Maybe he was from South Hawaii?: Week of January 10th, 1920

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One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on the results of new management at one of the downtown Los Angeles film palaces:

It’s indeed a delight to see the Kinema come back in a blaze of glory, with a really brilliant and shimmery-smooth program, as that house came back yesterday.

The Kinema needed a blaze of glory to bring in the customers: it was four blocks away from Broadway, where the other big theaters were, and customers weren’t making the trip. The original owners, the Kehrlein Brothers, hadn’t made a profit in the two years it had been open (Kingsley attended its glittering opening night).

The property had been bought by T.L. Tally (owner of Tally’s Broadway) who decided to get some attention by splashing out with a big prologue. Kingsley was suitably impressed:

Mr. Tally is to be congratulated on having secured a stage manager who knows how to stage a prologue not only acceptably, but brilliantly, and in keeping with the picture. This week’s prologue is a beautifully staged and exquisitely-lighted one showing a cabin on the Mississippi in the olden days…There is even a Mississippi steamer, which yesterday seemed to have a slight hitch in its get-along, so to speak, but it was pretty effective just the same, and probably its inner mechanics will have been remedied by today.

In keeping with the Southern theme, a minstrel troupe called, I’m sorry to say, the Kentucky Koons, sang, danced, and played banjos. However, they had an unusual temporary tenor soloist: Prince Lei Lani, who usually sang Hawaiian songs. His real name was Edwin Kaumualiiokamokuokalani Rose, and he actually was Hawaiian!

 

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Prince Lei Lani

After this gig, he went back to his usual style. In addition to recording songs like “Kuu Pua Loke” for Victor, he toured doing prologues. Motion Picture News described his act, called “The Legend of Aloha,” when he opened for What Women Want at the Tivoli Theater in San Francisco:

It is an original song act written by Prince Lei Lani and utilized a cast of seven. It is a love romance of Hawaii telling in plaintive, native melodies the story of the prince who wandered from his island home, but came back to his sweetheart only to incur the wrath of Pelee and be swallowed up in its burning lava.

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“The Legend of Aloha”

Later he toured in vaudeville with his band, the Famous Royal Samoans, and appeared in a few films, including Hawaiian Nights (1939). However, he gave his occupation as “construction foreman” on the 1940 census. He died in 1971.

Kingsley’s favorite film of the week played at the Kinema:

Who says we don’t love melodrama? I mean opulent, zippy melodrama, with the lovely, persecuted, pink-gingham heroine and the high-power villain who hates the hero with a hissing hate? I dare you to say you don’t, after you view Micky Neilan’s glorified idea of Charles T. Dazey’s play, In Old Kentucky.

In Old Kentucky, as you know, is a thrilling romance of racing and moonshine days in Kentucky, with the mountain girl coming down to the old southern home to warn the hero to look out for his enemies, and in time to save Queen Bess, ‘the prettiest mare in the whole South,’ from being burned to death, and then, foiling the villain’s plot against the jockey, to ride the mare to victory. I’ll wager you’ll sit on the edge of your seat when you see the ethereal Anita dashing along to victory, hair flying and teeth clenched, and at that other thrilling minute, when she runs into the burning barn and leads the horse to safety.

Kingsley was surprised by how good the star Anita Stewart was: “she shows herself capable of a dramatic passion that frankly, we did not know was in her.” Stewart produced it as well as starred in it–maybe she knew better what she was capable of than other people. MGM has preserved a copy of the film.

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Otherwise this week was the middle of the January doldrums (back then, they didn’t have an Oscar race to help fill up the paper). Kingsley ran a whole article about actress Madge Kennedy and how she got along with the elephant she had just worked with on The Blooming Angel. Kennedy offered solid advice, like “Never argue with an elephant about a pose he takes, especially when he has his foot up over your head.” All righty!

 

 

“Effective Prologue Staged at Tivoli, San Francisco,” Motion Picture News, December 4, 1920, p. 4246.

