Tag Archives: Film History

Cayuga Museum Seeks Objects From Auburn’s Theater History


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largeThe Cayuga Museum is working on a new exhibit to open next month. From Gilded Stage to Silver Screen, A History of Auburn’s Theaters will tell the stories of the operas, playhouses, community theaters, parlor shows and movie palaces that once graced the city.

Museum staff are seeking the public’s help in gathering photographs, costumes, playbills, and anything else that can help tell these stories. If you have any of these objects, or you were involved in local theater and would like to share your story, please call Kirsten or Eileen at the Museum, 315 253-8051. All loaned objects are logged in, covered by the Museum’s insurance, and returned at the end of the exhibit. Continue reading

Civil Rights Film and Discussion Series in Schenectady


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Civil RightsIn celebration of African American History Month, and to introduce four documentaries with riveting new footage illustrating the history of civil rights in America, the Schenectady County Historical Society will offer a series of discussion forums centered around four documentary films during the month of February.

Created Equal: America’s Civil Rights Struggle is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), as part of its Bridging Cultures initiative, in partnership with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Created Equal uses the power of documentary films to encourage community discussion of America’s civil rights history. NEH has partnered with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History to develop programmatic and support materials. Continue reading

‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ in Seneca Falls, New York


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Christmas film classic: "It's a Wonderful Life"George Bailey: What is it you want, Mary? What do you want? You want the moon? Just say the word and I’ll throw a lasso around it and pull it down. Hey. That’s a pretty good idea. I’ll give you the moon, Mary.

Mary: I’ll take it. Then what?

George Bailey: Well, then you can swallow it, and it’ll all dissolve, see… and the moonbeams would shoot out of your fingers and your toes and the ends of your hair… am I talking too much?

What’s Christmas without putting your feet up and watching “It’s a Wonderful Life”? This much-loved holiday classic is an industry for Seneca Falls, New York at this time of the year. Continue reading

An Adirondack Mountain’s Brush With Hollywood Fame


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SealedValley coverNYHCatamount Mountain, the one rising from the shores of Taylor Pond north of Whiteface, has always been one of my favorite climbs.

Exposed rock can be so alluring, just one of the many elements that draws in people who love the outdoors. And Catamount has it all for the average hiker/climber―beautiful woods, a conical peak with great views, a dike to climb through, and lots of open, rocky expanses. Continue reading

A Short History of the Highrise: Innovative Short Films


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Highrise FilmThe New York Times’s Op-Docs and the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) have debuted an immersive, interactive multimedia series on urban highrise living. The series, “A Short History of the Highrise,” had its world premiere at the New York Film Festival and launches today on NYTimes.com.

The series unfolds in four short, interactive films that viewers can navigate using touch commands like swipe, pinch, pull and tap. On desktop and laptop computers, users can mouse over features and click to navigate. Smartphone users can view the four films via the New York Times Mobile Web site. Continue reading

Documentary On Early New York Filmmaker Seeks Funding


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DhrAvQeD8ldv8S8r0E-6iswm3_mh_sB6B9Enac_AuCMDirector Pamela Green and Co-Director Jarik Van Sluijs, nominated for an Emmy as co-producers for the 2010 documentary Bhutto, are in the last week of a Kickstarter campaign to raise financing for their documentary-in-the-making about an early New York film director, Be Natural: The untold story of Alice Guy-Blaché.

In 1895, 23-year-old Alice Guy was invited to the Lumière Brothers’ screening. In 1896, at the age of 23 she made one of the first narrative films in history. A year later, she became the first head of production at Gaumont’s studios. Alice went on to to start her own studio in Flushing, New York in 1910, Solax.  She wrote, directed, or produced more than a 1,000 films over her 20-year-long career, but is little remembered today. Continue reading

1930s Film: The Bowery, Social Sensibility and Change


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2099rCuriosity about Hollywood’s take on Steve Brodie’s claim that he jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge on July 23, 1886 drew viewers to FX Movie Channel’s recent broadcast of the seldom-shown 1933 movie The Bowery.

Produced by Darryl Zanuck and directed by Raoul Walsh, the movie also promised to show how the bare-knuckle boxer, John L. Sullivan, and the saloon-smashing reformer, Carrie Nation, fit into Brodie’s life. Continue reading

Remembering Gordon Parks In ’100 Moments’


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Gordon Parks bought his first camera in a pawn shop and got his first real photography job at the New Deal’s Farm Security Administration (FSA).”American Gothic,” his bold arrangement of a White House cleaning lady with a mop in front of a flag, got him in trouble on his first assignment.

