Boat Rides

Amusement Park Boat Ride.jpg

Who doesn't like a good boat ride?  Equally, who hates getting seasick?  Well, here at the American Treasure Tour, we have the best boat ride possible - a fun one guaranteed to not get you sick. How can we guarantee that?  Because it's too small to climb into.

Our boats are about three inches from end to end and in a miniature amusement park made in the 1940's. It was previously located in Moundsville, West Virginia in an ice cream parlor - a fantasy made true of delightful treats and marvelous miniatures!

Kiddie boats were a big thing at amusement parks during the 1950's and 1960's - as were the airplanes, animals and dinosaurs you would climb on, put a quarter in, and go forwards and backwards on for a few minutes before another coin would be demanded. 

Today, kids don't flock to these quite like they used to, now that everyone has smart phones and iPads. But the day will come when everyone wants to experience the thrill again.  And then, just wait and see!



So. We have a serious question for you.  Do you like music?  

To be honest, if you don't enjoy a good song now and again, regardless of what genre it is, we might not know how to take it if you said, simply, "No."  Music is an integral part of being human, and we are glad we can share all sorts of music with guests here at the American Treasure Tour. Of course, our music tends to fall into two categories:  fun and awesome. Okay fine. We don't have any Jay-Z or Justin Bieber - the Double J, as we like to think of them - but we do have an amazing collection of sass, ragtime, classical, bluegrass and even Broadway musicals. 

The clip attached here is of The Emperor. The Emperor is in our collection, BUT this video predates us. This actually comes from the 1960's, when the machine was recorded for a Coca-Cola advertisement.

It looks a little sad and lonely in the video - but just come to the American Treasure Tour to see it in its full glory, surrounded by its new, weird family!

Lions, tigers and bears....

OH MY!!!!

It is never good to judge another person based on your own standards, but if you say "Lions, tigers, and bears" to someone, and they don't respond with a good, solid, "Oh my!" then they may be a little deficient in their popular culture education or they're a grumpy pants. Sorry to have to say it, but there it is.

The American Treasure Tour has all three - lions, tigers, AND bears. We also have elephants, giraffes, and hippos. And a cow in western clothes.  Because, well, you know. Why wouldn't we?

Here are some quick facts about The Wizard of Oz:
The jacket worn by Frank Morgan, playing the role of the actual wizard, was found in a thrift shop. It had the name L. Frank Baum written on a label inside it. Baum wrote the original book.

The majority of the scenes including the Wicked Witch of the West were cut from the film because they were thought to be too scary for most audiences. 

The Munchkins were played by a group of little people managed by Leo Singer. They traveled under the name of "Singer's Midgets" and came from Europe to star in the movie. Many were of Jewish heritage and stayed in the United States after filming ended, to avoid the horrors of the war. Very few of them spoke English, and their songs were dubbed.

The only location footage used in the film (not shot in a studio) are the clouds in the opening scene.

Check out more of the American Treasure Tour's love of The Wizard of Oz with the Bob Omrod Giant World of Miniatures!



It is most definitely getting warmer outside, and the leaves are pretty much green. The National Park has plowed out most of its snowiest sites by now, too which brings me to a question I would like to ask you.  It's about as important as the questions get here at the American Treasure Tour, so I hope you will give it some considerable thought.  Please feel free to let us know what your answer is.  If you don't, I will assume you're too busy thinking about it to offer your input.

Here's the scenario.  It's a beautiful day outside, sunny and warm.  You're driving along a road in the mountains.  Which of the following cars would you prefer to be driving?

1). Would you want to be behind the wheel of a 1954 Corvette with the soft-top down?
2). Would you prefer the 1956 Ford Thunderbird with the hard-top removed?
3). Would you go for the 1905 Franklin that, while there is a fabric roof, has the side flaps up?
4). Would you opt for the 1967 Oldsmobile Cutlass convertible?

The reason I'm asking is because, to be honest, I want to be driving along a mountain road on a beautiful day, and I'm thinking about these cars my own self.  The good news is that they are all right here, in the American Treasure Tour.  The bad news is that I know I will never be able to take any of them outside the tour myself and drive them on the relatively flat roads of Southeastern Pennsylvania, let alone the mountain road I'm thinking about.  But it is fun to fantasize about....

