Volume I: Narrative History


Chapter 8: 1915 At the New Rochelle Studio

Thanhouser players Morris Foster and Mignon Anderson had married on April 16th and had gone to Florida for their honeymoon. During the same month, Edwin Thanhouser made it clear to James Cruze and his wife, Marguerite Snow, that despite their nationwide fame and their status as two of the most acclaimed players at the studio he had no intention of paying them salaries equal to the levels at certain of the feature film studios, especially in California, which by now had become the center of the motion picture industry. In the same month the couple resigned. Marguerite Snow signed with the Quality Pictures Corporation, which released through Metro Pictures, where she was slated to play roles opposite Francis X. Bushman at the rate of one film every six weeks. Note

The Motion Picture News commented: "Miss Snow has long been an admirer of Francis X. Bushman, and it is with the consent of her husband, James Cruze, that she assumes the principal role opposite Mr. Bushman. Mr. Bushman and Mr. Cruze are extremely good friends and quite a few wires passed between them before the deal is consummated. Miss Snow leaves for Los Angeles May 6th in the four-car special train engaged by the Quality-Metro organizations will take her Mercer runabout, 18 trunks of costumes and the Belgian seamstress whom she has adopted and whom she will put in charge of her wardrobe...." The first appearance of Mr. Bushman and Miss Snow together was scheduled to be in The Second in Command, to be released in the latter part of June.

On May 15, 1915 James Cruze and Sidney Bracy headed west by automobile, in the company of mechanic Abraham A. Meltzer and a cameraman. On either side of the car the travelers displayed a blue pennant bearing the inscription: "Cruze & Bracey, Note New Rochelle." Their first stop was to be Poughkeepsie, New York, on a tour which would include appearances on stage in numerous theatres on the way to California. Cruze, the most famous male actor the Thanhouser studio ever had, went through a series of difficulties during the next several years but eventually became a well-known director in Hollywood. After riding a crest with the production of The Covered Wagon in 1923, he directed a number of other successful films in the mid 1920s, after which his life took a downward turn. He died virtually penniless in the early 1940s. By this time he had long since divorced Marguerite Snow.

While old favorites were leaving the studio, new faces were arriving. Reel Life reported on May 8th:

Things are happening rapidly at New Rochelle. Hardly a week passes without news of some interesting development in Thanhouser affairs. The progressive outlook of Edwin Thanhouser, in his effort to get the best that there is to be had in artistic and reciting talent, has again formed expression in his engagement just concluded of Thomas Coffin Cooke and Ernest Warde, both widely known for their work in the legitimate drama.

Mr. Warde is already a favorite with photoplay lovers but Mr. Cooke, until he came to Thanhouser, had never been inside a motion picture studio. Mr. Cooke has a record of 17 years as a [stage] director....

In bringing Messrs. Cooke and Warde to the New Rochelle studio, Mr. Thanhouser has again displayed the foresight which has distinguished him in the past. 'I believe in bringing into pictures men of proven ability,' said Mr. Thanhouser recently. 'I hope to achieve an unusual standard and maintain it. To do it I must have producers whose records stamp them as men of imagination. If they have never produced for films matters nothing if they can visualize a plot, and this their previous experience and reputation assures. It is here that the fate of a production is born. To grasp camera technique is for them only a matter of adjustment. When producers of calibre make good it is the highest perfection of them because they know how to get the best out of performers and situations. It means stability - it assures consistent product. Most of all it puts the value behind the trademark, instead of only a picture here and there.

The Moving Picture World, May 22nd, told of another addition to the ranks: "Miss [Louise] Rutter's engagement puts another rivet into the Thanhouser campaign which is bringing to the New Rochelle organization the best that the speaking stage can offer in directors and players. Miss Rutter will be seen in the regular Thanhouser releases." This was in keeping with Edwin Thanhouser's policy to hire people from the stage rather than the film industry, for stage personalities were often willing to work for considerably lower salaries than motion picture stars.

In May, Edwin Thanhouser continued his campaign of personal advertising messages in the trade journals. The Moving Picture World, May 22nd, carried the following: "This is my 'Thank you!' to the exhibitors - everywhere. The letters you are writing me make me feel that my hope and your wish are realized. If the Thanhouser and Falstaff films deserve only one small part of the kind things you have said for them I am pleased - just pleased; that's all I can say.

"When I read such telegrams as that from Mr. Graham, manager of Milwaukee's magnificent Butterfly Theatre, who tells me that my product fulfills my promises - why, pages of type become too weak to convey my feelings! These are the sentiments that the Thanhouser and Falstaff releases will continue to justify."

On the mundane side of things, The New Rochelle Pioneer, May 22, 1915, advised readers that a fire sprinkler system had been installed in the studio at a cost of $4,500, and that: "A big sign - THANHOUSER - will soon be affixed to the roof of the main studio building with a smaller sign on the factory, so that the thousands who pass by may know that New Rochelle is the home of this big industry."

Trade journal articles and publicity notices were dominated by the Paramount Film Corporation, which regularly released films of four- and five-reel length starring Mary Pickford, Blanche Sweet, John Barrymore, and others. Paramount controlled the output of Lasky, Famous Players, Paramount, Morosco, Morosco-Bosworth, and Lasky-Belasco. In Fort Lee, New Jersey the World Film Corporation, which also controlled the output of several production companies, mounted a strong challenge to Paramount, but its galaxy of stars was not as brilliant. Charlie Chaplin, who continually increased his salary by moving from one studio to another, was America's best known comedian and was earning more in a single year than the total salary paid to Thanhouser's entire company of stock players.

While the center of the film industry was now in California, with Fort Lee, New Jersey placing second, the Jacksonville, Florida area was mounting competition. The Moving Picture World reported: Note "Florida is being described in glowing terms by many directors who have taken pictures here this winter. One director came down for eight scenes to complete the correct atmosphere for a feature he was making. A local man is boosting the state by his efforts to secure a number of companies to come to Florida and build studios here. He is the owner of a large tract of land about six miles from Jacksonville. The tract that is being developed consists of about 600 acres. At present there is one studio on the grounds, but it is his intention to develop a colony of studios on the tract.... This state is so easily accessible to New York, where all of the companies, almost without exception, have head offices." During the era Lubin, Kalem, Pathé, and others maintained studios or branch offices in Jacksonville.


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