The Fame and Fortune Contest:Week of December 20th, 1919

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One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on the latest aspiring movie star:

Universal announces the arrival of a beautiful new star. In fact, she has begun work on her first picture. Her professional name is Virginia Faire, and she arrived from New York two weeks ago, being the winner of the “Fame and Fortune” contest…She was the winner among some 12,000 candidates. As she is but 16 years old, she was apprenticed to the Universal Film Manufacturing Company for a term of five years.

Kingsley mentioned that her real last name was Brown, “but whoever obtained distinction before the footlights or on the screen under that humble name?” However, she didn’t really like the name Faire and she soon added Brown back to the middle. Born Virginia Cecelia Labuna in Brooklyn in 1904, she had adopted her stepfather’s last name. She was still in high school when she won the contest; her contract with Universal stipulated that she had to live with her mother and remain unmarried for the duration.

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Tinkerbelle

Brown Faire didn’t become a big star, but she was a working actress who appeared in over 70 films. She even made the transition to sound; her film career lasted until 1935. Her most memorable role was Tinkerbelle in Peter Pan (1924). Later she starred low-budget films, but Classic Images called her “the Rolls Royce of Poverty Row” in 1987. After she retired from the movies, she worked in radio in Chicago. She died of cancer in 1976. She left her papers to UCLA Special Collections, so there might be enough material for a biography.

Brown Faire was actually one of four winners of the Brewster Publications “Fame and Fortune” contest in 1919, and she was the most successful of the group. They each got a magazine cover and an interview featured in the magazine, and they all appeared in a short along with the runners-up, The Dream of Fair Women. Here’s what happened to the other three:

  • Anetha Getwell was in Love’s Redemption (1921) directed and produced by the publisher of Motion Picture Classic Eugene Brewster. A criminal is rehabilitated through – you guessed it—love. She married stockbroker Paul Schoppel on December 24, 1919 and seems to have retired.
  • Blanche McGarity was also in Love’s Redemption (1921), as well as Rangeland (1922), a Western, and Little Miss Bluebonnet (1922), a travelogue of of her native San Antonio. According to the website My San Antonio, her father, a claims adjuster, tried to set up a production company for her but it quickly dissolved. She stayed in her parent’s house and had become a near recluse by the 1950’s. She died in 1973.
  • Anita Booth played a supporting part in The Shadow of Rosalie Byrnes (1920), then she had a short career on Broadway with roles in The New Poor (1924) and Out of Step (1925). I wasn’t able to find out what became of her, because according to the New York Evening World, Anita Booth was her professional name and they didn’t know her real one. (“News Notes of Motion Players,” April 8, 1916, p.7) Her publicity said she came from a wealthy family, so she was probably OK.

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The “Fame and Fortune” contest was strictly a beauty contest—acting ability wasn’t a part of it. Contestants mailed a photograph of themselves, with this form glued to the back:

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Anyone who had not “played prominent roles on the stage or screen” could enter. Men were invited to participate, but not many did. You could send in as many portraits as you liked. The judges included Cecil B. De Mille and Mary Pickford.

The following year, they ran the contest again but they changed the outcome so there was one grand prize winner, Corliss Palmer. She had a short film career, but her biographer, Jennifer Ann Redmond, said it was the worst thing that ever happened to her (the book’s title is From Southern Belle to Hollywood Hell and Leonard Maltin gave an overview in his review). The winner in 1921 did become a star, Clara Bow.

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Kingsley wrote one of her rare negative reviews this week about some “weak and watery pabulum”:

Most of the material of More Deadly than the Male might have been pieced together from the cuttings of a serial, having to do with murders, swift night auto rides taken involuntarily by ladies bound and gagged, etc. And all this takes a surprise twist at the end, as the trumped-up plan of the heroine, who is an actress and theatrical manager, to make the hero stay and do helpful work at home instead of trekking off to the African desert of some place equally wild, smacks of sophomoric attempts at novel dramatic effect.

Kingsley wasn’t the only one who thought it was a stinker; Film Daily said, “if you have selective booking, let the other fellow select this one” (December 14, 1919). It’s a lost film.

breath_gods_bestad

This week, a small item showed just how international Hollywood had become at this time:

The Universal players who are appearing with Tsuru Aoki, the Japanese star, in The Breath of the Gods, were gathered at the world’s film capital from every corner of the earth. Miss Aoki was born in Japan, Stanhope Wheatcroft was born in New York; Arthur Carewe is from Armenia; Pat O’Malley’s name speaks for his nativity. Barney Sherry first looked upon the world in staid old Philadelphia, Ethel Shannon learned to ride horseback at the age of one in Denver, Paul Weigel hails from Vienna, Mai Wells is from Australia, and M. Seki was born on a Japanese ship, which touched at Cape Town, South Africa, just as he let out his first cry.

Then as now, American cinema steals the best from everywhere!

 

 

 

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