Wow! It has been a minute (give or take a few years) since I have written a blog post here. But, I thought it would be a good idea to give everyone an idea of what kind of content I will be offering on my new Patreon page. One of the the things will be something like this which I am calling "Silver Sheet Stories." These stories are going to highlight lesser known figures from the silent film era that I think deserve to have their stories told. I am, however debating back and forth on whether or not I want these to be written stories or turn them into mini podcast episodes. You'll have to let me know which you would prefer!
One of the other things I will be offering through Patreon is silent film movie reviews. I would like to set up a discussion board for that so you guys can weigh in as well. I would also like to include a grave tour (of sorts) to highlight my over 1000 celebrity grave photos.
And, of course, I am working on figuring out merch!
So, that being said, please check out the Patreon page to see if anything there strikes your fancy. I wish I had the time to do all of this extra content for free, but with a full-time job from home with added responsibilities, it takes a lot more to churn out extras.
Thank you again for your continued support of Silence is Platinum! I hope you enjoy reading the first Silver Sheet story about director Francis Boggs.
Francis Winter Boggs was born March 28, 1870 in Santa Rosa, California. He was the second of five children born to George and Alabama McMeans Boggs (how cool was mom's name?!)
Frank, as he was known to family and friends, began acting on stage when he was a teenager. While touring with a troupe he landed in Chicago where he met up and coming film producer, William Selig. The two became friends as well as a creative dynamic duo. Selig's name probably sounds familiar if you have heard of the Selig Polyscope studio. Well, he's the Selig! And it was Frank who helped him expand the studio, first by making films for Selig and then by expanding the company. Their first film together was The Two Orphans (1907), which was based off of a French novel of the same name.
In 1908, Boggs directed The Fairylogue and Radio-Plays, the first screen adaptation of L. Frank Baum's Wizard of Oz book series. This short was interesting because it wasn't just a moving picture. The short included magic lantern slides (the precursor to films), Baum appearing on screen as a silent narrator, and even an original score. Sadly, this film is lost...because of course it is.
One interesting note about Fairylogue is the actress who played Dorothy. Ten year old Romola Remus was the daughter of George Remus, a famous bootlegger. Remus made headlines in 1927 after he shot and killed his second wife, Imogene, in the middle of Eden Park in Cincinnati, Ohio. Quite the background story for the first onscreen Dorothy Gale! (For a more in depth story about Remus, I HIGHLY recommend the book The Ghosts of Eden Park: The Bootleg King, the Women Who Pursued Him, and the Murder That Shocked Jazz-Age America by Karen Abbott.)
ANYWAY! Back to Boggs! In 1909, Frank was in Los Angeles working on what would be the first motion picture made entirely on the west coast. In the Sultan's Power would be shot in a lot in what is now known as the Los Angeles Jewelry District. The short featured some of the earliest actors in silent film: Hobart Bosworth, Tom Santschi, and Betty Harte. Boggs served as director.
Still from The Fairylogue and Radio-Plays
His next short, Ben's Kid, wasn't anything significant at the time. However, it is significant now for being the film debut of Mr. Roscoe Arbuckle, playing a character named "Fatty Carter."
These films, along with at least 100 more that Bogg's directed (one report stated it may have been over 200!) were all for the Los Angeles branch of the Selig Polyscope Company, which still had it's home base in Chicago. Boggs set up the west coast branch at the behest of Selig, and, clearly, he was doing a great job manning the helm! I mean, honestly, look at the filmographies of these early film pioneers. Most of the directors, performers, writers, etc. had at LEAST 100 credits to their name. Yes, the films were much shorter, but, still, that is very impressive. It's one of the things I love most about the silent film era, how hard these trailblazers worked.
Filming at Selig Polyscope Studio in Edendale, California
Like many early filmmakers of the early 1900s, most of his films are lost. However, at least two of his films are available to watch on YouTube: The Sergeant (1910), featuring Hobart Bosworth and Iva Shepard, and The Blacksmith's Love (1911), featuring Tom Santschi and Eugenie Besserer.
Unfortunately, this hardworking director's career was cut short in what is considered to be the first murder in filmdom.
