Film Folks Dance: Week of November 29th, 1919

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One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on “the great impeccable occasion of the year in Filmland, the Thanksgiving Ball.” Held every year since 1915 by the Motion Picture Directors Association at the Alexandria Hotel, the dance gave everyone in Hollywood something else to do other than rush off to family obligations. This year it was on the night before Thanksgiving, so people wouldn’t have to get up early for work the next day (Black Friday wasn’t a day off then).

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It was quite an event: the MPDA hired two orchestras, which alternated turns so they were always “full of vim and vigor,” and they served a late supper. Nevertheless, Kingsley reported that ”the party got to such a slow start that Clara Williams threatened to start a pinochle game,” but soon things got going and Kingsley was able to gather some pleasant, gossipy stories.

Bebe Daniels had a fine time at the party, even though she was well chaperoned:

The handsome Wallace MacDonald wore make-up on his coat – mostly Bebe Daniel’s. Miss Daniels was clothed in that siren shade of Viennese red and vamped whenever mommer Phyllis Daniels wasn’t looking, just like an old-fashioned coquette.

How scandalous! Daniels was only 18 years old at the time, so she was being developmentally appropriate.

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Lew Cody

Prohibition had changed things, and Kingsley was able to report:

There was only one genial gentleman who had apparently imbibed. He was, we blush to say, a playwright. He invited a nice girl to dance with him, but found it hard to make the grade, and Lew Cody, always willing to save a girl dashed into the arena, as it were, and seized the young lady from the genial gentleman.

Good for Mr. Cody! Getting drunk would have been difficult at this party; Kingsley mentioned that they served temperance punch, and “it was rumored around late in the evening that nearly a whole cup of claret, first and last, had been poured into one of the punch-bowls and there was quite a rush.”

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Charley Parrott, later Chase

But the nicest story she told involved director (soon to be with Hal Roach) and future comedy star Charley Chase, who was then known by his real name, Charley Parrott.

One of the belles of the ball was little Ella Wickersham, who used to dance and work in pictures before accident and her wheelchair overtook her, and she had a little flock of beaux around her most of the time. Charley Parrott begging her to ‘give him three dances, please, in spirit, you know,’ and sitting them all out with her, while half a dozen lively misses languished for his smile.

Ella Wickersham was a regular at Hollywood parties for three decades. Formerly at Balboa Studio and a vaudevillian, she had a dance act with her brother, Billy Wickersham. One day when she was 15 they were dancing and he accidentally dropped her, which broke her back and left her paralyzed. He looked after her for the rest of her life and became a studio publicist and newspaper reporter. She went on to write the “Hollywood Parade” column for the Los Angeles Examiner. She was friends with all sorts of famous people; an article in Screenland article about her was called “The Most Popular Girl in Hollywood” (December 1930, p. 58). She died in 1946.

Kingsley reported on a film that was a great big hit this week:

With lovely woman as a theme, and especially with it advertised that Eve, in the original birthday clothes, was on the programme, naturally Maurice Tourneur’s latest photodramatic spectacle, Woman packed Clune’s Auditorium to the doors last night, men making up about two-thirds of the audience.

Clune’s held 2,700 people, so that was a lot of tickets. Female nudity wasn’t the only attraction; it also offered plenty of misogyny. The film begins with a modern man reading a book about women in history. As Kingsley pointed out “really, I think that man must have had a naughty mind, because he picked out all the bad ones to read about!” They including Eve, Heloise, and Messalina. However, eventually women redeemed themselves. Kingsley wrote, “it would appear at the end that it was only because of the war that women were made good!”

While the theme was irritating, Kingsley did admire the cinematography: “pictorially, Woman is a marvel of beauty.” Sadly, the cameraman died while making this film. John van den Broek got swept out to sea while shooting on a cliff near Bar Harbor, Maine. He was only 23 years old. According to his obituary in Moving Picture World he was on a ledge close to the water when a high wave came in and took him and his camera (July 20, 1918, p.391). They quoted Maurice Tourneur: “Van den Broek was an artist, and didn’t consider his own safety when he saw the opportunity of taking a beautiful effect. He risked his life many times and in the end gave his life for his art. For more than four years the boy worked with me every day, from morning to night…He was more than a cameraman; he was a lovely, sensitive, delicate artist. My intention was to surprise him by making him a director next fall, and he would have been among the best ones. He was loved by everybody.”

Kingsley also had news of Al St. John, “that pepful young man, who lately broke off from the family stem of comedians brought fourth by the radiant good fellowship of Roscoe Arbuckle’s studio.” He had signed a contract with Paramount to make solo comedies, and he’d just gotten good news: his first two-reeler, Speed, “was being shown in no less a place than the Capitol Theater in New York, where it was sending ‘em into gales of laughter and creating a great hit.” Speed is a lost film.

