by Paul R. Spitzzeri
A decade after the motion picture industry was launched in Los Angeles, a great deal had changed with film-making, including longer features, more elaborate stage sets, a great use of location shooting including locales far beyond this region, fuller development of plots and story lines, and much more.
Moreover, as movies became more popular, there was a growing coterie of magazines catering to those in the industry as well as to the rapidly expanding legion of film fans. While there were some popular and well-known ones like Moving Picture World and Photoplay, tonight’s highlighted object from the Homestead’s collection is a short-lived and little-known journal called Close-Up, with the subtitles of “A Magazine of Movie-Land’ and “A Nearer Point of View” and which may have been directed towards both fans and industry insiders.
The magazine was launched in 1918 by Marshall Lorimer, a native of New York whose father was Scottish and mother Portuguese. Born in 1883, Lorimer, of whose early life nothing could be found, was an actor and writer of comedies on the East Coast in the early 1910s, was married for a brief time, and wound up in Los Angeles by the First World War years. When he registered for the draft in September 1918, he listed his occupation as “Writer and Poet,” though it appears that Close-Up was already in print as the issue featured here is the fourth number of the second volume.
The contents are short jottings about film actors, directors, producers, studios and others and written in a breezy style with plenty of gossip not to mention lots of references to changes in the alcohol content of beer during the war and leading to the onset of Prohibition. Among some of the examples of the brief items of news is one covering a banquet tendered to veteran actor and director Francis Ford for his birthday and held at Christopher’s banquet room, where the guest of honor was surprised by the event featuring music and dancing as well as dinner.
Among those making speeches in his honor was his son, Phil, who was an actor and director, and brother Jack, who was twelve years younger and largely an assistant to his brother until he began directing his own films in 1917, making westerns, mostly with Harry Carey, until the time of this article. It was not until later that “Jack” became the legendary director John Ford, long after his brother Francis faded from popularity and the two had an often-contentious relationship.
There was also a short notice about comedian Jack Cooper and news that he had “looped the loop” involving a game of craps on Broadway, but the magazine corrected this false report and stated that it was that the actor was involved in a game of cards on the Fox Sunshine lot on Western Avenue instead. Another concerned the filming of what was then called The Strange Case of Cavendish, but renamed The Lion Man, helmed by Jack Wells. He booked the popular Levy’s Cafe in downtown Los Angeles to shoot some scenes and wanted to use a quartet of female servers, but they insisted that it had to be all eight of the staff, to which the director reluctantly agreed. He managed to complete an all-night shoot with stars Jack Perrin and Kathleen O’Connor and actors Henry Burrows, Bob Walker and Gertrude Astor. Most of these performers are forgotten, although Astor was well-known as a character actor in Laurel and Hardy films.
In fact, not surprisingly, most film figures mentioned in the publication are no longer remembered, though there are references to some familiar names, including Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, a very popular comedian mentioned briefly concerning a party he attended at which “two great big thermos bottles had become vacant” and it was assumed “there must have been something besides hot coffee in them.” Dustin Farnum, Blanche Sweet, Buster Keaton, Mabel Normand and Antonio (listed simply as “Tony”) Moreno are among the better-known names appearing in Close-Up‘s pages.
There is also an interesting reference to recent work conducted at the Goldwyn Studios, comprising a $25,000 stage with an additional $14,000 generator for an artificial lighting complement with 450 horsepower, a significant load for the time. Another studio mentioned was the upstart Mayflower Photoplay Company based in Boston. Though the enterprise only lasted a few years, it did produce films directed by Allan Dwan, who was prolific in silents but also worked extensively in the sound era, especially with Shirley Temple films like Heidi and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm from 1937-1938 and the hit John Wayne film Sands of Iwo Jima (1949), and Raoul Walsh, who played John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of Abraham Lincoln, in the controversial Birth of a Nation (1915) and went on to a long half-century career helming such films as The Thief of Baghdad (starring Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.,1925), Sadie Thompson (with Gloria Swanson, 1928), High Sierra (featuring Humphrey Bogart, 1941), and White Heat (starring James Cagney, 1949).
As for those references to alcohol, some of it is oblique like the “thermos” reference with Arbuckle, while others are about the 2.75% alcohol content in beer introduced by President Woodrow Wilson during World War I to conserve grain for the war effort. Once Prohibition went into effect in January 1920, four months after this issue was published, the alcohol content dropped to one-half of one percent and so-called “near beer” could be produced legally.
As always, advertisements were vital for publications to pay the bills and keep subscription rates low and, while there are plenty of ads from local business, there are also many from film industry performers, directors and others promoting themselves to those in the industry looking to hire. The front cover photo, shown within a magnifying glass to play off the publication’s title, may be a prominent example because it shows cowboy actor Neal Hart (a distant cousin of William S. Hart, one of the biggest names in the industry), though there wasn’t a reference found in the magazine.
Other prominent ads on the wrappers (front and back covers) are for actor Albert Roscoe, denoted as a “Leading Man,” and who appeared in over 100 films between 1915 and his death eighteen years later, and the aforementioned Jack Cooper, “That Funny Man” with Fox whose full-length photo shows the actor looking like a Chaplinesque-style tramp. Cooper, like Chaplin a native of England, worked extensively in vaudeville, musical stage comedies, and stock theater and went on, after Fox, to work for Mack Sennett and Hal Roach.
Another was for Victor Schertzinger, a director working with Mabel Normand at Goldwyn and who was also a virtuoso violinist who played with John Philip Sousa and composer of film music, including Oscar-winning work on the score for One Night of Love (1934), for which he was nominated for a best director Oscar. Composer of a popular song called “Tangerine,” Schertzinger also was well-known for directing two of the “Road” movies for Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, the Road to Singapore (1940) and Road to Zanzibar (1941.)
Otherwise there are plenty of smaller ads for actors who are forgotten today, including Ben Wilson, Marvel Rea (who was savagely attacked by three men in 1936 and died by suicide less than a year later), Lillian Biron, and Jimmie Harrison. Among those better known are Astor, Tom Kennedy (who became a busy character actor, though often uncredited until his death in 1965), and Mack Swain, a partner of Chester Conklin in Mack Sennett comedies and a frequent performer in Chaplin films, most famously 1925’s The Gold Rush.
Though it did not last more than a few years and remains obscure, Close-Up is an interesting part of the growing emphasis on publicity and marketing for the rapidly expanding film industry during the silent era and this issue is a remarkable look at the state of motion pictures just over a century ago.
As for its publisher, Lorimer, who published a book of poems in 1919, remained in Hollywood and gave his occupation of “feeture [the enumerator was obviously not a spelling bee champion] writer” in the 1930 census. While there was no occupation given for him in the census a decade later, his draft registration card for World War II in 1942 listed him as a “writer.” Lorimer died in June 1944 at age 60, though there was no obituary acknowledging his work with Close-Up or anything else.