Week of April 27th, 1918

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Coming soon!

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley chatted with D.W. Griffith about his plans for his next film, which was to be “another huge war drama”:

The new picture will present an entirely different angle, however, from that of Hearts of the World. For instance, it is not intended to have in it a single battle scene—it will merely use the world war as its background—and quite likely it will have a psychological aspect. But the fans need feel no fear at this announcement, since its outstanding feature will be a poignant love story.

As near as now known many of its scenes will be laid in France. But Mr. Griffith has three distinct stories under consideration for the first of his Artcraft releases following Hearts of the World, so that his next may be a blending of three plots. In fact, he is now rehearsing three plays at one and the same time, in an endeavor to pick out the most available material in each plot.

The settings for the three plays vary widely, with one opening in Canada, another in Hawaii, and the third with either England or Scotland as the background. George Seigmann, Griffith’s assistant, is having his troubles trying to provide the settings for the three different locations. He says he is only hoping that Griffith doesn’t finally decide on still another story with the location in Iceland!

Mr. Griffith said yesterday that perhaps before he gets through with the rehearsals he may take the meat of the three different plays and weave an entirely different fabric.*

It sounds like he was workshopping his script, the way modern directors like Mike Leigh do. The now-lost film was eventually called The Great Love. Nothing set in Hawaii was in it, but the love story and the lack of battle scenes remained. According to reviews it was about an American (Robert Harron) so eager to fight in the war that he enlisted in the Canadian army and was sent to England. There he fell in love with a nurse (Lillian Gish), but her father wanted her to marry another (Henry Walthall), who was secretly a German collaborator. The collaborator conveniently shot himself after he failed to lead bombers to a munitions factory, and the lovers were reunited. Kingsley knew that any early description might not resemble the finished film; she pointed out “trying to prognosticate what a new Griffith picture will be like, or when it will come, is like trying to date up an earthquake!”

 

 

Audiences only had to wait four months. The Great Love premiered in Los Angeles on August 12th, and L.A. Times reviewer Antony Anderson thought it wasn’t quite as good as Hearts, but it was still Griffith and “when Griffith directs a photoplay his hand gives the touch of magic that forever sets the play as something apart and different from other picture plays.”

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Marc Klaw

Kingsley reported that waiters were taking the new rules about alcohol very seriously. Marc Klaw, New York theater impresario was vacationing in town, and he complained to her:

“They not only want to tell you out here not only what to drink but when to drink it,” said Mr. Klaw, “and last night at 9 o’clock, in one of the local cafes, a large, strong waiter came and took my glass of wine away from me. When you stop telling people out here what to do and what not to do, and commence buying Liberty Bonds, I’ll believe your reformers are on the square.”

He was wrong about the Liberty Bonds: Westerners were buying lots of them. William S. Hart had just returned from a very successful two-week, nineteen city bond selling tour. He sold about 2 million dollars worth of them, and “Hart was fairly mobbed by his admirers, buttons being torn from his clothing and his red bandana handkerchief shredded to ribbons to be kept by the crowd as souvenirs.” But two ladies did their part to keep him humble. According to Kingsley:

He is the owner of a might fine bulldog, which insisted on going along. “I let him sit on my lap,” said Bill. “He is one of those big clumsy fellows about my size with a face that looks like the north end of a freight train going south. When we were crossing the street the traffic was blocked. There were two women standing near the car and one of the remarked ‘My, look at the face of that ugly brute.’ The dog’s face was only about six inches from mine, and to make it worse the other woman said ‘Which one?’”

 

 

William S. Hart and a bulldog from 1920 (not his bulldog). I can see a resemblance!

Hart also told her that Liberty Loan drives were very hard work. He said that after his tour, “any time I’m wanted to go to war, I’m ready.”

 

*Woven meat fabric? I think her metaphors got away from her.

 

 

 

 

Week of February 9th, 1918

One hundred years ago this week, the war was again intruding on Grace Kingsley’s columns in all sorts of ways:

If you chance to see three score pretty young women, clad in regimentals, marching down the street with flags flying and the band playing, don’t be frightened; they won’t hurt you. The pretty girls in regimentals will be the first company of feminine soldiers organized in any picture studio in the world.

Josie Sedgwick, an up-and-coming actress at Triangle Studio, came up with the idea and executed it. She and other actresses at the studio, including Olive Thomas, Texas Guinan and Gloria Swanson, spent their evenings drilling, supervised by a regular army officer and chaperoned by the studio matron. Their goal was to perform at entertainments to raise money for the Red Cross and other war relief.

“We girls all want to do something for our country,” said Miss Sedgwick, “and we don’t feel as if merely knitting and making surgical bandages is enough, though we do that too…Our uniform? Well, we wanted trousers, but you know some girls can wear trousers and some can’t, so we decided on short shirts and leggings, with khaki shirtwaists and cute little caps.”

