Saturday, May 30, 2015

Picturing the Stirring Days of Early California with Historic Fidelity -- May 30, 2015

Motion Picture News, 01-May-1915

George Middleton, a San Francisco automobile dealer, married the beautiful and celebrated prima donna (that's how she was billed), musical comedy actress Beatriz Michelena in San Francisco in 1907. She left the stage for a while, then returned in 1910. In 1912, Middleton, son of a famous family in the lumber business, founded the California Motion Picture Company in San Rafael, north of San Francisco. At first he made promotional films for his auto business, but in 1914 he began to produce dramatic features starring his wife. Salomy Jane still survives and is very impressive. Most of the CMPC movies were destroyed in a fire.

The ad above touts the company's movies, like The Lily of Poverty Flat and Salomy Jane, which were based on stories by Bret Harte.  Harte wrote many stories, poems and novels about Gold Rush era California. 

Moving Picture World, 01-May-1915
Scenes from The Lily of Poverty Flat were shot in Boulder Creek, near Santa Cruz. 

Moving Picture World, 01-May-1915
The review praises the scenery and criticizes the leading lady.  "Miss Michelena always appears attractive on the screen and she might further enhance her natural good looks by a more judicious use of make-up.  In nearly all of the scenes in this picture her lips are far too heavily rouged, a mistake made particularly obvious by close-ups." 

Moving Picture World, 08-May-1915
"Picturing the stirring days of early California with historic fidelity." 

Moving Picture World, 15-May-1915

A Phyllis of the Sierras was CMPC's third movie based on a Bret Harte story or poem.  In Greek mythology, Phyllis was the daughter of a Thracian king.  She married a Greek king who returned to Greece, leaving her behind. 

Motography, 15-May-1915
"Beatriz Michelena, the charming opera star who is now shining just as brightly on the screen as she did behind the footlights, is cast in the title role in this most exacting part of the Sierran tomboy  To interpret the character requires more than emotional ability of an exceptional nature.  It requires a real talent for comedy, something which the admirers of the California screen star have hardly suspected..."
Moving Picture World, 29-May-1915
A Phyllis of the Sierras featured beautiful interiors and exteriors, shot in Boulder Creek, near Santa Cruz. 

Friday, May 29, 2015

News of the Week May 29, 1915 -- May 29, 2015

The 29-May-1915 Motography featured "News of the Week as Shown in Films," with items from current newsreels.

"Committee welcoming the Atlantic fleet at N. Y.   Copyright 1915 by Universal Animated Weekly."  The Navy's Atlantic fleet visited New York to take part in a review before President Wilson.

"School children of Little Rock, Ark., celebrate May Day. Copyright 1915 by Pathe News." Schools used to celebrate May Day.  I don't hear about it nowadays. 

"Knight Templar's parade at San Francisco.  Copyright 1915 by Pathe News." The Knights Templar are a Masonic organization.  They had a state commandery session in San Francisco. 

"One of the German captive balloons operating in Belgium.  Copyright 1915 Hearst-Selig News Pictorial."  Captive observation balloons were used for artillery spotting.  The fins helped the balloons remain stable. 

"Opening of racing season at Hewlett Park, L. I.  Copyright 1915 by Universal Animated Weekly."  The racing season at Hewlett Park opened on 01-May-1915. 

"Atlantic fleet gathers in New York harbor to be reviewed by the President.  Copyright 1915 Hearst-Selig News Pictorial."  Two battleships preparing for the review. 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Electric Tachyscope -- May 28, 2015

German inventor Ottomar Anschutz created the electrical tachyscope in 1887 and demonstrated it at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. From Magic: Stage Illusions and Scientific Diversions, Including Trick Photography, edited by Albert Allis Hopkins. 

