Week of September 21st, 1918

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One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley used her Sunday column (usually devoted to an interview) to write an appreciation of Roscoe Arbuckle in The Sheriff:

Up the street gallops Fatty’s steed with the whooping cowboys close at his heels. They’re gaining on him, and he wants to escape, so he does exactly what you’d never expect a man built like Fatty to do. He makes a flying leap right up the side of a church and bounces onto the roof. After which you realize that Fatty isn’t really fat at all—that he’s made of India rubber. He bounces to the belfry and hangs on to the church spire.

Then you laugh until you weep, probably. For the spire suddenly bends in his grasp, then sways this way and that under Fatty’s weight, while the chubby comedian dodges the bullets from the guns of his pursuers.

And right there is where you “get” Fatty, and realize there are other ways to Boswell a man besides using long words to write about him. For in The Sheriff, Fatty admittedly give us a perfectly delicious and at the same time the most kindly and gentle of satires on the world’s most famous athletic comedian. In fact, Arbuckle takes the ‘ire’ out of ‘satire.’ And to Roscoe Arbuckle’s genius must go a huge share of praise for his radiant and cheerful comedies, in which he provides the warm glow of humor around which humanity eagerly hovers in these stressful days.

Unfortunately, this cheerful comedy can’t help our current stressful days: it’s a lost film. So Kingsley’s description of his impressive stunt work, as well as the publicity and other materials written about the film, are all we have left. It seems that Arbuckle’s sheriff was a Douglas Fairbanks super-fan who must rescue his kidnapped sweetheart. I’m sorry we don’t get to see that!

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Arbuckle and Betty Compson

Kingsley had a point about what makes Arbuckle films so enjoyable: they aren’t mean, the way some slapstick comedies can be (I’m not sure I’ve recovered from a Ham and Bud short I saw a few years ago that involved gassing a houseful of people). I’m glad that Kingsley called the character he played Fatty, but the filmmaker was Roscoe, which was exactly what he wanted.

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After months of anticipation, Kingsley got to see a preview of Charlie Chaplin’s new film:

I have no hesitancy in saying the world is going to pronounce it is the greatest picture comedy that has ever been made. And the preview was perfectly ‘dry’, too! If one were disposed to go into a high-brow analysis of it, one would say that Chaplin has succeeded by his artistry in fairly creating a new art form. For, despite the fact that Shoulder Arms has a ripple of laughter running all through it, which rises to the happy crescendo of laugher in its boisterous moments, it has all the time a resonant undertone of war’s rumblings and war’s mighty pathos.

Chaplin was clever to let her see it early – he thought she was important, even if her editors didn’t let her review the big films. Kingsley was one of the first critics to call Shoulder Arms great, but other film writers at the time admired it nearly as much. Peter Milne in Picture-Play Magazine said it was “proof conclusive that Charles Spencer Chaplin is the king of all comedians” (February 1919) while Film Daily gave it the highest praise possible from a trade paper: “if you don’t clean up with this Chaplin, you should get out of show business.” (November 17, 1918)

 

Kingsley’s favorite film in the theaters this week was yet another re-release. The intervening three years had turned it into an unusual film for its leading lady:

My goodness, how we used to sob over the sorrows of those lovely and hapless virgins, The Two Orphans, in the good old days of beer-barrel thunder and paper snowstorms! But there was something vital and fascinating in the old drama, else it never would have played all through the years. And now screen magic has touched it, as it touches so many of the beautiful old stories, and has turned it into quite a fresh new play by reason of the showing of the scenes that heretofore we’ve been obliged merely to conjure up in our imaginations, due to the limitations of the stage. The Two Orphans is on view at Miller’s this week, with no less a persona than Theda Bara in he leading role. The story is beautifully played—even if it is hard to imagine Miss Bara an orphan after the opulent orgies of Salome.

