Week of October 14th, 1916

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From the Los Angeles Herald (the Times didn’t print photographs in 1916)

One hundred years ago this week, Intolerance finally opened in Los Angeles. Grace Kinsley reported on the opening night crowd, which included Douglas Fairbanks, Constance Talmadge, Lillian and Dorothy Gish, Mae Marsh, Thomas Meighan, Mabel Normand, Myrtle Gonzales, Mae Marsh and “scores of other stage and screen people.” Actors who were working that night on stage like Trixie Friganza, Charles Ruggles and Douglas MacLean went to matinees in the following days. It was the biggest film event of the year.

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They New York reviews had been extraordinary when it premiered on September 5th (Photoplay called them “ardent typewriter rhapsodies”) and the Los Angeles reviews equaled them:

Harry Carr, L.A. Times: “With Intolerance, David Wark Griffith has made his place secure as one of the towering geniuses of the world. As a medium for expressing art, moving pictures may not stand the test of time, but Intolerance is greater than any medium. It is one of the mile posts on the long road of art, where painting and sculpture and literature and music go jostling eagerly along together.”

Guy Price, L.A. Herald: “Nobody had dreamed that Intolerance would be so stupendous, so wonderful, so inspiring, so thrilling and so vitriolic, yet so true, an indictment against the universe’ most cherished weaknesses—deceit and bigotry… It was more than the eye anticipated, more than it could understand and digest at a moment when the brain was befuddled from the joyous shock.”

Otheman Stevens, L.A. Examiner: “It is a picture of Life that Mr. Griffith has drawn from the rays of the sun and from the effulgence of his own brain.”

Maitland Davies, L.A.Tribune: “The audience was simply swept off its feet…. It is a great, big, throbbing drama bringing yesterday and today before one in a manner no other man has succeeded in doing.”

George St. George, L.A. Express: “It is worthy of a place among the classics and it stamps Mr. Griffith as an unquestioned genius. …No branch of the theater has ever brought forth anything that is comparable to Intolerance.”

The praise really helped sell tickets at first: Kingsley later reported that 500 people were turned away from the Saturday night screening. But the strong box office didn’t last and the film lost money. By November there was already a critical backlash too. For example, Film Fun ran an unsigned editorial that acknowledged Griffith’s “genius” and the film’s “remarkable spectacular production,” but pointed out “there is too much of it. It is complex rather than finished. Intolerance is bewildering—it is magnificent—but it is patchwork.” Not everyone wants to put themselves through three hours of high art, and this sort of review gave them a reason to skip it.

Karl Brown, who was the camera assistant on the film, had another theory in his autobiography about the film’s box-office failure: “Intolerance was nothing more or less than a good old-fashioned pulpit-pounding hell-fire sermon preaching peace on earth…Griffith had succeeded, not only well but brilliantly so. But he had succeeded with the wrong thing at the wrong time, for the world had changed. People who had been singing about not wanting their boy to be a soldier were now hot for war.”

There’s another measure of how seriously Intolerance was being taken: only men got to write the reviews, even thought there were many female film writers at the time, according to The Complete History of American Film Criticism. Kingsley’s opinion of the film went unrecorded.

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Puppets

She did get to write about the competition; this week it included The Return of Draw Egan, “an extremely brisk picture play” starring William S. Hart as a reformed bandit turned marshal; The Iron Woman, a “sincere human drama” that featured Nance O’Neil as a long-suffering mother; and The Ragged Princess, “a make-believe world, where things happen just as we should like them to,” in which June Caprice played an orphan who is almost swindled out of an inheritance. But the most unusual film Kingsley saw this week was Puppets, a two-reeler directed by Tod Browning, who “has given us something new in screenland, viz., a rare whimsy in form of a pantomime photoplay, done amid exquisite settings of the futuristic order, and with all of the characters dressed like Pantaloon, Pierrot, Pierrette, Columbine, Clown, etc.” French pantomime didn’t often turn up in American movies. It’s a lost film. Browning had been directing for only a little over a year, but he went on to direct several Lon Chaney films as well as Dracula (1931) and Freaks (1932).

 

 

 

Week of October 7th, 1916

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Douglas Fairbanks

One hundred years ago this week, summer vacations were over and actors were telling Grace Kingsley about their time off. Douglas Fairbanks chatted with her and she wrote:

Fairbanks really is the Fairbanks of Manhattan Madness, that is, he prefers a wild horseback trip through the mountains of Wyoming to a wild night on New York’s Broadway. Just before coming to California he made a trip on horseback through Wyoming and Colorado. Also he took a New Yorker with him. ‘I purposely chose an anemic Broadwayite who had never been West, not only because I thought it would do him good, but because I thought it would be fun for me. The first day he surprised me by riding thirty-five miles. Well, I thought, tonight we’ll see some fun. But, bless you, it never fazed him and I didn’t dare tell him I was a bit stiff and sore. Next day I had to take it easy, but that pale-faced tenderfoot just jogged right along. So it was all the way. I guess he had as much fun as I did, maybe a little more.’

This is a very well-crafted story to give to a reporter. He isn’t bragging that he rode 35 miles in a day, instead he gets to be amazed that the tenderfoot kept up. His self-deprecation (admitting he was wrong about the New York man’s toughness) made him even more appealing. Douglas Fairbanks was really good at being a movie star.

