The Morals of Hilda

The Morals of Hilda is a 1916 American silent romantic film directed by Lloyd B. Carleton. The film based on the story by Henry Christeen Warnack. The melodrama stars and starring Gretchen Lederer, Emory Johnson and Frank Whitson.

August and Hilda are living together while saving money to get married. In their country, it did not discourage living arrangements like theirs. Since securing a living wage was getting difficult, they decide to immigrate to America.

The Morals of Hilda
The Morals of Hilda 05.png
Motion Picture Weekly advertisement
Directed byLloyd B. Carleton
Written byHenry Christeen Warnack
Screenplay byAnthony Coldeway
Produced byUniversal Red Feather Photoplays
CinematographyRoy H. Klaffki
Distributed byUniversal
Release date
  • December 11, 1916 (1916-12-11)
Running time
5 reels
LanguageEnglish intertitles

Once they arrive, American values challenged them by asserting only wed couples can live together and have children. They both seek employment to support their ambitions. Hilda secures a position as a domestic while August has trouble finding work. A desperate August goes to sea and dies in a shipwreck.

Once a pregnant Hilda learns the fate of August, she is distraught and suicidal. She gathers herself and gives birth to a baby boy. Realizing she cannot support the child, she arranges for her earlier employers to find the child. They decide to raise the boy as their own. She secretly watches the boy grow up and seek a career in politics. In the end, she makes the ultimate sacrifice for her son.

Universal released the Red Feather Photoplay on December 11, 1916.[1][2]


August and Hilda were deeply in love. They were simple peasants living in the "old country," and a man does not propose marriage until he has saved enough money to support his new wife. August had trouble finding work in their village. Although the couple lives together, August could not save enough money even to consider marriage. August and Hilda were desperate to wed and start a family. They decided their only hope to achieve their dreams was to seek their fortune in the new world. They arrive in America and find a home. August promptly seeks work, but lacking any valuable skills, work becomes challenging to find.

In America, people frown upon a couple living together but not yet not married, which especially bothers August. He fears incarceration.

Hilda finally finds work with a wealthy employer. She works for Harris Grail and his wife, Ester, as a domestic. She discovers the Grails are a contented couple, but Ester cannot have children. Hilda blends into the household, but after working a while, discovers she is with child.

Harris and Ester also soon realize Hilda's condition. They also learn an unmarried Hilda is living with her boyfriend. The Grails can't bear to have an unwed mother living in their household. They ask Hilda to leave and not return. Hilda doesn't understand the decision of her puritanical hosts. In the old country, unwed mothers waiting to get married was is not a moral dilemma.

Hilda is distraught. She worries America's morality may ensnarl August. He could face prison. She doesn't want to burden August with this load. Hilda leaves August and strikes out on her own. She will have the baby on her own. Time passes, and Hilda finds herself in the hospital giving birth. A healthy boy is born. The law states a newborn's parentage must register. The nurses ask the father's name. Hilda refuses to tell them. The nurses insist. Hilda steals away in the night. She returns home but finds the cottage empty. She assumes the worst. Unbeknownst to Hilda, August had stowed away on a tramp steamer heading for Europe. The ship sinks, taking August down with it.

Hilda's situation is desperate. She must end her life and let the fates determine the fate of her son. Hilda places the baby boy in a basket, sets it afloat, then heads off to another part of the sea to take her own life.

Meanwhile, someone has murdered Harris Grail, Ester's beloved husband. Ester is alone, childless, and loses the will to live. She heads to the sea, determined to end it all. Ester is wandering along the shore, searching for a spot to commit the deed. Then, she finds a baby floating in a basket. Have the fates handed her a gift? She will raise the boy as her own, and his adopted name will be Steven. Ester heads home with her new son.

How will Ester raise the boy? She needs help. She asked Hilda to be a nurse to take care of her boy. Ester doesn't know Hilda is Steven's biological mother. Hilda accepts the offer, then has problems helping to raise a boy she knows is hers but unable to tell Ester. She leaves Ester's service after a while and moves on.

Some years pass, Hilda can't bear to be without her son, returns to Ester's house. She confronts Ester with the truth about Hilda being Steven's mother. They talk, and Ester convinces Hilda the boy should stay with her. In that way, Steven would have all the advantages that wealth offers. Hilda agrees, Steven will stay with Ester, and Hilda's motherhood will remain a secret.

