Week of May 25th, 1918

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley was already reporting on Charlie Chaplin’s next film, which he started shooting on May 28th:

Yesterday he completed the casting of his picture. While the fact may or may not be considered a clue, still it is known that ten children, ranging from 3 years old to 12, have been engaged to appear in the picture with Chaplin; all day yesterday the Chaplin studio was besieged by youngsters who had heard about the chance that ten happy kids were to have to work with their idol. Kids to the right of Charlie, kids to the left, they swarmed up the steps, and two of three of the bravest even tumbled over the fence.

Chaplin’s publicist certainly did a good job of keeping him in the paper between films. As usual, Chaplin was cagey about the new film’s plot:

’So the new picture may turn out to be an educational feature,’ Mr. Chaplin smiled quizzically, ‘or it may be a war feature. Who knows?’

It was indeed a war film, Shoulder Arms. Chaplin played a private who dreams of doing heroic deeds. Unfortunately for the eager children, they didn’t appear in the final version. Chaplin said in his autobiography that originally planned to have three sections: home life, the war and a post-war banquet, but in the end he cut all but the war. He did shoot some of the first part, which included three of the boys. The Chaplin Office has footage on their web site.

Boardman and Lee were almost in a Chaplin movie

Even without the deleted scenes, when it was released in October it was around 40 minutes long, or double the usual length a comedy short. It seems like it was time for him to start making feature length films.


Kingsley’s favorite film this week pleased her simply because it was different. “William Farnum appears at Miller’s this week in a story as un-hackneyed as any the screen has seen in some time. It is entitled True Blue and presents half a dozen fresh angles.” Farnum played Bob, “the disowned cowboy son of an English lord.” He runs in to his half-brother racking up gambling debts, so he drags him to his ranch to work them off. Hard work does reform him, and their father the lord is impressed enough to make Bob his heir. He refuses, preferring to stay on his ranch. Kingsley concluded that it was “a very refreshing story,” and she was right–it isn’t a plot that turns up often. It’s a lost film.

Triangle’s glory days

The beginning of the last phase of Triangle Pictures was in Kingsley’s columns this week. On Monday Kingsley mentioned that lay-offs were coming, and the next day the company announced “radical changes” including firing their 30-member stock company and hiring actors for only one film at a time. They also replaced studio manager and the head of the publicity department.

Triangle Motion Picture Corporation had quickly gone from being a major studio with directors like Griffith, Sennett and Ince and stars like Hart, Fairbanks and Arbuckle to being on the brink of bankruptcy after they left for better contracts. They completely stopped producing films in 1919 and sold the studio facilities to Goldwyn. It’s stunning how quickly fortunes can change in Hollywood.





Week of May 18th, 1918


One hundred years ago this week, the war filled the rest of the paper and Grace Kingsley promised a lot for an upcoming film on the same topic, My Four Years in Germany:

It hasn’t any plot, it hasn’t any firecracker battle scenes, it’s a war play without any suffering heroine, without any noble hero, whose white soul and white flannels alike come through battles unscathed, without any villain carrying a bomb in one hand and a lighted cigarette in the other.

Yet it’s a thrilling war play all the same – with a significance so penetrating, action so vital, truthful events so skillfully welded that it holds you breathless through the unfolding of every inch of its ten reels!

Based on the book with the same name , the film featured actors recreating former American ambassador to Germany James W. Gerard’s experiences dealing with the Kaiser and the German government before and during the war. Unashamedly propaganda, it included scenes of implied rape and murder. Gerard said, “German treachery must be exposed and I know of no better way to get the attention of the multitude than by means of the films.”


It was a big hit. One of the producers told Moving Picture World that it was still going strong in early 1919 and credited it with helping exhibitors survive the flu shutdown in 1918.

Kingsley wasn’t the only on who promised at lot for the film. She wrote, “after seeing the film, President Wilson said, “Let the American people see this picture and Kaiserism will be wiped from the face of the earth. This picture will live as long as the American Republic.” The film does survive in several American archives, including the Library of Congress. It’s also available on YouTube. I don’t have the stamina to watch it, but luckily, Herr Graf Ferdinand Von Galitzien did, and his review is a treat (like all of his reviews).


Now it’s remembered for a different reason: it was the first extremely profitable film produced by Harry, Sam, Albert and Jack Warner, and it inspired them to concentrate on film production instead of distribution. The company is still going today, making all sorts of films. Naturally they made a sequel to their first success entitled Beware, but that wasn’t nearly as successful.


