Friday, February 4, 2011

Danville Virginia's Hero - 1925 Two-Reel Film

Hollywood came to Danville, Virginia in February 1925 to produce a two-reel comedy featuring local people. Large crowds attended the showing of the film a short time later. 10,000 people paid to see the film in two of Danville's theaters.
Producer Don Newland with his megaphone.
Standing in front left: Don Newland, Harold Solomon, Ralph Pekar,
John Boles, "Babe" Ruth, Jimmie jr., Jimmie Carrier. The photo is taken at the Atlanta Biltmore on April 3rd, 1931. (from his daughter to Ann Evans)

Don with his camera (from his daughter to Ann Evans)

Miss Mary Temple was chosen by the Bee's Movie Editor from hundreds of beautiful girls in Danville to had the leading role in the film। George G. Temple, age 52, lived on Broad Street in 1920. His daughter Mary L. Temple was 21 years old and single.

The main local stars in the film and the character they play:
Miss Mary Temple - Baby Ethel
Miss Virginia Overby - Mrs. Henpeck
Mr. T. O. Moss - Mr. Henpeck
Mr. Julian Jordan, Jr. - The Rival
Coalter Paxton - Billy Brown
Misses Helen Bullington, Julia Davis, Marian Beaver and Frances Beaver will also take principal parts.

Note the early hand-cranked camera। Director Don Newland of Paramount Studios, Cameraman Charles Fetty and Assistant Director E. Y. Beavers of Interstate Film Producer, all of Hollywood, are together in this cartoon.
One scene in the Danville Hero film was supposed to be an orphanage. Newland had the newspaper publish this on the front page of the Bee on February 5, 1925:

"Director Newland would also like to have the name and addresses of all children between the ages of three and twelve years of age, who wish to take part in the Bee's two-reeler to send their names to The Bee movie editor or turn them in at the box office at the Majestic Theatre at once."

"This afternoon managing Director Newland will have use for as many children between the ages of three and twelve as appear at the Majestic Theatre to be screened in part of the story on the Majestic stage where the Wohl lights have been set up। These children will play a part in the Henpeck drama and Mr. Newland is looking for a large crowd of youngsters who will later have the opportunity of seeing themselves on the screen. Tomorrow afternoon at five o'clock Danville's prize baby crop will be photographed at the Majestic theatre. Mothers with their babies are to be included in the "Danville's Hero" picture and the invitation is extended to mothers to be present with the children. Only babies in arms are needed in this phase of the picture, Director Newland says.
This is the crowd between the Courthouse on Patton Street and the Register and Bee Newspaper building to watch the "Crash Scene। "The “trick photography” for the car crash was clever but not so sophisticated। Newland said that two new cars from the local dealership were placed with the front bumpers together। As the cameras began rolling, a smoke bomb was set off under the bumpers and the cars backed away from each other. When the film was shown in reverse, it seemed like the cars had a head-on collision.

"The filming of an imaginary automobile accident yesterday (Feb. 5, 1925) on Main Street incidentally gave the public an opportunity of seeing some of the difficulties which the police encounter in coping with the real thing. The carrying out of police regulations is not as easy as it would seem. There is always the crowd, for instance and there is nearly always the difficulty in keeping it back from the scene of the mishap in securing the names of witnesses and other pertinent data for which there is use later in all contested cases. Then too there is the task of coping with traffic, while these formalities are gone through without the delay to traffic - yesterday was a regrettable incident but it is a safe guess if the watching crowd had been given a vote on the matter they would have preferred seeing the scene enacted at the expense of delayed traffic than abandonment of the scene. It was Danville's first opportunity of seeing how those things are done. A similar situation was occasioned at Richmond recently where the moving picture company screened the fire department being called out to cope with the crowd."

"The Bee regrets the interruption of the street car service yesterday while filming "Danville's Hero." Our hopes are that no one was caused any inconvenience and that those witnessing the scene enjoyed seeing how movie smash-ups are actually made. A similar wreck was staged two weeks ago on Broad Street, Richmond, the crowd being so great that it was necessary to call out the fire department to rope the crowd back. The co-operation of the police department and street car company is greatly appreciated."

"The final "shots" in The Bee movie, "Danville's Hero" will be taken today and tonight on stage of The Majestic Theatre where the director will call on members of the cast to go through those phases of the story which show Mr. Henpeck about his household duties. T. O. Moss is playing the role of Mr. Henpeck and will be seen as the victim of the loaded cigar in which some more trick photography will be undertaken to show just how the Danville man survives the story incident of smoking a perfecto which suddenly explodes while he is reading the paper."