I haven’t been able to find any other mention or photos of the drill team. No wonder Triangle was running into business difficulties, if they couldn’t capitalize on pictures of young ladies in cute little caps.

Some film workers were leaving to serve as real soldiers. Wheeler Oakman, former Selig star, enlisted in the army, giving up “a long-term contract at a large salary with Metro Picture Corporation”. Kingsley said he was the first leading man actually under contract in Los Angeles to voluntarily do his bit.* He said, “I’m going into the regulars as a plain private…There’s a fine bunch of ‘grizzlies’ down at Camp Kearney, and I’ll be glad to be among them and to learn the ropes from them.”

That was exactly what he did: as part of the 144th Field Artillery, aka the California Grizzlies, he shipped out from New York as a private on August 15, 1918 and served in France until his unit was sent home from Bordeaux on December 23, 1918. He’d been promoted to corporal.** He came home safely and went back to acting. He worked steadily, often playing villains and henchmen, until his death in 1949.

Western star William S. Hart found a different way to express his patriotism:

It’s not kosher to make any unpatriotic cracks before Bill Hart, as a certain inhabitant of this town can tell you. Mr. Hart was dining at a restaurant the other night, which happened to be a porkless night. In came a loud-spoken stranger and demanded ham and eggs. The waiter explained to him courteously that it was a porkless day. The stranger arose from the table, flung down his napkin, and made some unpleasant remarks about the food conservation measure and started to leave.

As he went past Hart’s table, Bill looked up, fixed the stranger with his glittering eye, and drawled in a clear, high voice: “Shouldn’t think a pig would mind a porkless day!”

The stranger gave him a malevolent look, but sizing up Bill’s strong jaw and broad shoulders, took a second thought and dropping his grandiose manner, sneaked out.

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Saturdays were the porkless day. The United States Food Administration had been asking people to conserve food by abstaining from eating meat on Tuesdays and wheat on Wednesdays since October, the added the porkless Saturdays was added on December 13th. It was a voluntary program, but Mr. Hart probably wasn’t the only one to ‘encourage’ compliance.

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D.W. Griffith reading the rest of the paper

Finally, D.W. Griffith was hurrying to finish Hearts of the World, but then somebody handed him a newspaper with the headline “War to Last Six Years.” He promptly said, “Come on boys. We’ve got time. Let’s go to lunch.”

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Teddy

Kinglsey also offered some comic relief this week, with a story abut Teddy the Dog:

Talk about leading a dog’s life! Teddy, the wise canine actor of Mack Sennett’s comedy company, not only pays for his own license, but he pays an income tax on his salary!

A few months later, she was able to spin this anecdote into a one-page Photoplay article, “A Dog That Pays an Income Tax” (June 1918 p.62). That’s being a professional writer.

 

 

 

*I haven’t been able to confirm that he was the first.

**U.S. Army Transport Service Passenger List, August 15 1918 and December 23, 1918.

 

 

A research note: Digitization is helping me find amazing things. In the Wheeler Oakman story, he mentioned that his father Frank Eichelberger had fought for the Union army and was captured at Chickamauga. Knowing how actors can sometimes exaggerate things, I did some searching to see if it was true and found Pvt. Frank Eichelbergers’s testimony on how horrible being a Confederate prisoner was in a digitized book called Narrative of Privations and Sufferings of United States Officers and Soldiers while Prisoners of War in the Hands of the Rebel Authorities by United States Sanitary Commission, published in 1864. I would have never known to look for such a book. Hooray for all the people who do the very dull task of digitization!

 

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.

Week of August 4th, 1917

 

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on a frightening film set accident:

The sprightly and athletic Doris Pawn, who plays opposite Willard Louis in the latter’s first comedy for William Fox, under the direction of Charles Parrott, had a miraculous escape from suffering severe injuries or death while on location. Miss Pawn, who is a dare-devil horsewoman, was mounted on a spirited horse, and was told to ride down an embankment full speed onto a road in front of a camera.

After the situation had been explained to her by the director, Miss Pawn guided her horse to the top of the mound, and at the given word started down the hill. When she should have made her appearance a few seconds later, there was no sign of her. Parrott ran into the pathway and there found Miss Pawn lying on the ground, the horse having stumbled and fallen in such a manner Miss Pawn’s legs were pinioned beneath him. A call brought several of the assistants, who lifted the horse, releasing the girl. A hurried examination by a physician, who was summoned, disclosed the fact that Miss Pawn had sustained severe bruises on her hip and thighs and she owed her escape from broken bones to the fact that when the horse stumbled she fell on soft earth. After several days of attendance by a physician, Miss Pawn was again able to continue her part of the picture.