National Walnut Day

Truth be told, I'm not a huge fan of eating walnuts. They make my mouth itch. But I do like that they look kinda like brains. [Curator's Comment of the day]

Truth be told, I'm not a huge fan of eating walnuts. They make my mouth itch. But I do like that they look kinda like brains. [Curator's Comment of the day]

The American Treasure Tour blog would like very much to celebrate National Walnut Day on this very special May 17th.  Please, please, please let us celebrate!

Why is it so important to us, you ask? Well, you might as well ask why it was so important for the Walnut Marketing Board to get President Dwight D. Eisenhower to sign it into law on the very first recognition of this special day in 1958. Oh, sure, the nation COULD have been celebrating the fourth anniversary of the victory of Brown v. Board of Education that day, which ended legal segregation of our nation's schools.  Or the 422nd anniversary of the annulment of King Henry VIII's marriage to his second wife, Anne Boleyn.  But no, walnuts.

Your devoted blog writer regrets that he is unable to include an image of the mice cracking nuts, as they were unwilling to sign the necessary release authorizing publication of their image. Please come to the tour to see them live. [Note: That's "live" which rhymes with five, not "live" that rhymes with give.}

Your devoted blog writer regrets that he is unable to include an image of the mice cracking nuts, as they were unwilling to sign the necessary release authorizing publication of their image. Please come to the tour to see them live. [Note: That's "live" which rhymes with five, not "live" that rhymes with give.}

The American Treasure Tour has a team of mice working around the clock (often when they're not even supposed to be working at all!) cracking these majestic nuts for your entertainment, so be sure to take a tram ride through our Toy Box and take a gander at them.  HINT: they're between the Philadelphia Toboggan Company roller coaster car and the head of Albert Einstein (not as gruesome as it sounds), right in front of the toothless dragon.  If you get to the Rupp three wheeler, you already passed it. If you're looking at Cowlamity Jane, you not only went WAY passed it, but you're looking at the wrong side of the tram.

Curator Corner

Every Tuesday, May 16th in the year 2017, the American Treasure Tour blog has committed itself to trying something new.  

The blog team has always loved the opportunity to share stories about the pieces in our collection with our army of fans, but we recognize that, every now and again, we need to change things up.  Kind of like when you wear the same shirt every day for three months and realize you should wash it, whether it needs cleaning or not.

I'm the third guy from the left on the 2nd level, wearing a hat.

I'm the third guy from the left on the 2nd level, wearing a hat.

The blog staff took a moment last week to take a group photograph during a cruise along the Delaware River in Philadelphia. The picture is to your right. We were on our way to a casino all-you-can-eat lunch buffet. Apparently, the casino served bad crab legs, which I didn't eat because I was unprepared to stand in line for them. A good thing, since they turned out to be bad. One highly successful class action lawsuit later, and the entire staff (except me, of course) bought themselves a tropical island and left me alone here. So I have the pleasure to entertain you, wow you, surprise you with fascinating knowledge, and quite possibly inspire you to beat the current world record for the largest popsicle stick structure!

Photo taken in its former CT home

Photo taken in its former CT home

Ours is a castle, made by a Connecticutian (Connecticotian? Connecticuter? Mary and Rudi?) named Steve Guman. It has 396,000 popsicle sticks held together with four gallons of Elmer's Glue. It lost the record back in 2009, which is currently held by a team of nine who made a map of Thailand.

When Elmer's Glue was established in 1947, it was part of the Borden's Company. Borden's began producing condensed milk way back in 1857, and has since diversified into canned foods and other stuff, including glue. Their logo includes a cow named Elsie. When the glue came into being, Elsie's 'spouse,' Elmer received the honor of taking the front spot on their glue label. Now, Borden's no longer owns the glue company, but Elmer is staying put, his smiling face inviting us to eat as much glue as we can stuff in our mouths.


            Elmer in all his glory!

            Elmer in all his glory!