Orphans was made a few months after Bara made such an impression as a vamp in A Fool There Was in 1915, but before her studio typecast her. This lost film was based on the same play as Griffith’s Orphans of the Storm (1921); Bara played Henriette, the sighted orphan who gets kidnapped. The blind orphan, Louise, was played by Jean Sothern, who’d already quit acting in films by 1918. Bara’s popularity in 1918 must have been immense, because the film hadn’t done well at the box office when it was originally released, so it’s a little surprising they’d try it again. Maybe wartime austerity was another reason Fox mined their back catalog. Bara’s next picture in 1915 was a return to bad women with Sin, which was a great big hit and sealed her fate as a vamp.

Kingsley mentioned an unusual contribution to the war effort:

That athletic hero, Douglas Fairbanks, set a wartime example of abstemiousness by disposing of his automobile, and will be the first star in Los Angeles to go riding in his own handsome carriage. He has a fast trotting and racing pony, which will draw his equipage down Broadway.

It’s a shame that they didn’t print a picture of him and his carriage, navigating the streets of downtown Los Angeles. But here’s a nice one of Fairbanks in 1918 with the car he wasn’t using instead.

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Week of September 7th, 1918

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Moving Picture World, June 14, 1919

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley mentioned a man that might be the first Korean-American actor in Hollywood:

A Chinese imitator of Charlie Chaplin is the latest thing in Filmland. His name is Chai Hong and he works for the L-Ko Company. His impersonation occurs in a scene of Playing Movies, a comedy directed by Jim Davis, wherein Hong, seeing a picture company at work, decides he can be Charlie Chaplin.

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It’s not Kingsley’s fault that she thought he was Chinese: that’s how they sold him. Chai Young Hong was part of the first wave of Korean immigrants to the U.S. who came to work on the Hawaiian sugar plantations.* By 1918 he was in Los Angeles, possibly working as a bellhop at the Alexandria Hotel,** then he went to work for L-Ko Komedies. His first part was a bit as “The Chinese Man” in The Blind Pig, but he was already the lead in his third film. Moving Picture World announced:

A genuine Oriental makes a bid for popularity in the comedy field in the L-Ko comedy, A Clean Sweep. His name is Chai Hong, and according to Julius Stern, head of the L-Ko aggregation, he is due to make a decided impression on photoplay fans. Chai Hong has a style peculiarly his own…The L-Ko’s new comedian enacts the role of a Celestial laundry magnate, who helps to run smoothly the course of true love as it exists between the daughter of a neighboring ‘lady barber’ and the son of a nearby butcher. (July 27, 1918)

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Later in the same issue they reviewed it and said it was “full of funny tricks and amusing slapstick situations and winds up with a hilarious chase, in which the family washing is carried through the streets between two autos.”

The film Kingsley mentioned became A Movie Riot. Moving Picture Weekly (Universal’s trade paper) gave a disjointed plot summary:

School is out because the village schoolmaster has had his digestion spoiled by the children continually making him sick with their antics. So the two worst culprits, Hoptoad Hal and Tadpole Ted, went to work on the farm. What should arrive but the Fillibuster Film Company to stage a few scenes of their great drama, The Romance of a Young Butcher?

Right here Charlie from the Orient makes his presence felt and Lady Vere de Voop simply cannot escape the tender advances of the young but worldly-wise butcher. Of course, the kids get continually in the way as they always do when love scenes threaten. Then movies begin to riot all over the place and even ‘the child’ and the storm—just like Way Down East. But just before you begin to cry the happy ending comes. (April 5, 1919)

That doesn’t make very much sense, but Moving Picture World reviewed the short and said “there is not much plot, but several good features. The burlesque melodrama is funny, and the rescue of the baby from the miniature train by a dog makes an exciting close.” (May 17, 1919)

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He’s in the 1920 Census and the 1920 LA City Directory

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Hong wasn’t a Chaplin imitator dressed in baggy pants like Billy West, it just looks like they were implying that he was as funny as Chaplin. He worked for L-Ko until it went out of business in 1919, then he moved to another comedy company distributed by Universal Films, Rainbow Comedies, until 1920. Unfortunately, few of his film survive. According to the IMDB, over the next two years he had three small parts for independent companies. After that, he disappeared. There are Chai/Charles/CY Hongs in Ancestry.com, but their birth years don’t match his. I hope he had a happy life.

