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

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.

Monday, July 9, 2018

The War Photographer - Ernest Brooks

Ernest Brooks, the first official British photographer in World War I, featured in a special episode of the YouTube channel The Great War that was broadcasted in October 2016.

An example of Brooks' iconic World War I pictures: Soldiers of the 8th Battalion, East Yorkshire Regiment, going up the line in the Ypres Salient, 1917

Ernest Brooks' photos from World War I have become icons of the entire war and are even recognized today. But his experience as an official war photographer was not always glorious and especially in the beginning he staged photos instead of showing the real horrors of the war. But as the war dragged on, more and more photos by Brooks captured small moments in this gigantic conflict that showed the humanity behind the numbers.

Episode The Great War

You can watch the episode on Brooks photographic work in World War I here on this weblog. You can subscribe to this interesting YouTube show on the Great War and watch a new video report on the First World War every Monday, Thursday and Saturday.


Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Filming the American Attack on Château-Thierry (Western Front, 1918)

In July 1918, Lieutenant Edwin H. Cooper - photographic officer of the 26th "Yankee" Division - filmed the American attack on the German lines near Château-Thierry. For his extraordinary bravery during this offensive Lt. Cooper received the Distinguished Service Cross.

Edwin Cooper with his movie camera during the attack on Château-Thierry, 20 July 1918. Signal Corps photograph from the National Archives. Courtesy Harry B. Kidd

In fact, both Cooper and his movie camera operator Sergeant Eikleberry were awarded with the Distinguished Service Cross. Cooper's report on how his photographic team covered the attack with their cameras is one of the best documented first-hand accounts on World War I battle cinematography. It is extraordinary that after one hundred years Cooper's personal account has never been given proper credits before because his story has all the vivid details and inside information one can hope for. In his memoirs Cooper tells how he set up his photographic work, having arrived in France in October 1917 as one of the first official military cameramen of the U.S. Signal Corps. Two of his cameramen got wounded in July 1918 while covering the attack on Château-Thierry. Lieutenant Cooper himself also risked his life then while assisting in the evacuation of wounded soldiers and taking in a large group of German prisoners.

War Films Found at the National Archives

We were extremely fortunate in having found footage from the National Archives, that was shot by Lieutenant Cooper shortly after he had gone over the top during this attack in the summer of 1918. These pictures fully match his story and illustrate how Cooper against all odds managed to capture the attack on film. His film - partly retrieved also at the Imperial War Museum - as well as numerous pictures of his photographic work with the 26th U.S. Division all make it possible to reconstruct Cooper's story on how he and his fellow cameramen filmed World War I. It is a truly remarkable story that definitely needs to be preserved for history, so we have edited Cooper's account into a video on the making of his war films.

Scene from Lt. Cooper's war films for the U.S. Signal Corps

The Cameraman: Edwin Cooper

Born in Wilmington, Delaware in 1881, Edwin Cooper started working as a photographer at an early age. From 1911 he worked with the celebrated photo artist William Rau in Philadelphia and before the outbreak of World War I he had also taken up the movie camera, making travelogues in South America. Cooper was promoted to Captain in September 1918 when he was assigned to the 5th U.S. Army Corps as photographic officer. During the Meuse-Argonne battle he was in charge of pictorial coverage for this corps. Throughout his life he remained active as a photographic reporter and lecturer, producing three color documentaries during World War II. In November 1948, while fishing out on Silver Lake near Harrisville, NH, Cooper fell from his boat and was drowned. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Cooper's report on his film coverage during World War I was originally printed in the American photographic trade magazines. You can read and download an extended version here. 

Reconstructed with still photographs and moving pictures, here is Cooper's personal story on how he and his fellow cameramen filmed the American attack on Château-Thierry.


Wednesday, June 27, 2018

U.S. Signal Corps Cameraman Wesley Strait (1918-1919)

A private photo album of an official World War I cameraman is something extremely rare. So we were surprised to find such a collection recently on Niles Laughner's Military Antiques weblog. These pictures all come from U.S. Signal Corps photographer Wesley Strait's personal estate.

Wesley Strait (France, 1918)

Strait was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1893. At an early age Wesley shared an interest in photography with his twin brother Jess and both young men soon started working as a press photographer for the New York newspapers. When the motion picture industry expanded across the country Wesley also learned how to handle a movie camera and in 1917 he became a cinematographer for the Vitagraph Company which was then operating in Flatbush, Brooklyn.

