The first Miss New York, B-list beauty of the silent film era

Ninety years ago today, the Miss America pageant debuted on the Atlantic City boardwalk. New York’s entrant was minor silent film actress Virginia Lee (at left). Although she didn’t win the ultimate sash, she was given some kind of runner’s-up ‘professional’ prize (the Endicott Trophy) on account of her celebrity. In her later years, Lee… Read More

Bernard Herrmann, film’s finest composer, a century later

As if one needed any more examples of the importance of New York’s immigrant culture to the history of music, today is the centenary of the birth of Bernard Herrmann, arguably the most important film music composer in history. Bernard was born (and prematurely at that) to immigrants from Russia. His father, Abraham Dardick, came to… Read More

Elizabeth Taylor: fixture of glamour in New York’s nightlife

Above: Liz with Sammy Davis Jr., with her husband Richard Burton kissing (!) another woman*. I’m not sure where this is taken, but as it’s from the LIFE collection by photographer Leonard Mccombe, it’s probably from the evening of October 20, 1964, after the opening of Davis’ hit musical ‘Golden Boy’. Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011), who… Read More

The Academy Awards in New York: NBC experiments, as Audrey Hepburn wins an Oscar after a long day of work

Audrey, off Columbus Circle: Hepburn sits in nervous anticipation at the New Century Theatre, moments before she wins for Best Actress. Despite the Academy Awards being a celebration of all things Hollywood, New York has actually hosted the Oscar ceremony on more than one occasion. Or rather, they co-hosted the event — from 1953 to… Read More

The San Francisco Earthquake, as recreated in New York

San Francisco burns — in New York The first American newsreel debuted just over one hundred years ago, representing the first real attempt to contextualize the moving images of actual events into a stream of information that could emulate a newspaper. The French film company Pathe and the New York-based Vitagraph both debuted edited silent… Read More

Notes from the podcast (#120): NYC early film history

Fashion weak: Mary Pickford finds millinery mischief in the 1912 feature ‘The New York Hat’, a Biograph film by D.W. Griffith. This was an especially unusual show to arrange and represents a closely cultivated tour through New York City’s early film history. But early movie studios spread beyond New York’s borders. Most notably, Fort Lee,… Read More

Brooklyn invents the movie magazine, a century ago

The Motion Picture Story Magazine, the first American magazine devoted exclusively to motion pictures, released its first issue one hundred years ago this month. The deluge of movie periodicals that would debut afterwards would help define Hollywood movie stars, foster their fan bases, promote studio films and sculpt the mythology of film history. And it… Read More

‘Shadows’: Improv, jazz and a squint at midtown Manhattan

A beat in Times Square: Ben Carruthers drifts through the city in ‘Shadows’ BOWERY BOYS RECOMMEND is an occasional feature where we find an unusual movie or TV show that — whether by accident or design — uniquely captures an era of New York City better than any reference or history book. Other entrants in… Read More

Was ‘Birth of a Nation’ really filmed in Staten Island?

A rather startling title card from ‘Birth of a Nation’ [courtesy the Liberty Lamp]The question posed in the headline is a fascinating urban legend I’ve been obsessed with proving (or disproving) for about a year. It pops up occasionally during discussions about New York film history. And I think I’ve come up with an answer.… Read More

It's Showtime

D.W. Griffith turns Central Park into a silent screen star

In honor of the grand re-opening of the Museum of the Moving Image this Saturday, we’re going all New York film and media here on the blog, posting some new stuff and re-printing some older ones pertinent to the city’s filmmaking history. Above, you can watch ‘Father Gets In The Game’, a cheeky short from… Read More

The Naked City: The movie with ‘eight million stories’

“Wanting too much. That’s why she went wrong. Bright lights and theatres and furs and nightclubs. That’s why she’s dead now. Dear God, why wasn’t she born ugly?” ‘The Naked City’, one of the very best films ever made in New York City, screens Tuesday night at the Museum of the City of New York,… Read More

A new ‘Metropolis’ — for our metropolis — at the Ziegfeld

Fritz Lang claims the Manhattan skyline influenced the look of his film ‘Metropolis’ . In fact, the film’s fantasy city resembles futuristic sketches rendered by American magazine illustrators of the late 19th century. The giant screen at the Ziegfeld Theatre goes silent this Friday as a two-week run of Fritz Lang’s fantasy masterpiece ‘Metropolis’ opens,… Read More

Tony Curtis: “The cat’s in a bag and the bag’s in a river”

Curtis, as the smarmy Sidney Falco, in ‘Sweet Smell of Success’ “Another way I coped was by being rough, rowdy, and athletic. Not on a basketball court or a football field; on the streets of New York. I would climb the trestles of the el train like I was Tarzan. I would jump from the… Read More

Mad Men

‘Mad Men’ notes: A movie theater classic in its final days

The Capitol in 1935, its feature attraction the spy thriller Rendezvous Every Monday I’ll try and check in with the Mad Men episode from the night before and focus in on one or two historical references made on the show. Spoilers aplenty, so read no further if you don’t want to know…. While doing some… Read More

A History of Subway Cinema: From musical daydreams to gritty roller-skating gangs and underground alien bugs

Above: ‘Dames’ on a Train: Keeler and Powell dream of the innocent days The subway doesn’t immediately come to mind as a photogenic movie star, but in fact, the various tunnels and stations of the New York City Subway have appeared as the backdrop for hundreds of movies. Its route diversity — from deep under… Read More