From the Archives: Cliffhanger Point in Fort Lee Then and Now

A weekly look at historical images and their significance from the archives of the Fort Lee Film Commission and the Fort Lee Historical Society

This iconic image of movie serial queen Pearl White atop the cliffs of the Palisades is the logo of the Fort Lee Film Commission. A large poster of this photo appears in the Library Congress Film Division entrance. No single photo better captures the early days of the American film industry then this very photo.

The photo is a production still from the 20-part Pathe Studio movie serial The House of Hate (1918).  Pearl White sits atop Cliffhanger Point as cinematographer Arthur C. Miller handles the camera and director George B. Seitz dangles at the edge of the cliff near actor Antonio Moreno. 

The cameraman, Arthur C. Miller, who appears in our still, later went on to Hollywood, where he won three Academy Awards for Best Cinematography for How Green Was My Valley (1941), The Song of Bernadette (1943), and Anna and the King of Siam (1946). 

House of Hate director George B. Seitz, pictured on edge of the cliff in the photo, later went on to Hollywood where he directed eleven of the Mickey Rooney - Andy Hardy films at MGM from the late 1930s through the early 1940s.  House of Hate actor Antonio Moreno, who appears holding director George B. Seitz's coat atop the cliff, today is best known for his role as expedition leader Dr. Carl Maia in the 1954 Universal Studio horror classic Creature From the Black Lagoon.  

This film was thought lost, and in fact, during our investigation, we learned from the Library of Congress that no print of this movie serial exists in the U.S.  During a trip to Italy for the 2004 Pordenone Silent Film Festival, which honored Fort Lee that year for our role as a pioneer American film town, we met Russian film archivists from Moscow. We were informed that a print of House of Hate in fact does exist in the Moscow film archive.

Some months later we received a DVD containing footage from the serial, including rare footage of Pearl White atop Cliffhanger Point. The Fort Lee Film Commission hopes to retrieve the actual film from the Moscow archive for eventual restoration and distribution.

Most people associate Pearl White with the most famous of movie serials, The Perils of Pauline (1914), which was shot atop the Palisades of Fort Lee and at Palisades Amusement Park. The most famous image of Pearl though is not from The Perils of Pauline but rather the one pictured here from The House of Hate.

Cliffhanger Point is in the Coytesville section of Fort Lee, and recently members of the Fort Lee Film Commission and the Palisade Interstate Park trekked to the site to take current day photos and match them to our archival photo. Anthony G. Taranto Jr. of the Palisade Interstate Park captured the present day image on display in this article. Members of the Fort Lee Film Commission will work with Palisade Interstate Park historical interpreter Eric Nelsen in the coming year to recreate this production still from the House of Hate using the Fort Lee Film Commission silent film camera currently on display at the Fort Lee Museum at 1588 Palisade Ave.

The two groups will work together to produce a program and hike in 2012, which will feature a screening of this rare House of Hate footage. All of this activity is appropriate in March, because it is Women's History Month, and March 4 is the birthday of one of the most celebrated women in Fort Lee history to be captured on film—Pearl White.

Editor’s Note: The author is the executive director of the Fort Lee Film Commission.


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