An unusual team sets off for a mission and a movie

Marguerite Harrison, Merian Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack formed an unusual team as they set off on the Middle East mission worker under the cover of filmmakers.

Marguerite, a former Baltimore socialite, knew nothing about film making. What she knew about movies was drawn mainly from her position on the Maryland movie censorship board, that her former brother-in-law, Albert Ritchie, had secured for her.

Cooper had filmed an earlier expedition to document his travels, but he had probably only seen three or four movies in his life.

Schoedsack was the only one of the three with any real filmmaking experience. After graduating from high school, he had roamed around California until he discovered his gift and passion operating a camera in Hollywood. When World War I began, he enlisted as a signalman to film the war, but he later said he was not allowed to film scenes close to the battle.

The men later complained that Marguerite ruined the movie with her heavy make-up and over-the-top acting. While those complains may or may not have been genuine, there did appear to be real tension among the three. While not an avowed feminist, Marguerite bristled at Cooper’s sexist views about women, which she described as “a compound of southern chivalry and Oriental contempt.”

She appeared to like Schoedsack’s mild, Midwestern manners, but he later criticized her as a liar who should not have been allowed on the expedition.


Merian C. Cooper, Marguerite Harrison and Ernest Schoedsack pose in Angora in October 1923.

Cooper and Marguerite, now forty-four, departed New York on the French ocean liner Lafayette on August 4, 1923. In noting their sailing, the New York Times made no mention of movie plans and instead reported that the two were going to Turkey and Persia to collect information for magazine articles. They met Schoedsack in Paris, and Marguerite left the men in France buying film and supplies while she continued on to Constantinople to make arrangements for the permits they needed to film in Turkey.

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