How Quickly They Forget: Week of October 4th, 1919

They were so happy, just last December!

One hundred and one years ago this week, all of the theaters in Los Angeles were about to be closed to help prevent the spread of influenza. They didn’t re-open until December 2nd. One year later, neither Grace Kingsley nor anybody else wrote about the anniversary. Only three very short articles about flu appeared in the LA Times in late 1919: two reporting that the State Board of Health said the return of the epidemic was improbable, and one about insurance payouts for flu deaths. The trade papers also ignored the anniversary, except to give theater closures as a reason that revenues were down the previous year.

This was the beginning of people forgetting all about the epidemic, which now seems to be the first thing everybody mentions if they do cover it. For instance, The Guardian’s article on the hundredth anniversary was called “A century on: why are we forgetting the deaths of 100 million” and the Backstory Radio podcast episode was titled Forgotten FluNobody paused to be happy that they got to go about their ordinary business. Perhaps they were saving it for the Armistice Day celebrations coming up next month.

No surprise, Kingsley’s favorite film this week came from her favorite actress:

That amazing young woman, Mary Pickford, has done it again! She has succeeded in The Hoodlum, which is at the Kinema this week, in again putting over a film blue-ribboner. The surprising thing about this young lady is that she never fails to surprise you…In fact, Miss Pickford seems to be slowly but surely evolving a fresh, new quality—a power that has nothing whatever to do with pouts and curls, but depends on a really brilliant mind, a keenness of dramatic perception, and an unlimited sense of humor and of fun.

The Hoodlum tells the story of a spoiled rich girl who goes to live with her sociologist father in the New York slums. There, after learning how to play craps and shimmie, she meets a wrongfully accused young man whom she is able to exonerate by stealing papers from her grandfather. However, as Kingsley noted, that wasn’t the attraction:

But the plot, ha ha! Like the dentists’ ads say, doesn’t hurt a bit. It’s Mary Pickford’s bubbling, genuine humor, which will charm dull care away if you’ll let it. That a lot of people want to let it was shown by the crowds which besieged the Kinema yesterday.

The Hoodlum is available on DVD.


Kingsley had news of Pickford’s soon-to-be husband as well:

That arch kidder, Douglas Fairbanks, made the life of Charlie Chaplin more or less miserable, the other night down on Broadway. Charlie and Doug had been dining together, and as they sat in the machine awaiting the coming of other friends to join the party, Douglas would ever and anon arise in his seat, wave his arms, and announce to whoso would listen:

“This is the great Charlie Chaplin! None other! Take a good look at Charlie Chaplin!”

Poor Charlie shrunk back inside his overcoat, and looked as if somebody bit his dog.

Oh, Mr. Fairbanks. It’s only surprising that the story doesn’t end with “so Charlie bopped him in the nose and no jury would convict.”

From a review of The World to Live In I learned a new word: tinpanner, which is a young woman who consorts with rich old men. It was invented by W. Carey Wonderly, the author of the 1918 novel the film was based on. Another writer, Owen Johnson, tried to call them “salamanders” in his 1913 novel of that name (and 1916 film), but neither word caught on the way the term Jack Lait came up with did in his 1916 book, Beef, Iron & Wine: gold digger. The Oxford English Dictionary says that was the first time it was used in that sense (and tinpanner isn’t in the OED at all). I guess Wonderly was playing off of that, since you use a tin pan to find gold in a stream. While is seems like there can never be enough words to insult women with, “gold digger” is easier to catch the meaning of if you don’t already know it. I can see why it won out.

Nevertheless, The World to Live In wasn’t a bad little movie, even if it utterly failed as a cautionary tale:

But if the author didn’t want all our little Maudie Freshies to go right out and be tinpanners, he shouldn’t have made this one have such an awfully good time, with numberless rich and devoted beaus, and come out all unscorched and unscathed as she did, from numberless fascinating adventures.

Gee, just like Anita Loos did a few years later in her book, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. In this story, Rita Charles (Alice Brady) meets a handsome settlement worker (William P. Carelton) with a “noble pompadour—why is it, pompadours look so noble in pictures?” and marries him, ending her tinpanning ways. Overall, Kingsley thought this now lost movie was very entertaining and not in the least profound.



Fairbanks’ Itchy Feet: Week of September 6th, 1919


One hundred years ago this week, Douglas Fairbanks again felt the need to tell Grace Kingsley his travel plans, which included:

a trip to New York in November, whence, after making a picture in the East, he will go to Europe, visiting England, France, Switzerland, Italy and even Sweden and Denmark and the smaller nations.

He wanted to bring along Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., who had been visiting him all summer but had returned to school (there was no mention of what his ex-wife thought about it). He thought he might make some films while he was abroad, too.

This resembles his travel plans from early August, and Kingsley remembered to ask about them:

Concerning the trip to South America which Mr. Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin contemplate taking together, the two have decided to put that off until after Fairbanks’ tour abroad.

Kathleen Clifford

He really wanted to get out of town, even though he was in the middle of casting his next film. He had chosen a leading lady, but he wasn’t ready to tell Kingsley yet (it was Kathleen Clifford, and the film was When the Clouds Roll By).


