How Quickly They Forget: Week of October 4th, 1919

They were so happy, just last December!

One hundred and one years ago this week, all of the theaters in Los Angeles were about to be closed to help prevent the spread of influenza. They didn’t re-open until December 2nd. One year later, neither Grace Kingsley nor anybody else wrote about the anniversary. Only three very short articles about flu appeared in the LA Times in late 1919: two reporting that the State Board of Health said the return of the epidemic was improbable, and one about insurance payouts for flu deaths. The trade papers also ignored the anniversary, except to give theater closures as a reason that revenues were down the previous year.

This was the beginning of people forgetting all about the epidemic, which now seems to be the first thing everybody mentions if they do cover it. For instance, The Guardian’s article on the hundredth anniversary was called “A century on: why are we forgetting the deaths of 100 million” and the Backstory Radio podcast episode was titled Forgotten FluNobody paused to be happy that they got to go about their ordinary business. Perhaps they were saving it for the Armistice Day celebrations coming up next month.

No surprise, Kingsley’s favorite film this week came from her favorite actress:

That amazing young woman, Mary Pickford, has done it again! She has succeeded in The Hoodlum, which is at the Kinema this week, in again putting over a film blue-ribboner. The surprising thing about this young lady is that she never fails to surprise you…In fact, Miss Pickford seems to be slowly but surely evolving a fresh, new quality—a power that has nothing whatever to do with pouts and curls, but depends on a really brilliant mind, a keenness of dramatic perception, and an unlimited sense of humor and of fun.

The Hoodlum tells the story of a spoiled rich girl who goes to live with her sociologist father in the New York slums. There, after learning how to play craps and shimmie, she meets a wrongfully accused young man whom she is able to exonerate by stealing papers from her grandfather. However, as Kingsley noted, that wasn’t the attraction:

But the plot, ha ha! Like the dentists’ ads say, doesn’t hurt a bit. It’s Mary Pickford’s bubbling, genuine humor, which will charm dull care away if you’ll let it. That a lot of people want to let it was shown by the crowds which besieged the Kinema yesterday.

The Hoodlum is available on DVD.

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Kingsley had news of Pickford’s soon-to-be husband as well:

That arch kidder, Douglas Fairbanks, made the life of Charlie Chaplin more or less miserable, the other night down on Broadway. Charlie and Doug had been dining together, and as they sat in the machine awaiting the coming of other friends to join the party, Douglas would ever and anon arise in his seat, wave his arms, and announce to whoso would listen:

“This is the great Charlie Chaplin! None other! Take a good look at Charlie Chaplin!”

Poor Charlie shrunk back inside his overcoat, and looked as if somebody bit his dog.

Oh, Mr. Fairbanks. It’s only surprising that the story doesn’t end with “so Charlie bopped him in the nose and no jury would convict.”

From a review of The World to Live In I learned a new word: tinpanner, which is a young woman who consorts with rich old men. It was invented by W. Carey Wonderly, the author of the 1918 novel the film was based on. Another writer, Owen Johnson, tried to call them “salamanders” in his 1913 novel of that name (and 1916 film), but neither word caught on the way the term Jack Lait came up with did in his 1916 book, Beef, Iron & Wine: gold digger. The Oxford English Dictionary says that was the first time it was used in that sense (and tinpanner isn’t in the OED at all). I guess Wonderly was playing off of that, since you use a tin pan to find gold in a stream. While is seems like there can never be enough words to insult women with, “gold digger” is easier to catch the meaning of if you don’t already know it. I can see why it won out.

Nevertheless, The World to Live In wasn’t a bad little movie, even if it utterly failed as a cautionary tale:

But if the author didn’t want all our little Maudie Freshies to go right out and be tinpanners, he shouldn’t have made this one have such an awfully good time, with numberless rich and devoted beaus, and come out all unscorched and unscathed as she did, from numberless fascinating adventures.

Gee, just like Anita Loos did a few years later in her book, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. In this story, Rita Charles (Alice Brady) meets a handsome settlement worker (William P. Carelton) with a “noble pompadour—why is it, pompadours look so noble in pictures?” and marries him, ending her tinpanning ways. Overall, Kingsley thought this now lost movie was very entertaining and not in the least profound.

 

 

Fairbanks’ Itchy Feet: Week of September 6th, 1919

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One hundred years ago this week, Douglas Fairbanks again felt the need to tell Grace Kingsley his travel plans, which included:

a trip to New York in November, whence, after making a picture in the East, he will go to Europe, visiting England, France, Switzerland, Italy and even Sweden and Denmark and the smaller nations.

He wanted to bring along Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., who had been visiting him all summer but had returned to school (there was no mention of what his ex-wife thought about it). He thought he might make some films while he was abroad, too.

This resembles his travel plans from early August, and Kingsley remembered to ask about them:

Concerning the trip to South America which Mr. Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin contemplate taking together, the two have decided to put that off until after Fairbanks’ tour abroad.

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Kathleen Clifford

He really wanted to get out of town, even though he was in the middle of casting his next film. He had chosen a leading lady, but he wasn’t ready to tell Kingsley yet (it was Kathleen Clifford, and the film was When the Clouds Roll By).

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Unlike the South America trip, he actually did go to Europe the next year and visited everywhere on his list, substituting the Netherlands and Germany for the Nordic countries. However, he had a different companion. He married Mary Pickford on March 28, 1920 and on June 12, 1920 they set off on their honeymoon, sailing to Southampton, England. British Pathe Newsreel filmed their arrival and the crowds that swarmed them:

Mobs of fans followed them wherever they went, making seeing the sights impossible, with one exception. According to Fairbanks biographer Tracey Goessel, they got a break in Germany—their films hadn’t been shown there during the war, so they weren’t noticed except in American-occupied Coblenz. But after a day without being recognized, Pickford realized she didn’t like it and said “Let’s go someplace where we are known. I’ve had enough obscurity for a lifetime.”

