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Hamlin Garland, Multimedia Modern

Hamlin Garland is principally remembered today as a late-nineteenth-century Midwestern regionalist whose fiction and nonfiction—including his fine collection of short stories, Main-Travelled Roads (1891) and his memoir of sorts, A Son of the Middle Border (1917)—depict the hardships of pioneer life on the Middle Border. It is undoubtedly for this reason he has been passed over by the recuperative impulses of recent critical methodologies, the exception being those studies—revisionary and otherwise—dedicated exclusively to American regionalism at its first iteration. It is generally agreed that Garland

experienced great difficulty in making the transition from the agrarian world of his childhood to the urban, industrialized world of his adult years. Perhaps an inability to cope with rapid modernization became the stumbling block along his path of intellectual growth, a growth perceptibly slowed after the turn of the century.[1]

And yet there are so many reasons “for reconsidering Garland,” as Bill Brown, incredulous in the face of Garland’s relative absence from the literary scholarship since the 1980s, asserted over twenty years ago:

[T]he high/low culture opposition was just on its way to rigidifying in America in the last two decades of the century[,] . . . and the modernism/mass culture opposition . . . was just on its way toward surfacing (in the work of [Henry] James, say, and the burgeoning, pre-filmic amusement industry).

Brown also reminds us that Garland’s “realism, like James’, represented the ‘new fiction.’”[2] To my knowledge, Christine Holbo is the only scholar to have taken up Brown’s implicit challenge to reposition Garland in American cultural history. In “Hamlin Garland’s ‘Modernism,’” Holbo speculates that Garland’s use of “modernism” in 1890 to describe Henrik Ibsen’s realism might well form the first use in Anglo-American letters of this term in the sense in which we understand and use it today.[3] More provocatively, she argues that the stories collected in Main-Travelled Roads “challenge expectations of regionalist anti-modernism” such that Garland might not only be “a ‘modern’ writer but even a self-conscious aesthetic ‘modernist’—perhaps America’s first” (1206–07). While I do not directly pursue Holbo’s productive line of inquiry here, I do deploy Garland as a modern whose career usefully registers and even adumbrates the transformations that took place in writing cultures at a time during which, in Garland’s words, “the alteration of our point of view in matters of faith, the rise of great advertising journals, the development of motion pictures” combined “to produce extraordinary and almost bewildering change.”[4] To negotiate such “bewildering change,” he immersed himself in a very modern culture of writing that straddled different modes and different media, most notably motion pictures. I want to claim, then, that Garland, of all people—this “first actual farmer in American fiction”—appeared in the advance guard of the modern.[5]

Mark Storey is similarly alert to Garland’s engagements with modernity in his reading of the ways in which its new technologies (the train) and its popular amusements (the panorama) intrude upon the agrarian heartland of Main-Travelled Roads. But, like Holbo and Brown, Storey, for all his revisionary impulse, continues to focus on Garland’s canonical work of the 1890s. Garland abandoned the highly engagée rural realism of Main-Travelled Roads around 1900 to produce a series of romances that never received the serious literary approbation for which he would continue to yearn. The prevailing narrative of Garland’s career characterizes this shift in his critical fortunes in terms of a fall, one that is generally dated to the appearance of the first of his romances, The Eagle’s Heart (1900), an event that signaled what Brown wryly terms “Garland’s artistic and political ‘defection’” (90). From this point on, Garland would avail himself of the opportunities, as he similarly experienced their capriciousness, of an emerging mass and popular culture in an attempt to find a place therein (if indeed he had one) right up until his death in 1940 in Hollywood.

In what follows, I set aside the populist or regionalist frameworks according to which Garland has to date been understood and turn to his ostensible period of decline, that is, to his writing and writing practices of the early decades of the twentieth century. This “late Garland” is of enormous interest and significance; it anticipates, and thus provides valuable insights into, the sorts of transactions between the literary and film industries that would largely come to characterize expressive culture of the twentieth century more broadly. Repositioning himself as an author in the wake of an array of new technologies, Garland engaged in wholly modern writing practices, culminating in his 1916 photoplay contract with the Vitagraph Company, one of the most influential motion-picture studios of the silent era. Garland thus became, as far as I have been able to discern, the first American literary author to write directly for the new medium of cinema, rehearsing the comparable negotiations with mass culture and its institutions into which modernists such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Nathanael West, and Gertrude Stein would more famously enter nearly two decades later. The Garland who emerges here is not a hokey regionalist but rather a trailblazing modern embodying the seismic shifts in literary culture in the early years of the twentieth century. I suggest that “late Garland” signals the beginnings of the convergence of mass-cultural and literary industries that had heretofore targeted distinct audiences and distinct outlets, a convergence that authors, from the moment precinematic technologies and entertainments arrived on the cultural scene, have henceforth had to negotiate.

An Intermedial Web of Relations

Richard Abel and Amy Rodgers have characterized the culture of the Progressive Era in terms of “an intermedial web of relations” because of the interactions of visual and popular print cultural forms. Examples they provide of this cultural “web” include the “entanglement” of motion pictures with “live performances, from world fairs, Wild West shows, and chautauquas to vaudeville, stage melodrama, and legitimate theatre,” in addition to “dime novels or pulp fiction, newspaper and mass-magazine stories, best-sellers, cartoons, and comic strips.”[6] In terms of literary culture more narrowly conceived, Marsha Orgeron observes that “something in the culture of authorship was changing, and the shift was at least partly a reaction to the motion picture industry.”[7] She takes as her primary example of the interaction of literary and film industrial cultures at this time Jack London’s strikingly odd novel Hearts of Three (1918). London describes the novel’s unusual genesis and mode of composition in its foreword:     

Comes now [scenario writer] Mr Charles Goddard to one, Jack London, saying: “The time, the place, and the men are met; the moving picture producers, the newspapers, and the capital, are ready: let us get together.” And we got. Result: “Hearts of Three.” . . . On the Ranch . . . he wrote his first several episodes. But he wrote faster than I, and was done with his fifteen episodes weeks ahead of me. . . . [W]e worked simultaneously at our respective tasks. I could not build for what was going to happen next or a dozen chapters away, because I did now know.[8]

Of particular interest is London’s account of the shift in American literary culture at this time, which he likewise understood as a consequence of the arrival of narrative cinema:

In a year a single producing company, with a score of directors, is capable of filming the entire literary output of the entire lives of Shakespeare, Balzac, Dickens, Scott, Zola, Tolstoy, and of dozens of less voluminous writers. . . . The film rights in all novels, short stories, and plays that were still covered by copyright were bought or contracted for, while all similar raw material on which copyright had expired was being screened as swiftly as sailors on a placer beach would pick up nuggets. Thousands of scenario writers . . . pirated through all literature (copyright or otherwise), and snatched the magazines hot from the press to steal any new scene or plot hit upon by their writing brethren. (v–vi).[9]

Poster for A Man’s Duty.

