Volume I: Narrative History


Chapter 6 (1913): Maude Fealy

Among the more interesting press notices of the period was one in The New York Dramatic Mirror, June 24, 1913, which informed readers that noted stage actress Maude Fealy would make her her film debut in King René's Daughter, to be released on June 24th. Further:

Miss Fealy has gone to New Rochelle to live for the summer, and there is no truth to the report that she joined the theatrical stock company in the West. She will go right on working for Thanhouser, and the nearest the Western city will get to seeing her will be in Thanhouser films.

Just about every statement in this report was false. In reality, Maude Fealy had appeared in films earlier, and this was not her screen debut; King René's Daughter was to be released on July 1, 1913; and most of her summer was subsequently spent in Denver, where she was on stage at the Lakeside Theatre in Elitch's Gardens.

In April 1913 Miss Fealy signed a three-year contract with Charles J. Hite, which included employment for her husband, James Durkin, who subsequently became a Thanhouser director. The couple rented an apartment in Beacon Hall adjacent to the studio, and thereafter Miss Fealy spent seven weeks making King René's Daughter. Completing the film, Miss Fealy went to Denver, where she spent parts of June, July, and August.

An article in the Denver Times, July 27, 1913, quoted Miss Fealy:

"Three or four years ago, when I received my first offer to work in moving pictures, I thought this work was cheap and cheapening, Note but I no longer think so and am enthusiastic over the endless possibilities in this field for legitimate stars. The financial rewards are also worthy of consideration. For instance, I sold my American royalty rights in King René's Daughter, the first production in which I appeared, for $11,500." Note

The development of the producing end of the motion picture business really reached its height when Mme. Bernhardt played La Tosca before the camera. Since then, lured by the big salaries now offered and the splendid royalties possible when a picture goes well with the public, such people as Mrs. Fiske, Lily Langtry, Sir Beerbohm Tree, Lewis Waller, Maude Adams, and others have joined the ranks of moving picture leads. Forbes-Robertson has just signed to play Hamlet and other Shakespearean roles.

Great things were expected of Miss Fealy, and Charles J. Hite hoped that she would be a star with great appeal to moviegoers. In the meantime, her husband, James Durkin, directed numerous films. Maude Fealy made her debut as a Thanhouser leading lady in King René's Daughter. Released in three reels on Tuesday, July 1st, the film was adapted from Henrik Heri's poetic drama and was directed by W. Eugene Moore, Jr., who during the era produced many of the studio's more important films. The plot was familiar to many patrons of the speaking stage. The Bioscope commented: "King René's Daughter, in which so many famous English actors have appeared at one time or another, has always seemed one of the most charming little pieces of the kind one knows of." In The Moving Picture World Louis Reeves Harrison was unstinting in his praise, and, undoubtedly to the delight of Charles J. Hite and everyone else at the New Rochelle studio, didn't find a single fault - not even a tiny one. Harrison considered it to be "one of the most beautiful photodramas ever exhibited on the screen," and from that point went on to find the scenic effects "remarkable and impressive," Miss Fealy's performance to be "an intellectual delight for those who enjoy the more delicate phases of acting," and the directing an "unqualified success" which "deserves high commendation." The New York Dramatic Mirror likewise found the film to be outstanding.

Miss Fealy had been launched with success. Coming months would see her featured in advertising more than any other Thanhouser actress. Most of this advertising was under the Mutual, rather than Thanhouser name, however. At the time, Charles J. Hite was quite comfortable with Thanhouser and things in New Rochelle. The studio players and other employees were a loyal group, Lloyd F. Lonergan could be counted on to generate a stream of scenarios, and it was felt that the Thanhouser Film Corporation could run itself with relatively little supervision.

