The dimpled darling of the dairy has a voice not even the cows can tolerate.
When she croons out a tune, they take off running, along with the chickens, and even her father chases her from the farmhouse with a long-barreled rifle.
But where others cringe, the city stranger with his Broadway air and Sixth Avenue hair sees opportunity, and whisks the farmer’s daughter away to the city.
Thus begins the comedy Her Fractured Voice, one of more than 50 silent films attributed to the United States Motion Picture Corp., a Forty Fort film studio active in the years around 1920.
Little historical record remains of the production studio that once sat at the corner of Wyoming Avenue and Slocum Street; Her Fractured Voice is one of only a scant few of the films produced there under the Black Diamond Comedies and Rainbow Comedies brands to survive.
But several local historians are seeking to reconstruct the remaining historical artifacts the studio left behind.
One is Noreen O’Connor, a professor of English at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre who is leading a research project into the studio’s early Black Diamond Comedies series with one of her undergraduate classes.
Public viewing on Friday
In conjunction with the Luzerne County Historical Society, O’Connor and her class will host a screening of Her Fractured Voice and another recently discovered film produced by the studio on Friday, at the Burke Auditorium on the King’s campus. Live music will accompany the showings as well as another, feature-length silent film.
The United States Motion Picture Corp. was one of numerous film companies to spring up on the East Coast in the early days of cinema, prior to the industry’s consolidation in Hollywood.
The film business then revolved around Thomas Edison’s studio in New Jersey, which had patented and supplied much of the equipment used in film production, O’Connor said.
Later it moved over to Hollywood, but it really didn’t move to the West Coast until after World War I, O’Connor said. “There really is kind of this little Hollywood here.”
Opened in 1915, the studio was a glass-walled structure that looked like a greenhouse from the outside, allowing natural light needed for filming to penetrate interior sets.
An article in an August 1915 issue of The Moving Picture World, a publication of the Moving Picture Exhibitors’ Association, called its glass-and-steel construction a radical departure that its builders claimed would allow 30 percent greater light efficiency inside than out.
The studio was surrounded by a track used to film chase scenes, according to Carol Nelson–Dembert of Waverly, a film enthusiast who authored a book and produced a documentary about local film pioneer Lyman Howe.
The company also filmed outdoor scenes in and around Wilkes-Barre. When the dairy darling of Her Fractured Voice arrives in the city of the film, the fountain that occupied Public Square and the streetcar that circumscribed it in the early 20th century are visible.
Another surviving film features exterior shots of Wilkes-Barre’s Hotel Sterling, according to O’Connor, and a 1916 advertisement for Bridget’s Blunder, a lost Black Diamond Comedy, shows an early automobile parked comically on the staircase of the Luzerne County Courthouse.
From 1916-20, the studio produced two series of one-reel comedy shorts, the first called the Black Diamond Comedies and the second called the Rainbow Comedies. The shorts lasted about 15 minutes each and were shown before feature films produced by Paramount Pictures Corp.
After the closure of the U.S. Motion Picture Corp., the studio was briefly taken over by another film company, Serico Producing Corp., which produced one film in 1922, a 15-part serial photoplay titled The Woman in Gray.
The movies were printed on nitrate film, an early film stock that deteriorates quickly, O’Connor said. Her Fractured Voice is the only film in the Black Diamond series known to exist today. O’Connor said a 1950s reproduction of Suzie Slips One Over, one of the Rainbow Comedies, is held by UCLA’s film library in Los Angeles and she is communicating with the university about making a digital copy of the print.
A second Rainbow comedy called His Neglected Wife was discovered in a cache of 75 early U.S. films uncovered in New Zealand in 2010.
Attorney Charles Petrillo of Wilkes-Barre, who has been researching the U.S. Motion Picture Corp. for the past two years, helped underwrite its conversion to digital format and recently obtained a copy. The film will be screened together with Her Fractured Voice at the King’s event.
The show also will feature Flesh and Spirit, one of two full-length films that had been attributed to the company. Petrillo recently discovered evidence the film was not produced by the U.S. Motion Picture Corp. but by another company with a very similar name, but O’Connor said she will still screen it because it’s a great ghost story for Halloween featuring early use of special effects.
Though both were disappointed to learn the film was not produced locally, O’Connor said her recent meeting with Petrillo is exactly the sort of connection she hoped this project would foster.
She likes to think that somewhere, in someone’s attic, additional copies of these films survive.
There’s going to be people who know some of this, she said. And some of it is going to take just going out and talking to people, and getting some oral history.
If you go
What: King’s College and the Luzerne County Historical Society present two silent film shorts produced at the U.S. Motion Picture Corp. in Forty Fort, Her Fractured Voice, and His Neglected Wife, as well as the feature-length silent film, Flesh and Spirit. Musical accompaniment provided by Dos Noisemakers.
When: Friday, 6 p.m.
Where: Burke Auditorium, King’s College McGowan School of Business
Admission: Free, and complimentary refreshments will be served
Attire: Guests are encouraged but not required to wear 1920s attire for a costume contest held in conjunction with the screenings