Week of July 27th, 1918

Du Theatre au Champ d’Honneur

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported that the biggest entertainment event in Los Angeles wasn’t film-related, it was on a vaudeville stage, and the most-respected actress of her time was appearing:

It was a hushed house, the silence of which held something akin to reverence, that greeted Sarah Bernhardt, the world’s divine Sarah, at the flag-decked Orpheum yesterday afternoon, when she appeared in Du Theatre au Champ d’Honneur (From the Theater to the Field of Honor) a one-act play written by a French officer…When the curtain went up, the crowd greeted with tremendous cheering the slim little figure in its soldier’s togs, seated beneath a mimic tree in a mimic forest.

The playlet was a story that would only work with the heightened emotions of wartime:

She is a soldier boy, who, on being wounded, has hidden the flag of France to protect it, ere he swooned, and on coming to himself cannot remember where he has hidden it; whose one and only thought is for his country, who is indifferent to the nurses and stretcher bearers who came to find him, and who suddenly remembers that the flag is hidden in the tree, reaches it by an effort, thereby opening his wounds afresh, and passing away as he unfurls the bullet-ridden flag.


The text is available on the Internet Archive.

The performance was interrupted when a woman stood up to cry “Bravo,” fainted, and fell across the balcony railing. Kingsley assumed she was French and was overcome by feelings of patriotism. She wasn’t the only patriot; Kingsley said that “when she cried “God bless America” the audience fairly tore the roof off.”

Sarah Bernhardt, 1862

This was a stop on Bernhardt’s fourth American farewell tour, but this one really was the last. She was 73 years old at the time and still working, despite losing a leg to gangrene in 1915. She died just five years later, in 1923.


It was vaudeville so there were other acts on the bill. It must have been a hard act to follow and they got short-changed for attention in her column, too. “A remarkable bill surrounds the star, including Carl McCullough, with clever travesties of well-know stage stars, Ruth Budd, the marvelous ring and rope worker, Marion Weeks, a dainty young girl with a lovely, bird-like voice; Eddie Carr and company, in a fairly amusing sketch entitled The Office Boy, and the holdovers, Norton and Melnotto, Bensee and Vaird, and Hahn, Weller and O’Donnell.” At least they had a chance to get their acts seen by a large audience.


Kingsley reported on another member of the entertainment industry making a sacrifice for the war effort:

Giving up a $50,000-a-year contract to write film plays for Famous Players-Lasky Company, the brilliant young scenario writer, Frances Marion, who has been able to suit Mary Pickford with roles which fitted like the proverbial glove, is to leave for France next Monday on a patriotic mission.

Miss Marion has received a commission from the government to travel the Allied countries in search of material which will be used as propaganda and which will be published in various magazines and newspapers in this country and possible in England, Australia and Canada. The nature of the material is to relate to the human interest and home side of the war.

She expected to be gone for a year, and first visit France, then Great Britain and later Russia, Japan, China, India and Egypt. However, because the war ended much more quickly than most people expected, her trip didn’t last so long. According to her biographer Cari Beauchamp,* Marion sailed for France on September 18th and reported for duty at the Committee for Public Information in Paris. She was assigned to film the work of Allied women, including nurses, telephone operators, interpreters and entertainers. She saw the devastation brought by the war when she was attached to units traveling to Verdun and later Luxembourg to treat wounded troops during the German retreat. She was flown back to Paris on November 10th, so she was there for the Armistice celebrations the next day. There she caught influenza, but unlike so many pandemic victims, she recovered. She returned to New York in early February 1919, and went on the write all kinds of successful screenplays, from Stella Dallas (1925) to The Champ (1931).


Kingsley’s review of Her Body in Bond this week had some prime complaining:

There are two Mammoth Caves in the United States. One is located in Kentucky, the other under the hat of the man who would change the name of the delightful story from The Eternal Columbine to Her Body in Bond… Of course the change was made ‘for advertising purposes’ (and perhaps the end justifies the means during the present lax season on the photoplay rialto) but whether the clientele that craves bodies in bond and souls for sale will appreciate the daintiness of much of this Universal production is another question.

I was surprised because it had the same plot as Breaking the Waves. A woman “whose love for her partner-husband is so deep that she is ready to barter her body to purchase his recovery from serious illness.” This version was more straightforward – Mae Murray’s Polly got money from an old coot to pay for her husband’s treatment, not some sort of quasi-religious magic. At least Kingsley enjoyed the film, despite the title.

The Kinema Theater added a new selling point this week:


Cigars in an enclosed public space? I’m glad some things have changed in the last 100 years!


