Editor’s Note: This Back in Time story originally appeared in the September 24, 2007 edition of the CaÃ±on City Daily Record.
By Lindsey Larsen
Often, when watching a movie, the subject of the location is questioned.
Sure, the rugged mountain landscape in the epic movie “Cold Mountain” looked like the wilderness of North Carolina, but the movie was actually shot in Romania.
However, when it comes to a western, it’s hard to fake the unique look of the American West. To capture the scenery, the filmmakers traveled to locations along the “border strip” (stretching from North Dakota to Texas) and in southwestern states, such as Arizona.
But, one of those first silent film locations was CaÃ±on City.
In his book, “Hollywood, Colorado”, David Emrich said that the Selig-Polyscope Company of Chicago decided to head west in 1911 because they were one of seven East Coast based film studios. who were trying to “maintain their dominance in an increasingly competitive world, a rapidly changing and rapidly expanding market.
While rival studios, like Edison Company and Biograph, sent filmmakers and crews from the East to film, Selig set up its headquarters in Colorado where director HH “Buck” Buckwalter could film and, therefore, have a better connection with the region. .
Of course, it weren’t the jaw-dropping blockbusters that wowed audiences today, it was just short clips of herds of cattle, Native American dances, and open-air glimpses of Colorado that don’t. lasted only two minutes or less. But audiences on the East Coast loved the beauty of the western landscapes.
Selig officially moved its headquarters to CaÃ±on City in the summer and fall of 1912. The Arkansas River, rustic terrain, and the Royal Gorge provided the kind of varied backdrops filmmakers wanted for early silent westerns. Two other sources may also have played an important role in Selig’s arrival in CaÃ±on City: actors Tom Mix and Otis B. Thayer.
Mix, who started his career in Selig and would go on to become one of the greatest icons of the silent film era, won the Royal Gorge Rodeo in 1909. And Thayer, who would become a director, performed on stage in CaÃ±on City in the days before he became a movie star. Both were part of the Selig talent troop.
The company is located in a building located at 214 Main Street. The filmmakers used this location for their offices and for shooting interior scenes for their films.
Many of CaÃ±on City’s classic landmarks were used as backdrops in these early films, such as the Hot Springs Hotel, the Garden Park area, Skyline Drive, Prospect Heights, and Florence Train Station.
The first film shot in CaÃ±on City after Selig’s film was “The Telltale Knife”, a film starring Mix and early-screen ingenuous Myrtle Stedman, one of the many young actresses who would become part of the Selig cast. -Polyscope of regular players.
However, the bad weather meant that Selig’s filmmakers could only use the CaÃ±on City location in the spring, summer, and fall. Each winter, the film crews packed their bags and returned to Chicago.
But, during the time spent making films during the warmer months, the company was able to film plenty.
In fact, at least 25 films were made between June and December 1912.
In October 1911, discussions began about building a permanent studio for the Selig Company in CaÃ±on City, as films made in the area were among the best received in Chicago. But nothing came of it, by the winter of 1913 Selig had moved to Prescott, Arizona, and then to Las Angeles, where the company would set a precedent by establishing the first permanent film studio in Hollywood.
The company would eventually go bankrupt in 1918 and most of its early films have since been lost.
After Selig moved his headquarters to Los Angeles, Otis Thayer, who left the company and became director of the Cheyenne Motion Picture Company and part owner of the Columbine Motion Film Company in Denver, wanted to move its operations to CaÃ±on City. He applied to the Businessmen’s Association and this council agreed to let Thayer move to CaÃ±on City to create the Colorado Motion Picture Company in 1914. He released films such as “The Hand of the Law” and “Pirates of the Plains”.
But accidents marred the company’s productions, including an incident in a movie called “Across the Border” where actors Grace McHugh and Owen Carter lost their lives in an accident crossing the river during filming.
However, these incidents, along with the advent of films that lasted more than two minutes, led to the end of the Colorado Motion Film Company – and the ending films set in the CaÃ±on City area.
That is to say until 1948, when the documentary “CaÃ±on City” launched a small revival in CaÃ±on City for feature films. This lasted until the early 1970s and included films such as 1964’s “Cat Ballou”, starring Jane Fonda and Lee Marvin, and 1972 “The Cowboys” starring John Wayne. Both films featured scenes shot at Buckskin Joe’s Frontier Town and Railway.