Crashing Hollywood: Week of February 7th, 1920

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on a successful attempt to get hired in Hollywood:

It is reported that Tom Gallery, the enterprising young journalist who entered the ranks of leading men on the screen a few weeks ago, has found the exact size of the third finger of the left hand of that clever young comedienne, Zasu Pitts.

It is a pretty little story which lies back of the romance between these two clever youngsters. During the making of a King Vidor production in which Miss Pitts was the star, Tom Gallery, as the representative of an eastern fan magazine, came over one day to the Vidor studio. He said he wanted to interview Miss Pitts.

Miss Pitts was willing to be interviewed, and proved such good copy that Mr. Gallery stuck around all the afternoon. A day or two later Mr. Gallery went back to ask some question he had forgotten at the time of the first interview.

Some extras were being used in a scene, and Mr. Vidor laughingly asked young Gallery if he didn’t want to be in the scene, to which Gallery, of course, said yes. When the picture was run off that night, the young man showed off to such good advantage that he was hired for a minor role, and then, in the very next picture, he was elected as Miss Pitts’ leading man.

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Bright Skies (1920)

Enterprising is the right word for Thomas S. Galley. It’s amazing that someone could talk his way onto a film set and into an acting job. I could find no evidence that he was a journalist of any kind – he hardly had time to be one. He was only 21 years old when he arrived in Los Angeles, and he’d be busy serving in the tank corps in France during the war. When he told the story the next year, he took that part out. In an interview in Motion Picture Magazine, he didn’t mention visiting the set of King Vidor’s Poor Relations, he said just interviewed for the leading man job on Pitts’ next film, Bright Skies, and she was so taken with him that they had to hire him. In July 1920, the two eloped to Santa Ana, accompanied by King and Florence Vidor to serve as their witnesses.

Gallery went on to be Zasu Pitts’ leading man for two more films, then after the birth of their daughter Ann in 1922, she went back to supporting roles and so did he. His film career ended in 1927; in a 1985 interview with sportswriter Jim Murray, Galley blamed his co-star Rin-Tin-Tin. He claimed he’d been bitten! (Neither of Rinty’s biographers, Susan Orlean and Jeannine Basinger, ever mentioned that.) Moreover, he told Murray he hated acting anyway. Gallery went on to be a boxing promoter at the Hollywood Legion Stadium, and used his industry connections to publicize the fights, inviting actors and actresses to them. He also helped broker deals with TV networks to put live sports like baseball, football and golf on television.

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Pitts and Gallery stayed married until 1932, but their relationship wasn’t happy. During the divorce proceedings, she testified that he deserted her in 1926. Her biographer, Charles Stumpf, says that his lack of career success contributed to their troubles, plus he started being seen around town with a young actress, Madge Evans.

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Kingsley’s favorite film this week was Marked Men. She began her review with a complaint:

And, by the way, just by what mental processes those responsible for the changing of the original name of Kyne’s story, “The Three Godfathers,” arrived at the conclusion that Marked Men was a better title, I can’t imagine. I’ll be if Universal ever puts out Romeo and Juliet they’ll change the title to Frozen Love.

She had a point about the title Frozen Love — it’s never been used for a Hollywood film. It seems like the film’s director, John Ford, agreed with her about Marked Men: when he remade the film in 1948, he restored the title, Three Godfathers. Other versions have been called Broncho Bill and the Baby (1915) Hell’s Heroes (1929) and The Godchild (1974). It’s a durable property!

Other critics were impressed, too.

Kingsley continued:

However, the title’s the only thing to find fault with in this production, which is a real screen classic, both because of its appealing story, which pulls even at the emotions of a hard-boiled critic, whose heart-strings, of course, are popularly supposed to be a banjo, or some such limited instrument; and because of the vivid and sincere characterizations of the trio of ‘godfathers.

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Harry Carey

Kingsley singled out one of the godfathers in particular:

There’s one he-man actor who is so sincere and so dramatically adroit that he sounds the bell every single time he has the right story ammunition, and sometimes even when he hasn’t. That actor is Harry Carey, who has his greatest story in all the years he has been acting in Marked Men at the Superba this week.

Carey had been in over 100 movies at that point, so he had quite a resume. It’s a lost film.

