Message Area
lblHidCurrentSponsorAdIndex =

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

article number 607
article date 11-08-2016
copyright 2016 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
To Combat Scandal and Shame, the Movie Industry Unites and Grows Up, 1922
by Terry Ramsaye

From the 1926 book, A Million and One Nights.

* * *

DOWN the years from the beginning of the screen it has been the original fancy of promoters, publicists, writers, educators, ministers and speakers generally to ring the phrase “the motion picture is only in its infancy.”

For some twenty-and-odd years, while the quarrel raged about who was going to be the movies’ papa, the infant continually kicked off the covers, knocked slats out of its crib, spilled its bottle and bawled for publicity, all the while accumulating bad manners and a lot of laundry.

About 1922, when Adolph Zukor, having taught the movie to say “Uncle,” became its guardian, ad litem, and administrator de bonis non, it was time to get the infant a tutor.

The motion picture lives in a glass house, by, for and of exhibition. It is a decided exhibitionist. It intimately relates itself to the emotions of more people than any other art or industry. Its capital is personality and it is the personal affair of its millions of followers.

Fifteen years of the screen theatre and a considerable sprinkling of million dollar employment contracts sufficed to make the personages of the screen about the most thoroughly public figures in the world.

Now a series of events pertaining to what would otherwise have been their private affairs, among important screen personages, contrived to shock the conventions and mores of the so-called American public. Most of these were commonplace matters, but being connected with the screen famous, they became foci of national and world sensations.

In spite of the reluctance of the reading public to consider such material it becomes the painful duty of history to review a number of the choicer items.

The first of these sources of public agitation about the lives of the screen people to be considered must be the Pickford divorce, which by the misfortune of her fortunate position assumes an entirely disproportionate importance. As a divorce it was of no special importance. But neither was the apple shot by William Tell or the cherry tree chopped by George Washington.

It depends on who does it. In this case it was “America’s Sweetheart” who did it.

For some years it had been known and the subject of wide spread but unprinted comment that Mary Pickford’s marriage with Owen Moore, a romantic episode of the old Imp picture days, had resulted unhappily. But mostly America had forgotten about it now.

Mary Pickford in Little Lord Fauntleroy, United Artists, 1921.

About Saint Valentine’s Day in 1920, Miss Pickford departed from Hollywood in quiet mystery. A remote ranchhouse on the outskirts of the obscure town of Genoa in Nevada became host to one Gladys Mary Smith Moore.

Genoa is a proper spot for somber chapters of dead romance. It was settled by the Mormons, wanderers of the desert, in 1847, and has since become a lost town with scarce an inhabitant among its crumbling wooden shacks.

Nearby is the court town of Minden, not far also from Carson City. A lawyer filed suit in behalf of Gladys Mary Smith Moore for divorce from Owen Moore charging desertion.

Then like a figure in a melodrama, impelled by coincidence, Owen Moore and a camera man arrived in Virginia City. It was given out that Moore was there to make snow scenes for a coming picture. The title of the picture has not yet been announced.

Now it chanced that he was unable to find hotel accommodations in Virginia City. So Moore drove on to Minden—fatal misstep! While he sat at luncheon in the little frame hotel, his mind busy on those snow scenes, an officer of the court surprised him and served the papers. Then Moore rode away in the snow—story book fashion. The sun sank in ruby and gold over the Sierras. It was a fade-out.

On March 2, Gladys Mary Smith Moore, accompanied by her mother, went into court at Minden before Frank P. Langen, judge, and gave testimony. A decree of divorce was granted.

The story was covered by a country correspondent of the Reno papers, in great simplicity of manner. It reached the news papers of the United States couched in such gentle terms that they were several days discovering that it was a story. The first dispatches included this paragraph:

“Immediately after the decree Miss Pickford went back to the ranch where she had been living. She said she was seeking a quiet place to live and intended to stay near Minden for a long time and to make the state of Nevada her permanent home.”

The pressure of queries from news editors in a few days had their effect on the correspondents at Reno and another wee trickle of a story came through quoting Miss Pickford as saying she would never marry again.

