Week of March 31st, 1917

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The coming war dominated Kingsley’s columns this week. On Monday, April 2nd President Wilson asked Congress to declare war on the German Empire, and they did it on on Friday, April 6th. Kingsley reported on how the film business was ready to assist:

  • The Federal government established a recruiting station on the Universal lot, and many actors had already volunteered.
  • The Lasky studio had formed a 125-men-strong company that drilled twice a week. Members included William and Cecil de Mille, Wallace Reid, and Donald Crisp.
  • Harry Harvey, the director of the Balboa Amusement Company, had bought two machine guns and was training men on their use.
  • The Navy selected Vitagraph’s “Womanhood, the Glory of the Nation” as a recruiting film. It told the story of a woman who raised an American army to fight a fictional war in Europe. The Navy hoped to station a recruiting officer and medical examiner at every screening.

 

Every male aged 21-30 registered – from up-and-coming comics to stars, no exceptions

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However, the government quickly realized that the all-volunteer force wasn’t enough, so six weeks later on May 18th, Congress passed the Selective Service Act, which required all men living in the United States between the ages of 21 and 30 to register for military service.(1) So on June 5th they all went to went to an appointed place, answered some questions and signed the form. In Los Angeles they used the polling places, which was convenient because there was a municipal election the same day so men could vote and register. The Times reporter, John Lloyd, was almost poetic in his description:

Conscription aroused from its nap of fifty years yesterday, and summoned to the registry stations sixty-five thousand of the city’s warrior sons, who may be caught in the rip of the war tide and flung at the foe in France. Not a fistfight, nor brawl, nor riot disturbed the simple ceremony of the largest city in the West, calling forth the names of those selected for the greatest test…Some signed their names as if signing for their death, as figuratively it might well be, and some as though registering for a lark.

Hollywood also began to prepare for the inevitable results of war by helping the Red Cross. Lasky organized a Red Cross company; Mary Pickford, Mae Murray, and Kathlyn Williams were some of the participants. Keystone ran a successful fundraiser for the Red Cross at Levy’s Tavern. Actor/comic Charlie Murray (2) auctioned off a silver cup, netting $800. Then someone yelled “Fill it up with money!” and they collected another $428.

To dispel some of the gloom, Kingsley recommended His Father’s Son, a “sparkling little screen comedy” that starred Lionel Barrymore. While the plot lacked originality, she thought the intertitles were worth the price of admission. Barrymore played a spoiled rich boy whose father forces him to get a job. He gets hired by a detective agency to guard an emerald by impersonating a butler. He’s a fine guard but a bad butler. Kingsley thought that Barrymore’s comic ability was as good as Fairbanks’, and “no drop of comedy is wasted in this story.” It’s been preserved by Archives Du Film Du CNC (Bois d’Arcy).

Kingsley continued her vendetta against bad Theda Bara pictures with a review of Her Greatest Love. Her review for the lost film was such a hoot that I want to share it:

Banishing wives to Siberia can’t be a very common sort of sport even in Russia. Wherefore the event occurring in Her Greatest Love, Theda Bara’s vehicle at Miller’s this week, gives a new thrill to the jaded picture fan. You see, Theda’s husband in the picture is Walter Law. Walter appears as a wicked Russian nobleman with whiskers such as were never worn on land or sea. Theda was only 15 years old, and in short dresses, and she didn’t want to marry him at all, it seems, but in order to save the family name or to get into long dresses, or something, she finally consented. She loved Robert Hilliard, all sweet and gallant and clean-shaven; but in pictures you know a poor girl can’t do a single thing hardly that she wants to.

Discovering in reel no. 3 that her husband had a mistress, she went right up stairs, and in her agony changed her dress to something very neat and nifty with fox furs added, and she was going to leave him flat. But he told her he would send her to Siberia, and she said all right; that would be nice if he would fix up the plumbing in the castle and see that she had a good dressmaker. Anyway, that’s the inference, as she appears in wonderful dresses away off there in the frozen North, and the castle is a very spick and span castle, indeed. Of course, everything comes out all right, with the wicked husband dueled to death.

Poor Miss Bara – she didn’t deserve the scripts Fox was giving her. Later this year, she did get to star in the epic Cleopatra, so her career wasn’t finished yet.

(1) There were two more registration days, one on June 5, 1918 to catch the men who turned 21, and one on September 12, 1918 to register all men aged 18-45.

(2) Lea at Silentlogy wrote a post about Murray.

Week of July 22nd, 1916

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported that D.W. Griffith was starting work on a new film, and it might be about the Holy Grail. He was definitely staying in California, despite the rumors that he was moving to New York. However, none of this happened: he never made a Holy Grail film, and his next release, Hearts of the World, was mostly shot in England and France. He did eventually move to Mamaroneck, New York, in 1919.

(I’m going to leave this here, just in case seeing the words “Holy Grail” affects you like it does me)

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No one film stood out as her favorite this week, but she thought that Lionel Barrymore was brilliant as a devil-may-care young prospector in The Quitter, “a comedy of supremely piquant quality.” She seemed equally appalled by and interested in The Little Girl Next Door, that week’s film about sex trafficking: “Luridly sensational as to incident, oft-times improbably, yet possessed of a certain gripping power because of its peculiar appeal, the picture is supposed to reveal the methods of ‘white slavers.’ She noted the opulence of William Hart’s latest, The Captive God, and reported that the Ince Company’s sculpture department had used 300 tons of plaster. And she mentioned that Chaplin’s The Vagabond was held over for a third week.

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Fred Held

Kingsley admired the photography of Fathers of Men, which was shot in Northern Canada “under extreme hardship,” particularly the “wonderful frozen waterfalls, huge glaciers, vast snow plains, hoary rocks and, most beautiful of all, the fairy-like frozen webs which Jack Frost weaves on tree top and shrub.” Fred Held was the cinematographer who managed to capture it all and keep the camera from freezing. He was a pioneer in the New York film industry; according to a short 1913 profile in Moving Picture World he’d been working in film manufacturing for 15 years. His feature credits ended in 1920, but his occupation in later censuses was always listed as photography. Fathers of Men is so lost that it doesn’t even have a listing in the FIAF database.

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Roy Fernandez

In a slow week for film news, Kingsley reported that newly-minted actor Roy Fernandez had the only dog in the world with gold tooth, a bulldog named Peter. Fernandez was an artists’ model who had won Universal’s most handsome man contest. He was cast in Lois Weber’s next film, Idle Wives, but he didn’t appear in it. In September, Variety reported that he had returned to modeling. This sort of contest rarely produced stars (Francis X. Bushman seems to be the only exception) and the studios gave up on them.

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Dora Mae Howe

The most alien-to-2016 story of the week was the report that stage ingénue Dora Mae Howe had gained ten pounds since she joined the Burbank Theater company. She told Kingsley that it happened because every role had required her to eat something on stage. In her next play, The Fibber, it was candy and she wanted chocolate almonds. Now it’s impossible to imagine an actress admitting to eating candy, let alone gaining weight. Howe’s stage career lasted for a few more years; she married film character actor William Austin in 1929.