Introduction

Photo: from the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia

“Why shouldn’t we have the moving-picture industry in Tasmania?” asked Tasmanian author Marie Bjelke Petersen at the Hobart premiere of Jewelled Nights (1925) (2)The film waswidely claimed to be the state’s first – a claim that was challenged during the film’s Tasmanian releaseBut at the premiere – on 4 January 1926 – no one argued the point with Bjelke Petersen, whose audience included some very special guests: Tasmanian premier, the Honourable J. A. Lyons; Hobart’s mayor, Alderman F. D. Valentine, and Attorney-General A. G. Ogilvie (3).

The filmwas based on Bjelke Petersen’s 1924 novel, the fourth of the romances that had made her one of Australia’s most successful writers. Readers in Britain and the United States also devoured her books, which had been translated into six languages (4). Indeed, during the month Jewelled Nights was published in London, it sold 1000 copies per week (5).

The novel tells the story of beautiful Elaine Fleetwood, whose attempt at restoring her family’s fortunes goes awry when she runs away from her loveless wedding to a wealthy groom. Disguising herself as her own brother, Dick, she flees to rugged northwestern Tasmania, and attempts to rebuild the depleted family coffers by mining osmiridium. Louise Lovely starred as Elaine/”Dick” in the film version, made by Louise Lovely Productions. Her husband Wilton Welch directed – or co-directed with Lovely, according to some reports.

The film’s Australian premiere had been held in Melbourne two months before the Hobart launch. Bjelke Petersen told her Tasmanian listeners that mainland audiences and critics had “unanimously declared” Jewelled Nights was

the best picture Australia has produced… Jewelled Nights is proving to the world that we can make pictures here equal to any made elsewhere, and as the motion picture industry is the third largest in the world Australia should have its share of it. And my aim is to get the biggest share for Tasmania! (6)

She listed some of the advantages of making movies in the southern state: “the clearest atmosphere”, “cheap power”, and “unique scenic attractions… scenery [that] equals any in the world”. Tasmania, she said, was “the Switzerland of Australia”. Her speech also flattered the politicians in the audience: “we are fortunate to have a progressive Government ready to assist any enterprise for the betterment of Tasmania” (7).

The film version of Jewelled Nights was intended to capitalise on the novel’s appeal to Australian and overseas markets. The company prospectus enticingly mentioned projected income from sales to the US (£30,000) and England (£15,000) (8). To this end, two negatives were shot, one for Australasia and England and one for the US (9). According to cameraman Walter Sully, it was “the first time that two ‘buses’ have ever been used so extensively on production in Australia” (10).

All that remains of the film today are fragments, possibly outtakes, in the National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA) in Canberra. Although Bernard Lloyd at the Gaiety Theatre in Zeehan has had the fragments animated into a delightful short version of the film, little can now be deduced about the quality of the original cinematography, script or performances. However, the story behind the making of the film reveals the paradoxical nature of this production. In fact, Jewelled Nights exemplifies the challenges of making films in Australia, both then and now, by illustrating how the celebration of the local co-exists with the desire to make a mark on the world stage, and commercial prerogatives jostle uncomfortably with the urge to define and promote “Australia”.

Negotiations

The star of Jewelled Nights, Louise Lovely, contributed to the film’s interlocked Australian and global ambitions. She and her husband brought Hollywood know-how to the production, as well as bestowing on it the glamour of her Hollywood celebrity. Sydney-born, she had appeared (as Louise Carbasse) in ten films made between 1911 and 1912 for Australian Life Biograph. After venturing to the US during 1914, she began her Hollywood career the following year. Universal awarded her first contract on the basis of a name change to “Louise Lovely”, simultaneously with a makeover that gave her blonde ringlets. During the next six years, she appeared in almost 60 films. By 1922 – a difficult year for filmmaking, during which screen opportunities evaporated (11) – she began travelling North American vaudeville circuits with an act called A Day at the StudioShe and Welch conducted onstage screen tests, complete with authentic studio lights and cameras. The tests captured the performances of star-struck locals one week, and were screened the following week at the same theatre. Then, during 1923 and 1924, Lovely brought the act to Australia, where the fever “to get into the movies” was no less intense (12).

During the Hobart season of A Day at the Studio, Bjelke Petersen visited Lovely (13). Then, on 13 December 1924, Bjelke Petersen signed a contract with Louise Lovely Productions giving the company “the option of buying the film rights of Jewelled Nights for £300, plus 2 1/2 percent of the profits, and The Captive Singer at £100 and the same percentage of the profits” (14). Given that Lovely’s Hobart performances at His Majesty’s Theatre had opened only five days earlier (15),this seems like awfully fast work.

Louise Lovely Productions was not, at that point, a legal entity; that did not occur until 19 February the following year. When Bjelke Petersen’s contract was finalised, one new condition stipulated that she had approval rights over any changes made to the story (16). Another condition, indicating her canny protection of her own celebrity, mandated that “[t]he author’s name was to be prominently displayed on the film and in publicity material” (17).

Lovely describes the process of setting up the company: “I got somebody to do the business end of it, you see. A lawyer… and I put whatever I had into it.” (18) That lawyer was Gilbert Johnstone, originally from Hobart, who practised with Melbourne firm Crisp and Crisp (19). He was director of a company running the Wattle Path Palais de Danse in St Kilda, and several companies operating suburban cinemas: the Eclipse Picture Theatre, Port Melbourne; the Waratah, Ascot Vale; and the Tooronga, in Tooronga (20).

Then there was Frederick Nomens, a “company director”, as well as Robert Walker, “investor” (21). Nomens and Walker were, along with Johnstone, directors of the Eclipse, Waratah and Tooronga companies (22). These three also turn up on the board of Pyramid Pictures Proprietary, Limited. Arthur Shirley, an actor, had established Pyramid in 1923 when he returned to Australia after years in Hollywood (23). He had known Lovely and Welch before going to the US, and in fact was responsible for Lovely’s introduction to Universal executive Henry McCrae – the meeting that led to her successful 1915 screen test (24).

