"Saw Louise Lovely with Fred." Margaret must have enjoyed Louise Lovely’s first appearance with Universal’s Blue Bird Photoplays, as she rushed out to see her second release, The Grip of Jealousy, as early as possible - this time bringing along her fiancée, Fred.
The film told the story of the feuding Grants and Moreys, one family from the American North, and the other from the South. Pretty Southerner Virginia Grant (Louise Lovely) falls in love with Jack Morey (Colin Chase). They are secretly married; tragically, Virginia dies in childbirth and the child is raised by the family’s slaves, under the belief that it she actually the child of a slave and her brutal owner, Silas Lacey (Lon Chaney). As the girl grows into a beautiful young woman, there is a complicated battle both over her actual parentage and her hand in marriage.
It is difficult to say how the sensitive racial issues would have played out, except to say that in keeping with conventions of the time, there were no black actors in the cast, the roles being played by white actors in blackface. This included several members of the Belasco family, the famous thespian clan led by David Belasco, who had elevated one Gladys Marie Smith - later Mary Pickford - to stage stardom. The Mirror of Australia considered that while her role provided Louise with a good opportunity to demonstrate her abilities, ’the story is ordinary in theme but good in construction.’ Moving Picture World, while hailing its high production quality and a powerful performance by Lon Chaney, also expressed reservations: “There is effective characterisation and not a few of the scenes are given a thoroughly artistic presentation; but the picture in its entirely is likely to leave a vague, rather unsatisfactory impression … the many characters are likely to become confused, an unfortunate circumstance that must discount the effect of scenes very well handled, if considered individually.”
Lon Chaney made a second appearance alongside Louise, as did Hayward Mack, a tall and handsome character actor who had been prolific since the early 1910s, but is little known today. His career still appeared to be going strong as he entered the next decade, which makes the reason that he chose to drink poison at his home near Lafayette Park, Los Angeles on Christmas Eve in 1921 all the more mysterious. He was 39 years old.
Along with the Grip of Jealousy as the main feature, there was the now familiar series of sweeteners - an episode of a serial, The Broken Coin, written by and starring Grace Cunard; a Henry Lehrman comedy short Caught on a Skyscraper, which no doubt contained the hair-raising thrill sequences for which Lehrman was already famous, and a war short, entitled Scientific Warfare. As with The Grip of Jealousy, all of these films are thought to be lost.
Source: 'Who's Who On The Screen', 1919
While The Grip of Jealousy was the second of Louise’s films to be shown in Sydney, it was actually the first released in America, and its marketing indicates the extent to which the actress’ persona had been carefully constructed. “Bluebird Creates New Film Star,” boasted America’s Moving Picture World, in explaining that Universal’s Joseph de Grasse had noticed extraordinary potential in the girl who had initially worked at his studio as an extra.
For several years, Louise was one of Universal’s biggest stars, but a contract dispute meant she ended with the company on poor terms. She was never quite able to regain her former profile, and returned to Australia in the mid 1920s in order to give public lectures on the art of film-making, assist in a national talent spotting quest, and to begin her own local production company. Though her sole production Jewelled Nights (1925) was beautifully produced, it did not cover costs and proved to be her swan song.
Louise lived out her days in Tasmania, where her second husband, Bert Cowan, managed Hobart’s Prince of Wales Theatre. Few of the patrons who made their purchases from the little old lady who manned the refreshment stand might have realised that she had briefly been one of the world’s most beautiful and famous women
Source: Sunday Times (Sydney), 16 April 1916
The Haymarket Theatre was a brand new establishment which had opened earlier in the year, on 22 April. Aside from its nearly 2,000 seats, the new theatre boasted a dramatic electric sign, an innovation that was rapidly becoming more common. “It consists of two sprays of water, one on each side of the building, rising out of a fountain supported by two giant fish,” explained the Sunday Times. “The sprays arch inwards to the centre and fall into the words comprising the name of the theatre, emerging underneath in the form of huge drops,which fall splashing into a shallow trough.” The theatre would later have a unique connection with Australian cinema. Renamed the Civic in the early 1930s, it became for a brief time the only major cinema ever to show an exclusive program of Australian films. It was one of many George Street theatres demolished during the mid 1980s, rendered obsolete by the major multi-screen cinema development further up George Street. It is now the site of a shopping arcade.
