Writer and Producer.
Charles Gardner Sullivan in Stillwater, Minnesota, 18 September 1886.
Attended the University of Minnesota, St. Paul.
Married; four children.
1907—journalist, St. Paul
, and for papers in other cities during the next few years;
1912—first film based on a screenstory,
Her Polished Family
; 1914—hired by Thomas Ince: wrote films for William S. Hart;
1915–17—head of the scenario department of the recently
merged New York Motion Picture Company and Triangle;
1917–19—under contract with Paramount; freelance writer, but
associated with Cecil B. DeMille after 1926, and worked as script
supervisor for Universal, 1930–31, and for MGM, 1931–33;
5 September 1965.
Her Polished Family ; The Altar of Death (West); The Army Surgeon (F. Ford); The Invaders (F. Ford and T. Ince)
A Shadow of the Past (T. Ince); Days of '49 (T. Ince); The Witch of Salem (West)
The Battle of Gettysburg (T. Ince); One of the Discard (+ co-d); The Bargain (Barker); The Passing of Two-Gun Hicks (Hart)
The Italian (Barker); Satan McAllister's Heir ; The Last of the Line (T. Ince); The Roughneck (Hart and Smith); The Ruse (Hart and Smith); Pinto Ben (Hart); On the Night Stage (Barker); The Cup of Life (West); The Painted Soul (Sidney); The Iron Strain (Barker); The Coward (Barker); Matrimony (Sidney); The Winged Idol (Edwards ?); The Golden Claw (Barker); The Edge of the Abyss (West ?)
The Beckoning Flame (Edwards ?); The Conqueror (Barker); The Green Swamp (Sidney); Honor's Altar (West ?); Peggy (Giblyn); Hell's Hinges (Hart and Swickard); The Moral Fabric (West ?); The Stepping Stone (Barker); The Aryan (Hart and Smith); Civilization's Child (Giblyn); The No-Good Guy (Edwards); The Beggar of Cawnpore (Swickard); Not My Sister (Giblyn); The Market of Vain Desire (Barker); The Bugle Call (Barker); Civilization (T. Ince and others); The Eye of the Night (Edwards); The Payment (West); Shell '43 (Barker); Home (Miller ?); The Thoroughbred (Bartlett); The Wolf Woman (Willat or Edwards); A Corner in Colleens (Miller); The Dawn Maker (Hart); Plain Jane (Miller); The Return of "Draw" Egan (Hart); The Criminal (Barker)
The Iced Bullet (Barker); The Pinchhitter (Schertzinger—reedited version, 1925); Happiness (Barker)
Those Who Pay (Wells); Love Me (Neill); Naughty, Naughty! (Storm); Selfish Yates (Hart); Shark Monroe (Hart); The Vamp (Storm); The Border Wireless (Hart); Branding Broadway (Hart)
Happy though Married (Niblo); The Poppy Girl's Husband (Hart and Hillyer); The Haunted Bedroom (Niblo); Other Men's Wives (Schertzinger); The Virtuous Thief (Niblo); Wagon Tracks (Hillyer); Stepping Out (Niblo); The Market of Souls (De Grasse); John Petticoats (Hillyer); Sahara (Rosson); Dangerous Hours (Niblo)
Sex (Niblo); The False Road (Niblo); Hairpins (Niblo); Love Madness (Henabery)
Mother o' Mine (Niblo); Greater than Love (Niblo); Good Women (Gasnier); Hail the Woman (Wray)
White Hands (Hillyer)
Human Wreckage (Wray); Soul of the Beast (Wray); Dulcy (S. Franklin); Strangers of the Night (Niblo); The Dangerous Maid (Heerman); Long Live the King (Schertzinger)
The Goldfish (Storm); The Marriage Cheat (Wray); Wandering Husbands (Beaudine); Dynamite Smith (R. Ince); The House of Wrath (R. Ince); The Only Woman (Olcott); Cheap Kisses (R. Ince and Tate); Idle Tongues (Hillyer); The Mirage (Archainbaud)
The Monster (West); Playing with Souls (R. Ince); Wild Justice (C. Franklin); If Marriage Fails (J. Ince); Tumbleweeds (Baggot)
Three Faces East (Julian); Bachelor Brides (Howard); Sparrows (Beaudine)
The Bugle Call (Sedgwick)
Sadie Thompson (Walsh) (+ pr); Tempest (Taylor); The Woman Disputed (H. King and Taylor)
Alibi (West); The Locked Door (Fitzmaurice)
The Cuban Love Song (Van Dyke)
Huddle (Wood); Strange Interlude ( Strange Interval ) (Leonard); Skyscraper Souls (Selwyn)
Men Must Fight (Selwyn)
Father Brown, Detective (Sedgwick)
Car 99 (Barton)
Three Live Ghosts (Humberstone)
The Buccaneer (DeMille)
Union Pacific (DeMille)
Northwest Mounted Police (DeMille)
Jackass Mail (McLeod)
Corporal Kate (Sloane); Her Man o' War (Urson); Gigolo (Howard); The Clinging Vine (Sloane)
The Fighting Eagle (Crisp); White Gold (Howard); Turkish Delight (Sloane); Vanity (Crisp); Yankee Clipper (Julian)
New York Telegraph , 1 October 1916.
Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), January 1966.
Koszarski, Diane, in American Screenwriters , edited by Robert E. Morsberger, Stephen O. Lesser, and Randall Clark, Detroit, 1984.
