Volume I: Narrative History


Chapter 6 (1913): Princess

On August 23rd an advertisement in Reel Life announced additions to the Mutual Program: "FILMS OF QUALITY: Announcement of growth where we can better serve the interests of the public and exhibitors is always a happy time to us. We are like the pictures we distribute, always in motion, and our new forward movement marks a new era for the Mutual Program. Four new brands of films will be presented at an early date. ROYAL - PRINCESS - KOMIC - APOLLO. Note We promise the productions from these studios will be gems of the first water, and your appetite, already whetted by our famous Thanhouser, Reliance, Majestic, Bronco [sic; it was usually spelled "Broncho" at the time], Kay-Bee, American, Keystone and Mutual Weekly will be satisfied. The 60 Mutual offices will have the exclusive distribution of the new brands. Mutual Film Corporation, 71 West 23rd Street, New York City."

More was told in Reel Life on October 18th:

The Mutual program will soon release the Princess photoplays, made at New Rochelle. Titles of initial releases are Looking for Trouble, Lobster Salad and Milk, and The Campaign Manageress, farces as the names would indicate. In these Muriel Ostriche, a petite and attractive actress, who figures in popularity contests, and Marie Kline [sic; should be Eline], popularly known as the Thanhouser Kid, are the featured leads.

This new company has the distinction of having a director who is also the cameraman. Carl Gregory fills this combined position, having had a tryout while with the Edison Company, who suggested that he should use the scenarios while taking the pictures. He was ambitious and 'made good,' to use the vernacular of the day. There is no secret attached to his success. It is a simple sum in arithmetic; i.e., constantly adding new information to what he already knew. To illustrate: He became interested in photography before entering college, and paid his way through the Ohio State University, from which he was graduated in 1904, having taken the requisite course in chemistry. Finding laboratory work too confining, he opened a studio in Mexico, and later, while staging Burr McIntosh's lectures, did many kinds of photographic work, including the production of views, lantern slides and motion pictures.

The Thanhouser Company was in its infancy, getting out the second picture, when he was engaged as cameraman, and that was over three and a half years ago. But not until recently was he thoroughly initiated. He was then at Cape May, where he put on four complete scenarios with some of the Thanhouser players and four other scenarios in conjunction with the studio. This work was so satisfactory that when it was decided to launch the Princess company, he was assigned the position of cameraman-director. Note

Omitted from the preceding list was the actual first release under the Princess label: The Final Game. Issued on October 17th, it was a documentary composed of scenes from the fifth and final game of the 1913 World Series held at the Polo Grounds, New York City. Reel Life, October 11th, carried an advertisement:

PRINCESS FILMS, Mutual Program, start the ball rolling with a timely baseball beat, The Final Game. The New York Giants, champions of the National League, defeating the Philadelphia Athletics in the last contest of the season. First views of the new blood for next year's team of League Champions and exclusive views, too!

Get a line on the prospects of the champions for next season by seeing the only picture of their recruits in an actual game! 1000 feet of timeliness! Baseball has more fans than any other sport. More fans are interested in the new Giants than in any other phase of the baseball situation. This exclusive reel meets a great popular demand - Satisfy it! Released Friday, October 17th.... Watch for big announcement of PRINCESS STARS!

The Final Game was a last-minute production hastily assembled from footage taken at the World Series and at a rookie training session and was distributed under the Princess label as a matter of convenience. Beforehand, it was planned that Princess films would showcase the talents of Muriel Ostriche, and that was soon to happen.

Next on the Thanhouser schedule was Beauty in the Seashell, on October 19th, a fantasy filmed at Cape May, which was immediately followed on October 21st by another film taken at the same place, The Mystery of the Haunted Hotel, which drew the attention of The Moving Picture World: "This story, while well enough photographed, lacks dramatic effect, and without this it is not very successful for a story of its kind. The manner in which the young doctor restores the girl sleepwalker to health makes a pretty love story, but the ending was abrupt." The following release was Old Folks at Home, on October 24th.

The second film made by the Princess Department, as the new division of Thanhouser was called, was released on October 24th and titled Lobster Salad and Milk. Muriel Ostriche was featured as the older sister, with Marie Eline as the younger one who eats all sorts of unusual snacks before going to bed and soon has nightmares. The Moving Picture World called it "good entertainment of the kind and nicely pictured."