[Editors' Note: We would like to clarify that, by "eating" the glue, our curator actually meant "to spread the glue smoothly over construction paper so that more construction paper could be placed safely and securely on top of it to make a wonderful montage for mom and dad to put on the refrigerator with your favorite magnet from the American Treasure Tour."  We would like to take the liberty to recommend the magnets for you:  we have a delightful magnet of the 1948 Hudson Commodore for all our young friends.  Or the 1924 Cadillac Sedan.  Or maybe the 1916 Wurlitzer Mandolin PianOrchestra.  Or even the Wurlitzer Model 175 Band Organ magnet.  Okay, let's be real here.  The wonderful montage has four corners, are we right? Unless scissors came into play and someone cut the construction paper into a triangle so it only has three corners, in which case four magnets would give you one magnet too many. But, assuming this does not happen, we're sticking to our recommendation for four magnets.  So, if you get all four magnets, you can put one on each corner.  And, full disclosure, the Editors here think classic cars are cooler than dolls, it's just how we are. It's a purely subjective opinion for which we are completely accountable, and in no way represents the management of the Treasure Tour, some of whom definitely prefer dolls to cars. But that is not the editors, which is why we prioritized the magnets dedicated to the cars over that for the doll, but the Tour does have a delightful magnet of one of the dolls in the collection available for purchase as well.  If dolls are your thing, then you can get the doll magnet instead of any of the other magnets, but it's on you to decide which four magnets to get to secure your construction paper montage on the refrigerator.  The Editors would, at this time, also like to apologize for making our note at the end of the blog longer than the entire blog entry. We think we may have lost our collective minds and, truth be told, we're not entirely sure we're not actually the same person who wrote the first part of the blog and that we are just pretending to be a team of editors instead of one person to make ourselves sound more important.  We mean, to make ourself sound more important. I mean, I want to make myself sound more important. I think we've confused ourselves.  Confused myself. What?  Huh? At this time, we would like to end our Note and encourage you to not read it in the first place. Thank you and have a nice day.]

Pearl Bailey

QUESTION:  From whom did Pearl Bailey receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom?
A). Richard Nixon
B). Gerald Ford
C). Jimmy Carter
D). Ronald Reagan

Pearl May Bailey was born in Southampton, Virginia. The year was 1918, and she was the daughter of a preacher man, Reverend Joseph James Bailey. Music must have been in her blood, because she began singing at a very early age, and was able to enjoy some success in the final years of vaudeville.  But Bailey's ascension to fame began in African-American nightclubs in the city of Philadelphia during the 1930's, then touring the country with the USO during World War II.  After the war, she reached Broadway, and performed to great acclaim in such shows as an all-black interpretation of Hello Dolly! Theater, movies and television followed, as did numerous albums including Sings for Adults Only, recorded in 1959, which is displayed next to Belle Barth and Sophie Tucker here at the American Treasure Tour (don't worry, kids can't listen to it!).

Pearl Bailey was a woman of many interests.  Not only did she love to perform, but she had a passion for the New York Mets, supporting them and singing for them over the years. In 1975, President Gerald Ford appointed her as special ambassador to the United Nations, and she wrote six books between 1968 and 1989.  She passed away in 1990 at the age of 72, and is laid to rest in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

ANSWER:  D). Ronald Reagan.  In 1988.

Sophie Tucker

QUESTION:  What was Sophie Tucker's nickname?
A). Funny lady
B). Last of the Red Hot Mammas
C). The Queen of Hilarity
D). The Russian Roulette

Yesterday's blog was dedicated to Belle Barth, a vaudeville star who moved to Las Vegas in her later years and recorded comedy records filled with offensive content. Today's blog is dedicated to another early comedienne, someone whose name most of us have heard, although we may not entirely be sure why. Sophie Tucker has an all-American name but, like many early entertainers, she was an immigrant to this country. Born in Russia in 1887 to Orthodox Jews, Sonya Kalisch moved with her family at a very young age to Connecticut, where her parents opened a restaurant. A performer from birth, Sophie would sing to customers. It was there she met Louis Tuck, a beer cart driver. The sixteen year old eloped and had a son. Three years later, she was divorced, her son was being raised by her parents, and she was in New York City performing in vaudeville. 

Her ample frame made it difficult for Sophie to get starring rolls. For a time, she was forced to cover her face in burnt cork, traditionally known as 'blackface' and highly unacceptable today, and to speak in a southern accent. Audiences had no idea she was both Caucasian and a northerner until her luggage was stolen on during a circuit tour. Her talent won over the crowd, and Sophie became a well-established star. She lamented the end of vaudeville, but adapted well, moving into radio and film appearances. She continued performing and recording until her death in 1966 at 79 years of age.

