During the era of silent films there were many movies produced in the Saranac Lake area. The popularity of the Alaskan stories of Jack London and the ice-covered poems of Robert Service inspired movie makers to produce films based on these writings. These movies required images of snow, ice, inclement weather and a cast of hardy extras. During the infancy of movie making, New Jersey was the base for silent flicks and Hollywood had not yet been established as the movie capital of the world. Alaska was too far away to make it financialy feasable to film the outdoor scenes on location but Saranac Lake was just a snowballs throw away from Jersey and had everything needed to create the Alaskan illusion. In 1910 William F. Cooper, better known as "Caribou Bill", set up an Alaskan type village on the Edgewood Road, where the Saranac Lake High School now stands. He called his venture the ARCTIC FILM COMPANY. The story behind how "Caribou Bill" came to set up his movie camp in Saranac Lake has all the ingredients for an interesting movie.

In a May 23,1910 interview with the New York Times Bill's friend / PR man, Fred R. Seton, stated that Bill had been ousted from Russia by Czar Nicholas. This can't be verified but the New York Times accepted the story so it must be true. From 1895 to 1900 Bill delivered the Canadian mail between Dawson and Dyea, now a ghost town. This was a round trip of 1,024 miles and he made the trip once a month. From 1900 to 1908 he delivered the U.S. mail between Valdez to Eagle City, a round trip of 808 miles. In 1908 the first All-Alaska Sweepstakes race was run. With all this practice it's easy to see how Bill won the 430 mile dogsled race from Nome to Candle Creek.

The victory of winning this race put "Caribou Bill" into the limelight and he found that he liked it there. In that same year the Nome Sweepstakes Association put up a purse of $10,000 to any musher who could go around the world by dogsled in four years or less. Bill was the only taker. The stipulations were that he had to start off with no money and he had to stick to using the dogsled, which also had a set of tires for snowless areas. He had about eighteen dogs in the crew and would interchange the pulling duty regularly. He and his cohort "Missouri Kid" alias Harry Boone would go from Valdez to Seattle and across the U.S. then go by ship from New York City to Liverpool, England. From there he would travel by ship to France, cross over to Germany and then follow the Russian-Siberian Railroad to Vladivostock. The plans then were to follow the coast line to East Cape, Siberia, cross the Bering Strait on ice to Cape Prince of Wales and sled down the Alaskan coastline to Nome. He had to be back in Nome by December 10, 1912. Quite an agenda! Below are some pics of the first phase of the planned run, Valdez to Seattle or bust.

Caribou Bill ran into a few problems crossing the states but the ones that caused him the most irritation occured in New York State. He had a run-in with Police Chief Foley in Mount Vernon because of the barking dogs and was run out of town. In Utica Bill was detained for 36 hours because of the enforcement of the city's muzzle law but was finally released to continue the journey after the mayor pardoned him. The mayor was a dog lover, fortunately. On May 29, 1908 Caribou Bill and his canine crew arrived in New York City to find throngs of eager fans blocking traffic on 66th Street, Broadway and 23rd Street. Once again he was almost put in the cooler. While Bill was in New York he met some New Jersey film makers who were interested in his exploits. During the silent film era New jersey was the film capitol of the world. This is obviously why he abandoned his journey and came to Saranac lake to set up a movie camp probably backed by the movie moguls of Jersey.

The movie set was complete with a false-front Alaskan style village and lots of dog sleds. Bill would often run his team through Saranac lake village and pick up supplies. Bill hired many locals and even their horses as extras including my granfather and two of his Five years later, in 1915, Bill moved on to Port Henry to create another film set and the Saranac Lake film set became BUCKLEY'S MOVING PICTURE CAMP, owned and operated by Daniel T. Buckley. The camp was productive until about 1923 and then abandoned. If you happen to see an old silent film featuring Alaska and dogsleds, most likely it was filmed in Saranac lake.

"The Shooting of Dan McGrew", "Lure Of The Yukon", "Chilkoot Pass", "The Perils Of Pauline", "The Call Of The Wild" and "Deluxe Annie" with Norma Talmadge and featuring Saranac Lake skating star Ed Lamy, were filmed in Saranac Lake. Shot in 1914, "The Perils Of Pauline", which starred Pearl White and Craine Wilbur, included a scene where Pearl, on horseback, dove from a 65 foot high cliff on Bluff Island into Middle Saranac Lake. Harry Duso, patriarch of the Duso's Sales And Service and Crescent Bay Marina family, pulled off the stunt with no injuries to himself or the horse. Harry was wearing a dress during the jump, which must have made for difficult swimming.

