Week of August 4th, 1917

 

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on a frightening film set accident:

The sprightly and athletic Doris Pawn, who plays opposite Willard Louis in the latter’s first comedy for William Fox, under the direction of Charles Parrott, had a miraculous escape from suffering severe injuries or death while on location. Miss Pawn, who is a dare-devil horsewoman, was mounted on a spirited horse, and was told to ride down an embankment full speed onto a road in front of a camera.

After the situation had been explained to her by the director, Miss Pawn guided her horse to the top of the mound, and at the given word started down the hill. When she should have made her appearance a few seconds later, there was no sign of her. Parrott ran into the pathway and there found Miss Pawn lying on the ground, the horse having stumbled and fallen in such a manner Miss Pawn’s legs were pinioned beneath him. A call brought several of the assistants, who lifted the horse, releasing the girl. A hurried examination by a physician, who was summoned, disclosed the fact that Miss Pawn had sustained severe bruises on her hip and thighs and she owed her escape from broken bones to the fact that when the horse stumbled she fell on soft earth. After several days of attendance by a physician, Miss Pawn was again able to continue her part of the picture.

There’s no record of the film’s title; maybe it was never finished or released. There’s a hole in Charles Parrott’s (aka Charley Chase) filmography  from August 1917 to April 1918, and his biography only mentions his work with Hank Mann and Heine Conklin when he was at Fox. Miss Pawn got all of those bruises for nothing.

 

Doris Pawn was just one of so many people, now forgotten, who went to a lot of trouble to make films that have been lost. It’s really very depressing. However, Pawn picked herself up and had a long and perfectly good life. She’d learned her horse-riding skills growing up on her grandfather’s farm in Norfolk, Nebraska and she started out in films as an extra in 1914. She soon became a leading lady; later her most famous role was opposite Lon Chaney in The Penalty (1920). She retired from acting in 1923. She married three times; first to director Rex Ingram in 1917, second to insurance salesman Paul Reiners in 1928 and finally to drugstore owner Samuel Dunway in 1937. She died in La Jolla, California in 1988.

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Kingsley’s favorite film this week, The Show Down, involved that durable plot, “civilized” people shipwrecked on a desert island (it was good enough for Gilligan!). This was also a comedy and she thought it was very funny; it “merrily rings the bells at every shot.” Stranded after a German submarine sank their ocean liner, the group included the bestselling author of Back to the Primitive who longs for “the trackless ways of the jungle,” a philanthropist who wants to save the world, a bored society man and a spoiled young beauty. Of course the author complains about the food and refuses to go hunting, the philanthropist tried to “sell out” the group to the enemy, and the young people bestir themselves to get to another island and save the day. Kingsley wrote “the story is adroitly and snappily told, and is one of the best features, from every standpoint, that Bluebird has turned out.” It’s a lost film.

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Myrtle Gonzalez

Myrtle Gonzalez played the young woman and this was her last film; she got married and retired. Sadly, she died the next year in influenza epidemic.

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Robert Edeson, Rhea Mitchell, William S. Hart in On the Night Stage (1915)

An “old” film was re-released at the Garrick Theater this week, On the Night Stage. Kingsley observed,

the showing of this picture brings to light an odd little twist in the swift and fateful happenings of the ever changing element known as the film world. Two years ago, when the picture was made, it was supposed to star Robert Edeson, the well-known actor, but when the picture was shown, lo and behold! It was discovered a hitherto fairly obscure actor, William S. Hart, had walked right off with the big honors! While the preacher character played by Edeson was supposed to be the big part, the projection machine reveled the supremacy of Hart.

Hart played a bandit and the preacher’s rival for the love of the local dance hall queen. The film survives in several archives, including UCLA and Eastman House. Edeson went on to have a fine career. He wasn’t a big star like Hart, but worked continuously on screen and stage until his death at age 62 in 1931.

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Harold Goodwin, 1921

Kingsley gave an update on Harold Goodwin, who’d made a good impression in her favorite film last week:

Harold is the youth who hit the bullseye with his small boy role in The Sawdust Ring at Clune’s Auditorium last week. Now the story comes out that, when he had finished in that picture he wasn’t thought to have done much, and Triangle let him go. He silently gave up his actor hopes, and accepted a position in a shoe store. Last Saturday night he quit his shoe house job, with no less than four offers from film companies in his pocket.

