1918-1919 Influenza Pandemic Effects

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T0m M

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1918-1919 Influenza Pandemic Effects

PostMon Sep 05, 2011 12:00 pm

While it is barely remembered to-day, the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 killed more people than the Great War, with fatality estimates ranging from 50-100 million. In the USA alone, the influenza was contracted by an estimated 25-30% of the population with the death toll being 500,000 - 675,000, 4-5 times the US casualties in the war.

Despite the ravages of the pandemic, there is little concrete evidence of it's affects on the movie industry. There are general statements that it drastically reduced box office sales and forced many smaller studios and theatres out of business, but there are no sources to back them up or figures to quantify the magnitude of the effect.

With the soles exception Lillian Gish's autobiography, there are no first hand accounts among the books in my library. Lillian mentions a personal, severe bout of the flu and notes there were five deaths among the Griffith company but names only one. The only actors I'm aware of that died from the influenza are True Boardman and Harold Lockwood.

The lack of references to the pandemic in silent film related literature would lead one to believe that it largely bypassed the industry but this is too hard to believe given the scale of infection among the general population. Any additional information pertaining to its effects on the film industry would be appreciated.
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Wm. Charles Morrow

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Re: 1918-1919 Influenza Pandemic Effects

PostMon Sep 05, 2011 12:23 pm

Other film industry casualties include Keystone actor Wayland Trask, perhaps best remembered as the villain in Fatty and Mabel Adrift, who died fom influenza at age 31, and director John Collins. Collins, who was only 28 when he died, was married to Viola Dana and directed her in several films, including The Cossack Whip (1916) and Blue Jeans (1917).
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Rick Lanham

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Re: 1918-1919 Influenza Pandemic Effects

PostMon Sep 05, 2011 1:54 pm

Take a look at this newspaper page, the story near the upper right corner
has some figures, that, if true, are amazing:

http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/ ... d-1/seq-9/" target="_blank


Further stories can be searched for from the main page:

http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/" target="_blank

Rick
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Harold Aherne

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Re: 1918-1919 Influenza Pandemic Effects

PostMon Sep 05, 2011 2:38 pm

Several other lesser-known film actors died of the flu in late 1918 and early 1919: Myrtle Gonzalez, Donna Drew (the leading lady of '49-'17; her husband Arthur Moon also died a week before her), Julian L'Estrange, Tessie Harron (Robert and John Harron's sister), Mary Moore (Tom, Owen and Matt's sister), Louise Vale (the wife of Travers Vale), Charles Gunn, probably more.

Most of the major studios stopped issuing new films between mid-October and mid-November 1918. For example, Paramount's batch of films released on 13 October (Private Peat, Such a Little Pirate, When Do We Eat?) was its last until 17 November (The Gypsy Trail, The Make-Believe Wife, My Cousin). For a day-by-look at the situation, see the Film Daily numbers from the second half of 1918:
http://www.archive.org/details/filmdailyvolume556newy

You'll notice that initial grumblings about theatre closings in September were replaced by anxiety and resignation as the disease spread and casualties rose in October. The most serious weeks of the influenza coincided with the Fourth Liberty Loan campaign and in fact it's likely that Harold Lockwood's participation at a public event led to his demise.

His was perhaps the most visible loss, but we can only wonder at the unfulfilled potential of the others.

-HA
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Chris Snowden

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Re: 1918-1919 Influenza Pandemic Effects

PostMon Sep 05, 2011 4:09 pm

Harold Aherne wrote:Most of the major studios stopped issuing new films between mid-October and mid-November 1918. For example, Paramount's batch of films released on 13 October (Private Peat, Such a Little Pirate, When Do We Eat?) was its last until 17 November (The Gypsy Trail, The Make-Believe Wife, My Cousin).


The industry apparently figured that if the epidemic couldn’t be stopped, it could at least be exploited. A weekly series of Healthograms shorts were distributed late that year by KWS Distributing. A trade paper advertisement assured exhibitors, “Show an interest in the health of your patrons and they’ll prove their appreciation by a healthy growth in your box office receipts.”

