Popular Science

Popular Science looks forward to the talkies in October 1922

Another day, another digitised journal. This time it is Popular Science, the American science and technology journal which has been reporting on scientific developments for a general audience since 1872 (when it was Popular Science Monthly). The journal went online in 1999 and has now gone a step further by putting its entire 138-year archive online as well, and all freely available.

It is a simple resource to use – just a search box (there is no advanced search though advanced features for searching and browsing are promised for the future), and then the list of results. This gives the date of the monthly issue and the page on which the search term can be found (which will be highlighted in yellow on the page itself). Clicking on the link takes you to the specific page, and if you want to browse the issue further you simply have to scroll up or down. The instructions promise a magnifying glass controls to zoom in and out on the page, but this seems only to be available on the Google Books version, where there entire run of the journal can also be found. There is no option for copying text or downloading the documents.

So, using our regular test search term, ‘kinetoscope’ what do we get? There are ten hits, the earliest a passing mention among a list of Edison inventions in January 1895, then a proper description in May 1896, a detailed article and well-illustrated on the new science of motion pictures in general from December 1897, then mentions in March 1905, October 1913, and retrospective mentions in later issues. Other keywords that yield useful results include ‘cinematograph’, ‘kinematograph’, ‘movie’, and ‘motion picture’. There are articles on film production, motion picture technology (cameras, projectors, lighting, sound technology as in the article illustrated above) and experiments using film. There are also several articles on pre-cinema technologies and the work of chronophotographers such as Eadweard Muybridge and E.J. Marey.

The articles are usually illustrated, and in keeping with the journal’s mission the explanations are clear and useful. The older articles (pre-1914) tend to be longer and more scholarly in tone; the later pieces are shorter and more populist in nature. It’s a fine resource, easy to use, and of value both for the intrinsic information offered and for insights into how the new science of motion picture film was viewed and explained to a particular, educated audience. Go explore.

Singaporean times


It’s been a while since the Bioscope covered a digitised newspaper collection. Since we wrote about The Times, The Guardian, New York Times, and about collected archival databases such as France’s Gallica, Austrlian Newspapers, New Zealand’s Papers Past and the UK’s 19th Century Newspapers, more digitised newspapers have become available. Our long-promised round-up of these will get produced one of these days, but you can always check the Wikipedia list of online newspapers or the handy International News Archives on the Web.

One resource I’ve not covered previously is NewspaperSG. I stumbled across it quite by accident the other day, and was amazed first to find digitised newspapers from Singapore and Malaya dating from the early years of this century, and then to find such interesting material there that relates to film.

Feature film production only began in Malaysia and Singapore in the mid-1930s, but there was a history of film exhibition that went back to 1896. One of the treasures of the NewspaperSG site is a report on the inaugural exhibition of the Edison Kinetoscope in Singapore, reported on by the Straits Times on 13 July 1896:


Dr. Harley, the entertainer, ventriloquist, illusionist, and electrician, has brought the novelty of which the reading and scientific public have heard and read so much, viz., the novelty that Edison failed to finish in time for the Chicago Exhibition, and which he calls the Kinetoscope. It is in the shape of an upright hardwood pillar letter-box, being square instead of round, having a hooded slit in the top and a magnifier beneath, through which the beholder views the scene to be enacted.

The writer goes on to describe the film Bar Room Scene, then adds:

It should be understood that this is not an imaginary scene from the brush of an artist, but is an accurate photograph of a scene that has taken place … Dr. Harley will lecture and exhibit the machine at Messrs. Robinson’s music store from 10 till 5 to-day and Tuesday. Only a limited number will be able to view it as his accumulators are running low and he will not get them filled in Singapore.

There is so much information here, from the showman Dr. Harley, to the intelligence that Edison did not exhibit the Kinetosope at the 1893 World’s Fair (many a history still states the opposite as a fact, but they knew better in Singapore in 1896) and the revealing information about the lack of an electricity supply in Singapore in 1896.

A quick browse through the site using some likely keywords reveal an advertisement telling buyers to beware of buying bioscope projectors that were not proper Bioscopes (Straits Times, 25 October 1902); notices of the exhibition of Japanese films in 1907 (Eastern Daily Mail and Straits Morning Advertiser, 23 October 1907); an interview with Maurice Bandman, a leading cinema and theatre entrepreneur in India and East Asia, about his Shakespeare productions and connections with Kinemacolor (Weekly Sun, 30 September 1911); many hundreds of cinema programmes, such as that for the Harima Hall Cinematograph, which showed Zigomar v Nick Carter, film of ‘The Balkan Crisis’, Vitagraph’s Justice of the Sage, Edison’s The Living Peach and a Gaumont Graphic newsreel, issue number 41 (Straits Times, 12 November 1912); and opinion pieces on what Singaporean audiences liked and did not like (Straits Times, 22 October 1930). As well as information on screenings in Singapore, then is plenty of information culled from British and American journals, ensuring that local cinema-goers were kept up-to-date with the latest Hollywood gossip.

Many of the reports are quite short (one of the commendable things about the resource is that the search results list tells you how many words are in each article) but the wealth of documentary evidence about what was being seen in Singapore in the silent era is considerable, and practically every search term yields many hits. The resource itself is plain in style but helpfully put together. There is an advanced search option which allows you to narrow down researches by date, newspaper (there are seventeen on offer ranging 1836-2006) and content type (article, advertisement, letters etc.). There is also a fuzzy search option. The results page gives you title (hyperlinked to the article itself), newspaper, date, page, a portion of the OCR text (with plenty of errors, beware), word count and links to a full page view and a table of contents for that issue of the newspaper (a very nice feature). All of the digitised documents are heavily watermarked (though quite legible).

The early cinema in Singapore and Malaya is not going to be of abiding interest to most, but it is further and rich evidence of the rapid spread of motion pictures into every corner of the globe. It’s also a site that’s just a pleasure to browse.

More silent films journals online – much more

Italian silent film journals Apollon, Cinema Star and Vita Cinematografica

A few weeks ago we gave you a listing of film journals from the silent era which are available online. Some adjustments have been made to the list, with a few more titles added, but I wasn’t expecting the list to grow extensively in the immediate future. And then the Museo Nazionale del Cinema, which had already digitised ten journals available through the Teca Digitale Piemontese site has added a number of other film journals from our period – eighty-three of them. Here they all are:

L’Albo della cinematografia 1915
Apollon 1916, 1920, 1921
L’Argante 1913-1932
L’Arte Cinegrafica 1918-1919
L’Arte cinema-drammatica 1913
l’Arte del cinema 1928-1929
L’Arte del silenzio 1922
L’Arte Muta 1916-1917
La Bottega delle ombre 1926
Il Café chantant 1911-1920
Il capolavoro cinematografico 1926
La Casa di vetro 1924
Cin (Battaglie cinematografiche) 1918
Cin (Cine-gazzeta) 1918
Cine 1917
Cine gazzettino 1926-1931
Cine Sorriso Illustrato 1928-1931
Cine cinema 1926, 1927
La Cine-Fono e la rivista fono-cinematografica 1911-1922
La Cine-gazzetta 1916 to 1918
Cine Romanzo 1929 to 1932
Cinema (Firenze) 1923
Cinema (Napoli) 1913-1914
Cinema Ambrosio 1916, 1925
Cinema Illustrato 1928
Il Cinema Italiano 1926, 1927, 1930
Cinema-star 1926-1927
Cinema-teatro 1928, 1929, 1930
Cinemagraf 1916, 1917
Cinemalia 1927, 1928
La Cinematografia Artistica 1912
La Cinematografia Italiana ed Estera 1910, 1914, 1915, 1916, 1922, 1923
La Cinematografia Italiana 1909
La Cinematografia 1927, 1928
Cinematografo (Roma) 1927, 1928, 1929, 1930, 1931
Cinematografo (Trieste) 1924
Il Cinematografo 1919
Cinemundus 1919
Coltura cinematografica 1920, 1921
La Conquista cinematografica 1921
Contropelo 1917, 1918, 1919, 1920, 1923
Il Corriere Cinematografico 1925, 1926, 1927, 1928, 1929, 1930
Il Corriere del Cinematografo 1921
Cronache d’attualità 1916, 1919, 1921, 1922
La Decima musa 1920
La Domenica del cinema 1929
Echi del cinema 1926
L’Eco del Cinema 1924 to 1930
Excelsior 1916
Fantasma (Napoli-Roma) 1916, 1920, 1923
Fantasma (Roma) 1920
Film 1914, 1915-1920, 1926, 1927
Films Pittaluga 1925, 1926
Firenze cinema 1928
Fortunio 1920
L’Illustrazione Cinematografica 1912, 1914, 1915
Iride (Genova) 1914
L’Italia e Kines 1926
Kinema 1929, 1930
Kines 1928, 1929, 1930, 1931
Lux (Napoli) 1909, 1910
Lux (Roma) 1918, 1920, 1921
Lux e Cine 1910, 1911
Il Mondo a lo schermo 1926
Moto Film 1916, 1917
Pathé-baby 1928, 1929, 1930
In Penombra 1918, 1919
Penombra 1917
Proiezioni luminose 1924, 1925, 1926
La Rivista Cinematografica 1920-1930
Il Romanzo Film 1920, 1921
Sullo schermo 1927, 1928
Lo Schermo 1926, 1927
La Settima Arte
Società Anonima Ambrosio 1907
Sor Capanna 1919
Lo Spettacolo 1919, 1920
La tecnica cinematografica 1914
Theatralia 1925
Il Tirso al cinematografo 1915, 1916
Il Tirso 1914
Triumphilm 1912, 1914
La Vita Cinematografica 1911-1924, 1929, 1930

One’s first reaction is that is surely isn’t possible that so many journals were published in the silent era in Italy alone. But once you take in company journals, alongside fan magazines, art cinema journals, theatre journals which included film in their coverage, trade papers, and regional publications, then it starts to add up. They can be found on the Teca Digitale Piemontese site – just select ‘Selezionare la tipologia del materiale che si intende consultare’ from the top menu, and ‘Museo Nazionle del Cinema’ from the second menu. Click on ‘Ricerca per Ente’, then browse by title or choose a particular title by typing a word in the search box and clicking on Cerca. The individual issues are sorted by year and can be browsed page by page. The viewer requires Java to be installed, and there are assorted tools to enable you to resize, rotate, save and print pages, and so forth.

This is the description of the digitisation project overall on the Museo Nazionale del Cinema site, which gives you an idea of where best to start looking – and how much there is to look forward to still, as they are apparently only a quarter of the way through digitising their entire collection:

The Library conserves an important fund of journals dealing with Italy’s silent films, the second most important after the National Library of Florence. Ranging from the major corporate journals (“La Vita Cinematografica”, “La Cinematografia Italiana ed Estera” etc.) to art magazines (“Apollon,” “L’arte muta”, “In penombra”) and popular periodicals (“Al cinemà”, “Cinema Star”, “Cine Sorriso Illustrato” etc.), the fund numbers over 60,000 pages which will soon be completely available online. The website of the Teca Digitale Piemontese already features approximately 15,000 magazine pages online and offers the possibility of carrying out research through key words from the texts.

Ther sheer number of silent film journals now available online demands something more than a post that tries to encompass them all, and so I have created a new section of the Bioscope Library dedicated to film journals alone. It will take a little while to build up in terms of descriptions for each title, but I’m launching it now. Please do let me know of any other journals that I can add to the list, so that we can make it a comprehensive reference source of value to all. By my calculation there are currently 118 titles (from one or two issues to complete runs) available – but that number will grow.

My grateful thanks to Teresa Antolin for alerting me to the new batch of digitised journals (and to other silent film materials being digitised by the Museo Nazionale del Cinema, which I shall be covering in another post). Teresa manages a number of sites dedicated to silent film, chiefly in Italy (and written in Italian), all interlinked under the In Penombra umbrella:

It’s an amazing body of work, and encouragement to anyone who knows things (in silent film or in any subject) that the best thing is to tell people about it. The tools to do so are just sitting there, free to use and easy to use. Why not have a go?

Photoplay and more

Cover for Photoplay, January 1927

As we’ve said before, while there is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to digitised historic newspapers now available online, for the specialist things are tougher and those interested in the study of film history have bemoaned the absence of the major trade paper and fan magazines in digitised form.

But while most of us have done the moaning, others have been acting. Today the Media History Digital Library project was announced. This announces itself as a major conservation and access project for histoical printed materials related to cinema, broadcasting and recorded sound. Concentrating on American media industry journals, and with recourse to private funds, the project has been established by film archivist and historian David Pierce. The project has hugely ambitious plans, but it has kicked off with eight volumes (covering four years) of Photoplay, and one volume each of Motion Picture Classic (1920) and Moving Picture World (April-June 1913), taken from the collection of the Pacific Film Archive. All have been made available via the Internet Archive, as follows:

Motion Picture Classic (Volume 9 – 11 (1920))
The Moving Picture World (Volume 16 (Apr. – Jun. 1913))
Photoplay (Volume 28 – 29 (Jul. – Dec. 1925))
Photoplay (Volume 30 – 31 (Jul. – Dec. 1926))
Photoplay (Volume 31 – 33 (Jan. – Jun. 1927))
Photoplay (Volume 33 – 34 (Jan. – Jun. 1928))
Photoplay (Volume 35 – 36 (Jan. – Jun. 1929))
Photoplay (Volume 36 – 37 (Jul. – Dec. 1929))
Photoplay (Volume 37 – 38 (Jan. – Jun. 1930))

This link will take you to all of the documents on one page: Media History Digital Library

As said, this is just the start. The Media History Digital Library’s press release outlines the ambitions:

The history of American media industries exists in the magazines of the day, but is largely inaccessible. Primary materials, such as Exhibitors Herald World and Photoplay are of significant research value to media scholars, historians, and the general public; however, use of these resources is severely limited by necessary noncirculating access restrictions and/or the lack of indexing or fifinding aids.

Using private funds, a pilot project is currently underway to digitize 300,000 journal pages, including volumes of Moving Picture World and Photoplay, and a range of additional materials to appeal to varied research interests.

Several major libraries and the owner of the largest private collection of such materials are participating in the pilot.

The goal of the Media History Digital Library project is to establish additional partnerships with libraries and archives for a joint digitization project to conserve and provide broad free access to these important resources.

These are the the titles that the project is targeting:

Industry MagazinesBillboard, Box Office, Cine-Mundial, Daily Variety, Exhibitor’s Herald, Exhibitor’s Trade Review, The Film Daily, The Film Index, The Hollywood Reporter, Motion Picture Daily, Motion Picture Herald, Motion Picture News, Motography, The Moving Picture World, Radio Broadcast, Radio Daily, Talking Machine World, Variety

Company MagazinesThe Lion’s Roar, Publix Opinion, RCA News, Radio Flash, Reel Life, Universal Weekly

Fan MagazinesMotion Picture Classic, Motion Picture Magazine, Motion Picture Digest, Radio Mirror, Screenland, Shadowplay

Technical JournalsAmerican Cinematographer, American Projectionist, The International Photographer, International Projectionist, Motion Picture Projectionist, Projection Engineering, Radio Engineering, Sound Waves, Transactions of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers

Well, that should keep us all busy. Of course this will take time and money (it’s costing 10 cents a page at the moment), but a model has been established whereby institutions holding such collections can work together efficiently, avoiding duplication of effort and adhering to common standards and formats to provide researchers with the best possible search and access opportunities.