Unlike the South America trip, he actually did go to Europe the next year and visited everywhere on his list, substituting the Netherlands and Germany for the Nordic countries. However, he had a different companion. He married Mary Pickford on March 28, 1920 and on June 12, 1920 they set off on their honeymoon, sailing to Southampton, England. British Pathe Newsreel filmed their arrival and the crowds that swarmed them:

Mobs of fans followed them wherever they went, making seeing the sights impossible, with one exception. According to Fairbanks biographer Tracey Goessel, they got a break in Germany—their films hadn’t been shown there during the war, so they weren’t noticed except in American-occupied Coblenz. But after a day without being recognized, Pickford realized she didn’t like it and said “Let’s go someplace where we are known. I’ve had enough obscurity for a lifetime.”

British Pathe caught up with them again at their last stop in Paris, and you can see that obscurity was not a problem there:

I feel claustrophobic just looking at the newsreels! They arrived back in New York on July 29th.


Kingsley’s favorite show this week was at Grauman’s, where Mack Sennett’s Uncle Tom Without a Cabin and Love Insurance with Bryant Washburn were playing; she said, “let’s stipulate right from the outset that these two form a combination that assay more laughs to the square inch of film than any program it’s been our joy to witness in many a long day.”

She described Love Insurance as

“a sprightly and ingenious story, this, involving an English lord engaged to marry a wealthy American girl, but who is afraid of losing her, and therefore takes out insurance in Lloyd’s against such a mishap. Bryant is the boy sent to watch over the interests of the insurance company and see that the marriage comes off according to schedule. There is a mounting comic interest in the march of events—and at least two big surprises at the end! It’s these really brilliant little screen comedies which are lifting the screen above the slush and mush.”

This version is lost, so I’ll spoil the surprises: he wasn’t really a Lord, and the girl ends up with Washburn. It got remade twice more, once with Reginald Denny as The Reckless Age (1924) and once as One Night in the Tropics (1940) with Allan Jones and Abbott and Costello.

She really enjoyed the two-reeler on the program, too:

Uncle Tom Without His Cabin is the funniest kind of burlesque on barnstorming companies, and must be seen to be appreciated. It hits off the mannerisms of actors behind the scenes in a way to amuse both the profession and outsiders, and drolly satirizes the trials and tribulations of the barnstormers.

The short did so well at this theater, Sennett made an ad out of it!


Brett Walker, in Mack Sennett’s Fun Factory, wrote that it was one of their best remembered and most popular films, and it helped make Ben Turpin a star.

Dorothy Gish in Nobody Home

Kingsley also really enjoyed seeing Dorothy Gish in Nobody Home, which was “a fresh, brisk little comedy, about a superstitious girl who won’t make a turn in life without consulting the cards.” She gave Gish quite an unusual compliment:

Dorothy ‘s hand and feet are funny; she can get more comedy over in the crooking of a finger-tip, the twinkle of a heel, than most comediennes can throughout the playing of a whole humor feature.

Unfortunately, it’s a lost film.


Plans That Came to Nothing: Week of July 12th, 1919

Let’s go make movies someplace else!

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley indulged in hyperbole:

One of the biggest announcements of the year in filmdom is to the effect that Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin are going to South America next fall to make pictures. The announcement was made yesterday at the Fairbanks studio.

The trip is to be made on a boat, either specially built or chartered for the occasion. The company will embark at San Pedro, and will stop along the coast, wherever the fancy of the famous pair or the interests of the picture business may dictate…The boat in which the two world-famed comedians will travel will be equipped with laboratories, projection room, developing room, and all necessary photographic paraphernalia connected with the development ant printing of films.

Never have these two screen idols been more popular than they are at present, and their reception in South American will, of course, be an ovation. As both speak Spanish to a certain extent, it may be expected the trip will prove a great holiday as well as a wonderful business venture.

Fairbanks said they probably wouldn’t be going until late October or early November, because he had two films to finish before he could leave.


They never went. Chaplin got busy making The Kid, and Fairbanks had plenty to do in Los Angeles, between making films, setting up United Artists, and convincing Mary Pickford to marry him (which she did the following March). Daydreams about escape are pleasant for movie stars, too! This shows why it’s a bad idea to tell a newspaper reporter every stray thought that crosses your mind, even if you’re Douglas Fairbanks.

Kingsley’s favorite film this week was The Crimson Gardenia, an adventure-comedy adapted from a Rex Beach short story. Set during Mardi Gras, a bored millionaire (Owen Moore) meets a pretty women (Hedda Nova) and is promptly mistaken for an escaped prisoner who is being chased by both the police and a gang of cut-throats. Such a durable plot! Kingsley wrote:

Which really, after all, doesn’t give you the least notion of the fresh, crisp charm which Reginald Barker, director, has put into Mr. Beach’s story. And let him who thinks there is no such thing as subtlety on the screen, who believes that delicate nuance is not conveyable in the medium, and that a story, nicely balanced, so as to dip thrillingly one moment toward romance and adventure and next into the frothiest suggestion of comedy, just take a peep at this thoroughly delightful film.

I’m sold. Do you suppose he escapes? Could he marry the woman? An incomplete version survives at the Eastman House.

