The Blanchard Brothers Film Company
It’s hard to imagine a time when box office numbers for the weekend didn’t dominate Monday’s news and movie stars’ lives weren’t obsessively chronicled more than those of world leaders, but The Blanchard Brothers Film Company reminds the reader that there was indeed such a time. In 1911, Estelle Harrison, a stage actress down on her luck, answers an ad to appear in a moving picture. So embarrassed is she at this supposed comedown that when she runs into an acquaintance on the way, both pretend they are on their way to other errands.
Estelle and her acquaintance, Margaret Eagan, soon become players in the film company and enlist, respectively, one’s lover and the other’s husband to join them. Movie making at the beginning of last century was a far different proposition than what it is in this century. Everyone—actors, actresses, directors, and even seamstresses—joined in creating story ideas, directing, and camera work. This was the likely precursor to later movies whose theme was “hey kids, let’s put on a show!”
The book follows the various actors and actresses and their rise and fall in this new medium, and while no character stands out among the rest, Snowcroft deftly evokes the various portraits of film industry “types.” There is the dissolute leading man whose career dries up when he loses his looks, the ingénue who snags him but can’t keep him, the actress who approaches her career with more consideration—all are recognizable without being stereotypes. As another reminder of how much has changed since film’s early days, the industry was first located in the Northeast rather than on the West Coast. Although set a mere one hundred years ago, this book reminds us that the movie industry has changed so dramatically as to make this ancient history, and I mean that as a compliment!