Original Document
Original Document
Esther Pennington on the Lubinville motion picture studio, 1915

Lubinville is the only place in Philadelphia not discovered by Benjamin Franklin, who wandered in from Boston one day and transfixed everything in the City of Brotherly Love with a benevolent eye and a bronze tablet. Although the War of Independence was waged after that time and Philadelphia became the capital of the United States, while Washington was a mud hole on the Potomac, Philadelphia changed not at all until Siegmund Lubin, arriving from Germany by way of New York, revolutionized the town with motion pictures and founded Lubinville.

Lubinville stands on the outskirts of the older section of Philadelphia at the corner of Indiana avenue and Twentieth street, but it extends all over Philadelphia when the Lubin directors need metropolitan settings for films. This extension has done more to arouse Philadelphia from its Rip Van Winkle existence than all the jibes of New York and Chicago. No one in Philadelphia knew the real significance of the Liberty Bell until a troupe of players in revolutionary colonial costumes rushed past the intersection of Chestnut and Broad streets, pursued by a man waving a camera.

Nevertheless, Lubinville proper is a fortress. From the gate of the fortress there emerged one day a beautiful woman magnificently attired in a yellow satin gown and a pink brocaded coat. She swept haughtily through a double line of blasé young men whose total disregard of their dinner jackets in broad daylight argued that they were to the manor born, and ascended the steps of the waiting limousines. A perspiring, red-faced, gray-haired man in white trousers and a vivid shirt of violet stripes rushed frantically from the other side of the automobile. "Get back," he cried, "get back!"

"What's the matter now?" inquired the lady in the pink brocade, pausing at the door of her vehicle.

"That's the same coat you wore in the last scene, and you're supposed to have changed," roared the interrupter.

"Well, no one told me," she assured him, "and you'll have to wait till I change." She swept back again through the gateway with the same regal air.

"Whew!" breathed one of the dinner-coated youths. "It's great to be a director's wife and make him stand around."

"Get out of the way!" the gateman growled at him, and the blasé troupe all retreated to let the perspiring gentleman of the violet shirt pass through the lodge.

Within the gates there flashed a scene that for an instant looked like the interior of a British barracks. Red-coated soldiers were passing from one building to another across a courtyard set between structures of high, military walls. On the benches, lounged men whose khaki looked at first sight like the undress uniform of Tommy Atkins, but who proved on closer inspection to be clad in exact replicas of the uniforms of the American soldier in the Philippine campaign. At one end of the courtyard, soldiers of France played cards in an unconsidered and undirected scene that looked exactly like one of those in "Under Two Flags." A girl in western riding costume of corduroy and sombrero stood watching them. A girl in Quaker garb waited in a doorway to talk with a man whose raiment proclaimed him an English Puritan of Oliver Cromwell's time, but whose unalloyed mirth marked him more Cavalier than Roundhead. Suddenly she slapped him squarely across the cheek and ran off with gay laughter, followed by unpuritanical threats from the wearer of the broad-brimmed, high-crowned black hat.

Suddenly there clanged a brazen bell. Instantly men and girls rushed toward the doorway in the left-hand corner of the courtyard. The tall buildings around the place emptied other men and other girls from low doorways and from high stairways that led up to other doors that seemed to be set in the glass roofs. "Luncheon!" a girl shouted shrilly. A man mocked her high soprano. "Luncheon nothing!" boomed a deep bass. "I'm going to eat a dinner." They wedged somehow into the doorway, flocking up the stairs like a mob in a play, a strange medley of nationalities and periods, all the way from tuniced Romans to double-tuniced evening gowns, and all the grades from emperor to scrubwoman, all happy, all ravenously hungry.

Into the dining room they rushed after their ascent had brought them to the highest floor of the building. Waitresses before steaming, nickel-plated urns kept passing cups with a speed that betokened long training in railway restaurants. Orders flashed to and fro, attended by airy badinage. Some one flung a biscuit. "Stop that!" an authoritative voice commanded.

Amid the chatter of two hundred people it was hard at first to distinguish either people or conversation, but at the end of the long counter a very pretty girl made a place for me beside her. Her smile had that familiar quality that devotees of motion pictures come in time to recognize as one that they have seen in pictures somewhere. She wasn't Ethel Clayton, for Ethel Clayton was down at the other end of the counter, perched on a high stool and wearing a deeply decollate gown of black velvet. This other girl wasn't in costume, unless a fascinating poke bonnet of the very latest style might be called a costume; and she was so exceptionally, tantalizingly pretty that it was almost impossible to think that one might have seen her picture without remembering her name. She smiled a whole battery of dimples. "I'm Louise Huff, she said, "otherwise Mrs. Jones. And that's Florence Hackett on the other side of you," she introduced.

