Hans August Spanuth

This is a biographical piece on Hans August Spanuth, an early movie producer that I am doing research on.  This piece is in the early stages.  I am also trying to find information on his series of VOD-A-VIL movies.  Anyone with Information please contact me.

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H. A. Spanuth (Hans August Spanuth) was born on June 8, 1884 in Bremen, Germany (although some say he was born in Hamburg).  He immigrated with his family to New York City at two years of age, in 1886.  According to the census, in 1900, he was living in Chicago, and, ten years later, by the age of 26 was back in New York City.   Hans attended Columbia University.  He began working in moving pictures, during it’s pioneering days, in 1907, with a “Nickelodeon” kit – a motion picture start-up package, that generally included a ticket booth, screen, and projector – all you needed was an empty store, he screened films in New York City.   He was the first to use motion picture photography for political campaign purposes, showcasing Colonel Theodore Roosevelt.  He produced Oliver Twist, (in 5-reels) with legitimate theatrical star, Nat Goodwin, the first feature-length film made in America, in 1912.

His success in selling state distribution rights for this film gave him the capital to begin larger ventures. Establishing a verbal deal with theatrical producer Charles Frohman and giving a $50,000 “good faith” deposit, he seemed destined to gain access to stage talent for film projects.  However, the death of Mr. Frohman, who was killed in the sinking of the Titanic, ended this opportunity.  Spanuth returned to Chicago to manage the General Film Company branch located there.   He also worked for the Miles Brothers Film Exchanges and organized and operated the Laemmle Film Exchange, and later became an advertising manager and distributor for both Universal and Mutual products.   He also developed the Celebrated Players’ Company, was the managing director for the Central Film Company and, was instrumental in forming, the F. I. L. M. Club of Chicago, an early first such association of exchange men, in the film business.

He also worked for Essanay prior to founding the, Commonwealth Pictures Corporation, and had great success with his series of “Spanuth’s Original Vod-A-Vil Movies,” which were short reels of Vaudeville performers.  One such film that might have explained the phenomenon quite well is a 1920 release entitled Why They Laugh in Vod-a-Vil, alas, I can find no copy of this film.

After Vod-A-Vil, he began a decade of work with the Bell & Howell Company to develop and promote one of the earliest 16mm film rental libraries.  Hans also owned and operated a number of theaters in and around Chicago during this period.  He then joined Bertram Willoughby’s firm, Ideal Pictures.  Later, he established Film Studios of Chicago with G. L. Reason, and again, his own firm, The H. A. Spanuth Agency, representing individuals in many film industry positions.  He is also well-known for his early recognition of the potential of television, at a time when it was considered by many to be inferior to the film world. Starting in 1945, he actively produced and promoted a series of shows for television called, “Woman Speaks.” These were composed of vignettes highlighting the accomplishments of women in all aspects of professional life.

Oliver Twist (1912) and The Frozen Warning (1917) were two major productions. Some of the films produced under the Commonwealth/Vod-a-Vil banner were Sampson’s Dogs and Marion, Shean and Carson, Wheelcock & Hay Rose & Honey 1918 Style Show, Billy Whiskers (a goat), as well as, In Bad with the Police, In the Taxi Business, The Life of a Fireman and The Soda Water Clerk (were other ‘Billy Whiskers’ productions).

His obituary in the Chicago Tribune is confusing about the time frame for his various ventures.  He died January 23, 1976, at the age of 92 years, in Waukegan, Illinois and was survived by his daughter, Mrs. Jean Jordan, her two children, and two great grandchildren.  His wife, Dena, preceded him in death.  They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1968, having married in 1918.

COMING ATTRACTION SLIDES

This is an article that appeared in SFQ (Silent Film Quarterly), Volume 1, Issue 3 ~ Spring 2016.

