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History through Sales: Trading card of early film star Mary Fuller

History through Sales: Trading card of early film star Mary Fuller

I love it when my customers get talking. You never know when it’s going to come, a conversation could break out after a $5 transaction with as much likelihood as it will over a $100 and up piece. My most recent conversation was brief, after sale of this item:

Mary Fuller Kromo Gravure Card

But while brief this exchange of e-mails did inspire me to do a little digging out of which I discovered film star Mary Fuller, shown above on a circa 1917 Kromo Gravure trading card out of Detroit, was more important to film history than I ever supposed.

My buyer, to the best of my knowledge, is not a regular collector of movie cards and ephemera, but had her curiosity aroused through her job at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington DC, where Miss Fuller, who died in 1973, just happens to be buried.

After I replied to her e-mail, my customer suggested I check out a video featuring Mary Fuller if I had the 12 minutes to spare. Well, I did, and I was surprised to find the clip was from the famed 1910 Edison production of Frankenstein starring Charles Ogle as the monster (which I knew) and Mary Fuller as Elizabeth (which I obviously didn’t know).

Here it is:

On a related note, while putting this post together I came across FrankensteinFilms.com, which has to be the most fantastic site about Frankenstein out there! I really risked getting sidetracked when I got bogged down inside their pages!

Anyway, I was curious if there was more to Mary Fuller than Edison’s Frankenstein, which she actually wasn’t even credited in. The IMDb credits her with over 200 film appearances after coming to the screen from the stage, but her career was over by 1917 and other than Frankenstein, I must admit I don’t believe I’ve seen her in anything else.

That’s when common sense took over. Early last year I had the great pleasure of exchanging e-mails with the owner of The Picture Show Man website and I wound up by asking him for some reading recommendations (his movie and book release lists are not to be missed!). I’m about halfway through one of the top titles he’d mentioned, Million and One Nights: A History of the Motion Picture Through 1925 by Terry Ramsaye (affiliate link), originally published in 1926. You want to know how much early film history is packed in this title? Well, I’m on page 440 and the story, which runs chronologically, has only reached 1907.

Mary Fuller on a circa 1916 MJ Moriarty Playing Card

Mary Fuller on a circa 1916 MJ Moriarty Playing Card

I can’t even say I’m surprised but when I checked for “Fuller, Mary” in the index to A Million and One Nights it actually spit back some page numbers at me. I’d expected these entries to be about Frankenstein, but instead I once again learned something new.

Mary Fuller had starred in What Happened to Mary (1912), which holds the honor of being considered the forerunner of the movie serial.

Here’s some of what Ramsaye has to say about it:

Edward A. McManus and Gardner Wood, in the year of 1912, were engaged in promoting circulation for The Ladies World, a McClure publication. Out of the editorial department came a project for a continued feature to be built around a mythical heroine known as Mary, and to be introduced with a cover design by Charles Dana Gibson. There was to be an unfinished story and a prize of $100 for the best answer to What Happened to Mary?

So The Ladies World would publish the story, minus the ending, and Edison would produce a film which included the ending. I wasn’t clear as to whether the film would be inspired by the winning reader entry or if the winning entry would be the one which came closest to a pre-selected ending, but either way, a novel idea.

In noting that Mary Fuller was cast as Mary, Ramsaye writes, “She was now a full fledged Edison star.” Of the stories, the first, The Escape from Bondage, was released July 26, 1912. In mentioning that the second Mary feature was titled Alone in New York, Ramsaye points out that “each installment of the What Happened to Mary? series was independent and complete. It was not a serial. The magazine stories and the screen releases did not synchronize accurately, but it was none the less a successful promotion.”

So while Ramsaye explicitly states “not a serial” he does immediately lead in to the serial it inspired, The Adventures of Kathlyn starring Kathlyn Williams, which most definitely was a serial. As for Mary Fuller, following the 12 chapter What Happened to Mary she’d star in a sequel, the 6 chapter Who Will Marry Mary?

See that, Mary Fuller had previously been just another silent actress to me, but a spark of outside interest and look at all I’ve learned! You can be sure the next time I list an item depicting Miss Fuller there will be a lot of early film history racing through my mind.

Mary Fuller on a 1916 paper supplement issued with the St. Louis Globe-Democrat

Mary Fuller on a 1916 paper premium issued with the St. Louis Globe-Democrat

About Cliff Aliperti

I've been involved with collecting and collectibles pretty much as long as I can remember beginning as a tyke with baseball cards and somehow managing to collect a little of this and a little of that from many other hobbies over the year. I began assisting my Uncle at baseball card shows and live auctions in the mid-1980's (fun times!) and it wasn't very long before I started dealing a little myself from inside his space. About 1990 I became a full-time baseball card dealer for about three years, during which time I also really fell in love with classic movies. There was a four-year gap afterwards for college and then another four years that I dressed up nice and rode the LIRR to Manhattan each morning to sell advertising, but it was that real job which served as my introductory course with a computer and its down hours which led to my first use of eBay in 2000. By 2004 eBay was paying better than Manhattan so I went full-time and have been ever since. The baseball card market was a little tight early on so pretty much on a whim I bought some silent era movie photos which reawakened the passion for me. I currently specialize in Movie Cards and Collectibles from the Silent Era through the Golden Age of the movies as well as general Magazine Back Issues from the 19th Century through to about the 1980's. All of my currently available stock can be found in my eBay Store. I also operate several informational websites, the first of which things-and-other-stuff.com has been home to my archives of vintage movie cards and collectibles since 2002. I also run the magawiki, a site comprised of the contents lists of vintage magazine back issues, a fan site dedicated to the 1930's and 40's actor Warren William, who's also the subject of my personal collection, and an e-commerce site at The-Collectors-Site.com. Besides all of that, and the selling, I'm usually in several other places online, the most current of which can usually be found on my Google Profile. More Posts

5 Comments to “History through Sales: Trading card of early film star Mary Fuller”

  1. Terri Maxfield // January 6, 2010 at 9:08 pm //

    What a wonderful post…you’ve put a dreamy happy smile on my face…thank you… :)

  2. Oh, is there anything better than owning an object, letting it teach you things and lead you on a journey to other people, places, things?

    Few things compare. In my mind, anyway.

    How nice, after all these years, to meet Mary.

  3. [...] for a site about classic movie stars.  I’m thinking well, okay, that might be true for a Mary Fuller or a Warren William , but it’s a bit of a smack at the legends, a Bogie or a [...]

  4. I have the 1912 sheet music for “What Happened to Mary,” the first collaboration between Edison’s film company and serialization in Ladies World Magazine. I haven’t been able to find out anything about its value, which should be enhanced by the fact that my husband’s descendants were the owners/publishers of Ladies World in 1912. This piece is from the collection we inheried of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Douglas Moore, the nephew of the Ladies World (McClure Publishing, I believe) owners. So there is proveable provenance as well as a unique piece of history. The cover is signed by one of the writers and perhaps by Mary Fuller herself. (I can’t tell what the squiggles under her picture are…) Does anyone have any idea where I should try to sell this and how much it might bring under the circumstances? Thank you!

  5. [...] see more on Mary Fuller in this article I wrote for Inherited Values in January, 2010. Also see the fantastic Robert S. Birchard article [...]

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