The Clink of Money Bags: Week of February 28th, 1920



One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on a profitable deal:

Paying the stated sum of $50,000, the Christie Film Company has just purchased from Elmer Harris and Oliver Morosco the film rights to So Long Letty, one of the most successful musical comedies ever staged in this country, which has been running during the past four years. This is one of the biggest deals put over in the history of picturedom for the purchase of film rights to a play. It is understood that there have been a very large number of offers made to Messrs Harris, author, and Morosco, producer, for the picture rights to this famous musical comedy, but so far, due to the fact that two or three companies have been playing the piece over the country, they have refused to listen to the clink of the picture makers’ money-bags.

The film version of So Long, Letty will be made under the personal direction of Al Christie, and it is expected that the picture will be produced on an elaborate scale, with a featured cast of stage and screen performers.

Charles Christie, co-owner of the Christie Film Company, said it was to be the first of a series of big productions for the company. They hadn’t decided if they’d stop making the short comedies they were famous for (they didn’t, but they did occasionally make more features).

The AFI Catalog doesn’t mention how the bathing beauties were shoehorned in.

I couldn’t find out if this was actually a record-setting amount of money for film rights. Later articles in the trades put the figure at $40,000. Still, it seems like at lot since the songs were useless in a silent film, and they were left with a plot that sounds like a classic TV sitcom: a homebody wife is married to a husband who loves the nightlife, while their neighbors are a domestic husband and a social butterfly wife, so they trade spouses for a week (as you do). Of course the women recognize this is nonsense and plot behind the men’s backs to make it a miserable experience, and the extroverts are reunited with their introvert spouses. Surprise! But even then, a recognizable title was a valuable selling tool.

Al Christie did direct the film, and it came out just eight months later in October. It got re-made as a talkie in 1929, with its original Broadway star, Charlotte Greenwood.


Usually there wasn’t a dollar amount given when film rights sales were announced. Either the sum didn’t seem newsworthy, or the studios didn’t want to tell. A more typical announcement appeared on the same day: Jesse Lasky bought the rights to Booth Tarkington’s book The Conquest of Canaan, for Paramount/Artcraft, but no other details were given. Paramount did produce the movie; it came out in 1921 and it starred Thomas Meighan. Unlike nowadays, when films rights were purchased the film more often than not got made – probably because the company buying the rights already had the financing to make the movie. Now producers buy options with the hope that they can raise the funding.

In case you were wondering, the current record seems to be the 6 million dollars Sony Pictures paid for the right to The Da Vinci Code.

Dorothy Gish as Mary Ellen

Kingsley’s favorite film this week featured one of her favorite comedians:

I suppose if Dorothy Gish merely recited the alphabet she could do it in a fashion to make us laugh, just as Sarah Bernhardt or somebody is said to have recited it in a manner to make everybody cry, And remember it’s considered easier to make people cry than to make ‘em laugh. And when the dashing Dorothy has a bounding comedy vehicle like Mary Ellen Comes to Town at Clune’s Broadway, well, she’s just going to keep people laughing all the time.

Kingsley admitted that nothing about the film was groundbreaking:

Of course, numberless Mary Ellens of the screen have come to town, and have all been more or less amusing, but it takes Dorothy Gish to ring the bell, furnishing all the little touches of natural comedy that remind us of things that have happened to ourselves. There is a plot, too, with some crooks trying to drag her and the handsome hero, Ralph Graves, into it, but of course, being foiled by Mary Ellen, who hop-skips-jumps out of danger, dragging the hero with her.

She wasn’t the only one who thought it was a fine way to spend an evening, for Clune’s was packed “by a crowd that seemed to relish Miss Gish’s drollery to the limit.” It’s a lost film.


On March 1st, Kingsley reported something that was about to turn into one of the biggest Hollywood gossip stories of the year:

Mary Pickford, it seems, decided after a day or two of resting, that she was pretty well, after all. So she and her mother took a trip to New York. Just what was the object of the trip was, is something of a mystery. One rumor has it that Miss Pickford is contemplating building a studio there.

Mary Pickford was so important that she couldn’t be out of town for a few weeks without people noticing she was away. She was nowhere near New York. She’d been in Minden, Nevada since the middle of February, establishing residency so she could divorce Owen Moore. It was granted on March 2nd. They did their best to keep it quiet, but the secret didn’t last long. On March 4th the LA Times reported that it happened. By March 5th she and her mother were back in Los Angeles and she strenuously denied she was going to marry Douglas Fairbanks. Their wedding was on March 28th, and a long article all about it was in the paper on March 31st.

