Joe Millionaire, 1921: Week of May 28th, 1921

Sid Grauman, 1930

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley included a story that shows people did really stupid things in public back then, too:

“For a sensational method of selecting a bride, there’s a young man in town who makes Lochinvar* look like a pike, tenderfoot, lounge lizard. He’s from Arizona, his name is John Edington, he’s a rich miner and good looking in the bargain. And he wants to choose a wife from among the fifty beauteous girls who are to appear at the Actors’ Fund Festival, in Sid Grauman’s act, at the Beverly Hills Speedway Saturday.

It happened this way. Mr. Grauman was rumpling his hair and wrinkling over the details of his big future movie star contest, which he is arranging for the Actors’ Fund Festival, when the door opened to admit a stranger, tall and handsome.

“My name is John Edington,” stated this intruder, “and I came to Los Angeles to get a wife, because I think the most beautiful girls in the world are right here. I have read something of the fifty beautiful girls you are picking for your gigantic act, and I have a proposition to make you. I am rich and I believe I amiable. At any rate even a collar button at its most rampageous and cussedest moment cannot upset me. I am willing to marry the girl who will make me the best wife.”

The outcome of the matter is that Mr. Grauman is turning his act into a marriage market. A huge pedestal has been erected at the Speedway, and on this will be seated the fifty girls, with the wife-seeking miner at the center. At the big show, each girl is to give her reasons for believing that she will make him the best wife. The audience, after listening to the pleas of each girl, will vote on the one they believe will be best suited to the handsome miner.

And here is the big kick: the miner has absolutely agreed to marry the girls selected by the audience! Of course, the girl remains to be heard from, and in case of any hitch, the audience may vote again.

The story was so absurd that Kingsley had to say, “Sid Grauman declares that every word of the story is true and vouches for the fact that the man was sane, sober and with nothing on the hip at the time he made the offer.”

Map of the Actors’ Fund Festival, June 4, 1921

So Married at First Sight, Ninety Day Fiancé, etc. are not the harbinger of civilization’s decline: we’ve always been ridiculous. Kingsley didn’t comment about what an atrocious idea marrying whoever an audience who’d been out all day eating fair food and watching rodeo told you to was. But that’s exactly what happened, according to the L.A. Times report after the festival (Grauman had gotten his name wrong: the prospective groom was George Endres).

Sid Grauman offered a beauty show and matrimonial contest. He displayed fifty girls of all ages, arrayed in all their beauty, and who were contending for the hand of a love-sick swain—name, George Endres—who had promised to marry the girl who gained the largest number of votes. All of them wanted him—and his money—but he didn’t seem to get such a kick out of it.

The reporter didn’t describe the winning speech, but he couldn’t have known which woman would win. The next day, the paper had a follow-up:

As an aftermath to the festival, Justice Handy put the finishing touches to an unusual romance when at midnight Saturday he united in marriage Miss Marion Breakwell and George Endres, the Arizona miner who appealed to Sid Grauman to help him find a wife. Mr. Grauman’s response to the plea was the “Matrimonial Market,” in which fifty girls, who had agreed that the one chosen by the public should marry Mr. Endres, appeared. Miss Breakwell was selected and the wedding followed.

L.A. County marriage records back up that report, with the wedding being officially recorded on the following Tuesday:

But here’s the shocking part: their marriage lasted until George Endres died in 1948. My goodness! However did they manage that? A little more searching in the vital records solves that puzzle: Endres and Breakwell had been married since 1915.

Endres lied a little about his age: he was only 19 as well

Oh Sidney Patrick Grauman, you great big liar. He must have decided that a parade of pretty girls who wanted to be movie stars wasn’t entertaining enough, especially since he was competing with a harem show three buildings over. Nevertheless, even 100 years later I’m relieved two strangers didn’t marry based on a vote from overheated fairgoers. So it seems that people in 1921 were much smarter than reality show contestants are now. I hope Grauman paid the couple well.

