Sunday, February 19, 2017

Buster at 100: Keaton's Leading Ladies in Pictures

This is my contribution to the Third Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon, hosted by the excellent Silent-ology blog.  This year's blogathon is a celebration of the 100th anniversary of start of Keaton's film career.

So far in my research I have only come across one Evans photo of Buster.  It most likely was taken around the time he started his solo career in 1920.

Evans may have only photographed Keaton on this one occasion, but he did create portraits of some of Buster's leading ladies, both on and off the screen.

Probably the earliest of these portraits is this one of Phyllis Haver.  Phyllis appeared along side Buster in The Balloonatic (1923).  Of course, a few years earlier she gained fame as one of Mack Sennett's bathing beauties and was photographed many times by Evans at the time.  This particular photo seems to be from very early in her career, probably at the beginning of 1917.

Alice Lake was the lead actress in several of the excellent films Buster made with Roscoe Arbuckle at the beginning of his career.  This is one of my favorite Evans photos, very modern but taken before 1920.

Arguably the most popular of Buster's leading ladies is Sybil Seely.  Like Phyllis (and another Buster co-star, Virginia Fox), Sybil spent some time with Sennett as a bathing beauty.  Her tour of duty came after Evans had left the studio, but he did at least one portrait session with her.

One of Keaton's first leading ladies off the screen was actress Viola Dana.  Alas, the romance didn't last very long.  Evans photographed Viola (as well as her sister Shirley Mason) many times.

Evans doesn't appear to have done any portraits of Keaton's first wife, Natalie Talmadge, but he did photograph her more famous sister, Constance.  Normally I would apologize for pulling a switch like this, but considering the low opinion many Keaton fans have of Natalie, perhaps it is for the best!  BTW, another favorite photo of mine. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Evans Estate in Hollywood

Whenever I visit Hollywood, one of the places I almost always make an effort to see is the street that the Evans family lived from about 1918 to 1940.  Granted, their home is long gone (as are all of the homes of their neighbors), but they managed to leave their mark on the landscape.

The area of west Hollywood south of Sunset Blvd was mostly citrus groves in 1918, when Charlie Chaplin built his studio there, just along Le Brea Ave.  Most buyers in this quickly developing neighborhood purchased small home lots.  But the Evans family was thinking more on the scale of Chaplin, buying a parcel of land 2 blocks west that was slightly larger than the comedian's studio.

A description of the property can be found in volume 3 of The History of Los Angeles County, published in 1923, shortly after Nelson's death:

The Evans home in Hollywood is unique.  Though situated in the heart of the city, it is so secluded that those unfamiliar with its location would pass it by entirely.  A blind street leads to the gate, and a fence is built around the entire acreage.  A large orange grove extends through two streets.  The family house is a place of three stories, quaint and of great beauty.

Sometime after Nelson passed away, the east and west sides of the property were sold off, with the rest going gradually throughout the 1930s.  At some point after Nelson's mother died in 1940, the entire street was redeveloped and is now mostly apartment buildings.

However, the footprint of the estate can still be seen.  The 'blind street' mentioned above is Alta Vista.  At the time, it essentially served as the Evans' driveway.  Most of the streets in the neighborhood were originally wide lanes that gave access to the groves.  As the area was developed, the lanes were narrowed as they were turned into streets.  Except Alta Vista, up to the entrance to the Evans property.  Contemporary aerial photos show that there were 3 palm trees down the middle of the street, and then the street ends with a wide turn-around.  Today, the 3 palm trees are still there and the turn-around marks the spot where the street now narrows, jogs a bit to the west and then continues through what was once the estate.

Looking south down Alta Vista
Here's an aerial view of the area.  The yellow box outlines the original footprint of the estate and the red box is a rough approximation of the property in 1930.  The blue box shows the area of the Chaplin Studio.

Another studio that was close by was the Pickford-Fairbanks Studio.  Built around 1918 as the Hampton Studio, Doug and Mary took it over in 1922.  Many of Fairbanks most famous films were shot there.  Here's a photo of the studio at the time of the filming of The Thief of Bagdad; the Evans property can be seen just a block north.