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He got to make a personal appearance in Los Angeles on July 15, 1919.

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Kingsley’s favorite this week was Theda Bara’s last big film:

Score another one—high up, this time—for Theda Bara, J. Gordon Edwards, William Fox. All for Salome, which without a doubt is the greatest Biblical spectacle so far made in the history of films. And one of the greatest photodramas ever made…the spectacle is so interwoven with the human drama of it as to amount to a triumph. There is the miracle wrought by John the Baptist when the thunderbolt blasts its way into the king’s palace, there is the majesty of John and his rabble followers in the wilderness; there is the mad dance of the seven veils; there is the execution of John and the pitiful bloody head held aloft; there is the devastating tornado which tears the palace twain, and last there is the death of Salome on the spears of the soldiers.

And for me—and, probably for thousands of others—Salome, the alluring, the cruel, will always be the colorful, intricate characterization of Theda Bara. The house was packed from pit to dome with a brilliant and enthusiastic audience.

There was no way anybody could predict that Bara’s popularity would be ending just next year.

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Miller’s Theater revived an older comedy two-reeler this week, and Kingsley wasn’t happy about it:

Fatty Arbuckle’s picture, Fatty and the Studio Stars, is a Keystone of the vintage of 1915, and serves principally to illustrate by mental comparison what a lot Mack Sennett and Fatty Arbuckle have learned since than.

That’s undoubtedly true, and it’s a good reminder of how rapidly filmmaking developed then. However, now people like it much more. Known as Fatty and the Broadway Star, Brent Walker in Mack Sennett’s Fun Factory says it “offers a glimpse of the Keystone lot circa Fall, 1915. Arbuckle plays a hapless sweeper who manages to disrupt a series of shoots on the lot, with every major Keystone star appearing as themselves (with a special emphasis on the Broadway performers, naturally). In an interesting dream sub-plot, crooked stage manager Al St. John ties up Sennett in his office while his cohorts set fire to the building.” I’d like a glimpse of that!

 

 

 

*The National Association of Korean Americans has more information on their website.

**Jenny Cho, Chinese in Hollywood, Mt. Pleasant, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2013, p.18. She didn’t cite a source, but it’s certainly plausible that he was a bellhop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Week of July 6th, 1918

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Kingsley at work

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley visited someone who “promises to put the ‘new’ in ‘ingenue’”:

bearWith a high-power comedy bear and comedy curls, Theda Bara has wrapped her misery cloak in mothballs…It was a Spanish interior set out at the Fox studio, and naturally you expected to see Theda Bara glide vampirishly forth, dolled up in a slinky frock, or leap into the scene with a nice shiny dagger held aloft, or drag herself sorrowfully in and drop down on the soggy sofa. Nothing of the sort.

Out through the door with its festoons of dried peppers dances a new Theda Bara. This Theda Bara is a mischievous sprite, who reminds you a bit of Dorothy Gish in her pepfullest moments, with just a dash of Constance Talmadge’s Mountain Girl.

And then Miss Bara was called away for the love scenes between herself and Al Roscoe, the hero. And such a love scene as it was! Though it was hedged in and embroidered with comedy—joyous, sparkling comedy—it was such a love scene as to make to palpitate the hearts of all the matinee girls from 16 to 60. Indeed, it is these touches of genuine drama, embroidering the comedy, as it were, which promise to give the world a new type of comedy drama. In other words, as Miss Bara says “The comedy has tragedy relief.”

In short, I think you’re going to be amazed when you see The Little She-Devil.

Unfortunately, Theda Bara’s attempt to expand her range wasn’t a success. They trimmed both the title (it was released as The She Devil) and the film: it’s lost, but it looks like they cut the comedy scenes. None of the trade magazine plot synopses say that anything was particularly funny, and they didn’t mention a comedy bear. Critics didn’t enjoy what remained. Kingsley wrote that it “is not a particularly good vehicle for her, being a sort of jitney Carmen…For an ordinary star, The She Devil would have been a piquant and acceptable story—but not for Theda Bara.” (January 20, 1919) P.S. Harrison in Motion Picture News agreed, writing “either there is a scarcity of stories, or some one has blundered in selecting this one for Theda Bara. Not only is it illogical, but unfitting her particular talents as well.” (November 9, 1918). That makes something Bara said to Kingsley sad:

But on one point Miss Bara is determined. Never, never again will she play a vampire role, if she can help it. She declared so herself.