Back in Australia shortly before Lovely’s return, he had bought the rights to two Bjelke Petersen novels. His 1921 attempt at making a film from The Captive Singer struck disaster: a shipping strike prevented the cast from travelling to Tasmania (25). It seems likely, then, that Bjelke Petersen’s meeting with Lovely was neither coincidental nor solely Bjelke Petersen’s initiative, but was facilitated by Arthur Shirley.

The fourth director of Louise Lovely Productions (although not Pyramid) was cinema and theatrical entrepreneur E. J. Carroll. While the other company directors had little experience in film production, Carroll had been in exhibition/production for twenty years. Some years earlier, E. J. and brother Dan had set up Palmerston, a studio in Sydney, and over-optimistically planned “thirty photoplays of Australian character and sentiment every year” (26)Smith’s Weekly pointed out in 1926 that “[t]he loss made by the Carrolls in the attempt to produce world pictures in Australia, five years ago, is put at £25,000” (27).

As company director, Carroll had another valuable asset besides his experience in production: his alliance with powerful Union Theatres, which co-owned with Carroll the luxurious Wintergarden Theatre in Brisbane, opened in 1924. The deep, on-going nature of this connection would further solidify in 1927, when the board of Birch Carroll and Coyle – Queensland’s dominant exhibition company – contained two Union Theatres representatives (28).

The Louise Lovely Productions prospectus stated the global goals of Lovely’s new company:

This Company is being formed for the purpose of producing entirely Australian-made pictures, suitable for exhibition not only in Australia, but in all other parts of the world… By the distribution of these films all over the world, this country will be advertised more intensely and more accurately than is possible by any other means. (29)

Filming began on 13 February 1925 (30) – that is, six days before the company was legally established, and roughly six weeks before the prospectus was advertised (31). The prospectus explained that “[a]lready sufficient money has been subscribed to enable the first production to be completed, and work has already commenced”, adding:

The moneys obtained from subscriptions will be sufficient to provide funds for the above three productions and also enable the Company to procure, either on lease, or by building an up to date studio with all necessary equipment including printing and developing plants. At the present time, there is no studio in Australia for doing effective indoor work. (32)

Thus potential shareholders were buying into, not just Jewelled Nights, but the establishment of a studio and three films for which Lovely was “definitely booked” (33). This was a misleading description of the company’s financial health, as subsequent events proved. Probably in an attempt to convince potential investors that the company was efficient and responsible, the prospectus stated: “Miss Lovely and Mr Welch have guaranteed the cost of the first picture will not exceed £5,000, and that it will be complete and ready for screening within twelve weeks” (34)Everyones commented: “We always knew that ‘Billy’ Welch was a hustler, but he will have to go some to produce, cut and edit the complete film in three months” (35).

Although not all shares were sold (36), £7,666 15/ was raised. Shareholders were a mix of middle-class folks such as journalists, medical practitioners, and manufacturers, along with those who must have scraped together cash for a small package of shares. A housewife of Northcote (Melbourne), for example, bought 16 shares, and a bank clerk of Hamilton in country Victoria bought 20 (37).

In the end, the film cost £8,816 60/ (38), well above the £5,000 guaranteed by Lovely and Welch. Nine months passed between the beginning of shooting and its premiere – again, far exceeding the three-months-production guarantee made to shareholders.

How it was Made

The company arrived at Burnie on 22 February 1925. Bjelke Petersen met them there, and a few days later went on to Savage River where the film was being shot (39). An intrepid traveller, she had visited the region when researching her novel, at the time telling journaliststhat the rugged scenery inspired “romantic stories”, and that she was particularly taken with the osmiridium miners she had met: “They are brave and chivalrous, and their philosophy of life is big and healthy. Many are dreamers… Their outlook seems to be optimistic to a degree, and they endure hardships and loneliness… with unfaltering cheerfulness.” (40)

One of Louise Lovely’s first tasks was to have her trademark blonde curls severely cropped in order to play the role of “Dick”. She told a story of how the Waratah barber believed she really was a “boy”: “I used to go to the barber’s there to have my hair cut … he said, “’Who’s the girl in this outfit?’… they were most intrigued with the makeup… ‘Why do you put that stuff on your face for? Be a man and don’t put it on.’” (41)

Lovelyinsisted that she contributed to many phases of the production of Jewelled Nights. “I was virtually the producer”, she said, “I personally cut and spliced the film. The acting was only part of it.” (42) Although Welch wrote the script, Lovely helped prepare the screen adaptation. She took credit, for instance, for changing the conclusion. Bjelke Petersen’s novel ends with the hero and heroine – now married – sharing a religious vision as they pray with dying villain Tiger Sam, in which they see Jesus, the “Great Miner”, collect Sam’s soul (43). Bjelke Petersen graciously said: “If I was doing the book for another edition, I would use her ending. It was better than mine.” (44)

One of the pre-written “news” stories in the film’s Press Book makes extravagant claims about Welch’s US experience:

His technique is perfect… On his arrival in America he immediately saw the possibilities of the pictures, and studied them from all angles. He worked in every department so that his knowledge would be thorough… He then joined Famous Player[s]-Lasky Studios as associate director with Donald Crisp in the huge Southern War Feature, Held by the Enemy. (45)

None of these have been confirmed except for his work on Held by the Enemy (Donald Crisp, 1920) (46).Regardless of Welch’s level of expertise, Lovely clearly contributed to the direction of Jewelled Nights, as she had in the A Day at the Studio act. She describes how she interacted with technical personnel: “We all worked together… I made suggestions and I made them in a diplomatic sort of way and I never tried to rule the roost, and I simply just wove myself in because I knew that I had to have them and they had to have me. We all worked very well together. Very well.” (47) The Jewelled Nights crew and cast were among the best available in Australia. Cameramen Walter Sully and Tasman Higgins – both of whom had traveled with A Day at the Studio (48) – had wide experience (49).

As for the cast, many were veterans of stage and screen in Australia, Britain, South Africa and the United States, as well as the legitimate and vaudeville stage. Although few are remembered today, they were recognisable names at the time. Lovely takes the credit for casting: “All these characters that we had were all people that had been on the stage with us, that we had kept in mind and then… well, I said, ‘Now those are all good people. We can use them’.” (50)

Gordon Collingridge played the important role of Larry Salarno, hero and love interest. As the story unfolds on the osmiridium fields, “Dick” toughs it out, proves “himself”, and finds true love – Salarno, not rough like the other miners but handsome, gentle, university-educated and possessing a singing voice “soft and velvet as the night, and quivering with the golden beauty of the stars” (51). Collingridge had appeared in seven Australian features since 1922 (52). A tall man, his large build and wavy dark hair coincided with the novel’s descriptions.

