One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley was the first to forget the name of one funny woman:
“There’s a Sunshine Comedy, called Monkey Business, which is a regular humdinger. It was a big beauty chorus, with one of the prettiest, most expressive girls on the screen in the leading role, though I’ve forgotten her name. Anyhow she’ll probably be starring in a drama pretty soon. Among the principle actors are the dog, Teddy, and a monkey. The most hilarious episode is the chase, supposedly after the baby, though it turns out to be the monkey, carried away by some balloons and deposited on a rock by the ocean.”
The mystery actress was Ethel Teare, and unfortunately now she’s been forgotten because most of her films are lost.
However, Steve Massa in his book Slapstick Divas remembers her. He wrote that by 1920 she was a comedy veteran. Born in Arizona in 1894, she toured in vaudeville for six years before she found work in film at the Kalem Company in 1914. She was soon the leading lady in one-reel comedies there; she was often the love interest in their Ham and Bud shorts. In 1916 they let her headline her own series of shorts. She moved to Keystone in 1917, but she was too similar to their star Louise Fazenda, so she moved on to the Fox Sunshine company in 1918. Monkey Business was one of eighteen shorts and one feature she made there; Massa says she was at the top of her career then.
Kingsley was proven wrong with her predication: unlike other successful comediennes at the time like Gloria Swanson or Bebe Daniels, Teare didn’t abandon comedy. She stayed at Fox until 1921, then she worked with comic Bert Roach at Universal. She took a break from film and returned to vaudeville, appearing with the Marx Brothers in their Twentieth Century Revue. In 1924, she was featured in two Hysterical History comedies for Universal, then she retired and married Bank of American vice president Frank Risso. They moved to San Mateo, California and she raised their twins Marjory and Mario.
One of her Fox shorts is known to exist, Her First Kiss (1919). It’s been preserved and put online by the National Film Preservation Foundation.
Kingsley also reported on a wedding this week:
If Mr. Cupid were twins he really couldn’t be any busier than he has been among the film folk. The very latest announcement is that concerning Jack Ford, Universal Director. Mr. Ford, it seems, lost his independence on Independence Day, but is glad of it. In other words, he was married to Mary Smith of New York at the San Juan Capistrano Mission. The bride is the daughter of Charles E. W. Smith of the New York Stock Exchange, and the niece of Surgeon General Rupert Blue and of Admiral Blue.
Mr. Ford managed to keep his wedding a secret until yesterday, when his joy burst all bounds and he let the story right out. After that it wasn’t hard to find out that he and Mrs. Ford would spend their honeymoon in the East, leaving this morning. They will visit Mr. Ford’s people in Maine and Mrs. Ford’s people in Washington and New York, so that both sets of parents will have a chance to look them over.
According to Ford’s biographer Joseph McBride it was “an often contentious but devoted relationship,” but it lasted until his death in 1973. They met at a Saint Patrick’s Day dance just a few months earlier. McBride said that Mary Smith was a 28-year-old trained nurse with “a salty, sarcastic wit and a taste for bootleg liquor that matched Ford’s own growing fondness.” Kingsley got one detail wrong: they couldn’t marry at a Catholic church because she was a divorced Presbyterian, so they got married at the L.A. County Courthouse (he didn’t want his very observant parents to know that). Among the reasons their marriage lasted so long was that she had no interest in being in the movies, and he kept his work and home strictly separate. She said in a 1977 interview with Anthony Slide and June Banker “I was very happy to be what I was, with a lovely home and good friends.”
Kingsley also mentioned that there was a new trendy drink among Hollywood’s elite:
Talking about picture stars and the Alexandria, have you any mate in your house? No, no—not spouse! I mean, have you contracted the habit of drinking the new beverage, lately imported from South America, to which the picture stars are fast becoming addicts, it is said. The name is pronounced as if spelled “Mattie.”
No, mate is not a strong drink. It is a sort of tea, but it’s full of pep and if you haven’t mated, you don’t know the thrill you’re missing.
I had no idea that the mate had been a fad before — nothing is ever new! Now people tout its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, in addition to its caffeine kick. I’ll keep an eye out for other food trends in her columns, so we can know what’s coming next.
Steve Massa, Slapstick Divas. Albany, GA: Bear Manor Media, 2017, pp. 87-95.
Joseph McBride, Searching for John Ford, New York, St. Martins, 2003.