Thursday, January 8, 2009
One of the motion picture industries earliest studios, Essanay Studios, was co-founded by Waukegan man, George K. Spoor (1871-1953).
"Essanay" was the phonetic spelling of the founders' initials S & A, for Spoor and Anderson. The studio produced hundreds of films, featuring stars such as Francis X. Bushman, Beverly Bayne, Gloria Swanson, Charlie Chaplin and Max Linder. The Studio's "Indian" head logo, seen in the photo below, was designed by Spoor's sister, Mary Louise. The photo shows the Studio's entrance on Argyle and an unknown starlet.
A collection of Essanay's lantern slides were donated to the Museum in 1964. They're a remarkable glimpse into early motion picture history, and the beginnings of American pop culture.
Francis X. Bushman (1883-1966) was one of Essanay's top stars. At the peak of his career, this matinee idol was described as the "Handsomest man in the world."
The slide above is for the 1915 film, “Graustark,” starring Francis X. Bushman and Beverly Bayne. Directed by Fred E. Wright, it was one of Essanay’s most popular movies. LCDM Dunlap Collection 126.96.36.199
Bushman was often photographed in profile for publicity stills to accentuate his good looks. He is also remembered for his role on CBS radio's soap opera "Those We Love" which aired from 1938-1945.
Another colorful lantern slide is from the 1916 film, “Vultures of Society,” directed by E.H. Calvert, and starring Lillian Drew and E.H. Calvert. Note the Essanay logo in this slide and others. LCDM Dunlap Collection 64.32.34
In 1917, W.S. Van Dyke directed “Land of Long Shadows,” starring Jack Gardner and Ruth King.LCDM Dunlap Collection 64.32.34
There were several Jack Gardner film stars, so it is sometimes difficult to credit the correct one. This one is possibly the stage actor who was married to popular actress, Louise Dresser. The "mountain man" attire looks stereotypical, but is perfect for this silent-era western. I also love the braided rug at his feet. Braided rugs were a pioneer development and a necessity of frontier living, making it an authentic prop for this movie. It is interesting to note that braided rugs were popularized as home decor with the Arts & Crafts Movement of the 1880s to 1910s, and would've been a familiar household accessory at the time the movie was made.
One of the more curious productions by Essanay, produced between late 1917 and February 1918, was an autobiographical film written by and starring, Mary MacLane. LCDM Dunlap Collection 64.32.10
I was initially drawn to this slide by its Arts and Crafts motif with the hand drawn pastoral landscape and floral border. After scanning and enlarging the slide, my attention shifted to the title of the film, "Men Who Have Made Love to Me."
For her day, Mary MacLane (1881-1929) was a controversial, feminist writer, and was considered “wild and out of control." The movie is now believed lost, so we can only wonder about its content though it was probably far less risquee than the title implies. A surviving cast list gives some insight with Mary MacLane as "Herself" and other character names such as: the callow youth, the bank clerk, the prize fighter, and the husband of another.
Essanay Studios relocated to California along with many other film studios around 1916, and went out of business about 1918.