Still, Motion Picture Classic soon reported that half of the movie theaters in the country were temporarily closed. And the producers and distributors aligned with the National Association of the Motion Picture Industry (such as Paramount) voted to suspend new releases for four weeks ending November 9.The Association also asked actors to forgo their salaries during that period.

I doubt the actors were eager to comply, but it was a moot point anyway, since the Los Angeles Health Department ordered the closing of movie studios that autumn.

(see Motion Picture Classic, December 1918, page 8; Moving Picture World, 11/23/18, pages 811-814, 819.)
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Chris Snowden
https://televisiondiary.wordpress.com
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Gary Newman

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Re: 1918-1919 Influenza Pandemic Effects

PostTue Sep 06, 2011 2:09 pm

The greatest star of the Russian silent screen, the beautiful Vera Kholodnaya, most likely died of the flu (there are more fanciful theories) in Odessa in 1919, at the age of twenty five. Her death and funeral prompted an emotional outpouring not dissimilar to Valentino’s. Milestone’s Early Russian Cinema Volume 9, “High Society,” contains one of her five extant films (Yevgeni Bauer’s A Life for a Life—recommended), plus the newsreel of her funeral.
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Re: 1918-1919 Influenza Pandemic Effects

PostTue Sep 06, 2011 2:17 pm

others were:
*Joseph Kaufman(director)
*Walter Stradling(cinematographer)
*Shelley Hull(actor, husband of Josephine Hull)
*LaMarr Johnstone(actor)

There used to be a website called THEOSCARSITE.ORG and they had many of the industry deaths for many of the industry deaths annually from the late 1890s to the present. This site has since bitten the dust unfortunately.
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sepiatone

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Re: 1918-1919 Influenza Pandemic Effects

PostTue Sep 06, 2011 2:21 pm

Gary Newman wrote:The greatest star of the Russian silent screen, the beautiful Vera Kholodnaya, most likely died of the flu (there are more fanciful theories) in Odessa in 1919, at the age of twenty five. Her death and funeral prompted an emotional outpouring not dissimilar to Valentino’s. Milestone’s Early Russian Cinema Volume 9, “High Society,” contains one of her five extant films (Yevgeni Bauer’s A Life for a Life—recommended), plus the newsreel of her funeral.


all of them were played at the National Gallery in the 1990s including the touching funeral newsreel.
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bobfells

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Re: 1918-1919 Influenza Pandemic Effects

PostTue Sep 06, 2011 3:16 pm

George Arliss discussed the "Spanish Flu Epidemic" as it was called, in his first volume of autobiography, UP THE YEARS FROM BLOOMSBURY. He refers to it as a "scare" and noted that as a precaution most health officials in various towns and cities closed down theaters in late 1918. This coincided with Mr. A taking on tour his current hit, HAMILTON, and as the tour progressed he found that more and more of the theaters he had booked were closed down. He said he finally had to call off the tour and return to New York.
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Re: 1918-1919 Influenza Pandemic Effects

PostWed Sep 07, 2011 10:47 am

Keystone/Sennett comedian George Binns was another 1918 influenza casualty.
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Frederica

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Re: 1918-1919 Influenza Pandemic Effects

PostWed Sep 07, 2011 11:25 am

Brent Walker wrote:Keystone/Sennett comedian George Binns was another 1918 influenza casualty.


Has anyone ever attempted to do a study on the epidemic's effects on the film industry, specifically? I've wondered if the trade journals at the time made any effort to determine how earnings had been effected, and in what way (and how much). You'd have to distinguish between estimated losses from theater closings versus losses due to extending the production process on an individual film, from either incapacitation or death of critical staff. Insurance payouts? Did producers insure performers/productions then? Did the 1918-1919 end-of-year trades ever attempt to report on such estimates? The subject would make a great master's thesis.
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Harlett O'Dowd

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Re: 1918-1919 Influenza Pandemic Effects

PostWed Sep 07, 2011 12:22 pm

Frederica wrote:
Brent Walker wrote:Keystone/Sennett comedian George Binns was another 1918 influenza casualty.


