Anticipating Prohibition: Week of May 24th, 1919

LA Times’ front page, July 1, 1919

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley wrote about one possible side effect of Prohibition:

Now we learn what is to become of all the erstwhile liquor men after July 1! * They’re going to turn into picture exhibitors! And I suppose the bar-keepers will be ticket-takers. At least so it would appear from the reports from every part of the country. This would seem to be a good occupation for the liquor men to fall into, inasmuch as they are following their customers, who have been deserting the saloons for pictures anyhow.

Theater owners were full of optimism at that time. Kingsley noted “the tendency all over the country is toward enlarging the picture exhibiting fields, whether due to prohibition or not.” Trade papers published articles collecting the opinions of people about the future of the film business, and they were looking forward to a windfall because potential customers would have lots of money that they weren’t spending on alcohol.

It looks like the idea of saloonkeepers going in to film exhibition came from Carl Laemmle in Moving Picture Weekly. He told them that ten years earlier when he wanted to expand his film exchange in Illinois, the state prohibited alcohol sales so he convinced 200 bar owners to make over their establishments into theaters and both sides prospered. Of course, it was much easier to turn a bar into a nickelodeon than it would have been to convert one into the sort of posh theater that filmgoers were becoming accustomed to by 1919. In the same article, S.L. Rothapfel, manager of several New York theaters, agreed with him, saying “many people who are in the liquor business are getting out of it and going into the movies instead. The liquor business is absolutely dead.” So perhaps some of them did become exhibitors.

Both men were absolutely certain about what would happen next. Laemmle said “there is no question that the closing of the saloons will increase patronage at moving picture theaters. Men seek amusement when the day’s work is done. Many now find it in the saloon and in the companionship which they find in the saloon. When the saloons close on July 1 they will naturally go to the Movies.” Rothapfel was equally optimistic: “the big future of the motion picture is being made all the bigger by prohibition…It is plainly true that wherever other places of entertainment are closed the motion picture theater profits; and this is especially the case in the matter of the saloon.”

Wid’s Year Book for 1919 included a round up of opinions, and many film producers were similarly looking forward to increased profits. Isidore Bernstein said, “there is no question in my mind that fifty per cent of the money spent on booze will find its way into the box office of the moving picture theater.” Samuel Goldwyn contributed “regardless of what attitude one may have towards prohibition, it is certain that an impartial observation of the fact must show that the immense amount formerly spent in liquor will be in large proportion hereafter go to amusement enterprises.” However, D.W. Griffith had a warning: “effects of prohibition fine at present, but would not chortle too soon as reformers released from that job will be busy with other alleged reforms that may include a censorship on motion pictures.”

Despite their hopes, Prohibition didn’t cause massive movie profits according to historian Michael Lerner on Ken Burns’ Prohibition site. Other expected results that didn’t happen included big increases in clothing, household goods, chewing gum, grape juice and soft drink sales, nor did real estate values near the closed saloons go up.

It’s kind of sweet: people in the film business had so much faith in law-abiding citizens as well as law enforcement that they didn’t predict the illicit trade in alcohol and the rise in organized crime.

Sid Grauman

Optimism in the future of the film business affected one local theater owner who was increasing his empire:

Sid Grauman yesterday [May 28th] made known the fact that he is about to build a theater in Hollywood. The new picture house will be a palatial affair costing more than $200,000 and will seat 2200…Every possible convenience and comfort will be provided to patrons in the new theater, work on which will be begun within a short time.


Construction of the new theater took longer than he’d probably thought it would, but the Egyptian was finally ready in 1922 and Grauman had a huge gala opening on October 18th. The first film shown was Douglas Fairbanks’ Robin Hood. It was an impressive event, with speeches delivered by everyone from the mayor to Charlie Chaplin as well as an elaborate prologue featuring over 200 performers in costumes borrowed from the Fairbanks Studio on a duplicate of the Nottingham Castle set.

Edwin Schallert, then the LA Times film critic, attended, and he remembered to mention the new theater in his glowing and florid review of the film (which was “the great picture of the year”):

There is nothing of garishness about the interior. There is naught to distract the eye from the shadowy stage which is the playhouse raison d’etre. Lights and decorations all contribute to the spell of reserved grandeur. The sphinxes that adorn the proscenium imply that silence which is the tribute of appreciation for the visual drama. The Egyptian inscription, perhaps, suggests that mystic incantation of light which gives life to the shadowed surface of the silver sheet. Over all hangs a glorious jeweled sunburst that heralds perhaps the new dawn of the fluent art of the film.

