Shimmie if You Want to: Week of June 28th, 1919

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley had it on very good authority that the new dance craze wasn’t immoral:

You may shimmie, if you wish! So says Marion Morgan, producer of the Morgan dancing act, which is creating a sensation at the Orpheum this week. And you may take Miss Morgan’s word for it, ‘cause she used to be a school ma’am in days gone by, of course no school-teacher would ever tell you to do anything wrong. And now that the dance has climbed up into the social class where it is referred to politely as the ‘lingerie tremulo” that makes it seem different, too.

Morgan pointed out that it was healthful exercise, and “dancing is really cleansing to the brain and body” but “there are shimmies and shimmies, you know—nice little expurgated wriggles that are not suggestive at all—and then there is the shimmie that is decidedly vulgar. That’s why I say shimmie if you like—and according to your lights…And if you are so vulgar that you don’t know when you are doing a vulgar shimmie—why, it probably won’t hurt you any!” In the late teens to early twenties the shimmie/shimmy did occasionally get banned at dance halls, and the censors in Boston didn’t let Mae West perform it on stage in 1921,* but it looks like the fuss died down fairly quickly.

Kingsley asked Morgan about it because a shimmie dance act had been selling a lot of tickets at a rival theater, the Pantages, for the last month. Nevertheless, Morgan didn’t seem to mind giving her opinion, possibly because her act was so different. Kingsley had reviewed the ballet she’d choreographed at the Orpheum earlier in the week, and she thought it was a sensation: “it was as though I were witnessing a play—but a play done in such exquisite fashion as to be a new sort of poetry. The subject of the ballet is historical, and is in three scenes, all staged with such real and vivid appeal to the imagination the spectator feels he is in the midst of the scene itself, rather than on the outside.”

Marion Morgan was a former dance instructor who ran a troupe which toured the vaudeville circuits, performing interpretive dances based on Egyptian and classical Greek and Roman themes. She also did choreography for films. In 1927 she became director Dorothy Arzner’s partner and they worked together on several pictures.

This week there was a demonstration of just how popular Charlie Chaplin was: his new film, Sunnyside, played in two theaters at the same time, which was very unusual then. Both the Kinema (1850 seats) and Tally’s Broadway (900 seats) were owned by T.L. Tally, and according to reports, Chaplin didn’t have trouble filling all those seats. Kingsley’s review didn’t hurt; she said, “Sunnyside has so many funny touches it has to be seen to be appreciated. All lovers of Charlie Chaplin—and if there is anybody who isn’t he keeps it in the dark nowadays—will rejoice in Sunnyside.” It spent one week at both theaters, then two more just at Tally’s Broadway. Now Sunnyside is not as well regarded as many of Chaplin’s other films; however, that’s stiff competition.

Because it was a short (its run time is between 29 and 41 minutes), they felt they needed to show other films with it – even though they didn’t bother to mention them in the advertising! Here are the neglected movies: at the Kinema, they showed The Haunted Bedroom, “a good old-fashioned mystery story,” according to Motion Picture News. Meanwhile, at Tally’s Broadway during the first week they ran a Chester travelogue called Up in the Air After Alligators,** which was about alligator hunting. For the second week it was a Major Jack Allen hunting short and for the third it was The Indestructible Wife. This was a particularly odd paring; Motion Picture News called it a “matinee picture…it is one of those soft, tender kind of attraction, whose predominating feature is artistic beauty.” It told the story of a society wife (Alice Brady) who liked to go to parties, but her husband (Saxon Kling) got tired of it so he had a friend kidnap her. He rescues her so she decides to stay home. I don’t get it. I wonder how many people stuck around to watch the rest of the bill – maybe more people saw them than would have otherwise.

Charlotte and Mary Pickford

Kingsley had news about another big star:

That Mary Pickford is going to retire, following the completion of nine pictures for which she has contracted with the Big Four, was the statement made by Mrs. Charlotte Pickford, Mary Pickford’s mother, according to a telegraphic dispatch received last night by this department from Boston, where Mrs. Pickford is at present, attending to details connected with the showing of a Pickford play.

“Only nine more pictures and Mary will settle down to enjoy the fruits of her hard-earned savings,” is the way Mrs. Charlotte Pickford put it. “It will take a number of months to complete the present pictures contracted for and then Mary is going to settle down to enjoy life, as I have entreated her to do for a long time. The pictures to come are to be the biggest and the best ever developed by her and she has been given free leave to spend all the money she likes to make the productions successful.”

