Friday, February 28, 2014

Clara Bow #13 -- February 28, 2014

Red haired Clara Bow was probably the most popular silent actress after Mary Pickford. In this item from the December, 1928 Moving Picture World, Clara displays some of her 33,000 monthly fan letters.  I like her expression. 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Zoetrope -- 27-February-2014

From The Young Folk's Cyclopædia of Games and Sports by John Denison Champlin and Arthur Elmore Bostwick, 1890. Several times when I was young I took a book out of the Anza Branch Library that explained how movies work.  I can't remember the title.  I tried to make several of the devices in the section on early moving picture devices.  The zoetrope was harder than the thaumatrope.  I finally produced a good zoetrope for a college class that combined science and humanities. 

ZOETROPE.  A toy by which a succession of figures in different attitudes are made to appear like a single one in motion.  The simplest form of the toy consists of two disks fastened on the same axis, six or eight inches apart, so that they will turn on it together.  The figures are arranged on one, as shown in Fig. 1, and in the other are a number of slits equal to that of the figures.  The figures represent some action at successive instants ; thus, in the first picture the man has his bow drawn to one side ; in the next it is pushed a little farther along, and so on.  If any one look through the slits while the discs are turned, and direct his attention to any one spot, he will see a different picture in that spot every time a new slit comes in front of his eye, and he will not see one picture moving away from the spot and another coming up, because the pasteboard between the slits then comes between.  Thus he will see in the same place a succession of momentary pictures, each in a slightly different posture, and it will seem to him as though he saw the man playing the bass viol.  In this way an endless variety of movements may be counterfeited. 

The disk bearing the figures is often made a little smaller than the one with the slits, and fastened with it on the axis at the same point (see Fig. 2). The observer then looks through the slits at a mirror, and the effect is the same as before.  The zoetrope in this shape is more easy to manage.  Another form is a round box, open at the top, which revolves on an upright stand (Fig. 3).  The figures are on strips of paper which fit around the inside of the box, and the slits are vertical ones in the edge. 
Six such slips are shown in Fig. 4.  The observer looks through the slits toward the figures on the opposite side of the box.  The effect is the same as before, though in this case the figures and slits are moving in opposite directions.  An arrangement has been devised by a Frenchman for showing the zoetrope to a large audience with the aid of the MAGIC LANTERN.  The word zoetrope is from the Greek zoe, life, and trepein, to turn.  The toy is also called the Magic Wheel and the Zoöpraxiscope, from the Greek zoe, life, praxis, action, and skopein, to see. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Jeffries-Johnson and Gotch-Zbysko -- February 26. 2014

This page from the 09-July-1910 Moving Picture World has ads for two kinds of fight films.  The Frank Gotch-Stanislaus Zbysko professional wrestling match on 01-June-1910 for the world heavyweight championship saw Gotch win the first fall in less than ten seconds (he attacked Zbysko during the handshake), and the second in 30 minutes.  This was before professional wrestling matches were scripted.  The film was produced by the Selig Polyscope company. 

James J Jeffries had been heavyweight boxing champion from 1899 to 1905, when he retired undefeated.  He came back in 1910 to answer the pleas of racists who did not like Jack Johnson, an African-American, being heavyweight champ.  They met in Reno, Nevada on 04-July-1910.  Johnson dominated the fight for 15 rounds.  Jeffries' corner threw in the towel so he would not get knocked out. 

The ad promises exclusive film rights, but many cities and states, fearing racial unrest, banned the film.  In 1912, Congress banned interstate transportation of fight films. 

The Jeffries-Johnson film is available in several versions on YouTube. 

Jim Jeffries settled in Burbank, where he trained boxers and promoted fights in an old barn.  The fights were popular with people in the film industry.  The barn is now at Knott's Berry Farm. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Grauman's Chinese #35 -- February 25, 2014

In July, 2012 we paid a return visit to Hollywood and Grauman's Chinese Theater.  Sid Grauman was a San Francisco showman who came to Los Angeles and built three major houses, the Million Dollar, the Egyptian, and the Chinese. The theater has hosted many film premieres, but is most famous for the hand and footprints (and hoofprints and nose prints and other types of prints) in the forecourt.

