Week of February 22nd, 1919

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Wallace Reid

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported a story that she had no idea how sad it would become:

An accident, resulting in injury to Wallace Reid and nearly every member of his Lasky company occurred a few days ago while the company was en route to the big trees region in the northern part of the state.

Among the episodes to be photographed was a train wreck, and everything was set for the effect when unluckily the caboose carrying the entire company to the location jumped the track on the trestle bridge near Arcata, turned completely over and ended the work for the day.

Practically every member of the company was more or less injured. Wallace Reid sustained a three-inch scalp wound, which required six stiches to close, but was not seriously hurt. Grace Darmond, leading woman, and others were more or less bruised and cut. None, however, was disabled and the scenes were taken the following day.

According to his biography Reid actually was hurt more seriously than they told Kingsley: his head injury was a deep laceration, he had a gash in his arm and he injured his back. The next day he had blinding headaches. Stopping production on location would have cost $10,000 per day, so studio head Jesse Lasky ordered him to be given morphine so he could work. Reid quickly became addicted.

Even after the film was finished, the studio didn’t give him time off to heal, they just gave him more morphine. He drank too much alcohol, too, which made things worse. After he collapsed on the set of Nobody’s Money in 1922, he went to a sanatorium but it was too late. He died on January 12, 1923, only 31 years old.

 

Unfortunately, now if he’s remembered it’s as an example of an early Hollywood scandal, like Roscoe Arbuckle’s trials or William Desmond Taylor’s murder. For instance, Karina Longworth did an episode of the You Must Remember This podcast about him. It’s too bad all that hard work has been forgotten. Jeanine Basinger summed up his appeal in Silent Stars: “On-screen, he exuded self-confidence and cheerful good health, and his charm and acting ability were such that he carried his movies, most of which were slight vehicles designed to showcase his stardom. He was one of the most successful of the popular leading men of the teens and early twenties.” The film he was working on, Valley of the Giants, was presumed lost, but it was found in Russia at Gosfilmofond in 2010.

 

Kingsley got to have some fun at the movies this week:

The last word in fascinating, adroit crook comedies, when crook plays were the vogue on the stage, was Max Marcin’s Cheating Cheaters, [that was 1916] and now, in pictures, it lends itself equally well to the two-dimensional stage at Tally’s Broadway.

The path of the plot is as devious as the soul of the crooks. And what mounting comedy in the scenes in which we are let in on the fact that the two apparently respectable families who live on adjoining estates are really two bands of crooks, neither of whom knows that the other crowd are crooks.

It’s a lost film, so I’ll spoil it: the two ‘families’ figure out they’re all jewel thieves and decide to become one big gang. However, they don’t know that one ‘daughter’ is actually a renowned detective in disguise. She had fallen in love with the other family’s ‘son’ and decides to pardon the whole lot of them if they promise to help her catch crooks in the future. This solid idea for a comedy was made twice more, in 1927 and 1934. The last version was made after the production code was enforced, so he has to go to prison, but she promises to wait for him.

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Is this the replacement apron?

In other news, Mabel Normand’s apron got eaten by a goat on location while filming The Pest, and Grace Kingsley turned it into a two paragraph story. She was a pro! Luckily they were able to buy some material and Miss Normand made a new one. Even big Hollywood stars had sewing skills then, it seems.

 

Jeanine Basinger, Silent Stars, New York: Knopf, 1999, p.5

E.J. Fleming, Wallace Reid: The Life and Death of a Hollywood Idol, Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2007, pp. 143-44.

 

 

 

Week of July 21st, 1917

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Los Angeles Times, July 21, 1917

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One hundred years ago this week, the first draft lottery for the Great War was held in Washington, D.C. and Grace Kingsley reported on how the news was received in Hollywood:

On the various “lots” were gathered throughout the afternoon, little knots of actors, directors, extras, employees—all in a democracy for once, with the lines of professional caste forgotten. With stolid faces or with an air of suppressed excitement, according to the nature of the individual, crowds of actors and actresses read the draft lists in the papers.

