Pin it

ciernak langley.jpgDecember 9, 2002: When Irene Cuffe, the actress with 1000 faces, and a long time resident of Lone Pine died this year, she left behind boxes and boxes of material from her interesting life. When realtor Marlene Ciernak began emptying the property at the bequest of the heir Tiger Palmer, she faced a daunting task.
Knowing the Lone Pine Festival/Museum's interest in the local film history, she donated material to them. Stills, a few letters and many other items are now in the possession of the future museum collection. But what was discovered last May in one of the cabins on the ranch has excited film buffs, local and distant, and raised the curiosity of the UCLA Film Archive in Hollywood.
What was found was a cache of films, mostly 35 mm nitrate dating from the twenties that apparently had been placed there by silent film director Clartence Badger and later ranch owner Lesley Cuffe. Mr. Cuffe had been in charge of maintaining the Badger cameras on location for many years and eventually opened a movie house in Lone Pine. When Badger needed to sell, Mr. Cuffe was ready.

The collection of films, clips, out takes and other material fills a four page single spaced computer print-out. Ms. Ciernak and Chris Langley, Executive Director of the Beverly and Jim Rogers Museum of Lone Pine Film History, spent almost eight hours, opening each can and trying to identify the film within and match it with the tattered labels on the cans. Films represent a major component of our popular culture in the last century and the sad story is that almost 80% of the films are missing and presumed lost. Most film authorities prefer the term "missing" as there is always hope a copy will turn up in a film vault, or "Aunt Bessie's attic", or in a cabin on a property famous as being a destination for stars.

Most of the films before 1930 were made on nitrate stock, which deteriorated to an unstable state similar to nitroglycerine. While often films were seen as consumable once their runs were over, much of the loss happened during fires that would sweep film storage areas with explosive results. Other films that have sat in their cans for decades have gone through the slow deterioration process.

langley loading films.jpgRed dust, and bubbling are two distasteful signs of this chemical breakdown. Langley remarked, "Sitting in a cellar opening can after can, breathing the strange chemical smell and slowly being covered with red dust, the glamor of film preservation quickly evaporated."
Langley went on, "But it was a little like Christmas, not certain what the next can would contain. We were not disappointed."

One of the cans contained what is labeled RED HAIR with Clara Bow and directed by Clarence Badger. Although the material is in bad shape, even if a few hundred feet of images can be recovered it would be quite a find. RED HAIR is one of those "missing, presumed lost" films. Mr. Badger worked with Clara Bow on three pictures and from stills found at the ranch, it can be demonstrated she spent a lot of time up there on vacation as did many other "superstars" of the silent era.

Other cans contain what appear to be home movies made by Badger and Cuffe showing these famous visitors at the ranch. "This would be very important for the Film Museum," Langley commented. "We would love to be able to project these at the next film festival."

Langley and the Museum have been working with Rob Stone, Associate Curator at the UCLA Film Archive in Hollyweood. The archive has showed a great deal of interest in the films, and they will be deposited there for safe keeping and perhaps restoration. At the next preservation festival the Archive is thinking of screening some Hollywood home movies and Badger's would fit easily into that program. Obviously, the films are in a dangerous state, both to themselves and to others. Shipping them is very difficult because of the nature of nitrate so Langley will have to transport them in his own car.

Marlene Ciernak has felt very strongly all along that the films should belong to Lone Pine as part of its long film heritage. Depositing them at UCLA, but remaining the property of the Museum, is the perfect way to make this happen.

Other films in the cache are labelled Mysteries of the Universe and appear to be a series of documentaries made in 1926 by Lesley Cuffe, some shot at the Wilson Observatory, according to photos in Cuffe's personal photograph album also recovered from the site. A color piece of Clara Bow, and other feature film clips appear to also be part of the collection. Here in Lone Pine news of what the films actually contain and the condition of the material is nervously being awaited. UCLA says it may take a long of time before they'll be sure.


Contact Info

The Museum of Western Film History
701 S. Main Street
Lone Pine, CA 93545