Joan Crawford left her hand and footprints in the forecourt on 14-September-1929.  Among the movies in which she appeared that year was Our Modern Maidens.  (31/DSC_0050.JPG)

Monday, February 24, 2014

Victor Fleming 125 -- February 24, 2014

Director Victor Fleming was born 125 years ago yesterday, on 23-February-1889.  Although his contemporaries knew him as a director of movies like The Virginian with Gary Cooper and Walter Huston and Red Dust with Clark Gable, Jean Harlow and Mary Astor, his best-remembered movies today were both released in 1939 and were both taken over from other directors, The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind

Fleming served in the US Army Signal Corps during World War One.  When President Woodrow Wilson came to Versailles for the treaty negotiations, Fleming was his primary photographer. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Squaw Man 100 -- February 23, 2014

Be sure to click on the images to see larger versions. 

100 years ago today, despite what it says in this ad from the 24-January-1914 Moving Picture World, The Squaw Man premiered.  This feature was the first production of the Jesse L Lasky Feature Play Company, and the first movie directed by famous director Cecil B DeMille.  As the ad says, DeMille had a co-director: "The six reels of quivering action and cyclonic climaxes are now being produced in the exact locale of the play by Cecil B. DeMille and Oscar Apfel."  The Jesse L Lasky Feature Play Company, a precursor to Paramount, had the humble slogan "But one production a month -- and that a masterpiece." 

This item, from the 31-January-1914 Moving Picture World, purports to show "one of the first 'stills' sent East from the Jesse L. Lasky studio at Hollywood, California." 

I like the design of this ad, from the 31-January-1914 Moving Picture World.  It offers states rights and world rights for the movie. 

This ad, from the 07-February-1914 Moving Picture World, touts:
-- America's Most Gripping Drama
-- The Stage's Most Popular Actor
-- The Best Cast Ever Assembled
-- Staged By Two Master Craftsmen
-- Produced by the World's Most Artistic Producer

"Every Detail Spells Class"

"The Pulsing Achievement of Dramatic Art."  From the 14-February-1914 Moving Picture World Note the lists of sold and still-unsold territories. 

One of the distributors from the previous ad, took its own ad in the same issue.  The William L Sherry Feature Film Company had secured the New York State rights to The Squaw Man and other production of the  Jesse L Lasky Feature Play Company, along with the Famous Players Film Company, another predecessor of Paramount. 

Louis Reeves Harrison wrote a review of the movie in the 21-February-1914 Moving Picture World.  I don't think DeMille would have appreciated this: "I have not seen Oscar Apfel's name made prominent in connection with this winner, but I recognize his handiwork without difficulty.  Cecil DeMille, I am told, put his heart and soul into making 'The Squaw Man' an unqualified success, but his unbounded enthusiasm could only act as a support to the unhampered skill and decided native ability of the active director." 

The same issue carried an ad saying that "Jesse L. Lasky presented Edward Milton Royle's thrilling western drama The Squaw Man with Dustin Farnum in the title role at the Long Acre Theatre last Tuesday before 1400 persons and the expressions of of the auditors as they left the theatre substantiated every word of praise we have lavished upon this superb production."

A two-page spread from the 07-March-1914 Moving Picture World shows that only four territories were still unsold.  It quotes critical praise from newspapers, magazines, including Louis Reeves Harrison's review from above, and Variety

The cover of the 28-March-1914 Moving Picture World featured The Squaw Man

An ad from the same edition talks about the Jesse L Lasky Feature Play Company's next production, Brewster's Millions, a story which has been remade many times.  DeMille remade The Squaw Man twice, once as a silent and once as a talkie.  It mentions that Brewster's Millions will be directed by DeMille ("Master Playwright, Director and Author of Numerous Dramatic Successes") and Apfel ("Acknowledged Peer of Directors and Genius of Innovators"). 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Washington -- February 22, 2014

In honor of George Washington's birthday, here is an ad for a series of educational films about Washington's life produced by Eastman Teaching Films, a subsidiary of Eastman Kodak.  The films were prepared in 1931 so they would be available for Washington's bicentennial the following year. 