In the winter of 1916 scenes for "The Silver Shell" and "Blazing Love" were shot here. In that same year scenes for "Harrigan's Gold", with Eloise Day, were shot at the cave on Mount Pisgah. In 1917 "Jury Of Fate" was filmed here and, during a dry Autumn in 1917, "Bitter Trails", starring Craig Bannister and Vanessa Tremaine, was filmed. During the filming of this movie a campfire went awry resulting in the burning of seven acres of land. In 1922 the silent flick, "Go Get 'em Hutch", was shot.

Several local people appeared in some of these classic silents. Dew Drop Morgan's mother, Martha Morgan, had a strong roll in "The Great Mail Robbery", which was filmed here around 1912. Alice Brady, head waitress at the St. Regis Hotel, performed a skating stunt on Moody Pond in 1921. She went through the ice in the place of Martha Mansfield, a popular actress of that era. Some shots of the village of Saranac Lake can be seen in these movies.

The Perils of Pauline
(1914) Arctic Film Company, Saranac Lake, NY, "Caribou Bill" Cooper
B&W : Serial / 40 reels

Directed by Louis J. Gasnier and Donald MacKenzie

Cast: Pearl White [Pauline], Crane Wilbur [Harry Marvin], Paul Panzer [Koerner / Raymond Owen], Edward José [Sanford Marvin], Francis Carlisle (Francis Carlyle) [Hicks, Owen’s henchman], Clifford Bruce [the gypsy leader], Donald MacKenzie [‘Blinky Bill’], Jack Standing [Ensign Summers], Eleanor Woodruff [Lucille], Leroy Baker, Louise Du Pre, Oscar Nye, Sam Ryan, Louis J. Gasnier, Joe Cuny, Charles ‘Pitch’ Rebada, Frenk Redman, Floyd Buckley, Milton Berle [child], Bobbie Arnst, Sidney Blackmer, Grace Darling, Chief Thunderbird, Meridel Le Sueur [Pearl White’s fencing stand-in], Harry Duso [horseriding stuntman]

Jury of Fate

Filmed on location at Saranac Lake and the St. Lawrence River in New York State, The Jury of Fate starred Mabel Taliaferro in the dual role of the Labordie twins, Jeanne (a girl) and Jacques (a boy). Jeanne grows up resigned to the fact that Jacques is her father's favorite child. Thus, when Jacques accidentally drowns, Jeanne cuts her hair short and assumes her brother's identity. While this rash act prevents Jeanne's father from suffering a fatal heart attack, it throws the girl's boyfriend Donald (William Sherwood) into despair; after all, if "Jacques" is still alive, then Jeanne would have to be the drowned twin.

The hero and heroine are not reunited until the very end of the picture, by which time Jeanne has become the unwitting cause of the deaths of two men -- who, fortunately for the purposes of the plot, are the villains of the piece. The Jury of Fate contained many of the bizarre, surrealistic elements that would soon become de rigueur in the films of director Tod Browning. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide

Go Get 'em Hutch
1922-USA/Congo (Brazzaville)

Filmed at Saranac Lake and Ausable Chasm, NY, this serial, released in 15 chapters, starred one of the icons of the genre, daredevil actor Charles Hutchison, who reportedly earned 1,000 dollars a week for his efforts. This time, Hutchison goes up against a crooked lawyer (Richard R. Neill) and his crime syndicate, who are out to fleece heroine Marguerite Clayton.

As was often the case in the silent era, the lead heavy had an equally dangerous female in his employ, here played by Pearl Shepard, but both were defeated by the irrepressible Hutch in the final chapter, "Ten Minutes to Live." His protestations to the contrary, Hutchison was doubled by Joe Cuny in the most dangerous sequences, including a leap across the chasm. ~ Hans J. Wollstein, All Movie Guide

There still is potential for movie making in the area. The lakes and mountains are ideal for shooting outdoor adventure films. As for drama, comedy and tragedy, there are countless stories of the famous, infamous and unknown who came to Saranac Lake seeking to be cured of the dreaded disease, tuberculosis. Many regained their health and returned home. Others lost the battle and were shipped home on the "night train". Many, who were cured stayed on in Saranac Lake to become productive members of the community. The stories of these people provide an unlimited potential for scripts.

