Week of July 13th, 1918

sid_grauman1927
Sid Grauman, 1927

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley had a big news flash:

An announcement of much importance to the film world was made yesterday [July 16th], when Sid Grauman announced the fact that he and his father, D.J. Grauman, are on the eve of incorporating as motion-picture producers, and also that they are building a new theater here.

They planned to incorporate as the Grauman Feature Players Company within the next three months, and renovate an existing studio. Sid Grauman told her that by being a theater owner, he’d learned a lot about what the public wanted in films. He outlined his plan for success:

In the first place, he declares he means to give all the time possible to the making of his pictures, producing only three or four a year; and, while he states he does not have in mind the engaging of any well-known stars, he means to select first-class actors and actresses, but will lay stress on the directorial end. In fact, he believes that the director and the role make the star. In the second place, he means that all his picture stories shall have the quality of timeliness, and, therefore—providing the war lasts so long—his first picture will have a war background.

As to his stories, Mr. Grauman states his present plan is to buy widely-read novels and stories, rather than depending on original scenarios, as he has discovered from experience that stories which have been widely read have much greater drawing power and box-office response than pictures founded on the so-called original scenarios. The length of pictures will vary form five to seven reels, or may even be shorter, depending on the nature of the story.

Sid Grauman never did become a film producer. Maybe he learned it was easier said than done, or the postwar recession put a damper on his plans.

However, he did build that new theater. It just took longer than he’d hoped. In 1918 he was negotiating a site in downtown Los Angeles, and he promised Kingsley it would be even more palatial than his Million Dollar Theater. By 1919 he had bought a lot at Sixth and Hill Streets in downtown Los Angeles. There he built Grauman’s Metropolitan Theater, which opened on January 26, 1923. Just a year later he sold it to Paramount. There’s lots more information about the Metropolitan at the Historic Los Angeles Theaters website.

grauman_julyprogram
The show she described was a little different from the Sunday ad.

Or perhaps he skipped becoming a producer because he didn’t need more work. From Kingsley’s description of his theater’s show this week, it seems like he was already busy enough booking entertainment:

As usual, the Grauman bill offers a tremendous lot for your money. In addition to the feature there are a Keystone comedy Ladies First, a vocal offering by a lovely brunette lady whose name does not appear on the program, a war sketch with stage setting in which a handsome tenor first sings about “Going Over the Top,” and then does it to the accompaniment of war fireworks, a snappy little set of war epigrams from the Literary Digest’s cullings from various newspapers, and a stunning travelogue which somehow manages, while showing wild mountains and wild animals, to have a flavor of intimacy through the introduction of some people which reach right out from the screen and carry you along with them in their travels.

shadow_ad

The feature she mentioned was The Kaiser’s Shadow, which Kingsley called “a felicitous combination of war play and mystery drama.” It starred Dorothy Dalton and Thurston Hall as “spies spying on spies.” 15-35 cents (plus 10% war tax) bought plenty of entertainment!

Kingsley mentioned that Polly Moran, “one of Sennett’s main standbys,” was returning to vaudeville for a sensible reason:

“Me for the easy job,” said Polly the other day. “Half my front teeth are missing as a sacrifice to art, and due to the same cause I’ve got a phony knee. I’m tired of having my eye kicked out and my ears torn out by the roots. I’m going back to the easy life where all you have to do is two or three shows a day!”

Sennett was tough on actors! Moran did do a tour of the Orpheum circuit and Sime Silverman of Variety caught her twelve-minute act in New York City that November.* He enjoyed it and wrote a detailed summary. Earlier on the bill they showed one of her Sheriff Nell shorts, then

Polly herself showed next to closing, all dressed up, with a velvet slouch hat of the tammy style and a wig. When Polly grew tired of it, she took it off. Then she was a brunet. Meanwhile she sang parodies, mostly, set to familiar and popular melodies. She also kidded her pictures, after chasing the spot around the stage. In a parody on “My Rosary,” Polly brought out some knitting, and, holding it up, sang to “My Hosiery.” Her last number was a straight song, probably called “The Folks that Won the War.” It’s an excellently written lyric and misses no one in the mention. The song gave Polly a big getaway….Polly Moran, in her semi-nut impromptu way, makes a good single, with or without her celluloid rep. She can get across big time.

