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scsu1975

NOW PLAYING (100 YEARS AGO)

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This thread will take a look at what was playing in the theaters 100 years ago. To narrow the scope, I chose one theater, Poli’s, in the city where I was born, Bridgeport, CT. In 1919, the theater was managed by Matt Saunders (more on him later).

I will post the theater listings (from publicly available sources), and whenever possible, see what I can discover about the film(s) being shown. I encourage anyone who knows anything about the films to chime in.

First up, a brief look at the theater:

Poli’s Theater (which no longer exists) was located on Main Street in downtown Bridgeport. The movie house was part of the chain owned by S.Z. Poli, and was considered the finest theater on the circuit, boasting a seating capacity of 3,300.

The “first lobby,” or entrance, seen below, featured a great mirror on either side, framed between marble columns. Three sets of double doors led to the “second lobby,” which was the ticket lobby.

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The ticket lobby, shown below, contained two marble ticket windows, and three more sets of double doors leading to the “third lobby,” or foyer.

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The foyer, shown below, sported four sets of triple doors on the left, leading to the seats. The doors on the right led to the exits and manager’s office. The columns were all made of marble, as was the staircase in the center.

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The last photo shows the auditorium, with the stage, and box seats on either side. A beautiful painting adorned the arch.

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Next up: a look at Matt Saunders.

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Manager Matt Saunders had been placed in charge of the Poli in 1913. Born in Chicago around 1883, Saunders had early experience in show business, having toured the country with Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West show as Cody’s prop man, office boy, and finally general purchasing agent. He then spent four years in the circus in Europe. Saunders had previously managed theaters for Poli in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania and New Haven, Connecticut, scheduling both vaudeville shows and films.

Saunders was quite the promoter. When his theater ran College Rhythm in 1934, a flock of ducks mysteriously appeared on the lawn of a local high school. It was no coincidence that the film featured radio personality Joe Penner, whose trademark line was “Wanna buy a duck?” In 1936, Saunders was awarded the Quigley Bronze Award, a plaque given to theater managers/exhibitors for promoting films. In Saunder’s case, it was for promoting the film Rose Marie. Among his creations was a “Rose Marie Indian Village” in the heart of Bridgeport, which featured an eight-foot wigwam bordered with hatchets, beads, and other artifacts. Songs from the film were played through a phonograph hooked up to a loud speaker. Local music stores all featured hit songs from the film, and Nelson Eddy photos were sold at the “five and ten” stores. Pictured below is Saunders at left, receiving his award. It is being presented to him by, of all people, J. Edgar Hoover!

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When Saunders advertised the film Sitting Bull in October of 1954, he published a photograph of himself with the famous Indian leader, taken in New York City in 1906, when both were part of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. To promote The Tall Men, the 1955 western with Clark Gable and Jane Russell, Saunders offered free admission for the first ten customers (male or female) who were at least six feet four inches tall.    

Saunders managed several other theaters before retiring in 1960. On March 10th, 1967, at the age of 83, a pajama-clad Saunders walked through his kitchen while his wife was cooking, went into the bathroom, pushed out a window screen, and inexplicably jumped to his death from his fifth-floor apartment in Bridgeport. His body landed just a stone’s throw from where Poli’s theater once stood.

Next up: Now playing at the Poli, 1919

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On New Year’s Day, 1919, Poli’s featured The Cavell Case, originally released as The Woman the Germans Shot. Stage actress Julia Arthur, who only made a handful of films, played the role of Edith Cavell, a British nurse for the Red Cross. Although some newspapers claimed this was Arthur’s film debut, she had already appeared in a few shorts. The film was advertised as six reels, so it was probably about 60-70 minutes long.

Plot: Edith Cavell has a sweetheart named George Brooks, whom she leaves for her calling. When later they meet, George is a blind, middle-aged man, with a son Frank (played by Creighton Hale). Cavell becomes George’s nurse, and his eyesight is restored through an operation. When World War I breaks out, Cavell goes to Belgium to teach other nurses. The Germans take possession of her hospital, but she still manages to attend to the wounded British soldiers. There she discovers Frank and helps him escape. For this, she is arrested, tried, and executed by firing squad, despite entreaties from other nations to spare her. (In reality, Cavell managed to help a few hundred Allied soldiers to escape from Belgium, before she was caught and executed by a firing squad.)

Some stills exist, from newspapers and trade journals.

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Below, Cavell is indicted:

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Finally, she is ready to meet her fate:

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On her role, Arthur said “Edith Cavell is one of the most beautiful, most heroic persons in all history, and it is an honor to transmit her story to the screen. I found that the work was more interesting and more inspiring, because I was going through scenes representing actual events, than anything I have hitherto done.”

Some reviewers suggested that this film would launch Arthur’s film career, but it did not. Her first love must have been the stage.

An anonymous film critic for The New York Tribune wrote that the audience “hissed, applauded and wept, unashamed, and the young woman who sat behind us, after being admonished by her escort, said: ‘Well, I’m not ashamed to cry. If you don’t like it, go out. If I were a man I shouldn’t be sitting here watching the picture anyway. I’d be over there fighting.’”

This film is presumed lost. There is a 1939 version of the story entitled Nurse Edith Cavell, which is available on YouTube, along with several documentaries.

