Volume III: Biographies



Investor (1912-1914)

Thanhouser Career Synopsis: John R. Freuler was a business associate of Charles J. Hite and was an investor in the Thanhouser Film Corporation.

Biographical Notes: Born in Monroe, Wisconsin on November 17, 1872, and educated in Milwaukee, John Rudolph Freuler went to work at the age of 13. Desiring to further his education, he went to night school for five years, later obtaining a degree from the Spencerian Business College. In 1893 he was in the warehouse, storage, and transfer business, and by 1900 he was a well-known real estate broker. In 1897 he married Augusta J. Golz. The union produced two daughters: Gertrude R. and Lorraine M. His wife died in Milwaukee on November 8, 1917.

In 1906 Freuler set up a motion picture theatre in Milwaukee, later establishing the Western Film Exchange in the same city. Within a year a branch was opened in St. Louis. This outlet was subsequently sold, and he bought an exchange in Joplin, Missouri and moved it to Kansas City. In 1910 he purchased the Calumet Film Exchange, one of Chicagos largest distributors. Later in the same year he formed the American Film Manufacturing Company in Chicago, makers of the "Flying A" brand. Eventually, most of Americans activities were transferred to the West Coast, finally centering in Santa Barbara, California. The catch phrase "See Americans First" was widely used in the firms advertising.

In February 1911, he set up a branch of the Western Film Exchange in New York City. By that time, he and his associates were powerful factors in the film exchange business, and the arrival in the East of Freuler and his business associate, Harry E. Aitken, was viewed with trepidation by his competitors; with good reason it turned out, for by early 1913 he owned five film exchanges there. When Charles J. Hite purchased the Thanhouser Company from Edwin Thanhouser in 1912, John R. Freuler and Harry E. Aitken, who had been associated with Hite in various earlier ventures, were major investors. John R. Freuler was also involved in the establishment of the Mutual Film Corporation in early 1912 and was elected as its president in June 1915.

Reel Life, June 26, 1915, printed a biographical sketch: "John R. Freuler, the new president of the Mutual Film Corporation, was born in Monroe, Wisconsin, forty-two years ago. The family later located in Milwaukee, where Mr. Freuler received his schooling and early business education. The future head of the Mutual was one of the pioneers in the moving picture business. He started one of the first exchanges in Wisconsin, with headquarters in Milwaukee. This was placed on a paying basis in so short a time that he was prompted to extend his activities to St. Louis, Joplin, Mo., and many other western points. Out of these few exchanges really developed the idea of the Mutual Film Corporation, although Mr. Freuler, for some years, handled licensed products prior to the 'Independents getting together.

"From the very beginning, Mr. Freulers policy has been one of helpfulness to the exhibitor. He learned from his experience in other business that the spirit of service made for success, not only with the consumers, or users of the product, but also with the retailers; hence, his anxiety to help remove resistance so that exhibitors might have profitable returns from films leased. Mr. Freuler bought the Calumet Film Exchange, in Chicago, which subsequently was sold to the General Film Company. Mr. Freuler realized that the attitude of the so-called Patent Companies would, of necessity, bring about a close alliance of the Independent interests. When it became apparent that the exchanges had to conform down to the minutest detail, with rules of operation laid down by certain manufacturers, Mr. Freuler planned an entrance into New York City, which resulted in the opening of the Western Film Exchange, in New York.

"In the meantime, with S.S. Hutchinson, Mr. Freuler organized the American Film Manufacturing Company, with its manufacturing plant in Chicago, and studios in California. Other manufacturers, who discovered that they were up against a stone wall in their efforts to secure a market, were quick to see the advantage of co-operating with men like Mr. Freuler and Mr. Hutchinson, whose experience not only included the making of pictures, but the distribution and leasing of same. Out of these combined efforts the Mutual Film Corporation really got its life - with its present representation in every leading city of the United States....

"Mr. Freuler has learned every angle of the film business, including both manufacturing and selling. He has really specialized on merchandising, and, as the Mutual Film Corporation is exclusively a film leasing proposition, it is safe to say that this company will show the benefit of his training and experience. Mr. Freuler will take up his residence in New York as the president of the Mutual Film Corporation. He is moving with his family, which consists of Mrs. Freuler and two daughters."

