Premature Publicity: Week of April 30th, 1921

Dorothy Woolley, 1920

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley found new words to introduce the same old story:

Pretty soon all the Galateas of the artist studios will have come to life and gone into pictures. Now it’s Dorothy Woolley of Sydney, Australia, who has become the sensation of the island continent through a series of pictures recently published there under the title of the Dorothy Art Studies, who is to come to America to star for Al and Ray Rockett in a series of special productions. The Rockett brothers are going entirely on faith that Miss Woolley will be as lovely on the screen as she appears in her photographs, a thing not necessarily true by any means.

Miss Woolley is the daughter of Hasting Woolley, famous physical education expert of Australia, and she is celebrated as Australia’s perfect girl. She is described as a radiant beauty, only 17 years old, and is said to be as clever as she is beautiful. Her father has trained her since babyhood, and she is said to have attained absolute physical perfection.

Kingsley seems to have had enough of this sort of news. Did every pretty girl need the opportunity to try her luck in Hollywood? However, in Woolley’s case, I’m not convinced that the Rocketts even contacted her before they made this announcement: in her later publicity, she never mentioned that Hollywood once came calling. Nothing came of this–what the Rocketts didn’t know was that she was only fifteen, not seventeen, and much too young to sign a contract or come to the United States.

Dorothy Woolley was born on January 6, 1906 in Queensland, Tasmania. After a career playing cricket, her father Hastings Woolley founded his own business with her mother Alma, the Institute of Physical Culture where he taught fitness. Miss Woolley stayed in Australia and had a successful career as a model, dancer, and weight-loss entrepreneur. The Art Studies that Kingsley mentioned helped her career there; in 1922 when she danced in the prologue before the screening of Hail the Woman a Sydney newspaper said:

The beautiful Dorothy art studies have been one of the reasons for making this lovely girl famous throughout our Continent. In a series of tableaux with special lighting effects, Dorothy Woolley will pose as Childhood, Maidenhood, and Motherhood, the various phases of Womanhood.

She was the face of a Figure Culture System in the 1920’s

Dorothy Woolley didn’t really need Hollywood. She married actor/singer Hilton Porter and retired from show business. She died in 2005.*

This week, Kingsley saw a report on why movies matter and she thought it was so important that she reprinted it:

That our best beloved film comedians are proving of invaluable aid in bringing the spirits of the French farmers back to normal, is evidenced by a story printed in no less reliable an authority than the Literary Digest, from an article by George F. Kearney. Says Kearney, in reciting his experiences in war-torn rural France:

‘You see all is still in ruins,’ explains the cure standing beside me. ‘but their spirit has not crumbled, for they think never of the past, but always of the future. For the present, well, look for yourself.’

He pointed across the plaza west from the cathedral. I looked in time to see a bill poster pasting a sign at the door of a moving picture show that has been established in the cellar of the Protestant church. It showed Charlot (the name by which French call Charlie Chaplin) hurling a pie at the cook.

‘Tommorrow it will be Monsieur Arbuckle,’ explained the cure. ‘Tragedy is in our everyday lives. We must keep laughing to live.’

Behind the Screen, 1916

This still works! The Silent Comedy Watch Party has been keeping everyone’s spirits up throughout Covid times.

The Literary Digest was quoting Kearney’s work in the American Legion Weekly. There he also observed that even though people were living in underground dugouts,

 it is odd how gaily these people live amid their ruins. A walk up the main street of Soissons, with the booths set up for market day, is a profound lesson in optimism. There everybody laughs, if only at the vulture that sits framed in a shell-hole that has pierced the tower of Soissons Cathedral.

George F. Kearney was an American journalist who served with the American Expeditionary Forces in France, then he stayed in Europe for a few years and reported on the post war situation. He returned to his native Philadelphia and became a manager at the Evening Public Ledger.

*To properly research Dorothy Woolley, you need to visit the State Library of New South Wales in Sydney. Her daughter Patricia Howson compiled a scrapbook of her career, which she donated in 2008.

