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/

Black Bear Film Festival Salon, October 17, 2014: “Women Who Run Away (to Wilkes-Barre): ‘Susie’ and the Image of Transgression in the First Paramount Silent Comedies”

On October 17, 2014, at 5:00 pm, Noreen O’Connor of the King’s College Department of English will present “Women Who Run Away (to Wilkes-Barre): “Susie” and the Image of Transgression in the First Paramount Silent Comedies” at the Black Bear Film Festival Salon.

O’Connor will screen two short silent films–“Susie Slips One Over” (released by Paramount Pictures in 1917) and “His Neglected Wife” (released by Arrow Films in 1919) both of which starred Leatrice Joy–and will give a brief introduction about her research on the United States Motion Picture Corporation, a film company based in Wilkes-Barre and Forty Fort that produced the first comedies for Paramount Pictures. She will also discuss the silent era comedies starring Susie and the image of the “woman who runs away.”



Citizen’s Voice: “Hollywood on the Susquehanna” by Elizabeth Skrapits (April 4, 2013)


The United States Motion Picture Corp. studio on Slocum St. in Forty Fort in 1916.

On a bright early summer day in 1917, people stopped to stare as a big man ran pell-mell along a busy street in downtown Wilkes-Barre.

It wasn’t the man they were staring at – it was the camera crew filming him.

In the 1910s, when the New York-New Jersey region was the epicenter of the growing worldwide motion picture industry, even the Wyoming Valley got into the act. The region was once home to the United States Motion Picture Corporation, which filmed the first silent short comedies for Paramount Pictures under the name “Black Diamond Comedies.”

The studio in Forty Fort is long gone and, until recently, all but forgotten, most of its one-reel productions lost to time and nitrate film deterioration.

But recent efforts, particularly by King’s College English professor Noreen O’Connor and local historian F. Charles Petrillo, are reawakening interest in the glory days when the Wyoming Valley was a sort of Hollywood on the Susquehanna River.


The first Paramount Pictures comedy, “Nearly a Deserter,” was filmed and produced by the United States Motion Picture Corp. of Wilkes-Barre.

With the surge in popularity of motion pictures in the early 1900s, studios began springing up along the East Coast, including in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

By the 1910s, Wilkes-Barre native Lyman H. Howe’s “high class” moving picture shows had been entertaining crowds for two decades, and his city-based studio pioneered aerial photography in 1911. Lackawanna County had the Scrantonia Photoplay studio, which in 1918 made short comedy films starring San Francisco-born Chinese actor Charlie Fang.

And Wilkes-Barre had the U.S. Motion Picture Corp., headquartered in the Savoy Theatre building on Public Square.

In October 1914, the newly formed company’s vice president Fred W. Hermann put out a call for investors:

“The plant will be located in Forty Fort at Wyoming Avenue and Slocum Street, where we have purchased a very valuable plot of ground,” Hermann stated in an October 1914 ad in Wilkes-Barre’s Sunday Independent newspaper.

“The main part of the building will be of brick and concrete, and the studio or stage almost entirely of steel and glass. The plant, when fully equipped, will be one of the most modern in this or any other country.”

James O. Walsh, a New Yorker, was president of the company. He was the one who interested local guys in the deal – and who had the money to back it.


Daniel L. Hart, an award-winning Broadway playwright, was one of the founders of the United States Motion Picture Corp. He was mayor of Wilkes-Barre in the 1920s.

Rounding out the trio was Daniel L. Hart, the company’s treasurer. Hart had already achieved a degree of fame as a playwright–his works include “Parish Priest” and “A Rocky Road to Dublin.” He would go on to become a popular four-term mayor of Wilkes-Barre.

So by fall of 1916, the U.S. Motion Picture Corp. had the financing, local talent and a brand-new, state-of-the-art studio in Forty Fort.

All the fledgling film company needed was a contract.

Auspicious start

Paramount Pictures, founded in 1912, contracted out the production of many of its motion pictures in its earliest days.

The company distributed the films to theaters around the country. Movie houses showed short subjects including comedies, newsreels and documentaries along with the main feature. And in 1916, Paramount needed some humor in the mix.

“Paramount Pictures Corporation will supply the last link in its chain by the addition of single-reel comedies each week to its program,” the trade magazine “Motography” announced in the Sept. 9, 1916, edition. “Contracts have been signed with the Klassic Pictures, Inc., producing the Klassic Komedies, and the United States Motion Picture Corporation, producing the Black Diamond Comedies.”

The first Black Diamond comedy was supposed to be issued on Sept. 25, 1916, but “Nearly a Deserter” didn’t hit theaters until October 1916.

