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.

Week of July 28th, 1917

 

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on a production at Universal that was more exciting than it really needed to be. While filming a bar room shoot-out for a two-reel Western called Phantom Gold, director W.B. Pearson asked actor Clarence Hodge to fire a rifle at the film’s star, Fred Church, and instructed him

to place his shots as near as he possibly could to Church’s head without taking the grave chance of “drilling” the leading man. Hodge started to produce excitement from the very outset of the scene. The first shot bored through the edge of the bar above Church’s shoulder. The next whizzed past the place where his forehead had been a moment ago. Ping! Ping! Ping! As fast as the marksman could work the ejector the bullets clipped the edge of the bar within a few inches of Church’s stooping form, and he was showered with flying splinters. The twelve shots in the magazine of the first rifle were fired, and Hodge seized another and kept up the fusillade. The hail of lead was striking so close to the leading man that the director’s nerve gave out, though Church himself was as brave as a Frenchman in battle.

Suddenly the closest shot of all ripped away a piece of wood within two inches of Church’s head, imbedding a splinter the size of a lead pencil in the player’s neck. Right then the director threw up his hands and stopped the action. Twenty-one bullets of 30 caliber were fired, and every one of them landed within three inches of the edge of the bar, which was shattered completely. Church’s hair—which may be assumed to have been in a upright position—was matted with splinters, which also were stuck in his neck and shoulders so that he had the bristling aspect of a scared porcupine. While the handsome film idol declares he had perfect faith in Hodge’s marksmanship, still he admits to a hoping in his inmost soul there will be no retake.

And that’s why unions and workplace safety regulations are so important! From the beginning, actors usually used blanks in guns, not live ammunition. They just didn’t show the effects of bullets hitting things. Now squibs (miniature explosive devices) are used to simulate bullet impacts. Wikipedia (I know, not the best source) says they were first used in Pokolenie (A Generation), a 1955 Polish film.

Phantom Gold is so lost that there isn’t even an IMDB page for it, but it was mentioned in Motion Picture News (July 21, 1917). Clarence Hodge, who learned to shoot in the Army, gave up acting in the early 1920s and went to work for a refrigeration company. Fred Church made it through that workday and had a good long life, dying in 1983 at age 93 of congestive heart failure – not of bad decisions by a director. He mostly acted in Westerns until the mid-1930s, when he retired. Poor W. B. Pearson didn’t fare as well: he died only fifteen months later, in the influenza epidemic.

Kingsley’s favorite film this week was a circus story: ‘all innocent of fights, automobile accidents, fires and seductions as it is, yet The Sawdust Ring, at Clune’s Auditorium, holds you completely charmed.” Bessie Love starred as a girl, deserted by her father, who with a neighbor boy runs away to the big top. Kingsley didn’t catch they boy’s name, but she thought he rivaled Jack Pickford and “he is certainly some little actor!” He was Harold Goodwin, and he went on to work in film and television continuously until 1968, most memorably in Buster Keaton’s College and The Cameraman, as well as in Keaton’s TV shows. The film survives in a shortened version at the Pacific Film Archive and at the BFI.

Here’s how the newspaper used to cover salacious gossip:

The pages of Frances White’s supposedly private affairs continue to be painfully public. Eastern papers carry the story that detectives on the trail of Miss White’s husband, Frank Fay, discovered him living at a Philadelphia hotel with another woman, and in the meantime, Frank Fay, just to keep things moving, is suing Billy Rock, Miss White’s professional partner, for the alienation of Miss White’s valuable affections.

It was so much more polite! Of course I had to know what happened next. White, a successful vaudeville singer, got her divorce (the marriage lasted all of two months) and Fay’s suit was dismissed – White and Rock were strictly professional partners. Fay went on to have a lucrative career as a stage comedian and master of ceremonies, but his personality didn’t improve: he became a white supremacist. The title of Trav S.D.’s article about him was “The Comedian Who Inspired Hatred.” He was also Barbara Stanwyck’s first husband and their story was rumored to have been the basis for A Star is Born.

Why would someone want to withstand his charm?

Grace Kingsley was wrong about something this week in her review of a Pauline Frederick film, Her Better Self. She seemed to think that it was a problem with the picture when every young woman in the film fell in love with Thomas Meighan: “no feminine being who meets him seems able to withstand his charm, and this though he doesn’t vamp ‘em one bit.” As anyone who has seen him in The Canadian (1926) knows, this is pure realism and solidly logical. To prove my point, here are some more photos.