Chaplin’s Visitor: Week of March 29th, 1919

Charlie Chaplin, Marcel Dupuys, Peter Kyne

One hundred years ago this week, the war’s effects were still being felt. Kingsley told the story of a visitor to Charlie Chaplin’s studio who’d suffered more than most, Marcel Dupuys:

the fourteen-year-old French lad who went into action at Chateau Thierry and Pont a Mousson. His mother passed on in 1911 and his father fell in the battle at Verdun.

The authorities placed him in an orphan asylum where restlessness and discontent soon mastered him. One day he ran away, and finally reached the front trenches where he attached himself to the Seventy-Ninth French Infantry. Many stories are told of the ‘handy boy around the front line dressing stations,’ whose particular job was crawling around amongst the wounded, giving them rum. While giving cheer and stimulant to his stricken comrades he was twice wounded. As the ranks of his countrymen grew thin and scattered, the little man was separated from them, and later attached himself to an American unit, the 143rd Field Artillery. The 143rd came home on the transport “Matsonia,” in which Peter B. Kyne commanded Battery A. The soldiers of the 143rd smuggled Marcel aboard the transport, and he turned up two days later at sea, which was Christmas Day. Later he was adopted by Mr. Kyne.

It was mighty good to see Mr. Chaplin and Marcel romping over the studio grounds. The wistful little fellow of sad memories was once again the happy boy.

“Father,” said Marcel whose English is quite good, “you have been nice to me all the time. But when you bring me to play with Charlie—oh boy!—I think you are quite too wonderful.”


Once again, Chaplin’s publicity department was very good at their job. This time (unlike the story of Charlie saving a girl from drowning), I was able to verify some of the story. Marcel Jules Dupuys was born February 21, 1904 in Dangeutin, France, so he’d just turned 15. He really did sail to America from Bordeaux on December 23, 1918, according to the ship’s manifest.

Marcel Dupuys, Peter and Helene Kyne

Kyne wrote an expanded version of the story Kingsley was told for Sunset magazine. He explained that his experience as an army commander prepared him for the challenges of adopting a teen that was “equal proportions of angel and devil.” The stories he told about Marcel shooting birds, crashing through the glass roof of the conservatory and getting into fights with neighborhood boys were supposed to be cute, evidence that he was “one hundred and fifty per cent boy.”

By September, 1920 the Kynes had changed their minds. Kyne sent him to the Alameda County Detention Home to await deportation proceedings after Dupuys had run away from home for four days. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Marcel admitted to not always doing what was right, but he was brokenhearted that “Mr. Kyne does not want me any more.” At a hearing, Kyne blamed Helene Kyne, saying “the boy’s actions has so unnerved his wife that she was compelled to go on an extended cruise of the West Indies,” but they found a new foster mother and he left with her. This arrangement only lasted a few days and Dupuys disappeared again. He was found and arrested after he robbed Kyne’s house in Del Mar, California. His deportation hearing was held in San Diego in December, where he was found to be of “constitutional psychopathic inferiority” and was sent back to France.


However, he didn’t stay there for long. He stowed away on the steamer Westwood and arrived in Baltimore on May 6th, 1921, only to be quickly deported again. So he signed up as a crewmember on a ship bound for Galveston, Texas and he deserted. He enlisted in the army signal corps and even managed to get himself naturalized as an American citizen on June 5, 1922. He got caught at Camp Travis and was ordered to be deported again.

That’s where his trail ends. I can’t find out if he returned to France, because their census information is only available there (it hasn’t even been indexed!). However, given his history, I wouldn’t be surprised if the minute the authorities’ backs were turned, he either escaped in the States or was on the first boat back, this time with a new name.


This week, Kingsley saw a film that finally answered Sigmund Freud’s question:

It was a large order which the Vitagraph undertook when they strove to include in five reels of film the desires of women, as implied in the name of their latest photoplay starring Grace Darmond and which is entitled What Every Woman Wants. All the same the title is a good one and drew a lot of people to Ray’s Garden yesterday—probably the men went to find out what the women wanted, and the women went to find out what they themselves wanted.