“Footlight Flashes,” Truth (Sydney), July 2, 1922.

“George F. Kearney, A Newsman, was 64,” New York Times, January 27, 1960.

“Personal Glimpses,” Literary Digest, April 23, 1921, p.44, 46.

Max in Hollywood: Week of April 23rd, 1921

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on her trip to a film preview:

There’s a new comedian who’s going to bump himself into the bright lights right alongside of the top-notchers, and his name is Max Linder. I mean, he’s going to duplicate the success he has already in his native France, where his name is a household word in every café.

Max Linder’s latest picture, Who Pays My Wife’s Bills? was shown before the regular audience at the Rosemary Theater in Ocean Park last Friday evening, the comedy being unannounced with any fanfare of press-agent bugles. It took the house by storm. Max Linder himself, accompanied by Charlie Chaplin and one or two other friends, stole into the back of the house, and the comedian must have been gratified, for the diggings got noisy right on the getaway and there was hardly a minute that the film didn’t page the laughs and land ‘em.

Max Linder is a comedian of rare artistry. He has a feeling for comedy that is absolutely inspired, and he never overdoes his fun by a fraction. Moreover, he has a French finesse which enables him to put over any sort of an incident or action, however spicy, without ever for a moment appearing vulgar.

Max Linder, 1919

It seems like Kingsley wasn’t familiar with Linder’s decades long career (or maybe she thought that her readers weren’t). Born December 16, 1883, he had had been making short comedies since 1905. He was a huge movie star; his charming and dapper “Max” persona was one of the first internationally recognized recurring movie characters. When World War 1 began, he served as a dispatch driver for the French Army, where he was injured and gassed. He also began to suffer from chronic depression. He was dismissed from the army. In 1916 was hired by Essanay Studio and he went to the United States. But his work wasn’t the same. In Photoplay, Julian Johnson reviewed his first American short, Max Comes Across, and he found it sad:

Do you remember, not so many years ago, the light, graceful spontaneity of Max Linder? His stunts seemed as unpremeditated as Chaplin’s, yet there was a Gallic suavity—an elegance, even—about all that he did which no other screen comedian has ever manifested. That peculiar, intangible Linder quality is lacking in his first American photoplay, Max Comes Across. This is the vitalized portrait of a man struggling to be funny; creating laughs from nothing, instead of letting laughs spring at ease from laughable situations. I saw Max Comes Across in a great New York theater, containing nearly four thousand people, and at many moments the picture had the huge house in a babelish uproar. Yet…Linder today seems to me an affected, serious man who looks tremendously old when he permits his countenance a reposeful moment. The solemnity of war has written something across his features that all his smirks, and jumping, and mugging, and cross-eyed strains can’t efface.

Linder made two more shorts, but they weren’t box office successes either, and he returned to France in 1917. After the armistice he made a feature there, The Little Café, which was a big hit in Europe.

So he decided to try his luck in Hollywood again. He was well-known enough to Los Angeles readers that on November 20th, 1919 Kingsley’s editor Edwin Schallert reported that Linder’s boat from France had docked in New York and he planned to come to Los Angeles to make films. He arrived in late December and formed his own production company. Before Kingsley met him, he had made Seven Years Bad Luck, which was released by Robertson-Cole. When it premiered locally on June 12th, 1921, Kingsley’s colleague Anthony Anderson really liked it, calling it ”a very clever bit of fooling, written and directed by himself—and particularly well written and directed, at that—to keep his audiences in ripples of laughter for a happy hour or so.”

The movie that was previewed this week was Linder’s second American feature. Unfortunately it didn’t have a regular release until the following year and he had to find a new distributor (Goldwyn) for it. Renamed Be My Wife, Edwin Schallert was much more lukewarm about it than Kingsley had been after seeing the preview, writing “if you haven’t seen anything to make you laugh during the past few weeks take a jaunt down to the California Theater. Max Linder is there in Be My Wife, and he’s making everybody agreeably happy. Max always does a number of funning things. You’re sure of that. They may not be howlingly funny but at least they are entertainingly amusing.” He pointed out how tastes in comedy had changed: “The only trouble with Linder’s photoplays is that they’re not built up to whopping big thrills like those of Lloyd, Semon and others.”

