Entertaining But Clean: Week of October 25th, 1919


One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on the latest attempt to make kid-appropriate films:

For a long time now, mothers, women’s clubs and others have been asking for human, bright, entertaining but clean pictures…Now comes that Mark Twain of the screen, Judge Willis Brown, with a picture which is sponsored, even owned, by the women’s clubs of the country. It is entitled Surprising Carlotta, and it is on view at the Alhambra, and it fulfills all the exactations of those who have been calling for “human, bright, entertaining but clean” pictures. It is, indeed, a classic of childhood, with an understanding of and sympathy with boy nature which is fairly uncanny. It is humorous, human, sympathetic, comparable indeed only to, and almost a unctuously funny as Huckleberry Finn and Penrod [a popular Booth Tarkington novel, now forgotten], containing also a highly appealing little love story between the young lady heroine and the handsome hero, though this latter is submissive to the story of childhood. There is no preaching in it, and no moral, except, possibly, a sly poking of fun at the pompous stupidity of older people in dealing with childhood.

Unusually, instead of just complaining about not enough films for children, a group formed by women’s clubs called the National Federation of Better Film Workers were paying the Alhambra to run Surprising Carlotta for two weeks. They put their money where the mouth was!

However, it didn’t have a very successful run, according to an article by Kingsley’s co-worker Myra Nye; she wrote that Carlotta’s box office receipts were “surprising, but not surprising enough….By Tuesday night the manager at the Alhambra doubted if the play could run two weeks as it was booked.” It did stick around for a second week, since the Federation had paid for the theater, but after that, it disappeared. As Kingsley observed before, people say they want clean movies, but they don’t buy tickets for them.

Judge Willis Brown, the producer behind Carlotta, had quite a varied career. First he was the manager of the Oregon Fruit Union, a growers’ advocacy group. Around 1898, he formed the Anti-Cigarette League, headquartered in Chicago, and he gave speeches in support of their work. In 1905 he was appointed judge of the juvenile court in Salt Lake City, but his powers were limited because he wasn’t qualified to be a judge in Utah (he hadn’t lived there long enough; later they found out he wasn’t a lawyer). He continued his speaking tours; for example, in 1906 his speech in Los Angeles was called “The Devil’s Sunday School” – he said that saloons were the devil’s church and cigarette smoking was its Sunday school teachings. The L.A. Times was impressed by his delivery and impact:

The enthusiasm of this boyish-looking judge is infectious, and that he had made his presence felt here was demonstrated by the fact that an eager and interested audience—larger than any that has ever before greeted a speaker along similar lines—was present and applauded frequently.

Nevertheless, he was asked to resign from the Salt Lake City court in early 1907, and after a fight, he did. So he continued on the lecture circuit, and he used his earnings to start Boy City in Charlevoix, Michigan, a home for unwanted boys. Later he opened a second branch in Gary, Indiana. His first brush with the movies was in 1910, when Selig Polyscope made a short documentary about his organization called The City of Boys. This inspired him to form his own film production company in 1913, the Youth Photo Play Company, and he hired John M. Stahl to direct a feature-length film, The Boy and the Law, about a wild boy reformed by a stint in Boys City. (Stahl went on to direct classics like Imitation of Life (1934) and Leave Her to Heaven (1945).) Brown moved to Los Angeles and started a new production company in 1917, Boy City Film, to make a series of twenty shorts. He hired King Vidor (The Crowd (1928), Stella Dallas (1937), to direct. The first, Bud’s Recruit, holds up pretty well, according to Michael at Century Film Project:

Given the heavy-handed intentions and presumably limited budget, it is a very effective movie, especially in terms of its comedy. The boy actors are charming, and always seem to give the adults a run for their money…The movie comes across as innocently naïve, where it could have easily been foolish or preachy.

Surprising Carlotta was the end of Brown’s film career. When I say it disappeared, I mean it completely disappeared: after the Los Angeles showing, there’s nothing in digitized newspapers or the Media Digital History Project about it, and it’s not in the AFI Catalog, IMDB or the Silent Film Survival database. Judge Willis went back to the lecture circuit. He died following a heart attack at home in Los Angeles on April 30, 1933, leaving a widow and three children. (no, Wikipedia and IMDB, he wasn’t the Willis Brown who was shot by a spurned lover in Columbus Ohio, nor was he formerly known as James Willhenry Brown—I’ll send them a correction.)

