Item #8817 Coming! A Colored Novelty Worth Booking : Regeneration : All Colored Cast[,] A Romance of the South Seas…. Norman Film Manufacturing Company.
Coming! A Colored Novelty Worth Booking : Regeneration : All Colored Cast[,] A Romance of the South Seas…
Coming! A Colored Novelty Worth Booking : Regeneration : All Colored Cast[,] A Romance of the South Seas…

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Norman Film Manufacturing Company.

Coming! A Colored Novelty Worth Booking : Regeneration : All Colored Cast[,] A Romance of the South Seas…

[Jacksonville, Florida?, ca. 1923]. Illustrated circular, 11.75” x 9.125”. 4 pp. in brown ink on cream stock, 7 b&w illustrations. CONDITION: Very good, light soiling to p. 1.

A scarce and well-illustrated circular promoting two all-Black films, produced by a pioneering Florida studio and packed with “Love! Thrills! Adventure!”—as well as some spicy scenes designed to elude censorship standards.

The first film promoted here, Regeneration, was one of Norman Film Studio’s most controversial and lucrative productions. Filmed in Jacksonville, Florida and starring “sensational colored screen beauty” Stella Mayo, this “high-class thriller” featured several “nude and artistic bathing scenes,” one of which, as filmmaker Richard Norman characterized them, “will draw like a mustard poultice.” Starring former magician M. C. Maxwell as the male lead, Alfred Norcom as the villain, and one-legged actor Steve “Peg” Reynolds as the heroine’s assistant, the plot followed a chaste desert-island love affair which is disrupted by the discovery of pirates’ treasure and the arrival of three no-good sailors and their evil boss. As this circular breathlessly outlines: “A ‘Garden of Eden’ shattered, there followed a conflict between the man, ‘The Serpent,’ and his cut-throat crew, ending when the island sank into the depths of the sea with ‘The Serpent’ and his crew as the man and the girl sailed away in the rescue ship.” Regeneration was popular with white and Black audiences alike, earning as much as $1,500 in a single day, and forcing theaters to turn long lines of viewers away from full houses. Norman informed one theater owner: “Regeneration is a picture that you will be proud to offer your patrons. It is to-day playing in the Roosevelt Theatre, catering to an audience composed of 40% withe and 60% colored. How many of the so-called Colored Pictures you have played could do this without race friction in the audience?” Only the second reel of the film, significantly damaged, now survives.

The second and third pages of this circular announce a far more ambitious project: Zircon, an action-packed fifteen-part “Colored Serial Supreme.” The story followed “young chemist John Manning, who discovers a new and potentially lucrative wonder substance called ‘Zircon,’ which the villainous ‘Spider’ repeatedly attempts to steal. The serial incorporated all the usual dangerous but exciting ‘cliff-hanger’ situations, as Manning and his sweetheart Helen Desmond find themselves stuck on the spinning hub of a monstrous wheel, almost suffocated by a poisonous cloud, left to die in a raging sandstorm in the desert, attacked by an army of crocodiles, bound in an airplane about to crash, captive on a burning ship, nearly devoured by a monstrous snake, and trapped in a cabin that is about to explode.” An outline of the serial’s fifteen episodes appears on page three, while page two details the “PROFIT SHARING FRANCHISE” with which Norman hoped to finance this massive project. The scheme was unsuccessful, and Norman ultimately focused solely on Regeneration, which was released in late 1923.

The last page of the circular touts “PAST SUCCESSES,” including “The Crimson Skull,” the “Green Eyed Monster,” and “The Bull Dogger” (a western starring African American cowboy and rodeo-performer Bill Pickett), and warns theaters not to miss out on “cleaning up” with “second run[s]” of favorite films.

White filmmaker Richard Norman (1891–1960) was born in Middleburg, Florida, and established himself in the Midwest, primarily through promotional films. His extravagantly expensive train wreck scene—which was incorporated in many of his early works, as well as The Green-Eyed Monster—is an early example of the profitable use of stock footage. Norman came into contact with pioneering Black filmmaker Oscar Micheaux in Chicago, where he entered the world of “race films,” in which African American casts played non-stereotypical roles. Around the same time he released Regeneration, he purchased Eagle Studios in what is now the Old Arlington neighborhood of Jacksonville, and, renaming his previously-itinerant enterprise “Norman Film Manufacturing Company Studio,” went on to single-handedly write, finance, produce, edit, and distribute a total of at least eight full-length films featuring African American casts, becoming one of the most prominent early producers of Black films in the 1920s.

OCLC records just four copies of this circular, at the UC Davis, Yale, Temple, and the University of Virginia. We locate another example at Duke University.

A scarce advertisement for two ambitious all-Black films, distributed to movie theaters just eight years after the release of Birth of a Nation.

REFERENCES: “Regeneration,” “Stella Mayo,” and “Richard Norman” at Norman Studios online.

Item #8817

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