On Friday, October 27, 1911, Boggs, studio business manager J.L. McGee, and William Selig were having a meeting inside Boggs' office, when, out of nowhere, a shot rang out. Boggs' secretary, E.H. Philbook, and actors Tom Santschi and Hobart Bosworth, who were in an adjoining room, ran to see what the hell was going on. At least four more shots rang out. One shot went into the arm of Selig, while another narrowly missed hitting Santschi. A third was reportedly shot toward actress Bessie Eyton, who had also heard the gunshots and come running. The fourth bullet was fired wildly and went through a wall. Santschi dove for the shooter to try and wrestle the gun away from him. The shooter tried to fire off another shot, but the gun apparently jammed. So, instead, he went for a small dagger he had on his person, but Bosworth and Philbrook swooped in and helped to disarm and restrain him. Either Selig or Santschi managed to grab the gun and hit the shooter in the face with it, knocking him unconscious in the melee.
The first cop on the scene was said to have heard the gunfire and had galloped over on his horse to check it out. The officer managed to slap handcuffs on the subdued shooter and placed him under arrest. He was actually handcuffed to the officer at one point in the front seat of the ambulance used to transport the victims to the hospital.
Some reports indicated that Boggs died instantly, while another claimed he died enroute to the hospital from TWO gunshot wounds. Another newspaper reported that hospital staff told them that Boggs was expected to recover! (I could preface almost every statement in this entry with "according to some reports," honestly.) But, if we are to believe that Boggs was shot straight through the heart, he either died instantly or within seconds. I don't think he held on long enough for the ambulance to arrive. William Selig only sustained the through and through wound to his arm and made a full recovery.
So. What the hell happened?! Who was the shooter?! Why did he go on a shooting rampage?? The "who" was Frank Minnimatsu, a 29 year old Japanese gardener/janitor for the studio. Unfortunately, I do need to make note of the fact that he was Japanese since that was a HUGE part of the sensational headlines reporting the murder. The senseless shooting was bad enough, but newspapers seemed to think the fact that the shooter was Japanese was a part of the problem.
Minnimatsu seems to have had a Jekyll and Hyde reputation around the studio. Some referred to him as the "gentleman janitor" because of how polite he was. While others saw him as a violent, crazed drunk. According to May Boggs, the widow of Frank Boggs, Frank's sister, Florence, had stated "...[Minnimatsu] was treacherous, but [Frank] thought he would be alright." This premonition of Florence's came after an incident four months prior to the murder where a drunken Minnimatsu shot at the gas tank of a car parked on the studio lot and attacked another employee. According to May Boggs, Frank gave Minnimatsu another chance because he showed remorse for his actions. "They could not have that kind of fellow around where there were so many films and he was discharged. After capturing him and placing him in handcuffs they found an empty whiskey bottle he had been drinking from and I am afraid that is the trouble this time. A short time ago he came back and asked to be forgiven, and Frank took him back into employment."
When May Boggs had the chance to confront Minnimatsu (most likely at the police station) she asked him why he had killed her husband. He replied, "He was a bad man, so I killed him." Minnimatsu also apparently told police that he had been waiting for six months for the chance to kill the director, but that "He was a good friend to me, but an old man told me he was a bad man, so I killed him." Friends would later tell newspapers that Minnimatsu had spoken of the need to kill three bad men in order to get into heaven. If it isn't clear already, the "gentleman janitor" suffered from unspecified mental illness.
Minnimatsu was charged with first degree murder in the death of Francis Boggs. From what police were able to piece together, the shooting was something that had been planned at least a few month beforehand. Although he usually carried a knife, the gun used was apparently taken from the studio prop room. (Back in the days when you just had loaded guns on sets!) Minnimatsu had been drinking for most of the day and pretending to work, when in actuality he was keeping a close eye on Boggs. When he saw his chance, he fired into the office, aiming specifically for Boggs. Santschi, Selig, Bosworth, Eyton, Philbrook, and McGee were lucky to have escaped with only one receiving a minor bullet wound.
In December, just two months after the shooting, Frank Minnimatsu was found guilty of first degree murder. It took the jury just seven minutes to come back with the verdict. He was sentenced to life in prison, escaping the death penalty due to his mental health. He was sent to San Quentin Prison in San Rafael, California, where he would continue working as a gardener on the prison grounds. He actually came up for parole a few times, but he reportedly refused it, fearing he would be deported back to Japan. He died in 1937 when he was around 55 years old (his exact birthdate is unknown) and is buried in the prison cemetery.
May Boggs had her husband's body taken back to Chicago and buried at Graceland Cemetery.