“Perils of Pauline”
“The Perils of Pauline” was one of the earliest serials made, and in this 1914 chapterplay Pearl White became world famous. It is said of Pearl that she was not only the Queen of Silent Serials, but that her name itself became synonymous with the cliffhangers, and that she did more than any other star to make the serial a legitimate form of movie entertainment.
The producers allowed Pearl to do all of her own stunts except the most extremely dangerous ones. For instance, in her final serial, “Plunder” (‘23), the leap from the top of a bus to an elevated railroad platform was done by a stuntman—who fell to his death. Between “The Perils of Pauline” and “Plunder”, Pearl also appeared in nine other serials: “The Exploits of Elaine”, “The Romance of Elaine”, “The New Exploits of Elaine”, “The Iron Claw”, “Pearl of the Army”, “The Fatal Ring”, “The House of Hate”, “Lightning Raider” and “The Black Secret”.
She also appeared in a number of features, including “A Virgin Paradise” about which PHOTOPLAY wrote, “Pearl White’s followers will not be disappointed in her. She has never seen a man or anything as modern as an electric light, nevertheless in a few weeks she is handling a gun like Bill Hart and wallops the villain with Jack Dempsey skill.”
Pearl retired from the screen in 1925 and died in Paris, France, August 4, 1938.
Pearl was menaced by Paul Panzer, dubbed “the Villain’s villain”, in three serials, “Perils of Pauline”, “Exploits of Elaine” and “The House of Hate”. Panzer, while working in a feature titled “Thunder Mountain” in ’25, talked to Preston Sawyer of the SANTA CRUZ SENTINEL about his work in serials. He remarked, “We made ‘The Perils of Pauline’ in New York in 1914. Undoubtedly that serial will continue to live as the greatest of them all—indeed it was one of the first, and had an immense vogue when the continued play was in its heyday of popularity. Although I have worked in a number of other serials, none have meant to me just what ‘The Perils of Pauline’ did.”
The writer mentioned his impression of Paul Panzer, the man. “It has always impressed me—this finding the portrayers of villainous roles on the screen to be so much the opposite in reality. Panzer, for instance, has played some decidedly vicious roles on celluloid, yet a finer fellow in real life I have never known. And I could see, just in the brief period of my visit with him in the hotel lobby, that he is universally liked. One and all seemed to know and greet him. And he had a smile or a nod, often a handclasp, for them.”
Sawyer finished off his newspaper column on “The Perils of Pauline”, stating, “The many thrilling episodes of the serial revolve about the perils cast in the paths of the young couple. Many were the fiendish plots, many of the cunning schemes destined to put them out of the way once and for all. But the drug-crazed brain of Raymond Owen (Panzer) fell short in the crafty machinations, and destiny judged that always should the youthful Pauline and Harry emerge alive and safe through danger.” Listed in the column was a line of Panzer’s dialogue: “Hello, Wrentz! This is Owen, Raymond Owen talking. Listen. Pauline is going. The idea worked. Station with your men tonight. And Wrentz, if the plan I gave you fails, I leave it to you to invent a new one. You understand? I don’t want you to miss this time.” And so, another plot was born and another attempt failed. Panzer would hiss, “Curses, foiled again,” and another plot would be hatched.
The 5' 10", 170 lb. Panzer continued work in serials such as “Alias the Grey Seal”, “The Masked Rider”, “The Mystery Mind”, “Hawk of the Hills”, “The Black Book” and “Tarzan the Tiger”.
Paul Wolfgang Panzer was born in Bavaria November 3, 1872, and educated at Heidelburg University in Germany. He entered films at Vitagraph circa 1913 and continued to work in films through 1949. He died August 16, 1958, in Hollywood, CA. Among his final films was a bit—a “good guy”—in Betty Hutton’s ’47 portrayal of Pearl White in “The Perils of Pauline”.
Crane Wilbur, who portrayed Harry Marvin in “…Pauline”, appeared in the silent serial “Road O’ Strife” (’15), and ended his film acting career after ‘36s “Captain Calamity”, but carved out a career as a playwright and screenwriter, as well as a film director and producer on through ’62. Crane also appeared as an actor on stage and in radio. He died October 18, 1973, in North Hollywood, CA, just a month before his 84th birthday.
Also featured in the cast were Sidney Blackmer (his film debut) and Milton Berle as a child.
