Week of June 23rd, 1917

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From Lisa K. Stein, Syd Chaplin: A Biography

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported a tidbit of news about the biggest film star in the world:

Charlie has become a real capitalist. Last March he invested $10,000 in a pajama factory. At the time the factory for manufacturing “Sassy Jane” pajamas was started in Los Angeles, three machines were used. The factory has grown so rapidly that fifty machines are now working night and day to meet the demand. Last week Chaplin received over 1000 letters from feminine pajama fans, asking him to furnish them original pajama designs. Not even waiting to cool his blushes, Chaplin went right out and hired two secretaries to fight off the applicants in person who insisted upon consulting him about pajamas. June Rand, who invented the “Sassy Jane” pajama, and who induced Mr. Chaplin to invest his money therein, offered the comedian a full half interest in the business if he would wear a suit of “Sassy Janes” in The Immigrant—but he wouldn’t!

Actually, the real capitalist was Syd Chaplin, Charlie’s brother, who had invested $40,000 in the company and became its treasurer (his wife Minnie liked the clothes). According to his biographer, Lisa K. Stein Haven, this was the first of Syd Chaplin’s boom-and-bust busness endeavors. Pajamas weren’t the Sassy Jane company’s main product; they were famous for making colorful, comfortable cotton house dresses and aprons. Why fans wrote to Chaplin about the clothes instead of directly to June Rand I don’t understand. “Sassy Janes” were quite popular for a few years but by 1923 styles had changed and the company was bankrupt.

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He made other food funny, too

Kingsley briefly reviewed The Immigrant later this week; she said Chaplin could “make even a ham sandwich the funniest thing in the world.” He was smart to leave housedresses out of it.

 

Kingsley’s favorite film this week was Fires of Rebellion, “a photoplay with a human story worked out by human beings, instead of puppets being jerked along an uninspired road to fulfill the requirements of a dull plot.” Directed by Ida May Park, it told the story of a factory girl who rejects a marriage proposal from the rough but honest foreman and moves to the big city where she almost gets a job as an underwear model, not realizing that she was expected to do more than model. The foreman rescues her in the nick of time. William Stowell played him, and Kingsley believed “he has no peer in the films. Here are no empty heroics, no posings. Yet as a real man, a force among men, battling against hard conditions in public and private life, reserved, even inarticulate when it comes to matters of the emotions, he makes the role stand out like a figure in the old-fashioned stereoscope.” It’s a lost film.

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William Stowell was a veteran film actor who got his start in 1909 when he co-starred with Tom Mix in The Cowboy Millionaire. He made a series of well-reviewed dramas with his Fires of Rebellion co-stars Dorothy Phillips and Lon Chaney at Universal. Sadly, Stowell died only two years later in a rail accident in the Belgian Congo (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). He was directing the filming of the Smithsonian African Expedition for Universal and riding in the rear couch of a train when a runaway tank car raced down a hill and smashed into it. Another member of the expedition, Dr. Joseph Armstrong, died on the scene and Stowell was taken to the hospital, where he died two days later. Three other members of the party were injured.

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This isn’t the life of a newspaper reporter?

A film that seems to have been precisely calibrated to annoy Kingsley came out this week, A Hater of Men.

Bessie Barriscale, as the heroine, is supposed to be a newspaper woman ‘who has gained some renown with her pen.’ We view her at first reporting on a great divorce case, after which we do not see her working at her job. Instead, we behold her at wonderful house parties and on boating trips and wearing, oh, such clothes!

That divorce case made the heroine question her engagement so she dumps her fiancé. Then she gets called frivolous by some random guy, changes her mind and goes back to her intended. Kingsley found “as a document of human life it is about as natural and convincing as a tin minnow,” but what really set her off was the way it maligned her profession. She concluded “a newspaper office does not turn out women with so little common sense—not to mention a sense of humor.” John Gilbert (later Garbo’s leading man) played the fiancé, but Kingsley was so busy being annoyed that she didn’t notice him. A complete version of it is in a U.S. archive, but the Library of Congress’ Film Survival Database doesn’t say which one.