George Albert Endres wasn’t actually a miner from Arizona–Grauman lied about that, too—but at least he was young. He was born on October 5, 1895 in Cincinnati, Ohio. He married Miriam (she preferred Marion) Hodgin Breakwell (born November 24, 1895) on May 1st, 1915. By the 1917 draft registration, he was an assistant stock keeper for the Globe Wernicke furniture company in Cincinnati. They moved to Long Beach, California sometime after that. By 1930, he’d become the manager of a clothing store and in 1940 he was the credit manager at a department store. They had a daughter, Barbara, in 1942. He died in 1948 and Marion died in 1980 and they’re buried together in Forest Lawn, Long Beach.

The Actors’ Fund Festival was quite something. Kingsley called it “the greatest event of the sort ever staged in the West, with the hundreds of famous names on the program,” and she wasn’t exaggerating. Here’s the ad for it, from the Los Angeles Herald:

The Times reported that it was a big success; on June 5th they said, “from early morn until late last night dollars by the tens of thousands flowed like rivers into the fund that will relieve the sick and destitute of the profession for the year to come.” On June 6th, they quoted the man in charge, Daniel Frohman, who estimated that they’d made $100,000 for the Actors’ Fund. However, it took quite a while to give it to the people who needed it. They didn’t form the committee to oversee the disbursement until September 21, 1921 and they planned to have weekly meetings to review all of the applications for assistance. The Actors’ Fund is still helping people in the entertainment industry, and it looks like nowadays they’re much more efficient at providing emergency assistance.

* Lochinvar was the hero of Sir Walter Scott’s poem, Marmion (1808). He swoops into his beloved’s wedding feast, saving her from a dastardly groom.

“Actors’ Benefit Fest to Thrill,” Los Angeles Times, June 4, 1921.

“Add Hundred Thousand to Actors’ Fund,” Los Angeles Times, June 6, 1921.

“Frohman Names Charity Body,” Los Angeles Times, September 22, 1921.

“Raise Pleasure Palaces,” Los Angeles Times, May 22, 1921.

Otis M. Wiles,” Stream of Gold Pours into Thespians’ Fund,” Los Angeles Times, June 5, 1921.

Never Quite Right: Week of May 21st, 1921

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reviewed a film based on two beloved novels, and showed just how difficult it can be to satisfy fans:

Phantom children of Barrie—Tommy, Grizel, Elspeth, the Painted Lady, Dr. McQueen—phantom children, who peopled Sentimental Tommy and Tommy and Grizel, how long we’ve loved you and cherished you in our hearts, with all your quaint wistfulness and whimsical humor and poignant humanity! But phantom children still you are, for it was your souls, your minds, which Barrie gave us. And phantoms and souls are of too tenuous and illusive stuff, alas, to film with superlative success.

Yet Sentimental Tommy, the film, is a great picture, despite Sentimental Tommy, the book, is far greater. The screen adaptation opened yesterday at Grauman’s, and lovers of Barrie, as well as those who haven’t had the happiness to know him, will, I’m sure, find the picture a very wonderful one, with as much fresh charm of the original sustained as was possible.

To give the adaptation due credit, it has been as admirably done as it could be. I believe, however, that it will be the Barrie lovers who will get the most out of it, because they will bring to it their memory of the rich touches of character, which is not possible to put on the film, either because of its limitations of expression or of time. The eliminations have left us a clean-cut and entirely engrossing story of the complex-natured Tommy and of Grizel, the pathetic little daughter of the despised Painted Lady, who thought it would have been “just sweet—to be respectable.”

An admirable fact about the screen story is that, despite it marching swiftly, it has managed to convey a real sense of the quality of the boy born with the imagination which made him often do injustice to others through his impulses, born of sympathetic insight which crowded him on the express things he really did not feel. Tommy was bewildered by his own sympathies and impulses, but the trouble is, he was also an artist and as such was analytical of his own feelings—which led him into a quagmire of self-admiration and self-pity.

The more people love a work, the harder it is to satisfy them with another version. Unlike so many original version fans who simply grumble “the book was better,” Kingsley recognizes there are just some things the movies can’t do.  She admired all of the performances, photography, and set design and concluded: “Rich promise of very fine things indeed for the future screen drama, Sentimental Tommy brings to us. And nobody should miss seeing it.” Unfortunately we can’t; it’s a lost film.

Set in a Scottish village, Tommy tells the story of a girl, Grizel, ostracized because of her mother’s reputation, and her friendship with an imaginative newcomer, Tommy. Years later, after misunderstandings, his success as a novelist, and her temporary loss of sanity, they marry.

