Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Patria -- The International Serial Supreme -- February 21, 2017

Moving Picture World, 03-February-1917

The Wharton Brothers produced Patria, a fifteen-chapter serial starring Irene Castle, for William Randolph Hearst.  Warner Oland, who made a career out of playing Asian parts, was a Japanese spy.  Baron Huroki and his spy ring wants to destroy American munitions plants, many of which are owned by Patria Channing, who was played by Irene Castle.  Milton Sills is a Secret Service agent who is after the spy ring.  At one point in the serial, the Japanese ally with Mexico to attack the United States.  While the film was being released, President Woodrow Wilson learned about the themes of the film and asked the producers to change the nationalities of many of the characters.

Irene Castle had become famous, with her husband Vernon, as a ballroom dancer.  He left the act in early 1916 to return to his native Britain, where he joined the Royal Flying Corps.  He was a successful pilot, earning the Croix de Guerre.  He was sent to Canada and then the United States to train new pilots.  He died in a flying accident in 1918.

Moving Picture World, 10-February-1917
 "Booked by KEITH'S PALACE the greatest vaudeville house in the country/Being the first motion picture serial they have ever played." 

Moving Picture World, 10-February-1917
"To escape from the island on which she has been held prisoner Patria jumps into the sea..." 

Moving Picture World, 10-February-1917
I was interested to see that San Francisco's "social leaders are guests of William Randolph Hearst" at a showing of Patria in the Garden Court of the Palace Hotel.  Many of the city's social leaders could not stand William Randolph Hearst.  The Garden Court of the Palace Hotel is a beautiful spot that serves an excellent Sunday lunch. 

The Garden Court of the Palace Hotel in February, 2014. 

Moving Picture World, 17-February-1917
"The star of Patria is Mrs. Vernon Castle/The best known woman in America."

Moving Picture World, 17-February-1917
There were society showings of Patria at the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver and the Davenport Hotel in Spokane. 

Moving Picture World, 24-February-1917
How about that outfit?  Irene Castle was known as a classy dresser. 

Moving Picture World, 24-February-1917

"The winsome personality of Mrs. Castle and her seemingly inexhaustible wardrobe of stunning creations are the outstanding features of the production..."

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Buster Keaton: From Stage to Screen -- February 19, 2017

Motography, 21-April-1917

This post is part of the Third Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon, hosted by Lea at Silent-ology.  For the first annual blogathon, I wrote about Buster Keaton's time in vaudeville: The 3-4-5 Keatons.   For the second annual blogathon, I wrote about Buster Keaton and the Passing Show of 1917, the show he signed for after leaving vaudeville.  This time I wanted to write about Buster's transition from the stage to the screen. 

Be sure to click on most images to see larger versions.  

I first became interested in Buster Keaton when I watched The General with my grandfather and he told me how much he had always liked Buster Keaton.

When I discovered that the Anza Branch Library had a shelf of books about movies, I found two books about Buster Keaton, Buster's memoir My Wonderful World of Slapstick and Rudi Blesh's Keaton.   I read both and I enjoyed learning about his career in vaudeville and his career in the movies.

Buster had been part of the family's rough-house acrobatic comedy act since he was a young child. 

Variety, 15-October-1915
A report from the 15-October-1915 Variety says that the Three Keatons had just returned from their summer vacation in Muskegon, Michigan.   "Buster seems to have grown several inches, but in the growing has brought his acrobatics up to a higher grade of proficiency."  "Joe Keaton proved conclusively that none of his anatomical joints have taken on any rust."

Variety, 22-October-1915

Buster stepped on a nail in October, 1915 and injured his foot.  This could have been very serious because this was before antibiotics and some people died of tetanus from wounds like this.  The Keatons had to miss the rest of the week in Chicago.  Buster was able to travel to Milwaukee, but the Keatons had to drop out again.

Variety, 29-October-1915

I thought it was interesting that Buster was famous enough that other acts could be accused of copying his moves.  I don't know what the "arm around the neck stunt" would be.

Variety, 28-April-1916
Buster would turn 21, then the voting age, in October, 1916.  Sylvester and Vance were Harry Sylvester and Maida Vance, a song and dance team.  Knowing of Buster's fame "for his technical knowledge of machinery," Sylvester asked him to buy an auto for him.  Buster got a nice deal, but Sylvester and Vance had to leave New York for Youngstown, Ohio.  "Buster, having nothing to do, told Sylvester to go ahead and he'd take care of the car, but when Sylvester pulled into Youngstown, Buster and Lex Neal were waiting for him at the depot, having made the run without a stop."  The roughly 450 miles from New York City to Youngstown had very few paved roads in 1916.  It must have been a tough journey.  "Buster arrived back in New York just in time to attend rehearsal at the Palace this week." Robert Alexander Neal was an old friend of Buster.  He was billed as "The Beau Brummel of Vaudeville."  Later Neal wrote for the movies, including Buster's Go West and Battling Butler

New York Tribune, 23-April-1916
This may have been the Palace engagement that Buster had to get to.  The Palace was the highest tier of vaudeville in the United States.  Nora Bayes was a big star. 