The ad is from The Educational Screen, December, 1931. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Oz Film Co -- February 21, 2014

The Oz Film Manufacturing Company, located in Los Angeles, was formed in 1914 to produce movies based on stories by L Frank Baum, the creator of The Wizard of Oz.  The company made some movies, but was not a financial success. This article by Clarke Irvine about its spacious studio is from the 04-July-1914 edition of Moving Picture World

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Iron Claw -- February 20, 2014

Actress Pearl White was the first serial queen, starring in The Perils of Pauline in 1914.  She made many more serials, including The Iron Claw in 1916.  It was released by Pathé.  One episode of the 20 produced still survives. 

The ad is from Motion Picture World, 26-February-1916.  Be sure to click on the image to see a larger version. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Tom Mix #14 -- February 19, 2014

Tom Mix was the biggest cowboy star in silent movies.  He and his horse Tony had many adventures in Fox films.  I like the way they colored his neckerchief. 

This image is from the February, 1921 Cine-Mundial, a Spanish language film magazine produced in the United States. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Embarcadero Center Cinema #2 -- February 18, 2014

The multi-screen Embarcadero Center Cinema opened in 1995.  It recently got remodeled and now features all-reserved seating.  There is no live box office.  Patrons order tickets online or use machines in the lobby.  From the Landmark Theaters website: "The concession stand features organic iced teas, Fair Trade chocolate bars, and freshly popped kettle corn, as well as several hot food offerings like steak & cilantro empanadas and veggie egg rolls." 

I took the photo on 13-December-2013. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Bessie Love #14 -- February 17, 2014

I have always been fascinated by the career of actress Bessie Love.  She was born in Texas.  Her name was Juanita Horton.  Her family moved to Los Angeles and she went to Los Angeles High School.  Looking for work, she met director  DW Griffith and got a small part in Intolerance.  She appeared in movies with William S Hart and Douglas Fairbanks.  She was a 1922 WAMPAS (Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers) Baby Star.  She played many leading roles, most famously in The Lost World, but never broke through until the talkies came, when she starred in The Broadway Melody.  Her career was hot for a few years, but then tailed off.  She continued to appear in small parts in movies until the early 1980s.

This image is from the November, 1921 Cine-Mundial, a Spanish language film magazine produced in the United States. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Rex, King of the Wild Horses -- February 15, 2014

In honor of the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Horse, here is Rex, King of the Wild Horses, starring in No Man's Law.  Rex was a big stallion who appeared in features produced by Hal Roach and serials for Mascot.  The movie featured Roach regulars Oliver Hardy, as the villain, Barbara Kent and James Finlayson.  Be sure to click on the image to see a larger version. 

The San Francisco Chinese New Year Parade is tonight. 

 The Old Corral ( has some nice stories about Rex and links where you can download some of his movies. 

The ad is from the 17-April-1927 Film Daily

Friday, February 14, 2014

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Shirley Temple and Sid Caesar, RIP -- February 13, 2014

Shirley Temple started acting in movies when she was three.  Many people say that she gave them hope during the Great Depression.   I like her work for Fox, and her work when she got older.  I always cry during Since You Went Away.  She didn't help Graham Greene's career as a film critic.  The photo of Shirley Temple, Claudette Colbert and Jennifer Jones is from the wonderful site LucyWho (

After she retired from the movies, she married a PG&E executive and went into politics, although she lost her one run for Congress.  She served as a UN representative and was ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia. She died at her home in Woodside, down the peninsula from San Francisco.

