J. Stuart Blackton

James Stuart Blackton

Blackton in 1912
Born James Stuart Blacktin
(1875-01-05)January 5, 1875
Sheffield, England
Died August 13, 1941(1941-08-13) (aged 66)
Los Angeles, California
Known for Vitagraph Studios

James Stuart Blackton (January 5, 1875 – August 13, 1941), usually known as J. Stuart Blackton, was an Anglo-American film producer and director of the silent era. One of the pioneers of motion pictures, he founded Vitagraph Studios in 1897. He was one of the first filmmakers to use the techniques of stop-motion and drawn animation, and is considered the father of American animation. He was the commodore of the Atlantic Yacht Club.[1]


James Stuart Blackton was born on January 5, 1875, in Sheffield, Yorkshire, England, to Henry Blacktin and Jessie Stuart. He emigrated with his family to the United States in 1885 and changed the family name to Blackton.[1]

He worked as a reporter and illustrator for the New York Evening World newspaper, and performed regularly on stage with conjuror Albert Smith.[2] In 1896, Thomas Edison publicly demonstrated the Vitascope, one of the first film projectors, and Blackton was sent to interview Edison and provide drawings of how his films were made. Eager for good publicity, Edison took Blackton out to his Black Maria, the special cabin he used to do his filming, and created a film on the spot of Blackton doing a lightning portrait of Edison. The inventor did such a good job selling the art of movie-making that he talked Blackton and partner Smith into buying a print of the new film as well as nine other films, plus a Vitascope to show them to paying audiences (Reader was brought back in to run the projector).

Vitagraph Studios founders William T. Rock, Albert E. Smith and J. Stuart Blackton (1916)

The new act was a great success, largely despite the various things Blackton and Smith were doing between the Edison films. The next step was to start making films of their own. In this way the American Vitagraph Company was born.[1]

During this period, J. Stuart Blackton was not only running the Vitagraph studio, but also producing, directing, writing, and even starring in his films. He played the comic strip character "Happy Hooligan" in a series of shorts. Since profits were constantly increasing, Blackton felt that he could try any idea that sprang to his head. In a series of films, Blackton developed the concepts of animation.

The first of these films is The Enchanted Drawing, with a copyright date of 1900 but probably made at least a year earlier.[1] In this film, Blackton sketches a face, cigars, and a bottle of wine. He appears to remove the last drawings as real objects, and the face appears to react. The "animation" here is of the stop-action variety where the camera is stopped, a single change is made, and the camera is then started again. The process was first used by Méliès and others.

The transition to stop-motion was apparently accidental and occurred around 1905. According to Albert Smith, one day the crew was filming a complex series of stop-action effects on the roof while steam from the building's generator was billowing in the background. On playing the film back, Smith noticed the odd effect created by the steam puffs scooting across the screen and decided to reproduce it deliberately. A few films (some of which are lost) use this effect to represent invisible ghosts or to have toys come to life. In 1906, Blackton directed Humorous Phases of Funny Faces, which uses stop-motion as well as stick puppetry to produce a series of effects. After Blackton's hand draws two faces on a chalkboard, they appear to come to life and engage in antics. Most of the film uses live action effects instead of animation, but nevertheless this film had a huge effect in stimulating the creation of animated films in America. In Europe, the same effect was had from "The Haunted Hotel" (1907), another Vitagraph short directed by Blackton. The "Haunted Hotel" was mostly live-action, about a tourist spending the night in an inn run by invisible spirits. Most of the effects are also live-action (wires and such), but one scene of a dinner making itself was done using stop-motion, and was presented in a tight close-up that allowed budding animators to study it for technique.

Blackton made another animated film that has survived, 1907's "Lightning Sketches", but it has nothing to add to the art of animation. In 1908 he made the first American film version of Romeo and Juliet, filmed in New York City's Central Park and The Thieving Hand, filmed in Flatbush, Brooklyn. By 1909, Blackton was too absorbed in the business of running Vitagraph to have time for filmmaking. He came to regard his animation experiments in particular as being rather juvenile (they receive no mention in his unpublished autobiography).

Blackton and daughter Marian Blackton Trimble (1901–1993), author of a personal biography of her father that was edited by film historian Anthony Slide[3]

Stuart Blackton believed that the US should join the Allies involved in World War I overseas and in 1915 produced The Battle Cry of Peace. Former President Theodore Roosevelt was one of the film's staunchest supporters and convinced Gen. Leonard Wood to loan Blackton an entire regiment of marines to use as extras. Upon its release, the film generated a controversy rivaling that of Birth of a Nation because it was considered as militaristic propaganda.

Blackton left Vitagraph to go independent in 1917, but returned in 1923 as junior partner to Albert Smith. In 1925, Smith sold the company to Warner Brothers for a comfortable profit.

Blackton did quite well with his share until the Stock Market Crash of 1929, which destroyed his savings. He spent his last years on the road, showing his old films and lecturing about the days of silent movies. His daughter Violet Virginia Blackton (1910–1965) married writer Cornell Woolrich in 1930 but their marriage was annulled in 1933.

