Week of February 9th, 1918

One hundred years ago this week, the war was again intruding on Grace Kingsley’s columns in all sorts of ways:

If you chance to see three score pretty young women, clad in regimentals, marching down the street with flags flying and the band playing, don’t be frightened; they won’t hurt you. The pretty girls in regimentals will be the first company of feminine soldiers organized in any picture studio in the world.

Josie Sedgwick, an up-and-coming actress at Triangle Studio, came up with the idea and executed it. She and other actresses at the studio, including Olive Thomas, Texas Guinan and Gloria Swanson, spent their evenings drilling, supervised by a regular army officer and chaperoned by the studio matron. Their goal was to perform at entertainments to raise money for the Red Cross and other war relief.

“We girls all want to do something for our country,” said Miss Sedgwick, “and we don’t feel as if merely knitting and making surgical bandages is enough, though we do that too…Our uniform? Well, we wanted trousers, but you know some girls can wear trousers and some can’t, so we decided on short shirts and leggings, with khaki shirtwaists and cute little caps.”

I haven’t been able to find any other mention or photos of the drill team. No wonder Triangle was running into business difficulties, if they couldn’t capitalize on pictures of young ladies in cute little caps.

Some film workers were leaving to serve as real soldiers. Wheeler Oakman, former Selig star, enlisted in the army, giving up “a long-term contract at a large salary with Metro Picture Corporation”. Kingsley said he was the first leading man actually under contract in Los Angeles to voluntarily do his bit.* He said, “I’m going into the regulars as a plain private…There’s a fine bunch of ‘grizzlies’ down at Camp Kearney, and I’ll be glad to be among them and to learn the ropes from them.”

That was exactly what he did: as part of the 144th Field Artillery, aka the California Grizzlies, he shipped out from New York as a private on August 15, 1918 and served in France until his unit was sent home from Bordeaux on December 23, 1918. He’d been promoted to corporal.** He came home safely and went back to acting. He worked steadily, often playing villains and henchmen, until his death in 1949.

Western star William S. Hart found a different way to express his patriotism:

It’s not kosher to make any unpatriotic cracks before Bill Hart, as a certain inhabitant of this town can tell you. Mr. Hart was dining at a restaurant the other night, which happened to be a porkless night. In came a loud-spoken stranger and demanded ham and eggs. The waiter explained to him courteously that it was a porkless day. The stranger arose from the table, flung down his napkin, and made some unpleasant remarks about the food conservation measure and started to leave.

As he went past Hart’s table, Bill looked up, fixed the stranger with his glittering eye, and drawled in a clear, high voice: “Shouldn’t think a pig would mind a porkless day!”

The stranger gave him a malevolent look, but sizing up Bill’s strong jaw and broad shoulders, took a second thought and dropping his grandiose manner, sneaked out.

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Saturdays were the porkless day. The United States Food Administration had been asking people to conserve food by abstaining from eating meat on Tuesdays and wheat on Wednesdays since October, the added the porkless Saturdays was added on December 13th. It was a voluntary program, but Mr. Hart probably wasn’t the only one to ‘encourage’ compliance.

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D.W. Griffith reading the rest of the paper

Finally, D.W. Griffith was hurrying to finish Hearts of the World, but then somebody handed him a newspaper with the headline “War to Last Six Years.” He promptly said, “Come on boys. We’ve got time. Let’s go to lunch.”

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Teddy

Kinglsey also offered some comic relief this week, with a story abut Teddy the Dog:

Talk about leading a dog’s life! Teddy, the wise canine actor of Mack Sennett’s comedy company, not only pays for his own license, but he pays an income tax on his salary!

A few months later, she was able to spin this anecdote into a one-page Photoplay article, “A Dog That Pays an Income Tax” (June 1918 p.62). That’s being a professional writer.

 

 

 

*I haven’t been able to confirm that he was the first.

**U.S. Army Transport Service Passenger List, August 15 1918 and December 23, 1918.

 

 

A research note: Digitization is helping me find amazing things. In the Wheeler Oakman story, he mentioned that his father Frank Eichelberger had fought for the Union army and was captured at Chickamauga. Knowing how actors can sometimes exaggerate things, I did some searching to see if it was true and found Pvt. Frank Eichelbergers’s testimony on how horrible being a Confederate prisoner was in a digitized book called Narrative of Privations and Sufferings of United States Officers and Soldiers while Prisoners of War in the Hands of the Rebel Authorities by United States Sanitary Commission, published in 1864. I would have never known to look for such a book. Hooray for all the people who do the very dull task of digitization!

