The Devil's Toy was a strange choice for Margaret's entertainment during the first week of June. It was screening at the Enmore Theatre, and we might speculate that she had arrived expecting to see the Triangle-Fine Arts feature The Lily and the Rose, starring Lillian Gish, which had been the theatre's main feature until the previous day and would seem to be much more suited to her tastes.
The Devil's Toy, based on a poem by Edward Madden, was a ghoulish and rather far-fetched Faustian tale. Montagu Love played talentless artist Wilfred, whose lust for fame, love and wealth inspires him to sell his soul to the devil. The devil, played by Edwin Stevens - who, improbably, had become famous playing the same character onstage - obliges him to murder an elderly uncle for an inheritance, and to commit brilliant but sickly young artist Paul La France to a sanatorium so he can exhibit the man's art as his own. Naturally, Wilfred's aspirations do not work out as planned. The young artist's former model Helen, played by stage actress Adele Blood - her real name, but an apt one given the subject matter - recognises La France's artwork and detecting the source of Wilfred's temptation, deliberately leads him on a road to ruin. In a particularly macabre ending, Wilfred meets his fate when he is accidentally entombed in the same vault in which he had stashed his uncle's body.
Though produced by the short-lived Premo Film Corporation, started by future MGM producer Harry Rapf, The Devil's Toy was released by Equitable-World Films, who would have found it a good fit alongside such unusual and allegorical productions as The Dragon and The Warning, to which The Devil's Toy was frequently compared in advertising. Like those productions, ample use was made of special effects such as double exposure, allowing the devil to periodically appear and disappear to tempt Wilfred.
American reviewers generally admired the production. Both Motion Picture News and Moving Picture World, which had recently taken many recent five-reel productions to task for padding out slim stories, let it slide in this case, as the padding included especially picturesque ice-skating sequences shot at the Biltmore Ice Gardens. Many critics predicted a major film career for Adele Blood, 'whose remarkable blonde beauty photographs wonderfully well on the screen', according to Variety. In fact, she would make only one other film, The Riddle: Woman (1920).
Australian reviewers seemed not to know what to make of this curious picture, whose lead actors were not familiar to local audiences. "Neither epoch-making nor weak," was The Sun's dubious conclusion. Instead, they took particular note of the participation of Dion Titherage. Like many early film performers, he had been seen on Sydney stages in recent years, and may have acted as an inducement for Australian audiences to see him on the silver screen.
The Devil's Toy is thought to be a lost film.
7th June 1916
Source: Sunday Times (Sydney), 28 May 1916
Great naval battle in North Sea reported, writes Margaret on Monday 5 June, indicating that she had probably just read the lead story of the previous day’s Sydney Morning Herald, which began:
“A great naval battle between the British and German fleets occurred off the coast of Jutland, Denmark, on Wednesday afternoon.”
This was the Battle of Jutland, the largest naval battle of World War I, and one in which many Australians participated. It was a contentious battle and remains so today, with opinions divided on which side won the greater tactical advantage. Nearly 10,000 sailors lost their lives in the battle, out of over 70,000 who participated. Such tragic figures were not uncommon at this stage of a dreadful war.
Margaret had more heartening things to think about on Wednesday, when she saw the five-reel Cora at the Piccadilly Theatre, which she described as “a good picture”. According to the Sunday Times, the storyline was as follows:
Cora, the daughter of a fallen operatic artist, being left destitute and taken care of by an artist's model and being compelled to earn her living, also becomes a model. The artist falls in love with his beautiful model. Then comes the jealously of her rival, who plans her downfall, but fails through the devotion of the lover. A most exciting scene is shown in the last part — a fight between the lover and the rival.
The star of the piece was the beautiful EmilyStevens, the Broadway stage actress who was most famous for her portrayal of the title role of Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler. She was a cousin of the celebrated stage diva Minnie Maddern Fiske and, similar in appearance and acting style, was anticipated to be her natural successor.
