Sunday, August 19, 2012

Florida History: "Largest motion picture plant in the South" - Miami

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By Jane Feehan

The motion picture industry in the U.S. was launched in the early 1900s by D.W. Griffith and a few other filmakers. Of acclaim was his controversial Birth of a Nation filmed in California in 1915. Four years later, Griffith came to Fort Lauderdale to make Idol Dancer*. By the early 1920s, a few industry hopefuls opened studios in Florida.

Miami Studios, Inc. was built in Hialeah, eight miles from downtown Miami in 1921. Its two buildings contained two studios each with stages configured 125 by 60 feet for interior shots. Construction progressed “just as though a permanent building is being erected except using plaster board instead of plaster and it was being painted more carefully than a hotel,” reported the Miami Daily Metropolis  (Jul. 28, 1921).

The first movie out of the studio was  Outlaws of the Sea (1923). It was based on Filigree Flask, a story about rum runners written by Miami area resident EH Lebel (Prohibition had been underway since 1920). John Brunton produced the action film shot on Miami’s streets and waterfront. Jack Okey, who went on to have a long career in the film industry, directed the project starring Marguerite Courtot, Pierre Gendron, Gordon Standing and HH Patlee.

Another movie released the same year was Where the Pavement Ends based on a novel by John Russell. It was directed by Rex Ingram and starred Edward Connelly, Alice Terry and Ramon Navarro. A desert scene was filmed on the beach near today’s Fountainebleau Hotel. Part of the movie was also shot in Cuba. Unfortunately, the film is lost.

Studio principals also hoped to produce a movie about Thomas A Edison’s life to commemorate the 40th anniversary of his invention of the incandescent light bulb. It’s doubtful this came to pass; no record exists of such a film produced by the company. No other films are mentioned in news of those years about the studio, the “largest motion picture plant in the South, where the greatest personages of filmdom have operated.” (Miami Daily Metropolis, Feb. 2, 1923.) D.W. Griffith shot White Roses in Florida and Louisiana but it wasn't a production of Miami Studios. Newspapers of 1923 show attempts to sell lots owned by the company. By that time, Hollywood was the place to be in the film industry and Florida’s chances as a movie production center were all but a dream. Copyright © 2012. All rights reserved. Jane Feehan.

For a studio in Broward County circa 1920 see:

*For DW Griffith and other early film makers in Florida, see:

Additional Sources
Miami Daily Metropolis, Mar. 5, 1923
Miami Daily Metropolis, July 8, 1922

Tags: Miami history, film industry history in Miami, film industry history South Florida, 
DW Griffith, old movies made in Florida, old movies made in Miami, movie studio Miami, old movie studio Miami, historical movie studio Hialeah, film studios in Miami, 
Florida film industry research

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