Mary Shelley painted the picture, but Edison made it move!
Virtually everyone knows the story about Frankenstein and most have viewed some movie adaptation of it, whether scary, animated, or a parody. Many associate the very funny version of Frankenstein with the late Gene Wilder’s madcap antics as Dr. Frankenstein. However, very few people realize the first adaptation to film of Mary Shelley’s 1818 Gothic classic was done in 1910 at the Edison Movie Studio in the Bronx, New York, but Thomas Edison’s movie production company.
For about 40 years the film was considered lost, with only some pictures and paraphernalia still existing; until a Wisconsin movie collector disclosed his treasure. The real value of the film was realized in the 1970s, whereupon the film was preserved onto a 35 MM format. In 2014, the Library of Congress preserved the movie.
Filmed over a 3 day period, the now historically significant 14 minute film was directed by L. Searle Dawley and originally released on March 18, 1910. The unbilled cast included Augustus Phillips as Dr. Frankenstein, Charles Ogle as the Monster, and Mary Fuller as the doctor’s fiancée.
You should take note that in the very early days of motion pictures, audiences were very important to the industry’s formative growth. This film was considered a liberal adaptation of Shelley’s novel, with the potentially repulsive aspects of the story toned down and the psychological aspects of it emphasized instead.
Okay, so you twisted our arms….here are some clips of the subsequent “Young Frankenstein” movie from Gene Wilder that you might recognize more. Enjoy, and remember who started the horror movie trend — old Tom Edison himself!
Thomas Edison said, “Anything that won’t sell, I don’t want to invent. Its sale is proof of utility, and utility is success.”
Where Budding Directors and Producers Got Their Start In Movies
Edison’s movie production activities ran from 1893 to 1918, during which Edison Studios made approximately 1200 movies, 54 feature length and the rest shorts. From New Jersey to New York, Edison Studios was home to some of the first movies filmed at a few historical locations:
The Black Maria, a studio Edison invented to film all day long in West Orange, NJ, 1893-1901.
Edison’s Manhattan Studio in NYC a rooftop glass-enclosed studio that operated from 1901 to 1906.
Edison’s Bronx Studio in Bedford Park, NYC opened in 1907 and operated until 1918.
Here in these studios, America’s first directors began the development of the artistic craft and profession we know so well today. Each studio further refined and improved the movie-making process, which included introducing special effects and new techniques as well.
Using natural sunlight to film, the roof of the Black Maria was cranked open to admit the light; and the entire studio rotated on wheels 15 degrees every hour to track the sun. Edison once remarked about the often cramped conditions in which they made movies in this studio saying, “It was a ghastly affair, but it worked.”
Edison and his assistants would experiment with film and sound for hours in this building, pictured in the drawing below. Notice there is a phonograph used to record the sound. Edison was able to synchronize motion and sound as early as 1895, only a few years after opening the Black Maria. This would not be witnessed by mass Hollywood audiences until the late 1920s!
We all know about Hollywood and what movies are selling out in the theaters today. However, did you know where it all began? To learn more about Thomas Edison and the film industry, check the blog again soon!
Over the last 100+ years, literary and technical professionals have talked about the diaphanous state between being awake and just drifting off to sleep….that gauzy, dream-like interval which experts call “hypnagogia.”
Creative icons like Thomas Edison, Beethoven, Richard Wagner, Walter Scott, Salvador Dalí, Edgar Allen Poe, John Kennedy, Nikola Tesla and Isaac Newton have credited hypnagogia and related states with enhancing their creativity. Even Aristotle talked about it.
Most people know that Edison was a cat napper, enjoying a nice, little “siesta” to recharge. Knowing about the hypnagogic state, Old Tom did what he did best, and started experimenting with it. His experiments went something like this:
Sit in a chair and get comfortable and quiet
Hold a steel ball in your hand
Start sleeping, relax your grip and drop the ball onto a steel surface or plate
Wake up and immediately record what you dreamed or experienced.
He claimed that these experiments, sometimes assisted by his staff, helped him develop some new ideas or work through existing problems.
If you look closely at the above statue of Edison at the Fort Myers winter residence in Florida, you will notice the steel ball in his left hand to acknowledge his experimentation with hypnagogia!
Each of us have experienced these near sleep episodes but may not have understood what they meant in the creative context. Leg “jerking” as one falls asleep is one common manifestation of hypnagogia; as is perhaps hearing one’s name called, a doorbell ringing, or sudden loud sounds. Some folks may experience a kind of paralysis or even some visual effects like a shifting series of colors. We all get affected differently.
The great chemist Kekule` had a hypnagogic vision of a snake swallowing its tail to arrive at the chemical representation of a new hydrocarbon. That vision resulted in the chemical representation of the ringed molecule benzene.
