A Coming Attraction: December 1-15, 1921

One hundred years ago this month, Grace Kingsley got to visit the set of The Prisoner of Zenda. She had announced the film was starting production on October 4th, when she got “a glimpse of the scenario for the picture, which has already been completed by Mary O’Hara, reveal[ing] the tremendous scale on which it will be filmed.” The studio also promised elaborate sets, fabulous costumes, big stars and enormous crowd scenes. Since early publicity had helped with the success of director Rex Ingram’s earlier Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the studio was happy to invite her to see the shoot for herself.

Alice Terry and Rex Ingram

Zenda was already such a popular story that she didn’t need to tell her readers the several-times-adapted-to-theater-and-film plot of Anthony Hope’s 1894 novel, which involves a king kidnapped by his evil brother and a look-alike tourist who steps in as a temporary substitute. She could assume they all knew who King Rudolf, Grand Duke Michael, and Mr. Rassendyll were, so she began by calling the shoot Ingram’s honeymoon, because he’d married his leading actress Alice Terry in the middle of it. In his interview, he was in his best promotion mode, saying “I believe this is the greatest love story which has ever been put on the screen.” She also reported that he felt he had discovered the secret to making a popular historical drama; he said:

“Characterization is the thing. The trouble with costume plays in the early days, and the thing that killed them with the public was that people in the were mere animated costumes.”

He went on to tell her about how much effort they were putting in to making the film realistic, even though it was set in Ruritaina, a fictional kingdom. The experts advising them included John Howell, former valet to King Edward VII; Ingram told Kingsley:

“He can tell you everything about a king’s behavior from the way he behaves when he gets up in the morning and goes into his cabinet, to the etiquette regarding calling up the family physician to cure the royal stomach-ache.”

Handsome uniforms!

He’d also hired Col. Sterrett Ford to make sure the military detail was correct, even though the “army of soldiers wearing handsome new uniforms which cost $80,000, who are used principally for decorative purposes, as there are no war scenes in the picture.”

Another new star

While hanging out on the set, Kingsley also got to chat with an up-and-coming new star Ramon Samaniegos. She wrote:

This Samoniegos is a brilliant new screen personality whom Ingram has lately discovered. He will doubtless become a star following the release of Zenda, according to Ingram, who certainly does know how to choose his players. Even as Valentino was made by The Four Horsemen, so it seems likely now that this handsome young Spaniard will become world-famous overnight. He said “Now sometimes I’m so happy I’m unhappy!”

Samoniegos was different from most of the other up-and-comers Kingsley wrote about, because after a name change to Novarro, he did become a star. His most famous role was the lead in Ben Hur (1925). Unfortunately, now he’s mostly known for his tragic death—he was murdered in 1968.

Kingsley concluded: “But the play’s the thing. And in The Prisoner of Zenda Rex Ingram and Metro have a sure-fire story.”

In February, they released a photo of Mr. Samoniegos. He changed his last name to Novarro just before Zenda came out.

It’s remarkable how much work studio publicity departments put in to ballyhooing their big films (and how accommodating the press was to all their material). Zenda wasn’t in theaters until nearly a year later, but they kept up a steady flow of information about it before then.

Exhibitors’ Herald ran photos from the film in late April

In April the company issued a press release promising an amazing spectacle that got widely quoted. Exhibitors’ Trade Review wrote about some of the film’s impressive statistics, from the salaries (“probably the most heart-breaking a task as any in the making of The Prisoner of Zenda was the writing of checks. Signing the post-office payroll is not unlike it,”) to the 23,000 people who worked on in, in one way or another. Its scenario contained 1622 pages of single-spaced typewritten material, and so many extras appeared in the big scenes that Ingram had to use a radiophone communicate with the assistant directors to direct them. The costumes for the principles in the coronation scene alone cost $105,000, and just that took two weeks to shoot. The film’s total cost came to $1,118,453.16. No expense was spared! I guess they thought that people would like to see what a million dollars looked like on the screen.

New York based L.A. Times writer Frederic James Smith got to attend the trade preview, but his response probably wasn’t what they were looking for. He wrote:

the good old Anthony Hope marshmallow adventure did not stir us overmuch. Metro apparently slathered on the dollars in making the picture and Rex has tried to escape his penchant for beautiful dramaless pictures in favor of action, but the results don’t measure up to The Four Horsemen…The much-touted Ramon Samaniegos reminds us of a successful dentist—and nothing more.

Oddly enough, Mr. S’s father was a dentist. Nevertheless, the trade papers viewed it through a different lens: they thought that Zenda would sell loads of tickets. Film Daily said:

There is enough romance, drama, adventure and love interest in The Prisoner of Zenda for several big features, but Rex Ingram kept them carefully knitted together and as a result has welded a splendid box office, sure fire picture which Metro will release for the coming season.

They also liked Samaniegos/Novarro more than Smith did, saying “he is a devilish villain, but on the whole very charming.”

Los Angeles Times, September 17, 1922

The film arrived in Los Angeles in September, and naturally Kingsley didn’t get to review it. Her editor Edwin Schallert wrote a mixed review, saying:

Mr. Ingram’s picture is an earnest effort to visualize the events of the story and something of its stimulating charm. he hasn’t caught the delicate aroma—the bouquet of the original, but he has manufactured a palatable substitute. In the main, his Zenda is zestful, and in the artistry of sets and imitations of sets, and in types it possesses great pictorial allurement, while the actual drama evinces more climax than Mr. Ingram has heretofore been able to put on screen…What seems particularly lacking in the picture are the finer semblances of reality. I don’t know that the original story showed these in any greater degree fundamentally, but we weren’t so aware that the characters were made out of pasteboard…There are flashes of ability from Ramon Navarro, the much-heralded find of Mr. Ingram, but for the most part he indulges in clownish mugging.

Nevertheless, the film was on Film Daily Yearbook’s Top Ten Best Films of 1922 list and it did sell plenty of tickets. Zenda is available on DVD now, but according to Fritzi Kramer it suffers in comparison to the 1937 version (but honestly, most movies do).

It was so popular that Lewis Selznick made a version of the novel’s sequel in 1923, but it didn’t involve anyone who worked on Zenda. It’s a lost film. It might seem odd that they didn’t do the same in 1938, but the story is much too sad: too many characters die who ought not.

“Ingram has Produced Another Real Picture in This One,” Film Daily, April 30, 1922, p. 3.

Grace Kingsley, “Flashes: Rex Ingram’s Nest,” Los Angeles Times, October 5, 1921.

Edwin Schallert, “Reviews: Myths and Fancies,” Los Angeles Times, September 18, 1922.

Frederic James Smith, “Color Film Sensation,” Los Angeles Times, April 30, 1922.

“Statistics of Prisoner of Zenda,” Exhibitors’ Trade Review, April 15, 1922, p.1390.

One Way to Sell a Screenplay: November 16-30, 1921

Louis V. Eytinge, circa 1910

One hundred years ago this month, Grace Kingsley reported on the success of an unusual first-time screenwriter:

From behind the grim doors of the State penitentiary, at Florence Ariz., has come a scenario so clever, so appealing, so full of penetrating realism, that the Universal Film Manufacturing Company has felt impelled to accept it. The scenario is by a man serving a life sentence. His name is Louis V. Eytinge, and the name of his story is “Peter Man.” Peter Man is the slang term in crookdom for a safe-blower, and naturally the hero of the story is a crook, inasmuch as Eytinge has made a special study of the men about him, of their wasted lives, their ways, their philosophies and their petty prejudices.

Just as it happens, Eytinge has had the luck to sell the first story he ever wrote, or rather the first he has submitted. He has been working for many months past at writing and is completing the fourteenth year of his life sentence.

Sixteen years ago Louis Eytinge, scion of a good family and a man of the world, was sent to the penitentiary on a charge of forgery. Never very strong, he contracted tuberculosis, and his sentence was shortened to two years. His family sent him to Arizona for his health. A year later he came across a man he had known as a pal behind the bleak walls of the Ohio prison. They revived their friendship. Then one day the body of the pal was found by a cattleman, and Eytinge was convicted on circumstantial evidence of having slain him.

Remarkably, some of the information Kingsley got from the Universal press release about Eytinge is consistent with other newspaper stories, as well as a biographical article written by Old West historian Leo W. Banks. He called him “a forger, swindler, liar and playboy, probably the most talented and cold-blooded con man early Arizona ever knew.”

The short version of the story is that Louis Victor Eytinge was born in Dayton, Ohio in 1878 to Harry Eytinge, an actor, and Ida Seebohm Eytinge, his much younger drama student wife. Louis didn’t join the family business, instead he became a criminal and he served five years for forgery in Ohio. He did contract tuberculosis, and after he was released in 1907, he went to Phoenix, Arizona. Soon after he arrived, he went on a picnic in the desert with John Leicht, who didn’t return. After the decomposing body was found, Eytinge claimed he’d died by suicide. The murder trial fascinated Arizona newspapers. He was convicted on June 4, 1907 and sentenced to life in prison. He spent 16 years locked up, first in Yuma then in Florence. There he built a thriving mail-order business for prisoner-produced goods, as well as a direct-mail advertising business. He also wrote articles for magazines, often about prison reform.

