Europe, ho!: Week of March 27th, 1920


One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley noticed a new trend for actors:

I don’t know what’s ever to be done to our picture stars to make ‘em stay at home, instead of leaving us to romp all over Europe.

Now it’s that clever little Fox star, Winifred Westover, who is going to leave us flat in order to accept an engagement as leading luminary of a Swedish company. The name of the organization is the Central Film Company of Sweden, and the engagement is a very important one, as the young lady is to play the leads in picture versions of the stories and plays of Ibsen, Bjornson and Selma Lagerlof.

To prepare, Westover was currently learning Swedish; she wasn’t Swedish herself. She was born in San Francisco to a Danish father, Thomas Heide, and a second-generation Swedish-American mother Sophie Servin. She had been acting in films since 1916, mostly in supporting parts. Skandinavisk Filmcentral might have hired her with the hope that they could sell their films in the United States, too.

Winifred Westover and Osvald Helmuth in Silkesstrumpan

Winifred Westover did get to go work in Sweden, but her films weren’t adaptations of literary masterpieces. She had a small part in Bodakungen (English title: The Tyranny of Hate) which was about feuding families, and she starred in Silkesstrumpan (Silk Stocking), which was a comedy about a young married couple’s disagreements. Then she moved to New York where she starred in five films for Selznick Pictures.

William S. Hart and Winifred Westover

Next she moved back to Los Angeles where she married William S. Hart in December 1921. She’d met him while working on his film John Petticoats in 1919. They separated just five months later in May 1922, and she was prevented from acting by a provision in the trust agreement he set up for her and their son. She tried to get the agreement amended in 1924 so she could work, and after several delays the case went to trial and  she finally got it changed in January 1925. Unfortunately it was too late to recover her career. She made only one more film in 1930, Lummox, for which she got an Academy Award nomination, but it didn’t lead to more work.


Westover wasn’t the only one announcing plans to desert Hollywood this week:

  • Antonio Moreno, then known as a Vitagraph serial star, said he was going off to Spain to make a feature. Kingsley called it “another link in the Europe-ho movement now taking place among our stars, and which promises to make England and France suburbs of Hollywood.”
  • Charles Ray wanted to produce and star in a film in London in the next year, and he already had a story in mind.
  • Peggy Hyland, her director Fred Granville, cameraman and other members of her company were leaving for London to shoot the interiors for Desert Dreams and Cairo Queen, then they planned to go to Egypt to shoot exteriors.

The first two didn’t go, but Hyland and Granville did move to London, and even made it to the Middle East eventually. First they made The Price of Silence, a thriller, then The Honeypot, drama about class differences, then Love Maggy, a crime drama. But in 1922 finally got to make Shifting Sands, an adventure melodrama, with exteriors shot in Tripoli.

In 1920, trade papers and gossip columns were full of stories about people and film companies with foreign plans. In particular, American film companies were building studios in London. One reason was given by Paramount Studios head Adolph Zukor: “We have all of Europe at our front door to use for locations. It is our intention in the future to take advantage of this wealth of background to the utmost.”

Kingsley’s reviews this week pointed out that audiences got a full evening’s entertainment at both movie and vaudeville theaters. Along with Mildred Harris Chaplin in The Inferior Sex (she played a “bewildered young wife who is looking wistfully for the best way to keep her husband,” which drew crowds because it resembled her widely-reported current divorce proceedings) audiences at the Kinema also got a condensed version of the last act of the opera Carmen, “beautifully staged and excellently sung,” according to Kingsley. Ethelyn Ostrom sang the title role, Carlo Bravo played Don Jose plus there were twelve more singers on the stage. That’s a big show! Additionally, there were the more usual newsreels, comedy shorts, a tenor solo, and organ solo and an orchestra overture.


Film was still being shown at vaudeville theaters, too. The Pantages had an Antonio Moreno serial as the last act (or ‘chaser’) on their bill, and viewers at the Hippodrome this week not only got “snappy” acts including a banjo duo, comedy jugglers, a musical comedy pair, the Carr trio singers and Farrell and Company in a farcelet, they also got the feature film Hell Ship, with “thrilling physical action [which] has roots laid sufficiently deep in psychological soil to make the results convincing” wrote Kingsley. It starred Madlaine Traverse, who had “the role of a sort of sea going Amazon, daughter of the brutal captain of a smuggler boat…A girl who has been at sea all her life with her rough father and his brutal crew, and herself a navigator, she plays the role with big, sweeping strokes.” Kingsley was very impressed by this now-lost picture: “I do not remember ever having viewed a more striking characterization on the screen, nor one of deeper appeal.” Audiences got their money’s worth then!