The “photographization” or “picturization” of novels, short stories and plays that London here describes was of course not the only way in which motion pictures and literature interacted. As London goes on to write, “[S]cenarios . . . in turn, were translated into novels [and short fiction] by novel-writers” (London, foreword, vii). In January 1920, for example, the short-lived African-American magazine The Competitor published “an early example of a movie tie-in,” a story version of A Man’s Duty, a 1919 race film produced by the Lincoln Motion Picture Company.[10] Other forms in which the increasing entanglement of writing and film cultures emerged included the new genres of film reviewing and theory, such as Vachel Lindsay’s The Art of the Moving Picture (1915); the proliferation of screenwriting manuals from the early 1910s; and the fiction and poetry that, from the 1890s, took motion pictures as their subject: for example, O. Henry’s “Vitagraphoscope” (1904), a parody of a scenario from his Cabbages and Kings (1904); Lindsay’s poems such as “John Bunny, Motion Picture Comedian” (1915), and “Mae Marsh, Motion Picture Actress” (1915); and Anita Loos’s “The Moving Pictures of Blinkville” (1919).[11]

According to Orgeron, London, “[a]though not the first, […] was among those writers on the cutting edge of [the] transitional phenomenon of selling stories to the [motion pictures] industry” (72). So too was Frank Norris, whose novels were, around 1914, “among the first to be considered for film.”[12] But Garland exceeded these more celebrated contemporaries in significant ways: he not only became, to my knowledge, the first American author to adapt his own fiction for the screen, but also the first established American author to write for motion pictures. That is to say, he did not merely sell the subsidiary rights to his fiction in the way that Norris, London, Booth Tarkington, Thomas Dixon, and so many others began to do, but he actually composed scenarios and associated screen writings.[13]

The Bulletin of the Authors’ League of America provides valuable insights into the ways in which writers availed themselves of the opportunities the advent of motion pictures seemed to offer. Garland was elected to the League’s council in 1913 along with other bestselling writers such as Gertrude Atherton, Rex Beach, Ellen Glasgow, Rupert Hughes, London, and Tarkington, and he became its Vice President in 1915; he also had several letters published in the Bulletin, and its May 1918 issue announces his election to the Authors’ League Fund. First published in April 1913, the Bulletin spanned the years Garland was contracted to the Vitagraph Company, as it also spanned what is now referred to as motion pictures’ transition era, that is, the transition from early cinema (the cinema of attractions and actualities) to classical (narrative) cinema. The first issue of the Bulletin clearly laid out the League’s purpose:

the mutual protection and information of authors in their dealings with publishers. It is a purely business and technical organisation, for the purpose of advising writers as to their legal rights and answering practical commercial questions relating to their profession.[14]

This same first issue lists as a League life member Stuart Blackton, one of the co-founders, with Albert E Smith, of the Vitagraph Company. While the League’s purpose as set out in its first bulletin contains no mention of motion pictures, an editor’s note on the second page wonders just how motion pictures will affect authorship, and an article by Beach in that same first issue considers “a new and comparatively untried field,” that is, motion-picture rights. There needs to be, Beach writes,

more thorough and intelligent co-operation between members [of the League] and the [motion picture] producers. Moving pictures are no longer an experiment, they are an institution; they have attained to a dignity equalling that of the drama, with the result that a demand has risen for good material. This demand has increased steadily, as the public taste has improved under the commendable efforts of the manufacturers, and promises to continue to increase.[15]

Motion-picture adaptations of “[f]amous plays” and “literary masterpieces,” Beach continues, in addition to “a market for good plots” and the formation of “several agencies,” have together given rise to “departments for the exclusive handling of moving-picture plays.” From the outset, then, the League took a keen interest in motion pictures, identifying there opportunities for its members and literary culture more widely. In the Bulletin’s second issue—June 1913—Beach is again concerned with motion pictures: since 1911, he writes, literary authors have found a good source of revenue by selling the rights to their short stories for one-reel feature films. But, now, the development of multi-reel features has led to “a demand for more pretentious photoplays” and “many famous books . . . are being photographed.”[16]  (In fact, the novels of living American authors had been adapted for the screen—in one- reelers—at least since Tarkington’s Monsieur Beaucaire in 1905.) Beach encouraged the members of the League to familiarize themselves with these developments and to learn properly to market their books to the studios.

Photo of Blackton on set of Battle Cry of Peace.

On the whole, and over the course of its publication, the League’s Bulletin continued to urge authors to profit from the new medium. To aid in this, it included tips for writing scenarios, advertisements for scenario-writing competitions run by the studios, sample scenarios, advice about rights and copyright, advice on how to negotiate motion-picture contracts, and studio announcements seeking writers of original scenarios. But the Bulletin also contained warnings to those of its members considering crossing over in some way to motion pictures. It published several letters from members complaining that the studios had destroyed their scenarios, turning what they believed was quality into trash. There are also articles warning writers to stay away from motion pictures altogether, to stick to what they do best. (One motion-pictures representative wrote back to this kind of criticism, claiming that motion pictures attracted only the weakest authors).[17] A 1916 issue of the Bulletin reprinted from Photoplay “An Author in Blunderland,” a story that tells of an author seduced—by a serpent no less—to write for motion pictures, with the lure of large financial rewards.[18] On the whole, however, the League, on the evidence of its Bulletin, encouraged its members to embrace the new opportunities motion pictures might offer in terms of additional income and new and larger audiences.

