Methodists and Movies: Week of April 26th, 1919

Self censorship, at its finest

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported that the pictures were going to church:

Now that the Methodist-Episcopalian church has officially decided that there’s nothing intrinsically wrong about motion pictures, it does seem as if the last objection to the flickers had been removed. In fact, the breach between pictures and the church would seems to have been entirely healed, for when the church above mentioned gathers its delegates together in June at Columbus Ohio, motion pictures will be part of the program.

It seems a picture pageant is to be prepared, showing the hundreds of Hindus, Japanese and Chinese who are to be present at the meeting, and who will work in the interests of foreign missions. Just what other action will be taken by the meeting is not known, but it has been whispered that pictures of a suitable nature may later be adopted as a part of entertainments and lectures given in the Methodist church.

Charles Edward Locke

It seems it wasn’t all Methodists who objected to the pictures, it was mostly one in Los Angeles: Charles Edward Locke, pastor of the First Methodist Episcopal Church. He had given a fiery sermon about them on July 7th 1918. Kingsley misremembered it a bit, because he didn’t condemn all films. He conceded that motion pictures had great possibility for instruction, and “the desire for recreation and amusement is legitimate and within certain bounds be encouraged.” Why, he had even recommended films from the pulpit that would provide uplift. However, he had also “severely criticized and denounced the increasing tendency to prostitute the high art of the motion picture into an insidious debauchery of the young and old.” Furthermore, “pictures have never been so daring and prurient and salacious and indecent as they are today.” His knickers were in quite the twist.

It got even better. Knowing which side his bread was buttered on, Locke blamed filmmakers, saying “the producers and not the patrons are wholly responsible.” He told of “a gentleman who is fond of elevating pictures and who visits most of the motion-picture houses tells me that he is almost continuously offended by the inexcusable introduction of scenes which are utterly degrading and repulsive.” Poor man, it must have been exhausting to be continuously offended. How terrible that the big mean theater owners forced him to hand over his quarters and then marched him into such dens of inequity!

To solve the problem, Locke declared “a censorship should be established as will make it impossible for these despicable creatures to carry forward their schemes of moral degradation.” He asked his congregation to call on the Mayor and City Council for “immediate legislation that will raise the moral standard of motion pictures and that will prohibit the exhibition of flagrantly offensive films.”

There’s no evidence that anything came of this. The reports from Council meetings said that they was busy arguing over if their new blue laws that closed stores on Sundays should apply to drug stores too, and whether a new road should be built to the harbor. Los Angeles citizens were too busy worrying about the war to spend time on film censorship. The next Sunday, even Locke had forgotten about it, and he preached an equally fiery sermon against the Kaiser. But it seems to have stuck in Kingsley’s head, so she could be glad the Methodists gotten over their objections to the pictures.


The meeting that Kingsley mentioned was a very big deal indeed. Held June 20th to July 13th, the Centenary Celebration of American Methodist Missions attracted over 100,000 visitors to Columbus, Ohio where they walked through eight large pavilions displaying missionary work from around the world. It was a Methodist World’s Fair. They also had popular entertainment, including a Ferris wheel, a Wild West show, concerts by the Cincinnati Symphony, and a ten-story film screen, where they showed both ethnographic films about their missionary work, and movies from Hollywood. In 2012, Christopher Anderson published two books about it.


Kingsley had a cute story about D.W. Griffith’s newest protégé:

Carol Dempster, the lovely new Griffith star, who is playing the leading role in The Girl who Stayed at Home at Graumans, has a devoted and solicitous admirer in her small nephew, Dempster Glines. Dempster went to the show the other night and nearly broke it up. Whenever the bullying Germans grabbed Carol, he shouted aloud, “Quit that! You let my auntie alone!” And when the wicked German was finally shot, the youngster shouted, so his voice carried to the uttermost parts of the gallery, “Hooray! Give it to him! Give it to him good!”

I’m glad Carol Dempster had family who stood up for her: film fans haven’t always been kind to her memory. Dempster was 6 years old in 1919. He changed his name to James when he grew up, tried acting, worked as a shipping clerk and served in the National Guard during the Second World War.

Another young actress, Bessie Love, was looking forward to a notable achievement:

Little Bessie Love ought to be awarded the palm for thoroughness. What do you think? Little Bessie is to graduate from the Los Angeles High School in June!

