Monday, December 26, 2016

Chicago, Illinois, the Silent Movie Capital of the World. The Essanay and Selig Companies History.

The Essanay Film Company
During the early era of silent films, Chicago was the movie-making capital of the world.
One-fifth of the silent films produced in America were produced at the Essanay Film Company, an outfit that expanded from a one-room studio at 496 N. Wells Street (renumbered to the 1300 block of North Wells Street) to its final location at Western Avenue and Irving Park Road, Chicago.

The studio was founded in 1907 as the Peerless Film Company. On August 10, 1907, the name was changed to the Essanay Film Company, which reflected the initials of its founders, George K. Spoor and Gilbert M. Anderson (S&A).

The success of the studio allowed them to move to 1333-45 W. Argyle Street in 1908, where the 72,000 square foot building remains today. The Chicago studio produced about 200 films.

As the popularity of Essanay's movies increased, Spoor and Anderson undertook the construction of the large Argyle Street studio. 

The complex is comprised of several one- and two-story, common brick buildings housing the various activities necessary for film-making. The street elevations of the four buildings fronting on Argyle Street conform to designs for light manufacturing and warehouse buildings of the period. Each facade is divided into six structural bays articulated by brick piers and is capped by a simple parapet with a stone coping. 

With the exception of the two-story westernmost building, the structures are one story in height. Construction of the first of the buildings was begun in November 1908, and the erection of the other structures occurred intermittently through 1915.
The cast and crew of Chicago's Essanay Film Manufacturing Company in 1912.
The utilitarian character of the building designs is offset by the decorative entrance on the westernmost building. The doorway projects from the building and is formed of glazed white terra cotta. It has a pediment overhead with "ESSANAY" in the tympanum, and on the blocks flanking the entrance are two Indian head profiles. 
The Indian head, which was the Essanay trademark, was designed by Spoor's sister when she was a student at the School of the Art Institute. The trademark was visible in every frame of an Essany film. It was stuck under a chair or some other inconspicuous place. This was a common practice for the studios to help stop print piracy.

Essanay attracted a quality roster of stars including Ben Turpin, Francis Bushman, Wallace Berry, Charlie Chaplin, and Gloria Swanson. Mr. Anderson, himself, was an actor, known as "Bronco Billy." Charlie Chaplin's first and only movie made entirely in Chicago was His New Job. Spoor and Anderson seemed to lack the ability to spot talent. In 1908 a mother brought her young daughter, and out of work Broadway performer, to the studio, but left without a contract. Her name was Mary Pickford (1892-1979).
The stage door and fire escape on the rear of a building on the Essanay Studios.
Essanay made over 2,000 films, with most being produced in their west coast studio located in Niles, California. The 200-foot long studio opened on June 11, 1913. On February 16, 1916, the Essanay Film Company in Niles closed its doors. Changes in the movie industry, the defection of Chaplin as the company's star performer, and disputes between Anderson and his co-founder led to the collapse of the company in 1917.
Filming Sets at the Essanay Studios.
Filming Sets at the Essanay Studios.
Filming Sets at the Essanay Studios.

The Selig Polyscope Company
The Selig Polyscope Company was an American motion picture company founded in 1896 by William Selig in Chicago, Illinois. The Chicago General Office and Sales Rooms were located at 45-47-49 E. Randolph Street, Chicago, while the Laboratory and Works were located at 3900 N. Claremont (block bordered by Irving Park Road, Western Avenue, Byron Street, and Claremont Street), Chicago.

Selig Polyscope is noted for establishing Southern California's first permanent movie studio, in the historic Edendale district of Los Angeles. The company produced hundreds of early, widely distributed commercial moving pictures, including the first films starring Tom Mix, Harold Lloyd, Colleen Moore, and Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle. The business gradually became a struggling zoo attraction in East Los Angeles, having ended film production in 1918. 

