Volume I: Narrative History


Chapter 6 (1913): Thanhouser and the Industry

By the end of 1913 the film industry had changed greatly from the days of Thanhouser's first single-reel releases in 1910. Now the public was demanding - and paying enhanced admission prices to see - lengthy films such as the imported Quo Vadis? and The Last Days of Pompeii as well as such domestic offerings as Famous Players' In the Bishop's Carriage in five reels and Caprice in four, both starring Mary Pickford, and The Count of Monte Cristo, a five-reeler with James O'Neill. Rainey's African Hunt, a nine-reel documentary filmed by Paul J. Rainey, was very popular and eventually led to a genre of real life adventure pictures by various producers. Traffic in Souls, produced by IMP in six reels and released in November 1913, told of the white slavery problem, a social issue never addressed by Thanhouser. Costing less than $5,700 to produce, the IMP picture was publicized to the hilt and grossed $450,000. Soon thereafter, The Inside of White Slave Traffic was released. From then it was only a matter of time until other studios issued films showing the traps which awaited young girls who come to the big city. Sex sells, which was something that the studios had known all along. Note

It is not that one-reelers were dead. Indeed, they were doing well, but primarily in special categories such as comedies and Westerns. The Keystone comedies, under the direction of Mack Sennett, made their mark in 1913, as did comedy shorts by other studios. Thanhouser's comedies, although not produced with any regularity or under a special name, were among the most acclaimed productions of the New Rochelle studio, and by the end of the year, Princess films, nearly all of which were comedies, were an especially bright spot on the Thanhouser program. For other studios Western films provided a successful one-reel specialty. G.M. ("Broncho Billy") Anderson was busy turning out a seemingly endless procession of cowboy pictures for Essanay, and the American "Flying A" studio was a prime producer of this genre as well. Although Thanhouser produced several Western-theme films over the years, the possibilities for producing cowboy films in New Rochelle were limited, and this category was never exploited by the company.

The one-reeler was not the ideal format for dramatic productions in 1913, although Thanhouser continued to produce many such films. In relation to the increasing number of pictures coming on the market, from one-reel films to multiple-reel subjects, editorial space in trade publications was limited, and, increasingly, many one-reel pictures were not reviewed. In newspapers the situation was even more acute for one-reelers as there was not much room in the typical film column. The available space was usually given to biographical notices, gossip about players, and commentaries on larger feature films.

Keeping in step with the times, Thanhouser's multiple-reel Moths, Robin Hood, The Legend of Provence, and several other large productions were heavily advertised, but they did not seem to catch on with the public to the extent that certain films of the competition did. Maude Fealy, it turned out, was not a match for Mary Pickford.

The Motion Picture Story Magazine continued to delight its readers with a combination of stories, editorial philosophies, cartoons, and, especially, replies to inquiries by the Answer Man. Seeking to duplicate this popularity, from time to time other journals and newspapers, including The Billboard, The Moving Picture World, and The Morning Telegraph, imitated his writing style (and also his penchant for numerous errors among the responses).

Typical of the content of movie gossip columns of the time was a commentary relating to Thanhouser in The Moving Picture World, December 13, 1913:

We believe that Miss LaBadie pronounces her name as though spelled Lab-ardy, the accent on the first syllable. The Thanhouser Twins do not "belong" to anyone. Slavery days are past. Their mother is Mrs. Fairbanks, if that is what you mean.... Several companies have produced Sapho, but you probably mean the Thanhouser Mutual production, with Miss Florence Roberts in the title role.

Had the writer of the foregoing taken the time to check his facts, he might have asked Miss LaBadie about the pronunciation of her name and learned the truth, as did a reporter for The New Rochelle Pioneer: Note "Florence LaBadie pronounces her name Lah-Bah-Dee. It's French and there is no accent on any syllable," the Pioneer noted. "Some well-meaning persons pronounce it LaBody, which makes Florence shudder and say, 'Sounds like a coroner's inquest.'" Had the writer for The Moving Picture World read recent issues of his own publication he would have learned that Sapho was produced not by Thanhouser but by Majestic.

Among adult Thanhouser players Maude Fealy continued to receive the lion's share of publicity. Florence LaBadie, James Cruze, the newly-returned Marguerite Snow, Harry Benham, and others were mentioned in advertising, but not to the extent that Miss Fealy was, for Charles J. Hite was preoccupied by the four-reel films he was producing for the Mutual Program.

