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From the Fireman's Fund Record, August 1926.

Fireman's Fund Furnishes Insurance
American campaign against Tripolitan pirates in 1804 recalled by elaborate moving picture just completed.

To see the replica of the towering Fort of Tripoli, frowning through its gun barrels over the blue bay of Catalina Island brings to mind a massive painting done in colors with a giant's brush. For in the sea vista stretching below its rockbound wall, and within easy eye-view of its battlements, ramparts and turrets, are lazy gunboats, moored as though on glass, stripe-winged sloops, lateen-sailed corsairs, and great canvas-rigged frigates, including mighty "Old Ironsides."

Again the modern magic of the movies is responsible, for "Old Ironsides," James Cruze's tremendous historical spectacle woven around the heroic exploits of the frigate "Constitution" in its war on the pirates of Tripoli, is being filmed at that location by the Famous Players-Lasky Corporation.

As scene after scene is reeled off depicting the fame of the American Navy of 1804 when it sailed under the slogan "Millions for defense but not one cent for tribute," few will realize that the "Old Ironsides," the "Intrepid," the "Philadelphia" and eleven other of the larger vessels were insured, the major portion of the insurance on each vessel being carried by the Fireman's Fund.

Two famous sailing vessels appear among the thirty-eight craft used in the production, the "Llewellyn J. Morse" which will not be recognized as the "Constitution" and the "S. N. Castle" once famous far and wide over the broad Pacific and doomed to end her days as a Tripolitan pirate craft. The "S. N. Castle" and the "W. G. Irwin" were intentionally blown up during the battle scenes and this interesting clause appeared in the policy of insurance:

"It is understood and agreed that the vessels 'S. N. Castle' and 'W. G. Irwin' are to be intentionally blown up, but this insurance shall cease to cover from moment preparations for destruction are commenced."

One of the most difficult and detailed construction jobs ever undertaken in motion pictures was involved in rebuilding the frigate "Constitution." Beginning with the hull of the "Llewellyn J. Morse," four hundred carpenters, riggers, sail makers and technical experts of every sort began the rebuilding, using the original plans of the frigate which were loaned from the files of the Navy Department in Washington. The plans were originally drawn by Joshua Humphrey, the famous Philadelphia shipbuilder.

Every detail was carried out in the reconstruction. New masts were installed, of the exact height as the masts of the "Constitution," the mainmast being 202 feet high, making this movie craft the loftiest sailing vessel on the Pacific Ocean.

The vessel carries 50 cannon - old fashioned muzzle-loaders. Of them 44 are 24 and 32-pounders, and the remainder 12 pounders.


When Cruze was assigned to direct the picture by Paramount he sailed to Tripoli to get maps, drawings, photographs and paintings to be used for a faithful reproduction of the original locations. The photographs and plans of the Fort of Tripoli were turned over to Edward J. Smith, art director at Famous Players-Lasky West Coast Studio. Infinite detail went into the architectural plans and specifications. The dimensions of the fort are as follows: Seven hundred and fifty feet at the base in a straight line, or 1500 feet in a serried line following the shore contour, with a seawall 3000 feet long. The height in a straight line from base to top is 225 feet, or 375 feet on the diagonal.

The fort is a thing of menace and beauty, painted a sand gray. It mounts a dozen long-barreled cannon, has concealed platforms for cameras, and a striking feature is the dome of a mosque almost in the center, marking the top of the prayer hall where the Tripolitan warriors prayed to Allah for victory before going into battle.


The first day of the battle was witnessed by naval observers from the dreadnoughts at San Pedro. The scene depicted the arrival of "Old Ironsides" off the harbor of Tripoli, her engagement with the "Intrepid," a British frigate captured by the pirates and converted to their own use, and with the Tripolitan forts. Numerous smaller sloops also engaged in combat.

Three hundred old-fashioned cannon were used in the battle, and nearly 1500 shots were fired. One cannon exploded during the battle, killing five men. The scene was filmed in a spectacular way, the cameras catching it at all angles from 100 feet above the water where the first camera was placed, to a point ranging 500 feet on a crag on the opposite mountainside above the harbor, giving an impressive panorama long-shot. Twelve motion picture cameras were used in all, and all were at different heights and distances.

One spectacular engagement was between the two crews manning the fighting tops of "Old Ironsides" and the "Intrepid." Another scene was taken of a hand-to-hand clash between the crews of two smaller boats. Scenes showing the destruction of the "Intrepid" and of the running on the reefs and blowing up of the "Philadelphia," both spectacular passages in American naval history, were also taken.

The big battle scenes of the photoplay employed upwards of two thousand extra players and were directed entirely by radio, a feat never before attempted in the history of motion pictures. Realizing that for many of the scenes the motion picture cameras would be stationed several miles from the vessels taking part in the encounter, an especially constructed low-wave radio broadcasting set was built. The station was licensed under the laws of the State of California and was given the code letters "K.F.P."

The production is under the supervision of B. P. Schulberg, Associate Paramount Producer, and the cast includes Esther Ralston, Wallace Beery, George Bancroft, Charles Farrell and Johnnie Walker who takes the part of the immortal Stephen Decatur.

[Fireman's Fund Archives: 4-1-3-4-37; 0407.]


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