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.).