vp19 (vp19) wrote in carole_and_co,

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Hollywood to U.S.: We're not evil

Jane Peters, the future Carole Lombard, and her family had been living in Los Angeles for roughly a decade before her film career began in earnest. If that hadn't been the case -- had they still been in Fort Wayne -- there's a reasonable chance that mother Bess Peters might have been reluctant to let Jane try. Not that Mrs. Peters sought to shelter her daughter; far from it. By the standards of her time, she was a feminist, and encouraged Jane to take part in all sorts of endeavors.

But the film community of the early 1920s had developed a rather raunchy reputation. The death of Virginia Rappe in the San Francisco hotel where Fatty Arbuckle was staying rocked a nation and ruined his career even though he was acquitted of any wrongdoing. Several months later, the mysterious and still-unsolved death of director William Desmond Taylor damaged the reputations of two top actresses, Mary Miles Minter and Mabel Normand. And in 1923, popular actor Wallace Reid, a stalwart on screen playing all-American roles, died after becoming addicted to drugs he took to make it through his busy work schedule.

Many people, including scores of girls, headed to Los Angeles for employment in films. Few gained acting work, much less stardom, and many young women turned to sordid behavior merely to make ends meet. It's no wonder that parents tried to dissuade their daughters from pursuing a movie career.

Hollywood, sensing its reputation was at stake, fought back. One weapon in its arsenal was a book whose title sounds like an expose -- "Can Anything Good Come Out Of Hollywood?" -- especially since the cover features both a cross and a film camera.

Instead, this book -- published in 1923 -- took the opposite approach, telling its readers that Hollywood was full of upstanding people, and that one could make a good living without sacrificing their morals. The target audience was the midwestern Protestants who had spurred the growth of Los Angeles for several decades.

The operator of the fine site "Give Me The Good Old Days" (http://www.elbrendel.com/) picked up this book not long ago and found it fascinating...not so much for the prose but for the pictures. The Hollywood of 1923 was a toddler rapidly outgrowing her clothes, and these images are snapshots of a film community's feverish expansion.

In fact, the book had an example of "then" and "now," photos taken at roughly the same location:

Film-related sights include the set Douglas Fairbanks used for "Robin Hood" in 1922, and the courtyard of the recently opened Grauman's Egyptian Theater...

...or two photos at Paramount Studios, involving Pola Negri and pay day:

But the most crucial photos were meant to reassure moviegoers (and anxious parents) that Hollywood was indeed a proper, genteel destination for their daughters. For example, here's the Hollywood Studio Club, where young women seeking work in the film industry could stay in a safe environment. Founded in 1916, the Studio Club would exist for nearly 60 years. Its alumnae included Zasu Pitts, Ayn Rand (a screenwriter in her pre-objectivist days), Maureen O'Sullivan, Dorothy Malone, Marilyn Monroe and Barbara Eden. Here's the club in 1923 and its original home:

(The Studio Club moved to a new, larger facility designed by Julia Morgan of Hearst Castle fame in 1926. It's now a YMCA-run Job Corps dormitory.)

Getting back to 1923, the book showed examples of virtue triumphing in the film capital, such as May McAvoy and Lois Wilson. Note how the caption spells the word "thoroughly" as "thoroly"; I'm guessing the author was or had been a reader of the Chicago Tribune, which for decades had its own peculiar approach to the English language (e.g.,"though" as "tho").

McAvoy and Wilson were members of a "sorority" called "Our Club," comprised of young actresses who didn't "smoke, drink or gossip." Some of the names still resonate with silent film buffs; others have been lost to history. At right, they're shown visiting the biggest name among actresses of the silent era, Mary Pickford.

I doubt Bess Peters or Jane ever read this book, and it wouldn't have made a difference one way or the other. Being based in Los Angeles, they knew their share of people in the movie industry, especially after Jane had played a supporting part in the 1921 movie "A Perfect Crime."

If you want to view more photos from this fascinating artifact, go to http://www.elbrendel.com/2009/07/can-anything-good-come-out-of-hollywood.html.

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