¡Basta!: September 16-30, 1922

This was the certain picture

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley did an interview with a studio executive in which he trivialized a legitimate complaint:

“Villains of the screen will have to be men without country,” said Irving G. Thalberg, director-general of Universal City, the other day, in course of an interview discussing the suggestion which has been made that a State Department for the motion-picture industry be appointed, in order to keep us out of trouble with temperamental nations.

The idea was suggested by some well-known picture men, when Mexico banned the entire output of one company until a certain picture in which Mexico’s dignity was rumpled, is withdrawn from the screen.

Mr. Thalberg has just transmitted an order from Carl Laemmle on the subject. “The national dignity of all peoples must be respected,” the order reads. “A villain must be a villain because of his actions, not because of his nationality.”

“Now that Mexico has taken drastic and expensive protest,” said Mr. Thalberg,” “other countries are noticing the tendency of American producers to make the villain almost anything but an American. It will be the work of the motion-picture State Department if appointed, to survey the international temperament and card index those delicate points which lure forth the national goat.”

You can see what bothered Mexico in the top left corner.

Laemmle’s order doesn’t seem so outrageous–in fact, it could make for more interesting movie plots–particularly when you learn that the film that provoked Mexico to ban the importation and exhibition of all Paramount films was a fairly mediocre and otherwise forgettable Gloria Swanson vehicle called Her Husband’s Trademark.*  The bandits who murder her n’er do well husband, allowing her to marry her True Love, did not need to be from any particular country. Mexico was especially irritated because only one month before the film was released in March, President Alvaro Obregon had notified the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) that Mexico would forbid importation and exhibition of denigrating films, according to film historian Laura I. Serna.

So they were ready to do exactly what they promised and take some action. The Associated Press reported on April 28th:

Juarez customs officials today received orders from Mexico City barring all Paramount motion picture films from that country unless Her Husband’s Trademark, a picture starring Gloria Swanson, is withdrawn from circulation. Several scenes of fights with Mexican “revolutionists” are shown and the customs order says, “Mexico is placed in an untrue and shameful light.”

Paramount did not withdraw the film, so on May 1st Mexico refused to allow 236 Paramount films into their country, according to the L.A. Times. Moving Picture World added the details that that the Mexican postal service had advised the U.S. postal service that their President had ruled against the importation of Paramount films, and they would return all shipments.

Mexico continued to stand firm, and added Famous Players Lasky, Metro, and Educational Films to their embargo. In September, the MPPDA sent a special representative to Mexico City, Bernon T. Woodle, and after a month of negotiations in which he promised that Hollywood would stop making offensive films, they signed an agreement on November 6th lifting the ban and stipulating that some previously released films were exempted.

You’ve probably noticed that Hollywood continued to make offensive films. For a little while film producers moved settings to mythical South American countries, but that wasn’t particularly helpful. At least there was a tiny acknowledgement that some movies included ugly and thoughtless stereotypes.

Mexico really had a point. The conventions were so accepted that United Statsian (we do need a word for that) critics writing about Her Husband’s Trademark were blind to them and barely mentioned the offensive characters, or even worse, said “Mexican types are true to life,” as Exhibitors Trade Review did. Laura I. Serna wrote the Mexican diplomatic staff “complained that American films provided a one-sided view of Mexico as a nation of impoverished peasants completely given over to their baser instincts,” and the diplomats only wanted Hollywood to show that there was both good and bad there, as in every other country.

Irving Thalberg

The rest of the Thalberg interview wasn’t any better. He thought that all nations were being equally insulted:

Mexico, it is clear, does not like to have all villains in all western pictures look like Pancho Villa. England would perhaps be gratified if all Englishmen were not depicted as nit-wits or made to resemble a cross between a gopher and a rabbit. France has long been weary of screen Frenchmen who act like female impersonators, and Ireland is tired of having its men constantly called upon to confirm the Darwin theory.

Of course there were plenty of non-rabbity British actors like Charlie Chaplin in American films, and The Three Musketeers, which is chock-full of macho French characters, had just been a huge hit. It’s useful to know that people in the past were just as offended by stereotypes in movies as they are now, but the men in power could more easily get away with belittling them if they complained.

Pola Negri

This month, Grace Kingsley wrote about the arrival of another well-dressed star. Modern divas can line up for a master class in swanning into town from Pola Negri, and Kingsley did a good job of recording it:

The palpitating moment has passed. Pola Negri, rated by many critics as the world’s greatest film actress, has arrived among us. Miss Negri tripped off the train at Pasadena and you know her at once for that brilliantly fascinating, carefully artless heroine of Passion and Gypsy Blood.

Oh, it was quite carefully staged, that appearance. There were any number of maids and secretaries and others, who came out first until the suspense grew perfectly awful.

Then there she was, a vision in grey, her gown a long one of pan velvet trimmed with grey squirrel, while a little tippy-tilty hat shaded her face saucily, so that you barely caught the jade color of her eyes. But there were the red, red lips of that wonderfully mobile mouth, and the ivory skin, and the pearls of teeth flashing in what would have been a sweet grin of welcome in anybody except the screen’s greatest artist.

Unfortunately, the photo the Times ran was badly digitized.

A small, barefoot newsboy handed her a flower (Kingsley suspected it had been prearranged), then:

Cameras to the right of her, cameras to the left of her! Then we got a chance to speak to the famous lady. We learned already that she loathes short dresses and that Paris dressmakers are trying to make us think they thought of them first!

Miss Negri was very happy to be there except for the heat—she “loves California, aside from the fact that it isn’t Paris.” Furthermore: “She also wears the largest diamond I have ever seen on the middle finger of her left hand. We thought Pauline Frederick owned the largest diamond in the world, but Miss Negri’s is even larger.”

It’s a shame that current celebrities don’t put on such a show when they roll into town!

*Her Husband’s Trademark was so minor that neither the L.A. nor the N.Y. Times bothered to review it, they just mentioned it was playing. Film Daily’s title of their review offered a good summation: “Suitable Vehicle for Gloria Swanson but Otherwise Not Distinctive.” They went on to say that it “does not gain any laurels for itself. The basic idea is not new, for there have been other screen husbands who have used their beautiful screen wives to rope in unsuspecting business men as victims of unscrupulous deals.”

“Back From Mexico,” Film Daily, December 21, 1922, p.1.

“Bars Picture,” Morning Press, April 29, 1922.

“Companies Banned,” Moving Picture World, November 25, 1922, p. 316.

