A Flapper Film Producer: June 16-30, 1922

(Many thanks to Rebecca Eash, Camille Scaysbrook, Donna Hill, and Mary Mallory for their helpful suggestions on how to track down Ray Carroll.)

One hundred years ago this month, Grace Kingsley reported on the founding of yet another hopeful production company:

Now we’re going to have a chance to see what frail woman can really do when it comes to competing in the picture production field with great, rude men. Ray Carroll begins the first of her Ray Carroll productions, starring Helen Eddy, at the Robertson-Cole studio on Monday, and the palpitating question as to who should direct the first of these productions was laid to rest yesterday when it was settled that William A. Seiter is the man for the job.

The first series of Ray Carroll productions in which Miss Eddy will appear will be called Love Coming of Age, and it is to be photographed, edited and shot by the same organization of experts who have been associated with Mr. Selter in all his recent screen successes.

Robertson-Cole was on something of a hiring spree: in addition to Eddy and Carroll, they had signed up Ethel Clayton, Carter De Haven, Harry Carey, Doris May, and Mal St. Clair. The trade papers disagreed on how many films Carroll’s new company agreed to make for them: some said four, and others six.

It took courage, energy, and optimism to try to be an independent female film producer in the early 1920’s – there were very few women with that job, like Cathrine Curtis  and Tsianina Redfeather. Ray Carroll had all of that. However, she has been much more difficult to research than those two. She gave interviews in 1922 to publicize their film, and just like Kingsley, writers emphasized the novelty of a young woman as a film producer, but she told them different versions of her early life. Maybe some of it was true, but I haven’t been able to confirm any of it with census records or city directories, because I have no idea what her birth name was.* One article said she was born on Christmas in New York City. In another, Joan Jordan for Photoplay melodramatically wrote that she:

came from every sort of dire poverty, from intense struggle, from the clamorous, clashing birthpangs of an immigrant family transported from European countries to fight for its very existence in the promised land of America. Italian and Russian blood mingled in her veins. She had seven brothers and sisters younger than she, all needing her help and support, and her education was a precious and wonderful thing snatched in night hours, in spare moments, yet very complete and clear for that very reason. But ambition in seething floods she did have, the capacity to work and the power to dream dreams and see visions. Her spirit was indominable.

Her publicity also probably inflated Carroll’s early writing experience, even though the articles agreed that her ‘real’ name was R. Carol Capleau or Kapleau. Some said she won prizes with her work when she was in high school in San Francisco, and others said she started submitting scenarios when she was attending the University of California, as a way to support herself. A few said she sold her first scenario to D.W. Griffith. Another said her first sale was to Vitagraph, a piece named “The Call of Blood” starring Earle Williams, but no such film is on his list of credits. Still others said she worked for Triangle or Cecil B. De Mille or a large company in New York, and in 1920 Moving Picture World said “Miss Kapleau has had a number of years’ experience in writing scenarios as well as being a playwright of recognized ability. Two of her skits are now appearing on the Keith Circuit in the east.” In a short 1922 article about the exotic woman producer, Motion Picture News said she had an even more extensive resume:

 She has spent most of the twenty-four years of her life storing up the sort of experience that would fit her for her present task. In addition to newspaper writing, pageant directing, exploitation and advertising work she has been employed in practically every branch of photoplay making, from the writing of original screen stories to the cutting of the finished film.

Most of that sounds awfully unbelievable to me. I did find one independent record: on May 17, 1918 a one-act play called “Never Again” was copywritten at the Library of Congress under the name Rochelle Carol Kapleau, a pseudonym for Ray Carol Kapleau of San Francisco.

