Moguls & Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood (2010) s01e01 Episode Script

Peepshow Pioneers: 1889-1907

The story of the first great era of American movies from the 1890s to 1970 is filled with conflict and creativity the creation of an image empire founded by a driven generation of entrepreneurs and populated by a larger-than-life cast of big screen personalities and visual storytellers.
A narrative driven by Hollywood power struggles and memorialized with great movies the heart of our story traces the rise and fall of the men known as the moguls of Hollywood and the factories they built to manufacture dreams and reimagine America on film.
Intermingling the power of technology politics high finance and art decade by decade, the history of Hollywood is also the history of the American experience.
In a United States only beginning to take its place on the world stage the 1880s and '90s were a time of economic growth invention and waves of immigration.
Lower-class audiences and new arrivals found cheap amusement in motion pictures and an ambitious generation of immigrant entrepreneurs took a nickel-and-dime business and began to build an entertainment empire.
During the first decades of the 20th century the movies learned to tell stories in a powerful new way and Hollywood emerged as a center of motion picture production.
The 1920s was a tumultuous decade and the energy and art of the movies was at the heart of it.
The founding generation of movie entrepreneurs became the moguls of Hollywood.
They built self-sufficient studios, "dream factories" they were called and movie stars personified an unprecedented era of celebrity and international fame.
Wait a minute.
You ain't heard nothing yet.
With the coming of the 1930s the movie business was totally transformed by the arrival of sound and an economic depression gripped the world.
Moguls and movie stars responded with an onscreen world that provided escape and entertainment.
By 1939, Hollywood was at a peak of art and profitability.
But the beginning of the 1940s didn't promise a happy ending.
World War II engulfed the world, and Hollywood joined the fight.
Offering inspiration and entertainment the movies presented a vision of a victorious America and the vision came true.
Despite the triumph of the United States and moviemaking in Hollywood the 1950s were trying times.
Are you a member of the Communist party? Since the '20s, the reign of the Hollywood moguls was unchallenged.
But audiences were impatient and on the move.
They demanded new stars new story lines.
At the same time, the moguls' entertainment monopolies were under attack and television threatened to keep movie audiences at home.
The 1960s shook America and Hollywood.
For moguls and movie stars, it was both a fade-out and a fade-in.
Piece by piece, the great studio empires were picked apart and the founding moguls passed from the scene.
The first great era of moviemaking was over.
But a new Hollywood was being born more outspoken, far-reaching and influential than ever.
From the first flickering images of the 1880s it was a story as dramatic, unexpected and involving as the grandest Hollywood epic.
Nearly a century of remarkable men women movies and American history.
Long before there were moguls and movie stars before there was Hollywood there was a dream: To capture movement to create an illusion of life and turn it into stories.
The first to play with light and shadow on a screen were scientists and inventors explorers on the edges of new technology.
In 1659, a Dutch scientist named Christiaan Huygens invented the magic lantern.
Like the movies to come, Huygens' picture shows were associated with imagination and mystery.
The forerunner of the horror movie was projected in Paris in the 1790s.
It was called the phantasmagoria.
And this was truly an extraordinary show.
You'd go down these winding stairs, and bones and flickering stuff.
Just a dozen people, maybe, in a little room.
Suddenly the lights go out and then there's this rumble and noise and sound effects, with ghosts and goblins and these skeletons that started out small on the screen and then came exploding toward you, screaming and it terrified people.
But you can see people you know, amazed.
A century later, entertainment entrepreneurs made magic-lantern shows a thriving business.
As early as the 1850s, they were setting the stage for motion pictures.
The magic lantern, by the 1890s, just before the time of the movies really permeated American society.
When people think of a slide show, they think of Aunt Minnie's slide show and it's going to be boring.
Now will I tell you how Hiawatha There were a variety of reasons that magic-lantern shows were not boring.
First, there was this extraordinary artwork in color.
And then there was movement.
These were done with moving pieces of glass.
The most famous was the Rat Catcher, the man who swallows the rats.
I think it's important to understand that before the movies arrived there was a quarter of a millennium of screen entertainment, 250 years.
