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Opinion >  Column

100 years ago in Spokane: The city’s prospects for becoming ‘Hollywood North’ dimmed, and dramatic testimony emerged in a high-profile murder trial

 (Spokane Daily Chronicle archives )
(Spokane Daily Chronicle archives )

The big movie studio at Minnehaha changed hands again, further dampening Spokane’s longtime dream of becoming Hollywood North.

The Pan-American Film Corp., formed by a group of Spokane business people, had taken over all of the property of the Playter Studios. Wellington Playter had been trying without success to resuscitate the movie business in the city.

In 1918, the studio had been launched, with much fanfare, as the Washington Motion Picture Corp. Yet it soon went bankrupt after the film star Tyrone Power abandoned the project and several feature films failed to make much of a splash.

The new Pan-American Film Corp. was not ready to abandon the dream. It announced that it would start production soon on several comedies. It was bringing in “two leading film comedians” from Los Angeles – although the company did not specify their names.

From the court beat: Lois Gibson, who lived next to the room where Helen Williams was slain, provided devastating testimony in the murder trial of Jennings Henry.

She told a courtroom that she was awoken in the night by a commotion next door.

She heard Henry and Isaac Selvig arguing drunkenly over Helen Williams, followed by a scuffle.

When she went out to the hallway to see what was going on, she heard Henry in his room crying out, “My God, baby, have I killed you?”

Her testimony was followed by equally damaging testimony from the police officer who arrived at the scene to find Helen Williams bleeding to death on a sofa.

Henry told the officer he had been trying to strike Selvig with a knife, but the blow went wild, missed Selvig and slashed Williams.

When the officer asked Henry where the knife was, he said, “I don’t remember. I might have thrown it out the window.”

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