Evidently what every woman wants is excitement.


Darmond’s character got plenty of that, what with getting arrested for murdering her husband. Kingsley’s description of what happened next in the now lost film delivered some grade-A snark:

just at the tip end of the last reel, when you’re getting awfully nervous, the little housemaid up and confesses she killed her master because, being on probation from the reform school, he’s threatened to send her back, for no reason which can be found out, as she seems always to be a busy soul and neat and tidy into the bargain. She cries and says she didn’t even know the gun was loaded—and on her unsupported testimony the court lets her go and she walks out happily on the arm of her policeman lover, who tells her not to be a careless little thing with guns like that any more.

Oh dear. This one’s not going to get a remake. Well, they couldn’t all be classics.

T.H. Gibson Gowland

It’s interesting who was top-billed in the publicity for an upcoming film from Universal:

T.H. Gibson Gowland, whose characterization in Maurice Tourneur’s production of White Heather is said to be as fine a bit of acting as the screen has seen, has been engaged by Universal to play a leading role in a picture called The Pinnacle, which Erich von Stroheim is directing and in which von Stroheim also plays a leading part, with Francolla Billington and Sam de Grasse featured. Gowland’s three-year-old son also appears in the picture.

Now when the film is remembered, it’s for Von Stroheim. It got a title change, becoming Blind Husbands and it was von Stroheim’s directing debut.


Gowland went on to star in Greed (1924) and he had a long career as a character actor. His three year old son was named Peter, and he became a glamour photographer with a six-decade long career. His web site is here.


“Former Protégé of Kyne Missing,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 24, 1920.

“Former Protégé of Peter B. Kyne Will be Deported,” San Francisco Chronicle, May 29, 1921.

“French Orphan Gets Home in San Francisco,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 11, 1920.

“Marcel Bad But Will Try Again,” Observer (Montague, MI), September 7, 1922.

Peter B. Kyne, “Fathering a War Veteran,” Sunset, pp.17-19, 54-68.

“Peter B. Kyne to Send his War Orphan Back to France,” Chico Record, February 12, 1921.

“Peter B. Kyne’s Protégé Denies Being Bad Boy,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 9, 1920.

“Peter Kyne’s Ward May be Deported,” Riverside Daily Press, December 8, 1920.

“War Waif Adopted by Author Faces Deportation,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 8, 1920.








Week of March 15th, 1919


One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley had a nice time out at the movies. First off, she was happy to see a character actor in a different sort of role in A Taste of Life, where she found:

the capital comedying of George Hernandez, in the unctuous role of the blithe Mr. Collamore, whose wife wanted to get a divorce, and who looked about for a co-respondent—“not necessarily a pretty girl, but reliable!” We have been so used to thinking of Mr. Hernandez in the kind old “guardy” parts, the dear old father whose children turned out to be bank robbers, the gentle soul who took his harum-scarum granddaughter to raise because she had her mother’s eyes or for some equally logical reason. And now to see him, fairly carrying off the show with his delightful drollery as the funniest fat and cheerfully obliging husband in screen captivity!

George Frank Hernandez was a rarity: he was born in California to parents who were actual pioneers. They came for the Gold Rush and in 1863 he was born in Placerville, not far from Sutter’s Mill where gold had been discovered. His clever father Raphael wasn’t a miner; he was a stationer selling supplies to the miners. George became a theatrical actor, and he married actress Anna Dodge in 1899. They went in to film in 1910 with the Selig Company in Chicago. By 1919 they were both working steadily as character actors in Hollywood. Hernandez died in 1922 due to complications of surgery.

George and Anna Dodge Hernandez

Kingsley enjoyed everything about A Taste of Life, and she said “if you want to chuckle and chortle for a straight hour, don’t fail to see this crisp, delightful farce, with its amusing sequence of events.” Unfortunately we can’t because it’s a lost film.


The short playing with it was very good, too:

Who says Harold Lloyd doesn’t belong in the big league of comedy makers? If you doubt it, be sure and stay long enough to see him and Bebe Daniels and Harry Pollard in Look Out Below.

