Gilbert Warrenton, A Centennial Look at the Captivating Cinematographer

Motion Picture Studio Directory And Trade Annual 1918

Motion Picture Studio Directory And Trade Annual 1918

 

Gilbert Warrenton, noted cinematographer, who according to film-historian Kevin Brownlow (many others agree as well), was a principal exponent of the moving camera and the ‘German’ style in Hollywood. Warrenton was considered shoulder to shoulder with Karl Freund, until he arrived in California himself. Gilbert used revolutionary camera techniques in such films as The Man Who Laughs (1927), The Cat and the Canary (1927) and Lonesome (1928), but he was known for a distinctive stylization from his earliest days in 1914-1917.[1] Warrenton enjoyed six decades in the film industry, often photographing B-Westerns, TV series and late in his career, Science Fiction pictures. Within this first paragraph I have added nothing new to the memory of Mr. Warrenton, and making an addition to his work-history is my goal, therefore I will confine myself to his early days in cinema, and his personal life, which in the modern era remains undocumented. It is my intention to provide the reader with a clearer picture of who Gilbert Warrenton was, and what motivations led him to film, and in film.

Gilbert Chapman Warrenton was born in Lake View (near Peterson) New Jersey, on March 7, 1894, to Harry Hertzler and Ida May Kelley. Gilbert had blue eyes brown hair (adding some gray as he matured) and would grow to six-feet in height, with a ruddy complexion. Hertzler was an accountant, as well as the buying and selling of mortgages, he later would specialize in exports, while Ida May was a, singer, a music teacher, dramatic-reader and actress. Their names were well known in Paterson, New Jersey, with Hertzler and Warrenton appearing often in the local newspapers.[2] His sister Virginia, was born in 1887, and she too was influenced to the arts, at the early age of 5.[3]

Gilbert’s preoccupation with film, we now know, did not appear out of the blue, for his mother was somewhat of a noted singer and of course an actress both on stage and in celluloid, as well as writing at the least, one scenario and acting as producer and director on a handful of projects.[4] Ida May Kelley was known as Lule Mae Warrenton (she took that name no later than 1889[5]) on stage and before the camera, and her true success began once she was based in Los Angeles; that proved a perfect fit for motion pictures when first the Dream-Makers began their weaving in the area. Ms. Warrenton, had divorced Gilbert’s father and had married Charles Bradley (circa 1900), they first moving to Squaw Valley, California, which sets to the north-west of Lake Tahoe. Ida May taught music in the area, while husband Charles was a Wool-grader.

Los Angeles Herald, Los Angeles, California, July 10, 1905

Los Angeles Herald, Los Angeles, California, July 10, 1905

 

Warrenton began his silver-screen career (by his recollection[6]) in 1913 and was officially announced as being added to the staff of Universal in early 1914.[7] Gilbert Warrenton, had a preoccupation with photography which went beyond capturing images for moving pictures. His first recorded professional film job came with humorist, novelist Homer Croy (When to Lock the Stable, West of the Water Tower, They Had to See Paris) in 1914; Croy, with Warrenton, set upon a world-trip to film short travelogues for Universal, departing for Japan, on the S.S. Hongkong Maru of the Toyo Kisen Kaisha Oriental Steamship Company, from San Francisco, on St. Patrick’s Day, 1914 (Tuesday, March 17); first stop being Honolulu.[8] What a way to celebrate one’s twentieth-birthday!

This excursion took Warrenton and his director Croy to Japan and to Egypt. The titles filmed for Universal on this trip around the world, were, Here and There in Japan, The Japanese Silk Industry, In the Land of the Mikado. Croy continued onto Egypt (who his cameraman is anybody’s guess) Warrenton stopped over in Honolulu, to visit his mother who, “making some very unusual pictures,”[9] for Universal. While in Hawaii, Gilbert took landscapes of the interior of the islands.[10] These Croy short films were released from December of 1914 through April of the following year. Unfortunately, none of the aforementioned educational films afford the young Gilbert Warrenton a credit, yet, it is clear from contemporaneous reports that he was the man at the camera while Croy was in Japan.

Upon Warrenton’s return to the States, he worked on A Modern Melnotte, which was released in September of 1914; he used four double exposures in the film for director Lloyd Ingraham.[11] Also, he did some still photo work for Universal that year, with the beautiful image below offering an early insight to the talent of young Warrenton, as he caught Universal star, Cleo Madison in silhouette.