On Saturday, March 27, of the same year, 1920, being something less than a month later, Douglas Fairbanks gave a quiet but important party at his home in Beverly Hills. The party was in honor of Miss Pickford, the belle of Minden, Nevada. Now, incidentally, among the guests were the Rev. J. Whitcomb Brougher, pastor of Temple Baptist Church, and even more importantly one R. S. Sparks, who, it chances, was a deputy county clerk.

While Mr. Sparks was at the party he issued a license to wed to Douglas Elton Fairbanks, age 36, and Mary Gladys Smith Moore, age 26. This was more convenient than the red tape of the regular bureau at the court house, and, even less conspicuous.

The next day, Sunday March 28, Douglas and Mary were married by the Rev. Mr. Brougher.

So far so good. Sunday and Monday passed without events. Tuesday the story broke and went chattering over the wires. It was no sensation but it tended to confirm a report that Douglas and Mary were fond of each other.

Then something went wrong up in Nevada. April 16, Leonard B. Fowler, attorney general of Nevada, filed a suit to set aside the decree of divorce, charging collusion, fraud and untruthful testimony.

It began to be a national story. It was also something of a local disaster for Nevada’s divorce industry. Several sojourners from the East found themselves annoyingly delayed in Reno by a wave of agitation against “short time divorces.”

Eventually, in May 1922, the Supreme Court of Nevada sustained Pickford’s divorce. Meanwhile it was frequently in the public prints, in news and editorial columns and on the public tongue. It was unfortunate for Miss Pickford and unfair. It was also unfortunate for the motion picture.

The Pickford divorce was less open to question than thousands which passed unnoticed, but motion picture fame afforded a mark.

Douglas Fairbanks, right-center, in Three Musketeers, United Artists, 1921.

The flow of newspaper and grapevine comment on the life of the motion pictures was given a dash of much stronger stuff in 1921. On July 12 of that year an action was brought by Attorney General Allen of Massachusetts for the removal from office of Nathan A. Tufts, district attorney for Middlesex County.

Among the specifications it was alleged there was some connection between the district attorney’s office and the suppression of the social news of a “motion party” four years before.

It seems that a number of motion picture magnates of national prominence had attended a dinner to Fatty Arbuckle, given at the Copley Plaza March 6, 1917. The diners adjourned for coffee and pastry at Brownie Kennedy’s roadhouse at Mishawum Manor, Woburn, Mass. A pleasant time was had by all and the check, when added up at 4 o’clock in the morning, totalled $1,050. Presumably the $50 was for, hat checks. But the first cost was nothing to the upkeep.

Less than a month later the host of the evening got word from a friend in Boston that things were not so good. Some of the girls had talked and now there was trouble in the offing. There was a hurried conference of film magnates in the calm of New London, Conn., close to the Sound if any preferred to jump in.

A fund of $100,000 was raised to deal with the situation. The money was presumed to be applied where it would do the most good in the least time. Details will be found in the newspapers of July 12 and 27, 1921. The affair and its revelations had a bearing on personal issues within the industry as to which the writer is charmed to be neutral.

This event breaking in the newspapers added to the velocity of gossip and ill-will against the motion picture industry. There have been steel parties, coal parties, banking parties, and even other motion picture parties, of greater ornamental merit than the $101,050 function of Woburn, but it got the publicity.

It was a decided misfortune that this Woburn morning reception should have been a sequel to a dinner to Fatty Arbuckle. Because that young man was in his ill-starred way to bring down on himself and the motion picture a crushing Keystone of disaster within a few weeks of the July disclosures.

Monday, September 5, 1921, there was a party at a San Francisco hotel, attended by a number of persons variously connected with the motion picture, including Fatty Arbuckle.

Virginia Rappe, a screen actress, died following the affair. Details began to percolate, and, on September 11, Arbuckle delivered himself to the authorities in San Francisco.

The smouldering gossip of corruption in the films broke into flame. New York film offices were stricken with terror. There were endless conferences. Lawyers scurried about. Press agents tore at their hair and typewriters. Statements flew and the wires to San Francisco were overloaded.

The set of facts was discouraging. It was difficult for even the ingenious scenario makers to fit the admitted circumstances into an acceptable tale. It was the hope to pull a miracle scene with Arbuckle as hero.

