Sunday, November 11, 2018

The Last Post - Researching World War I on Film

Today, exactly one hundred years ago, World War I ended. The guns along the Western Front fell silent after four years of fighting - Armistice was declared. The appropriate time now has also come to finish this weblog on the American films and cameramen of the Great War. On behalf of fellow authors Cooper Graham and Jim Castellan, thank you all very much for your interest, comments and enthusiastic support of our film historical research!

For this final weblog here is a reproduction of a post that was published in November 2017 by the International Association for Media and History (IAMHIST) on their website.

Albert Dawson, directing war movies (1915)

"Researching World War I On Film"

By Ron van Dopperen

The centennial of the First World War has brought about a renewed public interest in this major military conflict.  When I first visited Belgium as a history student in the 1980s there were still veterans around who had been in the trenches. They were there to hear the Last Post under the Menin Gate, and I remember vividly how impressed I was by the ceremony and the sight of all these names of the soldiers who had found an anonymous grave in the Ypres Salient. 
As the saying goes ‘Old soldiers never die, they simply fade away’. It is the same with the films of the Great War. Stored on highly flammable nitrate stock, the film legacy of World War I presents scholars and film fans all over the world with an amazing historical source. The footage to be sure is slowly fading away. Unless preserved on safety stock or digitized we are losing by decomposition an invaluable part of our cultural heritage. I recall the first time I went into the nitrate vaults of the Library of Congress in Culpeper, Virginia, with my esteemed fellow author Cooper Graham, looking for lost film of this war. I was feeling like a kid in a candy store. In one of the cans we found footage mentioning The German Side of the War, a movie that had been produced by the Chicago Tribune in 1915. When reeling that film on a viewer we found ourselves in underground bunkers on the Eastern Front, and that’s when we discovered the film had been misplaced. We were looking at a completely different film that was shot by Albert K. Dawson, cameraman with the Austro-Hungarian army! 
My fascination with these old war films started when as a history student I first read Kevin Brownlow’s book The War, the West and the Wilderness. Kevin is one of the first historians to research World War I films. He also was fortunate enough to interview some of the cameramen who  recorded the Great War, at a time when they were still around. We dedicated our book American Cinematographers in the Great War to Kevin Brownlow because as film historians we all stand on his shoulders. These war pictures, as described by Brownlow, were a window on a different world. This was a time when cars and planes were the latest thing, when women could not vote, when it took ten days to cross the Atlantic, when trench warfare devastated a way of life that belonged to the 19th century. Despite the static shots and primitive camera technique these films and newsreels are truly mesmerizing. 
The First World War was a modern war that surprised all combatants as well as the people at the home front just because it was so ‘modern’. It was also the first modern media war. Film propaganda was not invented by Goebbels but by Wellington House, UFA and the Committee on Public Information in America. Admittedly, wars had been filmed before 1914 but this was the first time in history when the huge publicity potential of this young medium was discovered and exploited.  
As I dug deeper into my film research, together with my American colleagues Cooper Graham and Jim Castellan, I also got intrigued by one simple question: how did these guys do it? How did they manage lugging these cumbersome movie cameras with tripod and all to the battlefield? How did they deal with censors, military red tape and the risks of having their movie camera mistaken for the equipment of an artillery spotter? Why did they even run the risk of becoming a prime target? We were on uncharted territory basically, as most of these cameramen – like the soldiers of World War I – had slowly faded away. We interviewed relatives in the U.S. and many of them did not even know that their Granddad had been a cameraman in World War I. But the stories that we found on their photographic work and their life are definitely worth preserving, just like their films. In some rare instances we could even match their personal story with the pictures that they made at the front. It’s a strange experience to watch a movie that was made one hundred years ago, as seen through the eyes of the cameraman you get to know so well. As a writer you feel transported back in time. For a brief moment you become the cameraman. 
Just like these cameramen who had been pioneers in their trade – the first film correspondents – we had to start most of our film research from scratch. I should give proper credits here to Cooper and Jim for their outstanding work on reconstructing Wilbur H. Durborough’s  feature film, On the Firing Line with the Germans, a unique film report made during the German drive on the Eastern Front in 1915. By using the paper roll collection at the Library of Congress they managed to identify each separate scene from that movie. The next step was finding scenes missing from known Durborough film in TV documentaries and the World War I Signal Corps collection at the National Archives. The last step was piecing them all together in the right order. This is another aspect of this kind of film research: how to piece all of these segments together? World War I film research is a giant jigsaw puzzle because a lot of contemporary footage has been recycled or cut into stock footage. It takes a lot of patience to get the bigger picture.

Sniper attack on the Eastern Front in Russian Poland. Scene from On the Firing Line with the Germans (USA, 1915)

The last years researching World War I film have been a great ride. We have brought back on the screen Durborough’s war film which has been wonderfully restored by the Library of Congress. The premiere at the film festival of Pordenone together with Kevin Brownlow as a special guest was just great. This kind of film research never really stops, so after publishing our books and articles we started a weblog Shooting the Great War which has the latest updates on World War I cameramen and films that we have found and identified. The blog has over 200,000 views. So, we definitely have an audience out there!

Ron van Dopperen studied history at the University of Utrecht (Holland) where he wrote his Master of Arts Thesis on the American World War I documentary films. Since 2011 he publishes on World War I film, starting with a series of articles for Film History journal. He is also co-author together with Cooper C. Graham of Shooting the Great War: Albert Dawson and the American Correspondent Film Company (2013) and together with Jim Castellan and Cooper Graham of American Cinematographers in the Great War (2014) which was sponsored by the Pordenone Silent Film Festival.


Thursday, November 1, 2018

Shooting the Breakthrough - A.E.F. Cameraman Wounded (France, 1918)

Having taken the Hindenburg Line two American Divisions as part of the British Fourth Army participated in the final stage of World War I. Against heavy German resistance the American soldiers charged across open country and crossed the river Selle on October 17, 1918. While filming the breakthrough Sergeant Granville Howe, motion picture cameraman attached to the 30th Division (American Expeditionary Force), was wounded.

