Thanhouser Company

The Thanhouser Company (later the Thanhouser Film Corporation) was a motion picture studio founded in 1909 by Edwin Thanhouser (November 11, 1865 - March 21, 1956). Thanhouser had become relatively wealthy managing the Academy of Music Theater in Wisconsin, decided to venture into the motion picture business. At the time the industry was in its infancy and was centered in New York City and the surrounding area. Thanhouser opened his studio in New Rochelle, New York which was considered to be the fashionable place for Broadway producers, successful actors and actresses, and others in the entertainment business to live.


In 1909, a dozen or more people, including Gertrude Thanhouser and Lloyd Lonergan, were assembled under the name of the Thanhouser Company. The first film, The Actor's Children, was released on March 15th of 1910. Like the films of other manufacturers of the time, it was one reel and approximately twelve minutes in viewing time.

Edwin Thanhouser's stage management experience helped create pictures which that were immediately recognized for their story content, photography and artistic quality. The city of New Rochelle was enthusiastic about its most famous resident, and the New Rochelle Fire Department established a policy that as soon as an alarm was registered, a call would be made to the Thanhouser studio, so that a film crew could be on the scene! Similarly, the courtroom in New Rochelle was made available to the Thanhouser people, and numerous dramas were shot there in days in which the court was not in session. The main commercial district of New Rochelle furnished the backdrop for countless pictures, as did the residential areas.

On January 13, 1913, the studio building burned to the ground. Fortunately, the valuable negatives were saved, and no one was injured. This event became the scenario for one of Thanhouser's most notable productions,When the Studio Burned. Before long, premises on Main Street were secured and by 1916 a large complex had been created in its place. Behind the Thanhouser studios, fronting on Long Island Sound, was "Thanhouser Park," three acres in size, with fountains, bridges, and scenery, used for filming the 1914 serial, The Million Dollar Mystery.

In March 1912, nearly a year before the studio fire, Edwin Thanhouser sold his interest to the Mutual Film Corporation, a large enterprise comprising several other producing companies, and financed out of Chicago. Charles J. Hite, a Chicago film distributor, came to New Rochelle and assumed management, while Edwin Thanhouser and his family departed on extended "grand tour" of Europe. By 1914, two significant events occurred which would bring Edwin Thanhouser back to the company. World War I broke out in Austria, forcing the vacationing Thanhouser's to flee back to the United States. Toward the end of the same month, Charles J. Hite, returning from New York City, plunged through a bridge over a viaduct in Manhattan, and was crushed beneath his car. Hite's death left the studio in limbo, with a number of actors departing, and a decline in the quality of its films. The Mutual Film Corporation realized that Edwin Thanhouser would be the logical person to resume management of the existing company which still bore his name, the Thanhouser Film Corporation. He was hired back and, as before, Thanhouser subjects received many favorable reviews for their acting quality and dramatic content.

In 1917 the film industry underwent a significant downturn. Studios cut their payrolls, fewer films were produced and a number of theatres were shut down. Despite the industry-wide depression, Thanhouser remained in excellent financial condition with a six-figure balance in the bank. Gradually the Thanhouser Film Corporation phased out its activities, and by the end of the summer of 1917, the studio had been leased to another company, the Clara Kimball Young Film Corporation. It left a rich legacy, amounting to over 1,000 different films.


Several hundred actors achieved recognition under the Thanhouser banner. Best known were Florence LaBadie, the heroine in the 1914 serial, The Million Dollar Mystery. From 1911 until 1917, actress Florence La Badie was the companies most prominent star. La Badie left Thanhouser Company less than one month before her untimely death due to an automobile accident in 1917. Marguerite Snow, Muriel Ostriche, Valda Valkyrien, Jeanne Eagels, Maude Fealy, and Mignon Anderson were among other actresses who achieved great fame under the label.

James Cruze, who also appeared in The Million Dollar Mystery, was the male lead in dozens of pictures. William Russell,Morris Foster, and Harry Benham were other well known Thanhouser actors.

Several children achieved worldwide recognition with Thanhouser. At the top of the list was Marie Eline, who at the age of eight was a true movie star. She was the first player to earn a nickname, "The Thanhouser Kid.". Shortly there after, Helen Badgley, barely six years old, was designated the "Thanhouser Kidlet" and was seen in many sentimental roles. Finally, there was Shep, "The Thanhouser Collie", whose specialty was rescuing people from a wide assortment of disasters.

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