You see Bessie quit school at the beginning of her senior year, just three years ago, to become a picture actress. And she worked so hard for a while that she had no time for school. Then she began to wish she had finished the isms and ologies she had forsaken, so she began to attend night school. And now her teachers do say that she has qualified herself to receive, with the graduating class which goes out into the cold world in June, a sheepskin duly equipped with the credentials which ought to bear on them, if they do not, the legend, “For a good little girl.”

Calling a 20-year-old woman a good little girl is awfully infantilizing, but that’s how she was sold in the ads for her films. Kingsley herself only got to complete one year of high school before she had to go to work as a stenographer.


Kingsley’s best line this week was in a review of All For A Kiss, the musical comedy at the Burbank Theater that she thought rivaled shows at New York’s Winter Garden. It actually had a plot, and:

It’s a cunningly devised plot, too—that is, I mean it is cunning devised so as to hang on it as many bathing suit scenes and tropical island costumes and hula dances and comic numbers by the three comedians as possible.

You really don’t need to know anything more about it: this entertainment was thoroughly free from any moral uplift. Rev. Locke probably didn’t attend.




Here’s a digression from this week’s news that I stumbled on while researching Rev. Locke. In his anti-film sermon he mentioned one particularly evil example that

resulted in action looking toward a proper censorship by the City Council, but the purposes of their wise legislation were defeated by assurances from the large picture producers that if the whole matter were left to them the evil tendencies would be corrected. The Council was betrayed.

Of course I had to see what that was about. On December 21, 1917 Mayor Woodman had ordered Free and Equal to be suppressed because it was “immoral.” A delegation of 50 producers, distributors and exhibitors showed up at his office right after Christmas, denounced that exhibitor as a “wildcatter,” and begged for the whole industry to not be punished for one irresponsible person. The said they’d already started a committee of their own, and would do the censoring themselves. The Mayor promised to wait two weeks before he did anything, and it seems that everybody promptly forgot about the whole thing, except for Rev. Locke.

It played only one night

Remarkably, it wasn’t sex or violence that they were censoring; it was a film about intermarriage between black and white people. (Once again, the past is a foreign country!) Now lost, Free and Equal told the story of a white judge who believes there will be equality if black and white people can marry – until his daughter marries a mixed-race man who is committing bigamy. Then the husband murders another young woman as he was getting ready to rape her, mostly because they’re dealing in hypersexual racist stereotypes but also partly because it was a Thomas Ince melodrama from 1917. He ends up in prison and the judge quits believing in equality. It was certainly a reprehensible film, but the NAACP dealt with it in a much smarter way when it finally did get shown, as the anonymous AFI Catalog writer reported:

According to information in the NAACP Papers at the Library of Congress, the National Office of the NAACP sent an official to the opening on 19 April 1925, after having received over a period of a few months “more or less mysterious intimations” about the film “which was characterized as being much worse than The Birth of a Nation.” The official judged the film to be “very offensive,” and surmising that “the intimations sent us were a bid for publicity,” the NAACP decided to take no action to protest the film. After a week in New York, it was withdrawn.


“Film Men Ask To Aid Mayor,” Los Angeles Times, December 27, 1917.

“Mayor Orders a Film Suppressed,” Los Angeles Times, December 22, 1917.

“Must Prohibit Vicious Films,” Los Angeles Times, July 8, 1918.



Sidney Drew, In Memorium: Week of April 19th, 1919

Sidney Drew

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley devoted her Sunday column to a remembrance of actor Sidney Drew, who died on April 9th:

“That,” said the thin man, as he wiped the tears of laughter from his eyes, “that is the best laugh I’ve had in many a day. And I needed it—I sure needed it!”

He was long and thin, and he had a sad face, and his shoulders were humpy and bowed as if with many burdens. I don’t know what his need was, but on thinking things over all the things I’ve heard about Sidney Drew—for it was of Sidney Drew in a playlet at the Orpheum the thin man was talking. He shook his head, and then at remembrance of some particularly funny bit in that hilarious playlet, he went away of down the street, chuckling, and with his shoulders still heaving with inward laughter.

It seems to me that that was, after all, one of the biggest tributes that could be paid to a man.

Sidney Drew was part of a theatrical family (his mother, Louisa Drew, was an actor and theater manager, and he was Ethel, John and Lionel Barrymore’s uncle). He was studying to be a lawyer in Philadelphia when he was offered a part in the play Our Boarding House. He promptly abandoned the law and he became a successful actor, first in theater and vaudeville then in 1911 he moved to film.


