The City Beyond: A News-Gazette and Virginia Theater Film

In the summer of 1923 the Twin-Cities were buzzing with movie fever, as the News-Gazette and the Virginia Theater were producing a film to showcase Champaign and Urbana. While the film was to be used as publicity and promotion, the News-Gazette declared that the film was more than just an advertisement-it was to be “a real picture of heart interest, produced by local stars and with local settings.” (“Will Star In Local Photoplay," 1923)

The stars of the show would be Miss Ruth Honn of 815 West University Avenue, Mrs. Elizabeth Boggs Bartling of Chicago, the daughter of Judge and Mrs. F.S. Boggs of Urbana, and Frank “Roby” Robeson Jr. of Robeson’s Department Store on Church Street, Champaign. The film was directed by J. Law Siple of Siple Studios Inc. in Chicago and the cameramen were from the News-Gazette.

The only known description of the film is described in a News-Gazette article dated June 21, 1923:

“The story that is to be woven in to the picture is one of stirring heart-interest. The scenes will include the thrill of an aerial pageant with a plane wreck, including the rescue from the wreckage of the star; parks and public and private buildings; incidents and parades of graduation day; clubs in session and agencies of Mercy busy at their work of making life more attractive and beautiful.” ("Co-Star in Local Photoplay; Picture made Thursday")

Filming occurred at the Chanute Air Base in Rantoul and around both cities. The first News-Gazette article that mentions the film is in early June of 1923, and the film premiered July 23rd, 1923 at the Virginia Theater and ran for only three days. The film was then “turned over to The News-Gazette and will be kept in its possession.” ("'The City Beyond' Will Close Run Wednesday Night, 1923)

The running time and exact locations of the shots in the film are unknown. It is also unknown if any copies of the movie survive. Local film groups have searched for the film but have come up empty handed.

J. Law Siple also directed a film for Decatur titled “The City Beyond” just one month after the Champaign-Urbana film was completed. It also shot scenes at Chanute Air Base, but it is unknown if the films have similar plots.