*Cari Beauchamp, Without Lying Down: Francis Marion and the Powerful Women of Hollywood. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1997, pp. 92-100.

Week of July 20th, 1918

Ad from the L.A. Times, August 25, 1918

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on the latest scheme aimed at aspiring screenwriters:

Founding schools to teach would-be writers how to write for the screen has become one of the greatest little indoor sports of the age. Any tired waiter who liked pictures or any blacksmith out of a job felt that he was the very little brightness who would tell the seeking soul just how to write scenarios for the picture producers…And now, Miss Scenario Writer, no need to shed any more hot scalding tears on account of viewing your very own pet idea which you sent to the Phony Film Company that for which you were never paid.

That is, these things aren’t going to happen any more if the Palmer Photoplay Corporation, which has just come in to being and which promises to fill a long felt want in the picture producing world has anything to say about it.

The PPC “proposes to smooth out all those crinkles in the road which lies between the freelance scenario writer and the picture producer.” They told her it was not a screenwriting school, but it actually was. At least it was conducted by people who had written professionally. One founder, Frederick Palmer, had been a staff writer for Sennett, Triangle, Fox and Universal. His co-founder, Roy Manker, had been a newspaper writer. He told Kingsley “We feel certain that there are scores of persons with ideas and imagination, and with the will to write scenarios, who could be trained to do so properly if willing to do the required work.”

Kingsley outlined how they intended to proceed:

According to the plan under which the Palmer Photoplay Corporation will work, the writer who feels he has a scenario in his system may confide the fact to the organization, making his communications by mail, as no personal interviews are desired, whereupon the organization will send him a prospectus stating the form a partnership.

‘Partnership’ is an interesting euphemism for a screenwriting course by mail. The aspiring writer was to receive notes for improvement and submit more drafts until the scenario was acceptable “both in form and in matter.” Then the Corporation put its stamp of approval on it and gave him or her a list of studios that were likely to accept it, leaving the writer to send it out (later they started a sales department). Neither the ads nor any of the contemporary articles about the company mentioned how much they charged for their services.

In 1920, the PPC published a handbook and a plot encyclopedia.

photodramatistIt was the largest and most successful screenwriting school of its time, according to film historian Anne Morey.* By the early 1920’s, she said that with the typical year-long course of instruction, subscribers received several books, twelve lectures, newsletters, a monthly magazine The Photodramatist, and five screenplay critiques. Rates ranged from $76.50 to $90, depending on which plan the student chose.

The company’s downfall began in 1923, with plans for expansion into film production. They did manage to make two films in 1924, Judgment of the Storm and The White Sin. Even though the films acted as an advertisement for the school, it stopped teaching screenwriting and shifted to teaching short story writing in 1925. So they were less fly-by-night than most. Things really hasn’t changed much— just like in a gold rush, it’s much better to be the person selling supplies to aspiring miners; in Hollywood it’s a safer bet to be teaching aspiring filmmakers.


Kingsley’s favorite film this week was a change of pace for its star:

It looks now as if William Russell would henceforth be Bill Russell. William was the boy with the long, dreamy eyelashes, who took himself and his girl oh, so, seriously…It is in Up Romance Road, at Miller’s this week, that there emerges from the drab chrysalis William, the bright comedy butterfly Bill. Fresh, crisp, delightfully amusing is the story from the fanciful pen of Stephen Fox, which has to do with a young man who is bored with life because events roll too smoothly for him, and who therefore starts out to formulate a plot like those you see in the ‘movies.’ There are delicious touches of whimsy, as when hiring a band of ruffians to kidnap his girl—‘Can you boys furnish references as good, reliable crooks, not from relatives?’ he asks.

He gets mixed up with a real band of crooks, but they aren’t too threatening – he’s able to knock them all out even though he’s tied to a chair, and they forgot to wind up the clock on the bomb they set. She concluded that it was “a rich, new, refreshing comedy vein, this, which it will pay to work.” It’s a lost film.

William Russell

William Russell didn’t change his name, and he went on to act in all kinds of films, from comedies like Goodbye Girls (1923) to crime dramas like State Street Sadie (1928) before he died of pneumonia in 1929. However, the most famous people from this production were its director and screenwriter.

Director Henry King went on to a decades-long career, making a wide variety of films from Tol’rable David (1921) and Stella Dallas (1925) to talkies like Twelve O’clock High (1949) and Carousel (1956). Stephen Fox was a pseudonym for Jules Furthman (he temporarily used a different name because he thought his real name sounded ‘too German’ during the war). He went on to an equally long career, writing everything from Shanghai Express (1932) to The Big Sleep (1946). He was married to Sybil Seeley (Buster Keaton’s co-star), from 1920 until his death in 1966.