Exhibitors’ Herald, April 22, 1922, p. 60

His next world to conquer was the movies (apparently, everybody who writes has to try that at some point). So he enrolled in the Palmer scriptwriting course by mail. After his screenplay sold, the company didn’t mind having their name associated with a convicted murderer; instead Fredrick Palmer gave Moving Picture World a letter in which Eytinge gave all credit to that method for his success. He wrote:

My early experience with the Palmer Course was exhilarating. You sent me my first rejection slip, and that served to reduce the egoism that infected Eytinge…The critical comments on my returned scripts were clear, concise and based upon a ripened experience. More than this the Palmer experts did not stop at pointing out defects in my work, for they prescribed remedies and offered serviceable suggestions. It has been a peculiar pleasure to have relations with all the Palmer people and a joy to tackle the task of re-writing and rebuilding, until at last, the reward is here and success in sight.

Gee, he really was good at writing advertising copy! Universal assigned Tod Browning to direct the film and Herbert Rawlinson to star in it, and they quickly completed it. The studio changed the title, because according to Moving Picture Weekly “no one but crooks and detectives understand the meaning of the title “Peterman” and unfortunately these two classes of individuals constitute a very small proportion of those who see moving pictures.” Called The Man Under Cover, the movie told the story of two criminals who are interrupted in a nighttime bank robbery by finding the manager dead by suicide. They learn that he killed himself because he lost the bank’s money to con men selling shares in a fake oil well so the crooks decide to go straight, beat the con men at their own game, and return the money to the townspeople.

Grace Kingsley really enjoyed the finished film, which has been preserved at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. She wrote:

Down in Florence Penitentiary Louis Victor Eytinge gazes wistfully out of the window. That is, when they let him. He’s a lifer. So he couldn’t hear the laughter nor fell the thrills that ran through the audience yesterday at the Superba when his picture story, The Man Under Cover, unrolled itself on the screen. The story is not tragedy. It is comedy—bright, sparkling, human, entirely engaging comedy.

Tod Browning and the author have given a new tang to their clever play by holding back revelations and making you use your brains a bit. The subtitles are full of snap and wise cracks. Together with the swift and original action, they keep the house laughing and on the qui vive.

The Man Under Cover is sure to be a great success.

Other critics liked it, but nobody else thought it was a comedy. Maybe it’s because they went to trade screenings in New York instead of seeing it with a regular audience. Exhibitors’ Herald said, “if you are in the market for a refreshingly original crook play, hop out and get this one…It has everything the showman wants in the way of plot, sentiment and good swift action.” Mary Kelly in Moving Picture World wrote:

 With its big dramatic punch, consisting of a scene in which a promoter plays a spectacular hoax on the public to get even with a swindler, this feature has an appeal similar to the Wallingford pictures. It has the thrill of an uncertain business venture, and although not entirely new, is as unhackneyed enough to be popular with many.

Louis V. Eytinge, undated

The Man Under Cover was Eytinge’s only screenplay credit. He got paroled in December 1922, and according to the New York Times, he’d been offered a well-paid job at an advertising firm. Apparently that didn’t work out, because he went back to forgery and conning women out of their savings. Eventually in 1933 he was convicted in Los Angeles of grand theft after he stole money from a nurse. He was released in 1938 and he died in Pennsylvania on December 17, 1938, probably from heart failure.

“Convicts to Select Title for Film,” Moving Picture Weekly, March 4, 1922, p. 17.

Mary Kelly, “The Man Under Cover,” Moving Picture World, April 15, 1922,  p. 760.

Grace Kingsley, “Convict Pens Play that is Sparkling,” Los Angeles Times, May 1, 1922.

“Man Under Cover,” Exhibitors’ Herald, April 29, 1922, p.58.

“Murderer is Freed to be Advertiser,” New York Times, December 31, 1922.

“Palmer Photoplay Sells Big Scenario to Universal Company,” Moving Picture World, December 10, 1921, p.668.

“Rawlinson has an Interesting Crook Story for Latest Vehicle,” Film Daily, April 9, 1922, p.15.

Unable to Move with the Times: November 1-15, 1921

They visited the Penrod set (Exhibitors’ Herald, December 3, 1921, p.36.)

One hundred years ago this month, Grace Kingsley reported on the Hollywood arrival of an authentic film pioneer and his favorite actress:

Modestly disclaiming her title of the English Mary Pickford, yet occupying in the heart of the English public very much the place which Mary Pickford occupies in ours, Alma Taylor, British screen star, arrived in Los Angeles and is registered at the Alexandria. She may decide to make pictures here, she says.

Miss Taylor, who is a beautiful young girl of demiblond type, is accompanied by her mother and by her director, Cecil Hepworth, of Hepworth Pictures Corporation, of England. Her director, having faith that the young lady will become as popular throughout the world as any American star, declares that he and Miss Taylor are here looking over the ground with a view possibly to returning this winter and producing pictures. During their present stay they will remain only a week, returning to New York, and thence to England.

“I want not only to make pictures for England, but for the world,” said Miss Taylor earnestly. “And,” she continued modestly, “one must travel to California and see American methods at their best in order to learn those things which shall make us able to compete with Americans.” During the coming week Miss Taylor will visit various studios with her director.

It’s interesting to learn that the most English of all early directors had ambitions to crack the American market! That didn’t work out for him, but he was still important to film history without it.

Cecil Milton Hepworth was “perhaps the leading figure in British silent cinema,” according to film historian Luke McKernan. Born in 1874 in London, England, his father, Thomas Hepworth, was a traveling magic lantern lecturer. The younger Hepworth got his start in moving pictures in 1896 as an assistant to camera inventor/filmmaker Birt Acres. In 1898 he moved to producer Charles Urban’s company. After he got fired in 1899, he and his cousin Monty Wicks started their own production company, Hepwix, later renamed the Hepworth Manufacturing Company, and it became the biggest British film production company before the first world war. In 1905 they had a huge international hit with Rescued by Rover – it was so successful that he had to re-shoot the film twice because they wore out the negatives making prints.

After the war he continued to make features like Alf’s Button (1920) that sold lots of tickets in the United Kingdom, but not in the United States. So it’s no wonder he wanted to see if he could change that. Hepworth, Taylor, her mother Kate, and William Reed, a Hepworth company executive, arrived in New York in late October 1921. Hepworth told Motion Picture News that “it was his intention to produce for a broader market and that this was largely the purpose of his trip.” From there they traveled to Montreal, then to Los Angeles where they visited studios and attended some parties.* In his 1951 autobiography Came the Dawn, Hepworth didn’t have a lot to say about his trip to America. He mentioned that Charlie Chaplin traveled on the same boat to New York as they did, and they saw him at his studio in Los Angeles “and had many most interesting talks with him on his production and allied subjects.” They took the train back to New York and left for London on January 17, 1922.

Before he left, Hepworth arranged for a press screening of Alf’s Button and the response from a Film Daily writer explains why the story of a solider who finds a wish-granting button couldn’t even get distribution: it was just too slow for American audiences. Although it had reportedly made the Prince of Wales laugh, it had “poor direction” and a “badly constructed script,” therefore “just how American audiences can be expected to find the picture amusing when there are such fun makers as Lloyd, Chaplin, Keaton and a few others capable of drawing continuous laughs is hard to say.”

Hepworth responded to this criticism with a somewhat confusing essay in Motion Picture News. It shows that he wasn’t interested in learning new things on his trip, he just became more confirmed in his own opinions. He thought that one of the biggest troubles with the films of 1922 was “their gradual divorcement from reality” for

the aim of every good director is to build up gradually, on the sure foundation of reality and experience, a towering structure of beauty, interest and entertainment peopled with living, breathing human creatures living such lives as real people live and doing such things as human beings do or may be believed to do. But there are many directors who have left that sure foundation far, far below them.

He hated the current trend of quick editing and what he thought was the excessive use of close-ups, then he praised himself for using fades between scenes instead of cuts (he thought they were too distracting). Furthermore, make-up on actors was “the greatest destroyer of illusion that we suffer from today.” He wanted the rest of the film industry to be different because he certainly wasn’t going to change.

Hepworth didn’t return to Los Angeles in the winter of 1922 to make movies, as he told Kingsley he might. Instead he tried to get funding for a new company, Hepworth Picture Plays. He launched it in 1922, but in his autobiography he said, “it was almost still-born for it was very badly undersubscribed…I alone am to blame for the unhappy result.”

However, he did manage to make Comin’ Thro’ the Rye (1923). It was a box office failure in U.K. and was never distributed in the U.S. The American fan magazine Photoplay reviewed it in 1925 and said, “in picture production it is about thirty years behind American films. The story is poor, the settings are poor, the costumes are poor, the acting is worse and the whole thing just gives one a desire to shoot everybody that had a hand in its making.” Now in academic film circles it’s greatly respected and considered an important part of the formation of the British national cinema.

