Setting Up Shop: Week of November 15th, 1919

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on the hopeful beginnings of many new film companies:

  • Lottie Pickford Rupp (Mary’s sister) was planning her own production company. They were choosing a story for the first film and Martin Justice had been hired to direct. In her column, Kingsley didn’t hesitate to butter up the whole family: “big success is prophesized for Miss Pickford, who is considered quite in a class with her brilliant brother and sister.”
  • The Hermann Film Corporation was building “a large plant on a five-acre tract in Santa Monica.” The owner, E.P. Hermann, planned on having three companies working there: one dramatic, one comedy and one serial. The dramatic company had already produced one film, That Some Thing starring Margery Wilson, Charles Meredith and Carl Ullman.
  • The new Jesse D. Hampton studio at Santa Monica Blvd. and La Brea was nearly ready, and Blanche Sweet’s next film, Simple Souls would start shooting there the following Monday.
  • Actor Taylor Holmes had founded his own independent production company, and had bought the film rights to three properties, Nothing But the Truth, The Very Idea and Nothing But Lies. All three had been stage vehicles for William Collier.
  • Polly Moran had gotten her own company, and was at work in a Culver City studio.
  • Harry ‘Snub’ Pollard was getting his own series, with Mildred Davis as his leading lady, because Harold Lloyd was recovering from the explosion that injured his hand.
  • Finally, there was this little note: “Roscoe Arbuckle seems to bring good luck to all his players. Now it’s Buster Keaton who is shortly to have his own company, and adorn the film firmament as a star. Keaton is an exceedingly clever young comedian, and here’s wishing him luck.”

There was so much optimism in the post-war film business world! These projects had various degrees of success.

lottie_pickfordLottie Pickford’s film with Martin Justice did get made but it didn’t come out until 1921. Called They Shall Pay, it told the story of a woman seeking revenge for her father from crooked business associates. Her leading man, Allan Forrest, became her second husband. It was her last leading role; she had small parts in one of her sister’s films (Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall) and one of her brother in-in-law’s films (Don Q Son of Zorro) but that was all.

ephermannThe Hermann Film Corporation told the press about lots of plans for other films over the following months, but they only finished the one Kingsley mentioned. The company had abandoned the lot at 25th Street and Wilshire Blvd. by the summer of 1922, and it went on to greater fame than the film company ever did: Douglas Aircraft leased it, and that’s where the company that became McDonnell-Douglas built its first successful airplanes.

The Jesse D. Hampton studio also went out of business and was bought by a famous company; in 1922 it became Pickford-Fairbanks Studios. It’s still open today as Warner Hollywood Studios. ****Mary Mallory helpfully corrected me: Warner’s no longer owns what was Pickford Fairbanks. It is now called The Lot and is owned by a real estate company.**** Hampton made only one more film after that, The Spoilers (1923), but he kept trying to get productions off the ground until at least 1925.

holmesTaylor Holmes did make all three films he had the rights to, but then his production company went out of business. It didn’t harm his work prospects, however. He appeared in four plays on Broadway from 1920-1923, then he had a long career, alternating between stage and screen and later, television.


pollardSnub Pollard did star in two shorts, Red Hot Hottentotts (Film Daily thought it showed “a falling off of quality”) and Why Go Home? (Film Daily said it had “several corking situations”), but as soon as Harold Lloyd recovered, Pollard went back to being the second banana. Like Holmes, he also had a long film career. (here’s some trivia: who does Gene Kelly hand his umbrella to after he Sings in the Rain? Snub Pollard!)

Polly Moran did make a series of shorts in 1920-22, starting with Sherriff Nell’s Comeback, and she kept working until 1940, with a brief comeback in 1949.

Not fair to compare: Keaton and Joe Roberts in The Scarecrow

But only one of the new enterprises had a spectacular success (really, it isn’t fair to compare the others to him). Buster Keaton was about to get started on his solo career. People are still seeing and writing about his two-reelers, including me: I wrote synopses of them all for the International Buster Keaton Society almost twenty years ago (Ouch! Where did the time go?).