Naturally, all the other reviewers mentioned James Barrie: he was a hugely popular novelist and playwright at the time. But they seemed much less attached than Kingsley was to the original work. Edward Weitzel in Moving Picture World wrote that the film captured the “essence of Barrie’s two books.” Furthermore:

Lovers of the Scotch novelist’s delightful characters will find them on the screen, living and loving in the Thrums of which Barrie knew every stone in the street and which he describes with such tender fidelity.

1923 trade ad

Film Daily thought that Barrie’s admirers would simply “have a delightful treat in store for them.” They remembered the people who managed that feat:

Considerable credit is due Josephine Lovett, who had the difficult task of writing the scenario, and considering that she had such a wealth of incident to combat with, Miss Lovett has done very well. But it remained for director John S. Robertson to do the big job and it is doubtful it could have been done better. All the quaint charm of Barrie has been transferred to the screen, and both in handling of the cast, exterior and interior settings, the matter of detail and other whatnots that make real pictures, Robertson has again proven himself one of THE directors.

1934 trade ad

Lovett and Robertson were a married couple who often collaborated (he directed 18 out of her 35 screenplays). They were both former actors who met while working at Vitagraph, and in 1916, they moved behind the camara to make a short, Love and Trout. After Tommy, Lasky’s sent them to London to make two films (Love’s Boomerang (1922) and The Spanish Jade (1922)); while they were there James Barrie saw their version of Tommy and liked it enough to invite them to discuss his upcoming film project, Peter Pan. However, a different writer and director were hired for that, and Lovett and Robertson went to Los Angeles, where they made Mary Pickford’s second version of Tess of Storm Country. They continued to mostly adapt sentimental stories until 1927 when Annie Laurie didn’t sell many tickets, and Lovett changed her style completely to suit the new times. She wrote an original, Our Dancing Daughters (1928), and had a great big risqué hit. They both continued to work until 1935 when they retired.

“Famous Authors on Lasky Staff,” Motion Picture News, May 28, 1921, p.3311.

“Has a Place Among Year’s Best Pictures,” Film Daily, April 3, 1921, p.2.

Edward Weitzel, “Sentimental Tommy,” Moving Picture World, April 9, 1921, p.626.

We Can’t Trust Them!: Week of May 14th, 1921

Actual Roscoe Arbuckle

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley included a cute story about one of Roscoe Arbuckle’s adventures during his December trip to Paris:

The chubby comedian chanced to stroll by a small theater near his hotel in the gay French city. One of his comedies was to open that night. A crowd stood about, and an interpreter read to him a sign offering $15 to the person who could best impersonate the famous American actor, Roscoe Arbuckle.

Whereupon Roscoe dashed madly backstage, and the interpreter entered his name as a candidate. Not a soul around the theater recognized Arbuckle. Entry after entry wobbled across the stage trying to impersonate him, and then Roscoe himself went on.

Finally prizes were given out, and what was the comedian’s amazement when he was handed seventh prize—not even third or fourth—but seventh! Evidently there were better Arbuckles in the house than he! And the prize was a galley ticket to see the picture in which he was appearing.

He didn’t go.

Arbuckle in Paris, 1920

If only this story was true! Lending some believability to it, Arbuckle really had been in Paris in late 1920. Kingsley had reported on his return just before Christmas, and she relayed a few stories about his travels in France and England on February 3rd, including one about how he lied to journalists:

It seems that while in London Arbuckle was besieged by reporters. And he told them all a different story as to how he lost his voice and went into pictures. The stories appearing simultaneously in seven different papers caused quite a sensation.

So maybe Kingsley could have been more wary. I’m fairly certain that Arbuckle’s contest crashing did not happen in part because nobody else reported it, and he didn’t mention it when he told her about his trip earlier. But I’m even more suspicious because it was so close to a story that had been making the rounds about Charlie Chaplin since 1918. Several newspapers said that he entered a Chaplin imitator contest at a fair and only came in twentieth (or in some reports, twenty-seventh).

There actually were Chaplin imitator contests. I couldn’t find any mention of Arbuckle imitator contests.

