The Enchanted Cottage, a 1924 Miracle Romance

The Enchanted Cottage, 1924

The play, The Enchanted Cottage, written by Sir Arthur Pinero, which opened on Wednesday, March 1, 1922, at the Duke of York’s Theatre, in London, was promptly compared with, J. M. Barrie’s fantasy, Marie Rose (AKA: Mary Rose),[1] which had its premiere in 1920. It was also likened to, Sentimental Tommy, by Mr. Barrie, and Pinero admitted that when beginning, The Enchanted Cottage, he intended writing “something along the lines of… Sentimental Tommy.”[2] On Saturday, March 31, 1923, The Enchanted Cottage, premiered at, The Ritz Theatre, in New York; William A. Brady produced the fantasy for Broadway. The Great White Way opening starred Katharine Cornell and Noel Tearle in the leads, Gilbert Emery as their blind confidant, and featuring a supporting cast of Clara Blandick, Ethel Wright, Harry Neville, Winifred Frazer, Herbert Bunston and Seldon Bennett; The Enchanted Cottage, was under the direction of Ms. Jessie Bonstelle.[3] Ms. Bonstelle (who co-directed with Brady for Broadway) had the responsibility of handling the “dream-play” at the Providence Opera House, perfecting the staging in that out-of-town venue; the Providence run began in the latter third of September, 1922. Noel Tearle (son of Edmund Tearle[4]) who hailed from England, was the leading man of Bonstelle’s stock company for the 1922-’23 season; the romantic-fantasy also played in Detroit at the Shubert Theatre.[5]

Waco News Tribune, Waco, Texas, April 22, 1923

Waco News Tribune, Waco, Texas, April 22, 1923

Noel Tearle (playing dead), from the Broadway production of At 9:45; New York Tribune, New York, New York, August 17, 1919

Noel Tearle (playing dead), from the Broadway production of At 9:45; New York Tribune, New York, New York, August 17, 1919


In September of 1923, Inspiration Pictures secured the rights to, The Enchanted Cottage; they bought the property expressly as the next project for, Richard Barthelmess (as: Oliver Bashforth), and appointing John S. Robertson to direct; Josephine Lovett (wife of director Robertson) wrote the scenario from the play.[6] The first actress contemplated and favored for the role of Laura Pennington, in, The Enchanted Cottage, was Dorothy Mackail; Mackail was not available because she had decided to do, The Next Corner (starring Conway Tearle, Lon Chaney, Ricardo Cortez and Louise Dresser), for Famous Players-Lasky Corporation, in Los Angeles.[7] Around forty-five-days later, May McAvoy signed a contract with Inspiration Pictures and was immediately assigned to play opposite Barthelmess; the role was considered a feature part, not a co-starring stint.[8]

Film Daily, June 22, 1924

Film Daily, June 22, 1924

Dorothy Mackail; Photoplay, July, 1925

Dorothy Mackail; Photoplay, July, 1925


For the role of the sister of Oliver Bashforth (Ethel Bashforth), Florence Short was chosen; Short was not first choice, but was signed after an unfruitful casting call for a long-nosed girl, 18-years-of-age and 5” 8’ to fit the part. None were found suitable for the ideal Ethel Bashforth, so Short, who had already appeared in support of Barthelmess three times (Way Down East, The Love Flower, and, The Idol Dancer, each released in 1920), was chosen;[9] this search was ended by the third week of October of ’23. This would be the final work in film for Florence Short; Short, who had played on Broadway before and during her movie career, went back to the stage, and was seen in four Broadway productions[10] after her role in, The Enchanted Cottage.

Motion Picture News, January 12, 1918

Motion Picture News, January 12, 1918

There is a caveat to film work for Ms. Short, post 1923, she was part of a stock company of actors that signed with the Screen Actors Guild and the Dominos Club of Hollywood to work daily during the run of the California Pacific International Exposition in San Diego, California, in 1935-36. The group of actors were to perform for visitors of the Motion Picture Hall of Fame Exhibit, at the Pacific Exposition; the crowds were afforded the opportunity to see the players at work on a specially constructed sound stage. The Exposition opened on May 29, 1935 and closed in November of ’35, reopening in 1936 on February 12, and closing on September 9; Walter McGrail, Helen Mann, Warren Burke, Amron Isle, joined Florence Short in the Motion Picture Hall of Fame stock Company. Mondays were the “home movie makers” days, where aspiring film-makers (16mm and 8mm enthusiasts) could film the players of the stock company, and work alongside the professionals, including directors and lighting experts. The Motion Picture Hall of Fame exhibit housed costumes, props, cameras and sets; one of Charlie Chaplin’s burlap boots from, The Gold Rush, was on display, along with sets from, The Bride of Frankenstein, and, The Crusades. The exhibit was built to resemble a Hollywood studio and each of the Hollywoodland companies participated in the project. Aeromodelling was a fascination for actor Reginald Denny, building the scale-model planes at home, with the ability to reach heights of 2,500 feet; the miniature planes had pint-sized gasoline tanks and were capable of making perfecting landings. Denny’s home-made collection was on display at the Motion Picture Exhibit, giving fans the chance to know him just little better. [11]

Holmes Herbert was contracted to portray the blind Major Hillgrove in, The Enchanted Cottage, at the midst of November, ‘23.[12] Casting was complete for, The Enchanted Cottage (a First National release) by the middle of December, 1923, with a company in support of Richard Barthelmess and May McAvoy that included: Marion Coakley, Ida Waterman, Alfred Hickman, Rene Lorraine, the aforementioned Florence Short and Holmes E. Herbert, along with Ethel Wright.[13] Ms. Wright was given the role of Mrs. Minnett for the film (she had the role of Mrs. Corsellis on stage); Wright was the only member of the original Broadway production to appear in the movie.[14] Herbert in prepping for the role of Major Hillgrove visited the, New York Institute for the Blind; he found that the blind kept their eyes closed and thereupon decided to play Hillgrove with eyes shut. Mr. Herbert did this against the grain which in his experience found actors on stage and screen customarily playing the blind with eyes wide open.[15]

Holmes Herbert

Holmes Herbert

Exhibitors Herald, April 5, 1919

Exhibitors Herald, April 5, 1919


The first week of November, 1923, found Richard Barthelmess and May McAvoy being put through the paces of homeliness, experimenting with make-up and camera tests, for that suitable homely appearance.[16] According to reportage, Barthelmess had already developed the stoop-shouldered, limping characterization for Oliver Bashforth in that first week of November; this imitation of a wounded soldier accompanied the wan, hollow-cheek visage brought on by the make-up artists at Inspiration Pictures.[17]

Richard Barthelmess

May McAvoy

May McAvoy

Exhibitor's Trade Review, March 22, 1924

Exhibitor’s Trade Review, March 22, 1924

Motion Picture Magazine, March, 1924, behind the scenes

Motion Picture Magazine, March, 1924, behind the scenes

Motion Picture Magazine, June, 1924 behind the scenes: Motion Picture Magazine, June, 1924, behind the scenes: director John Robertson, Josephine Lovett, May McAvoy and Richard Barthelmess

Motion Picture Magazine, June, 1924, behind the scenes: director John Robertson, Josephine Lovett (her face seen in the mirror), May McAvoy and Richard Barthelmess


Expectations were such that Inspiration Pictures believed that director John Robertson would have , The Enchanted Cottage, completed by the first of 1924, but Richard Barthelmess, had to have a minor operation in New York’s Polyclinic Hospital (on Thursday, January 3, 1924, delaying the production for more than two-weeks.[18] With “Dickie’s” recovery concluded (at least one report had him looking a “trifle wan” upon his return[19]), filming resumed on January 21, and, The Enchanted Cottage, was complete by the first week of February, 1924.[20] Barthelmess also experienced some rheumatism, which he believed was brought on by the fact that an ample amount of his time before the cameras was spent with his leg twisted for the part of Oliver; of his own admission he missed one day because of the pain. This, added to the two weeks-plus of recovery from his operation, and one more lost day of filming because of a cold for Barthelmess[21] put, The Enchanted Cottage, behind schedule, and the company was unable to recover those days.

The advance reports by those who had seen, The Enchanted Cottage, said that it would “add new laurels” to Barthelmess and McAvoy.[22] One of those who saw the movie soon after completion was Sir Arthur Pinero, author of the play; what had attracted his attention was the cottage itself. The fantasy house for, The Enchanted Cottage, was built at the Fort Lee Studio, and this garnered a “stamp of approval” from the story’s author, Pinero, in a letter he addressed to the producers of the picture, Inspiration Pictures Inc.… Pinero pointed out in particular, the beauty of the cottage setting; Sir Arthur was quoted, saying, “It is a most charming picture, and is in keeping with the spirit of the play.”[23] The genius behind that Enchanted Cottage look, came from the imagination of, Livingston Platt, famed theatrical scenic designer;[24] the small house a grand mix of the English cottage with the fancy of a quiet, secluded fairy-tale home. Much of the charm of “that” cottage was the surrounding garden, of which perfectly imitated the English autumnal season, with its real flowers, shrubs, trees and grass in the studio set.[25] Professor Hugh Findlay of Columbia University attested to the realism of the, The Enchanted Cottage, garden; Findlay taught a course in landscape gardening at the New York City university.[26]

The original date of release was set for March 17, 1924, but the operation necessitated for Barthelmess, pushed the date later; a majority of communities did not see, The Enchanted Cottage, until the first week of April of ’24, and later. A special showing of, The Enchanted Cottage was held at the Crystal Room of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on Friday, April 4, 1924; the Crystal Room was a popular special event venue in New York, hosting many weddings, luncheons, conventions, grand-balls and such. The special viewing of, Cottage, at the Crystal Room was not alone, the film was seen in “Pre-Release” showings at a few select locations across the country.[27]

Exhibitor's Trade Review, February 2, 1924

Exhibitor’s Trade Review, February 2, 1924

Film Daily, March 31, 1924

Film Daily, March 31, 1924


Oddly enough, on Thursday, April 3, at the, Congress Theatre, in Saratoga Springs, New York, 24-hours prior to the sneak-preview at the, Ritz-Carlton, in NYC, Enchanted Cottage was previewed, and also had showings for Friday April 4, and Saturday the 5th.[28] Appleton, Wisconsin, hosted the film at the Elite Theatre, from Monday, April 7, through Wednesday, April 9. Cottage, beginning on Monday, April 7, played the week out in Pittsburgh, PA, at the Grand Theatre; Thielen’s Majestic Theatre, in Bloomington, Illinois, featured, The Enchanted Cottage, for three days starting on April 7.[29]