“Foreign Field Better,” Film Daily, July 7, 1922, p. 1, 4.

“Her Husband’s Trademark,” Exhibitors’ Trade Review, March 4, 1922, p. 1007.

“Mexico Bans Imports of American Films; Reason Kept Secret,” Moving Picture World, June 3, 1922, p. 462.

“Oppose Film in Mexico,” Los Angeles Times, May 3, 1922.

“Paramount Arranges for its Film Distribution in Mexico,” Moving Picture World, January 21, 1922, p. 299.

Laura I. Serna, “’As a Mexican I Feel It’s My Duty:” Citizenship, Censorship, and the Campaign Against Derogatory Films in Mexico, 1922-1930,” Latin American Film History, October 2006, pp225-244.

“Suitable Vehicle for Gloria Swanson But Otherwise Not Distinctive,” Film Daily, February 26, 1922, p. 18.

Cast and Crew Aflame: September 1-15, 1922

One hundred years ago this month, Grace Kingsley reported on her visit to a private screening and ended up describing an utterly unsafe workplace:

The very last word in picture conflagrations occurs in Reginald Barker’s Hearts Aflame. Because it is not only hearts that are aflame, but a whole forest, and part of the time, literally, the hero, played by Craig Ward, and the heroine, played by Anna Q. Nilsson.

A private view of these scenes proved hair-raising, even to the thrill-proof, hard-boiled critic. While looking at them yesterday, it was comforting to reflect that Craig Ward was safely out of the hospital, having just crawled forth at noon, and Anna Nilsson’s beauty will not be marred by her burns.

Anna Q. Nilsson and Craig Ward in Hearts Aflame

But it was not only the humans who went through the fire. Wild animals are seen making their escape, and the escaping didn’t need any rehearsing, either, says Mr. Barker.

The great fire scenes, though they set your hair on end, were quite carefully made to order—except, of course, the injury to the players, which was not contemplated at all, inasmuch as the fireman and engineer made the trip, and everything was set when Miss Nilsson took the throttle. However, you can never tell just what 6000 gallons of gasoline will do. That amount had been poured on the made-to-order forest and had been set off in a score of places simultaneously by the use of electric sparks. The trip was to take half a minute. But the flames sizzled at the window of the engine cab, Miss Nilsson did something all wrong to the throttle as she grabbed for a blanket to put around her legs, and the engine slowed down! However, with superhuman quickness, the star got going again, and everything was over.

Percy Hilburn, on a safer set

The cameramen, headed by Percy Hilburn, proved real heroes. They did their photographing of close-ups of the hero and heroine from little cabinets built each side of the engine’s boiler. How easily the film might have caught fire and made a holocaust of them nobody knew better than themselves. Yet they never quit, even when their little cabinets caught fire. And those cabinets were only charred boxes when they arrived at their journey’s end.

Good lord, this just seems horrifying. No entertainment is worth this kind of danger and destruction – not to mention the cruelty to animals and environmental damage. The scenes were shot in Pacoima Canyon, which is northeast of Sylmar in the San Fernando Valley. They spent eight weeks planning and preparing for the scenes, uprooting pine trees from the mountains and replanting them.

Even worse, the company had recently had a brush with fire danger only a few weeks earlier when they were on location in Canada.* Exhibitors’ Herald reported that the production had been “dangerously imperiled in a big forest fire near Cranbrook, B.C.” The Canadian fire wardens rescued the whole company. Some members had been burned by cinders but first aid was all that they needed, and they lost only a tripod and a case of unexposed film.

Apparently it didn’t teach them to respect fire: after they had that near miss, they still thought it would be a good idea to soak six acres of pines in gallons of gasoline, set them on fire and drive a train stocked with highly flammable nitrate film through it.  I honestly do not understand this. Does working on a movie break peoples’ brains?

Reginald Baker

Even Reginald Barker later admitted it was a bad idea, and he gave a sort of explanation of what he was thinking. He was interviewed by the L.A. Times when the film came out in early January 1923, and he said, “I wouldn’t duplicate that forest fire for $1,000,000. Knowing now what broad chances have to be taken to stage such a spectacle, I wouldn’t want to accept the responsibility for the lives that were risked. The thing kind of grew on all of us at the time, and we took chances without thinking, but to stand off now and plan the event with full knowledge of the risks to everybody involved is quite a different matter.”

The burning forest did impress the critics. Exhibitors’ Herald said “the fire scenes in the final reel are some of the most realistic and thrilling ever photographed.” Film Daily agreed, saying “Barker’s climax is certainly an unusually spectacular effort that is going to send them out wondering how they ever did it. Coloring in this sequence of the picture makes it all the more vivid and forceful. The shots showing the animals of the forest coming out of their lair into the shelter of the pools are mighty beautiful…The view of the locomotive ploughing through flames is another fine touch.” They predicted big box office.

The unsigned review in the L.A. Times reported that they were correct; the line outside the theater stretched down the block and the attendance was record-setting. While he or she thought the conventional plot was redeemed by good acting, it was the conclusion that set the movie apart: “This is by all odds the biggest blaze that has ever been screened. And you will be thrilled to the very center of your backbone watching Anna Q. Nilsson and Craig Ward dash through it on the antique steam engine, with the flames flying in their faces, and the trees and branches crackling and falling all around them.”

After all of their trouble, Hearts Aflame is a lost film.

Workplace safety really isn’t any better on film sets nowadays. There’s a truly horrifying list of film and television set accidents on Wikipedia, and Hearts Aflame isn’t even on it. In 2022, following cinematographer Halyna Hutchins’ death on the set of Rust and the subsequent investigation,  Variety Intelligence Platform put out a special report on production safety, and as the site observed, “if you’ve followed the related data and the general history of on-set deaths and injuries, such incidents have long resulted in similar questions and suggestions for how set environments can be fortified with proper protocols and legal consequences that ensure these production casualties become exceedingly rare… it’s imperative for the industry to address the reality of catastrophic on-set accidents not being random occurrences but rather the result of systemic issues that Hollywood has failed — and often fought — to properly address for decades.”

They can’t point to any actual changes being made. It seems like nobody is ever going to seriously consider if this sort of risk and danger is worth it.

This month Kingsley also took a special trip to see a movie from Sweden:

If Charles Dickens had been Swedish his “Scrooge” would have been much like The Stroke of Midnight, made by the Swedish Biograph and on view at Clune’s Broadway. It has the theme of redemption of a hardened man through a dream, only it is a New Year’s dream instead of a Christmas dream and is treated with the somberness characteristic of the Norseman. In fact, the Norse predilection for the tragic is appeased finally in the death of the heroine.