With dreams of grandeur not uncommon to studio owners at the time, Hite was not content to concentrate his efforts in New Rochelle, as we have seen, and was busy with other ventures as well. The New Majestic studio in far-off Los Angeles required his attention, as did the Mutual Film Corporation itself. He seized the opportunity to promote Miss Fealy as a Mutual star, for Mutual needed the publicity more than the Thanhouser Film Corporation did. Besides, this was less disruptive to the stock company players at the New Rochelle studio, for their salaries were mostly in the $50 to $100 week range, with payments up to $125 weekly for such stars as Florence LaBadie, Marguerite Snow, and James Cruze. It is to be recalled that Muriel Ostriche, who was a well-known player with Eclair and Reliance earlier, had just been hired for $65 per week. What Miss Fealy was paid is not known, but if she was given $11,500 for the American rights to King René's Daughter, this payment for a single film was double the yearly salary of any other Thanhouser star!

This was a time of transition in the industry, and the stock company concept was giving way to the star system, which was gaining momentum with hurricane force. Fans were loyal to their screen favorites, and, increasingly, the players were becoming more important than the films in which they played. It would be only a year or two before theatres would display banners stating "Charlie Chaplin Lives Here," "John Bunny Today," or simply "Mary Pickford" - with the film title not mentioned, unless one looked closely at posters or lobby notices. Charles J. Hite wanted a prime entry in the star system, and it was hoped that Maude Fealy would carry the Mutual Film Corporation to fortune.

In July 1913, two fan magazines tabulated the results of contests to determine the most popular players. Such competitions were staged with regularity by newspapers and magazines alike and were hardly unbiased. Anyone wanting to promote a favorite player could submit hundreds of votes simply by selling a few subscriptions. For example, the Popular Players Contest closing July 23, 1913, sponsored by The Motion Picture Story Magazine, sold votes on the following basis: one 4-month subscription: 75 votes; one 6-month subscription: 200 votes; one 12-month subscription: 500 votes; and so on, up to a maximum of 15,000 votes to anyone who acted as a salesman and who sold 25 one-year subscriptions. Note In addition, "every reader may vote twice each month, once for a male player and once for a female player."

When the votes were totaled, players associated with Patents Company firms swept the field. It wasn't a coincidence that J. Stuart Blackton, who published the magazine, was an officer of Vitagraph, a Patents Company studio! Coming in first was Romaine Fielding, the well-known Lubin player and director, with an overwhelming 1,311,018 votes, while the following earned over 100,000 votes each: Earle Williams (Vitagraph; 739,985), J. Warren Kerrigan (American; 531,966), Alice Joyce (Kalem; 462,380), Carlyle Blackwell (Kalem; 296,684), Francis X. Bushman (Essanay; 252,750), G.M. Anderson (Essanay; 217,069), Muriel Ostriche (Thanhouser; 212,276), Arthur Johnson (Lubin; 209,800), Mary Fuller (Edison; 191,759), Edith Storey (Vitagraph; 188,161), Crane Wilbur (Pathé 186,854), Maurice Costello (Vitagraph; 183,422), Ormi Hawley (Lubin 152;327), Mary Pickford (Famous Players; 130,592), Florence LaBadie (Thanhouser; 108,641), Clara Kimball Young (Vitagraph; 108,615), and Marguerite Snow (Thanhouser; 106,518).

Although the Patents Company members carried away nearly all the top honors, the Thanhouser studio could comfort itself with the news that Muriel Ostriche came in second among all actresses, right after Alice Joyce. While Thanhouser had Miss Ostriche, Florence LaBadie, and Marguerite Snow among those who gathered over 100,000 votes, the only other name among the traditional Independents group was J. Warren Kerrigan of the American studio. Muriel Ostriche, a new arrival at the Thanhouser studio, probably drew her votes from those who had seen her in Eclair and Reliance films, and handily outdistanced Mary Pickford, of Famous Players, who would go on to become America's highest paid actress.

A competing publication, The Photoplay Magazine, in July 1913 announced the results of its similarly conceived Great Popularity Contest. In this particular competition the opposite results were seen, and Independent players wiped out nearly all competition from Patents Company actors and actresses! Coming in first was J. Warren Kerrigan, of American, with 195,550 votes, while second was Thanhouser's Marguerite Snow with 189,391, followed by James Cruze (Thanhouser; 165,291), King Baggot (IMP; 158,475), Florence Lawrence (136,645), Florence LaBadie (Thanhouser; 124,260), Mary V. Hall (Universal; 101,780), and Marie Eline (Thanhouser; 97,560).

