One hundred years ago this week, Theda Bara finished work on Salome and had a chat with Grace Kingsley. She was happy to be on her way to Arrowhead Springs for a week’s vacation with her sister. Her list of city vexations seems quaint now:
“In the city there are always so many things to do,” said Miss Bara, “but up in that wonderful mountain fastness* you simply can’t do anything if you want to. That is, you don’t make calls or see dressmakers or answer telephones, or tell the maid every morning about putting the canary out-of-doors. Yes, I think sister Loro and I may take some horseback rides up there, and we may walk a lot. We both enjoy walking away out in the country where nobody can see whether our khaki suits are dusty or not, and where we don’t have to stop and put a dull finish on our noses every few minutes.”
The star didn’t only want a change from her usual routine; she was tired of playing vamps. She said:
“The characters I have played which I have liked best are not vampires characters. I liked DuBarry and Cigarette in Under Two Flags best of anything I have done—that is outside of Salome. Salome was not naturally a vampire, it was merely circumstances made her so.”
Luckily, her studio was going to let her “turn over a professional new leaf. Miss Bara’s next picture will be called Spanish Love…In it she will play a ‘good’ girl all the way through.” The film was eventually called Under the Yoke and while some of the posters sold it as a vamp film, she played a convent-educated woman living in the Philippines during the revolution who is rescued from an evil plantation owner by a dashing American captain. Unfortunately, playing a ‘good girl’ only lasted for one picture. Her next was When A Woman Sins and her character was back to driving men to their death. In a few years, audiences got tired of vamps, too, and she retired from acting.
Kingsley reported on a problem director Chet Withey was having with his nearly finished current film for D.W. Griffith, The Hun Within:
The trouble is, Withey admits, he doesn’t know how to wind the darn thing up. You see the story has a German spy as its villain, and according to the scenario, the mob should hang him—already, in point of fact, the well-known villain Charlie Gerrard has been hanged. But now that the government has signified its intention of making mob rule unpopular by drastic law measures, Chet has a villain on his hands with no spectacular way to dispose of him.
The law measure Kingsley is referring to is the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill introduced into the House of Representative in January, 1918. It would have made lynching a federal felony, taking its prosecution away from state and local authorities. It didn’t pass because Southern Democrats in the Senate filibustered it. They went on to prevent every single anti-lynching bill from being passed; in 2005 the Senate formally apologized for their failure to act.
Chet Withey decided showing the spy’s arrest was sufficient. The film had enough going on, with a kidnapping and a race to prevent a bomb from blowing up a ship.
Kingsley reviewed only one film this week, but she enjoyed it, writing “while a picture named The Bride of Fear might suggest its story is akin to such ‘mellers’ as The Poisoned Bathing Suit” it was actually “a clean-cut, sane, well acted and engaging little story.” The plot sounds awfully melodramatic now (a presumed dead criminal husband comes back to mar his wife’s happiness and she shoots him in self defense) but Kingsely said “the treatment is fresh and human, and there are a score of little touches in directing and ‘business’ which make the thing vivid and natural.” It was directed by Sidney Franklin, who until recently had been working on children’s movies with his brother Chester. He went on to be one of the top producers at MGM; his films included Mrs. Miniver (1942) and Random Harvest (1942).
*Fastness: a stronghold or fortress. Yes, I had to look it up. Furthermore, she’s quoting Wordsworth. Theda Bara was a clever woman.