Somebody Loves a Fat Man: Week of September 27th, 1919


Walter Hiers

One hundred years ago this week, Kingsley interviewed an up-and-coming actor and wrote:

“What did I tell you? That fat rascal, Walter Hiers, is climbing right up toward stardom. Next to Arbuckle, Hiers is doubtless the funniest heavyweight film man in the world.”


Hiers had just gotten a supporting role in Going Some, a comedy about a footrace and two rival ranch families. Alas, playing Berkeley Fresno didn’t make him a star, but he was an actor who worked regularly throughout his twenty-year long career, which is better than most. Kingsley highlighted the most interesting thing about his earlier roles:

Mr. Hiers holds an odd record in one respect. Nobody loves a fat man is a truism, you know. Mr. Hiers will tell you it’s true, anyhow for the purposes of screen comedy. He says he has been refused exactly eighty-nine times in pictures, and this doesn’t count the number he’s been refused by the same girl in the same picture, either!

“Why, do you know,” said Hiers, “I’m actually scared to propose to a girl in real life. That mimic failure of mine on the screen has got my goat. I’ve been declined with scorn, with contumely, with everything the screen could register, including pots and pans. I’ve been refused in the moonlight and under the scorching sun, and even in the dark where they couldn’t see me.”

Poor guy! Arbuckle himself usually got the girl in the end; Hiers just needed different writers. In 1922 he overcame the anxieties those “mean old scenario writers” who put “ice down Cupid’s back whenever Mr. Hiers appears” gave him and he proposed to Adah “Peaches” McWilliams. A newspaper writer had the nerve to ask her why she said yes, and she replied:

“They say ‘Nobody loves a fat man.’ I just wanted to be contrary. But why shouldn’t a girl love a fat man? When I go to the beach I’ll just walk along in Walter’s big shadow. When we pass through a crowd, I’ll just walk behind him and not be jostled. He likes the old-fashioned waltz, and if I’m terribly tired he can take me across the floor on his feet. They can stand it.”

She probably couldn’t get away with saying “Why ever would you ask such a question?” They married on January 12, 1923 and were together until his death from pneumonia in 1933. His grave maker says “Beloved Husband.” If you’d like to know more about Hiers, Thanhouser has a short biography.

Kingsley’s favorite film this week was The Dragon Painter. She wrote:

Either Sessue Hayakawa is the most exquisitely artistic producer of screen plays in the world today, or else the Japanese settings lend themselves so beautifully to dramatic production that we are lured into believing this is true…I mean simply that he has the power, above anyone I know, to project those stories upon the screen amid the most ideally suitable and beautiful settings—settings which, besides charming with their loveliness, include even touches of mood; and yet he does this by some magic means which enhances the spectator’s feeling for the drama, rather than distracting his attention….As to this play, it is a film poem.

The Dragon Painter was thought to be lost, but a print was found and restored by the Eastman House. Both Fritzi Kramer on Movie Silently and Tristan Ettleman on Medium still think it’s gorgeous and they illustrated their articles with screen grabs, so you can see too. In 2014 it was added to the Library of Congress’ Film Registry, and Daisuke Miyao wrote an essay for them on that occasion.


While Kingsley’s Dragon Painter review was thoughtful, her review of her least favorite film this week was more fun to read. She suffered through The Sundown Trail and wrote:

I cannot remember any “Western” situation that is left out of the story, though there may possibly be one or two. The result is a rather jolty course of narrative.

There is a western mining town without any ‘wimmin,’ and though there were many of the sex in the next town, they weren’t the ‘nice’ kind, and while the citizens of Sundown drank their liquor neat and gambled oh, like anything, they just couldn’t abide scarlet ladies. If they had, you see, there wouldn’t be any story. So they voted one night to import some from old Virginia…There was also the ragdoll heroine, a widow whose child was stolen. She lost her mind about it, away off up in the mountains, but it didn’t matter much because it didn’t seem to be much of a mind anyhow.

Oooof – she’d really had enough of vapid heroines. It’s a lost film. The Sundown Trail had one redeeming quality: Clyde Fillmore’s broad shoulders were “good to look at.” He played the slick gambler Velvet Eddy. He happened to be in town at the Morosco Theater, in the long–running play (14 weeks so far!) Civilian Clothes. He had a long career on stage and screen and was most famous for starring in von Stroheim’s Devil’s Pass Key.

