Week of January 18th, 1919

 

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J.A. Quinn

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on an ambitious new reform project:

The Motion Picture Co-Operative Association, established by J.A. Quinn, and of which he has been elected president, and which embraces all branches of the industry, exhibitors, producers, distributors, directors, authors, actors and camera men, is now, according to Quinn’s announcement, fully under way, with offices in the Fay Building. This association is the direct culmination of the general upheaval of conditions in the motion picture industry during the past few months, and is established to regulate the entire industry, so that better pictures, stories and casts will be the rule.

One part of the MPCA particularly interested Kingsley:

One of the most important and comprehensive departments to be established by Mr. Quinn is the “service department.” Through the co-operation of exhibitors all over the country, a system of reports will be made upon each production, covering the value of the picture relative to its rental, and the drawing power of each actor.

People in the film industry knew that collecting data would be useful, but nobody had attempted to compile this kind of industry-wide box office statistics. Quinn seems to have quickly given up on the idea; it wasn’t mentioned in any subsequent articles. It was more work than he realized, probably.

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Variety, 1946

Nevertheless, the industry still wanted and needed to know what was selling tickets. No organization attempted this enormous task, instead, the trade paper Variety took it on. In the 1920’s they reported on estimated weekly grosses from individual big-city theaters. Their reporters got the numbers from either cooperative house managers or estimates from rival house managers or sales managers, so it wasn’t necessarily scientific. They had a Tuesday deadline, so they took what they could get. In the 1930’s, both Variety and the Motion Picture Almanac compiled an annual list of film grosses. In 1946, Variety began publishing a weekly National Box Office Survey with data from 25 American cities. In 1976 a company called Centralized Grosses was founded, which, after a series of acquisitions, has become Comscore which compiles box office data today.

However, Quinn continued with his efforts to make “better pictures.” His vague program initially sounded good – who doesn’t want better films — and he signed up lots of famous people to his advisory boards including D.W. Griffith, Thomas Ince, Mary Pickford, Maurice Tourneur, Lois Weber, Douglas Fairbanks and Mabel Normand.

Things began to go South at the MPCA’s second meeting in July held in New York. Quinn stood up and declared the motion picture industry was “the biggest joke in the world” and “rotten to the core.” He spelled out exactly how he wanted to change things in a letter to the Los Angeles Times editor, published August 3rd:

The business improved till about four years ago when we had such reliable production companies as the Biograph and Vitagraph organizations, which made a specialty of producing one and two reel features, and were delivering better stories, more sincerely and convincingly explained in one and two reels then they are now telling in five and eight reels.

There is not one producer or director in the moving-picture industry who does not need supervision and we stand ready to take three of any of their pictures which they have made in rotation and before a representative committee show where the pictures can greatly be improved by cutting, re-editing, recasting and in most cases, entire reconstruction.

He was certainly confident that he had all the answers. He also thought that everyone was getting paid too much, not just undeserving actors (he loathed the star system) but also supervisors and writers. He blamed the end of the Motion Picture Patents Company* and the rise of independent producers for the current “hog eat hog” situation: “fortune after fortune was, and is now being, burned up by the different independent producers in their present attempt to bunk the public and exhibitors into believing that each one was or is better than the other.”

Quinn ended his speech in New York by shouting “They think they can stop me from telling what I know about pictures, but I’m started now, and by God, the only way they can stop me now is to kill me.”

yankeedoodle
So much abbreviation!

Meeting attendees weren’t impressed. The Exhibitor’s Herald reporter observed, “nobody in the industry showed any disposition to stop him by killing him or any other method.” Jesse Goldberg, general manager of Frohman Amusement Corporation, stood up and said, “There is no more iniquity in the studios of the picture business than there is in any place else in the world…You talk of the public wanting clean films. Look at what Yankee Doodle in Berlin did at the Broadway. The box office was broken down and women fainted in the crush. And why? Because your clean picture-loving public knew that a number of pretty girls in abbreviated bathing suits would appear. If you want work to do, change the taste of the public.”

Wid’s Daily also weighed in on the meeting, concluding, “you cannot standardize anything—not morals, not drama, not box office receipts. You can only be tolerant and not fail to much in appreciation of what seems to hold the attention of about twenty-five million people who patronize every day the motion picture theaters of America.” This seems like useful advice for all reformers!

