Sunday, April 29, 2018

An Elmira-Made Movie: Adventures of Dot (1917)

By Kelli Huggins, Education Coordinator
Released in 1917, Adventures of Dot was a two-reel silent film made in Elmira. It featured local actors and was produced by the Unique Photo Drama Corporation of New York City. In an era when film was new and incredibly popular, the opportunity to join the ranks of Mary Pickford or Douglas Fairbanks excited many Elmirans. 

A contest was held to choose the leads and the prospective actors who received the most votes from fellow Elmirans were cast. With 55,960 votes, Yvonne Smith won the female lead, Dot. Lafayette Moseson scored the male lead, Murray Dexter. Unique Photo Drama Corporation manager J. Cooke announced the winners on June 2 at the Mozart Theater, where the film would premiere. The winners also received silver loving cups. 

The actors had to get right to work because the film was scheduled to premiere on June 11. At the end of each day of filming, the footage was shipped to New York City where it was processed. 
The Mozart Theater
While the film does not seem to have survived, here is a synopsis of the action:
Murray Dexter is a precocious Star-Gazette reporter with “a nose for news” (some scenes in the film were shot in the actual Star-Gazette offices). He gets to know the residents of the city through his work. One local, Professor Hassel (played by Robert Gatens) is an old scientist who has invented a new kind of explosive. Hassel’s beautiful daughter Dot is the object of Murray’s affection. The Star-Gazette prints a headline declaring that Hassell’s invention might win the war (remember, the US had just entered WWI). 

Meanwhile, the villainous Serge Revenisch reads this headline. Revenisch apparently knew Hassel from when they were both European anarchists. So Revenisch and his co-conspirator Madam N. decide to come to Elmira to steal the explosive. They send a letter to Chief of Police Weaver saying they’ll blow up City Hall if they don’t get $250,000 from the city.

Dot warns Murray of the anarchists’ attempts to steal her father’s formula and he runs off to get help. The anarchists then kidnap Dot. Dot’s young sister witnesses the kidnapping and tells Murray. Meanwhile, another child hops on the back of the car and hangs on until they get to the anarchist hiding spot. The little girl goes for help and leads the police and Murray to Dot. 

They free Dot and arrest the anarchists, but Revenisch and Madam N. are nowhere to be found. It turns out that they have gone out to blow up City Hall. The police stop them just in time, but Revenisch escapes custody and leads our heroes on a car chase. The anarchist’s car drives off a cliff by Rorick’s Glen, killing Revenisch.

Dot and Murray marry and then he joins Company L and is shipped off to World War I. Murray was wounded, but survived, returning home after two years. They lived happily ever after. 

Billing for the film, Elmira Star-Gazette, June 11, 1917
Premiering June 11, the film was shown as part of a double feature with a movie called Treason.

I became curious as to whether Adventures of Dot had been distributed elsewhere. I searched the title in an online newspaper database and found something curious. There was also an Ottawa, Canada version of Adventures of Dot. The newspaper articles about the Ottawa film were nearly identical to the Elmira ones. There was a contest. Local youths were cast. They showed the film in a local theater. All the same except for the people and place. 

Then I searched the company, Unique Photo Drama Co. I found they made a similar film in Reading, Pennsylvania. There was a contest, this time for a film called For Her Country’s Sake. They filmed the same movie across the state in Butler, Pennsylvania that year, too. And Akron, Ohio. There were probably others. 
Ad for For Her Country's Sake, Butler Citizen, July 24, 1918
So what gives? It turns out that these kinds of films were common in the early era of moviemaking. Companies like Unique Photo Drama peddled scripts to local theaters and community organizations across the country (for a listing of just some of these companies, see here). These itinerant filmmakers could make some quick money from the film, the sponsoring theater made money from ticket sales, and local actors were thrilled to see themselves and their friends on the screen. It was a win-win for everyone. 

Elmira Star-Gazette, June 12, 1917
Elmira’s Adventures of Dot never had an audience outside of Elmira. But, that was by design. Locals showed up for the short run of the film at the Mozart and then promptly moved on with their lives.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Putting a Name to a Face

by Erin Doane, Curator

On March 9, 1919, the Elmira Jewish Welfare Board hosted a banquet at the Hebrew Social Center on High Street to honor Jewish veterans of World War I. There is a photograph of this event in the archival collection of Congregation Kol Ami. Along with the photograph, CKA has a hand-drawn key to the people in the photograph. While not everyone in the photo is identified, the key provides far more information than we sometimes see with historic images. Too often, photos are left unlabeled and those who remember the people and places within the photos pass away with that knowledge.

