Volume I: Narrative History


Chapter 4 (1911): Thanhouser Players Meet Their Audiences

Early in April the Thanhouser Company decided to send certain of its players to theatres, where they were scheduled to appear on stage in connection with films in which they played. The Moving Picture World, April 8, 1911, told of the first sortie:

Frank Crane, a leading man of the Thanhouser Company, made his appearance at the Crown Theatre, 116th Street and Lenox Avenue, New York City, last week and delivered a short talk on the making of moving pictures. He told several laughable stories of various mishaps that occurred during the taking of the pictures and some interesting facts about the inner workings of a moving picture studio. It is planned to have him appear in a number of Independent houses in and around New York.

Mr. Crane's appearance at the Crown makes him the pioneer Independent player to do a talk before picture house audiences. The Thanhouser reel Not Guilty, Note depicting Crane as an unfortunate who has got on the wrong side of the law, was projected just prior to his discourse. It was in itself a peep at the dangers the picture player encounters, showing the speaker of the evening sliding 40 feet down a washline to liberty in a scene that couldn't have been faked.

Crane was well greeted on taking the stage when Not Guilty flashed into its finish, and his little lecture was terse and simple enough to be grasped by all his auditors, from the youngsters up. At the conclusion of the talk, Mr. Crane held an impromptu reception off the stage, with manager Schwartz doing the introducing.

The competitive and somewhat similarly-named journal, The Moving Picture News, in its issue of April 8th, told of a similar venture essayed by Thanhouser's youngest star on Friday, March 24th: "Another Thanhouser player succumbed to the lures of picture-house-talking when Marie Eline, the Thanhouser Kid, journeyed to West Hoboken, New Jersey one evening last week and told her admirers amongst the patrons of Heflich's Theatre that she was really, truly a kid and furthermore let them see it.

The hall was taxed to its 1,200 capacity by the Hobokenites who wanted to see Marie as she is, and when the tot said "Good evening" there was a perfect chorus of welcome. The way to her generous reception had been paved, in a sense, by the running of The Old Curiosity Shop, a dramatic reel, and The Little Fire Chief, Note a comedy reel, a happy selection of subjects in that they showed well Marie's wide range of versatility. As a stage vehicle the youngster employed an imitation of Fanny Ward, and though following a pretentious school act Note she easily held her own. Manager Kutler of Heflich's paid this tribute to the Kid's powers, in a letter to the Thanhouser people dated March 27th:

"We wish to extend many thanks for the great attendance at our house last Friday evening, as little Marie was indeed a marvelous drawing card. I never before had as big a house as that evening. The official attendance record that I have sent Mr. Heflich showed the best business the box office could possibly do under our present seating capacity, and this with no advance billing, no circulars, no slides, no lobby display and merely my singer's announcement on the preceding Wednesday and Thursday that 'The Kid' would appear." Arrangements are now being made whereby Marie may appear in every Independent theatre in and around New York.

Not to be outdone, leading man Martin J. Faust also went up front in a theatre, as reported in The Moving Picture News, April 15, 1911: "Following Frank Crane and the Thanhouser Kid in the same month, a third Thanhouserite has taken the picture lecture after his day's work at New Rochelle is done. Martin J. Faust, who played the leading roles in Robert Emmet, The Vicar of Wakefield, and other 'classics,' is number three. He did a talk on Robert Emmet during the running of the reel at the El Dorado Theatre, Wilkins Avenue, Bronx, New York, on Friday, April 7th. The picture and its leading character were well received."

Heflich's Theatre in Hoboken, earlier the scene of the Thanhouser Kid's success, played host to Frank Crane with a full house on Saturday night, April 22nd. Thanhouser announced that Crane would then go on tour in the Bronx section of New York City and would appear at every Independent theatre in the borough, beginning with Rehm's nickelodeon on Westchester Avenue.

The Charity of the Poor, released April 4, 1911, featured William Russell and Marie Eline in scenes produced following a train wreck in nearby Connecticut. The New York Dramatic Mirror, without careful attention to spelling details, told of an incident during the filming:

INJURED WHILE ACTING: Rhea [sic] Eline, nine years of age and a member of the Thanhouser Moving Picture Company [sic], and Russell Read [sic; should be William Russell], another member of the same company, were injured last Friday morning while enacting a dramatic rescue scene with the wrecked cars at Saugatuck, Connecticut, for a setting. Read, with the girl in his arms, stumbled over some wreckage in passing through the window of an overturned coach. They fell, Russell on top of the little girl, who was carried unconscious to a nearby house. She suffered painful cuts and bruises. Read escaped with an injured right knee.