Quinn kept going, but he decided try a different angle. In 1920, he changed the name of his organization to The Motion Picture and Theatrical League for Better Pictures. It aimed to “stimulate the production of better pictures by the force of concentrated, organized public support of meritorious films and by the discouragement of untruthful advertising.” This scheme seems to have fizzled out in 1922.

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Quinn’s Rialto, May 28, 1917 (opening day). Quinn sold it to Sid Grauman in 1919.

John Archibald Quinn was quite a character. Born in Penetanguishene, Ontario, Canada in 1880, he became a theater owner in Arizona before he moved to Los Angeles in 1911 where he ran four theaters. Incidentally, while he was shouting for reform he was divorcing his wife of 16 years, Lena Wooton Quinn, to marry Lillie Riemann as soon as it was final in December 1919 (she divorced him in 1926).

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John and Lillie Quinn, 1923

After the Better Films project ended, he came back to Los Angeles and became the director of the West Side Improvement Association, whose aim was to coordinate business development from Main Street to the ocean. This didn’t go well, and in November 1929 he was in debtor’s court, stating that he lived on borrowed money and he hadn’t had a salaried position in ten years. At that time he was also involved in a bizarre and unsuccessful scheme to get the Chief of Police thrown out of office with false testimony from a French dancer. In the 1930 Census he was living in Alhambra with no employment but in the 1940 census, he was in Sierra Madre and said he was the director of the Los Angeles Tax Payers Association. He died in 1945.

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William Jennings Bryan

Kingsley mentioned an unusual potential vaudeville act:

Grape juice seems destined to take an upward flight in popularity and price. William J. Bryan, described by one New York publication as “Nebraska’s continuous spotlight,” is to go into vaudeville, receiving $2500 per week. He will open in New York, at the Palace, early next month, and is said to be signed up for a coast-to-coast tour.

Bryan, a temperance advocate, former presidential candidate and ex-Secretary of State did no such thing. Variety chased down the story’s origin: “The negotiations for the appearance of William Jennings Bryan did not proceed beyond their preliminary stage, which amounted to Evangeline Weed** submitting Bryan’s name to the big time managers, who rejected it.” It’s fun to speculate on what would his act have been like. He was a famous orator, but vaudeville managers plainly thought that politics didn’t fit among the comics and singers. He didn’t start his crusade against teaching evolution until the 1920’s, so that wouldn’t have been part of it.

ua_founding
Coming soon!

Kingsley had a chat with Syd Chaplin, and got the first hints of a story that would be big in the coming weeks.

Never before in the short but eventful history of the Big Five, which includes D.W. Griffith, Mary Pickford, Charles Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks and William S. Hart, have the members of the world famed aggregate been so closely affiliated and so strongly set on carrying out their plan of organization as at present. “We are at present merely working out the details of our plan,” said Mr. Chaplin yesterday, “and we expect to have a detailed statement to make within a few days.

This was the founding of United Artists, and there will be more about it.

 

 

 

*The MPPC was broken up in 1915 because it violated the Sherman Antitrust Act. This is the first time I’ve seen someone lamenting its end.

**Evangeline Weed ran a “personality school” to train actors, and was an aspiring Broadway producer. (Harvard Magazine, December 1919, p.31)

eweed

 

 

“All Off for Bryan,” Variety, January 17, 1919, p. 1.

“Another ‘Movement,’” Wid’s Daily, March 24, 1920, p.1.

“Effort to Ruin Davis Revealed,” Los Angeles Times, November 7, 1929.

“Exhibitor’s Views on Film Producing,” Los Angeles Times, August 3, 1919.

Golden, Herb. “How box office reporting was built,” Sime’s Site, http://www.simesite.net:80/muggs.asp?articleid=313

“Groups Unite on the West Side,” Los Angeles Times, March 30, 1924.

“I Don’t Know Where I Live,” Los Angeles Times, November 5, 1929.

“Limelight Gradually Dimming on J.A. Quinn and his Reform Plans,” Exhibitors Herald and Motography, July 19, 1919, p. 30.

“Quinn-Goldberg,” Wid’s Daily, July 14, 1919, p. 1, 4.

