A Trip Through Wonderland: October 16-31, 1921

One hundred years ago this month, Grace Kingsley reported on yet another new arrival. For a change, she wasn’t an actress:

Ethel Sands, who has been writing a series of articles for Picture-Play Magazine, arrived in Los Angeles a day or two ago, and will be a guest of the Studio Club for the next few weeks while she gathers material in our studios for another series of “Adventures in Movieland.”

Miss Sands is not a professional writer, except by chance. She is just a fan who has worshiped the stars from afar since the early days of motion pictures. Many a motion-picture star has answered her request for an autographed photograph with a personal letter, because her letters are always so interesting and so full of genuine enthusiasm.

It was, indeed, her letters to the editor of Picture-Play that led to her present visit. They were so entertaining that he decided to have her write for his readers.

There followed many adventures for Ethel Sands. She made a test picture with Corinne Griffith; she appeared as an extra in a picture with Bert Lytell; she went shopping with Elsie Ferguson for the many wonderful gowns in Footlights; and the one and only D.W. Griffith invited her to Mamaroneck, N.Y. and showed her his studio. All these adventures she has already written of in Picture-Play, and now she has come to California to get some fresh thrills.

Ethel Sands did indeed get those fresh thrills, and her thoughts about them were published from March 1922 to March 1923 among other long-running series like “The Revelations of a Star’s Wife” and Kingsley’s own “Romances of Famous Film Folk.” * In the May 1922 issue of Picture-Play the editors said why they had commissioned it: they wanted their readers to feel that the magazine belonged to them, and Sands’ adventures were “a veritable trip through the wonderland seen as you would see it.”

Bebe Daniels’ mother accompanied her to a location shoot, and they had a pleasant chat.

However, a cynical modern person like me notices that her description of the film industry and its inner workings was incredibly wholesome and innocent at a time when the Arbuckle and William Desmond Taylor scandals were raging. The Hollywood she wrote about was a place where star’s mothers cooked cozy dinners for their quiet parties, a big day out was a trip to the beach boardwalk, and everybody worked very hard. There wasn’t one cocktail or sex pest in sight!

A wild Hollywood party with Helen Ferguson. Noted stills photographer Donald Biddle Keyes took pictures of her adventures. Mary Mallory wrote a biographical article about him for her blog. 

Ethel Sands really was an ordinary movie fan. Her parents Paul and Louise Rodriguez named her Ethel Pauline when she was born in Manhattan, New York on March 10, 1901. Her father was a steam fitter. By 1910 her father had died and she was living in Queens where her mother was a live-in housekeeper for widower Clarence Miller (he was then a railroad flag man and later a house painter) and his four children. On April 2, 1912 her mother married Miller and by 1915 they’d moved to Plainfield, New Jersey.

In her first Picture-Play article (February 1921) Sands told how she got the job:

It’s funny how things will just be going on in a drab sort of fashion, and then all of a sudden something wonderful will happen that simply changes your whole life. That was the way with me; I’d been going to school and reading library books and spending my allowance on tickets to the movies—and then right out of a clear sky came a letter from the editor of Picture-Play, saying that he’d been interested in the letters I’d written to the magazine, and that he’d decided that I was a typical fan. And he went on to say that he’d like to have me come to New York and go to different studios, meeting the stars, seeing how pictures are made—all that sort of thing—and then write down my impressions of what I saw for Picture-Play. Well, you can imagine how excited I was.

Already, some of this wasn’t true. According to the census, by early 1920 she was 19 years old, had already finished her schooling, and was working as a saleslady in a department store. Perhaps they wanted her to seem younger than she was. I also don’t know why the editors didn’t want to use her real last name (she signed the one published letter I found “Ethel Rodriguez”), but I suspect that they thought their readers were prejudiced against Spanish and Mexican people.

