Little Bits of History

Too Special Effects

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 15, 2014
Varick Frissell

Varick Frissell

March 15, 1931: The SS Viking explodes. The ship was built by Nylands Shipyards in Oslo, Norway and launched in 1882. Her first voyage was to explore the Arctic with Fridtjof Nansen in command. After this first trip, the wooden hulled whaling ship was used for many years to hunt saddleback seals off the coast of Greenland. In 1904 she was purchased by the Bowring Brothers and placed under the command of Captain William Bartlett and was still used for seal hunting. The Bowring Brothers chartered the ship to Varick Frissell who was planning to film a documentary of the annual seal hunt off the coast of Newfoundland.

While shooting the film in 1930, Captain Bob Bartlett was in command. The film finished production and was shown at Nickel Theatre in St. John’s and it was felt that more sensational footage was needed. In order to secure this post-production addition, the ship was taken back to the same location and some special effects were to be created. For this trip, Captain Abram Kean was in charge. On this day, about eight miles off Horse Islands, the ship exploded. The plan had been to blow up some giant icebergs so there was dynamite stored in the hold. Somehow, the dynamite went off and set the ship on fire. Twenty-seven of the 147 people aboard were killed. Some of the survivors managed to go over ice to Horse Islands while other were rescued by other ships sent out to pick them up. Frissell and his dog were lost to the sea.

Frissell was born in 1903 in Boston, Massachusetts. His family was both wealthy and politically influential. His father was the founder and president if the Fifth Avenue Bank of New York. There were governors and congressmen in his family tree as well as generals. Frissell studied at Yale and in 1921 heard a lecture by Dr. Wilfred Grenfell which piqued his interest in exploration in the frigid north. He went to Labrador to explore and volunteered with the International Grenfell Association, driving a dog-team and working on a hospital boat.

Frissell and Hamilton River, another Yale student, began filming nature documentaries. Frissell also wrote a book about finding the source of a river spoken of in Indian legend as well as making a movie about it. He formed his own company, the Newfoundland-Labrador Film Company and got backing from Paramount Pictures. The filming of the seal hunt was the first Hollywood style sound film ever made in Canada. The film, The Viking, had some action scenes, but more realistic footage was needed. And so, they went out to film and on this fateful day, Frissell’s career ended.

God help me if I ever do another movie with an explosion in it. If you see me in a movie where stuff is exploding you’ll know I’ve lost all my money. – Ben Affleck

There’s only one thing that can kill the movies, and that’s education. – Will Rogers

It’s difficult to find a movie that feels true to itself. You feel the hand of Hollywood, the moviemaking by committee, on everything. – Zack Snyder

Usually a lot of moviemaking is boring. – Mary Elizabeth Winstead

Also on this day: Voting Booths – In 1892, Myers Voting Booths were introduced in New York.
Ides of March – In 44 BC, Julius Caesar was assassinated.
The Ashes – In 1877, the first Test Cricket Match between England and Australia began.
Dot Com – In 1985, the first Internet domain name was registered.


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