Canadian pioneers in early Hollywood

Motion pictures have been a part of the culture of Canada since the beginning.



Around 1910, the East Coast filmmakers began to take advantage of California winters and after Nestor Studios, run by Canadian Al Christie, built the first permanent movie studio in Hollywood a number of the movie companies expanded or relocated to the new Hollywood.[1] At the same time, because there was no sound in movies, several French filmmakers had their motion pictures distributed in America.[2] These French studios, led by Pathé as well as Gaumont Pictures and Georges Méliès, were the dominant force worldwide until 1914 when movie production in France virtually ended with the onset of World War I.[citation needed]

List of Canadian film pioneers in Hollywood

Among those Canadians who took part in the early years of Hollywood were:

Canadian scene in Hollywood

In his book Stardust and Shadows: Canadians in Early Hollywood, Charles Foster recounted his experiences meeting some of these Canadians while on leave from the Royal Air Force during World War II. Foster visited Hollywood where he was introduced to Canadian and silent movie director Sidney Olcott. Through Olcott he learned of Hollywood's Canadian community. Although total strangers, young Foster was welcomed with open arms. This social gathering of "Canucks" also included Walter Pidgeon, Deanna Durbin, Fifi D'Orsay, and others who worked in the movie business.[4]

Several of these Canadian pioneers achieved enormous wealth and worldwide fame, such as Louis B. Mayer and Mary Pickford who were, in their day, two of the most powerful personalities in Hollywood. From the late 1920s to the mid-1930s, Canadian female actresses were amongst the greatest box office draws. The Academy Award for Best Actress was won by Canadian women three years in a row:

Foster recounts the feelings and deep loyalty of Louis B. Mayer. Although he had become a naturalized American citizen, Mayer was known to hire Canadian compatriots on the spot, as Saint John, New Brunswick native Walter Pidgeon later recalled:

Without another word he called his secretary, Ida Koverman. "Ida..." he said, "prepare a contract for this man from Saint John, he will tell you his name, and Ida, add another fifty dollars a week on the contract for a good Canadian." We shook hands and just like that I was under contract to MGM. "You do act, don't you?" he asked. I nodded and left the room.[5]

Several Canadian expatriates met with tragedy. Florence Lawrence, the "first real movie star", the Biograph Girl[5] in Hollywood history, who appeared in more than 270 movies, committed suicide and for nearly 50 years was forgotten in an unmarked grave in the Hollywood Cemetery.[6] Tragic too, is the story of the decline of silent movie star Marie Prevost who succumbed to severe alcoholism and malnutrition at the age of 38.[7] Then, the beautiful Florence La Badie, purported mistress to Woodrow Wilson and allegedly the mother of his child, who died in a car accident after her brakes had been tampered with. Notorious too, was Jack Pickford's alcohol and drug-filled womanizing existence. One of his wives, actress Olive Thomas, died of poisoning under very suspicious circumstances and his own life was cut short at age 36 from what was rumoured to be syphilis.[8][9]


  1. ^ Foster, p. 28.
  2. ^ Kevin Brownlow. Behind the Mask of Innocence. London: Cape, 1990. p. 136-39, 226, 266, 304, 340, 379, 487-89.
  3. ^ Elliott Robert Barkan, (2001) Making it in America: a sourcebook on eminent ethnic Americans ABC-Clio - page 228. ISBN 157607529X
  4. ^ Foster, p. 8.
  5. ^ a b Foster, p. 203.
  6. ^ Foster, p. 143-166.
  7. ^ Kenneth Anger. Hollywood Babylon. New York: Bell, 1981, p. 146.
  8. ^ Kenneth Anger. Hollywood Babylon. New York: Bell, 1981, p. 16-18.
  9. ^ Whitfield, Eileen. Pickford: The Woman Who Made Hollywood. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1997. p. 280.

Further reading

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