Hepworth didn’t stop trying. In 1923 he signed a deal with Burr Nickle, a small states rights distributor, to distribute eight of his features in the U.S. Nickle opened an office in Los Angeles and previewed three of them at the Ambassador Theater in January: Sunken Rocks, Tansy, and Bargains. Nothing came of it and according to Film Daily, they terminated their agreement at some point before February 1924. Hepworth made one more feature, The House of Marney (1927). But as Luke McKernan observed, “he followed the typical pattern of an innovator unable to move with the times.” After Hepworth Picture Plays went bankrupt, he directed trailers and lectured on film history. He died on February 9, 1953.

Alma Taylor in 1921

Alma Taylor also didn’t return to Hollywood. Alma Louise Taylor was born January 3, 1895 in London to John and Kate Taylor. Her father was a metal broker. She started acting in Hepworth’s films in 1907, when she was 12. She appeared in over 150 shorts and features for the Hepworth Company, usually playing girls and girlish women. In a 1915 poll by Pictures and the Picturegoer fan magazine, she was the most popular British-born star (Chaplin came in second).

Alma Taylor in The Shadow of Egypt—she played an artist’s wife who was not at all like a Hepworth heroine.

After Hepworth’s company went bankrupt, she starred in her first film away from him, The Shadow of Egypt (1924). Shot on location, she wrote an essay about it and wearing make-up for the first time for P&P and said, “despite the terrific heat and the attacks of mosquitos, Egypt impressed me very much indeed.” She continued to act in films and on stage, moving on to smaller, more matronly parts. Her final film was A Night to Remember (1958).

In 1935 she helped to demonstrate television transmission at the Crystal Palace in London. She spent nine months working for John Baird, who invented the first working color TV system (The Journal of the Association of Cine-Technicians, August 1935, p.25.) She didn’t just move with the times, she was ahead of them!

She married Leonard Avery in June 1936. Leonard Avery Grimes was born on May 31, 1869 in Queensland, Australia. He enrolled in Wadham College, Oxford, in 1889. He became a physician and was a house surgeon at St. George’s Hospital in London. Taylor was his second wife; he was married to Helen Mary Reeves in 1899, and they had three children: John, Philip and Cynthia. At some point between 1899 and 1901, they changed their last name to Avery. When he married Taylor he was working for Horlicks (the malted milk powder company) as a medical advisor.

They traveled to Australia in June 1937 and stayed a few years. She was in the newspapers several times (hooray for Trove!) including this photo in the The Sun (Sydney), January 12, 1939.

Leonard Avery died in 1953, and Alma Taylor died in 1974.

If you’d like more information about Cecil Hepworth, visit Cecil Hepworth: Cinema’s Forgotten Pioneer, an online exhibit from the Elmbridge Museum.

Other critics loved it too.

The actual Mary Pickford had a premier this month, and even though its subject was as old-fashioned as a Hepworth film, Kingsley really enjoyed it:

Not since Stella Maris has Mary Pickford shown her acting ability as she does in Little Lord Fauntleroy, which opened at the Mission yesterday. And I say this despite the fact that a mother crying with her hand over her mid-Victorian bodice because her small son is going to have his curls cut off, is a bit out of date. Also in spite of the fact that the normal tendency among human beings is to want to kill a boy who is as sweet as Lord Fauntleroy.

But Little Lord Fauntleroy is a great picture. It is great largely because Mary Pickford is great. The double roles of the tender young mother and the quaint, friendly little Cedric shows the wide range of this star’s amazing talent.

However, even super-Pickford fan Kingsley had to admit:

 Infinitely absorbing, charming and appealing as is Little Lord Fauntleroy, but it has one big fault. It is too lengthy and seems to drag in spots. Many shots could be cut out, and many scenes could be cut down without impairing the clarity or the charm of the story and this would not only render it unique, as it is now, but indeed quite perfect.

I suspect that one big fault is what’s keeping modern reviewers away from it, even though it’s available on DVD. Fauntleroy is nearly two hours long, and there are too many other, more zippy Pickford movies to write about.

 

* Years later Taylor told an Australian journalist about seeing Chaplin at a Hollywood party: “Even when he was entertaining his friends at a big party, and making them convulsive with laughter with his acting I always was conscious of a terrible undercurrent of sadness and tragedy…Being the great man of Hollywood is no fun for Chaplin. He is more or less always surrounded by a body guard because people have done the most ridiculous things, even to throwing themselves under his car to get in touch with him and then play on his sympathies so that he would help them. I remember in Hollywood when we went to parties there would always be a man sitting in the front of the car with a revolver on his lap, just in case of trouble.” What a change from the days when Grace Kingsley could run into him coming out of a theater and have a chat.

 

“Actress Who Televised Duchess of Kent,” Daily Telegraph (Sydney), June 25, 1937.

“Alf’s Button,” Film Daily, February 19, 1922, p. 10.

“Burr Nickle to Release Here,” Los Angeles Times, January 8, 1923.

“A Film Pioneer,” West Australian (Perth), June 1, 1937.

Hepworth, Cecil M. Came the Dawn: Memories of a Film Pioneer. London: Phoenix House Ltd., 1951.

Hepworth, Cecil M. “Director Points Out Defects in Production,” Motion Picture News, November 25, 1922, p.2647.

“Hepworth and Alma Taylor Here,” Exhibitors’ Trade Review, October 29, 1921, p.1503.

“Hepworth, Noted British Producer, Here,” Motion Picture News, October 29, 1921, p.2276.

“Hepworth Prod. Formed,” Film Daily, February 6, 1924.

“Historical Production is Novelty,” Los Angeles Times, November 5, 1922,

“The Most Interesting Man I Ever Met—Charlie Chaplin,” The Sun (Sydney), July 28, 1938.

“Personal Pages, The Herald (Melbourne), June 18, 1937.

“Sailing Tomorrow,” Film Daily, January 16, 1922, p.1.

“The Shadow Stage,” Photoplay, March 1925, p.104.

 Taylor, Alma. “The Land of Mystery,” Pictures and the Picturegoer, January 1925, p.58.

A Trip Through Wonderland: October 16-31, 1921

One hundred years ago this month, Grace Kingsley reported on yet another new arrival. For a change, she wasn’t an actress:

Ethel Sands, who has been writing a series of articles for Picture-Play Magazine, arrived in Los Angeles a day or two ago, and will be a guest of the Studio Club for the next few weeks while she gathers material in our studios for another series of “Adventures in Movieland.”

Miss Sands is not a professional writer, except by chance. She is just a fan who has worshiped the stars from afar since the early days of motion pictures. Many a motion-picture star has answered her request for an autographed photograph with a personal letter, because her letters are always so interesting and so full of genuine enthusiasm.

It was, indeed, her letters to the editor of Picture-Play that led to her present visit. They were so entertaining that he decided to have her write for his readers.

There followed many adventures for Ethel Sands. She made a test picture with Corinne Griffith; she appeared as an extra in a picture with Bert Lytell; she went shopping with Elsie Ferguson for the many wonderful gowns in Footlights; and the one and only D.W. Griffith invited her to Mamaroneck, N.Y. and showed her his studio. All these adventures she has already written of in Picture-Play, and now she has come to California to get some fresh thrills.

Ethel Sands did indeed get those fresh thrills, and her thoughts about them were published from March 1922 to March 1923 among other long-running series like “The Revelations of a Star’s Wife” and Kingsley’s own “Romances of Famous Film Folk.” * In the May 1922 issue of Picture-Play the editors said why they had commissioned it: they wanted their readers to feel that the magazine belonged to them, and Sands’ adventures were “a veritable trip through the wonderland seen as you would see it.”

Bebe Daniels’ mother accompanied her to a location shoot, and they had a pleasant chat.

However, a cynical modern person like me notices that her description of the film industry and its inner workings was incredibly wholesome and innocent at a time when the Arbuckle and William Desmond Taylor scandals were raging. The Hollywood she wrote about was a place where star’s mothers cooked cozy dinners for their quiet parties, a big day out was a trip to the beach boardwalk, and everybody worked very hard. There wasn’t one cocktail or sex pest in sight!

A wild Hollywood party with Helen Ferguson. Noted stills photographer Donald Biddle Keyes took pictures of her adventures. Mary Mallory wrote a biographical article about him for her blog. 

Ethel Sands really was an ordinary movie fan. Her parents Paul and Louise Rodriguez named her Ethel Pauline when she was born in Manhattan, New York on March 10, 1901. Her father was a steam fitter. By 1910 her father had died and she was living in Queens where her mother was a live-in housekeeper for widower Clarence Miller (he was then a railroad flag man and later a house painter) and his four children. On April 2, 1912 her mother married Miller and by 1915 they’d moved to Plainfield, New Jersey.

In her first Picture-Play article (February 1921) Sands told how she got the job:

It’s funny how things will just be going on in a drab sort of fashion, and then all of a sudden something wonderful will happen that simply changes your whole life. That was the way with me; I’d been going to school and reading library books and spending my allowance on tickets to the movies—and then right out of a clear sky came a letter from the editor of Picture-Play, saying that he’d been interested in the letters I’d written to the magazine, and that he’d decided that I was a typical fan. And he went on to say that he’d like to have me come to New York and go to different studios, meeting the stars, seeing how pictures are made—all that sort of thing—and then write down my impressions of what I saw for Picture-Play. Well, you can imagine how excited I was.