When I was young I knew Sid Caesar from It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.  Later, I read about then saw Ten From Your Show of Shows, a collection of kinescopes from his great television show.  I enjoyed it.  I began to learn about all the famous people who had written for the show, like Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, and Mel Tolkin.  He burned out from the pressure of live television and wasn't seen much while I was growing up.  When Caesar became sober, I saw him in more movies, like Silent Movie.  The photo of Sid Caesar and frequent co-star Imogene Coca is also from the wonderful site LucyWho (

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Crisis -- Febrruary 12, 2014

In honor of Abraham Lincoln's 205th birthday, here is an ad for The Crisis, a 1916 film based on a Civil War novel by Winston Churchill, an American who was not related to the British (and half-American) statesman.  The film was produced by the Selig Polyscope Company but released on a states rights basis.  Actor Sam Dade Drane played Lincoln. 

In the book, Lincoln appeared only twice, but the big events of the story, from the 1860 presidential nominations to the end of the Civil War, are driven by Lincoln and his ideas. 

The ad above is from the 11-November-1916 Moving Picture World

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Won in the Clouds -- February 11, 2014


Roy Knabenshue was a pioneering American dirigible pilot and builder.  He flew Tom Baldwin's California Arrow at the 1904 Saint Louis Exposition.  He built an early passenger-carrying dirigible, the White City, in California in 1913.  That may be the dirigible featured in this Universal film.  Otis Turner was a pioneering director.  The ad above is from the 28-February-1914 issue of Moving Picture World.  The two ads below are from the 07-March-1914 issue.  Be sure to click on the images to see larger versions.  

The review below is from the 03-April-1914 Washington Times. Kaffir is not a polite term. 

CECIL JAMES, an Englishman, accompanied by his daughter, Grace, is hunting big game in the wilds of Africa. One day. Bangula, a Kaffir, steals a rifle from the gunrack. When Bangula is captured by his fellows he is saved from death by the interference of James. Out of gratitude, Bangula leads James and his daughter to the fabled diamond mine of the Kabangans. In the city of Bloemfontein, Roy Knabenshue, an American aeronaut, arrives with his dirigible balloon for the purpose of carrying agents of Bjornsen, a banker,. to the diamond mines of the interior. Knabenshue falls in love with Bjornsen's daughter. Mary. Far in the interior James and his daughter reach a Kaffir village near the diamond mine. From the fact that he smokes a pipe. James is taken to be a fire god by the natives, and meets Portuguese Jack, a renegade, who is worshiped as a fire god and virtually held a prisoner James locates the diamond mines and secures many rough diamonds. Portuguese attempts to force his attentions on Grace, and when they attempt to escape with the diamonds he reports them to the chief of the tribe. They hide the diamonds in the floor of the feast house where the Kaffiirs feed their victims to the lions, and when they finally escape they are obliged to leave the diamonds. How they enlist the American aeronaut in their attempt to recover the diamonds and the thrilling experiences they have make a series of great pictures.

Monday, February 10, 2014

DVD: The Big Parade -- February 10, 2014

One of my Christmas presents was the Blu-Ray edition of King Vidor's The Big Parade.  American studios made so many war movies during World War One that people became tired of them.  In 1919, stories say that Cecil B DeMille had to change the title of The Admirable Crichton to Male and Female because Adolph Zukor thought people would assume it was about an admiral.  This is probably not true, but it gives an idea of the way the market was running. 

Jeffrey Vance's audio commentary talks about how in 1924, three Broadway plays about the war did good box office and inspired movie producers to take a another look at war films.  On a side note, I looked up the three plays in the Internet Broadway Database (  Nerves by John Farrar and Stephen Vincent Benet, with Humphrey Bogart, ran for 19 performances.  Havoc by Harry Wall ran for 48 performances.  What Price Glory by Maxwell Anerdson and Lawrence Stallings, ran for 435 performances.  Fox optioned What Price Glory and made a successful movie out of it. 

