and 2nd cameraman John Van den Brouk on the set of 'Poor Little Rich Girl',
Paragon Studios, Fort Lee, New Jersey, 1916.
I came across the film Before Hollywood There Was Fort Lee, N. J. on Netflix. I had seen this documentary sometime in college, and used it in a film course I taught.
My New Jersey students had a tough time accepting that Fort Lee, New Jersey was once the center of American film production. Uh huh. This was at a time when Hollywood was full of orange groves.
This documentary combines photographs from private collections and restored footage from such films as Thomas A. Edison's "Rescued from an Eagle's Nest" and D.W. Griffith's "The New York Hat," featuring Mary Pickford and Lionel Barrymore and filmed at the studios in Fort Lee.
D. W. Griffith made many one-reel Biograph dramas there (Mack Sennett appeared in his first film). Pearl White endured the "Perils of Pauline," and Mary Pickford and Theda Bara starred in early features.
The American film industry got its start with the construction of Thomas Edison's "Black Maria", the first motion picture studio, in West Orange, New Jersey. New Jersey offered land for studios for much less than nearby New York City. By about 1916, a dozen major movie studios were operating across the Hudson River from Manhattan.
The movies came to Fort Lee when pioneer companies started to look for new filming locations. In 1907, it was found that the Palisades near Fort Lee and Coytesville could be used for “Wild West” scenes and other outdoor scenes. Rambo’s Hotel on First Street was used as a place to dress as well as for the exterior of a Western saloon.
In 1907, Thomas Alva Edison used the cliffs of the Palisades for the exterior of "Rescued from an Eagle’s Nest." It was in this picture that D.W. Griffith, later to become more famous as a director, first appeared in a starring role as an actor.
In 1914, with the expansion of the giant French film companies into the United States market, Maurice Tourneur moved to the United States to direct silent films for Éclair's American branch studio in Fort Lee.
His once-lost 1917 feature, A Girl's Folly, is included on the DVD in a half-hour abridgement with views of the glass stages, rotating sets, tank for water effects, projection room, and crews at work, along with his hour-long 1914 feature, The Wishing Ring. Watching these early films, you can see the development of film language with the early use of editing, intercutting and the variety of shots (fewer long shots and more close medium shots) which was rare in early films.
Of course, by the early 1920s, movie production was moving to California due
Fort Lee Film Commission
Fort Lee: Birthplace of the Motion Picture Industry
Fort Lee: The Film Town (1904-2004)