Week of May 5th, 1917

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley was inspired by two not very good movies to write:

When will the picture producers be merciful to us, and let those curly-headed cuties, those sophisticated sirenettes, the picture ingénues, grow up? What of the future of the June Caprices, the Marguerite Clarks, the Mary Miles Minters, the Violet Mersereaus, the Ella Halls, the Vivian Martins? They themselves probably wonder at moments quite anxiously what becomes of the ingénue when she gets old…What an awful fate waits the ageless ingénue! Fancy a wild young thing of 50 who hops over tables, hides in barrels, and does all the hundred and one excruciatingly cunning things with which the professional ingénue habitually renews her patently preserved youth.

The films she saw were The Valentine Girl with Marguerite Clark (“as imaginative as a seed catalog”) and A Small-town Girl with June Caprice (“it never really got anywhere, and the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor remains the best actor in the picture.”)

None of the six actresses she mentioned stayed in film much longer, in part because movies about curly-haired innocents went out of fashion, and stars were rarely able to change their image. It wasn’t just ageism. Then again, doing something with your life other than appearing in movies isn’t such a terrible thing. Here’s what happened:

  • June Caprice worked steadily until 1921, then retired to have children.
  • Marguerite Clark married in 1918 and retired from acting in 1921.
  • Mary Miles Minter continued to star in big films such as Anne of Green Gables (1919) until scandal surrounding William Desmond Taylor’s murder in 1922 ended her career.
  • Violet Mersereau appeared fewer films after 1919 but she kept acting until 1926.
  • Ella Hall’s career also slowed down in 1919 when she married and had the first of four children; she retired in 1923.
  • Vivian Martin left films in 1921 and went back to acting on the stage.

Kingsley pointed out that things were quite different for men, and the double standard was firmly in place:

As for the male ingénue, the professional screen lover, time and the world are very kind to him. He rants and keeps his waist line, does things to his hair, hides his grandchildren, smiles even when he has rheumatism, and kids the world into accepting him in romantic roles.

Some things really don’t change.

Her favorite film this week came from Keystone. Playing before The Valentine Girl at the Woodley, Mack Swain starred in His Naughty Thought. Kingsley wrote:

if Mack Sennett’s thought had been half as naughty as it was funny, it would have been censored right off the screen. As a matter of fact, the comedy isn’t naughty at all, and would also have to be strained a point to be considered a thought! However, it’s a roistering burlesque, with Mack bequeathed a restaurant by an uncle who “would insist on eating at his own restaurant despite the doctor’s orders.” Whoever wrote those subtitles—I suspect a symposium—deserves a permanent place in the celestial funny columns—if they run one up there.

We still don’t know who wrote them (even Brent Walker couldn’t find out). The film has been preserved at the UCLA Archive. Mack Swain was most famous for being Chaplin’s large antagonist in The Gold Rush, but this week he could be seen in another Chaplin film being revived just a few doors down Broadway at the Garrick Theater. He played Tillie’s father in Tillie’s Punctured Romance, and Kingsley felt that anybody who hadn’t seen the film, should, because it was the funniest Keystone had made and “the burlesque of the obvious and mawkish film drama is here so good.” It’s available on the Internet Archive, if you want to follow her advice.

Kingsley managed to dislike a (now lost) film even more than the Clarke and Caprice vehicles this week, God’s Law and Man’s, and was moved to write her best lines: “take a small female in the screen drama, dress her up in beads and one of those shredded wheat skirts, let her talk pidgin English, introduce her to a handsome white man, and heaven knows she’s due for a fall. She just can’t make her fate behave, that’s all.”

I hope that fate behaves well for you this week!

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.

socialsecad

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.

Week of July 1st, 1916

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on an ambitious plan to make Los Angeles one of the most important vaudeville booking centers of the country. John Cort and William Morris had set up offices in the Majestic Theater Building to start hiring acts for their new Cort-Morris circuit. This company didn’t last, but the two businessmen did eventually achieve their real goal: ending the Keith-Albee monopoly on vaudeville booking. Both continued their interesting careers. John Cort allied with the Shubert organization and built a circuit of 1200 theaters, later becoming a Broadway producer (the Cort Theater in New York is named for him). William Morris continued to work at the talent agency he founded in 1898 that’s still in business today as William Morris/Endeavor; over the years they represented Charlie Chaplin, the Marx Bros, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, and Martin Scorsese.