“Adventures of Black Arrow”
Interview with Robert Scott
by Boyd Magers
The serial star of Columbia’s “Black Arrow” (’44) was born Robert Ellis Scott June 9, 1921, in Denver, CO. His motion picture exhibitor father moved the family to Kansas City where he was a manager for 20th Century Fox. Graduating high school in Kansas City in 1938, Scott attended the University of Arizona where he majored in dramatic arts and learned to ride a horse with the ROTC. After doing a lot of plays he was noticed and signed by Columbia to a seven year contract. (Incidentally, many of Scott’s early films are confused with a New York actor also named Robert Scott who made movies such as “Escape”, “Those Were the Days”, “Remember Pearl Harbor”, etc.) Our Robert Scott’s first Columbia film, other than a Navy training short, was “Girl In the Case” (’44) with Carole Mathews, after which he was immediately cast as the lead in “Black Arrow” directed by Lew Landers.
RS: “What impressed me was, it was so early on, that to be listed every day in the trade papers as the star of anything, it was kind of impressive for a kid just out of school, but it required a lot of athletic stuff, jumping and leaping. I had a double, but I always came in and did certain things you had to do yourself. I had to do some of the bareback riding, when it was really without a saddle. I’d have a wire attached to a small bit in the horse’s mouth so you could rein him in. I didn’t have to pull on his mane to get him to stop. Then there was a lot of stuff where I had to match-up jumping off a rock onto the back of a horse. I didn’t do that, but most of the other stuff I did. The best advice I had in the world was from old Charlie Middleton who played the Indian agent. He said, “Kid, check everything you do before you do it.” While he was saying this I was thinking about the two guys that had starred in serials before at Columbia who were both still in the hospital with serious injuries. One guy was Jimmy Ellison who had gotten hurt on the “Desert Hawk” and Gilbert Roland took over. I think Gilbert got hurt too. Anyway, I learned to check things, but even so, in scenes where you’re shot, stabbed, burned, crushed…everything that they could possibly do to the human body to bring it to powder, they did.”
“There were some tight problems. I remember one scene where Rudy Flothow, the producer, went out with the second unit. They just wanted to get a shot where I’m by a tree and an enemy Indian throws an axe which sticks right in the tree beside me. It seems like a very simple thing, but they hadn’t told the guy who was the expert axe thrower about the bit…when it was to take place, the following day…because they didn’t want him to make a big thing about it, charge them two or three hundred dollars for the thing, so they just gave him the prop axes, some of which were dull and some were not weighted properly. He was a little squeamish about it. In any event, we kept shooting and the reflectors were getting higher and higher, to keep the sun on the scene and they’d go from tree to tree, chewing up the bark next to me. The bark’s flying all around my head. Eventually, I said I was getting a little uncomfortable about this and Rudy, who had kind of an affliction, of where he was blinking, said, ‘Oh, please just one more…just one more…’ So I said, ‘All right Rudy.’ And the axe expert, who I knew, said, ‘I assure you if I miss, it’ll go off the other end of the tree, off the other side. Don’t worry.’ Well, this time he throws the axe and it doesn’t go off the other side. It hits on my side and turns my wig around! Damn axe flying at my head, and I said, ‘Hey, come on, this is ridiculous!’ Now Rudy is on his knees by this time, begging. We go to one more tree and the guy thinks he’s sure he can do it (laughs)…which he did.”
“Now…the same guy, at the livery stable…they’re going to hang me in a buckboard. I’m on the back of the buckboard with this noose around my neck, under my chin. The rope is up over the pulley and there’s a prop man up high. I yelled to him, ‘You’ve got the breakaway rope right?’ And he says, ‘Sure.’ The bit is, as soon as they start the horses, you see, they have to get the horse to go to move the buckboard forward enough to establish some fact that I’ve been hanged. They start the horses and the director, Lew Landers, runs the horses a little further than he would ordinarily take them. And it wasn’t a breakaway rope! They didn’t expect it to go that far. Now the guy that had thrown the axes, that I’d stuck with on his stunt, leaped up and grabbed the rope and pulled it through! If the rope had caught in any way, or gotten to the knot, I’d have been hanging there and it would have broken my neck! (sly chuckle)”
“They had another thing the very last day, here’s another example, remembering what Charlie Middleton had said. There’s a scene where I’m knocked unconscious. They throw me down the well and I drown. We get to this well (chuckles) and they’d built this well on stage with a rim around it. I’m to get up on this rim, about six feet above the well, and jump into the well, along with a lot of balsa wood that was breaking around me, then go under the water. They said be sure to go under the water and stay under as long as you can so that we know you’ve drowned. Anyway, I got up on the rim, and it’s not a very big well. Looks like a teacup down there. Well, I’m not high on this but I think we can do it. I asked Landers how deep is it? He says, ‘I don’t know, four or five feet, you still might have to duck your head down.’ Well, I didn’t take anybody’s word for it, least of all the director. I got a pole and the pole went about a foot and half under the top surface of the water, and they had a jagged weight in the bottom of this tank, not expecting to have a person jump down there. What the hell, it would have ruined me for life. I said, come on you guys! By then, I was furious. So they threw the dummy down in my Black Arrow’s clothing, with the balsa wood around it. But it was just one thing after another!”
