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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Names, Newspapers and Family Lore - The Legacy of Thomas Aldrich Barrett (aka Tom Bret)


Finding Thomas A. Barrett's Film Legacy


Thomas Aldrich Barrett was born in Bolivar, New York in 18831 to Thomas Francis Barrett, an Irish immigrant fortunate to have been educated in Ireland and successful after arriving in America and Mary (Sophia) Aldrich, daughter of a civil war veteran, Luther Tisdale Aldrich and Christiann Howell. Thomas Aldrich moved from New York to Pennsylvania settling with his family in Scranton. He led a successful life as a newspaperman and eventually went into politics upon moving to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania becoming street commissioner in 19082 and running for U.S. Congress in 19103.


Thomas Aldrich Barrett Ad
for U.S. Congress.
Thomas eventually moved to  New York where he became involved in the film industry. Stories from Thomas' daughter, Cecelia Jane (Barrett) Arquette, suggested that Thomas was involved in the early days of film when New York was the center of film industry from the early 1910s-1920s. Jane had indicated that Thomas wrote for the Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew films and was one of the only writers to have received a curtain call. However, no information could be found relative to Thomas writing for the Sidney Drew comedies or other films.
Newspaper research did reveal that Thomas wrote many plays among them 'The World Series'4, and the comedic opera, 'The Big Bugaboo'5 which were well received by the public.  Genealogists often use newspapers for obituaries, death notices, and marriages in the hopes of finding additional details, names or families. However, is often recommended to scan the newspaper itself to learn about the times one's ancestors lived in to learn more about what they experienced in their days.  In addition, if one is lucky in their search of newspapers, they may discover an article or articles that give insight into their ancestor's life, especially if they were prominent (or notorious) enough to be in the news. While researching on one site, newspapers.com, which has many papers from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton region in the time frame when Thomas was very active in news and politics, an interesting article was found in which it was stated, newspaperman Barrett to go by the name Brett6. The question now became: was this the pseudonym for Thomas Aldrich Barrett and the reason nothing could be found on Thomas' film legacy under Barrett?



Thomas A. Barrett newspaper article indicating a possible pseudonym.


A search for Tom Bret on Google started a marvelous adventure back to the early days of film.  The website, IMDb had a listing for Tom Bret, interestingly showing his birth in Bolivar, New York in 18837 the same place and date for Thomas A. Barrett. Multiple writing credits were given to Tom Bret including films such as “Why Not Marry”, “Twin Bed Rooms”, and “Why Not Marry”. Tom was given credit for numerous title writing,  the component of silent films that tell the story through “dialog” and scene setting. The book, American Silent Film, indicates the importance titling in film played for these early features:
Title-writing and title-designing rapidly became an art . . . good titling could often salvage a mediocre one[film], even at times transforming it into a hit by totally changing the mood and intent of a story-line.”8


Discovering that Tom Bret had a film legacy combined with the reference from the newspaper that Thomas Barrett might have used that as pseudonym provided the clues to refine a search around Tom Bret and Thomas A. Barrett. Utilizing Google and combining search terms, critical to maximize searches for genealogy, led to an interesting reference, the Catalog of Copyright Entries: musical compositions, Part 1, Volume 13, Issue 29. This reference provided further evidence to conclude that Thomas A. Barrett used the pseudonym Tom Bret when he wrote, ‘Daddy's dear old love’.
Identification from Catalog of Copyrights
for Thomas Aldrich Barrett's pseudonym of Tom Bret.


The last discovery to conclude Tom Bret was in fact Thomas Aldrich Barrett was found in the reference Motion Picture Studio Directory and Trade Annual (1918)10, in which there was a half page dedicated to Tom Bret, with a photo.



Entry for Tom Bret with picture and identifying him as ". . . the first film author to receive a curtain call on Broadway".


The photo from the reference shows the same man to a photograph of Thomas Aldrich Barrett that has been passed down in the family.