Yet despite this, there is a sort of authoritativeness about the picture, a grand, sweeping reality that carries you along with it. Maybe it is partly due to some of the finest acting the screen has seen; partly its stark revealment of human nature at moments, that courageous handling of a sordid theme for which foreigners are noted; partly due to the impressive treatment of the legend of the Grey Cart of Death which forms one of the mainspring of action… Despite the sinister story, the sordid settings, the fact that there is no love theme at all, the fans will find a fresh thrill in this picture. In fact, if you want to inject a little tragedy relief into the general saccharinity and hopeless optimism of you film entertainment, don’t miss it.

Astrid Holm and Lisa Lundholm

The movie she admired so much was a cut-down version of The Phantom Carriage, which is now regarded as a classic of world cinema and director Victor Sjöström’s masterpiece. It tells the story of Edit, a tuberculous-wracked Salvation Army worker on her deathbed who wants to see the man she tried to reform from alcoholism, David Holm, before she goes. At that time he’s drinking with buddies in a graveyard and talking about the legend of the Phantom Carriage, which picks up souls when they die. His friends try to drag him to her, he refuses, and he dies after getting hit on the head. The death cart appears, and his once happy, then dissolute life is shown in flashbacks. Then the carriage visits Edit, and she says she feels guilty for not saving him. He forgives her so she can die peacefully. Then the driver shows Holm his wife who is planning to poison herself and their children. He regains consciousness in the graveyard, rushes home, saves them, and convinces her that he has reformed.

Victor Sjöström

The American edit that Kingsley saw, which cut a 106-minute-long film down to 60 minutes, got rid of the flashback structure and begins with Holm as a drunk vagrant. The he visits Edit at the Salvation Army but he goes right back to his addiction.  He ends up drinking in the graveyard, where the carriage comes to get him.  It drives him to see Edit dying, then to his home where the poisoning is proceeding. He awakens in the graveyard, runs home, and saves his family and promises to reform.

Hilda Borgström and Victor Sjöström

Kingsley had no idea how much the film had been changed to try to cater to American tastes, and she even blamed foreign audiences for the film’s faults:

It seems to me there is always a certain naivete in the stories of the foreign pictures, a certain something that seems to be intended for a childish audience. It exists in this story.

It wasn’t their fault: it was the studio’s low opinion of their customers in the States. The studio who cut and released it, Metro, didn’t publicize that they changed it (though the New York Times reviewer guessed that it had been done because, “sometimes its continuity is broken—it has been badly edited for American circulation.”) Almost half the original was gone. It’s a wonder anything made any sense!

All aboard!

Kingsley had an opinion that I haven’t seen elsewhere: The Stroke of Midnight wasn’t depressing enough, and she blamed Swedes specifically for it.  She wrote: “I wonder whether the Swedish picture makers are answering a demand among Swedish film fans for saccharine finishes that this man’s vision turned out to be only a dream instead of a stark tragedy, as would be the evident logic of the tale.” Apparently, she wanted everybody to die and hop on board the phantom carriage. And she called Nordic people somber!

It sure was’t the L.A. Times ad that convinced her to see it.

Most of all, this review shows that Grace Kingsley took her job seriously, and made an effort to see innovative art films. At this time, many movies got no review at all in the L.A. Times and she didn’t visit Clune’s Broadway every week. She knew to go because the New York reviews had alerted her in early June. The unsigned New York Times review stated that ninety-nine out of a hundred directors would have made a dull film out of the story, but Sjöström was the hundredth director and it was “compellingly interesting.” Additionally, they praised the “acting that is intense and positively expressive and yet always restrained, as truly forceful acting must be.” Exhibitors’ Trade Review agreed that the performances were outstanding, as well as the photography, saying, “A remarkably fine enacted picture is The Stroke of Midnight, which has been produced by the Swedish Biograph Company. The story itself is the spookiest of spooky; ghosts, the cart of death, and possibly a few stray ectoplasms, all of which have been photographed with seemingly the greatest precautions to register the proper creeps.” Film Daily acknowledged it might have limited appeal because “many people avoid pictures which have no bright side.” Nevertheless “as a picture, it is decidedly worth seeing and will be best appreciated by the better classes, those who look at the advancement of pictures as an art,” as well as photography that was “probably some of the best double exposure work ever accomplished.”

For many years The Phantom Carriage was only available in bad prints, until the Swedish Film Institute did a restoration in 1975. It’s available on Kanopy.

*There’s wrong information on the Internet, you won’t be shocked to learn. Some sources like this 2013 Vancouver Sun article say that the gasoline-soaked forest was in Canada but reports from trade papers in 1922 make it clear that there were two fires: one in British Columbia before August 15th that trapped the company, and the other they set themselves in Pacoima Canyon on August 29th.

“Eberle to Make Visit of Studios,” Los Angeles Times, January 9, 1923.

“Film Stars Burned in Big Forest Fire,” Exhibitors’ Herald, August 26, 1922, p. 48.

“Fortune Spent on Film Scene,” Los Angeles Times, January 14, 1923.

Hearts Aflame,” Exhibitors’ Herald, January 6, 1923, p. 59.

“Looks Like Santa Was Good This Year With This One in Sight,” Film Daily, December 24, 1922, p.3.

“Twenty Acres of Pines Swept by Fire for Scene in Film, Hearts Aflame,Daily News Leader (San Mateo), March 19, 1923.

_____________

“An Interesting and Very Unusual Picture But Appeal May Be Limited,” Film Daily, June 4, 1922, p. 3.

“The Screen,” New York Times, June 5, 1922.

The Stroke of Midnight,” Exhibitors’ Trade Review, June 17, 1922, p. 185.

He Couldn’t Fib: August 1-31, 1922

Leo Carrillo

One hundred years ago this month, Grace Kingsley interviewed someone who couldn’t get away with making up the usual actor’s nonsense about himself because she’d known him for too long, theater actor Leo Carrillo. She wrote:

I knew the Carrillos in Santa Monica, before some of the younger Carrillos were born. Judge Carrillo was an impressive and truly dignified figure. The first time I ever saw Leo, he was a baby with ringlets and big brown eyes, and all the other children used to fight to take care of him. That has always been the way with Leo. His is a marvelously magnetic radiant personality.

