Florence La Badie leaves Biograph for Thanhouser and stardom.
Florence La Badie is Marie, the homeless girl who loves devoutly the sculptor who has befriended her — but he cares only for another, a girl with a heart as cold as marble. The Marble Heart (Thanhouser, 1913).
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“MISS LA BADIE MAKES SOME JUMP.
“Florence La Badie, ‘the actress unafraid,’ performed last week the most difficult scene, actual risk of life considered, thus far attempted in a motion picture play. The scene is one of the thrillers in ‘The Million Dollar Mystery,’ Thanhouser’s big serial. Miss La Badie escaped from a hydroplane, going at the rate of forty miles an hour and was then picked out of the water by James Cruze, her story hero, who arrives at the critical moment in a hydroeroplane.
“The scene was taken at Shippan Point, near Stamford, Conn., the cottagers and summer residents turning out to witness the young girl’s daring. Miss La Badie has probably more actual picture thrills to her credit than any leading woman on the screen. Asked as to the sensations she felt, as she hurled herself from the speeding hydroplane, Miss La Badie calmly commented: ‘I only remember I lost my breath when I struck the water. The rest of it was fine.'” “Miss La Badie Makes Some Jump,” The Moving Picture World, August 15, 1914.
[Florence La Badie dives from a speeding motor boat while filming an episode of the twenty-three part Thanhouser serial, The Million Dollar Mystery, in the summer of 1914. Self-performed stunts such as this earned La Badie several sobriquets, including “the accident kid,” “Fearless Flo’,” and “the actress unafraid.”]
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Florence La Badie left Biograph during the summer of 1911 and almost immediately found a niche with the independent film producer Thanhouser. La Badie never articulated publicly the reasons for leaving her first film employer after a mere six months. However, we may cautiously speculate that her motives were not so different from her predecessors in flight from Biograph — better (i.e., leading) roles and name recognition. In little more than six months with Thanhouser she would have both.
Founded by Edwin Thanhouser, a veteran theatrical producer, and based in New Rochelle, New York, Thanhouser was a later entry among the independents. Convinced he “could produce better pictures than the majority of those I have seen,” Thanhouser had first applied for a license with the Motion Picture Patents Company (MPPC), the film production trust or cartel organized in December, 1908 to essentially protect the Edison film manufacturing patents.
The MPPC consisted of filmmakers who paid licensing fees to the Edison Film Manufacturing Company for the right to use patented Edison equipment, in effect giving its members a stranglehold, if not a monopoly, on film production in the United States. Denied his request for a license due to his lack of a manufacturing plant and his inexperience in the field, Thanhouser invested in a new plant, purchased European-made equipment — the Bianchi camera — and began releasing films as an independent producer in March, 1910.
Thanhouser drew upon his theatrical experience to assemble a stock company of actors and, unlike the MPPC members, released the names of actors (and technicians as well) through the trade papers such as The Moving Picture World from the time of the company’s first releases. However, like other producers, both MPPC and independents, players names were not yet used to advertise the product, relying instead upon the “brand” name of the manufacturer and the story to sell the pictures.
As the independents grew in number, they lured actors from the patents companies. Particularly vulnerable was Biograph which, in addition to their policy of strict anonymity, did not always secure the services of their on-screen talent with fixed contracts. Not long after returning to New York from California with the Biograph company of actors in late spring of 1911, Florence La Badie appeared at the offices of Thanhouser looking for work.
She may have noticed that Thanhouser had recently publicized their stock company of actors in The Moving Picture News, a trade paper closely affiliated with the independent producers, in June 1911 (by contrast, Biograph would do nothing of the sort until two years later).
[The June 24, 1911 issue of The Motion Picture News, a trade paper covering the independent film manufacturers, featured a lengthy article on the Thanhouser Company, including their stock company of actors as they appeared just prior to the hiring of Florence La Badie.]
An article in the January 1915 issue of Motion Picture Magazine described the first meeting between Florence La Badie and David Thompson, a casting director and actor for Thanhouser:
“Dave [Thompson] noted the long-lashed, blue eyes under a big panama hat, and figured Miss LaBadie (he didn’t know her name) to be about 16 years old; and, with a glance, he took in the expressive dark eyebrows, the abundance of fluffy, light-brown hair and inwardly nailed the thought. ‘Gee! some eyes for pictures!’ He promised her nothing when she made her request, but took her New York address and said he would send for her. Florence, however, had played a small part in a Biograph; but it was the LaBadie touch she put to this minor part that caught Ed Thanhouser’s eye that night as he sat watching a photo-drama, and he remembered having seen Miss LaBadie at the studio that day. She made a strong impression on him; so much so that he didn’t wait for the next day to get next to Mr. Thompson, but telephoned him after the show and learnt that it was the girl he had in mind.
“‘Get her for tomorrow!’ was Mr. Thanhouser’s command. And David did as Goliath saith, and Miss LaBadie started away from New York on an early train. That was in August 1910, and her first picture was In the Chorus.”
The story, though quite appealing, has the feel of fan magazine fluff and could well be apocryphal. The 1910 date is clearly wrong — In the Chorus was released September 15, 1911, making it almost certain to have been shot during August, though not in the year 1910, as recalled by Thompson in the magazine interview. For the first Florence La Badie Thanhouser, available evidence points to The Smuggler [also referred to in some places as The Smugglers]. Released on July 25, 1911, the director of The Smuggler is not known.
La Badie’s last Biograph, Bobby, the Coward, was shot June 1, 5, 9, and released July 13, 1911. If she left Biograph not long after shooting Bobby, the Coward in mid-June, then The Smuggler fits perfectly as her Thanhouser debut. Complicating these matters, of course, is the fact that most of La Badie’s work with Thanhouser, including The Smuggler, is lost — only twelve films survive out of more than a hundred. We are left with little more than press advertisements, story synopses and reviews to document their existence.
[It is not the intent of this study to be a comprehensive filmography of Florence La Badie at Thanhouser. An extensive list of her Thanhouser works, both extant and lost can be found at the Thanhouser website. This essay instead highlights those films where La Badie is directly connected with a film by contemporary press photos or film stills and, of course, the surviving films. All films covered in this essay not noted as surviving are presumed lost. Also, the films are single reels unless indicated otherwise; directors of films are indicated where known.]
Fortunately, Thanhouser promoted their product aggressively with ads placed conspicuously just inside the front covers of the two most important weekly trade papers, The Moving Picture World and The Moving Picture News. Though the ads did not yet mention actors’ names, they usually included a still photo from the film. In most cases the photos assist us in proving the appearance of an actor in the film though, as we shall see, not always with certainty.
[Advertised as plural, The Smugglers, Thanhouser’s ad for the one-reel drama included a publicity photo of cast members Harry Benham and Florence La Badie. From The Moving Picture News, July 15, 1911.]
The New York Dramatic Mirror described the film as “fashioned after the old melodrama, where the too cruel guardian abuses and uses the two orphans to further his ends.” The “guardian” is a jewel smuggler who enlists the elder of his two female wards in a diamond smuggling operation. The guardian and the girl are caught and arrested by a secret service detective, who agrees to take care of the younger girl, placing her with his mother at the family farm. After a hearing, the older girl is freed, and goes with the detective back to the farm to be reunited with her sister. The detective and the older girl fall in love, and the film ends in a daisy field where she becomes his “prisoner for life.” The reviewer cited the performances as being notable, though the film was unexceptional:
“The story is consistently conceived, but while the actors move with grace and poise before the camera in a satisfying and pleasing style, [the film] has not the more subtle quality that one sees in some other films.” Review of “The Smugglers,” The New York Dramatic Mirror, July 26, 1911.
The second and third films La Badie completed for Thanhouser were The Buddhist Priestess and In the Chorus, both released the same week in September, 1911. The former featured Thanhouser “veteran” Marguerite Snow in the title role, with La Badie apparently in a minor bit (though the woman in the ad photo bears a closer resemblance to La Badie than Snow).
In the Chorus had La Badie play Snow’s daughter — although Snow was actually a year younger than La Badie. The mother joins a theatrical troupe in order to support her daughter, leaving the child with cruel relatives. The daughter, of course, runs away, then is adopted by a farm family and begins new life. Years later, the daughter is now a singer who auditions for a job coincidentally with the same theatrical company as her mother, and they are reunited. The mother convinces her daughter to give up show business and return to her farm family. The New York Dramatic Mirror found In the Chorus,
“A dramatic and entertaining story [that] is cleverly unfolded on this film, that maintains with a few overdrawn exceptions excellent atmosphere. It is well acted and seems to point a moral.” (NYDM, September 20, 1911.)
