In 1916, Clara Kimball Young became only the second female film star, after Mary Pickford, to set up her own namesake production company: the Clara Kimball Young Film Corporation. Soon after this, there was a flood of female star-producers, initiating what I have called a “second wave” of star companies, 1916–1923 (155).
Publicity still, Clara Kimball Young in The Road Through the Dark (1918). Private Collection.
But did a star with a namesake production company really enjoy a greater measure of creative or economic control, or was a company created in her name simply to exploit its star appeal? The career of Clara Kimball Young, associated with adult society dramas, offers some insight into this question, thanks to the extensive litigation in which she was involved. However, news coverage of these proceedings still leaves questions of autonomy unanswered. Like nearly all female film producers during this period, Young worked with male partners who acted as producers, directors, and/or business managers, and sometimes lovers. Some aspects of her legal troubles, as for instance the 1917 Moving Picture World report of her suit against producer Lewis J. Selznick, suggest that she was a forceful personality who demanded control of her films and her personal life (1580). Yet there is still a hint that some litigation may have been instigated by the men who surrounded her, each hoping to profit from her stardom. Was Clara Kimball Young under the spell of her male partners, as one biography suggests (Davis 419–23), or are these multiple legal actions (ultimately over a dozen) evidence of a feisty autonomy on the part of Young? Research into legal documents, possibly held by the County Clerk Records of the New York Supreme Court and the Los Angeles County Archives, could shed light on these dilemmas.
We know that Clara Kimball Young and first husband, actor and director James Young, left the stage for the Vitagraph in 1912. James Young’s agreement with the company stipulated that they were both paid the same salary, which rose quickly from $25 to $1,000 a week as Clara Kimball Young’s popularity soared, especially after her appearance in the five-reel feature My Official Wife (1914) (Davis 420). In 1914, the Youngs left Vitagraph to work for producer Lewis J. Selznick (“World Film in Merger” 7). Young made several films released between November 1914 and December 1916 that were produced and/or distributed by World Film Corporation, founded by Lewis J. Selznick, Arthur Spiegel (of mail order fame), Wall Street financier Moritz Rosenthal, and Lee Shubert (Lewis 39).
Clara Kimball Young, 1916. Courtesy of the Bison Archives.
Immediately there were tensions between Young and his wife’s new coworkers. Art director Ben Carré recalled that on the set of Trilby (1915), director Maurice Tourneur “didn’t like Jimmy watching what he was doing, or what his wife was doing.” While Clara made Trilby, the first feature in which she was not directed by her husband, James Young was working as a director on a different film in the same studio, and was clearly distracted by another man directing his wife. To be fair, Clara Kimball Young had a nude scene in Trilby, a film based on George Du Maurier’s famous 1894 serialized novel of an artist’s model who falls under the spell of Svengali, a hypnotic musician who reinvents her as a fabulous opera star but utterly controls her. The solution was to hang “a muslin curtain between the two shooting units” (Carré oral history). Young was concerned that his wife was falling under her own Svengali—Lewis Selznick. By early 1916, James Young sued Selznick for alienation of affection dating back to March 1914, claiming that the producer told Clara Kimball Young to get rid of her husband as a condition of employment (“Husband Sues Selznick” 9). Young did become estranged from his wife, but it was Harry Garson, a Detroit theatre owner and publicist with no previous experience in film production, who provided the love interest (Davis 422). In 1916, Garson survived a penknife attack by James Young, prompting Clara Kimball Young to declare in court: “I have no use for my husband” as reported by the New York Times (5).
Young was World Film Corporation’s biggest star. When financial trouble in the spring of 1916 caused the firm to reorganize, Selznick left to create his own production company, taking Clara Kimball Young with him (Lewis 45). It was at this juncture that Selznick created the Clara Kimball Young Film Corporation, naming Young, allegedly at her request, as its vice president and treasurer (1761). Four features produced by the Clara Kimball Young Film Corporation were released between October 1916 and April 1917: The Common Law (1916), The Foolish Virgin (1916), The Price She Paid (1917), and The Easiest Way (1917).
Lantern slide, The Common Law (1916). Private Collection.