Already, some of this wasn’t true. According to the census, by early 1920 she was 19 years old, had already finished her schooling, and was working as a saleslady in a department store. Perhaps they wanted her to seem younger than she was. I also don’t know why the editors didn’t want to use her real last name (she signed the one published letter I found “Ethel Rodriguez”), but I suspect that they thought their readers were prejudiced against Spanish and Mexican people.

Before she arrived in Los Angeles she had written a multi-part series about meeting East coast based film stars that Kingsley mentioned, and according to the fan letters the magazine published it was popular. Cora May Brentner of Cairo, Illinois wrote:

 When you started running the story of Ethel Sands’ adventures in the motion-picture studios, I just thought to myself that some reporter was going to try to be funny. I had a terrible suspicion that the whole thing was a fake! But before I had read very far in her first article, I knew she was real. In fact, she was the realest writer I had ever read, because she found out just the sort of things I’d like to if I were in her place.

Betty Phillips from London, England agreed: “Miss Sands tells us just what we really want to know about the movie folk and makes them seem very real people indeed.”

She had “simple, wholesome fun” with Harold Lloyd

Sands continued to seem real, and really enthusiastic, in her reports from Hollywood. She wrote “My, but it’s exciting—meeting one famous person right after another!” That’s exactly what she did during her many adventures, which included:

  • A surprise airplane ride with Betty Compson when they were supposed to be having tea (“It was a glorious sensation—I felt like a skyrocket!”);
  • Five visits to location shoots, including Buster Keaton’s in Chatsworth Park for The Paleface and Bebe Daniels’ on the water near San Pedro for A Game Chicken (“On a location trip everyone in the company seems to feel as though they’re out on a picnic, and you can get acquainted much better than in a studio.”);
  • Looking at the star’s homes with Lila Lee and Theodore Roberts (“They seem to be fond of having everything foreign…The streets are lined with palm, pepper, and eucalyptus trees—the strange types of houses all colors of the rainbow—seem so unfamiliar we almost forget we’re in the U.S.”);
  • Having dinner at Colleen Moore’s house (“the most enthusiastic person I have ever met in or out of pictures”) with her mother and grandmother, then a trip to the circus;
  • Visiting Santa Monica and Venice Beaches with Harold Lloyd and Mildred Davis, where they bought balloons, ate hot dogs and cotton candy, and rode roller coasters, bumper cars, and flying boats. (“No one can ever tell me movie stars, no matter how famous they are, can’t enjoy simple, wholesome fun.”);
  • Attending a dinner party with Helen Ferguson at her mother’s house where they played parlor games and ate ice cream after dinner (“Parties are one of the main features of life in Hollywood, you know…It might have been any informal gathering back in my own town, except that the movie folks seem to get more fun out of things.”).
Sands had her hair done exactly like Gloria Swanson’s by Hattie Wilson, the stylist at Lasky Studio. To learn more about Wilson, visit Donna Hill’s blog

She noted every detail, down to what was in the box lunch served on the Bebe Daniels’ shoot: “a pint bottle of milk, two different kinds of meat sandwiches, a piece of cake or pastry, a bag of potato chips, some crackers, and an apple.”

She got to work as an extra in a bazaar scene of an Alice Lake film, Kisses. She appeared in a beautiful black gown with full hair and make-up, and she could even be seen in the finished film. She reported that they had to do the scenes several times and everybody but her was tired–she speculated that they were worried about their next jobs–and the director, Maxwell Karger, was yelling and tearing his hair out.

Her name was on the cover when her Valentino article appeared

However, her biggest thrill was meeting Rudolph Valentino on the set of Moran of the Lady Letty.  It was quite an experience:

He speaks in a low, deep, steady voice with just the slightest trace of an accent which makes it all the more alluring. I don’t know just what it was he said at first, because all I could do was just stare as if I was hypnotized. Then I looked at Dorothy Dalton [his co-star] to see if she was being affected that way too, but she didn’t seem a bit dazed, strange as it may seem, and was arguing about what was the hardest part of learning to ride horseback.

Then a publicist decided that Valentino should teach her how to ride. The studio’s wardrobe department loaned her riding clothes and a few days later they went to the Beverly Hills Riding Academy. The lesson didn’t go very well; he was quite patient, but she barely managed to stay on her horse. However, she was able to tell the fans exactly what they wanted to know:

When he looks at you his gaze is steady and inscrutable. In real life his eyes are more enigmatic than expressive, I think. He rarely changes his expression, it being nearly always a calm, rather somber look which keeps you puzzled and wondering just what are his real thoughts and feelings—except when he suddenly flashes a smile and coming unexpectedly as it does, you are more or less dazzled.

He revealed that he didn’t really like his role in Moran, and she mentioned that he smoked a great deal. He drove her back to the Studio Club and told her “it was a great pleasure.” She said she remained dazed for days after.

She finished up her series with an article called “What My Movie Adventures Taught Me.” She felt that her trip was a “post-graduate course,” and summed up her new knowledge:

I had an idea that life in Hollywood must be exactly like a Cecil De Mille picture…Perhaps it’s because his pictures overflow with riches and extravagance, and to the uninitiated the film business seems to be one of wealth and extravagance galore with its million-dollar productions and thousand-dollar-a-week salaries…It’s so hard to realize that film players are just regular human beings. The screen gives them such and illusive quality that they seem a people apart, just as most of Mr. De Mille’s characters, for example, are so different from any people we know. But my first ride through Hollywood dispelled my preconceived ideas about it. It looks like such a nice, new, little town you’d wonder how you could have ever thought such wild things about it.

She hadn’t realized how much people worried about the success of their pictures, but she wasn’t disillusioned about the industry: “to know the truth about the movies helps you to a clearer understanding of the business, to appreciate the best in pictures and players, to discriminate and lavish your admiration on that which is worthy.”

Ethel Sands seems like a nice young lady with plenty of enthusiasm. I think her articles presented what people wanted to believe the movie industry was like, and I’m glad that she had the opportunity to see and do so much. I’m sure it was a change from the department store.

Valentino in 1924

She returned to the pages of Picture-Play a few more times with articles from a fan’s point of view. In the June 1924 issue she reported on her visit to the set of Valentino’s Monsieur Beauclaire on Long Island to find out if he had changed. She wrote, “he seems older and not so boyishly handsome as he was two years ago but his smile has the same dazzeling effect.” Nevertheless, he was “the same unassuming and fascinating young man that he was before.” In August 1925 they published her interviews with up-and-coming actresses Mary Brian and Esther Ralston. Her final article appeared in the December 1925 issue. Entitled “A Fan Returns to Movieland,” she visited the set of A Kiss for Cinderella at the Lasky Studio in New York and she was still thrilled to be reporting on movie making.

In early 1926 Sands married Andrew John Krog, who was a public health inspector for Plainfield, New Jersey. In 1930 she was working as a trimmer in a hat factory. She had a daughter, Sandra Joan, in the mid-1930s. Ethel Krog died in Houston, Texas on January 3, 1977, where she had moved to in 1973 to be near her daughter and two grandsons. Her obituary mentioned that she “had been a writer for Picture-Play magazine and had met and interviewed many famous stars of the silent period.”

Charlie Chaplin’s house in 1921

Sands didn’t get to meet all of the famous people: she only got to see the outside of the house belonging to the star of Kingsley’s most glowing review this month. Charlie Chaplin lived in:

the most fascinating little place, at the summit of a hill all by itself, with little turrets and towers—it looks just right for the king of the movies to live in. To me it seems for all the world like a little castle in Spain.

Kingsley loved The Idle Class, and so did the audience:

It’s quite impossible on seeing Chaplin in his latest picture not to make the old rubber-stamp remark. “There’s only one Charlie Chaplin!” His comicality impresses you afresh, his sure touch of humor is clean-cut as ever, the deft, crisp way of landing comedy points so that they never miss fire tickle your ribs just the same as though seen for the first time. Its sparkling spontaneity never could happen in a comedian’s first picture; its clean-cut humor wasn’t born of a brain groping its way in an initial venture. In other words, it’s a work of art.

Crowds who roared with joy greeted the picture yesterday, the Kinema echoing with laughter at Chaplin.

Surprisingly, The Idle Class played for only two weeks when Harold Lloyd’s Never Weaken ran for seven at a rival theater. During its first week the main feature sounds like it wouldn’t have hurt ticket sales; Kingsley enjoyed Bing Bang Boom with David Butler, a “Charles Ray type.” It told the story of a young man who buys a run-down hotel, then makes a fortune by converting it to a weight-loss spa –“which tale sounds commonplace, but is delightfully told with just a strong enough thread of suspense to hold you, and with a score of fresh twists in the unfolding.” However, during the second week the added feature was The Seranade, a melodrama of the mission days that “had been pieced together from the good old dramatic hokum barrel, and I think they used up all the hokum there was, too.” Nevertheless, Kingsley reminded her readers that even though The Idle Class didn’t have the drawing power of Shoulder Arms or The Kid, “from any other comedian it would be considered a knockout.” Chaplin would make only two more shorts, Payday (1922) and The Pilgrim (1923), before he switched permanently to features.

 

* Kingsley wasn’t the only one moonlighting, her boss Edwin Schallert worked there too and he later became the editor.

