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.
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.