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 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.
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