Week of July 22nd, 1916

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported that D.W. Griffith was starting work on a new film, and it might be about the Holy Grail. He was definitely staying in California, despite the rumors that he was moving to New York. However, none of this happened: he never made a Holy Grail film, and his next release, Hearts of the World, was mostly shot in England and France. He did eventually move to Mamaroneck, New York, in 1919.

(I’m going to leave this here, just in case seeing the words “Holy Grail” affects you like it does me)

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No one film stood out as her favorite this week, but she thought that Lionel Barrymore was brilliant as a devil-may-care young prospector in The Quitter, “a comedy of supremely piquant quality.” She seemed equally appalled by and interested in The Little Girl Next Door, that week’s film about sex trafficking: “Luridly sensational as to incident, oft-times improbably, yet possessed of a certain gripping power because of its peculiar appeal, the picture is supposed to reveal the methods of ‘white slavers.’ She noted the opulence of William Hart’s latest, The Captive God, and reported that the Ince Company’s sculpture department had used 300 tons of plaster. And she mentioned that Chaplin’s The Vagabond was held over for a third week.

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Fred Held

Kingsley admired the photography of Fathers of Men, which was shot in Northern Canada “under extreme hardship,” particularly the “wonderful frozen waterfalls, huge glaciers, vast snow plains, hoary rocks and, most beautiful of all, the fairy-like frozen webs which Jack Frost weaves on tree top and shrub.” Fred Held was the cinematographer who managed to capture it all and keep the camera from freezing. He was a pioneer in the New York film industry; according to a short 1913 profile in Moving Picture World he’d been working in film manufacturing for 15 years. His feature credits ended in 1920, but his occupation in later censuses was always listed as photography. Fathers of Men is so lost that it doesn’t even have a listing in the FIAF database.

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Roy Fernandez

In a slow week for film news, Kingsley reported that newly-minted actor Roy Fernandez had the only dog in the world with gold tooth, a bulldog named Peter. Fernandez was an artists’ model who had won Universal’s most handsome man contest. He was cast in Lois Weber’s next film, Idle Wives, but he didn’t appear in it. In September, Variety reported that he had returned to modeling. This sort of contest rarely produced stars (Francis X. Bushman seems to be the only exception) and the studios gave up on them.

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Dora Mae Howe

The most alien-to-2016 story of the week was the report that stage ingénue Dora Mae Howe had gained ten pounds since she joined the Burbank Theater company. She told Kingsley that it happened because every role had required her to eat something on stage. In her next play, The Fibber, it was candy and she wanted chocolate almonds. Now it’s impossible to imagine an actress admitting to eating candy, let alone gaining weight. Howe’s stage career lasted for a few more years; she married film character actor William Austin in 1929.

Week of July 15th, 1916

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley had heard news about D.W. Griffith’s upcoming release:

The name of the big feature film which David Griffith has had in course of production for over a year, which he has called The Mother and the Law, is said to have been changed to Intolerance. The picture is nearly ready for public showing. Nothing has so far been made public regarding the feature. Huge mystery has surrounded its making. If an attaché of the Griffith studio was asked anything about it, he would look hurriedly to right and left and say “Oh, you mustn’t say anything about that.” A worker caught developing some film the other day turned pale, and hurriedly shooed everybody from the room.

Griffith and his staff had done a remarkably good job of keeping a lid on all information about the film, judging by the articles available on Lantern. In 1915 there were reports that some prison scenes were actually filmed at San Quentin, and on January 1st, 1916 Motion Picture News ran a story about the “interesting rumors…regarding a series of huge special masterpieces which may issue from the Triangle Studio.” Not everything they heard ended up in Intolerance; one film was to be about the life and death of Sardanapalus, a profligate Assyrian monarch. However, they’d also heard that there was a prolog depicting the fall of Babylon, which was a major episode in the final film.

Kinglsey didn’t get to review it for the Times when it opened in Los Angeles on October 16th, but Harry Carr did and said “David Wark Griffith has made his place secure as one of the towering geniuses of the world.” The rest of his review was equally rapturous, with words like tremendous, gripping, and amazing. Kingsley interviewed Griffith as few days later, and he did his best to say it wasn’t at all high brow, it was mostly a love story (he wanted to sell tickets, after all).