Linder tried one more time, abandoning his Max character and making a Three Musketeers / Douglas Fairbanks parody called The Three Must Get Theres. He screened it for Fairbanks and the Times reported “nobody enjoyed it more than Doug.” However, it wasn’t financially successful either, and in June 1922 he went back to France.

Linder made only two more films: a horror film directed by Abel Gance called Au Secors in 1922 and The King of the Circus in 1925. His mental health continued to be bad, and later that year he and his young wife Helene Peters either both died by suicide or he murdered her then killed himself (investigators couldn’t find out which).

Max Linder’s American features were released on DVD by Kino as The Max Linder Collection, and both Fritzi Kramer from Movies Silently and Angela from The Hollywood Revue really enjoyed them.


Anthony Anderson, “Linder Gay Comedian,” Los Angeles Times, June 13, 1921.

Julian Johnson, “The Shadow Stage,” Photoplay, May 1917, p.86.

Grace Kingsley, “Linder Here,” Los Angeles Times, December 25, 1919.

“Linder’s New Comedy Delights the Stars,” Los Angeles Times, June 2, 1922.

Edwin Schallert, “Linder Diverting,” Los Angeles Times, April 3, 1922.

Convict 711: Week of April 16th, 1921

Sheriff Theo “Budge” Lacy Jr. books Bebe Daniels into the Orange County Jail

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on the biggest story in Hollywood: actress Bebe Daniels was actually going to jail for breaking the law. She’d be caught doing 56.25 miles an hour in Orange County in January (the speed limit was 35) and on March 28th she’d been sentenced to ten days in the County Jail. After being allowed to finish shooting her current film, Daniels reported to serve her sentence on April 16th. Kingsley made the whole experience sound not bad at all:

Though jail is supposed to be a very secluded spot, Miss Daniels has received so many visitors, a perfect stream from morning until night, that she is entirely worn out…Among the presents Miss Daniels received yesterday was a file, which, she was, of course, not permitted to keep. Thirty kittens have been offered by school children, who gather just outside the jail every afternoon, and call her to come and talk with them.

Miss Daniels has to reverse the usual order of things and get out of jail in order to get a chance to be lonesome. Scores of telegrams are being received daily by Miss Daniels, besides flowers and other gifts. Roscoe Arbuckle yesterday set her a beautiful gilded basket of fruit, and Mabel Normand about $1,000,000 worth of roses.

The Sunset Inn Jazz Band serenaded her. Kingsley said that the jailer would not permit the piano to be brought in, so they played for her outside. The band included Abe Lyman, Gus Arnheim, Bill Daimond, Rev Fox, Jess Stafford, Charles Pierce, Henry Halstead and Jake Garcia.

Kingsley wasn’t the only L.A. Times journalist unimpressed by the star’s travails. Under a photo captioned “Marie Antoinette Found French Bastille Far Different” on April 17th the unnamed reporter wrote:

Terrors of a life behind prison bars were experienced for the first time yesterday by Bebe Daniels, motion picture actress and undisputed champion speeder of Orange County.

For breakfast, the fair Bebe was compelled to arise at the unearthly hour of 9 a.m. And the only way she could get her food, which consisted of such untasty things as a grapefruit, toast and coffee, was to have it fetched by a high-chested French waiter bedecked in a full-dress outfit.

The writer mentioned that her cell furnishings included an ivory bedroom suit, rugs, drapes, and a Victrola “with only 150 records.” At lunch, the waiter was back with “creamed asparagus, soup, radishes and celery, a luscious steak and strawberry shortcake.” The judge, Justice J.B. Cox, brought her a huge bouquet of roses and she had 50 visitors the first day. When she wasn’t chatting with her visitors, she answered letters and telegrams from well-wishers.

