Volume I: Narrative History


Chapter 4 (1911): Halfway Around the World in 15 Minutes

The Colonel and the King, released on May 16, 1911, was billed as:

A pretty promoter of patriotism and the "Thanhouser twist." The patriotism is apparent right through the last half of the reel and the twist, of course, at the end. You don't get much patriotism at the beginning, because the story begins in a foreign land and no Americans are visible. It swings from the royal palace at Saxonia to a dingy continental shipping port, then to Ellis Island and the Land of Liberty, next to a fort out West. It takes you halfway around the world in 15 minutes.

Marie Eline played the part of little George IV, mythical seven-year-old king of Saxonia, who is marked for assassination by a usurper who tosses the young monarch in prison. A deft escape is made, and little George is spirited away to America, where he goes to live at an army fort in the West. News arrives that the insurrection in his native land has been quelled, but George decides to abdicate his throne so that when he grows up he can become an American soldier. "This film is undoubtedly the best Thanhouser film yet produced," Billboard stated, while The Morning Telegraph considered it to be "well put on" and "commendably acted."

Lady Clare, a dramatization of Tennyson's poem of the same name, released on May 19, 1911, garnered favorable reviews. Next came The Stage Child, issued on May 23rd, with Marie Eline in the title role. While The Moving Picture World felt that "it is not an important picture," The New York Dramatic Mirror lauded its every feature, noting that "this is a thoroughly first class production in every way.... It is a clever story and is cleverly constructed and acted with superior settings."

Get Rich Quick, released on May 26th, opened to mixed reviews. Harry Benham played the part of a bunco artist who coerces a poor widow to part with her life savings in exchange for stock in a worthless investment scheme. With the profits, the swindler and his wife arrange a grand party, but the suffering of the defrauded widow and her daughter (Marie Eline) plays upon his conscience, and he repents and vows to make restitution.

Harry Benham, who joined Thanhouser in 1910, would remain there until 1915 and in the meantime become one of the firm's best known actors. A family man through and through, he often told reporters of the simple joys of life at home, as in this article in The Motion Picture Magazine, February 1915:

To the oft-repeated question, "Why did you take up motion pictures?" I might say that I was ushered in. I had been playing New York City when I visited the Thanhouser plant, and then left for the road in Madame Sherry. A recollection of the home-like appearance of the studio and the apparent contentedness of the players appealed to me, and I promised myself, should opportunity present itself, to listen to the "call o' the movies" if it came to me. And while I was contemplating the studio affairs, the studio people were thinking of me, because an early mail asked if I cared to pose before the clicking Pathés.

That was several years ago, and it was my first picture experience, and I am not sorry now that I made the change, because, no matter how good one is and how excellent a show may appear to be, one is apt to go broke on the road because of a finicky public. Every season meant parting from home times unless a long city engagement was had, but in the movies it's different. One can have a Ford, a bungalow, a young farm in the rear, a cow that gives fresh lacteal fluid, friends all around, and a home to love. A photoplayer can belong to lodges, churches, clubs, and have his nights for pleasure. This is the life!

Harry Benham's wife, Ethyle Cooke Benham, usually listed in credits as Ethyle Cooke, appeared in numerous Thanhouser films as well, as did their children, Dorothy and Leland.

The May 27, 1911 issue of The Moving Picture World carried the report of an interview with Charles J. Hite, of Chicago:

The H & H, said Mr. Hite, is enjoying a better class of business than ever since their entrance into the moving picture field. The H & H Film Service Company is owned by the Hutchinson brothers and C.J. Hite. S.S. Hutchinson is the president, C.J. Hite secretary and treasurer, in charge, G.A. Hutchinson assisting. They are also interested in the American Film Manufacturing Company and have several flourishing exchanges in other parts of the country. The H & H Film Company has recently installed an automobile system of picking up films at night from theatres in the city, carrying them to their inspection rooms and making shipments each night for the out of town customers.

Within the year Hite would play an important role in the destiny of the Thanhouser film enterprise.

The American Film Manufacturing Company did business from the Ashland Block in Chicago. Emphasis during the summer of 1911 was on Flying A brand pictures taken by the firm's Western company in California. In July the firm announced that from then onward all films would be of the cowboy type. As H & H, American, and related Hite-Hutchinson enterprises prospered, one of the principals decided to make an investment, as related later in the year in The Moving Picture World: Note

Samuel S. Hutchinson, president of the American Film Manufacturing Company, has purchased of Edward Hines, the millionaire lumber magnate, an exceptionally fine piece of Chicago property in which he expects to erect a magnificent home. Chicago daily papers, commenting on the big deal, have called it one of the really big purchases of the year. Mr. Hutchinson, it is said, will erect a residence costing in excess of $50,000, which is supposed to be one of the show places of the famous Chicago lake shore....

