'Oban', Margaret's home in Glebe. Source: Google Maps
Dick Whittington and His Cat (Pantomime)
1915 - A year of plenty work, much experience gained in many directions. Health fairly well, but a little run down at the time of writing. A horrible war is raging in which my dear brothers, Arthur and Jack, have taken up their guns.
So begins Margaret Higgins’ diary for 1916, a little volume that cost her ninepence, and contains the address of her home, ‘Oban’, a terrace house on Bridge Street, Glebe, which still exists and looks much as it would have in 1916.
Margaret celebrated the coming of the new year by attending confession and mass at St Patricks Church. It was the stage and not the screen which predominated during the holiday season, Australia having adopted the British tradition of Christmas pantomimes. Margaret would attend the theatre during the holiday season more often than any other time during 1916.
The Adelphi Theatre. Source: Dictionary of Sydney
On January 3rd, Margaret saw George Marlow’s production of Dick Whittington at the Adelphi Theatre in Sydney. The star, or Principal Boy, was Carrie Moore, the famous Australian-born soubrette who was then nearing the end of a successful career as a leading lady, having made her name on the London stage. The production also featured spectacular stage effects, including a realistic earthquake at a Sultan’s palace. Margaret was amongst the estimated 25,000 to see this popular play in its first week alone.
The Adelphi Theatre had recently reopened after an extensive renovation. According to the Sydney Referee:
The interior of the building had been entirely transformed. Both dress circle and gallery had been entirely transformed. Both dress circle and gallery had been lowered by many feet, and brought much nearer to the stage. The roof had also been lowered, and there were many other improvements, with the result that the audience could see and hear much better than of old, and there was not the former strain on the artists’ voices. Although it was only a few years old at the time that Margaret visited, the theatre would have a long and storied history. It was later known as the Grand Opera House, before being outpaced by newer rivals and closed for several years. It was revived as the New Tivoli Theatre in the early 1930s, remaining Sydney’s premier vaudeville and variety theatre until its closure in the mid 1960s, and its demolition several years later.
Source: Sunday Times (Sydney), 14 November 1915
The Clutching Hand
Despite the good reviews for Dick Whittington, it did not appeal to Margaret, and she pronounced herself 'very bored' by it.
Instead, she reserved her enthusiasm for the movie serial she saw the same day, The Clutching Hand, which she described as 'very thrilling'. It would not be the first time during 1916 that she eschewed the stage for the screen. Known in most other markets as The Exploits of Elaine, the series had begun screening in Sydney in November 1915. It is likely that the episode she saw was one of the later ones.
The storyline centres on the aptly named Elaine Dodge, who dodges certain doom in every episode. She is made an orphan by a mysterious masked maniac known only as 'The Clutching Hand', and dedicates her life to finding and uncovering the identity of her father's killer. The Clutching Hand must find ever more ingenious ways to get rid of the 'fearless, peerless' Elaine, while her love interest, the 'scientific detective' Craig Kennedy (Arnold Daly) concocts increasingly complex devices to counter him.
Pearl White. Source: Exhibitors Herald, 14 August 1920
The Clutching Hand starred Pearl White, the reigning queen of the serial form. The popularity of her first, The Perils of Pauline (1914), led to a similar franchise, The Exploits of Elaine, the following year, and she would eventually star in nearly a dozen different series in the 1910s and early 1920s. Readers of the Sydney newspaper The Mirror of Australia voted Pearl their 5th favourite female dramatic star for 1915.
Though Margaret attended many individual episodes of different serials during the year, there is not much evidence that she religiously followed any of them from beginning to conclusion. Newspapers had already begun to speculate that the growing popularity of feature length films would send the serial extinct. Perhaps in response to this perception, The Clutching Hand was shown differently in Australia, promoted as 'not a serial', but a series of interlinked feature films, the fourteen two-reel episodes combined into seven four-reel episodes of roughly feature length.
The Exploits of Elaine survives in its entirety.
6th January 1916
Source: Sunday Times (Sydney), 2 January 1916
My Old Dutch
The first feature film Margaret saw in 1916 was My Old Dutch, at the Crystal Palace Theatre in central Sydney.
