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Ann Kathleen Otto

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Character and Craft

September 17, 2017

I just finished reading Characters and Viewpoint (2010) by Orson Scott Card, one of many books on writing I’ve read the past few years while developing my writing skills. This is one of the best, not just because it deals with character building and emotions, but because Card is an author and teacher, and he uses books and films to highlight points on effective writing. The art of writing fiction includes being able to create the visual on paper for the reader, and Card caused me to think about some works I haven’t thought about in a long time.

Transferring Thoughts to Paper      

Card’s impressions of the complex plot structure and characters in William Goldman’s The Princess Bride, both in the novel and film, led me to finally read the book. Some of those elements are successful by using the ploy of a “story within a story” and a comedian’s device of “doing a take”—stepping out of the story and speaking directly to the audience. Think: TV’s Dobbie Gillis; Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop; and Jack Benny or Woody Allen—anytime. If these aren’t familiar to you, visit your local library and borrow some examples. The trick is, how can a writer capture these great types of action on paper?

Characters are Key to the Action

Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings creates a world of Middle Earth and populates it with a social stratum of memorable representative characters. For instance, the character Sauron appears only once, but readers remember him because of how Tolkien depicts him. We may not like certain characters, but as Card notes, the author needs them to be memorable. One of Card’s favorite films is Far from the Madding Crowd, and I love the latest version. It’s the characters, their personalities, and the choices they make that are riveting.

Stories can have a strong effect on us. Card mentions Stephen King often. In King’s stories, such as The Dead Zone and Misery, the main character usually experiences both physical and mental pain, often unbearable to the point that we suffer with them. Sexual tension—with positive (as in the 1939 film It Happened One Night) or negative outcomes (unrequited, as in The Elephant Man)—affects us, too. The same occurs when characters experience moods, as when the ark of the covenant opens in Raiders of the Lost Ark, or when storms rumble across the moors in Wuthering Heights.

In John le Carre’s spy thrillers, the characters aren’t heroes, just ordinary people. But George Smiley becomes more interesting than much of his literary competition. The same with Agatha Christie’s protagonists.

Creating Believable Characters

Alice Walker’s The Color Purple and Thomas Gavin’s The Last Film of Emile Vico are offered as strong examples of fictional memoir. Walker tells her story, in part, through letters from one person to another. Gavin’s 1930’s mystery involves a cameraman writing a memoir about the disappearance of a friend—whom he may have killed. How the authors pace the story and develop the characters is key.

What book you’ve read or film you’ve seen has really moved you, made you think about the book or screenplay, thinking “Wow, this is great writing!”?

                                                         Orson Scott Card is also the author of Ender’s Game (1985), which was made into a film in 2013, and numerous other best-selling novels http://www.hatrack.com/ .     

 

A Passionate Request

August 28, 2017

At the recent 109th Annual Hartle Reunion a family member presented me with a letter dated November 17, 1909. It was written by my grandfather, Thomas Purl, to a man who would soon be a relative. Unlike the one postmark used today, this letter is stamped by five postal services beginning at Fort Monroe, Virginia, before reaching its destination. Six red two-cent stamps with George Washington’s profile are atop a beautifully written ‘Special Delivery’. No street address or zip code, just:

Mr. Milo Sanford.                                                                                                                                                                              Marseilles. Ohio.                                                                                                                                                                       .       Wyandot. Co.  

When my relative presented the letter, he smiled and said, “Look what it says. He’s asking for money.”                                      

“What would you expect,” I replied. “He’d lost everything.” Purl had a hard time of it early in life. If you haven't already, you can read about it in Yours in a Hurry. The young soldier was abrupt: “I will write to you at once and tell you what I want,” he began. He’s written Mr. Sanford, father of the groom, Harry Sanford, who is marrying Purl’s sister, Mary, on November 30. I can’t imagine my grandfather being so abrupt, but it’s obvious by the rest of the letter that there is a pre-wedding dinner on November 25—only eight days away—that he wants badly to attend.

A previous blog explained Purl’s circumstances. He lived in various family homes after his parents died. He lost his inheritance shortly after getting it, and joined the army. His seven siblings, including Mary, safely guarded their inheritances.

His war record is sketchy due to the July 12, 1973, fire at the National Personnel Records Center that destroyed approximately 16-18 million Official Military Personnel Files, so I didn’t know about his brief stay at Fort Monroe, Virginia, that first year.; or, that he’d gotten any leave that early in his military career. This would have been a great letter to to include in Yours in a Hurry. It describes Purl's situation at the time well.

I was glad to get one of his early letters. Even in later years, people marveled at his beautiful script (at right). He was supposedly an impulsive child, but he and all his siblings were well taught. Their older sister, Anna, was a school teacher. Purl worked as a railroad depot clerk until he retired. I’m sure they appreciated his 19th century calligraphy.

Have you ever uncovered a surprising letter from the past? What did it tell you? 

Worth a Thousand Words

August 3, 2017

“A picture is worth a thousand words.”

Looking at a family photo can give hints as to why some things turn out the way they do. Body language and facial expression tell a lot. In this photo of my mother and her siblings circa 1926 (right), William, standing at left, looks disturbed about something. Suddenly, memories of the siblings later in life come back to me.

The Twins

The twins are around three at the time. I’m pretty sure that my mother, Edith, is the one looking at the camera. Ellen, who went by Jane, was always looking for fun and taking greater risks. They were a surprise to grandma who had them when she was 42. Financially it was a burden. Now grandpa was a clerk for the railroad depot with six children. And grandma couldn’t say no when any neighbor or passer-by was on hard times and needed something. She was a dedicated member of the Pilgrim Holiness church down the street, and the children belonged until they were old enough to make their own decisions. At that point, they left. But that meant that the teen-aged twins had to sneak out of the house to go to the movies or wear make-up. As a child, I wasn’t permitted to wear shorts to grandma’s. She didn’t approve.

The girls married ex-service men and had families. Edith moved out of town and always missed the family.

Addison, Alma and Robert

Addison (middle rear in photo) and Robert (front right) served in World War 2, and then came home and raised families. Ruby (back right) had a mental disability. Back then she was labeled ‘slow’. She was grandma's special child. She may have been slow, but she could memorize the Bible. Everyone in the family loved her. She died young of leukemia. My mother always had a special place in her heart for those with disabilities because of Ruby.

William

William’s story is different- and heartbreaking for his mother. He was described as stubborn and moody. Grandma was the only one he cared for. He married shortly before going to war. His wife had a baby, and the family became close to little Patty. His wife worked at a bank, became involved with her boss, moved to the big city, divorced William, and married the banker.

Rumor has it that William started drinking when he lost his wife and child—but it could have been earlier. Grandma didn’t believe in divorce, and he knew he’d let her down. He’d never gotten along with grandpa who was very loyal to grandma. After this, he and grandpa never spoke. William moved out west and never told anyone where he was. Every few years he’d slip back home to see his mother.

I only saw him once. When I was about three, I was sleeping on my grandparent’s living room floor late at night and can remember the front door opening. I woke up, startled, but not afraid. A tall, thin man was equally as startled seeing me. He didn’t smile or speak, merely walked toward the back of the house. Shortly, my mother came and took me upstairs. I didn't see him again; he was gone the next morning.

The family had difficulty tracking him down after grandma died. They only knew that he was working as a migrant farmer in Washington state. His then-current partner convinced him to respond to a registered letter that finally reached him. William said he didn’t want anything from the family, and never wanted contact with them again. I found his death on Ancestry.com many years later.

I’ve often wished I’d known more of William’s early story. But the family rarely spoke of him. What or who was he looking at in the photo? Was it  his father? Maybe he just didn't want to be in the photo. Why? The family loved William’s first wife and child, so I can understand his need to get away from that situation for a while, but his life decision was drastic.

