Joseph Urban and Cosmopolitan Films


"Heliotrope," Cosmopolitan Productions Number 8, is a lost film that was directed by Goerge D. Baker. It was based on the short story "A Whiff of Heliotrope" written by Richard Washburn Childs, with a scenario by Robert W. Chambers and Will M. Ritchey.

The film starred Fred Burton as "Heliotrope" Harry Hasdock, a prison inmate who obtains his freedom in order to save his convent-educated daughter Alice (Diana Allen), who believes that she is an orphan, from her unscrupulous mother's plot to implicate the girl in a blackmail scheme. It premiered on November 28, 1920.

Wilfred Lytell was Jimmie Andrews, Alice's fiance, and Betty Hilburn was Mabel Andrews, his sister. Alice's Mother, Josephine Hasdock, was played by Julia Swayne Gordon. "Heliotrope" Harry uses the scent of the flower to taunt his wife in a deadly game of hide and seek.

Urban's problems with directors continue to be documented here. The first photograph, showing his set for the Convent Garden, has Urban's notation on the verson: "Urban Photo" and "See [light] coming over wall and reflection from water on fountain." 

On the verso of the lower photograph Urban has written: "Camera Man Photo" "See wrong direction of light and shadows on

1. Gate to the left

2. Madonna

3. Fountain

and flatness on everything else"

Even more serious directorial changes are shown here. The first photograph, that has a note on the verso "Dining room as designed by Urban," would have been the first modern interior to appear in American movies, if it had been used.

As described by Matthew Wilson Smith in "Joseph Urban and the Birth of Amerian Film Design," an essay in Arnold Aronson's Architect of Dreams: The Theatrical Vision of Joseph Urban:

"Distinctive features of the room include a [Wiener] Werkst├Ątte-inspired use of strict geometric figures, with white rectangles on the ceiling and in archways and interlocking off-white circles on the walls above the doorframes. The bar area, which echoes Urban's design of the bar in his own dining room in Vienna, is painted white with dark trim to stress the geometry of the piece and to harmonize with the wall and ceiling."

Wilson Smith continues: "Urban's startlingly modern interior never made the screen, however; it was replaced by a more traditional dining-room set preferred by the director, a Cosmopolitan regular named George D. Baker."

Please note that the conservatory, to be seen through the two doorways at the back of the Urban designed set for the dining room scene, was retained with the removal of the fountain. Please see the photos and notes below.

In his article "Joseph Urban and the Birth of Amerian Film Design," Matthew Wilson Smith points out that Urban was in the vanguard of directors by designing "an environment around a close reading of a character. Urban's explanation for his modern interior is laid out in an extensive note ... on the back of a photograph of a conservatory garden" shown here:

Urban writes: "This is wood-hung conservatory (unchanged except for modern fountain taken out) This satisfied the director after the fountain went."

"My idea was that the man growing rich in last few years but being an honorable business man with modern and new ideas, a very sympathetic figure in the picture, took naturally a modern architect to fix the interiors in his summer home and this architect would show as much wood as he can for interiors, in this case because he builds for a man which loves wood."

The lower photograph has Urban's note on the verso: "This is wood-hung library (unchanged)."

These selected photographs show a church wedding scene, two views of a hotel room scene, and a dramatically lit Prison corridor.

Other scenes included in Urban's Scrapbook Number 1 include the church exterior, a hotel lobby, hotel dining room, hotel corridor, the hallway of a cheap boarding house, a boarding house stair, Mother's room, and Harry's Room.

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