Her favorite film of the week was Masque of Life. It loomed

like a beacon above the commonplaceness which fill our screens week after week. And this in spite of many crudities of staging and directing. Even Mack Sennett will have to look to his laurels when it comes to that throat-gripping, hair-raising scene where the circus girl climbs the brick smokestack many hundred feet above the highest buildings, and rescues the squirming, kicking baby which a baboon has placed on the very top edge of the smokestack…And the story. Real human drama, with the action growing, as all real human drama does from out the men and women themselves, with no resort to petty superficial makeshifts of plot.

At least it did until the end, which she thought was improbably happy. Masque of Life was an edited-for-American-audiences version of an Italian film, Il Circo della Morte, which still exists at the Cineteca Nazionale in Rome. That she barely mentioned where the film came from shows how easily films could cross borders.

It was a slow week for films otherwise. She did think that the acting in Lois Weber’s Shoes was good, but the character motivation were improbable (an impoverished girl turns to prostitution to get a pair of shoes) She didn’t like Douglas Fairbanks’ Good Bad Man but it was partially redeemed by his grin. And Chaplin’s The Vagabond, held over for a second week, was beginning to grow on her. She found it a relief after slogging through the melodrama of The Greater Will, in which a girl is hypnotized and tricked into marriage.

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Kingsley wrote that John Emerson had left Triangle to direct Mary Pickford at Famous Player/Lasky, with the hope that he’ll find better stories for her. She was reportedly unhappy at Lasky because she was given inferior ones. He did direct her next film, Less Than the Dust, which was about an abandoned English girl raised in India who returns to England. When it came out in November Kingsley praised the “all-around excellence of the photoplay.” Emerson, with his wife Anita Loos, went on to write comedies for Pickford’s future husband, Douglas Fairbanks.

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Diane of the Follies

Kingsley got to talk to Lillian Gish, who, after only four years in movies, was already tired of the way she’d been pigeonholed.

Lillian Gish is appearing in Diane of the Follies at Fine Arts studio, under the direction of Christy Cabanne. Miss Gish plays the title role, that of a chorus girl. She declares it is entirely different from any she has ever assumed. “I hold the record as champion deserted wife in the films,” said Miss Gish. “I counted up the other day and find I’ve been deserted fifteen times. In this play, I’m delighted to say, I leave my husband flat. And there’s no villain to pursue me either., which, of course, will make it rather lonely at first, but I shall get used to it in time.

Unfortunately, critics weren’t as happy. Thomas C. Kennedy in Motography thought that Gish’s acting was fine, but the story was terrible, and Peter Milne in Motion Picture News agreed, writing “just why the Fine Arts scenario department unearthed the story presented in Diane of the Follies is not exactly clear, judging from the ultimate effect created by the picture.” The film was written by D.W. Griffith under a pseudonym, and comedy really wasn’t his strong suit. It’s a lost film, so we can’t see for ourselves.

Kingsley reported one story that wouldn’t happen in 2016. Peggy Custer, actress at Universal and Gen. George Custer’s great-niece, was sent a gift by an admirer: a cow and her calf. Luckily she was living on a ranch at Lankershim with her aunt, actress Lule Warrenton, and she was able to send them there. Peggy Custer married cinematographer Jack MacKenzie in May 1917 and quit acting.

Week of July 8th,1916

 

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported that a director wasn’t sure that an interesting film could be set at a newspaper. Now it’s a reliable (if sometimes well-worn) setting, but in 1916 Paul Powell had “always yearned to film a motion play with a newspaper office locale. However, he has had his doubts as to whether it could be done.” Powell did make his newspaper film, The Rummy, and when it came out in September, Moving Picture World liked it at lot. They thought it was “a faithful representation of conditions that actually exist in a newspaper office” and “The Rummy is as strong and well told a story as has been seen on the screen in many days.“ While several earlier features had been about reporters, according to the AFI Catalog, few had newsroom scenes (The Fourth Estate, released in January 1916, was one). So Powell had good reason to doubt. He was a former newspaper reporter, and he went on to direct Douglas Fairbanks in The Matrimaniac and Mary Pickford in Pollyanna. The Rummy might still exist at the Archives du Film du CNC (Bois d’Arcy), but the FIAF database doesn’t guarantee its availability or completeness.