The project outline is as follows:

  • Each archive or library agrees to offer its pre-1964 public domain journals for digitization.
  • Each archive or library will provide an inventory of its holdings, perform condition inspections and pack selected materials for shipping. The project will pay transportation and reasonable insurance both ways. Any funds for digitization will be welcome, but not required.
  • Each digitized volume will have an inserted page with the name and logo of the organization contributing the original volume, the organization that manages that part of the workflow, and the funder.
  • The Internet Archive will execute some of the digitization and will host the master and derivative format access files.
  • In return for contributing materials, each organization is entitled to receive copies of all digital files for any non-commercial purpose including hosting on their website.
  • David Pierce will raise financial support for the project as well as perform copyright searches.

As some may have noticed from the Bioscope’s recent survey of silent film journals online that the first fruits of this project have been available on the Internet Archive for a few weeks now, but the formal announcement of the project was held back while some digitisation issues were resolved. But Leonard Maltin spilt the beans in his enthusiastic blog post earlier today, so David Pierce went public today.

What can one say? This is a sensational development, with a myriad of opportunities for the researcher – not just in film studies, but social history, media history, histories of communications and technology, fashion history, genealogy, advertising studies, gender studies and so much more. But there is much that we can do to help. There’s the invitation for collection owners to participate in the project, but also each one of us can prove the value of this project by just using the documents. Download them, study them, blog about them, cite them in papers, curate them – demonstrate that this is what we need. The best way of saying thank you is to start using them. Go explore.

Silent film journals online

Pictures and the Picturegoer (1915), Photoplay (1921) and A Scena Muda (1921)

That post on the appearance online of the George Eastman House journal Image made me think that it would be useful to have a round-up of those silent film journals that are available on the Web. Though few of the leading journals of the period have digitised, given the specialised nature of the subject we’re not doing too badly. Note that the range of years and the number of issues refers to what is available online, not necessarily what was originally published.

  • Bollettino di informazioni cinematografiche
    Country: Italy
    Years: 1924-25
    Number: 8 issues
    Description: Pittaluga film company journal with information on films available for showing (no illustrations)
    Available from: Teca Digitale piemontese
    Format: Java-based viewer
    More information: Bioscope guide
  • Bollettino edizioni Pittaluga
    Country: Italy
    Years: 1928-29
    Number: 6 issues
    Description: Pittaluga film company journal, with full page illustrations
    Available from: Teca Digitale piemontese
    Format: Java-based viewer
    More information: Bioscope guide
  • Bollettino staffetta dell’ufficio stampa della anonima pittaluga
    Country: Italy
    Years: 1929-31
    Description: Bulletin for the Pittaluga film company
    Number: 23 issues
    Available from: Teca Digitale piemontese
    Format: Java-based viewer
    More information: Bioscope guide
  • Cinéa
    Country: France
    Years: 1926
    Number: 81 issues
    Description: Intellectual magazine discussing film art and culture
    Available from: Gallica
    Format: PDF
    More information: Bioscope guide
  • Cinearte
    Country: Brazil
    Years: 1926-1942
    Number: 561
    Description: Film fan magazine, with news, reviews, photographs, gossip, advertisements etc.
    Available from Biblioteca Digital das Artes do Espetaculo
    Format: PDF
    More information: Bioscope guide
  • Cinéma: annuaire de la projection fixe et animée
    Country: France
    Years: 1911-1914
    Description: Photography and film journal
    Number: annual volumes for what was originally a photography journal
    Available from: Gallica
    Format: PDF
    More information: Bioscope guide
  • Al cinema: settimanale di cinematografia e varietà
    Country: Italy
    Years: 1922-30
    Number: 439 issues
    Description: Weekly film magazine with stories, features, illustrations
    Available from: Teca Digitale piemontese
    Format: Java-based viewer
    More information: Bioscope guide
  • Cine Mondo: rivista quindicinale illustrata de cinema
    Country: Italy
    Years: 1927-31
    Number: 102 issues
    Description: Film trade journal
    Available from: Teca Digitale piemontese
    Format: Java-based viewer
    More information: Bioscope guide
  • Ciné-schola. Bulletin de la Ligue pour l’enseignement par la cinématographie
    Country: France
    Years: 1922
    Number: 2 issues
    Description: Bulletin covering the use of film in education
    Available from: Gallica
    Format: PDF
    More information: Bioscope guide
  • Eco film: periodico quindicinale cinematografico
    Country: Italy
    Years: 1913
    Number: 4 issues
    Description: Film trade journal
    Available from: Teca Digitale piemontese
    Format: Java-based viewer
    More information: Bioscope guide
  • The Era
    Country: UK
    Years: 1838-1900
    Number: Weekly issues to the end of 1900
    Description: Theatre trade journal which reported regularly on film exhibition from 1896 onwards
    Available from: British Newspapers (subscription service only)
    Format: JPEG
    More information: Bioscope guide
  • Figure mute: rivista cinematografica
    Country: Italy
    Years: 1919
    Number: 1 issue
    Description: Film trade journal with characteristic advertisements
    Available from: Teca Digitale piemontese
    Format: Java-based viewer
    More information: Bioscope guide
  • Filmnyheter
    Country: Sweden
    Years: 1923
    Number: 8 issues
    Description: A.V Svensk Filmindustri film company journal
    Available from: Virtual History Film
    Format: JPEG
    More information:
  • Films Pittaluga: rivista di notizie cinematografiche: pubblicazione quindicinale
    Country: Italy
    Years: 1923-25
    Number: 20 issues
    Description: Pittaluga film company journal
    Available from: Teca Digitale piemontese
    Format: Java-based viewer
    More information: Bioscope guide
  • Hebdo-film. Revue indépendante et impartiale de la production cinématographique
    Country: France
    Years: 1916, 1917, 1930, 1933, 1934
    Number: 149 issues
    Description: Film trade journal
    Available from: Gallica
    Format: PDF
    More information: Bioscope guide
  • Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers
    Country: USA
    Years: 1930-62
    Number: 32 annual volumes (plus synopses of papers 1916-1930)
    Available from: Internet Archive
    Description: Film technicians’ journal with many key papers on motion picture technology
    Format: PDF, DjVU and TXT
    More information: Bioscope guide
  • Kinematograph and Lantern Weekly
    Country: UK
    Years: 1890s (when journal was Optical Magic Lantern Journal), early 1915, 1943-mid-1954, 1955-1971
    Number: This is an index to the journal only, and does not include the text of articles
    Description: One of the two leading British film trade journals of the silent era
    Available from: The British Cinema History Research Project
    Format: Filemaker database
    More information: BCHRP website
  • Il Maggese cinematografico: periodico quindicinale
    Country: Italy
    Years: 1913-15
    Number: 46 issues
    Description: Film journal with information on new releases
    Available from: Teca Digitale piemontese
    Format: Java-based viewer
    More information: Bioscope guide
  • Mon Ciné
    Country: France
    Years: 1922-25
    Number: 43 issues
    Description: French film fan magazine
    Available from: Virtual History Film
    Format: JPEG
    More information: Movingmags.com
  • Motion Picture Classic
    Country: USA
    Years: 1920
    Number: 1 volume covering monthly editions
    Description: Film fan magazine
    Available from: Internet Archive. See also the note at the end of this post
    Format: PDF, DjVU, TXT
    More information: Bioscope report
  • Moving Picture World
    Country: USA
    Years: 1913
    Number: Volume covering weekly editions April-June 1913
    Description: The leading American film trade journal of the early cinema period
    Available from: Internet Archive. See also the note at the end of this post
    Format: PDF, DjVU, TXT
    More information: Bioscope report
  • Photoplay
    Country: USA
    Years: 1925-30
    Number: 8 volumes, each covering six months of the weekly journal
    Description: The great American film fan magazine of the silent era
    Available from: Internet Archive. See also the note at the end of this post
    Format: PDF, DjVU, TXT
    More information: Wikipedia, Bioscope report
  • Picturegoer
    Country: UK
    Years: 1910s-1960s
    Number: Front cover images only
    Description: British film fan magazine
    Available from: Picturegoer Online which links to sales of original copies. Searchable only by name of actor
    Format: PDF, DjVU, TXT
    More information: Wikipedia
  • Popular Film
    Country: Spain
    Years: 1926-1934
    Number: 137
    Description: Spanish film fan magazine
    Available from: Biblioteca Nacional de España
    Format: PDF
    More information: San Francisco Silent Film Festival blog
  • Rassegna delle programmazioni
    Country: Italy
    Years: 1925-26
    Number: 4 issues
    Description: Pittaluga film company bulletin
    Available from: Teca Digitale piemontese
    Format: Java-based viewer
    More information: Bioscope guide
  • The Reel Journal
    Country: USA
    Years: 1924-26
    Number: 3 annual volumes of weekly journal
    Description: American film exhibitors’ journal, precursor of Boxoffice
    Available from: Internet Archive
    Format: PDF, DjVU, TXT
    More information: Boxoffice
  • Revue scientifique et technique de l’industrie cinématographique et des industries qui s’y rattachent
    Country: France
    Years: 1913-1914
    Number: 1 issue
    Description: Journal for the use of film in science and industry
    Available from: Gallica
    Format: PDF
    More information: Bioscope guide
  • A Scena Muda
    Country: Brazil
    Years: 1921-1955
    Number: 1136
    Description: Film fan magazine, with news, reviews, photographs, gossip, advertisements, including striking coloured cover photos
    Available from: Biblioteca Digital das Artes do Espetaculo
    Format: PDF
    More information: Bioscope guide
  • La Scène
    Country: France
    Years: 1921
    Number: 7 issues
    Description: Magazine covering the social scene, including theatre, film, music, the Arts and sport
    Available from: Gallica
    Format: PDF
    More information: Bioscope guide
  • Les Spectacles: Paraît tous les vendredis
    Country: France
    Years: 1921-1933
    Number: 366 issues
    Description: Entertainments journal
    Available from: Gallica
    Format: PDF
    More information: Bioscope guide
  • The Stage
    Country: UK
    Years: 1880-2007
    Number: over 6,500 issues
    Description: Theatre trade journal with substantial film coverage, particularly for the silent era
    Available from: The Stage (subscription service only, but note that annual volumes are available for free for 1908-1919 from the Internet Archive)
    Format: ActivePaper
    More information: Bioscope guide
  • Theater und Film Kino
    Country: Austria
    Years: 1919
    Number: 3 issues
    Description: Austrian theatre and film magazine
    Available from: Virtual History Film
    Format: JPEG
    More information:
  • Le Travail manuel, les sciences expérimentales et le cinéma à l’école
    Country: France
    Years: 1922
    Number: 3 issues
    Description: Film in science and education
    Available from: Gallica
    Format: PDF
    More information: Bioscope guide
  • Variety
    Country: USA
    Years: 1914-present day
    Number: Reviews only, selection from each year
    Description: Venerable American entertainment trade magazine
    Available from: Variety
    Format: PDF
    More information: Bioscope guide