Kingsley mentioned that screenwriter June Mathis asked leading man Bert Lytell if he’d heard from female impersonator Julian Eltinge lately. He said:

“No, but he sent me a fine bottle of whiskey before he went away—I’m saving it for medicinal purposes, of course,” responded Lytell.

“Oh, don’t do that,” said Miss Mathis, “sell it and go to Europe why don’t you?”

People were definitely not happy about liquor prices after Prohibition!




James W. Dean, “Who Loves a Fat Man?” Logansport Pharos-Tribune, September 8, 1922, p.3.






Immortalize Your Lawn: Week of September 20th, 1919



One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley mentioned a brand new trend:

Did you know that in all likelihood your home is ticketed and plotted and mapped and pigeonholed, that your favorite monkey tree in the front yard is spotted and what you consider the privacy of your back yard is known all about in certain quarters? Well they are.

No, not by enemies of your country. By the motion picture producers. Why, even your front door may become the front door of the handsome hero’s home, and the villain may pursue the heroine over your front lawn at any moment, your more or less humble front door and your lawn thus gaining immortality in the deathless fillums. But don’t worry. Your permission will be graciously asked and you’ll be properly paid for the use of your property.

Renting out your house wasn’t always easy money, there were horror stories too: a crowd of extras trampled a lawn and left their lunch trash all over one Hollywood home, and a Beverly Hills estate was left with a grave dug in the front yard! But she assured her readers that “in 999 cases out of 1000, however, directors are careful to see that no damage is done to property loaned them.” Furthermore, “damages, if any, are promptly repaired or paid for.”


She said that this was a new way to make films:

Once on a time the picture players, whole car loads of ‘em, used to start out and find their own locations. But now that so much of the West had been “shot,” picture directors must be more skillful in finding locations.

So that brought about the beginnings of a specialized occupation, location scout. She gave Universal Studios’ system as an example:

Take Universal City, for instance. No matter what demand may be made upon the location bureau of the production office, the sort of place desired is sure to be found catalogued, because a crowd of scouts is out all the time nosing about to find “locations,” photographing them when possible, describing them and bringing the data into the location office.

All film jobs were becoming more specialized as studios replaced independent productions. It was a more efficient way to make movies, but I bet some people missed piling into a car and looking for a nice place to shoot.

Now that independent production is more common than studio, the film office of Los Angeles, Film LA, has put together Locoscout, a database of places to film in Los Angeles. You can be a DIY location scout!


This week, after Kingsley submitted her Sunday columns, she took a vacation—her first in more than three years. She was able to go because Edwin Schallert was there. He had been a theater and music critic for the Times since 1916 until July 1917 when he joined the army to fight in World War 1. He returned to the paper in April 1919, and he got his old job back, adding films to his portfolio. This didn’t threaten Kingsley’s job: there was more than enough movie news for both of them to cover. She was back doing her regular news column on September 29th.



Griffith’s Latest Marvel: Week of September 13th, 1919


One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on the biggest film premier of the year, Broken Blossoms:

That drama outside the drama—the unfolding of genius! That’s what one thought last night, watching that latest marvel of the master picture maker, D.W. Griffith, and feeling the undercurrent of reaction to the master touch which thrilled through the tremendous crowd that had surged through the doors of Clune’s Auditorium until it packed the great place from topmost galleries—yes, even rafters—and nearly spilled into the orchestra, in order to view the premier of Broken Blossoms. Although everything was reported sold early in the day, crowds were turned away.


She wrote about its New York premiere in May (it really took a long time to get to Los Angeles!) But this event was just as impressive, with loads of movie stars in attendance, from Arbuckle to Walthall. It made for “a discriminating audience, too, one made up of artists in all lines, which was exactly attuned to respond to all the Griffith subtleties. And at the end, when the crowd howled for Griffith, I’m sure that beneath and beyond all its artistic appreciation was the big generous sense: “This D.W. Griffith is our Griffith, and we’re proud of him!”

The ads practically wrote themselves

She was ready to call it his masterpiece; Birth of a Nation and Intolerance were just steps to get to it. The LA Times chief critic, Edwin Schallert, placed it in an even larger context. Broken Blossoms

is to the future of pictures what the solemn tragedies of Sophocles are to the drama of all ages…He has ennobled the sordid surroundings of one of the lowest quarters of civilization with the poetry of beauty, and against this strangely fascinating background has painted a conflict of lives, and hope, and love and death, whose highest summits reach to where no art has soared in recent days except that of music.

Words are futile to describe the poignant appeal of Mr. Griffith’s story of love and death.

