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of Highbrow Film Culture
Cinema Journal, 44, Number 2, Winter 2005, pp. 3-33 (Article)
Published by University of Texas Press DOI: 10.1353/cj.2005.0009
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“Made for the Masses with an Appeal to the Classes”: The Triangle Film Corporation and the Failure of Highbrow Film Culture
by Rob King
Abstract: Genteel culture failed to provide an effective model for the development of the early American film industry. The history of the Triangle Film Corporation exemplifies the conflict between highbrow ideals and commercial necessity and shows how consumer values transformed the aesthetic and ethical standards of the genteel middle class.
In a 1914 edition of Moving Picture World, Harry E. Aitken, then president of the Mutual Film Corporation, offered a Darwinian vision of the future of the film industry. “It must be a survival of the fittest,” Aitken asserted.1
Those manufacturers who were never fitted for the industry will lose what money they have invested in it and will fall back naturally into the various businesses from which they came. The result will be fewer manufacturers and each making fewer pictures but better ones. . . . It will mean fewer theaters and better ones, fewer patrons at better prices and a general uplifting of the standards.2
What Aitken envisioned was nothing less than a reorientation of the film industry on the basis of, as he saw it, “quality” as opposed to “quantity.” At issue was not simply the nature of the industry’s output but its entire organizational structure. “The needs of this business,” he wrote, “are better pictures, consequently fewer pictures, and, as a logical result of this, better patronized houses.”3 The changes Aitken envisioned were indeed far-reaching and testify to an important crossroads in the industry’s history. By the mid-teens, producers, distributors, and exhibitors found themselves on the threshold of a key transitional period in which an ever-rising number of multiple-reel (“feature”) films were competing in a market still oriented primarily around one- and two-reel subjects. Addressing these changes, Aitken placed the multiple-reel film at the heart of his evolutionary vision: “The fittest,” he asserted, “is the latest to develop,” and the latest to develop, as Aitken saw it, was the “plural reel subject.”4 To be sure, the emergence of the feature film had opened up significant opportunities for enterprising filmmakers who, like Aitken, were eager to rid their industry of its disreputable association with immigrant and working-class audiences. From
Rob King is an assistant professor in the Program in Film and Video Studies at the University of Michigan, where he teaches film theory and American film comedy. He is working on a book on the Keystone Film Company. © 2005 by the University of Texas Press, P.O. Box 7819, Austin, TX 78713-7819
Cinema Journal 44, No. 2, Winter 2005
about 1909 onward, entrepreneurial film producers had exploited the longer format to adapt literary and dramatic works of “cultivated” appeal; and from as early as 1912, major theatrical interests had become involved in feature-length productions. Aitken himself equated multiple-reel films with “the theatrical successes [of] today” and spoke approvingly of their benefits to “the discriminating and appreciative playgoing public.”5 Astute observers would have seen in Aitken’s vision a stark dramatization of key concerns facing industry leaders during this period: Could film be made to appeal to the middle and upper-middle classes? Would the multiple-reel feature provide the cornerstone of that appeal? Finally, could a “night at the movies” become equivalent to a “night at the theater” for audiences conversant with highbrow culture? At the time of the World article, Aitken was already committed to answering such questions in the affirmative. He spent much of late 1914 working as producer on D. W. Griffith’s twelve-reel The Birth of a Nation, a landmark in the industry’s cultivation of a middle-class audience. Doubtless encouraged by Birth’s enormous critical and commercial success, Aitken soon undertook an even more ambitious project, the Triangle Film Corporation. A production, distribution, and exhibition concern, Triangle was incorporated by Aitken in July 1915 with the intent of realizing his Darwinian vision of the industry’s future. Capitalized at $5 million by the Wall Street investment firm Smithers and Company, Aitken’s new project brought together the production companies and personnel that had sided with him when he was ousted as president of the Mutual Film Corporation in June 1915. Aitken, it would appear, had anticipated that turn of events, since, earlier in the month, he had persuaded Adam Kessel and Charles Baumann, owners of the Mutual-affiliated New York Motion Picture Company, to join him in leaving Mutual to form a new organization.6 In essence, the Triangle Film Corporation represented a merger between the two parties’ assets: on the one hand, Aitken’s own Majestic Motion Picture Company, where Griffith had been employed as director and supervisor since 1913; on the other, the New York Motion Picture organization, a holding company for both Thomas Ince’s Kay-Bee studios and Mack Sennett’s Keystone Film Company. Bringing together Griffith, Ince, and Sennett in a single company, Triangle was founded with the goal of exploiting the multiple-reel format for “better” audiences. Early publicity announcements situated Triangle’s product within established canons of genteel culture, claiming the corporation’s goal to be nothing short of “the reflowering of the storytelling art—a renaissance as remarkable as that of the Elizabethan era or of the literary era of the Grand Monarch in France.”7 According to the initial plan, every week Triangle would release one five-reel feature supervised by Griffith and one supervised by Ince; each feature would be accompanied by a two-reel comedy from the Keystone studios. In a pioneering example of the vertical integration of a major film company, the pictures would be distributed by Triangle’s own film exchanges, playing first at a small number of exclusive Triangle-run “model theatres” before being made available to independent exhibitors contracted with the company. For the model theaters, Triangle
Cinema Journal 44, No. 2, Winter 2005
Winter 2005 5 . “[Aitken’s] new scheme is the last thought and the biggest improvement the Motion Picture Industry has ever known. and Richard Koszarski refers to Triangle’s “bold attempt at vertical integration” as predating Paramount’s more successful moves in this direction in 1916. already caught the attention of film scholars and historians. this article approaches the history of Triangle as a striking case study for investigating the intersection of Cinema Journal 44. from Motion Picture News. September 4. 2. Janet Wasko cites Triangle as one of the first film companies financed by Wall Street investment bankers.10 Rather than simply enumerating Aitken’s innovations.8 “Believe me. would secure a handful of prestigious locations in major metropolitan centers. Early publicity for the Triangle Film Corporation. 1915. No.” Charles Baumann wrote in a 1915 letter to Mack Sennett. charging prohibitively expensive ticket prices of up to $2.”9 Some of those “improvements” have.Figure 1. in fact.
having failed to attract audiences of any class. As Triangle’s vice president Adam Kessel declared. who argues for a top-down model of historical process in which cultural hierarchy and class difference reinforce one another as tools of social control. however. 2. exhibits at the Boston Museum. Any attempt to understand the strategies the film industry employed to attract the “classes” first requires considering the relationship between cultural practices and class hierarchy in turn-of-the-century America. “They will be made for the masses with an appeal to the classes. creating prestigious and exclusive cultural institutions—such as art museums and opera houses—that contrasted markedly from venues catering to the masses. Levine observes. while “high art” was not as yet insulated from more popular forms and genres. Immigrant and working-class ghettos burgeoned in the wake of the “new immigration” from southern and eastern Europe. cross-class audience. By differentiating between “highbrow” and “lowbrow” cultural practices. and Sennett—had jumped ship and signed with Paramount. founded in the 1840s. From the outset. all three sides of the Triangle—Griffith.and lower-middle-class patrons. Bourgeois 6 Cinema Journal 44. [but] will also be suitable to play in houses catering to the masses. . America’s genteel middle class sought to impose distinctions between high and low cultural forms. By the turn of the century. the highbrow cultural practices of America’s genteel elite failed to provide the formula for a successful cinema of mass appeal. freely mixed fine art with sideshow ephemera and circus oddities. Ince. if anything.” In sum.12 As late as the first half of the nineteenth century. One of the most influential accounts of that relationship is offered by Lawrence Levine. Winter 2005 . American opera houses were centers of entertainment where popular songs were freely interposed as replacements for certain arias. Triangle found itself tottering on the brink of financial ruin.“high” and “mass” culture during the early development of the film industry.”11 Aitken’s goal for Triangle was clear: to produce motion pictures that articulated exclusive. By mid-1917. But why? And what. the dominant classes sought to preserve social and cultural order during a period of extraordinary demographic change. No. Less than a year after its birth. A process of “sacralization” took place. Despite Aitken’s best hopes. “highbrow” cultural values and yet to appeal to a broad. distinctions between “high” and “low” culture were not yet firmly in place. does Triangle’s precipitous demise suggest about the fate of genteel culture as reflected in the film industry in the second decade of the twentieth century? “The Exterior Appearance of Being Prosperous”: Highbrow Culture and Conspicuous Display. endowing aesthetic works with quasi-spiritual status while actively denigrating the tastes and practices of the lower orders. a potent signal of the failure of Aitken’s vision. Triangle sought to develop strategies of production and exhibition that would appeal to the elitist tastes of America’s genteel middle class without sacrificing the existing audience of working. . however. “The pictures will be high class enough to play in two-dollar houses . Art forms such as Shakespearean drama and opera appealed to audiences both popular and elite. Fear-mongering reports warned native-born Anglo-Saxon Americans that they were committing “race suicide” by failing to reproduce in sufficient numbers.
and respectability were pursued through extravagant expenditure and display. publicly displayed. as historian Lewis Erenberg notes. and lobster palaces of the early teens offered occasions for conspicuous spending wherein the social formalism of the Victorian era ceded before the newly expressive culture of the upper middle class. “would cover the production of two or three pieces mounted with a simplicity and a strict adherence to the requirements of the text. offering the members of the social elite a conspicuous. No. Nor was the taste for conspicuous display limited to those who could most easily afford it. comfort. “The sum .”16 The development of highbrow cultural practices was. part of a broader reorientation toward spending and display as badges of social and cultural status. the Pullman strikes of 1894.fears of foreign-bred radicalism grew apace. highly visible means of asserting membership in a select and exclusive society.” creating exclusive institutions of high art from which they sought both to reform immigrant and working-class culture and to insulate “pure culture” from the people. Within this context of upheaval and anxiety. and the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901. It was this latter aspect that Thorstein Veblen captured in his famous notion of “conspicuous consumption. expended in the production of one play of Shakespeare on the current over-elaborate scale. The opening of New York’s Waldorf Hotel in 1893 and the consequent growth of elegant public restaurants along Broadway helped to attract America’s monied classes to a “society” lifestyle in which. culture. .” noted one commentator in 1900. A new society of consumers was being born in which wealth Cinema Journal 44. Economic studies of changing patterns of middle-class consumption pointed to the emergence of a new middle class of clerical workers and small urban families who valued spending.” as formulated in The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899). Arguing for the role of “conspicuous leisure” as a means of displaying social respectability. but it also functioned outwardly. and display as pathways to respectability and refinement. nightclubs. 2. Because of rising inflation.”14 At the turn of the century.15 Theatrical producers.”17 The cabarets.” the fetishizing of blatant cash investment as a criterion of merit. institutions of high culture served as sites of conspicuous leisure at which monied patrons could demonstrate their participation in a privileged world of wealth and opulence. . the dominant classes attempted to map out what Sumiko Higashi terms a “cordon sanitaire for their own forms of conspicuous leisure. relied heavily on profligate production values and expensive stage spectacles to attract genteel patrons to their shows. many members of the middle class had turned their backs on the Victorian ethic of parsimonious self-denial and embraced a new standard of living in which status. for example. A necessary corollary to this was what Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno later termed “conspicuous production.13 Levine’s account may be faulted for overemphasizing the inward-looking aspects of this phenomenon. Veblen observed that the cultural choices of America’s dominant classes served primarily as “methods of putting one’s pecuniary standing in evidence. crystallizing in the ferocious nativism with which the middle class responded to such events as the Haymarket riot of 1886. Highbrow culture may well have been an essentially insular ideal. in fact. “the old standards gave way to the power of money. Winter 2005 7 .