Of course, it was big news in the fan magazines, too. Here’s Photoplay’s title:







“Mary Pickford Faces Problem,” Los Angeles Times, March 4, 1921.

Otis M. Wiles, “Mary Pickford Denies She’ll Wed Fairbanks,” Los Angeles Times, March 6, 1920.

“Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks are Secretly Wed Here,” Los Angeles Times, March 31, 1920.


Trading Slapsticks for Six-Shooters: Week of February 21st, 1920


One hundred years ago this week, Roscoe Arbuckle was hard at work on his first feature-length film, The Round Up, and Grace Kingsley got to visit the set.

‘Fatty’ Arbuckle has parked the pies and gone in for melodrama and a regular hissing hate for the villain! Afar from the soft swish of the sweet custard pie through the air, or the dull, sickening thud of the husky mince, out at the Lasky studio ‘Fatty’ is now busily engaged in gouging large chucks of art out of the silent drammer. He’d just come in from killing a coupla outlaws, the other day.

She asked him how the work was going, and he said “I don’t mind telling you riding a horse is distinctly my idea of a dud when it comes to the pleasure stuff. I’ll never do it for my own amusement, not yet for the horses, I’ll say.”

The Sheriff (1918)

She didn’t remind him that he’d ridden horses in his two-reelers (he’d even played a sheriff before in a short she’d particularly liked, The Sheriff.) But the length of the film wasn’t the only departure for him:

But oh, my, yes, he does real soul stuff in the picture, like giving away the girl to the other fellow and then going away and killing the villain. No, he hasn’t killed him yet. Says he’s going to do that up in Death Valley so they won’t have to bury him.

Of course she asked him the most important question: why was he leaving slapstick comedy? He answered:

“Because,” says ‘Fatty,’ “comedy drama is twice as easy to do, doesn’t cost any more, and you get twice the credit. You can work your head off in comedy,” he says, “and people forget all about you the minute they’re out of the theater.”

She didn’t buy that, commenting “Forgotten! Ye gods! Some of us would like to be ‘forgotten’ the same way ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle is!”


When she got to review the movie in September, she discovered that he didn’t really abandon physical comedy, it just gave him another tool as an actor:

Roscoe Arbuckle is still a comedian. But far from his jazz comedy experience spoiling him for stories like The Round-Up, it has, on the other hand, crystalized and quickened his comedy methods, has made of him a really brilliant player who never misses a trick…His drollery is of the really human sort, is natural and incidental more genuinely enjoyable than the old because more convincing.

She thought that the rest of the movies was good, too: “The Round-Up is a thriller from the top floor of the thrill factory.”

Roscoe Arbuckle was the second slapstick comic after Mabel Normand to move from two-reelers to features (Mack Sennett had produced a few, like Tillie’s Punctured Romance (1914), but didn’t quit making shorts). Arbuckle’s studio had good reason to make the change. Motion Picture News reported that Paramount-Artcraft did it because of “the insistent demands of exhibitors…During the last two seasons Arbuckle’s popularity has increased greatly. Indeed, the fat comedian is said to have become such a box-office attraction that an increasingly large number of exhibitors have advertised the Arbuckle comedies as features.” (March 27, 1920) Plus, as Steve Massa points out in Rediscovering Roscoe, features had prestige that ‘vulgar’ slapstick shorts lacked.

Still, it does seem odd that they didn’t put him in a comedy first, but the studio didn’t have a script ready, so they kept him busy with a supporting role in this Western. Nevertheless, his fans stuck with him, according to Kingsley’s report from the film’s opening day at Grauman’s theater: “All the Arbuckle fans—and who isn’t one, I ask you like your Sunday school teacher—have been waiting with their tongues hanging out for the first of these special features…The fans lined the sidewalk for two blocks all afternoon and evening yesterday, waiting to get in.” (September 6, 1920)


Nevertheless, he didn’t stick with Westerns; his next film was a comedy/drama called The Life of the Party. He played a lawyer who gets mixed up with corrupt mayoral politics and an idealistic young woman.

The Round Up is available on DVD. Here’s a trailer for it:




Kingsley’s favorite film of the week was The Willow Tree, despite having some reservations about how the story had been modified:

The willow tree of Metro’s Willow Tree is not a weeping willow, as it was in the Benrimo-Rhodes play of the stage. In fact, Metro, June Mathis and Henry Otto have turned that near-tragedy into an almost-comedy. But they’ve given us a picture-perfect production, in a series of exquisite pictures, and a really delightful little play. So, if you can forget all the delicate whimsy, the wistful fancifulness and appeal of the stage play, why you’ll like this new Willow Tree. Ah, if it were only some dramas I’ve seen that were being turned into comedies.