The star, or perhaps her ghost writer, felt differently about it. In July, Photoplay ran an article that they said Convict 711 had written while in jail. (I don’t know when she would have had the time!) The author said that if she were painting the scenes, it would be called “Thoughts on Being Incarcerated in a Damp, Dark Dungeon,” and the melodrama continued:

Today—they have made me a crook and a jail-bird—a member of the underworld. They have taken away my name and given me a number. They led me up the cold stone steps—the great steel door clanged behind me. Think of it!

The Photoplay caption said “this is the way Bebe looked when she finally slowed down in her Stutz and they got her.” They got the car wrong: it was a Marmon Roadster

However, she did realize that her experience was extraordinary. The final total number of names in her guest book was 792, and she received so much candy and so many flowers that she had to send them to children at the local hospital. She mentioned other privileges:

I am grateful too, in my humble way, that they did not make me wear stripes or shave my head. I had some very pretty little jail frocks of pale blue taffeta. The hairdresser comes every morning to do my hair.

Later in life, she admitted that she was actually doing over 70 when she got pulled over. According to film historian Marilyn Slater, looking back on her experience Daniels wrote, “despite the lavish furnishings and the flowers and the excellent food that would be served by the best restaurant in town, I was really very miserable…each night I had the recurring feeling of how awful it was to be locked in a cell.” She did learn her lesson: she said that she never sped again, except for when she was shooting The Speed Girl, the movie they made to capitalize on all the publicity. So while nearly 800 visitors a week is excessive, maybe jail doesn’t have to be completely horrible to promote rehabilitation.

Nevertheless, the manager at Clune’s Broadway didn’t need to wait for The Speed Girl to use the press attention to sell tickets. Her latest movie, Ducks and Drakes, played there this week and Motion Picture News reported that manager Frank L. Browne clipped every newspaper story about her jailing and displayed them in the theater lobby, which “drew attention, much comment and large crowds. There was almost a riot at one time when two factions started disputing as to whether Judge Cox did right in sentencing the beautiful girl for ten days.” He added a telegram to the display, purportedly from Daniels, saying how sorry she was she couldn’t be there. Moti0n Picture News concluded, “needless to say, Mr. Browne got the crowds.”

Happily, once the crowds went in they got to see a pretty good movie, according to Kingsley:

While Bebe Daniels herself is languishing in durance vile—at least pretty vile—down in the Santa Ana jail, presumably repenting of speeding, her celluloid double speeds at Clune’s Broadway in one of the spiciest, cutest, most delightful comedies of the month, called Ducks and Drakes. It was viewed by big crowds yesterday, some of whom are regular Bebe Daniels fans, while others possibly want to see how a jailed young star really looks in action.

Bebe Daniels proves she is a regular comedy queen, full of real humor, and a perfect witch for beauty and allurement.

It’s all about a young girl sentenced to matrimony but bent on finding out about life before she takes the final plunge. Naturally, the heroine herself is always perfectly innocent; it’s only the author who is naughty. So even though she receives strange young men in her boudoir, and runs off with them to house boats, and even though she says, ‘she just doesn’t care what happens to her,’ nothing does happen that would cause anything regrettable to occur to the cheek of the young person, be that person ever so prudish.

Ducks and Drakes has been preserved at the Library of Congress.

Jill Allgood, Bebe and Ben, London: Robert Hale & Company, 1975.

Bebe Daniels (Convict 711), “56 ½ Miles Per Hour,” Photoplay, July 1921, p.52-4, 109-111.

“Bebe Daniels Goes to Jail,“ Los Angeles Times, April 16, 1921.

“Bebe’s Jail Sentence Capitalized by Browne,” Motion Picture News, May 7, 1921, p. 2933.

“Jail Horrors for Fair Bebe,” Los Angeles Times, April 17, 1921.

