Selig (film company)

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The Selig Polyscope Company was an American film production company founded in Chicago in 1896 by William Nicholas Selig . Selig was the first film company to set up a studio in California . The company produced over 1,500 films from 1898 to 1918. Best known are her westerns with Tom Mix . After the end of production, the company was converted into a zoo.



William Nicholas Selig had worked as a magician and manager of a minstrel show on the west coast of California. In Chicago he tried his own projection equipment (free of the patent restrictions imposed by Thomas Edison ) to enter the beginning film business. In 1896, with the help of Andrew Schustek, he made his first film: Tramp and the Dog . Subsequently, he was successful in producing news films about local attractions and events (marches, fairs, boxing matches), early slapstick comedies, travel films and industrial films . In 1909 Selig had studios in Chicago and California in which short films were produced; Selig also supplied other companies with recordings and subtitles. The company was best known for spectacular animal films, history strips, and early westerns .

In its early years the company had struggles with Thomas Edison's attorneys . In 1909, Selig and a number of other companies settled the dispute by forming an association with Edison, the Motion Picture Patents Company , which, like a cartel , dominated the industry until the Supreme Court ruled that the association was established in 1913 and 1915 established an illegal monopoly .

In the following years, the company successfully exported its films to Great Britain and had a branch in London for several years. The First World War resulted in a sharp decline in the profits Selig had made from distributing her films in Europe. At the same time, the company missed the new trend towards longer and more sophisticated films. Selig eventually had to file for bankruptcy and stopped production in 1918.

Only a few films from the Selig Polyscope Company have survived.


Southern California was attractive to Selig for a number of reasons : It had a mild and arid climate, numerous spectacular outdoor scenes, and the relative distance from Edison's lawyers to the east coast. In 1909 Selig therefore set up her first studio in Edendale near Los Angeles . The studios expanded rapidly and soon became Selig's headquarters. The company has produced hundreds of short films in Edendale, mostly westerns starring Tom Mix . In addition, Selig's animal films were particularly successful (including a re-creation of President Theodore Roosevelt's African big game hunt ).

The cliffhanger

In 1913, Selig, in cooperation with the Chicago Tribune, produced The Adventures of Kathlyn , a very successful dramatic series of sequel films that always ended when the heroine (played by Kathlyn Williams ) was in dire danger. B. hanging over an abyss on a cliff or a rock. This audience retention technique became known as a cliffhanger . The story of each sequel was printed at the same time in the newspaper, increasing the circulation by ten percent.

The zoo

In 1913, Selig had such a large number of wild animals in his possession that the company built a zoo open to the public on 32 acres of land in Lincoln Heights, northeast of Los Angeles. In 1917 William Nicholas Selig sold his Edendale studio to William Fox and moved his company to Lincoln Heights, next to the zoo.

Despite the bankruptcy of the studio in 1918, the zoo remained profitable, also because many other companies rented animals there or shot directly on the zoo's premises. Wiliam Nicholas Selig planned to convert the zoo into an even bigger tourist attraction called Selig Zoo Park , a mix of zoo and amusement park , but only built a single carousel. In 1923, the Society's huge collection of props and backdrops was auctioned on the zoo grounds. The zoo itself was eventually sold and closed during the Depression .


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