[Above, Thanhouser ad for The Buddhist Priestess and In the Chorus, the second and third films in which Florence La Badie appeared for Thanhouser. From The Moving Picture News, September 2, 1911. Below, a detail from the same ad, a publicity still from In the Chorus, with La Badie and Marguerite Snow.]
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An important event in the development of the star system in motion pictures occurred on October 14, 1911. That evening, the Motion Picture Distributing and Sales Company held their second annual “Sales Company Employees Ball” at the Alhambra Hall in Manhattan. The Sales Company was created in 1910 by a group of independent film producers, including IMP’s Carl Laemmle, as the primary marketer and distributor for the independents. The Sales Company used the Ball to promote not only the producers’ brands, but the motion picture players themselves.
According to The Moving Picture World, “the attendance of all film actors will be compulsory.” (MPW, September 23, 1911, emphasis added.) It was a clear indication that the industry recognized the increasing popularity of film actors, who until 1911 were largely anonymous to the general public, and that they were becoming a key selling point for their product. In the following years this would be reflected in advertisements, press releases and the growth of the motion picture fan magazines. Promotion of movie “stars” would begin in earnest.
Both The Moving Picture World and The Moving Picture News noted among the Thanhouser representatives at the Ball the presence of Florence La Badie. As the popularity of industry “balls” grew in the next few years, La Badie would not merely attend, but would become a centerpiece of these events.
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At about the same time, Florence La Badie received the most important role of her nascent film career in Thanhouser’s biggest production to date, David Copperfield, a three reel film directed by Biograph veteran actor-turned-director George O. Nichols, and released on consecutive weeks in three installments, The Early Life of David Copperfield, Little Em’ly and David Copperfield, and The Loves of David Copperfield. La Badie portrayed “Little Em’ly” in the second part, opposite Ed Genung as David. Little Em’ly and David Copperfield was released October 24, 1911. Unlike her first three films for Thanhouser, the three reels of David Copperfield survive.
[Above, Ed Genung as “David Copperfield” and Florence La Badie as “Little Em’ly,’ in Little Em’ly and David Copperfield, the second part of a film trilogy released by Thanhouser October, 1911. Below, Florence La Badie (seated) as “Little Em’ly” in an excerpt from a Thanhouser ad in The Moving Picture News, October 14, 1911.]
The Moving Picture World called the film, “very successful and effective. Some of its scenes are very highly commendable. Little Em’ly is charming and the other characters are very well portrayed.” (MPW, November 11, 1911.) And despite a tendency “to tell the story too much by titles,” The New York Dramatic Mirror praised the “excellent characterization” in “a production of high order.” (NYDM, November 1, 1911.)
David Copperfield‘s “Little Em’ly” would be her most significant role to date. However, it was an original Thanhouser melodrama released the same week, a film with vaguely anti-Semitic overtones, that would give Florence La Badie her first name recognition in a specific film — and first rave review — in the motion picture press.
[Thanhouser ad for the first installment of David Copperfield, and The Satyr and the Lady, with Florence La Badie as “the Lady,” a thinly disguised prostitute posing as an artist’s model. From The Moving Picture News, October 7, 1911.]
The Satyr and the Lady was released October 20, 1911, and featured La Badie as an artist’s model posing for a painting of “the Satyr and the Lady.” The artist (Harry Benham) finds his subject for the “Satyr” in the ghetto of New York’s Lower East Side, a “shoestring peddler” with a young daughter (played by Marie Eline, aka “The Thanhouser Kid”). The peddler (David Thompson) is grateful for the extra money that helps him feed his starving child. But after their modeling jobs are finished, the peddler becomes gravely ill and desires to find a suitable guardian for his child. Thinking the model to be a virtuous woman — she is actually a prostitute — he believes she would make an ideal “mother,” and writes to her. She arrives at the peddler’s tenement dwelling, finds him dead and, feeling pity for the child, takes custody of the girl. The artist then convinces his “model” to give up her errant ways.
The New York Dramatic Mirror, though generally approving of the film, had a tepid reaction to the performances:
“A pleasing story has been given clear and artistic treatment herein with settings that are convincing and suggestive — the actual scene on the Bowery being noteworthy — but with the exception of the little girl one feels that the players might have made more of their respective situations.” (NYDM, October 25, 1911.)
By contrast, The Moving Picture News praised the performances, particularly that of Florence La Badie:
“The players, the Satyr, the Artist, and the Lady, all live their parts. The emotional scenes ‘come over’ with compelling force. Florence La Badie’s performance of the model is beyond criticism. She possesses a natural charm and the beauty of a fresh morning lily. Mr. Benham and Mr. Thompson, the artist and the Satyr respectively, both do remarkable work.” (The Moving Picture News, October 14, 1911.)
The article itself was remarkable — The Moving Picture News did not typically print independent reviews as such, usually just manufacturers’ synopses of plots. The review is not credited to any individual, making one suspect at first glance that it was taken from a press release by the film’s producer. However, Thanhouser did not yet include the names of the actors in their advertisements (and it would not do so until 1912). But it would have been consistent with Thanhouser’s policy at the time to release the names if so requested by the publication, and that may have been the case here. (Interestingly, The Moving Picture World in its capsule review mentions only “The Thanhouser Kid” among the cast members.)
After a role as one of the daughters in Thanhouser’s adaptation of The Last of the Mohicans, released November 10, 1911, Florence La Badie played a leading role in the melodrama, A Mother’s Faith.
Released November 17, A Mother’s Faith cast La Badie as the sister of a young man (James Cruze) who is expelled from his wealthy family’s home by his father. Upon learning of his father’s death, the son, now a tramp, returns home. He is refused entrance to the home by his sister. Through a window he sees his mother weeping over his photograph, and vows to straighten out his life. He gets a job, makes a respectable man of himself, and returns to ask his mother’s pardon.
The Moving Picture World was unimpressed. “The sister’s part is not played very convincingly. The picture is interesting, but has no very fresh idea.” (MPW November 25, 1911.)
It was not a modern melodrama, but rather, a classic fairy tale that gave Florence La Badie the most memorable role of her young career. With a Christmastime release, Cinderella was a single reel film that proved as popular as any of the multi-reel prestige pictures Thanhouser had created throughout 1911 (including She, the most heavily promoted Thanhouser film of the holiday season).
After nearly one year in motion pictures, La Badie had for the first time a role that was truly central to a film. Because the story was (and is) so well known to audiences, one imagines that their expectations might actually have been greater than normal for the actress — could she be the girl of storybook imagination? A natural, unaffected and charming performance combined with her obvious physical beauty made her the ideal embodiment of the fairy tale drudge-turned-princess. Fortunately, this Cinderella survives.
Directed by George O. Nichols, Cinderella was a critical success. The leading industry trade papers gushed:
“Delightful! A story full of the quality that will please Christmas audiences. This best of German fairy tales . . . is pictured in perfect settings and carefully and artistically staged in every way. The Thanhouser company has members that perfectly fill the different parts. Cinderella , herself, is especially suitable and seems to live in the fairy part she plays as ideal princess. The picture is a joy forever.” (The Moving Picture World, December 30, 1911.)
“One finds this production a delightful conception throughout. It is so thoroughly in accord with the spirit of the old tale. It has been put on with exceptional care and finish, and results in scenes of much artistic worth. The changes that the fairy godmother effects are also notable. The actors are exceptionally well suited for their roles, and the prince and his maid make a decidedly charming pair. It is a film that shows much careful thought and one for which the producer is deserving of much praise.” (The New York Dramatic Mirror, December 27, 1911.)
January 1912 proved to be Florence La Badie’s most productive month to date with Thanhouser, beginning with the studio’s one-reel adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, another surviving Thanhouser film.
With James Cruze in the title role(s) (although Harry Benham claimed to have played the “Mr. Hyde” part in some scenes), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde received enthusiastic reviews:
“This is a remarkable portrayal [of the novel]. It is played very acceptably and gives a heart-gripping feeling of wonder as we see the picture alternate between terror and romance, romance that is wild with all regret and terror that reaches the depths in our knowledge of evil. The picture is more effective, in its own way . . . because its idea seems to bring out this fearful contrast.” (The Moving Picture World, January 27, 1912.)
“The cleverness with which this weird tale of Robert Louis Stevenson has been adapted to picture is admirable and makes a wonderfully gripping film of dramatic intensity and interest. . . [The] last scenes are remarkably well played.” (The New York Dramatic Mirror, January 24, 1912.)