Even that story was a myth; the Skeptics site has best debunking of it. On top of their own research, they contacted Chaplin’s official website which answered that they hadn’t seen any proof of him losing such a contest. For both Chaplin and Arbuckle, the story was too good to be true.

Publicists had a difficult job, coming up with new ways to keep their clients in the spotlight, and entertainment writers did have to fill up their columns every single day. The Paramount publicity department wanted Arbuckle in the paper this week because his latest film, The Traveling Salesman, had just opened in Los Angeles. The problem was that it wasn’t terrific. Kingsley called it only “good enough.” Trade reviews were middling too. Sumner Smith in Moving Picture World said, “While it cannot be called Arbuckle’s best picture, it makes an amusing vehicle for the corpulent star, affording him plenty of chances for a display of his unique style of fun-making.”

There’s only one thing worse for a publicist than trying to get their star into the papers, and that’s wishing they could keep them out. In just a few months, “the tragic intersection of the lives of Roscoe Arbuckle and Virginia Rappe,” as one writer put it, was about to happen.

Sumner Smith, “The Traveling Salesman,” Moving Picture World, May 7, 1921, p.88.

Competing with Conrad Veidt: Week of May 7th, 1921

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on an unusual Monday morning announcement from the Goldwyn company:

The feature of the first session of the Goldwyn sales convention at the Culver City studios yesterday was the announcement of F.J. Godsol, chairman of the board of directors, that the Goldwyn company owns no German pictures and does not intend to purchase any. This sets at rest the rumors regarding the importation of Teutonic films. Mr. Godsol said:

“The Goldwyn company owns no German pictures and has no intention of buying any. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is the only picture with which we have been in any way concerned. We do not own this picture, but merely released it through our distributing corporation. We have no intention of releasing any more German pictures.”

At a time when studio staff members were stampeding to Europe, why would a company suddenly want to disown all German productions? The answer was on Sunday’s front page: there had been a great big protest on Saturday at Miller’s Theater, which was showing The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. The Goldwyn company wanted to run away from the controversy as fast as they could.

May 5, 1921

That initial story in the L.A. Times made it sound like the reason for the protest was residual anti-German sentiment left over after the war. They reported that hundreds of former servicemen in uniform from the American Legion’s Hollywood Post picketed and rioted in front of Miller’s for more than six hours. During that time, “two mob rushes had been attempted, rotten eggs had been hurled and police and provost guard forces had been reinforced until they numbered thirty-five men.” At 8:30 p.m., the theater owner Fred Miller announced that he would replace Caligari with The Money Changers, and after an attempt by the mob to pull down the theater marquee that still read Caligari, they disbursed—some of them to see the replacement film. The reporter called it a complete victory for the American Legion.

May 9, 1921. The Money Changers was based on an Upton Sinclair novel which told the story of a young newspaper reporter hunting down a gang of opium smugglers.

However, the Legion had a protest partner that the Times didn’t mention until the 14th paragraph: Actors’ Equity (possibly because the paper had a history of being anti-labor). Fanchon Royer, in the pro-actor and pro-union magazine Camera, told a different side of the story:

 Probably the Los Angeles actors’ greatest victory to date was accomplished last Saturday when a concentrated demonstration by them forced those in charge of Miller’s Theater to remove the German-made Goldwyn release, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, which had been booked, we understand, for an indefinite run at that house, and replace it with an American picture. The film colony, well organized this time, turned out en masse to dignifiedly see justice done. We were present and great was our gratification to observe that the remonstrating crowd was made up not only of the hundreds of screen performers who are unemployed, and have been, in some cases, for months as the results of decreased American production and to whom, therefore, the menace of this foreign intrusion which threatens the very life of our industry, has been brought home; but that it was composed also of many of their more fortunate brothers and sisters who happen to be yet under contract.

You wouldn’t know it from Kingsley’s cheerful columns, but the filmmaking industry in Hollywood was in a slump. Actors’ Equity had been concerned about competition from foreign production for several weeks, after Ernst Lubitsch’s Madam Du Barry, re-titled Passion, played in American theaters. It does make sense to worry about competing with Lubitsch!

