One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley left a little mystery in her column:
Albert Parker, who directed Douglas Fairbanks in Sic ‘em Sam, the propaganda picture made by Fairbanks for the fourth Liberty Loan campaign, has been selected to direct the athletic actor in the elaborate picturization of Augustus Thomas’s play, Arizona. Parker succeeds Allan Dwan, whose contract with Fairbanks terminated last week.
A contract is “terminated” in the middle of a shoot with no explanation? Dwan had directed Fairbanks in his recent hit films, A Modern Musketeer and Headin’ South. I bet Kingsley’s original readers wondered why he left, too.
Unfortunately, it’s still a mystery! Dwan’s biographer Frederic Lombardi speculated that it was the “frantic pace of work” that was making him unhappy, which in turn put a strain on Dwan’s marriage (he divorced Pauline Bush in 1919). Lombardi examined business records from the Douglas Fairbanks Film Corporation and found that Dwan’s contract was supposed to have lasted until October 15, but in September he signed an agreement to terminate it immediately by mutual consent. So whatever caused it, they ended things in an orderly way—nobody stormed off in a snit.
Fairbanks’ biographer Tracey Goessel went a bit further in assigning blame:
Something—likely we shall never know what—was also bothering director Dwan. In the middle of production he quit—or was fired….Just what was making Dwan unhappy is not clear. But his unhappiness must have been acute to cause such a break…One suspects that the offender in this dispute was Fairbanks. Dwan was of an easygoing nature, patient with his rambunctious, effervescent, practical joker boss. But patience, even that of Dwan, is not infinite, and Fairbanks was not of a temperament to back down in the face of a quarrel.
There was no credited director for Arizona in the reviews or posters. No one is certain how much Dwan did before he left, but the AFI Catalog says that Parker directed it. The film sold lots of tickets, based on Fairbanks’ appeal, but the reviews weren’t good. Lombardi wrote that “Arizona was quickly forgotten,” and it’s a lost film. Goessel mentioned that around this time, Fairbanks began to rethink his films. In a few years he moved from comedies to adventure movies. So if this is how we got Thief of Bagdad, I’d like to thank Arizona.
However, this didn’t end their working relationship. As Goessel points out, “Dwan and Fairbanks would heal the breach within a few years—each needed the other more than he needed his pride.” Dwan went on to direct Fairbank’s huge hit, Robin Hood (1922), as well as The Iron Mask (1929). He went on to a long career, working until 1961. The IMDB says he directed 407 films, but his New York Times obituary quotes him estimating it was 1850. Whichever was closer to the truth, it was a lot.
Kingsley’s favorite film this week sounds like lots of fun. George Walsh appeared:
in the most brilliant burlesque on the old type of melodrama which we have ever had, entitled The Kid is Clever…The young hero is sent to South America, as otherwise the money in a certain mysterious will will revert to the nearest villain. Of course there is a lovely young woman—Violet Ray—and they are kidnaped by Jazzbando Bullion, the villain, and taken ashore, where the hero beats the whole army. Sailors from a man-of-war get word and come to the rescue. They are constantly flashed on the screen a few hundred yards from shore, but it takes ‘em all day to arrive…The subtitles are corking, and—oh well, why aren’t all the picture melodramas turned into satires of themselves? It would be a happier world.
Kingsley certainly preferred comedies to the dramas of the time. Like so many other Fox productions, it’s a lost film.
At another theater, Kingsley got to enjoy a golden oldie entitled Her Fighting Chance (from the ad you can see why she thought it was called Lady Lou of the Yukon):
Every once in a while some exchange or exhibitor will pull down an old film from his shelf, brush it off, change some of the subtitles, and show it as a new picture. Usually such a film really is a classic, deserving of living, and such a one is Lady Lou of the Yukon at the Palace this week…So clean-cut is the direction, so splendidly does the plot march, that Lady Lou of the Yukon is well deserving of resurrection. Besides which, it has all the virility which marked those earlier western dramas, and which never perhaps will be equaled.
By ‘earlier’ she meant 1917: things changed quickly then! (nobody is talking about the good old days of 2017 now.) Her Fighting Chance was made by a small production company, A.H. Jacobs Photoplays, and distributed on a state’s rights basis so it isn’t odd that it took a while to appear in Los Angeles. It told the story of a murder investigation by a corrupt Northwest Mounted Policeman, and ended in a big chase. It’s a lost film, so we can’t find out if it was a classic.
Tracey Goessel, The First King of Hollywood: The Life of Douglas Fairbanks. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2016.
Frederic Lombardi, Allan Dwan and the Rise and Decline of the Hollywood Studios. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2013.