Week of January 11th, 1919

goldwyn_pictures

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley tried to reassure her readers that the film business was in good shape:

Those immortelle-weavers who love to honk-honk the sad news that now-a-days the lamp of the picture business is glimmering darkly—that in fact it is burning low and smelling of the wick—should go down to Culver City and have a peep at the Goldwyn activities. Then would these crepe-hangers sell out their stock and buy in on fireworks. Commencing next week all the Goldwyn forces, consisting of six companies, will be at work.

She was really working hard to be cheerful, but the film industry was in the middle of a rough patch. Losses from the theater closures lingered, the United States was in a postwar recession and people were still occasionally coming down with the flu (Gloria Swanson came down with it this week, and was quarantined in her bungalow).

Much less reassuring was what Samuel Goldwyn had to say about his plans. He announced: “we have definitely decided to make fewer pictures. No matter how long it takes to complete a picture, we shall not let it go out of the studio until we feel it is a perfect as possible.” That was good news for audiences, but terrible news for people who worked in the industry.

Kingsley’s favorite film this week was The Light of Western Stars, with Dustin Farnum.

The Wild West is rapidly becoming tame, even down in Arizona…But our joy in the Wild West show is perennial; and just now there is a perfectly smashing one on view at the Alhambra. You have only to take a peep into the above-named theater, and view the crowds that are chortling and thrilling in response to vivid melodrama.

The plot was unusual for a Western: Farnum’s character marries on a drunken bet, then he flees after being falsely accused of murder. They managed to work in a “thrilling” cattle round-up and several border raids.

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Ted Gale drew some cartoons, too

To close out the week, Kingsley wrote an odd little novelty article. A lifelong non-driver, she found herself among the 50,000 people attending the Auto Show. To occupy herself, she compared film actors to the latest models.

The Peerless Cloverleaf reminded her of Mary Pickford.

The seven-passenger Pierce-Arrow resembled Douglas Fairbanks.

The Overland family touring car looked like Charlie Chaplin.

I don’t see it, but I’m not bored and stuck at an auto show. It wasn’t her best work, but for a change, her writing appeared in the sports section.

 

 

Week of January 4th, 1919

 

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on the newest person to try his luck in Hollywood:

The problem of finding employment for returned soldiers is one to which Douglas Fairbanks is devoting serious attention to these days. In fact, to such an extent is Mr. Fairbanks interested in the welfare of the nation’s heroes that whenever possible he engages returned soldiers to work with him in pictures….The latest acquisition of Fairbanks along this line is none other than William A. Wellman, famous ace of the Lafayette Flying Corps, who has seven Hun planes to his credit. Being among the first five aviators to receive his honorable discharge, Wellman visited the Fairbanks studio in Southern California…This resulted in his being cast for an important part in the new Douglas Fairbanks production, Something for Somebody.

Kingsley’s version of the story wasn’t completely right. Wellman had originally met Fairbanks in Boston at a hockey game before the war, and Fairbanks said he had the looks to be an actor. Instead, Wellman enlisted as an ambulance driver in France, then joined the French Foreign Legion and was assigned to the Lafayette Flying Corps. He did shoot down seven enemy planes and earned the Croix de Guerre, before he was shot down by anti-aircraft guns. He got a medical discharge due to his injuries, and returned to the United States where he joined the Army Air Service to teach air combat fighting. When he was stationed in San Diego, he would fly his plane to Los Angeles and land on Fairbanks’ polo field for weekend visits.

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William Wellman, Douglas Fairbanks and Marjorie Daw

Wellman did appear in Fairbanks next film, renamed The Knickerbocker Buckaroo. He played a juvenile named Henry; unfortunately the part wasn’t important enough to be mentioned in the synopses of the AFI Catalog or the Motion Picture News. It’s a lost film.

Wellman next acted in a film directed by Raoul Walsh, Evangeline, but after getting fired for slapping the leading lady (who happened to be Miriam Cooper, the director’s wife) he decided that he wanted to be a director, not an actor. He worked his way up, starting as a messenger boy, property man, assistant cutter and assistant director before directing his first film in 1923. He went on to make classics like Wings (1927), A Star is Born (1937) and Beau Geste (1939).

