Vitagraph 4 continued from page 3

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The Flatbush Studio c. 1910. The water tank stand-in for the Delaware River in Washington Under the American Flag, and for the Red Sea in The Life of Moses, is in the upper left side of the quadrangle. (from Two Reels and a Crank, by Albert E. Smith.)

     As a matter of fact, Greenfield natives became a part of the game. Props and furniture were rented from the locals, some of whom also worked as extras. Thus did the village become "a sort of profane Oberammergau. Boys and girls played movies instead of mudpies; swains brought the romanceful manners of Vitagraph screen lovers to the town lanes, and the maidens the hoydenish airs of Helen Gardner to the village green." The lure of the movie studio extended beyond the village, all the way to Erasmus Hall High School, a recent expansion of Erasmus Hall Academy, founded in 1786, with John Jay, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr among its benefactors. Vitagraph's call was heard by Norma Talmadge, who joined the company in 1910, aged 13, and became one of the greatest dramatic stars of the silent era.
     The effect of the Big V's spacious location was immediately evident in its first production, filmed in 1905, probably before the first modest studio building was finished. The record of Vitagraph's films between 1900 and 1905 is lost, but its first Flatbush release was a radical departure from the nickelodeon shorts of the earlier date. This was a 1,050 foot one-reeler (about fifteen minutes running time), a dip into the popular literary world for The Adventures of Raffles, the Amateur Cracksman, based on the stories by E. W. Hornung and starring J. Barney Sherry, a charter member of the stock company of actors formed upon the opening of the Flatbush facility. Raffles was soon followed by a Sherlock Holmes adaptation, then a production of Booth Tarkington's Monsieur Beaucaire. Vitagraph's closest approach to literature in 1906, however, was The Modern Oliver Twist, or, The Life of a Pickpocket, but the plunder of literature was shortly to be renewed in earnest, and elevated, after the guardians of public morality turned their wrath on the content of moving pictures in the next year.
     The industry fought back by mounting works on historical and religious subjects, as well as literary classics, and no other studio fought the good fight with the relish of the Big V. Its "high art" films were going to bring time-honored works to life, compressed into about fifteen minutes; at the same time, they were to be walloping good entertainment. The Flatbush studio enabled it to fulfill its lofty goals and raise Vitagraph high above all the other filmmmakers of the time.

Continued on page 5

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Updated June 25, 2000.