In 1914 , the Bulletin published Blackton’s article, “Literature and the Motion Picture—A Message,” which was essentially a plea for fiction writers to have their work “properly picturized” for motion pictures: “Literature is literally the basic foundation upon which the already gigantic edifice of Picturedom has risen.”[19] For Blackton, motion pictures were a potential, crucial means of the dissemination of (a largely European) high culture: “Shakespeare, Dickens, Thackeray, Scott and Hugo” could become “known to millions of people whose previous acquaintance with their famous names was either very slight or non-existing” (xxvi). Of particular interest to writers such as Garland who were weighing up the pitfalls and benefits of motion-picture dealings must have been Blackton’s claim,

[M]illions upon millions of men, women and children all over the world look upon this form of entertainment as their principal recreation and, incidentally, are being unconsciously educated to understand and appreciate the higher forms of art and culture. . . . In fact, the greatest advertising a novel could receive would be a preliminary exhibition all over the world in pictures. . . . [I]n addition to reproducing well-known plays and successful books, there is a need for big original features, specially written for pictorial presentation. (xxvi–xxvii)

The “need” Blackton here cites refers to the quite dramatic changes that motion pictures were undergoing during the transition era when, from around 1913, one-reeler films were replaced by two- to four-reelers, that is, feature films. Critic Epes W. Sargent wrote in 1913, “Nine-tenths of the real demand to-day is for two-reel photoplay stories.”[20] Copyright laws had also changed: the 1912 Townsend Amendment meant that motion pictures were now included in the 1909 revised Copyright Act. Until then, according to Peter Decherney, “film companies freely adapted works from other media (literature, theater, comic strips, etc.) without permission.”[21] But from 1911,

Film producers needed to obtain permission in order to adapt works for the screen. . . . The exclusive relationships between publishers, theater companies, and movie studios became a staple of the new film market. This vertical integration of media industries allowed for the creation of franchises, series, and authorized adaptations. (54–55)

Around this time as well, as Marian Hansen has noted, the downtown picture palace, with its admission fees, became a means by which the industry might attract a better-paying middle class—not the working class who until now had been the principal patrons of the nickelodeon and early “trick” films or the cinema of attractions. As a consequence of this “bid for cultural respectability” and “the rise to hegemony of the narrative film,” the major studios began to court literary authors in far more structured ways.[22] While Edison Inc. produced guidelines for would-be film scenarists, for example, the Mutual Film Corporation,

[i]n its effort to raise the standard of moving pictures . . . contracted for the stories by many of the most prominent authors of novels and magazine stories [to be] condensed into scenario form and produced upon the lighted screen under the direction of D. W. Griffith, the Mutual’s famous director.[23] 

A few years later, in 1919, Samuel Goldwyn’s Eminent Authors became the most structured attempt to date by the studios to lure authors to motion pictures. The Eminent Authors comprised a group of bestselling writers, including Atherton, Hughes, Maurice Maeterlinck, and Somerset Maugham, who were to “film their own works, under the guidance of Beach.”[24] From the early 1910s, then, motion-pictures studios invested in stories and scenarios as well as career scenarists, and established authors of page and stage. Together these factors combined to provide new opportunities—and risks—for literary authors.

“The Photo-Play Situation”

Garland set out to investigate the potential of the motion-picture market as early as January 1913 when he approached pioneering filmmaker Thomas Ince (who specialized in, and is generally thought to have established, the genre of the film Western) in regard to a screen adaptation of the highly successful A Son of the Middle Border.[25] Correspondence from July 1913 between Garland and Beach also reveals Garland’s early interest in “the photo-play situation.” Beach explains to Garland, “Conditions have changed greatly within the last few weeks and I think I can now help you to dispose of your motion picture rights on a better basis than has ever been offered” (Beach to Garland, July 21, 1913). One year later, Garland approached Jesse L. Lasky, who in 1913 set up the Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company, and William N. Selig, whose Selig Polyscope Company was the first Los Angeles-based studio. In June 1914, Garland wrote to Lasky:

Let me have an early report on the two books which I have offered you, so that I can make my plans for the summer. . . . I am anxious to get these books before other firms, in case you find them unavailable. I have not written Mr. Demille, as you said you were about to do so. (Garland to Lasky, June 1, 1914)[26]

Garland hoped Selig would be interested in producing one of his Western romances—The Captain of the Gray-Horse Troop—making clear that he had already had “one or two offers from New York firms” (Garland to Selig, June 3, 1914).

Although nothing came from these early inquiries, “the motion-picture bug had bitten” Garland.[27] Thus, when his friend Augustus Thomas, a successful Broadway playwright and the director-general of the All Star Feature Corporation, invited him out to All Star’s Yonkers studio in May 1914 to “see how a screen drama is made,” Garland accepted:

It was a highly educative hour for me. The huge shed was so noisy that the director was forced to use a megaphone in addressing the actors. The blinding lights, the players moving aimlessly about, the carpenter’s hammering, sawing, and snarling, made the place a pandemonium. “How can a worthy art rise out of such confusion?” I asked myself. Nevertheless I found that on the same day I wrote a letter to one of the leading companies in answer to a suggestion that I compose a scenario on the life of Grant. (13–14)[28]

However, it would be another two years before Garland entered into what became successful negotiations with the Vitagraph Company, the studio that was integral to altering perceptions of motion pictures with its attempts to become “the most prolific producer of ‘high art’ subjects, that is, films based on biblical, literary and historical texts.”[29] Vitagraph had worked with literary materials from its very founding in 1897, adapting to the screen American and European works such as Tarkington’s Monsieur Beaucaire (1900; A Gentleman of France, 1905) and Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist (1837; A Modern Oliver Twist, 1906) in response to the moral (and aesthetic) criticism of motion pictures. Now, Hamlin Garland was to play a crucial role in this project. Between 1916 and 1918, Vitagraph produced four of Garland’s Colorado mountain romances. Unfortunately, Hesper of the Mountains (1916, dir. Wilfred North), The Captain of the Gray Horse Troop (1917, dir. William Wolbert), Money Magic (1917, dir. William Wolbert) and Cavanaugh [sic] of the Forest Rangers (1918, dir. William Wolbert)—the five-reel films that were adapted from these novels—are assumed lost.[30] Nonetheless, with the novels from which they emerged, they form a significant contribution to the developing genre of the cinematic Western, which not only came to dominate the early decades of American motion-picture production but also overtook earlier popular forms such as Wild West shows and dime novels as the means by which the West and its narratives were circulated. As Garland wrote in Companions on the Trail (1931), “I must claim priority over Zane Grey and other authors of ‘Westerns,’ as they are called in motion-picture circles. Owen Wister and I were early in the field.”[31]

