The Crimson Skull

Release Date:  4/20/1922
Genre:  Action
Director:  Richard E. Norman
Studio(s):  Norman Film Manufacturing. Co.
Running Time:  Unknown

Cast:  Anita Bush (Anita Nelson), Lawrence Chenault (Bob Calem), Bill Pickett (Bill), Steve Reynolds (Bob’s Sidekick, billed as The One-Legged Marvel).

Story:  When the peaceful black city of Boley, Oklahoma falls under the control of an outlaw known as “The Skull” and his band of henchman, “The Terrors,” the Boley Law and Order League offers a one thousand-dollar reward for the Skull’s capture, dead or alive. The League also forces the resignation of the sheriff, a Skull puppet, and gives the job to the respected Lem Nelson, a cattleman and owner of the Crown C ranch. Bob Calem, the Crown C foreman, volunteers to infiltrate the Skull’s gang in order to hasten the criminals’ capture. When Steve Reynolds, a one-legged cowboy, and Anita Nelson, Lem’s daughter, as well as Bob’s sweetheart, are kidnapped by the gang, Bob helps them to escape.  He is accused of being a traitor, but the gang cannot decide whether Bob is guilty or innocent, so they leave his fate to the test of “The Crimson Skull,” in which one drop of blood will determine whether he lives or dies.

To rid the range of a gang of outlaws that are rustling cattle and robbing the banks and stagecoaches, cowhand Bob Calem, working on the gang-leader’s superstitions, dons a skeleton-costume to strike fear into the gang.

Notes:  Norman Film Manufacturing Co. was located in Jacksonville, FL. According to its pressbook, the film was produced in “the All-Colored City of Boley, Okla.” Lawrence Chenault, who played three roles, including the film’s hero and villain, had earlier been a member of the Anita Bush Dramatic Stock Company. Bush, who made her motion picture debut in The Crimson Skull, started acting in New York theater in 1903, and following her success at the Lincoln Theater in Harlem, became known as “The Little Mother of Colored Drama.” The pressbook stated that the film’s “action and story [are] on a par with white productions with the drawing feature of a cast composed entirely of colored artists. (There is not a white character in it.) And a story free from the usual mimicry of the colored man; free from ‘race problems’ that engender friction.” Publicity material stated that the cast included “30 colored cowboys.”  Source(s):  TCM;; IMDB.

The Burden of Race

Year of Release:  1921
Genre:  Drama
Rating:  N/A
Runtime:  Unknown
Black & White
Studio:  Reol Productions
Producer:  Robert Lévy
Director:  Unknown
Studio: Reol Productions

Percy Verwayen
Edna Morton
Lawrence Chenault
Elizabeth Williams
Mabel Young
Arthur Ray


A young college student who excels both academically and athletically falls in love with a girl – not of his own people – and for her he risked his life.  After graduation, he becomes extremely successful in the world of business, finding in this girl a constant source of inspiration.  She loved him, but – according to the film’s press book – “between them stretched a mighty chasm.”  Did a great love triumph?

This film is considered lost.

Source(s):  TCM, Allmovies, Department of Afro American Research and Culture, Photo Source: Department of Afro American Research and Culture.

The Gunsaulus Mystery

Year of Release:  1921
Genre:  Drama
Rating:  N/A
Runtime:   Unknown
Black & White
Studio:  Micheaux Film Corp.
Director & Producer:  Oscar Micheaux

Lawrence Chenault (Anthony Brisbane)
Evelyn Preer (Ida May Gilpin)
Dick Abrams (Sidney Wyeth)
Louis De Bulger (Lem Hawkins)

Myrtle Gunsaulus, a young African-American girl, is found murdered in the basement of a New York City factory by Arthur Gilpin, the black janitor.  Gilpin is charged with the murder and arrested.  His sister, Ida May, hires her former boyfriend, defense attorney Sidney Wyeth, to represent him.  During the sensational trial, Wyeth is able to prove Arthur’s innocence.  Janitor Lem Hawkins makes a confession which implicates the sexually perverted white superintendent and general manager of the factory.   The Gunsaulus Mystery was inspired by the trial of Leo Frank for the murder of Mary Phagan in which Frank, a white factory foreman, threatened a black janitor into helping him dispose of his young, female victim.

