The Flying A: Silent Film In Santa Barbara

Flying A Studios
The Flying A exhibition will focus on the studio's influential and prolific operation in Santa Barbara between 1912 and 1921, when nearly one thousand silent films were made by the studio before it was closed. The exhibition features original Flying A artifacts, documents, photographs and a selection of original Flying A silent films (which will play on our Sala Gallery Wall Theatre). This groundbreaking exhibit will run through the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, and marks the centennial anniversary of the Flying A's arrival in Santa Barbara. By popular demand - EXTENDED until September 16, 2012.

To view a video montage of the Flying A Studios, Directors, Actors, Actresses and movie sets -
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Flying A Films

During its operation between 1912 and 1917, Flying "A" Studios was one of the largest motion picture studios in the United States. Only a few of the movies produced exist today.

« Click on a movie poster below to view one of the remaining Flying A Films »

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Flying A Exhibit

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The Bell & Howell

The Bell & Howell model 2709 Standard was the first of the modern motion picture cameras. The premiere camera used during the 1910s, Flying A began to utilize the 2709 in February 1913, and was one of the first companies to operate them. The camera's all-metal design was produced for forty-six continuous years and introduced the modern film magazine. These interchangeable 400-foot load magazines revolutionized the industry, and allowed nearly seven minutes of film to be shot before they were reloaded. This camera was owned by Robert V. Phelan, a cameraman for the Flying A in Santa Barbara, and donated to the museum by his wife Leontine.

35mm Motion Picture Camera
Bell & Howell Model 2709, Model B, Serial No.85
Santa Barbara Historical Museum Collection
Gift of Leontine B. Phelan

35mm Film Magazines and Hinged Case
Santa Barbara Historical Museum Collection
Gift of Leontine B. Phelan

Hinged Case for Camera Lens Storage
Santa Barbara Historical Museum Collection
Gift of Leontine B. Phelan

Western Stock Saddle,

The Flying A "wranglers" rode into Santa Barbara on July 6th, 1912, after a one-week, 250-mile trail ride from La Mesa near San Diego. A company that made westerns needed legitimate cowboys, not only to ride for the camera, but also to handle the stock and attend to backstage chores, and this saddle belonged to head cowboy Charles "Chick" Morrison. He and his brothers Pete and Carl all acted, but it was Chick who showed a real flair for organization. He is pictured on the wall with Sid Baldridge, who also came with the company from La Mesa. Chick eventually became studio foreman while Sid headed the art department.

Western Stock Saddle, circa 1910
Courtesy Mary Anne Morrison

Portrait of Chick Morrison with Sid Baldridge
Reproduction Photo Print
Gledhill Library Collection, Santa Barbara Historical Museum
Gift of William Trimble

Portrait of Chick Morrison
Reproduction Photo Print
Gledhill Library Collection, Santa Barbara Historical Museum
Gift of Dorothy McNall Woods and Ralph McNall

Whiskey Still

As the nation moved toward Prohibition, stories about bootlegging became ever more popular. American found the topic useful for multiple tales, including The Power of Light, In the Mountains of Virginia and The Trap. The prop on display is original to the Flying A Studio and was used repeatedly, but you had to be careful.

"Jack Richardson was scalded by steam Thursday afternoon. In one of the scenes in 'The Trap' it was necessary to have a distillery in operation. Richardson while brewing some Kentucky mash got too close to the evaporator with the result he is nursing a pretty sore hand." - Morning Press; July 4, 1914

The whiskey still is clearly visible in these two publicity photos taken for The Power of Light (1914). On the left, Sydney Ayres prepares to take an ax to the still, while on the right, Ayres and Chick Morrison watch for "revenuers" with rifles at the ready.

Whiskey Still
Hand Hammered Brass and Copper
Trussell-Winchester Adobe Collection, Santa Barbara Historical Museum
Gift of Katherine Bagg Hastings

Publicity Photos, The Power of Light (1914)
Reproduction Photo Prints
Gledhill Library Collection, Santa Barbara Historical Museum
Gift of Muriel R. Lippincott

35mm Film Rewinds

Each film made at the studio followed a highly organized path to the editing room, and numerous departments handled everything from publicity photos to stage money. They had to coordinate so films finished in sync with the promotional campaign, and so prints could be in theaters as advertised. These photos show how the 35mm film rewinds and splicing equipment on display were used in the production process, while the studio ledger page for The Pitch O' Chance (1915) illustrates a typical production schedule.

