More Movie Cliches: Week of November 22nd, 1919

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One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley once more complained about tired movie clichés:

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She never saw Mr. Hiddleston’s marcel

There are three dear old standbys in the way of heroines in the deathless drama of the fillums, who, when all else fails, may be dragged from the shelf by the scenario writer, dusted off and galvanized into a more or less lifelike presentment, and who may be depended on to put a kick, even if somewhat mechanical, into the celluloid drama. These are the preternaturally gifted and niftily dressed stenographer of 19 or 20, whom groups of bankers call into conference when they get stuck on a hefty business problem, standing around in awestruck attitudes as the words of wisdom about how to hamstring the bulls or bears drop from her pure young lips; the chemically pure young dance hall queen, whom “somethin’ somehow always kept from goin’ the limit,” (maybe it’s the marcelled hair of the men who try to win her, and we don’t blame her) and lastly, the weepy lady who never even seems to have Sundays off from grief, and whose only relaxation seems to be going to the dressmaker. We saw them all yesterday.

So this must be where today’s films found their young female computer experts and hookers with the hearts of gold.

The film Kingsley was reviewing was called Her Kingdom of Dreams and the lucky actress who got to do it all was Anita Stewart. It did involve a trusted secretary in a bank whose advice to avoid a swindler goes unheeded, so she moves West. The misery is provided by a big misunderstanding with her true love. Kingsley summed it up: “Her Kingdom of Dreams is not by any means the best story Miss Stewart has had; yet it is absorbing enough.”

Anita Stewart had been acting in films since 1911, when she began her career at the Vitagraph Company. In 1918 she started Anita Stewart Productions with a rookie producer, Louis B. Mayer. She was more than an actress; Hugh Neely, in a biography of her for the Women Film Pioneers site, pointed out that she made the daily production decisions because Mayer usually wasn’t on the set. She was to act in and produce 17 features for her company between 1918 and 1922, then she went to work at Cosmopolitan Productions for William Randolph Hearst. She retired from film acting in 1928 and became a singer.

Now Stewart has been nearly forgotten. Kingsley’s and other critics’ lack of admiration for her films might be part of it, plus many of them are lost. However, in 1919 the crowd at Her Kingdom of Dreams was completely satisfied. Kingsley wrote:

Miss Stewart has the tremendous advantage of being a great favorite with both men and women, as was shown by the comments that buzzed around me yesterday; also she is one of the comparatively few stars whom her admirers will go see no matter what the picture in which she appears.

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Already a masterpiece!

This week, Kingsley had news about a filmmaker that has had better luck with posterity:

Erich von Stroheim is feeling very much elated these days. His first picture production, Blind Husbands, was bid for by the biggest exhibitors in America, and was finally auctioned off to S.L. Rothapfel, who has secured first-run rights for the California Theater. Von Stroheim is best known to the public for his characterization of the hated Hun in The Heart of Humanity. Not only did her direct Blind Husbands, but he also wrote the story and acted the leading role. It will be given its western premier about Christmas.

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The ad took up the whole left column of the Sunday Arts section’s front page!

It’s really not a jolly holiday family movie. Nevertheless, it did open at the California Theater on December 21st. Kingsley didn’t get to review it; her boss Edwin Schallert kept it for himself. He admired it: “both in its emotion and its form, the picture has a newness which remove it completely from hum-drum triangle melodramas.”

Now, along with Broken Blossoms, Daddy Long-Legs, and maybe The Dragon Painter, it’s one of the few films from 1919 that are remembered.

 

 

 

Chaplin’s Visitor: Week of March 29th, 1919

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Charlie Chaplin, Marcel Dupuys, Peter Kyne

One hundred years ago this week, the war’s effects were still being felt. Kingsley told the story of a visitor to Charlie Chaplin’s studio who’d suffered more than most, Marcel Dupuys:

the fourteen-year-old French lad who went into action at Chateau Thierry and Pont a Mousson. His mother passed on in 1911 and his father fell in the battle at Verdun.

