Archive of letters, subscriber and investment requests, and a film program for the 1921 film, The Contrast, from the Labor Film Service

New York: Labor Film Service, 1920-1922. Archive of six letters, subscriber and investment requests, subscription agreements, a stockholder meeting announcement, and a referral form from the Labor Film Service (LFS), 1920-1922, as well as an envelope with the LFS logo, postmarked 1921, and a film program from the LFS release, "The Contrast," 1921. Three of the letters and the LFS envelope are addressed to L. Ellen Northrup of Ellicottville, New York, likely the recipient of all the correspondences, whose holdings, which include correspondence with Eugene and Theodore Debbs, and Emma Goldman, are included in the Edwin Dwight Northrup papers at Cornell University's Rare and Manuscript Collections.

One of the most ambitious of the left independent film studios of the 1920s, the LFS was intent on becoming "the most potent force for good in the country," believing in the potential of film to educate and proliferate its message among the masses. The head of the LFS, Field Director Joseph D. Cannon, was an impassioned union progressive, and New York's Socialist candidate for governor in 1920. Cannon envisioned the LFS producing three types of films, industrial documentary films promoting unionizing, animated short subjects portraying working class life, and "Labor and Reconstruction" films "based upon the writings of iconoclasts and aiming to stimulate interest along sociological, literary and artistic line, thus laying the foundation for a great cultural work," with each supplemented with a lecture series, aiming to build "a crusading legion in the army of Human Betterment." Mentioned in two of the correspondences in the archive is an effort by the LFS to re-release a "reconstructed" version of the 1914 film, "The Jungle," now lost, based on Upton Sinlair's 1906 book, directed by Augustus Thomas, George Irving, and John H. Pratt, and starring George Nash and Gail Kane. "The Jungle" was poorly received upon its initial release both for its pro-labor stance as well as it's dour subject matter.

LFS released its first feature length film "The Contrast," (whose program is included in the archives, as well as being mentioned in three of the correspondences) in 1921. An exploration of the struggles between coal miners and owners in Mingo County, West Virginia, the film juxtaposed the destitute lives of the miners with the opulent lives of the owners. The script was written by Cannon's friend and fellow Socialist John W. Slayton, a tireless proponent of workers, and a pioneer of American socialist politics, who ran for Congress on the Social Democratic ticket in Illinois in 1900. The film was directed by and starred Guy Hedlund, a D.W. Griffith protégé, who used Griffith's cross-cutting techniques to accentuate sympathy for the workers and contempt for the owners. The film was beset with censorship issues and banned by the Kansas Board of Censors.

The LFS, unsurprisingly, came under investigation by FBI and quickly gained the attention of J. Edgar Hoover. Surprisingly, it was brought to the agency's attention by Hedlund, who forwarded an LFS pamphlet to the director of Connecticut's Department of Americanization, Robert Denning, finding in the pamphlet "a peculiar flavor ... that is not pleasant." Mounting pressure on local theater owners by government agencies, as well as Hollywood studios, made it increasingly difficult for left filmmakers to get their films shown, with many simply giving up on utilizing film as a propagandistic tool. It is uncertain whether LFS ever successfully re-released "The Jungle," or if they made any films following "The Contrast."

The contents of the archive are as follows:

An autograph ribbon typescript copy letter acknowledging subscription to the LFS, dated June 29, 1920, on LFS letterhead, to L. Ellen Northrup, signed by LFS General Secretary Herman Ross.

An LFS form requesting referrals, unfilled.

An autograph ribbon typescript copy letter espousing LFS's philosophy and goals, with a request to subscribe for stock, dated August 4, 1920, on LFS letterhead to Northrup, signed by Field Director Cannon.

Two Subscription Agreements for stock from LFS, one for part payment and one for full or part payment, both unfilled, the former stamped twice with "253 West 42nd St." stamps, LFS's 1921 address, the previous address being 31 Union Square.

An autograph ribbon typescript copy letter responding to an inquiry of LFS film releases, mentioning an imminent release of "The Jungle," dated October 28th 1920, on LFS letterhead to Northrup, signed by Cannon.

An autograph ribbon typescript copy letter promoting LFS's release of "The Jungle" and the production of "The Contrast," and request to subscribe for stock, dated Dec. 18, 1920, on LFS letterhead, signed by Cannon.

A two page carbon typescript copy letter briefing stockholders as to the current state of LFS productions, primarily the imminent release of "The Contrast," mentioning the "enclosed circular" (the film program presented in this archive), and delays on the release of "The Jungle," due to the lead, George Nash, being unavailable for reshoots, dated Feb. 11, 1921, on LFS letterhead.

The bi-fold film program for "The Contrast," featuring 16 photographs of the cast, crew, and screenwriter Slayton, including a cover statement by Gannon on LFS's philosophy and goals, and a interior spread statement by Gannon on the film and it's cast and crew, with a "Subscribe for Labor Film Stock" promotion on the back leaf.

The 1921 post-marked LFS logo envelope, addressed to Northrup, which housed the two page letter and program, with a LFS stamp on the right edge.

An autograph carbon typescript letter labor unions and supporters announcing the release of "The Contrast," the delay in the release of "The Jungle," and a request to subscribe for stock, dated February 20, 1921, on LFS letterhead, signed by Cannon.

An announcement by LFS of an annual stockholders meeting on June 15, 1922, with a proxy vote form on the bottom third, unfilled, and a LFS blind stamp on the middle of the left side.

Six Letters and Stockholders meeting announcement, 8.5 x 11 inches. Overall Near Fine, with horizontal and vertical creases from mailing.

LFS form requesting referrals, 5.5 x 8.5. Near Fine, with two horizontal creases from mailing.

Two Subscription Agreements on goldenrod paper, 7 x 3.5 inches. Very Good plus with light creasing.

LFS Envelope, 6.5 x 3.5 inches. Very Good plus, with a couple small closed tears along the top edge, and creasing along the right edge of the verso where it had been opened.

"The Contrast" film program, 6 x 12 inches. Bi-fold. Very Good plus, with a vertical and horizontal crease from mailing, some light rubbing and edgewear.


[Book #155896]