Updated: Oct 20, 2020
By Shannon Wray
Pioneers of Mill Creek Canyon
The woods around Seven Oaks, California, were crawling with film folk in 1917. When the crew of The Savage, starring Monroe Salisbury and Ruth Clifford, left that summer, another team came in the Fall to set up camp. The film's working title was The Wolves of the North and it featured a narrative about the Northwest Mounted Police, as had The Savage. Seven Oaks was, again, posing as the wild Canadian woods.
Director Edward Le Saint was an actor who started in legitimate theater when he was a child and toured the U.S. with theater companies for 15 years before trying his hand at films for the first time in 1912. Even though production on the West Coast had only really begun in 1910, by the time Edward LeSaint arrived in Seven Oaks in 1917, he had already directed 97 movies. He was among the most experienced directors in the industry at the time and still a very much sought-after actor, too.
Louise Lovely and Jack Hoxie exemplified aspects of early Hollywood that remained for decades as time-honored traditions. Namely, the giving of "star" names, star-branded productions, ownership of an individual's persona, and the cowboy/actor. Louise Carbasse was a young, but seasoned, Australian actress who came to Los Angeles in 1915. Her sweet, youthful, blonde looks were reminiscent of Mary Pickford, who was the most popular actress at that time. When Carl Laemmle, the head of Universal Pictures, saw Louise's screen test, he remarked about how lovely she was and, on the spot, gave her a new last name and a contract.
Jack Hoxie, sometimes called Hart Hoxie, was born in what was then called Indian Territory, later Oklahoma, and was a national rodeo champion. A bonafide cowhand, he parlayed his rodeo fame into working with a national Wild West show. Hoxie found work as a stuntman in moving pictures and was one of the earliest cowboy actors, spawning a long tradition of Westerns and cowboy characters. As Donald Bayne, the wolf of the title in this movie, it's uncertain whether he stayed in the cowboy lane in this Canadian Mountie-themed film, but it seems likely based on the posters' images. It wouldn't be the first or last time that Hollywood made an unlikely pairing.
The story and script were written by Julia Maier and Doris Schroeder, but no description of the film's plot remains. The only clue to the storyline is from the publicity stunts suggested by Universal's imaginative PR machine to theater owners. "The great Canadian Northwest has for years formed the background for many stories depicting the valor of the Royal Mounted, as the Canadian Mounted Police are known, and in this feature, the doings of the organizations form an important part. The following stunts will attract attention to the feature without any great outlay on your part. If there is a customer in your town get one of your employees and dress him as a regular member of the Royal Mounted. Have him give out cards printed as follows: The Royal Mounted never gives up the trail of a criminal. I am after one now! Follow the trail to the (name of theatre) and see me catch him and win a bride in 'THE WOLF AND HIS MATE' (day and date). Or you can borrow a collie dog and have a sign painted on canvas which should be fastened securely to his back. Then turn him loose to roam through the city. The sign should read: I am looking for Louise Lovely. Please tell me where the (name of theatre) is. I know I will find her there in 'THE WOLF AND HIS MATE' on (day and date).
As a stunt and plot description, it leaves a lot to be imagined, but it gives us a sketch of the film's themes.
