Bon voyage!: Week of December 11, 1920

Mary Hamilton O’Connor

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley attended a farewell party for the latest Hollywood studio staff member joining the stampede to Europe:

A whole roomful of literary celebrities foregathered last night at the Los Angeles Athletic Club to give a farewell dinner party in honor of Mary O’Connor, head of the Lasky-Famous Players scenario department, on the eve of her departure for Europe, where she will oversee pictures for her company, which will be made in England, Spain, Italy and France. The dinner was given by the Screen Writers’ Guild of the Authors’ League of America. Brilliant writers made brilliant speeches.

Unsurprisingly, the best of those speeches was made by screenwriter Anita Loos reading a burlesque scenario entitled The Hereditary Taxidermist, “which had the true Loos tang.” It’s almost frightening to think what that movie would have been like — taxidermy as entertainment? 

Mary Hamilton O’Connor was one of many successful female screenwriters at the time. Born in 1872, she had worked as a journalist and novelist before she was hired by the studio her actress sister Loyola worked for, Vitagraph, in 1913. She went on to write scenarios for Mutual and Triangle, where in 1917 she became the head of the scenario department. In 1918 she moved to Famous Players-Lasky (which later became Paramount). So she was there when they needed help in their London office. *

Just like most of the other nomads, it was temporary assignment. She came back to Los Angeles in September 1921 and gave Kingsley a full report. Film production had really bounced back after the war.

It seems that Pathe is pounding away at picture making in Paris, Berlin, represented by the Ufa, is scuddling along with their costume plays, and English producers are awakening to the need of taking film production seriously…

In Paris, Miss O’Connor declares, the Pathe Company is making wild western pictures to satisfy the French thirst for that form of drama. “The picture I saw was laid in 1912,” said Miss O’Connor. “It showed a miner’s shack located on Market Street in San Francisco! But little things like that evidently didn’t trouble the French director or audience. The story was a hectic one and had to do with bags of gold. These the hero and villain tossed back and forth like beanbags!”

She mentioned that she got to London in time to fix director Paul Powell’s plot problems with The Mystery Road, and she also wrote the screenplay for Dangerous Lies. But mostly she told Kingsley about her travels. She loved everything about London (especially the theater) except for the cold toast at breakfast. She said, “I feel I have only had a look in on it all; I would never expect to know London. I don’t believe anyone does…But the taxi drivers are wizards there. They give you one look and know which street you would like to be taken to!”

She got to meet J.M. Barrie, who was busy helping to prepare the script for Peter Pan, and she mentioned details only another writer would notice:

“Even if he weren’t Barrie he’d be interesting to know. He’s as modest as a violet and as canny as a thistle. His clothes are most unassuming. In fact, they say he hasn’t bought a new overcoat in seventeen years and the pockets of his trousers, where they had evidently become frayed, had apparently been mended by himself, with long, black stiches.”

Her time away didn’t hurt her career. She became the head of the story department at the Paramount Studio, where she stayed until they moved the job to New York in January 1926. She retired then, but she stayed active in the Screen Writers’ Guild. She died September 3, 1959 in Los Angeles.

Viora Daniel

This week, Kingsley interviewed up and coming actress Viora Daniel. The interview was a fairly standard one of a sweet ingenue happy to be in Hollywood, except for one story. When she was a teen, she was thrown by a horse and had to spend some time in a hospital where a kindly nurse read novels aloud to her–the sort her father wouldn’t allow at home. She told Kingsley that “they were of cultural value, she says, being mostly French.” Kingsley mentioned:

She insisted on getting the full value of the culture, too, so when the nurse skipped some stuff—Viora says she could always tell when the nurse was skipping—she’d manage to get the book and read those parts.

I didn’t realize there were such…educational? novels available in the 1910s!

*According to Liz Clarke on the Women Film Pioneers site, her family thought that the transfer meant she was “put out to pasture,” but that’s an awfully nice pasture, and her career continued undamaged for several years.

“Abandons Story Dept.,” Variety, January 20, 1926.

Grace Kingsley, “Europe Moves Pictureward,” Los Angeles Times, September 11, 1921.

“Mary O’Connor Back at Paramount Post,” Los Angeles Times, May 3, 1925.

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