View of a German shell exploding in the distance at Molain, near Vaux-Andigny, France, on October 17, 1918. Shrapnel from the shell killed two British Tommies, five horses, and wounded the moving-picture operator of the 30th Division. Signal Corps photograph, taken by Lt. Edward N. Jackson. NARA, record number J 33371, courtesy Harry B. Kidd. Link to high res image

According to a report by the Chief Signal Officer from 1919, seven American cameramen were wounded during the First World War while taking pictures at the front. Details of what happened to these official military photographers are very hard to find. Also, pictures showing the actual moment they were hit by enemy fire are extremely rare. As a result, we were amazed to find a photograph recently in the collection of the National Archives, showing such a moment. A group of American soldiers can be seen taking cover while a shell explodes nearby. The caption mentions an American movie cameraman who was wounded, as well as some British soldiers. Note the railroad track in the right corner on the foreground. This detail among other things later made it possible to substantiate the report on what happened on October 17, 1918.

Identification of Photographer

The caption has a fixed date and location, but we initially had no clue about the identity of the photographer who took this picture, as well as the cameraman who got wounded. Until Harry Kidd helped us out, and supplied us with a copy of the original print that was cleared by the A.E.F. censors shortly after the Armistice. As it turns out, the picture was taken by Lt. Edward N. Jackson, photographic officer with the 27th Division. Jackson featured before in an earlier weblog, and we also mentioned him briefly in our book American Cinematographers in the Great War. He was a press photographer from New York and had a major scoop with his pictures of the Peace Treaty at Versailles in 1919.

Tanks of the American 301st Tank Battalion going into action at St. Souplet on the morning of October 17, 1918. Note Old Glory flying from the tank. Signal Corps picture, probably taken by Lt. Jackson's photo-unit, from the collection of the Imperial War Museum

Harry's invaluable input gave us the lead we were hoping for. Jackson wrote a personal account on his experiences during the First World War. As quoted by Joseph J. Caro in his book On Assignment: The Great War, Jackson reported how he and his fellow cameramen were attached to the 30th Division in September 1918. This made perfect sense, as both American units - the 27th and the 30th Divison - were under British command and collaborated closely during the final attack on the German lines.

Casualty Report by Lt. Jackson

Here are fragments from Jackson's account on this incident during the American drive which would go down into history books as the Battle of the Selle:

"Now the soldiers were out of the trenches, fighting in the open. The enemy was in slow retreat. It was nuts for us! We were in a picture man's paradise! Something worthwhile photographically, was happening every minute! ....  This was all like a photographer's dream - and a soldier's nightmare. Picture on picture of roaring, thundering action flashed all around us. You couldn't shoot it all; you could hardly should any, especially when you are being shot at yourself. We were warned not to show ourselves in the open fields too much because we would draw fire from the enemy."
"... By this time St. Souplet was being pounded to complete ruins. Buildings were on fire, and clouds of smoke and flames shot up over the little town. Many tanks were coming up now. The one with the American flag was far in advance, plowing steadily on. What a sight to see! "Gosh, that was a whopper!", Bennett  [Jackson's camera assistant shouted, as shells continued to fall all around us. Artillery horses near our guns started to stampede and men sought refuge near the railroad tracks. 
I turned to see what luck Howe was having with his movie machine and saw him step away from the tripod mounted camera. His mouth was stretched wide, his teeth flashing. For a brief second I thought he was grinning at something. Then I saw his face was distorted in pain! Bennett and I caught him as he fell and we carried him over the railroad tracks to a safe field. A hasty examination revealed that he had shrapnel wounds in both legs. He was bleeding badly. Calling for help, some English soldiers came and carried Howe to a first aid station on the other side of town. I never saw him again but heard he was sent home to Chicago soon after."

British artillery in action at Molain, October 17, 1918. Signal Corps picture which was probably taken by Lt. Jackson's photo unit

The Cameraman: Granville J. Howe

Jackson was right about Howe's return to Chicago, but it wasn't until January 22, 1919, when he departed from France. It evidently took some time before his wounds were healed well enough, so he could be shipped back to the United States. The information on Howe's life and work remains somewhat sketchy. Born in Tiffin, Ohio, in 1876, Howe started working as a photographer in the Chicago area. When America entered World War I he joined the U.S. Signal Corps and he was assigned to the American Expeditionary Force. He sailed from Hoboken, New Jersey, on the military transport ship SS Covington on June 15, 1918. Shortly after his arrival in France Howe must have been assigned to the 27th Division, and his camera covered most of the major campaigns by the 27th and the 30th Division. In the collection of the National Archives we found a contemporary report mentioning Howe's extraordinary work as a motion picture cameraman. He was cited for bravery in having taken pictures under heavy shell and machine gun fire during all of the operations that he witnessed at the Western Front.

After the First World War Howe worked as chief cameraman for Otto A. Brinner in Chicago. The Brinner Film Company specialized in topical movies and newsreel productions.

Granville Howe died in Chicago on July 8, 1945.

                       With special thanks to Harry Kidd for his research and input on this weblog

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

"Under Four Flags" (USA, 1918)

Released nationwide by the World Film Corporation in January 1919, Under Four Flags was the last official World War I feature film produced by the Committee on Public Information (CPI), America's wartime propaganda agency. Segments of this historic film from the collection of the Library of Congress are now available online.

Film poster Under Four Flags (USA, 1918)

"The Victory of Democracy"

With 1,820 bookings in American theaters, grossing almost $ 64,000,-  Under Four Flags did not live up to the expectations of the CPI Film Division. The movie premiered in New York City at the prestigious Rialto and Rivoli theaters in November 1918, shortly after the Armistice was signed. The end of World War I was included into the movie with a caption announcing "The Victory of Democracy". President Woodrow Wilson next was shown on screen, as are victory parades in Washington, D.C. The film concluded: “And now the cannon’s roar has ceased and peaceful days and peaceful nights have come again to those across the seas."