British Pathe caught up with them again at their last stop in Paris, and you can see that obscurity was not a problem there:

I feel claustrophobic just looking at the newsreels! They arrived back in New York on July 29th.

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Kingsley’s favorite show this week was at Grauman’s, where Mack Sennett’s Uncle Tom Without a Cabin and Love Insurance with Bryant Washburn were playing; she said, “let’s stipulate right from the outset that these two form a combination that assay more laughs to the square inch of film than any program it’s been our joy to witness in many a long day.”

She described Love Insurance as

“a sprightly and ingenious story, this, involving an English lord engaged to marry a wealthy American girl, but who is afraid of losing her, and therefore takes out insurance in Lloyd’s against such a mishap. Bryant is the boy sent to watch over the interests of the insurance company and see that the marriage comes off according to schedule. There is a mounting comic interest in the march of events—and at least two big surprises at the end! It’s these really brilliant little screen comedies which are lifting the screen above the slush and mush.”

This version is lost, so I’ll spoil the surprises: he wasn’t really a Lord, and the girl ends up with Washburn. It got remade twice more, once with Reginald Denny as The Reckless Age (1924) and once as One Night in the Tropics (1940) with Allan Jones and Abbott and Costello.

She really enjoyed the two-reeler on the program, too:

Uncle Tom Without His Cabin is the funniest kind of burlesque on barnstorming companies, and must be seen to be appreciated. It hits off the mannerisms of actors behind the scenes in a way to amuse both the profession and outsiders, and drolly satirizes the trials and tribulations of the barnstormers.

The short did so well at this theater, Sennett made an ad out of it!

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Brett Walker, in Mack Sennett’s Fun Factory, wrote that it was one of their best remembered and most popular films, and it helped make Ben Turpin a star.

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Dorothy Gish in Nobody Home

Kingsley also really enjoyed seeing Dorothy Gish in Nobody Home, which was “a fresh, brisk little comedy, about a superstitious girl who won’t make a turn in life without consulting the cards.” She gave Gish quite an unusual compliment:

Dorothy ‘s hand and feet are funny; she can get more comedy over in the crooking of a finger-tip, the twinkle of a heel, than most comediennes can throughout the playing of a whole humor feature.

Unfortunately, it’s a lost film.

 

Shimmie if You Want to: Week of June 28th, 1919

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley had it on very good authority that the new dance craze wasn’t immoral:

You may shimmie, if you wish! So says Marion Morgan, producer of the Morgan dancing act, which is creating a sensation at the Orpheum this week. And you may take Miss Morgan’s word for it, ‘cause she used to be a school ma’am in days gone by, of course no school-teacher would ever tell you to do anything wrong. And now that the dance has climbed up into the social class where it is referred to politely as the ‘lingerie tremulo” that makes it seem different, too.

Morgan pointed out that it was healthful exercise, and “dancing is really cleansing to the brain and body” but “there are shimmies and shimmies, you know—nice little expurgated wriggles that are not suggestive at all—and then there is the shimmie that is decidedly vulgar. That’s why I say shimmie if you like—and according to your lights…And if you are so vulgar that you don’t know when you are doing a vulgar shimmie—why, it probably won’t hurt you any!” In the late teens to early twenties the shimmie/shimmy did occasionally get banned at dance halls, and the censors in Boston didn’t let Mae West perform it on stage in 1921,* but it looks like the fuss died down fairly quickly.

Kingsley asked Morgan about it because a shimmie dance act had been selling a lot of tickets at a rival theater, the Pantages, for the last month. Nevertheless, Morgan didn’t seem to mind giving her opinion, possibly because her act was so different. Kingsley had reviewed the ballet she’d choreographed at the Orpheum earlier in the week, and she thought it was a sensation: “it was as though I were witnessing a play—but a play done in such exquisite fashion as to be a new sort of poetry. The subject of the ballet is historical, and is in three scenes, all staged with such real and vivid appeal to the imagination the spectator feels he is in the midst of the scene itself, rather than on the outside.”

Marion Morgan was a former dance instructor who ran a troupe which toured the vaudeville circuits, performing interpretive dances based on Egyptian and classical Greek and Roman themes. She also did choreography for films. In 1927 she became director Dorothy Arzner’s partner and they worked together on several pictures.

This week there was a demonstration of just how popular Charlie Chaplin was: his new film, Sunnyside, played in two theaters at the same time, which was very unusual then. Both the Kinema (1850 seats) and Tally’s Broadway (900 seats) were owned by T.L. Tally, and according to reports, Chaplin didn’t have trouble filling all those seats. Kingsley’s review didn’t hurt; she said, “Sunnyside has so many funny touches it has to be seen to be appreciated. All lovers of Charlie Chaplin—and if there is anybody who isn’t he keeps it in the dark nowadays—will rejoice in Sunnyside.” It spent one week at both theaters, then two more just at Tally’s Broadway. Now Sunnyside is not as well regarded as many of Chaplin’s other films; however, that’s stiff competition.

Because it was a short (its run time is between 29 and 41 minutes), they felt they needed to show other films with it – even though they didn’t bother to mention them in the advertising! Here are the neglected movies: at the Kinema, they showed The Haunted Bedroom, “a good old-fashioned mystery story,” according to Motion Picture News. Meanwhile, at Tally’s Broadway during the first week they ran a Chester travelogue called Up in the Air After Alligators,** which was about alligator hunting. For the second week it was a Major Jack Allen hunting short and for the third it was The Indestructible Wife. This was a particularly odd paring; Motion Picture News called it a “matinee picture…it is one of those soft, tender kind of attraction, whose predominating feature is artistic beauty.” It told the story of a society wife (Alice Brady) who liked to go to parties, but her husband (Saxon Kling) got tired of it so he had a friend kidnap her. He rescues her so she decides to stay home. I don’t get it. I wonder how many people stuck around to watch the rest of the bill – maybe more people saw them than would have otherwise.

