The Master Mystery, Happy Anniversary! 97 Years Strong!

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This partly lost, mostly there gem of a thriller has a “here, there and everywhere” opening date, of which I will attempt to settle upon one in this short article. This film provides a luxuriant offering for science-fiction and mystery buffs of all ages and demonstrates the charisma that was resident in Harry Houdini, the star of this landmark serial…

 

On Thursday morning, November 7, 1918 at the Strand Theater (1579 Broadway, New York City), the first five episodes of The Master Mystery, were shown in a special trade showing. Harry Houdini attended, seated in a stage box. From the report in Brooklyn Life, Mr. Houdini’s performance in the serial was validated by the applause from the audience and by the number of times the crowd came to their feet with each astounding escape in the picture.[1] The review seen in the November 16, edition of, The Billboard, glowed, rhapsodized, and thoroughly encouraged, the exhibitor, of the film’s possibilities at the box-office.[2] On Saturday, November 30, 1918, filming was complete on, The Master Mystery; this was the first time that a serial was finished prior to its official release.[3] Within days of the completion of the series, Grossett & Dunlap announced that they would soon publish the movie-book tie-in.[4]

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By Christmas time, the serial made its bow in Pennsylvania, in Harrisburg and Pittsburgh.[5] Yet the official, initial viewing of, The Master Mystery, was at the St. James Theatre, in Boston, Massachusetts on Monday, November 18, 1918.Harry Houdini made fifteen personal appearances during that first month of release for Master Mystery, including the first installment in Boston.[6] Why did Boston receive the premiere of, The Master Mystery? The film’s producer, Benjamin A. Rolfe, while born in New York, had adopted the area as his home; at his death he was buried in Walpole, Massachusetts, some twenty-five miles southwest of Bean Town.

Boston_Post_ Boston, Massachusetts Sun__Nov_17__1918_

Boston Post, Boston, Massachusetts, November 17, 1918

 

I believe that I have found the reason that began our popular-modern misunderstanding of the premiere date of, The Master Mystery on March 1, 1919.[7] By that date in 1919, the territory representatives for the series were holding Trade previews in the western States, for impending release, but nowhere in that news item is a serial-premiere mentioned.[8] But, the Moving Picture World reported that episode one would be seen on March 1, 1919 in Chicago;[9] this is the only link that I can find to the incorrect statement that Master Mystery opened in March of 1919. The published evidence speaks volumes to the contrary of a March 1, ’19, premiere for the Houdini thriller, with the specific reference of the first trade show occurring on November 7, 1918 and the multiple contemporaneous sources making clear the much earlier Christmastide general-availability for exhibitors.

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Film Fun December 1918

Film Fun December 1918

Picture-Play Magazine March, 1919

Picture-Play Magazine March, 1919

 

Harry Houdini, at one point in our history was every boy’s hero, (magician, escape artist, movie star), a robot, (first portrayed in film?), “The Madagascar Madness- Gas;” all these elements coming together for a serial that is (albeit incomplete) an E-Ticket ride! And the best news is that you can see it, even though it has been nearly one-hundred years since its opening; and better news still, that you may you see it, for it is accessible for your home viewing pleasure. The Master Mystery is available on DVD as part of a 3 disc set from Kino; albeit at an exorbitant price.[10]

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By C. S. Williams

 

 

[1] Billboard, November 16, 1918

Brooklyn Life (Brooklyn, New York) November 23

[2] Billboard, November 16, 1918

[3] Billboard, November 30, 1918

Wid’s Daily, December 3, 1918

[4] Wid’s Daily, December 3, 1918

[5] Evening News (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) December 24, 1918

Gazette Times (Pittsburg, Pennsylvania) December 25, 1918

[6] Boston Post (Boston, Massachusetts) November 18, 1918

Ottawa Journal (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada) December 28, 1918

[7] Indeed, on the release date page for, The Master Mystery on the Internet Movie Data Base, it details each episode’s opening through May 1, 1919.

[8] Moving Picture World, March 15, 1919

[9] Moving Picture World, March 15, 1919

[10]The following is a copy of the Amazon.com description: The Master Mystery (1919, 238m, Color Tinted), Terror Island (1920, 55m, B&W), The Man From Beyond (1922, 68m, Color Tinted), Haldane of the Secret Service (1923, 84m, Color Tinted), The Grim Game, (Fragment, 1919, 5m, Color Tinted). Special Features Include: Filmed records of Houdini escapes (ca. 1907-23) – Audio recording of Houdini speaking (1914) – Excerpts from the NY Censor Board files – Slippery Jim, a 1910 Houdini-inspired comedy – The illusion Metamorphosis performed by Houdini’s brother Hardeen.

 

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Earthbound, Happy Anniversary, Premiered August 11, 1920. ‘Status Unknown’ a Metaphor for Lost.

 

Earthbound

In January of 1920, Wyndham Standing, was contracted to star in the Goldwyn picture: Earthbound.[1] By the middle of January, Russian ballet star, Flora Revalles, was added to the cast when she signed to make her film debut with the new Goldwyn production.[2] The project was nearing completion of filming in early April.[3] Principal filming was at the Culver City studios;[4] numerous days of work was spent experimenting with lights and colors for the special-effects needed for the church interior scenes.[5]

Director Hayes Hunter had none too easy a task to have the dead speaking to the living. Hunter ran the actors through rehearsal, then the action was timed using a ticking-metronome to standardize their count; which proved useful not only to the actors and director, but to the cameramen as well. The first portion of a living and spiritual combined scene was the material world, then everything was covered in black velvet (to preserve the integrity of the former material scene), then rewinding of the film in the camera and thus began filming of the spiritual portion. This must not only have been an exacting procedure (more than one-hundred-fifty double exposures) but a tiresome method to cast and crew. To extract reactions from a dog to a spirit, they placed a goat on a platform behind a curtain, when the proper response from dog to spirit was needed the curtain was pulled back and the dog, with head raised, began to bark and bristle. To guard against loss of footage Hunter shot each scene many times, and later selected the best.[6]

Accompanying music arranged by theatrical impresario Samuel Rothafel was based on three themes, the harvest song from Verdi’s Forza del Destino, the old English song, Oh Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms, and the Russian, Kamennoi-Ostrow; which according to reports, heightened the mood for the audience.[7] In addition composer-arranger Max Winkler selected and compiled music for Earthbound, while adding timing-instructions, with theme music (Love’s Enchantment) and pieces for each scene.[8]

To say that August 11, was the premier date for Earthbound is not quite true. The official grand premier was in Chicago, on August 10.[9] Also on August 10, in New York, at the Astor Theatre, a special presentation by invitation only was given,[10] with the public premier on August 11, at the Astor Theatre. The real eye-opening, crowd-jamming, debut occurred in New York at the Capitol Theatre, on September 19, 1920; director T. Hayes Hunter attended the showing.[11] Crowds were outstanding in New York during the Capitol run; first day audience numbers were estimated somewhere between sixteen and eighteen-thousand.[12] Waiting times for the Capitol (5400 capacity) were as much as four hours: two outside and two once inside. During the premier week at the Capitol Theatre, total attendance was over seventy-three-thousand; police reserves had to be called on several times for crowd control on Broadway.[13] The four-weeks plus successful showings at the Astor Theatre, seemed to only whet the appetites of the New Yorkers, causing an inundation at the Capitol.[14]

Chicago_Daily_Tribune_Wed__Aug_4__1920_The_New_York_Times_Sun__Aug_1__1920_

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In Los Angeles, September 30, was the debut for the ‘life after death’ drama; this was at Miller’s Theatre, where they closed the facility for four days prior to first showing, making special preparations for the presentation, arranging the stage, the lights and the music.[15] Even though Miller’s was considered a small house, still the first week’s attendance was over twenty-five-thousand.[16] While audience response here in the States was grand and the atmosphere was ebullient for exhibitors, in London, the welcome for the supernatural flick was lukewarm.[17]

The_Times_ London, England Fri__Oct_29__1920_

Possibly, the finest plaudits received by Earthbound were not from celluloid-critics but from movie-making insiders, producers, directors and writers alike praised the movie.[18] Although, authors John T. Soister and Henry Nicolella intimate that the gushing reviews from the artistic-community were less than genuine,[19] and more a product of the Goldwyn publicity department by soliciting endorsements; which we all know has always been a practice of the entertainment industry.

