Volume I: Narrative History


Chapter 8: 1915 A Day With Edwin Thanhouser

A number of films still remained from the old inventory, including Big Brother Bill, released on April 18th, and The Undertow, issued in two reels on the 20th. Then came The Reformation of Peter and Paul, a one-reeler distributed on Friday, April 23rd. Earlier this film appeared in schedules as a forthcoming Princess release, but now that the Princess films were discontinued the picture was billed as a regular production. On the same day the second Falstaff picture was released, The Handicap of Beauty. "Quite a pleasing little story," commented The Moving Picture World. Next came Fashion and the Simple Life, issued on April 27th, a film from the backlog. Movie Fans, the third Falstaff film, was distributed on April 30th. Reviews were lukewarm. "Rather pleasing for a slight subject," commented The Moving Picture World, while The New York Dramatic Mirror found it "acceptable."

The Moving Picture World, April 24, 1915, told of a day with Edwin Thanhouser:

A car built for seven carried nine passengers from New York to New Rochelle in the sparkling and springlike morning of April 12th. And yet Ruby Rubenstein, otherwise Leon J. Rubenstein, advertising and publicity manager for the Thanhouser Corporation, was not quite satisfied as he balanced lightly on the tonneau, somewhere in the vicinity of the windshield, and checked off his guests gathered from the offices of The Morning Telegraph, Motography, The Evening Mail, The Dramatic Mirror, The Motion Picture News, The Billboard, and The Moving Picture World. He wished there was room for more, but there was not. Such are the limitations of a seven-passenger car.

Several hours later - a punctured tire at 250th Street and a luncheon party at New Rochelle intervened - Edwin Thanhouser welcomed the delegation. He opened a humidor and distributed cigars with which to cloud the sunshine in his office. He spoke about pictures in general, about his aims for Thanhouser pictures, about his recent accomplishments in night photography, and then invited the opinion of others by showing results in a coming release. It is remarkable; but first to summarize Mr. Thanhouser's talk:

The corporation, recently capitalized for one million dollars, increased from a quarter of a million, is on the verge of considerable enlargements. Deals for property near the present buildings are pending, and unless all signs fail the early summer months will find New Rochelle carpenters hammering on the framework of several new structures. There is going to be plenty of room for all of the seven or eight companies Note that will have been organized by that time. At present there are six, with a prospect of another within the next few weeks. In addition to the regular Thanhouser releases and the new Falstaff brand - a great pet of Mr. Thanhouser, by the way - four-reel Mutual Masterpictures are being made at the rate of two every five weeks, and these, as in other films, for that matter, dependence is being placed on a consistent production of all departments and not upon stellar glories.

Mr. Thanhouser smiled at a mention of gossip about his permitting his stars to glimmer elsewhere. Note Until he returned from abroad, he said, he was not conscious of having any celebrities in his employ. Furthermore, the notion of founding a business on a personality, especially when that personality is shot through with the vagaries of an artistic temperament, does not impress him as being sound. Note He wants good actors, not stars, and testimony that he is ready to keep them is found in the instances of several men who worked in his Milwaukee stock company long years ago. Eugene Moore, now a director, is one of them.

The policy, as expressed by Mr. Thanhouser, is to build up the reputation of a brand by maintaining pictures on a consistent level so that exhibitors may know what to expect from week to week. Slapstick, he believes, is being well done by a number of companies and there is no need for more of it. With light, clean comedy, calculated to draw a smile if not an out-and-out laugh, it is another matter, and right here he sees an opening for Falstaff films. The Actor and the Rube was shown as a sample of the style to be followed in this brand and there was no gainsaying the pleasing quality of the subject and the skill displayed in its treatment.

Returning to the night photography, the truly atmospheric effects possible at the Thanhouser plant were convincingly illustrated in a single reel Civil War drama called Their One Love. Only 20 men were used in the battle scenes, yet insofar as the spectator is concerned, with the soldiers rushing into the narrow zones of light and fading as quickly into impenetrable darkness, there might have been hundreds. Even apart from the notable photographic accomplishment, Their One Love is a thoroughly good picture in which the heart interest is strong.

All Mr. Thanhouser's guests expressed approval, whereupon Ruby led the way to the studio and in the course of time pointed to seven chairs placed in a jury box. Remaining entirely mysterious about the meaning of it all, he insisted that the seven chairs be occupied while his cameraman focused on the seven occupants, namely Wen Milligan, Lloyd Robinson, Wid Gunning, George D. Proctor, Horace Fuld, Charles R. Condon, and Lynde Denig. No doubt Ruby will phrase the verdict in his own way. His use for yet another picture, in which Mr. Thanhouser stands in the center of a group displaying unlighted cigars, is less easily fathomed.