“Divorce for Mrs. Hart,” Los Angeles Times, February 12, 1927.

“Hart Answers Wife’s Suit,” Los Angeles Times, February 29, 1924.

“Hart Trial Date Set,” Los Angeles Times, July 15, 1924.

“Mrs. Hart Wins Right to Screen,” Los Angeles Times, January 25, 1925.

“Zukor Reorganizes His Production Forces at Paramount,” Exhibitor’s Herald, August 20, 1929, p.64


Why can’t good girls drink coffee? : Week of March 20th, 1920

Edith Roberts

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley wrote yet another profile of an up-and-coming star, Edith Roberts:

She knows right where she’s going. And she’s on her way, too. For though Miss Roberts is but 18, Universal has just raised her to stardom, and given her a nice contract. And from now on, watch the young lady.

She’s a very tame little girl, is Edith, but oh, how she yearns to be wild. I mean professionally, of course. Otherwise she is perfectly willing to have her tameness remain intact: in fact, like a sensible little girl, she and her mama carefully preserve this tameness. Why, she even drinks milk instead of tea or coffee.

So wild women drink coffee? I imagine Miss Kingsley knew her way to the newsroom coffeepot – how else would she have the strength to write this stuff? It must have gotten tiresome writing about virginal young women. The only thing more tedious would have been being such a well-behaved girl.

Edith Roberts, 1916 (she told Photoplay she was 14, but she was actually 16–she’d been shaving two years off of her age for awhile)

Kingsley tried her best to find something different to say about her, and found this:

An interesting thing about Edith is that she is a child of rare psychic powers. She can tell fortunes. When she was 12 years old she told a good one for herself, and now it’s coming true.

ER_missdoddRoberts told Kingsley her fortune (which she didn’t divulge) as well as all about living with her nice quiet mama and her 9 p.m. bedtime and her earlier work as a Universal contract player, mostly in comedies and Westerns. Her big break was getting the title role in Lasca, a drama about a young woman who sacrifices herself to save her love in a cattle stampede. Kingsley said “she stole the picture,” and Universal decided to make her a star. Her first vehicle was Alias: Miss Dobbs, which told the story of a book binder who foils a thief’s plans and finds love. She didn’t become a star, but she worked steadily and made films with directors such as John Stahl and Cecil B. DeMille. Her most famous role was in the melodrama Backbone (1923); she appeared opposite noted stage actor Alfred Lunt. She also played May Mingott in the first version of The Age of Innocence (1924). Her film career lasted until 1929.

Lon Chaney and Edith Roberts in Flesh and Blood (1922)

She escaped “tameness” in 1923 by marrying insurance broker Kenneth Snoke after breaking off her engagement to Christie comedian Neal Burns (could she have possibly been tame only in interviews?). Presumably she got to drink whatever beverages she wanted to by then. Sadly, she died of septicemia in 1935 after giving birth to her son with her second husband, Harold Carter.


This week, Kingsley took one for the team when she reviewed a particularly dull movie. Despite a “convincing, even brilliant” performance from Bert Lytell, nothing could save The Right of Way. It took and hour and a half to unreel his character’s search for belief in God and:

in the end the search comes to nothing, the whole dreary string of happenings which befall the hero up to the time of his death meaning naught in particular for the theme…There are also some absurdities. When the hero is branded with the red hot cross, nobody seems to think even to put Vaseline in the wound. And when he is shot, the heroine puts her arms about him, and pleads with him not to die, but nobody goes for a doctor!

No wonder she preferred sprightly comedies. The Right of Way was a remake of a 1915 film, which hasn’t been remade since. It’s lost.