She wasn’t the only one who thought he’d earned a career upgrade. Just a month later, on April 12, 1919, he signed a new contract to make two-reel comedies, instead of one-reelers made once a week. He was about to get bigger budgets and more time to develop story ideas.

Bebe Daniels, Snub Pollard, Harold Lloyd in Look Out Below

In addition to his new contract, 1919 was an eventful year for Lloyd. His co-star Bebe Daniels stayed only for his first two longer films. Lloyd hired Mildred Davis to replace her, whom he married in 1923. Then on August 14th a terrible accident with a bomb they thought was a prop happened, and in the explosion he was temporarily blinded and he lost his right thumb and forefinger. He took the rest of the year to recover.

Mildred Davis and Harold Lloyd in their first film together, From Hand to Mouth

Look Out Below was his second film with height gags (the first, Ask Father, had come out one month earlier). Both were important steps towards two of his best films, High and Dizzy (1920) and Safety Last (1923), and both have been preserved.

The other film Kingsley reviewed this week, The Two Brides, was awful, but it featured a big celebrity:

The name of Lina Cavalieri, the world’s most famous professional beauty, is strong enough to pull in a good-sized house, wherever she may be playing. So far as beauty is concerned, she does give you your money’s worth. As to acting, she is apt to revert to the set stage mannerisms of grand opera, which are far from convincing.

Kingsley wasn’t the only one to notice her shortcomings: this now lost film was her last one made in the United States. But she came by her mannerisms honestly. Before she was a professional beauty with a Parisian cosmetic shop and a book, My Secrets of Beauty (1914), she had been a professional opera singer who toured Europe and had several seasons in New York City. Movies just weren’t her medium.

I apologize for making light of someone’s death, but hers was worthy of a melodrama’s villain. In 1944 she was living in Florence, Italy and died gathering her jewelry during an Allied bombing raid. At least she didn’t try to make the servants collect her belongings – they all survived in the bomb shelter.

Paul Fryer and Olga Usova wrote a biography of her called Lina Cavalieri: the Life of Opera’s Greatest Beauty, 1874–1944 (2004).






Week of March 8th, 1919


One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley announced that another vaudeville star was going to give feature films a try:

That man of mystery, Harry Houdini, having made up his mind that he can be even more deeply, darkly mysterious through the medium of the celluloids than on stage, is going to give the whole world a chance to guess how he does it. In short, Houdini has just signed up with Famous Players-Lasky to make a six-reel feature… Mr. Lasky promises it will be absolutely unique and unlike anything of the sort ever attempted on the screen.

What’s particularly interesting is that she assumed her readers didn’t know much about him. He had only appeared in Los Angeles once, in September 1907. So she introduced him:

Beginning life as a locksmith, Houdini soon learned to open any lock ever made, and it occurred to him one day to capitalize on his talents. Starting in vaudeville with his handcuff act, he toured the world and has had a record-breaking success in all countries. For the past three years he has been one of the featured performers in the New York Hippodrome.

hh_cardsMost of that was correct, but he’d started out as a tie-cutter, not a locksmith. There are lots of web sites devoted to him, like Wild About Harry, but the short version is he was born Erik Weisz in Budapest, Hungary in 1874, and he moved with his family to Wisconsin in 1876. He got interested in conjuring when he read a magician’s biography, and came up with an act with doing card tricks and sleight-of-hand, which he performed with circuses and medicine shows. Then he developed a handcuff act. Calling himself “The Handcuff King,” he got a big break in 1899 when he was hired for the Keith-Orpheum vaudeville circuit. In 1908 started doing other escape acts, freeing himself from chains, ropes, straightjackets and locked, water-filled milk cans.

In 1918 his unusual set of skills were featured a serial called The Master Mystery. He played a detective, and the bad guys inevitably tied him up at the end of an episode so he could escape at the beginning of the next. It must have been a success, because Jesse Lasky hired him to make two features. In the first, The Grim Game, he played a man jailed for a murder he didn’t commit, so he escapes and pursues the real killer who has kidnapped his fiancée. The most exciting scene was unplanned: two biplanes collided while they were filming, yet both pilots managed to land. The film was thought to be lost, but in 2014 the Houdini Museum found it (they tell the story on their web site) and Turner Classic Movies restored it.