As a multifaceted creative artist, Parks stacked up firsts again and again in a long career that has been seeing numerous tributes over the past year.  2012 was the 100th anniversary of his birth, and exhibits are still underway. Continue reading

The Real Lake Placid: Alligators in Mirror Lake?


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In 1999, Fox 2000 Pictures released the film Lake Placid. Despite the title, the story takes place on fictional Black Lake in Maine. The folks at Fox apparently figured the name of an internationally renowned Olympic site in New York might attract more attention than Black Lake, which was, after all, placid, just like the title said. Except for those times when a giant killer crocodile was thrashing on the surface, gulping down humans for lunch.
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Bryan O’Byrne: From Plattsburgh to Hollywood


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In late July, 1941, a young Plattsburgh boy received permission from his parents to visit the movie house just a few blocks away. Hours later, he had not returned home, and Mom and Dad hit the streets in search of their missing son. Soon they were at the Plattsburgh Police Station, anxiously seeking help. Two patrolmen were immediately put on the case, which, unlike so many stories today, had a happy ending.

The two policemen obtained keys to the theater building and began searching the interior. There, curled up in his seat near the front row, little Bryan Jay O’Byrne was fast asleep. He later explained that he enjoyed the movie so much, he decided to stay for the second showing and must have drifted off into dreamland. When the theater closed for the night, no one had seen the young boy lying low in his seat.

Perhaps no one knew it then, but that amusing incident was a harbinger of things to come. Bryan O’Byrne was born to Elmer and Bessie (Ducatte) O’Byrne of Plattsburgh on February 6, 1931. Life in the O’Byrne home may have been difficult at times. Six years earlier, Bryan’s older sister was born at the very moment Elmer was being arraigned in Plattsburgh City Court on burglary and larceny charges.

Still, the family managed to stay together, and after attending St. Peter’s Elementary School and Plattsburgh High, Bryan went on to graduate from the State University Teacher’s College at Plattsburgh. After stints in the army and as an elementary school teacher, he pursued acting, studying at the Stella Adler Studio.

He appeared on Broadway with Vivian Leigh in “Duel of Angels” (the run was cut short after five weeks due to the first actors’ strike in forty years). Other jobs followed, but he soon surfaced in a new, increasingly popular medium: television.

In the early 1960s, Bryan began appearing in television series, becoming one of the best-known character actors in show business. Most people recognized his face from numerous bit parts he played in television and in movies, but few knew his name. That is true of many character actors, but ironically, in O’Byrne’s case, it was that very anonymity which brought him fame.

It all took place in the 1966–67 television season with the launch of a show called Occasional Wife. The plot line followed the story of an unmarried junior executive employed by a baby food company. The junior executive’s boss felt that, since they were selling baby food, it would be wise to favor married men for promotions within the company.

So, the junior executive concocted a plan with a female who agreed to serve as his “occasional wife.” He put her on salary and got her an apartment two floors above his own. Hilarity ensued as a variety of situations in each episode had them running up and down the fire escape to act as husband and wife. This all happened to the obvious surprise and bemusement of a man residing on the floor between the two main players. That man was played by Bryan O’Byrne.


O’Byrne’s character had no name and no speaking lines, but he became the hit of the show. Usually he was engaged in some type of activity that ended up in shambles as he watched the shenanigans. The audience loved it. The show’s writers had such fun with the schtick that O’Byrne became somewhat of a sensation. His expert acting skills made the small part into something much bigger.

Eventually, in early 1967, a nationwide contest was held to give the “Man in the Middle” an actual name. Much attention was heaped on O’Byrne, but the high didn’t last for long. Occasional Wife went the way of many other promising comedies that were built on a certain premise, but were not allowed to develop. It survived only one season.

O’Byrne’s career continued to flourish. Among his repeating roles was that of CONTROL Agent Hodgkins in the hit comedy series Get Smart, starring Don Adams and Barbara Feldon. Over the years, O’Byrne remained one of Plattsburgh’s best-kept secrets, appearing in 45 television series, 22 movies, and several Disney productions.

