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Archive for August 2012

“An announcement to the trade that will prove a big surprise to the trades will be made next week” – Not!

In 1922 the Weiss Brothers purchased U.S. rights to a rather uninspired 52-reel Italian epic, “La Bibbia” (Appia Nuova/1920), supposedly filmed in Egypt and Palestine.   Artclass already had it in circulation  through National Non-Theatrical Pictures, Inc., as “The Holy Bible in Motion Pictures,” in 30 separate reels, each telling a specific Biblical story, serialized to schools and churches on a one-per-week basis.

Artclass cut it down to 11 reels and re-titled it “After Six Days,” accompanied with an elaborate ad campaign touting, “A Weiss Production” and “A $3,000,000 entertainment for the hundred millions.”  Although it was technically crude, Louis said he had “proof” it cost at least $1 million!

The release plan was to play at distinguished legit houses which offered stage presentations, as well as road show films.  Six weeks went by as they attempted to secure a Broadway booking, including bids for The Astor, Metropolitan Opera House, Gayety, Cohan and Harris, and others.  When they weren’t able to clear a date, it was decided to premier at English’s Opera House in Indianapolis on October 22, 1922, which was still a plum engagement considering the theatre had only allowed two previous motion pictures to be shown, D. W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation” (Epoch/1915), and “Way Down East” (U.A./1920).  Dates followed in Minneapolis, Cleveland and Detroit.

“After Six Days” wasn’t exhibited in New York City until December 15, 1922, at the Columbia University School of Journalism in New York.  Some of the bookings that followed were the Woods, Atlantic City; Premier Theatre, Brooklyn; St. Denis Theatre, Montreal; and Ocean Grove Auditorium, Ocean Grove (N.J.) and Boston’s Tremont Temple.

Adam and Eve sequence from “After Six Days” (1922)

But there was trouble the next year.  Famous Players-Lasky accused Artclass of expanding the title to “After Six Days, Featuring Moses and the Ten Commandments,” in order to unfairly capitalize on Cecil B. DeMille version of “The Ten Commandments” (Paramount/1923), a claim supported by the “National Vigilance Committee,” who asserted the title confused the public.  The Brothers vehemently denied the charges, but went ahead and removed all reference to the offending part of the title, holding steadfast for years afterwards that they gave in on the lawsuit because they couldn’t afford a legal battle with a major studio.

“The History of the Bible in Motion Pictures” single reel versions continued playing non-theatrically through the 1920s.  Also, in the late 1940s Adrian announced a ten-part series of two-reel 16mm sound versions under the series title, “The Epic of the Ages,” although I can find no record that they were ever actually produced.  “After Six Days” proved to be an evergreen for Artclass, and was reissued in the early 1930s in a 7-reel sound (music, narration and effects) version, and in the mid-1940s, Adrian Weiss, prepared a hokey trailer in the hope of reissuing it theatrically as “An Adrian Weiss Production,” but wisely abandoned the idea.

The next Artclass release was a jungle drama, “The Woman Who Believed” (Artclass/1922). Then, controversy and legal problems rose again, this time revolving around a two-reel short, “Sawing a Lady in Half” (Clarion/1922), [aka “Sawing a Lady in Half, How It is Done,” and “Sawing a Lady in Half – Exposed,” to satisfy censorship issues in certain states] wherein magician John Coutts exposed the illusion made famous by magician Horace Goldin, whose name was synonymous with the act.  Goldin had previously obtained an injunction against another magician who performed the illusion, so Coutts modified the performance somewhat.

Goldin filed a suit anyway, claiming the movie violated, among other things, the copyright to a filmed version he supposedly deposited at the Copyright Office in 1921 [I could not find a record of any such deposit], and exhibition of the Coutt film seriously jeopardized his contract with the Keith Circuit (which was true) where he had been a consistent big draw for some time.  However, the Weiss’ lawyer successfully argued that Goldin didn’t originate the act, even arguing that the basis of the illusion could be traced back as far as 3766 B.C. Egypt, which the magic community found absurd.

However, Goldin won on appeal to the Supreme Court of New York where it was ruled that the earlier so-called comparable acts submitted by Clarion’s lawyer had little or no relationship to Goldin’s illusion, and the title of the film was an obvious attempt to capitalize on Goldin’s act, and must be changed.  This is still considered a landmark case with respect to intellectual rights to magic methods.   (In 1923 Goldin deposited a patent application for the specific device used in the illusion, that he later regretted because the illusion became part of the public record.)