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Really, it’s him and his steam roller

Kingsley gave an update on Stan Laurel’s current (and first) production, Nuts in May:

Last week a harmless steam roller, just going along about its business and bothering nobody, was sighted outside the studio grounds. An eagle-eyed member of the Stanley comedy outfit passed the good word along. Before the roller could make its lumbering escape, it was boarded by a gang of film pirates, the driver walked the plank, and Stan himself gave a star performance in the “cab.” After which the scenario writer sat on the curb and wrote the story.

The steam roller gag is the bit of the film that survives because it was re-used in Mixed Nuts (1922). Kingsley’s item is a rare glimpse of how Laurel worked, even in his first film.

 

 

Week of June 9th, 1917

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley noted that in response to the war, the film world was moving away from heavy dramas and making more comedies. Every organization had a comedy company at work, and the latest to add one was Bernstein Film Productions. They had hired a successful vaudevillian who had worked with Chaplin in the Fred Karno troop named Stan Jefferson. He had recently appeared at the Hippodrome Theater in Los Angeles under his other name in a sketch called “Raffles, the Dentist.”

The Stanley Comedies Company made only one short film, Nuts in May, and Isadore Bernstein went back to being a production manager and writer. Jefferson played a mental patient who believed he was Napoleon Bonaparte. According to Cecil Adams, this is the first time the Napoleon Complex gag was ever filmed. Only about sixty seconds of it have been preserved, because they were re-used in a 1922 two-reeler called Mixed Nuts. This makes the hundreds of thousands of Jefferson’s fans sad (even if neither film is very good), because of course, soon after he made Nuts, Arthur Stanley Jefferson permanently changed his name to Stan Laurel. So much has been written about him, but if you’d like a short biography by an expert, check out Stan Laurel’s Life in Laughter by Randy Skretvedt.

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Pleased to meet you.

This was the first time Kingsley mentioned Laurel. Norvell “Babe” Hardy, despite having made his first film in 1914, would have to wait until November 30, 1921 when she announced his marriage to Myrtle Reeve.

While visiting the theaters on Broadway Kingsley ran into Jefferson’s former co-worker and had a chat about his future plans. Charlie Chaplin said he was considering “three very tempting offers,” but he hadn’t decided which was best. He was also working on ideas for his next film, and told her “he thinks he will make it a burlesque on Bill Hart’s Wild West stories.” He may have just said that to appease Kingsley (Hart had a new film playing near them on Broadway that day which might have inspired his remark); his next project was a prison escape story, The Adventurer. It was his final film for Mutual, and he signed with First National next.

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Venice Bathing Parade winners

Kingsley reported a “record-eclipsing event” from Sunday: the cameramen from Keystone filmed their Bathing Beauties at the Venice Bathing Parade, and they got the film processed and on the screen at the Mack Sennett-owned Woodley Theater by that evening. The parade didn’t start until 1:30, so they did work quickly. Two hundred “neatly attired bathing-suit girls” rode in forty-one cars past a crowd of 75,000 people and four judges. Most of the prizewinners were actresses, but only Keystone women got their pictures in the paper. (Sennett never missed an opportunity!) Mary Thurman (Keystone), in an electric blue and white sailor suit with matching parasol, shared first place with Priscilla Dean (Universal) in a modest white and black silk suit and Jessie Hallet (New York Motion Picture Co.) dressed as a Red Cross girl in red and white. Second prizes went to Juanita Hansen (Keystone) in a metal gold cloth and blue outfit and Margaret Gibson (Christie) wearing red and white.

The parade footage played with another Keystone short that was Kingsely’s favorite film this week, Cactus Nell. She felt it was the answer to the eternal question “Why are there mellers? They were made for Keystoning purposes!” The star, Polly Moran, was “queen of the jazz comediennes” a “high-power fun-maker who keeps things moving at the rate of a million revolutions per minute.” She described the best bit: “Does Polly’s big boob lover desert her for a vampire? He does, and Polly follows and lassos him, with the help of her trusty cowboys, who, by a comic mechanical device, are shot onto the backs of their horses at her first call for help.” Moran went on to a long career as a slapstick comic, first with Sennett and later at MGM.