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Charlotte and Mary Pickford

Kingsley had news about another big star:

That Mary Pickford is going to retire, following the completion of nine pictures for which she has contracted with the Big Four, was the statement made by Mrs. Charlotte Pickford, Mary Pickford’s mother, according to a telegraphic dispatch received last night by this department from Boston, where Mrs. Pickford is at present, attending to details connected with the showing of a Pickford play.

“Only nine more pictures and Mary will settle down to enjoy the fruits of her hard-earned savings,” is the way Mrs. Charlotte Pickford put it. “It will take a number of months to complete the present pictures contracted for and then Mary is going to settle down to enjoy life, as I have entreated her to do for a long time. The pictures to come are to be the biggest and the best ever developed by her and she has been given free leave to spend all the money she likes to make the productions successful.”

Miss Pickford herself could not be reached last night, as she was absent from home, but her manager, F.E. Benson, states, when informed regarding Mrs. Pickford’s statement:

“I do not know of any such idea on Miss Pickford’s part. We are in the middle of a production and have a large number of stories already purchased. Of course, I don’t know what understanding Miss Pickford and her mother have regarding Miss Pickford’s retiring, but I am her manager, and I have heard no such talk.”

Of course Pickford was nowhere near retirement – that didn’t happen until 1933. It seems odd that Charlotte Pickford felt the need to alert the media about it. It could be that she though Mary really meant it. Regarding this year, Mary Pickford’s biographer Eileen Whitfield quoted the Chicago News: “Mary Pickford’s threatened retirement from professional life is becoming as chronic as Sarah Bernhardt’s farewell stage appearances.” Whitfield said that she talked about quitting because she was miserable, trying to decide if she should divorce Owen Moore and marry Douglas Fairbanks and she was quite worried about bad publicity if she did. Eventually she made up her mind, got her divorce in February 1920 and married Fairbanks a month later (and stopped threatening retirement).

Finally, this was the week when Prohibition went into effect and it was on everybody’s mind. Tom Mix said, “just think of all the family skeletons nowadays that will be moved out of closets to make room for that which cheers and also inebriates!”

 

*”Whirl of the Town,” Variety, April 22, 1921.

**The intertitles for the Chester travelogues were written by Katharine Hilliker, and her forgotten career is exactly what the Women Film Pioneers website was made for. She continued to work as a title writer and film editor on movies like Seventh Heaven (1927) and Sunrise (1927).

 

 

 

Startling Star Salary: Week of June 21st, 1919

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Mary Miles Minter

One hundred years ago this week, Mary Miles Minter signed a “startling” contract, and Grace Kingsley had the details:

The little girl with the biggest motion-picture contract in the world—that’s Mary Miles Minter. But she pays a stern price for it, inasmuch as her personal life is ordered by the rules laid down in the contract, and she is even forbidden to wed during the life of the agreement.

By its terms she will receive in three years the sum of $1,300,000. She is to get $250,000 for her first five pictures, or $50,000 a picture. For the second five she will get $300,000, or $60,000 a picture and for the third five $350,000 or $70,000 a picture, and for the fourth five, $400,000 or $80,000 a picture. No chances were taken with Miss Minter because she happens to be a minor. While she was represented by O’Brein, Malevinsky and Driscoll, the contract was drawn that her every act will come under the supervision of her employer, Mr. Zukor.

A sensational feature provides that, though Miss Minter is but 18 years old,* and therefore might be expected to love social gaiety, she is to order her life according to a set of rules which provide she shall live the quietest kind of a home life, never to be seen in public when it is possible to avoid it, and never associate in public with stage offscreen folk. Also—and this might not be pleasing to a lot of screen stars—she is to receive no interviewers.

Minter was to start work on June 30th, but until then she was on vacation with her mother in Atlantic City, “enjoying to the full the only free social life she is to be allowed to know during the next three years.”

1.3 million dollars was at that point the largest amount promised in one contract to an actor, but others had gotten paid more per film. For example, in 1918 Mary Pickford signed a contract with First National that paid $675,000 for three films, plus half the profits. Minter’s deal was particularly astonishing because her most recent salary at American Films was $2250 a week.

 

Kingsley didn’t ask why Adolph Zukor was willing to pay so much, but Variety was happy to speculate on what film people were calling “Zukor’s madness:”

One explanation is furnished by his former star, Mary Pickford, in letters she has sent to friends here in the East. Whether rightly or wrongly, Miss Pickford is under the impression, an impression strengthened by those few in Zukor’s confidence who have breathed a word about the matter—the impression that the head of Paramount is willing to go to any length and spend any amount of money to replace Mary Pickford in his list of picture offerings. Miss Pickford has been informed that Zukor is “so sore” at her for leaving his management that he will go a long ways to “get even.” (June 13, 1919)

I bet she stopped writing to those friends. Even with a well-funded advertising campaign and complete control over her public image, Zukor wasn’t able to make Minter as big a star as Pickford. The first film she made under her new contract was her biggest hit: Anne of Green Gables, directed by William Desmond Taylor. Now she’s mostly remembered for her relationship with him and for being implicated in his still unsolved murder in 1922. We can’t be sure, but maybe if she’d had more freedom under her contract to socialize away from work she might not have become better known in true crime circles than film histories. She did make 18 of the 20 films under her contract, but the studio dropped her in 1923 and she retired.

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Dempsey–Willard Fight by James Montgomery Flagg

Kingsley mentioned a forthcoming all-star boys road trip:

Carter de Haven, co-starring with his wife in feature comedies at the National studios, will be among the many notables attending the little fracas in Toledo the fourth of next month. He intends leaving on the billion-dollar special, which has been arranged for by the most stellar lights in the photoplay firmament. The train will provide every known deluxe feature. Continuous dining service will be had, not to mention a completely stocked buffet and additional servants to minster to their every want.

Those included in the passenger list, beside Mr. de Haven, are Wally Reid, Charlie Chaplin, Charles Ray, Douglas Fairbanks, Jesse Lasky, Cecil De Mille, Dustin Farnum, William Farnum, Roscoe Arbuckle, Jack Pickford and Sid Grauman.

