The Buying of the Triangle « Scripts and Production material » by Henri Langlois: a reconstruction

The John E. Allen – Triangle collection is one of the most important, in terms of special collections, of the Cinémathèque française. It represents today 95 five archive boxes, more than 1 300 hundreds photos and more than twenty films preserved and, at least for the papers and the photos, accessible. The papers go from 1909 to 1935, which exceeds largely the lifetime of Triangle. When we created the Bibliothèque du film in 1993, I asked what were the main collections to treat and the Allen – Triangle one came in first place for it had not been catalogued since its acquisition. It took from 1994 to 1996 to do so, and it was part of the public access when we opened the Bibliothèque du film in 1996. Strangely enough, I couldn’t find the time to look at it when I was at the Bibliothèque du film and no one did. It is because I settled a research program in 2007 with the Cinémathèque française that we could undertake the exploration of the Allen-Triangle collection.

Its place at the Cinémathèque française is a rare one. We know that Langlois was a fan on silent film, and was gathering material on French and especially German cinema. This is one of the reasons why the Fritz Lang papers, for the American period, are preserved at the Cinémathèque française (and not in Los Angeles or at the MOMA or in Berlin). The Lang and the Allen collections are the two big American collections, in terms of special collections, of the Cinémathèque française. We know why Lang gave his papers to Langlois. What we don’t know is how Langlois bought the Allen collection when the Wisconsin Historical Society was after it some years before.

What I am going to present is the third attempt to reconstruct, on the basis of photocopies transmitted by the Cinémathèque française from their own administrative archives, what went on, from February 1961 to October 1966, between Langlois and Allen. We know the legend: retired in New Jersey in the late fifties, John E. Allen, who worked at the George Eastman House in Rochester, discovered in an abandoned building papers from the Triangle. He shared his findings with his friends James Card (George Eastman House) and Henri Langlois, but later an arsonist set fire to the building where they were kept and everything left went into smoke. There is another story referring to an auction of the Triangle papers at some point in March or April 1957, a year after the death of Harry E. Aitken, the president of Mutual and then of Triangle.

We also know that the papers preserved at the Wisconsin Historical Society bear the same marks of fire and water than the papers preserved at the Cinémathèque française, as long as they are dated prior to spring 1916, and we became aware of that through the illustrations Janet Staiger published in Hollywood Classical Cinema, by comparing the French and the American papers. It means that the papers are different, but they share the same origin.

Here starts our journey into the photocopies.

The story probably starts in 1955 or so when Langlois decided with Jean Mitry to pay a tribute to Thomas H. Ince. In 1956, the Cinémathèque française set a retrospective of the Ince films, and Mitry published a famous booklet entitled Thomas H. Ince, le maître du cinema  (Ince, master of cinema), for it was the first tribute paid to the producer-filmmaker. In all probability, the films of this retrospective came for one part from the United States and from the George Eastman House, through the FIAF network and the good relationship Langlois had with Jim Card (George Eastman House), and Iris Barry (MOMA) in this semi-legal traffic of positive copies of silent films. This is (that is my guess) how Langlois and Mitry got acquainted with the Triangle production.

In April and May 1960, John E. Allen and Henri Langlois correspond about the buying of pieces such as film theater programs, publicity booklets, posters and so on, from the silent era, and some of them are related to Triangle (for instance a poster, described as “in bad shape”, but there is no trace of a Triangle poster in the collections today). The correspondence is one between two collectors, for amounts that go from 146 dollars to 445 dollars. In each case, the acquisition concerns isolated, specific items, for small sums.

In February 1961, Langlois is in New York on a trip to the United States, probably at the invitation of James Card, Head of the George Eastman House, one of his friends in the turmoil of the FIAF. What happens really with John E. Allen is not very clear, but Langlois buys for the sum of 10 000 dollars “Triangle scripts and production material” and signs an agreement with the collector. But, as we will see, he does not pay anything and does not take away anything. It is just a deal, put on paper (there is no trace of the agreement on the French side). So here we are: Langlois, on the basis of a written agreement, buys for 10 000 dollars of production material (95 archive boxes) concerning an unknown production or distribution company (even now, it’s difficult to decide if Triangle Film Corporation – one of the many names of the Triangle – was a production or a distribution company).

April 16th, 1961, Langlois writes to Jim Card, thanking him for the wonderful trip (in the United States) and saying at the end : “Allen must have given you the information: what is mine is yours and the important thing is that it belongs to nobody else”.