Others who finished near the top were, in descending order of popularity: Pauline Bush (American), Gertrude Robinson (Reliance), Dixie Compton (Universal), Isabel Lamon (Eclair), Mary Pickford (Famous Players), Jack Richardson (American), Marion Leonard (Monopol), Mabel Trunelle (Edison; the first Patents Company player on the list!), Frances Ford (Kay-Bee), Pearl White (Crystal), Harry Benham (Thanhouser), Jessalyn von Trump (American), Edward Genung, Owen Moore (Victor), Phillips Smalley (Rex), Mignon Anderson (Thanhouser), Alice Joyce (Kalem), Grace Cunard, William Russell (Thanhouser), William Garwood (listed as Thanhouser; actually he was with New Majestic at the time), Ford Sterling (Keystone), Harry Marks (Thanhouser), Gene Gauntier (Gene Gauntier Film Co.), Dorothy Gibson (Eclair), and Jean Darnell (Thanhouser). Thanhouser was elated, for its players garnered 10 of the top 33 places and four of the top 10, the strongest showing of any studio.

In the absence of any formally conducted polls during the era, such contests, biased as they were, may still serve as an indication of the actors and actresses who drew the most attention. However, the results show that the top finalists were probably the players that the magazine owners wanted to win. In both contests combined, Thanhouser fared the best of any studio, Patents Company or Independent - a remarkable accomplishment.

From July 8th to 12th the Grand Central Palace in New York City was the site of the third national convention of the Motion Picture Exhibitors League of America. The event featured meetings, discussions, exhibits, and many other activities, primarily oriented toward movie fans and the general public. Mutual had booths with exhibits decorated with pennants emblazoned with Kay-Bee, Thanhouser, Reliance, Majestic, Keystone, and other trademarks. The Moving Picture World, July 26, 1913, reported:

[On display] were busts of James Cruze and Maude Fealy of the Thanhouser Players and photos of Miss Snow of the same company. Then there were large frames containing pictures of the entire American, Reliance and Thanhouser stock companies. Wednesday night was Thanhouser Night, and the acting staff of this concern distributed souvenirs to the crowds; the following night the members of the Reliance Company held a similar reception. The result of each reception was a broken railing on the side of the booth facing the crowds. The Thanhouser Kidlet was the star, of course, of the Thanhouser players' reception....

Flo LaBadie, one of the prettiest of the Thanhouser leading women, has lost her limp. Probably you never knew she had one, but had you been present at the Thanhouser reception at the Moving Picture Exposition, New York, you'd have known about it. The reception was given by the Thanhouser players in the Mutual booth, and canes and fans were distributed. Miss LaBadie's stand was in the left hand corner of the booth. The mob outside of the booth, in its efforts to get souvenirs, tore down the rail before the booth, and finally the fire authorities told Bert Adler to stop the souvenir distribution while the private officers cleared the aisle. When the rail before the portion of the booth where Miss LaBadie stood gave way, it fell on her knee, causing some bruises. Miss LaBadie now says that the photoplay actress isn't only in danger in leaping-for-life moving picture scenes.

The convention was covered in the August 1913 issue of The Motion Picture Story Magazine:

The average daily attendance was 12,000 people from all parts of the globe, and this magazine's headquarters was one of the centers of attraction. On the opening night many of our guests talked to the heads of the magazine and expressed disappointment that they could not see and meet some of the popular picture players. We kept a record of the stars in demand and found that the honor roll of the Popular Players Contest, without a single exception, contained the much-sought for names. The following morning our telephone wires were surcharged with conversation, with the result that John Bunny, Muriel Ostriche, Maurice Costello, Arthur Johnson, and Jack Clark volunteered to help receive our guests of Tuesday evening. On following evenings such well-known friends as Earle Williams, Lillian Walker, Ethel Grandin, Paul Panzer, Tefft Johnson, E.K. Lincoln, Gene Gauntier, James Young, Clara Kimball Young, Barney Oldfield, Pearl Sindelar, Rosemary Theby, and Flora Finch responded to our calls and graciously made their devoirs to the public.