Variety, 11-August-1916
Joe Keaton donated a site for a clubhouse for the Theatrical Colony Yacht Club, in Muskegon where the Keatons and many other vaudevillians spent their summer layovers.  Most theaters closed during the summer before air conditioning became widespread.  Myra, Joe's wife and Buster's mother, was voted president of the Woman's Auxiliary.

Variety, 20-January-1917
As we see in a report from the 20-January-1917 Variety, Buster had been at Muskegon, Michigan, where he become a member of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (BPOE).  This may have been an old report. 

The Keatons were very successful, but Buster's father Joe had decided to devote more time to his interest in drinking.  Bad timing in an act like the Keatons' could cause serious injury.  In early 1917, in San Francisco, Buster and his mother Myra decided to break up the act.  Buster and Myra took a train to Los Angeles and sent Joe a telegram letting him know about their decision.  Joe must have been a mean drunk. 

Variety, 05-January-1917
Here we see that the 3 Keatons were scheduled to play the Pantages Theater in San Francisco starting the week of January 8.

Variety, 13-January-1917
They were scheduled to open across the bay at the Oakland Pantages on January 15.  I wonder if they made it. 

In February, Buster was in New York.  He visited agent Max Hart and told him he was trying to find work as a single act.  Hart was enthusiastic; he took Buster to see JJ Shubert, who offered Keaton a part in a big Broadway revue, The Passing Show of 1917, at $250 a week.  Buster started to try to figure out how to do a single act.

from Buster's My Wonderful World of Slapstick:  "But just a day or two before rehearsals were to start, I ran into Lou Anger, a Dutch comedian who had worked on vaudeville bills with us many times.  Anger was with Roscoe (Fatty) Arbuckle, the screen comedian..."

Motion Picture News, 07-April-1917
Roscoe Arbuckle, who had recently left Mack Sennett's Keystone studio, was preparing to make his own movies for the Comique Company, which would release through Paramount.  "All any exhibitor has to do to get my comedies is to pay for them, whether he is now doing business with the Paramount Exchange or not." 

Motion Picture News, 14-April-1917
"'Fatty' Arbuckle directs his own pictures." "Remember, any exhibitor can have the 'Fatty' Arbuckle Comedies whether he is now doing business with the Paramount exchange or not."

Roscoe invited Buster to visit his new studio.  As they say, the rest is history.  Roscoe offered Buster a job.  Buster didn't ask about a salary, but it turned out to be far less than $250 a week.

Variety, 13-April-1917
Lou Anger, who introduced Roscoe and Buster, was the studio manager of the Comique Film Corporation.  One of the supporting actors was "'Buster' Keaton of the Three Keatons."

Motion Picture News, 14-April-1917
This article from the April 14 Motion Picture News says that the first Comique production, "The Butcher Boy" was in production and was due to be released on April 23.  "The Arbuckle two-reel comedies will be released by Paramount to all exhibitors, without interfering with the exclusiveness of franchise clauses in their program distribution."

The article mentions that Roscoe is supported by Al St John and leading lady Josephine Stephens.

Motion Picture News, 28-April-1917

Buster Keaton made his movie debut in "The Butcher Boy."

Motography, 21-April-1917

The last item in this article "On Paramount Program" says "The first of the Paramount Arbuckle comedies, featuring Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle in two reelers, will be released this week, and will be shown simultaneously in over four hundred and fifty (450) theaters the first week of its existence.  The first release is entitled 'The Butcher Boy.'"  Notice that Buster is not mentioned in the article or shown in the photo.  Buster and Roscoe's nephew Al St John are shown in the photo at the top of this post, which is from the same issue of Motography.

Motography, 28-April-1917
 "Fatty Arbuckle's first Paramount is a winner" says this review by George W Graves.  "After the star himself, Al St. John comes in for a round of applause.  He doesn't keep any laughs from Fatty, but he makes plenty for himself.  Among his accomplishments are some funny stunts on a bicycle.  Josephine Stevens is a lucky find for the part of the girl, and 'Buster' Keaton makes his first appearance in pictures a praiseworthy one."  We see Al, Josephine and Roscoe in the photo, but not Buster.

Motography, 28-April-1917
A humorous item from the same issue mentions Buster.  Having tried the movies, he decided that "he should stick in that work for some time to come.  The decision was reached after 'Fatty' had emptied a bucket of molasses over him." 

Variety, 13-April-1917
Variety didn't mention Buster in the body of the review, only in the cast list, as "The Village Pest."  Luke the Dog got a nice shout-out.  "While there is some slapstick, the comedy is recommended."

Motion Picture News, 28-April-1917
 "'Buster' Keaton does some excellent comedy falls."  I wonder when they stopped putting "Buster" in quotes. 