Scene from Under Four Flags, reproduced in an article published in Photoplay Magazine, January 1919

Public interest in the Great War quickly disappeared in the United States after the signing of the Armistice, which is - apart from the impact of the flu epidemic - the main reason why Under Four Flags did not prove to be a box office hit. As described by Benjamin B. Hampton in his book The History of the American Film Industry: "On November 11th war pictures were saleable merchandise; on the night of November 11th they became unmarketable.  During the dull months of 1918, while the studios were marking time, the principal item of production had been war pictures. On Armistice Day, distributors and producers had almost nothing else in their warerooms; they faced the loss of millions of dollars in property now worthless through this sudden twist in the taste of their customers."

The original film version of Under Four Flags had seven reels, with footage showing the American offensives at Château-Thierry and St. Mihiel. As a contribution to the Allied war effort, the fifth reel had scenes showing the Italian army fighting against the Austrians in the Alps. Most of the original footage in this CPI movie was shot by military cameramen of the U.S. Signal Corps in France. The footage from the Library of Congress runs for about 25 minutes. Although it is not a complete print and despite the uneven pictorial quality the original intertitles which were written by Kenneth C. Beaton are still in place and give a good impression of this remarkable World War I propaganda film.

Although now considered "silent",  this World War I film originally had a musical score which tied in with the Christmas season of 1918 and was composed by Hector Richard.

Here is a download link to the film music of Under Four Flags, also available at the Library of Congress. 


Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Faking War Footage

World War I film scenes sometimes were staged before the camera. The reasons for faking the footage were complex and have been described in more detail in our book American Cinematographers in the Great War.

Picture from the article in Illustrated World on fake war films, March 1916

Some fake war films, like the movie that was shot by Arthur Dugmore on the Belgian defense of the city of Alost in September 1914, proved to be a huge success in the American movie theaters. This earlier weblog has more information on how war scenes were staged, with as an example the following film scene of a German infantry attack that was shot by American cameraman, Albert K. Dawson, on the Western Front around February 1915.

German soldiers going over the top at the Western Front, filmed by Albert K. Dawson. Footage located in the BBC Great War series, Episode 5 (1964)

Although film was a relatively new medium during World War I the movie-going audience in the United States knew that not all of these supposed 'war scenes' were for real. The film trade papers in America frequently ran articles warning exhibitors about the risks of showing fake and unreliable war films. The audience also read stories that explained how these fake war films were produced.

How to Recognize a Fake War Film

A typical example is an article that was published in March 1916 in the popular magazine Illustrated World. Author Edward C. Crossman describes a number of staged war films that were shown in the American movie theaters at the beginning of World War I, and explains how these scenes were made. He also goes into quite some detail on how the audience could recognize a fake scene from a real war scene, giving attention to the position of the film camera and technical details about the weapons that were used in the film.

Although the writer of this article does not mention any names of producing companies the lines on a Belgian war film that was shown uinder the auspices of a big American newspaper may refer to the Chicago Tribune's film On Belgian Battlefields (USA, 1914) which was taken by the Tribune's staff photographer Edwin F. Weigle and is now considered 'lost', apart from a short scene that we could identify recently.

Here is a download link to this article from Illustrated World.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Sending Smiles to the Soldiers by the Movies (USA, 1918)

Around October 20, 1918 an estimated 14,000 people gathered in Grant Park, Chicago, for a huge movie project. Friends, relatives and sweethearts of soldiers from the Illinois regiments that were serving in France all gathered to appear before the camera, so the soldiers could see their loved ones on Christmas Eve.

Scene from the "Smile Films": friends and family say hello to Eddie Brand from Chicago

The project was called "Smiles Films" and judging from contemporary reports it was a terrific morale booster. The idea actually was quite original. Usually films were made in Europe for the American home front, but this time it was the other way around. According to film trade reports, the Chicago Examiner - a Hearst newspaper - came up with this idea and joined forces with the Rothacker Film Company for the making of these special films. As production went underway the scope of the project expanded rapidly. At first the makers of "Smile Films" thought about shooting scenes of friends and relatives of soldiers from the 131rd and 132nd Illinois regiments. Then the Black Hawk Division was added to their list, as well as the 149th Field Artillery, the Marines from Illinois and the Afro-American soldiers. In the end director Rex Weber and his crew produced 34 reels of film, totalling 26,683 feet of film.

"Turning Chicago Upside Down"

When the "Smiles Films" were recorded war on the Western Front was still being fought by the American soldiers and no one could have guessed that the war would be over by Christmas. Sending a personal message over there by using movies was something the boys in the trenches would certainly appreciate. During post-production the footage was edited into segments according to the specific name of the military unit, so the film could be shown to the appropriate soldiers through the YMCA. Each film had an introduction by Governor Lowden and Judge Landis who was quoted on an intertitle urging the boys to "give the Germans both barrels". Director Rex Weber, who had made a series of films in 1917 for the American Military Relief Association, also appeared in these movies, announcing what would happen to Chicago when the soldiers returned home. A scene was projected next, showing the streets of Chicago that were turned upside down by tilting the movie camera.

According to film producer Watterson R. Rothacker, director Rex Weber was thoroughly exhausted by this massive film project. In retrospect that turned out to be an ominous statement. On December 9, 1918, shortly before his movies were shown to the American soldiers in France, Weber died - one of the millions of victims of the Spanish flu that was sweeping across Europe and the U.S. at the time.

Unfortunately, we haven't been able so far to find the footage of these "Smiles Films" in the historical film archives, but in the National Archives in Washington, D.C. we came across a fascinating selection of pictures showing the making of these films in Grant Park, Chicago.

You are free to view and download these pictures here on our photo channel.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Official War Photographer William Fox (Western Front, 1918)

Although they shot thousands of feet of footage you hardly see them on film: the official cameramen of World War I. By a stroke of luck we recently found a rare movie scene that features one of these war photographers: William Fox, commanding the Photo-Unit attached to the 5th Division of the American Expeditionary Force.

Official Photographer

William Fox in Mexico, 1916

William Fox was mentioned in an earlier weblog. He was a press photographer who worked for Underwood & Underwood in New York City. In 1916 Fox was attached to General Pershing's forces as the only official accredited cameraman to cover the Punitive Expedition into Mexico. The National Archives and the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. have a collection of pictures taken by Fox in Mexico at that time. Here is a selection of these photographs which were uploaded on our photo channel.