 

 

Week of April 14th, 1917

 

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One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley proved that she paid no attention whatsoever to the sports page. On Sunday she mentioned an upcoming charity event, a baseball game between comedians and tragedians to raise money for the Red Cross. Unfortunately, somebody was giving her old information: the game had already taken place two weeks earlier, and the Times had done its part to publicize it, promising “a ball game that has never been equaled.” The team captains revealed their strategies to the paper: Wallace Reid believed “when he pitches a ball it will burn such a hole in the air that it will be weeks before the hole fills up again,” and Charlie Chaplin said “when he pitches those hard ones, I’ll fool him. I won’t bat at them and after a while he will get weak with so much hard work and then watch me.” The Tragics team included Eugene Pallette, Jack Pickford, Lew Cody and George Beban, and the Comics included Harold Lloyd, Bobbie Dunn, Eric Campbell, Charlie Murray, Chester Conklin and Hank Mann. The Times mentioned “at present the members of the opposing teams are practicing for the big event in a way that would make your blood curdle.” All contestants were asked to report to Charlie Murray at 2:30 pm on March 31st to receive their first aid bandages.

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1939 program

The Saturday afternoon game was a great success, raising nearly $8000 for the Red Cross. However, nobody bothered to report which team won the game. In the 1930’s, the Comedians vs. Leading Men baseball game became an annual charity event.

None of the other films released this week had a chance at being Kingsley’s favorite because a Chaplin film came out. She said:

The Cure – is! If you’ve got the blues, or don’t like your mother-in-law, or have a pain in your chest, don’t consult a physician or your lawyer, but go and see Charlie Chaplin at the Garrick. View Charlie disporting himself among the old ladies and gentlemen at the health resort; watch him drink the water; see him go through the evolutions superinduced by the attentions of the masseur; watch the effect of the bottles of liquor which the attendant spills into the cure-all waters; see Charlie in a bathing suit—and laugh. You will: I’ll guarantee it.

People still enjoy The Cure; the official Chaplin site calls it “perhaps the funniest of the Mutuals.” If you need a laugh, you can see it on the Internet Archive.

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A Jewel in Pawn: Walter Belasco, Maie and Ella Hall

Maybe exhibitors didn’t want to compete, because some particularly badly reviewed films were in the theaters this week. A Jewel in Pawn starring Ella Hall irritated Kingsley so much that she recounted the plot, with commentary:

You see Ella’s mama in this picture is very, very poor, and they live in the slums. Suddenly mama remembers she has a rich dad, and conceives the not unreasonable idea of returning to him together with daughter. But she has no money to buy her railroad ticket. Then Ella has a bright idea. Why shouldn’t mama pawn her, daughter, to get the money? The pawnbroker is an elderly widower, dwelling alone at the back of his shop, with whom she has but a slight acquaintance, and some evil-minded person sitting back of me suggested he hardly thought that a nice, loving, careful mama would pawn her beloved daughter.

So audiences then weren’t as innocent as we might believe. A Jewel in Pawn is a lost film, and between the anti-Semitic stereotype of the pawnbroker and the story’s uncomfortable nearness to pedophilia, I can see why it was never remade.

Bad as that was, the latest Olga Petrova film was worse, and Kingsley’s annoyance stretched over two days’ worth of columns. On Monday, she said The Waiting Soul was “a simple, one-stringed tale, with the sub-titles lending an air of stiltedness to the thing” (Petrova played a woman with a “purple” past that threatens her marriage). By Tuesday she was calling it an example of why some films really ought to be censored, and while they’re at it they could “make it a misdemeanor to destroy a helpless pie in the interests of comic art” and suppress some of those “sunny-curled ingénues.” So that’s one way to improve the pictures. The Waiting Soul has been preserved at the Eastman House.

 

 

Week of March 24th, 1917

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Chaplin and Fairbanks do their bit for Liberty Bonds

One hundred years ago this week, war-related news had spread to Grace Kingsley’s film business column.

