Santa Cruz County History - Films


Full Text Newspaper ArticleSanta Cruz Sentinel-News, Morning Edition. May 19, 1928. p. 6

VETERAN OF STAGE, SCREEN TALKS OF EARLY FILM DAYS

by Preston Sawyer


Finally I cornered him. Several previous attempts had come to naught since he is invariably the center of some group of people in the St. George lobby, when the Fox players are not out on location. Movie troupers and hotel guests alike seek his wit and jolly converse.

"Well, most everyone calls me 'Dunk'," he was saying, as he drew a chair up and bid me sit, after introductions were made. "But some dare to tantalize me with 'Little Fat'," and Harry Dunkinson's jovial, kindly face lighted with the smile so popular on screen and stage. There was the kindly sparkle in his eye that bespeaks a kind and patient disposition, an even temper and an understanding heart.

Here was the familiar Dunkinson figure, in real flesh and blood, not the shadow that has passed before me so many times upon the silver screen. I took his hand again to reassure myself it was really he, as we settled into the comfortable chairs for a reminiscent chat.

The ample figure beside me, neither tall nor short, fat nor lean, I could picture as the "farmer" in the comedy-drama now in production here under the direction of Art Rosson. "Dunk" is cast as the father of Marjorie Beebe, feminine lead of the new photoplay at present known as "The Farmer's Daughter." Wearing the character mustache he had shown me and garbed in the homespun of a "down east" farmer, I could see him in yet another delineation, made real by the versatile personality of this master thespian of Cinemaland.

My roving thoughts grew back together again in a flash when I realized my temporary host was talking. "By George! I've never seen so beautiful a region as this is, Santa Cruz and its environs put many other sections of this state to shame when it comes to natural scenic grandeur. This is my first visit in years, but gad, it will not be so long until I come again."

"Glad you too have succumbed to our scenic charms," I replied. "Do you wonder that location scouts picked this region for film settings so far back as 1913?" Rolling back the curtains of memory Dunkinson continued. "Years ago I was at the old California in San Francisco, with James M. Brophy and Esther Williams, San Francisco favorites at the time, and we played through here on the road, but then there was little opportunity for sightseeing. In picture work we are placed right in the midst of this paradise for location work and have every opportunity to enjoy the beauteous surroundings."

The conversation sallied along on various topics until my interesting host finally spoke about himself and his first entrance into the theatrical work which ultimately placed him in motion pictures. Resting back in his chair, eyes smiling as they combined memory and looked into the past, he said, in response to a question, "My first appearance on the stage was in September, 1888. I was a choir boy in old Trinity Church in New York City. I had theatrical ambitions and so when I was asked to come over and help in the Grace Church scene in Denman Thompson's "Old Homestead," I jumped at the chance." A reminiscent glint brightened his eyes. "Dunk" smiled again. "You see I went from a real choir boy to a makebelieve one in one jump. I was in theatricals to stay. My father had been an opera singer before me, in England and New York.

"For thirty years I crossed and recrossed the U.S. on the speaking stage," he added.

"But, your picture work," I interposed, not wishing to hold him too long from the dining room, "how long have you been in the movies?" "Seventeen years," he came back at me, "six years of which time I spent in the east, but have been in California ever since. I worked for Geo. Spoor in the old-time Essanay in Chicago and also for Selig and Vitagraph. In the old Essanay series of George Ade Fables I was the original feature comedian."

There followed an exchange of views concerning earlier production methods which brought out the amusing fact that trade marks in the earlier days were of far greater importance than players, at least as far as their identity was concerned. The old Essanay Indian head, the Biograph monogram, the Selig diamond "S", were shaped of cardboard or metal and placed prominently so they would show in every scene--and if they fell over or failed to show up well the scene was retaken! That was in the days when scenery was often a painted drop; when "stores" were stocked with painted merchandise of shelves painted on canvas; when troops were made up of half a dozen actors who would pass in procession before the camera, circle back and cross the scene again and again so that six appeared like six hundred passing before the lens.

All this was deeply interesting to a fan such as I have always been, yet I urged the rotund conversationalist not to allow me to hold him longer. Various members of the Fox players and other hotel guests had continued to pass by us into the dining room--it was the dinner period.

"I remember you with great glee," said I, "in the title role of "Officer 666," a famous Goldwyn picture of a few years ago." This pleased him immensely. And as we arose to part company for the time being he thanked me profusely, which sentiments were at once reciprocated. He had been a most cordial host.

One parting question and "Dunk" named over some of his current releases. There was "Smile, Brother, Smile," with Jack Mulhall; "Sporting Goods," with Richard Dix; "Dressed to Kill," a recent Fox play with Eddie Lowe, besides many comedy roles for Fox.

With a slap on the back, a handclasp and a wry wink, the famous actor was gone, but ere he disappeared into that region of clanking trays and steaming food he shot back over his shoulder, "Er, when did you say that story is coming out?"

Copyrighted by the Santa Cruz Sentinel-News, Morning Edition. Reproduced by permission.