Jim Murray, “Dog Bites Actor, Giving Us Promoter,” Los Angeles Times, November 14, 1985.

Clyde Stuart, “Mr. and Mrs. Tom,” Motion Picture Magazine Nov. 1921. p.69, 102.

Charles Stumpf, ZaSu Pitts: The Life and Career, McFarland, 2010.

“Walked Out,” Chicago Daily Tribune, April 27, 1932.

 

Week of October 5th, 1918

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The virus
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F. Woodman

One hundred years ago this week, Los Angeles city officials began to take the influenza epidemic very seriously. Following the recommendation of the newly-formed Medical Advisory Board, Mayor Frederick Woodman closed all schools, churches, theaters, and any other places of amusement starting at 6 p.m. on October 11th. He also banned all public gatherings, like Liberty Loan drives. Violators could be fined up to $500.00 or imprisoned for up to six months. Trying not to panic the public, he said that the restrictions might be lifted in a week. That wasn’t how it worked out — they lasted until December 2nd.

It all happened suddenly. Here are the theater ads from Thursday, October 10th:

 

And here’s the only ad from the 11th:

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In hindsight, Mayor Woodman made the right decision: this disease was utterly devastating. In fourteen months, about 500 million people or one-third of the world’s population became infected with this virus. It was estimated to have killed 50 million people (675,000 of them in the United States), according to the Centers for Disease Control, far more than the 15 million men killed on battlefields in World War 1,

Cinematographer Karl Brown, then serving in the army at Camp Kearny, wrote about his experience in his autobiography:

Then came one fateful evening after retreat, when it was quite dark, and when Captain Thompson came to my squad tent, which I shared with seven others. Somebody caught the glint of those two silver bars and barked “’Ten-shun!”

We all sprang to our feet, including me, even though I had been feeling horribly bad for the past two days. The trouble was that I couldn’t keep my feet under me and that I swayed forward and fell into the arms of Captain Thompson, who eased me to the floor of the tent. He felt my forehead briefly and then commanded, “Get an ambulance for this man. On the double!”

I must have fallen into a deep sleep, because I kept dreaming that I was hearing the Chopin Funeral March being played over and over again. Then, when I finally managed to achieve some semblance of awareness, I discovered that I was in a hospital bed along with ranks and ranks of other men, all in bed and all on a very long screened-in porch facing a roadway. It was daylight, and I was at least partially awake, because the Funeral March was being played by a military brass band as it moved slowly along the road, followed by a caisson carrying a flag-draped coffin.

It was hardly out of sight before another cortege came hard on the heels of the first, groaning out the same funeral march. And then another. And another. And this was to go on day after day for the unknowingly long time I was destined to stay in the base hospital.

It was the flu, of course, killing without mercy and much more efficiently than the armies on the fighting front.

Between the war and the epidemic, this was a very dark time for everybody. So they did their best to keep busy. Most people still went to work, including Grace Kingsley. This week, she had the story of the Goldwyn Company moving to Los Angeles, observing:

Count the day lost whose low descending sun sees no picture company trekking to the land of the setting sun.

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Photoplay noticed that everyone was moving West, too (cartoon by R. F. James, November 1918)

Goldwyn stars like Mae Marsh, Geraldine Farrar, Pauline Fredericks and Mabel Normand were making their travel plans, according to studio president Samuel Goldfish (the name change hadn’t happened yet). He tried telling her that moving West and giving up their Ft. Lee studio was a sacrifice to conserve coal to aid the government. She wasn’t buying it, and gently mocked him for his “a perfect halo of pure patriotism” which is much more polite than calling him out.

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Kingsley wrote two last movie reviews on Monday. Luckily she enjoyed them both. The first was one of John Ford’s early films, and she identified a recurring problem with his female characters.

There’s a capital Wild West story with a fairly Bret Harte-ish flavor at the Symphony this week, in which the three r’s of Wild West drama, viz, riding, romping and rowing (accent on the “ow”) are all played up strong. The Three Mounted Men is its name…Harry Carter is as horrid a villain as ever wore a checked suit and shaved his neck, while Neva Gerber is one of those lovely ragdoll heroines who had nothing to do but see to it that she’s not torn apart when they drag her on and off horses. While the story is about bandits, it is fresh and unhackneyed in treatment, with the whole company behaving like human beings.