 

Unfortunately, the March, October, and November 1922 issues of Picture-Play aren’t yet in the Media Digital History Database. Among the missing adventures are a trip to Wallace Reid’s house and interviews with the Talmadge sisters.

“Mrs. Ethel Sands Krog,” Courier-News, January 15, 1977, p.5.

Ethel Sands, “A Fan Returns to Movieland,” Picture-Play, December 1925, pp.50-53, 98.

Ethel Sands, “Has Valentino Changed?” Picture-Play, June 1924, pp.21-23, 114.

Ethel Sands, “Representing the Younger Set,” Picture-Play, August 1925, pp.24, 100, 109.

“To Whom Does a Magazine Belong?” Picture-Play, May 1922, p.6.

“What the Fans Think,” Picture-Play, July 1921, p.72.

“What the Fans Think,” Picture-Play, September 1921, p.72.

 

Twinkling Briefly: October 1-15, 1921

Miss Du Pont

One hundred years ago this month, Grace Kingsley was confronted with finding something to write about yet another up-and-coming starlet who wasn’t much of an actress, yet she found a fairly polite way to say that (she waited for her film review to be more direct). She interviewed model-turned-Hollywood-discovery Miss Du Pont, then made a general observation:

Ofttimes the young lady herself is as much astonished at finding that she had “powerful latent dramatic ability” as she would be if somebody discovered a wart on her neck that she didn’t know of. Maybe she’s going along quite happily in some humdrum but quietly pleasant calling, when blooey! Somebody out Columbusing finds she’s a genius. Then her troubles begin. She didn’t know when she was first taken that way or what to do about it, but from that time on her life is made a burden to her until she’s launched into a career.

That’s how it appears to have been with that very pretty, well bred, tastefully gowned young lady known to the screen as Miss Du Pont, Universal star, who makes her debut as a film luminary at Tally’s Broadway this week in The Rage of Paris.

It was while she was a model in an exclusive shop in this city that a technical director, looking for clothes, saw her and asked if she wanted to go into pictures. Finally, he persuaded her.

Miss Du Pont had actually been discovered a few years earlier and had small parts in movies since 1919. In 1924, she told Kingsley a slightly different story of how she broke into the film business. She was working for an expensive clothes shop, when:

“I was sent to a studio with a consignment of gowns and stayed on the set to see that they were properly draped on several girls who appeared as models in Lombardi Ltd. I was offered a job as one of the extras, and I accepted. And here I am,” she concluded.

Foolish Wives (1922)

However, Universal wanted her to seem fresh and new, while they capitalized on her starring role in the upcoming Foolish Wives. So the studio put her in a lower-budget movie and sent her out on interviews. Kingsley seemed to like her well enough:

You’d think indeed when you met Miss Du Pont, that she perhaps was a nice little school teacher—one of the pretty ones that doesn’t remain long in the business on account of marrying.

When asked if she was pleased with her good luck, she said “Why, yes, of course I am, but I guess I never make much fuss about anything. I knew so many beautiful girls who had started in pictures but who had never been able to succeed, that I didn’t think I could possibly do anything in that way.”

All her emotionalism, however, she takes out in her acting. She lays her emotions away with her make-up, parks her mutability with her mascara, and cheerfully and sensibly goes her way. She’s immensely practical, too. I think, for instance, that if she were to go work in a milliner shop tomorrow she’d probably own that milliner shop inside of a year or two—and nobody would know quite how it had happened.

Cheerful practicality was exactly what this young lady needed, because when Kingsley saw the film, she quickly realized that Miss D didn’t have acting talent. But she began her review by mentioning that the publicity had worked:

The appearance of a new star, so labeled, is always a matter of interest and curiosity. So there was a goodly gathering at Tally’s yesterday to take a peep at Miss Du Pont, Universal’s newest star, in The Rage of Paris.

If Paris was crazy over the heroine, why, Paris must have been crazy, that’s all. Miss Du Pont is a very lovely girl, but she needs some two or three years of hard work before the camera before she is announced as a star. She didn’t seem to know what the play was all about. And she hadn’t very much on the audience at that. The story, except for its opening scenes between husband and wife, is unbelievable, trite, and about as true to life as a tin minnow.

Miss Du Pont showed no emotion other than what might have been expected from a case of acute indigestion and has not yet developed screen personality. She remains a little girl on the midway of life.

Foolish Wives, 1922

Ouch! The Rage of Paris is lost, so we’ll have to take Kingsley’s word for how bad it was. But we can still see Miss Du Pont in Foolish Wives, although now she’s rarely singled out for praise or criticism – Erich von Stroheim takes up most of the space. When the film debuted in Los Angeles on February 15, 1922, she fared a bit better in Edwin Schallert’s review. However, he did remember what Kingsley had said:

Miss Du Pont as the wife deserves a high rating. While she may disappoint as a star in her own productions, there is no question about her being suited to her role, nor her efficiency in portraying it. She is without any great background of character, but she is very attractive.

Miss Du Pont tried to keep her real names secret, but newspapers soon figured them out. She was born Patricia Herrick in Frankfort, Kentucky on April 28, 1894. She married a businessman in Chicago, Joseph P. Hannan, but he deserted her in 1918 (their divorce decree was finalized on April 9, 1922). She was briefly a clothes model for a department store in San Francisco (her co-workers later recognized her in the movies), then she moved to Los Angeles to pursue the same work, where she was hired to be an extra.

Card issued by the American Carmel Company, 1921

Universal really did try to make Pattie Hannan a star. She went on to be the leading lady in such films as The Golden Gallows (1922) and A Wonderful Wife (1922), then the studio moved her to supporting roles in movies like One Night in Rome (1924) and Raffles: The Amateur Cracksman (1925). By 1927 she was on a list in Variety of other pretty young women who “twinkled briefly and were forgotten.”

Sylvanus and Pattie Stokes, January 7, 1928

As Kingsley predicted, Miss Du Pont was just fine after she quit acting, but she didn’t end up in a hat shop. She married a millionaire socialite who was mostly known for his yachting ability, Sylvanus Stokes. He had come to Los Angeles after divorcing his first wife in 1927, where he got hired for bit parts in a few films (he even played a yachtsman in No Place To Go (1927)). When Grace Kingsley asked him how he liked working in pictures, he said, “Sure! I’ve earned $160 in films already. That’s the first money I ever made.”

They got married at the Los Angeles Superior Courthouse on January 7, 1928 and Erich and Valerie Von Stroheim were their witnesses. The Stokes both quit film and moved to a farm in Maryland, and later to Palm Beach, Florida, when they weren’t traveling the world. Stokes died in 1949 of cirrhosis of the liver in Cannes, France. Pattie Stokes returned to Palm Beach where she survived him for many years; she died in 1973.

Paramount Studios trade ad, 1926

Miss Du Pont’s unusual gimmick of having no first name didn’t get repeated. Kingsley said that the idea came from Irving Thalberg, who “for some reason of his own” decided to call her that. In a 1927 Photoplay article about has-been stars, Agnes Smith even blamed her lack of success on it:

 A little blonde girl, Miss Du Pont, never lived down the dreadful name that the producers picked for her. Du Pont is a good name on ammunitions, but it is no monicker for a star. And the lack of a first name was fatal, because the public likes to get intimate with their favorites and the name Miss Du Pont was too ritzy a label. Miss Du Pont had her little fling in Foolish Wives but made a quick fade-out when she tried to be a star.

Agnes Smith’s theories about why stars fade put the blame squarely on the actors themselves, not the fickle public. She didn’t even entertain the notion that sometimes popularity is inexplicable, and the loss of it is equally so. She called her theories “seven gates to oblivion” and wrote “there is no certain way of getting into pictures, but there are plenty of sure-fire ways of getting out of them.” Here’s her list:

  1. Get yourself mixed up, even remotely, in a scandal involving a serious crime or a breach of morals (Roscoe Arbuckle, Mary Miles Minter).
  2. Work up to a hotsy-totsy temperament and overrate you own importance (Alla Nazimova).
  3. If you are a woman, marry a man who is antagonistic to your career or who is a tactless manager (Mae Marsh, Agnes Ayers).
  4. Overplay your type (Theda Bara, William S. Hart).
  5. Allow yourself to be starred before your abilities warrant the promotion (Katherine MacDonald, Lila Lee, Miss Du Pont).
  6. Take too much time off between pictures and allow the public to forget you (Pearl White, J. Warren Kerrigan).
  7. Make a string of plain bad pictures. Most producers can help you in this way (Clara Kimball Young, Anita Stewart).

She concluded with an eighth exit: “sometimes film people actually discover that there are other things in the world besides movies.” She sounded impressed by people who knew when to quit, like Carter de Haven who went into real estate and Ruth Roland who made lots more money from her investments than she did from the movies.

In early October 1921 Kingsley also reviewed a film with a star who hasn’t faded:

That boy Harold Lloyd has excelsiored right to the peak as a film comedian. He’s been there quite a while? Yes, no doubt. But I think maybe he’s found a spot that’s just a little bit farther into rarefied air in Never Weaken.

Never Weaken is at the Symphony this week. And it doesn’t. But you do, with laughter and excitement. Attempting to tell about the picture solemnly is like giving a resume of the comic supplement.