I haven’t been able to find out who the anemic Broadwayite was; Tracey Goessel doesn’t mention the trip in her recent biography, and in the interview Fairbanks did with Kitty Kelly in the Chicago Daily Tribune (September 19, 1916) on his way to Wyoming, he’s only called “a city man.”

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Myrtle Gonzales

Myrtle Gonzales tried to take a restful vacation In San Diego but so many old friends kept her socializing night and day that she was grateful to come back to Universal City for a little peace and quiet at work. Gonzalez usually played hardy, outdoorsy heroines in her 78 films; sadly she died just two years later in the flu epidemic.

This week Kingsley’s favorite film was one that was much better than its “cheaply sensational” title would suggest. The War Bride’s Secret “deals with a girl, who, having secretly married her lover on the eve of his leaving for the war, finds that she is to become a mother, and hearing of her husband’s death, consents to wed a fine broth of a Scotsman who long admired her. It is when the supposedly dead husband returns, Enoch Arden like, two years later, after she has learned to deeply respect and honor her second husband, that the real inner drama begins.”Kingsley thought it was “vividly realistic…one of the few really inspired picture plays.” Other critics admired it too; G. Graves in Motography thought the filmmakers’ skill made “the picture thoroughly engrossing and worthwhile.” Of course it’s a lost film.

The screenwriter was Mary Murillo, who often wrote about women with moral dilemmas. She would have been forgotten if it were not for Luke McKernan, who in 2009 wrote an inspirational blog post on how and why obscure people should be researched, “Searching for Mary Murillo.” Of course he couldn’t let the subject go, and he wrote a follow-up in 2015, “Gaston, Maurice and Mary.”

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The Dawn of Love

Kingsley’s best line this week was in her review of The Dawn of Love: “When Messers Rennold Wolf and Channing Pollock wrote this picture play, they evidently decided not to leave out a single exciting thing they had ever heard was done in a picture.” Ouch. The excitement was mostly a cliff top fight that ended with the villain falling to his death, but there was also smuggling and police brutality. All of the writers survived this review just fine: Wolf and Pollack were successful Broadway playwrights (Ziegfeld Follies, My Best Girl) who wrote a few film stories on the side, and the woman who adapted their story into a scenario, June Mathis, went on to write Greed (1925), Ben-Hur (1925), and Rudolph Valentino’s best films.

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Finally, Kingsley recorded exactly what Charlie Chaplin ate at the Alexandria Grill after attending a vaudeville show at Clune’s Auditorium: a sardine sandwich and a glass of buttermilk. Tastes in nighttime snacking have changed a lot since 1916.

 

 

 

Week of September 30th, 1916

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported “there is a new wizard in the motion picture field. His name is Louis H. Tolhurst.” Tolhurst had invented a mechanism that allowed him to film microscopic particles, and Kingsley commented:

Just as if we hadn’t enough actors already, Mr. Tolhurst has succeeded in making screen actors of microbes…With his apparatus this scientist pursues a bacilli, runs him to earth and makes him ‘act’ for the screen with ease and sangfroid. It matters not whether the subject be the blood coursing through arteries, a microbe dashing madly about in a pin-point of water, or a dust germ actually floating through the air—Mr. Tolhurst’s apparatus grabs them all and reveals them to the screen in such a size that the smallest animalcule resembles a mastodon, as it glares at its motion picture audience.

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Writer William Wing at Triangle Studio quickly figured out how to use Tolhurst’s invention in a fiction film, The Microscope Mystery, in which a doctor examines a murder weapon under his instrument and determines who the killer was. Nevertheless, Thomas C. Kennedy in Motography felt that the footage of bacilli had “little to do with the story, except they make it last longer.”

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Tolhurst put his invention to more successful use a few years later with a series of one-reelers, Secrets of Life. He filmed insects like flies and bees, then Walter Anthony contributed dramatic and funny intertitles; American Cinematographer called the films a “cinematographic triumph.” (Anthony had an impressive list of title writing credits including Foolish Wives, The Sea Hawk and The Cat and Canary.)

Tolhurst, a graduate of Stanford Law School, blamed his interest in microscopy for his failure in half a dozen jobs (he also owned an auto repair shop for several years). He got his start when he was fifteen and his father, a dentist, gave him a microscope for Christmas. After Secrets of Life he continued to invent and patent camera apparatuses, including one to make composite images. He didn’t have commercial success with them, so he quit and he got interested in racing his yacht, the Malabar VII. His 1960 L.A. Times obituary didn’t even mention his film work .

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The Straight Way

Kingsley’s least favorite film this week was an “old-time thriller” The Straight Way. However, it was her best review. She wrote:

Valeska Surratt cares not how many troubles she has, so long as she can have the right clothes for the occasion…Miss Surratt, in an exquisite flowered satin, is suspected by her husband; she defies the villain in tasty taffeta; she weeps becomingly over her infant in the most exquisite lingerie; she is train-wreaked in a tailor suit, and her husband takes her back in a splendid crepe de chine evening gown…but there are several inaccuracies which get the laughs. For instance, while Miss Surratt is weeping over her babe, the infant nearly rolls off her lap; a house is struck by lightening but nobody in it feels even a shock except one woman, who is instantly killed.