Filming for the U.S. Signal Corps

When the U.S. entered World War I both Strait brothers joined the U.S. Signal Corps which has been assigned to cover the American theater of war in France. In a production file of a Signal Corps film, now at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., we recently found a reference to Wesley Strait, mentioning his work at the Filing Department of the Signal Corps photographic laboratory near Paris during World War I. This department was responsible for filing all film and preparing all original negatives for shipment to the United States.

Niles Laughner has this wonderful description on Strait's World War I pictures:

His album, in the permanent collection, is huge. Somehow, Strait managed to get into most of the images, as in the ambulance shot ... he is on the stretcher!  He had lots of girlfriends, some of which are shown here. He witnessed the wonders that most Americans then (and perhaps now) had only read about ... the Moulin Rouge for instance. He colored many of the shots, an example here has him with North African French troops ... and that's him with the movie camera. The image with his mom (family resemblence ...!!) and either a sister or girlfriend and the family cat is a lovely shot taken before he left for Europe. I suppose no one really remembers him, but his photos, and his sense of humor in some of them, survives him in this album.  

Strait's personal autographed picture of World War I military commanders (1919)

Work after World War I

After his return to America Wesley Strait worked for the New York World, the World-Telegram and the Daily Mirror. He was the official photographer of the New York World's Fair (1939) and a member of the Press Photographers Association of New York. After his work for the World's Fair, he did freelance photography up to 1942 when he was employed by the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation, a war industry.

On December 16, 1942, Wesley Strait died unexpectedly at the age of 49 as a result of a stroke at Adelphi Hospital in Brooklyn, New York City.

We have uploaded a selection of pictures from his personal album on our photo channel. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

World War I Films in Color

In 2014, the same team that collaborated on the renowned World War II series Apocalypse produced a similar documentary series on the Great War. As with the previous production, the new series has some remarkable colored footage including scenes from Wilbur H. Durborough's film On the Firing Line with the Germans (1915).

Durborough and General von Schlieffen in East Prussia, June 1915

Online Release On the Firing Line with the Germans (USA, 1915)

As described in a previous weblog, Durborough's film has been restored by the Library of Congress and the movie was uploaded on the internet in November 2016. After almost one hundred years an original World War I film is back on the screen. To coincide with this online release the authors prepared an extended story on the making of Durborough's remarkable war film. Based on our previous book American Cinematographers in the Great War, we added new information that was found in early 2016 in the German archives as well as in the American and Dutch newspapers.

We recently prepared a new, extended story on Durborough's photographic work during World War I. You can read this Durborough Film Annotation (2nd edition) here.

If you are interested to see Durborough in color here is a scene from Apocalypse World War I, episode 2, showing his film work at the Eastern Front in 1915.


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

American War Correspondents at the Front

The National Archives in Washington, D.C. once again revealed an interesting collection on World War I. An excellent series of pictures showing American war correspondents at the front was found recently by the authors.

Adrian C. Duff  (U.S. Signal Corps) with his movie camera camera, together with American reporters. St. Nazaire, France, 2 July 1918. From the National Archives in Washington, D.C. 

Photographic Files at the National Archives

The photographs are from Record Group 165 "Unofficial Collection of World War I Photographs". This group is part of the files of the Historical Branch, War Plans Division, War Department General Staff, and was assembled by the Committee on Public Information (CPI), America's propaganda agency during the First World War.

In these pictures are some correspondents that we mentioned in our book American Cinematographers in the Great War. Most of the journalists were newspaper reporters, such as Herbert Corey who was in Germany at the beginning of 1915 and after the American entry into World War I went to France. We also found a wonderful series of photographs showing Irvin S. Cobb who covered the Great War for the Saturday Evening Post. Cobb wrote a book about his experiences, published in 1915, titled Paths Of Glory. After a second visit to France with the American Expeditionary Force he succesfully publicized the achievements of the unit known as the "Harlem Hellfighters". One of the pictures that we found shows Cobb with General Doyen (U.S. Marine Corps) in France.

Cameraman Albert K. Dawson

As far as cameramen are concerned, we found two pictures in these files, showing Albert K. Dawson who accompanied the German and the Austrian army during the First World War for the American Correspondent Film Company. The picture showing him before his tent during the siege of Przemyśl in May 1915 is without a doubt the best image reproduction we have ever seen. There is another photograph showing Dawson in a German military car when he visited Belgium in January 1915.