ANSWER:  B) Last of the Red Hot Mammas

Belle Barth

QUESTION:  Belle Barth's controversial style was compared to what stand-up comedian?
A). Lenny Bruce
B). Robin Williams
C). Mel Brooks
D). Bob Saget

The Music Room here at the American Treasure Tour is home to hundreds of record albums of all sorts and varieties, displayed on the wall, hanging from the infrastructure, pretty much wherever we can fit them. Opposite some of our favorite Sesame Street records is one few people ever notice. It is a stand-up comedy album by Belle Barth. Few people remember Belle today, but her influence is undeniable. Born Annabelle Salzman in 1911, she had a gift for entertaining. She started very young, touring the 'borscht belt' circuit of Jewish comedy clubs and vaudeville performance sites, also must have been a very alluring woman, as she was married five times during her life. Her first husband was Peter Barth, and the only long-lasting part of their marriage was that she kept his last name. Her fourth husband was George B. Martin.  Who also happened to have been her fifth husband. 

What made Belle hugely popular in her day was also what made her highly unacceptable in some circles. Her humor was raunchy and defiant. She was an expert at offending people, and once was confronted with a $1.6 million lawsuit by two teachers who claimed Belle had morally corrupted them and harmed their health with her humor.  Belle learned from this experience and only intensified her jokes against tradition. She owned a club in Florida's Miami Beach, and often performed in Las Vegas as well, alongside friends including Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr. Although she died in 1971 at the age of 59, Belle's influence on the likes of Madelaine Kahn, Joan Rivers and Gilda Radner is undeniable. Her album In Person, recorded live at the Roundtable in 1961, is displayed alongside tomorrow's blog subject.  See if you can find it in the Tour!

ANSWER:  A). Lenny Bruce

Dodgem Bumper Cars

QUESTION:  What is generally considered the oldest, continuously used amusement park in the United States?
A). Coney Island, NY
B). Cedar Point, OH
C). Lake Constance, CT
D). Idlewild, PA

Two of the newest additions to the wild and wonderful collection here at the American Treasure Tour are Dodgem Bumper Cars!  Dodgem was the first manufacturer of bumper cars ever. They filed for a patent in 1920, and the next year, the fun began!  Their cars did not have batteries. Instead, they received their power with wooden poles that had metal 'spoons' on top that brushed against the ceiling of the attraction. Electrical power in metal plates sent a current to the motor and the bumper car moved. The cleaner the connection in the spoon, the faster the car. Waiting in line for their chance to bump, many kids looked out for the best cars so that they could claim them for their turn and speed through the arena, bumping their friends, dodging others, and just having fun.

Max and Harold Stoehrer of Methuen, Massachusetts designed the Dodgem. The first cars were not necessarily safe, honestly. They had upright seats and the steering wheel was at the top of a pole coming directly from the floor. The tin cars were very vulnerable to denting, and after a full day's usage had to be banged back into place for the next day. Of course, Dodgem technology improved over the years, but not fast enough for some. It was a few years after their introduction that two cousins, Joseph and Ray Lusse, introduced the Lusse Auto Skooter, direct competition with the Dodgem and, as far as the Stoehrers were concerned, in direct violation of their patent. Regardless, both companies survived the crisis and produced these delightful rides for years to come. In 1961, Dodgem was sold to none other than the Allan Herschell Company. If you don't know who they were, then keep checking back in with the blog. They are of great importance to the world of amusement parks and automatic music. Alas, the change did not have a lasting impression. Dodgem disappeared completely in the 1970's.  Well, not entirely completely.  Come on by and visit ours here at the Treasure Tour! 

ANSWER:  C). Lake Constance, CT.  Opened in 1846 as a picnic site, the attractions began appearing shortly thereafter and it has been going strong ever since.  The other three are all on the top ten oldest attractions list.