Roy. ultimately rests is pecuniary strength.21 Despite an upbringing that had emphasized thrift. are leisure and a conspicuous consumption of goods. Sarah Jane Hadfield. . Irvin Cobb. a real estate business. Wisconsin. As Veblen observed. Daniel Frohman. and so of gaining or retaining a good name.” noted Harry’s brother. In a 1914 letter to Griffith—then director and production supervisor for the Majestic label—Aitken vividly expressed his enthusiasm for the society lifestyle: I am having a great time showing your film [probably The Escape] in my apartment to Mr. in a letter describing his decision to enter the film industry. a store. Combining regular schooling with daily farm duties. Harry identified the values of thrift. etc. “The basis on which good repute . After a brief spell in insurance sales. a factory. and his English mother. Born in 1877 in Waukesha.and showiness were inextricably linked to status. would sing favorite hymns and popular songs around his mother’s piano. one of the leading distributors for the growing number of producers working outside the control of the Motion Picture Patents Company.20 Whatever their motivations. opening their first theater in Chicago in 1905. the Aitkens’ Anglo-Saxon heritage enabled them to partake in the society life of New York’s wealthy elite. . a pianist at the local church. and enterprise as crucial elements of his paternal inheritance: “I considered Grandfather John Aitken and how he and his father got the money to pay for the farm. where he and his brother. Mary Wilson Preston. I then discovered that every Aitken relative going from the farm started enterprises. editors and society people. “Of course. such as a blacksmith shop.or second-generation immigrants prevented acceptance within the upper social strata. The Aitkens’ respectable middle-class background had at least one important consequence for their careers in America’s nascent film industry. Aitken attended Waukesha’s Carroll College. Years later. which I am sure will be a great boost to you. 2. Otto Kahn. despite its undesirable association with recent immigrants. Harry and his brother embarked on careers as nickelodeon exhibitors. Winter 2005 . productive labor.”19 While their grandfather’s entrepreneurial spirit was undoubtedly a strong influence. a Presbyterian institution that was Wisconsin’s oldest center of learning. Roy. “[Harry and I] 8 Cinema Journal 44. No. and the means of showing pecuniary strength. the Aitkens soon recognized the value of conspicuous display as a strategy for gaining entry into the upper social register. southern and eastern European Jews in particular. no one could have predicted the directions it would drive the Aitken brothers.”18 Aitken’s career and his plans for Triangle were profoundly shaped by the changing climate of turn-of-the-century middle-class culture. Evenings would be spent at the farmhouse. This method of presenting them is getting a kind of recognition. Aitken was raised on the farm of his Scots-English father. Elvin Aitken. Biographers have suggested that it was Roy’s fondness for popular entertainment that led the Aitkens into the motion picture business. the brothers found tremendous success in their chosen enterprise and by 1912 Harry had formed the Mutual Film Corporation. Whereas many of the early motion picture moguls found that their status as first. They worked hard and practiced thrift.
Aitken consistently encouraged his three producers to spend more money than was required to bring costs up to the standard he considered desirable. Winter 2005 9 . . c. maintained our rather luxurious apartment on West Fifty-seventh Street and our English butler and his wife. Matt Hosely. he and his brother “deliberately spent more money . The exterior appearance of being prosperous—even though we were not—was very important in our business. our chauffeur. Sennett now received flat payments of $20.” As Roy Aitken frankly admitted.Figure 2. was also on our payroll. For the launching of Triangle.000 in production expenses. . Harry Aitken understood the significance of money in an era when conspicuous display was a badge of status. 2. Harry Aitken. “lavish expenditure is the surest economy. an editorial set the tone for the organization’s attitude toward spending. Aitken was willing to pour even more exorbitant amounts into Ince’s and Cinema Journal 44.” the article proclaimed. In the debut issue of The Triangle. the company’s journal for exhibitors.23 Nor was this simply a matter of publicity: during his tenure at Triangle. 1914.000 for each of his studio’s Triangle releases. . Courtesy Library of Congress. Aitken declared “no limit on the sums that might be needed to produce perfect pictures. than prudence dictated—all for a necessary effect on others. .”22 In short.” Publicity for the new organization cultivated an image of extravagant expenditure designed to seduce genteel folk accustomed to equating cost with quality. Whereas a tworeel comedy had previously cost Keystone only about $7. No. .
a four-reel Keystone special. nonetheless. like existing institutions of high culture. the Studebaker in Chicago. the theater was remodeled into a lavish movie house featuring a thirty-piece orchestra. special effects. and William Randolph Hearst. peaking at $58. and a troupe of female ushers sporting triangular hats and triangle-embossed lace pantalettes. directed by Sennett himself.24 But Aitken’s attempt to lure the “classes” involved more than simply raising production expenses. and the Chestnut Street Opera House in Philadelphia. “You can take your seat with the assurance that the adjoining one will be occupied by an equally rich. and characterizations. but such a price had never before been implemented for regular release programs and was announced to the astonishment of many industry commentators. elegant. Subleased by Triangle for $80. critics who had been promised a “reflowering of the storytelling art” found instead what one reviewer described as simply “good average stories. Ignace Paderewski. most reviews sounded a quiet note of dissatisfaction. while commentary on the event in newspapers and the trade press was by and large enthusiastic. Winter 2005 . By creating a small chain of model theaters. in a gala event that brought together industry leaders and a sample of New York’s Brahmin class. that paired popular musical comedy star Raymond Hitchcock with Mabel Normand. Triangle presented to the crowded auditorium Douglas Fairbanks’s debut film performance in the Griffith-supervised The Lamb. all of which had formerly been high-class playhouses. Over the course of the program. only three were eventually acquired: the Knickerbocker on Broadway and 38th Street in New York. Although the initial plan was to open eight to ten model theaters. 2. Ince’s The Iron Strain.Griffith’s features. Count Gianni Bettini. Aitken sought to establish venues for film exhibition that.000 a year. and My Valet. noted the New York Times. the first Triangle releases debuted at the Knickerbocker on September 23. The average sum spent on Triangle’s five-reel productions (about $20.976 for Ince’s Peggy (1916) at a time when other companies rarely spent more than $30. director of the Metropolitan Opera House. and aristocratic person. to be sure!”26 After a number of postponements. the Knickerbocker had from 1911 provided a home for the stage productions of the Charles Frohman Company. to evidences of a high order of photography. 1915. Few denied Triangle’s groundbreaking success in establishing a venue for exhibition that appealed to genteel tastes.000 on features.”29 Each of the films. Aitken hoped to make these theaters exclusive cultural institutions that “the very best people” would use “as a rendezvous.000) was more than twice the costs of its competitors.”28 Yet. . “And what a comfort that will be. “is 10 Cinema Journal 44. furnishings that prominently displayed the Triangle trademark.” quipped the New York Times.”25 Aitken had introduced a $2 admission once before for the road-show presentation of Birth of a Nation. Marquis Serra. featuring theatrical star Dustin Farnum. would provide well-to-do patrons with an occasion to promenade their wealth. with admission set at $2. After a rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner. . Under the lease of theatrical magnates Marc Klaw and Abraham Erlanger. No. the audience “gave frequent applause .27 In attendance were such representatives of the New York and European elite as Otto H. By charging $2 per ticket. Kahn.
In an early announcement of the formation of Triangle. and Sir Herbert Beerbohm-Tree. Billie Burke.000 mark. a British Shakespearean actor Variety described as “the most artistic producer of legitimate plays of the present day. Hale Hamilton. Hale Hamilton. During much of its first year. had risen to fame in the title role in George M.000. were reserved for two stage actors hired to work at Griffith’s studio (renamed Fine Arts under Triangle).500 for the services of approximately sixty of the nation’s top stage players. and Raymond Hitchcock. Cohan’s Get Rich Quick Wallingford and had most recently starred in A Pair of Aces at Broadway’s Long Acre Theater. For these productions we have already engaged some of the most famous theatrical stars. 2. nightclubs. and H. drawing in particular on the cultural authority of the theater as entertainment for respectable middle-class audiences. including Bessie Barriscale. for example.000 for thirty weeks’ work. however. Winter 2005 11 . Frank Keenan.”31 Nowhere was Aitken’s predilection for extravagance more visible than in his decision to hire theatrical stars at salaries far in excess of those enjoyed by screen stars of the period. signed a three-year exclusive contract with Keystone in June 1915 for more than $600.34 The most successful comic duo of the vaudeville and musical comedy stage. Adam Kessel sketched out the company’s intentions for its films: “The Ince and Griffiths [sic] pictures will be picturizations of the better plays and novels. when they are of high standard. DeWolf Hopper. Any one who went to the Knickerbocker last evening looking for that must have come away disappointed. they nevertheless ranked among the luminaries of the musical comedies.000 and $2. was signed for a yearly salary of $125. Eddie Foy (and his seven children). and original plots. it had also created exclusive emporia for the public rituals of the wealthy.32 The highest sums. America’s leading exponent of Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera. Triangle unblinkingly offered figures ranging between $1. no one of them reveals anything amazing or unprecedented in the development of this now hugely popular form of entertainment.” received an undisclosed amount in excess of $100. No. Aitken invested heavily in such musical comedy stars and cabaret headliners as Willie Collier. Warner.000.”30 Triangle had created a corporate image that embodied genteel propensities for lavish expenditure. While none of these stage comedians can really be described as exponents of highbrow culture. and are signing up more. B.an example of nicely accomplished motion picture photography. Joe Weber and Lew Fields. describing the debut program as “less of art and more of copy than one wishes to see. “A Basis of High Specialization and Intelligent Appeal”: Cultural Legitimacy and the Stage-Star Experiment.35 Aitken was banking very heavily indeed on the exploitation of theatrical actors as drawing cards for “better” audiences: by signing established stage stars onto its Cinema Journal 44. Triangle exploited highbrow cultural traditions to legitimate its films for genteel consumers.” The critic for the Chicago Tribune reflected the consensus opinion.33 For Keystone. and revues that were transforming Broadway into the mecca of middle-class nightlife. At a time when stars’ weekly salaries had only recently broken the $1. What was clearly still required was a product that could match up to the moral and aesthetic standards that the middle class expected.