That didn’t happen. She-Devil wasn’t a financial success, either, so it was back to the melodramas. According to Bara biographer Eve Golden, the box office failure wasn’t necessarily because of the bad reviews but because it was a victim of bad timing, being released in New York the day before the Armistice was signed, and people weren’t going to the movies that week.

Bara’s next one was The Light (1919), in which she played “the wickedest woman in Paris, quite an accomplishment when one considers the completion” wrote Golden. But the return to her usual stories didn’t help; the popularity of vampire films was passing, and her film career was coming to an end. In 1933, writer Frederick L. Collins interviewed her and found her a “lovely, gracious woman of the world,” who was reconciled to the idea that the average span of a picture star’s career was 5 years, so she sensibly stopped at four and a half. She married director Charles Brabin, traveled, became a gourmet cook, had lots of interesting friends and gave fantastic parties. Furthermore, as Golden points out, unlike most of the stars of 1918 she’s still remembered now.

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Kingsley’s favorite film this week was a more successful comedy:

Well, they’ve done it, praise be! Ruggles of Red Gap, Harry Leon Wilson’s breezy story, unctuously funny, whimsically satirical, drolly human, has really been transferred to the screen.

It’s all there—the naïve horror of Ruggles at being introduced as ‘Col Ruggles of the British army,’ the sly humor of Cousin Egbert in putting Ruggles into Red Gap society when he has had him wished on him as a valet, the gentle satire on Anglomaniacs, the revelation of the genuineness and good-sportsmanship of Ruggles under his veneer of servant snobbery and his naïve misunderstanding of everything not English.

So the classic 1935 version of the story with Charles Laughton wasn’t the first. This version is lost.

Keaton couldn’t resist the challenge

To top it off, the additional feature was Roscoe Arbuckle’s Good Night, Nurse in its second week. Kingsley didn’t review it; Antony Anderson had the week before and he said “when Fatty becomes a lady nurse himself it is certainly up to you—you can’t resist the challenge—to redouble the loudness of your laughter. In short, Good Night Nurse is one of Roscoe’s best.” What a night at the movies!

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Kingsley reported an unusual story about how far film can reach:

After having been given up for dead as his name could nowhere be found on the list of survivors of a recent ocean tragedy, Charles Spere, the young actor who is distinguishing himself in motion pictures as a juvenile, was located last week through his screen likeness by his father, an eastern traveling man.

Milton Spere happened to catch a screening of The Desert Wooing, which featured Charles as the heroine’s brother. He sent a telegram, and the two were reunited in Hollywood a few days later. Kingsley continued, “Spere Sr. has announced that he intends to lease a bungalow, give up his travelling and let friend son support him in his old age.”

You might wonder if this is really a happy ending, but Milton didn’t move in and freeload on his son. They lived in separate houses and he opened Spere and Hill, Auto Painters, according to the 1920 City Directory. Charles Spere had a brief career playing young men, then he became a manager in a clothing store.

Kingsley mentioned that dramatic actress Olga Petrova had made an announcement about forsaking the industry:

I don’t think I shall ever do any more pictures,” said the actress. “The stage is much more satisfactory to the artist and for that matter, I have made enough money, so it doesn’t matter to me financially whether I work any more or not. But being full of energy, I suppose I shall work at something, and, as it happens, the things I care most for are uncommercial.

The remarkable thing is that’s exactly what she did! Usually retirement declarations like this are actually vacation notices. She had gotten her start in film in 1914, so her five years were almost up, if Theda Bara’s star longevity theory is accurate. She was getting out when the getting was good. Petrova’s The Secret of Eve was the topic of one of Kingsley’s funnier pans.