Pauline Frederick

She also had news of what another serious actress was doing for the sake of publicity:

Pauline Frederick, Goldwyn star, has been chosen as queen of the California Raisin Festival to be held in Fresno, April 30. She will make her entry into the city at the head of a pageant which is planned to make one of the most spectacular ever held in the West.


Even the most dignified actresses rode on parade floats in Fresno, in front of one carrying Fresno’s oldest grape vine. On April 30th she was not only the Raisin Queen on the Sun Maid float for California Raisin Association, she also presented the trophy to the winner of the auto race.

Frederick looked like the Sun Maid Raisin Girl, but the actual model was Lorraine Collett.

Fresno is still the world raisin capital, but the festival is held in Selma now.


However, here’s the best trivia I found while looking up raisin history: in 1906, Fresno’s Pacific League ball team was called the Raisin Eaters. That’s a great name that really ought to be brought back, even though they were terrible at playing baseball and they only lasted one year.






Angry Young Men: Week of March 13th, 1920

Theda Bara in Kathleen Mavourneen,

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley mentioned a shocking incident at a movie screening:

No infuriated and excited Irishmen have torn holes in the screen of the Symphony, nor smashed the projecting machine as they did in San Francisco, on the occasion of the first showing of Kathleen Mavourneen, featuring Theda Bara, where they were incited by the showing of the home of an Irish family wherein the family horse, chickens and goat were kept in the house.

Yes, the horse was in the house

There had been a riot at the Sun Theater in San Francisco on February 8th. Here’s some of the report from the San Francisco Chronicle:

Objecting to scenes of dire poverty in Ireland as portrayed by Theda Bara in Kathleen Mavourneen at the Sun Theater, a gang of young men attempted to wreak the theater, smashed the projecting machines and destroyed or took away the films last night…The rioters objected to scenes in the picture showing two pigs in parlors of Irish cottages, chickens fluttering on stairways and other examples of dire poverty on the Emerald Isle. At last night’s performance a number of young men ranging in age from 19 to 22, according to [theater manager Abe] Markowitz, secured seats in the gallery near the projecting room, and during the picture yelled their disapproval of the film.

When the picture was through one yelled “Get the picture,” and a crowd made a rush for the operating room. The operator [William Ulrich] was pinned to the wall, and with bundles of carbons the men smashed the machines and other machinery in the room… After smashing everything possible in the operating room, the crowd tore down railings, broke chairs, and did other damage in the upper gallery, and then ran carrying with them two reels of the picture. Two more reels were torn during the excitement.

Before the smashing started, one man said to Markowitz “I’m a member of the American Committee for Irish Freedom and we don’t want any of that ___ British propaganda shown in San Francisco,” but that group denied having anything to do with it. The police never caught the rioters. Markowitz estimated that the total damage added up to $5000. He withdrew Mavourneen and replaced it with Vagabond Luck, a “happy, snappy racing comedy.”

According to historian Gary D. Rhodes, this wasn’t the first Irish-American protest against the film. In October 1919 a group of organizations wrote a letter to the theater manager in Bayonne, New Jersey before it opened, and he decided not to show it. In November, the manager of the Palace Theater in Hartford, Connecticut cut the objectionable scenes and it screened without incident. Markowitz at the Sun previewed the film with two Catholic priests earlier in the day, and cut some scenes at their suggestions. But this censorship wasn’t enough to appease the young men.

So going out to the movies could sometimes be dangerous even in 1920. This appears to worst incident in the film’s run, though according to Bara biographer Eve Golden, some Irish-American groups also objected to a Jewish woman playing an Irish woman. The film soon disappeared and now it’s lost.

Kathleen Mavourneen was based on a popular Civil War era song that became a play. Kathleen is forced to abandon her true love and marry the local squire, then the true love is framed for murder and hung (ballads are awfully bleak!). There had already been three earlier films based on the story. The 1919 version had a twist: instead of ending tragically, it turned out it was all a dream she had on the eve of her wedding, and Kathleen marries her true love.


In Los Angeles, the film ran without much comment. It was billed as part of a St. Patrick’s Week special that included Henry King’s rendition of the original song. Kingsley’s problem with the film was that it was boring:

Kathleen Mavourneen unfolds its peaceful five reels without anything more exciting happening to it than the orchestra. It’s in truth, a charming little story nicely produced and acted with many picturesque touches showing Theda as the very poor little colleen.

