Volume III: Biographies


FLEMING, Carroll

Director (1913-1915)

Thanhouser Career Synopsis: Carroll Fleming arrived at the Thanhouser studio in 1913 and was a director there beginning in 1914. His films were released through early 1915.

Biographical Notes: Carroll Fleming was born in Lexington, Kentucky in 1865 and was raised in the Blue Grass State. Early in his career he was on the staff of The Cincinnati News-Journal. Soon, the newspaper assigned him to write theatrical reviews, through which he became acquainted with leading stage players and managers. One of his stories, published without a byline, attracted the attention of Frank Mayo, who sought the identity of the writer and invited him to spend some time at his luxurious Crockett Lodge in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Pennsylvania. Hired by Mayo, Carroll Fleming became a stage director. Later, he worked six years or so with James ONeill, Kathryn Kidder, and others and was involved in several New York City productions.

In 1899 he wrote and produced Sis Hopkins, which created nationwide attention for actress Rose Melville, who went from obscurity to fame and eventually retired a wealthy woman from her work with the Keith circuit. After this engagement, he worked as a consultant to improve the staging of "sick" plays. In one instance, he took a play, The Price of Peace, which had lost $50,000 for its producer after he imported it to New York City from London, and turned it into a profit maker. In the cast was Mabel Taliaferro, who later became the wife of Frederic W. Thompson, who was co-owner of Coney Islands Luna Park and of the soon-to-be-opened New York Hippodrome.

Frederick Thompsons attention was called to Flemings talents, and he engaged him to write Andersonville, later known as The Raiders, which was the opening attraction at the Hippodrome, a structure nearly a block square, which was so immense that the first row of seats was about 75 feet back from the edge of the stage. For the next several years, Fleming wrote the scripts for all Hippodrome productions, called "spectacles" by the trade, ranging from epic plays to circuses. In the autumn of 1913, trade papers noted that Charles J. Hite hired Fleming to manage Thanhouser "Big Productions." In 1914, he directed several important Thanhouser features. Fleming received much publicity in connection with his Thanhouser work during the year or so he worked with the New Rochelle studio.

An article in Reel Life, October 10, 1914, told of his earlier experience but incorrectly gave the impression that he was not hired until 1914: "In the early days of the Hippodrome, Fred Thompson of Thompson and Dundy, who built the huge playhouse, said: 'Weve had five million people in the Hippodrome, and Ill wager every one of them is a friend of Carroll Fleming This remark may have been the source of Mr. Flemings popular appellation - the man with ten million friends - for, since then, he has doubled the number. He always believed in giving everybody a dollar and a halfs worth for his dollar, and it was he who really made Thompson and Dundys success in the biggest theatre of its sort in the world.

"Around the World and Under Many Flags were both his. The hundreds of thousands who saw these productions marveled at the flawless mechanism on a stupendous scale which made possible the smoothness of the performance. Every detail of the complicated action moved like clockwork. Yet none of the machinery could be detected, and the artistic illusion was complete. Mr. Fleming wrote and staged the opening attraction, Andersonville. Among other Hippodrome features to his credit are Pioneer Days, Marching Through Georgia, and Gypsy Life. His work especially in handling American subjects, hitherto untouched - producing historical pageants and extravaganzas with vivid American coloring - entitles Mr. Fleming to a unique position among native artists.

"In 1911, Lee Shubert, president of the Hippodrome Company, which succeeded Thompson and Dundy, offered Mr. Fleming the general stage directorship, which position he filled for three years. In the spring of 1914, he resigned for a much needed rest and, on his return from a vacation trip abroad, decided to enter the field of motion pictures. Here, it seemed to him, his opportunities would be boundless. He would have all out of doors to work in and would not be hampered by the limitations of the stage. Charles J. Hite, president of the Thanhouser Film Corporation, hearing of Mr. Flemings intention, immediately engaged him.

"Mr. Fleming wasted no time in getting his bearings in the motion picture studio. He first tried his hand at a comedy, Lost - a Union Suit, one of the funniest playlets of the many laughmakers Thanhouser has produced. Then he plunged right into a venture particularly to his liking - the filming of Beating Back, the life story of Al Jennings, one time 'Railroad Robin Hood of Oklahoma.... The early training of the Thanhouser producer, even before his experience in the Hippodrome, equipped him admirably for the all-round, live-wire work of a feature photoplaywright and director. Starting life with a Kentucky birthright, he began to write when very young. Newspaper work and magazine freelancing in New York led to writing for the stage and then to handling theatrical productions. In 1899 he staged Sis Hopkins, which ranked with The Old Homestead and Way Down East. Later, in collaboration with his wife, Florence Fleming, he wrote The Master Hand, in which Nat Goodwin starred...."

While writing The Master Hand, Fleming enlisted the assistance of Florence Miller, who appeared in credits under the abbreviated pseudonym of Dorothy Q. In December 1911 he married her. Following a honeymoon in Virginia, the couple lived in an apartment at Fifth Avenue and 10th Street in New York City. During his Thanhouser connection he lived in New Rochelle with his wife at the Pepperday Inn, a few steps away from the studio.

A 1914 Sketch: The New Rochelle Pioneer, October 17, 1914, printed this sketch, adapted from Reel Life: "When Thompson & Dundy built the New York Hippodrome, the biggest house of its kind in America, they wanted the biggest man that it was possible to get to do bigger things than anything that had gone in before. Dont imagine, for a moment, that it was an easy task. The country was combed with fine-tooth comb for the right one, and finally they found him right in little old New York, where for years he had been a steady producer of good things - things that no one else had done...really big things that were destined to live longer than their creator, and Carroll Fleming was the man.