[Above, Dr. Jekyll (James Cruz) with His Sweetheart (Florence La Badie) in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (released January 16, 1912). Below, Dr. Jekyll transforms into the drug-crazed monster, Mr. Hyde.]
La Badie’s next major role came in a film based on a classic of its time — but one that is largely forgotten today. East Lynne (dir. George O. Nichols), originally an 1861 English novel by Ellen Wood, and adapted for the stage in the same year, was among the most frequently produced Victorian melodramas over the following half century. It was staple of the theater and familiar to stock company actors across America, including D. W. Griffith and Edwin Thanhouser.
[Above, Thanhouser’s ad for East Lynne, “America’s Best Known Drama,” in The Moving Picture World, Jan. 20, 1912 (left to right: James Cruze, Florence La Badie and Marguerite Snow). Below, East Lynne was featured on the cover of The Moving Picture News, Jan. 13, 1912, (left to right: William Russell, Snow, La Badie and Cruze).]
Despite the over-familiarity of the subject matter, the nation’s leading theatrical journal praised the film adaptation:
“Excellent picture treatment of a high order has been afforded this old romantic drama, and the most discerning spectator must confess that the sympathic [sic] acting and clever construction of the film lift it into an absorbing and dramatic delineation of events. The acting throughout is remarkably good and the two leading roles [played by James Cruze and Marguerite Snow] particularly well sustained. Particular credit is due the leading man.” (The New York Dramatic Mirror, February 7, 1912.)
A year earlier, in January 1911, Florence La Badie had accepted D. W. Griffith’s invitation to travel with the Biograph company to California. Now, in mid-January, 1912, she was one of the Thanhouser “stock company” of players sent to Florida for the winter. Included in the Florida company was Marguerite Snow, with whom La Badie would alternate playing leads, and director George O. Nichols.
Prior to leaving for the south, La Badie had prominent roles in two more films shot in January and released in early February. The Trouble Maker, released February 6, featured her with William Russell as a married couple who grow suddenly rich, break apart, then reunite. The Moving Picture World review named both actors and, although not specifically critiquing their performances, called the film “a first-class feature.” (MPW, Feb. 17, 1912). Note that the word “feature” was often used rather loosely at this point, and could encompass films such as this one-reeler that were deemed worthy of heading an evening’s program for an exhibitor.
In The Silent Witness, released February 13, La Badie played the wife of a man (Russell) wrongly prosecuted for a murder committed by the district attorney — “a very commendable melodrama, closely knit, artistically staged and acted, exciting and well photographed.” (MPW, Feb. 2, 1912.).
The Florida Thanhouser company took advantage of the subtropical location for their first film, The Arab’s Bride (dir. George O. Nichols), released March 1. Florence La Badie played the daughter of a wealthy “moor” (James Cruze) who has arranged her marriage to a rich man (Joseph Graybill). While shopping in the marketplace, she falls in love with a rug-weaver (William Russell). When the time comes for the girl to be delivered in marriage, she manages, with the help of her servant, to elude the ceremony and is carried off by her true love .
The Moving Picture World, while crediting La Badie and Russell in the leads, praised the settings that “strongly suggest Arabian desert lands. . . there is true old romance. Many of this picture’s scenes are extremely beautiful. It is a sure feature for almost any occasion.” (MPW, March 9, 1912.)
The New York Dramatic Mirror likewise cited the exotic settings while praising “Thanhouser versatility,” but also commended the performances:
“The story also has elements of great dramatic strength. Flo La Badie played the bride with excellent romantic fervor and William Russell was a commanding Arab.” (NYDM, March 6, 1912.)
In Extravagance (dir. George O. Nichols), released March 5, La Badie plays the spoiled daughter of a prosperous merchant who goes deeply into debt to provide her every whim. They move from a modest country home to a mansion in the city, and she forsakes her old friends and her country sweetheart (William Russell). When her father’s bankruptcy pushes him to the brink of suicide, her former sweetheart intercedes, and she gladly gives up her extravagant ways, reuniting with the boyfriend.
The Moving Picture World found Extravagance “an unusually pleasing picture:”
” . . . its heroine is the proprietor’s daughter (played by Miss La Badie). . . It has the right atmosphere and true humor, and it is acted very naturally and well.” (MPW, Mar 16, 1912.)
Flying to Fortune (dir. George O. Nichols), another Florida release (March 12), was a variation on the theme of “arranged marriage,” in which a wealthy man (Joseph Graybill) wills his fortune to his daughter (Florence La Badie) on the condition that she marry his young business partner (James Cruze) within a year of his death. The twist is that she is more than willing to do so, but her scheming aunt (Marguerite Snow), who stands to inherit the fortune if the daughter fails to wed, traps her on a remote island the day before the wedding. The prospective groom, an “aeronaut,” flies to her rescue in his biplane — a wonder of technology at the time, of course — thus “flying to fortune.”
While complaining that “the story doesn’t very strongly convince,” The Moving Picture World — mentioning Snow, Cruze and La Badie by name — found “its acting, and its scenes and the whole conduct of the picture are very pleasing and the release ‘gets over’ very well as entertainment.” (MPW, March 23, 1912.)
The Girl of the Grove (dir. George O. Nichols), released April 3, used another Florida backdrop, an orange grove, for a tale of love, deception — and two suicides averted.
La Badie plays a “self-reliant girl” who manages the orange grove inherited from her father. She falls in love with a man (Joseph Graybill) who has deceived her into thinking he is unmarried, but she learns by accident that he has a wife (Marguerite Snow) who is handicapped. The girl is disconsolate and decides to drown herself in the ocean. Before she can commit the act, she sees another woman leap into the water — the woman who is the wife of her deceitful suitor. She jumps into the water (one wonders if this was La Badie’s first such stunt), saves the wife and takes her to her home in the grove to nurse her back to health. The wife tells her the story of her unfaithful husband and the girl makes the connection. The husband, thinking his wife dead, visits the girl to discuss marriage. She leads him to the wife, who is asleep, explains that she saved the woman’s life, and commands the man to depart forever.
“It is pretty well photographed in interesting backgrounds,” per The Moving Picture World, which noted “a love scene set up in a great tree with branches like immense arms,” concluding, ” . . . but it is slight. A good, romantic filler.” (MPW, April 13, 1912.)
“Miss Florence La Badie plays the heroine, an archer’s daughter. She has fallen in love with a stranger [Joseph Graybill] who is denounced and arrested as a spy. With the help of the girl he escapes. We hardly dare call it a feature; it is nearly one.” (The Moving Picture World, April 20, 1912.)
Rejuvenation (dir. George O. Nichols), released April 23, “A Florida picture showing how a bored and aimless millionaire (Mr. Cruze) drifts out to sea in a boat; is rescued by a lighthouse keeper’s daughter (Miss Florence La Babadie) [sic], [and] also shows how this adventure was his step to happiness. It is naturally acted.” (The Moving Picture World, May 4, 1912.)
The scene where the lighthouse keeper’s daughter rescues the the boatman required La Badie to swim out to the drifting boat from the shore. Along with the ocean rescue scene in The Girl of the Grove, this may have been another early stunt performed by the actress who would soon earn a reputation as a daredevil.
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By mid-April, the Florida Thanhousers returned to New Rochelle to take part in the “Thanhouser Employees’ First Annual Entertainment and Ball,” and according to the account in The Moving Picture News, “treating their friends and acquaintances . . . no less than 1,200 persons assembled . . . in answer to the widespread invitation to attend the jollification.” The appearance of Florence La Badie was obviously one of the evening’s highlights:
“[Thanhouser publicity director] Bert Adler said he would show me to the prettiest player in the pictures, and then introduced me to Flo La Badie. She is! And the most wonderfully gowned girl I have ever seen at a function.” “Roving Commissioner,” in The Moving Picture News, April 20, 1912.
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Jess (dir. George O. Nichols) was Thanhouser’s three reel adaptation of the H. Rider Haggard story (the studio had earlier adapted his She as a multi-reel vehicle for Marguerite Snow). Reel one, subtitled, “A Sister’s Sacrifice,” was released May 21, with the remaining two reels issued a week later. In this first installment, Florence La Badie played sister Bess to Marguerite Snow’s Jess. The tale of adventure and romance in Boer War-era South Africa received a featured review in The Moving Picture World:
“‘Jess,’ from the adventure story by H. Rider Haggard, is now a Thanhouser ‘classic.’ It is in three remarkable reels. The sun-kissed sands of Africa fairly glisten and the desert winds whirl almost out of the picture and around the spectators. Such an exhibition of realism, fidelity to nature and stirring character portrayals are rarely seen on the screen. Flo La Badie plays the sister, Bess.” (MPW, May 18, 1912.)
