One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley wrote abut how people were occupying themselves in Los Angeles without any public amusements. Some activities were exactly what you would expect:
Everybody, young people included, are conspiring to swamp the Public Library and all the branch libraries. It is reported that 4000 more books were sent out from the general circulation department alone last week than were given out during the corresponding week of last year.
She reported that the most popular subjects were history and war. In addition, bookstores were doing a booming business and magazine sales were up. Bookstores were also selling a lot of a surprising item:
Many persons are buying decks of cards with the statement they want them to tell fortunes with! No wonder, either, is it, that in these hazardous days, we should want to find out what’s going to happen to us and ours.
She mentioned that “it’s the open season for self-made music” sales and rentals of pianos were strong, and “the ukulele disorder” was becoming unusually severe. There was a great run on phonographs and player pianos as well.
She pointed out one problem I hadn’t considered:
How are the women managing to enjoy themselves, now that there are no women’s clubs, and, what with the dance halls and theaters closed, nothing really left to reform?
Oh dear! I suppose they could always go pick on the librarians (I’m glad she didn’t suggest that). Schools were closed, too, but it seems that kids weren’t suffering at all:
These schooless days are just one long, joyous picnic for the youngsters with neighborhoods resounding to high adventure. They’re playing war mostly, it seems, with a real neighborhood war breaking out over and anon because naturally nobody wants to be the Germans. And when they can be persuaded to work at all, the youngsters demand exorbitant pay of mother for jobs done around the house, with threats if she doesn’t pay up promptly they’ll go out and get the “flu” on her!
But romance youth simply must have! Our young lovers should worry that a lot of park cops have got the “flu.” Instead of holding hands in the back of a dark picture theater the park pepper trees* are now the setting for love’s young dream.
Kingsley remembered another group that wasn’t suffering, as well:
Some people, of course, are having the time of their lives right now—those folks that have more fun gargling and snuffing and telling how they feel when they get up in the morning, and about that queer feeling in their eyelids when they go to bed.
I don’t know which of her relatives was a hypochondriac, but I suspect it was a near one.
Kingsley’s regular columns were filled with optimistic plans for the future:
- D.W. Griffith was working on a “governmental propaganda photodrama” that was to be as big as Birth of a Nation, documenting the current war. It was to include Congress passing the conscription bill, scenes from training camps, and scenes of American men in action. It would also introduce Griffith’s latest discovery, Carol Dempster. The end of the war didn’t deter Griffith; this became The Girl Who Stayed at Home (1919).
- Mary Pickford bought the rights to the play Daddy Long-Legs for $40,000. It was her next film and the first made under her new First National contract.
- Alexander Pantages intended to station shows of six acts in each of the forty towns where he had theaters, so they’d be ready to go as soon as they reopened. He also had twenty emergency acts in Chicago, ready to travel, in case any were disrupted.
- The Theater Owners Association adopted a resolution for a “house-cleaning” of the industry. Kingsley wrote: “The scope of the house cleaning includes not only the elimination of bad stories from moral, technical and literary standpoints, but applies also to advertising methods, to the abolition of wild-cat productions, the elimination of overproduction, bad direction, etc.” This was all quickly forgotten once they got back to work.
*I learned that pepper trees then are what palm trees are now to LA. I had no idea! KCET has an interesting article about them, “When Pepper Trees Shaded the Sunny Southland.”