35mm Film Rewinds Keystone Manufacturing Co.; Boston, Massachusetts Santa Barbara Historical Museum Collection Gift of Leontine B. Phelan

35mm Film Splicer
T.A. Edison Inc.; Orange, New Jersey
Santa Barbara Historical Museum Collection
Gift of Leontine B. Phelan

Ledger Page, The Pitch O' Chance
Joel Conway Flying A Studio Collection
Courtesy Department of Special Collections, Davidson Library
University of California, Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara Studio Editing Room
Reproduction Photo Print
John R. Freuler Collection
Courtesy Chicago History Museum

Santa Barbara Studio Editing Room
Reproduction Photo Print
Gledhill Library Collection, Santa Barbara Historical Museum
Gift of Muriel R. Lippincott

Flying A Studio Bank Note and Coins
Courtesy Neal Graffy Collection

The Diamond From the Sky

To better understand movies during the 1910s, it is best to think of today's television programs. Silent film studios and theaters attracted customers with likeable stars who played familiar characters, as seen in the Calamity Anne series of one-reelers played by Louise Lester. American heavily invested in the popularity of serials, where each episode ended in turmoil with the hero in danger, and the North American Film Corporation was created as a separate subsidiary to handle serials like The Diamond From the Sky exclusively. This series was so popular it spurred a novel and a song, while the storyline ran weekly in the Chicago Tribune's syndicated papers.

Book, The Diamond From the Sky
Roy L. McCardell, M.A. Donohue & Co., Chicago and New York, 1916
Courtesy Private Collection

Sheet Music, Like A Diamond From the Sky
Leo Bennett and Leo Wood, The Cadillac Music Co., New York
Courtesy Neal Graffy Collection

Stock Certificate, North American Film Corporation
Courtesy Private Collection

Portrait of Louise Lester, Inscribed to Leontine Phelan
Silver Gelatin Print
Gledhill Library Collection, Santa Barbara Historical Museum
Gift of Leontine B. Phelan

Publicity Photo, Louise Lester in Calamity Anne's Dream (1913)
Silver Gelatin Print
Gledhill Library Collection, Santa Barbara Historical Museum
Gift of Muriel R. Lippincott

Publicity Photo, Louise Lester in Calamity Anne's Sacrifice (1913) Silver Gelatin Print Courtesy Private Collection

Publicity Photo, Louise Lester in Calamity Anne Takes a Trip (1913)
Silver Gelatin Print
Courtesy Neal Graffy Collection

Portrait of Charlotte Burton

While actors and actresses came to Flying A from all across the country, sometimes local talents caught on as well. Charlotte Burton was one of the first Santa Barbarans to apply for work at the studio. She acted in over one hundred-twenty Flying A films, with her breakout role as the female villain in The Diamond From the Sky serial. She and co-villain William Russell made a number of features together and eventually married. However, the marriage ended in divorce when Charlotte caught Bill with another actress.

Portrait of Charlotte Burton
Silver Gelatin Print
Gledhill Library Collection, Santa Barbara Historical Museum
Gift of Janet Haisman and Jana Levine

Production Log Kept by Charlotte Burton, 1912-1915, pages 6-7
Paper bound in Leatherette
Gledhill Library Collection, Santa Barbara Historical Museum
Gift of Janet Haisman and Jana Levine

Publicity Photo, For the Crown (1913)
Silver Gelatin Print
Courtesy Private Collection

Publicity Photo, Trapped in a Forest Fire (1913)
Silver Gelatin Print
Courtesy Private Collection

Postcards of Gail Kane and Bill Russell
Lithograph Prints
Courtesy Neal Graffy Collection

Pennants of May Allison and Jack Richardson
Photo and Screen Prints on Felt
Courtesy Neal Graffy Collection

Portraits

Two very important players arrived at the Flying A in 1916. Celebrated New York artist and model Audrey Munson signed a contract to star in Virtue, a project that was later released under the title Purity. The six-reel film featured Audrey in dual roles, and both offered very revealing images of the star. While Purity was censored heavily in the states, the only known print indicates little to justify the censors. Audrey returned to Manhattan in July after a very brief stint with the Flying A.