Where Hollywood Drew the Line: Week of April 9th, 1921

Clara Smith Hamon

One hundred years ago this week, there was a Hollywood story that was everywhere, except for Grace Kingsley’s column. Even on a slow movie news week like this one, she didn’t feel the need to add to the discussion. The rest of the film world was busy figuring out how to deal with the news that Clara Smith Hamon was coming to town.

Jake Hamon

Until late March, Hamon’s story had been on the front page, not the entertainment page. After a Trial of the Century (they seem to happen regularly) she had been acquitted for murdering her lover, oilman and rising power in the Republican Party Jake Hamon. Their story has been told several times online; the most detailed articles are by Ron J. Jackson Jr. for The Oklahoman and by Paul Johns for the Christian County Headliner News.

The short version is that in 1910, eighteen year old Clara Smith was working as a dry goods store clerk in Lawton, Oklahoma where she met thirty-seven year old Jake Hamon. Even though he was married to Georgia Perkins Hamon, he began a relationship with her and hired her as his “personal secretary.” By 1915 Clara was tired of just being his mistress, but his wife refused to divorce him. In 1917, he wanted to go back into politics so he paid his nephew Frank Hamon to marry and divorce her, so she would legitimately have the name “Mrs. Hamon” when they traveled together. In 1920 he was angling for a Cabinet position in the Harding administration, and Mrs. Harding (Georgia Hamon’s second cousin) told him he could only bring his legitimate family with him to Washington. On November 21, 1920 Clara and Jake were staying at the Randol Hotel in Ardmore, Oklahoma and following a noisy fight, Jake came down the stairs with a gunshot wound. He died five days later. Meanwhile, Clara went to Mexico. By the end of December, authorities convinced her to return, and her trial for murder began on March 1st, 1921. Newspapers covered it daily. She testified that he had attacked her, and the gun in her hand went off when he swung a chair at her. The case went to the jury on March 17th, and after deliberating for 39 minutes they came back with a verdict of “not guilty.”

Los Angeles Times, March 18, 1921 front page

To cap off the trial coverage, on March 19th she held a press conference and she announced she was going to Hollywood to make a movie about her life and the trial. She wanted it to be “a warning to young girls.” William Ernest Weathers, an oil man from Fort Worth, was named as the film producer and her manager.

Reaction from the film industry reaction was swift, because they were already dealing with censorship problems. The Photplaywrights’ League of America immediately issued a resolution asking every exhibitor to refuse to show any film based on the Hamon case; the group’s president said “right now, when everybody is talking about cleaning up the pictures is a poor time to permit the exploitation of a woman like Clara Smith Hamon.” The next day the Affiliated Picture Interests of California had passed a similar resolution condemning the exploitation of vice and crime, and they were followed by exhibitors’ associations in Colorado, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and New York. *

Next, film workers announced they would boycott the production. The film laboratories in Los Angeles said they would refuse to develop or print the film. The American Society of Cinematographers said they’d throw out any member who shot the film and their magazine, American Cinematographer, praised Rene Guissart when he turned down an offer of $500 a week to shoot it. (directors of photography usually made between $100-150 per week then.) When Andre Barlatier took the job, they made good on their threat and ended his membership (but by 1923, they’d quietly let him back in).

The Los Angeles Times ran some fiery editorials. One that appeared on March 25th said: “if this sort of ‘great moral lesson’ is to be put upon the screen it is desirable that the characters be wholly fictitious and that the shameful sinners win no éclat and profit out of it. The whole moral of any such film production must inevitably be defeated if the soiled heroine is herself exploited in person and profiting handsomely by the ‘horrible example’ … Any talk about lofty moral principles and motives in such a production is sheer cant and pretense on the face of it.”

By July 3rd they hadn’t changed their minds. A piece called “Frightfulness” said, “an incredibly indecent form of mental cruelty is about to be inflicted upon the real Mrs. Jake Hamon and her children if Clara Smith Hamon is permitted to go through with her film production of her sordid life story…The whole thing is disgustingly indecent, superlatively brutal; and any precious ‘moral’ the picture is expected to portray can have no possible weight against this deliberate, cold-blooded torture of living victims.”