The picture had an unusual genesis: a sentimental Music Hall song that had been made famous by the British star, Albert Chevalier. Chevalier specialised in ‘coster’ or cockney roles. In the guise of an elderly character he called Old Joe Spudd, he would sing to the audience about the sweetheart he gave the slang nickname of his 'old dutch’:
“I’ve got a pal, A reg'lar out an’ outer, She’s a dear good old gal, I’ll tell yer all about 'er. It’s many years since fust we met, 'Er 'air was then as black as jet, It’s whiter now, but she don’t fret, Not my old gall! We’ve been together now for forty years, An’ it don’t seem a day too much, There ain’t a lady livin’ in the land As I’d swop for my dear old Dutch.”
Slim as it was, the song had already provided fodder for a stage play and a 1911 short, and would inspire two further films.
The film was a collaboration between Chevalier and Florence Turner, the American actress known in the earliest days as the 'Vitagraph Girl’. By 1913, Turner’s star was waning and she turned to England, where she established her own production company. My Old Dutch was one of its many productions, directed by Turner’s longtime friend and collaborator, Laurence Trimble.
Trimble was determined to paint an authentic portrait of Cockney life. In June 1915, a day’s location shooting took place at the famous Welsh Harp Inn at Hendon, referenced in Chevalier’s song 'Coster’s Serenade’, and just one of several references in the film to his oeuvre. Dozens of luridly dressed real-life cockneys were invited to participate in a mock Bank Holiday festival.
Though the film is now lost, reviews tell us much of the story, which focused initially on the love triangle between Joe Spudd, his 'old Dutch’ Sal, and a love rival, before moving on to cover forty tumultuous years in the couple’s life, including their dealings with a prodigal son, their separation in a poorhouse, and their eventual happy reunion.
Early reviews were rapturous. 'A rigid adherence to detail in depicting coster life contributes in no small measure to the general effect of this wonderful five-part [reel] film … there was not a dry eye in the entire assemblage,’ said Variety after a British trade screening. The film became a smash hit in its home territory, and was quickly picked up by Universal for American release.
Sydney reviews were equally complementary, particularly noting the strength of the central performances. “Characterisation is the forte of the work,” reported the Sydney Morning Herald. “It is entirely lacking in any spectacular display, and some of the famous actor’s facial expressions were wonderful, as an example of which one may refer to the scene in the gallery of the old "Vic” Theatre … it is a play of real life and a great film.“ Margaret enjoyed the film so much that she sent her parents along to see it later in the month.
Source: Dictionary of Sydney
The Crystal Palace, built in 1912, was one of Sydney’s largest and most sumptuous theatres. Now long gone, it was located in the heart of the entertainment precinct that once lined George Street, Sydney between Town Hall and Haymarket. On the left hand side of the building, and only just visible in this picture, was a neon frieze of a winking Charlie Chaplin.
Complex pre-show entertainment was a feature of the Crystal Palace, as well as many of its neighbouring theatres. For My Old Dutch, Sydney singer Harry Thomas provided a rendition of the song on which the film was based. Margaret may also have voted in the competition offered by the Crystal Palace in conjunction with My Old Dutch, which sought to find the four films Sydneysiders thought best demonstrated achievement in character acting, in exchange for free tickets and other prizes.
7th January 1916
Source: Sunday Times (Sydney), 9 January 1916
A Maori Maid's Love
The second film Margaret saw in 1916 was an Australian production, A Maori Maid’s Love. She must have been particularly interested in seeing this film, as she and a friend took the trouble to visit an obscure theatre in Haymarket, the Alhambra, in order to view it. It was only the first of several times that Margaret would go out of her way to see Australian artists on the stage and screen during 1916.
Perhaps it was the film’s star, Lottie Lyell, whom Margaret was so eager to see. She and Lottie were the same age, had grown up in a comparable part of Sydney, and had spent their earliest years in similar circumstances. Their paths diverged in young adulthood - at the same time Margaret was toiling away as a Grace Bros book-keeper, Lottie was making just the sort of career on the stage that Margaret herself dreamed of.
Fellow actor Raymond Longford became Lottie’s partner in both a professional and personal sense, and A Maori Maid’s Love was one of their many collaborations, the most famous of which was The Sentimental Bloke (1919). The pair operated as equals, sharing the duties of scenario writing, direction and occasionally, as in this case, taking starring roles. The fact that Longford was unable to replicate his earlier success after Lottie’s untimely death of tuberculosis in 1925 demonstrates exactly how important her contribution was to the partnership.