The director Kingsley admired, Reginald Barker, directed nearly 100 films during a fine career that lasted until 1935, but the most successful crewmember was Hugo Ballin, the art director. In just a few months, he started his own production company because he wanted to direct. His films included Jane Eyre (1921) and Vanity Fair (1923), but they weren’t very successful. He went back to his first career as a artist, and he went on to create some of the most memorable public art in Los Angeles, including the murals at the Griffith Observatory:


Caroline Luce has written an excellent, fully illustrated website about him called Hugo Ballin’s Los Angeles.


This week, Kingsley reported a bathing girl controversy – but it wasn’t the usual one about the immorality of scantily-clad women:

“Can Chicago rightfully boast prettier bathing girls than Los Angeles?” inquires a dispatch from Chicago.

The question was asked by Chuck Reisner, usually Chaplin’s assistant director but he’d been lured to Chicago by fledgling film producer William S. Bastar to direct bathing beauty comedies. He continued:

“Chicago bathing girls are prettier, more attractive and make better actresses than the girls of any other city in the world,” said Reisner the other day, according to word just received.

Naturally, Kingsley printed a rebuttal from the genre’s originator:

“How can that be?” retorts Mack Sennett. “Can’t our girls bathe and swim all year round in the ocean, whereas your girls can only be outdoor girls, so far as bathing is concerned, a few months a year. Besides, bathing in a lake is pretty tame—something like bathing in a big bath tub!”

Despite Reisner’s skill at getting publicity, only one short in Chicago was completed, Dog Days. It played in Los Angeles in early December, but it barely appeared in the theater’s listing or advertising. The promoter emphasized the live show featuring young women who sang and danced while wearing bathing suits. It was so popular, it got held over for a second week. Reisner was already back to work for Chaplin as the assistant director on The Kid. He got to be a director again in a few years, first on a series of Brownie the Dog shorts, and later with Syd Chaplin (The Better ‘Ole) and Buster Keaton (Steamboat Bill, Jr.).



Startling Star Salary: Week of June 21st, 1919

Mary Miles Minter

One hundred years ago this week, Mary Miles Minter signed a “startling” contract, and Grace Kingsley had the details:

The little girl with the biggest motion-picture contract in the world—that’s Mary Miles Minter. But she pays a stern price for it, inasmuch as her personal life is ordered by the rules laid down in the contract, and she is even forbidden to wed during the life of the agreement.

By its terms she will receive in three years the sum of $1,300,000. She is to get $250,000 for her first five pictures, or $50,000 a picture. For the second five she will get $300,000, or $60,000 a picture and for the third five $350,000 or $70,000 a picture, and for the fourth five, $400,000 or $80,000 a picture. No chances were taken with Miss Minter because she happens to be a minor. While she was represented by O’Brein, Malevinsky and Driscoll, the contract was drawn that her every act will come under the supervision of her employer, Mr. Zukor.

A sensational feature provides that, though Miss Minter is but 18 years old,* and therefore might be expected to love social gaiety, she is to order her life according to a set of rules which provide she shall live the quietest kind of a home life, never to be seen in public when it is possible to avoid it, and never associate in public with stage offscreen folk. Also—and this might not be pleasing to a lot of screen stars—she is to receive no interviewers.

Minter was to start work on June 30th, but until then she was on vacation with her mother in Atlantic City, “enjoying to the full the only free social life she is to be allowed to know during the next three years.”

1.3 million dollars was at that point the largest amount promised in one contract to an actor, but others had gotten paid more per film. For example, in 1918 Mary Pickford signed a contract with First National that paid $675,000 for three films, plus half the profits. Minter’s deal was particularly astonishing because her most recent salary at American Films was $2250 a week.


Kingsley didn’t ask why Adolph Zukor was willing to pay so much, but Variety was happy to speculate on what film people were calling “Zukor’s madness:”

One explanation is furnished by his former star, Mary Pickford, in letters she has sent to friends here in the East. Whether rightly or wrongly, Miss Pickford is under the impression, an impression strengthened by those few in Zukor’s confidence who have breathed a word about the matter—the impression that the head of Paramount is willing to go to any length and spend any amount of money to replace Mary Pickford in his list of picture offerings. Miss Pickford has been informed that Zukor is “so sore” at her for leaving his management that he will go a long ways to “get even.” (June 13, 1919)

I bet she stopped writing to those friends. Even with a well-funded advertising campaign and complete control over her public image, Zukor wasn’t able to make Minter as big a star as Pickford. The first film she made under her new contract was her biggest hit: Anne of Green Gables, directed by William Desmond Taylor. Now she’s mostly remembered for her relationship with him and for being implicated in his still unsolved murder in 1922. We can’t be sure, but maybe if she’d had more freedom under her contract to socialize away from work she might not have become better known in true crime circles than film histories. She did make 18 of the 20 films under her contract, but the studio dropped her in 1923 and she retired.

