Arthur Leopold

Contributors

Arthur Leopold was a New Orleans lawyer representing local film production and exhibition industry, with connections to Athletic Park Amusement Company, the Greenwall Theater, Diamond Film Company (as primary legal council), and later the American Amusement burlesque house. Though never known for championing a project of his own, Leopold’s name surfaces in involvement with a number of producers and exhibitors, and especially in appealing to the public for cultural support of the local film industry. Leopold left a trail of controversial and occasionally disputed dealings behind him.

Athletic Park Amusement Company

The Athletic Park Amusement Company was an early 20th century theater, run by president Gus Lehman, in which Leopold was involved as legal council both prior to and after the company’s descent into bankruptcy and consequential receivership in the early months of 1906 [1] . The theater faced severe financial distress in 1906, at which point Leopold was named financial receiver and charged with handling the financial repercussions of bankruptcy, particularly in dealing with the company’s outstanding creditors.

One such creditor, Disell Engineering and Construction Co. Ltd, lead by W. T. Spranley, claimed that they had installed electrical wiring and illumination in the theater at a cost of $7992.64. $7109.70 – approximately $178,891.00 in today’s dollars [2] – of which remained unpaid at the time of Athetic Park’s collapse. Furthermore, they asserted that Leopold and Lehman had agreed on a payment schedule for this debt in June of the previous year, and then “conspired together” to claim bankruptcy and nominate a receiver so as to avoid payment. Furthermore, he indicted Leopold on charges of mismanagement of the theater ultimately leading to its financial undoing.

“Leopold has filled the Park with a lot of cheap catch-pennies,” Spranley claimed, “and has caused to be placed on the stage a stupid ass to kick and bite at a man creature, attired in a costume representing a woman, and who by teasing the ass makes it bite him. And this is his idea of popular fancy” [3] .

Based on these dual accusations, Spranley encouraged the court to appoint an alternate receiver, as Leopold’s continued poor decision making would, in his view, keep the company from regaining the financial solvency necessary to recoup its debts.

On June 20, 1906, Leopold’s membership in the Athletic Park Amusement Company was revoked and he was sent to the Civil District Court to determine whether or not his receivership would be nullified and given to someone else. [4] Later in July, the court withdrew the opposition and Leopold was kept as the receiver. [5]

Another dispute soon arose for Leopold in the form of Maud Daniels, an actress who had been contracted for a certain number of shows, and who one day returned to find the park in the control of Leopold, as receiver. She and Leopold clashed publicly, protesting his proclamation that, if she failed to bring in within a week sufficient profits to cover the park’s running costs, she would be given notice. This was a demand she saw as a clear breach of contract. When questioned about the affair, Leopold admitted that “[he was] under $5,000 bonds to see that none of the creditors’ money is lost…unless Miss Daniels can make enough money to clear the expenses of the entire park, we will have to close down…it is just an unfortunate state of affairs” [6] .

The park officially closed on July 7, 1906.

The Clinton Amendment

One of the first appearances of Leopold acting as an attorney, in contrast to his prior employment as a notary and legal council with the Athletic Park Amusement Company, occurred in June of 1910. At this time, Leopold was involved in theatrical interests in securing a law regarding child labor, called the Clinton Amendment, that would allow children to perform on stage [7] . On June 3, 1910 Leopold attended a legislative meeting in Baton Rouge where he voiced his support for the Clinton Amendment. During this time period, many middle-class, white women were in support of the Progressive Movement, which would later outlaw alcohol, and were present at the congressional meeting to protest the amendment. Leopold’s support of the controversial child labor law rendered Leopold unpopular especially among women. As stated in a report of the meeting by the Times-Picayune, “The ladies of Baton Rouge turned out by the hundreds. They packed the Statehouse and filled the House chamber to the aisles”. [8] The companies he would later work for, including Winter Garden Theater and Diamond Film company, were financially affected by Leopold’s damaged reputation among the socialites of New Orleans.

Winter Garden Theater Scandal

Lew Rose, manager of the Winter Garden theater, another company for which Leopold acted as legal consult, was indicted in 1909 on charges of employing minors to work on stage in his theater, a transgression which resulted in a $25 fine or the service of thirty days in prison. Despite Leopold’s manifold attempts to raise motions which would have diverted his client’s sentence, all were overruled, leaving Leopold with the single ultimate recourse of filing an appeal with the Louisiana Supreme Court [9] .