The movie sounds like an absolute hoot. Unfortunately, just like all eleven of Surratt’s films, it is lost. She was primarily a Broadway and vaudeville actress, famous for her outfits.

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Frances Ring and Thomas Meighan

Kingsley mentioned that actor Thomas Meighan admitted, “in spite of his numerous friends in Los Angeles, he’s just plain lonesome for his wife’s company.” Frances Ring was visiting her sister. Ring and Meighan were happy together; according to his New York Times obituary “The marriage safely weathered all the vicissitudes of fame and fortune, a fact which prompted one Hollywood writer to remark a few years ago that ‘Thomas Meighan and Rin Tin Tin were the only Hollywood stars who had never seen a divorce court.’”

Finally, in this week’s “the past is a foreign country:” Douglas Fairbanks returned to Los Angeles, and “he was met by a crowd of cowboys, who, as a special mark of their affection, treated their hero to a travesty lynching.” Affectionate lynching? They did do things differently there.

Week of September 23rd, 1916

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported that some big New York magazines had noticed Mack Sennett’s work. George Jean Nathan in his theater review column for The Smart Set: A Magazine of Cleverness praised him, and Kingsley was so surprised that she quoted him at length:

This Sennett is probably the most fecund inventor and merchant of the slapstick masque the civilized world has yet seen. A spectator of but a very few of his opera, I am yet fascinated and not inconsiderably bewildered by the resourceful imagination of the fellow. An erstwhile chorus man in the Casino music shows, Sennett has done the work he set out to do with a skill so complete, with a fertility so copious, that he has graduated himself as the foremost bachelor of custard-pie arts, the foremost professor of the bladder. He is, in short, the very best entrepreneur of low comedy the amusement world has seen. He has made probably twice as many millions laugh as have all of Shakespeare’s clowns and all the music show comedians on earth rolled together.

Nathan actually seems to be sincere in his admiration, beneath the thick layer of pretension (or as Kingsley politely put it: “Of course, Mr. Nathan’s viewpoint is from a very very lofty height, which naturally makes his language sound a bit condescending”). An intellectual such as himself couldn’t have possibly witnessed more than “a very few” Keystone films, nevertheless he could recommend them over “the labored unfunniness of the posturing mimic artists of Broadway.” The whole article is available on Google Books.*

Kingsley also mentioned that the Saturday Evening Post published an article Sennett wrote, “Movie Star Stories,” in which he described the differences between theatrical and film acting and told stories about some of the people who had worked for him, included Roscoe Arbuckle, Charlie Chaplin and Mabel Normand. Marilyn Slater has posted a copy on her site, Looking for Mabel.

So in 1916, general interest magazines were already starting to take movies – and comedies at that – seriously. They were well on their way to respectability.

 

In other Keystone news, the place was turning highbrow, but not because of the media attention.

No longer do Keystoners loiter about the big open-air stage, telling Keystone-y stories, playing pinochle, or otherwise amusing themselves in the common, vulgar way. Nowadays the erstwhile footlight comedians, chorus ladies, prize fighters, acrobats and cowboys gather about the phonograph, and nothing short of a Wagnarian trilogy of a Liszt rhapsody will satisfy the artistic temperament of these new disciples of the elevated brow. Louise Fazenda started the movement and everybody chipped in last week and bought a Victrola.

Technology has been ruining society for an awfully long time.

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Two comedies made Kingsley laugh this week. Anita Loos’ work was back again, this time with a “whimsically clever” screenplay for The Social Secretary. Norma Talmadge gave a “clear-cut, sparkling interpretation “ to the role of a beautiful woman masquerading as a prim, dowdy social secretary to avoid workplace sexual harassment. Kingsley said “it is refreshing to see Miss Talmadge in a comedy role, after the long series of gloomy, heart-broken females she has played.” Despite her good notices, Talmadge went back to her dramatic roles and only rarely made comedies. The Social Secretary is not a lost film; it’s even available on DVD.

She had fun at Mr. 44 as well, in which a poor factory girl (May Allison) marries a rich man (Harold Lockwood). She wrote “Miss Allison and Mr. Lockwood are always easy to look at, and their fine sense of comedy values places them right among the blue ribboners in brightly humorous plays.” The two were very popular stars at the time, co-starring in over 20 films between 1915 and 1917. Lockwood died of influenza in 1918. Allison kept working until 1927, retiring after she married James Quirk, the editor of Photoplay magazine. Mr. 44 is a lost film.

Kingsley also admired the work of the person who had the most successful career of everyone involved with the film: “Photographer Gaudio shows himself master of his craft in making the pictures of those wonderful Lake Tahoe locations.” Tony Gaudio already had many years of experience; he had been shooting short films since 1903. In the 1920’s he became the Talmadge sisters’ regular DP, and when their studio was bought by Warner Bros. he went along. He shot some of that studio’s most prestigious films, including Little Caesar (1931), Anthony Adverse (1936) and The Letter (1941).

 

 

 

*Buster Keaton fans might want to see Nathan’s article because he reviews the play Seven Chances was based on, calling it “a poor thing at best.”

One other aside: earlier in the article he opined that Sydney Chaplin was a better comic than his half-brother and his film The Plumber was better than all films, including Birth of a Nation. One problem with his argument is that The Plumber was a Charlie Chaplin film – that was an alternate title for Work (1915). So Nathan wasn’t infallible.

