Week of June 1st, 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).

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.

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.

chaplin_kitty
He didn’t look quite like this

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.

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