There’s no record of the film’s title; maybe it was never finished or released. There’s a hole in Charles Parrott’s (aka Charley Chase) filmography  from August 1917 to April 1918, and his biography only mentions his work with Hank Mann and Heine Conklin when he was at Fox. Miss Pawn got all of those bruises for nothing.

 

Doris Pawn was just one of so many people, now forgotten, who went to a lot of trouble to make films that have been lost. It’s really very depressing. However, Pawn picked herself up and had a long and perfectly good life. She’d learned her horse-riding skills growing up on her grandfather’s farm in Norfolk, Nebraska and she started out in films as an extra in 1914. She soon became a leading lady; later her most famous role was opposite Lon Chaney in The Penalty (1920). She retired from acting in 1923. She married three times; first to director Rex Ingram in 1917, second to insurance salesman Paul Reiners in 1928 and finally to drugstore owner Samuel Dunway in 1937. She died in La Jolla, California in 1988.

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Kingsley’s favorite film this week, The Show Down, involved that durable plot, “civilized” people shipwrecked on a desert island (it was good enough for Gilligan!). This was also a comedy and she thought it was very funny; it “merrily rings the bells at every shot.” Stranded after a German submarine sank their ocean liner, the group included the bestselling author of Back to the Primitive who longs for “the trackless ways of the jungle,” a philanthropist who wants to save the world, a bored society man and a spoiled young beauty. Of course the author complains about the food and refuses to go hunting, the philanthropist tried to “sell out” the group to the enemy, and the young people bestir themselves to get to another island and save the day. Kingsley wrote “the story is adroitly and snappily told, and is one of the best features, from every standpoint, that Bluebird has turned out.” It’s a lost film.

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Myrtle Gonzalez

Myrtle Gonzalez played the young woman and this was her last film; she got married and retired. Sadly, she died the next year in influenza epidemic.

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Robert Edeson, Rhea Mitchell, William S. Hart in On the Night Stage (1915)

An “old” film was re-released at the Garrick Theater this week, On the Night Stage. Kingsley observed,

the showing of this picture brings to light an odd little twist in the swift and fateful happenings of the ever changing element known as the film world. Two years ago, when the picture was made, it was supposed to star Robert Edeson, the well-known actor, but when the picture was shown, lo and behold! It was discovered a hitherto fairly obscure actor, William S. Hart, had walked right off with the big honors! While the preacher character played by Edeson was supposed to be the big part, the projection machine reveled the supremacy of Hart.

Hart played a bandit and the preacher’s rival for the love of the local dance hall queen. The film survives in several archives, including UCLA and Eastman House. Edeson went on to have a fine career. He wasn’t a big star like Hart, but worked continuously on screen and stage until his death at age 62 in 1931.

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Harold Goodwin, 1921

Kingsley gave an update on Harold Goodwin, who’d made a good impression in her favorite film last week:

Harold is the youth who hit the bullseye with his small boy role in The Sawdust Ring at Clune’s Auditorium last week. Now the story comes out that, when he had finished in that picture he wasn’t thought to have done much, and Triangle let him go. He silently gave up his actor hopes, and accepted a position in a shoe store. Last Saturday night he quit his shoe house job, with no less than four offers from film companies in his pocket.

He also went on to a long career in film and television.

Week of August 5th, 1916

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on ambitious plans for a big new film studio. The Success Film Producing Company, with a capitalization of 7.5 million dollars, had been incorporated in New York the week before and they wanted to open a studio in Los Angeles by the end of August. They had bought film rights to several properties and had an option on a theater in New York, and they planned to buy more throughout the country. An article in Motion Picture News on September 2nd sounded much more suspicious of the enterprise, calling the reports rumors without forthcoming details. They also couldn’t find published records of the real estate deal for the theater. Like so many other projects, not much came of it and the company soon disappeared from the press. Motography did announce that Success hired Constance Collier as the lead in The Eternal Magdalene but they never made that film. Collier went on to a six-decade long career in the theater and film. The Eternal Magdalene was filmed in 1917 by a different brand-new production company: Goldwyn Pictures, a company that’s still around as part of M.G.M Studios. In the film business, you never know what will last and what won’t.

Kingsley’s favorite film of the week was Charlie Chaplin’s “One A.M.” She said:

the screen comedian has the magic power, as everybody know, of turning everything he touches into the gold of laughter. So that in One A.M. it is Chaplin as the star with the furniture as supporting company. The taxi speedometer is a veritable burlesque artist, the revolving table is a comedian of rare gift…even the poor old siphon bottle is a funster with finesse, and the trick bed is a clown. Besides, Chaplin has invented all the ways there are of not getting upstairs.