This list only covers those journals which were active during the silent era, so it leaves out journals from later eras such as Image or Film Studies which are now available online, purely online journals like Bright Lights Film Journal or Screening the Past, and modern journals available from academic subscription sites such as Project Muse or JSTOR. It also leaves out digitised newspapers, an updated round-up of which will be the subject of another post.

If anyone knows of a silent era journal available on the Web (free or subscription) that isn’t listed above, please let me know so I can make the guide comprehensive.

Update 1: This post has been revised to incorporate some corrections and additions, and to add short descriptions (please will readers of French, Italian and Portuguese correct me for any errors of interpretation). Additionally, I have been informed about those silent film journals which are available through Google Book Search in the USA only: there are five volumes of Photoplay (1915, 1916, 1917 (1), 1917 (2), 1920), plus Motion Picture News (Vols. 20-24, 1919) and Moving Picture World (Vol. 3, 1908; Vol 4, 1909; Vol. 17, issues 1-6, 1913; Vol. 18, issues 1-7; Vol. 18, issues 8-13, 1913; Vol. 19, issues 1-7, 1914; Vol. 20, issues 4-6, 1915; Vol. 25, issues 4-6, 1915; Vol. 25, issues 7-9, 1915).

Update 2 (18 March 2010): It can now be reported that the issues of Motion Picture Classic, The Moving Picture World and Photoplay on the Internet Archive are part of the Media History Digital Library project, organised by David Pierce. Read more about this major media journal digitisation project on the Bioscope, here.

Update 3 (25 March 2010): Acknowledgments to the San Francisco Silent Film Festival blog, which is doing its own survey of digitised silent film journals, for the discovery of Popular Film available among the extensive range of digitised Spanish and Spanish-language digitised journals on the Biblioteca Nacional de España site.

Update 4 (5 April 2010): And the numbers just keep on growing – a further eighty-three (!) silent film journals from the Museo Nazionale del Cinema in Italy have been made available online. See this Bioscope post for details, and visit the new Journals section of the Bioscope Library for the complete list of all journals.


Production still from Georges Méliès’ Eclipse de soleil en pleine lune (1907), from Image vol. 34 (1991)

The number of digitised film journals on the Web remains very few, the number dedicated to silent film miniscule, and the number of those in English nanoscopically small. So it is terrific to be able to report that George Eastman House has published online most of Image, 1952-1997.

Image was the journal of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film, for forty-seven years. It reported on and documented scholarship in photography and motion pictures, with particular reference to its own collections. Its distinguished contributors included photography historian and GEH’s first curator Beaumont Newhall, GEH’s first motion picture curator, James Card, George Pratt, author of one of the essential silent film books, Spellbound in Darkness, and more recently GEH curators Jan-Christopher Horak and Paolo Cherchi Usai. Today the name of Image lives on in part through Marshall Deutelbaum’s fine collection ‘Image’ on the Art and Evolution of the Film (1979).

Image covered photographic and motion picture history, so only a part of the journal run relates to silent film, but what is there is excellent, often with key historical or filmographic data published for the first time, and gorgeously illustrated. Below is a selection of some of the articles with links to web page for the individual issues (many of which are also reproduced in Deutelbaum’s book). Please note that the journal has been digitised volume-by-volume and each PDF file is 30MB or more in size. Be aware also that the journals are not arranged in complete chronological order, so one can find oneself jumping from the 1950s to the 1970s then back to the 50s in places. There do not seem to be many issues for the 1960s, for reasons that are not explained (it appears it just wasn;t published too often that decade).