 

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Kingsley gave us a new verb in her description of The Cabaret Girl, starring Ruth Clifford, which opened

quite fascinatingly with Miss Clifford annettekellering in a pool. However, for some mysterious reason not unconnected with good sense—and though it’s just simply never done in pictures—she actually wears a bathing suit. Of course, the hero comes along—what hero wouldn’t—just as her clothes are stolen, and he loans her his automobile robe. She dreams of him thereafter—but it doesn’t occur to her to return the robe. Having seen the young lady pass the acid test of wet stringy hair and dripping features, he naturally wants to know her; but he doesn’t until she becomes a cabaret singer. Then quite suddenly, he wants to marry her, though he’s very rich and lives in a house with stone lions on the steps.

You will never guess how it ends. Just a few weeks back after the theaters reopened and nonsense in movies was already irritating Kingsley. Nevertheless, it was part of a “mighty nice little bill at the Symphony.” The film survives at the EYE Institute, Amsterdam.

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Ruth Roland

Poor Ruth Roland, the serial star, was just back to work after recovering from the flu when she had a hideous case of poison oak. The actor who was playing a villain had been collecting plants in the forest, then he strangled her for a scene “with such artistic fervor that he transferred the poison to the star’s delicate skin, with the result her face, arms and throat are in terrible condition.” Even worse, the actor was immune to the plant’s effects. What a terrible way to start the new year! Roland recovered from this, too, and kept acting in films until 1930.

poisonoak
Don’t collect this!

 

 

Week of December 28th, 1918

 

 

One hundred years ago this week, soldiers were beginning to come home.

It isn’t every girl who has the luck to welcome even one soldier boy back from France, much less 2000 of ‘em. But that’s to be the delightful privilege of our own Mary Pickford, who will personally wish a Happy New Year to the One Hundred and Forty-third California Field Artillery. Hastening back home from the world war is the gallant 143rd, which, you will recollect, was adopted by Miss Pickford when the boys were at Camp Kearney. Yesterday Mayor Rolph of San Francisco telegraphed Miss Pickford that her godsons would arrive in San Francisco on New Year’s Day, and invited her to be present to welcome them at the ferry and proceed in the parade with them to the Presidio, where special exercises will be held. Mary is to be asked to make a little speech.

However, they had so many ceremonies to attend in New York that their arrival in San Francisco was delayed until January 3rd. Miss Pickford put off her trip, too, and she was there to greet them when they arrived.

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The 143rd weren’t only adopted by Pickford, they appeared in her film Johanna Enlists. Russell at Screen Snapshots has a nice article about the film and the troop, including that they were fortunate, and weren’t involved in the fighting in France.

Happily, life was beginning to return to normal but according to economist E. Jay Howenstine, Jr., demobilization wasn’t simple. The government feared mass unemployment when the soldiers returned, so they considered slowing it down. However, every industry wanted their workers back ASAP, and they lobbied their congresspeople to speed things up. Families and the soldiers themselves also pressured their representatives, so by mid-February they were bringing people back as fast as they could, limited only by the number of ships they had. By early June they were discharging 102,000 people per week and by August 1st there were only 156,000 men left in Europe. Almost 4 million individuals had been an American service member, but by the anniversary of the war’s end, demobilization was complete.

 

Kingsley interviewed D.W. Griffith this week, and he said that he’d made a seven-reel feature out of the Babylon episodes of Intolerance by expanding the love story of the Prince and Princess, as well as the Mountain Girl’s (Constance Talmadge) romance with the Rhapsode (Elmer Clifton). Kingsley wrote:

Here’s a pleasant surprise for you! In the new story, the little Mountain Girl and her lover live! “You see, that’s how the original story was made. Then we changed it. But we kept that film. I’ve allowed the lovers to live this time,” he smiles, “and they go away into the desert together. No, I really don’t know what becomes of them after that, but it must be a very fascinating thing to do, mustn’t it—going away into the desert with one’s lover.

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Constance Talmadge as the Mountain Girl

The film was called The Fall of Babylon and contemporary critics like Julian Johnson liked it, saying that on a second viewing he realized his original enthusiasm for Intolerance was merited. A modern critic writing for MOMA mentions that Griffith made it to help recoup his losses. Babylon has been eclipsed by the other film derived from Intolerance, The Mother and the Law. The MOMA writer said the modern story “stands on its own as one of the director’s major achievements.”