Albert K. Dawson (right) in military car at Antwerp, January 1915. Third from left: Josef Schumacher of the Zentralstelle für Auslandsdienst (ZfA). Photo  © Brown & Dawson. From the collection of the National Archives. Download link to original high res photograph here. 

This picture is also in our book American Cinematographers in the Great War, and the reproduction has Dawson's personal handwritten comments on his trip through Belgium. The high res scanned image from the collection of the National Archives for the first time reveals the identity of the man in the middle: Josef Schumacher, who was in charge of pictorial publicity for the Zentralstelle für Auslandsdienst, Germany's foreign propaganda agency during World War I. This once again confirms the story we have described in more detail in our previous publications about the use of Dawson's pictures by the Germans for propaganda purposes.

Finally the picture file at the National Archives also shows cameraman Adrian C. Duff who was a news photographer and joined the U.S. Signal Corps in 1917. Duff made national headlines in 1912 when he got in a plane with aviator Frank T. Coffyn and for the first time in history photographed New York City from above.

There is more on Duff and his World War I pictures in this previous weblog. 

We uploaded this collection to our photo channel on Flickr, and you are free to download these photographs here.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Watching American World War I Newsreels

Watch silent movies with new musical scores by renowned silent film accompanist Ben Model. Some of these are from DVD releases (uploaded with permission) and some are rare one-of-a-kind 16mm prints of lost films in Ben Model's collection.

American troops on parade in Paris, 4 July 1918

Parade 4th of July in Paris

To give you a feeling what it must have been like to watch a newsreel during World War I here is Ben Model's presentation of a 1918 newsreel showing U.S. troop on parade in Paris on the Fourth of July.

The original footage comes from a contemporary British Gaumont newsreel which was issued for home use after the Great War on 16 mm format around 1948. American troops as well as Red Cross nurses are seen parading along the Champs Elysee and the Place de la Concorde. The film segment ends with footage of President Poincare and General Foch. The musical score is by Ben Model © 2012.

You can watch all of Ben Model's silent film presentations on his YouTube channel here.


Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Ernest Schoedsack - Cameraman with the U.S. Signal Corps (1918)

Ernest B. Schoedsack (1919) when he was making movies in Poland 

Best remembered as co-director of the 1933 classic King Kong, Ernest B. Schoedsack was a pioneering documentary film maker who was one of the first cameramen to take his movie camera into the Thai jungle and covered the nomadic tribes of Iran. His name on the Hollywood Walk of Fame testifies to his extraordinary skills as a film director, producer and cinematographer.

Adventure Story

Schoedsack's life and career has all the makings of an adventure story. Born in Council Bluffs, Iowa, on June 8, 1893, Schoedsack ran away from home at the age of twelve and headed for California. By the time he was seventeen he was working as a cameraman for the Mack Sennett studio. During World War I Schoedsack shot numerous comedies for Mack Sennett, and he also was listed as cinematographer for the Mabel Normand Film Company. When in 1917 America declared war on Germany, Schoedsack enlisted in the Photographic Division of the Signal Corps and was sent to France.

Most of Schoedsack's biographies only have a few words on his film work during the First World War. Apart from Kevin Brownlow's excellent research - he interviewed Schoedsack on his World War I experiences - not much is known about this extraordinary episode in his film career. As is shown in his World War I Registration Card, Schoedsack was very much interested in the military. From 1915 he was a non-commissioned officer for the National Coast Guard in California. Initially he expected to be sent to the U.S. Coast Guard but there simply wasn't any call for anti-aircraft. When he learned about the new Signal Corps Photographic Division, which was set up to cover the Great War, Schoedsack soon applied for a position. After a brief stint as an instructor at the Columbia School of Military Cinematography Schoedsack was sent to France.

