Week of March 15th, 1919

 

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley had a nice time out at the movies. First off, she was happy to see a character actor in a different sort of role in A Taste of Life, where she found:

the capital comedying of George Hernandez, in the unctuous role of the blithe Mr. Collamore, whose wife wanted to get a divorce, and who looked about for a co-respondent—“not necessarily a pretty girl, but reliable!” We have been so used to thinking of Mr. Hernandez in the kind old “guardy” parts, the dear old father whose children turned out to be bank robbers, the gentle soul who took his harum-scarum granddaughter to raise because she had her mother’s eyes or for some equally logical reason. And now to see him, fairly carrying off the show with his delightful drollery as the funniest fat and cheerfully obliging husband in screen captivity!

George Frank Hernandez was a rarity: he was born in California to parents who were actual pioneers. They came for the Gold Rush and in 1863 he was born in Placerville, not far from Sutter’s Mill where gold had been discovered. His clever father Raphael wasn’t a miner; he was a stationer selling supplies to the miners. George became a theatrical actor, and he married actress Anna Dodge in 1899. They went in to film in 1910 with the Selig Company in Chicago. By 1919 they were both working steadily as character actors in Hollywood. Hernandez died in 1922 due to complications of surgery.

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George and Anna Dodge Hernandez

Kingsley enjoyed everything about A Taste of Life, and she said “if you want to chuckle and chortle for a straight hour, don’t fail to see this crisp, delightful farce, with its amusing sequence of events.” Unfortunately we can’t because it’s a lost film.

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The short playing with it was very good, too:

Who says Harold Lloyd doesn’t belong in the big league of comedy makers? If you doubt it, be sure and stay long enough to see him and Bebe Daniels and Harry Pollard in Look Out Below.

She wasn’t the only one who thought he’d earned a career upgrade. Just a month later, on April 12, 1919, he signed a new contract to make two-reel comedies, instead of one-reelers made once a week. He was about to get bigger budgets and more time to develop story ideas.

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Bebe Daniels, Snub Pollard, Harold Lloyd in Look Out Below

In addition to his new contract, 1919 was an eventful year for Lloyd. His co-star Bebe Daniels stayed only for his first two longer films. Lloyd hired Mildred Davis to replace her, whom he married in 1923. Then on August 14th a terrible accident with a bomb they thought was a prop happened, and in the explosion he was temporarily blinded and he lost his right thumb and forefinger. He took the rest of the year to recover.

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Mildred Davis and Harold Lloyd in their first film together, From Hand to Mouth

Look Out Below was his second film with height gags (the first, Ask Father, had come out one month earlier). Both were important steps towards two of his best films, High and Dizzy (1920) and Safety Last (1923), and both have been preserved.

The other film Kingsley reviewed this week, The Two Brides, was awful, but it featured a big celebrity:

The name of Lina Cavalieri, the world’s most famous professional beauty, is strong enough to pull in a good-sized house, wherever she may be playing. So far as beauty is concerned, she does give you your money’s worth. As to acting, she is apt to revert to the set stage mannerisms of grand opera, which are far from convincing.

Kingsley wasn’t the only one to notice her shortcomings: this now lost film was her last one made in the United States. But she came by her mannerisms honestly. Before she was a professional beauty with a Parisian cosmetic shop and a book, My Secrets of Beauty (1914), she had been a professional opera singer who toured Europe and had several seasons in New York City. Movies just weren’t her medium.

I apologize for making light of someone’s death, but hers was worthy of a melodrama’s villain. In 1944 she was living in Florence, Italy and died gathering her jewelry during an Allied bombing raid. At least she didn’t try to make the servants collect her belongings – they all survived in the bomb shelter.

Paul Fryer and Olga Usova wrote a biography of her called Lina Cavalieri: the Life of Opera’s Greatest Beauty, 1874–1944 (2004).

 

 

 

 

 

Week of June 15th, 1918

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Mary Pickford and Cecil B. De Mille, doing their bit

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley wrote about the film industry’s continuing enthusiastic support for the war:

At last Thursday’s meeting of the Photoplayers Equity Association, an organization consisting of some 700 members and including many of the leading picture actors of the western film colony, that organization made an important resolution in regard to doing its bit financially in respect to war work.

