Week of January 19th, 1918

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Grace Kingsley at work, by Ted Gale

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley got to visit Charlie Chaplin’s brand new studio. It was a “little bit of a quint old English street amidst the pampas plumes and tiny orchards of Hollywood.” She went on:

The camouflage is very deceptive. Inside the building which looks like a church, for instance, there is a mean old commercial time clock, like a conscience, where the workmen ring in, and where dwell—shades of St. John the Scribe—the Chaplin Boswells, the publicity department. Also, just as you fancy there will step from one of the half-timbered Elizabethan doors a clanking knight of old, instead there emerges an overalled Pete Props. ‘”Say,” he says, “whada you thing the boss wants now? A crowd o’ tarantulas! I ain’t no tarantula hound, and I don’t know no tarantulas. Can you beat it?”

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Chaplin himself showed her and LA Times cartoonist Edmund “Ted” Gale around, “making amusing little comments:”

“I think I could like this place if I didn’t work here…See, here’s a lemon orchard back of the stage…No, I’m not going to live in the studio—Brother Sid and Mrs. Sid [Minnie Gilbert Chaplin] are going to try it, but none of the put-out-the-dog-and-let-in-the-cat-and-lock-the-cellar-door stuff for me at my workshop. But you see I’ve got a beautiful apartment”—it’s a large corner room, where there are bay windows and odd little dormer windows—“this is to be a combination office and reception-room, and there’s a door I can dodge out of and climb a tree in the lemon orchard if I want to get away from anybody…Yes, there’s a nice big swimming pool and there’s a tennis court, both to be used for business and pleasure.”

There was also a film lab, a screening room, dressing rooms, a garage, a film vault and stables. She observed that “so far as the studio is concerned, Charlie is like a kid with a new toy.”

 

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Chaplin Studio today

The lemon orchard soon became the back lot, where they built open-air sets. Chaplin kept the studio until the end of his film career. He made his most famous films there, including The Kid (1921), The Gold Rush (1925), City Lights (1931), Modern Times (1936), and The Great Dictator (1940). After he shot Limelight (1952) there and moved to Switzerland in 1953, he sold it to a real estate development firm who leased it to a television production company. Over the years it was owned by Red Skelton, CBS, A&M Records and most recently, the Jim Henson Company. It’s still a studio.

If you’d like to see what Kingsley saw, here’s Chaplin’s documentary about his studio called How to Make Movies (1918):

John Bengtson has a photo-filled chapter about the studio in his book about Chaplin, Silent Traces. He also blogged about his visit to the studio at Silent Locations.

 

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Kingsley reported that advance sales for Cleopatra at Clune’s Auditorium were brisk, and she repeated a story from Theda Bara’s secretary:

A lady interviewer called at the studio to see Miss Bara, who was dressing, and who sent out word. ‘I cannot possibly see you now. I have nothing on at all.’

The lady interviewer wrote on a card, and sent it in, ‘My dear Miss Bara, Shouldn’t recognize you if you did.’

The journalist was sent right in. Theda Bara had a fine sense of humor.

 

Because a new film critic had started last week, Kingsley was devoting more of her column space to vaudeville. She mentioned that despite wartime transportation problems, the Orpheum was still sending big acts, like Gertrude Hoffman and her fifty-person dance troupe and Joseph E. Howard and his song and dance company of forty. I had no idea that touring vaudeville acts could be so large.

Week of January 12th, 1918

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Les Miserables (1917)

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley interviewed Frank Lloyd, the director of the latest version of Les Miserables, which would be opening in Los Angeles in a few weeks. He told some behind-the-scenes stories from the nine-week shoot took place at the Fox studio in Ft. Lee, New Jersey:

In the making of the battle scenes a brigade of United States Army soldiers stationed in New York was used, and this made the work much easier, as they drilled the handful of extras whom we used, went right to work, and knew exactly what to do. They were husky fellows and took to the game like a duck to water. ‘Hi there!’ they’d yell, ‘we’re fighting for democracy!’ laughing and full of pep, they’d go at it like demons. One boy got stuck in the face with a bayonet, but refused to go to the hospital. ‘This is nothing!’ he exclaimed in scorn as we bound up his wound. We really had an awful time stopping those Sammies from fighting.