 

 

 

Eve Golden. Vamp: The Rise and Fall of Theda Bara. Vestal, NY: Emprise Publishing, 1996.

 

Frederick L. Collins. “The Mystery of the Vanishing Vampire,” New Movie Magazine, March, 1933, p. 40.

Week of June 29th, 1918

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Harry Barndollar, L.A. Times sketch artist and political cartoonist, came along for the visit, too.

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley took another trip to Charlie Chaplin’s studio to watch him at work. She happened to be there for when he was drinking tea and brainstorming a name for his next film. She recorded the scene:

All the name had to suggest was patriotism and fun, and drama and punch and a few other things like that. Of course, the christening wasn’t effected without a lot of skirmishing. Syd Chaplin must have his joke, for one thing.

“Call it The Bums of Berlin!” he suggested.

But Brer Charlie wasn’t going to have any low-comedy names, because his bright necklace of laughter is really strung on a stout little thread of seriousness.

The Fat Comedian, who is inclined to be sentimental, suggested it be called Hearts of Fate. [this was probably Henry Bergman]

“Hearts of Lettuce.” parodied Syd Chaplin.

“Why not call it Charlie Carries On, suggested the thin heavy, which sounded reasonable, too. [Albert Austin, perhaps]

But the comedian took a reflective munch on his third slice of cake and a quick glup of tea, got up and walked into the door of a set, emerged on the other side and triumphantly announced:

Shoulder Arms.”

Which you must admit has punch in its sound, suggests either comedy or pathos, and altogether, like the mother hubbard of the senator’s speech, ‘covers everything and touches nothing’.

 

And that was that. Maybe if we all eat more cake, we can have Chaplin-caliber ideas, too!

However, the film was far from finished. A bit later, this happened:

“And now, Syd,” said Charlie, “tell this lady the plot!”

Syd looked perplexed.

“Don’t you just wish you could!” laughed Charlie. “The story is a sketchy thing,” explains Charlie seriously.

 

Eventually they did figure it out, and the film came out in October. I imagine there was more cake and tea involved.

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Kingsley’s favorite film this week was a two-reel comedy.

Fay Tincher, glory be, has returned to the screen, with her professional chewing gum and her trade-mark stripes. Filled with all her old pep and drollery she is appearing at Miller’s this week in a whimsical little comedy entitled Main 1-2-3, in which she is a shop girl, who, longingly gazing into a furniture shop window showing a furnished flat, is hired to live in the window for advertising purposes.

 

Tincher had been away from the screen for over a year. In 1916, she starred in Triangle two-reelers, wearing her trademark black and white striped costume and playing everything from a traveling saleswoman to a socialite. According to Steve Massa in Slapstick Divas “the unifying theme in these roles was Fay’s no-nonsense demeanor and feistiness, which were in comic contrast to her tiny stature.” Main 1-2-3 was her first film for her own production company. The Fay Tincher Comedy Company made three shorts, then she abandoned her striped outfit and went to work for Christie Comedies in 1919.

 

Week of May 18th, 1918

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One hundred years ago this week, the war filled the rest of the paper and Grace Kingsley promised a lot for an upcoming film on the same topic, My Four Years in Germany:

It hasn’t any plot, it hasn’t any firecracker battle scenes, it’s a war play without any suffering heroine, without any noble hero, whose white soul and white flannels alike come through battles unscathed, without any villain carrying a bomb in one hand and a lighted cigarette in the other.

Yet it’s a thrilling war play all the same – with a significance so penetrating, action so vital, truthful events so skillfully welded that it holds you breathless through the unfolding of every inch of its ten reels!

Based on the book with the same name , the film featured actors recreating former American ambassador to Germany James W. Gerard’s experiences dealing with the Kaiser and the German government before and during the war. Unashamedly propaganda, it included scenes of implied rape and murder. Gerard said, “German treachery must be exposed and I know of no better way to get the attention of the multitude than by means of the films.”

 

It was a big hit. One of the producers told Moving Picture World that it was still going strong in early 1919 and credited it with helping exhibitors survive the flu shutdown in 1918.

