One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on the biggest film premier of the year, Broken Blossoms:
That drama outside the drama—the unfolding of genius! That’s what one thought last night, watching that latest marvel of the master picture maker, D.W. Griffith, and feeling the undercurrent of reaction to the master touch which thrilled through the tremendous crowd that had surged through the doors of Clune’s Auditorium until it packed the great place from topmost galleries—yes, even rafters—and nearly spilled into the orchestra, in order to view the premier of Broken Blossoms. Although everything was reported sold early in the day, crowds were turned away.
She wrote about its New York premiere in May (it really took a long time to get to Los Angeles!) But this event was just as impressive, with loads of movie stars in attendance, from Arbuckle to Walthall. It made for “a discriminating audience, too, one made up of artists in all lines, which was exactly attuned to respond to all the Griffith subtleties. And at the end, when the crowd howled for Griffith, I’m sure that beneath and beyond all its artistic appreciation was the big generous sense: “This D.W. Griffith is our Griffith, and we’re proud of him!”
She was ready to call it his masterpiece; Birth of a Nation and Intolerance were just steps to get to it. The LA Times chief critic, Edwin Schallert, placed it in an even larger context. Broken Blossoms
is to the future of pictures what the solemn tragedies of Sophocles are to the drama of all ages…He has ennobled the sordid surroundings of one of the lowest quarters of civilization with the poetry of beauty, and against this strangely fascinating background has painted a conflict of lives, and hope, and love and death, whose highest summits reach to where no art has soared in recent days except that of music.
Words are futile to describe the poignant appeal of Mr. Griffith’s story of love and death.
That is a tough review to live up to!
Other than Broken Blossoms, it was a fairly uneventful week. Kingsley even wrote a story about what jobs four women of the musical Chin Chin chorus wanted to do if they were men—the answers were sailor, jockey, cowboy and chauffeur.
She did mention a question that had come up in her office:
What will the male critics do next week, when Are You Fit To Marry is shown at the Symphony Theater “for ladies only.”
Since she was on vacation next week, they solved the problem at the Times by not reviewing it at all. Maybe they felt that enough had been written about the eugenics movement.
One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley should have believed the gossip about D.W. Griffith’s plans. On Tuesday she mentioned “rumors have been rife that Mr. Griffith would return to New York to work there permanently, but no confirmation could be gained yesterday from the studio.” So as a good journalist, she went straight to the source and on Thursday she reported he said
It’s all nonsense, that rumor about my going to New York to produce pictures or building a studio there. I still think Los Angeles is the only place in which to make pictures.
He also talked about the praise critics in Boston and Chicago had heaped on Broken Blossoms, then answered her question “and now that this first one is a success, you’ll go on and make more of the sort of pictures you yourself want to make?”
“Well, yes, it gives a person courage,” smiled Mr. Griffith. However, he still owed three pictures to the First National Exhibitor’s circuit before he could produce what he wanted.
So either Griffith changed his mind, or he wasn’t telling the truth. He left Los Angeles to make films in Mamaroneck, New York just three months later, in September. When she reported on it, she didn’t mention what he told her in June (she probably wanted to stay on his good side). The reason she was given for the move was “big business interests have long been calling him to New York.”
Even that wasn’t true. According to his biographer Richard Schickel, it had more to do with Griffith wanting isolation that would allow him to carry on his filmmaking in secrecy, plus the rural setting reminded him of the farm he grew up on. He bought a 28-acre estate from Standard Oil magnate Henry Flagler and converted it into a working studio. His films from Way Down East (1920) to Sally of the Sawdust (1925) were made there.
Coincidentally, Kingsley’s favorite film this week was produced by Griffith, I’ll Get Him Yet. However, before she reviewed it, she noted an unhappy shortage:
Dear me, the cinema these days is so full of sad comedies and funny tragedies that it’s like a 1920 drink of champagne to find a comedy which is a real rib-tickler, one which sends the folks into gales of laughter so spontaneous that the veriest little undertaker’s delight of ‘em just has to join in.
Luckily, Dorothy Gish was there to save the day (Kingsley wrote “there are just about five really funny comediennes on the screen—and sometimes I think Dorothy is nearly all of them”). She played a rich and peppy young lady in pursuit of a young newspaperman who disdains her wealth, played by Richard Barthelmass. There’s a plot, of sorts, about her trying to keep secret that she owns a railroad, but that “perhaps doesn’t convey to you the bright sparkle of the whimsically clever comedy with its breezy subtitles and capital acting. You must see it to appreciate it.” Unfortunately, we can’t, because it’s a lost film.