If you want to see what she’s talking about, it’s available on the Internet Archive.

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Filming Love’s Lariat

She also liked the feature that played with it, Love’s Lariat, starring Harry Carey, calling it “quite the most delightful, crisp little comedy we have had in many a day…more power to whoever wrote this play.” According to the AFI Catalog, the plot involved a cowboy who had to live in the East for a year as a condition of an inheritance and the writers were William Blaine Pearson and co-director (with Carey) George E. Marshall. Pearson worked on a few more Westerns and died in November, 1918 (an unverifiable source said it was pneumonia), but Marshall had much better luck. This was his first feature-length film as a director; his last was a Jerry Lewis vehicle Hook Line and Sinker in 1969. Along the way he directed over 80 features including Destry Rides Again (1939) and several Bob Hope comedies. Love’s Lariat is a lost film.

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Mae Marsh in Intolerance

Kingsley was much less impressed by The Marriage of Molly-O, saying that the piffling superficialities of the screenplay weren’t worthy of its star, Mae Marsh. That screenplay writer was D.W. Griffith, writing under a pseudonym.

Griffith got much better press farther along in the same August 7th column, when Kingsley mentioned that Intolerance was test-screened at the Orpheum Theater in Riverside under the title The Downfall of All Nations. She quoted some favorable reviews that called the film “soul-gripping,” and “a stupendous production.” Griffith and several of the stars, including Miss Marsh, Lillian Gish, Constance Talmadge and Robert Harron attended the screening. Two days later she reported that New York would get to see it before Los Angeles because Griffith had signed a deal to take over the Liberty Theater there for the 1916-1917 season.

Otherwise, it was a slow week for film news. Kingsley mentioned that William S. Hart had a particularly strenuous week of stunts, including falling from the back of a horse and rolling 500 feet down an embankment, but Hart said that now nothing short of eating a locomotive worried him. However, he was planning a vacation through Utah, Colorado and the Grand Canyon after the film was finished.

Week of July 22nd, 1916

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported that D.W. Griffith was starting work on a new film, and it might be about the Holy Grail. He was definitely staying in California, despite the rumors that he was moving to New York. However, none of this happened: he never made a Holy Grail film, and his next release, Hearts of the World, was mostly shot in England and France. He did eventually move to Mamaroneck, New York, in 1919.

(I’m going to leave this here, just in case seeing the words “Holy Grail” affects you like it does me)

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No one film stood out as her favorite this week, but she thought that Lionel Barrymore was brilliant as a devil-may-care young prospector in The Quitter, “a comedy of supremely piquant quality.” She seemed equally appalled by and interested in The Little Girl Next Door, that week’s film about sex trafficking: “Luridly sensational as to incident, oft-times improbably, yet possessed of a certain gripping power because of its peculiar appeal, the picture is supposed to reveal the methods of ‘white slavers.’ She noted the opulence of William Hart’s latest, The Captive God, and reported that the Ince Company’s sculpture department had used 300 tons of plaster. And she mentioned that Chaplin’s The Vagabond was held over for a third week.

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Fred Held

Kingsley admired the photography of Fathers of Men, which was shot in Northern Canada “under extreme hardship,” particularly the “wonderful frozen waterfalls, huge glaciers, vast snow plains, hoary rocks and, most beautiful of all, the fairy-like frozen webs which Jack Frost weaves on tree top and shrub.” Fred Held was the cinematographer who managed to capture it all and keep the camera from freezing. He was a pioneer in the New York film industry; according to a short 1913 profile in Moving Picture World he’d been working in film manufacturing for 15 years. His feature credits ended in 1920, but his occupation in later censuses was always listed as photography. Fathers of Men is so lost that it doesn’t even have a listing in the FIAF database.

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Roy Fernandez

In a slow week for film news, Kingsley reported that newly-minted actor Roy Fernandez had the only dog in the world with gold tooth, a bulldog named Peter. Fernandez was an artists’ model who had won Universal’s most handsome man contest. He was cast in Lois Weber’s next film, Idle Wives, but he didn’t appear in it. In September, Variety reported that he had returned to modeling. This sort of contest rarely produced stars (Francis X. Bushman seems to be the only exception) and the studios gave up on them.

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Dora Mae Howe

The most alien-to-2016 story of the week was the report that stage ingénue Dora Mae Howe had gained ten pounds since she joined the Burbank Theater company. She told Kingsley that it happened because every role had required her to eat something on stage. In her next play, The Fibber, it was candy and she wanted chocolate almonds. Now it’s impossible to imagine an actress admitting to eating candy, let alone gaining weight. Howe’s stage career lasted for a few more years; she married film character actor William Austin in 1929.