The Egyptian Theater is still there, and has been the home of the American Cinematheque since 1998. The building is staying current with the times: as of April 2019 Netflix is in negotiations to buy it.

Dorothy Gish

This week Kingsley gave us an idea of just how popular Dorothy Gish was — teenaged girls were imitating her:

You have heard of the Gibson girl stride, of the Laurette Taylor slouch, and now we have the Gish gambol. All the girls are doing it! It’s a combination of a new form of physical exercise and a social accomplishment—like dancing that way. So when you observe a cutie dancing about like a kitten on a hot griddle, expressing nothing except youth and pep, she isn’t really troubled with any nervous disorder, she’s merely gishing, in her artless, girlish way.

In particular, they were imitating her “Little Disturber” character in Hearts of the World. There were age restrictions (between 16 and 20) and there was a uniform too: bobbed hair covered by a tam-o-shanter, a plain skirt and a shapeless little sweater. But the main attribute was “you never, on any account, stand still for a minute.” I feel tired just reading the description. However, if you’d like to try gishing, you can find a pattern for the proper hat at Movies Silently.

Kingsley included a snapshot of how they made films then this week. At the Goldwyn studio:

Geraldine Farrar and Mabel Normand are both acting in the same glass studio. Miss Farrar, at one end of the stage, is playing tragedy to the music of a moaning cello, ever and anon slipping over the organ which is always a part of a Farrar set, and sitting down to play snatches of grand opera. On the other end of the stage Mabel Normand is playing comedy with a jazz band accompaniment. So far no casualties are reported.

Hollywood was able to mix all sorts of art together.


*While the Eighteenth Amendment to the constitution prohibiting alcohol sales went into effect on January 17, 1920, the temporary Wartime Prohibition Act banning the sale of beverages with more than 1.28% alcohol went into effect on June 30, 1919, even though the war was over. So Prohibition effectively started then.


“Prohibition Coming—We Should Worry!” Moving Picture Weekly, February 1, 1919.

“What of Prohibition?” Wid’s Year Book, 1919.

Edwin Schallert, “Robin Hood a Superb Film,” Los Angeles Times, October 19, 1922.

“New Theater Policies are Announced,” Los Angeles Times, October 8, 1922.

“Workmen are Busy,” Los Angeles Times, September 28, 1922.

Week of February 22nd, 1919

Wallace Reid

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported a story that she had no idea how sad it would become:

An accident, resulting in injury to Wallace Reid and nearly every member of his Lasky company occurred a few days ago while the company was en route to the big trees region in the northern part of the state.

Among the episodes to be photographed was a train wreck, and everything was set for the effect when unluckily the caboose carrying the entire company to the location jumped the track on the trestle bridge near Arcata, turned completely over and ended the work for the day.

Practically every member of the company was more or less injured. Wallace Reid sustained a three-inch scalp wound, which required six stiches to close, but was not seriously hurt. Grace Darmond, leading woman, and others were more or less bruised and cut. None, however, was disabled and the scenes were taken the following day.

According to his biography Reid actually was hurt more seriously than they told Kingsley: his head injury was a deep laceration, he had a gash in his arm and he injured his back. The next day he had blinding headaches. Stopping production on location would have cost $10,000 per day, so studio head Jesse Lasky ordered him to be given morphine so he could work. Reid quickly became addicted.

Even after the film was finished, the studio didn’t give him time off to heal, they just gave him more morphine. He drank too much alcohol, too, which made things worse. After he collapsed on the set of Nobody’s Money in 1922, he went to a sanatorium but it was too late. He died on January 12, 1923, only 31 years old.


Unfortunately, now if he’s remembered it’s as an example of an early Hollywood scandal, like Roscoe Arbuckle’s trials or William Desmond Taylor’s murder. For instance, Karina Longworth did an episode of the You Must Remember This podcast about him. It’s too bad all that hard work has been forgotten. Jeanine Basinger summed up his appeal in Silent Stars: “On-screen, he exuded self-confidence and cheerful good health, and his charm and acting ability were such that he carried his movies, most of which were slight vehicles designed to showcase his stardom. He was one of the most successful of the popular leading men of the teens and early twenties.” The film he was working on, Valley of the Giants, was presumed lost, but it was found in Russia at Gosfilmofond in 2010.


Kingsley got to have some fun at the movies this week:

The last word in fascinating, adroit crook comedies, when crook plays were the vogue on the stage, was Max Marcin’s Cheating Cheaters, [that was 1916] and now, in pictures, it lends itself equally well to the two-dimensional stage at Tally’s Broadway.