 

The Cast: Wyndham Standing, Naomi Childers, Billie Cotton, Mahlon Hamilton, Flora Revalles, Alec B. Francis, Lawson Butt, Kate Lester, Aileen Pringle.

The Crew…

Directed and Produced by T. Hayes Hunter

Story by Basil King

Adaptation by Edfrid A. Bingham

Cinematographer André Barlatier

Film Editor, J. G. Hawks (see miscellany below)

Art Director, Cedric Gibbons

 

Earthbound Miscellany:

The film’s editor is listed as J. G. Hawks by Internet Movie Data Base, but according to Motion Picture News the editing work was done by Alexander Troffey, Earthbound being just his third film. The job of putting nearly two-hundred-thousand-feet of film to the cutting block (with just eight-thousand-feet for the official running time), took over two months.[20]

Earthbound Motion Picture News October 16, 1920 full page.php Earthbound Motion Picture News October 16, 1920 motionpicturenew222unse_0032

EArthbound Important Step Motion Picture News August 21, 1920.php

Earthbound Motion Picture Magazine November 1920

Earthbound Motion Picture News October 16, 1920 two page spread Earthbound musical directions Motion Picture News October 16 1920 Earthbound New Method Motion Picture News August 14, 1920 .php Earthbound Photoplay November 1920 2 Earthbound picture play magazine November, 1920 Earthbound Photoplay November 1920Earthbound Players Pictures Motion Picture News August 21, 1920 Earthbound review Motion Picture News August 21, 1920

Earthbound Three Views Motion Picture News August 14, 1920

motionpicturenew222unse_0032 motionpicturenew222unse_0940 Santa_Ana_Register_Wed__Nov_24__1920_ The_New_York_Times_Fri__Aug_13__1920_ The_Sun_and_The_New_York_Herald_Thu__Aug_12__1920_ The_Times_ London, England Fri__Oct_29__1920_ Earthbound cast and crew Photoplay November 1920 Earthbound Director Hayes Hunter Motion Picture News September 4, 1920.php

 

By C. S. Williams

 

[1] Wid’s Daily, December 15, 1919

[2] New Castle Herald (New Castle, Pennsylvania) January 29, 1920

Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) January 11, 1920

[3] Springfield Republican (Springfield, Missouri) April 11, 1920

[4] Wid’s Daily, December 23, 1919

[5] Evening News (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) April 28, 1920

[6] Motion Picture Classic, December, 1920

Santa Ana Register (Santa Ana, California) October 16, 1920

[7] Motion Picture News, August 28, 1920

[8] Motion Picture News, October 16, 1920

[9] Chicago Daily Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) August 4, 1920

[10] Wid’s Daily, August 9, 1920

[11] Motion Picture News, September 25, 1920

[12] Motion Picture News, October 2, 1920

[13] Motion Picture News, October 9, 1920

[14] Motion Picture News, September 11, 1920

[15] Motion Picture News, September 25, 1920

[16] Wid’s Daily, October 23, 1920

[17] Wid’s Daily, November 10, 1920

[18] Motion Picture News, October 16, 1920

[19] American Silent Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy Feature Films, 1913-1929, by John T. Soister, Henry Nicolella,

Steve Joyce and Harry H. Long; publisher, McFarland, June, 2012, pages 170-174

[20] Motion Picture News, October 16, 1920

Wid’s Daily, August 15, 1920

Prudence the Pirate, 1916, Lost in the Celluloid Sea, the Updated Version

Moving Picture World October 21, 1916

Moving Picture World October 21, 1916

 

Prudence Lost: Prudence is to be admired as a virtue; unfortunately, this particular Prudence is lost.

Prudence the Pirate was released on Sunday, October 22, 1916,[1] starring Gladys Hulette, accompanied by the “ugliest pub” in the world, Panthus; the dog was named Panthus because he panted abundantly.[2] The production was covered thoroughly by the Hollywood trade magazines, reporting on Ms. Hulette and particularly the ugly dog. The well rounded cast included, Flora Finch, Riley Chamberlin, Barnett Parker, William Parke, Jr., A. J. Andrews, Eric Hudson, James Sullivan and Billy Brown.[3] Hudson, Sullivan and Brown have been missing from the credits of Prudence for no telling how long, granted, that they were not actors with prolific careers, nor were they household names but they were mentioned by the Moving Picture World magazine and deserve to be remembered for their work; albeit lost performances all. William Parke directed and the scenario was written by Agnes C. Johnston (AKA: Johnson). Johnston was at the time of Prudence, only twenty-years-old, and the veteran of more than ten stories since her entrance into film in 1915. Her true fame in writing for the silver screen would come much later in her career, with such films as, Show People (1928), The Divine Lady (1929) and, Movie Crazy released in 1932; in the 1930’s she wrote for the Andy Hardy series and the 1946 version of, Black Beauty. Johnston was by all accounts one of the bright stars in the scenarist universe and Prudence was one of her early triumphs. According to a report in the Wichita Beacon, Wichita, Kansas, (December 23, 1916), Ms. Johnston applied for a writing position with Vitagraph but landed a job as a typist instead; within a few months she had grasped (this, the evaluation of her employer) the essentials of writing scenarios and got her big break, with the short film, Ancestry (for American Mutual Manufacturing Company), which opened in March of 1915. Soon she got a position with Thanhouser and the rest, as they say, is history.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Brooklyn New York, November 22, 1915

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Brooklyn New York, November 22, 1915

 

The Motion Picture News reported that there was a “film-leader” following the title-card of Prudence the Pirate, dedicating its contents to “those tired of the materialistic, who wanted to hark back a number of years and enjoy over again their childhood dreams.” So said a short article in the Logansport (Indiana) Daily Tribune, further, more color was added to the story (whether by Thanhouser, Pathé or the local reporter I cannot discern), relating that, when “Looking at it, the walls of the theater melt into nothing, the screen becomes a mirror reflecting the humorous prank of an unconventional and winsome girl, who is so fresh, so distantly removed from anything pertaining to grease paint and wig, that you smile patronizingly  at her every action and laugh at Prue’s prank, smile at the delightful pictures of human nature that the story offers, and thrill at the climax.” The scenario was considered by some more than worthy and by at least one critic as a “Craftsmanlike piece of work,” a movie with a “distinct comedy flavor” with a “literary touch.”  The aforementioned review by the Logansport Daily Tribune, concluded that: “Justice cannot be done in relating the synopsis of the story. The touches of the author and the various scenes by the principal characters must be seen to be appreciated.” [4]

Prudence the Pirate Glass Slide, from the Thanhouser Company Preservation, Inc., Image Gallery

Prudence the Pirate Glass Slide, from the Thanhouser Company Preservation, Inc., Image Gallery

 

It seems we have missed out on an early comedy-drama classic with Prudence the Pirate, a feminine pirate movie that is remembered in numerous blogs and books alike, yet with no cohesive history of the production written. Like unto the corpulent detective Nero Wolfe, who rarely left the comfortable and familiar confines of his home, but instead sent his assistant, Archie Goodwin to perform the leg work, I seldom leave my office for research and my Archie is the internet. Here together then are the facts I found obtainable, prudently proffered for your perusal.