The movies did not just come from nowhere.
Magic lanterns used drawings and still photographs.
Hints of the potential of using photography to create an illusion of movement is said to have resulted from a 25,000-dollar bet.
California railroad magnate Leland Stanford hired San Francisco photographer and traveling showman Eadweard Muybridge to prove that a running horse had all four hooves off the ground.
Muybridge came up with a clever idea to settle the dispute.
He lined up a row of cameras attached to threads stretched across a horse's path.
His technical breakthrough was a camera with an electronic shutter that could snap pictures in five-hundredths of a second.
When Muybridge showed drawings based on the photographs in sequence they created an illusion of movement.
Viewers called it "a magic lantern gone mad.
" Stanford won his bet.
Soon, Muybridge was traveling the country projecting his photographic studies in motion.
To more than a few in the audience the fact that many of the images depicted naked models including the photographer himself, was an added draw.
In 1888, the entrepreneurial photographer brought his traveling show to West Orange, New Jersey.
Here, he encountered an American legend: The Wizard of Menlo Park, Thomas Alva Edison.
"To invent," Edison liked to say, "you need imagination and a pile of junk.
" In 1877, at age 30, he astonished the world with the phonograph.
Two years later, he demonstrated an electrical lighting system that illuminated entire cities.
Edison had a number of qualities that I think made him very successful both as an inventor and as an innovator and entrepreneur.
One, he had boundless enthusiasm for what he was doing.
Secondly, he had an indomitable will.
He never thought of himself as failing at any time.
When Muybridge met Edison, the photographer had another bright idea.
What about combining the sound phonograph with moving images? The inventor was intrigued.
On October the 8th, 1888, Edison announced plans "to create an instrument that would do for the eye what the phonograph does for the ear.
" He had no idea how he'd accomplish this feat but, with typical shrewdness, he was staking a claim for a future patent.
Dickson, a dapper Scot Irishman who sometimes served as the lab's photographer was assigned to get the job done.
Dickson was rather an aesthete.
He dressed very elegantly.
He liked to go to the theater.
He was an elegant man.
He was actually only 28 when he started to work with Edison on this motion picture project.
Dickson's first attempt to make photographs that moved used a series of tiny pictures wrapped around a cylinder device similar to Edison's first phonograph.
They were viewed through an eyepiece like a microscope.
An early experiment, only seconds long, was called Monkeyshines.
The crude images moved but there was a long way to go.
And Edison wasn't alone.
There were people working independent of one another in numerous countries.
In France, in England, here in the United States and possibly elsewhere all making moves toward this idea of capturing motion on film.
In France, an experimental scientist, Étienne-Jules Marey inspired by Muybridge, designed a camera that took pictures of birds on a strip of perforated photographic paper.
Step by step, the interconnections of movie history led to Paris.
Visitors to the Exposition Universelle of 1889 debated whether the new Eiffel Tower was a thing of beauty or an eyesore.
While showing his electrical light system at the exhibition Edison learned more about Étienne-Jules Marey's camera.
When Edison returned to the United States, he had new instructions for Dickson: Use strips of photographic film, perforated with sprocket holes to guide the pictures through an improved camera called the Kinetograph.
The new system was made possible by thin and flexible photosensitive celluloid perfected by George Eastman, inventor of the Kodak camera.
It wasn't long before Edison and Dickson were ready for a sneak preview.
In 1891, the inventor's wife, Mina hosted members of the Women's Clubs of America at the family home, Glenmont.
The unsuspecting ladies were asked to peer into a wooden box through a peephole.
Inside, they saw something amazing, a moving photograph.
Dickson doffing his hat.
The excitement of that moment must have been something to experience.
To have gone to visit Mrs.
Edison and all of a sudden here you are the first people to see Thomas Edison's newest invention this marvelous thing, right, motion pictures.
Centuries of ideas and inventions were rushing together.
A new way of re-imagining the world was taking shape.
A remarkable generation of inventors and visionary engineers was leading the way.
In 1893, as W.
Dickson increased his movie output he constructed a large shack covered with tarpaper.