Los Angeles used to be such a small town! After writing this blog for as long as I have, now it seems utterly remarkable that everything he told her checks out (you can’t lie when the reporter has known you since you were in diapers). His family actually did have deep roots in Southern California, as he told her in the interview. His great-grandfather was Carlos Antonio Carrillo, who in 1837 was appointed the first provincial governor of California for Spain.  His father, Juan Jose Carrillo, had been a county sheriff, judge and the mayor of Santa Monica from 1890 to 1897.

He married Edith Haeselbarth in 1905 in Manhattan. They had met backstage after his performance at Proctor’s 23rd St. Theater. She died in 1953.

Leopoldo Antonio Carrillo was born on August 6, 1881* and had 11 brothers and sisters. He really had been a cartoonist for the San Francisco Examiner (he told her about his miniscule salary there, just eight dollars a week) before he signed a contract with the Orpheum vaudeville circuit (the Hanford Journal of September 14, 1904 backs him up). He toured as a comic monologist who specialized in characters speaking in dialects until 1916 when Broadway impresario Oliver Morosco hired him for a play called Upstairs and Downstairs. The following year he got the lead in Lombardi Ltd. It was a huge hit, playing on Broadway for 296 performances then touring the United States and Australia for three years.

He continued to draw cartoons for Variety; this one is from 1908.

Kingsley was speaking to him because he was rehearsing a new play called Mike Angelo, which told the story of an art studio assistant who becomes a great artist. She thought he had another winner:

And all the matinee girls from 6 to 40 years are going to be crazy over Leo in Mike Angelo. Without giving the story away at all, I may say he is a quite appealing pathetic figure in the play as a studio roustabout and of course he is the hopeless lover, which alone will make all the ladies in the audience sigh to comfort him and wonder how the heroine can dally for a minute with the other fellow…Take it all in all, it looks as though Mike Angelo is going to be a credit to the City of Angels.

The play opened on October 2nd and Kingsley’s editor Edwin Schallert wrote the review. Before explaining his only middling opinion of the show, he reported on the tremendous reception Carrillo got:

 For Carrillo it was a gala homecoming. Friends, flowers, bravos made it so. There were salvos and cheers for him. A mighty wave of applause rose to meet him. It surged and swirled about him, halting action and word, and seemingly determined to bring him down from his pedestal whereon he posed as model in the artist studio. Truly, no reception in days and weeks has equaled Carrillo’s in enthusiasm. It was a glowing and glorious paean for the youth.

Los Angeles loved their hometown boy! However, despite praising Carrillo’s performance which had “an inimitable humanness, a sparkling aura of gayety and pathos, and Latinesque revelation of love, loyalty, faith and their opposites,” he found the play was “an artificial story of life in a painter’s studio…The first act is tedious, but once we have the action laid out things move at a fair pace.”

Carrillo and Duncan Renaldo in The Cisco Kid

Mike Angelo wasn’t as big a hit as Lombardi, Ltd., but it did did go to Broadway in January 1923 and played for 84 performances. Carrillo continued to be a fairly successful working actor. The following few years, he alternated between starring in plays on Broadway and touring in vaudeville. When sound came to film he dove right in. His first film was a Vitaphone short made in New York called At the Ball Game (1927). He made two more of them, then he moved back to Los Angeles where he appeared in over 90 films, mostly in supporting parts. He was most famous for playing the sidekick Pancho in six seasons of The Cisco Kid (1950-1956) television show, near the end of his career.

It’s a nice beach!

However, the reason that everyone in Los Angeles vaguely recognizes his name isn’t due to his acting career. In 1922, when telling of his house building plans, he said to Kingsley: “I mean also to aid in restoring some of the old landmarks. I think native Californians should do all they can to keep alive the priceless traditions of our State.” He was telling the truth about that too! In 1942, Governor Earl Warren appointed him to the State Parks and Beaches Commission, which he served on until January 1961. He played an important part in California’s acquisition of Hearst Castle, the Los Angeles Arboretum, and the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and he helped to restore Olvera Street in downtown Los Angeles. After his death from cancer in 1961, they named the beach west of Malibu the Leo Carrillo State Park. His weekend retreat near Carlsbad has also been preserved, and you can still visit the Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park today.

I dunno. What do you think? Orville Caldwell in Mecca

Elsewhere this month, Kingsley had a story about another Los Angeleian who isn’t even half-remembered now, but once he was utterly perfect:

Orville Caldwell, if you don’t happen to know it, is accounted the most physically perfect actor of the stage, if B.P. Schulberg is to be believed. And the Schulberg judgement is backed up by no less expert an opinion than that of Elinor Glyn, who is credited with knowing what’s what when it comes to a question of physical perfection of the male variety. 

Mme. Glyn first saw Caldwell when he played the leading part in the famous Comstock and Gest spectacle Mecca in New York. When he made his appearance as the Sultan of Cairo, the noted English authoress blinked two or three times, gave a little gasp of delighted surprise, and then settled back in her orchestra chair for a three hours’ regard of the young man whom she exclaimed entirely personified her hero of Three Weeks.

He ignored this part of his career later in life (from Camera, February 16, 1924)

Orville Caldwell did go on to be the leading man in Schulberg’s The Lonely Road. However, his acting career never really took off, so he went on to other work.

Caldwell was born in Oakland, California on February 8, 1896. He acted in student plays while he attended the University of California at Berkely, then he served in the Navy during the first World War. After he was discharged he was hired at the Alcazar Theater in San Francisco, then he had the good fortune to be cast in the musical Elinor Glyn saw on Broadway.

With Marion Davies in The Patsy (1928)

After  The Lonely Road, he appeared in twelve films (most notably opposite Marion Davis in The Patsy (1928)) and returned to Broadway twice in 1924 and in 1925, but after starring in The Little Yellow House (1928), he gave up acting and became a stock broker. He didn’t have great timing: the Wall Street Crash happened in October 1929, and in the mid-1930s he supplemented his earnings by taking some bit parts in sound films. However, in the later 1930’s he became the assistant superintendent of service stations at the Associate Oil Company and quit acting for good. He was also active in Republican politics, and he was appointed First Deputy Mayor of Los Angeles in 1941. The L.A. Times story about his appointment didn’t mention his acting career at all—it jumped from his naval service to his oil company job. Maybe Elinor Glyn having any opinion at all about you isn’t useful for a political career. He served as Deputy Mayor until 1951, then he became the assistant county administrative officer. His last mention in the Times was in September 1961 when he spoke at the city planning department meeting to support a proposed film museum. Even when it was relevant, it seems that he didn’t mention his former movie career. Mary Mallory has a complete history of all the attempts (sigh!) to build a film museum in Los Angeles.