 

Week of October 20th, 1917

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One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported that a theater ticket tax was about to go into effect on November 1st and nobody could escape it:

Yea, even though you be a dramatic critic, you will have to pay over your little old ten percent of the price of your ticket. As you do this, you may be thankful you aren’t a theatrical treasurer, who has to “count the house” and the pennies. In fact, it is likely the government may be prevailed upon to provide private asylums for the poor treasurers who will go insane over their tasks.

It really wasn’t that terrible for the treasurers: the ticket sellers had stamps, so when someone bought a ten cent ticket, they also bought a one cent stamp. A fifteen cent ticket required the purchase of a two cent stamp—the government rounded up.* However, five-cent houses were exempt.

Film theaters had another war tax in addition to the 10% ticket tax. It started as a 15-cent per reel per day tax on all films. That proved to be too difficult to collect, so in 1918 it became a five percent tax on film rental fees. There was a side benefit to the tax collection: according to Wid’s Daily (June 14, 1920), this was the first time anyone collected data on how much money film distributors were making in the United States. Between July 1, 1919 and March 31, 1920, taxes on film rentals totaled $347,334.26, so the gross receipts for the industry were $62,520,167.20. They estimated that the total for fiscal year July 1919-June 1920 would be $86,360,222.93. Movies were big business!

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With so many stars, it’s no wonder they owned nearly a third of the market.

Wid’s couldn’t find out how much each company contributed to the total because only one distributor made it’s annual report public, but from Famous Players’ report they were able to estimate that they did 32½% of the business in the entire industry.

Unsurprisingly, the theater owners fought the rental tax every step of the way. It ended on January 1, 1922 when it was repealed by the Revenue Act of 1921. The tax on free admissions ended at the same time, so Kingsley had to fish the pennies out from the bottom of her purse for a good long while.

 

Kingsley’s second favorite film this week was Camille:

The deathless tale of the love of Camille and Armand, with which we all became familiar in our early teens—principally because we were forbidden both book and play—is revived in fine and classic manner by Theda Bara and the Fox company at Miller’s this week. And it matters not how many times you’ve sighed over the sacrifice of Camille and wept at that naughty lady’s deathbed, you’ll do it again for Theda Bara… Miss Bara’s work has improved tremendously since we last saw her. It is characterized by a fine reserve, an artistic restraint, even in the most emotional scenes.

She addressed the first question you would ask about a tuberculosis-ridden character: “One wondered how the undeniably robust-looking actress would manage to look the wasted and ethereal heroine of the story, but she has accomplished it, rather by that subtle spiritual suggestion of a worn-out soul than by any actual physical change.” So acting can do the job instead of some horrific diet. It’s a lost film.

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Her favorite film this week was almost unfair competition to the rest: Chaplin’s The Adventurer.

If you want to laugh until the laughs tumble over each other in their eagerness to let yet another laugh escape, be sure and see The Adventurer…His antics are more of the brain and less of the feet than in any previous picture, with the result every little movement has a joyous meaning all its own. ‘And the story starts just as soon as the picture does,’ naively exclaimed a girl sitting behind me. In other words, Charlie pokes his head out of the sand to look right into the barrel of the guard’s gun.

If you want to follow Kingsley’s advice, you can see it on the Internet Archive.

 

Kingsley reported on an unusual delivery this week:

Fifty pies, varying in make from custard to pumpkin, in color from the dark red of strawberries to the light yellow of cream, in flavor from coconut to sweet potato; fifty pies have been received by Gladys Brockwell.

A commercial baker from Rosedale, Kansas sent them to her because he’d admired her art so much that he wanted her to try his. Kingsley thought that Mack Sennett might have made better use of them, but she didn’t say what became of the desserts.