A few days later, Kingsley reported that heavyweight fighter Jack Dempsey, who was getting ready to make his own movies, visited the set: “Al and his company were pulling a jazzerie by wreaking a set in a big fight, but Al dashed out long enough to shake hands and exclaim “I’ve heard a lot about you, Mr. Dempsey!” Later that day:

Dempsey and St. John did some acrobatics and the big boy threw Al around as if he were going to break something with him. As a parting salute, Al St. John did two falls downstairs, jumped off the top of the set, and fought three fellows to the finish; and Jack Dempsey was heard to heave a refined sigh as he exclaimed under his breath: “Gee, but I’m glad I’m going to be a dramatic actor!

They also took the time to pose for this nifty photo:

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This week, Kingsley also printed a list from Louise Glaum, who had just finished wokring on Sex. It was an excellent summary of the then-current Hollywood star clichés:

“In novelty’s name one film star has jotted down what she is not, thus delivering the long-suffering public from the usual hyperbolic encomiums directed at screen favorites by their publicists.

I have not:

  • Decided to quit pictures after I make eight more.
  • Adopted a Polish orphan.
  • Started an aeronautic company, even on paper.
  • Got a houseful of cats, canines, goldfish and birds.
  • Become my own press agent, nor yet my own writer, director, producer, property man, or dressmaker.
  • Written a book on “How I Became a Great Actress.”

Gee, most of these still appear in star profiles, if you substitute “African” for “Polish” and “make-up” for “aeronautical.”

 

 

Week of November 10th, 1917

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smallsuet1917 Thanksgiving menu for Camp Williams, France, from the George C. Marshall Foundation Library. It’s not radically different from a 2017 menu, except for the dessert: suet pudding instead of pumpkin pie. Suet pudding involves suet (beef or mutton fat), flour, bread crumbs, raisins, and spices (it sounds nicer when its called Spotted Dick or plum pudding).

 

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley was reporting on stars’ plans for the upcoming holiday:

Despite the war and the various vicissitudes of life, the picture play people are planning to enjoy themselves at Thanksgiving time. Their Hooverizing* for the most part will take the form of expansive hospitality.

Most of them were looking forward to a big meal with their friends and families, including Charlie Chaplin, Roscoe Arbuckle and the Gish sisters. However, some had alternate plans:

  • Both Tom Mix and William S. Hart were arranging big dinners for their film companies;
  • Dorothy Phillips, who had been working night and day, was looking forward to spending the day at home, thankful for a little extra sleep;
  • Franklyn Farnum and Gladys Brockwell both intended to go hunting;
  • Edith Storey wanted to continue her custom of taking a long hike, then dining wherever she found herself;
  • The Fox kiddies (Virginia Corbin, Violet Radcliffe, Francis Carpenter) “all declared in a chorus they meant to just eat all day long—but their parents bring me private information to the contrary;”
  • Lon Chaney planned to treat his wife to a café dinner.

 

 

The war was affecting some peoples’ festivities:

  • Triangle Studios was sponsoring benefit shows for patriotic charities featuring their stars, including Texas Guinan, William Desmond and Alma Reuben;
  • Mary Pickford hoped to dine with the 600 soldiers she “adopted” at Camp Kearny;
  • “Jackie Sunders, though lonely without the brother who has gone to the front, will try and keep Popper and Mommer Saunders from thinking about it.”

Finally, only one star was willing to admit how Los Angeleians really spend the day: Viola Dana “intends to stay out of doors as much of the day as she has left over from dinner, and look at the snow-clad mountains and gloat over the fact she doesn’t have to trot around in the New York slush.”

 

 

Kingsley’s favorite film this week was The Outsider:

A barrage of mystery surrounding a plot is the proper thing nowadays on both stage and screen, and The Outsider has one guessing from start to finish…it tells of robbers robbing other robbers, and has as many ingenious twists as a Sherlock Holmes story.

She thought it was “the best picture Metro has shown in many moons.” She also mentioned “by the way there is a lot of beautiful photography in this picture.” Unfortunately, it was cinematographer John M. Bauman’s second to last film. A former Thanhouser cameraman, after he shot Life’s Whirlpool (1917) he quit the film business and went to work as a salesman for the Storage Battery Company. I guess good reviews don’t pay the bills. Happily, The Outsider survives at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

 

 

In her review of A Mormon Maid, Kingsley used the cinematography to deliver a frank opinion about the rest of the film: “there is some bewilderingly beautiful photography in the picture—so lovely, in fact, that it almost takes your mind off the story.” That might seem like an exaggeration until you learn that the DP was Charles Rosher, and unlike poor Mr. Bauman, he went on to have a spectacular career. He soon became Mary Pickford’s chief cameraman, and he and Karl Struss won the first cinematography Oscar for their work on Sunrise (1927). Later he shot Technicolor films like Showboat (1951) and The Yearling (1946), for which he won his second Oscar.