Among those television series were some high-profile shows and many of the all-time greats: Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Batman, Ben Casey, Get Smart, Gunsmoke, I Dream of Jeannie, Maude, Happy Days, Maverick, Murder She Wrote, My Three Sons, Perry Mason, Rawhide, Sanford and Son, The Big Valley, The Bill Cosby Show, The Bob Newhart Show, The Lucy Show, The Munsters, The Partridge Family, The Untouchables, and Welcome Back Kotter.

Advertisers discovered the appeal of Bryan’s friendly face, and he was cast in more than two hundred television commercials. His experience in multiple fields and his love and understanding of the intricacies of performing led to further opportunities. He became an excellent acting coach. Among those he worked with, guided, or mentored were Bonnie Bedelia, Pam Dawber, Nick Nolte, Lou Diamond Phillips, Jimmy Smits, and Forest Whittaker.

Writer Janet Walsh, a friend of O’Byrne’s since the early 1980s, noted that, early on, he recognized the talent of young Nick Nolte. According to Walsh, “Nick slept on Bryan’s couch for a year. Bryan cast him in his production of The Last Pad, and that launched Nick’s career.”

Besides working as an acting coach for the prestigious Stella Adler Academy, O’Byrne also served on the Emmy Nominating Committee in Los Angeles. He spent nearly forty years in the entertainment business, working with many legendary stars, including Lucille Ball, Clint Eastwood, Alfred Hitchcock, and John Wayne. His television resume covers many of the best-known, most-watched series ever. And through it all, he remained a nice, unpretentious man.

Quite the journey for a ten-year-old movie fan from Plattsburgh.

Photos: Bryan Jay O’Byrne; Bryan O’Byrne and Vivian Leigh; Michael Callan, Bryan O’Byrne, and Patricia Hart from Occasional Wife.

Lawrence Gooley has authored 11 books and more than 100 articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 24 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.

NYC Documentary Film Screenings Set


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The Historic Districts Council (HDC) of New York City will host a film series, “Across New York”, that highlights stories from across the City’s five boroughs on how the city came to be and the people who helped shape it.

All screenings will be held at the TRIBECA Film Center at 375 Greenwich Street, NYC; tickets can be purchased online. The cost is $5 per program for Friends of HDC, Seniors and Students, and $10 for the general public.

AT HOME IN UTOPIA
Thursday, November 1, 6PM
The acclaimed documentary At Home in Utopia. was written and directed by Michal Goldman. This film tells the story of the Eastern European, Russian and Polish garment workers who joined together to create a “Bronx Bohemia” known as the Coops. This cooperative apartment complex was built in 1925 on the corner of Allerton Avenue across from Bronx Park. The Coops were what some would consider the ideal community; based on the philosophies of communal living and designed with the ideas of a bucolic setting in mind, the Coops were a “dream home” to many. The residents wanted a design aesthetic that was uncommon in New York at the time; bright, airy and spacious, which was representative of the change that was sought to promote public health, safety and a sense of community. The residents of the Coops were also politically active as advocates for racial equality during a time of severe distress, violence and social injustice. Join us for this special screening and panel discussion of At Home in Utopia, where several of the former residents will discuss their lives in the Bronx. Directed by Michal Goldman, 2008, 133 minutes.

FLORENT: QUEEN OF THE MEATMARKET
Thursday, November 8, 6PM
Join the Historic Districts Council for a night of nostalgia as we view the documentary film Florent: Queen of the Meat Market. Florent, a 24-hour diner located in the Meatpacking District, was once the place to be. This legendary spot attracted artists, club-kids and the blue-collar workers who sought decent French-American cuisine at the wee hours of the morning, but who mostly flocked to
this space because of the energy the owner, Florent Morellet, exuded and brought to the establishment. Florent was also one of the leaders of the movement which successfully got the Gansevoort Market neighborhood landmarked in 2003. Florent was unfortunatelyforced to close down in 2008 due to rent increases and development in the area that would not allow for the business to sustain itself. Following the screening, Florent, will discuss his time owning his successful namesake business in an area that has drastically changed over the past twenty-five years as well as how he has remained an activist and leader within his community and beyond. Directed by David Sigal, 2009, 1 hour 29 minutes. This film is not rated.