The Saratogian, Saratoga Springs, New York, April 1, 1924

The Saratogian, Saratoga Springs, New York, April 1, 1924

Post Crescent, Appleton, Wisconsin, April 5, 1924

Post Crescent, Appleton, Wisconsin, April 5, 1924

Pittsburgh Gazette Times, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, April 7, 1924

Pittsburgh Gazette Times, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, April 7, 1924

The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Illinois, Apr 7, 1924

The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Illinois, Apr 7, 1924


Yet, with the exception of a handful of remarks[30] garnered from the preview at the Crystal Room on April 4, all other reviews followed the New York, Strand theaters openings.[31] It appears that the actual nationwide release date for, The Enchanted Cottage, was Palm-Sunday, April 13, 1924;[32] publicists probably theorized that this romance, with its miracle of love, promised to do well at Easter. The flagship premiere for, The Enchanted Cottage, was in New York, opening at the Strand Theatre on Broadway and the Brooklyn Strand on, April 13.[33]

Film Daily, April 11, 1924

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Brooklyn, New York, April 13, 1924

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Brooklyn, New York, April 13, 1924

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Brooklyn, New York, April 13, 1924

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Brooklyn, New York, April 13, 1924


Advertising for the movie took on a “cottage industry” approach, with locally produced artwork, cottage edifices, trellises, flowers and poster works from the film framed within recreated gardens; these cottage environs were reproduced in lobbies or acted as the façade of the box-office. Many suggestions were provided by the distributor, First National, for advertising tie-ins, both for the exhibitor and the local business proprietor; pianos, furniture, insurance, mattresses, radios and vacuums were among the recommended cross-promotions.

Exhibitor's Trade Review, June 7, 1924

Exhibitor’s Trade Review, June 7, 1924

Exhibitor's Trade Review, June 21, 1924, Becham Theatre

Exhibitor’s Trade Review, June 21, 1924, Becham Theatre

Exhibitor's Trade Review, July 26, 1924

Exhibitor’s Trade Review, July 26, 1924


Missing from the Cottage:

Little Howard Merrill (under contract to First National) went uncredited for his turn in, The Enchanted Cottage, and has went unlisted for the romance as well;[34] Merrill had appeared with Barthelmess in, Twenty-One, playing the child-age Julian McCullough to “Dickie’s” adult interpretation of the lead character of the film.[35] Merrill would also act with Barthelmess in, Classmates, released for Thanksgiving of 1924; young Mr. Merrill played the juvenile “double” for Richard Barthelmess in at least three films.[36] In addition to Cottage and Classmates, Merrill appeared in, Cytherea, directed by George Fitzmaurice, starring Irene Rich and Lewis Stone.[37] The youngster had a part in, The Jazz Singer, in 1927; for the Al Jolson musical Howard Merrill had a scene on location on one of New York’s busiest “ghetto” streets, playing with Warner Oland. Oland was jumped, when appearing to abuse the eleven-year-old, by an onlooker who determined to save the youth;[38] so much for realism. Beginning in 1950, Merrill started a successful career as a writer for television; turning out scripts for Ensign O’Toole, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Make Room for Daddy and F Troop. In between silent movies and TV, Merrill made a living performing on radio, starting on the airwaves circa 1928.[39] In early 1930, little Merrill, played, Penrod, on NBC, on Sunday nights; the series was based on Booth Tarkington’s story of the same name.[40] Merrill was part of the cast of, Mountainville True Life Sketches, on CBS Radio, later in ’30,[41] and his name could be found in radio related announcements over the next twenty years. His career was varied, besides his acting, he wrote for Esquire Magazine; as teen he had a syndicated newspaper column, by the title of: This Minute. In 1958 he produced (along with the Theatre Corporation of America) the Broadway show, Oh Captain, which starred Tony Randal; the musical-comedy had 192 performances at the Alvin Theatre. [42]

Exhibitor's Trade Review, June 7, 1924

Exhibitor’s Trade Review, June 7, 1924


The Enchanted Cottage is available to view online for free on YouTube, yet, this version is truly silent, with no musical accompaniment. If you are in search of a full, Enchanted Cottage, experience then DVD-R you must obtain, which may be found at Grapevine Video. The music for this version of, Cottage, was scored by veteran silent-film music-accompanist and composer, David Knudtson; Knudtson is the co-founder of the Red River Chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society and often plays and composes for film series at the Weld Auditorium of Moorhead State University Moorhead.[43]


By C. S. Williams


Exhibitors Herald, April 5, 1924

Exhibitors Herald, April 5, 1924

Exhibitors Herald, March 29, 1924

Exhibitors Herald, March 29, 1924

Photoplay, May, 1924

Photoplay, May, 1924

Motion Picture Magazine, June, 1924

Motion Picture Magazine, June, 1924

Photoplay, April, 1924

Photoplay, April, 1924

Photoplay, June, 1924

Photoplay, June, 1924

Exhibitor's Trade Review, June 7, 1924, Home Fires

Exhibitor’s Trade Review, June 7, 1924

The Enchanted Cottage


[1] New York Times (New York, New York) March 2, 1922

[2] Journal News (Hamilton, Ohio) March 8, 1924

[3] Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) March 25, 1923

Wall Street Journal (New York, New York) April 3, 1923

[4] New York Times (New York, New York) February 6, 1913

[5] Variety, September 29; October 6, 1922

[6] Film Daily, October 5, 1923

Motion Picture Magazine, June, 1924

[7] Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) October 30, 1923

[8] Davenport Democrat and Leader (Davenport, Iowa) October 14, 1923

[9] Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) October 28; November 11, 1923

Davenport Democrat and Leader (Davenport, Iowa) November 16, 1923

Exhibitor’s Trade Review, December 1, 1923

[10] Starlight, 1925; To-Night at 12, 1928; Abraham Lincoln, 1929; Uncle Tom’s Cabin, 1933;

Source: Internet Broadway Data Base

[11] Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) May 28, 1935

American Cinematographer, June 1935

Nassau Daily Review (Long Island, New York) July 23, 1935

[12] Film Daily, November 18, 1923

Davenport Democrat and Leader (Davenport, Iowa) November 25, 1923

[13] Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) December 16, 1923

[14] Scranton Republican (Scranton, Pennsylvania) December 15, 1923; January 30, 1924

Variety, April 5, 1923

[15] Davenport Democrat and Leader (Davenport, Iowa) January 20, 1924

[16] Houston Post (Houston, Texas) November 1, 1923

[17] Decatur Daily Review (Decatur, Illinois) November 11, 1923

[18] Exhibitors Herald, December 15, 1923

Houston Post (Houston, Texas) January 4, 1924

[19] Harrisburg Telegraph (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) January 28, 1924

[20] Film Daily, January 21, 1924

Davenport Democrat and Leader (Davenport, Iowa) February 10, 1924

[21] Times Recorder (Zanesville, Ohio) January 6, 1924

[22] Davenport Democrat and Leader (Davenport, Iowa) February 10, 1924

[23] Houston Post (Houston, Texas) February 5, 1924

[24] Motion Picture Classic, December, 1923

[25] Davenport Democrat and Leader (Davenport, Iowa) December 30, 1923

[26] Daily Argus (Mount Vernon, New York) May 10, 1924

[27] Film Daily, January 17; March 31, 1924

[28] The Saratogian (Saratoga Springs, New York) April 4, 1924

[29] Pittsburgh Gazette Times (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) April 7; 10, 1920

The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Illinois) April 7, 1924

[30] However, Comma—, columnist, Maurice J. Henle was in attendance at the pre-release at the Ritz Carlton on

April 4, 1924, and those statements appeared in his column on April 8, 1924: Niagara Falls Gazette

(Niagara Falls, New York) April 8, 1924

[31] Film Daily, April 14; 16; 20, 1924

New York Evening Post (New York, New York) April 14, 1924

Exhibitor’s Trade Review, April 19, 1924

Christian Science Monitor (Boston, Massachusetts) April 23, 1924

[32] Film Daily, April 11, 1924

Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) April 13, 1924

[33] Film Daily, March 31; April 11; 14, 1924

New York Evening Post (New York, New York) April 14, 1924

[34] Exhibitors Trade Review, June 7, 1924

[35] Exhibitors Trade Review, March 8, 1924

[36] Film Daily, August 31, 1924

[37] Film Daily, January 9, 1924

[38] Film Daily, July 8, 1927

[39] Variety, October 31, 1928

[40] What’s On the Air, May, 1930

[41] What’s On the Air, May, 1930

[42] Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California) October 5, 1994

Internet Broadway Data Base

[43] INFORUM, July 20, 2015

Earthbound, Happy Anniversary, Premiered August 11, 1920. ‘Status Unknown’ a Metaphor for Lost.



In January of 1920, Wyndham Standing, was contracted to star in the Goldwyn picture: Earthbound.[1] By the middle of January, Russian ballet star, Flora Revalles, was added to the cast when she signed to make her film debut with the new Goldwyn production.[2] The project was nearing completion of filming in early April.[3] Principal filming was at the Culver City studios;[4] numerous days of work was spent experimenting with lights and colors for the special-effects needed for the church interior scenes.[5]

Director Hayes Hunter had none too easy a task to have the dead speaking to the living. Hunter ran the actors through rehearsal, then the action was timed using a ticking-metronome to standardize their count; which proved useful not only to the actors and director, but to the cameramen as well. The first portion of a living and spiritual combined scene was the material world, then everything was covered in black velvet (to preserve the integrity of the former material scene), then rewinding of the film in the camera and thus began filming of the spiritual portion. This must not only have been an exacting procedure (more than one-hundred-fifty double exposures) but a tiresome method to cast and crew. To extract reactions from a dog to a spirit, they placed a goat on a platform behind a curtain, when the proper response from dog to spirit was needed the curtain was pulled back and the dog, with head raised, began to bark and bristle. To guard against loss of footage Hunter shot each scene many times, and later selected the best.[6]

Accompanying music arranged by theatrical impresario Samuel Rothafel was based on three themes, the harvest song from Verdi’s Forza del Destino, the old English song, Oh Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms, and the Russian, Kamennoi-Ostrow; which according to reports, heightened the mood for the audience.[7] In addition composer-arranger Max Winkler selected and compiled music for Earthbound, while adding timing-instructions, with theme music (Love’s Enchantment) and pieces for each scene.[8]

