‘The Wrecker’ premieres at the Lyric Theatre

This is the third of a three part series.

 

Between 1916 and 1919, Richard E. Norman, head of the Norman Film Manufacturing Company, a Chicago-based motion picture studio, traveled throughout the Midwest

“The Wrecker” premiered in Manistee on November 25, 1918 at the Lyric Theatre (formerly located at 415 River Street).

“The Wrecker” premiered in Manistee on November 25, 1918 at the Lyric Theatre (formerly located at 415 River Street).

filming a short feature called “The Wrecker.” Over the course of those three years, Norman used the same script to shoot the film which saw him go town to town filling the cast with local people and real locations.

In October of 1918, Norman had found his way to Manistee where for roughly five days, he filmed the short feature whose plot centered, “…on a love triangle that formed in the midst of a fierce battle between two train companies for a lucrative contract.”

After filming was complete and a print of the movie put together, the short feature was usually shown in each town that it had filmed in. Manistee was no different as one month later, it was announced (in several advertisements and articles published in the Manistee News Advocate) that the finished film was to be shown at the Lyric Theatre (formerly located at 415 River Street) on Nov. 25 and 26, 1918.

On Nov. 23, 1918, the News Advocate published an article touting the upcoming premiere as well as the entire cast of Manistee’s version of “The Wrecker”:

“‘The Wrecker,’ the Manistee movie, will be screened at the Lyric Theatre next Monday and Tuesday, and a most interesting audience will be on hand to see the local Pickfords, Farnums, Arbuckles and others. Many prominent citizens will be seen in the play, the action of which took place within the city limits.

“The cast includes the following: President Dailey of the M.N. & Q. railroad, Frank White; E.N. Armstrong, financial backer of the M.N. & Q., Gus Kitzinger; his secretary, Ben Russky; vice-president of the M.N. & Q., R.W. Smith; division passenger agent, Frank Zielinski; division freight agent, E.H. O’Neil; Bernard Powers, superintendent of the M.N. & Q., Chas. P. Woodward; Mrs. Powers, his wife, Mrs. C.H. Morey; Helen Powers, their daughter, Miss Hester Johnson; Jack Manning, an engineer on the M.N & Q, Gordon McLarty; Jim Hilton, an engineer on the M.N. & Q., Ewald Pfeiffer; board of directors of the M.N. & Q., Harry Aarons, Herman Miller, Geo. Nye, Chas. S. Kressler, John Seymour, H.B. Bradford, J.C. Beukema, Bob Vincent, Alex Hornkohl; traveling passenger agent, Chas. Nungesser; master mechanic, William Nuttall; yard master, William Brown; roundhouse foreman, Herman Below; train dispatcher, Geo. Sharpe; railroad messenger, James Peterson; chief of police, Chief Tom Grady; two brave officers of the law, Officers Ladis Cierpka and Otto Olk; chief of fire department, Chief Wm. Hansen; city firemen, Albert Lang, Edward Grady, Dave Leonard, Jacob Kulka, Alvan Stevens, Louis Larsen, John Scheff; Rev. Knott, Wm. Albertson; best man, Harry Nordhouse; maid of honor, Leonore Firzlaff; bridesmaids, Mildred Golden, Francis Firzlaff, Helen Todt, Louise Ramsdell; Regina Zobel, Josephine Faber, Helen Jones, Lucile Jack, Hilda Anderson, Lucila Grabowski; wedding guests, Mrs. August Johnson, Mrs. Jack Kann, Mrs. J. Duncan, Mrs. M. McLarty, Mrs. C.J. Dovel, Mrs. R.M. Hoffman, Mrs. W.D. Tuxbury, Mrs. E.J. Anderson, Mrs. Sidney Kann, Mrs. Chas. P. Woodward, Mrs. W. Nuttall, Mrs. T. Vincent, Miss M. Noud, Miss H. Seymour, Mrs. Lorzen, Mrs. Haskins, Mrs. Boswell, Mrs. H.C. Wiswell, Mrs. R. Ramsdell, Mrs. Carl Kuehl and others.”

A few days later, it was announced that “The Wrecker” was an unqualified hit at its local premiere with the News Advocate providing the following “commentary” on the film and it’s cast in an article published on Nov. 26, 1918. Portions of the original article follow:

“Manistee turned out in numbers yesterday to see “The Wrecker,” the made-at-home film and three large audiences delighted with the production. The sensation of seeing home people ‘pickfording’ around as easily and naturally as though they had been born to the screen, was wholly agreeable. That the cast was popular was evidenced by the applause which greeted the introduction of each.

“The photoplay is above the average. All the close-ups are clear, and the scenic effects are remarkably good. The various familiar spots around the city are easily recognizable and add greatly to the interest of the film. The parts are all well taken, from lead to wedding guest and the awkwardness of amateurism is decidedly missing.

“Miss Hester Johnson, the daughter and heroine, screened exceedingly well, her work bringing forth much admiring comment. She was natural, winsome and very convincing. Gordon McLarty, the lover was no less natural, and Ewald Pfeiffer, as the villainous rival went through his scenes as though villainy was his life’s occupation. The physical encounter between these two was one of the best bits the play brought out and commanded great applause. The work of the members of the police and fire department was true to life.

“There is plot enough to “The Wrecker” to make it a snappy bit of entertainment, which works to the its natural conclusion in the Congregational Church where W.A. Albertson, as the minister, united in marriage the happy young people. Then they are whirled away amid showers of rice, which is ‘The End.’”

While it was expected that the Lyric would be showing the film four times on Nov. 25 and 26, it only played the first day due to a severe outbreak of the flu. Even though there were several cases of the flu that had come and gone throughout the summer and early fall months of 1918, the disease was a full outbreak by the late fall with several people, including children, passing away.

It was stated in the News Advocate by Mayor Kieft that because the disease was “raging in our community, and new cases are being reported in large numbers each day, that all public meetings, schools, churches, pool-rooms, theatres and dance halls, should be closed until further notice.”

With the ban closing down the Lyric, it was announced that “The Wrecker” would be shown again sometime in the future. Thus, by the middle of December the ban (lasting roughly four weeks) was lifted due to the faltering of the flu in and around town.

On Dec. 26, 1918, an advertisement for the Lyric was published in the News Advocate that touted the return, or continuance, of showings for “The Wrecker” would take place on Dec. 30 and 31 with one performance in afternoon and evening.

It is presumed that after Dec. 31, 1918, “The Wrecker” was never shown again in Manistee in a public forum. While a copy of the film (it was reported that Norman filmed over 40 versions of it) was supposedly given to each city it filmed in as well as several of the main cast members, no copies of it are known to exist today.

Norman eventually moved back to his home state of Florida and went on to film many other films including several with all African-American casts. Today, a museum complex housed in Jacksonville, Florida pays heed to Richard Norman, his works and silent films in general including “The Wrecker”.

“Sadly we have no footage of any of the forty Wrecker films he made…time is not kind to nitrate film,” said Rita Regan via email. Regan is a founding member and Development Officer of Norman Studios Silent Film Museum, Inc.

“When Antiques Roadshow came to do a segment of Roadshow’s Most Wanted, we had hoped we would hear from some of the cities (where Norman had filmed). The only lead we got was about a salt mine storage of film in Hutchinson, Kansas,” continued Regan.

“We are hoping there might be something there… hope springs eternal.”

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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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