When I began to research Indiana's contribution to the art of motion pictures, I was amazed at the number of Hoosiers who were there at the beginning. Then, to my surprise, I discovered they maintained an influential presence all through the development and maturation of the medium and are an important part of the Hollywood scene today.
The silent era boasts such Hoosier names as, J. Warren Kerrigan, Monte Blue, John Bowers, Charlie Murray, Victor Potel, Tom Santschi, Edna Goodrich, Valeska Suratt, Rose Melville, Alice Terry, Louise Fazenda, Ann Christy and Julanne Johnston. Silent directors include Al and Ray Rockett, Lambert Hillyer, Clifford Smith, Tim Whelan, Ray Enright, Mack V. Wright, and Howard and Kenneth Hawks. Screenwriters include Grover Jones, Tom Geraghty, Mabel Heikes Justice, and Raymond Schrock. Most of these began in the silent era and made the transition to sound.
The golden age of Indiana literature ran from the late 1880s through 1920. During that time Hoosier authors such as George Ade, Charles Major, George Barr McCutcheon, Meredith Nicholson, James Whitcomb Riley, Gene Stratton-Porter, Lew Wallace, and Booth Tarkington had many of their works made into movies. Tarkington was so popular with the movie colony that for a while nearly everything he wrote was bought and filmed. More than fifty films have been based on Tarkington's works. His work began to appear in films as early as 1914, when he was a rising star as a popular storywriter. One of his earliest film successes was "The Gentleman from Indiana (1915), starring Dustin Farnum.
Some of Tarkington's stories were filmed two and three times. The two works of fiction for which he won the Pulitzer Prize were each filmed twice: "The Magnificent Ambersons," 1925 and 1941, and "Alice Adams," 1923 and 1935. The second screening of both, helped by the advent of sound, resulted in definitive films of rare charm and taste.
Tarkington liked the film medium, and almost everything he wrote for publication or for the theater proved to be easily translated into film. During the 1920s there were at least nineteen Tarkington films produced and one series of twelve two-reelers from Goldwyn based on "The Adventures and Emotions of Edgar Pomeroy." Tarkington's "Penrod and Sam" stories were neatly adaptable to film. At least four films were based on them. In 1924, when his short story, "Uncle Jack," was about to be filmed under the title of "Pied Piper Malone," Tarkington joined fellow Hoosier Thomas Jefferson Geraghty (who wrote the screenplay) to write subtitles so he could be on the set and around the studio during production.
In 1924 Tarkington's "Monsieur Beaucaire," which had been highly successful as a play, became a film vehicle for Rudolph Valentino. It remains one of Valentino's best films. Bob Hope starred in a remake of "Beaucaire" in 1946, but it was given a campy, highly stylized treatment. Tarkington's stories have never grown old and still pop up occasionally in modern movies.
My research uncovered many interesting facts and many interesting people. One of my favorites was Monte Blue. This was largely due to the fact my mother was raised in the Knightstown (Indiana) Soldiers and Sailors Orphans home just as Monte was. She told me stories of this famous movie star who used to come back to the home and inspire his fellow orphans with how he became an internationally famous movie star. I was able to track down Monte Blue's daughter, Barbara, in California. She gave me the location of her niece and nephew, (Monte's grandson and granddaughter). I made the trip to Pacific Palisades, California to meet Tove and Richard Blue. Tove was named after her grandmother who was from Norway and was a Harrison Fisher model.
While spending the day with Tove and Richard I discovered Tove had a very large scrapbook from which she graciously made copies for me to use. I also found that Tove was following in her grandfather's footsteps. She is a sound specialist who worked for Steven Spielberg in "Hook," "Jurassic Park," and others. Richard is a member of the LAPD. Tove told me how to find Monte's old mansion. It was a couple of doors down from Jimmy Stewart's house and across the street from Lucille Ball. It was one of the oldest houses on the block. Tove informed me recently it was being torn down to be replaced with a modern home.
Sometime after I returned to Indianapolis, I received a call from Tove who informed me she was coming to Indianapolis to participate in a "Sweet Adelines" singing contest. She wondered if I would take her to the Knightstown Home. I met her and her husband and I led the way to Knightstown. We went through their records and found several references to and photos of, Monte. It was a delightful experience.
Although the Internet is a wonderful source of information, one has to be very careful because there is much misinformation. For example, J. Warren Kerrigan is listed in several Internet sources as being born in Louisville, Kentucky. All of his siblings were born in Louisville, but J. Warren and his twin brother Wallace, were born in New Albany, Indiana. J. Warren was a fascinating character. He could legitimately lay claim to the fact he was the movies' first matinee idol ("The Great God Kerrigan"), the first Western star, and the first leading man in motion pictures who was known to be gay.
Tom Santschi is listed in many Internet sources as being born in Switzerland. Santschi promoted this myth in an article in a 1915 "Motion Picture" magazine that quotes him as saying, "I was born at Lucerne, the city beautiful of the first republic of Europe." The Elkhart County census shows him being born in Kokomo, Indiana. His father was born in Switzerland and Santschi probably thought a Swiss birth was much more glamorous than being born in Kokomo, Indiana. The film that brought Santschi the most notoriety and made him a feature player was the film version of Rex Beach's "The Spoilers" in 1914. This led to several more roles in which he played the "heavy." William K. Everson calls Santschi "the first recognizable villain type."
Mack Sennett gave several Hoosiers their first Hollywood break. Charlie Murray, Louise Fazenda and Victor Potel were all players with Sennett. Carole Lombard and Carmelita Geraghty were bathing beauties for Sennett. Probably the strangest personality in my research was Valeska Suratt. This Terre Haute native became a rival to Theda Bara during the "Vamp" craze but ended her life destitute and delusional.
There are many more silent and sound stars covered in my book. However I don't stop with actors. I cover every job in the industry. The book is almost 600 pages and has over 300 photos. Many of the people in the book have never had a biography written about them.
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