Thursday, April 26, 2018

The Associated Press Covers the Great War

As described in our book American Cinematographers in the Great War, the experiences of cameramen and reporters during World War I were closely intertwined. Some US photographers wrote about their wartime experiences. Sometimes the cinematographers also worked for newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune or the Hearst newspapers. Cameramen and reporters were in the same bed togeher, sharing the same hardships and dangers.

American reporters at the Adlon Hotel, June 1915. Third from the right: AP correspondent S.M. Bouton. From American Cinematographers in the Great War

American cameramen and writers reporting on the Great War shared one major experience. Although as Americans they were neutral between 1914 and 1917, all reporters had to fight against a harsh and rigorous censorship both from the British and the German authorities.

"All Europe is Now in Arms"

Among these American journalists the Associated Press presents an interesting case story. "Great Britain and Germany went to war tonight," wrote the AP's Robert Collins on August 1, 1914 from London, noting that "all Europe is now in arms." The Associated Press had covered wars before, but not since the Napoleonic Wars a century earlier had so many armies battled over so great an extent.

This was the Great War, called "the European War" or "the World War" by contemporaries. Ten million combatants would die before it ended with Germany's defeat on November 11, 1918.

Here is a video on how the Associated Press reported on World War I.


Thursday, April 19, 2018

World War I Film Lecture: "War on Three Fronts" (USA, 1916)

Researching World War I film can be a giant jigsaw puzzle. There is plenty of original footage but film scenes frequently have been edited and are now out of place. Also, when used for stock purposes or a TV documentary, the intertitles usually were cut, which makes it difficult to identify the cameraman and the original production company.

Frank Kleinschmidt getting ready for a motion picture flight above Belgrade with the Austrian airforce, 1915.  Picture courtesy Ruth Sarrett

Movie Lecture War on Three Fronts (USA, 1916)

One way to reconstruct a silent World War I movie is to consult the lecture that was used while the film was being shown on the screen. Frank E. Kleinschmidt's War on Three Fronts (USA, 1916) presents us with an interesting example. During our research for our book American Cinematographers in the Great War we were able to locate and identify many scenes from this extraordinary film because of the lecture that Kleinschmidt had deposited at the Library of Congress for copyright purposes. This lecture is dated October 23, 1916, and Kleinschmidt used it to present his war film while touring the film theaters on the West Coast. The lecture describes the original version of his war film, showing his experiences with the Austro-Hungarian army on the Eastern Front while covering the offensive in Russian Poland, as well as the attack on Belgrade, naval operations in the Adriatic Sea and fighting in the Alps against the Italian army.

Armored train at the Isonzo front, 1915. Publicity picture from Kleinschmidt's film when it was released by the Selznick Corporation in 1917. Courtesy National Archives

Two reels of the movie were donated in the 1980s to the UCLA Film Archives by film preservationist David Shepard. This footage is also described by Kevin Brownlow in his classic book The War, the West and the Wilderness. The opening title refers to the original Part 4 of War on Three Fronts. A comparison between this footage and the film lecture shows there were different movie versions. While on the lecture circuit, Kleinschmidt presented about 9,000 feet of film. When the Selznick Corporation distributed the movie nationwide in 1917 it was shortened and 3,000 feet were cut out. The UCLA print has no intertitles mentioning the Selznick Corporation, so this indicates this is a pre-1917 version of War on Three Fronts although not identical to the one that was used by Kleinschmidt to accompany the lecture.

Sound Re-release

Research by the authors in the Allen Collection and at the Library of Congress has produced additional footage from Kleinschmidt’s war picture. This consists of a batch of film segments that runs for about 35 minutes, sadly missing any credits, but surprisingly enough it has a sound track. The nitrate stock found in the film archives in Culpeper, Virginia, was dated 1932. The footage comes from a film called War Debts, which was produced by Kleinschmidt as a sound re-release of his original war film. The movie is narrated by Wilfred Lucas, a Canadian-born American stage actor who found success in film as an actor, director, and screenwriter.

By using the film lecture we could identify the different film versions of War on Three Fronts which also makes it possible to do a well-deserved reconstruction of this historic and fascinating World War I film.

You are free to read and download the 1916 film lecture of War on Three Fronts here. 

Postscript: Kleinschmidt's World War I Pictures from the Austrian Archives

In 2019 the Austrian State Archives published a fascinating collection of Kleinschmidt's World War I pictures. These were all taken in 1915 when he accompanied the Austro-Hungarian army during the attack on the Eastern Front. We edited these photographs into this video clip. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Boy from Indiana - Albert K. Dawson

The Knox County Public Library recently digitized its historical newspaper collection. As a result, the authors found some fascinating new stories on World War I cinematographer Albert K. Dawson from Vincennes, who was nicknamed "The Boy from Indiana", including a report on how he invented a German grandmother while covering the war in Europe with his movie camera.

Albert K. Dawson, photograph from the family collection, taken around 1903. Left: Dawson's first picture book The Old Post on historical Vincennes. 

Born in Vincennes, Indiana, Albert K. Dawson (1885-1967) was one of the most enterprising cameramen of the First World War. Shortly after the outbreak of the Great War he went to Europe and filmed with the German army on the Western Front. In the summer of 1915 he joined the Austro-Hungarian forces during the attack on Russian Poland. He later covered the Bulgarian army in the Balkans. Dawson's movies were released in the United States by the American Correspondent Film Company.

Family History

The local press clippings that we found shed new light on Dawson's family background. As described in more detail in our book Shooting the Great War: Albert Dawson and the American Correspondent Film Company (2013), Dawson's life was heavily influenced by his father Thomas who shared his son's interest in traveling. Thomas was a Civil War veteran who had been involved in 16 battles including Sherman's march through Georgia. Thomas passed away unexpectedly in 1912, when his son Albert was on a cruise in the Caribbean for the Hamburg-America Line. At the time Albert was working as a ship's photographer for this German company. Here is a download link to an obituary of Albert's father, as well as his mother Lida who passed away in 1923.

