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  • 1904

The Vitagraphoscope

Mock film script from the final chapter of O. Henry’s novel, Cabbages and Kings (New York: McClure, Phillips, and Co., 1904).

O. Henry (1862–1910) is undoubtedly one of the world’s best known and loved short story writers. In his sadly brief lifetime he wrote and published over 300 stories, most of them in the last eight years of his life when he lived in New York City.30 O. Henry had, it seems, a considerable interest in moving pictures, and mentions the new medium in several of his stories from as early as 1903. It was perhaps the Vitagraph company which inspired the mock film script that we reproduce here, for by the early years of the century the company’s cameramen were to be seen filming in New York City, and Vitagraph films were widely shown and advertised, so O. Henry might easily have adapted the word Vitagraph to “Vitagraphoscope”.31

The book in which this “script” appears is an unusual creation. Its title suggests an influence from the world of Lewis Carroll, as does the author’s description, “a little tale to tell of many things”. It was O. Henry’s only novel, though it is more of an episodic, abstract narrative than a traditional novel, and was in part “patched together” from earlier material, with the final chapter apparently being a late addition. O. Henry begins this final chapter with the words “Vaudeville is intrinsically episodic and discontinuous”, to remind readers of the similarities between his book and vaudeville turns, including films. O. Henry’s style, with its aspects of kinetic brevity and modernity, was much admired especially by post-revolutionary Russian critics, who thought it had pointed a way forward: “It is wrong,” Yevgeny Zamyatin wrote, “to say that the cinema was invented by Edison: the cinema was invented by Edison and O. Henry.”32

The book’s main action takes place in “Anchuria”, a banana republic and pseudonym for US-dominated Honduras, and the colourful characters include various Irishmen as well as the president of Anchuria who absconds with the country’s cash reserves accompanied by an adventuress and opera singer. In the final chapter of which this “script” forms the conclusion, O. Henry alludes to these characters, but instead of wrapping up the narrative in a conventional way, invites us to an imaginary film show of three scenes...

The Vitagraphoscope (Moving Pictures)

The Last Sausage

SCENE – An Artist’s Studio. The artist, a young man of prepossessing appearance, sits in a dejected attitude, amid a litter of sketches, with his head resting upon his hand. An oil stove stands on a pine box in the centre of the studio. The artist rises, tightens his waist belt to another hole, and lights the stove. He goes to a tin bread box, half-hidden by a screen, takes out a solitary link of sausage, turns the box upside-down to show that there is no more, and chucks the sausage into a frying-pan, which he sets upon the stove. The flame of the stove goes out, showing that there is no more oil. The artist, in evident [End Page 410] despair, seizes the sausage, in a sudden access [sic] of rage, and hurls it violently from him. At the same time a door opens, and a man who enters receives the sausage forcibly against his nose. He seems to cry out; and is observed to make a dance step or two, vigorously. The newcomer is a ruddy-faced, active, keen-looking man, apparently of Irish ancestry. Next he is observed to laugh immoderately; he kicks over the stove; he claps the artist (who is vainly striving to grasp his hand) vehemently upon the back. Then he goes through a pantomime which to the sufficiently intelligent spectator reveals that he has acquired large sums of money by trading pot-metal hatchets and razors to the Indians of the Cordillera Mountains for gold dust. He draws a roll of money as large as a small loaf of bread from his pocket, and waves it above his head, while at the same time he makes pantomime of drinking from a glass. The...


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