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Robert and Frances Flaherty

Robert and Frances Flaherty: A Documentary Life, 1883-1922

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  • Book Info
    Robert and Frances Flaherty
    Book Description:

    Previous biographical emphasis on Nanook has not only obscured Flaherty's early career but also neglected the critical contributions Frances made to his development as an artist. Robert and Frances Flaherty charts her transformation from a Bryn Mawr bluestocking to the partner of a frontier explorer and offers her unique perspective as his collaborator and publicist.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-7277-5
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-xviii)

    Every work has an origin, some genesis in an epiphany of sight, sound, or moment. This work traces its moment of origin to a winter morning when a New York City public school outing brought us to the American Museum of Natural History. There are memories of strong scents: my wet woolen jacket, my friend Manfred’s salami sandwich. The elephants and dinosaurs were engaging, but the film we saw was riveting, its impression permanent, like an invisible scar.Nanook of the Northstirred fear and delight, family tenderness, and arctic ferocity. The film wandered through my imagination ever after, and...

  2. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xix-xxi)
  3. 1 The Boy from Iron Mountain
    (pp. 3-22)

    Robert Flaherty is best known as the maker ofNanook of the North,a film now regarded as seminal in American cinema history. Its release in 1922 made “Nanook” a novel international word upon which the makers of ice cream, refrigeration, and fur products pounced. It also made Flaherty the latest cinema celebrity, though he realized little financially from the film; but he did gain a contract from the Hollywood impresario Joseph Lasky to replicate the success ofNanook,this time in the south seas. Thus began the public cinema reputation, at the age of thirty-eight, of a man who...

  4. 2 The Violin, Camera, and Canoe
    (pp. 23-39)

    Since Flaherty’s main intention in “Islands” was to emphasize his rediscovery of the Belcher Islands, he omitted many other particulars of his education and upbringing. Before February 1896, when Flaherty at the age of twelve accompanied his father north to Ontario, he had attended local schools in Iron Mountain, Michigan, but his primary education included an avidity for reading, particularly the frontier writers Francis Parkman, James Fenimore Cooper, and Robert Ballantyne. Flaherty recounted few details about his early schooling; but in preparation for an extended three-partNew Yorkerprofile, Robert Louis Taylor interviewed him at length, and in the first...

  5. 3 From Bryn Mawr to Lake Nipigon
    (pp. 40-63)

    The preceding diary as intimate narrative documents the relationship that Flaherty and Frances Hubbard began in 1903, pursued intermittently throughout the decade, and affirmed through their marriage in 1914. It was a lifelong partnership, for after 1914 Frances was a continual influencing presence in the Flaherty enterprise. The origin of his association with the Hubbard family deserves note, as do the early years of Frances Johnson Hubbard. Her fierce advocacy of Robert Flaherty and her own contribution to refining and promoting his work as photographer, filmmaker, and writer did much to shape the character of his artistic career.

    The second...

  6. 4 Through Canada’s Northland
    (pp. 64-125)

    Upon his return to Toronto in March 1911, Flaherty lost no time in submitting his final report to Mackenzie, completing it on 3 April.¹ In the seven months he had devoted to this expedition – the shortest he would do for Mackenzie – he had proved that his practiced woodsman’s skills could also function in a subarctic environment. Although he had used a sledge and dogs in northern Ontario, the icescape of the Hudson Bay terrain could impose formidable physical hardships, and in his report to Mackenzie he gave these harsh conditions as the reason for his decision to send Crundell back...

  7. 5 Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society
    (pp. 126-200)

    Nearly two months passed between Flaherty’s last entry of 8 August 1912 and his arrival at Moose Factory. In his final report to Mackenzie he observed that the original plan had been to meet the HBC supply shipNascopieat Cape Wolstenholme on its outbound passage and thus reach the south via Labrador and Newfoundland. But theNascopiewas delayed and arrived at Cape Wolstenholme on 20 August, a month behind schedule. Flaherty boarded her nevertheless, and steamed west across the Bay, an area he had never observed, to the posts at Fort Churchill and Chesterfield Inlet, then south to...

  8. 6 Frances and the Book of the Heart
    (pp. 201-281)

    Upon his return to Toronto in late October 1914 after completing the third expedition, Flaherty provided Mackenzie with a short summary of his accomplishments. But between the time of his return and the submission of that summary on 16 November, he and Frances Johnson Hubbard had been married. The wedding took place on 12 November 1914 in a civil ceremony at the New York City residence of her cousin, Dr Royal Whitman. According to the biographers Paul Rotha and Arthur Calder-Marshall, the proverbially broke Robert could not fund the customary marriage tokens of ring and license, and they were paid...

  9. 7 Flaherty Island
    (pp. 282-318)

    The third expedition – from June 1913 to October 1914 – had been the longest, most ambitious, and costliest that Flaherty had conducted for Mackenzie (an estimate of $50,000 would be safe). Yet he had not really carried out the original goals. It will be recalled that the initial plan had been for theLaddie,with a crew of five, to leave St John’s in early July 1913, then pass through Hudson Strait and into Hudson Bay, where the expedition was to divide into two parties – one with theLaddieto survey fishery resources, the other led by Flaherty in a motor...

  10. 8 Nanook of the Barren Lands
    (pp. 319-378)

    Flaherty’s return to Toronto in the fall of 1916 closed his career as an iron prospector in the employ of Mackenzie and Mann. The Great War’s bottomless appetite for financial resources had consumed any ambitions Mackenzie or others might have had for the economic expansion of Hudson Bay. Although no final report on the fourth expedition is among Flaherty’s papers, the geological findings reported in the diary suggest that while the iron ore deposits on the Belcher Islands were interesting, they were no bonanza. The limited commercial value of the Belcher iron deposits would have been confirmed by his father’s...

  11. 9 Epilogue
    (pp. 379-388)

    The Port Harrison diary displays Flaherty at the height of his descriptive powers as a diarist. Despite its fragmentary structure and the absence of a comforting sequential calendar, for lyric power and acuteness of observation this final northern dairy is Flaherty’s apogee. With its mood swings between despondency and intoxication with the very arctic air, the essence of Flaherty’s power as a diarist is expressed in the Cape Smith bear hunt sequence of 17 January 1921 to just before the 25 April entry. This expedition just fell short of being a catastrophe, and its rigors pushed men, dogs, and equipment...