He married Evangeline Russell de Rippeteau in 1936.[4]

Blackton died August 13, 1941, a few days after he was hit by a car while crossing the street with his son.[1][5] At the time of his death he was working for Hal Roach on experiments to improve color process backgrounds.[6] Blackton was cremated and interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.[7]

Select filmography

Year Title Notes
1898 Burglar on the Roof, TheThe Burglar on the Roof Short film[8]:8[9]
1898 Tearing Down the Spanish Flag Short film[8]:8–9[10]
1898 Humpty Dumpty Circus, TheThe Humpty Dumpty Circus Short film
1900 Enchanted Drawing, TheThe Enchanted Drawing Short film
1905 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes; or, Held for Ransom, TheThe Adventures of Sherlock Holmes; or, Held for Ransom Short film[11]
1906 Humorous Phases of Funny Faces Short film
1906 Automobile Thieves, TheThe Automobile Thieves Short film
1907 Curious Dream, AA Curious Dream Short film
1908 Thieving Hand, TheThe Thieving Hand Short film
1908 Macbeth Short film
1908 Romeo and Juliet Short film
1908 Airship, or 100 Years Hence, TheThe Airship, or 100 Years Hence Short film[12]
1908 Antony and Cleopatra Short film
1908 Oliver Twist Short film
1909 Princess Nicotine; or, The Smoke Fairy Short film
1909 Les Misérables [13]
1909 Midsummer Night's Dream, AA Midsummer Night's Dream Short film[14]
1911 Tale of Two Cities, AA Tale of Two Cities [15]
1912 Richard III [15]
1912 Cardinal Wolsey [15]
1915 Battle Cry of Peace, TheThe Battle Cry of Peace [8]:74[16]
1917 Judgement House, TheThe Judgement House [17]
1918 Life's Greatest Problem [15]
1922 Glorious Adventure, TheThe Glorious Adventure [15]
1923 Virgin Queen, TheThe Virgin Queen [15]
1923 On the Banks of the Wabash [15]
1924 Between Friends [15]
1925 The Happy Warrior
1926 Bride of the Storm [15]
1927 American, TheThe American
1934 Film Parade, TheThe Film Parade [18]


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 "Blackton, Pioneer In Movies, Dies, 66. Ex-Commodore of Atlantic Yacht Club Here. Is Victim of Auto Accident. A Founder Of Vitagraph. Producer of 'Black Diamond Express' Thriller. Began as Marine Artist". New York Times. August 14, 1941. Retrieved 2014-12-06.
  2. Gifford, Denis. "James Stuart Blackton". Who's Who of Victorian Cinema. Retrieved December 9, 2013.
  3. Howard, Cameron (September 27, 2013). "Marian Constance Blackton". Women Film Pioneers Project. Center for Digital Research and Scholarship, Columbia University Libraries. Retrieved 2016-08-04.
  4. "Stuart Blackton To Wed. One-Time Partner of Edison to Marry Evangeline Russell". The New York Times. October 3, 1936. Retrieved 2014-12-06. Commodore J. Stuart Blackton, one-time partner of the late Thomas A. Edison in the production of motion pictures, has made known his engagement to Mrs. Evangeline Russell de Rippeteau, film actress.
  5. "J. Stuart Blackton's Condition Is Critical". Motion Picture Daily. 13 August 1941. Retrieved 3 September 2014.
  6. "Blackton Services Tomorrow in L.A.". Motion Picture Daily. 15 August 1941. Retrieved 3 September 2014.
  7. "James Stuart Blackton". Find a Grave. Retrieved 2016-08-03.
  8. 1 2 3 Slide, Anthony (1976). The Big V: A History of the Vitagraph Company. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press. ISBN 9780810809673.
  9. "The Burglar on the Roof". Progressive Silent Film List. Silent Era. Retrieved 2016-08-03.
  10. "Tearing Down the Spanish Flag". Progressive Silent Film List. Silent Era. Retrieved 2016-08-03.
  11. "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes; or, Held for a Ransom". Progressive Silent Film List. Silent Era. Retrieved 2016-08-03.
  12. Douglas Alver Menville, R. Reginald, Mary Wickizer Burgess Futurevisions: the new golden age of the science fiction film 1985 - Page 14 "Although previous filmmakers had used the near future as a backdrop for their stories (The Airship, or 100 Years Hence, was produced by J. Stuart Blackton in 1908), Lang's vision is the first serious attempt to predict a possible tomorrow."
  13. "Les Miserables". Progressive Silent Film List. Silent Era. Retrieved 2016-08-03.
  14. "A Midsummer Night's Dream". Progressive Silent Film List. Silent Era. Retrieved 2016-08-03.
  15. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 "J. Stuart Blackton". BFI Film & TV Database. British Film Institute. Retrieved 2016-08-03.
  16. "The Battle Cry of Peace". Progressive Silent Film List. Silent Era. Retrieved 2016-08-03.
  17. "The Judgement House". Progressive Silent Film List. Silent Era. Retrieved 2016-08-03.
  18. "The Film Parade (1933); Vitagraph Treasures". UCLA Film and Television Archive. Retrieved 2016-08-04.

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