One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley had another chat with an executive who went to Europe to have a look at the film business there:
Arthur Ziehm, the foreign sales manager for the Goldwyn Distributing Company, had just come back from a tour of Europe. He reported yesterday that he is convinced that there is no reason for American film manufacturers to be alarmed over the possibility of serious competition from foreign producers.
Film executives did love to reassure newspaper writers that American pictures were the best! He continued:
“But one of the surprises of my visit,” said Mr. Ziehm, “was to find that some really good Wild West pictures are being turned out at the German studios. They recall the rapid action type of melodrama popular when Broncho Billy was at the height of his picture fame.”
German people absolutely loved stories about the American West, it also surprised me to learn. It seems that just like for Americans, the fantasy West offered an escape from urban, industrialized everyday life, plus there weren’t many German pop culture heroes at the time. People in Germany still enjoy visiting it, if the popularity of the Cowboy Club of Old Texas in Berlin is any indication.
The man most responsible for Germany’s view of the Wild West was prolific author Karl May. He had been writing travel, crime, and adventure stories when Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show played in Munich in 1890. It was hugely popular, so he started writing about the adventures of Old Shatterhand, a German immigrant cowboy, and Winnetou, a Native American. May never visited the U.S., so facts or realism didn’t intrude on his tales. These stories fueled German interest in Native American culture (Deutsche Indianertümelei) and are still being adapted to film and television. He is one of the most successful German writers ever. May’s books have sold over one hundred million copies, according to Rivka Galchen in the New Yorker, and his birthplace had been turned into a museum. The museum’s website says, “in the U.S., he is known to but a close-knit minority.” Now you are part of that minority too!
That surprised film executive Arthur Ziehm had the language skills to understand what he was seeing. Born January 6, 1883 in Deuben, Germany, he came to the United States in 1905. After serving the in United States Calvary in the Philippines, he found work in film import and export. He had a long career, later working for Inter-Globe Export Company in the 1920’s, the General Foreign Sales Corporation in the 1930’s and eventually starting his own company, the International Cinemart Corporation in the 1950’s. He died in 1966.
In other news this week, Kingsley reported that lucky Charlie Chaplin didn’t have to put up with nonsense from anybody:
That Charlie Chaplin remains a perfectly killing cut-up. The other day, for instance, a certain lady authoress, well known for writing those stories which scorch the begonias if accidentally left on the front porch, looked Charlie all over, put her hands on his shoulders, finally, and said patronizingly: “Why, you wear nice clothes! You don’t look nearly so freaky as I had thought you would!” Whereas Charlie put his hands on the lady’s shoulders and exclaimed: “Madame, let me return the compliment!
That’s a useful comeback to keep on hand! I’m certain Kingsley was referering to Elinor Glyn, who was in town and well-known for her begonia-scorching abilities.