On May 8th, 1961, Langlois writes two letters to the same man, Bernard Wolff, a French man living in New York. In the first one, he says that he worries only on one thing: John E. Allen had said he would send a list of the documents and Langlois has not yet received it (he probably needs it for the next Board of Advisors of the Cinémathèque française). In the second letter, he assures Wolff that the Cinémathèque française will hire him at 100 000 francs a month, as soon as he returns from the United States.

He tells the story of the Allen-Triangle acquisition the 27th of June 1961 to the Conseil d’administration (Board of advisors) of the Cinémathèque française, saying that the collection is a great take, that he has Chaplin’s manuscripts and the rights on the Triangle films. He says also that he has made a written agreement with the seller for he had not a cent at the time: Cinémathèque française will pay 2000 dollars each year up to 10 000 (from 1962 to 1966), and Allen will send the material. Langlois is lying to everybody, and probably even to himself: there are no manuscripts, but continuity scripts, none from Chaplin (Charlie) but an implicit reference to A Submarine Pirate, in which Syd Chaplin has the principal role, and there are no rights on the films, but the registration papers of the copyright on the stories and/or the films at the Library of Congress.

Procès-verbal du Conseil d'administration du 27 juin 1961. By courtesy of the Cinémathèque française.

We know why Langlois had to lie: he had not paid a cent to Allen, and Allen had not given a single paper. He tells Allen he is going to be paid and he says to the Cinémathèque française that they are about to receive a treasure.

Encore une des "folies de Langlois" et quelques affirmations osées. P.V. p. 26. By courtesy of the Cinémathèque française

August 1st, 1961, Langlois writes again to Bernard Wolff, asking him to get in touch with Allen and to choose “the Triangle photos” which are “included in the agreement”. It seems that John E. Allen let someone (a certain Ford?) choose and take the photos, for he asks them back several months later, in April 1962.

November 27th, 1961, new letter from Langlois to Bernard Wolff, arguing about doubts expressed on the honesty of Allen by Raymond Rohauer, who appears to be a new intermediary , another go-between: Rohauer is supposed to have 2000 dollars for Allen and to receive as a counterpart a fifth of the documents Langlois “bought”! Less than a month later, Langlois writes to another intermediary, Jean Riboux, also living in New York, asking him to get the fifth of the collection and to confirm that the rest of the money will be delivered on time. Less than a month later again, we have new letter from Wolff to Langlois, saying that Jim Card is not in favour of the transaction, whose price is much too high. On the same day, Jim Card writes to Langlois to give some new information: the collection has been previously proposed to the George Eastman House for half the price (5000 dollars), which was already too high, and that someone from the GEH, called George Pratt, has looked through the collection to take the best pieces. By the way, Card reminds Langlois that he had lent him a continuity script (The Gangsters and the Girl, Scott Sidney, 1914, Kay Bee, with a bit part played by Ince) for an exhibition at the Cinémathèque française and that he hopes the GEH will get it back for they have the corresponding film[1].

First page of the lettre from Card to Langlois. By courtesy of the Cinémathèque française.

Second page of the lettre from Jim Card to Henri Langlois. By courtesy of the Cinémathèque française

Langlois answers on February 5th, 1962, reassuring Card that the money he spent buying the papers won’t prevent him to preserve the Ince films. This is an important point: Card and Langlois are after the films, and, as Langlois is concerned, after the films directed or supervised by Ince with the hope that these forgotten pieces will have their rights given to the Cinémathèque. As well as the archivists of the Wisconsin Historical Society, the papers are just a path to the films themselves, and this is why on the one hand Langlois says that his buying gives the rights on the films, and this is why on the other hand Card insists on the fact that he has a copy of The Gangsters and the Girl, insinuating that Langlois has  none, and this is also why Card asks if the money spent on the papers will not be withdrawn from restoring or preserving the films themselves. In other words, we might understand that there is a lot of irony in Card’s letter for this French spending money on overestimated papers regarding films he doesn’t have.

On March 14th, 1962, Wolff writes to Langlois about the fact that Allen is getting nervous, for he has not received the 2000 dollars Rohauer was supposed to bring from Los Angeles, and a month later (April 16th), Allen writes to Langlois, complaining to have no news and asking to have immediately the money of the deal or the photos back.

As we know, Langlois brings in June 1962 “American documents” to the Cinémathèque française and an inventory is made of at least 30 “production files”. So, it took more than a year for the documents to be delivered, first at Langlois’ apartment, and then to the Cinémathèque itself. Is everything settled? Has Allen been paid? It seems: on January 10th, 1963, John Allen sends a document for the payment in 1963 of 2000 dollars. In October, we have two hand written letters from Allen to Langlois, very cheerful, and talking about a new deal on cameras and projectors, and about a trip Langlois is going to make to the United States. On January 10th, 1964, the same document than a year earlier, about the payment of 2000 dollars to Allen due by the Cinémathèque française.

