Many of the downtown picture theaters planned special New Years Eve screenings starting at 11 p.m., so theater-goers would be let out just in time “to join the glad throngs on the street, and take part in the noise with which it is traditionally customary to usher in the new year.” They deserved to have some fun: the next year was a rough one. Here’s hoping that 2018 won’t be as bad, and I hope you have fun while you wait for midnight, too!

The photo is from the San Diego History Center.

Week of December 22nd, 1917

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One hundred years ago this week Grace Kingsley told her readers exactly what happened when a car, driven on railroad tracks by Herbert Rawlinson, got hit by a locomotive (just in case anybody was wondering):

The rear wheels of the auto were picked up by the cow catcher of the big Mogul, and the car bumped along down the ties for a hundred yards on its front wheels, Rawlinson deftly holding it on the track and preventing it from turning sideways to the locomotive. The body of the auto was caved in and the windshield shattered by the shock, but otherwise the car was uninjured.

No one knew what would follow the collision…The element of uncertainty made the scene extremely hazardous to attempt.

No kidding! They did have safety precautions: both Rawlinson and co-star Millard Wilson “were prepared to leap from the car if serious consequences threatened.”

Of course this was all in service to a film, originally titled The Love Claim, and re-named Smashing Through (for once, the new title is a big improvement). Film reviewer Peter Milne called it “a miniature serial, in that it contains thrill after thrill of a most sensational variety.”*

This wasn’t the only incident on the shoot; the next day Kingsley mentioned that when they were filming at the bottom of a mineshaft, a flare exploded and nearly asphyxiated the whole crew. It never ceases to amaze me, the risks early filmmakers took. Even worse, it’s a lost film.

 

 

Miraculously, Herbert Rawlinson didn’t die from taking an absurd risk for a film. He lived until 1953 when he died of lung cancer after a long acting career, first as a leading man in silents, then character parts in sound films, and even some work in television.

 

 

Film people didn’t just take chances with trains then, they also risked their lives with animals. For the Sennett short The Kitchen Lady, Glen Cavender was “required to flirt with a bear” while director William S. Campbell observed:

The bear thought Glen was intended for his dinner and started rapidly toward him. There is still a question as to whether Campbell or Cavender won the 100-yard dash that followed. Louise Fazenda was the heroine of the occasion as well as of the picture. She literally tempted Bruin from his contemplated meal and saved the actor and director.

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No bite marks on him!

Brave Miss Fazenda! Eddie Cline was credited as the director of the film, but maybe Campbell was helping out – he was another Sennett director, and he was known for his skills with directing animals and children.

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The Little Princess

Kingsley didn’t completely ignore the holiday season (though she did have to turn in an article on Christmas Day). Her favorite film this week was Mary Pickford’s The Little Princess, and she wrote:

if you want to realize it’s the glad Christmas time, despite the war and the high cost of living, just pass into the Kinema Theater, and let the silver sheet’s door open to disclose the land of enchantment.

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Whistling Dick’s Christmas Stocking

The film was recently reviewed on Century Film Project.

The bill also included a short, Whistling Dick’s Christmas Stocking, based on an O. Henry story that wasn’t “The Gift of the Magi.” It told the story of a homeless man who is rewarded with a Christmas dinner for warning a family about an imminent robbery, but he refuses their offer of a job, preferring to be homeless. I can see why it didn’t become the evergreen that “Magi” did.

I hope you can find a good movie to take you to a land of enchantment this holiday season!

 

 

 

*Peter Milne, “Smashing Through,” Motion Picture News, June 22, 1918, p.3744.

Week of December 15th, 1917

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One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley attended the star-studded opening of a new movie palace in downtown Los Angeles, the Kinema Theater:

Everybody—and his sisters and his cousins and his aunts, even his best girl and his prospective mother-in-law—was present at the opening of the Kinema Theater last Saturday night. The line of motors, the tall hats and low gowns, and the jewels, with the beautiful and brilliantly-lighted new picture house as a background, made the occasion fairly resemble a cursory view at a Metropolitan grand opera opening…The big theater holds 2500 people, and yet its seats are so well arranged, and so artfully has the house been shaped and its vistas camouflaged, that the effect of coziness is one of the most striking characteristics of the theater. The colors of the great tapestry effects which adorn the walls are in pastel shades, so while there is a warmth too often lacking in picture houses, there is no glare nor do the decorations detract from the picture shown on the screen, and the lighting effects are beautiful but unobstructive.

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The opening night film was The Woman God Forgot, and its director, Cecil B. De Mille, gave a short speech, “principally of appreciation of the beautiful theater and of welcome to the audience.” His audience included ”stars whose names and faces are known the world around:” Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin, Lillian and Dorothy Gish, Roscoe Arbuckle, and “a hundred others.”

Moving Picture World’s report gave more details about the theater.* Build for the Kehrlein Brothers exhibition company, it possessed “a majestic aspect in its pure Italian Renaissance style“ with a grand staircase up to the mezzanine floor. The pastel shades on the walls were taupe and rose, and the carpet and curtains were royal purple.