* * *
Though the claim is probably fraudulent, it is both interesting and revealing that D. W. Griffith boasted he needed no scenario to film his three-hour epic The Birth of a Nation , relying instead upon handwritten notes, often penned the night before, that he kept in his pocket while the production unfolded. During the silent period, the scenario, such as it was, was often composed by the director prior to shooting; in fact, a clear division between the two roles was never made even during the later studio period as directors often collaborated, sometimes substantially with the writers on a production. If films were to be identified as having a creative source, an artist responsible for their final form, that responsibility was awarded to the director. The influential French politique des auteurs , often translated as the "auteur theory," suggests, in fact, more or less following industry practice and custom, that the film's "author" is its director, thereby eliding the obvious contributions of whoever composed the scenario. Though the American cinema has hardly recognized the contribution of screenwriters, creating a plan for the film (even before sound cinema required the devising of substantial dialogue) has been of crucial importance since the invention of feature-length narrative around 1903. The career of C. Gardner Sullivan, often termed the "dean of American screenwriters," usefully exemplifies that importance.
Like many who would enter this emerging profession, Sullivan developed his writing skills as a journalist, a line of work that at the time required considerable narrative talent as "stories" were an important element of journalistic fare. Writing for the Evening Journal in New York, Sullivan tried his hand at composing some sketches for vaudeville and soon afterward attempted to interest area film producers in scenarios. His first sale was to Edison: Her Polished Family , a lighthearted satire on the foibles of recent college graduates. After this success, he continued as a freelancer, selling a number of short treatments—for one-reelers—to Lubin and Edison; many of these were based on the adventure melodramas then popular and with which D. W. Griffith was making a substantial reputation. In 1913 Sullivan sold the first of several "Indian-military thrillers" to Thomas W. Ince's New York Motion Picture company. Soon Ince had made Sullivan the offer of a regular job: he was to join the California production end of the same company, the western location where Ince and others filmed this kind of story. This was an important event within the New York-based industry. Sullivan had acquired quite a reputation, and his hiring by Ince was something that the filmmaker boasted about in the trade papers. If the public were unaware of the importance of screenwriters, those within the business were not. Reluctant to leave New York, Sullivan was persuaded by a handsome financial offer, one that attests to the importance that producers such as Ince, who were committed to the quick production of quality story films, placed on having a scenario writer who could produce shootable scripts under deadline pressure.
Ince taught Sullivan that the scripts he wanted should include not only a clear story line, but should offer short "biographies" of the characters, notes on location and set design, even suggestions for the shooting process (camera angles, framing, art design, etc.). If the scripts Sullivan produced for Ince do not follow the modern model precisely in offering numbered sequences of shots with full instructions for framing, they represented a significant advance in the scenario writer's responsibilities; Sullivan was now called upon to provide a coherent plan or recipe for each production, not just an outline of the story that would inspire the director to devise framings, locations, and narrative coherence. Sullivan drew upon his journalistic experience in writing human interest stories to devise under deadline pressure what were for the time elaborate scenarios for Ince's productions.
The change to full-feature production after 1915 did not severely test Sullivan's talents. He continued to turn out well-done scripts that Ince transformed into successful films. These were in a number of different genres, including big-budget melodrama— Civilization's Child —Westerns for Ince star William S. Hart— Hell's Hinges , The Passing of Two-Gun Hicks —and social problem melodramas— The Moral Fabric , The Market of Vain Desire . Sullivan had perhaps the most personal interest in this last film type. An adherent of Social Darwinism like many Progressive-era intellectuals, he had a deep, abiding concern for what he saw as social ills capable of remediation through Christian loving-kindness and benevolent government regulation; his scripts often touched on prostitution, drug addiction, adultery, and marital breakup, issues that the very straitlaced screenwriter, who was strongly religious, approached always from a moralistic and not an exploitative angle. As Ince developed a stock company of talented performers such as Hart, Charles Ray, H. B. Warner, Louise Glaum, and Dorothy Dalton, as well as a stable of skilled directors with their own peculiar talents such as Raymond West and Reginald Barker, Sullivan learned to write for his fellow Ince employees, producing what we would now term "vehicles."
After Ince's merger with Triangle, Sullivan was entrusted with a further responsibility, overseeing the scenario department, which then was responsible for both features and the numerous short subjects that filled out the weekly programs. Soon administrative duties were so onerous that Sullivan found himself writing little. In 1917, Ince left Triangle for Adolph Zukor's Paramount; Sullivan moved with him, but Ince's next shift within a rapidly altering business—to Associated Producers—did not appeal to Sullivan, and he became a freelancer once again. In the twenties, he was able to expand to Broadway plays, mostly working as an adaptor, and successfully adapted himself to the new tastes of a different era. The screenwriter who had written such religiously fervent melodramas of social reform came to produce the scenarios for titillating sex comedies such as Wandering Husbands and Cheap Kisses , which he even produced himself. Disdaining an association with the studios who now cornered the market on filmmaking, Sullivan spent most of the twenties in association with the last of the major independents, Cecil B. DeMille, for whom he concocted a number of exotic/adventure scenarios—such as Yankee Clipper and Turkish Delight as well as sexy melodramas, notably Gigolo . Reinventing himself once again, in a sound era that required extensive dialogue but rather static setups, he worked on one of the most prestigious "modern literature" projects of that era, an adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's Strange Interlude .
Like most of the technicians of the silent and early studio eras, Sullivan was only able intermittently to impose his own personality and interests on the work he did for a bewildering variety of projects. Writer of nearly 400 scenarios in about three decades, Sullivan was primarily notable for his flexibility and bottomless inspiration, the virtues of a top journalist that he made the basis for a successful career in a new medium.
—R. Barton Palmer