Ithaca Journal Perils not filmed here Jun 23, 2005 14:13:52 GMT -5
Post by Terry Harbin on Jun 23, 2005 14:13:52 GMT -5
Sorry, Pauline's Perils Weren't Filmed Here -- But 'Exploits of Elaine' Were
By Walter H. Stainton
The visitor new to Ithaca is generally given a grand tour' by a resident of some years standing. He sees the wonders of the college and university campuses and the views up the lake. Then probably he is shown the delights of the gorges and waterfalls at Taughnannock he will listen to his guide's tales of automobiles tumbled over the cliff during the time when silent cliff-hanger' serial movies were made here.
Once started, the guide, if he has lived here for some years, may relate how Ithaca was once 'the movie capital of the world' and that 'The Perils of Pauline' with Pearl White was made here. He's quite sure of himself because he's always heard so. In fact, he's seen these things in print. He's heard somewhere about Pearl White riding in her Rolls-Royce and even building the house at 106 Cayuga Heights Rd.
If our guide is a good storyteller, Ithaca from about 1912 to 1920 must have had a full share of glamor and romance for such a small town. Unfortunately, most of the tales just aren't so as evidence found in the files of The Journal and elsewhere shows. True, one or two automobiles were dumped into the gorge at Taughannock and a careful search will reveal some of the rusted junk. However, Ithaca was never 'the movie capital of the world.' Before Hollywood there were Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Fort Lee and Bound Brook, N.J., to mention only a few places. There were centers abroad, too notably France and England.
In Ithaca, the Wharton Brothers Studio had many of its operations at Renwick (Stewart) Park. But 'The Perils of Pauline' films were not made in Ithaca. Pearl White and her director, Louis Gasnier, plus others unnamed, were here for two to four days in August 1914, and some scenes for the 'Perils' were shot. In a serial of 20 two-reel episodes these scenes could hardly give the town much claim on the whole picture. As for the Rolls-Royce, the car seems rather to have been a canary yellow Stutz Bearcat. Pearl didn't live at 106 Cayuga Heights Road either. The evidence seems to be that, when she was here for the 'Elaine' series, she lived at the Ithaca Hotel. Pearl White probably was never inside what is now the Sigma Chi house. The place was built by Mrs. Alice McClosky who was a friend of Liberty Hyde Bailey and the first rural publications editor.
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So What pictures were 'posed' here? There were serials and others from one-reel comedies to five-reel features. Silent serials were at a high point during the second decade of the century and those made here are more memorable than the one-shot productions. 'The Exploits of Elaine' made after and a much better series than the 'Perils,' were completed before the end of 1914. Just how much was filmed in Ithaca is impossible to know without a screening -- and no more than fragments exist today. There are, however, 'stills' which show clearly that many of the episodes were produced here.
There were two directors for the 'Exploits.' Louis Gasnier, a Frenchman whose limited knowledge of Engleish may have been responsible for many of the absurdities of the 'Perils,' and George B. Seitz. Seitz was a top director of serials whose name kept appearing on credit titles long after production in Ithaca had ended. Appearing with Pearl in the 'Exploits' were Lionel Barrymore, Creighton Hale, Arnold Daly and Sheldon Lewis. Titles of chapters were chosen to bring customers to the ticket window. 'The Clutching Hand,' 'The Poisoned Room,' 'The Death Ray,' 'The Blood Crystals.'
In mid-July 1915, when the gross receipts from this serial reached $1 million, a dinner at Rector's in New York celebrated the event. Over the years at least twice this figure may have been brought in. Success brought extensions; 'The New Exploits of Elaine' and 'The Romance of Elaine,' all under the signet of the rooster of Pathe. The total was 36 episodes.
'New Adventures of J. Rufus Wallingford,' a series of 14 complete stories, was made here in 1915. The scripts were based on the George Randolph Chester characters appearing in the 'Saturday Evening Post.' Burr MacIntosh, a veteran stage actor, played Wallingford.