The large stand of trees just to the north of the studio is the Evans estate.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Evans Signatures

One of the more interesting facets of the Evans story is the signature that appeared on his (and his studio's) portraits.  While 2 particular signatures are most common, there are a few variations that are worth looking at.  Note that my research into the signatures is still very much ongoing and what follows contains a bit of conjecture on my part.

The 1917 - 1920 Signature

This is the original Evans signature and lasted until sometime in the middle of 1920.  Unlike that of many other Hollywood photographers of the time, it is simple, yet distinct.

The 1920 - 1921 Signature

In mid-1920, Evans changed his signature to this slightly fancier version.  The E is very similar to Evans' actual signature, but much more neatly written.

The 1922 Signature

This is by far the rarest of his signatures as he only used it for a few months before his untimely death in October of 1922.  It's possible that the addition of his first name to the signature was prompted by that of Melbourne Spurr, who was just beginning his own photography studio directly across the street from the Evans Studio.

The Honeymoon Signature

At the beginning of 1922, Evans married Rosalie Knight and spent the next 6 months on a trip to either Egypt or India.  Of course, during this time the studio continued with business as usual.  To indicate that the portraits taken at this time were done by other photographers, an Evans Studio signature was used.  It's possible it was also used briefly after his death.      

The post-1922 Signature

After Nelson's death, the official studio logo was used on all photographs.  It may have also been used on prints of earlier photos that were sold by the studio during this period.  

Odd Variations

I've come across 2 signatures that I still can't quite fit into the picture (excuse the pun).

This one I've only seen twice, both on portraits of Viola Dana.  One of the photos was published early in 1922, so it could be a signature that Evans was changing to before he left for his honeymoon.

This one is a true mystery.  I've seen it appear on photos that I've also seen with one of his other signatures.  That suggests that it may have been used sometime after 1922 in cases where a photo was reprinted, but for whatever reason the negative did not have the original signature. 

Note that the E is very similar in style to the signature of George Cannons.  Cannons was a British photographer who came to Los Angeles around 1924 and worked for Mack Sennett.  There's no evidence that he ever worked for the Evans Studio, so we may never know why the signatures are similar.  Perhaps it is just coincidence.

As I had said earlier, this is a work in progress.  I am still looking for a signature that would fit into Nelson's brief time in the military between late 1918 and early 1919.  Expectation is that it would be similar to the one used during his honeymoon.  I am also looking into the signatures of another photographer in hopes of proving that Evans did an apprenticeship before opening his own studio.  Hopefully, I will find enough positive evidence that I can share something soon.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Part of the Family

My research into the life of Nelson Evans occasionally goes in odd directions, but none quite so surprising as the turn it recently took.  Part of my Memorial Day weekend was spent at a reunion of my dad's family.  As seems to be typical of reunions, some of the family brought along photo albums.  One of these albums contained genealogical research one of my cousins had done.  Now, I've done my own share of such research into my family, so I was a bit surprised when I saw among my cousin's research the surname of Hysel.

As told in one of my earlier posts about his marriage history, in 1909 Nelson had eloped with Helen Hysell to Michigan.  Since both were living apart by the end of the year, it appears that the marriage ended in annulment, if not divorce.  I knew that Helen's family was originally from the southeastern part of Ohio, not terribly far from the area my own family resided at the time.  However, I didn't recall anyone by the name of Hysell or Hysel in my family tree.  That bit of mystery was solved on another page of my cousin's research: there I saw the name spelled as Hisle, which was familiar to me.  But could it be the same family?

When I was back home the next day, I started to investigate.  Fortunately, I had already traced the Hysell and Hisle families back to the late 1700s.  Taking a closer look at the earliest ancestors in both lines, it quickly became clear that there was indeed a connection: both families were living in the same county at the same time, both came from the same town in Virginia, and both were using the Hisle spelling.  However, I still needed to find the common ancestor.  Again, that proved a bit easier than I was expecting, helped by the fact that my great-great-great-great grandfather's name was Nimrod.  Going by birth dates, it seemed possible that he was the brother of the earliest ancestor I had found in Helen's family tree.  And it turns out that I was correct: the common ancestor was Leonard Hisle, my great-great-great-great-great grandfather and Helen's great-great-great grandfather.