Week of September 16th, 1916

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley announced the formation of a new company, the Continental Producing Company, that

will begin active operation next Monday on the production of a big twelve-reel feature, The Spirit of ’76, embodying historical events and characters of the American Revolution…it is said that much painstaking research has preceded the production of the picture.

She didn’t mention the man who is the reason the film is remembered today, its writer/producer, Robert Goldstein. His story was so sad that it wouldn’t make a credible melodrama (the Slate article about him was called “The Unluckiest Man in Movie History”).

Mary Mallory wrote a very through article about the film and Goldstein’s subsequent troubles, but the short version is that the historical events in this patriotic film included British war atrocities. Showing allies in the World War doing such things was suddenly considered pro-German, and he was arrested and convicted under the Espionage Act of 1917. He served three years of a ten-year sentence. In 1921, he recut the film and it was shown in New York City for three weeks, but he had little success. He left the United States later that year and tried to find film work in Europe, ending up living in Berlin with his aunts. He returned to New York on August 16, 1935 (earlier writers assumed he died in the Holocaust, but his immigration record was recently digitized). He appears in the 1940 Census as an inmate of Riker’s Island, and that’s the final record currently available for him. It’s a shame Robert Goldstein ever wanted to make movies. To add insult to injury, it’s a lost film.

If you’d like to know more about the legal aspects of the case, look at “The Espionage Act and Robert Goldstein’s The Spirit of ’76 (1917): A Historical and Legal Analysis” by Zach Saltz. There is also a book by Anthony Slide called Robert Goldstein and The Spirit of ’76. 

[Update: I visited the New York City Archive in October 2016 and I found only a dead end. Their records for Rikers Island end in 1936. I also checked the burial records for Potters Field but they’re kept by death date, and they’re missing the microfilm reel with records for 1942-1943. Maybe someday more records will be digitized and we can find out what happened to him.]

Kingsley’s favorite film this week was The Tarantula, a “tense and thrilling drama” about the downfall of a “he-vampire” (it’s about time!) Edith Storey played an innocent young woman seduced, impregnated and abandoned by a married man (Harry Hollingsworth). The baby dies, she becomes a dancer and he goes to one of her shows where she give him a jeweled box. When he passes out from drink, a tarantula emerges from the box, bites and kills him. She marries her faithful suitor (Antonio Moreno). And so we learn that the wages of premarital sex and revenge are to live happily ever after with an extremely handsome man. Hooray! (A few years later Moreno would become a star and rival to Valentino.) The Silent Feature Film Database says there are no archival holdings of The Tarantula, but it seems to be available on some sketchy streaming sites.

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Audrey Munson, 1915

A notorious film came to town, but Los Angeles seemed “entirely apathetic” despite censorship battles waged in New York. Purity starred Audrey Munson as an artists’ model who poses nude to earn enough money to publish her ungrateful boyfriend’s poetry. Kingsley warned filmgoers that it was a bore; she thought that “the part calls for clothes – but there is no answer…there is a story, but it is obviously written merely for the purpose of stringing together through seven reels numberless poses of Miss Munson.” While the censors in L.A. were apathetic, the public was less so — the film played to capacity audiences. The next week, theater manager Seth Perkins learned just how relaxed the local censors were: hoping for a little publicity, he put up a “frank” photo of Miss Munson in the lobby. Unfortunately, not one person or official objected. He sighed to Kingsley: “Oh, for the old censor days!”

Kingsley revealed that even then people could be skeptical about Los Angeles standing in for other places: “The Lasky company apparently has implicit faith in California scenery and their art director. At present there are three features under production, with scenes laid in widely different localities on the earth’s surface.” The locations were Japan, the jungles of South Africa, and New York City.

Week of September 9th, 1916

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley told a story about a newsreel cameraman, B.F. Reynolds, who filmed a mountaintop explosion at a rock quarry:

Hobnobbing with earthquakes, fires and other disasters is just second nature to a pictorial news gatherer…Reynolds placed his camera at a point which the superintendent of the quarry said was dangerously near. “Oh, I guess I’ll take the chance,” answered Reynolds. “I’m used to this sort of thing. We have all kinds of explosions in our pictures, you know, and I’ve even been on intimate terms with a cyclone. I feel pretty safe here. Let her go.” Reynolds remained where he was, and when the explosion occurred the rock fell all around him, but fate lent a kind hand and he escaped injury.

This fearlessness would serve him well in over next decade, when he was Erich von Stroheim’s director of photography. Benjamin Franklin Reynolds was born on July 21, 1890 in Woodville, Michigan, and when Kingsley was writing about him, he was working for the Los Angeles Times-Universal Animated Weekly Newsreel. In 1917 he moved from nonfiction to fiction and went to work for another division at Universal, Bison Motion Pictures. His first movie was The Scrapper (1917), a Western short written, directed, and staring John Ford. He worked with Ford for a year and a half, then he got assigned to work with first-time director Erich von Stroheim on Blind Husbands (1919). He collaborated with von Stroheim on all of his features, including the infamously difficult Greed (1924). They spent 37 summer days filming the final sequence in Death Valley, the hottest place in North America. You can see them hauling their equipment by mule in this short newsreel.

