Joseph Urban and Cosmopolitan Films

Zander the Great

"Zander the Great" was the last Cosmopolitan Productions film designed by Joseph Urban before he resigned as art director in order to devote more of his time to architecture and design work. There are only two ground plans in the Joseph Urban Archive. The film was released on May 2, 1925.

Work on the film began under the direction of Clarence Badger, but Hearst fired him and brought in George Hill to direct. It was based on the 1923 play by Edward Salisbury Field, with a scenario by Frances Marion. Gretl Urban designed the costumes.

From the TCM website: Mamie Smith (Marion Davies) is rescued from an orphanage by Mrs. Caldwell (Hedda Hopper), the mother of a small child whom Mamie calls Zander (Master Jack Huff). Mrs. Caldwell dies, and Mamie takes Zander west in search of the boy's missing father. In Arizona she meets Dan Murchison (Harrison Ford), a liquor smuggler who pretends to be Caldwell in order to avoid the sheriff.

Mamie falls in love with Dan but learns of his illegal activities and threatens to inform on him. Dan locks her up and send Zander to his friend Juan for safekeeping. Mamie escapes and is captured by Black Bart's gang, who tie her to a tree. She frees herself and goes to Juan's men, arriving in time to round up the gang members. Dan tells Mamie that he is not Caldwell, and she and Dan are married.

The complete film is held by the Library of Congress and the Museum of Modern Art, and it has been released on DVD.

For "Zander the Great," filmed largely in the Mojave Desert, Urban designed a hacienda based on a famous Mexican estate. A newspaper account recorded that "So unusual was the design of this house, and so delightful its conception, three Los Angeles architects copied it for use in building Western residences, which are more and more adopting the Spanish style of architecture."

This would have been a major factor in Urban deciding that it was time to open his own official architecture office. Indeed Alex Camp of White Rock, Dallas, Texas, commissioned Urban to recreate the hacienda for him, and there is a contract in the Urban Papers, dated August 21, 1926. But according to Urban biographers Carter and Cole, the house was never built.

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