Alma

Someone is missing from the photo. My mother was always sad that grandpa never included Alma in family photos. She remembered Alma always standing off to the side. Grandma was a widow when she married grandpa, and Alma was her daughter from the first marriage. Grandma was older than grandpa, and Alma was older than the siblings. Maybe that’s why. A few years later, Alma had a daughter out of wedlock. Grandma knew that Alma had a harder time than the others, so she made sure that the family came together and embraced the daughter, who became one of the most loved family members until she died a few years ago. We have photos of her when she was young. It would have been nice to have photos of Alma when she was younger.

Care to share?

Have you ever looked at a photo and wondered what was going on in that instant?  If you have and would like to share, please email me at ann@ann-otto.com, or post  them via this website or on my Yours in a Hurry Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/YoursinaHurry/ .

 

Hollywood's Silver Screen Beginnings

July 5, 2017

“I believe we have an acquaintance in common, David Griffith. He and his wife Linda are long time colleagues of mine," Harriet said.

"Yes, since he has started filming his motion pictures here, he's become acquainted with our neighbor Paul deLongpre," Daeida replied.

This discussion took place in 1912. I’m often asked, “Were movies really made in Hollywood at the time your book takes place—that early?” Many associate the beginning of Hollywood films with the 1920’s, but a lot was already going on by then.

David Wark Griffith

The most famous of America’s early film directors, D. W. Griffith isn’t a character in Yours in a Hurry, but we see him in a scene at the opening of the Beverly Hotel, and he has a history with and influence on some of the characters. I watched several of his surviving films while researching my book to get a flavor of life at the time. Most of them are available on YouTube. One of his earliest, a very short 1909 film, Those Awful Hats starred his wife, Linda Arvidson. Among many of his finds were Mary Pickford and the Gish sisters.  This photo shows why he chose deLonpre's gardens as a location.     

An early Pickford film was The Lonely Villa (1909), and Lilian Gish starred in the first gangster film, The Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912). When he first arrived in Hollywood, Griffith found Paul de Longpre’s beautiful home next door to the Beveridge’s, and filmed some of his scenes there. This photo shows why he chose deLonpre's gardens, some patterned after his countryman Monet's, as a location.     

 

Comedy Was King

Before Charlie Chaplin was Mack Sennett. He began acting in films in 1908 and by 1911 when he began writing, directing, and producing, he had appeared in over two hundred. His best remembered productions were filmed from 1912 until 1914. Even today, if someone says a group behaves like the incompetent policemen known as the Keystone Cops, we know that means humorously dysfunctional. Their popularity increased in 1913 when comedian Mabel Normand was added.

Universal Pictures

By 1912, many independent film makers began arriving in California. One was Carl Laemmle. The weather was good, the location choices varied from mountains to oceans, and it was far from the patent infringement threats from Thomas Edison back east. The roots of Laemmle’s company, Universal Pictures, began in Wisconsin where he owned a chain of nickelodeons. He founded Independent Motion Picture Company in New York in 1909, and reformed the company as Universal in 1912 when he arrived in California.

Acceptance Comes Slowly

It seemed like hundreds were entering the foyer of the Beverly Hills Hotel on opening night. As Anna and the Beveridges arrived, Ida looked across the room and tapped Philo's arm.

"I cannot believe Mira Hershey is here. This hotel may well mean the end of her Hollywood Hotel."

"Serves her right. There's talk that she's starting to rent to movie people."

Of course, the “movie people” weren’t welcomed with open arms. Hollywood was settled by religious mid-westerners, many prohibitionists. They saw the easterners, many stage and vaudeville performers, as a bad influence. But, times were changing, and the lucrative business the studios could bring was becoming evident, as the opening of the Beverly Hills Hotel illustrated.   

Italicized quotes are from Yours in a Hurry.

Historical Transitions

June 15, 2017

When you're writing a novel about a period of rapid change, it's sometimes hard to tell if you're using the right terminology. That's the case for Yours in a Hurry which takes place between 1908 and 1912. Here are some examples of choices that had to be made.

"Addison stood in line outside of his hotel waiting for a hack to take him to the airfield." 

Hack, Carriage, Cab? The mode of transportation was changing. In 1909, one had the choice of a horse-drawn carriage or hack, or a taxi, a new word at the time meaning an automobile for hire. Our character chose the hack because it was much cheaper. Of course, many referred to the motorized vehicles as the horseless carriage, but most of the autos on the road at that time were a Ford Model T, referred to as "tin Lizzies". 

"This is Addison Hartle, who I told you about, my chum from back home."

Today you might label your best friend on social media as your BFF, but if you read any book from the 1910's in America or even much later in the UK, you will likely see the word chum commonly used for friend, especially among youth.  

The Aviation Issue

It's difficult to decide what terms to use during the invention and development of the airplane. First, one has to understand that lighter-than-air machines are those like balloons or dirigibles. Airplanes are heavier-than-air. 

In the beginning, the heavier-than-air vehicles were called flying machines, as in the popular song of the time, Come Josephine in My Flying Machine. As France became the leader in aviation prior to 1910, their term, aeroplane, was adopted. The term derives from two Greek words meaning 'air' and 'wandering'. Over time that changed to airplane, and now, we usually refer to them as just planes.

And then there is the issue of who controlled the machine. They were first referred to as flyers. In the early 1910's as the profession began to emerge and licenses became common, they were referred to as pilots and aviators. 

"You know I can't sit in the dark during the daylight. I don't know what you women see in the flickers. Daisy is always after me to go, too."

From 1905 to 1915, nickelodeons were popular around the country. You paid a nickel at these small store front theaters to see projected moving images. As the film industry grew, and the movie houses became larger, these became known as moving pictures or motion pictures, unless one didn't like the new entertainment or just liked to use the slang of 'the flickers'. We soon shortened that to the movies.  You can read more about the early movie houses like the one below in an earlier blog.

 

Truth is, some changes take years to become the norm. In rural areas and small towns, horses were still a common form of transportation well into the 1920's or 1930's. If you walk the streets of England today, you may still hear someone refer to a chum. 

What terminology have you had to research in your writing or work? What have you had to change in your vocabulary recently?  

 

Memories of Great Dining

May 25, 2017

There’s no question that Americans love food. Major and minor life events, as well as lively discussions, are often remembered by where we were, and maybe what we were eating or drinking. Our Yours in a Hurry characters were no different. Here are three examples with excerpts from the book.

John’s Grill, San Francisco                                                          

Addison and Anna Hartle are in San Francisco in 1908 to see Purl off on Theodore Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet.

They stepped into John's Grill. "What a lovely place!" Anna said.

Taking notice of Purl's uniform, the maître d' gave them a prime table near the window on the first level and handed each a menu. The dark paneled walls and globed ceiling lamps created an elegant atmosphere. The restaurant buzzed with excitement, understandable given the number of uniformed men. One could barely hear above the tinkle of silverware and the noise of plates banging.

A waiter dressed in a white jacket arrived. "I must apologize for the noise. It's usually much quieter. So much enthusiasm! We hear that President Roosevelt may come later.”

John’s Grill was one of the first restaurants to open in 1908 after the great earthquake. Known for steaks and fresh seafood, the  restaurant today looks quite the same back then- dark oak paneled walls, original period furniture, and white globed ceiling lights. Full of atmosphere. And fortunately for visitors like the Hartle’s, it was within easy walking distance of Union Square and the cable cars line.  

Philippe’s, Los Angeles                                                                                           

Fiance Martin, and friends Lucy and Pete take Anna to Philippe’s restaurant for dinner on her birthday.

The couples went for a light dinner at the new Philippe's restaurant on Alameda Avenue after the motion picture show.

"Happy birthday, Anna!" Lucy gushed as they were seated at one end of the long, communal tables.