I don't think this discovery changes my approach to my research into Nelson's life, but it certainly makes me more curious about Helen, someone I already found interesting.  Knowing that she is a (very) distant relative seems like reason enough to start finding out more about her, too.  

Monday, May 30, 2016

On Memorial Day

On this Memorial Day, it seems appropriate to pay tribute to the members of Nelson Evans' family who lost their lives in the service of their country.

Going back to the Revolutionary War, Nelson's great-great-great grandfather Jonathan Wadsworth was killed in the Battle of Saratoga on September 19, 1777.  He had only been in the Army for a few months before his death.  He was 48 years old. 

Nelson's grandfather, Ephraim Evans joined the Union army in 1862 as a member of Company D of the Ohio 125th Regiment.  By 1864 he had reached the rank of Captain.  However, on June 27th of that year he was wounded at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain in Georgia.  On July 8th, he died of his wounds. 

Charles Hopkins Evans, Nelson's older brother, was 18 when he joined Battery H of the First Battalion, Ohio Light Artillery (the same unit that his uncle Edwin Hopkins had been in during the Civil War) in 1898. serving in the Spanish American War.  By 1900 he was Sgt. Evans of the 41st New York Regiment and in the Philippines.  On March 12th, 1901, Charles was killed in battle.


Sunday, May 1, 2016

I Visit the Evans Studio. Sort of.

On past trips to Los Angeles, I've visited the site of the Evans Studio, but for some reason never had a camera handy.  So on my most recent trip, I made sure to have a camera on me.

 Unfortunately, the building was torn down long ago, probably in the late 30s or early 40s.  Now the site is the parking lot for a community health center.  For those interested in finding the site, it is on the north side of Hollywood Blvd, just east of the intersection with Gower.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Harold Lloyd Visits the Evans Studio

One of the things I enjoy about watching silent comedies is seeing Los Angeles as it was 100 years ago.  Whether it is foot chases through Chinatown or a car racing down Hollywood Boulevard, the opportunity to see sights long gone I find incredibly fascinating.  So you can imagine how excited I was to find out that the Evans Studio made an appearance in the 1918 Harold Lloyd 1-reel short Look Pleasant, Please.

Lloyd appears as his glasses character in the ten minute film.  The plot involves a flirting photographer (William Gillespie) who makes a move on client Bebe Daniels.  Bebe's response is to call her husband, who immediately heads off to the photographer's studio in a jealous rage.  Meanwhile in a nearby store, grocery clerk Harold is being chased by a group of cops after trying to cheat a customer.  His flight, no surprise, takes him to the photography studio, where the very frightened photographer offers him the opportunity to take his place, in hopes that Bebe's jealous husband takes out his anger on the wrong man.  At this point in the film, the action get chaotic (or should that be more chaotic), as Harold tries his hand behind the camera, with the expected slapstick results, and the husband shows up ready to kill.

Lloyd and Snub Pollard in front of the Evans Studio

 While the interiors were sets, the exteriors of the studio were shot at the entrance to the Evans Studio.  Interestingly, no effort was made to hide the name of the studio, with the Evans logo clearly seen on windows and awnings.

Snub stands by as a group of women head into the studio.  Probably not an uncommon sight! 

When I first heard about this film, I was curious to see if the photographer might have been modeled after Evans.  Although one could imagine that someone who was becoming known for his photographs of young ladies in bathing suits might get a reputation for flirtatious behavior, it's more than likely that the plot of the film was already set before the location was chosen.  It's also likely that Evans offered the use of his studio for the chance at some free publicity for the barely year-old business.

One bit of irony: Evans seems to have never photographed Harold Lloyd.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

La Fazenda

In doing my research on Nelson Evans, I've gained an appreciation for photographs of the first quarter of the 20th century.  Although the silver gelatin process was in common use for black and white pictures up until 50 years ago, those from a century back have a quality that is missing from later examples.  Quite simply, they glow.  While I have many examples in my collection, I've chosen this one of Louise Fazenda because, well, it's Louise Fazenda!