“I really am absolutely indebted to Charlie Middleton. He’s a dear guy. I remember one time in a scene he went up on his lines. He took this long pause, put his arm around me, looked down to the ground, then came up with the line. Well, I was just ready to break up, because it was a real creepy pause there…and damned if they didn’t use it and he’d filled it. He’d filled every moment of it. He made it work. And I knew damn well he was up.”
“It was quite an experience on ‘Black Arrow’. The director, Lew Landers, was a nice guy. I think he was kind of disillusioned about his career, because he told me one time, ‘they give me these small pictures to do and want them finished by Thursday. They don’t want them good, they just want to get it out. I used to finish them on time, cut and move in…do all the things you can do to get it in the can. They come out with shortcomings, not the most finished pieces of movie making in the world. But producers forget what you do for them.’”
“Martin Garralaga was a cute guy. He taught me a lot of naughty Mexican words. I got in trouble with the Indians by using them. (Chuckles) Interesting thing was, one of the scenes where I had to run a race, to determine who would be the next chief. As I was running, in the group of people playing Indians, Jim Thorpe was there. Jim came up to me and said, ‘When you’re running, you’re pointing your feet out as you run, just a little, about an inch or two, so you’re going extra distance. When you run, make sure you keep your feet straight, you’ll get there faster.’ He was very sweet about giving me advice. I was very grateful. But it was sad, in a way, because he was one of the great American athletes of all time.”
BM: It always seemed to me Adele Jergens was a little miscast in “Black Arrow”.
RS: “Well, a little. I was very fond of Adele. She was a good sport. She was really a showgirl, a nice actress, not a traditional Miss America, but I really enjoyed her. She became a very good friend.”
BM: Remember anything about Kenneth McDonald?
RS: “Kenny? Yeah. Later, I’d do a ‘Perry Mason’ about every year, I did about 13 of them. Kenny played a judge over there and that’s the last time I saw him. He was just as good as he was in ‘Black Arrow’. A good actor, a journeyman actor, but a solid one. Then there was Bob Williams. I said, ‘Listen, when are they going to put you in the statue holding the torch up for Columbia? (Chuckles) God, he was in more pictures!”
Scott stayed with Columbia through 1947, appearing in Lone Wolf, Ken Curtis, Blondie, Crime Doctor, Boston Blackie, I Love a Mystery and Charles Starrett B’s, as well as “Gilda” (‘46) with Rita Hayworth. Beginning to freelance in ’48, he changed his name to Mark Roberts and moved heavily into TV in ’49. In ’60 he and Steve Dunne co-starred on the syndicated private eye series “Brothers Brannigan”. As Mark Roberts he continued to work in TV and on commercials clear into the ‘90s. In 1980 Mark became a bestselling novelist with THE ONLY MAN IN HOLLYWOOD, the tale of a legendary Hollywood lawyer. The Pocket Books edition has seen several reprintings.
Born in Chatham, NY, March 9, 1918, Marguerite Chapman worked as a telephone switchboard operator in White Plains, NY. A tomboy nicknamed Slugger, she only became a model after friends insisted she ought to be in pictures.
Signed by the prestigious Robert Powers Agency in New York City, the publicity she earned modeling brought an offer from 20th Century Fox. She made her film debut in 1940, working for the next two years in small roles.
In 1942 she was cast by Republic as Eve Corby in “Spy Smasher”, one of the best serials ever produced. As a result she began receiving offers for more prestigious pictures (“Destroyer”, “Submarine Raider”, “Pardon My Past”, “Relentless”, “Coroner Creek”, etc.) During the ‘50s she continued to work in lesser films (“Flight to Mars”, “Sea Tiger”, etc.) but also kept busy on TV through 1976.
She also appeared in many plays and took up painting with her work exhibited at the Beverly Hills Art League Gallery.
At 81, she died August 31, 1999, in Burbank, CA.