Film Folks Dance: Week of November 29th, 1919


One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on “the great impeccable occasion of the year in Filmland, the Thanksgiving Ball.” Held every year since 1915 by the Motion Picture Directors Association at the Alexandria Hotel, the dance gave everyone in Hollywood something else to do other than rush off to family obligations. This year it was on the night before Thanksgiving, so people wouldn’t have to get up early for work the next day (Black Friday wasn’t a day off then).


It was quite an event: the MPDA hired two orchestras, which alternated turns so they were always “full of vim and vigor,” and they served a late supper. Nevertheless, Kingsley reported that ”the party got to such a slow start that Clara Williams threatened to start a pinochle game,” but soon things got going and Kingsley was able to gather some pleasant, gossipy stories.

Bebe Daniels had a fine time at the party, even though she was well chaperoned:

The handsome Wallace MacDonald wore make-up on his coat – mostly Bebe Daniel’s. Miss Daniels was clothed in that siren shade of Viennese red and vamped whenever mommer Phyllis Daniels wasn’t looking, just like an old-fashioned coquette.

How scandalous! Daniels was only 18 years old at the time, so she was being developmentally appropriate.

Lew Cody

Prohibition had changed things, and Kingsley was able to report:

There was only one genial gentleman who had apparently imbibed. He was, we blush to say, a playwright. He invited a nice girl to dance with him, but found it hard to make the grade, and Lew Cody, always willing to save a girl dashed into the arena, as it were, and seized the young lady from the genial gentleman.

Good for Mr. Cody! Getting drunk would have been difficult at this party; Kingsley mentioned that they served temperance punch, and “it was rumored around late in the evening that nearly a whole cup of claret, first and last, had been poured into one of the punch-bowls and there was quite a rush.”

Charley Parrott, later Chase

But the nicest story she told involved director (soon to be with Hal Roach) and future comedy star Charley Chase, who was then known by his real name, Charley Parrott.

One of the belles of the ball was little Ella Wickersham, who used to dance and work in pictures before accident and her wheelchair overtook her, and she had a little flock of beaux around her most of the time. Charley Parrott begging her to ‘give him three dances, please, in spirit, you know,’ and sitting them all out with her, while half a dozen lively misses languished for his smile.

Ella Wickersham was a regular at Hollywood parties for three decades. Formerly at Balboa Studio and a vaudevillian, she had a dance act with her brother, Billy Wickersham. One day when she was 15 they were dancing and he accidentally dropped her, which broke her back and left her paralyzed. He looked after her for the rest of her life and became a studio publicist and newspaper reporter. She went on to write the “Hollywood Parade” column for the Los Angeles Examiner. She was friends with all sorts of famous people; an article in Screenland article about her was called “The Most Popular Girl in Hollywood” (December 1930, p. 58). She died in 1946.

Kingsley reported on a film that was a great big hit this week:

With lovely woman as a theme, and especially with it advertised that Eve, in the original birthday clothes, was on the programme, naturally Maurice Tourneur’s latest photodramatic spectacle, Woman packed Clune’s Auditorium to the doors last night, men making up about two-thirds of the audience.

Clune’s held 2,700 people, so that was a lot of tickets. Female nudity wasn’t the only attraction; it also offered plenty of misogyny. The film begins with a modern man reading a book about women in history. As Kingsley pointed out “really, I think that man must have had a naughty mind, because he picked out all the bad ones to read about!” They including Eve, Heloise, and Messalina. However, eventually women redeemed themselves. Kingsley wrote, “it would appear at the end that it was only because of the war that women were made good!”

While the theme was irritating, Kingsley did admire the cinematography: “pictorially, Woman is a marvel of beauty.” Sadly, the cameraman died while making this film. John van den Broek got swept out to sea while shooting on a cliff near Bar Harbor, Maine. He was only 23 years old. According to his obituary in Moving Picture World he was on a ledge close to the water when a high wave came in and took him and his camera (July 20, 1918, p.391). They quoted Maurice Tourneur: “Van den Broek was an artist, and didn’t consider his own safety when he saw the opportunity of taking a beautiful effect. He risked his life many times and in the end gave his life for his art. For more than four years the boy worked with me every day, from morning to night…He was more than a cameraman; he was a lovely, sensitive, delicate artist. My intention was to surprise him by making him a director next fall, and he would have been among the best ones. He was loved by everybody.”

Kingsley also had news of Al St. John, “that pepful young man, who lately broke off from the family stem of comedians brought fourth by the radiant good fellowship of Roscoe Arbuckle’s studio.” He had signed a contract with Paramount to make solo comedies, and he’d just gotten good news: his first two-reeler, Speed, “was being shown in no less a place than the Capitol Theater in New York, where it was sending ‘em into gales of laughter and creating a great hit.” Speed is a lost film.

A few days later, Kingsley reported that heavyweight fighter Jack Dempsey, who was getting ready to make his own movies, visited the set: “Al and his company were pulling a jazzerie by wreaking a set in a big fight, but Al dashed out long enough to shake hands and exclaim “I’ve heard a lot about you, Mr. Dempsey!” Later that day:

Dempsey and St. John did some acrobatics and the big boy threw Al around as if he were going to break something with him. As a parting salute, Al St. John did two falls downstairs, jumped off the top of the set, and fought three fellows to the finish; and Jack Dempsey was heard to heave a refined sigh as he exclaimed under his breath: “Gee, but I’m glad I’m going to be a dramatic actor!

