‘Great was the delight’: Week of May 29th, 1920

Poster for a 1907 production

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley attended a benefit performance that showed how Hollywood stars were still happy to do a good deed for veterans. She announced the upcoming event on May 19th:

Do you want to see your favorite film stars actually speaking lines behind the footlights? Your chance will soon be here. What will doubtless be the most brilliant assemblage of photoplayers ever appearing together on such an occasion in the history of pictures will appear in Augustus Thomas’s Arizona at the Auditorium. Three performances will be given, on consecutive evenings, commencing June 3. The proceeds will be given to the Hollywood Post of the American Legion.

Arizona had been a theater staple since its premier in 1899. When it debuted on Broadway in September 1900, the New York Times gave it a glowing review and summed up the plot with appropriately melodramatic vocabulary:

Indeed, the entire dramatic fabric of Mr. Thomas’s play belongs to the stock-in-trade of every playwright. Theatrical counterparts of the elderly husband with a young wife, the tempter, the noble young man who foils the tempter’s wicked game, the fair sister of the wife for whose sake the noble youth acts, the other victim of the tempter, her father seeking his child’s betrayer—have been often employed in melodrama, while the mere forms of many of the situations in which they now figure have done duty over and over again. But the skill with which these situations are now used is exceptional.

It was also a familiar property to filmgoers, having been adapted twice, once in 1913 in a version directed by its author and again in 1918. The second version starred Douglas Fairbanks, who played the noble young man, Lt. Denton. Kingsley’s announcement said that in the new theatrical production, he would be playing Tony Mostano, a cowboy who in a subplot courts waitress Lena Kellar, who was to be played by his new wife Mary Pickford. They bowed out three days later because they decided to leave for their honeymoon. Their first stop, coincidentally, was Holbrook, Arizona.

However, another cast member from Fairbanks’ film, Theodore Roberts, was slated to not only recreate his role as Henry Canby, the father of the young wife and fair sister, but also to stage manage the whole production. He was a real Arizona veteran: he originated the part in 1899 at its debut in Chicago, and went on to play Canby on Broadway.


Naturally, Kingsley didn’t miss such a big event, and she raved about it:

A whole big stage full of noted stars attracted a full capacity house at Philharmonic Auditorium last night, the occasion being the opening of a three night run of Augustus Thomas’s famous melodrama, Arizona, given as a benefit for the American Legion, Hollywood Post. Great was the delight and noise of the big audiences as there stepped out on the stage people known for the most part only in the silence of picture houses. Scores of picture stars were in the audience, too. A procession of flowers like those handed out to members of a graduating class followed the close of the first act.


She praised all of the actors, but she singled out Mr. Arbuckle, who played a cavalry surgeon.

Looking as natural as a drink of water, Roscoe Arbuckle astonished even those who knew him best by the ease and cleverness with which he put over all his lines, both comedy and drama, in the role of Dr. Fenion; he never missed a tick.


So his years of stage training didn’t desert him. Nor did her years of practice leave the actress who played the tempted young wife of the elderly man:

Clara Kimball Young’s voice was naturally a matter of curiosity, and it proved a beautiful one, looking an eerie sort of feeling due to hearing her fit spoken lines to gestures we know so well. She played Estrella Bonham with all the fine sincerity and intensity we are accustomed to associate with her on the screen.

This was her first time on stage in 9 years. Apparently, acting on the stage is like riding a bicycle, it’s something you don’t forget.


Kingsley mentioned one disadvantage of such a famous cast:

Charlie Murray, hero of a hundred bloodless battles for sweet charity’s sake, was so camouflaged behind a moustache, a uniform and a German accent as Capt. Kellar that the audience didn’t know him at first, but when recognition dawned he was applauded to the echo, and everybody laughed at what he said thereafter, whether he meant to be funny or not.

Fairbanks’ and Pickford’s replacements did a fine job too; William Desmond “cut a gallant figure as Tony Mostano,” and Ruth Renick “was pretty, sincere and appealing as Lena.”

