One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley took another trip to Charlie Chaplin’s studio to watch him at work. She happened to be there for when he was drinking tea and brainstorming a name for his next film. She recorded the scene:
All the name had to suggest was patriotism and fun, and drama and punch and a few other things like that. Of course, the christening wasn’t effected without a lot of skirmishing. Syd Chaplin must have his joke, for one thing.
“Call it The Bums of Berlin!” he suggested.
But Brer Charlie wasn’t going to have any low-comedy names, because his bright necklace of laughter is really strung on a stout little thread of seriousness.
The Fat Comedian, who is inclined to be sentimental, suggested it be called Hearts of Fate. [this was probably Henry Bergman]
“Hearts of Lettuce.” parodied Syd Chaplin.
“Why not call it Charlie Carries On, suggested the thin heavy, which sounded reasonable, too. [Albert Austin, perhaps]
But the comedian took a reflective munch on his third slice of cake and a quick glup of tea, got up and walked into the door of a set, emerged on the other side and triumphantly announced:
Which you must admit has punch in its sound, suggests either comedy or pathos, and altogether, like the mother hubbard of the senator’s speech, ‘covers everything and touches nothing’.
Chaplin, Bergman and Austin in Shoulder Arms
Bergman talks to Chaplin and Purviance in The Immigrant
Austin and Chaplin with a different meal in The Immigrant
And that was that. Maybe if we all eat more cake, we can have Chaplin-caliber ideas, too!
However, the film was far from finished. A bit later, this happened:
“And now, Syd,” said Charlie, “tell this lady the plot!”
Syd looked perplexed.
“Don’t you just wish you could!” laughed Charlie. “The story is a sketchy thing,” explains Charlie seriously.
Eventually they did figure it out, and the film came out in October. I imagine there was more cake and tea involved.
Kingsley’s favorite film this week was a two-reel comedy.
Fay Tincher, glory be, has returned to the screen, with her professional chewing gum and her trade-mark stripes. Filled with all her old pep and drollery she is appearing at Miller’s this week in a whimsical little comedy entitled Main 1-2-3, in which she is a shop girl, who, longingly gazing into a furniture shop window showing a furnished flat, is hired to live in the window for advertising purposes.
Fay Tincher, 1915
Fay Tincher, 1916
Tincher had been away from the screen for over a year. In 1916, she starred in Triangle two-reelers, wearing her trademark black and white striped costume and playing everything from a traveling saleswoman to a socialite. According to Steve Massa in Slapstick Divas“the unifying theme in these roles was Fay’s no-nonsense demeanor and feistiness, which were in comic contrast to her tiny stature.” Main 1-2-3 was her first film for her own production company. The Fay Tincher Comedy Company made three shorts, then she abandoned her striped outfit and went to work for Christie Comedies in 1919.
One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on a lucrative film contract for a Metropolitan Opera star:
Enrico Caruso, the greatest of all living tenors, will lay his voice away in cotton wool for the summer, and, having listened to the lure of the purring camera and the rattle of chink in the pockets of the picture magnates, will become a picture star for Lasky-Famous Players during his vacation, receiving therefore the princely sum of $300,000 for the services.
It might seem odd that people would want to see him without sound, but his fellow Met star Geraldine Farrar was in the middle of a successful film career so there was a precedent. Also, when Kingsley spoke to Cecil B. De Mille to confirm the report, he assured her that
Enrico Caruso is a corking fine actor as well as the world’s most wonderful tenor…When I was in New York I used to frequently drop into the Metropolitan Operahouse and watch Caruso rehearse, so I know of his splendid ability as an actor, and I think that he will be a big success on the screen, not only from the fact that millions of people have heard of him and will be attracted to see him in the silent drama, but because he will score an artistic success as well.
Enrico Caruso and Carolina White in My Cousin
Enrico Caruso was one of the biggest celebrities of his time. He toured extensively and sold millions of records. However, his film career wasn’t as successful. In his first film, My Cousin, he played a dual role: a poor maker of plaster casts and his cousin, a famous tenor. The tenor helps the artist win back his love after a misunderstanding. When it came out in Los Angeles later that year, LA Times reviewer Antony Anderson admired Caruso’s acting, saying “in opera he didn’t get half a chance, but the camera offered every opportunity and he took them.” He liked the film, too, because “the story has charm, simplicity and tenderness.” He mentioned that during the screening, the orchestra at Grauman’s mostly played music from the operas that Caruso had sung.
The studio tried — they issued a press book to help sell the film
Ormi Hawley and Enrico Caruso in A Splendid Romance
The film didn’t sell as many tickets as they’d hoped, and Lasky’s never released his second film, A Splendid Romance, in the United States. That film is lost, but My Cousin survived and is available on DVD.
