One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley told readers that young aspiring actresses weren’t always victims of leering studio bosses, if they lived at the Hollywood Studio Club:
“Oh, what a beautiful, big, cheerful home,” I had exclaimed an hour earlier, as we rounded a corner of Carlos Street, out in Hollywood, when there burst on my view a big colonial house, its windows all alight, while the sound of cheerful voices floated out to me from all the windows.
The club is for all the world like a college girls’ sorority.
The article’s purpose wasn’t only to reassure the public that women in Hollywood could live in a clean, affordable, and chaperoned place, they were also starting a fundraising drive to build another dormitory to house “young girls who came in crowds to the city, seeking work in pictures.” Kingsley thought it was a worthwhile project, and said:
Let those who rail against the motion-picture business take a peep at this home. Then let them stop howling for a moment, while they dig down in their jeans to help the cause, focusing their minds carefully, meanwhile, on the hardships and trials of these girls, with their earnest ambitions, their struggles, their determination to keep their lives wholesome and straight at any cost.
At least the industry acknowledged that there was a problem of skeevy men preying on vulnerable women, and they helped fund the Club. The Hollywood Studio Club was founded in 1916 by a librarian, Eleanor Jones, who had noticed aspiring actresses forming a play-reading club at the Hollywood Branch library. She was worried about their safety, so she asked the YWCA to help start a place for them to gather. She went on to get donations from studios and businesses, and they rented that house on Carlos Avenue with enough space for 20 women to live.
The fundraising efforts that Kingsley wrote about took awhile, but in 1926, they built a larger building on Lodi Place, designed by architect Julia Morgan. It could house 88 women. Open to any woman who was looking for a career in motion pictures, they offered two meals a day, performing arts classes, job bulletin boards and rehearsal rooms. Residents were limited to living there for 3 years.
The HSC provided a home for thousands of women over the decades, but by the mid-1960’s ideas about women being able to look after themselves had changed and it began to lose money. It closed in 1975. Since 2018 it’s been crisis housing for women, run by the city of Los Angeles.
A few of the women who lived there did succeed in the movie business, including ZaSu Pitts, Janet Gaynor, Linda Darnell, Marilyn Monroe, and Rita Moreno, but most did not, including the woman Kingsley chose as a sample resident, Ethel Kaye. Here’s her story:
One day she sat looking about her apartment. It wasn’t a bit of trouble to see it all from where she sat. And from that vantage point she saw also that her cupboard resembled Old Mother Hubbard’s in the painful particular in the childish classic. She shook her purse, and no cheerful jingle proceeded therefrom. Just then (even at the risk of having this sound like a melodrama, I’ve got to tell the truth), in came the landlady with the usual conversation about the rent. So she’d have to leave. And she didn’t have money enough to buy her dinner!
But at that very moment, the telephone rang, knocking in the head the usual take-your-trunk-and-get-out business.
“Come on over to the Studio Club, dearie!” came a voice over the wire. “We’ve got a room for you now!” Never was message so sweet to a girl’s ears. The girl went over to the Hollywood Studio clubhouse and was met at the door by Miss [Marion] Hunter.
“Do—do I have to pay in advance?” she asked in trembling tones.
“Come in, my dear! Of course not! You may wait until you get work.”
That really happened, and the girls was a picture actress who is well on her way to fame now. Her name is Ethel Kaye. She has just been engaged to play the lead in the Goldwyn feature, Hungry Hearts.
“And I could never have held on,” explained Miss Kaye to me, “if it hadn’t been for the Studio Club.”
Kingsley didn’t know it, but Ethel Kaye was an excellent example, because like so many women who lived at the Studio Club, she didn’t become a star. After small roles in The New Moon (1919) and a serial called Trailed By Three (1920) in New York, she came to California where she had another small part in Heroes and Husbands (1922). Then she had that big break Kingsley mentioned, which she had announced a few days earlier:
Another young genius has been discovered by Samuel Goldwyn, who is doing a vast lot of Columbusing these days. She is Ethel Kaye, a very beautiful young girl, a Russian, and she is to play the leading role in Anzia Yezierska’s Hungry Hearts, when that picture goes into production soon…Singularly enough Miss Kaye has undergone some of the difficulties, hardships and some of the spectacular adventures as well, which she will portray on the screen, and which the author herself suffered.
The stuff about her adventures and being from Russian herself was probably nonsense; she told the 1930 census taker she was born in New York to parents from New York and Connecticut. Sadly, just as she thought her career was turning around, she got sick and was replaced as the lead in Hungry Hearts by Helen Ferguson. Kaye didn’t appear in any more movie credits after that. The following year she decided to give up and return to New York, where she married a dentist, James Henegan. Nevertheless, the Hollywood Studio Club did exactly what it was supposed to do for her: gave her a safe place to live until she realized her dreams of stardom weren’t going to happen. She didn’t become a cautionary tale for other young women.
Ironically, the Studio Club article appeared in the paper during the same Labor Day weekend that Virginia Rappe went to a party in Roscoe Arbuckle’s hotel room in San Francisco, and people are still discussing what happened there. Kingsley’s stories about that will start next week.
“Ethel Kay to Flit,” Los Angeles Times, October 18, 1922.
“Goldwyn Studio Activities,” Motion Picture News, October 22, 1921, p.2179.