Has anyone ever attempted to do a study on the epidemic's effects on the film industry, specifically? I've wondered if the trade journals at the time made any effort to determine how earnings had been effected, and in what way (and how much). You'd have to distinguish between estimated losses from theater closings versus losses due to extending the production process on an individual film, from either incapacitation or death of critical staff. Insurance payouts? Did producers insure performers/productions then? Did the 1918-1919 end-of-year trades ever attempt to report on such estimates? The subject would make a great master's thesis.


I would assume most of the losses would have been recovered over time. Few theatres closed for more than a couple of weeks and I would imagine that any productions that closed temporarily would have simply picked up where they left off and weren't scrapped in total.

My limited undersatnding of the pandemic is that it, not surprisingly, came in waves: one area of the country was hit, then another, then there was some backsliding, etc. I wonder how badly southern California was hit by the pandemic - especially the film industry - compared to other areas of the country. A lot of what was being filmed in those days still happened outside, which would limit spread of the disease compared to folks working in a stuffy factory (I suspect the pandemic was less catastrophic in farm areas as compared to cities for much the same reason.)

That said, the loss of a paycheck and the fear of illness/death was a great hardship for a great many people - not just those in the film industry. And while folks in the front office also suffered, I suspect those who escaped illness made up the loss of revenue in short order.

Perhaps back issues of VARIETY would be a good place to get a handle on where the flu was when, as it covered touring stage productions as well as B'way and film production.

The whole disaster does seem to have tha Hand of God on it, doesn't it: "You think you're going to enact an armistice and end the death for a while? Not so fast! I haven't quite finished with you yet."
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Bruce Long

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Re: 1918-1919 Influenza Pandemic Effects

PostWed Sep 07, 2011 12:56 pm

There was an article in Jan. 1919 Photoplay titled "The Spanish Invasion" which discussed the effect of the flu on various studios.
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Re: 1918-1919 Influenza Pandemic Effects

PostWed Sep 07, 2011 1:04 pm

I believe fat, young comedian Dee Lampton died from it too. He played the fat kid in the gallery in Chaplin's A Night In an English Music Hall, and also starred in a few absolutely terrible one-reelers of his own, in which he played a character named Skinny. Gee, I wonder which other large-size comedian he was ripping off with that name?

Notwithstanding my sarcasm above, Lampton was apparently highly-regarded by his fellow comedians.

Jim
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rudyfan

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Re: 1918-1919 Influenza Pandemic Effects

PostWed Sep 07, 2011 1:19 pm

Valentino also contracted the flu, and survived. He reportedly traveled to San Francisco to avoid it, and fell ill shortly after his return Hollywood.
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Christopher Jacobs

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Re: 1918-1919 Influenza Pandemic Effects

PostFri Sep 09, 2011 1:33 am

When the "New Grand" theatre (later the Paramount and now the Empire) was built in our town throughout the last half of 1919 (to replace the old Grand, which was damaged by fire that spring), its November 1919 opening promotional material included remarks pointing out that although there was not a full basement, the partial basement was enhanced with tunnels around the perimeter of the structure, purportedly serving as a buffer to help insulate the concrete slab floor from the cold ground, and thus have less chance of promoting influenza in theatre patrons. Whether they were truly designed for that purpose or merely exploited the recent influenza scare when the city's theatres had closed for a couple of weeks about a year before the new theatre opened is debatable. I expect that other theatres around the country that were built in late 1918-19-20 attempted to reassure patrons that they were healthy to attend.
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urbanora

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Re: 1918-1919 Influenza Pandemic Effects

