Week of June 30th, 1917

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported that with the departure of two major producers Triangle Film Corporation was falling apart. Founded in July, 1915, Triangle was intended to be a prestige studio based on productions of D.W. Griffith, Thomas Ince, and Mack Sennett. They succeeded for awhile, with stars like Roscoe Arbuckle, Douglas Fairbanks and William S. Hart, but by mid-1917 they had all left, as had Griffith. Two weeks earlier Thomas Ince had resigned, and on June 30th Kingsley reported that Mack Sennett signed with Paramount Pictures to release all of his future productions. Triangle kept producing films until 1919, but film historian Brent Walker said of their comedies there “was a noticeable drop in quality.”

All of their top talent had gone to where the money was: Paramount and its divisions, Famous Players/Lasky and Artcraft. On July 1st, the company’s vice-president Jesse Lasky announced a very full slate of 27 upcoming films, mostly adaptations from bestselling authors like Mary Roberts Rinehart (Bab’s Burglar) Mark Twain (Tom Sawyer) and Owen Johnson (The Varmint). The company is still around, and is still making films based on familiar properties like Baywatch and Transformers.

Kingsley remarked that comedies were changing, and the subtlest bit of business was no longer the kicking of one gentleman downstairs by another. Her favorite film this week was an example of that, Haunted Pajamas. She wrote:

Speaking of screen comedies, don’t miss that most hilariously funny one of the season, Haunted Pajamas…Harold Lockwood discloses himself as a first rate comedian as the bewildered hero, owner of the bewitched pajamas, the quality of which he does not know, who is certain the whole world has gone mad. If all the magic articles in the Arabian Nights tales had made for as much joy as those pajamas, the Arabs would have laughed themselves to death.

The pink silk nightwear has the power to transform the wearer into someone else; mistaken identity hijinks ensue. The film has been preserved at the Eastman House. Sadly, Harold Lockwood died in the 1918 influenza epidemic.

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If you know one image from 1910’s cinema, it’s probably this one.

Kingsley got to interview Theda Bara on the set of Cleopatra, and she reported that things were going very well. The production “promises to be the most elaborate and ambitious undertaking of this [Fox] film company. Marvelous sets and costumes are being used.” The weather was hot, and Bara declared that it suited the story, and “she was glad it was not an Alaskan story she was doing.” When asked about her startling costumes, she said “I’ve gotten over being self-conscious in regard to my costumes…And to think, I cried for two days and lost fourteen pounds over having to appear in a one-piece bathing suit in A Fool There Was.” She also talked about how she did her work:

I have the scene thought out in a general way, but upon coming into it, I change many things. This seems due to a sort of inspiration, and especially as a matter of fitting my work to that of others in the scene. Mr. Edwards [J. Gordon, the director] kindly allows me to work out my own ideas. I find it very difficult to work while people are watching me, unless they are in through sympathy.

Kingsley complimented Bara on her poise, dramatic sense and power of concentration, as well as her capacity for hard work.

In an early version of Linda Holmes’ scale of how hot it would need to be before you’d go to an air-conditioned theater to see certain films, Kingsley noted that the cooling system at Miller’s Theater was very good, and Patsy was “a very pleasant little comedy with which to while away an afternoon.“ June Caprice starred as another Mary Pickford-esque tomboy who moves to the big city; it’s a lost film. It would probably be a right around The Karate Kid on the Holmes scale.

 

While remarking on the great improvement in film music, Kingsley mentioned one young woman’s comment during a film: “Oh dear, I can’t hear what he’s saying. I wish the music wouldn’t play so loud.” She was so absorbed in the story that she’d forgotten it was a silent film. I hope you get to see a movie as good as that this week!

Week of May 5th, 1917

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley was inspired by two not very good movies to write:

When will the picture producers be merciful to us, and let those curly-headed cuties, those sophisticated sirenettes, the picture ingénues, grow up? What of the future of the June Caprices, the Marguerite Clarks, the Mary Miles Minters, the Violet Mersereaus, the Ella Halls, the Vivian Martins? They themselves probably wonder at moments quite anxiously what becomes of the ingénue when she gets old…What an awful fate waits the ageless ingénue! Fancy a wild young thing of 50 who hops over tables, hides in barrels, and does all the hundred and one excruciatingly cunning things with which the professional ingénue habitually renews her patently preserved youth.

The films she saw were The Valentine Girl with Marguerite Clark (“as imaginative as a seed catalog”) and A Small-town Girl with June Caprice (“it never really got anywhere, and the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor remains the best actor in the picture.”)

None of the six actresses she mentioned stayed in film much longer, in part because movies about curly-haired innocents went out of fashion, and stars were rarely able to change their image. It wasn’t just ageism. Then again, doing something with your life other than appearing in movies isn’t such a terrible thing. Here’s what happened:

  • June Caprice worked steadily until 1921, then retired to have children.
  • Marguerite Clark married in 1918 and retired from acting in 1921.
  • Mary Miles Minter continued to star in big films such as Anne of Green Gables (1919) until scandal surrounding William Desmond Taylor’s murder in 1922 ended her career.
  • Violet Mersereau appeared fewer films after 1919 but she kept acting until 1926.
  • Ella Hall’s career also slowed down in 1919 when she married and had the first of four children; she retired in 1923.
  • Vivian Martin left films in 1921 and went back to acting on the stage.

Kingsley pointed out that things were quite different for men, and the double standard was firmly in place:

As for the male ingénue, the professional screen lover, time and the world are very kind to him. He rants and keeps his waist line, does things to his hair, hides his grandchildren, smiles even when he has rheumatism, and kids the world into accepting him in romantic roles.

Some things really don’t change.

Her favorite film this week came from Keystone. Playing before The Valentine Girl at the Woodley, Mack Swain starred in His Naughty Thought. Kingsley wrote:

if Mack Sennett’s thought had been half as naughty as it was funny, it would have been censored right off the screen. As a matter of fact, the comedy isn’t naughty at all, and would also have to be strained a point to be considered a thought! However, it’s a roistering burlesque, with Mack bequeathed a restaurant by an uncle who “would insist on eating at his own restaurant despite the doctor’s orders.” Whoever wrote those subtitles—I suspect a symposium—deserves a permanent place in the celestial funny columns—if they run one up there.

We still don’t know who wrote them (even Brent Walker couldn’t find out). The film has been preserved at the UCLA Archive. Mack Swain was most famous for being Chaplin’s large antagonist in The Gold Rush, but this week he could be seen in another Chaplin film being revived just a few doors down Broadway at the Garrick Theater. He played Tillie’s father in Tillie’s Punctured Romance, and Kingsley felt that anybody who hadn’t seen the film, should, because it was the funniest Keystone had made and “the burlesque of the obvious and mawkish film drama is here so good.” It’s available on the Internet Archive, if you want to follow her advice.

Kingsley managed to dislike a (now lost) film even more than the Clarke and Caprice vehicles this week, God’s Law and Man’s, and was moved to write her best lines: “take a small female in the screen drama, dress her up in beads and one of those shredded wheat skirts, let her talk pidgin English, introduce her to a handsome white man, and heaven knows she’s due for a fall. She just can’t make her fate behave, that’s all.”

I hope that fate behaves well for you this week!