It was the first full-fledged movie studio.
It was called the Black Maria because it reminded playful Edison experimenters of a police paddy wagon.
Working in the Black Maria, lab employees became America's first movie actors photographing themselves in short scenes using a heavy electrically powered camera.
One of the first films they made was Blacksmithing Scene.
They would take a piece of iron and pound it and also pass around a bottle of beer among the participants.
In 1894, Edison and Dickson were finally ready to take their new motion picture machine to the marketplace.
A little more than $24,000 had been spent creating the new invention.
Now it was time to cash in.
On April the 14th, the first Kinetoscope parlor opened on Broadway in New York City.
In less than five years, the movies had been born.
Dickson called the amazing new invention "the crown and flower of 19th-century magic.
" At the new Kinetoscope parlors a nickel bought 20 seconds of movie entertainment often accompanied by separate music from a phonograph heard through ear tubes.
At the Edison laboratory, Dickson and his production crew rushed to keep up with audience demand.
They produced over 75 peepshow snippets in 1894 alone.
Famous and not-so-famous performers visited the Black Maria and were captured on film including young sharpshooter Annie Oakley.
Movies were hardly upscale entertainment.
The early motion picture audience were people in bars.
They were people traveling on trains just stopping for a moment to view a motion picture to keep themselves amused while they were waiting for the train.
They were put into amusement parlors.
This was kind of lower-class amusement.
To maximize profits, each round of a boxing match was shown on separate Kinetoscopes.
It cost 60 cents for fight fans to see the whole bout.
Despite a surge of early success it didn't take long for the peepshow fad to fade.
Audiences wanted more.
In France, two brothers, Auguste and Louis Lumière were impressed by the Kinetoscope, but they had a better idea.
Why couldn't movies be like a moving magic-lantern show projected on a big screen and shown to a large audience not one person at a time? By 1895, they had their motion picture system a hand-cranked camera and projector called the cinématographe.
The Lumière brothers' first movie showed workers leaving the family photographic plant.
Unlike Edison's bulky electrically driven system their camera could move freely and capture scenes of everyday life preserving forever a Lumière family meal.
The Lumières had their first commercial screening in a Paris café in December 1895.
They showed nine short films.
The audience was entranced.
It's really from that moment on that you can say motion pictures had been shown almost continuously, you know, every day if not every hour of the day from that point onward.
A popular early show was a comic scene featuring a boy a man and a garden hose.
Within a few months there were Lumière movie theaters in London, Brussels and Brooklyn showing images from around the world.
Back in the United States, feeling the competition Thomas Edison and business partners acquired the rights to another inventor's machine.
They made a few improvements and put Edison's name on it.
Looking like a marriage of a magic lantern and the innards of a Kinetoscope the new machine was called the Vitascope.
It made its debut on April the 23rd, 1896 at the Koster & Bial's Music Hall in New York City.
I think when audiences first saw the movies being projected on a screen in a theater it must have been an incredible experience.
We can laugh at it today because it seems cliché.
The idea of seeing a train approaching you and you think suddenly It's like 3-D.
You suddenly think the train is going to crush you as it comes over you.
It must've been impressive.
In a way, I don't think we can understand how magical and how exciting it was back then.
In 1896 in the United States there was only one place to see projected movies.
A year later, there were hundreds across the country.
Projected movies were all the rage in America but innovations from France were still leading the way and entertainers were replacing engineers.
In the United States, if Edison was the wizard of movie machinery in Paris, an imaginative Frenchman was the magician of movie storytelling.
Georges Méliès was a performing magician and he was also a wonderful artist as well.
I love seeing Méliès' films because the direct relationship to magic is so clear.
There are people performing stage magic, but in a different way.
Things that just weren't possible at the time on stage.
So he expands the ideas of stage performers in a very pleasant way.
And it's great fun to watch.
It's great fun to watch his inventiveness.
Beginning in 1896 Méliès' visual trickery wasn't only a means to astonish audiences.
He was exploring movie techniques that are still used today turning brief skits into short stories.
In 1902, he produced a motion picture landmark based on a book by Jules Verne, A Trip to the Moon.
