One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on the newest person to try his luck in Hollywood:
The problem of finding employment for returned soldiers is one to which Douglas Fairbanks is devoting serious attention to these days. In fact, to such an extent is Mr. Fairbanks interested in the welfare of the nation’s heroes that whenever possible he engages returned soldiers to work with him in pictures….The latest acquisition of Fairbanks along this line is none other than William A. Wellman, famous ace of the Lafayette Flying Corps, who has seven Hun planes to his credit. Being among the first five aviators to receive his honorable discharge, Wellman visited the Fairbanks studio in Southern California…This resulted in his being cast for an important part in the new Douglas Fairbanks production, Something for Somebody.
Kingsley’s version of the story wasn’t completely right. Wellman had originally met Fairbanks in Boston at a hockey game before the war, and Fairbanks said he had the looks to be an actor. Instead, Wellman enlisted as an ambulance driver in France, then joined the French Foreign Legion and was assigned to the Lafayette Flying Corps. He did shoot down seven enemy planes and earned the Croix de Guerre, before he was shot down by anti-aircraft guns. He got a medical discharge due to his injuries, and returned to the United States where he joined the Army Air Service to teach air combat fighting. When he was stationed in San Diego, he would fly his plane to Los Angeles and land on Fairbanks’ polo field for weekend visits.
Wellman did appear in Fairbanks next film, renamed The Knickerbocker Buckaroo. He played a juvenile named Henry; unfortunately the part wasn’t important enough to be mentioned in the synopses of the AFI Catalog or the Motion Picture News. It’s a lost film.
Wellman next acted in a film directed by Raoul Walsh, Evangeline, but after getting fired for slapping the leading lady (who happened to be Miriam Cooper, the director’s wife) he decided that he wanted to be a director, not an actor. He worked his way up, starting as a messenger boy, property man, assistant cutter and assistant director before directing his first film in 1923. He went on to make classics like Wings (1927), A Star is Born (1937) and Beau Geste (1939).
Kingsley gave us a new verb in her description of The Cabaret Girl, starring Ruth Clifford, which opened
quite fascinatingly with Miss Clifford annettekellering in a pool. However, for some mysterious reason not unconnected with good sense—and though it’s just simply never done in pictures—she actually wears a bathing suit. Of course, the hero comes along—what hero wouldn’t—just as her clothes are stolen, and he loans her his automobile robe. She dreams of him thereafter—but it doesn’t occur to her to return the robe. Having seen the young lady pass the acid test of wet stringy hair and dripping features, he naturally wants to know her; but he doesn’t until she becomes a cabaret singer. Then quite suddenly, he wants to marry her, though he’s very rich and lives in a house with stone lions on the steps.
You will never guess how it ends. Just a few weeks back after the theaters reopened and nonsense in movies was already irritating Kingsley. Nevertheless, it was part of a “mighty nice little bill at the Symphony.” The film survives at the EYE Institute, Amsterdam.
Poor Ruth Roland, the serial star, was just back to work after recovering from the flu when she had a hideous case of poison oak. The actor who was playing a villain had been collecting plants in the forest, then he strangled her for a scene “with such artistic fervor that he transferred the poison to the star’s delicate skin, with the result her face, arms and throat are in terrible condition.” Even worse, the actor was immune to the plant’s effects. What a terrible way to start the new year! Roland recovered from this, too, and kept acting in films until 1930.