In 1920, Charles Giblyn produced his first film for William Fox. (If the name sounds familiar, William founded Fox Film Corporation in 1915, the forerunner of today’s Fox TV and movie units.) The film, Tiger’s Cub, allowed Giblyn a homecoming of sorts. With his lead actress, Pearl White, who reportedly had the widest following of any star worldwide at the time, he came north for filming in Port Henry, about an hour south of Plattsburgh, where he once lived.
After producing a few more movies, Charles was sent to the West Coast on behalf of Fox, where he continued working. For a brief period, he assumed leadership of the Motion Picture Directors’ Association, but when Fox re-assigned him to more movie projects back East, he surrendered the top spot with the MPDA and headed for New York.
Reporters took immediate note of his return. While working on A Woman’s Woman for Fox in 1921, Charles was cited as “a director with a record for producing money-making productions for some of the biggest producing organizations.”
But changes were coming, perhaps as part of the natural growing pains any new business undergoes. By mid-1922, when the Selznicks faced financial trouble due to other investments, Charles founded a new film company, Albion Productions, while continuing to provide direction for other companies.
In late 1923, he completed a complex project for Whitman Bennett Productions. After enlisting the aid of New York City’s Homicide Squad to ensure script authenticity, he released The Leavenworth Case, the story of an unusual and brutal murder that had received coverage worldwide in newspapers, on stage, and in both true crime books and fiction. Though it was considered a daring and difficult project for film, Giblyn’s effort met with wide acclaim. Typical was the succinct comment in the Yonkers Statesman: “The Leavenworth Case is undoubtedly the finest mystery film ever offered.”
That same year, Charles released another movie, The Price of a Party, starring Harrison Ford as a young adventurer. The original Harrison Ford acted in nearly 90 movies, all silent but one, and was apparently no relation to the modern actor who goes by the same name. In 1960, the original Ford received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. And yes, that means there are two Harrison Fords on the Walk: the modern Ford received a star there in 1993.
In the mid-1920s, Ince, the Selznicks, and others were busy dealing with ongoing financial difficulties, forcing the studios to undergo many changes. Giblyn, long established as among the best of directors, made an unusual decision. With 35 years of accumulated experience, he decided to give up directing and become a movie actor, with an emphasis on supporting roles.
In late 1927, at the age of 56, Charles’ talents were put to use in Her Wild Oat, a film starring Colleen Moore, who was voted by movie houses that year as the number one box-office attraction. Giblyn, appearing with a top star, was off to a good start. Plenty of other opportunities soon followed.
In August 1928, The Wright Idea was released. Funny material was Giblyn’s forte, and to develop boating scenes that were intended to be hilarious, he and several other cast members remained on a yacht for several days. The results were well worth it, according to the Dobbs Ferry Register: “One of the most colorful, funny, and exciting scenes ever filmed for a Johnny Hines comedy is … the yachting sequence.”
In 1929, Giblyn appeared in the Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu, which starred Jean Arthur, herself a famous talent from the North Country (she was born in Plattsburgh, in Clinton County) who went on to become a film icon.
Following his work with Colleen Moore and Jean Arthur, Charles soon began sharing the screen with many who would become movie legends. In 1930, he appeared with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and Maurice Chevalier. In 1931, he made movies with Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, Wallace Beery, Jean Harlow, Clark Gable, and Ralph Bellamy, and in 1932 with Marie Dressler.
There was more to come in 1933, including films with Buster Keaton, Jimmy Durante, Robert Young, Maureen O’Sullivan, and the wonderful team of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.
In February 1934, This Side of Heaven was released, starring Lionel Barrymore, one of the biggest names in show business. It turned out to be the last film for Charles Giblyn. On March 14, he passed away at his Los Angeles home after a brief illness.
In a life that lasted 63 years, he had successfully navigated three careers: stage actor, movie director, and movie actor. Besides being a pioneer of the film industry, he also enjoyed great popularity as a comedian and, of course, a Gibson Man.
He was a member of the Lambs’ Club of New York City, reserved for the Who’s Who of the theater and movie world. Members include the likes of Irving Berlin, George M. Cohan, Charlie Chaplin, three of the Barrymores, Rodgers and Hammerstein, and Spencer Tracy. According to the Lambs’ own history, Fred Astaire said, “When I was made a Lamb, I felt like I had been knighted.”
During his career as a director of silent movies, he provided high-quality work for more than a dozen film companies, including Lasky, Selznick, Goldwyn, Paramount, Universal, and Fox.
Despite Charles’ claims to fame, he played second fiddle to the Giblin family’s biggest star―his uncle, Bishop Joseph Conroy of Ogdensburg. But even the bishop would have to confess―his nephew Charles was supremely blessed with talent, resulting in a heavenly body of work.
Photos: Selznick/Giblyn poster; Giblyn promo; Plattsburgh ad cites Giblyn when his movie appears there; Giblyn in his 3rd career―as a movie actor in “talkies” (1931)