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Nell Shipman
Nell Shipman Photoplay Nov 1918.png
Shipman in 1918
Helen Foster-Barham

(1892-10-25)October 25, 1892
DiedJanuary 23, 1970(1970-01-23) (aged 77)
Occupation(s)Actress, screenwriter, director, producer, animal trainer
Years active1910–1947
Ernest Shipman
(m. 1910⁠–⁠1920)

Charles H. Austin Ayers
(m. 1925⁠–⁠1932)
PartnerBert Van Tuyle (c.1918 – 1924)

Nell Shipman (born Helen Foster-Barham; October 25, 1892 – January 23, 1970) was a Canadian actress, author, screenwriter, producer, director, animal rights activist and animal trainer. Her works often had autobiographical elements to them and reflected her passion for nature.[1] She is best known for making a series of melodramatic adventure films based on the novels by American writer James Oliver Curwood in which she played the robust heroine known as the ‘girl from God’s country.'[2]

Shipman started two independent producing companies in her career: Shipman-Curwood Producing Company and Nell Shipman Productions. In 1919, she and her husband, Ernest Shipman,[3] a film producer, made the most successful silent film in Canadian history, Back to God's Country.[4]

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The film portrays Robert Reinert and the mood of 1919, as nervous dynamite arose in the human psyche as a result of war and hardship. He was edited several times by the censor. At the premiere in 1919, the length of the film was 2637 meters However, according to the Records Office in Berlin Cinema Censorship, it was reduced to 2054 meters in November 1920. Now there are black and white copy of 1646 meters in the State Film Fund of Moscow, A fragment of 65 meters in the the German Federal Film Archives, and 777 meters of the U.S. Library of Congress. The colors of the last fragment have already begun to fade. Unfortunately, approximately one-third of the film is considered lost. This reconstruction - an attempt to get closer to the original concept of the film as close as possible. For this reason, we have reorganized the order of certain scenes and episodes, and added new intertitles Reconstruction was done in accordance with standards and traditions of the time. Almost nothing remains of the existing titles. Nerves, you - the mysterious heart of the road, the strongest ambassador of desires and suffering. If you do not survive, men will be animals. Are nerves are not the essence of you - the very soul? NERVES Prologue Mom! Thousands of miles from home, your son is dying. Mom! Mom! You feel it is a thousand miles away at the same time. What does this mean? NERVES Killer... ... You jerk... Run! Your pursuers are already at the door. The poor girl was left without water, he would die, die. NERVES Blessed are you, children who do not know more about nerves! About people shaking from nervous attacks, terror and panic, or from the wild, unbridled lust. NERVES End of Prologue Act 1 Roloff, owner of the factory, and his wife Elizabeth You walked with me on the path to this moment of success and eternal glory... We have created the greatest invention of all time It will make us masters of the world! We will conquer the world our machines and mechanisms, designed for overcoming any resistance! Can you hear me? The whole world! The flag is a symbol of our world domination. Start the car! Raise the flag! Car exploded destroying the newly opened factory. Quell their nerves, be calm, as I am. Otherwise we are lost! Panic This is the end of Roloff plans for world domination. I do not give up! Master John, the national educator Mary, Roloff's sister Great restlessness and discontent stalk the world... You ask for bread - they are looking for power! The peoples are groaning at the bloody battlefields. This is the end of lust for power, a kind of creepy murderous monster. Do you tremble with fear... Once I had nerves of steel, but since then... Since then, I keep seeing the ghosts of the dead, rising to unleash his terrible revenge on us, especially me. Your wedding dress, Mary, your wedding dress! Tomorrow is your wedding, a lucky girl! Do not you feel a mysterious power charging the air? Do not you feel the earth shaking under something colossal and unimaginable? I'll go take a look. It is better to be married was not to be married. Do you know the nurse that is to marry a man who does not love me? I can only belong to the person who owns the souls of men: Master John! Mary! The son of a gardener What happened? Riots in the streets. What are you? Coward! I only want you! I must go to him, he will speak at the rally! Have mercy, Mary! Down there people are fighting for their lives, and here you are with this love - a coward! Richard, Earl of columns, Mary's groom Tomorrow morning give this bouquet to Mary, my bride! She said that I am a coward! No, I am not a coward! Why? I do not know. Go to the wall! And so we lost our first and second sons. How could