Arbuckle’s comedies were banned from the screen in several communities and in haste they were nationally withdrawn in hope of quieting the storm. It is clear that the patrons take their pictures personally.

Elaborate plans for defense were laid. Minta Durfee Arbuckle, wife of the comedian, who had been estranged, was sent speeding to San Francisco. The slogan of the hour was “Stand by Roscoe.” Several unreleased Arbuckle comedies and some millions in good will were at stake.

Two trials were had, resulting in disagreement of the juries. A third trial was more successful, resulting in an acquittal of Arbuckle on a charge of manslaughter. Minta Durfee Arbuckle later went to Paris and sued for a divorce.

With the hallowed decorations of a “peace on earth and goodwill toward men” movement, an effort was made to release the Arbuckle pictures at a later Christmastide. The public rushed to the try-out showings in some remote towns, but an angry buzz from the uplifters caused a second retirement.

The affair had many of the aspects of accident. But while Arbuckle was acquitted of the somewhat technical charge against him, he and the whole motion picture business shared in a conviction at the bar of public opinion under a broader indictment.

Fatty Arbuckle in Coney Island, Paramount Pictures, 1917.

y the time the Arbuckle affair was getting well worked into public ferment the motion picture chieftains began to admit that things were in an exceedingly bad way.

It was the autumn of 1921, and in the days of their trial, there seemed to be no end of the pestilence and scourges. Woe was deep in the kingdom of the screen and the signs in the sky gave no promise.

But like the period of greatest suspense in a Griffith thriller, the lone horseman and champion of the right was even then galloping to the rescue. He had been on the way since the spring of 1919 at least. His coming had been forecast, not in letters of fire or stars or stars in the sky, but in very discreet whispers at discreet moments in directors’ meetings, at luncheons all the way from the Ritz to the Astor.

The first public inkling, and it was a remote inkling, indeed, appeared on May 6, 1919, even before the motion picture sky had grown appreciably cloudy, in ‘Wid’s Daily’, now the ‘Film Daily’, a motion picture trade journal. Page one of that issue presented an article from the graphic staccato pen of Joseph Dannenberg, editor, as follows:



Scene, the Claridge, Parlor B,
Time, yesterday, about 12: 30 P. M.
In the cast: Adolph Zukor, Arthur Friend, Famous Players; Pat Powers, Universal; Charles C. Pettijohn, and Wm. J. Clark of Exhibitors Mutual, and several others of the industry, AND, a little slender man who was probably of importance.

As the party arrived they quietly reached Parlor B, and for once no one would say what it was all about.

Investigation disclosed that Parlor B had been secured for a luncheon by Charles C. Pettijohn. Late yesterday, when Pettijohn was found he said: “Oh, my birthday falls on May 5 and I had a little party.” But he smiled in a peculiar manner.

None of those attending the luncheon would discuss what took place. Interest is chiefly aroused in who the little man in the gathering was. He has not been a familiar figure in picture circles, at all events.

This story was accurate as far as it went except that Pettijohn is likely to have a birthday any time. The luncheon party in Parlor B, however, included also: William Fox, Robert H. Cochrane of Universal; Gabriel Hess and Samuel Goldfish of Goldwyn Pictures Corporation; Saul Rogers, attorney for the Fox Film Corporation; Percy Waters and Harry Berman.

Since this is not a nominating speech it is not necessary to hold out on the mystery of the mysterious little man “who was probably of importance.” He was Will Hays, chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Now this was not at all the inception of the movement which today connects Hays with the industry, as might be hastily surmised. Hays was looking the motion picture over as a campaign manager. The motion picture industry did not know yet that it was looking for a deliverer and it little suspected Pettijohn of being a prophet. That is one of the important things about Pettijohn.

Charles C. Pettijohn of Indiana, Broadway and Fifth Avenue, the lawyer who figured in the formative background of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, Inc., becoming the chief field lieutenant of Will Hays. Underwood & Underwood photo.

We must indulge in a film cutback to Indiana, a state famous for its output of fiction and practical politics.

Will Hays is from Indiana.

Charles C. Pettijohn is from Indiana.

When Will Hays was the chairman of the Indiana Republican organization, Charles C. Pettijohn was secretary of the Indiana Democratic organization.

Indianapolis centers on a Circle.

