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  < Back to Table Of Contents  < Back to Topic: Art forms of a New Country

article number 467
article date 07-21-2015
copyright 2015 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
Money for Stardom; Enter Charlie Chaplin at $1250 Per Week and Mary Pickford Earns $104,000, 1914
by Terry Ramsaye
   

From the 1926 book, A Million and One Nights.

EDITORS NOTE: This article is decorated with pictures and captions of found in other books published in the 1920’s and 1930’s.

“CHARLIE CHAPMAN” GETS AN OFFER

ONE sultry afternoon in the late summer of 1913 Adam Kessel sat in his office in the Putnam building meditating on the prosperous affairs of the New York Motion Picture Company and Keystone comedies.

There had not been a new war in the film world for at least a week and Kessel yawned under the monotony of the moment. He took his feet off the desk and decided to step out on Broadway and get the air.}

As Kessel strolled past Hammerstein’s he paused for conversation on the weather with Mike Sullivan, the manager, who stood in the lobby.

A laugh rippled across the audience inside.

“Guess I’ll go look the bill over,” Kessel decided and entered. He was one of the familiars who did not require even the formalities of a pass.

A skit entitled ’A Night in a London Club’ was on.

A small man with big pants and a curious gait attracted Kessel’s attention and wrung a laugh from him.

When the act ended Kessel went back stage. He had a notion to interview this young man. There was just a possibility that he might be useful in Keystone comedies. He was certainly a most amusing little cuss.

The young man was somewhat curious about his caller, with whom he chatted in deepest and darkest London accents on the subject of the kinema.

“What the blooming ‘ell—no.”

“I tell you, Mr. Chapman, we can give you $75 a week.”

The young “Mr. Chapman” was entirely dubious. He had profound doubts about so rash a venture. He had had a bit of a hard time here and there along the line and things were better now. He was in the good graces of Alf Reeves, manager of Karno’s Pantomime Company, and they were booked solid on the big time from coast to coast.

There were other conversations. This Kessel was getting persistent. He raised the offer to a hundred dollars a week.

No. The young Englishman was going to take no such chances. He had the caution born of bitter experience.

He had been born with a traveling troupe of strolling British players at Fontainebleau in France. His early boyhood had been spent against the seamy side of life in London, a child laborer in a toy factory. It had been a fight against penury and want. He was doing well enough now; why take a chance?

The Karno company moved along. But Adam Kessel still had that little English comedian on his mind.

’A Night in a London Club’ was playing at the Nixon theatre in Philadelphia when Alf Reeves got a wire:
"Is Charlie Chapman with your company? Have him call Saturday our office, Putnam Bldg.
Kessel & Bauman."

In response to that wire Charles Chaplin duly appeared in New York and Adam Kessel raised the offer to $150 a week.

Chaplin went back to Philadelphia to consult with Alf Reeves.

“You had better take it,” was Reeves’ advice, “because you can’t hope to get much more here with us than you are getting now.”

Chaplin was in no haste. His contract was due to expire in November, at which time the company was booked to play at the Empress in Los Angeles. He notified Kessel that he would start work with Keystone in Los Angeles then.

Mack Sennett made a call on Chaplin back stage at the Empress and one day in November Charlie took his baggy old pants and shoes out to the Keystone lot.

“What the blooming ‘ell” was ahead he did not know. When in doubt an actor always does his favorite business.

   
CHARLES CHAPLIN editing films in the cutting room of his studio in Hollywood, California.

Chaplin’s first Keystone appearance was a part in a one reel release entitled ’Kid’s Auto Races.’ He wore the gait and mannerisms that had been most successful in his music hall appearances. It was a bit of a trick he had picked up in the toy factory days when he imitated a wretched old bar fly who hobbled about at the Queen’s Head, a London “pub,” to hold the cabbies’ horses for them while they roistered inside.

Chaplin’s mother had reproached him mightily for making sport of the old unfortunate and perhaps that had helped to burn it into the youngster’s mind. Now it was to be the making of his world wide fame.

A screen examination of ’Kid’s Auto Races’ discloses that apparently Mr. Chaplin had a most amusingly awkward time with the camera. That too was a bit of business gleaned on the other side.

In the summer of 1912, on his first engagement under Alf Reeves’ management, they played on the isle of Jersey. Jersey’s annual fête, “the Carnival of Flowers,” was in progress. Chaplin and Reeves among the spectators were vastly amused at a fussy and ostentatious official of the carnival who persisted in centering himself in every scene covered by the motion picture cameras. The Keystone camera revived that memory and made it a part of Chaplin’s screen debut.