Dempsey–Willard Fight by James Montgomery Flagg

Kingsley mentioned a forthcoming all-star boys road trip:

Carter de Haven, co-starring with his wife in feature comedies at the National studios, will be among the many notables attending the little fracas in Toledo the fourth of next month. He intends leaving on the billion-dollar special, which has been arranged for by the most stellar lights in the photoplay firmament. The train will provide every known deluxe feature. Continuous dining service will be had, not to mention a completely stocked buffet and additional servants to minster to their every want.

Those included in the passenger list, beside Mr. de Haven, are Wally Reid, Charlie Chaplin, Charles Ray, Douglas Fairbanks, Jesse Lasky, Cecil De Mille, Dustin Farnum, William Farnum, Roscoe Arbuckle, Jack Pickford and Sid Grauman.

It sounds like the set-up for a one-act play! The “little fracas” was the heavyweight boxing championship held on the Fourth of July in Toledo, Ohio between Jack Dempsey and Jess Willard. It was promoted as “the fight of the century.” However, I haven’t found any evidence that they actually went—nearly five days on a train is a long time to be away from work, even with a buffet. Dempsey beat Willard in three brutal rounds.

Francis MacDonald played the cad

This week Kingsley saw a movie that made the audience want to yell “That’s good! Hit him again!” It was called The Divorce Trap and

you should have heard the laughs and delighted applause yesterday when the caddish young man, who had tried to frame for divorce the young wife who had tried her best to reform him, got his just deserts, which included a swift kick from his own dad. Naturally the story is a sordid one, but it is tremendously realistic…the manner in which the lightning justice of its events are recorded, make for a certain finesse and high-mindedness of general effect.

This lost film was sold as a serious drama, but it’s a shame that more tragic villains don’t get their due with a kick in the pants.


Kingsley told a story that demonstrated how much more relaxed studio security was in 1919. Nine-year-old Douglas Fairbanks Jr. visited his dad’s workplace dressed in a wild West suit just like his father’s, then:

Little Doug disappeared for a whole half-hour. At the end of that time he reappeared, led by a farmerish looking individual.

“This your boy really?” he demanded of Doug Sr.

No need to answer, as the boy made a frantic and affectionate dive for his dad.

“Well, I found him on these togs out front,” said the man, “and when I asked him who he was, he said Douglas Fairbanks. Poor little tad, I said to myself, to be crazy and him so young! Well, the movies does do it to ‘em, but not usually at his age! Then he explained his dad was named Douglas Fairbanks, too—and I see the point at once, I did, and here he is!”

It seems that kid supervision was more relaxed then, too.


*Actually she was 17 at the time, but the age of majority was 21 then.


“Adolph Zukor Determined to Supplant Mary Pickford,” Variety, June 13, 1919.

“Testimony in Film Star’s Suit Opens,” Los Angeles Herald, May 19, 1920.

“Zukor Gets Mary Miles Minter by Million Dollar Contract,” Variety, June 27, 1919.


Three-dollar film tickets!?!: Week of May 17th, 1919


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.

leghorn hat
A leghorn hat

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.

Fritzi Kramer at Movies Silently says it’s still an excellent film.


Kingsley had even more fun at Grauman’s:

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.



Week of March 1st, 1919


One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on how quickly a new company was getting ready to make films:

Hiram Abrams, former president of the Paramount Pictures Corporation and former vice-president of the Famous Players-Lasky Company, was yesterday appointed general manager of the United Artists’ Distributing Corporation. This is the organization made by Mary Pickford, Charles Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks and D.W. Griffith.

Hiram Abrams

The four had signed the articles of incorporation just a few weeks earlier, on February 5th. They had already appointed a president, Oscar A. Price, the former U.S. Assistant Director of Railroads, and he’d just opened their New York office. They hired William McAdoo, the former Secretary of the Treasury, as Chief Counsel. Benjamin Schulberg was appointed as assistant general manager under Abrams; he’d been his assistant at Paramount.


They were also busily getting their physical plant ready:

Douglas Fairbanks yesterday finished his final picture to be made by him under his contract with the Paramount Corporation. The title of the picture is The Knickerbocker Buckaroo. Mr. Fairbanks has leased the Clune Studio on Melrose Avenue, Hollywood, and the work of moving the Fairbanks properties from the quarters of the star has long occupied at the Lasky studios will begin today [March 5th].

His brother Robert was in charge of renovating the studio, and it was to include an outdoor gymnasium so his brother could “retain his customary vigor and vim.” It’s remarkable how quickly they were able to set up a new company.

The founders motive was more control over their money and creative decisions. Motion Picture News called the idea that filmmakers would produce and distribute their own films “the most revolutionary move in the history of the film industry.” (“Inside Story of the Combine Now Told,” Feb. 1, 1919, p. 685)


Fairbanks made their first film, His Majesty, the American and it was a hit. However, even though they had big moneymakers like Way Down East (1920) the company ran into trouble producing enough films to support their distribution network. So in 1924 they hired Joseph Schenk as the president, and he brought films from his wife Norma Talmadge and in-laws Constance Talmadge and Buster Keaton. In addition they began distributing the work of independent producers including Samuel Goldwyn. The company is still around after passing through a long list of owners, doing business under the name United Artists’ Digital Studios.

