Emerald Company of Chicago

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When its doors opened in 1916, the Emerald Company of Chicago came to the table with a former Essanay starlet and a 20-installment comedy series ready to go. As a subsidiary of the American Standard Motion Picture Corporation, the studio had a built-in distributor that was ready to hit the ground running and promote Emerald’s output. With Frederick J. Ireland working as Emerald president, director general and scenario author, the company was ready to release a Dolores Cassinelli vehicle and the first installment in the 20-part Tom and Jerry series just months after being formed. Cassinelli, dubbed “the Sarah Bernhardt of the moving picture stage,” had previously worked with the Chicago-based Essanay Company and was initially tapped to play vamp roles. Charles Huntington had also made the rounds with the other Chicago-based studios, and was tapped to play the role of Jerry (with Tom Keesey as Tom) in the Tom and Jerry series.

Rather than resort to slapstick, Ireland wanted to keep the Emerald comedies focused on being clean and well-produced. The Tom and Jerry comedies, in particular, Frederick believed would be high-class comedies that would suit discriminating audiences. Under his watchful eye, the company focused on producing films efficiently on budget and on time.

Unlike other Chicago-based studios, the Emerald studios primarily focused on filming in and around Chicago and the midwest. The studio, executive offices and labs were located at the 1717-1729 block at N. Wells St., allowing Emerald to use Lincoln Park, Lake Michigan, and local events to center scenarios around. One of the biggest projects the company took on was a war-related picture. Announced shortly after the US entered the first World War, The Slacker was to address the reasons the US went to war, promote recruitment and, reportedly, show the activities of German agents. It was filmed under the auspices of the Wisconsin Defense League, with the branches of the armed services working together to produce the military sequences. Renamed The Slacker’s Heart (so as not to be confused with two other films of the same name released in 1917), the film was released in August 1917, and, with the exception of some assorted comedies and industrials, the studio remained rather quiet for a while.

In 1919, though, the studio began to get attention again, when Chaplin imitator Billy West won an appeal that allowed him to leave Bullseye and make films for Emerald. Ethelyn Gibson, Chuck Reisner, Marty Cutler and George West (Billy’s brother) were all pulled in to create comedies under the newly formed Billy West Company, and Alice Howell joined the studio to make her own comedies. In addition, former Essanay cameraman Jackson J. Rose began using the studio space to house his newly formed Cinema Institute. By March 1920, Reelcraft Pictures Corporation purchased Emeralds assets, along with the assets of several other studios, and by the same time in 1922, the studio was owned by the Better Picture Corporation.