Posted on August 19th, 2015 by Rachel
While doing background research for our current exhibit Cinema Judaica, I came across a surprising number of photos in our collections showing Hollywood stars in and around Baltimore. Most of these made obvious sense: people who owned homes nearby, or who were in town to raise funds for Israel Bonds or promote a film. One photo in particular was a little harder to parse, however: a publicity shot of Pearl White, silent movie star.
Pearl White, 1916. Donated by Richard Millhauser, JMM 1995.88.27
In the 1910s, Miss White (1889-1938) was the daredevil heroine of film serials with fabulous titles like “The Perils of Pauline” and “The Exploits of Elaine.” You know the film cliché of a distressed damsel tied to the railroad tracks, cowering from a mustachioed, black-hatted villain? Though this specific trope is more common in later cartoons and spoofs than it ever was during the silent era, the broader notion of action-packed, anything-goes filmmaking in the 1910s and ‘20s is thanks in part to Miss White – who was famous for doing her own stunts – and her endangered-heroine films, including the occasional stint on a railroad tie. Please enjoy this thrilling advertisement for “The Fatal Ring” (1917):
So many thrills! “The Fatal Ring” by Pathé Exchange (film) – Internet Archive. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.
…But back to our collections, and the reasons Miss White appears in them. As best I can tell from published material, such as her autobiography, Miss White was not Jewish, nor was she from Maryland. What’s she doing in my archives?
With internet research, a field trip to the Enoch Pratt Free Library, and the assistance of intern Kaleigh, the question was easily solved. To start with, the back of our photograph is inscribed in pencil, “To Mr. David Millhauser – The man who got my life history – Sincerely, Pearl White – in Baltimore July 3 ‘16”.
Reverse of JMM 1995.88.27
David Millhauser (1892-1992) worked as a reporter for the Baltimore American. Bits and pieces in our collections indicate that he covered political and industrial news around the city. For example, here’s his U.S. Customs “Pass to Piers, Waterfront or Vessel” from 1918, listing his occupation as “newspaper reporter” and his employer as C.C. Fulton Co., the owner of the American.
Donated by Richard Millhauser. JMM 1991.133.1
Pearl White filmed a now-lost movie, “Mayblossom,” at Carrollton Hall (Howard County, Maryland) in 1916. On July 3rd of that year, she was photographed and interviewed at Baltimore’s Hotel Kernan by unnamed representatives of the Baltimore American; her photo appeared in the paper on July 4th, and a longer interview was published on July 9th.
“Popular Movie Actress Here. Miss Pearl White, the daring and popular Pathé star, who is in Baltimore to take the leading role in a picture to be staged here. The photograph was taken in front of the Hotel Kernan yesterday afternoon by a member of the Art Department of The American.” From The Baltimore American, July 4, 1916, accessed at the Enoch Pratt Free Library.
Though the July 9th article – which consists almost entirely of Miss White’s own words, detailing her poverty-stricken background, her adventurous career, and her refusal to divulge her age – is unattributed, the source interview on July 3rd coincides neatly with the date noted on the photo given to Millhauser; unless there was some other way he elicited her life story on a Monday in Baltimore, I presume that he was the American’s interviewer.
Was a chat with an actress something of a departure from Millhauser’s regular beat? Based on the cursory nature of the article’s descriptions – Miss White is noted simply as “wearing a big blue hat fastened under her chin with a rubber band” – I’m inclined to think this kind of gossipy publicity piece wasn’t really in the author’s line. We’ll have to do some more research in the American’s archives to find out for sure… but in the meantime, there is one more connection to be made with Baltimore’s movie history. In the 1910s David’s father Moses Millhauser owned the Elektra, a movie theater on North Gay Street in Baltimore. The whole family, including David, took part in the theater’s operation, from managing the lobby to providing voiceovers for the silent films on the screen. Perhaps this connection is what garnered Millhauser the assignment of interviewing one of the most popular movie stars of the day. Whatever the reason, thankfully he held on to the personalized photo for many years, until it eventually made its way to our archives – providing just a hint of adventure and glamour to those who stumble upon it.
The fanciful façade of Moses Millhauser’s Elektra Theater greets visitors to “Cinema Judaica”, open through September 6, 2015 at the Jewish Museum of Maryland. Photo by Will Kirk.
A blog post by Collections Manager Joanna Church. To read more posts by Joanna click HERE.
Posted on July 14th, 2015 by Rachel
One lovely thing about social media is that it gives me the opportunity to talk about artifacts that didn’t quite make the grade for an exhibit. Though we did not have any of our own movie posters to add to Cinema Judaica, researching the loaned posters reminded me of these two items in our collections: fragments of movie posters, put to a new use some 80 years ago.
Two movie poster fragments, printed on cardboard. Donated by Bernard Levin, 2014.44.2, 2014.44.4
First, a little background. Bernard “Bucky” Levin was born in 1911 to Max and Sarah Levin, Latvian immigrants who settled on E. Baltimore Street in Butcher Hill. Max went into the real estate business, and oldest son Bernard attended City College and the University of Maryland Pharmacy School, graduating with his pharmacist degree in 1933.