I think Méliès was a truly original character.
He was getting some ideas from the productions of the day from the magic theaters that he himself was heir to.
But I think a lot of it was just clear insight, creative genius.
American moviemakers were scrambling to keep up with international competition.
Always looking for something that would sell tickets they weren't afraid to push the boundaries of propriety.
May Irwin and John C.
Rice were starring in this musical comedy, The Widow Jones.
And at the very end of the musical comedy, they kiss and someone had the idea of, "Why don't we put it on the screen?" In 1896, The Kiss aroused calls for censorship.
"Absolutely disgusting," one critic called it.
Whether watched through a Kinetoscope peephole or in a darkened theater, movies were inherently voyeuristic.
And there were filmmakers only too happy to tantalize public tastes.
Not only men, but also inquisitive women could ogle vaudeville strongman Eugen Sandow flexing his muscles.
Movies projected an illusion of reality.
But the line between fact and fiction quickly began to blur.
Real troops were photographed leaving for the Spanish-American War in 1898.
Called actualities, such films were the ancestors of newsreels.
But Edison competitor J.
Stuart Blackton also re-created the U.
Navy's victory at Manila Bay fooling more than a few in the audience.
Only later did Blackton proudly show how it was done.
Movies could be persuasive.
Justifying the war, Tearing Down the Spanish Flag was an early propaganda film.
As early as 1897 wide-awake entrepreneurs were turning out the first filmed commercials pitching products such as cigarettes to a captive audience.
As Thomas Edison continued to expand his production capabilities in 1900, he hired a former sign painter plumber, stagehand, machinist and projectionist, Edwin S.
Well, Edwin Porter, I think, is really America's first filmmaker.
Initially, we didn't have filmmakers.
Cameramen would take one-shot films.
They'd be sold to exhibitors, and exhibitors would take these films and they would combine them into a program.
Movies were considered disposable amusements unworthy of special respect.
Theater owners assembled a program in any order they wished.
They could re-edit films or project them faster to allow for more screenings during the day.
Porter's films for Edison were among the first to tell stories not just present short scenes.
He begins to create films Life of an American Fireman is a famous example.
- Where he shows the same scene from different perspectives.
And so there are these new efforts being made to figure out what film is about and how one tells a story with film.
The Great Train Robbery was Edwin Porter's most successful and best-known film.
It set new standards of what was possible in terms of commercial motion pictures.
Sometimes shown with hand-colored prints The Great Train Robbery was America's first blockbuster.
There was action suspense ending in a chase and final shootout.
The final image was unforgettable directly confronting the audience and including them in the action.
The Great Train Robbery not only helped change how movies were made it also influenced where they were shown.
The success of films like The Great Train Robbery made possible the development of these storefront theaters of specialized motion picture theaters.
They just sort of spread across the country like wildfire.
They began to appear in 1905.
By 1906, 1907, there were thousands of them.
They were showing films all day.
They started changing their programs every day.
And so the demand for motion picture product was very intense.
The new movie emporiums were called nickelodeons a term combining "nickel," the cost of admission and "odeon," the Greek word for theater.
One of the first to open was in Pittsburgh in 1905.
Seating 100 customers it was in business from 8 a.
To midnight to sold-out audiences.
By 1908, there were between 4000 and 5000 nickelodeons across America entertaining 2 million customers a day.
In the United States, inventor and businessman Thomas Edison had launched an entertainment revolution.
An unlikely generation of new movie pioneers would soon follow.
As the movie business was being born, so was a new America.
The birth and development of movies occurs in a very interesting time frame, alongside the Industrial Revolution and alongside that tremendous wave of immigration that started in the late 19th century and continued into the early 20th.
Most of the men we think of as the pioneering movie moguls were immigrants.
Most of them were Jewish.
Most came here with no clear-cut notion of what they might do in America except that America was the land of opportunity.
For many of these movie pioneers the route to Hollywood power began at the very bottom.
The future founder of Paramount, Adolph Zukor was raised as an impoverished orphan in Hungary.
There was no such thing as childhood.