I'm not sure how well it will show up here, but the lacing on her dress practically sparkles on the actual photo.  How much control Evans had over this type of effect is difficult to say, but it is more pronounced in his earlier photos.  BTW, notice the window on the left side of the photo.  It appears to be cut from another photo and added here, probably covering up a blown-out section where the sunlight was coming in.  A bit awkwardly done, but not bad for a hundred years ago. 


Sunday, February 28, 2016

The American Feature Film Company

Before he became a photographer of movie stars, Nelson Evans' first venture in show business was as a film exchange man.  Beginning around 1903, film exchanges were the distributors of movies, acting as a middleman between film producers and exhibitors.  An exchange would typically handle films from specific producers or, as in the case of Evan's business, specialize in a certain type of film.

Despite naming his exchange The American Feature Film Company, Evans distributed only foreign films.  Ads show that he was handling films from countries such as Germany, Italy, Spain, and Sweden.

The first mention of The American Feature Film Company was in the October 5th 1912 issue of The Motion Picture World.  In the "Doings at Los Angeles" column, Evans' mishandling of submitting a film to the local censor board is told.  The board had made a special arrangement to view a film (The Yellow Peril from Germany) he was trying to rent to a local theater, but Evans was apparently unaware of the special meeting and failed to show up.  The board did watch the film the next day at their regular meeting and passed it with a few cuts.  The delay, however, cost Evans 3 days of business on the film.

This incident probably took place sometime in the late summer of 1912, as the Evans family had moved to Toledo, Ohio by September of that year.  It is unknown exactly when this first iteration of The American Feature Film Company began, but it does show that Evans' interest in the film business began during his first stay in Los Angeles.

After a few months in Toledo, Evans restarted the business in January of 1913.  From his base in northeast Ohio, Evans' territory covered not only Ohio, but Michigan, Indiana and Kentucky as well.  To cover the southern part of this area, the company also had an office in Cincinnati.  By early 1914, Evans appears to have sold the business, which continued as the Lake Erie Film Brokers, and began another film exchange in Cleveland.

Evans partnered with two Cincinnati businessmen, I.W. McMahon and Jerome Jackson, as well as his partner in the American Feature Film Co., W. J. Findlay, and his father Charles, to create the Independent Feature Film Company.  The company was formed with capital stock of $25,000 (very roughly around $500,000 in today's money). 

For whatever reason, the Independent Feature Film Company, or at least Evans' involvement, was short-lived.  In the fall of 1914, several press releases and full-page ads announced the creation of the Standard Program Association, a conglomeration of several film exchanges, with the intention of distributing a standard package of films across the country.  Evans was named as one of the vice presidents of the association, which is impressive for a 25 year old with less than 5 years experience in the business.  The Standard Program was set to begin in January of 1915, but according to some sources (not yet verified), Evans had already returned to Los Angeles and started his career as a photographer in the last months of 1914 (however, the ad below, from December 1914, still has him listed as a vice-president).  As for the Standard Program Association, it's ultimate fate is unknown, the last mention of it in trade magazines being in the very month it was to begin.

 Information is still sketchy concerning the end of Evans' career in the film exchange business and his subsequent return to Los Angeles.  Did his business go under?  Did he just tire of it?  Were there health reasons?  Perhaps the lure of a job in the film industry, which had begun it's exodus westward by this time, pulled him back.  Like most of the questions that come up in my research, we will never be able to answer them.   

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Wish List

During his brief career, Nelson Evans photographed some of the biggest stars in Hollywood.  Among them: Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Rudolph Valentino, Buster Keaton, Roscoe Arbuckle, Lon Chaney, Wallace Reid, Gloria Swanson and Colleen Moore.  But there were many more that apparently did not sit for an Evans portrait, so I decided to put together a list of those who I wished he had photographed (the list only includes actors who were active during Evans' career).  It goes without saying that I have not seen every photo taken by Evans and so it is possible that some of the following actors did have a portrait taken by Evans.  If I come across one or someone out there points me to one, I will edit the list accordingly.

And so, my wish list:

-Marion Davies   With her beautiful eyes, Davies would have been the perfect subject for Evans.

-Edna Purviance  For whatever reason, there seems to be fewer portraits of Edna than would be expected, so maybe it's not too surprising that she never worked with Evans.