Thanks to Harry Kidd's excellent photographic research on the U.S. Signal Corps World War I cameramen we could trace some additional background information on Lieutenant Fox's work after the American entry into the First World War. First, we found two pictures taken by Fox in June 1918 at Newport News, Virginia, when he was covering troop transports to France. Either Fox stayed in the United States to take additional pictures, or - this seems more likely - he was sent to Europe around this time to direct the pictorial coverage of the 5th Division, A.E.F. Here is a link to one of his photographs, from Harry Kidd's photo channel on Flickr. 

"The Red Devils"

Nicknamed "The Red Devils", the 5th Division was activated on December 11, 1917, just over eight months after the American entry into World War I, at Camp Logan, near Houston, Texas and began training for deployment to the Western Front. The entire division had arrived in France by May 1, 1918, and the units were soon deployed into the front line. Battle honors to the Fifth Division were earned for its participation at the St. Mihiel Drive and Meuse-Argonne Offensive.

In October 1918, Lieutenant Fox and his photographic unit reached the Meuse river while the 5th Division was driving the German army out of the Argonne area. Their picture was taken on October 19, 1918, near Montfaucon.

Signal Corps photographic unit attached to the 5th Division, 1st Army. Personnel, left to right: Sgt 1cl A. J. Mann; Cpl J. G. Jones, S.C. Motion Picture Photographer; 1st Lt. Wm Fox, S.C. Still Photographer: Cpl. Paul Bogart, Ass't; and Master Signal Electrician Gare Schwartz. Fayel Farm near Montfaucon, Meuse, France. Photographer: Lieutenant Wm. Fox, S.C. Location: Montfaucon, Meuse, France. Date October 19, 1918. Courtesy Harry B. Kidd

Harry Kidd's research at the National Archives has produced additional references to Fox and his camera crew. On October 22, 1918, he was filmed having lunch with members of his photographic team, as well as with officers of the 5th Division at mess. Here is a download link to the 'dope sheet' movie cards, describing these two scenes. Part of this footage we also found in the collection of the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

Footage Found at the Imperial War Museum

On October 25, 1918, three days later, Fox again was filmed inside the city of Cunel, when he was setting up his movie camera in front of a church that supposedly had been used by the Germans as a cinema. When Fox was filming Cunel had just been evacuated by the retreating Germans, but it seems the place was still dangerous because Fox appears to be running away from shell fire in the film scene that we found in the collection of the Imperial War Museum.

With special thanks to Harry Kidd for his research and input on this weblog


Friday, September 28, 2018

World War I Through the Lens of the Cameraman (GB, 2018)

Crowd funded by World War I and film history fans alike, Beaumont-Hamel was released online on June 30, 2018. The film has a unique approach to the Great War. The Battle of the Somme is seen here through the lens of the official cinematographer, Geoffrey Malins, who on July 1, 1916, covered the bloodiest battle in British military history.

Co-directed by a film maker (Ross Barnwell) and a World War I historian (Andy Robertshaw, co-author of Ghosts on the Somme), this short film places historical accuracy at the centrepiece of the drama. Highly recommended!

For an interview with producer Andy Robertshaw on Malins' film work on the Somme check out this video


Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Capturing the Great War from Above (France, 1918)

In the collection of the Imperial War Museum the authors recently found a remarkable film by photographic officer Captain Edwin H. Cooper, showing his preparations for a staged battle between the American ace Eddie Rickenbacker and a captured German plane. During the making of this movie Cooper's plane crashed but he survived miraculously.

Lieutenant Edwin H. Cooper, getting ready for a motion picture flight. Aviation School, Issoudon, 12 December 1917. Signal Corps picture, courtesy Harry B. Kidd

Distinguished Service Cross for Extraordinary Bravery 

Edwin H. Cooper (1881-1948) featured before in this weblog. He was the photographic officer with the 26th "Yankee" Division and in 1917 Cooper was one of the first official cameramen to land in France with the American Expeditionary Force. In a previous weblog we described how Cooper risked his life while filming the American attack on Château-Thierry. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his extraordinary bravery during this offensive. Cooper also appears in a recent documentary that we produced - Mobilizing Movies! - on the U.S. Signal Corps cameramen of the First World War.

In his memoirs Cooper explained how he got interested in aerial photography. When he landed at St. Nazaire in October 1917 one of the first things he noticed was a huge observation balloon above the harbor. He immediately decided he wanted to experience the thrill of covering the war from above: "We passed over a very beautiful little chateau which reminded me of a toy house in a well kept Christmas yard. The coast of Brittany is very rocky, jutting out into the water, which was a most wonderful blue. This was the most beautiful ride I ever had. On reaching St. Nazaire we circled over the town, the pilot maneuvering so we could approach the pile of automobiles by making a long glide and at the proper time for me to crank the motion picture camera. I made a mistake by putting my hand up broadside to grasp the crank. The wind pressure was so great that it snapped my hand back, hitting me in the face, and I had to offer my hand knife-wise against the wind, and even at that the cranking was very difficult."

Capturing the American Aces

In December 1917 Cooper went to Issoudon, the training camp for American aviators. There he met most of the American aces, such as Eddie Rickenbacker, Jimmy Meissner and President Roosevelt's son, Quentin. Many of these men he would encounter again at the 94th Aero-Squadron near Toul. Cooper pictured the training period for the aviators, starting with the roulier class. This was a plane with the propellers clipped to keep the machine from rising from the ground. From there he followed the training of the aviators from one field to another and finally to the acrobatic field. Each day he was in the air and by then he had decided he wanted to join the Air Service.

Major Raoul Lufbery at the 94th Aero-Squadron, photographed by Lt. Edwin Cooper on April 18, 1918. Signal Corps photograph courtesy Harry B. Kidd

Cooper also photographed Lafayette Escadrille ace, Major Raoul Lufbery, shortly before his death:

"I shall always remember the luncheon I had with Major Lufbery on the Friday
before he was killed. He never talked aviation or his exploits, but that day he
mentioned the fact, referring to a boy that had gone down in flames, that if he was
ever in flames he would jump. That afternoon I photographed him in front of his
plane. The following Sunday afternoon they received word at the field that there
was a Boche plane coming toward Toul. The flight on duty started up and they
had hardly reached a good height when the Boche plane was seen over Toul.