Independence Day barely rated a mention, other than a note that producer Oliver Morosco added extra matinees for his three shows.

liongirl
The Lion and the Girl

Kingsley particularly enjoyed one two-reeler this week, The Lion and the Girl:

Positively there isn’t another thing left for the Keystone comedians to do in the way of thrilling stunts, and Mack Sennett will soon have to resort to the cartoon comedies where the characters do the impossible. This reflection occurs strikingly to one in viewing The Lion and the Girl, which is the comedy at the Palace this week, with Joe Jackson and Claire Anderson in the leading roles. A real live lion plays the villain’s role in this, and the scene in which Claire Anderson drops from the tree into his cage, and the big brute crouches growling above her, is worthy to be immortalized in the wax-works! Jackson wears his familiar tramp make-up, and there are some very amusing touches, as when the officers being on his trail in the field, he ducks his head and stretches out his arms in imitation of a scarecrow. It’s one of the very good Keystone comedies.

The Lion and the Girl was the first of a new Sennett staple, “giant predatory cats turned loose on the set” according to Brent Walker in in Mack Sennett’s Fun Factory.  It’s a lost film, so the reviews are all we have left. This was Jackson’s last film and he went back to vaudeville, but Claire Anderson kept acting in a variety of comedies and dramas until 1925.

Kingsley didn’t like the feature nearly as much; The Children in the House with Norma Talmadge appeared ‘machine-made and uninspired.”

The_Girl_from_Frisco

Kingsley had a chat with Marin Sais, leading woman of the Kalem Company, and learned she was “a real, honest-to-goodness wild westerner. She has taken up a big ranch in Utah, which she will visit this summer, and where she intends to breed racing horses. She already owns a string of three racers at Tia Juana.” Sais did spend most of her career acting in Westerns, retiring in 1953.

The Mexican Revolution intruded briefly on Hollywood. The LA Times Animated Weekly staff (Beverly Griffith and Robert Walters) went to the scene of war activities and sent home footage. Universal actresses, including Ruth Stonehouse and Cleo Madison, took first aid training in case the Mexican war materialized. Happily, it never came to that; American involvement was limited.

SnubPollard
Snub Pollard

There’s some unusual elements to a story Kingsley told about Snub Pollard on July 2nd. She wrote:

Harry Pollard of Phunphilms has distinguished himself as a burglar buster. In the neighborhood where he recently moved, live two pretty young screen artists. One night Mrs. Pollard awakened Harry, saying, “There are burglars next door. I hear them! Harry muttered “Go back to sleep. ’s aw-right.” But before he could regain his slumbers a piercing scream rent the air; he was out of bed and into his dressing gown and in the back yard in less than it takes to clear the studio after the director says, “That’s all for today.” He actually found two bold bad men trying to get in at a window, and what he did to them was right. He suffered a few bruises, but he tells of the discovery of a new punch which he will use on “Lonesome Luke” in the next picture. The girls were scared out of their wits, but they invited the hero in, and attended to his wounds, and later Mrs. Pollard joined them in a little coffee party at 3 am.

From the perspective of 2016, it’s surprising how much she approved of vigilante justice — plus nobody seems to have thought about making a police report afterwards. Also, there was no “Mrs. Pollard” in 1916: he didn’t marry his first wife until 1917. Kingsley was being discrete, and the lady’s identity remains a mystery.

Pollard co-starred with Harold Lloyd in dozens of shorts, in both Lonesome Luke films and some glasses character ones. He went on to make some solo comedy shorts, but he spent most of his silent career as a second banana to comedians like Laurel and Hardy. In the sound era he played the comic relief in low-budget Westerns and uncredited parts in larger films, including being the recipient of Gene Kelly’s umbrella in the “Singin’ in the Rain” number.