"Thank you! I read that the food is good here," Anna replied.

Martin glanced in the direction of the counter. "They have plenty of corned beef for the Irish holiday!"

They perused the menu that listed a variety of meat dishes. "Let's try them all." Pete said. Lucy ordered lamb, Anna pork, Pete beef, and Martin, blood sausage.

Philippe The Original is one of the oldest in Southern California, established in 1908 by Philippe Mathieu, of French heritage. Later Philippe’s was sold to the Martin family from Kansas, and they operated the restaurant 24 hours a day, 7 days a week until World War II. When the new Hollywood-Santa Ana 101 freeway came in 1951 Philippe’s relocated to a former machine shop with a hotel on the second floor where it is still a popular attraction.

Sherry’s, New York City                                                                                 

Harriet Quimby selected an elite restaurant to meet old friend Dorothy Gibson, an actress and Titanic survivor.

Shortly after her return, Harriet was curious to get Dorothy Gibson's first-hand account of the Titanic disaster. Dorothy arrived at Sherry's in a high-waisted black and white stripped dress, trimmed with black lace piping and transparent lace from elbow to wrist. Her large white hat with a black underside anchored flowing black plumes, with abundant auburn curls seeming to burst from underneath.

After they ordered, Dorothy commenced her story, her large expressive eyes focused on Harriet's.

Canadian Louis Sherry opened his first New York venue, a small ice cream and confectionary shop at 6th Ave on the south side of 38th Street in 1881. During the 1880’s he catered large public and private events, quickly becoming a New York institution.

He had an ongoing competition with Delmonico’s, so when Delmonico’s moved uptown  in 1897, Sherry followed and opened across the street  in the south-west corner of 5th Ave and 44th street. in a new Stamford White built twelve story building. For the next twenty years, the restaurants existed side by side. One season Sherry’s would be the rage, the next Delmonico’s and then the Waldorf. However, Sherry’s future became secure when Mrs. Astor gave a ball at Sherry’s, and subsequently some of the most important public dinners of the period were held there.

Sherry’s closed in 1919 due to prohibition and what Sherry called ‘war-born bolshevism’ of waiters that lowered the quality of service. However, many felt that the real cause was the passing of the prestige of 5th avenue as the fashionable flocked to new venues on Madison and Park avenues.

Isn't it fortunate that we can still visit two of these iconic restaurants today? Bon appètit!

Sources:
Sherry’s: Read more: http://www.jazzageclub.com/venues/sherrys-restaurant-new-york/#ixzz4i14MtgO2 
Sherry’s Photo: James R. Osgood and Company, Boston - American architect and building news plate 1204 (photo is on two pages) Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46934369

Aviatrices of the Silver Screen

April 27, 2017

Actors in the silent era appeared in aeroplanes, but pioneer aviators Harriet Quimby and Blanche Stuart Scott were both actors and script writers. Once the public saw photos of them flying, it didn’t take the movie makers long to discover that they could draw crowds by appearing on film or writing scripts about their experiences.

Script writers of the early silent shorts were paid between $10 and $30 per scenario. The films typically ran 18 minutes. The scripts were approximately thirty pages long, and narrative in style with vague plot details. The quotes below from Yours in Hurry suggest that the work wasn't always glamorous.

Influential Friends  

“Harriet looked in the hallway mirror. Her eyes were puffy. She was glad that her friend arrived from Los Angeles late the night before to help her with the scenario she owed Biograph Studios. Linda Arvidson was recently separated from D.W. Griffith. The pretty blonde was shorter than Harriet, and at this point in the morning, better functioning.”

Harriet began her career as a stage actress in California with her friend, Linda Arvidson and Linda’s soon to be husband, David Wark Griffith. Harriet quickly learned that writing was a better career for her than acting. She excelled as a journalist in California and later New York City.

Griffith was later known as D. W. when he became a popular American director, writer, and producer. But he didn’t forget Harriet, and in 1911, she is credited with seven Biograph scripts including Fisher Folks, in which Linda starred, and Harriet made a brief appearance. Others are: The Broken Cross; His Mother’s Scarf; In the Days of ’49; A Smile of a Child; The Blind Princess and the Poet ; and, Sunshine Through the Dark. Film historians report that only one of these films still exists, a copy of His Mother’s Scarf, and it’s at UCLA.

Harriet never mentioned her script writing in any way, and she sometimes used an alias. It’s thought she felt it would harm her credibility as a legitimate journalist for Leslie’s Illustrated WeeklyHarriet appreciated the stage and films, and wrote in 1909, "The Value of moving pictures as an aid to historians can not be overestimated." (Leslie's Illustrated Weekly) 

Blanche Stuart ScottTomboy of the Air

"Lee plays the aviator and Bill the auto driver," Blanche explained. "Can you believe? Many of my friends call me Betty, as I'm not keen on Blanche. My character's name in the story is Bertha—worse yet."

Blanch Stuart Scott ended her piloting career  at the start of World War I. She was disappointed at being refused the opportunity to fly in the war. She also realized that women wouldn't be given the opportunity to be engineers. After a stint as a test pilot, she left for Hollywood where she had earlier made two movies, starring as an aviatrix in both:  The Aviator’s Success and  The Aviator and the Autoist Race for a Bride.  Over the years, she worked as a script writer, film producer and radio broadcaster in Hollywood, California.

And she didn’t stop there. In the 1930s Blanche worked as a scriptwriter for several major studios. She also wrote, produced and performed on radio shows aired in California and in Rochester, her girlhood home where she retired.

Both Harriet and Blanche were naturals for moving pictures. They were self promoters and knew how to excite an audience.

Photos: Library of Congress

Sources:

The Early Birds of Aviation CHIRP newsletter, January, 1971, Number 7

The Harriet Quimby Scrapbook, Giacinta Bradley Koontz, 2003

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blanche_Scott

Titanic Survivor Dorothy Gibson

April 15, 2017

It's the 105th anniversary of the international tragedy, the sinking of the Titanic on April 15, 1912. Those who have read Yours in a Hurry know that the date also had significance for Harriet Quimby. Walter Lord's  A Night to Remember may be the most popular novel about the event, but my Dorothy Gibson story is based on her testimony from the nonfiction The Story of the Titanic as Told by its Survivors edited by Jack Winocour. We don't know if Harriet and Dorothy were acquaintances, but it would be likely given that they were both actresses and scenario writers in New York.

Titanic Survivor Dorothy Gibson

Following is an abbreviated account of their meeting after the tragedy taken from Yours in a Hurry.

 

Shortly after her return, Harriet was curious to get Dorothy Gibson's first-hand account of the Titanic disaster. Dorothy arrived at Sherry's in a high-waisted black and white stripped dress, trimmed with black lace piping and transparent lace from elbows to wrist. Her large white hat with a black underside anchored flowing black plumes, with abundant auburn curls seeming to burst from underneath.

After they ordered, Dorothy commenced her story, her large expressive eyes focused on Harriet's. "To this day I don't know how many were in the lifeboat with me. Ours was one of the first lifeboats to be lowered after the iceberg struck just before midnight. There was no advance warning. Some remembered feeling more vibration than usual on the ship. It probably depended on where one was at the time. But when the motors stopped, we became concerned. It was some time before the crew came to tell us all to go on deck with our life jackets. Many thought it was a drill."

Harriet leaned in further toward Dorothy. "What was it like after you all realized what was happening?"

"Well, the crew kept shouting 'women and children first,' but there appeared to be no order. Mr. Ismay was helping to direct people to lifeboats, and crew members were assigned to each boat to row and to keep order. Some passengers started changing into other lifeboats after we were in the water, mostly over disagreements on whether or not to row back and pick survivors out of the water."