It was transformed from a tragedy by removing one plot point: the heroine (Viola Dana) doesn’t have an “intimate relationship” with the foreign man who returns home to serve in the army. Kingsley suspected a fear of the censors caused the change. So she wasn’t nearly as upset as say, Cho-Cho-San in Madame Butterfly, and

she herself keeps right along tranquilly living at the old place after her lover has gone to war, serene apparently, in the faith that no picture company is going to let a perfectly good $1500-a-week heroine die an old maid in the last reel; and sure enough her lover does come back!


The film has been preserved at the Eastman House and current audiences would probably have a different problem with it. Viola Dana was in yellow face, playing a Japanese woman, but it didn’t occur to people then to think that was cultural appropriation. Kingsley’s only comment about her performance was that Miss Dana managed to be both ingénueish and dramatic, and “really effective in the big moments.”

Just two months later, Picture Play Magazine ran an article about the recent “wave of Oriental pictures that have surged across the screen.” It pointed out that the trend began with Nazimova in The Red Lantern, then was continued by Richard Barthelmess in Broken Blossoms and Miss Dana in The Willow Tree. It concluded with an innovation: an actual Asian person starring in a story about Japan. Tsuru Aoki was the lead in The Breath of the Gods, which “easily holds its own among these pictures.” Of course one film didn’t change things and the practice still hasn’t stopped. This article is a snapshot of what actresses like Miss Aoki and later, Anna May Wong, were up against when they tried to have a career in Hollywood.

Kingsley also saw the new, action filled Tom Mix film, The Cyclone, and she noticed something really unusual:

Tom Mix is always worth going to see. Which leads me to wonder why yesterday’s audience was made up almost exclusively of men. Of course, it was partly accounted for by the weather*; but, while the house was almost full when I was there, the usherettes and myself were the only women in the audience. Can it be the women like only to see the ‘pretty’ heroes?

I don’t think that was it. Earlier in the review she mentioned that co-star Colleen Moore’s job was to look appealing and faint at the right time so the villain can more conveniently kidnap her. Kingsley pointed out “By the way, I never knew a western girl who would faint at danger; but there are so many heroines in pictures who do it that I think they must have imported a carload on purpose.”

I don’t know any frequent fainters either. Gee, maybe that’s why women didn’t want to go to that movie – they would rather see hardy and interesting women like themselves.


*The weather that might have kept filmgoers away was rain for most of the day, and a high temperature of only 63 degrees. Did she think there was a limit to western girl toughness?


Barbara Little, “To The Tune of Temple Bells,” Picture Play Magazine, April 1920.

Steve Massa, Rediscovering Roscoe, Orlando, FL: Bear Manor Press, 2019.



Screenwriters Mattered, Too: Week of February 14th, 1920

One hundred years ago the week, Grace Kingsley thought that screenwriters were important enough to include in her column. Alongside news that star Anna Nilsson was to visit her parents in Stockholm in April and Universal was building a new stage, she reported the latest on two of them:

Hope Loring has been made head of the serial and western-story scenario departments of the Universal Company. She has long been a member of the staff, but has just received the promotion.


It was announced yesterday that Agnes Christine Johnston, writer of several famous picture plays for Mary Pickford and Charles Ray, and author of Alarm Clock Andy at Grauman’s this week, is shortly to wed Frank Dazle, son of Charles Dazle, the playwright, and himself a film writer. The wedding is to take place in June, in all probability…Miss Johnston, who is under contract to Thomas H. Ince, is at present taking a short vacation in Santa Barbara.

According to Donna Casella at the Women Film Pioneers site, women screenwriters were not unusual during the silent era. She wrote, “Women wrote both original and adapted scenarios. In addition, they contributed story ideas, served as story editors and continuity writers, and wrote titles.” Because writers didn’t always get credit, we can’t know exactly how many there were but Wendy Holliday estimated they were around 50 percent of all screenwriters.

Hope Loring (doesn’t everybody wear pearls and a fur when they sit down to write?)

Both Loring and Johnston had very successful careers. Hope Loring told a variety of stories about her early life, but Dave Miller tracked down her census and other official records. She was born Mary H. Hayes in Ottumwa, Iowa in January 1887. She married Robert Wetherrell, a bank employee, around 1905 and they lived in Tampa, Florida. They divorced some time in 1914-15, and it looks like she supported herself and her daughter Patricia as a dancer in New York City. She probably took the name “Hope Loring” from a popular novel of that name by Lillian Bell. Nobody has found out exactly how she got her first writing job, but in a 1919 interview with Moving Picture World she said she’d been working with Universal’s serial department for two years. She also wrote scenarios for features like A Society Sensation (1918). She went on to collaborate with her husband Louis Lighton on classics like Little Annie Rooney (1925), It (1927) and Wings (1927). Like many other female screenwriters, Loring’s career ended with the coming of sound and the increased bureaucracy in studios.

