27 Nov

Picture House Memories, American Serials, Charlie Chaplin and The Vampire

Archive, Norman Mowatt

One of the sources of information we have been using in conjunction with documents and other materials found in the Picture House archive to give us some insight into the early days of the cinema in Campbeltown is the little 1989 book The Wee Pictures by Norman Newton. It has provided numerous clues to help us in our search for the early shareholders and directors of the Picture House. From its pages we have also put together a list of some of the former staff members, and where we have been able we have begun to put together their biographies. This has been easier for the staff members from the early days where genealogical records can be of use. The book also contains some of the memories of their working life from staff and about “going to the pictures” from local people.

In a change of emphasis from tracing people and their lives I thought it might be interesting to see what I could find out if I looked at one such set of memories. I chose those of Alex Colville which had some of those valuable clues that can kick start research.

Alex told that he got sixpence (2.5p) when he was a boy in the years around 1914 to go to the pictures. He used his money wisely, using four pence for his admission money and tuppence to get a bag of chips afterwards. His memories also paint a picture of where he spent his money. The chip shop belonged to Dan Watson who Alex says had a pub as well as the fish shop from where he enterprisingly sold the chips in the evenings. I had a look at the Valuation Rolls on the Scotland’s People website and sure enough Dan Watson was the tenant of the “PUBLIC HOUSE 3 BURNSIDE STREET” in 1920. The Burnside Bar still exists of course. The venue for the chip shop was in Shore Street , opposite Woolworths door. So, this would be the corner of Shore Street and Main Street opposite the door of The Original Factory Shop which occupies the site of the former Woolworths. Right away we have a good mental picture of young Alex and his friends coming round from the Picture House to buy those chips. A good start.

Like many people Alex was a regular at The Picture House with his friends and he even let us know what type of films were being shown and gave a clue to who was in them. They often went to see “serial pictures” which were “so exiting at the finish that you’d be back to see the thing again the next week”. Exactly what happens with television series nowadays, and with films too. Did you go to see all the Harry Potters, or all the Star Wars films, or the Twilight series, or perhaps the Hunger Games? Clever marketing!

Alex’s serial picture was The Broken Coin, and he remembered an actress called pearl White. I had to see if I could find out more. First port of call was a spreadsheet with a list of Picture House adverts from the Campbeltown Courier which was created by a researcher at Glasgow University. In there I found several references to The Broken Coin and dates when it was shown. Next stop was the library and the microfilm records of The Campbeltown Courier for 1916. The list of adverts I had seen indicated when the first and the last episodes of The Broken Coin were shown and that would be where I would focus, but since I was looking though the microfilm I thought I might as well make a list of my own and I noted down all the films shown from the first of January through to the end of April in 1916 to see if I could find anything that might be worth having a further look at.

On the left below is the advert showing the first episode of The Broken Coin, and in a happy coincidence there was also an episode of The Exploits of Elaine, the serial in which Alex saw Pearl White. Next, on the right, is two weeks later. The episode titles for the serials appear in this advert and we also have the showing of Charlie Chaplin in “Laughin’ Gas”.









Lastly, I have included the advert which brought together The Triumph of Elaine and the final episode of The Broken Coin and interestingly shows the introduction of the government’s Entertainment Tax. More on Charlie Chaplin, and on the tax later.




My investigations of The Broken Coin didn’t reveal a huge amount of information but I did find out that The Broken Coin was an adventure mystery serial released June 21, 1915 for a run of 15 episodes with 30 reels but an additional 7 episodes were released October 3, 1915 because of the popularity of the serial. Sadly the current status of the film is presumed lost.

Main Cast:

Grace Cunard – Kitty Gray

Francis Ford – Count Frederick

Eddie Polo – Roleau

I also had a look to see what I could find out about Pearl White and The Exploits of Elaine. There was more online about Pearl and Elaine.

Pearl White in 1916.

The Exploits of Elaine is a 1914 American film serial in the damsel in distress genre of The Perils of Pauline (1914).

The Exploits of Elaine tells the story of a young woman named Elaine who, with the help of a detective, tries to find the man, known only as “The Clutching Hand”, who murdered her father. The Clutching Hand was the first mystery villain to appear in a film serial. The concept was widely used for the remainder of the format’s existence.