Kingsley wasn’t the only on who promised at lot for the film. She wrote, “after seeing the film, President Wilson said, “Let the American people see this picture and Kaiserism will be wiped from the face of the earth. This picture will live as long as the American Republic.” The film does survive in several American archives, including the Library of Congress. It’s also available on YouTube. I don’t have the stamina to watch it, but luckily, Herr Graf Ferdinand Von Galitzien did, and his review is a treat (like all of his reviews).

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Now it’s remembered for a different reason: it was the first extremely profitable film produced by Harry, Sam, Albert and Jack Warner, and it inspired them to concentrate on film production instead of distribution. The company is still going today, making all sorts of films. Naturally they made a sequel to their first success entitled Beware, but that wasn’t nearly as successful.

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James W. Gerard had a long and interesting life. Like Franklin Roosevelt, he was born into extraordinary privilege, yet he felt a responsibility to help others as a lawyer, philanthropist and Democratic Party supporter. After he returned from Germany, he spoke at over 500 Liberty Bond rallies and wrote a second book about his war experiences, Face to Face with Kaiserism. He helped Herbert Hoover organize post-war relief for Belgium and France. He shared his expertise in German politics and went on to write a review of Mein Kampf that appeared on front page of the New York Times Book Review in which he condemned Hitler’s anti-Semitism. He strongly supported America’s entry into the Second World War. When he died on September 6, 1951, his obituary was on front page of the New York Times; it said he ranked with Wilson as a national hero during the First World War.

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Coming soon

In other war news, Kingsly wrote a sort of hopeful story. Even though the war was still raging, film companies were thinking ahead:

A number of motion picture makers will go to Europe immediately following the war, according to present plans. Discussion has long been under way, and now it is understood that several of the largest producing firms, including at least three of Los Angeles, plan to send directors abroad…It is understood that French capital has been offered as an inducement to American picture-makers who will produce over there. As is well known, marvelously beautiful and historically interesting ‘locations’ of an entirely new sort may be obtained as backgrounds for picture stories; it is understood that the cost of production abroad is far less than in this country, being indeed but one-fourth.

At least the capitalists had faith that it would end one day.

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Theda and Loro Bara

Theda Bara’s sister Loro told a story from their recent trip to Arrowhead Springs that wasn’t the usual way the emotive actress appeared in the media:

Sister and I went out for a walk and we climbed and climbed. Finally, just as we rounded a curve in the road, we beheld beneath the shade of the trees a brown. wooly creature rambling towards us. I’m sure we thought ‘Bear!’ in the same breath! I turned to run away; nearer and nearer came the softly padding footsteps. I looked around and beheld—a brown spaniel!

Then I looked for sister. And if there wasn’t Miss Theda Bara, Fox star, trying to climb a tree!

Vampires—they don’t want to get eaten by bears, just like us!

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Don’t take any chances with this wild animal!

 

 

“Another Gerard Picture is Coming,” Motion Picture World, February 8, 1919, p.735-6.

Week of April 13th, 1918

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Salome (1918)

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.

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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.

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Jewel Carmen and Charles Gorman in The Bride of Fear

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.

 

Week of February 16th, 1918

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Motion Picture Magazine, August 1918

One hundred years ago this week, an actor chose an unusual scene to tell Grace Kingsley about from the religious film he was currently working on:

The famous character of the Drain Man is being played by Jack Curtis, who says he has always longed to appear in that big role. But as a fly comes with every box of ointment in the world, so Mr. Curtis didn’t relish crawling through that noisome bit of sewer in Chinatown last week, and art might have gone hang for all of him when it came to playing the scene in the drain where a hundred rats were his co-actors. However, he went through the scene bravely though he says he found the rats altogether too enthusiastic in their energetic desire to play their parts thoroughly, with the result the battle he had with the creatures is very realistic indeed.

I imagine the crew enjoyed their surroundings just as much. The project was The Servant in the House, the film version of a well-known play, and the director Jack Conway was doing his best to make it cinematic by including “certain features of the play, merely suggested in the stage version, which lend themselves to fairly sensational and spectacular effect” like actually showing the symbolic sewer (what a treat!)