  • Collecting Old Films: Article stressing the importance of motion picture archives and the need for a collective effort to preserve film history. IMAGE (1952. vol 1. issue 7.)
  • The Kammatograph: Description of the apparatus developed and patented by Leo Kramm in England, 1897. The Kammatograph, a camera and projector in one unit, recorded up to 550 images in a spiral pattern on a circular glass plate that could then be projected. IMAGE (1952. vol 1. issue 8.)
  • Silent Film Speed, by James Card. Discusses the factors in trying to determine correct projection speeds for silent films, as the speeds vary, sometimes even from scene to scene within a single film. The end of the article provides a list of 29 silent films and their correct projection speeds. IMAGE (1955. vol 4. issue 7.)
  • Eadweard Muybridge and the Motion Picture, by Beaumont Newhall. IMAGE (1956. vol 5. issue 1.)
  • Out of Pandora’s Box: New light on G. W. Pabst from his lost star, Louise Brooks, by James Card, and Mr. Pabst, by Louise Brooks. IMAGE (1956. vol 5. issue 7.)
  • The George K. Spoor Collection. Equipment and film recently given to the museum, by James Card. IMAGE (1956. vol 5. issue 8.)
  • Early Days of Movie Comedies: Reminiscences by a director in the early silent comedy days, by Clarence G. Badger. IMAGE (1957. vol 6. issue 5.)
  • Film Archives: Historians of the future might have had the rare privilege of consulting filmed documents of all the world events from the year 1898, by James Card. IMAGE (1958. vol 7. issue 6.)
  • The Posse is Ridin’ Like Mad: An account of Westerns and Western stars from 1907 through 1914, by George Pratt. IMAGE (1958. vol 7. issue 4.). Part II IMAGE (1958. vol 7. issue 7.)
  • The Films of Mary Pickford: On early screen legend Mary Pickford and her enduring appeal. With An Index to the Films of Mary Pickford. IMAGE (1959. vol 8. issue 4.)
  • The Jack-Rabbits of the Movie Business: On the prolific and profitable nickelodeon theatres of the early 1900s. IMAGE (1961. vol 10. issue 3.)
  • Firsting the Firsts. George Pratt posits that film projection on the Eidoloscope in America pre-dated the first public screenings by Lumière in France and Skladanowsky in Germany. IMAGE (1971. vol 14. issue 5–6.)
  • “”If You Beat Me, I Wept””: Alice Terry Reminisces About Silent Films. Excerpts from a taped interview with actress Alice Terry and veteran cameraman John Seitz conducted by George Pratt in 1958. IMAGE (1973. vol 16. issue 1.)
  • “”It’s Just Wonderful How Fate Works””: Ramon Novarro on his Film Career. Ramon Novarro, who played the title role in Ben Hur (1925), reminisces about his film career in this taped interview conducted by George Pratt. IMAGE (1973. vol 16. issue 4.)
  • The Most Important Factor was the ‘Spirit’: Leni Riefenstahl During the Filming of The Blue Light. IMAGE (1974. vol 17. issue 1.)
  • “Anything Can Happen—and Generally Did”. Buster Keaton gives a detailed account of his silent film career during a talk with an unnamed interviewer in Los Angeles in 1958. IMAGE (1974. vol 17. issue 4.)
  • “She Banked in her Stocking; or, Robbed of her All”: Mutoscopes Old and New. IMAGE (1976. vol 19. issue 1.)
  • Early Film Activities of William Fox. Excerpt from Paul C. Spehr’s book The Movies Begin: Making Movies in New Jersey. IMAGE (1977. vol 20. issue 3–4.)
  • Cue Sheets for Silent Films: On Theodore Huff’s collection of thematic cue sheets for silent films presented to George Eastman House in 1953. IMAGE (1982. vol 25. issue 1.)
  • The Color of Nitrate: Some Factual Observations on Tinting and Toning Manuals for Silent Films, by Paolo Cherchi Usai. IMAGE (1991. vol 34. issue 1–2.)
  • A Trip to the Movies: Georges Méliès, Filmmaker and Magician (1861-1938) by Paolo Cherchi Usai. IMAGE (1991. vol 34. issue 3–4.)

And that’s just a selection on what’s available on silent film. It’s such a treasure trove, and all word-searchable – do note, by the way, that once you have searched for a keyword, you must uncheck the box on the left which says ‘Search within results’, or else further keyword searches will only be within the results of the previous search. Also, search under More Options for browing by author, keyword, volume number and year.

Warm praise is due to George Eastman House for making the journal available in this way. Go explore.

Voici Gallica

Cinéma Pathé next door to the Théatre des Variétés, boulevard Montmartre, 1913, from Gallica (http://gallica2.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b6927366c). Note the poster for Rigadin Napoleon, starring Charles Prince.

Gallica is the digital library of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Established in 1997, today it contains just under one million digital documents, including 150,000 monographs (over 90,000 of which are word-searchable), 675,000 pages from over 4,000 periodicals, over 115,000 images, 9,000 maps, 1,000 sound recordings, 5,500 manuscripts and 2,300 music scores. Content comes both from the BnF and a range of partner libraries. It is unquestionably one of the outstanding digital resources worldwide, and one which anyone with a serious interest in researching silent cinema will want to use, however limited their French might be.

To begin with, Gallica is reasonably Anglo-friendly. There is an English language option (plus Spanish and Portuguese), with basic user guidelines, though introductory texts remain in French. The front page includes the main Search option and link to Advanced Search. This offers a thorough range of options, allowing you to refine searches by title, author, text, date, language, broad subject, document type and access type (i.e. free versus paid-for content). Look also for the link to Themes, providing a handy way into what can a bit bewildering at first on account of its sheer size.

Also linked from the front page is the newspaper section. As far as I can see, the main front page search option does not cover the newspaper holdings, so you will want to follow this link to discover the digital library for such key titles as Le Figaro, L’Humanité, Le Temps, La Croix and many more (for film journals see below). Searching is by periodical title – so, for example, if you select Le Figaro, you are presented with a table of years, from 1826-1942, and you can either click on one of those years and browse a calendar to get to a specific day’s edition, or else use the search option to investigate all titles. Search for ‘cinematographe’, and this is what you’ll see:

One you have identified a newspaper that you are interested in, you can add it to you digital collection (an option provided for registered users), view the plain text, or view the scanned document. When you click on the document, check on the left-hand side for the page number where the search term you have used can be found, because the full digitised newspaper will have turned up, and it is necessary either to scroll through page by page or you can type in a number and go direct to the desired page. Your search term will be highlighted in yellow on the page. You can download pages as PDFs, print them, email the refernece to yourself, or even listen to the citation for the selected newspaper – in French, of course. There are also full screen and zoom options, as well as a range of other options to assist your searching and browsing.

There is much more to Gallica than simply newspapers. As said the main search option on the front page covers everything else, which means chiefly digitised books, manuscripts, serials and images. Content ranges from the ancient to the recent (more recent texts are only available under subscription through external providers), and there is extensive material that relates to silent cinema. Searching on ‘cinematographe’ yields 1,318 hits, ‘melies’ brings up 280 hits, ‘pathe’ 2,128, and ‘gaumont’ 957. Note the option to refine searches given on the left-hand column; so, for example, the ‘gaumont’ search can be narrowed to searches by periodical (537), book (413) or image (7), as well as by author, date, theme and language. Remember also when searching for phrases to put the words in quotation marks for more accurate results. Much of it is books and serials, but you can dig up treasures such as the photograph of a Montmatre Pathé cinema above or this Max Linder scenario complete with sample film strip:

Scenario with filmstrip for Les Débuts de Max Linder au cinématographe (1912), from Gallica (http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b6404152z)

Also to be found through the main search option are a number of film journals from the silent era. There is no simple way of identifying these, so (with the help of some Bioscopists) here’s a listing of journals that I’ve managed to locate:

Given the scarcity of silent era film journals online generally, this is an absolute treasure trove all by itself. Most important among them is Cinéa, which was the focal point for intellectual debate on film culture in France at this time.

Raquel Meller in Carmen, front cover of Cinéa, 15 November 1926, from Gallica (http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k5739086t.vocal.f1.langEN)

Gallica is an amazing resource, and one which has been in the news recently. It has been billed for some while now as France’s answer to Google Books, and it was announced this week that France is making further moves to counter the Anglo-Saxon hegemony by developing a still more extensive online portal, based on Gallica, by establishing deals with publishers an private companies (including Google?) to build up all-encompassing French digital library. Last month Nicolas Sarkozy announced that €750 million would be allocated for the ongoing digitisation of France’s libraries, specifically to counter the threat represented by Google’s plans for extensive digitisation of out-of-copyright works (Google Books is currently ten times the size of Gallica). Gallica will be the outlet for this digital activity, as will the European digital library, Europeana (which will be the subject of Bioscope post some day soon). At any rate, we are all going to be the beneficiaries – all the more so if we can only brush up on our French.

I’ve added a new category to the options of the right-hand side of the Bioscope, ‘digitised journals’, and I’ll go back over the blog and mark all those posts that have covered digitised newspapers and journals under this category as a reference aid. And look out soon for a post which will round up newspaper digitisation projects around the world which are relevant to our area.

Now go explore.

Chronicling America

Cartoon from The Evening World Daily Magazine, 16 January 1909, from http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov

A couple of years ago we covered the Library of Congress’ newspaper digitisation project, Chronicling America, alongside a number of other digitised newspaper collections. The resource allows researchers to search and view a million newspaper pages for free from 1880-1922, covering the following American states: Arizona, California, District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Washington.