Kingsley’s favorite film this week was The Lesson, a Constance Talmadge comedy, “so true to life from all angles that one has a guilty feeling of spying through a window to look at it.” She particularly admired the “brilliant and facile” star:
For those who would learn sincerity and naturalness, let them study Miss Talmadge; and these qualities are all the more to her credit in that, being a person of incisive personality, she might easily impose mannerisms upon us. The Lesson is from Virginia Terhune Vandewater’s appealing story of the same name, is human and intriguing, revolving around a wife married to one of those dog-in-the-manger husbands, who while limiting the amount of sauce for the goose, believes in an overdose of that commodity for the gander.
In this lost film, Talmadge’s character dumps the skunk and returns to her small-town sweetheart.
There was a close tie for best line this week. About the latest Mary Miles Minter film Kingsely wrote:
The writer of One in a Million is all wrong; he evidently hadn’t seen many pictures or he would have known that 999,999 of the poor little country girls who go to New York without previous training step right out upon the musical comedy stage and register a big hit.
So that was already a tired trope in 1918. Despite that, she decided “One in a Million is a clean, engaging little comedy which any girl can safely take her mother to see.” The film got a new title, Social Briars. I wonder if the producers read this and decided to change it.
Kingsley’s other nifty line was regarding Rupert Julian’s new film, Midnight Madness:
It is chock full of mystery, gobs and hunks of it, so thick as to make the plot rather bewildering.
The story involved a detective tracking down jewel thieves, and Mr. Julian didn’t include the usual scenes in which the investigator stops and theorizes about whodunit. Kingsley thought that was confusing. I hope you don’t have too many gobs and hunks of mystery this week!
One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley wrote about the film industry’s continuing enthusiastic support for the war:
At last Thursday’s meeting of the Photoplayers Equity Association, an organization consisting of some 700 members and including many of the leading picture actors of the western film colony, that organization made an important resolution in regard to doing its bit financially in respect to war work.
By resolution, which was practically unanimously adopted, the association members voted to devote 5 percent of their incomes derived from picture work to the war work of the Motion Picture War Service Association, it being understood that any member who refused to abide by the resolution was automatically dropped from the association. There was no opposition to the measure, however.
Automatic expulsion—that seems harsh. The Association estimated that they’d raise between $3-4000 per month.
The Motion Picture War Service Association had only recently been formed. Their first meeting was on May 26th at Clunes Auditorium. People from every branch of the industry were there, and D.W. Griffith, Lois Weber, Cecil B. De Mille and Mary Pickford all gave speeches. The organization’s goal was to build a hospital that they would give to the government. Even though they raised $37, 150 just at that first meeting, the war ended before they could begin planning the hospital. The fund was dissolved in February 1919 and the money returned to the donors, according to screenwriter Frank E. Woods in Moving Picture World.
Raymond Cannon, Photoplayers’ Equity President
Frank Gillmore, Actors’ Equity Secretary (and later, President)
The Photoplayers Equity Association was an early actors’ union. Modeled on Actors’ Equity (the theatrical performers’ union founded in 1913), it looks like it was founded in 1918–at least that’s when they were first listed in the city directory. However, actors weren’t very organized and by January 1920 there were two other competing unions, the Screen Players and the Actors’ Association. Frank Gillmore, the secretary of Actors’ Equity, came out from New York and convinced them all to join his group. Actors’ Equity covered film actors until 1933, when after movie producers announced an across-the-board salary cut, members decided they needed a separate group, the Screen Actors Guild. SAG represents film actors to this day. If you’re looking for a research challenge, 1910-20s Hollywood union history is just waiting for somebody to write it. It’s full of strife and drama and would easily fill a book.
Kingsley’s favorite film this week was full of “charming frivolity,” Kidder and Ko., featuring “that charming comedian of commerce, that roisterer of the roll-top desk, Bryant Washburn.” She gave a breezy synopsis:
The hero, in the fish business, is a rather poor fish himself until he meets a remarkable girl (Gertrude Selby, who looks like Mary Pickford without trying to) and a remarkable inventor, after which and a series of comic adventures he loses his mind and then recovers it again.
Exhibitor’s Herald agreed with Kingsley, saying “an excellent warm weather vehicle is Kidder & Ko. There is no difficult plot to deal with…an excellent tonic for depression.” The not-difficult plot is Cuthbert Kidder’s father throws him out until he can earn $1000 on his own. He gets robbed and knocked unconscious, then a tin mogul and his daughter rescue him. Cuthbert meets an inventor of tin cans, and presents the new can to the mogul and they all make buckets of money and live happily ever after. It’s a lost film, which is too bad–the world needs more frivolity.
