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In this rousing photo from about 1916, Gaumont Studios films a scene in Jacksonville. The footage appears to be for a prison flick, with the inmates burning their work camp.
Here's an indoor movie scene, but on an outdoor set: Many filmmakers shot their flicks outside during the silent movie era. Early cameras required very strong lighting. One reason that filmmakers flocked to Florida is that it the state provided so much sunshine. During the sticky summers, though, actors would have to keep their cool while contending with sweat & bugs. Dating from 1912, this photo shows how a Jacksonville moviemaker built his set outdoors, even though the scene appears to take place in a restaurant. The set sits on a wooden platform above the ground. The rigging above the set was probably used to adjust the amount of sunlight that came through.
"YOU'VE COME A LONG WAY, BABY" -- This alluring publicity shot shows Anna Q. Nilsson, a silent film actress in Jacksonville in about 1915. A smoking woman was considered rather provocative at the time. Well-known during her heyday, Nilsson was often compared to fellow Swedish actress Greta Garbo. Born in 1888, Nilsson migrated to the US in 1905 and eventually began to work in films for the Kalem Company. In 1928, about 12 years after the picture above was taken, her career as a leading lady came crashing down when she took a bad fall from horseback. Her broken hip never healed properly, and she didn't appear on screen again until 1933. Nilsson did make a comeback, though, as a supporting character actress in some of the most popular films of the 1930s, '40s, & '50s. Her best-known movies from this period include "Sunset Boulevard," "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," and "Adam's Rib." Nilsson died in 1974. She's now immortalized with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Incidentally, the "Q" stands for Quirentia.
It cost only five cents to enter this Jacksonville movie theater. In today's currency, that translates into about $1.00 -- Still a bargain! Dating from about 1905 to 1909, this busy photo shows the Savoy Theater downtown. It stood at the northeast corner of Main & Forsyth, in the spot of today's seventeen-story Lynch Building, an office building from 1926 that is being converted into apartments. In the lower right-hand side of the picture, an umbrella shades a street vendor. The dome in the background topped the old city hall, located at the site of the present Main Public Library. The sign above the theater reads "Savoy Moving Pictures." In silent film days, Jacksonville's residents could choose from a plethora of flicks, since movies often stayed just a day or two at local show houses. African Americans sat in segregated balconies, or they visited their own theaters for films and stage productions. African American theaters included the Globe, the Palace, and the Lincoln.
This unidentified, undated photo shows an early movie theater in Jacksonville. On the right, a father appears to lead his daughter, in a striped dress & hat, into the lobby. Notice how many of the posters state "TODAY," since silent films often came & went in only a day or two. At first glance, the marquee seems to announce a movie called "She Loved too Late," starring Theda Bara, "The Vamp" seductress of the silent film era. Nothing turned up on an "Internet Movie Database" search or in a "Google" search.

Silent Movies Capital

WHEN FICTION BECOMES FACT — Shootouts on Sunday? A mob demolishing property in LaVilla? A car careening out of control downtown? These kinds of events irritated Jacksonville residents — even though they were supposed to have been staged.

Many silent movie companies operated in Jacksonville from about 1908 to 1918. The “Gateway to Florida” also became known as the “World’s Winter Film Capital.” In this Southern town during a more conservative time, however, the filmmakers ruffled a lot of feathers. They managed to produce a comedy of public relations errors.

Here are just a few of their transgressions: In 1916, a filmmaker hired 1,380 local residents. He grouped them together for a mob scene at Davis & Monroe streets in La Villa. To add extra authenticity, he also employed forty policemen with rubber clubs. When the cameras started rolling, unfortunately, some of people in the crowd took their parts too seriously. A real mob formed during the filming and spiraled out of control. It nearly destroyed a nearby saloon and a two-story building. On another occasion, a filmmaker placed a misleading ad in a local paper so as to draw a genuine crowd and avoid paying salaries to actors.

A thrilling scene in one movie required a car to barreled down Main Street. Unfortunately, the vehicle accidentally splashed into the St. Johns River at the ferry dock, which was in the vicinity of today’s Jacksonville Landing. Townsfolk criticized the badly-shaken actors for disregarding public safety. They also grew concerned when producers called in false alarms if they needed fire trucks to liven up their flicks. And when moviemakers shot bank robberies on Sundays, the churchgoers would shake their heads.

In 1917, many Jacksonville residents made their feelings known during a mayoral contest: They elected an anti-film industry candidate. This vote of “non-confidence,” along with other factors, spurred the movie companies to seek greener pastures elsewhere. And the rest is Hollywood history.

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