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1897: Three Horse Race

J Stuart Blackton

1897 witnessed the birth of the American Vitagraph Co., an organisation that would quickly become the third major film company in the United States.   The co-founders of this company were J(ames) Stuart Blackton and Albert E. Smith, both of whom, as children, had emigrated to the States from England with their parents.

Blackton was born on the 5th January 1875 in Sheffield and moved to America when he was 10 years old.   He developed a talent for drawing that gained him a job with the New York World.   As a sideline, Blackton appeared on the stage as a quick-fire cartoonist together with Albert E. Smith, a conjuror born in Faversham, Kent on the 4th June 1875, and Ronald Reader.   They were collectively known as the International Novelty Co. and, in addition to magic and drawings, the act included recitations, ventriloquism and a magic lantern show.  

In the summer of 1896, the Edison company had filmed a performance given by the trio at a Sick Baby Fund benefit show staged by the New York World.   Blackton’s cartoons were a huge hit, and he was invited to make three 150-foot films for Edison in August 1896.   The films were Humorous Cartoon, Political Cartoon, (which lampooned President Grover Cleveland and William McKinley), and Edison Drawn by ‘World’ Artist.   The films premiered at Proctor’s Pleasure Palace in New York on the 12th September 1896, and brought both fame to Blackton and invaluable publicity for the New York World

Early in 1897, the trio acquired an Edison Vitascope and Blackton and Smith formed their partnership, American Vitagraph, to begin exhibiting films as part of their act.   It wasn’t long before Smith, who had a natural aptitude for mechanics, converted the projector into a camera, and by late ’97 they had opened a tiny studio on the roof of the Morse Building in New York and started producing simple actualities. [ADD]

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USA: 1897



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