A Maori Maid’s Love was shot in August 1915, on location in Auckland and Rotorua, New Zealand. Now considered a lost film, its plot was described thusly in advance publicity:
“A surveyor named Graham makes the acquaintance of a Maori girl and becomes her lover. She is subsequently killed, leaving a little girl whom Graham, who is a married man, is unable to acknowledge as his own. However, he sees to her education, but ultimately is obliged to hand her over to Maori Jack. In the new home her life is unhappy, but the love interest enters. Most stirring scenes follow, and the picture is full of interest … there are an elopement, an abduction, and a fierce fight. In the end the Maori maid comes into her own.”
The film was praised for its pictorial beauty and its authentic scenes of Maori culture, including a striking traditional ‘poi’ dance. Several Maoris played secondary roles, including two women who played Lottie’s foster-sisters.
Longford had trouble finding a major company willing to screen his film. It was eventually handled by the small locally-based Eureka Film Exchange, which dealt mainly in patriotic Australian and British features and shorts. Longford had long accused the major distributors of deliberately excluding his product from mainstream exhibition. He would continue to expound such claims for the rest of his life. Aside from the Alhambra, A Maori Maid’s Love was only ever exhibited in regional cinemas, and failed to gain a release in New Zealand itself.
Though Longford dismissed the Alhambra as 'obscure’, the theatre’s proprietors, Hubert and Caroline Pugliese, were notable supporters of Australian film, later collaborating with Longford on the production The Church and the Woman (1917).
Reviews for A Maori Maid’s Love were not entirely positive. Sydney's Sunday Sun criticised the story as weak, and claimed the principal actors were poorly cast in their roles, even while describing it as 'unquestionably the best moving picture produced up to date at this end of the world’, and declaring that it compared favourably to overseas product.
Margaret did not make any note of the film’s supporting features, but advertisements reveal that they were the first two episodes of the serial The Black Box (1915). This detective drama, produced by Universal Pictures, starred Herbert Rawlinson as Sanford Quest, expert criminologist. No episode is known to exist today.
14th January 1916
Source: The Sun (Sydney), 26 December 1915
The Butterfly Margaret notes attending 'Barbara Tennant's 'Butterfly', Broadway Theatre, on the weekend of 14 January.
Not to be confused with Puccini's Madame Butterfly - a film adaptation of which Margaret saw later in the year - this Equitable Pictures-World Film Company five-reel production was based on a popular book by H.K. Webster. British-born actress Barbara Tennant played Elaine, a woman who is lured to a life on the stage by a sinister hunchback, played by the film's director, O. A. C. Lund. Gaining fame as a dancer, she becomes known as The Butterfly. A love triangle sets up a showdown between the hunchback and Elaine's lover John Butlers (Howard Estabrook). The production was filmed at the World Film Studios at Fort Lee, New Jersey and on location at Jacksonville, Florida, in order to capture authentic scenes at a local circus and an alligator farm, as well as sequences set in Egypt, where the story begins.
Reviews were not wholly positive. "As an emotional actress Miss Tennant has registered some notable successes, but she is too mature for the part of the young girl who is the heroine of this story," said Motion Picture News, which also found its labyrinthine plot difficult to follow. Nearly all, however, suggest that Tennant's Butterfly Dance was a highlight of the production. Photographs show that it was probably very similar in nature to the much-imitated Serpentine Dance, made famous by Loie Fuller, whose novelty and fluidity made it an ideal topic for the earliest moving pictures.
The Butterfly is a lost film.
Broadway Theatre (left) in the 1940s. Source: Cinema Treasures
The Broadway Theatre opened in June 1911 with a programme of short films and live entertainment, with an Australian film The Life of Rufus Dawe (1911), an adaptation of the novel For The Term of His Natural Life, amongst its initial offerings. Ultra-modern amenities included a sliding roof that could be removed to allow the room to be cooled on hot nights.
Sitting almost adjacent to her workplace at Grace Bros, it is quite possible that a teenage Margaret was amongst those who attended its opening night. Given its proximity to her home, it is surprising that she did not spend more time there, although the pace at which early movie houses were renovated, sometimes only a few years after their construction, suggests that audience soon expected more comfort and luxury as part of their night's entertainment.
After spending many years as a second run house, movies ceased at the Broadway in 1960. Following a fire that destroyed the original auditorium in 1972, it was repurposed as a live music venue, the Phoenician Club, which closed amidst controversial circumstances in the late 1990s. After sitting derelict for many years, it has since been converted into a shopfront, with its original ornamental arch recreated. It is thought to be Sydney's oldest surviving purpose built movie theatre.
