Highbrow in Hollywood: Week of January 31st, 1920


One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley had news about the latest attempt to make movies respectable:

Just wait long enough and the motion pictures get ‘em all. Now it’s no less a person than Maurice Maeterlinck, the famous Belgian poet and dramatist, best know in this country, perhaps, as the author of The Blue Bird, who has signed up to write picture plays for the Goldwyn Pictures Corporation…Under his contract with Goldwyn, the author will write and co-operate in the production of but one photoplay a year. Goldwyn directors will direct the features, but Mr. Maeterlinck will be at hand at all times to oversee details of production. Just what the nature of the stories will be is not known at present, but as Maeterlinck’s works are all characterized by a touch of mysticism, it is likely that some such quality will be a characteristic of his picture plays.

You get one guess at how well this worked out: contemporary highbrow literature and Hollywood movies often don’t mix. While there are notable exceptions among Maeterlinck’s fellow Nobel laureates, particularly Rudyard Kipling and George Bernard Shaw, whose work was turned into terrific movies, his radical symbolist work was light on plot and full of fatalism and mysticism, and not really what Goldwyn was looking for. Goldwyn (and his ghostwriter Corinne Lowe) wrote about his dealings with Maeterlinck in his memoir, Behind the Screen (1923). He said that during negotiations Maeterlinck hadn’t heard of any of the other eminent authors Goldwyn had signed up, but he was quite impressed by the $1,000 he offered him: “and then at last M. Maeterlinck’s face beamed with intelligence.” (p.250) However, Goldwyn said that the results were disappointing.

His first attempt at camera material revolved abut a small boy with blue feathers and, as I remember, a feather bed. While admitting the impotence of “trifles light as air,” the scenario department rejected this absolutely. “Write us a love story,” suggested Mr. Lehr, my associate…The foreign author thereupon set himself to a less fanciful theme. This time he submitted a love-story, but alas! The type was anything but censor-proof.

Maurice Maeterlinck was known as the Belgian Shakespeare. Born in 1862 in Ghent, he spent most of his working life in Paris. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1911; the committee said it was “in appreciation of his many-sided literary activities, and especially of his dramatic works, which are distinguished by a wealth of imagination and by a poetic fancy, which reveals, sometimes in the guise of a fairy tale, a deep inspiration, while in a mysterious way they appeal to the readers’ own feelings and stimulate their imaginations.” His most famous play, The Blue Bird (1908), was adapted to film several times, the first in 1910. Maurice Tourneur directed a 1918 version and it’s on the National Film Registry. He was also know for his avant-guard play Pelieas et Melisande (1893) as well as his poetry and philosophical essays. After Goldwyn rejected his work, Maeterlinck went back to France. Hollywood didn’t learn its lesson, however. MGM signed him to write three screenplays in 1925, but they didn’t result in finished films either.

Mme. and M. Materlinck

The next day Kingsley reported on another reason Maeterlinck signed:

Mme. Maeterlinck, the poet’s beautiful young wife, is to have a chance to prove whether or not she is fitted for stardom in the films, and to that end will appear in several of the productions, the stories of which will be written by her husband…Of late she has expressed a desire to play in pictures, providing her talent was of such caliber as to place her in the star cast. And it is known that one of the conditions under which the Maeterlinck contract was signed was that Mme. Maeterlinck should have a chance to prove her ability before the camera.

The new Mme. Maeterlinck was known professionally as Renee Dahon, and they had met when she was acting in one of his plays eight years earlier. The 58-year-old writer married the 26-year-old actress in 1919 after his partner of twenty-three years, actress Georgette LeBlanc, had enough of sharing him and left. Dahon also didn’t get a career in Hollywood. The two stayed together until his death in 1949.

She Loves and Lies 

Kingsley’s favorite film this week demonstrated how popular fiction is easier to adapt to commercial films. Based on a Wilkie Collins short story from 1885, this “delightful entertainment” had been updated to modern times, because producers had become leery of costume dramas.

We have dear old entertaining Wilkie Collins, all be-modernized, be-risquéd, be-slanged, and be-New Yorked at the California [Theater] this week in She Loves and Lies, with Norma Talmadge scintillating through the role of the heroine. I’m sure dear old Wilkie would have blushed his face to a cinder* at the naked model and the bedrooms and the negligees that serve to add the paprika to his clever tale.