It’s when Harold decides on suicide, because he thinks he’s lost his girl, that the 3000 horsepower hilarity commences. There’s the poison which he doesn’t like the taste of, so he puts sugar in it, numerous other duds, and finally the chair on which he is switched of onto the swinging girder between heaven and earth.

Lloyd is an acrobat, and he does some of the most breathtaking stunts of his career on that steel framework of a skyscraper. I challenge you not to gasp when he slips a couple of floors and catches on that girder! By all means, don’t weaken until you’ve seen Never Weaken.

Lots of people took her advice: it played for seven weeks at the Symphony. Kingsley is still correct about the film, and you can go see it right now if you have the Criterion Channel.

Still packing them in!

“Extra Becomes a Leading Man,” Los Angeles Times, January 8, 1928.

“Film Luminary Gets Divorce,” Los Angeles Times, April 10, 1922.

Grace Kingsley, “Flashes,” June 21, 1924.

Grace Kingsley, “M’Cormicks Prolong Absence,” Los Angeles Times, July 28, 1927.

Agnes Smith, “EXIT—This Way Out,” Photoplay, August 1927, pp.30-31, 116.

“Star Clothes Model?” Norfolk Post, October 21, 1921.

“Tough for Has-Beens,” Variety, June 8, 1926, pp.1-2.

What Does Hollywood Think of Herself?: September 29, 1924 (National Silent Movie Day)

Very little is left of The Legend of Hollywood

This is part of the National Silent Movie Day Blogathon. Be sure to visit the other entries!

To celebrate National Silent Movie Day, I want to remember a lost film. The Library of Congress estimates that 75% of all American silent films are gone. Some are mourned because they were an important part of film history, like Tod Browning’s London After Midnight (1927) and F.W. Murnau’s Four Devils (1928), but most are utterly forgotten, even ones that provided “excellent entertainment.” All we have left of the filmmakers’ hard work are reviews, ads, and still photos.

On this day in 1924, Los Angeles Times film journalist Grace Kingsley noticed how much film people already liked to make movies about themselves in her review of The Legend of Hollywood:

Hollywood is getting to be the greatest heroine of them all! I wonder what she thinks as she sits on her seven or eleven hills and looks at herself in the movies!

She is the heroine again in The Legend of Hollywood, which is the attraction at the California, and which provides excellent entertainment whether you feel that Hollywood is done entire justice to or not.

Everyone having been funny about the town—or melodramatic—Frank Condon, who knows his Hollywood, took it into his head to show up the other side of the pattern that fate weaves about the ambitious screen folk. So he takes a whack at the soul drama.

And what types he gives us! The heroine (ZaSu Pitts) is a perfectly hopeless girl from a small Middle West town, who has about as much chance of making good in pictures as Emily Fitzroy would as a trapeze performer, or as Mildred Harris would have in writing a dictionary.* She is homely, without the slightest sex appeal, with no dramatic gifts and she ends by being a waitress in an actors’ boarding house. The hero (Percy Marmont) is an author, who believes in himself, but who can’t get any producers to put on his stories. Not much of a hero or heroine—just folks, but as such full of the great commonplace drama of the world.

If you expect to see breast-beatings and eye-rollings, don’t go to the California. If you do want to see a bit of plaintive life unrolled, you will like the picture.

Well before Argo (2012) or even Sunset Blvd. (1950), Hollywood has found itself to be fascinating.

Legend was based on an article written by newspaperman-turned-magazine writer Frank Condon, from the March 1924 issue of the fan magazine Photoplay. Film production moved fast then: the movie was funded, written, staffed, shot, edited, and in theaters just five months later!


Another movie based on a Condon story, Hollywood, had been a success a year earlier. It’s presumed lost, too, but because it was directed by James Cruze and has 30 cameos from some of the biggest stars of the time, it’s on “most wanted” lost films lists.

Condon’s article recounted some gossip he’d heard in a drug store on Hollywood Blvd. and again at a party at Adolph Menjou’s house. A failing scriptwriter’s landlady threatened to evict him in a week, and in desperation, he filled seven glasses with wine, put poison in one of them and shuffled them. He drank one a day. On the seventh day, he drank his final glass. Just as he was certain to die, he received a check for an accepted story. Then he learned that the boarding house maid, who loved him, had replaced the glass. He married her and they presumably lived happily ever after. Condon tried to track down the screenwriter but hadn’t been about to find him. So Photoplay offered a thousand-dollar reward to the man, if he’d let them publish his name and photograph.

By August 1924, nobody had come forward to claim the reward and the mystery hadn’t been solved. It was probably just an urban legend; after all, playing Russian roulette with wine is an excessively strange way to die by suicide. In her review Kingsley pointed out another big problem with the story: Hollywood aspirants didn’t live in boarding houses, “they live in apartments and single rooms, the poor ones cooking and washing for themselves.”

Kingsley wasn’t the only reviewer who appreciated The Legend of Hollywood. Wid Gunning in the trade magazine Film Daily admired it, but he recommended:

Don’t herald this as greatest of the year, but you can sell it pretty hard as exceptionally human and appealing story of real life in Hollywood. Properly exploited it should get good business because of the interesting life of studio workers. It is slender and really is characterization study centered on two players. There is one great idea and some corking suspense developed up to one good climax which makes it much more effective than many yarns that have twenty times as much material with none of it carrying a wallop.

As it is you will have to sell your gang on the fact that this is an exceptionally human, real story of the real struggles of folks who try to get into pictures in Hollywood.

Selling a quiet character study that aspires to art has always been a problem. Variety saw the same difficulty: “The Legend of Hollywood has more substance to it than the average picture for the neighborhood theaters, but it has been spread too thinly over too much territory.”

Legend did not fare well in those smaller theaters. Even in 1924 there was a big disparity between what critics liked and what audiences wanted.  Exhibitors’ Herald published notes from theater managers about what the audiences thought of the movies they ran, and their reactions to Legend were blunt and nasty:

  • “The Pathe slow motion pictures have nothing on this. It is the slowest dragged-out picture we have ever run. Poor business.” (Crescent Theater, Newark NY, November 29, 1924)
  • “Rotten, in fact so rotten that we have had to dodge some of our patrons for the past two weeks. One patron asked for money back—another said he’d have gone mad if it would have lasted 15 minutes longer.” (Kreighbaum Bros. Char-Bell Theater, Rochester IN, March 7, 1925)
  • “Absolutely the worst picture I ever played. I can see no excuse for any company issuing such a film as this and also having the crust to charge the price they do. Take my advice, brother exhibitors, and stay clear of this and, if you have it booked, tell them to keep it even if you have to pay for it.” (W.A. Doerschlag, Stand Theater, Ransom KS, April 25, 1925)

Despite this, the people involved with Legend had much better luck in Hollywood than John Smith and Mary Brown. Percy Marmont went on to a long career on stage and screen, including co-starring with Clara Bow in Mantrap (1926) and playing David Livingstone in a 1936 biopic. Zasu Pitts’ career was equally varied. She was mostly known for comedy (particularly for a series of 17 shorts she made with Thelma Todd for Hal Roach in the early 1930’s) but she was also Erich von Stroheim’s favorite dramatic actress, and her work in Greed (1924) was especially memorable. Director Renaud Hoffman continued to direct and produce low-budget films throughout the 1920’s, then he became a screenwriter.

But the most successful crew member was the cinematographer, Karl Struss. He went on to shoot Ben-Hur (1925), Sparrows (1926) and The Great Dictator (1940). He won the first Best Cinematography Oscar, along with Charles Rosher, for Sunrise (1927) and he got nominated three more times, for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), The Sign of the Cross (1934) and Aloma of the South Seas (1941).

To answer Kingsley’s question about what does Hollywood think of herself, The Legend of Hollywood’s version of the story was that aspiring to make movies is awfully unglamorous, difficult, and often in vain. So let’s preserve what we can of what did get made.

Happy National Silent Movie Day!

*Emily Fitzroy was a theatrical and film actress who often played society women and mothers, and being a trapeze performer probably never crossed her mind. However, Kingsley’s remark about Mildred Harris was unkind. She had been a child actress, so her education might have been inadequate for dictionary writing, but people only thought she was stupid because her ex-husband said she was. When she was 16 years old, 29-year-old Charlie Chaplin married her, and when they separated the following year, he told people she wasn’t his “intellectual equal.” The poor woman had enough trouble without nasty remarks from Kingsley!

Frank Condon, “The Legend of Hollywood,” Photoplay, March 1924, p. 34-36, 114-117.

The Legend of Hollywood,” Variety, December 3, 1924, p. 31.

The Legend of Hollywood on the Screen,” Photoplay, August 1924, p. 34.

David Pierce, “The Survival of American Silent Feature Films: 1912-1929.” September 2013.

“Simple But Effective Little Story of a Writer’s Struggles,” Film Daily, December 25, 1924, p. 82.

“What the Picture Did for Me,” Exhibitors Herald, November 29, 1924, p.75.

“What the Picture Did for Me,” Exhibitors Herald, March 7, 1925, p. 80.

“What the Picture Did for Me,” Exhibitors Herald, April 25, 1925, p. 70.

Please visit the rest of the Blogathon!