6th September 1916
Source: Sunday Times (Sydney), 3 September 1916
The Golden Chance The Golden Chance, showing at the Globe Theatre on George Street, was Margaret’s choice of entertainment for the evening of 6 September. After two months of illness and uncertainty, she would resume her busy cinema-going schedule during September.
The ‘golden chance’ of the title referred to the prospects of a beautiful but downtrodden housewife (Cleo Ridgeley) who suddenly finds herself part of society life when she is brought in to substitute for an upper class woman at a dinner party. A rich bachelor (Wallace Reid) instantly falls in love with her, giving her a new opportunity not only for true love but for bettering herself. The chemistry between the two romantic leads was such that they were starred together in several more films.
Paramount Pictures, distributors for the Famous Players-Lasky production company, had by now firmly established itself in the Australian exhibition scene, and advertisements made liberal use of the excellent reviews it had received in America. According to Motion Picture News’ Peter Milne:
Superlatives are dangerous, particularly the overworked word 'best,’ and when employed to describe a Lasky picture the danger is even greater, for if we are inclined to say that such-and-such a picture is the best that Lasky has produced, next week there comes another even better — and better than best is— well, it’s The Golden Chance. It is difficult to draw a definite line between the merits of the story and the direction… The story carries with it a load of suspense that keeps the interest at high pitch every minute of the time.“
Moving Picture World’s Stephen Bush was similarly admiring:
"The gloss on all the superlatives has been worn off by the ruthless hand of the press agenda and superlatives after all are the only terms in which justice can be done to this picture … it is rich in dramatic material and replete with genuine pathos … it is bound to add to the prestige of the motion picture everywhere.”
Many reviews commented on how ideally the story was suited to the motion picture form, and the construction of its screenplay by Jeanie Macpherson was used as a case study in at least one screenwriting guide in later years. Director Cecil B. DeMille was himself so taken with the theme that he remade the story as Forbidden Fruit in 1921. During 1915, the year of The Golden Chance’s production, DeMille kept up an extraordinary pace. Not only did he produce thirteen features during the year, but made The Golden Chance back-to-back with The Cheat, filming the latter during the day and the former in the evening. Both films are extant today.
The critics may have hit the nail on the head when they judged that over-lavish praise was beginning to dull the public’s ability to tell genuine quality from ballyhoo. Margaret must have felt the same way, as she decided The Golden Chance was ’not up to expectations’
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Wallace Reid was one of the premier heart-throbs of the era, his persona clean-cut, cheerful and athletic. He had worked with a number of the pioneer companies before being one of the many popular actors to be signed by the burgeoning Paramount/Famous Players-Lasky. Eager to consolidate their growing stature in the industry, the company kept Reid, one of their major assets, very busy over the next few years.
While filming The Valley of the Giants (1919) in rural Oregon, Reid was injured in a train accident, and doctors prescribed morphine for chronic pain. As discussed earlier, morphine addiction was an emerging but still poorly understood phenomenon, and the methods to treat it could sometimes be little better than the addiction itself. Famous Players-Lasky kept Reid working as long as possible, but the world was shocked when the former matinee idol died in a rehabilitation facility in early 1923, at the age of 31. Though Reid had been no great hedonist, the stigma of addiction was such that his name was inevitably caught up with those of the victims of a number of other recent Hollywood scandals, including the mysterious death of rising star Virginia Rappé and the unsolved murder of directorWilliam Desmond Taylor, which exposed a seedy underbelly of drugs, drink and infidelity in the movie capital. Sadly, the talented Reid became irrevocably associated not with the outdoor life or a love of motor cars, as he had during his lifetime, but with the scourge of celebrity drug addiction.
9th September 1916
Source: Sunday Times (Sydney), 3 September 1916
"Saw Trip to New York"
The film that Margaret recorded as 'Trip to New York' was undoubtedly the early travelogue Greater New York, which was currently showing at the Crystal Palace. The film promised viewers the chance to 'spend a day and a night in the wonder city,' including everything from the poor tenement areas of Brooklyn, to Ellis Island, the New York Stock Exchange, Coney Island, and a stunning panorama from the roof of the newly constructed Woolworth Building, the city's first major skyscraper and the tallest building in the world. Given its obvious historical interest, the film's loss is particularly unfortunate.