Cora, made by the Rolfe Film Corporation for Metro Pictures, represented Emily’s film debut. All signs pointed to a glittering future. “Emily Stevens as ’Cora‘ stands alone,” reported the Sunday Times. Photoplay’s Adela Rogers St John named her amongst such exalted personalities as Eleanora Duse and Ellen Terry. Despite such anticipation, Emily remained in the movie industry for only five years. Making an inglorious return to the theatre in the early 1920s, her overwrought style was now seen as out of date. Reports attributed her death in 1928 to pneumonia, exacerbated by 'an overdose of medicinal narcotics’.
Alongside the main feature was shown the customary Australasian Gazette, a short entitled 'Australian Recruits in the Making,’ and a episode of an exotic six-part serial, The Purple Iris. The star, Ola Humpreys, had been briefly but sensationally married to a real life member of the Turkish nobility, Ibrahim Hassan, fleeing only after he insisted on her adoption of a strict Islamic lifestyle. The series was hyped as an essentially autobiographical tale of 'real life in a harem’.
Viewers of the serial were reminded of Humphries’ extensive appearances on the Sydney stage only a few years earlier, touring with the Charles Waldron Company’s production of The Squaw Man. It is very likely that either Margaret or Fred - or both - saw this production, as their son inherited from them a number of souvenir postcards from the show. The Purple Iris, known in America as Under the Crescent, is thought to be entirely lost, though a novelisation by the pioneering actor-screenwriter Nell Shipman gives a good impression of what it was like.
13th June 1916
Source: Sunday Times (Sydney), 28 May 1916
"Syd Saw 'It Pays To Advertise'" Margaret was very busy during the early part of June, several times staying back at work after hours, or coming in to work on a Sunday. Before she knew it, another nasty cold had begun to take hold. This, combined with another late evening, might have been why she did not accompany Fred’s brother Syd to a performance of It Pays To Advertise, which was playing at the Criterion Theatre. The play marked the return of Hale Hamilton and Myrtle Tannehill, whom Margaret had seen earlier in the year in Twin Beds.
The Sunday Times suggests that Margaret missed a good night’s entertainment: “It Pays to Advertise is a comedy that is responsible for more hearty laughter than has been heard at the Criterion Theatre for a long time. This play has many moments of unadulterated farce, but it bubbles on unconcernedly from one act to another, carrying the audience with it by reason of the droll sayings and the infectious humor of the situations.”
Featured in a small role was Nancye Stewart, daughter of two of the Australian theatrical world’s most prominent figures: the legendary actress Nellie Stewart, sometimes described as Australia’s Sarah Bernhardt, and George Musgrove, the theatrical promoter who had passed away earlier in the year. Nancye’s career would extend well into the 1960s, and extend to radio and television.
It Pays To Advertise, a satire on the modern advertising industry, provided material for two films - a silent in 1919, and a sound film in 1931, which is today best known for providing Carole Lombard with one of her earliest sound roles, and Louise Brooks with one of her last.
14h June 1916
It had been a while since Margaret had seen one of the prized Triangle Pictures productions about which the Sydney media were making such a fuss. 'Good Society Is Now Patronising the Lyceum', boasted one Triangle Photoplays advertisement. 'Triangle Photoplays never insult the intelligence nor offend the conventions. Screen entertainment as it should be.' She broke the drought on 14 June, watching Thomas Ince's Aloha-Oe.
The title, based on the famous song whose title means 'Until We Meet Again' - and which appears to have enjoyed a brief vogue when the film was released - featured Willard Mack, playing high-powered San Francisco attorney David Harmon. Driven to drink by the stresses of trial in which he strives to acquit a woman of murder, he is bundled on to a ship bound for Hawaii by concerned friends.
Thoughts of a restorative holiday are soon banished when the ship is wrecked, and he ends up on an island somewhere in Polynesia. After rescuing native girl Kalaniweo (Enid Markey) from being sacrificed by being thrown into a volcano, he is worshipped as a god. Clean living amongst the native Hawaiians cures his drinking habit and he returns to so-called civilization, serenaded by the song Aloha-Oe. Ultimately, 'civilization' proves less attractive than he remembered, and the call of Hawaii - and of Kalaniweo - wins out.