Kingsley’s favorite film this week, The Temperamental Wife, had a “brilliant photoplay” by some of her favorite writers, Anita Loos and John Emerson. She said:

the story is full of fresh ideas, humorous situations and scintillating subtitles….The photoplay is full of clever touches for which the Loos-Emerson combination is famous and it is quite impossible to convey a sense of its amusing quality in the small space allotted me. Perhaps the best guaranty I can give you is the fact that the audience yesterday was kept in a constant uproar by the fun of the action and the amusing subtitiles.

A complete copy of it is at the Library of Congress, but the plot (a jealous wife learns that her husband’s secretary is -gasp- a woman!) might be what’s keeping anybody from releasing it on DVD.



“Former Utah Jurist Drops Dead in L.A.,” San Pedro News Pilot, May 1, 1933.

S.J. Griffin, “Judge Willis Brown,” Ogden Standard, May 29, 1909.

“Juvenile Judge Won’t Quit,” Deseret Evening News, January 24, 1907.

Grace Kingsley, “Making the Boys Behave,” Los Angeles Times, October 12, 1919.

“National Fruit-Growers Association,” Los Angeles Times, May 19, 1896.

“New Court to Open Soon,” Salt Lake Herald, April 10, 1907.

Myra Nye, “Commercializing Goodness in Films,” Los Angeles Times, November 2, 1919.

“Willis Brown Appointed Judge,” Salt Lake Herald, March 31, 1905.


One Way to Fix Pictures: Week of October 18th, 1919


One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley had quite enough of one sort of adventure movie:

Usually when I see advertised, “a thrilling adventure of the frozen north,” I groan inwardly. I say to myself: I know what it’s going to be. It’s going to show a young man “going out to reform in the great clean West, consisting for the most part of a dance hall,” as Harry Leon Wilson said recently in an article on pictures…There will be the stolen claim and a mine they don’t have to do anything to except pick the gold right off the ground and the walls. And there’s a great red-blooded fight, with the hero usually saving himself all he can, and going down just too easily for anything. And of course, there’s the miner’s daughter, dressed in a natty little tam and a fur coat, who can easily walk twenty miles through blinding snow to find her lover, and does, too, goes straight to him, though previously she hadn’t the slightest idea where he was. With lots of far-offs and close-ups of mountains and lakes and things. And that’s all.

Happily, she thought the movie she was reviewing, The Girl From Outside, was much better than that. She wrote, “here is northern drama, ingenious and human, and not depending on sunsets and scenery for its charm.” It was about a lone young woman in Nome, Alaska who opens a hotel with the assistance of a gang of crooks, whom she reforms.

Harry Leon Wilson

The Harry Leon Wilson article she mentioned was called “Film-Flam” and it appeared in the August 2nd edition of the Saturday Evening Post. Wilson was a popular novelist and playwright in the 1910s and 20’s, most famous for Ruggles of Red Gap. The piece was a long, but amusing, list of complaints about the pictures. First he called anyone who nit-picked about continuity errors “my idea of a mental dud,” then he made a turn:

But just a moment! Can we justly blame these critics? What else have they to think about at a moving picture? They know all the plots, all the characters, all the directors’ tricks. After two hundred feet of any picture they could find their way blindfolded along the remaining four thousand eight hundred feet to the fade-out of the lovers.

So he went on to moan, with copious examples, about worn-out plots and characters for a few more pages. Kingsley must have been quoting him from memory because she was a bit wrong, so here’s what he said about Westerns:

The dear out-there motif! What would screenland have done without it! Out there in the great clean spaces where men are men! Out there where God gives a man his chance! Out there beyond the town’s corruption where the game is played square! It’s a bit surprising, too, because out there consists of a brief vista of street lined with saloons. And you don’t stay in the street either. The great clean space where men come to know consists of a roomy saloon with a dancing floor and gaming tables. And I am tired of that saloon.

Luckily, he had a solution (and it wasn’t one I expected). A film executive:

may know that only filmed plays—real plays—will make money, drama being even more essential to the film play than to the spoken play; but he seems not to know that plays cannot be had except at a price…nowadays, real writers get real money.

He didn’t mention it, but he had a drawerful of plays he’d co-written with Booth Tarkington that had been produced on Broadway. So convenient! Paying them a pile of money would solve everything! He did move to Los Angeles in 1920 and join the industry, but the studio bought the rights to his novels, not his plays. (“Heraldgrams, Exhibitors’ Herald, October 2, 1920, p.38.) The experience inspired him to write Merton of the Movies, another best-seller.

Kingsley had a much better method to get rid of hackneyed plots than filming plays (which honestly, doesn’t always work out so well):

Oh, if Charlie Chaplin or Doug Fairbanks or Fatty Arbuckle would only make a Klondike comedy!