Unfortunately, the original owners couldn’t make a profit and it was sold to the Talley theater company in 1919. In 1923 it was redecorated and renamed the Criterion Theater; Chaplin’s A Woman of Paris was the feature at the grand re-opening. In 1927 Warner Bros. leased it and held The Jazz Singer premier there. Fox bought it in 1928 and ran their films there until it was torn down in 1941 and replaced by an office building.

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This week, Clune’s Auditorium, a 3000 seat downtown theater, decided to compete with the brand-new theater by running a revival of a foreign film, and Les Miserables was Kingsley’s favorite of the week.

Though the film version was made four years ago (ancient history in the film game) yet it stands up with the greatest of recent film dramas. It is doubtful if this version of Les Miserables ever will be equaled.

One reason for the supreme effectiveness and convincingness of this picture is that it was made with the same spirit of devotion and understanding of underlying national emotion and motive that shines like a soul through Griffith’s Birth of a Nation. The physical features of Les Miserables, too, give credence to its effect of authenticity: it was made amid the very surroundings in which Jean Valjean lived. There is the ancient and horrible prison from which Valjean escaped; there are the veritable sewers of Paris through which he carried Marius; there are the wondrous old gardens, the time-stained walls, the quaint old streets… In short, Les Miserables is a master production, a classic among films.

It’s remarkable that a film made in 1912 (released in the U.S. in 1913) still looked good to someone in 1917. However, director Albert Capellani’s work has continued to impress recent audiences at the Cinema Ritrovato and Giornate del Cinema Muto film festivals, and a new biography about him was published in 2015. In its forward, Kevin Brownlow called him “one of the shining lights of early cinema.”

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Los Angeles Times, January 12, 1918

Douglas Fairbanks was already busy publicizing his upcoming Red Cross benefit rodeo, to be held on January 12th at Washington Park. So many Westerns were being made then that they had no shortage of cowboys, livestock and wild west paraphernalia. Over thirty “real, honest-to-goodness wild west cowpunching headliners” were lined up to participate. He had already picked out his bucking bronco to ride, and the park was going to be turned into “a typical days-of-’49 corral.” He hoped to earn ten thousand dollars for the organization.

He managed to exceed his own goal. The Times reported on January 13th that the rodeo made over $15,000 from the 20,000 spectators. He had quite a day:

Our own ‘Doug’ was here there and everywhere at once. He straddled charging mounts, shot with the intrepid accuracy of the storied ‘two-gun’ man, announced the stunts from the back of his scampering pony Thor, posed for the legion cameramen, rescued the brass band from a mad steer and otherwise made himself busy and popular.

He had one thing to say to the reporter: “Gee, I’m happy!” I said it before, but Douglas Fairbanks was really good at being a star.

 

 

*G.P. Harleman, “News of Los Angeles,” Moving Picture World, November 17, 1917, p.1022.

 

Week of December 8th, 1917

 

 

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley interviewed George Melford, who had just returned from directing the first feature film shot in Hawaii, Hidden Pearls.* Some of the stories he told her wouldn’t encourage others to try it:

On the island of Maui, where we took many scenes, we lived in native huts, which have only the ground for a floor. Here naturally we were pestered with the uncannily big centipedes and spiders, whose bite is not dangerous, and by swarms and swarms of mosquitos which nearly ate us up.

Film people were a hardy bunch. For one “sensational” scene, actress Margaret Loomis was set adrift in a canoe among a swarm of sharks, which she did “without a tremor.” Nevertheless, one of his stories strained credibility:

Members of the company took big chances when they descended with their native guides a goodly distance into the crater of the volcano of Mauna Loa, where on a ledge only twelve feet above the boiling lava a number of scenes were taken. “And hardly had we left the place,” said Melford, “when that ledge tumbled into the boiling mass below.”

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Mauna Loa

Lava’s temperature is between 1,292 to 2,192 degrees Fahrenheit. While film crews often have little regard for their own safety, they and their equipment couldn’t have survived being that close. Furthermore, Mauna Loa is one of the world’s largest volcanoes and it was difficult to get there. People have very odd ideas about volcanoes, but Kingsley might have known better: her widowed sister with whom she was living had been married to a Hawaiian, and had lived there for several years.

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Of course, there were compensations. They were able to shoot beautiful scenes that weren’t “beaten by anything ever shown on the screen.” Local people were hired as extras, and Melford said “never have I found such marvelous natural actors.” The company was royally entertained at several festivals, and they found the feasts and hula “lively.” It was an adventure.

The Hidden Pearls survives at the CNC French Film Archives. Now it’s mostly interesting as a document of what Hawaii looked like then.

Melford went on to have a solid career. He directed many films over the next twenty years, including The Sheik (1921) and the Spanish-language version of Dracula (1931). When he retired from directing, he became a character actor, and was part of Preston Sturges’ stock company.

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Fanatics

Kingsley’s favorite film this week also featured a red-hot spectacle

A film story of unusual power and depth (despite its dime-novel title) is The Lure of Wanton Eyes…The plot has a number of threads, but all deftly woven into a most clear, colorful and entertaining plot pattern…A fanatical anarchist is a big figure of the story, and furnishes a highly dramatic moment when in a frenzy of one of his speeches to the millworkers, hurls himself to a spectacular death in the red-molten iron.