 

 

The best line this week didn’t come from Kingsley, instead it was from Mary Pickford. She had signed Teddy the Dog, star of several Keystone comedies, for a serious part in her next film (he was to play Stella’s loyal dog in Stella Maris). She said, “I feel sure he’ll be able even to play Hamlet if we want him to. You know, he’s a Great Dane.”

She’ll show herself out.

 

 

*”N.P. Theaters Must Bear Share of U.S. War Tax,” Exhibitor’s Herald, October 13, 1917, p.17.

 

 

Week of January 13th, 1917

 

 

 

One hundred years ago this week, the biggest film event was the West Coast premier of Cecil De Mille’s (no B. yet) latest film, Joan the Woman, a biopic about Joan of Arc starring Geraldine Farrar. When she wrote about it, Grace Kingsley avoided stating her opinion of the film by joking about the “fickle public’s” demand for realism:

Truly, as for realism, it’s quite impossible to hide anything from these experts. They detect in a moment whether a lady of the Louis Quinze period is wearing the right sort of hats or not, and you can’t fool them by coiffing your Roman ladies with the wrong sort of hair-dos…Did Cleopatra have a mole in her shell-like ear? It is correctly recorded in the deathless celluloid. What sort of hemlock was it Socrates ordered up as a last fatal potation? The tireless trekker of truth connected with the motion-picture studio will tell you.

I suspect that both realism-pedants and this film bored her silly. Of course she couldn’t say so, because De Mille was already considered, as she mentioned, one of “the world’s greatest motion picture directors.” He’d been directing films for only three years; before that he worked in the theater.

That fickle public attended this movie in droves, and the picture stayed for eight weeks at the Majestic Theater according to Robert Birchard’s biography, Cecil B. De Mille’s Hollywood* The film is available on DVD.

Women weren’t only war heroes on Los Angeles screens this week. The other movies had a wide variety of roles for them. Mary Pickford got to be the chief of her Scottish clan in The Pride of the Clan, Blanche Sweet played a physician who deals with sexism in The Evil Eye and Emmy Wehlen was a model turned detective in Vanity. A week with so many strong movie characters for women is unimaginable in 2017.

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There was a flashing warning light that the film business was getting overheated on Saturday when Kingsley wrote:

What’s going to happen? That greatest of indoor sports, the formation of motion picture companies, has been sadly neglected during the past week. Which state of things makes folk possessed of tender sensibilities, like actors and press agents and real estate dealers, feel a trifle sad. With the exception of the Hill organization, no new company has come along to muss up the Hollywood scenery and disturb the classic shadows of the Carnegie Library with the sounds of mimic joy and grief. It’s a dull week indeed when no groups of theatrical men or tailors or book-keepers or others who thoroughly understand the picture business foregather to form film companies.

The Hill organization that she mentioned was the Corona Cinema Company, which made one film, The Curse of Eve (1917), before it folded.

This week two more companies were announced, Charles Frohman’s Empire All-Star Corporation and the Nat Goodwin Film Company. Frohman had been a very successful theatrical producer whose hits included Peter Pan; his company continued after his death on the Lusitania in 1915. Empire made 10 films between 1917 and 1918. Nat Goodwin was an actor who got money from a mine owner in Milwaukee to open a studio in San Jacinto but it never happened.

The industry-wide slowdown started later in 1917; by January 1918 the cameraman’s club was writing to their New York branch, warning them that there was little work on the West coast.**

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Teddy at the Throttle, with Teddy, Bobby Vernon and Gloria Swanson

Teddy the dog made his first appearance in her column this week:

The business files in Mack Sennett’s office contain contracts with Raymond Hitchcock, Eddie Foy, Sam Bernard and other celebrities, but not until last week was a contract ever made with a dog. Teddy, the Great Dane dog who is featured in Nick of Time Baby has been advanced from an extra to a regular actor with a contract. Teddy is all but human.

Teddy was the first dog star, and he had a good career, appearing in Sennett comedies like Teddy at the Throttle (1917) and Those Athletic Girls (1918) as well as dramas like Stella Maris (1918). Mary Mallory wrote his biography, which she illustrated with a Kingsley story about him from Photoplay. Film history is a small world.

 

*I didn’t realize until this minute that I stole my blog name from him. Theft is the sincerest form of admiration, I hope.

**Static Club Minutes, January 31, 1918.