By resolution, which was practically unanimously adopted, the association members voted to devote 5 percent of their incomes derived from picture work to the war work of the Motion Picture War Service Association, it being understood that any member who refused to abide by the resolution was automatically dropped from the association. There was no opposition to the measure, however.

Automatic expulsion—that seems harsh. The Association estimated that they’d raise between $3-4000 per month.

The Motion Picture War Service Association had only recently been formed. Their first meeting was on May 26th at Clunes Auditorium. People from every branch of the industry were there, and D.W. Griffith, Lois Weber, Cecil B. De Mille and Mary Pickford all gave speeches. The organization’s goal was to build a hospital that they would give to the government. Even though they raised $37, 150 just at that first meeting, the war ended before they could begin planning the hospital. The fund was dissolved in February 1919 and the money returned to the donors, according to screenwriter Frank E. Woods in Moving Picture World.

 

 

The Photoplayers Equity Association was an early actors’ union. Modeled on Actors’ Equity (the theatrical performers’ union founded in 1913), it looks like it was founded in 1918–at least that’s when they were first listed in the city directory. However, actors weren’t very organized and by January 1920 there were two other competing unions, the Screen Players and the Actors’ Association. Frank Gillmore, the secretary of Actors’ Equity, came out from New York and convinced them all to join his group. Actors’ Equity covered film actors until 1933, when after movie producers announced an across-the-board salary cut, members decided they needed a separate group, the Screen Actors Guild. SAG represents film actors to this day. If you’re looking for a research challenge, 1910-20s Hollywood union history is just waiting for somebody to write it. It’s full of strife and drama and would easily fill a book.

 

 

Kingsley’s favorite film this week was full of “charming frivolity,” Kidder and Ko., featuring “that charming comedian of commerce, that roisterer of the roll-top desk, Bryant Washburn.” She gave a breezy synopsis:

The hero, in the fish business, is a rather poor fish himself until he meets a remarkable girl (Gertrude Selby, who looks like Mary Pickford without trying to) and a remarkable inventor, after which and a series of comic adventures he loses his mind and then recovers it again.

Exhibitor’s Herald agreed with Kingsley, saying “an excellent warm weather vehicle is Kidder & Ko. There is no difficult plot to deal with…an excellent tonic for depression.” The not-difficult plot is Cuthbert Kidder’s father throws him out until he can earn $1000 on his own. He gets robbed and knocked unconscious, then a tin mogul and his daughter rescue him. Cuthbert meets an inventor of tin cans, and presents the new can to the mogul and they all make buckets of money and live happily ever after. It’s a lost film, which is too bad–the world needs more frivolity.

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It played with an added attraction:

A very funny Rolin comedy gives Harold Lloyd, Harry Pollard and that deliciously pretty child, Bebe Daniels, a chance to hand you a laugh even on a hot day. In fact, a lot of laughs.

Sic ‘em Towser is lost film, but luckily Peter Milne reviewed it in Motion Picture News. Lloyd’s “glass character” (which debuted in September 1917) dressed up as a homeless man for a costume party, but he gets mistaken for a real one. Meanwhile, a real homeless man turns up at the party and Bebe Daniels mistakes him for Lloyd. As Milne put it, “commotion ensues.” That hot day was 88 degrees, so it’s no wonder Kingsley wanted light entertainment.

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Pickford by the water, not in it.

Another Los Angeleian beat the heat with a trip to the sea side. Despite her recent marital scandal, Mary Pickford wasn’t avoiding publicity entirely. She told Kingsley about her and her sister Lottie’s Sunday outing. They dove into the ocean and

Mary essayed to ride one of the bucking fish. It turned over with her.” ‘I went glub-glub to the bottom,” said Mary,” but half a dozen people exerted themselves to save me. When they hauled me up on my sea-horse again a boy looked at me aghast. I suppose my hair was all smack back against my head, and I looked awful. ‘My goodness,’ he exclaimed, ‘if it ain’t Mary Pickford. Well she doesn’t look much as she does in pictures.

Kingsley observed, “you can’t even drown in comfort and privacy if you’re a picture star.”

I did try to find out something about the bucking fish (they must have been some kind of flotation device) but I had no luck.

 

Note: Mary Mallory in the comments suggested that a bucking fish might be like the leaping fish from Douglas Fairbanks’ 1916 film. Here’s a photo:

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It certainly looks like something you could easily slide off of. Thanks, Mary!

