Saturday, May 2, 2015

Mabel and Fatty Viewing the World’s Fair at San Francisco -- May 2, 2015

This post is part of  Shorts! A Tiny Blogathon, hosted by Fritzi at Movies Silently.  Be sure to click on the images to see larger versions. 
This year we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of San Francisco's Panama-Pacific International Exposition.  The world's fair was held in what is now the Marina District.  My grandfather, who had come to the United States from Italy a few years before, always remembered the fair as a wonderful place. 

The Panama Canal officially opened on 15-August-1914.  This great work of engineering connected the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans at the narrowest point of the Isthmus of Panama:

Several cities in the United States competed to host a fair to celebrate the canal.  The US government awarded the fair, the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, to San Francisco.  San Francisco also saw this as a way to celebrate its rebuilding after the Earthquake and Fire of 1906 and as a good excuse for a party. 

One of the disappointed competitors, San Diego, went ahead and had its own fair, the Panama-California Exposition.  Many of the buildings in Balboa Park were built for that fair. 

The Panama-Pacific International Exposition opened on 20-February-1915:

Mack Sennett's Keystone company sent stars Mabel Normand and Roscoe Arbuckle to the Panama-Pacific International Exposition to make an actuality film, "Mabel and Fatty Viewing the World’s Fair at San Francisco."  They also visited San Diego to make "Fatty and Mabel at the San Diego Exposition."  "Mabel and Fatty Viewing the World’s Fair at San Francisco" doesn't carry any credits but sources indicate that Mabel and Roscoe may have directed it together. 

The movie is a one-reeler, but the Library of Congress version that I watched for this blogathon runs 19 minutes.  I think they ran the movie at way too slow a speed.  The titles and intertitles take forever.  The night scenes don't look as pixilated as I remember. 

Note that the title card says "Educational" below the title where Keystone comedies usually said "Farce Comedy." 

We find Roscoe Arbuckle, who did not like being called "Fatty" and Mabel Normand sitting on a launch sailing on San Francisco Bay.  Roscoe wears a warm overcoat and a derby and Mabel has a white fur around her neck.  Note that it has eyes, a nose and ears.  I used to hate it when ladies wore things like that.  Roscoe and Mabel made many films together and appeared to really like each other. 

USS Oregon was built at San Francisco's Union Iron Works and was launched in 1895.  Oregon was a pre-Dreadnaught, having been launched more than ten years before HMS Dreadnaught, which revolutionized battleship construction in 1908. 

We see a long panning shot of Oregon.  Back in 1898, with the Spanish-American War about to break out, Oregon sailed from San Francisco to Florida around Cape Horn in 66 days.  This helped people to understand the importance of a canal between the oceans.  Oregon served in the US fleet which destroyed Admiral Pascual Cervera y Topete's Spanish fleet in the Battle of Santiago de Cuba. 

San Francisco Call, 21-February-1895
Oregon being fitted with her armor, from the 21-February-1895 San Francisco Call. William A Coulter did maritime drawings for the newspaper. I have many examples of his work on my other blog:

Roscoe tries to roll a cigarette, but Mabel, excitedly pointing at some sight, causes him to spill his tobacco.  Roscoe is angry with her, but then they kiss. 

I wish I knew what the "Oriental phase of Spanish-Moorish architecture" means.  We see a view from the water of one of the courts between the major buildings, the Court of Abundance.

The Court of Abundance

We see Roscoe and Mabel on the boat again.  Then we see the Court of the Universe.  The fair contained a wonderful display of plants and flowers from all over the world, designed and created by the superintendent of Golden Gate Park, John McLaren. 

The Court of the Universe

We see a short glimpse of Roscoe and Mabel on the launch.  Then we see a shot of a line of sailboats berthed along a high wall.  The fair took advantage of its position by San Francisco Bay to welcome visitors by ferryboat, by launch or by their own boats. 

We see Roscoe make a large gesture with his arms.  An intertitle talks about the tallest flagpole in the world.  We see a shot panning up what is indeed a tall flagpole.  The shots taken from a boat looking towards the shore may induce seasickness in some viewers.

Roscoe meets famous operatic contralto Ernestine Schumann-Heink on a windy day on what may be a ferryboat or a ship. Madame Schumann-Heink was highly regarded for her charity work.  She became a US citizen during World War One and did much to raise money for soldiers and then after the war for veterans. 

Roscoe sings for her and Madame gives her opinion.  They were joking around.  Buster Keaton and others said that Roscoe had a nice singing voice.  Madame then gets a solo closeup and a lip reader might be able to tell what she is saying. 

Another shot from the water shows San Francisco's Ferry Building, which has stood at the foot of Market Street since 1898.  In 2015, San Francisco put "1915" on the tower again to mark the centennial of the fair. 


My fellow transit fans will like the next shot, which pans across the land side front of the Ferry Building, showing the Ferry Loop, which served the streetcars of the privately owned United Railroads of San Francisco (darker cars) and the public Municipal Railway (lighter cars). 

A later view of the Ferry Loop

Jitney buses and cabs offered rides in private autos or trucks for the same nickel fare as the streetcars.  The United Railroads and Municipal Railway did not like the competition and the city passed laws strictly regulating jitneys.  This happened all over the United States at that time and mirrored some of the reaction to recent services like Uber and Lyft.  This nice tracking shot on Market Street includes a URR 6-Haight and Masonic streetcar. 

