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.


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