Undaunted, Hamon arrived in Los Angeles on April 22nd. She told an L.A. Times reporter that “I am not here seeking pity. I have never asked for it. All I want is a fighting chance to make good. There are some in the motion picture industry who are endeavoring to discredit my sincerity and who are striving to prevent me from producing motion pictures.” 

Nevertheless, Weathers’ film company was able to find people willing to work with them. As Variety observed on June 1st, “there is no fear that the company will be shy of actors, for the studio offices are swamped daily with applicants for work.” They hired John Ince, the brother of Thomas Ince, to play Jake Hamon and they found John Gorman, who had directed a few low-budged features for his own production company, to write and direct. He was promised ten percent of the profits. Director Marshall Neilan said in Variety that nobody in Hollywood had heard of him before.

Fate (John Ince, Clara Smith Hamon)

Work began on the film entitled Fate on June 1st and they finished in mid-August. By the end of that month, the National Association of the Motion Picture Industry had called for a ban on showing it. The Los Angeles City Council prevented it from being screened there, so they took it to San Francisco where the local district attorney banned it on September 3rd. Nevertheless it played at the College Theater for one day on September 4th, and the police arrested the film’s producer and confiscated the print. W.E. Weathers asked for a jury trial and was promptly acquitted, so it did have a run at the College Theater, but attendance was bad. An editorial in Photoplay pointed out that even though newspapers gave the story notoriety, the public, “tired of cheap sensationalism, of threadbare emotions, of dirt thinly veneered, it has reacted to the side of the newspapers—and to the side of all right thinking producers and exhibitors the country over. The film was first boycotted in San Francisco. Where record breaking crowds were expected, the picture played to a sparsely filled house. And the film was withdrawn.”

It was shown at a few theaters around the country, but neither the writers at the AFI Catalog nor I could find any reviews of it. Everybody forgot about it pretty quickly, and now it’s lost. But it was a dry run for the industry’s reaction to the Arbuckle and the Taylor scandals that were soon to come.

Clara B. Gorman, photo published in 1932.

Clara Smith Hamon got to live down her notoriety. She married her director John Gorman on August 22nd, just after they finished shooting their film. They divorced on June 23, 1925; she testified that “he was a grouch, and he drank; he made me very unhappy.” By 1930 she was unemployed and living in an apartment in Los Angeles. In 1932 an enterprising L.A. Times writer followed up on her and reported that she hoped to become a professional writer, and she had set sail on January 4th to gather material for articles. Ship records back him up: she arrived back in Los Angeles from France on the President Van Buren on August 14, 1932. However, I haven’t found any articles or books authored by Clara B. Gorman. After that, she disappeared from public records. Perhaps she married again and changed her name.

*I had no idea there were so many local organizations. The film industry really wasn’t centralized yet.

“Brady Brands Film as Offensive Plans Ban,” San Francisco Call, September 3, 1921.

“Cameraman Disciplined,” Variety, June 24, 1921, p.38.

“Call for Ban on Fate,” Los Angeles Times, August 30, 1921.

“Clara and the Films,” Los Angeles Times, March 25, 1921.

“Clara Hamon Film Exhibitor to Fight Ban of S.F. Police,” Los Angeles Herald, September 5, 1921.

“Clara Smith Hamon Freed,” Los Angeles Times, June 24, 1925.

“Clara Smith Hamon is Acquitted of Murder,” Los Angeles Times, March 18, 1921.

“Clara Hamon’s Here to Fight,” Los Angeles Times, April 23, 1921.

“Clara Smith Hamon is Making a Pictures,” Variety, June 1, 1921, p.1.

“Clara S. Hamon Weds Director,” Los Angeles Times, August 23, 1921.

“Close-Ups,” Photoplay, February 1922, p. 39.

A Condensed Course in Motion Picture Photography, NY: New York Institute of Photography, 1920.