It sounds like the set-up for a one-act play! The “little fracas” was the heavyweight boxing championship held on the Fourth of July in Toledo, Ohio between Jack Dempsey and Jess Willard. It was promoted as “the fight of the century.” However, I haven’t found any evidence that they actually went—nearly five days on a train is a long time to be away from work, even with a buffet. Dempsey beat Willard in three brutal rounds.

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Francis MacDonald played the cad

This week Kingsley saw a movie that made the audience want to yell “That’s good! Hit him again!” It was called The Divorce Trap and

you should have heard the laughs and delighted applause yesterday when the caddish young man, who had tried to frame for divorce the young wife who had tried her best to reform him, got his just deserts, which included a swift kick from his own dad. Naturally the story is a sordid one, but it is tremendously realistic…the manner in which the lightning justice of its events are recorded, make for a certain finesse and high-mindedness of general effect.

This lost film was sold as a serious drama, but it’s a shame that more tragic villains don’t get their due with a kick in the pants.

 

Kingsley told a story that demonstrated how much more relaxed studio security was in 1919. Nine-year-old Douglas Fairbanks Jr. visited his dad’s workplace dressed in a wild West suit just like his father’s, then:

Little Doug disappeared for a whole half-hour. At the end of that time he reappeared, led by a farmerish looking individual.

“This your boy really?” he demanded of Doug Sr.

No need to answer, as the boy made a frantic and affectionate dive for his dad.

“Well, I found him on these togs out front,” said the man, “and when I asked him who he was, he said Douglas Fairbanks. Poor little tad, I said to myself, to be crazy and him so young! Well, the movies does do it to ‘em, but not usually at his age! Then he explained his dad was named Douglas Fairbanks, too—and I see the point at once, I did, and here he is!”

It seems that kid supervision was more relaxed then, too.

 

*Actually she was 17 at the time, but the age of majority was 21 then.

 

“Adolph Zukor Determined to Supplant Mary Pickford,” Variety, June 13, 1919.

“Testimony in Film Star’s Suit Opens,” Los Angeles Herald, May 19, 1920.

“Zukor Gets Mary Miles Minter by Million Dollar Contract,” Variety, June 27, 1919.

 

Three-dollar film tickets!?!: Week of May 17th, 1919

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One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on the latest in inflation:

It has arrived at last—the day of the $3 picture. And D.W. Griffith’s Broken Blossoms, now being exhibited in New York at the Cohan Theater, is the picture that has done it. A telegram received yesterday at the Griffith studio announced the glad news that henceforth all desirable seats in the theater will be $3, and now all the other directors in town are sending hot telegrams to their New York offices.

From other than a financial standpoint the fact is interesting, as Mr. Griffith himself considers the picture his best work. Also, he was not sure of its success, since it is a tragedy, and the public, we are told, demands happy endings.

The distributors had used the strategy of charging $2 for during the early days of release for Griffith’s epics Birth of a Nation and Intolerance, but Broken Blossoms was an intimate film that only took 18 days to shoot. However, it worked: Blossoms was Griffith’s all-time third most profitable film after Birth of a Nation and Way Down East according to Richard Schickel. The reviews were just that good.

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To get an idea of how remarkable a $3 ticket was, average admission price in 1919 ranged from 10 cents in smaller theaters (300 seats) to 25 cents in larger theaters (1,100 seats and over) according to Richard Koszarski. Oddly enough, in 1915, the price theater owners paid for a chair itself was only $2.75!

The new record didn’t affect admission prices for most films (Griffith’s next release, True Heart Susie, was shown at ordinary prices) but occasionally big films like The Ten Commandments (1923) or Ben-Hur (1925) had a “roadshow release” following this model.

The audience didn’t just get a movie for their $3. At the premier, incense wafted over the audience and the theater was decorated in blossoms. There was a live prologue set in “a Chinese joss house filled with characters representative of the story and half concealed, half disclosed by nebulous mists of light save for a rich golden shaft that poured over a white girl lying on a divan,” plus an orchestra playing original compositions by Louis F. Gottschalk and D.W. Griffith to accompany the film, according to The Sun newspaper.

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A leghorn hat

Lillian Gish was also at the premier, but earlier she’d told Kingsley that before she hadn’t had the courage “to face a New York opening—that she never had been present at one of those fateful affairs.” But for this one, she managed to tough it out, with the help of a “great big leghorn hat” and a seat in the back of a box. She was glad she did, telling Kingsley that “after it was over, she confessed the occasion gave her the thrill of her life.”

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Broken Blossoms eventually came to Los Angeles in September, but they got the prologue and three orchestras for only $1.50. Kingsley got to attend and thought it was the “latest marvel of the master picture maker.”

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This week, audiences in L.A. were paying 15-25 cents for matinees and 25-35 cents for evening shows to see two of Hollywood’s biggest stars. They, and Kingsley, enjoyed both of their films very much. At the Kinema, Mary Pickford managed to surprise her with her skills:

you’ve never known Mary Pickford or Daddy Long-Legs either, until you’ve seen them in the marvelous picture brew which that amazingly clever young star has given us. Daddy Long-Legs was delicious as a story, delightful as a play, and is entrancing as a picture. A crowded house went fairly into raptures yesterday, and applause, even at that cold 12:45 performance, punctuated the picture…In short, Mary does as she pleases with us in this—and proves herself, incidentally, a surprisingly versatile actress.

Fritzi Kramer at Movies Silently says it’s still an excellent film.

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Kingsley had even more fun at Grauman’s:

Dashing Doug appears in a rip-roaringly funny and zip-zipplingly thrilly comedy at Grauman’s this week entitled The Knickerbocker Buckaroo, in which the hero leaps over all the obstacles which come in his path from New York all the way to Mexico. The story involves lost treasure….But what’s the use of trying to describe a Douglas Fairbanks comedy? Just take my word for it The Knickerbocker Buckaroo is one of the best and go see it.