There were 104 Jewish soldiers and sailors from Elmira who served in the Great War, six of whom died in service. 35 veterans and their guests, as well as eight women who served in the American Red Cross Canteen Service attended the banquet. Seeing all the men and women gathered to celebrate the end of the war made me wonder if I could find some information about them. So, I turned to the city directories, our archives, and the internet to satisfy my curiosity. I was able to learn a little about the lives of some who attended the banquet nearly 100 years ago.

Nate and Franklin Bimberg
Nate Bimberg served as toastmaster of the event. His son Frank was one of the veterans being honored. Nate was a local businessman, having opened Joseph Bimberg & Son storage at 316 Hathaway Street in 1915. He also served as school commissioner for District No. 1 for 18 years. He was a strong advocate for creating an athletic field at the Elmira Free Academy in 1916.

Franklin Bimberg was 19 years old when he enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1917 as a member of the medical corps. He had worked as office boy at the Star-Gazette before that. After receiving training in Norfolk, Virginia, he was sent overseas where he was stationed in the Mediterranean aboard the Surveyor, a U.S. Destroyer. The Surveyor is credited with capturing the German submarine that sank the Lusitania. Franklin served in the navy until 1921. He enlisted in the army medical corps in 1923, was honorably discharged in 1926, and reenlisted in 1928.

Charles Epstein
Another soldier present that evening was Charles Epstein. He was working as the manager of Jacob Epstein, Estate on East Water Street when the U.S. joined the war. He also volunteered as ward captain of Ward 2 District 3 for a Liberty Loan campaign and was involved in the sale of Liberty Bonds and Thrift Stamps. In August 1918, he was sent to San Antonio, Texas as an Army draftee for training. A month later, he wrote home saying that his time as a boy scout “surely helps a boy in the Army.”
Jacob Epstein, Estate advertisement, Star-Gazette, August 27, 1919

The Siegel Brothers
Star-Gazette, July 11, 1918
Mr. and Mrs. David Siegel had three sons in the military in 1918. Louis and Garris, who were twins, and Sol. Their younger brother Barney was also contemplating joining up at that time, though I never found out if he actually did. The three brothers were all at the celebratory banquet in 1919, but Sol is not among those labeled in the photograph.

Garris (left) and Louis (right) Siegel at the banquet
Just before the war, Garris worked as road representative for the works manager of the American-LaFrance Manufacturing Company. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1918. Louis was a graduate of the University of Buffalo as a pharmacist. He worked at the Spillan Drug Store on Lake and Clinton Streets in Elmira before enlisting in the Naval Reserves.

Henry Radin
In 1917, Henry Radin was among the most eligible bachelors in the city. When the Mozart Theater presented a showing of “Nearly Married,” the management offered free box seats to dozens of men they thought would benefit from the show and Henry was on that list. The young man was also involved in theater himself. He was a “tenor extraordinaire” who performed at Young Men’s Hebrew Association (Y.M.H.A.) minstrel shows. In August 1918 he enlisted in the cavalry.

Julius Berger
Julius Berger was a veteran, just not of World War I. He served in the U.S. army in the Philippines, New Mexico and Arizona years before the Great War. In 1915, he and Henry Radin opened Berger & Radin, a men’s clothing store, at 137 East Water Street. It was the only exclusive men’s hat and haberdashery store in Elmira offering “the nattiest, nobbiest and newest at sane prices.” He and Henry continued to operate the business for years after the war.

Berger & Radin storefront, 137 East Water Street, Elmira

The soldiers and sailors at the banquet were not the only ones who had contributed to the war effort. The ladies of the American Red Cross helped out from home. They raised money for soldier’s families, sold war bonds, collected supplies like bandages and warm socks to send overseas, and operated the Elmira Canteen, located at the railroad station. The Canteen provided soldiers on passing troop trains with food, drink, and basic medical care. After the Red Cross volunteers served dinner at the celebratory banquet, those present offered their thanks to the “canteen girls.”

Edith Fidelman
Edith Fidelman graduated as an honor student from Elmira Free Academy in 1916. Over the next few years, her name appeared frequently in the social column as she attended parties and traveled. In 1918, she joined the Red Cross and became involved in the Liberty Loan Committee of the Y.W.H.A. In 1919, she was appointed as an election inspector by the Republican party for the first district in the city’s fourth ward.

Beatrice Spiegel Perling
Beatrice Spiegel was a 1914 graduate of Elmira College. She went on to get her Master of Philosophy degree from Wisconsin University a year later. She became involved in the war effort in 1917 when she enrolled in the Red Cross. She also took the State Civil Service exam and was appointed as bookkeeper at the State Women’s Relief Corps Home. Just over a month after attending the Elmira Jewish Welfare Board banquet, she married Joseph Perling of New York City. She continued serving the community in Elmira through the Second World War.