The little man with the baggy pants was on his way, due in time to become a vital factor in the tangled course of screen finance as well as the world’s greatest motion picture actor.

Keystone comedies began and saw their prime before the star age. Chaplin, along with Mabel Normand and all that merry company under Mack Sennett, were anonymously presented to the public. But the picture of Chaplin in his make up, characterized by pants, shoes and cane, gave the posters advertising Keystone comedies a new drawing power. Chaplin became famous before he was known.

Mack Sennett, now, inadvertently, and incidentally to his own ambitions, gave Chaplin a mighty boost to fame. Remember that when Griffith was appointed to the director-generalship of Mutual, Sennett had advertised that Griffith had nothing to do with Keystone comedies. And remember, too, that Griffith began his vast and mysterious preparations for the making of ’The Birth of a Nation’ on his arrival in Los Angeles the middle of February 1914.

Sennett was still making one reel Keystone comedies, good comedies to be sure, but just one reelers. If he were not to be passed on the road to fame by Griffith and Ince with their multiple reel features, something had to be done.

And so we discover that in April, 1914, Sennett went into production of a six reel comedy, entitled ’Tillie’s Punctured Romance,’ with Marie Dressier and Charlie Chaplin.

The world had never heard of a six reel comedy. It was as stupendous an undertaking in its field as ’Quo Vadis’ or that Griffith mystery, the coming ’Clansman.’

The choice of Marie Dressier for the title role was, of course, a tribute to the “famous players” idea which had been espoused by Zukor.

Miss Dressler has her own version of the casting, as related in her book ’The Life Story of an Ugly Duckling,’ in which she says: “I went up on the lot and looked around until I found Charlie Chaplin who was then unknown. I picked him out and also Mabel Normand . . . . I think the public will agree that I am a good picker for it was the first real chance Charlie Chaplin ever had.”

The original discoverers of Charlie Chaplin should form an association and hold a convention at the Polo Grounds, if the seating facilities are adequate.

Sennett labored with ’Tillie’s Punctured Romance’ for fourteen weeks. In view of the fact that Keystone produced its one reeler standard comedies easily at the rate of one a week it is apparent he was making a supreme effort.

’Tillie’s Punctured Romance’ was a proclaimed success at its premiere showings. And out of this success Charlie Chaplin appears to have gathered a courage which importantly supported him in negotiations now under way.

Gilbert M. Anderson, the famous “Broncho Billy” of Essanay, went down to Los Angeles to negotiate. He was amazed at the esteem which Chaplin seemed to put on his own services. Anderson was led on and on to more and more ambitious offers.

   
CHAPLIN’S BILLING for his last stage appearance, at the Empress theatre, Los Angeles, in November, 1913 — Chaplin appears third from the top and in the center at the bottom.

All this bidding came to the attention of Kessel and Bauman in New York. They were selling Keystone comedies containing the peerless Chaplin’s antics to the Mutual Film Corporation for ten cents a foot for the positive prints. This was a part of the merchandising practise of the old program system. It took no cognizance of star values or costs.

Now Chaplin’s price was going up, about tenfold. Kessel and Bauman announced to the Mutual that the price on Keystones would have to be eleven cents a foot, if they were to hold that funny little chap with the bamboo cane.

Mutual’s board of directors thought this decidedly absurd. The answer was “No.”

Meanwhile Broncho Billy Anderson was getting dizzy at the heights to which Chaplin was leading the bidding. One November day in 1914 George K. Spoor in Chicago received a telegram from Anderson at Niles. He indicated that he thought he could get Chaplin for a thousand dollars a week, which same was a great deal of money, even for prosperous Essanay.

Spoor with the telegram in hand walked into the advertising office of his plant. He had never heard of Charlie Chaplin.

“Who is this fellow Chaplin with Keystone?”

Frank Suttle, a member of the publicity staff, looked the telegram over.

“Guess he’s that funny little fellow with the baggy pants.”

“Is he good?” Spoor waved the telegram casually.

“Sure, the best they’ve got.”

Anderson, armed with the backing of his Chicago partner, went back at Chaplin with an offer of a thousand dollars a week.

Chaplin glowed inside. But he shrugged his shoulders and hesitated. He could just as well charge Anderson for the delay. They closed an agreement at $1,250 a week.

