Week of December 28th, 1918

 

 

One hundred years ago this week, soldiers were beginning to come home.

It isn’t every girl who has the luck to welcome even one soldier boy back from France, much less 2000 of ‘em. But that’s to be the delightful privilege of our own Mary Pickford, who will personally wish a Happy New Year to the One Hundred and Forty-third California Field Artillery. Hastening back home from the world war is the gallant 143rd, which, you will recollect, was adopted by Miss Pickford when the boys were at Camp Kearney. Yesterday Mayor Rolph of San Francisco telegraphed Miss Pickford that her godsons would arrive in San Francisco on New Year’s Day, and invited her to be present to welcome them at the ferry and proceed in the parade with them to the Presidio, where special exercises will be held. Mary is to be asked to make a little speech.

However, they had so many ceremonies to attend in New York that their arrival in San Francisco was delayed until January 3rd. Miss Pickford put off her trip, too, and she was there to greet them when they arrived.

johanna

The 143rd weren’t only adopted by Pickford, they appeared in her film Johanna Enlists. Russell at Screen Snapshots has a nice article about the film and the troop, including that they were fortunate, and weren’t involved in the fighting in France.

Happily, life was beginning to return to normal but according to economist E. Jay Howenstine, Jr., demobilization wasn’t simple. The government feared mass unemployment when the soldiers returned, so they considered slowing it down. However, every industry wanted their workers back ASAP, and they lobbied their congresspeople to speed things up. Families and the soldiers themselves also pressured their representatives, so by mid-February they were bringing people back as fast as they could, limited only by the number of ships they had. By early June they were discharging 102,000 people per week and by August 1st there were only 156,000 men left in Europe. Almost 4 million individuals had been an American service member, but by the anniversary of the war’s end, demobilization was complete.

 

Kingsley interviewed D.W. Griffith this week, and he said that he’d made a seven-reel feature out of the Babylon episodes of Intolerance by expanding the love story of the Prince and Princess, as well as the Mountain Girl’s (Constance Talmadge) romance with the Rhapsode (Elmer Clifton). Kingsley wrote:

Here’s a pleasant surprise for you! In the new story, the little Mountain Girl and her lover live! “You see, that’s how the original story was made. Then we changed it. But we kept that film. I’ve allowed the lovers to live this time,” he smiles, “and they go away into the desert together. No, I really don’t know what becomes of them after that, but it must be a very fascinating thing to do, mustn’t it—going away into the desert with one’s lover.

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Constance Talmadge as the Mountain Girl

The film was called The Fall of Babylon and contemporary critics like Julian Johnson liked it, saying that on a second viewing he realized his original enthusiasm for Intolerance was merited. A modern critic writing for MOMA mentions that Griffith made it to help recoup his losses. Babylon has been eclipsed by the other film derived from Intolerance, The Mother and the Law. The MOMA writer said the modern story “stands on its own as one of the director’s major achievements.”

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Priscilla Dean

Kingsley’s favorite film this week was yet another reworking of The Taming of the Shrew called She Hired a Husband, starring Priscilla Dean. She wrote:

There are several new angles to the old tale. For one thing, you’re sure to be surprised—but I won’t spoil your anticipation of the ending. Of course, you shouldn’t be surprised, because the long arm of coincidence, which is forever reaching out in the film drama—but there, I’ll be telling in a minute!

Instead of being properly tamed at the right time, out there in the cabin in the woods, this chaste and chased Diana, who refuses to be married to anybody her guardians want her to espouse, and picks up with a tramp instead, is kidnapped by real ruffians. And not another word shall I tell you. Go and see the picture for yourself. You’re sure to be vastly entertained.

It’s a lost film, so we can’t be vastly entertained any more but I won’t leave you in suspense: the tramp rescues her from the kidnappers, and it turns out he was the nice young man that her family wanted her to marry all along. Aren’t you glad you were sitting down for that?

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Samuel Goldwyn

This week, Samuel Goldfish legally changed his name to Goldwyn.

Mr. Goldfish decided to name himself after his big organization. Not only, says Mr. Goldfish, has he missed some attractive invitations to dinner, through people thinking his name was Goldwyn, and thus addressing him in nice little notes, but sometimes there has been delay in business negotiations through the same misunderstanding. During the past two years of the company’s existence, in fact, fully half of the mail intended for him, says the new Mr. Goldwyn, has been marked “Samuel Goldwyn.”

