100 Years Ago Today

A History Of Events And Happenings From Exactly One Hundred Years Ago

The First “Beach Movie” Is Released

Mack Sennett was born Mikall Sinnott in Danville, Quebec, Canada in 1880. When he was 17 years old his family moved to Connecticut. Sennett first got the idea to go on stage after seeing a vaudeville show. He became an actor, singer, dancer, clown, set designer. He was attracted to the early movies and started working for the New York film studio Biograph Company. In 1908 in order to to bring stability to the patent wars and litigation the Edison Film Manufacturing Company, the Biograph company, and the 7 other east coast motion picture studios ended their competitive feuding in favor of a cooperative system that provided a monopolistic industry domination and formed the Motion Picture Patents Company known as The Film Trust. By pooling their interests, the member companies legally monopolized the business, and demanded licensing fees from all film producers, distributors, and exhibitors for cameras and projectors, which were all made by Edison. Either you did what the Film Trust wanted or you could build your own cameras, developers, and projectors.

Mack Sennett

Unlicensed outlaws and “independents” carried on business without submitting to the Edison monopoly using illegal equipment and importing film stock to create their own underground market. The Motion Picture Patents Company would file suit to confiscated unlicensed equipment, discontinued product supply to theaters which showed unlicensed films, and effectively monopolized distribution with the acquisition of all US film exchanges. The rebel film studios started looking elsewhere to avoid the Film Trust and have moved all the way across the country to California (where the nice weather allows a longer filming season) and opened studios is small southern California towns like Edendale and Hollywood.

In August 1912 Mack Sennett founded Keystone Studios in Edendale, California. He announced his new company by promising “A SPLIT-REEL COMEDY RELEASED EVERY MONDAY” meaning 2 7- or 8-minute comedies on one reel of film. While at Biograph Sennett met actress Mabel Normand and made successful comedies with her. They became romantically involved and he convinced her to come work at Keystone.

Mabel Normand

Venice of America was founded by tobacco millionaire Abbot Kinney in 1905 as a beach resort town near Santa Monica, California. Kinney dug several miles of canals to drain the marshes resembling Venice, Italy. He added a pleasure pier with an auditorium, ship restaurant, and dance hall,and a block-long arcaded business street with Venetian architecture. The population soon exceeded 10,000 and the town drew 50,000 to 150,000 tourists on weekends. In July 1912 the first live beauty pageant (where the contestants were judged in person in one event) in the US took place at Venice Beach as 169 female contestants participated in the “Festival of the Sea Bathing Costume Contest” parading in their one-piece swimsuits before an enthusiastic crowd of 100,000. The event inspired Sennett to make his first California film.

artist’s concept of the “Festival of the Sea Bathing Costume Contest”
Venice Beach, California
July 1912

On September 23, 1912 Mabel Normand became the first actress to put on a bathing suit on film when Sennett released his movie featuring himself with Mabel Normand called THE WATER NYMPH filmed at Venice Beach, California. The plot involves an eloping couple who gets taken to the beach by the groom’s father. When Normand changes into a sexy bathing suit, the father tries to woo her. Sennett promoted his actress by name and by face which was never done before. A large picture of Normand was shown as well as a scene from the movie of the actress wearing a risque and controversial bathing suit called a Kellerman suit. In 1907 Annette Kellerman was giving a swimming and diving exhibition before members of the English royal family. Women’s swimwear at that time forbid the showing of any bare leg and was a cumbersome dress and pantaloon combination. Kellerman bought a pair of long black stockings and sewed them onto a boy’s short racing swimsuit. This was the first one-piece swimsuit for women. Normand’s appearance in a Kellerman suit was just the promotional device this film needs to be a success.



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