Howard Missimer was born on November 17, 1867 and died November 19, 1917, just five years after this interview was published. He is buried in Arlington Cemetery, Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania.
Motion Picture Studio Directory and Trade Annual describes Howard Missimer as being 5′ 10″ and weighing 140 pounds, having gray hair and blue eyes.
Howard Missimer was a comedy actor. In this interview, he is portrayed as a real weirdo, a strange old man, and eccentric, too. You’ll see how. I can only imagine how quirky his photoplays were, if they are portraying him in this way. They really wanted the public to believe he was zany!
Something that may be interesting to readers:
In the July 25, 1913 edition of The Herald News, a newspaper that came out of Newberry South Carolina stated that Missimer had a near-fatal mishap. On the set of an Essanay film named Fear, a planned explosion went haywire, which caused a beam to crack and fall, hitting him on the shoulder and knocking him unconscious. It was a full 25 minutes before he came to, and the doctor proclaimed Missimer’s shoulder blade broken.
I know that in the early days film was based on the east coast, but I always find I have a warm feeling when towns that I grew up around are mentioned. Here, Missimer mentions that he played on the regular stage in Red Bank, NJ —- which is about 30 minutes north from where I used to live!
At the point that this interview was taken, Howard Missimer was a popular comedic actor, and was 45 years old. Come experience this adventure from January 1912 with me!
Chats with the Players
HOWARD MISSIMER, OF THE ESSANAY CO.
When I was assigned to an interview with Howard Missimer, of the Essanay Company, I was delighted. “If he’s half as funny off the stage as on it, I’ll have a good time,” I thought.
I did not know just where he lived, but I knew the locality, so I rang a doorbell at random. An exceedingly thin female with a sharp, sour face opened the door and fixed a suspicious eye upon me, when I asked if Mr. Howard Missimer lived there.
“No,” she snapped. “Have you any idea where he does live?” I inquired, meekly.
“No, and I know everybody in this neighborhood, except a man on the second floor next door. Maybe that’s him.”
I caught eagerly at this suggestion, and asked whether she knew the man’s business.
“I dont exactly know,” she said, “but the neighbors all think he is a gambler, and I presume they are right. He’s all the time prowling in and out at unearthly hours. Good-by.”
The inhospitable door slammed shut, and I looked up dubiously at the “second floor next door.” I decided to try it. Perhaps the neighbors were mistaken. Neighbors often are mistaken. So I climbed the stairs and rapped vigorously upon the door.
“Come in,” shouted a cheerful voice.
I opened the door and stepped into the coldest atmosphere it has ever been my fate to encounter, indoors. Icy blasts from the wide open windows were howling thru that room just like I’ve heard the North wind howl down the chimneys of my grandfather’s house in Vermont. An icy film formed on my glasses, and I was obliged to remove them before I could see anything. Then I saw that in the middle of the floor was a great white bearskin rug. The bear’s head looked vicious, but the man who was seated cross-legged on the rug didn’t look vicious at all. He was eating a long tallow candle, with evident relish, and he seemed to be enjoy himself immensely.
“Is this Mr. Missimer?” I asked— my teeth were chattering so I could hardly speak.
“Sure; who are you?” he queried.
“I’m from The Motion Picture Story Magazine,” I replied.
“Oh, I’m glad to see you. Your magazine’s a comer. Come, sit down and have a candle. I’m just breakfasting.”
“Thank you, I’ve just had breakfast,” I stammered, trying hard to conceal my amazement, but it must have shown in my face, for Mr. Missimer chuckled.
“You’re just like all the rest of ’em,” he declared, “you dont like my candles, and you’re cold. Well, shut the windows, then, and we’ll smoke instead.”
I obeyed, gladly, and seated myself close to the radiator, surreptitiously turning on the steam, a little at a time, while we talked and puffed our cigars.
“You see, it’s in my blood,” he explained; “the candles and the liking for the cold, I mean. My father was an Esquimau, my mother a Scandinavian.”
“Then you were born up in the Arctic regions, I suppose.”
“Oh, no, in Millersburg, Pennsylvania. My parents came over for the Philadelphia Centennial. They were both on the Midway. They met, fell in love, married and settled down in Pennsylvania to live happy ever after.”
“And are you married?” I asked, prepared to hear that his wife was an Egyptian priestess, or a Zulu queen. But he thought, then answered, slowly, “I think I am.”
Delicacy forbade further questions on this point. Perhaps a separation was pending; this would account for the uncertainty.
“Do you like your work?” I asked, to change the painful subject.
“Yes, yes; I love to rehearse, and I adore seeing my own pictures on the screen.”
“When do you think your best work is done?”
“After dark!” was the prompt reply, and my mind reverted, uneasily, to the suspicions of the neighbors.
“I have been interested in theatricals from childhood,” Mr. Missimer continued, “When I was very young I played a Turk in a Jubilee, and many times I was in the anvil chorus. Then, when I was older, I was on the real stage, in Red Bank, N.J.”
“For how long?” I inquired.
“From 7:30 to 10:45 P.M.,” he replied, rather sadly. “However,” he added, brightening up again, “that’s a place my ancestry helped out. My hardy constitution was all that enabled me to stand the frost!”
“How much time do you spend posing for pictures?” was my next question.
“Very little,” he sighed, “most of the time is sent waiting for props.”
“Are you fond of reading?”
“Very, when the ball season is on. Other times the papers are full of politics, and I dont care for them. But I always read the War Cry.
“Have you no favorite party, then?”
“Favorite party? Oh, yes. Mixed ale and four aces.”
I was beginning to feel dizzy, but I kept on with my questions, mentally vowing to importune the managing editor for extra space for this remarkable interview.
“Do you do much walking or swimming?”
“No, I always go about, everywhere, on roller skates. It’s so much more graceful.”
“Have you performed any very difficult tasks, or heroic feats?”
“A great many,” he answered, modestly. “For instance, when I was playing as a strong man, I held up a train, and once I was thrown thru a skylight and landed in a bathtub full of water.”
“Do you attend the regular theater much?”
“Whenever the managers will extend the courtesies.”
“What really interests you the most of anything?”
“Pay-day!” he declared, emphatically, and with that my questions ceased.
I was convinced that when I turned in my story the Chief would accuse me of fabrication. And I was not mistaken. I was obliged to make solemn affidavit that I was reporting the interview truthfully. If any reader doubts these statements, let him ask Mr. Missimer. He will testify that I have quoted him accurately.