One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley announced an upcoming film premier:
When D. W. Griffith’s tremendous war masterpiece, Hearts of the World, is presented for the first time tomorrow at Clune’s Auditorium, it will be witnessed by one of the most brilliant audiences which has ever been assembled in this city. A fascinatingly heterogeneous audience it promises to be, also; for mingling with the famous picture stars and directors and well-known society folk will be military officers and soldiers and many civil authorities, including Mayor Woodman. The military people will be there to study the applied technique of war, the stars and picture directors the technique of picture-making.
Those who have been privileged to see the film, the battle scenes of which were actual occurrences photographed at the French battle front, declare it is stupendous from this standpoint, yet Hearts of the World remains intrinsically human—a fabric of multicolored human passion.
The article was called “It’s Now Here” since nobody needed to be told what ‘it’ was. Kingsley had been following the film’s progress for over a year; nothing else got so much attention. She wrote about Griffith’s initial plans to go to France, a report that he’d be staying there indefinitely, his meeting with George Bernard Shaw when he was in London and his daily schedule as he finished up the film. Everyone had been anticipating it for a long time. However, she didn’t get to write about the finished film; Antony Anderson got that assignment. He was suitably impressed:
The modern epic—the tremendous story of love and war—was swiftly flashed, last night, before a vast assembly of men and women thrilled and exalted by the gripping power, the overwhelming beauty and poignant pathos of David Wark Griffith’s masterpiece in photoplay, Hearts of the World.
For the story is big, beautiful, tragic and terrible. The wanderings of Ulysses, ever straining his weary eyes toward home and Penelope, hold no keener woes than those of the Boy in the trenches who loved and longed for the Girl in the village of France. But, like Ulysses, the Boy came back to his beloved at last—oh, he came back!—or the tale of his sufferings and hers would have been too heartbreaking, we could not have endured it.
How nice, he’d read the classics. He also reported on the audience reaction:
Clune’s Auditorium was packed as full as it could hold—packed full and overflowing. Everybody was there who could possible beg, borrow or buy a ticket of admission—the great man and the small, the plutocrat and the proletariat, women of fashion, stars of the screen—everybody. For all seemed to know, through some subtle prescience, that Hearts of the World is a play for everybody, a great story of universal appeal.
But on the whole it was not a sad nor somber assemblage. Having determined to grace this first night with their presence, women of wealth and fashion resolved also to make it a brilliant, happy event, and to show by their cheerful attitude of dress and countenance that they fully appreciated Mr. Griffith’s patriotic effort in placing this remarkable play before the American people, now waiting to be instructed in the realities of the war under which the world staggers…The enthusiasm throughout was intense, and the play swayed the vast audience from smiles to tears, and back again.
Audiences at the New York premier on April 4th were just as enthusiastic, according to Arthur Lenning in Film History.* He wrote that at the end, “pandemonium broke out. Spectators stood and cheered and shouted for Griffith. Finally, he appeared on the stage, and moved by the wonderful reception, he said he had no speech to make.” He tried to ask for prayers and support for the men still fighting, but his voice broke and he couldn’t finish.
Hearts made a decent profit, despite the influenza epidemic and the armistice (people don’t want to see war movies right after a war). Lennig found a March 1919 financial report in Griffith’s files that reported the film’s cost, plus prints and exploitation expenses, was $555,715 and the net receipts were $952,788 for a total profit of $397,073. So it was not as successful as Birth of a Nation (he was still earning money from that in 1917) but much better than Intolerance.
Grace Kingsley took two days in a row off this week! This was the first time she’d done that in the almost two years I’ve been using her work as the basis for this blog. There wasn’t much else going on in her columns this week: she interviewed the principle singers of the Boston English Opera Company for the Sunday paper (they performed English-language translations to try to make opera attendance painless), reviewed Julian Eltinge’s charming and delightful new film The Widow’s Might (she especially liked his excuse for dressing as a woman—he’s disguised and on the lam after trying to steal some evidence) and mentioned that Joseph Schenck was in town to help Roscoe Arbuckle select a new site for his studio. I hope she enjoyed her time off!
*Arthur Lennig, “Hearts of the World,” Film History, v. 23 issue 4 (2011), p.428-458.