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Posts Tagged ‘Artclass Pictures

There are low budget movies, and there are no-budget movies.

1926

 

        The sound-era came to Weiss Bros. – Artclass Pictures a year before Vitaphone and “The Jazz Singer.”

        Dr. Lee DeForest developed a sound-on-film process in the early 1920s, and many short films used this process, including vaudeville acts and “Song Car-Tunes” produced by Max Fleischer, featuring the bouncing ball. At one time Louis Weiss was the general manager of the DeForest Phonofilm Corporation, but found it difficult to interest the major studios in licensing the early sound process, despite the comparatively good technical quality of many of these films.

        In 1926 Louis persuaded the Phonofilm board to allow Weiss Bros. –Artclass Pictures into distributing a series of the Fleischer cartoons.  The major studios controlled the best theatres, and they weren’t interested in booking the shorts, but Artclass was able to place them into some of the better independent cinemas.  However, the system was doomed, not only by studio indifference, but a series of misfortunes and patent lawsuits that Dr. DeForest was unable to overcome.

1927 – 1928

Artclass produced and released only silent films during these two years.  (See my earlier posts.)

1929

        By the later part of the 1920s, the Brothers Adolph, Louis and Max had amassed a considerable amount of valuable real estate, and traded heavily on the stock market.  After the market crash, their highly-leveraged holdings tumbled and much of their fortunes vanished. Among their losses included the property that later became the site of the 1939 New York World’s Fair.  

        The first Weiss Bros. talkie was “Unmasked” a leaden and stage-bound mystery based on a Craig Kennedy crime novel, and starring Robert Warwick.  It survives only in fragments.

        “Unmasked” was the last collaborative production effort by the three Weiss brothers.  Thereafter, Louis Weiss became the driving force behind Artclass and its future offshoots, although his brothers, Adolph and Max retained a modest financial interest until 1935.

        The only other releases for 1929 were two silent films to which Artclass had only limited rights:  An Art Mix western, produced by Victor Adamson, “Below the Border”; and “Two Sisters” a crime adventure starring Viola Dana, in a dual role, and Rex Lease.  

1930

        Next year, as expected, there was a lean release schedule.  Only one film, “Damaged Love,” (alternate title: “Pleasant Sins”), managed to complete production.  Starring future cowboy star Charles Starrett (as Charles R. Starrett), the melodrama was based on a 1919 play, “Our Pleasant Sins.”  Much needed cash was brought in to Artclass when Louis arranged a buyout deal for the film with Sono-Art World Wide Pictures, which released it early the next year.

        Weiss picked up two exploitation melodramas from Windsor Picture Plays: “Her Unborn Child,” an anti-abortion melodrama based on the play of the same name, of note because it was Elisha Cook, Jr.’s. debut film role (Louis made several unsuccessful attempts at getting the picture remade as late as 1955); and, “Today,” acquired from Majestic Pictures on a limited distribution basis, starring Conrad Nagle…a topical subject about a wealthy couple losing their fortune, with the exploitation angle being the wife’s wandering into prostitution rather than giving up her lavish lifestyle. 

1931

 

        Artclass reactivated when Louis concluded a deal with Alfred T. Mannon’s Supreme Features, Inc., Ltd. (not to be confused with A. W. Hackel’s Supreme Pictures*) to produce and/or finance a slate of pictures.  In 1933 H.E.R. Laboratories foreclosed on the pictures, and conveyed them to  Aladdin Pictures Corp. (Samuel Tulpin), which caused a series of legal problems because Max Weiss had licensed the pictures to States Rights distributor, J. H. Hoffberg Co. without the permission of H.E.R. or Aladdin.  The suit continued for a year until Artclass settled with Tulpin and took undisputed legal possession of the library.

        The movies were produced by Louis Weiss and frequent Weiss collaborator, George Merrick, although the producer credit given is Supreme Features, Inc., Ltd., Alfred T. Mannon, President. (Mannon went on to form Resolute Pictures.)

 

        The slate of Supreme Features pictures were comprised of a romantic-drama, “Pleasure,” starring Conway Tearle and Carmel Myers; a crime-drama, “Night Life in Reno,” with Virginia Valli; a mystery, “Convicted,” starring Aileen Pringle; and “Cavalier of the West,” the first of four westerns starring Harry Carey.  The balance of the Supreme titles were released later in 1932.  