this happen? I did not want it! My wedding day begins in blood! End of Act 1. Act 2 Mary's wedding day Richard: Did the son of a gardener bring you my flowers? Mary: He's not a murderer. We must see to it that he is buried in a Christian way. Richard: He does not deserve it. The blind sister of John Masters Your sister is looking for you, Master John! Mom, why are you no longer alive to give me advice? Matthew 5:28: But I am unto you, Thou every one that ilk behold hedgehog's wife to her lust, already infatuated with her in his heart. My brother, I can not see you, but I feel that you are suffering. Invited to a wedding Master John, today is the day of my wedding. I'm sure will be very unhappy... Do you remember when you were my teacher? You were feeding animals and helping village people dying of hunger. I was happy then, and today I am in sorrow and despair. Mary, please, leave me alone. Maria disappeared. I will never marry Richard, Earl of columns. For God's sake, what's with you? Richard, I can not be your wife. I can no longer be the wife of a respected person. Another man took possession of me... Teacher John! I'm not finished with you! My sister's wedding is canceled. I'll explain everything later. Roloff is forcing Mary to speak. Mary, Overcome your shame and tell me... In his hands I lost consciousness... Due to the surge of nerves Roloff sees the scene as by described Mary. My love for her is unclean and sinful The teacher must be destroyed! Can love, the most beautiful of all the senses, be so passionate? This incident, District Attorney, is terrible, but He gives us the opportunity to get rid of our most dangerous political enemy! Devoted dog This is not true! This may not be true! I saw it! So help me God, I've seen it! End of Act 2. Act 3 John! People My good friend, where is John? At night Mary, I beseech you for God's sake, Tell me the truth! The teacher, John took possession of me. The National Assembly At the meeting, a dispute broke out. Speaker: We will not allow irresponsible fanatics to confuse us! Who are you? I'm closer to you than you think... I will prove his innocence in court. On the day of judgment You will free from the presence of disease. Seeing you in court would have been unbearable. Anxiety He was sentenced to six years of hard work! I have a feeling that a righteous man was condemned! In the courtroom, the atmosphere was that of tense anxiety. He stood there in silence and did not utter a single word in his defense. He remained silent, despite all the terrible accusations. Then came his blind sister. My brother - a good man. He reads the Bible every day. Everyone, Who look upon his wife lusted her, he was in love with her already. She thought she would rescue him, but inadvertently decided his fate. My love for her is unclean and sinful. This string can only refer to Mary Roloff! Do you admit having secret feelings of love feelings for Maria Roloff? Your silence is evidence against you! ... And then I took the oath... I swore I saw it. After the verdict was read, the teacher interrupted his inexplicable silence. Although the accusations are false, I will accept the punishment. End of Act 3. Act 4 He was sentenced to six years of hard labor! Can not you see how scared he was looking at me? I can not stand it! Why did not he say anything? Why did they sentence him? Because he's a criminal. This person is not capable of crime. I saw it. My poor brother, you have not seen it. I saw it. In the end, I swore I saw it. My poor brother, you could not see. So what is it? The teacher, John took possession of my soul, but not my body. I saw it and swore under oath. And now she says... What does it mean? Am I a fool or a criminal? What's wrong with me? We have to keep it a secret, Mary must be silent. I took the oath! But you can not sacrifice an innocent man! I am perjured. I am the most vile of all creatures. One I go to the district attorney. Your honor will tell you what can you do. All to be clarified with a re-investigation. Mary leaves his father's house. She passionate struggles with translating the ideas of Master John's life. What is this sudden longing? Where am I? Is this my castle? Help! Help! Help me, I'm afraid I will lose my mind! To determine his condition, Roloff consults a famous neurologist. A friend of mine is experiencing strange things, the kind that do not exist in reality. Worst of all, it's his own ego that pursues him. ...And at the same time looks quite healthy... All these people here look healthy. However, they are seriously ill. What is the reason for this? The development of the civilization, the struggle for existence, anxiety and terror of war, the sins of their parents. What do you want from me? Maybe you want to kill me? Why are you crying? Because you are so sick, sir! Nonsense! You cry for your idol, John, whom I put behind bars. My dear son, unfortunately, your parents' marriage was not a happy