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The recruits pose with the film’s star, William Farnum (center)

Of course there was lots of research. All directors emphasized their films’ historical accuracy then, perhaps to make film going seem educational. Lloyd said:

I read Victor Hugo’s novel six times and I consulted every print and painting I could find. The research work alone took several weeks, and indeed was not completed until the picture was finished. For instance, even the paper cartridges in use at the time of the French revolution—the kind that are bitten off by the man who is loading his gun—were used in the battle scenes. Of course, they had to be specially made.

 

franklloydFrank Lloyd had a long and impressive career that included five Oscar nominations for best director and two wins, for The Divine Lady (1929) and Cavalcade (1933). Now his most remembered films are Oliver Twist (1922) The Sea Hawk (1924) Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) and Under Two Flags (1936).

 

We’ll never know what Kingsley thought of the finished product, because the LA Times had a new film reviewer starting on January 14th. His name was Antony Anderson, and he’d been the art critic for the paper since 1906. He continued to write his In the Realm of Art column in addition to film reviews.

There’s no record of why the change was made, but it was done without any fuss. Anderson’s Films column just started running, and movie reviews disappeared from Kingsley’s daily column for a while. She still wrote vaudeville reviews. His reviews were a bit more stuffy and pretentions than hers were; he didn’t tell jokes and seemed to worry more about being taken seriously. His film writing ended in August 1921 and he retired from full-time writing in 1926.

Anderson thought Les Mis was a “notable production” and Hugo’s masterpiece had been given “a noble pictorial setting by Fox, one in accord with the spirit of the novel.”

Jessie Lasky, vice-president of Famous Players/Lasky, told Kingsley about a new way the war was affecting the film industry, fuel shortages:

We have been forced to shut down our New Jersey studios entirely. We cannot get either coal or light. We have rented every available studio in New York City, and even in many of these we cannot get the results we demand. Wallace Reid, who went East to make a production, will probably return to California to finish it. We are also making arrangements to have Elsie Ferguson and Billie Burke come to California and make their productions at one of our studios.

It was just one more step towards making Los Angeles the film capitol. He mentioned that coal shortages were also prompting theaters to help:

Many poor people not able to afford coal and confronted with the possibility of freezing in their own homes, now go to the motion picture theaters, which have been thrown open to them by the managers. Here in the picture houses, they sleep in the boxes and in the aisles. It is nothing unusual to see people enter the theater at night laden down with blankets and pillows.

The crisis was so bad that on January 16th, the Fuel Administrator Harry Garfield ordered all manufacturers (including war industries) east of the Mississippi to close for five days, followed by ten weeks of Monday “holidays” for all factories, saloons, stores (except for grocers), places of amusement and nearly all office buildings.* According to the International Encyclopedia of the First World War, the shortage was caused by a railroad distribution logjam, not a supply problem–Garfield had increased the number of mines operating. The reduced demand did allow the trains to catch up on their deliveries and by 1919 there was an oversupply. I knew that 1918 was a really difficult year for everybody, but I hadn’t known about this problem.

Kingsley told the story of “an interesting new member” of Charlie Chaplin’s company, Zasu Pitts:

The story of Miss Pitt’s success reads like a Cinderella tale. It was two years ago that she came to Mary O’Connor, then head of the scenario department of the Triangle…with a letter from friends in Santa Cruz. She has a very expressive face, and Miss O’Connor at once took an interest in the girl, who had absolutely no experience up to that time. The youngster was taught even how to make up, and given small bits and extra parts to play. But she drifted away, after registering merely the fact that she was possessed of the potent but elusive something called personality.

Not long ago she made her appearance at the Lasky studio. She was playing an extra in one of the pictures, and Marshal Neilan caught sight of her as she leaned in a weary and woebegone attitude against a set. He had been trying to find someone to play the pathetic and comical little slavey in The Little Princess. ‘The very girl,’ he exclaimed, and she was engaged at once, registering so great a hit that her services have since been in great demand. Charlie Chaplin saw her, and now she is playing character parts in his pictures.