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Thanks very much,Mr. SCSU,  for the post on the film about Edith Cavell. I first read of her story several years ago in a small collection of biographies on heroes of the Christian faith.  Her story is pretty amazing. I am sure the film was part fiction and part fact, but it is great to hear that it was so moving to the people who viewed it back in the day.  PS: what a great idea for a thread. I've enjoyed viewing so far. I am sure there will be some pretty fine gems uncovered here as the year progresses. Will look forward to reading about them. Thanks for your hard work putting it together.  :) 

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Branding Broadway, a western/comedy starring William S. Hart, was the feature attraction at Poli's in the first week of January, 1919. The film had been released a month earlier by Artcraft (although some sources say Paramount-Artcraft). It was filmed on location in New York. A complete 5-reel 16mm print of the film exists in the Library of Congress. A few people have also reviewed it on IMDb, so somebody somewhere saw it sometime.

Partial Plot: Hart plays cowboy Bob Sands, who along with his cohorts, tear open the town of Whetstone, Arizona. But the Law and Order League rout the cowboys, capture Sands, and put him on a train heading east. Sands reads an advertisement by a railroad tycoon named Harrington, who is looking to hire someone to keep his son Larry out of trouble. Sands arrives in New York and gets the job. Meanwhile, Larry has written several love letters to restaurant owner Mary Lee, so Larry’s father hires a detective to retrieve the letters. Sands, who is falling for Mary, rents a room next door to the restaurant. The detective enters Mary’s room and ransacks the place. He finds the letters just as Mary walks in. As the two struggle, Sands hears the commotion and goes to her rescue.

Seena Owen, some thirty years younger than Hart, plays the love interest Mary. That may have been a stretch.

A reviewer for Photoplay took issue with some of the incongruities in the film. For instance, he describes how the Whetstone citizens toss Sands into the baggage car of an outgoing train, then asks “how Sands arrived in New York with all his rancho baggage?” (Well, maybe he stole it from the baggage car. It’s only a movie.)

Describing one scene which I could not identify (but is probably pictured below), the reviewer continues “Notwithstanding New York’s serious depletion of policemen by the army’s demands, I hardly think such a flagrant piece of housebreaking and kidnapping as Sands effects could be gotten away with unless the cops were at a general riot call down town.”

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Still, the reviewer did find some amusement in the film, citing “Mr. Hart’s stuffing himself with six orders of wheatcakes while trying to get up spunk to propose to the little hash queen.”

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Some reviewers found it interesting that Hart appears in a dress suit. I’m not too sure about the top hat, though.

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Closing out the first week in January, 1919, the Poli featured Alla Nazimova in Eye for Eye. Nazimova also produced and co-directed the film, which was released in late December, 1918. The film was based on the play “L’Occident.”

Plot: A Bedouin girl named Hassouna (guess who) is cast aside by her tribe as punishment for helping a captured French officer escape. She is picked up by another tribe and sold to a circus manager, as a dancer. The French officer attends the circus and recognizes the girl, and takes her to his home. There, Nazimova discovers that her relatives were killed by French forces under the command of the officer. Although she wants revenge for what has happened, she eventually falls in love with the officer, whose wife, conveniently, is found to be having an affair with another man.

Now I’m not sure how you can squeeze seven reels out of this. Nazimova performs the “Dance of the Veils.” Maybe this is it, although in the last still, she looks like she has about had it:

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Charles Bryant plays the French officer, Captain de Cadiere. Co-director Albert Capellani hired some 250 marines from a French battleship, as he filmed the them landing at a North African port to fight back an incursion by “hostile Arabian tribes.” The marines also engaged in hand-to-hand combat. The circus scenes were replete with actual performers, including a fat woman, two-headed man, and living skeleton. Of course, there were also lions, elephants, camels, and tigers.

Margaret MacDonald, reviewer for Moving Picture World, wrote that Nazimova “has chosen to portray the beautiful Bedouin girl in a writhing, grimacing manner, which, carried through the length of seven reels of film, becomes wearysome.”

A complete 7-reel copy exists in the Library of Congress. A few versions of the story were produced later in France.

The bill at the Poli also featured a musical revue entitled “Mimic World.” As the Bridgeport Times and Evening Farmer described it, the revue showcased “twenty fascinating, happy, laughing chorus girls, and five stunning girl principals and stars … to say nothing of the three chaperones who accompany the troupe … never in all the history had this city seen such beauty, or so much of it in one place.” In describing the girls, the reviewer noted “none of them seem over sixteen, some of them have cute curls hanging down their backs, and all of them look as if they had just been fitted out by a Fifth Avenue tailor. It was an eye opener to the men who saw them arrive … these little girlies are destined to become very popular during the week in this city.” Also on the bill was a one-armed pianist. I think he ended up being chased by Dr. Richard Kimble.

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From January 9-11, 1919, The Poli featured popular young actor Charles Ray in String Beans. The film was five reels, released in late December 1918, and is presumed lost. Some stills exist.

Plot: Toby Watkins (Ray) works on his uncle’s farm, and in his spare time, writes poems for the village newspaper, much to his uncle’s disgust.

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Toby and his uncle have a fight, and his uncle orders him to leave.