Agnes Christine Johnston

Agnes Christine Johnston’s wedding did take place in June, in Stony Brook, Long Island. She was born in Swissvale, Pennsylvania in 1896, and the first scenario she sold was to the Vitagraph Company in 1914. It became Tried For His Own Murder (1916). They hired her as a stenographer in 1915 and she continued to sell scenarios to them as well as the Thanhouser Company and the Pathé Exchange.

Agnes Christine Johnston, Marion Davies and King Vidor on the set of The Patsy.

She moved to California where she adapted Daddy Long Legs (1919) for Mary Pickford. Her career continued to prosper; she was most famous for her screenplays for Marion Davies, including The Patsy (1928) and Show People (1928). She was one of the few women writers who was able to continue working in the sound era, and her credits included several Andy Hardy movies as well as Black Beauty (1946). She even stayed in the industry long enough to write for television in the early fifties. In addition, she frequently contributed newspaper and magazine articles and co-wrote a Broadway play and a children’s book with her husband.

Her marriage was a success, too, lasting until Frank Dazle died in 1970. They raised three children, and she was able to balance her career and family life. In a 1928 interview she said “I think women have too much creative energy to spend it merely on housekeeping. You get neurasthenic if you have only one line.”


Kingsley’s favorite film this week was a Wild West picture called The Stranger, which

assays more thrills to the square inch than we’ve had in many a day, with its hair-raining riding stunts and its scrapes. In fact, hardly ever in its history has our tame Broadway witnessed anything half so wild. The villain is one of those high-power villains to whom villianing is its own reward, the hero is the most omnipresent in screen literature, and the heroine, charmingly played by little Miss [Beatrice] Le Plante, is the most appealing and persecuted. No 2.75 per cent* thrills here!

The action centers around a young girl whose father the villain is about to railroad to the insane asylum in order to get his land. I suppose, though heaven knows there doesn’t seem to be anything about it that a rich villain, already owning a lively dance hall, could want. If you’re looking for anything high-brow in the way of a picture, don’t go to Talley’s; but if life seems dull and slow, don’t miss this show.


This now-lost film is remarkably obscure (the ad didn’t lie: it was without a known star). It was the final film of the B.S. Moss Motion Picture Corporation and the last American film of its the director, James Young Deer (he made one more in the U.K.). He’d had quite a career, overseeing nearly 150 one-reel Westerns.

James Young Deer

Young Deer was the first Native American movie director. This was disputed in 2010, when researchers discovered that he lied about having the same Winnebago heritage as his wife, Lillian “Red Wing” St. Cyr, but Joseph A. Romeo sorted through lots of records to learn that Young Deer, born James Young Johnson, was a member of the Nanticoke Nation of Delaware (Aleiss, 2013). He might not have even known about his family history.

After an unhappy stint in the Navy, he married St. Cyr in 1906, and together they joined a Wild West vaudeville act. In 1909 Bison Films hired them as actors and technical advisors to make ‘authentic’ Western films. Then he was hired by Pathé Frères and they moved to Los Angeles in 1910. There he had three years of making well-reviewed shorts that often showed Native Americans as the heroes. This ended when he was accused of contributing to the delinquency of underage girls, and was caught up in the bribery, prostitution and blackmail trial of George Bixby. He left the country and made a few films in England. By the time he returned for the trial, the accusers had disappeared. However, his career never recovered. Nevertheless, Kingsley’s review shows that he still knew how to make an exciting film.

*She’s referring to low-alcohol beer.  In 1917, President Wilson proposed limiting the alcohol content of beer to 2.75% to try to appease prohibitionists, but it didn’t pass.


“And the Greatest of These Is Hope,” Moving Picture World, June 28 1919, p. 1965.

“Has Job, Three Children, Husband—Yet Writes Plays.” Los Angeles Times, February 5, 1928.

Aleiss, Angela. “Who Was the Real James Young Deer?” Bright Lights Film Journal, May 2013.

Casella, Donna. “Shaping the Craft of Screenwriting: Women Screen Writers in Silent Era Hollywood.” In Jane Gaines, Radha Vatsal, and Monica Dall’Asta, eds.Women Film Pioneers Project. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017.