I must tell my brother Bill that he’s a bright comic butterfly. His computer science students will be thrilled.


Kingsley reported on a perk of being famous. Dorothy Dalton, star from the Ince studio, returned from vacationing in New York where

she took a little time off in order to entertain photoplay magazine editors and others of the pen-pushing tribe, who forthwith splashed ink trying to tell how charming her eyebrows and dimple are.

‘Frankly,’ said Miss Dalton the other day, ‘I don’t just hate to hear such things, principally because it in part compensates for having been voted the ugliest girl in the third grade. I had freckles, wore my hair in two tight pigtails, and had first and second teeth crowding each other for window display honors.

I know we’re much more sensitive now, but they couldn’t possibly have had votes for ugly students in school, could they? Her description of her young self sounds adorable, like a Norman Rockwell model. Dalton went on to star in more dramas like Moran of the Lady Letty (with Rudolph Valentino) and she retired in 1924 when she married theatrical producer Arthur Hammerstein, the lyricist’s uncle.

He plays one in the movies.

Kingsley’s biggest bunch of nonsense in the week was an item about Roscoe Arbuckle:

With his willowy figure draped in a baby blue bathrobe revealing the beautifully rounded curves of his body, Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle, the rotund motion picture comedian delivered another secret on how to grow thin, while answering letters from frantic seekers of the truth.

“I can assure my readers that ice or roller skating will be a great aid in reducing, providing one does not remain too long in a sitting position,” said Doctor Arbuckle. “It is absolutely necessary to stay on one’s feet in order to get proper results.”

conlonI suppose a little exercise isn’t a bad idea for most people, but honestly, nobody would write to him for diet advice: he was fine exactly as he was. (I would believe it if someone asked him for advice on dancing or practical jokes – he knew a lot about both.) This was all a set up for something that I think was supposed to be a joke: since people believed that cold-water baths helped people to reduce, skating on thin ice would lead to a dunking and weight reduction. Paul Conlon, his publicist, was really having an off day. Then again, he did manage to get Kingsley to include this…




* Anne Morey, “Fashioning the Self to Fashion the Film: The Case of the Palmer Photoplay Corporation,” In: Hollywood Outsiders: The Adaptation of the Film Industry, 1913-1934. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2003.

Week of July 13th, 1918

Sid Grauman, 1927

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley had a big news flash:

An announcement of much importance to the film world was made yesterday [July 16th], when Sid Grauman announced the fact that he and his father, D.J. Grauman, are on the eve of incorporating as motion-picture producers, and also that they are building a new theater here.

They planned to incorporate as the Grauman Feature Players Company within the next three months, and renovate an existing studio. Sid Grauman told her that by being a theater owner, he’d learned a lot about what the public wanted in films. He outlined his plan for success:

In the first place, he declares he means to give all the time possible to the making of his pictures, producing only three or four a year; and, while he states he does not have in mind the engaging of any well-known stars, he means to select first-class actors and actresses, but will lay stress on the directorial end. In fact, he believes that the director and the role make the star. In the second place, he means that all his picture stories shall have the quality of timeliness, and, therefore—providing the war lasts so long—his first picture will have a war background.

As to his stories, Mr. Grauman states his present plan is to buy widely-read novels and stories, rather than depending on original scenarios, as he has discovered from experience that stories which have been widely read have much greater drawing power and box-office response than pictures founded on the so-called original scenarios. The length of pictures will vary form five to seven reels, or may even be shorter, depending on the nature of the story.

Sid Grauman never did become a film producer. Maybe he learned it was easier said than done, or the postwar recession put a damper on his plans.

However, he did build that new theater. It just took longer than he’d hoped. In 1918 he was negotiating a site in downtown Los Angeles, and he promised Kingsley it would be even more palatial than his Million Dollar Theater. By 1919 he had bought a lot at Sixth and Hill Streets in downtown Los Angeles. There he built Grauman’s Metropolitan Theater, which opened on January 26, 1923. Just a year later he sold it to Paramount. There’s lots more information about the Metropolitan at the Historic Los Angeles Theaters website.

The show she described was a little different from the Sunday ad.

