Crushed Hopes: Week of July 26th, 1919

Grace Gordon

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on yet another attempt to break into the film business:

It appears that Hollywood isn’t a wild enough place any more for the making of Wild West picture plays. Anyhow, that’s what Messrs E.D. Ulrich, Wallace D. Coburn, Charles M. Bair and others think. Consequently they have organized the Circle C Film Company, to produce photoplays on western subjects, but have decided that the proper place is in Montana, the home of the picturesque cowboy and the long-horn.

Coburn and Bair were both ranchers in Billings, Montana; I couldn’t find any information on Ulrich. Bair had made a fortune during the Klondike Gold Rush in 1898 selling equipment to prospective miners, then he went back to sheep ranching. Coburn, owner of the Circle C Ranch, had produced and starred in one film in 1918, The Sunset Princess, which was shot in Montana and based on his story. So they planned to do more of the same.

The Circle C Film Company never did make a film. Their high hopes came to nothing, which isn’t particularly unusual in Hollywood. Other than Kingsley, nobody reported on it. The final paragraph shows how she learned about the company:

Securing of players for the company is going forward, and the Circle C officials announce the engagement of a young woman whom they consider a find in the film world as their leading woman. She is Grace Gordon, an actress of 18, formerly a dancer, but who has of late, during the past year, been playing small parts in various studios. Miss Gordon not only is possessed of much beauty and talent, but she is an accomplished horse woman.

Kingsley didn’t mention that among her attributes, Grace Gordon was her niece. Her mother was Kingsley’s sister, Mildred Kingsley Mossman. Her father Edward Mossman had died in 1915, so they were sharing a house with her grandparents as well as Kingsley, just a bit north of downtown Los Angeles on Solano Avenue. The house is still there.


Despite occasional mentions in her aunt’s columns, Gordon’s career was confined to supporting and uncredited roles. She married physician Stuart Nolan in 1928 and retired from acting. This just shows how hard finding work in film was, even with publicity in the biggest daily newspaper in town. Sometimes because history is all about the people who were successful, it’s easy to forget how rare it is.

In just this one week, several actors announced hopeful new ventures, but none of them worked out the way they wanted them to:

  • Monroe Salisbury, “one of the screen’s most popular idols,” was starting the Monroe Salisbury Players. Kingsley wrote: “it is understood the new organization has ample backing and that it has secured the services of several well-known writers of magazine and screen stories. No expense is to be spared.” Salisbury had been a leading man with Cecil B. De Mille and at Universal. His most famous role was Alessandro in Ramona (1916). However, his own production company only made one film, The Barbarian (1921). After that, he appeared in only one more film for a small company then he retired.
  • Rita Stanwood, theatrical and film actress, was returning from maternity leave to play opposite her husband H.B. Warner in a new Jesse D. Hampton production, Gray Wolf’s Ghost (1919) but that was that. She had two more children, and returned to the screen only once more, in 1935 after she divorced Warner, a successful supporting actor.
  • Priscilla Dean made arrangements to start her own company, if she could amicably end her contract with Universal. They didn’t let her go, but it wasn’t so bad. She got to work with director Tod Browning and star in films like Under Two Flags (1922) and White Tiger (1923).
  • Theda Bara was looking in to forming her own company, because Fox didn’t want to pay the $10,000 per week she was asking. She never did; instead she got married and retired in 1921. She tried a comeback in 1925 with The Unchastened Woman, but it wasn’t a hit.
  • Theodore Kosloff, a Russian dancer signed with Famous Player-Lasky. His first film was to be directed by Cecil B. De Mille and it would be based on the play The Wanderer. This fell through, but he got to star in Tree of Knowledge (1920) directed by De Mille’s brother William. He went on to appear in supporting roles in several films C.B. De Mille directed including Affairs of Anatole (1921) and King of Kings (1927).

It’s never been easy to work in film.