CONEY ISLAND
Wednesday, November 14, 6PM
“Coney Island” is an award-winning documentary that delves into the extensive history of this seaside community, from its discovery in the 17th century to its ongoing and sometimes heartbreaking evolution. The film illustrates the affinity that the public had for Coney Island as a summer getaway, as evidenced by the 250,000 people that once populated its shores
on any given summer weekend. Also covered in the film is the development of the three major amusement parks (Steeplechase Park, Luna Park and Dreamland) that once inhabited Coney Island, along with the sometimes bizarre and fascinating stories that go with them. There will be a discussion following the film. Directed by Ric Burns, 1991, 1 hour.

This series is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature. Additional support is provided by Council members Margaret Chin, Inez Dickens, Daniel Garodnick, Vincent Gentile,
Stephen Levin and Rosie Mendez.

Thomas Mott Osborne Film Premiere Theater Mack


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Who is Thomas Mott Osborne? And what is The Castle? These questions will be answered at the Auburn, NY premiere of a new documentary about Thomas Mott Osborne on Sunday, October 14 at 2:00 p.m. at Theater Mack at the Cayuga Museum. Filmmaker Neil Novello and Osborne biographer, David Connelly, will discuss the film after the screening. This program is free and open to the public.

Thomas Mott Osborne’s statue stands in front of the Auburn, NY Police and Fire Departments. The Castle refers to the 105 year-old Portsmouth Naval prison that stands empty on a bluff in the Piscataqua River separating Maine and New Hampshire adjacent to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. But what do these two (Osborne & The Castle) have in common?

It is written in the Navy’s history of the Portsmouth Naval Prison aka The Castle that Thomas Mott Osborne “introduced a new era and a new viewpoint to the Naval prison.”  From 1917 to 1921, Auburn prison reformer and resident, Thomas Mott Osborne, was the only civilian commander of the Naval Prison. Osborne hadn’t served in the Navy.

“Osborne is either a nut or a visionary,” says Pulitzer Prize winner and Auburn resident, David Connelly, who worked with Award-winning filmmaker Neil Novello from Maine on what is the only video documentary ever made about the Auburn industrialist turned humanitarian in the early 20th Century. The always-controversial Thomas Mott Osborne brought scandal, prison reform and a movie crew to the Portsmouth Naval Prison aka The Castle. ”Osborne’s command of the Naval Prison just maybe the culmination of Osborne’s prison reform career,” says Mr. Novello who started on this documentary five years ago.

Novello’s filmmaking journey started with his visit to the Syracuse University’s Bird Library to do research on Osborne. He went through box after box of Osborne’s history at the Naval Prison, which provided many great photos, newspaper articles, as well as Osborne’s writings. It was the Bird Library librarian who told Novello about Osborne biographer, David Connelly.

In the course of a year, David Connelly generously gave of his research time and family time to be a part of this documentary. Connelly knew Frederik (Erik) Osborne, TMO’s grandson, who had the remaining two reels of the Osborne-produced propaganda prison silent feature movie. “The Right Way” was filmed at the Naval Prison using prisoners as extras.

The other important person who gave generously of her time to Novello was Eileen McHugh, Director of the Cayuga Museum of Art and History. The Museum had a copy of Osborne in a 1926 experimental sound movie filmed at the Case Laboratories in Auburn where Osborne mentions the Portsmouth Naval Prison and talks about his reform ideas.

McHugh provided Mr. Novello an area in the basement of the museum to videotape David Connelly’s interview and McHugh also secured, via the Cayuga Museum’s archive, photos of early Auburn as well as Osborne and his family.

To understand Commander Osborne’s Naval prison experience, Novello needed to include Osborne’s family and his work at Auburn and Sing Sing state prisons in New York where he disguised himself as a prisoner to find out what life was like inside. When Osborne went to the Naval Prison, he disguised himself as a prisoner for a report to the Secretary of the Navy. While Commander of the Naval Prison, again Osborne disguised himself as a sailor and was a coal shoveler on the USS North Dakota as a way to understand Navy life.

Osborne became known for his Mutual Welfare League system where prisoners manage prisoners. The Mutual Welfare League was used at Auburn State prison and in Sing Sing state prison as well as the Naval prison.

With the additional photos provided by Ossining Historical Society in New York, and movie film (of Naval sea exercises and World War One) provided by the National Archive, Novello had the visual ingredients for his documentary about Osborne’s experience at the Naval Prison which in a way, culminates his prison reform career.

