Vitagraph 3 continued from page 2

     In its early years it catered to the public's appetite for anything that moved: short films of between 50 and 100 feet of comic pieces (such as "The Happy Hooligan" series, with Blackton as Hooligan), scenes of famous places and current events, though not always on the spot—the Battle of Manila Bay was recreated in a large tub in its "studio," the roof of the Morse Building on Nassau Street in Manhattan, where the company's office was then located. Such a limited production facility could not contain the imagination and enterprise of the filmmakers and in 1903 they were on a search for a place to build a studio.
     A number of sites were considered but their choice fell on a property in the village of Greenfield in Flatbush (its deed retaining a 200-year-old stipulation that "Wilhelmina Lot reserves the right to drive her cows to pasture through the premises"). The property was bounded north and south by Locust Avenue and Elm Avenue, on the west was East 15th Street and east was the right-of-way of the Brighton Beach rapid transit line, soon to be joined by the Manhattan Beach branch of the Long Island Railroad, which may have had a definite influence on the choice of the Flatbush site. By 1925, evidence of the LIRR line was limited to "signs, and a mothy waiting room," and "veteran employees [could] remember only three times when steam trains actually passed," which purportedly left plenty of time between trains for the Big V to film its "railroad thrillers" on its trackage. (When this was written not many from Vitagraph's early years remained and the line had been electrified long since. Perhaps those early railroad cliffhangers were actually filmed on the original LIRR trackage, about three blocks to the east.)
     The Brighton's attraction, on the other hand, was more practical. Only four years before Vitagraph bought the Greenfield property, the Brighton itself was transformed from the Brooklyn and Brighton Beach Railroad, a steam railway opened in 1878 as the Brooklyn, Flatbush and Coney Island RR, to carry vacationers to the Brighton Beach Hotel, into a transit line served by wooden elevated cars powered by overhead trolley wire. It then joined the Fulton Street elevated, running by third rail across the Brooklyn Bridge to a terminal at Park Row in Manhattan, convenient to Vitagraph's Nassau Street office. Thus could actors and production personnel travel directly from Manhattan to the Elm Street station adjacent to the studio. William Shea, among the first actors in the Big V's stock company, recalled the Brighton's role after filming began in 1905:

After the building of the Flatbush studio, interior scenes were taken at the Nassau Street address and exterior scenes at Flatbush. In a picture that had both interior and exterior scenes it was a case of collecting all necessary wardrobe and props and moving to Flatbush. It must have been a sight to see fifteen or twenty people get off a train, some carrying bundles and boxes with a sword or spear sticking out, a little bit of a fellow struggling along with a suit of armor, and various other bulky properties distributed among members of the party, but it was part of the game. Very few of the actors kicked and the populace became used to seeing us doing all kinds of stunts.

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Updated June 25, 2000.