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Lost Film Lantern Slides

Lost Film Lantern Slides

Before 1929, most films were “silent,” although they were typically accompanied by live music. A study conducted by the Library of Congress estimated that nearly 80% of all silent feature films produced in the United States, including numerous major Hollywood releases, are “lost,” meaning no copies are known to exist. Even though film historians have largely glossed over the missing majority of lost films, visual and textual traces can be found by assiduous researchers. The Clements Library contains an unexpected cache of brilliantly colored magic lantern slides which were projected in 1920s movie theaters as advertisements and previews. Among these slides are striking promotional imagery of a dozen lost films involving future Hollywood luminaries like director Frank Capra and star Claudette Colbert as well as “Babe” Ruth, who attempted a brief career as a movie star shortly after setting the home-run record and winning the World Series in 1927. Although we will probably never be able to see any of the films advertised, these lantern slides offer tantalizing glimpses of some of the countless stories, scenes, and performances that were lost when all known copies of the original 35mm nitrate film prints perished or were discarded. 

Good and Naughty, dir. Malcolm St. Clair, Paramount Pictures: 1926. Lantern Slide and Glass Plate Negatives Collection, Box 7.

Good and Naughty remade Avery Hopwood’s stage play, “Naughty Cinderella” into a silent romantic comedy film. The preview slide depicts co-stars Pola Negri and Tom Moore in an embrace. No prints of this film exist in any archives.

Figures Don’t Lie marked one of the many successes in the long career of popular actress Esther Ralston, whom some fans knew as “The American Venus.” Ralston was a major Paramount star and among Hollywood’s top-paid actresses, earning the present-day equivalent of $110,000 per week. In Figures Don’t Lie, Ralston shocked fans with her revealing costumes, including a tight one-piece swimsuit.  With a hand-painted orange background, the glass slide includes a large picture of Ralston’s character with the two other main characters occupying the bottom right corner. 

Figures Don’t Lie, dir. A. Edward Sutherland, October 8, 1927. Lantern Slides and Glass Plate Negatives Collection, Box 5.

Broadway Nights, dir. Joseph C. Boyle, May 15, 1927. First National Pictures, Long Island, New York. Lantern Slides and Glass Plate Negatives Collection, Box 6.

“Broadway Nights” follows the music hall duo, Fannie and Johnny, as they face personal and professional challenges when Fannie is offered a Broadway opportunity. The film features the screen debut of Barbara Stanwyck who was not officially credited until the later film, The Locked Door, in 1929. The muted yellow hand-painted, transparent glass is framed by cardboard and displays a woman posing in a 1920’s dancing outfit alongside the same woman and child in a bubble.

Advertised as a classic love story, The Whirlwind of Youth was a silent film starring Lois Moran and Donald Keith as lovers who encounter a series of obstacles on their way to true romance.

The Whirlwind of Youth, dir. Rowland V. Lee, Paramount Pictures: 1924. Lantern Slides and Glass Plate Negatives, Box 7.

Babe Comes Home, Ted Wilde, 1927. Photo Repro Co., Inc., Long Island, NY. Lantern Slides and Glass Plate Negatives Collection, Box 5

Standing out as the only sports film represented in the collection, Babe Comes Home is an important reminder that prominent athletes held a place in silent cinema. This film merges love and sports, playing upon early themes of gender norms and normalized substance abuse. The hand-painted glass slide features Babe Ruth, along with the director and producer, surrounded by a cardboard exterior branded with manufacturing label and date.