Moving Picture World astutely pointed to the connection between Keenan’s performance 12 Cinema Journal 44. . on the down side. but. Whereas contemporary trends in screen acting favored more naturalistic performances. of course. Events in the film industry had moved more quickly than Aitken realized. by this time. . Griffith noted approvingly. Johnson culminated his critique with a reference to “that delightful gentleman. In his 1916 review of the year’s film performances. the well-deserved reputation of a great name in old line theatricals”. and footlight veteran—also that celluloid lemon and shadow ruin—DeWolf Hopper. “brings to the studio . the most notable being Adolph Zukor’s Famous Players Film Company. 2.”38 Much of the most hostile commentary on the stage-star policy seems to have been expressly reserved for Aitken’s most prestigious theatrical signings. Triangle would guarantee—or so the theory went—that its product appealed to genteel theatergoers. scripts. that reputation could carry cumbersome baggage in the form of “an enormous amount of . Winter 2005 . . Movie-fan culture had. several Triangle stage actors reverted to the declamatory gestures characteristic of older.36 Yet. No. “high-style” traditions of theatrical acting. . in which a burgeoning fan culture had given rise to the movie star as a key attraction for film audiences. such a policy ran counter to developments in the film industry. Griffith expressed ambivalence about Triangle’s policy: “It is an interesting question whether ‘legitimate’ stars or the so-called ‘stock stars’ of film organizations will prove the more serviceable in making the highest quality of pictures. In filming Keenan’s hyperbolic. director Reginald Barker resorted to a regressive theatrical style dominated by static long shots. developed sufficient coherence to resist such straightforwardly hegemonic bids for cultural “respectability. an approach that contrasts sharply with other Ince productions of the period. Frank Keenan’s mannered acting in the Ince-produced The Coward (1915) is a notable case in point. Let us forbear. characters and ‘business.’”37 Confirming Griffith’s suspicions. Zukor’s company had presented the public with a string of multiple-reel films featuring stage actors such as Minnie Maddern Fiske and James Hackett. and by the midteens even Zukor had largely abandoned his reliance on stage stars. tableau-like performance. one that both raised Triangle’s overhead to unprecedented levels and disregarded the tastes of the industry’s existing fan base. 1916) proved to be a critical and box-office flop.” To take only the most notable example. Founded in 1912 specifically to showcase established theatrical talent in their most celebrated roles. sixty-two-year-old Beerbohm-Tree completed only two pictures for Triangle after his much-publicized debut in a Fine Arts production of Macbeth (John Emerson. Julian Johnson of Photoplay offered a particularly merciless assessment: after citing Billie Burke and Beerbohm-Tree as notable screen failures. significant precedents for such a strategy. Acknowledging these shifts.”39 Part of the problem lay in the difficulties Triangle’s producers encountered in harmonizing the performances of the stage stars with existing filmmaking practice. by late 1915.talent roster. Aitken’s stage-star experiment proved a massive failure. There were. A reviewer for Variety bluntly addressed the problem: “It is doubtful if the regular film patrons will care to witness the production. grand curtain-speaker.” The legitimate star.
Weber and Fields.and the film’s sluggish narrative: “[The film’s] principal fault is that many of the scenes are overplayed. Cinema Journal 44.41 The stage stars are.”44 In mounting his elaborate stage-star policy. . In Moving Picture World. Aitken had misjudged the interests of the industry’s existing audience. the stage stars are kept at the periphery of the main action. and Weber and Fields) as they rehearse comic routines for forthcoming releases.” the writer asked.43 By November 1916. in effect. one Photoplay reporter viewed the fate of the stage-star experiment as an indication of the difficulties facing any company that sought to produce films of highbrow appeal. heralded as the invincible directoral [sic] combination. 2. Richard Jones. Foy was said to have walked off the lot when asked to submit to the indignity of having a pie thrown in his face. “In the future. Having already lost “Captain Kidd’s treasure” through the stage-star experiment. As ‘Her Painted Hero. “This mighty organization. critic Louis Reeves Harrison pinpointed the filmmakers’ failure to incorporate Hamilton’s performance: “[Hamilton] is given a minor role of no importance and no visible characterization. or will the essentially competitive struggle be continued on a basis of intelligent appeal and high specialization?” Triangle’s accelerating financial troubles suggested a pessimistic answer. and had overestimated the extent to which genteel tradition could be translated into commercially profitable cinema. Winter 2005 13 . featured as special attractions but with no significant role in the narrative. This basic premise gives rise to a series of disconnected vignettes in which Arbuckle spies on some of Keystone’s recently signed stage comedians (Sam Bernard. 1915) likewise does little to integrate Hale Hamilton’s performance with the narrative. their performances contribute little or nothing to the development of the story. “will picture plays be turned out as abundantly and as thoughtlessly as tin cans.” a reporter wryly observed. Willie Collier. Triangle’s coffers were further depleted by payments for canceled contracts. simply a chance to show himself now and then. . the film follows the exploits of a lovelorn studio janitor (Roscoe Arbuckle) as he comically goes about his chores. 1915). Set on the Keystone lot and featuring Mack Sennett in a cameo as himself. a wittily self-reflexive film evidently designed as a promotional showcase for the studio’s recent signings. who flatly refused to participate in the roughhouse antics for which Keystone was best known. Her Painted Hero (F. An extreme example can be found in Fatty and the Broadway Stars (Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. “He couldn’t see art in a custard pie.”40 Filmmakers at Keystone experienced particular difficulties as they struggled to find a comic form capable of showcasing the specialties of the Broadway comedians without detracting from the studio’s trademark slapstick. Joe Jackson. In a widely circulated rumor. causing the action to drag at times where there should be more snap.”42 These problems of stylistic cohesion climaxed in the case of Eddie Foy. No. . In several Keystone films. bracketed as elements of spectacle within the framing action.’ he is not featured—he is merely injected. He is merely the distantly idolized object of Polly Moran’s star-struck affections. has made great programme material—and has lost the equivalent of Captain Kidd’s treasure while doing it.
”48 Instead of dispensing cultural uplift to the masses. such as Louise Glaum. Commercial considerations had outmatched the authority of highbrow culture. and Norma Talmadge. 14 Cinema Journal 44. demanded $20. No. for example. Winter 2005 . In this way. William S. Hart. banking on the success of performers who had already met with the masses’ approval. Courtesy Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. in effect. Triangle looked to its regular roster of screen performers for actors who could be exploited as potential drawing cards.000 to terminate their contract with Keystone.Figure 3. patrons could “get to know the stars and their individual idiosyncrasies” and “take a sort of friendly interest in them. Beerbohm-Tree was forced out of the organization by being told that his next film appearance would be in blackface. The stage-star experiment constituted Triangle’s most coherent attempt to forge intertextual associations with the cultural practices of the genteel middle class. Frank Keenan (right) and Charles Ray in The Coward (1915). the company’s management had distanced itself from its policy of trumpeting prestigious stage performers and was instead advising exhibitors to exploit Triangle’s established screen stars.45 According to a gossip item in Photoplay. By mid1916. but economic necessity forced Aitken to fall back on his screen stars’ broad appeal. Triangle was now.”47 Exhibitors were instructed to “make your people realize the fact that Triangle stars are appearing at your theatre regularly and can be seen there on certain nights every week.46 As the stage stars rapidly departed. 2.
only just beginning to overcome their ambivalence toward motion pictures. would appeal to the cultural exclusivity of the genteel classes while simultaneously disseminating high culture to the masses. Although receipts from the theater had exceeded a healthy $3. but the best seats will be fifty and twenty-five—mostly twenty-five. “Prices. “Roxy” Rothapfel from the Mark Brothers’ Strand to manage the theater on a more profitable basis. they had not yet embraced regular moviegoing to the extent the model theaters required.” promoting “better understanding between artificially created classes of people. a complex process of negotiation and distortion occurs: “Popular culture is one of those sites where this struggle for and against a culture of the powerful is engaged: it is also the stake to be won or lost in that struggle. This two-tier system. Rothapfel announced that he was taking hold of the Knickerbocker at the “earnest request of the Triangle people.” Popular culture. In a statement issued to Motion Picture News. The “classes” were.51 Triangle’s flagship houses quickly floundered as their target audience failed to appear in adequate numbers. No.”54 While this price scale was still sufficiently high to Cinema Journal 44. at this time.”53 Rothapfel’s strategies vividly illustrate the conflict between Aitken’s vision of exclusivity and the commercial need to turn a profit. however. L. It is the arena of consent and resistance. Hall suggests. Aitken grossly overestimated the genteel classes’ enthusiasm for movies. there was sufficient solidarity among movie audiences to resist Aitken’s overt attempt to bring the film industry in line with genteel values. Aitken had hoped. income quickly declined to a weekly average of about $1. “will be put on a fifty and twenty-five-cent basis.“The Way in Which Productions of This Kind Can Best Be Shown”: Exhibition and Exclusivity. highbrow culture could hardly now be counted on as a point of agreement between the “masses” and the “classes. cultural struggle is always characterized by “changing and uneven relations of force.”49 As the failure of the stage-star experiment indicates. A few seats will be held at two dollars.800 during December. Triangle films were to be shown first to patrons of the exclusive model theaters before receiving broader release through exhibitors contracted with Triangle. In line with the company’s initial plan.52 As early as January 1916. The varying fortunes of the Knickerbocker during this period epitomize the difficulties Triangle faced in creating a viable commercial basis for the exclusive exhibition of feature films. failing attendance led Aitken to shutter the Knickerbocker’s doors while he lured picture palace impresario S. This is because. As the fate of Triangle’s stage-star experiment indicates. As augured in the critical scorn heaped on the screen careers of Beerbohm-Tree and DeWolf Hopper. it is inaccurate to think of the film industry’s development during the teens simply as a model of hegemonic control and incorporation.” A somewhat similar message emerges from the equally brief history of Aitken’s model theater policy. who want me to see what I can do to put the house on its feet. Aitken claimed that Triangle pictures could exert a “wonderful civilizing influence.”50 For all his utopian ambitions. can neither wholly resist nor be wholly controlled by the culture of the dominant classes. merely to fulfill the terms of the lease. Articulating reformist discourse of the period. as Stuart Hall argues. instead.” Rothapfel declared. 2.000 during its opening week. Winter 2005 15 .
