The Diary of Silent Film Actress Clara Kimball Young

This articles details a diary that Clara Kimball Young kept during the year 1921. Clara Kimball Young was a hugely popular American actress during the early silent film era. A 1914 poll showed that she was the most popular actress in America at the time. Clara appeared in over 150 films and was the second female film star to start a namesake film production company. At the time of the diary, she was thirty years old and actively shooting several films per year.

Due to copyright concerns, this article only contains insightful excerpts from the diary rather than a full transcription of the diary (most of the diaries and journals on our site include the full transcription). We have the original diary in our archive and it has never been published. As an unpublished work, the length of copyright is 70 years from the date of the author’s death. Clara passed away in 1960. We have been in contact with some descendants of Clara’s original heir, but we have not yet been able to reach all of them to obtain permission to make the full diary available. If we are able to obtain permission, or when the copyright expires, we will make the full transcription available on this page for research and enjoyment by silent film buffs.

Insights from the Diary

Clara began the diary on June 30, 1921. It is evident that she did not consistently keep a diary. This diary contains thirty-three entries for the entire year 1921. Most of the entries fall over the summer, and she made a few entries during the fall while she was touring the west doing live performances. Based on her opening sentence, it sounds like she had also kept a diary at least part of the prior year. In her first entry, she wrote: “It seems foolish to begin a diary after six months have passed, but I have often wished in the past that I had kept a record of events (and they were many) to refer to and for the exact placement of dates.”

Below are some of the most insightful excerpts from Clara’s diary.

Clara on Celebrity’s Struggles With Weight

During the diary, Clara went on a nine day fast during which she seemed to eat barely any food at all. She lost twelve pounds in nine days. She described elaborate meals that her family enjoyed while she only enjoyed the smells. On the fourth day of the fast, which Clara was undergoing with a girl named Carolyn, Clara wrote: “While the rest eat, we sit in the living room and invent new dishes and plan what we are going to eat when we finish our “hunger strike”.”

On July 8, in the midst of her nine day fast, Clara began her diary entry with an eloquent description of society’s demands on celebrities when it comes to their weight. She wrote:

With jockeys, show girls and movie stars, and light weight boxers, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness becomes a mere question of yielding to Shylock his pound of flesh. They are habitual defendants in the Court of Public Favor, charged with the heinous offense of overweight and, if judged guilty, they must pay the forfeit in flesh or retire from the limelight. No Party arises to plead on their behalf. “The Law allows it, and the court awards it.”

Clara on Shooting Films

At the time of the diary, Clara was shooting What No Man Knows which released in November 1921. The film was directed by Harry Garson with whom Clara was romantically involved. Clara was the leading lady and the leading man was Lowell Sherman. Based on the excerpts from Clara’s diary below, it is clear that she was not fond of the film and that shooting in the studio in July heat was not a pleasant experience. She was also not a fan of Lowell Sherman. However, the child star of the film, Jeanne Carpenter, brought Clara’s mood up.

Here are entries she made while shooting What No Man Knows:

July 18 in-part: Started the picture. Very hard to get back in harness. The studio is unbearably hot. I have a sty on my eye and it aches something awful. Took a fun scene in a taxi with Lowell Sherman – nearly melted. Then we went out on location to do a scene beside a stream, fishing.

July 19 in-part: The studio was beastly hot and, with all the lights turned on for scenes, it seemed like I should die for some relief from it all. This picture is so uninteresting. It seems to me to have a false plot, forced and exaggerated. The characters are constantly doing things that no one ever does in real life. I should be truly glad when it is over.

I have Lowell Sherman for a leading man. I am so disappointed in him. He seems to be very affectionate and is always covered with perspiration. Ugh! I can’t stand a human sponge. He seems to be a weak character and I am sure I could mop up the floor with him in a fight. However, he is too mean to be despised.

July 25 in-part: Arose at eight. Did twenty-four scenes today. Going to work tonight. The child we have in the picture, little Jean Carpenter, is very clever. She says such cute things you can’t easily help but like her and, even when I am feeling cross and tired, I simply must smile at the way she looks and talks.

Clara on Other Celebrities

As one of the most popular actresses during the early silent film era, Clara naturally mixed and mingled with other Hollywood elite. Clara and her romantic partner Harry Garson were friends with Roscoe Conkling Arbuckle, popularly known as “Fatty Arbuckle”. In the diary, she mentions him several times.

These are two entries Clara made about “Fatty Arbuckle”:

July 7 in-part: Harry called up from studio and said a friend of mine was there and wanted to speak to me. He got on the phone and I knew it was Roscoe Arbuckle’s voice right away. We talked awhile and said a lot of funny things. He certainly is nice and I am sure everyone likes him. I know I do very much.

July 9 in-part: Twice during my treatment, “Fatty” called me up and I could tell he was all lit up like a church. He asked where Harry was. I told him. He wanted to bet me Harry wasn’t there. I didn’t want to bet, because I thought “well maybe he isn’t there”. However, I fell asleep and woke with a start to find the telephone ringing. It was half past three and when I said “Hello”, Harry’s voice answered “Roscoe has me locked in and I can’t get out”. He was at Roscoe’s house and Roscoe had collected a lot of people for a party and had insisted on Harry coming along and, after getting him there, had locked him in. Harry didn’t want me to worry about him so phoned and said he would get out just as soon as he could. Four o’clock. I didn’t care. What’s the use. You can’t train ‘em after a certain age.

In another instance of celebrity mingling, Clara was the guest of honor at a charity tea, along with several other early film stars. As she mentions, she was bored to death.

July 13 in-part: Have a charity tea on at Ambassador. Guest of honor. Sat through the tea (which was a big success) and they served the most delicious chicken sandwiches and cakes and ice cream. I drank orange juice. Very select crowd present. Los Angeles’ best. Mrs. Hancock Banning, who is the social leader here, is the head of the Welfare League that gave the tea. She was present and also many other leading women. Picture stars present: Kathleen Williams, Jackie Saunders, Winifred Kingston, Bert Lytell and myself. Was bored to death.

Clara on Business and Finances: 

After a series of lawsuits between 1917 and 1920, Clara was in debt and looking for a way out. One of her entries directly references her financial struggles. On July 6, part of her entry reads:

Harry is going to start picture “What Any Man Knows” next Monday instead of this week. He received a letter from “P.A.”. He doesn’t want to accept our new notes. Wants us to send him two thousand at once. What a chance he has to get it, now. It will be wonderful to get out of debt and finish these three pictures for equity. I feel as though I had my head on a block and was waiting for the axe to descend at any moment. Oh well, I am sure it will all come out right if I just have courage. “Fortis non Ferox” is the Kimball motto – “Fortitude without Fear”. I must live up to that somehow.

Throughout the rest of the diary, Clara describes everything from her daily life and travels to films she watches (and reviews) and people she meets. She enjoys spending time with her family and frequently travels around California with them. Clara comes across as a generous and good-hearted person who also deals with personal struggles like anyone else.

Selected Images

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