Bumper Cars - Controversy

QUESTION:  Who received the first patent ever granted by the United States government?  HINT: He received it on July 31, 1790 for a process to make potash (a form of fertilizer). 
A). Samuel Hopkins
B). Oliver Evans
C). Frances Hopkinson
D). Benjamin Franklin

Controversy and drama surround many of the most important inventions created by man. The fight between Thomas Edison and his direct current electricity and George Westinghouse and his alternating current is a famous one, as is the debate over to whether Enrico Marconi invented wireless communication or was it in fact Nikolai Tesla who did it?  One that few people have ever considered on par with these two is the bumper car.  Was it first invented by a man from General Electric named Victor Levand, or did it first come to be in Massachusetts, the brainchild of Max and his son Harold Stoehrer? We may never know the answer to this final question with complete certainty, but we do know that the Stoehrers submitted the first patent application for the bumper car.  It was patent #1,373,108 (remember that, it will be on the quiz later). It was filed on December 7, 1920, and issued the following March 29th.  Their patent application described an electrically-charged thrill ride for amusement parks. It had an electrically-charged ceiling, as well as conductive floors, each with a separate power polarity. This formed a complete circuit and compelled the bumper cars to move, thanks to a pole that extended up from the car and contacted the ceiling.

The cars themselves were generally pretty small, and originally made out of tin. This made them fairly vulnerable to denting upon impact with other cars. It was not uncommon that operators would have to nail the cars back together after being driven. The cars were 'rear-steered,' which made it difficult to control where they went, often softening the blow upon impact, but not enough to reduce the fun factor. The rides were considered unmanageable and jarring by critics, but they did not dissuade people from climbing into them. People loved them, especially kids who might not have had the opportunity to drive anywhere else, and they quickly became one of the more popular attractions at amusement parks and carnivals.  

ANSWER:  A). Samuel Hopkins.  But really, with a hint like the one we gave you, how could anyone have thought otherwise, since Samuel Hopkins was easily the most famous potash producer in the country between July 30 and August 1, 1790!

Bumper Cars

QUESTION:  Which one of the following men is considered the creator of the first bumper car?
A). Victor Levand
B). Max Stoehrer
C). Harold Stoehrer
D). Ray Lusse

What kid doesn't love a bumper car?  Okay, we can amend that question a little bit:  what kid at heart doesn't love a bumper car?  They are, of course, part of an American tradition found in amusement parks. You climb into a tiny car and sit very close to the ground.  If you're lucky, your car will have a ring of rubber around it to cushion the blow when you and everyone else in an enclosed area do everything you can to drive into one another at maximum speed (maximum speed generally reaching no higher than four or five miles per hour), trying to give friends and strangers a bit of a jolt before they give the same to you. There's no doubt these are not for everyone, but the people who enjoy them enjoy them a lot!

The American Treasure Tour has had the pleasure to display two bumper cars in our Toy Box for years. A recent acquisition has doubled our inventory of historic bumper cars, effectively inspiring the blog staff to dedicate a few days to telling the story of these strange but fascinating pieces of entertainment. Of course, we do need to let you know that the bumper cars on display here at the Treasure Tour are for looking and appreciating only. If we whet your appetite and make you hunger for immersion into bumper car driving, we encourage you to go to the other side of our building, to Arnold's Family Fun Center.  They have actual cars there you can ride and, of course, use to drive into your friends in a safe and happy environment! So climb on in and let's get ready for the ride.

ANSWER:  A), B), or C). This was kind of a trick question, since Levand and the Stoehrers are all given that honor by different people.  Ray Lusse is considered the man who perfected the technology, and in fact was sued by the Stoehrers for his designs.


QUESTION: Minnesota became a state in 1858.  What was their "number" (meaning, what state of the current fifty were they)?
A). 1
B). 23
C). 32
D). 41

Anyone who has visited the beautiful State of Minnesota knows it has a lot of lakes - in fact, it is called the Land of 10,000 Lakes - and that there are no mountains, at least not by the standard of most of the country. Its highest elevation is 2,301 feet tall, the (ironically named?) Eagle Mountain. And, like every state in the union, Minnesota has a flag to represent it. Like yesterday's story of Washington, the flag was not commissioned when Minnesota became a state. Indeed, it took a full thirty-five years before someone thought to place the State Seal on a white banner, and sixty-four more years after that to change the banner from white to blue. This blue flag with the State Seal centered in the middle is the one hanging in the Toy Box here at the American Treasure Tour.