Did Clara Kimball Young actively coproduce these films? Apparently she did not. In June 1917, Young sued Selznick, claiming that although she was named vice president and treasurer, “Selznick dominated and controlled the film corporation… and she had no voice whatsoever in its affairs and was permitted to perform none of the positions held by her” (1580). A week later Selznick countersued, claiming that Young received a $1,000 a week salary and advances of $25,000, “for which she is alleged to have rendered no services whatsoever.” And it appeared that Clara Kimball Young’s new love interest was even more troublesome from Selznick’s point of view. Selznick claimed that Young pressured the corporation to elect her companion Harry A. Garson to the board of directors, and that since then she “has followed his advice in all matters relating to business relations with the corporation and that she is now carrying on negotiations to appear in films under his direction.” Since Young’s agreement with Selznick was not due to expire until 1921, leaving to make films with Garson would constitute breach of contract (1761).
One month after news of the Young-Selznick suit hit the presses, a “New C. K. Young Company” was announced. Did Young leave one Svengali (Selznick) for another (Garson)? On July 7, 1917, the Moving Picture World announced that “Clara Kimball Young has finally realized her ambition to become head of her own producing company.” Temporary offices were in Fort Lee, NJ, and the first release was estimated for the middle of August (66).
Clara Kimball Young, c.1917. Courtesy of the New York Public Library.
On July 21, 1917, the Moving Picture World featured an extensive interview with Young in which she does not mention the name of her new company, nor does she detail her precise responsibilities, but relates her personal vision regarding acting styles, exteriors, interiors, story development, and continuity, implying that she would have control over such decisions (461). In mid-August, the name of a new company was revealed: the C. K. Y. Film Corporation. This was a distribution company created by Adolph Zukor, who agreed to buy, distribute, and market eight films from Young annually for four years. Now it was revealed that “Miss Young heads her own organization and dominates it completely, selecting her own stories and plays, her own directors, and her own supporting company” (“C. K. Y. Film Corporation Formed” 918). From 1917 to 1919, when Young appeared to exercise the most creative control, and is listed as “producer” by the AFI Catalog, she appeared in some of the best films of her career: Magda (1917), Shirley Kaye (1917), The Marionettes (1918), The House of Glass (1918), The Claw (1918), The Reason Why (1918), The Savage Woman (1918), The Road Through the Dark (1918), Cheating Cheaters (1919), and The Better Wife (1919).
In 1919, the C. K. Y. Film Corporation disappeared, and Clara Kimball Young’s films were now produced by a new company: Garson Productions. After its initial release, the famous Eyes of Youth (1919), a silent film revival classic directed by Albert Parker, Young’s next ten films would be directed by Harry A. Garson for his own Garson Productions. Clara Kimball Young’s career as a producer was over. Why did Young give up her own production company to work for Garson? It seems possible that they did not initially realize that their new distribution company was under the supervision of their old nemesis: Lewis J. Selznick. Zukor’s Select Pictures Corporation owned all the stock in the C. K. Y. Film Corporation, but Select was run by Selznick. This explains why Zukor had no problem signing Young to a distribution contract despite the lingering lawsuit with Selznick—the two men were partners. In late 1918, Garson and Young sued the C. K. Y. Film Corporation for “flagrant violations of the terms” (“Announcement” 170). Young and Selznick reached an agreement on June 17, 1919: Young was released from her contract, but she had to pay the C. K. Y. Film Corporation $25,000 for each of her next ten pictures. By mid-November 1920, the C. K. Y. Film Corporation claimed Clara Kimball Young owed the company $50,000 (“Sues Clara Kimball Young” 225).
Clara Kimball Young, The Flat Above (1912). Courtesy of the New York Public Library.