“It’s all about Osborne’s perspective and his thinking”, says Novello. “I did not want to make a run-of- the-mill, academic-type documentary with pros and cons. It’s about Osborne but told through his letters, film and David Connelly’s wonderful interview.”

Novello wanted to première TMO@The Castle in Auburn at the Cayuga Museum of Art and History’s newly restored Theater Mack. “It’s most fitting to show my documentary right here,” says Novello.

Novello has also produced a DVD called, The Castle: Stories of the Portsmouth Naval Prison which includes TMO@The Castle and a commentary to go with the remaining reels of Osborne’s feature movie, The Right Way.

New-York Historical’s World War Two in NYC Exhibit Opens


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The most widespread, destructive, and consequential conflict in history will be the subject of WWII & NYC, a major new exhibition now on view at the New-York Historical Society through May 27, 2013. Restoring to memory New York’s crucial and multifaceted role in winning the war, the exhibition commemorates the 900,000 New Yorkers who served in the military and also explores the ways in which those who remained on the home front contributed to the national war effort. Continue reading

New Director for George Eastman House


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George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film announced today the appointment of Dr. Bruce Barnes as the Ron and Donna Fielding Director. Barnes will assume his role as eighth director of the museum—the world’s oldest museum of photography and one of the largest motion-picture archives—in October 2012.

Barnes is the president and founder of American Decorative Art 1900 Foundation (ADA1900), a private foundation based in New York City, that works independently and in collaboration with museums across the United States to foster understanding and appreciation of American decorative art from the period around 1900.

Barnes is coauthor and editor of The Jewelry and Metalwork of Marie Zimmermann (2011), which was copublished by ADA1900 and Yale University Press. ADA1900 also copublished The Artistic Furniture of Charles Rohlfs (2008), an award-winning scholarly book that accompanied an exhibition of the same title co-organized by ADA1900 and the Milwaukee Art Museum. The exhibition traveled to the Dallas Museum of Art, Carnegie Museum of Art, Huntington Art Collections, and Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Barnes was chief executive officer of Element K, a Rochester-based company and pioneer in online learning, from 2000-2004, overseeing more than 800 employees. Over the course of his career, Barnes has held senior executive positions at Ziff Communications Company, Ziff Brothers Investments, Wasserstein Perella & Co., Reservoir Capital Group, and QFS Asset Management. He received a B.A., magna cum laude, and a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Pennsylvania.

“I am honored to be selected to serve as the next director of George Eastman House,” said Barnes. “The range of its activities and opportunities is exhilarating. George Eastman House is a vital part of Rochester’s community. The museum’s unparalleled collections—in the areas of photography, cinema, and their technologies—and curators make important contributions on the international cultural scene, and its leading post-graduate programs advance the imperative of photography and film preservation around the world.”

“Having devoted most of the last seven years to collaborating with major museums across the country and furthering art scholarship, I am eager to apply my strategic and management skills to leading George Eastman House,” he said. “The house and a great many of the museum’s objects fall precisely within my longstanding interest in American art, decorative art, and architecture of the period from 1876 to 1940. My background in innovative online education will be invaluable to the creation of a virtual museum that will provide global access to its superb collections. I look forward to returning to Rochester and working with the Eastman House board of trustees and staff to advance the museum’s tradition of excellence and service to the community.”

“George Eastman House is an international treasure, a source of local pride, and a complex organization,” said Thomas H. Jackson, chairman of the George Eastman House Board of Trustees. “In Bruce Barnes, we have found the perfect individual to continue the museum’s progress and build the local, national, and international infrastructure and connections that will be essential to Eastman House’s future.

“Our collections and location, important in themselves, are also the springboard for essential work in preservation and an understanding of how the image can inform as well as reflect society,” Jackson said. “Dr. Barnes understands these interconnections in an impressively deep way and has the vision to take our past accomplishments and turn vision into reality. His extraordinary talents across so many dimensions are matched by his passion for George Eastman House and its potentiality. That’s a wonderful, winning, combination.”

Barnes’s appointment is the outcome of an international search process. He succeeds Dr. Anthony Bannon, who retired from George Eastman House in May after 16 years in the position.

“The Search Committee feels extraordinarily fortunate to have found in Dr. Barnes the combination of skills, experience, and passion needed for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for the George Eastman House,” said James A. Locke III, the George Eastman House trustee who chaired the Search Committee. “He is quite a remarkable fit for us with his excellent academic background, financial acumen, with prior positions with top Wall Street financial firms, and tested leadership as a CEO in Rochester.

