Finding aid to the Betzwood Film Studio Collection

Page

Reference Code: 11-01
Repository
: Montgomery County Community College, Archives & Special Collections
Title
: Finding aid to the Betzwood Film Studio Collection
Date span
:
Extent Element
:
Creator: Siegmund Lubin; Betzwood Manufacturing Company
Processed by Lawrence T. Greene, Archives & Special Collections Librarian

Information for researchers.

Access: This collection is open for researchers. As with all archival materials please exercise caution when handling items.

Property Rights: The records belong to Montgomery County Community College.

Preferred citation: Betzwood Film Studio Collection. Special Collections and Archives, Brendlinger Library, Montgomery County Community College.

Processed by: Lawrence Greene, Archives & Special Collections Librarian, Winter, 2012.

Scope and Content

The Betzwood Collection contains items created by the Lubin Manufacturing Company, production company of silent era films, and collected by Film historian and Montgomery County Community College Emeritus Professor Joseph Eckhardt. The Lubin Manufacturing Company was owned and operated by Siegmund Lubin, entrepreneur and movie pioneer. The collection is named for the company’s Betzwood Studio, the most state of the art facility of its time. Items include administrative records from the Betzwood Studio, created both during the Lubin era and, after his declaration of bankruptcy, the subsequent owners, Wolf Brothers, Inc., promotional material for films, industry magazines, film stills, magic lantern advertising slides, items created around the studio’s most famous releases, The Toonerville Trolley, and items created by Prof. Eckhardt supporting his research, including audio cassette recordings of oral histories of studio employees and family members which have been digitized, as well as artifacts including wooden scenery supports and wooden film shipping crates.. The collection has been organized into 13 series and is housed in 6 boxes.

Access Points: The following terms have been used to index the description of the collection in the Library’s online catalog.

  • Montgomery County Community College
  • Lubin, Siegmund, d. 1923
  • Lubin Manufacturing Company
  • Silent films
  • Motion pictures and history
  • Babe Hardy
  • Marguerite Clark
  • Louis Bennison
  • Anita Cortez
  • Anita Stewart
  • Bud Hagner
  • Katherine MacDonald
  • Ormi Hawley
  • Edward Roseman
  • Louise Huff
  • Romaine Fielding
  • Moving Picture Stories
  • Motion Picture Magazine

Administrative History

Before Hollywood and the rise of the West in the 1920’s, the movie industry in the United States had an almost exclusively Eastern flavor. The first decades of film were chaotic, offering no familiar ground as an art form, but the earliest entrepreneurs were eager to get involved.  They instinctively grasped the enormous potential for profits and were propelling film into the century’s most popular form of entertainment. One of the largest and most successful of the earliest moguls was Siegmund Lubin, owner of Betzwood Studio. Lubin, a German Jewish immigrant, arrived in the United States in 1876 with little money but well positioned for success through his training as an ophthalmologist and an outsized sense of ambition. A visionary, he understood the commercial appeal and educational potential of film far better than most of his contemporaries. Within a few short years after Thomas Edison’s first camera patents, a prosperous and expanding moving picture industry had emerged. Dozens of studios had popped up producing thousands of films. The industry was rapidly evolving, barely keeping pace with technological improvements and public demand. Siegmund Lubin was usually at the vanguard of these changes. A colorful and gregarious man, he did this by stressing technical developments in his studio, astute observation of the people in his community (giving the people what they want), and sheer business chutzpa that, deservedly or not, earned him a reputation for dishonesty.

It had been a tumultuous first decade and a half for the film industry but a very profitable one, particularly so for Siegmund Lubin. In 1910 Lubin, gambling on even further success, had sold his exchanges and theaters for the capital to purchase a large studio, known as Lubinville, in Philadelphia. It was complete with filming studios, production areas, labs, shops, and offices. Operating at capacity the studio could produce 1.5 million feet of film a week. The studio, however, suffered from a lack of space in both filming and production abilities. It was producing only one reel films in four distinct genres, comedies, westerns, dramas, and “splits.” With the viewing public no longer satisfied with the single reel films and the narrative film gaining in popularity Mr. Lubin was scrambling to make the adjustments to his releases with mixed success. He had made significant investments to improve quality including the hiring of crowd favorites but Lubinville, as technically advanced as it was, unfortunately had several shortcomings that became more acute with each passing film in light of the transition to the feature length. Lubin’s directors were running out of locations for exterior shots and they had used every possible scenic area in Delaware County. The need to search for scenery ever further away from the Philadelphia studio was becoming prohibitively expensive. What’s more Lubinville lacked the space needed to develop and print the longer narrative films. Sitting on the banks of the Schuylkill River there was a 364 acre estate that was lying dormant due to the inactivity of the owner’s heirs. Philadelphia brewer John F. Betzwood, the owner died in 1908 and neither of his children had any interest in taking over either residency or management of the property. Lubin, always open for opportunity, approached the heirs seeking permission to utilize the land for filming in 1911 and by 1912 had secured a deal to purchase the entire estate with everything on it. He made a very good deal for himself, and furthering his reputation for unethical conduct, he actually paid very little of the money he owed to Betz’s son and the trustee.

