Such Hard Work: Week of January 24th, 1920

gishdirects

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.”

remodeling

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.”

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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.

berlins
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.”

13th

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.

eclayton
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.

aoki
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.

 

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