        Another five features were acquired from independent producers for distribution on a limited territory basis: “Maid to Order,” was the first release from the “new” Artclass, it came from Jesse Weil Productions and starred the legendary female impersonator, Julian Etlinge; “Pueblo Terror,” a Buffalo Bill, Jr. western from West Coast Pictures ; “White Renegade,” a western from Carlsbad Productions starring Tom Santschi; a crime melodrama, “The Sea Ghost,” starring Alan Hale and Laura LaPlante from Peerless Productions (Alfred T. Mannon); a horror-thriller oddity, “The Phantom,” with a miscast Guinn “Big Boy” Williams; and a drama, “Soul of the Slums,” starring William Collier, Jr., the latter two from producer Ralph M. Like.

1932

 

        “Uncle Moses” was certainly a unique 1932 release, and the only production from Louis Weiss’, Yiddish Talking Pictures, Inc.  Produced by Louis, and spoken entirely in Yiddish, it came about at the suggestion of his friend, German director, Max Nosseck, who had produced “Der Schlemiel” the year before.  Based on the 1919 novel by Sholem Ash, and subsequent stage play of the same name, it starred Maurice Schwartz, founder of the Yiddish Art Theatre in New York.  (Character actor, Shimen Ruskin, started his career as an assistant director on this film.) As expected, it performed well at the boxoffice in cities with large Jewish populations, especially in New York City, but it also became a non-theatrical evergreen when it was exhibited to Jewish groups in 16mm.

        Supreme Features offered “Cross-Examination,” a mystery-drama starring H.B. Warner and Sally Blane; “They Never Come Back,” a boxing drama with Regis Toomey and Dorothy Sebastian; three Harry Carey westerns, “Cavalier of the West,” “Border Devils,” and “The Night Rider,” which was the final curtain for Weiss Bros. – Artclass Pictures. “The Drifter” a melodrama starring William Farnum and Noah Beery, was acquired from producer Willis Kent for limited distribution.  

1933

        Three new entities took the now-moribund Artclass’ Pictures place: Weiss Productions, Inc. (1933-38), Superior Talking Pictures, Inc. (1933-35), and Stage and Screen Productions, Inc. (1933-46).   Robert Mintz was the president of all three, although some trades listed Edmund Souhami in the top spot.  In fact, he was only a short-time board member.  

        Louis Weiss and Robert Mintz envisioned producing movies based on plays that had been performed on Broadway.  Despite only 28 performances on Broadway, their first effort was “Before Morning,” a mystery melodrama starring Leo Carrillo, produced by Weiss Productions (Louis Weiss as supervising producer), and released by Stage and Screen. 

        Superior acquired three westerns from producer Victor Adamson, “Circle Canyon” with Buddy Roosevelt; two Buffalo Bill, Jr.’s, “Fighting Cowboy” and “Lightning Range,” particularly shoddy productions for which one would think even the most unsophisticated audiences would demand their money back; “Sucker Money” was an expose of the “psychic racket” from producer Willis Kent (as Real-Life Dramas), directed by Dorothy (Mrs. Wallace) Reid, and starring Mischa Auer.  “Trails of Adventure,” a no-budget Buffalo Bill, Jr. western, from American Pictures Corp., was released in limited territories.  Stage and Screen acquired rights for limited territories to Allied Pictures’ (M.H. Hoffman) “The Eleventh Commandment,” a drama starring Marian Marsh.

1934

 

        International Stageplay Pictures, Inc., was set up as a derivative of Superior Talking Pictures, Inc., with the goal of realizing Weiss/Mintz’ Broadway-to-film aspirations.  It’s one and only release was “Drums O’ Voodoo” (“Louisiana” was an alternate title), with an all-black cast, produced by Louis Weiss, starring Laura Bowman and J. Augustus Smith, who wrote the play and screenplay.  Produced on Broadway by the Negro Theatre Guild, it closed after less than ten performances.   The movie is little more than a filming of the play, with a miniscule budget reportedly using short ends of film stock.  In 1940 Louis reissued it under the title “She Devil.”  State’s Righter, Sack Amusement Enterprises, a specialist in distributing ‘race pictures,’ got considerable playdates for several years thereafter.  

        Exploitation Pictures, another Superior Talking Pictures spinoff, released but one picture, “Enlighten Thy Daughter” (reissue title,” Blind Fools”), a remake of a 1917 wayward-youth drama, produced by Robert Mintz and starring Herbert Rawlinson.   