She eventually got her wish, and she only had to wait until 1922, when Buster Keaton made The Frozen North. Then Chaplin made The Gold Rush in 1925 and really finished off Northern adventure movies for awhile.

Harry Leon Wilson’s article is on Google Books (starting on page 6), if you’d like to take a look.


This week, Kingsley reviewed a film that was just shown at Cinecon in Los Angeles:

Burglar by Proxy is a sparkling little comedy, with scintillating subtitles. It concerns a young man who is held up by two crooks, not for his money but for his ability to look like a gentleman and his athletic powers which would make him a valuable adjunct to their profession.

I usually don’t know this, but her opinion holds up: it is a pleasant little comedy.


Too Little Time: Week of October 11th, 1919

Mayor Snyder, Queen Elisabeth, King Albert

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported that Hollywood was preparing for some royal visitors:

In fact, there are three greatly thrilled picture stars in town today. They are Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford. And no wonder. For all are to entertain no less a person than King Albert of Belgium.

His Majesty, it seems, delights in doing the unexpected. Yesterday [Tuesday, the 14th] a member of the royal party got Fairbanks on the phone from Santa Barbara and asked if it could be arranged for Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin to meet the royal party at Fairbanks’ Beverly Hills home tomorrow. Of course, the world’s most famous smiler smiles his best and said, “Oh yes, indeedy!” and at once started making arrangements for entertaining the royal visitor and his party.

This would have been totally unexpected for the mayor’s General Reception Committee: they had given the newspaper an outline of their plans for the King’s visit on October 10th, and there were no stops in Beverly Hills on it. Plus, they weren’t even due to arrive in Los Angeles until Friday, not Thursday! However, if you were a king or queen, isn’t that exactly who you’d want to meet in 1919?

Another studio told KIngsley they were getting ready, too:

The royal party will be guests of honor at the Lasky studio Friday morning, according to the plans of the committee in charge of the programme. In honor of the occasion, Houdini, king of magicians and one of the galaxy of stars now at work at the Famous Players-Lasky headquarters, will stage his famous underwater extraction trick in the studio tank.

Everyone at the studio was anticipating the visit; leading man Thomas Meighan was working on Why Change Your Wife and he was in a big hurry to finish his scenes as a recovering accident victim, because he didn’t want to meet the King and Queen while wearing pajamas with a bandaged head.

Unfortunately, Meighan didn’t need to worry; King Albert, Queen Elisabeth and Crown Prince Leopold only got to spend five hours in Los Angeles on Friday so they didn’t get to meet the three biggest stars of the time or go to Lasky, and they had to make do with a stop at the Ince studio. It seems like what they told Kingsley was just wishful thinking.

The royal family

The King and Queen of Belgium were touring the United States to thank everyone for their support during the war, and to interest American businesses in investing in their country (the Times even helpfully published a list of opportunities). But they also took in some American sights, including San Francisco and Yosemite. They were greatly admired: during the war he had fought on the front with his troops, and she had worked as a nurse.

Along the parade route

On Friday, October 17th, the royal train arrived at the Southern Pacific Depot at 9 am (they were already half an hour behind schedule). Both Mayor Snyder and the King gave speeches, a choir sang the national anthems “America” and “La Brabanconne”* and Queen Elisabeth to give medals to six women who raised money for Belgian relief. Then they had a parade through downtown, with the royal party at the head of it and the Ninety-First Division plus returned soldiers behind. After that, they began their driving tour of the city.

Their first stop was at the Ince Studio, and Thomas Ince had prepared a short program to fit the limited amount of time they had. However, the King was quite interested in re-starting the Belgian film industry, and the Times reported:

Though King Albert and his party were scheduled to stay at the film studio but twenty minutes, they remained there almost an hour.

During his visit at the studio the King saw a man jump from the railing of a steamer into a frothing sea; he saw a quarrel between two lovers who were finally reconciled with a kiss—for the King’s benefit; he saw another woman plead with a vampire for her husband who had been stolen by the vamp; he saw anther act staged in a barn; he saw a submarine crew die in a wreak. During the tragic submarine death scene, Queen Elisabeth displayed more interest in a small, hairless pup that was snoozing on the sidelines.

King Albert asked no questions about the emotional stunts of the actors, but when he was escorted into the mechanical rooms, the cutting and the drying and developing rooms, immediately he fired many questions at his guides. He was interested and he wanted to know everything about the constructive side of film making.