This week, Kinglsey got to see two enjoyable movies, Nugget Nell, a Western burlesque full of “sparkling originality” in which Dorothy Gish captures “bands of desperadoes by the power of her wit and her strong right arm” and Misleading Widow, a fresh and entertaining comedy that turns into a bedroom farce in which Billie Burke wears terribly sophisticated clothes. However, her best review was of a stinker so bad that all she could do was point and laugh at it:

A fellow had an awful lot of bad luck in Ruling Passions at the Victory. First a girl promised to marry him, but only for his money, then another fellow he had taken in and given a home to and made a partner of in business stole the girl, though the man distinctly told him to “keep away from her.” And right on top of this the doctor ordered him not to smoke any more.

No wonder he was so sore that when the picture opens he is enjoying a perfect orgy of peevishness—just chewing up the scenery and everything. He had a nurse, and the valet was the guy that let us in on the poor man’s troubles, she wanting to know why he never smiles. And when the man tells the nurse he’s going to watch a ‘dispossess’ of one of his tenants because they can’t pay the rent, and states with a fiendish, but somewhat naïve glee that he “just loves to see people suffer,” she decides that what he needs is a good dose of common sense—and a smoke…

Certainly he was a changed man from the first moment that the pretty nurse lighted a cigarette for him. He forgave everybody, pressed money into the hands of the “dispossessed” and wiped away a tear, and, instead of ruining his rival on Wall Street, took the rival’s child into his arms and kissed it. Oh, good. So that, when the reformed man says to the nurse “I’ve been acting like a fool!” we echo a heartfelt acquiescence.


Ruling Passions was supposed to be a serious drama about a millionaire’s reformation. We can’t see just how bad it was now because it’s lost. I suppose that critics get paid for suffering through the dull ones, not having fun at Dorothy Gish movies.




The First Flat Stanley: Week of July 19th, 1919

Dana C. De Hart and Douglas Fairbanks (photo by Charles Townley Chapman)

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on Douglas Fairbanks’ continuing love of airplanes:

Drat the boy Douglas Fairbanks – he just will take all kinds of chances with his precious young life! The other day at De Mille Fields, during a chance visit of Fairbanks, a scout plane, one-seater, and its aviator happened to be visiting. Mr. Fairbanks expressed a desire to make an ascent in the plane.

“But it has only one seat.” said the driver.

“Never mind, I’ll hold on!” exclaimed Doug.

And nothing to do but he must make the ascent, clinging to what the layman would call the running board alongside the plane. They went up 1500 feet, sailed around in the empyrean for several minutes and when they alighted the champion smiler of the world declared it was the most refreshing trip he’d ever taken.

And I thought flying Southwest was bad! I imagine life insurance salesmen never bothered him at parties. I went looking for a picture of Fairbanks and an airplane, and found the one that’s above. Then I fell into a research rabbit hole, figuring out where and when it was taken. The answer was at College Park Airfield near Washington D.C. on October 16, 1918. It was part of a publicity stunt to raise money for the Fourth Liberty Loan Drive. Fairbanks said that if they’d airmail him to New York City, he’d ask bank president Pliny Fisk to match financier Bernard Baruch’s one million dollar bond subscription.

Officials were happy to take him up on his offer. Regular airmail service was quite new in the Untied States; it had just started on May 15, 1918, so it was an attention-grabbing feat and the Washington Times made it a front-page story. They reported that Assistant Postmaster General Otto Prager had Fairbanks step on a scale, then put an aerial stamp on his forehead, canceled it and sent him off. Since he weighed 162 pounds (2592 ounces) and the charge was 16 cents an ounce, the stamp cost $414.72.

The Sun had an imaginative story about Fairbanks’ adventures once he arrived. He ran right over to Fisk’s office and said:

“I want to see Mr. Fisk,” cried Doug to the office boy, who tried to bar his way. “Tell him Douglas Fairbanks—“

The office boy gasped and dropped in a semi-comatose state. Over the boy’s prostrate body leaped Doug and landed on the desk side of the Fisk inner office partition.

“Action, Mr. Fisk!” cried Mr. Fairbanks. “I could have gone to the office of Rockefeller, Morgan, Carnegie or any of those guys, but just because I like you and always did I give you an option on matching Barney Baruch’s million buck subscription. Dig!”