Doing First Deputy Mayor stuff. Here he is between Oscar Smith, the president of the Pacific Electric Rail Company, and actress Mary Murphy, inaugurating the new bus service that replaced the street cars (September 13, 1950). Public transportation has taken a long time to recover…

He and his wife Audrey retired to Santa Rosa, California and he died there on September 24, 1967.

Kingsley took her annual vacation August 6-22. I hope you have a nice summer vacation too!

*Some sources say that Carrillo was born in August 1880, but I think 1881 is the correct year. The 1880 census says his sister Diana was 7 months old in June 1880, and I sincerely hope that his mother didn’t get pregnant again that quickly.

“Leo Carrillo On the Stage,” Hanford Journal, September 14, 1904.

Edwin Schallert, “Reviews: Mike Angelo,” Los Angeles Times, October 3, 1922.

James W. Dean, “Girls! Meet Elinor Glyn’s ‘Hero,’ Now in Movies,” Norfolk Post, October 26, 1926.

“Economic Study Set for Filmland Museum,” Los Angeles Times, February 6, 1960.

“Film Museum Gets Support,” Los Angeles Times, September 12, 1961.

Worse Than Puns: July 16-31, 1922

Stacia Napierkowska in Missing Husbands

One hundred years ago this month, Grace Kingsley saw what she thought was a very odd movie:

Missing Husbands is an amusing title. But if any married lady thinks the picture of that name down at the California is going to help her out in paging her spouse, she is mistaken. Because the missing husbands referred to in this film are all in a private cellar mummery of one Queen Antinea of Egypt. That’s the kind of a kick she kept in her cellar.

It wasn’t her fault she thought it was some kind of domestic drama. Here’s the ad that ran the day before it opened.

Any lady living in Antinea’s vicinity, it seems, never had to be bothered about excuses given by her husband about sitting up with a sick friend or being at lodge. All she did was to get a search warrant out for Antinea’s house, and there she would find Jack or Joe downstairs in the mummery, all neatly congealed and done up in a case…Probably some of the ladies hardly noticed any difference in their mummified husbands in any way.

The ad that ran on opening day gave people a better idea what to expect.

She was a sort of lady Bluebeard, was Antinea, with a double duplex power of fascination like that of a steel magnet for a tin minnow, and any poor fish who came within the radius of it instantly forgot all about home and honor and the combination to his safe and cellar.

Ah, but there appeared on day a hero with an asbestos heart! Antinea could not melt him. She employed everything from the old tiger skin stuff to the Turkish pazaz,* but he melted no more than the iceless ice cream they’re serving nowadays.

Still she worked. I don’t know how she had any time to reign, she was so busy hailing him. Forgive the pun.** It’s not so bad as the picture. But the asbestos-hearted stuck around, he said, because he wanted to get a glimpse of an old pal, who had fallen under her spell. Antinea got the pal to try to kill the pure hero; then said pure hero got a butter knife out for Antinea, but she was too tough, or something, and it made no impression. There are seven reels, but nothing except the above happens.

Missing Husbands is another of those naïve foreign pictures using the vamp theme discarded by Theda Bara and Louise Glaum in the year 12 B.C., meaning Before Cellars. Well, well, you’ll probably get a kick out of Antinea’s cellar. The house seemed to yesterday.

Kingsley had some fun writing the review anyway. Missing Husbands was a seven-reel version of L’Atlantide, an eighteen-reel spectacle from Belgian director Jacques Feyder (I can imagine Kingsley’s ennui if she’d had to sit through the longer version). It had been a huge hit overseas: according to Fritz Tidden in Moving Picture World, it had played in Paris and London for over a year, and the book it was based on had sold 2 million copies in Europe.

The Eyes of the Mummy was playing at a competing theater this week, but the Times didn’t review it. I had thought that public interest in mummies didn’t really get started until King Tut’s tomb was opened, but I was wrong: that didn’t happen until November 4, 1922.

Missing Husbands wasn’t nearly as popular in the United States. It played in Los Angeles for one week. There wasn’t much response to it. At least people no longer felt threatened by foreign productions and there were no protests as there were for Caligari just a little over a year earlier. 

The reviewers in American trade papers found more good things to say about it than Kingsley did, though they also found it odd and foreign. Exhibitors’ Trade Review said:

As far as magnificent scenery and elaborate sets are concerned, the production is certainly able to share honors with some of our biggest pictures. The story is purely imaginative, weird and overpowering, yet so exaggerated and unreal on other occasions that it scarcely suffices to hold the interest and live up to the expectancies that have been created in the early part of the film…The most serious drawback is that European ideas of what constitutes a great drama is somewhat different from ours.

Film Daily wasn’t quite sure what to make of it, writing “the producers have evidently been ambitious to do something out of the ordinary and so far as that goes, they have succeeded…But the value of the picture to the box office is uncertain. It has not a universal appeal and the strong sex stuff is likely to get it into trouble in censorship neighborhoods.” They recommended seeing it before buying it, because “its appeal is bound to vary.”

Lillian Gale in Motion Picture News wrote the most positive review:

Missing Husbands is a novelty. Unique lighting effects that have never been surpassed are employed in depicting an unusual narrative. There is no particular rhyme or reason for the film, other than to entertain, a tale of romantic adventure, cleverly blended with rare dramatic contribution.

However, the writer for the New York Times was as bored as Kingsley was:

It is a film to which one responds, or fails to respond, with varying, or vanishing, emotions…the story often succeeds in creating the illusion of actual romance. But this illusion comes and goes, and finally disappears altogether before the end is reached, because, in the first place, the pictorial continuity is poor, and because it gets worse and worse as the story goes on, ending in a dull anti-climax.

L’Atlantide, the full version, was released on DVD in 2004, but the cut down version seems to be lost. Everybody’s favorite silent film reviewing German Count Ferdinand Von Galitzien really enjoyed the longer version.

In another story, Kingsley got a press release with a surprising way to publicize a movie: before it had even finished being made, the producers were already planning for its preservation! She wrote:

For the first time in history, and, more particularly, in the history of the screen, an art work is deliberately to be handed down to posterity with the purpose of perpetuating an art, a story, an illustrious name and a true picture in living scenes of one of the most crucial periods in the history and the evolution of the race.

