Volume I: Narrative History


Chapter 4 (1911): Enter James Cruze

The Pied Piper of Hamelin, taken from a famous children's story, was released on August 1, 1911. Joining Marie Eline, Frank H. Crane, Marguerite Snow, William Garwood, and Mignon Anderson in the cast was James Cruze, in what is believed to have been his first role before a Thanhouser camera.

Cruze, who would remain with the studio until the summer of 1915 and marry Thanhouser actress Marguerite Snow along the way, was to become the most famous male actor under the Thanhouser emblem. An enigmatic and controversial man, his colorful and far ranging early life had as many versions as there were listeners to his recountings of it. While at the New Rochelle studio he would earn many laurels as leading man to Marguerite Snow, Florence LaBadie, and others, and, especially, as the main actor in the 1914-1915 serial, The Million Dollar Mystery. After leaving Thanhouser, Cruze took a fling at running a mail-order acting school, promoted by misleading advertisements which suggested that just about anyone could become a movie star. Later he drifted from place to place, eventually landing in Hollywood, where in 1923 his Covered Wagon, produced for Paramount, was widely acclaimed, and at a reported $6,000 per week he became the nation's most highly paid director. His personal life at the time was described as one of debauchery, with plenty of wine, women, and ribaldry.

The Pied Piper of Hamelin told of a medieval town which offered the sum of 1,000 guilders to a stranger who could rid the place of noisome rats. Music hath charms, and the rodents fall into line and follow the piper out of the village. When the town fathers refuse to pay the piper, he takes his flute and leads all of the little children to a distant cave, never to be seen again, or, according to another version of the old tale, to be drowned. The townspeople learn a lesson never to be forgotten.

Such a tragic ending would not do for a Thanhouser film, so it was rewritten, as described in a commentary in The Moving Picture News:

By walking away with a small army of children, a certain man - the Pied Piper, in fact - was to make their dishonest parents feel real bad. But modern ingenuity and modern plain common sense changed all that. The film producer had to send the Hamelin tots away after the piper, to conform with the main thread of the legend - but it shows that the piper was a human being with some very human emotions, and that a plea put to him by the right party in the right way got the right result. As the right result meant the restoration of the children to their parents, it was a logical ending for the film, and Thanhouser is to be commended for having it that way.

In The Judge's Story, released on August 4, 1911, Marie Eline took the part of a little black boy in a sympathetic role set in Civil War days. At great personal risk the little lad takes care of an injured Union soldier lost behind Confederate lines and aids in his escape. Years later the lad, grown to adulthood, is accused of a crime, based upon circumstantial evidence (this theme again) secured against him. The judge is the former Union soldier, and when he learns the identity of the accused he tells the jury: "The prisoner at the bar was the child who saved my life.... He says he is innocent of his crime, and I believe him, for a child who would risk his life to save another could hardly develop into a cowardly assassin." Note As might be expected, "the judge saw that the man who saved his life spent the rest of his days in the happiness and comforts that were surely his due."

The next picture, Back to Nature, released on August 8, 1911, told of a faithful bookkeeper of long standing who is dismissed from his position. Deciding to build his life anew, he takes his family and moves to a farm in upstate New York. A new management takes over his old firm, finds that he was wrongfully discharged, and offers him another job at a much higher salary. Joe and his family hold council and decide that no inducement can make them leave the countryside they have come to love. A reviewer for The Moving Picture World seemed to know the identity of just one player, Marie Eline:

In choosing his scenes, the producer of the Thanhouser Company shows a quick appreciation of the truly poetic. The truth of the outdoor yard scene in this picture - the chickens, nanny goat and particularly the line of burdock leaves - catches a homely beauty and goes straight home to the heart. The picture is really more the poetic daydream of some overworked bookkeeper than a truthful picture of life; yet it so truthfully pictures a human heart's longing that it gets over effectively. Indeed, this reviewer will be much mistaken if many, many city people who see the picture won't sincerely thank the Thanhouser Company for it.

It is supposed to be an elderly clerk who is discharged to make room for a younger man who takes his family - whom the city is not using well - to a farm in the country, where he and the whole family make good and find friends and happiness. And the acting of all hands is good. In the early scenes little Marie Eline, as the sick child, was unable to repress her vitality, signs of which peek through her acting again and again.