This does not explain why Young gave up a namesake company. Surely she and Garson could have created a new moniker that reflected the appeal of the star, rather than naming it after Garson, an unknown. As far as her creative control was concerned, it was not referred to again in the press. Furthermore, Young’s career began to decline and never recovered. Whether it was due to Garson’s less able handling of direction and production or the difficulty of prewar stars to reach postwar audiences is unclear. It was probably both. For the Soul of Rafael (1920), directed by Garson, exemplifies these problems. Young played the part of a young, convent-bred girl of “Old California” who pledges to wed the wild son of her benefactor in order to bring him under her good influences. Although she falls for a heroic cowboy, she keeps her promise and weds the “bad” son, but refuses to consummate the marriage after discovering that he is the father of a poor woman’s baby. The narrative was an old-fashioned morality tale of abstinence out of step with the postwar American zeitgeist, and Young had little to do onscreen other than look stoic. This encouraged excessive close-ups that emphasized her anachronistic acting style and the fact that at thirty, she was too old to play the role of a fresh-faced convent girl. The film received mixed reviews. By then, newspaper readers knew Young was no convent girl off the screen either. Between 1917 and 1920, Young was sued by a woman who claimed to have been kicked by the actress, by a detective agency for $11,436 in services rendered, by a motion picture company for $50,000 in services provided for The Eyes of Youth, and in 1919 she was finally divorced from Young (“Clara Kimball Young, Pioneer Actress, Dies”).
Lantern slide, Clara Kimball Young, The Hands of Nara (1922). Private Collection.
At some point, Selznick and Zukor extended an offer to Clara Kimball Young: they would forgive her debts and pay her handsomely if she got rid of Garson. She refused (Davis 422). Financial matters became increasingly grim. In November of 1920, the same month that the C. K. Y. Film Corporation demanded $50,000, the Harriman National Bank sued Young to recover $24,500 on a loan two years overdue (“Harriman National Bank Sues” 374). The next month Selznick won his suit. A judge determined that Young and Garson kept all the profits of their post-C. K. Y. Film Corporation releases and did not send Selznick $25,000 per picture per their agreement (“Selznick Wins in Suit” 707). Garson’s last production credit with Clara Kimball Young was A Wife’s Romance (1923). Young made one more silent film, Lying Wives (1925), directed by Ivan Abramson, and then disappeared from the screen until 1931. Young gained steady work in character roles from 1931 to 1943, but never attained financial security. In 1930, a “gowns and millinery” shop sued Young for $22,675 for a mink coat and other luxury items purchased on credit but never paid for (“Clara Kimball Young Sued” 28). In 1932, the New York Times noted that Young was forced to place “many of her treasured gifts” on the auction block after a car accident with her husband, a dentist she quietly married in 1928. (The reporter noted that Young “dropped from the limelight some years ago after an unsuccessful attempt to produce her own pictures”) (19).
Lantern slide, Cordelia the Magnificent (1923). Private Collection.
At 66, the salty-tongued Young became a Hollywood correspondent for a 1956 TV show hosted by a youthful Johnny Carson (“Clara Kimball Young, Carson Correspondent” n.p.). The new medium aired silent films, renewing the fame of many former stars, including Young. But by then Young did not want to talk about silent films. In 1955 she told an interviewer: “I’m living today” (as she raised a toast). “I’m in the rocket ship era. To hell with the past.” Young died in 1960 at the age of 70 (“Clara Kimball Young, Pioneer Actress, Dies”).
“Announcement.” Moving Picture World (11 Jan. 1919): 170.
“Both Sides ‘Stand Pat’ in C. K. Young Matter.”Moving Picture World (18 Jan. 1919): 313.
“C. K. Y. Film Corporation Formed.” Moving Picture World (11 Aug. 1917): 918.
Cardinal Wolsey. Dir.: Lawrence Trimble (Vitagraph Co. of America US 1912) cas.: Hal Reid, Julia Swayne Gordon, Clara Kimball Young, Tefft Johnson, si, b&w. Archive: BFI National Archive [GBB].
Dr. Lafluer’s Theory. Dir.: Van Dyke Brooke (Vitagraph Co. of America US 1912) cas.: Maurice Costello, Van Dyke Brooke, Clara Kimball Young, si, b&w. Archive: Fundación Cinemateca Argentina [ARF].
The Haunted Rocker. (Vitagraph Co. of America US 1912) cas.: Clara Kimball Young, Tom Powers, George Ober, si, b&w. Archive: BFI National Archive [GBB].
The Irony of Fate. Dir.: Albert W. Hale, sc.: Hettie Grey Baker (Vitagraph Co. of America US 1912) cas.: Florence Turner, E. K. Lincoln, L. Rogers Lytton, Clara Kimball Young, si, b&w, 35mm. Archive: Library of Congress [USW].
