Week of December 14th, 1918

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One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley got to see an unusual show before D.W. Griffith’s new film, The Greatest Thing in Life:

The prologue is one of the most beautiful and artistic spectacles of the sort that the stage has seen. So far as its meaning is concerned, a part of its artistry lies in the fact it settles nothing for you. What do you think is the greatest thing in life? is the query which trails the showing of the beauties of life and love and comradeship and self-sacrifice.

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Motion Picture News gave a detailed description of the half-hour long show. It opened with a dark stage, which is slowly brightened. Out of the hazy background came a voice:

“The greatest thing in life – what is the greatest thing in life?”

Second voice: “I haven’t the slightest idea.”

First voice: “the greatest thing in life is-is-is (soft music) wait-wait-wait, here come the singers and dancers, they know what life is. Light hearts of the world—music, dancing, wine, women, life itself-that is the greatest thing in life.’

After a tenor solo, the first voice said “Ah, the search for love eternal—that is the greatest thing in life, ” then a couple performed a modern dance. This was followed by an “ultra” jazz number, then four soldiers representing duty and heroism, then more dancers, representing shadows from the “land of the silver sheet” as a bridge to the film itself.

Motion Picture News said the piece entitled Voices got eight minutes of applause and calls from the audience of 3000 on opening night. Now the prologue is remembered, if at all, because of one of the forty performers. Rudolpho Di Valentina did that modern dance with Clarine Seymour. MPN had reported earlier “Rudolpho Di Valentina continues the merry dance in Griffith’s prologue to The Greatest Thing in Life, and the big audience applauds him at every program.”

 

 

In 1918, Valentino was an aspiring actor who’d arrived in Hollywood the year before. He’d had a few bit parts in films but his career didn’t take off until 1921 after he streamlined his name and starred in Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. If you’re interested in his early career, you can find an extract about it from Dark lover: the life and death of Rudolph Valentino by Emily W. Leider in The Guardian. To learn more about Valentino in general, visit Donna Hill’s site, Falcon Lair.

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Gish, studying, in The Greatest Thing

After seeing the prologue, Kingsley chatted with Lillian Gish and learned that she

entertains ambitions to go on the stage. But she’s very backward about discussing it, approaching the possibility in most modest fashion. “I don’t think,” she said, “I could possibly be ready for so great an undertaking before I’m 30—so I have some years to go. But—yes—I really want to go on the stage, and I really mean to do it when I feel I’m ready. In the meantime I’m studying, studying.”

 

 

This surprised me, because Gish had been a stage actress from 1902 to 1912: it was nothing new for her. After her film career slowed down, she did go on the stage. However, it wasn’t until seven years after she turned 30, in 1930, when she appeared in her first production after becoming famous, Uncle Vanya. But it seems like her stage career wasn’t second-best to being in films – she planned it.

This week, several film executives came back to Hollywood, and each and every one of them had big plans for expansion for their businesses in 1919.

  • S.L. Rothapfel said wanted to build theaters in Paris and London that would be similar to his New York theaters, the Rialto and the Rivoli. He said “There is no doubt American films will be more popular even than before the war, and there is no doubt that the thousands of photoplays now reposing on the shelves of American producers will be eagerly welcomed by the people of the allied countries.” (bad news for writers trying to sell new material!)
  • Samuel Goldfish (still not yet Goldwyn) told her that his studio would make fewer, but better pictures, taking more time and care with each of them. He hoped to add a number of new stars to his roster.
  • Winfield Sheehan, the general manager at Fox, said “To me, the outlook is splendid. I look forward to 1919 with every feeling that it will be one of the greatest in the history of the industry. The Fox Film Corporation is laying plans for the biggest year of its career. We not only intend to improve the high standard of our pictures, but we are going to make more of them. After four years of war, people must have amusement.”
  • Cecil B. De Mille concluded “in the five years that I have been producing I have never found conditions more satisfactory, nor promising a more brilliant future for the entire industry.”

