TRI-STATE MOTION PICTURE COMPANY was an important but short-lived Cleveland based sponsored film studio.
Tri-State produced a number of films for GENERAL ELECTRIC. Notable GE films include “From Now On” (1937). The film was shot in Hollywood and Cleveland, and featured General Electric consumer products in a romantic tale. Irvin S. Cobb, the first name of movie star-caliber to be grabbed off by the expanding sponsored film industry, got top billing. In addition to Cobb, the movie starred Alan Baxter, Louise Stanley, Regis Toomey, Jack Mulhall, Dorothy Christy, twelve-year-old Wally Albright, and others. The head cameraman was Alvin Wyckoff. Phil Meek of Tri-State managed the film. The film premiered at the Center Theatre at New York's Rockefeller Center on May 24, 1937.
The film critic for the CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER wrote, "I had the feeling that when “From Now On” first opened I was in for a new kind of treat – a documentary picture of first order. “The scenes were in a huge power plant with the generators in operation, but the spectator goes with the current from the plant to the lines to the relay stations and then by wires to a home, and there a romance begins.”
Made with the same care that goes into Hollywood theatrical releases, the audience is not consciously aware that the model home is a General Electric model home filled with GE appliances. “From Now On” was a forerunner of today's advertisers method of product placements in movies and television shows.
Another notable Tri-State film for GE was “Bill Howard R.F.D.” (1937), a six-reel (60 minutes) black & white film starring CLEVELAND PLAY HOUSE actors - Kirk Willis, Tom Ireland, John Roberts, Pat (Mrs. Tom) Ireland, Dorothy Paxton, Stan Anderson, Lorain Bell, and George Roberts.
The film tells the story of a farm family's inner conflicts – the struggle between the old and the new. The young Howard couple cannot convince Bill's father of the value of new methods in farming and housekeeping until they present him with a grandson. The newborn child's need for modern conveniences convinces the grandfather, and the fight for rural electrification is won. A review of the film in Better Farm Equipment and Methods gushed that Bill Howard R.F.D was “one of the most fascinating, appealing and entertaining pictures ever filmed on rural electrification.”
Ray Culley, founder of CINECRAFT PRODUCTIONS started directing sponsored films working for Tri-State, and Betty Culley, co-founder of Cinecraft began her movie career as a film editor at Tri-State.
The 1938 Tri-State film for GE, “The World’s Largest Electrical Workshop” directed by Ray Culley, provides “an intimate glimpse into America's greatest workshop where General Electric scientists, engineers, and craftsman contribute to the art of better living and the production of democracy in the forward march of electricity." As a huge electrical storm wages outside, the film opens peering through a window to see a grandfather explaining electricity to his granddaughter.
Several famous scientists appear in the film, including: Willis Whitney, an American chemist and founder of the GE research laboratory; Irving Langmuir, a Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry for his discoveries and surface chemistry investigations; Ernst Frederick Werner Alexanderson, a pioneer in radio and television development, and William David Coolidge, famous for his work with X-rays and developing "ductile tungsten" for the incandescent light bulb.
“The World's Largest Electrical Workshop” takes the viewer to GE's research and manufacturing facilities at NELA PARK in Cleveland and other GE plants where radios, refrigerators, televisions, turbines, and a myriad of other electronic and electric devices are developed.
In 1936, Jack Flanagan, owner of Tri-State, was killed in a tragic accident while filming from the top of a car at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. The following year, Xavier Francis Sutton, sales manager for the studio, was in a serious car accident. The two accidents marked the end for Tri-State. In 1940, after seven years of operation, Tri-State was acquired by the General Broadcasting System, a sponsored film studio in Detroit.