The authorities placed him in an orphan asylum where restlessness and discontent soon mastered him. One day he ran away, and finally reached the front trenches where he attached himself to the Seventy-Ninth French Infantry. Many stories are told of the ‘handy boy around the front line dressing stations,’ whose particular job was crawling around amongst the wounded, giving them rum. While giving cheer and stimulant to his stricken comrades he was twice wounded. As the ranks of his countrymen grew thin and scattered, the little man was separated from them, and later attached himself to an American unit, the 143rd Field Artillery. The 143rd came home on the transport “Matsonia,” in which Peter B. Kyne commanded Battery A. The soldiers of the 143rd smuggled Marcel aboard the transport, and he turned up two days later at sea, which was Christmas Day. Later he was adopted by Mr. Kyne.

It was mighty good to see Mr. Chaplin and Marcel romping over the studio grounds. The wistful little fellow of sad memories was once again the happy boy.

“Father,” said Marcel whose English is quite good, “you have been nice to me all the time. But when you bring me to play with Charlie—oh boy!—I think you are quite too wonderful.”

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Once again, Chaplin’s publicity department was very good at their job. This time (unlike the story of Charlie saving a girl from drowning), I was able to verify some of the story. Marcel Jules Dupuys was born February 21, 1904 in Dangeutin, France, so he’d just turned 15. He really did sail to America from Bordeaux on December 23, 1918, according to the ship’s manifest.

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Marcel Dupuys, Peter and Helene Kyne

Kyne wrote an expanded version of the story Kingsley was told for Sunset magazine. He explained that his experience as an army commander prepared him for the challenges of adopting a teen that was “equal proportions of angel and devil.” The stories he told about Marcel shooting birds, crashing through the glass roof of the conservatory and getting into fights with neighborhood boys were supposed to be cute, evidence that he was “one hundred and fifty per cent boy.”

By September, 1920 the Kynes had changed their minds. Kyne sent him to the Alameda County Detention Home to await deportation proceedings after Dupuys had run away from home for four days. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Marcel admitted to not always doing what was right, but he was brokenhearted that “Mr. Kyne does not want me any more.” At a hearing, Kyne blamed Helene Kyne, saying “the boy’s actions has so unnerved his wife that she was compelled to go on an extended cruise of the West Indies,” but they found a new foster mother and he left with her. This arrangement only lasted a few days and Dupuys disappeared again. He was found and arrested after he robbed Kyne’s house in Del Mar, California. His deportation hearing was held in San Diego in December, where he was found to be of “constitutional psychopathic inferiority” and was sent back to France.

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However, he didn’t stay there for long. He stowed away on the steamer Westwood and arrived in Baltimore on May 6th, 1921, only to be quickly deported again. So he signed up as a crewmember on a ship bound for Galveston, Texas and he deserted. He enlisted in the army signal corps and even managed to get himself naturalized as an American citizen on June 5, 1922. He got caught at Camp Travis and was ordered to be deported again.

That’s where his trail ends. I can’t find out if he returned to France, because their census information is only available there (it hasn’t even been indexed!). However, given his history, I wouldn’t be surprised if the minute the authorities’ backs were turned, he either escaped in the States or was on the first boat back, this time with a new name.

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This week, Kingsley saw a film that finally answered Sigmund Freud’s question:

It was a large order which the Vitagraph undertook when they strove to include in five reels of film the desires of women, as implied in the name of their latest photoplay starring Grace Darmond and which is entitled What Every Woman Wants. All the same the title is a good one and drew a lot of people to Ray’s Garden yesterday—probably the men went to find out what the women wanted, and the women went to find out what they themselves wanted.

Evidently what every woman wants is excitement.