Kingsley recounted the tangled plot that involved Talmadge disguising herself as a middle-aged woman to assist the hero with his finances by means of a marriage of convenience, then says:

The great point is, the picture serves to reveal Norma Talmadge as a bright sparkling comedienne as she is a dramatic actress, in fact, and as entirely at home in comedy as though she played nothing else all her life.

Unfortunately for comedy fans, Talmadge mostly returned to making dramas, but she did make one more comedy, Kiki, in 1926.

Greta de Groat, Talmadge scholar and keeper of the Unsung Divas web site, got to see the incomplete version of She Loves and Lies, preserved at the Library of Congress, and wrote, “I wasn’t expecting much of this film but it turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Quite a fun comedy despite the bizarre plot–this woman chooses the world’s most convoluted way to meet a guy!”









*Probably not. Collins was such a bohemian that he didn’t marry either of the women he divided his time between, Caroline Graves and Martha Rudd.






“Maeterlinck Weds Mlle. Renee Dahon,” New York Times, March 7, 1919.


“Maurice Maeterlinck Now with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer,” Moving Picture World, February 14, 1925, p.713.

Such Hard Work: Week of January 24th, 1920


One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley had news from Mamaroneck, New York:

A highly interesting letter has just been received from Lillian Gish, star of D.W. Griffith productions, and of late director of Dorothy in a comedy entitled She Made Him Behave. Miss Lillian related just how it feels to be a director, also, how the company likes, or rather doesn’t like, New York.

“What do you think of my turning director? I never dreamed it was such hard work. It makes one get into condition where one can’t sleep or eat. I really don’t understand how the directors direct and live! I certainly understand why Lois Weber goes to the hospital between pictures. I have seen the picture so much that I don’t know whether it is good or bad, but Dorothy says it is her best.”


The film’s title was later changed to Remodeling Her Husband and it was Lillian Gish’s only attempt at directing. It’s a lost film. The plot involved newlywed Dorothy Gish catching her flirtatious husband (James Rennie) in questionable situations with other young, pretty women and she eventually leaves him. After he threatens suicide, they reconcile. Variety was not impressed; they said the story “was not a world-beater but with the action Dorothy supplies it gets by with laughs.” (December 31, 1919)

Plainly, Lillian Gish didn’t enjoy directing at all and she never changed her mind about the job, even after her initial exhaustion wore off. Later in 1920, she explained to Motion Picture Magazine, “There are people born to rule and there are people born to be subservient. I am of the latter order. I just love to be subservient, to be told what to do.” So there was at least one person in Hollywood who didn’t want to direct!

She had no idea how much cold was in store for her (Way Down East, 1920)

Gish also reported on how the Griffith company were all faring in snow country:

“Here we are,” writes Miss Gish, “all the Gishes in New York, living out in the country in an old-fashioned house where the pipes freeze and the water won’t run in or out, and the heat—well sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t—it all depends. The snow looks perfectly beautiful, but I do miss my California. It’s a joke around the studio. If anyone starts to even talk about Los Angeles you see tears in the eyes of the property boys, the electricians and the actors. We are all of us having a good case of homesickness.”

Griffith’s Studio

They had only been away from Los Angeles a few months, having left in September, so it’s no wonder they were homesick. The company was to stay in Mamaroneck for five years, until Griffith was forced to sell the studio to cover its debts. They had several more cold winters to get through.

This week, Kingsley also reported a piece of gossip I hadn’t heard before:

Lovely Constance Talmadge, picture star, is engaged to wed Irving Berlin, noted popular music composer, according to word just received from New York by intimate friends of Miss Talmadge in this city. Just how soon the marriage is to occur is not ready to be announced.

Miss Talmadge and Mr. Berlin have been acquainted for several months; in fact, she met him in New York during a visit some time ago, before she finally went East, and the two have been good friends for a long time, but no news of the romance developing between the pair has heretofore been disclosed.

In June, 1920 the Los Angeles Herald even reported that the two were married, but they never did. Instead she married John Pialoglou, a Greek tobacco importer, on December 26, 1920. It was a double wedding with Dorothy Gish and her Remodeling co-star, James Rennie. Gish and her husband stayed married until 1935, but Talmadge divorced Pialoglou in 1922.