To say that August 11, was the premier date for Earthbound is not quite true. The official grand premier was in Chicago, on August 10.[9] Also on August 10, in New York, at the Astor Theatre, a special presentation by invitation only was given,[10] with the public premier on August 11, at the Astor Theatre. The real eye-opening, crowd-jamming, debut occurred in New York at the Capitol Theatre, on September 19, 1920; director T. Hayes Hunter attended the showing.[11] Crowds were outstanding in New York during the Capitol run; first day audience numbers were estimated somewhere between sixteen and eighteen-thousand.[12] Waiting times for the Capitol (5400 capacity) were as much as four hours: two outside and two once inside. During the premier week at the Capitol Theatre, total attendance was over seventy-three-thousand; police reserves had to be called on several times for crowd control on Broadway.[13] The four-weeks plus successful showings at the Astor Theatre, seemed to only whet the appetites of the New Yorkers, causing an inundation at the Capitol.[14]



In Los Angeles, September 30, was the debut for the ‘life after death’ drama; this was at Miller’s Theatre, where they closed the facility for four days prior to first showing, making special preparations for the presentation, arranging the stage, the lights and the music.[15] Even though Miller’s was considered a small house, still the first week’s attendance was over twenty-five-thousand.[16] While audience response here in the States was grand and the atmosphere was ebullient for exhibitors, in London, the welcome for the supernatural flick was lukewarm.[17]

The_Times_ London, England Fri__Oct_29__1920_

Possibly, the finest plaudits received by Earthbound were not from celluloid-critics but from movie-making insiders, producers, directors and writers alike praised the movie.[18] Although, authors John T. Soister and Henry Nicolella intimate that the gushing reviews from the artistic-community were less than genuine,[19] and more a product of the Goldwyn publicity department by soliciting endorsements; which we all know has always been a practice of the entertainment industry.


The Cast: Wyndham Standing, Naomi Childers, Billie Cotton, Mahlon Hamilton, Flora Revalles, Alec B. Francis, Lawson Butt, Kate Lester, Aileen Pringle.

The Crew…

Directed and Produced by T. Hayes Hunter

Story by Basil King

Adaptation by Edfrid A. Bingham

Cinematographer André Barlatier

Film Editor, J. G. Hawks (see miscellany below)

Art Director, Cedric Gibbons


Earthbound Miscellany:

The film’s editor is listed as J. G. Hawks by Internet Movie Data Base, but according to Motion Picture News the editing work was done by Alexander Troffey, Earthbound being just his third film. The job of putting nearly two-hundred-thousand-feet of film to the cutting block (with just eight-thousand-feet for the official running time), took over two months.[20]

Earthbound Motion Picture News October 16, 1920 full page.php Earthbound Motion Picture News October 16, 1920 motionpicturenew222unse_0032

EArthbound Important Step Motion Picture News August 21, 1920.php

Earthbound Motion Picture Magazine November 1920

Earthbound Motion Picture News October 16, 1920 two page spread Earthbound musical directions Motion Picture News October 16 1920 Earthbound New Method Motion Picture News August 14, 1920 .php Earthbound Photoplay November 1920 2 Earthbound picture play magazine November, 1920 Earthbound Photoplay November 1920Earthbound Players Pictures Motion Picture News August 21, 1920 Earthbound review Motion Picture News August 21, 1920

Earthbound Three Views Motion Picture News August 14, 1920

motionpicturenew222unse_0032 motionpicturenew222unse_0940 Santa_Ana_Register_Wed__Nov_24__1920_ The_New_York_Times_Fri__Aug_13__1920_ The_Sun_and_The_New_York_Herald_Thu__Aug_12__1920_ The_Times_ London, England Fri__Oct_29__1920_ Earthbound cast and crew Photoplay November 1920 Earthbound Director Hayes Hunter Motion Picture News September 4, 1920.php


By C. S. Williams


[1] Wid’s Daily, December 15, 1919

[2] New Castle Herald (New Castle, Pennsylvania) January 29, 1920

Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) January 11, 1920

[3] Springfield Republican (Springfield, Missouri) April 11, 1920

[4] Wid’s Daily, December 23, 1919

[5] Evening News (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) April 28, 1920

[6] Motion Picture Classic, December, 1920

Santa Ana Register (Santa Ana, California) October 16, 1920

[7] Motion Picture News, August 28, 1920

[8] Motion Picture News, October 16, 1920

[9] Chicago Daily Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) August 4, 1920

[10] Wid’s Daily, August 9, 1920

[11] Motion Picture News, September 25, 1920

[12] Motion Picture News, October 2, 1920

[13] Motion Picture News, October 9, 1920

[14] Motion Picture News, September 11, 1920

[15] Motion Picture News, September 25, 1920

[16] Wid’s Daily, October 23, 1920

[17] Wid’s Daily, November 10, 1920

[18] Motion Picture News, October 16, 1920

[19] American Silent Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy Feature Films, 1913-1929, by John T. Soister, Henry Nicolella,

Steve Joyce and Harry H. Long; publisher, McFarland, June, 2012, pages 170-174

[20] Motion Picture News, October 16, 1920

Wid’s Daily, August 15, 1920

Isabel Johnston, Writing Royalty

Isabel Johnston Graduation Photo; Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 15, 1919

Isabel Johnston Graduation Photo; Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 15, 1919


The Johnston Family:

Isabel Johnston was born on July 16, 1898, to John Parry Johnston and Isabel M. McElheny,[1] in Brooklyn, New York. John and Isabel who were married in November of 1894,[2] also had celebrated the birth of the first daughter, Agnes Christine, in 1896. Isabel McElheny Johnston was well rooted in the Pittsburgh area, her uncle, Samuel Watson donated land for a public park in Allegheny (now known as, Riverview Park in Pittsburgh), and was originally a farm belonging to Watson; her other Watson uncle was a prominent attorney in the Steel City.[3]

The story of Isabel Johnston, is a striking one, a tale that must include trips aside recounting the talents of her mother, her father and her sister. The Johnston’s women were uniquely gifted in writing, and without a clear understanding of the beginnings of Mrs. Isabel Johnston, then we are left with an unexplained start for Ms. Agnes Johnston; not that bursting upon the scene is unheard of, but this early biographical exploration goes a long way in the discovery of the commencement of a singular talent, amongst the rarified shining stars of women writers and directors during the infancy of filmmaking.

To say that all of the writing talent came only from the McElheny-line is misleading, for Agnes and Isabel’s uncle, William Andrew Johnston was a reporter for the New York Journal and the New York Press, and on the editorial-staff of the New York Herald, and also the editor of the New York World (over 30-years there), and the New York Sunday World.[4] He began his newspaper career by starting his own publication in his hometown of Wilkinsburg (near Pittsburgh), The Independent, which operated for two-years, then sold out, heading for New York and a job at the aforesaid, New York Journal.[5] William Johnston  was the author of, Tom Graham, V. C., The Yellow Letter, The Light of Death (a serial) One of Buller’s Horse, The Lost Alumnus, In the Night, The House of Whispers, The Apartment Next Door, These Women, The War of 1898, The Mystery of the Ritsmore, The Tragedy at the Beach Club, The Innocent Murders, and, Limpy (this is short of being a comprehensive catalog of his writings, for he wrote more than fifteen volumes of mystery stories[6]). Johnston while working at the New York World, recognized the talent of a hardly known writer, O. Henry; Johnston obtained 132 of Henry’s short stories and developed a close friendship with the now famous O. Henry.[7]

Adding to the personal endowment mix for Isabel was the business acumen of her father who was “well-to-do” in manufacturing in Evanston, Illinois. Johnston also did work for the firm of Babcock and Wilcox (a boiler manufacturer, situated at 29 Cortlandt Street), in New York while summering there and for a time was the General Manager of the Watertown, New York, Engine Company;[8] he may have come to wealth and position by nepotism via his father, William Johnston who owned a manufacturing concern in Pittsburgh.[9] Adding to the considerable wealth and position of Mr. Johnston, was his talents in field of mechanical engineering, leading him (as seen above) to numerous administrative offices. This look at Mr. Johnston offers no small insight into the lives of Agnes and her sister, for it was a stable and financially secure environment to which they were born and the girls had an emotional advantage throughout their developing years, afforded them from both mother and father.

Ms. McElheny had already found success writing before marrying John P., beginning as a staff writer for the Pittsburgh Press in 1891; within a year she took a position with the, New York Mail and Express. While at the, Mail and Express, Isabel wrote children’s stories organized the publication’s children’s page, making it a well-liked feature of the newspaper. It was during this period that she acted as a foreign correspondent, at least for a short while, for the Mail and Express, stationed in London. In addition to her stories for children, Isabel developed a nature study column for the children’s section, which feature was seen reprinted in newspapers nationwide. New York seemed a boon for McElheny, for it was in New York that she met John Johnston; the two were wed on November 8, 1894 and Isabel gave up her staff positon with the New York Mail and Express; although her retirement from writing was short-lived.[10]

Mrs. Johnston would take up writing for the Chicago Tribune and Leslie’s Weekly, after the family made the move to the, Windy City, and made their home in Evanston, Illinois; this would remain their main residence through 1908, located about ½ mile from Lake Michigan at 2018 Orrington Avenue.[11] It was in 1907 that Mrs. Johnston achieved the most attention of her career, with the publication of, The Jeweled Toad, a fairy-tale novel for children, this was successful both critically and in sales.[12] As 1920 drew near the Johnston’s marriage began to suffer and Isabel filed for legal separation in the early 1920’s.[13]

Agnes then Isabel:

As mentioned above, the Johnston’s vacationed in New York, in Stony Brook, there allowing the sisters the influence of the Big Apple. Young Isabel attended Vassar College (by the generosity of her sister)[14] and likewise, as her sister, became a scenarist, although, only for a short time, and proffering but a couple of handfuls of scripts. All of the adaptations and original works that Ms. Isabel Johnston wrote are attributed to her mother, Isabel Johnston. This is a terrible mistake perpetrated by the passing of over ninety-years and notoriety achieved by her mother. Yet, it is clear from all documentary evidence that it was the daughter Isabel Johnston, and not Mrs. Johnston who was writing for film for nearly ten-years.[15] This revelation flies in the face of all other modern sources which assign eleven film-writing credits to Mrs. Isabel M. Johnston, but, according to the 1920 Federal Census, Mrs. Johnston lists “none” under occupation while both Agnes and Ms. Isabel Johnston replied: “moving pictures” under the employment question. If this were the only contemporary evidence to support the younger Isabel as the writer of scenarios, I would leave it only as a possibility, yet there is another source from 1925 which states that it is the two sisters who write for film. I will leave off drawing conclusions and quote Picture Play Magazine directly as supporting proof: “In the production side of the industry, Isabel Johnston rapidly is taking rank with her eminent sister, Agnes Christine Johnston, as a scenarist. Agnes sent Isabel through Vassar and then encouraged her to write. Under her sister’s tutelage she quickly grasped the idea. Her first work was with Fox, doing stories for Shirley Mason, after that, she wrote several stories for Charles Ray, then went to England to write for the Stoll Productions. While there, she collaborated with H. G. Wells on a screen treatment of book, “Marriage,” which Fox will soon produce

