November 22, 2010

"Big Rock's Last Stand" Pushes Back the Envelope

Big Rock's Last Stand (USA, 1912)
This week I was very excited to locate today's featured slide (I know, I need to get a life).  What makes this advertisement so noteworthy is the film's release date, December 3, 1912, which makes it the earliest motion picture coming attraction slide I have yet to discover.  Hitherto the earliest film advertising slide I have been able to locate is Caprice starring Mary Pickford which was released November 10, 1913, almost a full year after Big Rock's Last Stand.

Josephine Mercedes Workman, a.k.a. Princess Mona Darkfeather
Big Rock's Last Stand was directed by Frank Montgomery, and starred a cast including:  Mona Darkfeather, William Bertram, Virginia Chester, Artie Ortego, Roy Watson, and Jane Keckley.  Montgomery is credited with directing 82 films but also had experience on the other side of the lens, appearing as an actor in 28 films.  His leading lady for Big Rock's Last Stand also just happened to be his wife, Josephine Mercedes Workman who worked under the stage name Princess Mona Darkfeather. 

Returning to the slide, I am impressed with its detailed color and graphic sophistication.  Not only are three different colors used to highlight the text, the detailed coloring in the central photo as well as the Bison studio logos are quite precise.  Generally it is not uncommon for hand-colored slides to use only one or two colors to tint an otherwise black and white image, but in this instance there are five:  yellow, green, blue, brown, and two shades of red. 

Another notable, though unsurprising, feature of the slide is that it makes no mention of the producer, director, or stars.  This is not unusual since 1912 marked just the very beginning of the star system.  In many of these earliest advertisements it is usually the studio brand that figures most prominently.   One of my current research topics is to plot a general time-line for the evolution of title credits on silent era slides, but we'll save that conversation for another day...

To learn more about Bison Motion Pictures and Bison 101 Features, the following excerpt from Tim Dirks AMC filmsite should help fill in the blanks:
One of the earliest trail-blazing industry's innovators was producer/director Thomas Harper Ince (1882-1924), whose major claims to fame were the making of crude westerns and the development of the "factory-studio system" to mass produce films. After a short stint at Biograph as an actor and director, he joined Carl Laemmle's Independent Moving Picture (IMP) Company, and moved west to California in 1911. The New York Motion Picture Co. and the Selig Polyscope Film Company of Chicago set up studios near Los Angeles in Edendale [present-day Echo Park], initiating the establishment of West Coast studio production.

Ince supervised the New York Motion Picture Company-owned subsidiary Bison Company, or Bison Life Motion Pictures. It became a studio/ranch that specialized in westerns when, in 1912, his Bison Company production studios purchased the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch and the Wild West Show to use their props and performers for his assembly-line, mass-produced films, and was renamed Bison 101 Company. The Bison Company studios, also became known as Inceville, after he bought about 20,000 acres of seacoast land in Santa Ynez Canyon and the surrounding hills.

He developed a system of advanced planning and budgeting, and shot his films from detailed "shooting scripts" (that broke down each scene into individual shots). It became a prototype for departmentalized and specialized Hollywood film studios of the future, with a studio head (or boss), directors, managers, production staff, and writers all working together under one organization (the unit system). This pattern or system was best typified by the organizations formed by David O. Selznick and Samuel Goldwyn. Ince's best known film production was the anti-war film Civilization (1916) with frequent director-collaborator Reginald Barker. In the early 1910s, famed director John Ford's older brother Francis was directing and starring in westerns in California for producer Ince, before joining Universal and Carl Laemmle in 1913.

Thomas Ince decentralized and economized the process of movie production by enabling more than one film to be made at a time (on a standardized assembly-line) to meet the increased demand from theaters, but his approach led to the studio's decline due to his formulaic, unfresh, mechanized, and systematized approach to production.

His studio reinvigorated the Western film genre. Ince's authentic-looking pictures were due to the fact that he used actual props and hired real-life cowboys and Indians from the Miller Brothers' 101 Ranch and Wild West Show as extras in his films. In 1914, he was responsible for launching the career of William S. Hart, an actor who starred in dozens of westerns until 1925. In 1915, he joined D. W. Griffith (of Griffith Fine Arts Studio) and Mack Sennett (of Keystone Pictures, see below) to form the Triangle Motion Picture Company (aka the Triangle Film Corporation) (with a studio on Sunset Boulevard) [...]

