Week of December 22nd, 1917


One hundred years ago this week Grace Kingsley told her readers exactly what happened when a car, driven on railroad tracks by Herbert Rawlinson, got hit by a locomotive (just in case anybody was wondering):

The rear wheels of the auto were picked up by the cow catcher of the big Mogul, and the car bumped along down the ties for a hundred yards on its front wheels, Rawlinson deftly holding it on the track and preventing it from turning sideways to the locomotive. The body of the auto was caved in and the windshield shattered by the shock, but otherwise the car was uninjured.

No one knew what would follow the collision…The element of uncertainty made the scene extremely hazardous to attempt.

No kidding! They did have safety precautions: both Rawlinson and co-star Millard Wilson “were prepared to leap from the car if serious consequences threatened.”

Of course this was all in service to a film, originally titled The Love Claim, and re-named Smashing Through (for once, the new title is a big improvement). Film reviewer Peter Milne called it “a miniature serial, in that it contains thrill after thrill of a most sensational variety.”*

This wasn’t the only incident on the shoot; the next day Kingsley mentioned that when they were filming at the bottom of a mineshaft, a flare exploded and nearly asphyxiated the whole crew. It never ceases to amaze me, the risks early filmmakers took. Even worse, it’s a lost film.



Miraculously, Herbert Rawlinson didn’t die from taking an absurd risk for a film. He lived until 1953 when he died of lung cancer after a long acting career, first as a leading man in silents, then character parts in sound films, and even some work in television.



Film people didn’t just take chances with trains then, they also risked their lives with animals. For the Sennett short The Kitchen Lady, Glen Cavender was “required to flirt with a bear” while director William S. Campbell observed:

The bear thought Glen was intended for his dinner and started rapidly toward him. There is still a question as to whether Campbell or Cavender won the 100-yard dash that followed. Louise Fazenda was the heroine of the occasion as well as of the picture. She literally tempted Bruin from his contemplated meal and saved the actor and director.

No bite marks on him!

Brave Miss Fazenda! Eddie Cline was credited as the director of the film, but maybe Campbell was helping out – he was another Sennett director, and he was known for his skills with directing animals and children.

The Little Princess

Kingsley didn’t completely ignore the holiday season (though she did have to turn in an article on Christmas Day). Her favorite film this week was Mary Pickford’s The Little Princess, and she wrote:

if you want to realize it’s the glad Christmas time, despite the war and the high cost of living, just pass into the Kinema Theater, and let the silver sheet’s door open to disclose the land of enchantment.

Whistling Dick’s Christmas Stocking

The film was recently reviewed on Century Film Project.

The bill also included a short, Whistling Dick’s Christmas Stocking, based on an O. Henry story that wasn’t “The Gift of the Magi.” It told the story of a homeless man who is rewarded with a Christmas dinner for warning a family about an imminent robbery, but he refuses their offer of a job, preferring to be homeless. I can see why it didn’t become the evergreen that “Magi” did.

I hope you can find a good movie to take you to a land of enchantment this holiday season!




*Peter Milne, “Smashing Through,” Motion Picture News, June 22, 1918, p.3744.

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.

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!


Week of December 23rd, 1916

Charles Dickens

One hundred years ago this week, two Los Angeles theaters were showing films appropriate for Christmas, which then as now, means Dickens adaptations. As Grace Kingsley noted, “Dickens’ stories are all particularly adapted to the screen, I think, owing to their clean-cut drama and vivid types.” She admired both of them.

The first was a version of Dickens’ most popular story called The Right to be Happy. Kingsley said:

The warm and radiant Christmas spirit as embodied in the well-loved “Christmas Carol” is preserved with wonderful effectiveness and artistry in the picture play at the Superba this week, and one laughs and weeps through the joys and sorrow of Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchett and Old Scrooge, and shudders realistically at the appearance of Marley’s Ghost. The picture is done in a really remarkable manner. There are no sumptuous settings, no famous names to carry it; yet, I got more joy out of this little photoplay than I have from half-a-dozen so-called features.

On Christmas morning, the Advertising Club sponsored a special screening of the film for the newsboys of Los Angeles. The Times called it “the treat of their lives.”

Competing for holiday filmgoers at a theater three blocks down Broadway was a larger production that Kingsley liked just as much:

Are you one who loves the appealing figures of the immortally wistful little Oliver Twist…If so, don’t fail to go to the Woodley this week and see how Marie Doro… and the others bring the familiar characters to life. No lay figures these, but real incarnations of the vivid beings whom Dickens, the great champion and lover of humanity, has made immortal. The Lasky Company is certainly to be congratulated. Not only is the photoplay picture perfect—even the old Cruikshank illustrations have been followed in some instances—but the very spirit of the brilliant genius of Dickens lives again.

By 1916 there had already been many filmed Dickens adaptations. According to Michael Pointer in Charles Dickens on the Screen, he was one of the first authors to have his work filmed when in 1897 the American Mutoscope Company made “The Death of Nancy Sykes,” from a gristly scene in Oliver Twist. Between then and 1916, adaptations had ranged from extracting the story of one character from a novel like Dolly Varden (1906) to attempts to condense whole books into seven reels, like David Copperfield (1913). Unfortunately, neither film that Kingsley wrote about survives but there are lots more to chose from. The IMDB says that as of this writing there have been 364 completed projects and five more in the planning stages.

Playing in the theater across the street from Oliver Twist was another adaptation from an author who didn’t have the good fortune to be timeless like Dickens. If he’s remembered at all today it’s because of his now-startling name: Winston Churchill. The American Churchill wrote bestselling historical fiction and in 1916 was much more famous than the man who at the time was a Member of Parliament. The British one had to publish his books as Winston S. Churchill, to avoid confusion.

The novelist had good luck with the film version of his work; Kingsley thought that the filmmakers had “made the Churchill characters live” so that “thousands who have enjoyed Winston Churchill’s novel The Crisis may well be expected to find distinct pleasure in the pictured version of the same.” The book, published in 1901, was a Civil War story set in St. Louis, where there was a mix of Northern and Southern supporters. The film is held at the Library of Congress.

There have been a few articles written about the writer, all amazed that there was another Winston Churchill.

Grace Kingsley didn’t write a year-end review of 1916, but neither did anybody else. A Lantern search turns up the first top ten films list on February 9, 1922, when Film Daily evaluated the movies from 1921 and put The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse at the top of their honor roll. They didn’t bother with any explanation or justification for the choices, but the next year they said the list was based on a survey of newspaper, trade and fan magazine critics.