Why can’t good girls drink coffee? : Week of March 20th, 1920

Edith Roberts

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley wrote yet another profile of an up-and-coming star, Edith Roberts:

She knows right where she’s going. And she’s on her way, too. For though Miss Roberts is but 18, Universal has just raised her to stardom, and given her a nice contract. And from now on, watch the young lady.

She’s a very tame little girl, is Edith, but oh, how she yearns to be wild. I mean professionally, of course. Otherwise she is perfectly willing to have her tameness remain intact: in fact, like a sensible little girl, she and her mama carefully preserve this tameness. Why, she even drinks milk instead of tea or coffee.

So wild women drink coffee? I imagine Miss Kingsley knew her way to the newsroom coffeepot – how else would she have the strength to write this stuff? It must have gotten tiresome writing about virginal young women. The only thing more tedious would have been being such a well-behaved girl.

Edith Roberts, 1916 (she told Photoplay she was 14, but she was actually 16–she’d been shaving two years off of her age for awhile)

Kingsley tried her best to find something different to say about her, and found this:

An interesting thing about Edith is that she is a child of rare psychic powers. She can tell fortunes. When she was 12 years old she told a good one for herself, and now it’s coming true.

ER_missdoddRoberts told Kingsley her fortune (which she didn’t divulge) as well as all about living with her nice quiet mama and her 9 p.m. bedtime and her earlier work as a Universal contract player, mostly in comedies and Westerns. Her big break was getting the title role in Lasca, a drama about a young woman who sacrifices herself to save her love in a cattle stampede. Kingsley said “she stole the picture,” and Universal decided to make her a star. Her first vehicle was Alias: Miss Dobbs, which told the story of a book binder who foils a thief’s plans and finds love. She didn’t become a star, but she worked steadily and made films with directors such as John Stahl and Cecil B. DeMille. Her most famous role was in the melodrama Backbone (1923); she appeared opposite noted stage actor Alfred Lunt. She also played May Mingott in the first version of The Age of Innocence (1924). Her film career lasted until 1929.

Lon Chaney and Edith Roberts in Flesh and Blood (1922)

She escaped “tameness” in 1923 by marrying insurance broker Kenneth Snoke after breaking off her engagement to Christie comedian Neal Burns (could she have possibly been tame only in interviews?). Presumably she got to drink whatever beverages she wanted to by then. Sadly, she died of septicemia in 1935 after giving birth to her son with her second husband, Harold Carter.


This week, Kingsley took one for the team when she reviewed a particularly dull movie. Despite a “convincing, even brilliant” performance from Bert Lytell, nothing could save The Right of Way. It took and hour and a half to unreel his character’s search for belief in God and:

in the end the search comes to nothing, the whole dreary string of happenings which befall the hero up to the time of his death meaning naught in particular for the theme…There are also some absurdities. When the hero is branded with the red hot cross, nobody seems to think even to put Vaseline in the wound. And when he is shot, the heroine puts her arms about him, and pleads with him not to die, but nobody goes for a doctor!

No wonder she preferred sprightly comedies. The Right of Way was a remake of a 1915 film, which hasn’t been remade since. It’s lost.

Pauline Frederick

She also had news of what another serious actress was doing for the sake of publicity:

Pauline Frederick, Goldwyn star, has been chosen as queen of the California Raisin Festival to be held in Fresno, April 30. She will make her entry into the city at the head of a pageant which is planned to make one of the most spectacular ever held in the West.


Even the most dignified actresses rode on parade floats in Fresno, in front of one carrying Fresno’s oldest grape vine. On April 30th she was not only the Raisin Queen on the Sun Maid float for California Raisin Association, she also presented the trophy to the winner of the auto race.

Frederick looked like the Sun Maid Raisin Girl, but the actual model was Lorraine Collett.

Fresno is still the world raisin capital, but the festival is held in Selma now.


However, here’s the best trivia I found while looking up raisin history: in 1906, Fresno’s Pacific League ball team was called the Raisin Eaters. That’s a great name that really ought to be brought back, even though they were terrible at playing baseball and they only lasted one year.






Week of March 17th, 1917

Buster shows how it’s done

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley noticed a new trend at live theater performances: “the habit of applause on the part of the audience appears to be dying out.” She theorized about what was causing it. At the top of the list was moving pictures, because there was no need to cheer for absent actors so people had gotten out of the habit. However, the new, quieter acting style and less melodramatic plays were also part of the problem; she wrote “can you fancy loud cane-whackings on the floor as an expression of gratification at the voicing of a Shaw subtlety, or some of the finer passages of an Ibsen drama?” It had gotten so bad that some theater owners were rumored to hiring professional applauders, to make the performers feel better. Who knew that styles of applause went in and out of fashion?

Kingsley’s favorite film this week was a Pauline Frederick film Sapho,

the story of the little street gamin, the flower girl of Paris, who captured one lover after another, is done so as to be entirely convincing…The transition in the girl from the gay butterfly to the sincerely loving woman is accomplished by Miss Frederick with no hypocritical show of demureness.

Sapho was based on a novel by Alphonse Daudet that was frequently adapted, first as a short in 1908, then as a feature in 1913 and then just the year before with Theda Bara in the title role. Other critics agreed that this version was particularly good; George N. Shorey in Motion Picture News even said it “will never be more finely interpreted than in this Famous Players production.” It’s a lost film. Frederick was respected as one of the best actresses of her time; to learn more visit Greta deGroat’s site.


Out of the Wreck

Kingsley took personally a bit of business in a film about political corruption called Out of the Wreck.

The author evidently had a weird idea of newspaper people. The woman in the story apparently always kissed her city editor good morning, and then perched on the arm of his chair for an hour or so!

That wasn’t her only problem with the film; despite the good directing, acting, and photography, she thought the story was “patched together out of the scenario barrel.” It’s been preserved at the Library of Congress.

Billy Bitzer

Kingsley told a story that proves nobody was surprised when cameraman Billy Bitzer wasn’t able to go to France to shoot the war scenes for Hearts of the World. Griffith wired him to come to New York and from there go to England with him. Bitzer replied “Can’t, I’m German.” Griffith answered “Well, change your name and come on.” Bitzer’s retort: “Might change my name but how can I change my face?” Bitzer did eventually travel to England, but Griffith had to hire another cameraman to visit the front lines.

Kingsley told a cute story about mistaken identity this week:

Harriette Lee, in some poses, especially close up, is a dead ringer for Mabel Normand. The other night both young women were dancing and supping out at Vernon. Three persons in succession passed by Miss Lee’s table, bowing and greeting her as Miss Normand. Each one, on pausing for another look (you always look at as long at Mabel as you can, naturally) in turn apologized, saying, ‘Oh, I beg your pardon!’ Miss Normand really was present at a near-by table, and when the last visitor made his apology, she called out ‘If people don’t stop apologizing to this lady because they’ve accused her of looking like me there’s going to be trouble.’

Harriette Lee was a vaudeville performer, and Kingsley had reviewed her favorably earlier in the week, saying “female ‘nuts’ are rare on the stage, but Harriette Lee is quite the most delicious one growing on the vaudeville tree. She and her partner, Ben Ryan, kid their way through an act that must be seen to be appreciated.” The husband and wife team had originated the “Dumb Dora” act that George Burns later credited as the basis for his act with Gracie Allan.