Kingsley reviewed several films this week. She praised the atmosphere of The Valiants of Virginia (a drama about a family feud), and admired the scenery in Nell Shipman’s God’s Country and the Woman (a melodrama set in the Far North) but enjoyed Flirting with Fate the most:

Head and shoulders above the ordinary screen comedy is Flirting with Fate, in which Douglas Fairbanks is starred at the Palace this week. Its subtitles alone are worth the price of admission and its plot is one of the whimsically humorous sort which will appeal to the film fan with ideals above slapstick. Douglas Fairbanks does quite the best bit of work I have seen him accomplish.

Fairbanks plays a depressed man who hires a hit man to kill him then changes his mind (Bulworth and I Hired a Contract Killer later stole the plot). What’s most remarkable now is that this film is not lost. It’s available on DVD from Flicker Alley and streaming through the Internet Archive.

She didn’t like the Chaplin film of the week but the crowd did. She thought that he played his character in The Vagabond for sympathy, and she “did not believe this is a good thing…the mixing of farce and drama would seem to be bad art. However, the crowd belongs to Chaplin, and he can do what he wills with it.” The BFI calls The Vagabond “Chaplin’s first masterpiece;” so a critic can’t win them all.

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Henry King

Kingsley left a snapshot of an up-and-coming Henry King, who was just making the transition from actor to director. He needed to buy a typewriter because he “has such a big correspondence regarding his art, and his photos, and locks of hair, that he had either to hire a blonde or an Oliver, and chose the latter for some unfathomable reason.” King become a noted director of films like Tol’able David, Stella Dallas and The Winning of Barbara Worth as well as some talkies, too (Twelve O’clock High, Carousel).

Kingsley told a story I hadn’t come across before. She wrote:

Dorothy Gish, starring in the Fine Arts feature Gretchen Blunders In, has proved that she is as much at home in the water as when acting before a motion picture camera. She plunged overboard from a gasoline launch and probably saved Natalie Talmadge, sister of Norma, from drowning. Dorothy was working in a scene for Gretchen Blunders In, and the company was aboard a steam launch about a mile from San Pedro Harbor. A lurch of the boat threw Miss Talmadge in the water. “Gee, it spoiled my make-up,” was the only comment offered by Miss Gish. “I hope you don’t want a re-take!

The story could be a publicist’s exaggeration (the only other source I could find for it was an August 7th piece by Daisy Dean, a syndicated gossip columnist who wrote “News Notes from Movieland”), but if it’s true, it would interest Buster Keaton fans – Natalie Talmadge was his first wife. His life would have certainly been different if things had gone otherwise.

The film was renamed Gretchen the Greenhorn and is not lost. It’s available in the More Treasures from American Film Archives set, and it’s an entertaining little movie.

Mexican War worries continued. A Southern California regiment that included seven actors from Universal left for Sacramento to prepare for service against Mexico, and Ed Sedgwick (then a comedian at Universal) announced his intention of organizing a military company made up entirely of comedians. “He said his company will not only be able to fight, but can do funny falls and things to keep the other soldiers amused when not fighting.” This bad idea never came to anything, and the United States (for the most part) stayed out of this war.

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Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

Not once but twice this week Kingsley reported on an epic film in progress, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Her writing resembled the breathless reporting we see now before a Star Wars or Marvel film. On July 10th she wrote, ”The film promises to be one of the most spectacular and thrilling productions ever made.” She emphasized the length and difficulty of the shoot — the director, Stuart Paton, had been working on it for nearly a year and they estimated another 6 months of shooting. The undersea scenes had been shot in the Bahamas, and “Eugene Gaudio, the chief cameraman of the feature, is said to have risked life many times.” She described the massive set in Los Angeles where they were currently shooting: “The Hindu city, where from 2000 to 3000 supernumeraries will be used in many scenes, is a beautiful creation. Besides the big temple, it has several two-story buildings and a massive gateway and adjoining battlements.” Of course, the massive cost needed to be reported as well, “so far the picture is said to have cost more than $100,000.”