After Greed, he married stenographer Adelaide Bader and they took a long honeymoon in Europe. They came back to Los Angeles in late 1924 and he went back to work. In between von Stroheim films, he was under contract at M.G.M. and Universal, so he shot comedies like The Waning Sex (1926, with Norma Shearer) and dramas like Freedom of the Press (1928, with Lewis Stone), but his career was still tied to the director. When the von Stroheim got fired from Queen Kelly (1929), Reynolds’ career suffered too. He shot some early sound shorts for Warner Bros., then he got a contract at the less-prestigious (at the time) Paramount Studios where he worked on Westerns and comedies, including W.C. Field’s The Old Fashioned Way (1934). His final film was It’s A Great Life (1935), an Eddie Cline-directed comedy about working for the Civilian Conservation Corps.

In July 1935 his story turned tawdry. A 21-year old bit player, Julia Graham, with whom he was having an affair, committed suicide in his house. The County Coroner cleared him of any blame, but the story was picked up in the newspapers and it ended his film career. Adelaide Reynolds didn’t leave him but they did move to a new house. He got a job as a gas station attendant, and she went to work in a studio script department.

The American Society of Cinematographers also didn’t abandon him. He’d been a member since 1917 when they were still called the Static Club, and their magazine continued to mention him in their “A.S.C. on Parade” column. His final appearance was in 1941, when he reminisced about shooting in Death Valley after Greed had a revival screening at the Academy. He died on February 14, 1948, age 57. Adelaide Reynolds remarried and moved to Anaheim, California where she died on November 1, 1991.

Kingsley’s most enjoyable trip to the movies this week was to a double bill of Anita Loos films. The short Laundry Liz was “the very best little gloom-chaser…a delicious travesty on the silent ‘drawma’ and the methods of its producers, and it mercilessly reveals and satirizes the weakness and faults of the business.” The feature was a tragedy, The Little Liar, about a slum girl (Mae Marsh) who uses fiction to help her cope with her grim life. Kingsley thought that Marsh did “some of the best work of her career.” They are both lost films.

It wasn’t difficult to program an Anita Loos double feature in 1916, because she had at least 18 films to her credit that year (including the intertitles for Intolerance). Now best known for the novel Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, she wrote over 100 screenplays including San Francisco (1936) and The Women (1939).

Kingsley gave “the blue ribbon for the suppression of mashers” to screen vampire Louise Glaum this week. Glaum, who was second only to Theda Bara for her exotic temptress roles, was working on the boardwalk near Venice Beach, and between scenes

a dandy of the jellyfish type approached, apparently hoping that Miss Glaum would think him a suitable subject for vamping. Miss Glaum does not, however, believe in carrying professionalism into private life. The man began to talk to her, and she thought for a moment of leading him to the police station. But it was a warm day and the police station was some distance away.

Suddenly she hit upon a new plan. She pretended she was deaf and dumb, and began to talk on her fingers. But the man persisted. Soon Miss Glaum observed Charles Ray, Howard Hickman and some of the other men from the studio standing in a group. She lead the masher directly into the crowd, and suddenly exclaimed, as though bored to death:

“Boys will you please rid me of this thing? It’s been following me for ten minutes!”

The thing turned and fled.

This happened while they were shooting The Wolf Woman, which told “the pitiful story of a siren’s fall, a fall that carried her far into the depths of depravity—but not until she had been robbed, by a cruel trick of fate, of her one potent weapon, beauty” according to Motography (August 5, 1916). Kingsley reviewed the film a week later, and said that Glaum was an entirely convincing vamp in her “spider-web gown, the most insidiously naughty gown that’s been seen on the Rialto this season,” unlike the “dames on the screen whom we know couldn’t get a rise out of a half blind and one-legged rag-and-bottle man.” It’s a lost film.

Glaum was a former stage actress who got her start in films as a comedian with Nestor Studios in 1912. She became a vamp when she signed with the Ince Company in 1915. Her film career lasted until the early 20’s and she returned to live theater.

 

Note: There’s a blog post about Julia Graham at The Unsung Joe, however, some of the information in it about Ben Reynolds is inaccurate so I can’t vouch for the rest of it.

Week of September 2nd, 1916

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One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported some very good news for film workers who are always looking for their next job: Samuel Goldfish, chairman of Famous Players-Lasky, intended to move production to Hollywood. He had been visiting Los Angeles for four weeks, and just before he left for New York he issued a press release:

…we are convinced that Los Angeles is the ideal motion picture producing center. Heretofore most of the Famous Players pictures have been made in New York; in the future the majority of the Famous Players-Lasky pictures will be produced here. …We shall practically have to double our force of employees at the Lasky studio to handle the increase in producing directors. As soon as possible we will erect new office buildings and stages. The increased output will practically triple our expenditures.

Unfortunately for all of those cameramen and production managers, this didn’t happen the way he planned. When Goldfish returned to New York, his boss Jesse Lasky asked him to resign (another executive, Adolf Zucker, had engineered his removal), so he did, effective September 14th. Goldfish quickly got back into the business; he announced the incorporation of his new company in early December. He joined Edgar Selwyn to form the Goldwyn Company, changed his last name to match the company and went on to the sort of career that 510 page (plus notes) biographies are written about. He did move his production headquarters to Los Angeles in 1918.