Called Back (dir. George O. Nichols), adapted from a popular 1890’s novel, is an improbably convoluted melodrama of murder, temporary insanity, amnesia and blindness. A young man (James Cruze) suffering from a sudden onset of blindness accidentally “witnesses” the murder of a young woman’s (Florence La Badie) brother. He has become obsessed with the young woman and, after regaining his sight, follows her to Italy where, unknown to him, she has gone insane and has no memory of the once-blind man or the identity of her brother’s killer.
Not realizing she is insane (!), he marries her, and they return to America. She sees the murderer (David Thompson), recognizes him, and her memories of the murder and her once-blind husband come flooding back. She regains her sanity, the murderer is brought to justice and the woman, though surprised to be married, is content. And it was all crammed into a mere two reels released June 21, 1912.
The Moving Picture World praised the performance of James Cruze, particularly his portrayal of the character’s blindness.
“Much praise is due the skillful rendition of the blind youth by Mr. James Cruze. One of the difficulties of portraying the part of a blind person is to keep the eyelids from winking. There were long stretches when this capable actor had the critic on pins and needles, wondering how long he could keep it up, much in the same way that we often get nervous wondering how long a swimmer can hold his breath under water.” (MPW, June 15, 1912.)
In Blossom Time, released June 25, La Badie portrayed a country girl, happy among the apple blossoms of her rural home. A wealthy aunt offers her the chance to live in the city and she accepts, soon becoming used to the pleasures and attractions of city life. But a bouquet of blossoms sent her from her former beau makes her realize that she misses the simple charms of country life, and she returns to her true home and love.
“Perhaps it is a rather quick transition to develop in one year a city belle from an untutored country girl, but that speed does not affect the interest of the play. The acting of the girl is good, vivacious, winning.” (The Moving Picture World, June 29, 1912.)
Ma and Dad, a comedy of romance and deception, was released July 5. La Badie plays a Manicure Girl — a standard “gold-digger” character of the period — who pretends to be an urban sophisticate with her clients by day, but each night returns home to her mother’s chicken farm in the rural Bronx (it was “the country” in 1912). Her boyfriend presents himself as former college athletic star — in reality he spent a mere two weeks at school. They both lie about their single parents — her “Ma” a countess, his “Dad” a blue-blood. Rather than have each other discover the truth, the young couple elope. In the meantime, their parents accidentally meet, fall in love and also marry; their children return home from their honeymoon to find the new family arrangement.
Under Two Flags (dir. Lucius J. Henderson), released in two reels on July 7, 1912, was Thanhouser’s adaptation of an 1867 novel by Ouida (Maria Louise de la Ramée), a tale of the adventures and romances of an English soldier who is forced by scandal to flee his country and join the French foreign legion in Algeria. Florence La Badie played the second female lead, his English girlfriend who finds him in Africa.
The Portrait of Lady Anne, released July 23, is a surviving film that gives Florence La Badie the chance to play dual roles — the beautiful Lady Anne of more than a hundred years ago and her look-alike descendant.
The Lady Anne, living in the late 18th century, has a serious quarrel with a suitor (William Russell) who is so devastated he goes off to war and is killed. Lady Anne marries another and has a child, but is unable to forget her lost love and dies presumably of a broken heart. Her present-day descendant, a young woman who bears a close resemblance to Lady Anne, keeps an original, full-length portrait of her ancestor in her home, as well as a dress and hat worn by Lady Anne in the painting. At a costume party at her home, the young woman wears Anne’s dress. After quarreling with her boyfriend (Harry Benham), she retreats to her bedroom and removes the dress, but finds an old note that Anne’s suitor had left after their breakup.
As she gazes outside from her balcony, she sees him dancing with another — the spirit of Lady Anne who has emerged from her portrait to intercede. The boyfriend not realizing he is dancing with a spirit, believes their quarrel is over. The young woman puts the dress back on, goes downstairs and makes up with her boyfriend. The spirit of Lady Anne, having accomplished her task, returns to her place in the portrait.
Above, Florence La Badie as The Lady Anne and Carl Le Viness as the man she unhappily marries. Below, The Lady Anne emerges from the portrait.
Above, the descendant of The Lady Anne sees, below, the spirit of Anne with her suitor (Harry Benham).
Reviews in the major trade papers lauded the film and the performance of Florence La Badie:
“Put on with the usual Thanhouser charm and character displayed in the wealth of detail and general tone of setting and production, this proves as pretty and delicate a little fantasy as one would care to see. Flo La Badie gives a most charming portrayal of the Lady Anne in old colonial days and in the present day.” (The New York Dramatic Mirror, July 24, 1912.)
“A mighty pretty picture. Its interest was heightened by the intelligent and artistic interpretation of the present-day descendant of the original portrait, Flo La Badie. This film is more than a mere play; it is of marked pictorial beauty.” (The Moving Picture World, August 3, 1912.)
Florence La Badie had a significant role in Thanhouser’s next adaptation of Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice (dir. Lucius J. Henderson), released July 26 in two reels. As Portia, La Badie’s direction, more so than her acting, was faulted by The Moving Picture World‘s Louis Reeves Harrison:
” . . . Portia lacks response of manner and is entirely too gay in a moment when her lover’s life is at stake. She displays little of that fullness of power which enabled Portia to extend protection to those less able to care for themselves in a trying emergency. She should have been forced to contrast with Jessica. The latter’s act in stealing her father’s ducats and jewels is possibly introduced to indicate why he should be deeply affected and feel that the whole world is against him, but her weakness affords the opportunity for Portia to show her strength instead of her pretty teeth and dimples on the eve of a horrible tragedy.” (The Moving Picture World, July 20, 1912.)
Florence La Badie followed The Merchant of Venice with supporting roles in two films. One of these was a dramatic adaptation of a 19th century poem, Lucile (dir. Lucius J. Henderson), starring Marguerite Snow in the title role, and La Badie as her sister Matilda. Lucile was released in three reels, the first two reels on August 27, and the third on August 30.
The other was Big Sister, released August 11, in which La Badie played a society woman who takes in the baby sister of a poor woman (Mignon Anderson) who can no longer care for the child. But the woman — the “big sister” — obtains a position of servant in the wealthy woman’s household and, when the woman meets a policeman and marries, she is able to regain custody of her sister.
The Voice of Conscience, a surviving film released September 3, 1912, is an odd tale of an orphaned girl (Jean Darnell) sent to live with the mother of her late father’s friend (Harry Benham). The orphan girl develops an obsession for the friend until one day another young woman (Florence La Badie) arrives to visit, causing the obsession to become extreme jealousy when the friend devotes all his attention to the new arrival.
The three are involved in an auto accident in which both girls are injured, the new girl seriously. In the hospital, while in adjacent beds, the orphaned girl watches as the other, unconscious, is given a powerful medicine by her doctor, an excess of which could result in death. When she thinks no one is looking the orphan pours more of the medicine in the girl’s glass in order to kill her. However, the doctor has witnessed the act, and sets up a ruse to trick the orphan into believing he has administered the overdose and the girl has died. Later, after the girl has recovered and the orphan remains hospitalized, the doctor arranges a meeting at the hospital with the girl, the man who is now her fiance, and the orphan. Seeing the girl alive, the orphan confesses her attempted crime and repents — all is forgiven.
Critics found the story problematic and less than believable:
“A study in morbid psychology. In it, a physician, whose duty it was to heal and cure, plays the part of a deceiver in order to work on a weak woman’s conscience with a view to a future repentance brought about by remorse. Not every spectator will like the doctor’s method. The story has an unconvincing climax.” (The Moving Picture World, September 14, 1912.)
“The story of the film is a little bit weak, as is also the work of some of the actors. The county hospital looks more like a country boarding house and the whisking away of the sick girl seems a little bit incompatible with her condition, but perhaps these things could happen just as they are pictured. . . the doctor fixes everything by quoting some Scriptural words about joy in heaven over one sinner doing penance, a thing which is perhaps more sentimental than convincing.” (The New York Dramatic Mirror, September 11, 1912.)