15th January 1916
Source: Sunday Times (Sydney), 16 January 1916
So Long Letty (Stage Play) Margaret was back at the theatre on Saturday 15 January, attending J.C. Williamson’s production of Oliver Morosco’s hit musical, So Long Letty,which had opened on Boxing Day 1915. Reviews promised a good night’s entertainment, balancing effective performances with impressive stage effects such as ‘the remarkable spectacle of the 'Ladders of Roses,’ in which the flowers adorning the huge parallel ladders are formed by electric lights.’
According to the Sunday Times, the work of the play’s Australian leading lady, Dorothy Brunton, was a highlight: Miss DorothyBrunton, who is continually revealing some new ability, is excellently placed in the name-part — that of the smart, lively Letty, who spends her time in cabarets and feeds her husband (if at all) on doubtful sardines … Besides acting well, Miss Brunton appears to advantage both in humorous and sentimental songs.
Though So Long Letty was one of her first major roles, Dorothy was well on the way to becoming one of Australia’s leading stars of the musical stage, retaining her popularity until her retirement in the mid 1930s. Later in 1916, she would make her only silent film, J.C. Williamson’s screen adaptation of the stage play Seven Keys to Baldpate. Local mogul F. W. Thring would later attempt to promote her as a major star of sound film, but she was only able to make one, Clara Gibbings (1934), before Thring’s untimely death put an end to her ambitions. She moved to London soon afterwards.
This production was particularly notable for its high proportion of Australian performers, who aside from Brunton included Marie Eaton, Cecil Bradley and Madge Elliott. “Australian talent is at last being exploited to some purpose by the astute J.C. Williamson management,” noted Sydney’s The Newsletter approvingly.
Indeed, the popularity of the vivacious Brunton made audiences and reviewers wonder why the company had gone to the trouble of importing former London Gaiety Girl Connie Ediss as the show’s presumptive star. "Dorothy Brunton … puts a very big claim for the Australian made article,“ said the Freeman’s Journal. "Like a meteor she has rushed along the way which leads to success, and is now easily first favourite with the public in musical comedy,” adding that Ms Ediss, while still appealing, was somewhat faded: “sans voice, sans figure, sans almost everything.”
So Long Letty nevertheless proved a major success in Sydney. Aside from returning for another successful Sydney stage run in 1920, the play was twice adapted for the screen, with the original Letty, Broadway star Charlotte Greenwood, reprising her role for the 1929 film version.
Margaret must have enjoyed the play a great deal, as she went to see it again in April, when it was in the last weeks of a smash four-month season.
19th January 1916
Source: Sunday Times (Sydney), 9 January 1916
The New Exploits of Elaine
Having seen The Clutching Hand, Margaret now enjoyed an episode of its sequel, The New Exploits of Elaine, at the Audley Picture Palace on the 19th of January, was a ten-part serial, starring Arnold Daly as the ‘scientific detective’ Craig Kennedy, and Pearl White as the plucky orphan Elaine Dodge, whose adventures in locating the notorious criminal known only as The Clutching Hand formed the basis of the earlier series.
In the new series, the Clutching Hand has been defeated, though not before hiding a seven million dollar stash. Will Craig and Pearl find it? Not if the notorious Wu-Fang and his Chinese criminal gang can help it. It is not clear what episode Margaret saw, though it is likely to have been the first episode, The Serpent Sign.
It seemed that the predictions of the death of the serial genre were premature. Not only was The New Exploits of Elaine shown in its original two-reel, ten episode format, but the cliffhanger nature of the serial was emphasised in advertisements carrying information of different theatres that hosted the serial on different days of the week, so a patron could catch up on missed episodes. On 9 February, Margaret notes having seen another episode at the Audley Theatre, so perhaps she too saw most or all of the serial.
Advertisements promised that the New Exploits of Elaine was the best Pearl White serial yet, but we have no way of knowing, as no episode is known to exist today.
Source: State Library of NSW
The Audley Picture Palace was a reasonably obscure suburban theatre that was not close to her home, and yet it was Margaret’s favourite venue during 1916. The reason becomes clear when taking into account its location on New Canterbury Road, Petersham - only a few streets away from 'Clovelly’ on Brighton Street, the home of her husband-to-be, Fred.
Though a permanent theatre was not erected until 1912, the site had been used since the very earliest days of film as a 'picture resort’ - an outdoor theatre, to which a roof was added only in 1911. There is some evidence that the outdoor and indoor portions continued to operate simultaneously, the former as Petersham Pictures and the latter as the Audley Picture Palace.