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The Honorable Friend

Kingsley was impressed by the novelty of The Honorable Friend this week. Unusual because it featured only Japanese characters (the one Caucasian actor was in yellow face), it was “frankly melodramatic, but melodrama beautifully and naturally done. The Japanese atmosphere and tradition are so cunningly intermingled that it seems a very great drama.” It seems that unfamiliarly raised the film’s quality for her, because she wasn’t kidding about the melodrama: the story involves a handsome gardener, an innocent young woman, an unscrupulous rich man, kidnapping, murder, revenge and self-sacrificing false confessions. It’s a lost film, which is a shame because it was one of the few American films in which Sessue Hayakawa got to play an ordinary man and a hero, not a villain or exotic, forbidden lover.

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Tsuru Aoki, Sessue Hayakawa and Shoki

Kingsley admired the actors; Hayakawa was “subtle and admirable” and Tsuru Aoki “played the decorous but fiery-hearted little Japanese woman to perfection.” Hayakawa went on to a very long career in America, Europe and Japan that included an Oscar nomination for his part in The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957). His wife Aoki often co-stared with him until 1924 when she retired from acting to raise their three children.

 

Kingsley was fairly appalled by the hackneyed themes of another release this week, The Unwelcome Mother, but she noted the “rare and distinctive beauty” of its “new and fascinating screen personality,” Valkyrien. It was her first film for Fox, and she was being heavily promoted. Photoplay went completely nuts with their description of her:

Behold a Danish girl, Valkyrien, whose yellow, gold-tipped hair reaches to her knees; her eyes are the deep blue of the Norse sea; her skin is like the young ivory faint-flushed with rose-petal pink…Her age is nineteen; in stature she is a mean between Psyche and Venus; she has the solid, rounded outline of limb and figure of the Ancients, combined with natural grace and nimbleness.

The author (wisely) didn’t sign this piffle. All of this promotion came to nothing; she had been promised top billing for The Unwelcome Mother but she didn’t get it so she sued Fox, which for the most part ended her career. Her Women Film Pioneers Project biography does a good job of debunking the nonsense written about her, but she’d still make an interesting biopic subject.

 

 

 

Week of August 26th, 1916

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported an unusually high number of accidents and injuries. The list included:

  • J. Warren Kerrigan and the cast and crew of The Measure of a Man were in a boat crash when they were returning from filming scenes in Eureka. At one o’clock in the morning a lumber schooner struck their passenger boat and everyone was thrown from their beds. Luckily, both ships were able to get to San Francisco.
  • Val Paul was rehearsing a scene on the shores of Catalina Island in which he saved a boy from a shark attack when a real shark attacked. He managed to grab the boy and escape by climbing onto a rock.
  • Harry Carey, while “performing a perilous feat” in The Underling was thrown against a railroad track and his shoulder was severely injured.
  • Herbert Rawlinson was hurt while filming a fight. He fell and tore the ligaments in his knee. However, they were working at the LA County Hospital at the time, so he saw a doctor right away.
  • Dorothy Phillips was injured when she fell into a bear trap while filming on location in Bear Valley.

Working in film in 1916 was dangerous! Happily, everybody recovered from their trauma and injuries. J. Warren Kerrigan continued to be a leading man until he quit acting in 1924; The Measure of a Man was released in November and Moving Picture World thought it was wholesome, if a bit padded. Val Paul kept acting until the early 20’s, then he became a director, producer, and production manager. Harry Carey became a big star of Westerns, then a character actor and was nominated for an Oscar in 1940 for his role in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. The Underling was re-named The Conspiracy and Motion Picture News thought it was “an entirely satisfactory melodrama.” Herbert Rawlinson also had a long career, though he was less successful, moving from being a leading man in the silent era to doing bit parts in talkies and television. Dorothy Phillips’ career also prospered in the 20’s, then dwindled to occasional bit parts.

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Finally, one accident might have gotten put to good use:

Last Monday Director [Hal] Roach’s car was hit and demolished by a truck while on its way to location, loaded with players. Bebe Daniels and Harold Lloyd were both sent to the hospital while Fred Jefferson and James Crosby suffered minor injuries. The car was completely wreaked, but the cameraman was on the job. Leaping from under the wreckage, he saw that the camera was uninjured, and at once set it up, calling meanwhile to the players the familiar phrase “Hold it!” He got a picture of the wreak, and it’s going to be used in a comedy. Well, some cameramen do have a sense of humor!

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James Crosby

Crosby, the quick-thinking cameraman, had gotten his start in film working at the Selig-Polyscope lab in 1904. When the film industry contracted in 1918, he went back to lab management and in 1933 he invented an automatic film developer.

I can’t find out if they really did use the footage in a film because trade papers rarely reviewed shorts and only 14 of the 67 Lonesome Luke films survived, according to Annette D’Agostino Lloyd. But it seems plausible that it was in Luke the Chauffeur, released on October 29, 1916.

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Kingsley particularly enjoyed The Weakness of Strength this week, saying it was

“the strongest and sincerest photodrama the Symphony [Theater] has shown in many a day…in vain one looks for the impossibly fortuitous circumstance, the villain who villains for the pure joy of villaining, the too-perfect hero…even the happy ending, for which one does not look early in the picture, is so adroitly evolved as to appear quite the natural outcome of events.”