According to an unidentified news item from the African-American newspaper Chicago Defender, “the story is built around and about the famous Leo M. Frank trial which took place in Georgia some years ago…in which a member of the Jewish race was convicted of the murder of a young factory girl on the alleged confession of one of ‘our folks,’ who was employed by the same firm.”  A Chicago Defender ad for the film states that filmmaker Oscar Micheaux was in the courtroom during the Frank trial.  After Frank was sentenced to death, Georgia Governor John M. Slaton issued a stay of execution, but Frank was lynched by a mob after Slaton commuted his sentence to life imprisonment.

Micheaux revisited the subject again in 1935 with a sound remake, which was released under the titles Murder in Harlem, a/k/a Brand of Cain a/k/a Lem Hawkins’ Confession. Especially in this version, Micheaux used the conventions of the detective story to introduce differing narratives and rework the binary nature of the trial, in which an African-American man and Jewish-American man had testified against each other.

This film is considered lost.

New York Times, All Movies, TCM, Department of Afro American Research and Culture (

The Symbol of the Unconquered

a/k/a The Symbol of the Unconquered: A Story of the Ku Klux Klan
a/k/a The Wilderness Trail


Year of Release:  1920
Genre:  Drama
Rating:  N/A
Runtime:   54 mins. (TCM print)
Black & White
Studio:  Micheaux Film Corporation
Producer:  Oscar Micheaux
Director:  Oscar Micheaux

Iris Hall (Eve Mason)
Walker Thompson (Hugh Van Allen)
Lawrence Chenault (Jefferson Driscoll)
Mattie Wilkes (Mother Driscoll)
Louis Déan (August Barr)
Leigh Whipper (Tugi an Indian Fakir)
E.G. Tatum (Abraham)
George Catlin (Dick Mason)
Jim Burris
James Burrough


Eve arrives in townEve Mason, a light-skinned Black woman, leaves Selma, Alabama for the northwest town of Oristown to claim the land and small house she inherited upon the death of her grandfather.  A fatigued Eve arrives at the Driscoll Hotel, which is owned by Jefferson Driscoll, another very light-skinned Black who wants to pass for White.  Driscoll hates the Negro race because his darker skinned mother once interfered with his wooing a White woman.  In spite of her light skin, Driscoll realizes Eve is Black as “her eyes betray her origins” and refuses to give her a room, instead he leads her to the barn where he has allowed Abraham, another potential guest who Driscoll refused to rent a room to because of the color of his skin.  During the night Eve is frightened by Abraham and flees the barn into the pouring rain.  The next day she meets kindly Hugh Van Allen, a young, Black prospector who has recently arrived in Oristown.  Hugh gives Eve a lift

It turns out Van Allen is her neighbor and he offers Eve a lift to her place outside of town.   A White couple, Mary and August Barr, are also neighbors of Van Allen and Eve.  August Barr is a former clergyman turned swindler and “a man of dubious financial schemes.”  Barr is in cahoots with his brother-in-law and an Indian fakir named Tugi to get back documents stolen by “half-breed Indian,” Philip Clark and which were then taken by an old Black prospector, believed to be Dick Mason, Eve’s grandfather.  The three determine that the documents are in Mason’s old cabin, where Eve is now living.