The Johnston sisters come from New York. Agnes is the older of the two and got her start at the old Vitagraph studios in the East. She started as a typist in the scenario department and Mrs. Sidney Drew, who was making comedies for Vitagraph at that period, happened to be the person for whom she typed most of the time. It was through this association that Agnes was given her initial opportunity to do a continuity by herself. “Daddy Long Legs,” Mary Pickford’s production, was her first real big continuity, and since then she had done many important scripts.”[16]

Agnes Johnston at left, Isabel Johnston to the right; Picture-Play Magazine, Johnston Sisters, November, 1925

Agnes Johnston at left, Isabel Johnston to the right; Picture-Play Magazine, Johnston Sisters, November, 1925


There is a third reason to side with young Isabel as the writer of at least ten-film treatments, that, in most of the trade magazines she is referred to as Ms. Isabel Johnston. The only caveat to Mrs. Johnston collecting modern misattribution for film-work by her daughter is the first credit, The Turn of the Road (1915), where Isabel M. Johnston is listed as the writer, in both the, Moving Picture World, and, Motion Picture News magazines.[17] As well, the 1918, Motion Picture Studio Directory and Trade Annual, offers some clarity,  listing three credits for Isabel M. Johnston: The Turn of the Road, My Little Spirit Girl (His Little Spirit Girl, 1917), and, Carmen the 1915 version directed by Raoul Walsh and produced by Fox Film Corporation. One more film credit must be added to Mrs. Johnston, that of, Cupid by Proxy, 1918, where the elder Isabel was responsible for the story and such is clarified in the Catalogue of Copyright Entries, for 1918, where, Isabel M. Johnston is the copyright holder. All three of the Johnston women wrote for the silver screen, a rare feat indeed. This then clearly sets a partition between the work of Mrs. Isabel M. Johnston and that of her daughter, Ms. Isabel Johnston.


Isabel on Her Own:

Isabel Johnston did not graduate from Vassar until 1919[18] and she began churning out scenarios in 1920 and ending her film-writing stint in 1923. The popular account for Ms. Johnston was that she read plays for Vitagraph in 1914 (at the ripe old age of 16), then attended Vassar, finishing in 1919, then following in her sister’s footsteps.[19] While at Vassar, Isabel revealed herself most interested in acting and writing, her final two years at the college she was one of the editors for the Vassar Monthly Miscellany; she also wrote a, The Couple, which was produced by the Vassar College Department, in February of 1919.[20]

Ms. Johnston penned Her Elephant Man, A Woman Who Understood, Molly and I, Love’s Harvest, 45 Minutes from Broadway, Peaceful Valley all in 1920; she had nothing filmed in 1921, but in 1922 wrote Heroes of the Street and then in 1923, Swords and the Woman. While she reportedly worked on other film projects through the years, I have been unable to ascertain any of those titles.

Her Elephant Man

45 Minutes From Broadway

Love's Harvest


Isabel Johnston moved from work in film to print when she gained a position on the New York Journal, in the late 1920’s.[21] While at the Journal (she lasted three years there), she covered the Ruth Snyder-Judd Gray trial in 1927, and as Newsday reporter, John Pascal referred to Johnston, as a “sob sister,” (a girl reporter whose job it was to make her readers cry), and considered her to be one of the flashiest “Brenda Starrs” of that day.[22]

Isabel Johnston; Passport Photo, 1922

Isabel Johnston; Passport Photo, 1922


After her time with the New York Evening Journal, she worked on a paper in California, and on the editorial staff of Liberty Magazine, then she spent two-years in England, trying her hand at film-scripts. Feeling she was no good at writing for the movies, she traveled Europe for a few years, landing in Germany and Italy. While on the Continent, Ms. Johnston, wrote travel articles to make ends meet.[23]

Beginning the 1930’s Ms. Johnston began a four-decade career writing short-stories, many of which found their way into newspapers (more than 50 published); she was especially accomplished at offering stories which fit into one, two or three columns and were sometimes touted as a “Short, Short Story.”[24] Even at the age of 74 Ms. Johnston continued writing, submitting a novel she had worked on for fifteen-years, that manuscript went un-named and is one of the many pieces of her work history lost in time.

Through the intervening nine-decades since Ms. Isabel Johnston quitted her foray into movie scenario writing, a whole host of cogs and wheels of time, witnesses, dust and cobwebs have shrouded the work of the young Isabel, and leaving her written legacy at the feet of her mother. This of course is not the first occasion that such has happened, anyone who has read one of the biographies which I have written will notice the recurring theme of misattribution because of the fractured image perpetrated by the mirror of time. In this the 21st-Century, we pride ourselves on the availability of information, the speed with which we can send and receive, the quantity that we may store, from flash-memory USB drives to the Cloud, we pontificate daily of our historical achievements. Yet, with all of these technological advancements at our fingertips, a great portion of our recent history is either lost or lazily abandoned. Few research anymore. Fewer still research until the story is told. Investigative journalism has been sacrificed at the altar of instantaneous reporting; with our messaging, our posts, our blogs, the 24-hour news-cycle, have collectively, in many ways dampened our desire for the “full-story” and in its place has left us with only an appetite for what is expedient. We as readers have become satisfied with one-stop information store-houses, rather than taking the time to weed trough the copious sources available, we hasten to the assembly-line trough of the modern take on history. It sounds as though I am indicting the Internet and its nearly unlimited capabilities, yet that is far from my intention. Instead I admonish those that do not take full advantage of those digital resources, the wealth of knowledge which lies but a few hours of persistent research away on the Web.

In the case of Ms. Isabel Johnston and the mistaken identification of her work as her mother’s, the misattribution may be seen in one scholarly work, and on a couple of online repositories of film history.[25] Now, some of this work was put together prior to the full value of the Internet being available, but, the sources which have been digitized have been available all along, waiting for someone to verify the story. I do not point the finger of accusation, for in many ways a story is never fully told; new information may come to light, a source believed lost is found, a statement deemed insignificant before, may grow in significance with additional background. I have over the course of the last decade, updated several biographies as new publications were made available in a digitized form. The burden of the facts of history rests upon the writer and the reader; first to the writer to investigate as thoroughly as possible and upon the reader to demand a history, which has been researched and not regurgitated. Too often the writer (especially us that blog) gathers the grist for their story through histories written by others, without seeking the original sources themselves; this is a time-saving tactic which often leads to error. If the source is wrong than the new history is wrong. It is incumbent upon the writer to do as much original-source research as possible, and the reader must re-learn to expect the best of investigative journalism, all the while, resisting the near addictive longing for instant gratification and seeking the draught that truly quenches our thirst for knowledge.


By C. S. Williams


[1] Reading Times (Reading, Pennsylvania) February 10, 1908

[2] The Sun (New York, New York) November 9, 1894

[3] Asbury Park Press (Asbury Park, New Jersey) February 5 1908

[4] Notable Men Of Pittsburgh and Vicinity, by Percifer Frazer Smith, published by the Pittsburgh Printing Company, 1901

Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) September 28, 1930

[5] The Phi Gamma Delta, Volume XLV October, 1922, No. 1, Fiji Finds Fun in Being a Fat Man, page 56-59

[6] Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) June 23, 1934

[7] The Phi Gamma Delta, Volume XLV October, 1922, No. 1, Fiji Finds Fun in Being a Fat Man, page 56-59

[8] The Sun (New York, New York) November 9, 1894

[9] Notable Men Of Pittsburgh and Vicinity, by Percifer Frazer Smith, published by the Pittsburgh Printing Company, 1901

[10] The Sun (New York, New York) November 9, 1894

Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) April 21, 1894

Daily Republican (Monongahela, Pennsylvania) October 31, 1894

Coeur d’Alene Evening Press (Coeur d’Alene, Idaho) March 20, 1908

[11]Jacksonville Daily Journal (Jacksonville, Illinois) January 15, 1904

Reading Times (Reading, Pennsylvania) February 10, 1908

[12] Wilkes-Barre Record (Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania) March 20, 1908

[13] U. S. Passport Application for Isabel M. Johnston, May 7, 1923

[14] The Vassarion, Volume 31, 1918

Picture Play Magazine November, 1925

[15] 1920 United States Federal Census

[16] Picture Play Magazine November, 1925

[17] Moving Picture World, October 23, 1915

Motion Picture News, November 6, 1915

[18] Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) June 10, 1919

[19] Wilkes-Barre Evening News (Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania) November 22, 1922

Picture Play Magazine November, 1925

[20] Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) June 15, 1919

[21] Motion Picture News Blue Book, 1930

[22] Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio) July 2, 1972

[23] Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) September 28, 1930

Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio) July 2, 1972

[24] The Monkey, Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) December 4, 1932

The Diamond Was Small, Delaware County Daily Times (Chester, Pennsylvania) October 16, 1933

Fill Out the Blank, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) May 25, 1935

Brooklyn Nights, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) July 20, 1935

Blue Bungalow, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) November 8, 1935

No Regrets, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) May 8, 1936

The Prize Package, Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) May 27, 1936

Last Call, Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) June 16, 1936

The Ship That Sailed, Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) July 14, 1936

Home of Her Own, Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) August 3, 1936

Mother Wit, Journal News (Hamilton, Ohio) September 24, 1936

Don’t Write-Wait!, Journal News (Hamilton, Ohio) October 19, 1936

Expectant Father, Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) December 26, 1936

Happy Bridegroom, Detroit Free Press, Short Story Magazine (Detroit, Michigan) January 31, 1937

Traveler’s Aid, Journal News (Hamilton, Ohio) February 11, 1937

Bachelor Flat, Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) March 25, 1937

Dancing Lessons, Journal News (Hamilton, Ohio) April 24, 1937

Announcement Party, Journal News (Hamilton, Ohio) May 17, 1937

Remorse In The Morning, Journal News (Hamilton, Ohio) July 1, 1937

Small Town Debut, Journal News (Hamilton, Ohio) September 10, 1937

Many Thanks, Journal News (Hamilton, Ohio) November 24, 1937

Vacation Lies, Journal News (Hamilton, Ohio) December 31, 1937

Waxed Floors, Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio) March 26, 1940