In a trajectory that would become all too familiar twenty years later—in the wake of sound film and its concomitant demand for dialogued screenplays, and in the wake of the Depression during which Hollywood, against all odds, initially thrived—Garland was attracted to the motion pictures industry by the promise of vast sums of money. In the early 1890s he had bought a home for his parents in West Salem, Wisconsin, and he now also had a wife and two daughters to support, just as his literary fortunes were on a downward trend subsequent to his turn away from prairie realism to romance. In Back-Trailers from the Middle Border Garland recalls, “while I set forth on this [February 1916] afternoon for the office of the Vitagraph Company with no definite expectation of selling the rights to my stories I secretly nursed a timid hope that fortune might somehow, in some form, come my way.”[32] Blackton assured Garland he would soon earn enough to ride around in his own automobile (Garland, My Friendly Contemporaries, 101).

The appeal of motion pictures for Garland too had something to do with his theories of an indigenous American literature and the socializing and political ambitions of that literature, particularly as it confronted its British and European counterparts. Absolutely central to Garland’s realism (or “veritism,” as he termed it) is its multipronged democratic impulse: the comprehensive circulation of an indigenous literature to forge and bind an imagined community; a literature that is representative of all Americans, including women and children; and a literature to which more marginalized writers might have access.[33] Garland gives his most illuminating account of his hopes for an American or democratic literature in Crumbling Idols (1894). Concerned “America is not yet democratic in art, whatever it may claim to be in politics,” he prophesies its coming, born

not of drawing-room culture, nor of imitation, nor of fear of masters, nor will it come from homes of great wealth. It will come from the average American home, in the city as well as in the country. It will deal with all kinds of conditions. It will be born of the mingling seas of men in the vast interior of America, because there the problem of the perpetuity of democracy, the question of the liberty as well as the nationality of our art, will be fought out.[34]

Many authors as well as filmmakers agreed that the potential of motion pictures to educate and elevate the American people, spread across a vast continent, lay in its ability to reach a mass audience.  In 1914, D. W. Griffith wrote,

[T]he great writers of the present day and the great authors of the years to come will deliver their messages to the waiting world by means of the photoplay, and millions of people will see and understand who would never read the message at all, and whose minds would not be attuned to its message.[35]

For London, writing in 1915, motion pictures were a means to “[distribute] knowledge in a language that all may understand.”[36] Likewise, and rather ironically, it was in motion pictures that Garland recognized opportunities not only for the creation of a broader imagined community, but also, and like Griffith, for the dissemination of the greatest works of literature—including his own—to the American people, and in that way to forge and circulate even beyond the reach of print culture’s expanding market a self-consciously American culture.

Garland and Popular Culture

While Garland’s Vitagraph contract represents his first successful foray into motion pictures, his writings from 1891 reveal a real fascination and fluency with the popular entertainments and technological innovations of his time.[37] Main-Travelled Roads, for example, includes references to soap-advertising lithographs, and newspaper reporters, and his fascinating but critically overlooked 1900 short story, “The Electric Lady,” tells of a side-show performer. The novels he adapted for the screen also refer to a variety of popular entertainments and new technologies in order to present and ultimately endorse what he terms in a 1910 essay “the New West,” that is, a West that engages “the future and not the present, the Federal and not the local spirit.”[38] Across these four novels, then, we read of circuses and music-halls; the theatre, opera, and ballet; magazines, lithography, cartoons, and advertising; photography, cameras, and even, in Hesper, “a shadowy moving picture”; agricultural machinery and the automobile (“a vehicle of such power and beauty”); and telegraphy and telephony—indeed, the romance plot of Cavanagh, Forest Ranger depends almost entirely upon the telephone, a technology Garland elsewhere equates with “pure modernness” itself.[39] Further, Garland’s diaries, which he scrupulously kept from 1897 until his death in 1940, provide a fascinating record of his responses to many of the period’s innovations: a vacuum cleaner is “quite marvelous the way in which it ‘ate up’ the dust, leaving the air quite clean. It made the old idea of sweeping seem quite barbarous and vilely unsanitary”; and his “fancy is stirred” to acknowledge that “within the scope of my adult life . . . I have seen the budding and the blooming of electrical flowers, the assembling of the mechanical type setter, the hatching of the flying machine and the birth of the motor.”[40]

It is quite feasible that Garland received his first experiences of popular culture, beyond the illustrated magazines and almanacs that formed a good portion of his reading growing up on the prairie, during his visit to the World’s Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893.[41] While his autobiographical writings, letters and diaries are generally devoid of commentary on the Exposition, A Son of the Middle Border briefly alludes to the “polyglot amazements of the Midway,” where the sideshows and concessions were located, and his own “amaze[ment] at the grandeur of ‘The White City,’” a series of exhibition buildings named for their white stucco architecture and the street lights that illuminated them. Garland also reveals that, with his family, he stayed in accommodation near the Exposition’s west gate, that is, near the Midway Plaisance (458–59). To get to the White City, then, the family would necessarily have passed through “the bewildering sights and sounds of the Midway” (461). Here, they may well have seen Eadweard Muybridge’s zoopraxiscope, which presented motion sequences deploying

discs with hand-drawn images (some coloured) taken from his sequence photographs of animals and athletes using his . . . projector. Audiences would have seen life-size animated images in brief motion. . . . The Zoopraxographical Hall [where these sequences were shown] was arguably therefore the world’s first moving image theatre.[42]

The Electricity Building, located in the White City, which the Garlands visited, housed another visual entertainment, Ottomar Anschuetz’s 1887 Electro-Tachyscope. According to the Fair’s official program, “In this apparatus, the natural motion of objects and animals is reproduced with a degree of truth and accuracy that is absolutely bewildering.”[43] Garland may also have attended the hugely popular “Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World,” which set up next to the official Exposition grounds and attracted an audience of over two million.