"We were all freezing. Someone wrapped a sail around two of the others. No one minded that a woman had her Pomeranian with her, given that our boat wasn't full."

"Yes. I read that some of the lifeboats were less than half full."

"In some ways, I understand. Once terror sets in the mind, we don't always think rationally. I was told on the Carpathia that many feared the sea worse than staying on the ship, and in the beginning, few wanted to risk leaving. That way of thinking changed as events worsened.

"I never experienced such sadness as on the Carpathia—so many people in one place who had lost loved ones. The trip home was slower than expected due to ice, fog, and rough seas. Thank goodness for the wireless. At least we had contact with the world."

"Some of that didn't help," Harriet replied. "Rumors started. At one point it was reported that the Titanic was being towed to port and another that all had been saved. Later the survivor lists were incorrect, leading to more confusion and anxiety. I was still in England. It was sad there, especially in Southampton, since four of every five crew members were from there."

Dorothy gazed out the window. "I can still see the thousands of people standing in heavy rain when the Carpathia docked. Everyone wanted to help us, but anyone who was not a New Yorker just wanted to go home by the fastest means possible."

"What will you do now?" Harriet asked.

Dorothy continued without a beat. "My film, The Lucky Holdup, was released while I was on ship, so there are engagements around that. And, can you believe, I started working on a film this week titled Saved from the Titanic. I helped with the scenario." She placed her hands on the table and leaned toward Harriet. "They even want me to wear the sweater I wore that night."

"Is that in good taste?"

"Harriet, have you read the survivor's interviews? Telling our stories has been cathartic. They want to start filming next week so it will be out as soon as possible. The Germans are making a film about the disaster, and the studio hopes ours will be first."

Reading Historical Novels

David McCullough has said that Walter Lord, author of a Night to Remember and Day of Infamy about Pearl Harbor  ". . .knows how to do research and how not to use all the research he found. . ." What you just read about actress Dorothy Gibson is taken from the sources mentioned in the introduction and newspapers I read from the period . We can learn much about history from reading historical novels, especially the more human aspects. That's why so many of us love reading and writing them. 

Find out more about Dorothy's life and film career at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorothy_Gibson 

Ann Kathleen Otto is the author of  Yours in a Hurry, a historical novel of 1908-1912. Her next novel will include stories based on Ohio's  Little Cities of  the Black Diamonds in the 1920's.

When Miss Katherine Stinson Flew

March 26, 2017

While reading materials for an earlier blog on Frank Terrill I noticed female pioneer aviator who came after Harriet Quimby, Katherine Stinson.

The Flying Schoolgirl

Katherine was born in a small town in rural Alabama in 1891. When she became the fourth woman in the United States to obtain her pilot’s license, the media couldn’t believe that the small, eighty-five pound, twenty-one-year-old with the long curls hanging over her shoulders wasn’t a teenager.

By the time Terrill met her, she was in San Antonio and already famous for her daring flight maneuvers. Three women—her, her mother and sister—developed the Stinson Aviation School where they trained hundreds of students, including many Royal Canadian Airforce members. They eventually designed aeroplanes, some of which still fly. The school closed in 1917.

One of the first to fly at night with lights ablaze, Katherine was a gifted performer, and traveled the world. But when she tried to persuade General John Pershing to let her join the military flyers, first at the Mexican border and later at the front in World War I, he refused.

New Opportunities

The country did use her services—as a U.S. air mail pilot. But as the country entered the war, Katherine wanted more involvement. She was given clearance to fly her personal aeroplane continuously around the country to fund raise for the Red Cross, breaking distance records and raising two-million dollars for the cause. However, she wanted at the war front, and become a Red Cross ambulance driver in France.

Unfortunately, she contracted influenza, which then turned into tuberculosis in 1920. Her flying days were over and she spent nearly ten years recuperating.  In 1928, she married a former airman she had met in France, Miguel Ortero from New Mexico. She became an architect, and built many Santa Fe homes which still stand today. Katherine died in 1977 at the age of 86.

You can see Katherine’s story and early flying films on the excellent COLORES New Mexico PBS program Katherine Stinson: Her Story at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FDrbAl_tnhU                                                                          

Sources:

Information on Frank Terrill and Katherine Stinson was found by Brian Burch  in newspaper clippings courtesy of Newsbank Database accessed through Akron-Summit County Public Library; other facts from the PBS program noted above.

 

Reading Rooftops

March 12, 2017

Here’s a trivia question: Why did people read rooftops in the early 1900's?

I  recently asked some of my readers for stories relating to Yours in a Hurry. Shirley Riemenschneider of the Rootstown Ohio History Society replied that she recently came upon a story about New Milford, now an unincorporated community near Rootstown.

Arrows Show the Way

From the late 1800’s until around 1970, New Milford was a busy industrial and commercial area, with a railroad station, grist mill, and its own U.S. Post Office. In the early 1900’s, Reese's Auto Service garage on County Highway 18, now called Tallmadge Road, had a huge red arrow painted on its flat roof, and it is thought that it was for the benefit of pioneer aviators. Shirley wonders if many town folks even knew it was there, and if there is any history about the locations of these rooftop arrows. I turned to Kevin Gray and Darlene McKenzie of the Reed Memorial Library in nearby Ravenna, Ohio, the county seat, for assistance.

Important Rooftop Markers

Gray found that these rooftop markers were common and important in the early days of aviation. A town couldn’t be listed on aeronautical charts unless it had one. The markers pointed either north or to the nearest airport. You can see El Paso’s below.  He found the history of the markers in Roger A. Mola's article in the September, 2006 Smithsonian Air and Space Magazine.


For years pilots had requested navigation markers. According to Mola, before 1926, pilots relied on familiar landmarks, but it was easy for pilots to get lost in unfamiliar terrain. That year the government charged the Works Progress Administration, the Civil Air Patrol, the Civilian Conservation Corps, civic volunteers, scouting organizations, and the Ninety-Nines organization of women pilots with the air marking project. It was considered a job program, a scout merit badge, a city advertisement, and a boon to women in aviation.

Every aspect—letter size, paint type, distance between markers—was regulated. The Department of Commerce promoted the program by pointing out that an air-marked roof was an inexpensive advertisement:“The town may appear as a good place for a vacation, a home or a business. The air marker puts the town on the map.”

By 1941, 13,000 markers had been painted on buildings; but after December 7, 1941, the government decided that all air markers within 150 miles of the Atlantic and Pacific coasts should be eliminated for obvious security reasons, and no new ones would be added to the program during the war. After the war, some Ninety-Nines gals painted air markers on roofs in Indiana and Ohio. Sophia Payton of Florida, who helped, said, “It was a lot of fun, a lot of work; it was...productive.” She noted that in 1956 Colonel C.E. Fulton of the U.S. Air Force reported that when he was flying toward St. Louis, the weather deteriorated. He emerged from clouds in Shirley, Indiana, to read the 10-foot SHIRLEY atop a canning company.

We’ll have to take the word of the Rootstown historians that there was a roof top arrow on Reese’s Auto Service. The only way to verify if New Milford had a marker would be to look at the early charts produced by the Civil Aeronautics Administration. They’re available, but not online; you’d have to look them up at the National Archives.

I hope you’ll go to Mola’s article to read more about the history of both the government’s and women’s role in the air marker project.

Photo: Courtesy of the National Archives

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Character and Craft

September 17, 2017

I just finished reading Characters and Viewpoint (2010) by Orson Scott Card, one of many books on writing I’ve read the past few years while developing my writing skills. This is one of the best, not just because it deals with character building and emotions, but because Card is an author and teacher, and he uses books and films to highlight points on effective writing. The art of writing fiction includes being able to create the visual on paper for the reader, and Card caused me to think about some works I haven’t thought about in a long time.

