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!
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.
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.
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.