Archive for Vitagraph

Hall of Hams #73: Maurice Costello

Posted in Hollywood (History), Irish, Melodrama and Master Thespians, Movies, Silent Film, Singers, The Hall of Hams, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , on February 22, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Maurice Costello (1877-1950.). Costello is a major figure in early film history, sadly now forgotten, although his DNA remains very prominent in the contemporary movie industry!

The son of Irish immigrants, Costello grew up in Pittsburgh where he worked at various odd jobs before gaining a toehold in vaudeville in 1894 with a repertoire of Irish songs. Soon, he was touring in stock companies and melodramas. By 1905 he was in New York and taking film work by day at the Edison studios to supplement his income. In 1907 he moved to Vitagraph which is where he enjoyed his principal time in the sun.

In 1911 he became one of the first movie actors whose name was revealed to the public, and thus became one of the cinema’s first matinee idols. Among his many hits was this 1911 version of A Tale of Two Cities:

Adverse publicity from several domestic violence incidents negatively affected his career in the mid teens. By the end of end of the decade, he was more of a supporting player, although he continued to work through the 1920s. By that time, his daughters Helene and Dolores had become stage and screen stars — bigger stars than he was at that point. In the sound era, Costello was reduced to being an extra, literally a spear carrier in some films. His last credit is in 1945.

But in the meantime his daughter Dolores had become John Barrymore’s third wife (1928-1935). Through this bloodline, Maurice Costello is the great-grandfather of none other than Drew Barrymore. 

For more on early film history don’t miss my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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To learn more about show biz history including vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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Stars of Vaudeville #235: Winsor McCay

Posted in Silent Film, Vaudeville etc., VISUAL ART with tags , , , , , , , on September 26, 2013 by travsd

Originally posted in 2010

Born this day (according to some, including himself) circa 1867-1871, cartoonist Winsor McCay is much revered today for his highly whimsical, dreamlike comic strips like Little Nemo in Slumberland and Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend. More to the point here, starting in 1911, he toured vaudeville with short animated films using his characters like Gertie the Dinosaur and others. McCay would lecture and magically interact with the films. My friends from the Silent Clowns screening series have shown some of these — get on their list, and they’ll tip you off the next time it’s on one of their bills! After about 10 years of touring the circuits, McCay concentrated on editorial cartoons for newspapers. He passed away in 1934.

Now here’s his creation “Gertie the Dinosaur” in a film from 1914. The titles are lines the cartoonist would have spoken to the animated film as part of his vaudeville act. The scenes at the end are a recap of the framing device that begins the film (available in a different youtube clip) in which fellow cartoonist George McManus bets him that he can’t make such a film.

To find out more about vaudeville past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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I’m Speaking at Brooklyn Public Library Tonight

Posted in BOOKS & AUTHORS, BROOKLYN, Hollywood (History), ME, Movies, My Shows, PLUGS, Silent Film with tags , , , , , on September 25, 2013 by travsd

Vitagraph_Studios_Brooklyn,_New_York

Wednesday, September 25, 7pm

Brooklyn Public Library, Central Branch (Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn)

Vitagraph: Brooklyn’s Own Movie Studio

In the early years of cinema, Brooklyn (Midwood, to be specific) was one of America’s great film production centers thanks to the early establishment there of Vitagraph Studios by J. Stuart Blackton in 1907. Among Vitagraph’s early stable of performers were Mr. & Mrs. Sidney Drew (uncle and aunt of the Barrymores), Marshall P. Wilder, and John Bunny (America’s first comedy star), and his comedy foil, Flora Finch. Later, the facilities were sold to Warner Bros and became the Vitaphone studios, where many of the first talkies were filmed. Come watch me show and tell about this topic with both local and international angles. And it’s FREE!

We’ll also have copies of my new book Chain of Fools on hand, available for purchase, signing and enjoyment.

For more information go here: http://brooklynology.org/post/2013/09/13/Vitagraph-Studios.aspx

And please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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Stars of Slapstick #162: Spencer Bell

Posted in African American Interest, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Larry Semon, Movies, Silent Film, Stars of Slapstick, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , on September 25, 2013 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of pathbreaking black comedian Spencer Bell (1887-1935). Originally from Lexington, Kentucky, Bell started out in minstrel shows and vaudeville before breaking into pictures in 1919, mostly supporting Larry Semon and Lige Conley, but also to be found in movies starring Billy Bevan, Poodles Hanneford, Bobby Vernon, Al St. John, Jimmie Adams, Neal Burns and others. His best known picture nowadays is Semon’s notorious 1925 version of The Wizard of Oz. 

Bell’s (real) name deserves to be better known, being as he was one of the first African Americans to make his way in the film industry — a decade before the likes of Stepin Fetchit came to the fore, for example. His parts were almost invariably egregious stereotypes and one-off sight gags. His billing in many films was “G. Howe Black”, his parts were usually servants or menials or some sort (named Snowball or the like), and the gags often revolved around his superstitious fear, or the fact that he’d fallen into a white substance (flour, talcum powder) making him resemble a Caucasian (at least in the film’s twisted world). But this didn’t stop him from being pretty darned funny, which is undoubtedly why he was hired and frequently employed in the first place. (His running-in-place-while-terrified routine is a showstopper). In the last years of silents and in the early years of talkies he worked most frequently in bit parts for Mack Sennett. He died during a stomach operation at age 47

Here is one of the Semon comedies in which Bell appears as G. Howe Black. In Horseshoes (1923), Bell is punched in the face by boxer Oliver Hardy — and gets a WHITE eye!