Terrel DeLapp, “Jake Hamon’s Women,” Los Angeles Times, April 17, 1932.

“Equity Against Hamon Film,” Camera, June 4, 1921, p.3.

“Frightfulness,” Los Angeles Times, July 3, 1921.

“Hamon Girl to Film Her Past,” Los Angeles Times, March 22, 1921.

“Member of A.S.C. Refuses Record Offer to Film Clara Smith Hamon,” American Cinematographer, May 12, 1921, p.1.

Marshall Neilan, “New Pointers on Pictures from the Trade Schools,” Variety, July 8, 1921, p.30.

“Orders Films Censored Here,” Los Angeles Times, September 2, 1921.

“Screen Interests Protest Clara Hamon in Films,” Motion Picture News, April 9, 1921, p.2442.

”Screen Writers Protest Alleged Hamon Exploitation,” Camera, March 19, 1921, p.3, 18.

More Dashed Hopes: Week of April 2nd, 1921

Elliott Sparling, 1919

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley had news about yet another young actor’s big break:

One of our handsomest war flyers, and a member of the United States Naval Aviation Corps during the late war, is the latest addition to the ranks of motion-picture stars. He is Ensign Elliott Sparling, and he is to be featured in a company just organized by the veteran picture producer, Oliver Sellers, which will be known as the Oliver Sellers Productions.

Under the contract signed by Elliott Sparling yesterday, the young actor is to be featured in a series of pictures adapted from the William Leighton western stories, published in the Saturday Evening Post and other magazines.

Young Sparling is the son of George A. Sparling of Ashland, Wis., who has wide business interests throughout the State. The boy was prominent in theatricals at Wisconsin State University, and later played a short time in vaudeville and in a small stock company in the Middle West. When the war came along, he at once volunteered and was accepted by the flying service, and remained in service four years, during most of the time he was assigned to southern waters.

1905 ad for his father’s store

As usual, only some of that was true. Elliott Walford Sparling was born March 8, 1899 in Ashland, Wisconsin, so he was too young to have served during the first World War. His father was George Sparling, but his business interests were limited to owning the New England Store in Ashland. It was the town’s largest dry goods store (it’s still there, but it’s a gift shop), so the family was comfortable, but not millionaires.  The younger Sparling did attend University of Wisconsin at Madison and was the Freshman class president in 1918-19. He married fellow student Marguerite Krauth on October 25, 1919 and they both left the University. By January 1920 when the Census was taken, the newlyweds were living with their respective parents and he was working as a car salesman. Their daughter Elizabeth Ann was born August 14, 1920.

So after such an eventful few years, he decided to try his luck in Hollywood. He had some reasonably good fortune at first, getting uncredited parts in films like Double Stakes, staring Gladys Brockwell and Charge It with Clara Kimball Young. Then he was hired by former Ince production manager turned director Oliver Sellers, and he played the juvenile lead in The Able Minded Lady, which was based on a William Leighton western story. But he didn’t leave much of an impression on one reviewer: Matthew Taylor in Motion Picture News didn’t bother to catch his name and dismissed his character as “the boob cowboy.” The Leighton stories didn’t become a series, and Sparling didn’t work with Sellers again.

The Power of Love (1922)

After that, his acting career was stalled. But he did something to get it moving that was much more interesting than the usual vanity project. He co-founded the Perfect Picture Company with Don Gamble, who had worked on The Able-Minded Lady with him, and they made the first 3-D feature to be publicly screened. They leased the rights to the stereoscopic process from its inventor, Harry K. Fairall and his business partner, John Seward, and made The Power of Love. Set in Spanish California times, Sparling starred as Terry O’Neill, a sea captain who comes to trade with the ranch owners. He meets Maria (Barbara Bedford) whose father (Noah Beery) has betrothed her to a man she loathes. After various adventures and narrow escapes O’Neill proves the loathsome fiancé is a thief and wins the girl.