It seems the Selwyns, who contributed the last part of the company name, didn’t have the same trouble. It’s funny that he felt he needed to make an excuse for changing his name.

1919happyI hope your New Year is as happy as the 143rd’s was!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jay Howenstine, Jr. “Demobilization After the First World War,” Quarterly Journal of Economics, v. 58 no, 1 (Nov. 1943), pp. 91-105. This article is particularly interesting because he wrote it to offer suggestions on how to demobilize after the Second World War, putting history to good use.

Julian Johnson, “The Shadow Stage,” Photoplay, October 1919, p. 76,78.

Week of December 14th, 1918

greatest_poster

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley got to see an unusual show before D.W. Griffith’s new film, The Greatest Thing in Life:

The prologue is one of the most beautiful and artistic spectacles of the sort that the stage has seen. So far as its meaning is concerned, a part of its artistry lies in the fact it settles nothing for you. What do you think is the greatest thing in life? is the query which trails the showing of the beauties of life and love and comradeship and self-sacrifice.

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Motion Picture News gave a detailed description of the half-hour long show. It opened with a dark stage, which is slowly brightened. Out of the hazy background came a voice:

“The greatest thing in life – what is the greatest thing in life?”

Second voice: “I haven’t the slightest idea.”

First voice: “the greatest thing in life is-is-is (soft music) wait-wait-wait, here come the singers and dancers, they know what life is. Light hearts of the world—music, dancing, wine, women, life itself-that is the greatest thing in life.’

After a tenor solo, the first voice said “Ah, the search for love eternal—that is the greatest thing in life, ” then a couple performed a modern dance. This was followed by an “ultra” jazz number, then four soldiers representing duty and heroism, then more dancers, representing shadows from the “land of the silver sheet” as a bridge to the film itself.

Motion Picture News said the piece entitled Voices got eight minutes of applause and calls from the audience of 3000 on opening night. Now the prologue is remembered, if at all, because of one of the forty performers. Rudolpho Di Valentina did that modern dance with Clarine Seymour. MPN had reported earlier “Rudolpho Di Valentina continues the merry dance in Griffith’s prologue to The Greatest Thing in Life, and the big audience applauds him at every program.”

 

 

In 1918, Valentino was an aspiring actor who’d arrived in Hollywood the year before. He’d had a few bit parts in films but his career didn’t take off until 1921 after he streamlined his name and starred in Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. If you’re interested in his early career, you can find an extract about it from Dark lover: the life and death of Rudolph Valentino by Emily W. Leider in The Guardian. To learn more about Valentino in general, visit Donna Hill’s site, Falcon Lair.

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Gish, studying, in The Greatest Thing

After seeing the prologue, Kingsley chatted with Lillian Gish and learned that she

entertains ambitions to go on the stage. But she’s very backward about discussing it, approaching the possibility in most modest fashion. “I don’t think,” she said, “I could possibly be ready for so great an undertaking before I’m 30—so I have some years to go. But—yes—I really want to go on the stage, and I really mean to do it when I feel I’m ready. In the meantime I’m studying, studying.”

 

 

This surprised me, because Gish had been a stage actress from 1902 to 1912: it was nothing new for her. After her film career slowed down, she did go on the stage. However, it wasn’t until seven years after she turned 30, in 1930, when she appeared in her first production after becoming famous, Uncle Vanya. But it seems like her stage career wasn’t second-best to being in films – she planned it.

This week, several film executives came back to Hollywood, and each and every one of them had big plans for expansion for their businesses in 1919.

  • S.L. Rothapfel said wanted to build theaters in Paris and London that would be similar to his New York theaters, the Rialto and the Rivoli. He said “There is no doubt American films will be more popular even than before the war, and there is no doubt that the thousands of photoplays now reposing on the shelves of American producers will be eagerly welcomed by the people of the allied countries.” (bad news for writers trying to sell new material!)
  • Samuel Goldfish (still not yet Goldwyn) told her that his studio would make fewer, but better pictures, taking more time and care with each of them. He hoped to add a number of new stars to his roster.
  • Winfield Sheehan, the general manager at Fox, said “To me, the outlook is splendid. I look forward to 1919 with every feeling that it will be one of the greatest in the history of the industry. The Fox Film Corporation is laying plans for the biggest year of its career. We not only intend to improve the high standard of our pictures, but we are going to make more of them. After four years of war, people must have amusement.”
  • Cecil B. De Mille concluded “in the five years that I have been producing I have never found conditions more satisfactory, nor promising a more brilliant future for the entire industry.”