Exhibitors found the film to be too “light” in its content and advertising, but Motography on October 21, 1916, said that Prudence was: “a distinctly pleasant farce with a stirring melodramatic climax. The story is a very light and proportionately diverting offering… Every time we see a picture like ‘Prudence the Pirate,’ we start right in to wonder that the producers do not give more attention to such really entertaining plays and observations made while visiting the picture theaters tell us that the great portion of the public holds to the same view. Why so many harassed heroines or stupid Cinederella’s (sic) when the likes of Prudence can be evolved by the scenario writer?” And the Moving Picture World was positive in its recounting of the film, almost glowingly of Ms. Hulette and calling the picture, “worthwhile” and that Prudence, “will make good entertainment.[5]

The action-comedy-romance was seen in Logansport, Indiana on October 22, 1916,[6] and received prominent placement in the local theater advertisement. The host theater in Logansport was the Paramount, situated at 310 5th Street; which is at the intersection of E. Market Street and Erie Avenue.

Logansport Pharos Tribune, Logansport, Indiana, October 22, 1916

Logansport Pharos Tribune, Logansport, Indiana, October 22, 1916

 

The first verifiable metropolitan play-date that I am able to ascertain for the production was on Monday, October 23, when Prudence was seen in Philadelphia at the Princess Theater, located at 1018 Market Street,[7] which sat two-doors east of Eleventh Street, with the historic Bingham House being the corner building at Market and Eleventh; this was just steps from subway station 35. The Pennsylvania state Board of Censors of Motion Pictures, reviewed the film on, October 19, and approved the movie’s content.[8]

Evening Public Ledger, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, October 23, 1916

Evening Public Ledger, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, October 23, 1916

 

On January 1, 1917, in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, at 136 2nd Avenue South, at 1:00 PM, Prudence the Pirate, opened the brand new, Daylight Theatre; the venue was declared to be best, motion picture only theater in Canada.[9]

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada (unknown publication) "Prudence the Pirate" opened the new Daylight Theatre at 136 2nd Avenue South at one o'clock New Year's Day, January 1, 1917. J. Lester Kauffman of the Regal Film Corporation, one of a number of prominent men in the motion picture business in town to inspect the new theatre, declared the Daylight the finest strictly motion picture theatre in Canada. The theatre was constructed for the Daylight Theatre Company Ltd. at a cost of approximately $50,000.

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada (unknown publication) “Prudence the Pirate” opened the new Daylight Theatre at 136 2nd Avenue South at one o’clock New Year’s Day, January 1, 1917. J. Lester Kauffman of the Regal Film Corporation, one of a number of prominent men in the motion picture business in town to inspect the new theatre, declared the Daylight the finest strictly motion picture theatre in Canada. The theatre was constructed for the Daylight Theatre Company Ltd. at a cost of approximately $50,000. (Source: Saskatoon Public Library)

 

The so ugly its cute pooch was found in a nationwide search for the “ugliest pup,” with scores of photos of dogs that simply did not qualify for the title submitted in response to advertising. Finally, Panthus was found in the New Rochelle, New York dog-pound. And in a plot fitting of a Tinsel-town scenario he was saved from imminent death at the hands of the warden of the dog-pound. Obviously, the personal worth of Panthus rose from rags to riches and once finished with his film work, his silver-screen-story was complete when he was adopted by his leading lady, Gladys Hulette.[10]

Film Fun, November, 1916

Film Fun, November, 1916

 

Within days after filming of the five-reel picture was started, Panthus escaped; a posse was gathered and sent out by Thanhouser Studios searching New Rochelle for the dog, and finding him some twenty-four hours later, frolicking with some boys at the local baseball field .[11] Filming was done at the Thanhouser Company studio in New Rochelle proper, and the sailing scenes were shot on Long Island Sound;[12] principal filming was in August and September of 1916.

Motography, behind the scenes October 7, 1916

Motography, behind the scenes October 7, 1916

Picture-Play Magazine, behind the scenes (rocking platform to simulate waves), January, 1917

Picture-Play Magazine, behind the scenes (rocking platform to simulate waves), January, 1917

 

After the release of, Prudence the Pirate, Ernst Luz wrote accompanying music for the five-reel flick, entitled, Prudence: Entr’ acte. Luz filed for the copyright in the middle of November of 1916, through his company, Photo-Play Music, of New York; the sheet music was prepared for both orchestra and piano and advertised as a march.[13] The piece, written specifically for Prudence, proved so popular that within two years it was being used in music cue sheets for a number of films, including: The Girl Problem, Daughter of Mine, The Love Defender, The Unknown Quantity and The Scar.[14]

Prudence the Pirate Sheet Music cover, from the Thanhouser Company Preservation, Inc., Image Gallery

 

Prudence’s Prudent Pirate Plot:

In the short, Prudence the Pirate, was a romance, about a girl who wants to be a pirate, she is helped by a crew of tramps and the butler of her aunt’s home, Meeks. Meeks hints that he had been to sea and had “seen things,” and when Prudence pressed Meeks further, he confesses that he once was a pirate. Yet, the only experience Meeks acquired at sea was as a cabin boy on a missionary ship, but he continues spinning the adventuresome yarns for Prudence. Young Prudence or “Prue” as she is known, takes what money she has and rents a schooner and christens her the “Bucket of Blood.

The Photo-Play Journal November, 1916

The Photo-Play Journal November, 1916

The Photo-Play Journal, pirate bold, November, 1916

The Photo-Play Journal, pirate bold, November, 1916

Moving Picture World, Parker and Hulette, October 21, 1916

Moving Picture World, (on the deck of the “Bucket of Blood”) Parker and Hulette, October 21, 1916

Motography, October 21, 1916

Motography, (in Prudence’s cabin on the “Bucket of Blood,”) October 21, 1916

Film Fun, (two-page fold-out of various scenes) December, 1916

Film Fun, (two-page fold-out of various scenes) December, 1916

 

To fill out her roster of crewmen Prudence attacks her aunt’s house-boat and takes Aunty and Mr. Astorbilt captive, Astorbilt bribes the crew to mutiny; Prue, becoming a prisoner on her on ship. Soon, Astorbilt emerges the man he truly was (at least underneath the veneer) instead of the high-society, reserved, effeminate gentleman he lived as. A fire breaks out on the Bucket of Blood and he saves Ms. Prudence, she surrendering her heart to Astorbilt forever.[15]

The Photo-Play Journal, watching the capture of aunty's yacht November, 1916

The Photo-Play Journal, watching the capture of aunty’s yacht November, 1916

 

Prudence Cast:

Hulette

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Motion Picture Studio Directory and Trade Annua..._20150417052352

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Riley_Chamberlin

 

By C. S. Williams

 

[1] Motography, September 30, 1916

[2] New York Sun (New York, New York) October 22, 1916

[3] Moving Picture World, September 30, 1916

[4] Logansport Daily Tribune (Logansport, Indiana) October 22, 1916

Houston Post (Houston, Texas) October 29, 1916

[5] Moving Picture World, October 21, 1916

[6] Logansport Pharos Tribune, Logansport, Indiana, October 22, 1916

[7] Evening Public Ledger (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) October 23, 1916

[8] List of Films, Reels and Views Examined, Pennsylvania State Board of Censors Motion Pictures, Frank R. Shattuck,

Chairman; Mrs. Edward C. Niver, Vice-Chairman; Ellis P. Oberholtzer, Secretary; printed by J. L. L. Kuhn, 1918,

page 341

[9] Local History Collections, Saskatoon Public Library

[10] Motion Picture Magazine, January, 1917

Picture Play Magazine, January, 1917

[11] Picture Play Magazine, January, 1917

[12] Pittsburgh Daily Post (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) August 27, 1916

