December 31, 2010

Wishing You a Glori(a)ous New Year

Stage Struck (1925)
Celebrating the New Year is glamorous occasion and who better to commemorate this festive occasion than Gloria Swanson?  During her career, and especially during the 1920s, Gloria Swanson reveled in wardrobe opulence, probably clocking more wardrobe changes per minute of screen time than any other woman in history.

Here's hoping you find inspiration in this Glori(a)ous fashion show.  Have a wonderful holiday and we'll see you next year.

Her Gilded Cage (1922)   

The Great Moment (1921)

Prodigal Daughters (1923)

Happy New Year!

December 24, 2010

The Management Wishes You a Merry Christmas

Theater Christmas slide (c. 1910-30)
Product advertising and coming attraction promotion were not the only reasons that theater operators used lantern slides.  In this exceptionally topical example an exhibitor wishes their patrons a Merry Christmas.

...and now, almost a century later, I'll take advantage of this opportunity to do the same.

Happy Holidays from STARTS THURSDAY!

Slide image courtesy of Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum.

December 23, 2010

Dorothy: The (Almost) Forgotten Gish

It give me great pleasure to introduce today's guest contributor: Donna Hill.  Donna is good friend of STARTS THURSDAY! and has recently published a wonderful volume on Rudolph Valentino, Rudolph Valentino The Silent Idol.  She recently embarked on a new research project on Dorothy Gish, who just happens to be the subject of today's article.

Slide for The Ghost in The Garret (1921)
Sometimes a glass slide is all we have of a film and in some very sad cases all that’s left of a film career for a particular player.  If not the entire filmography, large chucks of some filmograpies are gone with the wind.  Take the case of Dorothy Gish as an example.

Slide for London (1926)
Dorothy Gish was the no less talented younger sister of Lillian Gish.  The Gish sisters came to film at the same time.  Both developed their talent and screen presence under the tutelage of D.W. Griffith.  Both became well known and beloved film stars in the later teens and 1920’s.  Today, Dorothy is very nearly forgotten and when one hears the name Gish, it is Lillian the person is speaking of.
As her career progressed, Dorothy quickly veered off D.W. Griffith’s radar, in a sense, as she was a very talented comedienne. Griffith had little feel for comedy and assigned her films to other directors once he and his company of players moved to Triangle from Biograph.  Griffith was “supervisor” but one doubts his role in this regard, except in name only.  Dorothy’s popularity at the time cannot be underestimated.  She was offered $1,000,000 to join Paramount and turned it down reportedly out of loyalty to Griffith.
Slide for I'll Get Him Yet (1919)

Later on, in between 1918 and 1920 she made a series of comedies that were very popular and money makers.  Released through Paramount/Artcraft films such as Peppy Polly (1919), Boots Remodeling Her Husband (1920) and Flying Pat (1920) made Dorothy a popular star.  We cannot judge these films since every single one of them is now lost.  What a tragedy this is.

Slide for The Beautiful City (1925)
The few films Dorothy made that survive offer only a glimpse of the talented actress and comedienne she was.  She is charming and spunky in Gretchen the Greenhorn (1916) and moving and understated as Louise in Orphans of the Storm (1921).  One hopes that more of Dorothy’s films may turn up somewhere, some place.  Remodeling Her Husband is one high on the list given that it is also the sole directorial credit for Lillian Gish.  Flying Pat is also high on the list since the extant stills are a delight.

In the meantime, we must make do with the tantalizing images that remain, like the colorful glass slides.


Donna Hill is a lifelong fan of silent film and classic film in general.  She has maintained a fan website for Rudolph Valentino ( since 1997.  Her book Rudolph Valentino The Silent Idol was published in 2010 and is available at

Donna lives in San Francisco and is currently researching the life and career of Dorothy Gish and is blogging about it at

Slide image for The Beautiful City courtesy of Cleveland Public Library.

December 22, 2010

Lon Chaney Gets Slapped Around

Slide for He Who Gets Slapped (1924)
Today we celebrate the 86th anniversary of He Who Gets Slapped, which premiered December 22, 1924.  Masterfully directed by Victor Sjöström, the film features a truly all-star cast including:  Lon Chaney, Norma Shearer, and John Gilbert.

The opening intertitle sets the tone for all that follows:
  "In the grim comedy of life, it has been wisely said that the last laugh is the best."  
 "Grim comedy of life" indeed.  He Who Gets Slapped is a standout for any number of reasons but Chaney's heartbreaking performance tops the list.  I won't synopsize the film here, but if you want to know more I suggest that you check out the excellent summary at Classic Film Guide.  Suffice it to say, if it's a tragic clown you're looking for, this is the place to find one.