Half A House, Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio) June 3, 1940

Lost Addresses, Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio) June 13, 1940

Wedding Date, Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio) July 2, 1940

The Season’s Hat, Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio) July 24, 1940

The Starving Millionaire, Winnipeg Tribune (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada) April 11, 1942

The Unnecessary Husband, Toledo Blade (Toledo, Ohio) November 13, 1947

The Rooftop, Toledo Blade (Toledo, Ohio) December 3, 1947

Do You Mind Sharing?, Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio) March 20, 1948

Mother’s Hope Chest, Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio) May 22, 1948

Farewell To Bob, Toledo Blade (Toledo, Ohio) May 28, 1948

Late As Usual, Toledo Blade (Toledo, Ohio) August 30, 1948

Two-Family House, Toledo Blade (Toledo, Ohio) September 20, 1948

Blueprint For Happiness, Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio) November 13, 1948

Men Don’t Cry, Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio) February 12, 1949

The Runaway, Toledo Blade (Toledo, Ohio) April 29, 1949

The Divided Dog, Montreal Gazette (Montreal, Quebec, Canada) October 17, 1949

Paper Route, Montreal Gazette (Montreal, Quebec, Canada) December 15, 1949

Car Appeal, Montreal Gazette (Montreal, Quebec, Canada) February 6, 1950

Best Friends, Montreal Gazette (Montreal, Quebec, Canada) March 8, 1950

Play Safe, Toledo Blade (Toledo, Ohio) May 17, 1950

A Date for Sue, Montreal Gazette (Montreal, Quebec, Canada) June 5, 1950

Learn From the Birds, Toledo Blade (Toledo, Ohio) September 19, 1950

The Woman’s Touch, Montreal Gazette (Montreal, Quebec, Canada) February 6, 1951

The Time Clock, Montreal Gazette (Montreal, Quebec, Canada) March 27, 1951

Just What I Wanted, Toledo Blade (Toledo, Ohio) May 9, 1951

The Strawberry Dress, Toledo Blade (Toledo, Ohio) September 25, 1951

Under the Mistletoe: A True Story, Valley Morning Star (Harlingen, Texas) December 22, 1957

The Reluctant Landlady, Valley Morning Star (Harlingen, Texas (August 24, 1958

The Missing Iron: A Star True Story, Valley Morning Star (Harlingen, Texas) July 8, 1962

[25] What Women Wrote: Scenarios, 1912-1929, by Ann Martin and Virginia M. Clark, University Publications of America, 1987, page 22

Internet Movie Data Base

The Movieland Directory


Wilbur Higby, Actor and Director: The Full Story, 1867-1934

Fort Wayne News, Fort Wayne, Indiana, April 30, 1904

Wilbur Higby

Wilbur Higby


Wilbur Higby Jones was born on Wednesday, August 21, 1867 to Charles B. Jones and Jenny (Jennie) E. Dickinson; Wilbur was their second child, the eldest being Charles Homer (born in 1863); after Wilbur, in 1775, their daughter Kate was born. The Jones family worked together to maintain income, Jennie owned a hotel in Battle Creek (east of Kalamazoo), Michigan and Charles B. acted as hotel manager, while son Charles Homer worked as a clerk in the hotel; later, Charles B. and Jennie would become farmers in Nelson (less than twenty-miles north of Grand Rapids), Michigan.

Family Higby:

Wilbur Higby married Nellie, the daughter of William and Margaret Davis of Massachusetts on April 13, 1896, just of few months shy of his twenty-ninth birthday. Nellie Davis was a singer, ice skater and actress[1] and this was her second marriage; Davis appeared under the stage name of Nellie Diamond and was quite well-known on the east coast.[2] Ms. Davis, although mainly a New York area performer, was not limited to New England, but was often seen in locations throughout the country.[3] These two young folks met at least a year before playing with the resident stock company of the Grand Opera House in Boston, Massachusetts.[4]

Higby seemed always to use his middle name for his last, in all of his professional acting endeavors; there are no records to the contrary. Occasionally, Higby inserted a “J” between Wilbur and Higby, albeit, a fictitious middle initial. An odd assortment of articles spelled Mr. Higby’s first name, Wilber. Higby stood 5, 10 ½ tall, a slightly weighty 180 pounds with brown hair and gray eyes.[5]

Wilbur wed Caroline (Carolyn) Cotton Morriss in June of 1908 and the couple had their daughter, Mary Jane on June 29, 1909. Carolyn had a son and daughter, Willard and Rita Houston, from a previous marriage; Willard was the eldest, seven years beyond Rita, and Rita was nine years older than Mary Jane. Mary Jane and Rita would remain close throughout their lives, with their mother Carolyn the center of their world; Carolyn (after the death of Wilbur) would continue to close to Rita, moving to be near her, she living in Flagstaff, Arizona, with her husband Harold Quackenbush, while Mary Jane wed Guy Sorel and took up residence in New York City.[6]

Radio TV Mirror, March, 1958

Radio TV Mirror, March, 1958


Carolyn Morriss Higby, took the professional name of, C. M. Higby and sometimes, while husband Wilbur Higby would take the position of stage director of a stock-theater-company, she would manage the group; these duties included leasing the facility, contracting for the latest script releases and engaging the members of the troupe.[7] These years, from the birth of Mary Jane in ’09 through the infancy of Wilbur’s film career, were truly a family affair. With Carolyn as manager of the stock company (1913-1914) Wilbur the director and performer, and little Baby Higby making appearances on stage through her toddler years.[8]

Mary Jane Higby had a few appearances on the silver-screen, Where the Trail Divides, and, The Master Key, in 1914; A Martyr of the Present, As in the Days of Old, The Reform Candidate, these last three released in 1915; in 1917 she appeared in, Jack and the Beanstalk. Radio was to be the medium which called her name, and she found a home on the airwaves. Her first work on the wireless was on the Warner Brothers station on the Studio lot, on a weekly historical series. She avowed “a great deal” of her early success was to do to the help of Gale Gordon, who worked with her. Mary Jane, appeared on many network shows in Hollywood through 1937; she was a regular on Camel Caravan, Lux Radio Theatre and the Marx Brothers’ show. For two years she produced and wrote a children’s program that aired weekly; this while still in the Los Angeles area. Once she moved to New York in 1938, she was heard on numerous programs and played, Joan Davis, on, When a Girl Marries; Higby saw the part of Joan through till the end when the program ended in 1957. In 1958 she would play an assistant to an eminent psychiatrist in, This Is Nora Drake, on CBS radio.[9]

Radio TV Mirror, March, 1958

Radio TV Mirror, March, 1958

Moving Picture World, October 2, 1915

Mary Jane (Baby) Higby, Moving Picture World, October 2, 1915

Julie Stevens (left), Mary Jane Higby, and David Gothard

Julie Stevens (left), Mary Jane Higby, and David Gothard, 1954


Highlights of Higby Staged:

Wilbur Higby was on stage (stock and touring companies, not making an appearance on Broadway) long before his lengthy foray into filmdom. He was part of the Moore & Livingstone Dramatic Company, which in 1897 found itself in Michigan, collecting rave reviews.[10] Mr. Higby was associated with the Harry Glazier Company, in 1901,[11] a well-traveled acting troupe. Our man Higby worked with the Spooner Stock Company, in 1903[12] and then in 1904, Higby established his own group: the Wilbur Higby Dramatic Company.[13] By May of that same year Higby Dramatic had to reorganize and hire a new manager.[14] His next stop was the J. J. Flynn Stock Company during 1906.[15] Higby, yet again authored another touring-band of thespians, his Wilbur Higby Stock Company had to end their engagement in St. Louis, Missouri, early because of him being taken ill.[16] While on stage Wilbur Higby played alongside the likes of, Otis Skinner, Wilton Lackaye and Marguerite Clark.[17]

New York Dramatic Mirror, September 12, 1903

New York Dramatic Mirror, September 12, 1903

Fort Wayne News, Fort Wayne, Indiana, April 30, 1904

Fort Wayne News, Fort Wayne, Indiana, April 30, 1904


Higby on Celluloid:

Wilbur Higby had close to one-hundred film-credits to his name, working into the talkie era; his most notable celluloid work came early, playing alongside Douglas Fairbanks in The Matrimaniac and Reggie Mixes In, both films made in 1916. He also had some measure of success with the D. W. Griffith movie-making-machine; he appeared in, Intolerance (unlisted, uncredited), and Hoodoo Ann, in 1916; other prominent roles for Wilbur Higby were: At the Stroke of the Angelus, and, The Housemaid, each produced in 1915. Higby also worked as an assistant director with Griffith, on Broken Blossoms, True Heart Susie, and I’ll Get Him Yet, all from 1919; each directing position for Higby have went unlisted and uncredited.[18]

Motion Picture News, April 15, 1916

Motion Picture News, April 15, 1916

Wilbur Higby in, At the Stroke of the Angelus, Reel Life, May 18, 1915

Wilbur Higby in, At the Stroke of the Angelus, Reel Life, May 18, 1915

Wilbur Higby, in another scene from, The Housemaid, Reel Life, June 12, 1915

Wilbur Higby, in a scene from, The Housemaid, Reel Life, June 12, 1915


Missing Higby:

Performances in which Higby is no longer remembered for, are many, and the list begins with a film that was released in 1914, ‘38 Calibre Friendship, a western, that opened in August; the film starred, Grace Cunard.[19] As a matter of fact, 1914, includes more absent titles from Mr. Higby’s work-history, The Storm Bird, Starring Edna Maison and Burt Law; The Creeping Flame, with Jane Bernoudy, a Nestor western drama and it seems likely that he also appeared in the Francis Ford (who directed the film), Grace Cunard, vehicle, The Ghost of Smiling Jim;[20] at the least this appearance is a strong inference. An Outlaw’s Honor, a Powers Picture Plays production, distributed by Universal, starred Louise Granville and featured much of the gorgeous California scenery, which had not been used to that point on film.[21]

Indeed, the majority of the titles for which Higby receives no modern attribution are mostly confined to his early years: 1914-1915. In February of 1915, Higby was seen in a Universal project helmed by Sidney Ayres; Ayres starred in this short as well: A Martyr of the Present, starring Doris Pawn, Baby (Mary Jane) Higby, and Jack Francis;[22] with the exception of Ayres and Pawn, the rest of the cast of, Martyr, are newly discovered additions. The Failure, by Mutual, directed by Christy Cabanne, starring John Emerson and Juanita Hansen, was an additional 1915 release that is lost to the credit of Higby.[23] Her Fairy Prince, saw a late July ’15 opening, and Higby was there in the role of Judge Nash, Violet’s father.[24] Another 1915, title that is lacking to the credit of Mr. Higby is the, Reliance-Majestic, production, An Image from the Past (AKA: An Image of the Past); Higby plays a father whose daughter who marries against his wishes. Only later are parent and child reunited, when Higby’s character meets his grandchildren, who are destitute, and begging on the streets. The film starred Signue “Signe” Auen (better known as, Seena Owen) as the daughter, with J. H. Allen and Charles Cosgrave in support. An Image of the Past, was directed by Tod Browning.[25] George Seigmann directed a three-reel drama for Reliance-Majestic, based on Ouida’s, Tricotrin, starring, Jack Conway, Vera Lewis, Jennie Lee, Marguerite Marsh and Wilbur Higby; this was thought to be a story stronger than the adaptation of, Strathmore, by the same authoress.[26] Tricotrin, 1915, is confirmed by three editions of the, Motion Picture News-Studio Directory to have been produced and released: both 1916 printings and 1918; with that said I have been unable to find any newspaper listings promoting the movie.

