Week of July 13th, 1918

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

4 thoughts on “Week of July 13th, 1918”

    1. Yes, I like learning about people who got their start in vaudeville. I think it was a great training ground — and it winnowed out lots of people whose reach exceeded their grasp. I guess stand-up comedy serves a similar purpose now. So that’s just another reason comedies have changed so much.

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