The Electro-Tachyscope.

It was inside the séance room that Garland experienced most directly and over many years various popular visual forms and technologies, such as photography and the magic lantern, that were used to project spirit images. As a member of the Boston-based American Psychical Society from 1891, it was his role to assess the authenticity or otherwise of spirit mediums and their practices, and in that capacity, he travelled the country over the course of the next forty-five years or so, documenting what he read, saw, and heard in an extensive series of magazine articles and books. These writings are invaluable for the insights they provide not only into a highly important form of popular culture but also the ways in which this was largely dependent upon new auditory, visual, and inscriptive technologies. Spiritualist writings and activities, as has been well documented, coincided with the emergence of related technologies of phonography, photography, wireless, X-ray, and film. As Garland insightfully wrote in 1936, spiritualism was “a phase of modern life”; or, as Daniel Herman more recently put it, “spiritualism brought Americans from a pre-industrial past to a mass cultural present.”[44] Accordingly, over the course of his forty years of psychic research, Garland frequently drew on the discourse of mass entertainment to map the major technologies of mechanical reproduction and electrical communication as he witnessed

tables float and chairs move without contact. . . . I have seen a tin cone soaring like a dragon-fly over my head. I have had “ideoplastic” hands touch my knees, write on slates under my foot and between my palms. I have secured writing in a closed pad while it was held in my own hand, and I have seen bursting flames and masses of white vapor floating in the air.[45]

He labels séances as, variously, the performance, the act, and the show; the curtained-off alcove in the séance room functions as a conceit for the stage or the projection booth; the darkened room itself resembles the darkened room of the nickelodeon or motion-picture palace; Garland even refers to an “intermission” during a séance (Garland, Forty Years of Psychic Research, 119, 120, 85).[46] With levitating objects, pianos that play by themselves, the appearance and disappearance of phantoms in and out of dark chambers, Garland’s “universe of wonder” is nothing less than what Tom Gunning termed “a cinema of attractions.”[47] Furthermore, the spirit photographs and ectoplasm, and the materializations and impersonations he describes across his psychic writings all depended upon, or are analogous with, pre-filmic amusements such as the magic lantern and stereopticon, as well as X-ray and early motion-picture technology.[48] In The Shadow World (1908), for example, Garland describes a séance during which there issues forth

from a little bedroom a figure which was unmistakably not a mechanism. A lamp was burning in the room, and the young fellow was perfectly visible at the same moment as the phantom which stood and bowed three times. . . . It looked like a man’s figure swathed in some white drapery. I could not see the face, but it was certainly not a “dummy.”[49]

Garland’s role in the American Psychical Society thus exposed him to a range of emerging entertainment technologies he might not otherwise have encountered, and thus provided him with experiences and knowledge that, arguably, positioned him well to enter the motion-pictures industry.

Garland at Vitagraph, 1916–18

When Garland signed on to Vitagraph in June 1916, the Flatbush-based company had been in existence for two decades (it would be bought out by Warner Bros. in 1925). It was one of the three most important studios of the silent era—the other two were, it is generally agreed, Edison and Biograph: “Biograph has been called ‘the cradle of the movies.’ If this is so, Vitagraph was certainly the movie nursery and kindergarten,” wrote Blackton.[50] According to Garland’s contract, the studio agreed to “produce each of the said photoplays [of four of his novels] in a first-class manner . . . [and] to state on the screen of said photoplays the name of the author, and to display the same . . . on all posters and advertising matter.”[51] The archive, containing correspondence, contracts, and scenario and other materials that comprise the record of Garland’s motion-picture career, reveals that he wrote synopses or treatments, titles, scene lists, and even instructions for color tinting; he also attended rehearsals to provide advice regarding the shooting of each of the four film adaptations. Bert Ennis, Vitagraph’s press agent and music supervisor, and Clara Beranger, a Vitagraph screenwriter, wrote illuminating accounts of the studio’s pre-production processes during Garland’s tenure. A writer would produce a treatment or synopsis of the novel, play or story to be adapted; either that same or a different writer would then compose a list of scenes from the treatment; the titles and inserts (for example, images of letters or newspapers) would subsequently be composed if required; and only then would the technical directions such as fades be added. According to Beranger, it was during this last stage that the writer would confer with art and technical directors to create the final scenario that was “pretty nearly as you see the picture on the screen.”[52] Remarkably, Garland was involved in every one of these stages over the course of the production of his four novels. For the filming of Money Magic, the first of his novels Vitagraph produced, he even composed instructions for color tinting.[53] For Garland, “tinting . . . would add greatly to the charm of the piece. . . . [S]uch treatment . . . would relieve the monotony of that gray-white effect which is ghastly on the face of the actors.”[54]

Vitagraph’s Flatbush studio.

Garland also had significant input as regards the choice of location for the shooting of each of his productions, although his wishes were for the most part ignored due to budget constraints. For example, with the third of his screen redactions—of one of his Western novels, The Captain of the Gray-Horse Troop—he had hoped the shoot would take place on location in Cheyenne country in Montana or Wyoming “with the Cheyenne themselves as actors.” However, in the end, the film was shot in Vitagraph’s new Californian studio, something that “disturb[ed]” Garland “greatly”: “I fear it means a cheap and hurried production,” he wrote (My Friendly Contemporaries, 139).[55] Garland was also keen to preface the narrative with what would have been a most powerful series of scenes, evidently inspired by Vitagraph’s (now lost) Battle Cry of Peace (1915), depicting

Cheyenne life before the white man came. . . . I have in mind three great introductory pictures. One, the coming of the explorers; second, the arrival of the treaty makers; third, the breaking of the treaty and a declaration of war; fourth, the imprisonment of the Cheyenne on the reservation. This final picture would lead directly to the beginning of my story of modern reservation life.[56]

A surviving and undated three-page typed synopsis of The Captain of the Gray-Horse Troop suggests that these introduced scenes were not included in the final film version.