Houdini’s other film for Lasky was called Terror Island (1920), then he made two more for his own production company but in 1923 decided film wasn’t profitable enough. He added debunking spiritualists to his magic and escape act, offering $10,000 to any medium that could do something he couldn’t explain. He never had to pay it. He died of peritonitis in 1926.

The most astonishing thing about Houdini is that he’s still famous, when most live performers are quickly forgotten. His act really wasn’t like anybody else’s.


Much more typical is the fate of the act that irritated Kingsley at the Orpheum this week:

If it amuses you to listen to two grown people imitating the vocal amours of back-yard cats and barnyard fowls, you will find Charles and Madeline Dunbar amusing. Otherwise you will find staying at home and playing checkers with grandpa more thrilling.

Most of the rest of the bill was equally disappointing; “with only the thought that you pay but a trifle over 8 cents an act to sustain you through some of the numbers.”

Other people actually liked the Dunbars; they toured with their impersonation act for fifteen years. In 1921 Variety’s critic wrote about their show at the Colonial Theater (Dec. 16, 1921, p.19.):

Charles and Madeline Dunbar resumed after intermission with their now standard “Animalfunology.” The man has the most expressive face of any mimics remembered. It’s a pan that glows and that has a mobile quality of particular aid. His “tom cat talk” is what landed strongest, with Miss Dunbar’s clever aid…The act was a deserved hit.

They kept going until 1932 when Charles Deagan (Dunbar was their stage name) died of heart failure in New York City, just after he made his debut in radio.*

Kingsley’s favorite film this week was A Heart in Pawn staring Sessue Hayakawa and Tsuru Aoki. Based on Shadows, a play written by Hayakawa, it was a bit like Madame Butterfly but with extra suffering. Aoki plays a young wife who sells herself as a geisha to fund her husband’s medical studies in America. While he’s away, she murders a customer by mistake and goes to prison. In the States, he’s told that she died so he remarries and adopts a girl from Japan. They visit his home country and learn that not only that the girl is his daughter, his first wife isn’t dead. She helpfully solves his problems by drowning herself. Kingsley hated this “happy” ending, but she still thought it was a “tremendous drama” and the production had “faultless physical beauty.” Furthermore:

If anything more were needed to make us believe that Sessue Hayakawa is a genius of versatile and brilliant order, it is furnished here in the fact that Hayakawa not only produced this picture in exquisite fashion from every standpoint of artistry, that he not only enacts the principle role with depth and sincerity not excelled anywhere, but that he wrote that human, absorbing story himself.

It’s a lost film.


“Vaudeville Actor Dies in New York,” Los Angeles Times, July 20, 1932; “Charles Deagan,” Variety, July 26, 1932, p.47.

Week of March 1st, 1919


One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on how quickly a new company was getting ready to make films:

Hiram Abrams, former president of the Paramount Pictures Corporation and former vice-president of the Famous Players-Lasky Company, was yesterday appointed general manager of the United Artists’ Distributing Corporation. This is the organization made by Mary Pickford, Charles Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks and D.W. Griffith.

Hiram Abrams

The four had signed the articles of incorporation just a few weeks earlier, on February 5th. They had already appointed a president, Oscar A. Price, the former U.S. Assistant Director of Railroads, and he’d just opened their New York office. They hired William McAdoo, the former Secretary of the Treasury, as Chief Counsel. Benjamin Schulberg was appointed as assistant general manager under Abrams; he’d been his assistant at Paramount.


They were also busily getting their physical plant ready:

Douglas Fairbanks yesterday finished his final picture to be made by him under his contract with the Paramount Corporation. The title of the picture is The Knickerbocker Buckaroo. Mr. Fairbanks has leased the Clune Studio on Melrose Avenue, Hollywood, and the work of moving the Fairbanks properties from the quarters of the star has long occupied at the Lasky studios will begin today [March 5th].