The camera pans across Union Square, from Geary to Post Streets.  In the foreground is the column of the Admiral Dewey Monument.  In the background is the Saint Francis Hotel, which opened in 1904.  It was gutted by fire in 1906 and rebuilt.  On 05-September-1921, Roscoe hosted a party in a suite on the 12th floor.  Actress Virginia Rappe got sick at the party and died a few days later.  A friend of Rappe accused Roscoe of rape.  He was tried for murder three times, resulting in two hung juries and an acquittal.  Even though he was acquitted, his career was ruined. 

Saint Francis Hotel

San Francisco's beautiful City Hall was completed later in 1915.  This panning shot shows cranes on the roof and construction work going on around the stairway. 

City Hall after completion.

Sunny Jim Rolph was mayor of San Francisco from 1912 to 1931.  He was widely loved.  He always wore cowboy boots.  We see him descend the stairs with Roscoe and Mabel.  Roscoe pretends to trip on construction debris.  Sunny Jim holds Mabel's arm.  He liked pretty girls. 

Roscoe pantomimes writing.  Sunny Jim searches in his pockets for a card and a pencil.  He writes on the card and hands it to Roscoe.  It is dated 04-January-1915, before the Exposition opened.  "Permitting Mr. Arbuckle and Miss Normand to take pictures anywhere in San Francisco.  (signed) Mayor James Rolph." 

A panning shot of the fair from Pacific Heights includes important features like the Tower of Jewels. 

The Tower of Jewels

The convict ship Success was a tourist trap at the Fair.  The movie spends an inordinate amount of time there. 

Where to start?  Success was not launched in India but Burma.  She was not launched in 1790 but 1840.  She was not a naval vessel but a merchant ship.  She was not used to transport prisoners to Australia but was used as a stationary prison ship when Melbourne prisons got overcrowded.  She may have been made of teakwood.  The Brits were pretty barbarous  to prisoners.  She may also have been confused, on purpose or not, with HMS Success, a warship launched in 1781, which was used as a convict transport. 

Not the oldest ship afloat.  That was HMS Victory.

They are not gun ports.  They are cabin windows.  The ship had served as a "museum" in Australia, Europe and the Eastern United States. 

A guide demonstrates the flogging frame to Mabel and Roscoe. 

The Flogging Frame

This may be a real thing.  I don't know. 

Roscoe bumps his head on the iron balls.  Mabel is fascinated by the body irons. 

The iron maiden is often considered to be fictional.  Mabel stands in the maiden and mimes spikes in her eyes and later in her abdomen as Roscoe teases her.  Roscoe leans on the door and nearly slams it on Mabel. Mabel slaps him and walks off with the guide.  Roscoe sticks his tongue out at her and kisses the iron maiden.  . 

Body Irons and Closed Iron Maiden
Iron Maiden Open

The glass jewels from the Tower of Jewels are still the cherished possessions of many families.  The night scene would have been very difficult to shoot in 1915.  A squad of Marines lived on the fairgrounds and operated the searchlights. 

Another nice night view.  The "captive aeroplane" is the Aerostat, a ride built by engineer Joseph Strauss, who later led the project to build the Golden Gate Bridge.  It must have given a nice view. 

The Aerostat

The film concludes with a night shot of the Ferry Building tower.  In 2015, they have attempted to reproduce the lighting. 

I think I first saw "Mabel and Fatty Viewing the World’s Fair at San Francisco" at the Emporium an old department store on Market, across from Powell.  One summer the store showed movies in the auditorium on the roof.  I remember seeing In Old San Francisco and other movies.  "Mabel and Fatty Viewing the World’s Fair at San Francisco" was on one of the programs.  I liked it, although I remember wishing they would get off the prison ship and look at something more interesting.  It was nice to see Mabel and Roscoe goofing around and enjoying themselves. 

Motion Picture News, 08-May-1915
This item from Motion Picture News calls the picture "Semi-Educational."  It talks of the night scenes and the "comedy...staged on the old English convict ship."  It mentions that Keystone also shot "Wished on Mabel" with scenes set in Golden Gate Park, probably on the same visit. 

Pictures and Picturegoer, 28-November-1915
This item from the British Pictures and Picturegoer mentions "A wonderful lighting effect in the illumination of the exhibition grounds."  "Crazed on Charlie" sounds interesting. 

If you'd like to watch the movie, here is the slow, mute Library of Congress version:

This post is part of  Shorts! A Tiny Blogathon, hosted by Fritzi at Movies Silently.  Thank you to Fritzi 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. 



  1. Thank you so much for this intriguing look at San Francisco a century ago. Semi-educational in 1915 and still semi-educational in 2015, eh?

  2. Thank you for stopping by, Fritzi. Better semi-educational than not educational at all.

  3. What a great idea for a film, to have these two talented actors take in the sights this way. It allows us to tour this vicariously. And thanks for providing all the historical info, too! This was really interesting.

  4. Thank you, Silver Screenings. You might enjoy the San Diego film, which is on youtube. It makes me want to see if there are any other good Keystone educationals. I thought some people might find the film confusing and the historical background might help.

  5. Wow, your daily blog posts are basically history lessons! This is a curious film, different from everything else at the time, isn't it?
    The version I saw on YouTuve was only 13 minutes long. Boo to the slow version.
    Oh, I hope I can someday point to a monument and say "it's from the Oriental phase of the Spanish-Moorish architecture!"
    Thanks for the kind comment!

  6. Hi Lê. Thanks for visiting. I enjoyed your post very much. I like history, especially of my home town, so I try to include a lot of it. This film seems to be unique, except for the film that they shot at the San Diego exposition. 13 minutes sounds just right for this one. I think you could point to any monument and say that and no one could argue with you.


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