Rose Schultheis-Dawson, photographed by her brother Albert for the cover of The Country Gentleman (April 1917). Courtesy Ben Walter

Albert also was very much fond of his sister, Rose. Like her older brother, Rose had a strong interest in history and literature, and later in her life she published on the history of her hometown Vincennes. Here is a newspaper story on Rose's marriage to Leo Schultheis in June 1915, at about the same time when Albert was filming the First World War on the Eastern Front. In addition, this story in the Knox County Public Library archives reveals how Rose, together with her husband and her mother, went to Terre Haute, Indiana, to see Albert on film in September 1915, when his war movie The Battle and Fall of Przemyƛl was first shown on screen. They must have been impressed to see him on film, reporting at the front on the war in far away Europe.

Albert (right) and his younger brother Charlie, dressed as Civil War soldiers, around 1890. Source:

Graves of Albert Dawson's father, mother and sister. Vincennes, Indiana

First Photographic Work

Apart from inside family information the newspaper articles contain stories on Albert's local career as a photographer. The earliest references date from 1905 when he published a picture book on the history of Vincennes - The Old Post. This newspaper article has more on Dawson's photo book. Also in the same year 1905, Albert published this advertisement in the local papers, offering his services as a photographer for the upcoming Thanksgiving. The press reports indicate Albert freelanced as a press photographer for the Vincennes newspapers throughout 1906, as is shown in this newspaper story on a criminal investigation by the local police. In 1907 he left Vincennes and started working for the photographic agency of Underwood & Underwood in New York City.

The Dawson family on New Year's Day, 1902. From left to right: Charles, Lida, Albert, Thomas and Rose. Courtesy family collection, Lida Joice and Rose Ann Walter

Return to Vincennes, 1916

When Dawson came back to the USA in the spring of 1916, having covered the European War on several fronts and military campaigns, his hometown Vincennes had not forgotten about him. On the contrary, by then he had become well-known as a result of his appearances in several war movies that were shown in the United States. His latest film The Fighting Germans had just been released by the Mutual Film Company in May 1916 and it was also shown in the Princess Theater in Vincennes, Indiana, with numerous ads running in the local newspapers, announcing this war film that had been shot by their "local boy" Albert K. Dawson.

Advertisement Vincennes Commercial, 27 May 1916

In the summer of 1916, after having been abroad for two years, Dawson returned to Vincennes. He lectured on his experiences as a war photographer for the local Rotary - here is a press article - but the most interesting report comes from the Vincennes Western Sun on a lecture that he gave at Lincoln High School on July 28, 1916. The Sun had arranged an exclusive interview with Dawson and ran a remarkable story that day on his work as a film correspondent during World War I. In this interview Dawson proved himself right when predicting most of the upcoming battles of the Great War. Although he did not think the Central Powers would lose the war Dawson did expect a continuing stalemate on the Western Front, which would especially benefit the Germans. His admiration for the German talent of organization shines through in this article, but Dawson did emphasize he was first and foremost pro-American.

Dawson appears to have spoken German fluently, and while staying in Germany often was asked if he was a German-American. "At first he answered no, but seeing how he disappointed his new friends he finally invented a German grandmother by the name of Schmidt. She did him more good than any passport", Dawson said.

Here is a download link to the complete interview by the Vincennes Western Sun.

Brian Spangle recently also wrote this article for the Sun-Commercial on Vincennes' local hero, Albert K. Dawson. 

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Ship Building in World War I (USA, 1918)

In February 1918, the U.S. Signal Corps produced two remarkable films on the ship building industry in the United States. The footage was taken on the West Coast by Lieutenant Wilbur H. Durborough who had shot film with the German army in 1915. We recently found parts of his film in the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

Wilbur H. Durborough (1913). Authors collection

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

Durborough's film work during World War I has been described in more detail in our book American Cinematographers in the Great War. In 1915 Durborough had gone to Europe and filmed with the German army on the Eastern Front. His film On the Firing Line with the Germans has been restored in 2015 by the Library of Congress, based on our film research.

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.

The production file at the National Archives shows Durborough made two separate movies: Building Our Wooden Ships (814 feet) and Industrious Seattle (695 feet). These short documentary films were shot in the state of Washington around the same time when he filmed a staged attack on Fort Lewis. As mentioned in a previous weblog, this film on Fort Lewis has also been retrieved by the authors in the National Archives.

Our Bridge of Ships (USA, 1918)

Unlike Durborough's film showing the staged attack on Fort Lewis not much of his original report on the shipping industry has survived. When the U.S. Signal Corps used his footage in the 1930s for the Historical Film Series on World War I most of his film didn't make it to the final cut. However, the record does show that some of his footage was used in 1918 by the Commitee on Public Information - America's wartime propaganda agency - for the film Our Bridge of Ships, notably scenes showing the launching of the Ypres at Seattle and one of the first Victory ships - General Pershing - at the shipyard of Olympia, Washington.

The Signal Corps file fortunately still has Durborough's original list of titles for these films. His report strongly emphasized the huge scale of America's war effort in this line of work. As an example, for the opening scene of his film on the American shipping industry he filmed a large saw mill, mentioning it would turn out more than 6,000 feet of lumber a year. Steel contracts also reportedly were booming business, totalling more than 62 million dollars. Such impressive figures clearly were used by Durborough to promote the American war industry.

Here is a download link to the complete production file of Durborough's film.

We have uploaded the final edit from the 1930s of this Signal Corps film on our YouTube channel.