It played with an added attraction:
A very funny Rolin comedy gives Harold Lloyd, Harry Pollard and that deliciously pretty child, Bebe Daniels, a chance to hand you a laugh even on a hot day. In fact, a lot of laughs.
Sic ‘em Towser is lost film, but luckily Peter Milne reviewed it in Motion Picture News. Lloyd’s “glass character” (which debuted in September 1917) dressed up as a homeless man for a costume party, but he gets mistaken for a real one. Meanwhile, a real homeless man turns up at the party and Bebe Daniels mistakes him for Lloyd. As Milne put it, “commotion ensues.” That hot day was 88 degrees, so it’s no wonder Kingsley wanted light entertainment.
Another Los Angeleian beat the heat with a trip to the sea side. Despite her recent marital scandal, Mary Pickford wasn’t avoiding publicity entirely. She told Kingsley about her and her sister Lottie’s Sunday outing. They dove into the ocean and
Mary essayed to ride one of the bucking fish. It turned over with her.” ‘I went glub-glub to the bottom,” said Mary,” but half a dozen people exerted themselves to save me. When they hauled me up on my sea-horse again a boy looked at me aghast. I suppose my hair was all smack back against my head, and I looked awful. ‘My goodness,’ he exclaimed, ‘if it ain’t Mary Pickford. Well she doesn’t look much as she does in pictures.
Kingsley observed, “you can’t even drown in comfort and privacy if you’re a picture star.”
I did try to find out something about the bucking fish (they must have been some kind of flotation device) but I had no luck.
Note: Mary Mallory in the comments suggested that a bucking fish might be like the leaping fish from Douglas Fairbanks’ 1916 film. Here’s a photo:
It certainly looks like something you could easily slide off of. Thanks, Mary!
“Frank E. Woods Organizing Fund for Photoplayers, “ Moving Picture World, February 22, 1919, p.1056.
“Gillmore Explains Equity,” Camera!, May 7, 1921, p. 3.
“Los Angeles Film Folk Show Loyalty,” Motography, June 15, 1918, p. 1127.
Milne, Peter. “Sic ‘em Towser,” Motion Picture News, June 8, 1918, p. 3455.
One hundred years ago this week, Famous Players/Lasky Studio held a very successful auction, show, dance and carnival to raise funds for the families of solders and sailors who had been studio employees. A good time was had by all. Not only Lasky stars turned up; Motion Picture News wrote, “Virtually every star of importance in California was present and did something to aid.” Grace Kingsley was there too, and she reported on the highlights:
Clara Kimball Young, who appeared in evening dress and wearing a magnificent hat, auctioned off her wearing apparel, delivering the hat and gloves at first hand, and thereafter retiring behind a screen, over the top of which she sold her dress and some other garments, and whence she emerged following the sale, mysteriously clad in street clothes. Charlie Chaplin purchased a bit of lingerie for $80, and thereafter wore it about his neck.
Clara Kimball Young
Kid McCoy, former middleweight champion
Even dignified dramatic actresses got to join in the fun. Of course Douglas Fairbanks was there, doing Fairbanksian things:
Douglas Fairbanks offered to box Kid McCoy, but the fight closed after the second round for the simple reason that Mr. Fairbanks, in the heat of the contest, fell into the swimming pool on the platform adjoining which the dance was held.
In addition to the auction, they sold food and drinks; the “booths were presided over by Lillian Gish, Dorothy Gish, Constance Talmadge, Gladys Brockwell and many others.” But the most popular area was no surprise:
The bar, which was presided over by William S. Hart and his cowboys, took in a small fortune, and sister Mamie Hart sat near by as a sort of guardian angel to see that nobody drank too much, but even at that Fred Stone reeled away following his fifth chocolate ice cream soda.
Moving Picture World added more details, including the reason Stone drank so many sodas: Fairbanks had challenged him to a drinking bout, and he had to quit after five. They reported that it was the first time the studio had ever been open to the public, 1500 people attended and it was “so crowded it was almost impossible to turn around.” They took in $9,000 to assist the families of the 91 men from the studio serving the country, and they had a good time while they were at it. If you ever build a time machine, this might be a fun night to visit.
Kingsley’s favorite film this week wasn’t a timeless classic, but just another pleasant little movie that’s been forgotten.
Getting a criminal to confess by using the spiritualistic medium’s tricks is the unique and fascinating feature of Life or Honor?, which is the offering at the Symphony this week. An incidental exposé of those tricks makes this phase of the story additionally absorbing. There are the old familiar cabinet, the illuminated hand, the floating ghostly forms, and even in the picture these are eerie enough to make you confess anything anybody might want you to confess if used upon you.
She thought the plot was “unusually adroit” and “all the parts are well and humanly played,” and everyone involved continued to work, but nobody became very successful. The film survives at Gosfilmofond in Russia.