Steven grows into adulthood and becomes an educated, articulate man. He feels ready for whatever the world offers. After consulting with his sweetheart, Marion, he makes a run for governor.

Ester doesn't want Steven to have any skeletons in the closet. She tells him of his circumstances and adoption. Steven reacts by inserting a new plank in his political platform. He now wants to legitimatize all children of dubious parentage. Steven would allow them to have equal rights like the rest of us. He knows his ancestry is suspect, and he decides not to propose marriage to the beautiful Marion.

Steven wins the election. He schedules an outdoor inauguration. All the principals arrive. Hilda has read about the event in the local newspaper. She longs for a glimpse of her son. Hilda attends the event. Steven is speaking to the crowd. He talks about his platform of legitimizing underprivileged children.

It mesmerized Hilda as she listens to her son speak. Suddenly, she spots someone in the crowd with a gun. She believes the man banishing the gun is some fanatic attempting to assassinate her son. Hilda rushes towards her son as the would-be assassin fires a shot. Hilda jumps in front of her son at the last moment and takes the bullet.

After the assassin is subdued, Steven rushes to Hilda. As she lay dying, her head in Steven's lap, she tells her son she is his birth mother, and then she dies. The sacrifices Hilda made for him overwhelm Steven. Marion, who is nearby, consoles Steven and tells him his real background doesn't matter to her, she loves him, and they can wed.


Actor Role
Frank Whitson August
Gretchen Lederer Hilda
Richard Morris Harris Grail
Adele Farrington Esther Grail
Lois Wilson Marion
Emory Johnson Steven
Helen Wright unknown


Carl Laemmle in 1918

Pre productionEdit


According to the book - The Universal Story, Carl Laemmle (1867-1939) produced around 91 movies in 1916.[3]Lloyd B. Carleton (c. 1872–1933) started working for Carl Laemmle in the Fall of 1915.[4] Carleton arrived with impeccable credentials, having directed some 60 films for the likes of Thanhouser, Lubin, Fox, and Selig.[5] Between March and December 1916, 44-year-old Lloyd Carleton directed 16 movies for Universal, starting with The Yaqui and ending with this film. Emory Johnson acted in all 16 of these films. Of Carleton's total 1916 output, 11 were feature films, and the rest were two-reel shorts.
In 1916, Carleton directed all 13 films pairing Dorothy Davenport and Emory Johnson. After completing this film, Carleton would sever his connections with Universal.


  • Adele Farrington (Mrs. Hobart Bosworth) (c. 1867-1936) was 49 years old when she portrayed Esther Grail. She was also a Universal contract player appearing in 74 films between 1914 and 1926. Although she got her start in movies when she was 47-years-old (1914), Universal cast her mostly in character leads. Many of her roles were acting alongside her husband, Hobart Bosworth, who married in 1909 and divorced in 1920. In addition to her roles as an actress, she was also a music composer and writer.

  • Emory Johnson (1894-1960) was 22 years old when he acted in this movie as Steven. In January 1916, Emory signed a contract with Universal Film Manufacturing Company. Carl Laemmle of Universal Film Manufacturing Company thought he saw great potential in Johnson, so he chooses him to be Universal's new leading man. Laemmle's hope was Johnson would become another Wallace Reed. A major part of his plan was to create a movie couple that would sizzle on the silver screen. Laemmle thought Dorothy Davenport and Emory Johnson could create the chemistry he sought. Johnson and Davenport would complete 13 films together. They started with the successful feature production of Doctor Neighbor in May 1916 and ended with The Devil's Bondwoman in November 1916.
    Johnson would make 17 movies in 1916, including 6 shorts and 11 feature-length Dramas. 1916 would become the second-highest movie output of his entire acting career. Emory acted in 25 films for Universal, mostly dramas with a sprinkling of comedies and westerns.

    *Gretchen Lederer (1891-1955) was a 25 year-old actress when she landed this role as Hilda. Lederer was a German actress getting her first start in 1912 with Carl Laemmle. At the time of this film, she was still a Universal contract actress. She had previously acted in two Bosworth-Johnson projects preceding this movie - The Yaqui and Two Men of Sandy Bar. She had previously united with Emory Johnson in the 1916 productions of A Yoke of Gold.

    *Richard Morris (1862-1924) was a 54 year-old actor when he played Harris Grail. He was a character actor and former opera singer known for Granny (1913). He would eventually participate in many future Johnson projects, including |In the Name of the Law (1922), The Third Alarm (1922), The West~Bound Limited (1923), The Mailman (1923), The Spirit of the USA (1924) until his untimely death in 1924.