Slide image courtesy of Cleveland Public Library.

December 19, 2010

Hollywood Does Its Part

Advertising slide.  Douglas Fairbanks promotes third Liberty Loan bond campaign (1918)

In 1917 and 1918, the United States government issued Liberty Bonds to help finance the war effort.   An aggressive promotional campaign organized by Secretary of the Treasury William Gibbs McAdoo pushed the bonds through patriotic appeals using print, posters, buttons, and (of course) theatre advertising.  Celebrities and Hollywood stars lent their star power to the cause, with Al Jolson, Elsie Janis, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin among the celebrities that made public appearances.
Douglas Fairbanks lifts Charlie Chaplin at Liberty Loan rally (1918)
Probably most successful (and certainly the most highly publicized) of these star efforts were rallies featuring filmdom's three most popular personalities:  Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and Charlie Chaplin. Traveling together by train, they appeared together at rallies that drew throngs at every stop.

[The website Critical Past hosts a very nice video of the the three appearing in Washington D.C. during the Fourth Liberty Loan Drive.  Click HERE to check it out.]

Charlie Chaplin in The Bond (1918)
Chaplin also created a short film The Bond (1918) at his own expense.  The film included members of Chaplin's company Albert Austin and Edna Purviance, and featured Chaplin's brother Sydney as the Kaiser who Charlie pounds to defeat in the end using a "Liberty Bonds" mallet.

The combination of patriotic appeal and Hollywood glamor appear to have been a potent component of the government's strategy.  The second, third, and fourth bond issues were all over-subscribed, and the bond campaigns overall raised a combined  $21.5 billion for the war effort.  While it isn't possible to directly attribute bond sales to specific elements of the promotional campaign, it is clear that when it came to selling the war effort, Hollywood definitely "did it's part."

Douglas Fairbanks slide courtesy of the Goessel Collection.

December 15, 2010

Are You Doing Your Bit?

Patriotic exhibitors slide (c. 1917)
Lantern slides in motion picture venues served a multitude of purposes - they touted products, advertised local merchants, instructed audience behavior (don't spit on the floor!), led them in song, and promoted upcoming programs.
Advertisement in Motion Picture News, May 19, 1917
During wartime slides also served as a means to promote (or demonstrate) patriotism and to support the the propaganda needs of the government.

Commercial Patriotic Slides

Slides of this variety fall into two broad categories.  The first type are slides that the exhibitor themselves purchased from commerical manufacturers such as the Excelsior Illustrating Company or Novelty Slides, Inc.

These slides declared simple patriotic slogans and were typically embellished with color images of eagles, flags, soldiers presidential profiles, or other patriotic symbols.  Motion picture trade magazines such as Motion Picture News and Moving Picture World featured advertisments for these types of slides which could be purchased for 15¢ to 25¢ each.
Motion Picture News, June 23, 1917

Projectionist column in Motion Picture News, May 12, 1917

Within the cinema, these patriotic appeals generally led off the program.

In her book Reel Patriotism:  The Movies and World War I, Leslie Midkiff DeBauche describes the scene:

"Once the houselights dimmed and the movie-goers' attention was directed to the screen, the theater manager had a final opportunity to promote his theater by striking the patriotic chord. [...]  The Excelsior Illustrating Company of New York sold "a few of the other beautifully handcolored patriotic slides, 25 cents.'  Or exhibitors could make their own slides.  Joseph Yeager, owner of a chain of theaters in Raton, New Mexico, showed slides of local mean who had enlisted.  'The [the slides] are making a hit now and he has a full set for later use should they be killed or perform some unusual service.'"
Government issued instructions for exhibiting Food Pledge slides (1917)
Government Issued Propaganda Slides

The second variety of wartime patriotic slide were propaganda slides provide directly from government agencies.

Slides in this category promoted enlistment into the armed services, encouraged sacrifice and volunteerism on the home front, and touted the purchase of war bonds.

These slides were often of components of coordinated multi-media campaigns which combined slides and motion pictures with printed material such as handbills and posters.

For example, the Food Administration's extensive Second Food Pledge Card Drive included a set of eight slides that were furnished to theatre owners.  The dates and sequence for exhibiting these slides were specifically detailed in an instruction sheet which accompanied the slides.  In addition to the slides, the campaign included newsreel films of President Woodrow Wilson and former president Herbert Hoover, and posters proclaiming "Food Will Win the War."