Hays and Pettijohn were friends as well as political enemies. Pettijohn is counted by those who know him well a first class friend and an able politician. No one will ever erect a cigar store behind him on the hasty assumption he is a wooden Indian.

Pettijohn was also at this time a lawyer of some repute, due to his skill in defending some impetuous gentlemen charged with the promotion of the local death rate.

Among other things, Pettijohn, in political and other affairs operated in close and confidential capacity for Thomas Taggart, Democratic boss of Indiana and proprietor of Pluto’s poignant waters and French Lick, where one can also play golf.

Pettijohn came into the motion pictures as attorney for Frank Rembush, an Indiana exhibitor, and then as the legal advisor of the state organization of exhibitors. When William J. Clark of Clark & Cornelius, Detroit brass founders, bought the bleaching bones of the Mutual Film Corporation in 1918, Pettijohn came to New York to render legal service. After a look around he joined the Selznick organization.

Pettijohn was and is, therefore, a person of experience. Politically he can observe the wealthy waddle of the Elephant quite as far as he can see the long eager ears of the Donkey. Which manifestly has nothing to do with the situation.

However, we may recall for the moment that hardly a block down Broadway from where Parlor B of the Claridge stood is Marcus Loew’s theater, which was once Hammerstein’s Music Hall, and that in the days of 1896 and the full-dinner-pail campaign the Republican National Committee held seven boxes at that palace of amusement.

There, for the duration of the battle, the newly invented American Biograph presented the miracle of living pictures of Major William McKinley. By coincidence Abner McKinley, a brother, just before the campaign had become a stockholder in the American Mutoscope & Biograph Company. The Republican admiration for the screen began at the beginning.

Now, by 1919, the engineers of the Republican campaign had not forgotten the accidental disaster of the Ince anti-war picture, ‘Civilization’, which had played so large a share in the second Wilson victory. It was desirable, among other things, that no such accident be repeated. And May 5, 1919, was none too early to be thinking about November and election time in 1920. Hays wanted the screen for Harding.

Howard Hickman in Civilization, a Thomas Ince anti-war picture, Triangle Films, 1916.

It was October 14 when Pettijohn left Exhibitors’ Mutual to take his desk in the Selznick offices. For a number of years Selznick had been thinking of squaring things with the World Film Corporation for the events of 1916 and remarks by William A. Brady. Brady had been succeeded at the head of World by Ricord Gradwell, a master salesman for the Oliver typewriter.

Now in 1918-9 the World was in its dotage. Gradwell left and the corporation began to make a living selling its heirlooms, among them the screen rights to ‘Way Down East’, acquired by Griffith for $175,000. Selznick bought the feeble World and tied it out in his backyard, like a goat.

It chanced that the World was the distributing agent for Kinograms, a news reel. Kinograms was prospering for the moment on a burst of royal largess. British patriots had expressed a substantial appreciation of handsome attention given to one Edward Windsor, H. R. H. Prince of Wales, on the occasion of his first visit to Canada and the United States.

The Prince was filmed freely, producing a profound flapper palpitation throughout America. An eight reel assembly of the news reel recordings by Tracy Mathewson, cameraman-to-the Prince, was edited by Charles Urban, now established in New York, and sent to London for British Empire consumption.

On the strength of the able showing of the Prince, interests identified with the Canadian Pacific Railway invested a quarter of a million in a concern known as the Associated Screen News, which took in, for a time, Kinograms and the Gaumont News & Graphic.

The Associated Screen News of Canada, a related enterprise, survives and flourishes in Montreal under the ministrations of Bernard E. Norrish, who as superintendent of publicity for Department of Trade and Commerce, had made Canada the first nation to engage officially in propaganda film production.

Incidentally at about this juncture, the Hudson’s Bay Company made a large investment in Educational Films Corporation in New York, headed by Earl Hammons. The Hudson’s Bay Company was the last furrier to go into the picture business.

Now the Associated Screen News of the U. S. A. for various reasons, including Pettijohn, began the production of a twice-a-week reel entitled Selznick News.

The air was full of news reels, and the news reels were full of Warren G. Harding.

Will Hays made it a point to give the news reels the same recognition as the press. Harding posed willingly and often.

