Tuesday, November 25, 2014

An Esperantist in Motion Pictures

Esperanto: They ought to
make a movie!
There was little find about Creston C. Coigne, who as a young man in New York wrote a letter to the Sun which appeared in their November 25, 1916 edition, in part because Mr. Coigne died young. When he died, he was probably about twenty-six years old. The 1915 New York State Census says that Mr. Coigne was eighteen years old and worked as a motion picture actor.

It was a family business. The same census lists his father as a motion picture director and his mother as a motion picture actress. Coigne’s brother Armand, was at sixteen and a stenographer. His grandmother, Ella Brous, kept house for the family. The family business was named after him, Creston Feature Pictures. Like many short-lived silent movie studios, it’s a struggle to even find out what they produced. The Catalog of Copyright Entries does list both Ireland a Nation and St. Joan of Arc among their pictures. The firm did advertise that another film, The Scapular, was nearing completion.[1]

It’s not clear that Mr. Coigne appeared in these films. There is no entry for him in the Internet Movie Database, though there is one for his father, Frank B. Coigne, although that doesn’t mention Mr. Coigne’s work with Creston Feature Pictures. His credits at IMDB end with 1915, and his work at Creston may have started after that.

Coigne was raised for a while by his grandparents. The 1910 census has the two boys living in Philadelphia with their maternal grandparents. Five years later, they’re in New York. Five years after that, in 1920, Creston isn’t living at home anymore, but exactly where he is, isn’t clear. A city directory from 1922 (the last full year of his life) lists only his place of work, while his brother has both residence and business (printing legislative reports). Mr. Coigne was also secretary of both the Greater New York Esperanto Society and the Bronx Esperanto Society,[2] and a member of the American Society for Psychical Research.[3] One great surprise is that he is listed among the “principal donors of books, pictures, mss., etc.” to the New York Public Library in 1916 (he’s only 18 or 19 at this time).

Usually by now, I’ve got to the letter. There is one, but I felt that the background of the letter writer ought to come first.
ESPERANTO’S PROGRESS
Belgians, French, Japanese and Chinese Are Learning It.

To the Editor of the SunSir: At the outbreak of the European war Esperantists everywhere feared that the struggle would have an extremely unfavorable effect upon the progress of the international language. Great was our astonishment when it gradually became apparent that just the opposite was true. The first important event that took place was the official recognition that Esperanto received from the Government of Germany, which published an Esperanto translation of the original documents relating to the war and caused it to be widely distributed among Esperantists in the neutral countries. This was followed by a series of publications in Esperanto that history will show formed an important part of Germany’s campaign of publicity in neutral lands. A few months later the Esperantists in France organized a society devoted to spreading an exact knowledge of the French “side” of the world war.

In all of the warring nations and in the few countries still at peace there has awaked a new interest in Esperanto, and it is now being studied by many who were not even aware of its existence a few years ago. This is particularly true of of the soldiers of all the countries at war, prisoners of war and those interned in neutral lands. In the interment camp at Harderwyk, Holland, for instance, where there are several thousand Belgian and French soldiers, hundreds have already begun to learn Esperanto, and this is also true of another important camp at Zeist, where Esperanto is said to be spreading “like wildfire.”

But the most interesting reports of our progress come form the Far East. There is now a large and flourishing society in China that has made thousands of “converts” to Esperanto and Japan is much better represented than in former years. This is remarkable in view of the dissimilarity between Esperanto and the languages of the Orient. I translate a paragraph from a letter I received some time ago from a friend in that quarter of the globe, Major R. L. Bush, who is stationed at Manila. Major Bush writes: “Last May and June I travelled through Japan and saw many beautiful places and beheld many wonderful scenes: it is a beautiful and interesting country. In Tokio I met many fellow Esperantists, who were very hospitable and who did everything they could to make my visit a happy one. They guided me and treated me as a guest, and I made some very good friends.” Major Bush goes on toe say that the Japanese Esperantists honored him highly as an American solider, and that in recognition of this at a meeting of the Japanese Esperanto Association he was presented with an ancient Japanese sword. He continues: “Esperanto was a great help to me in Tokio; it gained me friends, though whose kindness I was enabled to see much more than I possibly [could] have seen by myself. I have always believed in the practical utility of the language and I am now certain of it.”

A language whose advocates are as widespread as the Esperantists must necessarily possess great commercial advantages. Business men in Germany, France, Russia and England are now making active use of it, and will increasingly continue to do so. A significant indication of the tendency of the times is afforded by the recent decision of the Court of Common Council, Guildhall, London, that “whereas England and her allies are preparing to act in concert in relation to future commercial affairs, it is highly desirable that one language be accepted as a commercial languages, to be taught in all schools.” And the resolution, which I have freely translated from an Esperanto version, goes on to recommend for consideration the languages of the Allies, English, French and Russian, and Esperanto.
Creston C. Coigne.
New York, November 24.

Mr. Coigne died on 5 June, 1923 in Brooklyn, where I presume he made his home (perhaps he lived at the offices of Creston Feature Pictures). The available record lists only date, not cause. Did he become ill? Did he ever make a movie, given his profession listed three years before in the 1920 census? Creston Coigne’s activity in the Esperanto movement was brief. Now it’s time to drop the curtain on the story of his life.

Update: The younger Coigne brother, Armand, was also an Esperantist. He had a much longer life.

  1. From a 1922 advertisement in The Field Afar, a Catholic magzine.  ↩
  2. As revealed by the New York Times.  ↩
  3. As noted in their 1918 list of members. Perhaps ghosts spoke to him in Esperanto.  ↩

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