-John Barrymore  Evans didn't typically photograph men's profiles, but I would think he would have made an exception in this case.

-Richard Barthelmess  Perhaps not the most exciting subject for a portrait, but I wonder how Evans would approach the task.  UPDATE: from the July 1919 issue of Motion Picture Magazine.

-Jobyna Ralston  Another seemingly ideal subject for Evans.

-Harold Lloyd  With or without glasses?

-Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy  Even though they were still a few years away from becoming a team, I lump them together here for convenience sake.

-Mabel Normand  Okay, Evans took lots of photos of Mabel for her movie Mickey.  But I have yet to come across an actual portrait of her by him.  Mabel seems to have favored New York photographers over those in Los Angeles.

-Elsie Janis  Of everyone I have listed, Janis is the most surprising one to have never been photographed by Evans.  Both were natives of Columbus (he grew up just 3 miles north of her house, which sat across the street from the Ohio State University campus) and she was a very close friend of Mary Pickford, who frequently worked with Evans.  I'm still holding out hope that there is a photo out there somewhere...

There's a few famous names missing from my list.  That's because there is some evidence that Evans did photograph these actors, but it's far from solid fact.

-Charlie Chaplin  I've seen an early photo of Chaplin with the Evans signature, but I came across another photo that appears to be from the same shoot that was attributed to Albert Witzel.  While it's possible that Evans did an apprenticeship with Witzel, the date of the photo (1914) would put Evans out of the picture, so to speak, as he was back in Ohio at the time.  But it is something I need to research further.

-Lillian Gish  One of my complaints about John Kobal's Evans-centric book Hollywood- The Years of Innocence is the lack of attribution to almost all of the photographs, except to say that most of the photos were by Evans.  One of the photos in the book is a group shot of Gish along with her mother, sister Dorothy, Mary Pickford and Mildred Davis.  Evans photographed other Griffith actors, so it's possible that the photo is by him.  The book also includes a still of the great Babylonian set from Griffith's Intolerance.  Does that mean it was taken by Evans?  Wish I knew!

-Alla Nazimova  Two Nazimova photos appear in Kobal's book, one explicitly credited to Evans, the other not.  However, the uncredited one (outside the Garden of Alla) seems more likely to be an Evans than the one attributed to him!

If anyone finds an Evans photo of any of the actors listed above, let me know.    

Friday, November 27, 2015

Marriage Mystery Part Three

In the first two posts (here and here) about Nelson's marriage history, I covered his annulled marriage to Helen Hysell in 1909 and the unnamed wife listed on his 1917 draft registration.  For this third and final installment I will try to untangle some of the details of his marriages to his last 2 wives.

On March 27th, 1919, shortly after leaving military service, Nelson married Genevieve Cover Finklestone in New York City.  Genevieve was a divorcee and this was her second marriage.  Interestingly, the marriage certificate indicates that this was Nelson's first marriage.  So why did he list a wife on his draft registration two years earlier?  At first I thought he may have lied in order to get out of serving, but that didn't seem to fit someone whose brother and grandfather both died in battle.

The answer was found in a voter registration list for 1916.  Here is what was listed:

The wife of 1917 was the same one he married in 1919!  So, what to make of the 1919 marriage?  No record of an earlier marriage between the two has yet surfaced, so one possibility is that they were not married but living together under the guise of man and wife.  More likely, however, is that Genevieve's divorce from her first husband was not finalized as they thought and Nelson discovered this during his time in New York during the end of the war.  That would explain two things.  First, Genevieve's last name on the marriage certificate is her married name, Finklestone, not her maiden name, Cover.  Second, the timing of the marriage.  If Nelson discovered the divorce situation while in New York, where Genevieve had married her first husband in 1913, he probably asked (or probably demanded) that she come back east to take care of the divorce and then get (re)married.

One question that remains unanswered is where did Nelson and Genevieve first meet?  As she was living in New York City, it's most likely that it happened during one of his business trips to the city in 1914 when he was still working as a film exchange man.  Perhaps it was their 'marriage' that prompted him to return to Los Angeles that year and begin a new career in photography.  In any case, the 1919 marriage didn't last.  The last record of them being together is the 1920 census; sometime between then and 1922, they divorced.