Unfortunately, you can’t because it’s a lost film.

Elsewhere in her review Kingsley made a point about appreciating simple pleasures in movies:

Some of us may rave about the high-brows—but we’ll sneak away from the most soulful moment in any of their plays to see Bill Hart punch the nose of the villain who is rough-housing the heroine, while there are moods in which we are just crazy about the subjective drama of Galsworthy and Ibsen, aren’t we always not only willing, but anxious, to view the spectacle of Bill Farnum beating the tar out of the crook who has stolen the money from the poor old man?

Audiences now are the same as they were then, they’re just accustomed to more CGI in their fights.

 

 

 

 

“Broken Blossoms is Blend of Greek, Chinese, London and American Effects,” Sun, May 14, 1919.

“Broken Blossoms” Strong Griffith Drama at Cohan’s Theater,” Evening World, May 14, 1919.

Richard Koszarski, An Evening’s Entertainment, Berkeley: UC Press, 1990.

Richard Schickel. D.W. Griffith: An American Life. NY: Simon and Schuster, 1984.

 

 

Pickford’s Dream House: Week of May 3rd, 1919

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Her plans included a library (still from The Hoodlum)

One hundred years ago this week, while visiting Mary Pickford on the set of The Hoodlum, Grace Kingsley got an earful about a house building project:

“That’s one thing I’ve always wanted—my own room—and now I’m going to have it. I guess the first thing people always think of when they’re building a house is a nice big fireplace, so we’re going to have a whole flock of ‘em, including one in my room…I’m going to have a pretty room, all done in dark-colored enamel furniture, relieved with bright colors.”

Her mother Charlotte wanted a lot of bay windows and window seats, but Pickford made a good point about them: “I just can’t see ‘em myself, but mother has overruled me. So bay windows and window seats there will be. Window seats look so cosy—and aren’t. Nobody ever uses ‘em. They are something you just look at and say to yourself, ‘Well, I’ll start sitting on those things next week.’”

Pickford had been talking about buying a mountain and building a house on it for awhile, and she said she’d found one overlooking Santa Monica Bay. She told Kingsley she’d made plans on paper, and it would be “somewhat in the old English style, with thatched-roof effect. It is to be in gray and white with a green roof, and it is to have twelve rooms and four baths.” Those rooms would include suite for her niece (bedroom, playroom and bath) right next to next to a bedroom for her sister, Lottie Pickford Rupp.

Mary Pickford and her family never did live in a house overlooking the bay. According to the 1920 Census (taken January 4th, 1920) they and their six servants were all living in a very nice rented house at 141 Westmoreland Place in West Addams, near Hollywood. Paradise Leased has a post about the neighborhood.

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This was her next house

So why did she go to the trouble of telling Kingsley this story? I think it’s an example of how good she was at controlling her own publicity. She needed to repair her reputation, because a year earlier she’d been in the news for having an affair with Douglas Fairbanks when they were both married to other people. Here she’s a good girl, planning a home for herself, her mother and sister while her then-current husband, Owen Moore, is never mentioned. She divorced him on March 2, 1920 and married Fairbanks on March 28, 1920. This story is another piece in the puzzle of how she survived what might have been a career-ending scandal.

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Kingsley’s favorite film this week was For Better, For Worse, the new Cecil De Mille movie that she thought was “one of the smashing picture hits of the year.”

How well Mr. De Mille ‘puts over’ his stories, as they say in vaudeville! We’re freshly impressed with the fact with every picture of his. In this one, there’s not an iota of dramatic value that is lost, there’s not a second of poignant situation from which every drop of effectiveness is not wrung. All gained by a cunning holding of suspense by a hundred telling touches, by flawless acting on the part of a cast picked each for faithfulness to character, and lastly, by faultless photography.

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Swanson’s outfits were fabulous in this one, too

It starred Gloria Swanson, but this one hasn’t been as fondly remembered as their other collaborations like Don’t Change Your Husband (1920), probably because the melodrama seems thick, not poignant now (she marries a soldier leaving for war instead of her true love, a doctor who does more good at home; she realizes her mistake after she injures a child in an accident and he successfully treats her; her disfigured husband does come home but he wants to leave her for his own true love so everybody ends up with the proper person – it’s a lot). It’s been preserved at the Eastman House.

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With friends like these…

On Wednesday Kingsley reported that Buster Keaton was back in town after serving in France, and by Friday she already had a story about a prank on the Arbuckle lot:

The rotund comedian had been working over at the Sennett in a very noisy comedy, next to another equally noisy Sennett comedy. When he came back to his own quiet studio, he complained his ears hurt him a bit, and he was afraid he was losing his hearing. That started it.

As soon as his company began working, he told them he couldn’t hear them—that he wished they’d speak a little louder. His leading woman came over and told him she was speaking as loud as she could and what was the matter with him anyhow? He looked around, troubled. “Louder!” he exclaimed. The whole company went through motions as though yelling at the top of their lungs. Just then a fire engine went by with a clang, and Fatty was on.

Dealing with co-workers like that was an occupational hazard for silent comics! Kingsley didn’t say who thought up the prank, however, Keaton had sadly lost some of his hearing while serving. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d used his own problem as inspiration.

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In her review of Pitfalls of a Big City, Kingsley gave a plaintive wail:

Why doesn’t somebody invent a new crook play? Why does the girl or guy always decide to ‘go straight,’ and then ‘go back to the old life,’ for fear ‘me pal will squeal on me and me little innocent kid sister will find out about me?’

I’m sure she wasn’t holding her breath for new plots any time soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Week of March 1st, 1919

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One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on how quickly a new company was getting ready to make films:

Hiram Abrams, former president of the Paramount Pictures Corporation and former vice-president of the Famous Players-Lasky Company, was yesterday appointed general manager of the United Artists’ Distributing Corporation. This is the organization made by Mary Pickford, Charles Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks and D.W. Griffith.