 

Her second review was a sort of preview of things to come for the film industry. During the epidemic, most studios stopped production for a month so distributers re-issued older films to the theaters that hadn’t been closed. However, some companies were already doing that. The two she saw were made in 1914 and 1916, but audiences still enjoyed them:

Dear, dear, how we do love to take a peek once in a while at those old fillums of Mary Pickford’s and Charlie Chaplin’s! The Eagle’s Mate with little Mary as the heroine—she was just as long on hair, but shorter on art than in these days—and Charlie Chaplin in One A.M. are at the Garrick this week, and are drawing crowds, too, despite their ancient vintage. The Eagle’s Mate belongs to the film day when they carried maidens off to a mountain fastness and chased off sheriffs just as easy!—and the heroine always married the rough diamond hero despite stylish relatives and his table manners. Yet there’s a naïve charm and freshness about it—a zest in the doing which arouses our enjoyment and leaves us cold to the modern dramas with their boudoir hounds.

Without film and vaudeville reviews, her columns did shrink a bit, but she still presented news from interviews and press releases. And things would get better: the end of the war was only a month away.

 

 

“May Soon Lift Closing Order,” Los Angeles Times, October 11, 1918.

“To Wage War on Influenza,” Los Angeles Times, October 10, 1918.

 

Week of August 17th, 1918

 

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Helen, Phillips and Kate Keller

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported:

The mother and soldier brother of the famous Helen Keller are to visit Miss Keller next week, and will watch her work in the big feature picture which she is making at Brunton studios.

Her family didn’t just visit, they appeared in the film. Deliverance was a fictionalized version of Keller’s life from the fever that left her blind and deaf at 18 months, through her childhood when Annie Sullivan taught her to communicate, to her graduation from Radcliffe and her adult life, which included writing, lecturing and advocacy for disabled people. Because Hollywood couldn’t make a movie without a love story, they included a dream sequence with an actress playing Keller as Circe, beckoning Ulysses to her island (when she found out about that bit, she laughed a lot).

According to Keller’s biographer Dorothy Herrmann, she made the film because demand for her on the lecture circuit was dwindling and she was broke. Herrmann called the film “a hodgepodge, an early docudrama that combines actual footage of Helen, symbolism, and a fanciful plot line…Deliverance remains an important historical document, capturing a still beautiful and luminous Helen—dancing, reading Braille, answering her correspondence, strolling serenely in the garden with her hovering, ambivalent mother, and taking a ride in a fragile biplane, despite the protests of her family.” Seven of the film’s ten reels have been preserved at the Library of Congress.

It was a box-office failure. Keller was still broke, so she “had no choice but to accept the offer of which they had a lifelong horror,” vaudeville. She and Anne Sullivan Macy worked up a twenty-minute act and they toured, performing it twice daily from February 1920 to the spring of 1924. Sullivan Macy introduced Keller, and then told the story of teaching her to speak. Next Keller demonstrated, giving an inspirational speech in an “odd, barely comprehensible voice.” Show business wasn’t as bad as they feared. Keller later wrote “I found the world of vaudeville much more amusing than the world I had always lived in.” Plus, they were a hit: for a while they were some of the highest-paid performers in vaudeville, headlining for two thousand dollars a week. It paid better than lectures had, and they only had to be on stage for twenty minutes instead of ninety.

hellbent_ad

Kingsley unexpectedly had a lot of fun at a movie this week:

It was a plum wild and wooly afternoon on the Rialto, yesterday, as far as I was concerned, with western film whooping ‘em up. Over at the Symphony, Harry Carey is appearing in Hell Bent, which is a western with a ‘wengence.’ If you want to forget the h—* whom you want for the next Governor, and other painful subjects, if you want to feel the winds of plain and mountain on your fevered brow, go to the Symphony. There is some wonderful riding stuff in a wonderful mountain country; there is a desert bit, with mirages and sand-storms, and Harry Carey does some marvelous stunts including climbing hand over hand on a rope up the side of a steep cliff and rolling down a mountain side tied to a horse’s back. Altogether as breezy and entertaining a western as we have had in some time.

Someone she didn’t mention is the reason the film is remembered today: it was directed by John Ford, his eighth feature. It seems like he already knew what he was doing.

