In 1918, pioneer of silent films Benny Rolfe left Metro Pictures (later MGM) and formed his own Rolfe Productions, quickly scoring a coup by signing Harry Houdini to a film contract. The hugely popular escape artist was featured by Benny in The Master Mystery, a “super-serial” produced in fifteen parts. After viewing the first installment, Billboard reported: “This enthralling picture will be followed eagerly from week to week and will draw like a house afire. Has unlimited advertising possibilities. Grab it quick.”
The business appeared to be flourishing, but cash flow was becoming a problem. Rolfe’s extravagant productions were expensive, and the battle against other companies to secure actors resulted in costly bids for their services. Benny was losing money, forcing the reduction of an ambitious schedule that had led to the completion of more than fifty films. » Continue Reading.