Farm Feature

A century ago, Stanford student life sparkled on the silver screen.

May 2024

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A woman standing next to two men sitting in chairs, each with books.

PICTURE PERFECT: Lloyed Nolan as the "jock," flanked by costars Richardson and Hal Bumbaugh, Class of 1924. Photo: Special Collections & University Archives

In early 1924, the Stanford Daily announced a contest: A local company was offering $100—nearly $1,800 in today’s money—for the best Stanford motion picture written by a student. Filming would soon follow.

Nearly 50 years before, British photographer Eadweard Muybridge had rigged up a dozen cameras to fire in rapid succession as one of Leland Stanford’s trotters galloped by. The results helped birth the motion picture. Yet when showings of the winning student film—Stanford Days—began, it was only the “second film showing Stanford scenes,” according to the Stanford Illustrated Review.

The film was written by grad student Robert Fitzgerald, MA 1924, and billed in the Daily as a “perpetual record of undergraduate life at Stanford.” The plot features a woman torn between attending Stanford and Cal who goes for a walk in the woods and is scared up a tree by a tiny bear. When a passing Stanford athlete shoos the animal away, her decision is made. At Stanford, the woman is drawn to both the jock and a scholar. In the end, she unites her romantic rivals, and the academic tutors the athlete so he can continue to play for Stanford. “No pains have been spared to make it as true to life as it can possibly be made,” the Daily wrote on the day of the film’s debut.

‘No pains have been spared to make  it as true to life as it can possibly be made.’

The cast included sophomore Lloyd Nolan, Class of 1926, who’d soon scrap his studies for a Hollywood career that would stretch into the ’80s, including nearly 100 films, dozens of TV shows (his final appearance was in an episode of Murder, She Wrote), and an Emmy. But Stanford Days is perhaps more sought after as a window on a lost Stanford. One scene involves the female lead—Margaret Richardson (later Hay), Class of 1924—unwittingly breaking a taboo spelled out in the Daily: “Women shall not walk up and down nor sit on the law steps.” Other scenes include footage of the 1923 Big Game, and of the streetcar that once connected campus and Palo Alto. When the movie was screened again on campus in 1934, the Daily was already noting its “archaic 1924 slang” and inclusion of many “landmarks now extinct.”

Alas, the film itself is now one such landmark. “We’ve always kept an eye out for this film, as requests for it come up once or twice a year,” university archivist Josh Schneider says. “Unfortunately, as far as I am aware, a surviving copy has never been located.”

Sam Scott is a senior writer at Stanford. Email him at

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