The Seal honors the French explorers and fur trappers who roamed through the region in the 17th centuries with the words "L'Étoile du Nord" in a banner. Translated as the Star of the North, the Seal itself depicts a farmer tilling the soil while a Native American gallops by behind him on a tan horse. If we can be honest here, it is not the most dynamic flag to be flown over the capitol building in an American State. The men and women of the North American Vexillological Society rated it as one of the ugliest in the nation. For years now, people have been trying to change the flag, but it would seem the bureaucracy has been too much for them. Regardless, we are happy to honor the state and the flag here at the American Treasure Tour. 

ANSWER:  C). 32. 


QUESTION (And here's a tough one for you):  What is the only State in the United States of America named after a former president?
A). Jefferson
B). Lincoln
C). Franklin
D). Washington

The American Treasure Tour is home to many strange, wonderful, odd, and delightful things.  I don't know if you would place a collection of flags into any of those categories, but we do have our fair share of flags to be enjoyed.  We have state flags, national flags, signaling flags, and the occasional advertising banner, for good measure.  Today, we would like to honor the flag of the northwesternmost of the states of the contiguous 48 United States (yes, that means Alaska is not included in this case): Washington. 

The Washington Territory was admitted to the Union in 1889 as the 42nd State of the United States. This date is noteworthy for the story of their flag because, when the Daughters of the American Revolution wanted to hang a copy of it in their headquarters, they discovered there was no actual, official flag. That was in the year 1914. So the state got their act together. Being the Evergreen State, they began with a field of green, then simply centered the state seal in the center of the flag. Boom. It just so happens that the seal is dominated by a portrait of our first president, making theirs the only flag to honor a president.  It became the official symbol of Washington State in 1923, a full thirty-four years after the territory became a state!  The downside of the flag is that it is the single-most expensive state flag to duplicate, since the seal must be stitched on both sides of the green field to avoid reverse imaging.  

ANSWER:  D). Washington. Although at one time or another, all three other options were considered for state names.  As it is, A) and B) were both incorporated into capitol city names.  Oh, and C) was not an actual president, so here's really hoping you didn't guess that!

Paramount Pictures

QUESTION:  Which is not the name of a major American movie studio?
A). Universal
B). United
C). 20th Century Fox
D). Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

So yes, the 1928 film Underworld has triggered a significant discussion since we debuted the subject last week. Talk of the actors and the director lead us quite directly to the studio without which the film would have never been produced. Paramount Pictures.  Everything and everyone has a story - and Paramount has its own. One thing people today forget is that, like all the companies that produced the cars we drive every day, the film studios often have stories that stretch around one hundred years. Paramount is one of fifth oldest film companies that remain in existence today, and the second oldest in the United States (Universal beat it out by - no kidding - eight days). 

Paramount Pictures was formed on May 8, 1912 and went by the name of Famous Players Film Company. Just about two years later they changed their name to Paramount, after a film distribution company purchased by Famous Players' founder, Adolph Zukor. Zukor contracted twenty-two famous 'stars' to work exclusively for Paramount, including such notables as Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and Rudolph Valentino (these original twenty-two are still honored with stars on the Paramount logo to this day). Zukor created something of a monopoly in film - producing and distributing his films in a theater chain owned by the company. Anti-trust suits were thrown at him, which eventually compelled Zukor to break up the company. He did remain in control, though, and continued to retain many of the most famous actors of each respective era, while also embracing new technology. Talkies became Paramount's bread and butter during the late-20's and into the 30's. Fleischer's Studios rivaled Disney in their cartoon creations such as Popeye and Betty Boop.  Like all companies, Paramount had its ups and downs over the years, and has survived a number of buyouts and downsizings. In 1994, the media megapower Viacom bought them up, and twelve years later they bought out the Dreamwork's Animation Studios. Paramount continues to make engaging films to this day, all thanks to the vision of one man: Adolph Zukor. 

ANSWER:  B). United.  That's a major airline instead.

Josef von Sternberg

QUESTION:  Which of the following Austrian immigrants never directed a film in the English language?
A). Erich von Stroheim
B). Michael Haneke
C). Alexander Kolowrat
D). Billy Wilder

Immigrants make up the United States.  Without the act of immigration, the population of this great nation would include quite a lot of squirrels and perhaps not much else. George Washington's and Abraham Lincoln's lineages trace to England. Barack Obama's father was from Kenya, and Donald Trump's grandfather was German born, and changed his name from Drumpf!  In the movie business, immigration is much more common than even politics, and today's blog is going to honor a great Austrian-American film director.  Jonas Sternberg was born in 1894 in Vienna, to a Jewish soldier. Looking for work, Jonah's dad moved to the United States, and brought the rest of the family. It didn't go so well, though, so they moved back to Vienna. Then back again to the United States. As a boy, Jonah dropped out of high school to work with his dad at a lace warehouse, before moving into a menial job at a film studio repairing movie prints. The studio was the World Film Company of Fort Lee, New Jersey (loyal blog readers might remember that name from Friday's tale of Evelyn Brent). 

