American Cinematographers in the Great War, 1914-1918

American Cinematographers in the Great War, 1914-1918


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At the start of hostilities in World War I, when the United States was still neutral, American newsreel companies and newspapers sent a new kind of journalist, the film correspondent, to Europe to record the Great War. These pioneering cameramen, accustomed to carrying the Kodaks and Graflexes of still photography, had to lug cumbersome equipment into the trenches. Facing dangerous conditions on the front, they also risked summary execution as supposed spies while navigating military red tape, censorship, and the business interests of the film and newspaper companies they represented. Based on extensive research in European and American archives, American Cinematographers in the Great War, 1914–1918 follows the adventures of these cameramen as they managed to document and film the atrocities around them in spite of enormous difficulties.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780861967179
Publisher: John Libbey Publishing
Publication date: 01/28/2015
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

James W. Castellan is an independent scholar who has done extensive research on cinematographer Wilbur H. Durborough and journalist Oswald Schuette.

Ron van Dopperen studied history at the University of Utrecht, Holland, where he wrote his academic thesis on American World War I documentary films.

Cooper C. Graham is a retired film curator for the Library of Congress and author of Leni Riefenstahl and "Olympia."

Read an Excerpt

American Cinematographers in the Great War, 1914-1918

By James W. Castellan, Ron van Dopperen, Cooper C. Graham

John Libbey Publishing Ltd.

Copyright © 2016 John Libbey Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-86196-921-0


Over There

This book is a book on film. However, it starts as primarily a newspaper story. There are several reasons. In 1914 newsreels were still very young. While some major studios such as Pathé and Universal were already in the newsreel business, newspapers were entering into an intense period of competition and were seeking new ways to improve profits. It was a cutthroat war between vigorous and expanding entities, imitating what was happening among nations overseas. So there was a rush to send the journalists to the war. As the appeal of newsreels became ever more apparent to the newspapers, there was also a great need for cinematographers, who in many cases had been press photographers until very recently. It is a credit to them how quickly they adapted to lugging and working with 150 pounds of cumbersome film equipment after having worked for years with a Kodak or Graflex. Since many of them were newspaper people, it was very difficult in many cases to distinguish much difference between the journalists and the cameramen, although there may have been a type of caste system giving deference to the writers. Once overseas they suffered the same problems and shared the same successes. They were in bed together, literally. In October 1914 in Antwerp as it was being shelled by the Germans, Edwin F. Weigle, cinematographer for the Chicago Tribune, Donald C. Thompson, photographer for the New York World, Arthur Ruhl of Colliers and Edward Eyre Hunt, who wrote War Bread, were cowering under the same roof at 74 rue du Péage. Later Horace Green wrote about the same shelling, and James H. Hare, another famous war photographer, photographed the battered facade of the building, American flag still flying, for Leslie's Weekly. It was a new kind of war, and the journalists and photographers were in it together.

There was another aspect about the newspapers' evolving relationship with the cinematographers. At least since the Civil War, the Americans had learned that having an accredited war correspondent at the scene of battles was a terrific way to sell newspapers. Perhaps the epitome of the war correspondent in America was Richard Harding Davis, whose dispatches from Cuba during the Spanish-American War had electrified the public and sold millions of newspapers for Hearst, Scribners and the New York World. Everyone wanted to emulate Davis so most newspapers called their reporters in Germany correspondents, and most at least simulated possessing expert knowledge of the country, military matters and so on, as well as having special relationships with government leaders and military experts. This became the model for cinematographers, who were then called film correspondents. David Mould and Gerry Veeder called them "photographer-adventurers" but it is really the same idea. They therefore made their films in a certain way: instead of just pointing a camera at the scene and shooting, as a newsreel cameraman would do, they would generally have an assistant, who was the real working cameraman, while they were in the picture themselves, interviewing a general or a statesman, or in some cases, in the actual battle. Some cameramen did this more than others. Two cinematographers who were very much in their own films were Albert K. Dawson and Wilbur H. Durborough. Perhaps it was significant that they both wrote extensively about their film adventures, true correspondents in the literary sense. Both Dawson and Durborough had assistant cameramen who actually shot their films. Other cameramen were not comfortable in this role; and Edwin F. Weigle and Nelson Edwards were not in their own films much. Nevertheless Weigle and Edwards were publicized by their papers as newspaper cameramen, with extensive articles about them in the Chicago Tribune and Hearst papers respectively.