Lord Browning and Cinderella. Dir.: Van Dyke Brooke, sc.: Josephine Crawford (Vitagraph Co. of America US 1912) cas.: Maurice Costello, Clara Kimball Young, Julia Swayne Gordon, Flora Finch, Leah Baird, si, b&w, 35mm. Archive: Library of Congress [USW], BFI National Archive [GBB].
Poet and Peasant. Dir.: William V. Ranous (Vitagraph Co. of America US 1912) cas.: Charles Eldridge, Herbert Barry, Clara Kimball Young, James Young, si, b&w. Archive: BFI National Archive [GBB].
Rock of Ages. (Vitagraph Co. of America US 1912) cas.: Clara Kimball Young, Julia Swayne Gordon, Harry T. Morey, si, b&w. Archive: BFI National Archive [GBB].
The Troublesome Step-Daughters. Dir.: George D. Baker, sc.: Marguerite Bertsch (Vitagraph Co. of America US 1912) cas.: Julia Swayne Gordon, John Bunny, Norma Talmadge, Clara Kimball Young, si, b&w. Archive: EYE Filmmuseum [NLA].
A Vitagraph Romance. Dir.: James Young (Vitagraph Co. of America US 1912) cas.: Clara Kimball Young, James Morrison, Edward Kimball, Flora Finch, si, b&w. Archive: Museum of Modern Art [USM].
Mid-Channel. Dir. Harry Garson (Garson Studios, Inc. US 1920) cas.: Clara Kimball Young, J. Frank Glendon, Edward M. Kimball, si, b&w. Archive: Library of Congress [USW].
Charge It. Dir. Harry Garson, sc.: Sada Cowan, (Equity Pictures US 1921) cas.: Clara Kimball Young, Herbert Rawlinson, Edward M. Kimball, si., b&w. Archive: UCLA Film and Television Archive [USL].
Straight from Paris. Dir. Harry Garson, sc.: Sada Cowan (Equity Pictures US 1921) cas.: Clara Kimball Young, Bertram Grassby, William P. Carleton, si., b&w, 35mm. Archive: Library of Congress [USW].
What No Man Knows. Dir. Harry Garson, sc.: Sada Cowan (Harry Garson Productions US 1921) cas.: Clara Kimball Young, Lowell Sherman, Dorothy Wallace, si., b&w, 35mm. Archive: Library of Congress [USW].
Enter Madame. Dir. Harry Garson (Samuel Zierler Photoplay Corp. US 1922) cas.: Clara Kimball Young, Elliot Dexter, Louise Dresser, si., b&w, 7 reels. Archive: Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique [BEB].
The Worldly Madonna. Dir. Harry Garson (Harry Garson Productions, 1922), sc.: Sada Cowan, cas.: Clara Kimball Young, William P. Carleton, Richard Tucker, si, b&w. Archive: Academy Film Archive [USF], Private Collection.
Lying Wives. Dir.: Ivan Abramson (Ivan Film Productions Inc. US 1925) cas.: Clara Kimball Young, Richard Bennett, Madge Kennedy, si, b&w. Archive: George Eastman Museum [USR].
B. Filmography: Non-Extant Film Titles:
1. Clara Kimball Young, as Actress
The Eavesdropper, 1912; Half a Hero, 1912; In the Flat Above, 1912; The Jocular Winds of Fate, 1912; Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, 1912; A Lively Affair, 1912; A Mistake in Spelling, 1912; Mrs. Lirriper’s Lodgers, 1912; Old Kent Road, 1912; Popular Betty, 1912; Wanted—A Sister, 1912; When Roses Wither, 1912; Betty in the Lion’s Den, 1913; Cupid Versus Women’s Rights, 1913; Extremities, 1913; Fellow Voyagers, 1913; Getting up a Practice, 1913; The Interrupted Honeymoon, 1913; Jack’s Chrysanthemum, 1913; John Tobin’s Sweetheart, 1913; Love’s Sunset, 1913; A Maid of Mandalay, 1913; On Their Wedding Eve, 1913; The Pirates, 1913; The Spirit of the Orient, 1913; Taming of Betty, 1913; The Test, 1913; Up in a Balloon, 1913; The Way Out, 1913; The Awakening of Barbara Dare, 1914; Happy-Go-Lucky, 1914; Lola, 1914; My Official Wife, 1914; The Perplexed Bridegroom, 1914; The Silver Snuff Box, 1914; Some Steamer Scooping, 1914; Sonny Jim in Search of a Mother, 1914; Taken by Storm, 1914; The Deep Purple, 1915; Fates and Flora Fourflush, 1915; The Heart of the Blue Ridge,1915; Marrying Money, 1915; The Dark Silence, 1916; The Feast of Life, 1916; The Yellow Passport, 1916; Hush, 1921, The Hands of Nara, 1922; Cordelia the Magnificent, 1923, A Wife’s Romance, 1923, The Woman of Bronze, 1923; Lying Wives, 1925.