The path of the plot is as devious as the soul of the crooks. And what mounting comedy in the scenes in which we are let in on the fact that the two apparently respectable families who live on adjoining estates are really two bands of crooks, neither of whom knows that the other crowd are crooks.

It’s a lost film, so I’ll spoil it: the two ‘families’ figure out they’re all jewel thieves and decide to become one big gang. However, they don’t know that one ‘daughter’ is actually a renowned detective in disguise. She had fallen in love with the other family’s ‘son’ and decides to pardon the whole lot of them if they promise to help her catch crooks in the future. This solid idea for a comedy was made twice more, in 1927 and 1934. The last version was made after the production code was enforced, so he has to go to prison, but she promises to wait for him.

Is this the replacement apron?

In other news, Mabel Normand’s apron got eaten by a goat on location while filming The Pest, and Grace Kingsley turned it into a two paragraph story. She was a pro! Luckily they were able to buy some material and Miss Normand made a new one. Even big Hollywood stars had sewing skills then, it seems.


Jeanine Basinger, Silent Stars, New York: Knopf, 1999, p.5

E.J. Fleming, Wallace Reid: The Life and Death of a Hollywood Idol, Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2007, pp. 143-44.




Week of August 17th, 1918


Helen, Phillips and Kate Keller

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported:

The mother and soldier brother of the famous Helen Keller are to visit Miss Keller next week, and will watch her work in the big feature picture which she is making at Brunton studios.

Her family didn’t just visit, they appeared in the film. Deliverance was a fictionalized version of Keller’s life from the fever that left her blind and deaf at 18 months, through her childhood when Annie Sullivan taught her to communicate, to her graduation from Radcliffe and her adult life, which included writing, lecturing and advocacy for disabled people. Because Hollywood couldn’t make a movie without a love story, they included a dream sequence with an actress playing Keller as Circe, beckoning Ulysses to her island (when she found out about that bit, she laughed a lot).

According to Keller’s biographer Dorothy Herrmann, she made the film because demand for her on the lecture circuit was dwindling and she was broke. Herrmann called the film “a hodgepodge, an early docudrama that combines actual footage of Helen, symbolism, and a fanciful plot line…Deliverance remains an important historical document, capturing a still beautiful and luminous Helen—dancing, reading Braille, answering her correspondence, strolling serenely in the garden with her hovering, ambivalent mother, and taking a ride in a fragile biplane, despite the protests of her family.” Seven of the film’s ten reels have been preserved at the Library of Congress.

It was a box-office failure. Keller was still broke, so she “had no choice but to accept the offer of which they had a lifelong horror,” vaudeville. She and Anne Sullivan Macy worked up a twenty-minute act and they toured, performing it twice daily from February 1920 to the spring of 1924. Sullivan Macy introduced Keller, and then told the story of teaching her to speak. Next Keller demonstrated, giving an inspirational speech in an “odd, barely comprehensible voice.” Show business wasn’t as bad as they feared. Keller later wrote “I found the world of vaudeville much more amusing than the world I had always lived in.” Plus, they were a hit: for a while they were some of the highest-paid performers in vaudeville, headlining for two thousand dollars a week. It paid better than lectures had, and they only had to be on stage for twenty minutes instead of ninety.


Kingsley unexpectedly had a lot of fun at a movie this week:

It was a plum wild and wooly afternoon on the Rialto, yesterday, as far as I was concerned, with western film whooping ‘em up. Over at the Symphony, Harry Carey is appearing in Hell Bent, which is a western with a ‘wengence.’ If you want to forget the h—* whom you want for the next Governor, and other painful subjects, if you want to feel the winds of plain and mountain on your fevered brow, go to the Symphony. There is some wonderful riding stuff in a wonderful mountain country; there is a desert bit, with mirages and sand-storms, and Harry Carey does some marvelous stunts including climbing hand over hand on a rope up the side of a steep cliff and rolling down a mountain side tied to a horse’s back. Altogether as breezy and entertaining a western as we have had in some time.

Someone she didn’t mention is the reason the film is remembered today: it was directed by John Ford, his eighth feature. It seems like he already knew what he was doing.


A disturbing film played at Miller’s Theater this week, entitled At the Mercy of Men. Set against the backdrop of the Russian Revolution, a woman is forced to marry her rapist. Kingsley did say it was “a wrong afterward righted in so far as the law could do it” (I’d prefer a long stint in prison for the attacker). Eventually they fall in love and that’s supposed to be the happy ending. Its working title was Ruthless Russia, but the Russians were Allies during World War 1, so it wasn’t made as anti-enemy propaganda. I’m astonished that anybody thought this was a good story to tell. It’s a lost film. Happily, both actors went on to better things. Alice Brady played many socialites in 1930’s comedies including Aunt Hortense in The Gay Divorcee (1934). The rapist was played by Frank Morgan, Mr. Matuschek of The Shop Around the Corner (1940) and of course, the Wizard of Oz.