That is a tough review to live up to!

Other than Broken Blossoms, it was a fairly uneventful week. Kingsley even wrote a story about what jobs four women of the musical Chin Chin chorus wanted to do if they were men—the answers were sailor, jockey, cowboy and chauffeur.

She did mention a question that had come up in her office:

What will the male critics do next week, when Are You Fit To Marry is shown at the Symphony Theater “for ladies only.”

Since she was on vacation next week, they solved the problem at the Times by not reviewing it at all. Maybe they felt that enough had been written about the eugenics movement.






Fairbanks’ Itchy Feet: Week of September 6th, 1919


One hundred years ago this week, Douglas Fairbanks again felt the need to tell Grace Kingsley his travel plans, which included:

a trip to New York in November, whence, after making a picture in the East, he will go to Europe, visiting England, France, Switzerland, Italy and even Sweden and Denmark and the smaller nations.

He wanted to bring along Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., who had been visiting him all summer but had returned to school (there was no mention of what his ex-wife thought about it). He thought he might make some films while he was abroad, too.

This resembles his travel plans from early August, and Kingsley remembered to ask about them:

Concerning the trip to South America which Mr. Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin contemplate taking together, the two have decided to put that off until after Fairbanks’ tour abroad.

Kathleen Clifford

He really wanted to get out of town, even though he was in the middle of casting his next film. He had chosen a leading lady, but he wasn’t ready to tell Kingsley yet (it was Kathleen Clifford, and the film was When the Clouds Roll By).


Unlike the South America trip, he actually did go to Europe the next year and visited everywhere on his list, substituting the Netherlands and Germany for the Nordic countries. However, he had a different companion. He married Mary Pickford on March 28, 1920 and on June 12, 1920 they set off on their honeymoon, sailing to Southampton, England. British Pathe Newsreel filmed their arrival and the crowds that swarmed them:

Mobs of fans followed them wherever they went, making seeing the sights impossible, with one exception. According to Fairbanks biographer Tracey Goessel, they got a break in Germany—their films hadn’t been shown there during the war, so they weren’t noticed except in American-occupied Coblenz. But after a day without being recognized, Pickford realized she didn’t like it and said “Let’s go someplace where we are known. I’ve had enough obscurity for a lifetime.”

British Pathe caught up with them again at their last stop in Paris, and you can see that obscurity was not a problem there:

I feel claustrophobic just looking at the newsreels! They arrived back in New York on July 29th.


Kingsley’s favorite show this week was at Grauman’s, where Mack Sennett’s Uncle Tom Without a Cabin and Love Insurance with Bryant Washburn were playing; she said, “let’s stipulate right from the outset that these two form a combination that assay more laughs to the square inch of film than any program it’s been our joy to witness in many a long day.”

She described Love Insurance as

“a sprightly and ingenious story, this, involving an English lord engaged to marry a wealthy American girl, but who is afraid of losing her, and therefore takes out insurance in Lloyd’s against such a mishap. Bryant is the boy sent to watch over the interests of the insurance company and see that the marriage comes off according to schedule. There is a mounting comic interest in the march of events—and at least two big surprises at the end! It’s these really brilliant little screen comedies which are lifting the screen above the slush and mush.”

This version is lost, so I’ll spoil the surprises: he wasn’t really a Lord, and the girl ends up with Washburn. It got remade twice more, once with Reginald Denny as The Reckless Age (1924) and once as One Night in the Tropics (1940) with Allan Jones and Abbott and Costello.

She really enjoyed the two-reeler on the program, too:

Uncle Tom Without His Cabin is the funniest kind of burlesque on barnstorming companies, and must be seen to be appreciated. It hits off the mannerisms of actors behind the scenes in a way to amuse both the profession and outsiders, and drolly satirizes the trials and tribulations of the barnstormers.

The short did so well at this theater, Sennett made an ad out of it!


Brett Walker, in Mack Sennett’s Fun Factory, wrote that it was one of their best remembered and most popular films, and it helped make Ben Turpin a star.

Dorothy Gish in Nobody Home

Kingsley also really enjoyed seeing Dorothy Gish in Nobody Home, which was “a fresh, brisk little comedy, about a superstitious girl who won’t make a turn in life without consulting the cards.” She gave Gish quite an unusual compliment:

Dorothy ‘s hand and feet are funny; she can get more comedy over in the crooking of a finger-tip, the twinkle of a heel, than most comediennes can throughout the playing of a whole humor feature.

Unfortunately, it’s a lost film.