Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Strange Case of Dr. Lewis H. Marks

A conspicuous figure behind the scenes in Germany during World War I was Dr. Lewis H. Marks. More than just a regular research chemist doing business in Berlin, Marks was also a secret agent for the German government, spying on American reporters.

Lewis H. Marks. Press photo from 1933 when he became President of the Continental Distilling Corporation in Philadelphia. Authors collection.

Born in New Orleans in 1883, Lewis Marks studied medicine and came to Frankfurt am Main, Germany, in 1907 where he became an assistant to the famous Dr. Paul Ehrlich, the man who discovered the cure for syphilis. Apart from selling serums to the German army during the First World War Marks also used his extensive contacts with the German government to assist American journalists, helping them with an interview or a permit to get to the front. This way he gained the trust of these American reporters who even made him an honorary member of their correspondents club at the Adlon Hotel in Berlin. But they didn't know that Marks filed secret reports on their whereabouts and activities to some very high-placed German officials.

Film propaganda

Apart from his dealings with American reporters Marks was also involved in propaganda for the Germans. He was instrumental in sending the first German war films to the United States and accompanied newsreel cameraman Ansel E. Wallace to the Eastern Front in January 1915. In fact, Marks' involvement with film propaganda continued throughout the war, as we discovered during a recent research trip to the Military Archives in Freiburg, Germany. Marks was in close contact with Major Hans von Haeften, the man who was the driving force behind the Bild- und Film Amt (BuFA) which was set up in the summer of 1916. This was the first attempt by the German government to coordinate and produce film propaganda. Though it did not really succeed in its aims to boost morale BuFA helped to lay the foundation for UFA and the thriving interwar German film industry.

Dr. Lewis H. Marks (third from left) and American correspondents at the Hotel Adlon, June 1915. Scene from Wilbur H. Durborough's war film On the Firing Line with the Germans (USA, 1915) 

Hans von Haeften had worked in military intelligence at General Headquarters for the Eastern Front and was very much interested in boosting official film propaganda. A report from the BuFA files at the Military Archives in Freiburg (RM/9901) refers to Von Haeften who was present at a meeting on July 29, 1916, saying: "Dr. Marks recently came to me in order to represent the interests of the American film companies. He said the Americans are not interested in sending cinematographers to Germany to make their own films. But they would like to see what movies are available and select the footage that is suitable for distribution in the United States."

Secret report

Karl Boy-Ed (1872-1930)

We also came across Dr. Marks in a secret report by naval officer Captain Karl Boy-Ed. Here we have another fascinating figure in World War I history. As a naval attaché in the United States Boy-Ed had established a spy and sabotage ring until his undercover activities were disclosed. In December 1915 he was expelled from America and on his return to Germany Boy-Ed was put in charge of naval intelligence. Marks contacted Boy-Ed in 1916, and gave him confidential information on the American reporters. Boy-Ed's notes confirm Marks' secret activities, up to the point of suggesting which journalist could be bribed for any pro-German publicity and who couldn't be trusted. The report also mentions Von Haeften's propaganda activities and again shows that Dr. Marks knew him well.

Here is a copy of Boy-Ed's file on the American reporters, mentioning Lewis Marks as his agent, including a translation into English.

Dr. Lewis Hart Marks died in Paoli, Pennsylvania, in 1958.

This website has a short biography on Dr. Marks.

Also, for more information on Marks and his secret dealings during World War I, check out our book American Cinematographers in the Great War.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

World War I Combat Camera Edwin F. Weigle Found

Radford Polinsky recently contacted us with some intriguing news about the discovery of an original combat movie camera that was cranked in 1918 by Lt. Edwin F. Weigle, one of the top American cinematographers in the First World War.

Edwin Weigle, demonstrating his Bell & Howell 2709 movie camera to General Peter Traub, Western Front, October 1918

As described in more detail in our book American Cinematographers in the Great War, Weigle was the "star" cameraman for the Chicago Tribune who accompanied the Belgian and the German army. His films On Belgian Battlefields (1914) and The German Side of the War (1915/1916) were among the most popular contemporary World War I films released in America. When the United States entered the Great War Weigle was also one of the first officers to set up a photographic division for the U.S. Signal Corps.

Vintage Bell & Howell 2709

Weigle's camera is a Bell & Howell 2709, serial number # 250. The camera was identified by Jim Elyea who found a note saying this camera was picked up at the [Bell & Howell]  factory by Lt. E. I. [sic] Weigle for the Signal Corps on June 1, 1918. The cameras are part of of his rental collection for History for Hire, a prop house that was started by Jim in 1985, which features a large vintage media collection. Jim explained: "It is one of four 2709s in our collection. I have no memory of when or where we got it. Right now, it has no movement, but if need be, we could probably install one from one of the other cameras."

We recently discovered Weigle went to Fort Sill, Oklahoma in June 1918 to film operations at the U.S. Army Artillery School. This previous weblog has more information on Weigle's film report. Given the date, Weigle probably used this specific Bell & Howell film camera to shoot these scenes. Shortly afterwards, Weigle was assigned to the 35th Division of the American Expeditionary Force. He went to France in the summer of 1918 and in October 1918 we have him shooting film of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.

Here is some of Weigle's footage taken with the 35th Division, that we found at the Imperial War Museum in London.