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A disturbing film played at Miller’s Theater this week, entitled At the Mercy of Men. Set against the backdrop of the Russian Revolution, a woman is forced to marry her rapist. Kingsley did say it was “a wrong afterward righted in so far as the law could do it” (I’d prefer a long stint in prison for the attacker). Eventually they fall in love and that’s supposed to be the happy ending. Its working title was Ruthless Russia, but the Russians were Allies during World War 1, so it wasn’t made as anti-enemy propaganda. I’m astonished that anybody thought this was a good story to tell. It’s a lost film. Happily, both actors went on to better things. Alice Brady played many socialites in 1930’s comedies including Aunt Hortense in The Gay Divorcee (1934). The rapist was played by Frank Morgan, Mr. Matuschek of The Shop Around the Corner (1940) and of course, the Wizard of Oz.

Luckily, Kingsley saw a second movie at Miller’s this week. A “welcome addition to the bill” was a re-issue of “probably one of the best comedies ever made:” Fatty and Mabel Adrift. The short from 1916 will still give you some relief from painful subjects, and it’s on the Internet Archive.

 

 

 

*It seems that it was OK to write “hell” in the newspaper when it referred to a place, but not as a swear.

 

Dorothy Herrmann, Helen Keller: A Life. New York: Knopf, 1998.

 

 

 

Week of May 11th, 1918

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Tea party, 1918 — maybe children had other things to do?

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on decreased film attendance among school children in Los Angeles. However, theater owners had a unique excuse for being concerned about a downturn in ticket sales:

the alarming results in the steady decrease of war tax checks that are sent to the government by the theater owners every month…statistics show that this source of government income decreased fully 25 percent last month. This month’s drop will be even greater, and if the alarming decrease keeps up there is no doubt in the minds of the committee that several of the houses will have to close.

The tax on entertainment did contribute millions to fund the war , but if that was their real concern, they could have bought Liberty Bonds. Exhibitors must have thought that patriotism looked better in the newspaper than concern for profits.

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Teachers weren’t the only ones telling kids what to do with their money

They had an interesting theory on why kids weren’t going to the movies:

The trouble arises, according to reports received by the film men, from teachers in the public schools advising school children to save their money for other purposes and not to visit picture theaters.

They didn’t blame building too many theaters or bad movies or other entertainment options. Teachers have been blamed for many things for a very long time.

To deal with the problem, film exhibitors planned to form a committee and hold a meeting on May 18th. Nearly 100 producers and exhibitors attended, according to Moving Picture World. They didn’t frame it in terms of loss of tax revenue among themselves: they were worried about theaters staying in business. One exhibitor (F.A. MacDonald) stated that 32 theaters had already closed, and he blamed German propaganda – the enemy didn’t want people to see the Red Cross and Liberty Loan slides, speakers and trailers that were being shown. Producer Thomas Ince suggested, “tell people it is patriotic to patronize picture shows.” J.A. Quinn, owner of the Rialto Theater, wanted to start a publicity campaign (after all, President Wilson said that “the moving picture is helping to win the war”), and they resolved to do exactly that.

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Audiences came back

There weren’t any follow-up articles on the publicity campaign, but after things got much worse when the flu epidemic temporarily closed all the theaters later in 1918, film attendance eventually did come back. Weekly paid admissions rose from 40 million in 1922 to 65 million in 1928.

scarlet drop

Kingsley had a funny little criticism of The Scarlet Drop:

Harry Carey is breaking more furniture with the villain at the Supurba this week, than we have witnessed in many a day.

Nevertheless, she enjoyed the addition to the pile of Wild West pictures, because “Harry Carey, being a sincere cowboy, wins us the minute he appears and Molly Malone is just too cute for anything in those ’49 styles.” Sometimes that’s enough from a night at the movies. Now the film is remembered (30 minutes of it survive) because of its director: John Ford.

 

 

 

 

Koszarski, Richard. An Evening’s Entertainment. Berkeley: University of /California Press, 1990.

“Los Angeles Film Men Alarmed,” Moving Picture World, June 8, 1918, p.1403.

“School Teachers’ Advice Closing Coast Theaters,” Variety, May 24, 1918, p.1

 

Children’s tea party photo from the Upper Arlington Historical Society.