In the period after World War I had been declared in 1914 and before America entered it almost three years later, there was a complex struggle among the combatants to influence public opinion in America. Some of this struggle was carried on by the combatants themselves through well-funded propaganda committees, foreign offices and other government agencies. Other parties involved, such as owners of newspapers and film companies, were influenced by a combination of ambition, ideology, patriotism and not least, greed.

When World War I started, while many of the powers involved believed they were prepared, they were wrong. None of them envisioned a long war; all expected the conflict to be over in six months. So there had been very little thought about propaganda, as correspondent William G. Shepherd pointed out:

The great machinery of that cyclonic blast that hit the civilized world of 1914 left newspaper correspondents entirely out of its operations. It ignored them, and therefore had no way of dealing with them. We puzzled the generals. The rules said no newspaper correspondents allowed. But there were always American newspaper correspondents around somewhere.

And there had been even less thought about motion pictures. Even if there had been some comprehensive plan trying to reconcile the needs of the military and necessity for public relations, there would have been major problems. In most countries there was a division between the military, who felt that the war was their business, and the civilian governments, who for better or worse, had to concern themselves with civilian morale and public opinion abroad.


Most of this book will deal with the Central Powers. This is not because the authors are pro-German, but because of all the warring nations, Germany allowed correspondents a certain leeway, especially when things were going well on the battlefield and less well on the propaganda front.

Nevertheless Germany was a prime example of this rift between the military and the civil government. Although it is usually considered an authoritarian nation, Wilhelmine Germany suffered from deep conflict between the armed forces and the government. This was exacerbated by the deep fear of the conservative government and the army toward the Social Democratic party. It has been suggested that the war was a welcome way out of the upcoming elections which it was presumed would have resulted in a big win by the Social Democrats. But the declaration of war did not result in any serious thought about propaganda. And if there had been, the same rift between the liberals, social democrats and the nationalists would have resulted in the same stalemate.

At the outbreak of the war in Germany, propaganda matters for neutral countries abroad were a complete muddle. Matthias Erzberger, the prominent politician and specialist in propaganda who was well connected to the Reich Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg, counted at least 27 different bureaus or departments inside the Reich involved with propaganda in foreign countries, none of whom had any idea of what the others were doing.

Erzberger was a prominent politician of the Center Catholic parties. This was an advantage for him because he was not particularly affiliated either to the right wing nationalist parties nor the Social Democrats or Communists on the left. His affiliations with the Catholics also helped him forge a good relationship with the Vatican. Later he unsuccessfully tried to keep Italy from entering the war. He was an opponent of unrestricted submarine warfare and by 1917 was a voice in trying to end the war. After the war, Erzberger was assassinated by nationalists in Germany for negotiating and signing the armistice with the Entente.

To deal with the propaganda problem, Erzberger had established the Zentralstelle für Auslandsdienst (ZfA) inOctober 1914. It was a very loose organization and was bound to have problems since it included conflicting representatives from the Reich Naval Section, the Army General Staff, the Auswärtiges Amt, (Foreign Office, hereafter called the AA) as well as Erzberger's organizations.

