Full of charm and personality, Cordelia D. “Delight” Evans fell in love with the movies as a toddler, and basically dedicated the rest of her life to learning about, watching, and telling others about them. She achieved fame as one of the most important critics and reviewers of films in the 1920s and 1930s, and gained fame as possibly the world’s youngest and only female editor of a magazine in 1926. Smart but never high-hat, Evans appeared to delight whoever she came in contact with.
Born in 1901 in Fort Wayne, Indiana, young Cordelia quickly gained the name Delight for her enthusiasm and energy. Intelligent and curious, the precocious young girl adored learning and education, spending her time reading and watching movies, entranced by the dreamlike and mysterious medium. Evans later told Screenland magazine in 1929 that she immediately fell in love with movies after seeing her first film as a tiny child.
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A quick learner and overachiever, Delight frequently appeared in Fort Wayne newspapers for all her charity, educational, and service work, from good deeds at her church to outstanding work at school. Several reported how at the age of 7 she began writing letters to successful novelists to learn their discipline and skills. By 15, she had been writing short stories and film reviews for several years, gaining fame around town for her dedication to the movies. She also possessed a large collection of autographed photos from the many film personalities she wrote to.
The Fort Wayne Daily News reported November 23, 1915, that Delight had won a “Brains and Beauty” contest in Photo-Play magazine, in which winners would get the chance to make a screen test with World Film Corporation in New York. Though she didn’t make it as an actress in the movies, it whetted her desire to work in the field.
Popular high school student Delight returned home and began writing for the high school paper the “Cauldron” while also writing reviews and free verse, which she sent to Photo-Play magazine. Magazine articles in 1928 described how she began sending stories and verse to James Quirk at Photo-Play magazine in 1916, with him inviting her to visit the office whenever in town, not realizing her young age.
The September 8, 1917 Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette proudly announcing that Photo-Play magazine had purchased a few contributions by her, including a free verse piece entitled “I Love Leading Men, Don’t You?”, which they published in the October 1917 issue. The paper reported on September 23 that Delight and her mother had spent a week in Chicago touring studios and interviewing stars, including Douglas Fairbanks as he made his way west for vacation. This article would appear in the December 1917 issue of Photo-Play under the name “Gee Whiz.”
For a few months she continued living in Fort Wayne and attending high school, but the November 27, 1917, Fort Wayne Sentinel reported that Delight would move to Chicago on December 1 to work at Photo-Play as as assistant to Quirk. She would contribute her satiric free verse and other articles to it and Motion Picture magazine. The paper stated that “…Miss Evans has an instinctively good choice of words and her language fluent without being commonplace.” In fact, her breezy but astute comments would eventually lead her to both review and later edit film magazines.
Initially writing free verse, with occasional features and interviews with such stars as Fairbanks, J. Warren Kerrigan, Mary McAllister, and the like, quick study Evans began writing the column “Grand Crossing Impressions” in March 1918, interviewing stars as they crossed the country and turning it into effortless and easy verse. Her pleasing smile, probing intelligence, and ebullient personality impressed all the stars who met her.
The December 16, 1928, Angola Record described stars’ attentions and liking of the young Evans. Mary Pickford supposedly called her the “Delightful Delight Evans” in a spot-on pun. The Gish sisters considered her a friend. The mighty D. W. Griffith invited her to write titles, and her description of the novel “McTeague” led autocratic director Erich von Stroheim to purchase the novel and adapt it into the film “Greed.”
The young woman possessed an observant eye and way with words, writing after an interview with Theda Bara in 1918, “She had a part to play that afternoon, and she played it much more cleverly than she played ‘Cleopatra.’” She pointed out Bara’s cultivation of her special accent and how she played a part, even in publicizing a film, hiding the real Theodosia Goodman.
Delight began branching out as well, writing occasional features with more artistic personalities such as actress Tsen Mei, travelogue producer Burton Holmes, novelist Elinor Glyn, Kay Laurell, Frank Borzage, Hugo and Mabel Ballin, and Hedda Hopper. She called Hopper “the worst cat on the screen” in a 1919 article.
