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American Vitagraph was a United States movie studio, founded by J. Stuart Blackton and Albert E. Smith in 1897. By 1907 it was the most prolific American film production company.[1] It was bought by Warner Bros. in 1925.

Contents

History

In 1896, English émigré Blackton was moonlighting as a reporter/artist for the New York Evening World when he was sent to interview Thomas Edison about his new film projector. The inventor talked the entrepreneurial reporter into buying a set of films and a projector. A year later, Blackton and business partner Smith founded the American Vitagraph Company in direct competition with Edison. A third partner, distributor William "Pop" Rock, was added around the turn of the century. The company's first studio was located on the rooftop of a building on Nassau Street in Manhattan. Operations were later moved to the Flatbush (or more precisely Midwood) neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. The company's first claim to fame came from newsreels: Vitagraph cameramen were on the scene to film events from the Spanish-American War of 1898. These shorts were among the first works of motion-picture propaganda, and a few had that most characteristic fault of propaganda, studio re-enactments being passed off as footage of actual events (The Battle of Santiago Bay was filmed in an improvised bathtub, with the "smoke of battle" provided by Mrs. Blackton's cigar).

Vitagraph was not the only company seeking to make money from Edison's motion picture inventions, and Edison's lawyers were very busy in the 1890s and 1900s filing patents and suing competitors for patent infringement. Blackton did his best to avoid lawsuits by buying a special license from Edison in 1907 and by agreeing to sell many of his most popular films to Edison for distribution.

The American Vitagraph Company made many contributions to the history of movie-making. It was one of the original ten production companies included in Edison's attempt to corner movie-making, the Motion Picture Patents Company, in 1909. Major stars included Florence Turner (the "Vitagraph Girl", one of the world's first movie stars),[2] Maurice Costello (the first of the matinee idols), Harry T. Morey, and Jean (the "Vitagraph Dog" and the first animal star of the Silent Era). In 1903 the director Joseph Delmont started his career by producing westerns, who later got famous with using "wild carnivoras" in his movies — a sensation for that time. Larry Trimble was a noted director of films for Turner and Jean (he was also the dog's owner). John Bunny made films for Vitagraph in the 1910s most of them co-starring Flora Finch, and was the most popular film comedian in the world in the years before Chaplin; his death in 1915 was observed worldwide. In 1910, a number of movie houses showed the five parts of the Vitagraph serial The Life of Moses consecutively (a total length of almost 90 minutes), making it one of many to claim the title of "the first feature film". A long series of Shakespeare adaptations were the first done of the Bard's works in the U.S. The 1915 feature The Battle Cry of Peace (written and directed by Blackton) was one of the great propaganda films of World War I. Ironically, after America declared war, the film was modified for re-release because it was seen as not being sufficiently pro-war, thus it also earns a place in the history of censorship.

World War I spelled the beginning of the end for Vitagraph. With the loss of foreign distributors and the rise of the great production-distribution houses, Vitagraph was slowly but surely squeezed out of the business. Making matters worse, Vitagraph's leading comedy star Larry Semon was consistently popular, but also consistently draining the company's finances with his spectacular and expensive productions. On April 22, 1925, Vitagraph owner Albert E. Smith sold the company to Warner Brothers for a comfortable profit. The Flatbush studio (renamed Vitaphone) was later used as an independent unit within Warner Bros., specializing in early sound shorts.

Notable films

  • San Francisco Earthquake and Fire (1906) (several short films)
  • Princess Nicotine; or, The Smoke Fairy (1909)
  • Uncle Tom's Cabin (1910)
  • The Life of Moses (1910)
  • Vanity Fair (1911)
  • The Battle Cry of Peace (1915)
  • The Juggernaut (1915)

References

  1. ^ Eilseen Bowser, The Transformation of Cinema 1907–1915, University of California Press, 1990, p. 23. ISBN 0-520-08534-5.
  2. ^ Florence Turner and Florence Lawrence were tied for being the first big movie stars. Eilseen Bowser, The Transformation of Cinema 1907–1915, University of California Press, 1990, p. 113–114. ISBN 0-520-08534-5.