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Toby arrives in the town of Sawbert, where he gets a six-dollars-a-week job at the Sawbert Weekly Clarion, run by Zachary Bartrum. There he meets Jean Morris, daughter of the town’s mayor, Lott Morris, and they fall for each other. Complicating the situation, Mayor Morris and Bartrum are political enemies. Kendall Reeves, a dastardly crook, comes to town to perpetrate a scam involving a fake bean cannery. He interests the mayor in the project but when Bartrum hears of the scheme, he determines to expose Reeves. Bartrum sends Toby to a meeting to speak against the project. But when Toby sees Jean in the audience, he loses his nerve and runs out of the meeting. After the meeting, Reeves tries to con Mayor Morris into paying him five thousand dollars for a majority interest in the fake cannery. Joe Farley, an employee at the Clarion, recognizes Reeves as a former cell mate and threatens to expose him unless Reeves splits some of his profits with him. Toby overhears part of this conversation, and does some investigating. He discovers that Reeves is actually a swindler named Harry Morgan. Toby directs Farley to print the story in the next edition of the Clarion. Farley warns Reeves, who goes to the mayor’s house to try to close the deal before he is exposed. Toby calls the mayor to tell him about Reeves’ past, but the mayor is unable to answer the phone since Reeves is holding him at gunpoint. Toby, suspecting something is wrong, rushes to the mayor’s home and arrives just as Jean is trying to help her father. All fight over the gun, and overcome Reeves.

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Bartrum arrives (with a sword!!) and reconciles with Morris. Toby and Jean live happily ever after.

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Ray, who often played the All-American boy who rises to the top, had this to say about his role: “I can say frankly that I like this type of picture and best part of all – it is a typical country boy character and, I think the best I have ever had. Incidentally, people seem to have gained the idea that this so-called ‘boob’ or ‘rube’ type is natural with me, but that is untrue. It requires some of the hardest study I ever undertook to get the gestures and expressions down right.”

The Bridgeport Times and Evening Farmer singled out supporting actor John P. Lockney, noting that “Lockney, in the role of Zachary Bartrum … is a splendid example of that peculiar species which has afforded so much material for colorful writing on the part of men like Mark Twain and others who painted the types as they saw them.” If that statement seems like an unusual write-up for a local newspaper, it’s probably because it was copied verbatim from the Paramount Exhibitor’s Press Book of 1918-1919. These books had pages and pages of “suggested” ways to promote the movie.

Note: If you search You Tube under “Charles Ray String Beans,” you will get a recording of Ray Charles singing “String Bean.”

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11 minutes ago, scsu1975 said:

The Poli featured popular young actor Charles Ray in String Beans.

I just saw Charles Ray in Hollywood Boulevard (1936) the other day. It featured several silent film-era stars in cameo roles and bit parts. I have to admit to not being familiar with Ray when I watched, so I appreciate this write-up about one of his movies. Great work so far on this interesting thread, Rich.

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From January 12-15, 1919, the Poli featured D. W. Griffith’s The Greatest Thing in Life. Released in late December, 1918, this World War I story featured Lillian Gish, Robert Harron as her American lover, and David Butler as her French lover. The film was seven reels. The Library of Congress lists it as lost, but notes that the British Film Institute has 400 feet surviving.

Plot: The opening title card reads “The story of a young girl and the most important thing in the world to a young girl – love.” Jeanette Peret, along with her father, runs a little tobacco shop in New York. Jeanette is a bit tomboyish, full of life and fun.

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Her best customer is Edward Livingston, a self-centered rich lad who is in love with her. One day he becomes jealous when Jeanette pays too much attention to another customer, so he tells her “I love you. I have loved you for a year. But you are only a simp, fit to marry a simp, and become the mother of Simpkins.” Jeanette is infuriated and decides to put Livingston out of her thoughts. A few days later, Livingston hears that Jeanette’s father is ailing and wishes to return to France. Livingston sends him $1000 by messenger, with a note saying that the money was from someone who had borrowed from Jeanette’s father years ago. As Jeanette’s father reads the note, the title card reads “He pretends to remember the incident well, though it never occurred.” When next we see Jeanette and her father, they are in France. Jeanette has a new love interest, a young farmer named Le Bebe.  

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Jeanette’s father has been recuperating, when he suddenly has a fall. When the news reaches Livingston, he goes to France to apologize to Jeanette for his rudeness. Jeanette’s heart is torn. She favors Le Bebe because he loves children, whereas Livingston showed anger when two children accidentally smudged him with dirty hands. World War I begins and Le Bebe is called to duty.

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The village is the scene of some fighting. A French officer shows Jeanette’s father a telephone hidden in a cellar, asking him to keep in communication with the retreating French troops. “When the Huns come,” the officer says, “you can serve France by using it.” When the Germans invade the village, Le Bebe is wounded, and is hidden in the cellar.

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To keep the Germans from discovering him, Jeanette and her aunt bury him in sand so that only his face is visible. When Jeanette’s father is wounded, the girl takes over the phone to notify the Allies that the Germans have entered the village. Through the gunshots and shelling, Jeanette recognizes the voice on the other end of the line; it is Livingston, who is now an officer in the army. American forces, led by Livingston, attack and repel the Germans. Unfortunately, Le Bebe dies from his wounds. But the war has made a man of Livingston. Jeanette opens a store selling doughnuts and pies to the troops. Livingston becomes her best customer.

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I’ve seen Gish and Harron paired together in several films, and they always made an appealing couple. It’s sad this film appears to be lost. From what I’ve read, there were also some pretty impressive battle scenes.

The January 19, 1919 issue of Motion Picture News published the following tidbit in its “Hollywood Hokum” column: “Rudolfo Di Valentina continues the merry dance in Griffith’s prologue to “The Greatest Thing in Life,” and the big audience applauds him at every program.” While it’s not clear if Griffith filmed a prologue, or if there was a live stage prologue before the feature played, it is pretty clear who this Rudolfo Di Valentina guy turned out to be.