Described by one film historian as "not a Colonel of the U.S. Army, but a tent-showman colonel." Selig was born in Chicago in 1864 but moved west and founded a minstrel troupe in California. He returned to Chicago in the mid-1890s. Exposure to the Kinetoscope and similar devices apparently broadened Selig's interest in entertainment ventures, and he set up a film supply business on Peck Court. By the end of 1896, Selig was selling not only the Selig Standard Camera and the Selia Polyscope 9 projector but had gone a step further than Spoor by producing his own films.

The careers of two other prominent film executives had their beginnings in Chicago. George Kleine was perhaps the most influential movie executive of his day for his role in attempting to mediate the patent wars that entangled filmmakers at the turn of the century. Kleine's initial contact with the industry had been in the mid-1890s with the founding of the Kleine Optical Company, a movie and equipment supply business. He subsequently organized a large film distribution operation, and, with two other partners, founded the Kalem film studio. In 1906, Carl Laemmle, Sr., left his position with a clothing company in Oshkosh, Wisconsin to come to Chicago where he opened a nickelodeon on Milwaukee Avenue near Ashland. Six years later, he formed Universal Pictures, supposedly in Chicago, though it never operated here, and with Irving Thalberg, he made that company into an industry giant.

One of the last two Selig films was Pioneer Days, based on the Fort Dearborn Massacre. It was filmed on location in Wilmette, Illinois.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

A list of many of the movies filmed or made (in all or in part) in Chicago between 1896 and 1919. The companies that produced them are followed in parentheses.

Tramp and the Dog (Selig Polyscope)

Corner Madison and State Streets, Chicago (Edison Mfg)

A Chicago Street (American Muroscope)
Illinois Central Terminal (American Muroscope)
Soldiers at Play (Selig Polyscope)

Lincoln Park (American Muroscope & Biograph)

Chicago Police Parade (Selig Polyscope)
Dewey Parade (Selig Polyscope)
Gans-McGovern Fight (Selig Polyscope)

A Hottime on a Bathing Beach (Selig Polyscope)
Business Rivalry (Selig Polyscope)
Chicago Fire Run (Selig Polyscope)
Chicago Firecats on Parade (Selig Polyscope)
The Girl in Blue (Selig Polyscope)
Trip Around the Union Loop (Selig Polyscope)
View of State Street (Selig Polyscope)

Humpty Dumpty (Selig Polyscope)
The Tramp Dog (Selig Polyscope)

The Tramp and the Dog (Selig Polyscope)

An Awful Skate or The Hobo on Rollers (Essanay)
The Dancing Nig (Essanay)
The Grafter (Selig)

Gotch-Hackenschmidt Wrestling Match (W.W. Wittig)
The Baseball Fan (Essanay)
The Confession (Essanay)
The Count of Monte Cristo (Selig)

Hunting Big Game in Africa (Selig Polyscope)
Ten Nights in a Barroom (Essanay)
The Magic Melody (Essanay)

A Voice from the Fireplace (Essanay)
C-H-I-C-K-E-N Spells Chicken (Essanay)
Gotch-Zyyszko World's Championship Wrestling Match (Essanay)
Hank and Lack: Lifesavers (Essanay)
Henry's Package (Essanay)
Levi's Dilemma (Essanay)
The Squaw and the Man (American Film Mfg.)
The Wizard of Oz (Selig Polyscope)
World's Championship Series (Essanay) (Cubs vs. Phil Athletics)

The Coming of Columbus (Selig Polyscope)
Winning an Heiress (Essanay)

Brotherhood of Man (Selig Polyscope)
Nebata the Greek Singer (Essanay)
The Starbucks (American Film Mfg.)

Famous Illinois Canyons and Starved Rock (American Film Mfg.)

