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 Tally 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.

 

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