The American Legion dropped out of the fight, but Equity took it to Congress and on June 4th, its president John Emerson declared that they won because they’d convinced the Ways and Means committee in the House of Representatives to add a 30% ad valorem duty to foreign made films to a tariff bill. This would bring the cost of them to distributors up to the same level as American productions. However, a bill in a committee is a long way away from a law and Equity dropped the ball. Editorials were written against it; for example Motion Picture News called the duty “our crowning sin of ineptitude” and pointed out that retaliatory tariffs would keep American films out of foreign markets, which would cost American producers 25 million dollars a year. Equity didn’t keep up the pressure on their representatives and by the next April, when the House finally sent the bill to the Senate, the foreign film tariff had been removed. The rest of the Fordney-McCumber Tariff was signed into law on September 21, 1922.

November 6, 1921

Nevertheless, Los Angeles audiences were not deprived of Caligari forever. Several German films including Deception (1920, aka Anne Boleyn) and Gypsy Blood (1920, based on Bizet’s Carmen) had been shown without a peep of protest from either the Legion or Equity, so in November Goldwyn and Miller decided it was time to try again. They had a hit, despite the Los Angeles Herald saying “from all reports the picture is a sure fire cure for people who usually cannot prevent themselves from falling asleep in a movie theater.” A November 23rd editorial in the Times summed it up:

It is rather bewildering to learn that the German picture, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, which was mobbed out of a Los Angeles theater last spring, is now competing its third big week here at the same house, having packed the seats. A rather amazing reversal of sentiment to say the least.…Sober reflection and a little further investigation have shown them that the German producers are not in danger of sweeping all competition from the earth.

Kingsley ran an anecdote about how two audience members responded to it:

“Don’t know where they get it, but two of ‘em were standing rather unsteadily on their feet out in front of Miller’s the other night after a performance of Dr. Caligari.

“Shay,” said one to the other, “wish you’d tell me what that picshure is (hic) about?”

“Aw, shut up!” said the other. “You ain’t supposed to know what (hic) it’s about. It’s a German picture.”

Eventually, Hollywood delt with competition the way they usually do: just steal from it. On October 13, 1922 Kingsley reported:

It would appear that The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is to have an American rival. That is, so far as the weird and uncanny are concerned. The rival is a film version of Earl Carroll’s play, The Attic of Felix Bavu, which Stuart Paton is to produce for Universal…It has a Russian atmosphere of the revolutionary period, and the hero is somewhat crazed by the happenings he has seen in connection to the war. An uncanny series of events promises shudders to the film fans.

Wallace Beery starred in Bavu

The film was called Bavu and it was released in 1923. It’s lost, so we can’t see how much it was influenced by Caligari. When Kingsley got to see a preview, the German film wasn’t at the top of her mind and she wrote “the whole atmosphere of the picture is reminiscent of one of de Maupassant’s most ingeniously tragic tales.” However, Calgari’s lighting and set design did become a building block of Universal’s horror film style, and reams have been written about it.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

“Bavu,” Exhibitors’ Trade Review, April 28, 1923, p.1106.

“Plenty of Thrills and Meller Action in Bavu,” Film Daily, April 13, 1923, p.12.

“Bible Picture Episodes Show,” Los Angeles Times, May 1, 1921.

“Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is Back Again,” Los Angeles Herald, November 7, 1921.

“German Movies,” Los Angeles Times, November 23, 1921.

“Humbled Again,” Motion Picture News, August 27, 1921, p. 1059.

Grace Kingsley, “Flashes,” Los Angeles Times, November 18, 1921.

Grace Kingsley, “Flashes,” Los Angeles Times, October 13, 1922.

Grace Kingsley, “Flashes,” Los Angeles Times, February 23, 1923.

“The Lancer,” Los Angeles Times, May 1, 1921.

“Money Changers at Miller’s Theater, Los Angeles Times, May 9, 1921.

“No German Film Here,” Los Angeles Times, May 8, 1921.

“Public Demonstration Wins Withdrawal of Foreign Made Picture,” Exhibitors’ Herald, May 21, 1921, p.35.

Fanchon Royer, “An Anticipated Triumph,” Camera, May 14, 1921, p.3.

“Senate Gets Bill,” Film Daily, April 12, 1921, p.1-2.

“Weirdly New,” Los Angeles Times, May 8, 1921.

“Win Tax Fight on Foreign Made Films,” Los Angeles Herald, June 4, 1921.