Twain, Edison and Eastman….Fifth re-draft in progress

On an early morning in late June 1909 an Edison camera crew left their Bronx studio and headed to Grand Central to catch the 8:50 train to Redding, Connecticut. It would arrive in Redding in a little over 110 minutes. It took another 30 minutes by carriage to reach Twain’s, Stormfield estate. Take a close look at the train schedule for 1909 and you’ll see a lower “b” at the Redding stop. It referenced a footnotes,: “Stops to leave passengers from New York”. But what it didn’t say, but obviously meant, was this was the Mark Twain stop, a new a source of income for the railroad. It was easy to find the estate. Small signs with the letters MT and an arrow guided the first time visitor up to the house on Diamond Hill. There was no expectation that the busy Edison would have accompanied the film crew. A man of his stature would surely haves signed Twain’s guest book. A book Twain actively updated.

The Edison Manufacturing Companyp new studio manager, Horace Plimpton, had recently purchased the film rights to Twain’s Prince and the Pauper. The Edison crew was at Stormfield to shoot a short film segment to promote and acknowledge Twain’s approval of the project; a new silent two reeler based on the work. The worlds first trailer perhaps. Twain’s daughters Clara and Jean would also make their film debut as they enjoyed tea with their father in front of the pergola. The Prince and the Pauper would star the popular actress Cecil Spooner who would play both the Prince and the Pauper rolls. It was directed and adapted from the novel by j. Searle Dawley; considered by some to be America’s first film director. No copies of the finished production survive. The highly volatile nitrate negative may have been destroyed in a fire at the Edison vault in 1915. The twain trailer somehow survived.

Twain set out for Baltimore by way of New York city on June 8. Before leaving the city he had a curious pain in his chest. Was he coming down with a cold? It turned out to be angina, symptom of an underlying heart problem (coronary heart disease). He was back to Redding by June 14th. On that day his guest book notes a visit from Doctor Edward Quintard. Quintard was Twain’s doctor and friend. He told Twain the problem was his heart. He advised Twain to smoke less and restrict his activity.

From the 14th of June to the end of the month there was only one other guest, Isabella Hyde from Brooklyn. Twain noted in his guest book that Isabella was the 180th official guest to visit Stormfield during that first year. This would have been a good time for the Edison crew to work with Twain. Activity at the house picked up significantly from the 1st of July giving Twain little opportunity to partcipate in the fiilm project.

I have no idea how much footage was shot, but the process was expensive. This was not art, but business. The crew would probably returned to the Bronx before the end of the day.

The film stock was manafactured by Eastman Kodak. It was blue sensitive. This meant that warm to deep red colors would appear as dark grey to black when projected and the cooler colors, blue and green would appear lighter. Notice the beads around Clara’s neck and the dark tone of her skirt. The beads may have been warm colored cerelian stones, and the dress may have been red velvet. Both would have recorded as black in the finished film.

It was a beautiful summer day. It was shot around the time of the summer solstice. There was a brisk breeze coming from the southwest which probably kept the house and grounds cool.

There are three segments in the sequence. The walking sequence around the front of the house was shot in mid afternoon. The front of Stormfield faced the south west. The length of Twain’s shadow would indicate it was somewhere around 2:30 in the afternoon. Stormfield was located on top of Diamond Hill, sometimes referred to as Birch Spray Hill. It was a windy day. You can see the trees swaying in the bachground. The sequence begins with Twain standing in the front entrance to Stormfield. He speaks a few words and walks out of frame to the right. He might have made reference to the film. He walks in front of the house twice. He takes a slightly different path each time. On the second take, about 7 seconds after passing the front of the door, we can see what looks to be Jean (she wore a white dress that day) come to the front door to look through the screen at her father being photographed as he walked.


Prince and the pauper from the library
Drawings from the book.

Inquire about twain film from hartford

photos of vitagraph from brooklyn show? (generic shooting)

Twain note that Isabella Hyde from Brooklyn was the 180th guest to visit him during the year. She came on June 26th
He would have 33 guests during the month of July.

Why did Twain agree to be filmed? to be continued!

Twain’s heart issues had recently become public. He had suffered his first attack angina. The film opportnity would potray him
as a vigorous 73 year old (Always the promoter he understood how powerful this could be for his image).

Twain is standing at the front door. He walks in front of his house twice and has tea with his daughters, Jean and Clara, set in front of the Pergola to take advantage of the the sun. Film sensitivity was low and needed a lot of light.

We see Jean, Clara and Twain having tea outside the Pergola. Clara has a set of beads around her neck. They appear black. She may be wearing a set of warm colored cerulean beads. The blue sensitive film has recored them as dark almost black.

Jean seems bit nervous (more on this later). Clara, what little we can see of her behind the tea pot, looks in control.

To be continued.

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