It fell down out of control and everyone thought it had been hit by the artillery.
It narrowly escaped hitting a building, but righted and started to zoom up. A
lieutenant told me, who was standing on the balcony of the Comedie Hotel in Toul,
that it was so low he could have hit it with an orange. The flight did not see the
Boche, but Lufbery went up after him alone. He was on the German's trail chasing
him hard toward Germany, when presently a puff of smoke was seen in Lufbery's
plane. The plane stalled. He climbed out and jumped, evidently trying to reach
the river running under it, but instead landed on a picket fence near the home of a
French peasant. When Major Huffer went after his body the French people had
moved it to the mairie and completely covered it with wild flowers. They brought
down the German just as he reached the lines and found there had been a gunner
lying down in the fusilage who had fired the bullet. Several days later, I made
the picture of Lufbery' s funeral."

Fearless Aerial Photographer

Picture from Eddie Rickenbacker to his friend Captain Cooper

Lieutenant Cooper was by all accounts a fearless aerial photographer. Because of his audacity he was admitted as a charter member of the Gimper Club at 94th Aero-Squadron. To join this exclusive club one had to do a stunt or be a true ace. There is a picture of these club members, taken in the summer of 1918, including Lt. Cooper together with his friend Eddie Rickenbacker. Judging from a report in the trade press, Cooper must have qualified for the Gimper Club not because he had shot down German planes but as a result of his remarkable stunts: "To get a proper focus, he would climb out of his seat in an airplane, slid out to the tail of the machine, and there complete his work. His weight had caused the tail to dip, and the pilot had to loop the loop several times to save their lives", the Bulletin of Photography reported in October 1918.

Lost footage found at Critical Past and the Imperial War Museum

The opening movie scenes that we found are from the Imperial War Museum and were taken on October 18, 1918 when Cooper had just been promoted to Captain. You see him fitting his Debrie motion picture camera to a gun position inside the cockpit of a Liberty plane. Cooper went up in a two-seater together with Jimmy Meissner that day. Rickenbacker in his book Fighting the Flying Circus (1919) described how their plane crashed a couple of miles outside of the aerodrome. "We hurried over, expecting to find the occupants badly injured, as the Liberty appeared to be a total wreck. But out stepped Jimmy and Captain Cooper, neither of them the worse for their experience. And to complete our surprise, the camera, although covered with the débris of the machine, was quite unhurt!"

The wrecked Liberty plane, showing Cooper's movie camera attached to the observer's seat. Photographer: Sgt. Gideon Eikleberry, Signal Corps cameraman, 26th Division, A.E.F. Location: Rembercourt, Meurthe et Moselle, France. Date: October 18, 1918. Courtesy Harry B. Kidd

Undaunted by the crash Cooper three days later again cranked his movie camera while filming a staged battle between Rickenbacker inside a Spad and a captured German plane. This time his flight had a safe landing. Cooper's film of this duel in the sky has been found in the stock collection of Critical Past. The original footage must have looked quite spectacular. In order to make the dogfight look realistic the planes shot special tracer bullets. At the end of the film when the German plane went down landing flares that had been fitted under the wings were set on fire. According to Rickenbacker, the German plane even had a dummy pilot installed that was thrown out of the aircraft as the plane dived down. Rickenbacker mentioned the fighting looked so real a French artillery unit opened fire, mistaking the German plane for a real enemy aircraft. Cooper's historic footage also has a close-up of pilot Jimmy Meissner in the front seat of his plane.

We have edited these scenes from the Imperial War Museum and Critical Past on our YouTube channel. Enjoy!


Friday, September 21, 2018

Filming General John J. Pershing (USA, 1919)

On September 9, 1919, a group of Signal Corps cameramen was assigned to take pictures of General John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force in World War I. While posing for this film and photo opportunity Pershing showed his typical sense of humor.

General Pershing poses for U.S. Signal Corps cameramen. New York City, September 9, 1919. Signal Corps Collection, National Archives, Washington, D.C. Record number 111-SC-62677. Link to high res image

Victory Parade down Fifth Avenue

There was a reason why Pershing had to deal with all these cameramen. The next day he was going to lead a victory parade down New York City’s Fifth Avenue. Vast crowds would cheer as 25,000 U.S. soldiers who had served in the A.E.F.'s 1st Division marched from 107th Street to Washington Square, wearing trench helmets and their full combat gear.

To prepare for this publicity drive it was decided that the U.S. Army needed to have a new set of still pictures and film close up shots of America's war hero who had recently been promoted to General of the Armies of the United States, the highest rank possible for any member of the U.S. armed forces. For this special film and photo opportunity Pershing agreed to pose on top of the roof of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. For photographers General Pershing may have been a perfect model because of his striking looks and impressive appearance. But people who knew him better were aware of the fact that he never felt quite comfortable in front of a camera. The General evidently wanted to finish the shoot as soon as possible. As Sergeant R.E. Warner took this picture above Pershing said to Lieutenant Sutton, who was grinding his movie camera:

"Do they let you waste all that film on me, Lieutenant?"

This Signal Corps film from the National Archives has scenes showing Pershing leading the 1st "Big Red One" Division down Fifth Avenue the following day on September 10, 1919.

Additional scenes showing the Victory Parade in New York City have been found by co-author Cooper C. Graham at the Library of Congress. Here are his notes on these scenes, which were used for his presentation World War I in Motion in June 2017. 


Monday, September 17, 2018

World War I Home Movies (USA, 1928)

In the film collection at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. the authors recently found one of the earliest American home movies on World War I. Partly based on original footage shot by military cameramen of the U.S. Signal Corps this film series belonged to the War Department but was released on 16 mm. format in 1928 by the Empire Safety Film Co., Inc., located on Seventh Avenue in New York City, for the series "12 Film Monuments.”

