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.
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.
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.
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.
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).