Volume I: Narrative History


Chapter 4 (1911): Through the Autumn

In The Satyr and the Lady, released on October 20, 1911, was advertised as follows: Note "An artist's model of the usual type poses with a shoestring peddler for a painting which the artist calls 'The Satyr and the Lady.' In the eyes of the peddler, the beautiful model is the embodiment of all that is virtuous and noble. On his death bed he writes to 'the lady,' and asks her to take care of his orphan daughter. The assumption of this responsibility completely regenerates a one-time careless model and also wins her a good husband." Marie Eline took the role of the peddler's daughter, Florence LaBadie was the lady model, Harry Benham became an artist, and David H. Thompson was the satyr.

A Jewish shoelace peddler is given a very sympathetic part in this story, in an era in which certain other film makers often satirized or criticized ethnic groups and minorities. Edwin Thanhouser was ahead of his time in social responsibility, and time and again the poor, downtrodden, unfortunate, and unappreciated elements of society were given charismatic roles in his films. Already Florence LaBadie's work was beginning to be felt, and in a review of this film The Moving Picture News found "Florence LaBadie's performance of the model is beyond criticism."

The Jewels of Allah, filmed in New Rochelle, was set in Arabia "with an atmosphere of the Orient," according to the misplaced geography of the advertising copy writer. Note The reviewers for The Morning Telegraph and The Moving Picture World might as well have been watching different films, for the first found that "no more interesting story nor entertaining film has been seen in recent weeks," while the latter stated that "it is not a dull picture as much as a very unconvincing one."

The Burglar and the Bride, released November 3, 1911, told of a burglar who came to steal wedding gifts, but through a series of complicated maneuvers prevents an unfortunate marriage and is rewarded with as many gifts as he can carry home - with the good wishes of the bride-to-be. Reviewers were pleased with the comedy. The Missing Heir, released November 7th, told of a little boy played by Marie Eline, heir to a fortune, who is kept from claiming his due by the machinations of others seeking the money, but justice wins out in the end.

The Last of the Mohicans, released to glowing reviews on November 10, 1911, featured as an actor an authentic Algonquin Indian, Dark Cloud, hired for the occasion. James Cruze, Frank H. Crane, William Russell, and Florence LaBadie were among the Thanhouser players in the cast. For this dramatization of James Fenimore Cooper's novel the Thanhouser players went farther away from home base than ever before, spending a month Note at Lake George in the Adirondack Mountains, less than a few hours' journey from New Rochelle. Around this time, or perhaps slightly later, a troupe known as the Thanhouser Northern Company went to Niagara Falls to film footage for subjects released early in 1912. Two months later The Moving Picture World Note would advise its readers: "The Pathé, Vitagraph, Thanhouser, Bison, Selig, and other companies have full-blooded and half-blood Indians on their payrolls. This in part accounts for the greater fidelity of their Indian pictures."

Next on the Thanhouser schedule came The Higher the Fewer, released on November 14th, an aviation comedy staged with the assistance of two pilots, Thomas Baldwin and Augustus Post, who were hired to instruct the Thanhouserites in the basic techniques of flying. The story told of a prizefighter who carries his sweetheart aloft and far away from a rival who hopelessly follows on the ground in an automobile. After the filming of one episode it was reported that a Long Island farmer demanded $1,000 when a plane landed unexpectedly in his field. Note Critics found the film amusing, if not convincing.

A Mother's Faith, released on November 17, 1911, told of a young man who leads a life of dissipation, disappointing his mother, only to realize the error of his ways, and reform. On balance, reviewers liked it. A Master of Millions, released on November 21st, was the tale of a millionaire who went hunting, became lost, and was given refuge in a poor man's cabin, only to repay the favor by trying to seduce his host's wife.