Hays, the mystery man from the luncheon in Parlor B, was getting better and better acquainted in and about the film industry. Lewis J. Selznick had heard a great deal of him from Pettijohn and was proud of Hays’ acquaintance as a genuine insider and man of affairs.

It became well impressed on the motion picture industry in several ways that Hays could be a friend worth having and the motion picture had never had any pals who knew telephone numbers in Washington. It was properly impressed.

Quite a few little favors were done, done in that graceful open handed way that is bread-upon-the-waters. Just for example, Nicholas and Joseph Schenck had a Russian friend who was confronted with Ellis Island difficulties which prevented entry into the United States. A way around Ellis Island, perfectly lawful but dexterously managed, was found.

Now the Schencks had Fatty Arbuckle comedies released through Zukor’s Famous Players, and Talmadge dramas released through First National Exhibitors Circuit, and besides held an intimate relation with the Marcus Loew enterprises. It was a big tie-up of friendships. There were others.

The campaign, as need not be detailed, went through with such a success as to crown Hays with the largest wreaths of laurel ever issued to a campaign manager. Warren G. Harding and a Republican Congress went in with a roar like a Mississippi levee letting go under the June rise.

Rudolph Valentino in The Sheik, Paramount Pictures, 1921.

Then Hays took an office of his own and proceeded to wind up the far flung affairs of the campaign.

While Hays was so engaged some of his motion picture friends came to call. He was now a considerably bigger man than he had been at that luncheon in Parlor B.

William Fox suggested that he would like to have Hays join his organization at say about $75,000 a year. Some of the other motion picture concerns also thought they might be able to use a maker of landslides like the election of ‘20.

Hays was cordial and polite, but busy. He must have known perfectly well that all nice efficient Republican campaign managers become postmasters general. It is the traditional party method, time tried and proven. The post-office is the place for the organizer. It is sometimes good for the mails and it is always good for the party. This is something the Democrats have overlooked.

And never had the Democrats so overlooked the opportunity as when they installed Postmaster General Burleson. He had contrived to make the post-office, the one place where everybody gets a government contract, the most unpopular institution between Rainy Lake and the Rio Grande.

Hays naturally went to Washington and became Harding’s postmaster general. Even more important, he became a vigorously effective postmaster general and restored the mail service which was beginning to be seriously missed, even in the telegraphically minded film business.

Letters began to arrive on time. The post-office machinery picked up with a click and began to run with a steady purr. Drastic measures and burly marines in convoys discouraged mail robberies.

A serious crisis threatened in the impending rail strike. It is hard to visualize the demoralization of business that would likely have followed the cessation of mail service. Hays pictured it, and it is perhaps permissible at this late day to say that there were plans set ready to put the whole U. S. Army at moving the mails.

The post-office which had been intensely unpopular became popular. Even the dextrine on the back of the stamps tasted better after Hays got ahold.

Now by December, 1921, just when Hays was dashing from city to city and sitting up nights with the wires that told him the rail situation, the motion picture men were sinking deeper and deeper into the gloom of the industry’s disgrace. They needed a friend, quickly.

The flow of scandal was telling at the box office. Censorship movements were acquiring new strength. Professional enemies of the screen were capitalizing opportunity.

The motion picture industry had made two slightly organized efforts to help itself. The first was the Motion Picture Board of Trade, born to a short and uneventful life under the auspices of J. W. Binder in 1915. The second was the National Association of the Motion Picture Industry of later date, headed by William A. Brady, a showman.

The National Association could be of no help in the difficulties of 1921. It was weak from a lack of confidence and common interest. The motion picture men had to be driven by the most desperate necessity before they could unite for a common cause.

Harold Lloyd in Among Those Present, Pathé Exchange, 1921.

They now knew they must unite and that the only effective aid must come from outside the industry. None of those who had participated in letting the motion picture fall into the Slough of Despond could be of use in pulling it out.

They remembered what baseball had done in a similar if not quite so desperate a plight. Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis had been plucked from his place of special eminence on the Federal bench to redeem the repute of the game.

The time was very ripe—over-ripe in fact.

Pettijohn discreetly mentioned the name of Hays to Selznick, and some others. Nicholas and Joseph Schenck had pleasant words to say. There were other nominations, among them Hiram Johnson of California and Herbert Hoover.

