Monday, February 24, 2014

Watertown’s Show-Biz Pioneer: Charles Giblyn (Part 3)

3A CGiblynAdIn 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.

3A CGiblynSelzPosterIn 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.”

3B CGiblynPromoIn 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.”

3C CGiblynNo doubt, Giblyn was in very good company, and he deserved it. Following 22 years of theater performances, he was credited with directing 98 movies, writing 7 of them, and acting in 26.

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)

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Lawrence Gooley, of Clinton County, is an award-winning author who has hiked, bushwhacked, climbed, bicycled, explored, and canoed in the Adirondack Mountains for 45 years. With a lifetime love of research, writing, and history, he has authored 22 books and more than 200 articles on the region's past, and in 2009 organized the North Country Authors in the Plattsburgh area.

His book Oliver’s War: An Adirondack Rebel Battles the Rockefeller Fortune won the Adirondack Literary Award for Best Book of Nonfiction in 2008. Another title, Terror in the Adirondacks: The True Story of Serial Killer Robert F. Garrow, was a regional best-seller for four years running.

With his partner, Jill Jones, Gooley founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004, which has published 83 titles to date. They also offer editing/proofreading services, web design, and a range of PowerPoint presentations based on Gooley's books.

Bloated Toe’s unusual business model was featured in Publishers Weekly in April 2011. The company also operates an online store to support the work of other regional folks. The North Country Store features more than 100 book titles and 60 CDs and DVDs, along with a variety of other area products.

2 Responses

  1. Tim Hubbard says:

    Just got home from being on the road for a couple weeks, and finally had the chance to read the 3rd installment for the Giblyn story. This whole series was fascinating to read, but the 3rd part was my favorite. I knew more about Giblyn as an actor & director, so the film acting was a pleasant surprise for me. You mentioned that he (when still directing) did some filming in Port Henry. Where did you find this information and is there any chance of some of that footage having survived? It intrigues me that he would go “home” per se (or near home) to accomplish this – of course the natural scenery was certainly a plus for any director! Excellent work my friend! Keep it coming!
    Tim Hubbard

    • Larry says:

      Thanks Tim. The initial info on his “homecoming” came from newspaper articles and show-biz magazines. I didn’t find any footage … only came across a still or two, and maybe a poster. There was also the information that an Alaskan village was constructed on the shore of Lake Champlain for that move (Tiger Cub, or The Tiger Cub). There is some basic information on the movie at
      Quite a career for a relative unknown!