Perhaps most significantly, Garland read and revised scenarios that, after his composition of the respective story treatments, had been initially produced by Vitagraph’s in-house writers—or, as Garland termed them, “hack writers”—such as Joseph Poland and A. Van Buren Powell. We know from extant correspondence that the scenarios of each of the four film adaptations in question were sent on to Garland for “additions and corrections” and Garland’s revised scenarios were used as the final shooting scripts (Jasper Brady to Garland, April 20, 1916). In one instance, Money Magic, Garland ended up writing the scenario himself after his “little hack scenario writer”—possibly Powell, who received screen credit for Money Magic’s scenario—was taken off the property” (Garland, My Friendly Contemporaries, 123–24). The shooting of Garland’s last Vitagraph property, Cavanaugh of the Forest Rangers, was delayed in order to provide Garland as much time as possible to make revisions to the scenario (J. Stuart Blackton to Garland, April 18, 1917). On the whole, Garland was fairly critical of the scenarios produced by Vitagraph’s in-house writers, deeming them formulaic. He declared, for example, that Poland’s scenario of his novel Hesper, a narrative about the Cripple Creek mining war, was “[f]illed with conventional motion-picture concepts and capable only of stereotyped phrases” (Garland, My Friendly Contemporaries, 101). Nevertheless, what is quite clear is that Garland played a significant role in the production of all four of these adaptations, including the composition of their scenarios, a highly unusual undertaking for a literary author at this point in the history of motion pictures.

Garland’s retrospective appraisals of his four Vitagraph films were mixed. He was pleased with the production process and end result of only one of his adaptations, Money Magic, which is perhaps not surprising since this was the only one of his adaptations for which he composed the entire scenario. Money Magic, he concluded, was “very well done” (136). It was likewise reviewed as “[a]n absorbing drama of Western folk. . . . One of the most gripping plays of the month.”[57] But he was disappointed with the processes and final film versions of the remaining three: concerning Hesper, he recalled,

I was deeply disheartened by the cheap and uninspired way in which the story had been filmed. Instead of the great peaks of the Rampart Range for background they had used a row of Jersey hills. In place of my bold Rocky Mountain gold seekers and free miners, the producer had used Pennsylvania coal miners whose lamps and blackened faces were ludicrously out of place. (My Friendly Contemporaries, 119)

For reasons I have been unable to ascertain, but possibly because of Vitagraph’s declining fortunes, Garland’s contract was not renewed after the release of Cavanaugh of the Forest Rangers in 1918, and indeed the studio was sold to Warner Bros. shortly after, in 1925. There is evidence to indicate that Garland continued to seek a motion-picture outlet for his writing—he once more approached Ince in 1921, for example—and he enthusiastically welcomed, at its inception at least, the advent of film sound, as well as broadcast radio and even the microphone, all of which technologies he regarded as potential correctives to the “dreadful voices” of so many Americans.[58] In particular, he wrote, “The scope of [sound film] is limitless. It will carry the American language all over the world, along with American shoes, hats and cigarettes” (24). And yet, towards the end of his life, he became disabused of the promise of motion pictures to realize his vision of the circulation of an American literature. In 1938, in an address to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, he announced,

That screen plays [films] have been among the chief agencies in cheapening our fictional and dramatic writing cannot be denied. They have not only pandered to the taste of the public, they have profoundly influenced the novelist who kept in mind as he wrote, the possible sale of motion picture rights. . . . That the screen became still more powerful when it took on sound and color must also be granted.[59]

Regardless of the perceived success or otherwise of his motion-picture experiences, in his attempts to hitch his career to the upstart medium, Garland anticipated the impact the arrival of motion pictures would have on literary authorship and culture more broadly in the early twentieth century. He blazed the trail for a wave of authors who attempted to take advantage of the studios’ increasing need for material and writers, and in a new market targeting a global audience. That he was in all likelihood the first living American author to enter into all facets of the new mode of “picturization” means that we can no longer neglect this unexpectedly thoroughly modern writer. Casting wider our nets thus to consider a relatively obscure case in the context of modernity and modernism and the relations among them means we in turn acknowledge the constellation of narratives and discourses that comprise early twentieth-century literary culture and consequently challenge the fetish of aesthetic experimentalism that continues to characterize much scholarship concerning the early twentieth century. In this way might we fully understand an incipient American modernist culture, its practices and its modes of transmission and consumption.


I am extremely grateful for a 2011 University of Southern California Library Wallis Annenberg Research Grant, which enabled me to examine the library’s extensive Hamlin Garland Collection.

[1] Charles L. P. Silet, Robert E. Welch, and Richard Boudreau, introduction to The Critical Reception of Hamlin Garland: 1891–1978, ed. Silet, Welch, and Boudreau (Troy, NY: Whitston, 1985), 1–13, 2.

[2] Bill Brown, “The Popular, the Populist, and the Populace: Locating Hamlin Garland in the Politics of Culture,” Arizona Quarterly 50, no. 3 (1994): 89–110, 99; emphasis added.

[3] Christine Holbo, “Hamlin Garland’s ‘Modernism,’” English Literary History 80, no. 4 (2013): 1205–36, 1209. See also Hamlin Garland, “Ibsen as a Dramatist,” Arena 2 (1890): 72–82, 72.

[4] Quoted in Joyce Kilmer, “Says New York Makes Writers Tradesmen,” New York Times Magazine, May 28, 1916, 12–13, 13.

[5] Garland ascribes this claim to his friend Joseph Kirkland, the author of Zury, in Hamlin Garland, A Son of the Middle Border (1917; rpt. New York: MacMillan, 1920), 371.