Miss Pickford herself could not be reached last night, as she was absent from home, but her manager, F.E. Benson, states, when informed regarding Mrs. Pickford’s statement:

“I do not know of any such idea on Miss Pickford’s part. We are in the middle of a production and have a large number of stories already purchased. Of course, I don’t know what understanding Miss Pickford and her mother have regarding Miss Pickford’s retiring, but I am her manager, and I have heard no such talk.”

Of course Pickford was nowhere near retirement – that didn’t happen until 1933. It seems odd that Charlotte Pickford felt the need to alert the media about it. It could be that she though Mary really meant it. Regarding this year, Mary Pickford’s biographer Eileen Whitfield quoted the Chicago News: “Mary Pickford’s threatened retirement from professional life is becoming as chronic as Sarah Bernhardt’s farewell stage appearances.” Whitfield said that she talked about quitting because she was miserable, trying to decide if she should divorce Owen Moore and marry Douglas Fairbanks and she was quite worried about bad publicity if she did. Eventually she made up her mind, got her divorce in February 1920 and married Fairbanks a month later (and stopped threatening retirement).

Finally, this was the week when Prohibition went into effect and it was on everybody’s mind. Tom Mix said, “just think of all the family skeletons nowadays that will be moved out of closets to make room for that which cheers and also inebriates!”


*”Whirl of the Town,” Variety, April 22, 1921.

**The intertitles for the Chester travelogues were written by Katharine Hilliker, and her forgotten career is exactly what the Women Film Pioneers website was made for. She continued to work as a title writer and film editor on movies like Seventh Heaven (1927) and Sunrise (1927).




Startling Star Salary: Week of June 21st, 1919

Mary Miles Minter

One hundred years ago this week, Mary Miles Minter signed a “startling” contract, and Grace Kingsley had the details:

The little girl with the biggest motion-picture contract in the world—that’s Mary Miles Minter. But she pays a stern price for it, inasmuch as her personal life is ordered by the rules laid down in the contract, and she is even forbidden to wed during the life of the agreement.

By its terms she will receive in three years the sum of $1,300,000. She is to get $250,000 for her first five pictures, or $50,000 a picture. For the second five she will get $300,000, or $60,000 a picture and for the third five $350,000 or $70,000 a picture, and for the fourth five, $400,000 or $80,000 a picture. No chances were taken with Miss Minter because she happens to be a minor. While she was represented by O’Brein, Malevinsky and Driscoll, the contract was drawn that her every act will come under the supervision of her employer, Mr. Zukor.

A sensational feature provides that, though Miss Minter is but 18 years old,* and therefore might be expected to love social gaiety, she is to order her life according to a set of rules which provide she shall live the quietest kind of a home life, never to be seen in public when it is possible to avoid it, and never associate in public with stage offscreen folk. Also—and this might not be pleasing to a lot of screen stars—she is to receive no interviewers.

Minter was to start work on June 30th, but until then she was on vacation with her mother in Atlantic City, “enjoying to the full the only free social life she is to be allowed to know during the next three years.”

1.3 million dollars was at that point the largest amount promised in one contract to an actor, but others had gotten paid more per film. For example, in 1918 Mary Pickford signed a contract with First National that paid $675,000 for three films, plus half the profits. Minter’s deal was particularly astonishing because her most recent salary at American Films was $2250 a week.


Kingsley didn’t ask why Adolph Zukor was willing to pay so much, but Variety was happy to speculate on what film people were calling “Zukor’s madness:”

One explanation is furnished by his former star, Mary Pickford, in letters she has sent to friends here in the East. Whether rightly or wrongly, Miss Pickford is under the impression, an impression strengthened by those few in Zukor’s confidence who have breathed a word about the matter—the impression that the head of Paramount is willing to go to any length and spend any amount of money to replace Mary Pickford in his list of picture offerings. Miss Pickford has been informed that Zukor is “so sore” at her for leaving his management that he will go a long ways to “get even.” (June 13, 1919)

I bet she stopped writing to those friends. Even with a well-funded advertising campaign and complete control over her public image, Zukor wasn’t able to make Minter as big a star as Pickford. The first film she made under her new contract was her biggest hit: Anne of Green Gables, directed by William Desmond Taylor. Now she’s mostly remembered for her relationship with him and for being implicated in his still unsolved murder in 1922. We can’t be sure, but maybe if she’d had more freedom under her contract to socialize away from work she might not have become better known in true crime circles than film histories. She did make 18 of the 20 films under her contract, but the studio dropped her in 1923 and she retired.

