Volume III: Biographies


MARSTON, Lawrence

Director (1912-1913)

Thanhouser Career Synopsis: Lawrence Marston was an important director with Thanhouser in 1912 and 1913.

Biographical Notes: Lawrence Marston was a well-known stage director, among whose accomplishments were Ben Hur, The Prince of India, and Thais for his long-time employers, Klaw & Erlanger. Lawrence Marston was with Thanhouser in 1912 and 1913 and directed a number of films there, including Thanhouser's first three-reel production released as a single unit, The Star of Bethlehem. In early 1913 he was the chief director at New Rochelle, while other directors were in California and the Midwest. However, as was the case with other directors in other studios of the era, he received virtually no credit in print.

Marston on Terminology: Lawrence Marston's article, "The Ten-Foot Foreground," appeared in The New York Dramatic Mirror, January 15, 1913: "Let's walk down to the ten-foot foreground, focus sharp enough to show the red vesicles in the blue of the eye and tell what we look like. I see many admirable things, and some not quite so admirable, and some quite distance from the admirable. I see we have reached the point when the word 'movies' is a gratuitous affront. We were 'movies,' but the progress our art has made, and the progress we have made as artists, calls for something much more dignified. Let's get it! The term 'moving picture' should be discarded - when first coined, it covered the ground. Now it's a misnomer. The trifling incident, with the resulting chase, was a series of moving pictures. The pictorial procession of biblical and historical incidents, the growth and development, the depicting of human emotions and passions, the sequential and logical unfolding of the pictorial drama, is entitled to a far more serious name than moving pictures.

"I think the playwrights should cease calling their plays scenarios - scenario means the skeleton libretto, a dramatic work. The so-called scenario is more than that, it is a whole play, character drawing, plot, situation, dialogue, all. While looking into the eye of the subject, I also see that much of what is called continuous action by the playwright should be dispensed with. Drama means action, but motions are not dramatic action. Going out of an interior door, coming out of an exterior, getting into an automobile, driving down another road or street, arriving at another house, going in the front door, and entering the next interior is motion. There is no drama and no dramatic action in this. It is only motion.

"Cudgel your brains, playwright, you have them. I have read and seen your plays. I know you have brains; solve this problem, and cut these motions out, and save the seconds, these aimless, purposeless, meaningless motions consumed to give your character development, to unfolding of your story, to your dramatic action, to the acting of the actors who are living exponents of your play. Did you notice that I called it seconds and not feet - I took a close view at the term feet, reels, manufacturer and factory. What words to couple with arts and artists? The photographic panorama of the hopes, aims, ambitions, griefs and mishaps of the characters of the plays, which when projected past with lifelike truth before the spectator, is art. It is the highest form of art, and the playwrights, directors, photographers, players, studio managers, and scenic artists, are artists. Their work cannot be measured by feet, or wound up in reels; their art cannot be manufactured, and the place in which they ply their art is not a factory."

With Other Studios: Lawrence Marston departed from Thanhouser and went to American Biograph, where he was located by late autumn 1913. An article in The New York Dramatic Mirror, September 2, 1914, which quoted his views of Shakespeare's plays on the screen, stated he was "principal director with the Biograph Company."

An article in The Moving Picture World, September 19, 1914, gave a commentary on film titles: "TERRIBLE SLAUGHTER ON THE EAST SIDE. Lawrence Marston, motion picture director and veteran stage manager, took a walk through 14th Street in the Lower East Side this week. Startled by the lurid lithographs decorating the fronts of the moving picture theatres which he passed, Mr. Marston took out his trusty stylus and papyrus and made permanent record of the titles of the following sanguinary war photoplays which greeted his eye: War Is Hell, showing 'burning war balloons in the last desperate stand of a fallen aviator,' With Serb and Austrian, The Battle of Waterloo, The Battling British, The Tyranny of the Mad Czar, The War of Wars, 'or The Franco-German Invasion of 1914 - the kickiest two-hour show ever, an emotional masterpiece of tremendous magnitude,' The Last Volunteer, 'so real you can see the damage of the bullets,' Faithful Unto Death, advertised to contain 'scenes showing actual engagements, bursting bombs, blown-up bridges, severed telegraph wires and sparing none of the horrors of war'....

"'I am a peace-loving man,' declared Mr. Marston, 'and when I came to a house on 125 Street which featured two peace propaganda films, Lay Down Your Arms and The Curse of War, I willingly paid my dime and stayed to the end of the show."

The New York Dramatic Mirror, February 24, 1915, told of the confusion between the Marston brothers, a situation which pervaded nearly all trade periodicals: "THOSE MARSTONS - Lawrence and Theodore - have become twisted again. In our story published a few weeks ago telling of Lawrence Marston joining the Selig company, some biographical details were given which really belong to the Vitagraph Marston - Theodore. It is Theodore who was formerly with Kinemacolor and is now producing Vitagraph features. Lawrence is the famous Biograph 'Larry' Marston. Lawrence Marston will produce Selig specials at the Chicago studio, taking up the work of Giles Warren, who has been sent to the Selig Coast studios."

Another item in the same issue of The New York Dramatic Mirror revealed that the director had left Biograph and had gone to Selig, where he was directing for the Diamond S brand. The Moving Picture World, March 20, 1915, told of his new affiliation: "Lawrence Marston, one of the most celebrated producers of big picture plays, arrived in Chicago recently and reported at the general offices of the Selig Polyscope Company. He proceeded at once to organize a strong company and will direct productions of the some of the pretentious Selig Spectacular Specials to be filmed from the works of America's leading authors.... Mr. Marston is accompanied by Mrs. Marston. He is looking over a number of scenarios for the purpose of selecting his initial subject for picture making at the Chicago studio."

In December 1915, trade magazines stated that Marston would soon be a director for the Mirror Film Company. However, in 1916 he was back as a director for American Biograph and produced The Woman in Black, Pique, and other films. Lawrence Marston wrote a play, An Innocent Sinner, which was adapted for a Kalem film released on May 3, 1915; however, he was not involved in the film's production.

Notes: 1. American Film-Index 1908-1915 lists Lawrence Marston's brother Theodore as a director for numerous Thanhouser films. However, correspondence with one of the co-authors of the book, Gunnar Lundquist, has revealed that such attributions to Theodore Marston were incorrect. Theodore Marston's screen career included work with Pathé, Kinemacolor, Vitagraph, and other firms, but not Thanhouser, as already noted. In trade publications, the affairs of Lawrence and Theodore were occasionally mixed. For example, The Photoplay Magazine, February 1914, reported that Lawrence Marston, formerly of Thanhouser and Biograph, was at the time the director of Kinemacolor, a garbled reference combining the activities of Lawrence and Theodore! 2. Lawrence Marston's surname was misspelled as "Martin," "Marden," "Marsden," and "Marton" in certain articles.

Thanhouser Filmography:

1912: The Star of Bethlehem (10-24-1912)

1913: The Evidence of the Film (1-10-1913), The Dove in the Eagle's Nest (1-28-1913), His Uncle's Wives (2-2-1913), When the Studio Burned (2-4-1913), Good Morning, Judge (2-9-1913), Moths (Mutual 9-1913), When the Worm Turned (9-21-1913)

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