Walsh boasted in the Oct. 21, 1916, edition of the trade publication “Motography” that, “With the advent of the Black Diamond … there begins a new era in the making of the single-reel comedy.”


An advertisement for “Susie Slips One Over,” a United States Motion Picture Corp. Black Diamond Comedy released by Paramount Pictures.

The U.S. Motion Picture Corp. “worked out a process for trick photography, hitherto unknown to motion pictures,” Walsh wrote.

He didn’t divulge what it was, but noted, “The expense of filming some of the scenes … is considerable, but we contend it makes little or no difference how much a picture may cost to produce if it pleases the public.”

In the first flush of success, Walsh undoubtedly didn’t realize those words would come back to haunt him.

For the rest of 1916 and all of 1917, the company churned out one-reelers at the rate of about one every two weeks. These were shot around the Wyoming Valley and used largely local – and uncredited – talent. The tall and portly Carl Dally was a repeat performer; so was diminutive Billy Thomas. Wilkes-Barre police Chief Russ Taylor was a cameraman.

Particularly striking is advertising for the second Black Diamond Comedy, “Bridget’s Blunder,” about a cook in love with a cop. It shows a car driving up the Luzerne County Courthouse steps.

“Her Fractured Voice,” one of the surviving Black Diamond comedies, features a scene shot in downtown Wilkes-Barre at the fountain in Public Square. The male lead – who likely was a local resident – runs down a side street to get there, to the amusement of passers-by who are more interested in the movie crew filming him.

Another location in “Her Fractured Voice” is Hillside Farms. “Many neighborhood kids were hired to act as extras, particularly in front of the old blacksmith shop nearby,” Mildred Newitt Hogoboom noted in a pamphlet on the history of Jackson Township.

A Still from “His Neglected Wife,” A United States Motion Picture Corp. comedy filmed at the Hotel Sterling in Wilkes-Barre.

An ad for the Palace Theater in Plymouth for Feb. 18, 1917, indicates the Black Diamond comedy “Braving Blazes” was filmed on South Street in Wilkes-Barre. Likewise, “Wits and Fits,” which showed at Plymouth’s Hippodrome the week of Sept. 16, 1917, featured “all local scenes.” “A Troublesome Trip,” released in November 1916, featured scenes shot on North Street in Wilkes-Barre and Wyoming Avenue in Kingston.

An apparent Black Diamond trick was to make a car look like it was driving on the surface of Harveys Lake. One of the lost comedies, “Their Counterfeit Vacation,” was shot there, Petrillo said.

“If I could find only one film from the company, it would be that one,” he said.

A later comedy, “His Neglected Wife” was filmed in part at the Hotel Sterling; the female lead signs in the register that she’s from Pittston, O’Connor said.

“It’s all local,” she said.

“People think they must be tacky, but they’re not – they were Paramount’s first comedies.”

The Black Diamond comedies proved popular, and an article in the July 7, 1917 edition of “Motography” reported that the U.S. Motion Picture Corp. was enlarging its studio, including an entire section devoted to the trick photography used in the comedies.


Actress Leatrice Joy appears in a promotional photograph in 1916 as she joined the cast of Black Diamond Comedies. Joy went on to become a successful Hollywood actress.

“During the past week additional players have been secured by the company which will surround Miss Leatrice Joy, the leading lady who has done clever work and won many admirers,” the article states.

The company established a script writing department that offered $5 per word for every idea of up to 50 words. They received more than 500 submissions.

Unfortunately, the optimism – and expenditures – were misplaced. The U.S. Motion Picture Corp. lost its Paramount contract.

The new studio didn’t materialize, and in 1918, the U.S. Motion Picture Corp. shifted to making Rainbow Comedies, distributed by the General Film Co.

The first of these was a World War I-related short called “Nearly a Slacker,” released in September 1918; another was “Hooverizing,” named for a popular World War I slang term that meant economizing, after Herbert Hoover (who was National Food Administrator at the time).

But by 1920, the U.S. Motion Picture Corp. was in decline. That year saw what was likely the last filming ever done at the Forty Fort studio: “A Woman in Grey,” a 15-part serial starring Arline Pretty.

End of an era

15647157EPost-World War I, the movie industry made an exodus to California, where the weather was more suitable for filming year-round.

It was after 1918 that the U.S. Motion Picture Corp. went into a decline.

Why did the company fail? Petrillo speculates it was because the studio was underfunded and producing “relics of the silent era.”

“They were producing one-reel comedies, and the art of the silent movie had moved beyond these,” he said.

