Volume I: Narrative History


Chapter 8: 1915 Edwin Thanhouser

At the New Rochelle studio morale was going from bad to worse as players became increasingly dispirited under the management of Shallenberger and Jones. After-hours activities at the Thanhouser Theatre occupied the attention of many, but during regular work hours there was little enthusiasm expressed. Note

Newspapers and trade journals told the tale of what happened next:

The Morning Telegraph, February 21, 1915:

After four years' absence from active participation in the motion picture business Edwin Thanhouser, founder of the company which bears his name, will return to it in the capacity of general manager tomorrow. Rumors to the effect that he would again be identified with the concern he sponsored have been rife for some time. It is now stated that while he will not at first have the title of president he will be elected to that office in the near future. Mr. Thanhouser is one of the pioneer film men of this country. The purchase of the stock of the company owned by the Hite estate by a syndicate will, it is expected, effect changes in the policy of the concern.

The same issue of The Morning Telegraph noted in its "Film Market Quotations and Financial Gossip" column that Mutual Film Corporation preferred stock was 60 bid and 63 ask, common was 80-81 1/2, Thanhouser Film Corporation was 68-72, Thanhouser Syndicate preferred was trading in the 50-60 range, Thanhouser Syndicate common was posted at 60-70, and Syndicate Film Corporation was valued at 115-125. Among the gossip was this:

Thanhouser Film Corporation. A rumor obtained currency on Tuesday of last week that the gentleman whose name this company bears will again become associated with it in a prominent capacity, and that the block of stock owned by the Hite estate has been sold to a small syndicate, which will considerably change the control and policy of this company. This will probably explain the five or six point advance in stock last week. In addition this company expects to reap the benefits of 115 prints of the 23rd episode of The Million Dollar Mystery, which will be released on the 22nd. A big demand throughout the country has already been evidenced. Note

The New Rochelle Pioneer, February 27, 1915, told of Edwin Thanhouser's return:

No better news has been flashed in the moving picture world than that of the return of Edwin Thanhouser to harness after an absence of almost three years, and that he should return to the brand his name and art had made famous upon his re-entry to the field is all the more pleasing to New Rochelleans. To say that the Thanhouser brand will improve is without question, for during his travels abroad Mr. Thanhouser studied the best to be seen of foreign make, and his reputation as an artist is as widely known as the brand of the "T-Co." The return of Lloyd F. Lonergan, creator of The Million Dollar Mystery and hundreds of other photoplays, is equally pleasing to his friends, assuring a continuation of the moral tone of stories that the Thanhouser Film Corporation built its prestige upon. Lloyd returns as production manager and will have as a worthy assistant his brother Phil, who has had charge of the scenario department for several months.

After all the trouble that Mayor Edwin W. Fiske of Mount Vernon put himself to, Edwin Thanhouser, moving picture company promoter, is not to establish a plant in that place, for it was announced Saturday morning that Mr. Thanhouser had repurchased his interest in the Thanhouser Film Corporation, taking active charge of that establishment Monday morning. Mr. Thanhouser has taken the place of Dr. Jones, the vice-president, who acted as manager since the tragic death of Charles J. Hite, who was killed in an automobile accident six months ago, and is now centering his entire mind on retaining the high standard that has always been set by the local establishment, which is one of the most important concerns of its kind in the world.

Everyone is happy at the studio for with Mr. Thanhouser there have returned a number of former executive heads, directors, actors, actresses and other individuals who are necessary to constitute a successful motion picture establishment. When interviewed, Mr. Thanhouser said he did not know what his policy will be, but he did say that he was glad to be back again and that he would try to get the Thanhouser product where it ought to be and that he hoped to do it very soon.

The New Rochelle Pioneer, March 6, 1915:

Ever since the return to this country last fall of Edwin Thanhouser there have been reports that he was again to become interested in the making of motion pictures. To those who in the old days - and old days in the film business are not so many years remote - knew Mr. Thanhouser or knew his work it seemed the logical, the psychological thing that he should again be associated with the brand that bears his name, with the company that nearly seven years ago he founded; it seemed inconceivable that his unusual picture-making talent should be devoted to the production of pictures placed on the market in competition with the film to which for over four years he gave the best he had. That he had much to give will be ungrudgingly conceded by those who were then his keenest competitors.

It was in November 1912 that Edwin Thanhouser took leave of the men and women who since 1908 had been associated with him in the making of Thanhouser films. He had disposed of his interests six months before his departure, but he had remained to aid his successors in getting the hang of things. When from his shoulders were removed the responsibilities that for so long had been heavy and insistent he determined to take a good rest. With Mrs. Thanhouser and their two children he went abroad. This vacation came to an abrupt end with the breaking out of the European war. Like most Americans he had exciting experiences getting away from the Continent, but he arrived safely in New York late in August.

On Monday of last week, as general manager of the Thanhouser Film Corporation, Mr. Thanhouser was back at his old desk in the local studio. When two days later a Pioneer representative called on him he very suddenly discovered that Mr. Thanhouser is not a talkative man. To a somewhat thinly veiled reference to this outstanding fact, the founder of the institution of which New Rochelle is so proud said that he much preferred to be judged by results than to be estimated by promises. He readily admitted, however, that he was full of ambition and that he was anxious to make good films. He said it would take some little time for him to find himself.