Undine (dir. Lucius J. Henderson), released in two reels September 24, was yet another Thanhouser literary adaptation, this time of an early 19th century German romantic myth set in a medieval kingdom. La Badie played the title role, a mysterious “water nymph” who loves a knight, the Lord Huldbrand (James Cruze), to the consternation of the Duke’s daughter Bertalda (Marguerite Snow), who desires the knight for herself.
The critical notices for Florence La Badie were uniformly positive:
“Miss Flo La Badie, as Undine, is quite in her proper place, her delicate personality fits the part of the lithe sea nymph most satisfactorily. Miss Marguerite Snow, as the Lady Bertalda, again shows her power as an actress in strong, emotional characters, Mr. James Cruze, as Lord Huldbrand, the faithless knight, is all that could be desired in the part. In fact, the entire company have acquitted themselves exceptionally well.” (The Moving Picture News, September 14, 1912.)
“Flo La Badie takes the title role, and she is charming.” (The Moving Picture World, September 21, 1912.) “Flo La Badie enacts the leading role with a deal of grace and spirit, while the rest of the cast play with the usual Thanhouser conviction.” (The New York Dramatic Mirror, September 18, 1912.)
Miss Robinson Crusoe, released October 8 in one and a half reels, featured Florence La Badie in a twist on the 18th century classic by Daniel Defoe. As a woman shipwrecked on an island of hostile natives, she was paired with James Cruze as her lover and rescuer.
“A very delightful and romantic story of the sea. Miss Flo La Badie and Mr. Cruze play the leads, as two young people of great wealth. The girl is shipwrecked and cast upon an island inhabited by cannibals who think her a goddess and worship her. They have reason to think so. Her handling of a huge rattlesnake makes a most startling scene.” (The Moving Picture World, October 19, 1912.)
The scene with the “huge rattlesnake” may have been the one La Badie related to interviewer Mabel Condon in Motography, another indication of her lack of fear when it came to the physical side of her work:
“I detest snakes, but in that picture somebody had to be the dancer and wrap the snake around her and as nobody was more afraid than I was, I guessed I might as well try it. I didn’t mind doing it because I felt the thing wasn’t going to hurt me. For days afterward, I could feel it about my neck – Ugh! But if another such role were given me, I would not hesitate to do it. For disagreeable things aren’t always as disagreeable as they seem.” (“Sans Greasepaint and Wig by Mabel Condon,” Motography, April 4, 1914.)
Two fragments of Thanhouser film have survived that appear to be from Miss Robinson Crusoe, with Florence La Badie and the “natives,” though they were previously described as being from a 1917 film, Hidden Valley. Comparing the photo of La Badie in the ad in The Moving Picture World, above, with the film fragments, the costume worn by La Badie appears to be the same, as do the “natives” in the images:
Petticoat Camp, a surviving film released November 3, was an ensemble comedy, an early “battle of the sexes” in which the women were decidedly the victors. A group of married couples go camping on an island and, while the men thoroughly enjoy themselves, the women soon tire of being their servants. The wives strike back, finding their own little island spot nearby, leaving the men to their own devices. Miserable, the men decide to get even and scare the wives in a night ambush. The women are more than ready for the “attack,” defending themselves with pistols, and the men frantically retreat. The next morning the men skulk back to the women’s camp waiving a white flag, gladly subservient to their wives.
After being served breakfast, the men go fishing, leaving the wives behind. They return with their catch for the wives to clean.
The wives write an emancipation note, telling the men they are leaving the bonds of slavery to seek their own fun; they canoe to another nearby island . . .
. . . and enjoy their freedom (the swimmers were played by the Jordan Sisters, “divers”); that night, the women spot the advancing “intruders” . . .
. . . thinking they’re in danger, they repel the menace with gunfire. The next morning . . .
. . . the men beg forgiveness, and the wives enjoy a reversal of roles.
Although Thanhouser had become better known for dramatic literary adaptations than for comedy, Petticoat Camp was a critical success:
“Good comedy enlivens this picture that shows the misadventures of half a dozen young married couples, who decide to go camping. Many amusing incidents of camp life are shown in the picture.” (The New York Dramatic Mirror, November 6, 1912.)
“The picture will amuse. There is one scene, however, that is particularly striking, where the wives have a bathing party all by themselves. The reviewer was in doubt whether the swimmers were the same girls who appeared in the remainder of the film. Certainly they are finished water nymphs.” (The Moving Picture World, November 9, 1912)
Per Q. David Bowers in his exhaustive survey, Thanhouser Films: An Encyclopedia and History (see sources at end of this article), “The Jordan sisters were hired to do a diving scene in the film. They were not regular actresses.”
Florence La Badie closed out 1912 with lead roles in two multi-reel “feature” films.
Aurora Floyd, released in two reels December 10, was Thanhouser’s adaptation of yet another 1860’s English novel, a wildly melodramatic story of the dire consequences of bad marriage in an upper class family. Aurora Floyd, daughter of a wealthy banker, marries her father’s servant who turns out to be an abusive drunkard. Her father bribes the man to leave the country and later learns of his death overseas.
Aurora remarries — a man of whom her father approves, but who has no knowledge of her first marriage. Their happiness is jeopardized when she learns that her first husband is not really dead. He returns and blackmails her by threatening to expose her bigamy. After she pays his bribe, he is killed by a stable boy who steals the money. Aurora finds his body and the gun, and being seen in the vicinity of the murder, is charged with the crime. At trial she is convicted, but at the last minute the stable boy confesses and Aurora is released. Her husband remains loyal to her throughout the ordeal, and refuses her plea that he “forget” her.
Although reviews for the film were mixed, La Badie received one of the better notices of her early career from a preeminent film critic of the period, a man who had earlier been critical of her Portia in The Merchant of Venice, The Moving Picture World‘s Louis Reeves Harrison:
“Flo La Badie has grasped the value of self-repression in her impersonation of the title role, has curbed the restless smile always trembling on her lips, and has made a creditable effort to simulate the sentiment she is supposed to express. She is nearing the absolute necessity of being the character she is called upon to depict. Only then is an actress convincing. It is probably the director’s fault that she does not give time to the consideration of taking her life at the crisis – to be or not to be is a question not to be debated and decided in a few seconds.” (The Moving Picture World, December 14, 1912.)
The last Thanhouser release for 1912 was the three-reel feature The Star of Bethlehem, released Christmas Eve. Beginning production in October, the completed film was promoted by Thanhouser as costing in excess of $8,000 and the final cut being culled from 7,000 feet of film. It was the first film directed by Lawrence Marston, a prominent stage director whose most recent success was the hit play, Kismet (1911-12), and who would go on to direct Abie’s Irish Rose, the longest-running Broadway stage hit of the 1920s.
Florence La Badie had what many would consider the most memorable role of her entire film career, the Virgin Mary, though one suspects this was largely due to the popularity of the film as an annual Christmas re-release in subsequent years.
The film survives, but in a severely truncated single reel. La Badie appears in only one shot in this reduction, the film’s final scene:
The Star of Bethlehem received generally positive reviews for its reverent treatment of the subject matter. Too reverent for The Moving Picture World‘s W. Stephen Bush, who gave the film a blistering review in which he faulted the film in every aspect.
“In this three-reel production I have been able to discover but few and faint traces of the old [Thanhouser] skill. I fully realize that some latitude must be allowed to the producer of a sacred historical picture – if you succeed the limit in creating a true atmosphere and keeping within the limits of the probable, he is doing all that can under ordinary circumstances be expected of him. I do not think that the producers in this instance have succeeded in either respect.
“. . . There is too much melodrama. A constant succession of prayerful and devotional poses and attitudes on the part of the actors is entirely wrong. Piety and devotion do not show themselves that way in real life. Joseph and Mary were human beings and not incarnations of cheap chromos [a colored lithograph]. To be sure their conduct was characterized by a signal dignity, but it was a natural, not a stilted and forced dignity.” (The Moving Picture World, December 21, 1912.)
Above, a publicity photo for The Star of Bethlehem, appearing with the review of the film by W. Stephen Bush in The Moving Picture World, December 21, 1912. This scene of Mary on the donkey does not appear in the surviving single reel reduction of the film. Below, Thanhouser advertising posters for the British release of The Star of Bethlehem (1912).
Above, a large three-sheet poster; below, a 30×40 poster, both printed in England.