Lucky for them, their optimism was well-founded: the industry did recover. 1919 was a much better year all around, but the troubles of 1918 weren’t quite finished.

 

 

People were still coming down with the flu. Actress Ruth Roland was ill at home with it, and work on her current serial had stopped until she recovered. Happily, she did. According to O’Leary, the number of new cases in Los Angeles was declining rapidly in December with a small resurgence after holiday celebrations. The epidemic was almost over.

 

 

They weren’t done with war movies, either. Kingsley reported on the audience reaction to Me und Gott, at the Alhambra:

That it strikes a popular chord was testified to yesterday by the applause and hisses that marked its devious progress. It has some really breathless moments, particularly that in which we wait for the munitions plant to blow up.

Unfortunately, the film was trying to teach people that German-Americans weren’t the enemy. It seems like the audience didn’t get the message, they just were there for spectacle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Griffith Himself Stages Prologue for ‘Greatest Thing in Life’ in Los Angeles, Motion Picture News, February 4, 1919, p. 88.

 

(“News,” January 18, 1919, p. 410)

 

 

Pieter M. O’Leary, “The 1918-1919 Influenza Epidemic in Los Angeles,” Southern California Quarterly, v.86 no.4 (Winter 2004), pp. 397-8

 

 

A symbolic prologue dramatizes the invasion of an American home by German troops who are admitted to the house by a butler who has bound his master and abused the master’s daughter. In the main story, the American-born son of an ex-Prussian officer wants to atone for the wrongs done by people of his own blood when he realizes what America means to him.

Week of November 2nd, 1918

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Cartoons by Ted Gale

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley wrote abut how people were occupying themselves in Los Angeles without any public amusements. Some activities were exactly what you would expect:

Everybody, young people included, are conspiring to swamp the Public Library and all the branch libraries. It is reported that 4000 more books were sent out from the general circulation department alone last week than were given out during the corresponding week of last year.

She reported that the most popular subjects were history and war. In addition, bookstores were doing a booming business and magazine sales were up. Bookstores were also selling a lot of a surprising item:

Many persons are buying decks of cards with the statement they want them to tell fortunes with! No wonder, either, is it, that in these hazardous days, we should want to find out what’s going to happen to us and ours.

She mentioned that “it’s the open season for self-made music” sales and rentals of pianos were strong, and “the ukulele disorder” was becoming unusually severe. There was a great run on phonographs and player pianos as well.

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Here’s how Ted Gale amused himself

She pointed out one problem I hadn’t considered:

How are the women managing to enjoy themselves, now that there are no women’s clubs, and, what with the dance halls and theaters closed, nothing really left to reform?

Oh dear! I suppose they could always go pick on the librarians (I’m glad she didn’t suggest that). Schools were closed, too, but it seems that kids weren’t suffering at all:

These schooless days are just one long, joyous picnic for the youngsters with neighborhoods resounding to high adventure. They’re playing war mostly, it seems, with a real neighborhood war breaking out over and anon because naturally nobody wants to be the Germans. And when they can be persuaded to work at all, the youngsters demand exorbitant pay of mother for jobs done around the house, with threats if she doesn’t pay up promptly they’ll go out and get the “flu” on her!

But romance youth simply must have! Our young lovers should worry that a lot of park cops have got the “flu.” Instead of holding hands in the back of a dark picture theater the park pepper trees* are now the setting for love’s young dream.

gale_bed

Kingsley remembered another group that wasn’t suffering, as well:

Some people, of course, are having the time of their lives right now—those folks that have more fun gargling and snuffing and telling how they feel when they get up in the morning, and about that queer feeling in their eyelids when they go to bed.