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Zasu Pitts and Thelma Todd

Although she was reportedly under contract to Chaplin, she didn’t appear in his next films, A Dog’s Life and Shoulder Arms. Nevertheless, she went on to a long and varied career that included silent and sound films, radio, Broadway and television. She was mostly known for comedy (particularly for a series of 17 shorts she made with Thelma Todd for Hal Roach in the early 1930’s) but she was also Erich von Stroheim’s favorite dramatic actress, and her work in Greed (1924) was especially memorable.

 

 

*”Factories Must Close to Save Fuel,” Los Angeles Times, January 17, 1918, p. I1.

Week of October 20th, 1917

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One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported that a theater ticket tax was about to go into effect on November 1st and nobody could escape it:

Yea, even though you be a dramatic critic, you will have to pay over your little old ten percent of the price of your ticket. As you do this, you may be thankful you aren’t a theatrical treasurer, who has to “count the house” and the pennies. In fact, it is likely the government may be prevailed upon to provide private asylums for the poor treasurers who will go insane over their tasks.

It really wasn’t that terrible for the treasurers: the ticket sellers had stamps, so when someone bought a ten cent ticket, they also bought a one cent stamp. A fifteen cent ticket required the purchase of a two cent stamp—the government rounded up.* However, five-cent houses were exempt.

Film theaters had another war tax in addition to the 10% ticket tax. It started as a 15-cent per reel per day tax on all films. That proved to be too difficult to collect, so in 1918 it became a five percent tax on film rental fees. There was a side benefit to the tax collection: according to Wid’s Daily (June 14, 1920), this was the first time anyone collected data on how much money film distributors were making in the United States. Between July 1, 1919 and March 31, 1920, taxes on film rentals totaled $347,334.26, so the gross receipts for the industry were $62,520,167.20. They estimated that the total for fiscal year July 1919-June 1920 would be $86,360,222.93. Movies were big business!

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With so many stars, it’s no wonder they owned nearly a third of the market.

Wid’s couldn’t find out how much each company contributed to the total because only one distributor made it’s annual report public, but from Famous Players’ report they were able to estimate that they did 32½% of the business in the entire industry.

Unsurprisingly, the theater owners fought the rental tax every step of the way. It ended on January 1, 1922 when it was repealed by the Revenue Act of 1921. The tax on free admissions ended at the same time, so Kingsley had to fish the pennies out from the bottom of her purse for a good long while.

 

Kingsley’s second favorite film this week was Camille:

The deathless tale of the love of Camille and Armand, with which we all became familiar in our early teens—principally because we were forbidden both book and play—is revived in fine and classic manner by Theda Bara and the Fox company at Miller’s this week. And it matters not how many times you’ve sighed over the sacrifice of Camille and wept at that naughty lady’s deathbed, you’ll do it again for Theda Bara… Miss Bara’s work has improved tremendously since we last saw her. It is characterized by a fine reserve, an artistic restraint, even in the most emotional scenes.

She addressed the first question you would ask about a tuberculosis-ridden character: “One wondered how the undeniably robust-looking actress would manage to look the wasted and ethereal heroine of the story, but she has accomplished it, rather by that subtle spiritual suggestion of a worn-out soul than by any actual physical change.” So acting can do the job instead of some horrific diet. It’s a lost film.

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Her favorite film this week was almost unfair competition to the rest: Chaplin’s The Adventurer.

If you want to laugh until the laughs tumble over each other in their eagerness to let yet another laugh escape, be sure and see The Adventurer…His antics are more of the brain and less of the feet than in any previous picture, with the result every little movement has a joyous meaning all its own. ‘And the story starts just as soon as the picture does,’ naively exclaimed a girl sitting behind me. In other words, Charlie pokes his head out of the sand to look right into the barrel of the guard’s gun.

If you want to follow Kingsley’s advice, you can see it on the Internet Archive.

 

Kingsley reported on an unusual delivery this week:

Fifty pies, varying in make from custard to pumpkin, in color from the dark red of strawberries to the light yellow of cream, in flavor from coconut to sweet potato; fifty pies have been received by Gladys Brockwell.