 

 

“Frank E. Woods Organizing Fund for Photoplayers, “ Moving Picture World, February 22, 1919, p.1056.

“Gillmore Explains Equity,” Camera!, May 7, 1921, p. 3.

“Los Angeles Film Folk Show Loyalty,” Motography, June 15, 1918, p. 1127.

Milne, Peter. “Sic ‘em Towser,” Motion Picture News, June 8, 1918, p. 3455.

 

 

Week of August 26th, 1916

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported an unusually high number of accidents and injuries. The list included:

  • J. Warren Kerrigan and the cast and crew of The Measure of a Man were in a boat crash when they were returning from filming scenes in Eureka. At one o’clock in the morning a lumber schooner struck their passenger boat and everyone was thrown from their beds. Luckily, both ships were able to get to San Francisco.
  • Val Paul was rehearsing a scene on the shores of Catalina Island in which he saved a boy from a shark attack when a real shark attacked. He managed to grab the boy and escape by climbing onto a rock.
  • Harry Carey, while “performing a perilous feat” in The Underling was thrown against a railroad track and his shoulder was severely injured.
  • Herbert Rawlinson was hurt while filming a fight. He fell and tore the ligaments in his knee. However, they were working at the LA County Hospital at the time, so he saw a doctor right away.
  • Dorothy Phillips was injured when she fell into a bear trap while filming on location in Bear Valley.

Working in film in 1916 was dangerous! Happily, everybody recovered from their trauma and injuries. J. Warren Kerrigan continued to be a leading man until he quit acting in 1924; The Measure of a Man was released in November and Moving Picture World thought it was wholesome, if a bit padded. Val Paul kept acting until the early 20’s, then he became a director, producer, and production manager. Harry Carey became a big star of Westerns, then a character actor and was nominated for an Oscar in 1940 for his role in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. The Underling was re-named The Conspiracy and Motion Picture News thought it was “an entirely satisfactory melodrama.” Herbert Rawlinson also had a long career, though he was less successful, moving from being a leading man in the silent era to doing bit parts in talkies and television. Dorothy Phillips’ career also prospered in the 20’s, then dwindled to occasional bit parts.

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Finally, one accident might have gotten put to good use:

Last Monday Director [Hal] Roach’s car was hit and demolished by a truck while on its way to location, loaded with players. Bebe Daniels and Harold Lloyd were both sent to the hospital while Fred Jefferson and James Crosby suffered minor injuries. The car was completely wreaked, but the cameraman was on the job. Leaping from under the wreckage, he saw that the camera was uninjured, and at once set it up, calling meanwhile to the players the familiar phrase “Hold it!” He got a picture of the wreak, and it’s going to be used in a comedy. Well, some cameramen do have a sense of humor!

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James Crosby

Crosby, the quick-thinking cameraman, had gotten his start in film working at the Selig-Polyscope lab in 1904. When the film industry contracted in 1918, he went back to lab management and in 1933 he invented an automatic film developer.

I can’t find out if they really did use the footage in a film because trade papers rarely reviewed shorts and only 14 of the 67 Lonesome Luke films survived, according to Annette D’Agostino Lloyd. But it seems plausible that it was in Luke the Chauffeur, released on October 29, 1916.

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Kingsley particularly enjoyed The Weakness of Strength this week, saying it was

“the strongest and sincerest photodrama the Symphony [Theater] has shown in many a day…in vain one looks for the impossibly fortuitous circumstance, the villain who villains for the pure joy of villaining, the too-perfect hero…even the happy ending, for which one does not look early in the picture, is so adroitly evolved as to appear quite the natural outcome of events.”

The story involves a clerk who, desperate for money to care for his sick grandmother, embezzles money, but his boss ultimately forgives him (AFI Catalog). It’s a lost film. Now the only remarkable thing about the film is how unremarkable it was. All of the cast and crew had decent careers, but nobody was particularly famous. It’s the sort of movie that kept the entertainment industry running.

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No old-style suits for these ladies.

Kingsley reported one patently absurd item unquestioningly: Mack Sennett ordered “the cutie Keystone bathing girls to return to the old-style bathing suits.” Of course, no such thing happened, and I have no idea why somebody thought that would be a useful bit of publicity.