Or perhaps he skipped becoming a producer because he didn’t need more work. From Kingsley’s description of his theater’s show this week, it seems like he was already busy enough booking entertainment:

As usual, the Grauman bill offers a tremendous lot for your money. In addition to the feature there are a Keystone comedy Ladies First, a vocal offering by a lovely brunette lady whose name does not appear on the program, a war sketch with stage setting in which a handsome tenor first sings about “Going Over the Top,” and then does it to the accompaniment of war fireworks, a snappy little set of war epigrams from the Literary Digest’s cullings from various newspapers, and a stunning travelogue which somehow manages, while showing wild mountains and wild animals, to have a flavor of intimacy through the introduction of some people which reach right out from the screen and carry you along with them in their travels.


The feature she mentioned was The Kaiser’s Shadow, which Kingsley called “a felicitous combination of war play and mystery drama.” It starred Dorothy Dalton and Thurston Hall as “spies spying on spies.” 15-35 cents (plus 10% war tax) bought plenty of entertainment!

Kingsley mentioned that Polly Moran, “one of Sennett’s main standbys,” was returning to vaudeville for a sensible reason:

“Me for the easy job,” said Polly the other day. “Half my front teeth are missing as a sacrifice to art, and due to the same cause I’ve got a phony knee. I’m tired of having my eye kicked out and my ears torn out by the roots. I’m going back to the easy life where all you have to do is two or three shows a day!”

Sennett was tough on actors! Moran did do a tour of the Orpheum circuit and Sime Silverman of Variety caught her twelve-minute act in New York City that November.* He enjoyed it and wrote a detailed summary. Earlier on the bill they showed one of her Sheriff Nell shorts, then

Polly herself showed next to closing, all dressed up, with a velvet slouch hat of the tammy style and a wig. When Polly grew tired of it, she took it off. Then she was a brunet. Meanwhile she sang parodies, mostly, set to familiar and popular melodies. She also kidded her pictures, after chasing the spot around the stage. In a parody on “My Rosary,” Polly brought out some knitting, and, holding it up, sang to “My Hosiery.” Her last number was a straight song, probably called “The Folks that Won the War.” It’s an excellently written lyric and misses no one in the mention. The song gave Polly a big getaway….Polly Moran, in her semi-nut impromptu way, makes a good single, with or without her celluloid rep. She can get across big time.

In 1920 she returned to film, making more Sherriff Nell two-reelers for National Film. She continued in film until 1940; her career high point was the eight popular MGM feature-length comedies she co-starred in with Marie Dressler from 1927-1933.

Al Jolson

Kingsley had a story about one of the biggest vaudeville stars at that time:

Al Jolson is to stop off and so some pictures in this city, it is rumored, during his western tour of the Coast. He is said to have been offered $50,000 for one picture.

This turned out to just be some producer’s wishful thinking. Jolson had appeared in an untitled 1916 film for Vitagraph made for the Policeman’s Benefit Fund. He didn’t have anything to do with the movies again until 1923, when he agreed to make a film with D.W. Griffith. However, he backed out before filming was finished. He kept busy as a singing star until 1926 when he appeared in a Vitaphone sound short, A Plantation Act, which led to The Jazz Singer (1927) and the end of cinema. Oh well, if it hadn’t been him, it would have just been somebody else.


*Sime., “Polly Moran. Songs and Talk,” Variety, Nov. 22, 1918.

Week of July 6th, 1918

Kingsley at work

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley visited someone who “promises to put the ‘new’ in ‘ingenue’”:

bearWith a high-power comedy bear and comedy curls, Theda Bara has wrapped her misery cloak in mothballs…It was a Spanish interior set out at the Fox studio, and naturally you expected to see Theda Bara glide vampirishly forth, dolled up in a slinky frock, or leap into the scene with a nice shiny dagger held aloft, or drag herself sorrowfully in and drop down on the soggy sofa. Nothing of the sort.

Out through the door with its festoons of dried peppers dances a new Theda Bara. This Theda Bara is a mischievous sprite, who reminds you a bit of Dorothy Gish in her pepfullest moments, with just a dash of Constance Talmadge’s Mountain Girl.

And then Miss Bara was called away for the love scenes between herself and Al Roscoe, the hero. And such a love scene as it was! Though it was hedged in and embroidered with comedy—joyous, sparkling comedy—it was such a love scene as to make to palpitate the hearts of all the matinee girls from 16 to 60. Indeed, it is these touches of genuine drama, embroidering the comedy, as it were, which promise to give the world a new type of comedy drama. In other words, as Miss Bara says “The comedy has tragedy relief.”

In short, I think you’re going to be amazed when you see The Little She-Devil.

