Week of December 22nd, 1917

smashingbigad

One hundred years ago this week Grace Kingsley told her readers exactly what happened when a car, driven on railroad tracks by Herbert Rawlinson, got hit by a locomotive (just in case anybody was wondering):

The rear wheels of the auto were picked up by the cow catcher of the big Mogul, and the car bumped along down the ties for a hundred yards on its front wheels, Rawlinson deftly holding it on the track and preventing it from turning sideways to the locomotive. The body of the auto was caved in and the windshield shattered by the shock, but otherwise the car was uninjured.

No one knew what would follow the collision…The element of uncertainty made the scene extremely hazardous to attempt.

No kidding! They did have safety precautions: both Rawlinson and co-star Millard Wilson “were prepared to leap from the car if serious consequences threatened.”

Of course this was all in service to a film, originally titled The Love Claim, and re-named Smashing Through (for once, the new title is a big improvement). Film reviewer Peter Milne called it “a miniature serial, in that it contains thrill after thrill of a most sensational variety.”*

This wasn’t the only incident on the shoot; the next day Kingsley mentioned that when they were filming at the bottom of a mineshaft, a flare exploded and nearly asphyxiated the whole crew. It never ceases to amaze me, the risks early filmmakers took. Even worse, it’s a lost film.

 

 

Miraculously, Herbert Rawlinson didn’t die from taking an absurd risk for a film. He lived until 1953 when he died of lung cancer after a long acting career, first as a leading man in silents, then character parts in sound films, and even some work in television.

 

 

Film people didn’t just take chances with trains then, they also risked their lives with animals. For the Sennett short The Kitchen Lady, Glen Cavender was “required to flirt with a bear” while director William S. Campbell observed:

The bear thought Glen was intended for his dinner and started rapidly toward him. There is still a question as to whether Campbell or Cavender won the 100-yard dash that followed. Louise Fazenda was the heroine of the occasion as well as of the picture. She literally tempted Bruin from his contemplated meal and saved the actor and director.

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No bite marks on him!

Brave Miss Fazenda! Eddie Cline was credited as the director of the film, but maybe Campbell was helping out – he was another Sennett director, and he was known for his skills with directing animals and children.

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The Little Princess

Kingsley didn’t completely ignore the holiday season (though she did have to turn in an article on Christmas Day). Her favorite film this week was Mary Pickford’s The Little Princess, and she wrote:

if you want to realize it’s the glad Christmas time, despite the war and the high cost of living, just pass into the Kinema Theater, and let the silver sheet’s door open to disclose the land of enchantment.

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Whistling Dick’s Christmas Stocking

The film was recently reviewed on Century Film Project.

The bill also included a short, Whistling Dick’s Christmas Stocking, based on an O. Henry story that wasn’t “The Gift of the Magi.” It told the story of a homeless man who is rewarded with a Christmas dinner for warning a family about an imminent robbery, but he refuses their offer of a job, preferring to be homeless. I can see why it didn’t become the evergreen that “Magi” did.

I hope you can find a good movie to take you to a land of enchantment this holiday season!

 

 

 

*Peter Milne, “Smashing Through,” Motion Picture News, June 22, 1918, p.3744.

Week of November 10th, 1917

menu

smallsuet1917 Thanksgiving menu for Camp Williams, France, from the George C. Marshall Foundation Library. It’s not radically different from a 2017 menu, except for the dessert: suet pudding instead of pumpkin pie. Suet pudding involves suet (beef or mutton fat), flour, bread crumbs, raisins, and spices (it sounds nicer when its called Spotted Dick or plum pudding).

 

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley was reporting on stars’ plans for the upcoming holiday:

Despite the war and the various vicissitudes of life, the picture play people are planning to enjoy themselves at Thanksgiving time. Their Hooverizing* for the most part will take the form of expansive hospitality.

Most of them were looking forward to a big meal with their friends and families, including Charlie Chaplin, Roscoe Arbuckle and the Gish sisters. However, some had alternate plans:

  • Both Tom Mix and William S. Hart were arranging big dinners for their film companies;
  • Dorothy Phillips, who had been working night and day, was looking forward to spending the day at home, thankful for a little extra sleep;
  • Franklyn Farnum and Gladys Brockwell both intended to go hunting;
  • Edith Storey wanted to continue her custom of taking a long hike, then dining wherever she found herself;
  • The Fox kiddies (Virginia Corbin, Violet Radcliffe, Francis Carpenter) “all declared in a chorus they meant to just eat all day long—but their parents bring me private information to the contrary;”
  • Lon Chaney planned to treat his wife to a café dinner.

 

 

The war was affecting some peoples’ festivities:

  • Triangle Studios was sponsoring benefit shows for patriotic charities featuring their stars, including Texas Guinan, William Desmond and Alma Reuben;
  • Mary Pickford hoped to dine with the 600 soldiers she “adopted” at Camp Kearny;
  • “Jackie Sunders, though lonely without the brother who has gone to the front, will try and keep Popper and Mommer Saunders from thinking about it.”

