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Jacksonville Florida Film Industry

Posted by bwmm on June 12, 2010

Motion picture industry
In the early 20th century, before Hollywood, the motion picture industry was based in New York City. In need of a winter headquarters, moviemakers were attracted to Jacksonville due to its warm climate, exotic locations, excellent rail access, and cheaper labor, earning the city the title of “The Winter Film Capital of the World”. New York-based Kalem Studios was the first to open a permanent studio in Jacksonville in 1908. Over the course of the next decade, more than 30 silent film companies established studios in town, including Metro Pictures (later MGM), Edison Studios, Majestic Films, King Bee Film Company, Vim Comedy Company, Norman Studios, Gaumont Studios and Lubin Studios. Comedic actor and Georgia native Oliver “Babe” Hardy began his motion picture career here in 1914. He starred in over 36 short silent films his first year acting. With the closing of Lubin studios in early 1915, Oliver moved to New York then New Jersey to find film jobs. Acquiring a job with the Vim Company in early 1915, he returned to Jacksonville in the spring of 1917 before relocating to Los Angeles in October 1917. The first motion picture made in Technicolor and the first feature-length color movie produced in the United States, The Gulf Between, was also filmed on location in Jacksonville in 1917.

Jacksonville was especially important to the African American film industry. One notable individual in this regard is the European American producer Richard Norman, who created a string of films starring black actors in the vein of Oscar Micheaux and the Lincoln Motion Picture Company. In contrast to the degrading parts offered in certain white films such as The Birth of a Nation, Norman and his contemporaries sought to create positive stories featuring African Americans in what he termed “splendidly assuming different roles”.

Jacksonville’s mostly conservative residents, however, objected to the hallmarks of the early movie industry, such as car chases in the streets, simulated bank robberies and fire alarms in public places, and even the occasional riot. In 1917, conservative Democrat John W. Martin was elected mayor on the platform of taming the city’s movie industry. By that time, southern California was emerging as the major movie production center, thanks in large part to the move of film pioneers like William Selig and D.W. Griffith to the area. These factors quickly sealed the demise of Jacksonville as a major film destination.”

There is a book I want to read on this very subject
The First Hollywood: Florida & the Golden Age of Silent Filmmaking Shawn C. Bean

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