Alfred Weiss (no relation) started his motion picture career in 1904, and by 1922 he was long an acknowledged VIP in the industry.  He knew the Weiss Bros. since at least 1921, when Goldwyn Pictures, to which Alfred was one of the founders, purchased Artclass’ “The Revenge of Tarzan.”

In November 1922 he announced his departure from Goldwyn to become the new President and General Manager of Artclass.  Alfred proclaimed that a slate of “high class” productions and four “big special productions” would be released annually through national distributors.

“Der müd Tod” / “Between Worlds” (1922)

The first was to be “Between Worlds” an “entirely different…great spectacle,” which turned out to be Fritz Lang’s German “Der müd Tod” aka “Destiny” (Decla-Bioscope/1921).  It had everything going against it; “arty,” no star power, produced in a country the U.S. still bitterly resented, and released by a States Rights distributor.  Nonetheless, it opened at the prestigious 4,000 seat Capitol Theatre in New York City, clearly a result of Alfred’s clout.  The film was reissued by Artclass in 1928 as “Between Two Worlds.”

 

Alfred’s boast that…a big surprise to the trades will be made next week,” never came to be, and I can find no evidence he had any involvement with the Weiss Brothers other than the one film.

Between 1924 and 1926, Artclass released almost 50 five-reel westerns.  Most were produced by Lester F. Scott, Jr.’s Action Pictures, and many starred “Buffalo Bill, Jr.” (Bill Drake) (Years later Louis Weiss purchased the name and character “Buffalo Bill, Jr.”), Wally Wales (Hal Taliaferro) and Buddy Roosevelt, with future star, Jean Arthur, often playing the romantic interest.  In 1979 I asked her about appearing in those westerns, and she quickly changed the subject.

“Grimm’s Fairy Tales” (1927)

They began producing their own series of one-reel shorts; “Guess Who” (1925), “The Scandal of America” (1926), “Screen Star Sports” (1926), “Radio Personalities” (1926-7), “Embarrassing Moments” (1928), and “Grimm’s Fairy Tales” (1927),  which were three-reelers.

Poodles Hanneford in “Circus Daze” (1927)

The most successful Artclass short subjects was a slate of ten separate slapstick comedy series produced between 1926-28; “Ben Turpin Comedies” and “Snub Pollard Comedies,” starring silent comedy stalwarts who by then were past their prime; low-profile comics, “Poodles Hanneford Comedies” and “Jimmy Aubrey Comedies”; and six other series, “Hairbreadth Harry Comedies,” “Winnie Winkle Comedies,” “Izzie and Lizzie Comedies,”  “Crackerjack Comedies,” “Lucky Strikes Comedies” and “Barnyard Animal Comedies” comedies.  Calling them “Comedies” may have been a stretch for the majority, but many are quite good.  Historian and silent comedy expert, Richard M. Roberts, cherry-picked the very best, and they are featured in the DVD collection, “Weiss-O-Rama”…in razor sharp prints with new piano scores and in depth commentaries.

Three ten-episode serials, “Perils of the Jungle” (1927), “Police Reporter” (1928) and “The Mysterious Airman” (1928), completed  the Artclass release schedule for the silent era.

A complete Weiss Bros. silent-era filmography appears in the next blog.

Sources:
American Film Institute,   Exhibitor’s Herald 6/24/22, IMDb,  Kit Parker Collection/Margaret Herrick Library, AMPAS, Moving Picture World 10/7/22; 10/14/22; 11/11/22, New York State Archives, New York Supreme Court, New York Times 5/14/24, Martin Weiss, Steve Weiss, U.S. Copyright Office

Special thanks to Bob Dickson, Margaret Herrick Library, AMPAS

Weiss Bros. – Artclass Pictures on DVD –

            

“After Six Days” (Artclass/1922) and “Yesterday and Today” (UA/1953) http://store.vcientertainment.com/product/after_six_days/640

“Weiss-o-Rama” Weiss Bros. comedy shorts from the original negatives http://store.vcientertainment.com/product/weiss-o-rama/521

Adrian Weiss’ “Bride and the Beast” (Allied Artists/1958), and Louis’ Weiss’ “The White Gorilla” (Weiss-Landress/1946); both from the original negatives: http://store.vcientertainment.com/product/white_gorilla/517

Kit Parker Films available on DVD from VCI Entertainment: http://www.kitparker.com/buy.php

KPF Website: www.kitparker.com

(c) 2012  Kit Parker Films

It started with a nickelodeon in 1907…

 

The Weiss Brothers, pioneer motion picture exhibitors, producers and distributors, financed, produced and/or distributed around 200 feature films, serials, and hundreds of short subjects, from 1915 until the late 1930s. Today they are barely a footnote, even to hard-core vintage movie buffs.