Chicago Herald Movies (Chicago Herald News)
Golf Champion 'Chick' Evans Links with Sweede (Essanay)
Joliet Prison, Joliet, IL (Industrial Moving Picture, Abo Feature Film)
The Adventures of Kathlyn (Serial from Selig Polyscope)
The Jungle (All Star Feature Co.)
The Pit (Wm. A. Brady Picture Plays, World Film)

A Black Sheep (Selig Polyscope)
Dreamy Dud: A Visit to Uncle Dudley's Farm (Essanay
Dreamy Dud: At the Old Swimmin' Hole (Essanay)
Dreamy Dud: Cowboy (Essanay)
Dreamy Dud: Dud Visits the Zoo (Essanay)
Dreamy Dud: He Goes Bear Hunting (Essanay)
Dreamy Dud: He Sees Charlie Chaplin (Essanay)
Dreamy Dud: His New Job (Essanay)
Dreamy Dud: In King Koo Koo's Kingdom (Essanay)
Dreamy Dud: In Lost in the Jungle (Essanay)
Dreamy Dud: Resolves Not to Smoke (Essanay)
Dreamy Dud: Up in the Air (Essanay)
Dreamy Dud: Visits the Zoo (Essanay)
Graustark (Essanay)
In the Palace of the King (Essanay)
Should a Woman Divorce (Ivan Film Productions)
The Crimson Wing (Essanay)
The End of the Road (American Film Mfg.)
The House of a Thousand Candles (Selig Polyscope)
The Whirl of Life (Cort Film Corp.)

Cousin Jim (Van Dee Producing Co. of Chicago)
Dreamy Dud: Has a Laugh on the Boss (Essanay)
Dreamy Dud: In the African War Zone (Essanay)
Dreamy Dud: Joyriding with Princess Zlim (Essanay)
Dreamy Dud: Lost at Sea (Essanay)
Power (Essanay)
The Little Girl Next Door (Essanay/State Rights)
The Misleading Lady (Essanay)
The Right to Live (United Photo Plays)
The Sting of Victory (Essanay)
The Truant Soul (Essanay)
Three Pals (American Film Co./Mutual Films)
Two Knights in Vaudeville (Ebony Pictures)
Uncle Sam Awake (Laurence Rubel/Imperial Film Mfg.)
Vernon Howard Bailey's Sketch Book of Chicago (Essanay)

Cracked Ice (Essanay)
Ghosts (Ebony Pictures)
Some Baby (Ebony Pictures)
The Baseball Revue of 1917 (Athletic Feature Films)
The Frozen Warning (Commonwealth Pictures)
The Penny Philanthropist (Wholesome Films)
The Porters (Ebony Pictures)
The Small Town Guy (Essanay/Perfection Pictures)
Wrong All Around (Ebony Pictures)

A Busted Romance (Ebony Pictures)
A Milk Fed Hero (Ebony Pictures)
A Reckless Rover (Ebony Pictures)
And the Children Play (Veritas Photoplay)
Are Working Girls Safe? (Ebony Pictures)
Barnacle Bill (Ebony Pictures)
Billy the Janitor (Ebony Pictures)
Black Sherlock Holmes (Ebony Pictures)
Fixing the Faker (Ebony Pictures)
Good Luck in Old Clothes (Ebony Pictures)
Mercy, the Mummy Mumbled (Ebony Pictures)
Movie Marionettes (Essanay/General Film)
Spooks (Ebony Pictures)
Spying the Spy (Ebony Pictures)
The Birth of a Race (Photoplay)
The Bully (Ebony Pictures)
The City of Purple Dreams (Selig Polyscope)
The Comeback of Barnacle Bill (Ebony Pictures)
The Painters (Ebony Pictures)
When You Hit, Hit Hard (Ebony Pictures)
When You're Scared, Run (Ebony Pictures)

Breed of Men (Wm. S. Hart Productions/Artcraft)
The Challenge of Chance (Continental Pictures)
The Homesteader (Micheaux Film Corp.)
Through Hell and Back With the Men of Illinois (U.S. War Dept.)
Where Mary? (Essanay/Syndicate)

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