PostSat Sep 10, 2011 8:17 am



There's an extract from a film made in 1919 about the influenza pandemic on the Huntley Film Archives channel on YouTube. Dr Wise on Influenza, made by Joseph Best for the Local Government Board in the UK.
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Re: 1918-1919 Influenza Pandemic Effects

PostSat Sep 10, 2011 10:01 am

Lionel Barrymore and his brother took cold water baths in alcohol presumably to serve as a germ killer/ antiseptic.
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Jim Roots

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Re: 1918-1919 Influenza Pandemic Effects

PostSat Sep 10, 2011 11:14 am

sepiatone wrote:Lionel Barrymore and his brother took cold water baths in alcohol presumably to serve as a germ killer/ antiseptic.


Knowing them, they probably drank the bathwater afterwards.

Jim
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Re: 1918-1919 Influenza Pandemic Effects

PostSat Sep 10, 2011 6:56 pm

rudyfan wrote:Valentino also contracted the flu, and survived. He reportedly traveled to San Francisco to avoid it, and fell ill shortly after his return Hollywood.


Alice Guy Blache was another who caught it but survived. She and some of her colleagues are supposed to have contracted it on the set of `Tarnished Reputations' (filmed 1919) - several of the colleagues weren't so lucky.
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T0m M

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Re: 1918-1919 Influenza Pandemic Effects

PostSun Sep 11, 2011 10:13 am

Thank-you everyone for the additional names and references. While some of the material gives a better appreciation of the extent, actual data is still scarce. Part of the reason may be that the two initial waves of the pandemic occured during the war. Nations at war were reluctant to publicze any accurate reports, as it would give the enemy vital information on the ability of the homefront to supply the troops. There is even a contoversial theory that the ravages of the influenza on the German people was a major factor in their signing the armistice.

One of the reasons the flue was names the "Spanish Flu" was because of the public perception that Spain was the origin and had the highest death toll. This misconception rose because Spain, being a neutral country, was one a few countries to publicize accurate accounts of the extent of the influenza.

Contrary to popular belief, remoteness and open air living did not prevent the spread of the virus. Some of the hardest hit cases involved aboriginal peoples in remote, native settlements. The most famous case is the Inuit settlement of Brevig, Alaska where 72 of the 80 inhabitants died during a span of 5 days. Their corpses, preserved in the permafrost, would ultimately provide the tissue sample for the gnetic sequincing of the flu virus.

In hindsight, closure of theatres and studios was the best action possible. It was a financial setback but things could have been much worse, had the virus spread among the closely working prouction units. Deaths of good cameramen, film editors, scenario writers, etc, would greatly effect the quality of films and ultimately the bottom line of the company. Had a major star and director died, it could spell the end for a smaller company.

There may even have a been a financial, silver lining in the timing of the 2nd wave of epidemic, which took place just prior to the armistice. War films fell out of popularity immediately after the signing. Many of the studios were forced to scrap war pictures that were in production. Had the pandemic not existed many of these films would have been farther along in production and the losses on these films would have been much greater.
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Re: 1918-1919 Influenza Pandemic Effects

PostSun Sep 11, 2011 11:54 am

Interesting... the concept of virus did not even exist back in that time. They did not even knew what the heck they were fighting against.

Before peniciline and before vacines... people was still under many natural sellection laws... :?

Sometimes I ask if all antibiotics and vacines have created a weaker humanity, in biologic/imunoilogiclly terms.

I bet in old days people were somewhat stronger.
Keep thinking...

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Re: 1918-1919 Influenza Pandemic Effects

PostSun Sep 11, 2011 12:58 pm

All Darc wrote:Interesting... the concept of virus did not even exist back in that time. They did not even knew what the heck they were fighting against.

Before peniciline and before vacines... people was still under many natural sellection laws... :?

Sometimes I ask if all antibiotics and vacines have created a weaker humanity, in biologic/imunoilogiclly terms.

I bet in old days people were somewhat stronger.