   
Came the time for the renewal of Charlie Chaplin’s contract with Keystone, which had been for one year only. G. M. Anderson (“Broncho Billy”), acting for Essanay, offered him $1250 a week. Charlie took it, and arrived on the Essanay lot in Chicago amid a hailstorm of publicity. Essanay now had a gold mine in its triple-threat combination: Francis X. Bushman (left), heart throbs; Chaplin (center), belly laughs; and Anderson (right), Western thrills.

With a fanfare of advertising Essanay announced its acquisition of Chaplin on January 2, 1915. Chaplin started to work at the Essanay Chicago studio, on a comedy in two reel entitled ’Charlie’s New Job.’ The comedian shivered in the winds that swept down the west shore of Lake Michigan and pined for balmy California. In three weeks he was through with his picture and Chicago.

Chaplin’s second Essanay picture, ’A Night Out,’ his favorite theme, was made at Niles, California, where he continued to the conclusion of his contract a year later.

The casts at the early Chaplin-Essanay pictures all included the now famous Ben Turpin. Turpin rose in screen favor because of his charming affliction of cross eyes. Turpin acquired them on the stage playing the grotesque role of ’Happy Hooligan,’ and has since spent his life resisting the efforts of well meaning oculists to cure him.

Chaplin’s third Essanay picture, ’The Champion,’ is among the most famous of his productions.

In the course of his Essanay engagement Chaplin attended a party where he met a very fair young person from Reno, Nevada, Edna Purviance. She was as blond as he was dark, as placid as he was mercurial.

Chaplin became pictorially interested. Here was a graceful feminine foil, his photographic counterpart. She was invited to meet the camera at Niles. Miss Purviance was cast for a part in the Essanay Chaplins and remained connected with the Chaplin organization, gaining no small share of renown by dint of her nearly continuous appearance on the screens of the world.

A dozen efforts to take her from the Chaplin company to be starred on her own account failed. At last she gleaned her reward with the title role of ’A Woman of Paris,’ produced and directed by Chaplin, in execution of a promise of nearly ten years’ standing. Incidentally this picture served to bring screen fame to Adolphe Menjou, who appeared in support of Miss Purviance.

The Essanay furor of publicity about Chaplin set his career well under way. He was from thence onward to set a pace in starland.

The motion picture world was never to be the same after Chaplin shambled into it. Affairs began to revolve around him. Bigger events were coming.

   
WHEN CHARLES CHAPLIN went to Essanay, lured away from Keystone by “Broncho Billy,” he made this scene for “Charlie’s New Job,” with Ben Turpin in the cast.

$104,000 FOR MARY

THAT $4,000 a week offer to Mary Pickford to star in ’The Diamond from the Sky’ serial, one of the incidental resultants of the Chicago newspaper circulation war, was the source of reactions which upset the motion picture industry in general—and Adolph Zukor in particular.

The week of November 21, 1914, was a highly anxious time for the head of Famous Players.

Zukor had been paying Miss Pickford $1,000 a week, and now this wild Chicago ’Tribune-Mutual’ serial project was offering to quadruple her salary.

Zukor went on his long, lone walks again, thinking it out.

The serial offer meant $208,000 a year, and they were ready with $50,000 to pay down when the contract should be signed.

Zukor’s experience had shown him that Mary Pickford’s pictures were the essence of his project. He gave up the bidding game and went to persuasive talking—the coming glory of Famous Players, the elevation of the screen and the like.

On November 28 he announced a contract with Miss Pickford for the coming year at a salary of $104,000.

Famous Players was saved on that day and date. The fame of all the other famous players was nothing unless it was supported by Mary Pickford. She was the one player really famous to the motion picture exhibitors and their public.

   
Zukor teamed Mary Pickford with her husband, Owen Moore, at that time one of the screen’s most popular male stars. They appear here in a scene from ’Caprice,’ made in 1913.

The terms of the contract with Miss Pickford were given out rather freely. This was done for a most studied purpose. Adolph Zukor was not from the beginning merely a garrulous publicity seeker.

It seems that Miss Pickford was to appear in not less than eight or more than twelve pictures in the corning year. Famous Players was to pay all the wardrobe required, from shoes to dresses. Mary was to have a voice in passing on the plays to be filmed.

The wardrobe details were thrown in for decoration. The essential fact to be borne thus gently into the mind of the exhibitors was that a well defined limit in the quantity of film from this premier star had been established.

It was announced also that Mary had been over-ruled in a demand for a clause in her contract providing that “all Pickford features must be sold at double the customary prices and that an exhibitor showing them must charge double admissions.” This was paving the way for something, too.