Lucky for them, their optimism was well-founded: the industry did recover. 1919 was a much better year all around, but the troubles of 1918 weren’t quite finished.

 

 

People were still coming down with the flu. Actress Ruth Roland was ill at home with it, and work on her current serial had stopped until she recovered. Happily, she did. According to O’Leary, the number of new cases in Los Angeles was declining rapidly in December with a small resurgence after holiday celebrations. The epidemic was almost over.

 

 

They weren’t done with war movies, either. Kingsley reported on the audience reaction to Me und Gott, at the Alhambra:

That it strikes a popular chord was testified to yesterday by the applause and hisses that marked its devious progress. It has some really breathless moments, particularly that in which we wait for the munitions plant to blow up.

Unfortunately, the film was trying to teach people that German-Americans weren’t the enemy. It seems like the audience didn’t get the message, they just were there for spectacle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Griffith Himself Stages Prologue for ‘Greatest Thing in Life’ in Los Angeles, Motion Picture News, February 4, 1919, p. 88.

 

(“News,” January 18, 1919, p. 410)

 

 

Pieter M. O’Leary, “The 1918-1919 Influenza Epidemic in Los Angeles,” Southern California Quarterly, v.86 no.4 (Winter 2004), pp. 397-8

 

 

A symbolic prologue dramatizes the invasion of an American home by German troops who are admitted to the house by a butler who has bound his master and abused the master’s daughter. In the main story, the American-born son of an ex-Prussian officer wants to atone for the wrongs done by people of his own blood when he realizes what America means to him.

Week of November 9th, 1918

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People came downtown to read the special edition.

One hundred years ago this week, world events crowded entertainment news out of the newspaper for the most part. On Monday, November 11th at 12:10 a.m. the L.A. Times announced on its public address system that German representatives had signed the armistice. A special edition of the newspaper quickly followed. Hostilities officially ended at 11 a.m. Paris time, which was 3 a.m. Los Angeles time. Naturally, nobody bothered to go to bed that night or went to work the next day. As the Times’ November 12th article, “Bedlam is the Kaiser’s Dirge As All Los Angeles Celebrates Peace” said, “The war is over. Nothing else mattered.” It continued:

Los Angeles has had many great days. Yesterday was her greatest day. Through the dark hours when enemies sore pressed she maintained her poise and smiled through her tears…All that time her emotions were damming back a great lake of feeling, and when The Times siren roared the news to a waiting city that the war was over the dam burst and out into the glorious morning of Victory Day the people poured to give their outward expression to the joy that came with daybreak.

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Fifth and Broadway

There were no plans for an official celebration, but the mayor declared the day a holiday and prohibited all alcohol sales. The crowds were amazing:

By 8 o’clock in the morning the downtown streets were jammed and flags were being placed. Everywhere the Stars and Stripes were floating, apparently they had risen with the sun…. Gradually the crowd grew. By 9 o’clock Broadway, Spring, Hill, Seventh and the cross streets were filled.

After noon Broadway was a solid mass of color waving north and south like some sublimated ribbon counter on a spree, while at every intersection a cross current of humanity struggled against the tide, finally to be caught up in its flood and carried on whither it flowed and ebbed and flowed again.

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Sixth and Broadway

The whole police force was on duty, but crowd control was impossible. They estimated that half a million turned up (two years later, the census said that only 576,673 people lived there!)

The streets were so congested that they had to shut down the trolleys in downtown. The noise was astonishing, too. Every car horn was being honked, “tens of thousands of portable horns, rattles, pans, cans, hanging chunks of pig iron, skillets and wash basins from the kitchen pantry added to the tremendous din.”

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Workers from the Boos Brothers cafeteria celebrate

The Times report concluded:

The wonderful day was so filled with incidents that it was impossible to acquire more than a passing impression. The spectacle was en masse. It had no beginning, no middle, no end. It was unlike everything which ever was before, and its like may never be seen again.