Later Missing Higby:

Captain of His Soul (1918), directed by Gilbert P. Hamilton, a Triangle Film Corporation production, starring Claire McDowell, Charles Gunn and William Desmond, also sported, Wilbur Higby, along with Lillian West and Darrell Foss; West and Foss are not mentioned in the IMDB summery of, Captain of His Soul.[27] The 1920 Thomas H. Ince Corporation release, Homer Comes Home, is another missing film from the Higby résumé; Higby appeared in the Fox Film Corporation production of, The Queen of Sheba, 1921.[28] In the latter part of August, 1923, Mine to Keep, a Bryant Washburn production, opened, starring, Bryant Washburn and Mabel Forrest, directed by Ben F. Wilson; At the end of 1923, the Emory Johnson epic film, The Mailman, was released, and Higby has been left out of the cast-list in modern film-encyclopedias and online sources, but clearly he was part of that movie that starred Ralph Lewis, Johnnie Walker and Martha Sleeper.[29]  In June of 1929, Wilbur Higby was added to cast of, The Virginian, starring Gary Cooper and directed by Victor Fleming;[30] I have not personally verified if Higby actually makes an appearance in, The Virginian.

Wakefield Advocate, Wakefield, Michigan, April 12, 1924

Wakefield Advocate, Wakefield, Michigan, April 12, 1924

Mansfield News, Mansfield, Ohio, February 10, 1924

Mansfield News, Mansfield, Ohio, February 10, 1924

Final Missing Higby:

The final year of work for Higby produced four movies, not two as is recorded on IMDB; St. Louis Woman, a spring of 1934 release, Hat, Coat, and Glove, a late July debut, Young and Beautiful, which opened at the very end of summer and, The Mighty Barnum, premiering a couple of days prior to Christmas of ’34. It is the second and third releases of 1934 that are of interest, being that they are not included in Mr. Higby’s modern work-portfolio.

Young and Beautiful, was a film, put together for the purpose of introducing the 1934 Wampus Baby Stars[31] and an excuse to present these latest Wampus beauties, and some silly humor. Higby was asked to portray actor George Arliss. The catch to the story is that each Wampus Baby Star was escorted by a well-known performer; this during the procession of the Baby Stars in the film’s central stage-production. But, the actual stars did not appear as themselves, instead, Bill Parsons, the make-up expert with Max Factor studios crafted masks, modeled to each famous personage. Adolph Menjou, was played by Jay Belasco, Vance Carol impersonated, Wallace Beery, while Charlie Chaplin appeared as Billie West the greatest of the Charlie Chaplin impersonators. Other celebrity faces that graced, Young and Beautiful, were John Barrymore (John Albin, Barrymore’s own double), Jimmy Durante (Sam Simone), Joe E. Brown (Bill McGarry, who was one of Brown’s doubles) Laurel and Hardy (Athur Teller and Teddy Mangean, a pair of acrobatic comedians), Eddie Cantor (Charles Dorety), Clark Gable (Man Mason), Will Rogers (Chris Allen), Maurice Chevalier (Bruce Wyndham), and Buster Keaton (Lew Sergent). Each actor wore the mask prepared by make-up artist Bill Parsons, and dressed in the familiar clothing of their respective star, while enacting their particular traits.[32] Young and Beautiful, can be seen on YouTube, free of charge.

Hat, Coat, and Glove, directed by Worthington Miner, starring, Ricardo Cortez, Barbara Robbins and John Beal; in support, besides Higby (portraying the Glove Salesman), were Margaret Hamilton and Dorothy Burgess. This Triangle production was a murder mystery and received a good review from Film Daily; the thriller gained points for smooth direction and its A-1 photography by J. Roy Hunt.[33]

The Wrong Higby:

In, Her Fairy Prince, (1915), and, Homer Comes Home (1920), Wilbur Higby is miss-identified as Walter Higby on the, Internet Movie Data Base, but each contemporary source has Wilbur in the films; with Her Fairy Prince, stills from the film, supplement the evidence and prove beyond doubt that it was Wilbur Higby.

Scenes from Her Fairy Prince with Wilbur Higby, Reel Life, July 24, 1915

Scenes from Her Fairy Prince with Wilbur Higby, Reel Life, July 24, 1915


Also in 1915 the Western (Canadian-woods story), The Heart of Sampson, starring and directed by Sidney Ayres, co-starring Val Paul, Scott Beal and Doris Pawn, featured Higby. An un-named character in, The Heart of Sampson is miss-credited to Paul Higby on the Internet Movie Data Base; again the contemporaneous documentary evidence attributes the role to Wilbur Higby.[34]

Higby Staged Again:

It was not uncommon, especially after the middle of the 1920’s, when Higby’s film appearances per year were slowing considerably, for him to take a role on stage; this particularly was the case in the 1930’s.[35] Wilbur Higby was in the cast of, The Shannons of Broadway, which played at the El Capitan Theatre, in Hollywood in 1928; this was a very successful run, with three months to its credit. Higby acted in support of, comedienne, Charlotte Greenwood, in, She Couldn’t Say No, in Oakland, CA, in February of 1930; April of ’30 found Higby in Chicago for the farce, Mebbe, again with Ms. Greenwood. In Los Angeles in early 1932, Lucille Laverne starred in, Shining Blackness, Mr. Higby played, Father; the summer of ’32 brought Wilbur to San Francisco for the Bay area premiere of, Berkeley Square, starring Arthur Greville Collins, Miriam Seegar and George Baxter in the leads. The production rehearsed at the Hollywood Playhouse and Opened on June 20 at the Columbia Theatre.[36]

Variety, October, 17, 1928

Variety, October, 17, 1928

The End of Higby:

Wilbur Higby died on December 1, 1934, he was survived by his wife Carolyn, his step-children and his daughter Mary Jane; his body was interred in section one at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, his grave unmarked. No obituary marked the passing of this man whose name and face had been known to millions; only those closest to him mourned his death.


Other notable films featuring the talents of Wilbur Higby:

A Girl of the Timber Claims, 1917

The Love Trap (John Ince directed), 1923

Confessions of a Queen (directed by famed actor-director-writer, Victor Sjöström), 1925


By C. S. Williams


[1] Ottawa Journal (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada) February 12, 1896

[2] Evening World (New York, New York) December 13, 1890; August 30, 1892

[3] Saint Paul Globe (Saint Paul, Minnesota) February 8, 1891

Inter Ocean (Chicago, Illinois) May 8, 1892

Ottawa Journal (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada) February 2, 1893

Davenport Democrat (Davenport, Iowa) August 20, 1899

[4] Bangor Daily Whig and Courier (Bangor, Maine) December 20, 1895

Boston Post (Boston, Massachusetts) September, 15; October 6; 27, 1896

[5] Motion Picture Studio Directory and Trade Annual, 1921

[6] Shiner Gazette (Shiner, Texas) June 5, 1947

Arizona Daily Sun (Flagstaff, Arizona) June 29, 1959; April 2, 1962

[7] New York Dramatic Mirror (New York, New York) August 20; September 24; October 1, 1913

[8] Variety, October 3, 1913

Radio Television Mirror, May, 1940; December, 1951; March, 1958

Arizona Daily Sun (Flagstaff, Arizona) June 29, 1959

[9] Evening News (Tonawanda, New York) March 10, 1915

Moving Picture World, October 9, 1915

Radio Television Mirror, May, 1940; December, 1951; March, 1958

Arizona Daily Sun (Flagstaff, Arizona) June 29, 1959

[10] The Morning Record (Traverse City, Michigan) Sunday, August 22, 1897

[11] Sandusky Daily Star (Sandusky, Ohio) Monday, October 28, 1901

[12] The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) Tuesday, November 10, 1903

[13] The Fort Wayne Evening Sentinel (Fort Wayne, Indiana) Monday, April 18, 1904

[14] The Fort Wayne Daily News (Fort Wayne, Indiana) Thursday, May 12, 1904

[15] The New York Clipper (New York, New York) Saturday, April 7, 1906

[16] Variety, Saturday, May 6, 1911

[17] Motion Picture Studio Directory and Trade Annual, 1921

[18] Motion Picture Studio Directory and Trade Annual, 1921

[19] Evening Herald (Ottawa, Kansas) September 12, 1914

[20] Wellington Daily News (Wellington, Kansas) October 5, 1914

Motion Picture News, October 24, 1914

Concordia Daily Blade (Concordia, Kansas) October 30, 1914

[21] Moving Picture World, January 16, 1915

[22] Motion Picture News, January 2, 1915

Reading Times (Reading, Pennsylvania) February 15, 1915

[23] Greensboro Daily News (Greensboro, North Carolina) June 20, 1915

[24] Reel Life, July 24, 1915

[25] Motion Picture News, April 10, 1915

[26] Motion Picture News, May 15, 1915

Altoona Tribune (Altoona, Pennsylvania) June 14, 1915

Motography, June 19, 1915

[27] Ogden Standard (Ogden, Utah) February 9, 1918

[28] Motion Picture Studio Directory and Trade Annual, 1921

[29] Mansfield News  (Mansfield, Ohio) February 10, 1924

[30] Variety, June 12, 1929

[31] The Wampus or Wampas Baby Stars list of approximately 13 young ladies, was gathered each year from

1922-1934 by the Western Motion Picture Advertisers.

