GREGORY, Carl Louis
Thanhouser Career: Cameraman, director, scenario writer
|Carl Louis Gregory, the Thanhouser
cameraman, aboard ship in Nassau, Bahamas in 1914. (Carl Louis Gregory estate, courtesy of
Ralph Graham, M.D.)
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
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.
Copyright © 1995 Q. David Bowers. All Rights Reserved.
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