The first “Mrs. Sidney Drew,” fellow actor Gladys Rankin, had died in 1914 and he married Lucile McVey, a scriptwriter at Vitagraph. He added her to his filmmaking team, and Kingsley described what happened next:

At first the Drew comedies didn’t go well. The Drews cudgeled their brains. Then one day the cook left, company was coming and things were in a hub-bub. That was the moment of inspiration to Mrs. Drew. In the midst of household chaos she threw up her hands in joy. “Let’s write a comedy around that!” And though the guests were due to arrive, they sat down right then and there and wrote their first domestic story.


She summed up what those domestic stories were like:

Have you worried over the furnace, or have you wanted to keep chickens, has your wife objected to your joining the Masons, have you had trouble with your new automobile? Have you trouble with the new maid? You found all your little troubles humorously reflected in their little screen comedies… And in this work too much credit cannot be given to Mrs. Drew, who thought out the ideas, wrote the scenarios, and did nearly all of the directing.

I Love Lucy and all domestic sitcoms owe a lot to the Drews.


Their happy marriage on screen was a reflection of reality: “his devotion to the second Mrs. Drew, whom he married about six years ago, became a proverb among his fellow players.” Actress May Allison told Kingsley that “they had a wonderful home life of their own, and after exhausting labors during, say, fourteen or sixteen hours at a stretch, when the day’s work was done they’d skip about their garden or play the piano and sing and behave like two kids.”

Kingsley concluded: “thousands and thousands of fans will miss them and mourn the passing of Mr. Drew, which breaks up forever the happy combination.” Drew died of uremic poisoning following a sudden illness. Lucile Drew, still credited as Mrs. Sidney Drew, wrote and directed a few more films on her own, including The Stimulating Mrs. Barton (1920) and Cousin Kate (1921). She died of cancer in 1925.


There are modern reviews of their films Wanted, a Nurse (1915) and Fox Trot Finesse (1915) at Century Film Project. Movies, Silently reviewed Diplomatic Henry (1915)  as well as a second one of Fox Trot Finesse. Another of their comedies, A Safe Investment (1915), is available on the Internet Archive:


Kingsley’s favorite film this week was a sequel, The Romance of Tarzan. According to her, this one was more of a romantic comedy than Tarzan of the Apes:

Elmo Lincoln, as the hero, parks his caveman club, quits “jungling” and follows lovely Enid Markey into civilization. Here he puts on a “biled” [boiled] shirt and a stiff collar, all for the love of the fair one, who reciprocates. Also he is discovered to be Lord Greystoke. But a number of other ladies fall in love with him, and his quiet protest that “in the jungle we have only one mate” has no effect on a certain vampire, played with unction by Cleo Madison who holds the theory that civilization knows better, and who exercise her wiles on him. Naturally, big Tarzan is no match for this lady, who sends him word that somebody is trying to steal her, and he goes down to the house and breaks furniture with the villain. His simple jungle lore is no match for all the wicked ones, he finally concludes, he finally concludes, and he goes back to his old home, whither, of course, he is followed by his “mate.” The story abounds in fresh and attractive romance, in superbeautiful photography and in excellent acting by the all-star cast.

It’s a lost film, so we can’t see Tarzan being vamped. Wid’s Daily was much less enthusiastic about it than Kingsley; he wanted an adventure film and this “offering was very inconsistent in spots and frequently the wild action and convenient happenings will get laughs” (October 16, 1918). He only mentioned Cleo Madison in the cast list. It’s as if they saw two different movies.




You Could Just Stay Home: Week of April 12th, 1919

Bessie Barriscale

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley told a story about how to discourage a young person’s misplaced ambitions:

“Before you decide definitely to chose the screen as a profession, I would advise you to read a little book by Dr. Conwell called Acres of Diamonds,” said Bessie Barriscale to a girl who had been bitten by the camera bug and who had come all the way from a New England town to break in to pictures.

The girl took Miss Barriscale’s advice, read the book and decided that her acre of diamonds wasn’t to be found in the pictures at all, but right back there in the little town she came from.

“It is often so,” said the star. “A girl will look far afield for the fortune that lies right at her feet. The screen must have new blood, new talent, new faces, but a girl should be very sure that she is right before she spends time, money and much labor in trying to make good. Such a girl I will help to the limit, but it is unjust to a girl herself to help her when her chances are doubtful.”


It’s so unusual to hear something other than “follow your dreams!” Acres of Diamonds was a popular essay by Russell Conwell, a Baptist minister, writer, and the founder of Temple University in Philadelphia, adapted from a lecture he gave over 6,000 times. Just as Barriscale said, its main idea was that you don’t need to look elsewhere for opportunity. He told a story about a man who wanted to find diamonds, so he sold his property and went off in search of them. The new owner found a mine on the property. The essay is available on Google Books.

