Week of March 30th, 1918

Nellie Melba

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported that the great soprano Nellie Melba had gone missing:

For three whole days Mme. Melba was lost. For three whole days frantic committees ran about Pasadena, where the singer was supposed to have alighted last Sunday, searching for her. There were committees on music, committees on entertainment, committees on flowers, and just committees in general, also there were fond mammas of prodigies who were willing to let the great Melba hear their little ones warble, and there were song writers with new ditties who were willing to hear Mme. Melba sing their songs—and none of them could find her.

On Tuesday Melba was found. Of course, she permitted herself to be found. She really hadn’t been making incognito trips into Bohemia for the sake of excitement, she hadn’t been kidnaped and held as ransom, she hadn’t been made away with by German spies. Melba was merely resting in a Pasadena sanatorium, like the nice, gentle lady she is—a modest and retiring sanatorium, where song writers cease from troubling and the press agents are at rest. For she was there incognito.

So celebrity hangers-on were equally annoying then. Kingsley wrote that Melba tried her best to find some symptoms, but she couldn’t find one. After she saw some of the treatments patients were receiving, she decided to leave – even press agents weren’t that bad.

Nellie Melba, 1910

Nellie Melba’s story lacks the mystery and melodrama of the disappearances of Aimee Semple McPherson and Agatha Christie, so nobody has made a movie about it. But it might be a pretty good comedy/biopic. By 1918, Melba had been singing professionally for over thirty years and was one of the most famous opera singers in the world. She performed her first farewell appearance in 1926, but her actual last concert was in 1930.



Kingsley told another story about illness, but it was the reverse of Dame Melba’s situation. The night before he was going leave for a Liberty Loan tour, Charlie Chaplin got sick. A doctor was called, and

once within Charlie’s apartment at the Athletic Club, the physician decided that Charlie had something very important and expensive the matter with him, and commanded the comedian to take to his bed and remain there, giving up his trip East. Ill as he was, he declared he couldn’t give up his trip.

The physician remained adamant. Then he gave orders to Charles Lapworth, one of Charlie’s aides-de-camp, to lock the door and remain outside if need be. Lapworth complied. But everybody forgot, apparently, that Charlie is an athlete, and this morning when they unlocked the door, too late, as they thought, for the comedian to get ready, bless you, he was gone! A few moments later Charlie’s Athletic Club friends were greeted over the telephone with a message to the effect Charlie was at Brother Sid’s and that he had collected a sufficient wardrobe with which to depart on his journey. Charlie had descended the fire escape, called a taxi, beat it out to Sid’s house and had been so well taken care of out there he was able to go on his journey.

Chaplin on Wall St.

Chaplin did get to New York safely, and gave a speech at a bond rally on Wall Street on April 8th, just before Douglas Fairbanks. He spent the rest of April touring the South and he returned to Los Angeles on May 12th. According to the LA Times, he sold $50,000,000 worth of bonds and he covered as many as four or five towns a day, making a speech in each.*

Los Angeles Times, April 1, 1918

Kingsley mentioned that Los Angeles was going dry. Alcohol wasn’t completely banned under the Gandier ordinance, but only wine or beer could be served with a restaurant meal before 9 pm. It still made a big change for the film industry, because on Saturday, March 30th it closed every single bar in town. The LA Times reported on that last night:

In a blaze of reckless conviviality the 208 saloons of Los Angeles closed their doors at midnight last night forever…Early in the afternoon saloon patrons began to gather for the farewell visits at the drink emporiums. As the hours went by, the crowds increased, and every saloon was filled with men, while the bartenders were swamped with business. There was much hilarity, and some minor disturbances, but they were promptly squelched.**

A police officer was stationed at each saloon, but there were “amazingly few arrests” — only 13 (the previous Saturday night there were 26). Liquor vendors planned to appeal the ordinance all the way to the Supreme Court, but they weren’t successful. Country-wide Prohibition came along on January 17, 1920 and lasted until December 5, 1933. So the saloons weren’t closed forever, but it was an awfully long time.


*”C.Chaplin is Home,” Los Angeles Times, May 13, 1918.

**”City Drinks Toast to the Late J. Barleycorn,” Los Angeles Times, March 31, 1918.








Week of March 23rd, 1918

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley visited the West Coast branch of Vitagraph, and left a record of just how busy the studio was:

‘Whoop! Look out! This pony’s a wild one!’