. Aitken had little choice but to forsake elitism for profit. first by introducing less exclusionary ticket prices at the Knickerbocker and eventually by abandoning the model theater scheme altogether.400 in weekly ticket sales.exclude regular working-class patronage.000 on rent.” In fact.56 The fate of the Knickerbocker was mirrored in the even more spectacular collapses of Triangle’s two other model theaters. the turn-of-the-century elite had been able to satisfy its need for exclusivity only by placing its cultural institutions in the hands of nonprofit organizations. No. selling his unexpired lease to vaudeville magnate Marcus Loew. Triangle closed both its Philadelphia and Chicago theaters and began selling off their projecting equipment and draperies. The case was summarily dismissed. 2. weekly figures dropped to less than $1. even with Rothapfel’s assistance.” the model theaters instead revealed the difficulties in establishing exclusive cultural practices on a commercial basis. who arrived in court armed with no less than nine affidavits from prominent exhibitors and critics in defense of Rothapfel’s credentials. In May 1916. Between August and December 1915. it was a far cry indeed from the $2 admission by which Aitken had hoped to turn the model theaters into “rendezvous” destinations for “the very best people. by contrast. If Triangle’s model theaters failed to attract middle-class patrons. can best be shown. the company’s numerous contracted theaters proved equally incapable of attracting the industry’s working-class audience base. The “purity” of high culture had been maintained by isolating it from the demands of the marketplace. A substantial hurdle to Triangle’s success outside the 16 Cinema Journal 44.”55 Goelet’s accusations must have stung Aitken. or minstrel show. while sales at the Studebaker during the opening two weeks were a healthy $1.57 Founded by Aitken to display “the way in which [high-class] productions . In January 1916. salaries. or variety. Chicago’s Studebaker and the Chestnut Street Opera House in Philadelphia. As historian Paul DiMaggio argues. (To break even. charging that the reduced price scale contravened the terms of Triangle’s lease.58 Some light can be thrown on these difficulties by comparing Aitken’s model theater policy to the organizational framework that America’s genteel classes had earlier introduced for the distribution of high culture. As the expected middle-class audience failed to materialize. cultural institutions such as the Boston Symphony Orchestra did not need to cater to popular tastes since they were not economically dependent on attendance by the masses. Winter 2005 . but the Knickerbocker continued to fare poorly. . the theater would have needed to draw more than $1.) Likewise. the success of his scheme depended on its ability to reach as large an audience as possible. Triangle lavished more than $30. The cost of Aitken’s experiment was the very exclusivity that he sought.59 In the case of the model theaters. Aitken had founded his version of highbrow cinema on an openly commercial footing. which stipulated that the theater could only be run “as a first-class playhouse” and not for “second-class performance. and maintenance for the Chestnut Street venue but was unable to raise theater receipts much higher than a disappointing $1. the immediate upshot of the new policy was that Knickerbocker owner Robert Goelet filed a lawsuit against Triangle.960 and $1.300 per week. Aitken unsentimentally cut his losses and withdrew the Triangle program from his flagship theater.924 respectively.500 by the end of the year.
the following month.63 This was particularly true in major urban centers such as New York and Chicago. in Chicago. contract prices were fixed at unparalleled levels. In Manhattan. Further associating the corporation with an image of extravagant spending. Instead.and second-run houses were in the major Midtown entertainment district between Times Square and Columbus Circle.65 Burdened with a theater network that failed to draw sufficient middle-class patrons and that shut out the popular audience. the same publication claimed that twenty-one one-year contracts had been signed for a total of $1. Triangle theaters were largely concentrated. on the other. The debut issue of The Triangle noted with satisfaction that one exhibitor had paid $750. Despite the “quality and refinement” of his theater.”60 To cover the corporation’s vast overhead. first. Rather than allowing independent exhibitors to compete for individual Triangle titles on an open market.model theaters was the “program” policy that Aitken insisted on for the distribution of the company’s product. Triangle would nurture a network of independent theater owners committed to boosting Triangle’s program and to making their theaters “local institutions” for “discriminating recreation seekers. on the one hand.000 (an average of $64. Winter 2005 17 . like the Jewish ghettos on the Lower East Side. Aitken’s company stooped to increasingly desperate tactics to improve attendance.”62 Those theaters able to sign up for the Triangle program were either the larger picture palaces located along commercial and entertainment thoroughfares or the smaller well-appointed movie houses that were beginning to penetrate middleclass residential areas.” Triangle’s product was effectively shut off from the smaller neighborhood theaters where working-class and immigrant audiences preferred to view movies. the program policy required theater owners to contract for the company’s entire yearly program of releases. theater owners quickly chafed at these prices.64 Similarly.” he simply could not “afford to pay the price. In this way. only two were in blue-collar neighborhoods—the Palace and the Thalia. Triangle theaters completely bypassed those working-class and immigrant areas that. in the commercial district bounded by the Loop and. Triangle’s major New York theaters were concentrated along Broadway. Triangle’s publicity announcements proudly stated the figures that exhibitors were willing to pay for the program.380 per contract). Aitken hoped. for example. in the fashionable neighborhoods and commercial centers around Washington Park on the south side and Uptown to the north. negotiations with Triangle had left the writer in the position of “a child crying for the moon. out of some forty theaters showing Triangle pictures in early 1916. 2. Despite Aitken’s avowed intention to produce films that would appeal to the “masses” as well as the “classes. had the thickest concentration of movie theaters during the nickelodeon era.000 for two-year exclusive rights to exhibit Triangle films in Brooklyn. In April 1916. the organization instructed exhibitors to deliver an eight-point fifteen-minute lecture between Cinema Journal 44.” While he had “never questioned Triangle superiority. With these two exceptions.352. No.61 As indicated in a letter from one Virginia exhibitor. and subsequent-run theaters were scattered throughout the middle-class neighborhoods of the Upper West Side and elite areas north of Harlem. both in the working-class settlements down Roosevelt Road and Blue Island.
on the condition that they be used solely for the distribution of Triangle films. exhorting audiences to support the Triangle program as part of their civic duty. In theory. exhibitors across the country were beginning to complain about their “inability to secure a sufficient supply of good comedies. No. the gross business will increase and the expense of doing business will fall off. Triangle told exhibitors to compile a list of the “very best people in town” from the telephone book and send them complimentary tickets. Allowing the films to be shown by any and all exhibitors would compromise Aitken’s vision of a nationwide network of high-class theaters dedicated exclusively to the Triangle program. he agreed to a radical new distribution policy.” In one particularly laughable attempt to capture the ever-elusive society crowd. Aitken explained: It is not unnatural to believe that when the independent exchange is put back into business. it had become abundantly clear that a much more radical change in policy was required. .showings.67 Triangle’s internal problems came to a head in the fall of 1916 during four months of tense conferences in New York in which the heads of the company battled over its distribution and exhibition policies. and independent ownership would pump new blood into the distribution and marketing of Triangle’s films. . he persuaded Aitken to raise his weekly salary by $500 and to sign over twentythree thousand shares in the corporation in return for not walking out on his contract.000 for October. A man in business for himself will invariably give better service to his customers than the same man as a representative of a distant corporation.71 18 Cinema Journal 44. open market.” Sennett must have realized that Triangle’s restrictive policies were preventing Keystone from satisfying that demand. . Faced with dwindling receipts from its theaters. 2. to select individual Triangle pictures in an unrestricted.70 And these were not Aitken’s only concessions. At the heart of these heated exchanges was the question of whether Triangle should continue program booking or allow exhibitors.69 During the New York conferences. regardless of contract. the exhibitor was to make “an appeal to the ‘public spirit’ of the theatergoer to shoulder the responsibility for the class of entertainment shown in [the] neighborhood. Winter 2005 . all twenty-one of the corporation’s distributing exchanges were to be auctioned off to independent investors.68 Aitken’s commitment to program booking had been particularly detrimental to Keystone. As reported by the trade press. As announced in the trade press in October 1916. Under enormous pressure from the heads of his three production companies. since it had effectively shut off Sennett’s product from the workingclass audiences with which his slapstick movies had initially had such success. however. Aitken was reluctant to embrace a policy that might dilute Triangle as a cultural force. Although open booking would have broadened the films’ potential audience. Triangle had begun to show continuous and growing losses from June 1916. the service to exhibitors will improve. there were two advantages to this change in policy: a burdensome exchange system would be converted into much-needed cash. peaking in a debit of more than $42.66 By mid-1916. As this lecture campaign advised.
