Sunday, March 22, 2009

Hollywood in the Mix for Colorado?


I suppose, if it happened to be a little warmer and the stars were aligned just so, the Canon City area in Colorado might have become just as famous for the movie industry as Hollywood. The Colorado locale -- after all, had a head start.
In fact, some of the earliest silent films surfaced right here around the turn of the century when William H. Selig and photographer Harry H. Buckwalter began filming movies in the Centennial State.
“Buckwalter, who had ties with Colorado developers, saw motion pictures as an ideal tool for promoting the state.” Notes film historian Eric Schaefer, associate professor at Emerson College in Boston. “The films he made with Selig at the turn of the century were “scenics” and short documentaries that captured the local color of Colorado and were designed to draw tourists and potential transplants. Buckwalter and Selig next incorporated elements of narrative films, notably crime movies like The Great Train Robbery (1903), with the Colorado scenery. Films such as The Hold-Up of the Leadville Stage (1904) proved popular with audiences, but Buckwalter quickly realized that the demands of the crime film were incompatible with the requirements of civic boosterism.”
Selig, who had been trained as a magician, jumped into the new industry after he saw a Dallas demonstration of Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope. He created the Selig Standard Camera and the Selig Polyscope, which eventually formed the core structure of the Chicago-based Selig Polyscope Company founded in 1896. It became the largest filmmaking plant in the United States by the turn of the century.
A Selig employee, Gilbert M. “Bronco Billy” Anderson, who worked as an actor and director for Selig from 1905 to 1907 and later branched off on his own, was the first to make “western stories” that were promoted as such.
Perhaps the most famous of the stars working for Selig in Colorado, and later in Hollywood, was Tom Mix.
Mix, known for his daring stunts and elaborate outfits, as well as his noteworthy co-star “Tony the Wonder Horse,” got his start in Canon City in 1910. The Selig Polyscope Company, which had opened a Denver office ten years prior, shot more than 40 films during 1911 and 1912 in the Canon City area. Looking for more cooperative weather, Selig moved most of the operation to Prescott, Arizona and eventually to the Los Angeles area (Hollywood). Another film company, the Colorado Motion Picture Company followed Selig into Canon City in 1914, but when their lead actress (and a cameraman) drowned in the river while performing her own stunts, that company dissolved shortly afterward.
Tom Mix, went on to make 336 films, some of them produced here in Colorado under different production companies, and was killed in 1940 in a freak auto accident near Florence, Arizona. Unable to stop his 1937 Cord 812 Phaeton before he slid into a wash, a large aluminum suitcase in the back of his car flew forward shattering his skull and breaking his neck. Tom Mix, 60, was killed almost instantly.
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