Before she arrived in Los Angeles she had written a multi-part series about meeting East coast based film stars that Kingsley mentioned, and according to the fan letters the magazine published it was popular. Cora May Brentner of Cairo, Illinois wrote:

 When you started running the story of Ethel Sands’ adventures in the motion-picture studios, I just thought to myself that some reporter was going to try to be funny. I had a terrible suspicion that the whole thing was a fake! But before I had read very far in her first article, I knew she was real. In fact, she was the realest writer I had ever read, because she found out just the sort of things I’d like to if I were in her place.

Betty Phillips from London, England agreed: “Miss Sands tells us just what we really want to know about the movie folk and makes them seem very real people indeed.”

She had “simple, wholesome fun” with Harold Lloyd

Sands continued to seem real, and really enthusiastic, in her reports from Hollywood. She wrote “My, but it’s exciting—meeting one famous person right after another!” That’s exactly what she did during her many adventures, which included:

  • A surprise airplane ride with Betty Compson when they were supposed to be having tea (“It was a glorious sensation—I felt like a skyrocket!”);
  • Five visits to location shoots, including Buster Keaton’s in Chatsworth Park for The Paleface and Bebe Daniels’ on the water near San Pedro for A Game Chicken (“On a location trip everyone in the company seems to feel as though they’re out on a picnic, and you can get acquainted much better than in a studio.”);
  • Looking at the star’s homes with Lila Lee and Theodore Roberts (“They seem to be fond of having everything foreign…The streets are lined with palm, pepper, and eucalyptus trees—the strange types of houses all colors of the rainbow—seem so unfamiliar we almost forget we’re in the U.S.”);
  • Having dinner at Colleen Moore’s house (“the most enthusiastic person I have ever met in or out of pictures”) with her mother and grandmother, then a trip to the circus;
  • Visiting Santa Monica and Venice Beaches with Harold Lloyd and Mildred Davis, where they bought balloons, ate hot dogs and cotton candy, and rode roller coasters, bumper cars, and flying boats. (“No one can ever tell me movie stars, no matter how famous they are, can’t enjoy simple, wholesome fun.”);
  • Attending a dinner party with Helen Ferguson at her mother’s house where they played parlor games and ate ice cream after dinner (“Parties are one of the main features of life in Hollywood, you know…It might have been any informal gathering back in my own town, except that the movie folks seem to get more fun out of things.”).
Sands had her hair done exactly like Gloria Swanson’s by Hattie Wilson, the stylist at Lasky Studio. To learn more about Wilson, visit Donna Hill’s blog

She noted every detail, down to what was in the box lunch served on the Bebe Daniels’ shoot: “a pint bottle of milk, two different kinds of meat sandwiches, a piece of cake or pastry, a bag of potato chips, some crackers, and an apple.”

She got to work as an extra in a bazaar scene of an Alice Lake film, Kisses. She appeared in a beautiful black gown with full hair and make-up, and she could even be seen in the finished film. She reported that they had to do the scenes several times and everybody but her was tired–she speculated that they were worried about their next jobs–and the director, Maxwell Karger, was yelling and tearing his hair out.

Her name was on the cover when her Valentino article appeared

However, her biggest thrill was meeting Rudolph Valentino on the set of Moran of the Lady Letty.  It was quite an experience:

He speaks in a low, deep, steady voice with just the slightest trace of an accent which makes it all the more alluring. I don’t know just what it was he said at first, because all I could do was just stare as if I was hypnotized. Then I looked at Dorothy Dalton [his co-star] to see if she was being affected that way too, but she didn’t seem a bit dazed, strange as it may seem, and was arguing about what was the hardest part of learning to ride horseback.

Then a publicist decided that Valentino should teach her how to ride. The studio’s wardrobe department loaned her riding clothes and a few days later they went to the Beverly Hills Riding Academy. The lesson didn’t go very well; he was quite patient, but she barely managed to stay on her horse. However, she was able to tell the fans exactly what they wanted to know:

When he looks at you his gaze is steady and inscrutable. In real life his eyes are more enigmatic than expressive, I think. He rarely changes his expression, it being nearly always a calm, rather somber look which keeps you puzzled and wondering just what are his real thoughts and feelings—except when he suddenly flashes a smile and coming unexpectedly as it does, you are more or less dazzled.