Dempsey–Willard Fight by James Montgomery Flagg

Kingsley mentioned a forthcoming all-star boys road trip:

Carter de Haven, co-starring with his wife in feature comedies at the National studios, will be among the many notables attending the little fracas in Toledo the fourth of next month. He intends leaving on the billion-dollar special, which has been arranged for by the most stellar lights in the photoplay firmament. The train will provide every known deluxe feature. Continuous dining service will be had, not to mention a completely stocked buffet and additional servants to minster to their every want.

Those included in the passenger list, beside Mr. de Haven, are Wally Reid, Charlie Chaplin, Charles Ray, Douglas Fairbanks, Jesse Lasky, Cecil De Mille, Dustin Farnum, William Farnum, Roscoe Arbuckle, Jack Pickford and Sid Grauman.

It sounds like the set-up for a one-act play! The “little fracas” was the heavyweight boxing championship held on the Fourth of July in Toledo, Ohio between Jack Dempsey and Jess Willard. It was promoted as “the fight of the century.” However, I haven’t found any evidence that they actually went—nearly five days on a train is a long time to be away from work, even with a buffet. Dempsey beat Willard in three brutal rounds.

Francis MacDonald played the cad

This week Kingsley saw a movie that made the audience want to yell “That’s good! Hit him again!” It was called The Divorce Trap and

you should have heard the laughs and delighted applause yesterday when the caddish young man, who had tried to frame for divorce the young wife who had tried her best to reform him, got his just deserts, which included a swift kick from his own dad. Naturally the story is a sordid one, but it is tremendously realistic…the manner in which the lightning justice of its events are recorded, make for a certain finesse and high-mindedness of general effect.

This lost film was sold as a serious drama, but it’s a shame that more tragic villains don’t get their due with a kick in the pants.


Kingsley told a story that demonstrated how much more relaxed studio security was in 1919. Nine-year-old Douglas Fairbanks Jr. visited his dad’s workplace dressed in a wild West suit just like his father’s, then:

Little Doug disappeared for a whole half-hour. At the end of that time he reappeared, led by a farmerish looking individual.

“This your boy really?” he demanded of Doug Sr.

No need to answer, as the boy made a frantic and affectionate dive for his dad.

“Well, I found him on these togs out front,” said the man, “and when I asked him who he was, he said Douglas Fairbanks. Poor little tad, I said to myself, to be crazy and him so young! Well, the movies does do it to ‘em, but not usually at his age! Then he explained his dad was named Douglas Fairbanks, too—and I see the point at once, I did, and here he is!”

It seems that kid supervision was more relaxed then, too.


*Actually she was 17 at the time, but the age of majority was 21 then.


“Adolph Zukor Determined to Supplant Mary Pickford,” Variety, June 13, 1919.

“Testimony in Film Star’s Suit Opens,” Los Angeles Herald, May 19, 1920.

“Zukor Gets Mary Miles Minter by Million Dollar Contract,” Variety, June 27, 1919.


Sneaky Paramount: Week of June 14th, 1919


One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley inadvertently helped a major studio divert attention from a questionable business practice. She reported on Jesse L. Lasky’s (Paramount’s first vice president) announcement that they were instituting “selective booking”:

a new policy in the making and distribution of Paramount and Artcraft pictures, which promises to result in even a wider circulation of these pictures than before, and a use of even greater care in the selection of the production work itself. Motion pictures are not bits of machinery, but represent today a medium of free artistic expression…Each picture [will] stand on its own merit before the exhibitors and the public.

Selective booking was simple: exhibitors got to rent only the films they wanted to. Lasky promised that it would improve the quality of films, because exhibitors would chose the good ones and producers couldn’t sell bad ones, so they wouldn’t make them.