The 3-D camera used to shoot The Power of Love

The Power of Love did get attention in the press, but probably not quite what Sparling wanted, because the journalists who wrote about the film ignored the actors and concentrated on the technology. The first screening in Los Angeles on September 27, 1922 was a big success, according to W.E. Keefe in Moving Picture World. The “large audience of motion picture people at the Ambassador Theater” got to see a prologue showing views of the Yosemite Valley, and the five-reel feature, The Power of Love.  Keefe reported that “the entire performance was enthusiastically applauded.” He described how the process worked:

There are projected on the screen simultaneously two positive prints superimposed, which have been photographed at the same time through a single camera having two lenses, separated a distance equivalent to the position of human eyes. Viewing the pictures through the spectacles having a blue and a red lens, which are complimentary colors, makes possible stereoscopic vision, each eye seeing a single picture of its own.

Elliott Sparling and Barbara Bedford

Keefe was mightily impressed by it:

You are apt to forget that you are looking at a picture because the scenes seem so real and lifelike that you imagine you are seeing the living characters enacting their various roles. The picture takes on the aspect of real life and the audience experiences the effect of gazing through an open door upon the real panorama of nature and life itself instead of visualized shadows on the screen. With this process, the third dimension on the screen has graduated from a theory into an actual reality.

Sparling on the set

Even though the process worked well, they only screened it once more in 3-D in New York. According to Exhibitors’ Herald, they tried to sell the film on a combination of a states’ rights basis in some areas, and road shows in the rest of the country, but they didn’t get any buyers. In 3D Power, Daniel L. Symmes speculates that because it required two linked projectors, two prints, and glasses, distributors balked at the cost.

To recoup some of the money they spent, Perfect Pictures retitled the film The Forbidden Lover and in 1923 sold a 2D version to Selznick Distributing Company. Frank Elliott reviewed it in Motion Picture News and said: “The story is laid in southern California in the old Spanish days which theme gives opportunity for eye-pleasing costumes and picturesque interiors. But because of the fact that the action treads along the well beaten track, the interest lags at times as it becomes an easy matter to picture the ending soon after the beginning.” However, “Mr. Sparling, who appears as Terry O’Neill, a sea captain, presents a rather imposing appearance on the screen and looks as though he might do well in heroic roles.” Both versions are considered lost.

Despite the good review, Sparling gave up his acting ambitions. By the time of the 1930 census his wife and daughter had joined him In Los Angeles, and he was working as a real estate agent. In 1940 he was divorced and calling himself an inventor in the census. On his 1942 draft registration, he said he was working in camera manufacturing. He died on October 21, 1945.

Harry K. Fairall

The inventor of the stereoscope process, Harry K. Fairall, did not give up quite yet. Born May 14, 1882, by 1910 he owned his own photography gallery in Highland, California (a small town in San Bernardino County). His 1918 draft registration says he was a cameraman for Douglas Fairbanks and in 1920 he told the census he was a mechanic at a motion picture studio. The failure of The Power of Love to get distribution in 1922 didn’t discourage later investors; in 1925 the Binocular Stereoscopic Film Co. incorporated with $100,00 capital and they planned to manufacture his cameras. The company quietly folded, and by 1930 he was a still photographer at a motion picture studio. He died on July 20, 1958 in Los Angeles.

Frank Elliott, “The Forbidden Lover,” Motion Picture News, September 29, 1923, p.3047.

Forbidden Lover,” Motion Picture News Booking Guide, October 1923, p.22.

W.E. Keefe, “Stereoscopic Films,” Moving Picture World, October 21, 1922, p.660.

“Lee in Camera Company,” Film Daily, November 9, 192, p.1.

Jane S. Smith and Michael J. Goc. Looking Backward, Moving Forward: Ashland The Garland City of the Inland Seas. Friendship WI: New Past Press, 1987.

Power of Love to be a State Right Film,” Exhibitors’ Herald, November 11, 1922, p.32.

Matthew A. Taylor, “The Able Minded Lady,” Motion Picture News, February 11, 1922, p.1030.