Cupid the Conqueror, with Marie Eline as Cupid, was released to good reviews on August 11, 1911. The next Thanhouser offering, Nobody Loves a Fat Woman, issued on August 15th, told of a young man who, through the bequest of an uncle, stands to gain $50,000 if he weds Blossom, the considerably overweight daughter of his uncle's friend. Given a year to confirm his uncle's choice, he finally decides against it, whereupon the lawyer handling the estate informs him that by another provision in his uncle's will, and because he had shown the triumph of personal conviction over money, the inheritance is doubled to $100,000! Various reviewers found the film "clever," "hilarious," and "interesting."

The Train Despatcher, Note released on August 18th, is an interesting instance of a minor actress, Peggy Glynn, taking the title role, in this instance a girl who averts a railroad wreck by climbing a telegraph pole and tapping out a warning message in code. Miss Glynn was never mentioned in Thanhouser publicity, and soon thereafter she departed for the Lubin company, where she was featured in the forgettable "Peggy Series," after which she went on the vaudeville stage. The Moving Picture World was enthusiastic about the film, and The Billboard considered it to be "a well-played little drama," indeed, one of the best Thanhouser productions ever. The Morning Telegraph didn't see it that way, not at all, and printed one of the most condemning reviews of a Thanhouser picture ever to appear in its columns:

To anyone even slightly familiar with a train despatcher's office, its routine and appliances, this pictured reproduction would cause a smile. For the sake of the story the author and producer have taken liberties with possible occurrences, though the result is entertaining and somewhat exciting. Afterthought places it among the class of photoplays that "might have been" rather than with the leaders of the week. The despatching room, or a corner of it, shows nothing to indicate its use save a telegraph instrument, a clock which stopped in the last scene, and a map. Nothing to indicate the location of trains, as in every such office, no train schedule, no assistants in view. Why not, when picturing such an important branch of railroading, do it correctly? It is taking broad dramatic liberties to permit a new operator to get drunk the first night in his new position and by frequent use of a flask at his table. It is taking still broader liberties to have the former girl operator tap the right wire from a pole and give news of the bridge cave-in to the despatching office. The office of the general manager appeared cramped and small for use by such an important official. Why not have made him chief despatcher with an instrument upon his desk whereby he could get the news?

Preferring male employees, he had discharged this girl operator. His mother had taken the midnight express, the girl discovers an undermined bridge, taps a wire and warns the company. The train is stopped at a way station, the girl is recalled, and the drunkard discharged. Such, briefly, is the story. Inexcusable is the inconsistency in the misuse of day and night photography. It is day when the girl discovers the cave-in, day when she taps the wire, night as the train rushes along the rails, day when it is flagged, and yet the subsequent sub-title reads "Next Morning" - and the girl is then sent for by the manager. It is too bad that such a good theme for a photoplay could not have been better staged.

The Cross, released on August 22, 1911, told how a ship's captain drunk in his stateroom is responsible for the death of his seamen, except for the surviving first mate (played by William Russell). Various reviewers considered it to be "dramatic," "original," and "well put on." The Romance of Lonely Island, distributed on the 25th of the month, told of a writer seeking solitude while crafting a novel, only to be intruded upon by a girl (played by Marguerite Snow) who at first is a nuisance and later the object of his affection. Reviews were mostly favorable, although The Billboard considered it to be "so romantic as to be entirely beyond the bounds of possibility."

The Moth, a comedy farce released on August 29th, told of a city boy who came to a village to woo the girl of his choice and to impress her mother. It happens that her village home contains some unwanted moths. Mama procures moth candles at the local hardware store, lights them, and then goes to visit a neighbor while the fumes do their work. Along comes the city boy, who spies smoke seeping from the home of his intended. He organizes a group of fire fighters, breaks down the door, smashes windows, saves the furniture by throwing it out on the lawn, and deluges the place with water. Thanhouser's synopsis concluded: "He never saw the girl again. But he believed that he was unjustly treated, and that some women are extremely unkind." Most reviewers liked it, but The Morning Telegraph found weakness in the plot.


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