Advertisement for the Empire Safety Film World War I series (1928)

Series of Shorts

The title of this film series refers to twelve important events during World War I for the United States. Each episode was put on a 100 feet reel and was printed on safety stock. The customer could buy a separate reel for $4,50,- The list of this World War I series of shorts is as follows: “Cantigny", "St. Mihiel", "Leviathan”, “Argonne Forest”, “Château-Thierry”, “Zeppelin's Last Raid Over London”, "Exploits of German Submarines" ( four episodes),  "Landing at Brest" and "Russia in the World War."

The footage that we found at the National Archives contains part of the original series: "Château-Thierry",  "Exploits of German Submarines" (some but not all episodes) and ""Zeppelin's Last Raid." The quality of these pictures is extraordinary and the footage is beautifully tinted.

We uploaded the episodes on Château-Thierry - the A.E.F's first major engagement at the Western Front - and the Zeppelin attack on London on our YouTube channel.

In this previous weblog we also posted on American World War I home movies.


Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Captured on Film by U.S. Cameramen - The Romanov Murder Scene (1918)

In December 1918, a photographic team of the U.S. Signal Corps led by Captain Howard Kingsmore arrived in Yekaterinburg, Russia, where they filmed inside the house where Tsar Nicholas II and his family was brutally murdered. Against all odds, we recently found Kingsmore's personal story on this photographic assignment, as well as part of these historic films.

Captain Kingsmore (second from right) and his photographic team, Vladivostok, January 1919. Behind the movie camera is Pvt. Philip Tannura. Right: Badge of the Signal Corps Photo Unit American Expeditionary Force Siberia, from the personal collection of still photographer Sgt. John G. Hemmer

The execution of the last Russian Tsar and his family hardly needs an introduction. After the Bolsheviks had taken over power the Romanov family was moved to a so-called 'House of Special Purpose' in Yekaterinburg. The Imperial family was kept in strict isolation within the walls of a sinister heavily guarded building that was surrounded by a palisade. The Bolsheviks initially wanted to put the Tsar on trial, but in the summer of 1918 anti-Communist forces were at the gates of Yekaterinburg, and the Reds feared their captives would fall into enemy hands. As a result, death to the Romanovs was declared. Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Tsarina Alexandra and their five children Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and Alexei were shot, bayoneted and clubbed to death on the night of 16-17 July 1918. Their bodies were disposed of in a most gruesome manner.

The Cameramen

Howard P. Kingsmore was the photographic officer of a U.S. Signal Corps camera team that recorded the operations of the American Expeditionary Army in Siberia. Born in 1886, Kingsmore started his photographic work for the Philadelphia Inquirer, covering the burial of President McKinley, the coal strikes of 1901-1902 and the 50th anniversary of the Civil War battle of Gettysburg. Around 1907 Kingsmore became chief photographer for the Philadelphia Evening Ledger. For this newspaper he covered the civil war in Mexico, as well as the Punitive Expedition by General Pershing into that country in 1916. When the United States entered World War I he applied for a commission in the U.S. Signal Corps as a photographic officer. He was commissioned as a Lieutenant in September 1917, appears to have made mostly training pictures while he was in America and in Augustus 1918 was promoted to Captain, when a photographic section was set up for the Siberian Expedition. After the First World War Kingsmore became a cameraman for Fox News.

Cpt. Howard P. Kingsmore (second from left) among some well-known American World War I cameramen. To his right is Major Bert Underwood, formerly of the photographic company of Underwood & Underwood. Second from the right is 1st Lt. Edward N. Jackson, photographic officer of the  27th Division, who filmed at the Peace Treaty Conference in Versailles. On the right of this picture we have Wilbur H. Durborough, who made movies with the German army in 1915. Signal Corps photograph from the collection of the National Archives. Courtesy Harry B. Kidd

Howard P. Kingsmore, 1917

Interview with Kevin Brownlow

Judging from the production file of the films that were made by Kingsmore and his camera team, they filmed across Siberia between November 1918 and February 1919, covering various operations by the Expeditionary Force that was trying to push the Red Army out of Russia. We have described this Signal Corps footage from Russia in more detail in a previous weblog. Five men were selected for this  photographic team, including two movie camera operators. One of Kingsmore's men, Philip Tannura, was interviewed by Kevin Brownlow for his book The War, the West and the Wilderness. Tannura was among Kingsmore's cinematographers and in the interview with Brownlow Tannura mentioned how he accompanied Kingsmore while they visited the place where the Tsar and his family were executed. "We couldn't find out whether they had actually been killed or not", Tannura said. "We photographed all the rooms."

Kingsmore said he boarded a Red Cross freight train in Vladivostok in November 1918. The trip across Siberia took about nine weeks. The accommodation on the train was of a most primitive nature. The American cameramen traveled in box cars that were originally built for cattle. Arriving in Yekaterinburg, the cameramen found the city controlled by Czech forces. These had taken Yekaterinburg shortly after the Tsar and his family were murdered. Kingsmore was told the Romanovs were subjected to many indignities by the Communist soldiers who guarded them. It should be noted here that at the moment when Kingsmore and Tannura arrived in Yekaterinburg an official investigation was still being carried out on the mysterious disappearance of the Imperial family. As far as the Kremlin was concerned, they had simply vanished into thin air and the Communists denied any allegation they had killed the Romanovs.

Signal Corps cameraman John G. Hemmer in a sidecar with local driver, Siberia, 1919. After the war Hemmer became a staff photographer for the New York News

Photographic Evidence of the Romanov Execution

Kingsmore's and Tannura's pictures indicate this was a fabricated lie. One of their still photographs shows the cellar where the Romanovs were executed. Bullets were dug out of the wall by the Bolsheviks to destroy evidence of the crime, but the holes still remained and were clearly visible. Their pictures also demonstrate how the Tsar's children had to sleep on the floor, as well as the search by the investigating commitee for further proofs of the execution. Kingsmore also appears to have talked with eye witnesses. One told him the Romanovs were on their knees begging for mercy while they were executed in the basement of the house.

Czech headquarters at Yekaterinburg, December 1918. Signal Corps picture probably taken by  Kingsmore or Tannura

Part of the footage that was shot at Yekaterinburg has been retrieved and identified by the authors in the film collection of the National Archives in Washington, D.C. (record number 111-H-1161). These scenes were probably taken by Tannura and show an exterior of the Czech military headquarters, the house the Romanovs lived in, as well as shots of the Czarina's room and the room that was occupied by the Tsar's daughters. We edited these historic scenes into a short clip that has been posted on our YouTube channel.