Transferring Thoughts to Paper      

Card’s impressions of the complex plot structure and characters in William Goldman’s The Princess Bride, both in the novel and film, led me to finally read the book. Some of those elements are successful by using the ploy of a “story within a story” and a comedian’s device of “doing a take”—stepping out of the story and speaking directly to the audience. Think: TV’s Dobbie Gillis; Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop; and Jack Benny or Woody Allen—anytime. If these aren’t familiar to you, visit your local library and borrow some examples. The trick is, how can a writer capture these great types of action on paper?

Characters are Key to the Action

Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings creates a world of Middle Earth and populates it with a social stratum of memorable representative characters. For instance, the character Sauron appears only once, but readers remember him because of how Tolkien depicts him. We may not like certain characters, but as Card notes, the author needs them to be memorable. One of Card’s favorite films is Far from the Madding Crowd, and I love the latest version. It’s the characters, their personalities, and the choices they make that are riveting.

Stories can have a strong effect on us. Card mentions Stephen King often. In King’s stories, such as The Dead Zone and Misery, the main character usually experiences both physical and mental pain, often unbearable to the point that we suffer with them. Sexual tension—with positive (as in the 1939 film It Happened One Night) or negative outcomes (unrequited, as in The Elephant Man)—affects us, too. The same occurs when characters experience moods, as when the ark of the covenant opens in Raiders of the Lost Ark, or when storms rumble across the moors in Wuthering Heights.

In John le Carre’s spy thrillers, the characters aren’t heroes, just ordinary people. But George Smiley becomes more interesting than much of his literary competition. The same with Agatha Christie’s protagonists.

Creating Believable Characters

Alice Walker’s The Color Purple and Thomas Gavin’s The Last Film of Emile Vico are offered as strong examples of fictional memoir. Walker tells her story, in part, through letters from one person to another. Gavin’s 1930’s mystery involves a cameraman writing a memoir about the disappearance of a friend—whom he may have killed. How the authors pace the story and develop the characters is key.

What book you’ve read or film you’ve seen has really moved you, made you think about the book or screenplay, thinking “Wow, this is great writing!”?

                                                         Orson Scott Card is also the author of Ender’s Game (1985), which was made into a film in 2013, and numerous other best-selling novels http://www.hatrack.com/ .     

 

A Passionate Request

August 28, 2017

At the recent 109th Annual Hartle Reunion a family member presented me with a letter dated November 17, 1909. It was written by my grandfather, Thomas Purl, to a man who would soon be a relative. Unlike the one postmark used today, this letter is stamped by five postal services beginning at Fort Monroe, Virginia, before reaching its destination. Six red two-cent stamps with George Washington’s profile are atop a beautifully written ‘Special Delivery’. No street address or zip code, just:

Mr. Milo Sanford.                                                                                                                                                                              Marseilles. Ohio.                                                                                                                                                                       .       Wyandot. Co.  

When my relative presented the letter, he smiled and said, “Look what it says. He’s asking for money.”                                      

“What would you expect,” I replied. “He’d lost everything.” Purl had a hard time of it early in life. If you haven't already, you can read about it in Yours in a Hurry. The young soldier was abrupt: “I will write to you at once and tell you what I want,” he began. He’s written Mr. Sanford, father of the groom, Harry Sanford, who is marrying Purl’s sister, Mary, on November 30. I can’t imagine my grandfather being so abrupt, but it’s obvious by the rest of the letter that there is a pre-wedding dinner on November 25—only eight days away—that he wants badly to attend.

A previous blog explained Purl’s circumstances. He lived in various family homes after his parents died. He lost his inheritance shortly after getting it, and joined the army. His seven siblings, including Mary, safely guarded their inheritances.

His war record is sketchy due to the July 12, 1973, fire at the National Personnel Records Center that destroyed approximately 16-18 million Official Military Personnel Files, so I didn’t know about his brief stay at Fort Monroe, Virginia, that first year.; or, that he’d gotten any leave that early in his military career. This would have been a great letter to to include in Yours in a Hurry. It describes Purl's situation at the time well.

I was glad to get one of his early letters. Even in later years, people marveled at his beautiful script (at right). He was supposedly an impulsive child, but he and all his siblings were well taught. Their older sister, Anna, was a school teacher. Purl worked as a railroad depot clerk until he retired. I’m sure they appreciated his 19th century calligraphy.

Have you ever uncovered a surprising letter from the past? What did it tell you? 

Worth a Thousand Words

August 3, 2017

“A picture is worth a thousand words.”

Looking at a family photo can give hints as to why some things turn out the way they do. Body language and facial expression tell a lot. In this photo of my mother and her siblings circa 1926 (right), William, standing at left, looks disturbed about something. Suddenly, memories of the siblings later in life come back to me.

The Twins

The twins are around three at the time. I’m pretty sure that my mother, Edith, is the one looking at the camera. Ellen, who went by Jane, was always looking for fun and taking greater risks. They were a surprise to grandma who had them when she was 42. Financially it was a burden. Now grandpa was a clerk for the railroad depot with six children. And grandma couldn’t say no when any neighbor or passer-by was on hard times and needed something. She was a dedicated member of the Pilgrim Holiness church down the street, and the children belonged until they were old enough to make their own decisions. At that point, they left. But that meant that the teen-aged twins had to sneak out of the house to go to the movies or wear make-up. As a child, I wasn’t permitted to wear shorts to grandma’s. She didn’t approve.

The girls married ex-service men and had families. Edith moved out of town and always missed the family.

Addison, Alma and Robert

Addison (middle rear in photo) and Robert (front right) served in World War 2, and then came home and raised families. Ruby (back right) had a mental disability. Back then she was labeled ‘slow’. She was grandma's special child. She may have been slow, but she could memorize the Bible. Everyone in the family loved her. She died young of leukemia. My mother always had a special place in her heart for those with disabilities because of Ruby.

William

William’s story is different- and heartbreaking for his mother. He was described as stubborn and moody. Grandma was the only one he cared for. He married shortly before going to war. His wife had a baby, and the family became close to little Patty. His wife worked at a bank, became involved with her boss, moved to the big city, divorced William, and married the banker.

Rumor has it that William started drinking when he lost his wife and child—but it could have been earlier. Grandma didn’t believe in divorce, and he knew he’d let her down. He’d never gotten along with grandpa who was very loyal to grandma. After this, he and grandpa never spoke. William moved out west and never told anyone where he was. Every few years he’d slip back home to see his mother.

I only saw him once. When I was about three, I was sleeping on my grandparent’s living room floor late at night and can remember the front door opening. I woke up, startled, but not afraid. A tall, thin man was equally as startled seeing me. He didn’t smile or speak, merely walked toward the back of the house. Shortly, my mother came and took me upstairs. I didn't see him again; he was gone the next morning.

The family had difficulty tracking him down after grandma died. They only knew that he was working as a migrant farmer in Washington state. His then-current partner convinced him to respond to a registered letter that finally reached him. William said he didn’t want anything from the family, and never wanted contact with them again. I found his death on Ancestry.com many years later.

I’ve often wished I’d known more of William’s early story. But the family rarely spoke of him. What or who was he looking at in the photo? Was it  his father? Maybe he just didn't want to be in the photo. Why? The family loved William’s first wife and child, so I can understand his need to get away from that situation for a while, but his life decision was drastic.

Alma

Someone is missing from the photo. My mother was always sad that grandpa never included Alma in family photos. She remembered Alma always standing off to the side. Grandma was a widow when she married grandpa, and Alma was her daughter from the first marriage. Grandma was older than grandpa, and Alma was older than the siblings. Maybe that’s why. A few years later, Alma had a daughter out of wedlock. Grandma knew that Alma had a harder time than the others, so she made sure that the family came together and embraced the daughter, who became one of the most loved family members until she died a few years ago. We have photos of her when she was young. It would have been nice to have photos of Alma when she was younger.