Godfrey Cass, who had appeared in three of Lovely’s pre-Hollywood films, played villain Tiger Sam. Since those early productions, he had set up, and then wound down, Lincoln-Cass Films Proprietary Ltd, which had made nine films in 1913 (53), six of which featured himself as actor. Among many other roles, he also appeared in Arthur Shirley’s 1925 The Mystery of a Hansom Cab (54).

Charles Brown, a 70-year-old character actor who had been many years with the Bland Holt Company (55), played miner Gus the Poet. Gus drunkenly sees the “boy” as a girl and falls in love with “him”, providing many moments of alarming gender confusion.

Along with the experienced performers, Jewelled Nights also featured beginners, some of whom had been “discovered” by the A Day at the Studio act screen tests. For instance, the role of Netta, the vamp, went to Sydney discovery Lucille de Rago (56).

Many locals were filmed on the osmiridium fields. Eric Thomas, a miner present at the filming, in a letter identifies “Mrs Prouse the old girl of the Whyte River Old Flo as we called her with her clay pipe, is in the film and old Wilson with black wiskers [sic] almost down to his knees” (57).

The film’s exterior scenes were shot first, with a company of thirteen people (58) over four weeks on the Savage, Waratah and Whyte rivers (59). Everything necessary was shipped from Melbourne – “even the big dray thing we pulled with the horses”, says Lovely, “we took our own horses over” (60).

The cast and crew were accommodated for five weeks at the hotel in the township of Waratah (61). The hotel was a difficult distance away from sites where the shooting took place. Going to work involved first being transported 19 miles by horse and drag or motorcar, and then miles of walking “down and up steep and dangerous gorges to get to and from location” (62).

On returning to Burnie after ten days with the filmmakers, Bjelke Petersen seized another opportunity for publicity, describing to the Burnie Advocate the difficult conditions the company faced:

The weather was phenomenally wet… the roads were in a dreadful state… They had endured no end of hardships, having to walk three miles daily in the wet and mud. The film star, Miss Louise Lovely, had many terrible falls, and frequently instead of being on her feet found herself lying on her back in the mud. (63)

There were other mishaps, similarly lacking in glamour. Lovely was “practically blind” for two days with “Klieg eyes”, a reaction to the lights (64). Cameraman Sully spent more than a week in the Waratah Hospital with “severe pleurisy” (65). Designer Syd Counsell, riding a motorbike with a sidecar filled with supplies, hit a “large pig” outside Deloraine. The pig was decapitated; Counsell’s collarbone was broken (66).

And then there were the snakes: “It was the breeding season and the thousands of snakes which abound in this wild region were exceedingly vicious and dangerous… Miss Lovely herself, who is an ardent outdoor girl, took great delight in killing these snakes. One afternoon she killed five…” (67)

The rough conditions forced adaptive solutions. One miner – Josh Hancock – lent his hut to the film folk to use as a lunch shelter (68), and also as “a change house and powder room for lady actress [sic]” (69). The filmmakers even attempted primitive but ingenious methods to light indoor scenes. To maximise visibility, they dusted white powder on the actors’ faces, and reflected sunlight onto them with “tinsel covered boards” (70).

Despite difficulties, Lovely later remembered: “We really had some very good shots. I can remember now after a shower of rain – and there were a lot of them – the leaves on the myrtle trees would glisten like jewels as the sunrays slanted into the steep river valley.” (71)

Not all scenes were shot on the osmiridium fields. The company completed others, including a dramatic nighttime storm, at Wirth’s Circus Olympia building on St Kilda Road in Melbourne. Most interiors were shot at the Glaciarium, also on St Kilda Road. A cathedral set for the ill-fated marriage ceremony was reported to be “one of the costliest sets yet built in Australia” (72). The experiments with shooting interiors on location had proved unsuccessful, so replicas of the Whyte River Hotel and miners’ huts were also constructed at the Glaciarium (73). The company filmed scenes of a ball and preliminaries to the wedding, at “Whernside”, which was the Albany Road, Toorak (74) home of Greek counsel A. J. J. Lucas. Lucas also owned the Walter Burley Griffin-designed Capitol Theatre in Melbourne, and one of his six daughters, Marea, appeared as a bridesmaid in the film (some of this footage still exists).

Society weekly Table Talk reported the filming as if it were a social event, with lists of guests and descriptions of frocks. The Table Talk report also provides valuable details of the work practices of the Lovely/Welch team:

It was a case of business and pleasure. One minute the gay throng would be enjoying dancing to the music of the jazz band, then the voice of Wilton Welch, the director, would sound through a megaphone, and principals would fall into their parts. There was no confusion; Miss Lovely was everywhere, one minute playing a part, the next directing the production, and always cool and collected. (75)

The film was processed and edited at the St Kilda studio of Australasian Films (76). Lovely applied the skills she had learned by being a “nosey parker” in Hollywood: “I cut the lot of the film… I knew how to splice as well as anybody.” (77) She claims to have invented a new type of film syntax:

I got the brainwave and I said, “We won’t have a train and we won’t have a boat, we’ll just have the big funnel of the boat when she’s leaving there, she goes up to the boat, you see, and then we just show the funnel”… The wheels of the train to show we were going by… which I thought was a rather good invention, you know. Saved a lot of film, too, and it was a bit original. (78)

It is notoriously difficult to establish “firsts”, but this “invention” certainly reflects the type of storytelling innovation that took place at this time. Kevin Brownlow writes admiringly of The Pace That Kills (Norton S. Parker and William A. O’Connor, 1928), made three years later: “The transition from farmland to town is managed with admirable economy: from the wheel of a car we dissolve to the pistons of a locomotive and to the bogies of a streetcar” (79).

What Happened?