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Just out of curiosity, I checked the database to see if this was the same David Butler who transitioned from actor to director and it turns out to be the same one. This was apparently his first film as an actor. He went on to a long career as a director, including a number of Shirley Temple films in the 30's and a bunch of Doris Day films in the 40's and 50's, including Calamity Jane, Doris' personal favorite. His last film as a director was in 1967 with Bobby Vee and Jackie DeShannon, either a sad footnote or a triumph, depending on your point of view.

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In 1919, MARION DAVIES starred in her first comedy, GETTING MARY MARRIED, a story about about an orphaned young woman who outsmarts her grasping Boston relatives who are after her money. Directed by Allan Dwan and co-starring Norman Kerry and Matt Moore.

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Marion Davies with Norman Kerry

 

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In my write-up of The Greatest Thing in Life, I mentioned a prologue. I Just found the description from the January 4, 1919 edition of Motion Picture News:

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From January 16-19, 1919, Quicksand (also advertised as Quicksands) was the feature at the Poli. Released in late December 1918, the film starred Dorothy Dalton, who was a major star for the Thomas H. Ince Corporation. The film was five reels, and is presumed lost.

Plot: Mary Bowen lives happily with her husband Jim, and Jim’s baby brother Frankie.

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Jim is a cashier for Perry & Sons, insurance brokers. Perry’s son Alan, who works at the firm, is a low-life and frequent patron at Boland’s café, run by John Boland, an unscrupulous politician. Alan gets Jim to endorse a check drawn on the company’s funds, using a forged signature. The check is cashed in Boland’s Café by an associate, and Jim is arrested on fraud charges. He is convicted and sentenced to five years in prison. Mary, who suspects Alan is behind this, approaches Boland and asks him for a job as a cabaret singer at his café. Boland, who has known Mary since childhood and secretly loves her, hires her with the hope that he can persuade her to divorce Jim.

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Mary proceeds to slowly lead Alan on in the hope that he will admit his crime. Boland sees this and becomes jealous. One night after the show, a drunken Alan follows Mary to her apartment, and tries to force himself on her. Coincidentally, Jim has just escaped from jail and is seeking refuge at the apartment. Boland, who hears of Jim’s escape, has the house surrounded by police. He arrives at the apartment to find Mary and Alan struggling. Alan knocks out Boland and mistakenly believes he has killed him.

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Mary threatens to hand Alan over the police for murder, and holds Alan at gunpoint, forcing him to sign a confession regarding the check. “You will sign this or I shoot” she declares.

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The police break into the apartment with the intent of capturing Jim. By this time, Boland has recovered and orders the arrest of Alan. Boland then pledges to do all he can to clear Jim.

On her role, Dalton said “Mary Bowen, the character I have tried to make real in “Quicksand,” is the very sort of courageous girl who is proving every day, in these stressful times, that a woman is capable of doing whatever is necessary if put to the test. Her devotion to her husband, and her struggles in his behalf were quite real and I found myself living Mary Bowen’s life and experiencing with the greatest poignancy the feelings she would naturally have had under the circumstances.”

Reviewer P. S. Harrison, writing for Motion Picture News, seemed underwhelmed by the film, noting some well-worn and/or incongruous plot developments. Harrison describes Boland as “the villain, the city politician, as usual.” The conviction of Jim is “without any proof whatever. He is simply convicted – that is all.” Also, Harrison noted the “much employed overheard conversation … it fails to either arouse interest or convince.” Finally, “after the preliminary introductions, almost every one of you can tell me what the whole story, even to the finest detail, is going to be.”

Advertisements played up the sensational aspects of the film:

“For the man she loves a woman will dare the quicksand and will tread the brink of destruction; but her purity of soul will keep her unharmed until her work of love is accomplished.”

“Yes, every one of you. Mothers, fathers, and sisters too! See what life really is for a cabaret girl! See if it is all gay music, bright lights and sparking champagne!”

“Certainly, this is no place for a good girl. Least of all, when her husband is away! Yet she’s a wife any might well be proud of. See – and judge for yourself!”

In what was not an uncommon ploy at the time, theaters sent letters and/or postcards to patrons. One such generic letter promoting this film is shown below:

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The vaudeville act playing at the Poli is of some interest to classic film fans. It was entitled “The New Physician” and featured a young comedian named Frank Conroy, who later became a fine dramatic character actor in films. The comedy team of Conroy and Le Maire played on Broadway for several years.

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On ‎1‎/‎16‎/‎2019 at 3:19 PM, scsu1975 said:

 

In what was not an uncommon ploy at the time, theaters sent letters and/or postcards to patrons. One such generic letter promoting this film is shown below:

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I get that the letter-writing was a promotional gimmick, but it also shows that movie theaters were becoming a real part of the community, just like all the other merchants in town. I remember as a kid bonding with "my" theater. I hope no husbands intercepted this letter to "the ladies", asking if they were sure they wanted to stick with their men. That well-meaning theater manager could have been run out of town. (Kidding, I think.)

 

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1 hour ago, DougieB said:

I get that the letter-writing was a promotional gimmick, but it also shows that movie theaters were becoming a real part of the community, just like all the other merchants in town.

 

Now the multiplexes ask you to become a "member" so you can earn points for every dollar spent, and then they bombard you with e-mails about coming attractions.