Uncertainties seem to have plagued the movie, as the title changed from The Wolves of the North to The Wolf and His Mate when it was released then it was quickly re-cut and re-released as Wolf Bayne. There was a wolf in there somewhere, but they were darned if they could find it! Further, the uncertain weather in the San Bernardino Mountains delivered the cast and crew a big surprise. According to Motion Picture Weekly Magazine in November 1917, "ROUTED by 'hailstones as big as hens' eggs!' That's what happened to a company of photoplayers in the mountains five miles back from Seven Oaks, California, a few days ago. Each and every member of the company declares that the hailstones were the largest he had ever seen. The company in question was that of Universal Director E. J. Le Saint, who had taken his people to a picturesque location high up in the mountains, for the picture provisionally called "Wolves of the North." The day was perfect and the director and his players were making excellent progress with the work that had been laid out for the day, when suddenly the sun was obscured by clouds and then came flashes of lightning and peals of thunder. Several of the women members of the company were terrified by the phenomenal change in the weather, but soon calmed themselves. To add to their alarm a hailstorm followed, the stones of unusual size pelting, it seemed to the players, like so much shrapnel. Of course, there was a scurrying to shelter, but there wasn't very much to protect them outside a number of sturdy oaks. There being no indication of a cessation
of the storm, Director Le Saint sent several of his assistants away on their horses to find, if possible, more adequate protection for the members of the company. About five hundred feet higher up in the mountains and about a quarter of a mile distant from the location, several deserted cabins were discovered, and to these, the Universal folk were removed in a hurry. The severity of the hailstorm was maintained for fully thirty minutes, and a heavy rainfall followed, lasting for the rest of the afternoon. Before the rain had ceased to fall, director Le Saint and his players started back for their quarters at Seven Oaks. On the way they were held up by a bewhiskered orchardist with the remark,
"Hello, boys, fine rain for the crops—just what we need, don't you know."
"But rough on motion picturemaking," answered Le Saint in a disgusted tone, "half a day gone to smithereens and the high cost of filming still going on."
It's very intriguing to try to guess which old cabins the film company took shelter in, and who the bewhiskered orchardist might have been. Famed rancher and apple grower Richard Stetson, pictured here, does come to mind. He was certainly bewhiskered and an orchardist and his ranch about five miles from Seven Oaks. But that's purely speculation and perhaps we will never know.
The first release of The Wolf and His Mate was on January 8, 1918. Maybe the publicity stunts didn't work, or for some reason audiences found the film wanting. It was rushed to a second incarnation under the title Wolf Bayne with little fanfare and no better result.
Edward Le Saint's career as a director waned by the mid-1920s. However, he was a busy working actor until 1940. Le Saint played stock characters, including the judge in the film Reefer Madness, the sheriff in Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times, and the doctor in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. He appeared in films with Gary Cooper, Edward G. Robinson, Bette Davis, Fay Wray, Rita Hayworth, and scores of other stars. His final film, A Night at Earl Carroll's was released on December 6, 1940, three months after his death at the age of 69.
Louise Lovely's story was a cautionary tale, but not an unusual one in early Hollywood. In 1917, when she came to Seven Oaks, she was in a heated dispute with Universal over wages. To mollify her, the studio made her head of her own production company, Louise Lovely Productions, but gave her no real power over her own projects. Shortly after The Wolf and His Mate released in 1918, she discovered that Universal actually owned her name and that, legally, they could stop her from working for any other studio. Furious, she left Universal and tried to work for other studios, but she was blacklisted for a year. Eventually, she received a contract at Fox to make Westerns, but the savor was gone. Louise tried production for a brief time with a star search sort of roadshow. Finally, disaffected, she returned to Australia in 1926, where she tried valiantly to kick start a film industry in her home country, making ten films there. Ultimately, it wasn't as successful as Miss Lovely hoped, and she returned to vaudeville with a version of her touring star search show. At the end of her life, she was known as the sweet little old lady who ran the candy shop in the Prince of Wales Theatre in the town of Hobart, Tasmania, where she lived. She passed away in 1980 at 85.
Jack Hoxie made 136 films, but mostly during the silent era, and many of them only featured him as a stunt actor. His days as a leading man were cut short by the advent of sound. Not only was his voice odd-sounding as recorded by the equipment of the time, but he was also mostly illiterate and couldn't read a script to learn written dialogue. Hoxie continued as a stunt performer into the early 1930s until he left Hollywood to star in his own Wild West circus, which toured for many years. By the 1940s, he had retired to a ranch in Oklahoma, and he passed away at the age of 80 in 1965.
The Wolf and His Mate and Wolf Bayne are now lost.
Copyright 2020, Shannon E. Wray. All Rights Reserved. No reprints in whole or part without permission.