Motography, August 1, 1914

Motography, August 1, 1914

 

In addition, Gilbert was responsible for the photograph of Edna Maison, posing as the Madonna with the Baby for, The Heart of a Magdalene, released in December of 1914. The still was enlarged and sent to exhibitors all over the country for promotion of the movie.[12]

Moving Picture World November 28, 1914

Moving Picture World November 28, 1914

 

1915 should be considered a banner-year for Warrenton, since he began as cameraman for director Frank Lloyd, although no titles are associated with this period for Gilbert. Lloyd and company left Universal, contemplating two offers, and while the Lloyd troupe were deciding, Warrenton accepted an assignment from Universal for the Louis Joseph Vance (author of, The Lone Wolf series) company, and headed for Needles, California to film.[13] What was intended to be filmed is unknown but a hint might be available from a report in April of 1915, that Vance had secured the photoplay rights to the works of Booth Tarkington, Stewart Edward White and Joseph Conrad.[14]

Camera-work, regardless of what type, continued to provide Gilbert with opportunities, when he made at least one, possibly two trips to Mexico, in the spring and summer of 1916 (with Beverly Howard Griffith) to cover the incursions by Pancho Villa into the United States and the retaliatory expeditions by the U. S. military, as well as gaining permission to follow Mexican General P. Elias Calles, on his southern expedition.[15] The news-film duo where in El Paso, prior to their trip south of the border, recording the enlisting of prominent citizens for the Citizens’ Training Camp; the camp was a part of the larger National Preparedness Plan.[16] During this period, Gilbert was able to film a meeting between U.S. General Hugh L. Scott and Mexican General Alvaro Obregon.

New York Dramatic Mirror, August 5, 1916

New York Dramatic Mirror, August 5, 1916

 

In early August of 16’, Beverley Griffith and Warrenton developed a, shall we say, innovated method for getting film and photographs of the Elephant Butte Dam, northwest of El Paso, Texas, by suspending the Dort automobile owned by Animated Weekly, by a cable 1461 feet long and 296 feet above the water level; at the time Elephant Butte Dam was the largest single block concrete construction in the world.[17]

By late summer of 1916, Warrenton was the photographer for the Juvenile division at Universal, under the direction of his mother, Lule Warrenton.[18] In the latter part of that same summer, nearing the first days of autumn, Gilbert rolled the camera for director Raymond Wells, for a special scene for, The Saintly Sinner (released in February of 1917), starring Ruth Stonehouse, Henri De Vries and Jack Mulhall. Warrenton and director Wells, rode in a car, while Mulhall took the train at Newhall (about 30-miles from Los Angeles), rolling camera at three points along the journey. The auto had to reach speeds of sixty miles an hour to keep up with the rail conveyance; Mulhall being captured on camera on the moving train.[19]

In the fall of 16’, Warrenton, busied himself in Hawaii, working the camera for director, Dr. H. G. Stafford, of the Aloha Film Company. The movie sported scenes shot on Oahu and Hawaii, with a night view of Kilauea. The film’s public premier (there was a private viewing on November 1, 1916) was held at the Hawaii Theater, in Honolulu, on Monday, November 6, 1916.[20]

Honolulu Star Bulletin, Honolulu, Hawaii, November 2, 1916

Honolulu Star Bulletin, Honolulu, Hawaii, November 2, 1916

 

It was the aforementioned positions at Universal and the resulting product which afforded both Warrentons the opportunity to join a start-up film company, Frieder Film Corporation, which was based in Chicago; the concern featured Irene M. Frieder as president of the company; at the time Frieder being the only woman president of an American film corporation.[21]

Motion Picture Studio Directory and Trade Annual, April 12, 1917

Motion Picture Studio Directory and Trade Annual, April 12, 1917

 

The mother and son team finished their first movie for Frieder by May of 1917, with Lule as director and Gilbert at camera.[22] That initial Frieder offering, entitled, A Bit of Heaven, was based on the Kate Douglas Wiggin, story, The Bird’s Christmas Carrol.

Motion Picture News, April 7, 1917

Motion Picture News, April 7, 1917

 

The follow up for Frieder was, The Littlest Fugitive, with plans for the third Frieder film to be, Hop o’ My Thumb. All three starred the 5-year-old Mary Louise Cooper.[23] Lule Warrenton was the first (and as of 1917, the one and only) woman producer with a studio and company all her own; the focus was to be directed toward the child audience, with the longest films to no more than five-reels or one-hour-fifteen-minutes.[24] The studio was located in Lankershim, in what is now referred to as North Hollywood (just west of Burbank).[25] Contrary to what was written in the Silent Feminists, The Littlest Fugitive was a finished product, according to a report in Moving Picture World, in the April 28, 1917 edition and needed only to be edited according to the Motion Picture News of the same date; the third Frieder project, Hop o’ My Thumb stands without any supporting evidence as to completion.[26] In addition to Hop o’ My Thumb as unfinished, Star Dust was announced in June of 1917 as the next Frieder project, with Peggy Custer on loan from Universal to star, Irma Sorter, Chandler Honse, along with June Hovick (in her debut), Carl Miller, Louis Koch, Alexia Durant, W. S. Hooser and little Mary Louise Cooper, of course Gilbert Warrenton was slated to handle the camera-work.[27] As with Hop o’ My Thumb there is no proof that the Frieder production of Star Dust was completed.

