A MAN OF MANY FACETS Reporter and producer/director just a few of Maurice Campbell’s many endeavors
POTTSTOWN — It was bitterly cold in the Schuylkill Valley during the first weekend of February 1910. With area thermometers reading zero, the frigid air froze water pipes throughout Pottstown, shut down several factories, and even, according to The Pottstown Ledger, “considerably interfered” with “church attendance.”
However, it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of several hundred area residents who crowded into Pottstown’s Opera House, Saturday night, Feb. 5, to see a play, “Where There’s a Will.”
There were some powerful incentives that induced people to brave the fierce cold that evening. “Where There’s a Will” was a production of a quality almost never seen in Pottstown or any other small-town opera house of that time. It was a real Broadway comedy performed by a New York City company of actors that would make its New York debut two days later at the Weber Theater at 29th and Broadway.
It also had strong local appeal as it was written by Maurice S. Campbell, a former Pottstown resident. One of the play’s characters was a “Mr. Potts from Pottstown.”
Maurice S. Campbell, the man responsible for bringing this production to Pottstown, was born Oct. 7, 1869, in Philadelphia, the fifth child of Samuel S. Campbell and his wife, Mary A. (Bachman) Campbell.
In the early 1880s, shortly after Maurice’s mother died, the Campbell family moved to Pottstown. Maurice’s residency in the borough was apparently brief; he earned a degree in veterinary medicine from New York University in 1889.
By the early 1890s, Campbell had set out on a life that would have as many facets as the Hope Diamond. His veterinary practice — if he ever had one — was quickly shelved in favor of journalism. He got a job as a reporter for The New York Herald, covered the Spanish-American War in 1899, and then became the newspaper’s assistant city editor.
Campbell’s writing skills eventually led to his becoming a press agent and from there he launched a career in the creative side of show business, working as a writer, producer and director.
In 1896, Campbell married actress Henrietta F. Crosman. Born in Wheeling W.Va., in 1861, Crosman made her acting debut at the age of 16. By the time she and Campbell crossed paths, she was well known for her versatility in playing anything from vaudeville comedy to Shakespeare.
Crosman went on to star in silent movies and, undeterred by advancing age, successfully transitioned into talking pictures. In 1933, at the age of 72, she won national acclaim for her starring role in “Pilgrimage,” directed by John Ford.
The Campbells had one child, Maurice Campbell Jr., born in New York City on July 14, 1897.
Until 1917, Campbell continued his work as a producer and director of plays. When America entered World War I in 1917, so did he, serving as a captain and then major in the 4th Division in France. Beyond the number, there is no elaboration on the provenance of Campbell’s unit. U.S. forces still used horses during the war so there is reason to believe that Campbell served as veterinary surgeon.
Following his discharge from the Army in 1919, Campbell began directing silent movies. The 1920 Federal Census shows him living by himself in an apartment in Los Angeles, and he listed his occupation as “director of motion pictures.” Specializing in “polite drawing room comedy,” he made 11 films for Paramount Studios from 1920 to 1925, eight of them with Bebe Daniels, a wellknown silent screen star of the era.
Interestingly, “Ducks and Drakes,” a film Campbell made in 1921, has survived. It is part of the AFI Dorothy Horton Collection of the Library of Congress, where it can be viewed by advance arrangement.
By 1925, Campbell’s movie career was over and, as the New York state census for that year shows, he was living in Pelham Manor, a tiny town about 60 miles north of the city he and his family would call home off and on for the rest of their lives.
The next year, Campbell’s life careened into a seemingly alien tangent as he went from directing motion pictures to directing part of the federal government’s enforcement efforts during Prohibition.
On Jan. 17, 1920, the 18th Amendment banning the “manufacture, sale or transportation of intoxicating liquors” in the United States went into effect and America became a dry country. Since most Americans preferred to remain “wet,” the imposition of the constitutional directive created the need for a new bureaucracy to enforce it.
Maurice Campbell became one of the enforcers in 1926, beginning as Supervisor for the Great Lakes and North Atlantic Zones. About a year later, July 21, 1927, he was named temporary administrator for Prohibition District 2 of the State of New
York, which included all of metropolitan New York City, the most avidly “wet” territory in the entire nation.
Campbell who, despite his many years in show business, was a confirmed teetotaler, took to his job with such zeal that in less than a year his status as temporary was upgraded to permanent.
According to The New York Times, James M. Doran, the national Prohibition commission chief, noted that Campbell “in a very difficult position” had “placed his office on an efficient business-like basis… and has given a very satisfactory administration to date.”
It became apparent over time that Campbell was doing his job with more ardor than New Yorkers wanted. Campbell went after suppliers, but he also raided posh night spots — such as the Manger Hotel, a favorite watering hole of New York Mayor Jimmy Walker — and on occasion arrested some of the “prominent citizens who patronized them.”
Time magazine noted that Campbell’s raids were “often in the headlines,” and that his most spectacular foray came at the expense of Helen Morgan, a then-famous singer, when he had his agents chop up $50,000 worth of her club’s furniture.
In July 1928, while the Democratic National Convention was nominating the freely imbibing New Yorker Al Smith as its candidate for president, Campbell conducted a series of nightclub raids. According to Time, “Democrats protested that this was the rankest sort of Prohibition politics.”
National GOP party leaders were afraid these moves would generate a backlash that would cost the party votes. “The trouble is you’ve got it too dry in New York,” moaned one party leader. “The people up there on these hot days have got their tongues hanging out of their parched throats, and a little beer won’t hurt them.”
In July 1930, Campbell was reassigned to upstate New York and, rather than comply, resigned his position, claiming the Justice Department refused to support him.
As a civilian, Campbell went to war with his former employers. He published in The New York Herald a series of articles that were later syndicated and published by other newspapers. These articles made Campbell, in the words of historian Daniel Okrent, the “first high-ranking Prohibition official to make a public airing of the corruption, hypocrisy, and political sleaze permeating the federal enforcement program.”
Campbell, still a teetotaler, joined the rapidly growing group of Americans pushing for the end of the 18th Amendment. Prohibition, he wrote, is “not the logical solution for temperance in our form of government.” It had led to so much corruption and crime, he wrote, that it must be repealed “before the nation is consumed in the fires of its consequences.”
Like many notable
re- peal supporters, Campbell went on the stump, presenting his arguments. On Oct. 6, 1930, while on his way to speak in Harrisburg, he stopped in Pottstown to visit his brother, Harry. Of course his appearance merited a visit from a Pottstown News reporter.
Campbell patiently explained to the staff writer that although he supported repeal he personally was “not wet.” But eventually he tired of the questions and when the reporter asked him what he thought of the “Pennsylvania political situation” he replied, probably with a tinge of exasperation, “I am not a voter in this state.”
With his stint as an enforcer ended, Campbell went back to managing his wife’s acting career. When she made the transition from stage to screen, they moved to Beverly Hills, Calif.
When Crosman retired in 1936, the couple returned to Pelham Manor where their son, Maurice Jr., lived. Two years later, Campbell’s health failed and he died in a veterans’ hospital in the Bronx on Oct. 16, 1942.
His wife died at her son’s home in Pelham Manor two years later, Oct. 31, 1944.
Artwork from the movie Ducks and Drakes that was directed by Pottstown’s Maurice Campbell.
Mable Frenyear was one of the stars of “Where There’s a Will” which debuted at the Pottstown Opera House on Feb. 5, 1910 The Ledger reported that the ladies dresses cost more that $3,000.
Maurice Campbell Pottstown. of
Actress Henrietta Crosman was married to Maurice Campbell.