Volume I: Narrative History


Chapter 4 (1911): Building a Reputation of Quality

Thanhouser and the Industry

By the time January 1911 appeared on the calendar, the Thanhouser Company had established itself as one of the leading Independent film makers. While Carl Laemmle's Independent Moving Picture Company of America, familiarly known as IMP, captured the lion's share of publicity, Note it was the Thanhouser Company that was considered foremost in the photographic and dramatic quality of its films.

Elsewhere in the industry there was much hoopla about films of the Johnson-Jeffries boxing match, which pitted a white man against a black man. Many columns of print were devoted to news about localities which banned their exhibition on grounds of "morality."

Lubin, Edison, Vitagraph, Biograph, Selig, and other Patents Company members were actively cranking out films, while the Independents, whose numbers and releases kept increasing, did likewise. Scarcely a month went by without an announcement of a new entry into the producing fray. Now and then a particularly pretentious newcomer appeared, as this one mentioned in The Nickelodeon, February 18, 1911:

The National Film Manufacturing and Leasing Company, New York, entered the field with offices at 12 East 15th Street, New York. The film manufacturers included are Revier, Gnome, Manhattan, Cin-es, Film d'Art, Columbia, Capital, United, Comerio and Colonial. Note These makers, it is said, have all put their factories into the company in exchange for stock. The new firm is capitalized at a million dollars. It controls the Meredith-Jones camera patents, which is an Independent type of camera just as the Bianchi camera is.

Production by various companies, Independent as well as the Patents Company firms, continued to be centered in the New York City area and Northern New Jersey. However, in January 1911 far-off California furnished the site for some itinerant film makers who sought to escape the cloudy skies and cold temperatures of the winter. The New York Dramatic Mirror, January 18, 1911, reported:

There are now six film producing companies operating in and around Los Angeles. These are the Biograph, Selig, Essanay, Kalem, Lubin, and Pathé. Others in the West are the Bison, working throughout Colorado; the Méliès, at San Antonio, Texas and the Revier, at Salt Lake City. The producers of the American films are also making a tour of the West, and it is reported that the Imp Note manufacturers are about to transport a company to Mexico.

From its studio building in New Rochelle the Thanhouser Company continued its release schedule of one-reel films Tuesday and Friday each week on the increasingly expanding Sales Company program. To this point all Thanhouser pictures had been made in and around the greater New Rochelle and New York City area, and traveling production companies were still in the future. Throughout the year 1911 all Thanhouser films, and those of other Independents, would be of the one-reel format, approximating 1,000 feet in length, with the exception of She, released at the end of the year; in most markets it was released in two reels on December 26th, but in a few others it was released one reel at a time, the first on December 26, 1911 and the second on January 2, 1912.

In mid-January 1911 the Motion Picture Distributing and Sales Company, 111 East 14th Street, New York City, employed an increasingly crowded release schedule: Note



Monday: American, Eclair, IMP, Yankee

Tuesday: Bison (New York Motion Picture Company), Powers, Thanhouser

Wednesday: Ambrosio Note (New York Motion Picture Company), Atlas, Champion, Nestor (David Horsley), Reliance

Thursday: American, IMP, Itala (New York Motion Picture Company)

Friday: Bison, Lux, Solax, Thanhouser, Yankee

Saturday: Capitol, Great Northern, Itala, Powers, Reliance (Carlton Laboratories)


The Patents Company or Licensed schedule looked like this:



Monday: Biograph, Selig, Pathé, Lubin

Tuesday: Vitagraph, Edison, Essanay, Gaumont

Wednesday: Edison, Pathé, Kalem, Urban

Thursday: Biograph, Selig, Lubin, Méliès

Friday: Pathé, Vitagraph, Edison, Kalem

Saturday: Vitagraph, Pathé, Essanay, Gaumont


At the beginning of the year such players as Justus D. Barnes, Frank H. Crane and his wife Irene, Carey L. Hastings, Violet Heming, Martin J. Faust, William Garwood, and Mrs. George Walters were among those on the Thanhouser payroll, not to overlook little Marie Eline. Now famous as the Thanhouser Kid, she continued to receive more publicity in the firm's advertising than did all other players combined. An illustrated feature in The Billboard, January 28, 1911, showed Grace Moore, L.R. Abbe, Thomas Fortune, and George Middleton as additional Thanhouser players, presumably on the stock company payroll. In addition, numerous actors and actresses were hired from New York City theatrical agencies, and still others were chosen from dozens of extras who lived near the studio and whose names were kept on file in a registry.

The studio maintained two production companies, one directed by Barry O'Neil, who had been with the studio since day one, and the other by Lucius J. Henderson. John Noble was an assistant director to Henderson. Cameramen included Carl Louis Gregory and Alfred H. Moses, Jr. In addition to at least two Bianchi cameras, it is believed that imported cameras were employed. The shortcomings of the Bianchi camera continued to make the news, and in its issue of January 28, 1911, Nickelodeon printed a feature article on the mechanism, noting it was "said to be unsatisfactory for outside work in its present form, due to its sensitiveness to vibration. It has been used in studio work by providing a substantial and solid base for its operation." Eventually, the Columbia Phonograph Company signed its rights over to the Patents Company, but by that time the Bianchi device was no longer a serious contender in the industry. Note

The New York Dramatic Mirror on January 18, 1911 told of a case recently adjudicated by Judge Lacombe in the United States Court, granting injunctions against a number of Independent manufacturers:

The camera they relied upon as non-infringing has been declared by Judge Lacombe to be an infringement of the Edison. The camera in question is the Gaumont, with which, it appears, nearly every Independent company was equipped. So confident were they that the Gaumont would win out as non-infringing that many of the companies took no trouble to conceal their operations. Now that the Gaumont is held to infringe, the Independents are obliged to rely on a new camera, the Wagner, Note which is not yet a proven success, the much-talked-of Bianchi camera having apparently been abandoned, or at least little is being said of it. Another alternative of the Independents is to conduct their operations outside of the United States. One company [Horsley's Nestor] is already proposing to go to Bermuda and another is headed for Mexico. Others may locate in Canada. In the meantime, Independent releases continue....

In the same issue The Spectator condescended to comment upon Independent film quality:

Independent pictures are a wonderful sight better than they were a year ago, or even six months ago. Reliance, Imp, and Thanhouser often show considerable class in their productions, and others have improved some, but there is still too great a preponderance of cowboy junk Note and other trash in the Independent output as a whole to compare it seriously with the general run of Licensed films....

"The Spectator" was Frank E. Woods, an employee of Biograph. The New York Dramatic Mirror in 1911 would continue to blast the Independents and praise the Patents Company's Licensed films. The raison d'etre may be gained from this complete list of all of the motion picture companies which advertised in the January 18, 1911 issue: The Vitagraph Company of America, Pathé Frères, Essanay Film Manufacturing Company, Lubin Manufacturing Company, Kalem Company, Selig Polyscope Company, Edison Manufacturing Company, Biograph Company, and G. Méliès, a lineup without a single Independent company in sight!

As The New York Dramatic Mirror took an adversary position, although it must be admitted that it was kinder to Thanhouser than to other Independent makers, their reviews show the emperor without his clothes, so to speak, and provide technical criticisms of Thanhouser films not found to such an extent in the friendlier columns of other journals.


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