Norman Studios & Jacksonville's Silent Film History
By Gary McKechnie
A while back I ran across a picture of a young actor hanging out with his young actor friends. What made this different was this was Oliver Hardy in Jacksonville, about a decade before he would begin a career with Stan Laurel and achieve screen immortality.
It turns out that about 100 years ago there were several “moving picture capitals” cropping up across America – and Jacksonville was one of them.
In 1908, Kalem Studios set up operations, eventually to be joined by roughly 30 others, including Metro Pictures (later MGM), Edison Studios, Majestic Films, King Bee Film Company, Norman Studios, Gaumont Studios, Vim Comedy Studios, and the Lubin Manufacturing Company.
Soon, Jacksonville was known as the “Winter Film Capital of the World.” It was also a key location for the African American film industry with Richard Norman, who produced largely positive images to counteract the negative stereotypes of the time.
But in 1917, things started to fall apart. Vim went bust, locals started to complain about the loose standards of the local productions (car chases, faked bank robberies, etc.) and the newly elected mayor came in with a task to tame the industry.
By then, Hollywood had attracted better directors, better actors, and better scripts and Jacksonville’s movie industry faded.
To learn more about its role in motion picture history, I’d suggest you make an appointment to visit the wonderful site normanstudios.org, a group dedicated to “Preserving Jacksonville’s Silent Film Legacy.”
There’s plenty of information here, with images, bios, timelines, upcoming events, and an online store featuring posters, books, and films.
Notably, Norman Studios is Jax’s only surviving silent film studio complex and has been proclaimed a Jacksonville Historic Site. Fantastic.