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Film / Little Old New York

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Little Old New York is a 1923 silent film starring Marion Davies and produced by her paramour, William Randolph Hearst. It was based on a 1920 play of the same name by Rida Johnson Young. In 1940, the film received a sound remake.

New York City, 1807. Wealthy Irish immigrant Richard O'Day is leaving his fortune to Patrick O'Day, a nephew back in Ireland. Oops, Patrick just died. Patrick's father, John O'Day, does what anyone would do in this situation, which is to say that he disguises his daughter Patricia as Patrick so they can still get the money. That puts Larry Delavan, who would have gotten the inheritance if not for these shenanigans, into a difficult position. He now has to find some other way to come up with the $10,000 that Robert Fulton needs to build his newfangled steamboat invention. Meanwhile, Pat develops a crush on Larry just as he's being courted by the ladylike Ariana du Puyster.

Considering how many silent films have been lost in fires, Little Old New York is notable for almost being lost in a fire while it was still being made. The negatives were saved, but the studio burned down. All the sets and costumes had to be recreated in order to film the remaining scenes. Miraculously, the movie was still completed in time for its scheduled release date. It proved to be a critical and commercial success.


This film has the examples of:

  • And Starring: The credits end with Marion Davies herself.
  • Artistic License – History:
    • Cornelius Vanderbilt was a child during the time frame of the film. He did not become a steamboat entrepreneur until many years after Robert Fulton's death.
    • Fitz-Greene Halleck didn't move to New York until 1811, four years after the movie is set. Furthermore, he didn't start working for John Jacob Astor until 1832.
    • The movie claims that John Jacob Astor was born in Holland whereas it was actually Germany. Perhaps World War I was too recent a memory in 1923 for audiences to accept him as a German immigrant.
    • Harriet Livingston was the daughter of Walter Livingston, not Robert R. Livingston.
    • Philip Schuyler died in 1804, three before the movie takes place. His wife, also a character in the film, died in 1803. Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton was known as "Eliza" and "Betsey," but not "Betty."
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    • Lorenzo Delmonico wasn't even born until 1813.
    • Fulton's steamship wasn't known as the Clermont until after his death. It was also not the first steamboat, as the film implies, although it was the one that proved they were commercially viable.
    • The American flag raised on the Clermont has fifteen stars and thirteen stripes. In fact, the fifteen-star flag had fifteen stripes as well, and it wasn't until the next revision that the stripes were fixed at thirteen. Note that although the U.S. had seventeen states by 1807, the flag was not revised between 1795 and 1818, so a fifteen-star flag is correct for the period.
  • Been There, Shaped History: Turns out our heroes contributed to the funding of Robert Fulton's first steamboat.
  • Burial at Sea: The real Patrick dies on the voyage over to America. He's buried at sea under Patricia's name.
  • Dawn of an Era: A major subplot concerns Robert Fulton's invention of the steamboat. Insisting that only land will ever be valuable, John Jacob Astor is cast as the short-sighted fuddy-duddy who doesn't foresee the coming transition from an agricultural to an industrial economy. In essence, the film is set against the backdrop of the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in America.
  • Flashback: At the end of the film, there's a lengthy flashback explaining how the swap was made, as though the audience couldn't have figured that out.
  • Gender-Blender Name: Our heroine is generally referred to as "Pat," which could be a nickname for either her assumed name of Patrick or her real name of Patricia.
  • Gorgeous Period Dress: There are plenty of fancy nineteenth-century costumes. Not accurate to the real fashions of 1807, but still fancy.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: "Brevoort brings some new and gay stories to Larry's dinner party that evening," declares an intertitle.
