One hundred years ago this week, the first draft lottery for the Great War was held in Washington, D.C. and Grace Kingsley reported on how the news was received in Hollywood:
On the various “lots” were gathered throughout the afternoon, little knots of actors, directors, extras, employees—all in a democracy for once, with the lines of professional caste forgotten. With stolid faces or with an air of suppressed excitement, according to the nature of the individual, crowds of actors and actresses read the draft lists in the papers.
And there was something mighty fine, something that made your proud you were an American in the attitude of those boys who had claimed no exemptions and whose names were printed in the fateful lists. No swank or swagger, no murmuring either—for the most part brave silence, with just sometimes a quick little catch in a tense throat, a slight unconscious squaring of shoulders, a quick, excited little laugh. The women were the agitated ones, grasping at the lists, eagerly questioning, turning away sometimes with quick little sighs of relief or with sparkling eyes, rallying the boys whose names appeared—but there were tenderness and pride in the rallying, too.
Every man who registered for the draft on June 5th was assigned a number between 1 and 10,500. The numbers were drawn in a lottery held at 9:30 am in the Senate Office Building, and the results were sent by telegraph to newspapers throughout the country. The men whose numbers were selected had five days to report to their local exemption board which determined if they had dependents, or if their job was more important to the war effort than being a solider. They were also examined by a doctor for physical disabilities. Kingsley was slightly inaccurate: men who claimed exemptions on their registration did get called before the board if their number came up.
Among the 15,000 men chosen from Southern California in the first group were actors Wallace Reid and Charles Ray, directors Marshal Neilan and Charles Parrott (later known as Charley Chase), and producer Hal Roach. None of them served, because they all had wives and children and were granted exemptions. Fighting was left to volunteers and unmarried men. Selective Service rules have changed; since 1973 marital status has no effect on your draft status.
Kingsley’s favorite film this week was Sudden Jim starring draft lottery ‘winner’ and “fascinating young actor” Charles Ray. She found it was both a “crackling yarn” and a “corking story:” a clothes-pin manufacturing heir whose wood supply is threatened by a crooked businessman saves his business by seizing a loaded train from the lumber camp. A thrilling chase ensues, and Ray drives the train through a mountain fire and across a burning trestle just before the bridge is dynamited. I wonder if Buster Keaton or his writing staff on The General saw this now lost movie, then added a second train for this:
Kingsley addressed why people still went to the movies this week.
Those curious persons who are never happy unless inquiring into the whys and wherefores of things, many of whom looked upon motion pictures as a fad, are now asking why they continue popular.
She came up with four reasons:
- All-star casts. Every film in the theaters that week had at least two stars; one had four notable players that people wanted to see.
- Inferior actors could never be substituted – it was always the “original New York cast.” Plus, nobody slumped through his or her work in matinees.
- Picture theaters were very pleasant places to be: cool and restful, with good music playing, far away from the vexatious, humdrum affair that life generally is.
- No reservations were needed – you could drop in any time.
I’m a little disappointed that she didn’t include “because live theater can’t show you thrilling train chases.” Her reasons still hold up; the only surprise is that there was anybody left still calling films a fad in 1917. However, this sort of think piece hasn’t gone out of fashion, either.
Poor Charlie Chaplin had more health problems (just seven months ago, he’d been injured while making Easy Street). This time he’d spent ten days bedridden due to two carbuncles (clusters of boils) on his legs. They had been lanced as soon as he noticed them and the doctor ordered him to rest, but Chaplin didn’t follow his advice and the next day he was bedridden in terrible pain. Two doctors were able to prevent sepsis (she didn’t say how) and after some undisturbed rest, he was able to go back to work. Before antibiotics, carbuncles could be dangerous: in 1916 Roscoe Arbuckle had one on his leg so severe that the doctors considered amputation.
No matter how many carrots I eat, I don’t look like this.
Keystone actress Myrtle Lind offered beauty advice this week. Since she thought that health is beauty, she’d become a vegetarian, saying “elimination of meat from the daily diet, in conjunction with outdoor exercise, is the thing for California. The idea that one has to eat a lot of meat if he leads an active life, I am sure, is wrong, for few people lead a more strenuous existence than do Keystone girls.” I think she might be missing something here: I exercise regularly and eat little meat, nevertheless, I look nothing like a Bathing Beauty. Could it be a bad idea to take advice from celebrities? (Nevertheless, at least she wasn’t selling something like they do nowadays!)