Enid Bennett and Rowland Lee in Her Husband’s Friend (1920)

Nevertheless, in 1920 she did appear in some film credits. In February Moving Picture World reported: “Miss R. Carol Kapleau is the latest addition to the Thomas H. Ince scenario department.” During her time there she co-wrote (with Agnes Christine Johnson) the scenario for Her Husband’s Friend starring Enid Bennett. Based on the novel The Incubus by Marjorie Benton Cooke, it told the story of a young divorcee whose cheating ex loses all his money and is promptly run over by a truck. A friend of his secretly pays her alimony, but when she learns of his deception, she takes off in her car while he clings to its side. They get hit by a train and are hospitalized, where she agrees to marry him. Ooof. But Edwin Schallert of the L.A. Times enjoyed it:

The picture is a real screen curiosity. It gets by with such a lot. A husband is killed in a manner that evokes sympathy, and yet you can take up the subsequent thread of romance without a hitch. Maybe some will cavil at the tragic episode, but I’ll confess I can’t. And the ending—it’s too good a surprise to reveal. It’s enough to say that the man proposes to the widow while both of them are confined to their beds in a hospital—in the same room, if you please, because the nurse thinks they’re husband and wife!

Oh my stars and garters! However, J.M. Snellman said in Moving Picture World, that while the two accidents were “handled with skill and have much realism,” nevertheless “the play seems to drag somewhat between the big situations and the impression is given that it is padded by the long walks taken by the principle characters, which apparently have no direct bearing on the play except to denote that time is elapsing.”

Kapleau/Carroll also wrote the story for Love with Louise Glaum during her time at Ince. Glaum played a woman who was forced by poverty to be a rich man’s mistress. After a car wreak fortuitously kills the rich man but only injures her, she reconciles with her formerly impoverished true love who has discovered a copper mine.

Maybe Kapleau contributed to other films while she was there, because in a 1921 Picture-Play Magazine round up of women working behind the screen, Celia Brynn wrote that she made thirty-seven thousand dollars in 1920. That seems unrealistically high–perhaps she was exaggerating some more. Brynn thought that “Carol Kapleau is another living example of what a girl can do if she has perseverance, combined with writing talent.” She also reported that Kapleau was currently freelancing in addition to being the business manager of her chum, actress Helen Jerome Eddy “and the one is rarely seen without the other.”

Helen Jerome Eddy

Helen Jerome Eddy was born in New York City on February 25, 1897 and her family soon moved to Los Angeles. She acted in productions at the Pasadena Playhouse, and when the Lubin Studios opened nearby, they hired her. Her first film was The Discontented Man (1915). She usually played genteel, wholesome roles and was best-known as George Beban’s leading lady in films like One in a Million (1921).

Just like everything else in the articles about their partnership, there were different versions of when and how Carroll and Eddy met. It was somewhere between “lifelong chums” and meeting in the late 1910’s in Los Angeles. Joan Jordan in Photoplay said it was the latter, and “it was one of those friendships that form at sight…They took a bungalow, a very little bungalow, and decided to stick together for a while in fighting this motion picture battle of success. There they shared the cooking, the marketing, the housework and the expenses. Whoever was working paid the bills, and the other one did the housework.”

Joan Jordan interviewed Carroll and Eddy at home after reading in the newspaper that they were going to start their own company. Their story stood out amongst the routine business of film and she wanted to know more. She said “it is the very clean, sweet, fine story of two girls who through sheer endeavor and optimism made their dreams come true.”

Then a production slump came. According to Jordan, Eddy dreamed of making “beautiful pictures, picture with a fine high thought and a theme back of them. And Ray Carroll was to write those stories for her, to produce them herself, to supervise their artistic construction.” Carroll realized the slump presented an opportunity because distributors needed more pictures. So they took their savings, deferred their salaries, and convinced Robertson-Cole to distribute their productions. Eddy said, “We can make now the kind of pictures we have always dreamed of—pictures that we hope will make people happy, more confident, more trustful…we’re going to work ourselves to death to give the people what we hope they want.”

They got to right work on the film they eventually called When Love Comes. As Eddy finished up The Flirt (1923) in mid-May, Carroll supervised the construction of several streets of a New England village. She did an interview with the L.A. Times in her brand-new office. The reporter seemed impressed by her, writing:

Bobbed-haired, girlish and intensely earnest, Ray Carroll has completed the organization of the company that will make pictures bearing her name. Helen Jerome Eddy, whose sympathetic screen characterizations will play an important part in at least the most ambitious of the productions, will star in the picture about to be filmed, a story of New England life. The worlds “Ray Carroll Productions” are already lettered on the door of the suite at the Robertson-Cole studios which serves as the executive offices of the organization.

