Home Entertainment: May 16-31, 1922

Louise Lorraine

One hundred years ago this month, a new medium entered Grace Kingsley’s columns: radio. Commercial radio was just getting started in Los Angeles. She wrote about one little change it was causing:

The radio is going to increase some lucky newspaper’s circulation by at least one, take it from no less an authority than Louise Lorraine, who has installed apparatus in her apartment in Hollywood.

“I’m becoming a regular news hound,” explained Miss Lorraine, “whereas before I had this radio machine I never read a newspaper. Now, since listening in on this radio broadcasting arrangement, I’ve decided to take two newspapers instead of only one, and what’s more I just can’t wait nowadays to find out all about Russia, and I’m getting an awful kick out of the Irish situation, too.”

Lorraine was about to star in The Radio King, a ten-part serial about the earlier use of the airways, two-way communication.

Louise Lorraine was an actress who appeared in many Universal serials. For her, being able to hear news over the radio was not a threat to newspapers’ well-being. However, other negative effects of the new technology were being proposed; the following day Kingsley blamed it for triple-decker novels’ decline in popularity. In her review of The Count of Monte Cristo she pointed out that the story was “from a time when they wrote novels, they wrote volumes, which people with no telephones or radios had time to read.” Nevertheless, she thought the movie was a delight.

Using radio for something other than communicating with ships or as a replacement for telegraphy had been going on for quite a while: amateur operators had been playing music over the airways since 1906, according to the American Experience site. But the United States government had only recently begun to issue licenses for commercial stations. The first went to KDKA in Pittsburgh. They got their license from the Department of Commerce in October 1920. Their first scheduled broadcast was on November 2, 1920, and their first transmission of a professional baseball game was on August 5, 1921.

From Radio Receiving for Beginners, by Rhey T. Snodgrass and Victor F. Camp, 1922.

By early 1922, there were four small stations in Southern California: one at Hamburger’s Department Store (operated by the Meyberg Company), one in the Kinema Theater Building (Western Radio Electric Company), one in Hollywood at the Electric Light and Supply Company and one in Pasadena run by J.J. Dunn at his car battery service store. You could even see the one at Hamburger’s in action. Installed next to the boy’s department in August 1921, they broadcast live concerts several times a week. For example, on December 5th the program included songs like “Sweetheart,” “Say It with Music,” and a saxophone solo called “Saxophobia.”

April 12, 1922

Then a big company entered the market: the Los Angeles Times. A station with the call letters KHJ was installed at their downtown building, and on April 11th they broadcast a fifteen-minute test at 12:15 p.m. The program featured Cyrena Van Gordon of the Chicago Grand Opera singing Azucena’s aria from “Il Trovatore” and “Lift Up Thine Eyes” with piano accompaniment. The Times article still called the technology a “wireless telephone.” The test went well and the following day the station was formally dedicated and opened. The newspaper reported:

The Times was host last night to the great Southwest! Its radio broadcasting station was the throbbing heart of an area bounded by hundreds of miles. It is estimated that more than 200,000 Southland dwellers listened in. By the fireside, in mountain fastness, at public places the pealing notes of grand opera singers were heard and applauded by a history-making audience.

While the station couldn’t charge listeners, the equipment to listen was really expensive. Dean Farran, the engineer who installed the Times’ station, said that a set for family service would cost $125 (roughly $1,750 today), but the ideal set would cost $400. Even with the high price, the Times reported a shortage of equipment: “Realizing the great future possibility of regular entertainment in the homes, residents of the Southland have flooded the market with demands for apparatus, yet to be manufactured and delivered.” Prices did drop in the following years; according to encyclopedia.com, by the middle of the decade the price for a decent set was $35.00.

New stations were opening daily. In March 1922 the Radio Service Bulletin listed 67 professional stations, but by June 1922 it had jumped to 378 stations. You can find all kinds of information about the early days at Thomas H. White’s Early Radio History website

In the early 1920’s very few people were concerned that radio would take audiences away from live music, sports, or theater. I found only one article from 1921 about the musicians’ union opposing it, because they were worried about unemployment among their members. In the beginning, people were optimistic about the wonders of the new medium. Edwin Schallert, the Times’ entertainment editor, gave a speech over the airways on April 25th, and he proclaimed, “the destiny of music is now linked definitely with the radiophone.” He thought it would democratize music because:

there was a day when music was reserved for the narrow confines of princely palace…Now music travels on the wings of electric energy, now it reaches into each separate household and makes it a princely domain.