The apparatus which we are about to describe is an important link in the history of the synthesis of animated motion. The apparatus is the invention of Ottamar Anschuetz, of Lissa, Prussia. A special camera was used, adapted to take a number of photographs in quick succession. The instrument for displaying the pictures is called the "electrical tachyscope." It consists of an iron wheel of sufficient diameter to hold an entire series of positive prints on the periphery. The wheel is arranged upon a rigid standard, and provided with a series of pins which register exactly with the picture. Upon the standard behind the wheel is located a box containing a spiral Geissler tube which is connected with the terminals of a Ruhmkorff coil. The primary coil is provided with a contact maker and breaker adapted to be operated by the pins projecting from the wheel, so that every time a picture comes before the Geissler tube it is illuminated by an electrical discharge through the tube. This discharge, being instantaneous, shows each picture in an apparently fixed position. These pictures succeed each other so rapidly that the retinal image of one picture is retained until the next is superimposed upon it, thereby giving to the observer the sense of a continuous image in constant motion.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Open Your Shutters, You Screen Bugs -- May 26, 2015

Washington Times, 26-May-1915

"Open your shutters, you screen bugs, and let this breeze sweep through your attics.  We've got the film world by the hair.  We're going to make you eat, drink, dream and scream UNIVERSAL.  We'll make your eyes pop, your nerves tingle and minds dance whenever you see or hear the word."

In this ad, they stopped the weekly advice to take Santa Fe to Los Angeles, take a trolley to Universal City and "SEE HOW THE MOVIES ARE MADE." 

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Story of G.I. Joe -- May 25, 2015

Happy Memorial Day, everyone.  I thought this was a good day to write about William Wellman's The Story of G.I. Joe.  The movie is the story of Ernie Pyle, a war correspondent who paid attention to the infantrymen.  I cry every time I see the death of Captain Bill Walker, played by Robert Mitchum. 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Marciano vs Moore -- May 24, 2015

Moving Picture Daily, 26-September-1955

On 21-September-1955, heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano fought light heavyweight champion Archie Moore.  Moore knocked Marciano down the second, but Marciano knocked Moore out in the ninth.  This was Marciano's last fight.  He retired the next year with a record of 49-0.  Rocky Marciano is the only man so far to retire as heavyweight champion undefeated and untied and stay retired. 

Archie Moore was a great fighter.  He was 38 years old for this fight, and kept fighting until 1963. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

News of the Week May 22, 1915 -- May 22, 2015

The 22-May-1915 Motography featured "News of the Week as Shown in Films," with items from current newsreels.

"The liner 'Lusitania' leaving New York on her last voyage.  Copyright 1915 Hearst-Selig News Pictorial." On 01-May-1915, Cunard liner RMS Lusitania sailed for Britain.  The German embassy in Washington DC placed an ad warning that the ship was liable to be sunk:
On 07-May-1915, U-20 torpedoed and sank Lusitania near the coast of Ireland:

"King Victor of Italy reviews his troops in the city of Rome.  Copyright 1915 by Pathe News." Italy was neutral until 23-May-1915, when it declared war on Austria-Hungary.  Victor Emmanuel III is looking at a troop of Bersaglieri, who wear feathers in their hats and jog rather than march. 

"Heavy guns being loaded in Paris for shipment to the front.  Copyright 1915 by Pathe News." I don't know what gun that is.  Since they call it heavy, I assume it is bigger than a 75. 

"Chancellor von Bethmann-Holweg and Prince Wilhelm honor Bismarck at Berlin.  Copyright 1915 Hearst-Selig News Pictorial." Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg was the German Chancellor.  I think he is in uniform.  I don't see Wilhelm the Crown Prince and his son Wilhelm was too young to be one of these men. 

"U. S. torpedo boat destroyer "Tucker" is launched at Quincy, Massachusetts.  Copyright 1915 Hearst-Selig News Pictorial." USS Tucker (DD-57) was a destroyer which served the Navy and the Coast Guard until 1936. 

"A naval and military parade at Norfolk, Virginia.  Copyright 1915 by Pathe News." Naval Station Norfolk is a key part of the economy of the area. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The New Varsity Theater -- May 20, 2015

The former New Varsity Theater in Palo Alto now houses Hanahaus, a café.  The section in the open courtyard looks nice.  I took the photo on 10-May-2015. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Side Whiskers as Art -- May 19, 2015

Francis Ford was the older brother of future director John Ford. He was a star and director at Universal. 