Now, the release days for the Mutual Program stood as follows: Note

Sunday: Apollo, Thanhouser

Monday: American, Keystone, Reliance

Tuesday: Thanhouser

Wednesday: Broncho, Mutual Weekly (newsreel), Reliance

Thursday: American, Domino, Keystone

Friday: Kay-Bee, Thanhouser, Princess

Saturday: American, Reliance

The Silver-Tongued Orator, issued on October 26th, was reviewed by The Moving Picture World:

An amusing skit, in which James Cruze impersonates a grocery clerk who becomes afflicted with a hobby for oratory. He tires out the grocery trade with his ranting, bores his sweetheart, and is thrown out of a clambake gathering. After numerous unpleasant experiences he decides to go into Chautauqua. A bright comedy offering.

Reviews of Thanhouser comedies of the period were mostly favorable, and in this category the studio was achieving notable success. The advent of the new Princess films, which were nearly all of a humorous character, was fortuitous. Dramas earned mixed reviews, often unfavorable. Reproductions adapted from standard works of literature often fell short of the mark, due in part to the desire of the typical audience to see modern films depicting modern situations. Photography was still a problem, but not as often as earlier in the year. Acting, on balance, was good to excellent. Clearly, the Thanhouser players were holding up their end of the bargain.

Scenarios represented the area of greatest weakness and were often found by reviewers to be illogical, stale, uninteresting, or without substance. While Lloyd Lonergan excelled in writing scripts during the first three years of the studio's output, now with three Thanhouser and one Princess release each week, plus a monthly four-reel production for the Mutual Program, his ideas and energy were being spread thin, and even with the help of his brother Philip the pace of good stories could not be maintained. The Majestic and Mutual films being produced in the New Rochelle studio contributed to the sapping of everyone's energy except, perhaps, Charles J. Hite's.

In the meantime, Thanhouser expansion plans were detailed in a news release: Note

A new building, specially constructed, will house the executive offices at the Thanhouser plant from now on. These offices have hitherto been located in the factory end of the New Rochelle establishment, facing Main Street. The new executive office building is on the side street to the left of the factory. The old quarters will be taken over by the factory workers, who will use them as joining rooms. The new office structure is of stone and contains private offices for Mr. Hite, Mr. Lonergan, and Mr. Adler and special rooms for the bookkeepers and stenographers. Uniformed attendants will be stationed at the gate.

The next regular Thanhouser picture, How Filmy Won His Sweetheart, was adapted from a story written by Arthur S. Crosskey and was set in England. Arthur Chamberlin was Filmy, a movie projectionist, and Lydia Mead, in her first Thanhouser role, was his sweetheart. The Moving Picture World commented: "There are quite a few smiles tucked away in this offering, in which Riley Chamberlin appears as a cameraman [sic]. This shows a moving picture within a moving picture within a moving picture, all of the action taking place backward in one of them. Filmy finally makes enough money to win back his girl. A very fair comedy." The New York Dramatic Mirror found the picture interesting but "without much strength of plot."

A Twentieth Century Farmer, released on October 31st, was billed as a drama but actually was a comedy. William Russell took the part of the farmer, while Florence LaBadie was his sweetheart. Florence's parents hope she will marry a young banker selected by them and thus advance up the social scale. To their distress, at a dance she meets a farmer and they both fall in love. They marry and go to live in rusticity, whereupon she finds that his farm has every modern appliance and convenience, even an attentive butler, a shower bath for the pigs, and a fleet of automobiles, all in luxurious surroundings befitting a prince. By contrast, the young banker is found to be a penurious clerk with insufficient ability to merit even the $10 per week salary he is paid. The Motion Picture News reviewed the production in a special category - educational films - because of all of the modern gadgets featured.

Algy's Awful Auto, a Princess film featuring Muriel Ostriche, was released on October 31 and told of Muriel's sweetheart, Algy, who wins an automobile in a raffle and is afraid to take driving lessons on the street. He brings the vehicle inside, where he succeeds in making a shambles of his bedroom. Later, he gets up the courage to take Muriel on a drive outside. Finally in exasperation he trades the vehicle to a railway agent in exchange for two tickets home on the train. "A fairly amusing number," commented The Moving Picture World.

