Week of April 21st, 1917

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One solution

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley continued her complaints about audiences by listing some of the ways people behaved badly in film theaters, beginning with the simple-minded ‘matinee girl’ who:

reads the sub-titles aloud very slowly, generally omitting the big words, and the 30-year old girl who has written scenarios but can’t get any accepted and comes to scoff at the work of others. And the giggling girl, hysterically desirous of attention. She always comes in twos and giggles and talks so loudly you can’t even hear the sub-titles being read by the other woman. Very often she turns out to be an extra girl employed in the picture. But the matinee hog is the worst of all. Usually this species of noisome creature is of the male sex, and has another of his kind along with him. If he’s seated when you enter, at the end of the row of seats, he never moves to give you room, nor does he rise. He sticks his elephantine feet into the aisle and lets you fall over them…In fact, he’s one big reason you hesitate a lot of times to enter a picture house at all.

So there has never been a time when audiences were well-behaved. They needed a Code of Conduct then as much as we do now.

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Kingsley’s favorite film this week was Aladdin from Broadway, “a delightful high-class screen comedy…Edith Storey indeed surprises by revealing herself as a complete mistress of comedy of a certain volatile, whimsical flavor…it is due to Miss Storey’s vibrant humor, as well as Antonio Moreno’s debonair impersonation of the happy-go-lucky America that the photoplay is sustained in a comedy key throughout, despite some scenes of thrilling adventure.” Other reviewers, like George Shorey in Motion Picture News, were so impressed by the thrilling adventure (particularly a sandstorm that was “one of the most wonderful bits of picture staging we have ever seen”) that he didn’t even mention the funny bits. However, he agreed with Kingsley that it was one of the best films Vitagraph had ever made. Sadly, it’s a lost film.

The big release of the week was She; Kingsley found it “magnificently spectacular,” yet it was a “warmed-over thrill” because despite the breath-catching episodes of burning people and naked cannibals dancing around their victim, the scenes gluing them together were dull. Nevertheless, “Valeska Suratt, as She, entirely vindicates her right to be classed as one of the screen’s big-best actresses.” It’s also a lost film.

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Kingsley reported on the founding of the First National Exhibitor’s Circuit, an association of independent theater owners that “marks the first nation-wide step taken toward open-market buying.” Film producers had been selling their complete program to theaters, but the new Exhibitor’s Circuit would allow them to choose what they showed. It became a great success, controlling over 600 theaters. In 1924 it expanded into film production, changing its name to First National Pictures, and in 1928 they were bought by Warner Bros.

Kingsley had a chat with a young actress, Eva Le Gallienne, touring with a production of The Happy Stranger. Her father Richard was a famous poet, so she answered the obvious question:

“Do I write poetry?” repeated Miss Le Gallienne. “No, I do not. I speak with authority, too. In other words, my judgment has been verified. I used to think I did, but now I know I don’t. I wrote one bit of verse which was published, and thereafter I wrote about ninety-seven poems and sent them each to about ninety-seven publications without success. No, you just ask any of those editors and he will tell you no quite positively. In acting I’ve had much better success—but I shall never cease regretting those ninety-seven poems. It’s just too discouraging writing for the waste basket.”

Le Gallienne probably recovered from her disappointment when she was busy picking up her Tony, Emmy and National Medal of the Arts, playing everything from Peter Pan to Hamlet, appearing on the cover of Time and founding the Civic Repertory Theater in New York City, which was the beginning of Off-Broadway theaters. She rarely acted in film, but she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for Resurrection in 1980.

Week of September 30th, 1916

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported “there is a new wizard in the motion picture field. His name is Louis H. Tolhurst.” Tolhurst had invented a mechanism that allowed him to film microscopic particles, and Kingsley commented:

Just as if we hadn’t enough actors already, Mr. Tolhurst has succeeded in making screen actors of microbes…With his apparatus this scientist pursues a bacilli, runs him to earth and makes him ‘act’ for the screen with ease and sangfroid. It matters not whether the subject be the blood coursing through arteries, a microbe dashing madly about in a pin-point of water, or a dust germ actually floating through the air—Mr. Tolhurst’s apparatus grabs them all and reveals them to the screen in such a size that the smallest animalcule resembles a mastodon, as it glares at its motion picture audience.

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Writer William Wing at Triangle Studio quickly figured out how to use Tolhurst’s invention in a fiction film, The Microscope Mystery, in which a doctor examines a murder weapon under his instrument and determines who the killer was. Nevertheless, Thomas C. Kennedy in Motography felt that the footage of bacilli had “little to do with the story, except they make it last longer.”

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Tolhurst put his invention to more successful use a few years later with a series of one-reelers, Secrets of Life. He filmed insects like flies and bees, then Walter Anthony contributed dramatic and funny intertitles; American Cinematographer called the films a “cinematographic triumph.” (Anthony had an impressive list of title writing credits including Foolish Wives, The Sea Hawk and The Cat and Canary.)

Tolhurst, a graduate of Stanford Law School, blamed his interest in microscopy for his failure in half a dozen jobs (he also owned an auto repair shop for several years). He got his start when he was fifteen and his father, a dentist, gave him a microscope for Christmas. After Secrets of Life he continued to invent and patent camera apparatuses, including one to make composite images. He didn’t have commercial success with them, so he quit and he got interested in racing his yacht, the Malabar VII. His 1960 L.A. Times obituary didn’t even mention his film work .

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The Straight Way

Kingsley’s least favorite film this week was an “old-time thriller” The Straight Way. However, it was her best review. She wrote:

Valeska Surratt cares not how many troubles she has, so long as she can have the right clothes for the occasion…Miss Surratt, in an exquisite flowered satin, is suspected by her husband; she defies the villain in tasty taffeta; she weeps becomingly over her infant in the most exquisite lingerie; she is train-wreaked in a tailor suit, and her husband takes her back in a splendid crepe de chine evening gown…but there are several inaccuracies which get the laughs. For instance, while Miss Surratt is weeping over her babe, the infant nearly rolls off her lap; a house is struck by lightening but nobody in it feels even a shock except one woman, who is instantly killed.

The movie sounds like an absolute hoot. Unfortunately, just like all eleven of Surratt’s films, it is lost. She was primarily a Broadway and vaudeville actress, famous for her outfits.

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Frances Ring and Thomas Meighan

Kingsley mentioned that actor Thomas Meighan admitted, “in spite of his numerous friends in Los Angeles, he’s just plain lonesome for his wife’s company.” Frances Ring was visiting her sister. Ring and Meighan were happy together; according to his New York Times obituary “The marriage safely weathered all the vicissitudes of fame and fortune, a fact which prompted one Hollywood writer to remark a few years ago that ‘Thomas Meighan and Rin Tin Tin were the only Hollywood stars who had never seen a divorce court.’”

Finally, in this week’s “the past is a foreign country:” Douglas Fairbanks returned to Los Angeles, and “he was met by a crowd of cowboys, who, as a special mark of their affection, treated their hero to a travesty lynching.” Affectionate lynching? They did do things differently there.