When The Flaming Frontier was released in 1926, not only was it received well by critics, it was received well by history buffs. The film, produced by Universal, starred Hoot Gibson and Dustin Farnum, and depicted an epic account of Custer’s last stand at Little Big Horn. Moviegoers agreed that the political and historical circumstances surrounding the event were depicted accurately. So much so, in fact that the Chicago Historical Society took it upon themselves to give schoolchildren interested in history the opportunity to see it.
Members of the Historical Society had seen and raved about the film. Chicago Historical Society President Otto L. Schmidt said, “The story as presented is as faithful to fact as scenario and film science permits. It is a marvelous artistic conception.” Because the members believed the film to be entertaining as well as educational, they sponsored a screening for local school children. Schools that regularly attended the Chicago Historical Society’s Saturday morning lectures were reviewed and those that had the best attendance records were invited to send 15 of their students, along with their history teachers, to the Randolph Theatre’s scheduled Saturday morning screening.
The turnout was impressive, much to the delight of Universal and the Historical Society, who could not help but sing the film’s praises. Society Librarian Caroline M. McIlvaine later wrote of the film, saying, “Such a magnificent production as The Flaming Frontier indicates that the producer believes in America, has the courage of his convictions and almost unlimited financial resources. […] Given a few more pictures as this one depicting Custer’s heroic sacrifice in an unworthy cause and the tragedy of the Red Race, and Americans will wake up to the wonder of their own history which is stranger than the fiction so constantly portrayed.”
The world of the Chicago Historical Society and the Chicago film industry crossed paths on more than one occasion. We'll explore their relationship further in future posts.