The audience enjoyed the show as much as Kingsley did:

And oh, how the gallery did come back last night! Surely never was virtue more volubly approved nor wickedness more hissingly hated than at the performance.

Guy Price in the Los Angeles Herald agreed with all of them.

No theater audience, anywhere, has been privileged to witness Augustus Thomas’s tremendously human and entertaining drama of the West so splendidly or so notably produced… Many of the actors and actresses who made up the cast have not heard their voices on the stage in many years, and if the experience was a thrill to them, then it was more than that to those who sat out in front and wondered if they could “come back.” They all did—with a whoop.

There was no follow-up report on how much money they made, but the American Legion planned to use the proceeds to build a clubhouse with a theater, and it was built. The theater was refurbished in 2018 and you can rent it.


In other news this week, Kingsley reported that Erich von Stroheim was back in town with a multiyear contract from Universal and plans for his next film, Foolish Wives. He was already very good at building his brand; she wrote:

Foolish Wives is to be filmed for the most part at Catalina Island, where a mammoth reproduction of Monte Carlo will be built. Mr. Von Stroheim says that inasmuch as during a season or two some time past, he wasted a lot of his father’s money at the famous foreign gambling resort, he feels there will be poetic justice in getting a part of it back through his art.

Benno Stroheim was a middle class hat maker in Vienna, and young Erich Oswald Stroheim didn’t misspend his youth tossing his father’s money away at some casino. Nevertheless, he sure could do a good job of playing a spoiled scion of privilege and he had the courtesy to make up interesting lies for us. He didn’t get to shoot Foolish Wives on Catalina, instead he made it on the Universal backlot. He still managed to spend lots more than his original budget – exactly how much is disputed.



Arizona by Augustus Thomas Acted Here at Last,” New York Times, September 11, 1900.

“Legion Plans a Drama League,” Los Angles Times, May 30, 1920.

“Screen Stars Score Hit in ArizonaLos Angeles Herald, June 4, 1920.


They’re In the Money: Week of May 22nd, 1920

Moving Picture World, November 13, 1920, p. 181.

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley wrote a story that shows how the film industry was beginning to consolidate in the early 1920’s:

Articles of incorporation were filed this week for a new distributing organization to be known as the Educational Film Exchange of Southern California. Sol Lesser and the Gore Brothers are interested in the enterprise and Dave Bershon, general manger of the First National exchange, will have supervision.

The company will handle for Southern California and Arizona the Christie comedies, the Chester Outing pictures, the Chester screenics, the Educational Films and a number of other short-reel comedies, travelogues and scenic.

They bought a First National franchise only three months earlier.

The addition of an Educational Films distribution franchise (there were eight others) was just a small part of the rapidly expanding Abe and Mike Gore and Sol Lesser empire. They already owned the First National Exchange for Southern California and Arizona as well as a chain of theaters that included the Kinema in downtown Los Angeles.* Just four months later in September, they announced they were incorporating their four distribution companies (they’d also acquired the All-Star Feature Distributors and Equity Films Corporation) as West Coast Exhibitors Booking Corporation. Notices about their plans to build more theaters regularly appeared in the trade papers, and in November they signed a lease for the theater in the Ambassador Hotel. In February 1921, they decided to merge everything they owned into one company called West Coast Theaters. At that point their holdings included thirty-two theaters, four film exchanges and real estate holdings for theaters under construction. According to Camera magazine, “the policy of the West Coast Theaters Company will be the expansion and enlargement of businesses by erecting and operating picture theaters on the Pacific Coast and in Arizona.” That’s exactly what they did — the film business was really booming then!

A few years later, the company was part of the next big trend in the film business: studios buying up theaters and distributors, so they could control all aspects of selling movies to the public. In 1925 West Coast Theaters was bought out by the Fox Film Corporation. But Lesser and the Gores were fine. Sol Lesser had also been producing films, so he had plenty to keep him busy. Both Abe and Mike Gore stayed with Fox West Coast Theaters and continued to build theaters; Mike Gore’s obituary in Variety said they built at least 400 of them (August 1953).