Yes they did; viruses were recognized in 1892. They couldn't do anything about them, and for the most part we still can't. It's arguable that people were stronger, but they certainly died a lot earlier, and so did their children.
Fred
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T0m M

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Re: 1918-1919 Influenza Pandemic Effects

PostSun Sep 11, 2011 4:36 pm

Based on my limited research, the common medical belief of the period was that the pandemic was probably bacterial in nature. At the time there was a better understanding of bacteria and there had been progress in treating bacteria related disease.

In the end, bacteria appears to have been the the true killer, as the influenza virus caused upper respiratory system bacteria to move into the lungs, resulting in the bacterial pneumonia that was generally the ultimate cause of death.
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Re: 1918-1919 Influenza Pandemic Effects

PostMon Sep 12, 2011 9:21 am

Jim Roots wrote:I believe fat, young comedian Dee Lampton died from it too. He played the fat kid in the gallery in Chaplin's A Night In an English Music Hall, and also starred in a few absolutely terrible one-reelers of his own, in which he played a character named Skinny. Gee, I wonder which other large-size comedian he was ripping off with that name?

Notwithstanding my sarcasm above, Lampton was apparently highly-regarded by his fellow comedians.

Jim


Jim,

I've always heard that Lampton died of appendicitis. He had been working on Haunted Spooks for Hal Roach but that film went on hiatus on August 23, 1919 after Harold Lloyd's terrible prop bomb accident and Lampton soon after went to New York where he died on September 2, 1919. Haunted Spooks resumed shooting in January 1920 and the finished film retained Lampton's footage making it his final film.

Best

Joe Moore

BTW, one very good book on the flu epidemic that I would recommend is THE GREAT INFLUENZA: THE EPIC STORY OF THE DEADLIEST PLAGUE IN HISTORY by John M. Barry. Some very frightening images in it such as people dying so fast in big cities that they were piling them up like cord-wood in hospital corridors and funeral parlors running out of caskets to bury people in.
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Re: 1918-1919 Influenza Pandemic Effects

PostMon Sep 12, 2011 4:23 pm

Tony Slide's The Big V(Vitagraph) mentions several people in the trade who died in that epidemic.
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Re: 1918-1919 Influenza Pandemic Effects

PostWed Sep 14, 2011 4:45 pm

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Re: 1918-1919 Influenza Pandemic Effects

PostThu Sep 15, 2011 2:45 am

I have ordered the book by John Barry for US$1, revised edition, cost a lot more for postage, of course.
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Re: 1918-1919 Influenza Pandemic Effects

PostSun Sep 18, 2011 12:16 pm

Today we have some vacines and in some cases anti viral drugs.

The virus itself was only really discovered after creation of eletronic microscope.

In 1918 there couldn't even fight bacterial infection, cause peniciline, the first antibiotic, was only discovered in the 30's.
I supose the hospitals was not much more than a bed with sheets kept clean.

What I mean by stronger, is that the natural sellection would keep people with strong imunologic system.
But natural sellection it's not humanitarian, and sounds freak to think about.

Frederica wrote:
All Darc wrote:Interesting... the concept of virus did not even exist back in that time. They did not even knew what the heck they were fighting against.

Before peniciline and before vacines... people was still under many natural sellection laws... :?

Sometimes I ask if all antibiotics and vacines have created a weaker humanity, in biologic/imunoilogiclly terms.

I bet in old days people were somewhat stronger.


Yes they did; viruses were recognized in 1892. They couldn't do anything about them, and for the most part we still can't. It's arguable that people were stronger, but they certainly died a lot earlier, and so did their children.
Keep thinking...

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Jim Roots

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Re: 1918-1919 Influenza Pandemic Effects

PostMon Sep 19, 2011 6:39 am

Joe Moore -- I went back to my primary source and you are correct, Dee Lampton died of pneumonia rather than the flu.

I may have read in a secondary source that his pneumonia developed out of the flu, but until I can double-check that, I stand corrected.


Jim
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