[Various locations in Oregon and Alaska. ca. 1922-1930]. Approximately 325 photographs, twenty postcards and real photo postcards, a linen- backed map of Alaska, and a few assorted ephemeral items, all housed in a contemporary leather satchel. Generally minor wear, some chipping to about twenty photographs. Overall very good. Item #WRCAM56103
A treasure house of silent cinema photography from the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, featuring over 300 images from THE CHECHAHCOS and other films produced in the orbit of the film's director Lewis H. Moomaw, all retained by one of his crewmen, Guerney William Hays.
THE CHECHAHCOS, released in 1924, was the first feature film shot in Alaska. "Cheechako" is a native word referring to a "greenhorn," or someone newly arrived in the mining districts of Alaska or northwestern Canada. A melodramatic tale of the Klondike Gold Rush, the was directed by Lewis H. Moomaw of the Alaska Moving Pictures Corporation. The story was based in part on the experiences of the film's producer, Austin E. Lathrop, known as "Alaska's first home-grown millionaire." The film has been preserved in the National Film Registry, and can easily be viewed on the internet. Offered here is a large collection of photographs and other ephemera once belonging to a CHECHAHCOS crew member named Guerney William Hays (1880-1952), including film stills, snapshots from the set, and other images of Alaska scenery. Many of the images match up with scenes from the completed film. The subject matter includes all that might be expected from a film produced in and about Alaska: glaciers, dogsleds, saloons, archvillains and damsels in distress, along with shots of the crew and technology that made the film possible.
The largest and most professionally-produced photographs in the collection are eighty 8-x- 10-inch prints, almost all of them clearly from the CHECHAHCOS shoot, with twenty-one stamped on the verso by the Alaska Moving Pictures Corporation and with either a printed or manuscript title written along with the stamp, reading "The Chechakos" (the spelling of which was later tweaked to its release title). One of the stills shows the entire company of the Alaska Moving Pictures Corporation, about 150 people, in the snow beside their Pullman cars; two banners for the film company hang outside the rail cars. A separate shot of the film company shows their train at the entrance to McKinley Park, with a banner hanging on the train reading, "Private Car Alaska Moving Pictures Corporation Entrance to McKinley Park on the Alaska Railroad." Other stills show scenes from the film, shots of the cast and crew preparing to start scenes, posed scenes clearly intended for use as publicity stills, cast group pictures, behind-the-scenes shots of the cameramen and other crew with various equipment, photographs of empty interiors perhaps to be used for continuity, a few featuring the dog sled teams, and more. In addition to documenting the production, these images also present a rare view of Alaska in the early-20th century.
The remaining 240 images, most of which measure approximately 3 x 5 inches, were likely not formally produced by the film company for use as publicity, but are in fact production photographs, and still stand as valuable visual documentation of the early filmmaking process. While some of these photos are more of the vernacular sort, the great majority of the images show a mixture of preproduction, production, and set-related photographs from the film company's time in Alaska shooting THE CHECHAHCOS and from other production's attached to the career of Lewis H. Moomaw, the film's director. A great number of these images were likely produced as working production photographs - executed for the use of the company during the shooting process, scouting for locations, documenting costumes, set continuity, set construction, what might today be called craft services, suggesting or documenting potential camera set-ups, or as studies for potential publicity stills, and more. While not created as traditional publicity products, these images capture the early filmmaking process both in front of and behind the camera, presenting a quite uncommon slice of film production history. The fact that they were produced during the production of a film in Alaska make them an even more valuable source of information on the filmmaking process in the 1920s in a most unusual place. Production stills are produced in very small quantities compared to publicity stills, are often unique or close to unique records of a production, have a much lower survival rate, and are keenly sought after as historical records of the filmmaking process.
One of the few captioned photographs shows four wives of the CHECHAHCOS cast and crew on a fishing expedition, including Moomaw's wife and Mrs. Guerney Hays. A few other photographs show an actress posing with crude dummies that were apparently about to be sent to their doom in a canoe scene in the Alaskan wilderness. Other production photographs from Alaska feature scenes on glaciers (one of which shows the exact spot from a moment in the opening minute of the film), a young girl with a giant Alaskan crab (who is also pictured in the larger professional images and is in the film), film crews poised on icy ground, dog sled teams, identified locations in Skagway, and more.