  • Historical Domain Character: *deep breath* Robert Fulton, Washington Irving, Cornelius Vanderbilt, John Jacob Astor, Henry Brevoort, Fitz-Greene Halleck, Philip Schuyler, Robert R. Livingston, Lorenzo Delmonico, Catherine Van Rensselaer, Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, we didn't start the fire! Sorry, got swept up.
  • Hollywood Costuming: The movie is set in 1807, but the women are all donning Victorian fashions instead of the Empire dresses they should be wearing.
  • In the Past, Everyone Will Be Famous: If a supporting role can possibly be filled by a historical figure, it will be. Why wouldn't John Jacob Astor be the sole executor of Richard O'Day's estate? It has to be someone, right?
  • It Will Never Catch On: John Jacob Astor dismisses Robert Fulton's crazy steamboat idea as "an impractical dream." When Cornelius Vanderbilt mentions that he's investing in it, Astor mocks him with another stellar prediction: "When you are penniless, Mr. Vanderbilt, remember what I told you."
  • Just in Time: "Patrick" O'Day makes it to New York just in time to claim "his" fortune.
  • Kissing Cousins: Let's not forget that Pat and Larry are step-cousins.
  • Last Request: On his deathbed, Pat's father makes her swear that she will keep her secret and screw over the Delavan family because reasons.
  • Love Triangle: So, Larry and Ariana like each other, but Pat likes Larry, who doesn't know she's a girl, and she thus exhibits apparently inexplicable animosity towards Ariana. Oh... my!
  • Name's the Same: Larry Delvana is played by Harrison Ford. Not that one.
  • Orphaned Etymology: Pat refers to present-day Cobh, Ireland as Queenstown. It was given that name to honor a visit by Queen Victoria, who wasn't even born yet in 1807.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Pat makes for the most feminine boy the world has ever seen. Nevertheless, every character in the movie is fooled. The audience is presumably meant to be seeing through the disguise, but still.
  • Passed-Over Inheritance: It's assumed that Richard O'Day will leave everything to his stepson, Larry Delavan. To everyone's shock, he leaves it all to his young nephew Patrick instead.
  • Rich Bitch: Pat's romantic rival, the haughty Ariana du Puyster. Having just returned from a visit to fashionable London, Ariana evidently regards herself as the most cultured Proper Lady there is in the American backwater that is New York City. The men adore her, including Larry. Pat hates her, naturally.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: After her real gender is revealed, Pat takes full advantage of getting to dress up as a girl and impress Larry with her femininity. The outfit looks more 1907 than 1807, but never mind.
  • Soap Opera Disease: Pat's father dies of this tragic ailment.
  • Splash of Color: In the original release, some elements were colored in by hand, such as the American flag raised over the Clermont. Sadly, the color is not included in any surviving prints.
  • Stock Punishment: Pat witnesses someone getting punished this way, which makes her more afraid of getting caught.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Patricia O'Day is disguised as her dead brother Patrick so that she can get the fortune he would have inherited. Her having to be male for this to work is incidental. Even in 1807, single women could inherit property if anyone felt so inclined to leave it to them. The problem is that the will specified Patrick, and if not him, then Larry.
  • Sweet on Polly Oliver: After the truth is revealed:
    Larry: Everything is all right, Pat. I know I will much prefer being the guardian of a girl.
    Pat: But you won't be anybody's guardian, Mr. Larry. The money is all yours now. You can pay Mr. Fulton and everything.
    Larry: That isn't the reason I'm glad you are a girl, Pat.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Pat and Ariana by default, since the former is disguised as a boy for most of the movie.
  • Torches and Pitchforks: Pat uses a false alarm to end a boxing tournament on which Larry had made a foolish bet. Once the patrons realize what happened, they form an angry mob and go after Larry, whom they assume was responsible. Pat confesses and tells them to Take Me Instead. They happily oblige, but Larry comes to her rescue.
  • '20s Bob Haircut: Pat has one as part of her disguise. Great excuse for her to have a fashionable 1923 hairstyle in a Period Piece, right?
  • Unexpected Inheritance: The poverty-stricken O'Days are literally getting evicted by their landlord when word arrives that Patrick has inherited a fortune.
  • Young Future Famous People: A young, pre-fame Washington Irving has a brief cameo.