“He is also an engaged collector with scholarly and passionate interests in the arts and museums,” Locke said. “Dr. Barnes can and will be an energetic and transformational leader who surely will make a great difference at George Eastman House and, in the view of the Search Committee, he will make a great difference in the presence and importance of the museum and its varied missions here and globally. We are thrilled with his appointment.”

About George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film

George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film combines world-class collections of photography and film with an active program of exhibitions, lectures, film screenings, and the National Historic Landmark house and gardens of George Eastman, the philanthropist and father of popular photography and motion picture film. Eastman House is also a leader in film preservation and photograph conservation, educating archivists and conservators from around the world through historic-process workshops and two graduate schools, the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation and the Photographic Preservation and Collections Management master’s degree program. Eastman House, which was established as an independent non-profit museum in 1947, is one of the world’s foremost museums of photography and the third largest motion-picture archive in the United States. The museum intertwines unparalleled collections, totaling more than 4 million objects, of photography, motion pictures, and cameras and technology, as well as literature of these fields of study. Learn more at eastmanhouse.org

Whitehall Filmmaking: The Girl on the Barge


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Following is the story of a movie that was filmed long ago on the barge canal in Whitehall, New York, where the canal links with Lake Champlain. The details were researched and written by my partner, Jill McKee, after following up on a recollection of her beloved elderly aunt, Mary Barber (now deceased). This fortunate collaboration led to the addition of an exhibit in Whitehall’s Skenesborough Museum.
In 1929, Universal Pictures released a film called The Girl on the Barge. The movie was about Erie McCadden, the illiterate daughter of a crusty, alcoholic barge captain. Erie falls in love with Fogarty, the pilot of the tugboat that is towing her father’s barge from New York to Buffalo on the Erie Canal. Captain McCadden is not at all pleased when he discovers the romance, and his anger is escalated further by the fact that Fogarty is teaching Erie to read.
Happily, in the end the captain comes to his senses, likely due in no small part to Fogarty’s rescuing of McCadden’s barge when it is accidently set adrift. Erie marries her love and the two present McCadden with a grandson.
The Erie Canal proved too difficult a setting for the Universal production department to create on or near the studio’s lot. However, the Erie Canal itself was not deemed suitable either. At least that was the opinion of the movie’s director, Edward Sloman, who came to New York State with two veteran cameramen, Jack Voshell and Jackson Rose, to find the right filming location.
Such location trips were rare at that time in the movie industry, but Universal was willing to invest the added time and money necessary to film the movie in the correct setting. After scouting the entire modern, commercialized Erie Barge Canal from Albany to Buffalo, Sloman felt it would not be believable to audiences. “They would swear we faked it in California,” he said.
Enter a contractor from Waterford, New York, named John E. Matton. He believed the Champlain Canal was just what Universal was looking for. After seeing it, Sloman agreed and chose Whitehall as the filming location.
In May 1928, Sloman and rest of the film’s cast and crew set up their headquarters at Glens Falls and took up temporary residence at the Queensbury Hotel in order to begin making the movie. The silent era was giving way to “talkies,” and The Girl on the Barge was a hybrid between the two—a silent film with talking sequences.

The film’s cast was made up of some notable stars. The title role of Erie was played by Sally O’Neil, who had found stardom in 1925 when she appeared along with Constance Bennett and Joan Crawford in Sally, Irene, and Mary. Erie’s father, the barge captain, was played by Jean Hersholt, who appeared in 140 films from 1906–1955, and served as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences from 1945–1949.

Malcolm MacGregor (or McGregor), who appeared in over 50 films during his career, played Erie’s love interest, Fogarty. Erie’s sister, Superior McCadden, was played by Nancy Kelly, whose career spanned from the 1920s to the 1970s, during which time she received nominations for an Emmy and an Oscar, and also won a Tony Award. Both Ms. Kelly and Mr. Hersholt have stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
The movie’s director, Edward Sloman, was no slouch either. He directed nearly 100 films and acted in more than 30, with some producing and writing thrown in for good measure. The story on which the movie was based was originally written by Rupert Hughes for Cosmopolitan magazine. Mr. Hughes was a prolific writer who saw more than 50 of his stories and plays made into movies.
The entire episode apparently caused quite a stir in the Whitehall/Glens Falls area. Several Whitehall residents took part in various scenes in the movie, and a humorous incident at the Queensbury Hotel was reported in the Syracuse Herald on June 11, 1928.
It seems that Mr. Hersholt arrived at the hotel after a day of filming. He was still dressed as his drunken barge-captain character and asked for his room number without giving his name. The desk clerk not so politely informed Mr. Hersholt that the hotel was filled with “those motion picture people,” and there were no rooms available. In order to gain access to his room, Mr. Hersholt had to call upon director Edward Sloman to vouch for him.