After the divorce, Photoplay ran an article about Talmadge called “The Most Engaged Girl in the World.” (October, 1923) It listed five past fiancés: Irving Berlin, Irving Thalberg, the film executive, John Charles Thomas, a singer, Kenneth Harlan, a film actor, and William Rhinelander Stewart Jr., a millionaire and “society favorite.” Talmadge told them what she was looking for in a husband: a “good bad man. You know, the man who’s been a regular Bluebeard, but is willing to give it all up for our sweet sakes.” Given that, it’s not too surprising that her three future marriages didn’t work out.

Ellin and Irving Berlin

Berlin had much better luck. He was happily married to Ellin Mackay for 63 years from 1926 until her death in 1988. It seems he knew quite well what Talmadge was like; when Anita Loos asked him for a suggestion for title for a script she’d written for her, he said “A Virtuous Vamp.”


Kingsley’s favorite film this week as The Thirteenth Commandment, and she used it as a stick to beat tired movie tropes with:

Amidst the dreary desert of turgid trash, the pale piffle, the mawkish flapdoodle which the screen reviewer has weekly to drag wearily through, is found once in a while a resting place, a green and flourishing oasis in the shape of a story which is sane and wholesome and normal, and yet which really reflects life vividly in a mirror. Once in a while, in other words, some director will fold the much-worn and mangy tiger skin of purple passion away in moth balls, send the vampire home to rest up and get her face fixed against the ruination of another batch of weak-minded males; will send the sweet little ingénue back to the family flat to look after her husband and babies…

Such a story is The Thirteenth Commandment, adapted from Rupert Hughes’s story, in which Ethel Clayton is starring at Clune’s Broadway this week. Its theme is the eternal problem of civilized latter-day womanhood, the alternative of economic dependence or independence, done into a human, absorbing story with sidelights of natural and inherent and unforced humor, and with every character vividly and logically drawn.

Ethel Clayton

Ethel Clayton played a small-town girl with extravagant tastes who learns the error of her ways when she moves in with her brother and sister-in-law. They teach her that 13th Commandment, “Don’t spend more money than you make.” A title card explains why they skipped a few numbers: “It’s called the thirteenth, because it’s so unlucky to break it!” Kingsley particularly enjoyed Clayton’s performance, saying “Miss Clayton as usual blends rare intelligence with fine dramatic feeling and gives us a portrayal many-hued in its revelations of the character of a young modern woman.” Sadly, it’s a lost film.

Tsuru Aoki

Prohibition continued to beleaguer everybody this week:

We’ll say Tsuru Aoki is a real philanthropist. A physician recently prescribed champagne for one of the Universal actresses taking part in Miss Aoki’s picture. But, owing to red tape necessary to get the drink by prescription, also owing to its cost, it looked as if the suffering lady would have to do without any bubbles in her diet. Then came forward Miss Aoki and donated several bottles of champagne, and now the invalid is reported doing as well as could be expected.

Tsuru Aoki was a fine and generous person, but my question is: what disease could it possibly have been? Just like wine, champagne has health benefits. It contains the same antioxidants that prevent damage to blood vessels, reduce bad cholesterol and prevent blood clots, lowering the risk of heart illnesses and strokes. But researchers didn’t confirm the link until this century. I have no idea what the unfortunate actress suffered from – though it sounds like Miss Kingsley wanted a slight case of it, so she could have her own prescription.


“Constance Talmadge Weds Irving Berlin,” Los Angeles Herald, June 4, 1920.

Hall, Gladys. “Lights! Says Lillian!” Motion Picture Magazine, April–May 1920, p. 30-31, 102.


The roaring starts: Week of January 17th, 1920


One hundred years ago this week, the new decade had barely begun, and Grace Kingsley noticed that entertainment was already getting naughtier. Previously, if you saw a:

comedy hero of the screen, you may be very sure he isn’t doing the one thing he shouldn’t, because our Anglo-Saxon minds simply refuse to countenance anything naughty in husbands done in a spirit of levity. If a man wants to be gosh-awfully bad he’s got to be solemn about it and go in for the drammer. In comedy it always turns out that the husbands and wives were merely suspected of being unfaithful. The wife really was at her sisters all the while, and hubby spent the night at his club, even if he did have to pay a visit to the purple hussy’s apartments in the early gloaming.