Thomas Edison said, “I find out what the world needs. Then I go ahead and try to invent it.” Hypnagogia and napping were one way that he brainstormed!
On May 2, 2019, Thomas Alva Edison was officially designated State Inventor! Just goes to show, you should never underestimate the persuasive power of young ladies and their teacher. 4 years ago, Sarah Marion and her 4th grade students Rory, Zoe, Dylan and Emma at Stony Brook Elementary School in Hopewell, researched the great inventor and wrote a letter to the NJ legislature about recognizing the world’s greatest inventor. They fought to make it a law every since and even got Senator Shirley K. Turner to sponsor the legislation which has now become law. The Edison Innovation Foundation is so proud to have had a hand in this impressive example of perseverance and passion that this group has set!
the kids present the idea of the bill to make Thomas Edison the “State
Inventor” to you? What about that presentation convinced you to take action?
During our Social Studies unit on New Jersey
Government, my students had learned all about the state symbols of New Jersey
and were assigned a project to research and come up with a new state symbol.
They had to have solid reasoning as to why this should be a symbol and present
it to the class with the goal of persuading them that it should become a
symbol. The girls put together a great presentation with facts to support why
Thomas Edison should become our State Inventor. I saw tremendous possibility
within this idea and after speaking with the girls, we did a bit more research
and wrote a letter to Senator Turner expressing our thoughts. She quickly wrote
back and told us that she was sponsoring our bill had requested that a bill be
drafted to name Thomas Edison as New Jersey’s State Inventor! We were over the
that the Committee & Senate have voted for the bill, what do you think the
effects of making Edison the “NJ State Inventor” will be?
I think that a lot more attention will be on
all of Thomas Edison’s accomplishments; not only for New Jersey, but also for
the world. He was such an incredible inventor who drastically changed the lives
of every single person living today. I also hope that when the public hears
that a group of 4th graders (now 8th graders) was behind this becoming law,
that everyone will realize the importance of their voice. Stand up for what you
believe in and don’t let anybody prevent you from achieving something great!
was your favorite part about the process of creating this bill?
My favorite part about creating this bill has
been working side by side with the girls. They have never given up hope that we
can make this happen, even after years went by. This process has truly proven
that anything is possible and that every single person’s voice matters, no
matter their age. My hope is that other students in Hopewell Valley, and
hopefully the entire state will soon realize what can be accomplished when you
don’t give up! We have met so many interesting people and government officials
along the way that have motivated us and helped us to persevere. Aside from
Senator Turner, John Keegan has been one of our biggest supporters since day
one. When we were invited to Thomas Edison’s lab and awarded “The Tommy”, we
felt like superstars! Who knew that it would take more than three years after
that event to get this bill passed through both houses.
were the major challenges you faced when pitching this bill?
The biggest challenge we faced was overcoming
disappointment. After testifying at committee meetings we were always filled
with so much hope that this would be the year that it would pass! We became
filled with disappointment when sessions would end and we had to start all over
again. Luckily, we didn’t let it keep us down for long! We got right back to
writing letters and sending emails to those who could help us get this on
voting agendas again.
can other students & teachers learn from this achievement?
Throughout this entire process, my hope has
always been that students will realize how important their opinions are and
also realize how essential it is to fulfill their civic duty by standing up for
what they believe in. As educators, instilling the belief in students that they
can accomplish anything at a young age will boost their confidence and help set
them on a path for success. I believe in teaching my students the value of
being a good person and this achievement can help them see the good that others
are doing and make them want to work toward their goals as well.
Where are the students that worked with you to create this bill now?
Rory, Emma, Zoe, and Dylan are now in 8th
grade! It is hard to believe that they will be entering high school next year.
They are still excellent students and involved in many different activities.
Aside from being great students, each one has a heart of gold and I feel so
honored to have been a part of their educational journey and lives.
your favorite Thomas Edison invention and why?
My favorite Thomas Edison invention would have
to be the incandescent light bulb. Every year we take our 4th graders on a
field trip to the State House and they learn that Edison’s Electric Light
Company installed the brass chandelier with 66 light bulbs that is hanging in
the Assembly Chamber. All of my students have background knowledge of our
current bill, so seeing their faces “light” up when they see something that his
company actually installed is really awesome.
have anything else to add, that you want people to know?
Never, ever, ever give up! I repeat this phrase to all of my students
endlessly throughout each school year. I want them to remember it as they move
on from 4th grade and apply it to their everyday lives. Rory, Emma, Zoe, and
Dylan demonstrated this day in and day out throughout this entire process.
Throughout my teaching career, I have never seen a group of students work so
hard and persevere for so long in something that they believe in. I encourage
every single child and adult to stand up for what they believe in and chase
their dreams. You are never too young or too old to achieve something great!