 

 

On Saturday, Douglas Fairbanks and his A Modern Musketeer company returned from a location shoot at the Grand Canyon. Director Allan Dwan told of Fairbanks’ first impression:

“Oh, I’m so disappointed!”

“Disappointed? Why?” asked Dwan.

“Because I can’t jump it,” explained Fairbanks.

If anyone could, it would have been him.

 

 

Kingsley told of one star’s sensible plan for keeping nervous drivers off the road. Louise Fazenda:

owns a fine automobile, but she is afraid to run it. ‘I just let it stand in front of my bungalow so folks will know I own one,’ she confided, ‘but when I want to ride, I hire a machine with a chauffeur attached.’

If only more bad drivers did the same!

 

*Herber Hoover at that time was in charge of the U.S. Food Administration, and he was calling on all Americans to economize on food for the war effort.

 

Week of November 25th, 1916

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Lillian Gish in The Children Pay

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported that a new film had struck a nerve.

This department is in receipt of several letters from various persons praising in the highest terms [writer] Frank Woods’ picture “The Children Pay” at Clune’s Broadway. The story deals with the sufferings and humiliations suffered by children whose parents are divorced. In fact, the picture seems to have had a wide appeal, not only because of its purpose, which is worked out in a natural and unforced way, but because of the fact that Lillian Gish has several fetching comedy scenes which apparently have caught the public taste.

The Children Pay told the story of Millicent (Lillian Gish) and Jean (Violet Wilky), sisters who have been separated because of their parent’s divorce. To reunite, Millicent marries her lawyer and takes custody of Jean. (Gish was 23 at the time, so it looked less like pedophilia.)

This was unusual because Kingsley rarely mentioned the response she got to her columns. She didn’t entirely disagree with the letter writers; her review said that despite the questionable legality of a minor girl being appointed guardian of her younger sister and marriage without her parents’ consent, the film was “a logical, human and appealing little story, though dragged out tiresomely in some scenes.” She agreed with the letter writers that Gish “shows herself possessed of a quaint but keen sense of fun, and it is very pleasing to view the young lady whom we have been accustomed to see weeping, playing a prankish part.” The review ran on Wednesday and she mentioned the letters on Friday, so the various persons were annoyed enough to write in right away.

Kevin Brownlow wrote that divorce had been the subject of films since Detected (1903) and while it was commercial, The Children Pay was the first film to treat it with concern and its victims with compassion (Behind the Mask of Innocence, p.34). The film has been preserved at the Danish Film Institute.

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The Prince of Graustark

Kinglsey liked some of the week’s other releases more than The Children Pay. Her favorite film was a “bright, clean-cut and sparkling romantic comedy” The Prince of Graustark because it “discusses no ‘problems,’ nobody chest heaves or emotes and there is no villain. It is simply a delightfully ingenious comedy, with a smashing surprise finish!”

It’s been preserved at the Eastman House, but in case you’re not planning a trip to Rochester soon I’ll spoil the surprise: Prince Robin must save his country from bankruptcy by marrying a neighboring princess. He refuses and sails to the United States where he meets a wealth financier who agrees to give him the money with the hope that he’ll marry his daughter Maud. He meets a woman whom he thinks is Maud, they go back to Graustark, but she’s not the financier’s daughter, she’s the princess! (I bet you didn’t see that coming!) The novel it was based on is fun, too, and it’s available on the Internet Archive.

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Thanksgiving was this week, but Kingsley didn’t miss a column and it barely rated a mention. Special holiday matinees were at the Morosco and Burbank Theaters, and backstage at the Majestic, where A Trip Through China was in its third week, the local Chinese community planned a Chinese Thanksgiving dinner with birds’ nest soup and chop suey for Benjamin Brodsky and his associates.

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Olga Petrova

This was also the week of salary news:

  • Mae Marsh was leaving D.W. Griffith and going to work for Samuel Goldfish, who planned to pay her $2000 per week.
  • Olga Petrova left Metro for Lasky, where she was to be paid $4000 per week.
  • Douglas Fairbanks was offered $10,000 per week to star in his own company, but his current contract with Triangle prevented him for taking it.
  • The Palace Theater in New York announced that dancer Maud Allan was to get $7500 per week, the largest salary ever paid a vaudeville attraction. She was to do a series of dramatic dances. She didn’t get to keep the whole $7500; she was responsible for paying her own orchestra and company.

According to the U.S. News and World Report, in 1915 the average man made $687 per year and the average woman made half that. So it’s no wonder people were astonished by entertainers’ salaries.