The recently-formed Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio could not get What Price Glory, so they got Lawrence Stallings. This helped to fulfill the wish of hot director King Vidor, who wanted to make a movie which would run for more than one week.  Stallings, a Marine, had served at Belleau Wood.  He brought a treatment called The Big Parade.  Vidor developed it into a script, incorporating many stories that Stalling had him told about the military. 

Jeffrey Vance's audio commentary includes long excerpts from recorded interviews that Vidor made for the Directors' Guild. 

The Blu-Ray disc comes in a hard cover book, with biographies of King Vidor, stars John Gilbert, Karl Dane and Renée Adorée, and sections on the production of the film and the musical score.  There are many nice photos. 

The print is beautiful, derived from the original camera negative.  The musical score worked very well for me, especially the repeated references to "My Buddy." 

John Gilbert seemed like a real person, growing from a thoughtless playboy to a real friend to a wounded warrior.  Karl Dane was funnier than I had remembered.  Renée Adorée was adorable.  The battle scenes started slowly and worked up to unbearable. 

I liked the descriptions in the commentary and the book about Vidor's use of improvisation in the chewing gum and fox hole scenes. 

The extras were the MGM studio tour and a theatrical trailer, both completely silent.  I read somewhere that there should have been a documentary about King Vidor, but I couldn't find it. 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Mabel's Strange Predicament -- February 9, 2014

100 years ago today, on 09-February-1914, Mack Sennett's Keystone released "Mabel's Strange Predicament," which was the movie where Charlie Chaplin first wore his tramp costume, but it was released after "Kid Auto Races at Venice."  Mabel Normand directed the movie and Charlie clashed with her as he had with Henry "Pathé" Lehrman on his first movie, but Chaplin could not hold out when Mabel burst into tears. 

The ad is from the 14-February-1914 Moving Picture World. Click on the image to see a larger version.  Chaplin and Mabel Normand appear in the diamond in the lower right-hand corner.  Note that "A Thief Catcher" was to be released on February 19.  It was recently discovered that Chaplin made a cameo appearance as a Keystone Kop in that film. 

In an issue somewhere between March and August, Illustrated Films Monthly, a magazine that ran illustrated adaptions of current movies, ran "Mabel's Strange Predicament."  Here are the illustrations. 


There is also an adaption of Keystone's "Love and Gasoline." 

Friday, February 7, 2014

Kid Auto Races at Venice -- February 7, 2014

100 years ago today, on 07-February-1914, Mack Sennett's Keystone released a reel containing two movies, a comedy, "Kid Auto Races at Venice" and a documentary, "Olives and Their  Oil."  "Kid Auto Races" was the first movie to be released which featured Charlie Chaplin in his tramp costume.  The first movie where he wore the tramp costume was "Mabel's Strange Predicament," which would be released two days later.  Henry "Pathé" Lehrman directed the movie and played a movie director.  Chaplin and Lehrman, who had directed "Making a Living," did not get along.  Ever since I was a kid, I have wanted to see "Olives and Their Oil," but I suspect that it no longer exists. 

The ad is from the 07-February-1914 Moving Picture World. Click on the image to see a larger version. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

You Can't Beat Hamilton Comedies -- February 6, 2014

In his wonderful book The Silent Clowns, Walter Kerr suggested that Lloyd Hamilton was one of the great silent comics whose reputation has diminished. This is because many of the solo movies Hamilton made for Educational during the 1920s are lost.  Perhaps this is also because he was not able to succeed as a star in feature films. 

The ad is from the 12-December-1926 Film Daily.  Note his bow tie and shoes. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

First National Studio -- February 5, 2014

First National started as a theater chain in 1917.  They began to finance and release movies made by stars like Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin.  They began producing movies in 1924 and built a modern studio in Burbank in 1928.  Warner Brothers took control of the company in 1928, but operated it separately until 1936, when they dissolved the company and merged it into Warner Brothers. 

This aerial view of the First National lot is from the February, 1932 New Movie magazine.