you are an exhibitor.00 or $100. 2. I ask you to pay me $50. . and others. until finally we had William S. respectively. exhibitors would now have to pay extra. . you are running Triangle service and paying me $200. W. In the stage-star experiment and the model theaters. spoke for many Triangle exhibitors. the Triangle Film Corporation had ironically been kept afloat by Sennett’s slapstick comedies. Hart and a number of unknown people about as prominent as the stars in the Milky Way in pictures which had most ungodly names. In a letter to Sennett dated January 15. Triangle had attempted to establish.75 What these letters revealed was perhaps the last thing Aitken wanted to hear: for all its highbrow credentials. . . together with a new series of one-reel “Triangle Comedies” (cheaply produced on Sennett’s lot using the studio’s secondtier performers and filmmakers).72 Triangle’s contracted exhibitors responded at first with confusion. Aitken decided to take Keystone’s tworeel comedies off the Triangle program and place them on the open market. “A Ruiner of All Solemnities”: Douglas Fairbanks. Frank Campeau. . called for two comedies a week. The exhibitor has balked on this. Hayes claimed.00 a week. The first thing that enters your mind is that I am doublecrossing you. They tell me it is a good way to raise their price and they are absolutely dissatisfied and disgusted.73 In deciding to place the Keystone pictures on the open market. We boomed the stars. the Keystone Film Company. . . but which we tried to carry over by putting our Keystone Comedies above the feature. . Hayes. we entered into a contract with the Triangle Corporation . they proved both meteors on the Triangle program. paying the somewhat fabulous sum of $425 a week.—Pooh!”74 A letter to Sennett from the manager of a Triangle exchange further illustrates the growing resentment among the ranks of theater owners: Say for instance. Triangle had shown contempt for its contracted exhibitors: “That [Triangle’s] contract .An accompanying policy change—less far-reaching but with more immediate consequences for Triangle’s exhibitors—concerned the distribution of Keystone films. 1917. B. . that said contract called for a four weeks’ notice of discontinuance of said contract.00 more for the Keystones that I have taken away from you. Aitken set the stage for wholesale desertion from the exhibitors’ ranks. By mid-1917. . . but alas. No. his organization would be brought to its knees. to furnish us with two features and two comedies a week. Winter 2005 19 . Warner. . where they would be available through Triangle exchanges to all exhibitors regardless of contract. . You immediately get sore and tell me that you won’t book them. By placing the Keystone movies on the open market. But if they wanted the official. the manager of a Pennsylvania theater. H. then with fury. J. In November 1915. Surrendering to Sennett’s demands. both a product Cinema Journal 44. and Middle-Class Culture. brand-name Keystones. Those exhibitors contracted with Triangle would continue to have exclusive rights to the Ince and Griffith films. since they were competing for them against all other theaters in the area. realizing that Aitken’s organization had broken its contractual obligations by cutting the popular Keystone releases from the regular weekly program.
reunited at last. . Fairbanks abandons an affluent lifestyle of emasculating formality and embarks on a liberating adventure that climaxes in a display of the star’s physical prowess.77 The motion picture industry was part of that reorientation. In its limited successes. the scion of a wealthy family and an investigative reporter for a New York newspaper. the New York Times singled out Fairbanks for particular praise: “For Mr. for example. Fairbanks. and caught in a fight between Yaqui Indians and Mexican revolutionaries. Couvares has argued. 2.”80 In The Lamb. Fairbanks plays Gerald. graphic. W. however. “For the late-Victorian 20 Cinema Journal 44. Griffith would personally supervise Fairbanks’s productions. In the twelve Fine Arts features in which he starred. the expenditure proved worthwhile: Fairbanks’s first release. who suspects Gerald of cowardice and weakness. Fairbanks was well suited to Aitken’s elitist aspirations for Triangle. In its otherwise ambivalent review of the Knickerbocker opening. and $3. individual.”78 Given his social background. No. Aitken persuaded Fairbanks to sign a three-year contract at $2.000 weekly for the first year. The advent of modernity in the late nineteenth century. effortless. Jackson Lears. left for dead in the desert. In their various elaborations on this basic story. Christy Cabanne. argues historian T. gave rise to a crisis in cultural authority within the genteel classes. the couple return to society life. Yet it is too easy to view Triangle as an abject failure. .”81 After being captured by crooks. J. 1915). were disappointments. together with the assurance that D.000 for the third. Triangle showed how the lifestyles of the middle class could be reworked as commercial culture for a cross-class audience. whatever motion picture audiences might have wanted. Fairbanks had. . was critically acclaimed as the one unequivocal success of Triangle’s debut program. they were averse to the sacrosanct satisfactions of highbrow art. Winter 2005 . The Lamb (W. Fairbanks’s films spoke directly to the horizons of experience of the dominant classes. He even has a humorous walk of his own. $2. last evening was in the nature of a triumph.and a mode of consumption that approximated the values and practices of highbrow culture.79 In this case. What Aitken did not foresee. genteel culture could not easily be transformed into commercial leisure for all classes. Broadway actor Douglas Fairbanks established a screen personality that placed him at “the very forefront of the ranks of screen stars. Rejected by his sweetheart (Seena Owen).76 As Francis G. The son-inlaw of a wealthy Wall Street banker. for much of his adult life. was that he was appealing to cultural traditions that had already lost much of their authority in American life. by the midteens the cultural practices of the genteel middle class were being deterritorialized in a new arena of commercial leisure with roots in the plebeian culture of the lower classes. In a meeting at the exclusive Algonquin Hotel in mid1915. been an enthusiastic member of the New York society world that Aitken himself so assiduously courted.500 for the second. As Aitken found out the hard way. and as Triangle’s history suggests. In film after film. Here was a formula on which Fairbanks’s later Triangle pictures would work numerous variations. he undergoes a course of physical training and leaves for Mexico to prove “that there is a touch of the lion in his lamblike nature. He is amusing. Not all the stage stars. Fairbanks rescues Owen from the clutches of a Mexican leader and.
the emphasis on discipline and self-restraint associated with the Victorian ideal of “character” gradually yielded to an emphasis on self-realization and spontaneity associated with the newer ideal of “personality.Figure 4.”84 Cinema Journal 44. feared for its supposedly emasculating qualities. No. . Others embraced more exuberant behavior.”82 For many. the stagnancy of middle-class culture could be traced to overcivilization and a taste for urban luxury. . moral certainty. middle-class men pursued a vitalist cult of energy. as a path to revitalization. Hart (standing) and Douglas Fairbanks. Two of Triangle’s most successful stars: William S. Winter 2005 21 .”83 Theodore Roosevelt advocated the “strenuous life. exalting “robust simplicity. . 2.” focused on physical prowess and sports. and the ability to act decisively. There was only the diffuse fatigue produced by a day of office work or social calls. As Warren Susman astutely observes. Courtesy Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. bourgeoisie intense experience—whether physical or emotional—seemed a lost possibility. In response to the perceived “feminization” of genteel society.
Fairbanks’s Triangle features offered middle-class audiences an intense. was their suggestion that the opulent world of the well-to-do could be opened up for all to 22 Cinema Journal 44. Some folks grow stronger on beer and beefstew.85 Reggie Mixes In (Cabanne.” the servant informs him. those talents are made to conform to the goals of Progressive reform: Reggie uses his strength to clean up the saloon of criminal elements. 2. Fairbanks’s books articulated a credo that closely linked exercise and expressiveness. sir?”) Reflecting a Republican moral tradition that associated “overcivilization” with moral decay. genteel imperative toward moral and social reform with the more modern emphasis on physical prowess and exuberance. Reggie dramatizes new and appealing ideals of middleclass vitality. Winter 2005 . rescue his sweetheart from the dangers of the slum. 1916). reform becomes playful physical activity. albeit vicarious. and so make her his wife. . Reggie adopts the coarse. As energetically performed by Fairbanks. As in The Lamb. Fairbanks’s eighth Triangle release.’” The film thus proposes the simple life of the laboring classes as a remedy for the moral risks of excessive wealth. Reggie soon gets a chance to savor “beer and beef-stew” when. Central to the broad appeal of his films. Advocating the value of physical exertion as a means of personal betterment. a title card observes that “as Shakespeare might have said: ‘Champagne and lobsters ain’t always the best fare. published shortly after his departure from Triangle in January 1917. laughter. argues Lary May. Reggie is rising from bed at 12:30 in the afternoon. through both his films and his self-help books (Laugh and Live and Making Life Worth-While). (“It’s lunch time. is representative of this dynamic. if they don’t overdo it.”86 Yet there was more to Fairbanks’s success than his athleticism and energetic personality. Evidence indicates that working-class audiences responded to Fairbanks’s personal credo as strongly as did middle-class viewers.Fairbanks proved to be a figure of tremendous importance within the transforming contours of middle-class culture. On the other hand. “comes something that must not be neglected .” argued Fairbanks. In a series of comic scenes. “Out of energy and enthusiasm.” The success of his pictures rested on their ability to reconcile these new and exuberant ideals with the tenets of Victorian moralism. having been woken by his dutiful servant. “Won’t you have your breakfast. a critic for the labor journal the Los Angeles Citizen roundly praised the “splendid advice” of this “inspirational book. he decides to masquerade as a working man. the enormous popularity of these films suggests that they also appealed to the tastes of less sophisticated patrons. smitten by the sight of a poor orphan girl (Bessie Love) in the inner city. No. On the one hand. aggressive manners necessary to hold his own among the neighborhood “toughs” and eventually finds employment as the bouncer at the local saloon. Reggie’s duties as bouncer give Fairbanks ample opportunity to display his acrobatic and pugilistic talents. Furthermore. the Fairbanks protagonist—here named Reginald Van Deuzen—is initially characterized as a foppish young man whose family wealth has accustomed him to a life of comfort and luxury. uniting the older. In the opening scene. In a review of Fairbanks’s book Laugh and Live. experience of adventure and vitality without significantly departing from traditional values. In Fairbanks’s hands. . Reggie thus redeems himself from the suffocating luxury of his privileged upbringing.