He revealed that he didn’t really like his role in Moran, and she mentioned that he smoked a great deal. He drove her back to the Studio Club and told her “it was a great pleasure.” She said she remained dazed for days after.

She finished up her series with an article called “What My Movie Adventures Taught Me.” She felt that her trip was a “post-graduate course,” and summed up her new knowledge:

I had an idea that life in Hollywood must be exactly like a Cecil De Mille picture…Perhaps it’s because his pictures overflow with riches and extravagance, and to the uninitiated the film business seems to be one of wealth and extravagance galore with its million-dollar productions and thousand-dollar-a-week salaries…It’s so hard to realize that film players are just regular human beings. The screen gives them such and illusive quality that they seem a people apart, just as most of Mr. De Mille’s characters, for example, are so different from any people we know. But my first ride through Hollywood dispelled my preconceived ideas about it. It looks like such a nice, new, little town you’d wonder how you could have ever thought such wild things about it.

She hadn’t realized how much people worried about the success of their pictures, but she wasn’t disillusioned about the industry: “to know the truth about the movies helps you to a clearer understanding of the business, to appreciate the best in pictures and players, to discriminate and lavish your admiration on that which is worthy.”

Ethel Sands seems like a nice young lady with plenty of enthusiasm. I think her articles presented what people wanted to believe the movie industry was like, and I’m glad that she had the opportunity to see and do so much. I’m sure it was a change from the department store.

Valentino in 1924

She returned to the pages of Picture-Play a few more times with articles from a fan’s point of view. In the June 1924 issue she reported on her visit to the set of Valentino’s Monsieur Beauclaire on Long Island to find out if he had changed. She wrote, “he seems older and not so boyishly handsome as he was two years ago but his smile has the same dazzeling effect.” Nevertheless, he was “the same unassuming and fascinating young man that he was before.” In August 1925 they published her interviews with up-and-coming actresses Mary Brian and Esther Ralston. Her final article appeared in the December 1925 issue. Entitled “A Fan Returns to Movieland,” she visited the set of A Kiss for Cinderella at the Lasky Studio in New York and she was still thrilled to be reporting on movie making.

In early 1926 Sands married Andrew John Krog, who was a public health inspector for Plainfield, New Jersey. In 1930 she was working as a trimmer in a hat factory. She had a daughter, Sandra Joan, in the mid-1930s. Ethel Krog died in Houston, Texas on January 3, 1977, where she had moved to in 1973 to be near her daughter and two grandsons. Her obituary mentioned that she “had been a writer for Picture-Play magazine and had met and interviewed many famous stars of the silent period.”

Charlie Chaplin’s house in 1921

Sands didn’t get to meet all of the famous people: she only got to see the outside of the house belonging to the star of Kingsley’s most glowing review this month. Charlie Chaplin lived in:

the most fascinating little place, at the summit of a hill all by itself, with little turrets and towers—it looks just right for the king of the movies to live in. To me it seems for all the world like a little castle in Spain.

Kingsley loved The Idle Class, and so did the audience:

It’s quite impossible on seeing Chaplin in his latest picture not to make the old rubber-stamp remark. “There’s only one Charlie Chaplin!” His comicality impresses you afresh, his sure touch of humor is clean-cut as ever, the deft, crisp way of landing comedy points so that they never miss fire tickle your ribs just the same as though seen for the first time. Its sparkling spontaneity never could happen in a comedian’s first picture; its clean-cut humor wasn’t born of a brain groping its way in an initial venture. In other words, it’s a work of art.

Crowds who roared with joy greeted the picture yesterday, the Kinema echoing with laughter at Chaplin.