Of course, infidelity was still in plenty of dramas—Blind Husbands was playing for a third week in Los Angeles. However:

the day of the smart, sophisticated, almost-naughty screen comedy is with us…It’s an adroit mix-up Mr. Hobart [George Hobart, the play’s author] has given us, which works out in the meeting of three sets of married people, each with the wrong partner, in that naughty Honeysuckle Inn; and the house actually roared yesterday when the innocent little wife (Doris May), who came to the inn looking for her husband, takes her first drink, gets a very funny jag, and is bourn downstairs by each of the two other husbands, successively, only to be rushed back at meeting the husband (Douglas MacLean) at the foot of the stairway.

So the comedy wife still didn’t actually do anything wrong, it just seemed bad for longer. Nevertheless, all the confusion resulted in a “hilariously funny comedy,” and the theater was packed. Unfortunately, only one reel has been preserved at the Library on Congress.


Screening just four blocks away (also playing to packed houses) was another then-notorious movie, Toby’s Bow. Kingsley speculated on what was bringing people to the theater:

of course, everybody had heard of that naughty game of strip poker with which the play begins, and just had to see it. However, as it turn out, the Greenwich Village lady who parts with her clothing had evidently prepared for the occasion, because her teddies came away up above and away down below what might be termed the danger lines, and she went right home with a shawl around her as soon as she reached ‘em.

I wonder if this revelation hurt ticket sales? The poker game sets the scene for the lurid world of Greenwich Village writers. But don’t worry: later, at a decadent New York masquerade, the hero (Tom Moore) rushes in just in time to save the charming heroine (Doris Pawn) from “a wicked reveler was laying his hand on her velvet shoulder.” So there was a limit to the naughtiness in this lost film too.


Of course, it wasn’t only in the movies, though Kingsley blamed them for some of the changes. This week, L.A. audiences were flocking to the play, Up In Mabel’s Room and she pointed out:

commonest of all rooms on our comedy stage nowadays is the bedroom. It used to be the parlor, you remember, eased then into the boudoir, with a glimpse of the bedroom beyond. Pictures have led us into the bedroom, and now we have bathtub comedies, with indications that the bathroom will follow as a location for stage comedies, and with nothing left after that except, perhaps, to make the bathtub transparent!

The play revolves around “the desperate attempts of a stout, but innocent-minded married man, to get back from Mabel, a giddy young widow, a pink chemise which, in a reckless moment, before either of them were married, he had sent to her from Paris, with her name and his embroidered on its bosom.” Of course most of the cast wants to steal it and she keeps it in her room, “thereupon Mabel’s room become the busiest place in the world.” Gee, it sounds like a lot of fun. Oddly enough, it didn’t get made into a movie until 1926.

However, some people were upholding strict standards. Actor Charles Murray told Kingsley that his

beautiful 18-year old daughter has just arrived from New York, where she has been a convent student ever since she was a little girl. Mr. Murray says no-sir-ee his daughter isn’t going to be an actress, not if he knows it. Why, he says, he’ll hardly let her see some of his own Mack Sennett pictures, much less let her ever play in them!

He got one detail wrong: Henrietta Murray was born in 1895, not 1902, so she was about to turn 25. I want to know: what exactly did he think would happen if she saw a Sennett two-reeler? She’d join the Keystone Kops? She was his daughter from a previous relationship, and she grew up in Manhattan, with her mother, actress/writer Lorimer Deane and stepfather, traveling salesman Victor Deane. She did not become an actress; instead she married William McQuaid , a bank manager in Jacksonville, Florida.


Gloria Swanson’s outfits were part of the changes, too, and Kingsley overhead considerable admiration when a young filmgoer made a very good point:

It was at a showing of Male and Female, and the little girl behind us declaimed, when Gloria Swanson was about to be devoured by the lion, “Oh dear, and will he eat up her lovely gown, too?

Another view

Priorities were being kept straight in 1920’s Los Angeles!