A commercial baker from Rosedale, Kansas sent them to her because he’d admired her art so much that he wanted her to try his. Kingsley thought that Mack Sennett might have made better use of them, but she didn’t say what became of the desserts.

 

 

The best line this week didn’t come from Kingsley, instead it was from Mary Pickford. She had signed Teddy the Dog, star of several Keystone comedies, for a serious part in her next film (he was to play Stella’s loyal dog in Stella Maris). She said, “I feel sure he’ll be able even to play Hamlet if we want him to. You know, he’s a Great Dane.”

She’ll show herself out.

 

 

*”N.P. Theaters Must Bear Share of U.S. War Tax,” Exhibitor’s Herald, October 13, 1917, p.17.

 

 

Week of October 6th, 1917

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Charlie Chaplin and Edna Purviance, vacationing in Hawaii, 1917

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley had a chat with Charlie Chaplin about his future ambitions. He had no film to promote and was between jobs: he’d just finished his last film for Mutual and was about to leave for a vacation in Hawaii, after which he would start working for First National. They didn’t mention movies at all, and he seemed to be quite happy to talk about other subjects. He spoke about what he hoped to do in the future:

Chaplin’s big ambition, confided to me the other day, is nothing less than to write and produce a play on the stage. And about this business Charlie cherishes no illusions.

“I’m not nearly ready to do it yet,” he said. “I must work, study and write for at least another five years. In the meantime I must know people who will stimulate thought and imagination—clever people who have accomplished things. Yes, I should wish to write a comedy, of course, but a comedy with a deep and genuine human touch.”

So as early as 1917 he wanted to make Serious Art, but he didn’t imagine he could do that with film. Chaplin never did produce a play. He must have decided that film could be taken seriously enough for his ambitions. Five years later he began shooting A Woman of Paris, a drama about a woman who choses between security and love.

 

He went on to describe being tongue-tied when he met actor/theater manager/founder of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree: “I managed to yammer out something, but I’m sure it was quite ghastly.” Tree didn’t notice, he was too busy monologing on how he wanted to stage Macbeth, the history of non-Shakespeare Elizabethan playwrights and the benefits of travel for young people. Chaplin didn’t make his escape until Tree’s daughter Iris rescued him.

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Oliver Twist asks for more, by George Cruikshank

He also talked about fiction, and told a sweet story about his favorite author, Dickens:

“I used to imitate Dickens’ characters at school, from the Cruikshank illustrations,” said Charlie, “and one day one of the directors gave me Oliver Twist. It was the first book I ever owned because my mother was too poor to buy us books, and it was the first story I ever read. I carried it home and put it under my pillow, falling asleep that night on my precious book, and I read and reread it until it was soiled and torn.”

Oliver Twist remained his favorite novel for his whole life; he continued to read it over and over, according to his biographer Stephen Weismann.*

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Kingsley’s favorite film this week was Bondage, which starred Dorothy Phillips as a newspaper writer who marries a lawyer, quits work and promptly gets bored and allows

an old love affair with a worthless cad to obsess her. If the young woman had kept on the job of writing, there would have been no story. But she didn’t. The creative mind is subject to influence which less imaginative souls never feel, and this Miss Phillips has subtlety conveyed.

Kingsley thought it was “Ibsen-esque in its power and insight…a picture which should not be missed by lovers of good drama.” Plus (for a change!) she got to see a female reporter that seemed realistic to her. Bondage was written and directed by Ida May Park More from a story by Edna Kenton. You don’t suppose that if there were more women directing films now we would get more interesting and complicated female characters?

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Her review of Douglas Fairbanks latest, The Man From Painted Post, did the box office no harm, and she got to write some of her funniest lines of the week:

Any old time Douglas Fairbanks can’t hold up and kill off, sometimes one at a pop, sometimes two at a pop, as many as a dozen ruffians, smiling as he does it, he feels his day has been wasted….Nay, more than that, he holds up one rascally poltroon in the dust with nothing more dangerous than the handle of a stewpot! Very subtle satire on the old melodrama stuff, this picture play.