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Hiram Abrams

The four had signed the articles of incorporation just a few weeks earlier, on February 5th. They had already appointed a president, Oscar A. Price, the former U.S. Assistant Director of Railroads, and he’d just opened their New York office. They hired William McAdoo, the former Secretary of the Treasury, as Chief Counsel. Benjamin Schulberg was appointed as assistant general manager under Abrams; he’d been his assistant at Paramount.

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They were also busily getting their physical plant ready:

Douglas Fairbanks yesterday finished his final picture to be made by him under his contract with the Paramount Corporation. The title of the picture is The Knickerbocker Buckaroo. Mr. Fairbanks has leased the Clune Studio on Melrose Avenue, Hollywood, and the work of moving the Fairbanks properties from the quarters of the star has long occupied at the Lasky studios will begin today [March 5th].

His brother Robert was in charge of renovating the studio, and it was to include an outdoor gymnasium so his brother could “retain his customary vigor and vim.” It’s remarkable how quickly they were able to set up a new company.

The founders motive was more control over their money and creative decisions. Motion Picture News called the idea that filmmakers would produce and distribute their own films “the most revolutionary move in the history of the film industry.” (“Inside Story of the Combine Now Told,” Feb. 1, 1919, p. 685)

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Fairbanks made their first film, His Majesty, the American and it was a hit. However, even though they had big moneymakers like Way Down East (1920) the company ran into trouble producing enough films to support their distribution network. So in 1924 they hired Joseph Schenk as the president, and he brought films from his wife Norma Talmadge and in-laws Constance Talmadge and Buster Keaton. In addition they began distributing the work of independent producers including Samuel Goldwyn. The company is still around after passing through a long list of owners, doing business under the name United Artists’ Digital Studios.

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Pickford made lots of movies about orphans, including Daddy Long Legs

Another one of the United Artists, Mary Pickford, appeared in the second installment of Ella The Extra Girl. Kingsley was able to include a detail missed in most star profiles: Pickford included chewing gum with the lunches she provided for the extras. Ella approved: “I’m askin’ you if that ain’t looking after her extras?” This month Kinglsey made up a story of how Miss Pickford found a home for an orphan named Mousie. While that was harmless fan fiction, maybe the gum part was true.

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Later this week Kingsley reported that Pickford was taking three whole days off between making Daddy Long Legs and The Hoodlum to shoot publicity photos and go to the dentist. After that she owed one more film to First National (Heart o’ the Hills), then she started work at United Artists.

 

Kingsley remarked on the difference in what audiences say they want versus what they actually pay money to see:

From the hullabloo raised a few months ago by mothers’ clubs and like institutions concerning suitable motion pictures for children, one would have thought even the Pansy Books and the Trotty Series, if produced in films, would be a riot, and that the Rollo stories, if shown on the screen, would simply cause mothers to trample each other to death in the rush to get in and see the show.*

Wherefore the Fox Company took these good souls at their word, and produced a series of supremely artistic and delightful fairy tales under direction of Chet and Sidney Franklin. The first one was a tremendous success; then they died. Then they put the Lee kids on in a series of comedies, which were fairly successful, but not as popular as they should have been. The now defunct Balboa Amusement Company made pictures with Baby Marie Osbourne, and while they gained a fair amount of popularity, there are no records of disaster caused by the youngsters and mothers of the land breaking their necks to get in to houses where the pictures were shown. It appears the young ones still hollered for Charlie Chaplin and Fatty Arbuckle and Bill Hart and Mary Pickford.

So children are people, not an alien race who want kiddie films? There’s a lesson for studio heads.

Kingsley (and her rivals) appeared in the newspaper ad for her favorite film from last week:

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It seems that exhibitors have been using critics’ pull quotes to bring in customers for a long time.

 

 

*All three had been best sellers, but they were very much of the previous century. The Rollo stories were by Jacob Abbott, a minister who in the 1830’s became the first writer of multivolume series for children. Rollo didn’t have many adventures or much personality, but he learned lots of moral lessons. Pansy was the pen name of Isabella Macdonald Alden, and from 1865 to 1931 she wrote equally wholesome stories that taught life lessons for Christians. I can imagine them irritating a young, bookish Grace Kingsley.

 

 

Trotty, and his author, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, were more interesting. He was a mischievous four-year-old boy who had adventures in a series of short stories published in the 1860’s and ‘70’s. She was a prolific author for children and adults who with her Gypsy Breton series, set the pattern for tomboyish heroines like Jo March. Best of all, she advocated clothing reform. She was a corset burner! Here’s what she wrote in What to Wear (1873):

Burn up the corsets! … No, nor do you save the whalebones, you will never need whalebones again. Make a bonfire of the cruel steels that have lorded it over your thorax and abdomens for so many years and heave a sigh of relief, for your emancipation I assure you, from this moment has begun.

A biopic about her could teach some handy life lessons: we can all appreciate our emancipated thoraxes.

 

 

Week of December 28th, 1918

 

 

One hundred years ago this week, soldiers were beginning to come home.

It isn’t every girl who has the luck to welcome even one soldier boy back from France, much less 2000 of ‘em. But that’s to be the delightful privilege of our own Mary Pickford, who will personally wish a Happy New Year to the One Hundred and Forty-third California Field Artillery. Hastening back home from the world war is the gallant 143rd, which, you will recollect, was adopted by Miss Pickford when the boys were at Camp Kearney. Yesterday Mayor Rolph of San Francisco telegraphed Miss Pickford that her godsons would arrive in San Francisco on New Year’s Day, and invited her to be present to welcome them at the ferry and proceed in the parade with them to the Presidio, where special exercises will be held. Mary is to be asked to make a little speech.

However, they had so many ceremonies to attend in New York that their arrival in San Francisco was delayed until January 3rd. Miss Pickford put off her trip, too, and she was there to greet them when they arrived.

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The 143rd weren’t only adopted by Pickford, they appeared in her film Johanna Enlists. Russell at Screen Snapshots has a nice article about the film and the troop, including that they were fortunate, and weren’t involved in the fighting in France.