Someone is watching EveThat night Eve sees a terrible face looking in on her and cries out in fear.  Van Allen hears her and rushes to the rescue, but the intruder has gone.  Meanwhile Driscoll has sold his hotel and gets involved with horse thieves, Philip Clark and old Bill Stanton.  When he tries to pass off two stolen nags as thoroughbreds to Van Allen, the two get into a fight at the local bar and Van Allen beats up Driscoll to the amusement of the bar patrons.  Humiliated, Driscoll vows revenge.Hugh and Driscoll fight

Eve with Van Allen’s assistance, works hard to make the most of her modest homestead.  Mary Barr, August’s unhappy wife, and Eve soon become friends.  In town, Driscoll intercepts a letter meant for Van Allen which states that his land sits on an oil field.  Driscoll, in league with Barr and Tugi, men plot to get Van Allen’s valuable land.  They decide to get old Bill Stanton involved, as he knows how to make people do things they don’t want to do.

Warnings from the Black CrossThey post notes signed by The Knights of the Black Cross on Van Allen’s tent, threatening his life if he won’t sell his land.  Van Allen ignores the notes, leaves for town to buy furniture and won’t be back for 48 hours. In his absence, the last note is posted, giving him 48 hours to sell.

The Black Cross gatherThe group, led by Bill Stanton, plan a midnight attack and Stanton tells the others, “in one hour we will have driven him mad and burned him in his lair.”  Barr’s wife Mary, upset by the planned massacre, goes to warn Eve, who rides to town for help, just as Van Allen returns, unaware of the impending attack.

At this point footage is missing from the print.  Title cards state “the biggest moments of the photoplay are when the night riders are annihilated, a colored man with bricks being a big factor.”

Two years pass and Van Allen, having escaped death by a miracle, has become an oil king as his land was found to contain abundant oil fields.  One day Eve appears at his office to deliver a letter from the Committee for the Defense of the Colored Race, informing Van Allen that he “may give Eve his contribution without fear as she has rendered a great service to the cause of the Black race; despite her white skin, she is born of black parents”.  Bewildered, Van Allen had always believed that Eve was White and had never declared his love for fear of being scornfully rejected.

Eve believes she has fallen

He becomes emotional and Eve, misinterpreting his mood, believes she has now fallen in his esteem.

Eventually they resolve the misunderstanding and live happily ever after.

Eve is wrong


Opening title card states:  The Symbol of the Unconquered has been restored by the Museum of Modern Art – Department of Film and Video and Turner Classic Movies in cooperation with The Oscar Micheaux Society.

Micheaux’s fourth feature length film and one of his earliest surviving works.

Shot in Fort Lee, NJ under the working title The Wilderness Trail.

Sources:  Turner Class Movies; IMDB; YouTube.

Evelyn Preer

Evelyn Preer 1Evelyn Jarvis was born July 26, 1896 in Vicksburg, MS. She was the oldest of three children born to Frank and Blanche Jarvis. After the death of Frank Jarvis, the family migrated to Chicago where Evelyn completed grammar and high school. She was brought up in a stern, religious household but Evelyn convinced her mother to allow her to pursue a career in acting. Vaudeville provided her early training as a performer. Evelyn changed her surname to Preer and in 1919, she landed a role in filmmaker Oscar Micheaux’s debut film The Homesteader. As his premier leading lady, Micheaux promoted her with personal appearance tours and star-making publicity. Impressed with Evelyn’s talent, Micheaux cast her in several more films, including the controversial Within Our Gates (1920), The Brute (1920), The Gunsaulus Mystery (1921), Deceit (1923), Birthright (1924), The Devil’s Disciple (1925), The Conjure Woman (1926), and The Spider’s Web (1926).

Evelyn Preer 2Ms. Preer joined the esteemed Lafayette Players, the first professional Black theatrical stock company and in 1924, married fellow Lafayette Player, Edward Thompson*. Preer and Thompson became a formidable leading duo, frequently headlining productions for the traveling faction of the Lafayette Players. Along with the staging of Shakespearean and Broadway legitimate dramas, Ms. Preer starred in such mainstream classics as Oscar Wilde’s Salomé, Within the Law, The Yellow Ticket, The Cat and The Canary, and Anna Christie. In 1926, she had a successful stint on Broadway in famous director-producer David Belasco’s production of Lulu Belle. In 1928 Preer won further acclaim as Sadie Thompson in a revival of Somerset Maugham’s Rain.