His brother Robert was in charge of renovating the studio, and it was to include an outdoor gymnasium so his brother could “retain his customary vigor and vim.” It’s remarkable how quickly they were able to set up a new company.

The founders motive was more control over their money and creative decisions. Motion Picture News called the idea that filmmakers would produce and distribute their own films “the most revolutionary move in the history of the film industry.” (“Inside Story of the Combine Now Told,” Feb. 1, 1919, p. 685)


Fairbanks made their first film, His Majesty, the American and it was a hit. However, even though they had big moneymakers like Way Down East (1920) the company ran into trouble producing enough films to support their distribution network. So in 1924 they hired Joseph Schenk as the president, and he brought films from his wife Norma Talmadge and in-laws Constance Talmadge and Buster Keaton. In addition they began distributing the work of independent producers including Samuel Goldwyn. The company is still around after passing through a long list of owners, doing business under the name United Artists’ Digital Studios.

Pickford made lots of movies about orphans, including Daddy Long Legs

Another one of the United Artists, Mary Pickford, appeared in the second installment of Ella The Extra Girl. Kingsley was able to include a detail missed in most star profiles: Pickford included chewing gum with the lunches she provided for the extras. Ella approved: “I’m askin’ you if that ain’t looking after her extras?” This month Kinglsey made up a story of how Miss Pickford found a home for an orphan named Mousie. While that was harmless fan fiction, maybe the gum part was true.


Later this week Kingsley reported that Pickford was taking three whole days off between making Daddy Long Legs and The Hoodlum to shoot publicity photos and go to the dentist. After that she owed one more film to First National (Heart o’ the Hills), then she started work at United Artists.


Kingsley remarked on the difference in what audiences say they want versus what they actually pay money to see:

From the hullabloo raised a few months ago by mothers’ clubs and like institutions concerning suitable motion pictures for children, one would have thought even the Pansy Books and the Trotty Series, if produced in films, would be a riot, and that the Rollo stories, if shown on the screen, would simply cause mothers to trample each other to death in the rush to get in and see the show.*

Wherefore the Fox Company took these good souls at their word, and produced a series of supremely artistic and delightful fairy tales under direction of Chet and Sidney Franklin. The first one was a tremendous success; then they died. Then they put the Lee kids on in a series of comedies, which were fairly successful, but not as popular as they should have been. The now defunct Balboa Amusement Company made pictures with Baby Marie Osbourne, and while they gained a fair amount of popularity, there are no records of disaster caused by the youngsters and mothers of the land breaking their necks to get in to houses where the pictures were shown. It appears the young ones still hollered for Charlie Chaplin and Fatty Arbuckle and Bill Hart and Mary Pickford.

So children are people, not an alien race who want kiddie films? There’s a lesson for studio heads.

Kingsley (and her rivals) appeared in the newspaper ad for her favorite film from last week:


It seems that exhibitors have been using critics’ pull quotes to bring in customers for a long time.



*All three had been best sellers, but they were very much of the previous century. The Rollo stories were by Jacob Abbott, a minister who in the 1830’s became the first writer of multivolume series for children. Rollo didn’t have many adventures or much personality, but he learned lots of moral lessons. Pansy was the pen name of Isabella Macdonald Alden, and from 1865 to 1931 she wrote equally wholesome stories that taught life lessons for Christians. I can imagine them irritating a young, bookish Grace Kingsley.



Trotty, and his author, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, were more interesting. He was a mischievous four-year-old boy who had adventures in a series of short stories published in the 1860’s and ‘70’s. She was a prolific author for children and adults who with her Gypsy Breton series, set the pattern for tomboyish heroines like Jo March. Best of all, she advocated clothing reform. She was a corset burner! Here’s what she wrote in What to Wear (1873):

Burn up the corsets! … No, nor do you save the whalebones, you will never need whalebones again. Make a bonfire of the cruel steels that have lorded it over your thorax and abdomens for so many years and heave a sigh of relief, for your emancipation I assure you, from this moment has begun.

A biopic about her could teach some handy life lessons: we can all appreciate our emancipated thoraxes.