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May 31, 2022





A Daughter of Old Ireland : Sidney Olcott's totally forgotten film

As the author of a book on the Irish career of Sidney Olcott, I was convinced that I had deciphered the subject enough to think that I had exhausted it. I recounted the conditions under which the films were made, the reactions of the press and the public...

I summarize: between 1910 and 1914, Olcott shot 28 films in Ireland: 22 for Kalem (1910-1912); 3 for Gene Gauntier's Feature Players (1913) and 3 for Sid's Films (1914).

Well, no ! The subject is not exhausted. Olcott has made a 29th film. It is called "A Daughter of Old Ireland". It was made in the summer of 1913 for Gene Gauntier's Feature Players. It was released in the United States in early 1914.

I discovered it by chance, while surfing on the website www.newspapers.com which agglomerates the archives of many American newspapers (dailies and weeklies), but also, to a lesser extent, Canadian, English and Panamanian.

I am doing some research on the career of Jack J. Clark, the young leading man of Olcott's films, and I come across advertisements and press releases announcing the screening of "A Daughter of Old Ireland", distributed by Warner's Features in theaters all over the United States.
A story summed up in a few sentences: « It tells the story of the blending of the castle of an aristocrat and the cottage of a peasant, thru the love of charming colleen and an English nobleman. »

More interesting, some articles are accompanied by photos, one of which I bought on Ebay. In a room, Gene Gauntier, Jack J. Clark, Red Coats, those 18th century English soldiers, and a man dressed as a gentleman brandishing his cane with an angry sneer. I thought it was Bob Vignola, the man who plays the "bastards" at Olcott. For me, this stills was therefore from a Kalem film but I could not identify it.  However, a second image, a priori the same film, led me to resume the investigation.

Result: No it is not Vignola the "bad guy", dressed as a gentleman, but Sidney Olcott himself with, this time with a friendly attitude. On the picture, there is also Gene Gauntier and an actor that I could not identify. An Irish extra? More likely, an American actor from the troupe or an Englishman hired in London, because Olcott and Gauntier made a detour to the capital of the United Kingdom, before joining Beaufort.

It is therefore a film of Gene Gauntier's Feature Players. Yes, but which one? For me, there were three: "For Ireland's Sake", "Come back to Ireland" and "The Eye of the Government". The last two are set in the 20th century. Only the first one tells a story that Olcott loves: the struggle of the Irish against the English soldiers in the 18th century. The Canadian plays a priest. Perhaps he plays also another role, as was very common in early films. But "For Ireland's Sake" has survived and the director is hardly seen in it, dressed as a gentleman threatening Gauntier and Clark.

So both of my stills are from "A Daughter of Old Ireland".

So why did this film escape me? In court, my lawyer would have a ready-made argument: "Nobody identified him. Not Liam O'Leary, the father of Irish film history; not Kevin Rockett, author of a monumental filmography of films shot in Ireland; not David Condon, who wrote a book on Irish silent cinema; and certainly not the American Film Institute Catalog, which lists the thousands of American films produced since 1895..."

So I went back to the way I have been taking for years to conduct my research. First of all, I consulted the professional newspapers which are the basis, I could say the Bible, of silent cinema. Weekly and monthly professional newspapers called The Moving Picture Word, Motography, The Film Index, The New York Dramatic Mirror, Variety, New York Clipper... which distil essential information for all those who live from cinema: equipment manufacturers, producers, directors, actors, technicians, cinema owners... and historians. While the big newspapers are silent about this cinema phenomenon, too popular in their eyes and contrary to the expectations of their more "bourgeois" readers, they think.

Well, the file of "A Daughter of Old Ireland" is almost empty. Incredible. Yet this film is not the work of beginners. What happened? We have to go back a few months. While Olcott was in Palestine shooting "From the Manger to the Cross", Frank J. Marion, who had been writing to his director about his work in progress, told him that due to the uncertainties of the film business, he would have to cut his salary. However, as he knew that the Canadian wanted to set up his own business, he offered to help him in his efforts, especially to obtain a license from the Edison Trust.

In the fall of 1912, Olcott resigned, followed by Gene Gauntier, Jack J. Clark and Allen Farhnam, the artistic director ... All integrate the Gene Gauntier's Feature Players whose roadmap is the same as that of the Kalem: winter in Florida, spring in Fort Lee (New Jersey) and summer in Ireland ...
The team arrived in Queenstown (today Cobh) at the end of August 1913. It left on September 25, 1913. And made a number of films that the corporates do not detail. Four films in barely a month! Three reels (30 min) made in record time.

"For Ireland's Sake" was released on January 12, 1914. The professional newspapers were full of reviews, photos and comments. "Come Back to Erin" was released in March, but the exact date is not known. The same for "The Eye of the Government", released in April. With less and less information, without details or anecdotes.

And nothing about "A Daughter of Old Ireland". The film is just mentioned with the three others shot in Ireland in an advertisement of The Motion Picture News (13/06/1914, p.10) (see opposite), on the occasion of the second international film fair from June 8 to 13, at the Grand Central Palace, Lexington Avenue, in New York, where Gene Gauntier Feature Players shared a booth with the other producers distributed by Warner's Feature, including Sidney Olcott's. A few weeks earlier, Motography (7/03/1914, p.16) in an advertisement of Warner's Feature praises Gene Gauntier Feature Players' Irish films, of which there are... three, including "A Daughter of Old Ireland". Missing is "Come back to Erin".

So how to explain that this film, unfortunately disappeared like many silent films, could escape the sagacity of historians? I propose some clues: Gene Gauntier stopped her autobiography Blazing the Trail at the end of the Kalem period. She did not tell the adventure of his company, nor his artistic separation with Olcott. Well detrimental to the time to tell this story. This divorce occurred while the "Irish" films are not yet distributed. And the Canadian was busy building his own production company.
At that time, Warner's Feature did not seem to be up to the standard of other distributors: no advertising, no press releases in trade papers. Nor did it register a copyright. Hard for historians.

Fortunately, the American press, local and regional, fills in the gaps left by the professional press. Most of the time, they simply reproduce the press releases provided by distributors or theater managers. There are still no film critics to enlighten the audience.

The great French film historian, Jean Mitry, told me during a meeting at his home: « Silent films are archaeology. »  QED.

Sorry for my English

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A Daughter of Old Ireland


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©2009 Michel Derrien