The serial stars Pearl White (who also starred in The Perils of Pauline), Arnold Daly, Sheldon Lewis, Creighton Hale, and Riley Hatch. Lionel Barrymore had a small role. The serial was written by Arthur B. Reeve (novel), Charles W. Goddard, and George B. Seitz, and directed by Louis J. Gasnier, Seitz, and Leopold Wharton. The film was produced by the Wharton’s Studios and distributed by Pathé Exchange, the American distribution branch of the French company Pathé at that time. Pathé was the largest film equipment and production company in the world during the first part of the 20th century.

The film was followed in 1915 by The New Exploits of Elaine.

The serial, which is extant, was named to the United States National Film Registry in 1994 for its cultural and historic importance.

Pearl Fay White (March 4, 1889 – August 4, 1938) was an American stage and film actress. She began her career on the stage at the age of six, and later moved on to silent films appearing in a number of popular serials. In these serials, she flew aeroplanes, raced cars, swam across rivers, and did other similar feats. She did much of her own stunt work until Pathé decided that they could not risk injuring one of their most popular stars. Sometimes known as the “Queen of the Serials”, she was noted for doing the majority of her own stunts in several film serials, most notably in The Perils of Pauline in which she injured her spine , an injury that would cause her pain for the rest of her life.

By 1919, she had grown tired of film serials and signed with Fox Film Corporation with the ambition to appear in dramatic roles. Over the next two years appearing in ten drama films for Fox but her popularity was on the wane. Influenced by her French friends from Pathé Studios, she was drawn to the artistic gathering in the Montparnasse Quarter of Paris. She made her final film in France in 1924 retiring with a fortune in excess of $2 million which she invested in a Paris nightclub, a casino, and in racehorses.

By 1937, White was dying of liver failure. The injury she sustained to her spine while filming The Perils of Pauline had continued to cause her pain which she eased with drugs and alcohol. A year before her death, White got her affairs in order, purchased a plot in Cimetière de Passy (Passy Cemetery) near her home in Paris. She died in 1938 aged 49 and was buried in Cimetière de Passy after a small, private funeral.[

It may be worth mentioning in passing that in Paris, cemeteries are one of several types of green space other than the many parks and gardens taken advantage of by both citizens and tourists for taking a stroll whist in the city. I remember one day my wife and I, on the way back to the centre of Paris from a pleasant morning sketching and walking in the Luxembourg and botanic gardens, had a wander in the Montparnasse cemetery where we spent a moment by the graves of Serge Gainsbourg (French singer, songwriter, poet, painter, actor, and director possibly best known in the UK for his song Je t’aime… moi non plus,) and Man Ray (American visual artist, painter in the Dada and Surrealist movements, and photographer of renown). Other well known people buried there include Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Charles Baudelaire, André Citroën, and Alfred Dreyfus.

Moving on from Alex’s memories to the things of interest from my library visit …

Firstly there was the film with Charlie Chaplin. What could I find out about “Laughin’ Gas” ?

Laughing Gas is a 1914 Keystone Comedy – Featuring Charlie Chaplin. The film is also known as Busy Little Dentist, Down and Out, Laffing Gas, The Dentist, and Tuning His Ivories.

We are told Charlie is a dental assistant. He arrives at work where the patients are already waiting. He joins the tiny second dental assistant in the back room. They have a brief squabble then Charlie goes to the waiting room to clean the floor with a carpet sweeper. He bumps into a patient and a further squabble starts. Then back to the rear room for more squabbling.

The dentist arrives, and his first patient goes in, obviously in pain. The dentist prepares the nitrous oxide anaesthetic (also known commonly as “laughing gas” due to its effects prior to and after unconsciousness). With the man unconscious he pulls his tooth, but then he can’t get him to wake up. He calls for Charlie and when he arrives the dentist runs off. Charlie tries to wake him and eventually tries hitting his head with a mallet. The man revives but starts laughing. Charlie knocks him out with the mallet.

The dentist then returns and Charlie is sent to the drug store to get a prescription. After more fighting with the patients he goes from Dr Pain’s surgery to the Sunset Pharmacy. He strikes a man standing at a news-stand outside. He looks at a woman (the dentist’s wife) and Charlie kicks him in the stomach before chasing the woman himself, and an incident occurs where she loses her skirt and runs off in embarrassment. He continues fighting with the man, who receives a brick in the face, thus becoming another dental patient. A second brick hits a passer-by equally losing him a tooth.

