Canadian pioneers in early HollywoodMotion pictures have been a part of the culture of Canada since the beginning and Hollywood and the development of its motion picture industry owes no small part of its success to a number of Canadians. At the beginning of the 1900s, from the frozen north young men and women, in many cases only boys and girls, were drawn to the motion picture industry.
The success of the first motion picture shows spawned the massive 1905 construction of new nickelodeon movie theaters across America. New production companies soon opened to compete with Thomas Edison's success in making films. With the exception of the new Essanay Studios in Chicago, Illinois, the motion picture business in the United States was centered in and around New York City as a direct result of the location of Edison's laboratories in nearby West Orange, New Jersey. As a result, most of these Canadian pioneers began their careers in New York.
By mid 1908, motion pictures were emerging as a form of mass entertainment and at that time there were seven major motion picture companies producing silent films, each usually twenty minutes in length. These founding studios were:
- American Mutoscope and Biograph Company
- The Edison Manufacturing Co
- Essanay Film Manufacturing Co
- Kalem Company
- Lubin Film Company
- Selig Polyscope Company
- The Vitagraph Company
Amongst those Canadians who played an integral part of the building of Hollywood were:
- Al Christie, (1881-1951) - studio owner, director/producer/screenwriter
- Charles Christie, (1880-1955) - studio owner, built Hollywood's 1stluxury hotel
- Berton Churchill, (1876-1940) - actor
- Sam De Grasse, (1875-1953) - actor
- Joe De Grasse, (1873-1940), director
- Fifi D'Orsay, (1904-1983) - actress
- Marie Dressler, (1869-1934), Academy Award for Best Actress
- Allan Dwan, (1885-1921) - director, producer, screenwriter
- Huntley Gordon, (1887-1956) - actor
- Walter Huston (1884-1950), Academy Award winning actor
- Ruby Keeler, (1909 -1993) - dancer, actress
- Florence La Badie, (1888-1917) - actress
- Florence Lawrence, (1886-1938) - America's first film Star
- Del Lord, (1894-1970) - comedy director
- Raymond Massey, (1896-1983), actor
- Louis B. Mayer, (1885-1957) - co-founder of MGM Motion Picture Studios
- Sidney Olcott, (1873-1949) - director
- Jack Pickford, (1896-1933) - actor, Hollywood's first Bad Boy
- Mary Pickford, (1893-1979) - America's Sweetheat, Academy Award for Best Actress, Co-Founder of United Artists
- Walter Pidgeon, (1897-1984) - actor
- Marie Prevost, (1898-1937) - actress
- Mack Sennett, (1880-1960) - director, known as the King of Comedy
- Athole Shearer, (1900-1985) - actress, wife of Howard Hawks
- Douglas Shearer, (1899-1971), Sound Director/Designer, 7 Academy Awards
- Norma Shearer, (1902-1983) - Academy Award for Best Actress
- Jay Silverheels, (1912-1980), actor, "Tonto"
- Jack Warner, (1892-1978) - co-founder, Warner Brothers
- Fay Wray, (1907 - ) - actress
Several of these Canadian pioneers achieved enormous wealth and worldwide fame such as Louis B. Mayer and Mary Pickford who were, in their day, the most powerful personalities in Hollywood and two individuals who are unsurpassed in their contributions to the development of the motion picture industry. And, these Canadians were good at their craft. Not only did Canadian female actresses dominate at the "Box Office" for most of the late 1920s and mid 1930s, the Academy Award for Best Actress was won by three Canadian woman three years in a row:
- 1929 - Mary Pickford in "Coquette"
- 1930 - Norma Shearer in "The Divorcee"
- 1931 - Marie Dressler in "Min and Bill"
- "Without another word he called his secretary, Ida Koverman. "Ida... " he said, "prepare a contract for this man from Saint John, he will tell you his name, and Ida, add another fifty dollars a week on the contract for a good Canadian. " We shook hands and just like that I was under contract to MGM. "You do act, don't you?" he asked. I nodded and left the room."
Today, many Canadians have found fame and fortune in Hollywood, but these pioneers who traveled south when Hollywood was still in its infancy, made a lasting impact on the shape and future of the motion picture industry.
Reading: "Stardust and Shadows: Canadians in Early Hollywood" (2000) - Charles Foster - ISBN 1-55002-348-9