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Cartoon by Ted Gale

There was one unfortunate consequence of the massive public celebration: it caused an uptick in flu cases, so re-opening the theaters was delayed.

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Chaplin speaking at a Liberty Bond rally

Grace Kingsley did manage to write a few columns this week. She told how one person celebrated:

This is a story of Charlie Chaplin, some hell-bent cowboys and a peace celebration, and it all happened in the wee small hours of Monday morning.

The cowboys had been celebrating peace all Sunday night by shooting up the town and, while tearing down Seventh street, one of them happened to look through the window of a little all-night restaurant. There sat Charlie Chaplin, eating chop suey and cogitating on the success of Shoulder Arms. Those cowboys yelled in chorus—“Oh, you Charlie Chaplin?” but didn’t wait for Charlie to answer. Instead they swung their trusty lassoes, with the result the noose slipped over his famous head and landed him in their midst in a jiffy.

“Well, boys?” demanded the little comedian good-naturedly.

“Speech! Speech!” yelled the boys, and rapidly hoisted Chaplin to the top of an automobile, where he made a speech that ought to rattle down through the corridors of time even if it doesn’t. A crowd speedily gathered, even at 3 a.m. and when it was all over the cowboys heaved the comedian to their shoulders and bore him home.

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Mildred Harris

Kingsley didn’t remark on one reason it might have been odd to find Chaplin alone in a Chinese restaurant in the early morning: two days earlier, news had broken that he’d secretly married seventeen-year-old actress Mildred Harris on Oct 23rd. This was a bad idea for both of them from the start. On November 13th, the Times reported she was in the hospital with a nervous breakdown and Chaplin was once again living at the Los Angeles Athletic Club. The two formally separated in autumn 1919 and divorced in 1920.

 

 

Week of August 31st, 1918

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One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported that:

America’s Answer, the second official United States war film, now being released by the division of films, has been booked for long-time showings in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Kansas City, Denver, San Francisco and Los Angeles. In this city it will be exhibited at the Alhambra Theater, where the first of the government’s official films, Pershing’s Crusaders, was shown with such marked success.

L.A. only had to wait a week to see it, and Kingsley’s review pointed out why it would be a marked success too.

By all means don’t miss America’s Answer, the government film on view at the Alhambra this week, and which surely is the most vivid, the most gripping, the most logically arranged, the best photographed of any war film we have ever had. Tremendous crowds all day yesterday stamped and applauded and howled themselves hoarse over it.

So that you, whose son or brother or sweetheart or husband is in the midst of it, need not wait to conjure up pictures of his experiences with imaginings pieced together from his letters. In America’s Answer you may journey with him from the time he embarks on the transport for France until he rejoices in victory or is borne in to some hospital. You may even see him in the trenches and in battle.

She didn’t need to mention a soldiers’ other possible fate – the list of the dead was just a few pages away, and people were all too conscious of it. Audiences were hungry for information, and film could immerse them in the sights in a way that letters and newspaper couldn’t.*

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The New York Times (and New York audiences) agreed: “Not a man and not a woman in the crowd that filled the seats failed to feel the pull of the war, the urging of its influence, the sense of participation in it.” The film allowed people to be “seriously and intelligently informed of what the war in all of its departments is really like.”**

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America’s Answer was made by the Committee on Public Information, a government agency established on April 13, 1917 just days after Congress declared war. The CPI used film, advertising, posters, radio and public speeches to inform people about recruitment, rationing, war bond drives and why the war was being fought. They made one more documentary, Under Four Flags.

Now America’s Answer is only interesting if you’re a student of World War One (there are a lot of shots of men and goods being taken to Europe). It has been preserved at the National Archives, and is available on You Tube.

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Pickford’s first film for First National

It was a sparse week for news because of the Labor Day holiday. Syd Chaplin announced that he was planning to appear in his own films again (he didn’t until 1921) and First National offered Mary Pickford a contract that was the “largest salary ever paid anybody for anything in the world” ($675,000 plus half of the profits for three pictures–she took it) and that was about it. Kingsley took two days off to enjoy the end of the summer. I hope you enjoy a long weekend, too!

