The Whip, at least partially filmed in Queenstown, might have featured the Eastern Shore of Maryland’s cinematic debut, but it wasn’t the last star turn taken by our humble “Land of Pleasant Living.” It wasn’t even the last one that year.
Also filmed in 1917, In the Land of Legendary Lore, utilizing a number of Talbot County manor houses and estates for historic background scenery, dramatized the 18th century love story of Charles Calvert and Mary Janssen, the Lord and Lady Baltimore.
Producers of the picture circulated notices announcing “There is a need for ten young women who best represent the highest type of young womanhood in Talbot County. Some of the greatest movie stars of the day,” the flyers expounded, “from obscure private life, quickly attained national prominence, with huge incomes, simply because some silent producer could use their talent and adaptability which he instantly recognized the first time they appeared on screen.”
Casting of these ten embodiments of homegrown feminine virtue was determined by “Popular Selection.” Ballot boxes were placed in various locations around the county, and a nickel bought five votes for the aspiring starlet of one’s choice.
A third movie, I Will Repay, was filmed on the Eastern Shore in 1917.
Based on an O. Henry story, I Will Repay starred the young Corrine Griffith, who later became famous as ‘The Orchid Lady’ of the silent screen. Griffith made almost 70 movies, most between 1916 and 1929. She was known as a breathtaking beauty with limited acting chops, and though the talkies ended her on-screen career, Griffith went on to become a successful writer and published 11 books, two of which were bestsellers.
Corrine Griffith was a savvy real estate investor and at the time of her death in 1979 was one of the richest women in the country. Griffith’s third husband was George Preston Marshall, the longtime owner of the Washington Redskins, and she wrote the lyrics for the fight song “Hail to the Redskins.” In a 1966 divorce from husband number four, Broadway actor Danny Scholl, she testified she was not really Corrine Griffith, but instead a much younger sister who’d taken the famous woman’s place upon her death.
The hero’s role of I Will Repay was played by Talbot resident George Junkin working under the stage name George Forth. Despite such journalistic endorsements as “His lovemaking has been pronounced by expert critics as superb,” George’s career lasted a total of seven movies, five of them in 1917.
In 1928, a young Gary Cooper co-starred with King Kong’s future love interest, Fay Wray, in The First Kiss, a drama about a Chesapeake Bay fisherman whose challenging romance with a society girl is complicated by his family responsibilities, his personal dreams, and his criminal acts as a bay-faring buccaneer.
Ads promised “Suspense of river piracy. Bold deeds on dark nights. Action! Mystery! Melodrama!” A Baltimore newspaper summarized the main character’s storyline thusly: “Pirate by night to help his younger brothers afford college and under the cover as a shiftless waterman during the day while he’s building a secret ship to sail away on.”
Shooting mostly around St. Michaels, director Rowland V. Lee set up a casting office in the cabin of an oyster boat, hired 18 “grizzled watermen,” and put the town’s entire work fleet under contract. After twenty year old Fay Wray married writer John Mark Saunders at the Easton courthouse on June 15, 1928, their wedding reception was held aboard one of those St. Michaels workboats.
Hit the Deck was one of the last big MGM musicals – a 1955 Jane Powell sailors-and- showbiz serving of celluloid cotton candy. Partially filmed in St. Michael’s, an Easton premiere benefiting a music program for the Eastern Shore State Hospital in Cambridge was attended by the movie’s co-star Ann Miller. Local papers praised Miller’s “friendliness, naturalness and interest in many (of the day’s) events.” Events that included the gala opening at the Avalon Theater, a luncheon, a key to the city ceremony, a concert at the high school, a press conference, and a reception.
All the hoopla must have backfired. Hollywood didn’t come back round here for a while.