Around the same time, Note an article told of Charles J. Hite's activities:

C.J. Hite, of Hutchinson & Hite, is one of the Independents that is profiting by the popularity of the Independent films throughout the Middle West. "We are steadily adding new theatres," said Mr. Hite. "I have just returned from a little business trip over our territory and am very much encouraged with the prospects. Last week we opened accounts with the Isis Theatre, North Avenue and Sawyer Street, Chicago. Then we added the Lyric Theatre, Halsted and Madison streets, Chicago. L.M. Carroll, Jacksonville, Illinois, has opened an Independent house and will take this service from us.

A Wartime Wooing, released on May 30, 1911, was set in Cuba but filmed in New Rochelle. The story told of the mutual attraction between a Yankee lieutenant and a pretty señorita. The Billboard liked the plot but found that "some of the scenes are so poorly put on and some places so overdone with horseplay that it becomes ridiculous." In contrast, The New York Dramatic Mirror found it interesting, very well acted, and in some respects perfect, leading one to think that its curmudgeon film editor had got religion, or had seen the light, or perhaps had engaged in some introspection after reading the condemning editorial about him in The Moving Picture World. It could have been that Thanhouser films were appearing to him as they had appeared to certain others all along, or it could have been that by late spring 1911 they had fewer technical defects than previously. On balance, Thanhouser releases received very favorable reviews during this period.

A Circus Stowaway, released on June 2nd, featured Marie Eline as a little boy who runs away with the Barnum & Bailey troupe as it passes through town. While seeming to be asleep in a corner he overhears a dastardly plot proposed by the scoundrel ringmaster, exposes the impending fraud, and is suitably rewarded. Trade reviewers were of one accord: the film was quite good.

On June 5, 1911 disaster struck one of the Independent firms. The large factory operated by Powers Picture Plays was gutted by fire, causing a whopping $450,000 estimated damage. Snatching victory, albeit a Pyrrhic one, from the jaws of defeat, "Pat" A. Powers gamely announced that "the thrilling incidents and hairbreadth escapes which occurred at our own fire" would be incorporated into a film to be released in the near future. Note


The Stepmother, released by Thanhouser on June 6, 1911, saw Katherine Horn in the title role, supported by Marie Eline and Marguerite Snow as the younger and older sisters. The Morning Telegraph combined a synopsis and review:

A familiar theme in a new garb, this light comedy production is a most entertaining one which is ably presented by the Thanhouser Company. A widower, the father of two girls, one of 16 or thereabouts and the other somewhat younger, marries his stenographer. The children highly resent the new intrusion and go to the city to earn their own living, the older one endeavoring to become a painter.

The stenographer persuades the father that she can get them to return and so she goes to their boarding house, meeting them on a slight pretext. The youngest cuts her finger and the stepmother binds the wound. Soon they become fast friends, and the younger girls come to love the older one devotedly. They return to their home with her and persuade their father to cast off the other new wife and propose to their friend, all of which father is delighted to do. It is finely acted and creditably staged and scored well the day of its release.

Motoring, a comedy released on June 9, 1911, featured William Garwood as the hero and Marguerite Snow as the heroine and was split on the reel with Mr. Henpeck. In the first picture a young millionaire takes his auto out for a drive, it breaks down, and he is mistaken for a chauffeur, which role he does not deny. A wealthy society girl comes along, and he thinks her to be a maid, which she doesn't deny either. Their love develops, then he reveals his true status and she discloses hers. Fortunately, wealth did not seem to spoil things, and, presumably, the couple motored side by side in happiness for the rest of their lives. Note

Little Old New York, released on June 9th, featured more views of Thanhouser's favorite big city, tied together with a plot, a la The City of Her Dreams released the preceding November. The Billboard reviewed the production:

While an amusing little story is told in this film, the interesting phase of it will no doubt be an exhibition of the various scenes in and about New York City which are shown. A country boy comes to New York and is there roped into a get-rich-quick scheme which costs him all the savings he has brought with him. The confidence man's stenographer gets it back for him and starts him on the way home again before further mishaps overtake him. His sightseeing trip about New York, attracting large crowds of people, is very interesting and amusing. The manner in which he is taken in tow by the stenographer is also a very amusing part of the film. The acting and photography are both good.

The Morning Telegraph considered it to be "one of the best pictures of the week" and noted that among the New York city views shown were those of Grant's Tomb, Wall Street, tall skyscrapers, Riverside Drive, and the Sub-Treasury Building with its statue of George Washington.


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