        Producer Victor Adamson was responsible for three more Buffalo Bill, Jr.’s, “Rawhide Romance,” “Riding Speed” and “Lightning Bill,” and two Buddy Roosevelt’s, “Range Riders” and “Boss Cowboy,” a remake of “Cyclone Buddy” (Artclass/1924), all released by Superior. 

        Adamson told producer-historian, and editor of the favorite magazine of my youth, Screen Thrills Illustrated (1962-64), Sam Sherman, told me that Adamson accused Weiss Productions of purposefully bankrupting Superior in a scheme to swindle him out of royalties and his negatives.  I have no information on such a dispute.

        In November of 1934, Superior inked a deal with Ralph M. Like, owner of a small studio doing business as Argosy Pictures, to make two westerns for $3,900 each, and two “northwest” pictures (1930’s producer-speak for a Canadian Mounties picture) for $4,400 each, with 24,000 feet of picture and track raw stock included for each production…not a lot left over for retakes!

        Weiss Productions, formed in 1933, released its first production, a Wally Wales western, “Way of the West,” produced by Robert Tansey.

         Producer Willis Kent’s Real Life Dramas, provided a drama, directed by Mrs. Wallace Reid, “The Woman Condemned,” with Claudia Dell, and a Reb Russell western, “Fighting Through,” both released by Superior.

        Stage and Screen’s releases included “Inside Information,” with 38 and 60 minute versions (even the 38 min. version is too long!); the first of three Tarzan the Police Dog Police Melodramasfrom Consolidated Pictures Corp. (Bert Sternbach, Albert Herman), starring, in addition to Tarzan, of course, Rex Lease, in a rare non-western role; and the first seven of a series of eight two-reel Wally Wales and Buffalo Bill, Jr. westerns, and perhaps some other titles from William Pizor’s Imperial Productions, to which, I believe S&S had only limited distribution rights.

1935

 

        Four Rex Lease westerns came from Weiss Productions and Argosy Productions, produced by Louis Weiss and George Merrick: “Cyclone of the Saddle” (Rough Riders series), “Fighting Caballero,” “Pals of the Range,” “Rough Riding Ranger”; a northwest, “The Silent Code,” starring Kane Richmond and featuring Rex, King of Dogs as played by “Wolfgang,” produced by Louis Weiss; two more Tarzan the Police Dog’s from Consolidated Pictures, “Captured in Chinatown” with Marion Schilling, and “The Million Dollar Haul,” with Kane Richmond.

        “The Drunkard” was an old temperance melodrama allegedly first staged in 1843 by P.T. Barnum, then in 1933 it was revived on the stage at Los Angeles’ Theatre Mart.  According to the Hollywood Reporter, Louis Weiss, under the Exploitation Pictures banner (it was ultimately produced by Bert Sternbach and released as a “Weiss Production” through Stage and Screen), optioned the rights to make a motion picture.  Weiss hired former silent-era stars James Murray, ironically a chronic alcoholic after triumphing in King Vidor’s “The Crowd” (MGM, 1928), as the lead, joined by Clara Kimball Young, Bryant Washburn, and other veterans in support.  Louis planned to road show the film around the country with stars of the film making personal appearances. However, James Murray tragically died a hopeless drunk at age 35, one year after production wrapped.  

        Ten years later, Joseph E. Levine, operating from his State’s Rights film exchange in Boston, purchased all rights for $5,000 ($61,000 in today’s dollars…far more than its production budget), and cut it down for inclusion as a segment in his first feature film, “Gaslight Follies” (Embassy/1945). 

        All of the Weiss Productions were released by Superior Talking Pictures, except for “Million Dollar Haul,” which was distributed through Stage and Screen.

 

        The four proposed Argosy productions mentioned earlier ended up as  three Rex Lease westerns distributed by Stage and Screen, “Cyclone of the Saddle” “Ghost Rider” (Lone Rider series) and “Cowboy and the Bandit,” the latter somehow billed as from International Pictures.

        Stage and Screen also released two Northwest  Morton of the Mounted adventures from Weiss Productions (sometimes credited to “Empire Pictures,” which may have been only a regional distributor), “Courage of the North” and “Timber Terrors,” with John Preston, Dynamite, The Wonder Horse and Captain, The King of Dogs!

        Limited territory releases included “Get That Man” (Scott-Bennet Productions/Mayfair Pictures), with Wallace Ford, and “Arizona Trails,” an Art Mix (Victor Adamson) western.