An article in The Moving Picture World, December 24, 1913, told of new personnel:

NEW THANHOUSER DIRECTORS: Special directors have been signed by C.J. Hite to help in the making of his Thanhouser Big Productions. Carroll Fleming, the famous New York Hippodrome producer, is one. Howell Hansel is the other new Big Productions producer. He comes from 20 years' experience in the legitimate. Eugene Moore, the veteran of the regular Thanhouser directing staff, has been on the feature stuff of late. Marguerite Snow and James Cruze have joined Maude Fealy as stars in the features. Clarence Dull has been appointed property master of the big stuff, while Michael Schliesser, as announced recently, is wild animal manager.

Apart from the Big Productions, at New Rochelle most attention was focused on the children in the studio. An article in The New York Dramatic Mirror, December 31, 1913, reflects this:

At the New York Exhibitors' Ball, C.J. Hite sprung an innovation by having present for his Thanhouser and Princess companies an array of child talent. While the other companies were represented by their star players Mr. Hite struck upon an original idea. The Thanhouser representatives were Leland Benham, the Thanhouser Twins, and the Thanhouser Kidlet. For the Princess company Marie Eline and Dorothy Benham Note were on hand. None of the representatives was over 11 years old, and one, Dorothy Benham, had not yet reached the age of three. Mr. Hite expects to have the same representatives at the Screen Club Ball.

At the end of the year, the Selig Polyscope Company was busy filming the initial episodes of the 13-part serial, The Adventures of Kathlyn, a new type of picture which was to catch on like wildfire. Note Each of the episodes was self-contained, a story in itself, but with an ending intended to entice the viewer to come back next week to find what was next. The serial was the brainchild of The Chicago Tribune, one of the daily newspapers most interested in motion pictures, and was taken from a story written especially for the serial by Harold MacGrath, a well-known novelist and feature columnist. What happened to Kathlyn in her confrontations with wild beasts (from the Selig Zoo) and other dangers was detailed for newspaper readers in a syndicated series of articles, creating a symbiotic relationship whereby readers rushed to the theatre to see in the flesh the characters of which they had read, and moviegoers went to the newspaper stands to learn the details and fine points of the next episode. In A Million and One Nights Terry Ramsaye tells what happened:

On December 29, 1913, timed just to escape the Christmas distractions, The Adventures of Kathlyn flared out upon the world through the columns of The Chicago Tribune and newspapers to which the Tribune had syndicated the story, and upon the motion picture screens served with Selig pictures through the General Film Company. The picture proved a large success in the theatres. New circulation came to The Chicago Tribune in thousands. The Tribune picked up 50,000 readers on The Adventures of Kathlyn, and held permanently about 35,000 of them.... It represented nearly 10% of the total circulation of the paper. It was tremendous.

The extent of the film industry in America in 1913 is reflected by a listing published in Motography. Note The survey contains many inaccuracies and is useful only as a yardstick showing the relative production of various studios and the wide variety of companies and brands releasing during the year. The figures also include films imported by certain companies. The extensive productions and importations of many small companies which released on a states rights basis are not included.

PATENTS COMPANY (LICENSED) FILMS: Biograph 167,996 feet, Edison 190,175, Essanay 305,257, Kalem 282,048, Kleine 155,540, Lubin 338,100, Méliès 69,721, Pathé 352,049, Selig 309,315, Vitagraph 390,900. By this survey, Vitagraph led the Patents firms, followed by Pathé and Lubin.

INDEPENDENT FILMS: Note American 173,350 feet, Apollo 24,000, Beauty 12,000, Bison (101 Bison) 178,000, Broncho 97,180, Champion 7,500, Crystal 97,500, Domino 54,000, Eclair 167,000, Frontier 104,000, Gaumont 94,500 (incomplete), Gem 31,000, Gold Seal 41,000, Great Northern 31,966 (incomplete), IMP 178,500, Joker 44,000, Kay-Bee 95,000, Keystone 109,800, Komic 22,500, Majestic 138,000, Mutual 70,000, Nestor 134,500, Powers 113,000, Prieur 24,456, Princess 24,000, Ramo 16,000 (incomplete), Reliance 167,000, Rex 143,000, Solax 56,000 (incomplete), Thanhouser 168,000, Universal 43,000, and Victor 116,000.

Films in the above list attributable to the management of Charles J. Hite include Apollo (comedies with Fred Mace, et al) 24,000 feet, Majestic 138,000, part of Mutual's 70,000, Princess 24,000 (should be 12,000; see footnote), and Thanhouser 168,000, adding up to approximately 350,000 feet of film for the year. As such, his output rivaled the leading companies of the Patents group. Dominating the industry was Carl Laemmle's Universal group of companies, which produced nearly a million feet of film per year and which was soon to have 80 directors at work!


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