The Diamond from the Sky: American’s Crown Jewel
The serial film was nothing new when the American Film Manufacturing Company released “The Diamond from the Sky” in 1915. In fact, just months before, the Thanhouser Film Corporation had wrapped up their hugely successful 23-part serial “The Million Dollar Mystery.” With a $10,000 reward offered to the movie fan who could offer up the best solution to the serial, “Mystery” left large shoes for “Diamond” to fill. But by the time the final installment in the 30-chapter serial aired, “Diamond” had out-earned “Mystery” at the box office, and a sequel was in the works.
Built off of a story suggestion submitted by an experienced newspaper man, Roy McCardell, “The Diamond from the Sky” represented a huge risk for American. The company, which was known for its promotions, ran a contest looking for scenarios. They promised that the winning storyline would not only be made into a film, it would net the writer a check for $10,000. Taking such suggestions from regular moviegoers would be enough to make any studio nervous, but McCardell’s suggestion for the “Diamond” storyline convinced the company that they had made a safe bet.
Meet the cast.
The story was a “picturized romantic novel” that followed the exploits of the feuding Stanley family, and starred Charlotte Burton, Irving Cummings and William Russell. The star of the serial, and the major selling point for American’s publicity department, however, was Charlotte Smith aka Lottie Pickford, the younger sister of America’s sweetheart, Mary Pickford. With a budget of $800,000, with veteran characters actors, romance, thrills, suspense and a Pickford in tow, “Diamond” couldn’t miss.
When it was released on May 3, 1915, American was confident it would perform well, and it didn’t disappoint. Critics cheered and audiences flocked to the theater. During its initial day of release, it surpassed the money “The Million Dollar Mystery” had earned in its first day of release, and as the weeks and the story progressed, it continued to outearn its predecessor. It was American’s biggest success of 1915, and remains one of the highest earning serials of the silent era.
The success of “Diamond” was so great that it inspired American to run a $10,000 promotion for a storyline for a “Diamond” sequel. It even helped push studios who had previously shied away from the serial, namely American’s Chicago rival Essanay, to try their hand at the genre. It also helped usher in a new age of scenario writing. Previously, scenario writers could expect $10 to $50 for their storyline suggestions. With $10,000 prizes up for grabs, though, not only was the art of scenario writing elevated, so, too, was the position of the scenario writer.
Although the film had a great impact on contemporary film, and holds a special place in silent film history, it’s a lost film. If only audiences today could see Roy McCardell’s $10,000 idea in action.
Janelle Vreeland for Classic Movie Hub
Thank you to Janelle for this wonderful Silent Film Series. You can read more of Janelle’s articles about Silent Film and Chicago history-related topics at Chicago Nitrate or Curtains, or you can follow Janelle on Twitter at @SpookyJanelle .