Week of February 2, 1918

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Frederick ‘Wid’ Gunning

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley mentioned that an important film journalist was visiting:

‘Wid’ Gunning, famous picture-play critic, is making his first visit to California, and, of course everybody is showing him the climate and everything. Gunning declares he will make his home here, especially on account of his small son, whom he wants to grow up to be a regular guy he says.

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At the time, his publication Wid’s Film Daily was based in New York, and his visit and plans to move were part of the whole film industry’s migration to Hollywood.

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Frederick Charles ‘Wid’ Gunning was an energetic entrepreneur. Born January 30, 1886 in Chillicothe, Ohio, he worked as a newspaper reporter, advertising agent and theater manager in his hometown. He moved to New York City in 1913 and became the publicity and sales manager of American Eclair Company, a film production company and a branch of the French camera manufacturers. He then went to work as a film editor and publicist for Warner’s Features, headed by L.J. Selznick and P.A. Powers. In June 1914 he and Sidney Olcott, a film producer, traveled to Europe to make movies, but the war started and they returned to New York in September. He became the film editor of the New York Evening Mail. He’d really become what he called himself on his World War 1 draft registration: a film specialist. So he quit his newspaper job in August 1915, married his childhood sweetheart, Helen Fickhardt, on September 30, 1915 and started his own film trade paper. He must have had great confidence in his new enterprise.

Wid’s Film Daily was a success. It provided information that film exhibitors needed: reviews, advice on how to sell each film, news stories and reports from theater owners on which ones brought in the customers, all written in a conversation style.

For example, the review of the now-lost Douglas Fairbanks film Bound in Morocco (1918) said “Doug certainly proves himself a real star in this because there isn’t another feller in the pictures who could put over a story that is absolutely devoid of plot as this one is, and not only get away with it but make you like it.”

It took him awhile to make his move to Los Angeles; the L.A. office first appeared on the masthead on May 4, 1919. They expanded the brand by publishing an annual, Wid’s Year Book, starting in 1920. In 1922 he decided to move on and the magazine changed its name to Film Daily; they stayed in business until 1970.

Wid Gunning went on to be a film distributor, then a producer of films like Babe Comes Home (1927) and Hot Stuff (1929) for First National. He left film and according to his 1942 World War 2 draft card, he had his own business, advising newspapers on developing local advertising. He died on April 5, 1963 in Los Angeles. His work is still extremely useful for silent film researchers, and quite a bit of it is available on Lantern.

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The Kinema Theater continued to hold Red Cross teas with special appearances by Hollywood stars to raise money for the war, and Kingsley reported on the latest:

It remained for Douglas Fairbanks to bring in the blue ribbon for raising the biggest amount so far realized at a Red Cross tea riot. Fairbanks did it yesterday, when he took in $55 as the result of his acting as host during a couple of hours in the afternoon. Hitherto Mary Pickford had held the record with $45 to her credit.

Two days later Kingsley issued a correction:

And now Bill Hart arises to remark that his batting average on Red Cross tea drinking, despite all reports to the contrary, is really the highest of any so far.

“My tea drunk [sic] came off on January 29th, and I scored 195 cups,” declares Hart.

However, Hart’s math was a bit off. The Red Cross charged one quarter per cup of tea, so Hart made $48.75 for them, beating Pickford but still behind Fairbanks’ 220 cups.

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Finally, Cleopatra was still playing and it seems like the film was known for one thing only. Kingsley wrote on Saturday:

Disappointing as the announcement may be to some of the patrons of Clune’s Auditorium, it is true that the young lady ushers are not dressed in imitation of the heroine’s costume this week. NB—the play is Cleopatra.

And then on Monday:

Overheard at Clune’s Auditorium at the Cleopatra performance last Saturday night, “Oh, doesn’t Theda get Bara and Bara.”

Since the image above is how the film is now remembered, things haven’t changed a bit.