    *Frank Whitson (1877-1946) was a 39 year-old actor when he played August. He appeared in 66 films between 1915 and 1937. This was one of his early efforts, and he would become more widely known later in his acting career.[6]

    *Helen Wright (1868-1928) was 48 years old when she acted in this movie. Helen Wright (born Helen Boyd) was a well-known Universal character actress who appeared mostly in silent films between 1915 and 1930. She spent most of her career under contract at Universal.[7]


Henry Christeen Warnack (alternative H. C. Warnack) (c. 1877-1927) was 39 years old when he wrote the story for this film.

He had spent most of his career as a reporter for various newspapers before moving to Los Angeles around 1907. He rose to become editor of the dramatic department of the Los Angeles Times. He also became a writer. He wrote articles, books, movie stories, and scenarios.[8]

Anthony Coldeway (1887-1963) was a prolific American screenwriter, storyteller, and director. He was only 29 years old when he wrote the scenario for this film.

Anthony created his first scenario for Pathé in Aug 1911. The film was a western 2-reeler named "The Flaming Arrows." By the time of this release, he had written scenarios for over 40 films. Although the bulk of his scripts were for short films, he had created scripts for 3 feature-length comedies before this release. He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay at the 1928 1st Academy Awards for the film Glorious Betsy.[9]

He would remain active in the industry until 1954.[10]

Post productionEdit

The theatrical release of this film totaled five reels or 5,000 feet of film. As is often the case, the listed time for this feature-length movie varies. The average time per 1,000-foot 35mm reel varied between ten and fifteen minutes per reel at the time. Thus, the total time for this movie is computed between fifty and seventy-five minutes.[11]


The interiors were filmed in the studio complex at Universal Studios located at 100 Universal City Plaza in Universal City, California.[12] Universal produced and distributed this film.

Release and receptionEdit

Official releaseEdit

The copyright was filed with U.S. Copyright Office and entered into the record as shown:

1916. 5 reels.
Credits: Director, Lloyd B. Carleton; story
H. C. Warnack; scenario, A. W. Coleway.
© Universal Film Mfg. Co., Inc.; 6 Dec 16;

The official film release date to US theaters was December 11, 1916.[1]


Motion Picture News Ad

Based on an American Film Institute standard, films with a running time of forty-five minutes or longer are considered feature films. In 1915, feature films were becoming more the trend in Hollywood. In 1916, Universal formed a three-tier branding system for their releases. Universal films decided to label their films according to the size of their budget and status. Universal, unlike the top-tier studios, did not own any theaters to market its feature films. By branding their product, Universal gave theater owners and audiences a quick reference guide. Branding would help theater owners make judgments for films they were about to lease and help fans decide which movies they wanted to see.

Universal released three different types of feature motion pictures:[14][15]

  • Red feather Photoplays – low-budget feature films
  • Bluebird Photoplays – mainstream feature release and more ambitious productions
  • Jewel – prestige motion pictures featuring high budgets using prominent actors

This film carried Universal’s “Red Feather” brand, designating a low-budget feature film.

Universal's trade journal magazine, The Moving Picture Weekly contains an advertising section titled - PUTTING IT OVER. The section would give exhibitors suggestions for advertising selected movies. The December 2, 1916 issue had the following advertising suggestions for this movie:

The Red Feather for December eleventh is a wonderful picture and tells the story of the effect of our uncomprehended laws on the immigrants who flock to our country. You could not advertise this great feature more effectively than by dressing a pair, a young man and a young woman, in typical immigrant clothes. The woman should wear a short skirt, with an apron over it, and a three-cornered handkerchief of bright color tied over her hair. Put wooden shoes, or heavy man's shoes of some kind, on her feet and a bright-colored shawl around her shoulders. The man should wear a shabby, shapeless suit, heavy shoes on his feet, and a woolen scarf around his neck. He should carry a big bundle. On his back, he may wear a placard advertising the picture. They should walk through the streets, bewildered and lost-looking, staring at the building, and acting as two peasants from a far land, would behave in a strange country. The picture is called "The Morals of Hilda." [16]


The magazine movie critics generally expressed mixed reviews about this film.