Kingsley’s favorite film this week was Almost A Husband, Will Roger’s first film under his new Goldwyn contract. Kingsley wasn’t aware that he’d appeared in two previous movies, so she didn’t know if he could transition from his vaudeville act to silent film. She thought it worked out well:

Will Rogers has done it. He has shown that there’s more to him than his lariat and his professional chewing gum and the power to deliver himself of epigrams three to a minute, all hot and home made. In short, I think the crowds who crushed their way into the California [Theater] yesterday, to view the famous lariat artist in his first picture, will back me up in the statement that there has arrived among us a new and vivid screen personality, equipped to take his place with the top-notchers of Filmdom.

Transplanting a popular idol from stage to screen is a mighty delicate operation, and every once in a while some such idol gets busted in the process. Not so Mr. Rogers. He has arrived intact. Nay, his quaint and genial personality, his trenchant wit, his radiant drollery are actually vivified, it seemed to me, by his celluloid double.

They used “brilliant” intertitles to bring his jokes to the screen; according to his biographer (Ben Yagoda) Rogers “often wrote or helped write them.”

The now lost film was “full of thrills and laughter,” wrote Kingsley. Rogers played a homely schoolteacher who marries the prettiest woman in town in a fake ceremony, only to learn it was legal. Since she didn’t want to marry the man her father chose for her, they stay married in name only. Naturally, after he outwits the villain she falls in love with him.

Speaking of weddings, Kingsley reported on one that was to take place on Saturday, November 15th—if:

the groom-to-be’s director allows him to shave off his mustache and beard. Otherwise, says the bride, there’ll be nothing doing!

Not to keep you in suspense any longer the parties to the romance are none other than Lloyd Whitlock playing a star part in one of George Beban’s productions and Miss Myrtle Gibsone, partner of Mabel Condon in the Mabel Condon Exchange.

The facts about the beard are really touching. You see, it’s this way. Since Mr. Whitlock is playing a role which demands beard and mustache, Mr. Beban says it’s imperative that his production should not be ruined by such a silly excuse as a mere whim of a prospective bride. On the other hand, Miss Gibsone declares that you never heard of such a thing in motion picture plots or elsewhere as a hero with a beard. That is, a picture hero may have a beard, but he always is considerate enough to shave it off before the last reel and the clinch.

“I simply won’t have a bridegroom with whiskers!” wailed Miss Gibsone. On the other hand, Beban is firm that the offending ivy must be retained until at least Tuesday or Wednesday of next week. So you can see for yourself how matters stand. And in the meantime the suspense is simply killing us all!!!

Myrtle Gibsone was not joking: she’d already postponed the wedding twice. The beard was still there on Saturday, so she didn’t hesitate to postpone the ceremony again. She set Monday, November 24th for the next attempt. According to Photoplay, Beban hurried to finish filming One Man in a Million by then, and “wedding bells rang out.” Though it took awhile to get started, the marriage lasted until Whitlock died in 1966.


Sue Whitlock, 1939 UCLA Yearbook

The couple had met six years earlier when they were both working for Kalem, she as a manager and he as an actor. At the time she got married, Mary Evelyn Myrtle Gibsone Whitlock was an actor’s agent at the Mabel Condon Exchange. She took some time off from work when she had a daughter, Suzanne, in 1921. The she became a script supervisor at Universal Studios. She retired in 1963. Lloyd T. Whitlock kept acting, appearing in nearly 200 films. Coincidentally, he played the villain opposite Lottie Pickford in They Shall Pay. He retired in 1949. They had an ordinary, middle-class life in Hollywood.


It really happened! From the California County Birth, Marriage and Death Records database.


A.H. Gieble, “West Coast Picture Folk Frolic,” Moving Picture World, December 13, 1919, p.821.

“Plays and Players,” Photoplay, March 1920, p.102.