Jewelled Nights was probably as good a production as was possible in Australia at that time. As well as the competent, experienced cast and crew, Jewelled Nights offered the reassuringly familiar colonial narrative of European struggle to wrest a living from that rugged landscape. In addition, the story had drama, romance and titillating hints of sexual danger, should the miners discover “Dick” was really Elaine.

And, bringing the film firmly up-to-the-moment, it dealt with the anxious topic of gender roles in a changing world. At the time, these anxieties played out in debates about whether women should “bob” their hair and wear mannish clothes. A cartoon in Smith’s Weekly illustrates these issues. “By George, those two chaps look alike from here. Seem a bit effeminate, though,” one man says, to which his companion replies: “Effeminate? Yes. They’re mother and daughter.” (80) In the comedy Sunshine Sally (Lawson Harris, 1922), the heroine cross-dresses and has “strange adventures” in Woolloomooloo (81). At least two prominent male impersonators toured Australian vaudeville around this time: Ella Shields, whose appearances were breaking records (82), and Effie Fellows, “The one and only perfect boy… The only male impersonator who has dared to visit Scotland Yard… in male attire, and got away without being discovered.” (83)

Audience reactions to Jewelled Nights were heartening – at least initially. Itpremiered at the Hoyts de Luxe Picture Theatre, Bourke Street, Melbourne, on 24 October 1925, with personal appearances by Lovely. The Argus commented on the locations: “The beauty of the West Coast of Tasmania makes a delightful setting for the exciting events which occur” (84).

The pace of ticket sales made smoke rise from a new box office machine (85). Between 300,000 and 450,000 people saw the film during the seven weeks it played in Melbourne and its suburbs (86). Showing great commitment to publicity, Lovely extended her personal appearances to “most” of the suburban theatre sessions (87). At Hoyts Camberwell and Renown theatres, the film was so popular that “four prosecutions were launched by police for overcrowding” (88).

The film then opened to capacity audiences in Hobart’s Majestic Theatre on 4 January 1926 (89), before touring the small theatres and halls of regional Tasmania. Audiences in even the smallest places were able to see it: “It is being arranged, where possible, with the aid of a travelling electric outfit, to show the picture in the open air in towns and villages where there is no hall” (90).

Sir William Brunton, Lord Mayor of Melbourne, and Dr Cameron, Director of the Agricultural Department of Victoria, who were official guests at the Hobart premiere, praised Tasmania’s “scenic beauties” (91). Bjelke Petersen herself spoke at the film’s premiere, arguing both for a Tasmanian film industry and for wilderness conservation:

If we are going to become a centre for picture productions our scenery will be of more value to us than all our minerals and all our other assets put together!… Every time I go to the West Coast it makes me sad, for I always see many miles of fresh destruction. Let us make a start to stop it, for if we do not our greatest source of wealth will have gone forever. The myrtle forests do not come up a second time. (92)

Tasmanian audiences responded to the film’s “deeply human drama” and “touching pathos”, as well as to seeing their own countryside pictured: “There is for Tasmanians the Tasmanian interest, of course, glimpses of the superb scenery of the West Coast, with the unsurpassable flora of that region” (93).

But in the end, Jewelled Nights recouped only £6000 against its costs of close to £9000 (94). With such large audiences, why was it not more financially successful?

To begin, although the audiences for Jewelled Nights may have been large for its early screenings in Victoria, Tasmania and elsewhere, the film certainly didn’t please all audiences. In Tasmania, criticisms came from many directions. For example, three months after the premiere, politicians – involved in a discussion about filming the state’s apple industry – laughed when a colleague snidely commented, “It is to be hoped that it will be better than Jewelled Nights(95).

One letter-writer to TheMercury’seditor complained that “even this film hides Tasmania’s light under a bushel… it seems rather a pity that the opportunity was not taken to present one or two of the island’s best scenes” (96).

Another letter, to the editor of the Burnie Advocate, pointed out that the film wasn’t Tasmania’s first motion picture narrative, as claimed, with that honour rightly going to a 1000-foot-long film called The Settler, made in 1916 by a chemist, P. L. Andrews (97).

Nor was critical reception always glowing. The Melbourne Herald, for example, praised the film as “equal to anything that came out of America, with the exception of the rare historical spectacles”. But the same review also commented: “The only weakness in the picture is in the story, which is unoriginal but no blame can be laid at the producer’s door for this” (98). The Sydney Morning Herald was savage, saying thatthe story was “highly improbable”, and so was Lovely as “Dick”:

To play the part of “Dick” Fleetwood, Miss Lovely plasters her fair hair close on to her head, and combs it towards the back. Neither in face nor in figure does she make a convincing boy. Both her makeup and her gestures as “Dick” are precisely those she uses as “Elaine.” One would think it must soon be apparent to all the osmiridium miners that Dick is a girl. But they, dull souls, never suspect it. The hero, in fact, is quite invincible in his obtuseness. (99)

Another response to the film addresses the notion of what an Australian film actually is. There was certainly a large group of people who believed Louise Lovely’s Hollywood glamour and know-how enhanced Jewelled Nights. But others felt that those very aspects compromised national identity. Charles Griffiths, a journalist from Bundaberg, Queensland, told the 1927 Royal Commission into the Moving Picture Industry in Australia that he disliked Jewelled Nights because “Louise Lovely has become Americanised” (100); clearly, no amount of footage of Tasmanian wilderness can remedy this perception.

The exhibitors, with their full houses, seemingly brushed aside any concerns: “‘Of course there are critics’, remarked Mr GB Dean, the general manager, on Saturday night… ‘but the audiences are an effective reply. Not only have there been record houses in Tasmania, but over 300,000 saw it in Melbourne’.” (101)

But even if Jewelled Nights had received unfailingly positive responses, it still would have had difficulties. Independent films in Australia at this time had trouble finding exhibition venues because of the formidable obstacles of blind booking and block booking, in a system dominated by Australasian Films/Union Theatres. This was not just an Australian problem: at this time, similar amalgamations and booking practices were “strangling” small independent operators in many countries. Within the US itself, the giant Publix company, of which Paramount was part, gobbled up “small regional chains” (102).

