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GREGORY, Carl Louis

Thanhouser Career: Cameraman, director, scenario writer (1910-1915)

Carl Louis Gregory, the Thanhouser cameraman, aboard ship in Nassau, Bahamas in 1914. (Carl Louis Gregory estate, courtesy of Ralph Graham, M.D.)

p-150.JPG (50930 bytes)Thanhouser Career Synopsis: Carl Louis Gregory, one of the best known early cinematographers, worked for Thanhouser for several years. A man of many talents, he also directed and wrote scenarios.

Biographical Notes: Carl Louis Gregory, born in Walnut, Kansas in 1882, moved to Ohio with his family at an early age and became interested in photography at the age of 11, when he made his own camera utilizing a cigar box and a lens crafted from a pair of eyeglasses. He attended high school in Cleveland. Soon he was taking pictures for pay, a business which eventually paid his tuition at the Ohio State University, from which he graduated with a bachelor's degree in chemistry in 1904. Later, he studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Columbia University.

In 1905 he opened photographic studios successively in Monterrey, Mexico; San Antonio, Texas; Colorado Springs, Colorado; and Cleveland, Ohio. The venture was short-lived, and he sold out the following year and joined the United States Department of the Interior as an official photographer. In 1908, he was employed by Burr McIntosh, an wealthy entrepreneur who had fingers in many business pies (films, publishing, stage productions, etc.), for whom he projected slides and motion pictures for lectures, including Our Navy, Our Country, Our Island Possessions, and other novelties popular on the lyceum and Chautauqua circuits. In the spring of 1909, he joined Edison, where he did double duty as a cameraman and director and was responsible for many films while working at the Orange and Bedford Park studios. For Edison he traveled to Cuba to film romances and educational subjects. Among his peers he was well known for trick and double-exposure photography.

With Thanhouser: According to his own account, he joined Thanhouser in 1910, at the time that its second production was being filmed. The title of this film was not stated, but, apparently it was different from the second Thanhouser release (which was St. Elmo). Gregory photographed stills for publicity, including one for the initial Thanhouser release, The Actor's Children (March 15, 1910). He was senior cameraman for Thanhouser for the next several years. During that time he photographed many Thanhouser subjects and supervised the work of other cameramen as well.

His technical knowledge of cinematography was of a high order, and in the trade he was highly esteemed. From time to time his name would appear in print concerning some fine point or detail of motion picture work. For example, in the March 4, 1911 issue of The Moving Picture World, a note from Gregory appeared, correcting an earlier article saying that a lens could be focused as close as one inch distance from it - whereas Gregory said that it cannot be focused any closer than its focal length - a technical point.

A New Film Company: In April 1912, immediately following the sale of the Thanhouser Company to Charles J. Hite and others, Gregory had thoughts of leaving Thanhouser, as reflected in this article in the New Rochelle Evening Standard, April 26, 1912: "The latest thing in motion picture manufacturing concerns is the new Union Picture Film Company, which is the development of the Carey Motion Picture Company located on City Island. The members of the new corporation which has just been incorporated with a capital of $55,000 are Carl L. Gregory; H. Studebaker Henderson, both of New Rochelle; Karl R. Miner, Yonkers; Harry D. Carey [a screen actor and playwright], and Henry B. Walthall.

In the summer of 1913, he took a group of Thanhouser players, the "Cape May Company," to New Jersey, where he directed and photographed six films. In view of this double talent, Charles J. Hite named him in the autumn of 1913 to direct the new Princess Department and act as its cameraman. He also wrote a number of scenarios.

In February 1914 Carl Louis Gregory was transferred from the directorship of Princess to become assistant director to Carroll Fleming in the making of Thanhouser "Big Productions." Gregory was cameraman for the Williamson brothers in their pioneering submarine photography in the West Indies, 1914 and later, and achieved wide recognition for his undersea work. Excerpts from this footage were used to create films exhibited in the summer and autumn of that year, including at the star-crossed New York City attraction, the Broadway Rose Gardens. In August and September 1914 he led a party of Thanhouser players to Yellowstone National Park and other places in the West. On the trip he was scriptwriter, director, and cameraman for several films.

The New Rochelle Pioneer, July 10, 1915, told of his exodus from Thanhouser: "Carl Gregory, star cameraman, has resigned from the local studio to accept a position with the Metro Film Company of California, at a large increase in salary. This is the same company that Peggy Snow is now connected with. Mr. Gregory will leave his present position in this city next Saturday. Mr. Gregory lives at 19 Rhodes Street with his two sisters, and all are popular with the younger set. Mr. Gregory has been connected with the Thanhouser forces for the past five and one half years. During his stay he has at different times been director and cameraman at the same time. Mr. Gregory is an expert on night field work as well as submarine photography. The late experiments in night photography in the open air were in charge of Carl Gregory, who is cameraman for John Harvey, the director who is now with the Lubin forces."

Later Years: During the 1914-1916 years Gregory was a popular lecturer on the subject of motion picture photography. Among his audiences were the organizations to which he belonged, including the American Chemical Society, the New York Camera Club, the Screen Club, and the Cinema Club. In 1917 he worked in Florida for Technicolor.

In 1918 he was a cameraman for the Fox film, Queen of the Sea, featuring swimming champion and physical culture advocate Annette Kellermann. During the World War, Gregory was the chief instructor in cinematography at the Signal Corps School of Photography at Columbia University, New York City, where more than 700 motion picture and still photographers were trained in a short period of time. He wrote a popular reference book, Motion Picture Photography. After the war, Gregory was an instructor in photographic technique at Columbia University. Later he was named as Dean of Photography at the New York Institute of Photography. He was director and cameraman for the 1920 Fidelity release of Love's Flame. He was active in the field for many years, and in the late 1920s was considered to be the dean of his profession.

At one time he was chief of production for the Orient and India Pictures Corporation, affiliated with the Frawley-Blood Motion Picture Company of New York City, which took a company of 15 American and British actors to such far-flung places as Hawaii, Japan, China, the Philippine Islands, Malaya, Burma, the South Seas, and India. On the island of Hilo, Hawaii the film, The 13th Girl, was photographed. During the trip Gregory exposed 20,000 feet of film. Later he became a consulting engineer with the Kislyn Color Corporation, a firm which sought to exploit a color motion picture process invented by Louis Berthon. In the early 1940s Carl Louis Gregory did work for the National Archives and while there was the first person to attempt restoration of paper prints of early motion pictures.

Carl Louis Gregory died of arteriosclerosis after a year-long illness, at his home in Van Nuys, California on March 11, 1951. Services were held at Wee Kirk o' the Heather, Forest Lawn. He was survived by his widow, Marie Garrison Gregory, and five sisters. Certain stills and other items from his estate were acquired by film historian Jonathan Miller, who sold them to Ralph E. Graham, M.D., who, in turn, loaned numerous photographs for inclusion in the present volume.
Thanhouser Filmography:

Copyright 1995 Q. David Bowers. All Rights Reserved.

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