The Negro film capital of the U. S. this week is not in Manhattan's swart Harlem, but The Bronx. There, in an old Biograph studio, Micheaux Picture Corp. has got around to producing the latest of some 40 Negro pictures it has made in 20 years. They are scripted, directed, edited and peddled by thickset, mild-mannered, chocolate-colored Producer Oscar Micheaux. Micheaux pictures take an average ten days to shoot, cost from $10,000 to $20,000. Casts are always allstar. "If I made one person the star," says foxy Producer Micheaux, "there would be no holding that person with a halter. I make them all stars." Though Oscar Micheaux has never made a picture in Hollywood, he has patiently built up a limited market for his Negro films. About 400 of the 16,000 U. S. movie houses are Negro theatres and Producer Micheaux peddles his wares among them.
Last week somewhat somnolent business was jarred by the beat of a tom-tom. Publicity-wise, plane-cracking, bemonocled Negro Aviator Colonel Hubert Fauntleroy Julian announced that he had joined Micheaux Picture Corp. as associate producer. Occasion was the world premiere of The Notorious Elinor Lee, first of a series of pictures which Julian says he will make with Micheaux Pictures.
"My life work in aviation is done," said Producer Julian, who did not last long as air marshal of Ethiopia (TIME, Dec. 1, 1930). "I am going to devote my life now to improving the place of the Negro in motion pictures. ..."
Producer Julian outlined an ambitious schedule of four pictures a year. First picture was The Notorious Elinor Lee, which tells the story of a double-crossing colored gun moll who gets properly shot. Lyin' Lips, the second picture, is also completed. "It is about a beautiful girl who is led astray because she wants beautiful things. . . . You see," said Producer Julian, "I am trying to build up the morals of my race. . . ."
Third Micheaux-Julian production will be an aviation picture in which Julian may act as aviator. "It will tell the story of my career, my crack-up when I tried to fly to Europe, my parachute jumping over the city, and my triumph in getting the Army to have Negro aviators."
Hitherto Micheaux films have featured all-Negro casts. Producer Julian has other ideas: "Now, in our new picture, there are 18 whites. . . . When we need whites in the story, we are going to have whites."
The world premiere of The Notorious Elinor Lee gave Harlem its first taste of a Hollywood first night with gold-engraved invitations, floodlights, a carpeted sidewalk, a microphone, press, police, gaping throngs and Colonel Julian as master of ceremonies in full dress, top hat, white silk gloves and a flowing Inverness cape.
Asked after the première if The Notorious Elinor Lee was going to show some more, Producer Julian bridled. "Some more?" he snapped. "It's been showing all day since 11 o'clock this morning. This 9 o'clock show is the only one that was the world premiere."