one. Your father was suffering from bouts of pathological rage and alcoholism. Bad heredity - that's how the nice the doctor calls it. Through the intervention of the District Attorney, John is released from prison. Paranoia Roloff, you're killing me! My Lord, is not Elizabeth, my wife? Roloff, you are responsible for the death of a noble soul! No one died as he died! No one goes to heaven as he went! I am not a murderer - he killed himself! He died? After all, you're grieving over his grave? Here! He was lying there. Do not shout, I can not stand it. Am I really so ill? End of Act 4. Act 5 No one knows why I was silent. Because I was atoning for their sins. John, forgive me. I carry a great burden. Richard is looking for Mary, his betrothed, and finds her. Richard: Mary, like you, I left everything. I want to serve you and your great ideas. Together with Mary, he takes part in the riots in the streets. My own nerves reflect the nerves around the world. And the nerves of the world are sick! My dear son, unfortunately, your parents' marriage was not a happy one. Your father was suffering from bouts of pathological rage and alcoholism. He is hopelessly lost. He is hopelessly lost. Only death will free him. I know that you will forgive me, John, and I outgrew my love for you. Now I am the wife of Richard. He is hopelessly lost. Why do I live? Now I know why he remained silent. A few days later Roloff's condition becomes critical. How unhappy you are because of me, Elizabeth. What are you laughing at, bitch? You go as fast as possible, perhaps I can break free from these terrible images. I strangled her, and now they lead me to death. Elizabeth, are you still alive? Save me! Save me! These horrific images that neurologist called illusions have returned. Do you understand my fear of scary thoughts, which I can not get rid of? I know you have a wonderful poison, the legacy of your dead friend. He prepared it for the poor that were hopelessly lost, to free them from suffering and brighten up their death. Do not let me down. Respecting my humanity, do not let me turn into a wild animal! How considerate of me! Euthanasia - an easy death, so the Greeks called it. Thank you, John. Apoplexy interrupted his life. After the death of Elisabeth, Roloff disappears from public circles. John tries to reassure people on the streets. Humanistic ideals can not be achieved by violence. Leave the streets! Go to work! Work - is power! Just like a dead man with a corrupt mind and body, the unemployed will perish! End of Act 5. Act 6 The mistress of the castle is ill. Later After Elizabeth's recovery, their friendship stronger. You will never accept my love for you. I'm just an ordinary person. Mary: Now you're ready to fight to death. John: You are distorting my ideas with violence and fighting. Richard: Anyone who resists the will of the people - our enemy. I want to stay with you. Do you accept me? It was a time of pure enjoyment. But it was spoiled by strange and totally unexpected ways. Now I understand. He remained silent because he loved Elizabeth. You, a wretched soul, need to step aside and let them be happy together. He knew about it. That's why he decided to die. I killed him...... It should not ever come out! He no longer loves me, he loves you. I do not belong here. I'll explain everything. He was pursuing a secret plan. He did this just to stop their terrible suffering. Believe me... Now I understood. He remained silent because he loved Elizabeth. You, a wretched soul, need to step aside and let them be happy together. It was murder. He must have fully recovered. Blame your indiscretion. We always leave the country. Elizabeth regrets that John has left. I will stand here on my knees and pray, O Lord, until you unite them. Elizabeth asks for advice from Mary. Mary: You will be able to return only when John is successful. Since Elizabeth is on the verge of a nervous breakdown, she resorts to desperate measures. My poor sister will perish in flames! Elizabeth did not dare to confess to the crime. She disappeared without a trace. Richard dies in a street fight. Richard: In the face of death, I confess, that for the sake of love to you, Mary I fought for ideas which I never believed. Mary: Is everything in this world - a lie? Even our ideals? What is there left to live for? I set fire to the castle. I am responsible for the death of your sister. Now I am serving a sentence in a monastery. Maria commits suicide. Teacher John is called to the dying woman. Once again, forgive me for everything, John! I weep for what you did in your life. I never stopped loving you, good bye. I still believe in the ideas for which you fought and for which I'm dying! End of Act 6 Epilogue Reunion Love Recovery of mankind... Man... and his companion, eager for beauty and truth, united in pure love... Progenitors of a new and happy humanity. Back to Nature! Work! New nerves, new people! The End