The theatre went by many names in its earliest days, including Waddington’s Elite, and Queens Theatre. Although it underwent extensions in 1917, it was already considered outmoded within a few years. It was replaced by a new, larger building in 1921, and renamed the Majestic Theatre. The building still exists; like several of Sydney’s extant suburban cinemas, it has recently been converted into apartments.
21st January 1916
Source: Sunday Times (Sydney), 2 January 1916
Twin Beds (stage play)
By late January, Margaret had worked her way through all of the season’s best reviewed stage plays, the last of which was Twin Beds, playing at the Criterion Theatre.
Twin Beds was a comedy farce whose plot concerned a young couple who move to a new flat, unaware that an identical flat owned by a tenor next door also has an identical bed. Inevitably, the wrong people end up in the wrong beds, and hilarity ensues.
Given its theme and the fact that ‘the principal performers spend most of their time on the stage clad in pyjamas or “nighties,” as one critic said, Twin Beds was considered quite risqué. The Anglican Archbishop of Sydney could not get past its poster, depicting a couple in bed together, and nominated the play itself as an example of the growing debasement of Sydney’s theatre scene. There was also a note of coolness in the review given by the Catholic Press:
Twin Beds, with its farcical and absurd situations and coarse suggestions, persists at the Criterion, The success of the piece is chiefly owing to the strong cast, and to the fact that special interest attaches to the two principals, Mr. Hale Hamilton and Miss Myrtle Tannehill.
Producers J.C. Williamson were quick to deny the charges of immorality, using the fact that the play was written by a woman, former actress Margaret Mayo, as part of their defence! If Margaret Higgins was bothered by its content, she certainly did not mention it. Hale Hamilton and Myrtle Tannehill were a real-life married couple, and Twin Beds was just one of a number of plays that popularised them to Australian audiences. Alas, their marriage would soon break down in great acrimony. Hamilton went on to a long career in films, including the role of Tom Buchanan in The Great Gatsby (1926).
Source: Dictionary of Sydney
The Criterion Theatre was a mainstay of the Sydney theatre scene, having opened in 1886 and since become one of the city’s most prestigious venues, hosting everyone from Dion Boucicault to the American star Fred Niblo, who had spent much of the decade in Australia.
Just as Margaret was seeing Twin Beds, Niblo’s first film, an Australian adaptation of his Criterion stage hit Get-Rich-Quick Wallingford, was making its debut in Sydney. Less than a decade later, and now with dozens of films under his belt, he would produce his most famous film, Ben-Hur (1925).
The Criterion was demolished in 1935 during the widening of Park Street, and was partially replaced by the still extant Criterion Hotel. The neighbouring building on the opposite corner remained easily recognisable until its demolition in early 2018.
22nd January 1916
Source: Wikimedia Commons
A Mary Pickford Double
On 22 January, Margaret went to not one but two features - both starring 'the girl with the curls', Mary Pickford: Cinderella and The Dawn of Tomorrow.
Margaret’s family recalled that'Little Mary' was amongst her favourite of all stars, and she was not alone - The Mirror of Australia’s 1915 readers’ poll not only named her their top female dramatic star, but their third favourite girl star of comedies, behind Mabel Normand and Fay Tincher.
The extraordinary thing to note is that both Mary Pickford and Mabel Normand were relatively new names to the Australian public. How could this be?
The answer is intriguing. When Pickford made her debut with the early production company, Biograph, the company were not keen to publicise the names of their actors, fearful of the formation of an expensive star system like that seen in the theatre. Nevertheless, the public soon clamoured to know the identities of their established favourites.
In response, British publicists made up their own names for all of the stars that Biograph refused to publicise. Mary Pickford was known as either ‘Dolly Nicholson’ or 'Dorothy Nicholson’. Her co-star and husband, Owen Moore, was called Bob Gorman. Mabel Normand was known as Muriel Fortesque. Blanche Sweet was Daphne Wayne. Mack Sennett was Walter Terry, and so on. It was not until Mary signed her contract with Adolph Zukor’s Famous Players company that her true identity was revealed.
The situation gave rise to some bizarre stories. Some skeptical fans compared the performances of Dolly and Mary and, while conceding their physical similarity, concluded that they were definitely not the same person! "Mary Pickford started her stage career in Australia,” asserted another article. “Mary came from Dunedin, N.Z., where she attained some prominence as an amateur under her correct name, Dolly Nicholson. Dad being interested in the fruit industry, the family migrated to California.” Even as late as 1916, Australian advertisements occasionally continued to refer to her as 'Mary Pickford (Dolly Nicholson)’.