The studio changed this lost film’s name to Fanatics (somebody at Triangle must have agreed with her about the title). The story involved an unfaithful husband, murder and revenge.

 

 

It seems like December was a time when weaker films were released. Kingsley’s best line this week summed up one of them: “All the five reels of trouble between husband and wife in Alimony at Tally’s Broadway could have been explained away in about three words.” Unfortunately, the big misunderstanding trope is still alive and well. Second place for best line went to her description of Her Hour: “a story characterized by many sorrows and much wardrobe.” Back in the good old days, people knew the difference between a count noun and a mass noun!

 

She also reported on a new hit song:

Twenty thousand dollars seems a lot of money for one song, but it was the amount received by George M. Cohan for “Over There.” This lively composition is played as an accompaniment to the picture Over There at Tally’s this week.

This was just the beginning of earnings from that song for Mr. Cohan, which has stayed popular for much longer than the film (another recruitment tool about a young man learning the error of his pacifist ways). “Over There” was so significant that when it turned 100 years old, NPR did a story.

 

 

 

*Hawaii’s Film Office mentions some shorts that were filmed there earlier. You can find their list here.

Here’s another photo of Mauna Loa (see the comments):

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The United States Geological Service has a FAQ page, if you’d like more fun facts.

Week of December 1st, 1917

 

One hundred years ago this week, the war continued; on the seventh, the United States declared war on Austria-Hungary. Grace Kingsley gave lots of advanced publicity for the biggest war-related event in entertainment:

Today’s the day–Red Cross Day on the Rialto, when benefit performances will be given at all the theaters, with proceeds to go to the Red Cross. All artists, electricians, box-office employees, ushers and stage hands have given their services to the big cause, and according to present signs, a big sum will be realized.

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Trixie Friganza

While everybody did his or her bit, the hardest working supporter was comedian Trixie Friganza. She sold tickets on the street and by telling Kingsley about her adventures, she provided even more publicity for the event. She wasn’t shy about pressuring people to buy. She recounted one particularly disagreeable back and forth:

“Will you buy a ticket?”

“Red Cross?” he inquired.

“Yes,” she said.

“Not a cent’s worth.”

“You’d better go back to Germany,” she told him.

“Wish I could!” he exclaimed.

Friganza assumed he was a German spy, but he slipped away before the authorities could deal with him. She had more success with another customer. Kingsley wrote:

There was an old grouch “with the corners of his mouth dropping down so far he could hitch his socks to ‘em,” as the joyous Trixie put it. “Say, he was one of those people who wouldn’t pay four bits to see the Lord’s Supper with the original cast—I’ll be he wouldn’t pay a nickel for the Resurrection—I smiled and smiled til it hurt, but he wouldn’t come through. But he had a youngster along with him—a boy—and the kid called out right before the crowd “oh, that’s the funny woman that fell off the roof in Canary Cottage. Oh Grandpa, I wanna go see her fall off the roof.” So the old gentleman who plays so close to the vest loosened up and bought like a good fellow.”

Friganza and her bass.

On they day itself, she did double-duty: she headed the bill at the Orpheum’s morning show, then performed at the Mason Operahouse during the evening show. Kingsley had described her act earlier in the week: “Bringing with her her artistic clumsiness and her carefully-arranged wink, Miss Frigzana presents us with an elaboration of her last season’s act, getting started off better than she did last time, as she introduces some very clever new songs, besides comedying with a big bass viol.”

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New York Times, December 6, 1917

Overall, Red Cross Theater Benefit Day was a success. Nationwide, they collected a total of $97,198.20.* The three Los Angeles theaters brought in about $2,900. However, it was a failure in New York City, despite having many more theaters, they raised only about $2,400.** Theater managers there blamed it on poor publicity. I think it was because they didn’t have Trixie Friganza. Kingsley summed up her effect:

Can you imagine our desolation if Trixie were to go off and be a Red Cross or a Blue Star nurse or anything? Why such a catastrophe would be just like taking the vote away from the American people!

 

Kingsley recommended more comedy to help cope with all of the sad news. She advised:

Whatever something-less days you may have this week, be sure you don’t make this your Sennett-less week! Viewing that gloom-chasing burlesque, An International Sneak, the newest Sennett comedy, which is unwinding joyously at the Sennett Theater, one wishes that all solemn clap-trap and buncombe which is place on the screen as “serious drama” were made over into comedies of the quality of this week’s Sennett, which burlesques with boisterous gaiety the spy photoplays which are so prolific now-a-days.

In particular she praised Chester Conklin, calling him “one of the really original and really droll screen actors of the day, and An International Sneak has a hundred funny bits of “business,” with Conklin putting them over in great style.” He had been working with Sennett since 1913 and went on to have a long career, with parts in such diverse films as Greed (1925), Modern Times (1936) and several Three Stooges shorts. He was also part of Preston Sturges’ stock company in the 1940’s.

 

*”Red Cross Appreciative,” Variety, January 17, 1918, p. 8.

** “Red Cross Matinees Fail to Fill Houses,” New York Times, December 8, 1917, p.13.