Happily, life was beginning to return to normal but according to economist E. Jay Howenstine, Jr., demobilization wasn’t simple. The government feared mass unemployment when the soldiers returned, so they considered slowing it down. However, every industry wanted their workers back ASAP, and they lobbied their congresspeople to speed things up. Families and the soldiers themselves also pressured their representatives, so by mid-February they were bringing people back as fast as they could, limited only by the number of ships they had. By early June they were discharging 102,000 people per week and by August 1st there were only 156,000 men left in Europe. Almost 4 million individuals had been an American service member, but by the anniversary of the war’s end, demobilization was complete.

 

Kingsley interviewed D.W. Griffith this week, and he said that he’d made a seven-reel feature out of the Babylon episodes of Intolerance by expanding the love story of the Prince and Princess, as well as the Mountain Girl’s (Constance Talmadge) romance with the Rhapsode (Elmer Clifton). Kingsley wrote:

Here’s a pleasant surprise for you! In the new story, the little Mountain Girl and her lover live! “You see, that’s how the original story was made. Then we changed it. But we kept that film. I’ve allowed the lovers to live this time,” he smiles, “and they go away into the desert together. No, I really don’t know what becomes of them after that, but it must be a very fascinating thing to do, mustn’t it—going away into the desert with one’s lover.

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Constance Talmadge as the Mountain Girl

The film was called The Fall of Babylon and contemporary critics like Julian Johnson liked it, saying that on a second viewing he realized his original enthusiasm for Intolerance was merited. A modern critic writing for MOMA mentions that Griffith made it to help recoup his losses. Babylon has been eclipsed by the other film derived from Intolerance, The Mother and the Law. The MOMA writer said the modern story “stands on its own as one of the director’s major achievements.”

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Priscilla Dean

Kingsley’s favorite film this week was yet another reworking of The Taming of the Shrew called She Hired a Husband, starring Priscilla Dean. She wrote:

There are several new angles to the old tale. For one thing, you’re sure to be surprised—but I won’t spoil your anticipation of the ending. Of course, you shouldn’t be surprised, because the long arm of coincidence, which is forever reaching out in the film drama—but there, I’ll be telling in a minute!

Instead of being properly tamed at the right time, out there in the cabin in the woods, this chaste and chased Diana, who refuses to be married to anybody her guardians want her to espouse, and picks up with a tramp instead, is kidnapped by real ruffians. And not another word shall I tell you. Go and see the picture for yourself. You’re sure to be vastly entertained.

It’s a lost film, so we can’t be vastly entertained any more but I won’t leave you in suspense: the tramp rescues her from the kidnappers, and it turns out he was the nice young man that her family wanted her to marry all along. Aren’t you glad you were sitting down for that?

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Samuel Goldwyn

This week, Samuel Goldfish legally changed his name to Goldwyn.

Mr. Goldfish decided to name himself after his big organization. Not only, says Mr. Goldfish, has he missed some attractive invitations to dinner, through people thinking his name was Goldwyn, and thus addressing him in nice little notes, but sometimes there has been delay in business negotiations through the same misunderstanding. During the past two years of the company’s existence, in fact, fully half of the mail intended for him, says the new Mr. Goldwyn, has been marked “Samuel Goldwyn.”

It seems the Selwyns, who contributed the last part of the company name, didn’t have the same trouble. It’s funny that he felt he needed to make an excuse for changing his name.

1919happyI hope your New Year is as happy as the 143rd’s was!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jay Howenstine, Jr. “Demobilization After the First World War,” Quarterly Journal of Economics, v. 58 no, 1 (Nov. 1943), pp. 91-105. This article is particularly interesting because he wrote it to offer suggestions on how to demobilize after the Second World War, putting history to good use.

Julian Johnson, “The Shadow Stage,” Photoplay, October 1919, p. 76,78.

Week of December 7th, 1918

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The boss

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley interviewed Hollywood’s newest film producer:

“Here I am—all alone in the world, without an alibi!” That’s what Mary Pickford, now a producer for the First National Exhibitor’s Circuit, said the other day, with her humorous little smile. She meant there’s nobody to lay the blame on if her pictures go wrong.

“I sued to be able to say, when I was with Artcraft, and anything went wrong, ‘Well, now if Mr. Zukor had let me do so and so—And now I haven’t a single person to blame if Daddy Long Legs and Pollyanna don’t turn out to be the successes I of course hope they will be.”

 

In this interview, Mary Pickford was no longer the girlish actress of the February 23, 1918 article; she was in control of her own films and being very well paid for it. Kingsley spoke to her while she was hiring actors for her next film, Daddy Long Legs, and she made it plain that the casting decisions were all Pickford’s, not director Marshall Neilan’s. Pickford also had final say on the screenplay being written by Agnes Johnston. She thought it was “an awful responsibility,” but didn’t mention the other side: she got the credit if it all went well, which it did.

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Forming United Artists, 1919

The man who directed her first films in 1909, D.W. Griffith, stopped by, and he reminisced:

“What do you think of our young lady now? Such a rich girl! Do you know I remember the awful time I had keeping Mary in the old Biograph days because she wanted $30 a week. ‘Thirty dollars’ exclaimed the business head of that concern, ‘Mary wants thirty dollars a week! Why I never heard of such a thing! There ain’t no picture actor in the world worth thirty dollars a week!’”

Both Pickford and the movie industry had come a long way since she quit Biograph for the first time in 1910! For the rest of her career, she managed her anxieties about responsibility, and continued to be in charge of her films through her last one, Secrets, in 1933.

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Coming attraction

Later this week, Griffith announced the film he was currently working on, based on a story from a collection called Limehouse Nights, “a story far removed from war subjects.” He changed the name to Broken Blossoms, and while it was completely different from his earlier successes, it turned out to be one of his best films. It was added to the Library of Congresses National Film Registry in 1996.