Ince was considered a particularly skilled director of action and crowd sequences, and Aloha-Oe featured plenty - the storm that causes the shipwreck, an earthquake, and a lava flow which destroys a mountainside. Harmon's rescue of Kalaniweo was reportedly shot on location in Hawaii at an actual volcano amidst perilous conditions, the strong sulphur fumes nearly asphyxiating the lead actors with. Astonishingly, it was not the first time leading lady Enid Markey had been in such a situation. While filming The Wrath of the Gods (1914), she was reported to have been badly injured in a similar scene, requiring several months to cover. Nor was it the last action-girl role the Denver-born Markey would play. Within a few years she had become Tarzan's first-ever screen Jane.
However, it was the powerful court scenes of the early sequences which gained the most praise, reported to have drawn spontaneous applause amonst some Sydney audiences. "It has a criminal court scene pronounced the finest ever shown on any stage; it unfolds a tense story, is highly spectacular throughout, and incidentally conveys a strong temperance lesson," said The Sun, which admired the court sequence more than the more improbable scenario that followed it and was not the only publication to see Aloha-Oe almost as two films in one. Many reviews singled out how cleverly Ince had integrated the two sections despite being so distinct in mood and content. "The story is cleverly told, the production is charming in its detail, whilst the action of the piece is brisk and gripping in its intensity," reported the Daily Telegraph. Sydney advertisements promised that the film was 'Thomas Ince at his best,' and Margaret agreed, describing it as 'lovely'. It is a lost film.
Margaret seems to have made no mention of supporting features unless they made a particular impact upon her. In this case, they were the Keystone comedy The Bright Lights, a parody of the current vogue for girl-in-trouble films starring comedienne Mabel Normand, and the final episode of the third 'Elaine' serial, The Romance of Elaine.
26th June 1916
Source: Sunday Times (Sydney), 28 May 1916
Martha's Vindication Like Let Katy Do It, which Margaret is likely to have seen earlier in the year, Martha’s Vindication was a five-reel Triangle Picture, directed by the Franklin brothers, though with D.W. Griffith’s name again featured prominently in advertisements despite his actual participation being minimal. Once again, Margaret saw it at the Audley Theatre.
Martha’s Vindication was the tale of two best friends, the virtuous Martha (Norma Talmadge) and the intransigent Dorothea (Seena Owen). When Dorothea gives birth out of wedlock, Martha promises to keep the secret. Some years later, Martha is accused of being the actual mother, and Dorothea, now married, refuses to admit to the truth. Martha becomes the subject of a moral witch-hunt before the truth is revealed.
TheMirror of Australia called it “one of the best and most enjoyable pictures yet shown by Triangle. The story works up to a fine, gripping climax in the last reel, which keeps excitement at high pitch." Moving Picture World noted that the story, while complex, was skilfully wrought - a great advantage when many features suffered from being padded out to the length that audiences now demanded - but Motion Picture News considered that it relied too heavily on intertitles to spell out its story, an indication that the art of feature film writing still had some way to go.
It seems that the film had much in common with Lois Weber’s The Hypocrites, Moving Picture World noting that it contained ”a strong undercurrent of protest against religious bigotry, particularly that of organisations which arrogate to themselves the privilege of making a superficial examination of the lives of members and of bringing about social destruction where social helpfulness would be more in accord with the spirit of Christianity.“
Sydney's Sunday Times considered the film ’superbly acted. It is a combination of many of the dramatic elements of Peggy and Tess of the Storm Country.’ Aside from Tully Marshall as the master of an orphanage and Josephine Crowell as his sanctimonious wife, two of the era’s loveliest stars appeared in the main roles of the two friends.