This week, Kingsley got to interview Orpheum headliner and retired film star Olga Petrova, who managed to shock her during lunch by lobbing this “conversational bomb”:

Marriage is largely merely an economic question…My husband and I maintain separate ménages. Yet we’re deeply devoted as two people can be. My husband, you see, is a man of whom I’m very proud. I’m quite sure he feels the same way about me. He is Dr. John D. Stewart of New York, head of a big hospital there. His labors are many and heavy. So are mine. So I have my own home on Long Island, where I write and think and plan. When my husband comes to my home it is as my guest. If I happen to be too busy to see him I tell him so frankly. It works like a charm for us.

Petrova’s marriage did work for a long time: she was still married to Stewart during the 1930 census, but by the 1940 census she had divorced him and married Louis Willoughby. Kingsley seemed to find this interview much more interesting than one with the latest ingénue.


This week, Kingsley sat through a stinker, The Girl in Number Twenty-Nine. The woman of the title is prevented from committing suicide by a nice young man, who “from then on finds himself hounded by a gang of mysterious gentlemen, whose mission in life, it seems, is to get innocent people to shoot themselves, though the gang seems to carry no guns of their own. The hero gets deeper and deeper in trouble, but never thinks to tell the police.”

Seeing a bad movie is a perfectly ordinary occurrence, but what’s interesting in this case is that the director was John Ford. It’s useful to remember that not all lost Ford films are undiscovered gems. Furthermore, in the good old days, a director could make a turkey and not torpedo his career.



*You might remember that Kingsley wrote about the Kinema reopening last January, under Thomas Tally’s new ownership. Just two weeks later he sold it to Lesser and the Gores. (“Lesser Buys Out Tally,” Film Daily, January 27, 1920, p.1)



“First National Becomes Important Factor in Big West Coast Circuit.” Exhibitors’ Herald, July 25, 1925, p.25.

“Gore Brothers and Sol Lesser Exchanges Merged to Create One Distributing Center,” Moving Picture World, October 30, 1920, p.1257.

“Lesser and Gore Brothers Merge Big Interests,” Motion Picture News, November 20, 1920, p.3872.

“Lesser and Gore in Four Booking Groups,” Motion Picture News, September 25, 1920, p. 2407.

“New Theater Company” Camera, February 26, 1921, p.7.








Say It Ain’t So, Grace! : Week of May 15th, 1920

Pickford and pots, a few years later (My Best Girl, 1927)

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley felt that she needed to relive her conscience with a confession:

It’s about those pictures and publicity stunts in general. Remember, for instance, the picture you saw once of Mary Pickford wearing a smile and a Sassy Jane and which showed her holding a ladle in one hand and a frying pan in the other, while underneath was inscribed the legend “Mary Loves to Cook?’

Well, she doesn’t. Not a darned bit. I helped to pose that picture, and I know. Even while she was doing it she told me the truth about her cooking. Every once in a while she lets the regular cook get the family breakfast. I liked Mary for being frank that way.

Good for Miss Pickford, leaving it to the professionals! Nevertheless, this shows that film publicity folk have been creative since the very beginning. Kingsley went on with more revelations that probably didn’t shock her readers any more than they do you:

Then take Pauline Frederick. You remember that picture of her standing up in the front of a yacht with her dress all open at the chest and her hair blowing out? Well, she can’t sail a boat any more than a hairdresser can. She gets awfully seasick, too, and all she thought about that day, she says, was getting the picture-taking business over before anything awful, well, you know, happened.

Betty Blythe didn’t care for bagpipers

Kingsley also debunked the notion that Lillian Gish owned a pet alligator (“she says they smell too bad”) and that Betty Blythe started a fund for ancient bagpipers (“as she rightly says, what did bagpipers ever do for her?”), then she concluded that there was no end in sight:

Oh, I hear the telephone! It’s the editor, who wants me to come and help pose Clara Kimball Young as another ‘most perfectly formed woman in the world’! Well, I know she is, but why pick on me? Page Eddie Schallert!

