Volume I: Narrative History


Chapter 6 (1913): Muriel Ostriche

Miss Mischief, first screened on June 8, 1913, had Muriel Ostriche in the title role. Miss Ostriche, who had entered films with Biograph in autumn 1911, achieved recognition with Eclair and Reliance before coming to New Rochelle. In an interview Note with the present author she told of her transition:

The man who got me into Thanhouser, and set up my interview with Lloyd Lonergan, was named Lyle. He was quite in love with me, and that's why he wanted me to join the company. I didn't know he was a married man at the time, and he didn't say so, but I later found out he was. When I was in the movies I had quite a few guys in love with me. I don't remember much about this Lyle fellow, except I know that he was a pest. He was involved in a movie. He took me out to dinner one evening, had a nice time, and told Thanhouser about me - what a beautiful girl I was, and how they should get me.

I started with Thanhouser at $65 per week, less than the $75 I was offered to stay at Reliance, but I agreed to go to Thanhouser before Reliance offered me more, and when I went to Thanhouser I didn't want to change the agreement. Thanhouser had a beautiful spot in New Rochelle. You could go out the back door of the studio and be right on the water. My mother would often go up and spend the day with me there. Soon, I met Florence LaBadie, the Thanhouser star, and each day we would take the train together from New York City to New Rochelle. Of course, I also saw her a lot in the studio. She was a wonderful girl, a great actress, and my dearest friend at the time....

Mignon Anderson was another close friend of mine.... Charles J. Hite, who directed the studio after he bought it from Edwin Thanhouser, liked me very much and named a daughter after me. My experiences at Thanhouser were wonderful, and I dearly remember Florence LaBadie and all of my friends there.

Miss Ostriche's first film, Miss Mischief, elicited one of the best reviews The New York Dramatic Mirror gave to any Thanhouser picture of the time:

An excellent comedy and a laugh producer, combining as it does a duel, a fist fight, a cock fight, and a pretty girl. Mother's youthful daughter is expelled from school and returns home to stir up trouble on the farm. Two young rubes, victims of her whims, battle with each other in various ways in order to gain her admiration and approbation. Their fist fight proves a failure in deciding the question, so the girl suggests a cock fight, the owner of the rooster which wins to be the favored suitor. When the cock fight is well under way in the barn where interested friends have gathered, the girl yells 'police' and everybody runs. This is the last straw for the mother, and the girl is ushered back to another school on the following day. Directed with skill, the series of incidents is of the kind to make good fun.

Years later, Miss Ostriche was to recall this initial New Rochelle effort:

I remember well this, my first Thanhouser film. I had a great time. There was a cock fight, and I remember sliding down into a cellar with lots of hay over everything. I remember that it was staged out on a farm, and for some reason I had to climb a tree while wearing high heels, and I almost broke my leg when I fell off. No matter what I did, I was always getting into mischief, but everybody liked me.

Muriel Ostriche was a hit with reviewers, and the vast majority of her Thanhouser films were received with enthusiasm.

While Baby Slept, released on June 10, 1913, featured Riley Chamberlin as the unwanted grandfather and Marguerite Snow and William Russell as the young couple. The scenario was innocent enough: The young farmer and his wife shared their home with his father, an old and peevish man who was so crippled that he could not walk a step. Exasperated, the wife made arrangements to send the old man to the poorhouse. One day the unwanted oldster was at home alone, except for his infant grandchild sleeping in another room. Unseen, a large venomous snake slithered through the slightly open front door and into the baby's room. The grandfather, who couldn't move, watched with horror, then saved the day by writing a note, fastening it to a dog's collar, and sending the canine out to fetch the farmer working in the field.

Lloyd F. Lonergan slipped a gear on this one. He should have learned from the reviews of Barred From the Mails that audiences do not like to see an infant mistreated. Critics were unanimous in their condemnation. The Morning Telegraph commented: "This is a most unpleasant picture, which is evidently intended only for a thrill. An immense snake is utilized in the film, and in the course of the picture is allowed to glide into the bed where lies a sleeping child." The Moving Picture World seconded the motion and stated the film "will probably be repulsive to sensitive observers." The New York Dramatic Mirror agreed: "A ten-foot snake hovering over an eight-week-old baby ready to devour it is a bad situation for anyone with sensitive nerves.... When thrills are had at the expense of good taste there is no room for great rejoicing."

Next on the Thanhouser schedule came His Sacrifice on June 13th, followed by The Head of the Ribbon Counter on the 15th and The Snare of Fate on the 17th. The last film in particular was well reviewed. The Eye of Krishla, issued on the 22nd, featured Harry Benham in a female role as a countess. Gender turnabouts were popular at the time, and press notices made much of Benham's impersonation, as they did from time to time when Riley Chamberlin essayed female roles. On the other hand, Marie Eline played boys' roles frequently, but no comment was made, for at the time, on the screen as well as on the stage, children played roles of either sex interchangeably. The Eye of Krishla had photography "somewhat dim in places," according to The Moving Picture World. In the same vein, The New York Dramatic Mirror commented: "The action is slow, and this, combined with the obscure photography that marks the picture, destroys a good portion of the interest." Gone were the days when Thanhouser photography set the standard for the industry.

Forgive Us Our Trespasses, issued on June 24th, and The Lost Combination, released on the 27th, both had weak plots according to reviewers. A Modern Lochinvar, Thanhouser's film of June 29th, used as a backdrop a women's suffrage parade held in New York City, "but the parade features are of no great help to the plot in this particular instance," commented The Moving Picture World. Lloyd F. Lonergan, solo scriptwriter, was being spread thin, for in addition to his work for Thanhouser he continued to turn out plots for Majestic films as well. He was assisted from time to time by his brother, Philip Lonergan, and by Elmer B. Harris, a scriptwriter for the Mutual Film Corporation, but by and large the creation of scenarios was Lonergan's responsibility. Perhaps it is no wonder that fresh ideas sometimes gave way to rehashes of old themes, as, for example, in The Lost Combination, of which The Moving Picture World remarked: "This plot has been used before in almost identically the same way."


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