Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Tales from the Archives: The Movie Church - Dec. 9th 1928

The schedule at the "Movie Church" for December 9th 1928 contained one feature film, The Wreck of the Hesperus (1927), followed by the short films Ride 'Em Cowboy (1928) and Seeing the World (1927).

The Wreck of the Hesperus was based on the 1842 narrative poem of the same name by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I can neither confirm or deny if the movie still survives so unfortunately I have to assume it is a lost film.
The Wreck of the Hesperus starred Canadian actor Sam De Grasse, pictured above in a still shot from the film, as the captain of the doomed Hesperus ship. Like many of the movies shown by this Church, The Wreck of the Hesperus was produced by the DeMille Pictures Corporation. Sam De Grasse appeared in several films that were directed by Cecil B. DeMille himself such as The Birth of a Nation (1915), Intolerance (1916), and The King of Kings (1927).
De Grasse was known for playing villainous roles, such as Prince John opposite Douglas Fairbanks as the eponymous hero in Robin Hood (1922). De Grasse was also in the classic silent film The Man Who Laughs (1928) starring Conrad Veidt.
De Grasse retired from the film industry shortly after the silent era ended and died in 1953 in his seventies. His grave says he was born in 1880 but IMDB and Wikipedia place his birth year as 1875 so I'm not sure which is correct as actors often lied about their ages.

The motion picture industry was the family business for Sam De Grasse as his brother was actor/director Joseph De Grasse (pictured above) and Sam's nephew was cinematographer Robert De Grasse. Joseph De Grasse was one of the founders of the Motion Picture Directors Association in 1915 along with John Ford and William Desmond Taylor. The Motion Picture Directors Association was a precursor to the present day Directors Guild of America. Joseph De Grasse directed about 90 films including The Scarlet Car (1917) which featured his brother Sam and starred Lon Chaney, Sr.
Robert De Grasse started his career in the early 1920s and continued working as a cinematographer into the 1960s. Robert De Grasse received an Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography for Vivacious Lady (1938) which starred Ginger Rodgers and Jimmy Stewart. Robert De Grasse also worked on classic TV shows such as I Love Lucy, The Jack Benny Program, and The Dick Van Dyke Show.

Slim Summerville was also in the cast of The Wreck of the Hesperus. Summerville was one of the original Keystone Cops, appearing in the first film of the famous series, Hoffmeyer's Legacy (1912). Summerville was mostly known for his comedy work. Besides the Keystone Cops Summerville appeared in other films with famous silent comedians Charlie Chaplin and Fatty Arbuckle. After the silent era Summerville continued to have supporting roles in "talkies" and made films until his death in 1946.
Summverville was able to take some more dramatic roles in "talkies" appearing in the classic All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) and the Western Jesse James (1939) which starred Tyrone Power and Henry Fonda. Summerville still tended to get comedic parts and was frequently paired in films with comedienne Zasu Pitts. Summerville was also in a couple of Shirley Temple movies such as Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1938). For his contributions to the film industry Summerville earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Another actor in The Wreck of the Hesperus was Alan Hale Sr. Like Sam de Grasse, Alan Hale Sr. was also in Robin Hood (1922), as Little John. I wrote more about Hale in a Tales from the Archives post from last December. Hale was the father of Alan Hale Jr., the Skipper on the classic TV show Gilligan's Island.

Ride 'Em Cowboy (1928) was a cartoon in the Aesop's Fables series which this Church showed quite often. I don't know if this particular cartoon still survives, but there are some episodes of Aesop's Fables available on YouTube. I covered this animated series in depth with a post for the Short Animation blogathon so check it out here to find out more.

Besides Aesop's Fables, another series of short films this Church loved to show was Our Gang. Seeing the World (1927) was the 57th Our Gang short released. This Our Gang episode is notable for featuring Stan Laurel, one half of the famous comedy duo Laurel and Hardy. Both Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy have appeared in other films shown by this Church. Hal Roach created the Our Gang series and his studio also had Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy under contract which explains Laurel's appearance here. Seeing the World still exists and has even had a home video release.

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