Despite its exotic nature, Greater New York had strong Australian connections. Its director and producer was Charles Post Mason, an American-born former vaudevillian who had called Australia home since 1904. More recently, he had collaborated with local director Jack Gavin on the Australian-made hit of the previous year, The Martyrdom of Nurse Cavell.
Greater New York was considered sufficiently educational that children were granted a special concession rate if they attended during the day as part of a school group. Somewhat less educational was the supporting comedy , Mack Sennett's Hearts and Sparks (1916), though it would also have provided them with an unlikely introduction to a future star: Gloria Swanson.
Mason spent several years touting Greater New York to the American and British markets, and was well on his way to making a mark in America when he became another victim of the Spanish Flu epidemic in 1918.
13th September 1916
Source: The Sun (Sydney), 10 September 1916
To Mary Miles in 'Lovely Mary'
Margaret saw her second Mary Miles Minter picture on 13 September. Lovely Mary was a production of the Columbia Film Company - unrelated to the later company of a similar name - released by Metro Pictures.
Though Margaret saw it at that company's main Sydney home, the Piccadilly Theatre, it had made its Sydney debut at a brand new theatre at 600 George Street, Hoyt's. Hoyts was a new entrant into Sydney's busy cinema scene. Within time, it grew in power, eventually forming a national duopoly with Greater Union that largely remains to the present day.
In this five-reel production, Mary played the last female descendant of an old Southern family, the Lanes. The last male descendant is a wastrel cousin, Claiborne (Frank DeVernon). No later has Mary been befriended by kindly real estate agent Roland (Thomas Carrigan), who hopes to restore the family fortunes by purchasing and improving the Lanes' ancestral lands, than a sinister Northerner arrives with plan to swindle the Lane ancestral lands away by plying Claiborne with liquor. Roland is framed by the pair for murder, and a peculiarity in the state's penal system allows him to be employed on Mary's property. This being a Mary Miles Minter picture, her misery is only temporary, and all ends well.
Lovely Mary received good reviews. Moving Picture World rated it one of the better of Mary Miles Minter's recent films and an ideal showcase for her now well established screen persona - 'not a remarkable picture, but one of distinct charm and dramatic value … audiences will like Miss Minter better than ever after they have watched her in this picture.' Motography called it 'entirely good', and noted the beautiful sequences filmed on location in the Florida Everglades as a particular attraction.
Margaret dissented with these good notices, describing Lovely Mary as "not much". Mary Miles Minter may have been lovely, but she was no Mary Pickford.
14th September 1916
Source: Evening News (Sydney), 25 August 1916
By now, the idea of the double-feature was well established in Sydney, particularly in the case of second-run pictures. This would have been attractive to Margaret, who had over a month’s picture-going to catch up on. On 14 September, she went to the Majestic Theatre at enjoyed The Fool’s Revenge, starring Maude Gilbert and W. H. Tooker, with The Secret Sin, starring Sessue Hayakawa and Blanche Sweet, as the supporting feature. Margaret's comment in her diary that she saw 'Blanche Sweet and Fool's Revenge' confirms that she saw both films in this case. The Fool’s Revenge was based on a play by Tom Taylor, which itself was a loose adaptation of Victor Hugo’s play Le Roi S'Amuse and the opera it had inspired, Verdi’s Rigoletto. The story had already provided fodder for another film version, directed by D.W. Griffith, in 1909. The Fool of the title, a court jester in the original, was translated to a circus clown in this modernised adaptation.
Reviews paint a detailed picture of a lurid melodrama, reminiscent of the gothic horror stories that Lon Chaney later made famous, which included Victor Hugo’s own The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The clown (W. H. Tooker) murders the vampish wife he suspects of infidelity (Marie Gilbert) by throwing her off a cliff.
The clown changes his identity to avoid capture. After making a fortune in the oil industry, he encounters the lecher who cuckolded him, and disguises his identity a third time, in order to pose as the man’s butler and set his sights on his beautiful wife. A convoluted and tragic denouement instead sees him inadvertently assisting in the scoundrel’s seduction of the Fool’s own daughter (Ruth Findlay).