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Too naughty for New York!

An earlier Dorothy Phillips film was running into a little trouble with the censors:

The New York censors, despite experience which might be supposed to be toughening, still have delicate sensibilities; or, at any rate there are large sensitive spots on their sensibilities. The title of the Bluebird feature Hell Morgan’s Girl, contained too strong a wallop for these gentlemen, who have changed the name to A Soul’s Redemption, which, as [film co-star] Lon Chaney justly observed the other day, has about as much punch as “toothbrush.”

 

 

* Stephen Weissman, Chaplin: A Life (2009), p. 94.

Week of August 25th, 1917

 

The future of film, 1917: Jack and the Beanstalk and Sirens of the Sea

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley wrote an essay about trends in Hollywood films, entitled “Fashions Change”:

Photoplay fashions come and go just like fashions in hosiery and hats. And the photoplay you like this week, next week may look as funny to you as Aunt Maria’s lace mitts in the old family album…

Vampires are passé. They may burn oriental incense in their boudoirs until the poor creatures put themselves out with the fumes, and we remain unmoved; they bewitch us not with their weird gowns; their most seductive squirms elicit only laughter from us; we don’t believe that men fall for the cigarette advertisement siren, and even if they do we’re sick of seeing her. No, sir, in order to be a big time vamp nowadays, a woman must show she has brains, also a sense of humor…

Then take the wild west drama. William S. Hart is the only man that can get away with it outside the 5-cent houses. He is just in his zenith, but that’s because there is something to Hart and his art besides a pair of chaps and a sombrero…

The ponderous mythical war play is no more, thanks be! No more are we forced to sit through long hours of hypothetical battles in which we have no interest whatever, and in which anemic saints from another and better land inject themselves into worldly affairs…

What is the outlook? In answer let me point to the Pied Piper of Picturedom, Jack and the Beanstalk and Sirens of the Sea, and to the other fanciful film plays that are being done these days. These lift our spirits above the war-soiled world into the realms of pure fantasy.

She was right about the coming and going part: none of the things she complained about stayed gone. Vampires became exotic temptresses like Pola Negri and Greta Garbo. The death of the Western has been announced regularly since then but it keeps getting revived. Those mythical war movies of the 1910s have nothing on the ponderous battles we get in comic book movies now. The trick seems to be knowing which bits of the past are ready to be recycled.

The difference between her essay on the future of film and the ones that are being posted online right this minute is her optimism. She thought that movies would only get better and better!

 

 

Kingsley’s favorite film this week was Jury of Fate, directed by Tod Browning. Not at all like the Lon Chaney films that made Browning famous later, his third film had “really fresh charm and ingenuity and quaint quality of the story.” Mabel Taliaferro starred in a dual role of twins Jacques and Jeanne; the father loved the boy and ignored the girl so when Jacques drowns his sister impersonates him. (It must have been impressive: just a few weeks ago, she had complained about too many double roles.) More melodrama ensued, but according the Kingsley, Browning “is to be congratulated on having pared down the story of all the superfluities in the way of action, and yet has given a clear and intriguing yarn.” It’s a lost film.

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What, no Chaplin?

 

She reported on a dissatisfied customer at the Garrick Theater:

“Down the aisle with his dad wandered a 4-year-old youngster, but despite his youth he possessed a pair of lungs like a bellows.

“Charlie Chaplin here?” he shrieked.

“No dear, but—“

“Want to see Charlie Chaplin!” roared the boy.

“Well you can’t today, but some day—“

“Well, why ain’t he here?” blubbered the youngster, and he howled all the way down the aisle. “Cos (boo hoo!) – you know very well I wouldn’ ‘a come only I wanted to see Char—“

“If you don‘t quit I’ll spank you!”

“Well if you do, I’ll never bring you here to see him again! So there!”

The young man had a point: why does anyone bother going to the movies if there’s no Chaplin on the bill?

Week of July 21st, 1917

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Los Angeles Times, July 21, 1917

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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:

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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.

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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!)

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.

steamroller
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.