I don’t know which of her relatives was a hypochondriac, but I suspect it was a near one.

girl_home

Kingsley’s regular columns were filled with optimistic plans for the future:

  • D.W. Griffith was working on a “governmental propaganda photodrama” that was to be as big as Birth of a Nation, documenting the current war. It was to include Congress passing the conscription bill, scenes from training camps, and scenes of American men in action. It would also introduce Griffith’s latest discovery, Carol Dempster. The end of the war didn’t deter Griffith; this became The Girl Who Stayed at Home (1919).
  • Mary Pickford bought the rights to the play Daddy Long-Legs for $40,000. It was her next film and the first made under her new First National contract.
  • Alexander Pantages intended to station shows of six acts in each of the forty towns where he had theaters, so they’d be ready to go as soon as they reopened. He also had twenty emergency acts in Chicago, ready to travel, in case any were disrupted.
  • The Theater Owners Association adopted a resolution for a “house-cleaning” of the industry. Kingsley wrote: “The scope of the house cleaning includes not only the elimination of bad stories from moral, technical and literary standpoints, but applies also to advertising methods, to the abolition of wild-cat productions, the elimination of overproduction, bad direction, etc.” This was all quickly forgotten once they got back to work.

 

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Sunset Blvd. was lined with pepper trees in 1900

*I learned that pepper trees then are what palm trees are now to LA. I had no idea! KCET has an interesting article about them, “When Pepper Trees Shaded the Sunny Southland.

 

 

Week of April 27th, 1918

greatloveposter1
Coming soon!

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley chatted with D.W. Griffith about his plans for his next film, which was to be “another huge war drama”:

The new picture will present an entirely different angle, however, from that of Hearts of the World. For instance, it is not intended to have in it a single battle scene—it will merely use the world war as its background—and quite likely it will have a psychological aspect. But the fans need feel no fear at this announcement, since its outstanding feature will be a poignant love story.

As near as now known many of its scenes will be laid in France. But Mr. Griffith has three distinct stories under consideration for the first of his Artcraft releases following Hearts of the World, so that his next may be a blending of three plots. In fact, he is now rehearsing three plays at one and the same time, in an endeavor to pick out the most available material in each plot.

The settings for the three plays vary widely, with one opening in Canada, another in Hawaii, and the third with either England or Scotland as the background. George Seigmann, Griffith’s assistant, is having his troubles trying to provide the settings for the three different locations. He says he is only hoping that Griffith doesn’t finally decide on still another story with the location in Iceland!

Mr. Griffith said yesterday that perhaps before he gets through with the rehearsals he may take the meat of the three different plays and weave an entirely different fabric.*

It sounds like he was workshopping his script, the way modern directors like Mike Leigh do. The now-lost film was eventually called The Great Love. Nothing set in Hawaii was in it, but the love story and the lack of battle scenes remained. According to reviews it was about an American (Robert Harron) so eager to fight in the war that he enlisted in the Canadian army and was sent to England. There he fell in love with a nurse (Lillian Gish), but her father wanted her to marry another (Henry Walthall), who was secretly a German collaborator. The collaborator conveniently shot himself after he failed to lead bombers to a munitions factory, and the lovers were reunited. Kingsley knew that any early description might not resemble the finished film; she pointed out “trying to prognosticate what a new Griffith picture will be like, or when it will come, is like trying to date up an earthquake!”

 

 

Audiences only had to wait four months. The Great Love premiered in Los Angeles on August 12th, and L.A. Times reviewer Antony Anderson thought it wasn’t quite as good as Hearts, but it was still Griffith and “when Griffith directs a photoplay his hand gives the touch of magic that forever sets the play as something apart and different from other picture plays.”

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Marc Klaw

Kingsley reported that waiters were taking the new rules about alcohol very seriously. Marc Klaw, New York theater impresario was vacationing in town, and he complained to her:

“They not only want to tell you out here not only what to drink but when to drink it,” said Mr. Klaw, “and last night at 9 o’clock, in one of the local cafes, a large, strong waiter came and took my glass of wine away from me. When you stop telling people out here what to do and what not to do, and commence buying Liberty Bonds, I’ll believe your reformers are on the square.”

He was wrong about the Liberty Bonds: Westerners were buying lots of them. William S. Hart had just returned from a very successful two-week, nineteen city bond selling tour. He sold about 2 million dollars worth of them, and “Hart was fairly mobbed by his admirers, buttons being torn from his clothing and his red bandana handkerchief shredded to ribbons to be kept by the crowd as souvenirs.” But two ladies did their part to keep him humble. According to Kingsley:

He is the owner of a might fine bulldog, which insisted on going along. “I let him sit on my lap,” said Bill. “He is one of those big clumsy fellows about my size with a face that looks like the north end of a freight train going south. When we were crossing the street the traffic was blocked. There were two women standing near the car and one of the remarked ‘My, look at the face of that ugly brute.’ The dog’s face was only about six inches from mine, and to make it worse the other woman said ‘Which one?’”

