One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley recounted a story with a moral: don’t try to find a minister on Thanksgiving Day. According to Fox Sunshine comedy director Hampton Del Ruth, who persisted in his mission to marry actress Alta Allen (nee Crowin), “the paucity of preachers was marvelous indeed.” Kingsley wrote:
In fact, before Mr. Del Ruth found a preacher, he began to fear that the souls of the community were not being cared for as they should be. Incidentally, Miss Crowin changed her religion several times during what might be called the holy chase. And now she doesn’t know what kind of minister married her!
At first, she was set on having a Presbyterian minister, because when she was a little girl she used to go to a Presbyterian Sunday-school, where they gave her bright-colored cards for being good. So the couple looked up a certain Presbyterian minister’s name in the telephone book, called up his church, but the assistant pastor gave her the sad news that the man she sought had passed to his reward six months. Then, still set on finding a Presbyterian, they tried another, but he said he was going to the races, and unless they could be at his house in five minutes, he couldn’t tie the knot.
They were three miles away so they couldn’t make it. Right there was where Miss Crowin changed her religion. She almost became an Atheist, but thinking better of it, she and Mr. Del Ruth tried St. Paul’s Cathedral, but the janitor was the only man at home, and he said the clergyman had gone to the football game. Time was fleeting…So he called on his old friend [Fox publicity director] Carl Downing, and once more they went a-ministering.
Mr. Downing suggested they just drive nonchalant-like down Sunset Boulevard and sneak up on the first church they came to, in the hope of thwarting what seemed a determined adverse fate. Three churches were visited, and at one place they did find the pastor, but just as he was getting on his robes of office, the telephone called to tell him he was a daddy, and away he went.
Finally, wearied and jaded, the two had grown so tired and cross, Miss Crowin said, they had almost decided they didn’t want to be married at all, when they spied a little brown church, which gave the cheering news that the pastor lived next door. His name was Dr. P.P. Carroll, and he was in a cheerful and quiescent mood. So the two lovers were wed.
In case you were wondering, Rev. Carroll was a Methodist. This saga could have been a two-reel comedy. If you’re a Silent Comedy Watch Party fan, you might notice a resemblance to Lyons and Moran’s Waiting at the Church (1919), except they were hunting down a different member of the wedding party.
This was Hampton Del Ruth’s third wedding, so he should have been better at it by then. Born on September 7, 1879 in Delaware, by 1910 he was living in San Francisco with his first wife, Grace. She was a cashier in a hotel while he worked as a clerk. He moved to Los Angeles the following year and became an actor at smaller studios, then in 1914 Mack Sennet hired him. At Keystone, he was promoted to scenario editor, then supervising director and production manager. His second wife was Keystone actress Helen Carlyle. In 1918 he became the production manager at the Fox Sunshine Studio, where he met actress Alta Allen. This was her first marriage, which is not surprising, because she was only 16 years old. Nevertheless, they stayed together for quite a long time: they were still married when he filled out his World War 2 draft registration card in 1942. At that point, he was working for the Hal Roach Studio. After he stopped directing in 1928, he’d been a screenwriter, novelist, and playwright. I haven’t found a record of a divorce, but she wasn’t listed as a survivor in his 1958 obituary and she lived until 1998.
And why did they need to get married right away? They (and the helpful publicity director Downing) told Kingsley that they were in a hurry “owing to the overwhelming chorus of congratulations from his friends, not to mention the raid they were making on his private stock in order to drink the health of himself and bride.” That sounds fishy, but nobody could resist a chance to make a Prohibition joke then. They both could have been working so much that they wanted to take advantage of a rare day off.
Thanksgiving in Los Angeles 1920 was much more low-key than it is now. Stores were closed, U.S.C played a football game against Oregon and automobile races were run in Beverly Hills, but Kingsley was working. She was at her desk, typing up this story for the Friday paper, and probably grateful to have something to write about on a sparse news day.
Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!
*Del Ruth wasn’t misinformed about preacher availability by The Scarecrow; while it was released elsewhere on November 17th, it didn’t open in Los Angeles until January 4, 1921.