Surprisingly, The Idle Class played for only two weeks when Harold Lloyd’s Never Weaken ran for seven at a rival theater. During its first week the main feature sounds like it wouldn’t have hurt ticket sales; Kingsley enjoyed Bing Bang Boom with David Butler, a “Charles Ray type.” It told the story of a young man who buys a run-down hotel, then makes a fortune by converting it to a weight-loss spa –“which tale sounds commonplace, but is delightfully told with just a strong enough thread of suspense to hold you, and with a score of fresh twists in the unfolding.” However, during the second week the added feature was The Seranade, a melodrama of the mission days that “had been pieced together from the good old dramatic hokum barrel, and I think they used up all the hokum there was, too.” Nevertheless, Kingsley reminded her readers that even though The Idle Class didn’t have the drawing power of Shoulder Arms or The Kid, “from any other comedian it would be considered a knockout.” Chaplin would make only two more shorts, Payday (1922) and The Pilgrim (1923), before he switched permanently to features.


* Kingsley wasn’t the only one moonlighting, her boss Edwin Schallert worked there too and he later became the editor.


Unfortunately, the March, October, and November 1922 issues of Picture-Play aren’t yet in the Media Digital History Database. Among the missing adventures are a trip to Wallace Reid’s house and interviews with the Talmadge sisters.

“Mrs. Ethel Sands Krog,” Courier-News, January 15, 1977, p.5.

Ethel Sands, “A Fan Returns to Movieland,” Picture-Play, December 1925, pp.50-53, 98.

Ethel Sands, “Has Valentino Changed?” Picture-Play, June 1924, pp.21-23, 114.

Ethel Sands, “Representing the Younger Set,” Picture-Play, August 1925, pp.24, 100, 109.

“To Whom Does a Magazine Belong?” Picture-Play, May 1922, p.6.

“What the Fans Think,” Picture-Play, July 1921, p.72.

“What the Fans Think,” Picture-Play, September 1921, p.72.


Twinkling Briefly: October 1-15, 1921

Miss Du Pont

One hundred years ago this month, Grace Kingsley was confronted with finding something to write about yet another up-and-coming starlet who wasn’t much of an actress, yet she found a fairly polite way to say that (she waited for her film review to be more direct). She interviewed model-turned-Hollywood-discovery Miss Du Pont, then made a general observation:

Ofttimes the young lady herself is as much astonished at finding that she had “powerful latent dramatic ability” as she would be if somebody discovered a wart on her neck that she didn’t know of. Maybe she’s going along quite happily in some humdrum but quietly pleasant calling, when blooey! Somebody out Columbusing finds she’s a genius. Then her troubles begin. She didn’t know when she was first taken that way or what to do about it, but from that time on her life is made a burden to her until she’s launched into a career.

That’s how it appears to have been with that very pretty, well bred, tastefully gowned young lady known to the screen as Miss Du Pont, Universal star, who makes her debut as a film luminary at Tally’s Broadway this week in The Rage of Paris.

It was while she was a model in an exclusive shop in this city that a technical director, looking for clothes, saw her and asked if she wanted to go into pictures. Finally, he persuaded her.

Miss Du Pont had actually been discovered a few years earlier and had small parts in movies since 1919. In 1924, she told Kingsley a slightly different story of how she broke into the film business. She was working for an expensive clothes shop, when:

“I was sent to a studio with a consignment of gowns and stayed on the set to see that they were properly draped on several girls who appeared as models in Lombardi Ltd. I was offered a job as one of the extras, and I accepted. And here I am,” she concluded.

Foolish Wives (1922)

However, Universal wanted her to seem fresh and new, while they capitalized on her starring role in the upcoming Foolish Wives. So the studio put her in a lower-budget movie and sent her out on interviews. Kingsley seemed to like her well enough:

You’d think indeed when you met Miss Du Pont, that she perhaps was a nice little school teacher—one of the pretty ones that doesn’t remain long in the business on account of marrying.

