Week of April 21st, 1917

awfulhats
One solution

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley continued her complaints about audiences by listing some of the ways people behaved badly in film theaters, beginning with the simple-minded ‘matinee girl’ who:

reads the sub-titles aloud very slowly, generally omitting the big words, and the 30-year old girl who has written scenarios but can’t get any accepted and comes to scoff at the work of others. And the giggling girl, hysterically desirous of attention. She always comes in twos and giggles and talks so loudly you can’t even hear the sub-titles being read by the other woman. Very often she turns out to be an extra girl employed in the picture. But the matinee hog is the worst of all. Usually this species of noisome creature is of the male sex, and has another of his kind along with him. If he’s seated when you enter, at the end of the row of seats, he never moves to give you room, nor does he rise. He sticks his elephantine feet into the aisle and lets you fall over them…In fact, he’s one big reason you hesitate a lot of times to enter a picture house at all.

So there has never been a time when audiences were well-behaved. They needed a Code of Conduct then as much as we do now.

aladdinbroadway

Kingsley’s favorite film this week was Aladdin from Broadway, “a delightful high-class screen comedy…Edith Storey indeed surprises by revealing herself as a complete mistress of comedy of a certain volatile, whimsical flavor…it is due to Miss Storey’s vibrant humor, as well as Antonio Moreno’s debonair impersonation of the happy-go-lucky America that the photoplay is sustained in a comedy key throughout, despite some scenes of thrilling adventure.” Other reviewers, like George Shorey in Motion Picture News, were so impressed by the thrilling adventure (particularly a sandstorm that was “one of the most wonderful bits of picture staging we have ever seen”) that he didn’t even mention the funny bits. However, he agreed with Kingsley that it was one of the best films Vitagraph had ever made. Sadly, it’s a lost film.

The big release of the week was She; Kingsley found it “magnificently spectacular,” yet it was a “warmed-over thrill” because despite the breath-catching episodes of burning people and naked cannibals dancing around their victim, the scenes gluing them together were dull. Nevertheless, “Valeska Suratt, as She, entirely vindicates her right to be classed as one of the screen’s big-best actresses.” It’s also a lost film.

firstnational

Kingsley reported on the founding of the First National Exhibitor’s Circuit, an association of independent theater owners that “marks the first nation-wide step taken toward open-market buying.” Film producers had been selling their complete program to theaters, but the new Exhibitor’s Circuit would allow them to choose what they showed. It became a great success, controlling over 600 theaters. In 1924 it expanded into film production, changing its name to First National Pictures, and in 1928 they were bought by Warner Bros.

Kingsley had a chat with a young actress, Eva Le Gallienne, touring with a production of The Happy Stranger. Her father Richard was a famous poet, so she answered the obvious question:

“Do I write poetry?” repeated Miss Le Gallienne. “No, I do not. I speak with authority, too. In other words, my judgment has been verified. I used to think I did, but now I know I don’t. I wrote one bit of verse which was published, and thereafter I wrote about ninety-seven poems and sent them each to about ninety-seven publications without success. No, you just ask any of those editors and he will tell you no quite positively. In acting I’ve had much better success—but I shall never cease regretting those ninety-seven poems. It’s just too discouraging writing for the waste basket.”

Le Gallienne probably recovered from her disappointment when she was busy picking up her Tony, Emmy and National Medal of the Arts, playing everything from Peter Pan to Hamlet, appearing on the cover of Time and founding the Civic Repertory Theater in New York City, which was the beginning of Off-Broadway theaters. She rarely acted in film, but she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for Resurrection in 1980.

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.

audreymunson_1915
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.