Volume I: Narrative History


Chapter 6 (1913): Helping the Fire Victims

While it is not evident that any of the Thanhouser employees suffered irreparable or even serious financial loss, the community, indeed the film industry, rallied to stage a benefit for them. Note Germania Hall was decked out with crepe paper ribbons, posters, and banners on February 4th, and a program of vaudeville skits, Thanhouser films, songs, and recitations was given. Thanhouserites did their part. Signing up for skits and sketches were the Thanhouser Kid and Kidlet, Harry Benham, Mignon Anderson, David Thompson, Demetrio Mitzoras, and others. Bert Adler telephoned outside studios, Licensed as well as Independent, in the New York area, and the response was heartwarming. Pearl White, who at that time was with Crystal and who a year hence would become immortal in film lore as the heroine of The Perils of Pauline serial, agreed to be on stage, as did Gertrude Robinson, of Reliance films, assisted by Elsie Balfour and Walter Robinson.

Adler's plum was the appearance at the event of Vitagraph's comedy star, John Bunny, who was also in vaudeville at the same time and who was one of filmdom's busiest personalities. Later, Note Bert Adler was to recall:

It was right after the Thanhouser fire that destroyed the whole studio and contents, I had charge of a benefit entertainment in behalf of the smaller-salaried players who had lost their all in the blaze. Bunny was playing in vaudeville, Hammerstein's, at a weekly salary of $1,000. I ran into him on Broadway, told him about the benefit performance, and got his consent to appear. I ran around New York and got some other consents, too. But most of the volunteers failed to show up at the hall we rented at New Rochelle the night of the affair. It was a bitter February night, for one thing. But Bunny, despite that thousand-dollar Hammerstein job, got there. Flew from the theatre to New Rochelle in a taxi and saved the day - or, rather, night. That promise to "show" for us, gratis, meant as much to John Bunny as his promise to "show" for the late Willie Hammerstein for $1,000.

Now, the best we were doing for our talent at the entertainment was to furnish transportation expenses and supper. Bunny had supper, and I asked him the amount of his taxi bill for payment. He replied that he didn't know - would let me know next day. A week after that I met him again and he said he didn't remember the amount. Then I met him again and he said he had forgotten it. Next, a letter that I wrote him in the matter went unanswered. That...recollection of John Bunny is one I am not disposed to forget."

When all was said and done, an $850 profit was distributed among the victims. Whether James Cruze and Marguerite Snow benefited is not known.

In the meantime, Charles J. Hite issued a statement Note to the effect that the Thanhouser players would not be assigned to other Mutual companies under his control, for they were very busy making Thanhouser films and were "in no way affected by the recent destruction of the Thanhouser plant at New Rochelle by fire." By early February, Sherlock Holmes Solves The Sign of the Four, the initial negatives for which were destroyed in the fire, had been redone at the Comet studio, and work was progressing on other subjects.

Lloyd F. Lonergan, who had recently moved from New York City to New Rochelle and who was living in an apartment in Beacon Hall next door to the studio, was busy dreaming up scenarios for three different production companies. His broken leg, with which he had suffered for most of December, was nearly mended, and he was able to travel around town. The Morning Telegraph reported on February 16th:

The stranglehold that Lloyd Lonergan, the veteran Thanhouser scenario chief, has upon the affection of New Rochelle was forcibly proved at the ceremonies of the dedication of the city's new police headquarters. The police force was going to march from the old building to the new, and Lonergan wanted to film the parade as props for the Thanhouser Kid. So he simply bade the minions of the law to mark time until his belated photographer arrived. Lloyd tied up the whole works more than 15 minutes that way. But won't the New Rochelle force be glad to see itself on the screen?

The motion picture business continued to be strong, and virtually all Patents Company and Independent firms were enjoying good business. The number of theatres in the United States was growing by leaps and bounds, and a mailing list company advertised Note it could supply the names of 16,118 theatres in the United States, plus an additional 157 theatres in Canada. Of these theatres, 8,500 featured the programs of the Independents. Clearly, the Independents had arrived and, at least from the number of exhibition outlets, now surpassed the old-line Patents Company members. The same mailing list company offered the names of 475 film exchanges and 46 motion picture manufacturers and studios. One of these 16,118 picture houses was the Little Theatre, on Rose Street in New Rochelle, which featured all of the latest Thanhouser releases in combination with other films, stage playlets, and skits. Note

The star system was making rapid headway in America, and one of the most popular promotions a theatre could have was to pass out postcards of featured players. In addition, actors and actresses realized the value of good public relations, and most hastened to send a reply when a fan wrote. The Moving Picture World, March 1, 1913, reported: "Fred Mace, Keystone comedian and president of The Photoplayers, has just purchased 10,000 beautiful postcard photographs of himself. They are worth framing. The request directed to him at 305 S. Union Ave, Los Angeles, if accompanied by a two-cent stamp, will bring one." Likewise, Thanhouser players found that postcards were appealing, and in personal appearances at theatres and through the mail countless thousands were distributed.

The Kraus Manufacturing Company offered images of film stars including postcards featuring Florence LaBadie and James Cruze. Courtesy of Bebe Bergsten (M-33-1)


In Europe, Edwin Thanhouser received news of the fire and sent his regrets to Charles J. Hite and the studio employees. He and Gertrude continued their travels, mainly in Germany, France, and Switzerland. On one occasion the Thanhousers traveled to Hechingen, Germany, where Edwin's maternal grandfather had been a school principal, and in memory of his relative the school was closed for the day of the couple's visit.

Trade writers kept the industry aware of progress at the new studio. On February 23, 1913 The Morning Telegraph reported:

The all-glass Thanhouser studio at New Rochelle to replace the one that was burned, together with Bert Adler's fountain pen, is nearing completion. It will be finished in three weeks. The studio adjoins the new laboratories at Main Street and Echo Avenue which the Thanhouser factory force will occupy this week.

On March 1, 1913, The Moving Picture World carried this item:

The new all-glass studio for the [Thanhouser] Eastern Company at New Rochelle will be ready for use in three weeks and will have four stages. The new laboratories, which will adjoin the studio that is building, will be turning out their first work within a week.

The Morning Telegraph, March 2, 1913, informed its readers: "Thanhouser has completed its temporary studio at a cost of $30,000 they say. Soon work will be started on a permanent studio to cost $200,000 and be fireproof. No more leaps through the flames from the second story for C. J. Hite, lads." The $200,000 facility was to be constructed across the Evans Street alley from the Glass Palace building.

Easter was drawing near on the calendar, and an advertising campaign was readied for The Star of Bethlehem. On March 5th The New York Dramatic Mirror reported:

While portions of the negative print of Star of Bethlehem were lost in the recent blaze in New Rochelle, all of the large supply of positive copies in the studio at the time were saved. This means the Thanhouser Film Corporation can supply copies of the biblical feature to the exchanges when the reels in use at present are too worn for service....

Finally, on March 23, 1913, The Morning Telegraph announced:

The Thanhouser force has moved into the newly furnished temporary studio at Main Street and Echo Avenue, New Rochelle, this week. Note The Eastern section includes a major number of Thanhouser workers, since Los Angeles is a producing studio only, employing just a few factory people. The new temporary buildings are fireproof and each room walled in concrete. The executive offices are on the front of the building and look out on Main Street. Then come the factory departments and then the producing department located in an all-glass studio at the very rear. Lawrence Marston's Eastern Company expect to make a picture in the new home before the week expires. Four large stages which can be operated simultaneously are the temporary studio's capacity, and two open air stages will be added when the warm weather comes.


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