In The Evidence of the Film (co-directed by Lawrence Marston and Edwin Thanhouser), released January 10, 1913, the plot hinged upon a relatively novel device, the “film within a film.” Florence La Badie played a woman, a film cutter, whose brother (played by “Thanhouser Kid” Marie Eline) is a messenger boy entrusted to deliver an envelope of bonds from a broker to a client. The broker (William Garwood) has been threatened with a lawsuit if he fails to return $20,000 in bonds by a deadline. However, he has a scheme to avoid payment.
The broker secretly creates a “dummy” envelope filled with newspaper, then with his employees as witnesses, places the real bonds in an identical envelope which he hands them to have sent via messenger. The broker follows the messenger boy on his delivery route. The boy stops briefly to observe a film crew in action. The broker trips the boy, who drops the envelope. The broker substitutes the dummy envelope. When the boy makes the delivery, the client finds no bonds, has the boy arrested and, along with the broker, brought before a magistrate.
The sister receives a call from her brother explaining his plight, and she goes to the magistrate to plead his innocence, but to no avail. Distraught, she returns to work at the film lab where she discovers that the encounter between her brother and the broker has been caught on film, evidence of his innocence. She takes the film to the magistrate, and after the film is viewed on screen the broker is arrested.
The sister sees her brother off to work, and later at the film lab she is informed that she has a phone call . . .
. . . from her brother (Marie Eline) explaining that he has been accused of theft of the bonds by the broker, and that he has been arrested. The sister pleads his innocence before the magistrate and the broker (William Garwood), but to no avail . . .
. . . later, back in the film lab, she finds proof of his innocence on film.
Florence La Badie’s next major role came in Thanhouser’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy, Cymbeline (dir. Lucius J. Henderson), a tale of forbidden marriage, jealousy and attempted murder in ancient Britain. In the two reel production released March 28 and shot in Southern California at the Mutual studio rented by Thanhouser, La Badie played the pivotal role of Imogen, daughter of King Cymbeline, and the film version focuses on her wanderings after she marries without the King’s approval.
Imogen (Florence La Badie, center) has had her marriage to Leonatus (James Cruze) annulled by the King; Leonatus is banished, but a rival, Iachimo (William Garwood) plots to prove her infidelity by stealing her bracelet as she sleeps.
The bracelet is gone, and after Iachimo tells Leonatus that his wife has been unfaithful — using her bracelet as proof — Leonatus sends an emissary with a message for Imogen to join him. In reality the emissary has orders to kill her, but after giving her the message, he cannot commit the murder.
Imogen wanders the countryside disguised as a boy; she is captured during the Roman invasion and becomes a page to the Roman general; during the battle, the Romans are defeated by the British, led by King Cymbeline and joined by Leonatus.
Cymbeline was greeted favorably by critics, who during this period considered the cinematic adaptation of the classics critical to the advancement of motion pictures as an art form:
“This two-reel production of the Shakespearean play, Cymbeline, taken in California, shows a praiseworthy ambition on the part of the producer. . . On the whole I think that this feature ought to be acceptable to the average motion picture audience, and the producer deserves very great credit for seeking to aim high. Such pictures, though there may be blemishes in the execution, strengthen our hope in the future of kinematography.” (The Moving Picture World, April 5, 1913.)
“In the production of costume in historical plays during the past, the Thanhouser Company has met with enviable success owing to the care and skill exercised and elaborate staging and costuming. This two-reel special, in many respects a beautiful piece of work, might do credit to any company.” (The New York Dramatic Mirror, April 2, 1913.)
“The Shakespearean drama is here worked out in two reels, with good scenic effects. Flo LaBadie and James Cruze play the parts of Imogen and Leonatus, but the whole Thanhouser company joins forces and makes the cast a balanced one. The costuming is sumptuous and the scenes pleasing throughout because of their clean-cut staging. The visit of the Roman officer to Imogen’s bed chamber, where he takes the bracelet from her wrist as she sleeps, was artistically presented. A good offering.” (Comments on the Films, The Moving Picture World, April 5, 1913.)
The Marble Heart, a two reel drama released May 13, starred James Cruze as a young sculptor and Marguerite Snow as a model with whom he becomes obsessed. Florence La Badie, however, was impressive in the supporting role of Marie, a homeless girl taken in by the sculptor’s mother who sees the girl as a potential wife for her son. Marie falls in love with the young man, but he regards her only with brotherly affection and loves instead a model who has a heart of stone.
Unfortunately, the film drops what could have been a touching romantic triangle and, in the second reel, devolves into a fantasy in which the sculptor’s obsession with his model and her marble likeness takes him to (yes) ancient Rome. He awakens and smashes the statue, which ends both his obsession and his life.
Marie (Florence La Badie) is a homeless girl taken in by an elderly woman . . . She sees her as a potential wife for her son, the sculptor (James Cruze), but he regards her only with a brotherly love.
In The Snare of Fate, a 2 reel drama released June 17, 1913, La Badie plays a young woman forced to borrow money from a usurer (James Cruze) when her life’s savings are depleted due to the illness of her mother. When her expenses become too great, she seeks additional funds from the usurer who agrees only on the condition that she becomes his wife. Their marriage is miserable — she leaves him after seeing his treatment of others, taking their infant child with her.
The usurer is stricken with paralysis near tenements he owned, and cannot speak. He is taken in by people whose eviction he has ordered who do not recognize him. In a twist of fate, he is evicted into the street along with his tenants, who take him to a hospital. The same evicted tenants are helped by the usurer’s wife, and they tell her of the anonymous stricken man. She goes to the hospital to investigate and discovers her husband, who soon dies. He leaves her his fortune which she will use to aid the less fortunate.
The Snare of Fate brought Florence La Badie the best notices of her career to date:
“This photodrama marks a distinct advance in Thanhouser production – it is superior in motive to any release I have ever seen from that company – and, if carried a little further, it might easily have ranked among the masterpieces of the day. . . Miss Flo LaBadie plays with delicacy and sympathetic intelligence the role of the young wife and mother united by force of circumstances to a morally base and miserly usurer. The latter role is admirably depicted by James Cruze.” (Louis Reeves Harrison, The Moving Picture World, June 21, 1913.)
“Well done and possessing an original and effective situation, this two-part drama goes over successfully. Moreover, Florence LaBadie does some strikingly good playing – the best we have observed. . . The Snare of Fate is one of the best Independent releases in some time. Miss LaBadie is excellent, and James Cruze is effective as the usurer.” (The New York Dramatic Mirror, June 25, 1913.)
Tannhäuser (dir. Lucius J. Henderson), shot in California and released July 15, 1913, was a three reel adaptation of Richard Wagner’s opera, itself based upon medieval German myth. A princess (Marguerite Snow) falls in love with Tannhäuser, a minstrel knight (James Cruze), though she is engaged to a nobleman (William Russell). The knight is tempted and seduced by Venus (Florence La Badie) — who in this tale is a mountain spirit with a retinue of wood nymphs.
Aside from the Venus sequences, the film is primarily a series of static tableaux. La Badie’s Venus dominates every scene in which she appears — she is both an idealized beauty and intoxicating temptress. Tannhäuser must pray very hard indeed to be released from her spell, yet ultimately it destroys him.
Above, Venus (Florence La Badie) and her wood nymphs. Below, Venus tempts Tannhäuser to follow her into the mountain.
Contemporary audiences and critics were impressed by Tannhäuser:
“A three-reel production, following the story of the opera fairly well. Although carefully costumed, the chorus was too large to appear to the best advantage in the opening scenes, as it had a rather huddled effect. The woodland scenes were striking and attractive, but some of the barefooted nymphs were rather scantily clothed and not as young and tender as might have been expected. Marguerite Snow appeared as Princess Elizabeth, Florence LaBadie as Venus, James Cruze as Tannhäuser, and William Russell as Wolfram. The production holds the interest and should succeed very well, accompanied by the well-known Tannhäuser music.” (The Moving Picture World, July 26, 1913.)
” . . . this picture, in three reels, has been produced with the excellent taste and elaborateness characteristic of the Thanhouser Company. Marguerite Snow and James Cruze are cast in the lead roles, with William Russell, Flo LaBadie, and Harry Benham in the supporting cast. In the exterior scenes, showing how and where the hero comes under the evil spell of Venus, the backgrounds are beautiful, and the poetic atmosphere, heightened by the host of dancing maidens, is perfect.” (The New York Dramatic Mirror, July 30, 1913.)