“But,” said Mr. Fisk, “our firm and I personally have subscribed for bonds till it pinched and so I don’t think—“

“Pinch yourself again,” cried Doug. “I’ve taken my life in my hands all afternoon by flying here from Washington with a nut aviator named De Hart, whose chief diversion on the way over was to pick out cemeteries all through Maryland, Delaware and Jersey and then make a beezer dive at the tallest and sharpest marble shaft in the graveyard. And why did I do it? Because I knew you’d subscribe for a million to match Barney Baruch.”

And even while Doug was talking Pliny Fisk was uncapping the trusty old fountain pen. He signed a check for $1,000,000, handed the check to Doug, who had vaulted out of the office and was gone before Pliny Fisk could ask for a receipt.

Alas, it probably didn’t happen that way: the Washington Times reported that Fairbanks telephoned Fisk before he left, so his arrival wasn’t a surprise. Oh well, that’s how it should have happened! His airplane ride was true anyway, and it’s no wonder his quick trip up in 1919 seemed refreshing, not cold and frightening.

According to the more reliable Washington Times, he collected over 6 million dollars worth of subscriptions in New York, then flew back to D.C. with another airmail pilot, Robert Shank, on October 18th. He delivered them personally to the Secretary of the Treasury William McAdoo on the day before the subscription drive ended, helping them to exceed their Liberty Bond quota.

Fairbanks sent himself through the mail, just like Flat Stanley. Unlike Stanley Lambchop, he didn’t need to be squashed by a bulletin board to travel via the mail, nor did he have to fold himself into an envelope so he could visit his friends. Now to encourage literacy the Flat Stanley Project asks children to mail Stanley “to a school, a celebrity, a family member, a politician or anyone of interest and the recipient returns the little flat guy along with a completed journal and perhaps some souvenirs such as post cards, photos, or special items.”

This week, Kingsley confessed to doing something she rarely did:

I’d rather see Mary Pickford in Daddy Long Legs the second or even third or fourth time than most people and plays for the first time! When this delightful picture was at the Kinema a few weeks ago, I said you didn’t know the star or the play either until you had seen Daddy Long Legs, and on –well, I’ll confess it—a third view of the picture at Tally’s Broadway now, I’m even more of the opinion… Miss Pickford’s humor is of so human a sort, there is much whimsicality, so much unction to it, and yet there is always an underlying wistfulness and appeal about her, too, and often gives a tug at your heart-strings even when you are laughing the hardest. That’s what keeps her always in a niche far above all the others, I’m sure.

This is even more remarkable because it wasn’t a bad week for films – she liked the ones she reviewed, and Fairbanks’ The Knickerbocker Buckaroo was playing, too. So it wasn’t only Chaplin who brought in the repeat customers.

Her favorite film this week other than Daddy Long Legs was The Weaker Vessel, a satire on social expectations of gender. It told story of a small town girl (Mary Maclaren) who flees the rich creep her parents made her marry (John Cook), moves to the big city, becomes a waitress and reforms an alcoholic actor (Thurston Hall). Kingsley thought it was a “radiant, human, bubbling story done with charming ease and sincerity.” She recounted her favorite scene, in which the husband is convinced to divorce her:

One bit of skill lies in the fact that certain situations which might easily be farcical are rendered genuinely human by their treatment, as when the heroine, being shut up alone in the bedroom, whiter her no-account husband whom she left on her wedding night because of his drunkenness and sordidness has followed her, first implores him to let her go and then beats him up. When the hero—the bombastic actor played by Hall—comes in with a pistol and says “I will protect you!” the husband replies faintly—“Don’t protect her; protect me!”

Now we know that spousal abuse of any sort is wrong, but then it seemed like she was taking care of her own problems – no wonder Kingsley liked it. It’s a lost film.


“District Over Quota,” Washington Times, October 19, 1918, p. 1.

“’Doug’ Flying to New York to get Mr. Fisk’s Million,” Washington Times, October 16, 1918, p. 1.

“Doug To Walk Till He Gets $1,000,000” The Sun (New York City), October 17, 1918, p. 13.



Plans That Came to Nothing: Week of July 12th, 1919

Let’s go make movies someplace else!

