In 1914, the Thanhouser Film Corporation undertook quite a project: a 23-chapter serial named The Million Dollar Mystery. Each two-reel chapter focused on the attempts of a secret organization, "The Black Hundred", to recover one million dollars from the clutches of evildoers.
Now, serials weren't new -- the first one, What Happened To Mary? starring Mary Fuller, had been done by Edison two years before -- but this was to be a whole new animal: it starred three of Thanhouser's biggest names, an action-filled and suspenseful plot, and planned to let the audience decide the ending.
The beautiful Florence La Badie played the lead, "Florence Hargreaves".
"Countess Olga Petroff" was the lead antagonist, played by the lovely Marguerite Snow.
Every good mystery needs an intrepid reporter, and James Cruze provides us with "Jim Norton".
TMDM was a tremendous hit, raking in $1.5 million dollars (remember, folks, this is 1914 money). Most of that was due to La Badie, who was at the time Thanhouser's most popular star. (She did all of her own stunts, too!) 22 chapters were filmed, all near the studio in New Rochelle NY, with the last chapter up to the masses: a contest was run awarding $10,000 for the best solution:
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Response was HUGE! Thousands of letters came in, and they were swamped with ideas.
Finally it was announced that a St Louis stenographer named Ida Damon won the prize (though there is speculation that she was a publicity gimmick, and that the final installment had been ready all along).
TMDM was so lucrative for Thanhouser that it began filming a SECOND serial, Zudora, before Mystery was even finished...but lightning didn't strike twice.
Sadly, all 23 chapters of The Million Dollar Mystery are presumed lost.
Next time we'll get to know Florence, Marguerite, and James -- private lives so complex that even Ida couldn't invent them.