Another convincing argument against going to Hollywood

Barriscale managed to turn one unpromising newcomer away. A few days later in a review, Kingsley identified the root of the problem:

Probably there isn’t anybody in the world under forty-five who hasn’t in some fleeting moment imagined himself a picture actor—with a sneaking belief that if he had only half a chance he could push Douglas Fairbanks and William S. Hart right back into the two-a-day.


The film she was reviewing was The Goat, which featured Fred Stone as an aspiring movie star who leaves his home and his sweetheart to try his luck in Hollywood. He wants to be in films so badly that he agrees to be a stunt man (did the writers of Singing In The Rain see this movie?); unlike many Hollywood aspirants he had real skill, as Kingsley notes: “that’s where Stone has a chance to show how he can defy all the laws of gravitation.” However, this lost film did its part to discourage people from trying to be a performer: he gets badly injured doing a particularly dangerous stunt, so he takes the studio’s hush money and uses it for a honeymoon to Niagara Falls with his sweetheart.


Alas, this week Kingsley also ran a story that made stardom sound easy, which didn’t help matters. One morning a few weeks earlier in the Wilson household:

sister Lois started off to work at the studio as usual, and sister Janice told Mamma Wilson she was going downtown to shop. But she didn’t. Instead she went down to the offices of Willis & Inglis, and told them she wanted to play in pictures. She said she had never had any experience—and she didn’t tell them she was Lois Wilson’s sister. Her beauty and evident breeding marked her for honor, however, and the next day she was called to work in a picture with Gladys Brockwell, at a nice little salary of $60 per week. She made good in the picture, and has had one or two engagements since then, but nothing startling.

Then about a week ago, when Mr. [Frank] Keenan started work on his latest and one of his biggest productions, he looked about for a lovely leading woman. As soon as he saw Miss Wilson’s photographs, he decided she was just the girl for the part. And so she is playing opposite him.

Janice Wilson wasn’t a star, but did have a bit of a career in Hollywood, appearing in five films including Keenan’s film, The World Aflame (1919). She stopped acting when she married real estate agent James Bell, in 1922. So even if she didn’t get to be a successful as her sister, her dreams don’t seem to have done lasting damage to her.


Kingsley’s favorite films this week were two nonfiction shorts:

It was just bound to arrive—painless picture education. And now it’s here, with one clever Rothacker sponsoring it. Maybe you don’t care for travelogues, or maybe you aren’t feeling like plush-chair traveling today. All right. You don’t have to take your travelogues “neat” any more. Mr. Rothacker dishes them up with romantic sauce piquant. Even if you don’t care a picayune in the abstract about how the wild Maoris live or what their dances are like or what they eat for breakfast, you’re just bound to be absorbed in the concrete instance of an idealized love affair of a Maori maid and man. That’s the film I saw at Ray’s Garden yesterday. And while maybe you aren’t excited at all over the way in which brides are given away on the Sahara Desert yet you’re sure to be fascinated over at the Victory by the particular wedding ceremony and journey of a particularly attractive Bedouin bride and bridegroom. And all talked about in subtitles that are human and amusing. In short, these pictures give you a gratifying sense of being educated in an entirely painless way all the while you were being highly entertained.

A Maori Romance and Mid Sahara’s Sands were two of the twenty films made in the Rothacker Outdoor Pictures series. Exhibitor’s Herald also like them for the same reason Kingsley did: “special attention has been given to the titling of these “Outdoor” pictures. The human appeal is conveyed by title which connect the scenic episodes in narrative form, and the title expert has caught the spirit of the subjects and emphasized them with light and humorous touches.” (December 14, 1918, p.15) Other titles in the series included Bad Men and Good Scenery (Jackson Hole, Wyoming), An Eyeful of Egypt, and Peaks, Parks and Pines (Mt. Rainer Washington).

Bad Men and Good Scenery

There’s a clip of Mid Sahara’s Sands available on the Travel Film Archive site. Now some of the humor seems mean and patronizing, plus seeing a 10-year old Bedouin bride is just sad (she didn’t get to make choices for herself, unlike Barriscale’s visitor). However, it is amazing that you can see what Bedouin people looked and moved like in 1918.

