Volume I: Narrative History


Chapter 8: 1915 Phony News Articles

By this time The Twenty Million Dollar Mystery serial was recognized by the trade as an abysmal failure. However, this did not deter Reel Life from printing the following in its issue of May 1, 1915:

The Thanhouser Syndicate Corporation reports a pleasingly steady business for The Twenty Million Dollar Mystery, which now bids fair to surpass the total booking of its record-breaking predecessor, The Million Dollar Mystery. Edgar Shallenberger, vice-president of the Thanhouser Syndicate Corporation, recently said that the total bookings, with cancellations deducted, for The Twenty Million Dollar Mystery, have passed the $750,000 mark. The popularity of Marguerite Snow, James Cruze, Sidney Bracy, Harry Benham, Frank Farrington and Elizabeth Forbes in the big Mystery serial not only shows no sign of abating, but constantly increases.

By this time Bracy and Farrington had been shown the exit door at the studio, and soon the careers of key players Marguerite Snow and James Cruze would change dramatically.

More phony "news" appeared in The Morning Telegraph, May 9, 1915:

NEW MYSTERY SERIAL IS CREATING BOOKING RECORDS: Edgar Shallenberger of Thanhouser Ascribes Popularity of Pictures to Unusual Cast and Expert Directing - Letters From All Parts of Country Testify to Picture's Success in Thrilling Audiences.

One of the many interesting phases of The Twenty Million Dollar Mystery, interesting alike to motion picture public and exhibitor, is that probably never again can the wonderful all-star cast of this stupendous production be brought together. Already some members of it are engaged in other work which cannot be interrupted. Others have gone or shortly are going to the Pacific Coast.

So it is that the final episode of the eleven Note in The Twenty Million Dollar Mystery marks the farewell screen appearance together of six of the best known motion picture folk. Sweet little Marguerite Snow, stately Mary Elizabeth Forbes, virile James Cruze, Sidney Bracy, Frank Farrington and Harry Benham are together for the last time doubtless, in The Twenty Million Dollar Mystery's closing chapter.

Edgar Shallenberger, vice president of the Thanhouser Syndicate Corporation of 71 West Twenty-third Street, which put out this successful serial, is convinced now that popularity pays, that is, popularity plus intrinsic worth. Not that he ever was in great doubt of it. Yet many of us know a lot of things of which we are none too certain. He knew and knew that he knew, and his knowledge is proved. For The Twenty Million Dollar Mystery, distributed through all the Mutual exchanges, seems bound to create a new record in motion picture serial bookings. Already the net bookings have crossed the $750,000 mark and the $1,000,000 line now is in clear view. Toward it Mr. Shallenberger is moving under full sail.

That is what proves that Edgar Shallenberger knew. Here are some of his reasons: 'The cast we provided included six of the most popular stars ever before the public. But that was not enough. We put them under a great director, Howell Hansel. And we added a story that for the full eleven episodes has more thrills, more punch, more romance to the square inch than any serial I yet have seen. We told Hansel to cut loose, to spare nothing to make The Twenty Million Dollar Mystery the best."What is the answer? Well, for one thing a serial that now gives more than a hint of catching up to and even of surpassing the wonderful bookings of The Million Dollar Mystery. Our theory was to make what the public has shown it wants. We knew that there would be plenty of men eager to present the finished product to the public."

In a sort of confirmation of these statements Mr. Shallenberger showed a number of highly commendatory letters. One was from the Post Exchange, United States Army, at Fort Robinson. Neb., saying: "The soldiers enjoy The Twenty Million Dollar Mystery a great deal and we feel confident it will prove a great drawing card. We had the largest crowd last night that we ever handled. Had you been with us you would have been gratified at the excellent entertainment your film has rendered us."

From the Park Theatre, in St. Joseph, Mo., came: "We congratulate you on The Twenty Million Dollar Mystery. It is even more than you claimed for it and Mystery nights always mean packed houses." F.M. Tull, of Oklahoma City, wrote: "We have just finished the 14th episode and our audiences often applauded it and went out saying it was great, as they did with previous episodes." At Park Hall, in Cincinnati, Ohio, they found that The Twenty Million Dollar Mystery "doubled their receipts every episode they ran." Which is why The Twenty Million Dollar Mystery is running its record-breaking predecessor such a close race.

Such puffery had nothing to do with Edwin Thanhouser's new efforts in New Rochelle or with his publicity director, Leon J. Rubenstein. It was created and issued by Dr. W. Edgar Shallenberger and his associates at the offices of the Thanhouser Syndicate Corporation in New York City.


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