Nelson's last wife was Rosalie Knight.  The two were married on January 21st, 1922 at the Madison Ave Methodist Episcopal Church in Manhattan.  A few weeks later, the couple set sail for a honeymoon in Eygpt, eventually returning the the States at the end of June.  Sadly, this marriage ended just a few months later when Nelson died at the age of 33.

Rosalie at age 14
After Nelson's death, Rosalie returned to New York, eventually remarrying in 1934.  Her third and last husband was Carl Schraubstader, whose one claim to fame is writing the lyrics to oft-recorded hit song "Last Night on the Back Porch" in 1923 while a student at Cornell University.  Rosalie was 11 years Carl's senior, although she seems to have cut 12 years off her age on various records (when she married Nelson, she listed her age on the marriage certificate as 26, although she was actually 30).  Rosalie and Carl remained married until her death in 1979.

So there you have the history of Nelson Evans' marriages.  Four weddings, three women, two wives.  A man truly not lucky in love.   

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Photo Hunting at Cinecon

  Last week I attended my first Cinecon, the long-running movie convention held in Hollywood (this was the 51st one).  While the main focus of the convention is the great films that are shown at the historic Egyptian Theatre, I was equally interested in the dealers rooms, with the hope of finding a few Evans photographs to add to my collection.  Although there were far fewer dealers than one would find at the Cinevent convention here in Columbus, there was one who was selling vintage photos.  Out of the dozens of Evans pictures they had, I purchased seven.  Some I bought because they caught my eye, others because the actor was of interest.

The first one I bought (I made 3 buying trips over the weekend) was this one of Louise Fazenda.  I had been hoping to find a copy of this particular photo, so that's why I got it first.  It most likely dates from 1917-18.

 Another full-body portrait I purchased was this one of Laura La Plante.  This one dates from the beginning of her career when she was working for Christie Studio, again around 1917-18.

For some forgotten reason, I had hoped to find a photo of Pauline Frederick.  Perhaps it was because there's something timeless about her.  In any case, of the two that I found, this is the one I came away with.

Wallace Beery was another one on my want list.  Nothing fancy, but that's a great mustache.

Although I wasn't looking for a photo of Wanda Hawley, it was those ubiquitous pine branches that won me over.  They also appeared in photos of Marie Prevost, Mary Pickford, and Mary Miles Minter, among many others.

The last two I bought for aesthetic reasons.  Evans was at his best when he played with light.  This striking photo of Gladys Brookwell seems to be lit with sunlight.

Finally, here is a photo of Monroe Salisbury in his costume for the movie The Barbarian.  Just one light, but it works perfectly.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Who's That Girl?

It may surprise some of you that this is my first post about Mack Sennett's Bathing Beauties.  It may also surprise you that I am not going to write a general article about them.  I'll probably get around to one of those eventually.  What I want to talk about right now is the challenge of identifying some of the Bathing Beauties and the sometimes humorous misidentifications that have occurred over the years.

A large part of my Evans collection consists of over 100 arcade cards of Sennett's Bathing Beauties.  The photos were taken in 1917 and 1918, typically during a movie shoot.  Of course, I wanted to identify the women in the photos and started searching the internet.  Fortunately, most of the information I found was reliable, verifiable, and consistent.  I quickly learned who was who among the most common of the photos.  Marie Prevost, Mary Thurman, Marvel Rea, Myrtle Lind, Phyllis Haver, and Vera Stedman were among the most photographed.  Others proved a bit trickier.  It doesn't help that the photo reproduction on some of the cards are very poor.  In this example, a clearer picture might make it easier to tell just who she is:

She might be Gonda Durand, but I'm not willing to bet the farm on it.  Another issue is that some of these women aren't really Sennett Bathing Beauties.  Here's a card with Annette Kellerman.  Now, it's more than appropriate that the world famous swimmer, entertainer and designer of the one-piece bathing suit would be placed beside the other women who also had a great impact on the history of beachwear.  But, to my knowledge, she never appeared in a Mack Sennett film.

So far, I've probably managed to identify the women in about 90% of the cards in my collection.  Some may be eventually be identified at some point, while others will forever remain nameless.  But I will keep trying.