After the Great War, Ince broke off from Triangle and joined competitor Adolph Zukor to form Paramount/Artcraft, and Ince also built another studio (named Thomas H. Ince Pictures) in Culver City. When his association with Zukor ended in 1919, he joined an independent film alliance named Associated Producers, which later merged in 1922 with First National. Filming ceased at the Inceville property around 1922 and the buildings burned to the ground in 1924.

November 20, 2010

Introducing Alice Calhoun

It is my great pleasure to introduce Susann Gilbert, biographer and cousin (!) of silent star Alice Calhoun.  Though her filmography lists more than fifty titles, Alice Calhoun's name may not be immediately recognizable to modern audiences.  For those of you unfamiliar with Calhoun's work, Susann's article should serve as a welcome, and long overdue, introduction - and if you already know Alice Calhoun, you're sure to learn at least one thing that you didn't know before...

Rainbow (USA, 1921)
Alice Beatrice Calhoun (nicknamed “ABC”) was born in Cleveland, Ohio at the dawn of the twentieth century on November 21, 1900.

Most of Alice's movies were melodramas based on literary works, such as Booth Tarkington's Pulitzer-prize winning novel, The Magnificent Ambersons (filmed as Pampered Youth), or short stories, such as O. Henry’s final, unfinished story, The Dream, filmed as a two reel short.  Gifted with beauty, athleticism, and versatlity, she also played roles in various genre including slapstick and westerns. Her most famous role was in the 1922 Vitagraph production of The Little Minister, and the author of the original play, Sir James M. Barrie, called her “the perfect Lady Babbie”.
One Stolen Night (USA, 1923)

While Alice did play her share of the day’s helpless waifs and hopeless romantics in melodramas, she also starred in mysteries and adventures, playing strong, action-motivated roles. One of her legacies is her modern-themed starring roles, portraying successful, educated women. She was also a very skilled comedienne. Alice's co-stars were equally famous.  She worked with Anna Q. Nilsson (Between Friends, Flowing Gold), Sydney Chaplin (The Man On the Box), Cullen Landis (The Midnight Alarm, Pioneer Trails, Masters of Men, Pampered Youth), Ben Alexander (Pampered Youth) Alan Hale, Sr. and John Bowers (Code of the Wilderness), William Fairbanks (Flying High), Oliver Hardy (in two rare dramatic roles in Little Wildcat and One Stolen Night) and even Rin Tin Tin (A Hero of the Big Snows).

The Man on the Box (USA, 1925)

Alice was a hard-working actress and regarded as highly professional by her peers. Her mastery of melodrama technique was widely admired.  She was nicknamed "The Girl of a Thousand Faces" for her versatility and ability to fully immerse herself in a role.  Most of her films were successful not because of their plots, which were often tired, but because of her charm, and that quality made her films very popular.  There was a darling naiveté to her work that was vivid, gutsy, human, and sentimental.  She had an active fan club, and was well-known for answering correspondence from her many fans, even years after she had retired from acting.

From 1918 to 1934, she appeared in 52 films (two sound and the rest silent), and one documentary. Her final film was  Now I'll Tell, and co-starred Spencer Tracy, Alice Faye, Helen Twelvetrees and Shirley Temple (Alice Calhoun played Shirley's mother).

She was also a savvy businesswoman.  With fellow actor Lon Chaney, and the notorious businessman Mark Hansen, she built a movie theater at 6025 Hollywood Boulevard in 1925 known as the Marcal Theatre, later called the World Theatre.  Around that time, she met and married theater owner Max Clarence Chotiner in 1927.  (Alice had a very brief first marriage to renowned entertainment attorney Mendel B. Silberberg). Max owned a chain of theaters in California - Chotiner's Ravenna Theatre, the Belmont,  the Fox Parisian,  the Beverly Hills Wilshire, and the Lomita Theater.   Although Alice and Max divorced ten years later amid much publicity and humiliation, they later reconciled.  They were remarried in 1948, and remained together until her death in 1966.