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Kingsley mentioned an actor’s fashion prediction. “Charles Ray, Ince star, has made the discovery that wrist-watches worn by men are not effeminate – not when you know how they originated and you wear them in the proper spirit—So there!” He pointed out that the custom started among soldiers fighting in the Boer War, who didn’t have a pocket to put them in. He continued “and believe me, the day is coming when more American men than you can count will agree that it is a convenience, not just a fad.”

Of course he was right, but it took soldiers fighting in World War 1 to really change public opinion, according to History.com. Wristwatches had been stereotyped because the first ones were pieces of jewelry worn by women (and obviously, if women do something it must be questionable).

 

Ray was a popular star until 1923, when the big-budget The Courtship of Miles Standish failed at the box office. He continued to act, but he filed for bankruptcy twice and ended up playing bit roles until his death in 1943.

Finally, Kingsley mentioned that inter titles had hit a new low, when one of the films playing that week included “the announcement of the fact that the heroine’s gentleness is softening the villain: ‘A softening influence has stripped the husks from the eagle’s heart.’” I haven’t been able to find out where it came from; none of the ten films playing seem an obvious candidate for this monstrosity. It’s useful to remember that people in 1916 were not fans of the purplest prose. They had standards, too.

Week of November 18th, 1916

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported that the Motion Picture Directors Association were planning to hold a ball on Thanksgiving night at the Alexandria Hotel. In addition to dancing, there would be a buffet supper and a special program of surprises. They promised that directors and movie stars would attend. Tickets were available only from MPDA members. The Los Angeles Herald (November 9, 1916) added that the event would begin with a concert at eight o’clock, and dancing would just begin at 9, without a grand march to start things off. The previous year’s ball had been a success, and they raised enough money to endow three beds at a local hospital for the use of motion picture people. The 1916 ball was equally successful, according to the Times (December 3, 1916). Directors and stars did turn out, including Lois Weber,  Mary Miles Minter, Ruth Stonehouse, Bessie Barriscale, and Herbert Rawlinson. Unfortunately, the paper didn’t tell what the special surprises were.

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Maskers

So Thanksgiving hasn’t always been mandatory family obligation holiday during which you eat yourself into a food coma and spend the evening on the sofa wondering why you did that. People just had a reasonable amount of turkey, fall vegetables and pie, and still had energy to go out to a dance. There were Thanksgiving football games (the first was held in Philadelphia in 1869) but not on the West Coast. The tradition of parades didn’t start until 1920, when Gimbles department store sponsored a Thanksgiving Day Parade, also in Philadelphia. In the teens, they did have one Thanksgiving activity that’s been moved to Halloween. Some kids and adults went “masking”: they dressed in costumes and strolled through the streets, asking for pennies, apples or candy, according to NPR.

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Douglas Fairbanks in American Aristocracy

In her film reviews this week, Kingsley asked an excellent question:

Why aren’t we given more pungent screen comedy like American Aristocracy and fewer “mellers,” with ladies who register emotion by letting down their back hair and crawling up out of their corsets?

Aristocracy was a good-natured satire of nouveau-riche Americans written by Anita Loos who “has struck a new stride in motion picture comedy.” Star Douglas Fairbanks “is first seen as an entomologist in search of new sorts of butterflies but a girl swerves him from science, and for her sweet sake and that of the admiring public, he performs all sorts of hazardous stunts in that graceful athletic way of his. Fairbanks never misses putting over a comedy point, and in addition, has that bubbling good humor, that robustness of spirit, which is entirely irresistible.” What’s even more remarkable is that this is the fifth Fairbanks film in as many months: he was able to maintain high quality while producing so much. The film was preserved at the Eastman House and is available on the Internet Archive.

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Motion Picture News (September 23, 1916)

D.W. Griffith was still chatting with reporters about Intolerance. He mentioned that he planned to kill Mae Marsh’s character because the actress was so good at dying artistically, however, so many people asked for a happy ending that he finally relented. He didn’t say how he planned to off The Dear One. Maybe she could have died from grief at all of her troubles, or been killed in a car wreck as she raced to The Boy’s rescue, but neither seem very plausible.

Kingsley reported that “for the first time in the history of motion pictures, a photoplay is to be turned into an opera.” Jesse Lasky sold the operatic rights to The Cheat to Camille Erlanger, a French composer. There was plenty of melodrama to work with: a society woman steals $10,000 from the Red Cross to invest in a company; when the company fails an Asian curio dealer offers her that amount to sleep with him. She reneges at the last minute, he brands her and she shoots him. Her husband almost takes the blame, but in the courtroom she revels the brand and confesses.

Erlanger did write the opera and it premiered posthumously in 1921 (he died in 1919) at the Opera Comique in Paris. Re-named La Forfaiture, the New York Times (February 12, 1921) reported that critics said the action was inferior to the film, but the music and interpretation were well spoken of. Kingsley was right: it was the first film adapted as an opera.