Week of May 5th, 1917

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley was inspired by two not very good movies to write:

When will the picture producers be merciful to us, and let those curly-headed cuties, those sophisticated sirenettes, the picture ingénues, grow up? What of the future of the June Caprices, the Marguerite Clarks, the Mary Miles Minters, the Violet Mersereaus, the Ella Halls, the Vivian Martins? They themselves probably wonder at moments quite anxiously what becomes of the ingénue when she gets old…What an awful fate waits the ageless ingénue! Fancy a wild young thing of 50 who hops over tables, hides in barrels, and does all the hundred and one excruciatingly cunning things with which the professional ingénue habitually renews her patently preserved youth.

The films she saw were The Valentine Girl with Marguerite Clark (“as imaginative as a seed catalog”) and A Small-town Girl with June Caprice (“it never really got anywhere, and the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor remains the best actor in the picture.”)

None of the six actresses she mentioned stayed in film much longer, in part because movies about curly-haired innocents went out of fashion, and stars were rarely able to change their image. It wasn’t just ageism. Then again, doing something with your life other than appearing in movies isn’t such a terrible thing. Here’s what happened:

  • June Caprice worked steadily until 1921, then retired to have children.
  • Marguerite Clark married in 1918 and retired from acting in 1921.
  • Mary Miles Minter continued to star in big films such as Anne of Green Gables (1919) until scandal surrounding William Desmond Taylor’s murder in 1922 ended her career.
  • Violet Mersereau appeared fewer films after 1919 but she kept acting until 1926.
  • Ella Hall’s career also slowed down in 1919 when she married and had the first of four children; she retired in 1923.
  • Vivian Martin left films in 1921 and went back to acting on the stage.

Kingsley pointed out that things were quite different for men, and the double standard was firmly in place:

As for the male ingénue, the professional screen lover, time and the world are very kind to him. He rants and keeps his waist line, does things to his hair, hides his grandchildren, smiles even when he has rheumatism, and kids the world into accepting him in romantic roles.

Some things really don’t change.

Her favorite film this week came from Keystone. Playing before The Valentine Girl at the Woodley, Mack Swain starred in His Naughty Thought. Kingsley wrote:

if Mack Sennett’s thought had been half as naughty as it was funny, it would have been censored right off the screen. As a matter of fact, the comedy isn’t naughty at all, and would also have to be strained a point to be considered a thought! However, it’s a roistering burlesque, with Mack bequeathed a restaurant by an uncle who “would insist on eating at his own restaurant despite the doctor’s orders.” Whoever wrote those subtitles—I suspect a symposium—deserves a permanent place in the celestial funny columns—if they run one up there.

We still don’t know who wrote them (even Brent Walker couldn’t find out). The film has been preserved at the UCLA Archive. Mack Swain was most famous for being Chaplin’s large antagonist in The Gold Rush, but this week he could be seen in another Chaplin film being revived just a few doors down Broadway at the Garrick Theater. He played Tillie’s father in Tillie’s Punctured Romance, and Kingsley felt that anybody who hadn’t seen the film, should, because it was the funniest Keystone had made and “the burlesque of the obvious and mawkish film drama is here so good.” It’s available on the Internet Archive, if you want to follow her advice.

Kingsley managed to dislike a (now lost) film even more than the Clarke and Caprice vehicles this week, God’s Law and Man’s, and was moved to write her best lines: “take a small female in the screen drama, dress her up in beads and one of those shredded wheat skirts, let her talk pidgin English, introduce her to a handsome white man, and heaven knows she’s due for a fall. She just can’t make her fate behave, that’s all.”

I hope that fate behaves well for you this week!

Week of April 14th, 1917

 

lat_baseball

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley proved that she paid no attention whatsoever to the sports page. On Sunday she mentioned an upcoming charity event, a baseball game between comedians and tragedians to raise money for the Red Cross. Unfortunately, somebody was giving her old information: the game had already taken place two weeks earlier, and the Times had done its part to publicize it, promising “a ball game that has never been equaled.” The team captains revealed their strategies to the paper: Wallace Reid believed “when he pitches a ball it will burn such a hole in the air that it will be weeks before the hole fills up again,” and Charlie Chaplin said “when he pitches those hard ones, I’ll fool him. I won’t bat at them and after a while he will get weak with so much hard work and then watch me.” The Tragics team included Eugene Pallette, Jack Pickford, Lew Cody and George Beban, and the Comics included Harold Lloyd, Bobbie Dunn, Eric Campbell, Charlie Murray, Chester Conklin and Hank Mann. The Times mentioned “at present the members of the opposing teams are practicing for the big event in a way that would make your blood curdle.” All contestants were asked to report to Charlie Murray at 2:30 pm on March 31st to receive their first aid bandages.

1939program
1939 program

The Saturday afternoon game was a great success, raising nearly $8000 for the Red Cross. However, nobody bothered to report which team won the game. In the 1930’s, the Comedians vs. Leading Men baseball game became an annual charity event.

None of the other films released this week had a chance at being Kingsley’s favorite because a Chaplin film came out. She said:

The Cure – is! If you’ve got the blues, or don’t like your mother-in-law, or have a pain in your chest, don’t consult a physician or your lawyer, but go and see Charlie Chaplin at the Garrick. View Charlie disporting himself among the old ladies and gentlemen at the health resort; watch him drink the water; see him go through the evolutions superinduced by the attentions of the masseur; watch the effect of the bottles of liquor which the attendant spills into the cure-all waters; see Charlie in a bathing suit—and laugh. You will: I’ll guarantee it.

People still enjoy The Cure; the official Chaplin site calls it “perhaps the funniest of the Mutuals.” If you need a laugh, you can see it on the Internet Archive.

jewelpawn
A Jewel in Pawn: Walter Belasco, Maie and Ella Hall

Maybe exhibitors didn’t want to compete, because some particularly badly reviewed films were in the theaters this week. A Jewel in Pawn starring Ella Hall irritated Kingsley so much that she recounted the plot, with commentary:

You see Ella’s mama in this picture is very, very poor, and they live in the slums. Suddenly mama remembers she has a rich dad, and conceives the not unreasonable idea of returning to him together with daughter. But she has no money to buy her railroad ticket. Then Ella has a bright idea. Why shouldn’t mama pawn her, daughter, to get the money? The pawnbroker is an elderly widower, dwelling alone at the back of his shop, with whom she has but a slight acquaintance, and some evil-minded person sitting back of me suggested he hardly thought that a nice, loving, careful mama would pawn her beloved daughter.

So audiences then weren’t as innocent as we might believe. A Jewel in Pawn is a lost film, and between the anti-Semitic stereotype of the pawnbroker and the story’s uncomfortable nearness to pedophilia, I can see why it was never remade.

Bad as that was, the latest Olga Petrova film was worse, and Kingsley’s annoyance stretched over two days’ worth of columns. On Monday, she said The Waiting Soul was “a simple, one-stringed tale, with the sub-titles lending an air of stiltedness to the thing” (Petrova played a woman with a “purple” past that threatens her marriage). By Tuesday she was calling it an example of why some films really ought to be censored, and while they’re at it they could “make it a misdemeanor to destroy a helpless pie in the interests of comic art” and suppress some of those “sunny-curled ingénues.” So that’s one way to improve the pictures. The Waiting Soul has been preserved at the Eastman House.