A Girl's Desire (USA, 1922)
For her contribution to motion pictures, Alice was awarded a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame in the early 1960‘s, located at 6815 Hollywood Boulevard. She was also renowned for her patriotic contributions, community service and work on behalf of other aspiring actors, poets and artists.  In her later years, she was very active in civic organizations and served as an officer in the American Pen Women Society, the Beverly Hills chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Democratic party.  The women’s diagnostic center at Cedars Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles has a plaque that bears her name for her contributions to the institution.  Likewise at the City of Hope Hospital, the Alice Calhoun Chotiner Wing is a serene, comfortable waiting area for cancer patient’s families. She died of mesotheleoma on June 3, 1966, and rests at the Little Garden of Faithfulness at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.

The Films of Alice Calhoun
  1. How Could You, Caroline? (1918) 
  2. Dream Lady (1918)
  3. Everybody's Business (1919) Released in UK as And He Never Knew (1921) 
  4. Bolshevism (1919)
  5. The Thirteenth Chair (1919)  Released in France as La Treizieme Chaise (1918)
  6. The Dream (1920)
  7. Human Collateral (1920)
  8. Captain Swift (1920)
  9. The Sea Rider (1920)
  10. Deadline at Eleven (1920)
  11. Princess Jones (1921)
  12. The Charming Deceiver (1921)
  13. Peggy Puts It Over (1921)
  14. Rainbow (1921)
  15. Matrimonial Web (1921)
  16. Closed Doors (1921)
  17. A Bride in Bond (1921)
  18. The Little Minister (1922)
  19. Angel of Crooked Street (1922)
  20. Blue Blood (1922) Released in Argentina as El Conde Apocrifo
  21. The Girl in His Room (1922)
  22. A Girl's Desire (1922)
  23. Little Wildcat (1922) Also released in US as Gamin’ Girl and/or Naughty But Nice
  24. One Stolen Night (1923)
  25. Masters of Men (1923)
  26. The Man Next Door (1923) 
  27. The Midnight Alarm (1923)
  28. Pioneer Trails (1923) Released in UK as Out West
  29. The Man From Brodney's (1923) 
  30. Flowing Gold (1924)
  31. Between Friends (1924)
  32. Code of the Wilderness (1924)
  33. The Everlasting Whisper (1925)
  34. Pampered Youth (1925) Also released in a shorter version as Two To One in 1927
  35. The Happy Warrior (1925)
  36. The Part Time Wife (1925)
  37. The Other Woman's Story (1925)
  38. The Man on the Box (1925)
  39. The Power of the Weak (1926)
  40. A Hero of the Big Snows (1926)
  41. Kentucky Handicap (1926)
  42. (In the) Tentacles of the North (1926) 
  43. Flying High (1926
  44. Life in Hollywood #4 aka The Great Hollywood Studios of Yesteryear (documentary) (c 1927)
  45. In the First Degree (1927)
  46. The Trunk Mystery (1927)
  47. The Flag (1927) 
  48. Hidden Aces (1927)
  49. The Isle of Forgotten Women (1927)
  50. Savage Passions (1927)
  51. The Down Grade (1927)
  52. Bride of the Desert (1929) (sound)
  53. Now I'll Tell (You) (1934) (sound) Released in UK as When New York Sleeps

Susann Gilbert an editor and writer living in Charleston, South Carolina who just happens to have been a cousin of Alice Calhoun.  Susann's current projects include a biography of Alice Calhoun entitled Alice in Hollywoodland: The Life and Times of a Silent Screen Star.  She authors the web site Alice Calhoun: Star of the Silent Screen as well as her blog The Writer's Block.

Slide images courtesy of Susann Gilbert.

November 8, 2010

Mary Pickford's "worst film ever made"

The year 1913 was the first in which lantern slides were used to advertise motion picture coming attractions.  One year following that, Mary Pickford appeared in  the 1914 film A Good Little Devil, a  production which the actress described as "one of the worst pictures, if not the worst picture, I ever made."

Recently I was fortunate enough to locate a lantern slide advertising this title which, as is often the case, echoes the imagery of the advertising poster.  Even more fortunate than finding the slide was my good luck in having Charles Morrow agree to share his impressions of the film which survives today only as a 12-minute fragment.