Finally, only one star was willing to admit how Los Angeleians really spend the day: Viola Dana “intends to stay out of doors as much of the day as she has left over from dinner, and look at the snow-clad mountains and gloat over the fact she doesn’t have to trot around in the New York slush.”

 

 

Kingsley’s favorite film this week was The Outsider:

A barrage of mystery surrounding a plot is the proper thing nowadays on both stage and screen, and The Outsider has one guessing from start to finish…it tells of robbers robbing other robbers, and has as many ingenious twists as a Sherlock Holmes story.

She thought it was “the best picture Metro has shown in many moons.” She also mentioned “by the way there is a lot of beautiful photography in this picture.” Unfortunately, it was cinematographer John M. Bauman’s second to last film. A former Thanhouser cameraman, after he shot Life’s Whirlpool (1917) he quit the film business and went to work as a salesman for the Storage Battery Company. I guess good reviews don’t pay the bills. Happily, The Outsider survives at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

 

 

In her review of A Mormon Maid, Kingsley used the cinematography to deliver a frank opinion about the rest of the film: “there is some bewilderingly beautiful photography in the picture—so lovely, in fact, that it almost takes your mind off the story.” That might seem like an exaggeration until you learn that the DP was Charles Rosher, and unlike poor Mr. Bauman, he went on to have a spectacular career. He soon became Mary Pickford’s chief cameraman, and he and Karl Struss won the first cinematography Oscar for their work on Sunrise (1927). Later he shot Technicolor films like Showboat (1951) and The Yearling (1946), for which he won his second Oscar.

 

 

On Saturday, Douglas Fairbanks and his A Modern Musketeer company returned from a location shoot at the Grand Canyon. Director Allan Dwan told of Fairbanks’ first impression:

“Oh, I’m so disappointed!”

“Disappointed? Why?” asked Dwan.

“Because I can’t jump it,” explained Fairbanks.

If anyone could, it would have been him.

 

 

Kingsley told of one star’s sensible plan for keeping nervous drivers off the road. Louise Fazenda:

owns a fine automobile, but she is afraid to run it. ‘I just let it stand in front of my bungalow so folks will know I own one,’ she confided, ‘but when I want to ride, I hire a machine with a chauffeur attached.’

If only more bad drivers did the same!

 

*Herber Hoover at that time was in charge of the U.S. Food Administration, and he was calling on all Americans to economize on food for the war effort.

 

Happy Holidays!

One hundred years ago, Grace Kingsley celebrated Christmas by placing her first article in a film magazine. The piece was called “Christmas in the Western Studios” and it ran in the January 1917 issue of Photoplay. It was a snapshot of what the stars were planning to do for Christmas.

Several people were throwing big parties. Mabel Normand and Fanny Ward were jointly hosting a blow-out for their friends at Ward’s bungalow, with a huge tree and electrical effects installed by Normand’s studio electricians.

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William S. Hart

William S. Hart invited a different group to his place: the cow-punchers of Inceville. Kingsley gave details:

The spacious dining room will be fittingly decorated to resemble the gambling hall of a Western mining town and the turkey will be eaten from tin plates, while the cider will be drunk from tin cups. Everyone will be dressed in typical Western regalia, including sombrero, chaps, spurs, silk neckerchiefs, lariats and six-shooters, and such bizarre adornments as stuffed and mounted rattlesnakes, horned toads and Gila monsters will lend an additional desert atmosphere to the occasion. The only woman to be present will be Hart’s sister, Miss Mary Hart, who, as hostess, will be garbed as a cow-girl.

Others did charitable work. Lousie Fazenda planned to bring a carload of gifts to a home for the aged and infirm, which was her annual habit. Roscoe Arbuckle was getting ready to visit a younger group:

Arbuckle, being built on the lines of Santa Claus, is much in demand for the role. He has promised to act in that capacity for the youngsters of one of the orphan’s homes. It is calculated that when the little ones find out who has been doling out their gifts instead of Santa, they’ll feel so happy that old Kris Kringle will feel himself entirely in the discard.

Two of the biggest male stars had much less tradition plans. Douglas Fairbanks told her that he’d be “eating, drinking and playing pinochle” for Christmas, because he’d be on the train from California to New York. The other was also avoiding gifts and parties:

Charlie Chaplin, the biggest laugh maker in the world – is his Christmas to be a merry one? Well, Charlie isn’t much of a laugher himself. His is a quiet sort of humor when he has any at all. For the most part, he his a quiet chap, given to spells of deep melancholy. Charlie is planning to spend Christmas Day with his brother Sid, eating dinner at the Athletic Club where he lives, and going out to the Country Club for a quiet game of golf afterward. Chaplin is becoming a golf player, and he seldom misses a holiday out there.