When you became able to do something, get to work.
And his apprenticeship, I believe, ended when he was 15 and then he wanted to come to America.
So they gave him $40 and a ticket and sent him to America steerage, on the slowest ship down where the bilge water is, and they stacked these bunks six deep.
People were robbing each other and people were throwing up all over the place.
It was just a horrible experience.
As soon as he arrived in the United States in 1888 Adolph Zukor began his search for the American dream.
He was an optimist and a forward-looking guy.
And I think he thought, you know, "This is the beginning.
" It was.
By the time he was 30, Zukor was a successful furrier.
But a visit to a penny arcade with his fiancée changed his life.
He saw Edison's The Kiss.
"It made an indelible impression," he remembered years later.
By 1903, he owned a New York penny arcade called the Automatic Vaudeville.
In 1910, Zukor was joined by a partner, Marcus Loew the son of immigrants from Austria.
Loew had dropped out of school when he was 9.
He tried his hand with a number of odd jobs, like Zukor, working as a furrier.
In Covington, Kentucky, Loew saw a movie theater and was stunned that the people literally fought to get inside.
By 1907, he owned 40 nickelodeons across the United States.
Carl Laemmle, the future founder of Universal Studios was another ambitious immigrant.
He came to America from Germany and saw promise in making money a penny or a nickel at a time.
My uncle was extremely intelligent.
He was only 17 when he came over to this country, and he had $50.
Ha, ha.
His father had given him $50 and that was it.
His motto was "It can be done.
" With that attitude, he just proceeded to do it.
Carl Laemmle had been in the clothing business or dry-goods business in Oshkosh.
He wanted to start on his own, so he went to Chicago to see if he could find prospects for a business of his own.
And instead of looking at a five-and-ten-cent store which was his original idea, he sees this nickelodeon.
He sees people coming in.
They paid the 5 cents or 10 cents simply to look at something.
And this seemed to him even better than Woolworth's idea.
Seeing an opportunity was one thing seizing it took hard work and hustle.
In Youngstown, Ohio, the Warner family found a home after emigrating from Poland.
Four Warner brothers were go-getters.
The boys were inventive.
They were entrepreneurs.
They got into a variety of businesses.
A bicycle-repair shop, an ice cream shop.
They partly owned a bowling alley.
Harry Warner was really the patriarch of the brothers.
He was the one who had the business sense.
Albert Warner is the second-oldest brother.
They called him Honest Abe, and he would take care of the books.
And then further down there was Sam Warner.
Sam was perhaps the most electrifying of all the brothers.
The one who was not only a good businessman he was very good with people, and he had a great sense of inventiveness.
Jack Warner was the kid.
He was the juvenile delinquent of the family.
He was the one who joined a gang for a while, a street gang.
He was the one who pulled the rabbi's beard.
He was a disappointment to his father and to his older brothers.
Disappointment had brought immigrants to America.
Ambition gave them hope.
Another future movie mogul from humble beginnings was William Fox born William Fuchs in Hungary.
Fox's family moved to New York's Lower East Side ghetto when he was 6 years old.
He was raised in poverty, working long hours as a boy.
He was on the back of a milk wagon and fell off broke his arm in several places.
His family could not afford to bring him to a proper hospital.
He used to hide this arm, this withered arm and that gave him more tenacity than ever to fight to be the best, to get the most, to have the most control.
And he became a very difficult man.
He was one of the most difficult of the moguls ever.
He was driven by being superior in some way.
And I think he was also a dreamer.
Drawn to entertainment after working in the garment business by 1905, Fox had saved enough money to buy his first nickelodeon.
Soon he owned 15 in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
He wasn't an entertainer.
He was a business-oriented person.
But what he had experienced, I guess, as an immigrant was that everybody needed some sort of entertainment.
And so he would constantly ask people in the theater: "Did you like this? Did you want this?" You know, sometimes it's not who you know or what you know it's where you are, it's the opportunity that presents itself.
Another unlikely entertainment entrepreneur was Louis B.
An immigrant from Russia, he grew up in New Brunswick, Canada the son of a junk dealer.
