May 31, 2011
Woman looks for piece of Cortland’s past
She’s trying to find the movie ‘Cortland’s Hero’
Photo provided by Anne Evans
Director Don Newland is shown at right in this photo from the early part of the 20th century. Newland filmed movies across America in the 1920s and 1930s, bringing the same plot to a new town each time. He shot Cortland’s movie in 1928.
Anne Evans needs help tracking down a piece of Cortland’s history. It’s been nearly 100 years and no one seems to remember any details.
The California woman has scoured old newspapers and asked local officials what they recall.
“In every case, no one has heard of the movie,” she said.
Evans is trying to find a 1928 film called “Cortland’s Hero,” directed by Don Newland.
Evans is not from Cortland and does not have any connection to the area. But recently, she has been searching for any information — or even traces of information — about the film.
The film, she said, featured local actors and was sponsored by the Cortland Standard.
Newland traveled throughout the East Coast and Midwest in the 1920s and 1930s, making more than 50 silent films starring local actors. He usually worked with local newspapers and filmed scenes in newsrooms. He was an itinerant filmmaker, traveling from city to city making his films.
In 1928, Newland came to Cortland.
The film was made during about a two-week period in January and February 1928 and was shown at the former Cortland Theater on Groton Avenue.
Evans, a retired teacher, said she discovered Newland’s work while researching her grandfather, who worked for The Bee, a newspaper in Danville, Va.
Since she started her research more than a year ago, Evans has become captivated by Newland’s work.
She has called news editors, historians and librarians in more than 25 cities and scoured the Internet looking for clues about the filmmaker.
Little is known about Newland and the films he made. During her research, Evans met Newland’s daughter, Hellen, who said Evans knew more about her father than she did.
Hellen Newland said she was 2 years old when her father died in 1951 and that most of the people who knew about his work have died.
“I do not think anyone has done as much research as she on Don Newland and his work,” said Hellen Newland, who lives in Ohio.
The plot of “Cortland’s Hero” and the other movies involved an actor playing a reporter and typically showed a lot of scenes in the newsroom and the community, Evans said.
“The journey I’ve had in research about Newland has been exciting. You learn new pieces in every city,” Evans said.
Anita Wright, a research associate for the Cortland County Historical Society, has been helping Evans with her research in Cortland. Wright said she had never heard of Newland or his Cortland film.
She said there are a lot of factors against finding it. The film is 83 years old, made on nitrate film that is combustible, and it’s unclear how many copies were produced. If the film is still intact, Wright said someone would have needed to make a concerted effort to preserve it over the years.
Wright has been able to track down some newspaper clippings about the movie. She said it featured all local people who auditioned to be in the movie. A local man named Harold Kelley played the reporter in the movie. Other local actors included Jane Jordan, Margaret Lounsbury, Cameron Dillon and Burnetta Randall.
Wright said family for nearly all of the film’s actors have moved away or could not be located.
“I would give you a 5 percent chance of finding it,” Wright said of the Cortland film. “Maybe.”
Wright said she will not give up hope but thinks there’s a chance the film is “long gone.”
Evans said her main goal in her quest to find Newland’s films is to inspire cities to look deep into their history. She knows of two Newland films made in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin that have been preserved.
“It’s fun being a history detective,” Evans said.
To read this article and more, pick up today's Cortland Standard
Click here to subscribe