Even E. J. Carroll’s strong links to Union Theatres did not overcome issues with personalities or politics. The film’s distributor Alec Hellmrich blamed Frank Thring:

At that time Mr Stuart Doyle booked pictures for his company [i.e., Union Theatres] for the whole of Australia, with the exception of Melbourne. The Melbourne business was… largely in the hands of Mr Thring, who was a difficult man to deal with. When Mr Thring could not give a promise regarding a city screening in Melbourne, we arranged with Hoyts for it to be shown in their theaters. Mr Thring then sent an urgent telegram to Mr Doyle in Sydney…: “Understand Hoyts have booked Jewelled Nights. See Hellmrich. Endeavor to cancel.” … [Doyle showed the telegram to Hellmrich.] I told him that he had no one but himself to blame, because I had offered the film to Mr Thring. Mr Doyle then agreed to take the film for exhibition in the other States, but he would not arrange a definite date for its release in all the States. The result was that delay occurred between the screenings; and whereas our expenses continued, there was nothing coming in from that film. It was really a kind of passive resistance. (103)

Even so, Hoyts were not particularly supportive of the film’s premiere. Lovely recalls: “We had to accept the first opening which they gave us, and we had only two weeks in which to advertise the fact that it was going into the theatre. We had a long time to wait before the decision was given, and then we had to rush things through. (104)

It appears, too, that the terms they accepted were not especially good. The takings for the premiere season were over £1565, of which Lovely received only £382. A further £450 came in from Hoyts’ seven suburban theatres, and £155 from nine theatres in the Associated Theatres group (105).

It certainly wasn’t easy to show Jewelled Nights in suburban Melbourne:

In the Malvern district we could not get a showing at all. The town clerk of Malvern was then approached with a view to obtaining permission to show the picture in the Malvern Park. Permission was granted, but, subsequently, it was withdrawn… [because] [t]he local showmen objected. Later, the film was shown in the district, but not at a satisfactory price. (106)

And when the film was finally shown in Sydney to packed houses, Doyle paid only “the amount he paid for an average American feature film – £250 for two theaters” (107). Distributor Alec Hellmrich concluded, in evidence given at the 1927 Royal Commission, that Hoyts and Union Theatres, the major exhibition chains, had a deliberate policy of not supporting productions from Australia or Britain (108).

Carroll did not showcase Jewelled Nights at Sydney’s luxurious Prince Edward Theatre, owned by Carroll-Musgrove Theatres, which instead showed Hollywood spectacles like Scaramouche (Rex Ingram, 1923)and The Thief of Bagdad (Raoul Walsh, 1924). Jewelled Nights did, however, appear on the Birch Carroll and Coyle Queensland circuits, but Queensland evidence to the 1927 Royal Commission demonstrated a distinct lack of enthusiasm for the film. Walter Ridley, of the Olympic Theatre, Mackay, didn’t like Lovely’s performance – “I do not think she is by any means a capable actress” – but he conceded that he had at least not lost money by showing the film (109).

Further compounding the film’s difficulties, the company’s directors were possibly neither trustworthy nor competent. Certainly, Johnstone, Nomens and Walker seem to have been involved in some shady dealings. Separate court cases in 1925 and 1926 found Johnstone guilty of scamming shareholders in companies of which he was a director (110). In addition, Smith’s Weekly, on 10 July 1926, dug into associated companies of Johnstone, Nomens and Walker in “Flickering Finances of Melbourne Movie Coys” (111). The kindest interpretation is that the directors were over-zealous risk-takers.

It is unclear whether Jewelled Nights was ever shown overseas beyond New Zealand. It is known that the New Zealand screenings were not particularly profitable (112). There is a suggestion that the film went to the US, as the Directors’ Report at the first Annual General Meeting of Louise Lovely Productions states that “[a]rrangements are also being made to have the film exhibited in America” (113). However, there are no reviews of Jewelled Nights in Variety or TheNew York Times, which suggests it was never released there. As for Britain, the first AGM was told that “[a] copy of Jewelled Nights has been forwarded to London by Mr EJ Carroll, who cables that the time is most opportune” (114). In February 1927, Everyones reported that Wilton Welch was in London, “looking around England with an eye to production in that country” (115). He may, at the same time, have sounded out distributors, because a few months later, in May, Lovely apparently took possession of a print of Jewelled Nights, “which it is proposed to send to England” (116).

The 1927 AGM also declared that “as in previous year [sic.] no attempt has been made to estimate the Profit or Loss on the picture, as it is impossible to estimate what the overseas returns will be; also no depreciation has been written off the film” (117). This was the last annual general meeting, and the company was finally wound up during the Depression (118)

At the 1927 Royal Commission, Lovely said, “Everybody made money out of it except the producers” (119). The experience of the failed film coincided with a period of personal loss, during which her marriage to Welch collapsed and her beloved mother died. Lovely’s perception of a dismissive response to her Royal Commission submission was the final straw. “That’s what made me throw in the sponge,” she said (120). Although not entirely retiring from public life, Lovely never appeared in another film.

Conclusion

So, in spite of the filmmakers’ best efforts, Jewelled Nights had several strikes against it. But even setting those factors aside, the fact is that this independent film was seeking to make its investment back in an industry that was structured against independent, one-off films, whether Australian-produced or not. The film industry’s structure benefitted big, vertically integrated companies that turned out large quantities of films with factory-like efficiency. And Australia’s appetite for movies was so great that only that kind of production could supply the 700 films needed annually (121).

Yet the yearning to establish another Hollywood persisted. After the rapturous Melbourne opening, The Mercury reported to Hobart readers: “Louise Lovely says that she is going back to Tasmania to make another picture, the main feature of which will be a snow scene on Mount Wellington” (122). In late December 1925, Bjelke Petersen’s speech – the one referred to in the opening paragraph – echoed these words, drawing attention to the fact that ten years earlier, Hollywood had barely existed.

In fact, ten years earlier, productive, robust filmmaking centres had existed in many places. By 1925, however, Hollywood’s concentration of cast, crew, props, technology and capital, along with the studios’ ownership of distribution channels and exhibition venues, could realise projects far beyond anything that Australia could achieve. In some places, for instance, Jewelled Nights screened at the same time as Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (1925)a film on a scale of sophistication and excitement that was hard to beat.