Nell Shipman

It was William Duncan that called out to us, as he came tearing down a Wild West street at the Vitagraph studio, and around the corner came Nell Shipman, clad in khaki, with five fierce Malamute dogs pulling at the leash on which she held them. ‘Yes, they bite,’ she warned us.

But just then up drove Earle Williams in his nifty 1918 model sky-blue enameled Packard, while Grace Darmond, dolled up in the evening clothes of society with the morning sunshine flashing on her diamonds, stepped daintily into the tiny Japanese garden, where came director Tom Mills barking through his megaphone to Pete Props to ‘turn the hose on the Japanese lake!’

All of which is typical of the fact that Vitagraph isn’t just a romping kid any more, but is all grown up, civilized and dressed in long pants. As a matter of fact, Vitagraph was 21 years old on St. Patrick’s Day.

Vitagraph’s West Coast studio

She was there to look at their plans to expand their West Coast studio. One year earlier, they had one company working there; by 1918 they had seven. They were getting ready to build a new glass studio and “luxurious dressing rooms” with heat and running water. They were gradually moving all their productions from the East coast.


Founded in 1897 by Albert E. Smith and J. Stuart Blackman, Vitagraph was unique in its longevity. Kingsley concluded, “other companies may come and go, but Vitagraph goes on forever.”

The studio now

Of course, nothing lasts forever but they had a respectable run. It was sold to Warner Bros. in 1925. The studio property is currently called Prospect Studios and is owned by the Walt Disney Company; many A.B.C. television shows have been made there. Tim Lussier wrote a short history of Vitagraph available on Silents Are Golden.


Kingsley reported that on Saturday, nearly one hundred actors and crew members were working on the now-lost The Guilt of Silence in the High Sierras for Universal, when:

came a more-or-less expected telegram for cameraman Virgil Miller from a physician in Los Angeles, informing Mr. Miller that he was a dad, that Mrs. Miller was the mother of a twelve-pound boy, but that she was not expected to live, and urging Mr. Miller’s return to the city.

Then it was that Universal and Elmer Clifton, director, proved themselves regular guys. Notwithstanding the fact that delay in the taking of the picture meant a money loss as well as loss of time, Clifton, without a moment’s hesitation, provided Miller with a fast dog team and sled, and the trip over the snow to Truckee in a blinding snowstorm was made in record time, while action was halted on the picture. To the delight of members of the company, the happy dad returned yesterday [Tuesday] with the glad tidings that mother and child were doing well.

Clifton telegraphed Henry MacRae, Universal’s West Coast manager, telling him what he had done.

‘Right-o,’ MacRae telegraphed back, ‘ask Miller to have a drink on me.’

Myrtle Bowers Miller, 1935

Myrtle Bowers Miller and Harlan continued to do well, but now it seems astonishing how little was expected of fathers in 1918. She was very pregnant and looking after four year old Joaquin and two year old Wendell, and her husband seems to have thought nothing of heading off for a job in a remote location. Even after this experience, she did it twice more: Loren was born in 1919 and Donald was born in 1921. She divorced Miller after the children were grown and married Edward Fowler; she died in 1970 aged 79.

Lee Miller as Sgt. Brice in Perry Mason

Harlan Leroy Miller became an actor, Lee Miller. His most notable part was a recurring role on Perry Mason, Sgt. Brice. He died in 2002, aged 84.

Since Myrtle Miller took care of their home so well, Virgil Miller had plenty of time to build an interesting and varied career. In 1913 he was teaching physics and electrical engineering at Kansas State University when, on a visit to Los Angeles, he heard that Universal Studios wanted someone to supervise the introduction of electrical lighting for their films. He got the job. He was the head of their electrical department until 1915 when they transferred him to the camera department. When Elmer Clifton needed a substitute for an ill cameraman in 1917, he got the job. Clifton liked his work so much that he became his regular DP. He didn’t work on “important” films, but he shot over 100 features, and he spent eight years as the head of Paramount’s camera department (1929-1936). He finished up his career by shooting 113 episodes of You Bet Your Life, Groucho Marx’s show. He died in 1974, aged 86.

splintersHe wrote an autobiography, Splinters from Hollywood Tripods, in 1964, but he didn’t include the story of racing through a snowstorm in a dog sled to see his feared-dying wife. That had to have been memorable. In fact the only mention of her and his five sons was in a story about some actresses who demanded a married cameraman to shoot a semi-nude scene. Maybe the divorce was so awful, that he didn’t want to mention her.