The Water Cure, distributed on November 2, 1913, was the fifth picture in the Cape May series. The Moving Picture World reviewed it: "This entertaining film shows what the good-looking Thanhouser players can accomplish with a light plot. Flo finds herself at Cape May, surrounded by many suitors. She says, 'Isn't the ocean cute?' Later, when her canoe upsets, she is rescued in turn by numerous aspiring heroes. A lot of good humor in this and pretty summer resort pictures." Once again a film was found to have good acting but a weak scenario.

The Junior Partner, released on November 4th, featured James Durkin, husband of Maude Fealy, in his first film role, according to Thanhouser publicity. Florence LaBadie took the part of the twice-married girl who escapes through a trapdoor after being trapped in a hut. In reality, action in the picture centered around a house fire at the former Hannan residence, the filming of which was described in The New Rochelle Pioneer, September 27, 1913:

"Where's the fire?" exclaimed many excited persons in the vicinity of lower Main Street, Thursday afternoon. "Look's like another Ware conflagration," remarked as many others, and were it not for the fact that several moving picture cameras were in evidence, and a large number of the "movie hams" were running around in the most vivid and weird of costumes, the majority of people who saw heavy black smoke rising into the air would have thought that a section of New Rochelle was about to be wiped out by fire.

Lay rest your fears. It was none other than our friends, the Thanhouser Corporation, who had made special preparations to burn down a house for the amusement of many persons who were tipped off, and also to take pictures which were to be used in four different films. It was a good thing, for the house, or rather the shack, was certainly a drawback to the good looks of the city. In a tumbledown condition, with windows out and blinds broken, the house was invaded by directors and others who placed quantities of kerosene in every nook and corner. Then the match was applied and it was not long before the house was a mass of flames.

Enter the cameras, and br-r-r-r-r went the cranks. One camera was directed on a pathetic spectacle, another on one of a more serious nature, a third on just a bit of comedy furnished by some of the local fun-makers, and the fourth was turned on - well if any one could describe it, they shall be rewarded with one week's subscription to the Pioneer. Note

The production had a good "house," for there were many people present. Automobiles galore lined the two curbs. Children, dismissed from school, hurried to the scene, and many went without their lunch in order to see everything that was going on. After the movie people had finished the work, our noble firemen finished by playing the hose, and matters were in the same light as they had been previous to the visit of the popular corporation.

Little Brother, issued on November 7th, was the sixth and last film in the Cape May series. The Moving Picture World commented: "In this courtship William Russell and Flo LaBadie play the roles. The little brother brings them together after a quarrel. The scenes picturing the crabbing expedition were very interesting and will be particularly appreciated by people who have indulged in the sport. A light comedy offering of a pleasing sort."

Subsequently, little Leland Benham was to recall his work in the title role: Note

Last summer I went to Cape May with father to take Little Brother, a picture that Mr. Lonergan had wrote for me. In one part of the picture we had a crabbing party. So, as Pop says, we combined business with pleasure and really caught a lot of crabs, all but Pa, he only caught one little one.

We put the big ones in a bag to give to the man at the hotel to cook for our folks, but I asked Pop to give me the little one he caught to play with. He did, but I didn't play with it for very long, because it got hold of my finger and I had a hard time getting it off; and, gee, it did hurt and bled, too; then all the people laughed at me because I cried, but I will bet if they were only seven years old and had a crab on their finger they would cry too.

Friday, the Thirteenth, a Princess film released on Friday, November 7, 1913, featured Muriel Ostriche and a newcomer. The Moving Picture World printed a short comment in its November 15th issue:

The handsome dark-haired, dark-eyed leading man who plays opposite Muriel Ostriche in the Princess films is playing his first picture engagement. He is Boyd Marshall, from the musical comedy stage and long a favorite with Kolb & Dill in Frisco and at the New York Hippodrome.

He makes his film bow in the Princess reel entitled Friday, the Thirteenth, as Miss Ostriche's superstitious husband. Several well-known picture actors were offered to Mr. Hite for the leading man job in the new brand, but he decided on the 'new face' because in Miss Ostriche and Marie Eline he had old favorites. The latter is the little lady who was famous for many years as the Thanhouser Kid.

The picture was well acted, according to reviewers, but had a slight plot.

Marshall was to be Miss Ostriche's leading man in many Princess films, and within a few months movie fans were to consider the duo inseparable. The actor was billed as "the handsomest man in movies," which seemed to be more the sentiment of Thanhouser publicist Bert Adler than of the public at large, although in combination with Muriel Ostriche he eventually built a loyal following. Later, on his own at the studio, he slipped into relative obscurity, and after leaving Thanhouser years later the actor returned to the musical stage from where he had come.