The Chronicling America team is producing a number of subject guides with sample articles to assist researchers. Subjects selected so far include Baseball’s Modern World Series, Ellis Island, Jack Johnson, Patent Medicines, the Russo-Japanese War, and Early Cinema. Topics in Chronicling America – Early Cinema provides a list of key dates, a list of helpful search terms (Moving Pictures, Motion Pictures, Muybridge, Chronophotographic, Kodak, Kinetograph, Kinetoscope, Mutoscope, Cinematographe, Vitascope, Thomas Edison, Nickelodeon), and sixteen sample articles, from “All the Gaits of Horses” [Shown in Moving Pictures by Zoopraxiscope], New York Sun (New York, NY), 18 November 1882, to “Colored Moving Pictures”, The Sun (New York, NY), 21 March 1909 (the majority of the newspapers selected for Chronicling America don’t go beyond 1910).

My thanks to regular Bioscopist David Pierce for bringing this to my attention. An updated survey of digitised newspaper resources handy for the study of early film is long overdue. I’ll set to work on it.

Searching for Mary Murillo


Recently I was invited to speak at an event taking place Saturday 7 November at the BFI Southbank in London, on women and British silent cinema. There is increasing interest in the role of women in the early years of filmmaking (as demonstrated by Duke University’s Women Film Pioneers project), and as part of this trend the industrious Women and Silent British Cinema project has been investigating all traceable women filmmakers active in Britain in the silent era – including some rather obscure names, for whom little information survives. For my talk I offered to take on a scriptwriter about whom little was known, Mary Murillo, to demonstrate the research process and some of the online sources available. This blog post serves as part of my response.

Mary Murillo does not turn up in any standard motion picture encyclopedia or reference book. Her name is absent from all of the histories of the silent film era that I have consulted (bar a film credit or two), yet she was a significant screenwriter in American film for ten years, then worked in British films for six or more years where her name brought prestige to three different film companies, before she moved to work in French films at the start of the talkies. The fact that she has almost disappeared from film history says a lot about the way in which women filmmakers have been allowed to slip out of early film history, and about the low status of scriptwriters generally. So, how do we go about recovering that history?

Type her name into Google
Type “mary murillo” into Google and you get 15,500 hits. Initially this seems the very opposite of obscurity, but one quickly discovers that the same film credit data has been lifted from one or two sources to be reproduced on numerous filmographic and DVD sales sites, and what is useful information about her is very thin on the ground (one also finds many sites which refer to paintings of the Virgin Mary by the Spanish artist Murillo).

So there’s Wikipedia, which does have a short entry for her – a one-paragraph biography, a filmography and a couple of links. The biography tells us that she was born in Britain, wrote for the Fox, Metro and Stoll studios (the latter in Britain), that most notably she wrote for Theda Bara and Norman Talmadge, and that she was Irish by nationality, though some sources have her as being Latina. This is useful – and correct, because unfortunately the major piece on Mary Murillo available online, ‘Mary Murillo, Early Anglo Latina Scenarist‘ by Antonio Ríos-Bustamante, makes the fatal assumption that her surname meant that she was of Latin American extraction, despite evidence that she was born in Bradford. The writer has uncovered some useful information, but having made a wrong turning at the start, goes off in totally the wrong direction. There are other errors, notably in the filmography, and one is better off with her credits on the Internet Movie Database – over fifty titles – yet one should never accept the IMDb as being accurate or complete, especially for the silent film era, when credits can be difficult to determine (particularly for scriptwriters). Certainly she made more films that are listed there.

Family history sources
For a proper grounding in biographical film research, it is essential to use family history sources. This is where some small investment is necessary, because apart from the volunteer-produced FreeBMD (births, marriages and deaths in the UK, roughly to 1900), the major sources – Ancestry, Findmypast.com etc. – require payment. Ancestry, however, is essential, offering not just births, marriages and deaths, but census records, shipping registers, military records, and much more. The Bioscope has produced a guide to using family history sources in film research, here. Mary Murillo is a problem, however, because it was an assumed name. Her real name was Mary O’Connor. She was of Irish parentage, which is a problem because there are few Irish family history resources online and most pre-1901 census records were destroyed in 1922 during the Civil War. However, Murillo / O’Connor was born in Bradford (explained below) in 1888, yet I can find no official birth record – the first indication of what seems to have been an unconventional childhood.


Mary De Murillo, bottom line of this insert from the ship’s register for the S.S. New York, sailing from Southampton 2 August 1909, from http://www.ancestry.com

Shipping records
These are essential. One of the great boons for biographical research recently has been the publication of shipping records, particularly between Britain and the USA before 1960, which give access to passenger registers, or manifests, which contain much biographical information, as well as certain dates. Ancestry has some, Findmypast provides Ancestors on Board using records from The National Archives, but best of all is Ellis Island, a free database with digitised documents of New York passenger records 1892-1924. From Ancestry’s shipping records we discover that Mary first went to American in 1908, under the name Mary de Murillo, where we learn her age (19), that she was Irish but living in England, that she was born in Bradford, that she was an actress, and that she was travelling with her step-sister, Isabel Daintry.


This seems a wonderful clue, though it has proven to be a bit of a dead-end. I’ve not been able to trace a family history for Daintry, who was an actress herself, appearing in a few films in the early 1910s, before fading from history, leaving just a photo (left) from the Billy Rose Theatre Collection in New York Library. One also discovers from the shipping record that Murillo does not give a family member as contact back in England, instead naming a Mrs Henderson of Eton Avenue, London as her friend. One her assumes that her parents were dead. We also learn that she was 5′ 4″ tall, with fair complexion, fair hair and brown eyes, and that she was in good health.

Why was she travelling to America? Well, she was calling herself an actress, and she was looking for work. Among the several handy databases that one can employ to find biographical information for those in the performing arts, a particularly useful one is the Internet Broadway Database, a free database of production credits for all stage performance’s on New York’s Broadway. And sure enough, there early in 1909 is Mary Murillo appearing alongside Isabel Daintry in the chorus of a musical, Havana. It was not a notable dramatic career – she has three further credits on the IBDB in 1912 and 1913, from which we may infer that she was on tour in stage productions during this period. As newspaper and theatre records reveal, she was a member of Annie Russell’s Old English Comedy Company, performing way down the cast list in plays such as She Stoops to Conquer and The Rivals. This correlates with shipping records, because we find she sailed again from Britain to New York in October 1912, this time on her own, revealed by the manifest for her departure (on Ancestors on Board) and for her arrival (on Ellis Island), with useful the information that her previous stay in the country had lasted for three-and-a-half years.

Census records
Normally census records are the bedrock of biographical research. You get a person’s age, place of birth, family members, occupation, place of residence, and incidental information that one can glean, such as social status. Unfortunately I have not been able to find Mary Murillo/O’Connor on any British or Irish census, though I have found family members (her sisters, but not her parents). However she does turn up in the 1910 New York census, where she is a lodger in Manhattan, given as born in England, profession stage actress, no other family member with her. Something to be wary of – the electronic versions of such data, in this case Ancestry, are based on transcriptions and often the names have been written down wrong – for the 1910 census, Ancestry has her name as Mary Minter. Later census records have not yet been made publicly available.

At some point in 1913 or 14, Mary Murillo sold a film scenario to the husband-and-wife production team of Phillips Smalley and Lois Weber. Her career as an actress had not taken off, and like many others before her she looked to the movie industry as a way out, though in her case it was through her pen. She clearly had talent, because within two years she was one of the leading film scenarists in the American film business, becoming chief scriptwriter at Fox in 1915. This rise to fame one can trace through the best source for any online research of this kind, the newspaper archives. There are so many of these, though few are free, so either you pay a subscription or you hope your local library subscribes. Major resources include Newspaper Archives.com (for American papers), the Times Digital Archive and Guardian Archive. Free resources include Australian Newspapers, New Zealand’s Papers Past and a private archive of American papers, Old Fulton NY Post Cards. Film publicity departments sent out supporting bumf worldwide, and you can find Mary Murillo’s name scattered all over the place, becase such was her prominence that her name was frequently mentioned as a leading feature – in ‘reviews’, advertisments and posters. The Bioscope has produced a guide to newspaper archives online, though it’s in need of some updating.