COMING ATTRACTION Slides

Coming Attraction slides are forerunners to the familiar trailers shown in cinemas today, before the start of the feature.  In the general term of a slide most people are probably more familiar with the 35mm variety, of the more recent past and today, rather than the slides used to advertise forthcoming feature films, and shorts, during the silent era.

The actual history of the slides themselves, is quite storied.  Not just something recent, as known, or associated with either the film company Eastman Kodak, or from school lectures.   The first slides and projector was invented by a mathematician, inventor and Jesuit priest named Athanasius Kircher (1601-1680).  His invention was called a ‘magic lantern,’ and projected so-called ‘magic shadows’.  The first projector and projection of slides happened in 1644, or 1645.  Kircher detailed his invention and discoveries, in 1646, in his publication Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae (“The Great Art of Light and Shadow”).

Not just Kircher, however, many other thinkers, scientists and inventors helped to further studies and develop slides and other magic shadow apparatus, over the next 250  years into the development of the film we have today.  The projected films of Auguste Lumiere, in 1895, in France, and the subsequent April 23, 1896 presentation at Koster & Bials’ Music Hall, in New York City are legendary, as well as famous.

While films of the silent era were projected onto the cinemas’ screens for audiences to enjoy, exhibitors needed a way to entice the cinema-goer back into their theaters – the following days and weeks – for the latest films.  While advertising with posters, lobby displays and newspapers helped, these were the days before radio and television.  Cinema managers needed another form of advertising to capture their audiences.  For this they used a magic lantern slide format which were, aptly called, “coming attraction” slides.

Lantern slides prior to the advent of photography were pictures traced onto glass and hand painted.  Later transfers, similar to decals, were used.  When the photographic process was adapted the ability to transfer photos as transparent positives brought a new dimension to the art of projected slides.

These photographic slides consist of two sheets of glass – one that bears the photographic image; the other, is a protective cover over the emulsion of the first.  These two sheets of glass were separated by a black paper frame masking.  The whole slide was then bound along the four edges by gummed fillets of heavy black paper tape.  The slides were generally 3 1/4 inches high by 4 inches wide.  Although, the sizes varied by some countries; for example, in England they measured 3 1/4 inches square.  Later slides, circa 1924, consisted of only the emulsion image sheet of glass, which was inserted into a three-fold cardboard masking border/frame.  A larger version of the standard 35mm slide.

While the films advertised with the coming attraction slides were generally presented in Black & White, the slides themselves were usually hand-tinted, or painted to add a ‘pop’ of interest to scenes depicted on the slide.  Other information on the slides could include credits (such as producer, director, writer, or story based on, on in some instances stars’ names).  Along the bottom edge of the slides was a narrow blank border space, known as a “here” area, wherein the manager or projectionist would write in India Ink the scheduled day/date the film would show at the cinema.  A companion to the coming attraction slides were trade advertising slides, similar to today’s commercials, these were also known as, ‘Public Service’ slides.  Also, song slides, of current day popular songs were projected during the Intermission.

Silent films have been seeing new and increasing audiences through film festivals, DVD releases, and film restorations, as well as, recent film releases like “Hugo” and “The Artist.”  Yet, with all the new found fascination of silent films, it remains a simple fact that films, especially silents, are vulnerable.  It’s estimated that 80% of all silent films are lost.

Sometimes, as I’ve found out through research, these slides are the only instance we have of a particular film’s history.  As is showcased with the illustrations in this article, even these slides are painful reminders of the fragility of film, and help make the case for preservation of , not just, silent films but all films as preserving our cultural heritage.

An interesting article in the Los Angeles Times, dated August 17, 1928, shows that coming attraction slides were fast being replaced by trailers, and even more so with the advent of talking pictures.  Slides – which used to get audiences to settle into their seats and relax – were now getting audiences excited, as exampled “when Conrad Nagel, appeared on the screen in his talking trailer for the present picture ‘Lights of New York,’ he received a round of applause.”  Slides were still used in many cinemas up to and through the 1940s, and in some instances, even the 1950s and 60s.  However, the coming attraction slide generally met it’s overall demise during the early 1930s.