In fact, in February 1925 – that is, at the same time that Jewelled Nights was being filmed – a group of Australian film producers met with Federal Minister for Customs, Mr Pratten, suggesting a number of ways the Government could support the film industry. Among the group were directors Arthur Shirley, Franklyn Barrett and Raymond Longford (123). The meeting sparked much discussion, especially about an American “combine” (124). In August that year – as Jewelled Nights was being edited – the Commonwealth Tariff Board hearings began in Sydney and Melbourne, to consider increasing the duty paid on films imported into Australia (125). This then placed more pressure on the Government, which, in 1927, instigated the Royal Commission into the Moving Picture Industry. And yet, for all the inquiries and investigations from Jewelled Nights onwards, the solutions to balancing “local” and “global”, or “affection for Australia” and “commercial success”, are no clearer now than they were then.

This article has been peer reviewed

Endnotes

  1. The question was answered “in the affirmative” in The Sun review of Jewelled Nights, excerpted in the Press Book for Jewelled Nights, 1925. See Jewelled Nights file, National Film and Sound Archive, Canberra, p. 4. Hereafter referred to as Press Book.
  2. Typewritten script, “Speech made by Marie Bjelke Petersen at premiere of Jewelled Nights 13/12/24 [sic]”, in Jewelled Nights Publicity File, National Film and Sound Archive, Canberra. Hereafter referred to as Typewritten Script. Bjelke Petersen seems to have used this script for speeches at a number of appearances. See “Tasmanian ‘Picture’: Reception to Authoress”, The Mercury (Hobart) 31 December 1925, p. 3, and “Jewelled Nights: The First Tasmanian Picture”, The Mercury (Hobart) 5 January 1926, p. 8.
  3. Jewelled Nights: The First Tasmanian Picture”, p. 8.
  4. Alison Alexander, A Mortal Flame: Marie Bjelke Petersen Australian Romance Writer, Blubber Head Press, Hobart, 1994, p. 199.
  5. “Tasmanian Authoress: Miss Bjelke Petersen’s Success”, The Mercury (Hobart) 5 January 1924, p. 4.
  6. Typewritten Script.
  7. Typewritten Script.
  8. Prospectus, Louise Lovely Productions Limited, filed 19 February 1925 (Public Records Office, Victoria). Hereafter referred to as Prospectus.
  9. Jewelled Nights Ready Shortly”, Everyones 1 July 1925, p. 24.
  10. Walter Sully, “On Location with Louise Lovely”, Everyones 25 March 1925, p. 8 [unclear]. Although not common in Australia at this time, using two cameras was standard practice during the silent era, because duplicating negatives resulted in poor quality copies. See Kevin Brownlow and David Gill, “Thames Silents Become Channel Four Silents”, program notes for Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, 1993, London Film Festival, quoted in Ruth Vasey, The World According to Hollywood, 1918-1939, University of Exeter Press, Exeter, 1997, p. 64. Two years later, For the Term of His Natural Life (Norman Dawn, 1927) was similarly shot with two cameras (Graham Shirley, email, 27 June 2002).
  11. Movie attendance drastically dropped in 1922. See Richard Koszarski, An Evening’s Entertainment: The Age of the Silent Feature Picture 1915-1928, Scribner’s, New York, 1990, p. 13. By 1923, Photoplayer claimed, two major studios had closed for ten weeks, and 10,000 employees were out of work (29 December 1923, p. 13).
  12. See Jeannette Delamoir, “‘Have You a Screen Personality?’: Personal Appearance Tours 1921-1925”, Louise Lovely: The Construction of a Star, PhD dissertation, La Trobe University, Bundoora, 2002.
  13. Details in “Interview of Louise Lovely by Ina Bertrand”, Hobart, 23 November 1978, undertaken as part of the National Library of Australia Film History Interview Project, p. 60. Audiotapes in NFSA, Canberra. Hereafter referred to as LL/IB. Page numbers refer to interview transcript.
  14. Alexander, p. 137. The Captive Singer, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1917, was Bjelke Petersen’s first published novel.
  15. Advertisement, The Mercury (Hobart) 2 December 1924, p. 8.
  16. Alexander, p. 137.
  17. Alexander, p. 137.
  18. LL/IB, p. 60.
  19. “Gilbert’s Grab”, Truth (Melbourne) 9 October 1926, p. 15.
  20. “Prominent Melbourne Entrepreneur”, Everyones 6 May 1925, p. 3. The Wattle Path later played a role in Australian cinema history by becoming, in 1934, Frank T. Thring’s production base. See Andrew Pike and Ross Cooper, Australian Film, rev. ed., Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1998, p. 164.
  21. Articles of Association of Louise Lovely Productions Limited, 19 February 1925. Public Records Office, Victoria.
  22. “Flickering Finances of Melbourne Movie Coys”, Smith’s Weekly 10 July 1926, p. 9.
  23. “The Cinema World”, The Mercury (Hobart) 30 November 1923, p. 9.
  24. LL/IB, pp. 88-89. Lovely’s first US film was Stronger than Death (Joseph de Grasse, 1915). She was called “Louise Carbasse”, “Louise Welch” or even “Louise Carbasse Welch”.
  25. Alexander, pp. 93-94.
  26. “Around Australian Studios”, Picture Show 1 July 1920, p. 46. There, they had funded productions by Raymond Longford, as well as several starring “Snowy” Baker, with scenarios written by US import Bess Meredyth, and directed by her husband – also an import – Wilfred Lucas. The films produced were: The Jackaroo of Coolabong (Lucas, 1920); On Our Selection (Longford, 1920); and Rudd’s New Selection (Longford, 1921).