Freuler was also principal in the Lone Star Film Corporation and was involved in many other production and distribution companies. In 1916 his business address was care of the Mutual Film Corporation, 71 West 23rd Street, New York City.

Freulers Advice to Exhibitors: In Reel Life, June 5, 1915, John R. Freuler gave advice to exhibitors of films on the Mutual Program: "HOW TO INCREASE YOUR BOX-OFFICE, by John R. Freuler, President North American Film Corporation: Every exhibitor who expects to prosper, or even to survive, must seriously and continuously study his business. I began in this business as an exhibitor and am still an exhibitor. I now own a number of theatres. I have made them pay. What I propose to tell you is how I made them pay, why the things I did made them pay, and how the same principles may be applied to the management of your theatre.

"I began back in the early days of the business when it was in the 'store show stage. The motion picture house I had then was typical of the time - an old store with a remodeled front, a cloth screen, camp chair seats and a few exits. At that time the show ran one reel to a change and the entertainment lasted 15 minutes. Of course, the admission was five cents. In that day the moving picture show was always known as the 'nickelodeon, the 'five-cent show or the 'nickel show. My house had a seating capacity of 225. This house was a success and made money, so far as the money making capacity of that kind of a house goes. Several of my associates wanted to make investments when a larger house was decided upon to take the place of this 'store show. I early saw the advisability, in fact, the necessity, of increasing the price of admission.

"I saw that to raise the price we would have to have a better show. The new show ran three reels to a change and the admission was 10 cents. I changed the program four times a week. This house also was highly successful. My associates decided to put up another house. They got ambitious while I was away concerning myself with other business, and they put in vaudeville along with the motion pictures. Soon they found that they were losing heavily. The reason was not hard to find. At the price of admission they could not put on good vaudeville. They had bad vaudeville and good pictures. The public would not stand for the mixture. The vaudeville could not stand comparison with the pictures. Meanwhile, my associates found that they had increased the expense of the house from 50 to 200 per cent. - all to no purpose. When I got back on the job I cut out the vaudeville and ran pictures, pictures, nothing but pictures, and good pictures. Before long I had the house making money again, and my judgment was vindicated by the balance sheet.

"This experience involves directly the matter of policy and the process by which changes of policy can be instituted. Put this down strong: Never make a change of policy without taking the public into your confidence. It is easier to start right in a new house than it is to change the wrong policy of an old house. But in either case you can establish a ten-cent admission price and get it. That is the first step in beginning right. The five-cent house is fated to disappear just as rapidly as the old 'store show disappeared. This is not a matter of opinion. It is an absolute certainty. The public is continually improving in taste and demanding better pictures. The cost of manufacture of these better pictures is steadily increasing. The manufacturers costs have doubled, trebled and quadrupled in a short time.

"The significance of this to the five-cent house is obvious. Hereafter the five-cent house will be unable to meet competition with the best pictures because of the limited admission charged. Failure to meet competition, which is another word for the demands of the public as awakened or created by a competitor, brings only one result. That spells the very near end of the five-cent house. The Butterfly Theatre of Milwaukee, Wisconsin was a five-cent house up to the time I got control of it. It was a well-located downtown house. It was one of the best of the houses in the downtown district, yet up to the time I got control, it had never paid any dividends. In 60 days it commenced to pay monthly dividends and has continued to ever since. The house is now operating with 1,152 seats and an admission of ten cents. I had to change the policy of this house. I had to increase the admission price to ten cents and, at the same time, make the public willing for me to raise it. The discipline of the house was bad. The projection was bad. They were trying to project too large a picture. The house had a fine ventilating system - and never used it.