And there was something mighty fine, something that made your proud you were an American in the attitude of those boys who had claimed no exemptions and whose names were printed in the fateful lists. No swank or swagger, no murmuring either—for the most part brave silence, with just sometimes a quick little catch in a tense throat, a slight unconscious squaring of shoulders, a quick, excited little laugh. The women were the agitated ones, grasping at the lists, eagerly questioning, turning away sometimes with quick little sighs of relief or with sparkling eyes, rallying the boys whose names appeared—but there were tenderness and pride in the rallying, too.

Every man who registered for the draft on June 5th was assigned a number between 1 and 10,500. The numbers were drawn in a lottery held at 9:30 am in the Senate Office Building, and the results were sent by telegraph to newspapers throughout the country. The men whose numbers were selected had five days to report to their local exemption board which determined if they had dependents, or if their job was more important to the war effort than being a solider. They were also examined by a doctor for physical disabilities. Kingsley was slightly inaccurate: men who claimed exemptions on their registration did get called before the board if their number came up.

Among the 15,000 men chosen from Southern California in the first group were actors Wallace Reid and Charles Ray, directors Marshal Neilan and Charles Parrott (later known as Charley Chase), and producer Hal Roach. None of them served, because they all had wives and children and were granted exemptions. Fighting was left to volunteers and unmarried men. Selective Service rules have changed; since 1973 marital status has no effect on your draft status.

Kingsley’s favorite film this week was Sudden Jim starring draft lottery ‘winner’ and “fascinating young actor” Charles Ray. She found it was both a “crackling yarn” and a “corking story:” a clothes-pin manufacturing heir whose wood supply is threatened by a crooked businessman saves his business by seizing a loaded train from the lumber camp. A thrilling chase ensues, and Ray drives the train through a mountain fire and across a burning trestle just before the bridge is dynamited. I wonder if Buster Keaton or his writing staff on The General saw this now lost movie, then added a second train for this:

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Kingsley addressed why people still went to the movies this week.

Those curious persons who are never happy unless inquiring into the whys and wherefores of things, many of whom looked upon motion pictures as a fad, are now asking why they continue popular.

She came up with four reasons:

  1. All-star casts. Every film in the theaters that week had at least two stars; one had four notable players that people wanted to see.
  2. Inferior actors could never be substituted – it was always the “original New York cast.” Plus, nobody slumped through his or her work in matinees.
  3. Picture theaters were very pleasant places to be: cool and restful, with good music playing, far away from the vexatious, humdrum affair that life generally is.
  4. No reservations were needed – you could drop in any time.

I’m a little disappointed that she didn’t include “because live theater can’t show you thrilling train chases.” Her reasons still hold up; the only surprise is that there was anybody left still calling films a fad in 1917. However, this sort of think piece hasn’t gone out of fashion, either.

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Poor Charlie Chaplin had more health problems (just seven months ago, he’d been injured while making Easy Street). This time he’d spent ten days bedridden due to two carbuncles (clusters of boils) on his legs. They had been lanced as soon as he noticed them and the doctor ordered him to rest, but Chaplin didn’t follow his advice and the next day he was bedridden in terrible pain. Two doctors were able to prevent sepsis  (she didn’t say how) and after some undisturbed rest, he was able to go back to work. Before antibiotics, carbuncles could be dangerous: in 1916 Roscoe Arbuckle had one on his leg so severe that the doctors considered amputation.

No matter how many carrots I eat, I don’t look like this.

Keystone actress Myrtle Lind offered beauty advice this week. Since she thought that health is beauty, she’d become a vegetarian, saying “elimination of meat from the daily diet, in conjunction with outdoor exercise, is the thing for California. The idea that one has to eat a lot of meat if he leads an active life, I am sure, is wrong, for few people lead a more strenuous existence than do Keystone girls.” I think she might be missing something here: I exercise regularly and eat little meat, nevertheless, I look nothing like a Bathing Beauty. Could it be a bad idea to take advice from celebrities? (Nevertheless, at least she wasn’t selling something like they do nowadays!)