Meanwhile, at New Rochelle the regular players continued to turn out three films each week. July 4, 1913, saw the release of Her Two Jewels, featuring Mignon Anderson and Marie Eline. Reviews were mixed. For the Man She Loved, first shown on July 8th, had what The Moving Picture World considered to be a flaw: "Quite a pleasing story is this, telling of a girl who dropped her bracelet in a canyon. Her lover goes down with a rope to get it. The rival pulls the rope up, leaving him there to die. But the girl discovers him and goes down, puts the rope about him and pulls him up with the aid of her horse. It looks impossible, and chances are it never really was done that way, but it makes an interesting picture."

An Errand of Mercy, released on July 11, 1913, was followed by a children's film, A Crepe Bonnet, on the 13th. Tannhäuser, released in three reels on July 15th, had been staged earlier in the year at the studio in Los Angeles. In Thanhouser's advance advertising for this film in the July 5, 1913 issue of The Moving Picture World the title of the film was given as Thanhouser, rather than Tannhäuser, perhaps because the typesetter was unfamiliar with the title and thought it was submitted in error!

The Morning Telegraph commented:

Following after the lines of Wagner's opera, the Thanhouser Company has made a very acceptable production of three reels of Tannhäuser. Marguerite Snow appears to advantage in the role of the Princess Elizabeth, James Cruze plays the role of Tannhäuser very cleverly, and Florence LaBadie flits about as the pagan goddess Venus in the most fragile draperies that the law allows, presenting a pretty and graceful figure. One of the most attractive points about the production is the effectiveness of the frequent dissolving scenes. They are specially noticeable where Venus lures Tannhäuser over the mountains and brings him to her tempting kingdom where her retinue of nymphs, as pretty and graceful as herself, dance about the green or frolic in the water. On the whole, the production must be classed as meritorious. The scene of Elizabeth's bier and the death of Tannhäuser is very effectively done.

The Brethren of the Sacred Fish, a comedy issued on July 20th, garnered some of the most enthusiastic reviews given a one-reel Thanhouser film of the era. The commentary in The New York Dramatic Mirror is typical:

Of the Thanhouser comedies released lately, this one is quite the most laugh provoking. The idea for the farce is unique, and much of the business introduced is clever. Unless the druggist whips the butcher, his fiancée will break the engagement. The druggist is a smaller man than the butcher, and in order to accomplish his ends he lays elaborate plans for a fake lodge, with the assistance of the butcher's friends, which he induces the butcher to join. One of the tests of the initiation is humility. One can imagine the rest - what happens to the butcher.

In the meantime in advertising Note Thanhouser was emphasizing its stars: "Coming! A staggering list of Thanhouser Classics, in two and three reels and featuring such stars as Maude Fealy, Marguerite Snow, James Cruze, Flo LaBadie, Mignon Anderson, William Russell, Harry Benham, the Kid and the Kidlet."

The Moving Picture World, July 26, 1913, carried the following items:

President Hite of the Thanhouser Film Corporation now has a real yacht and is a member of the exclusive New Rochelle Yacht Club up in the section where the Thanhouser pictures are made. The name of the boat is The Dividend. Lloyd Lonergan is chief mate and Bert Adler steward. It is understood that every time Bert Adler buys a loaf of bread for the boat he asks the baker for a commission, just like a regular steward. Indeed, it is hinted that this is exactly why he wanted the job. William Russell has joined the Thanhouser Auto Brigade. It is a Pope-Toledo and said to be quite trimmer than any other machine in the Thanhouser fleet. One reason ascribed for the large purchase of automobiles by Thanhouserites is that there is nothing else to do in New Rochelle.