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Priscilla Dean

Kingsley’s favorite film this week was yet another reworking of The Taming of the Shrew called She Hired a Husband, starring Priscilla Dean. She wrote:

There are several new angles to the old tale. For one thing, you’re sure to be surprised—but I won’t spoil your anticipation of the ending. Of course, you shouldn’t be surprised, because the long arm of coincidence, which is forever reaching out in the film drama—but there, I’ll be telling in a minute!

Instead of being properly tamed at the right time, out there in the cabin in the woods, this chaste and chased Diana, who refuses to be married to anybody her guardians want her to espouse, and picks up with a tramp instead, is kidnapped by real ruffians. And not another word shall I tell you. Go and see the picture for yourself. You’re sure to be vastly entertained.

It’s a lost film, so we can’t be vastly entertained any more but I won’t leave you in suspense: the tramp rescues her from the kidnappers, and it turns out he was the nice young man that her family wanted her to marry all along. Aren’t you glad you were sitting down for that?

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Samuel Goldwyn

This week, Samuel Goldfish legally changed his name to Goldwyn.

Mr. Goldfish decided to name himself after his big organization. Not only, says Mr. Goldfish, has he missed some attractive invitations to dinner, through people thinking his name was Goldwyn, and thus addressing him in nice little notes, but sometimes there has been delay in business negotiations through the same misunderstanding. During the past two years of the company’s existence, in fact, fully half of the mail intended for him, says the new Mr. Goldwyn, has been marked “Samuel Goldwyn.”

It seems the Selwyns, who contributed the last part of the company name, didn’t have the same trouble. It’s funny that he felt he needed to make an excuse for changing his name.

1919happyI hope your New Year is as happy as the 143rd’s was!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jay Howenstine, Jr. “Demobilization After the First World War,” Quarterly Journal of Economics, v. 58 no, 1 (Nov. 1943), pp. 91-105. This article is particularly interesting because he wrote it to offer suggestions on how to demobilize after the Second World War, putting history to good use.

Julian Johnson, “The Shadow Stage,” Photoplay, October 1919, p. 76,78.

Week of December 21st, 1918

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One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley described how quickly Los Angeles had bounced back from the closures during the flu epidemic:

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Nazimova

Some Rialto it is that our little old Broadway is becoming once more! What with all the theaters racing their curtains up every night, what with Nazimova and Charlie Chaplin promenading the gash-deck of the Alexandria, with handsome army officers tangoing nightly in the hotel dining-rooms with Mary MacLaren and Edna Purviance, with the deep-sea-going automobiles of D.W. Griffith, Bill Hart, Mary Pickford, Cecil De Mille, and Mable Normand parked in bunches along Broadway, with all the lights turned on, and even the elusive sugar-bowl trekking back to café tables,* really life grows brighter and brighter—Los Angeles is herself again.

 

Broadway was one of the oldest streets in Los Angeles, and for fifty years it was the main commercial and theater district. After the Second World War, it went into decline when everything moved to the suburbs, but it’s making a comeback now.

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She reported more proof that business was good: the safe at the Palace Theater was broken in to, and the burglars got away with $1000 in cash and a “considerable” amount of Liberty Bonds. The thieves’ methods were worthy of a movie: they blew the safe up with nitroglycerin, after wrapping the it with the theater’s water-soaked curtains and wall hangings to deaden the noise. There was no report in the Times or the Herald that they were ever caught.

 

Kingsley had an exceptionally bad week at the movies; other than the new Roscoe Arbuckle short, The Sheriff  she wasn’t wild about anything she saw. She thought that Tongues of Flame, a tale of jealousy set in a redwood forest, was slow moving and badly cast even if the photography of the redwoods was beautiful, and Mae Marsh’s sister Marguerite in Conquered Hearts was “quite expressionless,” as was the story. Worst of all was Oh Johnny, which was “rather of the vintage of 1915 when we didn’t do things on the screen as we do now. The story is as full of kidnappings and attempted arsons and burglaries and murders as a Main-street serial.” The film was made in 1918 by a small company in Pennsylvania, Betzwood Film. The local community college library there has a very nice website devoted to it; they’ve also put Oh Johnny on it as well. (Hooray for local historians!)

Exhibitors weren’t cleaning out their shelves during a slow time: Kingsley was just having a run of bad luck. Douglas Fairbanks’ Arizona opened on Christmas Eve, and Chaplin’s Shoulder Arms was in its second week as was Griffith’s The Greatest Thing in Life.