Personal life

She was born as Helen Foster-Barham in Victoria, British Columbia. Her parents were Arnold and Rose Barham. She grew up in a middle-class family.[5] During her teenage years in 1904, she was based near and in Seattle, Washington, where the Foster Barham family had moved around the turn of the century.[6]A year later, she left home and joined the Paul Gilmore traveling theatrical company.

From an early age, she developed a respect towards animals. She was passionate about animal rights and advocated them in Hollywood. She developed her own zoo, containing more than 200 animals.[7]

In 1904, her family moved to Seattle, Washington. A year later, she left home and joined the Paul Gilmore travelling theatrical company.[5]

When Helen was 18 years old, she met and married Ernest Shipman, a 39-year-old theatrical impresario.[5] Their son, Barry Shipman, was born a couple of years later in 1912.[8]

While married to Ernie Shipman, Nell engaged in a six year long affair with actor Bert Van Tuyle. They eventually split during the filming of The Grub Stake, because of Van Tuyle's deteriorating mental state.[5]

Two years later, in New York City, Shipman met and married a painter named Charles Ayers with whom she had two children named Charles and Daphne. They separated in 1934.[8]

At the end of her life, Shipman moved to Cabazon, California, where she continued writing.[8] She died there in 1970 at age 77.[citation needed]


From 1912 through 1917, she sold scripts to various companies, including Selig, Australasian Films, the American Film Company, the Palo Alto Film Corporation, and, most notably, Universal.[6] She was usually involved in the film's productions as well and started acting for Universal, Seig, and Vitagraph studios. Between 1915 and 1918, she played several leading roles, including her debut in God's Country and the Woman (1915), based on a short story by American writer James Oliver Curwood. Shipman directed, produced, and acted in this film. She was one of the first directors to shoot her films almost entirely on location.

Her role in God's Country and the Woman led to an acting contract offer from Samuel Goldwyn in 1917. However, she turned down the offer and started her own independent production company with her husband Ernest. This company was responsible for Shipman's most successful film, Back to God's Country (1919), which she co-wrote and co-produced. Back to God's Country was based on the story Wapi The Walrus by James Oliver Curwood. It was one of a number of Curwood stories about adventures in the North Country with some romance thrown in. The film grossed $1.5 million on an estimated budget of $67,000.[9] Neither she nor Ernest Shipman had been able to repeat their success with Back to God's Country. Other directors made new versions of the film, by the same title, in 1927 and 1953.

Shipman's preference for independent cinema led her to starting two producing companies, Shipman-Curwood Producing Company and Nell Shipman Productions.

Nell and Ernest Shipman eventually moved to Hollywood where the American film industry was developing. During this time, Nell Shipman sold the rights to her novel, Under the Crescent Moon to Universal Studios (they wanted to make a six-film serial of the book).

Throughout her life, Shipman wrote many scripts and short stories. One of her stories was adapted for the American film Wings in the Dark (1934), starring Myrna Loy and Cary Grant (1934).[5] In 1925, Shipman wrote three essays called "The Movie That Couldn't Be Screened." Additionally, she wrote a children's book titled "Kurly Kew and the Tree-Princess: A Story of the Forest People Told For Other-People" (1930). Most of Nell Shipman's work had autobiographical elements to them.[1]

Shipman's last major project was her autobiography, The Silent Screen and My Talking Heart.[4] In the autobiography she describes her last two years at the Studio-Camp at Lion Lodge as a series of disasters.[10] It was published posthumously by Boise State University through their Hemingway Western Studies Series. The university also houses the Nell Shipman Collection at Albertsons Library. Many of her films were preserved and are available through the library.[11]

Shipman-Curwood Producing Company

In 1918 Shipman and her mother Rose Barahm both fell ill with influenza. Shipman managed to fully recover while her mother unfortunately passed away.[12] It was during this time that Shipman created her first of two production companies in partnership with James Oliver Curwood.