 

 

William S. Hart and a bulldog from 1920 (not his bulldog). I can see a resemblance!

Hart also told her that Liberty Loan drives were very hard work. He said that after his tour, “any time I’m wanted to go to war, I’m ready.”

 

*Woven meat fabric? I think her metaphors got away from her.

 

 

 

 

Week of March 16th, 1918

griffith_desk

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley interviewed D.W. Griffith in his office at the Fine Arts studio. He described what women were doing for the war effort in England, and he had some surprising ideas, for someone known for his girlish Victorian characters:

Maybe it sounds strange to you; but, you see, women are taking the places of men wherever possible, even right behind the firing line…I cannot tell you how much the men appreciate it and respect them for their cheerful unselfishness. They are even serving as officers’ chauffeurs, both in France and in England. I rode behind one, and she beat the mechanic at his own game in an emergency. A fine spirit of camaraderie is growing out of it all—a spirit I feel sure will be a source of permanent understanding between men and women.

Women are becoming economically independent at a great rate. What will the men do when they get back home? Are they going to be content to keep on letting women run things? Well, mark you this, I heard a British Tommy say one day ‘Bless the bloomin’ women, they’re doin’ all right! Let ‘em keep on, I say. What do we care, so the work’s done right.

The brightest outlook for women due to this war is—that they will understand. That’s been the real handicap and the unhappiness of women—they haven’t known life as it really is. The war is teaching it to them. The daughters of this war will understand.

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Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps mechanics at work on a car engine at Abbeville, France

Kingsley was too polite to question his idea that only fighting, pain and suffering is ‘real life.’ The war did temporarily open up new job opportunities for women, but Griffith was too optimistic: after the men came home, they were dismissed from their jobs. There wasn’t much change in assumptions about gender roles, either, according to history professor Susan Grayzel, who wrote “New forms of social interaction between the sexes and across class lines became possible, but expectations about family and domestic life as the main concern of women remained unaltered.”

 

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The Fair Barbarian

Kingsley’s favorite film this week was The Fair Barbarian. This “highly diverting and amusing comedy” told:

“how a sleepy town in England called Slowbridge—‘where the only thing that travels fast is gossip’—was jolted into the knowledge it is alive, and speeded into high by an American girl…To be sure this apostle of pep from Bloody Gulch, Montana, does a few things not usually done in good society, such as breaking a memorial window in a spirit of girlish glee still she’s so adorably pretty and elfish you’d forgive he if she drank all the communion wine when it is passed!”

The film’s press book helpfully pointed out that it was based on the work of Frances Hodgson Burnett, just like Mary Pickford’s recent success, The Little Princess. Its star, Vivian Martin, usually played parts that were similar to Mary Pickford’s. When films about spunky girls became less popular, she returned to her earlier job: Broadway actress. She later married Arthur Samuels, the editor of Harpers Bazaar. The film has survived at the Cinematheque Francais.

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No need to hurry! (The Bell Boy, 1918)

Buster Keaton once told interviewer George Pratt in that “as a rule, Schenck never knew when I was shooting or what I was shooting. He just went to a preview.” But Kingsley reported that he wasn’t a completely laissez-faire producer:

One of the subjects for which Joe Schenck came West, it develops, is to ascertain whether Fatty Arbuckle may not be speeded up in his work. Mr. Arbuckle, it appears, has been making only eight or ten pictures a year, and Mr. Schenk has discovered that he could easily dispose of Arbuckle comedies one every two of three weeks, that in fact, the public is clamoring for them.

“The makers of comedy are in luck,” said Mr. Schenck yesterday. “So far from the war having damaged the sale of really good comedies, the demand for them has increased. Naturally this is so, when the world is looking for something cheerful to take its mind off the world war, its excitements and depressions.”

Whether Mr. Arbuckle can be persuaded that art can be speeded up, remains to be seen.

She was right to be skeptical: Arbuckle released 6 shorts in 1918 and 7 in 1919. But they’re still being enjoyed by audiences, so they were good value for money!

 

 

 

 

 

Week of March 9th, 1918

heartsposter

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley announced an upcoming film premier:

When D. W. Griffith’s tremendous war masterpiece, Hearts of the World, is presented for the first time tomorrow at Clune’s Auditorium, it will be witnessed by one of the most brilliant audiences which has ever been assembled in this city. A fascinatingly heterogeneous audience it promises to be, also; for mingling with the famous picture stars and directors and well-known society folk will be military officers and soldiers and many civil authorities, including Mayor Woodman. The military people will be there to study the applied technique of war, the stars and picture directors the technique of picture-making.

