Jacksonville Comedy

Motion picture scene
Motion picture scene from "Strangled Harmony"
Portrait of actor Oliver Hardy

You might not think of the words Jacksonville and comedy together. But in the early years of American movies, Jacksonville, Florida, experienced a brief turn in the spotlight as one of the hubs for filmmaking on the east coast.

The Vim Comedy Company, based in Jacksonville and New York, was one of several film studios operating in the Jacksonville area in the first three decades of the 20th century. Before going out of business in 1917, it employed such stars as Oliver “Babe” Hardy, Ethel Burton, Walter Stull, and Kate Price, as well as Swedish-born director Arvid Gillstrom.

Oliver Hardy began his film career and rise to international fame in Jacksonville, first at the Lubin studio, then with Vim and his own production company, and finally with the King Bee studio, which took over Vim after its repeated financial troubles.

Hardy, Price, and many of the other Jacksonville actors made permanent moves to Hollywood soon after the political atmosphere in Jacksonville turned against the movie industry due to accusations of fraud, ties to political corruption, and fear of endangering the public welfare with elaborate stunt sequences staged without city approval. The film Bouncing Baby shows stunts shot in the streets of Jacksonville.

In a recent episode of the TV show Downton Abbey, Mrs. Hughes was surprised that Carson knew who Theda Bara was. Who was Theda Bara and what was her connection to Florida?

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10 thoughts on “Jacksonville Comedy

  1. Never knew jacksonville was an important venue for the film industry.Hard to imagine jacksonville like a mini hollywood!

    • I’m glad you enjoyed this post! We’ll have more silent movie images in an upcoming post about Norman Studios, also in Jacksonville. The studio was owned by Richard Norman and specialized in films starring and often written by African Americans, a population that was generally ignored by much of Hollywood.

      The Norman Studios Silent Film Museum in Jacksonville still shows and promotes movies from this era.

  2. I had no idea Jacksonville was big in the movie industry. It’s especially impressive that it came before Hollywood because that’s what everyone knows Hollywood for; movies. I would love to see more about the collapse of the industry due to “fraud.”

  3. Theda Bara was a silent-movie actress whose exotic and femme fatale rolls led to the coining of the term “vamp”. I believe the connection to Florida might have something to do with the filming of her movie “A Woman There Was” in Miami Beach (check out RC01795 in the Florida Photographic Collection).

  4. It is amazing to think that a place so close to home was a big place for movies! Someone should definitely research more into why the industry closed in Jacksonville and went out to other places.

  5. Good to see Jacksonville comedy getting a little respect. Now adays it’s all about Hollywood but to see a familar and close area of Florida get a little acknowledgment for their contribution is great.

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