Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Is There New Evidence of a Previously Unknown Thanhouser Company Silent Film That Was Filmed, in Part, in Pelham in 1911?

In the hopes that movie lovers, Thanhouser Company experts and silent film aficionados somewhere may be able to shed light on a Pelham mystery, I am devoting today's Historic Pelham Blog posting to the filming of a silent film scene on what we know today as Shore Road in front of the Bolton Priory on December 21, 1911. The reference that caught my eye appeared in a brief item published in The New York Times in 1911. That item reads as follows:



While Galloping Dick Performs a Daring Hold-Up His Valuables Vanish.

Special to The New York Times.

NEW ROCHELLE, N. Y., Dec. 21. - While playing the role 'Galloping Dick,' the famouse [sic] English highwayman, with a local motion picture troupe before the camera this afternoon James Cruzee, an actor, lost a $400 mink overcoat, a $200 diamond scarf pin, and roll of bills containing nearly $100.

The troupe had selected a lonely part of Pelham Road, in front of the Pelham Priory, an old English Gothic church [sic] near Travers Island, for the scene of a stage holdup and were taken there in an automobile. The auto had withdrawn some distance down the road, where a crowd of men and children were watching the act. After 'Galloping Dick' had helped himself to a great quantity of jewels and the heart of a fair lady with powdered hair, the troupe returned to the automobile and Cruzee discovered that his property was gone."

Source: Stage Robber Robbed, N.Y. Times, Dec. 22, 1911, p. 15.

Although I have not yet devoted the research time necessary to detail the background of this incident with certainty, below I am providing my thoughts, hypotheses and preliminary research in an attempt to shed some light on this incident. It is my hope that film mavens may shed additional light on this matter by providing comments on this Blog posting.

Although I am not certain, I believe that the references to "James Cruzee, an actor" in the item quoted above are mistaken references to silent film actor and, later, director and producer James Cruze. James Cruze was born near Ogden, Utah on March 27, 1884 as Jens Vera Cruz Bosen. He died of a "heart ailment" on August 3, 1942 in Hollywood. According to some sources, he acted in, directed or produced over one hundred films most of which were silent films. It is believed that he began acting in 1910 and often played the leading man in films with which he was involved. He married actress Marguerite Snow in 1913 and had a daughter a year later. The couple divorced in 1923 and he married silent film actress Betty Compson at the height of her career. Compson later divorced him as well. In June, 1941, shortly before his death, he married Alberta Beatrice McCoy. In private life he was known as "James Cruze Bosen".

Twice during his career Cruze was named one of the world's ten best directors -- in 1926 and 1928. Although best remembered for the 1923 silent film "Covered Wagon", he became a director for Paramount. During his long career he made, among other films, the following: "The Gangs of New York," "The Old Homestead," "Merton of the Movies," "Hollywood," "Ruggles of Red Gap," "Pony Express," "Beggar on Horseback," and "Old Ironsides". His first talking picture was "The Great Gabbo" with Eric von Stroheim and Betty Compson. His obituary appeared in The New York Times on August 5, 1942. See James Cruze, 58, Screen Director, N.Y. Times, Aug. 5, 1942, p. 19.

Though I speculate that the "James Cruzee" listed in The New York Times item about filming in Pelham on December 21, 1911 was actually James Cruze, so far I have been entirely unable to confirm this. I strongly suspect that the woman in the stage coach wearing a powdered wig was Marguerite Snow. I suspect this because the little information I have been able to locate about the few films with which Cruze is known to have been involved at the time had casts that included Marguerite Snow.

In 1911, James Cruze and Marguerite Snow starred in "She" (released 12/26/1911). That eighteen minute film has been described as a "Science Fiction" film that Cruze reportedly directed. This film would seem an unlikely candidate for the one described in The New York Times report quoted above both because of its timing (release five days after the "Galloping Dick" scene was filmed) and its subject matter (reportedly "Science Fiction"). Other early films in which both Cruze and Snow starred included at least the following: "Lucile" (released some time in 1912 and starring Cruze, Snow and William Russell); and "Undine" (released 9/24/1912 and starring Cruze, Snow and William Russell).

Early in their careers, James Cruze and Marguerite Snow were affiliated with Thanhouser Company, a movie production company located in New Rochelle, New York (see below). Other Thanhouser films released in late 1911 and in early 1912 about which I have been unable to determine much include: "Cinderella" (12/22/1911), "The Expert's Report" (12/29/1911), "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (1/16/1912), "His Great Uncle's Spirit" (3/8/1912), "Nicholas Nickelby" (3/19/1912), "For Sale -- A Life" (3/26/1912), "The Star of the Sideshow" (4/2/1912), "The Girl of the Grove" (4/5/1912), "The Baby Bride" (4/16/1912), "The Cry of the Children" (4/30/1912), "Under Two Flags" (7/7/1912), "The Portrate of Lady Anne" (7/23/1912), "Treasure Trove" (7/30/1912), "The Voice of Conscience" (8/3/1912), and "When a Count Counted" (8/25/1912). Assuming that the "Galloping Dick" scene filmed on December 21, 1911 was filmed for a Thanhouser production, it is at least possible that it may have been filmed for one of the movies listed above, but the titles certainly do not evoke the subject matter of the scene described in The New York Times article that appeared on December 22, 1911. Is it possible that this the scene may have been filmed for a now "lost" Thanhouser film?

Presumably the film in which Cruze played the role of "Galloping Dick" would have been completed in about 1912 if the troupe was filming so late in 1911. About all we know of the film -- if it was ever finished -- is that Cruze played the role of "Galloping Dick" (there were other films on this subject) and may have included a scene in which he robbed a stage coach with a woman in a powdered wig inside.

Intriguingly, at about the same time (1911), sheet music was published under the title "Galloping Dick". It is at least possible, it would seem, that the music by Percy Fletcher and G. Rothery may have been prepared to accompany presentations of the silent film, but that is pure speculation on my part.

I suspect -- but cannot establish -- that the Galloping Dick scene may have been filmed for one of the early silent films sponsored by Thanhouser Company. Edwin Thanhouser entered the movie business in 1909 and opened production studios in an old skating rink near the intersection of Warren, Grove and Center Streets in New Rochelle, New York. The location on "Pelham Road" (today's Shore Road) where the "Galloping Dick" scene was filmed in 1911 was only a short distance from the Thanhouser studios.

Thanhouser reportedly released its first film on March 15, 1910 -- The Actor's Children. On January 13, 1913, the skating rink studio building burned to the ground, although reports indicate that the company's film negatives were saved. Over the next several years, new studio facilities were built in the area.

I hope that silent movie aficionados, Thanhouser Company experts or fans of James Cruze may have some information about films with which he may have been involved in or about late December 1911 or during 1912. Otherwise, it would seem, this is simply another instance of the work of an early movie pioneer lost to history. Thanhouser Company Film Preservation, Inc. has developed a spectacular Web site devoted to the company and its films located at http://www.thanhouser.org.

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