Schallert was her fellow film writer at the Times. Like the photographs, Kingsley’s ‘expose’ was harmless fun, allowing her readers to feel as if they were wise to the way Hollywood works.

Unfortunately, the only photo I’ve been able to track down that resembles any of the ones she mentioned looks like it’s from the same Pauline Frederick photo shoot (this picture is windless), but it must be purchased from Getty for the low, low price of $175 for a small copy or $499 for a large one. Here’s the link, because that’s beyond this blog’s budget. I’ll give you a nice public domain ad for the film she was publicizing, Bonds of Love (1919), instead:


Elsewhere this week, Kingsley reported that United Artists, which had already inspired a group of directors to form their own distribution company, was having the same effect on four screenwriters:

News of one of the most important producing combinations ever formed in the film world came to light yesterday. Four of the most famous picture writers have an organization to make their own photoplays. The combining authors are John G. Hawks, John Lynch, C. Gardner Sullivan and Monte Katterjohn. It is understood that a former official of the Mayflower [Isaac Wolper] is sponsoring the new outfit and that a tremendous amount of eastern capital is backing it. The new organization will begin work about September 1.

The four men named are among the best known in picturedom. They have perhaps more screen successes than any other film authors in the business, and the announcement of their combination to make their own productions is therefore of unique importance.

Film history can be forgiven for forgetting about this, because there’s no record that the company lasted long enough to even get a name. Isaac Wolper soon went to work with director Herbert Blache, and J.G Hawks signed a new contract with Goldwyn. The writers went on to many more years of success in Hollywood, ranging from Katterjohn’s script for The Sheik (1921) and Hawks’ adaptation of The Sea Hawk (1924) to Sullivan’s work on All Quiet on the Western Front (1930). Their announcement didn’t say, but they probably wanted the same thing the United Artists did: artistic control and more money. It’s interesting that the actors succeeded where directors and writers failed.

A Modern Salome

This week, Kingsley proved that she could sometimes fall for publicity when she noted the appearance of a new actress:

A beautiful new star appears on Broadway this week. She is Hope Hampton, and she is on view at Tally’s. That A Modern Salome, the picture in which she appears, is a poor story, badly directed, is a misfortune, but one which doubtless the young woman’s beauty and undeniable talent will later overcome. For this is her very first picture, in fact, the first time she has been before the camera…It’s hard to tell what A Modern Salome is all about, so poor is the continuity.

Now Hampton is remembered for an unflattering reason. She became film executive Jules Brulatour’s third wife in 1923, and he financed both her film career (including A Modern Salome) and later, her opera career, neither of which were distinguished. So that’s why people think Orson Welles used her as the template for Charles Foster Kane’s second wife.




“Four Authors May Form Own Company,” Exhibitors’ Herald, June 5, 1920, p. 48.

“J.G. Hawks Signs Contract to Continue as Head of Goldwyn Editorial Forces,” Moving Picture World, November 6, 1920, p.92.



Under the Sea: Week of May 8th, 1920


One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley found something new at the movies:

When some great, new, startling thing is achieved, one wonders why somebody didn’t do it before. That’s what you think as you view what is doubtless the greatest undersea picture drama ever placed on the screen, this week at the Rialto, under the rather unobtrusive title, Below the Surface. It stars Hobart Bosworth and was written by Luther Reed. Irvin Willat directed.

The film is vivid, striking melodrama concerning deep-sea divers, and it would be great even though it had no novel setting, for the treatment of the theme is poignant and human. But the setting, with its dramatic undersea action, raised the production to a unique position; it pioneers in a new field…There are a dozen angles of striking dramatic appeal in the story, which I have no space to comment upon. Suffice it there is not a moment of its unrolling that you will even think of looking at the clock.