O’Connor noted that some of the Black Diamond players did go on to Hollywood, like New Orleans native Leatrice Joy who played Susie Speed, a recurring character. Joy, a versatile and talented actress, rose to silent movie stardom in Paramount features throughout the 1920s.

Another U.S. Motion Picture Corp. alumnus, Rex Taylor, who wrote the scripts for the Black Diamond comedies, went on to have a respectable career as a Hollywood scriptwriter.

After “A Woman in Grey” wrapped up, the Forty Fort studio sat idle for few years. The Sunday Independent reported its fate in a June 17, 1923 brief: “The Black Diamond motion picture studio in Forty Fort was sold yesterday to Albert Jones, a school director of Luzerne Borough. The new owner secured title to the property from Freedman and Dattner, who purchased the building and some surrounding ground a short time ago.

“It is the intention of Mr. Jones to convert the studio into a laundry. The building has not been used for picture purposes for several years.”

Jones did, but the “Do Right Laundry” was a washout.

15647261EA Jan. 27, 1935, article in the Sunday Independent hinted that money troubles were at the root of the U.S. Motion Picture Corp.’s failure: “There would be no Fox or Lasky or Zukor here. There were to be, however, a few men with dented bank accounts – dented to the extent of $200,000.”

After years of neglect, during which kids broke the many windows with rocks and local men used the basement for poker nights, the studio was demolished.

Revival of interest

In the silent era, motion pictures were made on nitrate film, which was not only highly flammable, but also prone to decay and disintegration.

Petrillo estimates 70 percent to 80 percent of all silent films are lost due to deterioration, including most of the U.S. Motion Picture Corp. productions.

O’Connor discovered the U.S. Motion Picture Corp. through Luzerne County Historical Society Executive Director Tony Brooks, whom she had invited to talk to her New Media class about interesting people from the area.

One of the topics he mentioned was the local film industry.

O’Connor, a native Californian who always loved movies – particularly Charlie Chaplin’s – was intrigued.

“When Tony said there were these films, I said, ‘Tell me more.’ But he didn’t know any more,” she said.

So O’Connor obtained a summer grant from the Shoval Center at King’s and she and her class started researching.

“This project is one where you find a piece and you find a piece and you find a piece,” she said.

O’Connor’s students wrote articles compiled in a blog, blackdiamondcomedies.org, and put together material online for Wikipedia. The Wikipedia Black Diamond page didn’t exist until her students created it, she said.

Then O’Connor tried to track down the films themselves. The Black Diamond production “Her Fractured Voice,” starring Leatrice Joy, exists in San Francisco’s Prelinger Archives and can be viewed online at archive.org. But others are harder to find.

“What’s frustrating is not very many of them survived,” O’Connor said.

Unbeknownst to O’Connor, Petrillo had already been researching the U.S. Motion Picture Corp. Last fall they discovered they had the same idea and helped each other out.

Petrillo managed to unearth a copy of a U.S. Motion Picture Corp. comedy, “His Neglected Wife,” that turned up in a New Zealand archive in 2010.

He found it by “basically fishing around the Internet for any surviving films of the local company.”

In 1918, New York-based Inter-Ocean Film Corp. took on Black Diamond comedies for worldwide distribution.

These foreign markets did not send the movies back: it was too expensive and the films weren’t that valuable, O’Connor said.

As a result, far-flung places have films you can’t find anywhere else, she said.

15647257E“His Neglected Wife” is now in the hands of the National Film Preservation Foundation in San Francisco, where it was restored before finding a permanent home at the Eastman House museum in Rochester, N.Y.

“They were kind enough to provide a copy to me,” Petrillo said.

It will be shown at a presentation O’Connor and Petrillo will give at Misericordia University on April 17, along with another film O’Connor discovered.

UCLA has most of the early Paramount Pictures holdings, including one of the Black Diamond films, “Susie Slips One Over,” featuring Leatrice Joy, O’Connor said. She ordered a copy.

Petrillo has a fourth U.S. Motion Picture Corp. movie, but he said it’s so badly deteriorated “you can’t really follow the film, and much of it is nearly unwatchable.”

O’Connor thinks more films may have survived. She received another grant to do research this summer.

“I still wonder if there isn’t something tucked away in an attic somewhere locally,” she said.