James W. Gerard had a long and interesting life. Like Franklin Roosevelt, he was born into extraordinary privilege, yet he felt a responsibility to help others as a lawyer, philanthropist and Democratic Party supporter. After he returned from Germany, he spoke at over 500 Liberty Bond rallies and wrote a second book about his war experiences, Face to Face with Kaiserism. He helped Herbert Hoover organize post-war relief for Belgium and France. He shared his expertise in German politics and went on to write a review of Mein Kampf that appeared on front page of the New York Times Book Review in which he condemned Hitler’s anti-Semitism. He strongly supported America’s entry into the Second World War. When he died on September 6, 1951, his obituary was on front page of the New York Times; it said he ranked with Wilson as a national hero during the First World War.

Coming soon

In other war news, Kingsly wrote a sort of hopeful story. Even though the war was still raging, film companies were thinking ahead:

A number of motion picture makers will go to Europe immediately following the war, according to present plans. Discussion has long been under way, and now it is understood that several of the largest producing firms, including at least three of Los Angeles, plan to send directors abroad…It is understood that French capital has been offered as an inducement to American picture-makers who will produce over there. As is well known, marvelously beautiful and historically interesting ‘locations’ of an entirely new sort may be obtained as backgrounds for picture stories; it is understood that the cost of production abroad is far less than in this country, being indeed but one-fourth.

At least the capitalists had faith that it would end one day.

Theda and Loro Bara

Theda Bara’s sister Loro told a story from their recent trip to Arrowhead Springs that wasn’t the usual way the emotive actress appeared in the media:

Sister and I went out for a walk and we climbed and climbed. Finally, just as we rounded a curve in the road, we beheld beneath the shade of the trees a brown. wooly creature rambling towards us. I’m sure we thought ‘Bear!’ in the same breath! I turned to run away; nearer and nearer came the softly padding footsteps. I looked around and beheld—a brown spaniel!

Then I looked for sister. And if there wasn’t Miss Theda Bara, Fox star, trying to climb a tree!

Vampires—they don’t want to get eaten by bears, just like us!

Don’t take any chances with this wild animal!



“Another Gerard Picture is Coming,” Motion Picture World, February 8, 1919, p.735-6.

Week of May 11th, 1918

Tea party, 1918 — maybe children had other things to do?

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on decreased film attendance among school children in Los Angeles. However, theater owners had a unique excuse for being concerned about a downturn in ticket sales:

the alarming results in the steady decrease of war tax checks that are sent to the government by the theater owners every month…statistics show that this source of government income decreased fully 25 percent last month. This month’s drop will be even greater, and if the alarming decrease keeps up there is no doubt in the minds of the committee that several of the houses will have to close.

The tax on entertainment did contribute millions to fund the war , but if that was their real concern, they could have bought Liberty Bonds. Exhibitors must have thought that patriotism looked better in the newspaper than concern for profits.

Teachers weren’t the only ones telling kids what to do with their money

They had an interesting theory on why kids weren’t going to the movies:

The trouble arises, according to reports received by the film men, from teachers in the public schools advising school children to save their money for other purposes and not to visit picture theaters.

They didn’t blame building too many theaters or bad movies or other entertainment options. Teachers have been blamed for many things for a very long time.

To deal with the problem, film exhibitors planned to form a committee and hold a meeting on May 18th. Nearly 100 producers and exhibitors attended, according to Moving Picture World. They didn’t frame it in terms of loss of tax revenue among themselves: they were worried about theaters staying in business. One exhibitor (F.A. MacDonald) stated that 32 theaters had already closed, and he blamed German propaganda – the enemy didn’t want people to see the Red Cross and Liberty Loan slides, speakers and trailers that were being shown. Producer Thomas Ince suggested, “tell people it is patriotic to patronize picture shows.” J.A. Quinn, owner of the Rialto Theater, wanted to start a publicity campaign (after all, President Wilson said that “the moving picture is helping to win the war”), and they resolved to do exactly that.

Audiences came back

There weren’t any follow-up articles on the publicity campaign, but after things got much worse when the flu epidemic temporarily closed all the theaters later in 1918, film attendance eventually did come back. Weekly paid admissions rose from 40 million in 1922 to 65 million in 1928.

scarlet drop

Kingsley had a funny little criticism of The Scarlet Drop:

Harry Carey is breaking more furniture with the villain at the Supurba this week, than we have witnessed in many a day.

Nevertheless, she enjoyed the addition to the pile of Wild West pictures, because “Harry Carey, being a sincere cowboy, wins us the minute he appears and Molly Malone is just too cute for anything in those ’49 styles.” Sometimes that’s enough from a night at the movies. Now the film is remembered (30 minutes of it survive) because of its director: John Ford.





Koszarski, Richard. An Evening’s Entertainment. Berkeley: University of /California Press, 1990.

“Los Angeles Film Men Alarmed,” Moving Picture World, June 8, 1918, p.1403.