Truly starting at the bottom in movies, the young Sternberg added a 'von' to his name, implying nobility status and changed his first name to Josef.  He worked his way up at the studio with the help of interested mentors. He made his directorial debut in 1925 with a film called The Salvation Hunters (amazingly, the film still exists!). Within a few years, he had made some tremendously popular films, including 1927's Underworld and the next year's The Last Command, but it wasn't long before the jobs slowed down. So he went to Germany and directed the up-and-coming Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel, which would prove highly influential the world over. Sternberg and Dietrich worked together on six films. He made her a star, and he continued making movies into the 1950's, with varying success. By the end of the '50's, he could no longer get funding and he took a job teaching film at UCLA, where his classes impacted young musicians Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek, who accredited Sternberg with heavily influencing the music of their band The Doors. He died in 1969 at the age of 75.

ANSWER:  C). Alexander Kolowrat

Evelyn Brent

QUESTION:  After which of the following was the dance "the foxtrot" named?
A). A "foxy" lady strutting her stuff
B). Vaudeville actor Harry Fox
C). The mammal, the fox, and its agility and speed
D). A racehorse named Fox

Last week, the American Treasure Tour blog spent some time discussing a classic silent-era gangster film called Underworld. We also talked about its two male leads: George Bancroft and Clive Brook. We saved our female lead for today: Evelyn Brent. So many of the heartthrobs of yesterday have been forgotten today, but during the height of their popularity they evoked passions just like modern actors do for their fans today. Evelyn Brent had a natural beauty to her. In fact, that beauty is what led to her career in front of the camera. Born Mary Elizabeth Briggs in 1901, the Tampa, Florida native's mother passed away when she was just a girl. Raised by her father, she moved to New York City as a teenager and attended Normal School. That's where men and women, but mostly women, were educated in the art of education. She intended a life as a school teacher. Brent never taught, though. One day, she visited Fort Lee, New Jersey, and the World Film Studio. She was noticed by studio workers and two days later she got work as a paid extra. She was only fourteen years old when she made her film debut in 1915's The Shooting of Dan McGrew. She never looked back. After World War I, she visited London, and stayed a few years, acting on stage and screen. When she returned to the States in 1922, she hooked up with Paramount Pictures and achieved nationwide success. 

She starred in three films for Josef von Sternberg, including 1927's Underworld and the next year's The Last Command. Her career peaked by the end of the decade, but she still maintained popularity through the '30's and '40's, transitioning easily into talkies. By 1950, older than most female actors by that time, she became an actor's agent and remained in the business behind the scenes. With a resume of around 120 films, she did fairly well in the industry. It may very well be time to resurrect her career, and celebrate the artistry of Evelyn Brent!

ANSWER:  B). Vaudeville actor Harry Fox

Clive Brook

Clive Brook.jpg

QUESTION:  Which of the following Clive's is also an actor?
A). Palmer
B). Davis
C). Barker
D). Owen

As we continue our exploration of the cast and creators of the 1927 film Underworld following our in depth and thought provoking expose of George Bancroft yesterday, we are led into the sordid land of the second male lead in this highly-regarded gangster film: Clive Brook.  That sordid land (which really isn't sordid at all, we just like writing sordid. Sordid.  Funny word when you think about it.) is Great Britain, and Clive Brook was born there in 1887. The son of an opera singer and violinist, Brook served his country in World War I in the Artists' Rifles. After the war, he entered the theater and silent film in his native land, and did well enough to justify a move to Hollywood to become a contract player for Paramount Pictures. 