Week of March 16th, 1918


One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley interviewed D.W. Griffith in his office at the Fine Arts studio. He described what women were doing for the war effort in England, and he had some surprising ideas, for someone known for his girlish Victorian characters:

Maybe it sounds strange to you; but, you see, women are taking the places of men wherever possible, even right behind the firing line…I cannot tell you how much the men appreciate it and respect them for their cheerful unselfishness. They are even serving as officers’ chauffeurs, both in France and in England. I rode behind one, and she beat the mechanic at his own game in an emergency. A fine spirit of camaraderie is growing out of it all—a spirit I feel sure will be a source of permanent understanding between men and women.

Women are becoming economically independent at a great rate. What will the men do when they get back home? Are they going to be content to keep on letting women run things? Well, mark you this, I heard a British Tommy say one day ‘Bless the bloomin’ women, they’re doin’ all right! Let ‘em keep on, I say. What do we care, so the work’s done right.

The brightest outlook for women due to this war is—that they will understand. That’s been the real handicap and the unhappiness of women—they haven’t known life as it really is. The war is teaching it to them. The daughters of this war will understand.

Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps mechanics at work on a car engine at Abbeville, France

Kingsley was too polite to question his idea that only fighting, pain and suffering is ‘real life.’ The war did temporarily open up new job opportunities for women, but Griffith was too optimistic: after the men came home, they were dismissed from their jobs. There wasn’t much change in assumptions about gender roles, either, according to history professor Susan Grayzel, who wrote “New forms of social interaction between the sexes and across class lines became possible, but expectations about family and domestic life as the main concern of women remained unaltered.”


The Fair Barbarian

Kingsley’s favorite film this week was The Fair Barbarian. This “highly diverting and amusing comedy” told:

“how a sleepy town in England called Slowbridge—‘where the only thing that travels fast is gossip’—was jolted into the knowledge it is alive, and speeded into high by an American girl…To be sure this apostle of pep from Bloody Gulch, Montana, does a few things not usually done in good society, such as breaking a memorial window in a spirit of girlish glee still she’s so adorably pretty and elfish you’d forgive he if she drank all the communion wine when it is passed!”

The film’s press book helpfully pointed out that it was based on the work of Frances Hodgson Burnett, just like Mary Pickford’s recent success, The Little Princess. Its star, Vivian Martin, usually played parts that were similar to Mary Pickford’s. When films about spunky girls became less popular, she returned to her earlier job: Broadway actress. She later married Arthur Samuels, the editor of Harpers Bazaar. The film has survived at the Cinematheque Francais.

No need to hurry! (The Bell Boy, 1918)

Buster Keaton once told interviewer George Pratt in that “as a rule, Schenck never knew when I was shooting or what I was shooting. He just went to a preview.” But Kingsley reported that he wasn’t a completely laissez-faire producer:

One of the subjects for which Joe Schenck came West, it develops, is to ascertain whether Fatty Arbuckle may not be speeded up in his work. Mr. Arbuckle, it appears, has been making only eight or ten pictures a year, and Mr. Schenk has discovered that he could easily dispose of Arbuckle comedies one every two of three weeks, that in fact, the public is clamoring for them.

“The makers of comedy are in luck,” said Mr. Schenck yesterday. “So far from the war having damaged the sale of really good comedies, the demand for them has increased. Naturally this is so, when the world is looking for something cheerful to take its mind off the world war, its excitements and depressions.”

Whether Mr. Arbuckle can be persuaded that art can be speeded up, remains to be seen.

She was right to be skeptical: Arbuckle released 6 shorts in 1918 and 7 in 1919. But they’re still being enjoyed by audiences, so they were good value for money!






Week of March 9th, 1918


One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley announced an upcoming film premier:

When D. W. Griffith’s tremendous war masterpiece, Hearts of the World, is presented for the first time tomorrow at Clune’s Auditorium, it will be witnessed by one of the most brilliant audiences which has ever been assembled in this city. A fascinatingly heterogeneous audience it promises to be, also; for mingling with the famous picture stars and directors and well-known society folk will be military officers and soldiers and many civil authorities, including Mayor Woodman. The military people will be there to study the applied technique of war, the stars and picture directors the technique of picture-making.

