American Cinematographer Magazine

A Mark of Prestige

It has long been reported that the first two producers to recognize the American Society of Cinemato-graphers by adding the initials ASC to a cameraman’s onscreen credit were Mary Pickford and William S. Hart. Well, it turns out that the story is only half true.

Pickford produced 18 films after the founding of the ASC: Daddy-Long-Legs, The Hoodlum and The Heart of the Hills (all made in 1919); Pollyanna and Suds (both 1920); The Love Light, Through the Back Door and Little Lord Fauntleroy (all 1921); Tess of the Storm Country (1922); Rosita (1923); Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall (1924); Little Annie Rooney (1925); Sparrows (1926); My Best Girl (1927); Coquette and The Taming of the Shrew (both 1929); Kiki (1931); and Secrets (1933). All of the films survive, and 15 of the 18 have their original main titles intact. Rosita is the only one known to survive in a foreign version, the original main titles to Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall are missing, and the currently available version of The Taming of the Shrew has remade titles for a 1969 reissue. However, a review of Pickford’s films shows that she apparently never acknowledged the ASC in screen credits — the initials ASC appear on none of the 15 surviving original Pickford main titles.

As for Hart, the actor came to films in 1914, working for the New York Motion Picture Corporation under producer Thomas H. Ince. The Ince-Hart collaboration was very successful but somewhat one-sided. Hart soon developed his own separate unit under Ince’s supervision, but Ince took the lion’s share of the profits. In 1917, Hart signed with Artcraft Pictures, a subsidiary of Famous Players-Lasky/Paramount, and Ince also came along to nominally oversee his films. By 1919, however, Hart was signed to a new two-year, nine-picture deal that gave the Western star virtually complete autonomy as a producer, along with a $200,000 guarantee per picture — from which he paid his own production costs.

Hart’s first film under the new contract was Sand, completed in late 1919 and released by Paramount-Artcraft on June 27, 1920. Sand was not one of Hart’s mightier efforts. The story was slight, there was little action, and the leading lady, former Mack Sennett comedienne Mary Thurman, was rather lackluster in a thankless ingenue role. Sand was unique in one way, however: photography was credited to Joe August, ASC. This was apparently the first time the ASC was recognized onscreen in a film.

Thanks to Hugh Munro Neely and Denise Morse of the Mary Pickford Institute for Film Research and James Cozart and Zoran Sinobad of the Library of Congress for their research assistance.

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© 2004 American Cinematographer.