Those who have been privileged to see the film, the battle scenes of which were actual occurrences photographed at the French battle front, declare it is stupendous from this standpoint, yet Hearts of the World remains intrinsically human—a fabric of multicolored human passion.

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Billy Bitzer and D.W. Griffith inspect the negative (Los Angeles Herald)

The article was called “It’s Now Here” since nobody needed to be told what ‘it’ was. Kingsley had been following the film’s progress for over a year; nothing else got so much attention. She wrote about Griffith’s initial plans to go to France, a report that he’d be staying there indefinitely, his meeting with George Bernard Shaw when he was in London and his daily schedule as he finished up the film. Everyone had been anticipating it for a long time. However, she didn’t get to write about the finished film; Antony Anderson got that assignment. He was suitably impressed:

heartsLATThe modern epic—the tremendous story of love and war—was swiftly flashed, last night, before a vast assembly of men and women thrilled and exalted by the gripping power, the overwhelming beauty and poignant pathos of David Wark Griffith’s masterpiece in photoplay, Hearts of the World.

For the story is big, beautiful, tragic and terrible. The wanderings of Ulysses, ever straining his weary eyes toward home and Penelope, hold no keener woes than those of the Boy in the trenches who loved and longed for the Girl in the village of France. But, like Ulysses, the Boy came back to his beloved at last—oh, he came back!—or the tale of his sufferings and hers would have been too heartbreaking, we could not have endured it.

How nice, he’d read the classics. He also reported on the audience reaction:

Clune’s Auditorium was packed as full as it could hold—packed full and overflowing. Everybody was there who could possible beg, borrow or buy a ticket of admission—the great man and the small, the plutocrat and the proletariat, women of fashion, stars of the screen—everybody. For all seemed to know, through some subtle prescience, that Hearts of the World is a play for everybody, a great story of universal appeal.

But on the whole it was not a sad nor somber assemblage. Having determined to grace this first night with their presence, women of wealth and fashion resolved also to make it a brilliant, happy event, and to show by their cheerful attitude of dress and countenance that they fully appreciated Mr. Griffith’s patriotic effort in placing this remarkable play before the American people, now waiting to be instructed in the realities of the war under which the world staggers…The enthusiasm throughout was intense, and the play swayed the vast audience from smiles to tears, and back again.

Audiences at the New York premier on April 4th were just as enthusiastic, according to Arthur Lenning in Film History.* He wrote that at the end, “pandemonium broke out. Spectators stood and cheered and shouted for Griffith. Finally, he appeared on the stage, and moved by the wonderful reception, he said he had no speech to make.” He tried to ask for prayers and support for the men still fighting, but his voice broke and he couldn’t finish.

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Hearts made a decent profit, despite the influenza epidemic and the armistice (people don’t want to see war movies right after a war). Lennig found a March 1919 financial report in Griffith’s files that reported the film’s cost, plus prints and exploitation expenses, was $555,715 and the net receipts were $952,788 for a total profit of $397,073. So it was not as successful as Birth of a Nation (he was still earning money from that in 1917) but much better than Intolerance.

It’s still an important film. You can find modern reviews at Silentology and at Nitrate Diva .

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Grace Kingsley took two days in a row off this week! This was the first time she’d done that in the almost two years I’ve been using her work as the basis for this blog. There wasn’t much else going on in her columns this week: she interviewed the principle singers of the Boston English Opera Company for the Sunday paper (they performed English-language translations to try to make opera attendance painless), reviewed Julian Eltinge’s charming and delightful new film The Widow’s Might (she especially liked his excuse for dressing as a woman—he’s disguised and on the lam after trying to steal some evidence) and mentioned that Joseph Schenck was in town to help Roscoe Arbuckle select a new site for his studio. I hope she enjoyed her time off!

 

 

*Arthur Lennig, “Hearts of the World,” Film History, v. 23 issue 4 (2011), p.428-458.

 

Week of February 9th, 1918

One hundred years ago this week, the war was again intruding on Grace Kingsley’s columns in all sorts of ways:

If you chance to see three score pretty young women, clad in regimentals, marching down the street with flags flying and the band playing, don’t be frightened; they won’t hurt you. The pretty girls in regimentals will be the first company of feminine soldiers organized in any picture studio in the world.