By 1920, her column gained the name “West is East,” and she began writing more in-depth pieces and reviews. In one, Delight called Dorothy Gish “sort of a female Fairbanks who delights in performing facial gymnastics at the office…”
The ambitious Evans moved on to New York in 1923, writing short stories and reviews for the New York Morning Telegraph as well as joining Screenland magazine’s editorial staff in October 1923. She would write reviews, satire, and features for the magazine, geared to smart, young career women, like all her past work. Her colorful, fresh analysis appealed to young women readers. Delight wrote about Alma Rubens in that issue, calling the actress “…the little Irish girl from Frisco who looks like an Italian princess.”
Many film studios began including quotes of Delight in their newspaper or magazine advertisements as well, realizing they gave a stamp of quality approval to their most frequent filmgoers, women. Evans became a gatekeeper of film information to independent, talented females.
Though driven, the young Evans found time to fall in love, marrying fellow film writer and publicist Herbert Crooker at New York’s Little Church Around the Corner May 29, 1924. The two continually worked to better their skills and their positions throughout their careers, achieving fame without much travel to the West Coast. Screenland admired her work, writing that Delight “has so widely distributed laurel wreaths of praise and hurled javelins of criticism in her reviews that we are printing her picture – we are so proud of her.”
In December 1928, the fan magazine announced that Delight would become head editor in January 1929, supposedly the first female and possibly also the youngest magazine editor in the United States at the time. They noted that Variety called her the Flapper Editor. The outgoing editor Eliot Keen praised her “..gentle criticism and infallible judgment, calling her modest, not standing up for her work and destroying manuscripts that others criticized.
Delight herself talked about her promotion in Screenland, noting she found films fun even as a toddler. “I’ve grown up with the movies. I’m a Fan who got the breaks…I know the ‘low-down’ and the ‘high-hat.’ And I’m going to pass on what I’ve learned about movies to you!” She went on to describe her love for the industry and her relationships with some of its players. At the end she gave a 1929 version of TCM’s “Let’s Movie” by stating, “Let’s get together every month in Screenland.”
Evans wrote a monthly column highlighting important items in the industry and articles in the magazine, as well as giving pithy but potent reviews. Her way with words, talent, initiative, and industry promoted her to a leading position in the field of film criticism and journalism, with more than 20 stars sending telegrams praising her talents and promotion. She also discussed more advanced topics, expressing happiness at seeing more African American films made.
Her playful, chatty attitude continued here, with such titles and lines as “Every Lover Has His Line: They May Change Their Mamas but They Never Change Their Methods,” “By his necking you shall know him,” and “I Want to Be a Bad Girl.” This fresh take on film attracted new readers, raising the magazine’s readership and leading to a promotion as Vice President in 1930.
This platform gave Delight an opportunity to reach out to women promoting films with social, cultural, and somewhat political issues, as well as continuing to feature articles on independent, talented women. Her strong female readership attracted the attention of studios, who liberally quoted from her in magazine and trade ads for their films. This position helped brand her as industry leader and spokesperson.
Trying to spread her brand, Evans landed a radio show sponsored by American Stove Company in March 1938 called “Food Secrets of the Hollywood Stars.” Reaching out to her female audience, Delight would dole out film gossip while talking recipes and cooking with celebrities. The 15 minute show ran once a week in the morning for 13 weeks beginning April 29, 1938, but it appears the show was never renewed.
Evans remained in her powerful position at Screenland until at least 1952, after announcing she would resign in 1948. The middle-aged woman could now enjoy life, after spending a large part of her life constantly on the job watching, reviewing, and talking about movies, leading the way for people like Pauline Kael, Molly Haskell, Penelope Gilliatt, and Laura Mulvey.
Though mostly forgotten today, Delight’s joy and skills in film criticism helped bring women’s values and voices into the mix in discussing and reviewing films.