Monday, March 14, 2011

The Sea Wolf Navigates Print, Film

Jack London, published by L C Page and Company Boston 1903; available at

Jack London's SNARK, and the filming of his story, The Sea Wolf, were featured in The Compass Rose article by Bill Olesen.

Jack London and Southern California
The Sea Wolf

The termination in Australia of a proposed world cruise aboard the SNARK seems to have ended Jack’s ocean yachting ambitions. At the same time, the need for recouping health and fortunes probably filled the vacancy created by that disappointment.

A professed socialist who appeared to believe that money was designed to circulate freely, London was often pressed for cash even during those years of his greatest affluence. Consequently, having spent much of his literary earnings on philanthropy and the expensive projects of building the SNARK and his Wolf House at Glen Ellen, the possibility of a new and hitherto untapped source of revenue had definite appeal.

In 1902, The Electric Theater was the first motion picture house to be opened in Los Angeles. No doubt the same happened in other cities at that time, but for Los Angeles it could be called prophetic. The first “movies” were produced on Long Island, N.Y., but the climatic advantages for outdoor filming in southern California soon became apparent, and the industry began to move in.

Two old sailing vessels, the barkentine FREMONT (1850) and the barque ALDEN BESSE (1871), lying in San Pedro, were the original seagoing props for movie-making when needed. Studios sprang up wherever a warehouse or similar structure of sufficient size could be found, apparently anywhere between Santa Barbara and San Diego.

The motion picture industry gained momentum rapidly, and by 1911 production companies were actively seeking the film rights to published works which were usited to their needs. Overtures to Jack London for such rights apparently were initiated in 1911 by Sydney Ayres, representing various principals at various times. Tentative agreements and assorted proposals along with failure to meet the deadline on production dates resulted in cancellation of contracts, and consumed much time. Consequently, it was not until July of 1913 that Jack and Charmian arrived in Los Angeles by train with the object of formalizing a firm contract.

Due to the previous negotiations referred to herein, it was inevitable that litigation would ensue, and not exactly to the advantage of London. At this stage, Frank A. Garbutt, a wealthy and successful Los Angeles businessman, elected to enter the motion picture field and swiftly concluded a deal with London to produce The Sea Wolf.

Garbutt proceeded to negotiate a settlement with the litigants and promptly hired Hobart Bosworth to produce the film. Bosworth displayed unusual ability by managing the entire operation, including direction and starring as Capt. Wolf Larson of the schooner GHOST.

The film, which ran to seven reels and a record for those days, was made for a production cost of $9,000. Released by the Bosworth Co., the thunder was stolen somewhat by the simultaneous release of a half-length version made by the original contractor, but the superiority of the Bosworth film overcame this disappointing incident. The result was a successful, super-colossal epic for the silver-screen, and the firm establishment of another irrefutable link between Jack London and Southern California.
-- Bill Olesen
"Jack London and Southern California", an article by long-time Museum volunteer Bill Olesen was presented on the front cover of the Autumn 1991 issue of The Compass Rose, a newsletter of the Friends of the Los Angeles Maritime Museum, published between 1981 and 1996.

Explanation of terms used:
Compass Rose:

A term used in navigation, it refers to “1… a circle divided into 32 points or 360 degrees numbered clockwise from true or magnetic north, printed on a chart… as a means of determining the course of a vessel or aircraft. 2. a similar design, often ornamented, used on maps to indicate the points of a compass” … from p. 300 of the 1966 edition of The Random House Dictionary of the English Language.

Writer Jack London's yacht, SNARK, was a schooner, a "vessel rigged with fore and aft sails on two or more masts" (from the Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea, second edition, 2005, p. 495. Though SNARK did not return to California following a voyage to Australia in 1907, it remained the object of romantic inquiry in literary and maritime history for many years. This week's post features a selection from Bill Olesen's article.

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