100 Years Ago Today

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

Archive for the category “Movies”

New Film Released In New York

Edwin Thanhouser was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1865. He traveled around the US and Canada with various acting companies companies before moving to New Rochelle, New York where he leased space in an old wooden skating to start the Thanhouser Company and produced silent films. Their first film was released in March 1910.

On September 3, 1912 Thanhouser released “The Voice of Conscience” about a love triangle that results in attempted murder.

“The Voice of Conscience” Tanhauser Films

Thanhouser Company

Keystone Studios Founded In California

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.

Mack Sennett

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 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.

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.

On August 12, 1912 with financial backing from Adam Kessel and Charles O Bauman of the New York Motion Picture Company, Mack Sennett founded Keystone Studios in Edendale, California. While at Biograph Sennett met actress Mabel Normand and made successful comedies with her. He plans to use her at Keystone.

Mabel Normand

Keystone Studios logo



Edison’s Vision Of Family Entertainment

Thomas Alva Edison, “The Wizard of Menlo Park” is America’s most prolific inventor and its most popular man of science. He began as a telegraph operator and spent his time reading and experimenting. His first patent was in 1869 for an electric vote recorder. Edison is the third most prolific inventor in history, holding 1,093 US patents in his name. Here is a list of Edison’s patents :


His patents include the phonograph, the stock ticker, the first successful incandescent light bulb, the motion picture camera, the carbon microphone used in telephones, electric power distribution, the fluoroscope, and the industrial research lab.

 In 1891 Edison built a Kinetoscope or peep-hole viewer which became immediately popular and was installed in penny arcades where people could watch short simple films. The kinetograph and his new kinetoscope were both first publicly exhibited in May 1891.

Edison and his Home Projecting Kinetoscope – 1912

Edison envisioned a time when the entire family would gather and watch images on a screen.

Home Projecting Kinetoscope publicity shot made at Edison’s studio
Family watching film in living room
August 9 1912

Congress Moves To Ban Fight Films

John Arthur “Jack” Johnson was born in Galveston, Texas in 1878. He worked as a dock worker but in 1901 he fought experienced boxer Joe Choynski in Galveston in an illegal match. Both men were jailed and Choynski taught Johnson the skills of boxing while they were in prison. Johnson developed his own style of boxing that was slow and deliberate. It was very effective but it was criticized in the press as being cowardly and devious. By 1902 Johnson had won at least 50 fights against both white and black opponents. Johnson won the World Colored Heavyweight Championship in February 1903. He wished to fight for the World Heavyweight Championship but reigning champion James J Jeffries refused to face him. Johnson fought former champion Bob Fitzsimmons in July 1907 and knocked him out in two rounds.

Jack Johnson

Johnson finally won the world heavyweight title in December 1908 beating reigning world champion Canadian Tommy Burns in Sydney, Australia in 14 rounds. For the next 2 years, Johnson faced several fighters each called “the Great White Hope”, a racial taunt at the African American champion. Finally in 1910 former undefeated heavyweight champion James J Jeffries came out of retirement to challenge Johnson. He had to lose 100 pounds to get to fighting weight. “The Fight Of The Century” took place on July 4, 1910 in front of 20,000 people, at a ring built just for the occasion in downtown Reno, Nevada.

On July 4, 1912 Johnson defended hit title against “Fireman” Jim Flynn in New Mexico. Despite being warned by the referee Flynn continually attempted to headbutt Johnson and the local sheriff eventually stepped in to stop the fight in Johnson’s favor. The fight was filmed and producers hoped to successfully distribute it just as the Jefferies fight had been. Aware of the riots from the 1910 fight Southern Congressmen introduced bill that would outlaw the interstate transportation of fight films. Representative Seaborn Rodenberry of Georgia referred to Johnson specifically as “an African biped beast” and stated “no man descended from the old Saxon race can look upon that kind of contest without abhorrence and disgust.” These Southern racists did not want a film of an African-American beating a white man shown anywhere. Representative Thetus Sims of Tennessee pressed the bill forward and it became known as the Sims Act.

On July 31, 1912 the Sims Act was passed by Congress. This was the first time the US federal government had stepped in and enforced censorship in motion pictures. It is also the first time Congress involved itself directly in a sports-related matter.

Jack Johnson – “Fireman” Jim Flynn – fight promoter Jack Curley

Postmarked July 27, 1912

Mrs. Mary E. Cantrell
RFD No. 3
Ainsworth, Nebraska

Dear Mamma,
Mrs. Groesbeck says you can have the test for $5 — I told her that you bot (sic) one she wanted me to ask you as she forgot about it. Have had lots of rain lately. Put up some peaches. There’s green tomatoes in the vines. The Fire Brow(?) is over was awful noisy. No News.


Crystal Theatre
Norfolk’s High Class Photo Play Theatre

Florence Turner was already a performing artist when she joined pioneer motion picture maker Vitagraph Studios in 1907. There were no film credits and a popular performer was referred to by the film company they represented. Turner became “The Vitagraph Girl” and the most popular film actress in America. Still, she made only $22 a week and did part-time seamstress work for the studio. In 1910 film credits were introduced. Soon after the first movie fan magazines appeared and Florence Turner along with Florence Lawrence, “The Biograph Girl”, became America’s first movie stars.

Are you alone? Ruth don’t like N. Platte. Mrs. Serviss just came from (??).
Florence E Turner
Vitagraph Players


Sarah Bernhardt Film Premieres In New York

Adolph Zukor is a Hungarian immigrant to the US who worked himself up from a garment worker to a successful furrier. In 1903 he invested in an arcade salon that featured Thomas Edison’s new inventions – phonographs, electric lights and moving pictures. He soon owned several of these salons in New York City. In May 1912 the Famous Players Film Company was founded by Zukor in partnership with the Frohman Brothers who were the largest theater owners in New York. The company advertises “Famous Players in Famous Plays.”

Sarah Bernhardt is perhaps the world’s most famous actress. Lou Tellegen is a European actor who has become romantically involved with the great actress although she is 37 years older than him. In 1910 they made a film together in France – La Dame Aux Camelias. In 1912 they made another film – Les Amours de la Reine Élisabeth (The Loves of Queen Elizabeth) based on the love affair between Elizabeth I of England and the Earl of Essex. The production company making the film in France – L’Histrionic Films, was forced into liquidation during the film’s production. Adolph Zukor approached the Frohman Brothers with a proposal to buy and complete the film and show it in the US.

On July 12, 1912 the full length silent film Les Amours de la reine Élisabeth starring Sarah Bernhardt is released in the United States as Queen Elizabeth, with title cards in English.

Bernhardt and Tellegen in a scene from “Les Amours de le Reine Elisabeth”

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