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The Spirit of Culver

A 1939 Universal Picture set in Culver, the remake of 1932's Tom Brown of Culver.

Freddie Bartholomew, Andy Devine, and Jackie Cooper starred in this 1939 remake of 1932's Tom Brown of Culver. While much of Tom Brown was shot on location on the Academy campus in Culver, Spirit was shot in a reconstructed set in Hollywood, due to the disruption and chaos caused by the presence of film crews in 1931-32 on CMA's campus.

The production values may have been a bit more polished in The Spirit of Culver, but many viewers have expressed a sense that the remake lacks some of the charm of the 1932 original film. Part of this, of course, may be the sentiments of Culver folks about the lack of on-location shots of the area!

This film has not been released on dvd or video. It was distributed by Universal PIctures of Hollywood. The library will be showing the film on Friday, August 19, 2005, at 7:00 PM.

More on The Spirit of Culver:

The New York Times review of The Spirit of Culver: click here.

Internet Movie Database full cast and crew info for The Spirit of Culver: click here.

Spirit of Culver Post

Above: original movie poster promoting The Spirit of Culver, from Robert Hartman's collection.

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Above: newspaper advertisements from local theaters for The Spirit of Culver: (from left) a photo blurb from The Culver Citizen; An ad from the Rex Theater in Rochester, Apr. 5, 1939; Ad from Plymouth Rialto, from the same date; and an ad from the Gayble Theater in North Judson. 

Movie Comics Magazine

The June, 1939 issue of Movie Comics magazine features an adaptation of the Universal film, set at Culver, The Spirit of Culver. Click here for dozens of photos, articles, and information about The Spirit of Culver


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Special thanks to Culver Academies historian Robert Hartman and the Culver Academies for the generous use of these photos.

Historic Articles

New Movie Features C.M.A. Background

  With work already underway on “The Spirit of Culver,” the heart-pulling story of youth and its problems and conflicts told against the background of the Culver Military Academy, Universal announced the cast for the new picture.

 Slated with Jackie Cooper, who plays the lead, will be Andy Devine, Freddy Bartholomew, Gene Reynolds, Henry Hull, Jackie Moran, Walter Tetley, Jack Grant, Jr., and Tim Holt,

 Particular interest at the Culver Military Academy lies not only in the fact that the setting for the picture is a local one, but that Tim Holt (son of the well known Jack Holt) is a Culver graduate of the class of 1936 and has been cast in an important role as a cadet officer whose great interest and understanding in Tom Brown plays a vital part in developing the boy’s character.

 While at Culver Tim took an active part in student dramatics under the direction of Major C.C. Mather. He was also a star polo player, a cadet non-commissioned officer in the Black Horse Troop, a member of the football, swimming, and the rifle teams, and an outstanding student. After being graduated from Culver, Tim was signed to a long term contract in Hollywood by Walter Wanger and first starred opposite Ann Shirley in Stella Dallas. He was married in December.

 According to information from the Universal Studios, Burt Kelly, veteran Hollywood producer, is in charge of production, with Joseph Santley, directing. Capitalizing on the great national interest in youth and in view of the tremendous popularity of the star and supporting cast, Universal is planning an intensive, country-wide campaign to bring the picture forcibly to the front as an outstanding attraction of the season. Whitley Bolton, noted scenarist and newspaper columnist, collaborated on the script with Nathaniel West.

 Typical of the extreme care with which Universal is producing the film, is the fact that Brigadier General L.R. Gignilliat, Academy superintendent, was invited to Hollywood to supervise the picture in the capacity of technical advisor.

 In addition to General Gignilliat, Bill Leach of Evanston, Ill., and who was graduated last June, is in Hollywood assisting in training the film players in drill exercise and military routines. Val Herrmann, uniform specialist at the Academy, is also on the coast supervising the manufacture of uniforms and other equipment to add to the authenticity of the production. Leach was second ranking cadet captain in the cadet corps and captain of the undefeated varsity swimming team and a member of the football squad.

 -The Culver Citizen, Jan. 18, 1939

Four stars who will appear in Universal’s new military school feature, “The Spirit of Culver,” are shown above between scenes at Universal City. From left to right they are Jackie Cooper, Andy Devine, Freddy Bartholomew and Henry Hull. 

 Jackie Cooper, who plays the lead in the forthcoming picture, made his film debut when he was four years old, playing in comedies with Lloyd Hamilton. After playing in many Hal Roach comedies, Jackie appeared in “Skippy,” directed by Jackie’s uncle, Norman Taurog. This picture was a tremendous success and proved to be the turning point in Cooper’s career. He was then

signed to a long-term contract by MGM and appeared with Wallace Beery in “The Champ.” Now sixteen he recently appeared in such pictures as, “The Devil is a Sissy,” “Treasure Island,” “Tough Guy,” “That Certain Age,” “Gangster’s Boy,” and others.

