Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Benito Mussolini

May 1915

Once again, it’s time for a roundup of headlines from 100 years ago. At this point, the “war in Europe” has ramped up to where people are seeing it as a “World War.” No one is expecting a quick end, and the horrors of the trenches have become facts of life for thousands of young men. The movies are an important escape, but European film production is suffering from the economic pressures and sheer mass of manpower diverted to war-production. The United States is increasingly entrenched as the world’s major film-exporting country, as it will be for many years after the war ends.

Clara Hagen (nee Immerwahr), the first female PhD in Chemistry

Clara Hagen (nee Immerwahr), the first female PhD in Chemistry

Science: On May 2, Clara Immerwahr commits suicide. She was the first woman to earn a PhD in Chemistry and an advocate of women’s rights. She was married to Fritz Haber, another chemist, and was known to have helped him in his work. Haber was a staunch supporter of the German military, while Clara was more pacifist in outlook. Haber’s work (and, presumably, Clara’s) contributed to the gas attack in Flanders in April, 1914, and it was clear that his career would be dedicated to Chemical Warfare for years to come. This may have influenced Clara’s decision to take her life, using her husband’s service revolver, before a second planned gas attack on the Russian Front.

Literature: Canadian soldier Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae writes the poem “In Flanders Fields” on May 3. It begins with the refrain “In Flanders fields the poppies blow/Between the crosses, row on row.” Poppies will become symbolic of Remembrance Day in Canada and other Dominion countries for at least the next 100 years.

Sports: Babe Ruth hits his first career home run, May 6. Although he is mostly remembered for his long tenure with the New York Yankees, at this time he plays for their arch-rivals, the Boston Red Sox.

Artist's conception of the sinking of RMS Lusitania

Artist’s conception of the sinking of RMS Lusitania

World War: On May 7, a German submarine sinks the RMS Lusitania with a torpedo. The ship, which was believed to be carrying military supplies to Britain, was also a commercial liner loaded with civilian passengers bound for Liverpool. Of these, 1,198 died, with 768 rescued. 128 of the dead were American citizens, and the sinking of the Lusitania became a major diplomatic dispute between the US and Germany, with American sentiment shifting increasingly toward the Allies after this point.

Accidents: On May 22, five trains collide near Quintinshill in Scotland, claiming 226 lives, mostly troops headed for the front. This remains the worst rail disaster in UK history.

Eruption of Lassen Peak.

Eruption of Lassen Peak.

Natural Disasters: In California Lassen Peak erupts, May 22, following more than a year of rumblings and several days of minor explosions. A huge plume of volcanic ash rose 30,000 feet into the air and was visible from 150 miles away.

Diplomacy: Italy declares war on Austria, May 24. By this time the Fasci d’Azione Revoluzionaria, allied with Benito Mussolini, have been agitating for war for six months.

Politics: The Liberal government of Prime Minister H.H. Asquith ends in the UK on May 17, when he arranges a coalition government with leaders of the Conservative Party. This is ultimately not enough to stop his decline in power, and he resigns in 1916. The Liberals will never hold power outside a coalition in the UK national government again.

Births: Alice Faye, May 5 (she would appear in “Hello, Frisco, Hello” and “Four Jills in a Jeep”); Orson Welles, May 6 (who went on to make “Citizen Kane” after scaring the bejeepers out of people with his radio version of “War of the Worlds”); Renee Asherson, May 19 (who was in “Henry V” with Lawrence Olivier and “Theatre of Blood” with Vincent Price).

November and December, 1914

The 1914 "Christmas Truce" as depicted in a British magazine, January 1915.

The 1914 “Christmas Truce” as depicted in a British magazine, January 1915.

Due to a major paying project last month, I fell behind on this unpaying blog. I didn’t even get around to the news roundup for November, 1914. So, I’m going to combine November and December into a single post this time out. Without further ado…

November 1914

Politics: On November 24, Benito Mussolini is expelled from the Italian Socialist Party. A school-teacher by trade, Mussolini has worked his way up the ranks of the Party and has been very successful as the editor of Avanti! (“forwards”), the party newspaper. He is expelled for disagreeing with the party line on neutrality in World War One, and he will soon begin a campaign for militarization and joining the war on the Allied side.

Diplomacy: Britain and France declare war on Turkey on November 5. The UK annexes the island of Cyprus, holding on to it until 196o, using it as a base in both World Wars, and recruiting Greek Cypriots to fight for the Allies.

Finance: The Federal Reserve Bank of the US opens on November 16.

War: US troops vacate Veracruz, Mexico, November 23, allowing Venustiano Carranza’s troops to occupy the city and establish it as his headquarters.

December 1914

Law and Order: On December 17, President Woodrow Wilson signs the Harrison Narcotics Act into law, making cocaine and opiates illegal to sell or distribute, except under highly regulated medical exceptions. The immediate effect is to squeeze the supply of these drugs into the United States, driving the price up and creating a highly profitable criminal market, as well as forcing many addicts to suffer withdrawal due to inability to feed their addiction.

World War I: This is the December of the famous “Christmas Truce” on the Western Front. British and German soldiers crossed no man’s land between the trenches to exchange gifts and goodwill, and engage in football matches together. This symbolic moment of mutual respect and gallantry does not characterize the nature of trench warfare in general, and it is never repeated on such a scale during the war.

Industry: On December 15, a gas explosion at the Mitsubishi Hojyo coal mine in Japan kills 687 workers, the worst coal mine disaster in Japanese history.

Finance: On December 12, the New York Stock Exchange re-opens after more than four months of closure due to the war.

Films released in the last two months of the year include “Tillie’s Punctured Romance,” “His Prehistoric Past” (the last movie Charlie Chaplin will make for Mack Sennett at Keystone Studios) and two “Perils of Pauline” clones: “The Hazards of Helen” and “The Exploits of Elaine,”

Born: Dorothy Lamour (the “sarong queen” of “Jungle Princess” and several Hope & Crosby “Road” movies) , December 10; Larry Parks (who played Al Jolson in “The Jolson Story” and “Jolson Sings Again” before being blacklisted as a former Communist), December 13; Richard Widmark (a diversely talented actor, mostly remembered for playing off-balance villains in film noir movies like “Night and the City” and “Kiss of Death”), December 26; Jo Ann Fleet (who was Cathy Ames in “East of Eden” and also Paul Newman’s mother in “Cool Hand Luke”), December 30.

Died: Stellen Rye, the German director of “The Student of Prague” died on November 14, as a prisoner of war in a French prison.