Motion Picture News’ Peter Milne praised the story’s “unrelenting force and unsparing frankness,” while admitting that these very traits would turn off some viewers, and noting that some early audiences had found its dramatic convolutions difficult to take seriously. Moving Picture World’s Judson Hanaford also held reservations, praising the directing and most of the acting, but wondering exactly what the film’s series of increasingly tragic events was supposed to mean, if anything. “In trying to crowd five reels with climaxes he [director Will S. Davis] has lost his way,” he concluded. “The story is clearly continuous, but in his accenting of this and that he has obscured its inner significance.”
Source: Sunday Times (Sydney) - 20 August 1916
The Secret Sin tells the story of two young women, Edith and Grace both of whom were played by Blanche Sweet. Stricken by poverty and their father absent, the sisters are forced to do piecework to keep their family fed. A combination of pure chance and the strain of her work leads Grace into a sinister underworld.
Grace is bribed by a drug friend to go around the comer into Chinatown and get him some opium. Grace goes, and in a joke, gets her first taste of the drug. Afterwards, when she and her sister secure employment in a blouse factory, and she is suffering from overwork, Grace takes money from the house funds and gets opium to relieve the pain. She is not suspected, and later, when an ignorant doctor gives her morphine as a medicine, she becomes a secret drug fiend.
Grace goes to great lengths to conceal her growing problems from her sister and family, and the plot thickens when the two sisters fall in love with the same man, and Grace conspires to make it appear that it is her sister Edith suffering from addiction. There is an exciting climax in Chinatown as Grace is rescued from the clutches of a Chinese drug gang.
Though the leading man was the handsome Thomas Meighan, it was the villainous Chinese drug pusher Lin Foo, played by Sessue Hayakawa, who was given more prominence in advertisements, following the success of The Cheat. Moving Picture World gave the film a cautious thumbs up, praising the verisimilitude of its scenes of poverty and director Frank Reicher for adding excitement and thrills to what might otherwise have been a purely grim story. While Fool’s Revenge is considered lost, The Secret Sin is extant in the collection of the US Library of Congress.
Source: Sunday Times (Sydney), 2 May 1915
The Majestic Theatre, at the corner of Liverpool Street and Nithsdale Street, Hyde Park, had opened on 30 April 1915, making it the newest cinema in the Waddington’s chain, which also operated the nearby Strand and Globe Theatres. Its proprietors seemed to have young women exactly like Margaret in mind. “The Globe and Majestic Theatres are so conveniently situated for ladies who like a quiet and enjoyable rest after a strenuous day’s shopping that they have become a by-word amongst Sydney’s shoppers,” said advertisements, and indeed, the large Mark Foys department store was only a few doors away. “All dress circle patrons are served with a refreshing cup of tea and biscuits or a Summer drink between 11am and 6pm."
The Hyde Park Margaret would have seen was very different from the one we know today - no St James or Museum Station, small saplings in place of the corridors of enormous trees, and of course, no soaring memorial to the victims of World War I. Little trace of this area remains intact aside from the Mark Foys building itself, which has been repurposed as law courts.
16th September 1916
Source: Sunday Times (Sydney), 10 September 1916
Mary Pickford’s The Foundling was Margaret’s selection for the evening of Saturday 16th September, after she and her fiancee had spent a day at the Glebe Carnival at Wentworth Park. This event featured everything from a military procession and welcome home to returned servicemen, to a fancy dress parade. Margaret described it as ‘a great success’. At the following year’s Carnival, her little sister Grace would win First Prize for Best Original Costume for her nurse’s costume.
The story of The Foundling, described by the Sunday Times as one “of a beautiful sentiments and tender appeal to the finer senses,” was a return to a more archetypal role for the star after the atypical Madame Butterfly.
The latter film had been one of Pickford’s many attempts to broaden her appeal past the 'Little Mary’ persona, and like the others, it would prove short-lived. “The public 'typed’ Mary against her wishes,” explained Adolph Zukor, the mogul who had staked the success of his Famous Players company on Pickford’s fame. “She was wanted complete with curls, puppies, and a jam-smeared face and brave smile while going through some of the worst adversity ever heaped upon a young girl.”