If you go: Local historian F. Charles Petrillo and King’s College English professor Noreen O’Connor will give a presentation on the U.S. Motion Picture Corp. and the production of short silent Black Diamond Comedy films in the Wyoming Valley at the Back Mountain Historical Society meeting, from 7 to 9 p.m. on Wednesday at Walsh Hall, Misericordia University, in Dallas Twp. Admission is free. Some of the surviving Black Diamond comedies will be shown.

eskrapits@citizensvoice.com, 570-821-2072
Original story at: http://citizensvoice.com/news/hollywood-on-the-susquehanna-1.1472659
and http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/wilkes-barre-movie-studio-gave-paramount-its-earliest-silent-comedies-1.1472696

Wilkes-Barre or Hollywood?

By Christopher Cozillio

bridget's blunder ad with paramount

The second Paramount Black Diamond Comedy, filmed in Wilkes-Barre by the United States Motion Picture Corporation, features recognizable landmarks including the Luzerne County courthouse.

When I first began the silent film portion of my Writing for New Media course, my mind instantly went to Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.  After taking a film course my senior year of high school, I took an extreme interest in film.  We briefly touched on silent films, So I did not have extensive knowledge on the topic, but I had a base.  I was immediately fascinated by them.  When Dr. O’Connor announced that we would be studying silent films, and also putting on an event involving them, I was very excited.

The thing that amazed me most about the course material was the fact that our very own Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, was a hot bed for films and motion pictures in the early1900’s.   Although I love this city dearly, I was astonished at the thought of Wilkes-Barre being a breeding ground of fame and stardom.  Picturing Wilkes-Barre as “Hollywood-esque” was difficult for me to wrap my head around.  Many stars, such as Leatrice Joy from “Her Fractured Voice,” went on to Hollywood after her tenure in Wilkes-Barre.  Clearly, the industry exploded in size and moved west to Hollywood—exploded to a size that Wilkes-Barre could no longer house.  However, it is a fascinating part of our city’s culture that is, in my opinion, not widely or commonly known in our area.

I decided to put my opinion to the test.  I wanted to see just how big of a secret this was to our city’s current community.  I began by conducting interviews on the campus of King’s College.  Since most students have not resided in Wilkes-Barre their whole lives, I decided I would also venture into the heart of Wilkes-Barre, Public Square, as well.

I posed the question to all three students from King’s the same way.  “Do you know if Wilkes-Barre has a history of being a part of films/motion pictures?”  All three students seemed baffled by my inquiry.  When I then explained how prevalent it was in Wilkes-Barre, the students were shocked.  One student replied with, “Yeah…okay bud,” and walked away.  However, to my surprise, each student was from a surrounding city of Wilkes-Barre.  If they didn’t know, how would a student that hails from New Jersey or New York know?

It was time to broaden my search.  I thought that at least one individual would have had an idea, but I was surely mistaken.  “That must have been a long long time ago,” said one citizen.  “I knew this downtown area was bustling back in the day, but I had no idea about the film aspect.  That’s pretty cool.”  Out of the seven civilians that I approached, that was the closest I got to a person who knew of Wilkes-Barre’s past.

It turns out that I was not in the minority when I was surprised at the news of Wilkes-Barre’s film background.  Hopefully, this will change—it is too good to keep a secret.  I am glad my class, Dr. O’Connor, and Tony Brooks are doing our part to spread the word.  Hopefully we, along with inspiring others, can shed some light on this aspect of our city’s history.

Times Leader: “Quiet on the Set” by Matt Hughes (October 21, 2012)

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.

Deteriorating film

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

Original story: http://timesleader.com/archive/61229/stories-quiet-on-the-set219649

Screening of Silent Films Flesh and Spirit, Her Fractured Voice, and His Neglected Wife

Truth Eldridge (Belle Bennett) haunts Donald Wallace (Walter Ringham), a logical scientist who fiercely rejects any notion of spirituality or religion.

For Immediate Release
October 1, 2012


Wilkes-Barre community invited to celebrate the area’s history in true 1920s style.

Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania—The roaring twenties are back in style again. Students in the King’s College professional writing program, in collaboration with the Luzerne County Historical Society, today announced plans to host a screening of two silent films made in the Wilkes-Barre area, “Flesh and Spirit” and “Her Fractured Voice,” on Friday, October 26 at 6:00 pm in Burke Auditorium on the King’s Campus.

The event invites community members to return to a movie palace of the “Roaring 20’s.” Guests of all ages are encouraged to arrive in 1920s attire for a costume contest. Admission is free, and complimentary refreshments from the era will be served during the evening. Live musical accompaniment for the films will be provided by Dos Noisemakers.

