The Early Films – Billy B. Van and the Equity Motion Picture Company on Lake Sunapee, New Hampshire

“The Exploits of Emilene” (1915)

“The Janitor’s Birthday” (1915)

 

Billy B. Van in the Kodascope Library

“Van-ar-chy”

“A slapstick comedy without much of any plot, and designed principally to feature the antics and horse-play of the vaudeville comedian who takes the principal part. It is a tale of anarchists, bombs, dynamite explosions, kidnapping and a few other crimes or misdemeanors. It is full of “moving accidents by flood and field.” For those who like this kind of a comedy, it is the sort of comedy that they will like.” Listed as an independent production in the "Descriptive Catalogue of Kodascope Library Motion Pictures, 1926." Reel #4019, Code GACUR, 1574 feet “standard length” 2 reels.

 

“The Plucky Hoodoo”

“Slapstick comedy of the rube farmer type, featuring a country blacksmith, a lazy farmhand and a city family visiting the country in their automobile. The new farmhand has all sorts of troubles with his employer, but finally proves himself a hero (?) and wins  the farmer’s daughter.” Descriptive Catalogue of Kodascope Library Motion Pictures, 1926 Reel #4020, Code GADA, listed as an independent production. 1800 feet “standard length” 2 reels.

Occasionally misreported in the trade press as “The Lucky Hoodoo,” which is also the name of a Broadway musical by that name, starring Billy B. Van and the Beaumont sisters.

The only surviving film of Billy B. Van exists on a poor quality videotape-to-DVD copy of unknown origin.

 

The Reelcraft Royal Comedy series


“Snakes,” “The Plucky Hoodoo” and “Where Are Your Husbands?” reported in wide release by Reelcraft in 1920

“More Bull” (1920)

Mentioned as a title for the first Billy B. Van Reelcraft Royal Comedy. Subsequent reports state that the first Billy B. Van film for the Royal Comedies was titled “Snakes.”

“Snakes” (1920) Reelcraft Pictures Royal Comedy
The first or second Billy B. Van film for the Reelcraft Royal Comedy series.

“Bolshevism and bombs were a much more popular topic for discussion up to about a year ago than they are today, and this Billy B. Van comedy obviously was made at that time. While it is somewhat disconnected at times, there are several humorous bits and the production as a whole is acceptable. Well photographed in most places, this maintains a reasonably good average and should get over in quite a few houses. Some of the hokum is of the rather hackneyed type, but much of it can be depended upon to hold its own. This is the second of the series of Royal Comedies.” – The Film Daily, August 1, 1920

"Where Are Your Husbands?" From the personal effects of Billy B. Van. This two foot long outtake from a professional film production shows an actress holding a camera slate noting, likely, that the previously scene was "no good." The next scene shows men in hats shot through a window. Actors unknown. 35mm Kodak negative nitrate motion picture film manufactured in 1919. Courtesy of the Newport Historical Society. Used with permission.

“Where Are Your Husbands?” (1920) Reelcraft Pictures Royal Comedy
Possibly the 5th Billy B. Van film for the Reelcraft Royal Comedy series

“Obviously this two reeler, one of a set known as Royal Comedies and starring Billy B. Van, was made before the end of the war, for it is sort of a burlesque on the conflict. A fight of American women to protect their talcum powder forms the backbone of the piece, the effeminate habits cultivated by the men during the absence of their wives being depicted through-out most of the footage. As many people will expect, it turns out to be a dream at the finish, while the principle gleeful over the fact that what has passed was merely a nightmare. Generally an average comedy which is not timely now.” – The Film Daily August 29, 1920


 

 

“The Plucky Hoodoo” (1920) Reelcraft Pictures Royal Comedy.
Possibly the 4th Billy B. Van film for the Reelcraft Royal Comedy series.

Also mentioned in the Kodascope Library (mentioned above): “Slapstick comedy of the rube farmer type, featuring a country blacksmith, a lazy farmhand and a city family visiting the country in their automobile. The new farmhand has all sorts of troubles with his employer, but finally proves himself a hero (?) and wins  the farmer’s daughter.” Descriptive Catalogue of Kodascope Library Motion Pictures, 1926 Reel #4020, Code GADA, listed as an independent production. 1800 feet “standard length” 2 reels

Occasionally misreported in the trade press as “The Lucky Hoodoo,” which is also the name of a Broadway musical by that name, starring Billy B. Van and the Beaumont sisters.