Pickford made lots of movies about orphans, including Daddy Long Legs

Another one of the United Artists, Mary Pickford, appeared in the second installment of Ella The Extra Girl. Kingsley was able to include a detail missed in most star profiles: Pickford included chewing gum with the lunches she provided for the extras. Ella approved: “I’m askin’ you if that ain’t looking after her extras?” This month Kinglsey made up a story of how Miss Pickford found a home for an orphan named Mousie. While that was harmless fan fiction, maybe the gum part was true.


Later this week Kingsley reported that Pickford was taking three whole days off between making Daddy Long Legs and The Hoodlum to shoot publicity photos and go to the dentist. After that she owed one more film to First National (Heart o’ the Hills), then she started work at United Artists.


Kingsley remarked on the difference in what audiences say they want versus what they actually pay money to see:

From the hullabloo raised a few months ago by mothers’ clubs and like institutions concerning suitable motion pictures for children, one would have thought even the Pansy Books and the Trotty Series, if produced in films, would be a riot, and that the Rollo stories, if shown on the screen, would simply cause mothers to trample each other to death in the rush to get in and see the show.*

Wherefore the Fox Company took these good souls at their word, and produced a series of supremely artistic and delightful fairy tales under direction of Chet and Sidney Franklin. The first one was a tremendous success; then they died. Then they put the Lee kids on in a series of comedies, which were fairly successful, but not as popular as they should have been. The now defunct Balboa Amusement Company made pictures with Baby Marie Osbourne, and while they gained a fair amount of popularity, there are no records of disaster caused by the youngsters and mothers of the land breaking their necks to get in to houses where the pictures were shown. It appears the young ones still hollered for Charlie Chaplin and Fatty Arbuckle and Bill Hart and Mary Pickford.

So children are people, not an alien race who want kiddie films? There’s a lesson for studio heads.

Kingsley (and her rivals) appeared in the newspaper ad for her favorite film from last week:


It seems that exhibitors have been using critics’ pull quotes to bring in customers for a long time.



*All three had been best sellers, but they were very much of the previous century. The Rollo stories were by Jacob Abbott, a minister who in the 1830’s became the first writer of multivolume series for children. Rollo didn’t have many adventures or much personality, but he learned lots of moral lessons. Pansy was the pen name of Isabella Macdonald Alden, and from 1865 to 1931 she wrote equally wholesome stories that taught life lessons for Christians. I can imagine them irritating a young, bookish Grace Kingsley.



Trotty, and his author, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, were more interesting. He was a mischievous four-year-old boy who had adventures in a series of short stories published in the 1860’s and ‘70’s. She was a prolific author for children and adults who with her Gypsy Breton series, set the pattern for tomboyish heroines like Jo March. Best of all, she advocated clothing reform. She was a corset burner! Here’s what she wrote in What to Wear (1873):

Burn up the corsets! … No, nor do you save the whalebones, you will never need whalebones again. Make a bonfire of the cruel steels that have lorded it over your thorax and abdomens for so many years and heave a sigh of relief, for your emancipation I assure you, from this moment has begun.

A biopic about her could teach some handy life lessons: we can all appreciate our emancipated thoraxes.



Week of January 4th, 1919


One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on the newest person to try his luck in Hollywood:

The problem of finding employment for returned soldiers is one to which Douglas Fairbanks is devoting serious attention to these days. In fact, to such an extent is Mr. Fairbanks interested in the welfare of the nation’s heroes that whenever possible he engages returned soldiers to work with him in pictures….The latest acquisition of Fairbanks along this line is none other than William A. Wellman, famous ace of the Lafayette Flying Corps, who has seven Hun planes to his credit. Being among the first five aviators to receive his honorable discharge, Wellman visited the Fairbanks studio in Southern California…This resulted in his being cast for an important part in the new Douglas Fairbanks production, Something for Somebody.

Kingsley’s version of the story wasn’t completely right. Wellman had originally met Fairbanks in Boston at a hockey game before the war, and Fairbanks said he had the looks to be an actor. Instead, Wellman enlisted as an ambulance driver in France, then joined the French Foreign Legion and was assigned to the Lafayette Flying Corps. He did shoot down seven enemy planes and earned the Croix de Guerre, before he was shot down by anti-aircraft guns. He got a medical discharge due to his injuries, and returned to the United States where he joined the Army Air Service to teach air combat fighting. When he was stationed in San Diego, he would fly his plane to Los Angeles and land on Fairbanks’ polo field for weekend visits.

William Wellman, Douglas Fairbanks and Marjorie Daw

Wellman did appear in Fairbanks next film, renamed The Knickerbocker Buckaroo. He played a juvenile named Henry; unfortunately the part wasn’t important enough to be mentioned in the synopses of the AFI Catalog or the Motion Picture News. It’s a lost film.

Wellman next acted in a film directed by Raoul Walsh, Evangeline, but after getting fired for slapping the leading lady (who happened to be Miriam Cooper, the director’s wife) he decided that he wanted to be a director, not an actor. He worked his way up, starting as a messenger boy, property man, assistant cutter and assistant director before directing his first film in 1923. He went on to make classics like Wings (1927), A Star is Born (1937) and Beau Geste (1939).