Betzwood had it all, open space for filming and areas to build studios and processing plant with the production capacity of four million feet per week, which increased to over ten million by 1915. This gilded age mansion, occupying prime real estate in the suburbs of Philadelphia would also stand as a testament to Lubin’s success, the self-proclaimed “King of the Movies.”

The estate consisted of two farms, a gothic mansion with 100 rooms, conservatory, an arboretum, deer park, bear pit with bears, and a boathouse. It was indeed an elaborate property but Lubin had big plans for it. Betzwood was to be his own masterpiece, speaking to his creative accomplishments far more artistically than any of his films. He was intent on building his idealized vision of the company town. Betzwood was to be self-sufficient, where family and employees shared not just work space but living space as well. It was to be modeled after the industrial villages Lubin witnessed in Germany in his youth, where corporations provided their employees cradle to grave care. These towns possessed housing, stores, churches, hospitals, school and recreation. Lubin had been a very generous employer, providing not just good salaries but even hot meals, and he intended that with Betzwood his employees would also benefit from his good fortune. He had imagined an entire industrial village housing employees, actors, family, friends.  Such ambitious goals were never meet.

Other goals met and even surpassed expectations. Existing structures on the land would, with modifications, serve as the industrial center for the studio rather than building new buildings. The studio needed to be able to process not just the films from Betzwood but also from Lubin’s traveling stock companies, and any independents, technically a violation of his membership with the MPPC.

It was the largest processing plant in the world for a while. It had a state of the art environmental control system and a boiler plant to generate electricity for the processing plant and employed more than two hundred workers. At first Lubin’s directors were still required to send film crews on location but soon enough Betzwood possessed everything they needed, including western scenes, towns, and a boathouse. These sets were a big improvement in the realism of Lubin’s films, an oft criticized aspect of his film making. In short he did everything he could to ensure that his directors were well supported.

Just as he reached the peak of his power however Lubin faced insurmountable economic difficulties. The skills that helped him rise to the top were no longer useful as film left its formative years.  First, always known as one who preferred quantity to quality, he failed to adequately adapt to changing tastes. Public consumption of films was insatiable but people were no longer content with nickelodeons and film shorts. Consumers were demanding longer movies with better narratives and Lubin failed to make the transition despite repeated but mediocre efforts.  Secondly, the costs he incurred through expansion, moving from a studio in Philadelphia to the Betzwood studio, his most significant attempt to improve his films, was disastrous. He faced further difficulties with the loss of his extensive back catalog of film due to fire . But most damaging to Betzwood Studios was a court decision on a Federal Anti-Trust suit brought against the Motion Picture Patents Company, an attempt by Thomas Edison to control the entire industry, by independent film studios. Despite an intense antagonism between Lubin and Edison over patents, Lubin was a willing and active partner in the MPPC and one of its most loyal and staunchest defendants. The cost of the defense and the changes to the industry after the case was decided drained Lubin’s personal wealth and the profits from Betzwood Studios. He was forced to declare bankruptcy in 1916.

The studio continued operations under Lubin’s son-in-law, Ira Lowry and the new owners, Wolf Brothers, Inc. It was in this period that the studio released its most popular films, a series based on a comic strip, The Toonerville Trolley. Betzwood, a one time economic powerhouse, left little legacy other than the physical buildings still standing.

Series notes.

Series I. Betzwood administration, 1912-1919. This series contains some of the administrative records created by the Lubin Manufacturing Company, both during the Lubin period and the Wolf Brother period. Items include The Betzwood Lenz, an employee newsletter, publicity, a check, a program for the Lubin Beneficial Society (an event that raised money for Lubin employees), photographs of the facilities, and correspondence from Music Masters, purchasers of the property from Wolf Brothers, inc.

Series II. Louis Bennison, 1918-1922. Louis Bennison was one of the Betzwood studio’s most prolific actors. He was already an established stage performer when Betzwood recruited him to star in a series of six feature length westerns. His real life experience as a cowboy served him well in the Betzwood films. All six films were produced and distributed and despite good reviews his contract was not renewed. He returned to the stage after leaving the studio but his career soon collapsed with Bennison succumbing to alcoholism. His death was controversial. Though not proven it is suspected that he died in a murder/suicide with companion, Margaret Lawrence, his victim. Items include publicity shots for the films “Johnny Get Your Gun’ and “Speedy Meade”, articles in film industry magazines, and slides.

