Hollywood almost lost to this city


OK, take a look at that palm tree right over
there. That’s not a California palm tree, it’s
a Florida palm tree. And I’m currently in a city that had more
than 30 movie studios and made 100s of films. This
city was locked in a fight with Hollywood and if it won, it could have changed our culture. But this gutted old movie studio is just about
all that’s left of it today. And the fact that this city lost says something
about early movies and how hard it is for cities to embrace change. But if things had gone just a little differently,
Jacksonville, Florida, might have been the world’s movie capital. This is a typical movie studio around 1910. Notice the ceiling? It’s glass covered by thin paper. Physical film strips at the time needed so
much light that the studios were like greenhouses, and pricey artificial lights were just starting
to get good in the 1910s. Most early American silent movies were made
in New York — and this lighting requirement created some problems. It was just one of the reasons movie studios
felt “the call of jacksonville.” New York’s light didn’t compare to “the
rays of the sun” in warmer climates, and this was especially important with primitive
film. Cold weather also hurt cameras, and cameramen
claimed it caused static that produced cracks and scratches on the film. Location was limited as well. New York could play a city, but producers
wanted to be near beaches and jungles. Jacksonville and LA both did that – but Jacksonville
was a relatively short 26 hour train ride from New York. So it became a winter hub. The Vim headquarters in New York wanted a
presence in Jacksonville, so they set up an outpost, and the famous Thanhouser Film Company
did the same. Massive new studios were built. This is the former home of Eagle Studios — a
Jacksonville native studio —in 1916, where they shot movies like this one: A Bathtub
Elopement, featuring goofy silent film comedian Marcel Perez. This is the production office. This is the safe where they stored flammable
film. And this is the on-lot generator. So why is it empty today? OK, this is almost it. Imagine this happening in your city. Right not I’m at Monroe and Davis in Jacksonville,
where a mob of more than 1,000 extras almost destroyed a saloon while shooting the movie
“The Clarion.” Like, totally destroyed it. OK, do I look like that guy?
“ARGH!” This happened more than once. Here’s a crowd chasing a baby carriage down
the street in downtown Jacksonville. It held a very large “baby.” By the mid-1910s, Jacksonville residents were
starting to get sick of movies overrunning their town. Jacksonville had extended a “genuine welcome”
to film, like Vim Comedy and Eagle Film. The mayor was a film booster who thought film
would bring a “new era to Jacksonville.” He had the support of every production company
in Jacksonville, and the city was set to be a hub. He was up for election in 1917, a year after
that big riot during the shooting of “The Clarion.” Businessmen were behind the mayor and he asked
the people of Jacksonville to vote for him and support the motion picture film companies
he brought in. He lost. It was a vote against corruption, but also
against the movies running wild through Jacksonville. During this time, Hollywood had grown a lot,
despite being further away from New York. Mismanagement of companies in Jacksonville,
World War I, and an influenza outbreak didn’t help the Florida city. There was a lot of bad luck. After the 1917 election, a lot of studios
closed up shop in Florida. The city had, in effect, voted against a future
in movies. In the meantime, hit movies, like those made
by legendary director DW Griffith, had made Hollywood a home for film.. Hollywood was ready to be a movie town. Jacksonville couldn’t make the jump. Jacksonville shows us an alternate universe
for movies. One where different comedy teams became legendary,
where the duo of Laurel and Hardy was “Plump and Runt” instead. And there are other reasons too, beyond movie
stars. That sign up top should say Norman Laboratories. After Eagle Studios closed, a producer named
Richard Norman bought it. While Hollywood made movies featuring actors
in blackface, Norman Studios made films like the Flying Ace, starring heroic black characters,
played by black actors. It was one of a few film studios that focused
on black audiences and black characters, and it sat outside the Hollywood system. It wasn’t the mainstream. If things had gone a little differently in
Jacksonville, our culture could have been shaped by an entirely different set of stories. But instead, all we have are a few restored
films and some buildings that are waiting for the same. Alright, that’s it for this episode in our
series about big changes to movies that came from outside Hollywood. A lot of places have actually started to surpass
Hollywood — there’s Nollywood, there’s Bollywood, there’s Y’allywood — these
are all real, Google them. So I wanna know if you think Hollywood will
endure. Let me know in the comments. I also want to give a shout out to almost
Hollywood by Blair Miller. All those library scenes where I’m looking
up stuff on microfiche, I’m basically looking up footnotes in this book and finding them
in the original newspaper. So if you want to nerd out a lot more on the
history of Jacksonville, Florida, get into the specifics, this is the book for you.

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