        By this time the Brothers had the controlling interest in the Hillcrest Golf Club in Jamaica, New York, and Utopia Park Villas of Flushing New York, and Hillcrest Manor, also in Flushing.  Adolph and Max sold their film interests to Louis.

        Max Weiss left the picture business altogether and stayed on the East Coast, only occasionally visiting Adolph and Louis in Los Angeles. 

        Adolph, the introspective and much loved Weiss brother who mentored his younger brothers in the business, and set the foundation for the various Weiss brothers motion picture exhibition, production and distribution businesses, allegedly became a wealthy man.  He chose to dabble in various production manager capacities for Louis, where cast and crew affectionately called him “Uncle Adolph,” overlooking his obsession of stopping production caravans to collect empty bottles and return them for the deposits.  In his mid-50s, he pursued, and got, his dream job…working in the wardrobe department at MGM. 

        Louis continued his dream job — to produce movies, especially serials, and it wasn’t long before he earned the nickname of “Mr. Serials.”

The Serials: 1935 – 1938

 

         Louis’ first talkie chapter play was to be called “The Mysterious Pilot,” and star famed aviator, Wiley Post, who, among other feats, had been the first man to fly solo around the world.  In late July, 1935, Post told Louis he’d be ready to start work in two weeks, after returning from a flight to Siberia with Will Rogers, but the two perished in a remote part of Alaska.

        Three Weiss Productions (Louis Weiss/Robert Mintz) serials were filmed and released in quick succession in 1936, “Custer’s Last Stand,” with Rex Lease was the first.  To promote it, an elaborate insert was placed in the December 14, 1935 issue of Boxoffice Magazine (see above.)  The first three episodes received uniform acclaim in the trades, and Weiss and Mintz plastered them all over the insert.  The balance of 12 chapters were duds.    

        Louis’ son Martin told me that one of the great thrills of his youth was being on the set of “Custer’s Last Stand” and watching the wind blow the curtain off the outdoor dressing room of actress Ruth Mix (daughter of Tom Mix), completely exposing her for a brief instant for all to see…an instant he can still describe in vivid detail over 75 years later. 

 

        A Craig Kennedy mystery, “The Amazing Adventures of the Clutching Hand” (the alternate, and feature version title was “The Clutching Hand”), followed in 1936, with Jack Mulhall in the title role.  Fifteenth down the cast was Charles Locher, who became known as Jon Hall, and an instant star in John Ford’s “The Hurricane” (Samuel Goldwyn-UA/1937).  Not to miss an exploitation angle, Louis later inserted a full-frame title, “Starring Jon Hall,” into the negative.  It was such a blatant example of false advertising, even from a Poverty Row studio, that the title was subsequently removed, although it occasionally pops up on public domain DVD’s.

 

        “The Black Coin,” a mystery with Ralph Graves, was the third and final serial.  Both “Custer” and “Clutching” were also released in cut-down feature versions.

        Among the files I donated to the Margaret Herrick Library of the AMPAS, are pay stubs for the actors performing in some of the early talkies and serials, and they were miserly.  Ruth Mix, second-billed in one serial, and fourth in the other two, was paid only $3.75 a day for her work…and despite being subjected to embarrassment due to the “tent malfunction,” felt compensated enough to write a “thank you” note to Louis, asking him to consider her for any roles  in his future productions!  (Yakima Canutt was by far the highest paid performer in the three serials, getting $125 a day for risking his life doing stunt work.)

        Other proposed serials, “The Phantom Railroad,” “Pony Express,” and “Jungle Perils,” touted as an amazing African Adventure by the Intrepid Herbert Bruce, were never produced.

 

        Weiss Productions, operating as Adventure Serials, Inc., produced three chapter plays under Louis’ supervision for Columbia Pictures: “Jungle Menace” (1937), starring outdoor adventurer Frank “Bring ‘em Back Alive” Buck; “The Secret of Treasure Island” (1938) a pirate adventure starring Don Terry; and the reactivated Wiley Post adventure, “The Mysterious Pilot” (1938), starring another famous pilot, Frank Hawks, who himself died in an aviation crash one year later.  

        L. Ron Hubbard, later the founder of Scientology, regularly peddled stories to Louis, and according to Martin Weiss, said he was going to start a religion.  Louis retained Hubbard to write the screenplay for “Island,” and reportedly to work on the script for “Pilot.”   