The story involves a clerk who, desperate for money to care for his sick grandmother, embezzles money, but his boss ultimately forgives him (AFI Catalog). It’s a lost film. Now the only remarkable thing about the film is how unremarkable it was. All of the cast and crew had decent careers, but nobody was particularly famous. It’s the sort of movie that kept the entertainment industry running.

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No old-style suits for these ladies.

Kingsley reported one patently absurd item unquestioningly: Mack Sennett ordered “the cutie Keystone bathing girls to return to the old-style bathing suits.” Of course, no such thing happened, and I have no idea why somebody thought that would be a useful bit of publicity.

 

Week of August 19th, 1916

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Comic by Edmund Waller “Ted” Gale

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley scored an interview with Charlie Chaplin on the set of his new film, The Count. She rarely wrote up stand-alone interviews; instead she would incorporate them in her regular news column. But Chaplin was already such an important figure in film–only two years after his debut–that she made an exception.

She found a melancholy man who “takes life and himself seriously, and wants you to take them seriously, too.” She told of his impoverished beginnings, his working methods and the inspiration for his walk. She also demonstrated how well he could tell a story; one night he was gloomy, so he and Thomas Meighan went slumming at a saloon in San Pedro. The proprietor became suspicious of the two, and

…he openly voiced the opinion that we weren’t there for any good. Finally our evidence of overwhelming wealth – we had spent six bits by that time—caused him to decide that such reckless spenders must be from Alaska. After a while, though, he began to look at me closely. A look of amazement stole over his face. “You ain’t – it can’t be Charlie Chaplin,” he cried. “Pshaw,” I answered, “of course not, I’m a travelling man.” “I’ll bet you are Charlie Chaplin” he insisted. But when I coyly admitted I was indeed that very person –

“Aww, no you ain’t,” he veered around. “No man that made $670,000 a year would come to a dump like this!” And no amount of persuasion or proof could convince him.

The whole article was reprinted in Charlie Chaplin Interviews and the editor, Kevin Hayes, credits her with figuring out how to have a good interview with him: make it seem like a conversation, not an interview.

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Clayton, Montague Love and Blackwell in A Woman’s Way

Kingsley’s favorite film this week was A Woman’s Way. She wrote:

it is perhaps the best high comedy of its class which the local screen has seen…That shades of dramatic feeling, that delicate finesse of the mind’s workings, that adroit play of wit on wit may be shown on the screen, is proven in this clever story of how a woman, about to lose her husband to a vampire, sets her wits to work and wins the battle.

It stared Ethel Clayton (“a through mistress of her art”) and Carlyle Blackwell (“the artist as always, and a handsome and magnetic one”). Clayton had the depressingly typical actress’s career: she was a leading lady until the mid-1920s, then she played mothers, then she took bit parts. Blackwell continued to get leading men parts until sound ended his film career.

Margaret I. MacDonald at Moving Picture World disagreed with Kingsley; she found it only “moderately entertaining…will no doubt please the average audience.” It’s not a lost film, and has been preserved at the Amsterdam Filmmuseum.

The most successful person involved with the film was its writer, Frances Marion. Adapted from a stage play, A Woman’s Way was one of her 20 (!) film credits for 1916. She was best know for her work with Mary Pickford (see the book Without Lying Down), as well as Stella Dallas and Son of the Sheik. Marion also won an Oscar for The Champ.

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Mary Pickford, at work on the first film of her new contract, Pride of the Clan (1916)

Marion’s soon-to-be collaborator made some news this week:

Mary Pickford will head her own company hereafter, producing big features which will be released independent of any programme. It was formally announced yesterday that the Mary Pickford Film Corporation had been organized and offices opened in the Godfrey Building in New York. Miss Pickford personally is to direct and supervise every detail of her productions. It is announced that she will surround herself with the best brains and skill the motion picture field will yield.

Pickford was still working for Famous Players-Laksy, but she had signed a contract that her biographer Scott Eyman called “a small masterpiece of employee demand and employer humiliation.” Running for two years, in addition to full approval of directors and actors and independence from block booking, she got 50 percent of her films’ net profits and a private studio. She really did surround herself with the best brains and skill, hiring directors like Maurice Tourneur, Cecil B. DeMille and Marshall Neilan, cinematographer Charles Rosher, and of course Frances Marion.

D.W. Griffith’s publicity man earned his pay this week, keeping his boss’s not-yet released film in the news. Kingsley quoted W.E. Keefe, who had so successfully used fights with censors to publicize Birth of a Nation:

Intolerance seems to be just prejudice proof. Here I expected a nice, juicy lot of opposition from most everybody, and all the different sects come up and shake Griffith’s hand and tell him it’s fine. Today my last hope died. I got a message from the Mayor saying he’d like to see me privately. ‘Ha! Says I, ‘here’s where we start something!’ But all he wanted was that Mr. Griffith, Sir [Herbert Beerbohm] Tree and De Wolf Hopper should be guests of the city and go and look at the Greek Theater. What’s the use?