Philip Lonergan, who had served as an assistant scriptwriter to Lloyd F. Lonergan since about May of the preceding year, was transferred by Charles J. Hite to the Majestic studio in Los Angeles, where he was to be in charge of writing and purchasing scenarios for the New Majestic company. Note The Moving Picture World, August 2, 1913, told more:

RUNS DEPARTMENT ALONE: How would you like to be an entire scenario department all to yourself? That's what Lloyd Lonergan, producing representative and scenario head of Thanhouser studio, is this week. His assistants, Phil Lonergan and Elmer Harris, have jumped over to Los Angeles and New Majestic and the veteran Thanhouser editor has simply been too rushed with work to fix up with other assistants in their absence. He has merely stuck to his job and filled in for the entire department. Lonergan is the chap who has written almost every Thanhouser story that was ever produced. He is also famous as a chief mate of C.J. Hite's yacht The Dividend. In fact, Mr Hite has Lonergan to thank for the yacht, as the Thanhouser head had originally purchased it only to use in a Lonergan yachting story.

At the end of July, the Mutual Film Corporation made plans to move its headquarters from 60 Wall Street, New York City, to the 24th floor of the Masonic Temple Building, located at 6th Avenue and 23rd Street (71 West 23rd Street). In the same establishment, the Empire Exchange, one of over two dozen outlets in the Mutual network, would have facilities. On the ground floor of the same edifice, an office for James N. Naulty, Mutual's purchasing agent, was to be set up. Note


The New York Dramatic Mirror, August 13, 1913, reported: "Hector Streyckmans, one of the best known publicity men in the picture business, has resigned as editor of The Mutual Weekly to devote his time to exploitation of feature films. The new company will handle six-reel pictures. Their first release will be The Betrothal, taken from Manzoni's novel." Note The Mutual Weekly was soon renamed Reel Life.

The arrangement with his new company proved to be short-lived, and on October 11, 1913 The Moving Picture World informed its readers: "Hector J. Streyckmans, who recently left the Mutual Film Corporation to organize the Pasquali American Company, has sold his interest in the latter company and is considering other connections. As there is no better informed or more capable motion picture man than Mr. Streyckmans he will soon be placed." On October 25, 1913 The Moving Picture World reported that Streyckmans had become the manager of the Pilot studio and factory in Yonkers, New York, and that: "The Pilot Company has underway some pretentious projects and will release nothing but big productions." Note

A few months earlier, on April 2, 1913, the same periodical reported an important event: "H.J. Streyckmans, the DeWolf Hopper Note of motion pictures, has been married again. The present Mrs. Streyckmans, who was Miss Della Musselman, of Stamford, Connecticut, is only 18 years of age. After the ceremony, at which Miss May Kenny was bridesmaid, A.D. Kessel gave a dinner at Wallack's."

Among other news in the summer of 1913, Marie Eline, the Thanhouser Kid, opened in a vaudeville act on July 7th at Proctor's Fifth Avenue Theatre, where she took top billing in a program featuring over a dozen stage celebrities. Note Madeline and Marion Fairbanks, the Thanhouser Twins, were also in vaudeville in July, and even infant Helen Badgley, the Thanhouser Kidlet, was seen on stage. Note

The Moving Picture World waxed philosophical in its August 16th issue: "Mighty scarce is the prophet with honor in his own land. And in his own film land. It is funny how many film producing plants are located in places that have few picture houses showing the homemade brand of film...." This did not apply to New Rochelle, the article continued, where of five motion picture theatres in town, four showed Thanhouser films.

On August 17th Charles J. Hite's wife Gertrude gave birth to the couple's second child, Muriel Josephine, whose first name was given in honor of Muriel Ostriche, although in later years Muriel Ostriche recalled that although Charles J. Hite was a fixture around the studio, she did not remember ever meeting Mrs. Hite. Reel Life Note printed a cartoon with this caption: "Mr. C.J. Hite, who is smiling this week over a beautiful little device for producing sound and motion simultaneously."


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