Through friendship with filmmaker and actor Spencer Williams, Jr., Evelyn went on to star in four black cast shorts: The Framing of the Shrew, Melancholy Dame, Oft in the Silly Night and George Rose. It wasn’t long before White Hollywood jumped on Evelyn’s bandwagon, but many times she was either turned down for roles or her scenes were cut because of her fair complexion. Often Evelyn and her husband, Edward had to wear make-up on screen to darken their skin so the audience wouldn’t think they were white.

In addition to her stage and screen work, Preer also recorded backup vocals with Duke Evelyn Preer 3Ellington and Red Nichols and hers was often the voice of many songs white actresses lip synced to on screen. Evelyn also performed at prestigious nightclubs like the Cotton Club and the Sebastian’s Cotton Club in California. She worked with many important figures in the world of show business such as Eubie Blake, Paul Robeson, Bill Robinson, Ethel Waters, Mildred Washington, Florence Mills, Lottie Gee and Clarence Muse. The Black Press was proud of Evelyn and ran articles on her consistently. She was known within the Black community as “The First Lady of the Screen.”

In April 1932, Preer gave birth to her only child, Edeve. Sadly, only months after her daughter was born, at the age of 36, Evelyn Preer died from double pneumonia. The African American Registry reported, had she not died prematurely, Evelyn Preer might have been the much-needed Black “crossover” leading lady and icon on Broadway and in Hollywood. Given the racial climate and restrictions on Black actors, the light-complexioned Evelyn Preer still emerged as a pioneer Black female performer in race film and dramatic theater.

Evelyn Preer Filmography
Blonde Venus (1932)
Ladies of the Big House (1931)
Georgia Rose (1930)
The Widow’s Bite (1929)
Brown Gravy (1929)
The Lady Fare (1929)
Oft in the Silly Night (1929)
The Framing of the Shrew (1929)
Melancholy Dame (1929)
The Spider’s Web (1927)
The Conjure Woman (1926)
The Devil’s Disciple (1926)
Birthright (1924)
Deceit (1923)
The Gunsaulus Mystery (1921)
The Brute (1920)
Within Our Gates (1920)
The Homesteader (1919)

*Note: some modern sources indicate that Evelyn Preer was married to Lawrence Chenault rather than Edward Thompson.

Source(s): Kennedy Center – Faces of the Harlem Renaissance; Find A Grave; African American Registry;

The Scar Of Shame

The Scar of Shame -Title Card

Year of Release: 1927
Genre: Drama
Rating: N/A
Runtime: 68 mins.
Black & White
Studio: Colored Players Film Corporation
Producer: David Starkman
Director: Frank Perugini

Harry Henderson (Alvin Hillyard)
Norman Johnstone (Eddie Blake)
Ann Kennedy (Lucretia Green)
Lucia Lynn Moses (Louise Howard)
William E. Pettus (Spike Howard)
Lawrence Chenault (Ralph Hathaway)
Pearl McCormick (Alice Hathaway)

FOREWARD:  Environment, surroundings, childhood training and companions often is the deciding factor in our lives  It shapes our destinies and guides our ambitions.  If early in life some knowing, loving hand lights the lamp of knowledge and with tender care keeps it burning, then our course will run true ’til the end of our useful time on this earth, but if that lamp should fail through lack of loving hands to tend its hungry flame then will come sorrow and SHAME!


