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Silent Serial Sensations at #RNY19

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In anticipation of Researching New York 2019: A Conference on New York State , we asked author Barbara Tepa Lupack three questions about her upcoming book Silent Serial Sensations: The Wharton Brothers and the Magic of Early Cinema

1. What inspired you to write this book?

Ted and Leo Wharton were not only pioneers in the early cinema industry but also fascinating characters in themselves. So I found their story hard to resist! The most popular and prolific silent serial filmmakers of the 1910s, the Wharton Brothers tapped into the popular culture and, in their serials and feature films, underscored the issues and concerns of their day, from spiritualism and white slavery to suffrage and representation of the New Woman. Notably, the sensational storylines they employed and the innovative techniques they developed a century ago are still being imitated by television producers and filmmakers today.

2. What’s your favorite anecdote from your research for this book?

In the pictures they filmed in Ithaca, NY, pioneering and prolific serial motion picture producers Ted and Leo Wharton showcased some of the finest actors and actresses of the 1910s—Francis X. Bushman, Irene Castle, and Oliver Hardy, among them. One day, perennial audience favorite and serial queen Pearl White was caught speeding through the neighboring town of Trumansburg in her yellow Stutz Bearcat. After being fined $5.00 by the local magistrate, she handed him a $10 bill. “Keep the difference,” she announced: “I plan to get out of town a hell of a lot quicker than I came in!”

3. What do you think attendees at #RNY19 will get out of, or enjoy the most, about your book?

The Whartons’ story has it all: glamour and celebrity (the many prominent actors and actresses of the day, from Pearl White and Irene Castle to Warner Oland and Oliver Hardy, who worked at the brothers’ Ithaca studio); intrigue (the machinations and ongoing demands of the Whartons’ financial backer, businessman and newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst); and triumph and defeat (the Whartons’ rapid rise to prominence in the emerging cinema industry and their eventual bankruptcy). In addition, their story provides an excellent glimpse at a singularly exciting period of American popular history and offers valuable insights into popular culture.


For more information about #RNY19, follow @UAlbanyHistory on Twitter, and meet @michaelmcgandy at our #CornellPress booth!

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