Silent Films in St. Augustine, by Thomas Graham. University Press of Florida. 198 pages. Hardcover $24.95.
This totally engaging, compact treatment of early U. S. film history is packed with a lot of information and a lot of fun. Before Hollywood was crowned the movie capital, St. Augustine was right up there. Over 120 movies were filmed in whole or part in St. Augustine, revealing the talents of major producers, directors, and actors. The fledging silent film industry made St. Augustine sizzle in the winter, when film makers and performers escaped the unpleasant New York weather to enjoy themselves in a town that seemed to have been created to provide the kind of scenic beauty cameramen feasted on.
Though the span of St. Augustine’s life as a home to the film industry ran from 1906-1926, its heyday was much briefer. Mr. Graham can survey the first 11 years in a single chapter. The core years were 1912-1919, last few years of this period undermined by World War I. There was at least one good year with many productions in the early 1920’s, but the fade had begun. New York film industry investors were moving west, as was the talent pool for movie making.
While it lasted, the comings and goings of the film people brought a great deal of excitement to St. Augustine’s residents and visitors. Most of the films needed “extras” for crowd scenes and brief walk-on parts. Even more fun than having the camera look your way would be the follow-up thrill of seeing yourself and your fellow townspeople on the screen when the move was shown. St. Augustinians got a kick from their brush with fame.
And the brush with fame included being in the company of notable performers and other celebrity movie folks. You might get to open a door, in real life or screen life, for Ethel Barrymore, or Norma Talmadge. You might have to avoid staring too hard at that iconic vamp, Theda Bara. You may have laughed at Oliver Hardy, either on-screen or in person.
You could mix with, or at least hear gossip about, the heads of studios or their senior staffers. People who could write stories, design costumes, or turn St. Augustine into almost anyplace you could imagine. . . .
To read the entire review, as it appears in the September 6, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly as well as the September 7 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Silent Films in St. Augustine