Source: Sunday Times (Sydney), 16 January 1916
The Dawn of A Tomorrow
The Dawn of A Tomorrow contains all the elements of what would later be regarded the quintessential Pickford film. Based on a novel and stage adaptation by Frances Hodgson Burnett, who would provide Little Mary with a number of properties including A Little Princess, Little Lord Fauntleroy and Esmeralda, Pickford plays Glad, a London street urchin whose winsome nature inspires the capital's cleverest criminal to reform and the richest man in the world not only to renounce his initial plan to commit suicide, but to dedicate himself to the benefit of his fellow man. Slim as it was, the storyline was carried by Pickford's persuasive charisma.
"The situations of the story alternate throughout the production between the pathetic and the happy. Touches of real comedy crop out here and there, and touches that bring tears to the eyes. The simple faith that Glad holds in God, her belief in prayer and her unconscious discrimination of what is right and what is wrong … unite to make the picture an almost unequalled attraction," said Motion Picture News. It might have sufficed as a description of any one of a dozen of Pickford's subsequent features, up to and including Sparrows (1926) a decade later. Still, a formula triumphs because it is well liked. "Pickford is given full reign with her tattered garments and in rags can do considerable before a camera," observed Variety. The film had already been shown for a week at Waddington's flagship Strand and Majestic Theatres, but was held over at the nearby Grand Theatre due to popular demand.
Source: Sunday Times (Sydney), 16 January 1916
Mary Pickford’s Cinderella was already two years old by the time Margaret saw it on January 22nd 1916. It was originally produced as a Christmas attraction for 1914, and it is quite likely that it was held back from the Australian market until the holiday season.
Cinderella was the main attraction for the opening of the newly remodelled Strand Theatre on Pitt St, Sydney, but was also showing at the Majestic Theatre at Hyde Park. Margaret does not record which of the theatres she attended. Both were owned by Waddingtons, an early theatre chain whose holdings also included the extant Globe Theatre on George Street.
Reviewers judged Cinderella an ideal vehicle for Pickford’s talents, as well as a welcome modernisation of a favourite old tale. "It has been so enriched in the film version, so many new features have been artistically blended with the old … the romance of the handsome and courageous prince with the little maid of the cinders is so originally and exquisitely portrayed, that the picture promises to be as great a treat with the grown-ups as with the children,“ reported Moving Picture World.
While the Majestic Theatre and Strand Theatre are both long gone, The Dawn of a Tomorrow and Cinderella are the first of the feature-length films Margaret saw in 1916 that still exists today. The former is preserved in a Swedish archive, while the second is widely available.
The 1914 Cinderella is revealed as a lavish production, whose fantasy elements are anchored in reality by Pickford’s naturalistic performance. Even at this early stage, Pickford helps to disprove the cliché of silent film acting as artificial and overwrought. Mary’s Prince Charming is Owen Moore, the fellow actor who had become her husband in 1911. 1916 would prove to be the fateful year in which a flirtation between Mary and a handsome young actor, Douglas Fairbanks, would develop into one of filmdom’s greatest romances.
24th January 1916
Source: The Sun, 9 January 1916
The Morals of Marcus
On Friday January 24th, Margaret roused herself from a cold to attend Famous Players-Lasky's The Morals of Marcus, starring Marie Doro. It is likely that she saw it at the Audley Theatre.
Based on a popular novel that had inspired a hit play, Doro reprised the role of Carlotta, an English girl who is orphaned in Turkey, which she had made famous onstage. Brought up in a harem, she refuses a marriage arranged by her Turkish foster father Hamdi (Russell Bassett) and escapes to London. Here, she meets the bookish Marcus Ordeyne (Eugene Ormonde), who is captivated by the unconventional, childlike Carlotta. With Hamdi in close pursuit and disdainful relatives scorning his growing regard for the harem girl, he must decide whether to shelter her or turn her over to Hamdi.
Despite the potentially melodramatic subject matter, reviewers were reasonably kind to both the film and to Doro. "Marie Doro photographs well … the story is a pretty and interesting one, and the Famous Players Company has been able to put into it much of the atmosphere of the Orient," reported Motography. "The picturesque oddity and originality of the charming play is further illumined by the sweet wistfulness and captivating personality of Miss Doro," continued Moving Picture World, which called it 'a mighty fine picture.'