 

 

prussiancur*The other film she reviewed that day, The Prussian Cur, fared badly in comparison. Though “an absorbing story thread runs throughout…with those who like their war news sugar-coated with fiction this picture is bound to make a smashing hit.” So ‘those’ weren’t tough enough for real news?

 

 

 

** “America’s Answer Stirs War Spirit,” July 30, 1918, p. 9.

Week of August 10th, 1918

tohell_bigad

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley recorded the patriotic fervor of the times in a movie review:

To Hell with the Kaiser isn’t merely the name of a photodrama. It’s an American state of mind. Therefore it would be absurd to expect any red-blooded American to sit down and write a cool analysis of any picture with that name.

It breathes the very spirit of American pep and dash and optimism. It is like a draught of champagne in a dry town. It radiates victory. Some dyspeptic old critic may take a wallop at it, but he can’t hurt it any. The crowds will go see it just the same…Even the possible pale-blooded old critic, snouting after faults, who may allege the thing’s too episodic, that the “dramatic verities” are not preserved, that the American girl is quite too impossible clever, that the patriotism is flamboyant, will have to acknowledge the play’s got a soul and a soul of flame.

For, not content with bringing events down to date, it soon flies the track of events and soars into the illimitable blue of the imaginable future. And it’s so adroitly done—that moving on from the tragedy of the past to the blinding hope of the future. So that when the story leaps at last into buoyant comedy, it seems quite the most natural thing in the world.

That ‘imaginable future’ involved Kaiser Wilhelm getting captured by the Allies, committing suicide and going to hell where Satan, impressed by his horrible deeds, abdicates in his favor. While that’s an understandable revenge fantasy, it’s hard to imagine it as a comedy. The film is lost, so we can’t see how they managed it.

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At the time it was extremely popular. The theater had held a preview night for eight hundred soldiers and sailors and they “cheered themselves hoarse” according to Kingsley’s report. Three bands wound up the evening with a rousing rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner.”

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I couldn’t find a record of the box-office returns, but looks like film did well until the war ended in November. After that, Metro tried their best to keep selling it in December:

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Kingsley had a very good time at another movie this week:

The Cook assays about three laughs a minute—that is, unless you just get one laugh out of it and that continuous. In fact, Fatty put the ho-ho in hokum. There is the Salome dance with Fatty wearing all the scullery furniture except the kitchen stove.

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The Country Hero

The Salome burlesque was an extremely durable bit of business. Arbuckle and company had first filmed it for The Country Hero in 1917; it’s lost, but from the photos it looks like Buster Keaton performed the Salome role. In The Cook, the dance was contagious – a dancer in the restaurant inspired Keaton to imitate her, then Keaton inspired Arbuckle. This was Buster’s last film with Arbuckle before he left to serve in the army. Keaton next used it to entertain the troops when he was part of the 40th Division Sunshine Players. Then the bit acted as a sort of welcome home from his time in the military when it turned up again in Backstage, Keaton’s return to film work in 1919. It was part of “The Falling Reign” portion of stage show in the short. They used more of the Salome story, with Keaton playing the taunting temptress and Arbuckle playing the king who wants to dump her.

Later, when Buster made personal appearances to support College in 1927, he did it again, calling his act “The Song of the Dance.” Finally he used a version of it in The Hollywood Revue of 1929. Like all good vaudevillians, he didn’t let proven material go to waste. No matter which version you see, it’s still a hoot.

Kingsley reported big news for people who know that Christmas won’t be Christmas without presents:

Louisa M. Alcott’s Little Women, that classic of girlhood’s library, is to be made into a film, after all, despite the difficulties W.A. Brady had in securing screen rights. Mr. Brady will make an elaborate production of the story, on which work has already commenced. The scenes are being made in Concord, Mass., in the very house sacred to the memory of Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy.