External links

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American Vitagraph was a United States movie studio, founded by J. Stuart Blackton and Albert E. Smith in 1897. By 1907 it was the most prolific American film production company.[1] It was bought by Warner Bros. in 1925.

Contents

History

In 1896, English émigré Blackton was moonlighting as a reporter/artist for the New York Evening World when he was sent to interview Thomas Edison about his new film projector. The inventor talked the entrepreneurial reporter into buying a set of films and a projector. A year later, Blackton and business partner Smith founded the American Vitagraph Company in direct competition with Edison. A third partner, distributor William "Pop" Rock, was added around the turn of the century. The company's first studio was located on the rooftop of a building on Nassau Street in Manhattan. Operations were later moved to the Flatbush (or more precisely Midwood) neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. The company's first claim to fame came from newsreels: Vitagraph cameramen were on the scene to film events from the Spanish-American War of 1898. These shorts were among the first works of motion-picture propaganda, and a few had that most characteristic fault of propaganda, studio re-enactments being passed off as footage of actual events (The Battle of Santiago Bay was filmed in an improvised bathtub, with the "smoke of battle" provided by Mrs. Blackton's cigar).

Vitagraph was not the only company seeking to make money from Edison's motion picture inventions, and Edison's lawyers were very busy in the 1890s and 1900s filing patents and suing competitors for patent infringement. Blackton did his best to avoid lawsuits by buying a special license from Edison in 1907 and by agreeing to sell many of his most popular films to Edison for distribution.

The American Vitagraph Company made many contributions to the history of movie-making. It was one of the original ten production companies included in Edison's attempt to corner movie-making, the Motion Picture Patents Company, in 1909. Major stars included Florence Turner (the "Vitagraph Girl", one of the world's first movie stars),[2] Maurice Costello (the first of the matinee idols), Harry T. Morey, and Jean (the "Vitagraph Dog" and the first animal star of the Silent Era). In 1903 the director Joseph Delmont started his career by producing westerns, who later got famous with using "wild carnivoras" in his movies — a sensation for that time. Larry Trimble was a noted director of films for Turner and Jean (he was also the dog's owner). John Bunny made films for Vitagraph in the 1910s most of them co-starring Flora Finch, and was the most popular film comedian in the world in the years before Chaplin; his death in 1915 was observed worldwide. In 1910, a number of movie houses showed the five parts of the Vitagraph serial The Life of Moses consecutively (a total length of almost 90 minutes), making it one of many to claim the title of "the first feature film". A long series of Shakespeare adaptations were the first done of the Bard's works in the U.S. The 1915 feature The Battle Cry of Peace (written and directed by Blackton) was one of the great propaganda films of World War I. Ironically, after America declared war, the film was modified for re-release because it was seen as not being sufficiently pro-war, thus it also earns a place in the history of censorship.

World War I spelled the beginning of the end for Vitagraph. With the loss of foreign distributors and the rise of the great production-distribution houses, Vitagraph was slowly but surely squeezed out of the business. Making matters worse, Vitagraph's leading comedy star Larry Semon was consistently popular, but also consistently draining the company's finances with his spectacular and expensive productions. On April 22, 1925, Vitagraph owner Albert E. Smith sold the company to Warner Brothers for a comfortable profit. The Flatbush studio (renamed Vitaphone) was later used as an independent unit within Warner Bros., specializing in early sound shorts.

The Vitagraph name was briefly resurrected in the 1960's at the end of Warner Bros.' Looney Tunes cartoons, with the end titles reading "A Warner Bros. Cartoon / A Vitagraph Release". Merrie Melodies of the same period had the same end title, with the last line being "A Vitaphone Release". This may have been done to protect the studio's ownership of the two largely-defunct trade names.

Notable films

See also

References

  1. ^ Eilseen Bowser, The Transformation of Cinema 1907–1915, University of California Press, 1990, p. 23. ISBN 0-520-08534-5.
  2. ^ Florence Turner and Florence Lawrence were tied for being the first big movie stars. Eilseen Bowser, The Transformation of Cinema 1907–1915, University of California Press, 1990, p. 113–114. ISBN 0-520-08534-5.

External links


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