In our book American Cinematographers in the Great War, we reproduced a picture that was taken shortly after this offensive in late October 1918, showing Weigle demonstrating a Bell & Howell 2709 to General Peter Traub, the commanding officer of his Division. Again, this seems to be the very same movie camera that is now in the collection of History for Hire.

U.S. Signal Corps Photo Section Motion Picture Unit in action. Sgt. 1st class Polinsky (left) served as camera operator, with Pvt. Maxwell as camera assistant. The camera is a 35 mm U.S. Signal Corps Liberty model from 1918. Photo courtesy Radford Polinsky. 

Classic Hollywood motion picture camera

Bell & Howell produced the 2709-types in different batches. Mary Pickford owned a 2709, serial number # 230 which was sold in February 1918. The Thomas Ince Studio bought a 2709, serial number # 241, sold on February 23, 1918. It stands to reason serial number # 250 was sold shortly afterwards in 1918, which ties in with the date on the note that was found by Jim Elyea. The first all metal camera with a four lense turret and twin compartment magazines, the 2709 Bell & Howell became a classic Hollywood motion picture camera. The design was so good that the basic camera body remained in production unaltered until 1957.

A film history fan, Radford Polinsky has participated with costumed World War I reenactors, using historic movie cameras from Jim Elyea's remarkable collection. "I work in the motion picture industry, and happily I went though film school back when they actually used film, so I have a basic grounding in the technology of film. I borrowed and brought a Signal Corps Liberty Model 35 mm hand cranked motion picture camera to show how some of the motion picture imagery used in World War I newsreels was captured. The owner of the camera is interested to let us use the Signal Corps Liberty Model to document World War I Centennial events. Now that we are well into the Centennial, we are getting serious about it!"

Check out the website of the Great War Historical Society for more  photos of the 1918 U.S. Signal Corps Photo Section Motion Picture Unit in action at the Los Angeles National Cemetery Memorial Day event for 2010.

Great job, Radford and Jim. And many thanks for sharing this information with us. We hope you take good care of Weigle's film camera!

Monday, September 25, 2017

An American Newsreel Cameraman with the Serbian Army (1915)

The Serbian Film Archives (Jugoslavenska Kinoteka) recently shared with us new information on American cameraman Ariel Varges. As a result, we were able to identify a number of newsreels that were shot by Varges in 1915 when he accompanied the Serbian army during World War I.

Ariel Varges in the trenches. Copied from Editor & Publisher, 27 October 1917

Ariel Varges (1890-1972) was one of the first pioneering newsreel cameramen in American film history. From 1914, he filmed for the Hearst-Selig News Pictorial and he remained a globe trotting war photographer throughout his career. As described in more detail in our book on the American cinematographers of the Great War, Varges came to Europe in December 1914. By using his close contacts with Sir Thomas Lipton, he got on a ship for the Serbian front and filmed the war in the Balkans.

First foreign cameraman

Varges was by all accounts the first foreign cameraman to film the Great War in Serbia. Upon reaching Belgrade he filed his first report for the Hearst-Selig News Pictorial No. 34 which was shown in the American theaters on April 29, 1915. This newsreel has scenes showing Sir Thomas Lipton with Serbian Red Cross officials, as well as the first pictures shown in the U.S. of Crown Prince Alexander, king regent of Serbia. In the collection of the Jugoslavenska Kinoteka is footage shot by Varges that was released in the United States between July-September 1915. These films are a most valuable addition to the newsreel footage by Varges that we had found earlier on at the Library of Congress in the John E. Allen Collection.

Scene from Hearst-Selig News Pictorial No. 34, filmed by Ariel Varges. Copied from Motography, May 8, 1915

The first newsreel report by Varges from Serbia that we could identify in the collection of the Jugoslavenska Kinoteka was Hearst-Selig News Pictorial No. 54 (1915) which has a remarkable close up of Major Vojislav Tankosić, one of the founders of the Black Hand group which was instrumental in recruiting Gavrilo Princip, the man who killed Austrian Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo, thus propelling Europe into the First World War. The intertitle for this specific scene credits Tankosić for causing World War I which is somewhat exaggerated but the scene is of great historic interest. Our book American Cinematographers in the Great War has more information on how Varges managed to interest this high ranking Serbian officer to pose in front of his movie camera.

Photograph from A. E. Wallace's scrapbook. On the back is marked "Danube Trench", no. 8.  It is clearly a photograph taken in conjunction with Hearst Selig News Pictorial no. 71, September 25, 1915, which was shot by Varges with the Serbian army. Wallace was a colleague of Varges and shot film in wartime Germany. Courtesy Cooper C. Graham

Infantry engagement

Varges' newsreels taken with the Serbs contain scenes taken in Nish, where the Serbian Army had set up temporary headquarters. In addition, Varges filmed military operations at the Serbian fortress of Semandria, a staged infantry engagement near Belgrade and wounded soldiers arriving on a transport at the American hospital in Belgrade. Altogether we were able to identify four U.S. newsreels that have Serbian war scenes taken by Varges, based on reviews in the trade paper Moving Picture World.

Varges' newsreels were posted online by the Jugoslavenska Kinoteka on the website of the European Film Gateway. We are most thankful to Aleksandar Erdeljanović, Head of the Film Archives, for sharing links to these clips with us. We have added references to the original American newsreels, as well as quotes from the reviews in the movie trade press, to compile this video on Varges' newsreels of the Serbian army during World War I.  All rights to the original footage are held by the Jugoslavenska Kinoteka.