Her husband, Ernest Shipman, convinced a consortium of Calgary businessmen to invest in Alberta, Canada. They incorporated a company, Canadian Photoplays Ltd., on February 7, 1919, with a $250,000 investment.

This company produced Back to God's Country which was based on the short story by Curwood, Wapi The Walrus. In the film a woman is blackmailed into marrying her unscrupulous suitor. Shipman adapted this for the screen herself. The 73-minute film (at 18 frames per second) was shot in Los Angeles, San Francisco and on location near Lesser Slave Lake, Alberta, Canada by director David M. Hartford.[13] The film was titled Back to God's Country to capitalize on the success of God's Country and the Woman. Shipman played the leading role as Dolores LeBeau which featured her one of the first full frontal nude scenes. The scene was brief but considered controversial during the time. A promotional advertisement for the film had a line drawing of a nude Nell, shown from the back and frolicking with several animals. Part of the caption read: "Don't book Back To God's Country unless you want to prove the Nude is NOT Rude."[14]

Back To God's Country was a major Canadian and international silent film hit. Despite the film's success, Curwood did not like the fact that Shipman changed the plot of his short story. She changed the protagonist of the film from Wapi the Great Dane, to Delores.[15]

Nell Shipman Productions

Nell Shipman Productions was created in partnership with actor Bert Van Tuyle in 1919. Shipman established herself as an independent producer during this time. She focused on the major themes she enjoyed: wild animals, nature, feminist heroes, and filming on location. She produced, wrote, co-directed and starred in The Girl From God’s Country (1921) and The Grub Stake (1923). Neither film is considered a success garnering nowhere near the amount of attention that God's Country and the Woman and Back to God's Country did.

She transported her zoo of animals on barges up to Priest Lake, Idaho, where she made several short films at Lion Head Lodge. One of the films made there was called The Grub Stake (1923). It cost around $180,000 to produce.[1] The film was never distributed, because the American distributor went bankrupt and during the subsequent litigation, the film became tied up in the legal proceedings.[5] Shipman and Van Tuyle edited The Grub Stake through late autumn 1922, while dodging unpaid actors and process servers, including one representing the zoo’s original owner, for missing payments. Family silver, furniture, a car, and bank accounts were taken or attached. However, Shipman and Van Tuyle managed to send a tinted and toned screening print to New York where they recut it.[10]

In an unfortunate series of events Van Tuyle became more and more unstable and locals started killing Shipman's animals. On top of that Shipman and Van Tuyle got lost in the wild for two days during a violent snow storm in January 1924. They encountered and were saved by two brothers, Joseph and Fred Gumaer.

In 1925, Shipman's company went bankrupt.[16] In total, they produced ten films.[5]

Cultural legacy

  • For three years, from 1917 to 1920, Nell Shipman lived in what has been preserved as The Doctor's House Museum in Glendale, California. Her mother died here in 1918 during the flu epidemic. Shipman described the site of the house in her autobiography as on a "tree lined dirt road, away from the hub bub of Hollywood".[citation needed]
  • “Nell Shipman Point” is a piece of land in Priest Lake, Idaho. It is named after her because The Grub Stake (1923) was filmed there.[17]
  • The Canadian playwright Sharon Pollock was commissioned to write a one-act play about Shipman's life called Moving Pictures (1999).[18]
  • All of Nell Shipman's surviving films are available on DVD from Boise State University, which holds a collection of materials about her.
  • Nell Shipman is considered by Canada to be the "First Lady of Canadian Cinema."[17]
  • Nell Shipman was one of the first directors to shoot entirely on location.
  • Back to God's Country featured one of the first full frontal nude scenes.