  27. “Over £750,000 Involved in Latest Picture Amalgamation”, Smith’s Weekly 28 August 1926, p. 11.
  28. Australian Government, Commonwealth of Australia: Royal Commission on the Moving Picture Industry: Minutes of Evidence, Government Printer, 1927. Hereafter referred to as Royal Commission. Evidence given by William Winterflood, General Manager, Birch Carroll and Coyle, p. 182.
  29. Prospectus.
  30. “Interview of Louise Lovely by Author/Film Historian Ross Cooper”, 22 August 1970.  Audiotapes held in NFSA, Canberra. Hereafter referred to as Cooper Interview.
  31. See “Film Production: Widespread Interest”, The Advocate (Burnie) 31 March 1925, p. 3.
  32. Prospectus.
  33. Prospectus.
  34. Prospectus.
  35. “Louise Lovely Productions Ltd. Prospectus Issued”, Everyones 18 March 1925, p. 4.
  36. Royal Commission. Evidence from Nellie Louise Welch [Louise Lovely], p. 72.
  37. Summary of Share Capital and Shares, First Ordinary General Meeting, 19 August 1926. Public Records Office, Victoria.
  38. Balance Sheet as at 31 March 1926, Directors’ Report, Notice of First AGM, 9 August 1926. Public Records Office, Victoria. For comparison, it should be noted that:  • Stuart Whyte’s Painted Daughters (1925) cost £4000 (“Australia’s Girlhood”, Everyones 20 May 1925, p. 8);• Arthur Shirley’s The Mystery of a Hansom Cab (1925) cost about £10,000 (“To Exploit an Australian Film”, Everyones 21 January 1925, p. 3); • John Wells’ Silks and Saddles (1921) cost £6000 (Pike and Cooper, p. 103); • Raymond Longford’s The Blue Mountain Mystery (1921) cost less than £4000 (Pike and Cooper, p. 110); • but Lawson Harris’ Circumstance (1922) was made for less than £800 (Pike and Cooper, p. 112).
  39. “General News Items”, The Mercury (Hobart) 23 February 1925, p. 4.
  40. “Tasmanian Authoress: Miss Bjelke Petersen’s Success”, p. 4.
  41. LL/IB, pp. 69-70. For a discussion of gender in the novel and film, see Jeannette Delamoir, “Marie Bjelke Petersen’s ‘Virile Story’: Jewelled Nights, Gender Instability and the Bush”, Hecate vol. 29, no. 1, 2003, pp. 115-131.
  42. Margaret Godfrey, “Savage River Could Have Been Our Hollywood”, The Weekender (Burnie) 10 April 1968.
  43. Marie Bjelke Petersen, Jewelled Nights, Hutchinson, London, 1923, p. 312. For a discussion of Bjelke Petersen’s religious beliefs and its sources, see Alexander, p. 13. Lovely herself was a Christian Scientist (Maisie Axford, interviewed by David Atfield, November 2 1996. Audiotapes held in NFSA, Canberra). She apparently became involved when she was in the United States.
  44. Margaret Godfrey, “‘Jewelled Nights’ of the Osmiridium Age”, unidentified clipping, undated, in Louise Lovely Papers; see also Cooper Interview.
  45. Press Book, p. 10.
  46. Patricia King Hanson (ed.), American Film Institute Catalog: Feature Films 1911-1920, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1988.
  47. Cooper Interview. Sully also seems to have thought highly of Lovely, since he compiled a scrapbook of clippings for her. The scrapbook is now in the collections of the NFSA.
  48. LL/IB, p. 73.
  49. Higgins, one of three Hobart brothers who were all cameramen, had been working since at least 1912, when he had filmed Raymond Longford’s Tide of Death (Pike and Cooper, p. 34). Sully was newer to the game, but his skill was so well recognised that he was soon to go to New Guinea with Frank Hurley (“Cameraman Sully to Accompany Hurley”, Everyones 16 September 1925, p. 16).
  50. LL/IB, p. 60.
  51. Bjelke Petersen, Jewelled Nights, p. 56.
  52. Four of these were with Beaumont Smith for Beaumont Smith Productions: Prehistoric Hayseeds and Townies and Hayseeds in 1923, and The Digger Earl and Joe in 1924 (See Pike and Cooper).
  53. Mary M. Bateman, Lincoln-Cass Films Proprietary Ltd: A Study of a Small Australian Film Company in 1913, Honours Thesis, La Trobe University, Melbourne, 1979, p. 50.
  54. Pike and Cooper, p. 124.
  55. “Mr Charles Brown”, The Argus (Melbourne) 9 July 1935, p. 6.
  56. Jewelled Nights Ready Shortly”, p. 24.
  57. Letter from Eric Thomas to Meg Labrum, n.d., in “Jewelled Nights file, NFSA, Canberra, p. 4.
  58. “On Location with Louise Lovely”, page number obscured.
  59. Table Talk 2 April 1925, p. 21.
  60. LL/IB, p. 68. I assume she meant any horses needed in the film. Horses used for transport to and from location every day belonged to the man who transported them. Eric Thomas’ letter states: “Ray Whyman whose big drag and four transported them to the Whyte River from Waratah. One of Ray’s drivers with the second drag and four horses and the gear. They [sic] were stables at Whyte River Hotel Ray Whyman had his two drags and team of horses.” (Letter from Eric Thomas to Meg Labrum, pp. 2-3)
  61. LL/IB, p. 69.
  62. Jewelled Nights Ready Shortly”, p. 24.
  63. Jewelled Nights: Filming in Progress: Many Hardships Experienced”, The Advocate (Burnie) 5 March 1925, p. 2.
  64. “Making Films: Louise Lovely’s Plans”, Weekly Courier (Launceston) 25 March 1925, clipping in Sully Scrapbook.
  65. Sully, page number obscured.
  66. “Louise, Limited!”, Weekly Courier (Launceston) 7 March 1925, clipping in Sully Scrapbook.
  67. “Snake Yarns”, Press Book, p. 10.
  68. Godfrey, “Savage River”.
  69. Thomas Letter, p. 3.
  70. “Movie Stars and Miners: Activities on Osmiridium Fields”, The Advocate (Burnie) 10 March 1925, p. 2.
  71. Godfrey, “Savage River”.
  72. Jewelled Nights Ready for Release this Month”, Everyones 5 August 1925, p. 31.