Here is also a download link to a contemporary newspaper story from the Grand Forks Herald (June 1919) on Kingsmore's experiences in Siberia.


Thursday, September 6, 2018

The World War I Past of Academy Award Winner Alexander Edouart

A winner of ten Academy Awards and for many years a recognized innovator in special movie effects, Alexander F. Edouart worked on approximately 350 films, including Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, the last one being Rosemary's Baby. His photographic work with the U.S. Signal Corps during the First World War merits our special attention.

2nd Lt. Maurice F. Graham, 50th Aero Squadron, and Pvt. Alexander F. Edouart (left), Photo Unit, 78th Division. Photographer: Pvt. A.A. Furst, U.S. Signal Corps. Location: Menans farm near Chatel-Chéhéry, Ardennes, France. Date: October 14, 1918. NARA Ref. #: 111-SC-27131. Courtesy Harry B. Kidd

Top Hollywood Special Effects Technician

Edouart was for many decades one of Hollywood's top special effects technicians. Though of French descent, he was born in Northern California in 1894, the son of a portrait photographer. He joined the film industry early on, working for a subsidiary of Paramount, Realart, as an assistant cameraman from about 1915. At Paramount in the 1920s, Edouart developed a rear-projection technique which became the crowning achievement of his career. To improve this technique, Edouart developed a triple-head process projector, which improved and sharpened the background image. Remaining as head of Paramount's special effects department until his retirement in the late '60s, Edouart won Academy Awards for I Wanted Wings (1941) and Reap the Wild Wind (1942), the latter film lensed in Technicolor.

General view of Grand Pre from a distance showing some of the most hotly contested battlefields. Pvt. Alex. F. Edouart in foreground, moving picture cameraman. Location: Between Chevrières and Grand Pré, Ardennes, France. October 19, 1918. NARA Ref#: 111-SC-27138. Courtesy Harry B. Kidd

Edouart's early experiences in the film business during the First World War are shrouded in ambiguity because of conflicting reports. According to some references, when the United States entered World War I, Edouart enlisted in the Signal Corps which was assigned to arrange for the pictorial coverage of the Great War. Due to a bureaucratic tangle, he was at first not sent to France but attended the Signal Corps' cinematographers course at Columbia University. It was said he was so gifted with his craft that the university administrators invited him to stay on board as an instructor after he graduated.

Capturing the Great War in France

Edouart may indeed have attented the military school of cinematography at Columbia University in 1918, but he is definitely not listed as an instructor in the official document on this photographic school. There is no reference to Edouart in the list that mentions all staff members of this school. He did go the France later on in 1918 to capture the Great War with his camera, but the reports on his photographic activities with the Signal Corps are muddled. According to a number of sources, Edouart played a major role in the U.S. Signal Corps photographic work during World War I, to such an extent that he even rose to become chief of the photo section of the 78th Division of the American Expeditionary Force.

Edouart filming in the Sahara desert, circa 1920

Again, there is some truth in these stories because Edouart was with the 78th Division of the American Expeditionary Force while serving in France. But the U.S. Signal Corps records at the National Archives do not mention a commission for him as a photographic officer with this American division. As a matter of fact, research by Harry B. Kidd clearly identifies Edouart as a private soldier attached to the 78th Division. We have his picture taken on the Western Front only a couple of weeks before the Armistice, on October 14 and 19, 1918, at Chatel-Chéhéry in the French Ardennes. His rank then was a private, definitely not a lieutenant in charge of a U.S. photographic team for an American Division. In this picture Edouart apparently is working with a still camera, but we do know that he also shot film at the close of World War I. His personal papers which are now at the Hoover Institution Archives refer to motion pictures taken by him at the end of the First World War for the American Red Cross in Normandy and Brittany. This interesting collection shows that he was promoted to Sergeant 1st Class at the close of the Great War and the documents definitely merit further research.

Filming with the American Red Cross

Shortly after World War I Edouart left the Signal Corps and became a cinematographer for the American Red Cross, filming relief work in Greece, Albania, the Balkans and the African Sahara. Details about his work with the Red Cross are sketchy but it appears that he was in Montenegro in the summer of 1919, filming refugees in the Balkans at a time when he had been commissioned into the American Red Cross as a Major. He also worked for the Red Cross together with Merl LaVoy, the famous American war photographer who had been with the French army in 1916 and had shot his film Heroic France on the battlefields of the Somme and Verdun. In 1920, LaVoy and Edouart were working together in Algeria, taking pictures for the American Red Cross; here is a link to a collection of photographs that were shot by LaVoy at this time.

Also, here is a download link to a contemporary newspaper story on the Red Cross film work shortly after World War I, which also mentions Major Edouart and Merl LaVoy.

Alexander Edouart retired from the movie industry in 1967. Despite numerous surgeries to save his sight, he became totally blind during the last years of his life and died on March 17, 1980. He was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.

With special thanks to Harry Kidd for his research and input on this weblog

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Sailing for France - Cameraman Victor Fleming

The collection of the National Archives recently revealed two World War I pictures of a cameraman who would become one of the most famous movie directors in Hollywood history: Victor Fleming. Academy Award-winning director Victor Fleming helmed many successful films, most notably 1939's Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz.

Lt. Victor Fleming (right) with movie camera on board SS George Washington, December 1918. Picture from the Signal Corps collection in the National Archives. Link to high res image

When America entered World War I Fleming, like most men of his age, was drafted. Though he would have preferred to stay in the film industry, making movies for Douglas Fairbanks, Fleming joined the U.S. Signal Corps Photographic Division and was commissioned as a Lieutenant. He made training films, but most of his pictures seem to have been taken  for a comprehensive pictorial history of the U.S. in the Great War. Fleming was President Wilson's chief cameraman on his first visit to France.

Signal Corps Pictures

The Signal Corps photographs that we found were taken in December 1918 when Fleming was on board the SS George Washington to capture President Wilson's visit to Europe. We see him rolling film behind his Bell & Howell movie camera, together with two other American officers. Another shot has a wonderful close up of Fleming in his uniform.