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By the middle of 1913, Florence La Badie had become not only a regular leading lady for Thanhouser, but a legitimate motion picture star. Two events that summer give us an indication of her growing popularity on both coasts. At a screening of Tannhäuser in Los Angeles — possibly the west coast premiere — La Badie made an appearance on stage:
“Flo La Badie of the Thanhouser forces is a great favorite with Los Angeles audiences and when the film “Tannhauser” was given at the Garrick in that city her appearance from the introductory curtain was the signal for a round of applause. She is another person who possesses the gift of personality.” (Motography, August 9, 1913.)
And in New York at the third annual convention of the Motion Picture Exhibitors League of America, La Badie encountered one of the off-camera hazards of stardom:
“Miss La Badie Loses Limp
“Flo La Badie, of the Thanhouser players, is getting around again without limping. The limp was caused through an accident she sustained to her knee at the Motion Picture Exposition. On Wednesday night of a show a Thanhouser reception was held in the Mutual booth and Miss La Badie took her stand in the left hand corner to aid in the distribution of the canes and fans that were the souvenirs of the evening. The crowds became so thick and vigorous that the fire authorities at the Exposition had to order the souvenir distribution stopped and the aisle cleared. Before the order could be carried out, however, the mob broke the rail in front of the booth and it fell on her, causing a few bruises and the limp. It is now Miss La Badie’s idea that the film actress is in danger at ordinary expositions even as she is in moving picture rescue scenes.” (Motography, August 9, 1913.)
To be sure, the on-screen accidents had continued unabated, as The New York Clipper, an entertainment industry trade paper, noted in midsummer, 1913.
“‘THE ACCIDENT KID.’
“‘The Accident Kid’ is what they now call Flo La Badie at Thanhouser studio. The other week a railing of the Mutual booth at the moving picture exposition, fell on her knee, and just the other day the horse she was riding in ‘The Ward of the King,’ an historical play, reared and brought his head up in crashing contact with Miss La Badie’s face. Then the girl tumbled from the horse, and Director Eugene Moore, rushing up, thought she was severely injured. But Miss La Badie hadn’t even fainted, and except for a swelling on the left side of her face, bore not a single mark of the accident. It was like that other ‘lucky mishap’ of Miss La Badie’s, in ‘Undine,’ last Fall, when diving in a water scene, she ‘struck bottom’ on her mouth, and merely broke a few teeth!
“After her ‘Ward of the King’ adventure, Miss La Badie rested up at home for a few days and nursed her face, but it must be recorded to her credit that before taking the rest she pluckily ‘finished’ her scenes in the picture. It was a two reel affair, and fortunately for Director Moore, had but a few more scenes to ‘go’ at the time Miss La Badie’s horse reared.” (The New York Clipper, August 9, 1913.)
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Thanhouser began promoting their actors in trade advertisements in earnest in the summer of 1913. The industry in general had typically not done so unless it was to advertise a special appearance by a popular stage star in a film, and Thanhouser had been doing exactly that with Maude Fealy. But public interest in the identities of the motion picture players had forced the industry to recognize their importance to the sale of the product, and their names now began appearing in the ads, often in the now-familiar place “above the title.” Thanhouser had advertised “Marguerite Snow and James Cruze in Tannhauser,” and Florence La Badie and Cruze were promoted in an ad in Motography for the August 26 release of The Ward of the King, a two reel historical drama, along with Moths, “the Maude Fealy film.”
Life’s Pathway, a 2 reel drama released September 30, featured the “Thanhouser Twins,” Madeline and Marion Fairbanks, as orphaned twin sisters adopted by separate families, one of which becomes wealthy, the other of modest means. Florence La Badie plays both sisters as young women, one spoiled who marries a stockbroker, the other humble who devotes her life to charitable work. The stockbroker goes bust, leaving his now penniless and ill wife who winds up at the homeless shelter run by her sister.
Florence La Badie as the spoiled sister in a publicity still from Life’s Pathway, Reel Life magazine, September 27, 1913. Reel Life was a publication of the Mutual Film Corporation, a film distributor for a dozen independent producing firms including Thanhouser.
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In August 1913, a Thanhouser contingent, including Florence La Badie, spent the month at the seaside resort of Cape May, New Jersey, shooting a half dozen films. La Badie appeared in several. In Beauty in the Seashell (dir. Carl L. Gregory), a fantasy released October 19, she played the “Beauty,” a cross between a mermaid and a genie, locked inside a seashell.
The Moving Picture World review described the film succinctly:
“A fairy story of rather slight interest, in which the young hero kisses a sea shell, thus breaking the wicked magician’s spell and releasing a beautiful young maiden. She interferes with his love affair, however, and he and his sweetheart are glad to get the fairy back into the shell again. Quite a pleasing little novelty.” (MPW, October 25, 1913.)
The Mystery of the Haunted Hotel (dir. Carl L. Gregory), released October 21, was the second film La Badie shot at Cape May. The mystery concerns a seaside hotel supposedly haunted by the ghost of the proprietor’s (William Russell) wife, causing tourists to shun the spot (today that would be an attraction!). A visiting doctor (Harry Benham) is determined to investigate. He discovers that the proprietor’s daughter (La Badie), unhinged by her mother’s death, is the “ghost” haunting the premises. He treats and “cures” the daughter, and the hotel’s reputation is restored.
The New York Dramatic Mirror gave the film a thumbs up:
“The author, subjugating weirdness to sympathetic appeal, uncovered an unusual story, which the actors, in their delineation of the characters presented, together with the photographer’s art, put across the screen with telling effect. Well directed.” (NYDM, October 29, 1913.)
In The Water Cure, a Cape May comedy released November 2, La Badie plays a pretty mid-western girl visiting her aunt at the seashore. She attracts many admirers, and after she tells them how much she loves the ocean, several take her out in various vessels, but each time with same result — she is dumped into the sea.
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Curfew Shall Not Ring Tonight, released November 28, 1913, a period drama based upon a 19th century poem, tells the improbable 17th century tale of a young cavalier (William Russell), a follower of King Charles, who is condemned to hang by Oliver Cromwell (Arthur Bauer), the execution set to occur at the toll of the evening curfew bell. His sweetheart (Florence La Badie) climbs to the top of the bell tower and by grabbing and holding on to the striker prevents the bell from ringing. Cromwell, impressed by the girl’s devotion, frees the cavalier.
Above, Arthur Bauer, William Russell and Florence La Badie in Curfew Shall Not Ring Tonight (1913), publicity still from Reel Life magazine, November 22, 1913. Below, Florence La Badie and Charles Fisher, cover of Reel Life, November 29, 1913.
The Head Waiter, released December 28, 1913, was a comedy of errors in which a head waiter (Arthur Bauer) who is being sized up by a young society woman (Florence La Badie) as a candidate for her vacant butler position mistakenly assumes that her invitation for him to call at her estate is a sign that she is smitten with him. When the dust settles, he becomes her invaluable new butler.
In Adrift in a Great City, released January 13, 1914, an Irish immigrant (Sidney Bracy) who has become a successful construction foreman in New York sends for his wife and daughter (Florence La Badie) to come to America. On his way to meet them at the docks, he is severely injured in an accident and is hospitalized unconscious for a lengthy period. Alone and adrift in the big city, the women soon run out of funds, but the daughter finds work in a sweat shop where she subsequently loses her eyesight. She is reduced to playing the violin for pennies on the streets. The father eventually recovers and hears the girl playing and recognizes her. The family is reunited and a doctor (Arthur Bauer) finds the girl’s blindness to be curable. All in one reel (!).
The Elevator Man, released January 25, took the old concept of office romance and transferred it to a novel setting. An elderly elevator operator (Riley Chamberlin) plays matchmaker to a couple of young workers, a clerk (Harry Benham) and pretty stenographer (Florence La Badie), who become engaged. When a quarrel and the attention of another man (Sidney Bracy) threatens the relationship of the young couple, the operator intervenes to ensure they reunite for a happy ending.
Twins and a Stepmother, released February 3, was another variation on the match-making theme, this time the perpetrators being the “Thanhouser Twins” (Madeline and Marion Fairbanks). The Twins see their beloved Sunday school teacher (Florence La Badie) as being the ideal match for their widower father (Sidney Bracy). Unbeknownst to the girls, their father has already fallen in love with the teacher (who lives conveniently next door). The comedy apparently comes in the way the adults maneuver the girls into thinking that they have actually arranged the match and orchestrated their father’s proposal of marriage.