Care to share?

Have you ever looked at a photo and wondered what was going on in that instant?  If you have and would like to share, please email me at ann@ann-otto.com, or post  them via this website or on my Yours in a Hurry Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/YoursinaHurry/ .

 

Hollywood's Silver Screen Beginnings

July 5, 2017

“I believe we have an acquaintance in common, David Griffith. He and his wife Linda are long time colleagues of mine," Harriet said.

"Yes, since he has started filming his motion pictures here, he's become acquainted with our neighbor Paul deLongpre," Daeida replied.

This discussion took place in 1912. I’m often asked, “Were movies really made in Hollywood at the time your book takes place—that early?” Many associate the beginning of Hollywood films with the 1920’s, but a lot was already going on by then.

David Wark Griffith

The most famous of America’s early film directors, D. W. Griffith isn’t a character in Yours in a Hurry, but we see him in a scene at the opening of the Beverly Hotel, and he has a history with and influence on some of the characters. I watched several of his surviving films while researching my book to get a flavor of life at the time. Most of them are available on YouTube. One of his earliest, a very short 1909 film, Those Awful Hats starred his wife, Linda Arvidson. Among many of his finds were Mary Pickford and the Gish sisters.  This photo shows why he chose deLonpre's gardens as a location.     

An early Pickford film was The Lonely Villa (1909), and Lilian Gish starred in the first gangster film, The Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912). When he first arrived in Hollywood, Griffith found Paul de Longpre’s beautiful home next door to the Beveridge’s, and filmed some of his scenes there. This photo shows why he chose deLonpre's gardens, some patterned after his countryman Monet's, as a location.     

 

Comedy Was King

Before Charlie Chaplin was Mack Sennett. He began acting in films in 1908 and by 1911 when he began writing, directing, and producing, he had appeared in over two hundred. His best remembered productions were filmed from 1912 until 1914. Even today, if someone says a group behaves like the incompetent policemen known as the Keystone Cops, we know that means humorously dysfunctional. Their popularity increased in 1913 when comedian Mabel Normand was added.

Universal Pictures

By 1912, many independent film makers began arriving in California. One was Carl Laemmle. The weather was good, the location choices varied from mountains to oceans, and it was far from the patent infringement threats from Thomas Edison back east. The roots of Laemmle’s company, Universal Pictures, began in Wisconsin where he owned a chain of nickelodeons. He founded Independent Motion Picture Company in New York in 1909, and reformed the company as Universal in 1912 when he arrived in California.

Acceptance Comes Slowly

It seemed like hundreds were entering the foyer of the Beverly Hills Hotel on opening night. As Anna and the Beveridges arrived, Ida looked across the room and tapped Philo's arm.

"I cannot believe Mira Hershey is here. This hotel may well mean the end of her Hollywood Hotel."

"Serves her right. There's talk that she's starting to rent to movie people."

Of course, the “movie people” weren’t welcomed with open arms. Hollywood was settled by religious mid-westerners, many prohibitionists. They saw the easterners, many stage and vaudeville performers, as a bad influence. But, times were changing, and the lucrative business the studios could bring was becoming evident, as the opening of the Beverly Hills Hotel illustrated.   

Italicized quotes are from Yours in a Hurry.

Historical Transitions

June 15, 2017

When you're writing a novel about a period of rapid change, it's sometimes hard to tell if you're using the right terminology. That's the case for Yours in a Hurry which takes place between 1908 and 1912. Here are some examples of choices that had to be made.

"Addison stood in line outside of his hotel waiting for a hack to take him to the airfield." 

Hack, Carriage, Cab? The mode of transportation was changing. In 1909, one had the choice of a horse-drawn carriage or hack, or a taxi, a new word at the time meaning an automobile for hire. Our character chose the hack because it was much cheaper. Of course, many referred to the motorized vehicles as the horseless carriage, but most of the autos on the road at that time were a Ford Model T, referred to as "tin Lizzies". 

"This is Addison Hartle, who I told you about, my chum from back home."

Today you might label your best friend on social media as your BFF, but if you read any book from the 1910's in America or even much later in the UK, you will likely see the word chum commonly used for friend, especially among youth.  

The Aviation Issue

It's difficult to decide what terms to use during the invention and development of the airplane. First, one has to understand that lighter-than-air machines are those like balloons or dirigibles. Airplanes are heavier-than-air. 

In the beginning, the heavier-than-air vehicles were called flying machines, as in the popular song of the time, Come Josephine in My Flying Machine. As France became the leader in aviation prior to 1910, their term, aeroplane, was adopted. The term derives from two Greek words meaning 'air' and 'wandering'. Over time that changed to airplane, and now, we usually refer to them as just planes.

And then there is the issue of who controlled the machine. They were first referred to as flyers. In the early 1910's as the profession began to emerge and licenses became common, they were referred to as pilots and aviators. 

"You know I can't sit in the dark during the daylight. I don't know what you women see in the flickers. Daisy is always after me to go, too."

From 1905 to 1915, nickelodeons were popular around the country. You paid a nickel at these small store front theaters to see projected moving images. As the film industry grew, and the movie houses became larger, these became known as moving pictures or motion pictures, unless one didn't like the new entertainment or just liked to use the slang of 'the flickers'. We soon shortened that to the movies.  You can read more about the early movie houses like the one below in an earlier blog.

 

Truth is, some changes take years to become the norm. In rural areas and small towns, horses were still a common form of transportation well into the 1920's or 1930's. If you walk the streets of England today, you may still hear someone refer to a chum. 

What terminology have you had to research in your writing or work? What have you had to change in your vocabulary recently?  

 

Memories of Great Dining

May 25, 2017

There’s no question that Americans love food. Major and minor life events, as well as lively discussions, are often remembered by where we were, and maybe what we were eating or drinking. Our Yours in a Hurry characters were no different. Here are three examples with excerpts from the book.

John’s Grill, San Francisco                                                          

Addison and Anna Hartle are in San Francisco in 1908 to see Purl off on Theodore Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet.

They stepped into John's Grill. "What a lovely place!" Anna said.

Taking notice of Purl's uniform, the maître d' gave them a prime table near the window on the first level and handed each a menu. The dark paneled walls and globed ceiling lamps created an elegant atmosphere. The restaurant buzzed with excitement, understandable given the number of uniformed men. One could barely hear above the tinkle of silverware and the noise of plates banging.

A waiter dressed in a white jacket arrived. "I must apologize for the noise. It's usually much quieter. So much enthusiasm! We hear that President Roosevelt may come later.”

John’s Grill was one of the first restaurants to open in 1908 after the great earthquake. Known for steaks and fresh seafood, the  restaurant today looks quite the same back then- dark oak paneled walls, original period furniture, and white globed ceiling lights. Full of atmosphere. And fortunately for visitors like the Hartle’s, it was within easy walking distance of Union Square and the cable cars line.  

Philippe’s, Los Angeles                                                                                           

Fiance Martin, and friends Lucy and Pete take Anna to Philippe’s restaurant for dinner on her birthday.

The couples went for a light dinner at the new Philippe's restaurant on Alameda Avenue after the motion picture show.

"Happy birthday, Anna!" Lucy gushed as they were seated at one end of the long, communal tables.

"Thank you! I read that the food is good here," Anna replied.

Martin glanced in the direction of the counter. "They have plenty of corned beef for the Irish holiday!"

They perused the menu that listed a variety of meat dishes. "Let's try them all." Pete said. Lucy ordered lamb, Anna pork, Pete beef, and Martin, blood sausage.

