The Thanhouser Company film studios, based in New Rochelle, N.Y., produced over a thousand films between 1909 and 1917. Some of those years,Thanhouser films accounted for fully one quarter of all American productions: far more than well-known competitors such as the Edison Company and Biograph. The Thanhouser studio was particularly renowned for its elaborate literary adaptations (Austen, Dickens, Shakespeare, Stowe), its incisive social dramas (The Cry of the Children, 1912; The Evidence of the Film, 1913), and its wildly successful serials (including the 23-chapter 1914 blockbuster, The Million Dollar Mystery). But when the studio shut down in 1917, co-founders Gertrude and Edwin Thanhouser decided to burn all negatives and studio copies, rather than incur the significant expense of storing the highly volatile nitrate film. Without these precious artifacts, the magnificent achievements of the studio were soon forgotten, and its reputation reduced to an occasional footnote in the official histories of American cinema.
But in the mid-1980s, Ned Thanhouser--grandson to the studio co-founders, who had always assumed that no copies of Thanhouser films were still in existence--happened to see a clip from a Thanhouser film in a documentary aired on PBS. This chance discovery left him to wonder if there might be others, and would begin a personal quest that has so far lasted thirty years: to locate and make available all extant film prints, scrapbooks, letters, newspaper clippings, marketing materials, photographs and other artifacts from the studio and its executives. Over those years, Ned has scoured libraries, film vaults, private collections, and auctions to amass a trove of Thanhouser studio treasures. It has brought him into contact with numerous archivists, enthusiasts, and scholars, including Q. David Bowers, who embarked on his own Thanhouser research in the late 1980s, and would eventually self-publish the seminal reference text, Thanhouser Films: An Encyclopedia and History.
Ned has since made an expansive and expanding collection of Thanhouser films available at the website of Thanhouser Film Preservation, Inc.
, a 501 (c)(3)organization.
But print materials and artifacts have so far remained largely inaccessible to the public. That is, until now. The Thanhouser Studio Archive at Iona College presents them for the first time in one central location, digitized for easy access to scholars, to students, to film buffs, and to anyone curious about the extraordinary, too long obscured place the Thanhouser Company holds in American film history. And while the studio closed its doors a century ago, we hope that it will continue to live in this archive, and in the mission of Ned, Iona College and all who strive to protect and promote its legacy.
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