Streetwise and tough, Mayer learned the art of the deal early on.
By the time my grandfather was 7 or 8 he would go into the neighborhoods and collect scrap metal.
You have to be charming, winning you have to persuade someone to part with their metal.
You're not giving them money for it, just collecting it.
He was only 5-foot-7 inches but carrying scrap metal around of extraordinary weight he became very strong.
And I think the word "driven" would apply to Louis.
And he thought he was going places.
The early immigrant movie entrepreneurs had much in common.
Their roots were found in towns and villages of Eastern Europe within 500 miles of Warsaw.
In America, within a few years of each other they came to their life's work, almost by accident.
Most started as theater owners rather than moviemakers.
One of Sam Warner's odd jobs was as a projectionist.
Sam Warner was so excited by this new invention he convinced his brothers to get into the movie business.
They did that by pawning their father's delivery-wagon horse for the meat market.
For about 150 dollars, they bought a movie projector.
And with it came a print of The Great Train Robbery.
And the brothers took that movie and toured local towns in Ohio and Pennsylvania and made more money in a week than their father made in a month back at the butcher shop.
The Warner brothers opened their first theater in Newcastle, Pennsylvania and they named it the Bijou Theatre.
And it was really just a small storefront and they had to borrow chairs from the local undertaker and then return them for the funerals for the next morning.
Also starting as a theater owner Louis B.
Mayer's movie career began in 1907 in Haverhill, Massachusetts, near Boston.
He borrowed from family and friends to lease a rundown burlesque house called the Gem.
He renamed it the Orpheum.
He borrowed enough money to refurbish it, to put in new seats to paint it with bright colors to have circulars distributed all over the neighborhood so people would come to the Gem, because the Gem was not a place you'd go.
Theaters dedicated to movies were opening across the country and owners were eager to maximize their profits.
In Arkansas, for example in order to get people in, instead of paying money, they said: "We're gonna charge one egg admission price for a child and two eggs for an adult.
" Just to get them into the movie-going habit.
In Chicago, the Balabans were another ambitious immigrant family.
My dad's family, my grandparents, lived on Maxwell Street which was the Lower East Side of Chicago, a kind of ghetto where you went to if you were Jewish and from Russia, I guess.
You saw friends.
You ended up there, it was cheap.
To survive, many new arrivals to America joined in family businesses.
For the Balabans, with eight kids, it was a grocery store.
Living behind the store, they worked hard and kept their eyes open for new opportunities.
My grandmother Goldie who helped run the little food store that they had went to a nickelodeon one day around 1905 and she comes home and she says, "Boys, this is what we're going into.
" She said, "It's great.
You can't get in until you pay the money.
And when the product is old, it's not like lettuce, it doesn't wilt.
You don't throw it away.
You send it back and get a fresh print.
So that was it for her.
She saw it on that very clear level of a way to really make some money.
Their first theater was the Kedzie Theatre.
I think it sat a hundred people, something.
It wasn't too big.
I think they bought it for $68 in 1908, and their movie business began.
In the 1900s, the heart of the movie business was New York.
Here were production and distribution companies and shooting facilities like Edison's glass-encased studio in the Bronx.
When a story called for exteriors, they were often found a ferry ride away across the Hudson River, to the Palisades of New Jersey.
An entrepreneurial village, eager to rent horses and hotel rooms Fort Lee was the first Hollywood.
Here, early moviemaking was like an outing to the country where everyone pitched in to add to the fun.
Early moviemakers were like eager students in the world's first film school.
But there were no textbooks or classrooms.
They were creating their coursework as they went along and learning from each other.
They were turning a fad into a new form of entertainment and making mistakes along the way.
Often, all it took was a camera and a few actors to put together the typical 10-to 12-minute one-reeler.
And who needed a script? A script might be only one page.
It would give a basic story line.
Sometimes with a comedy it might end with "comic bit from this point onwards" and then leave the comedians to do whatever they wanted until you, say, run out of film, then that's the 10-minute reel complete and you can say "cut" and you've got your completed motion picture.
