The City Beyond

A local photoplay produced in 1923.

Siple Studios, Inc., of Chicago joined forces with The Champaign News-Gazette and Charles C. Pyle, Manager of the Virginia Theatre.  The News-Gazette asked and urged assistance and consideration from the general public “because the sole purpose of making this photoplay is the general good of the Twin Cities and the University – and certainly everyone is interested in that.” 

 

Local photographer Howard Duncan, with studios on Green Street in Campustown, joined the team.  E.C. Bleau, Advertising Manager of the News-Gazette, joined the team as local supervisor of the project.  Mr. Bleau had spent several years in the picture business including being the first manager of the Colonial Theatre in Urbana.

 

Participants from Siple Studios included J. Law Siple as the film’s director, Emil Sonntag as cameraman, and Stephan A. Day as editor and title artist.

THE CAST

Miss Virginia Adair, the heroine,

played by Ruth Honn.

Jack Wadell, the hero,

played by Frank Robeson.

 

Miss Mary Wadell, sister of the hero,

played by Elizabeth Boggs Bartling.

 

Dick Shakespeare, the director,

played by George B. Franks.

 

Pete Turpin

played by Ed. Hutchinson.

 

A physician

played by Dr. J.H. Finch.

All the actors are from the local area and include, as the heroine, Ruth Honn, daughter of Dr. and Mrs. William M. Honn, 815 West University Avenue.  She had a good reputation as an actress in local productions and dramatics at the University of Illinois.  Mrs. Elizabeth Boggs Bartling took the juvenile lead.  She was the daughter of Judge and Mrs. F.S. Boggs, Urbana, and now lives in Chicago.  The hero is played by Frank Robeson of Robeson’s Department Store.  The cast also includes George B. Franks, Ed. Hutchinson, and Dr. J.H. Finch.

Ruth Honn as Virginia Adair.

Champaign Daily-Gazette 17 June 1923

Scan from microfilm.

Elizabeth Boggs Bartling as Mary Wadell.

Photo by Duncan.  Champaign Daily-Gazette

28 June 1923.  Scan from microfilm.

Frank Robeson as Jack Wadell.

Photo by Duncan.  Champaign Daily-Gazette.  21 June 1923.  Scan from microfilm.

Liberal use of the Champaign News-Gazette’s own words is being made here.

“The story that is to be woven into the picture is one of stirring heart-interest.  The scenes will include the thrill of an aerial pageant with a plane wreck, including the rescue from the wreckage of the star; parks and public and private buildings; incidents and parades of graduation day; clubs in session and agencies of Mercy busy at their work of making life more attractive and beautiful.”

“Through it all runs the gossamer thread of the story—life’s old, old story—mingled with conflicting sorrows and joys that come to us all.”

The plot as described by the Champaign Daily-Gazette:

“The story of the City Beyond opens with scenes of a motion picture company on location.  They are filming a picture in a strange city.  The director is putting his thespians through a series of scenes.  It is at this point that Jack Wadell, a practical young man engaged in the building of great things, comes into the story.  He sees the motion picture director and recognizes him as an old college chum.  They meet and recall former days.”

“The director, Dick Shakespeare, introduces Jack to the screen star, Virginia, and there springs almost immediately, between the two a mutual understanding.  Jack is sincerely interested in the star’s work and the star.  He goes with her on locations and watches over her as the protector he would be.”

“A few days later Virginia must soar high among the clouds to make the scene for the production, here Jack watches her anxiously for he has a foreboding of evil.  The plane roars away.  The film folk are grouped around watching the plane go through its maneuvers when all at once it turns its nose toward the ground and rushes downward at a terrific speed—but really you can’t expect us to go ahead and tell the whole story.”

In another article we have learned: “The heroine’s first picture is being shown at the opening of the wonderful theatre.  The star of the photoplay within the photoplay is Miss [Virginia Adair].  [Jack Wadell], . . . the hero, has built the theatre for her.  Following the showing of the picture and the exit of the party from the theatre and their entrance into the automobile, the hero asks Miss [Adair] if he has made good.  Her answer is the exquisite climax.”

We can guess the answer based on the clues we have been given.

Ruth Honn and Frank Robeson.

Photo by Duncan. 

Champaign Daily-Gazette. 28 June 1923.

Scan from microfilm.

The Filming

 

Shooting began on Thursday 21 June at the Champaign Country Club during the club’s annual dinner dance which enhanced the scenes.  “The work of putting the city’s beauty and her collective heart upon the silver screen is under way.  Let your imagination run riot—it will picture nothing for you that will excel this beauty nor the heart throbs which attend it.”

Church scenes were shot on Sunday 24 June along with additional views at the country club.

Key scenes, some of the most dramatic in the film, were shot at Chanute Field on Monday 25 June.  Cooperation from officers and airmen at Chanute were essential.  “A man said to be the best and most scientific flyer at the field took charge and enthusiastically went through with some truly wonderful exhibitions.”

Filming outside the Virginia Theatre was scheduled for Tuesday 26 June.  These scenes portray the grand opening of a new theatre with the premiere of Miss Adair’s first motion picture.  The producers asked for the public’s help by coming dressed in formal attire to portray patrons at the theatre’s grand opening.  (Incidentally, the Virginia Theatre itself had only been open since 28 December 1921.)  In addition to interior scenes and some shots of patrons entering the theatre, the “extras” will be photographed filing out of the theatre at the conclusion of the “premiere” of Miss Adair’s picture.

The producers had further requested at least twenty-five automobiles with strong headlights to help light the outdoor night scene. The next day, the Gazette reported “several hours were necessary to arrange the lights outside the theatre. Over 100,000 watts of current was used in the outside scene.” “The cooperation of the public Tuesday evening was commendable, according to those in charge.”

 

The editing was done at the Siple Studios in Chicago by Stephan A. Day, who also created the title cards.  A test showing was done in Champaign for the principals.  Siple Studios sent a trailer to the Virginia to further advertise the upcoming picture.

Scene from local photoplay.

Champaign Daily-Gazette.  27 June 1923.

Scan from microfilm.

The Finished Film

 

"The City Beyond" premiered at the Virginia Theatre on 23 July 1923.  It played for three days along with co-feature “Penrod and Sam,” one of Booth Tarkington’s stories.

The film was given good reviews calling the acting of Ruth Honn and Frank Robeson exceptional.  Miss Honn, a veteran of many local productions and University of Illinois dramatics, “went through her scenes with a flourish of technique.  Her registration of expression was done with an air of professionalism.  Mr. Robeson, who portrayed the part of the builder and the hero was well received.  His amiable personality along with the ability to photograph well, won him much praise.  Ed. Hutchinson kept the audience in an uproar and George Franks scored a hit.”  The direction, photography, editing, and titling were all praised.  “Among the outstanding scenes of the photoplay were the airplane pictures taken at Chanute Field.”

“Much credit is due all those who took part in the production.  The film will be a volume of Twin City history and in future years will be cherished as an exact chronicle of the city as it was.”

Unfortunately, as is the case with thousands of other motion pictures from the silent era, there appears to be no existing print of “The City Beyond.”

Ad from Champaign News-Gazette

Tuesday 24 July 1923, page 3.