[13] Catalogue of Copyright Entries, 1916, Part 3: Musical Compositions

Chronicle-Telegram (Elyria, Ohio (June 27, 1917

[14] Moving Picture World, April 5; 19; 26; May 10, 1919

[15] Moving Picture World, October 7; 28, 1916

Frank Merriwell; a Frank, Happy and Healthy Hero, in Arizona and Beyond

 

First Merriwell Story, April 18, 1896

First Merriwell Story, April 18, 1896

 

The Preface:

Our story begins in 1971 in Hilversum, Netherlands, a city about twenty-miles south-east of Amsterdam; a municipality of less 100,000. Hilversum is often referred to as “media city,” because it is the principal capital of radio and television broadcasting in the Netherlands. It was in ‘71 that a private collection of around twenty-films from the period of 1910-1925 was moved from Hilversum to Amsterdam and the EYE Film Institute. That collection is made up primarily of German, French and Italian movies, with just a couple of American films; one of those US films was a nitrate print of, Frank Merriwell in Arizona or The Mystery Mine. The nitrate was scanned in 1998 into Standard Definition. EYE still holds the nitrate print and reports that the length is 503-meters or about 1,650-feet; there are no other elements of film preservation at the EYE for the Frank Merriwell movie. It is the SD copy that is available online and is in remarkably good condition.

Frank Merriwell in Arizona or The Mystery Mine

 

The Backstory:

At the apex of the “Dime Novel,” a hero of boys was born, a righter-of-wrongs, doer-of-good-deeds, a master of sports, and world traveler: Frank Merriwell. His creator was Burt L. Standish the pen-name of Gilbert Patten, and Merriwell was seen in the pages of, Tip Top Weekly (published by Street & Smith), beginning in 1896; some twelve-hundred Merriwell stories appeared in print, each containing around 20,000 words.[1] By the mid 1930’s the total number of copies of Frank Merriwell stories sold had reached over 120,000,000.[2]

Tip Top Weekly

 

The Making of an Icon:

The Frank Merriwell comic strip began in 1928 and lasted for about eight years in a daily strip; the Big Little Books publishing of the Merriwell exploits were reprints from the daily comic strip.

Valley Morning Star, Harlingen, Texas, January 15, 1932

Valley Morning Star, Harlingen, Texas, January 15, 1932

Daily Courier, Connellsville, Pennsylvania, September 11, 1933

Daily Courier, Connellsville, Pennsylvania, September 11, 1933

Big Little Books

 

The character made his obligatory mark in radio in the 1930’s and 40’s, on NBC; Donald Briggs handled the character of Merriwell in 1934 rendition, while Lawson Zerbe portrayed Merriwell in the 1946-49 incarnation.

Radio Mirror, November, 1947

Radio Mirror, November, 1947

 

1936 saw the 12 chapter cliffhanger serial for the cinema (The Adventures of Frank Merriwell) starring Donald Briggs. The chapter-play was produced by Universal and co-starred Jean Rogers, Carla Laemmle and John ‘Dusty’ King; directed by Clifford Smith, with the script by George H. Plympton, Ella O’Neill, Maurice Geraghty and Basil Dickey.

DVD cliffhanger serial adventures of frank merriwell-500x500

 

So widespread was the character of Merriwell that his name became part of the popular-lexicon, used in sports to describe last minute heroics. Some examples of the popularity of the Merriwell description are: “It was the sixth straight victory for the home team and ended in a regular Frank Merriwell finish;” “The garrison finish of the Giants inspired the Chicago White Sox and the St. Louis Browns to come through with the Frank Merriwell stuff at the last minute.”[3]

In 1971 the Merriwell legend moved to Broadway where, Frank Merriwell or Honor Challenged (starring Larry Ellis as our hero), saw seven-preview performances and premiered on April 24, opening and closing the same day; a miserable epitaph to a marvelous career for this fictional hero. This musical, reinvented Merriwell (book by Skip Redwine, Larry Frank and Heywood Gould; music and lyrics by Redwine and Frank) as a “noble, erstwhile fool,” while the whole of the production was a parody of the era. . Having taken these liberalities with the personas of the 1896 heroic college student and his cohorts, problems with the play, were further exacerbated by the fact that the audience was by now, no longer familiar with the original stories and that the staging was by a group of unknowns.[4]

Words and statements such as “chintzy,” “second-rate campiness,” “a dog,” “empty-headed songs and perfunctory direction and choreography,” “incredibly silly from start to finish,” “an embarrassingly amateurish concoction,” “the book was unfunny and the score dreadful,” “modestly deplorable,” were used to describe this Great White Way offering. With the exception of one or two positive reviews, Honor Challenged, was panned en-masse by the critics.[5]

The Forgotten Merriwell:

With all of the attention upon the Frank Merriwell franchise it is difficult to believe that an entire division of the Merriwell history has been missed, yet that is exactly what has happened. In 1912-13, four Frank Merriwell films were produced, three of the features were two-reels in length and were made by Tip Top Films. This reporter assumes that this film production concern was a subsidiary of Street & Smith (considering that the Frank Merriwell stories were published in, Tip Top Weekly Magazine), possibly Tip Top Film was an outreach of the Street & Smith Motion Picture Department.

The responsibility of distribution for the Frank Merriwell series was handled by the Feature Photo Play Company. Feature Photo was itself a new entity, having begun in early 1912 and was putting together a fine stable of film companies to represent.[6] The original plans for the series was to be two films per month, being released on the second and fourth Monday;[7] this plan did not go beyond the first six weeks and three films. The first time all three movies were mentioned together was in, The Moving Picture World, in February of 1913, in an advert by the Prince Feature Film Company; Prince was based in Philadelphia and concentrated on exhibitors in Pennsylvania.[8] Another instance of all three Merriwell features listed jointly was again in the Moving Picture World magazine, in July of ’13, in an advertisement by the M & F Feature Film Corporation of Chicago; this distributor focused on exhibitors in Wisconsin and Illinois.[9] Prince Feature was a very active partner in distribution of the Merriwell films, far outnumbering showings in Pennsylvania as compared to Illinois or any other state for that matter. This was in part due to the fact that Prince was early to game, having picked up the first title in the series in New York on January 2, 1913;[10] Prince began their marketing campaign for Merriwell in the January 11, 1913, edition of Moving Picture World.[11] This quickness to Merriwell most probably stemmed from the newness of Prince, having just started business;[12] it seems that all parties involved in Merriwell from production to distribution were newbies.

Billboard, December 21, 1912

Billboard, December 21, 1912

Moving Picture World, February 8, 1913

Moving Picture World, February 8, 1913

Moving Picture World, July 12, 1913

Moving Picture World, July 12, 1913

 

What does not fit into this series is the title (I have found only one reference to it), Frank Merriwell in Russia, which was released in July or August of, 1912.[13] Possibly, the Russia installment was unauthorized or this first Merriwell picture did well enough at the box-office to warrant Tip Top Films to plan a series; yet all of this is conjecture and I will spend no further words on Frank Merriwell in Russia except to say this film is obviously lost.