Production at Fort Lee represented the fast and freewheeling quality of the early movie business.
Anybody could do anything.
Nothing was compartmentalized or departmentalized.
You could be a screenwriter one day, a director the next or an editor one day and a director the next, it didn't really matter.
Early moviemaking not only allowed enterprising men to launch careers but entrepreneurial women as well.
The motion picture owes a great deal to women.
You go back to 1896, one of the earliest female directors is Alice Guy.
Alice Guy is a secretary at Gaumont, in France.
After hours, after she has finished her work as a secretary during the day she begins directing these little movies and putting together scenes.
Alice Guy was one of the first to say, "Let's tell a story with this film.
Let's have a beginning, a middle and an end.
" Guy came to Cleveland in 1907 with her husband, Herbert Blaché.
In New York, she formed her own company, Solax producing everything from comedies and Westerns to a biblical epic.
A rare film shows her working with an early sound system in 1905.
Movies were her Prince Charming, she said.
One of the common denominators with these incredible women who did get into the film business, and also true of the immigrants and Jews who worked in film business, this incredible magnet, was their creativity.
Things were constantly changing and so you had to have that nerve to jump on this roller coaster and ride it out.
If early moviemaking was open to opportunity it was not a glamorous or prestigious occupation.
Many of the early theater people turned their noses up at the idea of films, as not being artistic, not being worthy of their talents.
But the $5 a day that you could make as an actor in films was appealing especially when you weren't otherwise working.
Kentucky-born David Wark Griffith was one of those underemployed actors.
He had little interest in movies when he showed up for work at the Edison Company, run by Edwin S.
He was hired to perform in a typical melodrama, Rescued From an Eagle's Nest.
It wasn't an auspicious debut.
When Griffith moved to the Biograph Company, an Edison competitor he found there was a way to make more money working in movies.
Opportunity arises to become a director for the Biograph Company and he says, "Okay, I'll be the director.
But promise me that if it doesn't work, I can go back and get my day job as an actor, which is dependable and easy.
" When Griffith began his motion picture career filmmaking was sometimes more about machinery than storytelling.
Men like Gottfried Wilhelm Bitzer, better known as Billy were typical early filmmakers.
By the time he was 32, Bitzer had photographed 300 short films.
When Griffith finally got a chance to direct he turned to the experienced young cameraman for advice.
Bitzer actually took a piece of cardboard that had been used to keep the shirts that were newly laundered sort of in place.
So he jotted down on this piece of cardboard what he thought Griffith should know about direction.
That was basically how Griffith became a director.
That was Griffith's initial textbook.
In 1908, Griffith's first film as a director was The Adventures of Dollie a typical suspenseful melodrama.
He was working and learning fast.
Theater programs often changed on a daily basis.
That required a lot of new product.
Griffith, in his first year, made 57 or more films.
This was not unusual.
Other directors at other studios were making the same number of films maybe even more.
You could make mistakes and nobody would notice because next week there'd be another picture.
Working with Bitzer Griffith quickly recognized the dramatic advantages of shooting on location.
That meant regular trips to Fort Lee, New Jersey.
Griffith was simply able to point his camera in one direction where there was a 19th-century house.
Move it 90 degrees and you have something that looks like a turn-of-the-century New York tenement building.
Ninety degrees in the other area, an open field.
During his five years at the Biograph Company Griffith made more than 400 films and created a foundation upon which generations of future filmmakers would learn and build.
I think Griffith, certainly more than anybody else had a sense that the movies could be something more than what they were.
And he carried that enthusiasm along with him.
During Griffith's earliest days, movie actors were anonymous.
But one Biograph heroine stood out an experienced stage performer from Canada, Gladys Smith.
Her stage name was Mary Pickford.
Like Griffith, Pickford reluctantly turned to the movies for steady income.
In Pickford's first film, The Lonely Villa she plays the eldest daughter in a family menaced by robbers.
Already, Griffith was transforming moviemaking from static staging to dynamic storytelling intercutting separate actions to create energy and suspense.