The Rockett-Naylor Company of Hollywood makes the unique announcement that a copy of their fifteen-reel picture of the life and times of Abraham Lincoln, now in the process of production, has been offered the United States government and the National Lincoln Memorial Association for deposit in the Smithsonian Institution or elsewhere in Washington, D.C. with the proviso that it be kept sealed until February 12, 2109, the three hundredth anniversary of Lincoln’s birth.

The fifteen reels of film, together with a modern projection machine, with full instructions on how to operate it, will be sealed in a steel vault, specially constructed to preserve the film and machine in perfect working order, and with these will be deposited a copy of the working script of the picture an a few copies of the best books on motion picture production and practice.

The idea back of this is that in the 186 years to elapse between 1923 and 2109, tremendous changes will take place in motion picture production and exhibition and the donors of the Lincoln picture will take every precaution to insure the proper exhibition of their picture in 2109.

Because so many silent films are lost, we might think that all producers thought their work was disposable. But Rockett-Naylor told people that their movie was going to be so important, future generations would need to see it. Or at least they though the story would get them in the newspaper. You’ve probably guessed that the company didn’t actually do what they promised. A quick search of the Smithsonian’s catalog shows that they don’t have it, nor does the Abraham Lincoln Association. Even though The Dramatic Life of Abraham Lincoln was critically acclaimed (it won Photoplay magazine’s Medal of Honor in 1924), only two reels have survived. Still, that was a really novel sort of publicity.

“You still have a thrill coming:” July 1-15, 1922

Allakariallak, aka Nanook

One hundred years ago this month, Grace Kingsley had the rare opportunity to review a respected film:

Having seen Mack Sennett’s bathing girls, Pola Negri, Charlie Chaplin’s walk, Gloria Swanson’s duds, Foolish Wives, and The Four Horsemen, you think probably that you’ve seen everything in pictures. But you haven’t. Not by a jugful. You still have a thrill coming.

That thrill, high-powered, you’ll get from Nanook of the North at the Kinema. It’s the real life story of an Esquimeaux family, with all their primitive fight for life. I must even admit there were moments when it got on my nerves. That was when Nanook, the papa Esquimeaux, killed things, and the way he did it.

To me there was vastly more thrill in the lonely Nanook, hunger-driven, tripping alone but sure-footedly from one treacherous ice-block to another in a great dreary, solitary sea, in search of food; in the titan fight with the huge walrus; the battle of the Esquimeaux family with the storm, than in the whole kit and bolling of most so-called “great moments” in the cinema drama. And there is more actual drama, more vivid, hopeless pathos in that fight for life than in all the weepy Pollyanna stuff the screen has to offer. You can fairly hear the gale howl outside when the Esquimaux family, having stripped naked in its icy igloo, crawls under the sleeping skins. The wind sweeps a great, lonely, white world. And the dogs, after a little despairing howling, settle down outside to sleep with the snow drifting over their sinewy bodies.

She wrote about it in a way it usually isn’t written about now: she thought it was entertaining, not medicinally educational. Her review was also unusual, because most of the time she got sent to watch mediocre movies and had to find new words for adequate. So this was a treat.  

Her editor, Edwin Schallert, usually went to the well-regarded films.  I suspect he missed the bus on this one because Frederick James Smith, the L.A. Times man in New York City, wrote one of the few dismissive reviews of it. He thought Nanook was merely “an interesting novelty” even if “the glimpse of the high wind steadily sweeping over the plateau of ice makes the usual movie stuff look like a mere confetti party at Coney Island.” Instead, this week Schallert saw The Storm, a now-forgotten melodrama, and wrote that “despite its obvious faults, the picture can be recommended as exceptional…You may be disappointed. But most of it is worth the watching.”*

The rest of the reviews from New York were glowing. Fritz Tidden in Moving Picture World was already calling it a screen classic. Film Daily’s review was typical:

The film is wholly unlike anything that has ever been presented and for those who are continually crying for something new in pictures, Nanook of the North fills a long felt want… You will never know how much you don’t know until you have seen Nanook of the North.

Schallert did later join almost all the other critics in the United States in putting it on his top 10 list for Film Daily Yearbook, so he must have caught up with it later (Kingsley didn’t get asked to submit her top ten list). He had plenty of time to see it: it played in Los Angeles until August 11th.

After its four week run at the Kinema, it spent two weeks at the Alhambra. 

Kingsley’s review is also interesting because it gives some perspective on the context Nanook came out in: it didn’t play in college auditoriums, it was on a bill with a jazz ensemble, Sherwood’s Band, that she thought were very good, and a Mermaid comedy with “a laugh to the second or thereabout.” It was part of an evening’s entertainment. In addition, her list of memorable thrills from the movies has stood up pretty well: silent film fans still remember and admire Chaplin and Foolish Wives.

Allakariallak

Her piece also documents that the audience did believe that everything they saw was real. She wasn’t the only one; Film Daily said “it is not merely acted for the camera. They are really going about their regular routines.” Actually, Allakariallak was reenacting scenes for Robert Flaherty’s camera, and that’s the chief criticism of the film now. However, according to Robert Sherwood who was writing in 1923, Flaherty didn’t keep it a secret that it was restaged. For instance, the walrus hunt was a recreation of an earlier practice, and he said that the younger locals were fascinated when he showed them the footage, because they’d never seen it done before. This kind of reenactment didn’t bother Sherwood at all; our standards for documentaries have changed. I like what Joel Bocko pointed out, blogging at Lost in the Movies:

The Inuit subjects were delighted to be photographed, especially after Flaherty showed them some early footage. They are enthusiastic collaborators in Flaherty’s process and the film is always at least half true, because even if the actions are pre-determined, the people are real, in their attitudes and appearances.

Even with the controversy, Nanook of the North has continued to be highly regarded.  It was among the first group of 25 films added to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 1989. Film critics ranked it as the seventh best documentary ever made in the 2014 Sight and Sound poll. Finally, it is the only movie Kingsley ever wrote about ever to be parodied on the TV show Documentary Now.

*When Kingsley announced that The Storm was playing for its third and final week, she delivered her opinion on it without actually saying her boss was wrong: “The Storm is a story of two men and a woman snowbound in the fastness of far northern mountains for four months. One of the men hates women because he has never met any. He greets the girl’s arrival with open fear. The other knows the sex from a score of affairs. He has been hidden away in the mountains to escape all women. And within a week both men, friends at the beginning of their encampment, decide this particular girl is the most desirable person in the world, and become bitter enemies.”