Kingsley gave us a new verb in her description of The Cabaret Girl, starring Ruth Clifford, which opened

quite fascinatingly with Miss Clifford annettekellering in a pool. However, for some mysterious reason not unconnected with good sense—and though it’s just simply never done in pictures—she actually wears a bathing suit. Of course, the hero comes along—what hero wouldn’t—just as her clothes are stolen, and he loans her his automobile robe. She dreams of him thereafter—but it doesn’t occur to her to return the robe. Having seen the young lady pass the acid test of wet stringy hair and dripping features, he naturally wants to know her; but he doesn’t until she becomes a cabaret singer. Then quite suddenly, he wants to marry her, though he’s very rich and lives in a house with stone lions on the steps.

You will never guess how it ends. Just a few weeks back after the theaters reopened and nonsense in movies was already irritating Kingsley. Nevertheless, it was part of a “mighty nice little bill at the Symphony.” The film survives at the EYE Institute, Amsterdam.

Ruth Roland

Poor Ruth Roland, the serial star, was just back to work after recovering from the flu when she had a hideous case of poison oak. The actor who was playing a villain had been collecting plants in the forest, then he strangled her for a scene “with such artistic fervor that he transferred the poison to the star’s delicate skin, with the result her face, arms and throat are in terrible condition.” Even worse, the actor was immune to the plant’s effects. What a terrible way to start the new year! Roland recovered from this, too, and kept acting in films until 1930.

Don’t collect this!



Week of September 28th, 1918


One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley announced:

Douglas Fairbanks is to stage a spectacular athletic and wild west show on the grounds at his house next Sunday to promote the sale of Liberty Bonds…Admission to the Fairbanks estate at Beverly Hills next Sunday [October 6th] will be absolutely free, but you must prove yourself 100 percent American by purchasing another Liberty Bond from the fifty salesmen who will be on hand to handle the crowds.

The event included an air show by fliers from the U.S. Army Air Service, boxing, jiu-jitsu, acrobatic and wresting demonstrations followed by a wild west show with 100 “real cowboys” and bucking broncho riding, all to benefit the Fourth Liberty Loan Drive.

It also offered people the opportunity to see Fairbanks’ estate, where he had shot part of his film that was currently playing at Grauman’s Theater, He Comes Up Smiling. The Los Angeles Herald had a description of the place:

Mr. Fairbanks is the owner of one of the most beautiful homes and attractively laid-out ground in Southern California. It is situated in Beverly Hills, on top of a knoll that overlooks all Los Angeles and affords a fine view of the Pacific. The Fairbanks estate includes 15 acres of grounds, tennis lawn, outdoor swimming pool, war garden, sanitary stables for horses and an immense dog house for Rex, Mr. Fairbanks’ Alaskan malamute.

Unfortunately, we can’t see it now because only two reels of Smiling have survived, and they aren’t the part set at his house.

While everyone was invited, this was an event for rich people only, a forerunner to $10,000-a-plate fundraising dinners for political candidates. Admission was pricy: a Liberty Bond cost $50.00. It was a fine investment, but at a time when the average annual household income about $800, many people couldn’t afford it even though you didn’t need to plunk down the whole fifty dollars—just the initial payment of 10 percent. In those more trusting days, if you wanted to pay by check or money order, you made it out to “Douglas Fairbanks.”

Los Angeles streetcar map, 1910s

Furthermore, it was hard to get to Beverly Hills then: the streetcars didn’t go anywhere near it. Unless you were a very good walker who liked to climb hills, you needed an automobile.


There was another unusual aspect to the event’s publicity: nobody gave the address. An LA Times article breezily said “all roads lead to Doug Fairbanks’ famous house in Beverly Hills this afternoon” as if everybody just knew where he lived. Perhaps they did. The 1918 City Directory was no help; it had an old address on Hollywood Boulevard for him. I had to look up his draft registration to find it, 1015 Laurel Way.

Of course the event was a great big success, just like his rodeo for the Red Cross in January, netting over $106,650 in Liberty Bonds sales plus an additional $2000 for the Boyle Heights Orphanage from the sale of flowers, refreshments and parking fees. Fairbanks stayed in that house until 1920, when he married Mary Pickford and bought Pickfair at 1143 Summit Drive.

avoid_flu_readingThis was to be one of the last large public gatherings for nearly two months, because the influenza pandemic had spread to Los Angeles. It started on army bases, then the first civilian case in Los Angeles was reported on October 1st. On Friday, October 11th the Mayor declared an emergency and closed all schools, theaters, churches, dance halls, pool rooms and other public meeting places as of 6 p.m. that day. Even public funerals weren’t allowed. Though officials promised it would only be temporary, the ban lasted until December 2nd. I’ll have more about it in the coming weeks (theater owners were not happy).



Gee, bran cereal doesn’t advertise “flu prevention” as one of its benefits now.

Flu disrupted daily life, but it won’t disrupt this blog. Kingsley managed to avoid getting sick — at 45 she was a little bit old for it, because this strain of influenza mostly affected people between 20 and 40. Plus, the ban on public gatherings did help keep the infection rate in Los Angeles lower than in other places. She soldiered on throughout the epidemic, not missing a day of work. She did her best to keep her column filled with cheerful news and gossip, since there was no film or vaudeville to review.