Conditions had markedly changed from the time only five years before when Mary appeared in one reel a week, and sometimes more. Remember that only six years before she was just a little girl from a stock company walking down Fourteenth street looking for a job.

Gladys Smith of Toronto, and Adolph, the furrier’s apprentice from Hungary, were getting along in the world. Meanwhile the Famous Players exploitation of Mary sent Biograph and the Imp Company into the mothballs looking up the old one reel negatives in which she appeared. Re-issues of the early Pickfords came flooding on to the market, to the considerable annoyance of Adolph Zukor.

The little exhibitor in the nickelodeon store-show with a vintage one reeler could fling a banner to the public gaze announcing “Mary Pickford—Today—5c.”

This did not fit in with Zukor’s plans for getting back his $104,000 and a margin. Caustic comments issued in the trade press.

Carl Laemmle, of the Universal, owner of the Imp’s Pickford pictures, was moved to issue a defensive statement concerning his re-issues, saying that “instead of trying to mislead the exhibitors into thinking that his were the new pictures, he has taken pains to impress on the exhibitors that they were reissues.”

In 1923, to protect herself against various lines of re-issued pictures of other days, Miss Pickford purchased a large number of old negatives, including all of the Pickford-Biographs, for which she paid $10,000.

The follow-up to Zukor’s announcement about Mary’s high priced contract came from W. W. Hodkinson, head of the Paramount concern distributing Zukor’s picture.

On February 6, 1915, Paramount issued an announcement, saying that: “Owing to the enormous salary which it has been necessary to pay Miss Pickford in order to secure her services, all future releases will be first released to big city theatres charging a minimum price of twenty-five cents.” This plan was also announced for the pretentious ’Eternal City’ made in Rome with Pauline Frederick.

   
Famous Players’ pet star, Mary Pickford, continued serenely on her way. Her looks, charm, and those curls combined to maintain her as the screen’s best seller. This studio still shows her with some of the contemporary glamour boys. Just to the left of her is Donald Crisp, minus General Grant’s whiskers. Douglas Gerrard stands directly back of her. The gloomy youth with his arms folded is Marshall Neilan.

The next week Zukor started something more significant than conspicuous. It was softly announced that the Waybroad Film Company, Adolph Zukor, president, had leased the Broadway theatre from Stanley V. Mastbaum of Philadelphia.

The Broadway theatre was located some two blocks up the way from the Metropolitan Opera House. So it was inevitable that the new policy of the theatre was announced to make it “the home of the grand opera of motion pictures.”

Zukor there started his theatre control campaign which has been the focal activity of the motion picture business for the last decade.

Stanley V. Mastbaum of Philadelphia was the head of the Stanley Company of that city, which grew out of the purchase of theatres owned by Sigmund Lubin. The Stanley circuit, earliest of the important theatre chains, became a demonstration of the power of combination and a pattern to endless development of chain theatre combines to come. It continues under the ministrations of Jules Mastbaum.

The high price of Pickford put Zukor into picture exhibition on Broadway. He wanted to set a pace for the nation and give his pictures the glamour of “The Great White Way.”

The announcement of Pickford’s large salary went rippling through the studios and gave every aspiring player an itch to be mentioned in the big figures.

Players sought exaggerated salaries and gave out exaggerated reports of what they did get.

In turn competitors began to announce bigger and bigger salaries, regardless of fact, to make their plays and players seem as important as Mary Pickford and her pictures. They started in thousands and got to millions in about two years.

Now the public began to acquire its impression of the motion picture as an institution of unlimited wealth and glorious extravagance. See what Mary did!

   
Under Zukor, the photography of her pictures improved immeasurably. Here is Our Mary in soft focus. To understand Mary Pickford’s importance to the motion-picture world, we should note her salary, and not in soft focus. In January, 1915, her contract with Famous Players gave her $2000 a week and half the profits on her productions.

CHANGING CONTRACTS AND ORGANIZATIONS

With the motion picture reaching up ambitiously toward higher admission prices and better theatres, there was an inevitable stirring among the commercial chieftains of the speaking stage. The Lasky deal for the production of Belasco plays was announced the last week in November of 1914, and was followed by some highly glorified interviews with Belasco on art, the stage and the screen.

The Lasky company announced the engagement of Blanche Sweet, who had attained star status under Griffith at Biograph, and Edna Goodrich of stage fame as one of the beauties of the original “Floradora” company and one of the prettiest wives that the late Nat Goodwin ever lost.