Josie Sedgwick, an up-and-coming actress at Triangle Studio, came up with the idea and executed it. She and other actresses at the studio, including Olive Thomas, Texas Guinan and Gloria Swanson, spent their evenings drilling, supervised by a regular army officer and chaperoned by the studio matron. Their goal was to perform at entertainments to raise money for the Red Cross and other war relief.

“We girls all want to do something for our country,” said Miss Sedgwick, “and we don’t feel as if merely knitting and making surgical bandages is enough, though we do that too…Our uniform? Well, we wanted trousers, but you know some girls can wear trousers and some can’t, so we decided on short shirts and leggings, with khaki shirtwaists and cute little caps.”

I haven’t been able to find any other mention or photos of the drill team. No wonder Triangle was running into business difficulties, if they couldn’t capitalize on pictures of young ladies in cute little caps.

Some film workers were leaving to serve as real soldiers. Wheeler Oakman, former Selig star, enlisted in the army, giving up “a long-term contract at a large salary with Metro Picture Corporation”. Kingsley said he was the first leading man actually under contract in Los Angeles to voluntarily do his bit.* He said, “I’m going into the regulars as a plain private…There’s a fine bunch of ‘grizzlies’ down at Camp Kearney, and I’ll be glad to be among them and to learn the ropes from them.”

That was exactly what he did: as part of the 144th Field Artillery, aka the California Grizzlies, he shipped out from New York as a private on August 15, 1918 and served in France until his unit was sent home from Bordeaux on December 23, 1918. He’d been promoted to corporal.** He came home safely and went back to acting. He worked steadily, often playing villains and henchmen, until his death in 1949.

Western star William S. Hart found a different way to express his patriotism:

It’s not kosher to make any unpatriotic cracks before Bill Hart, as a certain inhabitant of this town can tell you. Mr. Hart was dining at a restaurant the other night, which happened to be a porkless night. In came a loud-spoken stranger and demanded ham and eggs. The waiter explained to him courteously that it was a porkless day. The stranger arose from the table, flung down his napkin, and made some unpleasant remarks about the food conservation measure and started to leave.

As he went past Hart’s table, Bill looked up, fixed the stranger with his glittering eye, and drawled in a clear, high voice: “Shouldn’t think a pig would mind a porkless day!”

The stranger gave him a malevolent look, but sizing up Bill’s strong jaw and broad shoulders, took a second thought and dropping his grandiose manner, sneaked out.

foodwillwin

Saturdays were the porkless day. The United States Food Administration had been asking people to conserve food by abstaining from eating meat on Tuesdays and wheat on Wednesdays since October, the added the porkless Saturdays was added on December 13th. It was a voluntary program, but Mr. Hart probably wasn’t the only one to ‘encourage’ compliance.

griffith_lunch
D.W. Griffith reading the rest of the paper

Finally, D.W. Griffith was hurrying to finish Hearts of the World, but then somebody handed him a newspaper with the headline “War to Last Six Years.” He promptly said, “Come on boys. We’ve got time. Let’s go to lunch.”

kingteddy
Teddy

Kinglsey also offered some comic relief this week, with a story abut Teddy the Dog:

Talk about leading a dog’s life! Teddy, the wise canine actor of Mack Sennett’s comedy company, not only pays for his own license, but he pays an income tax on his salary!

A few months later, she was able to spin this anecdote into a one-page Photoplay article, “A Dog That Pays an Income Tax” (June 1918 p.62). That’s being a professional writer.

 

 

 

*I haven’t been able to confirm that he was the first.

**U.S. Army Transport Service Passenger List, August 15 1918 and December 23, 1918.

 

 

A research note: Digitization is helping me find amazing things. In the Wheeler Oakman story, he mentioned that his father Frank Eichelberger had fought for the Union army and was captured at Chickamauga. Knowing how actors can sometimes exaggerate things, I did some searching to see if it was true and found Pvt. Frank Eichelbergers’s testimony on how horrible being a Confederate prisoner was in a digitized book called Narrative of Privations and Sufferings of United States Officers and Soldiers while Prisoners of War in the Hands of the Rebel Authorities by United States Sanitary Commission, published in 1864. I would have never known to look for such a book. Hooray for all the people who do the very dull task of digitization!