Students of film history probably know that she was wrong: J.E. Williamson pioneered undersea moving-picture photography in 1914. He invented something he called the “photosphere,” which was an iron tube that led to a windowed chamber under water. With this, he shot Thirty Leagues Under the Sea (aka Terrors of the Deep), which featured the murder of a real shark and a fight between a diver and a mechanical, but realistic-looking octopus. In 1916, he and his device were on the team that made the feature 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. You can learn more about Williamson on the Science Friday website.


Kingsley had visited the set for 20,000 Leagues in 1916, but it was the recreation of a Hindu City on the Universal lot, not the one in the Bahamas where they shot the underwater sequences. It seems like she’d forgotten about it four years later.

So in 1920, underwater photography was able to impress even jaded filmgoers like Kingsley. It was remarkably difficult to do. Director Irvin Willat and his director of photography J.O. Taylor didn’t steal the photosphere idea to make their film, they used a different piece of equipment to get to the sea bed, as described in an LA Times article:

It required a regular fleet to carry the apparatus to the particular spot selected as location off the Coast. There a diving bell had to be specially constructed, which served as the deep sea-going craft for the director and the cameraman, who had to take a camera to the bottom of the ocean and keep it there several hours at a time.

This required the building of a huge derrick on the deck of a boat. From this the diving bell was suspended over the water by means of heavy iron chains. In construction this bell followed the principle of an inverted tumbler on stilts, and was made of iron with portholes for the cameraman and director. On its being lowered the fresh air apparatus and telephonic communication were put in place. When it reached the bottom it rested on its stilts, being kept in place by enormous weights. The men wore their ordinary clothes, and complained of no discomfort after they got used to the terrific pressure.


The Times also mentioned that actors took risks, too:

The most dramatic episode occurs when the life line of one of the divers becomes entangled in the wreckage. The men above pull and find the rope taunt. The only way to save the unfortunate man is for some one to dive down and cut the ropes. That is where Hobart Bosworth made his sensational eighteen-foot dive, remaining under water long enough to cut the rope, all without a diver’s suit.

They didn’t have to only go through this once, as Motion Picture News reported in January:

It has been found necessary for the Irvin Willat-Hobart Bosworth-Ince Company to return to Catalina Island for the making of additional undersea scenes for Below the Surface. The company spent three weeks there, but because of heavy seas, it was found the films would practically all have to be retaken.

So it’s no wonder why Kingsley’s predication didn’t come true, that “Below the Surface will probably be the first of a big crop of undersea dramas. Why, indeed, hasn’t anybody done some great thing in this line before?” It was just too difficult. Happily, all of that hard work hasn’t been lost: Below the Surface survives at the Library of Congress and has been released on DVD. It’s also available from the EYE Filmmuseum, with Dutch intertitles. Fritzi Kramer summed it up as “one of the best silent dramas you’ve never heard of.”

Now undersea movies are much less rare, in fact, according to Den of Geek, The Abyss (1989) inspired a spate of underwater horror films.


This week, Kingsley helped promote an upcoming live show with an interview of two former teachers turned show girls (or maybe their photo did the job), and it shows just how badly teachers were paid in the 1910’s. Dolorez Suarez made $40 per month as a K-2 teacher in East Lake, Alabama, while Clara Lind was paid $45 per month “teaching sticky-faced children in Kansas.” They were both making $75 per week as part of the touring company of The Passing Show of 1918, which was about to debut in Los Angeles the following week. They recommended life in the chorus over school teaching. Suarez pointed out “I have plenty of time for myself. Here in the show all we do is dance and sing; all the rest of our time we can study as we chose. We can, can’t we Clara?” “We certainly can,” said Clara. “Why, I’ve learned more real knowledge in the chorus than I learned in six months of school teaching in Kansas!”

I bet it was educational! It’s too bad that the show girl option isn’t available to more teachers. I couldn’t find either of them in Ancestry, so I don’t know what happened to them next. They were probably using stage names.

By way of comparison, before she worked for the Times Kingsley herself had been the L.A. County School Superintendent’s secretary and in 1899 she made $60.00 a month (the L.A. Herald published all the county workers salaries annually).


