The film industry would not have developed into the enterprise that it is today if it were not for the fact that movie production companies were located in northern Manhattan and Fort Lee, New Jersey.
In Fort Lee, such notables as Mary Pickford got their start at the Biograph Studios; she was in movies such as “Poor Little Rich Girl” and “The Violin Maker of Cremona” in 1913. Six years later, Miss Pickford co-founded United Artists with D.W. Griffith, Charles Chaplin, and Douglas Fairbanks.
Marie Dressler appeared in the title role in “The Scrublady,” a Samuel Goldwyn production at Universal Studios. The Wallet-Fox Studios on Main Street and Linwood Avenue in Fort Lee was the predecessor of the 20th Century Fox Organization. William Fox had already opened a chain of movie theaters around the nation. The Audubon Theater and Ballroom on Broadway and 165th Street in Washington Heights was a part of this chain, which opened in 1912. In 1935, 20th Century Films and the Fox Film Company officially merged.
In the Inwood section of Manhattan, the Powers Picture Place, the Christal Film Company, and Yankee Film Company made their home. The Yankee Film Company was owned by Joseph Schenck. Gloria Swanson, a student of Mac Sennett, was discovered by the Vitagraph Studios and got her start at Yankee in 1917. In 1911, four of the movies produced at Yankee were “The Abduction of Parson Jones,” “Her Mother’s Fiancé,” “The Monogrammed Cigarette” and “The Woman Who Dared.”
Joseph Schenck went on to become president of United Artists and then chairman of 20th Century Fox, which in time became the parent company of Lowe’s, Inc. He then joined his brother Nicholas at MGM Studios. Vitagraph and its studios were eventually bought by the American Broadcasting Company.
Most of these studios were in operation at the Fort Lee and New York sites from 1895 to 1912. Most of the indoor scenes were done in New York City with the exteriors filmed in Fort Lee. The only way to connect with the locations was by using the 125th Street Ferry to Fort Lee. Afterward, they started to move west to Los Angeles because of the warmer climate during the winter months, thus leaving the area in a sense of loss.
Over the years, Washington Heights and Inwood have become the focus and shooting sites for many films. “Coogan’s Bluff” with Clint Eastwood was filmed, in part, in Fort Tryon Park. A scene from “The Seven-Ups” with Roy Scheider was filmed on location on 179th Street and Fort Washington Avenue. “The Wrong Man” with Henry Fonda had a scene filmed on 178th Street and Fort Washington Avenue with a view of the George Washington Bridge in the background. Other movies such as “Shaft,” “The Devil’s Own,” “Copland” and “The Pope of Fort Washington” were filmed on location in the area. Television shows such as “Law and Order” have been shot on location here too.
To find out more information about these old film studios, visit Filmsite.org, GreatestFilms.org, Rotten Tomatoes and Silent Era.