 

More Movie Cliches: Week of November 22nd, 1919

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One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley once more complained about tired movie clichés:

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She never saw Mr. Hiddleston’s marcel

There are three dear old standbys in the way of heroines in the deathless drama of the fillums, who, when all else fails, may be dragged from the shelf by the scenario writer, dusted off and galvanized into a more or less lifelike presentment, and who may be depended on to put a kick, even if somewhat mechanical, into the celluloid drama. These are the preternaturally gifted and niftily dressed stenographer of 19 or 20, whom groups of bankers call into conference when they get stuck on a hefty business problem, standing around in awestruck attitudes as the words of wisdom about how to hamstring the bulls or bears drop from her pure young lips; the chemically pure young dance hall queen, whom “somethin’ somehow always kept from goin’ the limit,” (maybe it’s the marcelled hair of the men who try to win her, and we don’t blame her) and lastly, the weepy lady who never even seems to have Sundays off from grief, and whose only relaxation seems to be going to the dressmaker. We saw them all yesterday.

So this must be where today’s films found their young female computer experts and hookers with the hearts of gold.

The film Kingsley was reviewing was called Her Kingdom of Dreams and the lucky actress who got to do it all was Anita Stewart. It did involve a trusted secretary in a bank whose advice to avoid a swindler goes unheeded, so she moves West. The misery is provided by a big misunderstanding with her true love. Kingsley summed it up: “Her Kingdom of Dreams is not by any means the best story Miss Stewart has had; yet it is absorbing enough.”

Anita Stewart had been acting in films since 1911, when she began her career at the Vitagraph Company. In 1918 she started Anita Stewart Productions with a rookie producer, Louis B. Mayer. She was more than an actress; Hugh Neely, in a biography of her for the Women Film Pioneers site, pointed out that she made the daily production decisions because Mayer usually wasn’t on the set. She was to act in and produce 17 features for her company between 1918 and 1922, then she went to work at Cosmopolitan Productions for William Randolph Hearst. She retired from film acting in 1928 and became a singer.

Now Stewart has been nearly forgotten. Kingsley’s and other critics’ lack of admiration for her films might be part of it, plus many of them are lost. However, in 1919 the crowd at Her Kingdom of Dreams was completely satisfied. Kingsley wrote:

Miss Stewart has the tremendous advantage of being a great favorite with both men and women, as was shown by the comments that buzzed around me yesterday; also she is one of the comparatively few stars whom her admirers will go see no matter what the picture in which she appears.

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Already a masterpiece!

This week, Kingsley had news about a filmmaker that has had better luck with posterity:

Erich von Stroheim is feeling very much elated these days. His first picture production, Blind Husbands, was bid for by the biggest exhibitors in America, and was finally auctioned off to S.L. Rothapfel, who has secured first-run rights for the California Theater. Von Stroheim is best known to the public for his characterization of the hated Hun in The Heart of Humanity. Not only did her direct Blind Husbands, but he also wrote the story and acted the leading role. It will be given its western premier about Christmas.

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The ad took up the whole left column of the Sunday Arts section’s front page!

It’s really not a jolly holiday family movie. Nevertheless, it did open at the California Theater on December 21st. Kingsley didn’t get to review it; her boss Edwin Schallert kept it for himself. He admired it: “both in its emotion and its form, the picture has a newness which remove it completely from hum-drum triangle melodramas.”

Now, along with Broken Blossoms, Daddy Long-Legs, and maybe The Dragon Painter, it’s one of the few films from 1919 that are remembered.

 

 

 

Week of April 28th, 1917

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley put a Hollywood spin on the upcoming war tax.