After the film was released, reviews were mixed.

Vindicated, released April 7, 1911, told of a convict who paid his debt to society but was unable to secure employment upon his release. Finally, he lands a job and achieves success and is promoted, whereupon his past is discovered and he is fired. His sweetheart stands by him, and at her suggestion they both go to the unspecified distant place of his birth, where his past will no longer interfere with his success.

Velvet and Rags, the release of April 11th, which told of a rich boy and a poor boy who envy each other's positions so decide to change places, received enthusiastic reviews. Then came Old Home Week, released April 14th, in which Frank H. Crane played the part of a poor local boy who goes to a distant place and makes good, then returns to a homecoming festival dressed in his old shabby clothes to test whether his former townspeople would like him for his true self rather than his money. He is shunned, and then wreaks revenge by telling them that he has purchased the railroad running through the town and that henceforth the trains will no longer stop at Jayville.

Cally's Comet, the title of which was obviously inspired by Halley's Comet which illuminated the night skies the preceding year, was released on April 18, 1911. We have the characters May and Jack again, as sweethearts. May's father, a celebrated astronomer, tosses Jack out when he comes to visit his love. In a rather improbable plot, Jack paints a picture of a comet on the front lens of the telescope, and the astronomer excitedly announces his new discovery to his peers, but by the time the other astronomers arrive Jack has removed the painting, and the marvelous apparition cannot be located. Jack tells May's father he will replace the comet if he is allowed to marry his daughter, the astronomer consents, the fake comet is once again admired by all, and Jack and May head to the altar.

Weighed in the Balance was next on the schedule. Note Released on April 21st, the film featured Frank H. Crane as the banker and Julia M. Taylor as his daughter. Reviews were generally favorable. The Moving Picture World told the story:

Girls have heretofore offered themselves as sacrifices in distasteful marriages to save their fathers from being turned out of their homes when mortgages fall due, but the exciting incidents connected with this story are seldom present. The feature of this film is a bomb explosion. The audience sees it sputtering and feels as though but a little more would scare it half to death.

The preferred lover, cad-like, tells the girl on her way to the altar to marry the banker, that he is going to commit suicide. She decides to die with him. She finds him with a bomb; he hasn't lighted it. She lights it and its fuse sputters. The cad is scared and runs away. The rich banker finds the girl alone and hurries to find her. He dares to throw the bomb out the window. Thus the two men are weighed. The poor one proves the cad, the rich one a hero. It ends with the wedding march. It is well acted and the photography is clear despite the difficulties of some portions of the subject.

The Billboard found the same film to be "very well staged" and "excellently photographed," and The New York Dramatic Mirror considered the acting and directing to be of a high order and the film to be "well presented" with "fine characterization." On the other hand, most of the commentary in The Morning Telegraph took a diametrically opposing stance:

The staging of this production was so far below the usual standard of the Thanhouser Company that it proved almost a disgrace. The chemist's laboratory could hardly have been more crude. Only three bottles of chemicals were shown in the several views of the room and these always on the same table and in the same positions. Had they been on a shelf it would have been excusable, but they were in use at one time and it was simply a pure case of carelessness in leaving them there. No chemist would be likely to do such a thing.

The bomb was also left on one corner of the table, though some time is supposed to elapse between its first and its last showing. The backing behind the window of this scene looked like a painting on its wall more than a scene outside. The one room shown in the home of the chemist was devoid of any furnishings save one lone chair, a light fixture and a lace curtain. Even if it was supposed to be a corner of a room before folding doors it should have been furnished for mere art's sake, to please the eye, if for no other reason.

When the bomb exploded after being thrown out of the laboratory window, first the table overturns, then the walls fall in, and not a piece of glass is shattered, though it is a large window. The cave-in of the walls did not look particularly natural, either. The story was easily followed and well played in the main, and was sufficiently interesting.

The New Rochelle Pioneer in its issue of April 22nd stated that all was in readiness for the coming Wednesday evening, April 26th, when Thanhouser players and studio employees would band together to stage what was described as an entertainment and ball at Germania Hall, New Rochelle, with the profits earmarked for the benefit of the Hebrew Institution. Actors and actresses would create the dramatic sketch, The Maniac Miser, other entertainment was in the offing, and music was to be provided by Professor Grimmer's Orchestra.


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