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.

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