Kingsley didn’t quote all of his remarks, but Moving Picture World (June 28, 1919) published more of them and she wisely left off some wild over-promises. He said:

each production released under the Selective Booking Plan will have been created as a unit by itself. From now on, unlimited time, money and facilities will be accorded the producers of each film. For the first time in the history of the motion picture, genius will be given absolute and unlimited opportunity to assert itself. The directors will be working months in advance of release dates and the baneful element of haste will be eliminated.

Of course, that wasn’t true. However, unlimited time and money usually aren’t good for films or any other creative enterprise – limitations can help curb self-indulgence!

Noted exhibitor Sid Grauman though it was a terrific idea, saying to the Los Angeles Herald (June 17, 1919): “I believe Paramount-Artcraft corporation, by introducing the selective booking system, is doing more for the exhibitor, the producer and the photoplay industry at large than can at this time be realized.”


Paramount did a lot of publicity about their new plan, including taking out a multi-page ad in Moving Picture World explaining it. They included a list of the recent and soon to be completed films were going to be released under the plan:


However, this wasn’t actually how Paramount was releasing most of its films. In 1918 they had begun to introduce block booking. The studio had the biggest stars under contract, and according to Richard Koszarski:

Paramount was able to insist that prospective exhibitors interested in, say, the Pickford films, acquire them in large blocks along with a quantity of less attractive titles. These block-booking arrangements typically included groups of from 13 to 52 or even 104 titles. Paramount salesmen offered a variety of different product lines, from the top-quality Artcraft releases of Pickford, Fairbanks, and Hart to the more modest Realart productions, in which stars such as Bebe Daniels were being developed. Because these films had not yet been produced, exhibitors were required to “buy blind” from a sketchy prospectus or campaign book.

Other studios followed their example and by the 1930’s it was standard operating procedure. Block booking guaranteed an outlet for everything a studio made, and exhibitors had to take the risks. They were forced to end the practice after the Supreme Court found that it violated anti-trust laws and outlawed it with their decision in the United States v. Paramount case in 1948.


Kingsley enjoyed an unusual film this week:

A picture which I predict will prove something of a sensation before the week is out is Super-Strategy, which is likewise rather an oddity in pictures…We are so used, a lot of us, to remembering those stories of the Bible, supremely rich in drama as they are, as factors in our young Sunday-school lives, either to be avoided, or, on the feat of memorizing the same, to be rewarded with beflowered tickets. In Super-Strategy a number of these same stories have been put to amazingly vivid, dramatic, and at the same time entirely appealing human film form by the director of this unique photoplay. We had forgotten, for instance, how full of drama is the triangular story of Abraham, Sarah, his wife, and Pharaoh; and maybe we never realized how tender is the story of Joseph’s love for Mary, how tragic the incident of his finding her with child. The crucifixion, too, and the resurrection are managed without a trace of clap-trap such as too often mars attempts of this sort in the films.

She admitted, “the whole story is necessarily episodic, but each episode is tremendously absorbing and a human story in itself.”


She was wrong in her prediction: Super Strategy was more of an oddity than a sensation. During its 1918 release in New York it was called Restitution, and the critics there didn’t like it. Peter Milne in Motion Picture News wrote, “such a weird conglomeration of historical data new interpretations of Biblical records, marvelous though quite plainly mechanical scenic effects, and wildly imaginative, almost childish ideas assembled in the span of any number of reels has certainly never been seen before. What the producers have aimed to show is that his Satanic Majesty has been responsible for all the wrong in the world.” (June 15, 1918) Robert C. McElravy in Moving Picture World couldn’t pan the Bible, but he didn’t like the picture: “this subject is one of tremendous scope and many excellences, but its entertainment value is questionable.” (June 8, 1918)


Super-Strategy was the only production of the Mena Film Company. The company’s officers were part of the Bible Student movement, a faction of which changed its name to Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1931. In 1914 other Bible Students had produced an eight-hour film presenting their beliefs entitled The Photo-Drama of Creation, but the 1918 film was aimed at a more mainstream audience. They hired Hollywood actors and cameramen and selected Howard Gaye to direct. He was most famous for playing Christ in D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance, and he reprised the role in this. This was the only movie he directed, then he went back to acting. It’s a lost film.


