A Brilliant flood of late forenoon sunlight shines upon a girlish figure in black seated at the keys of a great organ. The rays are intensified by the thick clouded glass through which they pass--a natural spotlight. The organist softly plays a familiar hymn. Her eyes, large, dark, lustrous, are not on the multiple banks of keys, but turned upward. Circled about her at a distance of a score of feet are the members of the office staff. Peering through glass doors at the far end of the great salesroom a group of young women employees intently are looking on. None stirs; save for the subdued strains the room is still. It is a tribute to the charm of the scene--an inspiration for an artist.
[Photo omitted, profile of Clara Kimball Young.]
Standing by the side of a camera a photographer gives a signal. The fingers of the player rest on a chord. The figure and the face become stationary, and so remain without a flicker of the dark eyelashes until the photographer's smiling "all right" indicates the end of the pose. Clara Kimball Young resumes her playing. The photograph is recorded, but the real picture remains. It is the Spirit of Music.
The writer had been having a chat with Clara Kimball Young in the offices of the Peerless Features Producing Company in Forty-sixth street, and at its conclusion had accepted the invitation of James Young to ride down to the Wurlitzer establishment. It had been an interesting hour. The actress had talked of many subjects, of her love of books, of music, of paintings and painting, of her home--and her garden farm--and of her work on the stage and on the screen. We were sitting in the private office of Charles Jourjon, the head of the Eclair Company, now at the front in France. It was the natural thing that the war should be mentioned.
"Am I interested in the war?" replied Mrs. Young to a question. "Yes, indeed, I am. You know my mother was French--her maiden name was Grenier. My great-great grandfather was wounded in the retreat of Napoleon from Moscow. He was but nineteen years old at the time, and was a sort of protege of the great French commanded, who when he found him unable to walk by reason of a shot in the leg picked him up on his horse and enabled him to escape the Russians. The family still treasures the medal of the Legion of Honor which Napoleon bestowed on him afterward. Of course I am in favor of the Allies, but I am so sorry for all the splendid young Germans who are being destroyed." As the speaker ceased there was more than moisture in her eyes.
The former Vitagraph player was but three and a half years old when she made her first appearance before the public. Her mother and father wee both players being then in a repertoire company, at that time so popular. The tiny miss' initial part was in "Peck's Bad Boy" into which a half-dozen words had been interpolated for her especial benefit. As she walked into a scene and asked for some soap, the orchestra would strike up "Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay," and the child would dance and sing off the stage. Afterward until she was seven years old she played speaking parts. Then she went to the public schools and to St. Xavier's Academy, Chicago, until the age of sixteen. Her parents removing to Goldfield, Nevada, the young pupil refused to be left behind and packed up her books.
Goldfield, Tonopah and Reno were in those days lively mining towns. Letters come regularly showing that the friends Clara Kimball made in those days are still following on the screen the acting of the woman they then admired in the girl. She was a singer as well as an actress. Later Mr. and Mrs. Kimball accepted a stock engagement with T. Daniel Frawley. Among the plays produced were "The Rose of the Rancho," "Peter Pan," "Captain Swift," "The Devil," "Captain Jinks," "The Climbers," "The Gentleman from Mississippi" and "The Virginian."
Mrs. Young went to the Vitagraph studio about three and a half years ago. "In my first work for the screen I did not feel shy of the camera," she said in reply to a query as to her first impressions. "I was more worried by the members of the stock company standing about. Another trouble I had at the beginning was in restrained acting, with the camera crank whizzing. I felt the impulse to keep time to the sound of that handle. Of course, in a short time I forgot all about it. My first part was as Anne Boleyn in "Cardinal Wolsey," The screen gives a player many advantages not to be found on the stage. For instance, in the elimination of mannerisms; and these have to be eliminated if one wants to get ahead. Somehow I feel when looking at a finished picture that I would like an opportunity to do parts of it over again. I note some little thing and take a mental resolution to avoid doing its like again."
[Photo omitted: Young leaning over being hugged by a seated John Bunny]
The talk turned to the many stage favorites who are now appearing in pictures. "Times have changed," suggested James Young, who had entered the office. "I recall when I first went on the screen some of my old stage friends seemed so sorry for me. The motion picture art has produced some great stage directors, as great, I believe, as are to be found in the legitimate. I have had the privilege of working under one man I believe to be the peer of the best I have known or heard of. That is J. Stuart Blackton. Albert E. Smith is another great director and he combines this faculty with a keen commercial sense."
"Without minimizing the importance of the story, I believe the public goes to the theater to see the player. Of course, the man who can write the perfect story is the foundation of screen work today. But he is hard to find. In my experience at the Vitagraph I have had to rewrite every script I produced. "Goodness Gracious" never had a script. Mr. Blackton wrote the sub-titles, and that was all we had to go on. I lay awake nights thinking out the best action to follow them."
"Just a moment," smilingly suggested Mrs. Young. "Whose interview is this, yours or mine?" "By George, if that goes in I'll subside," promptly responded the director.
The players were informed they were too late--the remark already was down.
"Which of the plays in which I have appeared do I like best?" replied Mrs. Young to a question. "Well, there is "The Violin of M'Sieur," That is one of my favorites--and do you know it was released in Europe just before the war started? You recall there are French and German soldiers in the cast; it was produced so that no offense could be given to those of either side. Then there are "When Mary Grew Up" and "Love's Sunset" among others.
"Yes, I like reading, and I do a lot of it, both old books and new magazines. Of the former "Pickwick" is one of my standbys, and I go over it frequently. I believe I have read "Little Women" fifteen times. It touches the heart in every chapter. It is life. I like to read "Pickwick" in the winter time. I can then get up an appetite any time reading of the feasts. Mark Twain is another of my authors. I like Jerome's "Three Men in a Boat," too. Singular, isn't it, what a wealth of pathos you sometimes find in comedy?
"Over at our studio in Fort Lee we have just finished "Lola," a four-reel subject, by Owen Davis. It is a psychological story, written by Mr. Davis at different times over a number of years. It was put on as a play by Laurette Taylor at a matinee several years ago. All of our productions will be in four reels and will be released by the World Corporation. We have a beautifully equipped plant. One regret I have in my new association is that I have to leave my house in Flatbush, with its little garden, for an apartment in Washington Heights. You know I have raised my own vegetables this summer--supplied my own table. I took care of the garden myself, and enjoyed it."
"Yes," proudly interposed Mr. Young, knowingly violating the become-mentioned compact, "You may take my word for it, she is a real cook, too."
Last revised July 7, 2002