 

Week of August 12th, 1916

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One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley attended a private screening of Arctic explorer and documentary filmmaker Frank E. Kleinschmidt’s war films. She wrote:

Of all the movies taken of the great war, these are the most extraordinary thus far shown. The spectator sees soldiers fighting in the trenches; sees them crumple up and die. You see wounded men living with sick glazed eyes in the trenches waiting for the ambulance corps to pick them up. Battlefields with hundreds of dead men appear on the screen. Some of the most remarkable views are of aeroplanes. In one case you see scores of shells bursting around an Austrian airship that is sailing over Venice and is the target for hundreds of Italian guns.

Stephen Bush in Moving Picture World (April 1, 1916) agreed completely, writing, “the horrible and yet sublime tragedy of war is brought fearfully close to us by means of these films.” Kleinschmidt got such amazing footage because he’d been given permission to shoot by the Archduke Field Marshall Fredrick, the highest commanding officer – of Austria. That’s what doomed the commercial value of the films. Lewis Selznick bought the rights to distribute a six-reel version called War on Three Fronts. It was released in April 1917, the same month that the United States declared war. On April 21st Moving Picture World disavowed their earlier support and on April 28th Motography wrote “it is undeniable that these pictures are against the sentiment of our country, and it seems that the exhibitor might do well to think twice before he books them.”

However, that wasn’t the last of the film. According to American Cinematographers in the Great War, D.W. Griffith was given a print when he was working on Hearts of the World, and he used a few shots from it. In a letter, Kleinschmidt said he was disappointed that more wasn’t used. The book’s authors have more information about War on Three Fronts at First World War on Film.

Kleinschmidt went back to exploring the Arctic and he made another film in Alaska, Primitive Love (1927).

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The Bugle Call

Kingsley’s favorite film of the week was The Bugle Call. She was impressed by the fourteen-year-old who was making his film debut, saying “if Willie Collier Jr. keeps on he’ll be the best motion picture actor in the world some day.” She continued “we have something new to the screen in this photoplay – a real, human, breathing boy, as real and fascinating as any boy of action.” Collier played Billy Andrews, who lives on a Western army outpost with his father and new stepmother, whom he doesn’t like. Billy saves the outpost and his stepmother from an attack by sounding his bugle, according to the AFI Catalog. The film was re-made by Edward Sedgewick in 1927 with Jackie Coogan in Collier’s role. Both films are lost.

While William “Buster” Collier didn’t become the best actor in the world, he had a long career in entertainment. He acted until 1933, making the transition from child actor to romantic lead as well as from silent films to sound, appearing in over 80 films. Then he became a film and television producer.

Chaplin’s One A.M. continued to draw crowds, but the new accompanying feature The House of Mirrors had a “melodramatic, absurd and machine-made story.”

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Molly Malone

Kingsley heard a heroic story about a young actress, Molly Malone, from her director, George Cochrane. On location at Crater Canyon, he, cameraman Bob Walters and Miss Malone had just climbed over a big boulder when she gave a startled cry. “The next instant he heard the crash of a rock and turning, saw a writing snake. Miss Malone had thrown the rock, and her aim had been so accurate that it had broken the back of the reptile, which had been about to strike Cochrane. Miss Malone has the eight rattles and the button of the snake as a souvenir of her bravery.”

Molly Malone appeared in Westerns and comedies until 1929. Her most famous film is Backstage with Roscoe Arbuckle and Buster Keaton; you can see it at the Internet Archive.

Kingsley reported that while Hal Roach was in New York, Rolin studio manager Dwight Whiting took over and directed a Lonesome Luke film with Harold Lloyd and Bebe Daniels. Unlike many other people, it didn’t inspire him to stick with it. Two years later, he abandoned the entertainment business entirely and went to work for Union Oil where he was a director for 36 years. In 1934, he helped found the Santa Anita Racetrack. So there is life after Hollywood.

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Edmund Lowe

It seems that some fans have always been odd. Kingsley reported “Eddie Lowe was separated from an ingrowing toenail the other day. And right in the class with the ladies who carry flowers to murderers in jail, was the feminine admirer who wrote and begged the popular young actor to give her the subtracted toenail as a souvenir.” One hundred years later, that’s still horrifying.

At this point in his career, Edmund Lowe was primarily a stage actor, but he went on to a long career in film and television, starring in What Price Glory (1926) and Dinner at Eight (1933).

