James Kirkwood — Unlucky Jim (1925) 🇬🇧

James Kirkwood — Unlucky Jim (1925) | www.vintoz.com

February 21, 2024

Unlucky Jim — So they call him. But I think they are wrong. And Jim smiles and smokes, and smiles and will not say a thing, and looks at Lila and his baby, and quite obviously thinks so too. For James Kirkwood is an Irishman, and however often Fate may knock him down, he will always bob up again smiling and ready for the next round. “The Luck of the Irish” was the title of his first starring picture, and it might just as well be the title of his life and film career. Some unseen demon of trouble has dogged his footsteps ever since he grew up and the arc-lights called him, but there has always been an Irish fairy near by to help him through.

Lucky Jim!

It’s not every actor who’s helped by the fairies. It’s not every actor who misses death by a hair’s breadth, not once, but again and again, and again. It’s not every actor who comes through bad photography and unsympathetic parts and foolish stories without the loss of one letter from his morning mail. It’s not every actor —

But then Jim is six feet, and slender, and blue-eyed, with bright, sandy-gold hair, and perhaps the fairies, the Irish fairies, like them that way.

Other people do. Griffith liked him first, saw him and liked the look of him in the old Biograph days, when Mabel Normand and Owen Moore, Mack Sennett and all the rest of the film pioneers were working as extras. So Kirkwood became a student in the best film college of all, learning to act and to direct as well, writing scenarios, studying the technique of the studio from prop boy to production chief.

He did well.

But he never got the chance to shine.

As a Griffith star, Kirkwood did not rise to set the sky ablaze. He was too capable, perhaps, too satisfactory a villain, wore a beard too well, knocked up too useful a fight. His fairies whispered to him, and he became a director.

Then for years, where Mary Pickford shone — she was in her early days, her days of “Little Pal and Rags,” Cinderella and The Eagle’s Mate — Jim Kirkwood was behind her. All her big and early successes were of his direction, but a director — Who cared about directors then, anyway? John Barrymore and Dorothy Gish, Jack Pickford and Billie Burke, Hazel Pawn and Florence Reed, are all figures that Kirkwood moved towards stardom from behind his megaphone.

He did well.

Then came the fairies, whispering, calling him back to an actor s life, offering “The Luck of the Irish” as a tempting bait. And he took it, and work followed busily, “The Man from Home,” and “Man,” “Woman and Marriage,” The Forbidden Thing and Bob Hampton of Placer, “The Sin Flood” and — no, a list is foolish. Jim worked.

But he never really got the chance to shine. That demon of his followed, and, seeing that Kirkwood was determined to make a name for himself as an actor, tried to prevent it. The camera should be unjust to him. Easy. Light colouring is against him; those light eyes tend to register blank and the whole upper part of the face to lose its strength and crispness.

But the Irish fairy was close at hand again, with that Irish smile, that deep, ruminative smile, that leaps into the eyes and gives them fire and colour. It beat the camera. Jim became photographic in spite of himself.

All right, quoth the demon, you shall suffer in your films. You shall never be the gallant rescuer, the fighter against ten thousand, the heroic strong man loved of audiences the worId over. You shall go down into the depths, drink, desert your wife, lose your name and honour, be thrashed, be shot, fall delirious, run into debt and be sent to prison. You shall suffer, how you shall suffer!

But the knew — I’m sure it was a she fairy — that the hero who pets it in the neck is just the hero who pets an audience in the heart. So she allowed Jim to fall on the battlefield in Bob Hampton of Placer, to be arrested as a traitor in “Under Two Flags,” to go down and out in The Forbidden Thing — and still the contracts came.

Then it was that the demon of trouble got really busy. If he could not wreck James Kirkwood’s professional career, he could at least have a shot at his life. He had three. Once, during the making of “The Eagle’s Feather,” Kirkwood was nearly beaten to death. After a long light with the villain he had to fall, and be knocked about unmercifully with a stock whip. Against this scene he had provided himself with a leather shield to wear, but when the tune came the shield slipped out of position, and Jim was thrashed to within an inch of his life. During the making of another film he was thrown into the Pacific from a capsized canoe, and, although a fine swimmer, was stunned and nearly drowned, so that he had to he revived with a pulmotor.

The third, accident was the most serious of all. It happened four weeks after his marriage to Lila Lee, while he was playing the leading part in “Wild Oranges.” Riding one day, he was thrown from his horse and fractured his skull. For weeks the doctors despaired of saving him; the film was re-made, with Frank Mayo in Kirkwood’s part, and the whole misadventure looked like turning to tragedy.

But that Irish fairy —.

She — I’m certain it was a she — who had come to his rescue aforetime, decided that her work was ended and that Jim’s trials and tribulations were over. For he had a delightful dark-eyed fairy of his own (one Lila Lee) to guard him henceforth and for evermore. And she was right.

Well, anyway, Jim is alive and well to-day. He can make his own pictures. His contracts are fatter than ever. He has tempting offers for stage work on Broadway. He’s defied death three times and the spell is broken. If he doesn’t shine now, it will be his fault and not the fairy’s.

Lucky Jim!

James Kirkwood — Unlucky Jim (1925) | www.vintoz.com

Above: Jim Kirkwood.

Oval: In “The Eagle’s Feather.”

Bottom right: With Lila Lee (Mrs. Kirkwood) in “Love’s Whirlpool”

James Kirkwood — Unlucky Jim (1925) | www.vintoz.com

Below: With Anna Q. Nilsson in “Pink Gods.”

Above: Jim sported a beautiful home-grown beard in “The Sin Flood.”

Left: He shines in open-air stuff.

Collection: Picturegoer Magazine, June 1925