A Witzel photo of Charles Ray, listed on EBay at $9.95.
Boyish actor Charles Ray ranked as one of the most popular juvenile stars of the mid 1910s, playing rural teens, schoolboys, and Civil War soldiers in films for producer Thomas Ince. Born in Illinois, Ray began studying and acting early age. He began haunting the Thomas Ince studios in December 1912 after a bad season stage acting. The 20-year-old Ray often gained extra work. Gradually the size and scope of Ray’s roles increased, until he was starring in Ince productions. 1915′s “The Coward” really introduced him to audiences, as Photoplay magazine proclaimed him “Tom Ince’s New Wonder Boy.” The actor would continue playing similar roles at Ince for the next several years.
A postcard of Charles Ray working on a film, listed on EBay at $14.95.
By 1920, Ray was ready to venture out on his own for more challenging and ambitious roles. He formed his own production company and started making pictures. In 1923, he mostly self-financed the ambitious and lavish film “The Courtship of Miles Standish,” which failed miserably at the box office. Facing desperate financial need, Ince stepped in and offered nice parts in several films. Unfortunately, Ince passed away in 1924, and Ray once again was forced to hunt for roles, mostly in poverty row productions. The advent of sound also hampered his career, as the studios searched out new and younger talent to replace aging veterans.
Ray bounced around and struggled over the next several years, acting on stage, writing, and filming bit roles. He supported himself and his wife any way he could. There was the Beverly Ray Cultural School, where Charles Ray would “personally analyze your talent and chart a practical program for you.” The school offered cultural training, elocution, coaching, and public speaking as well, and was located at 5537 Hollywood Blvd. Ray also helped establish and run the California Federation for the Blind. Early in 1936, Photoplay magazine noted that “Bad luck seems to dog Charles Ray’s persistent and not unwanted comeback trail. The bad luck this time lies in the mediocrity of production, direction, and photography.”
Later that year, Ray began publishing Charles Ray’s Hollywood Digest, a magazine mostly devoted to motion pictures and organized basically like Reader’s Digest. The magazine consisted of stories or story excerpts, a full page of knock knock jokes, puns, odd, random facts or trivia, recipes, small film reviews, cartoons, etc. One of the cartoons featured two fish, one wearing a shirt and smoking a pipe, the other in a dress. Papa Fish states, “Minnie, don’t fall for that bait, that’s Bill Powell’s hook and what a line he hands out.” Another story gave an imaginary interview with Katharine Hepburn, and contained a sarcastic tone. Foreseeing the future a la Nostradamus, the Great Pyramid of “Gizeh” offered predictions. The magazine was published in Braille as well.
Ray published the 96 page first issue in October 1936, with prices of either forty cents a copy or $5 for thirteen months. The magazine featured ads for the Federation of the Blind, the Ray Cultural School, and the book “Hollywood Shorts,” which Ray would send to buyers who sent $2.50 cash on delivery to him at 1619 S. Westmoreland Avenue. Ads bringing in revenue included ones from Seagram’s, an Italian shoemaker to Sid Grauman, local haberdashers, photographers, and the Polo Club.
One page listed subscribers to the magazine, people and companies such as Fred Astaire, John Barrymore, Frank Capra, Chaplin Film Corporation, Ronald Colman, Claudette Colbert, Joan Crawford, DeMille Productions, Goldwyn Inc., Will Hays, Katharine Hepburn, Ernst Lubitsch, Eddie Mannix, William Powell, David O. Selznick, Norma Shearer, Irving Thalberg, and Spencer Tracy.
Other people such as Paul Muni and James Dunn bought ads in the issue, along with a full page ad from Charles A. Chase. Howard Hughes saluted Ray’s success as well.
Ray offered thumb nail criticisms of films, giving the gold star selection of the month to “My Man Godfrey.” He recommended “Stage Struck,” “Green Pastures,” “China Clipper,” and “Walking on Air.” He also printed information regarding television demonstrations at the Don Lee Building, which were mostly short subjects and musicals from WXAO, with titles like “Tide of Empire” and “Eve’s Secret.”
This issue of Hollywood Digest also featured an original story by Cecil B. DeMille on television, an article on “Souls for Sale” by Rupert Hughes, one by Groucho Marx entitled “Beds,” and Ray’s feature story, written by the publisher himself, “Is Walter Winchell a Heel.” Seven pages long, the story decried Winchell as someone low down who attacked people viciously and unfairly. Ray claimed that “Most everything he utters is arranged to discredit and degrade his prey.” He thought Hollywood was tired of turning the other check to the columnist. Ray also suggested that people boycott sponsors of products that sanction gossip mongering scandal.
Ray also reprinted stories such as “Where Did He Come From – Walter Connolly” from Screen Guilds magazine, as well as articles from other magazines, such as “Can the World Pay the Price of Another War?” Other stories dealt with taxes, astronomy, manners, and money. The magazine included Charles Lindbergh quotes, a barbecue steak recipe by director Mitchell Leisen, and a short paragraph that found that Mary Astor was a victim of editors, she was just doing what everyone else did.
Ray’s politics also sometimes slanted far right. He thought the country should have a national lottery, should support the League Against Nazism, which writer Donald Ogden Stewart chaired. He quoted from the Bible, listing signs of the times that were fulfilling prophecy. In his words, “Selfishness and greed caused the depression.” He denigrated several of President Franklin Roosevelt’s policies.
On October 14, Film Daily reported that Ray had released the first issue of his magazine Hollywood Digest, “…in which he takes a poke at a certain Broadway columnist whose face must be red, as this magazine article is being widely read here in Hollywood.”
Charles Ray published his second issue in November 1936, with prices down to $3 for thirteen months or twenty five cents a copy. Darryl Zanuck penned an original article about the use of color in film, Bing Crosby wrote about opera on the screen, Al Jolson discussed real actors, and Groucho Marx offered another story on beds. Publisher Ray also contributed another seven pages decrying Walter Winchell and what he stood for.
Ray stated that due to the success of the first issue, an extra dividend would offer a life subscription to those paying $25, with a $5 deductible “if already a subscriber.”
The issue once again featured cartoons, trivia, excerpts of stories from magazines, comments, many more ads, cocktail recipes, and Charley Chase’s Chicken A La King recipe. Myrna Loy was quoted as saying, “Life should be more like the movies.” Hollywood Digest featured the radio schedule and information regarding an Erno Rapee concert. The magazine featured more pointed and cruel comments, as well as looking at fashion, discrimination, and prophecy from the Bible.
Ray featured a ad stating that the California Federation for the Blind was selling Christmas Cards that could be purchased through him.
Publishing is an incredibly difficult business. Ray sabotaged his chances of financially succeeding with the magazine thanks to the cutdowns, prophecy, and digs at Winchell, and he never published another issue. The actor gained small roles occasionally for the next several years, before dying of an infection in 1941.