Once again, Kingsley proved she was a pro: she turned the trivial tidbit that Roscoe Arbuckle had moved into the house on West Adams in Silverlake recently vacated by Theda Bara into a whole column that worried he might become highbrow due to the lady’s lingering influence. It was remarkably silly. She wrote:

There have been awful rumors that “Fatty” is slowly but surely sinking from the estate of a rude, two-fisted guy with a wicked wallop in his right and a preference for near beers over pink teas, into a cultured state just too darned refined for anything…No more wild, rude games of poker! Instead Caruso on the Victrola! No busting of Mrs. Miner’s [the house owner’s] best china as an outlet for joyous, man-like emotions—but a little stroll in the tiny Japanese garden.

However, all was not lost: he had installed a punching bag in the side garden. The I Am Not A Stalker blog has several recent photos of the house, and it’s gorgeous.




Richard Koszarski. An Evening’s Entertainment: The Age of the Silent Feature Picture, 1915-1928. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press. 1990.




The Rumors Were Correct: Week of June 7th, 1919


One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley should have believed the gossip about D.W. Griffith’s plans. On Tuesday she mentioned “rumors have been rife that Mr. Griffith would return to New York to work there permanently, but no confirmation could be gained yesterday from the studio.” So as a good journalist, she went straight to the source and on Thursday she reported he said

It’s all nonsense, that rumor about my going to New York to produce pictures or building a studio there. I still think Los Angeles is the only place in which to make pictures.

He also talked about the praise critics in Boston and Chicago had heaped on Broken Blossoms, then answered her question “and now that this first one is a success, you’ll go on and make more of the sort of pictures you yourself want to make?”

“Well, yes, it gives a person courage,” smiled Mr. Griffith. However, he still owed three pictures to the First National Exhibitor’s circuit before he could produce what he wanted.

Griffith’s studio in Mamaroneck, NY

So either Griffith changed his mind, or he wasn’t telling the truth. He left Los Angeles to make films in Mamaroneck, New York just three months later, in September. When she reported on it, she didn’t mention what he told her in June (she probably wanted to stay on his good side). The reason she was given for the move was “big business interests have long been calling him to New York.”

Griffith’s studio, 1921

Even that wasn’t true. According to his biographer Richard Schickel, it had more to do with Griffith wanting isolation that would allow him to carry on his filmmaking in secrecy, plus the rural setting reminded him of the farm he grew up on. He bought a 28-acre estate from Standard Oil magnate Henry Flagler and converted it into a working studio. His films from Way Down East (1920) to Sally of the Sawdust (1925) were made there.


Coincidentally, Kingsley’s favorite film this week was produced by Griffith, I’ll Get Him Yet. However, before she reviewed it, she noted an unhappy shortage:

Dear me, the cinema these days is so full of sad comedies and funny tragedies that it’s like a 1920 drink of champagne to find a comedy which is a real rib-tickler, one which sends the folks into gales of laughter so spontaneous that the veriest little undertaker’s delight of ‘em just has to join in.

Luckily, Dorothy Gish was there to save the day (Kingsley wrote “there are just about five really funny comediennes on the screen—and sometimes I think Dorothy is nearly all of them”). She played a rich and peppy young lady in pursuit of a young newspaperman who disdains her wealth, played by Richard Barthelmass. There’s a plot, of sorts, about her trying to keep secret that she owns a railroad, but that “perhaps doesn’t convey to you the bright sparkle of the whimsically clever comedy with its breezy subtitles and capital acting. You must see it to appreciate it.” Unfortunately, we can’t, because it’s a lost film.


Kingsley mentioned another film that was a huge hit:

The fifth and positively last week of The Shepherd of the Hills opened yesterday at Quinn’s Rialto to record crowds…The Shepherd of the Hills has broken all house records for Quinn’s Rialto during its stay here, as well as set a new standard of production in motion pictures. Taking the book page by page, Harold Bell Wright, the author, transferred his novel to the screen exactly as he told it in story form, and the result is a production that is a rare treat to those who have read the book.

It took ten reels to reproduce the 1907 novel about a kindly old man who gives good advice to the people of Mutton Hollow in the Ozarks. Later versions didn’t claim to be a precise adaptation, but they weren’t any shorter: the 1928 version was 9 reels, 1941 version was 10, and the 1964 version was 11. It’s still a popular story, and a live outdoor production is done annually in Branson, Missouri.



Richard Schickel. D.W. Griffith: An American Life. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984.