“School Teachers’ Advice Closing Coast Theaters,” Variety, May 24, 1918, p.1


Children’s tea party photo from the Upper Arlington Historical Society.

Week of May 4th, 1918

Billie Rhodes and ‘Smiling Bill’ Parsons in Dad’s Knockout (1918)

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley enjoyed a new two-reeler from “Smiling Billy” Parsons:

Of course, nature endowed Mr. Parsons with his make-up, but that elusive something called “personality” is his own. Billy’s Baby, which, I believe, is his initial comedy production, is funny enough to make into a stage farce, and has to do with an engaged young man who has gambled away the engagement ring he was to give his fiancée, and who steals a baby to put into a baby show in order to win a prize and buy another ring. Billy is a newspaper reporter who starts out owing $500—which in itself is, of course, funny enough to get a laugh.

Some comedy shorts had a real mean streak in the good old days – now baby theft doesn’t seem funny. Nevertheless, William Parsons was not a typical aspiring comic. Born in in 1877 or 78 (sources differ), he studied medicine then he became a successful life insurance agent and executive. By 1910, he and his wife Bertha had moved to Los Angeles where he was a manger for the Prudential Company. Then in his late 30’s he got bitten by the movie bug. He became an actor for the Lubin Company and appeared in short dramas like A Girl of the Cafes (1914) and Love’s Savage Hate (1915).


In the spring of 1915, he became even more ambitious and with five partners and $100,000 he co-founded the National Film Corporation. They signed contracts with up-and-coming stars Norma and Constance Talmadge. Unfortunately, the first films they made weren’t successful, including the short comedy Parsons made with Constance, You Can’t Beat It. Moving Picture World quite liked it:


His wife divorced him in 1917, but he kept acting and producing films. Film historian James Neibaur wrote “Parsons had a strong reputation for being a rather dazzling and persuasive salesman and his success was often based on his friendliness and likability resulting in a successful deal.”

In 1918 Parsons had his greatest success: he produced Tarzan of the Apes, the first Tarzan film. It was such a hit that the National Film Corp made a sequel, Romance of Tarzan. They also launched the “Smiling Billy” series, which sold well enough that they made over a dozen of them. Parson’s co-star was comedienne Billie Rhodes, and they soon married.



Sadly, Parsons died suddenly on September 28, 1919 either in a diabetic coma or due to kidney problems – source differ on that, too. At least he got to realize his ambitions – not many people get to be a successful film executive and comic film star!

Madame Sphinx

Kingsley demonstrated how hot gossip was written in 1918:

Nowadays, declares Wallace MacDonald, who is playing opposite lovely Alma Rubens, Triangle star, in Madame Sphinx, whenever there is a love scene between himself and the charming Alma, a mysterious interruption always occurs. In other words, whether due to thought transmission or what not, a certain ardent suitor in Los Angeles always seems to be tipped off at the psychological moment, with the result that Miss Rubens is invariably wanted on the phone, and when she returns her thoughts are always far away (Franklyn Farnum please confirm).

Alma Rubens

The story of two single people courting wasn’t particularly scandalous, and Rubens married Farnum a month later. Unfortunately it was an unhappy marriage: they were together only for a few weeks and she accused him of physical abuse in her divorce petition. She went on to star in successful dramas like Humoresque (1920), but her life took a turn for the worst after she became addicted to heroin. She died in 1931 of pneumonia, only 33 years old.


Kingsley reported on one of the biggest hits of 1918:

Charlie Chaplin continues to play the Pied Piper to the fans at Tally’s Broadway this week in A Dog’s Life, every show being packed.

Since it was three reels long, it had a different co-feature each week. This week it was running with a Constance Talmadge film (her career had improved since her National Film days). The Shuttle was based on a Frances Hodgson Burnett story and Talmadge played “the smart American girl who flies to the aid of her sister married to a bullying English lord.” Kingsley declared it one of the best films of her screen career, and one of the best films Tally’s had shown.

This was the last week

Tally’s ad warned that this was the last week for A Dog’s Life, but it lied. The film played one more week (on the 15th, Kingsley noted that people were seeing it two or three times), then it got replaced by a Clara Kimball Young film, The Reason Why.


Sources for William Parsons:

1910 U.S. Census

“Billie Rhodes,”

“Clothes Cost Her Fortune,” Los Angeles Times, October 23, 1917.

“National Film Capitalized at $100,000,” Motion Picture News, May 29, 1915, p. 65.

Neibaur, James L. “Women in Silent Comedy: Billie Rhodes.

“Roll of States,” Motography, May 29, 1915, p. 895.

“’Smiling Bill’ Parsons, L.A. Film Producer, Dies,” Los Angeles Herald, September 29, 1919.