It’s hard to pin down exactly what effect radio had on live events and print media. There was some speculation, but no hard evidence. For example, radio (and later television) pioneer David Sarnoff, who at the time was the general manager of the Radio Corp of America (RCA), said in an address at the Sphinx Club in New York City in early 1925 that while many worried it would shrink attendance at the theaters and the concert halls and would even hurt newspaper circulation, he thought such fears were “groundless.” Talking Machine World reported he said:

“The broadcast of musical events has had the effect of increasing attendance at the theater. As proof of this he cited the case of a New York theater which regularly broadcasts its Sunday night musical programs, with the result that the attractions play to a packed house all week.”

Sarnoff thought that “radio will prove to be one of the greatest accelerants, both from the standpoint of circulation and advertising, that newspapers and magazines have even known…radio gives but the headlines and the listeners must read the papers to get the necessary details.” Just like Miss Lorraine was inspired to learn more about the news after she got her radio. It seems that people had enough free time to listen to the radio, on top of everything else they were doing.

John S. Daggett, “Times Radio Station Dedicated Tomorrow,” Los Angeles Times, April 12, 1922.

“David Sarnoff Discusses Radio Relationships,” Talking Machine World, February 15, 1925, p.86.

“Great Throng Hears Radio,” Los Angeles Times, April 15, 1922.

“Radio Brings Music Home,” Los Angeles Times, April 25, 1922.

“Radio Grand Opera Today,” Los Angeles Times, April 11, 1922.

“Radiophone Concert is Heard Far Away,” Los Angeles Times, December 6, 1921.

“The Times Dedicates Radio Telephone Broadcasting Station,” Los Angeles Times, April 14, 1922.

“Times Radio Service Near,” Los Angeles Times, March 12, 1922.

“Times Radio Club Growing,” Los Angeles Times, April 2, 1922.

“Unions Protest the Use of Radio Music,” Los Angeles Times, March 19, 1921.

E.M. Wickes, “Melody Mart,” Billboard, March 18, 1922, p.54.

An Unusual Critical Favorite: May 1-15, 1922

And Women Must Weep

One hundred years ago this month, there were plenty of comedy shorts in the theaters, but only one tragedy short. Playing with a feature-length comedy called The Ruling Passion, Grace Kingsley was impressed by the now lost And Women Must Weep:

“You may, in fact, both laugh and weep this week at the California. For there’s tragedy on the bill as well—a perfect gem of a two-reeler illustrating Charles Kingsley’s poem, “Three Fishers,” and “The Fisher’s Widow.”

She got two details wrong: it was just one reel, and the second poem was by Arthur Symons. But director Robert C. Bruce packed a lot into ten minutes. His film got excellent reviews everywhere it played. The anonymous film writer in the New York Times admired it so much that he or she had little to say about the feature, a Revolutionary War melodrama called Cardigan, and devoted most of the review of what was playing at the Capitol Theater that week to And Women Must Weep:

It is an emphatic success. There is scenery in the picture, magnificent inspiring views of the sea and the seaside, and also a tense dramatic episode which, it would seem, must break through the most artificial human crust and touch responsive heart-chords. It is the simple story of three fishermen’s wives and their husbands who do not come back. It is especially the story of the youngest wife, who searches in vain for the body of her man, all the time hoping, you may be sure, that she will not find it, so that she may cling to her hope that he will come back alive. But when the other two women, who found the bodies of their men, have at least the solace of taking flowers to their graves, the young wife has to stand at the cemetery gate watching them forlornly, without even the comfort of a headstone and a mound on which to kneel.

It is a sincere, true little tragedy, effectively photographed, staged with convincing simplicity and humanly acted.

Sumner Smith in Moving Picture World was equally impressed, writing that it was:

without qualification a wonder. Bruce has caught the spirit of the poem and carried it out in every scene. The views of the sea and the shore, shot from many angles, are marvelously beautiful…There are no broad gestures here, no suggestion of hysterical melodrama when the fishermen put out to sea and when their bodies are discovered after the storm, but the poignancy of Kingsley’s poem is intensely conveyed.