With expositions in both San Francisco and San Diego dedicated to the newly opened Panama Canal, and with tourism to Europe cut off, Universal hoped to attract visitors to its new studio, Universal City.  "If you are going to California this Spring, go to your favorite theatre first, see some Universal moving-pictures, then drop in at Universal city and


Universal City is a brief trolley ride from Los Angeles whichon the direct line of the Santa Fe Railroad." 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Chas. Chaplin in The Champion and The Passion Play or The Life of Christ, 4 Acts -- May 18, 2015

Moving Picture World, 15-May-1915
Moving Picture World made fun of this poorly punctuated Good Friday ad from an exhibitor.

Photoplay, May, 1915
Chaplin appeared in "The Champion" (not in the Passion Play) with this bulldog.
Motography, 01-May-1915
Chaplin moved from the Essanay studios at Niles, across the bay from San Francisco, to Los Angeles.  Some sources reported that Broncho Billy and the rest of the Essanay western companies had moved, but only Chaplin went to Los Angeles. 

Motography, 01-May-1915
Charlie Chaplin inspired "the latest song and dance hit." 

Moving Picture World, 15-May-1915
This Essanay ad features Chaplin's "By the Sea" in the lower part of the list of productions. 

Motography, 15-May-1915
"By the Sea" sounds like many of Chaplin's Keystone movies. 

Moving Picture World, 22-May-1915
Chaplin appears below Broncho Billy.  "Watch for the Chaplin-Essanay brand." 

Motography, 22-May-1915
This Chaplin novelty was a watch fob. 

Motography, 29-May-1915

Madison Square Garden offered Chaplin $25,000 to appear twice a day for two weeks.  Broncho Billy gave Chaplin $25,000 to stay in California. 

Moving Picture World, 29-May-1915

A more detailed account of the offer. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Grauman's Chinese -- Gene Autry and Champion -- May 16, 2015

Singing cowboy Gene Autry and his horse Champion left hand, foot, and hoof prints in the forecourt of Grauman's Chinese on 23-December-1949. DSCN4140.
Gene Autry was a hillbilly music recording artist, a pioneering singing cowboy, a WWII veteran, a radio and television performer, and owner of the California Angels for many years.

I took this photo on 18-July-2009.
Radio Ranch was the feature length condensation of the Mascot Serial The Phantom Empire

Friday, May 15, 2015

News of the Week May 15, 1915 -- May 15, 2015

The 15-May-1915 Motography featured "News of the Week as Shown in Films," with items from current newsreels.

"English and Belgian prisoners of war interned in Holland.  Copyright 1915 by Universal Animated Weekly." Holland stayed neutral during World War One.  Perhaps these prisoners escaped from German captivity to Holland.  Holland would have interned them until the end of the war. 

"Fire sweeps Boston factory causing much damage.  Copyright 1915 Hearst-Selig News Pictorial."  I have not been able to identify this fire. 

"Vincent Astor's safety first hydroaeroplane.  Copyright 1915 Hearst-Selig News Pictorial."  Vincent Astor flew the unique Burgess-Dunne airplane, which had swept wings and no tail. 

"A scene of desolation on main road to Paris, near Revigney, France.  Copyright 1915 by Universal Animated Weekly."  Revigny is a small town in eastern France. 

"New York City police department holds its annual parade.  Copyright 1915 by Pathe News."  The parade was held in late April on Fifth Avenue. 

"Turkish forces take up positions along the Dardanelles.  Copyright 1915 by Pathe News."  This was early in the Gallipoli campaign. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Idol of Every Boy in the World -- May 13, 2015
This post is part of For the Love of Film IV, The Film Preservation Blogathon, hosted by Ferdy on Films ( -- Wednesday, Thursday), This Island Rod ( -- Friday, Saturday) and Wonders in the Dark ( Sunday).  The theme this time is science fiction, and the organizers hope to raise $10,000 to restore and stream a 1918 one-reel comedy, "Cupid in Quarantine." 

Be sure to click on images to see larger versions. 