Servant told the story of Robert, the Drain Man, who sacrificed for his brother Bill’s education that allowed him to become a vicar. Robert then grew resentful of Bill and the church. Bill’s bishop, disguised as a servant (with a startling resemblance to Christ), visits and effects a reconciliation. The sewer is beneath the church and it needs cleaning up – that’s where the rats come in.

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This early publicity proved to be very much too early: the film wasn’t released until late 1920 because it was caught up in litigation as Triangle Films fell apart. According to Photoplay, Harry Orville Davis, the company’s vice-president and general manager, sued for breach of contract, wanting to recover $83,000 in back salary. They compromised; Davis surrendered his 100,000 shares of stock and his interest in the corporation in exchange for the exclusive rights to Servant.* He sold it to the Film Booking Office, which released it through independent exchanges.

When it finally did come out, Kingsley thought it was exceptional. “Once in a while some free soul among the picture makers throws off the shackles of tradition, arises and produces an epoch-making picture. That’s what Jack Conway did…So delicate is the treatment of the spiritual influence of a mystic and mysterious servant in a household divided against itself, that it would appear to be a difficult subject for the screen. But in the transcription Jack Conway proves himself to be an artist.” It’s now a lost film.

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Jack Conway

Jack Conway had a long and successful career. He was a contract director at MGM from 1925-1948, so while you might not know his name, you probably know the names of the films he directed, like Red Headed Woman (1932) Tale of Two Cities (1935) and Dragon Seed (1944).

H.O. Davis produced one more film, The Silent Call, in 1921. Then he left the film industry and became the editor of the Ladies Home Journal for a year. After that he was the Pacific Regional Director of Hearst Newspapers. He briefly tried retirement, then he worked on the executive council of the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. He and his wife Laura later moved to Palm Desert where he bought and operated two date gardens. They celebrated their 62nd wedding anniversary in 1964.** He died later that year.

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Madame Du Barry (1917)

This week, Kingsley was back to writing film reviews. Antony Anderson was still writing about the “notable” films like William S. Hart’s Wolves of the Rail, but she got to cover Madame Du Barry (a Theda Bara drama), The Fibbers (a Bryant Washburn comedy) and The Beauty and the Rogue (Mary Miles Minter’s best film “in a long time”). She liked Du Barry best, because Bara’s performance was so strong – she went from from “the elfish, witty, adorably natural and ingenious Du Barry of the early scenes” to her end, with unforgettable “terror in her eyes as she looks about on the sea of unfriendly faces, as the crowds thrust her up to the guillotine.” Kingsley summed it up as “a masterpiece of Miss Bara.”

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Arbuckle gets some help with moving from Buster Keaton and Al St. John

Kingsley reported that two Orange County cities, Santa Ana and Anaheim, were competing to be the new home for Roscoe Arbuckle’s studio, and both were offering to build it for him. She mentioned that his production company spent an estimated $300,000 to make eight comedies per year (I hadn’t seen a cost estimate before). She speculated that Santa Ana might have an edge, because Arbuckle had spent some of his childhood there. It was just like states offering tax incentives to film productions now. However, neither city won: Arbuckle chose to move to Edendale (now called Echo Park) not far from downtown Los Angeles. Kingsley didn’t mention why he wanted to leave his current studio site in Long Beach.

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Chaplin meets the Navy, 1918

Kingsley wrote that Charlie Chaplin had led a tour of his studio for a group of sailors, and “not one feature of the big studio was left unexplained by the artist.” Even more remarkably: “the welcome sign has been hung out at the Chaplin plant for all of Uncle Sam’s soldiers and sailors. In the future they will be permitted to visit the new studios, either singly or in a body, after 4:30 every afternoon.” Can you imagine a modern film studio doing that now?

 

 

 

* “Plays and Players,” Photoplay, May 1919, p.90.

**”Birthday, Wedding Anniversary Feted,” Desert Sun, July 28, 1964.