Friday, November 14, 2014

Kalem films Miami: "Paradise of the eastern south, the California that is right at home"

By Jane Feehan

Miami attracted a series of filmmakers in its early days (see labels for additional posts on the subject), including D.W Griffith in 1919. One of the most prolific in the business was the Kalem Company who filmed daily life in Miami as early as 1913. 

Kalem's L.A. Darling came to Miami in March of that year and his activities made front page news of the local paper.

He produced 14 films in a matter of days capturing shots of tourists at the Royal Palm hotel, millionaire yachtsmen returning from a day of fishing, the Great Commoner William Jennings Bryan—a new resident of Coconut Grove—and pioneer and large land holder Mary Brickell. He also filmed six Seminoles in traditional dress. It was reported that the “film was to advertise to the continent the Paradise of the eastern south, the California that is right at home.”

Darling’s mission was to film an accurate representation of life in the sub-tropics, including its ocean waters, palm trees and coconuts. One film, aimed at the “lady suffragettes,” showed Mary Brickell “bossing the job” or directing a man as he gathered coconuts. Another shows one of Seminoles at “Indian headquarters, Girtman’s Cash grocery,” who, only after much cajoling, moved around for the camera. The Seminoles were convinced Darling didn’t know what he was doing; they assumed the only pictures were still shots.   

Political celebrity William Jennings Bryan, who served as congressman for Nebraska, ran for U.S. president three times and later argued for the state in the Scopes trial, came to Coconut Grove to build a home in 1913. Darling caught him on film with his sleeves rolled up directing construction workers on the site.The filmmaker regretted he hadn’t stopped by three weeks earlier when he could have found Bryan hoeing in his radish patch.

Darling also captured shots of a grapefruit packing house, residential neighborhoods and traffic in business areas. His work took a matter of weeks, including the making of negatives to sell to local movie houses. Theater owners needed lots of product to change up programs on a weekly or even daily basis.

Established in New York City in 1907 and operating from 131 West 24th Street, Kalem Company filmed on location throughout the U.S and Ireland. They opened studios in California and Jacksonville and in doing so, became the first company to film year-round. The company made the first Ben-Hur and the first adaptation of 
Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde. Its legacy includes more than 1,200 films including several about Florida: The Seminole’s Vengeance, A Florida Feud: or, Love in the Everglades, In Old Florida, St. Augustine, Florida, the Celery Industry in Florida, and Cypress Logging in Florida. Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. Jane Feehan.

Kalem was purchased in 1917 by Vitagraph Studios.

*State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, - opening in Jacksonville 1914

** State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, bryan home by Fishbaugh, W. A.(William A.), 1873-1950

See more on William Jennings Bryan at Jane's Bits:

Miami Metropolis, March 12, 1913
Miami Metropolis, March 13, 1913
Mast, Gerald. A Short History of the Movies. New York: Pegasus, 1971
Florida Memories

Tags: early filmmakers in Florida, Fort Lauderdale historian, Miami historian, Florida movie studios, Kalem Company,Jane Feehan film researcher, Miami history

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