Graft (lost silent film serial; 1915-1916)

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Tom Larnigan (Harry Carey) with a textile worker in the fifth episode of the serial.

Status: Lost

Graft, also known as The Graft and Greed, is a silent film serial that was produced by Universal Film Manufacturing Company (now Universal Pictures). Around the time of its release, serial films were declining in popularity, and "Serial Joe" Brandt, Universal's general manager at the time, came up with the idea of having a serial where each episode had a plot decided by a new author, a literary concept that has come to known as "Round-Robin".[1][2] As each episode of the serial was produced, a new well-known author would come up with the story, which would then be written out by Joe Brandt, Hugh C. Weir, and Walter Woods, the latter two being professional authors and screenwriters.[3][4]

While the serial was originally set to be released as either Crack o' Doom or The Graft Syndicate, Universal's management decided to simply title the serial Graft. Casting decisions were also deliberated by the upper management. Helen Holmes was seemingly considered for the lead female role, while Jane Novak was their final decision.[5] For the male lead, however, Carl Laemelle, Universal's founder and president at the time, wanted to find a person who embodied then-president Woodrow Wilson's "America First" slogan. For this role, King Baggot, Herbert Rawlinson, J. Warren Kerrigan, and Hobart Bosworth were all considered, with Hobart Henley being the final choice.[6] The serial was also stated to be Universal's most expensive to date, having more money put into it than all the rest of their serials put together.[7] Roles directly related to the serial such as producer and director may have been fluid, as both Richard Stanton and J.P. McGowan were said to be directors, with the former also being mentioned as a producer and a lead character in the series.[8][9][10][11]

A poster showcasing the two main leads and all the authors involved.

The serial's authors were at the time all fairly well known, which all includes Irvin S. Cobb, George Bronson Howard, Anna Katharine Green, Rupert Hughes, Reginald Wright Kaufmann, Nancy Mann Waddell Woodrow (who used Mrs. Wilson Woodrow as a pen name), Leroy Scott, Thompson Buchanan, James Oppenheim, Wallace Irwin, Frederic S. Isham, Louis Joseph Vance, Zane Grey, James Francis Dwyer, Alice Muriel Williamson (who used "C.N. and A.M. Williamson" as a pen name), Nina Wilcox Putnam, and Joe Mitchell Chapple.[12]

Despite being delayed in areas due to a fire at Universal City, the serial proved popular by packing theatres and being considered by many to be the greatest serial produced to date.[13][14] Free admission was often given out for the first showing, and the serial remained popular through it's run, being extended to 20 episodes from 16 due to the fact.[15][16]

The serial had a progressive theme by being among the first to showcase women voting in American society, with women gaining the right to vote federally five years later in 1920. However, all of the stunts performed within it were performed by the actors themselves without any editing, making for many dangerous situations being filmed. One of these included actor Jack Abbott, who was knocked unconscious after falling through a trap door into a cage of lions, nearly costing him his life.[17] On top of this, while seen as acceptable at the time, the serial contained one of the first instances of "yellowface" in cinema with Yvette Mitchell playing as a Chinese woman in one of the episodes, starting her career in taking such roles.[18]

Plot Synopsis

Dorothy Maxwell (Jane Novak) and major character Stanford Stone (Glen White?).

Dudley Larnigan, the district attorney of New York, discovers a criminal agency (graft trust) that has proven to be influential. None of the grafters are known by name, but Dudley is aware that the group consists of fifteen members. While working on bringing the group to an end, he dies in a mysterious way in front of his son Bruce (Hobart Henley) who then works with his brother Tom (Harry Carey) and Dorothy Maxwell (Jane Novak), Bruce's love interest and a suffragette whose father happens to be in the graft trust, to bring about the end of the grafters and their influence.[19]

Availability

While stills and promotional material such as buttons and posters exist of the serial, it has yet to reappear online or in any archives. Due to its age and the nitrate composition of earlier film reels, it can be assumed that many copies of the serial have degraded or have been destroyed over time.[20]

References

  1. A newspaper with an article stating the decline in the popularity of the film serial and how Joe Brandt was the one who originally came up with the idea and how it was originally set to be under a different title. Retrieved 07 Oct '19
  2. A newspaper with an article detailing the production of the serial using the Round-Robin technique, and showcasing the plot with women voting. Retrieved 07 Oct '19
  3. A newspaper with an article discussing Joe Brandt and Hugh C. Weir's role in the serial, as well as the casting decisions. Retrieved 07 Oct '19
  4. A newspaper with a segment showing Walter Woods' involvement in the serial. Retrieved 07 Oct '19
  5. A newspaper with an article mentioning Helen Holmes' being cast for the serial. Retrieved 07 Oct '19
  6. The casting choices for the male lead decided by Laemelle. Retrieved 07 Oct '19
  7. An ad in a newspaper that states the amount spent on Universal on the serial. Retrieved 07 Oct '19
  8. A newspaper "Amusements" section in which Richard Stanton is stated as the Director of the serial. Retrieved 07 Oct '19
  9. A newspaper where J.P. McGowan's role as Director is stated in the "At the Theaters" section. Retrieved 07 Oct '19
  10. A newspaper with an article stating Stanton as the Producer rather than as the Director. Retrieved 07 Oct '19
  11. A "Behind the Screen" newspaper section which states Stanton as taking a role as a lead character in the series. Retrieved 07 Oct '19
  12. An ad for the serial listing everyone involved in authoring the serial. Retrieved 07 Oct '19
  13. A newspaper "Amusements" section where it stated that the release of Graft had been delayed due to a fire a Universal City. Retrieved 07 Oct '19
  14. A public thank-you message to the producers of Graft for a theatre-filling performance. Retrieved 07 Oct '19
  15. An example of the serial being shown for free admission. Retrieved 07 Oct '19
  16. A newspaper where the extension of the serial is described in the "Motion Picture Notes" section. Retrieved 07 Oct '19
  17. A newspaper with a segment in the "Move Gossip" section detailing Jack Abbott's close call. Retrieved 07 Oct '19
  18. A newspaper "Stars of Filmdom" article showcasing Yvette Mitchell's career in playing Chinese women and it's start in Graft. Retrieved 07 Oct '19
  19. A newspaper article detailing the roles of the lead actors and actress in the serial. Retrieved 07 Oct '19
  20. A Library of Congress article describing the instability and dangers of nitrate film Retrieved 07 Oct '19