Coming attraction slide for A Good Little Devil (1914)
Mary Pickford began her career as a touring stage actress at the age of seven, and was still only fifteen when she made her Broadway debut in 1907 in a play called The Warrens of Virginia. A couple of years later she found work in the movies for director D.W. Griffith at Biograph and soon became a prominent member of his company. By 1913 she'd appeared in well over 150 short films for Griffith and others; at that point she chose to return to the stage in the role of a blind girl in a rather strange vehicle entitled A Good Little Devil.

Poster for A Good Little Devil (1914)
This play was a melodrama with elements of mysticism and the supernatural, probably influenced by the great success of such fantasies as Peter Pan. The play's producer was the famous showman David Belasco, whose name was more familiar to the general public at the time than either Pickford's or Griffith's. (And in a small supporting role in this show, making her own Broadway debut, was the still-unknown Lillian Gish!) Not long after the play ended its run in May of 1913 Miss Pickford repeated her role of Juliet the blind girl in a film adaptation of the play, the first feature-length movie of her career, although not the first to be released. The director was yet another notable figure, Edwin S. Porter, who made a number of landmark films in the first decade of the 20th century including The Great Train Robbery. However, by this stage of his career Porter was no longer an innovator, and his films looked old-fashioned and stodgy compared to Griffith's dynamic work. Pickford felt that Porter mishandled A Good Little Devil, and within a few years of the movie's release proclaimed it "one of the worst pictures, if not the worst picture, I ever made."

Several years ago The Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, New York, hosted a festival of restored films featuring Mary Pickford. The 12-minute fragment of A Good Little Devil shown at the festival is apparently all that remains of this intriguing milestone of theatrical and cinematic history. When the full version premiered in March of 1914 it began with a prologue featuring David Belasco himself introducing the show, but unfortunately this footage no longer survives. Interestingly, however, the fragment that remains tells a reasonably complete story in itself, as if someone edited the full-length film into a one-reel 'highlights' version. The plot and character relationships are not entirely clear, but the gist of the piece comes across.
Prologue from A Good Little Devil - David Belasco (seated) as wraiths of his characters appear via double-exposure.  Others in the picture (L to R):  Edward Connelly, William Norris (as old woman), Wilda Bennett, Mary Pickford, Ernest Truex.
The story concerns a young man of Scottish background named Charles MacLance, who is apparently the victim of pride and a swelled head: he no longer associates with his family, boyhood friends, or the down-home folk from his village, but instead dresses like a titled Englishman and hangs out with haughty aristocrats. Meanwhile, he is missed by his desperately sick mother -- played by a man in drag! -- and his true love Juliet, a blind girl who cares for the old woman. As Charles sits brooding before the fireplace his "conscience" appears in visible albeit ghostly form, when his younger self, wearing a kilt, rises from his body and confronts his corporeal self. Wracked with guilt he returns to his village, visits the old lady and has an awkward reunion with Juliet. He is also greeted joyfully by the family dog-- played by a man capering about on all fours in a dog costume. Charles' return to the village seems to unleash magical spirits: winged fairies appear and restore Juliet's sight, then restore the old lady to full health. (In the stage production Lillian Gish played one of the fairies, but she's not in the movie.) When Charles' snobby friends come to take him away he renounces them, in fiery words of amusingly purple prose, and chooses to stay with the simple, honest villagers of his youth.

The abridged version of A Good Little Devil shown at the festival was greeted by the audience with sympathetic chuckles. I could see why Mary Pickford considered it something of an embarrassment: she was making more sophisticated films than this one at Biograph years earlier. Still, although it was very primitive the movie was rather sweet and Mary's own performance was nothing to be ashamed of. The man in the dog outfit was a real crowd-pleaser, though we all wondered why the old lady was played by an obvious transvestite. In any event, even in its truncated form Edwin S. Porter's A Good Little Devil is an intriguing curio for silent film buffs and kind of a hoot, besides.


Charles Morrow works at the Performing Arts Library at Lincoln Center in NYC. He has written plays and film-related essays, and also contributed several entries to the recently published Broadway: An Encyclopedia of Theater and American Culture. His film reviews appear in IMDb under the Nom de Internet wmorrow59.

