Wadsworth Camp Cinema Connections

Left: Poster from the film The Signal Tower (1924, Universal Pictures), Top center: Cover of the May 1920 issue of Metropolitan Magazine, Bottom center: Child actor Frankie Darro, Right: Robbie the Robot and Anne Francis star in Forbidden Planet

Left: Poster from the film The Signal Tower (1924, Universal Pictures), Top center: Cover of the May 1920 issue of Metropolitan Magazine, Bottom center: Child actor Frankie Darro, Right: Robbie the Robot and Anne Francis star in Forbidden Planet

There are all kinds of connections in this overview of the Wadsworth Camp short story, The Signal Tower, and the movie that was based on it. As part of my research on Charles Wadsworth Camp, I’ve already written about a film called The Last Warning (1929) that was based on Camp’s novel The House of Fear (1916, Doubleday). Now we turn our attention to a Camp short story called The Signal Tower, which appeared in the May 1920 issue of Metropolitan Magazine. That particular issue is notable for also including a article called Spiritualism – Truth or Imposture? in which George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle, Sir Oliver Lodge, G. K. Chesterton, and Sir William Barrett discuss the supernatural. Maybe Camp had Sir William Barrett in mind when, in his mystery novel The Abandoned Room, he wrote: “No one,” the doctor answered, “can say what psychic force is capable of doing. Some scientists have started to explore, but it is still uncharted country.”  Barrett (1844-1925) was a professor of physics at the Royal College of Science in Dublin who was also interested in philosophy, literature, spirituality, and communication with the dead. In researching Barrett, I ran across the name of Robert Jahn, who, from 1978 to 1987 studied precognitive remote viewing at the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Laboratory (PEAR). By coincidence, I am currently reading Camp’s novel, The Guarded Heights, in which the main character goes to Princeton University.

Besides appearing in Metropolitan Magazine, the short story was included in an anthology called The Best Short Stories of 1920 and the Yearbook of the American Short Story, edited by Edward J. O’Brien. O’Brien wrote the introduction to another anthology called The Grim 13: Short Stories By Thirteen Authors of Standing (Dodd, Mead & Company, 1917: Blackmask 2007), edited by Frederick Stuart Greene, which included another short story by Wadsworth Camp called The Draw-Keeper. One of the prerequisites of each story in this collection was that they had  to have been rejected repeatedly by American magazine editors due to their unhappy endings and/or uncompromising realism.,

The film adaptation screenplay was written by James O. Spearing. It starred Virginia Valli and Rockliffe Fellowes as Dave and Sally Tolliver, the great Wallace Beery in one of his trademark roles as a big brute who puts the moves on Sally Tolliver while her husband is occupied with trying to prevent a train wreck. The child, Sonny Tolliver, is played by Frankie Darro, who began his acting career at age 6 and later appeared in the science fiction serial, The Phantom Empire (1935), and later went on to be the man inside Robby the Robot in Forbidden Planet (1956), although the robot’s voice was dubbed by actor Marvin Miller.

The UCLA Film and Television Archives has a print of The Signal Tower .

Another bit of Wadsworth Camp trivia, unrelated to the rest of this article, involves singer/musician Rudy Vallee. In a 1932 interview by Sidney Skolsky, Vallee said his favorite book was The Guarded Heights by Wadsworth Camp! Then again, this piece of information may not be totally unrelated to the subject of cinema connections. Sidney Skolsky is widely credited as the first person to use the term “Oscar” for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences Award.

Metropolitan Magazine May 1920

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