Saturday, March 23, 2013

Colorado arrives early at the movies



The truth is, Thomas Edison liked to play hardball when it came to patents.
He could, and did, wear people out by bringing law suits against them, and came to dominate the movie industry. William Selig, the father of Hollywood, was no exception.
But in the early days, you could say Colorado was bigger than Hollywood, in the eyes and lens of filmmakers.
"Colorado has been the location of choice for filmmakers for well over 110 years.  The earliest filmmaking in Colorado dates to 1897 when the "Festival of the Mountain & Plain" was filmed,"according to the Colorado Office of Film, Television and Media.
"Many feature films followed immediatly thereafter.  Since then, hundreds of other filmmakers have come to Colorado to shoot such noteable films as "True Grit", "Cat Ballou", "How The West Was Won", "The Searchers", "Sleeper", "City Slickers" and "Thelma & Louise".
H.H. "Buck" Buckwalter, the western agent for the Selig-Polyscope Company of Chicago who made short films in Colorado from 1904 to 1909 is a case in point. Some of Buckwalter's films starred Gilbert M. Anderson before his "Bronco Billy" days.
Another Selig troupe arrived in 1911 included future cowboy star Tom Mix.
In his book "Hollywood Colorado - The Selig Polyscope Company and the Colorado Motion Picture Company," David Emrich, a film and video editor in Denver who spent 15 years researching the Colorado film industry, tells stories of Tom Mix and his buddies shooting lemons off the glasses in local bars to see who would buy drinks, and relays the legend of the night Mix hid in the awning of the Elk's Club so his angry wife could not find her errant husband.
Actors behaving badly, apparently, is nothing new.
Mix and others in his troupe risked their lives to make movies in Colorado, according to Emrich, and he notes Mix endured multiple stays local hospitals during this period of his career. Selig company soon left Colorado for the promise of 300 days of sunshine and a wider variety of scenery established Southern California's first permanent movie studio, in the historic Edendale district of Los Angeles.
The formation of the Colorado Motion Picture Company in 1913 by former Selig employee Otis Thayer,  who selected CaƱon City because of scenery, and finnancial support via the local sale of $5,000 in stock on the first day of the company's existence, is also related in Emrich's book.
But the company was not destined to last long.
The drowning deaths of star Grace McHugh and cameraman Owen Carter during a river-crossing scene in "Across the Border" (1914), and the resultant law suits from the families, bankrupted the company and virtually put an end to filming in Colorado for nearly 30 years. McHugh, as many actors and actresses at that time, did many, or all, of their own stunts, and was riding along the Arkansas River, when her horse spooked and tossed her in the river.  Carter jumped in to try and save her,  and almost did, but ended up being carried away in the swift current as well. Their bodies were found separately, days later, downsteam.
But back to Edison, Selig, Buckwalter and Mix.
"Edison assembled representatives of the nation's biggest movie companies—Biograph, Vitagraph, American Mutoscope, and seven others—and invited them to sign a monopolistic peace treaty," writes Matthew Lasar in ARS/technica. Starting in 1891, after he filed his first patent on a motion picture camera/film system, his lawyers had launched aggressive infringement suits against others
"But the old man wanted it all, so he assembled his rivals and proposed that they join his Motion Picture Patents Company. It would function as a holding operation for the participants' collective patents—sixteen all told, covering projectors, cameras, and film stock. MPPC would issue licenses and collect royalties from movie producers, distributors, and exhibitors," Lasar says.
"To top it all off, MPPC convinced the Eastman Kodak company to refuse to sell raw film stock to anyone but Patent Company licensees, a move designed to shut French and German footage out of the country"
"Make no mistake, had Thomas Edison succeeded in this scheme, he would have killed the motion picture industry or at least delayed its flowering by a generation. The good news is that the Patents Company foundered for a couple of years, then was declared in violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act by a federal court," writes Lasar.
As for William Selig and Selig Polyscope Company, he and the company produced hundreds of early, widely distributed commercial moving pictures, including the first films starring Tom Mix, Harold Lloyd, Colleen Moore, and Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle. The business gradually became a struggling zoo attraction in Los Angeles as it ended film production in 1918.
Denver blogger Brad Weismann notes the connections.
"Selig recruited pioneer Denver still photographer H. H. “Buck” Buckwalter as his cameraman. By 1902, Buckwalter had begun his work for Selig on dozens of short films. He took footage of local sights -- “Arrival on Summit of Pike’s Peak,” “Runaway Stage Coach,” and “Panorama of Denver from Balloon at Elitch’s.” In a promotional stunt, Buckwalter advertised the mild climate by filming Denverites strolling 17th Street in their shirtsleeves one January day in 1905 (after unexpected snow canceled a couple of earlier tries). “Denver in Winter” may rank as one of history’s first filmed commercials," Weismann writes.
"Hot on the heels of the smash success of the first Western, pioneering Edison director Edwin S. Porter’s 1903 “The Great Train Robbery,” Buckwalter photographed Colorado’s first narrative film, a tale of violence and mob retribution -- “Tracked by Bloodhounds; or, A Lynching at Cripple Creek”. The true Western hadn’t arrived out West yet, however. A man would shortly be arriving from Chicago who would change all that -- the creator of the cowboy hero, “Bronco Billy” Anderson.," he says.
"In 1907, the ambitious Anderson went to Selig and convinced him to lend him funds and Selig’s Denver filming crew in order to make authentic Westerns on location, working in the Golden/Morrison area. Displeased with the results, he split with Selig and formed Essanay Studios with George K. Spoor, proprietor of the National Film Renting Company in Chicago. Anderson returned to Denver in the fall of 1909 with money, equipment, and a small company of actors. Here the inventive, resourceful Anderson began rehearsing the ideas and techniques that would culminate in the wildly popular adventures of Bronco Billy."
The Denver Post described the outfit’s activities during the making of “The Heart of a Cowboy” in 1909: “G.M. Anderson ... has been in Denver for six weeks, ‘making pictures’ ... ’Colorado is the finest place in the country for Wild West stuff’ (stated Anderson) ... the company reached Mt. Morrison at 9, where the train was met by a bunch of trained cow ponies and riders under the command of the Morrison brothers themselves.”
The Morrison brothers, Pete, Chick, Carl, and Bob, grandsons of the town of Morrison's founder, George, took to the lucrative pay and the excitement of slapping pictures together, Weisman writes.
Interestingly enough, an unrelated young actor named Marion Morrison, nervous about being overshadowed by the Morrison legacy, decided to use the name John Wayne instead.
Tom Mix went on to make more than 160 cowboy films throughout the 1920s. Mix appeared with the Sells-Floto Circus in 1929, 1930 and 1931 at a reported weekly salary of $20,000. The actor was killed in an auto accident by a large aluminum suitcase, (filled with cash, jewels, and travelers checks) when he wrecked his 1937 Cord 812 Phaeton between Tucson and Phoenix. The heavy suitcase flew forward and shattered his skull and broke his neck when he tried to stop quickly at barriers at a washed out bridge.