Between 1924 and 1935, Brook made a name for himself in American film, smoothly transitioning from silent to talking pictures. In the former category was, of course, Underworld. In the latter, his (arguably) best performances were in Shanghai Express, co-starring with Marlene Dietrich and as the famous British sleuth Sherlock Holmes. Brook's time in Hollywood was not especially pleasant for him. In the wake of the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, fear swept through the country that the children of high-profile celebrities might be kidnapped. Brook hired armed guards to take his daughters Faith and Lyndon (future actors themselves) to school, and he slept with a revolver under his pillow. He saw Hollywood as a luxurious prison, a gilded cage, and left as soon as he could justify it to himself. Upon his return to England, he continued his film career before ultimately devoting himself to the theater. He lived until 1974 and lies in rest in Covent Garden.

ANSWER:  D). Clive Owen.  Clive Palmer is a politician. Clive Davis is a music producer. Clive Barker is a novelist.

George Bancroft

QUESTION:  Which U.S. President graduated from the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland?
A). Jimmy Carter
B). George H.W. Bush
C). Zachary Taylor
D). Donald Trump

We introduced the film Underworld (1927) yesterday - an extremely highly regarded gangster film from the silent movie era starring George Bancroft, Evelyn Brent and Clive Brook. Whenever the opportunity allows, the American Treasure Tour blog honors the stars of yesteryear - women and men who often have been forgotten over the course of time but whose performances in classic films deserves recognition.  Bancroft is one such actor. He spent much of his life as an actor, and his career spanned many genres. Born in Philadelphia in 1882 (Yay, Philly!), he joined the navy as a young man and staged shipboard plays for his comrades at sea. Although he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy as a commissioned officer, acting became his passion and he abandoned the military for the stage. He danced and sang in a revue around the turn of the twentieth century, before getting cast in melodramas and musical comedy. 

Bancroft's first starring role was opposite Wallace Beery (the subject of another blog from not so very long ago) in 1925's The Pony Express, adding westerns to his resume. Old Ironsides, about the USS Constitution warship (still afloat in Charleston Harbor, Boston) came next, and introduced him to historical dramas. Then, he got into gangster films. His performance for von Sternberg in Underworld led to a few collaborations between the two men, and Bancroft became one of the leading stars of the late-20's. Fame, though, can prove fleeting, and Bancroft's star did not continue rising through the 1930's. In fact, some might contend that his ego began his own downfall. One example of his inflated self-perception found Bancroft refusing to feign death in a film after a blank was fired at him: "Just one bullet can't fell Bancroft!" he declared. By the mid-30's, he appeared as no more than a supporting character in films including Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) and Angels With Dirty Faces (1938). His rolls had completely dried up in the 1940's, and he passed away in 1956 at the age of 74.

ANSWER:  A). Jimmy Carter. He was, in fact, the only U.S. President ever to do so. Bush did serve in the Navy as a flyer, and Taylor was an Army general. Trump never served in his country's military.


QUESTION:  The 1927 film Underworld depicts life in the depths of criminal action in the city. Whose actions are told in the 21st century Underworld franchise?
A). Gnomes and trolls in the underground world of the forest
B). Humans in a dystopian future after nuclear war destroyed the world above
C). Vampires and werewolves fighting each other
D). The sew shop employees where the world's undergarment industries are headquartered

In our Music Room here at the American Treasure Tour, we celebrate the history of film through posters and headshots. Today's blog is dedicated to a film that was released in 1927, but it almost never happened. It was the end of the silent film era. The Jazz Singer would be released that year, the first film with sound.  Movies were already a big deal by the Twenties and one of the most popular form of entertainment in the nation.

Released on August 20, 1927, Underworld had been written off by its distributor Paramount Pictures before it even reached the theater. It was written by Ben Hecht, then altered by other writers. Hecht was unhappy with the changes and tried to get his name removed from the credits.  Paramount considered the film to be sloppy.  Then, the original director, Arthur Rossen, was fired and replaced with Josef von Sternberg, who was only thirty-three at the time and not yet established in Hollywood. The film is about gangsters and a criminal love triangle. (It is available on video through the Criterion Collection, so we don't want to spoil anything here.) Upon its completion, Paramount decided they would give it a release in exactly one movie theater - in New York City. Fortunately, people saw it and liked it so much that it became a hit and Paramount was compelled to give it wider distribution. The movie garnered an Academy Award for Ben Hecht - the first movie ever to win a writing award - and has gone on to be regarded as one of the best gangster films ever made. How's that for a disappointment?

ANSWER:  C). Vampires and werewolves fighting each other.