"Mr. Newland said today that the "wreck" scene was filmed successfully yesterday afternoon and that the cameraman had good success in a number of street chase shots, in which a fugitive motor car was pursued by one carrying the cameraman. This of course, is another phase of the light plot running through the story. This afternoon a number of children are to be filmed on the stage of the Majestic, also several Danville mothers with children."

"Tonight the exposed films will be dispatched to New York for their development, editing and cutting and they will be back in Danville next Wednesday when the first showing at The Broadway is to take place. Many of the Danville people already included in the scenes are anxious to see how they look as others see them - that is in action in the moving pictures." (Feb. 6 Bee)

On February 7, the Bee printed many of the local players in the film:

"The last exterior "shots" were made yesterday afternoon when Baby Ethel and her ardent wooer were seen with the inmates of an orphanage walking up Patton Street. The heartless directless seized upon the city courthouse as te "orphanage." The youngesters took an active interest in the picture and they did well. Dispite the natural inclination on part of the young actors and actresses to gaze at the cranking cameraman as they marched by, few of them did so."

"The star of this army of young actors and actresses was Albert Thomas, 4 1/2 year old son of Mr. and Mrs. J. E. Thomas, 432 Chestnut Street. He did his part well, after enacting a scene, leading his followers into the "Orphanage." Some of the others in the picture were Ruby Lucas, Maybelle Stephens, Virginia Burgess, Catherine Vaughn, Meryle Clutter, Gladys Ligon, Ethel Duerr, John Owen, Lewis
Feldman, Helen Luerr (?), Donald Womack, Nick Oliver, "Cookie" Duerr, Earl Shackleford, Harvey Munday, Clyde Esene, Mathew Callahan, Jack Saerbeck, Thelma Noblett, Catherine Wells, James Adams, Raymond Smith, Hubbard Thompson, William Walace Adams, Jr., James Thomas, Alton Thomas, Harold Goings, Pauline Moore, Jenine Baber, Pearl Lucas, Catherine Clutter, Elizabeth Faust and many other children, who hurried away before their names could be obtained, after Director Newland had dismissed them for the day. As for the part they took in two scenes - well, just wait and see it shown here next week."

"Director Newland met his sternest task yesterday afternoon when filming an interior scene at the Majestic Theatre where Mr. Henpeck is seen washing the baby with the large array of little Henpecks taking part. The scene called for children and babies and it was no easy task for the director to assemble a dozen youngsters within the range of the camera and to keep them there long enough to be filmed. It was a gay chorus as some of the smaller ones, unable to understand the brilliant lights, began to call stridently for their mammas and did not relish being left alone. But with the aid of chewing gum and other emoluments together with the ability of Cameraman Fetty to work the scene, fast, good results, it is believed were obtained."

"The moving picture organization packed up today and is leaving for Greensboro where the Daily News is sponsoring the 'Greensboro's Hero.' Later they will perform at Charlotte for the Charlotte Observer and at Winston under the auspices of the Winston Salem Journal."

Half of the film was sent to the wrong Danville. One of the two reels first went to Illinois. The Bee 12 FEB 1925: "Henpeck Jinx is Still on Trail - The jinx which camped on the trail of Mr. Henpeck continues and the moving picture comedy "Danville's Hero" which was to have been given yesterday could not be shown. Part of the film is here. The other half is apparently somewhere between Danville, Va. and Danville, Ill., while the Southern Amusement Company is burning up the telegraph wires trying to locate the lost Henpeck."

"The announcement made yesterday that the film would be shown last night was promised on the statement from the theater people, who on securing a shipment of film from the laboratory where the Danville picture was developed, naturally assumed that it was there in its entirety. However it proved that a major part of the picture was missing and that only a section with some of the captions had arrived."

The local newspaper, THE BEE heavily promoted the production and screening of the early film because they were directly involved। Financial arrangements are not known।

More Showings in Danville:

The Bee reported a large turnout of the fiom on February 18, 1925:
"J. C. Hester, manager of the Broadway Theatre, today estimated the number of people who saw "Danville's Hero" at ten thousand. A great majority of them he believed were attracted by the locally screened comedy and he said that the undertaking had been a successful one from the box office point of view. Today he is trying to negotiate for its showing at Martinsville and South Boston within the next few days and he plans one final showing in Danville at the Bijou Theatre - several people having expressed the hope that a final opportunity to see it would be given. The film incidentally will remain in Danville and might prove an interesting feature twenty years hence."

Thanks to Danville native Anne Evans, now of California, for all the great research.

Copyright 2011 Robert D. Ricketts. All rights reserved. Do not publish in whole or in part without written permission.