One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley once more complained about tired movie clichés:
There are three dear old standbys in the way of heroines in the deathless drama of the fillums, who, when all else fails, may be dragged from the shelf by the scenario writer, dusted off and galvanized into a more or less lifelike presentment, and who may be depended on to put a kick, even if somewhat mechanical, into the celluloid drama. These are the preternaturally gifted and niftily dressed stenographer of 19 or 20, whom groups of bankers call into conference when they get stuck on a hefty business problem, standing around in awestruck attitudes as the words of wisdom about how to hamstring the bulls or bears drop from her pure young lips; the chemically pure young dance hall queen, whom “somethin’ somehow always kept from goin’ the limit,” (maybe it’s the marcelled hair of the men who try to win her, and we don’t blame her) and lastly, the weepy lady who never even seems to have Sundays off from grief, and whose only relaxation seems to be going to the dressmaker. We saw them all yesterday.
So this must be where today’s films found their young female computer experts and hookers with the hearts of gold.
The film Kingsley was reviewing was called Her Kingdom of Dreams and the lucky actress who got to do it all was Anita Stewart. It did involve a trusted secretary in a bank whose advice to avoid a swindler goes unheeded, so she moves West. The misery is provided by a big misunderstanding with her true love. Kingsley summed it up: “Her Kingdom of Dreams is not by any means the best story Miss Stewart has had; yet it is absorbing enough.”
Anita Stewart had been acting in films since 1911, when she began her career at the Vitagraph Company. In 1918 she started Anita Stewart Productions with a rookie producer, Louis B. Mayer. She was more than an actress; Hugh Neely, in a biography of her for the Women Film Pioneers site, pointed out that she made the daily production decisions because Mayer usually wasn’t on the set. She was to act in and produce 17 features for her company between 1918 and 1922, then she went to work at Cosmopolitan Productions for William Randolph Hearst. She retired from film acting in 1928 and became a singer.
Now Stewart has been nearly forgotten. Kingsley’s and other critics’ lack of admiration for her films might be part of it, plus many of them are lost. However, in 1919 the crowd at Her Kingdom of Dreams was completely satisfied. Kingsley wrote:
Miss Stewart has the tremendous advantage of being a great favorite with both men and women, as was shown by the comments that buzzed around me yesterday; also she is one of the comparatively few stars whom her admirers will go see no matter what the picture in which she appears.
This week, Kingsley had news about a filmmaker that has had better luck with posterity:
Erich von Stroheim is feeling very much elated these days. His first picture production, Blind Husbands, was bid for by the biggest exhibitors in America, and was finally auctioned off to S.L. Rothapfel, who has secured first-run rights for the California Theater. Von Stroheim is best known to the public for his characterization of the hated Hun in The Heart of Humanity. Not only did her direct Blind Husbands, but he also wrote the story and acted the leading role. It will be given its western premier about Christmas.
It’s really not a jolly holiday family movie. Nevertheless, it did open at the California Theater on December 21st. Kingsley didn’t get to review it; her boss Edwin Schallert kept it for himself. He admired it: “both in its emotion and its form, the picture has a newness which remove it completely from hum-drum triangle melodramas.”
Now, along with Broken Blossoms, Daddy Long-Legs, and maybe The Dragon Painter, it’s one of the few films from 1919 that are remembered.