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A Rare Screening of a Silent Classic Comes to Proudfit Hall

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20,000 Leagues Under the Sea at Proudfit Hall on January 18

Salem Resident Jane Gail in Jules Verne’s Timeless Classic

Are you a fan of silent films? Are you fan of Jules Verne’s classic novels? Well, you’re in luck, as the 1916 adaptation of Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea will be screened at the Bancroft Public Library at Proudfit Hall in Salem at 2pm on Sunday, January 18, 2015.

What makes this screening special is that it features stage and screen actress Jane Gail, who was born and raised in Salem.

About Jane Gail

Salem, NY native and silent screen actress Jane GailJane Gail was actually born Ethel S. Magee on August 16, 1890 in Salem. An attendee of Salem Washington Academy (from which she graduated in 1899), Ethel advanced to the Frohman Dramatic School in New York City, which had a reputation of advancing its graduates into the then developing film industry (Cecil B. DeMille was one well known attendee).

Gail began her theatrical career with the Shubert Theater Company, appearing in a variety of comedies and dramas. Changing her name to Jane Gail in 1913 and initially appearing as an extra in several films, she managed to appear in over 80 films and numerous theatrical productions. She eventually graduated to larger roles, most notably as Alice in the 1913 film adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; her additional appearances included Traffic in Souls (1913), The Prisoner of Zenda (1915), The River Goddess (1916), and The Blood Stained Hand (1917), among many others. A move to England in 1914 offered Gail the opportunity to appear in numerous short dramas for the London Film Company. She would eventually return to the US in 1916, where she continued her career on Broadway in two productions, “The Rack” and “The City”. Married to New York Sun reporter and documentary filmmaker Edwin C. Hill, Gail would retire from the silver screen at the age of 30; her last film appearance was in the 1920 drama Bitter Fruit. Gail would reside in St. Petersburg, Florida, where she passed away in 1963 at the age of 72.

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea

One of Jules Verne’s most beloved stories, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea has been filmed numerous times, first by cinema wizard Georges Méliès in 1907. Probably the best-known adaptation is Richard Fleischer’s 1954 film, staring Kirk Douglas and James Mason.

Allan Holubar as Captain Nemo in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea (Stuart Paton, 1916)Set in the 1860s, the story introduces us to the legendary explorer, Captain Nemo and his submarine, The Nautilus. There have been sightings of a strange sea monster; the American ship Abraham Lincoln is sent to investigate, but is attacked by the monster, only to suddenly appear on the surface to rescue the Lincoln’s surviving crew members, including Professor Aronnax, and his daughter. Holding them hostage, Nemo shows them the magnificence of the ocean world. But that’s just part of the story…

As for Stuart Paton’s 1916 film, it is highly notable in that it was the very first film to shoot underwater sequences, courtesy of brothers George M. Williamson and J. Ernest Williamson. While underwater cameras were not used, the production utilized a combination of tubes and mirrors in shallow water (filmed in the Bahamas), to create a vast underwater world. With a budget of approximately $500,000, the film boasts an impressive use of special effects, costumes, ships, and of course the interior of the Nautilus. According to film historian Hal Erickson: “The cost of this film was so astronomical that it could not possibly post a profit, putting the kibosh on any subsequent Verne adaptations for the next 12 years.”

While the film may be a bit creaky in spots, it has still weathered the test of time. In fact, in 2010, a restored print of the film with live musical accompaniment was shown at the San Francisco International Film Festival.

Admission for the screening is free. The Bancroft Public Library at Proudfit Hall is located at 181 Main Street in Salem, NY. For more information, call 518-854-7463.

--By The Free George Staff.

The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.

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