Motion Picture News said that they saw Douglas MacLean and Doris May work on Mary’s Ankle, Herbert Bosworth in the submarine movie Below the Surface, and several scenes with Charles Ray. He was making Paris Green at the time.

Charles Ray

Next they went to Chaplin Field, where they saw some aerial maneuvers. Then they toured more of the city, stopping to visit some school children, and then it was already time to go. They got back on their special train and went to the Grand Canyon, skipping a lunch held in their honor in Pasadena. The Mayor went, but the 5,000 attendees were disappointed (the Belgian ambassador to the U.S. later sent an official expression of regret to the Pasadena and Glendale mayors).

So one should plan on staying for more than five hours if you want to see L.A.! If you’d like to know more about the royal visit, check out the Homestead Museum blog post and Marc Wanamaker’s post for the Culver City Historical Society


This week there was a tie for Kingsley’s favorite film. She enjoyed “a buoyant, refreshing tale” with Tom Mix and Frankie Lee:

Just you wait until you see him in Rough Riding Romance at the Symphony this week, and you’ll decide, with me, that if he keeps on getting stories like this he’ll have all the other India rubber heroes on the run.

“There ain’t no such thing as romance,” says Tom, but Frankie just at that minute points out a mysterious lady, who has stopped off at the train stalled at Cow Hollow, and whom Tom then and there picturesquely rescues from the attentions of the Hollow’s worst bad man.

But oh, what a joyous time that large audience had! I don’t know when I’ve heard and seen a crowd of people enjoy themselves more than when Tom, having grabbed an heirloom saber off the wall, drives Tony [his horse] down among that crowd of plain and assorted villains, and just naturally scares the pie out of them!

Rough Riding Romance has been preserved at the Library of Congress.

Why Smith Left Home

However, Kinglsey also had a very good time at quite a different movie, a jazzed up bedroom farce called Why Smith Left Home with Bryant Washburn and Lois Wilson. She observed how times had changed: “Now-a-days, to keep up with the stage boudoir plays, we’re taking all those old farces with their coy references to sleeping quarters, and putting ‘em in pictures with the beds all freely shown as the dining room table.” My goodness!

The “very hilarious hour of entertainment” involved a sturdy running gag:

The hero and heroine decide to wed, despite the farcical objections of the heroine’s aunts. But the bridegroom remains kissless, though willing and anxious, right up to the last foot of film. It is the constant efforts of these two to get a chance to be alone, a purpose thwarted by everything and everybody, including hotel fires, train wreaks, earthquakes, blackmailing maids and irate things-in-law, which make the comedy.

Why Smith Left Home has also been preserved at the Library of Congress, but it’s missing its third reel.

Salome vs. Shenandoah

Kingsley also had some important costume news:

Concerning next week’s premiere showing of Mack Sennett’s latest special production, Salome vs. Shenandoah, comes a bit of news that should immensely please devotees of laughter. Charlie Murray is going to present an act in conjunction with the production, in which fourteen comedians will appear dancing, all garbed in the same attire as that which Phyllis Haver wears as Salome in the film. In addition to this, Murray, Ben Turpin and Charles Conklin will wear the same costumes as in the film and will sing and play on the lyre an original song composition of Murray’s.

Charlie vouches for the information that Ben Turpin will positively wear nothing but a tiger’s skin and a shepherd’s staff. As for himself, his innate modesty forbade him making any statement regarding his own appearance further than to state he will wear something.


What a show! According to Brett Walker (Mack Sennett’s Fun Factory), the two-reeler is set in a small-town theater, where a troupe attempts to stage a Biblical tale and a Civil War epic simultaneously, with Ben Turpin cast as both John the Baptist and a Confederate spy. It was similar to Sennett’s earlier successes that made fun of melodramas, East Lynne with Variations and Uncle Tom Without a Cabin. Even though they were shorts, they were the main attraction on their theater bills. That was true in Los Angeles; Salome vs. Shenandoah played with In Mizzoura, a Western about a sheriff with romance troubles and a highwayman on the loose that didn’t get much notice.


If Sennett’s ad is at all true, it was a terrific movie.



“Advance Agent of Belgium’s Royal Pair,” Los Angels Times, September 7, 1919.

“Approve Plans For Welcoming Royalty,” Los Angeles Times, October 10, 1919.

“Belgian Royalty See Pictures in the Making on the Ince Lot,” Motion Picture News, November 29, 1919, p. 3952.

“Belgian Rulers to Come Here,” Los Angeles Times, September 24, 1919.

“Child Army Acclaims Hero King,” Los Angeles Times, October 18, 1919.

“City To Greet Royal Visitors,” Los Angeles Times, October 17, 1919.