Like many of us do, Bernard Levin proudly framed his diplomas and certificates for display. As best I can tell, he framed most of them himself. By the time the items came to us at the JMM, they were in poor condition and we decided the papers could be best preserved if they were taken out of their frames. Sometimes this process reveals hidden bits of information, and in this case I discovered two entertaining, if not exactly earth-shattering, surprises.
Front and back of Bernard Levin’s 1933 First Aid certification, in original frame. Donated by Bernard Levin, 2014.44.2
The 1933 Red Cross First Aid Certificate (shown above) was supported in its frame by a corner of a cardboard window card for the 1930 Wheeler and Woolsey comedy “Hook, Line and Sinker,” while a 1933 Certificate of Honor from the University of Maryland Pharmacy School was backed with a piece of window card advertising the 1933 horror film “Murders in the Zoo.” Both movies opened at Keith’s, a theater at Lexington and Park.
Researching a corner of a poster is a little trickier than when you have the whole thing, but thanks to the internet, and the many poster collectors who make use of it, I was able to identify the movies. (Well, “Murders in the Zoo” was pretty easy, since the title is right there; but Wheeler and Woolsey made a lot of pictures.) More useful internet searching, this time using the Baltimore Sun archives via the Baltimore County Public Library, told me where these films showed in the city. Ancestry.com gave me a few additional hints about the Levin family home and careers. But that’s where the magical internet stopped its assistance; I haven’t been able to prove my pet theory, which is that student Bernard had a part-time job at Keith’s, and he snagged some leftover publicity material for his framing project. Or perhaps he, or another friend or family member, was an avid moviegoer and incipient collector. If anyone remembers Mr. Levin – or worked at Keith’s – and can shed some light, please let me know!
Here’s what the full posters look like. Window cards were designed with blank space at the top, where theaters could post showtimes (as has been done for “Hook, Line and Sinker” here). What I took to be a villainous eyeball in the corner of the Wheeler and Woosley fragment proved to be simply a lecherous eyeball, aimed at Dorothy Lee; hmmm. And I must point out that “Murders in the Zoo” actress Kathleen Burke was, for good or ill, billed as “The Panther Woman.” Images from emovieposter.com and moviepostershop.com.
In most circumstances, these leftover, recycled posters would be little more than a sidenote in our collections catalog; after all, the reason we accepted the certificates was to help tell the story of Mr. Levin’s education and career, not his skill in amateur framing. Thanks to the fragments’ condition (and the fact that the represented movies did not fit into the theme of our exhibit), they did not end up on display in “Cinema Judaica.” Nonetheless, they represent another way to show the connections between movies, theaters, and Maryland audiences, on an individual scale. Sometimes the historical sidenotes prove to be more interesting than you expect.
A blog post by Collections Manager Joanna Church. To read more posts by Joanna click HERE.
Posted on July 9th, 2015 by Rachel
What do people find interesting? This is what I thought about as I scrolled through the 50 page exhibit script, looking for the best items. Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America, opening in Spring 2016, will be a traveling exhibit. This means that it will start here at its “home institution” and then it will travel to other museums for display. But first, other museums need to agree to host the exhibit, and to do this they will look at a marketing package which includes a list of its best objects, photos, and documents. This list is what I worked on.
Many questions popped up as I determined which items were the “best”. Would people other than me find this interesting? Does it sort of summarize the section of the exhibit that it is in? And is it instantly visually interesting, or would someone need to know the context of the item to understand it? A good number of items in the exhibit will also be loans from other institutions, so I had to make sure we were actually on track for a successful loan before I added it to my “best objects” list.
So what did I choose? 36 objects, items, and documents out of the 400 some items in the exhibit. The items work together to capture the big idea of the exhibit as well as being just plain interesting! The items described below are three of my personal favorites.
Ma’aseh Tuviyya, Tobias Cohen, 1708, Germany
National Library of Medicine
This image is from an early 18th century book about medical practices. Written in Hebrew, and published in Germany, it provides a fascinating look into how medicine and the human body were viewed in the past. This specific image is a metaphor between the human body and a house. Intricately detailed, one can see the different rooms of the house on the right that symbolize parts of the body.
This is quite possibly the strangest piece in the exhibit, a ring made with vulcanized rubber and a porcelain molar. It was made by Edmund Kahn for a marriage proposal to Gertrude Fried in 1904. Being a student in dental school, he could not afford a ring. He created this interesting thing from things he found in the lab, and it is without a doubt very strange. But it shows more than just a man’s craft skills, it gives a view into life into what dental school was like for students.
When Sinai Hospital in Baltimore was built, it was primarily a Jewish institution. However, it was obvious that it would need to cater to other cultures in order to survive. So these foreign language phrase cards were made to help with this diversity. The hospital staff could use these phrase cards to communicate with non-English speaking patients, resulting in a hospital that was truly for “everybody”.
These three items stood out to me among the 400 some items in the upcoming exhibit. They are visually interesting and vital to the understanding of the exhibit. Hopefully other institutions will see this too and want to host the exhibit, Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America.
A blog post by Exhibitions Intern Sophia Brocenos. To read more posts by interns click HERE.