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Tom Santschi

Tom Santschi

Paul William Santschi (1878-1931) Swiss Actor, Technical Advisor, Fight Consultant, Writer, Producer and Director. The pioneer film actor, writer and director was born Paul William Santschi. At an early age, William (or Bill as he was called) exhibited a keen interest in the performing arts. His love of acting manifested itself in his compulsion to entertain his relatives with improvisations and songs. At age ten or so after moving with his parents and sisters Florence and Minnie to Kokomo, Indiana, he began studying voice and piano. By the time he left school at age seventeen to apprentice with a stock company, he was already an accomplished pianist - an activity that was to serve him well in supplementing his income during his early years in the theater.

He was one of the first actors to leave the legitimate stage for a film career, joining the Selig Polyscope Company in Chicago where it is believed his first work was in a condensed one-reel version of the play 'The Heart of Maryland.' Shortly thereafter he came with 'William N. Selig' to Los Angeles where in a temporary studio at 7th and Olive St., he starred with Jean Ward in the first film made completely in California, The Heart of a Race Tout (1909) released in July 1907. Some sources, however, claim that the first dramatic film made solely in Los Angeles was In the Sultan's Power (1909) in which he, Hobart Bosworth and Betty Harte starred.

For the next few years Tom (a name he chose when he started film work) along with fellow pioneers such as Hobart Bosworth and Robert Z. Leonard churned out dozens of features for Selig Polyscope as the fledgling motion picture industry developed. During this period, 'Kathlyn Williams' and Tom starred in what was described as the first true cliffhanger serial The Adventures of Kathlyn (1913). Three years later it was edited and released as a full-length feature.

In 1914 came the role for which he was most famous, Alex McNamara in the original version of The Spoilers (1914). It was in that movie that he and William Farnum performed the most ferocious screen battle that filmgoers of that day had ever witnessed. Both of the men had agreed to make the fight a real one and at the end of the scene were reportedly carried from the set with multiple cuts, contusions and broken bones. Of the eight-reel film, apparently only one reel of this feature has survived the decades but it contains, absent stunt doubles and breakaway furniture, one of the most famous and brutal brawls in film history. In 1930 he and Farnum served as fight consultants in a remake of the movie starring 'Gary Cooper'. Six months prior to his death, they fought again in Ten Nights in a Barroom (1931).

Because of his brawn, stature and piercing blue eyes, he was in constant demand during the 1920s for the portrayal of villainous characters. He can be seen fighting with William S. Hart in _Cradle of Courage (1920)_ and trying to do away with Rin Tin Tin and 'Jason Robards, Sr.' in Hills of Kentucky, The (1927) and Tracked by the Police (1927). There were notable exceptions to this type casting. For example: he was a Chicago Cubs pitcher and New York Giants manager in the baseball feature Life's Greatest Game (1924); Detective Callahan in the comedy Paths to Paradise (1924); and a sympathetic "Bull" Stanley in the existing print of the western 3 Bad Men (1926) directed by 'John Ford'. Unfortunately, an acclaimed sensitive performance in the first American film directed by Michael Curtiz, The Third Degree (1926), is presumed lost.

He acted in over 245 films during the period 1907-1931 and directed 28 during 1914-1916. He wrote one screen play in 1914. The exact number of films he made cannot be determined. Incredibly, a 1915 two-reeler 'In the King's Service' in which he starred with Marion Warner surfaced at a yard sale in Maine and was shown along with The Spoilers (1914) at a Northeast Historic Film Festival at Bucksport, Maine in 2002. Subsequently the print was given to the Museum of Modern Art for preservation. Tom Santschi died in his sleep from a heart attack in Los Angeles on April 9, 1931 at the age of 50.


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