Kingsley’s favorite film this week was a comedy, but there was a melancholy tinge to it:

It’s rather an odd trick of fate which causes us to see the late Harold Lockwood for the last time in a role in which he plays the part of one returned from the dead, as he does in the capital comedy drama, Pals First, which is on view at Clune’s Broadway. And it’s a matter of congratulation with us who knew and were fond of the popular film idol that his last role was one that fitted his talents so well and that he did his very best work of his career in the part….Harold Lockwood plays delightfully the role of the nonchalant, happy-go-lucky crook of fascinating manners.

This wasn’t the last Lockwood film to be released; three more came out in 1919. Nevertheless, it sounds like the story of a tramp impersonating an aristocrat thought to be lost at sea suited him. P.S. Harrison in Motion Picture News also thought it was one of Lockwood’s best, and the film “holds one in constant suspense.” It’s presumed lost.

 

Week of October 5th, 1918

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The virus
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F. Woodman

One hundred years ago this week, Los Angeles city officials began to take the influenza epidemic very seriously. Following the recommendation of the newly-formed Medical Advisory Board, Mayor Frederick Woodman closed all schools, churches, theaters, and any other places of amusement starting at 6 p.m. on October 11th. He also banned all public gatherings, like Liberty Loan drives. Violators could be fined up to $500.00 or imprisoned for up to six months. Trying not to panic the public, he said that the restrictions might be lifted in a week. That wasn’t how it worked out — they lasted until December 2nd.

It all happened suddenly. Here are the theater ads from Thursday, October 10th:

 

And here’s the only ad from the 11th:

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In hindsight, Mayor Woodman made the right decision: this disease was utterly devastating. In fourteen months, about 500 million people or one-third of the world’s population became infected with this virus. It was estimated to have killed 50 million people (675,000 of them in the United States), according to the Centers for Disease Control, far more than the 15 million men killed on battlefields in World War 1,

Cinematographer Karl Brown, then serving in the army at Camp Kearny, wrote about his experience in his autobiography:

Then came one fateful evening after retreat, when it was quite dark, and when Captain Thompson came to my squad tent, which I shared with seven others. Somebody caught the glint of those two silver bars and barked “’Ten-shun!”

We all sprang to our feet, including me, even though I had been feeling horribly bad for the past two days. The trouble was that I couldn’t keep my feet under me and that I swayed forward and fell into the arms of Captain Thompson, who eased me to the floor of the tent. He felt my forehead briefly and then commanded, “Get an ambulance for this man. On the double!”

I must have fallen into a deep sleep, because I kept dreaming that I was hearing the Chopin Funeral March being played over and over again. Then, when I finally managed to achieve some semblance of awareness, I discovered that I was in a hospital bed along with ranks and ranks of other men, all in bed and all on a very long screened-in porch facing a roadway. It was daylight, and I was at least partially awake, because the Funeral March was being played by a military brass band as it moved slowly along the road, followed by a caisson carrying a flag-draped coffin.

It was hardly out of sight before another cortege came hard on the heels of the first, groaning out the same funeral march. And then another. And another. And this was to go on day after day for the unknowingly long time I was destined to stay in the base hospital.

It was the flu, of course, killing without mercy and much more efficiently than the armies on the fighting front.

Between the war and the epidemic, this was a very dark time for everybody. So they did their best to keep busy. Most people still went to work, including Grace Kingsley. This week, she had the story of the Goldwyn Company moving to Los Angeles, observing:

Count the day lost whose low descending sun sees no picture company trekking to the land of the setting sun.

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Photoplay noticed that everyone was moving West, too (cartoon by R. F. James, November 1918)

Goldwyn stars like Mae Marsh, Geraldine Farrar, Pauline Fredericks and Mabel Normand were making their travel plans, according to studio president Samuel Goldfish (the name change hadn’t happened yet). He tried telling her that moving West and giving up their Ft. Lee studio was a sacrifice to conserve coal to aid the government. She wasn’t buying it, and gently mocked him for his “a perfect halo of pure patriotism” which is much more polite than calling him out.

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Kingsley wrote two last movie reviews on Monday. Luckily she enjoyed them both. The first was one of John Ford’s early films, and she identified a recurring problem with his female characters.

There’s a capital Wild West story with a fairly Bret Harte-ish flavor at the Symphony this week, in which the three r’s of Wild West drama, viz, riding, romping and rowing (accent on the “ow”) are all played up strong. The Three Mounted Men is its name…Harry Carter is as horrid a villain as ever wore a checked suit and shaved his neck, while Neva Gerber is one of those lovely ragdoll heroines who had nothing to do but see to it that she’s not torn apart when they drag her on and off horses. While the story is about bandits, it is fresh and unhackneyed in treatment, with the whole company behaving like human beings.

 

Her second review was a sort of preview of things to come for the film industry. During the epidemic, most studios stopped production for a month so distributers re-issued older films to the theaters that hadn’t been closed. However, some companies were already doing that. The two she saw were made in 1914 and 1916, but audiences still enjoyed them:

Dear, dear, how we do love to take a peek once in a while at those old fillums of Mary Pickford’s and Charlie Chaplin’s! The Eagle’s Mate with little Mary as the heroine—she was just as long on hair, but shorter on art than in these days—and Charlie Chaplin in One A.M. are at the Garrick this week, and are drawing crowds, too, despite their ancient vintage. The Eagle’s Mate belongs to the film day when they carried maidens off to a mountain fastness and chased off sheriffs just as easy!—and the heroine always married the rough diamond hero despite stylish relatives and his table manners. Yet there’s a naïve charm and freshness about it—a zest in the doing which arouses our enjoyment and leaves us cold to the modern dramas with their boudoir hounds.

Without film and vaudeville reviews, her columns did shrink a bit, but she still presented news from interviews and press releases. And things would get better: the end of the war was only a month away.

 

 

“May Soon Lift Closing Order,” Los Angeles Times, October 11, 1918.

“To Wage War on Influenza,” Los Angeles Times, October 10, 1918.