September 16, 2016

Java Head (1923) - Salem, Massachusetts

Courtesy: Streets of Salem
The silent motion picture Java Head, released in February 1923, is based on the 1919 book by Joseph Hergesheimer. The story chronicles the tragic marriage between Salem ship captain Gerrit Ammidon played by Alan Roscoe and Chinese princess portrayed by Leatrice Joy.

Java Head was filmed at many locations in Salem mentioned in the book, including Derby Wharf, Central Wharf, the Custom House, Hardy Street and Salem Common. During the month of filming, the Salem Evening News reported daily on the crew's progress, stating "never before has this city been picked as the location for a moving picture."

Courtesy: Salem State University Archives & Special Collections
The first scenes of Java Head were filmed on October 12 and 13, 1922 outside 26 Hardy Street (nonextant.) The location was chosen based on Hergesheimer's book, which named the home as the residence of Edward Dunsack, played by Raymond Hatton.

75,000 of the film's $200,000 budget was allocated to filming in Salem, the crew began restoring Derby Wharf to its 1840's glory in early October 1922. Alterations included: stabilizing the neglected wharf, building several warehouses, covering rail lines and placing cobblestone. Ships brought in from nearby Gloucester and the whaler Charles W. Morgan from New Bedford were docked at the wharf. Studio artists rendered a large painted backdrop to conceal the Naumkeag Mills in the distance. 

Like 75% of the silent films made in Hollywood, the 1923 version of Java Head has been lost. Only a few still photographs exist. In 1934, however, another version of Java Head was made, set in Bristol, England, and starring the Asian-American actress Anna May Wong. This version is still available. 


*This article was written by Jen Ratliff for use by Salem Maritime National Historic Site
Edited by Emily A. Murphy, Ph.D.