Volume I: Narrative History


Chapter 8: 1915 More Changes

The month of June saw more changes at the Thanhouser Film Corporation. On the 19th, John Harvey, one of Thanhouser's premier directors, severed his connection with the studio and went to Universal, where he was set to direct former Thanhouserite William Garwood and actress Violet Mersereau. The New Rochelle Pioneer Note commented: "Mr. Harvey goes with the best wishes of the hundreds of Thanhouser employees, because everybody loved him as he loved everybody. He worked up to a directorship from bucking the line as an extra and knew people from A to Z. Harvey played no favorites. While in New Rochelle he produced [many films]. He showed his wonderful genius, and it had been apparent for several months that he was destined for a larger field. He has asked John William Kellette to go along with him as a co-worker, and William Harvey will be his director. The Coytesville studio will be their new location, reachable from the 130th Street ferry to Edgewater, take a Palisades Junction car and change for Coytesville."

This was a reversal of a situation which occurred earlier when Clem P. Easton, a Universal director who produced many films starring William Garwood, left Coytesville and went to New Rochelle to work for Thanhouser. Note

Edward N. Hoyt, a second-string Thanhouser actor, departed to take a position with the World Film Corporation in Fort Lee, "at a greatly increased salary," according to a report in The New Rochelle Pioneer, Note which printed numerous notices of New Rochelleans leaving the home-town studio for increased remuneration elsewhere. The notices of greater compensation in other studios were sufficiently frequent that it seems as though the newspaper were baiting the Thanhouser studio management.

The New York Dramatic Mirror Note reported that Edwin Thanhouser was one of several witnesses who appeared in court on behalf of Jules Brulatour, who was attempting to collect a balance due from the Comet Film Company for raw film stock sold in 1912, an old suit that was settled in the New York courts in favor of Brulatour. Note

The same issue advised readers of trouble brewing in the ranks of the Mutual Film Corporation. The New York Motion Picture Corporation threatened to withdraw from the Mutual program, because the company had over 20 stars under contract, their productions were becoming more elaborate, expenses were multiplying, and adherence to the Mutual program was too confining.

The New Rochelle Pioneer Note told more about difficulties at Mutual: "Because the Reliance or Aitken faction of the Mutual Film Corporation has been producing more Mutual Masterpictures than should rightly be their share, thus copping the plums of the service, what threatens to be a serious split in the organization is beginning to show up. Several months ago the Reliance people were looking for four- and five-reel material, and the writer Note was asked to submit scripts long before it was known that Masterpictures were to be considered. After getting about a dozen subjects made up, Reliance began releasing, and up to the release of June 17th Reliance and Majestic had put across 16 subjects, Thanhouser two, American three, and New York Motion Picture Company four." Actually, the troubles at Mutual ran deeper than a concern as to which firms were producing the most Masterpictures.

The Moving Picture World, June 26, 1915, reported on the annual meeting of the Mutual Film Corporation:

In accordance with the requirements of the law the annual meeting of the stockholders of the Mutual Film Corporation, working under a charter granted by the State of Virginia, was held on Wednesday, June 16, in Richmond. For the past few weeks rumors had been flying about to the effect that there would be many sweeping changes made in the management of the Mutual. Just what turn these changes will take will not be definitely known until the meeting of the newly elected board of directors is held. This event will not take place until Wednesday, June 23rd. It has been hinted strongly that H.E. Aitken, now president of the corporation, will not be a candidate for reelection, and that an entirely new board of officers will be put in charge of the company's affairs and that a clean sweep of every department of the organization will be made.

"On the other hand it is reported that Mr. Aitken expects to join other big manufacturers in the formation of a company for the purpose of making big features and that, with this end in view, he placed his resignation in the hands of the board of directors of the Mutual some months ago. In conversation with a representative of The Moving Picture World regarding these rumors Mr. Aitken declined to affirm or deny any of them, saying that the action of the directors of his company would give the proper answer in due time. John R. Freuler has been mentioned as a possible successor of Mr. Aitken.

More was reported in The New York Dramatic Mirror on June 30th:

Mutual bore out the gossipers who have been talking for some weeks past last Wednesday when the annual election of officers resulted in the election of John R. Freuler, president of the North American Film Corporation, to succeed Harry E. Aitken, who withdrew voluntarily. In addition to Mr. Freuler, the other officials chosen at the meeting are: Edwin Thanhouser, vice president, Felix E. Kahn, treasurer, Samuel M. Field, secretary and general counsel. Beside the officers, the directors named Crawford Livingston for the Executive Committee.