Kingsley mentioned another film that was a huge hit:
The fifth and positively last week of The Shepherd of the Hills opened yesterday at Quinn’s Rialto to record crowds…The Shepherd of the Hills has broken all house records for Quinn’s Rialto during its stay here, as well as set a new standard of production in motion pictures. Taking the book page by page, Harold Bell Wright, the author, transferred his novel to the screen exactly as he told it in story form, and the result is a production that is a rare treat to those who have read the book.
It took ten reels to reproduce the 1907 novel about a kindly old man who gives good advice to the people of Mutton Hollow in the Ozarks. Later versions didn’t claim to be a precise adaptation, but they weren’t any shorter: the 1928 version was 9 reels, 1941 version was 10, and the 1964 version was 11. It’s still a popular story, and a live outdoor production is done annually in Branson, Missouri.
Richard Schickel. D.W. Griffith: An American Life. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984.
One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on the latest in inflation:
It has arrived at last—the day of the $3 picture. And D.W. Griffith’s Broken Blossoms, now being exhibited in New York at the Cohan Theater, is the picture that has done it. A telegram received yesterday at the Griffith studio announced the glad news that henceforth all desirable seats in the theater will be $3, and now all the other directors in town are sending hot telegrams to their New York offices.
From other than a financial standpoint the fact is interesting, as Mr. Griffith himself considers the picture his best work. Also, he was not sure of its success, since it is a tragedy, and the public, we are told, demands happy endings.
The distributors had used the strategy of charging $2 for during the early days of release for Griffith’s epics Birth of a Nation and Intolerance, but Broken Blossoms was an intimate film that only took 18 days to shoot. However, it worked: Blossoms was Griffith’s all-time third most profitable film after Birth of a Nation and Way Down East according to Richard Schickel. The reviews were just that good.
To get an idea of how remarkable a $3 ticket was, average admission price in 1919 ranged from 10 cents in smaller theaters (300 seats) to 25 cents in larger theaters (1,100 seats and over) according to Richard Koszarski. Oddly enough, in 1915, the price theater owners paid for a chair itself was only $2.75!
The new record didn’t affect admission prices for most films (Griffith’s next release, True Heart Susie, was shown at ordinary prices) but occasionally big films like The Ten Commandments (1923) or Ben-Hur (1925) had a “roadshow release” following this model.
The audience didn’t just get a movie for their $3. At the premier, incense wafted over the audience and the theater was decorated in blossoms. There was a live prologue set in “a Chinese joss house filled with characters representative of the story and half concealed, half disclosed by nebulous mists of light save for a rich golden shaft that poured over a white girl lying on a divan,” plus an orchestra playing original compositions by Louis F. Gottschalk and D.W. Griffith to accompany the film, according to The Sun newspaper.
Lillian Gish was also at the premier, but earlier she’d told Kingsley that before she hadn’t had the courage “to face a New York opening—that she never had been present at one of those fateful affairs.” But for this one, she managed to tough it out, with the help of a “great big leghorn hat” and a seat in the back of a box. She was glad she did, telling Kingsley that “after it was over, she confessed the occasion gave her the thrill of her life.”
Broken Blossoms eventually came to Los Angeles in September, but they got the prologue and three orchestras for only $1.50. Kingsley got to attend and thought it was the “latest marvel of the master picture maker.”
This week, audiences in L.A. were paying 15-25 cents for matinees and 25-35 cents for evening shows to see two of Hollywood’s biggest stars. They, and Kingsley, enjoyed both of their films very much. At the Kinema, Mary Pickford managed to surprise her with her skills:
you’ve never known Mary Pickford or Daddy Long-Legs either, until you’ve seen them in the marvelous picture brew which that amazingly clever young star has given us. Daddy Long-Legs was delicious as a story, delightful as a play, and is entrancing as a picture. A crowded house went fairly into raptures yesterday, and applause, even at that cold 12:45 performance, punctuated the picture…In short, Mary does as she pleases with us in this—and proves herself, incidentally, a surprisingly versatile actress.
Dashing Doug appears in a rip-roaringly funny and zip-zipplingly thrilly comedy at Grauman’s this week entitled The Knickerbocker Buckaroo, in which the hero leaps over all the obstacles which come in his path from New York all the way to Mexico. The story involves lost treasure….But what’s the use of trying to describe a Douglas Fairbanks comedy? Just take my word for it The Knickerbocker Buckaroo is one of the best and go see it.
Unfortunately, you can’t because it’s a lost film.
Elsewhere in her review Kingsley made a point about appreciating simple pleasures in movies:
Some of us may rave about the high-brows—but we’ll sneak away from the most soulful moment in any of their plays to see Bill Hart punch the nose of the villain who is rough-housing the heroine, while there are moods in which we are just crazy about the subjective drama of Galsworthy and Ibsen, aren’t we always not only willing, but anxious, to view the spectacle of Bill Farnum beating the tar out of the crook who has stolen the money from the poor old man?