Miss Carroll, who is well under 25, has lost none of her youthful enthusiasm in the climb that has placed her at the head of her own company. Her venture is the result of her belief that there is a constantly growing demand for a higher class of picture—a variety of production that centers around such human roles as have won for Miss Eddy a place of her own upon the screen.

Miss Carroll began the study of picture-making on the theory that the easiest way to learn the requirements of any branch of the industry was to work in that branch. And that is exactly what she has done.

“I became a producer primarily because this work offers a fascinating means of earning a livelihood,” she declared yesterday. “I am interested in every branch of picture making an expect to have great fun in my work. My unbounded confidence in the success of the present enterprise is based, to a great extent, on my faith in Miss Eddy. I believe the public is growing tired of the eternal flapper.” **

Can you imagine the paper running a picture of Samuel Goldwyn doing his grocery shopping? (Los Angeles Times, July 9, 1922)

They didn’t neglect to do publicity while the filming was under way. In July, they invited the trade press to a luncheon served on their New England street set, hosted by Eddy. After they ate, a weekly news service filmed the writers posing “more or less awkwardly” according to W.E. Keefe in Moving Picture World.

Gordon Gassaway interviewed Eddy for the January 1923 issue of Motion Picture Magazine, and he left a snapshot of life on the set. He wrote that “the whole company was working like a large family putting up fruit.” He saw her shoot a scene in which she discovers that her father has died, and he was impressed by her acting, saying, “she has taken a plain girl and made her attractive to thousands of people who wouldn’t otherwise look at a plain girl.”

They went to her dressing room for the interview, and Eddy changed his preconceived notions about her. Gassaway said, “I have discovered that the goodness is there—but not too good. She’s human, boys, she’s human!” After a bit “the door burst open and producer Ray Carroll stuck in her head. “Aren’t you folks ever coming back to the set?” she inquired. “They’re all lit up and ready to shoot.” Ray Carroll is jealous of her star’s every minute, you can see that.

“My eyes have the Ebie Gebies today,” Helen said, as we wended back to the parlor set.

“Ebie Gebie,” Miss Carroll explained, “is our word for any and everything. When the lights flicker, they have the Ebie Gebies. When the camera gets cantankerous, it, too, has the Ebie Gebies.” That is the spirit of play which you will find poking its nose into the really hard work of any thoroughly happy picture company. And the Eddy company is happy.”

They finished shooting the film and it was ready for distribution by early September. Here’s the AFI Catalog plot summary:

When his design for a new dam is rejected, Peter Jamison prepares to leave town and proposes to Jane Coleridge, but her father’s sudden death prevents Jane from meeting Peter. Five years pass, and Peter returns with his daughter and the explanation that his wife, Marie, deserted him. Peter and Jane’s love grows anew, then Marie reappears and causes trouble for Jane. Marie dies in a dam burst.

FBO didn’t skimp on the trade ads

When Love Comes was released in New York City in December, 1922. The trade press wasn’t very enthusiastic. The consensus was that it was a slow, but nevertheless Eddy was appealing and there could be an audience for it. The piece in Exhibitors’ Trade Review was typical: “This picture holds good human interest. It is a little draggy at times but should not fail to be thoroughly enjoyed if shown before an audience who does not crave a wild rush of excitement all of the time.”

Laurence Reid in Motion Picture News said that sixty minutes of it was too much, writing, “An often told story is this—which hardly calls for six reels to give it proper expression. Since it is based upon a theme of misunderstanding with an interloper brough into the plot to give it substance, it is safe to say that it will appeal to one’s sentiment if it does not excite one’s imagination.” However, he praised Eddy’s “sincere performance as the sorrowful girl,” and thought it could be “a good little attraction for the neighborhood theater.” ‘Fred.’ in Variety agreed, finding it “more or less tiresome,” nevertheless “for the regular daily change houses the picture will serve nicely.” The New York critics really had a low opinion of viewers outside of the city!

Film Daily had the worst review: “Considering the fact that apparently very little has been spent upon it and the situations are all more or less familiar, When Love Comes manages to come out pretty near the average mark.” They complained about the production standards, saying “the picture looks as though it had undergone considerable cutting, and it has not been done any too well. There are big jumps in the continuity.” They also though the special effects were cheap, noting “even the flood hasn’t been worked up into a thrill, a very poor miniature serving for the breaking of the dam.” But they couldn’t resist insulting a large part of the audience: “if you cater largely to women folks, you can probably satisfy them well enough with it.”