and the words ‘supervised by David W. where Fairbanks made his films. suggesting that “one could use money to look and act like the rich. in January 1917. enjoying a drink with the lowly patrons of a Bowery saloon.”89 Focusing his creative energies on the filming of Intolerance (1916). Yet Triangle’s most popular films were precisely those that least achieved these ideals. in a critical piece on The Matrimaniac (Paul Powell. these films offered a democratized vision of elite lifestyles. appealing to consumer fantasies by identifying upward mobility with personal style. as the star’s show-stopping acrobatics and sunny disposition did away with Victorian standards of self-restraint. in these films. A Photoplay review of Fairbanks’s His Picture in the Papers (John Emerson. “bring understanding among men—and bring peace to the world. the nominal head of the Fine Arts lot. Of all Triangle’s filmmakers. And. Time and again. 2. Small wonder. Griffith’s inactivity at Fine Arts provided the star with a convenient reason to leave Triangle when. In an article published in The Triangle. Griffith’ were put on the screen without my knowledge. Variety argued that the film “would have made a whopper of a two-reel Keystone. they did give voice to a new vision of the self. Griffith was perhaps the most committed to creating a cinema that would share in the moral and spiritual standards of highbrow culture. Griffith chose to disassociate himself from the Fine Arts label in trade press interviews and failed to direct a single film for the Triangle program. In contrast with the exclusivity of genteel culture.” Similarly. “I haven’t seen a Triangle picture in four months.” he informed a young Louella Parsons in October 1916. Nowhere was this more pronounced than at Keystone. W. “I have never produced a Fine Arts production. In the final sequences of Reggie Mixes In. Taken collectively.”90 Since Fairbanks had stipulated in his contract that Griffith personally supervise his productions. Zukor offered him $10. 1916). No.” it is not surprising that he privately dismissed Fairbanks’s films as the work of a “jumping jack.enjoy. Winter 2005 23 . that critics were quick to associate his films with Mack Sennett’s exuberant and zany Keystone comedies. hiding out in an ethnic ghetto disguised as a Jewish immigrant. a penniless artist—moves fluidly across class boundaries.”87 Class identity. Fairbanks’s Triangle pictures “sanctioned elite styles” across social strata. social hierarchy becomes a masquerade in which the Fairbanks protagonist—here. Although Fairbanks’s pictures never depicted a radical breach with genteel values. Griffith. In Flirting with Fate (Cabanne. outsiders and outcasts gain entry to the world of high society simply by adopting the styles of the wealthy.”88 Such comments could hardly have given much comfort to D. as Lilian Gish recalled.000 a week to work for Paramount. and borrowing a friend’s dress suit to hobnob at an exclusive garden party. 1916). the orphan girl does little more than change her clothes before Reggie’s wealthy parents accept her as a suitable fiancée for their son. 1916). Mack Sennett spoke openly of his “natural Cinema Journal 44. then. noted that “a series of these would put Fine Arts into the Keystone class as a ruiner of all solemnities. Moving Picture World noted that Fairbanks’s American Aristocracy (Lloyd Ingraham. 1916) at times took on the appearance of a Keystone comedy. Given Griffith’s Progressivist ambition that films would. proves to be more a matter of style and selfpresentation than of social background.
Keystone’s filmmakers shifted attention away from the comic representation of labor issues and working-class culture and toward depictions of luxury and consumer pleasures. as a studio publicist insisted. criticized the vulgarities of a Triangle–Keystone comedy. The Great Pearl Tangle (Sam Bernard. Are we all to shudder at the name of Rabelais and take to smelling salts? Are we to be a wholly ladylike nation?93 Even though Keystone would never abandon its fondness for “abounding animal nature. 1916). the paper’s editor was moved to publish a lengthy editorial disparaging her censorious. knockabout action was combined with opulent. In this way.” developments under Triangle indicate that a concerted attempt was made to resituate its films for more refined sensibilities. upper-middle-class settings. . but somehow neither the recital nor the pictorial representation of these offenses moves us to indignation or alarm. one critic noted that “it is curious to see such deft work as [The Lamb] in the same program with such primitive slapstick as the Sennett ‘comic fillum.’”92 All the same. The established Keystone formula for rapid. A Modern Enoch Arden (Clarence G. When Kitty Kelly. Keystone offered cinematic displays of wealth and commodities designed to engage consumer fantasies. those “comic fillums” had a special appeal for many middleclass moviegoers.tendency to burlesque every serious thing that Griffith did. “gowns of real sartorial importance” were displayed. In a review of Triangle’s debut program at the Knickerbocker. especially those seeking a vicarious escape from the restrictions and repressions of genteel culture. Something within us rebels against the elimination by lady censors and lady critics of all the crude gusto of abounding animal nature. Prior to Keystone’s association with Triangle. 1917) depicted a comic world populated with wealthy doctors. To cite a notable example.95 As a necessary corollary to these new settings. a writer for Motion Picture News spoke approvingly of the “elaborate sets . a point that was not lost on contemporary observers. and A Royal Rogue (Robert P. . Indeed. they were equally likely to play members of the social elite. . films such as He Did and He Didn’t (Arbuckle. 1916). Kerr and Ferris Hartman. and European nobles. . No. Keystone’s Triangle releases extended the ideological project of Fairbanks’s pictures: they offered uproarious representations of well-heeled characters unmoored from the formal and behavioral constraints of genteel respectability. lawyers. In what proved a radical redefinition of the class dynamics of the studio’s earlier productions. Keystone’s filmmakers and performers began to develop new kinds of comic protagonists. that have marked [Keystone’s output] since the first release on the Triangle program.” describing it as the “turning point” of his career. 2. Badger. film critic for the Chicago Tribune.91 Given slapstick’s traditionally “low” cultural associations. “ladylike” sensibilities: Doubtless it is confession of a deplorable masculinity.”94 Particularly in its early films for Triangle. Now. 1916) was set in the boutique of a fashion designer and featured an exclusive fashion show in which. . the studio’s comedians had generally portrayed the dispossessed— tramps and immigrants in particular. Winter 2005 . 24 Cinema Journal 44. Keystone rested uneasily with Aitken’s lofty ambitions for Triangle.
True. Courtesy Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. it meant that they would all share equally in Triangle’s ever-escalating losses.000 to an average of less than $14. but no sooner was the policy put into practice (in February 1917) than Aitken decreed further changes that all but eradicated Keystone’s moneymaking potential. Sennett and Fairbanks followed similar career paths at Triangle: the popular acclaim that greeted their pictures was. a “cross to bear” for its producers: Griffith left in March 1917. per-picture payments to the studio rapidly declined from the flat rate of $20. in Kalton Lahue’s apt phrase. they were now paid percentages out of the films’ grosses. Winter 2005 25 . followed by Ince and Sennett at the end of June. 2. and Bobby Vernon in Keystone’s Teddy at the Throttle (1917). Despite the popularity of the Keystone films. Romantic mix-ups among the elite: Gloria Swanson (left). in particular.Figure 5. Ince. he had successfully persuaded Aitken to release Keystone’s films on the open market. coupled with increasing personal frustration over Aitken’s handling of their product. No. For Sennett. in practice.000.96 Triangle had become. Triangle’s management proved an unending source of vexation. Aitken forfeited those films best able to realize his hopes of creating a Cinema Journal 44. and Sennett studios had previously received flatrate payments for each of their films. in both cases. Whereas the Griffith.97 Ironically. because he was unable to keep either Sennett or Fairbanks content at Triangle. May Emory (center). The theory was that Triangle’s producers would thereby enjoy the fruits of each other’s successes.
In the words of his brother. The genteel classes failed to lend sufficient support to Aitken’s vision. his taste for the high life led him to embezzle some $3 million from the company coffers. and commercial necessity soon tainted Triangle’s aura of cultural purity and exclusivity. The pattern is one Max Weber identified: the dynamics of the market require the declassification of culture. No. Aitken’s administrative “weakness” went far beyond the sums he spent on Triangle’s behalf. reconfiguring middle-class traditions for a consumer society. Harry’s “weakness for immediate expansion” left him unable to “stop and consolidate .99 As presaged in Triangle’s successes. the process by which older middle-class values were absorbed by and redispersed within the emerging consumer culture. DeMille’s Jazz Age comedies showcased glamorous settings and dealt with the romantic tribulations of the wealthy.98 Triangle’s most successful films selectively transformed genteel tradition. the Fairbanks and Keystone films pointed in new directions. many factors contributed to Triangle’s collapse. the Fairbanks and Keystone films reworked that culture for a cross-class audience. The final concession to profit came shortly after Sennett and Ince announced their departures from the company. with an appeal to the classes. when films like Cecil B.102 For all his faults as president of his own corporation. forcing cultural entrepreneurs to mix categories to reach the broadest audience. In a telegram to Aitken. Where Aitken had taken genteel culture as a model for the Triangle organization. Such would be the terms on which the film industry would successfully draw a cross-class audience in the years following the war. As revealed in a 1921 court action against him. gains before moving into new and larger production programs. Yet. Aitken poured extravagant sums into unprofitable policies. it was one he was willing to plunder in his quest for status and the society lifestyle. the world of the genteel elite would be transformed into an exuberant consumer spectacle for all classes of moviegoers.103 In rapid succession. . Aitken had embarked on an ambitious attempt to use highbrow values as the basis of a cinema with crossclass appeal. Roy. 2. Aitken was forced to cancel his contracts with the majority of the stage stars.”101 In fact. depicting the world of the social elite not as a barrier to keep out the lower classes but as an opulent and accessible playground for the enjoyment of luxurious commodities. Aitken had raised Triangle’s overhead to a level all but guaranteed to wipe out company profits. foremost among them Aitken’s persistent financial mismanagement. and compromise with the policy of program booking—all in the hope of reducing Triangle’s vast overhead. those values were all too easily eroded by a new era of commercial entertainments and consumer pleasures. It is helpful to see such developments in the light of what historian Joan Rubin terms the “desacralization” of the genteel cultural tradition. Committed to the value of conspicuous display as a signifier of social status. Winter 2005 . as Triangle’s brief history reveals. If Triangle was Aitken’s vision.”100 Almost to the end.cinema “made for the masses. . Conclusion. In the end. withdraw the Triangle program from the model theaters.” Where Aitken’s highbrow aspirations had proven a dead end. Griffith freely expressed his opinion that Triangle was “conceded to be the worst managed business in film history. when 26 Cinema Journal 44.