Holliday, Wendy. Hollywood’s Modern Women: Screenwriting, Work Culture, and Feminism, 1910-1940 (Ph.D. diss., New York University, 1995)






Crashing Hollywood: Week of February 7th, 1920

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on a successful attempt to get hired in Hollywood:

It is reported that Tom Gallery, the enterprising young journalist who entered the ranks of leading men on the screen a few weeks ago, has found the exact size of the third finger of the left hand of that clever young comedienne, Zasu Pitts.

It is a pretty little story which lies back of the romance between these two clever youngsters. During the making of a King Vidor production in which Miss Pitts was the star, Tom Gallery, as the representative of an eastern fan magazine, came over one day to the Vidor studio. He said he wanted to interview Miss Pitts.

Miss Pitts was willing to be interviewed, and proved such good copy that Mr. Gallery stuck around all the afternoon. A day or two later Mr. Gallery went back to ask some question he had forgotten at the time of the first interview.

Some extras were being used in a scene, and Mr. Vidor laughingly asked young Gallery if he didn’t want to be in the scene, to which Gallery, of course, said yes. When the picture was run off that night, the young man showed off to such good advantage that he was hired for a minor role, and then, in the very next picture, he was elected as Miss Pitts’ leading man.

Bright Skies (1920)

Enterprising is the right word for Thomas S. Galley. It’s amazing that someone could talk his way onto a film set and into an acting job. I could find no evidence that he was a journalist of any kind – he hardly had time to be one. He was only 21 years old when he arrived in Los Angeles, and he’d be busy serving in the tank corps in France during the war. When he told the story the next year, he took that part out. In an interview in Motion Picture Magazine, he didn’t mention visiting the set of King Vidor’s Poor Relations, he said just interviewed for the leading man job on Pitts’ next film, Bright Skies, and she was so taken with him that they had to hire him. In July 1920, the two eloped to Santa Ana, accompanied by King and Florence Vidor to serve as their witnesses.

Gallery went on to be Zasu Pitts’ leading man for two more films, then after the birth of their daughter Ann in 1922, she went back to supporting roles and so did he. His film career ended in 1927; in a 1985 interview with sportswriter Jim Murray, Galley blamed his co-star Rin-Tin-Tin. He claimed he’d been bitten! (Neither of Rinty’s biographers, Susan Orlean and Jeannine Basinger, ever mentioned that.) Moreover, he told Murray he hated acting anyway. Gallery went on to be a boxing promoter at the Hollywood Legion Stadium, and used his industry connections to publicize the fights, inviting actors and actresses to them. He also helped broker deals with TV networks to put live sports like baseball, football and golf on television.


Pitts and Gallery stayed married until 1932, but their relationship wasn’t happy. During the divorce proceedings, she testified that he deserted her in 1926. Her biographer, Charles Stumpf, says that his lack of career success contributed to their troubles, plus he started being seen around town with a young actress, Madge Evans.


Kingsley’s favorite film this week was Marked Men. She began her review with a complaint:

And, by the way, just by what mental processes those responsible for the changing of the original name of Kyne’s story, “The Three Godfathers,” arrived at the conclusion that Marked Men was a better title, I can’t imagine. I’ll be if Universal ever puts out Romeo and Juliet they’ll change the title to Frozen Love.

She had a point about the title Frozen Love — it’s never been used for a Hollywood film. It seems like the film’s director, John Ford, agreed with her about Marked Men: when he remade the film in 1948, he restored the title, Three Godfathers. Other versions have been called Broncho Bill and the Baby (1915) Hell’s Heroes (1929) and The Godchild (1974). It’s a durable property!

Other critics were impressed, too.

Kingsley continued:

However, the title’s the only thing to find fault with in this production, which is a real screen classic, both because of its appealing story, which pulls even at the emotions of a hard-boiled critic, whose heart-strings, of course, are popularly supposed to be a banjo, or some such limited instrument; and because of the vivid and sincere characterizations of the trio of ‘godfathers.

Harry Carey

Kingsley singled out one of the godfathers in particular:

There’s one he-man actor who is so sincere and so dramatically adroit that he sounds the bell every single time he has the right story ammunition, and sometimes even when he hasn’t. That actor is Harry Carey, who has his greatest story in all the years he has been acting in Marked Men at the Superba this week.

Carey had been in over 100 movies at that point, so he had quite a resume. It’s a lost film.

Jim Murray, “Dog Bites Actor, Giving Us Promoter,” Los Angeles Times, November 14, 1985.

Clyde Stuart, “Mr. and Mrs. Tom,” Motion Picture Magazine Nov. 1921. p.69, 102.

Charles Stumpf, ZaSu Pitts: The Life and Career, McFarland, 2010.

“Walked Out,” Chicago Daily Tribune, April 27, 1932.