16/5/1897: Vitagraph Begins Telling Stories
Vitagraph's first fiction film was shot on the roof of their studio in Flatbush, Brooklyn on the 16th May 1897. It was entitled The Burglar on the Roof, and featured co-founder J. Stuart Blackton in the eponymous role while his partner, Albert E. Smith, cranked the camera. In his book, Two Reels and a Crank, Smith claimed the total budget for the 60-second film was a whopping three dollars and fifty cents plus cost of film. The simple story was intended to show the burglar trying to pry open a skylight before being apprehended by a policeman, however, while this epic was being filmed one Mrs. Olsen, the wife of the building's janitor, mistook the melodrama for an actual arrest. Seeing the burglar's struggles to avoid arrest, the doughty Mrs. Olsen set upon the rogue with her broom. In Smith's words, "she flew into the battle with broom upraised, screaming and raining blows down on the heads of the startled actors."
Unwilling to re-shoot the movie, Blackton and Smith decided to present it for exhibition with Mrs. Olsen's brave assault intact, and the film debuted at Tony Pastor's New Fourteenth Street Theatre the following night. Much to the pair's delighted surprise, the film was a hit with the audience. [ADD]
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