The campaign proved to be a great success.  According to DeBauche:

"The Second Pledge Card Drive, which was designed to enlist the housewives of the nation in the Food Administration's conservation efforts, was highly successful.  Ten and one-half million pledge cards were signed, and the same number of window cards were distributed.  The film industry contributed to this successful outcome by visibly aligning itself with food conservation efforts.  Long after the campaign ended, exhibitors displayed the colorful posters and framed certificates [...] to remind patrons of their patriotism."
Slide A1, U.S. Food Administration Second Pledge Card Drive, exhibited week of October 14, 1917.
Slide A2, U.S. Food Administration Second Pledge Card Drive, exhibited week of October 14, 1917.
Slide A4, U.S. Food Administration Second Pledge Card Drive, exhibited week of October 14, 1917.
Slide A5, U.S. Food Administration Second Pledge Card Drive, exhibited week of October 14, 1917.
Slide B2, U.S. Food Administration Second Pledge Card Drive, exhibited week of October 21, 1917.
Slide B3, U.S. Food Administration Second Pledge Card Drive, exhibited week of October 21, 1917.

Mass Production Meets the Propaganda Slide

Government issued propaganda slides were manufactured on a grand scale.  The U.S. Treasury Department created 30,000 slides supporting the first Liberty Loan drive, and manufactured 17,500 more sets of three slides per set for the second bond drive.
Cellophane slide, Red Cross Clothing Drive (c. 1917)

Though these slides were created in great quantity, they were also designed with an extremely short shelf-life in mind.  They were intended to exhibited over a very specific time during the campaign and then discarded afterwards.

These considerations clearly manifested in manufacturing processes that appear to be unique to government produced slides - processes which obviously empasize quantity over quality.

Unlike commercially produced slides of the era, these government-issued slides were not manufactured using photographic plates.   Instead, they were produced by printing the message onto cellophane or stamping it into metal.

Cellophane slide, Food Administration Second Pledge Card Drive (1917)
Metal slide, Food Administration Second Pledge Card Drive (1917)
Cellophane based slides consisted of simple black type printed on an thin cellophane pane.  The cellophane was then supported by an equally flimsy cardboard frame and stapled at the edges.

To a certain extent, this cardboard frame construction predicts the more refined cardboard frame manufacturing process that the industry adopted in 1924 (see Anatomy of a Slide), but there are also significant differences.

The most obvious is that the image itself is printed on a press instead of screened or developed photographically and that the transparent material is flimsy cellophane instead of glass.

The other less obvious difference is that the frame consists of two separate pieces of cardboard stapled together, which differs from the later 1924 process which required a tri-fold arrangement in order to create a space within the frame to secure the glass element.

More interesting (and certainly more durable!) than the cellophane process are slides that  that were simply stencil-cut from metal sheets.

These slides (I suppose they still fit that definition) have the letters simply punched out from the material.
Metal slide, Food Administration Second Pledge Card Drive (1917)

The resulting image is certainly military looking.  I suppose the good news is that breakage was never a concern.
In executing these campaigns, R.C. Maxwell, the head of the U.S. Education Department complained about the "ordinary" quality of the slides and films.

Clearly he had a point.

Pledge Drive slides courtesy of Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum.

December 14, 2010

Pola Negri Loses Her Head in "Passion"

Madam DuBarry released in the U.S. as  Passion (1920)
Today we celebrate the 90th anniversary of the American premiere of Ernst Lubitsch's Passion at the New York Capitol theater on December 12, 1920.

Today the film is more commonly known by it's original title Madam DuBarry.  The 1919 German film was renamed Passion for the American release because distributor First National believed (probably justifiably) that Madam DuBarry sounded too foreign to draw at the box office. 

Madam DuBarry featured two of Germany's biggest stars, Pola Negri and Emil Jannings, and is credited by Lubitsch biographer Scott Eyman as being "the film would have the greatest influence on Lubitsch's career."   In her modestly titled Memoirs of a Star, Pola Negri echoed the sentiment calling the film "the most important film of my career."

Negri recalled the Berlin premiere at the UFA-Palast in Berlin on September 18, 1919:
Pola Negri in Madam DuBarry [aka Passion] (1920)
" was also the opening night of the largest motion picture theatre in Europe, the UFA Palace in Berlin.  The four thousand seats were filled with a distinguished audience from the worlds of society and the arts and standees lined the back.  A special box, decorated with flowers, had been reserved for Lubitsch, Jannings, and me.  Work had gotten out that this film might mark the beginning of a new epoch in pictures, and representatives of movie companies had come from all over the world.  The atmosphere rippled with anticipation.
At the end of the picture, there was a breathless silence.  Emil almost looked pleased.  Lubitsch and I exchanged a very nervous glance.  Was it possible that the public did not like what we considered our best work?
Then the roof fell in!  There was a burst of thunderous applause as we were accorded a standing ovation that went on endlessly.  People began to clamor into our box.  We were terrified that we might be torn to shreds by their enthusiasm.  I found myself being lifted onto strange shoulders and paraded through the theatre, as the audience changed, 'Hail Königin Pola!'"

