One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported that Hollywood was preparing for some royal visitors:
In fact, there are three greatly thrilled picture stars in town today. They are Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford. And no wonder. For all are to entertain no less a person than King Albert of Belgium.
His Majesty, it seems, delights in doing the unexpected. Yesterday [Tuesday, the 14th] a member of the royal party got Fairbanks on the phone from Santa Barbara and asked if it could be arranged for Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin to meet the royal party at Fairbanks’ Beverly Hills home tomorrow. Of course, the world’s most famous smiler smiles his best and said, “Oh yes, indeedy!” and at once started making arrangements for entertaining the royal visitor and his party.
This would have been totally unexpected for the mayor’s General Reception Committee: they had given the newspaper an outline of their plans for the King’s visit on October 10th, and there were no stops in Beverly Hills on it. Plus, they weren’t even due to arrive in Los Angeles until Friday, not Thursday! However, if you were a king or queen, isn’t that exactly who you’d want to meet in 1919?
Another studio told KIngsley they were getting ready, too:
The royal party will be guests of honor at the Lasky studio Friday morning, according to the plans of the committee in charge of the programme. In honor of the occasion, Houdini, king of magicians and one of the galaxy of stars now at work at the Famous Players-Lasky headquarters, will stage his famous underwater extraction trick in the studio tank.
Everyone at the studio was anticipating the visit; leading man Thomas Meighan was working on Why Change Your Wife and he was in a big hurry to finish his scenes as a recovering accident victim, because he didn’t want to meet the King and Queen while wearing pajamas with a bandaged head.
Unfortunately, Meighan didn’t need to worry; King Albert, Queen Elisabeth and Crown Prince Leopold only got to spend five hours in Los Angeles on Friday so they didn’t get to meet the three biggest stars of the time or go to Lasky, and they had to make do with a stop at the Ince studio. It seems like what they told Kingsley was just wishful thinking.
The King and Queen of Belgium were touring the United States to thank everyone for their support during the war, and to interest American businesses in investing in their country (the Times even helpfully published a list of opportunities). But they also took in some American sights, including San Francisco and Yosemite. They were greatly admired: during the war he had fought on the front with his troops, and she had worked as a nurse.
On Friday, October 17th, the royal train arrived at the Southern Pacific Depot at 9 am (they were already half an hour behind schedule). Both Mayor Snyder and the King gave speeches, a choir sang the national anthems “America” and “La Brabanconne”* and Queen Elisabeth to give medals to six women who raised money for Belgian relief. Then they had a parade through downtown, with the royal party at the head of it and the Ninety-First Division plus returned soldiers behind. After that, they began their driving tour of the city.
Their first stop was at the Ince Studio, and Thomas Ince had prepared a short program to fit the limited amount of time they had. However, the King was quite interested in re-starting the Belgian film industry, and the Times reported:
Though King Albert and his party were scheduled to stay at the film studio but twenty minutes, they remained there almost an hour.
During his visit at the studio the King saw a man jump from the railing of a steamer into a frothing sea; he saw a quarrel between two lovers who were finally reconciled with a kiss—for the King’s benefit; he saw another woman plead with a vampire for her husband who had been stolen by the vamp; he saw anther act staged in a barn; he saw a submarine crew die in a wreak. During the tragic submarine death scene, Queen Elisabeth displayed more interest in a small, hairless pup that was snoozing on the sidelines.
King Albert asked no questions about the emotional stunts of the actors, but when he was escorted into the mechanical rooms, the cutting and the drying and developing rooms, immediately he fired many questions at his guides. He was interested and he wanted to know everything about the constructive side of film making.
Motion Picture News said that they saw Douglas MacLean and Doris May work on Mary’s Ankle, Herbert Bosworth in the submarine movie Below the Surface, and several scenes with Charles Ray. He was making Paris Green at the time.
Next they went to Chaplin Field, where they saw some aerial maneuvers. Then they toured more of the city, stopping to visit some school children, and then it was already time to go. They got back on their special train and went to the Grand Canyon, skipping a lunch held in their honor in Pasadena. The Mayor went, but the 5,000 attendees were disappointed (the Belgian ambassador to the U.S. later sent an official expression of regret to the Pasadena and Glendale mayors).
