Monday, September 12, 2016

"Progress in Plenty"

If you've just joined us, we're celebrating the installation of our newest piece of public art - "Action!" which commemorates Monrovia's long standing connection to the motion picture industry.  Looking to catch up?  You're just in time...we'll bring you up up to speed here.  

Otherwise, keep reading...

The year is 1918 and you may remember that one of the founders of the Monrovia Feature Film Company (MFFC) had just died unexpectedly...

[cue the creepy organ music]

But unlike the other shenanigans associated with this venture, Guest Blogger Penny (AKA GBP) was unable to dig up any dirt related to his untimely demise. Don't despair, there is plenty of other sorted details ahead...including a murder. 

So without further ado, here's the next installment which moves on to our other esteemed MFFC officers, Edward Grafton and Rufus McClung Francisco.

Edward Grafton owned a publishing company that put out the magazine Out West which McGroarty had edited.  He was very involved in choosing the key people in the MFFC, as well as involving himself with the choice of actors.  He also must have had his hand in the till...uh, we mean he probably provided treasurer duties, as will be seen in a later lawsuit.

And finally, we come to Rufus McClung Francisco who had a colorful background in all types of entertainment.  Where he really excelled, however, was in self-promotion.  Born in Tennessee, he made his way west and settled in Sacramento where he managed a theater before becoming the operator of a notorious speakeasy on the Sacramento River called Oak Hall.  Oak Hall at the time of his management was owned by an infamous madame named Cherry de St. Maurice (who was murdered during a robbery while she was under trial for contributing to the delinquency of a minor and other alcohol related charges.

Francisco also claimed to own a semi-professional baseball team called the Sacramento Bees.   He was the financial administrator for the MFFC and was often quoted in the Monrovia Daily News about the amazing success of the photoplays and exorbitant amounts being paid on sets, actors and publicity.

Another key figure in the Monrovia Feature Film Company was Winfield Hogaboom.  He was the scenario writer—today known as the scriptwriter.  His name graced the cover of the Monrovia Daily News frequently in 1915-1916 as he appeared to take on the role of spokesperson for the MFFC.  

The newspaper built up the possibility of Monrovia becoming the world film capital with a headline on September 7, 1915 that touted  “Motion Picture Men Want Gold Hill Tract” and an accompanying article stating that following on the heels of the Monrovia Feature Film Company, two other bids for the Gold Hill Land had been made by film companies.   While the newspaper editor felt it was important to keep these companies’ identities a secret, they did hint that one of the bids was from one of the largest film producing companies in the world, which would imply Carl Laemmle’s Universal Studio-- which had just opened its new 230 acre studio on a farm just over the Cahuenga Pass from Hollywood.   Unlike other studios, he opened this new studio to tourists.

On September 9 – not even a week after the first mention of the new film company- a headline asked the burning question “Do You Want to Be an Actor?” and implored Monrovians to become board members of the fledgling company.  Definitely a more direct appeal for Monrovians to open their wallets and subscribe as owners of the company.

“The very air is charged with optimism.”  According to Rufus M. Francisco, the financial agent for the MFFC, the energy caused by the film studio has caused vacant buildings to be rented.  (This is only one week after the initial announcement of the film making venture appeared in the paper!)  He announced that Monrovians  will control and manage the MFFC and urged them to come register at the studio offices to become actors in their first film Argonauts of California - 1849.

On September 11, headlines promised “Progress in Plenty” and stated that hundreds have applied for actor positions.  The film company also warned Monrovians not to overcharge on rents when the onslaught of film workers descend upon the city.

Well...not quite the cliffhanger we were looking for, but history is what it is...However, what inquiring minds will want to know is if the onslaught of movie people will take over our charming little burg?  And which Monrovians are destined to become the next Charles Chaplin or Mabel Normand?  Stay tuned...

Oh, and speaking of the silent screen comedienne Mabel Normand, she died of tuberculosis while being treated at the Pottenger Sanatorium in Monrovia.  No connection to this tale, but another Monrovia link to the early days of Hollywood.