Town Hall Theatre in Wilton presents ‘The First Auto’

  • Charles Emmett Mack, leading man in “The First Auto,” was killed in a car accident before the picture was completed.  COURTESY PHOTO

  • An original promotional ad for “The First Auto.” COURTESY PHOTO

  • An original poster for “The First Auto.” COURTESY PHOTO

  • A scene from “The First Auto,” a silent drama about the transition from horses to the auto age. COURTESY PHOTO

  • A scene from “The First Auto,” a silent drama about the transition from horses to the auto age. COURTESY PHOTO

Published: 5/12/2022 2:03:57 PM

“The First Auto” (1927) was intended to be a nostalgic drama about the transition from horses to automobiles in the early 1900s. But during filming, leading man Charles Emmett Mack was killed in a car accident.

Mack, a popular 1920s star, died in a crash while driving to a racetrack to shoot sequences for the nearly completed movie. Despite Mack's death at age 26, Warner Bros. finished the picture, altering the ending so that his character didn't need to appear on-screen.

Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St. in Wilton, will screen “The First Auto” Sunday, May 23, at 2 p.m. Admission is free, and a donation of $10 per person is suggested to help defray expenses. The screening will feature live accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, a composer who specializes in creating music for silent films. “The First Auto” is being shown in honor of the upcoming Indianapolis 500, which takes place Saturday, May 29.

Opening in 1895, “The First Auto” follows the story of a prosperous stable owner (Russell Simpson) whose son (Mack) becomes fascinated with the then-new "horseless carriages," or automobiles. After the two clash repeatedly, the son moves to Detroit to work in the auto business. By 1905, he has become a successful race car driver. Things come to a head when the son secretly enters a race back in his old hometown – a race that the father intends to sabotage.

Mack broke into the movies as a young prop man for director D.W. Griffith. Griffith began using Mack in small on-screen parts, which led to a career in front of the camera as a popular 1920s star. He co-starred in several films with fellow young actor Neil Hamilton, who would much later go on to play Commissioner Gordon in the 1960s “Batman” TV series.

Among the large cast is actor William Demarest, who would go on to play Uncle Charlie in the long-running sitcom “My Three Sons.” The movie also features a cameo appearance by legendary race car driver Barney Oldfield, who first broke the 60 mph speed mark in 1903. Oldfield served as technical advisor for the race sequences to ensure period authenticity.

The film was directed by Roy Del Ruth; writers included a young Darryl F. Zanuck, who would go on to create 20th Century Fox, a studio he ran for many decades.

“The First Auto” is part of the Town Hall Theatre's silent film series, which aims to show early movies as they were meant to be seen – in high-quality prints, on a large screen with live music and with an audience.

"All those elements are important parts of the silent film experience," stated Rapsis, who will improvise a musical score for “The First Auto.” "Recreate those conditions, and the classics of early Hollywood leap back to life.”

For information, visit the Town Hall Theatre website or call 603-654-3456. For more about the music, visit











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