Kids These Days: A 1923 Survey of Grade School and High School Kids’ Favorite Stars and Movies

A lot of the fan surveys of the silent era were open to all ages, which is great but more specific data is always welcome. The Educational Screen, a top do-gooder film magazine that graded movies as Harmless, Doubtful or Trash and rated my beloved Michael Strogoff as “too exciting” for children under 15, published a survey of students attending Evansville, Indiana schools. I found it quite interesting and wanted to share some of the highlights.

The survey divides much of its data into boys and girls in high school and grade school: 891 high school girls, 754 high school boys, 1687 grade school girls, 1667 grade school boys.

The list of top films does not divide by sex but does divide by age. It is calculated by the number of times the film in question made the children’s lists and the order of the films is by the preference of the high school students, not the grade schoolers.

I will be listing the title of the film along with the number of votes from each category of children:

Title of FilmHigh SchoolGrade School
The Sheik439255
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse406136
The Three Musketeers226208
Over the Hill198231
The Birth of a Nation1570
Smilin’ Through15770
Way Down East19596
Peck’s Bad Boy124312
School Days85208
Tarzan Series84368
Daddy Long Legs81152
The Kid77113
Go and Get It6056

As you can well imagine, the magazine’s editors were more than a little miffed that the children chose a red hot bodice-ripper like The Sheik as their favorite picture. And they were not much more pleased about Four Horsemen, which had been censored for distribution elsewhere but not in Evansville. GASP!

But you read it here first, the kids of 1923 went in for red hot romance! Rawr!

Me? The fact that the grade school kids delivered zero votes for Birth of a Nation warmed the cockles of my jaded heart, though I am not sure if Peck’s Bad Boy is an ideal choice either. The whole calculation process seems screwy, especially since Way Down East and Smilin’ Through both received more votes than BOAN but were placed much lower. CONSPIRACY! GET ME MY RED STRING!

The universal praise here and elsewhere for the utterly forgotten Fox release Over the Hill to the Poorhouse continues to intrigue me. The film survives but I have not seen it. Do let me know if you have!

School Days, Go and Get It and Penrod all starred Wesley Barry, Fascination had Mae Murray and Smilin’ Through featured Norma Talmadge. Of these five films, I believe only Smilin’ Through is on home video.

For favorite actors, we will see that favorite films do not necessarily correlate. Once again, the votes are divided by the grade level of the children.

Actor NameHigh SchoolGrade School
Rudolph Valentino564328
Wallace Reid423315
Douglas Fairbanks391496
Constance Talmadge253291
Harold Lloyd236280
Mary Pickford228819
Norma Talmadge226240
Tom Mix2181038
Charlie Chaplin155413
William S. Hart0525

I do not agree with this calculating at all. By raw numbers, Tom Mix and Mary Pickford should have been number one and two respectively with Douglas Fairbanks remaining in third place. They’re just mad about the Sheik thing, aren’t they?

The younger children also rate William S. Hart far higher than their older counterparts, proving once again that I would much rather hang around with them than their big brothers and sisters.

I don’t think there are any huge surprises here but I do want to draw your attention to the Talmadge sisters, who just do not get as much love as they should these days.

Oh, and one more thing before we go: The high school students paid an average of $0.28 admission and the grade school students paid between $0.14 and $0.17 admission. That comes out to $4 for the older kids and between $2 and $2.50 for the younger ones. With prices like those, I’d go to the movies multiple times per week (as most of them did) and get popcorn too!


  1. Overseas Visitor

    It seems they only took the high school students into account in the ordering. That explains everything else, but there is a mistake either in the number votes or in the position of Way Down East.

  2. DeAnna

    Hope that Over The Hill will be made available for viewing and I can only wish to see Fascination and Mae Murray in that fabulous Taurus costume if the film ever turns up.

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