“Actors Invade Deep,” Los Angeles Times, May 9, 1920.

“Jottings From the Coast,” Motion Picture News, January 10, 1920, p.666.








Excellent Music: Week of May 1st, 1920


One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley raved about part of one movie theater’s evening of entertainment she usually didn’t think to mention:

a synchronization for music so happy that at moments it seems inspired, and at highly dramatic moments even gives the effect of grand opera, so happily does it fit the story.

Such a case is that of the melody entertainment at Tally’s Broadway this week, where Rio Grande, from Augustus Thomas’ vivid melodrama, is the attraction. So excellent is this music, and so cunningly selected, that I’m sure its effect largely aids in evoking the cheers and applause frequently punctuating the showing of this picture, not to mention the hisses at the villain.

The man who was responsible for that inspired soundtrack was C. Percival Garratt, Tally’s Broadway musical director and organist. By 1920, he already had seven years experience as a theater organist. According to an article about him in the San Diego Union and Daily Bee, “it was largely due to his efforts that leading theaters on the Pacific coast today have organs.”

C. Percival Garratt

Charles Percival Garratt was born in Surrey County, England on November 12, 1868. His father, Charles Augustus Garratt, was also a noted organist and music teacher. In the mid-70’s the growing family moved to Hamilton, Ontario, and by the end of the decade they moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Around 1890 C.P. Garratt moved to Knoxville, Tennessee and in 1894 he became the music director at the University of Tennessee. He graduated from the New England Conservatory of Music in 1899. In 1912 he moved to Southern California and was hired to play the organ at the Santa Ana Presbyterian Church.

March 1917

So in 1913 when theater owner Robert W. Woodley wanted to build a much fancier theater, he was available. Mary Mallory wrote about the new place:

A consummate showman, Woodley bought what the September 25 issue of the Los Angeles Times called a “super organ,” “equipped with full orchestra, brass, strings, drums, and grand piano,” for his flashy organist C. Percival Garratt. Per the paper, Woodley first purchased the organ before designing a theater to hold it, and then bought the property on which to build. Woodley’s swanky theater featured all-leather seats with two-seat divans in the loges and solar ventilation that helped heat and light the structure.


In April 1917 Garratt moved to San Diego to play at the Pickwick Theater, but he returned to Los Angeles in 1918. He rarely got mentioned in the paper, but according to census records, he mostly made his living as a music teacher. He died in 1954.


About the now-lost film itself Kingsley said “the picture is too long, and would be better by being clipped a bit at each end.” Nevertheless, it was “fascinating,” showing what a difference the music can make for films.


Kingsley had much less enjoyment at another theater this week:

Norma Talmadge is packing ‘em in at the Kinema this week with The Woman Gives, a story that is good without being anything out of the ordinary, and which would be much improved if the action had not been so slow, also if there had been fewer close-ups of the star. Miss Talmadge is remarkably expressive, and gets thought and feeling over vividly by the expressions of her face, but there are far too many close-ups of her in the picture.

The Woman Gives is a human story, having to do with a superior girl in love with a mediocre artist, who is jealous of the fine man through whose influence both get their chance in life…The suspense of the drama arises from the fact one cannot imagine which of the two men the girl will finally accept in marriage. How much longer, I wonder, will Miss Talmadge continue to hold her hordes of admirers merely with intelligence, beauty and cleverness, but minus first-class story material?

Ouch! I’ve never seen “too many star close-ups” as a criticism. Variety agreed with her pan, saying “Norma Talmadge’s unusual talents are wasted on such stuff.” Nevertheless, her career survived quite nicely. The Woman Gives has been preserved at the Library of Congress, and Talmadge biographer Greta de Groat saw it and said, “this was fairly interesting, though I would have liked it better if Norma had not been quite so saintly.”




“Ebell Club,” Highland Park News-Herald & Journal, February 24, 1912, p. 1

“Organist Will Make Home Here,” San Diego Union and Daily Bee April 25, 1917, p.1

University of Tennessee Register for 1899-1900.