Week of December 21st, 1918


One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley described how quickly Los Angeles had bounced back from the closures during the flu epidemic:


Some Rialto it is that our little old Broadway is becoming once more! What with all the theaters racing their curtains up every night, what with Nazimova and Charlie Chaplin promenading the gash-deck of the Alexandria, with handsome army officers tangoing nightly in the hotel dining-rooms with Mary MacLaren and Edna Purviance, with the deep-sea-going automobiles of D.W. Griffith, Bill Hart, Mary Pickford, Cecil De Mille, and Mable Normand parked in bunches along Broadway, with all the lights turned on, and even the elusive sugar-bowl trekking back to café tables,* really life grows brighter and brighter—Los Angeles is herself again.


Broadway was one of the oldest streets in Los Angeles, and for fifty years it was the main commercial and theater district. After the Second World War, it went into decline when everything moved to the suburbs, but it’s making a comeback now.


She reported more proof that business was good: the safe at the Palace Theater was broken in to, and the burglars got away with $1000 in cash and a “considerable” amount of Liberty Bonds. The thieves’ methods were worthy of a movie: they blew the safe up with nitroglycerin, after wrapping the it with the theater’s water-soaked curtains and wall hangings to deaden the noise. There was no report in the Times or the Herald that they were ever caught.


Kingsley had an exceptionally bad week at the movies; other than the new Roscoe Arbuckle short, The Sheriff  she wasn’t wild about anything she saw. She thought that Tongues of Flame, a tale of jealousy set in a redwood forest, was slow moving and badly cast even if the photography of the redwoods was beautiful, and Mae Marsh’s sister Marguerite in Conquered Hearts was “quite expressionless,” as was the story. Worst of all was Oh Johnny, which was “rather of the vintage of 1915 when we didn’t do things on the screen as we do now. The story is as full of kidnappings and attempted arsons and burglaries and murders as a Main-street serial.” The film was made in 1918 by a small company in Pennsylvania, Betzwood Film. The local community college library there has a very nice website devoted to it; they’ve also put Oh Johnny on it as well. (Hooray for local historians!)

Exhibitors weren’t cleaning out their shelves during a slow time: Kingsley was just having a run of bad luck. Douglas Fairbanks’ Arizona opened on Christmas Eve, and Chaplin’s Shoulder Arms was in its second week as was Griffith’s The Greatest Thing in Life.




*Sugar wasn’t rationed in the U.S. during World War 1, but because it was imported people were encouraged to use domestic honey or maple syrup instead.

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