She got to visit the set, and on the 14th she continued:

One of the biggest and most spectacular battle scenes ever staged in motion pictures occurred last night at Universal City, when the East Indian city built for the picturization of Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea was bombarded and burned. Three thousand people took part in this episode of the film. From the hills surrounding the mimic city the bombardment took place, and staged at night as it was, with the shadowy human figures on the hills hurling their missiles and shooting their guns, while the eerie flames of the burning city lightened the struggling, frenzied mass of human beings within the town walls, the scene was one so nearly approximating reality in effect that the spectator could hardly conceive himself that it was being done only for the camera.

The film did get released in December, and its final cost was reported to be $200,000. It also hasn’t been lost, and you can see the spectacle for yourself at the Internet Archive.

 

“Sunday and the Dress Parade on the Venice Promenade: Oh Dear Me!”

Before Grace Kingsley was the film editor, she wrote human interest stories for the Los Angeles Times including one about the effects of a new ordinance forcing people to cover up their swim suits when they weren’t in the water at Venice Beach. The Board of Trustees had passed it just in time for the July 4th weekend in 1911. According to an earlier article in the Times, it was in response not to what women were wearing because “it has never been charged that any lady has shocked the pier by appearing in bathing skirts which did not reach the knees” but to the male nuisances:

It is said that the new ordinance is called forth especially to protect residents of Venice from the unpoetic view of numbers of male bathers sprawled in their inartistic short suits upon the sands too near the cement promenade which stretches its sunny mile between Venice and Ocean Park. The men’s suits are sleeveless, neck-less and practically legless. They are nothing more than trunks with chest protector attachment.

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The F.B. Silverwood department store ran this ad the day after the ordinance passed.

Oh dear me indeed. Kingsley went to the beach on the Fourth of July to observe first-hand the “weird procession of sad bathers” and reported, “they looked like a bunch of masqueraders that had been left out all night.” Then she gave us some specifics:

  • A chubby party of about 50—a well-known wholesale grocer, by the way—got a cute effect from his wife’s pink kimono garnished with baby ribbons.
  • And who is this cowled and robed person? A priest or doge of old Venice? Nay, nay. He’s a fat real estate broker in that domino suit he wore to his wife’s party last spring.
  • Here are some fashion hints, however. Really fat gentlemen should avoid red and white checked tablecloth effects. I saw one such. He should have used the sumptuous striped portieres, instead.
  • A little spider of a girl primly divested herself of a red sweater that came to her waist, and dipped her toes in the briny.
  • There seems to be some doubt as to what the law intended to cover, for one lady came out with a bath-towel fig leaf, and a man appeared in a huge bathrobe, high boots and only his eyes showing, while a gentleman of noble bearing, well known in City Hall circles, swung nobly down to the twenty-five foot limit with his bathrobe draped over his shoulder like a Roman toga!

However, as Kingsley noted, nobody measured the twenty-five foot limit or particularly bothered to enforce the law. This was Venice, after all, not some old-fashioned place. Eventually, everybody just forgot about it. The next year, the L.A. Herald reported on some civic-minded ladies who rounded up Venice bathers to go vote in a school trustee election (women had gotten the right to vote in California in 1911) and they ran a photo of two voters in swimwear, unencumbered by cover-ups, hopping into a car to visit their polling place.

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Mr. and Mrs. G.M. Nichols, leaving the beach to vote.

In June 1912, the Board had given up on cover-ups and passed an ordinance on the length of swimwear (14 inches below the waist for women, knee-length for men)– but that’s a story for another day.

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Venice Beach, 2016 — no bath-robes, but the same sand, sun and surf

Happy Fourth of July!

Sources: Los Angeles Herald, June 13, 1911; April 6, 1912. Los Angeles Times, June 19, 1911; June 20, 1911; July 5, 1911; June 26, 1912.