December 6, 2010

William S. Hart: Hamlet on Horseback

On this 146th anniversary of his birth, STARTS THURSDAY pays tribute to most stoic cowboy ever to ride the range:  William S. Hart!

William S. Hart promotion slide (c. 1915-23)
William Surrey Hart was born on December 6, 1864, four months before the Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox.  He began his acting career on the stage during his twenties and became a successful Shakespearean actor on Broadway, also appearing in popular melodramas as well as the original stage production of Ben-Hur in 1899.  

Three Word Brand (1921)
Hart's stage performance eventually led to his 1907 screen debut in a one-reel adaptation (if you could call it that)  of Ben-Hur in which he played the role of Messala.  This abbreviated version featured only two actors (Herman Rottger played Ben Hur) and focused exclusively on the climactic chariot race.  The film was released December 7, 1907 - one day after Hart's 43rd  birthday.  Though it marks his first screen appearance, it could not really be considered the beginning of his film career.  That would come seven years later in 1914 when he left the stage behind and headed west.

The Toll Gate (1920)
Hart played supporting roles in a couple of short films before being starring in the feature length The Bargain (1914), the film widely credited with launching him to stardom.  In 1915 he starred in a series of two-reel westerns, before moving on to feature length films, first for Thomas Ince and then for Adolph Zukor's Famous Players-Lasky.

Travelin' On (1922)
Yankee Shakespearean or not, Hart was fascinated by the "Old West" and insisted on realistically depicting western life.  Over his eleven year film career he made more than 65 films, the last being Tumbleweeds in 1925 which is now recognized as one of his best.  Tumbleweeds was reissued in 1939 with an eight-minute spoken introduction by the then 75 year old Hart.  The introduction closes with his heartfelt farewell to the screen in a speech reminiscent of Douglas MacArthur's farewell ("old soldiers never die, they just fade away) twenty years hence.

 William S. Hart bids farewell (1939)

Hart's farewell also serves as a reminder of his origin as a Shakespearean actor.  When the sound era arrived in 1927 the careers of many actors from the silent era were ruined due to their (supposedly) inappropriate or inadequate speaking voices.  In Hart's case, he was already over 60 years old when he made his last film in 1925.  If he had only hung on until the sound era perhaps he could have been a Hamelet on horseback.

Happy Birthday Bill!

Slide images of William S. Hart promo and Three Word Brand courtesy of John Hillman.

December 4, 2010

"Wild Orgie Parties" (!!!)

Custom exhibitor slide from Sam Lustig Film Laboratory, Cleveland, Ohio (c. 1921)

Theater owners routinely created custom slides for purposes such as advertising, special promotions, and general announcements.  The slides could be ordered from large national vendors commissioned from smaller local manufacturers, or created in-house using one of the many Do It Yourself kits offered in the trade press (as discussed in DIY Coming Attractions). 

I recently came across an interesting locally manufactured slide which appears to have been commissioned as an exhibitor's response the infamous 1921 Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle scandal.  Readers of this column are likely familiar with this shameful episode in Hollywood history in which the innocent Arbuckle's career was destroyed by a self-rightous journalistic lynch mob led by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst.  [For those of you unfamiliar with the details, I suggest Wanda Felix's nicely done online synopsis, or Andy Edmonds excellent book Frame-Up!: The Untold Story of Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle.]

Roscoe Arbuckle in happier times.  The Garage (1920)
Though Arbuckle's name is not specifically mentioned in this slide the reference is obvious.  Newspaper headlines from the period indignantly "exposed" Hollywood's scandalous immorality typified by drug use, drunkenness,  and sexual depravity.  The "wild orgie" (sic) that formed the centerpiece of the Arbuckle scandal became a national symbol of what was wrong with the movies and predictably led to calls for censorship and government oversight.

This slide was manufactured by a local concern, the Sam Lustig Film Laboratory in Cleveland Ohio, and though there is no indication of the venue in which it was presented, the slide was most likely created on behalf of a local Ohio exhibitor.  Apparently this theater owner felt that it was the scandal was present enough in his audience's mind that he needed to address it directly it with his five thousand dollar challenge.

