The roaring starts: Week of January 17th, 1920

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One hundred years ago this week, the new decade had barely begun, and Grace Kingsley noticed that entertainment was already getting naughtier. Previously, if you saw a:

comedy hero of the screen, you may be very sure he isn’t doing the one thing he shouldn’t, because our Anglo-Saxon minds simply refuse to countenance anything naughty in husbands done in a spirit of levity. If a man wants to be gosh-awfully bad he’s got to be solemn about it and go in for the drammer. In comedy it always turns out that the husbands and wives were merely suspected of being unfaithful. The wife really was at her sisters all the while, and hubby spent the night at his club, even if he did have to pay a visit to the purple hussy’s apartments in the early gloaming.

Of course, infidelity was still in plenty of dramas—Blind Husbands was playing for a third week in Los Angeles. However:

the day of the smart, sophisticated, almost-naughty screen comedy is with us…It’s an adroit mix-up Mr. Hobart [George Hobart, the play’s author] has given us, which works out in the meeting of three sets of married people, each with the wrong partner, in that naughty Honeysuckle Inn; and the house actually roared yesterday when the innocent little wife (Doris May), who came to the inn looking for her husband, takes her first drink, gets a very funny jag, and is bourn downstairs by each of the two other husbands, successively, only to be rushed back at meeting the husband (Douglas MacLean) at the foot of the stairway.

So the comedy wife still didn’t actually do anything wrong, it just seemed bad for longer. Nevertheless, all the confusion resulted in a “hilariously funny comedy,” and the theater was packed. Unfortunately, only one reel has been preserved at the Library on Congress.

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Screening just four blocks away (also playing to packed houses) was another then-notorious movie, Toby’s Bow. Kingsley speculated on what was bringing people to the theater:

of course, everybody had heard of that naughty game of strip poker with which the play begins, and just had to see it. However, as it turn out, the Greenwich Village lady who parts with her clothing had evidently prepared for the occasion, because her teddies came away up above and away down below what might be termed the danger lines, and she went right home with a shawl around her as soon as she reached ‘em.

I wonder if this revelation hurt ticket sales? The poker game sets the scene for the lurid world of Greenwich Village writers. But don’t worry: later, at a decadent New York masquerade, the hero (Tom Moore) rushes in just in time to save the charming heroine (Doris Pawn) from “a wicked reveler was laying his hand on her velvet shoulder.” So there was a limit to the naughtiness in this lost film too.

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Of course, it wasn’t only in the movies, though Kingsley blamed them for some of the changes. This week, L.A. audiences were flocking to the play, Up In Mabel’s Room and she pointed out:

commonest of all rooms on our comedy stage nowadays is the bedroom. It used to be the parlor, you remember, eased then into the boudoir, with a glimpse of the bedroom beyond. Pictures have led us into the bedroom, and now we have bathtub comedies, with indications that the bathroom will follow as a location for stage comedies, and with nothing left after that except, perhaps, to make the bathtub transparent!

The play revolves around “the desperate attempts of a stout, but innocent-minded married man, to get back from Mabel, a giddy young widow, a pink chemise which, in a reckless moment, before either of them were married, he had sent to her from Paris, with her name and his embroidered on its bosom.” Of course most of the cast wants to steal it and she keeps it in her room, “thereupon Mabel’s room become the busiest place in the world.” Gee, it sounds like a lot of fun. Oddly enough, it didn’t get made into a movie until 1926.

However, some people were upholding strict standards. Actor Charles Murray told Kingsley that his

beautiful 18-year old daughter has just arrived from New York, where she has been a convent student ever since she was a little girl. Mr. Murray says no-sir-ee his daughter isn’t going to be an actress, not if he knows it. Why, he says, he’ll hardly let her see some of his own Mack Sennett pictures, much less let her ever play in them!

He got one detail wrong: Henrietta Murray was born in 1895, not 1902, so she was about to turn 25. I want to know: what exactly did he think would happen if she saw a Sennett two-reeler? She’d join the Keystone Kops? She was his daughter from a previous relationship, and she grew up in Manhattan, with her mother, actress/writer Lorimer Deane and stepfather, traveling salesman Victor Deane. She did not become an actress; instead she married William McQuaid , a bank manager in Jacksonville, Florida.

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Gloria Swanson’s outfits were part of the changes, too, and Kingsley overhead considerable admiration when a young filmgoer made a very good point:

It was at a showing of Male and Female, and the little girl behind us declaimed, when Gloria Swanson was about to be devoured by the lion, “Oh dear, and will he eat up her lovely gown, too?