To those familiar with the Lubin films Florence Hackett is a gaudy adventuress. She always plots and intrigues and connives. She steals the jewels in the great jewel robberies. She forges letters. She kidnaps children. She disrupts dynasties. Acquaintance with her acting would lead her followers to believe that she would be a haughty woman of slant eyes and a cruel mouth. But this girl at the other side had merry brown eyes that twinkled and a humorous mouth that ran into little laugh wrinkles when she talked. She talked between mouthfuls of strawberry pie.

"I love to be a villainess," she said in explanation of her work. "I'd love to be a real villainess in real life. Everybody walks all over me," she said plaintively, "except Louise. Louise couldn't walk over anybody." She gave a glance down the counter that fell upon several sisters of the studios, who received it directly above their own pie-laden forks and returned it with compound interest. "But I'm not going to let people impose upon me any longer," Miss Hackett announced in a tone that carried to the extreme end of the room.

"Was any one trying to, Florence dear?" Ethel Clayton inquired.

"Not twice," said Miss Hackett without the meekness that she claimed. But in an instant her assertiveness had departed as she began to talk of her love for Lubinville. "I'm the veteran here," she said. "I'm the oldest woman on the place." Louise Huff laughed heartily.

"What about Jane?" she inquired. "Jane," she explained, "is seventy-eight."

"Well she came after I did," Florence Hackett said. "I mean that I was the first actress whom Mr. Lubin engaged for Lubinville. I'm awfully proud of it." she declared "Once, a little while ago, I was having some trouble in Philadelphia and I thought I could not stay in this town because of my own unhappiness. I told them here, and they told me that even if I went, I could come back whenever I wanted to come. Mr. Lowry advised me against going, though. 'You're not as miserable here as you'll be anywhere else,' he told me. And I found that he was right. I was more miserable away than I had thought was possible. And one day I telephoned him from New York. 'Come right back,' he said, and I cried over that telephone for ten minutes before I dared go out on the street."

"It is home, sure enough," said Louise Huff. Florence Hackett smiled fondly at the girl. "It should be for you," she teased her. "Louise met her husband here," she said. "He's one of the directors. We all knew he liked her a long time before Louise seemed to find it out, for he put on all the sort of pictures that called for a girl of her type." Louise blushed furiously. "And he's still putting them on," the older woman continued.

Then at the door appeared a short, rather stoop-shouldered man with a shock of gray hair, a drooping gray mustache and kindly blue eves. A cry of greeting whirled out to him. "That's Mr. D'Arcy," some one explained. H.A. D'Arcy he was, who is Siegmund Lubin's son-in-law and publicity manager, but who won fame even before the days of the movies as the author of that famous poem, "The Face on the Floor," that has gone through all the nations of the world under the title he didn't give it, but which it won for itself as a stone wins moss, "The Face on the Bar Room Floor!"

He smiled genially upon the crowd, summoning a man whom he sought and stepping to one side to give a glimpse of Siegmund Lubin, who was showing some visitors through the wonderful plant, and expatiating upon the mechanical marvels of the place. A bald man of shrewd eyes and a wide brow, "Pop" Lubin only when he isn't around, the man in the doorway was one of the tremendous figures in the newest and most rapidly growing of the great industries of the world. With the power of a great executive he dominated the place while he stayed. It was not merely that he owned Lubinville. It was because of his vivid personality that the lunchroom was silent while he remained. With his going the work bell clanged.

Down the stairway rushed the actors through the courtyard and into other doorways and up other stairways, going to their dressing rooms and studios prepared for the rush of work that is so characteristic of the Lubin studios. The wheels of activity whirled fast beneath the glass roofs. No one loitered now. Every one worked. But the same spirit that had marked the noontide recess, the spirit of camaraderie that is so noble a feature of Lubinville, the spirit of fun and mischief, pervaded the work, a fire in the volcano that old Benjamin Franklin would have enjoyed if he could come again through the streets of the red brick houses with the rocking chairs on the porches and the "busybodies" on the second-story windows. For he would have remembered the experiments with lightning that he himself made in the Pennsylvania city and he would have appreciated how "Pop" Lubin still plays with the lightning under the glass roofs of Lubinville.

Credit: Esther Pennington, "On the Inside at Lubinville," Photoplay Magazine (February 1915): 129-133.
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