“Film Star Uses Own Home for New Film,” Los Angeles Herald, October 1, 1918.

“Liberty Bond Show Plans Completed,” Los Angeles Herald, October 4, 1918.

N. Pieter M. O’Leary, “The 1918-1919 Influenza Epidemic in Los Angeles,” Southern California Quarterly, v.86 no.4 (Winter 2004), pp. 391-403.

“Rodeo Proceeds Reach Large Sum,” Los Angeles Times, October 7, 1918.

Truman B. Handy, “Fairbanks Bond Show,” Los Angeles Times, October 6, 1918.




Week of September 21st, 1918


One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley used her Sunday column (usually devoted to an interview) to write an appreciation of Roscoe Arbuckle in The Sheriff:

Up the street gallops Fatty’s steed with the whooping cowboys close at his heels. They’re gaining on him, and he wants to escape, so he does exactly what you’d never expect a man built like Fatty to do. He makes a flying leap right up the side of a church and bounces onto the roof. After which you realize that Fatty isn’t really fat at all—that he’s made of India rubber. He bounces to the belfry and hangs on to the church spire.

Then you laugh until you weep, probably. For the spire suddenly bends in his grasp, then sways this way and that under Fatty’s weight, while the chubby comedian dodges the bullets from the guns of his pursuers.

And right there is where you “get” Fatty, and realize there are other ways to Boswell a man besides using long words to write about him. For in The Sheriff, Fatty admittedly give us a perfectly delicious and at the same time the most kindly and gentle of satires on the world’s most famous athletic comedian. In fact, Arbuckle takes the ‘ire’ out of ‘satire.’ And to Roscoe Arbuckle’s genius must go a huge share of praise for his radiant and cheerful comedies, in which he provides the warm glow of humor around which humanity eagerly hovers in these stressful days.

Unfortunately, this cheerful comedy can’t help our current stressful days: it’s a lost film. So Kingsley’s description of his impressive stunt work, as well as the publicity and other materials written about the film, are all we have left. It seems that Arbuckle’s sheriff was a Douglas Fairbanks super-fan who must rescue his kidnapped sweetheart. I’m sorry we don’t get to see that!

Arbuckle and Betty Compson

Kingsley had a point about what makes Arbuckle films so enjoyable: they aren’t mean, the way some slapstick comedies can be (I’m not sure I’ve recovered from a Ham and Bud short I saw a few years ago that involved gassing a houseful of people). I’m glad that Kingsley called the character he played Fatty, but the filmmaker was Roscoe, which was exactly what he wanted.


After months of anticipation, Kingsley got to see a preview of Charlie Chaplin’s new film:

I have no hesitancy in saying the world is going to pronounce it is the greatest picture comedy that has ever been made. And the preview was perfectly ‘dry’, too! If one were disposed to go into a high-brow analysis of it, one would say that Chaplin has succeeded by his artistry in fairly creating a new art form. For, despite the fact that Shoulder Arms has a ripple of laughter running all through it, which rises to the happy crescendo of laugher in its boisterous moments, it has all the time a resonant undertone of war’s rumblings and war’s mighty pathos.

Chaplin was clever to let her see it early – he thought she was important, even if her editors didn’t let her review the big films. Kingsley was one of the first critics to call Shoulder Arms great, but other film writers at the time admired it nearly as much. Peter Milne in Picture-Play Magazine said it was “proof conclusive that Charles Spencer Chaplin is the king of all comedians” (February 1919) while Film Daily gave it the highest praise possible from a trade paper: “if you don’t clean up with this Chaplin, you should get out of show business.” (November 17, 1918)


Kingsley’s favorite film in the theaters this week was yet another re-release. The intervening three years had turned it into an unusual film for its leading lady:

My goodness, how we used to sob over the sorrows of those lovely and hapless virgins, The Two Orphans, in the good old days of beer-barrel thunder and paper snowstorms! But there was something vital and fascinating in the old drama, else it never would have played all through the years. And now screen magic has touched it, as it touches so many of the beautiful old stories, and has turned it into quite a fresh new play by reason of the showing of the scenes that heretofore we’ve been obliged merely to conjure up in our imaginations, due to the limitations of the stage. The Two Orphans is on view at Miller’s this week, with no less a persona than Theda Bara in he leading role. The story is beautifully played—even if it is hard to imagine Miss Bara an orphan after the opulent orgies of Salome.

Orphans was made a few months after Bara made such an impression as a vamp in A Fool There Was in 1915, but before her studio typecast her. This lost film was based on the same play as Griffith’s Orphans of the Storm (1921); Bara played Henriette, the sighted orphan who gets kidnapped. The blind orphan, Louise, was played by Jean Sothern, who’d already quit acting in films by 1918. Bara’s popularity in 1918 must have been immense, because the film hadn’t done well at the box office when it was originally released, so it’s a little surprising they’d try it again. Maybe wartime austerity was another reason Fox mined their back catalog. Bara’s next picture in 1915 was a return to bad women with Sin, which was a great big hit and sealed her fate as a vamp.