Even though many of his Biograph movies were the stuff of 19th-century melodrama and some of his actors adopted the grand gestures of the theater Griffith was appreciating the difference between old-fashioned stage acting and subtler movie performance.
Although they had a contentious relationship Mary Pickford was one of the first to benefit from his tutelage.
After her came 16-year-old Lillian Gish.
Lillian and Dorothy Gish were friends of Mary Pickford and it was through Mary Pickford that they came to the Biograph Company.
Griffith saw in the sisters, and especially Lillian an exemplar of the ideal of this innocent young woman.
Not unlike the roles that Mary had been playing.
But Pickford was getting ready to move on and Griffith needed a new ingénue, and Lillian Gish fit that role perfectly.
She's this frail virginal type, but she's also very strong.
People tend to forget that Griffith's heroines were strong.
They had a lot of masculine traits.
They were almost feminists in lots of ways.
If acting was more sophisticated in Griffith's films some promoters at the time also claimed he was the inventor of techniques such as the close-up and intercut action.
He wasn't but he was the first to combine them with unprecedented expressive power.
Griffith had a sense of the rhythm of film and probably the first one to really play on that ability of film to move from place to place, point of view to point of view and to create a rhythm that is not possible in any other medium.
Griffith was also expanding the range of early movie storytelling with films such as The Musketeers of Pig Alley considered an early example of the gangster film.
A Corner in Wheat was an early message picture an exposé of the impact of corrupt business practices.
The greedy villain met an appropriate fate.
The Battle of Elderbush Gulch was an action-packed Western with the added emotional appeal of puppies babies and plucky children still a staple of movies.
As D.
Griffith was creating the foundations for modern movie storytelling it was clear there were more than nickels and dimes to be made with motion pictures.
No one knew this better than Thomas Edison.
To Edison, the technology was always related to his patents.
Having patents, using them to control entry into the market, was important.
He did the same with motion pictures.
Edison claimed all patents on everything.
Literally, cameras and film, whatever he owned it.
He claimed he owned everything.
Many independents went and bought French and German cameras.
They went around Edison, which made him irritated.
The problem was, Edison And I think he knew this.
- He had developed a commercial motion picture system that, you know, everyone else was ripping off.
And he felt that he should get some credit for it.
In fact, he felt he should get money for it, he should get royalties for it.
Edison had been suing movie competitors since the 1890s.
In 1908, he became a leader in the Motion Picture Patents Company a formidable organization that included George Eastman the major manufacturer of motion picture film as well as important production and distribution companies.
By 1910, the Trust controlled half of U.
The Trust would hire detectives to track down anyone and everyone who was showing their films or showing non-Trust films, and was trying to make films.
There are all these stories of being on a set one day in one of these independent wildcat productions and in come these hired goons who just destroy the set destroy the cameras, intimidate people.
Even as he tried to establish total control Edison was also creating the framework for the modern motion picture business.
He was America's first movie mogul.
But Edison's major competitors weren't easily intimidated.
When they came in and saw this business, this was their future.
They loved it.
They embraced it.
They were strong men on control, to control it and were not the type of men to be told what to do, particularly by Edison.
You don't tell things like this to people like Zukor, Laemmle or William Fox.
And that spurred them into becoming their own companies, making their own films.
Carl Laemmle's response was the Independent Moving Picture Company, IMP.
And his logo was a little imp with a little pitchfork sort of sticking it into Edison's rear end, irritating him.
While attempting to evade Trust enforcers William Fox and Carl Laemmle fought a persistent counterattack in the courts.
After many years, six years of court fights you can imagine the strain it put my uncle under all of this time but he would not give up and he finally won.
In 1915, the U.
Justice Department stepped in declaring the Edison Trust an illegal monopoly.
But by then moviemakers had already found more hospitable surroundings.
As early as 1902, motion picture pioneers were traveling across the continent in search of open and inexpensive land Iow labor costs freedom from Trust enforcers and, most of all, sunshine.
Like the homesteaders of the 19th century movie pioneers with names like Lasky, DeMille, Goldwyn Mayer and Warner moved west.
Their destination was Los Angeles, and a nearby rural hamlet.
It was called Hollywood.