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Special Collections & Archives

The rare or unique holdings of Nimitz Library.

The Naval Academy on Camera - Part I

by Samuel Limneos on 2022-03-08T13:05:11-05:00 in Special Collections & Archives, History | Comments

The Naval Academy has a long history of appearance on film and television. Part one of this history begins during World War I and after as production studios began filming Yard scenes and movies.

During World War I, film producers began featuring the Naval Academy and midshipmen in major pictures subject to Navy censors. In October 1915, a Vitagraph Studios crew led by director Paul Scardon filmed the Brigade of Midshipmen on the Yard for the adventure war film The Hero of Submarine D-2, starring Charles Richman and James W. Morrison. Midshipman artist W.B. Shope illustrated various scenes in the weekly, midshipman-published issue of the Log of the United States Naval Academy magazine. As a thankful tribute to the midshipmen, the Vitagraph Company provided a special showing in Dahlgren Hall on March 25, 1916, one week after the silent film debuted in New York

Filming Yard scenes for The Hero of Submarine D-2 from The Log.

Throughout the spring of 1916, the C.L. Chester production company filmed several Yard scenes for the propaganda documentary America Preparing. The company showcased the film in Memorial Hall on Saturday night, March 3, 1917, “at the regular weekly moving picture show, commencing at 7:45 p.m.”

Filming a dance scene in The Midshipman. 

During Commissioning Week 1925, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer director Christy Cabbane and actors Ramon Novvaro and Harriett Hammond arrived on the Yard to film the 8-reel silent romantic drama The Midshipman. One Log author wrote about the camera shyness and anxiety felt by midshipmen before filming began, “Mr. Goldwyn asks you please not to stare at the camera, as that would spoil the picture. We will all have to be broadminded about this movie business and keep a level, cool countenance .. a little sang-froid and no one, not even the camera, will know we aren’t used to it.” While offering a boastful reference to the 1924 Inspiration Pictures romance drama Classmates, filmed at West Point, another midshipman writer captured the public mood at the academy during filming:

A strange change has taken place in our phlegmatic academy. Glaring lights shine upon us in the mess hall, at the hops; sections returning from class take long and devious routes; each drill becomes a thing of harrowing precision; cutters are rowed in lines of six and even twelve abreast; curious groups gather about those many parts of the Yard where one may see in person those stars of the screen whom we have so often seen in the good old Republic and Circle. Nobody really seems to know a great deal about all this, except that a real Navy photograma is to be produced at last, and that, unless we miss our guess - which happens seldom - the Pointers will have to make two such as Classmates to beat.

Glaring lights shining on midshipmen at mess during filming of The Midshipman.

While it opened at San Francisco’s Loews Warfield on September 27, The Midshipman first ran at Annapolis’s Republic theater between October 28 and 31, 1925. According to a November 20, 1925 Bureau of Navigation news bulletin, The Midshipman’s ratings beat all special pictures released the week of October 4th, despite competition with World Series score boards.

Director Christy Cabanne (center) on The Midshipman film set outside Bancroft Hall.

Christy Cabbane returned to the Yard a few years later with Pathé Exchange to direct the 1928 film Annapolis, starring Jeanette Loff and Johnny Mack Brown. Featuring various references to midshipman life such as Plebe Summer, drills, parades, shipboard training, dances, and even Commissioning Week weddings, Annapolis presents the drama of a falling out between two midshipman friends jealous over the attention of a female attending a graduation dance.

Midshipman actors vying for Jeanette Loff’s dance card signature in Annapolis.

The following year, the Naval Academy made its first “talkie” appearance in Fox’s Salute, which features two brothers - a West Point cadet and an Annapolis midshipman - who face off in the annual Army-Navy football game. Among Salute’s cast was an uncredited extra, John Wayne, playing a midshipman.

Dramatic scene from Annapolis.

During the first quarter of the twentieth century, the Naval Academy provided motion picture entertainment, and production studios began filming Yard scenes and dramas featuring midshipmen. Stay tuned for part two of this history featuring the expansion of sound movies and the Naval Academy’s television debut.

 

Sources

Bureau of Navigation, “News Bulletin No. 68," November 20, 1925. Volume 558, Entry 58, RG 405.

Eberle, Edward W., Notice, “Moving Picture Showing,” March 20, 1916. Volume 548, Entry 56, RG 405.

“Midshipman Randall [The Midshipman].” Log of the United States Naval Academy Vol. 13 (June Week Edition,1925): 16-17.

Nulton, Louis M. Memorandum Endorsement, “Moving picture reel from C.L. Chester, Inc., to be run off Saturday night," March 3, 1917. Folder 3, Box 62, Entry 36, RG 405.

Shope, W.B. “Events of the Week,” Log of the United States Naval Academy Vol. 3, No. 4 (October 29, 1915), 6.

“The Data.” Log of the United States Naval Academy Vol. 14, No. 2 (October 16, 1925), 2.

“Motion Pictures, Television, etc., filmed at the Naval Academy, undated.” Series 15: USNA. Naval Academy Reference Files.


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