[32] Brownsville Herald (Brownsville, Texas) March 10, 1935

[33] Film Daily, July 27, 1934

October, 1934

[34] Motion Picture News, January 2, 1915

[35] Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) February 11, 1930

Variety, September 28; December 12, 1928; April 23, 1930; February 23; June 14, 1932

[36] Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) December 19, 1928; February 11; 15, 1930; June 21, 1932;

Variety, September 28, 1928; April 23, 1930; February 23; June 14, 1932


Jack Brammall, Forgotten Man of Stage and Screen

Classic Film Aficionados

Jack Brammall Jack Brammall

John George Gardner Brammell or Bramall (records differ, which was the family-name then is unclear, since he used each variation), was born in Rochdale (a suburb of Manchester, about thirteen-miles to the northwest), England, on October 15, 1879 to George and Ellen; he arrived in the United States in 1902. In 1907 at the age of twenty-seven he married Ruby Leona Ross, on September 25; they would have a daughter, Leona (Lee), in October of 1908. Brammell was a man of medium height at 5’7,” quite slender weighing only 135-pounds, blonde hair and grayish-blue eyes; this afforded him the opportunity to play juvenile roles well into his late thirties. Brammell used different spellings throughout his career: Bramall, Bramhall, Brammail and the most popular being Brammall; Jack, John, J. G. and John G. were often seen before his family name. In the very early days he was also referred…

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Rip Van Winkle, a 1914 Sleeper, Starring Thomas Jefferson

Classic Film Aficionados

Moving Picture World, November 14, 1914 Moving Picture World, November 14, 1914

The Jefferson name had been inexorably tied to, Rip Van Winkle since the mid 1800’s, when first Joseph Jefferson III who appeared in a different version (playing the role for fourteen years[1]) to his son’s and grandson’s productions. Joseph Jefferson appeared in Washington D. C., Australia and London as the twenty-year-sleeper. Mr. Jefferson’s first rumbles as Rip were of his own writing, using several sources from previous plays and the Washing Irving story itself. The initial Rip nap by Jefferson was seen in Washington D. C. at Carusi’s Hall in autumn of 1859. Jefferson had rehearsed and studied the part during the whole of that summer in a barn on the property of a Dutch farm-house he had rented for him and his family in Pennsylvania, in Paradise Valley, located at the foothills of the Pocono Mountains.[2]

Joseph Jefferson Joseph Jefferson

In 1865…

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Leave Her to Heaven, Don’t Leave Heaven off your List


Leave Her to Heaven, is a brilliant thriller, tackling the subjects of love, trust, innocence and of the basest sins of human nature: obsession, malice, domination, winning-at-all-costs and jealousy. This leaves the viewer with a progressively nastier taste in their mouth as the story develops; pulling and tugging the audience along a rugged path, dappled with beauty along the way, which acts as a buffer to the stark and dark reality seen. A methodical pacing is used by director John M. Stahl to draw the observer into close proximity with the characters, providing a claustrophobic atmosphere; issuing a sense of dread, yet, rendering the watcher unable to avert their attention, as though watching the catastrophe of a train-wreck.

The adaptation of Ben Ames Williams’ novel, Leave Her to Heaven, by Jo Swerling is delicately handled, offering many observation posts, outlooks onto the panorama of the two families: Berent and Harland. But the story continues farther afield, beyond Berent and Harland, stretching tentacle like and retrieving the feelings and actions of friends, acquaintances and passerby alike to drive home the message of the tale; securing firmly the basis of the context of the account, so that no one can mistake the meanings coming forth from the screen. If the story-line seems a message laden morality tale, it is intended to be that way; the author, Mr. Williams, had written five previous stories, during his career, plucking themes from the “Seven Deadly Sins.” Leave Her to Heaven was number six, but Williams felt that jealousy was a stronger human emotion and more universal than the rest of the sins, including the two subjects, sloth and gluttony, of which he had not written on, nor would he ever write about.[1] The Seven Deadly Sin titles by Ben Ames Williams prior to, Leave Her to Heaven were: Evered (Anger); The Rational Hind (Pride); Mischief (Envy); A Man of Plot (Covetousness) and Hostile Valley (Lust).[2]

The color of, Leave Her to Heaven, plays a distinctive role in the emotional impact of the film; it’s brighter than real-life look, producing a simultaneous narrative, which communicates to the onlooker, on a different level. This color chronicle plays a significant part in how we feel about this Gene Tierney and Cornel Wilde drama; the Technicolor process, adding fresh, surreal or hyper-realistic layers to the already complicated palette of sensations engendered by the subject matter.

Alfred Newman provides a score that accentuates the cinematography of Leon Shamroy, offering beautiful accoutrements to the action, characters and scenery; Newman’s compositional skills had just been heard in, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, from earlier in 1945 and he was responsible for, The Song of Bernadette, 1943. Shamroy had the year before photographed, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and with Leave Her to Heaven he won Best Cinematography, Color, at the Academy Awards; each of these men recorded multiple nominations and Oscar statue wins.

While Leave Her to Heaven, can be construed as strictly a psychological-drama, yet, it contains some elements of Film Noir, which genre we most often associate with black and white photography. But the foreboding, the seeming fatalistic results, should classify this colorful piece of Heaven, to the realm of Noir. Cornel Wilde had just reached the level of star-power, with, A Song to Remember, and, A Thousand and One Nights, to gain this co-starring role. With, Leave Her to Heaven, Wilde, planted himself firmly in the history of Hollywood, albeit, he would nary surpass the popularity of this film during his remaining years in celluloid entertainment. Gene Tierney continued with, Leave Her to Heaven, a personal string of hits that would end with, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir; this period for Tierney would not be duplicated in her future. From, Heaven Can Wait, in 1943, followed by Laura, in ’44, A Bell For Adano (like, Leave Her to Heaven, was also released in 1945); Dragonwyck (her work on that film was complete prior to the cameras rolling on Heaven) and, The Razor’s Edge, each opened in 1946. The aforementioned, Mrs. Muir, would finish the chain of seven classic Hollywood films in 1947. Beginning in late 1949, Tierney would turn from the box-office pleasers to three films that would forever etch her name into Film Noir legend: Whirlpool (directed by Otto Preminger, 1949), Night and the City (Jules Dassin, directing, early 1950) and, Where the Sidewalk Ends, again with Preminger, this premiering in the early summer of ’50.

Scene of the Crime; Where and When:

On Wednesday, December 19, Leave Her to Heaven, had a “lush, Hollywood premiere” at the Fox Carthay Circle Theatre, presenting an unusual Christmas Gift for the movie-goer in the Los Angeles area; the film opened at the Roxy in New York City on Christmas Day, with the first showing at 10:30 AM.[3] Zanuck and 20th Century-Fox wanted, Leave Her to Heaven, to qualify for the Academy Awards, therefore the film had to be released by December 31; evidently Zanuck rushed the process in those final days, ensuring that the psychological thriller would be ready on time.[4]

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Brooklyn, New York, December 24, 1945

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Brooklyn, New York, December 24, 1945


The nationwide release was then set for January 1, 1946 and exhibitors were anticipating big things from, Leave Her to Heaven, at the box-office.[5] Actually some theaters opened the film on New Year’s Eve; Tucson, AZ, Long Beach and San Bernardino, CA were among the cities which started the 20th Century-Fox production on the last day of the year.

Long Beach Independent, Long Beach, California, December 31, 1945

Long Beach Independent, Long Beach, California, December 31, 1945

San Bernardino County Sun, San Bernardino, California, December 31, 1945

San Bernardino County Sun, San Bernardino, California, December 31, 1945

Tucson Daily Citizen, Tucson, Arizona, December 31, 1945

Tucson Daily Citizen, Tucson, Arizona, December 31, 1945


On January 3, 1946, the Roxy Theater of New York, announced that Leave Her to Heaven had established a new box-office record for the house during its first eight days, with over 180,000 patrons and nearly $170,000; no other film (to that time) in Roxy Theater history approached those numbers. The Roxy held over the film through a sixth week (ending its run on February 5), all the while continuing to break house records; the RKO Albee (Brooklyn, NY) showed, Leave Her to Heaven, through February 26, and the psychological-drama was finally released to all of Queens and Brooklyn, NY, on February 28, 1946.[6] Major metropolitan theaters were not the only ones setting records with, Leave Her to Heaven; medium and small markets climbed to new heights in ticket sales… Huntingdon, Pennsylvania (east of Altoona), at the Clifton Theatre, reportedly “smashed” all house records;[7] Harrisburg, PA, also set a new house mark at the State Theatre, leaving the manager having to handle overflow crowds.[8] It did not seem to matter that critics had, in the words of Erskine Johnson, “murdered,” Leave Her to Heaven;[9] the word probably that best describes the critical reception of the film, was “mixed,” that from Herbert Cohn of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.[10] Clearly, audiences were eating up, Leave Her to Heaven, while many of those paid to give their opinions about film, regarded the picture with a less appreciative eye.


