Noa (DD-343)

USS Noa DD-343
By Steve Shay (L-10,821)

This cover has more to it than first reaches the eye. It looks like mail from a sailor aboard the destroyer USS Noa but if you look closely, the name Mack Sennett’s appears at the bottom and the cancel is interesting, a clear strike not touching the stamp and the killer bars from a second impression canceling the stamp. Maybe it’s not exactly what it appears to be…..

The USS Noa was in the Asiatic Fleet in 1927, as the cancel bears out, with the killer bar slogan showing the location of Chefoo, China. The corner card also notes that the sailor’s address is the USS Noa, Asiatic Station. As such, it’s a great strike and nice cover. But what about that Mack Sennett’s notation?

Movie fans will recognize the name Mack Sennett as the name of an actor, producer, writer and director. He was known as the King of Comedy. Mack Sennett opened the Keystone Production Company and later Triangle Films and Mack Sennett Comedies. (Think Keystone Cops.) The addressee on this cover was William Hornbeck, an employee of Keystone Productions. Hornbeck had moved up the ladder from a film winder and was a film editor for Mack Sennett in 1917. He reached that position before age 20, editing 52 comedies a year in his home town of Los Angeles.

Hornbeck would go on to a lengthy career, retiring in 1976. His editing movie credits are an impressive list, including “The Scarlet Pimpernel”, “Things to Come”, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, “A Place in the Sun”, “Shane” and “The Barefoot Contessa.” He received an Oscar for “A Place in the Sun” in 1951 and everyone has seen “It’s a Wonderful Life” with Jimmy Stewart.

During WWII, he served in the Pictorial Service of the Signal Corps working on those films with Colonel Frank Capra. He edited the “Why We Fight” series and left the Army with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, He is remembered as being a true pioneer and major influence on film editing, as well as contributing to the training of a whole generation of young editors. But wait, there is more…

Hornbeck was a stamp collector and one of the early naval cancel collectors. He was a founding member of the Philatelic Club of Los Angeles. He wrote an article titled “Battleship Cancellations” that appeared in “The Stamp Collector’s Magazine” in February 1928. (See hornbeck.pdf to read the article.) In this article, he mentions the USS Noa cancellation from a friend who was in the Navy. This same article is referenced in Dr, Locy’s 1929 APS article. Hornbeck credits that cover as starting his search for naval ship cancels. Certainly the mail clerk took care to provide a great strike of the ships cancels.

Hornbeck’s covers are occasionally seen dated in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s but not after that. He went to England in 1934 where he was in charge of editing for Korda Films, returning the US in 1940. He probably put his collecting on hold during this time and during the war.
Sometimes there is more to a cover than meets the eye.