There was a conference at a lawyer’s office down in the Wall Street district. “Not Hoover,” they decided. “He’s rich and independent.” Johnson—well, Johnson was from California.

Selznick was strong for Hays, for the reason, he says, “He was the biggest man I knew.” The choice was Hays.

Hays had been injured in a train wreck. He was recovering under treatment in his suite at the Wardman Park Hotel in Washington. There Selznick and Saul Rogers went to interview him December 8, 1921.

They bore with them a roundrobin, under date of December 2, 1921, inviting Hays to the leadership of the industry. There were some touching phrases in that document:

“. . . and are striving to have the industry accorded the consideration and dignity to which it is justly entitled, and proper representation before the people of this country . . .

“We feel that our industry requires further careful upbuilding and a constructive policy of progress . . .”

One important passage read:

“The compensation we are prepared to pay in the event of your acceptance is one hundred thousand dollars a year under a commitment satisfactory to you, for a period of three years.”

The signatures included Adolph Zukor, William Fox, Samuel Goldwyn, W. E. Atkinson of Metro, Morris Kohn of Realart, Rufus S. Cole of R. C. Pictures, Lewis J. Selznick, P. L. Waters of Triangle, Carl Laemmle, and United Artists Corporation, by Hiram Abrams, president.

The roundrobin signed by motion picture chieftains inviting Will Hays, postmaster general, to head a new trade association.

Hays was properly surprised. It is, however, a safe guess that he was not entirely unprepared, and that some excellent information was coming from a reliable source in New York. Pettijohn had by this time cast loose from the Selznick concern and was officing for himself in Fifth Avenue.

Rogers and Selznick returned to New York and reported. December 17 there was a gathering at Delmonico’s where Hays met the film men. He was going home to Indiana for Christmas. He said he would think it over some more.

Christmas morning the postmaster general was at his breakfast when a babble of small boy conversation arose around the bedecked tree in the next room. Three youngsters, Billy Hays, Jr., and his cousins, Charles Edward and John T. Hays, 5, 6 and 8, were exulting over their gifts, more especially a set of cowboy suits. They began to put them on, for a parade before their elders.

“I’ll be Bill Hart.”

“You won’t, I’ll be Hart.”

“Won’t either, I’ll be him.”

“Then I’ll be Doug—so there.”

Will Hays was listening. The politically acute are said to have their ears at the grass roots. Hays was this morning listening to the voice of the people expressing themselves with guileless sincerity at the foot of the Christmas tree. He decided the films were important.

The postmaster general’s real decision about the scope and possibilities of that movie job appears to have been made that morning of December 25, 1921.

On January 14, next, the formal acceptance came and President Harding issued a statement from the White House, expressing appreciations of Hays and regrets at his approaching departure from the Cabinet.

In March, Hays opened the offices of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, Inc., at 522 Fifth Avenue, and received the customary floral horseshoes.

A number of Democratic orators in Washington, including Senator B. P. (“Pat”) Harrison of Mississippi, “viewed with alarm” and then the excitement subsided. Hays went to work.

And there was work aplenty to do.

In the weeks while Hays was approaching his new and conspicuous post the motion picture scandal sensation wave had received a powerful new impetus.

William Dean Tanner, also known latterly as Taylor, an English soldier of fortune and of motion picture fame as a director, was murdered in his Hollywood apartment sometime in the dark hours between February 1 and 2.

Taylor was a person of more than commonplace studio calibre and the mystery of his taking off was of a nature to make him a national story, against the already highly colored background of the screen.

Developments in the Taylor case were taken by the newspapers as warrant for spectacular disclosures concerning the traffic in narcotics and the Los Angeles dope trade.

Newspaper correspondents from the East poured into Hollywood and wrote freely. The nation’s motion picture excitement was reaching its crest in March when Hays took office.

Will Hays, president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, Inc., called from the Harding Cabinet to rescue the screen industry from the Slough of Despond in 1921.

Evidences of a plan and directional skill now began to be apparent in the industry’s dealings with correspondents. The motion picture began to scream with outraged innocence. It was a rather new role.

