Chicago Movie Makers

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Highlighting Historical Romance with D.C. Reep who shares the history of silent movie makers in Chicago

As a lifelong movie buff, I was naturally drawn to a story about early movies and the people who worked in them. The characters in this novel are fictional, but movie making in Chicago was a bustling business at the beginning of the 20th century. Two studios mentioned in the story were highly successful pioneer movie makers.

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            Selig Polyscope Company was founded in 1896 in Chicago. Selig began producing short films, and in 1913, produced The Adventures of Kathlyn, generally regarded as the first serial adventure with cliff-hanger endings. Essanay Film Manufacturing Company,founded in 1907, was also a major studio in Chicago during the pre-World War I years. It’s best known now for Charlie Chaplin comedies in 1915 and Broncho Billy Anderson westerns, but the studio also introduced future Hollywood stars Gloria Swanson, Francis X. Bushman, and Wallace Beery. Louella Parsons, who became a legendary Hollywood columnist, worked at Essanay as a screenwriter.

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            On the south side of Chicago during the same period, African-American filmmakers produced films about African-American daily life and historical events. Noted filmmaker Oscar Micheaux was the first black producer/director of a full-length silent film and a full-length sound film starring black actors.  

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By 1918, most movie production had shifted to the Los Angeles area. The weather in California allowed outdoor filming all year, and land was inexpensive making possible huge studio back lots. Early movies contained salacious plots, plentiful nudity, and shocking violence. The only restrictions on moviemakers came from city censorship boards that demanded cuts in the movies before allowing distribution in their cities. In 1930, studio owners agreed to a Production Code with specific restrictions concerning stories and scenes. Producers, however, continued to make pictures that violated the Code, and city censorship boards remained powerful. Finally in 1934, producers gave in to pressure and conformed to the Code restrictions, including the ban on nudity.  

About the book—Chicago Movie Girls

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It’s 1914, and movie studios are thriving in Chicago. The Kelly sisters are desperate to escape poverty, but when Rae picks a pocket, the wallet contains only a list of mysterious numbers. After Lukas, a local gangster, buys the wallet, he gives Rae and her two sisters an entry into RidgeW Pictures, where Matt Ridgewood struggles to make his studio competitive. Sensible Rae lies about her age to star as a child adventurer and experiences her first crush. Gorgeous Lily plays a sweet heroine in westerns while aiming for a rich society husband, but she discovers she might not want what she thought she did. Reckless Delia abandons her farmer-husband and takes off her clothes for the camera, but she might have been too hasty. Loyal to each other, the sisters fight for success and love in a hectic world of early silent movies, misplaced passions, betrayals, looming World War 1, and even murder.

Publishers Weekly called Chicago Movie Girls “an enjoyable ripsnorter about three sisters who are striving for acting success in the silent movie scene in 1914 Chicago. . . . Betrayal, jealousy, and lovesick suitors power a fast-moving plot with several twists and turns, and murder provides a dollop of mayhem to further animate the story. The intriguing early years of filmmaking combined with the rich Chicago setting make this satisfying entertainment.”

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About the Author

I started my writing career by making up horror stories to scare classmates in elementary school and wrote more stories as soon as I could type. As an English professor, I taught American literature, film studies, the King Arthur legend, and technical writing while publishing textbooks and literary articles. No longer grading papers, I now write historical fiction set in my  favorite periods—late 19th century and early 20th century. Kiss’d is a time-travel romance, and The Dangerous Summer of Jesse Turner is an action-adventure about three teens who join Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War of 1898. I am a member of the Authors Guild, Romance Writers of America, and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Living in the Midwest, I hope for mild winters every year.

2 thoughts on “Chicago Movie Makers

  1. I too am/have been an ‘old movie buff’ since I can remember! Thank you for your historical comments re the beginning of the film industry! Some I did not know!
    Now back to cooking & my cup of coffee!
    May U/ your beloved/family enjoy this Thanksgiving Day!

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