Thomas Aldrich Barrett

  Several additional newspaper articles continued to provide more life to Thomas, as a title from the Pittsburgh Daily Post claimed Tom Bret [aka Thomas Aldrich Barrett] as:


Champion Movie Title Writer of the World”11


The article indicate Thomas wrote for Paramount, French Government Official Films, Metro Features and Vitagraph pictures.   According to an article in The Times of San Mateo, Thomas was once managing editor of The New York Morning Telegraph, columnist on The Brooklyn Eagle, and editor for the Vitagraph Motion Picture Company and the Metro Film Corporation12.
Returning to the “stories” from Cecelia Jane, there was now proof that Thomas wrote for the movies, it was just that Thomas wrote under the pseudonym of Tom Bret. Critical to genealogy, is to keep searching, and in this case, to not ignore newspapers outside the known areas where the family lived according to other data.  Combining search terms and restricting to dates is also helpful in performing a search within Google or other search engines.  Never overlook a news article with an ancestors' name however small or "odd" it may be, as one never knows when a bit of luck will provide that clue to help discover more of an ancestor’s life and work. One missing piece was whether Thomas wrote for the Drew’s. An article was finally found in The Wichita Daily Eagle linking him to the Sidney Drew comedies:


Newspaper article linking Tom Bret to the Sidney Drew Comedies.


The articles discovered indicate Thomas had a prolific career in the early days of motion pictures. Even receiving a standing ovation as an author.  What started as a challenge to find his legacy in film ended up with a few amazing online discoveries, in that at least one of the films listed in IMDb was available on YouTube.com, the 1923 film “A Clouded Name

Screen show from YouTube video of "A Clouded Name"
Film Author: Tom Bret.
With 22 titles listed, there is more searching and hopefully more to be discovered about the life and work of Thomas Aldrich Barrett.




1Ancestry.com, 1900 United States Federal Census (Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2004), www.ancestry.com, Database online. Year: 1900; Census Place: Scranton Ward 20, Lackawanna, Pennsylvania; Roll: 1422; Page: 11A; Enumeration District: 0113; FHL microfilm: 1241422. Record for Thomas Barrett.
2The Scranton Republican (Scranton, PA), April 30, 1908. Accessed February 14, 2016.
https://www.newspapers.com/image/?spot=244271.
3The Wilkes-Barre Record (Wilkes-Barre, PA), May 16, 1910. Accessed February 14, 2016.
https://www.newspapers.com/image/?spot=2987344.
4Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, the Evening News (Wilkes-Barre, PA). "'The World's Series' Syracuse
Speaks of Play Which Was Written by Thomas Barrett of This City." January 3, 1908, 8.
https://www.newspapers.com/image/?spot=3535054.
5Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, the Evening News (Wilkes-Barre, PA), October 3, 1906. Accessed February
14, 2016. https://www.newspapers.com/image/?spot=3535043.
6The Wilkes-Barre Record (Wilkes-Barre, PA), August 9, 1920. Accessed February 14, 2016.
https://www.newspapers.com/image/?spot=2987322.
Transcription: "Thomas A. Barrett, who was a newspaper man here is now known as Brett and
under that name has made many contributions in various ways to the motion picture world."
7IMDb.com. "Tom Bret." IMDb. Accessed February 14, 2016. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0107838/.
The Filmography of Tom Bret (AKA: Thomas Aldrich Barrett).
8Everson, William K. American Silent Film. New York, NY: De Capo Press, 1998. First published 1978 by
Oxford University Press.
9Catalog of Copyright Entries: Musical Compositions. Vol. 13. Washington, DC: U.S. Government
Printing Office, 1916. Accessed February 14, 2016. https://books.google.com/
books?id=HzvQAAAAMAAJ&q=barrett#v=snippet&q=barrett&f=false.
Part 1, Volume 13, Issue 2
10Motion Picture Studio Directory and Trade Annual. N.p.: New York, Motion Picture News, 1918.
Accessed February 14, 2016. https://archive.org/stream/motrestu00moti#page/274/mode/1up.
11Pittsburgh Daily Post (Pittsburgh, PA). "Champion Movie Title Writer of the World." December 21,
1919, 49. Accessed February 14, 2016. https://www.newspapers.com/image/?spot=3857117.
12The Times (San Mateo, CA). "S.M. Movies to Be Released This Fall." July 10, 1941, 11. Accessed
February 14, 2016. https://www.newspapers.com/image/?spot=3857150.
13The Wichita Daily Eagle (Wichita, KS), June 23, 1918. Accessed February 14, 2016.
https://www.newspapers.com/image/?spot=3857108.

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