Not a Sob-Sister Story: Week of January 1st, 1921

Charlotte Woods

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley interviewed yet another aspiring movie star. This one was different, because the money that was going to support her rise to the top was coming from an unusual source: her uncle, a famous sculptor:

We’ve just found out something, Charlotte Woods and I, and that is that those old stories about fairy godmothers and fairy godfathers especially godfathers, really are true. Miss Woods is the young ingenue creating a mild flurry among the fans, last week in Bebe Daniels’ picture O, Lady, Lady at Clune’s Broadway, and who previous to that played in a series of Wild West dramas with William Fairbanks. She’s a sort of rare and radiant maid, is Charlotte, blond and innocently alluring, not one of those intensely cute cuties—the sort you feel you’ll have to kill if they get any cuter—but natural and genuinely sparkling; in short, she puts the “new” in “ingenue.”

Her uncle, noted sculptor David Edstrom, had lost track of his sister’s family as he was making a name for himself in Europe. . .Then David Edstrom came back to this country. And now that her experience and hard work have fitted her to do better things, she is to be placed either in her own company, backed by Mr. Edstrom and his rich friends, or she is to become a member of an all-star cast in a picture to be made abroad, probably the latter, so that she will have all the benefits of foreign travel. Are fairy godfathers still on the job? Charlotte Woods will say they are.

Motion Picture Magazine writer Helen Carlisle later told the story of how Charlotte Woods became an actress. She couldn’t help invoking fairies either:

Little Charlotte Woods reversed the order of things by entering the motion picture studio as a stenographer, later becoming an actress. Her story reads like a fairy tale. Charlotte was bending patiently over her typewriter one day, out at the Thomas H. Ince studios, when Mr. Ince himself, strolling through the offices, spied her. He walked right up to her and said: “Young lady, how would you like to play a second lead with Charles Ray in his next picture? You’re just the type we’re looking for.” Naturally, Charlotte nearly passed out with excitement. Scores of girls, besieging the casting office for the role, while she, without effort, had it offered to her!

Well—she played the part, that of a country girl in His Mother’s Boy, and after that she played more parts, filling in with extra work when nothing better was forthcoming.

David Edstrom

Unfortunately, Charlotte Woods’ part as a society girl whose fiancée temporarily seems to be cheating on her with Bebe Daniels in the now lost Oh Lady Lady was her biggest role. She appeared in only one more film with Charles Ray, The Girl I Loved, made in 1922. It turned out that there are no fairy goduncles in Hollywood. David Edstrom, most famous for his sculptures Caliban (1900), The Cry of Poverty (1903), and The Soldiers and Sailors Monument (1918), hanging out in Paris with Gertrude Stein before World War 1, and helping to organize the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, did not help his niece with her career. He did have one Hollywood connection: he sculpted busts of Gloria Swanson and Josef von Sternberg.

The real twist to Woods’ story came in Helen Carlisle’s article in 1924, which had a happy ending:

But Charlotte’s back at her typewriter now, working as secretary to Perley Poore Sheehan, director and scenario writer at Universal City. And if she thinks back on the fairy-tale days, sometimes, she doesn’t long for their return. Mr. Sheehan, it may be stated, thinks he has the very best secretary in California.

You see, it would be pretty hard to write a sob-sister story about these girls who have abandoned their screen careers. They’re all so contented and prosperous!

In the scenario and stenographic departments of the studios, in the research libraries and publicity offices, in the laboratories and cutting-rooms, you’ll find dozens of energetic young women who have put their make-up boxes away and have won economic independence in the broad field open to them behind the motion picture camera.”

Woods, born Charlotte Skogerson, was able to support herself throughout her life as a studio clerical worker. Hooray for economic independence!

Helen Carlisle, “They’re Not Afraid to Fight,” Motion Picture Magazine, February 1924, p.37

Carver Edstrom Hildebrand, “David Edstrom, Swedish American Sculptor,” Swedish American Genealogist, v.10 no. 1, 1990.

“Newslets for Your Program,” Motography, November 17, 1917.

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