Year Title Role Ref.
1913 The Ball of Yarn Screenwriter, actress [8]
1913 One Hundred Years of Mormonism Screenwriter [8]
1914 Outwitted By Billy Screenwriter, director [8]
1915 Under the Crescent Screenwriter
1915 The Pine's Revenge Screenwriter
1915 God's Country and the Woman Lead actress [5]
1916 The Fires of Conscience Actress
1916 Through the Wall Actress
1917 Baree, Son of Kazan Actress [5]
1917 The Black Wolf Actress
1917 My Fighting Gentleman Actress [5]
1918 The Girl from Beyond Actress
1918 The Home Trail Actress
1918 Cavanaugh of the Horse Rangers Actress [5]
1918 The Wild Strain Actress
1919 Back to God's Country Screenwriter, lead actress
1920 Trail of the Arrow Writer, producer, actress, director [5][8]
1920 Something New Writer, producer, actress, director [5][8]
1920 Saturday Off (renamed A Bear, A Baby, and a Dog) Writer, and producer [5]
1921 The Girl from God's Country Writer, actress
1923 The Grub-Stake Director, screenwriter, producer [5]
1924 White Water Writer, director, producer, and actress [8]
1935 Wings in the Dark Screenwriter [5]
1946 The Clam-Digger's Daughter/The Story of Mr Hobbes Producer, writer, producer [5][8]


  1. ^ a b c Trusky, Tom. "Nell Shipman." In Jane Gaines, Radha Vatsal, and Monica Dall’Asta, eds. Women Film Pioneers Project. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2013.  doi:10.7916/d8-ymha-rg65
  2. ^ Armatage, Kay (January 2003). The Girl from God's Country : Nell Shipman and the Silent Cinema. ISBN 9780802085429. Retrieved March 14, 2023.
  3. ^ "Ernest Shipman – Ten Percent Ernie"
  4. ^ a b Monroe, Dawn E. "On The Job: Canadian Women of Achievement". Famous Canadian Women. Archived from the original on August 31, 2018.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Trusky, Tom (1988). "Nell Shipman: A Brief Biography". Griffithiana: 252–258 – via ProQuest.
  6. ^ a b Foster, Annette (2017). Women in the Silent Cinema : Histories of Fame and Fate. Amsterdam University Press.
  7. ^ D.J. Turner, "Who was Nell Shipman and why is everyone talking about her?", The Archivist No. 110 (1995,) Magazine of the National Archives of Canada.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Armatage, Kay (2003). The girl from God's country: Nell Shipman and the silent cinema. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, University Of Toronto Press - M.U.A.
  9. ^ "Gale - Product Login". Retrieved March 14, 2023.
  10. ^ a b "Nell Shipman – Women Film Pioneers Project". Retrieved March 14, 2023.
  11. ^ The Silent Screen & My Talking Heart, by Nell Shipman and ed. by Tom Trusky, Hemingway Western Studies Series (1987)
  12. ^ Amirkhanian, Ani (April 7, 2008). "Exhibit details deadly 1918 flu pandemic". Glendale News-Press. Retrieved March 14, 2023.
  13. ^ The Light on Her Face, Joseph Walker, ASC and Juanita Walker, (The ASC Press, 1984), pp.88–107.
  14. ^ Moving Picture World, July 24, 1920
  15. ^ Smith, Judith. "Nell Shipman: Girl Wonder from God's Country". Cinema Canada: 35–38.
  16. ^ "Nell Shipman". Canadian Film Encyclopedia.
  17. ^ a b York, Lorraine; Lee, Katja (2016). Celebrity Cultures in Canada. Wilfrid Laurier University Press. pp. 19–35.
  18. ^ Grace, Sherill (Spring 2002). "Creating the Girl from God's Country: From Nell Shipman to Sharon Pollock". Canadian Literature: 92.


Further reading

  • "Dreams Made in Canada – a history of feature film, 1913 to 1995" – an article by Sam Kula, Archivist, Archives and Government Records The Archivist No. 110 (1995), Magazine of the National Archives of Canada.

External links

This page was last edited on 23 March 2023, at 19:15
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