“This richly detailed book tells the story of early filmmakers’ adventures in St. Augustine and captures the excitement of their moviemaking escapades.”—Kathryn Fuller-Seeley, coauthor of <i>One Thousand Nights at the Movies: An Illustrated History of Motion Pictures 1895–1915</i>
“Very few people have any idea that St. Augustine played any role in early film history. This book brings St. Augustine into a much larger film conversation.”—Christina Lane, author of <i>Magnolia</i>
“Through rich and entertaining stories of how St. Augustine lured studios and enriched filmmaking with Henry Flagler’s railroad and architecture, Graham adds new detail to our understanding of the silent film era.”—Rita Reagan, Norman Studios Silent Film Museum
“This absorbing tale, documenting the forgotten history of early movie-making in St. Augustine, is a must-read for film enthusiasts.”—Janelle Blankenship, coeditor of <i>European Visions: Small Cinemas in Transition</i>
“Given that the great majority of these early films are now lost, Graham makes an important contribution to the study of Florida’s image on film.”—Jan-Christopher Horak, author of <i>Saul Bass: Anatomy of Film Design</i>
“The ‘reel’ history of Florida and its contribution to the development of American film history has been left out of mainstream textbooks and accounts. Thomas Graham’s book is a link in the chain of that history and an important addition to film scholarship.”—Susan Doll, coauthor of <i>Florida on Film: The Essential Guide to Sunshine State Cinema and Locations</i>
Before Hollywood, when America’s rising motion picture industry was based on the East Coast, early film stars like Rudolph Valentino, Ethel Barrymore, and Oliver Hardy made movies in St. Augustine, Florida. Silent Films in St. Augustine tells stories of the leading film producers and actors who escaped New York winters—and kept the studio doors open—in St. Augustine’s sunshine and warm weather.
More than 120 films were made in St. Augustine from 1906 to 1926 by film companies such as Thanhouser, Lubin, Éclair, Pathé, Edison, and Vitagraph. The first full-length Frankenstein movie, Life Without Soul, was shot in St. Augustine. Theda Bara became a “vamp” sensation for her role in A Fool There Was. Sidney Drew acted in the gender-bending A Florida Enchantment. Noted directors Edwin S. Porter, Maurice Tourneur, Sidney Olcott, and George Fitzmaurice also set up shop in the beach town.
Filmmakers used St. Augustine’s striking architecture to create backdrops for movies set in exotic foreign locales. The famous Castillo de San Marcos fort, the stone houses on the narrow streets, and Henry Flagler’s Spanish Renaissance palace hotels were reimagined as Spain, Italy, France, Egypt, Arabia, South Africa, Brazil, and Hawaii. Residents of St. Augustine loved seeing film teams in action on their streets and would gather around the camera to watch the actors and marvel at the outlandish costumes.
Describing the lavish sets, theatrical action, and New York movie personalities that filled St. Augustine, this book evokes an intensely creative time and place in the history of American moviemaking.
Thomas Graham is professor emeritus of history at Flagler College. He is the author of several books, including Mr. Flagler’s St. Augustine.
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