2. Clara Kimball Young as Actress and Co-Producer (Clara Kimball Young Film Corp.)
The Common Law, 1916; The Foolish Virgin, 1916; The Price She Paid, 1917; The Easiest Way, 1917.
3. Clara Kimball Young as Actress and Co-Producer (C. K. Y. Film Corp.)
Magda, 1917; Shirley Kaye,1917; The Claw, 1918; The House of Glass, 1918; The Marionettes, 1918; The Reason Why, 1918; The Road Through the Dark, 1918; The Savage Woman, 1918; The Better Wife, 1919; Cheating Cheaters, 1919.
C. DVD Sources:
Eyes ofYouth/The Worldly Madonna.DVD (Grapevine Video US 2011)
Eyes of Youth. DVD. (Alpha Video US 2012)
The Forbidden City. DVD/ VHS. (Grapevine Video)
American Avant-Garde Film 1894-1941. DVD. (Image Entertainment US 2005)
The Worldly Madonna. DVD. (Grapevine Video)
Trilby. DVD. (Turner Classic Movies)
D. Streamed Media:
The Picture Idol (1912) (with Dutch intertitles)
Dr. LaFleur’s Theory (1912) (with Dutch intertitles)
My Official Wife (1914) is available online at The Internet Archive (45 second fragment).
Spher and Braff have more complete filmographies for Clara Kimball Young than AFI or FIAF. There are numerous inconsistencies between sources as to who directed Young’s films. Cardinal Wolsey is generally attributed to Lawrence Trimble but may have been co-directed and/or produced by J. Stuart Blackton according to FIAF. Both Spehr and Braff list Lulu’s Doctor as being directed by James Young, however FIAF lists both Van Dyke Brooke and Maurice Costello as being the director. Dr. Lafluer’s Theory is credited to Van Dyke Brooke in most sources except FIAF which credits J. Stuart Blackton and George D. Baker. Beauty Unadorned is credited in all sources as being directed by Rogers Lytton, however FIAF also lists James Young and Sidney Drew as co-directors. Delayed Proposals is attributed to James Young in most sources, however Braff lists Maurice Costello as director. Dates and film titles are also sometimes inconsistent. Most sources list Lord Browning and Cinderella release year as 1912, except for FIAF which lists 1913. Mr. Mintern’s Misadventures is listed as Mr. Mistern’s Adventures in FIAF. The Hindoo Charm is confusing because there is also another film titled The Hindoo’s Charm from 1913 that may or may not be the same film. Both titles are listed as extant at British Film Institute. Both are directed by Maurice Costello and star Clara Kimball Young. However Hindoo’s Charm is listed in FIAF as being a Lubin film, though it seems unlikely as Costello was a major Vitagraph star at the time. It is not always clear as to what is extant. My Official Wife is thought lost, however a fragment does exist in a private collection. Camille may be held in the Norwegian Film Institute and the Czech Film Archive, but neither archives will confirm. Straight from Paris exists in an incomplete 35 mm. nitrate print and safety negative (reels 2-4, and 6) and a 35mm safety print of reel 3 at Library of Congress. Enter Madame is believed to also exist at the Cinematheque de Toulouse.
Mahar, Karen Ward. "Clara Kimball Young." In Jane Gaines, Radha Vatsal, and Monica Dall’Asta, eds. Women Film Pioneers Project. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2013. <https://doi.org/10.7916/d8-1ts1-hf20>