Looking For Trouble, issued on November 9th, featured Muriel Ostriche with Marie Eline. The New York Dramatic Mirror commented:

A child, whose doll has been chewed up by a bulldog, sees the next day a beautiful dolly displayed in a store window. She takes her savings bank to the store, only to learn from the saleslady that it contains fifty cents and that the price of the doll is ten dollars. Desirous of spending her fifty cents, the child enters an insurance agent's office and gets a half dollar per week accident policy. After studying the rate of damages paid for the loss of an eye, leg, or arm, she decides to cripple herself in order to raise the ten dollars with which to purchase the coveted doll. After failing to get hurt by venturing in front of a street car, automobile, and dynamite blast, she in vain tries jumping off the dock and from a telegraph pole, but in each instance is rescued. When she arrives home she thinks the accident policy is a hoodoo, and stepping on a rocker to throw it out of the window, she falls and breaks her arm.

A highly improbable and nerve-wracking story, but played with such febrile intensity by a most impressionable child as to readily win the audience's favor. The fitness of things never escaped the eye of the film director. Only an expert photographer could have succeeded in snapping the hair-trigger accident scenes.

The reviewer left out a key episode: before throwing the policy away, Marie Eline tore it into tiny pieces, and thus it became worthless just moments before she needed it.

The Campaign Manageress, issued on November 11th, was the third Muriel Ostriche film in a row on the Thanhouser schedule. The Moving Picture World printed this: "One of those very romantic film stories in which the pretty young heroine performs a lot of improbable acts. In this case the girl edits her father's paper, runs the sheriff out of office and gets her lover elected. The story is not very convincing, but it has action and moves along pleasantly enough. The photography is good." In the meantime, Miss Ostriche was also in front of the Majestic cameras at New Rochelle.

The Children's Hour was released on November 14th. The Moving Picture News commented: "Depicting realistically Longfellow's beautiful poem of the same name, and featuring the Thanhouser Twins and the Thanhouser Kidlet. The father is played by Harry Benham. The subtitles are lines of verse. Credit is due the director and photographer. A few feet of trick photography are introduced with good effect." The film was mentioned in an article in The Moving Picture World: Note "The Thanhouser Kidlet was the main attraction at the Bazaar of the exclusive Little Mothers' Aid Association at the Waldorf-Astoria, New York, Saturday, December 6. Just prior to the Kidlet's appearance, a film showing her in a photoplay was run off. It was The Children's Hour, a Thanhouser reel based on Longfellow's immortal poem."

Bread Upon the Waters was the Princess release of November 14th. "Boyd Marshall and Muriel Ostriche make a very pleasing couple in this," observed The Moving Picture World. Next on the schedule, on November 16th, was He Couldn't Lose, a tale in which Harry Benham, in the role of a clerk, inherited $50,000 with the provision that if he could fritter away the sum within six months, he would receive $1,000,000 more. Reviewers liked the film but at least two felt the plot was essentially the same as that of a well-known novel and stage play, Brewster's Millions. Following on the schedule was Baby's Joy Ride on the 18th, with Helen Badgley in the title role, after which she was seen again in The Clothes Line Quarrel, issued on the 21st. Reviewers liked the films, as they usually did when this infant star had the lead role.

A Shot Gun Cupid, screened on November 21st, was from a scenario written by Bud Duncan, according to an item in Reel Life. Duncan was working with Fred Mace at the New Rochelle studio at the time, producing Apollo comedies for the Mutual Program. In mid-November Mace and his crew, including Bud Duncan, Marguerite Loveridge, Harry Edwards, and George W. Peters, the latter a cameraman, went to Los Angeles to continue their efforts at the Majestic studio. Note The publicity notices for the film contained some discrepancies, and in a synopsis of A Shot Gun Cupid, printed on page 18 of the November 15, 1913 issue of Reel Life, Muriel Ostriche's role was named as that of Jill. However, an advertisement for the same film, on page 33 of the same issue, assigned her to the role of Mabel.