[6] Richard Abel and Amy Rodgers, “Early Motion Pictures and Popular Print Culture: A Web of Ephemera,” in The Oxford History of Popular Print Culture, vol. 6, US Popular Print Culture 1860–1920, ed. Christine Bold (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 191–209, 191. Intermediality, like the related concepts of transmediality, convergence, and remediation, has in this century gained significant currency to describe the relations between media. However, as some media scholars such as Erkki Huhtamo and Jussi Parikka have recently noted, this scholarship remains largely unhistoricized: it ignores media’s historic ruptures and temporalities (Huhtamo and Parikka, “Introduction: An Archaeology of Media Archaeology,” in Media Archaeology: Approaches, Applications, and Implications, ed. Huhtamo and Parikka [Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011], 1–24).  To ask, as I do here with reference to Garland, just exactly how authors and writing cultures responded to the emergence of a potentially great rival—motion pictures—and vice versa, goes some way in addressing this gap in the scholarship.

[7] Marsha Orgeron, Hollywood Ambitions: Celebrity in the Movie Age (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2008), 73.

[8] Jack London, foreword to Hearts of Three (New York: Macmillan, 1920), v–ix, vii.

[9] See Orgeron, Hollywood Ambitions, 88–97, for a more detailed account of the composition and plot of Hearts of Three, which first appeared in book form in 1918 (that is, after London’s death in 1916), and was then serialized in the New York Evening Journal and Oakland Tribune in 1919.

[10] Barbara Lupack, Literary Adaptations in Black American Cinema: From Micheaux to Morrison (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2002), 79.

[11] The title of O’Henry’s story is clearly a combination of Vitagraph (the studio) and Vitascope, an early technology of film projection.

[12] Michael Wutz, Enduring Words: Literary Narrative in a Changing Media Ecology (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2009), 12.

[13] Best-selling authors Irving S. Cobb, Rupert Hughes and Zane Grey, along with several professional scenarists such as Leroy Scott, Wallace Irwin, and Nina Wilcox Putnam jointly composed the scenario for the forty-reel, twenty-episode Graft (1915; lost). Thomas Dixon had some oversight of the making of The Birth of a Nation (dir. D. W. Griffith, 1915) but nothing to compare with Garland’s hands-on contributions at each stage of the pre-production of the adaptation of his four romances, as I explain. And, although a September 1919 Photoplay article proclaims Beach “the first author to personally supervise his works in the filming,” Laughin’ Bill Hyde, which was released in 1918 by Rex Beach Pictures Company, was in fact Beach’s first foray into scenario writing, and thus two years after Garland’s. See Delight Evans, “He Rolled Up His Sleeves,” Photoplay 16, no. 1 (1919): 50–51, 50.

[14]  Bulletin of the Authors’ League of America (April 1913): 6. No author.

[15] Rex Beach, “Editor’s Note,” Bulletin of the Authors’ League of America (April 1913): 2–5, 5.

[16] Rex Beach, “Photo Plays,” Bulletin of the Authors’ League of America (June 1913): 6–8, 6.

[17] “What Is the Matter with Your Motion Picture Scenario? By a New York Agent,” Bulletin of the Authors’ League of America (November 1918): 14–16, 14.

[18] Channing Pollock, “An Author in Blunderland,” Photoplay 1916; rpt., Bulletin of the Authors’ League of America (October 1916): 4–11, 4–7.

[19] J. Stuart Blackton, “Literature and the Motion Picture—A Message,” Bulletin of the Authors’ League of America (February 1914): xxv–xxviii, xxv.

[20] Epes W. Sargent, “Those Two Reel Stories,” Moving Picture World 17, no. 8 (1913): 837.

[21] Peter Decherney, Hollywood’s Copyright Wars: From Edison to the Internet (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012), 36.

[22] Miriam Hansen, “Early Silent Cinema: Whose Public Sphere?,” New German Critique 29, no. 10 (1983): 147–84, 151. According to Torey Liepa, motion-picture producers started to seek out literary authors as early as 1912, when the Indiana-based Photoplay Enterprise Association announced a scenario contest in the pages of Moving Picture World. See Torey Liepa, “Figures of Silent Speech: Silent Film Dialogue and the American Vernacular, 1909–1916” (PhD diss., New York University, 2008), 211.

[23] “Authors for Mutual Film,” Motography 11, no. 1 (1914): 14. Edison Inc.’s scenario guidelines are held in the “Edison Manufacturing Co., scripts,” Film Study Center, Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), New York City.

[24] Cal York, “Plays and Players,” Photoplay 26, no. 5 (1919): 86–130, 130.

[25] Garland to Ince, January 21, 1913, Hamlin Garland papers, Collection no. 0200, Special Collections, USC Libraries, University of Southern California.

[26] Cecil B. DeMille was Lasky’s partner, with Sam Goldwyn and Oscar Apfel, in Jesse L. Lasky’s Feature Play Company.

[27] Hamlin Garland, My Friendly Contemporaries: A Literary Log (New York: Macmillan, 1932), 14.

[28] It is not clear to which “leading company” he here refers.

[29] Roberta E. Pearson and William Uricchio, Reframing Culture: The Case of the Vitagraph Quality Films (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), 3.

[30] These are adaptations of, respectively, Garland’s The Captain of the Gray-Horse Troop (1902), Hesper (1903), Money Magic (1907), and Cavanagh: Forest Ranger (1910).

[31] Hamlin Garland, Companions on the Trail: A Literary Chronicle (New York: Macmillan, 1931), 13–14. While Owen Wister’s 1902 novel The Virginian is often considered the first Western, in fact Garland had already published his own, The Eagle’s Heart, two years earlier in 1900.

[32] Hamlin Garland, Back-Trailers from the Middle Border (New York: Macmillan, 1928), 20.

[33] On veritism, see especially Hamlin Garland, “Productive Conditions of American Literature,” Forum 27 (August 1894): 690–94. See Richard Brodhead’s seminal account of regionalism, the new mass magazines, and circulation in “The Reading of Regions,” in Cultures of Letters: Scenes of Reading and Writing in Nineteenth-Century America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 107–41. Brodhead argues that regionalism—its short stories particularly—depended for its very life on increased circulation resulting from advances in various communications (particularly pertaining to printing) and transportational technologies.

[34] Hamlin Garland, Crumbling Idols: Twelve Essays on Art Dealing Chiefly with Literature, Painting and the Drama (Chicago: Stone and Kimball, 1894), 8, 189–90.

