Arthur Blanchard of Cambridge, Mass., had a dream that one day man would stop thinking, and instead use his “thinking machine.” At least, that is, when it came to creating story lines for movies, poems, letters and the like.
New England has a storied place in movie history. The region provides an attractive setting for notable films and a home to some of the industry’s pioneers and scandals. Less well known is Arthur Blanchard’s contribution.
In 1916 Blanchard patented and began marketing his thinking machine under the name: The Movie Writer, and it created quite a buzz.
Editor and Publisher gave it the headline: Brains No Longer Necessary – Just Use the Thinking Machine. Smart New Englander has invented a Device By Which Original Literary Products in Infinite Variety Are Turned Out, in the Simples Possible Way – Whether it be a “Movie” Scenario, a Song, a Diplomatic Note of What Not, the Thinking Machine Does Its Work Unfailingly.
Popular Science gave it a lower-key treatment: A Machine That Thinks Up Movie Plots.
Blanchard was a journalist, playwright and Cambridge politician who served on the city council and the Legislature. Wasteful spending and corrupt banks were two of his major issues. His Thinking Machine, however, may have been his most lasting contribution to the world.
The machine was really nothing more than a box that contained a set of six rollers that had 1,600 words printed on them. As you spun the rollers at random, the words would change to form sometimes funny and sometimes unintelligible combinations. Each began with an adjective followed by noun, verb, noun and then two last words, which were to provide the resolution and denouement to the plot created.
Bold, beggar, blackmails, broker, brawl, banishment
Cowardly, author, deceives, editor, anguish, rejection
Beautiful, stenographer, captures, empress, affair, reflection
It’s lost to history whether the Movie Writer ever actually contributed the plot to any films. Though it seems plausible that some sufferer of writer’s block may have picked it up at one time or another and used it for inspiration – or at least a laugh.
This story updated in 2022.