Week of July 1st, 1916

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on an ambitious plan to make Los Angeles one of the most important vaudeville booking centers of the country. John Cort and William Morris had set up offices in the Majestic Theater Building to start hiring acts for their new Cort-Morris circuit. This company didn’t last, but the two businessmen did eventually achieve their real goal: ending the Keith-Albee monopoly on vaudeville booking. Both continued their interesting careers. John Cort allied with the Shubert organization and built a circuit of 1200 theaters, later becoming a Broadway producer (the Cort Theater in New York is named for him). William Morris continued to work at the talent agency he founded in 1898 that’s still in business today as William Morris/Endeavor; over the years they represented Charlie Chaplin, the Marx Bros, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, and Martin Scorsese.

Independence Day barely rated a mention, other than a note that producer Oliver Morosco added extra matinees for his three shows.

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The Lion and the Girl

Kingsley particularly enjoyed one two-reeler this week, The Lion and the Girl:

Positively there isn’t another thing left for the Keystone comedians to do in the way of thrilling stunts, and Mack Sennett will soon have to resort to the cartoon comedies where the characters do the impossible. This reflection occurs strikingly to one in viewing The Lion and the Girl, which is the comedy at the Palace this week, with Joe Jackson and Claire Anderson in the leading roles. A real live lion plays the villain’s role in this, and the scene in which Claire Anderson drops from the tree into his cage, and the big brute crouches growling above her, is worthy to be immortalized in the wax-works! Jackson wears his familiar tramp make-up, and there are some very amusing touches, as when the officers being on his trail in the field, he ducks his head and stretches out his arms in imitation of a scarecrow. It’s one of the very good Keystone comedies.

The Lion and the Girl was the first of a new Sennett staple, “giant predatory cats turned loose on the set” according to Brent Walker in in Mack Sennett’s Fun Factory.  It’s a lost film, so the reviews are all we have left. This was Jackson’s last film and he went back to vaudeville, but Claire Anderson kept acting in a variety of comedies and dramas until 1925.

Kingsley didn’t like the feature nearly as much; The Children in the House with Norma Talmadge appeared ‘machine-made and uninspired.”

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Kingsley had a chat with Marin Sais, leading woman of the Kalem Company, and learned she was “a real, honest-to-goodness wild westerner. She has taken up a big ranch in Utah, which she will visit this summer, and where she intends to breed racing horses. She already owns a string of three racers at Tia Juana.” Sais did spend most of her career acting in Westerns, retiring in 1953.

The Mexican Revolution intruded briefly on Hollywood. The LA Times Animated Weekly staff (Beverly Griffith and Robert Walters) went to the scene of war activities and sent home footage. Universal actresses, including Ruth Stonehouse and Cleo Madison, took first aid training in case the Mexican war materialized. Happily, it never came to that; American involvement was limited.

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Snub Pollard

There’s some unusual elements to a story Kingsley told about Snub Pollard on July 2nd. She wrote:

Harry Pollard of Phunphilms has distinguished himself as a burglar buster. In the neighborhood where he recently moved, live two pretty young screen artists. One night Mrs. Pollard awakened Harry, saying, “There are burglars next door. I hear them! Harry muttered “Go back to sleep. ’s aw-right.” But before he could regain his slumbers a piercing scream rent the air; he was out of bed and into his dressing gown and in the back yard in less than it takes to clear the studio after the director says, “That’s all for today.” He actually found two bold bad men trying to get in at a window, and what he did to them was right. He suffered a few bruises, but he tells of the discovery of a new punch which he will use on “Lonesome Luke” in the next picture. The girls were scared out of their wits, but they invited the hero in, and attended to his wounds, and later Mrs. Pollard joined them in a little coffee party at 3 am.

From the perspective of 2016, it’s surprising how much she approved of vigilante justice — plus nobody seems to have thought about making a police report afterwards. Also, there was no “Mrs. Pollard” in 1916: he didn’t marry his first wife until 1917. Kingsley was being discrete, and the lady’s identity remains a mystery.

Pollard co-starred with Harold Lloyd in dozens of shorts, in both Lonesome Luke films and some glasses character ones. He went on to make some solo comedy shorts, but he spent most of his silent career as a second banana to comedians like Laurel and Hardy. In the sound era he played the comic relief in low-budget Westerns and uncredited parts in larger films, including being the recipient of Gene Kelly’s umbrella in the “Singin’ in the Rain” number.