In 1920 she returned to film, making more Sherriff Nell two-reelers for National Film. She continued in film until 1940; her career high point was the eight popular MGM feature-length comedies she co-starred in with Marie Dressler from 1927-1933.

jolson
Al Jolson

Kingsley had a story about one of the biggest vaudeville stars at that time:

Al Jolson is to stop off and so some pictures in this city, it is rumored, during his western tour of the Coast. He is said to have been offered $50,000 for one picture.

This turned out to just be some producer’s wishful thinking. Jolson had appeared in an untitled 1916 film for Vitagraph made for the Policeman’s Benefit Fund. He didn’t have anything to do with the movies again until 1923, when he agreed to make a film with D.W. Griffith. However, he backed out before filming was finished. He kept busy as a singing star until 1926 when he appeared in a Vitaphone sound short, A Plantation Act, which led to The Jazz Singer (1927) and the end of cinema. Oh well, if it hadn’t been him, it would have just been somebody else.

 

*Sime., “Polly Moran. Songs and Talk,” Variety, Nov. 22, 1918.

Week of June 9th, 1917

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley noted that in response to the war, the film world was moving away from heavy dramas and making more comedies. Every organization had a comedy company at work, and the latest to add one was Bernstein Film Productions. They had hired a successful vaudevillian who had worked with Chaplin in the Fred Karno troop named Stan Jefferson. He had recently appeared at the Hippodrome Theater in Los Angeles under his other name in a sketch called “Raffles, the Dentist.”

The Stanley Comedies Company made only one short film, Nuts in May, and Isadore Bernstein went back to being a production manager and writer. Jefferson played a mental patient who believed he was Napoleon Bonaparte. According to Cecil Adams, this is the first time the Napoleon Complex gag was ever filmed. Only about sixty seconds of it have been preserved, because they were re-used in a 1922 two-reeler called Mixed Nuts. This makes the hundreds of thousands of Jefferson’s fans sad (even if neither film is very good), because of course, soon after he made Nuts, Arthur Stanley Jefferson permanently changed his name to Stan Laurel. So much has been written about him, but if you’d like a short biography by an expert, check out Stan Laurel’s Life in Laughter by Randy Skretvedt.

laurelhardy
Pleased to meet you.

This was the first time Kingsley mentioned Laurel. Norvell “Babe” Hardy, despite having made his first film in 1914, would have to wait until November 30, 1921 when she announced his marriage to Myrtle Reeve.

While visiting the theaters on Broadway Kingsley ran into Jefferson’s former co-worker and had a chat about his future plans. Charlie Chaplin said he was considering “three very tempting offers,” but he hadn’t decided which was best. He was also working on ideas for his next film, and told her “he thinks he will make it a burlesque on Bill Hart’s Wild West stories.” He may have just said that to appease Kingsley (Hart had a new film playing near them on Broadway that day which might have inspired his remark); his next project was a prison escape story, The Adventurer. It was his final film for Mutual, and he signed with First National next.

1st2ndprize
Venice Bathing Parade winners

Kingsley reported a “record-eclipsing event” from Sunday: the cameramen from Keystone filmed their Bathing Beauties at the Venice Bathing Parade, and they got the film processed and on the screen at the Mack Sennett-owned Woodley Theater by that evening. The parade didn’t start until 1:30, so they did work quickly. Two hundred “neatly attired bathing-suit girls” rode in forty-one cars past a crowd of 75,000 people and four judges. Most of the prizewinners were actresses, but only Keystone women got their pictures in the paper. (Sennett never missed an opportunity!) Mary Thurman (Keystone), in an electric blue and white sailor suit with matching parasol, shared first place with Priscilla Dean (Universal) in a modest white and black silk suit and Jessie Hallet (New York Motion Picture Co.) dressed as a Red Cross girl in red and white. Second prizes went to Juanita Hansen (Keystone) in a metal gold cloth and blue outfit and Margaret Gibson (Christie) wearing red and white.

The parade footage played with another Keystone short that was Kingsely’s favorite film this week, Cactus Nell. She felt it was the answer to the eternal question “Why are there mellers? They were made for Keystoning purposes!” The star, Polly Moran, was “queen of the jazz comediennes” a “high-power fun-maker who keeps things moving at the rate of a million revolutions per minute.” She described the best bit: “Does Polly’s big boob lover desert her for a vampire? He does, and Polly follows and lassos him, with the help of her trusty cowboys, who, by a comic mechanical device, are shot onto the backs of their horses at her first call for help.” Moran went on to a long career as a slapstick comic, first with Sennett and later at MGM.