Advertisment for Her Double Life, from the Sandusky Star Journal, 28 September 1916, available from Newspaper Archives.com

Mary Murillo specialised in exotic melodrama, and wrote five scripts for Theda Bara, Hollywood’s archetypal vamp. The films were Gold and the Woman, The Eternal Sapho, East Lynne, Her Double Life and The Vixen. From an article in the New York Clipper, 1 May 1918 (found at Old Fulton’s NY Post Cards), entitled ‘The Scenario Writer’, we learn this:

Even as late as the year 1914, there were few companies who deemed the writer worthy of mention on the screen and as for proper financial reward, many an excellent five reeler brought the magnificent sum of seventy-five dollars. Slowly but surely, however, the big film producers have come to realize the importance of the scenario writer in the general scheme of things with the result that from being one of the most poorly paid individuals connected with the industry, the men and women who create the successful screen plays today, now receive monetary recompense of substantial proportions. Mary Murillo, for example, a scenario writer, who made over twenty-five thousand dollars last year, sold her first script for twenty-five dollars, four years ago. She is but one of many scenario authors, who unsung and ignored but a few years back, are now reaping similar big rewards in the scenario field.

Quite a leap from stage obscurity to $25K a year in just four years. Newspaper records also tell us that Murillo left Fox at the end of 1917 to go independent, working for Metro amongst others, before joining the staff of Norma Talmadge productions in 1919, where she scripted such titles as Her Only Way, The Forbidden City and The Heart of Wetona, plus others such as Smilin’ Through where her name does not turn upon official credits but where she seems to have been a script doctor – a role she performed many times, making her exact filmography a difficult subject on which to be precise.

She ended her American film career in 1922. Why this was one can only speculate. Perhaps she wanted new challenges, perhaps her penchant for high-flown romanticism was starting to be out of fashion, or perhaps it was related to a revealing report in the New York Times of 18 March 1923, where we learn of the seizure by a deputy sheriff of a five-storey at 338 West Eighty-Fifth Street leased by Miss Mary Murillo, “a scenario writer, now said to be in Hollywood”. She had defaulted on her payments. Among the goods seized were “tapestries alleged to be valuable, a mahogany grand piano, phonograph and a quantity of records, a lot of silver and a leopard skin”. Mary had been living the movie life, and how.

Contemporary movie guides
It’s worth remembering that there were reference guides produced from the early 1910s onwards that provide biographical information on those before and behind the camera in the film business. Often the personal information provided needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, but it’s always a handy starting point. Some of these are available on the Internet Archive: for example, Charles Donald Fox and Milton Silver’s Who’s Who on the Screen (1920), and the 1921 edition of William Allen Johnston’s Motion Picture Studio Directory and Trade Annual. The latter has an entry on Mary Murillo, which seems to be wholly accurate, as follows:


Motion Picture Studio Directory and Trade Annual 1921

Trade papers
There is plenty one can find about Mary Murillo from American newspaper sources, even if mostly of a superficial kind. Once she moved to Britain, the online sources dry up, because she gets little mention in the digitised British newspapers. She started writing for Stoll Film Productions, the major British studio of the early 1920s, resulting in five films: The White Slippers (1924), The Sins Ye Do (1924) and A Woman Redeemed (1927), plus two (possibly three) titles for other studios. Information on these is best found in film trade papers, such as the Bioscope and the Kinematograph Weekly, which do not exist online and need to be located at the BFI National Library, British Library Newspapers (which has produced a useful list of British and Irish cinema and film periodicals that it holds), or on microfilm sets at film research centres. There are no indexes to such resources – you just have to scroll through them and hope to strike lucky, though the BFI’s onsite database provides many references (these are missing from the online version of the database). One trade journal that does have a handy index is the American Moving Picture World, and it is from Annette M. D’Agostino’s invaluable Filmmakers in the Moving Picture World: An Index of Articles, 1907-27 that I found an article on Murillo from 16 March 1918 – though only after looking twice, because her name was indexed as Murrillo (remember never to trust indexes implicitly – always look laterally, and be prepared for mispellings etc). From that I got the photograph at the top of this post and some tantalising biographical information, including her schooling at a convent in Roehampton, near London. (By the way, the American journal Variety does publish indexes, for film titles and an obituaries index, only in printed form).

Ask people
Of course, asking people is a hugely important part of research. It’s always best to do a bit of research yourself rather than expect others to do all your work for you, but armed with some information you’ve been able to gather, turn to the experts. Having taken my research so far, I posted a query on the classic film forum Nitrateville, which is jam-packed full of knowledgeable people only too willing to help. It so happened that none knew anything about Mary Murillo directly, but one or two respondees came up with excellent leads. One used Google Books, which enables you to search through snippets of texts from books old and current and found a mention of her in a Belgian memoir – more of that below. Another looked in the Irish Times Digital Archive, a subscription site, and found that there seemed to be an article on her in 1980. I have access to the site at work (see here for a list of all full-text, word-searchable newspapers and journals available electronically at the British Library), and discovered that the article was a piece by Irish film historian Liam O’Leary on the director Herbert Brenon, with whom Murillo worked. O’Leary, as an aside, revealed the precious information that her real name was Mary O’Connor, and that she came from Tipperary.

Tipperary and Bradford? Something odd there, but the Liam O’Leary papers are held in the National Library of Ireland, where former cameraman and known walking encyclopedia of Irish film history, Robert Monks, has care of the papers. Bob looked up Liam’s card index for me and found reference to an article on her in the October 1917 issue of Irish Limelight, a short-lived film trade journal. Happily, the British Library has Irish Limelight. From this I learned that her family came from Ballybroughie – though there’s a problem there, as there is no such place as Ballybroughie, at least as far as I can find. Her early years were spent near Tipperary, though as she and her sisters (more of them in a minute) were born in Bradford the family clearly moved around a bit. She mentions her father (no name) but not her mother, boasts of her great muscial gifts when young, says that she chose the name Murillo because she was compared when young to a Murillo madonna painting, and describes how tough she found it finding work as an actress.

She also mentions the convents she went to – St Monica’s in Skipton, Yorkshire, and Convent of the Sacred Heart School in Roehampton. This is now Woldingham School and the archivist there told me that Mary O’Connor (born 22 January 1888) and her sisters Philomena and Margaret were at Roehampton for a year (1903-04) before deciding that its tough regime was not for them. The parents’ (parent?) address is given as Thomas Cook c/o Ludgate. He, or they, were overseas (the travel agents Thomas Cook’s main offices were in Ludgate Circus, London). In the 1901 census Philomena, Margaret and another sister Winifred (but not Mary) are given as boarding at St Monica’s, aged respectively 4, 3 and 7. What were the first two doing in a boarding school at that age? Were the absent parents touring performers, or involved in international (Empire?) business, or just plain neglectful?

Mary Murillo turns up in a couple of British newspapers in the late 1920s when her name was used by two film companies issuing prospectuses in the hope of investment. In The Times, 29 November 1927, the British Lion Corporation (with backing from the author Edgar Wallace) announced that its grand plans included “a contract with Miss Mary Murillo, whereby she is to write two complete Film scenarios for the Company during the year 1928”. It also makes the surprise claim that she wrote the script for The Magician by Rex Ingram (Irish himself, of course), something not otherwise recorded in any source. She also turns up in the prospectus the Blattner Picture Corporation (found in The Daily Mirror 21 May 1928, available from pay site ukpressonline) where it declares that “the company will from its inception will have expert technical assistance, and in particular Miss Mary Murillo (formerly Scenarist for the Metro-Goldwyn Corporation, Messrs Famous-Players Lasky, Mr D.W. Griffith, Miss Norma Talmadge &c.) will write Scenarios for this Company’s first year’s programme”.