The second actress was fourteen-year-old Mary Miles Minter, who had a far greater impact on the studio. Minter starred in twenty-six features for American, and averaged a film every month. While her popularity soared, the frantic pace of production and mediocre scripts held the young star back, and Minter left for Paramount in late 1918.

Portrait of Audrey Munson
Silver Gelatin Print
Courtesy Ralph Bowman

Portrait of Mary Miles Minter
Silver Gelatin Print
Courtesy Ralph Bowman

Letter, Inscribed Mary Miles Minter
Courtesy Neal Graffy Collection

Lobby Card, Social Briars (1918)
Lithograph on Card Stock
Courtesy Neal Graffy Collection

Publicity Photo, Audrey Munson in Purity (1916)
Silver Gelatin Print
Courtesy Neal Graffy Collection

Script, Purity (1916)
Courtesy Neal Graffy Collection

Damaged Goods

Damaged Goods tackled the topic of venereal syphilis and was quite a controversial phenomenon. Written as a play by Eugène Brieux and championed by George Bernard Shaw, it was later novelized by Upton Sinclair. In 1913, Damaged Goods was brought to the Broadway stage by matinee idol Richard Bennett, who was convinced by American to star in the film adaptation made the next summer. However, domestic distributor Mutual refused the film for wide release until October 1915, when it became a major hit. The seven-reel feature was re-released in 1917, and even considered as a training film for the Army. Yet it was never seen in certain parts of the country, and Pennsylvania refused it on three separate occasions. Bennett's daughters, Constance and Joan, received their film training on the prologue for the film, and later became major Hollywood stars.

Play, Damaged Goods (Les Avariés)
Eugène Brieux, Translated by John Pollock
Printed for the Connecticut Society of Social Hygiene
Brentano's, New York, 1912
Courtesy Private Collection

Book, Damaged Goods
Upton Sinclair
From the Play by Eugène Brieux
The John C. Winston Co.; Philadelphia, PA, 1913
Courtesy Private Collection

Promotional Pamphlets, Damaged Goods
Courtesy Private Collection


It was the responsibility of individual studios to provide proof that a film was truly theirs. The Library of Congress received this 35mm paper roll of 478 separate images from American in September 1914 to register Damaged Goods for copyright. The photographic images - printed from the 35mm negative - show the titles, credits, and at least one frame from every scene in the seven-reel film. Until a film print of Damaged Goods is discovered, this will be the only known record of what the movie actually looked like.

Copyright Paper Fragment, Damaged Goods (1914)
Copyright Applied for September 15th, 1914
Black and White Photo Print on 35mm Paper
Courtesy Interpretive Programs Office, Library of Congress

Film Frame Grabs, Damaged Goods (1914)
Reproduction Copyright Roll Photo Prints
Courtesy Interpretive Programs Office, Library of Congress

Samuel Hutchinson

Samuel Hutchinson's American Film Manufacturing Company was recognized worldwide by the winged "Flying A" trademark, and the publicity department in Chicago was responsible for the promotion of its stars. From the company's first big celebrity Jack Kerrigan, who was voted Photoplay magazine's most popular star of 1913, to the remarkable Margarita Fischer, who starred in the Flying A's first western and the final film they released, American's publicity always made sure fans were kept up to date on studio happenings.

Magazine; The New York Dramatic Mirror, July 1, 1916
Courtesy Private Collection

Magazine, Film Fun, November 1916
Courtesy Private Collection

Magazine, Photoplay, September 1916
Courtesy Neal Graffy Collection

Fan Mail to Margarita Fischer
Courtesy Special Collections and University Archives
Wichita State University Libraries

Abandoned Studio

Abandoned Flying A Studio in Santa Barbara, Circa 1940
Reproduction Photo Prints
Joel Conway Flying A Studio Collection
Courtesy Department of Special Collections, Davidson Library
University of California, Santa Barbara

Ideale Model

Poster, Ideale Model
Directed by Rea Berger
Six-Reel Drama Released Domestically as Purity July 13, 1915
Lithograph Print
Courtesy Neal Graffy Collection