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley indulged in hyperbole:

One of the biggest announcements of the year in filmdom is to the effect that Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin are going to South America next fall to make pictures. The announcement was made yesterday at the Fairbanks studio.

The trip is to be made on a boat, either specially built or chartered for the occasion. The company will embark at San Pedro, and will stop along the coast, wherever the fancy of the famous pair or the interests of the picture business may dictate…The boat in which the two world-famed comedians will travel will be equipped with laboratories, projection room, developing room, and all necessary photographic paraphernalia connected with the development ant printing of films.

Never have these two screen idols been more popular than they are at present, and their reception in South American will, of course, be an ovation. As both speak Spanish to a certain extent, it may be expected the trip will prove a great holiday as well as a wonderful business venture.

Fairbanks said they probably wouldn’t be going until late October or early November, because he had two films to finish before he could leave.


They never went. Chaplin got busy making The Kid, and Fairbanks had plenty to do in Los Angeles, between making films, setting up United Artists, and convincing Mary Pickford to marry him (which she did the following March). Daydreams about escape are pleasant for movie stars, too! This shows why it’s a bad idea to tell a newspaper reporter every stray thought that crosses your mind, even if you’re Douglas Fairbanks.

Kingsley’s favorite film this week was The Crimson Gardenia, an adventure-comedy adapted from a Rex Beach short story. Set during Mardi Gras, a bored millionaire (Owen Moore) meets a pretty women (Hedda Nova) and is promptly mistaken for an escaped prisoner who is being chased by both the police and a gang of cut-throats. Such a durable plot! Kingsley wrote:

Which really, after all, doesn’t give you the least notion of the fresh, crisp charm which Reginald Barker, director, has put into Mr. Beach’s story. And let him who thinks there is no such thing as subtlety on the screen, who believes that delicate nuance is not conveyable in the medium, and that a story, nicely balanced, so as to dip thrillingly one moment toward romance and adventure and next into the frothiest suggestion of comedy, just take a peep at this thoroughly delightful film.

I’m sold. Do you suppose he escapes? Could he marry the woman? An incomplete version survives at the Eastman House.

The director Kingsley admired, Reginald Barker, directed nearly 100 films during a fine career that lasted until 1935, but the most successful crewmember was Hugo Ballin, the art director. In just a few months, he started his own production company because he wanted to direct. His films included Jane Eyre (1921) and Vanity Fair (1923), but they weren’t very successful. He went back to his first career as a artist, and he went on to create some of the most memorable public art in Los Angeles, including the murals at the Griffith Observatory:


Caroline Luce has written an excellent, fully illustrated website about him called Hugo Ballin’s Los Angeles.


This week, Kingsley reported a bathing girl controversy – but it wasn’t the usual one about the immorality of scantily-clad women:

“Can Chicago rightfully boast prettier bathing girls than Los Angeles?” inquires a dispatch from Chicago.

The question was asked by Chuck Reisner, usually Chaplin’s assistant director but he’d been lured to Chicago by fledgling film producer William S. Bastar to direct bathing beauty comedies. He continued:

“Chicago bathing girls are prettier, more attractive and make better actresses than the girls of any other city in the world,” said Reisner the other day, according to word just received.

Naturally, Kingsley printed a rebuttal from the genre’s originator:

“How can that be?” retorts Mack Sennett. “Can’t our girls bathe and swim all year round in the ocean, whereas your girls can only be outdoor girls, so far as bathing is concerned, a few months a year. Besides, bathing in a lake is pretty tame—something like bathing in a big bath tub!”

Despite Reisner’s skill at getting publicity, only one short in Chicago was completed, Dog Days. It played in Los Angeles in early December, but it barely appeared in the theater’s listing or advertising. The promoter emphasized the live show featuring young women who sang and danced while wearing bathing suits. It was so popular, it got held over for a second week. Reisner was already back to work for Chaplin as the assistant director on The Kid. He got to be a director again in a few years, first on a series of Brownie the Dog shorts, and later with Syd Chaplin (The Better ‘Ole) and Buster Keaton (Steamboat Bill, Jr.).