In the December 16, 1916 issue of the Motion Picture News, Peter Milne writes:[17]

As The Morals of Hilda is based on a situation that always fails to convince, the entire picture is of an unconvincing nature. A couple from some "old country" migrate to America without first having gone through the formality of a marriage ceremony. In their country, there were no marriage laws. Passing over the fact that all countries have marriage rituals of some sort or another, it seems rather peculiar that the pair should have rebelled at having their union legalized in America. Licenses aren't very expensive.

Preservation statusEdit

Film is history. With every foot of film that is lost, we lose a link to our culture, to the world around us, to each other, and ourselves.[18]

Martin Scorsese
filmmaker, director NFPF Board

A report created by film historian and archivist David Pierce for the Library of Congress claims:

  • 75% of original silent-era films have perished.
  • 14% of the 10,919 silent films released by major studios exist in their original 35mm or other formats.
  • 11% survive in full-length foreign versions or on film formats of lesser image quality.[19][20] Many silent-era films did not survive for reasons as explained on this Wikipedia page.

According to the Library of Congress website, this film has a current status of “No holdings located in archives,” thus it is presumed all copies of this film are lost.[21]



  1. ^ a b "The Morals of Hilda".
  2. ^ "The Morals of Hilda".
  3. ^ Hirschhorn, Clive (1983). The Universal Story - The Complete History of the Studio and its 2,641 films. New York: Crown Publishing Group. pp. 22–23. ISBN 0-517-55001-6.
  4. ^ "CARLETON, Lloyd B." Thanhouser Company Film Preservation. March 1994. Retrieved February 19, 2021. Thanhouser Company, Thanhouser Films: An Encyclopedia and History Version 2.1 by Q. David Bowers,Volume III: Biographies
  5. ^ Wikipedia Lloyd Carleton page
  6. ^ Frank Whitson at IMDb
  7. ^ Helen Wright at IMDb
  8. ^ "H. C. Warnack, Writer, Dies". The Los Angeles Times. November 3, 1927. Retrieved June 26, 2021 – via Nationally known newspaperman, Poet, and Author Formerly Was Editor of "Times" Dramatic Department
  9. ^ "The 1st Academy Awards Memorable Moments". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. August 27, 2014. Retrieved June 29, 2021.
  10. ^ Anthony Coldeway at IMDb
  11. ^ Kawin, Bruce F. (1987). How Movies Work. University of California Press. p. 46. ISBN 9780520076969.
  12. ^ Black Friday at IMDb
  13. ^ "Catalog of Copyright Entries Cumulative Series Motion Pictures 1912 - 1939". Internet Archive. Copyright Office * Library of Congress. 1951. p. 571. Retrieved April 28, 2021. Motion Pictures, 1912-1939, is a cumulative catalog listing works registered in the Copyright Office in Classes L and M between August 24, 1912 and December 31, 1939
  14. ^ Michael Zmuda (April 30, 2015). The Five Sedgwicks: Pioneer Entertainers of Vaudeville, Film and Television. McFarland. pp. 54–. ISBN 978-0-7864-9668-6.
  15. ^ B movies (Hollywood Golden Age)#Roots of the B movie: 1910s–1920s
  16. ^ "PUTTING IT OVER". The Moving Picture Weekly. New York, Motion Picture News, Inc. December 2, 1916. p. 3864. Retrieved June 26, 2021. A DEPARTMENT OF ADVERTISING SUGGESTIONS FOR THE BENEFIT OF ALL EXHIBITORS
  17. ^ "The Morals of Hilda". Motion Picture News. New York, Motion Picture News, Inc. December 16, 1916. p. 3864. Retrieved June 26, 2021. REVIEWED BY PETER MILNE
  18. ^ "Preservation Basics". Retrieved December 16, 2020. Movies have documented America for more than one hundred years
  19. ^ Pierce, David. "The Survival of American Silent Films: 1912-1929" (PDF). Library Of Congress. Council on Library and Information Resources and the Library of Congress. Retrieved November 18, 2020.
  20. ^ Slide, Anthony (2000). Nitrate Won't Wait: History of Film Preservation in the United States. McFarland. p. 5. ISBN 978-0786408368. Retrieved March 25, 2013. It is often claimed that 75 percent of all American silent films are gone and 50 percent of all films made prior to 1950 are lost, but such figures, as archivists admit in private, were thought up on the spur of the moment, without statistical information to back them up.
  21. ^ The Library of Congress American Silent Feature Film Survival Catalog: The Morals of Hilda (motion picture)

External linksEdit