Wednesday, June 28, 2017

War Cameraman Ansel E. Wallace Revisited

Following up on our book American Cinematographers in the Great War now and again new stories are discovered. Recently we found an interesting newspaper article on Ansel E. Wallace, newsreel cinematographer for William Randolph Hearst who went to Europe in December 1914 and shot film at the Eastern Front with the German army, covered the submarine warfare on the English Channel and later went to Italy shortly after the country had entered the Great War.



Wallace with German officers on the Eastern Front. Copied from the Boston American, 29 August 1915


In our book we described how Wallace previously covered the Mexican Civil War for a pro-Huerta motion picture shoot. Military commander José Victoriano Huerta Márquez in 1913 during what was called The Ten Tragic Days with the help of U.S. Ambassador Henry Lane Wilson secretly plotted to overthrow the government of President Madero. Huerta established a harsh military dictatorship and under pressure by the Wilson administration and rival forces in Mexico resigned the presidency on July 14, 1914.

Filming the Mexican Civil War

Wallace filmed Huerta in January 1914 for the Hearst newsreels and had the nerve to make movies of the Mexican dictator while he was having a drink in a local bar. The newspaper story that we found sheds some new light on how he was released from prison. The fellow American reporter who helped him get out of jail was William G. Shepherd. In 1915, during his stay in Europe, Wallace met Shepherd in Germany, Paris and Rome. As a matter of fact, United Press correspondent William Gunn Shepherd (1878-1933) proved to be a notable source of information during our research because of his book Confessions of a War Correspondent (1917).  




William G. Shepherd. Picture from Chris Dubb's book American Journalists in the Great War (2017) 


As a neutral correspondent, Shepherd had the opportunity to cover the Great War from the perspective of the Entente as well as the Central Powers. His memoirs contain interesting inside information on how correspondents from America were manipulated by the press censors of the warring nations in Europe. As it turns out, the interview Wallace did in 1918 after he had returned to his hometown Evansville, Indiana, indicates that he had visited Paris, both before and after Wallace had covered the war in Italy with his movie camera. This is something that we couldn't establish while researching our latest book.

We have posted before in this weblog on Wallace's film work during World War I. Here is a earlier post on his experiences covering the war in Italy in 1915. 

For those interested in Shepherd's newspaper work during World War I here is a download link to his book Confessions of a War Correspondent. The newspaper story from the Evansville Press of March 23, 1918, on Wallace's wartime experiences - his first name is misspelled - can be read here.





Sunday, June 25, 2017

New Trailer Online: "Shooting the Great War" (USA, 1914-1918)

Since starting this weblog a lot of fascinating World War I footage has been found which could be identified to one of the film correspondents described in our book American Cinematographers in the Great War.

Here is a compilation of some of these films. Contemporary music - Gustav Holst's Mars, composed at the outbreak of World War I - has been added to this clip. Enjoy!
             

                            

Friday, June 23, 2017

Wilbur H. Durborough and the Mexican Revolution (1913-1914)

When in 1913 the Mexican Revolution hit the headlines many cameramen from the United States flocked to the country. To satisfy America's public demand for coverage the Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA) sent Wilbur H. Durborough to join Pancho Villa's army. As described in our book American Cinematographers in the Great War, Durborough became quite friendly with Villa and obtained some excellent pictures of Villa's troops.



W.H. Durborough (second from right) and Arthur Ruhl (second from left) in Mexico, 1914


Mexico's first superstar

Villa became Mexico's first superstar when in 1914 he signed a movie contract with Mutual, agreeing to keep other film companies from the battlefield and to fight in daylight wherever possible. Despite all exclusive provisions this did not deter other film companies such as Pathé and Universal to try to cover Villa's army. The list of newsreel men, photographers and cinematographers who crossed the Rio Grande and entered Mexico at this period is long and impressive. In fact, the Mexican Revolution turned out to be a training ground for many cameramen who soon afterwards went to Europe to film the Great War.

Despite excellent research on this subject, notably by Mexican film historian Margarita de Orellana, some tantalizing new pieces of information on this remarkable episode in film history are still being discovered. Recently we found a photograph on eBay which has an NEA stamp on the backside and is dated July 16, 1914. The caption says: "Durborough in Mexico". The picture shows Durborough holding his Graflex camera, together with three men looking at what appears to be a corpse.

We haven't been able so far to identify the other men, except for Arthur Ruhl who was a reporter for Colliers and the New York Tribune. Ruhl was with Durborough when the U.S. Marines landed at Vera Cruz and attacked the waterworks at El Tejar. The picture may have been taken at this occasion.

Durborough had been with Pancho Villa before the U.S. Marines attacked Vera Cruz and he had covered similar scenes before. In December 1913, he photographed the Battle of La Mesa when Villa's men fought the Federalist Army. After the battle he photographed this burying party:




Burying the dead on the battlefield of La Mesa. Photograph by Wilbur H. Durborough, copied from the Evansville Press, 3 December 1913




We recently prepared a new, extended story on Durborough's photographic work during World War I. You can read this Durborough Film Annotation (2nd edition) here.






Photo-journalist Otis Aultman

When Durborough first went to Mexico he also had his picture taken together with Pancho Villa. Mexican historian Luis Arturo Salmeron recently posted this photograph on his Twitter account. The photograph was taken by Otis A. Aultman, another interesting figure who had gone to Mexico at the time. 



Left: Otis Aultman behind his movie camera in Mexico. Right: Wilbur H. Durborough and Pancho Villa at Tierra Blanca, 1913


Aultman was born in 1874, in Holden, Missouri. As a young man he learned photography from his older brother. In 1908, after a divorce from his wife, he moved to El Paso. There he first worked for Scott Photo Company and later started his own firm. Aultman was a man in the right place at the right time. He photographed the battle of Casas Grandes, the first battle of Juárez in May 1911, and the Orozco rebellion in 1912. He was a favorite of Pancho Villa, who called Aultman "Banty Rooster" because he was only 5'4" tall. Aultman worked for the International News Service and Pathé News and experimented with cinematography. In 1916 he appears to have been one of the first photographers to arrive at Columbus, New Mexico, after the famous raid on that town by the Villistas.