“The Wrecker” wraps filming in Manistee

In October of 1918, the Norman Film Manufacturing Company, a Chicago-based motion picture studio, filmed a short feature film in Manistee called “The Wrecker”.

Artwork depicting scenes from “The Wrecker” were published in advertisements for the film in the Manistee News Advocate.

Artwork depicting scenes from “The Wrecker” were published in advertisements for the film in the Manistee News Advocate.

For roughly three years, the head of the small studio as well as the writer/director of the feature, Richard Norman, went throughout the midwest filming “The Wrecker” and filling the cast with local people and real locations.

After filming was complete and a print of the movie put together, the short feature was shown in each town that it had filmed in. In addition, a copy of the movie was given to the city as well as to a handful of the people who had played roles in the film. However, no copies of “The Wrecker” have survived the intervening 100 years.

According to the website for Norman Studios, a building complex devoted to silent films, the plot of “The Wrecker”, “…centered on a love triangle that formed in the midst of a fierce battle between two train companies for a lucrative mail contract.”

After Norman’s arrival in Manistee, several Manistee residents tried out for and won “starring” roles in the feature film. With the cast filled out with supporting roles and extras, the film began shooting in Manistee on October 20, 1918 and continued for the next several days.

An article published in the Manistee News Advocate on October 23, 1923 informed the general public about the scenes that had been filmed the previous day including a pivotal scene that took place inside the Knights of Pythias Hall (previously located on the third floor of the Manistee County Savings Bank building) with several extras appearing as “directors” of the fictitious railroad:

“Cinemaples is the name of a new malady that has broken out in our midst. No, it is not kin to the Spanish Flu, but is a perfectly harmless disease that manifests itself by very odd actions sometimes.

“If you see Frank W. White losing his dignity, a la Francis X. Bushwacker, or witness the beautiful heroine being whisked away by the bold, bad bandits, here’s the explanation.

“‘The Wrecker’ is the name of a film being staged here by an all local cast. It concerns a lot of things, including a train-wreck, pistol battle, fire and an automobile smashup in which some of the characters are badly mussed up.

“Yesterday afternoon one of the big scenes in the movie was staged at the K. of P. Hall which showed the board of directors of the railroad movie in session. Many of our businessmen and city officials posed for this scene and put real “pep” into it when a telegram arrived from Gus Kitzinger telling them to tie up all rolling stock on the division to win the mail race. The directors severely reprimanded him for his high handed orders and promptly tabled his telegram.

“Frank W. White played the railroad president in the manner born, while R.W. Smith portrayed the part of the vice-president. The directors were enacted by Harry Aarons, E.H. O’Neil, Herman Miller, George Nye, Frank Zielinski, Chas. S. Kressler, John Seymour, H.D. Bradford, J. Beukema, Bob Vincent, and Alex Hornkohl.”

Another scene was filmed at the train yards for the Manistee and Northeastern Railroad that same day with the News Advocate describing it as such:

“Two men engines were used again yesterday at the M. & N.E. yards in staging the final railroad scenes for the film and some of the railroad men assisted in taking part in the scenes. William Nuttall is playing the part of the master mechanic and Herman Below the part of the round house foreman. William Brown is the yard master George Sharp, an engineer and James Peterson a train dispatcher.”

The next day Norman wrapped up photography and left Manistee presumably for another town in Michigan where he would once again film another version of “The Wrecker” (altogether he filmed over 40 versions). On the film crew leaving town, the News Advocate noted:

“Now that the amateur movie stars have finished their posing for the local thriller that is to be released as soon as the influenza ban is lifted, the epidemic of “cinemaples” which has gripped the city may be expected to abate. Such relief will be appreciated in some quarters at that.”

A lot happened in the world and the country during the next several weeks of 1918. On November 11, 1918, Germany signed an armistice with the Allies, ending The Great War. However, amidst all of the rejoicing was the “dark cloud” of the Spanish flu epidemic that not only spread throughout the entire country but was also getting much worse on a local level.

Regardless, a few weeks after the filming of “The Wrecker” was completed, advertisements began being published in News Advocate featuring stills from the movie and touting the film’s hometown premiere at the Lyric Theatre (formerly located at 415 River St.) which was slated for Monday, November 25 and Tuesday, November 26.

It was stated that there would be two matinees each of these days (2 p.m. and 4 p.m.) and two evening shows (7 p.m. and 9 p.m.). The cost to see the movie for the matinee would be 5 cents for children and 25 cents for adults with war tax included in the cost of the ticket. For evening shows, the children’s price went up to 10 cents with the adult price staying the same.

On November 21, 1918 a large advertisement showing off the poster for the film was published in the News Advocate. Along with some artwork showing off scenes from the film, the advertisement read:

“The greatest home talent picture ever produced. Made right here in Manistee, featuring a galaxy of local stars.

“See beautiful Hester Johnson, Mrs. C.H. Morey, Gordon McLarty, Ewald Pfeiffer, Chas P. Woodward, Gus Kitzinger, Frank Zielinski, R.W. Smith, E.H. O’Neil, Frank White, Ben. Russky, Harry Aarons, Herman Miller, Geo. Nye, Chas. S. Kressler, John Seymour, H.D. Bradford, J. Beukema, Bob Vincent, Alex Hornkohl, Chas. Nungesser, Wm. Nuttall, Chief Tom Grady, Chief Wm. Hansen, Wm. Albertson and hundreds of local stars.:

“SEE: The sensational head-on collision, The train wreck, the bloody fist fight, The daring rescue from the burning auto, The thrilling mail race, The great pistol duel between the villain and detectives.”

Next week we will take a closer look at the excitement that surrounded the film’s local debut, the events surrounding the part cancellation of the full two-day premiere, and the eventual disappearance of the film.

 

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Posted by Mark Fedder

Mark Fedder is the executive director of the Manistee County Historical Musuem. He can be reached at (231) 723-5531 ormanisteemuseum@yahoo.com.

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