Sun 25 Jan 2009
But there are a number of people reading this blog who know movies and the men and women who helped make them more than I do, and George Seitz came up for discussion several times before Ed Hulse spotted the post and added the comment you find below. As I’ve previously mentioned, I hate to have information hidden from view in the comments section, so (with no further fanfare) here it is again.
George Seitz is an interesting and under-appreciated movie pioneer. It’s true that’s he remembered — if at all — as the director of M-G-M’s Andy Hardy films, but he’s also celebrated for his contributions to the motion-picture serial, a form in whose development he played an important part.
Seitz worked in theater before breaking into the movie business before the first World War. He landed a position as scenario writer and editor for the American arm of Pathe Freres, a French company that eventually became known as Pathe Exchanges and then simply Pathe. (It merged into RKO at the dawn of the talkie era.)
Seitz had a natural flair for melodrama and was largely responsible for the nurturing of serial queen Pearl White’s screen persona. He wrote and/or directed most of her serials before being chosen to head up his own production unit in 1919, making other chapter plays for Pathe release.
As was the custom in those days, he not only directed but also starred in serials, including Bound and Gagged (1919), Pirate Gold (1920), and The Sky Ranger (1921). His most frequent collaborator was Frank Leon Smith, who penned short stories for the Munsey pulps before taking a job with Pathe as scenario editor and eventually writing many of the company’s most successful chapter plays.
The Seitz unit also employed — first as a stuntman, later as an assistant director — Spencer Bennet, who eventually helmed more serials than any other director. Bennet, Smith, and the other members of Seitz’s production unit made the classic 1925 version of Edgar Wallace’s The Green Archer, only a few tantalizing reels of which survive today.
Seitz left Pathe early in ’25, taking a westbound train for Hollywood immediately upon shooting the final scenes for his last serial, Sunken Silver, in Florida. He initially worked for Paramount, directing several Zane Grey adaptations for producer Lucien Hubbard: Wild Horse Mesa, The Vanishing American (both 1925) and Desert Gold (1926).
Shortly thereafter he began freelancing, which he did with considerable success until 1934, when he signed a long-term contract with M-G-M. That studio was accelerating B-movie production to keep pace with Depression-era demands for double features, and Seitz’s background in low-budget serials made him very attractive to Metro.
He was not a stylish or innovative director by any means, but he shot films quickly and efficiently, with a minimum of retakes and no behind-the-scenes foolishness. Although the Andy Hardy series had pretty much run its course by 1944, when Seitz died, there’s little doubt that M-G-M would have kept him on the Culver City lot.
Forgive me for being so long-winded, Steve, but Seitz is a favorite hobby-horse of mine, so to speak. I think he’s an unjustly forgotten filmmaker.