Emporia Gazette, Emporia, Kansas, August 1, 1912

Emporia Gazette, Emporia, Kansas, August 1, 1912

 

The Merriwell Trilogy:

The officially proclaimed “first” in the Merriwell series was Frank Merriwell’s School Days at Fardale Academy (AKA: Fairdale);[14] the Fardale picture was released on December 30, 1912.[15] Fardale was seen at many theaters after The Mystery Mine (number two in the series), and was supposed to have contained quite a bit of comedy. The plot for Fardale highlighted the “stirring incidents” of Merriwell at the academy, in particularly, a meeting with a “mad-dog.”[16]

Allentown Democrat, Allentown, Pennsylvania, February 19, 1913

Allentown Democrat, Allentown, Pennsylvania, February 19, 1913

 

Frank Merriwell in Arizona; or, The Mystery Mine, was released on Monday, January 13, 1913 (some ads mistakenly had it as January 3, 1913; this was rectified in late January in Billboard [17]), and referred to as the second in the series;[18] this would actually be the third release, if considering Russia as number-one of the Frank Merriwell titles. While most sources consider this installment lost, it is indeed available curtesy of, EYE the Film Institute of the Netherlands; the print of Frank Merriwell in Arizona or The Mystery Mine, is in good shape.

Frank Merriwell in Arizona Lobby Card

Allentown Democrat, Allentown, Pennsylvania, February 3, 1913

Allentown Democrat, Allentown, Pennsylvania, February 3, 1913

 

Frank Merriwell or Fight for a Fortune, AKA, Hunt for a Fortune opened in the latter portion of February, 1913, and was billed as the third and final installment of the Merriwell pictures.[19] The first and third installments of the Merriwell series are lost in history; how, when and where could remain permanently unanswered. And so ended the initial attempt to capitalize on the extremely popular character of Frank Merriwell on the silver screen; it would be more than twenty years before Hollywood would come calling for the name of Merriwell.

Allentown Democrat, Allentown, Pennsylvania, February 26, 1913

Allentown Democrat, Allentown, Pennsylvania, February 26, 1913

Mount Carmel Item, Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania, November 20, 1913

Mount Carmel Item, Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania, November 20, 1913

 

The Postscript:

Of such little effect, nor evidently any artistic merit, the above mentioned Merriwell pictures were quickly forgotten. By December of 1916 there appeared to be no popular knowledge that any of the Street & Smith-Gilbert Patten stories had ever been filmed. This assumption is built upon a column, in the Picture-Play Magazine section known as, The Picture Oracle (movie question and answer department), where the columnist replies: “Haven’t heard of any of the Frank Merriwell stories being filmed as yet.”[20] What is oddest about this glaring omission in the Picture Oracle column is that Picture-Play Magazine was a Street & Smith publication.

Picture Play Magazine, December, 1916

Picture Play Magazine, December, 1916

 

By C. S. Williams

 

[1] Oswego Palladium Times (Oswego, New York) June 1, 1934

[2] Oswego Palladium Times (Oswego, New York) June 1, 1934

[3] Kansas City Times (Kansas City, Missouri) July 18, 1908

Bridgeport Evening Farmer (Bridgeport, Connecticut) October 16, 1912

[4] American Literature on Stage and Screen: 525 Works and Their Adaptations, by Thomas S. Hischak, published by McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2012, pages 73-74

[5] The Complete Book of 1970’2 Broadway Musicals, by Dan Dietz, published by Rowman & Littlefield, 2015, pages 62-63

[6] Moving Picture World, April 20, 1912

[7] Billboard, January 25, 1913

[8] Moving Picture World, February 8, 1913

[9] Moving Picture World, July 12, 1913

[10] Billboard, January 11, 1913

[11] Moving Picture World, January 11, 1913

[12] Moving Picture World, December 28, 1912

[13] Emporia Gazette (Emporia, Kansas) August 1, 1912

[14] Billboard, December 28, 1912

[15] Billboard, May 31, 1913

[16] Allentown Democrat (Allentown, Pennsylvania) February 19, 1913

Englewood Economist (Chicago, Illinois) June 23, 1913

[17] Billboard, January 11; 25, 1913

[18] Billboard, May 31, 1913

[19] Lebanon Daily News (Lebanon, Pennsylvania) February 22, 1913

Daily Republican (Monongahela, Pennsylvania) February 26, 1913

[20] Picture Play Magazine, December, 1916

The Master Mystery, Happy Anniversary! 97 Years Strong!

master-of-mmystery-f-83631

 

This partly lost, mostly there gem of a thriller has a “here, there and everywhere” opening date, of which I will attempt to settle upon one in this short article. This film provides a luxuriant offering for science-fiction and mystery buffs of all ages and demonstrates the charisma that was resident in Harry Houdini, the star of this landmark serial…

 

On Thursday morning, November 7, 1918 at the Strand Theater (1579 Broadway, New York City), the first five episodes of The Master Mystery, were shown in a special trade showing. Harry Houdini attended, seated in a stage box. From the report in Brooklyn Life, Mr. Houdini’s performance in the serial was validated by the applause from the audience and by the number of times the crowd came to their feet with each astounding escape in the picture.[1] The review seen in the November 16, edition of, The Billboard, glowed, rhapsodized, and thoroughly encouraged, the exhibitor, of the film’s possibilities at the box-office.[2] On Saturday, November 30, 1918, filming was complete on, The Master Mystery; this was the first time that a serial was finished prior to its official release.[3] Within days of the completion of the series, Grossett & Dunlap announced that they would soon publish the movie-book tie-in.[4]

32935_med

 

By Christmas time, the serial made its bow in Pennsylvania, in Harrisburg and Pittsburgh.[5] Yet the official, initial viewing of, The Master Mystery, was at the St. James Theatre, in Boston, Massachusetts on Monday, November 18, 1918.Harry Houdini made fifteen personal appearances during that first month of release for Master Mystery, including the first installment in Boston.[6] Why did Boston receive the premiere of, The Master Mystery? The film’s producer, Benjamin A. Rolfe, while born in New York, had adopted the area as his home; at his death he was buried in Walpole, Massachusetts, some twenty-five miles southwest of Bean Town.

Boston_Post_ Boston, Massachusetts Sun__Nov_17__1918_

Boston Post, Boston, Massachusetts, November 17, 1918

 

I believe that I have found the reason that began our popular-modern misunderstanding of the premiere date of, The Master Mystery on March 1, 1919.[7] By that date in 1919, the territory representatives for the series were holding Trade previews in the western States, for impending release, but nowhere in that news item is a serial-premiere mentioned.[8] But, the Moving Picture World reported that episode one would be seen on March 1, 1919 in Chicago;[9] this is the only link that I can find to the incorrect statement that Master Mystery opened in March of 1919. The published evidence speaks volumes to the contrary of a March 1, ’19, premiere for the Houdini thriller, with the specific reference of the first trade show occurring on November 7, 1918 and the multiple contemporaneous sources making clear the much earlier Christmastide general-availability for exhibitors.

mastertumblr_msf38xrxww1qc8yyuo1_1280

masterhoudinimastercartela

Film Fun December 1918

Film Fun December 1918

Picture-Play Magazine March, 1919

Picture-Play Magazine March, 1919

 

Harry Houdini, at one point in our history was every boy’s hero, (magician, escape artist, movie star), a robot, (first portrayed in film?), “The Madagascar Madness- Gas;” all these elements coming together for a serial that is (albeit incomplete) an E-Ticket ride! And the best news is that you can see it, even though it has been nearly one-hundred years since its opening; and better news still, that you may you see it, for it is accessible for your home viewing pleasure. The Master Mystery is available on DVD as part of a 3 disc set from Kino; albeit at an exorbitant price.[10]

master-mystery-movie-poster-1919-1020202647

mastermystery

master-mystery-french-2

 

 

By C. S. Williams

 

 

[1] Billboard, November 16, 1918

Brooklyn Life (Brooklyn, New York) November 23

[2] Billboard, November 16, 1918

[3] Billboard, November 30, 1918

Wid’s Daily, December 3, 1918

[4] Wid’s Daily, December 3, 1918

[5] Evening News (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) December 24, 1918

Gazette Times (Pittsburg, Pennsylvania) December 25, 1918

[6] Boston Post (Boston, Massachusetts) November 18, 1918

Ottawa Journal (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada) December 28, 1918

[7] Indeed, on the release date page for, The Master Mystery on the Internet Movie Data Base, it details each episode’s opening through May 1, 1919.

