Week of June 22nd, 1918

caruso
Enrico Caruso

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 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 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!

 

 

 

3 thoughts on “Week of June 22nd, 1918”

  1. Haha! I like Grace’s wry observation re: movies about girls without musical training appearing on the stage and becoming a Big Star. Wow – already a tired theme in 1918!

    Also, I’m adopting the word “corking” in real life, as in DeMille calling Caruso “a corking fine actor”.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: