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:
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.
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.
- While putting this article together here’s the most fantastic page about Mary Fuller that I ran across: What Happened to Mary? by Robert S. Birchard
- For more about the other Mary Fuller collectibles found on this page see my Photo ID Guides for 1916 MJ Moriarty Playing Cards and 1916 St. Louis Globe-Democrat Supplement Photos on things-and-other-stuff.com
- And if you’re looking for affordable 1910’s trading cards like the Mary Fuller card that inspired this post check out nearly 200 different vintage Kromo Gravure movie cards inside my eBay Store.