“Southland Lavishes Its Warmest Hospitality Upon Regal Visitors,” Los Angeles Times, October 18, 1919.


*”La Brabanconne” is still Belgium’s national anthem, but “The Star Spangled Banner” didn’t become the United State’ anthem until March 3, 1931, after the Veterans of Foreign Wars petitioned Congress for it.


How Quickly They Forget: Week of October 4th, 1919

They were so happy, just last December!

One hundred and one years ago this week, all of the theaters in Los Angeles were about to be closed to help prevent the spread of influenza. They didn’t re-open until December 2nd. One year later, neither Grace Kingsley nor anybody else wrote about the anniversary. Only three very short articles about flu appeared in the LA Times in late 1919: two reporting that the State Board of Health said the return of the epidemic was improbable, and one about insurance payouts for flu deaths. The trade papers also ignored the anniversary, except to give theater closures as a reason that revenues were down the previous year.

This was the beginning of people forgetting all about the epidemic, which now seems to be the first thing everybody mentions if they do cover it. For instance, The Guardian’s article on the hundredth anniversary was called “A century on: why are we forgetting the deaths of 100 million” and the Backstory Radio podcast episode was titled Forgotten FluNobody paused to be happy that they got to go about their ordinary business. Perhaps they were saving it for the Armistice Day celebrations coming up next month.

No surprise, Kingsley’s favorite film this week came from her favorite actress:

That amazing young woman, Mary Pickford, has done it again! She has succeeded in The Hoodlum, which is at the Kinema this week, in again putting over a film blue-ribboner. The surprising thing about this young lady is that she never fails to surprise you…In fact, Miss Pickford seems to be slowly but surely evolving a fresh, new quality—a power that has nothing whatever to do with pouts and curls, but depends on a really brilliant mind, a keenness of dramatic perception, and an unlimited sense of humor and of fun.

The Hoodlum tells the story of a spoiled rich girl who goes to live with her sociologist father in the New York slums. There, after learning how to play craps and shimmie, she meets a wrongfully accused young man whom she is able to exonerate by stealing papers from her grandfather. However, as Kingsley noted, that wasn’t the attraction:

But the plot, ha ha! Like the dentists’ ads say, doesn’t hurt a bit. It’s Mary Pickford’s bubbling, genuine humor, which will charm dull care away if you’ll let it. That a lot of people want to let it was shown by the crowds which besieged the Kinema yesterday.

The Hoodlum is available on DVD.


Kingsley had news of Pickford’s soon-to-be husband as well:

That arch kidder, Douglas Fairbanks, made the life of Charlie Chaplin more or less miserable, the other night down on Broadway. Charlie and Doug had been dining together, and as they sat in the machine awaiting the coming of other friends to join the party, Douglas would ever and anon arise in his seat, wave his arms, and announce to whoso would listen:

“This is the great Charlie Chaplin! None other! Take a good look at Charlie Chaplin!”

Poor Charlie shrunk back inside his overcoat, and looked as if somebody bit his dog.

Oh, Mr. Fairbanks. It’s only surprising that the story doesn’t end with “so Charlie bopped him in the nose and no jury would convict.”

From a review of The World to Live In I learned a new word: tinpanner, which is a young woman who consorts with rich old men. It was invented by W. Carey Wonderly, the author of the 1918 novel the film was based on. Another writer, Owen Johnson, tried to call them “salamanders” in his 1913 novel of that name (and 1916 film), but neither word caught on the way the term Jack Lait came up with did in his 1916 book, Beef, Iron & Wine: gold digger. The Oxford English Dictionary says that was the first time it was used in that sense (and tinpanner isn’t in the OED at all). I guess Wonderly was playing off of that, since you use a tin pan to find gold in a stream. While is seems like there can never be enough words to insult women with, “gold digger” is easier to catch the meaning of if you don’t already know it. I can see why it won out.

Nevertheless, The World to Live In wasn’t a bad little movie, even if it utterly failed as a cautionary tale:

But if the author didn’t want all our little Maudie Freshies to go right out and be tinpanners, he shouldn’t have made this one have such an awfully good time, with numberless rich and devoted beaus, and come out all unscorched and unscathed as she did, from numberless fascinating adventures.

Gee, just like Anita Loos did a few years later in her book, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. In this story, Rita Charles (Alice Brady) meets a handsome settlement worker (William P. Carelton) with a “noble pompadour—why is it, pompadours look so noble in pictures?” and marries him, ending her tinpanning ways. Overall, Kingsley thought this now lost movie was very entertaining and not in the least profound.