Unfortunately, Theda Bara’s attempt to expand her range wasn’t a success. They trimmed both the title (it was released as The She Devil) and the film: it’s lost, but it looks like they cut the comedy scenes. None of the trade magazine plot synopses say that anything was particularly funny, and they didn’t mention a comedy bear. Critics didn’t enjoy what remained. Kingsley wrote that it “is not a particularly good vehicle for her, being a sort of jitney Carmen…For an ordinary star, The She Devil would have been a piquant and acceptable story—but not for Theda Bara.” (January 20, 1919) P.S. Harrison in Motion Picture News agreed, writing “either there is a scarcity of stories, or some one has blundered in selecting this one for Theda Bara. Not only is it illogical, but unfitting her particular talents as well.” (November 9, 1918). That makes something Bara said to Kingsley sad:

But on one point Miss Bara is determined. Never, never again will she play a vampire role, if she can help it. She declared so herself.

That didn’t happen. She-Devil wasn’t a financial success, either, so it was back to the melodramas. According to Bara biographer Eve Golden, the box office failure wasn’t necessarily because of the bad reviews but because it was a victim of bad timing, being released in New York the day before the Armistice was signed, and people weren’t going to the movies that week.

Bara’s next one was The Light (1919), in which she played “the wickedest woman in Paris, quite an accomplishment when one considers the completion” wrote Golden. But the return to her usual stories didn’t help; the popularity of vampire films was passing, and her film career was coming to an end. In 1933, writer Frederick L. Collins interviewed her and found her a “lovely, gracious woman of the world,” who was reconciled to the idea that the average span of a picture star’s career was 5 years, so she sensibly stopped at four and a half. She married director Charles Brabin, traveled, became a gourmet cook, had lots of interesting friends and gave fantastic parties. Furthermore, as Golden points out, unlike most of the stars of 1918 she’s still remembered now.


Kingsley’s favorite film this week was a more successful comedy:

Well, they’ve done it, praise be! Ruggles of Red Gap, Harry Leon Wilson’s breezy story, unctuously funny, whimsically satirical, drolly human, has really been transferred to the screen.

It’s all there—the naïve horror of Ruggles at being introduced as ‘Col Ruggles of the British army,’ the sly humor of Cousin Egbert in putting Ruggles into Red Gap society when he has had him wished on him as a valet, the gentle satire on Anglomaniacs, the revelation of the genuineness and good-sportsmanship of Ruggles under his veneer of servant snobbery and his naïve misunderstanding of everything not English.

So the classic 1935 version of the story with Charles Laughton wasn’t the first. This version is lost.

Keaton couldn’t resist the challenge

To top it off, the additional feature was Roscoe Arbuckle’s Good Night, Nurse in its second week. Kingsley didn’t review it; Antony Anderson had the week before and he said “when Fatty becomes a lady nurse himself it is certainly up to you—you can’t resist the challenge—to redouble the loudness of your laughter. In short, Good Night Nurse is one of Roscoe’s best.” What a night at the movies!


Kingsley reported an unusual story about how far film can reach:

After having been given up for dead as his name could nowhere be found on the list of survivors of a recent ocean tragedy, Charles Spere, the young actor who is distinguishing himself in motion pictures as a juvenile, was located last week through his screen likeness by his father, an eastern traveling man.

Milton Spere happened to catch a screening of The Desert Wooing, which featured Charles as the heroine’s brother. He sent a telegram, and the two were reunited in Hollywood a few days later. Kingsley continued, “Spere Sr. has announced that he intends to lease a bungalow, give up his travelling and let friend son support him in his old age.”

You might wonder if this is really a happy ending, but Milton didn’t move in and freeload on his son. They lived in separate houses and he opened Spere and Hill, Auto Painters, according to the 1920 City Directory. Charles Spere had a brief career playing young men, then he became a manager in a clothing store.

Kingsley mentioned that dramatic actress Olga Petrova had made an announcement about forsaking the industry:

I don’t think I shall ever do any more pictures,” said the actress. “The stage is much more satisfactory to the artist and for that matter, I have made enough money, so it doesn’t matter to me financially whether I work any more or not. But being full of energy, I suppose I shall work at something, and, as it happens, the things I care most for are uncommercial.

The remarkable thing is that’s exactly what she did! Usually retirement declarations like this are actually vacation notices. She had gotten her start in film in 1914, so her five years were almost up, if Theda Bara’s star longevity theory is accurate. She was getting out when the getting was good. Petrova’s The Secret of Eve was the topic of one of Kingsley’s funnier pans.




Eve Golden. Vamp: The Rise and Fall of Theda Bara. Vestal, NY: Emprise Publishing, 1996.


Frederick L. Collins. “The Mystery of the Vanishing Vampire,” New Movie Magazine, March, 1933, p. 40.