Series III. Studio actors, 1919-1920.  This series contains publicity photos of Betzwood actors including the Cardy sisters, Marguerite Clark, Howell Hansel, Arthur V. Johnson, Ada Prince, Louise Huff, Lady Tsen Mei, Florence Bruce, Claire Adams, Romaine Fielding, and Irma Irving.

Series IV. Film Stills, 1905-1919.  This series contains film stills from Betzwood Studio films including images from the “Great Train Wreck”, “For the Freedom of the World” and “Pride of Battery B”.

Series V. Toonerville Trolley, 1921. The Toonerville Trolley films were the most popular productions of the Betzwood Studio, either during the Lubin or Wolfe era. The films were based on a popular comic strip, Toonerville Folks by Fontaine Fox, that followed the travels of a dilapidated trolley operated by an elderly man and his daughter the Great Katrinka. This collection contains several movie stills from the films.

Series VI. Slides, 1980. This series contains slides created by Dr. Joseph Eckhardt for his research. Images include movie stills and shots of the surviving buildings on the studio grounds.

Series VII. Lubin Bulletin, 1914; The studio published a bulletin for exhibitors detailing Lubin releases. This series contains one of those publications, dated November 28, 1914.

Series VIII. Fan Magazines, 1912-1920. This series contains magazines written for film fans. They contain interviews with the stars, reviews of upcoming films, and running debates about industry concerns including censorship. Magazines include Moving Picture World, Hearst’s, Motion Picture Magazine, and Moving Picture World.

Seriers IX. The Beloved Adventurer, 1914.  The Beloved Adventurer is a hardbound novel published by the Lubin Manufacturing Company based on a film series of 15 one reel installments and written by Edmund Campbell Hall. The film stared Arthur Johnson and Lottie Briscoe. There are seven copies of the book.

Series X. Photographs, 1905-198_.  This series contains photographs taken by Dr. Joseph Eckhardt in the course of his research as well as pictures created by the studio and enlarged by Dr. Eckhardt for his annual Betzwood Festival.

Series XI. Oral histories, 1981-199_. This series contains audiocassette recordings of oral histories conducted by Joseph Eckhardt and other researchers. Interviewees include Betzwood employees, actors, and their families, fellow researchers. Names include Nathan Kates, Lubin extra Mr. Gehnes, Mrs. Verna Rose, Mrs. Davidson, daughter of Lubin’s chauffer, Alfred Wolf,  Ida Hannemann Brenninger, employee Claire Taniro McCoy, John Thompson, Joseph Mullen, Mrs. Arthur Goldsmith, John Comfort, Albert Hacket, Blanche Wolf Kohn.

Series XII. Magic Lantern Advertising Slides, 1915-1921. This series contains glass magic lantern advertising slides for Betzwood films. Most are illustrated with stills from the respective films, and many are hand tinted.

Inventory; Wooden scenery supports; wooden film shipping crates

Box 1

  • FF 1     The Betzwood Lenz, 1912
  • FF 2     Lubin Athletic Club letterhead, 1915
  • FF 3     Publicity, 191_
  • FF 4     Wolf Brothers check, 1919
  • FF 5     Program, Lubin Beneficial Society, 1915
  • FF 6     Betzwood facilities photographs/prints, 1912-1915
  • FF 7     Music Masters, 1929
  • FF 8     Louis Bennison publicity shots, 1919
  • FF 9     Filmen, 1919
  • FF 10   Motion Picture Magazine, 1919
  • FF 11   “Johnny Get Your Gun” waltzes, 1922
  • FF 12   “Johnny Get Your Gun” publicity, 1919
  • FF 13   “Mr. Pim Passes By”, 1921
  • FF 14   Slides, 1919
  • FF 15   “Oh, Johnny” stills, 1918
  • FF 16   “Of, Johnny” publicity, 1918
  • FF 17   “Speedy Meade” stills, 1919
  • FF 18   “Speedy Meade” publicity, 1919
  • FF 19   Studio Actor publicity shots, 1919
  • FF 20 Studio actors, Cardy sisters, 1920
  • FF 21   Film stills, 1919
  • FF 22   Disaster shots, 191_
  • FF 23   Toonerville Trolley stills, 1921
  • FF 24   “The Great Train Wreck”, 1905
  • FF 25   Misc. movie stills, 1919
  • FF 26   “For the Freedom of the World”, 1918
  • FF 27   “Pride of Battery B”, 1913
  • FF 28   Slides, 1981

Box 2

  • FF 1     The Lubin Bulletin, 1914
  • FF 2     Hearst’s, 1920
  • FF 3     Motion Picture Magazine, 1920
  • FF 4     Motion Picture Magazine, Katrinka article, 1920
  • FF 5     Moving Picture World, 1919
  • FF 6     Motion Picture Stories, 1915

Box 3

  • The Beloved Adventurer, 1914. 

Box 4-5

  • Photographs/placards

Box 6

  • Oral histories

 

Comment on this article

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s