Audiences now are the same as they were then, they’re just accustomed to more CGI in their fights.
“Broken Blossoms is Blend of Greek, Chinese, London and American Effects,” Sun, May 14, 1919.
“Broken Blossoms” Strong Griffith Drama at Cohan’s Theater,” Evening World, May 14, 1919.
Richard Koszarski, An Evening’s Entertainment, Berkeley: UC Press, 1990.
Richard Schickel. D.W. Griffith: An American Life. NY: Simon and Schuster, 1984.
One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley was sick of slapstick comedies, and she gave us a list of everything she’d seen enough of:
Something besides jazz comedy—with its eternal races, its repartee administered by a slapstick on the nether portion of the fat comedian, the wit of the biffing bladder, trick photography showing the thin gentleman tripping along in the sky, airy persiflage in the form of dough thrown at the professor’s whiskers.
Luckily, what she wanted was served up this week:
The pieless comedy is with us at last on the screen…In short, crisp, original farce, written especially for the screen—not mere warmed-over farce adapted from stage plays. If you want to laugh until you cry, go and see The Game’s Up at the Symphony. Never were more adroitly comical complications than arose from Ruth Clifford’s pretending to her small-town chum that she, Ruth, who had gone to a great city, had become a great artist.
She paints menus for a living, which I didn’t know was a career option (so she drew pies instead of throwing them). The chum comes for a visit (oh no!), and with the help of a chauffeur who’s actually a rich man’s son (surprise!) Ruth keeps up the pretense. After “a lot of complications you’ll foresee, but laugh at anyway,” it ends with weddings all around (the son has a nice friend for the chum).
Elsie Jane Wilson, actress…
This welcome change was brought to Kingsley by a woman director, Elsie Jane Wilson. She was born in Sydney, Australia and had been acting since she was two years old. She met and married fellow actor Rupert Julian and they immigrated to the United States in 1911. They moved to Los Angeles in 1914 and found acting work at Universal Studios. They both became directors; Wilson in 1917 on the family film The Little Pirate. She got to direct 11 films. Unfortunately, The Game’s Up was her last, which is a shame because non-slapstick comedy would become a regular film staple in the next decade and it sounds like she really knew what she was doing. Her husband got to continue directing for Universal, even their prestige picture The Phantom of the Opera (1925). Most of her films, including this one, are lost. However one, The Dream Lady, is on the new Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers DVD.
The star, Ruth Clifford, went on to a very long career as an actress and she was happy to talk to to film historians. Kevin Brownlow wrote her obituary when she died, aged 98.
Live theater was still going strong in Los Angeles, and this week, the opposite of the trend I read about in film histories, happened: Clune’s Auditorium, the 3000 seat theater where some of the most successful films had played, from Birth of a Nation to Cleopatra, switched to back to vaudeville. Owner William Clune had signed with Ackerman and Harris, vaudeville magnates, to link his house to their chain of successful theaters, the Western Vaudeville Association. The opening show was a satirical review called Fads and Fancies plus a vaudeville bill.
Kingsley got to review it and said:
success perches high on the dome of Clune’s Auditorium, if last night’s crowd, the greatest in the history of the big theater, which greeted the transformation of the house from a picture palace into the home of musical comedy, is any criterion. It was a good-natured crowd, too—one that wanted to be pleased. But even if it had been much more critical than it was it would have been happy.
So it looks like it was a good business decision. The Auditorium never did go back to showing films. In 1920 it became the home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, which played there until 1963. It was demolished in 1985 and turned into a parking lot, but now apartments are being built on the site.
Kingsley got to see a preview of D.W. Griffith’s latest, A Romance of Happy Valley, and she was impressed:
Something entirely different, but just as entirely intriguing as the usual Griffith pictures is A Romance of Happy Valley. The story is an idyll of an old southern town, and full of delightful types, while there are fairly Barrie-ish touches in its whimsicality, especially in the scenes where Lillian, as the heroine, having carried off the absent hero’s coat, which was being used as a scarecrow in his father’s cornfield, holds tender communion with the garment, as though the owner still wore it. And there’s a surprising twist to the exciting plot.
Kingsley really had been seeing too much melodrama, if she thought that attempted filicide was just a ‘surprising twist.’ The film survives, and is available on the Internet Archive.
Pickford greets Ralph Faneuf, W. Lauer and E.S. Loizeau
143rd’s coat of arms
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.
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.
They sold the films on Griffith’s prestige, not the stars
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.
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.”
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?
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.
I 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.
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.
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.”
Valentino at 17
Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
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.
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.”
Gish in Uncle Vanya
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!”
Griffith directing, 1913
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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!
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.
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:
The 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.
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.
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.