Lieutenant Victor Fleming, U.S. Signal Corps, December 1918. Link to high res image

We mentioned Fleming briefly in a previous weblog on his work as an instructor at the American School of Military Cinematography that was set up at Columbia University in 1918.

This issue of the Columbia News Record (March 2016) has more on Fleming's work at the School of Military Cinematography. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Movie Stars on Liberty Loan Drive (USA, 1918)

During World War I the American government sold Liberty Bonds to support the Allied cause. Subscribing to the bonds became a symbol of patriotic duty in the United States.

4th Liberty Loan poster (1918)

The response to the first Liberty Bond was unenthusiastic and Secretary of the Treasury William Gibbs McAdoo reacted to the sales problems by creating an aggressive campaign to popularize the bonds. The government used the Committee on Public Information, America's wartime propaganda agency, to help sell Liberty Bonds. Famous movie stars such as Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin were among the celebrities that made public appearances promoting the idea that purchasing a liberty bond was the patriotic thing to do.

Hollywood Film Stars

The National Archives in Washington, D.C., has an interesting 5-reel film on various Liberty Loan campaigns that were organized throughout the country. Reel 2 is of special interest because it shows film stars Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and Marie Dressler selling bonds during a Washington parade. Reel 3 has scenes showing Japanese movie star Sessue Hayakawa and Blanche Sweet speaking and selling bonds in Hollywood.

We uploaded these scenes showing the American film stars promoting Liberty Loans on our YouTube channel.


Friday, August 24, 2018

"Celebrations in Paris" (France, 14 July 1918)

Here is a short clip that was found recently in the collection of the Imperial War Museum, showing an official American cinematographer at work during the celebrations of the 14th of July 1918 in Paris.

Unfortunately, we could not establish the identity of the cameraman.


Wednesday, July 25, 2018

German War Films at the National Archives

While researching Wilbur H. Durborough's World War I feature film On the Firing Line with the Germans (1915) we came across an interesting collection of contemporary German war films at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Among the scenes not only was lost footage from Durborough's movie but a lot more historical film on the First World War.

German film squad at the Western Front, June 1917. Photo from the Imperial War Museum

The Durborough film scenes were found in a five-reel Signal Corps collection which seems to have been assembled during the Great War. The U.S. Signal Corps apparently considered these films valuable enough to add to its archives, if only for military intelligence purposes. As a result, we were able to retrieve quite a number of pictures from Durborough's World War I film, notably scenes showing the Imperial German family, the American reporters at the Hotel Adlon in Berlin, prisoners of war at a POW camp in Doeberitz, Germany, and a substantial number of scenes that were shot by Durborough and his camera assistant Ries on the invasion of East Prussia by the Russian army.


Here is a synopsis of this Signal Corps film:

Reel 1, Crown Prince William reviews Army units. Gen. von Hindenburg poses. Cavalry, artillery, and wagon trains move through Berlin; troops entrain. Heavy artillery pounds Antwerp. Infantrymen don packs. Reel 2, supply trains enter an East Prussian town. Soldiers load refugees into wagons. Shows a German railroad gun. German trenches at Somme, France, are shelled. Fort Conde, near Soissons, is entered; cavalry units pursue the fleeing French. Reel 3 shows machine guns firing. Belgians surrender cows to German troops. An airplane is loaded with bombs, flies over trenches and Verdun, bombs a British G.H.Q., battles Allied planes, and lands at its base. Reel 4, German troops pass and the Kaiser inspects captured British tanks near Cambrai. Italian prisoners are captured in the Tyrol sector. Reel 5, French prisoners are taken to the rear. Prisoners march, bale hay, and dig rocks in a prison camp. Turkish troops place their wounded on camels. Camels and horses are watered in Turkey.

We have uploaded these German war films on our YouTube channel.


Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The War Diary of Albert K. Dawson (1915)

In 2011, authors Ron van Dopperen and Cooper C. Graham published an article for Film History journal on cameraman Albert K. Dawson. The paper examines Dawson's experiences during World War I based on excerpts from his published diary and other documentary sources, as well as portions of his films recently discovered in the Library of Congress's John E. Allen collection.

Albert K. Dawson in camp before Przemyśl, May 1915. Photo reproduced from the collection of the National Archives in Washington, D.C. 

Extraordinary Research Opportunity

Our discovery of Dawson's war diary was an extraordinary opportunity. We knew he kept a notebook on his film adventures during World War I. And just when we thought we would never find it, parts of his diary were located in the magazine Deutsch-Amerika. In a series of five weekly articles the magazine ran a feature story on Dawson's experiences as a cameraman, following the trail of the German and Austro-Hungarian army in the summer of 1915. The decision by the editor to publish parts of his war diary is something to be grateful for because it provides us with a unique source for World War I film history. It also gives us the opportunity to witness a major military campaign on the Eastern Front, as seen through the lens of an American camera correspondent.

Dawson when he was a Captain in the U.S. Signal Corps laboratory in Washington, D.C. (November 1917)

The historical significance of Dawson's war diary is confirmed by Oswald Denkmayr in his study Kurbelmann in Kriegsdienst (2012) on the Austrian World War I cinematographers of the KuK Kriegspressequartier. According to Denkmayr, Dawson's notebook is the only first-hand account that he could find and that has survived of a World War I film cameraman who accompanied the Austro-Hungarian army during the First World War. Denkmayr's study was written while we were researching Dawson and has a number of references to our article for Film History journal.

Here is a download link to Denkmayr's excellent thesis for the University of Vienna in 2012. 

Albert Dawson inspecting the battlefields around Przemyśl, June 1915

Dawson at the Eastern front with Austrian artillery battery (1915)

Press photograph, private collection Ron van Dopperen

The Road to Ivangorod (1915)

In his diary Dawson describes how he gained access to the frontline in the summer of 1915 and covered the attack on Ivangorod in Russian Poland. All photographs with an asterisk in this magazine were taken by Dawson. His original notes were translated into German for this publication.

Because of its unique and historical value we have scanned and uploaded all five articles by Dawson from his war diary. You are free to read and download his own story here.