Thursday, June 23, 2011

Silent Film Stars Historic Records Available on Ancestry.com

Below is a press release from Ancestry.com. I think this will be very interesting for folks who are researching information about silent era film stars and coming across major obstacles. I have a few film stars I'd like to research. I hope this will be a good source for biographers which may mean more classic film biographies in our future! You do need a membership to use the service though. It may be well worth it for the truly dedicated film historians.

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Silent Cinema Stars Private Information Revealed In Historic Studio Archives- Now Available Online at Ancestry.com

Thousands of stars of the early silver screen detailed in Motion Picture Studio Directories

§ Records include Charlie Chaplin, “Fatty” Arbuckle and Oliver Hardy (images available)

§ Directories reveal ‘vital statistics’ stars probably didn’t want you to know…


Provo, Utah – June 13, 2011 – Ancestry.com, the world’s largest online family resource, has launched online records of the original Hollywood film studios, which profile the superstars of silent cinema at the beginning of the 20th century. Digitized in partnership with the California State Library (where the original ledgers are held), the records are now fully searchable online for the first time by name, birthplace and date of birth.

Much like today’s online film and actors database IMDb, the directories were compiled by executives of the ‘big five’ studios – Warner Bros., FPL Corp (Paramount), RKO, MGM and 20thCentury Fox. ‘Up & Coming’ studios also contributed to the records, among them Universal, Columbia and United Artists.

The Motion Picture Studio Directories (1919 and 1921)feature thousands of leading actors, actresses, cinematographers, writers, editors, directors, producers and screenwriters of the day – at a time when cinemas were selling more than 100 million tickets a week. The silent film era was so incredibly prominent during its heyday that the highest grossing film of the time, The Birth of a Nation, earned $10 million in 1915, equivalent to more than $216 million in modern era earnings and a runaway blockbuster by today’s standards.

The records contain information about iconic actors and actresses such as Charlie Chaplin, who reached the height of his fame during the silent film era by using mime and slapstick to great effect. His records describe him as 5’4” with brown hair and blue eyes and list his address as the Charlie Chaplain Film Co on La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles.

Actors’ entries include details of past film roles, age, birthplace, height, weight, address and even a home phone number in some cases. The biggest stars often paid to include photos in order to attract greater interest from film executives (images available).

In fact, several actors omitted or amended their information to make them more marketable. The entry for one of the most famous of all silent movie actresses, Gloria Swanson, has the date of birth omitted, despite being just 32 at the time, and Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle - one of the highest paid actors of the silent era - has a number of facts excluded, notably his weight.

Some further famous names listed include:

· Oliver Hardy – The ‘big man’ of comedy double act Laurel & Hardy, Hardy appeared in hundreds of films in a career spanning over 30 years. His directory entry includes his industry nickname ‘Babe,’ his unusual height for the era (6’1”) and weight (350 lbs).

· Lillian Gish – One of the leading actresses of the silent era and considered to be one of the greatest of all time, Gish played a lead character in The Birth of a Nation – the largest grossing of all silent movies.

· Buster Keaton – Known for his constantly stoic, deadpan expression during his comedy appearances, Keaton earned the nickname “The Great Stone Face”. He is listed as having taken part in military service, fighting for the US in WWI. It is during his service that Keaton developed an ear infection which left his hearing permanently impaired.

· Mary Pickford – Known as the “American Sweetheart” or “Girl with the Curls,” Pickford was a world-renowned actress. Her records detail her career starting as early as five-years-old and list her address as 4500 Sunset Boulevard, LA.

“These records paint an intriguing picture of how the early film industry operated and include some of the first and biggest names ever to appear on the silver screen,” remarked Quinton Atkinson, Ancestry.com Director of Content. “It’s fascinating to see the details that would have been kept reserved for film executives of the day and perhaps the details within might provide the link needed to prove your relation to a film executive, famous director or even one many movie stars found in the directories.”

Visit www.ancestry.com/motionpicturesto start searching the records now.

About Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com)
Ancestry.com Inc. (Nasdaq: ACOM) is the world's largest online family history resource, with more than 1.6 million paying subscribers. More than 6 billion records have been added to the site in the past 14 years. Ancestry users have created more than 24 million family trees containing over 2.4 billion profiles. Ancestry.com has local Web sites directed at nine countries that help people discover, preserve and share their family history, including its flagship Web site at www.ancestry.com.

5 comments:

  1. The entry for one of the most famous of all silent movie actresses, Gloria Swanson, has the date of birth omitted, despite being just 32 at the time

    If this is a reference to the 1921 directory, Swanson would have been a mere 22 at the time; she was born in 1899. (It doesn't explain why the date was omitted, however.)

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  2. I hope you realize that I didn't write that press release. It comes from Ancestry.com

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  3. Intriguing. Thanks for passing along the information.

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  4. Very interesting, thanks for sharing the info!!

    I was wondering do you mind if I use your style blog font?

    I love it & I wanted to double check & make sure it was okay with you first. :)

    ReplyDelete
  5. This is fascinating. It should be a great help to biographers (and bloggers for that matter). Of course, I wonder how much of this information won't make its way to IMDB.

    ReplyDelete

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