 

Grace Kingsley, “Flashes,” Los Angeles Times, July 17, 1922.

Grace Kingsley, “Flashes,” Los Angeles Times, August 4, 1922.

Robert Sherwood, The Best Moving Pictures of 1922-23, Boston: Small, Mayard & Company, 1923.

Frederick James Smith, “Salome Slips Cog at Preview,” Los Angeles Times, June 18, 1922.

“The Ten Best Pictures of 1922,” Film Daily Yearbook, 1923.

Fritz Tidden, “Nanook of the North,” Moving Picture World, June 24, 1922, p. 735.

“A Totally Different Picture of the North that Shouldn’t Be Missed,” Film Daily, June 18, 1922, p.2

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.

Tea with Mabel Normand: June 1-15, 1922

Mabel Normand, 1922

One hundred years ago this month, the L.A. Times ran an interview Grace Kingsley had done with Mabel Normand on the set of her forthcoming film, Suzanna, which had finished shooting in late April. Not one word about the scandal around William Desmond Taylor’s murder appeared in the article (Normand had been one of the last people to see Taylor before his death), and it shows what a good job she, with help from the staff at the Sennett Studio, did to keep her career going. Instead of that, as they sipped their tea, Normand did her absolute best to make her upcoming movie relevant to contemporary audiences. She said:

“I’ve learned all about the 1849 flapper from Suzanna. There were really flappers in those days, you know—always have been since the days of Eve.”

“And Suzanna was the prize flapper of her day! How she did stir up the simple village folk, to be sure. My, what scandalous goings on there were! Why, she set the whole village a-flutter when she decided to play croquet all alone with a young man!”

Mabel Normand as Suzanna

She pointed out that there were some advantages to the slower pace of life in olden times, because “what the flapper lost in speed those days, she made up in romance. Bill simply had to call. He couldn’t just alibi by talking over an unromantic telephone with a fresh telephone girl butting in on the conversation.” Furthermore, when he took you out “he didn’t hop into his racer ahead of you, cautioning you ‘Get a move on, kid!’ while he started, stepped on it, and nearly killed you 500 times in a breathless race. Instead, you went properly riding with him in one of those things found only in museums and Chamber of Commerce collections nowadays, known as buggies. And one arm was plenty enough to drive with. And when you went walking with Bill, you didn’t hike. You strolled…Oh, that little flapper of 1849 knew a thing or two!”

Suzanna tells the story of a maid to a Spanish California rancher’s daughter who falls in love with Ramon, the son of another prosperous rancher. Eventually they learn that Suzanna was switched at birth with the rancher’s daughter (Dolores), and she and Ramon live happily etc. Don’t worry about Dolores — she gets a nice toreador named Pancho.

Interviews with friendly writers like Kingsley were only part of the strategy to rescue Normand’s career from the scandal. She also took a break from the public eye and traveled. On June 7th, a reporter saw her in Chicago and in contrast to Kingsley, asked her about the Taylor murder. He or she wrote that she said “I do want to appeal to the public—once upon a time I called them ‘my’ public—and a forlorn little smile flitted across the tired looking face that was once one of the most beloved that flashed across the movie screen. “I want to ask them to give me a square deal. They were very kind to me once—when I was working hard to accomplish something worthwhile. Then when my biggest picture was released—this horrible thing came and the newspapers were full of stories about us out there—and my public believed them.”

The studio delayed releasing Suzanna until late December. The world premier was in Los Angeles, and the L.A. Times didn’t review it – possibly because there was a crush of Christmas and New Years releases. However, the weekly “what’s playing” article described it as being:

 filled with old-world charm, the loves and hates of the early Spaniards who settled in the Bear State are picturized…Spectacular and picturesque to a fine degree, and filled with comedy, pathos, adventure and romance, the production had made a sensational entry into the ranks of film masterpieces.

Suzanna played for eight weeks, so their tactic worked: the ticket buying public didn’t turn away from Mabel Normand.

After the successful run in Los Angeles, it opened in New York City in late March, and the trade paper critics were remarkably enthusiastic. Nobody mentioned the scandal—it seems like her connection to it was forgotten. Exhibitors’ Trade Review called the film “A happy mixture of comedy and romance, farcical situations and sentiment—Suzanna affords bright and snappy entertainment… Not a dull moment.”

Even better for her career, they just loved Normand. W.E. Keefe in Moving Picture World said, “Mabel Normand never before appeared so beautiful nor gave us such splendid dramatic work. Her work probably surpasses everything she has ever done.”

Robert E. Sherwood in the New York Herald agreed, and his only complaint was that the world needed more films from her: “Mabel Normand’s appearances on the screen are regrettably infrequent. Once a year, perhaps, she steps forth to remind us that she is still the first comedienne of the silent drama—but this annual visit isn’t nearly enough.”

Screenland magazine even named it their picture of the month for March 1923.

The New York audiences were just as ready to forgive or ignore what they’d heard a year earlier: it played to a capacity crowd at the Capitol Theater.

So Mabel Normand’s career was far from over with after the Taylor murder. Too many short biographies about her say scandals ended it. She, and the team at Sennett, did a good job of keeping it going. Her next film, The Extra Girl, also got great reviews and did well at the box office. Her later films were less successful, plus her health problems kept her from working. She died of tuberculosis on February 22, 1930.

Mildred Harris

This month, it also appeared that Mildred Harris was a better person than her former husband. Kingsley reported:

Comments by Mildred in an interview on matrimony published in New York a day or two ago, particularly her reference to Chaplin, are causing considerable wonderment, according to work just received from that center of art and culture. The remarks were occasioned by the recent report that she was engaged to wed an eastern actor.

“When I finish this vaudeville tour,” said Miss Harris, “and you know it is to carry me to the Coast and back—there is a stellar role in a play on Broadway awaiting me. Why should a girl with such prospects marry? I was the wife of one of the most wonderful men on earth. I learned a great deal from him. Charlie has a splendid, a brilliant mind. He is the ideal mental companion.”  

Chaplin had a very bad habit of saying in interviews that Harris wasn’t his “intellectual equal.” He really could have learned from her about not badmouthing an ex in the press!

“Begs for a Square Deal,” Los Angeles Times, June 8, 1922.

W.E. Keefe, “Suzanna,” Moving Picture World, March 3, 1923, p.69.

