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Paley's Fortunes Fade as Selig Enjoys Good Luck

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William Paley was forced out of business as an independent producer and renter sometime in late 1906 or early 1907. The merging of the Proctor and Keith circuits in June 1906 led Proctor to switch his film rental account from Paley’s Kalatechnoscope Exchange to the Edison-affiliated Kinetograph Company. The veteran producer and cameraman felt betrayed and particularly bitter, for he, more than any other figure in the industry, had been willing to acknowledge Edison’s patents. This loss of the Proctor account undermined the basis of Paley’s business, and he soon found himself looking for work as a free-lance cameraman. 31

The Selig Polyscope Company was on the edge of bankruptcy by late 1905. Changes in film practice and legal expenses from fighting Edison’s patent suit had undermined Selig’s business, and his advertisements ceased to appear in trade journals. Then in February 1906 Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle was published and caused a furor with its revelations of conditions in the meat-packing industry. According to Terry Ramsaye, Armour & Company turned to Selig, whose films of its stockyards and slaughterhouses, made with an eye toward promotion, presented the company’s activities in a more favorable light. Armour not only arranged for these to be exhibited but provided Selig with legal support and a badly needed infusion of capital. 32

Armour’s support enabled Selig to return to production after a long hiatus, and he resumed with THE TOMBOYS , a 535-foot comedy released in the middle of August. At about this time, Selig hired the actor/director G. M. Anderson, who had previously worked for Edison, Vitagraph, and Harry Davis (discussed later in this chapter). Anderson was not given the partnership he wanted but worked on a commission basis. After the completion of TRAPPED BY PINKERTONS (October 1906) and a half-dozen other fiction films, Selig sent Anderson to Colorado, where his Western agent, H. H. Buckwalter, helped the director make several Westerns, including THE GIRL FROM MONTANA (March 1907), THE BANDIT KING , and WESTERN JUSTICE (released June 1907). 33 Returning to Chicago from Colorado, Anderson continued to direct for Selig and was soon recognized by Show World as “one of the most prominent moving-picture producers in the country.” 34 During July, the company released four story films, including THE MATINEE IDOL , another takeoff on the PERSONAL idea, in which a theater star is pursued by a bevy of overly enthusiastic female fans. Sometime during that month, Anderson left Selig to start up his own motion-picture company.

Selig’s output was lower for August and September, not only because of Anderson’s departure but because his company was deeply involved in the construction of a new Chicago studio that was in full operation by the end of the year. Until then, Selig relied heavily on exterior locations: the rare interior scenes, in ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL (August 1907), for example, reveal lighting by harsh direct sun. The new studio would make more diffuse lighting possible, as seen in films like WHAT A PIPE DID (November 1907). 35 Selig quickly found replacements for Anderson, among them Otis Turner, Francis Boggs, and John M. Bradlet, and began an ambitious process of expansion. 36 By November he was releasing a new film every week. While suffering serious difficulties at the outset of the nickelodeon era, the Selig Polyscope Company regrouped and finally expanded with the boom.

Although fiction filmmaking was paramount, Selig continued to make some actualities: the 600-foot WORLD SERIES BASEBALL GAME of the 1906 White Sox-Cubs championship, a series of scenes of the G.A.R. encampment in Minneapolis, and a November flood in Seattle. In 1907 William Selig himself took views of tarpon fishing off Padre Island in South Texas. 37 As at Edison, actuality production had become quite separate from production of story films.

None of Selig’s 1906-1907 films survive except for a few brief paper fragments submitted for copyright purposes. This is particularly unfortunate because catalog descriptions and reviews suggest that they displayed noteworthy vitality. With THE GRAFTERS , Variety reported, the filmmakers had “managed to extract a considerable amount of active fun out of the subject based upon nature’s desire to secure ‘something’ for nothing,” and it was “exhibited to large, interested audiences in a number of Chicago theaters.” Some Selig subjects employed advanced editorial constructions. In WHEN WE WERE BOYS (January 1907), two old men are shown conversing about their childhoods and the many pranks they pulled. The film cuts back and forth between the old men and scenes of their youth. In an elaborate flashback construction that predated regular use of alternating scenes, the film makes explicit the nostalgic nature of this pre-nickelodeon genre that was then coming under attack. 38 WOOING AND WEDDING A COON (November 1907) and THE MASHER (June 1907) indicate that the depiction of African Americans at Selig had not changed from the owner’s minstrel-show days.

A number of Selig pictures show women assuming active roles often associated with masculine behavior. In THE TOMBOYS , young girls act like their bad-boy counterparts by skipping school and playing pranks on adults. The protagonist of THE FEMALE H IGHWAYMAN (November 1906) is a clever thief who executes her crimes with daring and nerve. The catalog description suggests that her detection and final capture was an unconvincing, obligatory ending. Likewise the heroine in THE GIRL FROM MONTANA (March 1907), played by Pansy Perry, saves her lover from death and several times keeps angry mobs at bay with her revolver. 39 In many respects, the Western with its cowboys supplanted the bad-boy genre. The personal nostalgia of the male filmmakers and spectators was replaced by a more mythic conception of the recent but still-fading past. In these Westerns, codes of civilized conduct were not yet fully asserted, so men and women alike were freer to assume nontraditional roles and responsibilities. It thus provided a place where women might forge new, more active identities.

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