In 1982, Fred G. Sullivan, aka Adirondack Fred, filmed "Cold River" in Long Lake, Paul Smiths and Saranac Lake. This was a coming-of-age story about two kids whose guideboat overturns at Buttermilk Falls in Long Lake when their father, an Adirondack guide played by Richard Jaeckel, suffered a fatal heart attack. The time frame appears to be the late thirties. The father wanted his children to experience the real Adirondacks and they obviously did just that.

The guideboat is completely demolished as it goes solo over the falls. It appears that they buried the father and somehow managed to retrieve some of the gear, as they are seen later with heavy winter apparel which was fortunately packed for the fall canoe trip. Coincidently Richard suffered a real life heart attack a few years later as did Fred Sullivan.

The kids try to make it home. They camp for a while in a tent they had salvaged from the gear and feast on a sort of bug soup and boiled leaves. They try, with poor results, to obtain game for the soup pot. This was several years before "Survivor" became an instant hit with couch potatoes.

The kids soon encounter an African-American version of Noah Rhondeau, complete with a sign proclaiming himself mayor of Cold River, population 1. The hermit is played by Robert Earl Jones, father of James Earl Jones. The hermit takes the kids into his cabin and later goes out to check his traps.

They then are accosted by an evil trapper, "Knat", who overplays his role as a nasty "Deliverance" type. The evil trapper, Knat, comes into the cabin, steals their food then leaves the kids to fend for themselves. He then, presumably, kills the hermit while he is checking his traps and returns on Christmas day, while they are singing Christmas carols. He gives the kids a hard time untill he is killed by the boy with a shotgun blast. The kids then burn the cabin and their bridges and set out on the long trudge to civilization. On the way they discover the body of the hermit. They, of course, eventually arrive home.

The movie is based on a book of the same name and is done utilizing the old standby, the flashback. The thoughts are those of an environmentalist type woman, who seems to be a member of the APA., Sierra Club or Greenpeace. While in-flight to the Lake Clear airport aboard an Alleghany Airlines plane she daydreams of days gone by. She is the girl in the story, now grown up, coming back to the Adirondacks to see her sick brother and fight a dam project slated for the region. The dam would flood her beloved Cold River area where long-ago the adventure took place and where her father may still lie buried. It appears she was successful in her fight because there is no dam in that area now. The editing left something to be desired but the Adirondack scenes were nice.

Sullivan also shot The Beer Drinkers Guide to Fitness and Filmmaking in Saranac Lake in 1988. It was originally titled Sullivan's Pavillion. This movie was done as sort of an apology for Cold River. In it Fred satirizes the making and merchandising of Cold River while lampooning himself as a hapless filmmaker who is fighting the temptation of continuing with his dream of producing a memorable film versus the more practical and mundane choice of settling down as a father and provider for his wife and large brood of kids.

The lead is played by Sullivan himself and he is supported by his wife, family and many friends. In this story, Adirondack Fred battles the symbolic temptress of fame and fortune but is eventually shown where the bear defecated in the woods and, somewhat reluctantly, concedes by dedicating the movie to his wife, Polly, and his kids and getting a real job. Sadly, Fred died in 1996, at 51, while playing basketball at Paul Smith's College. If he had lived and obtained the backing to do a few more films I really believe he would have achieved his goal. He had something that most folks don't have and some are afraid to exercise; imagination, a sense of self and the willingness to take a chance on a dream that could easily end in failure and embarrassment. We sure could use more of his kind.

The movie is destined to become a vital part of Saranac Lake history as it contains a treasury of scenes featuring the places and people who contributed to the ambience associated with life in Saranac Lake in the eighties. Some of the places and people are gone now but, because of Fred's willingness to take a chance, their images will remain digitalized for future generations of Saranac Lakers.

The low-budget action film "King of New York" hit the Adirondacks next in 1990, bringing the always-edgy Christopher Walken as the star. Scenes for "King of New York" were filmed around Saranac Lake, although most of the film takes place in New York City. Not a memorable viewing experience.

Walken must have liked Saranac Lake, because he was back here in another low-budget thriller, "McBain" in 1991. It fared no better than "King".

Will there be more movies made in Saranac Lake? Hope so! Can't wait!!