The Success of Selfishness, released February 6, featured La Badie in a drama that seems to anticipate by nearly two decades the manipulative Baby Face (1933) of Barbara Stanwyck. A small town stenographer, Irene (Florence La Badie), uses her charms on men in order to get ahead, and soon after reaching New York becomes the confidential secretary to a high-flying Wall Street operator (Sidney Bracy). When her boss comes under suspicion of criminal activities, he plans to send Irene, who has direct knowledge of his illegal activities, to Canada to avoid being subpoenaed. Irene decides to take advantage of the situation, and instead of fleeing to Canada, blackmails him into marrying her — as his wife she cannot be forced to testify against him. For a time she enjoys the lifestyle afforded by her wealthy husband but her extravagances drain him financially and he abandons her, leaving her broke, alone and miserable.
Cardinal Richelieu’s Ward (dir. W. Eugene Moore), released March 1, was a four-reel “Thanhouser Big Production” based upon a 19th century play by the English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton. The story of intrigue and conspiracy in the court of French King Louis XIII starred James Cruze as the Cardinal and Florence La Badie as Julie de Mortemar, his ward. The advertising campaign was one of the first to first to place La Badie’s name prominently at the top of the ad and above the production title.
The motion picture serial was a logical development in American cinema of the 1910s. Film distribution was based on the single reel, and exhibitors — many of whom subscribed to the “programs” supplied by distributors — gave audiences two, three or four reels of movies per admission price, still typically five or ten cents in small cities or neighborhood theaters. Prior to 1914, multi-reel U. S. feature films based on a unified narrative (such as Thanhouser’s David Copperfield in 1911) were often issued in single reel installments.
The serial had its origins in productions such as Biograph’s sporadically released “Mr. and Mrs. Jones” series (1908-1909), films that had recurring characters much like mid-20th century television sitcoms. However, it was the linking of film scenarios with serial fiction published in newspaper or magazine form that led to the explosion of the motion picture serial, beginning in July, 1912 with Edison’s What Happened to Mary series starring Mary Fuller and released in tandem with fleshed-out scenarios published in Ladies World magazine. The success of “Mary” spawned serials inspired by if not exactly imitating it: Selig’s The Adventures of Kathlyn (December, 1913) starring Kathlyn Williams, Edison’s second serial foray, Dollie of the Dailies (January, 1914) with Mary Fuller as an intrepid newspaper reporter, and Eclectic/Pathe’s The Perils of Pauline (March, 1914) with Pearl White.
Thanhouser, despite recently announcing its latest attempt at multi-reel features with “Thanhouser ‘Big’ Productions” such as Cardinal Richelieu’s Ward, jumped into the serial wars with a serial billed as an epic production, one with a cast and cost that would rival or exceed that of the six, seven and eight reel features being imported from Europe.
The Million Dollar Mystery, was the brainchild of Thanhouser scenarist and chief publicist Lloyd F. Lonergan, Harold MacGrath (author of The Adventures of Kathlyn) and Thanhouser executive producer Charles J. Hite. It was a serial of twenty-three two reel episodes (twenty directed by Howell Hansel), the first of which was released June 22, 1914, and continued in subsequent two reel installments each Monday through November 16, 1914. The novelized scenarios for each episode were published in newspaper syndication. As an added attraction, the series was promoted with a contest for audiences and readers to submit their solution to the “mystery” prior to the final episode, with the winning entry receiving $10,000.
The convoluted plot of “Mystery” introduced audiences to millionaire Stanley Hargreave (Alfred Norton), a former member of a shadowy group of Russian revolutionaries, who fled to America. Complications multiplied when Hargreave’s daughter (Florence La Badie), raised in a convent school under the name Florence Gray, was summoned by her father to join him in America. The Russians, led by a man named Braine (Frank Farrington) and the equally mysterious Countess Olga (Marguerite Snow), are determined to find Hargreave and his daughter in order to get a safe containing a million dollars. Newspaper reporter Jim Norton (James Cruze) served as the hero/detective, and love interest for Florence. Each installment was intended to be self-contained, yet with enough suspense to sustain the story arc to the next episode.
It was her work in The Million Dollar Mystery that cemented Florence La Badie’s reputation as “the actress unafraid,” as noted in the industry trade publications of the period.
“ALL IN A DAY’S WORK
“Florence La Badie, the heroine of ‘The Million Dollar Mystery,’ has added a new deed of daring to her already long list. Miss La Badie leaped into the water last week from the deck of the ‘George Washington,’ as that leviathan of the deep steamed past Sandy Hook.
“Passengers on the deck of the big liner were appraised of the girl’s intention and a tremendous salvo of cheers greeted her as she unhesitatingly climbed up on the railing and threw herself overboard.” (The Motion Picture News, August 1, 1914.)
“Makes Thrilling Leap From Ship
“‘Million Dollar Mystery’
“FLORENCE LA BADIE, the charming heroine of Thanhouser’s ‘The Million Dollar Mystery,’ demonstrates, in the ninth episode of that series which was released August 11, that she is not only a finished actress but also one of the most daring young women appearing before the camera, when she leaps from the deck of an ocean liner into the sea.
“Not content with putting one thrill into the picture Miss La Badie is shown battling waves, which are real waves, in several scenes after the big leap. These two reels required a great deal of pluck on the part of the actress and the fearless manner in which she goes about her tasks is certain to win her the admiration of countless ‘fans.'” (Motography, August 29, 1914.)
“The Million Dollar Mystery (Thanhouser – Ninth Episode)
“FLORENCE LA BADIE, the pretty and daring heroine of ‘The Million Dollar Mystery,’ illustrates the latter appellation in this episode of the exciting serial to such a vivid extent that it will be impossible to suppress the little ‘ohs’ and ‘ahs’ that have been so often aroused by this exciting serial.
“But however thrilling the other episodes have been, this one beats them all. The title of these two reels, ‘The Leap from an Ocean Liner,’ tells just what Miss La Badie’s latest contribution to the thrills of the story is; but is not fully explanatory; she doesn’t jump from a port hole a few feet above the water, but from the uppermost deck.
“The only fault we have to find is that she was a little too far away from the camera, but the great height of the ship necessitated this, and one can easily see that it is the charming heroine herself and not a substitute or a dummy.” (Review by Peter Milne, The Motion Picture News, August 29, 1914.)
Above, Florence La Badie and Marguerite Snow; below, Florence La Badie in quicksand; Thanhouser ads for The Million Dollar Mystery in Motography, September 12 and October 10, 1914.
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By the summer of 1914, and with the release of the first episodes of The Million Dollar Mystery, Florence La Badie had become the most popular player at Thanhouser and reached a level of stardom surpassed by little more than a dozen other motion picture actresses. Six years after her stage debut with Chauncey Olcott and three years after leaving Griffith and Biograph, her name could be found in the fan magazine popularity polls near Mary Pickford, Mary Fuller, and the two “other Florences,” Lawrence and Turner — pioneer motion picture players and future legendary figures of early film. Confirming her new-found status in the industry was her appearance on the cover of the August 1914 issue of Photoplay Magazine. And she was inundated with requests for what would become that most ubiquitous movie fan collectible, the autographed photo.
“Real Tales About Reel Folk
“Florence La Badie, the popular Thanhouser star and heroine of “The Million Dollar Mystery” receives so many letters and requests for her portrait, that she would find it impossible, even with half a dozen secretaries, to answer them all. So she has asked Reel Life to print the following in its columns as a message to her many friends:
“‘There have come to me during the past few months so many letters with kind expressions, and requests for my autographed portrait, that it is not possible to reply to each one personally. But I will be pleased to mail my autographed portrait and appreciation, as soon as convenient. I am taking this opportunity to express my thanks and best wishes to my admirers and friends. Address: Florence La Badie, Thanhouser Studios, New Rochelle, N. Y.'” (Reel Life, October 17, 1914.)
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Original periodicals: The Moving Picture News, The Moving Picture World, The Motion Picture News, Motion Picture Magazine, Motography and Reel Life, from mediahistoryproject.org ; The New York Dramatic Mirror from fultonhistory.com; Photoplay Magazine, August 1914 cover, from magazines.famousfix.com. Original British advertising posters for The Star of Bethlehem, 1912, from Heritage Auctions at HA.com.
Secondary sources: Bowers, Q. David, Thanhouser Films: An Encyclopedia and History, from Thanhouser.org; Bowser, Eileen, The Transformation of Cinema, 1907-1915 (University of California Press, first paperback printing, 1994).
Photographs (excluding those reproduced from original source periodicals and film stills, credited above):
Florence La Badie, 1913, Thanhouser production still by Carl Louis Gregory, from the film Beauty in the Seashell (1913). Source: digitalcommons.chapman.edu, jonathan silent film collection
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