William Brady, a very successful theatrical and film producer, had presented it as a play during the 1912-13 season, so he was familiar with the material. This was second of many, many film adaptations of the novel (the first was a 1917 British production). From the plot description in its Paramount Press Book, it looks like Jo still sacrifices her hair and Beth dies, but Amy doesn’t burn Jo’s manuscript (the worst crime in girls’ literature!) and Jo doesn’t try out independence and move to the city – Prof. Baer already lives in Concord. They really did shoot some of it in Orchard House, so it’s particularly sad that it’s a lost film. If you’d like to see what the rooms look like now, the Alcott Museum has a virtual tour.

 

 

 

Week of June 8th, 1918

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One hundred years ago this week, Famous Players/Lasky Studio held a very successful auction, show, dance and carnival to raise funds for the families of solders and sailors who had been studio employees. A good time was had by all. Not only Lasky stars turned up; Motion Picture News wrote, “Virtually every star of importance in California was present and did something to aid.” Grace Kingsley was there too, and she reported on the highlights:

Clara Kimball Young, who appeared in evening dress and wearing a magnificent hat, auctioned off her wearing apparel, delivering the hat and gloves at first hand, and thereafter retiring behind a screen, over the top of which she sold her dress and some other garments, and whence she emerged following the sale, mysteriously clad in street clothes. Charlie Chaplin purchased a bit of lingerie for $80, and thereafter wore it about his neck.

Even dignified dramatic actresses got to join in the fun. Of course Douglas Fairbanks was there, doing Fairbanksian things:

Douglas Fairbanks offered to box Kid McCoy, but the fight closed after the second round for the simple reason that Mr. Fairbanks, in the heat of the contest, fell into the swimming pool on the platform adjoining which the dance was held.

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William S. Hart in Every Inch a Man

In addition to the auction, they sold food and drinks; the “booths were presided over by Lillian Gish, Dorothy Gish, Constance Talmadge, Gladys Brockwell and many others.” But the most popular area was no surprise:

The bar, which was presided over by William S. Hart and his cowboys, took in a small fortune, and sister Mamie Hart sat near by as a sort of guardian angel to see that nobody drank too much, but even at that Fred Stone reeled away following his fifth chocolate ice cream soda.

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Fred Stone

Moving Picture World added more details, including the reason Stone drank so many sodas: Fairbanks had challenged him to a drinking bout, and he had to quit after five. They reported that it was the first time the studio had ever been open to the public, 1500 people attended and it was “so crowded it was almost impossible to turn around.” They took in $9,000 to assist the families of the 91 men from the studio serving the country, and they had a good time while they were at it. If you ever build a time machine, this might be a fun night to visit.

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Life or Honor?

Kingsley’s favorite film this week wasn’t a timeless classic, but just another pleasant little movie that’s been forgotten.

Getting a criminal to confess by using the spiritualistic medium’s tricks is the unique and fascinating feature of Life or Honor?, which is the offering at the Symphony this week. An incidental exposé of those tricks makes this phase of the story additionally absorbing. There are the old familiar cabinet, the illuminated hand, the floating ghostly forms, and even in the picture these are eerie enough to make you confess anything anybody might want you to confess if used upon you.

She thought the plot was “unusually adroit” and “all the parts are well and humanly played,” and everyone involved continued to work, but nobody became very successful. The film survives at Gosfilmofond in Russia.

 

Kingsley gave a rare negative review to A Soul for Sale, the new Dorothy Phillips film. She pointed out “they are always selling souls in picture plays—usually pretty young women’s souls.” Nevertheless, she liked well enough until the last reel:

Then, alas, it tumbles. The scene, which doubtless the author intended as the great denouement, when the heroine, returning from a midnight visit to the hero’s room, here she went to restore money which had been stolen from him by her mother, meets the two old rakes who have been bargaining for her, takes on the aspect of cheap comedy, and yesterday the audience actually laughed where it should have been spellbound with suspense.