Universal had a three-tiered rating system for its motion picture productions at the time Girl on the Barge was filmed. Low-budget flicks were dubbed Red Feather, and mainstream productions were labeled as Bluebird. The Girl on the Barge was categorized as one of Universal’s most prestigious films, called Jewel. Jewel productions were expected to draw the highest ticket sales.

The movie was released on February 3, 1929. Various newspaper ads and articles have been found showing the movie still playing in theatres around the country into the following fall. The movie also received many favorable reviews. The Chronicle Telegram of Elyria, Ohio, complimented the “realistic and picturesque scenes” of “the barge canals of Upper New York State” (May 20, 1929).
The New York Times reviewer, Mordaunt Hall, raved about Mr. Hersholt’s make-up and costume, and stated, “The scenes are admirably pictured.” The Sheboygan Press of Sheboygan, Wisconsin, called the film “an exceptional picture,” and went on to report, “The picture actually was photographed along the picturesque Champlain Ship Canal in Upper New York State.”
Photos: Top―Movie Poster now on exhibit in the Whitehall Museum. Middle: Sally O’Neil and Malcolm MacGregor in a scene near the canal. Bottom: Movie advertisement in the Ticonderoga Sentinel, 1929.

Lawrence Gooley has authored eleven books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 22 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.

Doris Kenyon’s North Country Connections


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A frequent visitor to Ausable Forks (and once a resident) Doris Kenyon starred in nearly fifty silent films, including 1924’s Monsieur Bocaire with living legend Rudolph Valentino, and 1925’s A Thief in Paradise with Ronald Colman. During her long career, she played opposite all the great stars of the day, among them Loretta Young, Spencer Tracy, Ralph Bellamy, John Barrymore, Melvyn Douglas, Robert Young, and Adolph Menjou. Her fame was such that newborn Doris Kappelhoff (in 1922) was named after Kenyon. Kappelhoff would gain great fame under her stage name, Doris Day.

One of the leading men in several of Kenyon’s movies became the leading man in her personal life. Milton Sills was a major star of the era, and he and Doris had performed together many times. In May 1926, Doris announced she had purchased her brother’s camp, and a few weeks later came an update—she and Milt Sills would soon marry … on the shores of Silver Lake!
The ceremony took place amidst the October splendor of the leaf color change, creating a sensational backdrop at the camp Doris called “Moose Missie.” They honeymooned through the Adirondacks (two days in a suite of rooms in Agora at the Lake Placid Club), plus Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon, and Yellowstone Park. Meanwhile, workmen were completing a beautiful mansion on their sixty-acre estate in Hollywood, California.
The wedding had been announced in May 1926, but was delayed until October due to Doris being ill. (Seven months after the ceremony, she gave birth to a son, Kenyon Clarence Sills.) Following the wedding and lengthy honeymoon, Doris took some time off from acting, but returned soon to star in several movies with her husband. In effect, they were the industry’s “power-couple” of the day, starring in movies and receiving constant media coverage.
In 1929, they passed the summer at Silver Lake, where Milton was recovering from illness. Doris spent several weeks at the camp, but she also did about a month of vaudeville performances before the two of them returned to making movies. And, upon special request, she served in August as a judge for the baby parade and pageant in Lake Placid’s summer carnival.

In 1929, Doris gave a concert performance in New York City, confirming that she still had a great singing voice. At the same time, unlike many other silent-film stars, she smoothly transitioned into the world of “talkies,” remaining one of Hollywood’s top stars.