With Friends Like These: Week of September 24th, 1921

Exhibitors’ Herald, April 9, 1921

One hundred years ago, Grace Kingsley had yet another slow news week. The most interesting story she wrote was about a surprise wedding:

Climaxing a romance which resulted from their close association during the filming of The Affairs of Anatole, showing at Grauman’s Rialto at present, William Boyd and Ruth Miller, Famous Players-Lasky players, are on their honeymoon trip today. They were married Saturday night at the home of Sylvia Ashton. Though a good-natured prank, the wedding ceremony was performed a day ahead of the scheduled time.

Telling the bride that he wished them to pose for a picture, a friend of the pair induced Miss Miller to array herself in her wedding finery and stand at Boyd’s side for the photograph. The electric lights were switched off, then on again, and there stood a minister behind the couple, waiting to perform the ceremony, to which both the principles consented.

Kingsley concluded: “They did not announce to friends the destination of their honeymoon trip.” With friends like theirs, I’d keep it secret too! Who knows what they’d arrange for them, wherever they went.

Ruth Miller (and Gloria Swanson’s foot), The Affairs of Anatole (1921)

Ruth Miller and William Boyd both had uncredited roles in Anatole: Miller played a lady’s maid and Boyd a party guest. Their marriage lasted until 1924. Ruth Miller got married once more, in 1927 to cinematographer Blake Wagner, and stopped acting after the birth of their son. Wagner went on to become a make-up artist, which is an unusual career progression.

William Boyd

William Boyd’s life and career was even more eventful. He continued to work with Cecil B. De Mille, and in the mid-1920’s he became a leading man. Unfortunately, in 1931 a newspaper mistook him for another actor named William Boyd who was arrested, and his studio ended his contract. In 1935, broke and unemployed, he got the part of Hopalong Cassidy, and the films were a hit. More than sixty-five “Hoppy” movies were made. In 1948 he and his fifth wife bought the television rights to those movies and resold them to the new medium, making him one of the first national TV stars. The films’ popularity inspired a radio show, comic strip, and a big demand for product endorsements. In 1953 he sold all his interests in William Boyd Enterprises for 8 million dollars and retired to Palm Dessert.

Nevertheless, I’ve been noticing that Grace Kingsley has been sidelined more and more at work. As this is the least dull story I can find from this week, I think I need to change my blog schedule. Starting in October, I’m going to switch to posting twice a month so I’ll have more material to choose from. When Kingsley gets some interesting writing assignments, it’ll go back to weekly.

 

“William Boyd Dies at 77,” Los Angeles Times, September 14, 1972.

A Melodramatic Love Life: Week of September 17th, 1921

Ruth Renick and Edward Hearn in The Fire Bride (1922). Hearn played a first mate, not a captain, but close enough

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley told a cute story about an actress who went on to have an even more eventful love life:

Going down to the South Sea Islands doesn’t seem to have taken a bit of pep out of Ruth Renick, who plays the leading feminine role in the Far East Production’s feature, The Lagoon of Desire, which is being made in Tahiti. Here’s an excerpt from her diary, which she sent me in lieu of a letter:

First day out: Sea rough, but am not seasick.

Second day: Gave the first-class passengers the once over and found them rather uninteresting.

Third day: Met the captain and found him exceedingly interesting.

Fourth day: Walked with the captain on the promenade deck. He wanted to kiss me, but nothing doing.

Fifth day: The captain swore that he would sink the ship if I refused to kiss him.

Sixth day: Saved a thousand lives.

What a brave act of self-sacrifice! I’m sure her fellow passengers were grateful.

Renick and the film crew had left for Tahiti in August, and they returned to Los Angeles in November. Their movie’s title was changed to The Fire Bride, and it told the story of American treasure hunters looking for gold on a South Sea island. When it came out in 1922, C.S. Sewell in Moving Picture World thought that the tropical scenery was striking and beautiful, but the story wasn’t always convincing, and the cast was merely satisfactory. It’s a lost film.

Ruth Renick

Even though the film wasn’t a big hit, Ruth Renick continued to work in both film and on stage. Born Ruth Griffith in Colorado City, Texas in 1893, she got her start as an actress in stock companies in the 1910’s. She became a film actress in 1919; her most remembered role was as Douglas Fairbanks’ leading lady in The Mollycoddle (1920).

Douglas Fairbanks and Ruth Renick, The Mollycoddle (1920)

She returned to the stage at the Fulton Theater in Oakland, and that’s where her personal life again got featured in the newspapers. In early 1924, her family got a telegram that she’d married one Wellington L. Belford. As the Newspaper Enterprise Association Service (January 15, 1922) reported,

He was a brilliant conversationalist, was clever with magic tricks and claimed to possess hypnotic powers. The romance was short and snappy. Marriage followed quickly. In fact, it happened so mysteriously that relatives of Miss Renick investigated.

It turned out that the wedding was mysterious because it wasn’t real. An Associated Press story (January 13, 1922) told what happened next:

Wellington L. Belford was arrested today in the honeymoon suite of a fashionable Oakland hotel as a result of information furnished by J.C. Walden, brother-in-law of Miss Ruth Renick, screen and vaudeville actress, who claims to be Belford’s bride. Belford, who is charged with impersonating an army officer, is quoted as saying he was not married.

Perth Amboy Evening News, February 4, 1924.

I thought that fake marriages only happened in fiction! Apparently, that wasn’t as much of a problem as impersonating an Army major. When a judge asked him why he was wearing an officer’s uniform, Belford said “It pleases my vanity.” He told the police that he was a screenwriter. He paid $500 bail and promptly disappeared, last seen “on the seat of a baggage truck which was taking his belongings from an expensive suite at the Hotel Oakland.” He had a good reason to leave: the police soon got a telegram from authorities in Detroit where he was wanted on a charge of embezzling $15,000. Then detectives in New York chimed in, with news that he was implicated in a bank swindle at New Rochelle.

The cops finally tracked him down in 1925, and they tricked him into crossing the Canadian border near Seattle where they promptly arrested him and sent him back to Detroit. There were no more newspaper stories about what happened next (except for one in 1928 that said the impersonating an officer charges were dismissed), but if the papers were correct and his name really was Martin Livingston Belfort, then by 1930 he was still in Detroit and working as a sales manager for a car company. In 1933 he married Anna Mae Pulver, a public school teacher, and they divorced in 1939. In 1940 he remained in Detroit, but he’d opened his own insurance agency. He died on September 26, 1968.

Newspapers mentioned that Renick tried to annul the marriage, but the courts told her they couldn’t annul something that didn’t happen. Renick got through the public embarrassment and continued to act on stage and in film. She married James F. Lee Jr., a newspaper reporter for the Los Angeles Examiner, on June 25, 1936 and she died on May 7, 1984 in Los Angeles, where she’s buried in the Hollywood Forever cemetary.

“Belford May Be Wanted in Detroit; Girl’s Mother Comes,” Santa Cruz Evening News, January 14, 1924.

The Fire Bride,” Moving Picture World, March 25, 1922, p.404.

“Hypnotism—Or Wedding?” Perth Amboy Evening News, February 4, 1924.

“’Love Pirate’ Gets Case Dismissed,” San Francisco Examiner, September 16, 1928.

“Maj. Bedford Arrested in Oakland, Cal.” Marshall Evening Chronicle, January 15, 1924.

“’Major’ Belford is Wanted in Swindle,” Los Angeles Daily News, January 15, 1924.

“Number Seek Bogus Major,” San Bernardino Sun, January 16, 1924.

“Police Intrude on Unlicensed Honeymoon and ‘Groom’ Jailed,” Humboldt Times, January 13, 1924.

‘A Jitney Jury:’ Week of September 10th, 1921

Virginia Rappe

One hundred years ago this week, a tragedy occurred that still has writers like James Reidel and Popegrutch trying to figure out exactly what happened. Grace Kingsley didn’t offer her opinion about what went on, but she was there to describe some of what people in Hollywood had to say about it:

The Los Angeles motion-picture colony is stirred as never before in its somewhat lively history by the sensational Arbuckle-Rappe case and the indictment of Roscoe Arbuckle on the charge of manslaughter. There’s a jitney jury on every studio set, sitting out the death watch. Groups of picture players gather about at every pause in the film work to discuss developments in the case. Opinions and sympathies are as diverse as the four quarters of the earth regarding the truth of the charges made against Arbuckle and concerning the outcome of his probably trial.

Some paint Arbuckle as a behalo’d saint. Others are busy all day hacking his monogram.

Buster Keaton

Gloom so thick you can cut it with a knife has gathered over most of the picture folk, especially in studios where Arbuckle is intimately known. Buster Keaton’s studio suspended work for two days following the arrest of the comedian. Mr. Keaton was one of Arbuckle’s comedians before he branched out as a star on his own.

“We just couldn’t work,” said Buster with a real choke in his voice and tears in his eyes. To those who know Buster this rare show of feeling reveals how deep his emotions in this matter really are.

At the Lasky studio, where Arbuckle was so well known and so well liked, and at the Realart studio, the crepe stuff is simply gumming up the breezes. Comedians are playing their scenes with the muffler on; leading ladies in sob stories find it very easy to weep. Every edition of the papers is brought to the studios, and a running fire of explosive comment accompanies the reading of each fresh page, along with the murmured obbligato of independent conjecture and gossip.