 

 

 

*Sugar wasn’t rationed in the U.S. during World War 1, but because it was imported people were encouraged to use domestic honey or maple syrup instead.

Week of December 14th, 1918

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One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley got to see an unusual show before D.W. Griffith’s new film, The Greatest Thing in Life:

The prologue is one of the most beautiful and artistic spectacles of the sort that the stage has seen. So far as its meaning is concerned, a part of its artistry lies in the fact it settles nothing for you. What do you think is the greatest thing in life? is the query which trails the showing of the beauties of life and love and comradeship and self-sacrifice.

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Motion Picture News gave a detailed description of the half-hour long show. It opened with a dark stage, which is slowly brightened. Out of the hazy background came a voice:

“The greatest thing in life – what is the greatest thing in life?”

Second voice: “I haven’t the slightest idea.”

First voice: “the greatest thing in life is-is-is (soft music) wait-wait-wait, here come the singers and dancers, they know what life is. Light hearts of the world—music, dancing, wine, women, life itself-that is the greatest thing in life.’

After a tenor solo, the first voice said “Ah, the search for love eternal—that is the greatest thing in life, ” then a couple performed a modern dance. This was followed by an “ultra” jazz number, then four soldiers representing duty and heroism, then more dancers, representing shadows from the “land of the silver sheet” as a bridge to the film itself.

Motion Picture News said the piece entitled Voices got eight minutes of applause and calls from the audience of 3000 on opening night. Now the prologue is remembered, if at all, because of one of the forty performers. Rudolpho Di Valentina did that modern dance with Clarine Seymour. MPN had reported earlier “Rudolpho Di Valentina continues the merry dance in Griffith’s prologue to The Greatest Thing in Life, and the big audience applauds him at every program.”

 

 

In 1918, Valentino was an aspiring actor who’d arrived in Hollywood the year before. He’d had a few bit parts in films but his career didn’t take off until 1921 after he streamlined his name and starred in Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. If you’re interested in his early career, you can find an extract about it from Dark lover: the life and death of Rudolph Valentino by Emily W. Leider in The Guardian. To learn more about Valentino in general, visit Donna Hill’s site, Falcon Lair.

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Gish, studying, in The Greatest Thing

After seeing the prologue, Kingsley chatted with Lillian Gish and learned that she

entertains ambitions to go on the stage. But she’s very backward about discussing it, approaching the possibility in most modest fashion. “I don’t think,” she said, “I could possibly be ready for so great an undertaking before I’m 30—so I have some years to go. But—yes—I really want to go on the stage, and I really mean to do it when I feel I’m ready. In the meantime I’m studying, studying.”

 

 

This surprised me, because Gish had been a stage actress from 1902 to 1912: it was nothing new for her. After her film career slowed down, she did go on the stage. However, it wasn’t until seven years after she turned 30, in 1930, when she appeared in her first production after becoming famous, Uncle Vanya. But it seems like her stage career wasn’t second-best to being in films – she planned it.

This week, several film executives came back to Hollywood, and each and every one of them had big plans for expansion for their businesses in 1919.

  • S.L. Rothapfel said wanted to build theaters in Paris and London that would be similar to his New York theaters, the Rialto and the Rivoli. He said “There is no doubt American films will be more popular even than before the war, and there is no doubt that the thousands of photoplays now reposing on the shelves of American producers will be eagerly welcomed by the people of the allied countries.” (bad news for writers trying to sell new material!)
  • Samuel Goldfish (still not yet Goldwyn) told her that his studio would make fewer, but better pictures, taking more time and care with each of them. He hoped to add a number of new stars to his roster.
  • Winfield Sheehan, the general manager at Fox, said “To me, the outlook is splendid. I look forward to 1919 with every feeling that it will be one of the greatest in the history of the industry. The Fox Film Corporation is laying plans for the biggest year of its career. We not only intend to improve the high standard of our pictures, but we are going to make more of them. After four years of war, people must have amusement.”
  • Cecil B. De Mille concluded “in the five years that I have been producing I have never found conditions more satisfactory, nor promising a more brilliant future for the entire industry.”

Lucky for them, their optimism was well-founded: the industry did recover. 1919 was a much better year all around, but the troubles of 1918 weren’t quite finished.