Kingsley mentioned an unusual contribution to the war effort:

That athletic hero, Douglas Fairbanks, set a wartime example of abstemiousness by disposing of his automobile, and will be the first star in Los Angeles to go riding in his own handsome carriage. He has a fast trotting and racing pony, which will draw his equipage down Broadway.

It’s a shame that they didn’t print a picture of him and his carriage, navigating the streets of downtown Los Angeles. But here’s a nice one of Fairbanks in 1918 with the car he wasn’t using instead.


Week of September 14th, 1918

arizona poster

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley left a little mystery in her column:

Albert Parker, who directed Douglas Fairbanks in Sic ‘em Sam, the propaganda picture made by Fairbanks for the fourth Liberty Loan campaign, has been selected to direct the athletic actor in the elaborate picturization of Augustus Thomas’s play, Arizona. Parker succeeds Allan Dwan, whose contract with Fairbanks terminated last week.

A contract is “terminated” in the middle of a shoot with no explanation? Dwan had directed Fairbanks in his recent hit films, A Modern Musketeer and Headin’ South. I bet Kingsley’s original readers wondered why he left, too.

Allan Dwan

Unfortunately, it’s still a mystery! Dwan’s biographer Frederic Lombardi speculated that it was the “frantic pace of work” that was making him unhappy, which in turn put a strain on Dwan’s marriage (he divorced Pauline Bush in 1919). Lombardi examined business records from the Douglas Fairbanks Film Corporation and found that Dwan’s contract was supposed to have lasted until October 15, but in September he signed an agreement to terminate it immediately by mutual consent. So whatever caused it, they ended things in an orderly way—nobody stormed off in a snit.

Fairbanks’ biographer Tracey Goessel went a bit further in assigning blame:

Something—likely we shall never know what—was also bothering director Dwan. In the middle of production he quit—or was fired….Just what was making Dwan unhappy is not clear. But his unhappiness must have been acute to cause such a break…One suspects that the offender in this dispute was Fairbanks. Dwan was of an easygoing nature, patient with his rambunctious, effervescent, practical joker boss. But patience, even that of Dwan, is not infinite, and Fairbanks was not of a temperament to back down in the face of a quarrel.

There was no credited director for Arizona in the reviews or posters. No one is certain how much Dwan did before he left, but the AFI Catalog says that Parker directed it. The film sold lots of tickets, based on Fairbanks’ appeal, but the reviews weren’t good. Lombardi wrote that “Arizona was quickly forgotten,” and it’s a lost film. Goessel mentioned that around this time, Fairbanks began to rethink his films. In a few years he moved from comedies to adventure movies. So if this is how we got Thief of Bagdad, I’d like to thank Arizona.

However, this didn’t end their working relationship. As Goessel points out, “Dwan and Fairbanks would heal the breach within a few years—each needed the other more than he needed his pride.” Dwan went on to direct Fairbank’s huge hit, Robin Hood (1922), as well as The Iron Mask (1929). He went on to a long career, working until 1961. The IMDB says he directed 407 films, but his New York Times obituary quotes him estimating it was 1850. Whichever was closer to the truth, it was a lot.

Kingsley’s favorite film this week sounds like lots of fun. George Walsh appeared:

in the most brilliant burlesque on the old type of melodrama which we have ever had, entitled The Kid is Clever…The young hero is sent to South America, as otherwise the money in a certain mysterious will will revert to the nearest villain. Of course there is a lovely young woman—Violet Ray—and they are kidnaped by Jazzbando Bullion, the villain, and taken ashore, where the hero beats the whole army. Sailors from a man-of-war get word and come to the rescue. They are constantly flashed on the screen a few hundred yards from shore, but it takes ‘em all day to arrive…The subtitles are corking, and—oh well, why aren’t all the picture melodramas turned into satires of themselves? It would be a happier world.

Kingsley certainly preferred comedies to the dramas of the time. Like so many other Fox productions, it’s a lost film.

At another theater, Kingsley got to enjoy a golden oldie entitled Her Fighting Chance (from the ad you can see why she thought it was called Lady Lou of the Yukon):

Every once in a while some exchange or exhibitor will pull down an old film from his shelf, brush it off, change some of the subtitles, and show it as a new picture. Usually such a film really is a classic, deserving of living, and such a one is Lady Lou of the Yukon at the Palace this week…So clean-cut is the direction, so splendidly does the plot march, that Lady Lou of the Yukon is well deserving of resurrection. Besides which, it has all the virility which marked those earlier western dramas, and which never perhaps will be equaled.

By ‘earlier’ she meant 1917: things changed quickly then! (nobody is talking about the good old days of 2017 now.) Her Fighting Chance was made by a small production company, A.H. Jacobs Photoplays, and distributed on a state’s rights basis so it isn’t odd that it took a while to appear in Los Angeles. It told the story of a murder investigation by a corrupt Northwest Mounted Policeman, and ended in a big chase. It’s a lost film, so we can’t find out if it was a classic.





Tracey Goessel, The First King of Hollywood: The Life of Douglas Fairbanks. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2016.


Frederic Lombardi, Allan Dwan and the Rise and Decline of the Hollywood Studios. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2013.