        Upon delivery of the last serial to Columbia, the former Weiss Bros. production and distribution offshoots, for all intents and purposes ceased; although Stage and Screen continued as a corporate entity until 1946. 

 

        The majority of the original nitrate negatives of the sound era were burned in a vault fire.  I practically cried when I saw so many of the old film element cards boldly rubber stamped “AXED.” Fortunately, by that time most of the sound features and serials had been transferred to 35mm safety fine grains to facilitate the manufacture of 16mm negatives.  Although the silent features and serials were “axed,” the comedy shorts were preserved.  They are stored in temperature and humidity controlled vaults at the UCLA film and Television Archive, and the Academy Film Archive (AMPAS). 

        In 1940 Louis Weiss purchased last of the old guard, Robert Mintz’, interest in Stage and Screen Productions, and Louis’ son Adrian joined the board of directors.  It was a new era for Louis, Adrian, and, later his brother, Martin, and grandson Steven.  More “Weiss” stories to follow, and as well as a complete sound-era filmography.

* The Supreme Pictures releases were not released theatrically by any of the Weiss entities, but Louis did purchase sixteen Bob Steele and eight Johnny Mack Brown Supreme westerns  outright from A.W. Hackel in the late 1940s for use on television.

Sources: Bob Dickson, Margaret Herrick Library AMPAS   American Film Institute, Boxoffice Magazine, December 14, 1935, Film Daily Yearbook, I Went That-a-Way: The Memoirs of a Western Film Director Harry Fraser by  Wheeler  W. Dixon and Audrey Brown Fraser (Scarecrow, 1990), IMDb, International Motion Picture Almanac 1936-37, Kit Parker Collection, Margaret Herrick Library AMPAS, New York State Archives, Poverty Row Studios, 1929 – 1940, by Michael R. Pitts (McFarland, 1997), Sam Sherman, Martin Weiss, Steven Weiss, U.S. Copyright Office

(c) 2012 Kit Parker Holdings, LLC

Kit Parker Films/Weiss Bros. Collection on DVD from VCI Entertainment:

“After Six Days”  http://store.vcientertainment.com/product/after_six_days/640

“Bride and the Beast” http://store.vcientertainment.com/product/bride_and_the_beast/517

“Weiss-o-Rama” http://store.vcientertainment.com/product/weiss-o-rama/521

“The White Gorilla” http://store.vcientertainment.com/product/white_gorilla/517

 

Kit Parker Films available on DVD from VCI Entertainment:

http://www.kitparker.com/buy.php

Other Weiss Bros. releases from VCI Entertainment:

“Boss Cowboy” http://store.vcientertainment.com/product/buddy_roosevelt/125

“Cavalier of the West” http://store.vcientertainment.com/product/cavalier_of_the_west/123

“CircleCanyon” http://store.vcientertainment.com/product/circle_canyon/125

“Cowboy and the Bandit” http://store.vcientertainment.com/product/COWBOY_AND_THE_BANDIT/128

“Fighting Caballero” http://store.vcientertainment.com/product/FIGHTING_CABALLERO/128

“Last of the Clintons” http://store.vcientertainment.com/product/LAST_OF_THE_CLINTONS/130

“Pals of the Range” http://store.vcientertainment.com/product/PALS_OF_THE_RANGE/145

“Range Riders” http://store.vcientertainment.com/product/RANGE_RIDERS/144

“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

 

 

I bought the Weiss Global Enterprises film library in 2004, and one of the properties was “Craig Kennedy.”  Who was this character? 

 

While going through some old files I discovered that he was extremely popular in the 1910’s and 20’s as fiction’s first detective to utilize “modern” criminal science, such as analyzing tire tracks, blood types and finger prints.  There were scores of Craig Kennedy short stories and novels, written by Arthur B. Reeve.  Later six movie serials, a feature film, 26 television episodes, and even a comic strip were based on his detective hero.   

 

The Weiss Brothers (Adolph, Max, Louis), owners of Weiss Bros.-Artclass Pictures, were pioneers in low-budget filmmaking.  In 1927 they made two successive deals with Reeve, which gave them renewable options to produce motion pictures and serials based on his published Craig Kennedy stories, along with a commission for Reeve to write a 10 chapter serial tentatively titled “You Can’t Win.”  (Incidentally, the Weiss Bros. were forward-looking enough to include exhibition by “television” into their contracts!)  Two 10-chapter silent serials, “The Mysterious Airman” (1927), and “Police Reporter” (1928), along with their first feature talkie, “Unmasked” (1929), were produced and released by Weiss Bros.-Artclass Pictures on a State’s Rights basis.

