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.

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