 

Week of July 1st, 1916

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on an ambitious plan to make Los Angeles one of the most important vaudeville booking centers of the country. John Cort and William Morris had set up offices in the Majestic Theater Building to start hiring acts for their new Cort-Morris circuit. This company didn’t last, but the two businessmen did eventually achieve their real goal: ending the Keith-Albee monopoly on vaudeville booking. Both continued their interesting careers. John Cort allied with the Shubert organization and built a circuit of 1200 theaters, later becoming a Broadway producer (the Cort Theater in New York is named for him). William Morris continued to work at the talent agency he founded in 1898 that’s still in business today as William Morris/Endeavor; over the years they represented Charlie Chaplin, the Marx Bros, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, and Martin Scorsese.

Independence Day barely rated a mention, other than a note that producer Oliver Morosco added extra matinees for his three shows.

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The Lion and the Girl

Kingsley particularly enjoyed one two-reeler this week, The Lion and the Girl:

Positively there isn’t another thing left for the Keystone comedians to do in the way of thrilling stunts, and Mack Sennett will soon have to resort to the cartoon comedies where the characters do the impossible. This reflection occurs strikingly to one in viewing The Lion and the Girl, which is the comedy at the Palace this week, with Joe Jackson and Claire Anderson in the leading roles. A real live lion plays the villain’s role in this, and the scene in which Claire Anderson drops from the tree into his cage, and the big brute crouches growling above her, is worthy to be immortalized in the wax-works! Jackson wears his familiar tramp make-up, and there are some very amusing touches, as when the officers being on his trail in the field, he ducks his head and stretches out his arms in imitation of a scarecrow. It’s one of the very good Keystone comedies.

The Lion and the Girl was the first of a new Sennett staple, “giant predatory cats turned loose on the set” according to Brent Walker in in Mack Sennett’s Fun Factory.  It’s a lost film, so the reviews are all we have left. This was Jackson’s last film and he went back to vaudeville, but Claire Anderson kept acting in a variety of comedies and dramas until 1925.

Kingsley didn’t like the feature nearly as much; The Children in the House with Norma Talmadge appeared ‘machine-made and uninspired.”

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Kingsley had a chat with Marin Sais, leading woman of the Kalem Company, and learned she was “a real, honest-to-goodness wild westerner. She has taken up a big ranch in Utah, which she will visit this summer, and where she intends to breed racing horses. She already owns a string of three racers at Tia Juana.” Sais did spend most of her career acting in Westerns, retiring in 1953.

The Mexican Revolution intruded briefly on Hollywood. The LA Times Animated Weekly staff (Beverly Griffith and Robert Walters) went to the scene of war activities and sent home footage. Universal actresses, including Ruth Stonehouse and Cleo Madison, took first aid training in case the Mexican war materialized. Happily, it never came to that; American involvement was limited.

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Snub Pollard

There’s some unusual elements to a story Kingsley told about Snub Pollard on July 2nd. She wrote:

Harry Pollard of Phunphilms has distinguished himself as a burglar buster. In the neighborhood where he recently moved, live two pretty young screen artists. One night Mrs. Pollard awakened Harry, saying, “There are burglars next door. I hear them! Harry muttered “Go back to sleep. ’s aw-right.” But before he could regain his slumbers a piercing scream rent the air; he was out of bed and into his dressing gown and in the back yard in less than it takes to clear the studio after the director says, “That’s all for today.” He actually found two bold bad men trying to get in at a window, and what he did to them was right. He suffered a few bruises, but he tells of the discovery of a new punch which he will use on “Lonesome Luke” in the next picture. The girls were scared out of their wits, but they invited the hero in, and attended to his wounds, and later Mrs. Pollard joined them in a little coffee party at 3 am.

From the perspective of 2016, it’s surprising how much she approved of vigilante justice — plus nobody seems to have thought about making a police report afterwards. Also, there was no “Mrs. Pollard” in 1916: he didn’t marry his first wife until 1917. Kingsley was being discrete, and the lady’s identity remains a mystery.

Pollard co-starred with Harold Lloyd in dozens of shorts, in both Lonesome Luke films and some glasses character ones. He went on to make some solo comedy shorts, but he spent most of his silent career as a second banana to comedians like Laurel and Hardy. In the sound era he played the comic relief in low-budget Westerns and uncredited parts in larger films, including being the recipient of Gene Kelly’s umbrella in the “Singin’ in the Rain” number.