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Marie Doro was one of many actresses mooted as a successor to Mary Pickford. With her enormous dark eyes and slight figure, she was an ethereal figure who seemed ideally suited to films. And yet, she had made her success on the stage, and was for many years associated with William Gillette, with whom she co-starred in his iconic theatrical version of Sherlock Holmes.
Her switch to the screen was made reluctantly. Though placed under personal contract to Paramount Pictures/Famous Players-Lasky head Adolph Zukor in November 1914, it was not for over a year, following the sudden death of her promoter Charles Frohman, who was aboard the Luisitania when it was torpedoed by a German submarine in 1915, that she made her screen debut. Paying a record $10,000 per week to retain the services of Mary Pickford and realising he may not be able to afford to keep her much longer (she would depart his studio in 1918), Zukor was keen to build a stable of potential successors. Exhibitors were likewise pleased with the prospect of another figure as popular as Mary. Sydney media played up the comparison, calling her 'Mary Pickford's Greatest Rival For The World's Honour' and asking audiences 'Is Marie Better than Mary?'
Clearly, Mary retained her mantle as 'The World's Sweetheart', but to dismiss Doro as simply a Pickford pretender is to neglect her own formidable and distinctive charm, which is on show in one of her few surviving features, Castles for Two (1917), shown several years ago at the Cinecon Classic Film Festival.
The Morals of Marcus, like virtually all of Doro's other films, is no longer extant.
26th January 1916
Source: Sunday Times (Sydney), 26 December 1916
Should A Wife Forgive?
Former Ziegfeld Follies star Lillian Lorraine was the main attraction in what was described as a ‘sex problem film,' Should A Wife Forgive?, which Margaret saw at the Audley Theatre on January 26. The film was an early work by director Henry King, who would go on to a distinguished Hollywood career, and here played the key role of the weak-willed husband who found himself seduced away from his loving wife by a vampish cabaret dancer known simply as La Belle Rose, and is later implicated in her death.
Since the smash success of A Fool There Was (1915) the previous year, the 'vamp’ film had evolved into an entire genre. Reports from America suggest a note of novelty was introduced in this one: in an intertitle, the audience itself was asked to answer the question posed by the film’s story. Should the husband be found guilty, or should he be forgiven? Differences between Australian and American reviews suggest that the version Margaret saw may have been considerably bowdlerised for local release.
As La Belle Rose, Lorraine’s character was described in one review as 'a gypsy trollop with a heart that is cold and calculating in a voluptuous body’. Theda Bara had established the stock figure of the vamp: exotic, seductive, fascinating, liberated; the possessor of a cold heart and eccentric habits, such as adding perfume to her tea.
Lillian Lorraine would have been seen as an ideal candidate to follow in Theda’s footsteps. She had been a favourite of Florenz Ziegfeld - far more than just a favourite, according to several of the impresario’s subsequent wives - and her reputation as a heartbreaker filled many a newspaper column. Until Should A Wife Forgive? her film appearances had mainly been restricted to serials, such as Neal of the Navy. Her offscreen behaviour was rumoured to be erratic, and though she was named a WAMPAS Baby Star of 1922, she made her final film that year.
Moving Picture World judged Should A Wife Forgive? 'very good work done on a subject not of the highest.’ Criticising the character of the husband as an “outline of a type, rather than a type - whose inner heart is not shown to us,” it instead reserved its praise for Mabel Van Buren’s more understated performance as the wronged wife: “If Miss Van Buren’s work is not so "artistic” as Miss Lorraine’s, it is much more pleasing. It rings true emotionally and is full of dignity.“ Should A Wife Forgive? survives in a film archive, a rare remaining product of Long Beach’s Balboa Studios. Once a flourishing concern known as 'Hollywood by the Beach’, Balboa had closed by 1918, at around the same time that many of film’s earliest companies were either dying out or being consolidated into larger studios.
27th January 1916
Source: Moving Picture World, 27 March 1915
The Siren's Reign
Perhaps Should A Wife Forgive? gave Margaret a taste for vamp-themed films - the very next day she saw another, Siren’s Reign. The film was produced by the New York-based Kalem company, in response to the popularity of yet another proto-Vamp film, The Vampire (1913).