"I studied how to improve the pictures. How to make them steady, clear, crisp, living pictures. I made it an unbreakable rule never to show a 'cold screen. I installed a pair of plush curtains which covered the screen when there should be no picture or announcement on the screen. This removed that painful expanse of cold white before the eyes of the patrons. A cold screen makes a house look chilly and bare. It is likely to make the patron feel lonely. It is the absolute negative, the reverse of entertainment - the thing the patron came to get. Then we dressed up the boxes, and in the evenings only, charged 20 cents for box seats. By way of making the enforcement of discipline and order swift and certain, I put in a new manager and a new force of ushers. We decided upon girl ushers and gave them a set of rules.

"After these changes were all put in effect and the reconstructed machinery of operation was running smoothly, on the following week the price of admission was raised to ten cents. It was necessary, of course, to make the public feel satisfied. I had the task of doubling the price of admission to a dime and then making the patron walk out with the feeling 'the show was worth a quarter. I wanted the patron to feel that way and to talk that way. With that end in view, I got a special attraction I could talk about, something to hang my publicity on - an attraction like The Diamond from the Sky for example. I turned my attention to the musical program, and had it made up to harmonize with the pictures.

"But, having done that, it was not enough to stand on the lure of one feature. It was, and always is, necessary in making such a change to follow up for three or four weeks more at least with other equally attractive features 'to talk about. By keeping the specials running this way for a number of weeks, the habit of your patronage is re-established on the dime admission basis.

"We took the Blue Book lists and sent out neat letters of invitation to 500 persons a week. This letter told of our music, the orchestra, the screen, the ventilating system and the special attraction. The 500 letters of invitation for the week were dated to cover every day in the week, except Saturday and Sunday. The invitations were free admissions, of course, and were intended to bring the Blue Book class into the house. Their attendance was sort of a stamp of quality upon the house. Also, regular advertisements were placed in the daily papers, calling attention to the house consistently and regularly. In these newspaper advertisements a great deal depends upon the 'set up. I suggest that you have two things foremost to impress on the reader of the advertisement: the name of the theatre and the main attraction. Play them up boldly, thus:

"THE BUTTERFLY THEATRE 'The Diamond From the Sky $10,000 for a Suggestion.

"If your feature has such a special prize offer, dont fail to capitalize it. Thats why the manufacturers put it there. People are fond of making suggestions and offering solutions. Most of them are willing to do it for a chance at $10,000.

"In considering the neighborhood house and its special case, let us take another concrete example. I took another theatre, we will call it The Empire. It was a good house with a seating capacity of 1,000. It was located in a good street and in a good neighborhood. It had been fairly successful as a vaudeville house. The competitors put in pictures and The Empire put in pictures. Then the whim changed and they put in stock. From vaudeville to pictures to stock and around the circle again, always with changing prices. The result was that the patrons of the house never appeared at the box-office window knowing, with any certainty, what the attraction was to be or what the admission to be paid. The Empire was losing money. I put back in pictures, and pictures only, played to the demands of the neighborhood, put in an effective cost system, studied the locality, and in a short time The Empire paid dividends again.

"Let me put emphasis on the necessity of giving the people what they want. The people know what they want, and they will go where they can get it. The accounting of a motion picture house is one of the most vital considerations of the exhibitor. A proper and adequate system of accounts can be made to tell the exhibitor a great deal about his business that he would otherwise learn too late and only at heavy cost. There should be a daily report from the box office, showing the number of shows, separately listing the admissions for afternoon and evening, the weather, the opposition, and with a total showing the total admissions, receipts and cash balance.

"I want to make it clear that no guesswork goes in the keeping of these records. Every item is charged at a daily rate of cost. Take the item of insurance, for instance. It is paid, perhaps but once a quarter or even once a year. Yet, that is divided into the cost by the day, an easy computation. Here is a chance for a mistake. If the house is open but six days a week, the cost of the weeks insurance should be divided by six instead of seven for the purposes of the cost sheet. For costs are valuable only as they measure against income.

"Concerning the giving of premiums, let every specialty that goes out of your house, and everything that is connected with the house, bear on the one important thing - the pictures. Dont give away junk. Dont show advertising slides. Dont do anything that tends to cheapen the atmosphere of your house. The moving picture public is might fond of 'class. Have 'class!"

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Copyright © 1995 Q. David Bowers. All Rights Reserved.