Seena Owen was born in Spokane, Washington of Danish and American parents. An unusually large number of future silent film stars lived in this area, and it was through one, director Marshall Neilan, that Seena gained her start in films. Later in 1916, she would make a notable appearance in the Babylonian sequences of D.W. Griffith’s follow-up to Birth of a Nation, Intolerance.
Source: Photoplay, February 1917
Norma Talmadge was widely considered one of the most beautiful women of the era, though it was not still photographs but moving pictures that showed her to her greatest advantage. This is ironic, because only a small proportion of Norma’s pictures survive today, and even fewer are widely available. Martha’s Vindication is another of her lost films.
By now, Triangle Pictures had established a policy of showing one film from each of its contributing producers on the same bill - a Mack Sennett comedy short, an Ince drama, and a Griffith romance. The notion of showing more than one feature on the same bill was quite revolutionary at the time, and yet it would become more popular in Australia than perhaps any other market.
Once the films moved to the suburban cinemas, only the Mack Sennett short was retained in support. It is likely that Sennett’s two-reel short, The Village Blacksmith, appeared alongside Martha’s Vindication as it showed in smaller cinemas. Either the Audley Theatre departed from this practice or Margaret did not think the film worth mentioning, as it does not appear in her diary.
19 April 1916
Source: Sunday Times (Sydney), 18 June 1916
The cold Margaret had contracted earlier in the month proved hard to shake. With a new system of accounting to be introduced at the brushwork factory, she managed to drag herself in to work, but ended up spending several days bedridden with bronchitis.
To celebrate her emergence from the sickroom, Margaret attended Mary Pickford’s Esmeralda at the Globe Theatre. She mistakenly records it in her diary as Esmeralda's Circus of Death, conflating it with another heavily promoted film, the Italian thrill drama The Circus of Death, which was showing at the same time.
Esmeralda was one of a number of Pickford’s films that were based on works by Frances Hodgson Burnett, author of The Little Princess and The Secret Garden. Famous Players-Lasky reported having received many requests to transform Esmeralda, a popular stage play, into a starring vehicle for ‘Little Mary’.
The rags-to-riches storyline of Esmeralda was cautionary rather than aspirational. When valuable ore is discovered on her family farm, Esmeralda’s mother (Ida Waterman) begins to scorn their former life. Rather than see her marry her humble childhood sweetheart, David (Charles Waldron), the mother claims that he has died, and instead pairs her with a slimy and secretly impoverished Count. David discovers the ruse on Esmeralda’s wedding day, and a dramatic confrontation ensues.
It seems that Esmeralda was emblematic of the difficult transition from shorts to feature films. Several critics noted the thinness of the story - it took four reels to tell but, according to one critic, might easily have been compressed into one - while Variety felt the film ended abruptly and without a proper resolution.
It is possible that audiences were expected to be so familiar with the source material that the subtleties of the plot need not be spelt out - a relatively common practice at the time, and one which can make some early features difficult to follow today. In any case, Variety concluded that "Esmeralda as a feature picture could be called as of the old school. Feature picture making has passed beyond it.“
As was so often the case, it was the charismatic presence of Mary Pickford that lifted Esmeralda above the realms of the average. "Such a sympathetic characterisation does Miss Pickford render in the title role that Esmeralda and Little Mary will forever appear as one in our eyes,” said Motion Picture News. Audiences seemed unconcerned with any deficiencies in filmic technique; Moving Picture World reported that attendances at its initial season at New York’s Strand Theatre were second only to Pickford’s first enormous feature hit, Tess of the Storm Country (1914).
Though Margaret does not mention it, Esmeralda shared a bill with a comedy short, Charlie Chaplin's Burlesque on Carmen, with Chaplin’s longtime leading lady Edna Purviance making a parody of the role that Margaret had so recently seen Theda Bara play.
Though she once considered destroying her older films in the fear that they may appear out-dated, Mary Pickford was ultimately a scrupulous stewardess of her own work, meaning that the vast majority of her feature films are still extant in good copies. Sadly, Esmeralda is a notable exception, the last known copy having been lost to decomposition during the 1950s.