When asked if she was pleased with her good luck, she said “Why, yes, of course I am, but I guess I never make much fuss about anything. I knew so many beautiful girls who had started in pictures but who had never been able to succeed, that I didn’t think I could possibly do anything in that way.”

All her emotionalism, however, she takes out in her acting. She lays her emotions away with her make-up, parks her mutability with her mascara, and cheerfully and sensibly goes her way. She’s immensely practical, too. I think, for instance, that if she were to go work in a milliner shop tomorrow she’d probably own that milliner shop inside of a year or two—and nobody would know quite how it had happened.

Cheerful practicality was exactly what this young lady needed, because when Kingsley saw the film, she quickly realized that Miss D didn’t have acting talent. But she began her review by mentioning that the publicity had worked:

The appearance of a new star, so labeled, is always a matter of interest and curiosity. So there was a goodly gathering at Tally’s yesterday to take a peep at Miss Du Pont, Universal’s newest star, in The Rage of Paris.

If Paris was crazy over the heroine, why, Paris must have been crazy, that’s all. Miss Du Pont is a very lovely girl, but she needs some two or three years of hard work before the camera before she is announced as a star. She didn’t seem to know what the play was all about. And she hadn’t very much on the audience at that. The story, except for its opening scenes between husband and wife, is unbelievable, trite, and about as true to life as a tin minnow.

Miss Du Pont showed no emotion other than what might have been expected from a case of acute indigestion and has not yet developed screen personality. She remains a little girl on the midway of life.

Foolish Wives, 1922

Ouch! The Rage of Paris is lost, so we’ll have to take Kingsley’s word for how bad it was. But we can still see Miss Du Pont in Foolish Wives, although now she’s rarely singled out for praise or criticism – Erich von Stroheim takes up most of the space. When the film debuted in Los Angeles on February 15, 1922, she fared a bit better in Edwin Schallert’s review. However, he did remember what Kingsley had said:

Miss Du Pont as the wife deserves a high rating. While she may disappoint as a star in her own productions, there is no question about her being suited to her role, nor her efficiency in portraying it. She is without any great background of character, but she is very attractive.

Miss Du Pont tried to keep her real names secret, but newspapers soon figured them out. She was born Patricia Herrick in Frankfort, Kentucky on April 28, 1894. She married a businessman in Chicago, Joseph P. Hannan, but he deserted her in 1918 (their divorce decree was finalized on April 9, 1922). She was briefly a clothes model for a department store in San Francisco (her co-workers later recognized her in the movies), then she moved to Los Angeles to pursue the same work, where she was hired to be an extra.

Card issued by the American Carmel Company, 1921

Universal really did try to make Pattie Hannan a star. She went on to be the leading lady in such films as The Golden Gallows (1922) and A Wonderful Wife (1922), then the studio moved her to supporting roles in movies like One Night in Rome (1924) and Raffles: The Amateur Cracksman (1925). By 1927 she was on a list in Variety of other pretty young women who “twinkled briefly and were forgotten.”

Sylvanus and Pattie Stokes, January 7, 1928

As Kingsley predicted, Miss Du Pont was just fine after she quit acting, but she didn’t end up in a hat shop. She married a millionaire socialite who was mostly known for his yachting ability, Sylvanus Stokes. He had come to Los Angeles after divorcing his first wife in 1927, where he got hired for bit parts in a few films (he even played a yachtsman in No Place To Go (1927)). When Grace Kingsley asked him how he liked working in pictures, he said, “Sure! I’ve earned $160 in films already. That’s the first money I ever made.”

They got married at the Los Angeles Superior Courthouse on January 7, 1928 and Erich and Valerie Von Stroheim were their witnesses. The Stokes both quit film and moved to a farm in Maryland, and later to Palm Beach, Florida, when they weren’t traveling the world. Stokes died in 1949 of cirrhosis of the liver in Cannes, France. Pattie Stokes returned to Palm Beach where she survived him for many years; she died in 1973.