 


Sunday, March 17, 2013

It's Okay. I know my way there in the dark.


It is odd that I know my way around there in the dark.
After all these years.
The key turns the lock in the steel door on the side. The ground steeply slopes up to the cinder block building. I can see the old grey tractor behind the incinerator and my dad is unhooking the old GMC wrecker. He will park back by the fence next to it.
Inside, it is a stumble, over to the side wall and the light switch, near the steel plate pedestals used at one time to set the camber and tow for alignments, and there is a six inch rise in the cement there.
I turn on the back light near Dad's bench, because no sense lighting up the rest of town.
I know my way.
I can smell transmission fluid in the ever-present stand near the bench, and his creeper is on its side under it. Then the compressor kicks in Pa. da..da..da... da... with a start. Loud and obnoxious, can barely hear myself think, but it will only run for a minute or so, before the big electric blue-colored tank in the corner is full and compressed again. No impact wrenches running at this time of night.
In the daytime, Fred's would be hammering in the next stall over, and you would hear Herb and the pressure washer running in the grease rack, maybe Tom at the tire machine in the center. Dale calling out from the parts door... and Jack pounding on something in the body shop. That was just for starters...
Or at certain times of the day, most of them would be setting there on the old bus benches they used as couches, by the coffee pot,  eating doughnuts and telling stories. No doughnuts? I would swipe cubed sugar intended for the coffee.
But it's late, 1 or 2 a.m. and quiet, except for the occasional chime of the compressor.
Dad enters through the man door and then rolls the overhead door up about 12 feet with a skyward shove. "Decided to put this inside," and rolls in a wheel out of the back of the pickup he towed in.
"I need to run to the back," I said.
"Turn on some lights," he cautioned.
"I know my way," I answer.
The door back by the compressor is a stiff push open as the closer is set to make sure it quickly closes, and there is an immediate drop off, down the cement ramp, through the room full of stock windshields in wood racks. The light switch, of course, is on the other side of the room, on your way into the body shop. Dark. Spooky, with all those high racks, and the moon shining through the body shop windows and reflecting off the tinted windshields there.
It's Okay, however, because I know my way.
Back into the body shop and the unpainted drywall creates its own light, enough to find the bathroom back near the paint booth. Turn on the light in there, do your business, and then retrace your steps in the dark again.
I head back. By that time, Dad is squeezing out GoJo with the hand-cleaner pump between the two big doors, to wash the grime off from rolling in that wheel.
I can't remember it very well, but he references time at the shop as being divided.
As "before the fire," and after. I think the fire was clear back in 1960s.
The tire machine was pulled out unscathed then, and is appropriately catagorized as a "before" item. Most everything else is "after." He had to buy all new tools for the most part, because, though they looked fine,  they would snap like a stick upon the first hard use.
Years later, maybe about 10 years ago, I went down there, after the building had been converted to another use, and asked the owners if I could wander around some.
It had changed enough, I didn't really recognize much. I imagine the building is still there, still useful in other ways.
Though I'm not as comfortable about knowing where I am headed in there anymore, with the changes of time and space.
But once, a long time ago, even in the dark, it was Okay.
Because, I knew my way.