 Andy Devine, the big, good-natured epitome of comedy in misery and comfort, is filmdom’s outstanding portrayer of the clumsy, slow-witted fellow who finds himself forever in hot water in a fast-moving and complicated . 

Born in Flagstaff, Ariz., Devine comes from a distinguished family. His maternal grandfather, Admiral James Harmon Ward, was one of the founders of Annapolis. Devine was a star football player in college and later he played professional ball. It was this athletic prowess which ultimately got him “the break” in pictures. After little success in his first picture efforts, Devine worked as a lifeguard at Venice. When he heard that Universal was going to make a football picture, “The Spirit of Notre Dame,” he applied and received a part.

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About the Movie:

Behind the Scenes in Making Academy Film

  As work progresses on the Universal movie, “The Spirit of Culver,” interesting notes have come from Universal City where the picture is being made.

 A letter from General L.R. Gignilliat stated that Freddy Bartholomew, who is starred with Jackie Cooper, who plays the lead, is a regular kid and should play an important role in the success of the picture. According to the General, Freddie’s English accent is accounted for by casting him as the son of a Culver alumnus who was killed overseas as an officer in the American army. Prior to the war he lived in London where he married an English girl.

 In deference to his father’s last wish Freddie (John Randolph III) was sent to his father’s American prep school. The part is cast in such a way that it adds a note of drama, and of democracies hanging together, as the story proceeds.

  “Andy Devine,” the letter continues, “came on the set this morning looking tired and disheveled. He announced the arrival of a son and heir the previous midnight. So I had him sign a Culver application for the son and heir, entered at seven hours old and fourteen inches in height.” In the picture, Andy Devine plays the part played by Slim Summerville in the original Universal production, “Tom Brown of Culver.”

The practice drill field on the set where extras are trained to be Culver cadets is just in front of Deanna Durbin’s cottage, the General said.

”When she comes out, en route to her set, discipline is gone with the wind, and heads are turned. I fear it would be even so with bona fide Culver cadets. She is very lovely.”

  Bill Leach, who was graduated last year from Culver, is assisting General Gignilliat in drilling the extras in their military routines. College students from Southern California are working in as cadets, and many scenes are being shot on the campus at Pamona College, whose grounds are not unlike those here at Culver, the general stated.

 Mrs. Gignilliat has joined the General in California and has been on the set a great deal, making friends and renewing old acquaintances. During the last week she visited with W.C. Fields, Edgar Bergen, and Charley McCarthey. Although she expressed herself as liking the sparkle of Edgar Bergen, Mrs. Gignilliat stated that she found our friend, Charley, a bit wooden.

 The life of a technical director is indeed a full one, the General disclosed. “I am up every morning at six: the studio car comes for me at 6:45, and I am on the set for ten and twelve hours every day. The other morning between the hours of three and five I did some writing for the script. Thus you can see, the whole thing is a 24-hour job.

 “All in all,” he concluded, “’The Spirit of Culver’ impresses me as a picture which is going to have a deep, fine marching beat to it. Joseph Santley, the director, is a veteran actor, and one of the best men with boys I have ever seen. He is quiet and courteous and is doing wonders with the players and the story.”

 -The Culver Citizen, Feb. 1, 1939

His comedy work in this picture was so convincing that he was given a long term contract.

  Freddy Bartholomew, the outstanding English lad, made his American debut in “David Copperfield.” Hailed as a great discover, he starred in some of the greatest pictures to come out of Hollywood, “Anna Karenina,” with Garbo, “The Devil is a Sissy,” “Professional Soldier,” “Kidnapped,” and “Little Lord Fauntleroy.” Active in all outdoor American boy sports, he is proud of the title “regular fellow” conferred by his fellow workers.

  Henry Hull, brilliant veteran of the American stage, rounded twenty-six years of success in the theatre with his great hit as Jeeter in the record-breaking “Tobacco Road.” 

 He plays the part of Jackie’s father in “The Spirit of Culver.” Born in Louisville, Ky., he attended school in New York where he moved with his father, one-time dramatic critic on the Louisville Courier-Journal. He is a graduate of Columbia. After working as an electrical engineer with the Bell Telephone Company, he took a whirl at patent law and then, in 1911, appeared in his first stage role in “The Nigger.”

 A world-war veteran, Hull returned to the stage in “The Cat and the Canary” and later starred in “Lulu Belle,” and “Springtime for Henry.” Hull’s talking picture debut was made in “Paradise for Three,” and he was featured recently in “Three Comrades,” “Yellow Jack” and the “Great Waltz” before doing his role at Universal in “The Spirit of Culver.”

 -The Culver Citizen, Spring 1939