Grace Kingsley, “Flashes,” Los Angeles Times, April 25, 1922.

“New Years Opens with Six Films,” Los Angeles Times, December 31, 1922.

“Picture of the Month,” Screenland, March 1923, p. 85.

“The Screen,” New York Times, March 26, 1923.

Suzanna,” Exhibitors’ Herald, April 14, 1923, p. 54.

Suzanna,” Exhibitor’s Trade Review, March 31, 1923, p. 917.

Suzanna Makes a Hit at the Capitol,” Moving Picture World, April 7, 1923, p. 664.

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.

Failure Proof: April 16-30, 1922

One hundred years ago this month, Grace Kingsley and the audience had pretty good time at the movies, even if she had some reservations:

Valentino’s vogue, Elinor’s Eros, Gloria’s gowns—that’s the blessed triumvirate which seems to be entirely failure proof. They’re on again at Grauman’s Rialto. Valentino and Gloria are appearing in Elinor Glyn’s Beyond the Rocks, which opened yesterday to tremendous business.

Beyond the Rocks will not, I fear, be beyond the rhetorical rocks of the critics. The story is commonplace, and might have been written by any Trotty Two-Shoes of the scenario department.

On the other hand, it is without the special Glyn tang; it’s a de-nogged egg-nogg. Rudy Valentino kisses with the meter on. In short, it’s quite entirely censor-proof, and any girl may safely take her mother to see it.

The story is as romantic as a Bertha M. Clay* yarn. It concerns the eternal triangle. A beautiful young girl marries an old millionaire. Then she meets Rudy, and it’s all off with Josiah. But they battle nobly against their love, and the most Rudy accomplishes is a chaste kiss on his lady’s fingertips.

Much too chaste!

Kingsley was very clear on what she wanted from a Valentino movie. Her point that the film wasn’t dirty enough was unique among the critics, who, just as she predicted, had plenty of other complaints. The unsigned review in the New York Times was particularly scathing:

Gloria Swanson can wear clothes. So can Rodolph Valentino. And the talents of each are given full play in the Elinor Glyn story, Beyond the Rocks, as it has been screened and brought to the Rivoli this week…the leading characters do little else but wear clothes, and if, also, much of the action takes place on apparently artificial mountains and before what seem to be painted backdrops, can the result be called an interesting photoplay? Not by those who want a little character and a little truth in their entertainment, anyway. (May 8, 1922)

One of the beautiful gowns.

The costumes were certainly part of why audiences enjoyed the movie; Kingsley mentioned “Gloria Swanson does good work and suffers in about 500 beautiful gowns.” However, underlying most of the commentary was the usual contempt for the people the movie was designed to appeal to: female movie fans. Film Daily thought it was a “first-rate production” despite  its “very obvious plot, one in which you can see the ending the minute you meet all the characters and you aren’t disappointed in your conjectures,” but then the writer condescendingly quoted observations from women in the audience: “Miss Swanson’s close fitting gowns were harshly judged and an audible preference for a soft coiffure was expressed, while they didn’t seem to think Valentino photographed as well in this one. He still insists on making his black hair shine.”

His hair did shine.

The writer failed to say what was wrong with chatting about that. People take their fun from seeing movies in all kinds of ways. Kingsley wasn’t immune from this sort of distain; she called the story “an opus in servant-girl literature” and quoted the final title card as an example: “Then only thing eternal and divine in this old world is the love that beautifies.” OK, it wasn’t Shakespeare. Nevertheless, she didn’t look down on audiences who enjoy a melodrama involving two attractive actors. Different people bring a variety of perspectives, and that’s why we need diverse film critics.

One point the critics agreed on was that Beyond the Rocks was going to be a great big hit. Film Daily described standing room only crowds in New York. Exhibitor’s Herald managed to be a bit nasty even with that expectation, saying it “will undoubtably prove one of the season’s most successful attractions. At least with feminine fans.” They were correct about the ticket sales. According to Variety, it set a record at the Rivoli in New York City, grossing $28,750 in its first week. Nobody minded taking feminine fans’ money!

In the “Alps”

Now Beyond the Rocks is also remembered in histories of special effects because it included travelling matte shots in the scenes in which Valentino rescues Swanson in the Swiss Alps. This was the earliest notable use of the process invented by Frank Williams. While keeping his day job as a cameraman, he had been working on his traveling matte idea since 1912, usually in the bathroom of wherever he was living.  Stationary mattes had been used in filmmaking since the earliest days; it was a technique borrowed from still photography.  Actors were filmed with part of the negative blocked and left unexposed, then the film was re-wound and another image was shot on the unexposed area.  The two images formed a composite.  However, actors had to stay within a set portion of the image.  With the Williams Process, the whole background could be replaced, and the actors could move freely.

Williams shot some of Chaplin’s earliest films

In 1917, Adolf Zuckor of Paramount Studios gave him space in his lab to work on it, but he couldn’t overcome the problems of inaccurate cameras and printers and crude film stocks.  But then he had a breakthrough: he built his own printer, accurate to one ten-thousandth of an inch, used a motor-cranked camera and a better grade of film, and it worked. He was granted a patent on the process and he opened his own film lab, becoming one of the first businesses dedicated to special effects.

Apparently the technique wasn’t a complete success yet — the New York Times critic thought the scenes looked artificial in this film. However, Williams was able to improve his process and provided spectacular scenes in The Lost World (1925) of dinosaurs roaming London.  The destruction of Pontius Pilate’s palace in Ben Hur (1925) was also Williams’ work, as were the battle scenes in The Big Parade (1925). 

Beyond the Rocks was thought to have been lost until it was found in 2003 in a private collection. It was restored by the Nederlands Film Museum and the Hagheflim Conservation and is now available on DVD.

*Bertha M. Clay was the pen name of Charlotte M. Brame (1836-1884), a tremendously popular romance writer. She was best known for Dora Thorne, which most reviewers on Good Reads gave four or five stars.

“Beyond the Rocks,” Exhibitors’ Herald, May 27, 1922, p.47.

“Beyond the Rocks,” New York Times, May 8, 1922.

“First Joint Appearance of Swanson and Valentino Looks Like a Box Office Bet,” Film Daily, May 14, 1922, p. 3.

“Glyn Story with Valentino Pulls Record for Rivoli,” Variety, May 19, 1922, p.44.

Curran D. Swint, “Beyond the Rocks is California Magnet,” San Francisco Call and Post, May 8, 1922.