[8] Moving Picture World, March 15, 1919

[9] Moving Picture World, March 15, 1919

[10]The following is a copy of the Amazon.com description: The Master Mystery (1919, 238m, Color Tinted), Terror Island (1920, 55m, B&W), The Man From Beyond (1922, 68m, Color Tinted), Haldane of the Secret Service (1923, 84m, Color Tinted), The Grim Game, (Fragment, 1919, 5m, Color Tinted). Special Features Include: Filmed records of Houdini escapes (ca. 1907-23) – Audio recording of Houdini speaking (1914) – Excerpts from the NY Censor Board files – Slippery Jim, a 1910 Houdini-inspired comedy – The illusion Metamorphosis performed by Houdini’s brother Hardeen.

 

Earthbound, Happy Anniversary, Premiered August 11, 1920. ‘Status Unknown’ a Metaphor for Lost

 

Earthbound

In January of 1920, Wyndham Standing, was contracted to star in the Goldwyn picture: Earthbound.[1] By the middle of January, Russian ballet star, Flora Revalles, was added to the cast when she signed to make her film debut with the new Goldwyn production.[2] The project was nearing completion of filming in early April.[3] Principal filming was at the Culver City studios;[4] numerous days of work was spent experimenting with lights and colors for the special-effects needed for the church interior scenes.[5]

Director Hayes Hunter had none too easy a task to have the dead speaking to the living. Hunter ran the actors through rehearsal, then the action was timed using a ticking-metronome to standardize their count; which proved useful not only to the actors and director, but to the cameramen as well. The first portion of a living and spiritual combined scene was the material world, then everything was covered in black velvet (to preserve the integrity of the former material scene), then rewinding of the film in the camera and thus began filming of the spiritual portion. This must not only have been an exacting procedure (more than one-hundred-fifty double exposures) but a tiresome method to cast and crew. To extract reactions from a dog to a spirit, they placed a goat on a platform behind a curtain, when the proper response from dog to spirit was needed the curtain was pulled back and the dog, with head raised, began to bark and bristle. To guard against loss of footage Hunter shot each scene many times, and later selected the best.[6]

Accompanying music arranged by theatrical impresario Samuel Rothafel was based on three themes, the harvest song from Verdi’s Forza del Destino, the old English song, Oh Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms, and the Russian, Kamennoi-Ostrow; which according to reports, heightened the mood for the audience.[7] In addition composer-arranger Max Winkler selected and compiled music for Earthbound, while adding timing-instructions, with theme music (Love’s Enchantment) and pieces for each scene.[8]

To say that August 11, was the premier date for Earthbound is not quite true. The official grand premier was in Chicago, on August 10.[9] Also on August 10, in New York, at the Astor Theatre, a special presentation by invitation only was given,[10] with the public premier on August 11, at the Astor Theatre. The real eye-opening, crowd-jamming, debut occurred in New York at the Capitol Theatre, on September 19, 1920; director T. Hayes Hunter attended the showing.[11] Crowds were outstanding in New York during the Capitol run; first day audience numbers were estimated somewhere between sixteen and eighteen-thousand.[12] Waiting times for the Capitol (5400 capacity) were as much as four hours: two outside and two once inside. During the premier week at the Capitol Theatre, total attendance was over seventy-three-thousand; police reserves had to be called on several times for crowd control on Broadway.[13] The four-weeks plus successful showings at the Astor Theatre, seemed to only whet the appetites of the New Yorkers, causing an inundation at the Capitol.[14]

Chicago_Daily_Tribune_Wed__Aug_4__1920_The_New_York_Times_Sun__Aug_1__1920_

motionpicturenew222unse_0940

In Los Angeles, September 30, was the debut for the ‘life after death’ drama; this was at Miller’s Theatre, where they closed the facility for four days prior to first showing, making special preparations for the presentation, arranging the stage, the lights and the music.[15] Even though Miller’s was considered a small house, still the first week’s attendance was over twenty-five-thousand.[16] While audience response here in the States was grand and the atmosphere was ebullient for exhibitors, in London, the welcome for the supernatural flick was lukewarm.[17]

The_Times_ London, England Fri__Oct_29__1920_

Possibly, the finest plaudits received by Earthbound were not from celluloid-critics but from movie-making insiders, producers, directors and writers alike praised the movie.[18] Although, authors John T. Soister and Henry Nicolella intimate that the gushing reviews from the artistic-community were less than genuine,[19] and more a product of the Goldwyn publicity department by soliciting endorsements; which we all know has always been a practice of the entertainment industry.

 

The Cast: Wyndham Standing, Naomi Childers, Billie Cotton, Mahlon Hamilton, Flora Revalles, Alec B. Francis, Lawson Butt, Kate Lester, Aileen Pringle.

The Crew…

Directed and Produced by T. Hayes Hunter

Story by Basil King

Adaptation by Edfrid A. Bingham

Cinematographer André Barlatier

Film Editor, J. G. Hawks (see miscellany below)

Art Director, Cedric Gibbons

 

Earthbound Miscellany:

The film’s editor is listed as J. G. Hawks by Internet Movie Data Base, but according to Motion Picture News the editing work was done by Alexander Troffey, Earthbound being just his third film. The job of putting nearly two-hundred-thousand-feet of film to the cutting block (with just eight-thousand-feet for the official running time), took over two months.[20]

Earthbound Motion Picture News October 16, 1920 full page.php Earthbound Motion Picture News October 16, 1920 motionpicturenew222unse_0032

EArthbound Important Step Motion Picture News August 21, 1920.php

Earthbound Motion Picture Magazine November 1920

Earthbound Motion Picture News October 16, 1920 two page spread Earthbound musical directions Motion Picture News October 16 1920 Earthbound New Method Motion Picture News August 14, 1920 .php Earthbound Photoplay November 1920 2 Earthbound picture play magazine November, 1920 Earthbound Photoplay November 1920Earthbound Players Pictures Motion Picture News August 21, 1920 Earthbound review Motion Picture News August 21, 1920

Earthbound Three Views Motion Picture News August 14, 1920

motionpicturenew222unse_0032 motionpicturenew222unse_0940 Santa_Ana_Register_Wed__Nov_24__1920_ The_New_York_Times_Fri__Aug_13__1920_ The_Sun_and_The_New_York_Herald_Thu__Aug_12__1920_ The_Times_ London, England Fri__Oct_29__1920_ Earthbound cast and crew Photoplay November 1920 Earthbound Director Hayes Hunter Motion Picture News September 4, 1920.php

 

By C. S. Williams

 

[1] Wid’s Daily, December 15, 1919

[2] New Castle Herald (New Castle, Pennsylvania) January 29, 1920

Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) January 11, 1920

[3] Springfield Republican (Springfield, Missouri) April 11, 1920

[4] Wid’s Daily, December 23, 1919

[5] Evening News (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) April 28, 1920

[6] Motion Picture Classic, December, 1920

Santa Ana Register (Santa Ana, California) October 16, 1920

[7] Motion Picture News, August 28, 1920

[8] Motion Picture News, October 16, 1920

[9] Chicago Daily Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) August 4, 1920

[10] Wid’s Daily, August 9, 1920

[11] Motion Picture News, September 25, 1920

[12] Motion Picture News, October 2, 1920

[13] Motion Picture News, October 9, 1920

[14] Motion Picture News, September 11, 1920

[15] Motion Picture News, September 25, 1920

[16] Wid’s Daily, October 23, 1920

[17] Wid’s Daily, November 10, 1920

[18] Motion Picture News, October 16, 1920

[19] American Silent Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy Feature Films, 1913-1929, by John T. Soister, Henry Nicolella,