Maybe he was from South Hawaii?: Week of January 10th, 1920


One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on the results of new management at one of the downtown Los Angeles film palaces:

It’s indeed a delight to see the Kinema come back in a blaze of glory, with a really brilliant and shimmery-smooth program, as that house came back yesterday.

The Kinema needed a blaze of glory to bring in the customers: it was four blocks away from Broadway, where the other big theaters were, and customers weren’t making the trip. The original owners, the Kehrlein Brothers, hadn’t made a profit in the two years it had been open (Kingsley attended its glittering opening night).

The property had been bought by T.L. Tally (owner of Tally’s Broadway) who decided to get some attention by splashing out with a big prologue. Kingsley was suitably impressed:

Mr. Tally is to be congratulated on having secured a stage manager who knows how to stage a prologue not only acceptably, but brilliantly, and in keeping with the picture. This week’s prologue is a beautifully staged and exquisitely-lighted one showing a cabin on the Mississippi in the olden days…There is even a Mississippi steamer, which yesterday seemed to have a slight hitch in its get-along, so to speak, but it was pretty effective just the same, and probably its inner mechanics will have been remedied by today.

In keeping with the Southern theme, a minstrel troupe called, I’m sorry to say, the Kentucky Koons, sang, danced, and played banjos. However, they had an unusual temporary tenor soloist: Prince Lei Lani, who usually sang Hawaiian songs. His real name was Edwin Kaumualiiokamokuokalani Rose, and he actually was Hawaiian!


Prince Lei Lani

After this gig, he went back to his usual style. In addition to recording songs like “Kuu Pua Loke” for Victor, he toured doing prologues. Motion Picture News described his act, called “The Legend of Aloha,” when he opened for What Women Want at the Tivoli Theater in San Francisco:

It is an original song act written by Prince Lei Lani and utilized a cast of seven. It is a love romance of Hawaii telling in plaintive, native melodies the story of the prince who wandered from his island home, but came back to his sweetheart only to incur the wrath of Pelee and be swallowed up in its burning lava.

“The Legend of Aloha”

Later he toured in vaudeville with his band, the Famous Royal Samoans, and appeared in a few films, including Hawaiian Nights (1939). However, he gave his occupation as “construction foreman” on the 1940 census. He died in 1971.

Kingsley’s favorite film of the week played at the Kinema:

Who says we don’t love melodrama? I mean opulent, zippy melodrama, with the lovely, persecuted, pink-gingham heroine and the high-power villain who hates the hero with a hissing hate? I dare you to say you don’t, after you view Micky Neilan’s glorified idea of Charles T. Dazey’s play, In Old Kentucky.

In Old Kentucky, as you know, is a thrilling romance of racing and moonshine days in Kentucky, with the mountain girl coming down to the old southern home to warn the hero to look out for his enemies, and in time to save Queen Bess, ‘the prettiest mare in the whole South,’ from being burned to death, and then, foiling the villain’s plot against the jockey, to ride the mare to victory. I’ll wager you’ll sit on the edge of your seat when you see the ethereal Anita dashing along to victory, hair flying and teeth clenched, and at that other thrilling minute, when she runs into the burning barn and leads the horse to safety.

Kingsley was surprised by how good the star Anita Stewart was: “she shows herself capable of a dramatic passion that frankly, we did not know was in her.” Stewart produced it as well as starred in it–maybe she knew better what she was capable of than other people. MGM has preserved a copy of the film.


Otherwise this week was the middle of the January doldrums (back then, they didn’t have an Oscar race to help fill up the paper). Kingsley ran a whole article about actress Madge Kennedy and how she got along with the elephant she had just worked with on The Blooming Angel. Kennedy offered solid advice, like “Never argue with an elephant about a pose he takes, especially when he has his foot up over your head.” All righty!



“Effective Prologue Staged at Tivoli, San Francisco,” Motion Picture News, December 4, 1920, p. 4246.


