Volume I: Narrative History


Chapter 4 (1911): Thanhouser Releases

The first Thanhouser film of the year was The Pasha's Daughter, released on January 3, 1911. The story, the plot of which was set in Turkey, was filmed in the New Rochelle studio and drew favorable reviews. The Billboard noted: "This picture presents a story that is decidedly original and away from beaten paths. The settings in Turkey are elaborate and faithful to Turkish customs. All the players portray their respective parts in an excellent manner. The photography is very good." Using identical phraseology (adaptations from canned reviews again) The Moving Picture World found that "all the players portray their respective parts in an excellent manner. The photography is very good," while The New York Dramatic Mirror found that "it was well enacted and the sets were fully adequate, creating a fair illusion of the Oriental land depicted." Obviously, the year 1911 was off to a good start!

Next came Baseball and Bloomers, a comedy which is significant in Thanhouser Company history inasmuch as it represented the first screen appearance of Marguerite Snow, who was to become one the most prominent actresses ever to appear in the films of the New Rochelle studio. Johnson Briscoe interviewed her for The Photoplay Magazine, November 1914, by which time she was internationally known:

"My going into pictures was largely accidental," said Miss Snow. "A girl friend of mine was posing for the Thanhouser people and she suggested that I accompany her one day, just to see how motion pictures were made. While watching the work, Mr. Thanhouser asked me if I would like to appear in a picture which they were about to take. Largely for the fun of the thing, I said I would and I was pressed into immediate service, costume, make-up and all, in a picture called Baseball in Bloomers. Note Suddenly the director called out, "Everybody into the machine and out into the country for pictures." "What," I cried, "go out-of-doors in such a costume and in winter weather like this? Not for me!" And I immediately took off my costume and returned to New York.

"A week later, however, my telephone rang and there was Mr. Thanhouser speaking, urging me to reconsider my decision, saying he wanted me to appear in a picture, His Younger Brother, Note and adding, "It is all indoor work this time." So I consented, and was a member of the company for about six months. In the summer of 1911, I temporarily returned to the stage, being leading woman of the stock company at the Belasco Theatre, Washington, D.C., where I played the title role in Peter Pan, Kathie in Old Heidelberg, Nora Brewster in Waterloo, Glory Quayle in The Christian, and Helen Heye in The Lottery Man. After that I took up picture work again, being the first regular lead with the Kinemacolor company, where I remained for about two months, and then I rejoined the Thanhouser forces, where I have been ever since. It was a strange thing that as soon as I had determined to remain permanently in pictures, I received no end of offers for excellent theatrical engagements, the lead in such plays as The Bird of Paradise and The Butterfly on the Wheel, but I resolutely turned them all down."

[Miss Snow had to resume her work in films that day] so there was nothing for me to do but take leave of my agreeable, hospitable hostess. This I did forthwith, and my last sight of Marguerite Snow was that of a slight, girlish figure standing in the doorway ("Now that you know our address, do please remember it, and come sometime-unprofessionally"). She was smiling, as only she alone can smile, with her sparkling, deep brown eyes, voicing the farewell, of which I was all too loath to take advantage. But time and suburban trains wait for no man.

Perhaps more than one of my readers have marveled because not once here have I spoken of this Thanhouser star as "Peggy" Snow. Somehow or other, purely instinctively, all along I had felt that she disliked it. Finally, I asked her as much. "Yes, indeed, I do dislike being called Peggy," she replied, quite heartily, "but everybody does it, and now that I have been nick-named "Peg o" the Movies,"there doesn't seem to be any hope, does there?"

The story of Baseball and Bloomers, Miss Snow's first screen vehicle, was told by The New York Dramatic Mirror in a review:

The details of this comedy are well worked out, and it is good for a portion of genuine laughs. The girls of Miss Street's Seminary become so elated over their success in the gymnasium that they feel impelled to branch out, and accordingly they challenge the boys of Adair College to a game of ball. At the last moment the girls feel like backing out, when two of Cornell's star baseball players arrive in town. They agree to pitch and catch for the girls, who give them bloomers and rats from their hair for disguise. At the eighth inning the score was 0 to 0. By the ninth it was 0 to 2, in favor of Miss Street's Seminary for Girls. The nine girls then showed their gratitude by giving the pitcher and catcher a round of kisses, while the Adair College boys stood off at a respectful distance. The actors were equal to the occasion.

Curiously, the official synopsis furnished by Thanhouser stated that two Harvard men arrived to help the girls.

The next release, Everybody Saves Father, first screened on January 10th, was also a comedy, split with The Only Girl in Camp at the end. In the first subject, Jennie has several suitors, all but one of whom try to impress her father by aiding in his rescue as he struggles in the water. When dad's life is saved, each suitor believes that he alone has the strongest case for Jennie's hand. However, the wedding ring goes to Bill, the only man who stayed on dry land and who did not attempt to help. "A bright and amusing little comedy" noted The New York Dramatic Mirror, while The Moving Picture World found the film "good for a series of hearty laughs," and The Billboard considered the comedy to be good, the photography excellent, and the acting clever. The add-on subject at the end of the reel, The Only Girl in Camp, was favorably reviewed as well.