Cine-Mundial, February, 1921
Tom Mix was the biggest cowboy star in silent movies.  In fact, he was one of the biggest stars of all.  He told many stories about his early life and most of them were not true.  His name really was Tom Mix.  He was not born in the west; he was born in Mix Run, Pennsylvania.  He did serve in the US Army during the period of the Spanish American War, but he was not one of Theodore Roosevelt's Rough Riders and he did not serve overseas.  He did not serve in the British Army or Boer army or break horses during the Boer War.  He did not serve during the Boxer Rebellion.  He was not a federal marshal, although he was a deputy sheriff for a time.  He was not a Texas Ranger until a governor gave him an honorary appointment during the 1930s.  He did serve as a cowboy on the Miller Brothers' 101 Ranch and became part of their travelling wild west show.  Mix displayed wonderful talents for riding and shooting.  He was also a great showman. 

Lincoln County Leader, 04-December-1914
In October, 1909, Tom Mix left the Miller Brothers to join the Selig Polyscope Company to make western movies.  First he played supporting parts and did stunts, but in a few years he was writing, directing and starring in movies, like "Way of the Red Man."  Selig made some westerns in Arizona. 

Saint Johns Herald and Apache News, 23-October-1914
In 1914, Tom Mix, "famous fancy rider and bulldogger," presented "the best program of Western stunts, flat and harness racing, and automobile and motorcycle races ever pulled off in Northern Arizona..." at the First Northern Arizona Fair in Prescott. Tom had won rodeo events at Prescott in 1909.  "The Selig Polyscope Company stars will present BIG VAUDEVILLE PROGRAM at Elks' Theater..."

Many of his Selig films, which were short subjects and often rather primitive, still survive.  Some were later reedited into features and serials. 

Film Daily, 05-October-1926
In 1917, Mix left Selig and went to the Fox Film Corporation.  Mix made features for Fox, and the well-budgeted films became very popular.  There was always lots of action, lots of humor and Tony the Wonder Horse.  Most of his Fox films were destroyed in a 1937 film vault fire.  The Great K&A Train Robbery is one of the small number that survives.  It is a good one.  Notice Mix sliding across a canyon on a wire. 

Film Daily, 07-May-1928
By 1928, Fox had become involved with Movietone sound films and was less interested in westerns, which would have been difficult to make with sound.  Mix went to FBO (Film Booking Office) to do a series of silent westerns ("Tom Mix Western Super Specials") produced by Joseph P Kennedy (Father of John F Kennedy and the rest).  These movies were successful, but his contract was not renewed after the first year.  Westerns were losing their popularity and Mix commanded a large salary. 

Moving Pictures Daily, 26-June-1931
Mix left the movies for a while but ran into the Great Depression and legal difficulties, and was happy to listen when Universal offered to star him in a series of six sound features ("Six Mix Pix").  The movies were so popular that Universal produced nine.
Mickey Rooney, who died in 2014, must have been Mix's last surviving costar. 

Mix's voice was ok.  He was not a trained actor, so his delivery was nothing special. 

Universal wanted him back, but Mix had had enough and announced his retirement at the end of the series.  Mix travelled with circuses for a few years, eventually buying one, and running into money trouble with it.

In 1935, Nat Levine of Mascot Studio paid Mix $40,000 to work for four weeks. This was half the budget of The Miracle Rider, a 15 chapter serial. Mix needed the money to subsidize his circus. This turned out to be his last movie. I was surprised to learn that it was Mascot's only 15 chapter serial. I had thought that 15 was the standard length after producers settled on a standard and before they went to 12 as a cheaper standard.
Nat Levine founded the Mascot Pictures Corporation in 1927.  Mascot produced mostly serials and what later became known as B westerns.  Mascot produced the first sound serial, King of the Kongo, in 1929. In 1935, Mascot merged with other producers and Herbert Yates' Consolidated Film Industries to form Republic Pictures.
The first episode of The Miracle Rider, "The Vanishing Indian," was almost feature length. It used an animated map to show "Indian Territory" shrinking and the United States growing over the years. Some of the dates on the map were questionable. Scenes showed Daniel Boone, then Davy Crockett, then Buffalo Bill Cody, then Sam Morgan trying to get European Americans to stop intruding on the territory of Native Americans. Who was Sam Morgan? He was the father of Tom Morgan, Tom Mix's character.