Intolerance was subjected to censorship in some markets (particularly the shots of seminude woman) but it was nothing compared to Birth. Russell Merrith found that “many of the censor brawls have the whiff of staged publicity stunts meant to draw attention both to the movie and to the naked women.” Keefe tried his best to drum up interest, but the film sold far fewer tickets than Birth. William Earl “Bill” Keefe was a former newspaper writer. He became a production manager at Griffith’s studio, and later worked for an advertising agency.

Kingsley delivered two pretty good one-liners this week. When describing Leah Herz’s dance act at the Orpheum, she wrote “it is a great novelty, and for those of us whose imaginations find it difficult to understand and interpret the gyrations of the ballet, and don’t know that two kicks this way means ‘I love you’ and that draping yourself over the fountain means ‘don’t bring your mother-in-law home for dinner,’ such an act is a godsend.” Who knew that going to vaudeville could be so much intellectual work!

She also mentioned that the California historical romance Daughter of the Don “continues to attract big crowds of loyal Angelinos, some of whom had been here all of a month.” Kingsley herself was a non-native – she didn’t arrive until 1879, when she was six.

 

Week of August 12th, 1916

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One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley attended a private screening of Arctic explorer and documentary filmmaker Frank E. Kleinschmidt’s war films. She wrote:

Of all the movies taken of the great war, these are the most extraordinary thus far shown. The spectator sees soldiers fighting in the trenches; sees them crumple up and die. You see wounded men living with sick glazed eyes in the trenches waiting for the ambulance corps to pick them up. Battlefields with hundreds of dead men appear on the screen. Some of the most remarkable views are of aeroplanes. In one case you see scores of shells bursting around an Austrian airship that is sailing over Venice and is the target for hundreds of Italian guns.

Stephen Bush in Moving Picture World (April 1, 1916) agreed completely, writing, “the horrible and yet sublime tragedy of war is brought fearfully close to us by means of these films.” Kleinschmidt got such amazing footage because he’d been given permission to shoot by the Archduke Field Marshall Fredrick, the highest commanding officer – of Austria. That’s what doomed the commercial value of the films. Lewis Selznick bought the rights to distribute a six-reel version called War on Three Fronts. It was released in April 1917, the same month that the United States declared war. On April 21st Moving Picture World disavowed their earlier support and on April 28th Motography wrote “it is undeniable that these pictures are against the sentiment of our country, and it seems that the exhibitor might do well to think twice before he books them.”

However, that wasn’t the last of the film. According to American Cinematographers in the Great War, D.W. Griffith was given a print when he was working on Hearts of the World, and he used a few shots from it. In a letter, Kleinschmidt said he was disappointed that more wasn’t used. The book’s authors have more information about War on Three Fronts at First World War on Film.

Kleinschmidt went back to exploring the Arctic and he made another film in Alaska, Primitive Love (1927).

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The Bugle Call

Kingsley’s favorite film of the week was The Bugle Call. She was impressed by the fourteen-year-old who was making his film debut, saying “if Willie Collier Jr. keeps on he’ll be the best motion picture actor in the world some day.” She continued “we have something new to the screen in this photoplay – a real, human, breathing boy, as real and fascinating as any boy of action.” Collier played Billy Andrews, who lives on a Western army outpost with his father and new stepmother, whom he doesn’t like. Billy saves the outpost and his stepmother from an attack by sounding his bugle, according to the AFI Catalog. The film was re-made by Edward Sedgewick in 1927 with Jackie Coogan in Collier’s role. Both films are lost.

While William “Buster” Collier didn’t become the best actor in the world, he had a long career in entertainment. He acted until 1933, making the transition from child actor to romantic lead as well as from silent films to sound, appearing in over 80 films. Then he became a film and television producer.

Chaplin’s One A.M. continued to draw crowds, but the new accompanying feature The House of Mirrors had a “melodramatic, absurd and machine-made story.”

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Molly Malone

Kingsley heard a heroic story about a young actress, Molly Malone, from her director, George Cochrane. On location at Crater Canyon, he, cameraman Bob Walters and Miss Malone had just climbed over a big boulder when she gave a startled cry. “The next instant he heard the crash of a rock and turning, saw a writing snake. Miss Malone had thrown the rock, and her aim had been so accurate that it had broken the back of the reptile, which had been about to strike Cochrane. Miss Malone has the eight rattles and the button of the snake as a souvenir of her bravery.”

Molly Malone appeared in Westerns and comedies until 1929. Her most famous film is Backstage with Roscoe Arbuckle and Buster Keaton; you can see it at the Internet Archive.

Kingsley reported that while Hal Roach was in New York, Rolin studio manager Dwight Whiting took over and directed a Lonesome Luke film with Harold Lloyd and Bebe Daniels. Unlike many other people, it didn’t inspire him to stick with it. Two years later, he abandoned the entertainment business entirely and went to work for Union Oil where he was a director for 36 years. In 1934, he helped found the Santa Anita Racetrack. So there is life after Hollywood.

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Edmund Lowe

It seems that some fans have always been odd. Kingsley reported “Eddie Lowe was separated from an ingrowing toenail the other day. And right in the class with the ladies who carry flowers to murderers in jail, was the feminine admirer who wrote and begged the popular young actor to give her the subtracted toenail as a souvenir.” One hundred years later, that’s still horrifying.

At this point in his career, Edmund Lowe was primarily a stage actor, but he went on to a long career in film and television, starring in What Price Glory (1926) and Dinner at Eight (1933).