Ars Gratia Artis: Week of January 3rd, 1920

Marcus Loew

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported that Marcus Loew had bought all of the stock of the Metro Film Corporation:

The deal is said to involve several million dollars, according to advices from the East. This will be Mr. Loew’s first invasion of the picture-producing field. Metro is to retain its stars, it is announced, including Alla Nazimova, May Allison, Viola Dana, Alice Lake, Bert Lytell, and Francesca Bertini…The purchase will not interfere with Metro’s business affairs, which will be conducted as in the past, nor will if affect Metro’s dealings with other exhibitors.

mgmlogoThis was part of the consolidation of the film industry that happened in the early 1920’s. Marcus Loew owned one of the largest chain of theaters in New York, Loew’s Inc., and he wanted a steady supply of films. His company is still in business today. In 1924 Loew merged with Goldwyn Pictures and with Mayer Pictures in 1925, creating MGM. The studio went on to make the most memorable and prestigious films of Hollywood’s classic age from Grand Hotel (1932) to The Wizard of Oz (1939) and Singing in the Rain (1952). Unfortunately, he didn’t get to live to see the success it became. He died of heart failure in 1927, when he was 57 years old.


Kingsley’s favorite film this week was The Luck of the Irish, which came from “the genius of Allan Dwan.” She wrote:

If you want to be completely intrigued and charmed away even from the remembrance of the high cost of living and such sordid things, go the Grauman’s this week and look at Allan Dwan’s Luck of the Irish. You’re lucky to have the chance.

He has been uniquely successful, but that smoothness of production characterizing The Luck of the Irish, the hundred touches that make for naturalness and most of all the intimate something which makes the walls of the theater melt away, leaving us in a world peopled only by Dwan’s characters, these are the things that can only be the fruit of years of effort. And Mr. Dwan may rest content with the reflection that in The Luck of the Irish he has achieved such heights of seeming naturalness, and that his characters are so vital, one seems always peeing through a window at real scenes and real people rather than gazing at mere shadows. The subtitles are sparkling and round up the laughs.

The story of the picture has to do with a husky young plumber, who does his ‘plumbing’ in a basement and who falls in love with a pair of neat ankles which pass his window each day. Of course, he meets the owner and becomes her gallant knight in the MacGrathish [Harold MacGrath, the story’s author] troubles besetting her on a trip around the world. To tell this is nothing—to see the picture is to be entirely charmed.


The plot is fairly outlandish: the heroine does go on a tour of foreign cities, meets the plumber on the boat and winds up imprisoned in a house of prostitution (that last bit hasn’t turned up in recent rom-coms). It’s a lost film, but Dwan went on to make lots of charming movies, including Robin Hood (1922) and Brewster’s Millions (1945) so it’s entirely possible that this one was too.

This week, Kingsley got to have some fun with a review of a “monumental comedy dud” (that didn’t go on the poster). Lew Cody played “a professional lover who has fairly to carry a club about with him to keep the ladies away” in The Beloved Cheater. In particular, the screenplay irked her:

I take no issue with the morals of the play; in fact, it has not the courage to be immoral. I merely take issue with the good taste of the thing, that and its naiveté. No authorship is announced, and so I feel free to guess it was written by the office boy, in collaboration with the Sweet Singer of Michigan.*

The authors didn’t remain anonymous. The story was by Jules Furthman, who went on to have an impressive screenwriting resume including Shanghai Express (1932) and The Big Sleep (1946). The screenplay was by the film’s producer Louis Gasnier, who worked on Max Linder’s early films and directed Perils of Pauline (1914), and Lew Cody himself.

Other critics didn’t question the morality or the taste of the film. J.S Dickerson in Motion Picture News (December 6, 1919) thought it was “an interesting study of the ‘he-vamp’ at his favorite recreation,” and was very happy that Cody did not reform in the end. Jane McCloskey in Moving Picture World (January 24, 1920) wrote that she enjoyed seeing the story from the ‘other man’s’ perspective – “a novelty of treatment to an old theme that is most refreshing.” Kingsley also reported that “many in the audience seemed to like the picture, even though it does seem to me personally that Cody muffed it sadly”. It’s a lost film, so we can’t find out for ourselves.



*The Sweet Singer of Michigan was the nickname of Julia A. Moore (1847-1920), a notoriously bad poet. Even Mark Twain parodied her, according to a terrific blog post from the Paris Review. They mentioned “a critic in the Rochester Democrat wrote of her work, “Shakespeare, could he read it, would be glad that he was dead.”