Throwback Theater: Week of October 16th, 1920

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on an experiment:

“In order to complete the renovation of the house, Walker Theater has postponed its opening date until Saturday. The first showing of the Cinema Short Story Magazine will then be given.

The Walker is one of the first theaters in America to adopt the policy of a motion-picture magazine, but it is the original unit in what is to be a chain of twenty-four theaters. Adventure, travel, news events, comedy, drama, science, art, industry, literature, natural history, scenic pictures are some of the features which the magazine is to exhibit.”

San Diego’s Cabrillo Celebration, sometime between 1918-1930

Promising “a picture show that’s different,” the first two-hour long program included “views of the Cabrillo Celebration, the football game between U.S.C and Stanford, cartoon comedies, travel pictures, and a number of other features, including Herbert Kaufman’s miniature drama, Content, a quaint oriental study with Leslie King as the star, supported by a full Chinese cast.” In addition to shorts produced by studios, the theater had equipped camera cars, to photograph local events.

This was a great idea twenty years earlier, when film programs were a collection of shorts, and it worked well again in 1929, when the first American newsreel theater was founded (they lasted until the mid-1960’s, when news on television replaced them). But it looks like 1920 was not the time for it because the Cinema Short Story Magazine format only lasted for nine days, October 23-31. The Walker went back to showing feature films, and the chain of theaters never happened. If you’d like to know about the theater’s history, visit the Los Angeles Theaters blog.

This week, Kingsley got to complain a lot about The Hope. Her review was a catalog of what seemed old-fashioned in 1920:

It’s vintage stuff, and the film spirit of 1914 has not improved with age as does another kind of spirit. The Hope has the overdue mortgage, with the folks put out on ten minutes’ notice. Later playwrights have studied law more and know that common law doesn’t permit any such things being done. Then there are the letters put into wrong envelopes; in fact, the play makes use of as many notes as President Wilson. There’s the wronged girls and the villain who intercepts letters, and other dear old bits of hokum.

It sounds like it wasn’t even trashy enough to be fun. Adapted from a Drury Lane melodrama, the plot involved an impoverished aristocrat courting a young woman only for her father’s money. After he comes into an inheritance, he jilts her. Pregnant, she runs away to Italy. There Kingsley found something novel to be appalled by:

But the picture has one great original touch. That’s the earthquake. It’s the most singularly behaving earthquake in all history. For it doesn’t quake at all. You see the volcano in the distance, and all about the actors the walls topple and fall, but there’s nary a real quake or shake. Also all sorts of things fall around the hero and heroine, and they aren’t hurt, but a puny post knocks the villain down and does for him.

Kingsley and her readers would know all about that: in June there’d been a 4.9 quake whose epicenter was in Inglewood, about 12 miles southwest of downtown L.A. Critics in New York didn’t find fault with the ridiculous natural phenomena, but they agreed with her about the movie overall. Laurence Reid in Motion Picture News (September 4, 1920) wrote:

The regulation plot, presenting the orthodox hero, the outraged heroine and the super villainous heavy, in a conflict for the love-stakes, is not the kind of material which will appeal to the patron with twentieth century ideas. . .The Hope is old stuff. It will probably appeal to those who cater to time worn melodrama.

A complete copy of this film has been preserved at the Eastman House.


“The Line Up,” Los Angeles Herald, October 23, 1920.

“Notes on the Theaters,” Los Angeles Herald, October 21, 1920.

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