Steve Joyce and Harry H. Long; publisher, McFarland, June, 2012, pages 170-174

[20] Motion Picture News, October 16, 1920

Wid’s Daily, August 15, 1920

Rip Van Winkle, a 1914 Sleeper, Starring Thomas Jefferson

Moving Picture World, November 14, 1914

Moving Picture World, November 14, 1914

 

The Jefferson name had been inexorably tied to, Rip Van Winkle since the mid 1800’s, when first Joseph Jefferson III who appeared in a different version (playing the role for fourteen years[1]) to his son’s and grandson’s productions. Joseph Jefferson appeared in Washington D. C., Australia and London as the twenty-year-sleeper. Mr. Jefferson’s first rumbles as Rip were of his own writing, using several sources from previous plays and the Washing Irving story itself. The initial Rip nap by Jefferson was seen in Washington D. C. at Carusi’s Hall in autumn of 1859. Jefferson had rehearsed and studied the part during the whole of that summer in a barn on the property of a Dutch farm-house he had rented for him and his family in Pennsylvania, in Paradise Valley, located at the foothills of the Pocono Mountains.[2]

Joseph Jefferson

Joseph Jefferson

 

In 1865 Dion Boucicault made additions and some alterations to the play and with that in hand, Jefferson placed to memory and acted out in London at the Adelphi Theatre, on Monday September 5, 1865, Jefferson was well received; this new version of Rip Van Winkle ran one-hundred-seventy nights.[3] The American fortunes truly changed for J. Jefferson on Monday, evening, September 3, 1866, when Joseph appeared as Rip at the Olympic Theatre in New York. The production met with a rave review from the New York Tribune, with especially flowery descriptions of Mr. Jefferson’s performance as the lazy Dutchman;[4] the play ended on Wednesday, October 3, 1866, completing a full month’s run on Broadway.[5] Over the next three years Jefferson toured with Winkle and then Rip Van Winkle saw a Great White Way revival in 1870, again with Jefferson in the title role and proved to be a bigger success than its forerunner; Rip opened at Booth’s Theatre on August 15, 1870 and celebrated one-hundred performances on Tuesday, November 22, 1870, but it was not yet done packing the seats. Finally, Rip fell to previous commitments and finished on Saturday, January 7, 1871; the production saw one-hundred-fifty curtains rise ending a very prosperous and popular engagement.[6] Joseph Jefferson feasted on Rip for more than two-decades, opening theaters along the way with the Dutch long-beard.[7]

In 1905 Tomas Jefferson, son of Joseph, began his Broadway interpretation of Rip Van Winkle (he and his brother Charles. had been traveling with the show since before the turn of the century and Thomas had performed an abbreviated version for vaudeville audiences in 1912-1913[8]), at Wallack’s Theatre, on Monday, October 9; the staging was scheduled for a limited run of two-weeks, closing after the Saturday evening performance on October 21, 1905.[9] T. Jefferson had toured with Rip for five years prior to the fortnight in New York.[10] By Jefferson’s own account, the Broadway audiences were cold and unappreciative, reluctant to applaud; his feeling on the matter was that the Winkle attendees thought him “presumptuous in daring to appear in the role,” for which his father Joseph had made famous and were all the more critical in their comparison of his portrayal of Rip to his father’s interpretation of the Dutch sleeper.[11] Combining the performances by Joseph and Thomas (not including Joseph III), Rip Van Winkle was portrayed on stage more 1,600 times by a Jefferson.[12]

Thomas Jefferson

 

As with the stage persona of Mr. Winkle, celluloid was inundated with the Jefferson’s, who laid claim to the first filmed version of the tale, when in 1896, Joseph Jefferson starred in the Biograph (American Mutoscope Company) production of Irving’s “sleeper” story; he is accounted by film pioneer, F. J. Marion, to have been one of the first actors filmed in a close-up.[13] This collection of 8 short films[14] was later edited into the 1903 Biograph release, Rip Van Winkle. The 1896 project was filmed on location at Joseph Jefferson’s summer residence (Crow’s Nest) at Buzzard’s Bay, Massachusetts;[15] his son Charles who managed a vaudeville company had three of the Biograph, Rip Van Winkle scenes in late September of 1896, playing at the Columbia Theatre, on Washington Street in Brooklyn, New York.[16]

Clipper, New York, New York, May 16,  1903

Clipper, New York, New York, May 16, 1903

 

Some eighteen years later (after the original Biograph production), Thomas Jefferson signed with B. A. Rolfe Photo Plays, Inc., to portray Rip on in October of 1914 and great effort was expended in the production of, Rip Van Winkle, filming in the Catskill Mountains (near Palenville, NY), at the locations made mention of by author Washington Irving; Thomas Jefferson had to scramble up and down the Catskills, wading through brambles, thickets and streams alike, all to re-create the wandering of Rip.[17] The film was released on November 9, 1914, this within a month after Jefferson put his John Hancock on the contract.[18]

Trenton Evening Times, Trenton, New Jersey, November 17, 1914

Trenton Evening Times, Trenton, New Jersey, November 17, 1914

Fitchburg Sentinel, Fitchburg, Massachusetts, November 18, 1914

Fitchburg Sentinel, Fitchburg, Massachusetts, November 18, 1914

Tacoma Times, Tacoma, Washington, November 21, 1914

Tacoma Times, Tacoma, Washington, November 21, 1914

Seattle Star, Seattle, Washington, January 20, 1915

Seattle Star, Seattle, Washington, January 20, 1915

 

Thomas Jefferson wore his father’s Winkle costume and even the rifle he used for the film belonged to this father, Joseph. The very gaiters seen in the Alco Film Corporation release, belonged to his grandfather, Joseph Jefferson III from his Rip Van Winkle costumery.[19]

Motion Picture News, November 7, 1914

Motion Picture News, November 7, 1914

Motion Picture News, November 21, 1914

Motion Picture News, November 21, 1914

Moving Picture World, November 21, 1914

Moving Picture World, November 21, 1914

Moving Picture World, November 21, 1914

Moving Picture World, November 21, 1914

Moving Picture World, November 7, 1914

Moving Picture World, November 7, 1914

 

Winkle Warning:

This 1914 version of Rip Van Winkle is not to be confused with the 1921 version (again starring Thomas Jefferson) which was produced by Ward Lascelle Productions and distributed by W. W. Hodkinson. Besides the star, Daisy Robinson stands in as the elder Meenie Van Winkle. The version that may be seen on YouTube is the 1921 production and not the 1914, Rip Van Winkle as it claims. I will mark the 1914 Thomas Jefferson, Rip Van Winkle, as status unknown.

The similarities between the movies are of course great considering the source material is the same. Edward Ludwig did the adaptation and Agnes Parsons the scenario for the 1921 Ward Lascelle project. There are two particular plot differences between the two versions that I will set before us:

  1. In the 1914 film, it begins with Thomas Jefferson walking into his library, taking a copy of his father’s famous stage version of Rip Van Winkle from the shelf; surrounded by the paintings of his father, Joseph Jefferson, decorating the walls of the room, Thomas begins the book, then the familiar story of Rip Van Winkle unfolds in the mind of Thomas Jefferson while reading from his father’s manuscript. The 1921 Rip Van Winkle begins with a bear licking the hand of Rip, and Rip thinking it to be Schneider the dog, his ever helpful friend.
  1. The ending of the 1914 version has Thomas Jefferson, after having finished the reading of Joseph Jefferson’s play, drinks a toast to health to a picture of his father.[20] The 1921, Rip Van Winkle ends with Rip revealing the proof of ownership to the land and house.