A ’woman folk’ did like it the more of any of them; Mary Kelly in Moving Picture World wrote:

It belongs definitely in the class of features that rely upon emotional appeal rather than material display. It is a love story, simply and effectively told and will be refreshing to those who criticize the screen for placing too much emphasis upon superficial glamour and beauty without talent. There is a particular class of patrons which will be most enthusiastic over this. The romance and disappointment of an old-fashioned girl is the theme.

She thought the story was particularly suited to Eddy, and her “charm of naturalness is the chief inspiration of the picture.”

When Love Comes didn’t open in Los Angeles until March 1923, where it was on a vaudeville bill at the Pantages. The partners worked hard to get it seen. Ray Carroll wrote and directed a playlet for Helen Jerome Eddy to star in called Case Number Twenty-Nine. They were interviewed by Kingsley’s co-worker Kenneth Taylor, and Eddy told him that the theater owner Alexander Pantages had asked her to make a personal appearance with the film. They auditioned the playlet for him, “and Miss Carroll, who witnessed the rehearsal from the wings, asserts that they went through it without a hitch, completely losing themselves in the parts. And she also asserts that she peeked out at Mr. Pantages and found the vaudeville magnate weeping copiously—not at it, but with it. So there was no question whether the act was good or not. It was signed at once.”

The Times’ unsigned review of the Pantages show thought that Eddy was terrific:

She is shining brilliantly at Pantages this week in Ray Carroll’s tense little playlet Case Number Twenty-Nine, in which she plays a young mother, whose child the law threatens to take away from her because she cannot support it. Her vividness makes you feel all the scenes she describes, her emotional powers are volcanic; her gentler moods, her tenderness, are endlessly appealing…Case Number Twenty-Nine tears your emotions more than anything I’ve seen in a long time. 

The reviewer mentioned Eddy was also on the bill in When Love Comes, “a human little picture drama,” and they admired her performance in that , too, adding “nearly all the film actresses I know ought to go to school to Helen Eddy to learn how to put thought and feeling over through the eyes.”

Taylor’s article said that Eddy was still under contract to Carroll. However, that changed the following month. On April 14th, Grace Kingsley reported that J.L. Frothingham had taken over Eddy’s contract from Carroll, and planned to manage her career, adding her to a roster that included Marguerite de la Motte and Barbara L Marr. He also planned to star her in a series of films, and they signed a 3-year contract. The films didn’t get made (his last production was in 1922), and after the initial announcement, there was nothing more in the press about it.  However, the Carroll/Eddy partnership was finished.

Eddy continued to star in wholesome movies like An Old Sweetheart of Mine (1923) and The Country Kid (1923). Between films, Eddy toured vaudeville with Carroll’s playlet, slightly retitled. Billboard had a review when it was at the B.S. Moss’ Regent Theater in New York on August 7, 1924 and they thought it was fine, if old-fashioned:

Helen Jerome Eddy and Company in Case No. 26, by Ray Carroll, did well enough for that type of sketch which is gradually becoming more or less extinct. The locale is a juvenile court, and a hardened masculine court clerk, although a woman, endeavors with all her might to have a baby taken away from its mother who must work all day and is unable to watch over the girl of six as much as is deemed necessary. Miss Eddy has a pleasing quality to her voice and works admirably.

Eddy had a long career alternating film work with stage work, often with the Pasadena Community Players. When there was an actors strike in in 1929, Eddy and her life partner Cyprian Beach opened a tea room in Pasadena called The Frog Footman, telling the Times that they needed the money to feed their five cats, one wire-haired terrier, two ducks and two monkeys. They were together until Beach died in 1951. Helen Jerome Eddy retired from acting in 1947, and had a successful real estate career in Pasadena. She died in 1990, age 92.

I’m not certain what happened to Ray Carroll next. Someone this energetic, ambitious and broke must have done something. If she was the Carol Capleaux listed in the 1925 New York State Census, then at that time she was a writer living in New York City. She married Joseph Raymond Parker in 1927. They had a son, Joseph Richard Parker on December 2, 1928 and moved to Glendale, California at some point before 1940.