Philippe The Original is one of the oldest in Southern California, established in 1908 by Philippe Mathieu, of French heritage. Later Philippe’s was sold to the Martin family from Kansas, and they operated the restaurant 24 hours a day, 7 days a week until World War II. When the new Hollywood-Santa Ana 101 freeway came in 1951 Philippe’s relocated to a former machine shop with a hotel on the second floor where it is still a popular attraction.

Sherry’s, New York City                                                                                 

Harriet Quimby selected an elite restaurant to meet old friend Dorothy Gibson, an actress and Titanic survivor.

Shortly after her return, Harriet was curious to get Dorothy Gibson's first-hand account of the Titanic disaster. Dorothy arrived at Sherry's in a high-waisted black and white stripped dress, trimmed with black lace piping and transparent lace from elbow to wrist. Her large white hat with a black underside anchored flowing black plumes, with abundant auburn curls seeming to burst from underneath.

After they ordered, Dorothy commenced her story, her large expressive eyes focused on Harriet's.

Canadian Louis Sherry opened his first New York venue, a small ice cream and confectionary shop at 6th Ave on the south side of 38th Street in 1881. During the 1880’s he catered large public and private events, quickly becoming a New York institution.

He had an ongoing competition with Delmonico’s, so when Delmonico’s moved uptown  in 1897, Sherry followed and opened across the street  in the south-west corner of 5th Ave and 44th street. in a new Stamford White built twelve story building. For the next twenty years, the restaurants existed side by side. One season Sherry’s would be the rage, the next Delmonico’s and then the Waldorf. However, Sherry’s future became secure when Mrs. Astor gave a ball at Sherry’s, and subsequently some of the most important public dinners of the period were held there.

Sherry’s closed in 1919 due to prohibition and what Sherry called ‘war-born bolshevism’ of waiters that lowered the quality of service. However, many felt that the real cause was the passing of the prestige of 5th avenue as the fashionable flocked to new venues on Madison and Park avenues.

Isn't it fortunate that we can still visit two of these iconic restaurants today? Bon appètit!

Sources:
Sherry’s: Read more: http://www.jazzageclub.com/venues/sherrys-restaurant-new-york/#ixzz4i14MtgO2 
Sherry’s Photo: James R. Osgood and Company, Boston - American architect and building news plate 1204 (photo is on two pages) Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46934369

Aviatrices of the Silver Screen

April 27, 2017

Actors in the silent era appeared in aeroplanes, but pioneer aviators Harriet Quimby and Blanche Stuart Scott were both actors and script writers. Once the public saw photos of them flying, it didn’t take the movie makers long to discover that they could draw crowds by appearing on film or writing scripts about their experiences.

Script writers of the early silent shorts were paid between $10 and $30 per scenario. The films typically ran 18 minutes. The scripts were approximately thirty pages long, and narrative in style with vague plot details. The quotes below from Yours in Hurry suggest that the work wasn't always glamorous.

Influential Friends  

“Harriet looked in the hallway mirror. Her eyes were puffy. She was glad that her friend arrived from Los Angeles late the night before to help her with the scenario she owed Biograph Studios. Linda Arvidson was recently separated from D.W. Griffith. The pretty blonde was shorter than Harriet, and at this point in the morning, better functioning.”

Harriet began her career as a stage actress in California with her friend, Linda Arvidson and Linda’s soon to be husband, David Wark Griffith. Harriet quickly learned that writing was a better career for her than acting. She excelled as a journalist in California and later New York City.

Griffith was later known as D. W. when he became a popular American director, writer, and producer. But he didn’t forget Harriet, and in 1911, she is credited with seven Biograph scripts including Fisher Folks, in which Linda starred, and Harriet made a brief appearance. Others are: The Broken Cross; His Mother’s Scarf; In the Days of ’49; A Smile of a Child; The Blind Princess and the Poet ; and, Sunshine Through the Dark. Film historians report that only one of these films still exists, a copy of His Mother’s Scarf, and it’s at UCLA.

Harriet never mentioned her script writing in any way, and she sometimes used an alias. It’s thought she felt it would harm her credibility as a legitimate journalist for Leslie’s Illustrated WeeklyHarriet appreciated the stage and films, and wrote in 1909, "The Value of moving pictures as an aid to historians can not be overestimated." (Leslie's Illustrated Weekly) 

Blanche Stuart ScottTomboy of the Air

"Lee plays the aviator and Bill the auto driver," Blanche explained. "Can you believe? Many of my friends call me Betty, as I'm not keen on Blanche. My character's name in the story is Bertha—worse yet."

Blanch Stuart Scott ended her piloting career  at the start of World War I. She was disappointed at being refused the opportunity to fly in the war. She also realized that women wouldn't be given the opportunity to be engineers. After a stint as a test pilot, she left for Hollywood where she had earlier made two movies, starring as an aviatrix in both:  The Aviator’s Success and  The Aviator and the Autoist Race for a Bride.  Over the years, she worked as a script writer, film producer and radio broadcaster in Hollywood, California.

And she didn’t stop there. In the 1930s Blanche worked as a scriptwriter for several major studios. She also wrote, produced and performed on radio shows aired in California and in Rochester, her girlhood home where she retired.

Both Harriet and Blanche were naturals for moving pictures. They were self promoters and knew how to excite an audience.

Photos: Library of Congress

Sources:

The Early Birds of Aviation CHIRP newsletter, January, 1971, Number 7

The Harriet Quimby Scrapbook, Giacinta Bradley Koontz, 2003

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blanche_Scott

Titanic Survivor Dorothy Gibson

April 15, 2017

It's the 105th anniversary of the international tragedy, the sinking of the Titanic on April 15, 1912. Those who have read Yours in a Hurry know that the date also had significance for Harriet Quimby. Walter Lord's  A Night to Remember may be the most popular novel about the event, but my Dorothy Gibson story is based on her testimony from the nonfiction The Story of the Titanic as Told by its Survivors edited by Jack Winocour. We don't know if Harriet and Dorothy were acquaintances, but it would be likely given that they were both actresses and scenario writers in New York.

Titanic Survivor Dorothy Gibson

Following is an abbreviated account of their meeting after the tragedy taken from Yours in a Hurry.

 

Shortly after her return, Harriet was curious to get Dorothy Gibson's first-hand account of the Titanic disaster. Dorothy arrived at Sherry's in a high-waisted black and white stripped dress, trimmed with black lace piping and transparent lace from elbows to wrist. Her large white hat with a black underside anchored flowing black plumes, with abundant auburn curls seeming to burst from underneath.

After they ordered, Dorothy commenced her story, her large expressive eyes focused on Harriet's. "To this day I don't know how many were in the lifeboat with me. Ours was one of the first lifeboats to be lowered after the iceberg struck just before midnight. There was no advance warning. Some remembered feeling more vibration than usual on the ship. It probably depended on where one was at the time. But when the motors stopped, we became concerned. It was some time before the crew came to tell us all to go on deck with our life jackets. Many thought it was a drill."

Harriet leaned in further toward Dorothy. "What was it like after you all realized what was happening?"

"Well, the crew kept shouting 'women and children first,' but there appeared to be no order. Mr. Ismay was helping to direct people to lifeboats, and crew members were assigned to each boat to row and to keep order. Some passengers started changing into other lifeboats after we were in the water, mostly over disagreements on whether or not to row back and pick survivors out of the water."

"We were all freezing. Someone wrapped a sail around two of the others. No one minded that a woman had her Pomeranian with her, given that our boat wasn't full."

"Yes. I read that some of the lifeboats were less than half full."

"In some ways, I understand. Once terror sets in the mind, we don't always think rationally. I was told on the Carpathia that many feared the sea worse than staying on the ship, and in the beginning, few wanted to risk leaving. That way of thinking changed as events worsened.