November 6, 2010

Abel Gance's J'Accuse

On December 12, 2009 the San Francisco Silent Film Festival presented the North American premiere of Abel Gance's epic J'Accuse.  Never released in United States in it's original form, the film finally made it to American shores a mere 90 years after its European release thanks to the multi-year collaborative restoration undertaken by Nederlands Filmmuseum and Lobster Films.  The text that follows is my original program essay from the San Francisco premiere.

British slide for Abel Gance's J'Accuse (France, 1919)

Five months after the armistice was signed that ended World War I, Abel Gance premiered his epic J’Accuse in Paris. Called the Great War, WWI was also dubbed “the war to end all wars,” and Gance’s film was aimed at making that statement a reality. Many of his own friends had been killed in the trenches, and, as Gance later explained, “J’Accuse for me was not just a film …. I had a feeling of frenzy to use this new medium, the cinema, to show the world the stupidity of war.”

J’Accuse was not the first antiwar film, but the way Gance told his story, using expressionistic camerawork and innovative editing techniques, profoundly influenced filmmaking from Hollywood to Moscow. At age 20, Gance began working in films as a scriptwriter and actor. Two years later, in 1911, he formed a production company and directed the one-reel costume drama La Digue (or Pour sauver la Hollande). He followed his debut with several other popular short narrative films before the war intervened, decimating European film production. In 1914, Gance volunteered as a civilian stretcher-bearer. He was soon drafted into the French Army and assigned to the cinematographic section. He described the experience as “a preposterous business” but managed to avoid photographing at the front. His final assignment was at a poison gas factory, and, in 1915, the army discharged him after he was diagnosed with tuberculosis.

Gance returned to filmmaking with La Folie du Docteur Tube (1915), a short avant-garde comedy photographed using mirrors to create distorted images. In 1916, he wrote and directed his first feature-length films, society dramas for the French production company Société de Film d’Art, where he experimented with the cross-action editing developed by D.W. Griffith, extreme close-ups, tracking shots, and other techniques that became essential to cinema’s visual language.
Opening title from J'Accuse spelled out using soldiers on leave from the front lines.

Gance began writing the scenario for J’Accuse in 1917. “I believe,” he wrote in his journal at that time, “that the social significance of J’Accuse is profound and that the film will triumph everywhere and nothing will shackle its purpose.” The main story is a love triangle, which becomes complicated by the on-set of war. Jean, a pacifist poet, is in love with Edith who is unhappily married to François, a brutish provincial farmer. When war is declared, both men join the army, serving in the same front line regiment. Battling the Germans together, Jean and François reach an uneasy truce between themselves. Meanwhile back at home, a suspicious François had sent Edith into exile and, perhaps intentionally, into harm’s way.

For Gance and his colleagues, the horror of war was not an abstract notion. Most of the letters used in the film’s intertitles were actual letters home by two of Gance’s friends, both of whom were killed. The extras in battle and the dead on the battlefields were actual soldiers. “There were great numbers of soldiers coming to the Midi on eight-day passes—a little breather after four years at the front,” Gance later explained. “I asked the local HQ if I could borrow two thousand. These men had come straight from the front …. They had seen it all, and now they played the dead knowing they would probably die themselves. In a few weeks or months, 80 percent of them would disappear. I knew it and so did they.”

J’Accuse’s release so close to the end of the war amplified its impact on the European public. After the French premiere, the British trade newspaper Kinematograph Weekly accurately predicted, “J’Accuse has created a furor in its native France, it will do the same wherever it is shown in Britain.” After the film opened at London’s Philharmonic Hall, the London Times reported, “The miracle has been achieved. A film has caused an audience to think,” and a review in a later issue of Kinematograph Weekly called it “… one of the most terrible indictments against war which it is possible to imagine.”

J'Accuse, tinted and toned image from the final reel.
European newspapers praised the film, and Gance became recognized as one of the continent’s most important directors. Yet two years passed before J’Accuse crossed the Atlantic. American distributors were typically cool to foreign films, and J’Accuse’s long running time and pacifist message were also considered liabilities. In May 1921, Gance traveled to New York to promote the film at a preview for theater owners and the press. The screening took place at the Ritz-Carlton, and the 400-person audience included D.W. Griffith and Lillian and Dorothy Gish. Griffith was so impressed that he invited Gance to his studio and subsequently arranged for the film to be distributed by United Artists.

