Friday, October 7, 2011

Tales from the Archives: The Movie Church Nov. - Dec. 1926

To follow up my last Tales from the Archives post, the Church of the Holy Infancy in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania would show movies every Sunday for several years in the 20s and early 30s. From now on my weekly Tales from the Archives post will be about the films showed monthly, in chronological order. This week we start with the first listing, which dates from a November 1926 parish monthly calendar.

This article came out directly after the article I posted last week. It had only been one month and the movies were a hit at the parish! It is fascinating to note that the Church tried to avoid showing films that were already screened locally. The article mentions that cinemas would change the films they are showing quite frequently, and certainly more often than movie theaters do today. A lot of films were made during this time period, it is a shame that 80% of them are lost.

The first film, Lover's Island, starred actress Hope Hampton. Hampton was best known for playing flapper roles in the 1920s. Hampton was in the first of the Gold Diggers films in 1923. She was also in the film The Light in the Dark (1922) which starred Lon Chaney. The film was presumed lost for years but a nitrate print was found in 2003. You can see that film here.
Hampton is said to be one of the real life inspirations for the character Susan Alexander Kane, the talentless wife of the Charles Foster Kane in Orson Welles' Citizen Kane (1941).
Although there is an IMDB listing for Sea Scamps I was unable to find much about it other than that it was a short comedy.

The next week the Church showed Ship of Souls (1925) which starred Bert Lytell. According to IMDB, this drama was filmed in Hollywood in a single-strip stereoscopic (3D) process developed by Max O. Miller and released on 20 December 1925. I'm not sure exactly what this means though. 3-D films did exist in the 1920s but were not made often. Was the whole film shown in 3-D or only part? Did the parishioners of this Church get to see it in 3-D?
This website claims that a print of the film exists but gives no other information.
Bert Lytell was a popular actor during the silent film era. Sadly his career pretty much ended with the advent of talkies. Lytell has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Unlike Sea Scamps, I was able to find out a lot more about this week's short. My Stars was a short comedy which starred Johnny Arthur, a famous actor of the 1920s and 1930s. Arthur was best known for playing comedic "pansy" characters. After the Hays Code banned these types of roles his characters became masculine wimps. It's kinda funny that the Hays Code was banning gay stereotypes for the wrong reasons. Arthur is probably best known today for appearing in three Our Gang shorts in the 1930s. Like Hope Hampton, Arthur also starred in a Lon Chaney film: The Monster (1925).
Now its time for the really cool trivia: My Stars was written and directed by William Goodrich, a pseudonym of Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle! Arbuckle was blacklisted in Hollywood due to a major scandal, but for a while he worked as a writer and director at Goodwill Productions under the William Goodrich name.
My Stars
is the only film in this article that I know for sure still exists. In fact you can buy it on DVD here as part of the Forgotten Films of Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle collection.

The third and final week in this article's listing featured a film starring Clara Bow, a true Hollywood icon. Bow was known as "The It Girl" and was the biggest sex symbol of her time. Although her popularity waned after the silent era, she is still quite well known today and is by far the biggest name mentioned in this article.
Despite Bow's star power, Two Can Play (1926) is believed to be a lost film. According to IMDB only a small fragment and the trailer survive. It is pretty weird to see an ad for a showing of a film that appears to no longer exist. At least I know exactly where to find this film if I ever get access to a time machine!

Al St. John emerged as a silent film comic in shorts such as the one showed at the Church, Live Cowards. It appears that Live Cowards is a lost film. However, you can see Al St. John in action on YouTube with none other than Fatty Arbuckle AND Buster Keaton! St. John plays the "Holdup Man." Check it out here!

Unlike most silent film actors, St. John would become best known for his talkie career. In the 1930s and 1940s he played the famous character Fuzzy Q. Jones, a recurring comedic sidekick in tons of Western movies. Below is a picture of St. John as "Fuzzy," you should be able to guess how he acquired that name!

Come back on Sunday for the weekly wrap-up! The next installment of Tales from the Archives will be next Thursday (as usual) as we take a look at more films shown by this Church.


  1. Magnificent article! Have you ever considered showing these posts to other, professional websites? You may be able to make some money off this!

  2. Thanks man! I never thought of that before, besides the blog of the archive. If you have any specific sites in mind shoot me an e-mail!