"I never experienced such sadness as on the Carpathia—so many people in one place who had lost loved ones. The trip home was slower than expected due to ice, fog, and rough seas. Thank goodness for the wireless. At least we had contact with the world."

"Some of that didn't help," Harriet replied. "Rumors started. At one point it was reported that the Titanic was being towed to port and another that all had been saved. Later the survivor lists were incorrect, leading to more confusion and anxiety. I was still in England. It was sad there, especially in Southampton, since four of every five crew members were from there."

Dorothy gazed out the window. "I can still see the thousands of people standing in heavy rain when the Carpathia docked. Everyone wanted to help us, but anyone who was not a New Yorker just wanted to go home by the fastest means possible."

"What will you do now?" Harriet asked.

Dorothy continued without a beat. "My film, The Lucky Holdup, was released while I was on ship, so there are engagements around that. And, can you believe, I started working on a film this week titled Saved from the Titanic. I helped with the scenario." She placed her hands on the table and leaned toward Harriet. "They even want me to wear the sweater I wore that night."

"Is that in good taste?"

"Harriet, have you read the survivor's interviews? Telling our stories has been cathartic. They want to start filming next week so it will be out as soon as possible. The Germans are making a film about the disaster, and the studio hopes ours will be first."

Reading Historical Novels

David McCullough has said that Walter Lord, author of a Night to Remember and Day of Infamy about Pearl Harbor  ". . .knows how to do research and how not to use all the research he found. . ." What you just read about actress Dorothy Gibson is taken from the sources mentioned in the introduction and newspapers I read from the period . We can learn much about history from reading historical novels, especially the more human aspects. That's why so many of us love reading and writing them. 

Find out more about Dorothy's life and film career at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorothy_Gibson 

Ann Kathleen Otto is the author of  Yours in a Hurry, a historical novel of 1908-1912. Her next novel will include stories based on Ohio's  Little Cities of  the Black Diamonds in the 1920's.

When Miss Katherine Stinson Flew

March 26, 2017

While reading materials for an earlier blog on Frank Terrill I noticed female pioneer aviator who came after Harriet Quimby, Katherine Stinson.

The Flying Schoolgirl

Katherine was born in a small town in rural Alabama in 1891. When she became the fourth woman in the United States to obtain her pilot’s license, the media couldn’t believe that the small, eighty-five pound, twenty-one-year-old with the long curls hanging over her shoulders wasn’t a teenager.

By the time Terrill met her, she was in San Antonio and already famous for her daring flight maneuvers. Three women—her, her mother and sister—developed the Stinson Aviation School where they trained hundreds of students, including many Royal Canadian Airforce members. They eventually designed aeroplanes, some of which still fly. The school closed in 1917.

One of the first to fly at night with lights ablaze, Katherine was a gifted performer, and traveled the world. But when she tried to persuade General John Pershing to let her join the military flyers, first at the Mexican border and later at the front in World War I, he refused.

New Opportunities

The country did use her services—as a U.S. air mail pilot. But as the country entered the war, Katherine wanted more involvement. She was given clearance to fly her personal aeroplane continuously around the country to fund raise for the Red Cross, breaking distance records and raising two-million dollars for the cause. However, she wanted at the war front, and become a Red Cross ambulance driver in France.

Unfortunately, she contracted influenza, which then turned into tuberculosis in 1920. Her flying days were over and she spent nearly ten years recuperating.  In 1928, she married a former airman she had met in France, Miguel Ortero from New Mexico. She became an architect, and built many Santa Fe homes which still stand today. Katherine died in 1977 at the age of 86.

You can see Katherine’s story and early flying films on the excellent COLORES New Mexico PBS program Katherine Stinson: Her Story at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FDrbAl_tnhU                                                                          

Sources:

Information on Frank Terrill and Katherine Stinson was found by Brian Burch  in newspaper clippings courtesy of Newsbank Database accessed through Akron-Summit County Public Library; other facts from the PBS program noted above.

 

Reading Rooftops

March 12, 2017

Here’s a trivia question: Why did people read rooftops in the early 1900's?

I  recently asked some of my readers for stories relating to Yours in a Hurry. Shirley Riemenschneider of the Rootstown Ohio History Society replied that she recently came upon a story about New Milford, now an unincorporated community near Rootstown.

Arrows Show the Way

From the late 1800’s until around 1970, New Milford was a busy industrial and commercial area, with a railroad station, grist mill, and its own U.S. Post Office. In the early 1900’s, Reese's Auto Service garage on County Highway 18, now called Tallmadge Road, had a huge red arrow painted on its flat roof, and it is thought that it was for the benefit of pioneer aviators. Shirley wonders if many town folks even knew it was there, and if there is any history about the locations of these rooftop arrows. I turned to Kevin Gray and Darlene McKenzie of the Reed Memorial Library in nearby Ravenna, Ohio, the county seat, for assistance.

Important Rooftop Markers

Gray found that these rooftop markers were common and important in the early days of aviation. A town couldn’t be listed on aeronautical charts unless it had one. The markers pointed either north or to the nearest airport. You can see El Paso’s below.  He found the history of the markers in Roger A. Mola's article in the September, 2006 Smithsonian Air and Space Magazine.


For years pilots had requested navigation markers. According to Mola, before 1926, pilots relied on familiar landmarks, but it was easy for pilots to get lost in unfamiliar terrain. That year the government charged the Works Progress Administration, the Civil Air Patrol, the Civilian Conservation Corps, civic volunteers, scouting organizations, and the Ninety-Nines organization of women pilots with the air marking project. It was considered a job program, a scout merit badge, a city advertisement, and a boon to women in aviation.

Every aspect—letter size, paint type, distance between markers—was regulated. The Department of Commerce promoted the program by pointing out that an air-marked roof was an inexpensive advertisement:“The town may appear as a good place for a vacation, a home or a business. The air marker puts the town on the map.”

By 1941, 13,000 markers had been painted on buildings; but after December 7, 1941, the government decided that all air markers within 150 miles of the Atlantic and Pacific coasts should be eliminated for obvious security reasons, and no new ones would be added to the program during the war. After the war, some Ninety-Nines gals painted air markers on roofs in Indiana and Ohio. Sophia Payton of Florida, who helped, said, “It was a lot of fun, a lot of work; it was...productive.” She noted that in 1956 Colonel C.E. Fulton of the U.S. Air Force reported that when he was flying toward St. Louis, the weather deteriorated. He emerged from clouds in Shirley, Indiana, to read the 10-foot SHIRLEY atop a canning company.

We’ll have to take the word of the Rootstown historians that there was a roof top arrow on Reese’s Auto Service. The only way to verify if New Milford had a marker would be to look at the early charts produced by the Civil Aeronautics Administration. They’re available, but not online; you’d have to look them up at the National Archives.

I hope you’ll go to Mola’s article to read more about the history of both the government’s and women’s role in the air marker project.

Photo: Courtesy of the National Archives

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Hi Linda. I know Carolyn. Are you the person who was presenting on Clara in our area about one year ago? If you are ever around here, I'll try to attend. I'm not writing about Clara, but about another Ohio family of the same era (as you can see by the many posts about the book in my blogs) who left and went to California. Echo was nice enough to correspond with me. I used some ideas about how she set her book up to help me with mine.
Best,
Ann

Anne, I am Clara Wolcott Driscoll's 4th cousin (related to Carolyn Mackey in addition to a plethura of other Wolcotts across this country). And I do presentations about Clara - have done 87 of them so far in the past 8 years from upstate NY to Palm Beach. Someone said you were writing a book about Clara? Echo Heron and I are friends and she said she had communicated with you. Just curious what you are doing.

Yes, and I've seen her present. Also loved Girl With the Pearl Earring.

i see you like Tracy Chevalier. Have you read Remarkable Creatures? a historical novel about two women archaeologists.