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The Midnight Patrol played January 20-22. Released as five reels in late December 1918, the crime drama starred Thurston Hall as Sergeant Terrence Shannon, Rosemary Theby, and Goro Kino (a Japanese actor playing a Chinaman). The Library of Congress has a complete 35 mm copy.

Plot: Wu Fang, a criminal in San Francisco’s Chinatown, plots with Jim Murdock, a corrupt politician, to keep the police from interfering with an opium shipment.  Police Sergeant Terrence Shannon is head of the Chinese vice squad. To keep Shannon from conducting a raid, Murdock orders the kidnapping of Patsy O’Connell, who runs a Chinese mission house.

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Murdock notifies Shannon that Patsy is being held and that she will be harmed unless Shannon stays away.

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Shannon decides to conduct the raid, and tells Police Officer O’Shea to send help if Shannon is not back by a certain hour. With the help of a white man named “C h i n k” Ross, Shannon finds the entrance to Wu Fang’s hideout. However, Shannon is overpowered by Wu Fang and his henchmen. Wu Fang is about to throw Shannon into a pit filled with rats, when O’Shea arrives with reinforcements. Wu Fang is killed and Murdock is taken prisoner. Shannon is released and rescues Patsy.

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The next day, Shannon is made Chief of Police, and Patsy promises to marry him.

Director Irvin V. Willat scoured Los Angeles for two weeks, before he obtained about two hundred large black rats to his liking.

This sounds like a wild film, but it might be too politically incorrect for today’s audiences. Apparently the cops are all Irish. Featuring a character named "C h i n k” might not go over too well, even if he wasn’t Asian. But in its day, the film was a hit with the police. Motion Picture News reported that the police department in Nashville, Tennessee, bought the picture and arranged for its exhibition through one of the local theaters. In San Francisco, police officers attended a private screening.

It would be interesting to see Thurston Hall, who is known for his older, crusty, character roles, as a young leading man. He is pictured below, in a scene from the film:

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Maybe someone can rescue this film from oblivion.

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From January 23-26, 1919, the feature at the Poli was Little Miss Hoover, starring Marguerite Clark. The film was released in late December, 1918, and was five reels. The Library of Congress has complete 35mm and 16mm negatives. Several clips from the film are on You Tube.

 Plot: Nancy Craddock, a society girl from Washington, D.C., is inspired by a speech from Woodrow Wilson, and decides to aid the war effort by raising chickens because “eggs will win the war." Colonel William Craddock, Nancy’s grandfather, is bankrupt, but Nancy reminds him that his brother, Major J. Craddock, has a farm which they partly own. Nancy buys a rooster and some chickens and along with her grandfather, heads for the farm in Maryland.

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The move comes despite the wishes of Matthew Berry, whom she has promised to marry if he enlists. But Berry is rejected by the examining board. Major Adam Baldwin, who has been appointed Commissioner of Agriculture for that district, decides to go to the town, and work, incognito, as a hired hand, to study conditions there. While on the road to Maryland, Nancy’s wagon collides with a tree, and the chickens escape. As she searches for them, she meets Baldwin, who helps her capture the birds. Then they all set out for the farm. Since Nancy’s grandfather and his brother fought on opposite sides during the Civil War, Nancy does her best to get them to reconcile.

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When Berry comes to the farm to see Nancy, he unconsciously begins to fall for a local girl named Polly.  The government makes a bid on the farm, based on Baldwin’s recommendation, but Nancy refuses to sell. Baldwin resolves to help Nancy on the farm, but when he believes that she loves Berry, he leaves her a note professing his love, and quits the farm. Berry is finally accepted into the army, and demands that Nancy honor her promise to marry him. Lonely for Baldwin, Mary agrees to marry Berry at a later date. Mary hears that the new Agricultural Commissioner is going to speak in town, and, unaware that it is Baldwin, goes to the meeting. She is confused when she recognizes him, and escapes the meeting, hiding in the family car. Baldwin finds her there and, unaware of their presence, Major Craddock gets in and drives away. Ahead of them on the road, the car in which Berry and Polly are riding falls over a collapsed bridge. Berry saves Polly from drowning. Just as the Craddock car reaches the scene, Nancy sees Berry kiss Polly and admit his love for her. Nancy realizes her true love is Baldwin, and a double wedding ensues.

The title of the film refers to Herbert Hoover, who held the title of Food Administrator and was in charge of food distribution to neutral and suffering nations during World War I. A replica of his office was built for the film.

One of the advertising lines for the film was “Eggs will win the war,” she thought –but they were not to be thrown at the Kaiser’s troops.

Shooting for the film began on a Friday the 13th. If you are superstitious, an automobile made especially for the film was stolen while on location. Several character actors in the film became ill. Frank Walton, the assistant director, was injured in an accident. Some of the hens caught cold and refused to work. Clark was philosophical about the whole thing, remarking “a bad beginning makes a good ending.”

The film sounds cute, and the presence of Clark, who was a popular star at Paramount, plus the patriotic angle of the plot, probably made this a hit with audiences. Interestingly, Clark’s husband was Lieutenant Harry Palmer Williamson, who was stationed in Washington D.C. and worked in the ordnance department.

The accompanying vaudeville act, known as the “Yip Yip Yaphankers,” consisted of fourteen soldiers presenting a sketch entitled “A Day in Camp.”

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From January 27-29, 1919, the feature at the Poli was Little Women. Dorothy Bernard portrayed Jo, with Conrad Nagel making his film debut, as Laurie, and Lynn Hammond as Professor Baer. Future character actor Henry Hull, who had already made a few films, was cast in a romantic role as John Brooke. The film was released in the first week of January, 1919, and was either six or seven reels, depending upon the source. It is presumed lost.