Which does prove the rioters’ point: it seems she thought that rooming with the livestock was ordinary Irish poverty. It least she didn’t much care for the film, preferring something else on the bill: “There’s a hilariously funny Christie comedy, which to my mind is the best part of the Symphony show this week.” Unfortunately, nobody said which one it was.

Charles Brabin

Bara made only two more films for Fox Films, then she retired. Mavourneen was the first time she got to work with the man who became her husband in 1921, director Charles Brabin. They were happily married until her death in 1955.

Constance Talmadge and Rockliffe Fellowes

Kingsley had much more fun this week at a film made by some of her favorite artists:

The lady in search of a perfect devil of a man is found embodied with happy whimsicality in the Constance Talmadge—Anita Loos—John Emerson combination of star and comedy at the Kinema this week. It is entitled In Search of a Sinner, and it shows all three of these clever ones at their clever best.

Though nobody can guess how it all happened, short of chloroforming her, we find Constance tied up at the beginning of the story with one of those awfully good dullards who gets her out of bed at 7 in the morning to play golf and on holidays takes her to the Metropolitan Museum. He dies ere long, however, and then, as a young widow, Constance starts out to find a wild man. Oh, of course, in New York; where else does wildness become, so to speak, so nicely finished? She finds him finally in a restaurant.

Alas, it turns out he’s a perfectly respectable friend of her brother-in-law so she needs to make him naughtier. She succeeds too well: ”he gets wilder than she intends and follows another wild woman off.” Oh no! Whatever will she do? Kingsley concluded: ”there are series of humorous complications and touches such as only Anita Loos and John Emerson know how to give, and Miss Talmadge, of course, as usual reflects their comedy brilliantly.”

Other critics liked it too

It’s been preserved at UCLA and at the Library of Congress, but it hasn’t been released on DVD. You don’t suppose she marries him?

Bebe Daniels kept fit

Physical fitness has always been important for performers. Kingsley visited a class teaching the latest fad for Hollywood actresses: classical dance. One afternoon at the Theodore Kosloff ‘s school she saw Alla Nazimova, Gloria Swanson, Bessie Love, Ruth Stonehouse, Bebe Daniels and May Allison all “learning to express the poetry of their souls.” Kingsley observed:

If you would be an up-to-the-minute star, go and study pantomime and classic dancing! That’s what many of our most famous screen luminaries are doing these days.

Honestly, it now appears that unless you can go up on your toes without falling over on your nose you’re in no condition to promise the beautiful hero with the Catalina-seal hair that you will wait for him undo death, or tell the villain where to head to.

All of the actresses were enthusiastic about their studies. Bebe Daniels said, “Why, he can teach you to express in a couple of kicks and a nod of the head even such abstractions as that your mother is a Methodist and your father a Democrat!”

Kingsley concluded with a secret: “Kosloff also has another ‘prospect.’ Sh! He’s Fatty Arbuckle!”

Roscoe Arbuckle already knew how to dance.

So fitness fads have always been a part of Hollywood. Learning classical dance was certainly less extreme than the muscle-building regimes of modern Marvel stars.




“Mob Raids Sun Theater: Irish Film Wrecked,” San Francisco Chronicle, February 9, 1920.

Gary D. Rhodes, “Irish American Film Audiences, 1915-1930,” Post Script, June 22, 2013.

Vagabond Luck New Film at the Sun,” San Francisco Chronicle, February 12, 1920.


Beware of Optimism: Week of March 6th, 1920


One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley had reports of optimistic expectations for the film industry. Adolph Zukor, president of Famous Players-Lasky/Paramount, predicted that the motion picture industry was “about to enjoy the most prosperous period in its history.” He had good reason for his confidence: his company had bought the rights several J.M. Barrie plays, including Peter Pan. When the movie version came out in 1924, it was a great big hit.

Other hopeful and ambitious companies announced their big plans this week:

• Film producer Sam Rork and two theater owners (E.J. Carroll and Eugene Roth) were organizing a new production company that was so new that it didn’t have a name yet. The money was coming from “a New York source not announced.”

• F. Tarkington Baker, the general manager of Universal Film, planned to resign and found his own production company, Baker Productions. It was “backed by Eastern capital.”