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Another view

Priorities were being kept straight in 1920’s Los Angeles!

Week of August 4th, 1917

 

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on a frightening film set accident:

The sprightly and athletic Doris Pawn, who plays opposite Willard Louis in the latter’s first comedy for William Fox, under the direction of Charles Parrott, had a miraculous escape from suffering severe injuries or death while on location. Miss Pawn, who is a dare-devil horsewoman, was mounted on a spirited horse, and was told to ride down an embankment full speed onto a road in front of a camera.

After the situation had been explained to her by the director, Miss Pawn guided her horse to the top of the mound, and at the given word started down the hill. When she should have made her appearance a few seconds later, there was no sign of her. Parrott ran into the pathway and there found Miss Pawn lying on the ground, the horse having stumbled and fallen in such a manner Miss Pawn’s legs were pinioned beneath him. A call brought several of the assistants, who lifted the horse, releasing the girl. A hurried examination by a physician, who was summoned, disclosed the fact that Miss Pawn had sustained severe bruises on her hip and thighs and she owed her escape from broken bones to the fact that when the horse stumbled she fell on soft earth. After several days of attendance by a physician, Miss Pawn was again able to continue her part of the picture.

There’s no record of the film’s title; maybe it was never finished or released. There’s a hole in Charles Parrott’s (aka Charley Chase) filmography  from August 1917 to April 1918, and his biography only mentions his work with Hank Mann and Heine Conklin when he was at Fox. Miss Pawn got all of those bruises for nothing.

 

Doris Pawn was just one of so many people, now forgotten, who went to a lot of trouble to make films that have been lost. It’s really very depressing. However, Pawn picked herself up and had a long and perfectly good life. She’d learned her horse-riding skills growing up on her grandfather’s farm in Norfolk, Nebraska and she started out in films as an extra in 1914. She soon became a leading lady; later her most famous role was opposite Lon Chaney in The Penalty (1920). She retired from acting in 1923. She married three times; first to director Rex Ingram in 1917, second to insurance salesman Paul Reiners in 1928 and finally to drugstore owner Samuel Dunway in 1937. She died in La Jolla, California in 1988.

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Kingsley’s favorite film this week, The Show Down, involved that durable plot, “civilized” people shipwrecked on a desert island (it was good enough for Gilligan!). This was also a comedy and she thought it was very funny; it “merrily rings the bells at every shot.” Stranded after a German submarine sank their ocean liner, the group included the bestselling author of Back to the Primitive who longs for “the trackless ways of the jungle,” a philanthropist who wants to save the world, a bored society man and a spoiled young beauty. Of course the author complains about the food and refuses to go hunting, the philanthropist tried to “sell out” the group to the enemy, and the young people bestir themselves to get to another island and save the day. Kingsley wrote “the story is adroitly and snappily told, and is one of the best features, from every standpoint, that Bluebird has turned out.” It’s a lost film.

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Myrtle Gonzalez

Myrtle Gonzalez played the young woman and this was her last film; she got married and retired. Sadly, she died the next year in influenza epidemic.

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Robert Edeson, Rhea Mitchell, William S. Hart in On the Night Stage (1915)

An “old” film was re-released at the Garrick Theater this week, On the Night Stage. Kingsley observed,

the showing of this picture brings to light an odd little twist in the swift and fateful happenings of the ever changing element known as the film world. Two years ago, when the picture was made, it was supposed to star Robert Edeson, the well-known actor, but when the picture was shown, lo and behold! It was discovered a hitherto fairly obscure actor, William S. Hart, had walked right off with the big honors! While the preacher character played by Edeson was supposed to be the big part, the projection machine reveled the supremacy of Hart.

Hart played a bandit and the preacher’s rival for the love of the local dance hall queen. The film survives in several archives, including UCLA and Eastman House. Edeson went on to have a fine career. He wasn’t a big star like Hart, but worked continuously on screen and stage until his death at age 62 in 1931.

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Harold Goodwin, 1921

Kingsley gave an update on Harold Goodwin, who’d made a good impression in her favorite film last week:

Harold is the youth who hit the bullseye with his small boy role in The Sawdust Ring at Clune’s Auditorium last week. Now the story comes out that, when he had finished in that picture he wasn’t thought to have done much, and Triangle let him go. He silently gave up his actor hopes, and accepted a position in a shoe store. Last Saturday night he quit his shoe house job, with no less than four offers from film companies in his pocket.

He also went on to a long career in film and television.