The Little Women (left to right): Meg (Isabel Lamon), Amy (Florence Flinn), Beth (Lillian Hall), Jo (Dorothy Bernard)

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Plot: Towards the end of the Civil War, the March family lives in Concord, Massachusetts. Mr. March is a chaplain in the Massachusetts regiment. Mrs. March takes care of their four daughters: Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy. Jo is a writer, and has two admirers: Laurie, and Professor Baer.

The Professor and Jo:

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John Brooke loves Meg, but Beth, who is sickly, has no lover.

Jo and Laurie spy on John and Meg.

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Mrs. March receives news that her husband is gravely ill in a hospital in Washington D.C.

Jo and Amy pine for their father.

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Mrs. March asks her wealthy aunt for help, but Jo, believing the aunt will not come to the rescue, sells her hair for $25 and presents the money to her mother.

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But Aunt March has actually given Mrs. March a check for $75 to pay for the trip to Washington. Mrs. March brings her husband home. He thanks Jo for her sacrifice.

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Jo submits manuscripts to the editor of “The Spread Eagle.” The Marches and Professor Baer read a story in “The Spread Eagle,” and are astounded when they discover that Jo is the author and has received $50 for it. As time goes by, Brooke and Meg are married, but Beth’s condition deteriorates. When Meg has twins, Beth begs to see and hold them. A few days later, Beth dies. Laurie tells Jo that he loves Amy and is going to propose to her. Professor Baer is about to tell Jo he loves her. But he sees Jo, happy for Laurie and Amy, kissing Laurie. Believing that Jo loves Laurie, Baer tells her he is going to accept a teaching position at a famous university. Jo then realizes that she loves Baer.

The cast (seated left to right): Julia Hurley, Kate Lester, George Kelson, Frank de Vernon, Lillian Hall

Standing (left to right): Florence Flinn, Conrad Nagel, Lynn Hammond, Dorothy Bernard, Nellie Anderson, Henry Hull, Isabel Lamon.  Insert: Lillian Hall and Dorothy Bernard

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The movie was filmed in and around Alcott’s home, and the actual interior was used in some scenes. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s home was also shown in some scenes.

The film was produced by William Brady, who had also produced a stage play based on the novel some years earlier. His daughter Alice (the future Academy Award winner) had played the role of Meg.

To drum up business, Famous Players-Lasky sent letters to educators around the country, encouraging them to offer special matinees for their students. The State Superintendent of the Georgia Department of Education responded, writing “It is a pleasure to know that Louisa M. Alcott’s ‘Little Women’ will soon appear as a Paramount-Artcraft Special. As a boy I fell under the charm of the book and have never recovered from the fascination. I feel sure that a motion picture of such high value will receive the encouragement it deserves from the public, the educational public in particular.”

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From January 30 to February 1, 1919, the Poli ran Under The Top, a circus comedy/romance. The film starred Fred Stone, who had performed in a circus early in life, and was known as a dancer and musical comedy star. Released on January 5, 1919, the film was five reels. It is presumed lost, but the Library of Congress has fragments. Most of the images I could find could not be placed in the context of the plot, so I am simply including them here and there.

Plot:  Jimmie Jones visits the circus when it comes to his town, and he becomes a fan of Terry O’Neil, who is an acrobat and owner of the circus. Jimmie also falls for O’Neill’s daughter, Pansy, and is dejected when the circus leaves town. Years later, the circus again comes to town, and by this time, Jimmie has made a living as a house painter.

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Pansy, by virtue of her father’s death, now owns the circus, and has two guardians: Jay Trimmer and Otto Shott. Both men are plotting to get her inheritance. They rob her and leave her with Lotta Crust, a retired circus performer. Lotta’s son, Foxy Stillmore, is a shady character, and Lotta wants to marry him off to Pansy. Although Jimmie visits Pansy frequently, Lotta throws him out of the house. When Foxy arrives and asks Pansy to marry him, the girl says yes. She tells Jimmie, who agrees to help her elope, despite his love for her. Foxy and Pansy elope, but then Jimmie learns that Foxy is a crook and rescues Pansy just as she is about to board a train with Foxy.

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Trimmer and Shott hear of Lotta’s plot and decide to take Pansy back to the circus. Once there, they plan to have her hypnotized by Professor de Como and married off to Trimmer. Trimmer and Shott meeting Jimmie and Pansy returning from the train, and knock down Jimmie. Pansy is hypnotized, and a drunken Justice of the Peace is called in to perform the wedding ceremony. Jimmie, who has followed the culprits, grabs the wedding license and runs away.

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Trimmer yells “Hey, Rube,” and all the circus performers come running to assist Trimmer. One performer leads seven horses across Jimmie’s path, but the youth vaults over them. Jimmie then climbs a tightrope, and the audience believes he is one of the performers. He jumps over more horses, using a springboard. He leaps from a horizontal bar onto a horse’s back, then performs a somersault from the horse’s back as his pursuers close in. Landing on slack wire, he gets on the flying trapeze and lands in a net. By this time, Pansy has awakened from her trance, and runs to Jimmie. When Trimmer’s associates pursue, she yells “Hey, Rube, who stands by Terry O’Neill’s girl,” which causes the performers to rush to her aid and drive out Trimmer and Shott. Jimmie and Pansy embrace as a circus clown drops a large tissue paper ring over their heads.

