Varick Frissell

Stalwart, Lovable, Young American Meets His End With Sealers Whose Qualities He Extolled in Film and Story.

          Varick Frissell, the young American who, it appears only too certain, met his end in the explosion that destroyed the S.S. Viking on Sunday night, stood six feet seven, was as stalwart as a giant, had the smiling disposition of a boy, and the heart of a lion.  He lived for adventure and had sought it in many out of the way places.

            He came to Newfoundland first about four years ago as a voluntary worker with the International Grenfell Association at St. Anthony and Labrador, and learned to handle a dog team or canoe like an expert.  Accompanied by natives, he undertook the formidable journey up the Hamilton River in Labrador to the mighty Grand Falls, some 250 miles from the coast, and made a moving picture of the stupendous cascade which rivals Niagara.

Filmed Grand Falls

            On one occasion during the journey the canoe containing their supplies broke clear.  The current rapidly carried downstream.  It was pursued and overtaken right at the head of a rapid.  It was Frissell’s nerve and Herculean strength that saved the precious load in the nick of time, and the party from starvation.  Incidentally, it was due to Varick Frissell’s camera record that Newfoundlanders came to a full realization of the veritable gold mine in the water form of water power that was hidden away in the interior of their northern territory.

Conceived Epic Story Of Sealers

            A year later he returned to make a trip to the ice.  He went as a common sealer.  He lived in the men’s quarters; he did his share of their work; he shared the dangers, and reveled in traveling with the best of them over the heaving pans.  It was then he conceived his story for the films, his first object being to bring out the hardhood, skill and courage of the Newfoundland seal hunter.  Those who were privileged to see “White Thunder” two weeks ago know how faithfully he gave expression to the characteristics of the men whom he so greatly admired.

First Outdoor Talking Film

            Last winter he came back again, his story written, his company formed and his plans complete to make the first outdoor talking picture of the sealing industry.  The land scenes were shot in the vicinity of St. John’s and then the artists proceeded to the icefields on the Ungava accompanied by Captain Bob Bartlett as one of the stars.  Failing to get all the film required, the party transferred to another ship, returned to St. John’s and set out again on the Viking, a sealer of the older wooden type.  The result of his work was shown at a private exhibition early in March.  It was called “White Thunder,” and was unique for the remarkable photography of such scenes as the crashing of the ship through the heavy ice, the men traveling over the pans with the swell at times so great that those ahead could not be seen by those behind, the floe covered with myriads of seals, or close-up of the baby whitecoats, their plaintive cries being faithfully reproduced.

His Last Venture

            In order to add certain additional features to the picture, he proceeded again to the ice on March 9th on the Viking accompanied by A.E. Penrod, an expert photographer who had filmed “Down to the Sea in Ships,” also numbered with the missing, and Harry Sargent, a noted explorer, who was to take a leading part.  The adventurous career of this big-hearted, loveable young American, it seems only too evident, has been cut short by the disaster that overtook the Viking and brought death to many of the men for whose skill, courage and endurance his admiration was unbounded.  Perhaps, if he had been consulted, he would have made no other choice than to meet his end in such gallant company.

            Varick Frissell won the love and respect of all Newfoundlanders who knew him, and by them his memory will long be cherished.


The Evening Telegram, March 29, 1931

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