Lone Pine, California December 31, 2003: The images danced a bit, not because the people were having fun in the snow, but because the sprockets of the old 35 mm nitrate film were brittle, the film a bit shrunken. Jere Guldin of the UCLA Film Archive was leaning in over my shoulder getting joy from the images that he had worked so laboriously to retrieve from the reels of deteriorating film.
Next to me sat David Stenn, author of biographies on Jean Harlow and Clara Bow, through whose persistence what we were viewing was retrieved from the masses of film. He would exclaim, "That's Leatrice Joy in that group! Her hair is shorter."
There was no order to the clips on the reel. The film hummed a bit as it wound itself around through the large console before us to produce the small image we strained to see. At one point a group of Mr. Badger's guests were up in the snow, at the edge of the Sierra where the pinion start to hug the rough landscape. Snowballs flew and it was clear these refugees from Hollywood were having a rare experience in the snow. Another sequence showed the cars (David Stenn thought they dated from 1924 or 1925) parked by the main lodge. Now surrounded by trees, the building rested out on those empty foothills, exposed to the harsh desert winds. A negative labeled "Woman In a Hat" showed a woman in what appeared a Mexican hat by Lone Pine Creek, the creek just below full flood stage.
Faces, we can only assume Badger family faces, would reappear. The woman in the hat had the look of either Mr. or Mrs. Badger's mother, but at this time we are unsure. There was a baby, and a young boy who seemed be older in some of the clips. Sadly, we have no program by which to tell the players. The clips are often short, occasionally damaged by decomposition. Clarence Badger seldom appears so we have to assume he was behind the camera. Obscure titles appear as if a professionally produced film, but their meaning is not obvious. One can imagine the people in the films sitting around, laughing at their meaning. Today we are merely puzzled. You had to be there to understand it and see the humor.
The films are wonderful, if tantalizingly short and rough. In terms of similar home movies, Guldin explained you had to go to the William Randolph Hearst home movies a couple of years later to see anything like them. Silent film stars were on vacation here in Lone Pine.
For Lone Pine these films provide a unique and rare view into one aspect of the history of the town. Clarence Badger building his ranch here, definitely made the town familiar to the "cream" of Hollywood society The movies have partially shaped the character of Lone Pine.
A few clips may lurk still in the massive amounts of film in the cache turned over to UCLA. The labels on the cans turned out often to be misleading. It is surmised that Badger left the film behind when he sold the property to Lesley and Irene Cuffe and immigrated to Australia. Apparently as the film decayed, often at different rates in different cans, Cuffe would dispose of the contents and use the can for his own project, which was Mysteries of the Universe. From his own family photo album we have pictures labeled 1926 where he is at the Wilson Observatory working on the documentary. It was made into many half hour parts to be shown at theatres. Though Cuffe was Badger's camera technician and projectionist, he also at times in his career ran movie theaters, one at Lake Arrowhead and, before his death, one in Lone Pine.
It was because of David Stenn's persistence that the clips were uncovered. The archivists at UCLA were excited about the can labeled Red Hair, but when it turned out to be Mysteries of the Universe, their attention went to other projects. Stenn admits that his search for the missing Clara Bow film Red Hair (1928) has been a personal search for his "Holy Grail." Finally the test color scenes for Red Hair were actually discovered on another reel. Then a whole reel of another lost Bow film Three Week Ends (1928) was also uncovered. It was, however, in very bad decay and after tedious and dedicated work, Guldun was able to salvage about a minute and one half.
Stenn arranged to have the Bow pictures preserved at his own expense. He used the royalties from his Bow biography Running Wild to pay for this work. A successful scriptwriter for hit shows like Beverly Hills 90210 and Hill Street Blues, he lives on his television work. He explained, "Without the Bow films, all his research and writing on film history is pointless."
The film clips are wonderful and it is obvious why Clara Bow became the first sexy mega star in the 1920's. The pieces that remain appear to be extended shots rather than edited scenes from the finished film. With the color section that began Red Hair, the clapboard shows and then the actress becomes the on screen persona Clara Bow, the "It" girl. Badger must order "Cut!" from off screen for Bow then relaxes back to a human being from her on screen siren role. Other scenes also preserved would have been tinted blue and yellow, but the Archive has not finished this process of restoration. Why Badger had unedited sections up at the ranch is a mystery unless he was working on editing the film there. We may never know. The clips were shown in Italy at a silent film festival and in L.A. at the Cinecon Festival in September to rave reviews from the film buff audience.
It is so very little. Perhaps much more had existed stored in that pump house in Lone Pine where the films were recovered. Stenn has adopted a healthy attitude. "You can't focus on what you have lost, but what you have found. And who knows where more of this film, one of the 'missing' films most sought after by film historians might still show up." Stenn told a story of his based on a report by a man who said he had been shown a copy by his college film professor. After ten years, Stenn finally found the professor in Louisiana. The man told him he had a list of all the films he had seen during his career and he had never shown Red Hair to a class or seen it himself. Apparently the story was fabricated for attention. Then Stenn told a similar story except this time the search ended in the recovery of another minor Bow film, The Primrose Path (1925), which Stenn was having preserved.
This story ends with a simple bottom line. The Beverly and Jim Rogers Museum of Lone Pine Film History has begun raising the funds to have the Badger Lone Pine home movies preserved. The process is measured by the foot and the price tag will be a hefty $5500. If we don't act quickly, a piece of Lone Pine's film history that we could have saved will be lost forever.
You will be hearing much more about our efforts to raise the money to save the film. If you are interested in saving Lone Pine's film history, won't you donate to the fund or call about how you can help in the fundraising process.
Chris Langley, Executive Director