The only surviving film of Billy B. Van exists on a poor quality videotape-to-DVD copy of unknown origin.


The Miller & Steen releases

Advertised in 1925, likely made in 1915. Silent film star Walter Hiers, who appears in at least some of the films mentioned, stated in 1925 that the films were made “10 years ago.” All believed to be filmed at least in part in New Hampshire.

“Some Hero”

“The New Clerk”

“The Inventor”

“Bootlegger’s Legacy”

“The New Woman”

“The Janitor’s Birthday” (this title is also mentioned in 1915)

 

Other Billy B. Van films

“The Beauty Shop” (1922)
A Cosmopolitan Production, Released by Paramount Pictures, 1h 10min

Adapted from the musical comedy of the same name, Billy B. Van appears as the character “Sobini,” the undertaker. He appears with his long-time vaudeville co-star Jim Corbett: “Billy B. Van and James J. Corbett will play the parts of prominent Bolognians who conspire to make Dr. Budd’s life in their native country a series of highly uncomfortable thrills.”

From left to right, grouped around a table in a courtyard in a scene still from the 1922 silent comedy "The Beauty Shop," are the actors James J. Corbett, Louise Fazenda, Billy B. Van, and Montagu Love. Courtesy Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research. Used with permission.

From left to right, grouped around a table in a courtyard in a scene still from the 1922 silent comedy "The Beauty Shop," are the actors James J. Corbett, Louise Fazenda, Billy B. Van, and Montagu Love. Courtesy Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research. Used with permission.

“Dr. Budd, beauty doctor, faces bankruptcy- when suddenly he is told that he is the descendant of the famous Sizerellas, and a fortune awaits him in Bolognia. With his ward, Anna, and her fiancé, Briggs, Budd travels to Bolognia only to be told there is no fortune, but he must settle a family feud by fighting a duel. The only way out of the duel is by marrying the innkeeper’s funny-looking daughter. But when Budd’s beauty lotion makes the girl beautiful he is permitted to leave Bolognia and go back to America where the success of his preparation will make him rich.” The Film Daily, May 14, 1922

Widely released and reviewed. Not filmed in New Hampshire.

 

“Down the Well”/ "Toy Film" No Date (16mm film in the home wasn’t widely available until 1923)

Listed on the Billy B. Van Wikipedia page

50-feet, 3 minutes
Distributed by Novelty Film Company, 116-22nd St. West New York, NJ
Not unique: 16mm copy of "well bit" from "The Plucky Hoodoo" 


Billy B. Van films mentioned on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb). No mention found elsewhere:

“Why Women Go to War” (1920) Attributed to George Kleine Productions
 

“Screen Snapshots, Series 2, No. 9-F” (1921)

Federated Film Exchanges of America, Inc. Produced by Jack Cohn and Louis Lewyn. Showing life of the stars behind the scenes, it aims to be the “fan magazine of the screen.” Other stars mentioned as appearing in the series: Richard Barthelmess, Monte Blue, Irene Castle, James J. Corbett, Marion Davies, Jack Dempsey, Mary Hay, Johnny Hines, Raymond Hitchcock, Robert Z. Leonard, Marcus Loew, Mae Murray, Eugene O'Brien, Constance Talmadge, Norma Talmadge, Conway Tearle, David Warfield, Winifred Westover.

“She Done Him Wrong” (1933)

Mentioned as appearing uncredited as a piano player in the Oscar-nominated feature starring Cary Grant and Mae West (who delivers her most famous line, “Why don't you come up sometime and see me?”) Piano player “Rag Time Kelly” is played by Fuzzy Knight. Billy B. Van has so far not been identified in the film.

 

Other films purported to have appearances of Billy B. Van

“The White Sin” (1924)

Advertising for the film mentions Billy B. Van as a cast member. One of many times Billy B. Van was confused with another silent film star of the day, Billy Bevan. While this confusion is common, it is unusual to see it in print.

 

Film titles mentioned by Lake Sunapee-area residents

“When the Town Went Dry"

"Zulu Nightmare" (or possibly "Zooloo Nightmare")