Zukor’s announcement of his Broadway theatre as “the home of the grand opera of motion picture” brought a swift reaction from the Lasky company. Through Morris Gest, negotiations were opened with Geraldine Farrar, Metropolitan opera star. There appears to have been some rivalry—Famous Players was negotiating too.

Farrar, it was intimated, might prefer to make a trip to California and the Lasky studio, rather than to work at Famous Players in New York—if she were properly entertained.

Jesse Lasky and his then brother-in-law, Samuel, then Goldfish, met Farrar under the soft light of her drawing-room and were promptly swept into a contract. It stipulated three pictures, ’Carmen,’ ’Maria Rosa’ and ’Temptation,’ to be done in eight weeks, for a salary of $20,000, house, servants, groceries and motor car in Hollywood—and a special car for the rail journeys.

A terrific blast of publicity followed this announcement. Figured in terms of space rates it was a million dollar move for both Farrar and the Lasky company. Farrar was interviewed on everything from art to toothpicks while the motion picture was rediscovered by several imposing national magazines. The film folks who had started to lunch at Delmonico’s began to speak of her as “Jerry” in their democratic sort of way.

Also, by striking coincidence, William Fox prepared for the production of a version of ’Carmen’ with Theda Bara.
As an earlier phase of the theatrical invasion of the screen, the Shubert theatrical interests and the World Special Films Corporation entered into a coalition June, 1914. In September, Brady’s plays were to be produced with original casts in so far as possible.

In February, 1915, the World Special Films concern became the World Film Corporation headed by Arthur Spiegel of Spiegel, May, Stern & Company, a mail order house. His motion picture activities were financed through Laddenberg Thalman & Co.

The roster of financial houses with a finger in the picture business was beginning to grow.

Lewis J. Selznick began to blossom in the trade press under the imposing title of vice president and general manager of the World. When in September of the autumn before, the Peerless company, a producer for World release, announced the acquisition of Clara Kimball Young, the Vitagraph star, emphatic notice was served that credit should be given to Lewis J. Selznick. Selznick was building hopes and laying plans.

Yet another sequence of realignments brought a new concern of note into the field. Al Lichtman, who had left Famous Players as one of the sequels of the formation of Paramount, had in 1914 formed the Alco Film Corporation.

The Alco plan was to tie up with leading theatres in key cities. It was a forerunner of the idea expressed in the subsequent formation of the First National Exhibitors Circuit. Lichtman was backed in the Alco project by William Sievers of St. Louis, an exhibitor.

Richard Rowland and James B. Clark of Pittsburgh, who had earlier sold out to the trust’s General Film, were continuing in business as independents, now with an interest in Alco. They presented ’Tillie’s Punctured Romance,’ the Sennett-Dressler-Chaplin feature comedy, and ’Michael Strogoff’ with Jacob Adler, ’The Ragged Earl’ with Andrew Mack, and introduced Olga Petrova, then a vaudeville artist, to the screen in ’The Vampire.’

The latter pictures were produced by Harry Cohen, first operator of the first nickelodeon in Pittsburgh, and George Cook of the Cook Lithograph Company, incorporated as Popular Plays and Players, a direct simulation of the Famous Players idea.

Alco led a short and stormy life under the presidency of Walter Hoff Seeley, who flitted petrel-like through many film companies, promotions and publishing projects. Alco died in litigation.

Now Richard Rowland and the associated exchangemen found themselves without a film company. They had built the spokes of a distributing machine around the Alco hub and now the hub was gone. Late in January, 1915, they met in Parlor B of the Hotel Claridge to talk about it, and Metro Pictures Corporation, named after the Metro Lithograph Company, resulted.

Richard Rowland became Metro’s president, Joseph Engel, treasurer, and Louis B. Mayer of Boston, secretary. Petrova became their first star. Not long after they re-introduced Juliet Shelby to the films, this time as Mary Miles Minter. She received her eminent “M’s” from Metro.

   
Zukor and Frohman, after the success of ’Queen Elizabeth,’ began to make good their promise of “famous players in famous plays.” In 1913 their new producing organization, Famous Players, signed up Mary Pickford, who had left Biograph to play in David Belasco’s production of ’The Good Little Devil.’ The film version of the play marked her first appearance under the Zukor banner.

During her succeeding years with Famous Players, Mary Pickford became world-famous. Here she is in the film version of ’In the Bishop’s Carriage.’
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