Now, I have made a few mistakes in some of my identifications.  These things happen.  But in doing research on the Bathing Beauties, I've been amazed and amused at some of the mistakes others have made.  Some of the mistakes I can understand.  It can be easy to mistake Marie Prevost for Mary Thurman, and visa versa, for example.  But others border on the bizarre.

The first, and maybe funniest, errors I came across on the internet was by another collector (I won't name names).  He was struggling to identify some of the women, so he asked for help from another collector.  It turns out that collector wasn't very good at it either, so he called in a third, supposedly more knowledgeble, collector.  Here's an example of what he came up with.  This young lady was identified as Myrtle Lind.

The next card he showed was this one:

This time the same women was (correctly) identified as Lillian Langston!

Sometimes no one seems to be able to decide who a Bathing Beauty is.  For example, this young lady has been identified at various times around the internet as Vera Stedman, Marie Prevost, Viola Dana (!), and Cecille Evans.

And the winner is: Cecille Evans (no relation to Nelson; and this is not one of his photographs).

But don't think this whole misidentification thing is a recent phenomenon.  One of the photos above has the name of the 2 women within it, Lillian Langston and Miss Anderson.  By Miss Anderson, it can be assume to mean Claire Anderson.  However, the woman on the right is not Miss Anderson, Claire or otherwise.  It's Edith Roberts.

Friday, July 31, 2015


Going through my collection earlier this week, I noticed quite a few pictures with umbrellas.  Perhaps Evans had a brolly fetish.  Or it was just an ideal prop.  Whatever the reason, here are some examples.

Bathing beauties have to protect themselves from the sun, of course.

 Apparently, you need umbrellas indoors, too.

Another indoor model.

The more the merrier.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Perfect Flapper

After finally getting around to watching (and greatly enjoying) the recently rediscovered "Why Be Good?" (1929), I thought I would post a couple of Evans photos I have of the star of that film, Colleen Moore.  Colleen is best known as the quintessential flapper and the very definition of the word 'cute', but before she did the Charleston and started wearing her trademark bangs, her film roles tended more towards the Mary Pickford type.  These two photos, taken only a year or so apart, already show her trending away from the Pickford curls and towards her now iconic look.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015


Although it is difficult to say with any kind of certainty which films Nelson Evans worked on in the capacity of still photographer, there is one that we know for sure.  "Mickey", released in August of 1918 but started in mid 1916 and completed a year later, starred Mabel Normand as an orphan who is sent East from her late father's mine to live with her aunt.  Produced by Mack Sennett, but made at Normand's own studio, it became the biggest hit of the year, in part thanks to unusually heavy promotion, promotion that Evans not only took part in, but took great pride in as well.

A few months before the film's release, news stories appeared in several trade magazines, including the May 18th, 1918 issue of Motion Picture News, telling of Evans' work on designing the lobby display for the film.  Evans talks about his philosophy behind his design, stating that:

"I first studied the story and determined to cater to this demand for continuity, to perfect my lobby display, so that the story would be presented to the public pictorially and in chronological order, and further to combine with this phase the wonderful story which 'Mickey' possesses".  

Elaborating, he says:

"My first purpose was to place before the public a series of panels which would pictorially represent the continuity of the story, and my selection of the panels gave me that element.  They accentuate the story values and render the public in an expectant mood for what is to be shown."

It's unclear what he means by panels, but they were most likely either stills or lobby cards.  Here are examples of both:

An unusual feature of both the still and the lobby card is that they have Evans' signature.  Although I am no expert on lobby cards, the ones from 'Mickey' are the only ones I have seen signed by the photographer.  It's possible that the Evans Studio was responsible for creating the cards (which might explain why the signature is always next to the title of the film), or perhaps it was part of his contract.  In any case, it is unusual.

Other promotional pictures that he shot for the film appeared on some of the variant covers of the million-copy-selling sheet music of the film's theme song.

It's clear that Evan's was proud of his work on the film he called "the greatest comedy-drama ever presented for the public's entertainment on the screen."  Although remembered today only by silent movie fans, the movie did indeed prove to be popular with the public of the day.