Share in our discoveries across three projects as we work to provide the first intellectual access to our hidden treasures relating to work and labor in early 20th Century New England, the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair and its period, and Boston local TV news.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Bemis and Shurcliff, excerpts

The Alan Bemis Collection contains 47 reels of 16 mm. film shot by Alan Bemis and Sidney Shurcliff between 1927 and 1948....
The collection contains a group of Motormauler films, conceived and shot by Sidney Shurcliff.

Alan Cogswell Bemis (1906-1991) was a professor of physics at MIT, and was director of MIT's Weather Radar Research Project. He worked on guided missile technology during World War II and retired from MIT in 1972. The Bemis family spent part of every year in Maine, building their summer home "High Head" on Naskeag Point in Brooklin in 1937. For further biographical information about Alan C. Bemis, see the donor file, which includes his "Random Recollections" which were dictated in 1988 and 1989. The Collection File also includes a biography created for his Harvard class reunions, a list of owned cars, and recollections of family fun. A copy of The Saga of the Motormaulers, by Bemis and Sid Shurcliff written in 1980 which describes the making of the Motormaulers film series, is also included in the collection.

Sidney N. Shurcliff, who photographed and edited the Motormauler films in this collection, was a classmate of Alan Bemis's at Harvard. His father, Arthur, and Frederick Law Olmsted, founded the Harvard School of Landscape Design, the first professional program of its kind in the world. Arthur Shurcliff was the landscape designer for the gardens of Colonial Williamsburg. Sidney N. Shurcliff received his education as a landscape designer at Harvard, and joined his father in practice in the 1930s, expanding the office to become Shurcliff, Merrill & Footit. He is notable for being instrumental in the revival of interest in Olmsted's work. Papers of Arthur A. Shurcliff and Sidney N. Shurcliff can be found at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, Frances Loeb Library Special Collections. Sidney Shurcliff was a frequent guest of Bemis's in Maine, and also edited many of the sailing/cruising films in this collection. The papers include information about Sidney Shurcliff's interests in movie-making, sports and automobile racing.

The Motormaulers Club

The general plan was that the Club would meet once a year. Each member was to show up with a $10.00 automobile which he would contribute to the outing. Sid Shurcliff would dream up a movie scenario involving a chase of some kind.
We would prepare the cars by removing all the glass (if indeed they had any). For sending cars off banks and for head-on collision we would rig a throttle control that could be yanked wide open as the driver bailed out at the last moment. Marshall was a maestro at high-speed bail-outs, but we all took our turn. The bail-outs were made on grass to minimize bruises.
The whole operation, as well as being a pole of fun, took much planning, and two weekends for each one. On the first weekend we did little motormauling, but took all the character and plot-development shots. Then, on the second weekend we got going on the fender-benders and big final crashes. As anyone knows who has done any movie editing it is a tremendous and demanding job. Sid did it all. What a great result!
The Saga of the Motormaulers, written by Alan Bemis and Sidney Shurcliff in 1980, which can be found in the Collection File.
Excerpted from the finding aid, researched and written by Karen Wyatt and Katrina Dixon.


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