Today’s blog is written by Mark F. Bernstein ’83, author of Football: the Ivy League Origins of an American Obsession (2001).
Princeton’s season opened on December 2nd with an 83-74 victory over Lafayette College. Crowds filled Dillon Gymnasium to watch the team, and as the end of December approached, Princeton was 6-2. Then at New York City’s Madison Square Garden (2:34), where the annual Holiday Festival tournament was played, Princeton opened with a victory over Syracuse. But the match-up everyone was anxious to watch pitted Princeton against the University of Michigan — then the number one ranked team in the country. Michigan’s star player was Cazzie Russell, a versatile 6’ 6” all court player.
The film featured here, shot around 1928, contains three distinct sections. The first contains images of the Princeton Polo Team playing on W. B. Devereux Jr. ’04 Field (0:00-5:52). The second section opens with a woman and a small boy after the polo tournament (5:53-5:58), followed by scenes of Prospect Avenue and the various eating clubs located on this street (5:59-6:45). The third section documents the annual inspection of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) Field Artillery Unit, performed by representatives of the United States War Department. The origins of the film, which does not appear on the list of films that were kept by the Graduate Council in 1931, are unclear.
Polo at Princeton
Although polo has been around for millennia, the first documented games on Princeton’s campus occurred in 1902, when Walter Bourchier Devereux Jr. ’04 and a few classmates organized a group of polo matches. The popularity of the sport grew quickly among the students, and by the spring of 1903, Princeton was the first college to officially adopt polo as a collegiate sport. Harvard and Yale soon followed suit. As rapidly as the sport emerged on campus, it soon diminished, due to a number of factors including the cost to secure and maintain horses and lack of interest from later classes.
It was not until 1919, with the creation of the ROTC Field Artillery Battalion, that polo would once again be played at Princeton under the leadership of Major J. E. McMahon, 1st Commandant of the Princeton Unit. He introduced the sport to the unit in order for its members to develop fundamental combat skills. Most of the polo players were members of the ROTC unit and were provided auxiliary horses and equipment by the Unites States War Department; those players, however, who were not members of the unit had to provide their own horses.
During the $53 Million Campaign (1959-1962) a 13 x 10 foot scale model of the Princeton campus toured 19 major cities and displayed at meetings of the regional leaders of the fund drive. To keep Princeton alumni further informed about progress and developments on campus, the Alumni Council sponsored two “Princeton Newsreels” in 1960 and 1961. The two 30-minute films are interesting to watch, not only because they feature new facilities, achievements in sports and science, and notable events (from Hurricane Donna in 1960 to the donation of $35 million for the Woodrow Wilson School in 1961), but because they also document the University’s first attempts to reach out to its donor base through the medium of film. Contrasting the two films, one cannot help but note that the second film is much smoother in its presentation than the first.
The first newsreel opens with an introduction by the 41 year-old president Robert F. Goheen ’40, and a freshmen lecture about the honor system by Walker Stevenson ’35, president of the National Alumni Association (1:30). The scale model of the campus, mentioned above, is featured at 6:41, when administrative vice-president Edgar M. Gemmell ’34 explains the expansions planned for the next three years. The footage following captures the Hibben and Magie faculty apartments under construction (6:41) as well as the five new dormitories of the New Quad (Class of 1937, Class of 1938, Class of 1939, Dodge-Osborn, and Gauss Halls), the first buildings to be finished since the start of the $53 Million Campaign (7:27).
During the Class of 1950’s 60th reunion weekend, Ed Lawrence ’50 donated a DVD to the University Archives that he had made for his former rowing crew teammates from old 8mm movie footage. He gave us permission to put it on Princeton’s YouTube channel, although he doubted that anybody other than his friends would be interested. Within two months, however, the film (initially posted with accompanying music) had been watched over 3000 times. It even almost ended up on CBS’ The Early Show. Why all this interest? Apparently the rowers looked very fashionable!
“Great chinos and sweaters in action at 2:28. Jackets and ties for a trip to Cornell at 4:28. White bucks and grey flannels at 5:51,” wrote a blogger about Ivy style dress. By the time it was picked up by another blog about “preppy” clothes we had reposted the film on YouTube without the music that Ed Lawrence had used to accompany the footage. Although it contained only fragments from an old Glenn Miller piano recording (which gave the film a bit of a slapstick feel), Sony had immediately claimed the copyright to the music, so the film had to return to what it originally had been: a silent movie. Later, when CBS contacted us about using the footage, we discovered why there was this sudden interest: the “preppy look” is back in fashion this fall! We directed them to ask Mr. Lawrence for permission, but unfortunately, he did not return from vacation in time, so CBS used less historic footage.
The oldest known silent movie of a Princeton football match is a four minute recording of a Yale-Princeton game, shot at Yale’s stadium in 1903. The film, which was produced by the company of Thomas A. Edison, inventor of the motion picture camera, is held at the Library of Congress and can be viewed online. Featured below is the oldest football film in the Princeton University Archives, which is also the oldest film in our entire audiovisual collection: a recording of the 1919 Princeton-Harvard match at Palmer Stadium. It is interesting to compare the annotated movie, shot from just one spot in the bleachers, with two newsreels of matches in 1941 and 1951, when the excitement of the game could be captured in movement as well as sound.
While Thomas Edison’s cameraman in 1903 tried to capture the excitement of the game with a variety of shots and angles, the unknown cameraman who shot this 1919 Princeton-Harvard match was anchored to one spot. His aim was just to film the highlights, resulting in this annotated 25 minute film of the game on November 8, 1919, which ended in a 10-10 tie. We do not have any information about the context of this film. The earliest references to the practice of filming Princeton football and other events date from the early 1920s. The Princeton University Archives holds some football films from 1928, but most films found in the Football Films collection date from the 1950s forward. (Additional newsreels of games from the 1950s will be posted at a later date.)
These films are part of the University Archives’ Historical Audiovisual Collection. The 1919 film is a 16mm film (item no. 0166) and the newsreels were found on a Betacam 30 video capture of the original newsreels (item no 1344).