One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported that “all the film actors, especially those who formerly graced the stage, are on hand at the Mason every Monday night.” The Mason Opera House was the top theater in Los Angeles for traveling Broadway productions from 1903 until the mid-1940’s; it seated around 1600 people. I don’t know which is more astonishing: that the actors had the energy to get dressed and go out on a work night, or that they could just sit with everybody else in the audience without any security precautions.
Kingsley spent more time watching the stars in the audience than watching the show. She reported on their habits:
Douglas Fairbanks likes to slide in for an act and make his getaway.
Charlie Chaplin is a restless little wight, who likes to rush out and smoke between acts, but always a little apart, where he can watch the crowd.
Dorothy Gish and Bobby Harron, the Gold Dust twins of picturedom, are the most decorous in the crowd. Dorothy doesn’t gish at all—nary a gish. She sits like a little lady with her hands folded in her lap, according to the manners Mommer Gish taught her years ago, and Bobby goes out an smokes one cigarette between acts one and two and brings Dorothy back a box of candy.
Mabel Normand isn’t an inveterate first-nighter but she’s likely to come flitting in with Edna Purviance.
Miss Normand also appeared in Kingsely’s favorite film this week, Upstairs:
there’s a real sparkler on the Rialto this week, with that high candle-power comedienne, Mabel Normand in the star part. The name of it is Upstairs; it is adapted from Perley Poore Sheehan’s story, and it is on view at the Alhambra, and don’t miss it if you want to see a really breezy, diverting fun film, with Mabel Normand at her very brilliant best.
There’s a light but skillfully-spun plot about a poor girl in love with a bellboy of a big hotel, who sets about getting a thrill out of city life in her own way, deciding the best playground for the game is the hotel…she starts to sample the hotel’s delights, from tea dansant down to running the elevator rapidly from top to bottom until they shut off the power. In short, Mabel is the mischievous little sprite we know and love, in a setting that is suited to her cleverness.
Unfortunately, it’s a lost film.
Kingsley mentioned that even movie stars could be star struck. Zasu Pitts suffered a bout of it when she went to tea with Nazimova. Kingsley wrote:
Miss Pitts tells about the meeting in characteristic fashion:
“What did you do when you met Nazimova?”
“Oh, I don’t know—guess I just skipped around some.”
“What did you say to her?”
“Why,” answered ZaSu, “I didn’t say anything. She said all the right and nice things, of course, but poor me—my mouth got so dry I couldn’t speak at all! I guess she thinks I’m an actress of the silent drama all right!”
This week, Kingsley interviewed theater actress Carroll McComas, who had returned from entertaining the troops in France. She mentioned something that doesn’t usually turn up in biographies about General John J. Pershing:
“Though he’s military in bearing and very dignified most of the time, “ said Miss McComas, “when he unbends there’s a sweet and wholesome boyishness about him which is completely captivating. After the show there was a dance, and please let the world know, Gen. Pershing is a wonderful dancer!”