Interestingly, the text of the slide can be interpreted in two ways.  One (admittedly unlikely) interpretation could be that the exhibitor was defiantly defending the attacks on Hollywood movies and daring anyone to produce proof against the performers featured in his programs.  Most probably though, he hoped that this patriotically colored red, white, and blue slide would reassure his customers that he was maintaining strict vigilance and taking all necessary steps to ensure that his screen will not be soiled with pictures featuring players of questionable morality.

December 2, 2010

Carla Laemmle Remembers Lon Chaney

STARTS THURSDAY! friend Galen Wilkes recently had the pleasure of joining silent screen actress Carla Laemmle for the celebration of her 101th birthday.  Carla's career spans an amazing breadth of film history.  Her first screen appearance came in 1925 as a ballet dancer in The Phantom of the Opera, and she has been most recently the documentary series Moguls & Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood which is currently airing on Turner Classic Movies.

Last month Galen sat down Carla and was able to capture recollections from some her early studio experiences.  STARTS THURSDAY! is exceptionally grateful to both Galen and Carla for their collaboration in recording these precious memories and for allowing me to share them with you.  What follows now are Carla's own words as transcribed by Galen Wilkes (November 2010)...

Slide for The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
Carla Laemmle
The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
The studio asked me to be in The Phantom of the Opera.  I was quite young, about 16.  My dancing master was the director of the dance sequence.  He was Ernest Belcher.  I had previously studied dancing in Chicago.  Then I studied with him after we moved to Los Angeles.  I was 14 or 15 and became more accomplished under him.  He was from England and was the first choreographer hired to work for the movies.  I appeared in a lot of movies that he was hired to do.  The opera house was built exactly like the one in Europe.  It was very elaborate and enormous.  It was a beautiful stage.  It had a wonderful pit orchestra.  Everything was exactly like the original.  It still exists at Universal; they will never do anything to it, it will always be there.  I was very happy and proud that I was going to be one of the principal dancers!  I’m glad that I was trained well enough to do it.  I studied with Mr. Belcher for about 8 years.  It was a very nice time of my life. 

Galen Wilkes and Carla Laemmle (November 2010)
I didn’t get to meet Lon Chaney as we were not in the same scenes.  But I did see him in makeup!  That was when he was filming and by chance I happened to see him.  He had ruled out people coming to the set.  But somehow or other I showed up!  I gasped when I saw his face!  His makeup is just hideous.  Such a great loss when he died.  He was so young.  His parents were deaf and I think you can attribute a lot of his great talent to the fact he had this situation in his life.  He would have an opportunity to express to his parents through gestures and this was part of his training.  There’s no one that achieved what he did.  He was a very great actor, he could express anything.

Slide for The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923)
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923)
I also watched him film The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  It just so happened they were shooting the scene where he climbed down the cathedral.  He did his own stunts, he didn’t have a stand-in.  He never did.  Everything that was even dangerous he would do.  Because he wanted it accurate.  He didn’t want anyone to stand in for him.   He felt absolutely qualified being able to do it.  I saw HIM do it.  He had a thing against hiring somebody to do the job.  He felt so qualified that he wasn’t afraid either.  It was hazardous.  The Hunchback was really a painful makeup.  He had this thing on his back, distorting it.  And then of course he had his facial makeup.  I was really blessed to get that close to him and actually appear in one of his movies!

Poster for King of Jazz (1930)
King of Jazz (1930)
Dancing on the giant piano was the scariest thing I've done.  I was dancing en pointe [on the tip of the toes] on these big keys way up high and I was scared I was going to fall!  I was right near the edge!  In the Tarantelle sequence I was on the floor, that was not scary!  I did meet Paul Whiteman.  He was very nice and gracious.  He was the star of it of course.


Rebecca Isabelle "Carla" Laemmle was born October 20, 1909 and is the niece of Universal Pictures founder Carl Laemmle.  Her first screen appearance came in 1925 in an uncredited role as a ballet dancer in The Phantom of the Opera (1925).  Carla also appeared in another as a small role a "coach passenger" in the original 1931 Dracula.  She is the last surviving cast member from both of these early classics.

Galen Wilkes has spent most of his life researching and producing programs on films and music of the early 20th century, including silent film series, radio broadcasts, live concerts & shows, and CD anthologies.  He publishes his own music in the ragtime idiom and has garnered much attention with a number of his works which appear on dozens of CDs and in concerts worldwide.  Galen also does lectures and programs for historical & educational organizations.  Galen can be found on line at his web site:

The Phantom of the Opera slide courtesy of Frank Buxton.