"Then, the Mutual Film Corporation, ever anxious to secure the best in the world, in talent, brains, beauty, ginger, plot, construction and all the etceteras that combine to make a Mutual movie the best in the world, had the good fortune to secure Mr. Flemings services through the Thanhouser Film Corporation, because under great pressure, Charles Jackson Hite, the late lamented president of the New Rochelle corporation, secured Mr. Flemings services to a contract. Beating Back, a six reel true-to-life production, with Al Jennings in the titular role, was the answer.

"Fleming, a collection of enthusiasm, foresight, vision, art, brawn, brain, sinew, speed, and in the slang phrase of the day - 'pep - was 'bred in old Kentucky. To say that of a horse means the best there is in horse flesh; of a woman, all thats heavenly that can be imagined in an angel; of a man of Flemings type, all thats possible to say for manhood. Lexington was his birthplace, and the town had a famous horse-mart, and the young Fleming spent a good portion of his time after hed hurry up the chores mingling with those who knew horseflesh, until, in later years, Mr. Fleming knew that those hours spent were not wasted.

"He early developed a talent for writing. He saw things through magnifying glasses of advancement, and his years of training on New York newspapers and magazines laid the foundation for his later theatrical work when he took to writing for the stage.... His last play, The Master Hand, was written in collaboration with his wife, Florence Fleming, and it proved a successful vehicle for Americas foremost comedian, Nat C. Goodwin, remaining at the head of Nats repertoire.

"But it was at the Hippodrome that Mr. Fleming made the world gasp with wonder at the big things he staged for their consumption. He was engaged, as related above, by Thompson & Dundy, to write the big spectacles and dramas, for the mammoth playhouse, and even under change in its management, Mr. Fleming was continued as playwright. In 1911, through its president, Lee Shubert, the Hippodrome Company offered Mr. Fleming the general stage directorship and for three years. Until this spring Mr. Fleming filled the position with great success, when he resigned to gain a much-needed rest from the onerous double work of both playwright and stage director....

"After a voyage across the sea...Mr. Fleming found his restless energy prodding him to return to work. With foresight he took a glance at moving pictures. Here could his dreams be realized. He would not be hampered by the confines of the stage. He had all outdoors to work in, and his nights would belong to himself. Mr. Hite heard of a chance to secure the wizard, and he immediately made an appointment with Mr. Fleming, and after finding his bearings at the big Thanhouser studio, Fleming produced one of the finest little comedies that the Mutual program had this year - Lost - A Union Suit - which critics proclaimed perfect in every angle. Then came the work for which he was engaged - the really big things of the Thanhouser program - Beating Back - where he filmed the life portrayal of Al Jennings, the former bandit, turning fields in New Jersey into a wild and roaring West, and getting one of the biggest write-ups a national magazine ever gave to anybody - one under date of September 5, in The Saturday Evening Post, with no less a writer camping on Mr. Flemings heels than Will Irwin, whom, Epes Winthrop Sargent, the acknowledged photoplay expert of the world, said, was the only true-to-life story ever written upon film production by a writer outside the game, but, of course, everybody in the know realizes that Mr. Fleming was the fountain of information for the clever Irwin.

"All one has to do to realize that Fleming has a bigger career is to know what he has accomplished in the past. Great things are expected from the lank Kentuckian, because he is 'a big man who does big things in a big way. He loves to spend money in front of the camera lens. 'Put in everything that can be seen to advantage is his motto, and never skimp on a production when art is at stake. Give the people their moneys worth and youll sell prints. He has ideas for the improvement of pictures from the artistic side and when the scribe can use a crowbar to pry away some of them (because Mr. Fleming is timid on publicity) readers of Reel Life will learn what the wizard has in store for them.... Griffith, Fleming, Ince, Sennett - four of a kind. You cant beat a hand like that!"

His Later Career: The New Rochelle Pioneer, December 26, 1914, told of a move: "Mr. and Mrs. Carroll Fleming, who have lived at the Pepperday Inn for about a year, have moved to their New York City home, West 147th Street, near Riverside Drive. While in New Rochelle they made many social acquaintances and entertained and were entertained largely. Both dearly loved 'the city beautiful and will be missed in the daily life of the city. Mr. Fleming is a director at Thanhousers, but his moving from the city will not affect his studio connections."

The New Rochelle Pioneer, May 1, 1915, stated that the director was going to sever his connection with Thanhouser the next week. "Although he has several offers to direct for other concerns, Mr. Fleming will take a needed rest for a few weeks before relocating."

The New York Dramatic Mirror, in its issue of November 20, 1915, noted that he had joined the Feature Film Company, which released its products through the Pathé Exchange. In the spring of 1916 he apparently directed the first episode of the famous Pathé serial, The Iron Claw, at least according to a full-page advertisement he placed in The Moving Picture World. There was a controversy about this, and several other advertisements placed by Pathé itself credited Edward José, who had recently arrived in America, with the work.

Carroll Fleming died in New York City in May 1930, at his home at 2629 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx.

Thanhouser Filmography:

1914: A Seminary Consumed by Flames (3-4-1914), Kathleen, the Irish Rose (3-10-1914), An Hour of Youth (4-12-1914), From the Flames (4-28-1914), Lost - a Union Suit (5-10-1914), Beating Back (Direct-From-Broadway Features, 6-9-1914), The Substitute (7-14-1914), The Varsity Race (9-22-1914), The Diamond of Disaster (10-13-1914), The Madonna of the Poor (10-27-1914), The Turning of the Road (11-3-1914), Mrs. Van Ruyters Stratagem (11-24-1914), The Amateur Detective (12-6-1914), The Reader of Minds (12-8-1914)

1915: In the Jury Room (2-2-1915), Jealousy (3-26-1915), Love and Money (5-9-1915)

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