Despite the enthusiastic preview reception, J’Accuse was dramatically altered for its American release in October 1921. Renamed I Accuse, the film was given a happy ending and Gance’s antiwar message was distorted into an endorsement of patriotism. American critics who had attended the original preview decried the mutilation. “To those who saw the original J’Accuse, or have heard of it, “lamented the New York Times, “it is necessary to say, first of all, that I Accuse is not the same thing.” A later New York Times article summarizing the film events of the year concluded that “… Abel Gance’s terrific J’Accuse … was so emasculated before it reached the public screen under the title I Accuse that it must be counted as lost.” Predictably, the Americanized I Accuse, released to an indifferent public, was not a commercial success.

A similar fate befell Gance’s two epics of the 1920s, La Roue (1921) and Napoléon (1926), neither of which reached American audiences in their original form. In these films, Gance expanded the repertoire of film technique by further developing his innovations of widescreen and split-screen imagery, rapide montage (quick-cut editing), and expressive camera movement, all of which influenced cinema far beyond the silent era. Russian director Sergei Eisenstein personally thanked Gance for teaching him the art of film, and, in 1979, historian Kevin Brownlow declared, “If D.W. Griffith gave us the grammar of film, then Abel Gance gave us an encyclopedia for the new art form with his heroic achievements.”

David Robinson introduces J'Accuse restorer Annike Kross at 2009 Le Giornate del Cinema Muto
Ninety years after its European premiere, American audiences can finally watch Gance’s J’Accuse as he meant it to be seen. In 2007, Nederlands Filmmuseum and Lobster Films joined forces to restore the European release version of J’Accuse. They combined source material from six different prints, including one reel of Gance’s original camera negative and the only extant print featuring the original tinting and toning. Warped and shrunken sequences were stabilized and film frames cleaned of scratches, nitrate deterioration, mold, rust, projector oil, and, in one case, even a squashed bug. The final climactic reel of J’Accuse now retains Gance’s intended combination of blue toning and lavender tinting, creating a surreal effect in the haunting finale. At the end of the restoration process, two 35mm release prints and a preservation negative were produced, ensuring that J’Accuse survives for generations to come.

--- ROB BYRNE (December 2009)

November 3, 2010

Special Guest Baby Peggy Recalls "The Darling of New York"

Last week STARTS THURSDAY! paid tribute to Diana "Baby Peggy" Cary on the occasion of her 92nd birthday.  This week, Diana generously agreed to contribute an article sharing her memories from her first feature The Darling of New York (1923).  It gives me great pleasure to thank, and to introduce: the star of The Darling of New York, Diana "Baby Peggy" Cary....!

Advertising slide for Baby Peggy's first feature film, The Darling of New York (1923)
In April of 1920 I began working full time for $75 a week  at Century Studio on Hollywood's Poverty Row.  I was 19 months old. Six months later, when I turned two, my boss doubled my salary and named me a  Century star. Before the end of 1922 I was teamed with Brownie "The Wonder Dog" in nearly a dozen 2 reel comedies and starred in another 25 of my own Baby Peggy series. My boss was a brother-in-law of Universal's head, "Uncle Carl" Laemmle. and in January of 1923 the two men agreed it was time to capitalize on my global popularity by starring me in three feature films. The first was THE DARLING OF NEW YORK, directed by King Baggot. The strong supporting cast included well-known actors Sheldon Lewis, Gladys Brockwelll and Max Davidson, (the latter from New York's Jewish theatre.) I had just turned four, but was a camera veteran by then.

In this drama I played the Italian grandchild of a wealthy New York immigrant. With a servant accompanying her she is sailing for America to join her grandfather when a band of jewel thieves on board secretly  hides their fortune in  stolen gems  inside her rag doll. The rest of her harrowing adventures  are climaxed when she is trapped in a raging fire inside a New York tenement. We worked four or five nights outside filming this elaborate fire sequence, complete with Universal's own fire engines and crews. It was wet and cold and Gladys Brockwell had to jump from a window with me in her arms into a solid canvas "net." She was terrified she would miss the "net"  and kill us both.

