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Universal Bluebird and Selig Polyscope

By March 1917 Grace Kingsley’s “Frivols” column of March 12th stated: “D.W. Griffith, the master picture producer, has severed his connections with the Fine Arts Film Company and with the Triangle. This announcement has been expected for some time, but it was not until yesterday that the definite news was received.” Though expected back in town soon, he instead headed off to Europe. Colleen would learn about this after standing in line with the other studio employees to pick up her paycheck in its yellow envelope. Right away she noticed the regular yellow paycheck had been replaced by a blue one. Inside was a letter: “We regret to have to dispense with your artistic services,” the letter started, and for a moment Colleen felt elation. Her work had been recognized. It took a moment before she realized that the studio regretted dispensing with them… she was getting the boot. In Silent Star she wrote that she was given walking papers after An Old Fashioned Young Man because the studio had closed down, though they still honored her six month contract. In fact, her contract was renewed

Early Colleen Fashion Shot

Photographed by Witzel of Los Angeles
for another six months. However, there was little work for her with Griffith gone. Griffith had sent for many of his people from France, but Colleen was not among those called. Colleen's grandmother told her to stick it out... Grandmother Mary had begun to like the climate in California and was not anxious to return east so soon.

It would be three months before Colleen was before the cameras again, and to do so she had to get a temporary release from her contract and go off the Triangle payroll for several weeks. It was off to Universal Bluebird for Colleen. The Moving Picture World declared on page 1512 of the September 8th issue that "Colleen Moore, Bluebirder…. Colleen Moore has been added to the galaxy of youthful beauties of the Bluebird West Coast studios.... Miss Moore was assigned by Production Manager McRae to the Rupert Julian Company, and she has gone to Seven Oaks... where Director Julian has started production upon a new Bluebird Photoplay entitled Julio Sandoval...." The film was re-titled The Savage.

It turned out she was only needed for two weeks and spent the next few weeks chasing after Griffith's studio manager for three weeks’ worth of missing pay.

Selig Polyscope

After The Savage, Colleen scrambled for her next break. She would not get the money from Triangle she was owed until December. She pounded the pavement, making the rounds of the studios with a reel under her arm. It's been written that Colin Campbell was impressed with her big scene from Hands Up! wherein she played the terrorized girl that so impressed the Chicago Daily Tribune. He arranged a contract for her with Selig Polyscope. The Savage was not released until November 17th, 1917.

Like Triangle, Selig Polyscope was having problems by the time Colleen went to work for them. The war had bitten into the audiences, and the outbreak of Spanish Flu had caused people to stay away from the sorts of crowds one found in movie theaters. Many studios found themselves with a backlog of product but nobody to watch.

Gate to Selig Polyscope studio

1850 Allesandro Street in Edendale, Los Angeles Public Library, http://jpg1.lapl.org/pics39/00039154.jpg
A Hoosier Romance
was based on the poem by James Whitcomb Riley, directed by Colin Campbell, and it found Colleen playing the put-upon daughter of an oppressive farmer who, upon learning of her love for a hired hand, fires the employee and decides to marry her off to a rich old widower. All turns out well in the end: an escape is faked and while the father and widower and father search for Colleen, she marries her true love. However the role, along with her previous roles, acts to cement her in the popular imagination as the lady in distress.

A Hoosier Romance was released on August 24th. Before long, Colleen was at work again for Selig, this time filming another Riley poem, Little Orphant Annie. However, all is not smooth sailing. The business manager at Selig was James McGee, who had been appointed to the position mid-year. Because the studio was on rocky footing, reliable information was hard to come by from the home offices back east. McGee must have had everyone in the studio clamoring at his office door with questions about the future of the company. Colleen, looking towards her career, no doubt approached McGee for information on the future plans of the studio; McGee had nothing solid to tell her, and so she appealed directly to Selig. She wrote a letter to him seeking clarification of her position, asking if her contract going to be picked up or not? In the letter she indicated she had been in negotiations with another studio but dropped them at his behest. McGee indicated to her that Selig plans to drop her. Because of this she wanted to know her status so that she could plan ahead. She also requested two weeks off for a trip back east.

The letter was followed up by a second to explain that whatever Selig had been told about her, it is not true; evidently she was concerned that Selig was being given the impression she did not want to work when in fact she was ready and eager and waiting. With an eye towards marketing, she suggested in the letter she could become the “Riley girl,” and pointed towards her familiarity and affinity with the material. She also requested two weeks off again so that she could speak to him herself and make sure her side is represented.

Little Orphant Annie was released in December, a popular film. In a Chicago Daily Tribune “Right off the Reel” column from January 12th Mae Tinee (“matinee”) reported “Colleen Moore will divide honors with Thomas Santschi in Little Orphant Annie. She was a lovely and unspoiled child the last time I saw her. Let’s hope commendation hasn’t turned her head.” It seems Colleen had been well on her way to sewing up the “sweet and unspoiled” market. This worked well for her: she was an eighteen year old passing as fifteen, and the wholesome, heartbreaking roles she was being given helped project that image.

For all its popularity, Little Orphant Annie did not save the studio: Selig Polyscope went belly-up—the second studio she was working for to do so—and once again Colleen found herself unemployed. This time around her fortunes were improved; she had a following, several performances under her belt, her mother had joined her and her grandmother out west and they moved to a home at 543 S. Virgil Avenue. Her father and brother would soon join them. Colleen’s work schedule was crowded: for six months she will have few breaks from the production schedule, though she would still find enough spare time after work to watch baseball games in Washington Park.

Lobby cards from "Little Orphant Annie"

Both colorized images from Little Orphant Annie are provided courtesy Judy Coleman.