Motography provided a summary of Siren’s Reign, a film which appears not to have survived:
Upon the death of her brother, Marguerite Morrison (Anna Q. Nilsson) takes his place as a member of the firm of Blake & Morrison. She secretly loves Blake (Harry Millarde), but he is blinded by the beauty of Grace (Alice Hollister), a chorus girl, and marries her. A year passes and the firm is in financial difficulties, due to Grace’s extravagance. Even her child does not interest her.
Grace soon returns to the stage, and begins an affair with another man. Openly taunted when he confronts her, Blake strangles Grace in a fit of rage, and prepares to commit suicide. As Marguerite arrives, the dying Blake at last learns of her love for him, and entrusts his orphaned child to her care.
The contrasting roles of Marguerite and Grace make for an interesting commentary on the changing role of women in the early 20th century. Modern women had begun to step outside their traditional roles as mothers and caregivers, making forays into academia and business.
Like Marguerite, Margaret was a high ranking staff member at a busy factory. Several times during 1916, she proudly records being praised for her versatility at work. However, she also mentions being the prey of an office pest, who ‘undoes my hair, etc’. Many men of the time would have felt threatened by the presence of an attractive and smart young woman in their workplace.
The vamp represented the most paranoid reaction to such trends: the fear that the liberated woman may one day strike man from his 'natural’ position at the head of society. Actresses such as Grace were particularly mistrusted: it was their job, after all, to deceive; to affect to romance many different men, and to live outside convention. Such societal pressures ensured that Margaret’s family would never permit her to pursue a stage career of her own, though she often performed in amateur and charity events.
Exactly where or how Margaret saw Siren’s Reign is a mystery. It had first been released in Sydney more than half a year earlier, and had since toured to regional areas. One of the many smaller suburban cinemas that did not advertise in metropolitan newspapers must have hosted this showing, possibly the nearby Glebe Theatre.
Source: Screenland, February 1923
Though Alice Hollister is not as well known today as Theda Bara, she became so synonymous with vamp roles that she was described in 1916 press as 'the original vampire woman’. It was the other lead actress that Margaret took note of in her diary: Anna Nilsson, later better known as Anna Q. Nilsson. Nilsson, a Swedish emigre, played her first role in Molly Pitcher (1911), going on to become one of Kalem’s most popular leading ladies. She retained her popularity well into the later 1920s, but a serious horse riding injury and the arrival of sound film restricted her later work to character parts.
Some 35 years after she had played Marguerite, Anna would take her place alongside fellow silent veterans Buster Keaton and H. B. Walthall as Norma Desmond’s bridge partners, dismissed by William Holden’s Joe Gillis as 'waxworks’, in Sunset Boulevard (1950).
28th January 1916
Source: Sydney Morning Herald, 26 January 1916
For the 28th of January, Margaret simply notes that she saw ‘some cinema news’ at the Empress Theatre. Whether she didn’t stay for the remainder of the program or didn’t feel it worthy of remarking upon, we don’t know, though she was usually very vocal when she wasn’t impressed by what she saw. Presuming she did remain for the whole program, the main feature she saw was a Selig two-reeler film that was advertised as Shadows of the Shade but was actually named The Shadow and the Shade.
Though Moving Picture World provided a detailed summary, Pictures and the Picturegoer captured the essence of The Shadow and the Shade very succinctly: 'How a silhouette at a window makes it appear to a jealous husband that a faithful wife is in another man’s room,’ adding that they considered it 'an unusually strong subject’. Though it was advertised as a 'special’, shorter films such as this would soon decline in importance as the full length feature film attained dominance. Neither of its stars, Lamar Johnstone and Stella Razetto, are well remembered today, though both were quite prolific. Although advertisements for the Empress Theatre often made note of which news items would be shown, the news that so interested Margaret remains a mystery for the moment.
Source: Picture Palace Architecture of Australia - Ross Thorne.
The Empress Theatre was part of a series of theatres on George Street Sydney that was so dense it was known as 'the Picture Block’. It also included the Lyric Theatre, the Colonial, and the Crystal Palace. All four were operated by the early film mogul, J.D. Williams. By 1916, Williams had returned to his native America, where he was a founding member of First National Pictures, the pioneering production company that was later absorbed into Warner Brothers. Originally known as the Colonial Number 2, the Empress received its new name in 1913. In 1939, it was given a stunning Art Deco remodelling. Known for many years as the Victory and later the Rapallo, it was demolished in 1984 to construct the immense complex of modern cinemas which is today all that remains of Sydney’s busiest cinema district.