One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley had some objections to a current trend in Westerns:
Oh, those cowless cowboys of the motion pictures! Those guys that wear all the cowboy’s scenery and go ‘round dressed up like a merry-go-round, but who never seem to have any work to do!
Sometimes you think the cowboys are going to work. You see a bunch of them at a round-up of cattle and you say to yourself, “Well, after all, they are an industrious bunch. I’ve probably been doing them a great wrong.” Next minute along comes the hero and says his girl has been stolen or his bank robbed, and whoopee, they’re off! Those cows can go jump in the lake for all of them. The boys wheel around, oh, so grandly, and the ranch owner can go whistle for his cattle. I don’t know why the ranch owner keeps on paying ‘em.
Cowboys in pictures have three accomplishments. They can ride horseback, they can roll cigarettes with one hand, lighting matches with their thumbnails, and they can play the accordion. That accordion playing is one of the things that reconciles us to the silent drama being silent.
I’m sure that Miss Kingsley didn’t expect realism from the movies, but this one strain of unreality really grated on her this week (honestly, nobody wants to watch a realistic portrayal of any job, they’d be bored to death). Her real complaint is that Westerns were getting tired. Happily, the genre would soon get refreshed by frontier stories like Maurice Tourneur’s The Last of the Mohicans (1920) and James Cruze’s The Covered Wagon (1923).
And if she didn’t like seeing accordion-playing cowboys, she is not going to enjoy the similarly cowless singing cowboys in the 1930’s and 40s.
Continuing the crankiness, Kingsley absolutely loathed the ending to an otherwise inoffensive drama this week:
When the hero of The Sacred Flame throws up his hands and drops over dead because he sees the girl he jilted but recently in the company of another man, you throw up your hands, too, and say, “Good Lord, what’s the use?”
She wasn’t exaggerating. According to the AFI Catalog, at the end of the movie Lionel Brooks just ups and dies of a broken heart. The actress who played the jilted Rosalie, Emily Stevens, made one more film then returned to the legitimate theater after this. There’s no record of if she said, “what’s the use,” but I wouldn’t blame her if she did.
This week, Kingsley also mentioned a dance that was worth reporting on even before it was shot:
Beatrice Dominguez, a talented Spanish dancer, has been engaged to play in the Metro production of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which Rex Ingram is directing. Miss Dominguez is well known on the Pacific Coast; her best work having been at the San Francisco Exposition in a dancing set. She has also appeared in vaudeville. Miss Dominguez will do a dance with Rudolph Valentino of the Ingram picture.
That’s exactly what happened and it’s still the standout sequence in the film. Their tango helped make Valentino a star, but tragically, it couldn’t help her career. She died before the film debuted.
Beatriz Dominguez was born September 6, 1896, either in in San Bernardino, California (according to an interview she gave to Motion Picture Classic) or in Mexico, from which she immigrated to California in 1901 (according to the 1920 census). She learned to dance in the Spanish style from her mother, also named Beatriz. She called herself “La Bella Sevilla” and she performed at both the San Francisco and the San Diego Expositions. But she also wanted to act in films. In 1914 she made her debut in two Vitagraph shorts, The Masked Dancer and The Sea-Gull. In 1919 she was hired by Universal where she appeared in films like The Sundown Trail (1919) (as “the Mexican girl”) and serials like The Moon Riders (1920) (as “Rosa the housekeeper’s daughter”). In her Motion Picture Classic interview, she made the best of being considered a foreign type:
I should not like to play ingénues or straight leads. I think I have been most fortunate in being cast for character parts, for heavies with strong emotional parts. That is real training in acting. When my time comes as a star, I shall have had much experience, and then I shall not be afraid; I shall only know that it is a time to work harder than ever to deserve success.
Poor hopeful young lady! She became sick while filming another Universal serial, The White Horseman, and died in the Clara Barton Hospital after two operations for appendicitis on February 27, 1921. At least her dance with Valentino remains.
“Actress Dies,” Exhibitors’ Herald, March 26, 1921, p.26.
“Film Star Dies Who Won Way to Fame with Feet,” Los Angeles Times, February 28, 1921.
“La Bella Sevilla,”August 1920 Motion Picture Classic, pp.32-33, 66-67.