In The Foundling, Pickford’s favourite collaborator, screenwriter Francis Marion, pelted Little Mary with every possible peril in order to show off the pluck and humour with which the actress was now inextricably linked.
Poor Molly O is abandoned by her father after her mother dies in childbirth, undergoing deprivation after deprivation at a foundling’s home. When her father returns to adopt her, another child is substituted, and she instead goes to live with the cruel mistress of a boarding house, who keeps her in virtual slavery. Naturally, she is eventually rescued and all ends well. ’[It’s] the sort of picture that at one moment gives rise to a delighted chuckle, and the next raises a lump, in your throat,’ said Sydney's Arrow newspaper, a description that could easily be used for many of Pickford’s productions in coming years.
The Foundling is famous within filmic circles for a number of reasons that have little to do with his content. Firstly, it was Pickford’s first self-produced film - remarkable, given that she was only 23 at the time, but no less remarkable than the fact that she was already earning $104,000 per year. With various bonuses for box office performance factored in, the figure inflated further to a staggering $500,000. Pickford would soon find even this sum inadequate, departing Famous Players-Lasky to help found United Artists in 1919.
Secondly, the picture had already been completed when a fire devastated the Famous Players lot in New York. While a number of negatives for recently completed films survived, having been stored in a specially constructed fireproof safe, The Foundling was destroyed. Partly re-cast and entirely remade under a new director, it made its debut in January 1916.
Pickford attributed the film’s soft performance to this change in personnel and its troubled production history, but reviews of the time suggest that both critics and audiences considered the story a little too similar to her other hits to be entirely satisfying.
Already one of Margaret’s favourites, Mary Pickford’s fame was reaching its zenith in Australia when The Foundling was released. In America, she was known as 'America’s Sweetheart’, but in other international markets, including Australia, her sobriquet was 'The World’s Sweetheart’. After opening at the Strand Theatre, The Foundling proved so popular that the Waddington’s chain, which had exclusive rights to Pickford’s pictures in Sydney, decided to show it simultaneously at all of its major city theatres. The film is extant in a number of American archives.
21st September 1916
Source: Evening News (Sydney), 21 September 1916
"First Taste of Grand Opera"
On 21 September, Margaret makes mention of receiving her ’first taste of Grand Opera, La Boheme.’ The play was a production of Italy’s Gonsalez Opera Company which, displaced from their usual European touring route by the war, were on a groundbreaking tour throughout the Southern hemisphere, allowing audiences in places such as India to see a full Italian opera for the first time.
The company was brought by Australia by promoter George Marlow, who was generally known for lighter theatrical fare. As a mark of the seriousness of his venture, Marlowe rebranded his Adelphi Theatre, at which Margaret had seen the pantomime Dick Whittington earlier in the year and was generally used for vaudeville and revues, as the Grand Opera House.
The season was anticipated as an ideal introduction to grand opera for people such as Margaret, and its price scale of 6/, 4/, and 2/ was advertised as the lowest prices at which opera had ever been shown in Australia. Along with 50 performers and two musical directors, the company brought its full wardrobe and its backdrops. The company performed a rotating selection of no less than twenty famous operas, which also included Il Trovatore, La Traviata, Cavalleria Rusticana and Il Pagliacci.
Marlow’s venture was considered a risky one, but his experiment seems to have worked.By the time it reached Sydney, the Gonsalez company boasted of having broken 55 records during its Melbourne season. “The Sydney public continue to give splendid support to the Opera,” reportedThe Newsletter in early October. “The Grand Opera House is crowded every night, and the productions of all the great operas have proved a magnificent lyric triumph. There is no mistaking the quality of the Gonzalez Company. The whole repertoire can be produced again and again on present appearances." The company made the first of many return tours in 1917, and a version was still appearing on Australian stages in the late 1920s.
It was a particularly fortuitous visit for the company’s baritone, Count Ercole Fillippini. After falling in love with an Irish-Australian singer, he settled in the country, later helping to found the South Australian Grand Opera Company. Amongst his descendants is Paul Kelly, the singer-songwriter responsible for a very different but no less important legacy in Australian music. Margaret's attendance at the opera might have come at the suggestion of her brother-in-law to be, Syd, who had attended the previous week. She called the experience ’v[ery] nice.’