Motography, 12-May-1917
Harry Miller of the Boston Theater writes he had booked "The Butcher Boy" for two days, but was going to extend this and all Arbuckle comedies to a full week.  "Arbuckle is well supported by Al St. John and Buster Keaton... This picture went over better than any comedy except Chaplin's that I have booked in months."

Motography, 12-May-1917
E Dlouhy of the Vitagraph Theater says "Well liked by patrons.  Brought fair business."  On the other hand, Edward Trinz of the West End Theater says "Not as good as we expected.  Patrons did not care much for it."

Motography, 12-May-1917
Martin Saxe of the Knickerbocker Theater was not impressed.  "This picture although slapstick comedy, did not make a hit with the kids.  Business was not up to expectations."  
I like the way the theaters are identified as "Downtown house" or "In middle class neighborhood"  or "In high class neighborhood."  I guess kids in a high class neighborhoods didn't like the movie.

Notice that Buster does business with brooms.  Buster and his father would hit each other with brooms in their act.  

In 1949, Buster appeared on Ed Wynn's television show and they recreated the scene with the molasses. 

Motography, 29-December-1917
By December, Comique had moved production to Los Angeles.  Actress Constance Talmadge, who would become Buster's sister-in-law in 1921, and who was already Comique producer Joe Schenk's sister-in-law, was greeted at the train station by a reception committee which included Buster serving as a cheerleader.

In the 1940s and early 1950s, Buster returned to the stage, touring in revivals of Merton of the Movies, a 1922 play by George S Kaufman and Marc Connelly, The Gorilla, a 1925 play by Ralph Spence, and Three Men on a Horse, a 1935 play by George Abbott and John Cecil Holm.

Buster shot some film, which still survives, to be used in Merton.

This post is part of the Third Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon, hosted by Lea at Silent-ologyThank you to Lea for all the hard work.  Thank you to everyone who visited and I encourage you to read as many posts as you can, and leave comments.  Bloggers love comments.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Strand Theater, Minneapolis -- February 17, 2017

Moving Picture World, 24-February-1917

Strand was a very popular name for movie theaters.  The accompanying article says "One of the Prettiest Picture Houses in the Twin Cities -- Opened in Fall of 1915 -- Managed by James A Keough."

Moving Picture World, 24-February-1917
Moving Picture World, 24-February-1917

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Fantomas and The Vampires -- February 15, 2017

Moving Picture World, 22-February-1917
Fantômas was a popular criminal character who first appeared in a series of French thriller novels by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre.  In 1913-1914, Louis Feuillade created a 5-part movie serial which was released by the Gaumont Company.  Each episode, was 54-90 minutes, longer than episodes of a typical American serial.  The serial/series was very popular.  Be sure to click on the image to see a larger version. 

In 1915-1916, Louis Feuillade created another thrilling serial, Les Vampires.  This ten episode production was even more popular.  Musidora made a big impression as Irma Vep. 

Gaumont released both films through Mutual, which assured exhibitors that they were like "Walking right up to the money -- and grabbing it." 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Happy Saint Valentine's Day -- February 14, 2017

Happy Saint Valentine's Day, everyone.

Nancy Carroll started acting in silent movies, became a big star in early musicals, and developed into a strong dramatic actress. Personality conflicts with Hollywood producers shortened her career on film, but she spent the rest of her life working on the stage and in television. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

My Program Would Not Be Complete Without Ham and Bud -- February 13, 2017

Moving Picture World, 24-February-1917

In his wonderful book The Silent Clowns, Walter Kerr suggested that Lloyd Hamilton was one of the great silent comics whose reputation has diminished. This is because many of the solo movies Hamilton made for Educational during the 1920s are lost. Perhaps this is also because he was not able to succeed as a star in feature films.

This ad for his earlier movies with Kalem quotes an exhibitor in Colony Kansas: "We believe the Ham Comedies have more real comedy that is clean and worth any one's time to watch than can be found in looking over a long list of so-called comedies." 

The item below recounts the story of two Ham and Bud films. 

Moving Picture World, 17-February-1917

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Francis Ford as the Great Emancipator -- February 12, 2017

It, 15-July-1920
Happy 208th birthday to Abraham Lincoln, our greatest president.  In 1915, Universal released a Gold Seal production, "The Heart of Lincoln," just in time for his birthday.  Francis Ford, brother of future director John Ford, played Lincoln.  Ford directed the film and co-starred with his frequent partner, Grace Cunard.  She wrote the scenario. 

"... in his Big Americanization Feature which is soon to be released, and John Dean, father of Harry Ellis Dean, who voted for Abraham Lincoln."  Since the movie was released in 1915, this item must refer to a re-release.  Harry Ellis Dean was the business manager of the Francis Ford Studios.

I posted a 1915 story about the movie:

Francis Ford played Abraham Lincoln in seven other films.