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Titania Meets Puck in a Glade. Puck is played by Gladys Hulette, a seasoned pro of the stage at 13. (Courtesy of Milestone Film & Video

     So, the lighter side of Shakespeare was the key to success! The Dream was followed by Twelfth Night in about six weeks time and it too received an enthusiastic reception: "The staging is according to the best traditions of Shakespeare's time and the acting is in harmony with the modern understanding of the piece." Yet, despite the excitement created by these films, there wasn't to be another Shakespeare film until 1912—if the Indian Romeo and Juliet and Cardinal Wolsey, with borrowings from Henry VIII, can be considered such. Later in the year, Vitagraph produced a three-reeler of As You Like It that faltered, to no small degree because, in the European fashion, it went outside the stock company for Rosalind, nabbing one of the grandest of dames on the American stage, Rose Coghlan, who was 61 years old. Thus, though the production was given credit for producing a picture that on the whole had met the high standard Vitagraph had set, "Without the youth demanded of the role, Rosalind is not Rosalind to those who sit in the front and no imagination, nor kindly feeling toward an actress ... can make it so." Nor, without a heroine who had "the girlish spirit of frolic," could this picture succeed, and it did not.
     There was talk of a Hamlet in 1914, with a cast list issued and word that a director was "busily engaged with rehearsals of what is expected to be the most pretentious film story of a classic ever filmed." But it never appeared and two years later Vitagraph came as close to Hamlet, or Shakespeare, as it ever was in its later years: Freddy Versus Hamlet—in which a young swain wins back the love of his lady, who had fallen for an actor playing the role. For lovers of Shakespeare who may have looked for some vestige of the magic of earlier days, this Freddy must truly have been a nightmare from Elm Street.
     Sadly, due to neglect, misfortune and decay, the greater number of the Big V's Shakespearean silents survive only in stills, strips of paper negatives or snippets of the original. However, two of the very best—A Midsummer Night's Dream and Twelfth Night—were preserved. They, along with three British and two Italian one-reelers, have been restored by the British Film Institute and are now available on the videotape Silent Shakespeare: Such Stuff as Dreams Are Made on...
     In addition to being a precious part of film history, the Vitagraph Shakespeares also capture precious parts of Brooklyn as it was a hundred years ago. The enchanted forest of the Dream is a chestnut woods in Greenfield that is long gone, while the scene of Bottom recounting his woodland experiences to his fellows was shot at the Ocean Avenue entrance to Prospect Park.
     Vitagraph continued to produce films of high quality after the Shakespeare one-reelers, but most were from original stories. One of its later literary ventures, Black Beauty (1921), had a great impact on the future of the movies. It was the first film six-year-old Ingmar Bergman had seen: "I still recall a sequence with a fire. I remember that vividly. And I remember too how it excited me, and how afterwards we bought the book Black Beauty and how I learned the chapter on the fire by heart." It would also introduce many future stars to the screen—as well as one man who gained prominence in another line of work. This was a "technical adviser," Leon Trotsky by name, who also worked as an extra in films. His image survives in a still from My Official Wife, which also included an appearance by a 17-year-old set decorator, Rudolph Valentino.

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Updated July 21, 2000.
Type correction August 4, 2000