Moving Picture Plant
We occasionally catch some flack around here for saying that Chicago invented Hollywood. It’s true that it’ll take us a whole book to back up that contention, but it’s true. In fact, the first guy to film commercially in Los Angeles was none other than Colonel Selig, who filmed most of his one-reel adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo in Chicago, but filmed a beach scene in L.A, where he would soon open the first permanent studio in Edendale (which is near where Echo Park is now).
The film survives, but has only been screened once in the last century or so, at Cinecon a few years back. Most describe it as totally ridiculous – the actor jumping into the water is clearly not the same guy who was in the prison. I did manage to find this still, with what may have been the most obviously phony beard ever photograph. A kid with a bottle of Mr. Bubble can make a beard just about as convincing as this one.
Still, it’s charming as all get out. Selig’s movies tended to be swashbuckling adventures, animal pictures, and travel films. Far more so than any other producer of the day, he believed that movies were the wave of the future.
In 1911, he took out space in magazines to publish an article entitled “WHAT MOVING PICTURES ARE GIVING THE WORLD: A Moral and Educational Tonic for Young and Old Alike.” In the article, he sounds like Professor Harold Hill talking up the value of a boys’ band:
“(we) believe that five cent moving picture shows are possibilities for a great deal of good in the community. They do more than fill an idle hour. But did they even do only this they would have to be given the credentials as purveyors of legitimate amusement. Hours unemployed are the devil’s opportunity… they who have had dealings with the young need not be reminded of the far-reaching applications of this observation. Even now the discovery has been made and amply verified that the five and ten cent theatre with its cinematographic plays is a most powerful rival of the saloon…saloonkeepers have reported that their transient trade has fallen off in districts well supplied with these shows. … Efforts should be made to lift their exhibits to highest planes of instruction…in measure as they will reach out for better effects than mere spectacular and sensational reproductions of casual occurrences they will develop into agencies of great value in the domain of education and culture.”
It goes on like this for quite a while. You can read the whole thing here, on Google Books.
Selig was a man with a vision – far more so than other producers of the era, who got so tied up in being part of Edison’s “trust” that they seemed to stop carrying about quality altogether. Unfortunately, he failed to follow it through, and was soon left behind. Tomorrow, we’ll look at what went wrong.
In the mean time, here’s a wonderful shot of Selig’s train at Northwestern station in Chicago, ready head for California. Present at the station was Major. Funkhouser, the official city film censor (we had of those those in those days, and, in the grand tradition of Chicago officials, he was spectacularly corrupt – but that’s another story!).
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