Sunday, March 10, 2013

Followed around before you get there.



Some people seem to follow you around – before you get there.
Almost everywhere I have ended up, I discover Dr. William Abraham Bell was there before me, a little more than 100 years prior.
Child of Ireland, born to English parents, photographer, physician, best-selling author, businessman, developer and founder of towns in southern Colorado such as Manitou Springs, Durango, and Colorado Springs, Bell showed early and often. And as a major early presence in Woodland Park, Monument, Palmer Lake and Pueblo, he always gave most of the credit to his friend, General William J. Palmer.
"The rapid development of the United States is largely due to the few men of exceptional ability who have opened up the country by various systems of railroads. They may be called empire builders ...
With these General William J. Palmer ranks as the developer of southern Colorado by means of construction of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad and much of Mexico by founding the Mexican National Railway...," Bell told employees of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad at a dinner at Union Station in 1920.
By the time he married Cara Scovell in early1872, William A. Bell could show his new bride, and other guests visiting Colorado, such notable local stops as Palmer's Glen Eyrie, Garden of the Gods, Sacred Springs at Manitou, his sheep farm in Monument and soon-to-be-developed ice operations at Palmer Lake.
Truth be known, Bell, himself, turned out to be a pretty handy sidekick.
"My earliest association with General Palmer dates from the Kansas Pacific Survey of 1867 (later part Union Pacific), an account of which is given in a book of travels called "New Tracks in North America," which I published in England in 1869... On that survey we shared the same tent for many months and over the camp fire we discussed his plans."
It was Bell that carried out many of the details of empire building around Palmer's railroads, including  the non-conventional selection of gauge.
"The question of gauge was the first thing to be determined," wrote Bell of his friend Palmer. "The day after his wedding, on November 8th, 1870, he started for England. I met him in London and there consulted the great engineer Fowler  and General Richard Strachery, R.E., who had introduced narrow gauge railroads into India with the metro gauge. We visited the Fastiniog Railway, a two-foot gauge road in Wales, and we finally adopted a three-foot gauge for the new enterprise."
Rails were ordered and shipped from Wales, 30 pounds to the yard and grading started.
"By August, 1871, the railroad was completed to the new town of Colorado Springs, which had in the meantime been located and laid out on broad lines, but which had but one finished house on the townsite when the railroad reached it," he wrote.
"Early the following year, the track was finished to Pueblo and the Canon City coal fields, hand in hand with the railroad came the opening up and development of the country through which it was to pass."
On one hand there was Gen. Palmer, on the other Dr. William A. Bell – their train always arriving before we do.

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Photo information: Briarhurst, complete with schoolroom, conservatory, cloister and a library with a special alcove to display the oil painting by Thomas Moran "Mount of the Holy Cross." Now, it is a restaurant, and event center. It is reported that Cara Bell and Dr. William Bell encouraged a band Utes to camp on the grounds when visiting Garden of the Gods. Rebuilt, beginning in 1887, after a fire in the winter of 1886.