A Detour Through Tinsel Town, 1910… Via Coos Bay,Oregon

You never know where historical research might take you…

I was looking around on the Internet this week, hoping to learn the full name of one P. C. Levar of Coos Bay, who had been editor and publisher of the Marshfield Coast Mail newspaper around the turn of the 20th century. While I was unable to discover what the “P. C.” stood for, I did unearth some unexpected information about the man’s writing career. As I discovered, Levar’s legacy rests not so much on anything he wrote while editor of the Coast Mail.  Rather, to the extent that he is still remembered today, it is largely owing to a letter of his that was published in the early film journal, Moving Pictures World.

The letter–in which Levar criticizes the Biograph Film Company for their underhanded replacement of the actress originally known as the ‘Biograph Girl’–is clear evidence that the Hollywood ‘star system’ was already beginning to develop in 1910. Levar’s epistle  is such an early and unambiguous example of what would eventually come to be known as ‘fan mail’ that the letter has been referenced, quoted, and even reproduced whole in a number of books about the formative days of the film industry, including Tom Gunning’s D.W. Griffith & the Origins of American Narrative Film, Eileen Bowser’s The Transformation of Cinema, 1907-1915, and Florence Lawrence, The Biograph Girl: America’s First Movie Star by Kelly R. Brown.

Here is the complete text of P. C. Levar’s letter:

Letter from P.C. Levar of Coos Bay, OR to 'Moving Picture World' magazine, january 30, 1910

Levar's letter to Moving Pictures World, as reprinted in Gunning, Tom. 'D.W. Griffith and the Origins of American Narrative Film' (1994: University of Illinois Press)

'Biograph Girl' Florence Lawrence: the object of P.C. Levar's admiration.

Although he does not use her name (probably he did not even know it, as film actors were not credited in those days), the ‘true and original’ Biograph Girl whom Levar favors is almost certainly Florence Lawrence.  Lawrence is generally regarded by film scholars as the first true American movie star. Hers was an eventful, very colorful, and ultimately tragic life. Readers who would like to learn more are directed to her biographic entry in the northernstars movie database, as well as Mary L. Grau’s lengthy and detailed Blog article. At Chronicling America, a name search of all papers presently digitized yields 100 pages  with information on Florence Lawrence (see one exemplary page below). As if that weren’t enough, you can also read about her contributions to automotive engineering history. (Yes, the same Florence Lawrence!)

Biggest Movie Stars of 1916: Florence Lawrence is pictured lower left. From New-York Tribune (New York, NY) January 16, 1916, pg.18

After her relationship with Biograph ended, Lawrence went on to work for other pioneering film production companies, including Lubin Studios, Independent, Universal and Victor. She would appear in more than 270 pictures; at the height of her career earning more than $1 million per year. Prints of her films have become rare, but on YouTube you can view her work in the 1909 Biograph short, ‘Those Awful Hats.’   Jason A. Stone


Filed under Chronicling America, Uncategorized

4 responses to “A Detour Through Tinsel Town, 1910… Via Coos Bay,Oregon

  1. C L McIntosh

    In the 1880 census, there is a Percy C. Levar living in Marshfield, Oregon. This may be the P. C. Levar that you were seeking.

  2. C L McIntosh

    Additional information:
    The 1910 census (NARA T624-1280) ED 67, sheet 15-A, Percy C. Lavar is living in South Marshfield, Oregon. His occupation is listed as printer, and he owns his own shop. This is most likely the correct match for your P. C. Lavar.

    • Awesome, CL McIntosh. Thanks for the feedback. Given the occupation info from the 1910 census, I am fairly certain that this is indeed our man: “Percy” C. Levar. I’m going to update the Marshfield Coast Mail historical essay and other ODNP materials to reflect this. Thanks again!

  3. …and reports of his death were greatly exaggerated.
    The ODNP has proved very useful in documenting burials & finding obituaries for the Marshfield Pioneer Cemetery in Coos Bay. Poor handwriting & record-keeping resulted in many errors which we are trying to resolve in the database. The original logbook indicated that P.C. Levar was buried in February 1908. With the obit from the Coos Bay Times dated February 17, 1908, a bit more sleuthing, and this great article, we are now confident that the more well-known P. C. (yes, Percy) did not pass on but rather Moses Levar. Thank you for this wonderful source and the engaging articles.

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