But on July 22d, 1964, Allen writes bitterly that he has not received the 1000 dollars (Raymond Rohauer’s?), not got any answer to his four letters and he threatens to go to an attorney. So we understand that Langlois had Allen send all the documents to France without paying a cent, which is in a sense pure magic, and that three years later, notwithstanding numerous intermediaries, not a cent has been paid to Allen. The three documents dated January 10th (1963, 1964 and 1965) are not receipts, but simply unpaid bills.

On October 1965, Allen changes his strategy and writes to the United States Department of Commerce, saying that he has sold and delivered the documents and has not been paid for the material he has delivered. He says that he has met Langlois during the summer, that Langlois promised to pay within two or three weeks and that nothing had happened since.

On November 9th, 1965, a Senior Treasury Officer, M. Heilbronner, writes a report on the Cinémathèque française, and on the Allen affair, he attests that half the sum is yet to be paid to Allen.

On February 4th, 1966, Allen writes to Raymond Rohauer that he finds no trace of a receipt for 1000 dollars as an instalment for the “Triangle scripts” around the end of March 1965, that he probably gave it to Langlois, and that it is a pity Rohauer didn’t pay with a check for he would have by now a proof and a means to get reimbursed by Langlois. We thereby understand that Rohauer has paid 1000 dollars out of his own pocket (Langlois lies when he says that Rohauer has 2000 dollars from the Cinémathèque française) to pacify Allen on the Triangle matter, that Allen didn’t say it to the US Department of Commerce, and that he asks Rohauer to go see his friend Langlois to get his money back. So Langlois fooled Allen first, then Rohauer, and Rohauer gets fooled by Allen. In the real life, it might occur that Rohauer fooled someone at some point (as Ben Brewster says, Rohauer was after the Epoch papers – Epoch has been part of Aitken’s companies -, which have disappeared, in his quest to get the rights on Birth of a Nation).

On October 7th, 1966, Allen writes to one of the administrators of the Cinémathèque française, Claudio Fabrizzio, saying that he has received 4000 dollars for the 1962 and 1963 bills, and that 6000 dollars are still to be paid for 1964, 1965 and 1966. And here ends the series of papers rediscovered in the Cinémathèque française archives. What can we make of it? This: Allen never received the last 6000 dollars, for 4000 is the price given by James Card as the right one, if the proposed American price was 5000, before George Pratt took out of the lot some precious items. So the morals of the tale could be this: Langlois bought without a cent something he knew nothing about (if we refer to what he said to the Board of advisors in June 1961). The price was 10 000 dollars. But finally, Allen was paid the proper price (5000 dollars: 1000 from Rohauer, 4000 from Cinémathèque française), and the collection is a great one and it is the basis today of an important research and restoration program. Let me tell you that Langlois naturally had no idea of what an academic research program could be! We don’t know where the collection comes from (how it came into the hands of John E. Allen), Allen didn’t know what he was doing, neither did Card nor Langlois: this is how research progresses.

What happened with the documents? We know that they were brought by Langlois to the Cinémathèque française in June 1962 and maybe also in February 1963. Some of them appeared in the Museum and the rest was stored at Pantin. An early inventory has been made, probably by Jean Mitry.

Early French inventory of the John E. Allen collection, made by Jean Mitry ?

J.J.Murphy says John E. Allen had a laboratory, with which he used to work for his films, and which was specialized in film restoration, working closely with MOMA. Roy Aitken complained about the  interest MOMA was showing on « his » papers. Maybe John E. Allen proposed the papers to the GEH, MOMA and Cinémathèque française. What we know is that he never approached the Wisconsin Historical Society.

This paper was given on July 6th, 2010, at the « On, Archives » conference, Wisconsin Historical Society, Center for Film and Theater Research, Madison (Wisconsin), a conference organized by Michele Hilmes.


[1] As everybody knows, Langlois had the reputation, not without ground, not to give back what was lent to him.


Une réflexion sur « The Buying of the Triangle « Scripts and Production material » by Henri Langlois: a reconstruction »

  1. Hello there! This post couldn’t be written any better! Reading this post reminds me of my good old room mate! He always kept talking about this. I will forward this article to him. Fairly certain he will have a good read. Many thanks for sharing!|

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