[35] Griffith is quoted in Russell E. Smith, “The Belasco of the Motion Picture Art,” Motography 11, no. 8 (1914): 261–62, 261.

[36] Jack London, “The Message of Motion Pictures,” in Authors on Film, ed. Harry M. Geduld (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1972), 104–07, 106. London’s article first appeared in Paramount Magazine in February 1915.

[37] Mark Storey and Christine Holbo make comparable observations. See Storey, Rural Fictions, Urban Realities: A Geography of Gilded Age American Literature (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), especially 36–42; and Holbo, “Hamlin Garland’s ‘Modernism.’”

[38] Hamlin Garland, “My Aim in Cavanagh,” The World’s Work 20, no. 8 (1910): 13,569. See also Chapter 3 of Cavanagh, Forest Ranger, in which Forest Supervisor Redfield waxes lyrical about the coming of the New West: “If a neat and tidy village or a well-ordered farmstead is not considered superior to a cattle-ranch littered with bones and tin cans, or better than even a cow-town whose main industry is whiskey-selling, then all civilized progress is a delusion.” Garland, Cavanagh, Forest Ranger (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1910), 40.

[39] Hamlin Garland, Hesper (New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1903), 223; Hamlin Garland, “Automobiling in the West,” Harper’s Weekly 46 (September 6, 1902), 1254; Garland, “Ibsen as Dramatist,” 39.

[40] Diary entry, April, 1912,  Item 707a, excerpts from the Garland Diaries, original incomplete, Hamlin Garland papers, USC; “On an Old Magazine,” three typed pages, no date, item 409, Hamlin Garland papers, USC.

[41] For an account of his early reading habits, see Garland, A Son of the Middle Border, 89, 114, 120–21.

[42] Luke McKernan, “Victorian ‘Cinemas,’” Who’s Who of Victoria Cinema Website,

[43] World’s Columbian Exposition: Official Catalogue of Exhibits on the Midway Plaisance (Chicago: W. B. Conkey Company, 1893), 11. Available online at “Exhibits on the Midway Plaisance, 1893,” Encyclopedia of Chicago,

[44] Hamlin Garland, Forty Years of Psychic Research: A Plain Narrative of Fact (New York: Macmillan, 1936), 146; Daniel Herman, “Whose Knocking?: Spiritualism as Entertainment and Therapy in Nineteenth-Century San Francisco,” American Nineteenth Century History 7, no. 3 (2006): 417–42, 437.

[45] Hamlin Garland, “The Spirit World on Trial,” McClure’s 52, no. 3 (1920): 33–92, 33.

[46] Additionally, Tom Gunning notes, “[T]he images that appear in [spirit] photographs were generally described with the . . . term extras.” See Gunning, “Phantom Images and Modern Manifestations: Spirit Photography, Magic Theater, Trick Films and Photography’s Uncanny,” in Fugitive Images from Photography to Video, ed. Patrice Petro (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995), 42–71, 51.

[47] Garland, Forty Years of Psychic Research, 184. Tom Gunning, “The Cinema of Attractions: Early Film, Its Spectator and the Avant-Garde,” Wide Angle 8, nos. 3–4 (1986): 63–70.

[48] Ectoplasm, also known as “etheric fluid,” “resembles smoke but easily becomes viscous. . . . Sometimes it exudes from the body of the psychic as a vapor and settles on her dress like hoar frost” (Garland, Forty Years of Psychic Research, 128). Ectoplasm was part of the discourse of fluids, energy, and relays that characterized so much popular science writing at this time, concerning, for example, new telecommunications technologies, and it finds its analogy in electricity.

[49] Hamlin Garland, The Shadow World (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1908), 103.

[50] J. Stuart Blackton, “Yesterdays of Vitagraph,” Photoplay 26, no. 1 (1919): 28–32, 28.

[51] Garland’s contract with the Vitagraph Company, June 21, 1916, item 669, Hamlin Garland papers, USC.

[52] Clara Beranger, “The Story,” in Introduction to the Photoplay: 1929: A Contemporary Account of the Transition to Sound in Film, ed. John C. Tibbetts (Los Angeles: National Film Society, 1977), 136–57, 142. See also Bert Ennis, “Them Were the Happy Days: The Vitagraph Years,” Motion Picture Classic, vol. xxiv, no. 2, October 1926, pp. 18–19, 45.

[53] According to Joshua Yumibe, applied color techniques “were common in the cinema through the mid-1920s,” a technique derived from magic-lantern slides and photography (Joshua Yumibe, Moving Color: Early Film, Mass Culture, Modernism [New York: Rutgers University Press, 2012], 3).

[54] Hamlin Garland, “Suggestions for tinting,” item 668h, Money Magic, typed carbon copy, one leaf, Hamlin Garland Collection, USC.

[55] For this same property, there had also been talk of Eanger Irving Couse, “the Indian Painter,” helping to arrange “our scenes of Indian life and also in our costuming” (Garland, My Friendly Contemporaries, 112).

[56] A one-page fragment, “The Red Pioneer,” which was the sometime title of The Captain of the Gray-Horse Troop, reveals that Garland envisaged “an introductory reel showing the early stages of the red mans [sic] history” comprising seven scenes: before the Whiteman; The Coming of the Whiteman; “the white man is trading with the Indians”; the Indians “decided to drive the invader away”; “Captivity” on the reservation; and “Before the President,” who promises to replace “the bad agent” with “a brave man a soldier.” Only then does the plot recognizable from Garland’s novel begin (“The Red Pioneer,” Item 197 [also] [Gray Horse], 1p., n.d., Hamlin Garland Collection, USC).

[57] Hazel Simpson Naylor, review of Money Magic, Motion Picture Magazine (May 1917): 9.

[58] Hamlin Garland, “The Value of Melodious Speech,” Emerson Quarterly (November 1929): 5–24, 22.

[59] Hamlin Garland, “Literary Fashions Old and New: An Address for the American Academy,” Item 606, New York, b, typed fair copy, thirteen leaves, November 1938, Hamlin Garland Collection, USC.