In the present great national crisis a ‘mobilize the movies’ campaign was quite inevitable. Can you imagine any sort of catastrophe or adventure in which the ubiquitous motion picture would play no part? If the sacred second coming were to happen today there’d be pictures of the event on the market tomorrow! … And now it’s the impending war in this country which is being press-agented. That motion pictures may be of vast assistance in developing the country’s military resources is, of course, indisputable. The Associated Motion Picture Advertisers, Inc., are thoroughly convinced of this, and last week went so far as to institute a campaign throughout the country having preparedness as its object.

The Association, founded in 1916, was made up of the publicists from most of the producing companies. They planned to make two feature-length films and some shorts, as well as fourteen recruiting slides with slogans and patriotic appeals. They hoped that newspapers and magazines would donate advertising space.

 

AMPA had good intentions, but there’s no record of any results. The work they proposed to do, and more, was done by the Committee on Public Information, a government agency established on April 13, 1917 just days after Congress declared war. The CPI used film, advertising, posters, radio and public speeches to inform people about recruitment, rationing, war bond drives and why the war was being fought. Hollywood did its bit, especially helping to sell war bonds.

With so much worry about the coming war, its no surprise that Kingsley’s favorite film this week was optimistic and cheerful.

All of the grave maxims of the copy books, regarding the virtues and efficacy of economy and thrift, are gaily upset in Skinner’s Dress Suit…After all, the most dramatic moments of the lives of us workaday folks who make up the majority of the world’s population aren’t spent being ejected from our homes by cruel fathers, or in foiling the villain who has the ‘papers,’ or in dodging would-be seducers of our virtues. The men constituting our villains in real life are, viewed from some other man’s standpoint, pretty human sort of fellow—the really decent old gentleman for instance, who refuses to raise your wages because he thinks you aren’t worth any more than he his paying you…This is the prosaic sort of problems which are played upon with such jovial philosophy, such cheery optimism, such kindly satire and whimsical humor.

Skinners Dress Suit told the story of a young man who fails to ask for a raise at work despite his wife’s encouragement. He lies to her about it, and she makes him buy a dress suit so they can go out and celebrate. In his new outfit he’s able to meet rich people and negotiate a big deal for his firm, thereby earning a raise and promotion for real. It’s a lost film. It sold so many tickets that they made two sequels that year: Skinner’s Bubble and Skinner’s Baby.

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Horace B. Carpenter

Kinglsey reported on a mystery:

Is any western writer responsible for the authorship of A Regular Guy? If so, let him at once speak up and receive a check from Artcraft. The story was recently accepted by Douglas Fairbanks, but the author of the scenario carelessly failed to place his name, address, laundry mark, or any other means of identification on his manuscript. And it certainly does pain Artcraft to have to go ahead and stage a thousand dollar scenario without paying for it.

The author did come forward and get his credit (and presumably his check). Horace B. Carpenter was a former newspaper writer turned actor who was currently playing leads at Famous Players-Lasky. This was the first scenario that he sold, but he went on to write and direct several Westerns in the 1920s. He continued to act in sound Westerns, primarily in bit parts, until his death in 1945.

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The film’s title was changed to Wild and Woolley and the story suited Fairbanks to a T. (Anita Loos’ contributions to the script probably didn’t hurt, either.) Fairbanks plays an East-coast fan obsessed with Western dime novels. To cure him, his railroad president father sends him to Bitter Creek, Arizona where the townspeople want a rail line. To impress the young fan, they disguise their home as an Old West town with a fake train holdup and Indian raid. Then there’s a real raid and kidnapping. Gee, could anyone save the day? The Exhibitor’s Herald thought it was better than anything they’d done before, and Fairbanks’ biographer Tracey Goessel called it one of his best early films. In 2002 the Library of Congress selected it for National Film Registry, so it’s a “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant film.” It’s available on DVD.

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Marshall Neilan

Film people in 1917 worked nonstop. Director Marshall Neilan even edited one while travelling on a train. Kingsley reported that he was about to leave for a location when the studio decided to move up the release date for the last film he’d shot, so he loaded his editing equipment and the film into a train car and did the work en route to Santa Cruz. Neilan made 9 features and one short in 1917. He’s most famous for his work with Mary Pickford; he directed Stella Maris (1918) and Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1924).

