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.
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.
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.
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.