Siegmund Lubin once told a reporter that the day would come when movies would take the place of family photo albums. “We will see in their youth and as alive, those loved ones who are long since lost,” he said. Like so many of Lubin’s predictions for the future of motion pictures, this has come true.
In the past decade we have been fortunate to meet several family members of the men and women who worked for the Lubin Film Company and the Betzwood Film Company. Children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-nieces and nephews of the studio’s actors, actresses and directors have attended our annual screenings to see their ancestors alive and well on the silver screen.
In 2005, Stanley Whiteway and his wife, Judy, drove all the way from Tennessee in order to see Stan’s grandfather, Arthur Matthews, in the Billie Reeves comedy film, A Ready Made Maid. Stan and his brother Eric never knew their grandfather. Arthur Matthews was killed in France during the First World War, leaving behind a wife and infant son, their father. On the evening of May 13th 2005, Stan “met” his grandfather for the first time.
After that evening’s show, Stan Whiteway was introduced to Mary W. O’Neil who was in the audience to see her grandmother, the comedienne and character actress, Eleanor Caines, in a film. Mary had never known her grandmother, who had died very young and tragically in 1913 before Mary was born. Like Stan, she “met” her ancestor on the screen of the Betzwood Film Festival the evening of May 13th 2005.
In 2010, two granddaughters of the actor, Harry Myers, attended the Betzwood Film Festival. Leslie Gross and Gini Pavell, were delighted to see their grandfather, who died before they were born, in one of his many films for Lubin. They also got to meet Lynn Holst, the great niece of director, Barry O’Neill, who had made some of Harry Myers’ films. All three women proudly posed with photographs of their illustrious movie-making forebears in the lobby of our campus theater.
At our screening in 2012, we were joined by some of the great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren of long-time Lubin and Betzwood actor, Noah Reynolds. Terry Sukalski, his sister, Carolyn Hopwood, and Carolyn’s children, Chelsy Bunner and Joey Bunner, watched their ancestor add his talents to one of the Toonerville Trolley films made ninety-two years earlier.
At our 2016 screening, we showed a recently restored film, When The Earth Trembled, made by Lubin in 1913. In attendance was the actor, William “Bill” Meisle, who had come to see his father, Layton Meisle, in the film. Layton Meisle was nine years old in 1913 when he played the part of a little boy caught up in the turmoil of the great San Francisco earthquake. Bill Meisle had heard his father talk about the film many years ago, but had never seen it.
Over the years, we have also heard from numerous children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the cowboys, lab workers, and other personnel of the Betzwood Studio. Do you have a Betzwood-related family story to tell? We’d love to hear from you.