Those who have been privileged to see the film, the battle scenes of which were actual occurrences photographed at the French battle front, declare it is stupendous from this standpoint, yet Hearts of the World remains intrinsically human—a fabric of multicolored human passion.

Billy Bitzer and D.W. Griffith inspect the negative (Los Angeles Herald)

The article was called “It’s Now Here” since nobody needed to be told what ‘it’ was. Kingsley had been following the film’s progress for over a year; nothing else got so much attention. She wrote about Griffith’s initial plans to go to France, a report that he’d be staying there indefinitely, his meeting with George Bernard Shaw when he was in London and his daily schedule as he finished up the film. Everyone had been anticipating it for a long time. However, she didn’t get to write about the finished film; Antony Anderson got that assignment. He was suitably impressed:

heartsLATThe modern epic—the tremendous story of love and war—was swiftly flashed, last night, before a vast assembly of men and women thrilled and exalted by the gripping power, the overwhelming beauty and poignant pathos of David Wark Griffith’s masterpiece in photoplay, Hearts of the World.

For the story is big, beautiful, tragic and terrible. The wanderings of Ulysses, ever straining his weary eyes toward home and Penelope, hold no keener woes than those of the Boy in the trenches who loved and longed for the Girl in the village of France. But, like Ulysses, the Boy came back to his beloved at last—oh, he came back!—or the tale of his sufferings and hers would have been too heartbreaking, we could not have endured it.

How nice, he’d read the classics. He also reported on the audience reaction:

Clune’s Auditorium was packed as full as it could hold—packed full and overflowing. Everybody was there who could possible beg, borrow or buy a ticket of admission—the great man and the small, the plutocrat and the proletariat, women of fashion, stars of the screen—everybody. For all seemed to know, through some subtle prescience, that Hearts of the World is a play for everybody, a great story of universal appeal.

But on the whole it was not a sad nor somber assemblage. Having determined to grace this first night with their presence, women of wealth and fashion resolved also to make it a brilliant, happy event, and to show by their cheerful attitude of dress and countenance that they fully appreciated Mr. Griffith’s patriotic effort in placing this remarkable play before the American people, now waiting to be instructed in the realities of the war under which the world staggers…The enthusiasm throughout was intense, and the play swayed the vast audience from smiles to tears, and back again.

Audiences at the New York premier on April 4th were just as enthusiastic, according to Arthur Lenning in Film History.* He wrote that at the end, “pandemonium broke out. Spectators stood and cheered and shouted for Griffith. Finally, he appeared on the stage, and moved by the wonderful reception, he said he had no speech to make.” He tried to ask for prayers and support for the men still fighting, but his voice broke and he couldn’t finish.


Hearts made a decent profit, despite the influenza epidemic and the armistice (people don’t want to see war movies right after a war). Lennig found a March 1919 financial report in Griffith’s files that reported the film’s cost, plus prints and exploitation expenses, was $555,715 and the net receipts were $952,788 for a total profit of $397,073. So it was not as successful as Birth of a Nation (he was still earning money from that in 1917) but much better than Intolerance.

It’s still an important film. You can find modern reviews at Silentology and at Nitrate Diva .


Grace Kingsley took two days in a row off this week! This was the first time she’d done that in the almost two years I’ve been using her work as the basis for this blog. There wasn’t much else going on in her columns this week: she interviewed the principle singers of the Boston English Opera Company for the Sunday paper (they performed English-language translations to try to make opera attendance painless), reviewed Julian Eltinge’s charming and delightful new film The Widow’s Might (she especially liked his excuse for dressing as a woman—he’s disguised and on the lam after trying to steal some evidence) and mentioned that Joseph Schenck was in town to help Roscoe Arbuckle select a new site for his studio. I hope she enjoyed her time off!



*Arthur Lennig, “Hearts of the World,” Film History, v. 23 issue 4 (2011), p.428-458.


Week of March 2nd, 1918

A Dog’s Life (Edna Purviance, Chaplin, Mut, Granville Redmond)

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley visited the Chaplin Studio and saw what was going on behind the scenes of A Dog’s Life. They had been filming for five weeks and had shot 60,000 feet of film. Chaplin expected to be finished with shooting, cutting and titling within four weeks. She assured readers that he wasn’t malingering, it’s just he was a genius and “genius doesn’t work with the meter on” and he had “genius’ infinite capacity for taking infinite pains.”