“Flesh and Spirit” (72 minutes). Directed by Joseph Levering in 1922,“Flesh and Spirit” is a ghost story that features innovative stop-action and double exposure techniques to depict ghostly hauntings. The film features actress Belle Bennett, who later became a Hollywood silent film star in “Stella Dallas.” Bennett plays the sweet, faith-filled, ingénue Truth Eldridge, who is killed in a laboratory accident and returns as a ghost. Also in the cast is Broadway actor Walter Ringham as Donald Wallace, a logical scientist who fiercely rejects any notion of spirituality or religion. Luzerne County Historical Society is one of only a few archives holding copies of this rare silent film.

“Her Fractured Voice” (16 minutes). A locally produced “Black Diamond Comedy” starring Leatrice Joy, who would later star in a number of Hollywood silent films as a flapper, this one-reel comedy features Susie, the “dimpled darling of the dairy,” as an ambitious, untalented singer whose honor is endangered by the attentions of a slick city boarder until a faithful farmhand saves her. Filmed in the Wyoming Valley area, the film offers a glimpse of the old Wilkes-Barre city square.

The students planning the screening are currently participating in a course entitled Writing for New Media with Dr. Noreen O’Connor. The students—Tyler Biscontini, Christopher Cozzilio, James Donnelly, Carmella Gubbioti, Dale Lockhart, Kellie LoGrande, Ashley Mayberry, Ashley Panko, Shannon Rowan, Sarah Scinto, and Robert Vornlocker—have worked with the Luzerne County Historical Society to research and write a Wikipedia entry for the United States Motion Picture Corp, have created a blog called “blackdiamondcomedies.org,” and are promoting the film screening on social media.

Lockhart, a student from Northern Ireland studying at King’s this year through an exchange program, has seen Wilkes-Barre with fresh eyes through the project. “It is interesting to think that Wilkes-Barre was once the equivalent of Hollywood. Some locals may not even know what their city once was,” he said.

The event is supported by a Community-Based Faculty Research Grant that O’Connor received from the Shoval Center for Community Engagement and Learning at King’s College. William Bolan, director of the Shoval Center, said the office is proud to sponsor the research and screening. “Silent films are a forgotten part of this area’s cultural heritage, and we are very pleased to help keep them alive,” he said. “Kudos to Dr. O’Connor, her students, and the LCHS for the work they are doing and for making this public showing a reality.”

“Wilkes-Barre has a colorful and diverse history with many people taking great pride in its colonial and industrial past,” said Tony Brooks, director of the Luzerne County Historical Society.  “Few people also know that Wilkes-Barre had a vibrant film industry.  Between Lyman Howe’s traveling exhibitions of ‘high-class moving pictures’ to the United States Motion Picture Corporation’s ‘Black Diamond Comedies,”’Wilkes-Barre earned its place in the early years of the silent movie craze.”

The Luzerne County Historical Society holds a rare safety film print of “Flesh and Spirit” as well as a DVD of the film. However, O’Connor and Brooks hope that the event will help the society gather more information about the early film industry in this area. “Though the USMPC applied for copyrights for over 50 films, so far in my research I have only been able to locate a few prints. These have been located  in film archives in places as disparate as the Library Congress, the Eastman House, the University of California, Los Angeles, and even New Zealand,” said O’Connor. “I am hopeful that more prints of these films exist and that they can be restored and collected in digital copies at the Luzerne County Historical Archives.”

 About the United States Motion Picture Corporation
The United States Motion Picture Corporation, established in 1915, and had a studio in Forty Fort near the corner of Slocum Street and Wyoming Avenue. The company made a number of successful one-reel “Black Diamond Comedies” in 1916 and 1917, which were distributed by Paramount Pictures.

About the Shoval Center
Dedicated to continuing the social mission of King’s College, the Shoval Center faciliates teaching, research, and volunteer opportunities that advance the needs of the community and the educational mission of King’s College.

About the Luzerne County Historical Society
Established in May 1858, LCHS serves a memory bank for the area, maintaining a collection of documents and information on the history of Luzerne County. Their mission is to preserve and promote the collective history and heritage of Luzerne County, Pennsylvania.

About the King’s College Professional Writing Program
The Professional Writing Program, in the King’s College Department of English, encourages students to engage in a variety of theoretical and “real-life” writing experiences, preparing them for a wide range of writing tasks in the professional world.

Event details

  • Screening of Wilkes-Barre silent films “Her Fractured Voice” (1917) and “Flesh and Spirit” (1922)
  • Live musical accompaniment by Dos Noisemakers
  • Friday, October 26 at 6:00 p.m.
  • Burke Auditorium at King’s College
  • Commentary by Tony Brooks of the Luzerne County Historical Society
  • Admission is free; all ages welcome
  • 1920s costume contest and reception after the film showing