Luckily, Kingsley saw a second movie at Miller’s this week. A “welcome addition to the bill” was a re-issue of “probably one of the best comedies ever made:” Fatty and Mabel Adrift. The short from 1916 will still give you some relief from painful subjects, and it’s on the Internet Archive.




*It seems that it was OK to write “hell” in the newspaper when it referred to a place, but not as a swear.


Dorothy Herrmann, Helen Keller: A Life. New York: Knopf, 1998.




Week of March 17th, 1917

Buster shows how it’s done

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley noticed a new trend at live theater performances: “the habit of applause on the part of the audience appears to be dying out.” She theorized about what was causing it. At the top of the list was moving pictures, because there was no need to cheer for absent actors so people had gotten out of the habit. However, the new, quieter acting style and less melodramatic plays were also part of the problem; she wrote “can you fancy loud cane-whackings on the floor as an expression of gratification at the voicing of a Shaw subtlety, or some of the finer passages of an Ibsen drama?” It had gotten so bad that some theater owners were rumored to hiring professional applauders, to make the performers feel better. Who knew that styles of applause went in and out of fashion?

Kingsley’s favorite film this week was a Pauline Frederick film Sapho,

the story of the little street gamin, the flower girl of Paris, who captured one lover after another, is done so as to be entirely convincing…The transition in the girl from the gay butterfly to the sincerely loving woman is accomplished by Miss Frederick with no hypocritical show of demureness.

Sapho was based on a novel by Alphonse Daudet that was frequently adapted, first as a short in 1908, then as a feature in 1913 and then just the year before with Theda Bara in the title role. Other critics agreed that this version was particularly good; George N. Shorey in Motion Picture News even said it “will never be more finely interpreted than in this Famous Players production.” It’s a lost film. Frederick was respected as one of the best actresses of her time; to learn more visit Greta deGroat’s site.


Out of the Wreck

Kingsley took personally a bit of business in a film about political corruption called Out of the Wreck.

The author evidently had a weird idea of newspaper people. The woman in the story apparently always kissed her city editor good morning, and then perched on the arm of his chair for an hour or so!

That wasn’t her only problem with the film; despite the good directing, acting, and photography, she thought the story was “patched together out of the scenario barrel.” It’s been preserved at the Library of Congress.

Billy Bitzer

Kingsley told a story that proves nobody was surprised when cameraman Billy Bitzer wasn’t able to go to France to shoot the war scenes for Hearts of the World. Griffith wired him to come to New York and from there go to England with him. Bitzer replied “Can’t, I’m German.” Griffith answered “Well, change your name and come on.” Bitzer’s retort: “Might change my name but how can I change my face?” Bitzer did eventually travel to England, but Griffith had to hire another cameraman to visit the front lines.

Kingsley told a cute story about mistaken identity this week:

Harriette Lee, in some poses, especially close up, is a dead ringer for Mabel Normand. The other night both young women were dancing and supping out at Vernon. Three persons in succession passed by Miss Lee’s table, bowing and greeting her as Miss Normand. Each one, on pausing for another look (you always look at as long at Mabel as you can, naturally) in turn apologized, saying, ‘Oh, I beg your pardon!’ Miss Normand really was present at a near-by table, and when the last visitor made his apology, she called out ‘If people don’t stop apologizing to this lady because they’ve accused her of looking like me there’s going to be trouble.’

Harriette Lee was a vaudeville performer, and Kingsley had reviewed her favorably earlier in the week, saying “female ‘nuts’ are rare on the stage, but Harriette Lee is quite the most delicious one growing on the vaudeville tree. She and her partner, Ben Ryan, kid their way through an act that must be seen to be appreciated.” The husband and wife team had originated the “Dumb Dora” act that George Burns later credited as the basis for his act with Gracie Allan.

Week of March 10th, 1917


One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley recounted a conversation she had with Mabel Normand:

Everyone has had a try at guessing why pictures on ancient subjects didn’t specially interest the picture fans. Many picture directors have wrung their hands and torn their hair because their favorite pictures depicting Horatius holding the bridge, or the sorrows of some ancient lady of Greece, didn’t get over, while the fact that the picture fans refused to get in a welter over the exciting things that happened in old Rome, has caused the loss of many a penny to fatuous producers. Miss Normand has hit the nail on the head.

