Back to Back to Home Page / Back to Films Home

The First Ayesha on Film - 1911

Marguerite Snow as Ayesha

'She' was the Thanhouser Film Company's first two-reel production, released on December 26th, 1911. A popular subject during the silent era, the broad pallete of H. Rider Haggard's adventure story is here reduced to a handful of coastal locations in breezy upstate New York, and a cast of barely a dozen players. In just a few short years, epics like the Italian 'Cabiria' or D.W. Griffith's 'Birth of a Nation' would sound the death knell for small-scale treatments as this. Audiences would become less tolerant of such economy as they grew more accustomed to the genuine spectacle that cinema was now able to offer.

Edwin Thanhouser founded his studio in New Rochelle, New York in 1909, and it had grown by 1911 into a successful and prolific organisation. The principal cast and crew were all part of  Thanhouser's regular stock company, appearing collectively in dozens of the thousand-plus films the studio produced during its eight years of activity.

Thanhouser's Ayesha, Marguerite Snow, joined the studio in 1910. She braved outdoor filming in the freezing New York winter for her first role in 'Baseball and Bloomers', but after a few months returned to the New York stage she came from. By the next winter she was back with Thanhouser, her popularity confirmed by a contest in the New York Morning Telegraph that year which voted her the second most popular screen actress behind Florence Turner. Mary Pickford came third.

Miss Snow, who was allegedly born in 1889 (Thanhouser's current bio suggests that the date may have been nudged forwards once or twice) married co-star James Cruze in 1913 (Cruze, who would star in 'Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde' a month after 'She' was completed, went on to a distinguished carrer as a director in the twenties). In similarly incestuous fashion,Viola Alberti (Amenartes) married director George Nichols a few years after 'She' was made.

George Nichols' work on 'She' has a perfunctory quality characteristic of a time when films were completed on a weekly basis. Despite (or because of?) a lack of any obvious flair, he continued to work throughout the next decade, most notably directing and performing in a series of comedy shorts for Fatty Arbuckle. He had a small role in Erich Von Stroheim's 'The Wedding March' shortly before his death in 1927.

Thanhouser was one of the old guard of film studios, where 'quality' was perhaps measured in terms of workmanship rather than artistic merit. As a result, 'She' has not aged as well as its title character. The film is worthwhile as a period piece, but the flat camerawork, minimal sets and stagey gesticulations of the cast don't offer much for the casual viewer. The studio survived the sale of  its founder's controlling interest to Mutual Films in 1912, and later a devastating fire (on the 13th day of 1913). Many creditable features were produced in the following years, including the highly successful 'Million Dollar Mystery' serial of 1914, but a later slump in the film industry, exacerbated by the war in Europe, forced Thanhouser to close it's doors for good in 1917.

Ayesha - 1917

Delysia as Ayesha in 1917

Alice Henriette Lapize (3 March 1889 – 10 February 1979), better known by her stage name, Alice Delysia, was a French actress and singer who made her career in English musical theatre. In 1916, she made her film début, and took a leading role in SHE, an adaptation of the Rider Haggard story, about a woman's passion for a young traveller.

Ayesha - 1926

Betty Blythe

Betty Blythe as Ayesha

Back to Top / Home Page

Page updated (but still under construction) : 3rd August 2016