Meanwhile, Charles J. Hite decided that the company of stock players at the Majestic studio in Los Angeles was not large enough. He added Howard Davies, a stage actor, Vera Sisson, described as a "beautiful girl," Billie West, who had worked in American "Flying A" pictures, and Victory Bateman, who had been with Majestic earlier but who had since returned to the stage. Note

The New York Dramatic Mirror, November 8, 1913, carried an epochal announcement:

The Mutual Film Corporation has secured the services of David W. Griffith, for many years producing manager of the Biograph Company and the highest salaried stage director in the moving picture business, if not in the whole theatrical world. Mr. Griffith will produce large screen attractions for the Reliance and Majestic companies and will supervise the pictures...for the entire Mutual program as well as act in an advisory capacity to all the Mutual's producing companies.

The enormous amount of work of which this acknowledged genius of the screen is capable has long been a matter of moving picture history and his entrance into the Mutual ranks is being heralded with delight by all persons directly and indirectly interested in Mutual pictures. His salary is said to be more than $2,500 per week and instances are recorded where he refused that amount.... In fact, it is the usual thing to hear his people, by whom he is affectionately spoken of as "Larry," claim that he is the greatest man that this country has produced. Note

The association of Griffith with the Mutual Program was not related to Thanhouser, although Charles J. Hite had a voice in the decision to hire him. Griffith was to become closely associated with Mutual's Harry E. Aitken, who was to arrange financing for The Birth of a Nation, produced by a separate corporation not affiliated with Mutual. Note In the meantime Griffith became a highly publicized addition to the Mutual forces.

In New Rochelle work was proceeding rapidly on a large glass studio across the alley from the Glass Palace.

"When the new glass stage of the Thanhouser Film Corporation is completed, that concern will have room to stage 10 different acts before as many cameras at one time,

noted The New Rochelle Pioneer. Note More was printed in Reel Life: Note

Big Glass Stage For Thanhouser: Building Inspector Henry G. Anthes has approved the plans of the new glass stage of the Thanhouser Film Corporation which is being erected to the south of the new buildings, near Main Street and Echo Avenue. It is a big skeleton of steel and will be enclosed with wire glass with great refractive powers, so that the light will be diffused without the use of white curtains. This is important, as the character of lighting is the greatest factor in photography.

The new stage is to cost $15,000. It is being erected on concrete foundations, reinforced with steel. It will have floor dimensions of 95x75 feet, and the highest point will be about 60 feet above the ground level. It is to be completely trapped and equipped for all sorts of scenic effects, and will have seven exits and four entrances from the scenery room. It will be heated in winter by 11 coil radiators operated from a central heating plant. The glass stage erected last spring is to be used in conjunction with the new one.

A new release arrangement for certain multiple-reel Thanhouser films was announced in The Moving Picture World on November 15th: "President Hite, of Thanhouser, has several surprises in store for theatres in the way of future productions. All of these productions will be of many reels, containing tremendous casts, and stage stars will be featured as well as film ones. 'Thanhouser's Big Productions' is the name that has been hit on to describe the 'surprise' pictures to the public. An innovation in renting them has been determined on by President Hite. Exhibitors who like the Big Productions will be enabled to have them first run exclusively in their districts for a term of a year, under contract. It is the first time a regular-release manufacturer has ever so issued pictures that an exhibitor could get them under a protection clause." The first Big Production was to be The Legend of Provence, starring Maude Fealy.

Increasingly, the industry was drifting away from the traditional program release schedule. It was felt that multiple-reel features were too important to be delegated to distribution on a given day as part of a large program and then forgotten. An effort was made to give large films a timeless value in the hope that they would remain current for many months or even a year or more. Mutual advertised its inventory of multiple-reel pictures made in the past by its various divisions, without stating whether they were new or old.

The British trade paper, The Bioscope, November 27, 1913, carried an article which told of a new distribution arrangement for Thanhouser films in England: "Mr. P[aul] Kimberley, the managing director for Thanhouser Films, Limited, informs us that the company will commence operations shortly in their new London premises, at 100 Charing Cross Road, W.C., where the Thanhouser and Princess releases will be located and worked in conjunction with the American corporation. Princess films, it is said, are a special new brand, and will feature the Thanhouser Kids. This week, Mr. Archie Brown, well known in the trade, has gone into the provinces on a regular weekly round and will carry all the releases of the new concern. An advance copy of Thanhouser Topics to hand is a well printed and edited little circular." Note Joining Paul Kimberley was his brother Joshua, who was named to serve as a special advertising representative.


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