Winkle Miscellany:

The Five Steuarts were contracted for Winkle, although only the two oldest children Loel and Maurice are credited on the Internet Movie Data Base, this announcement was made in the middle of October, 1914.[21] The Steuarts were a family of vaudeville performers, based in Washington, D. C.[22] and were headed by Maurice Wilcox Steuart and his wife Myrtle, with their children, the eldest, Maurice (Maury), Jr., and their two daughters Loel and the baby, Eldean.

The Steuart Family, Chicago Daily Tribune, Chicago, Illinois, March 12, 1916

The Steuart Family, Chicago Daily Tribune, Chicago, Illinois, March 12, 1916

 

Some of the younger extras used for Winkle lived so far in the Catskill Mountains that they attested that they had never seen a train, which natural authenticity must have lent well to the celluloid experience in regards to the Dutch county characters of the film.[23]

The paintings which were utilized by Alco for Rip Van Winkle in the first and last scenes came from the brush of Joseph Jefferson. For those that sill remembered Joseph Jefferson in the role of Rip, either on stage or in the 1896 film and subsequent re-release in 1903, this must have acted as a vital connection, while also serving as a filmed testament to the man most responsible for bringing and keeping Rip Van Winkle at the forefront of popular entertainment for nearly half a century.[24]

Daisy (Gertrude) Robinson who had appeared as the young Meenie Van Winkle with Joseph Jefferson on stage, now played the elder Meenie Van Winkle alongside Thomas Jefferson. Henry D. Blakemore who portrayed Nick Vedder in this version of Winkle also played the part of Vedder on the boards with Joseph Jefferson.[25]

Schneider the dog was portrayed by Annie, a Russian police hound who played faithful friend to Thomas Jefferson’s Rip Van Winkle. Annie was a well-trained animal, and was able to perform such feats as, bringing food and water to Jefferson in character as Rip; this in complete view of the camera. Annie had a lengthy career as a tracker near Petrograd, Russia, and was brought to the US for this role of Schneider in Winkle. Because of her sensitive nose, one scent of a person set her off at once; therefore, any article could be retrieved by the dog. If Rip was hungry, Annie would bring food; if thirsty Annie would bring the libation for Rip.[26]

Walter Kendig was also a member of the cast, appearing as a dwarf, but which one of Hudson’s band he portrayed is unknown; Edwin Middleton not only acted as producer but directed the project as well.[27] Rip Van Winkle was not a standard black and white film, but according to Variety, was suitably tinted, with fine photography and lighting effects.[28]

Not a Storey, Story:

The credit for Frederick Story (Storey) for writing the scenario for the Thomas Jefferson, Rip Van Winkle vehicle, seems incorrect and upon further investigation this appears to be the case. Fred Storey wrote a play that was seen in London circa 1907-1908 that challenged the memories of Jefferson; the production was staged at the Royalty Theatre.[29] Storey’s name is found in the Catalog of Copyrights for Rip Van Winkle and when cross-checked on Internet Movie Data Base, Fred Storey, also starred as Rip in this World’s Comedy Stars Film Co., release; the production company responsible for the film was the Climax Company, and this Winkle was an import from the United Kingdom, with an opening date in February. The British version of Winkle ran just three-reels in length[30] and was directed by Stuart Kinder. I have been unable to find any documentary proof that Frederick Story had anything to do with the Jefferson film; his association with the Jefferson, Rip Van Winkle, appears to be a misnomer that has crept in through the intervening decades.

Fred Storey was a well-known actor, dancer, comedian and scene-painter and his stage version of Rip Van Winkle had been well-received in England. Storey was a prominent member of the Gaiety Company, during the Nellie Farren days, and was the original Dancing Dervish in, Morocco Bound;[31] he created the part of Rip Van Winkle in the Alhambra Ballet in 1900, painting much of the scenery for that production which would later be used for Beerbohm Tree’s staging of Winkle. While in the United States, prior to the turn of the 20th century, Storey was primarily associated with the burlesque theatre, but he went home to England for Rip Van Winkle; Storey would tour the states with his Winkle after the turn of the century.[32] He grew in some stature in 1908, with the upper-class of Britain, when his daughter Sylvia Lillian Storey married William John Lydston Poulette, the Earl of Poulette, thereby becoming the Countess of Poulette.[33]

 

By C. S. Williams

 

[1] Moving Picture World, November 7, 1914

[2] The Empire (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia) February 4, 1862

National republican (Washington, District of Columbia) November 26, 1860; March 28, 1866

The Autobiography of Joseph Jefferson, by Joseph Jefferson

Publishers in London – T. Fisher Unwin and in New York – The Century Co., page 227

[3] The Autobiography of Joseph Jefferson, by Joseph Jefferson

Publishers in London – T. Fisher Unwin and in New York – The Century Co., page 227

[4] New York Tribune (New York, New York) September 5, 1866

[5] New York Times (New York, New York) October 3, 1866

[6] New York Times (New York, New York) August 20; November 27; December 30, 1870; January 7, 1871

[7] Clipper (New York, New York) May 2, 1914

Lawrence Daily Journal (Lawrence, Kansas) January 27, 1887

[8] Morning Times (Washington, District of Columbia) January 1, 1899

Monroe News star (Monroe, Louisiana) December 19, 1912

Santa Cruz Evening News (Santa Cruz, California) January 8, 1913

[9] New York Times (New York, New York) October 8; October 19, 1905

[10] Alliance Herald (Alliance, Nebraska) October 19, 1905

[11] Winnipeg Tribune (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada) October 21, 1905

[12] Motion Picture News, November 7, 1914

[13] Moving Picture World, (Letter to the Editor, dated: August 19, 1914, from: F. J. Marion, Kalem Company)

September 5, 1914

[14] Rip Passing Over the Mountain; Rip Meeting the Dwarf; Rip Leaving Sleepy Hollow; Rip’s Twenty Years’ Sleep;

Rip’s Toast to Hudson; Rip’s Toast; Exit of Rip and the Dwarf; Awakening of Rip

(source: Internet Movie Data Base) In the ad for the 1903 compilation the individual scenes are titled as

following: Rip Leaving Home; Rip Meeting the Dwarf; Exit of Rip and the Dwarf; Rip Passing Over the Mountain;

Rip’s Toast to Hudson and Crew; Rip’s Twenty Years’ Sleep; Rip’s Awakening

Advertisement source: Clipper (New York, New York) May 16, 1903

[15] Clipper (New York, New York) May 16, 1903

[16] Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) September 27, 1896

[17] Moving Picture World, October 24; November 7, 1914

Motography, November 21, 1914

[18] Moving Picture World, October 31; November 7; 28, 1914

[19] Moving Picture World, November 7, 1914

[20] Moving Picture World, November 7; 21, 1914

Motion Picture News, November 21, 1914

[21] Moving Picture World, October 17, 1914

[22] Washington Time (Washington, District of Columbia) November 8, 1915

[23] Variety, October 31, 1914

[24] Variety, October 31, 1914

[25] Allentown Leader (Allentown, Pennsylvania) November 14, 1914

[26] Motion Picture News, November 7, 1914

Fort Wayne daily News (Fort Wayne, Indiana) December 29, 1914

[27] Variety, November 14, 1914

Motion Picture News, November 21, 1914

Moving Picture World, October 30, 1915

[28] Variety, November 14, 1914

[29] New York Tribune (New York, New York) February 9, 1908

[30] Who’s Who of Victorian Cinema

[31] I have not found any other evidence supporting this, Morocco Bound, claim.

[32] Record-Union (Sacramento, California) May 9, 1897

Brooklyn Life (Brooklyn, New York) September 23, 1905

Lincoln Daily News (Lincoln, Nebraska) September 30, 1910

[33] San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco, California) September 3, 1908

Nebraska State Journal (Lincoln, Nebraska) October 4, 1908