 

Personal Warrenton Post 1917:

Gilbert Warrenton, was descendant of Andrew Adams (on his father’s side), and continued the long and proud heritage of military service for his country.[28] An interesting side note, but seemingly of no consequence, was when Warrenton applied for membership with The California Society of the National Society Sons of the American Revolution in 1967; Gilbert tried to demonstrate on the paperwork that he had always used the name Warrenton. He did indeed use the name Warrenton for all legal matters, including military service (which they accepted). Yet, in 1905 at the marriage of his sister Virginia, he was reported as Gilbert Hertzler.[29] Gilbert may have used his given name of Warrenton, but at least through the first ten or twelve years of his life he was Gilbert Hertzler.

 

Gilbert was a Major in the U.S Air Force during WWII, serving from September of 1942, into August of 1947. With this connection, he was offered the opportunity to make a photographic record of two Atomic Tests (Cross Roads and Greenhouse) in the Pacific.[30]

Major Gilbert Warrenton, this film was taken from the pages of the Needle, the McCornack General Hospital newsletter, Pasadena, California

Major Gilbert Warrenton, this film was taken from the pages of the Needle, the McCornack General Hospital newsletter, Pasadena, California

 

Warrenton, married Lucille Rhea Morrison on November 7, 1926; Rhea was nearly eight years younger than Gilbert, born in March of 1902.  The couple had two sons, William, in 1923, and Gilbert, Jr. two days after Christmas of 1930.[31] When Gilbert the senior was not working behind the camera, he was working the ground, citing his occupation as farmer in the Federal census.[32] Gilbert Hertzler Warrenton died on the 21st of August, 1980 in Riverside, California.

 

[1] Kevin Brownlow, Film History, Vol. 24, No.3, Behind the Camera (2012), pp.324-333

New York Dramatic Mirror (New York, New York) March 24, 1917

[2] Morning Call (Paterson, New Jersey) December 3, 1892; January 23, 187-97; May 24, 1894; September 11, 1895

The Evening News (Paterson, New Jersey) September 9, 1893; September 7, 1895

[3] The Morning Call (Paterson, New Jersey) November 19, 1892

[4] Freeborn County Standard (Albert Lea, Minnesota) January 1, 1896

Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California) September 16, 1907

[5] Owosso Times (Owosso, Michigan) July 26, 1889

[6] Kevin Brownlow, Film History, Vol. 24, No.3, Behind the Camera (2012), pp.324-333

[7] San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco, California) March 12, 1914

[8] San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco, California) March 12, 1914

Variety, March 27, 1914

Billboard, April 4, 1914

Seattle Star (Seattle, Washington) April 6, 1914

[9] Motion Picture News, June 6, 1914

[10] Motion Picture News, June 20, 1914

[11] Motography, August 29, 1914, page 322

[12] Motography, November 14, 1914

[13] New York Dramatic Mirror (New York, New York), March 24, 1915

[14] Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California) April 15, 1915

[15] Los Angeles Time (Los Angeles, California) April 12, 1916

Moving Picture Weekly, July 15, 1916

[16] El Paso Herald (El Paso, Texas) April 7, 1916

[17] Oregon Daily Journal (Portland, Oregon) august 15, 1916

[18] New York Dramatic Mirror (New York, New York) August 5, 1916

[19] Motography, September 16, 1916

[20] Honolulu Star Bulletin (Honolulu, Hawaii) November 2; 6; 7, 1916

[21] Motography February 10, 1917

Motion Picture News, May 12, 1917

[22] Billboard, May 12, 1917

[23] Moving Picture World, April 28, 1917

[24] Moving Picture World, February17, 1917

[25] Moving Picture World, February17, 1917

[26] The Silent Feminists: America’s First Women Directors, by Anthony Slide, Scarecrow Press, Inc. 1996, page 48

Moving Picture World, April 28, 1917

Motion Picture News, April 28, 1917

 

[27] Motion Picture News, June 2, 1917

[28] The California Society of the National Society Sons of the American Revolution (Application for Membership), 1967

[29] Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California) November 30, 1905

[30] The California Society of the National Society Sons of the American Revolution (Application for Membership), 1967

[31] The California Society of the National Society Sons of the American Revolution (Application for Membership), 1967

[32] 1940

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