From Reel to Real: The First Movie Fans

  • Samantha Barbas

Abstract

In 1902, A Country Farmer named Uncle Josh embarked on an adventure: he decided to go to the movies. Josh had never been to the cinema before and eagerly anticipated his first show. But what he discovered far surpassed his expectations. The images on the screen, he found, were incredibly realistic—they were so lifelike that he mistook them for reality. When an attractive woman appeared on the screen, Josh jumped out of his seat to dance with her. When a train whizzed by in the next scene, he leaped back in terror. Josh was so engrossed that he started shouting when he saw a film of a man and woman embracing; the young woman, it seemed, was being seduced, and he was determined to stop the affair. Hoping to attack the lecherous villain, he lunged toward the screen, which collapsed under his weight.

Keywords

Steam Marketing Smoke Pier Editing 

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Notes

  1. 3.
    Charles Musser, The Emergence of Cinema The American Screen to 1907 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), 104, 162, 125.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    Edward Wageknecht, The Movies in the Age of Innocence (New York: Ballantine, 1971), 20; Musser, Emergence of Cinema, 128.Google Scholar
  3. 7.
    New York Dramatic Mirror, May 7, 1898, quoted in Robert Allen, Vaudeville and Film 1895–1915: A Study in Media Interaction (New York: Arno Press, 1980).Google Scholar
  4. 9.
    Tom Gunning, D. W Griffith and the Origins of American Narrative Film (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1991).Google Scholar
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  6. 14.
    Moving Picture World, September 21, 1907, 29; Marjorie Rosen, Popcorn Venus (New York: Avon Books, 1973), 21.Google Scholar
  7. 15.
    Both Richard DeCordova and Anthony Slide find little evidence that the policy of anonymity was instituted by actors. As Slide has written, “Did these so called legitimate actors really care that much (about their reputations)? I doubt it. The majority of actors who accepted screen roles were thankful not only for the work, but for the fame it promised them.” Other accounts, however, insist that the policy was initiated by actors concerned with their reputations. In 1910, Moving Picture World explained that “Actors are glad to play the parts, but all of them try to shield their identity. They have an undisguised impression that the step from the regular productions to the scenes before the camera is a backward one.” As silent film actress Viola Dana agreed, “You never let it be known that you did the ‘flickers’ in the summertime just to make a few dollars.” According to Linda Arvidson, director D. W. Griffith’s wife, the motivation behind the Biograph studio’s policy of secrecy was the fear that stardom would lead to higher salaries. For these conflicting accounts, see Richard DeCordova, Picture Personalities: The Emergence of the Star System in America (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990), 77–8Google Scholar
  8. Anthony Slide, Aspects of Film History Prior to 1920 (Methuen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1978), 3; “Photographs of Moving Picture Actors,” Moving Picture World, January 15, 1910Google Scholar
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    On the shift from histrionic to verisimilar acting styles, see Roberta Pearson, Eloquent Gestures (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992).Google Scholar
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    Moving Picture World, March 12, 1910, 365. To his death, Laemmle insisted that he had no hand in the publicity stunt. Laemmle claimed that the report of Lawrence’s death was planted by a rival organization, the Edison Film Trust; he simply used the opportunity provided by the false announcement to publicize the actress. But the aggressiveness with which Laemmle pursued publicity for Lawrence suggests that the film executive had planned the scheme from the start. For Laemmle’s own account of the event, see John Drinkwater, The Life and Times of Carl Laemmle (New York: G. P. Putnam, 1931), 140.Google Scholar
  12. 31.
    Cyril W. Beaumont, Fanny Elssler (London: C. W. Beaumont, 1931), 26Google Scholar
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  14. Ivor Brown, “Edwardian Idols of My Youth,” in The Rise and Fall of the Matinee Idol, ed. Anthony Curtis (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1974), 33Google Scholar
  15. David Carroll, The Matinee Idols (New York: Arbor House, 1972), 15.Google Scholar
  16. 32.
    My conclusions about theater fans are drawn from dozens of books and articles, including “A Personal Interview with ‘The Virginian,’“ Theater, October 1906; “Letters to Actors I Have Never Seen,” Theater, October 1904, 182; “Noted Young Men of the American Stage,” Cosmopolitan, December 1900, 421; “The Brutality of the Matinee Girl,” Lippincott’s, December 1907, 687; Frederick Wemyss, Twenty Six Years in the Life of an Actor and Manager (New York: Burgess and Stringer, 1847)Google Scholar
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  18. Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie (Cleveland: World Publishing, 1946), ch. 5.Google Scholar
  19. 33.
    Gaylyn Studlar, This Mad Masquerade (New York: Columbia, 1996), ch. 3, for stories of fans who tried to see their idols in person.Google Scholar
  20. 35.
    Most writing on theatrical stars had also avoided the personal. In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, publishers issued a wave of books devoted to the major roles and performances of popular actors. Books like Stage Favorites and The Stage and Its Stars chronicled stars’ professional careers, but never mentioned their offstage lives; families and spouses were discussed only when they played a role in an actor’s rise to fame. By the turn of the century, writers toyed with the idea of investigating actors’ home lives— a 1901 article from Cosmopolitan magazine (Burr McIntosh, “Actresses at Leisure,” October 1901, 586) for example, described what famous leading ladies did on their days off—but the vast majority of theatrical writing continued to focus on their onstage roles and performances. Even works like Eminent Actors in Their Homes, by Margherita Arlina Hamm (New York: James Pott and Company, 1902) examined the ways in which sophisticated interiors reflected the serious professionalism of their celebrity occupants. Also see Lewis C. Strang, Famous Actors of the Day (Boston: L. C. Page, 1899); Stage Favorites (New York: Minton, 1894)Google Scholar
  21. Howard Paul, ed. The Stage and Its Stars (Philadelphia: Gebbie and Company, ca. 1890).Google Scholar
  22. 44.
    Richard Koszarski, An Evening’s Entertainment (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), 193.Google Scholar
  23. 45.
    “Musings of the Photoplay Philosopher,” Motion Picture Story Magazine, October 1912, 135–6; Koszarski, Evenings Entertainment, 193 Gaylyn Stud-lar, “The Perils of Pleasure: Fan Magazine Discourse as Women’s Commod-ified Culture in the 1920s,” in Silent Film, ed. Richard Abel (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1996), 264.Google Scholar

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© Samantha Barbas 2001

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  • Samantha Barbas

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