Of course, to be within the charmed circle of picture stars and picture magnates who receive salaries which soar up into the rarified atmosphere occupied by high art and the income tax is an enviable position. Nevertheless now that these poor struggling picture folk are to have their salaries submitted to further pickings on account of the war – in other words, now they are liable to have to yield up to 40 per cent of their incomes as war tax—fancy how they will suffer. They will not be able to afford more than three or four cars and chauffeurs apiece, they will have to be satisfied with old second-hand diamonds, they will be able to buy only a few hundred dollars worth of government bonds at a time, and will have to cut over last year’s ermine and make it do for another winter…However, these patriots are keeping a noble silence on the subject, so we presume they are willing to sacrifice in the cause of patriotism.

She listed some of the people who made over $100,000 who would be affected, including D.W. Griffith, Thomas Ince, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Francis X. Bushman, Roscoe Arbuckle, Mack Sennett, William S. Hart and Clara Kimball Young.

Many changes were made to the War Revenue Act of 1917 before it passed in October, and it wasn’t just wealthy people affected. In 1916, people making less than $20,000 didn’t have to bother with income tax at all; this act lowered the threshold to $2,000. However, the average annual household income was about $800 so many people still didn’t have to file. The tax was graduated starting at 4 percent, rising to 31 percent for incomes of $100,000 and 67 percent for $2,000,000 or more.

Personal income tax wasn’t the only way the country paid for the war, they also raised corporate taxes, added more tax to luxury items like cars and sold bonds. Even with these measures, they didn’t cover the whole cost of it and the national debt rose from one billion in 1915 to twenty billion in 1920.

Kinglsey’s favorite film this week was The Clock, and as usual there was only one charming actor she could compare the lead to:

Franklyn Farnum comes near stripping bare the brow of Douglas Fairbanks in this buoyantly cheerful little tale. Mr. Farnum plays the role of a happy-go-lucky young scamp with an irresistible smile and a breezy manner, by which he gets away with quite incredible but always cheerful impertinences. The story has to do, along in the third reel, with a clock left the hero by a mysterious uncle along with an inheritance of five thousand a year on the end of a codicil string, which requires the young man to go to bed at 10 and arise at six. Probably there is a moral about it somewhere, but its entirely painless.

Unfortunately it’s a lost film. Farnum was a former vaudevillian who was nearly 40 when he appeared in The Clock. He went on to a very long career primarily in Westerns with 618 credits on the IMDB.

Kinglsey’s best line of the week was in her review of The More Excellent Way: “The story is one of those which smuggles smut to the hypercritical and snuffling sisterhood.” Anita Stewart played a “spineless female” who marries a man she doesn’t love and “who maunders through five reels between divorce and broken-hearted silence.” Eventually she realizes she loves him. It’s also a lost film.

Kinglsey typed some nonsense this week, but she couldn’t keep sarcasm out of it. Under the headline “Rapid Evolution Note” she said that the “Hawaiian” actress, Miss Lehua Waipahu, of The Bottle Imp had changed her name to Margaret Loomis, and had managed to learn to speak English quite fluently. She wrote, “as a tribute to our climate, be it known her complexion has suddenly turned very fair.” Waipahu/Loomis wasn’t the least bit Hawaiian; she was born in San Francisco in 1893 to Charles (from California) and Georgia (from Iowa) Loomis, and grew up in Los Angeles. She studied dance at the Denishawn School and toured with Ruth St. Denis before she became an actress. I don’t know who suggested she be temporarily Hawaiian for the film, but by a 1920 Picture-Play Magazine interview she dropped all of the Lehua Waipahu silliness and just described The Bottle Imp as one of her “good roles.” She worked for Paramount Studios until the mid-1920s when she married and retired.

Kinglsey reported that F.H. Richardson, “one of the greatest experts on motion picture projection in America” had arrived in Los Angeles as part of his North American tour to preach “the gospel of perfect projection to the house managers.” He got a reception at Universal City, gave a lecture at the Superba Theater, and was given a banquet at a downtown café. It’s a shame we don’t have perfect projection preachers being feted by film companies now. Secondly, I’m still amazed by what’s available online: the Screening Room Services site has a biography and collection of his lectures here.