He also went on to a long career in film and television.

Week of October 7th, 1916

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Douglas Fairbanks

One hundred years ago this week, summer vacations were over and actors were telling Grace Kingsley about their time off. Douglas Fairbanks chatted with her and she wrote:

Fairbanks really is the Fairbanks of Manhattan Madness, that is, he prefers a wild horseback trip through the mountains of Wyoming to a wild night on New York’s Broadway. Just before coming to California he made a trip on horseback through Wyoming and Colorado. Also he took a New Yorker with him. ‘I purposely chose an anemic Broadwayite who had never been West, not only because I thought it would do him good, but because I thought it would be fun for me. The first day he surprised me by riding thirty-five miles. Well, I thought, tonight we’ll see some fun. But, bless you, it never fazed him and I didn’t dare tell him I was a bit stiff and sore. Next day I had to take it easy, but that pale-faced tenderfoot just jogged right along. So it was all the way. I guess he had as much fun as I did, maybe a little more.’

This is a very well-crafted story to give to a reporter. He isn’t bragging that he rode 35 miles in a day, instead he gets to be amazed that the tenderfoot kept up. His self-deprecation (admitting he was wrong about the New York man’s toughness) made him even more appealing. Douglas Fairbanks was really good at being a movie star.

I haven’t been able to find out who the anemic Broadwayite was; Tracey Goessel doesn’t mention the trip in her recent biography, and in the interview Fairbanks did with Kitty Kelly in the Chicago Daily Tribune (September 19, 1916) on his way to Wyoming, he’s only called “a city man.”

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Myrtle Gonzales

Myrtle Gonzales tried to take a restful vacation In San Diego but so many old friends kept her socializing night and day that she was grateful to come back to Universal City for a little peace and quiet at work. Gonzalez usually played hardy, outdoorsy heroines in her 78 films; sadly she died just two years later in the flu epidemic.

This week Kingsley’s favorite film was one that was much better than its “cheaply sensational” title would suggest. The War Bride’s Secret “deals with a girl, who, having secretly married her lover on the eve of his leaving for the war, finds that she is to become a mother, and hearing of her husband’s death, consents to wed a fine broth of a Scotsman who long admired her. It is when the supposedly dead husband returns, Enoch Arden like, two years later, after she has learned to deeply respect and honor her second husband, that the real inner drama begins.”Kingsley thought it was “vividly realistic…one of the few really inspired picture plays.” Other critics admired it too; G. Graves in Motography thought the filmmakers’ skill made “the picture thoroughly engrossing and worthwhile.” Of course it’s a lost film.

The screenwriter was Mary Murillo, who often wrote about women with moral dilemmas. She would have been forgotten if it were not for Luke McKernan, who in 2009 wrote an inspirational blog post on how and why obscure people should be researched, “Searching for Mary Murillo.” Of course he couldn’t let the subject go, and he wrote a follow-up in 2015, “Gaston, Maurice and Mary.”

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The Dawn of Love

Kingsley’s best line this week was in her review of The Dawn of Love: “When Messers Rennold Wolf and Channing Pollock wrote this picture play, they evidently decided not to leave out a single exciting thing they had ever heard was done in a picture.” Ouch. The excitement was mostly a cliff top fight that ended with the villain falling to his death, but there was also smuggling and police brutality. All of the writers survived this review just fine: Wolf and Pollack were successful Broadway playwrights (Ziegfeld Follies, My Best Girl) who wrote a few film stories on the side, and the woman who adapted their story into a scenario, June Mathis, went on to write Greed (1925), Ben-Hur (1925), and Rudolph Valentino’s best films.

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Finally, Kingsley recorded exactly what Charlie Chaplin ate at the Alexandria Grill after attending a vaudeville show at Clune’s Auditorium: a sardine sandwich and a glass of buttermilk. Tastes in nighttime snacking have changed a lot since 1916.