Sam Morgan was trying to defend the reservation of the Ravenhead tribe when he was murdered by a group of men who wanted to squat on their land. Young Tom promises to join the Texas Rangers and carry on his father's work. Twenty years later, Tom has aged considerably. His hair is dyed black and his teeth are false, but he is still a heroic figure.  Note the white teeth in this image. 
I only noticed one scene where Mix performed with his old mugging humor, when he stopped two kids from stealing a pie and then tried to steal it himself.
The Ravenhead have pooled their money to buy farm equipment.  A group of white men hijack the auto with the money but Tom gets it back.  The Ravenhead regard Tom as a brother and give him the name Ho-Pan, "The Miracle Rider." After the ceremony, Zaroff congratulates Tom.  The Chief and the Indian Agent look dubious. 
Zaroff is played by Charles Middleton, about whom I still have bad dreams from Flash Gordon and Laurel and Hardy movies. Zaroff has a ranch and an oil company, but he is secretly mining X-94, a super explosive, from the Ravenhead reservation.  Later in the movie, Zaroff's scientist discovers a way to turn X-94 into a powerful fuel that can replace gasoline. Image if a Native American tribe controlled all of this country's energy supplies.
Zaroff wants to scare the Ravenhead off the reservation so he can mine the X-94 more easily. 
I lost count of how many times Zaroff said he was going to be "the most powerful man in the world."
Niles Welch played the scientist, Metzger, in a suitably creepy fashion.  He had a long career in silent and sound films, but I don't remember him in anything else. 
Zaroff's first attempt to scare the tribe away used a large mirror on a tower to set things on fire around the village.  The tribe members said it was the work of the "Fire Bird."  Actually, it was the work of Metzger.  Long Boat tells people the Ravenhead are cursed and must leave the land.  Chief Black Wing argues with him. 
Jason Robards, Sr, who sounded a lot like his famous son, played Zaroff's chief henchman, Carlton.
Zaroff shows Carlton a model of Metzger's next project, a "rocket powered glider" controlled by radio. It flies from a cave and buzzes the village at night, causing more panic about the Fire Bird.  I was sad to see the open cockpit monoplane Fire Bird crash in chapter 2. The wreckage got stolen back and forth a few times. 
One of Zaroff's lesser henchmen was played by Tom London, who may have appeared in more movies than anyone else, from the mid-Teens to the early 1960s. Another was Charles "Blackie" King, who was always worth watching.
A "rocket powered glider" in a western may sound strange, but many westerns made in the 1930s and 1940s were set in contemporary times and often featured automobiles and airplanes.  Here we see two members of the tribe arrive at the Indian Agent's office in a touring car.  Some movies, such as Mascot's previous serial, The Phantom Empire with Gene Autrey, had strong elements of science fiction.  
Some of the cliffhangers were different compared to what later became standard in Republic, Columbia and Universal serials. In one, the chapter ends with a bunch of cowboys holding their guns on Tom. There are no shots fired. In the next chapter, Tom's horse, Tony Jr, blows a car horn and allows Tom to escape. There are some very clear cheaters, chapters ending with Tom falling to his doom or getting shot. The next chapters begin differently.
Tom Mix was still a convincing hero. I didn't care that he had trouble with his lines. He sounded like a real person.

I enjoyed the credits and introduction for each episode. There was a stirring classical theme, whose name I don't know. Someone will tell me. There was a tracking shot of Tom and Tony Jr riding hell for leather, followed by a tracking shot along a rocky hillside that underlay most of the credits. Underneath the cast of characters, there was a Native American crouching, then standing and scanning the horizon, then invoking the gods, then squatting, then standing.

