Welcome back! It’s Saturday morning again which means it’s time for the next chapter of our ongoing serial The Crimson Ghost and more movie serial history. (You can find Chapter One here and chapter two here. )
Last week I spent some time talking about movie serials and how they fit into the movie-going experience back in the day. Today, I want to begin a look back at the origins of the movie serial itself.
Though we usually think of the movie serial as a product of the 1930s and ’40s and that is certainly the time when their popularity was at its height, the format actually goes back much earlier than that, almost back to the very beginning of film itself, or at least to the early days of movie theaters being a regular part of peoples’ lives.
Indeed, the first true movie serial appeared in the year 1912, and was entitled What Happened To Mary.Interestingly, however, the idea for the serial began not as a film series, but as a magazine serial.
Serial stories in magazines were certainly nothing new at the time. As a matter of fact, not only were serials designed as such for magazines a regular part of these publications, but many classic novels were also initially published in serial format in magazines before being collected into book form.
However, in 1912 the editor of The Ladies World magazine, Charles Dwyer had a new idea: why not, in conjunction with the publication of their latest serial What Happened to Mary, produce a series of short films which could be run in theaters each month, dramatizing the story as it would appear in the magazine? Thus, they could reach two different audiences, and hopefully draw readers to the magazine that might not otherwise pick it up. Yep, What Happened to Mary was not only the first movie serial, it’s a great early example of what we now call “cross-platform marketing”.
Thus Dwyer approached Horace G Plimpton,, then manager of Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope Company, who quickly agreed to participate in the project. Dwyer then wrote a screenplay for each installment, and Charles Brabin was selected to direct the twelve segments, each of which ran approximately 10-12 minutes, and both the magazine serial and the first chapter of the movie serial, entitled “The Escape from Bondage” made their debut in June of 1912. The serial starred Mary Fuller as Mary, Marc McDermott as Lieutenant Straker, Charles Ogle as Richard Craig, Mary’s Uncle, and Herbert Yost as Henry, Craig’s Son.
In addition to the movie tie-in, a contest was also run with the serial offering a $100 prize to the person who could, in 300 words or less, come closest to correctly guessing the events of the next chapter. The contest was won by Lucy Proctor of Armstrong, California who guessed that Mary would be rescued by a young man in his car.
Of course, that’s not what happens to save Duncan Richards, the hero of our currently-ongoing serial The Crimson Ghost, from walking into The Death Ray, but I think it’s about time we find out what does, don’t you? Okay, then, without further ado, here’s chapter 3.
Next time: Chapter 4 of The Crimson Ghost: “The Laughing Skull”, and more movie serial history. Be here!
- 10 Early Films Made by Edison’s Movie Company (mentalfloss.com)