So one should plan on staying for more than five hours if you want to see L.A.! If you’d like to know more about the royal visit, check out the Homestead Museum blog post and Marc Wanamaker’s post for the Culver City Historical Society
This week there was a tie for Kingsley’s favorite film. She enjoyed “a buoyant, refreshing tale” with Tom Mix and Frankie Lee:
Just you wait until you see him in Rough Riding Romance at the Symphony this week, and you’ll decide, with me, that if he keeps on getting stories like this he’ll have all the other India rubber heroes on the run.
“There ain’t no such thing as romance,” says Tom, but Frankie just at that minute points out a mysterious lady, who has stopped off at the train stalled at Cow Hollow, and whom Tom then and there picturesquely rescues from the attentions of the Hollow’s worst bad man.
But oh, what a joyous time that large audience had! I don’t know when I’ve heard and seen a crowd of people enjoy themselves more than when Tom, having grabbed an heirloom saber off the wall, drives Tony [his horse] down among that crowd of plain and assorted villains, and just naturally scares the pie out of them!
Rough Riding Romance has been preserved at the Library of Congress.
However, Kinglsey also had a very good time at quite a different movie, a jazzed up bedroom farce called Why Smith Left Home with Bryant Washburn and Lois Wilson. She observed how times had changed: “Now-a-days, to keep up with the stage boudoir plays, we’re taking all those old farces with their coy references to sleeping quarters, and putting ‘em in pictures with the beds all freely shown as the dining room table.” My goodness!
The “very hilarious hour of entertainment” involved a sturdy running gag:
The hero and heroine decide to wed, despite the farcical objections of the heroine’s aunts. But the bridegroom remains kissless, though willing and anxious, right up to the last foot of film. It is the constant efforts of these two to get a chance to be alone, a purpose thwarted by everything and everybody, including hotel fires, train wreaks, earthquakes, blackmailing maids and irate things-in-law, which make the comedy.
Why Smith Left Home has also been preserved at the Library of Congress, but it’s missing its third reel.
Kingsley also had some important costume news:
Concerning next week’s premiere showing of Mack Sennett’s latest special production, Salome vs. Shenandoah, comes a bit of news that should immensely please devotees of laughter. Charlie Murray is going to present an act in conjunction with the production, in which fourteen comedians will appear dancing, all garbed in the same attire as that which Phyllis Haver wears as Salome in the film. In addition to this, Murray, Ben Turpin and Charles Conklin will wear the same costumes as in the film and will sing and play on the lyre an original song composition of Murray’s.
Charlie vouches for the information that Ben Turpin will positively wear nothing but a tiger’s skin and a shepherd’s staff. As for himself, his innate modesty forbade him making any statement regarding his own appearance further than to state he will wear something.
What a show! According to Brett Walker (Mack Sennett’s Fun Factory), the two-reeler is set in a small-town theater, where a troupe attempts to stage a Biblical tale and a Civil War epic simultaneously, with Ben Turpin cast as both John the Baptist and a Confederate spy. It was similar to Sennett’s earlier successes that made fun of melodramas, East Lynne with Variations and Uncle Tom Without a Cabin. Even though they were shorts, they were the main attraction on their theater bills. That was true in Los Angeles; Salome vs. Shenandoah played with In Mizzoura, a Western about a sheriff with romance troubles and a highwayman on the loose that didn’t get much notice.
If Sennett’s ad is at all true, it was a terrific movie.
“Advance Agent of Belgium’s Royal Pair,” Los Angels Times, September 7, 1919.
“Approve Plans For Welcoming Royalty,” Los Angeles Times, October 10, 1919.
“Belgian Royalty See Pictures in the Making on the Ince Lot,” Motion Picture News, November 29, 1919, p. 3952.
“Belgian Rulers to Come Here,” Los Angeles Times, September 24, 1919.
“Child Army Acclaims Hero King,” Los Angeles Times, October 18, 1919.
“City To Greet Royal Visitors,” Los Angeles Times, October 17, 1919.
“Southland Lavishes Its Warmest Hospitality Upon Regal Visitors,” Los Angeles Times, October 18, 1919.
*”La Brabanconne” is still Belgium’s national anthem, but “The Star Spangled Banner” didn’t become the United State’ anthem until March 3, 1931, after the Veterans of Foreign Wars petitioned Congress for it.