Well-known stage actress Julia M. Taylor was before the Thanhouser camera again, for the second film in the "Violet Gray, Detective" series, The Vote That Counted, released on January 13, 1911. Both The Billboard and The New York Dramatic Mirror considered the subject to be a good melodrama, but the latter felt that parts of it lacked dignity because a male detective was not employed.

For the next film The New York Dramatic Mirror Note printed this item:

January 17, the Thanhouser Company will release the first of a series of pictures to be known as the Bertie Series. The first picture is titled Bertie's Brainstorm, and will be followed by Bertie's Bride, Bertie's Baby, and others. Bertie is a foolish young fop who ends up by marrying the boarding mistress, and becomes a loving and patient parent and a willing worker at jobs around the house, where there is a pathetic absence of square meals....

It may have been that Bertie was based on the character of Bertie Nizril, a foppish young Englishman in Thoroughbred, a stage play in which Edwin Thanhouser played the part of Bertie in 1896. In any event, the anticipated Bertie Series failed to materialize, and Bertie's Brainstorm stood alone, despite favorable reviews.

The Old Curiosity Shop, based upon Charles Dickens' well-known novel, was released on January 20th. Under the direction of Barry O'Neil, Frank H. Crane played the part of the grandfather, while Marie Eline took the role of Little Nell. A Thanhouser advertisement Note cheerily proclaimed:

The announcing of this for release will come as good news to every exhibitor who correctly estimates the popularity of Dickens' works. The Thanhouser producers have long had designs on the tale and just the other day, when conditions were best, made it into a splendid moving picture. They waited until the best players in both Thanhouser acting companies were available, together with the best costumes and the best settings - in short, they utilized the best of everything at the best of time. The result will be appreciated by every lover of Dickens, every true admirer who wants the true Dickens spirit in play and picture as well as story.

The reception in the trade press was favorable, with The Billboard praising the scenario, the acting, and the photography, and The Moving Picture News considering it to be "a pure delight" and "a worthy production that must needs win its reward." It fell to the opposition, in the form of The New York Dramatic Mirror, to dissect the production while, inter alia, saying some nice things as well:

This film is acted with a fine appreciation of the spirit of Dickens' works, but there is evidence of trying to pile too much into one scene. Nell is all ready to whisk her grandfather away; she goes right out and comes right in ready to depart with luggage and basket, and there are other places where a division of scenes would have avoided this feeling of rush. Little Nell is a most interesting little actress and does her part delightfully well, but perhaps it would be better if she would not hurry through her business, though her actions blend nicely one into the other. Through this speed the pathos of the situations is lost. As in the novel, she takes her grandfather away when he is threatened for arrest for debt, but his desire to gamble keeps her on the move, and at last she succumbs, and her grandfather, while decorating her grave, follows her. The settings and costumes are all typical and in keeping.

Thanhouser would present several other Dickens works in the future, including Nicholas Nickleby, Little Dorrit, and David Copperfield.

Next on the release schedule came the January 24, 1911 offering of When Love Was Blind, directed by Lucius J. Henderson, with Lucille Younge as May, blind since childhood, a role which represented Miss Younge's first appearance before a motion picture camera. The actress had followed a stage career earlier, and after spending a few months with Thanhouser in New Rochelle would go on to work with IMP, Eclair, Lubin, Reliance, Majestic, Fine Arts, Paralta, American, and other companies, in particular gaining wide notice as a leading lady for Eclair. During the second decade of the century, few actors or actresses remained with just one studio for a protracted period. Typically, by decade's end a successful player who had been at the game for more than a few years would have acted under several different managements.

When Love Was Blind brought forth favorable reviews. The Billboard stated: "The film is very pleasing.... The photography is well up to the Thanhouser marque." The Moving Picture News commented:

A reel telling an interesting and stirring tale where love lights up the somber scenes. A blind girl is in her home, when it takes fire. Her helpless maid leaves her to yell for help. A young man rushes in and rescues the girl, getting bad facial disfigurement. The young folk marry, and she undergoes an operation by which she recovers her sight. Yearning to see her baby, she pulls off the bandages too soon and is blind forever. The situations are well handled; the acting of the principals shows the true grip of the characters. The work of this firm of late has been not only artistic but throbbing with that clean, human life which is winning high praise.

As usual in the review in The New York Dramatic Mirror there was some good news and some bad news: "Although the idea is not new, it is a very well rendered picture, nicely mounted, and acted with due appreciation, though the young man's struggle in the smoke is a bit unnaturally overdrawn. The flames did not seem to eat their way or change their place as the fire progressed." Undoubtedly, the criticisms were reflective of some directorial aspects that needed attention, and one can imagine that such reviews were closely studied by the Thanhouser people affected.

Prompt Payment, the January 27th release, was split on the reel with Stealing a Ride. Both were comedies and both garnered glowing reviews, including one in The New York Mirror, which considered the latter to be "a capital farce, and it is most effectively presented."


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