In 2004 I purchased the motion picture holdings of Weiss Global Enterprises with the goal of acquiring the Lippert Pictures collection with its 100+ feature films.  Included in the acquisition was the Weiss Brothers film library, the motion picture holdings of their parent company, Artclass Pictures Corp., and its affiliates, Clarion Photoplays, Stage and Screen Productions, Superior Talking Pictures, Exploitation Pictures, and others.  Most of the movies were unremarkable, filmed in only a few days on low budgets; some looked like they had no budgets at all.

Unfortunately, the copyrights had expired on those they had bothered to copyright in the first place, so there was no realistic way for me to exploit them commercially; a pity since most of the silent comedies and sound features survive in preserved safety film elements. 

One day I was going through several file cabinets of old Weiss Bros. correspondence going back to the 1920s and learned later that one year before purchasing film library most of the correspondence was thrown out.  This included original artwork and letters going back to the 1910s.  Nevertheless, my interest was piqued and discovered that although there is information on most of the films, there is little information about the Weiss companies and those references I could find were often condescending.

 

I concluded that whatever production values were lacking in their output, they did make an effort to entertain audiences for over 20 years, and that deserves more than a footnote.  There was virtually no biographical information about the brothers themselves with the exception of some short biographical paragraphs they wrote in the early 1930s for publication in the Motion Picture Almanac.

 

Adolph Weiss – Louis Weiss – Max Weiss

Samuel “Weisz,” his wife Lena, and their eldest son, Adolph (1879 – ?), immigrated to the United States from Hungary in 1883, settling in New York City, where he worked as a clothes presser.  Adolph and his younger brothers, Max (1886 – ?) and Louis (1890-1963), were the team who were to become motion picture impresarios; a sister, Anna, completed the family unit. 

 

Neither Adolph nor Max ever married, but Louis and his wife, Esther “Ethel,” who was a former Ziegfeld Follies girl under her maiden name of Esther Gruber, had two sons, Adrian (1918-2001), who had a long career working in motion picture production and distribution, who I knew; Peggy Pearl Weiss (1921-1993), and Samuel Martin “Marty” Weiss (1926- ).  As the family expanded, the entire family usually lived under the same roof for the majority of the next three decades. 

 

Adrian Weiss and his wife, also named Ethel, had two sons, Steven, who formed Weiss Global Enterprises with his father in 1971, Lawrence, and a daughter Karen.  Through the years, Adrian wanted me to buy his film library, but his asking price was not realistic…two years after his passing I purchased it from his estate.

Adolph Weiss was a bright entrepreneur; even-tempered and philosophical, later becoming a vegetarian who practiced yoga.  He was 7 years older than Max, 11 years older than Louis, and made it a point to look after his younger siblings, and mentor them in business.   

While still a teenager, Adolph “became involved,” as he put it, with partner Samuel Goldhor, in the Welsbach Lamp and Fixture Company, operating at 3rd. Avenue and 11th St. in New York City.  Carl Welsbach owned many important patents, including for the metal filament used in the light bulbs, so presumably it was a busy enterprise.

Determined to make Max and Louis successful businessmen, Adolph gave jobs to Max and Louis, who were little more than children.

 

In 1900, at age 21, Adolph claimed that Welsbach was “insufficient to occupy my time,” and began purchasing various Edison Phonograph and Victor Talking Machine franchises, and the talking machine department of Western Electric Co.  He opened the Western Talking Machine Co. of Philadelphia, several phonograph stores in New York and Philadelphia; and ran the Victor Jobbing Agency on South 9th St. in Philadelphia, which acted as agents for the manufacturers of phonographs and related products.  He brought both his younger brothers into his enterprises, teaching them how to manage retail businesses, and later made them partners. 

It isn’t known when Adolph sold his phonograph businesses, but in 1907 he brought his brothers into his new entertainment venture, motion picture exhibition, although Louis continued selling phonographs for at least a few more years.  They branched outuntil they owned and operated at least 16 theatres (Moving Picture World claimed 50, which is doubtful), in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Long Island, New Jersey and Connecticut.   

 

Photographs taken in July 2012 of the former locations of what are likely the first Weiss Bros. theatres.  Top:  Avenue A, 51 Ave. A.  Bottom:  Avenue A, later the Hollywood, 98 Ave. A.    (Photos courtesy of Eric Spilker)

The Brothers decided to start producing motion pictures in 1915, formed Clarion Photoplays, and soon after, Weiss Brothers – Artclass Pictures, which became their parent corporation.  Adolph served as Treasurer, and in charge of titling; Max was President, and handled worldwide distribution. Louis was the brother who truly loved producing movies, and relished being Vice-President in charge of production. 