The Greenwall Theater

In January of 1911, the American Music Hall changed ownership. Terminating a nine year lease after only two years, William A. Morris handed over the “high-class vaudeville and moving pictures” theater to Henry Greenwall. [10] Greenwall promised to uphold the legacy of the American Music Hall; Arthur Leopold was placed in charge of managing and booking the acts and represent Greenwall during his financial struggle with Morris over the theater lease agreement. Greenwall also announced that Morris still owed him $7,000 from the cancelled lease of the theater. [11]

During Leopold’s reign with the American Music Hall beginning on January 15, 1911, he stressed the importance of the moving picture, finding it to be one of the most important and financially profitable forms of vaudeville entertainment. Later in January, the name of the theater was changed to Greenwall Theater in honor of its new owner. Throughout his employment with Greenwall Theater, Leopold gained popularity with the theater audience for providing fresh-faced stars and first-class vaudeville entertainment. [12]

As attorney for the Greenwall Theater, Leopold represented the interest in a censorship case that arose in 1914 centering around the exhibition of a photo drama “Traffic in Souls,” that addressed the issue of white slavery. This case was set in opposition to Mayor Behrman and Chief of Police Reynolds, and centered around Leopold’s demonstration that similar subject matter had passed censorship boards in New York, Chicago, and other sites [13] .

American Amusement and Production Company

In 1917, the Times-PIcayune reported Leopold being sued in connection with American Amusement and Production by Ruth Hoyt, who alleges she was “induced” to sign a contract which included clauses referring to “stock burlesque…the meaning of which is quite well known to theatrical patrons.” Leopold, on the other hand, insisted that her signing of the contract was entirely voluntary, contended that the allegations were simply being made for the purpose of blackmail, and resolved to bring Hoyt herself to court for libel [14] .

Diamond Film Company

During the founding of Diamond Film Company in 1918, Leopold played a prominent role, travelling as one of only three representatives. He went to New York alongside Vice President R. M. Chisholm and General Manager W. J. Hannon for the purpose of contracting with directors, actors, and a technical crew, in addition to cementing a distribution agreement with the General Film Company [15] . Leopold was also responsible for the legal incorporation and public press releases of the organization once founded. [16] .

Leopold’s main input to the initial success of the company was his ability to appeal to the upperclass of New Orleans for both investment and exhibition purposes. In one statement to the public regarding the intentions of the Diamond film company, Leopold announced “none but the biggest and most noted stars in this country will be engaged”. [17] Between 1907-1914, the Hollywood film industry had already been established in California. All three parts of the film industry, including production, distribution and exhibition, were centered in Hollywood making it difficult for other fledgling industries to establish a permanent residence outside of Hollywood. [18]

When the Diamond Film Company ultimately proved incapable of staying above water financially, Leopold took on the role of legal advising through yet another receivership procedure, and was involved in the public auction of Diamond Film’s assets, most prominently the Bayou St. John studio [19] .

Stenographers’ Association

Late in his career, Leopold served as President of the New Orleans Stenographers’ Association (located at 345 Carondelet Street), an organization which served the local community of stenographers both as a centralizing means of finding employment and as a way to practice one’s skills through twice-weekly dictation classes [20] .

Works Cited

  • “An Attack on The Athletic Park Receivership,” Times PIcayune, May 20, 1906.
  • The Inflation Calculator, www.westegg.com
  • “An Attack on The Athletic Park Receivership,” Times PIcayune, May 20, 1906.
  • “Civil District Court: An Attack on the Athletic Park Receivership.” Times-Picayune (New Orleans). June 20, 1906, p. 4.
  • “Guide to the News: City and Suburban.” Times-Picayune (New Orleans). July 28, 1906, p. 2.
  • “Maud Defies Eviction,” Times Picayune, June 29, 1906
  • “Legislative Gossip: Items of Interest Gathered About the Capitol Lobbies.” Times-Picayune (New Orleans). June 3, 1910,p. 3.
  • “Children in Theaters: An Unfavorable Report on the Gleason Mensure.” Times-Picayune (New Orleans). June 3, 1910, p. 10.
  • “Manager Rose Sentenced,” Times Picayune, August 15, 1908.
  • “Amusements: American Music Hall.” Times-Picayune (New Orleans). January 14, 1911, p. 3.
  • “Morris Gives Up American Music Hall, and Quits Heavy Loser.” Times-Picayune (New Orleans). January 14, 1911, p. 10.
  • “American Music Hall Begins Its New Career at the Matinee To-day.” Times-Picayune (New Orleans). January 15, 1911, p. 28.
  • “The Case in Court,” Daily Picayune, February 6, 1914.
  • “Answer is Filed to Suit Against Burlesque House,” Times Picayune, February 7, 1917.
  • “New Orleans Becomes Permanent Location for Making of Regular Program Screen Productions,” Times Picayune, April 7, 1918.
  • “Film Company is Organized Here,” New Orleans States, August 5, 1917
  • The Daily States (New Orleans). “Film Company Organized Here.” August 5, 1917, p. 52.
  • Scott, Allen John. “Origins and Early Growth of the Hollywood Motion Picture Industry.” In On Hollywood: The Place, the Industry.” Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005. pp 11-12.
  • “Receivers’ Sale”: Judicial Advertisement, Times Picayune, July 12, 1919.
  • Stenographers Monthly Meeting Receives Many Encouraging Reports. Times-Picayune July 10, 1924 pp22

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