During 1916, for Hearst's International Film Service, the Wharton brothers personally directed 'Beatrice Fairfax' and 'The Mysteries of Myra' in 15 episodes each. Harry Fox, Grace Darling, and Olive Thomas, were the principals in 'Beatrice' and among the 'locals' who appeared were the late Betty Howe and Robert Townley.In later years, many an Ithacan loved to relive his or her movie experience, usually having been an extra in a crowd scene.
The Wharton's were dealing with the occult in 'Myra' and engaged Houdini as a consultant. Herewood Carrington, a New York Spiritualist, supervised the production. Some of the chapter titles would entice many viewers if the reels could be screened today. 'The Invisible Destroyer,' 'Levitation,' 'The Thought Monster.' Among the performers in this enterprise were Jean Southern, Howard Esterbrook, Allan Murnane, and Mike Rale.
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'Patria,' another serial backed by Hearst's International, was started in 1916. Mr. Hearst, to suggest that his intentions were of the best, wanted to prepare the country for a war which to him seemed inevitable. The Whartons directed the episodes made in Ithaca. In the cast were Warner Oland, Milton Sills, George Majoroni, and Dorothy Green. The star was Irene Castle, known best as a dancer, with some renown as ' the best dressed woman in the world.' Mrs. Castle's publicity began in May when The Journal stated that she was coming. She arrived early in July with 2 servants, 3 dogs, 20 trunks, 15 hatboxes, and a pet monkey. To follow were two automobiles and two horses, 'Minto' and 'Lightnin' The home of Prof. Alfred Hayes on Cornell Heights, was to be her residence for the summer.
Playing opposite Milton Sills as 'the last of the fighting Channings,' Mrs. Castle heroine sought to save her life, her fortune of $100,000,000. and her country, the U.S. from the villains of other countries. The name of President Woodrow Wilson became associated with 'Patria' since it was he who requested (and got) changes made to avoid offense to Mexico and Japan.
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The Wharton's last serial also related to World War I. It was 'The Eagle's Eye.' Production was started in 1917 and the first episode was released in March 1918. The opening titles from the film tell a good deal about the picture - 'The Eagle's Eye' an expose of The Imperial German Government's Intrigue in America Story from facts supplied by William J. Flynn while Chief of the U.S. Secret Service arranged by Courtney Riley Cooper.
Episode One 'The Hidden Death' Featuring King Baggot and Marguerite Snow Produced by Wharton Incorporated under the personal direction of The Whartons with George Lessey, Co-Director, Photographed by Ray June and Levi Bacon under the supervision of John K. Holbrook.
Many older residents of the area will remember the two cameramen. Ray June went on to become the dean of Hollywood cinematographers and Levi Bacon became the head electrician of the state colleges at Cornell. There is a well-founded legend that Bacon staked June to his first journey to the west coast.
With the end of World War I and the flu epidemic, 'The Eagle's Eye' was left without theater bookings, and so was a commercial failure. Most of the release prints were stored in a shed at the home of the late Howard Cobb at the intersection of Routes 34 and 34B in the Town of Lansing.
One hot summer day, the touchy nitrate film ignited ending all hopes of salvaging some of the investment.
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The last serial to be made in Ithaca and at Renwick was, 'The $1,000,000 Reward' with Lillian Walker, Coit Albertson, George A. Lessey, who also directed and Mr. and Mrs. Charles Middleton. A new company Grossman Pictures, had come to town and leased the studio for a short period. 'Reward, was made for Pathe. It was rejected by that company, probably had no commercial bookings and has been lost without a trace.
Because of financial troubles the Whartons had opened a studio on W.State St. in a former skating rink the building now occupied by the Ithaca Building Trades Council. But the vein had run out, the last dam had broken, the last bridge blown, and the last heroine saved from death. There were no more serials from Ithaca.