Just like the other female producers I’ve written about, Ray Carroll only got this one chance and never made another movie. It wasn’t only because of misogyny: the industry was consolidating into large studios and it was getting harder for all independent producers to make films. As a final sad note, When Love Comes is lost. At least it seems like they enjoyed the planning and dreaming, and the actual work of making it.

 

*Because many immigrant families changed their names after some time in the United States, I did try all sorts of variations of Rachel Carol Kaplow, Kaplowsky, Kaplowitz, Cappelletti, and Capelli. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn someday that some of the many Kaplans I found were related to her, especially if she did have seven siblings. Then again, her chosen name may not have had any resemblance to her family name: I would have never guessed that Jackson Rose was originally Ike Savitsky, if the Ancestry.com algorithm hadn’t helped me out.

** She was quite wrong about that—the movie now known for setting off the flapper trend, Flaming Youth, didn’t even come out until November 12, 1923.

 

Celia Brynn, “Ladies Day,” Picture-Play Magazine, June 1921, p.74.

“B.S. Moss’ Regent Theater, NY,” Billboard, August 16, 1924, p. 15.

“A Fair Picture with a Thoroughly Appealing Star,” Film Daily, December 10, 1922, p. 12.

‘Fred.’ “When Love Comes,” Variety, January 5, 1923, p.43.

Gordon Gassaway, “Without Wings,” Motion Picture Magazine, January 1923, p. 63, 106.

“Girl is a Writer-Producer,” Kansas City Star, January 4, 1923.

“Girl Starts Own Film Unit,” Los Angeles Times, May 14, 1922.

“Helen Eddy Deserts,” Los Angeles Times, April 30, 1923.

“Helen Eddy Returns to Legitimate,” Los Angeles Times, March 14, 1923.

“Helen Jerome Eddy Coming ‘In Person,’” Seattle Star, December 10, 1924.

“Helen Jerome Eddy, A New Type of Star,” Motion Picture News, August 12, 1922, p. 738.

“Helen Jerome Eddy; Silent Screen Actress Played High-Class Heroines,” Los Angeles Times, January 31, 1990.

“Ince Adds to Scenario Staff,” Moving Picture World, February 21, 1920, p.1243.

Joan Jordan, “The Girl Picture Magnates,” Photoplay, August 1922, p. 23, 111.

W.E. Keefe, “News of the West Coast,” Moving Picture World, July 29, 1922, p. 371.

Mary Kelly, “When Love Comes,” Moving Picture World, December 16, 1922, p. 668.

Grace Kingsley, “Flashes: Bright Cluster,” Los Angeles Times, April 20, 1922.

Grace Kingsley, “Flashes: Finds New Star,” Los Angeles Times, April 14, 1922.

Grace Kingsley, “Flashes: Real Humaness,” Los Angeles Times, March 19, 1923.

Lannie Haynes Martin, “Frog at Door Put to Work,” Los Angeles Times, September 16, 1929.

Laurence Reid, “When Love Comes,” Motion Picture News, December 16, 1922, p. 3064.

Edwin Schallert, “Reviews: Her Husband’s Friend,” Los Angeles Times, November 2, 1920.

J.M. Snellman, “Her Husband’s Friend,” Moving Picture World, December 4, 1920, p. 643.

“Takes Over Eddy Contract,” Film Daily, April 20, 1923, p. 2.

Kenneth Taylor, “Fate Fulfills Early Dreams,” Los Angeles Times, March 18, 1923.

“This Flapper to be a Film Producer,” San Francisco Call, August 12, 1922.

“This is Positive,” Motion Picture News, September 2, 1922, p. 1121.

“When Love Comes,” Exhibitors’ Trade Review, December 16, 1922, p.151.

6 thoughts on “A Flapper Film Producer: June 16-30, 1922”

  1. Thank you for writing about Carroll and giving her the recognition she deserved. If the film had come along a few years earlier, probably she would have been able to make more. At least now we can give these women their due, even if the industry and press didn’t over the years.

    Liked by 1 person

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