  73. See Wilton Welch’s comments in “Jewelled Nights on the Screen: First Tasmanian-Produced Movie”, The Advocate (Burnie) 23 March 1925, p. 2.
  74. Fred Johns, Who’s Who in Australia 1927-28: A Record of the Careers of Prominent and Representative People of the Time, s.n., Adelaide, 1927, p. 733.
  75. “Jewelled Nights in Toorak Setting; Louise Lovely Ball at ‘Whernside’”, Table Talk 21 May 1925, p. 8.
  76. Everyones 22 April 1925, p. 14.
  77. LL/IB, p. 62.
  78. LL/IB, pp. 70-71.
  79. Kevin Brownlow, Behind the Mask of Innocence, Jonathon Cape, London, 1990, p. 118.
  80. Smith’s Weekly 6 February 1925, p. 14.
  81. “Sunshine Sally”, The Advertiser (Adelaide) 8 October 1923, p. 11.
  82. “Ella Shields in Sydney”, Tabletalk 10 December 1925, p. 29.
  83. Advertisement, Everyones 17 September 1924, p. 46.
  84. The Argus (Melbourne) 26 October 1925, p. 7.
  85. Advertisement, Herald (Melbourne) 28 October 1925, p. 7, Jewelled Nights file.
  86. Alexander, p. 146.
  87. Everyones 2 December 1925, p. 36.
  88. Everyones 9 December 1925, p. 22.
  89. “Current Attractions at Hobart Theatres”, The Mercury (Hobart) 1 January 1926, p. 2: “bookings are phenomenally heavy…”
  90. “Cinema Notes”, The Mercury (Hobart) 18 December 1925, p. 12.
  91. “Mayoral Reception”, The Mercury (Hobart) 6 January 1926, p. 6.
  92. Jewelled Nights: The First Tasmanian Picture”, p. 8.
  93. Jewelled Nights: Devonport Triumph”, The Advocate (Burnie) 1 February 1926, p. 6.
  94. “£100,000 Spent: Australia’s Year in Films”, The Advocate (Burnie) 5 January 1928, p. 6.
  95. “Notice Paper”, The Advocate (Burnie) 25 March 1926, p. 5.
  96. “Jewelled Nights”, The Mercury (Hobart) 16 January 1926, p. 4.
  97. “Tasmanian Picture Production”, The Advocate (Burnie) 1 February 1926, p. 6; “Western News”, Examiner (Launceston) 2 May 1916, p. 6. Interestingly, although Jewelled Nights was repeatedly referred to as “Tasmania’s first film”, E. J. Carroll and Charles McMahon’s 1908 For the Term of His Natural Life was not mentioned, although some scenes were shot in Port Arthur. But then again, the Tasmanian location does not seem to have been a selling point for the earlier film’s Tasmanian screenings, and one report even notes that the Tasmanian government had “for some occult reason objected” to the filmmakers’ plans, “so the scheme died” (“Footlights”, Clipper [Hobart] 22 June 1907, p.10).
  98. Review, “Jewelled Nights”, The Herald (Melbourne) 26 October 1925, p. 15.
  99. Review, “Jewelled Nights”, The Sydney Morning Herald 8 March 1926, p. 5.
  100. Royal Commission. Evidence from Charles Griffiths, journalist, p. 240.
  101. Jewelled Nights: Devonport Triumph”, p. 6.
  102. Douglas Gomery, “Fashioning an Exhibition Empire: Promotion, Publicity, and the Rise of the Publix Theatres”, Moviegoing in America: A Sourcebook in the History of Film Exhibition, ed. Gregory A Waller, Blackwell, Malden, MA, 2002, p. 128.
  103. Royal Commission. Evidence from Alexander Brooks Hellmrich, film renter, pp. 63-64.
  104. Royal Commission. Evidence from Nellie Louise Welch [Louise Lovely], p. 73.
  105. All figures are from John Tulloch, Legends on the Screen: The Narrative Film in Australia 1919-1929, Currency Press, Sydney, 1981, p. 253.
  106. Royal Commission. Evidence from Alexander Brooks Hellmrich, p. 63.
  107. Royal Commission. Evidence from Alexander Brooks Hellmrich, p. 64.
  108. Tulloch, p. 253.
  109. Royal Commission. Evidence from Walter Ridley, journalist, pp. 259-260.
  110. “Shares in a Picture Theatre: Alleged Breach of Agreement”, The Age (Melbourne) 28 October 1925, p. 15; “Gilbert’s Grab: Lawyer Johnstone’s Illegal Repudiation”, Truth (Melbourne) 9 October 1926, p. 15. Another case involves money but not shares: “Concrete Pipes Limited: Pending Litigation” The Argus [Melbourne] 12 February 1926, p. 9.
  111. “Flickering Finances of Melbourne Film Coys”, p. 10.
  112. Royal Commission. Evidence from Nellie Louise Welch [Louise Lovely], p. 72.
  113. Directors’ Report, Notice of First Annual General Meeting of Louise Lovely Productions Limited, to be held August 19 1926. Public Records Office, Victoria.
  114. Directors’ Report.
  115. “Wilton Welch in England”, Everyones 23 February 1927, p. 12.
  116. Letter to Manager of Mutual Film Exchange, from J. G. Stephenson, Secretary, Louise Lovely Productions, 26 May 1927. Louise Lovely Scrapbook, NFSA, Canberra.
  117. Directors’ Report, Notice of Second Annual General Meeting of Louise Lovely Productions Limited, to be held 13 October 1927. Public Records Office, Victoria.
  118. The company was wound up on 7 August 1931 (company microfiche, Public Records Office, Victoria).
  119. “Miss Lovely’s Evidence”, The Argus (Melbourne) 11 June 1927, p. 17.
  120. LL/IB, p. 76.
  121. “Film Industry: British and Australian Made”, The Mercury (Hobart) 29 July 1925, p. 9.
  122. “The Mainland Day by Day”, The Mercury (Hobart) 31 October 1925, p. 8.
  123. “Australian Picture Producers Seek Government Support”, Everyones 11 February 1925, pp. 77-78.
  124. “Australian Film Industry and Alleged American Combine”, Everyones 18 February 1925, pp. 6-7, 22.
  125. “The Status of the Australian Producer”, Everyones 5 August 1925, p. 4.

About The Author

Jeannette Delamoir completed her PhD on Louise Lovely in 2002. After teaching at CQUniversity for 11 years, she is now living in Sydney and working on a second PhD, exploring the role of travelling vaudeville performers as agents of modernity in regional Queensland.