 

In 1935 The Weiss Brothers, under the name of Stage and Screen Productions, made another deal with Reeve to produce two serials using the Craig Kennedy stories, “The Clutching Hand” and “The Golden Grave,” and at the same time acquired merchandizing rights, which included fingerprint kits.  “The Clutching Hand” was produced, in conjunction with Charles Mintz, and released in 1936 as “The Amazing Adventures of the Clutching Hand.” (“The Golden Grave” was never made.)   Yakima Canutt received $125 for performing stunts, but most of the actors were paid only between $3.75 and $10 a day.  One of them, Ruth Mix (daughter of Tom Mix), had a good part in the film, but was one of the actors who received only the dismal $3.75.  (Apparently she was happy with it, however, as she wrote Louis Weiss thanking him for hiring her, and asking if he had any more work.) The Weiss’ must have had a great deal of confidence in the forthcoming release of “The Clutching Hand,” because they concluded another deal with Reeve just four days prior to its release.  Reeve died four months later.

Arthur B. Reeve

On June 12, 1944, Stage and Screen bought all rights, in perpetuity, to the Craig Kennedy character, and stories, from the Reeve family, but no other films were ever produced.  Max and Adolph Weiss retired, leaving Louis Weiss, operating under The Louis Weiss Co., with the film library and all other assets, including the rights to Craig Kennedy.  In October of 1944, Louis tried to get a publisher, Novel Selections, Inc. to reprint the stories, but was turned down.  Then he went to the first publisher of the Kennedy stories, Harper and Brothers, who had great success with the stories 20 years earlier, but was told the stories were too antiquated.

                                                                                                Adrian and Louis Weiss ca. 1949

Louis suffered a heart attack in 1948, and his son, Adrian, who had a background in films, joined the firm to relieve some of the pressure off his father and to exploit their library of old films on television.  Television was just starting to take off, and suddenly there was a big demand for old films, particularly produced in the U.S.A.  The major studios were afraid to license their pictures to the new medium because their theatrical exhibitors threatened boycotts.   Louis and Adrian had no such qualms, because they were no longer in the theatrical business.  They knew years before most other producers that television was going to be big, so early on they acquired many feature films, mostly cheap westerns, to augment what they had actually produced.  Because of that demand, Louis and Adrian had the foresight to preserve the negatives of their sound era features and serials, as well and dozens of silent 2-reel comedies Weiss Bros.-Artclass had produced in the late 1920s.  Most of this material survives to this day.

 

In 1949, flush with money from licensing their library to TV stations desperate to fill time slots, Adrian and Louis decided to update the Craig Kennedy character and produce 13 half-hour television episodes to be called, “Craig Kennedy, Criminologist.”  It was a roll of the dice because they self-funded the project, filming in expensive 35mm, for television syndication (sales to individual stations on a market-by-market basis) without any guarantee they’d be able to sell the show. 

 Experts at producing films on the cheap, Adrian and Louis kept the Weiss Bros. tradition of using character actors, and former stars, well beyond their prime.  For the part of Craig Kennedy they hired the Canadian actor, Donald Woods, who had a long list of  credits, but never reached star-status.  (He later went on to perform in scores of television programs).  They also talked some of the talent into deferring income until the shows went into the black.

 

The first 13 shows were picked up in many television markets, where amazingly it hit some home-runs, notably in Cleveland, Philadelphia, Kansas City, and particularly in New Orleans (WDSU-TV), where it got a surprising 50 share (half the people watching television), slightly besting “I Love Lucy” and “Dragnet”.  A second season was produced, which also did well. 

   

 

In 1999, Adrian approached me to buy his entire library, known as Weiss Global Enterprises, which controlled hundreds of films, including the Lippert Pictures library, several independent productions, and the Craig Kennedy stories, but wanted three times it’s actual worth.  Adrian died in 2001, and I purchased the entire Weiss library at a fair price in 2004, from his son and daughter.

Please see my forthcoming blog, “Craig Kennedy, Criminologist,” for descriptions of each episode in the TV series.

Order the TV series on DVD:

http://store.vcientertainment.com/product/craig_kennedy/520

Order Kit Parker Films on DVD:

http://store.vcientertainment.com/products/category/Kit_Parker_Films

Contact:  kit@kitparker.com


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