The Magic and Madness of Movie Weekly

October 25, 2010 at 6:33 am (General blather, Photo Gallery)

Late in its life, Movie Weekly went to color covers, but diminishing circulation (and a 50% hike in its cover price) finally killed the magazine.

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If you love silent movies, you’ve just gotta love Movie Weekly, but this happily unpretentious little magazine has been overlooked for 85 years now.

I can understand why. With articles like “Why the Screen Stars Change Their Names,” it’s about as lightweight as it can be. It’s not necessarily an infallible source of verifiable journalistic integrity, either (though I haven’t seen very many flat-out lies in its pages).

But there just isn’t anything else like it. Imagine a magazine all about silent movies, written by a twisted genius whose mind was 60% that of William K. Everson and 40% that of Howard Stern. That’s Movie Weekly.

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Look at that teaser! Movie School Students Forced to Endure “Petting!” How could anyone not want to read that article?

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Film fans of the 1920s could find some fairly serious reporting about the movies in the dignified, and very worthy, Photoplay and Motion Picture. There were lots of photos and clowning in Film Fun, erudite profiles and short stories in Classic, and high-art pretension in Shadowland.

But Movie Weekly operated on a whole different level. Where else would you find movie star interviews like “Lewis Stone Tells How Women Can Be Fooled” (February 24, 1923) or “I Shall Marry a Man of My Own Race” (November 17, 1923)?

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Every now and then, a prominent film star would visit the editorial offices and “edit” the next issue, selecting photos to be run and writing their own captions for the lead articles. Everyone from Baby Peggy to William S. Hart “edited” an issue of Movie Weekly… including Bebe Daniels.

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Even Valentino put his stamp on an issue, which turned out particularly well for anyone wanting loads of articles about Rudolph Valentino. It tends to be a bit pricy on eBay.

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Another hallmark of Movie Weekly was the way so many of the most eye-catching articles were titled like quotes. Not direct quotes, of course. One can imagine the horror in Hollywood when an innocent interview emerged in the pages of Movie Weekly with titles like these:

” ‘Are All Women Gold Diggers? YES!’ Says Hope Hampton”

” ‘You Use Too Much Rouge!’ Says Lillian Gish”

” ‘Hollywood is a Hick Town,’ Says Conrad Nagel”

” ‘Rudolph is Not Bald!’ Says Mrs. Valentino”

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Other interviews were re-written by staffers and dressed up as essays, as if a Hollywood celebrity had held up the production of her latest film to compose a special manifesto for Movie Weekly readers:

“Why a Prudish Girl Can’t Be Popular,” by Claire Windsor

“Why I Love Money,” by Mae Murray

“Why the Public Does Not Mind Bad Pictures,” by director John S. Robertson

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The covers often featured up-and-coming starlets, many of whom never got very far in Hollywood. Clara Bow was an unknown when she was a Movie Weekly cover girl in 1923. Jean Arthur made the cover that September, years before finding screen stardom.

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I’ve been collecting issues of Movie Weekly for years, and I have digital images of other issues as well. Hopefully I’ve whetted your appetite for more of this mischievous, rambunctious and occasionally devious little magazine. To be honest, its articles generally aren’t as lurid or scandalous as their titles imply. But they’re still fun, and often enlightening.

I plan to run selected articles as a regular feature of this blog, for as long as you guys seem to enjoy them.

Here’s a taste.

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Margaret Leahy was an English beauty contest winner who was awarded a guaranteed role in a Hollywood movie. Producer Joseph Schenck gave her the female second lead in Norma Talmadge’s Within the Law (1923), but she proved so unsatisfactory that she was replaced after a week and hastily assigned to Buster Keaton’s The Three Ages (1923) instead, a consolation prize that relieved Schenck of his contractual obligations. There were no subsequent roles, and she spent the rest of her life despising Hollywood. Click on the image to enlarge it.

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From the same issue. Click on the image to enlarge.

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A bit of premature optimism, from the same issue. Click on the image to enlarge.

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– – – Christopher Snowden

 

 

 

 

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9 Comments

  1. diane said,

    Just love this article and look forward to reading some of those mouth
    watering stories. I have never seen Marie Prevost looking as beautiful
    as on the sepia cover of that magazine. Couldn’t you imagine the
    stars saying those quotes (in weak moments) – “Hollywood is a Hick
    Town” – Conrad Nagel always appeared to be slumming and that
    Lillian Gish crack sounds like her as well. I’d be angry if I was an
    English girl and Margaret Leahy was being presented as the best
    Great Britain had to offer – sounds as if she got her come- uppance
    though!!!

  2. Sten Sture said,

    Great article, thanks.
    Being an grumpy old Clara Bow-fan thou, I must add
    that she was chosen the foremost 1924 WAMPA baby star in late
    1923. Due to her five appearances in NY-productions, especially
    “Down to the sea in ships”, released in March, 1923.
    When reading old newspapers from this time it’s clear that Clara Bow
    was widely seen as the leading starlet.
    Grump. Grump.

    • unkvid said,

      I’m a big Bow fan too, hence all the Clara images I keep peppering the blog with. But I don’t think Down to the Sea in Ships was particularly well-received by the public, despite its being a fine film.

      I also think that being named a WAMPAS baby star classed her as a notable potential talent, rather than one who was well on her way. About half of the various baby stars never got anywhere in the business (even our ill-fated Margaret Leahy was a baby star), and Clara would spend most of the next couple years toiling in independent productions. As talented as she was, I doubt she’d have made it to a top studio if not for B.P. Schulberg’s ascension at Paramount. It was just too crowded a field.

  3. Jennifer said,

    I’ve never seen that Clara cover before! I have another Movie Weekly of hers (just the photo file, not the magazine, alas) where she’s made up like a farmer. That one’s even earlier, I think.

    This is a great series – I can’t wait to see more of these!

  4. urbanora said,

    Lovely to see Margaret Leahy mentioned. I’ve done some research into her brief film career, mostly from UK sources, and I’ve never come across specific evidence that she sued Schenck – only that Schenck and the Talmadges feared that she might sue them if they didn’t give her the film role she’d been promised. Also as far as I know she was turned down from appearing in Within the Law because of her ineptness before the camera – I’ve not heard of the tantrums. Any evidence for this?

    • unkvid said,

      Luke, thanks for pointing that out. I’ve heard that she was temperamental (and not in the pages of Movie Weekly!), but that does seem to be unsubstantiated. I’ve revised that caption.

  5. diane said,

    I also liked that article about Dorothy Gish. She was too often in the shadow
    of her more famous sister but I have read that she was a real wit and had
    a much more likable personality than her sister. I don’t agree with her
    appraisal of her role in “Orphans of the Storm”. I think she stole the film
    from everyone and was excellent as the blind Louise.

  6. Justin Sullivan said,

    I just stumbled onto this blog and must say, I really enjoyed it. Some of the background you give on these actresses are great, you really can get a touch of their personality. I especially enjoyed the historical accounts you have. The articles are beautiful. You don’t really see articles like that anymore with all the text. The tabloids are obviously still around but they are more pictures now than anything with small, “witty” comments.

    I’m also impressed at some of the users on here and the history they know of this subject. I guess in order to understand modern cinema we have to understand where it came from and who created it. Great stuff! Thanks.

    • unkvid said,

      Thanks for your kind words, Justin!

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