Paramount Studios trade ad, 1926

Miss Du Pont’s unusual gimmick of having no first name didn’t get repeated. Kingsley said that the idea came from Irving Thalberg, who “for some reason of his own” decided to call her that. In a 1927 Photoplay article about has-been stars, Agnes Smith even blamed her lack of success on it:

 A little blonde girl, Miss Du Pont, never lived down the dreadful name that the producers picked for her. Du Pont is a good name on ammunitions, but it is no monicker for a star. And the lack of a first name was fatal, because the public likes to get intimate with their favorites and the name Miss Du Pont was too ritzy a label. Miss Du Pont had her little fling in Foolish Wives but made a quick fade-out when she tried to be a star.

Agnes Smith’s theories about why stars fade put the blame squarely on the actors themselves, not the fickle public. She didn’t even entertain the notion that sometimes popularity is inexplicable, and the loss of it is equally so. She called her theories “seven gates to oblivion” and wrote “there is no certain way of getting into pictures, but there are plenty of sure-fire ways of getting out of them.” Here’s her list:

  1. Get yourself mixed up, even remotely, in a scandal involving a serious crime or a breach of morals (Roscoe Arbuckle, Mary Miles Minter).
  2. Work up to a hotsy-totsy temperament and overrate you own importance (Alla Nazimova).
  3. If you are a woman, marry a man who is antagonistic to your career or who is a tactless manager (Mae Marsh, Agnes Ayers).
  4. Overplay your type (Theda Bara, William S. Hart).
  5. Allow yourself to be starred before your abilities warrant the promotion (Katherine MacDonald, Lila Lee, Miss Du Pont).
  6. Take too much time off between pictures and allow the public to forget you (Pearl White, J. Warren Kerrigan).
  7. Make a string of plain bad pictures. Most producers can help you in this way (Clara Kimball Young, Anita Stewart).

She concluded with an eighth exit: “sometimes film people actually discover that there are other things in the world besides movies.” She sounded impressed by people who knew when to quit, like Carter de Haven who went into real estate and Ruth Roland who made lots more money from her investments than she did from the movies.

In early October 1921 Kingsley also reviewed a film with a star who hasn’t faded:

That boy Harold Lloyd has excelsiored right to the peak as a film comedian. He’s been there quite a while? Yes, no doubt. But I think maybe he’s found a spot that’s just a little bit farther into rarefied air in Never Weaken.

Never Weaken is at the Symphony this week. And it doesn’t. But you do, with laughter and excitement. Attempting to tell about the picture solemnly is like giving a resume of the comic supplement.

It’s when Harold decides on suicide, because he thinks he’s lost his girl, that the 3000 horsepower hilarity commences. There’s the poison which he doesn’t like the taste of, so he puts sugar in it, numerous other duds, and finally the chair on which he is switched of onto the swinging girder between heaven and earth.

Lloyd is an acrobat, and he does some of the most breathtaking stunts of his career on that steel framework of a skyscraper. I challenge you not to gasp when he slips a couple of floors and catches on that girder! By all means, don’t weaken until you’ve seen Never Weaken.

Lots of people took her advice: it played for seven weeks at the Symphony. Kingsley is still correct about the film, and you can go see it right now if you have the Criterion Channel.

Still packing them in!

“Extra Becomes a Leading Man,” Los Angeles Times, January 8, 1928.

“Film Luminary Gets Divorce,” Los Angeles Times, April 10, 1922.

Grace Kingsley, “Flashes,” June 21, 1924.

Grace Kingsley, “M’Cormicks Prolong Absence,” Los Angeles Times, July 28, 1927.

Agnes Smith, “EXIT—This Way Out,” Photoplay, August 1927, pp.30-31, 116.

“Star Clothes Model?” Norfolk Post, October 21, 1921.

“Tough for Has-Beens,” Variety, June 8, 1926, pp.1-2.