Meanwhile, the dentist gets a phone call from his maid to say his wife has had an “accident” and he goes home. Charlie returns to find the surgery empty. He picks the prettier of the two female patients in the waiting room. The other lady leaves, leaving them alone. Charlie flirts with her and looks very closely into her mouth, stealing kisses. Meanwhile, the two men struck by bricks arrive. The girl leaves. The tall passerby goes in next. Charlie uses a huge pair of pliers to remove another tooth. With all the noise the news-stand victim enters and a final fight ensues.

The above from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laughing_Gas_(1914_film)

Then there was the line in the advert from the 16th of September 1916 “Government Tax additional to above”. My first thought when I saw that was whether young Alex got and extra penny to pay the tax or did he lose out on his chips! Then I had a look online and found a publication from the House of Lords, Session 2009-10, Communications Committee – First Report on The British Film and Television Industries. From their history of the British Film industry we get the following:

“The cinema as an entertainment industry emerged from a series of innovations in the late nineteenth century, mostly in the United States, France and the United Kingdom. In the UK, filmmakers established small studios to produce short films for use by travelling showmen and in music-halls. In the first decade of the twentieth century, more than 30 film studios were established in and around London. British films rapidly established a substantial share of the market at home and abroad, including some 15 per cent of the American market by 1910. This initial success rapidly faded as American production took off, with expensive and heavily marketed feature films. The industry’s share of its home market fell from half to less than 10 per cent by 1914.

At the same time as film production was waning, cinema going flourished as a pastime of the British public. Investment in cinemas surged, with the founding of many new companies and investment of £1.5m (£140m at current prices) in cinemas in 1908 alone. The Government recognised the potential of the film industry, initially as a source of revenue, when it included cinema, together with other entertainments, such as music hall and theatre, in the Entertainment Tax, introduced in 1916. The rate, which was initially set at between 25 and 50 per cent of the price of cinema tickets, was reduced in the 1920s and then raised during the Second World War. It was finally abolished in 1960. “

Lastly there was the list of films I made. One film jumped out of the list at me. Not one I knew but it intrigued me. It was called The Vampire. I do like a good Vampire movie, or a good Vampire book. However, I was to be disappointed. This Vampire wasn’t a Vampire – she was a spy!


Update 29th July 2017

I had another look at the film list yesterday to see if there were any other films of note, and it dawned on me that the Vampire was not a stand alone movie but was actually an episode (6) of The Exploits of Elaine. My Vampire was now neither Vampire or spy! I have left the information on the movie The Vampire below, if for no other reason for information and a bit of fun.

In addition I thought I had better see what information I could find on The Exploits of Elaine, episode 6, The Vampire …

Apparently when Elaine shoots one of the men working for of the evil villain (the Clutching Hand) while he attempts to burgle her house, the master criminal kidnaps her in order to use her blood to save the wounded man’s life via transfusion.

Perhaps I found a sort of Vampire after all! I just hope they were aware of the recent development of cross-matching of blood, based on blood typing, which was first performed in 1907.

The Vampire is a surviving 1915 silent film drama directed by Alice Guy and starring Olga Petrova. It was distributed through Metro Pictures. From The AFI Catalog of Feature Films (http://www.afi.com/members/catalog/AbbrView.aspx?s=&Movie=13887 )we find:

Jeanne Lefarge is seriously injured when her car runs over a cliff in the Adirondacks. At a nearby hotel, she recovers and is courted by the male guests. After a married doctor weds Jeanne illegally and abandons her, she attempts suicide. Asked to leave the hotel, Jeanne sails to Paris, where she conspires with two conmen and becomes the heartless, scheming woman known as “The Vampire.” After foreign governments hire Jeanne to steal secret papers from American attaché Robert Sterling, she falls in love with him, but upon learning that Robert is the son of the man who abandoned her, Jeanne vows to wreck Robert’s life. Back in New York, Jeanne’s love overcomes her desire for vengeance, and she plans to marry Robert, who breaks with his childhood sweetheart. After Robert’s father meets Jeanne and accuses her of being an adventuress, she forces him to confess. When one of Jeanne’s conspirators breaks into Robert’s house for the papers, Jeanne is hit by a bullet aimed at Robert. As she is dying, Jeanne reunites Robert and his sweetheart.


