Week of May 11th, 1918

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Tea party, 1918 — maybe children had other things to do?

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on decreased film attendance among school children in Los Angeles. However, theater owners had a unique excuse for being concerned about a downturn in ticket sales:

the alarming results in the steady decrease of war tax checks that are sent to the government by the theater owners every month…statistics show that this source of government income decreased fully 25 percent last month. This month’s drop will be even greater, and if the alarming decrease keeps up there is no doubt in the minds of the committee that several of the houses will have to close.

The tax on entertainment did contribute millions to fund the war , but if that was their real concern, they could have bought Liberty Bonds. Exhibitors must have thought that patriotism looked better in the newspaper than concern for profits.

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Teachers weren’t the only ones telling kids what to do with their money

They had an interesting theory on why kids weren’t going to the movies:

The trouble arises, according to reports received by the film men, from teachers in the public schools advising school children to save their money for other purposes and not to visit picture theaters.

They didn’t blame building too many theaters or bad movies or other entertainment options. Teachers have been blamed for many things for a very long time.

To deal with the problem, film exhibitors planned to form a committee and hold a meeting on May 18th. Nearly 100 producers and exhibitors attended, according to Moving Picture World. They didn’t frame it in terms of loss of tax revenue among themselves: they were worried about theaters staying in business. One exhibitor (F.A. MacDonald) stated that 32 theaters had already closed, and he blamed German propaganda – the enemy didn’t want people to see the Red Cross and Liberty Loan slides, speakers and trailers that were being shown. Producer Thomas Ince suggested, “tell people it is patriotic to patronize picture shows.” J.A. Quinn, owner of the Rialto Theater, wanted to start a publicity campaign (after all, President Wilson said that “the moving picture is helping to win the war”), and they resolved to do exactly that.

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Audiences came back

There weren’t any follow-up articles on the publicity campaign, but after things got much worse when the flu epidemic temporarily closed all the theaters later in 1918, film attendance eventually did come back. Weekly paid admissions rose from 40 million in 1922 to 65 million in 1928.

scarlet drop

Kingsley had a funny little criticism of The Scarlet Drop:

Harry Carey is breaking more furniture with the villain at the Supurba this week, than we have witnessed in many a day.

Nevertheless, she enjoyed the addition to the pile of Wild West pictures, because “Harry Carey, being a sincere cowboy, wins us the minute he appears and Molly Malone is just too cute for anything in those ’49 styles.” Sometimes that’s enough from a night at the movies. Now the film is remembered (30 minutes of it survive) because of its director: John Ford.

 

 

 

 

Koszarski, Richard. An Evening’s Entertainment. Berkeley: University of /California Press, 1990.

“Los Angeles Film Men Alarmed,” Moving Picture World, June 8, 1918, p.1403.

“School Teachers’ Advice Closing Coast Theaters,” Variety, May 24, 1918, p.1

 

Children’s tea party photo from the Upper Arlington Historical Society.

Week of August 12th, 1916

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One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley attended a private screening of Arctic explorer and documentary filmmaker Frank E. Kleinschmidt’s war films. She wrote:

Of all the movies taken of the great war, these are the most extraordinary thus far shown. The spectator sees soldiers fighting in the trenches; sees them crumple up and die. You see wounded men living with sick glazed eyes in the trenches waiting for the ambulance corps to pick them up. Battlefields with hundreds of dead men appear on the screen. Some of the most remarkable views are of aeroplanes. In one case you see scores of shells bursting around an Austrian airship that is sailing over Venice and is the target for hundreds of Italian guns.

Stephen Bush in Moving Picture World (April 1, 1916) agreed completely, writing, “the horrible and yet sublime tragedy of war is brought fearfully close to us by means of these films.” Kleinschmidt got such amazing footage because he’d been given permission to shoot by the Archduke Field Marshall Fredrick, the highest commanding officer – of Austria. That’s what doomed the commercial value of the films. Lewis Selznick bought the rights to distribute a six-reel version called War on Three Fronts. It was released in April 1917, the same month that the United States declared war. On April 21st Moving Picture World disavowed their earlier support and on April 28th Motography wrote “it is undeniable that these pictures are against the sentiment of our country, and it seems that the exhibitor might do well to think twice before he books them.”

However, that wasn’t the last of the film. According to American Cinematographers in the Great War, D.W. Griffith was given a print when he was working on Hearts of the World, and he used a few shots from it. In a letter, Kleinschmidt said he was disappointed that more wasn’t used. The book’s authors have more information about War on Three Fronts at First World War on Film.

Kleinschmidt went back to exploring the Arctic and he made another film in Alaska, Primitive Love (1927).

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The Bugle Call

Kingsley’s favorite film of the week was The Bugle Call. She was impressed by the fourteen-year-old who was making his film debut, saying “if Willie Collier Jr. keeps on he’ll be the best motion picture actor in the world some day.” She continued “we have something new to the screen in this photoplay – a real, human, breathing boy, as real and fascinating as any boy of action.” Collier played Billy Andrews, who lives on a Western army outpost with his father and new stepmother, whom he doesn’t like. Billy saves the outpost and his stepmother from an attack by sounding his bugle, according to the AFI Catalog. The film was re-made by Edward Sedgewick in 1927 with Jackie Coogan in Collier’s role. Both films are lost.

While William “Buster” Collier didn’t become the best actor in the world, he had a long career in entertainment. He acted until 1933, making the transition from child actor to romantic lead as well as from silent films to sound, appearing in over 80 films. Then he became a film and television producer.

Chaplin’s One A.M. continued to draw crowds, but the new accompanying feature The House of Mirrors had a “melodramatic, absurd and machine-made story.”

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Molly Malone

Kingsley heard a heroic story about a young actress, Molly Malone, from her director, George Cochrane. On location at Crater Canyon, he, cameraman Bob Walters and Miss Malone had just climbed over a big boulder when she gave a startled cry. “The next instant he heard the crash of a rock and turning, saw a writing snake. Miss Malone had thrown the rock, and her aim had been so accurate that it had broken the back of the reptile, which had been about to strike Cochrane. Miss Malone has the eight rattles and the button of the snake as a souvenir of her bravery.”

Molly Malone appeared in Westerns and comedies until 1929. Her most famous film is Backstage with Roscoe Arbuckle and Buster Keaton; you can see it at the Internet Archive.

Kingsley reported that while Hal Roach was in New York, Rolin studio manager Dwight Whiting took over and directed a Lonesome Luke film with Harold Lloyd and Bebe Daniels. Unlike many other people, it didn’t inspire him to stick with it. Two years later, he abandoned the entertainment business entirely and went to work for Union Oil where he was a director for 36 years. In 1934, he helped found the Santa Anita Racetrack. So there is life after Hollywood.

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Edmund Lowe

It seems that some fans have always been odd. Kingsley reported “Eddie Lowe was separated from an ingrowing toenail the other day. And right in the class with the ladies who carry flowers to murderers in jail, was the feminine admirer who wrote and begged the popular young actor to give her the subtracted toenail as a souvenir.” One hundred years later, that’s still horrifying.

At this point in his career, Edmund Lowe was primarily a stage actor, but he went on to a long career in film and television, starring in What Price Glory (1926) and Dinner at Eight (1933).