Worse still, while filming the interior fire shots of the tenement apartment, King Baggot and my father walked me through the set and showed me how the crew had lined the windows and only door with sawdust soaked in kerosene which would be set afire for the scene. I was warmed it would only be "one take" as the set would be completely burned. I was shown the two different windows in the kitchen which would be ablaze when the camera rolled. I was to look at them but turn away and run to the door. It would not be torched by the crew, Baggot said, and I was to escape immediately through that door. I understood my directions perfectly..

But when filming began and I reached the door I found the crew had mistakenly set it ablaze. The door knob was already  too hot to touch. But the camera, Baggot  and my father, shooting from a distance through the window above the kitchen sink, could not see the flames. I knew I could not spoil the scene by explaining the situation to them . So while they kept shouting at me to "GO OUT THE DOOR!" I  ran back to  the sink and the window above it, which was not burning as fiercely as was the door. Moving fast I clambered through the burning open window and gave the camera an unexpected close up of me escaping through the flames!  At first Baggot was angry that I had disobeyed his directions but later I took him back and showed him what was left of the door!. Not surprisingly I remembered this experience vividly and decades later I even found a lobby card showing the unscripted close up!

Surprising as it seems, I worked with fire even as a toddler, and in other dangerous situations often over the years. I learned that my guides did not always see the dangers I saw up close. I realized early on that it was up to me to take care of myself at times and do whatever it took to get through a scene safely without ruining the film.

This film was one of Universal's "Jewels" - - an expensive production. They were paying me $10,000 a week,  It was a very successful film but so far it seems to be a "lost" film" Only the final reel of some of the fire scenes was recently found and is now being restored by Jere Guldin at UCLA.


Diana Serra Carey debuted as "Baby Peggy" in 1920 at the age of nineteen months, starring in 150 two-reel comedies and seven feature films before her silent movie career ended at age seven.  She worked in vaudeville for another half dozen years and later in "talkies" through the 1930s.  She became a freelance writer, specializing in Mexican and American history.  For many years she was the trade book buyer for the University of California's San Diego campus bookstore.  She is the author of:
Whatever Happened to Baby Peggy:  The Autobiography of Hollywood's Pioneer Child Star, The Hollywood Posse: The Story of a Gallant Band of Horsemen Who Made Movie History,
Jackie Coogan: The World's Boy King: A Biography of Hollywood's Legendary Child Star, and Hollywood's Children: An Inside Account of the Child Star Era.

November 1, 2010

Introducing German Kinodia

Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)
Et Dieu... créa la femme [...and God Created Woman] (1956)
Thanks to a pointer from a good friend of mine (thanks Uli!) became aware of the German equivalent of coming attraction slides known as kinodia

To this point I have located samples of these slides with dates ranging from 1921 through 1964, however it is not at all clear when the slides themselves were produced.  For example, the slide advertising Buster Keaton shorts includes The Goat (1921)* but it is quite clear that the kinodia slide itself is contemporary with the slide for Jayne Mansfield film It Takes a Thief (1960).  From that perspective, the only thing I can know for sure is that these slides were used at least as late as 1964, the year Kiss Me Stupid was released.

The African Queen (1951)

One interesting aspect of the slides that I have thus far located are that the images are printed on flexible transparent plastic instead of on a glass plate coated with photo emulsion.  Additionally, these examples (admittedly, a very small sample size) consist only of this plastic material without any frame or backing.

Three Buster Keaton comedies:  College (1927), The Goat (1921), The Paleface (1922)
The physical dimensions transparencies are in several different dimensions, typically either 3 ¼ inches square 2 ½ by 2 ¼, or 2 by 2 ½ inches.  However regardless of the of the physical size of the transparency, the actual slide images measure a uniform 2 ½ x 1 ¾ inches.  This image size precisely with the image size of other European glass slides.
It Takes a Thief (1960)

Based on these measurements, my currently working theory is that these transparencies were originally either sandwiched between glass panes, or mounted in some sort of frame, that measured to the standard European lantern slide dimension of 3 ¼ inches square. 
Kiss Me Stupid (1964)

Clearly I have much work ahead to gain a fuller understanding the practice of this medium in German cinemas.  I am exceptionally eager to hear from anyone who has information or can provide additional insight on the topic.  Just click on the comments section below, or email directly to

* All captions are the original release titles from the film's country of origin - not a direct translation of the German.  ...and speaking of translation, many many thanks to Helmut for his help in that regard.