Certainly one of the most imaginative and memorable films of the era was The Baseball Bug, which was released on November 24th. In addition to Florence LaBadie as the wife and John W. Noble as the would-be baseball star, the film featured four honest-to-goodness sports heroes from the Philadelphia Athletics, fresh from winning the World Series. The synopsis told the story:

A little frog who splashes into a tiny puddle sometimes thinks he has created a commotion in the Atlantic Ocean. A young clerk in a small town was like the little frog, as local tryouts on an amateur baseball team convinced him that he was really a wonderful player and far superior to the men in the big leagues. Glory came to him, that is to say, his name was a household word in the small village where he lived, but he got no money for it. More than that, he neglected his regular work in a store and was in danger of being discharged, for he thought baseball, drank baseball, and dreamed baseball. He was a nuisance to his friends and a trial to his family, and his wife worried greatly as to what the future would bring.

The wife had a distant cousin, Big Chief Bender, the noted twirler of the world champion Philadelphia Athletics, and she decided to confide her troubles to him. She figured that a man who could pitch three out of the six past seasons' games against the Giants, win two of them and miss the third by a fluke, must be resourceful enough to help her. She judged correctly, and her appeal was not in vain.

To the conceited counter jumper came a letter purporting to be signed by Connie Mack, explaining that his fame had reached Philadelphia and that Bender, Coombs (the pitcher who beat Mathewson), Morgan, the wonderful spit-ball expert, and "Rube" Oldring (the heavy-hitting outfielder who broke up a world series with a home run) were coming to the country to learn from the village champion how to play baseball. By this time the little frog had swollen to such a size that he really believed the plea for help was genuine. So he gladly welcomed the seasoned champions of the world and they studied baseball together. There was only one lesson. Then the little frog went sadly home. He burned up his uniform, his bat, and the baseballs he had. He returned to his regular work behind the counter and his wife found that he was cured of his infatuation.

The critics were delighted with the film, with the review in The Morning Telegraph being typical:

The baseball fan cannot but enthuse ever this comedy which introduced Jack Coombs, Cy Morgan, Rube Oldring, Big Chief Bender and others of the Philadelphia champions, each taking a turn before the camera at close range when their special twirl of the ball can be studied at near view, giving the spectator an opportunity to see the ball. Aside from this, there is a good little comedy unreeled, all of which makes for good entertainment in the following way: Percy is a baseball fan and a ribbon clerk. His wife decides to cure him of his mania for ball and writes her cousin, Jack Coombs [sic; the synopsis says Bender was the cousin], asking him to help her. So Connie Mack writes him a letter stating that he would like to have Percy train his several star pitchers in a local game. Percy jumps at the chance and, after each has "fanned" him out of the box without a single hit, he becomes disgusted with the game and is made the butt of his townsfolk.

Clearly, Thanhouser had scored a coup.

The Tempest, first publicly screened on November 28, 1911, was adapted from Shakespeare's play of the same name and told of incidents precipitated by a storm in the Sommer Islands, later known as Bermuda. Reviews were mixed, mostly unfavorable, and The Morning Telegraph noted that "like their David Copperfield, it is not much more than a pantomimic series of tableaux explained by preceding subtitles." The Moving Picture News, however, considered it to be an excellent film in every respect.

Beneath the Veil, with Florence LaBadie as the veiled one, opened on December 1, 1911. A girl is disfigured in an accident, and she covers her face. Her artist sweetheart, who loves her for her beauty, cannot cope with the situation and retrieves his engagement ring. But then he thinks of her charms, and more and more he misses her. Finally, he decides to marry her anyway, for pure love. After the wedding the bride lifts her veil and, voila!, her disfigurement has been healed, and her sweetheart has passed the test. The reviewers liked it, but The Morning Telegraph felt that the plot would have been more authentic had details of the healing been given.

In The Newsy and the Tramp, released on December 5th, Marie Eline was the newsboy who inspires a friendly tramp to become a regular member of society, and when he does, rewards him by introducing him to the prettiest schoolteacher in the county. Wedding bells complete the tale.

Brother Bob's Baby, issued on December 8, 1911, is memorable for at least two reasons in addition to being a comedy which The Morning Telegraph stated "has the average film beaten about one hundred ways to one." Filming was done inside the new Pennsylvania Railroad Station in New York City, by the use of normal interior lighting, by an unspecified technique which was remarkable for the time. In addition, the picture served as the vehicle for the debut of infant Helen Badgley, born in 1910, who in February 1912 became known as the "Thanhouser Kidlet," the only other Thanhouserite besides Marie Eline, the Thanhouser Kid, to be given a nickname in advertising at the time. Note The daughter of Gerald J. Badgley, a New Rochelle mechanic and camera inventor, Helen appeared in many Thanhouser films during the next six years. The film told of Brother Bob, a bachelor, who is entrusted with the care of a baby. He misplaces the toddler, who is accidentally shipped off in a dog basket on the train. All ends well, of course.