"Since your retirement from the film business have you not experienced a desire to get back into it - in other words, have you not found that there is a lure in picture making?" Mr. Thanhouser was asked.

"Yes, that is true," he said. "Even when I was in Europe I visited the different studios for the purpose of learning what I could of the way things are done on the other side of the water. Of course, I find conditions in the film market very much changed in the last two years. Different methods are noticeable. For instance, there is the advent of the feature film and there is the engagement of the best talent - and, what is perhaps even more notable, the availability of the best talent. These are some of the factors that make the business of producing pictures today quite another matter.

"As to the relative merits of European and American productions I will say that when I left the studio I was firmly convinced that the European pictures were better than the American. Since my return to the United States my opinion has altered. I think the American producers have made wonderful strides and that their work is now on a par with the best that comes from Europe. The feature film proposition is and probably always will be a vexed question. A long film does not necessarily constitute it as feature - that is, where a subject has nothing to recommend it but its length."

It was just here the writer recalled the fact that Mr. Thanhouser was the first manufacturer, so far as his knowledge extended, to make a plea for the "natural length story," to employ a term which he believed Mr. Thanhouser had coined. "Yes," said the returned traveler, "I always have advocated the natural length film. I believe I was the first one to produce a 1,500-foot subject. My reason was that the particular story naturally ran just that distance. It was too good to cut to a thousand feet and I didn't think it good enough to extend to two thousand feet. So that it follows if a subject runs naturally to four thousand feet it will be a good story and a good feature, too. It is the story that does not naturally run to the length that is tiresome and consequently hurts the feature as a market asset. I don't think it will be disputed that the longer the film the better the story must be - the interest must be cumulative.

"Of course, the revival of old plays has helped the feature film business, but just as soon as these are exhausted producers will have to look for original manuscripts or adaptations. Personally, I do not think the possibilities for adaptations of novels and poems and classical literature have been touched - that is, as compared with the approximately limited field of plays. It is patent to every one that plays are not being produced on the stage as fast as they are being adapted to the screen. There is a good deal in literature, what is described as classical and that which is not so termed, that has not yet been used for the screen. It may be remembered that the Thanhouser Company made many adaptations when I was in charge here, and I think these were responsible for some of the kind things that were said about our pictures.

"We were the first to put on Ibsen and make the works of that author commercially acceptable. We were among the first of the Independents to put on Shakespearean plays. It is my intention to make more adaptations, because as I said the field practically is inexhaustible."

Asked if his re-entrance into the affairs of the Thanhouser company portended any change in policy, the new general manager said it would not. "We will make the regular program as strong as possible," he added. "You may be sure that the film that bears my name will be as good as anything I can do will make it. Our output now is six and a quarter reels a week, of which all but two Note go into the regular program. We plan soon to increase the amount. In spite of the fact that our facilities here are capable of material expansion over present requirements, it is our intention soon to erect an additional studio on adjacent property. We may begin construction during the summer."

It is pleasant to record the return to the manufacturing fold of this veteran of the film industry and of the theatrical world as well. We may be sure he will make his presence felt, and for the good of pictures as a whole.

The Moving Picture World, March 6, 1915: "Ever since the return to this country last fall of Edwin Thanhouser there have been reports that he was again to become interested in the making of motion pictures...." This commentary, taken from a Thanhouser news release, parroted the article in The New Rochelle Pioneer, except for this sentence, which was changed to fit the situation: "When two days later a World man called on him he very suddenly discovered that Mr. Thanhouser is not a talkative man." A similar article was printed in Reel Life, March 6, 1915.

Advertisement in The Moving Picture World, March 13, 1915: "Thanhouser photoplays of quality: Mr. Edwin Thanhouser is back again! His return to the management of the firm that bears his name will be accepted throughout the film world as a promise of things well worth watching for. The name Thanhouser has meant great things in film production. It will mean even greater things."

The Moving Picture World, March 2, 1918, three years later, ran this item concerning the contract made in 1915: "Three years ago, after his return from Europe, Mr. Thanhouser agreed to take charge of the company he had founded, the death of Charles J. Hite having left it practically headless. It took considerable urging to gain his consent, for Mr. Thanhouser believed he was entitled to a rest after his long period of strenuous activity. Finally he agreed to take the presidency for a period of three years, ending March 1, 1918, with the understanding that the arrangement would not be renewed no matter what conditions might be then, for, as Mr. Thanhouser said, he wanted a chance to enjoy himself."

Edwin's son Lloyd recalled years later: Note "They hired him for three years at $75,000 a year. He was just the manager of the enterprise, the other people owned it."

The captain was to be back at the helm soon, and optimism pervaded the studio complex in New Rochelle. Edwin Thanhouser set about contacting key people who had defected to Universal and elsewhere. Aware of the indifferent reviews many films had garnered during the preceding year, he determined to upgrade the quality of new productions.


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