The general treatment of Native Americans? So-so. Bob Kortman, whom I loved in Laurel and Hardy movies, played Long Boat, who wanted to be chief. He worked secretly for Zaroff. Tom Morgan was his great rival. I liked the way Long Boat kept calling Tom "My brother" with a great sneer. Zaroff knew the terrible secret that Long Boat was a "half breed." 
I liked the wireless (I think) telephones Zaroff used to communicate with Long Boat and his cowboy henchmen.  This one was hidden in a rock cairn. 
Zaroff used what looked like a text terminal to communicate wirelessly with a buyer in Europe.
The Miracle Rider was directed by B Reeves Eason and Armand Schaefer.  Many serials were directed by teams because of the amount of footage that had to be shot.  Breezy Eason directed a lot of movies, mostly action films, between 1915 and 1949.  He directed many serials including The Phantom Empire and Mystery Mountain.  He also staged action scenes for major productions like the silent Ben Hur and Charge of the Light Brigade.  Schaefer worked on many Mascot serials. 
According to The Old Corral (, The Miracle Rider, which had cost $80,000 to produce, twice as much as most Mascot serials, was Nat Levine's most profitable.  Theaters paid $15 dollars to rent chapter one, and $5 for each of the others, for a total of $85. 
Film Daily, 11-August-1948
When television spread after the war, serials like The Miracle Rider generated money again. 
I first saw this serial on KEMO-Channel 20's The Old Sourdough and Wachikanoka or The Worst of Hollywood. I managed to stay awake late enough each Friday night to see all 15 chapters.
I had read William K Everson and George Fenin's disparaging comments on the movie:
"But unfortunately Mix chose to make his farewell in a 1935 serial for Mascot, The Miracle Rider.  Overlong, slimly plotted, and cheaply made, it was a sorry affair.  Mix's speech had deteriorated  further and, while he still rode well, most of his action was handled by doubles.  (This was at least partially a matter of economy, allowing two units to operate simultaneously.)" 
-- George N Fenin and William K Everson, The Western from Silents to Cinerama, 1962. 
I enjoyed the book, which I took out from the Anza Branch Library several times, but I didn't agree with them about the movie when I got to see it.

Why does this film survive?  Mascot serials have an excellent rate of survival because many of them fell into the public domain and got copied and recopied, especially when home video got started. 
Tom Mix went back on the road with the Tom Mix Circus, which did well in the 1935-1937 seasons, but went bankrupt in 1938. 
On 12-October-1940, Mix was driving his powerful 1937 Cord 812 automobile from Tuscon to Phoenix.  Near the town of Florence, Arizona, he encountered some road construction and lost control.  An aluminum suitcase hit him in the back of the head and killed him.  I have visited the memorial at the place where he died.  The car survived and has been restored ( 
Tom Mix may have died in 1940, but he lived on in other media.  In 1933, Ralston Purina signed Tom Mix to a contract to use his name and his character for a radio show, The Tom Mix Ralston Straight Shooters.  Various actors played "Tom Mix" on the program until 1950.  The show was famous for the premiums it offered to listeners who sent in box tops. 
A compass and magnifier premium from 1939.  Note the logo from Tom's TM Bar Ranch.
Fawcett Comics published Tom Mix Western from 1948 to 1953.  Many covers featured a colorized photo of Mix, who had been dead for almost eight years when the comic began.  The January, 1948 issue offers "Two-Fisted Adventures and Thrills! Starring the Greatest Cowboy of the Golden West!"
Peter Blake and Jann Haworth designed the album cover for the Beatles' Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, inspired by a drawing by Paul McCartney. Among the celebrities in the collage is Tom Mix.  Look for the big white hat. 

Thank you to Ferdy on Films (, This Island Rod ( ) and Wonders in the Dark ( for organizing this blogathon.  I am having fun and learning.  Thank you to everyone who visited and I encourage you to read as many posts as you can, and leave comments.  Bloggers love comments. 

Please consider donating to the National Film Preservation Foundation. For the Love of Film IV is raising money to restore "Cupid in Quarantine" (1918), a one-reel Strand Comedy that tells the story of a young couple conspiring to stay together by staging a smallpox outbreak.   No kidding.