Baron Mumm von Schwarzenstein (AKA Freiherr von Mumm), who handled propaganda matters for the AA, was the nominal head of the ZfA for its first two years. Although it was originally established only to deal with printed matter abroad, soon it also was funding propaganda films. The ZfA might have had the advantage of keeping the mutually hostile lions in one cage, but relations were bound to be tense. On the one hand, the AA, which was trying to placate German ambassadors like Count Graf von Bernstorff, Ambassador to the United States, to maintain good relations with neutrals abroad and also looking favorably on pro- German enterprises like that of Hearst who wanted to produce friendly propaganda, were almost forced to cooperate with the foreign press and neutral governments. On the other hand the Army, typical of most armies, made no bones about finding the foreign press, professional war correspondents and other observers in general nuisances at best and at worst probably spies. In answer to a telegram of 8 August 1914 asking the official position of the government with regard to the flood of requests from American journalists who wanted to come to Germany, Gottlieb von Jagow, the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, replied bluntly, "General Staff refuses in principle the entry of foreign journalists". With a few exceptions forced upon it, this remained the General Staff position throughout the war. The army also ran censorship in general, including that of film, through its Reichspresseamt, part of Department IIIb, and had virtually unlimited powers to impede or stop any propaganda enterprise that it did not like.

In addition, the army, conservative to the core, was fundamentally hostile to film and photography in general, and felt that the only suitable method to communicate information to the public was through print. The Army High Command (Oberste Heeresleitung) issued the following directive, on 6October 1914, entitled 'Conditions for the Permission of Photography at the Front'. The Germans allowed only the following firms or their representatives:

The firms should be purely German and under patriotic-minded German leadership, have ample capital and work with German funds.

(1) Only German film cameras, German products and German film material may be used.

(2) The firms themselves not only are recognized in this regard as responsible for themselves, but also for representatives at their disposal sent to the theatres of operations.

(3) The photography at the theatres of operations and in the areas occupied by German troops is permitted only with the approval of the General Staff of the Army.

In addition, even after the army released the films, they would have to undergo a further police censorship. For instance, it was even forbidden to photograph the streets of Berlin without permission from the Berlin police. Since it devolved on the General Staff to arrange trips to the front, grant interviews and so forth, the General Staff could cause problems simply by doing nothing. This would cause real problems for most journalists, and even more so for the cinematographers since they were held in contempt by the military. Truly, as Edward Lyell Fox said, "... photographers in warring Germany can have nothing but easy consciences; they see so little".

A member of the ZfA was Major Erhard Eduard Deutelmoser. In 1912,Deutelmoser was made Press Officer and head of the Press Section in the Prussian Ministry of War, which had been founded in the wake of the Balkan War of 1912. After the outbreak of World War I, he was put in charge of press policy and censorship in the previously-mentioned Reichpresseamt, which was one of the sections in Department IIIB of the General Staff. However, in October 1915, Deutelmoser was made head of the War Press Section, which meant that he no longer dealt with the AA. Major (later Lieutenant Colonel) Karl Brose had been head of Department IIIb from 1900–1910 and was temporarily retired, but when war broke out, he was placed in charge of Department IIIb, partly to beef up the department. He was a significant choice because Brose had not worked primarily in the press section; he was trained for military intelligence.

Section IIIb had four major tasks: overall supervision of all press releases regarding the war effort; transmission of all press releases; military intelligence, and military counter-intelligence. It seems quite clear that Section IIIb would not consider the free and open transfer of information to neutrals as its major concern or even a minor one. Mumm von Schwarzenstein wrote:

And where a question of a trip to the front is concerned, there is a standing war between us [AA] and the Representatives of the General Staff. Their press section is accommodating enough but Counterintelligence (Colonel Brose!) and the tactical section mostly defy all our efforts. For all that, this part of our operation is quite well incorporated, and I am only sorry that Major Deutelmoser, who has always had understanding for our wishes, is now giving up this part of the work so that it will then come under the General Staff, under the direct leadership of the completely blind Colonel Brose....

This resulted in many journalists and cinematographers sitting in Berlin waiting for clearance from the authorities so that they could get their stories.

Aside from all this, even if the cinematographer was accredited by the Army, there were still the major problems of shooting at the front. An Austrian cinematographer reported in the Wiener Abendzeitung that after getting all credentials deemed necessary, he got to the front and began to film. He was almost immediately arrested, and was told at staff headquarters that the enemy had spotted his lens and thought it was an observation telescope and directed all fire on that spot. So getting shots at the front was not really possible, and the film people limited themselves to shots of engineers, field bakeries, airfields and so forth.