The highest praise came from the National Board of Reviews in their publication Exceptional Photoplays. Motion Picture News pointed out that they had never before reviewed a one-reeler. The Board thought it was opening up new possibilities for the medium of film:

 And Women Must Weep may be called an attempt to transfer the images and the emotion of a poem to the motion picture screen. In this attempt this little one reel film is at moments decidedly successful…It presents one of the few instances where the actual transfers of written poetry has been made to screen in terms of movement in pictures. This is the shot from the top of the cliff, where one looks down at a long shadowy line of swells moving slowly in to shore, and experiences the exact sensations to be received from reading the lines “And the harbor bar be moaning…”

But that one image of the moaning bar, with its movement like sound, is tremendously suggestive of what may yet be done in literal and spiritual rendering of written poetry on the screen.

Movies could be Art! That notion was just beginning in the early 1920’s. The National Board of Reviews went on to include And Women Must Weep on their year-end list of the forty best pictures of the year, along with better remembered films like Nanook of the North, Grandma’s Boy, and Blood and Sand.

According to the distributor it wasn’t just the critics that enjoyed it; Moving Picture World reported that after the New York City screenings they said “prolonged applause from the audience marked the final fadeout every time the picture was shown during the week.” Now it’s hard to imagine a popular movie based on a poem — audiences just aren’t familiar with poetry any more.

Mayo Methot

One of the actors was noticed by critics. The New York Times thought all of the acting was fine, especially “the unnamed young woman who plays the part of the desolate wife.” Moving Picture World also singled her out for “special mention” and identified her: Mayo Methot. At the time she was working for the Baker Stock Company in Portland, Oregon, but she soon married the cameraman on Weep, Jack LaMond, and they moved to New York City where she became a noted Broadway actress. They divorced in 1927, and in 1930 she moved to Hollywood and found work in film. She has the misfortune of being remembered now mostly because she and her third husband had a terrible marriage. They both drank too much and fought, then he cheated and dumped her for a much younger woman. But her marriage to Humphrey Bogart was many years away.

And Women Must Weep was the first of a ten film series made by Robert C. Bruce called Wilderness Tales. They were released one per month. The others weren’t based on poems, and they didn’t get quite as much praise (it would have been hard to beat) but they were admired. Film Daily wrote:

Bruce has achieved in this new series a classical form of pictorial entertainment…This latest Bruce series is certainly the very best that he has done. It offers a classical entertainment that can be used in high class programs and safely shown to discriminating audiences.

In their jokey “Ain’t It Grand” column, Film Daily pointed out how useful good shorts could be. Headed “Man, man; make some more” they said about Weep:

An’ whatta picshure! Get it. It’ll help. An’ if th’ feature ain’t so awful good, it may steal the show. Sea stuff. Great photography. Bully all th’ way. 

Thank goodness this style of writing has died out! The distributor, Educational Films, sold the series not only with advertising in the trade papers but also with a sixteen-page rotogravure brochure. It contained mostly photographs, plus the positive reviews they got. According to Exhibitors’ Trade Review:

the idea of the brochure now being prepared is not to present advertising arguments for the pictures, but to provide a pamphlet so beautiful that most exhibitors and others who receive it will want to preserve it for the sheer beauty of the work and of the pictures reproduced.

This was really unusual for movie advertising then:

There will be very little reading matter in the brochure. What little there is will be superimposed on beautiful scenic pictures, and will be incidental to the photographic art.

Unfortunately, it looks like exhibitors didn’t preserve it — I checked WorldCat and Ebay and didn’t find any copies.

The series was a financial success, too. The Capitol contracted for the whole series, and so did other large first-run houses in Newark, Brooklyn, Boston and Chicago, according to Moving Picture World.

A surviving Wilderness Tale called Flowers of Hate is on the Internet Archive.

“Ain’t It Grand?” Film Daily, February 14, 1922, p. 4.

And Women Must Weep,” Exceptional Photoplays, January-February 1922, p. 6.

And Women Must Weep Has Premier at Capitol,” Moving Picture World, March 11, 1922, p. 164.

“Capitol and Other First Runs Taking Entire New Bruce Series,” Moving Picture World, March 25, 1922, p. 364.

“Educational Films to Issue Brochure,” Exhibitors’ Trade Review, March 18, 1922, p.1111.

“Scenic Tale Still Making a Hit,” Moving Picture World, September 8, 1923, p. 192.

“Short Reels,” Film Daily, February 12, 1922, p. 20.

Sumner Smith, “And Women Must Weep,” Moving Picture World, February 11, 1922, p. 662.

“Wilderness Tales Approved,” Motion Picture News, July 8, 1922, p. 193.