J. Stuart Blackton

Active - 1898 - 1933  |   Born - Jan 5, 1875 in Sheffield, Yorkshire, England, UK  |   Genres - Drama, Action, Adventure, War

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J. Stuart Blackton was a true pioneer of motion pictures whose contributions are only rivaled by those of D.W. Griffith. Born in Sheffield, England, he emigrated to the U.S. with his family at the age of ten. While working as a journalist/illustrator for the New York World, Blackton chanced an interview with Thomas Edison, who was deeply impressed with Blackton's drawings and suggested that he allow him to photograph them with his new Kinetograph camera resulting in the film Blackton, The Evening World Cartoonist (1896). Blackton became fascinated by moving pictures and bought a Kinetoscope. He and friend Albert E. Smith began showing films with it until 1897 when they enlisted the aid of William T. Rock and converted the projector into a motion-picture camera. They then formed the Vitagraph Company and began film production in an outdoor studio on the roof of the Morse Building in New York City. Their first film was The Burglar on the Roof, featuring Blackton as the thief. During 1898, in the midst of the Spanish-American War, they made what is considered the world's first propaganda film, Tearing Down the Spanish Flag. They continued developing their films, combinations of real and fictionalized news, and in the early 1900s, moved into the first glass-enclosed studio in Flatbush, Brooklyn, where Blackton directed most of their story films, such as Gentleman of France (1903). That and Raffles, the Amateur Cracksman (1905) are considered landmarks of American cinema. Blackton then invented single-frame animation, and between 1906 and 1910, created several cartoons, most notably Humorous Phases of Funny Faces.

Blackton created many other technical innovations during his long career, including the close-shot editing techniques and the production of two and three-reel comedies; in one comedy series, he starred as the Happy Hooligan. He was the first to produce adaptations of distinguished stage plays, including Shakespeare. Blackton also became the first production supervisor overseeing the work of several directors until the workload at Vitagraph became too much for him alone. He left the studio in 1917 and began working independently until World War I, during which he directed and produced propaganda films such as The Battle Cry of Peace (1915). He traveled to England later to direct several costume dramas, two of which he made in color. He finally retired in 1926 after Warner Bros. absorbed Vitagraph. When the stock market crashed, he lost everything and had to work on a government project in California until he got a job as the director of a production at the Anglo-American Film Company where he worked for the rest of his life. In addition to filmmaking, Blackton also controlled a record-player manufacturing company, Vitaphone, which founded and helmed the Motion Picture Board of Trade and created the first movie-fan magazine in America, Motion Picture Magazine.