This is useful, though only a couple of films seem to have come out of her association with British Lion, and none with Blattner. She made some films in France, apparently working on English versions of French releases, though she is credited for the script of the 1930 classic Accusée, levez-vous!. Her last film credit is as a co-writer of the British film, My Old Dutch, in 1934. Then what? Well, the Belgian source I mentioned was Les Méconnus de Londres (2006), the memoirs of Tinou Dutry-Soinne, widow of the Secretary to the Belgian Parliamentary Office in London, which cared for Belgian exiles during World War II. She met Mary Murillo in London at that time, and provides a sketch of a lively, interesting character with a fascinating history in film behind her who was keen to help Belgian exiles. An email to the obliging people at the Belgian embassy in London got me Mme Dutry’s address, and she wrote me a most friendly and detailed letter with all the information she could find on her social contacts with Mary Murillo up 10 October 1941, the last time she saw her. Murillo wanted to do what she could to help the Belgian cause (she seems to have spent some time in Belgium before the war), but suddenly disappeared from the scene.

And then what? I don’t know. She just vanishes. She appears not to have married nor to have had children. I have found no death record, though admittedly Mary O’Connor is not an easy name to research. But for the film researcher the biographical information, though a necessary backbone, is not the main business. She was a scriptwriter, and we want to find film her surviving scripts, and surviving films. Firstly we need reliable film credits. I’ve said that IMDb is a good start, but always double-check with at least two other sources. The filmography at the end of this post comes from a combination of the IMDb, references in newspapers, the Library of Congress Catalog of Copyright Entries: Motion Pictures 1912-1939 (available in PDF form from the Internet Archive), the American Film Institute Catalog (for which the records for silent films are accessible to all), Denis Gifford’s British Film Catalogue 1895-1985 and the BFI database. There are some uncertain titles in the filmography – as said, she seems to have tidied up others’ scripts at times, or to have developed scripts which were then completed by other hands, so determining what is her work outright is not easy.


There is no register of all extant film scripts, and one has to search in multiple places. I found two Murillo shooting scripts in the indexes of the BFI National Library in London (The Sins Ye Do, A Woman Redeemed). The Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has a Motion Picture Scripts Database, from which I found nine scripts, held by UCLA and AMPAS itself: Ambition, The Bitter Truth, The Little Gypsy, Love’s Law, The New York Peacock, A Parisian Romance, Sister against Sister, Two Little Imps and The Vixen (the poster, right, for her 1917 film Tangled Lives, comes from the Margaret Herrick Library site). Some of these scripts are also held in the Twentieth Century-Fox archives, as Antonio Ríos-Bustamante discovered. WorldCat, the union catalogue of world libraries, lists two scripts available on the microfilm set What women wrote: scenarios, 1912-1929. All in all, a remarkable fourteen Murillo scripts survive, a gratifyingly high number.

Finding what films exist in archives (as opposed to the DVD store – I think only two of Murillo’s films are available this way – The Forbidden City, from Grapevine and Accusée levez vous! from Pathé – but Silent Films on DVD is the place to check) is not easy. Again, no central register exists, and not all film archives publish catalogues of their holdings, let alone online catalogues. A list of world film archives is provided by the Federation of International Film Archives. A useful first source for checking whether a film survives and where (chiefly American titles, though) is the Silent Era website, which continues on its way to becoming the single-stop essential source for information on silent films. Otherwise, you just to check a lot of catalogues and ask in a lot of places (once again specialist fora such as Nitrateville or the Association of Motion Picture Archivists (AMIA) discussion list are home to many experts, archivists and collectors). The filmography at the end of this post lists the dozen Murillo films known to survive.

Round-up, and a few tips
This post documents some of the avenues down which I’ve travelled trying to uncover information on one obscure film scriptwriter from the silent era. It’s not a typical research enquiry, but then what such enquiry ever is? It should show that you start out with some basic sources and some key questions to ask, but then will find yourself led down all sorts of unexpected avenues, because people are unexpected.

And why research someone so obscure? You have to ask? Is there any nobler activity out there than to recover a life? Certainly it is always excellent when anyone recovers a corner of history that has been lost or ignored, however small it may seem. It’s a contribution to knowledge, and telling us something that we didn’t know before is a whole lot better way to spend your time as a researcher than re-telling that which we already know. So go out and do likewise – and then tell the world about it. Meanwhile, I’ve much more to try and find out somehow about Mary Murillo. What was her connection with D.W. Griffith? What films did she write for Nazimova? Who were her parents? Do any other photographs of her exist? When did she die? The quest goes on.

A few tips. Never trust any source on its own – always verify the information in two or three other places. Remember that people tell lies about themselves. Official documents such as birth certiifcates, census forms and shipping registers tell us much, but they can also mislead (sometimes deliberately – people lie about ages etc.) and the electronic databases suffer from mistranscriptions. Always think laterally. Remember when searching for female subjects that names change on marriage, and of course with Mary Murillo we have someone who lived under an assumed name. Don’t expect to find everything online, and don’t expect to find everything immediately, and be prepared to spend a little money for valuable resources that have taken a lot of money and effort to compile. Use the Bioscope Library for standard reference sources of the period, its FAQs page for tips on searching, and the categorised links on the right-hand column as a guide to the online world of silent film.

And have fun.

This post is long enough as it is, so the Mary Murillo filmography can be downloaded here as a PDF of an Excel file. It includes script and print sources.

The Italian scene


Francesca Bertini and Mario Parpagnoli in L’ultimo Sogno, from Al Cinema, January 1923

From Brazil to Italy. Our second non-English language online resource with digitised silent film era journals is Teca Digitale piemontese. This is a collection of digitised resources from Italian libraries and archives. To find the film journals, select ‘Selezionare la tipologia del materiale che si intende consultare’ from the top menu, and ‘Museo Nazionle del Cinema’ from the second menu. Click on ‘Ricerca per Ente’. You will get this list of digitised journals:

  • Bollettino di informazioni cinematografiche – 1924-1925
  • Bollettino edizioni Pittaluga – 1928-1929
  • Bollettino staffetta dell’ufficio stampa della anonima pittaluga – 1929-1931
  • Cine Mondo: rivista quindicinale illustrata de cinema – 1927-1931
  • Al cinema: settimanale di cinematografia e varietà – 1922-1930
  • Eco film: periodico quindicinale cinematografico – 1913
  • Figure mute: rivista cinematografica – 1919
  • Films Pittaluga: rivista di notizie cinematografiche: pubblicazione quindicinale – 1923-1925
  • Il Maggese cinematografico: periodico quindicinale – 1913-1915
  • Rassegna delle programmazioni – 1925-1926

There are two icons beside each title. Clicking on that on the far left gives information on the publication. The adjacent icon leads to a list of years for that journal, then click on the blue circle to find the issues within that year (this part of the site requires Java to be installed). Double-clicking on a title opens up the full issue with a menu of pages. There is a suite of tools to resize, rotate or otherwise interrogate the individual pages. There is also a word-search facility, though I had limited success finding things that way (no results for the search term ‘maciste’? Surely not).

The journals are all, of course, in Italian. Content-wise the bias seems to be strongly towards Italian production, though there is plenty of coverage of American production. Photographs are thin on the ground, though do check out Figure mute: rivista cinematografica for a succession of striking colour advertisements. As a range of written resources for the study of silent film on one site, this may well have no equal, even if it’s a bit of a business drilling down to any one page. As indicated, all the journals come from the collection of the Museo Nazionale del Cinema in Turin.

My thanks once again to Teresa Antolin for alerting me to this site. Any other non-English silent film journal sites out there (or English ones for that matter)? Do let me know.