Sometimes working while you travelled could be too exciting. Kingsley wrote that when the train carrying the cast and crew of The Hidden Spring was coming back to Los Angeles from Jerome, Arizona, the train buckled on a turn on a steep grade and the last two cars became separated from the rest and slid down the mountain. Cameraman Tony Gaudio had just set up his camera on the back platform and he managed to turn the crank with one hand and hold on with the other for the whole trip. She mentioned that the camera got damaged, but the negative was fine. However, she didn’t’ report how Gaudio fared! He did go on to a long and successful career that included five Oscar nominations, one win (for Anthony Adverse (1936)) and collaborating on one of the best Technicolor films, The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). The plot description of The Hidden Spring doesn’t include a thrilling backwards train ride. Maybe the footage got used in another movie.

Week of February 3rd, 1917

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One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley and the L.A. Times cooperated with Cecil B. De Mille on a successful publicity stunt. They held a contest to find what character Geraldine Farrar should play in her follow up to Joan the Woman, with cash prizes ($100 for first place, $25 for second, three prizes of $10 for third and four prizes of $5 for fourth) for the winners. DeMille held the contest to find out what the audience wanted to see, and he hoped to find a role as good or greater than Joan of Arc. The judges were De Mille, Grace Kingsley, screenwriter Jeanie Macpherson, insurance agent/historical photograph collector Sam Behrendt and Southwest Museum director Hector Alliot.

They got thousands of entries. The paper reported that practically every woman of history had been suggested, including Eve, Sappho, Salome, Pocahontas, Carrie Nation and Emmeline Pankhurst. Cleopatra was the woman most mentioned and Mary, Queen of Scots was a close second. One person even suggested Napoleon, but De Mille thought that Farrar was much too feminine for that. They decided that if a character with multiple entries won, the best-written letter would prevail.

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They announced the winners on February 13th. De Mille revealed two of the third-place winning entries, “an Aztec character” and Queen Esther, but he didn’t want to divulge the first and second place winners because he was afraid of other companies stealing the ideas. Ruby Archer Doud won the second-place prize. The first place winner forgot to include his name on his entry, so the paper reproduced part of it and asked him to go to the theater where Joan the Woman was playing.

He came forward right away. William Cutler, a 26-year-old gas station attendant, presented the other piece of the torn notebook page that was his entry and received his check. De Mille said that “Cutler’s idea was so good and showed such deep thought that it may be possible to develop the young man into a writer of no mean ability.” That didn’t happen. Instead he enlisted in the Army in November 1917 and became a chauffeur with the 194th Aero Squadron. After his discharge in July, 1919 he started his own dried fruit business on South Hoover Street. He died in November 1959.

It looks like the idea they used was J. Arthur Evans’ third-place winner, because De Mille and Farrar’s next film was about an Aztec character. In The Woman God Forgot (1917), she played Tecza, a fictionalized version of Montezuma’s daughter Tecuichpoch Ixcaxochitzin/Dona Isabel Moctezuma. In the film, she betrayed her people for the love of a Spanish conquistador. When Kingsley reviewed it in December, she was impressed mostly by the “sumptuous settings” the “marvelous photography” and the ”gorgeousness of the costuming.” The film has been preserved at the Eastman House, New York.

This week, Kingsley declared the death of slapstick because Charlie Chaplin was “giving the world something really new in the way of comedy” with Easy Street, and a “bright” and “refreshing” comedy, Her New York, also mixed pathos with humor.

She was tremendously impressed by Chaplin’s latest:

Not in vain has labored Charlie Chaplin, our biggest and best screen comedian…Easy Street is the flower of the Chaplin apprenticeship, it is Chaplin minus the gaucherie and crudeness of many of his former efforts; without the monotony of repetition of tricks; without the obvious effort after fun which has marred some of his pictures. It is spontaneous, bubbling, rib-tickling, unctuous; and yet the story has such skillful blending of pathetic shadings as to make the thing seem at moments a startling cross section of real life.