Coming Attraction slides were manufactured in mass quantities by numerous companies, as well as, the studios themselves.  These slides were the property of the studio producer, or distribution company, and rented by individual cinemas, along with posters (one-sheets, two-sheets), including lobby displays.  Said items were supposed to be returned after the run of the film ended, to prevent unauthorized use.  However, because the slides were glass and fragile, many were often not returned, and either trashed, or stored somewhere in the cinema.

In certain instances, you would see a slide where an enterprising manager or projectionist (of smaller theaters) would scratch off the old title and the latest title release inked in, especially in the case of major stars, with their face pictured on the slide.

THE BRENKERT F7 MASTER BRENOGRAPH LANTERN

The slides in many cinemas would have been projected onto the screen by the Brenkert F7 Master Brenograph Lantern, or projector, manufactured by the Brenkert Light Projection Company of Detroit, Michigan.

The projectionist with this projector/lantern would have been able to project images anywhere on the stage or throughout the cinema auditorium.  Any shape, size, color, or focus of animated or stationery images, except motion picture film – the varieties of images limited only by the imagination of the projectionist.

The Master Brenograph had two lantern housings – both upper and lower, were coupled together in every way; however, both systems could be operated independently – only the fader – or iris dissolving shutter, in upper and lower units were linked in unison.

The F7 model projector consisted of the upper and lower projection lanterns, each with a lamphouse that held 75 ampere vertical feed carbon arc burners; the shutter and effects holder, framing shutters, a mask compartment for screen borders or special masks, effect holder for design plates, animated scenic effects and stationary color frames.  Then, the slide carrier – adaptable for 4×5 inch slides, or the standard U.S. size of 3 1/4 x 4 inches, or an insert for U.K. English slides of the 3 1/4 inch square variety.

Standard Slides:  were those for cinema advertising such as the coming attraction slide for forthcoming features, or local advertising from merchants in the neighborhood promoting their stores‘ wares or business services.

Dissolving sets made in themed pairs, measured 5 x 4 inches and were a positive and negative image, with a color filter for the various outlines or shapes produced sophisticated changing scenes, with up to twelves slides to create anything from sunsets, haloes, colored clouds, or other atmospheric effects, again the only limitation being imagination.  The Majestic collection produced for the Master Brenograph contained approximately 300 pairs and 120 sets in color, allowing projections of simple geometric patterns to more complex scenes, and illustrations.

Glass Design Slides:  consisted of a pane of glass that could distort the image(s) or color effect(s).

Animated Scenic Effect Slides:  these slides were unique, looking more like a movie film reel canister, with a clockwork mechanical drive.  Inside the container was a mica, hand painted sheet chosen from a large number of varied designs.

These were used in the effects holder, and once in place the operation of the switch the mica disk would rotate and the image appeared on the screen moving either left to right, up and down, or down and up, even diagonally, at one pre-set speed.  Designs on these mica disks consisted of clouds, auroras, falling snow, rain, birds, fish, waterfalls, or shooting stars.  Even two separate disks, one as a landscape in daylight, another sunset, when combined with a train panorama slide – the ensuing dissolve effect makes it seem the train is traveling across the countryside during the day into evening.

Panorama Slides:  as mentioned above, measured 18 x 5 inches.  Other slides could represent an evening view of the city skyline, with skyscraper windows all lit up, or a photograph of the Louvre museum, in Paris.

Two separate carriers were used for the slides; one operated manually or by clockwork, the other electrically operated.  Blending Color Wheel and Gelatin Color Frame Holders.  The wheel was, again, clockwork driven, and produced a rippling effect of color on the screen.

Other typical accessories for mastering effects included a Star Shutter or Lobsterscope.  The Star was an adjustable diaphragm in a star shape pattern, and could be projected onto curtains or the organ console, producing “charming effects.”  While the diaphragm of the Lobsterscope had a shape, or effect, similar to an “opening eye.”