 

 

People were still coming down with the flu. Actress Ruth Roland was ill at home with it, and work on her current serial had stopped until she recovered. Happily, she did. According to O’Leary, the number of new cases in Los Angeles was declining rapidly in December with a small resurgence after holiday celebrations. The epidemic was almost over.

 

 

They weren’t done with war movies, either. Kingsley reported on the audience reaction to Me und Gott, at the Alhambra:

That it strikes a popular chord was testified to yesterday by the applause and hisses that marked its devious progress. It has some really breathless moments, particularly that in which we wait for the munitions plant to blow up.

Unfortunately, the film was trying to teach people that German-Americans weren’t the enemy. It seems like the audience didn’t get the message, they just were there for spectacle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Griffith Himself Stages Prologue for ‘Greatest Thing in Life’ in Los Angeles, Motion Picture News, February 4, 1919, p. 88.

 

(“News,” January 18, 1919, p. 410)

 

 

Pieter M. O’Leary, “The 1918-1919 Influenza Epidemic in Los Angeles,” Southern California Quarterly, v.86 no.4 (Winter 2004), pp. 397-8

 

 

A symbolic prologue dramatizes the invasion of an American home by German troops who are admitted to the house by a butler who has bound his master and abused the master’s daughter. In the main story, the American-born son of an ex-Prussian officer wants to atone for the wrongs done by people of his own blood when he realizes what America means to him.

Week of December 7th, 1918

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The boss

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley interviewed Hollywood’s newest film producer:

“Here I am—all alone in the world, without an alibi!” That’s what Mary Pickford, now a producer for the First National Exhibitor’s Circuit, said the other day, with her humorous little smile. She meant there’s nobody to lay the blame on if her pictures go wrong.

“I sued to be able to say, when I was with Artcraft, and anything went wrong, ‘Well, now if Mr. Zukor had let me do so and so—And now I haven’t a single person to blame if Daddy Long Legs and Pollyanna don’t turn out to be the successes I of course hope they will be.”

 

In this interview, Mary Pickford was no longer the girlish actress of the February 23, 1918 article; she was in control of her own films and being very well paid for it. Kingsley spoke to her while she was hiring actors for her next film, Daddy Long Legs, and she made it plain that the casting decisions were all Pickford’s, not director Marshall Neilan’s. Pickford also had final say on the screenplay being written by Agnes Johnston. She thought it was “an awful responsibility,” but didn’t mention the other side: she got the credit if it all went well, which it did.

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Forming United Artists, 1919

The man who directed her first films in 1909, D.W. Griffith, stopped by, and he reminisced:

“What do you think of our young lady now? Such a rich girl! Do you know I remember the awful time I had keeping Mary in the old Biograph days because she wanted $30 a week. ‘Thirty dollars’ exclaimed the business head of that concern, ‘Mary wants thirty dollars a week! Why I never heard of such a thing! There ain’t no picture actor in the world worth thirty dollars a week!’”

Both Pickford and the movie industry had come a long way since she quit Biograph for the first time in 1910! For the rest of her career, she managed her anxieties about responsibility, and continued to be in charge of her films through her last one, Secrets, in 1933.

brokenblossoms
Coming attraction

Later this week, Griffith announced the film he was currently working on, based on a story from a collection called Limehouse Nights, “a story far removed from war subjects.” He changed the name to Broken Blossoms, and while it was completely different from his earlier successes, it turned out to be one of his best films. It was added to the Library of Congresses National Film Registry in 1996.

Kingsley’s favorite film this week was a comedy, but there was a melancholy tinge to it:

It’s rather an odd trick of fate which causes us to see the late Harold Lockwood for the last time in a role in which he plays the part of one returned from the dead, as he does in the capital comedy drama, Pals First, which is on view at Clune’s Broadway. And it’s a matter of congratulation with us who knew and were fond of the popular film idol that his last role was one that fitted his talents so well and that he did his very best work of his career in the part….Harold Lockwood plays delightfully the role of the nonchalant, happy-go-lucky crook of fascinating manners.

This wasn’t the last Lockwood film to be released; three more came out in 1919. Nevertheless, it sounds like the story of a tramp impersonating an aristocrat thought to be lost at sea suited him. P.S. Harrison in Motion Picture News also thought it was one of Lockwood’s best, and the film “holds one in constant suspense.” It’s presumed lost.