Olga Petrova – Jeanne Lefarge

Vernon Steele – Robert Sterling

William A. Morse – John Glenning

Wallace Scott – Louis Katz

Lawrence Grattan – Richard Sterling

Albert Howson- Francis Murray

Mary G. Martin –

Reginald Barker – unknown/unconfirmed

… and here is the aforementioned list of films (The Campbeltown Courier 1916):

1st January


Red Wins

Ashes of Revenge

8th January

The Old Grouch

Heart of a Child

15th January

The Exploits of Elaine (1)

Buckshot John

A Deed of Daring

22nd January

The Exploits of Elaine (2) The Twilight Sleep

Killed Against Orders

The Six Cent Loaf

25th January

The Vanishing Jewels The Exploits of Elaine (3)

Sons of Satan

Love’s Entente Cordiale

5th February

The Exploits of Elaine (4) The Frozen Safe

A Garret in Bohemia

According to Value

12th February

The Exploits of Elaine (5) The Poisoned Room

The Man in the Attic

The Scar of Conscience

19th February

The Exploits of Elaine (6) The Vampire

The Man in the Attic

Breaks of the Game

26th February

The Exploits of Elaine (7) The Double Trap

The Stoning

In the Grasp of the Law

4th March

The Hidden Voice – The Exploits of Elaine (8)

The Prisoner of Zenda

The Girl at Lone Point

11th March

The Death Ray – The Exploits of Elaine (9)

Rupert of Henzau

The Prisoner of Zenda – by request

18th March

The Life Current – The Exploits of Elaine (10)

The Derby Winner

Special Pantomime Film – Hop O’ My Thumb

25th March

The Hour of Three – The Exploits of Elaine (11)

The Ivory Hand

1st April

The Blood Crystals – The Exploits of Elaine (12)

Honour Among Thieves

8th April

The Devil Worshippers – The Exploits of Elaine (13)

The High Road

The Pantomime Films – Hop O’ My Thumb

Jack and the Beanstalk

15th April

Court Martialled

The Reckoning – The Exploits of Elaine (14)

The Wire Chiefs Reward

22nd April

The Exploits of Elaine (15 – The Serpent Sign, from The New Exploits of Elaine series)

The Broken Coin -Trans Atlantic Serial Part 1

29th April

The Cryptic Ring – The Exploits of Elaine (16)

Satan of the Sands (The Broken Coin Part 2)

6th May

The Watching Eye – The Exploits of Elaine (17)

When the Crown Rocked – The Broken Coin (3)

Laughin’ Gas

Image credits

1.) ‘Picture House – Weekly Listings Advert’, (22nd April 1916, © Campbeltown Courier)

2.) ‘Picture House – Weekly Listings Advert’, (6th May 1916, © Campbeltown Courier)

3.) ‘Picture House – Weekly Listings Advert’, (16th September 1916, © Campbeltown Courier)

4.) and 5.) Posters for The Broken Coin. Efforts have been made to find a copyright holder for these images. Our sources are as follows: This media file is in the public domain in the United States. This applies to U.S. works where the copyright has expired, often because its first publication occurred prior to January 1, 1923.

6.) Pearl White, The Photo-Play Journal, December 1916. Efforts have been made to find a copyright holder for these images. Our sources are as follows: This media file is in the public domain in the United States. This applies to U.S. works where the copyright has expired, often because its first publication occurred prior to January 1, 1923.

7.) Charlie Chaplin in Laughing Gas (Poster) Efforts have been made to find a copyright holder for these images. Our sources are as follows: This media file is in the public domain in the United States. This applies to U.S. works where the copyright has expired, often because its first publication occurred prior to January 1, 1923. This is a file from the Wikimedia Commons.

8.) The Vampire Poster. By Metro (page 1107 Moving Picture World) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. This media file is in the public domain in the United States. This applies to U.S. works where the copyright has expired, often because its first publication occurred prior to January 1, 1923.

From Picture House Ma… November 27, 2017 Whisky, War and Provo… November 27, 2017