One hundred years ago this week, Kingsley offered a glimpse of a woman director at work:
Ruth Ann Baldwin’s middle name is efficiency. Miss Baldwin is a Universal director. She has been the busy bee looking like a wounded snail some days out on location. The sun, not having fulfilled his promise to shine, she gets out her trusty typewriter, which she carries always with her on such occasions, and goes to work on a new scenario. She talks while she types, too.
Baldwin was a former newspaper reporter who became a scenario writer at Universal. In late 1916 they gave her the chance to direct and in the next year she made ten shorts and two features, including a Western parody ’49-‘17.
In 1917 she also got married on February 19th to the actor who frequently starred in her films, Leo Pierson. Her directing career lasted only one year, then she returned to screenwriting. Her last credit was Puppets of Fate (1921), and she was last mentioned in the L.A. Times in 1925, when a columnist said she was living on a desert ranch. She disappeared from public records after that. You can read more about her on the Women Film Pioneers Project site.
None of the films Kingsley reviewed this week were outstanding, though she mentioned that Flora Finch provided some excellent laughs in a parody of The Common Law. (the lost short was called Guess What.) However, her complaints about Yankee Pluck have been echoed by filmgoers since then: “if the film were a two-reeler it would have been a corker but it is stretched mighty thin over five reels.” Furthermore, “there ought to be a society for the formation of rules as to what trivialities must be omitted from a photoplay with a penalty of imprisonment in a studio projection room.” In this case, ten or twelve feet of film were wasted settling a taxi bill. It’s a lost film. I’m glad Kingsley never had to see some of the bloated films we have now!
Kingsley reported that sweet-natured Chaplin leading lady Edna Purviance actually registered a protest while shooting The Immigrant. She declared that she learned to hate beans
because of the many necessary retakes of scenes in which Miss Purviance must eat plates and plates of beans.
‘It’s no use Charlie,’ she exclaimed; ‘I simply can’t swallow another one.’
‘Great Scott!’ retorted Charlie, ‘how am I going to get my gagging over, then?’
‘I give it up,’ replied Edna. ‘If you’d been gagging as much as I have for the past five hours you wouldn’t want to gag any more!’
Oh well, if she had to suffer at least it was for something still being watched 100 years later. The Library of Congress included The Immigrant in their National Film Registry and it’s available on the Internet Archive. If you’d like to learn more about Purviance, visit Linda Wada’s site, A Journey to Paradise.