 

Artclass’ output was distributed on a “State’s Rights” basis, the usual distribution method utilized by low budget independent producers because it allowed them to sell their productions to various regional film exchanges for a predetermined price.   Louis gained valuable knowledge about State’s Right’s distribution while working at independent film exchanges in the 1910s.

In 1919 the Brothers sold their theatre interests, except the original Avenue A, and the Fulton Theatre, Hempstead, L.I., which Max continued to operate on a policy of both vaudeville and movies.

 

The first Weiss Bros. release was a white slave exploitation drama, “It May Be Your Daughter” (Clarion/1916), written by George Merrick, who became a frequent Weiss collaborator into the 1950s, and produced by a dubious organization called the “Moral Uplift Society”; although Louis later said Clarion actually produced the film.  In any case, it ran into censorship problems from the start, and was banned in, among other places, New York City, and all of the UK.

Subsequent releases included a series of “Lilliputian Comedies,” which appear to be lost to history; a mystery, “The Open Door” (Robertson-Cole/1919); and another exploitation film, this time a temperance drama, “It Might Happen to You” (Artclass/1920). 

 

In 1919 the Weiss’ company, Numa Pictures Corp., acquired motion picture rights to Edgar Rice Burroughs novel, “The Return of Tarzan.”  State’s Rights Distributors were unwilling to pay the premium the Weiss’ were asking, so the Brothers went ahead and produced the nine-reel film at a studio in Yonkers, with location filming in Florida, Balboa, California, and the L-KO Motion Picture Company zoo in Los Angeles. The movie was sold outright to Goldwyn Pictures at a tidy profit, where the title was changed to “The Revenge of Tarzan,” so that the public wouldn’t mistake it as a reissue of the original “Tarzan of the Apes” (National Film Corp/1918). Advertised as costing $300,000 to produce, which is believable, the movie itself was only so-so, despite the multiple locales, huge numbers of extras, and innovative aerial shots. According to ERBzine, it was the fourth biggest money earner in 1921, even out-grossing Rudolph Valentino’s “The Sheik.”

 

Weiss’ next endeavor was a 15 episode serial, “The Adventures of Tarzan” (Artclass/1921) produced in conjunction with Great Western Production Co. This time the State’s Rights distributors accepted the Brother’s terms, and were rewarded with a blockbuster. Max went to Europe and successfully sold the serial in many foreign territories as well.  In 1928 it was reissued in a 10 episode version, and again in 1935, with an added sound track.  Only this shorter version survives, although the UCLA Film and Television Archive now has enough footage from different sources, including mine, to restore it to its full- length. 

Footage from the serial was reused many different times in subsequent Weiss Bros. productions, looking more creaky and outdated as the years went by.  Over half of the Louis Weiss production of “The White Gorilla” (Landres-Weiss/1946), was made up of stock footage from the old serial, and the DVD version offers some fragments of the original serial as a special feature.  

My next blog picks up the Weiss Bros. story starting in 1922 and continues through the end of the silent era.

Sources:
American Film Institute, Eric Spilker, Exhibitor’s Herald 6/24/22, IMDb, International Motion Picture Almanac 1936-37, Kit Parker Collection,  Margaret Herrick Library, AMP&AS, Moving Picture World 4/8/22; 10/14/22; 10/7/22, New York Census (1925), New York State Archives, New York Supreme Court, New York Times 5/14/24, Martin Weiss, Steve Weiss, U.S. Census (1900, 1915, 1920,1930), U.S. Copyright Office

Special thanks to Bob Dickson, Margaret Herrick Library, AMPAS

Weiss Bros.  – Artclass Pictures on DVD –

“After Six Days” (Artclass/1922) and “Yesterday and Today” (UA/1953)

http://store.vcientertainment.com/product/after_six_days/640

“Weiss-o-Rama”  Weiss Bros. comedy shorts from the original negatives

http://store.vcientertainment.com/product/weiss-o-rama/521

Adrian Weiss’ “Bride and the Beast” (Allied Artists/1958) and Louis’ Weiss’ “The White Gorilla” (Weiss-Landress/1946); both from the original negatives:  

http://store.vcientertainment.com/product/white_gorilla/517

  Kit Parker Films available on DVD from VCI Entertainment: http://www.kitparker.com/buy.php

  KPF Website: www.kitparker.com

 


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