Week of April 14th, 1917

 

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One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley proved that she paid no attention whatsoever to the sports page. On Sunday she mentioned an upcoming charity event, a baseball game between comedians and tragedians to raise money for the Red Cross. Unfortunately, somebody was giving her old information: the game had already taken place two weeks earlier, and the Times had done its part to publicize it, promising “a ball game that has never been equaled.” The team captains revealed their strategies to the paper: Wallace Reid believed “when he pitches a ball it will burn such a hole in the air that it will be weeks before the hole fills up again,” and Charlie Chaplin said “when he pitches those hard ones, I’ll fool him. I won’t bat at them and after a while he will get weak with so much hard work and then watch me.” The Tragics team included Eugene Pallette, Jack Pickford, Lew Cody and George Beban, and the Comics included Harold Lloyd, Bobbie Dunn, Eric Campbell, Charlie Murray, Chester Conklin and Hank Mann. The Times mentioned “at present the members of the opposing teams are practicing for the big event in a way that would make your blood curdle.” All contestants were asked to report to Charlie Murray at 2:30 pm on March 31st to receive their first aid bandages.

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1939 program

The Saturday afternoon game was a great success, raising nearly $8000 for the Red Cross. However, nobody bothered to report which team won the game. In the 1930’s, the Comedians vs. Leading Men baseball game became an annual charity event.

None of the other films released this week had a chance at being Kingsley’s favorite because a Chaplin film came out. She said:

The Cure – is! If you’ve got the blues, or don’t like your mother-in-law, or have a pain in your chest, don’t consult a physician or your lawyer, but go and see Charlie Chaplin at the Garrick. View Charlie disporting himself among the old ladies and gentlemen at the health resort; watch him drink the water; see him go through the evolutions superinduced by the attentions of the masseur; watch the effect of the bottles of liquor which the attendant spills into the cure-all waters; see Charlie in a bathing suit—and laugh. You will: I’ll guarantee it.

People still enjoy The Cure; the official Chaplin site calls it “perhaps the funniest of the Mutuals.” If you need a laugh, you can see it on the Internet Archive.

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A Jewel in Pawn: Walter Belasco, Maie and Ella Hall

Maybe exhibitors didn’t want to compete, because some particularly badly reviewed films were in the theaters this week. A Jewel in Pawn starring Ella Hall irritated Kingsley so much that she recounted the plot, with commentary:

You see Ella’s mama in this picture is very, very poor, and they live in the slums. Suddenly mama remembers she has a rich dad, and conceives the not unreasonable idea of returning to him together with daughter. But she has no money to buy her railroad ticket. Then Ella has a bright idea. Why shouldn’t mama pawn her, daughter, to get the money? The pawnbroker is an elderly widower, dwelling alone at the back of his shop, with whom she has but a slight acquaintance, and some evil-minded person sitting back of me suggested he hardly thought that a nice, loving, careful mama would pawn her beloved daughter.

So audiences then weren’t as innocent as we might believe. A Jewel in Pawn is a lost film, and between the anti-Semitic stereotype of the pawnbroker and the story’s uncomfortable nearness to pedophilia, I can see why it was never remade.

Bad as that was, the latest Olga Petrova film was worse, and Kingsley’s annoyance stretched over two days’ worth of columns. On Monday, she said The Waiting Soul was “a simple, one-stringed tale, with the sub-titles lending an air of stiltedness to the thing” (Petrova played a woman with a “purple” past that threatens her marriage). By Tuesday she was calling it an example of why some films really ought to be censored, and while they’re at it they could “make it a misdemeanor to destroy a helpless pie in the interests of comic art” and suppress some of those “sunny-curled ingénues.” So that’s one way to improve the pictures. The Waiting Soul has been preserved at the Eastman House.