For more on silent and slapstick comedy, don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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To find out more about vaudeville past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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Two Talks This Week!

Posted in BOOKS & AUTHORS, Broadway, Hollywood (History), ME, Movies, My Shows, PLUGS, Silent Film with tags , , , , , , , on September 23, 2013 by travsd

We’re very excited back here at Trav S.D. Laboratories about the two talks we have lined up this week, one more connected with my first book No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, the other done in support of the new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube….

Vitagraph_Studios_Brooklyn,_New_York

Wednesday, September 25, 7pm

Brooklyn Public Library, Central Branch (Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn)

Vitagraph: Brooklyn’s Own Movie Studio

In the early years of cinema, Brooklyn (Midwood, to be specific) was one of America’s great film production centers thanks to the early establishment there of Vitagraph Studios by J. Stuart Blackton in 1907. Among Vitagraph’s early stable of performers were Mr. & Mrs. Sidney Drew (uncle and aunt of the Barrymores), Marshall P. Wilder, and John Bunny (America’s first comedy star), and his comedy foil, Flora Finch. Later, the facilities were sold to Warner Bros and became the Vitaphone studios, where many of the first talkies were filmed. Come watch me show and tell about this topic with both local and international angles. And it’s FREE!

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Sunday, September 29 (following 2pm matinee performance)

Mint Theater, 311 West 43rd Street, 3rd Floor

The Kellys of Vaudeville

Following the matinee performance of George Kelly’s Philip Goes Forth at the Mint Theater, I will talk about Grace Kelly’s two vaudeville uncles: George, who became one of Broadway’s top playwrights, and Walter, a comedy monologist whose character was “The Virginia Judge”. It’s an amazing American story, one that I’ve genuinely been thrilled to explore. Plus, you get to see the Mint’s production of this long forgotten gem!

Here’s how to get your tickets: http://minttheater.org/boxoffice.php?tab=tab-1

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I hope to see you at one or both of these informative and intrinsically entertaining talks!  After all, it’s Back to School Season!

To learn more about the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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And please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

chain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500

Stars of Slapstick #159: John Bunny

Posted in Comedy, Hollywood (History), Melodrama and Master Thespians, Movies, Silent Film, Stars of Slapstick with tags , , , , on September 21, 2013 by travsd

John_Bunny

John Bunny was America’s first comedy star, and the first in that long line of beloved comedy fat men, a lineage that would include Rosco “Fatty” ArbuckleOliver HardyJackie GleasonJohn Belushi, John Candy and Chris Farley, among many others. Often paired with the thin-as-a-rail Flora Finch, the couple formed a sort of Sprat family in reverse and ruled the comic cinema from 1909 through Bunny’s death in 1915. Born this day in 1863, Bunny started out in a minstrel show in the early 1880s. This was a springboard into legit acting with stock companies. By the aughts, he was Broadway comedy star. In 1909 he began his successful association with Vitagraph. His last major project was a touring vaudeville show called Bunny in Funnyland that was not a hit, despite its advertised troupe of midgets. Bunny was taken in 1915, brought down by a liver complaint, which has been known to strike more than few bibulous showfolk over the years.

Here he is in his most famous surviving film A Cure for Pokeritis (1912):

To learn more about silent and slapstick comedy don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

chain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500

To find out more about vaudeville past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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Two Cool Trav S.D. Talks in September

Posted in EXHIBITIONS & LECTURES, Hollywood (History), Irish, PLUGS, Silent Film, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , on September 5, 2013 by travsd

We’re very excited back here at Trav S.D. Laboratories about the two talks we have lined up this month, one more connected with my first book No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, the other done in support of the new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube….

PGF_Final-small

Sunday, September 15 (following 2pm matinee performance)

Mint Theater, 311 West 43rd Street, 3rd Floor

The Kellys of Vaudeville

Following the matinee performance of George Kelly’s Philip Goes Forth at the Mint Theater, I will talk about Grace Kelly’s two vaudeville uncles: George, who became one of Broadway’s top playwrights, and Walter, a comedy monologist whose character was “The Virginia Judge”. It’s an amazing American story, one that I’ve genuinely been thrilled to explore. Plus, you get to see the Mint’s production of this long forgotten gem!

Here’s how to get your tickets: http://minttheater.org/boxoffice.php?tab=tab-1

Vitagraph_Studios_Brooklyn,_New_York

Wednesday, September 25, 7pm

Brooklyn Public Library, Central Branch (Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn)

Vitagraph: Brooklyn’s Own Movie Studio

In the early years of cinema, Brooklyn (Midwood, to be specific) was one of America’s great film production centers thanks to the early establishment there of Vitagraph Studios by J. Stuart Blackton in 1907. Among Vitagraph’s early stable of performers were Mr. & Mrs. Sidney Drew (uncle and aunt of the Barrymores), and John Bunny (America’s first comedy star), and his comedy foil, Flora Finch. Later, the facilities were sold to Warner Bros and became the Vitaphone studios, where many of the first talkies were filmed. Come watch me show and tell about this topic with both local and international angles. And it’s FREE!

******

I hope to see you at one or both of these informative and intrinsically entertaining talks!  After all, it’s Back to School Season!

To learn more about the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

safe_image

And please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

chain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500

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