Rothacker and Conan-Doyle

Watterson R. Rothacker had quite a career. Based in Chicago, in 1910 he co-founded the Industrial Film Company, the first company to specialize in making advertising and educational films. After another co-founder, Carl Laemmle, left to start Universal Films, the company became the Rothacker Film Manufacturing Company. During the war they also made documentaries about the fighting and he ran a film processing laboratory. He’s most famous for hiring special effects pioneer Willis O’Brien to make short films for his company, then following his suggestion to turn The Lost World into a movie. Rothacker bought the film rights from the novel’s author Arthur Conan Doyle, settled various lawsuits with O’Brien’s former business partner, then signed an agreement with First National in December 1923 to finance and distribute the film. It was a great big hit, making 2.6 million dollars. He sold his studio in 1926 and went to work for First National as the managing director. He went on to be vice president of the Motion Picture Producers Association, then vice president of Paramount Pictures. In 1939 he became vice president of the Quigley Publishing Company, publishers of Motion Picture Herald and Motion Picture Daily. He died of cancer in 1960.



“The Lost World,” in George Lucas’s Blockbusting, p.94-95.

“W.R. Rothacker, Ex-Film Producer,” New York Times, January 27, 1960.


The Heiress: Week of April 5th, 1919

Nell Shipman

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley heard about some good fortune coming to an actress:

Some people do have all the luck. As though it were not enough to have her own company and a tremendous salary, now Nell Shipman, star of the Shipman-Curwood Picture Company, has become an heiress.

Miss Shipman, who has just returned from Canada, learned of her good fortune only a few days ago, when a letter from England apprised her of the fact that a grand-aunt on her mother’s side whom she did not even know, had died leaving Miss Shipman a fortune amounting in American money to something over $100,000.

A few days later, Kingsley did an interview with her, and got a corrected version of the story. It seems that Shipman hadn’t actually inherited anything yet, but she found documents (probably among her recently deceased father’s papers) that said she and her brother would be splitting her grandmother’s estate, which was valued at one million pounds.* Because her grandmother was in poor health, Shipman was already planning to make a film in the West Indies, because “the inheritance of the fortune would not prevent her going on with her work, but would merely offer her greater opportunities to pursue her profession.” She also had some charitable schemes.


Nell Shipman was counting her chickens before they hatched. Her grandmother, Eliza Jevons Foster-Barham, lived until 1924. Furthermore, her father was one of eleven children, so Shipman was well-supplied with surviving aunts and uncles as well as cousins who had a claim to the estate. There was no mention of any inheritance in Shipman’s autobiography, The Silent Screen and My Talking Heart.


This was a tumultuous time in Shipman’s life. She had been sick with influenza and nearly died during the 1918 epidemic. Her mother Rose had died in December, 1918 and her father Arnold died in March, 1919. Her only brother Maurice had been wounded fighting in France and he’d just traveled back to the States on a hospital ship, arriving in Hoboken on April 2nd. She had just spent two very cold months north of Calgary, Canada shooting what became her most successful film, Back in God’s Country. Later this year, she divorced her husband and business manager Ernest Shipman and moved in with her Back in God’s Country co-star Bert Van Tuyle. They decided to form an independent production company, Nell Shipman Productions. They went on to make The Girl from God’s Country (1921) and The Grub Stake (1923). You can learn more about her at the Women Film Pioneers site. The Boise State University Archives, where her papers have been preserved, also have a short biography.


Kingsley got to have a very good time at the movies this week:

Oh boy! Whenever you see by the signboards that Tom Mix has mixed in, there you’re going to find drammer that’s pep in the original package. And just the thrillingest, hair-raising-est, breeziest of ‘em all is Treat ‘em Rough at the Alhambra. It’s the essence of all other Wild West dramas boiled down, and yet having so distinctive a flavor of its own you won’t forget it. A crowded house saw it yesterday, and frequently got so excited it applauded.

It’s too bad that critics don’t get to be so enthusiastic these days. The thrills included great riding, roping and branding, as well as a cattle stampede during a prairie fire – and they were running straight for the heroine, of course. You might be able to find out if Tom Mix saved the day, because two reels have been preserved at the Eastman House in Rochester New York. Remarkably, this was just one of EIGHT films he released this year.

Not yet

Kingsley left a reminder that Prohibition was only eight months away. A wine merchant made a big delivery to one of the studios, because everybody was stockpiling supplies.

One of the stars, on his way home, stopped to pick up his little case of sherry. He was glancing around at the names on the cases.

“What are you doing,” asked a director. “Can’t you find yours?”

“Certainly,” responded the star. “I’m only studying my visiting list for next year.”

Unlike modern blind items, Kingsley gave no hint of who the star was.



*This wasn’t quite as heartless as it sounds. Her parents had moved from England to Canada before she was born, so she only met her grandmother once on a family trip.