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This was Stone’s second film, and was no doubt meant to exploit his athleticism and former career in the circus. One article claimed the film was meant to show the story of Stone’s early life, which is probably true on some small level. Director (and soon to be famous actor) Donald Crisp was looking for someone to play the circus hypnotist when he supposedly spotted Noah Beery, sporting a black beard, and said “You’re just the one I want. Can you make up as a hypnotist, a la Svengali, in an hour?” James Cruze, who later achieved some fame as a director, was cast as Foxy Stillmore.

Stone’s bio can be found on IMDb, but an important event in his life is left out. On August 3, 1928, Stone was piloting a plane to Groton, Connecticut. Stone held a student pilot license, but his plane was not registered with the state, which was a violation of the law. At about 9:30 in the morning, Stone began his approach, but at around 200 feet, his plane went into a spiral and plunged to the ground, landing nose first in a farm. Two brothers who lived on the farm, along with the State Police, managed to extricate Stone from the plane. Stone was diagnosed with multiple fractures in his legs, a fractured jaw, a dislocated right shoulder, and lacerations/abrasions to his head, face, and hands. Although he was expected to recover, there were grave concerns that he might never dance again. When physicians asked him how he felt, Stone replied “rotten.”
 

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From February 2-5, 1919, the Poli featured The Border Legion. The film, based on a novel by Zane Grey, was released in the summer of 1918 and was either five or six reels, depending upon the source. It is presumed lost. The female lead, Blanche Bates, was a stage actress who was making her film debut at age 45. The two male leads were played by Hobart Bosworth (as the outlaw Kells) and Eugene Strong (as Jim).

Plot:  Joan Randall is engaged to Jim Cleeves, but breaks it off because he has been lying to her. He begs for another chance, but she tells him he is too much of a coward to even steal. To prove her wrong, Jim joins a gang of outlaws known as the “Border Legion,” which is led by Jack Kells. Joan and her father go after Jim and are captured by Kells, who kills Joan’s father. Kells takes the body, puts it across a horse, and sends it back to town. He then takes Joan to his cabin and forces himself on her.

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In the struggle, she shoots Kells and nearly kills him.

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But then she stays to nurse him back to health. This causes a change in Kells, and he promises to protect her.

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When the rest of the outlaws, led by “Gorilla” Gulden return, they discover Joan and demand her as part of their spoils.

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When Kells protects her, they hold a conference and decide they will take the woman, or shoot Kells if necessary. Jim, who does not know Joan is hidden in the cabin, is ordered by Kells to kill Gulden.

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Joan overhears this, and jumping from the cabin roof, overtakes Jim and begs him not to kill anyone. The two ride off together. Furious with Joan, Kells rides after the pair and is about to shoot Jim when Joan intercedes, reminding Kells of his promise.

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When the outlaws reach the scene, Kells holds them off. Meanwhile, the townspeople, having found the body of Joan’s father, form a posse. Kells dies protecting Jim and Joan, and the posse arrives just in time to save the pair.

I’ve read the novel, and this film sounds like an abridged version of it, with a few liberties taken here and there. But overall, the plot is fairly faithful to the Zane Grey book.

The film was booked throughout the Poli circuit, including theaters in Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, PA, Worcester and Springfield, MA, and New Haven, Hartford, New Britain, Meriden, and Bridgeport, CT. When the film was booked at the Symphony Theater on Broadway in NYC, manager Maurice Kashin secured a personal appearance by Blanche Bates. He sent a letter, signed by Bates, to a select group of patrons. The invitation read “I would greatly value your opinion of my first photoplay at the Symphony theatre on Friday afternoon. Tea will be served in the Boudoir from three till five, and you may then let me know what you think of ‘The Border Legion,’ which is my vehicle and is adapted from Zane Grey’s novel of the same name. Incidentally, I might also say that I will address the audience from the stage in the evening at 8:30.” Hundreds of women showed up.

Tall, dark, leading man Eugene Strong enjoyed making the film, saying “it seemed much more like a delightful vacation than any kind of work. I’d rather ride horseback than eat, and we were in the saddle all day sometimes.” But one critic mocked Strong’s performance, writing “he lacked only a kerchief up his sleeve to make him a real nice girl.”

But the really savage attacks were leveled at Bates, pointing out her age and appearance. One critic remarked “Blanche might have been a ‘young’ mountain girl twenty-five years ago but the part was not suited for her now.” Another critic wrote “her acting was good, but her age registers so plainly that it makes the whole story ridiculous.” Peter Milne, writing for Motion Picture News, declared “Miss Bates was hardly the actress to assume such a role, and it towns where the public is not familiar with her name and looks for an appealing player in such a part, her debut will not be considered anything thrilling. The closeups are not kind to her and the fresh appeal of youth is not hers.” Finally, Patsy Smith, who wrote a column entitled “Among the Women” for Variety, had these unkind words:  “The idea of a husky youth like Eugene Strong playing the lover of Miss Bates was ludicrous on the surface - and only her scenes with Hobart Bosworth, “the brute man of filmdom” told, the best thing being a good fight in which she scratches, beats with her fists, tears off his shirt and finally shoots him. She walks through the rest of the picture with little or no expression – appearing like any one rather than a spirited western girl. No one will care to see her on the celluloid again, after this picture. Miss Bates could have improved herself by a wig that did not look ragged half the time. She also wore with a slip on leatherette tunic, fringed at the bottom, a gaudy Indian print blouse – the designs being as large as the palm of her hand, and about double the quantity of material in it required.”