The Scar of Shame - Spike attacks LouiseOne afternoon at Mrs. Lucretia Green’s boardinghouse, Alvin Hillyard, a struggling young composer, witnesses a drunken man abusing a young woman in the tenement yard next door. He saves the girl, Louise Howard, then carries her to the boardinghouse, where Mrs. Green comforts her. Mrs. Green offers Louise a room in exchange for helping around the house, hoping to keep her safe from her violent, drunkard stepfather Spike. Meanwhile, Eddie Blake, a saloon owner and another one of Mrs. Green’s boarders, encourages Spike to drink and then tries to drag Louise back to her father as he wants to hire the girl, to whom he is attracted, as an entertainer in his seedy club. Alvin once again intervenes, and Mrs. Green tells Eddie to pack his bags while Alvin vows to teach the lout how to have respect for “our” women.

LaThe Scar of Shame - Eddie and Spike discuss Louiseter, at a saloon, Spike and Eddie discuss Louise, and Spike tells Eddie to leave the girl alone, blaming his own violence on the alcohol that Eddie has given him.  Eddie proceeds to push alcohol on the susceptible Spike, and after he has become thoroughly inebriated, he goes to Louise’s room and tries to grab her. Alvin rescues Louise once again and then decides that he will marry her so that she will finally be safe. Three months later, Spike, in a state of alcohol withdrawal, begs Eddie for a drink, and Eddie says he will serve him only if he helps kidnap Louise and set up a cabaret in another town, where with her looks and his brains they will make a killing. The pair send a fake telegram calling Alvin away to his sick mother’s bedside. As Alvin packs to leave, Louise offers to accompany him, but Alvin confesses that he has never told his class-conscious mother about their marriage.

The Scar of Shame - Alvin tells Louise she is not of his classAlvin leaves as Spike watches the house, and Louise, distraught, ruins a photo of Alvin’s mother and then discovers and tears up letters in which the matron mentions her hopes that Alvin will marry a young woman of their own class. Her final acts of defiance are to remove her wedding ring and tear up her marriage license. Eddie enters Louise’s room and asks her to join him in a business deal in another town. Louise agrees, provided their relationship remains strictly business. Alvin discovers the trick played upon him once he arrives at his mother’s home. He returns to the boardinghouse but having lost his house key, breaks into his and Louise’s room through a window.

The Scar of Shame - Louise is woundedThe Scar of Shame - Alvin is convictedFinding Eddie with Louise, Alvin pulls a gun on the pair. The two men fire their guns, and when the police arrive, they find Louise unconscious and wounded.



Alvin is convicted of assault based on Louise’s testimony, and the girl is left with a disfiguring scar on her neck. Two years later, Alvin escapes from prison and becomes a successful music teacher under the name “Arthur Jones” in the same city where Louise and Eddie have set up the chic gambling club, Club Lido.

The Scar of Shame - Alvin falls in love with his star pupilAlvin begins to fall in love with his star music pupil, Alice Hathaway, but does not declare his feelings because of his past.  One day, her father, Ralph Hathaway, a wealthy lawyer, receives a call from Louise inviting him to come to a “whoopie” party at the club, of which Hathaway is the sponsor and protector. When a letter is left for Hathaway, Alice, now engaged to Alvin, asks her fiancé to bring it down to the club. Alvin is shocked when he is introduced to Louise. The Scar of Shame - Louise tries to seduce AlvinLouise blackmails Alvin into dancing with her in front of Hathaway, and then later into coming to visit her at her home. When he arrives, she tries to seduce him, then confesses that she has always loved him.  Alvin rejects her and leaves.  Distraught and hopeless, Louise writes a letter to Hathaway, which she asks her maid to deliver. Then she begs God’s forgiveness and drinks poison. The Scar of Shame - No one can help Louise

The maid calls Hathaway to come to Louise’s side as she is dying. In the meantime, Alvin, having confessed all to Alice, tries to comfort her. Hathaway arrives with Louise’s letter and Alvin finally learns the truth, that it was Eddie who had actually shot Louise that night.

Alice and her future husband, now exonerated, embrace.

The Scar of Shame - The End

Scar of Shame was a statement on the class and color caste system that existed within the African-American community.

Sources: Turner Classic Movies; A Separate Cinema: Fifty Years of Black Cast Posters.