Critics continue to agree with Kingsley. Walter Kerr in The Silent Clowns called it “an exquisite short comedy, humor encapsulated in the regular rhythms of light verse,” and Alan Vanneman in the Bright Lights Film Journal said it “ranks easily as one of the greatest comedy shorts ever made.” It’s available on DVD and on a streaming site that doesn’t help fund film preservation.

Her New York was a 1917 version of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Gladys Hulette played Phoebe Lester, a fresh-from-the country girl who finds New York is

a place where everything comes right in the last reel, the villain reforms, the waif of an infant is discovered to have been preceded by a wedding ring after all, and the young poet, destined to live for awhile by writing rhymes glorifying canned pork and beans, is able at last to unbridle his Pegasus and let him sail right up into the sky.

Kingsley thought it was “an aroma from an old-fashioned garden – despite its sordid setting.” and that Hulette was a “radiant and vivid personality.” Her New York hasn’t been preserved by an archive, but it was made by the Thanhouser Company, whose descendants have done a remarkable job of documenting their films. On their site you can find a page for Her New York and Hulette’s biography.

Kingsley reported that the future of filmmaking in Los Angeles looked extraordinarily bright. Most of the New York companies were planning to move all of their production to Hollywood including Vitagraph, Kalem and Goldwyn, and the companies already here like Fox, Famous Players-Lasky and Balboa had ambitious expansion plans.

The industry had a rough time in the next years with bankruptcies (Balboa) acquisitions (Kalem was sold to Vitagraph, which was sold to Warner Bros.) and mergers (Goldwyn merged with Metro and Louis B. Mayer Pictures). People were happier not knowing what the future was. Of course, she was partly correct: Los Angeles did become the center of film production.

In the least surprising story of the week, Kingsley found actresses dissatisfied with their weight; “the principal topic of conversation at Universal City among the actresses at the present time appears to be the subject of maintaining the proper balance of flesh.” This conversation will probably never end, but the difference is that then three women (Nellie Allen, Irene Hunt and Agnes Vernon) felt they needed to be bigger. The rest wanted to be smaller and they planned to get up at 5 AM and walk at least five miles. Now, no matter how slender, everyone would be setting her alarm clock.

 

 

 

Week of January 20th, 1917

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Motion Picture News 1917

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley saw a promising young actor:

Great Expectations never was one of Dickens’s favorites with his public. It is too somber, too uncanny, too much lacking in the saving humors, the droll character portrayals which make most of his books so brilliant and attractive. Jack Pickford has achieved a real victory in characterization in his playing of Pip—a characterization appealing, sincere, but from the very nature of the role so unobtrusive that its excellence may be easily overlooked, and probably will be by lovers of the obvious type of chest-heaving, swashbuckling hero. His great moment is when, full of vain revulsion against fate, bitterness, humiliation, outraged pride, he discovers the old convict to have been his benefactor. Pickford rises to the occasion in a bit of flawless acting.*

Pickford had been appearing in small parts since 1909; Pip was his second major role and it was his big break. He specialized in all-American boy next-door roles and his next film, Tom Sawyer, was such a hit that they made a sequel, Tom and Huck. Unfortunately like Pip, things didn’t turn out very well for him. His career was hampered by scandals and he died of multiple neuritis caused by alcoholism in 1933. Last century film histories portrayed him as a wastrel who never lived up to his potential but this century there have been spirited defenses of him. Steve Vaught wrote a series of three blog posts titled “You Don’t Know Jack,” and Shane Brown wrote another for the Bright Lights Film Journal.

Now it’s odd to think of Great Expectation as less-popular Dickens: it was Number 1 on Publisher’s Weekly’s Top 10 Dickens. Tastes have changed, even in Victorian novels.

This version of Great Expectations is a lost film, according to the Film Survival Database.

This week, Kingsley noticed increasing consolidation and vertical integration in the film industry:

Closer and closer is the relationship developing between the picture exhibitor, the picture exchanges and the producing companies. This has always been the case with Universal; the Triangle producing organization is composed of a class of men who brought about a union of effort; the Paramount has lately been purchased by the Lasky-Famous Players-Morosco organization, and is now extending its activities to control the output of certain outside stars, the latest of whom is Roscoe Arbuckle.

