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First Movie Entertainment Enjoyed By Our Ancestors

Traditional entertainment centered on the local singer, musician or theater play in a town. Once vocal recordings were created on early records and made available in the home the door was wide open for other forms of entertainment.

Nothing captured the imagination of people everywhere like the movies shown in a theater on a large screen.  These first movies were known as ‘silent movies’ because they were just actors, the scenes and a storyline, but no dialogue spoken.  All the expressions came from the actors and actresses facial and body gesturers and movements.  When necessary some words were printed to appear on screen for the audience to read. The only sound was from the live organist or pianist in a theater who played the pre-selected sheet music to following the scenes in the movie. People loved these silent movies.

True movie stars emerged; dashing leading men, comics, beautiful ladies as well as many child stars. They had followings of loyal fans that would pay to see any movie they appeared in at their local theater. The public knew their names, their spouses, where they lived, many times because of the publicity stories and photos that were distributed by the movie studios. Some of those stars are still well-known in the 21st century.  Such people are Lillian Gish, Mary Pickford, Greta Garbo, Charlie Chaplin, Gloria Swanson, Buster Keaton, Douglas Fairbanks, Rudolph Valentino, Mae West, W. C. Fields, Lionel Barrymore, Jackie Coogan, Baby Peggy, Clara Bow and Janet Gaynor to name a few.

Your ancestors, from the 1894 to the late 1920s; whether they were youngsters, adults or senior citizens, probably were entertained by these silent movies. It was the 1927 movie, The Jazz Singer when talkies or movies with spoken dialogue were introduced.

The online site titled the Golden Silents explains about those silent movies and their stars and provides a better appreciation for a form of entertainment which was very important to a generation.  The site of Silent Archive Stills has many images from those years in the early 20th century when entertainment came from the movies, ones that a person could enjoy over and over again.

Added to learning about the silent movies, has available the Motion Picture Studio Directories for the years of 1919 and 1921.  These not only have the well-known stars and directors of the era, but all the other people connected to the movie-making industry from all the studios. One or more of your ancestors could have been an actor, a script writer, film editor, prop man, director or stage hand. Each write-up is a mini-biography of the person, their birth, physical description and what movies or productions they had been part of by that date.  Just putting a few surnames in the search just might reveal some unknown information on an ancestor.

The image above is of Rudolph Valentino, a heart-breaker movie star of the silent era.

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