They also took the time to pose for this nifty photo:


This week, Kingsley also printed a list from Louise Glaum, who had just finished wokring on Sex. It was an excellent summary of the then-current Hollywood star clichés:

“In novelty’s name one film star has jotted down what she is not, thus delivering the long-suffering public from the usual hyperbolic encomiums directed at screen favorites by their publicists.

I have not:

  • Decided to quit pictures after I make eight more.
  • Adopted a Polish orphan.
  • Started an aeronautic company, even on paper.
  • Got a houseful of cats, canines, goldfish and birds.
  • Become my own press agent, nor yet my own writer, director, producer, property man, or dressmaker.
  • Written a book on “How I Became a Great Actress.”

Gee, most of these still appear in star profiles, if you substitute “African” for “Polish” and “make-up” for “aeronautical.”



Week of August 4th, 1917


One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on a frightening film set accident:

The sprightly and athletic Doris Pawn, who plays opposite Willard Louis in the latter’s first comedy for William Fox, under the direction of Charles Parrott, had a miraculous escape from suffering severe injuries or death while on location. Miss Pawn, who is a dare-devil horsewoman, was mounted on a spirited horse, and was told to ride down an embankment full speed onto a road in front of a camera.

After the situation had been explained to her by the director, Miss Pawn guided her horse to the top of the mound, and at the given word started down the hill. When she should have made her appearance a few seconds later, there was no sign of her. Parrott ran into the pathway and there found Miss Pawn lying on the ground, the horse having stumbled and fallen in such a manner Miss Pawn’s legs were pinioned beneath him. A call brought several of the assistants, who lifted the horse, releasing the girl. A hurried examination by a physician, who was summoned, disclosed the fact that Miss Pawn had sustained severe bruises on her hip and thighs and she owed her escape from broken bones to the fact that when the horse stumbled she fell on soft earth. After several days of attendance by a physician, Miss Pawn was again able to continue her part of the picture.

There’s no record of the film’s title; maybe it was never finished or released. There’s a hole in Charles Parrott’s (aka Charley Chase) filmography  from August 1917 to April 1918, and his biography only mentions his work with Hank Mann and Heine Conklin when he was at Fox. Miss Pawn got all of those bruises for nothing.


Doris Pawn was just one of so many people, now forgotten, who went to a lot of trouble to make films that have been lost. It’s really very depressing. However, Pawn picked herself up and had a long and perfectly good life. She’d learned her horse-riding skills growing up on her grandfather’s farm in Norfolk, Nebraska and she started out in films as an extra in 1914. She soon became a leading lady; later her most famous role was opposite Lon Chaney in The Penalty (1920). She retired from acting in 1923. She married three times; first to director Rex Ingram in 1917, second to insurance salesman Paul Reiners in 1928 and finally to drugstore owner Samuel Dunway in 1937. She died in La Jolla, California in 1988.


Kingsley’s favorite film this week, The Show Down, involved that durable plot, “civilized” people shipwrecked on a desert island (it was good enough for Gilligan!). This was also a comedy and she thought it was very funny; it “merrily rings the bells at every shot.” Stranded after a German submarine sank their ocean liner, the group included the bestselling author of Back to the Primitive who longs for “the trackless ways of the jungle,” a philanthropist who wants to save the world, a bored society man and a spoiled young beauty. Of course the author complains about the food and refuses to go hunting, the philanthropist tried to “sell out” the group to the enemy, and the young people bestir themselves to get to another island and save the day. Kingsley wrote “the story is adroitly and snappily told, and is one of the best features, from every standpoint, that Bluebird has turned out.” It’s a lost film.

Myrtle Gonzalez

Myrtle Gonzalez played the young woman and this was her last film; she got married and retired. Sadly, she died the next year in influenza epidemic.

Robert Edeson, Rhea Mitchell, William S. Hart in On the Night Stage (1915)

An “old” film was re-released at the Garrick Theater this week, On the Night Stage. Kingsley observed,

the showing of this picture brings to light an odd little twist in the swift and fateful happenings of the ever changing element known as the film world. Two years ago, when the picture was made, it was supposed to star Robert Edeson, the well-known actor, but when the picture was shown, lo and behold! It was discovered a hitherto fairly obscure actor, William S. Hart, had walked right off with the big honors! While the preacher character played by Edeson was supposed to be the big part, the projection machine reveled the supremacy of Hart.

Hart played a bandit and the preacher’s rival for the love of the local dance hall queen. The film survives in several archives, including UCLA and Eastman House. Edeson went on to have a fine career. He wasn’t a big star like Hart, but worked continuously on screen and stage until his death at age 62 in 1931.

Harold Goodwin, 1921

Kingsley gave an update on Harold Goodwin, who’d made a good impression in her favorite film last week:

Harold is the youth who hit the bullseye with his small boy role in The Sawdust Ring at Clune’s Auditorium last week. Now the story comes out that, when he had finished in that picture he wasn’t thought to have done much, and Triangle let him go. He silently gave up his actor hopes, and accepted a position in a shoe store. Last Saturday night he quit his shoe house job, with no less than four offers from film companies in his pocket.

He also went on to a long career in film and television.

Week of July 21st, 1917

Los Angeles Times, July 21, 1917


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:

  1. 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.
  2. Inferior actors could never be substituted – it was always the “original New York cast.” Plus, nobody slumped through his or her work in matinees.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!)