• The Historical Film Corporation took over the old Rollin Studio on Bunker Hill. They planned to film Bible stories, starting with The Prodigal Son. The company was financed by J.A. McGill, the owner of a chain of theaters in the Northwest.

• Marion H. Kohn “a San Francisco capitalist” was setting up M. H. Kohn Productions to make short comedies. He “brought his money and that of some of his northern capitalist friends south to invest it.”

Sam Rork

The net result of all of this investment and activity was one two-reel religious film and 12 one-reel comedies. So (no surprise) money was lost in the movie business. Sam Rork and his associates tried get a film called Isobel off the ground, but nothing came of it. He didn’t give up; he later organized Sam Rork Productions, and produced nine feature films between 1923 to 1927.

Tarkington Baker didn’t work on any finished films after leaving Universal and died of heart failure in 1924.

Irene Aldwyn in As We Forgive

The Historical Film Corporation decided to start with a different story, and in August they finished their first two-reeler called As We Forgive about St. Paul’s Epistle to Philemon. The company disappeared after that.

The most successful entrepreneur from this week was Marion Kohn. He wasn’t as inexperienced with the business as the description “San Francisco capitalist” sounds, he was the former president of Consolidated Film of San Francisco, a film distributor for Metro. He knew he didn’t know about production, so he hired people who did, including Grace Cunard, Polly Moran and ‘Smiling’ Bill Jones. Most of his shorts featured Moran’s established character, Sheriff Nell. He quit being a producer in 1922 and later became the assistant general manager at Columbia Studio.

It’s difficult to find out why they failed. Beginnings get announced with fanfare, but endings are quiet. Sometimes the trade papers report on bankruptcy court proceedings, but usually the investors take their losses and the companies go away. Getting started in moviemaking in the ‘good old days’ were just as difficult as in the present ones. It’s mind-boggling the amount of money that has been thrown at the business over the years.

The ad doesn’t match the description.

Kingsley was happy to see a film that seemed realistic this week:

There’s a very good picture, indeed, over at the Alhambra this week, entitled The Devil’s Riddle. It has that vital and expressive actress, Gladys Brockwell, in the leading role, and it unfolds a charming romance that has good acting, naturalness, sincerity and real humanness as its outstanding characteristics.

The story gets you from the first. It has to do with a girl who dwells in the wilds of Canada with a drunken step-father. Into her life steps from out of a furious storm a young doctor, played most engagingly and sincerely by William Scott. Afterward, owing to a series of misunderstandings, the two part, the girl goes on the stage with a barnstorming company, and leaves for New York. She does not (unusually) at once make good, but has a struggle.

A simple enough story, but done with real poignancy and dramatic appeal, as well as simply and with no chewing of scenery, no fights or automobile wreaks, house burnings or other jazzings too often called “drama” by screen-writers. As a matter of fact, despite its sensational title, The Devil’s Riddle is one of the best pictures from many standpoints that we have seen in many a day. It is refreshing in contrast to the wild tales that so often unfold themselves on the screens.

Moving Picture World didn’t know what the riddle was

Poor Grace Kingsley, it sounds like she’d been seeing some really bad movies. We’ll have to take her word for this film’s virtues, it’s lost. I looked around, but none of the reviews mention what the devil’s riddle in the title was. The author of the original short story, Edwina LeVin, named it.

Wid’s Daily said that the collie was the best part of the movie

Finally, Kingsley demonstrated that using the word vampire to mean a seductive woman hadn’t quite disappeared yet:

All the famous vampires of the screen will pass in review before Harry Carey, Reeves Easton, his director, and Fred Datig, Universal’s casting director, within the next few days. In Carey’s next production, Crossed Claims, the author has written one of the best feminine “heavy” roles of recent months, for which a “super-vamp” must be secured.

The “super vamp” they chose was Fontaine LaRue and they changed the title to Human Stuff. The story didn’t really give anything super vampy to do, she was just ordinarily villainous. LaRue’s character Boka lies to a woman who’s mistaken for Harry Carey’s mail-order bride about him, then kidnaps her. Of course there’s a rescue and a wedding. Theda Bara wouldn’t have bothered to get out of bed for such a part.