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Betzwood Films

The Toonerville Trolley films

The Toonerville Trolley films were the most successful and popular films ever made at the Betzwood studio. Based on the famed newspaper cartoons of Fontaine Fox, they were written by Fox himself. Only seven of the original seventeen two-reel comedies survive today. Copies of four have been added to the Betzwood Archive and efforts continue to raise money to save the rest before they are destroyed by nitrate decomposition.

For more information

Read articles about the stars of the films Wilna Hervey and Dan Mason

For further reading see the two following articles:

Joseph P. Eckhardt, “Clatter, Sproing, Clunk, Went the Trolley,” Pennsylvania Heritage, Summer, 1992.

Joseph P. Eckhardt, “The Toonerville Trolley Films of the Betzwood Studio," Griffithiana, May, 1995.

Toonerville's Boozem Friends (1920)

Toonerville’s Boozem Friends depicts a day in the life of Toonerville, featuring slapstick scenes in Bang’s Quick Service Restaurant, surreptitious drinking despite prohibition, and an evil villain trying to trade a mortgage for marriage to a beautiful young girl.

The 1920 comedy is one of a series of films based on the popular syndicated newspaper comic strip “The Toonerville Trolley” by Fontaine Fox. Many of the films took advantage of the then-current day issues of drinking and Prohibition.

Produced by the Betzwod Film Copmany and directed by Ira M. Lowry. Featuring Wilna Hervey, Dan Mason, Helen Gerould Rose, Robert Maximillian, Betty Bovee, Jules Bernard, and Fred O’Beck. Written by Fontaine Fox.

The Skipper's Narrow Escape (1920)

This film was the part of a series of films based on the popular newspaper comic strip “The Toonerville Trolley” by Fontaine Fox. Fox was personally involved in the productions, designing and building the trolleys used on camera and writing many of the scenarios. His scripts make frequent reference to Prohibition and involve much humor derived from the ongoing battles between the “wets” and “drys” of fictional Toonerville.

The Skipper, (Dan Mason) who pilots the Toonerville Trolley, foils an attempt by Miss Cynthia Snoop and a detective to find evidence of his home brew. A subplot features the comically disastrous events in the Spriggins household when the Powerful Katrinka (Wilna Hervey) accidentally destroys the household plumbing while trying to catch a mouse.

Scenes were shot in and near Williams Corner, in Chester County, along the Phoenixville, Valley Forge and Strafford trolley line that ran from downtown Phoenxville to Valley Forge Park.

Produced by the Betzwood Film Company and directed by Ira M. Lowry. Featuring Wilna Hervey, Dan Mason, Helen Gerould Rose, Robert Maximillian, Betty Bovee and Fred O’Beck.

Toonerville Follies (1921)

The good folks of Toonerville decide to put on a talent show to benefit the church and, as might be expected, it is a night filled with surprises. The new parson turns out to be the biggest surprise of all, until the Skipper shows up–with a gun. The film contains the silent cinema’s only talking parrot who has unfortunately learned everything he knows from the Terrible Tempered Mr. Bangs.

The talent show features instrumental and vocal music, recitations, and dramatic vignettes. It also features some very heavy talent in the form of Aunt Eppie Hogg, “the fattest woman in two counties!” and the only woman in Toonerville whose avoirdupois outranks that of the Powerful Katrinka. Her balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet nearly brings down the house. It certainly brings down the balcony.

Betzwood Film Company, 1921. Directed by Ira Lowry. Starring Dan Mason, Wilna Hervey, Bob Maximillian, Betty Bovee, and Emma Wilcox.

The Skipper's Flirtation (1921)

Although this film literally had to be reassembled from reels containing pieces in random order, it turned out to be completely intact. One of the best surviving Fontaine Fox scenarios, the plot follows the folks in Toonerville through the chaos wrought by the fact that Aunt Eppie Hogg (she of the multi-ton avoirdupois) gets a cinder in her eye while riding behind the trolley on her special platform. Aunt Eppie’s sight is cleared up right away, but no one else in Toonerville can see  straight for a week.

In addition to scenes taken near Williams Corner outside Phoenixville, much of the film was shot in old Port Kennedy and among the now-vanished buildings seen is the old Evergreen School which was destroyed by a tornado three years after this film was made. You can also catch glimpse of the second Port Kennedy School which is now an office building.

Betzwood Film Company, 1920. Directed by Ira M. Lowry. Starring Dan Mason, Wilna Hervey, Emma Wilcox, and Helen Gerould Rose.