Price of Applause (1918)

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In New York's Washington Square, a poet named Karl (Jack Livingston) is the king of art and artifice. But World War I breaks out and the spotlight on him begins to fade, so he dramatically declares his intention to enlist in the British Army. His friend Marcarson (Joe King) announces that he will go with him, keeping Karl to a promise which he hadn't planned to see through. So Karl marries his sweetheart Amy (Claire Anderson) and leaves. He bequeaths his poems to Marcarson before they get to the real fighting, and then they go over the top. Karl proves to be a coward and exchanges clothes and identification with a dead German soldier. While he's doing easy time in a prison camp, Marcarson returns to the U.S. and tells everyone of Karl's heroic death. He has his poems published and they become the latest sensation. Word filters back to Karl that he's a posthumous success, so he escapes and tries to get his life back. But nobody believes that he is Karl, not even his wife, who has remarried. His old professor (Walt Whitman) does recognize him, however, and tells him that by reappearing he will reveal himself as yellow and thus kill the applause he so desperately wants. Karl realizes that this is true, and he goes to a meeting of German spies who plan to blow up a munitions factory. Karl offers to do the job then takes the bomb and blows up himself and the German schemers. It's no surprise that this fascinating story originally appeared in the Saturday Evening Post, written by Nina Wilcox Putnam and Norman Jacobsen.