27th September 1916
The SS Wairuna.
“Louise Lovely This Time,” and “A Terrible Explosion”
“A terrible explosion, six men killed,” Margaret writes in her diary for Wednesday, September 27th - speaking not of the war, but of a dreadful industrial accident in which her brother Cecil was involved. A boxer by night, Cecil toiled as a day labourer for a living and was currently at the shipyards of Darling Harbour, where he was one of eighteen men working on the SS Wairuna. Fortunately, "Cecil had a wonderful escape“ - one of only nine men who did.
As the Sydney Morning Herald reported: "An explosion of benzine [sic] occurred in number 2 hold of the steamer Wairuna, in Darling Harbor. Six men were killed and three injured.” Local firemen worked valiantly to locate any survivors, ‘caught like rats in a trap’ as one report put it, who had to crawl through thick smoke and benzene fumes to reach safety. Many had been thrown several metres by the explosion.
The story made national headlines, and paranoid rumours of a German conspiracy began to circulate. A coronial inquiry eventually delivered an open verdict, though evidence suggested that the culprit was an unnamed worker who lit a tobacco pipe whilst inside the hold.
Ironically, German sabotage did eventually prove the Wairuna’s downfall. Only a few months after being damaged in a French air raid in 1917, the ship was raided and sunk by the German SMS Wolf, and its crew taken as prisoners of war.
Source: The Mirror of Australia, 23 September 1916
The Gilded Spider
No doubt shaken by her brother’s close escape, Margaret took in a movie that evening, starring her current favourite: “Gilded Spider, Louise Lovely this time.”
The Haymarket Theatre had recently inaugurated a policy of changing their program twice weekly, so the venue was the Australian Picture Palace at Hyde Park.
The Gilded Spider was a baroque tale that found Louise playing Leonita, the danseuse wife of Italian sculptor Giovanni (Lon Chaney). Captivated by her beauty, an American millionaire, Cyrus (Gilmore Hammond), drugs Giovanni and kidnaps his wife. As in The Grip of Jealousy, Louise’s character suffers a tragic demise early in the film, drowning in her attempt to escape from Cyrus’ yacht - but this time, she’s allowed to return in the personage of her own daughter, as the film skips ahead to show Giovanni’s attempts to avenge his wife’s death.
The cast was considered above reproach, and the visual polish of the film was highly praised by critics, but Bluebird Photoplays were quickly gaining a reputation for subordinating effective storytelling to high production values. "Bluebird seems to have the idea that spending a lot of money on a production, with a good cast, is all that is required for the turning out of successful features,“ grumbled Variety. "It has long been an axiom in legitimate theatricals that the first requisite to success is a good play. The same applies to motion pictures."
The film was also one of the first to be reviewed by Photoplay, which had begun publication in 1911 but which had more recently, under the co-editorship of James R. Quirk, taken on the format that made it the most influential of all of Hollywood’s film fan magazines. Its reviewer, Julian Johnson, came to a similar conclusion: "A good cast, almost sensationally opulent surroundings and much feminine beauty are wasted on a noisily impossible melodrama.” Margaret may have agreed, as she broke her habit of seeing every new Louise Lovely film and skipped her next starring feature, Bobbie of the Ballet. Like the majority of Louise Lovely’s films, The Gilded Spider is now lost.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
The Gilded Spider was one of a number of films from 1915-1916 in which Louise co-starred with the legendary Lon Chaney, whose film career was only a few years old at this point. Though Chaney is best known today as 'The Man of a Thousand Faces’, thanks to his mastery of screen makeup, and as star of grotesque dramas and horror films such as The Phantom of the Opera (1926), this tends to obscure the fact that he was one of the greatest dramatic actors the silent screen ever produced. As the son of two deaf-mute parents, non-verbal communication came naturally to him.
Chaney’s only talking film, a remake of the silent The Unholy Three (1930), showed he was equally adept at sound drama. Undoubtedly, he would have played a vital role in the film industry of the 1930s and beyond, had he not succumbed to throat cancer in 1930, at the age of 47.