The day she visited they were shooting a dance hall scene. Chaplin started putting on his make-up at 9 a.m., greeted and took pictures with some visiting soldiers and Red Cross volunteers, then he called the company over to the set. She described how he worked:

He sat down beside the two cameras that are always ranged on the action, and he shut his eyes and put his fingers in his ears. “That’s the way he visualizes an idea,” explained Brother Syd. “He sees it on the screen that way.”

From The Silent Worker, v. 30 no. 9 p.154.

Then they had a rehearsal, with Chaplin playing all the parts in turn. Kingsley was particularly impressed with the way he communicated with Granville Redmond,* who was deaf and mute: “So keen and clever a pantomimist is Charlie that he is able to both make himself understood and to understand Mr. Redmond.”

They had lunch, then after “it was discovered there was one of those awful—what Charlie calls ‘brick walls’–a dead stop, until a minor snarl in the story and its action was straightened out.” He kidded around and made everybody laugh while he waited for an idea to pop. Kingsley observed, “I think Charlie gets most of his inspirations when he is kidding.” Presently one came, and they were about to get back to filming when the Earl of Dunmore dropped in. However, he wanted to see Chaplin at work,

so Charlie hopped onto the stage, and, having at last got possession of the longed-for idea, and having escaped all visitors, he set briskly to work. Half an hour, an hour, two hours passed, with no let-up to the filming of scenes.

“He’ll be working like this until he finishes all the scenes he has in mind until 6, 7 or even 8 o’clock. And when the cutting begins, he will work all night and all day, too…Why, he’s even cut out going to Vernon to dance,” said brother Syd as if that were the last word on asceticism. “The only relaxation he allows himself is an occasional evening with a friend or an hour with his violin. His violin—that seems to rest him the most.”

Kingsley wasn’t allowed to reveal the film’s plot, but she “willingly stakes her reputation on the prophecy it will be far and away the best bet Chaplin has ever put on the market.”


When the film came out in Los Angeles on April 22nd, she didn’t get to review it, but her co-worker Antony Anderson wrote “if you want to laugh, and laugh often, laugh till you roar fit to burst, go and see A Dog’s Life at Tally’s Broadway this week. It’s a bear! The immortal Charlie has done nothing better in pictures.” So Kingsley’s reputation was safe.

The Winding Trail

Her favorite film this week was The Winding Trail, a:

good drama with comedy relief or good comedy with dramatic relief. The big crowds all day yesterday testified they liked the fare. Not for nothing did John Collins track the Wild West drama to its native lair in Hollywood. In The Winding Trail he gives you a smashing wild western, from which your eyes will not turn clockward until the last bit of film has been unfurled…While a couple of the situations are shopworn, that’s entirely compensated for by the scene in which the wreak of the former dance hall girl played by Mabel Van Buren is given a pistol by her bandit lover and told to chose which she shall kill: himself or her former lover.

John H. Collins

It’s a lost film, so I’ll spoil it: she shoots her ex and stays with the bandit. You don’t get to see that in movies very often! Sadly, John Collins who directed such an unusual story died in the influenza epidemic later in 1918, on October 23rd.




Another downtown theater was bringing in customers with a much more notorious film:

Judging from the crowd which gathered at Clune’s Auditorium last night [March 4th], everybody is anxious to see what sort of picture actress Evelyn Nesbit is. She appeared there in Redemption, which the producers of the film and Miss Nesbit herself have carefully denied is any attempt at a revelation of her own life but which the denial has very much the same effect as if one said “This is the early circumstance of my life, these are many of the situations through which I passed, this is my son, this is the sort of work I have tried, this was the villain in my life—still don’t think for a minute I’m trying to remind you of my life history.”

Speaking from an artistic standpoint, Miss Nesbit undoubtedly has personality and tremendous acting ability. That she is self-conscious to a degree in this film is excusable on the ground of this being her first picture….Together with the fact that the heroine is who she is, Redemption may be classed as an attraction sure to draw.

Evelyn Nesbit was famous for her part in what was called the crime of the century: her husband Harry Thaw murdered Stanford White. Redemption is lost, but her story is still an attraction sure to draw: there are more books, articles and web sites about her than you can shake a stick at. She told her side in two memoirs, and served as an advisor to the fictionalized film The Girl on the Red Velvet Swing (1955).



*Granville Redmond was famous for his landscape painting, but he had coached Chaplin in silent acting and often had a part in his films, most memorably as the sculptor in City Lights.

Flowers Under Oaks by Granville Redmond