Wallace Reid — his death due to morphine addiction in 1923 caused another scandal

Not everybody wanted to be part of that jitney jury: some just wanted the subject to go away. At a party at Wallace Reid’s house, they tried to chat and play billiards, “but there was an indefinable sadness over everybody. Somebody said something about how dreadful it all was, and Mr. Reid turned quickly. ‘We aren’t talking about that,’ he remonstrated sharply.”

Like Kingsley, I don’t have a useful opinion to add to the enormous pile of stuff already written about the case. Gilbert King wrote an even-handed summary of it for the Smithsonian Magazine, if you want an overview. 

April 15, 1922

However, I did learn how eager some filmgoers were to forgive Arbuckle after he was acquitted at his third trial on Wednesday, April 12, 1922. His movie Gasoline Gus had been withdrawn from the Million Dollar Theater on the same day that the first newspaper reports appeared that linked Arbuckle to Rappe’s death (September 10, 1921), and the film was returned to the screen nearly as quickly after the acquittal. It opened at the New Garrick Theater on April 15th, 1922 and Kingsley’s report and review appeared on the 17th. She mentioned that he was back in Los Angeles, then said:

Fatty’s celluloid double came back in Gasoline Gus, too, at the Garrick, and was greeted by crowds, who cheered and applauded him, both Saturday and yesterday.

If the comedian had arranged a professional come-back himself, he couldn’t have stage-managed the job as Fate did it for him. For the audiences weren’t professional audiences who greeted him, but the fans who have waited all this time for another booming laugh, such as only Fatty and a few others can give them. And they cheered his first appearance on the screen and applauded when the picture was finished and laughed in between.

Gasoline Gus is perhaps the best picture which Fatty Arbuckle ever made. In it he has returned to his old jazz comedy, the comedy of whimsical gags, of funny falls and of his own peculiar style of romping through the picture. Yet there is pathos, too, and there is a lot of thrilling suspense and action. It was showing at Grauman’s and was taken off when Arbuckle was arrested.

April 16, 1922

So it seemed like audiences were ready to go to his movies. On April 17th, the Times reported that Paramount studio president Adolph Zukor had wired the West Coast studio that they would immediately release three pictures that Arbuckle had already finished for them, Gasoline Gus, Freight Prepaid and Leap Year.  Zukor said, “We are confident the American public is eminently fair and realize by this time that Arbuckle has been the victim of unfortunate circumstances.”

However, on April 18th, Will Hays, in his first act as the head of the brand-new Motion Picture Producers and Distributors organization, officially banned Arbuckle from appearing on the screen. Bert Lennon, the publicity director at the New Garrick Theater, told the Times that they would abide by his decision. They replaced Gasoline Gus with a Cecil B. De Mille comedy, Saturday Night, which had run earlier that year. Hays changed his mind eight months later, but by then it was too late, and Arbuckle never had the same success as a film actor. Needing work, he returned to touring in vaudeville and directing films.

“Arbuckle Film Withdrawn,” Los Angeles Times, September 12, 1921.

“Ban Put on Arbuckle,” Los Angeles Times, April 19, 1922.

“Fatty Has Three Releases,” Los Angeles Times, April 17, 1922.

“Mystery Death Takes Actress,” Los Angeles Times, September 10, 1921.

Edwin Schallert, “Reviews,” Los Angeles Times, September 6, 1921.

A Cheerful Home: Week of September 3rd, 1921

The Hollywood Studio Club on Carlos Ave.

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley told readers that young aspiring actresses weren’t always victims of leering studio bosses, if they lived at the Hollywood Studio Club:

“Oh, what a beautiful, big, cheerful home,” I had exclaimed an hour earlier, as we rounded a corner of Carlos Street, out in Hollywood, when there burst on my view a big colonial house, its windows all alight, while the sound of cheerful voices floated out to me from all the windows.

The club is for all the world like a college girls’ sorority.

Fundraising for the HSC

The article’s purpose wasn’t only to reassure the public that women in Hollywood could live in a clean, affordable, and chaperoned place, they were also starting a fundraising drive to build another dormitory to house “young girls who came in crowds to the city, seeking work in pictures.” Kingsley thought it was a worthwhile project, and said:

Let those who rail against the motion-picture business take a peep at this home. Then let them stop howling for a moment, while they dig down in their jeans to help the cause, focusing their minds carefully, meanwhile, on the hardships and trials of these girls, with their earnest ambitions, their struggles, their determination to keep their lives wholesome and straight at any cost.

At least the industry acknowledged that there was a problem of skeevy men preying on vulnerable women, and they helped fund the Club. The Hollywood Studio Club was founded in 1916 by a librarian, Eleanor Jones, who had noticed aspiring actresses forming a play-reading club at the Hollywood Branch library. She was worried about their safety, so she asked the YWCA to help start a place for them to gather. She went on to get donations from studios and businesses, and they rented that house on Carlos Avenue with enough space for 20 women to live.

The fundraising efforts that Kingsley wrote about took awhile, but in 1926, they built a larger building on Lodi Place, designed by architect Julia Morgan. It could house 88 women. Open to any woman who was looking for a career in motion pictures, they offered two meals a day, performing arts classes, job bulletin boards and rehearsal rooms. Residents were limited to living there for 3 years.

The second Hollywood Studio Club

The HSC provided a home for thousands of women over the decades, but by the mid-1960’s ideas about women being able to look after themselves had changed and it began to lose money. It closed in 1975. Since 2018 it’s been crisis housing for women, run by the city of Los Angeles.

A few of the women who lived there did succeed in the movie business, including ZaSu Pitts, Janet Gaynor, Linda Darnell, Marilyn Monroe, and Rita Moreno, but most did not, including the woman Kingsley chose as a sample resident, Ethel Kaye. Here’s her story:

One day she sat looking about her apartment. It wasn’t a bit of trouble to see it all from where she sat. And from that vantage point she saw also that her cupboard resembled Old Mother Hubbard’s in the painful particular in the childish classic. She shook her purse, and no cheerful jingle proceeded therefrom. Just then (even at the risk of having this sound like a melodrama, I’ve got to tell the truth), in came the landlady with the usual conversation about the rent. So she’d have to leave. And she didn’t have money enough to buy her dinner!

But at that very moment, the telephone rang, knocking in the head the usual take-your-trunk-and-get-out business.

“Come on over to the Studio Club, dearie!” came a voice over the wire. “We’ve got a room for you now!” Never was message so sweet to a girl’s ears. The girl went over to the Hollywood Studio clubhouse and was met at the door by Miss [Marion] Hunter.

“Do—do I have to pay in advance?” she asked in trembling tones.

“Come in, my dear! Of course not! You may wait until you get work.”

That really happened, and the girls was a picture actress who is well on her way to fame now. Her name is Ethel Kaye. She has just been engaged to play the lead in the Goldwyn feature, Hungry Hearts.

“And I could never have held on,” explained Miss Kaye to me, “if it hadn’t been for the Studio Club.”

Kingsley didn’t know it, but Ethel Kaye was an excellent example, because like so many women who lived at the Studio Club, she didn’t become a star. After small roles in The New Moon (1919) and a serial called Trailed By Three (1920) in New York, she came to California where she had another small part in Heroes and Husbands (1922). Then she had that big break Kingsley mentioned, which she had announced a few days earlier:

Another young genius has been discovered by Samuel Goldwyn, who is doing a vast lot of Columbusing these days. She is Ethel Kaye, a very beautiful young girl, a Russian, and she is to play the leading role in Anzia Yezierska’s Hungry Hearts, when that picture goes into production soon…Singularly enough Miss Kaye has undergone some of the difficulties, hardships and some of the spectacular adventures as well, which she will portray on the screen, and which the author herself suffered.

The stuff about her adventures and being from Russian herself was probably nonsense; she told the 1930 census taker she was born in New York to parents from New York and Connecticut. Sadly, just as she thought her career was turning around, she got sick and was replaced as the lead in Hungry Hearts by Helen Ferguson. Kaye didn’t appear in any more movie credits after that. The following year she decided to give up and return to New York, where she married a dentist, James Henegan. Nevertheless, the Hollywood Studio Club did exactly what it was supposed to do for her: gave her a safe place to live until she realized her dreams of stardom weren’t going to happen. She didn’t become a cautionary tale for other young women.

Hungry Hearts with Helen Ferguson and Bryant Washburn

Ironically, the Studio Club article appeared in the paper during the same Labor Day weekend that Virginia Rappe went to a party in Roscoe Arbuckle’s hotel room in San Francisco, and people are still discussing what happened there. Kingsley’s stories about that will start next week.

If you’d like to learn more about the Hollywood Studio Club, Mary Mallory has blogged about it and Cari Beauchamp wrote an article for Vanity Fair.

“Ethel Kay to Flit,” Los Angeles Times, October 18, 1922.

“Goldwyn Studio Activities,” Motion Picture News, October 22, 1921, p.2179.

In just a few weeks, it will be National Silent Movie Day! If you’d like to contribute a blog post, visit Silent-ology or In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood for more information.