Volume I: Narrative History


Chapter 6 (1913): Early January Films

The Thanhouser parade float (R) in 1913 with C.J. Hite in foreground with Jean Darnell, Helen Badgley, Marie Eline, Ethyle Cooke, Grace Eline, stockholder

Wilbert Shallenberger, Muriel Ostriche, Mignon Anderson, Florence LaBadie, Marguerite Snow, and Leland Benham. Courtesy of Ralph Graham, M.D. (Q-12)


The first Thanhouser film released in 1913 was A Poor Relation, filmed with the Bronx Zoo as a background. It was distributed on Friday, January 3rd, in a schedule which saw a picture released each Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday on the Mutual Program. Reviews were mixed, with The New York Dramatic Mirror discussing it in detail:

What there is of the story here has been handled intelligently. One scene in particular is essentially effective, made so by the dexterity of the director in evolving a scene where a child's clothes catch on fire. In flames the girl runs downstairs and to her mother, and one wonders just how it has been managed without doing personal injury to the party concerned. The character of the mother is of the conventional type: the cold, indifferent woman who thinks of her own immediate pleasure to the neglect of her child. Being a widow and having designs upon the young doctor, she arranges a house party and invites him as the honored guest. At the party he meets the poor relation of the widow, a country girl, and falls victim to her simple charms. Her true character is displayed in the attitude she assumes towards the child, and to her, instead of the widow, he offers his heart and hand.

A Guilty Conscience, released on January 5th, was next on the program, followed by The Boomerang on the 7th, which was advertised thus: "You have had the Thanhouser Kid, the Thanhouser Kidlet, the Thanhouser Twins, and now - the Thanhouser Monkey!" A piece of jewelry disappears, and circumstantial evidence (this problem again) points to the young niece as the culprit, for no one had been in the room. No one knew that the Thanhouser Monkey, unseen, had been there, too. Unlike the Kid, Kidlet, and Twins, the Thanhouser Monkey was only briefly in the scheme of Thanhouser things, and little more was heard of him (or her?).

The Evidence of the Film, released on January 10, 1913, was co-directed by Lawrence Marston and Edwin Thanhouser, according to an untypical press notice, but not a word was printed about who acted in the film. During the autumn of 1912 when this picture was being made, Edwin Thanhouser supervised many productions; he did not use the word directed. Most releases were uncredited, for in the industry the role of the director was yet to be appreciated on a wide scale. This was to change after D.W. Griffith left Biograph and immediately blanketed trade publications with advertisements listing his past directorial accomplishments. Directors, inspired by his bold campaign, came forward, and after 1913 they were routinely mentioned in film credits, although the Thanhouser Film Corporation was a laggard in this regard until about 1916.

The Evidence of the Film utilized a scenario built around a motion picture company and was photographed in and around the Thanhouser studio. A girl who works in the joining room has a younger brother who is fascinated with films and visits the plant to watch the editing and joining process. Later, in the course of his employment as a messenger boy, the brother is asked to deliver a package of valuable securities from a brokerage house to a rich woman uptown. Opening the package in his presence, the woman finds nothing except pieces of blank paper. The broker, who had sealed the package in the view of two witnesses, brings charges against the messenger boy, who is thrown into jail. Meanwhile, at the film plant, the joining room girl inspects some footage for a play taken on a downtown street. Lo and behold! - she sees something significant. Thanhouser's printed synopsis completes the story:

With a cry of joy she rushed to the police station and told the officers in charge that she had important evidence. Two detectives accompanied her back to the plant and saw a scene of a play thrown upon the screen. It revealed the messenger boy, package in his hand, coming around the corner, whistling merrily. A man close behind him ran into and upset the child, deftly substituted a package he held for the one the boy had dropped, and then walked down the street so rapidly that he did not notice the camera.

"Don't you know that man?" screamed the girl. "He is the broker who had my brother sent to prison." The broker was arrested, and when the evidence of the film was displayed to him he broke down and confessed. He had hoped by throwing the blame upon the boy to keep the bonds for himself. A long term in prison was his punishment, while the plucky girl was warmly complimented for the shrewd way in which she cleared her little brother.

The Moving Picture World told of an interesting aspect of the production: Note

President Hite, of Thanhouser, believes in realism. He believes in real fires, real runaways and real rescues when called for in the scenario - and now in real bonds. There was a story called The Evidence of the Film in his director's hands for production that called for the employment of some bonds, and Mr. Hite immediately sent to the National City Bank of New Rochelle for $20,000 worth. Likely if someone in the studio had "faked up" a bundle of bonds you would never know the difference if you saw the picture, but still Mr. Hite has the satisfaction of knowing that his actors were handling the real article, and looked in the film as if they were! They were as careful as a man would naturally be in fingering $20,000 of real money.

One can imagine that The Evidence of the Film contained many interesting views of the Thanhouser plant in the wooden skating rink building. Next on the release schedule came The City Mouse, on Sunday, January 12th. By this time Thanhouser's idea of releasing a comedy every Sunday apparently had been forgotten, for recent Sunday releases, including this one, had been billed as dramas.


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