5. According to the trade press. 3. as Lahue puts it. Roy Aitken offered somber commentary on the fate of his brother’s company: The only purpose of the new financial management of Triangle was to get as much money as possible for the bank investors by cutting costs and by reissuing old Triangle pictures and promoting current productions. 2. Ibid. “J. No. genteel cultural practices did not readily result in profitable motion pictures. and Ted Meland. .” Motion Picture News. California. 2. having finalized plans for the merger with Kessel and Baumann by early June. Triangle’s profound failures and limited successes hold up a mirror to a far broader cultural reorientation in which consumer values outstripped the ethical and aesthetic standards of the genteel classes to form the basis of a new mass culture. Inie Park. 1915. July 3. then the historical model to be kept in mind is not one of hegemonic incorporation but of a complex.Aitken hired H. 4. Freuler Succeeds Aitken as Mutual Head. for example. Thomas Hines. if only as a reminder that the film industry of the teens was never merely a handmaiden for genteel middleclass ideology. July 11. R. Madison. 1915. Aitken was voted out as the president of Mutual on June 23. 6. . Winter 2005 27 . one sees the emerging outlines of a new mass culture in which the authority of highbrow culture was transfigured and displaced by consumer values. O. If Triangle’s rise and fall can be approached as a microcosm of the forces at work in the film industry of the teens. I first presented the ideas expressed here in Thomas Hines’s seminar in American cultural history at UCLA in the spring of 2002. 211. noting in passing that “Aitken Cinema Journal 44. my research assistant at the Wisconsin State Historical Society.” Moving Picture World. Ibid. . Ibid. 57–58. In a confidential letter to Mack Sennett dated June 4. Extant documents show that Aitken had made up his mind to leave Mutual several weeks earlier. Notes Thanks to Janet Bergstrom. and Cinema Journal’s anonymous readers for their comments on various incarnations of this essay.104 Looking back. Sumiko Higashi. the collapse of Triangle was a soul shaking experience. “entertainment instead of prestige” to the company’s remaining exhibitors. Charles Baumann outlined those plans in detail. In the film successes of Fairbanks and Keystone. “Out of Quantity—Quality. and I am particularly grateful to him for his generous advice and encouragement. of the Motion Picture Division of the Library of Congress. Madeline Matz.5 million. 1. I am also indebted to Barbara Hall and Faye Thompson of the Margaret Herrick Library at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Ibid. Harry Aitken. To Harry and me. While Davis successfully reduced annual production costs by about $2. See. Beverly Hills. transformative barter of specific commercial and class-based interests. 1914.105 Despite Harry’s hopes. this saving was achieved at the cost of abandoning Triangle’s high cultural ambitions and providing. Davis from Universal to reorganize production along more efficient and economic lines. This point is worth emphasizing.
1915. 9. 1900. 211. 1875–1940 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. 17. For more about Triangle’s corporate structure. 33. 87. Barnes. Lahue. 1982). Dreams for Sale: The Rise and Fall of the Triangle Film Corporation (South Brunswick. 2000).: Ablex. 1915. 39. 7–10. 1965). 1. 1971). An Evening’s Entertainment: The Age of the Silent Feature Picture. Movies and Money (Norwood. 9. 63–69.J. general files. 8.” Motion Picture News. Jews accounted for 60 percent of theater owners.” The Triangle. Sidney Lee. 21. 2. 1915.” Motion Picture News.” Little’s Living Age. chap. June 4. Lewis Erenberg. esp. Baumann to Sennett. see Daniel Horowitz. W. Mack Sennett Collection. Griffith: An American Life (New York: Simon and Schuster. 23. Va. no. quoted in William Uricchio and Roberta Pearson. reprint. correspondence folder (1915–19). Italians 18 percent. 11. 1890–1930 (Westport. W. and “Editorial. October 23. 20. and Irish 7 percent.: Delinger. 15. 1985). The Morality of Spending: Attitudes toward the Consumer Culture in America. Steppin’ Out: New York Nightlife and the Transformation of American Culture. 85. For Roy Aitken’s supposed enthusiasm for popular entertainment (nickelodeons and circuses in particular). N. quoted in Richard Schickel. 6. 1905–1926 (New York: Cooper Square Press. 12. 2. Griffith Collection. 541. No.: A. 14. 8.. Margaret Herrick Library. N. intends to resign from the Mutual after June 16th.000 Production Company Is Launched. 1915– 1928 (Berkeley: University of California Press. 1994). 1984).” Cinema Journal 34. 1915. 84. 13. Jones. 2 and 3. Janet Wasko. 3 (spring 1995): 26–27. with Al P. Ben Singer discusses the predominance of immigrants among early nickelodeon operators in New York. New York. The Birth of a Nation Story (Middleburg.: Greenwood Press. 167. A Silent Siren Song: The Aitken Brothers’ Hollywood Odyssey.” The Triangle. 3. 1990). Singer. Conn.7. 1988). The Theory of the Leisure Class. According to his survey. chaps. The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions (1899. Dialectic of Enlightenment (New York: Continuum. Winter 2005 . April 15. In his article on Manhattan nickelodeons. Museum of Modern Art. chap. New York: Random House. 1934). Mack Sennett Collection. “Triangle Completes First Releasing Plan. quoted in Al P. Cecil B. 16. Aitken. Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno. 1981).’ $4. Harry Aitken. see Kalton C. Margaret Herrick Library. W. 19. 11. Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Roy E. and Richard Koszarski. 22. DeMille and American Culture: The Silent Era (Berkeley: University of California Press. For newer patterns of spending among the middle classes. February 10. Sumiko Higashi. 1914. Veblen. 38. 18. see ibid. Reframing Culture: The Case of the Vitagraph Quality Films (Princeton: Princeton University Press. Griffith. Nelson. September 4.000. “The Great Triangle Idea—Its Full Scope and Purpose. 10. July 17. October 23. 1993). 27–29. individuals of English/American descent 14 percent. Thorstein Veblen. 2001 ). “‘Sig.” Baumann to Sennett. 41–42. D. S. D. 28 Cinema Journal 44. See Lawrence Levine. Nelson and Mel R. “Manhattan’s Nickelodeons: New Data on Audiences and Exhibitors. 1915. correspondence folder (1915–19). 124. Harry Aitken to D. “Shakespeare and the Modern Stage.Y.
1916. 34. 72–73. As Lary May argues. 36.” May. Triangle was far from the first motion picture company to organize a gala event for the screening of its product. October 30. 33. 29. September 1916. Review of Macbeth. “Movies Take over the Knickerbocker. 84–85. 85. Even in the early 1920s. 25. 166–69. July 6. September 24. 45. An Evening’s Entertainment. Griffith.” Variety. 35. 809. July 10.” Motion Picture News. 127. “What They Really Get—NOW!” Photoplay. Moving Picture World. 11. 1915.: Scarecrow Press. 37. October 4. “The First Knickerbocker Program. Margaret Herrick Library. Nelson and Jones. Wisconsin State Historical Society. 28.” New York Times. 38. 1917. 41. 441. 158. and “Flickerings from Film Land. 39. 17. “Fine Arts Making Film Test ‘Twixt Star and Legit. see Eileen Bowser. 1915. N. and Keystone Film Company journal. “Two-Dollar Admission Price Is Triangle’s Aim. 1.” Chicago Tribune. 1915. April 14. 26. “Her Painted Hero. 1915. March 1916. 127. Review of The Coward. Lahue.” Moving Picture World. Wisconsin State Historical Society. 32. 225–27. 43. 1916. September 24.” Motion Picture News. 27. Aitken Brothers Collection. June 9. 40. The Kindergarten of the Movies: A History of the Fine Arts Company (Metuchen. 1981). October 9.” Motion Picture News. 2. 1915. Variety. November 1915– December 1922. 1990). 1915. 1915. October 9. Motion Picture News. 23. April 15. The Transformation of Cinema. 15. “Close-Ups. Dreams for Sale. Further information on star salaries during this period can be found in Koszarski. 1915. 64. November 1916. 1915.” The Triangle. D. 84. A Silent Siren Song. No. Advertisement for Keystone Film Company. emphasis added. 11. September 1912–October 1915. Winter 2005 29 . My discussion of Triangle’s theatrical stars. Other production figures are from Lahue. 43. “Movies Take over the Knickerbocker. “Sir Herbert Tree Dead. Aitken Brothers Collection. 31. Charles Kessel to Joe Weber and Lew Fields.” Motion Picture News. and Anthony Slide. 1916. 29. chaps. May 22. 63. 4. 30.24. “Weber and Fields Sign with Keystone Film.J. See Koszarski. 56–60. Louis Reeves Harrison. 4 and 7. both here and in the following paragraphs. 41. The Birth of a Nation Story.” New York Times. Cinema Journal 44. the majority of theaters in the United States still charged less than a quarter for an evening show. “The Shadow Stage. 114–16. 42. “Local Theatre Owners Start Big Special Letter-Writing Campaign. August 14. 1907–1915 (Berkeley: University of California Press.” Variety. Keystone’s production expenses are calculated from Keystone Film Company journal. “Triangle Blazes the Way for Regular $2 Seats. Screening out the Past: The Birth of Mass Culture and the Motion Picture Industry (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. For a concise overview of Adolph Zukor’s Famous Players Film Company. W. My description of Fatty and the Broadway Stars—a lost film—is based on production files for the film held in the Mack Sennett Collection. An Evening’s Entertainment. combines my own research with material from the following secondary sources: Aitken and Nelson. 1980). 44. 134– 48. Dreams for Sale.” Photoplay.” Photoplay. the idea of the gala premiere “was brought to the movies [from the legitimate theater] almost without alteration starting about 1913. while those charging a dollar or more accounted for less than 1 percent of all exhibition venues. Julian Johnson. 14. October 16. 1915.
