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Campus Life on the Silver Screen: The 1916 Film “Pro Patria”


Inez (played by Zelomia Ainsworth) and Dale (played by Heinie Sellards), 1918 Illio

Written by Anna Trammell

Betty Gibson, a University of Illinois freshman, is attracted to a wealthy classmate named Eduardo Salazar. Between registering for classes, attending parties at fraternity houses, watching baseball games, and conducting experiments in the chemistry laboratory, Betty realizes her true love is actually fellow student Happy Harding and the two become engaged. Meanwhile, Dale tries to win back the affections of Inez after she returns his pin. This is the plot of Pro Patria a movie filmed at the University of Illinois in the summer of 1916.[1]

Advertised as “the first all-University movie ever attempted,” virtually ever aspect of the film was connected to campus. The writer, director, and star of the film was student Vivian Kay and it was produced by alumni. [2] The rest of the cast consisted of members of the Illini Photoplayers student organization and other dramatic societies on campus.  Special cameo appearances were made by Dean of Men Thomas Arkle Clark and his wife Alice, Athletic Director George Huff, and Coach Bob Zuppke. [3] Even University President Edmund James appeared on horseback in the film. [4] Scenes were filmed all over campus including the Boneyard Creek, Illinois Field, and the Sigma Chi and Alpha Tau Omega fraternity houses. Chicago filmmaker R.E. Norman, who would go on to direct many important silent films including The Flying Ace, served as the cameraman for the production. Continue reading “Campus Life on the Silver Screen: The 1916 Film “Pro Patria””