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Darmond’s character got plenty of that, what with getting arrested for murdering her husband. Kingsley’s description of what happened next in the now lost film delivered some grade-A snark:

just at the tip end of the last reel, when you’re getting awfully nervous, the little housemaid up and confesses she killed her master because, being on probation from the reform school, he’s threatened to send her back, for no reason which can be found out, as she seems always to be a busy soul and neat and tidy into the bargain. She cries and says she didn’t even know the gun was loaded—and on her unsupported testimony the court lets her go and she walks out happily on the arm of her policeman lover, who tells her not to be a careless little thing with guns like that any more.

Oh dear. This one’s not going to get a remake. Well, they couldn’t all be classics.

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T.H. Gibson Gowland

It’s interesting who was top-billed in the publicity for an upcoming film from Universal:

T.H. Gibson Gowland, whose characterization in Maurice Tourneur’s production of White Heather is said to be as fine a bit of acting as the screen has seen, has been engaged by Universal to play a leading role in a picture called The Pinnacle, which Erich von Stroheim is directing and in which von Stroheim also plays a leading part, with Francolla Billington and Sam de Grasse featured. Gowland’s three-year-old son also appears in the picture.

Now when the film is remembered, it’s for Von Stroheim. It got a title change, becoming Blind Husbands and it was von Stroheim’s directing debut.

 

Gowland went on to star in Greed (1924) and he had a long career as a character actor. His three year old son was named Peter, and he became a glamour photographer with a six-decade long career. His web site is here.

 

“Former Protégé of Kyne Missing,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 24, 1920.

“Former Protégé of Peter B. Kyne Will be Deported,” San Francisco Chronicle, May 29, 1921.

“French Orphan Gets Home in San Francisco,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 11, 1920.

“Marcel Bad But Will Try Again,” Observer (Montague, MI), September 7, 1922.

Peter B. Kyne, “Fathering a War Veteran,” Sunset, pp.17-19, 54-68.

“Peter B. Kyne to Send his War Orphan Back to France,” Chico Record, February 12, 1921.

“Peter B. Kyne’s Protégé Denies Being Bad Boy,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 9, 1920.

“Peter Kyne’s Ward May be Deported,” Riverside Daily Press, December 8, 1920.

“War Waif Adopted by Author Faces Deportation,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 8, 1920.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Week of September 9th, 1916

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley told a story about a newsreel cameraman, B.F. Reynolds, who filmed a mountaintop explosion at a rock quarry:

Hobnobbing with earthquakes, fires and other disasters is just second nature to a pictorial news gatherer…Reynolds placed his camera at a point which the superintendent of the quarry said was dangerously near. “Oh, I guess I’ll take the chance,” answered Reynolds. “I’m used to this sort of thing. We have all kinds of explosions in our pictures, you know, and I’ve even been on intimate terms with a cyclone. I feel pretty safe here. Let her go.” Reynolds remained where he was, and when the explosion occurred the rock fell all around him, but fate lent a kind hand and he escaped injury.

This fearlessness would serve him well in over next decade, when he was Erich von Stroheim’s director of photography. Benjamin Franklin Reynolds was born on July 21, 1890 in Woodville, Michigan, and when Kingsley was writing about him, he was working for the Los Angeles Times-Universal Animated Weekly Newsreel. In 1917 he moved from nonfiction to fiction and went to work for another division at Universal, Bison Motion Pictures. His first movie was The Scrapper (1917), a Western short written, directed, and staring John Ford. He worked with Ford for a year and a half, then he got assigned to work with first-time director Erich von Stroheim on Blind Husbands (1919). He collaborated with von Stroheim on all of his features, including the infamously difficult Greed (1924). They spent 37 summer days filming the final sequence in Death Valley, the hottest place in North America. You can see them hauling their equipment by mule in this short newsreel.