New Faces Overnight: Week of July 5th, 1919

“Would You Like a New Nose?” Photoplay, August 1930

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley was alarmed by a new trend: some actors weren’t satisfied with what Mother Nature gave them–

judging from the experience of our best little picture stars who get their features changed while you wait. Noses are “chiseled” over night, the lady with the beak comes out with a feature that makes Clytie [a water nymph from Greek mythology] look like a prize-fight Amazon; the vinegar queen we were afraid to speak to returns to the studio with an expression so sweet we at once begin to feel we could borrow money from her…When you kiss your favorite motion picture star good-bye, and she says she’s going to the mountains for her health, at once the heart-broken inquiry presents itself—“Shall I ever see her again?” What we mean is—will she come back to us bearing that unvarying similarity to herself?

She was very concerned about the terrible day when Douglas Fairbanks decided to turn his impressive nose into a turned-up trifle or if Bill Hart were to have a dimple installed in his chin. It was all very distressing. She summed up the whole problem with elective cosmetic surgery: “it looks as if the whole world were soon to become monotonously beautiful, and there just won’t be anybody we can look at and say ‘Well, thank God, I don’t look like that.’”

I had no idea that this sort of cosmetic surgery was even available in 1919, however, the first recorded nose reconstruction was done in India in 800 B.C.! Many new plastic surgery techniques were developed during the First World War, for soldiers with facial injuries.

Nevertheless, Kingsley was one of the earliest to write about stars and surgery. Articles in  the media history database Lantern mention it as a plot element in films, for instance the villain of a serial The Hidden Hand (1917) is a master plastic surgeon and he rearranges his henchman’s features so he looks just like the hero. The first magazine article in the database about Hollywood stars’ surgical experiences appeared in the August 1930 issue of Photoplay. Called “Would You Like a New Nose?’ writer Harry Lang claimed that “over 2000 of our stars and near stars have had their faces shuffled and reassembled for the screen.” However, he could name only a few names of mostly not very well-know actors, because both the stars and their doctors wanted to keep it secret. Now it’s surprising if an actor hasn’t had work done and you can find online articles that list the exceptions.


Grace Kingsley interviewed Charlie Chaplin this week, and reported that for his first feature film, he was planning to leave aside slapstick and play:

a character role of an appealing as well as of a humorous nature, so that those gifts for portraying wistful pathos which the world’s most famous comedian has evinced often in the midst of his jazz comedies will have full play. In short, it looks as if the comedian were about to come into his own.

That’s exactly what he did. He told her he’d already written the story and he couldn’t wait to get started on it, but he needed to finish up making shorts for his current contract with First National.

She also asked his about the birth of his son on Monday. He was delighted to be a father, and the boy was named Norman after Mabel Normand, because she was the one who told Mack Sennett to hire him. He didn’t work on Tuesday and he celebrated “by dismissing, with paychecks, the same as if they had worked, a big crowd of extras who had assembled.”

Sadly, Norman Spencer Chaplin died on Wednesday, July 10th. According to the doctors, while he seemed healthy at birth, he was missing a “vital organ.” Now the most shocking part of the story was that they kept the news of his inevitable death from his mother, because they thought she was too delicate to hear it. They didn’t tell Mildred Harris Chaplin anything until after he died.

Styles of writing about such a sad story have changed a lot. Here’s how it was reported on the front page of the second section of the LA Times:

Sorrow sits enthroned in the Hollywood home of Charlie Chaplin and the bubbles of happiness have floated through the windows of the little white nursery and vanished. Dreams of the spinner of laughs have been shattered and his air castles have crumbled—for Charlie Chaplin’s baby boy is dead.

It wasn’t just the Times—the Los Angeles Herald had several paragraphs about the dust-laden toys in the nursery that would never be played with.

The official Chaplin site says his loss helped inspire the feature he told Kingsley about, The Kid. He decided not to wait until after he finished the shorts and started working on it ten days after Norman died. It took nine months to complete (he quickly make A Day’s Pleasure in the middle, because First National wanted something to release) and it came out in February 1921 to universal and continuing acclaim.