Times-Leader: “Film presentation recalls Forty Fort’s long-lost studio” by Stephen Mocarsky (July 20th, 2015)

King’s College Professor Noreen O’Connor displays some of her research materials on local film history in the college radio studio, where she broadcasts a weekly radio show.  Aimee Dilger | Times Leader

King’s College Professor Noreen O’Connor displays some of her research materials on local film history in the college radio studio, where she broadcasts a weekly radio show. (Photo: Aimee Dilger, Times Leader)

The Wyoming Valley was once home to a motion picture studio, and folks this weekend will have an opportunity to watch one of the silent films made here, along with a Hollywood classic.

Families for Forty Fort Park will present the 1917 film “Susie Slips One Over” at an “Adult Night” Movie in the Park on Friday, followed by a showing of “Casablanca.”

The silent movie was filmed at a studio on Slocum Street in Forty Fort by the United States Motion Picture Corporation, and produced at the company’s offices in Wilkes-Barre in October 1917, said Forty Fort Mayor Andy Tuzinski.

“It’s known as a ‘Black Diamond Comedy,’ referring to the coal mining in the area. The Black Diamond Express was a Lehigh Valley Railroad train,” Tuzinski noted.

“I’m very interested in local history, and this is something I’ve known about for years,” the mayor said, adding that he thought an “Adult Night” for Forty Fort’s “Movie in the Park” series would be the perfect venue to show a film produced in the borough.

When Tuzinski contacted the Luzerne County Historical Society about borrowing a copy of the film, he learned that King’s College English Professor Noreen O’Connor had a copy she obtained from UCLA Film Archive and had been researching.

Enter the professor

O’Connor said she has been researching the history of locally-produced films — made when the East Coast was still home to the movie industry before it moved to Hollywood — about five years ago, after Tony Brooks, then director of the county historical society, spoke to one of her classes and mentioned that the local film company had a listing on the Internet Movie Database (www.IMDb.com).

“This was kind of like the first Hollywood,” O’Connor said of the New York/New Jersey/Pennsylvania tri-state area.

O’Connor said she presented two of the Black Diamond films last October at the Black Bear Film Festival in Milford. She brought along a musician accompanist who played guitar with the films, and then she answered questions.

She would have offered a similar presentation on Friday in Forty Fort, but she has a business trip scheduled for that day, she said.

A movie poster for the Black Diamond comedy ‘Susie Slips One Over’ is among the local film artifacts that King’s College Professor Noreen O’Connor has collected in her research.

A movie poster for the Black Diamond comedy ‘Susie Slips One Over’ is among the local film artifacts that King’s College Professor Noreen O’Connor has collected in her research.

On the local set

Between Oct. 2, 1916 and Nov. 12, 1917, the United States Motion Picture Corporation produced and released 27 Black Diamond Comedies, O’Connor said.

The one-reel silent films were the first comedies distributed by Paramount Pictures, which was then based in New York. Paramount advertised these comedies widely in 1917. Though most of the films themselves are now lost, the films’ advertisements appear in publications such as The Moving Picture World magazine, and copyright information is held at the Library of Congress, O’Connor noted.

After the company ended its contract with Paramount Pictures in 1917, USMPC released six additional one-reel comic films as Unique Comedies, which were distributed by the Arrow Film Company of New York. These appear to be films originally created for release as Black Diamond Comedies. The company offices for USMPC were in Wilkes-Barre, but the actual film studio was in Forty Fort on Slocum Street, she said.

The films often followed a comic character named Susie, portrayed by USMPC’s leading lady Leatrice Joy, through mishaps and blunders.

The movie star

Leatrice Joy went on to great success in Hollywood as a leading lady for Cecil B. DeMille in epic films such as “The Ten Commandments,” starring Charlton Heston and Yul Brenner. (Small correction–Joy appeared in the 1923 silent version of “The Ten Commandments,” directed by Cecil B. DeMille, and written by Jeanie MacPherson.)

Joy was a well-known actress with a “flapper” persona in the 1920s, and she was one of the silent stars whose career continued beyond the introduction of “talkies” as well. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

O’Connor also noted that the comedy “His Neglected Wife,” which also stars Joy, was discovered with many other old films in a vault in New Zealand and was returned to the United States for restoration at George Eastman House in 2010. Local historian Charles Petrillo helped pay for the restoration.

The film features images of Forty Fort as well as the historic Hotel Sterling in Wilkes-Barre, which was torn down in 2013. In the film, Leatrice Joy’s character checks in to the Sterling and signs the register with “Susie from Forty Fort.”

The film “Susie Slips One Over” in addition to being shot in Forty Fort was probably also made in part at Hillside Farms in the Back Mountain.

Summer of fun

Tuzinski said he thinks that in addition to offering attendees a glimpse at the Wyoming Valley’s local film history, Friday’s “Adult Night” also will provide some great entertainment with “Casablanca” as the feature film.

“I think a lot of people have never seen it. They know the cultural reference, so I thought It’d be a good movie to show,” Tuzinski said.

Set-up will begin around 8 p.m. and the movies will start at dusk.

And movies aren’t the only special events this summer at the park.

Tuzinski noted that the Forty Fort Pool will host a Christmas in July Party beginning at 1 p.m. Saturday. Last Friday, the park committee presented a family movie night with “How to Train Your Dragon 2” followed by a “Pool Olympics” on Saturday.

Reach Steve Mocarsky at 570-991-6386 or on Twitter @TLSteveMocarsky.

Original article link: https://blackdiamondcomedies.org/2015/07/20/times-leader-film-presentation-recalls-forty-forts-long-lost-studio-by-stephen-mocarsky-july-20th-2015/