Week of July 1st, 1916

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on an ambitious plan to make Los Angeles one of the most important vaudeville booking centers of the country. John Cort and William Morris had set up offices in the Majestic Theater Building to start hiring acts for their new Cort-Morris circuit. This company didn’t last, but the two businessmen did eventually achieve their real goal: ending the Keith-Albee monopoly on vaudeville booking. Both continued their interesting careers. John Cort allied with the Shubert organization and built a circuit of 1200 theaters, later becoming a Broadway producer (the Cort Theater in New York is named for him). William Morris continued to work at the talent agency he founded in 1898 that’s still in business today as William Morris/Endeavor; over the years they represented Charlie Chaplin, the Marx Bros, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, and Martin Scorsese.

Independence Day barely rated a mention, other than a note that producer Oliver Morosco added extra matinees for his three shows.

The Lion and the Girl

Kingsley particularly enjoyed one two-reeler this week, The Lion and the Girl:

Positively there isn’t another thing left for the Keystone comedians to do in the way of thrilling stunts, and Mack Sennett will soon have to resort to the cartoon comedies where the characters do the impossible. This reflection occurs strikingly to one in viewing The Lion and the Girl, which is the comedy at the Palace this week, with Joe Jackson and Claire Anderson in the leading roles. A real live lion plays the villain’s role in this, and the scene in which Claire Anderson drops from the tree into his cage, and the big brute crouches growling above her, is worthy to be immortalized in the wax-works! Jackson wears his familiar tramp make-up, and there are some very amusing touches, as when the officers being on his trail in the field, he ducks his head and stretches out his arms in imitation of a scarecrow. It’s one of the very good Keystone comedies.

The Lion and the Girl was the first of a new Sennett staple, “giant predatory cats turned loose on the set” according to Brent Walker in in Mack Sennett’s Fun Factory.  It’s a lost film, so the reviews are all we have left. This was Jackson’s last film and he went back to vaudeville, but Claire Anderson kept acting in a variety of comedies and dramas until 1925.

Kingsley didn’t like the feature nearly as much; The Children in the House with Norma Talmadge appeared ‘machine-made and uninspired.”


Kingsley had a chat with Marin Sais, leading woman of the Kalem Company, and learned she was “a real, honest-to-goodness wild westerner. She has taken up a big ranch in Utah, which she will visit this summer, and where she intends to breed racing horses. She already owns a string of three racers at Tia Juana.” Sais did spend most of her career acting in Westerns, retiring in 1953.

The Mexican Revolution intruded briefly on Hollywood. The LA Times Animated Weekly staff (Beverly Griffith and Robert Walters) went to the scene of war activities and sent home footage. Universal actresses, including Ruth Stonehouse and Cleo Madison, took first aid training in case the Mexican war materialized. Happily, it never came to that; American involvement was limited.

Snub Pollard

There’s some unusual elements to a story Kingsley told about Snub Pollard on July 2nd. She wrote:

Harry Pollard of Phunphilms has distinguished himself as a burglar buster. In the neighborhood where he recently moved, live two pretty young screen artists. One night Mrs. Pollard awakened Harry, saying, “There are burglars next door. I hear them! Harry muttered “Go back to sleep. ’s aw-right.” But before he could regain his slumbers a piercing scream rent the air; he was out of bed and into his dressing gown and in the back yard in less than it takes to clear the studio after the director says, “That’s all for today.” He actually found two bold bad men trying to get in at a window, and what he did to them was right. He suffered a few bruises, but he tells of the discovery of a new punch which he will use on “Lonesome Luke” in the next picture. The girls were scared out of their wits, but they invited the hero in, and attended to his wounds, and later Mrs. Pollard joined them in a little coffee party at 3 am.

From the perspective of 2016, it’s surprising how much she approved of vigilante justice — plus nobody seems to have thought about making a police report afterwards. Also, there was no “Mrs. Pollard” in 1916: he didn’t marry his first wife until 1917. Kingsley was being discrete, and the lady’s identity remains a mystery.

Pollard co-starred with Harold Lloyd in dozens of shorts, in both Lonesome Luke films and some glasses character ones. He went on to make some solo comedy shorts, but he spent most of his silent career as a second banana to comedians like Laurel and Hardy. In the sound era he played the comic relief in low-budget Westerns and uncredited parts in larger films, including being the recipient of Gene Kelly’s umbrella in the “Singin’ in the Rain” number.