Sailing for France

The shipping records of the American Expeditionary Force show Schoedsack sailed on the SS Covington from Hoboken, New Jersey, on June 15, 1918. He was listed as a private soldier, assigned to the U.S. Signal Corps Photographic Division. Schoedsack at first was assigned to the Signal Corps photographic laboratory near Paris. Shortly before his death, Schoedsack recalled his experiences in an interview with Kevin Brownlow:

"We finally reached Paris, and were taken off to Vincennes. The Signal Corps occupied the Pathé chateau, and they had a laboratory and cutting rooms on the fourth floor of the Pathé factory. The other floors were being used as a gas mask factory. The gentleman in command was a very nice old bloke. He had been an optometrist up in Oakland. He was a reservist in the National Guard, and they had to give him a job someplace. So, optometrist pertaining to lenses, lenses to photography - voila! The only officer remotely connected to the picture business was Al Kaufman. The other three executive officers were characters they had no use for anywhere else. The general idea was to stay in Paris and have fun."

Schoedsack was now getting impatient - he wanted to get to the front and film the Great War:

"I complained a lot, and agitated a lot, and finally they said, 'You want to go the front? All right, you can go to the front. A cameraman (Harris Thorpe) pulled out of the combat area and I got my chance. I wanted a light camera. Oh, no. They gave me this damn great Bell and Howell and this great trunk. It weighed a hundred pounds. They needed the light cameras, the Debries, down in Paris, I guess, where all the action was. I had no directive, no passes, no nothing. They didn't even give me a gas mask or a helmet, although I did get a .45 and some ammunition. I got a truck down the combat zone, but an MP stopped me because I had no gas mask or helmet. There were some fresh graves by the side of the road, and one of them had a gas mask and a helmet. The helmet was bashed in on one side, and I remember the name inside was Kelly. Anyway, that got me into the combat zone. There was hardly any activity in the daytime. All the barraging and banging around was at night. Photographically, there was very little you could do."

Cameraman with the 77th Division, A.E.F.

In his interview with Kevin Brownlow Schoedsack did not mention when he was sent to the front but thanks to research by Harry B. Kidd we are now able to reconstruct parts of his film work during World War I and identify some of the movie scenes that he shot while he was in France. On August 25, 1918, Schoedsack's picture was taken in the destroyed village of Mareuil-en-Dôle. This was in the Aisne region, near Château-Thierry. The picture shows Schoedsack cranking a Bell & Howell movie camera among the ruins of a church. The captions mentions he was a private soldier with the Photo Unit of the 77th Division of the American Expeditonary Force (A.E.F.).

Ernest B. Schoedsack at the front in France, during the afttermath of the battle at Château-Thierry with the 77th Division, A.E.F. Indentification by Harry B. Kidd. Link to Harry's original post on Flickr

Bahman Maghsoudlou in his book on the making of Schoedsack's film Grass (1925) mentions that on his arrival in France Schoedsack was placed at the head of the Photographic Unit of the 77th Division. This would have made him a Lieutenant 2nd Class, commanding a team of still and movie photographers. Schoedsack indeed stayed with the 77th Division until the end of the First World War, and he must have recorded many film scenes for this American Division that are now in the National Archives in Washington, D.C., notably "Occupation of the Baccarat Sector" (111-H-1300), "Oise-Aisne Operations" (111-H-1358) and "Meuse-Argonne Offensive" (111-H-1417). But the contemporary records do not produce any evidence that Schoedsack was commissioned as a photographic officer. For example on October 23, 1918, Schoedsack went into a plane and filmed the German lines above the Argonne frontline sector that had just been captured from the enemy. Thanks to research by Harry B. Kidd, the production records have been retrieved. These documents show Schoedsack was a private soldier when recording these scenes just a couple of weeks before the end of World War I.

After the Great War

Schoedsack was discharged from the American Expeditionary Force in February 1919, but he did not immediately go back to the United States. After the Armistice he joined the American Red Cross and worked on behalf of Polish war relief, helping thousand of Poles escape the Russian occupied territories. Schoedsack at this time also met his lifelong friend and fellow film maker, Merian C. Cooper who, like Schoedsack, was a fervent anti-Bolshevik and also an aspiring film director. Together they filmed the war between Poland and Russia. Shortly afterwards, Schoedsack also covered the war between Greece and Turkey for the American newsreels.

Ernest Schoedsack, filming a Polish wedding dance, 1920. From the collection of the Library of Congress

During World War II Schoedsack served in the Air Force. While testing equipment in a tank at Edwards Air Force Base, a shell exploded nearby and his head hit the bottom of the tank turret, detaching the eye retina. Subsequent operations couldn't repair the damage and Schoedsack was virtually blind for the last 35 years of his life.

Ernest Beaumont Schoedsack died on December 23, 1979. He was buried at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.

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