Kingsley herself worked on Christmas. She reviewed the vaudeville show at the Orpheum, and particularly enjoyed the musical playlet “Ma’mselle Caprice.” She continued to write for movie magazines until 1938.

This same article still gets written annually, only now the writer just has to check Twitter feeds. For instance, here’s Vulture’s version for Thanksgiving 2016.

I hope that your holiday is as happy as theirs was!

 

Week of September 23rd, 1916

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported that some big New York magazines had noticed Mack Sennett’s work. George Jean Nathan in his theater review column for The Smart Set: A Magazine of Cleverness praised him, and Kingsley was so surprised that she quoted him at length:

This Sennett is probably the most fecund inventor and merchant of the slapstick masque the civilized world has yet seen. A spectator of but a very few of his opera, I am yet fascinated and not inconsiderably bewildered by the resourceful imagination of the fellow. An erstwhile chorus man in the Casino music shows, Sennett has done the work he set out to do with a skill so complete, with a fertility so copious, that he has graduated himself as the foremost bachelor of custard-pie arts, the foremost professor of the bladder. He is, in short, the very best entrepreneur of low comedy the amusement world has seen. He has made probably twice as many millions laugh as have all of Shakespeare’s clowns and all the music show comedians on earth rolled together.

Nathan actually seems to be sincere in his admiration, beneath the thick layer of pretension (or as Kingsley politely put it: “Of course, Mr. Nathan’s viewpoint is from a very very lofty height, which naturally makes his language sound a bit condescending”). An intellectual such as himself couldn’t have possibly witnessed more than “a very few” Keystone films, nevertheless he could recommend them over “the labored unfunniness of the posturing mimic artists of Broadway.” The whole article is available on Google Books.*

Kingsley also mentioned that the Saturday Evening Post published an article Sennett wrote, “Movie Star Stories,” in which he described the differences between theatrical and film acting and told stories about some of the people who had worked for him, included Roscoe Arbuckle, Charlie Chaplin and Mabel Normand. Marilyn Slater has posted a copy on her site, Looking for Mabel.

So in 1916, general interest magazines were already starting to take movies – and comedies at that – seriously. They were well on their way to respectability.

 

In other Keystone news, the place was turning highbrow, but not because of the media attention.

No longer do Keystoners loiter about the big open-air stage, telling Keystone-y stories, playing pinochle, or otherwise amusing themselves in the common, vulgar way. Nowadays the erstwhile footlight comedians, chorus ladies, prize fighters, acrobats and cowboys gather about the phonograph, and nothing short of a Wagnarian trilogy of a Liszt rhapsody will satisfy the artistic temperament of these new disciples of the elevated brow. Louise Fazenda started the movement and everybody chipped in last week and bought a Victrola.

Technology has been ruining society for an awfully long time.

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Two comedies made Kingsley laugh this week. Anita Loos’ work was back again, this time with a “whimsically clever” screenplay for The Social Secretary. Norma Talmadge gave a “clear-cut, sparkling interpretation “ to the role of a beautiful woman masquerading as a prim, dowdy social secretary to avoid workplace sexual harassment. Kingsley said “it is refreshing to see Miss Talmadge in a comedy role, after the long series of gloomy, heart-broken females she has played.” Despite her good notices, Talmadge went back to her dramatic roles and only rarely made comedies. The Social Secretary is not a lost film; it’s even available on DVD.

She had fun at Mr. 44 as well, in which a poor factory girl (May Allison) marries a rich man (Harold Lockwood). She wrote “Miss Allison and Mr. Lockwood are always easy to look at, and their fine sense of comedy values places them right among the blue ribboners in brightly humorous plays.” The two were very popular stars at the time, co-starring in over 20 films between 1915 and 1917. Lockwood died of influenza in 1918. Allison kept working until 1927, retiring after she married James Quirk, the editor of Photoplay magazine. Mr. 44 is a lost film.

Kingsley also admired the work of the person who had the most successful career of everyone involved with the film: “Photographer Gaudio shows himself master of his craft in making the pictures of those wonderful Lake Tahoe locations.” Tony Gaudio already had many years of experience; he had been shooting short films since 1903. In the 1920’s he became the Talmadge sisters’ regular DP, and when their studio was bought by Warner Bros. he went along. He shot some of that studio’s most prestigious films, including Little Caesar (1931), Anthony Adverse (1936) and The Letter (1941).

 

 

 

*Buster Keaton fans might want to see Nathan’s article because he reviews the play Seven Chances was based on, calling it “a poor thing at best.”

One other aside: earlier in the article he opined that Sydney Chaplin was a better comic than his half-brother and his film The Plumber was better than all films, including Birth of a Nation. One problem with his argument is that The Plumber was a Charlie Chaplin film – that was an alternate title for Work (1915). So Nathan wasn’t infallible.