Submarine Poster

Poster, The Secret of the Submarine
Directed by George Sargent
Chapter Five of the Thirty-Reel Serial
Released May through August, 1916
Lithograph Print
Courtesy Neal Graffy Collection

Out of the Ashes

Poster, Out of the Ashes
Directed by Charles Bartlett
Two-Reel Drama Released October 25, 1915
Lithograph Print
Courtesy Neal Graffy Collection

The Diamond From the Sky

Poster, The Diamond From the Sky
Directed by William Desmond Taylor
Chapter Twenty-Four of the Sixty-Reel Serial
Released May through November, 1915
Lithograph Print
Courtesy Neal Graffy Collection

The Girl Who Dared

Poster, The Girl Who Dared
Directed by Harry PollardV One-Reel Drama Released March 17, 1914
Lithograph Print
Courtesy Neal Graffy Collection

Irving Cummings

Brought to American to star in its Beauty brand one-reelers, Irving Cummings was later chosen to play the male lead in the serial, The Diamond From the Sky. Here, Cummings posed as John Powell, who had been "thrown" from a speeding train, but was still ready for a publicity shot with cigarette in hand. The background was matted out and this image likely ran in trade magazines. Cummings also directed three chapters of the serial, and enjoyed movie work so much that he directed until the 1950s. His later Hollywood credits as director include Shirley Temple's Curly Top and Poor Little Rich Girl, and Don Ameche's Hollywood Cavalcade and Down Argentine Way.

Publicity Photo, Irving Cummings, The Diamond From the Sky (1915)
Black and White Photo Print on Masonite
Santa Barbara Historical Museum Collection
Museum Acquisition Fund
Through the Generosity of Astrid and Lawrence Hammett

At the Potters Wheel

Poster, At the Potter's Wheel
Directed by Lorimer Johnston
One-Reel Drama Released January 21, 1914
Lithograph Print
Courtesy Neal Graffy Collection

Wranglers

Nearly one-third of the Flying A films were westerns. Jack Kerrigan and Pauline Bush set the acting standard early, but American always maintained cowboy and cowgirl stars including Helene Rosson, Anna Little, and Pete Morrison. Pete was a legitimate wrangler and played "reel" cowboys into the 1930's. American's preeminent "bad guy" was Jack Richardson, who began his evil deeds early on before the western unit relocated from La Mesa to Santa Barbara in 1912. Jack did not stop harassing Flying A heroes until 1916.

- Clockwise from top right -

Portrait of Helene Rosson
Reproduction Photo Print
Gledhill Library Collection, Santa Barbara Historical Museum
Gift of Dorothy McNall Woods and Ralph McNall

Pete Morrison Shooting Prone
Reproduction Photo Print
Gledhill Library Collection, Santa Barbara Historical Museum
Gift of Dorothy McNall Woods and Ralph McNall

Portrait of Jack Richardson
Reproduction Photo Print
Joel Conway Flying A Studio Collection
Courtesy Department of Special Collections, Davidson Library
University of California, Santa Barbara

Portrait of Anna Little
Reproduction Photo Print
Gledhill Library Collection, Santa Barbara Historical Museum
Gift of Dorothy McNall Woods and Ralph McNall

Allan Dwan

Allan Dwan directed almost two hundred Flying A films over the space of twenty-three months - at an astounding average of two a week. Dwan also served as mentor to many early cinema luminaries including the talented but self-destructive Marshall Neilan, who became Mary Pickford's favorite director, Wallace Reid, who headed Flying A's second company as both director and star; and Victor Fleming, the eventual director of Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz. Fired by the American Film Company in April of 1913, Dwan went on to direct Hollywood features for another forty-eight years, including Robin Hood, Heidi and The Sands of Iwo Jima.

- Clockwise from left -

Portrait of Allan Dwan
Reproduction Photo Print
Courtesy Private Collection

Portrait of Marshall Neilan
Reproduction Photo Print
Courtesy Neal Graffy Collection

Portrait of Wallace Reid
Reproduction Photo Print
Gledhill Library Collection, Santa Barbara Historical Museum
Anonymous Gift

Portrait of Victor Fleming
Reproduction Photo Print
Gledhill Library Collection, Santa Barbara Historical Museum
Gift of Janet Haisman and Jana Levine >