The Morning Telegraph, April 18th, told more about Thanhouser cigars and other events of the visit of reviewers to New Rochelle:

Having perfected a film brand, the versatile Edwin Thanhouser has turned his talents to a cigar which, according to the victims of the filthy weed, is a distinguished success. Note It is always refreshing to hear a man talk who really believes that there are other people in the world who can make good films beside himself. Thanhouser is one of these. The fact that some of the men who are working today at New Rochelle were with Thanhouser in his Milwaukee stock company 16 years ago is another interesting sidelight on the character of the man.

Ruby proved a versatile provider of transportation. When the original vehicle succumbed under the massive weight of the "brains of the industry," the moment of exciting force, as it were, waved his magic wand and produced another and more trustworthy rattler. Great difficulty was experienced by the cameraman in his efforts to get a group picture of the scribes because, just as he was about to shoot, Charlie Condon would invariably decide to take one last look at Lorraine Huling before he perished. It was most annoying. But wholly comprehensible.

Miss Burke created another disturbance later on, and her failure to live up to promises caused certain of the young men, who shall be nameless, much disappointment. The blond [Director John] Harvey person is a genial soul. But it was a mystery how Florence LaBadie could calmly take a nap in the middle of the studio with Harvey's voice in full blast. However, that is what the 'steen billion dollar "What is it" Note lady did. She also displayed remarkable ability in dodging raindrops when aroused from her peaceful slumbers by a brutal director.

George Foster Platt's blue stripes may have acted as counter-irritant to the Harvey voice, which may account for the LaBadie languor. There seemed to be a unanimous sentiment among the boys who saw Their One Love in favor of returning to the Thanhouser studio when the Fairbanks twins grow up.

Still another version of the day's outing in New Rochelle was printed in The New York Dramatic Mirror, April 21st:

To bear out his previous assertions that great improvements were in order at the Thanhouser plant in New Rochelle, Leon J. "Ruby" Rubenstein, publicity man, bundled the representatives of the trade papers into a flying roadster early last week and pointed northwards from Times Square. Two blowouts occurred before the plant was reached. The tire took about 15 minutes to repair, and the other occurred at the Pepperday Inn in New Rochelle, where lunch for the eight was served. Later, in Mr. Edwin Thanhouser's office, an informal talk brought out a few interesting points.

Mr. Thanhouser commented on the fact that every effort was being made to get better stories, basing his believe that a good deal depended upon the script. This also brought forth a denial of the fact that he would, as reported, dismiss all his stars, because, as he explained, every one of the stars with him today had made his or her reputation at the Thanhouser plant. He did say, however, that he did not believe in the high-priced star system, because, given too much publicity, the inflated star was likely to turn on the company that had brought the publicity and either demand more money or else depart to another company. Note He was most sincere in the hope that the demand for a consistently good short program was what he would live up to.

As a sample of what the new regime was trying to do he then led the way to the top floor projection room where three films were shown, typical of the future week's release. Their One Love, a thousand-foot drama of the Thanhouser brand, played up the Fairbanks twins in a rather moving picture of death in the Civil War, but those unusual features were some vivid pictures taken at night. The picture also had other distinctive parts. The Actor and the Rube was a one-reel comedy of the new Falstaff brand, high-class comedy, and arranged by Mr. Thanhouser himself as to subtitles and general artistic finish in the laboratory. The other, a Thanhouser feature, Mons. Nikola Dupree, was an excellent two-reel drama....

After a trip about the studio floor and an inspection by those who were new to the plant, Mr. Thanhouser resumed the talk in the only place he allowed smoking since the last fire - his own office - and related some of his experiences when he was in charge of a stock company out West for 17 years, and how, when he opened up in the film business, many of his former associates had stuck to him, one of them being a director today. He remarked that he had six companies at work and expected to start another company soon in turning out the consistent program of three Thanhousers and one Falstaff every seven days, besides the big feature for the Mutual Masterpicture service every two or three weeks. If the films shown are a criterion, a big improvement may be expected in the New Rochelle releases, for each of the pictures had some sort of "punch" big enough to insure its success with any audience.

Before leaving, Ruby sat the celluloid critics in a make-believe jury box and had their pictures taken, not only that they might see how hard it was to look natural, especially with such well-known and good looking actors and actresses looking on, but that he might use the finished picture.

Three weeks later, on May 8th, The Moving Picture World carried an advertisement depicting the various trade journal representatives and reproducing glowing comments obligingly supplied by each of them: "Notable accomplishment" - The Moving Picture World; "Justified claims for excellence" - The Motion Picture News; "Higher plane than ever" - The Billboard; "Reputation makers" - Motography; "Thanhouser policies substantiated" - The Morning Telegraph; "Quite a relief from the usual" - The New York Clipper; "Each had a big punch" - The New York Dramatic Mirror; "Thanhouser has the right idea" - The Evening Mail; "Refreshing" - Variety; and "Unusual effects" - The Globe.

Meanwhile, trade papers continued to run many advertisements in which Edwin Thanhouser proclaimed the merits of his forthcoming films.


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