Also in the last scenes it is hard to believe that a steel fireproof skyscraper would be gutted by fire and in addition would show not a single broken window. Here again, the suspense should be extreme, with the lovers in danger of perishing as they stand on the roof, a cheap comedy effect is obtained when firemen tear them apart as they stand oblivious to death clasped in each other’s arms.

Then as now, a critic’s opinion didn’t affect the box office. Later that week the Times said the film “continues to prove a box office attraction extraordinary” and the theater planned to hold it over a second week.

Four of its six reels survive at the Library of Congress (they were part of the Dawson City trove). The last reel didn’t. Maybe that improves it?

 

 

 

G.P. Harleman, “Carnival at Lasky Studio a Success,” Moving Picture World, June 29, 1918, p.1846.

“Lasky Dance and Carnival a Big Success,” Motion Picture News, July 13, 1918, p.2

“Studio Plans Big Home Folks Fete,” Los Angeles Herald, June 6, 1918.

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 May 11th, 1918

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Tea party, 1918 — maybe children had other things to do?

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on decreased film attendance among school children in Los Angeles. However, theater owners had a unique excuse for being concerned about a downturn in ticket sales:

the alarming results in the steady decrease of war tax checks that are sent to the government by the theater owners every month…statistics show that this source of government income decreased fully 25 percent last month. This month’s drop will be even greater, and if the alarming decrease keeps up there is no doubt in the minds of the committee that several of the houses will have to close.

The tax on entertainment did contribute millions to fund the war , but if that was their real concern, they could have bought Liberty Bonds. Exhibitors must have thought that patriotism looked better in the newspaper than concern for profits.

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Teachers weren’t the only ones telling kids what to do with their money

They had an interesting theory on why kids weren’t going to the movies:

The trouble arises, according to reports received by the film men, from teachers in the public schools advising school children to save their money for other purposes and not to visit picture theaters.

They didn’t blame building too many theaters or bad movies or other entertainment options. Teachers have been blamed for many things for a very long time.

To deal with the problem, film exhibitors planned to form a committee and hold a meeting on May 18th. Nearly 100 producers and exhibitors attended, according to Moving Picture World. They didn’t frame it in terms of loss of tax revenue among themselves: they were worried about theaters staying in business. One exhibitor (F.A. MacDonald) stated that 32 theaters had already closed, and he blamed German propaganda – the enemy didn’t want people to see the Red Cross and Liberty Loan slides, speakers and trailers that were being shown. Producer Thomas Ince suggested, “tell people it is patriotic to patronize picture shows.” J.A. Quinn, owner of the Rialto Theater, wanted to start a publicity campaign (after all, President Wilson said that “the moving picture is helping to win the war”), and they resolved to do exactly that.

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Audiences came back

There weren’t any follow-up articles on the publicity campaign, but after things got much worse when the flu epidemic temporarily closed all the theaters later in 1918, film attendance eventually did come back. Weekly paid admissions rose from 40 million in 1922 to 65 million in 1928.

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Kingsley had a funny little criticism of The Scarlet Drop:

Harry Carey is breaking more furniture with the villain at the Supurba this week, than we have witnessed in many a day.

Nevertheless, she enjoyed the addition to the pile of Wild West pictures, because “Harry Carey, being a sincere cowboy, wins us the minute he appears and Molly Malone is just too cute for anything in those ’49 styles.” Sometimes that’s enough from a night at the movies. Now the film is remembered (30 minutes of it survive) because of its director: John Ford.

 

 

 

 

Koszarski, Richard. An Evening’s Entertainment. Berkeley: University of /California Press, 1990.

“Los Angeles Film Men Alarmed,” Moving Picture World, June 8, 1918, p.1403.

“School Teachers’ Advice Closing Coast Theaters,” Variety, May 24, 1918, p.1

 

Children’s tea party photo from the Upper Arlington Historical Society.