The Lady From the Sea, released on December 12, 1911, dramatized still another Ibsen play for the screen. With Marguerite Snow in the title role, the film was favorably reviewed, more than the previous A Doll's House. With The Pillars of Society, this made three Ibsen plays under the Thanhouser banner in 1911. Perhaps Edwin Thanhouser was rising to a personal challenge, for time and time again, reviewers told of the difficulty of understanding, let alone filming Ibsen's works.

Deacon Debbs, the release of December 15th, told of a wealthy uncle, a deacon, who visits his intended heirs, a young couple who live as Bohemians in New York City. Cards, cigars, whisky, and other trappings of the good life are hidden from view, and uncle is treated to a museum lecture on "The Esoteric Being of Prehistoric Fish," which proves sufficiently esoteric that one by one the members of the audience leave, until uncle alone is occupying his seat. In the meantime, his hosts slip off to Coney Island to have a grand time. Returning, the young people find a note left by their visitor, who is disgusted with the staid lives his relatives lead and who intends to revise his will to leave his fortune to someone who knows how to spend it properly! Fortunately, uncle isn't quite out the door when the note is discovered, he comes back in, the truth is revealed, and all celebrate with drinks and cigars, after which they head out for a good time on the town. Reviewers liked the film, and the views of ever-popular Coney Island lent an additional dimension of interest.

The Tomboy, released on December 19th, was followed by a dramatization of Cinderella on the 22nd, with Florence LaBadie in the title role and Harry Benham as the prince. Critics enjoyed it thoroughly.

Next on the 1911 schedule came the December 26th release of the two-reel She, an adaptation of H. Rider Haggard's weird tale of ancient times in Egypt combined with the present day. In most markets both reels were released on the 26th, marking Thanhouser's first such distribution. In a few areas, the second reel was released on January 2nd, along with The Passing, distributed on the same date, possibly as an alternate choice to the latter film. Distribution was becoming complex!

In the picture an English gentleman, played by James Cruze, reads of his family history and then follows a map, goes to Africa, and locates the tomb of his ancient ancestor, guarded by the jealous goddess "She," portrayed by Marguerite Snow. By trick printing of the film, Cruze played two parts in one scene: his ancient ancestor and his modern self. A review of both reels in The New York Dramatic Mirror summarized the story:

This subject for Rider Haggard's famous novel has been placed in two reels and has been most carefully and convincingly put into pictures. The entire production is one of much artistic worth and merit both in the atmosphere it creates and the effects obtained.... The acting is convincing at all points, but the character of She is not expressed with all the subtleness that one would expect from her character. The story has been most graphically handled.

Pharaoh's daughter, Iris, persuades a priest to go away with her. They journey across the desert to the coast of Africa. Meanwhile a child is born. "She," who is ever youthful from contact with the eternal flames, calls them to her. "She" finds in the man her successor, but he refuses her love. She strikes him dead, holding his body for a resurrection. His wife goes forth vowing that her son or his sons shall bring vengeance. It is not until 1885 that a youth in the line of descendants rises to success in vanquishing "She." Arriving before her, "She" believes him to be the resurrected counterpart and destroys the body. Then, when the youth refuses to bathe in the eternal flames "She" withers up into an old woman.

Bringing the curtain across the Thanhouser screen at the end of 1911 was the December 29th release of The Expert's Report, with Harry Benham as an oil expert who is importuned by crooks to submit a false report stating that worthless land is in fact a rich oil site. After refusing to do so, he is bound and thrown into a well, while an impostor states that he is the expert and induces the president of the oil company to offer a fancy price for the property. The plot is discovered in the nick of time, and fortune comes to a widow and her two daughters who have land nearby with real oil under it. Critics gave the film mixed comments, mostly favorable.


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