Here’s the beginnings of classical Hollywood cinema and the studio system in 1917, just like the film history textbooks say. Newspapers really do write the first draft of history! Vertical integration didn’t end until 1948, when the Supreme Court ruled that production had to be separate from distribution and exhibition.

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Kingsley gave her readers the “real beginnings” of Charlie Chaplin’s genius. Back on the Keystone lot when he was a “humble knock-about comedian” it wasn’t recognized. Furthermore:

As a matter of fact, he was scolded by the stars whenever they wanted anybody to vent their temperament on, and looked upon without faith by the directors. One who knew him well in those days declares that all the directors, one after another, tried to bend Charlie to their ways. Because he wouldn’t respond, they all gave him up as a bad job one day, and said in sheer desperation: “Aw, let’s leave the idiot to his own devices!” They did. And out of the ashes of dead hopes (Charlie shared them, it is said!) rose the Phoenix of Fun—the unique figure in world dramatic history – the greatest laugh-getter in the world, Charlie Chaplin.

Without realizing it, Kingsley pointed out a weakness in the coming studio system: nobody would be able to afford to just leave some idiot to his own devices any more.

*She didn’t worry about spoilers for a 56-year-old novel.

Happy Holidays!

One hundred years ago, Grace Kingsley celebrated Christmas by placing her first article in a film magazine. The piece was called “Christmas in the Western Studios” and it ran in the January 1917 issue of Photoplay. It was a snapshot of what the stars were planning to do for Christmas.

Several people were throwing big parties. Mabel Normand and Fanny Ward were jointly hosting a blow-out for their friends at Ward’s bungalow, with a huge tree and electrical effects installed by Normand’s studio electricians.

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William S. Hart

William S. Hart invited a different group to his place: the cow-punchers of Inceville. Kingsley gave details:

The spacious dining room will be fittingly decorated to resemble the gambling hall of a Western mining town and the turkey will be eaten from tin plates, while the cider will be drunk from tin cups. Everyone will be dressed in typical Western regalia, including sombrero, chaps, spurs, silk neckerchiefs, lariats and six-shooters, and such bizarre adornments as stuffed and mounted rattlesnakes, horned toads and Gila monsters will lend an additional desert atmosphere to the occasion. The only woman to be present will be Hart’s sister, Miss Mary Hart, who, as hostess, will be garbed as a cow-girl.

Others did charitable work. Lousie Fazenda planned to bring a carload of gifts to a home for the aged and infirm, which was her annual habit. Roscoe Arbuckle was getting ready to visit a younger group:

Arbuckle, being built on the lines of Santa Claus, is much in demand for the role. He has promised to act in that capacity for the youngsters of one of the orphan’s homes. It is calculated that when the little ones find out who has been doling out their gifts instead of Santa, they’ll feel so happy that old Kris Kringle will feel himself entirely in the discard.

Two of the biggest male stars had much less tradition plans. Douglas Fairbanks told her that he’d be “eating, drinking and playing pinochle” for Christmas, because he’d be on the train from California to New York. The other was also avoiding gifts and parties:

Charlie Chaplin, the biggest laugh maker in the world – is his Christmas to be a merry one? Well, Charlie isn’t much of a laugher himself. His is a quiet sort of humor when he has any at all. For the most part, he his a quiet chap, given to spells of deep melancholy. Charlie is planning to spend Christmas Day with his brother Sid, eating dinner at the Athletic Club where he lives, and going out to the Country Club for a quiet game of golf afterward. Chaplin is becoming a golf player, and he seldom misses a holiday out there.

Kingsley herself worked on Christmas. She reviewed the vaudeville show at the Orpheum, and particularly enjoyed the musical playlet “Ma’mselle Caprice.” She continued to write for movie magazines until 1938.

This same article still gets written annually, only now the writer just has to check Twitter feeds. For instance, here’s Vulture’s version for Thanksgiving 2016.

I hope that your holiday is as happy as theirs was!