The key proponents of the revisionist position argue that nickelodeons attracted a middle-class audience virtually from the start. Wisconsin State Historical Society. 57. ed.46. 347. for example. and “Loew Gets Knickerbocker. 1916. Winter 2005 . 1983). Ross argue that it was not until the 1920s that the film industry successfully expanded its audience base beyond the lower rungs of the white-collar workforce.. “Manhattan Nickelodeons. for example. 1916. 1916. 2. For further critique of the revisionist position. 1976). The American Film Industry (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. 1916. Aitken Brothers Collection. “Hearing in Knickerbocker Theatre Suit Postponed. See. to April 22. 100.” Motion Picture News. on the other. regular middle-class movie attendance occurred at a significantly later date than has generally been assumed. 51.” in Tino Balio. For more on the declining fortunes of Triangle’s theaters. 2. while Lizabeth Cohen and Steven J. 1916. Allen. 5. 1915. November 1916. see Lahue. 58. Making a New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago. in urban areas at least. July 29. 53. Tree died suddenly from complications arising from knee surgery. 1998).” Photoplay. a revisionist interpretation of the centrality of the middle-class audience.’” in Raphael Samuel. 54. See “Sir Herbert Tree Dead. 50. even as late as 1924.” Motion Picture News. 83–102. 235. “The Great Triangle Idea. January 22. Motion Picture News.” Motion Picture News. no. 79. 1905–1914: Building an Audience for the Movies. a traditional understanding of early cinema as a predominantly lower-class amusement and. Ross cites evidence to suggest that. New York. 49. 1915. 1919–1939 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1906– 1912: Beyond the Nickelodeon. “Motion Picture Exhibition in Manhattan. At the risk of oversimplifying. “Nickelodeon Theaters. and Russell Merritt. 47. 7. Advertisement for Triangle. been a subject of much controversy. “Editorial. 239. ed. Working-Class Hollywood: Silent Film and the Shaping of Class in America (Princeton: Princeton University Press.” Motion Picture News. Dreams for Sale.” Cinema Journal 17. Roy Rosenzweig. 8. 1917. suggests that filmgoing was a working-class recreation until at least 1914. February 19. May 13. 3 (spring 1979): 2–15. Ibid. “Editorial. and Rosenzweig. Ross. 1990). 1916. 55. indicating that. “Rothapfel Takes Hold of Knickerbocker Theatre.” The Triangle. 30 Cinema Journal 44.” Radical History Review 41 (spring 1988): 10–35. The class composition of early film audiences has.” 4. June 17.. of course. Stuart Hall. 56. 2. “Oh! Althusser! Historiography and the Rise of Cinema Studies. chap. 48. 146 and chap. see Robert Sklar. 52. 1915. “Plays and Players. film audiences were still chiefly composed of those from “poor or only moderately well off” backgrounds.” Social historians tend to support Singer’s findings. “Triangle Leaves Knickerbocker Theatre. June 10. chap. September 4.” The Triangle. 1981). 3729. People’s History and Socialist Theory (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Receipts are calculated from Triangle’s cash books for 1915 and for November 1. Aitken Brothers Collection. chap. See Singer. Robert C. “Notes on Deconstructing ‘The Popular. 3. Receipts for the Knickerbocker are calculated from the Triangle Film Corporation cash book. arguing that moviegoers remained largely lower class during the teens. 2908. that debate has been waged between two basic positions—on the one hand. No.” 7. See Cohen. 1870–1920 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Eight Hours for What We Will: Workers and Leisure in an Industrial City. Wisconsin State Historical Society. 1916. On July 2. Ben Singer has recently queried the evidential basis for many of Allen’s claims. 974.
120–47.” June 3. 2. Untitled document consisting of excerpts from letters written by Triangle exhibitors. For useful statistics on Chicago land use during this period.” The Triangle. 1916. 74. 2515. 214. 3.” April 29. January 15. 67. and from the following 1916 Triangle articles: “Biggest Chicago Theatre Owners Talk Triangle. see Homer Hoyt. 1917. “Local Theatre Owners.” May 6. “Why One Exhibitor Plunged on Triangle. “Chicago Strand Opens with Triangle Plays. 1916. 1. 1916. 66. see Lahue. No. 1917. 68.” Moving Picture World. October 14. and November 11. The Motion Picture News addressed this growing discontent with a series of articles during October and November 1916 in which exhibitors and industry leaders (including Adolph Zukor and Lewis J. general files. 69. to Mack Sennett. Data on Triangle’s Chicago exhibition are drawn from theater listings in the Chicago Tribune. Letter quoted in “Editorial. 2351. February to April 1916. 72. My overview of Triangle’s New York theaters is compiled from the following Triangle reports: “Editorial.” The Triangle. and “Activities at 14 Theatres on Broadway. Margaret Herrick Library. For a more detailed account of the events described in this paragraph. Paul DiMaggio. November 4. August 26. February 12.” February 12. 73. 1916. to July 28. 71. and Sennett. 1916.” The Triangle. and Society 1 (January 1982): 33–50. August 1916. chaps. 8. October 14. 1.” The Triangle. October 28. 65. 7. 1916. 1933).” Motion Picture News. Making a New Deal. Ibid. “Triangle Conspicuous in Columns of Dailies. 8. see T. Margaret Herrick Library. October 23. For discussion of the disintegration of the genteel tradition. “Rothapfel Opens Two Million Dollar Rialto with Triangle. “New Triangle Exchange Proposition. 70. 64. April 29.” 1. No Place of Grace: Antimodernism and the Transformation of American Culture. 2969. 75. Harry Aitken to Mack Sennett. 2655. Numerous exhibitors and industry commentators began to vent their opposition to the restrictive booking policies that companies like Paramount and Triangle were beginning to introduce. 60. 1916. “Ten Big Theatres Signed Up in One Week by New York Office. Winter 2005 31 . correspondence file (1915–19). November 6. “Triangle Scores New Triumph in Chicago. One Hundred Years of Land Values in Chicago (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1. 2654. April 22. Strand Amusement Co. Wisconsin State Historical Society. 2. “Rothapfel Finds Good Comedy Scarce. Mack Sennett Collection. 3. 1915. September 28. 7. Cinema Journal 44. October 28. Aitken Brothers Collection. Mack Sennett Collection. Jackson Lears.” April 8. 2. “Cultural Entrepreneurship in Nineteenth-Century Boston: The Creation of an Organizational Base for High Culture in America.” May 20.” March 4. See Cohen. Financial figures are drawn from the Triangle Film Corporation cash record. The question of open versus program booking was keenly debated in the film industry during this period. Selznick) answered the question “Open Booking or the Program—Which?” See Motion Picture News. 61. 10 and 11. “Start a Lecture Campaign in Your Theatre. 76. 1.” Motion Picture News.” The Triangle. 1. 2. 2. 63. and “Exhibitors’ Forum. Mack Sennett Collection. 2. Culture.59. and “Exhibitors Tell Why They Bought Triangle.” January 29. 62.” April 8.” Media. October 21. correspondence file (1915– 19). general files. “Triangle Rumors Set at Rest by Griffith. Dreams for Sale. and “Exhibitors Organizing Local Advertising Clubs. 2813. Margaret Herrick Library. 2. Ince. J. 1915. 932.
The Feminization of American Culture (New York: Knopf. W. January 27. The Kindergarten of the Movies.” Schickel. Culture as History: The Transformation of American Society in the Twentieth Century (New York: Pantheon Books. 28. 271–85. “Sennett Has Big Army at Laugh Factory. and Slide. The Kindergarten of the Movies . quoted in Aitken and Nelson. 546. Frisch and Daniel J. Griffith quoted in Slide. 81.” Motion Picture News. The Kindergarten of the Movies. and chap. 87. Walkowitz. For more on Fairbanks’s career at Triangle. 304. Couvares. 1880–1920 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 32 Cinema Journal 44. 1.” in Susman. quoted in “Great Newspaper Is Opposed to Its Critic. Editorial.. also see Slide. Ibid. 113. 1983). No Place of Grace. The Birth of a Nation Story. Julian Johnson. Making Fifteen.” The Triangle. 1977). 110. 123–52. 90. 57. which both Richard Schickel and Anthony Slide discuss in detail. chap. 82. 1. As May argues.. 73. see May. D. “Movies Take Over. March 25. Community. “Throughout the Triangle year.” Motion Picture News. 78. 75. The contractual provision that Fairbanks’s productions would be supervised by Griffith is described in “Fairbanks Endeavors to Break Contract with Triangle.” Motion Picture News. 1916. 88. Chicago Tribune.” May. 117. 79. 17. Screening out the Past. June 1. 91. 86.77. 84. chap. 1730. 5. and Joan Rubin.” Photoplay. 83. 5.” Los Angeles Citizen. 1984). gambling. May. “Three Companies for Keystone. “The Shadow Stage. December 8. Francis G. 85. Winter 2005 .” 11. “The First Knickerbocker Triangle Program.” in Michael H. Griffith. 48. May 1916. 1916. Variety. March 11. November 6. No. 2. and American Society (Urbana: University of Illinois Press. 1983). 1916. “Triangle Turns the First Birthday Mark. quoted in Slide. The question of Griffith’s actual contributions to the Fine Arts output is a thorny one. See also Ann Douglas. chap. Fairbanks. though of course no novels ever existed) and distractedly tried to fulfill his supervisory obligations to Aitken. eds. 1992) intro. 1915.” Motion Picture News. and review of The Matrimaniac. Screening out the Past. quoted in May. 1916. and instinctual side of life. 94. 8. 92. Lears. 3128.” 11. See Warren Susman.” The Triangle. and Griffith. Gish.” Schickel observes. 1917. 3. Screening out the Past. November 18. 44. chap. 2. 84. the role of sport and physicality in Fairbanks’s films and published writings helped negotiate transitions under way in middle-class morality: an emphasis on physical training kept alive the parental ethics of temperance and discipline yet “allowed men to break from the overly routinized economy and the stifling family and revive the chancy. My reading of Fairbanks’s films is suggested by Lary May’s persuasive interpretation of the star’s significance in the changing climate of middle-class culture. 1. 89. October 9. The Kindergarten of the Movies. Working-Class America: Essays on Labor. “‘Personality’ and the Making of Twentieth-Century Culture. 1915. 1917. Screening out the Past. “Griffith contributed stories and some directorial moments to the program pictures (a credit reading ‘Adapted from Granville Warwick’s novel’ signified a Griffith story idea. “The Triumph of Commerce: Class Culture and Mass Culture in Pittsburgh. 80. “Movies Take Over the Knickerbocker. “Books Worth Having. The Making of Middlebrow Culture (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. 93.
98. New York. “Coming Keystones with Great Comedy Stars. chaps. Griffith to Harry Aitken. Griffith Collection. 102. D. Max Weber. New York: Bedminster Press. Griffith. 12–13. The Birth of a Nation Story. 5. Dreams for Sale. I am indebted to Paul DiMaggio for this reference to Weber. Wisconsin State Historical Society. 177–81. For more information on Davis’s tenure at Triangle. On the court actions against Aitken. chap. 1915. 937. 1. Dreams for Sale. 105. 1968). 103. Financial information from Keystone Film Company journal. DeMille and American Culture. quoted in Schickel. 2. 96. “Cultural Entrepreneurship in Nineteenth-Century Boston. 101. Cecil B. Ephraim Fischoff (1924. 2. The Birth of a Nation Story.” 36. W. 97. Aitken and Nelson. October 16. November 1915 to December 1922. 83. Aitken and Nelson. See Rubin. Aitken Brothers Collection. 6. 1916. No. December 18. 13 and 14. 161. 100. Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive Sociology. reprint.95. see Lahue. Cinema Journal 44. 338. D.” The Triangle. 104. Lahue. The Making of Middlebrow Culture. Dreams for Sale. see Lahue. D. See DiMaggio. Winter 2005 33 . vol. see Higashi. 99. W. trans. Museum of Modern Art. W. On DeMille’s sex comedies. chap.
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