Dorothy Phillips and Alan Roscoe
Kingsley gave a rare negative review to A Soul for Sale, the new Dorothy Phillips film. She pointed out “they are always selling souls in picture plays—usually pretty young women’s souls.” Nevertheless, she liked well enough until the last reel:
Then, alas, it tumbles. The scene, which doubtless the author intended as the great denouement, when the heroine, returning from a midnight visit to the hero’s room, here she went to restore money which had been stolen from him by her mother, meets the two old rakes who have been bargaining for her, takes on the aspect of cheap comedy, and yesterday the audience actually laughed where it should have been spellbound with suspense.
Also in the last scenes it is hard to believe that a steel fireproof skyscraper would be gutted by fire and in addition would show not a single broken window. Here again, the suspense should be extreme, with the lovers in danger of perishing as they stand on the roof, a cheap comedy effect is obtained when firemen tear them apart as they stand oblivious to death clasped in each other’s arms.
Then as now, a critic’s opinion didn’t affect the box office. Later that week the Times said the film “continues to prove a box office attraction extraordinary” and the theater planned to hold it over a second week.
Four of its six reels survive at the Library of Congress (they were part of the Dawson City trove). The last reel didn’t. Maybe that improves it?
G.P. Harleman, “Carnival at Lasky Studio a Success,” Moving Picture World, June 29, 1918, p.1846.
“Lasky Dance and Carnival a Big Success,” Motion Picture News, July 13, 1918, p.2
“Studio Plans Big Home Folks Fete,” Los Angeles Herald, June 6, 1918.
One hundred years ago this week, studio head Jessie Lasky made an announcement:
At last the secret is out. The mystery is solved. For behold, the identity of the new Lasky-Famous Players’ star, about whom there has been so much speculation and to whom Jessie Lasky has been making such mysterious, smiling but inscrutable allusion, is discovered.
It was ‘Cuddles’ Edwards, a featured singer and dancer in Gus Edwards’ vaudeville act, Bandbox Revue. She had been touring with the troop of children who performed musical comedy for six years. Lasky caught the act at the Palace in New York City and gave her a two-year film contract. Befitting her new stature, she got a new name: Lila Lee (her birth name was Augusta Appel).
Cruise of the Make Believes
She arrived in Los Angeles on June 7th and went to work on her first film, The Cruise of the Make Believes, which told the story of a slum-dwelling waif who meets a wealthy young man. Even though she was only sixteen, the studio decided to shave two years off her age, probably so she keep playing that sort of girlish part for as long as possible.
Lila Lee in Male and Female (1919)
Lee and Valentino, Blood and Sand (1922)
However, after the war ended stories about innocent girls being rescued from poverty by rich men stopped selling tickets. Lee was saved from Violet Mersereau’s and Ella Hall’s fate by Cecil B. De Mille when he cast her as a maid in Male and Female in 1919. She made the most of her first adult role, and she went on to a solid career in films ranging from Blood and Sand (1922) with Rudolph Valentino to The Unholy Three (1930) with Lon Chaney. Remarkably, Jessie Lasky had actually found a new star.
Kingsley’s favorite film this week wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough:
One of those adventures of the huge adventure of Russia is chronicled in The Firebrand at the Alhambra. It’s really thrilling, almost Tolstoian in its portrayal of human passion and mixed motive, up to the last reel, when alas, in a scene in which the heroine, pointing a revolver, declares to the hero whom she thinks has betrayed her family, ‘We’ll both fire when the clock strikes eight’ the story descends to Fox melodrama at its Foxiest. Nevertheless, its bigger moments are big enough to leave the picture drama in the topmost niche of this week’s photodramas.
Unfortunately, it’s a lost film, so we can’t see what melodrama at its Foxiest looks like. It’s surprising how little Kingsley worried about spoiling the film. Maybe, because according to the AFI Catalog the heroine only slightly wounds the hero, it wasn’t such a big deal.
A story from the Chaplin studio this week demonstrated how almost any story could be turned into publicity. Kingsley tactfully left the names of the two actors, who, knowing of Chaplin’s fondness for animals,
went forth for a ramble in the near-by foothills. They were tramping along, when one of them discovered a beautiful little kitten. It was dark, with a lovely white stripe down its back.
‘Let’s get it for Charlie,’ suggested one actor.
‘Right,’ said the other.
So, sneaking up on the poor little creature, the two Thespians finally cornered it and made the capture.
Returning toward the studio, it was remarked by the two actor-hunters that the fertilizer used this year is of a peculiarly pungent odor. When the studio was reached, the overwatchful gateman refused admittance to the trophy-bearers, suggesting they bury their clothes in a near-by lemon grove.
Chaplin’s publicity people were true professionals. I hope Mr. Le Pew got back to the foothills.