The Brenkert was primarily a projecting lantern, but was also often used as a spotlight, much like a follow-spot.  Depending on the projectionist, the combination of slides and effects, could transform a movie-going audiences’ evening entertainment from ordinary to stupendous.  I can only imagine how pleased Athanasius Kircher was with the latest modifications of his original magic lantern, circa the 1920s.

COMING ATTRACTION Slides as Collectibles

Collectors usually collect a plethora of items pertaining to their likes or favorites.  And, when it comes to those who collect movie memorabilia – it’s no different than sports fans or toy collectors, to name just a couple.  Most collect a favorite star or two (maybe more), or films in a specific genre, or studio.  And, of that star or genre or film, it’s paper, or books on a shelf about the subject, or posters and photos on a wall, or possible trinkets on a table or shelf.  When it comes to collecting Coming Attraction slides, they are small, but made of glass.  Therefore, far more delicate to both store and admire.  And, no easy way to showcase unlike framed posters, photos and autographs, or stacked like books on a shelf.

I began to collect slides, quite by accident, almost twenty-five years ago, having collected just about everything else (books, posters, photos, autographs and most other ephemera).  From my first hesitant purchase of nearly seventy-five slides, today, the collection has grown to nearly 2,000.  They are numerically stored and cataloged, by the slide’s number, assigned by me, as I acquire them.  They are also entered into a computer database, formatted by me, that I can search and arrange by year, studio, star(s) or other fields of data I have entered.  I have the slides stored in files originally used for index cards, not unlike the old card catalog files in libraries.  As time permits I add more informational data, to the computer, as I find it.  New cast or crew names, dates of release, or reviews, synopsis information… whatever I can find, that might aid in future reference.

Like most collectors, I search high and low, and go to just about any length to acquire new slides.  I look online, garage sales, flea markets, word of mouth.  Sometimes these are dead ends, and other times gold mines.  Sometimes, a slide is cheap, many times nowadays, more expensive, because slides have become a craze amongst certain collectors.  When I began my accidental collecting – most people were not interested in the small rectangles of glass, or even silent films, for that matter.  They were more an item of the seasoned and experienced collector.  Now, more than ever, it’s becoming as they used to say in the Twenties, I believe, “All the Rage!”

So, now that you know a little history about the evolution of “Coming Attraction” slides as they pertain to the movies and their exhibition and collecting.  Sit back, in your favorite chair, grab some popcorn, maybe a soda, and enjoy a few of the many slides from my collection, and we’ll see you soon, “at the ‘silent’ movies.”

Think Really, Really Hard Before Voting for a 3rd Party Candidate. Really.

Hillary is the choice for America and the World.

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Unlike any major candidate in generations, Donald Trump is temperamentally, emotionally, and intellectually unfit to be President of the United States. He would be an embarrassment and, more importantly, present far too high a risk of precipitating an economic, social, or military catastrophe.younghillary3

If you disagree with that assessment, this post is not for you. It won’t persuade you of anything. Though I reserve the right to try to persuade you at some point before the election (and I hope you feel the same about me).   

But assuming you agree with the lunacy of a President Trump, you are left with 4 options:

  1. Vote for Hillary Clinton
  2. Vote for Gary Johnson – Libertarian party
  3. Vote for Jill Stein – Green party
  4. Not vote

Even among those who would never vote for Trump, I’m increasingly hearing things like:

I hate Trump, but Hillary is just as bad.

We have two terrible…

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Billie Dove and the End of a Nagging Question

As a film historian I can concur that finding out the truth, about age, education, marriages, et cetera, is mind boggling.  But, at least with this story, one is finally put to rest.  Thanks.  And, now I share…

 

It was one subject I couldn’t bring up to Billie Dove.  What I wanted to ask was, “Billie, how old are you?”  Well, I would have never asked it in those exact words. But I wanted …

Source: Billie Dove and the End of a Nagging Question