One of the other films pictured here is likely CALL OF THE ROCKIES (1929). This western was filmed in Oregon, the usual home of the filmmakers involved in the Alaska Moving Pictures Corporation, with Moomaw as supervising producer. CALL OF THE ROCKIES was directed by Raymond K. Johnson, one of the cinematographers on THE CHECHAHCOS, and features two actors identified in pencil captions on the verso of photographs present here: Russell Simpson and Jim Mason. There are numerous photographs featuring a western wagon train and other images of the traditional western, which either appeared in CALL OF THE ROCKIES or perhaps one of Moomaw's other films produced in Oregon in the 1920s - UNDER THE ROUGE (1925) or FLAMES (1926), the latter of which climaxed in a raging forest fire and featured an early screen appearance by Boris Karloff.
All of the postcards feature Alaskan scenes or subjects and were most likely acquired while the film company was shooting in Alaska, or produced for them while they were there. This is the case for at least one of the postcards - a Christmas greeting with the banner at bottom reading, "Compliments of the Alaska Moving Pictures Corporation." The final item of note here is a folding, linen- backed map of Alaska issued by the Alaska Steamship Company. The map measures about 21 x 30 inches and was issued in 1917. It was almost certainly taken along to Alaska by Hays for the filming of THE CHECHAHCOS, linen- backed either before-hand or while in Alaska to prevent damage from over-use. The entire collection of photographs and ephemera is housed in a period leather satchel.
These photographs were collected and retained by Guerney (or Gernie) William Hays (1880-1952), who spent a career in the early film industry, mostly in Oregon. Some pieces of ephemera bear his name, and some of the larger stills are annotated "Hays" on the verso. His 1918 draft registration lists him as a motion picture operator in Portland, and his obituary lists him as a member of the International Alliance of Stage Employees. His only film credit in the Internet Movie Database is for THE CHECHAHCOS, for which he is credited with "sets and lighting" and also an uncredited supporting role on screen. One of the larger-format photographs features a crew member in a cramped equipment room with dozens of lights and mounds of cables; this is almost certainly Hays himself, or perhaps one of his assistants. One of the photo developer's envelopes bears the name of Hobart H. Brownell, the cinematographer of THE CHECHAHCOS. Two of the photographs here are inscribed to Hays - one from the actor Bert Sprotte in 1919, and the other from banjo player Eddie Peabody, who has inscribed his portrait to Hays, writing that "No finer stage manager I ever worked with." Another photograph shows Peabody's elaborate stage show.
THE CHECHAHCOS remains an important early film for its authentic depiction of Alaskan life. Movies about the great white north were popular with early film audiences, but were usually filmed in California. When Lewis H. Moomaw proposed to shoot a film entirely in Alaska, about the days of the Klondike Gold Rush in the territory, locals in Alaska jumped at the chance to find him funding. Upon arrival in Anchorage, fully half of the town showed up to greet the film company. The cast and crew would spend three months filming in and around Anchorage, the small mining town of Girdwood, on Childs Glacier, Abercrombie Rapids, and Eyak Lake. The film premiered in the Empress Theatre in Anchorage on December 11, 1923, and played to packed houses across Alaska the next year. Sadly, the film never found a large audience in the continental United States, playing occasionally over the next two years before falling into obscurity. The film was essentially lost until the year 2000, when a print was restored by archivists at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. Three years later, the film was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry.
The Library of Congress's press release when they selected THE CHECHAHCOS to the National Film Registry describes the film as such: "This independent, regional film was the first feature film produced in Alaska, and is renowned for its spectacular location footage of the lonely and unfathomable Alaskan wilderness, frenzied dogsled pursuits, and life-and-death struggles on the glaciers."
A wonderful collection of great historical interest for early film scholars and of the history of Alaskan cinema.