In September 1930, tragedy struck Doris’ life. Shortly after playing tennis with his family, Milton Sills, 48, suddenly collapsed and died of a heart attack. Doris, just 33 at the time, was devastated by the loss, burying herself in work to help ease the pain.
She had been recognized in the past for other skills—writing, poetry, and as a pianist—but it was singing that Doris really missed. Plans had already been made for a return to regular concert performances, and after the death of Sills, Doris went on a world tour.
After many successful European shows, she returned to the United States with a renewed interest in her film career. Through the 1930s, Doris remained a major movie star, appearing in at least fourteen more films. She was also quite busy on the marital front. First came Syracuse real estate broker Arthur Hopkins in 1933, a union that lasted only a few months (annulled). Next, Doris was married to Albert Lasker in 1938 for a year (divorced). Finally, she married Bronislav Mlynarski in 1947 (that one lasted twenty-four years, ending with Mlynarski’s death in 1971).
Through the WW II years, Doris again supported the troops by singing with the USO. In the 1950s, she acted in television shows, sang on the radio, and performed two roles in radio soap operas. From silent films to the advent of television, she had done it all.
It was an incredible career spanning the Metropolitan Opera, stage, screen, vaudeville, concerts, radio, poetry, television, and writing. She was a success at everything she tried (even marriage, in the end). One of Hollywood’s lasting stars, Doris Kenyon passed away from heart trouble in September 1979, just a few days shy of her 82nd birthday.
Photos: Top―Poster from a Kenyon movie. Bottom―Doris Kenyon in A Thief in Paradise.
The Doris Kenyon story is one of 51 original North Country history pieces appearing in Adirondack Gold: 50+ New & True Stories You’re Sure to Love (352 pp.), a recent release by author Lawrence Gooley, owner of Bloated Toe Publishing.

Website Highlights Free New York Documentaries


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The popular website DocumentaryStorm.com is celebrating its 1st anniversary, and is recommending several documentaries available on the site about New York City for New York History readers. These documentaries that focus on a couple of seldom visited spaces in New York life, the sewer system and the fire department, along with one of New York City’s most visited places. DocumetaryStorm.com is dedicated to finding providing free, full-length documentaries from around the web.

The New York City Fire Museum

NYC’s Fire Department plays an indispensable role in keeping New York’s citizen’s safe. While September 11th, 2001 shone a very bright and hot media light on the department – rightfully highlighting their training and sacrifice – the department has a sordid and quite remarkable history dating back many centuries. For many decades the firefighters were all community volunteers. This documentary explores the department’s origins and traces the various incarnations, training, and equipment through the 1800′s to today. When was the first fire truck used? How were fires put out in the early 1800′s? What did the firemen used to wear to protect them against fire?

New York from the Underneath

This is a rare and unique glimpse into the sewer system that runs below New York City. Beautifully shot, captivating, and gritty, the documentary traces the underbelly of New York from the Bronx to Queens. Urban Historian Steve Duncan leads the journey through a maze of winding tunnels, man-made waterfalls, and local wildlife. The scars of history’s past is evident in the brickwork and drawings on the wall. We explore more than two centuries of urban planning: a generational patchwork. Half vision, half compromise. The city’s first enclosed sewer system is located on Canal Street and survives intact to this day. Duncan sleeps in the sewers by day and leads us on an entertaining 25 minute tour by day. New York City: like you’ve never seen her before.

The Empire State Building Shall Rise

Proving that the Great Depression was no match for New Yorkers; the Empire State Building continued to rise: past the height of the Eiffel Tower – which had been the tallest building in the world for decades. Past the height of the Chrysler Building – which had been the tallest building for barely a year. The Empire State would stand as the tallest building in the world for over 40 years. It is still the tallest building in New York, following September 11th, 2001. Remarkable historical footage of an American treasure.

New Contributor: Rabbit Goody, Textiles Expert


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Please join us in welcome our newest contributor here at New York History, Rabbit Goody. Goody is a nationally recognized textile historian who has served as a consultant to major museums, private collections, and the film industry. Her reproduction fabrics appear in many movies, including Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Master and Commander, Amistad, The Titanic, Cinderella Man, Polar Express, The Prestige, Transformers, and the new Indiana Jones movie.

Goody has extensive experience working as a consultant to museums including dating and identifying textiles in specific collections; making recommendations about ex­hibits, storage, and con­ser­vation; helping museum staff to develop appropriate and workable furnishing plans that include historically accurate soft furnishings, from carpet to loose covers to window treatments; and developing plans for textile rotation. She has worked with many living history sites to coordinate the use of historically accurate repro­ductions with original items in the museum’s collections.