There were of course Americans on the scene.

One of the most prominent was Lewis Hart Marks. He was born in New Orleans on 14 July 1883. His father Ferdinand Marks was born in Germany and naturalized in Louisiana on 16 May 1867. Marks' father worked in the insurance business and apparently did quite well in the new world. Lewis studied medicine at Tulane and graduated in 1906, and then worked as a post-graduate at Johns Hopkins and Harvard University. Around 1907 he traveled to Frankfurt am Main where he became an assistant to the famous Dr. Paul Ehrlich, who discovered salvarsan, the cure for syphilis, in 1909. How good a research chemist Dr. Marks was is unclear with some commenting that his work was marginal and others that he was quite a good chemist and researcher. He has quite a few medical articles to his credit, especially between 1900 and 1910. In addition to his work at Dr. Ehrlich's clinic, he was also being paid by the German army for work on vaccines. Some of Marks' financing came from the United States. According to a Bureau of Investigation report a very prominent group of German-American Jews, including Congressman Herman A. Metz, whom we will encounter again, Albert Lorsch, Virginia L. Stern, Benjamin Stern, Ernest Thalmann and Adolph Lewisohn were each to pay $10,000 a year to Marks to support his research. In addition, Benjamin Guggenheim who died on the Titanic, included among his numerous bequests one for $125,000.00 to Marks. In Frankfurt am Main Marks also performed research for the Mulford Chemical Company that produced serums and other medicinals back in the States.

The war ended Marks' research work when the German Army took over his building for anti-aircraft purposes and he moved to Berlin where he took up residence at the Adlon Hotel. By now Marks was an authorized Mulford Chemical Company commercial agent for Germany and Austria while still in the pay of the German War Ministry. This arrangement appears to have benefited both parties because there is a statement by the Mulford Company that Marks was paid over $53,000 for the sale of tetanus, antidysenteric and antimeningitis serums to the German government, probably for their army. Marks' U. S. passport application issued 13 February 1916 also mentions trips to Holland, Romania and Scandinavia noting his occupation as commercial advisor which suggests that he was trying to peddle these various serums in these countries as well but sold none based on the statement's silence.

Back at the Adlon Hotel he became familiar with the American contingent of correspondents, offering them advice and lending small sums of money, putting them in contact with Germans who could be of service in getting them to the front and securing interviews with government officials, work that appears to have been undertaken for continued support by the German War Ministry. Another interesting item in Marks' file is an AA letter to the Polizeipräsident of 13 December 1914 cited in full below from Freiherr von Mumm that mentions Marks was also a member of a propaganda committee in Frankfurt am Main. Marks' services to the German government may have extended far beyond serving on propaganda committees and reporting on the activities of journalists. In the files of the AA there is a memorandum dated 6 June 1915 from Arthur Zimmerman, then German Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs, but who was already acting as Secretary of State for his chief Gottlieb von Jagow. Zimmermann was later notorious for the Zimmermann telegram, which was so instrumental in finally deciding America to enter the war on the Entente side, as well as his attempts to foment revolts both in Ireland and India. The memorandum on AA stationery informed all concerned that LewisMarks was taking a trip abroad from 18 to 28 June 1915 in the service of German interests, and that all military and civil authorities should give him all assistance.


Excerpted from American Cinematographers in the Great War, 1914-1918 by James W. Castellan, Ron van Dopperen, Cooper C. Graham. Copyright © 2016 John Libbey Publishing Ltd.. Excerpted by permission of John Libbey Publishing Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

1. Over There
2. Over Here
3. Belgium
4. William Randolph Hearst and the War
5. Behind the German Lines
6. Filming the Central Powers' Drive across Russian Poland
7. Cameramen with the Entente
8. Mobilize the Movies: The U.S. Signal Corps and the Committee on Public Information
9. Aftermath

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