Literary before Celluloid:

The rush was on, a month before Ben Ames Williams’ new book, Leave Her to Heaven, was published,[11] the rights to it had been obtained by Twentieth Century-Fox; the purchase price was $100,000.[12] Williams, was a popular author nearly from his beginnings, a voluminous writer, selling much of what he penned;[13] Leave Her to Heaven was a Literary Guild choice for June of ’44, published by Houghton Mifflin.[14] Heaven was a mega seller for Ben Ames Williams (7th for 1944), and one has to but read the newspapers of the day to find many glowing reviews and such perusal will ascertain for the reader that the novel was part of book-club must-read-lists throughout the country and often, Heaven, was near the top on reserve and demand lists at libraries nationwide. Louella Parsons thought the price-tag paid by Fox was the highest doled out, to that point for an unpublished work, she, being unable to think of another title fetching such a sum.[15]



Casting Call; Changes, They Were Aplenty:

Reports suggested that producer Darryl Zanuck intended the production values to reflect the cost of the rights to the novel, which the $100,000 paid to Mr. Williams was considerable for the era; first of all, on Zanuck’s “to do list” was to choose the right woman for the role of the very wrong Ellen Berent Harland. Zanuck, concurrent with purchasing the story, intended to co-star Tallulah Bankhead (as Ellen) and Ida Lupino (Ruth Berent) in the story about, “A woman who had to win, and to hold on to her winnings. A woman who cheated in love, and in death. A woman who dominated the lives of those around her as implacably as she was dominated by a consuming jealousy.”[16] By Thanksgiving of ’44, Bankhead had begun to tell friends that she would not do, Heaven, because she did not want to play a murderess; so reported Hedda Hopper.[17] The next name in the offering for, Leave Her to Heaven was Jeanne Crain (added to the cast in June of ’44) for the part of the sister (Ruth Berent) of the homicidal harpy; this was a portion of a reward for her performance in, Home in Indiana, and a new contract with Twentieth-Fox.[18]

Linda Darnell replaced Tallulah Bankhead as the femme fatale in late September of ’44; Zanuck saw rushes from, Hangover Square, and was convinced that Darnell had to play the part of Ellen Berent Harland in, Leave Her to Heaven. Just a few days after Thanksgiving of 1944, another well-known name was thrown into the mix for the part of that heartless siren, Ellen, that of actress Paulette Goddard;[19] it seemed that there were as many actresses suitable for the role of the villainess as there were shades and facets of the personality of the character that was to be left to Heaven. By the end of ’44, Joan Fontaine was thought to be the next lady in waiting for that juicy impersonation of Williams’ murderess;[20] which producer initiated the negotiations is anyone’s guess but Darryl Zanuck and David Selznick were in talks for Fontaine to star in, Leave Her to Heaven, in December ’44 and January of ’45.[21] Added to the list of actresses under consideration by Zanuck for the lead in, Leave Her to Heaven, was Lauren Bacall; according to columnist Louella Parsons, all the gals were dying to do it. [22]

One of the finalists for the role of Ellen Berent Harland was Joan Fontaine, at least Gregory Peck thought it was Fontaine and he was anxious to be her co-star in the thriller.[23] Finally the suspense was over, when Louella Parsons reported on January 17, 1945, that Gene Tierney had been given the part; the official announcement was made to Tierney at Darryl and Virginia Zanuck’s early Anniversary party which had been hosted by Lew Schreiber and Gregory Ratoff. Zanuck’s decision occurred between January 11 and January 17; in her column, Louella O. Parsons stated that nearly every actress in Hollywood and a couple in New York had “been up for the role of the insanely jealous wife,” Ellen.[24]

Dana Andrews was announced as the male lead for, Leave Her to Heaven, playing Richard Harland opposite Gene Tierney as Ellen Berent Harland; this reportage was at the last of January of 1945.[25] February brought Thomas Mitchell to the cast, but by April this was changed, when Ray Collins was chosen to replace Mitchell in the role of Glen Robie;[26] why Mitchell dropped from the project was not stated. Collins had to lose ten pounds for his, Heavenly, role and then followed up that with five more pounds taken off for his upcoming part in, Boy’s Ranch.[27] Michael Dunne tested for the junior Harland role in March of ’45 and editors at Twentieth Century said the he had a great ease about him of course,Darryl Hickman did the drowning instead; a couple of days past the middle of April of 1945, Cornel Wilde was named to play, Richard Harland, the unsuspecting husband to the predatory Ellen Berent Harland.[28] Ruth Nelson was signed for a featured role in, Leave Her to Heaven, in April of 1945 but by early June had been loaned out to Columbia for the part of Kate Comstock in, Girl of the Limberlost.[29] Margo Woode got an extension to her contract with 20th Century-Fox and a role in, Leave Her to Heaven, but she obviously did not make it to Heaven.[30]

Choice, Choices:

Director John Stahl was selected to helm, Leave Her to Heaven, in January of 1945; Stahl would direct just six more films after, Heaven, with two of those going uncredited.[31] Chill Wills was borrowed from MGM for his part in, Leave Her to Heaven, in May of 1945; Wills had just returned from a four month tour overseas, doing military-shows, visiting outposts in Greenland and Iceland. Mr. Willis was to follow his work in, Heaven, with a US hospital tour and a USO Tokyo bound troupe.[32] Silent film star, Mae Marsh, appears uncredited as the fisherwoman; Ms. Marsh would continue acting through 1964, albeit mostly without a mention on screen. Kay Riley who portrayed Danny Harland’s nurse (uncredited) was a childhood friend of Roxanna Stahl, the director’s daughter.[33]

Camera Location:

The cameras rolled on, Leave Her to Heaven in the last week of May, 1945; Tierney, after finishing Dragonwyck, went directly to work on Heaven.[34] Nearly two months later the project was still in production;[35] Leave Her to Heaven, was mostly made on location and for the lake scenes in which young Danny Harland dies, the Moxley Range Ranch, near Bishop, California (Bass Lake, at Madera, CA), in the high Sierras was used for the drowning sequence.[36] Three sets (the lakeside lodge, the boathouse and the tavern) were built on the shores of Bass Lake, preparing for the arrival of the dozen or so actors; filming was expected to end at the lake by May 29th.[37] Darryl Hickman who portrayed Danny Harland, spent enough time simulating his character’s drowning, that he became quite ill after his scenes in the cold water of Bass Lake.[38]

Screenland, September, 1945

Screenland, September, 1945

Screenland, October, 1945

Screenland, October, 1945


Colorful Connotations:

2015 is the 100th anniversary of Technicolor, a process that would change the way we look at movies; those early days with Technicolor, jolted Hollywood and excited the movie-goer. Had it not been for the Great Depression, the movies of the 1930’s and 40’s may have all been in color. The film-making industry is going through something similar to what the film community did in the 1930’s, 40’s and even into the 1950’s: an upheaval of what has been considered normal; now, with higher frame-rates, digital presentation and a more practical 3-D experience.

The Technicolor method has brought to our eyes a brightness that in some sense is not seen in the real world, yet, one we feel comfortable with. Technicolor has afforded an array of colors that have burst upon our entertainment scene from larger-than-life adventures, musicals where part of the harmony are supplied by vibrant hues, and plodding dramas that move at an attractive rate because of hyper-shades. Some of the most respected films, with many reaching the acme of the Golden Age of Hollywood were produced in Technicolor; today those colorful-celluloid-dreams often stand iconically, pointing lovingly to those days of yesteryear. For the millions who view this era of movies incessantly, for the tens of thousands that research and review, for the thousands of film industry employees, these Technicolor beauties are a wonderful exemplar of Classic Movie making.

For further reading on Technicolor, Adrienne LaFrance wrote an informative article, which appeared in February, 2015, on: The Atlantic. Also the George Eastman House celebrated the 100 years of Technicolor with an exhibition at their facility and published a book, written by James Layton and David Pierce (the filmography by Crystal Kui and James Layton), entitled: The Dawn of Technicolor, 1915-1935. For those who want a shorter introduction to Technicolor history, a special Technicolor page has been added to the George Eastman House website, offering a quick look at Technicolor through the years, an explanation of the Technicolor process and the use of Technicolor outside the US; a company history is also included, with reference to the actual camera department, color control (don’t miss this page) and an overview of the company.

This article is my addition to the 100 year Technicolor celebration; for the countless hours of colorful entertainment that I have enjoyed because of Technicolor, I extend a hearty thank you and copious plaudits to all of those involved throughout the decades for a gift that keeps on giving and that cannot be enumerated. Leave Her to Heaven is available on DVD and Blu-Ray (the Blu-Ray is expensive).

The following series of full-color ads (four full page, one half-page) are from, the December 29, 1944 edition of, Box Office magazine…

Box Office, December 29, 1945Box Office, 2, December 29, 1945Box Office, 3, December 29, 1945Box Office, 4, December 29, 1945

Box Office, 5, December 29, 1945


By C. S. Williams

[1] Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) June 11, 1944

Milwaukee Journal (Milwaukee, Wisconsin) July 2, 1944

[2]  Colby Library Quarterly, Ben Ames William and the Saturday Evening Post, by Richard Cary, volume 10, issue 4,

1973, September 1972, pages 190-222

[3] Tucson Daily Citizen (Tucson, Arizona) December 24, 1945

Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) December 24; 26, 1945

Film Bulletin, December 24, 1945

[4] Evening Independent (Massillon, Ohio) December 20, 1945

[5] Film Bulletin, December 10, 1945

[6] Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) January 3; 21; 26;  27, 1946

[7] Daily News (Huntingdon, Pennsylvania) January 15, 1946

[8] Harrisburg Telegraph (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) January 19, 1946

[9] Miami Daily News (Miami, Oklahoma) February 13, 1946

[10] Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) January 16, 1946

[11] The book was released on June 8, 1944 and the rights to the book were purchased by Twentieth Century-Fox in

the middle of May, 1944

[12] Motion Picture Daily, May 18, 1944

[13] Colby Library Quarterly, Ben Ames Williams: The Apprentice Years, by Richard Cary, series 9, number 11,

September 1972, pages 586-599

[14] Odessa American (Odessa, Texas) April 16, 1944

[15] Fresno Bee (Fresno, California) June 11, 1944

[16] Motion Picture Daily, May 18, 1944

Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City, Utah) June 8, 1944 (description from an advertisement of, Leave Her to Heaven)

[17] Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City, Utah) November 24, 1944

[18] Film Daily, June 29, 1944

[19] Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City, Utah) November 28, 1944

[20] Fresno Bee (Fresno, California) December 31, 1944

[21] Harrisburg Telegraph (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) January 8, 1945

[22] Middletown Times Herald (Middleton, New York) January 11, 1945

[23] Salt Lake tribune (Salt Lake City, Utah) January 18, 1945

[24] Fresno Bee (Fresno, California) January 17, 1945

[25] Film Daily, January 30, 1945

[26] Motion Picture Daily, February 23, 1945

Film Daily, April 10, 1945

[27] Film Daily, August 2, 1945

[28] Harrisburg Telegraph (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) March 8, 1945

Fresno Bee (Fresno, California) April 18, 1945

[29] Film Daily, April 9; June 11, 1945

[30] Film Bulletin, May 14, 1945

[31] Film Bulletin, January 22, 1945

[32] Motion Picture Daily, May 21, 1945

Morning Herald (Uniontown, Pennsylvania) June 21, 1945

Pottstown Mercury (Pottstown, Pennsylvania) November 10, 1945

[33] Evening Independent (Massillon, Ohio) June 22, 1945

[34] Film Bulletin, May 28, 1945

[35] Film Bulletin, July 23, 1945

[36] Harrisburg Telegraph (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) May 14, 1945

Fresno Bee (Fresno, California) May 18, 1945

[37] Fresno Bee (Fresno, California) May 18; 20, 1945

[38] Morning Herald (Uniontown, Pennsylvania) June 21, 1945