After Greed, he married stenographer Adelaide Bader and they took a long honeymoon in Europe. They came back to Los Angeles in late 1924 and he went back to work. In between von Stroheim films, he was under contract at M.G.M. and Universal, so he shot comedies like The Waning Sex (1926, with Norma Shearer) and dramas like Freedom of the Press (1928, with Lewis Stone), but his career was still tied to the director. When the von Stroheim got fired from Queen Kelly (1929), Reynolds’ career suffered too. He shot some early sound shorts for Warner Bros., then he got a contract at the less-prestigious (at the time) Paramount Studios where he worked on Westerns and comedies, including W.C. Field’s The Old Fashioned Way (1934). His final film was It’s A Great Life (1935), an Eddie Cline-directed comedy about working for the Civilian Conservation Corps.

In July 1935 his story turned tawdry. A 21-year old bit player, Julia Graham, with whom he was having an affair, committed suicide in his house. The County Coroner cleared him of any blame, but the story was picked up in the newspapers and it ended his film career. Adelaide Reynolds didn’t leave him but they did move to a new house. He got a job as a gas station attendant, and she went to work in a studio script department.

The American Society of Cinematographers also didn’t abandon him. He’d been a member since 1917 when they were still called the Static Club, and their magazine continued to mention him in their “A.S.C. on Parade” column. His final appearance was in 1941, when he reminisced about shooting in Death Valley after Greed had a revival screening at the Academy. He died on February 14, 1948, age 57. Adelaide Reynolds remarried and moved to Anaheim, California where she died on November 1, 1991.

Kingsley’s most enjoyable trip to the movies this week was to a double bill of Anita Loos films. The short Laundry Liz was “the very best little gloom-chaser…a delicious travesty on the silent ‘drawma’ and the methods of its producers, and it mercilessly reveals and satirizes the weakness and faults of the business.” The feature was a tragedy, The Little Liar, about a slum girl (Mae Marsh) who uses fiction to help her cope with her grim life. Kingsley thought that Marsh did “some of the best work of her career.” They are both lost films.

It wasn’t difficult to program an Anita Loos double feature in 1916, because she had at least 18 films to her credit that year (including the intertitles for Intolerance). Now best known for the novel Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, she wrote over 100 screenplays including San Francisco (1936) and The Women (1939).

Kingsley gave “the blue ribbon for the suppression of mashers” to screen vampire Louise Glaum this week. Glaum, who was second only to Theda Bara for her exotic temptress roles, was working on the boardwalk near Venice Beach, and between scenes

a dandy of the jellyfish type approached, apparently hoping that Miss Glaum would think him a suitable subject for vamping. Miss Glaum does not, however, believe in carrying professionalism into private life. The man began to talk to her, and she thought for a moment of leading him to the police station. But it was a warm day and the police station was some distance away.

Suddenly she hit upon a new plan. She pretended she was deaf and dumb, and began to talk on her fingers. But the man persisted. Soon Miss Glaum observed Charles Ray, Howard Hickman and some of the other men from the studio standing in a group. She lead the masher directly into the crowd, and suddenly exclaimed, as though bored to death:

“Boys will you please rid me of this thing? It’s been following me for ten minutes!”

The thing turned and fled.

This happened while they were shooting The Wolf Woman, which told “the pitiful story of a siren’s fall, a fall that carried her far into the depths of depravity—but not until she had been robbed, by a cruel trick of fate, of her one potent weapon, beauty” according to Motography (August 5, 1916). Kingsley reviewed the film a week later, and said that Glaum was an entirely convincing vamp in her “spider-web gown, the most insidiously naughty gown that’s been seen on the Rialto this season,” unlike the “dames on the screen whom we know couldn’t get a rise out of a half blind and one-legged rag-and-bottle man.” It’s a lost film.

Glaum was a former stage actress who got her start in films as a comedian with Nestor Studios in 1912. She became a vamp when she signed with the Ince Company in 1915. Her film career lasted until the early 20’s and she returned to live theater.

 

Note: There’s a blog post about Julia Graham at The Unsung Joe, however, some of the information in it about Ben Reynolds is inaccurate so I can’t vouch for the rest of it.