Freuler, an old-time Milwaukee exchange man, had been in the motion picture business for a long time and was one of the principal shareholders of the Mutual Film Corporation. It was announced that he would move with his wife and two daughters to New York City, location of the corporation's executive offices. Note

An account in The Moving Picture World Note told still more:

...The results of the election were not unexpected after the meeting of Mutual stockholders in Richmond, Virginia on June 16, when J.W. Smith and Mr. Field were placed on the board to fill places left vacant by the retirement of Roy Aitken and P.A. Gleichman. H.E. Aitken, A.C. Roebuck and T.H. Cochrane retained their places among the directors, numbering 15 in all.

When the meeting for the election of officers was called to order the full board, comprising the following members, responded: H.E. Aitken, Crawford Livingston, Gerald Livingston, Felix Kahn, John R. Freuler, S.S. Hutchinson, W.E. Shallenberger, W.C. Toomey, A.C. Roebuck, T.H. Cochrane, Edwin Thanhouser, Samuel Field, Dr. George Hall, J.W. Smith, and Walter N. Seligsberg representing Miss Thomas. Mr. Aitken presided and Mr. Seligsberg, retiring counsel for Mutual, acted as chairman of the meeting....

W.E. Shallenberger, vice-president of the Thanhouser Syndicate Corporation and a large stockholder in the Mutual, Thanhouser, and American Film Companies, when asked for a statement on the election of Mutual Film Corporation officers, has said: "It is apparent to all that many changes, some vital and some merely incidental, shortly will occur in the film industry in the United States. These changes will affect, particularly, the manufacturing and distribution of pictures. Mr. Freuler is singularly well fitted to be at the head of the Mutual in this transitional period of the business."

Freuler then commented that the public is the final judge as to which movies will be successful. He stated that Mutual was set to supply many attractive one- and two-reel films comprising comedy and drama. While certain features of an unusual nature may command an admission price of $2 - a reference to Griffith's The Birth of a Nation - this was not the real destiny of the motion picture business, he continued, as films were an entertainment for the masses, not the classes. "Hence it is our duty to furnish a program that may be used in a big, broad way by theatres charging 15, 10, and 5 cents."

Freuler was clearly out of step with most major studios, which were concentrating their efforts on large multiple-reel features. While one-reel comedies continued to be popular for years thereafter, one-reel dramas had already been relegated to the status of fillers not worthy of serious reviews or critical attention.

The seeds of discontent within Mutual had been sown the year before in 1914 when D.W. Griffith sought to produce The Clansman (later retitled The Birth of a Nation) in an epic film of about three hours in length. The Mutual board balked, and Harry E. Aitken took matters into his own hands and with Griffith formed the Epoch Producing Corporation, financing the venture through many private deals. The Birth of a Nation soon proved to be a winner, and the Mutual board was furious that Aitken was reaping windfall profits. By the summer of 1915 Aitken was persona non grata with the Mutual board and, as related, was ousted from the president's office, and John R. Freuler assumed his position. Aitken stayed with Mutual in minor positions for a short time, after which he was instrumental in financing the founding of the Triangle Film Corporation, so called because the firm had three production companies, each with a prominent director, each enticed away from Mutual: D.W. Griffith, Mack Sennett, and Thomas Ince.

The Morning Telegraph Note told of Thanhouserites traveling to San Francisco, site of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition:

The Thanhouser organization gave its convention delegates a rousing send-off on Wednesday, June 30. Peggy Burke, the popular little ingenue, and Harry Benham, the Thanhouser leading man, are the delegates. It was decided within 24 hours that they should go to the San Francisco convention.

Miss Burke will meet the exhibitors with a novel idea. Arrangements have been made by wire so that the visitors to the fair may be canvassed and their San Francisco addresses obtained. They will be divided into groups according to the cities they come from, and the exhibitors from the respective cities who are at the convention will be tabulated correspondingly. A big sightseeing car will be used to round the folks up in these groups, and then a moving picture will be taken of each group separately, together with Peggy Burke and Harry Benham. When the convention is over and the exhibitor has gone back home, he will receive a print of the film with the compliments of Edwin Thanhouser. It will show him at the exposition in the company of Miss Burke and Mr. Benham, surrounded by those people of his city who were visiting the exposition.

Mr. Thanhouser has arranged to send up a series of captive balloons, piloted by aeronaut Phil Thomas of Eiffel Tower fame. Each day for four days a differently named balloon will ascend, named The Florence LaBadie, The Mignon Anderson, The Lorraine Huling and The Peggy Burke. From them miniature balloons will be dropped in thousands, each bearing a picture of the player named. On the last day of the convention 21 great gas bags will float up, each bearing one letter, all of them reading, "Thanhouser Consistency."

Harry Benham will handle the arrangements, and his work will also include the donation of a Thanhouser Day at six of the biggest children's institutions in the Exposition City. He will give them each a free show consisting of Falstaff comedies and leave with the children as souvenirs little picture books containing comical drawings by the Falstaff film makers, Riley Chamberlin, Carey Hastings, the Thanhouser Kidlet, the Fairbanks twins, Morgan Jones, and others.


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