“Tell you what it is,” said Miss Normand, the other day as she put on her make-up preparatory to some retakes in Mickey, “the whole secret of public appeal is that the spectator may be able to put himself or herself into the role of the hero or heroine. This trick of the public imagination is one that must be taken into account. When a young man sees a man on the screen, he can’t visualize himself in the role of the hero, if that hero wears queer-looking clothes and lives in a funny looking house and he can’t imagine being in love with a lady in duds all out of fashion.”

The nail that Mable Normand hit wasn’t about the box-office draw of costume dramas, instead she was describing a flavor of film theory that came to be known as spectator identification. It became very popular with psychoanalytic critics like Christian Metz and Tom Gunning. A helpful summary by Millie Schneider is at Spectatorship Theories.

But what Normand was really interested in was what sells movie tickets, and nobody has been able to figure that one out. The only correct answer seems to be William Goldman’s: “In Hollywood, no one knows anything.” However, the film she was working on did make plenty of money; in a 1939 interview Mack Sennett said Mickey made 8 million dollars, which would make it a top grosser in 1918.

Kingsley said they were talking about failed Roman history films but I haven’t been able to find what they were referring to. Cabiria came out three years earlier in the U.S. so it probably wasn’t that, and Cleopatra with Theda Bara didn’t come out until October 1917. They might have been discussing the Babylonians of Intolerance and Kingsley changed it to keep them out of trouble.

William Farnum and Florence Vidor

Kingsley’s favorite film this week was A Tale of Two Cities.

The Fox production completely preserves all the significance of the original, and despite the intricacy of plot and motif, Frank Lloyd, director, is to be congratulated on having given the world a clear, gripping and wholly admirable visualization of one of the greatest of Dickens’ stories. Here, indeed, are we given a fine sense of the tragic whirlwind reaping, which was the French Revolution, conveyed not with a weary repetition of battle scenes, but in a few magnificent flashes and intimate personal touches.

She admired William Farnum in the dual Carlton/Darnay role, but she saved her highest praise for one woman who didn’t even get a credit:

There is a girl not named on the programme, who does one of the most striking bits of acting to be seen in the whole photoplay – she who cheers Carlton’s last moments before execution. It’s only a flash—but in her face are depths of passionate understanding, of a love, hopeless but divine, as she, too, passes under the guillotine.

The actress was Florence Vidor, and that brief scene made her famous, according to E.V. Durling in Photoplay (August 1917). She had come to Los Angeles with her husband, the future director King Vidor, in 1915 and had previously played a few bit parts. She went on to work in some great films, including The Marriage Circle (1924) and Are Parents People? (1925). She quit acting when sound came. A Tale of Two Cities is available on DVD.


Kingsley’s funniest review this week was for The Secret of Eve.

So far as I’m concerned Eve still has her secret intact. It may be this Eve’s secret involves the kind of corset Olga Petrova (Eve) wears and how she manages to retain it under all circumstances. Even as the first woman, when Miss Petrova appears, partly conceled, partly revealed, behind some bushes, clad in some shimmery stuff, her lines reveal that she wears a neatly-fitting pair of stays. As a subsequent reincarnation of an Indian woman, she still wears the corset. And, of course, as the poor little shop girl later, she saves up her money to buy a corset, presumably depending on lacing herself tightly into it to keep herself from being hungry. She’ll go to heaven in that corset, or refuse the invitation.

She went on to call the film “a totally insincere, superficial bit of balderdash.” Peter Milne in Motion Picture News hated it too, writing “the worn portions of the story appear in danger of giving away altogether.” He didn’t mention Eve’s corset, therefore Kingsley’s review was funnier. It’s a lost film.

Ilya Tolstoy

Kingsley observed that “nothing is too odd or strange for vaudeville” when one of Leo Tolstoy’s sons had been booked by the Orpheum to do a fifteen minute lecture on his father’s life and works. Ilya Tolstoy toured the United States in 1917 and the title of his talk was “The Life and Ideals of my Father.” Vaudeville really did offer a variety!

This week there was an example of how language has changed. Kingsley mentioned that scenarist Capt. Leslie Peacocke had come up with a word for a male vampire: chicken-hawk. That meaning of the term didn’t stick. Unfortunately, the Oxford English Dictionary’s word history only recognizes the bird-who-kills-chickens meaning, and the Urban Dictionary doesn’t bother with dating their terms, so I don’t know when it came to mean either a man who enjoys the company of boys under the age of consent, or a war-monger with no military experience.

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.

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!