More from the Marchioness

I’ve found more information on Gwladys, Marchioness of Townshend, who wrote some scenarios for the Clarendon Film Company, and an interview with whom was given in an earlier post.

The new source of information is her autobiography, It Was – and It Wasn’t, written in 1937. This tells us a little more about the agreement she made in 1912 with Clarendon to produce scenarios for them, and gives us more film titles than I had listed.

She seems to had always had an interest in films, which included considering investing in cinema buildings, and she had written articles on aspects of film before she made a deal with Clarendon:

I had been keenly interested in the Cinema Theatre and its possibilities at Maidenhead, and in 1912 I entered into an arrangement with the Clarendon Film Company of Charing Cross Road, to produce a series of picture plays; the first play, A Strong Man’s Love, being well received by the public and the Press. The House of Mystery followed. These were the first cinematograph dramas to give the author’s name, and I was the first peeress to write for the Cinema.

Were these the first films to credit the scenarist (as opposed to a playwright)? I don’t know. It might be Anita Loos, whose first film for D.W. Griffith was The New York Hat (1912), or Harriet Quimby, wrote wrote five scenarios for Griffith in 1911, but was either credited on screen? But I think Gwladys is on solid ground when she says she was the first peeress who wrote for the screen. Fascinatingly, she names two others who wrote scenarios after her – the Countess of Warwick and the Countess of Roden. I know nothing of either.

Next she gives interesting information on how much she was paid:

The late Sir George Alexander and I believed in the artistic future of the Cinema. At that time I considered its moral and ethical possibilities limitless, and it is interesting to compare the views of the Gaumont Company in 1913 as to the prices paid for scenarios, with the money of 1935. In 1913 a representative of the Gaumont Company told an interviewer that, “on the whole, the scale of payment is not high, and the picture dramatist does not expect – at any rate, he does not receive – anything like the renumeration of his brother, the real dramatist. The royalty system exists, but it is not general, the plot usually being bought outright. The average price is that of a short magazine story, but many ideas are disposed of for half a guinea apiece.” At that time I was paid £300 for writing six film plays, but, fortunately for authors, prices have increased considerably since then.

After an aside on the importance of the cinema as a force for education, she describes how she used a model theatre in her garden – together with cardboard cut-out nuns for her film The Convent Gate – to work out how scenes should appear. Then, after comments on the need for appropriate music for silent films, she concludes thus:

After my first film play was produced by the Clarendon Film company, the same company produced another – When East meets West. This completed a series of seven film dramas commissioned by the same company during a period of two years – A Strong Man’s Love, At the Convent Gate, The House of Mystery, Wreck and Ruin, The Love of an Actress and The Family Solicitor. All these sound most melodramatic now, but had their little success in those days.

I hadn’t come across some of these titles, but all were produced, so here’s a complete filmography for her, with slightly mocking descriptions taken from Denis Gifford’s British Film Catalogue:

A STRONG MAN’S LOVE (2,095ft)
Released January 1913
p.c: Clarendon
dir: Wilfred Noy
story: Marchioness of Townshend
cast: Dorothy Bellew … Elizabeth
Crime. Vicar’s daughter elopes with actor who kills manager and is acquitted by barrister who loves her.

THE HOUSE OF MYSTERY (2,090ft)
Released April 1913
p.c: Clarendon
dir: Wilfred Noy
story: Marchioness of Townshend
cast: Dorothy Bellew … The Girl
Crime. Fake ghost, gas chamber, and raid on den of 50 coiners by 100 policemen.

THE CONVENT GATE (2,175ft)
Released September 1913
p.c: Clarendon
dir: Wilfred Noy
story: Marchioness of Townshend
cast: Dorothy Bellew … Marie St Clair
Drama. Jilted bride recovers sanity after being saved from fire.

THE LOVE OF AN ACTRESS (3,000ft)
Released August 1914
p.c: Clarendon
dir: Wilfred Noy
story: Marchioness of Townshend
cast: Dorothy Bellew … Actress
Evan Thomas … Peer
Drama. Film actress feigns drunkenness to repel peer but saves him from suicide after he takes to drink.

WRECK AND RUIN (2,755ft)
Released August 1914
p.c: Clarendon
dir: Wilfred Noy
story: Marchioness of Townshend
cast: Dorothy Bellew
Drama. Foreman saves mill owner from flood caused by striking workmen.

THE FAMILY SOLICITOR (2,772ft)
Released September 1914
p.c: Clarendon
dir: Wilfred Noy
story: Marchioness of Townshend
cast: Dorothy Bellew … The Girl
Crime. Lawyer forges earl’s will so that his indebted son may inherit.

WHEN EAST MEETS MEET (3,000ft)
Released February 1915
p.c: Clarendon
dir: Wilfred Noy
story: Marchioness of Townshend
cast: Dorothy Bellew … The Girl
Crime. Indian fakir hypnotises officer’s daughter and explodes gas bulbs from afar with electric rays.

None of these films is known to survive today.

5 responses

  1. There was only one Gwladys Townshend, and to her I was always her her Little Princess, she will always be remembered.

    Wendy

  2. I am very distantly related through the Sutherst line. We share james Sutherst 1756 and Mary Nuttal as ancesters. I stumbled across Gwladys by pure chance and I think she was a lady of great loyalty and pluck.
    your piece has made facinating reading
    many thanks
    laranie Cox nee Sutherst

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