Writers, better known for their fictional contributions to the scenario departments than for their abilities as reporters, were brought in as a defensive army. They reached Hollywood in the morning, and by night completed profound articles stating they had been unable to verify reports of wickedness.

These articles had the same importance as interviews on America with European celebrities who have just had their first look at the Woolworth building. But big names helped.

The second Sunday after the Taylor murder several Hollywood churches played to standing room only with, many of the surprised regular attendants crowded into the back seats. An atmosphere of sweet piety pervaded the shade of the palms and pepper trees of Vine street.

Also those visiting newspaper correspondents became marked and observed men. They were run down, roped, hog tied and taken to lunch (without cocktails) and regaled with filtered facts.

Frank Woods, scenario chief at the Lasky studios, made daily reports in writing to Jesse Lasky on the movements of the correspondents.

One item of annoyance was the pursuit of Edward Dougherty, robust and blue eyed son of a Chicago police captain, who was forwarding his exceedingly fervid literary impressions of Hollywood to the ‘Chicago Tribune’ and its snappy little sister, the ‘Illustrated Daily News’ of New York. It seemed impossible to get Dougherty to lunch.

The truth about Hollywood was really a pink compromise between its homemade whitewash and the red glow of the sensational press. The motion picture industry offered some rewards for the apprehension of Taylor’s slayer—and trembled lest the solution should prove worse than the mystery. Gradually the sensation died, still a mystery.

Meanwhile, in New York, the Hays office was organizing, and teaching the motion picture industry not to be so self-conscious, so obvious and clumsy.

The right and left bowers of Hays developed to be Courtland Smith, formerly head f the American Press Association, incidentally a brother-in-law of Arthur Brisbane, and Charles C. Pettijohn, of Indiana and Fifth Avenue.

The Hays office set the motion picture industry an example in courteous, smooth operation and general diplomacy.

Since the coming of Hays the sensations of the motion picture world have not been sensational. A slight and normal sprinkling of scandal continues in the Latin quarter of the films yet, but they are no longer accepted symbols of the business.

Effective resistance has overcome a number of censorship movements, notably in Massachusetts, and the industry has found a meeting place for many of its common causes.

The Hays office has prevented the production of some projected pictures carrying special peril of exciting agitations against the screen, and it has discouraged some of the excessive flamboyances of lurid movie titles and advertising.

Erich Von Stroheim in Foolish Wives, Universal, 1922.

One of the important functions of the Hays office is to listen to people with a pain about the screen. It gives an outlet to shouting that used to be done in the newspapers.

Also because of the very considerable official and political acquaintanceship of Hays his organization has proven of important service to the American picture industry in many of its foreign relations.

An important service within the industry has been the establishment of standardized contracts, particularly between the distributors and the theatres, with a result of making such contracts valid documents instead of texts for fight. An extensive arbitration organization has kept several thousand minor film controversies out of court.

The Hays organization is supported largely by percentage assessments against the business done by its members. The cost to the industry, hence to the public, is somewhat above half a million dollars a year, about the cost of one good picture.

Charges of partisan service to “The Big Three,” meaning Famous Players-Lasky, Metro-Goidwyn-Mayer and the First National, have been made by the new race of Independents, in the unending war of the “Outs against the Ins,” which will always continue in the motion picture industry.

However the major results of the Hays administration have been beneficial to the whole of the screen and its public.

A minority organization of film makers and dealers was formed in May, 1924, under the name of the Independent Motion Picture Producers & Distributors Association. I. E. Chadwick, a producer, who entered the motion picture industry as attorney for the Pathé-Eclectic concern in 1912, was elected the president, and Dr. W. E. Shallenberger, conspicuous in the new contingent of Independents, became chairman of the executive board.

Dr. Shallenberger joined the motion picture as an investor with Charles Hite in nearly Mutual projects, including the celebrated ‘Million Dollar Mystery’. He flashed into the newspaper limelight in the autumn of 1925 with the announcement of a contract to pay “Red” Grange, football star, $300,000 to appear in a single picture.

Meanwhile the motion picture industry is now well out of its infancy, and the Hays office is teaching it how to wear long pants.

Marie Prevost in The Marriage Circle, Warner Brothers, 1924.
< Back to Top of Page