Bates film career was essentially dead after this film, but she must have maintained a commanding presence on the stage. During a performance in Philadelphia in 1923, a fire broke out in the theater. Sensing the panic, Bates yelled out to the audience “there’s no fire here. And if there were, what the hell would you do about it?” The audience remained seated, and the play went on while the fire was extinguished.

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I'm curious to know what the "Boudoir" in the Symphony Theater where tea was served might have been. Some snackbar-adjacent lounge maybe. I hope the women who showed up for that were kinder than the critics. "No one will care to see her on celluloid again, after this picture."...Yikes!

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2 hours ago, DougieB said:

I'm curious to know what the "Boudoir" in the Symphony Theater where tea was served might have been. Some snackbar-adjacent lounge maybe. I hope the women who showed up for that were kinder than the critics. "No one will care to see her on celluloid again, after this picture."...Yikes!

You are probably correct about a lounge area, although I haven't been able to find any more info on that. As for Ms. Bates, she was about 45 when this film was released, playing a character who was supposed to be about 25. I assume an "older" woman playing a romantic lead back then was frowned upon, whereas an older man playing the romantic lead would be more "acceptable," as will be the case in the next film coming up.

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From February 6-8, 1919, the Poli featured The Silver King. Released in January 12, 1919, the film was five reels, and is presumed lost. The star was the British stage actor, William Faversham. Faversham, a one-time matinee idol, was a bit over 50 when he made this film. The film was based upon the stage play, written by Henry Arthur Jones, first performed in London in 1882.

Plot: Wilfred Denver is a happily married father of two.

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Geoffrey Ware, a romantic rival, decides to ruin Denver. He convinces Denver to bet all his money on a losing horse.

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Crushed by the loss, Denver allows Ware to take him to an inn and get him drunk. Ware then takes Denver home, and boasts to Denver’s how he has destroyed her husband. After Ware leaves, Denver, who is still intoxicated, takes a gun and goes to Ware’s house, seeking revenge. Meanwhile, Henry Corkett, Ware’s clerk, has just stolen money from Ware’s safe, and meets Herbert “Spider” Skinner, Elijah Coombes, and some other crooks after the horse race. The crooks rob Corkett, then force him to make a drawing of Ware’s library in order to rob Ware. They all proceed to Ware’s house, when Denver enters. He is knocked out with chloroform by the crooks. When Ware returns, he is killed by the “Spider,” who places his gun in Denver’s hand. When Denver awakens and finds himself next to the body, he is convinced he has killed Ware. He returns home, planning to leave the country. When Ware’s body is discovered by his servants, they call in Baxter from Scotland Yard. Baxter finds Denver’s gun and goes to arrest him. With the help of his servant Jaikes, Denver escapes on a train. Baxter arrives but he is too late to stop the train. Denver finds a suitcase, belonging to a sailor, and changes clothes. He jumps from the train. Moments later, the train is wrecked, and the authorities assume he has been killed in the crash. Denver begins a new life in a western mining town and becomes a prospector.

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He amasses a fortune in silver mines. He writes secretly to Jaikes and discovers that his wife and children are now destitute, renting their former home since it has been sold at an auction. The home is now owned by the “Spider,” who is making advances on Mrs. Denver. The “Spider” intercepts a letter from Denver to Jaikes, which contain money for Mrs. Denver. He learns that Denver is returning to England under an alias, and orders Coombes to notify him when Denver arrives. Denver meets his daughter, who does not recognize him. He gives her money for the rent.

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Baxter, who has been shadowing the “Spider,” discovers that Denver is also trailing the crook. Once the crooks’ hideout is located, Denver overhears Corkett accusing the “Spider” of killing Ware.

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Denver is discovered and in the ensuing fight, Baxter arrests the “Spider.” Denver is exonerated by Corkett’s testimony.

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Warburton Gamble, who played “Spider,” lived on a houseboat which was supposedly haunted. At night, with his dog curled up beside him, he claimed he saw queer looking faces staring at him through the windows, and heard moans coming from beneath him. He also said the dog heard the sounds too. Since Gamble often played villains, one writer suggested that the cause might be the actor’s guilty conscience bothering him.

John Sunderland, as the villain Geoffrey Ware, turned out to be a scumbag in real life. He was married to actress Claire Whitney at the time the film was made. He claimed to be the Marquis Jean Van Hoegaerden, a Belgian diplomat. Fan magazines claimed he had served in the Belgian air force during World War I. These claims turned out to be bogus. Sunderland’s own money dried up, then he started spending his wife’s money. In 1919, Sunderland was arrested in Chicago. He had paid, by check, a bill for $150 at the Congress Hotel in Chicago. The check was drawn on a Toronto bank, but it turned out he had no account there. He was turned over to British-Canadian military officials, and was taken to Toronto to face charges of wearing a British army captain’s uniform without authority. In a letter read at the hearing, he admitted he had been previously married and had a wife and children in Belgium. He had divorced his first wife one month after marrying Whitney. On July 31st, 1919, Sunderland was deported to Belgium as an “undesirable.” Whitney’s marriage was annulled a year later. Whitney described her experience in a 1920 article entitled “Why Actresses Are So Often Deceived in Love,” which appeared in several newspapers.

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It's amazing the amount of time you must be putting into this to come up with this kind of detail, especially for films which technically no longer exist. Great job.

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